Category: tips

Thinking of a FatBike Foray in the California Alps? – Here’s What I Learned

LET’S put this on the table right away…I am a fatike neophyte so definitely take what I’m about to tell you in that context. Please. Still, I do know a bit about the local conditions so a little of what I learned during last week’s adventure was somewhat of a surprise.

T’WAS a crisp and clear morning last Monday as I provided the plan to Mrs. California Alps (always have a plan, including return time and such) and then headed out to Monitor Junction on Farley the Faithful. It was about 30 degrees fahrenheit at departure.

First Lessons, Grasshopper

Fatbikes are kinda slow. Sorry Farley. But they (you) are. Having done that ride out to Monitor Junction hundreds of times prior on a much faster roadbike, it was a bit agonizing. We didn’t want a shuttle out there, though; after all, it was a weekday and we wanted to take advantage of the fact there was no traffic – not hardly a car, and not one snowmobile, to be seen.

I was surprised by how hard it was to peddle over the washboardy snow. And it was a bit like riding in sand in some parts, too. Traction was an issue; fishtailing and pedaling at high-revs for almost the entire time, though, I was able to stay upright. For the most part. 😉

CHECK out this one-minute video for a visual glimpse, and auditory gander…

Heading north, back towards Markleeville, on Hwy. 4, about 2 miles from Monitor Junction.

What I Wore

I decided to go with the same gear I would use in frigid weather on the road bike. Here’s my list:

  • Castelli NanoFlex cold weather tights – not sure of the exact model
  • DeFeet Woolie Boolie socks (plus an additional hiking sock)
  • Castelli Rosso Corso cold weather long sleeve jersey – again, not sure of the model but it had those wetsuit/waffle-like panels in front (see image below)
  • Pearl Izumi Gloves – thick suckers they were, and plenty warm
  • Neck thingy – Yeah, Castelli
  • Craft skull cap with Gore windstopper panels
  • Giro helmet with visor
  • Camelback Mule (no, the water in the exposed hose did not freeze)

Specific boots, however, I did not have. My Lowa hiking boots – waterproofed of course (the same boots I wear snowshoeing) – however, did the trick. You definitely need boots for those times you have to get off the bike, which for me, notwithstanding a couple nature-breaks, was due to some deep patches of snow and one or two gawking-stops.

Me and Farley at the turnaround, at the bridge on the East Fork of the Carson River.

THE night before the ride I picked up some good tips, at it turns out, from fat-bike.com. I think I’ll put some of those Lake MXZ400 boots on my wish list. If I can find a pair of 50’s, that is.
Editors note: I ride Lake shoes on the road bike and just love their fit, comfort and Speedplay compatibility.

Biggest Takeaways?

  • Riding in the snow is not as easy at it looks
  • Snowshoeing gear, cold weather cycling gear, etc., works well (hey, east coast, midwest friends, I know you’ve got advice. Lay it on us!)
  • The ROI is well worth it. On a bike, in the snow, on a day like that…Priceless!

IF you’re a Fulgaz subscriber, by the way, be on the lookout!

I filmed the entire ride, from Monitor Junction to the bridge and back, and then back to Markleeville. About 10 miles (not all in the snow, but lots of “snow views”).

WE leave you with these parting shots and the promise that we’ll continue to hone our skills with the hopes that we can provide more fatbiking adventure stories in the white stuff in the near future.

BE safe, stay healthy and have a great week!

Thinking About a Gravel Ride in the Pinenuts? Here’s What You Should Know

OR perhaps more appropriately entitled: Here are some lessons I just learned. Yesterday, in fact. Since Stetina’s Paydirt was postponed, and Chris and I had planned on riding it, we decided to do some of the course.

WE left open the possibility we would do the entire route (~63 miles and 4700 feet of climbing) but it turned out that bite was more than we could chew. We did, however, get in 42 miles and about 2800 feet of climbing.

GRAVEL riding is hard. Not that we didn’t know that. Still, the experience is enlightening; you never know what you’re going to get. Or what’s going to get thrown at you.

The Weather Was Amazing!

IT had been so long since we had experienced clean air and average temps. A light breeze, about 65 degrees at the start (8:30 a.m.) and nice clouds and light winds all day long. It did get hot towards the end of the ride but the breeze kept it bearable.

Lesson #1 – Leave early and beat the heat!

HAD we been out on the course for much longer it would have been a different story.

Running Out of Water Made It Even More Epic!

