Friday, December 04, 2015

Beat's new bike

The day before Thanksgiving, Beat and I stopped in Grand Junction to pick up the bicycle Beat plans to ride to Nome in March: a custom titanium Eriksen designed and previously owned by Mike Curiak. This is Beat's third "Curiak" fat bike, and it's gotten to the point where Mike e-mails Beat directly before he posts his bikes for sale. (Edit: As per MC's comment below, Beat was the one who initiated this sale.) I liken Beat to an art collector in this regard. When it comes to bikes for winter backcountry touring, arguably nobody in the world has more experience or has put more thought into the specifics than Mike Curiak. Even as I balk and argue that two people who live in a small apartment in coastal California do not need another fat bike, I can't deny a deep appreciation for these beautiful machines. It's gotten to the point where we actually do hang them on the walls.

This is also possibly the current best bike in the world for Beat's intended use on the Iditarod Trail. Mike wrote about this bike: "Key word above = geometry. I had a custom frame built because although everyone seems to make a fatbike these days, none of them come anywhere close to geometry that really, truly works on snow. 99.9% of the people buying and riding fatbikes these days don't know any better, and 90% of them don't care. Most are simply happy looking down on their gee-whiz bulbous tires, thinking that the tires are the most important thing. No way."

More details about this bike here and here.

Although I've been in awe of cycling from the moment I decided to pursue bicycle touring in 2002 (in my own backward way of deciding on a 600-mile trip, then re-learning to shift and pedal on a borrowed bicycle, and then finally buying one), I have never loved bicycles. Sure, I form emotional attachments with my well-used bicycles, to the point where you'd have to mangle my four-year-old, high-mileage Moots mountain bike beyond recognition before I'd ever be willing to give him up, and even then I'd cry. (I did actually shed a few tears when I shipped my Surly Pugsley to a new owner in Alaska, and sent my Karate Monkey to live with my sister because I couldn't bear to let her go. Also, I ascribe genders and personality traits to my bicycles.)

So perhaps I am bicycle obsessed after all. But a large part of me remains annoyed by the realities of bicycles — they're bulky things, and quite heavy when loaded with touring gear. They have to be carried or pushed in a wide range of unrideable conditions. They break down and need new parts frequently. They have to be secured and fretted about when left unsupervised. There are always these new-fangled components like thru-axles that I can't coax into releasing without much gnashing of teeth. (I have real difficulties with mechanical learning, of which I'm not proud, but there it is.) Even among rideable trails, a high percentage are off-limits to bicycles. There's so much more freedom — and fewer complications — in hiking, running, and backpacking. And yet the feeling of riding a bicycle — the steady rhythm, flow, and ease of covering ground — will always keep me coming back to cycling, even if the machines vaguely irritate me.
This one of the many reasons why Beat and I work so well together. He appreciates bicycles to the level of an art connoisseur, and I benefit from his attentiveness and fine-tuned decisions. On the other side, I love cycling so much that I'm pretty happy to straddle just about any bicycle and wrangle it into working for me, and like to think I do my part to coax Beat into riding the works of art on the wall.

Beat flew back to California on Sunday night, but I decided to spend a couple more days with my family in Salt Lake. Alone with Beat's new bike, of course I had to take it out for a ride on the neighborhood trails in Corner Canyon.

Here's another embarrassing confession that reveals my contemptuousness when it comes to mechanics: This bicycle came with two sets of wheels — 29" rims with 3" tires for "summer" use, and fat bike rims and knobby tires for "winter" use. Beat mounted the skinny wheels for his desert ride in Loma, and I was effectively too lazy to swap out the wheels. Sure, I reasoned that the trails were mostly well-packed and the 29+ set-up would be sufficient. But I also knew that my tendency is to venture off beaten paths to explore new ground, and I *knew* that rather than riding the established network of well-built, world-class singletrack, I was going to end up exploring the untracked jeep roads above the canyon. This is just who I am, and why I don't always abide well with the limitations of bicycles.

