There is nothing as satisfying as watching a beautiful custom bike come together. In this instance we were afforded the opportunity to try our hands at building the ultimate gravel grinder for one of long time friends and customer, Melody Mayers. Having been riding as long as she has Melody knew exactly what she wanted, and that there were very few options on the market that were going to accommodate her needs. A call to Calfee for the frame, and one to Derik for the build and it was game on. Scroll through to see how we built it up.
A good set of fenders is crucial to being able to withstand the rigors of a PNW winter. While not the lightest options on the market, we chose to use the Planet
The most anticipated gravel race of the year in the Pacific Northwest took place on February 4, 2017. Nestled between Seattle and Portland, Capitol Forest, just on the outskirts of Olympia, WA, hosted the inaugural DiamondBack Bicycles Cascadia Super G presented by Full Speed Ahead. Organized by Race Cascadia, the same team who brings us the Cascadia Dirt Cup, the Northwests premiere enduro series, the Cascadia Super G is a brand new event that will challenge the way you perceive racing. Bursting on scene with the burgeoning ranks of alternative road races, the Cascadia Super G offers a hybrid race experience with a cross section of racers and gear across many different disciplines. It is a race where finishing is the major accomplishment, winning is an added bonus, and having a great time by everyone is guaranteed. Head over to the website and you’ll see the race summed up in four words. Grit. Guts. Glory. Gravel.
While gravel races are popping up all over the country, the Super G is carving it’s own niche. Racers are given two opportunities to make a podium; Racers are given two opportunities in each category to make a podium and receive a coveted custom leader jersey provided by Castelli; the blue jerseys go to the fastest cumulative time for the three special primes, green jerseys are awarded to the overall fastest time for the entire course.
New bike day is the best day right? We think so, thats why were going to throw some pictures up of Cam's new Titanium Honzo.
"A couple of years ago I sold my Steel Honzo for something that I thought “was a better bike” and I’ve been regretting it ever since. Turns out there may not actually be a better bike then the Honzo, so when the stars aligned earlier this year and the prospects of affording a Ti frame because feasible it was a no brainer. While the initial build is focused on shreddy and durable, there is a “B” build in the works for bike packing so stay tuned for an update on the most versatile Honzo in the PNW. " -Cam
Look at the Ape Index!
The Stagecoach 400 is a bike packing route and race that was designed Brendan Collier and Mary Metcalf Collier of Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild California, just up the mountains (about 5700’ up) from San Diego. It is highly technical route spanning just under 400 miles that traverse over the mountains, through downtown San Diego, across the desert, and eventually back up into the idyllic mountain town of Idyllwild, all the while exposing you to a plethora of riding surfaces. From technical single tracked to washed out jeep road, sandy forest service access roads and green space single track in the city, the Stagecoach forces you to pull every bike handling trick you know out of the book to make it through the route, and probably learn a couple more while you’re at it.
Several months ago, sitting in a bar watching the rain pour down the windows while my beer slowly (quickly) got lower and lower in my glass, I found the notion of a spring time trip to Southern California slowly take hold in my brain. A quick text out to some select friends was met almost immediate excitement and the plan was formed.
Now, if we were mature and responsible adults we would have based our trip time around weather patterns, average temperatures, night time lows, desert highs and trail conditions. Instead though we picked January because: 1. It was sooner then February and we really wanted to get out of Olympia, and 2. Probably no rattle snakes.
Despite our best efforts and the fact that we still maintain that our trip planning meetings were a success (mostly because we always wound up bowling, biking and having that extra pint that we probably shouldn’t have instead of discussing the trip) we wound up in the RV after work, wholly over-packed, with a lot of stoke and very little idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
It was the start to a great week.
Turns out San Diego isn’t really that close to Olympia, and our plan of using five drivers and making it all the way down in one push quickly dissolved upon realization that the RV had comfortable beds to sleep in and a fully functional kitchen. That and the pineapple express storm that guided us the whole way down put a damper on our pace, do you know how hard it is to pee in a moving RV thats experiencing heavy winds? I do.
Safe to say, our moods into the trip probably wouldn't have been so great if we had spend the 20+ hour drive in a compact car vs the luxury of the coachman.
Like I said, WA weather chased us all the way down. Thankfully the RV provided a great reprieve from the damp to get our bikes all repacked.
One last cheers before depart... Ok it wasn’t the last one, the rain kicked back up so we may have hid in a bar for another hour or so before we set off.
Locked and loaded. One of the interesting things about getting ready for this trip was seeing how everyone managed their storage space, from fork leg mounted “Everything Cages” to custom fit frame bags (Left image) we all had different solutions to the same problems. Pretty neat to see it all come together.