Easy to say when you end up getting lucky and finding a spigot with 8 miles or so to go. We had just come off Sunrise Pass Road when my Camelback put forth no more liquid. Well, I thought, it’s only another 30 minutes or so and we’re on the pavement so…And there it was. The red handled goddess of H2O. So lucky.

Lesson #2 – Bring more water than you think you’ll need.

I had a frame-pack and could have carried another bottle at least but I figured 3 liters (~100 ounces) would be enough. It wasn’t. We were out there almost four (4) hours afterall and on the road I would certainly have needed more; and riding on gravel is more taxing. Duh!

Speed Is Your Friend

MOST of the time. We had put in a good chunk of time climbing out of Brunswick Canyon so when we hit Sunrise Pass Road we opened it up and flew down some of those long sweeping downhills.

Lesson #3 – Gravel and rocks are not tire friendly.

NOT that we didn’t know that but when I saw that Stan’s geyser shooting out of Chris’ rear wheel I knew a stop was eminent. It was pretty frickin’ cool though; watching and hearing that thing go.

Okay, I’ll just put this back on the bike and we can get out of this sun!

TOO much speed can make it harder to see some of those “sharpies.” That’s why, when out in gravel country, you need to carry a bit more gear than you might otherwise.

BETWEEN us we had:

  • Two (2) tires
  • Four (4) tubes
  • Four (4) CO2 cartridges
  • Two (2) pumps
  • Two (2) mini-tools
  • Okay, you get the idea.

HERE’S what I forgot:

  • Sunscreen
  • Stan’s (Chris did have this)
  • Stem remover (Chris had this too)
  • Rag (neither of us had this but I did have some paper towels).

Lesson #4 – Bring what you’ll need for the worst-case scenario!

Paper towels, for example, come in handy, and not just for napkins. They have myriad uses and they are more durable than TP if you get my drift.

AS for sunscreen, we should have brought some for sure. That was a bonehead move. What made it even more bone-headed (on my part) was that I didn’t hose down very well at the start.

DIDN’T even get the legs. Regretting that today. I wore a cap so I didn’t spray the top of my head. So when I wanted to take the cap off…Yeah, it stayed on.

To Pack or Not to Pack?

I went with the frame-pack and the CamelBak yesterday. That was good and bad. Good in that I could carry extra stuff, including the tubes and tire, and a sandwich. Bad in that the frame-pack rubbed on my legs a bit. Another 20-30 miles or so would not have been ideal.

THE CamelBak was especially good because I could drink water much more easily. Most of the gravel sections on this route were pretty technical (at least for me) so not having to pull a bottle to hydrate was groovy. On the bad side…the tube kept coming unseated from its dock. That was a bit irritating.

Lesson #5 – Test and adjust your gear before the big ride.

IT’S not like I didn’t know that. Still, being an experienced roadie, yet a neophyte gravelleur, means I didn’t account for the time that I would spend on the road, er trail.

NOTE to self: About ten (10) miles on hour is your average on gravel. This is not pavement! Got it, Mark? Good!

Sand Can Be Fun

Three hours in and still smiling. What a great day in the Pinenuts!

TO me, that sand is the funnest part of gravel riding. Not so much so at the end of a long day but still…I just love the challenge of staying upright. All that core work comes in handy here let me tell ya!

Lesson #6 – Gear down, pedal, and take as much weight off the bars as you can.

THEN just go with the flow. And remember that driver’s trick and turn into the skid. And did I say pedal, pedal, pedal?

Know Where You’re Going!

ESPECIALLY if you’re directionally challenged like I am. So either load the course on your computer, or have a guide (like I did), or both. Thanks ‘Toph! Old school (like a paper map) works too, by the way.

AND, don’t forget to let your person(s) know what you’re doing, where you’re headed and approximately when you’ll be back.

The Last Two Lessons?

  • Don’t take yourself, or the day, too seriously.
  • Hang on and just enjoy the ride.

THIS ride was really the first time I embraced that gravelleur mantra and so I laughed when in the past I would have whined; and I relaxed and sang along with the music when things looked too hairy or scary.

SO there you have it…Chris & Mark’s most excellent gravel adventure. I hope my takeaways come in handy. As always, though, it’s up to you to do your homework and be prepared.

ONCE you’ve done that, then go ahead, plan that gravel adventure. If you have as much fun as we did then my work is done! 😉

Riding in the Mountains? Can I Give You A Few Unsolicited Bits of Advice?

