Friday, October 14, 2011

The many makeovers of Kim

After the sun set, the entire sky turned a pale shade of pink. I made it home just before darkness set in, after another lap around Steven's Creek Canyon. The numbers are good for a solid mountain bike workout — 25 miles, 3,200 feet of climbing on a mixture of pavement, gravel and singletrack. I've been aiming for intensity during climbs this week, but my head cold and its accompanying congestion has made that difficult. I've also found I have no confidence on the descents. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever get that back.

I was using a rag to peel off chunks of dust-and-grease paste from the drivetrain of my Rocky Mountain Element when Beat rolled outside on the Karate Monkey, sporting a brand new Rockshox Reba XX fork. "You already put that on?" I was surprised. He only told me yesterday he even ordered it, and when I left for my ride it hadn't even arrived. Beat's been talking for a while about putting a new fork on the Karate Monkey. The old Reba Race, which I bought used on eBay before putting untold thousands of my own miles on the thing, had finally given up all together, and no rebuild was going to save it. Beat seems to prefer singlespeeding to all other types of cycling, so he wanted to fix what is becoming his bike (which is fine, as I've commandeered a couple of his bikes for my own.) Still, the Reba XX looked almost comical on the rusty old steel singlespeed. Sort of like putting a souped-up new engine in a Geo Prism (RIP, Geo.) Beat promised that someday we'd put the fork on a better 29'er. And yet I think I prefer my Karate Monkey. She's been such a good bike. And she's been through so many incarnations in the past three years.

She was just a wee frame when she arrived in Juneau in March 2008. I didn't really want a new mountain bike. I had been perfectly happy with my Gary Fisher Sugar. But my then-boyfriend coerced me into a Surly Karate Monkey, reasoning that I'd need a hardtail 29er if I ever wanted to ride the Great Divide Race (to which I just laughed. "Like I'm ever actually going to do that.")

I mined eBay and Performance Bicycle for parts, trying to build it up as cheaply as possible. The Reba fork, which cost about $400 used, was my one conceit. The rest of the components were fairly low budget. I think she came in under $1,500. Karate Monkey seemed like an unwieldy name, so I shortened it to Kim. This picture was taken just before her test run in April 2008, through a typical Juneau drizzle. She would never be so shiny again.

Kim and I hit it off immediately, and she proved to be a capable mountain bike. Here we are at the 24 Hours of Light in Whitehorse, Yukon (first woman and second overall. One of our proud moments together. There would be many more to come.)

As autumn approached I decided the swap out the Reba for the rigid fork that came with the frame, switch to skinny tires, slap on my Surly Pugsley's bike bags and create a touring bicycle for my 370-mile ride around the Golden Circle. The set-up worked beautifully. Nighttime temperatures dropped into the teens on that trip and I was grateful for every stitch of warm clothing and the winter sleeping bag that I brought.

As winter deepened, the studded tires went on, and Kim became an ice bike.

Then, in 2009, we set out to do what what Kim was born to do, which is ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route during the 2009 Tour Divide. I can't really gush enough about how beautifully Kim performed throughout that 2,740-mile race, despite weather-caused mechanicals (failed freehub, worn brake pads and general drivetrain wear and tear were my only immediate problems. I didn't even have to change a flat tire.) I realize this mostly had to do with luck more than it had to do with Kim's build or (lack of) maintenance. But wow, lucky me!

During my short-lived stint in Anchorage, Kim served a short-lived stint as a rigid mountain bike-slash-randonee bike. Here we are during our first (and only) randonee, the Denali Classic —a gravel 200K that actually was 145 miles.

After we moved to Montana, I acquired my Rocky Mountain Element, but continued riding Kim on a regular basis when I deemed the ride called for 29" wheels, which was fairly often.

Several months later, my friend Dave stripped off the aging drivetrain and converted Kim to a singlespeed. I continued to ride my Karate Monkey nearly as often as I rode the Element, when I deemed the ride and/or workout called for a singlespeed (and then throughout the winter, when all rides called for ice.) The Element hung from my wall unused for five months but Kim just kept chugging along.

Here's Kim the Singlespeed getting some redwood singletrack action in California. Before I moved here, I considered selling the bike but couldn't bring myself to give her up. I'm glad I didn't, because she seems to have become Beat's favorite bike, and now with a brand new fork and relatively new brakes, she's all ready for another trip down the Great Divide. Long live Kim!


  1. You speak of Kim as us "oldsters" speak of our grandchildren.

  2. What gearing do you have on the singlespeed? I'm about to start myself on the fixed gear path, and the idea of hills without shifting sort of freaks me out...

  3. Great post Jill, Cool to hear a woman talk about the bond that develops between a rider and machine.

    I know what you mean about hard to let go. I still have my 1990 Diamond Back Apex that was my first real mtb. 22 years now I've been dragging that thing around.

    Earlier this summer I read Be Brave, Be Strong on my Kindle. An incredible story and I couldn't put it down.

  4. Jerry, It's true I hold a lot of affection for my older bikes, but it's not out of control. It's not like I would burst into tears if I sold one. It's just sometimes fun to write about bikes as though they were actually companions.

    Jamie — It's a 32x20, a good ratio for climbing (also good for a high-RPM spinning workout on the flats.) In Montana and here in California, most of my rides involve long 2,000+ foot climbs, so the lower gearing works best for me.

  5. I feel just the same way about my Monkey! It's been schlepped around five continents in too many setups to remember and it just keeps chugging. And it's lining up in Banff in June!

  6. ALRIGHT !!!..."she's all ready for another trip down the Great Divide." Since Kim is 'now' Beat's ride, I'll assume he has a new challenge. Now you guys going to handle the fraternization rule ?

  7. While I paddle the way you ride, I have long lusted after some surly's. Love the Karate monkey, and a friend has pugsley that I think is amazing. Alas, I can't justify such a fancy bike when all I do is commute - in good weather, I am in NC the weather is always comparatively good - but I will continue to live vicariously through you. thanks.


  8. Interesting tour set up for the Karate Monkey. I really like that frame bag you use.

  9. Hey, Jill, Great post. Love the Karate monkey and it seems such a great tour with Karate monkey. I love it. Thanks for sharing with us.


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