Still, for riding in anywhere from 3" to 9" of drifted, somewhat crusty fluff, this bike handled impressively well. It helps that Utah snow is practically like air, but I had great fun motoring up steep hillsides that were pocked with deer tracks and nothing else. Sure, the big wheels would have assisted an easier and faster ride, but I was glad for a little more nimbleness when I launched down a mercilessly steep jeep track riddled with baseball-sized boulders that were hidden by a thin layer of snow. Brakes were dialed in as well, thank goodness.

On Wednesday I turned west to head home. I hoped to visit Ann in Auburn that evening, but the timing worked out that I had about two hours to kill en route along I-80. I chose to stop early in the day in West Wendover, Nevada — a place on the Utah/Nevada border that I used to frequent shortly after I turned 21 because there was such novelty in cramming six friends into a $19.99 hotel room, dropping $25 on the roulette table over a series of $0.50 bets, and milking all the free perks while chatting with some truly eyebrow-raising characters at the Red Garter Casino. These days, the thought of such an outing depresses me to no end. Thus, by association, Wendover does as well.

I usually actively avoid this place when driving between Utah and California, even for a bathroom break, but this time decided to finally check out the hills surrounding this somewhat run-down tiny resort town at the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats. I parked at the Stateline Casino and set out on a jeep road toward a small cluster of mountains to the north. Because of Wendover's extremely dry climate, I was not expecting to see any snow, so I again didn't change out the wheels. It was a rude awakening to step outside to a temperature of 15F, a slight breeze, and after a few hundred feet of climbing, several inches of snow.

In just over two hours, I was only able to link up a 13-mile loop with a short spur toward a rocky canyon. There was a fair amount of walking along these steep jeep roads, most of which were untracked. I was wearing what I had for hiking at 15 or so degrees the previous week, forgetting that when I ride a bicycle, I need to dress at least a layer warmer. My hands and feet became useless clumps of cold meat. There was a long, gradual descent on a severely rutted and rocky road that was just technical enough to prevent me from applying much effort, and I froze without relief.

At yet, I was so enamored with this frozen landscape — almost alien in its barren expansiveness, and yet so close to the interstate that I could venture out for a quick jaunt in the same amount of time many travelers would drop a few bucks on slots and $6.99 prime rib lunch.

I also have a better sense for how well this bike is going to work for Beat in Alaska. It is quite nimble, light, and comfortable — the saddle notwithstanding. (I used to pride myself on being able to sit my butt on any saddle without issues, but Adamo saddles quickly cause what feels like bruising on my sit bones. After my five-hour ride on Monday, I could hardly sit in a chair without wincing. Beat uses these saddles because they distribute weight directly to the sit-bones to protect softer body parts, so I get it. But they strongly do not work for me.)

But if we have to have another bike filling the walls of our apartment, I'm glad it's this one. 


  1. Wow, congrats to Beat on his new bike, that thing is a work of art!

  2. The bike is dialed. I have always dreamed about a custom Eriksen, after I spoke with Ken at the 2007 NAHMBS in San Jose. Your post links to Mike Curiak's blog and mtbr posts made me read his pages till late night. I guess I am among the 90% of 99% of people who don't know the snow conditions in which riding a fat bike is so tough and don't care. I only rode my Mukluk on Cascades and Sierra cement and Oregon sand dunes. As a skier, I love the champagne powder of Utah and Colorado but will use gravity to get through. I guess bike like this is another item on the list of things that may make the Nome bike journey more likely to succeed. In that respect, it is priceless.

    1. Sadly I fall well into that 99% as well. But I do appreciate others' attention to detail.

  3. A clarification, after reading a mere two sentences into this post: Beat emailed me to ask when I was going to sell it. I already had a new bike in production, but hadn't planned to sell the Eriksen until I could compare them back to back. Beat's email (and desire to get cracking on a bike for Nome) changed my mind on that.

  4. nice! I have 16 bikes, its an addiction...


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