The dirt roads in Southern California bear few similarities to the ones that we’re used to in the PNW... who'd have thought? Compact gravel is replaced with loose soft sand, and the constant moisture trapping tree cover is traded for cacti, small bushes and horizon escaping boulder fields.
With the near record breaking rain that had been pummeling the area for the several days prior, the sand was running tacky and slick. Hard pack would turn in to friction less mud faster then you could say "Spring time SoCal Vacation!" and if you weren’t on guard it was easy to let your bike get away from you (Sean found that one out quick on day one.
All the reviews of the course we read made it sound imperative that to tackle the Stagecoach you would NEED at least 2.8" tires. Now, it's impressive enough that 3 out of 5 of us were able to take out plus bikes on the route, but Jason and Zach still tackled it on normal width 29" and 27.5" tires. And guess what? They did fine. Dropping some PSI out of a 2.3 gave plenty of traction for both of them to keep going at the same pace as everyone else. Did those of on 2.8's and 3's have an easier time? Maybe, but to the casual onlooker there was no discernible difference.
That said. I have no regrets on my choice of 2.8s. They carried speed just fine on the pavement, and once I figured out tire pressure (Dropping from 35psi to 18psi) the ride quality was unbeatable. The large foot print tires not only provided more effortless traction, but also helped alleviate much of the body soreness that comes with 10-12 hours days in the saddle.
Bike tour brings out the best in people. And not just those riding, when your out living off of your bike people go out of their way to interact with you, and whether or not you're looking for it, to offer you help (Hell there’s a whole app dedicated to finding bike touring people places to stay!). With weather rolling on our first night we stopped at a little market off route to grab some snacks and inquire as to were we could camp. Our cashier without hesitation not only alerted us to the impending weather, but also in the same breath open up his covered patio for us to sleep under.
While most of us were dabbling in ramen noodles, bagged fish and other calorie dense ultra light food, Jason was packing potatoes, a grater, spatula ultra light frying pan some eggs....
There is no complaining here. Waking up to camp stove hash browns is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me on bike tour. I’m counting on him bringing an oven next time, bed time cookies would be pretty neat.
So you know that rain that I keep mentioning was following us? It finally caught us. This is where I don’t have any pictures because out of fear for my camera I stashed it away into a double layered dry bag.
On our second day we were intending to get most of the way to San Diego ideally setting us up for a casual ride into the city the next day, some forecasted sun, and some earned big city beers. We were optimistic and energy levels were high... What could go wrong?
Early into our ride the clouds made their move and soon we were riding in a pretty gorgeous fogscape. We’ve got the green and grey up here, and they’ve got the gold and grey down there. Gotta say, both are pretty cool. Soon though the fog turned into mist, then into drizzle and before we knew it we were slogging in the rain through increasingly thicker mud. Our aspirations of an eighty mile day quickly faded as the terrain grew slower and slower, the sand transformed into a gummy frame coating mud, and motivation to press on decayed with each drop in the temperature.
At a certain point we made the decision that setting up camp in the diminishing light was better than the dark and we started to look for cover, which came in the form of a single tree in a cattle pasture, surround by rocks and piles of well camouflaged bovine shit.
We tucked our bivies as close as we could to the base of the tree, in the hopes that the low hanging branches would diffuse the rain, and ideally keep the errant cattle away from stepping on us should we be wrong and the pasture wasn’t in fact deserted.
That was it. For the next thirteen hours we lay in our bivies while we got pummeled by rain, counting down the hours until sunrise. I really can’t describe how rough a night it was. By the time sunrise came we had standing water in our bivy sacks. Our sleeping bags were soaked through, every article of clothing we owned was soaked. And yet somehow we weren’t demoralized, we had just spent over half a day freezing, soaking, unmoving in our tiny single person sacks, not getting more then an hour or two of sleep broken up over dozens of “naps” and yet the jokes still flowed as we crawled back into the fresh air and day light. It’s nice when you pick the right group of people for a trip.
With soaked gear we decided that it was imperative to beeline it for a laundromat, which meant skipping a few sections of route. I would love to say how hard it was mentally to deviate, how crushed I was that we were setting ourselves up to do an incomplete loop, that I wouldn’t rest until I drove back down and did the loop in full... It wasn’t a difficult decision. The draught quenching rain had rendered almost all of the route immediately outside of San Diego near impassable from mud and erosion, and we were drenched and cold, and a warm place to dry off with some good food was sounding just fine by me.
We dried out gear off and made the call just to book it to San Diego via the pavement. It was a welcome break.
We spent one night in San Diego. I'm not going to go into too many details because you know, what goes on in San Diego stays in San Diego. But I will say one thing.
If you find yourself in the city on bike tour and have some time to kill go find yourself to this bar called Cherry Bomb and order a Budweiser and Whiskey. Not a Bud Heavy and whiskey (They don't like that), just a Budweiser and Whiskey. Once you have your beer and glass of whiskey (Yes I said glass) just try to stay standing while you take it all in. It's a riot.