THESE nuggets of wisdom are of the mechanical kind, as opposed to weather, clothing, climbing and other such tidbits I’ve blogged about in the past. When riding in the mountains or hills, really anywhere for that matter, these are the additional things that I focus on since there is nothing worse than listening to your own, or someone elses, noisy velocipede, especially on long climbs and descents.

THE idea from this post came to me last week when I was riding in South Lake Tahoe with a friend of mine and “that annoying rattle” reared its ugly head again.

Silence Those Rattles

nature animal reptile snake

LOOSE things rattle. Whether they be in your saddle bag, top-tube bag or jersey…Make them stop!

EVEN if you have grown accustomed to them your riding partners may not have.

DO yourself and your fellow riders a favor and quiet that bike where you can.

IN my case, that annoying rattle was my multi-tool in the seat bag. I thought I had fixed it but oh no, on that ride last Friday night it was back, like the Terminator. I had added some padding to the case the tool was in and figured that did it but as it turns out, upon further inspection I found one of the bolts had come loose.

A bit of tightening and ahhh, no more rattle.

CHECK for those unfastened, unattached or unsecured bolts, nuts, etc. and FASTEN, ATTACH and SECURE them.

Rattle and Hum is an astounding album; it’s the hum that should apply to our bikes, though, not the rattle, right?

‘NUF said.

Use Loctite

IN preparing the cockpit for filming I picked up a K-EDGE mount for Blue, one of my faithful steeds. It only took a couple rides of the Diamond Valley Loop to get that thing a rattlin’. Loctite to the rescue.

I’VE ridden hundreds of miles since applying the high strength version (and it’s been in my workbench for YEARS) and that mount has not loosened. At all.

THIS stuff, or some threadlocker like it, is gold.

Prepare for Bad Roads

ROADS here in the Sierra Nevada, as well as many, if not all of the coastal hills in which I’ve ridden, are generally crappy. Water, snow, heat, and those pesky vehicles 😉 all take their toll.

THINK about reducing tire pressure, adding dropper seatposts with suspension, or as my friend Mike did on his gravel bike, augment your trusty steed with a suspension stem.

TIRE size is another consideration. I rode 23mm tires for many years but switched to 25mm rubber rings a couple years back. The ride is more plush.

I could even go bigger.

AND as for tire pressure…higher pressure isn’t always better. I ride Continental Grand Prix 5000s and while the max pressure is listed at 120 PSI (8.5 BAR), the recommended pressure is listed as 95 PSI and 6.5 BAR. I pump up the rear tire to 90 PSI and the front to 80 PSI. And I’m a big boy at 230 lbs (104.55 kg for you metric-geeks)!

Keep Things Clean and Lubed

WHEN you can hear the chain, it’s time to lube it. Or perhaps replace it. Use that chain-checker! I use mine all the time but Jay at Big Daddy’s keeps catching me with bad chains nonetheless. I’ll try to do better, Jay.

I don’t do a good job keeping my bikes clean. I have to do better there as well. So, do what I say, not what I do. Keep it clean, like a Virgo would. You didn’t know that about Virgos? Ask my former roomie.

closeup and selective focus photography of toothbrush with toothpaste

GIVE that guy a bathroom and a toothbrush…Sparkling, let me tell ya!

SERIOUSLY, though, over a long ride, especially during a long ride, those squeaks, squeals, screeches and scrapes can be irritating for you, your riding companions and your bike.

TAKE some time (I’m talking to you, Mark) and lube that shit, will ya?

LUBE? you ask. Keith and Jay (and I) recommend Boeshield T-9. It’s not as neat and tidy as a wax job (Scott reminds me of this often) but it’s a helluva lot easier. Again, if you can hear that chain, it’s time to lube it. If you notice sluggish shifting or your trim just doesn’t seem to trim, it could be time to replace it.

Smiling and ready to race on rattle free, lubed, quiet, clean, bikes! Helmet adjustments needed prior to dust-off, though.

Alrighty, then. I hope you, and your friends and family, found these suggestions helpful, thought-provoking and on-point.

GOT some of your own? Share ’em! Please.

Memory Lane?

Click here for a post about cycling in the sierra and here for yet another, this one about climbing mountain passes.

THANKS for reading.

STAY healthy; if it’s smoky outside, ride inside; be safe, and most importantly enjoy the ride (on a quiet bike).