One of the coolest things about this route is how much attention to detail is placed on the refuels, and this isn’t specific to just the peoples refuels, your bike needs love too. As you leave San Diego they send you right past this super rad little service only shop “The Hub and Spoke”. The folks not only will tune your bike back to perfection, but they will also give you a custom paint job to die for, and let you play on their climbing wall while you wait. Long live the LBS.
Dried out and nursing off a light hangover we found a lovely park, took a quick nap and got ready for what would turn out to be one of the most gorgeous days on the bike yet.
Oh ya but first we had to find the legendary adobe mud of SoCal. do you like being able to spin your wheels? Well don’t make the mistake of riding through this stuff... twice... like we did. Whoops. That was a few hours lost trying to un-mud our equipment.
Un-mudded we proceeded to start the climb up to the town of Alpine, home to the Alpine Brewery, and our final destination for the evening for hops, burgers, and rendezvous with buddies. I’m not eloquent enough to do justice to the beauty that we rode through so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.
Rain what rain? This was one of the tamer erosions that we had to cross. *Side story* I was trying to pedal up this one handed while I took the picture. I crashed.
High fives all the way around. We raced sunset up that last climb, trying to get through with the single track before the sun abandoned us. We made it. Pavement for sunset was the perfect set up for our last push to the brewery, and eventually the abandoned lot that we set up camp in.
One thing these pictures will never do justice for was the amount of single track on the route. Brendan and Mary did a great job putting riders on as much tight, flowy single track as possible, often getting you on to ribbony trails within ten feet of a road for miles at a time. For a route that traverses through and around one of the most population dense metropolitans in the country, you rarely have to put your tires on asphalt.
That said, this was the only picture of single track I took. Not for any real reason, I was just having too much fun partying down the trail to want to stop and take my camera out. Not EVERYTHING has to go on Instagram (Most stuff does though, lets get real here.)
After spending two days trying to climb back up to elevation (6000’ ish) we found our selves plunging back down to sea level. Could this have been disheartening? Maybe for some, but the desert more then makes up for it.
Them views though.
There she is. All loaded up and showing the signs of a long trip. Jeff (Boss man at JR) was kind enough to let me take his Norco Torrent on this trip so I could get a feel for plus size before I buy my own. I have to say it was pretty great. The bike is wonderfully balanced to climb efficiently at slow loaded speeds, but never looses it stability on the descents. Whats the point of going mountain bike packing if you can't enjoy the downs?
I'll be putting up a full gear break down next week. Stay tuned to see what bags we used, why we used them, and what we put inside of them!
The key for a good morning is to make sure your stove, water, coffee and filter are all within arms reach of your sleeping bag. It was nice to be caffeinated beforeI had to stand up in the morning. Not to mention the front door views were nothing to complain about.
This was the last leg of our journey, I don’t have many pictures out side of the desert. Our last day climbing back to Idyllwild was the most mentally taxing of the trip, and for that reason the camera never came out, so maybe we’ll save that story for another day. But I'll give you a teaser, it involved hiking through a flooded oasis, sub freezing temperatures, and navigating shoulder-less mountain pass highways.
No one died. We're all still friends, and over beers last night it was pretty clear that we all wish we had just kept pedaling and not come back. That might be the hardest part about bike packing: having to stop.
In a couple months I will be tackling the Cross Washington. If anyone is interested in the route and joining on I strongly recommend that you come in chat. We're hoping to roll out with a strong Olympia showing!
Otherwise stay tuned for a few more over the next couple weeks detailing gear and food choices.
Till next time
Full Gallery (with some pics I didn't put above)
The Classic is back! Or rather, was back. Two weeks ago Joy Ride worked with Friends of Capitol Forest (FOCF) to put together one of the best classics to date. With a turn out unmatched by past years numbers, and all time trail conditions this years race harkened back to a better time. A time where matching kits didn't matter as much, were no one judged you for not riding carbon and everyone was just racing for the finish line beer.
Like a patient parent, Squatch watches his heard line up at the start gate.
It was a great thing to see Joy Ride represented in full force, with customers and friends (On in the same in most cases) sitting on almost every podium, and those who didn't cheering on from the sidelines.
Erik Dukes (Riding for Joy Ride Enduro) had his eyes on the prize, reeling in his class (Expert men 30-39 ) for the win, and putting down a top 10 pro time. Not bad for an ENDURBRO!
Most people know Capitol Forest for it's miles of gorgeous and endless single track. But the locals mostly know it as the best place to hide a body. RIP.
Erik finished his race fast enough to clean up, get dressed, and then very quickly get undressed again. It's kind of his thing.