Bikepacking.com Rider’s Rig

Cameron’s Mahall Bikeworks Lugged Gravel Machine

 

The Rider

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I’m a public lands owner and ex-career park ranger. I never expected to find myself where I am today. Up until recently, my focus in life was professional public servitude befitting our shared natural and cultural resources…. However, a combination of working the Malheur Wildlife Occupation in the capacity of a public relations officer during a transition to an anti-public lands administration and my partner simultaneously being diagnosed with cancer led me to abandon decades of goal-seeking in pursuit of a simpler life prioritizing saddle time. While I no longer don the green and grey complete with Stetson, I still consider myself an advocate of our public lands first and foremost.

You can learn more about how my partner overcame advanced stages of cancer while bikepacking and packrafting here; she’s way cooler than I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caving was my gateway sport and made a steward out of me. When I was in highschool I spent my Junior and Senior years intermittently living out of a Dodge caravan while surveying caves for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and United States Geological Survey. Three days after I graduated highschool I left for Alaska – Alexander Supertramp style – with just a backpack and $500 in my pocket. Upon departure, I had never been west of Missouri, never flown, and still not learned to ride a bike.

In winter of 2009, I embarked on a multi-week backcountry mountaineering expedition which would change my life. As bad as I was at cycling in those days, I was much worse at skiing. An 80lbs sled barrelling down on me, a ski binding which refused to let go, steep alpine topography, and my horrendous ski skillset lead to my knee rotating nearly 360 degrees. A satellite phone and a helicopter nearly 20 hrs later saved my life, but my doctors said I might never walk properly again.

 

 

I couldn’t imagine a world without romping around in the forests and mountains; I was devastated and afraid. After some reconstructive surgery, my clinical team pushed me to continue to explore the backcountry on bike.

A decade ago the modern ‘bikepacking’ movement was just emerging along with the birth of fatbikes. I stood at ground zero of the renaissance in the adventure cycling scene and I was learning how to walk again. I found myself surrounded by amazing places and inspiring people. In the pursuit of backcountry, my new physical limitations forged an obsession with bikepacking.

Tinkering with used parts on Craigslist and making plenty of mistakes along the way, became the new norm. Over time my bike builds became more refined as I moved more and more weight off my back and onto the bike. I became the default bike mechanic on hand while stationed at remote sites with the National Park and US Forest Services. Backcountry trips grew in complexity as my desktop harddrive became overburdened with topo maps and day-dream-expeditions.

Over the last decade, my partner and I have moved from one amazing National Park or Forest to another all across the United States. My career allowed me to explore so many mind-blowing places by bike. After I resigned from public service, we packed up and returned to where it all began: Alaska, but our habits of traveling by bike remain.

 

 

As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.

~ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, the Whale

The Bike

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The origins of my love affair with gravel and thus my gravel bike, stem from Eastern Oregon. Until arriving in remote Eastern Oregon I had almost zero interest in any other forms of cycling than commuting and backcountry mountain biking.

With very little established MTB trail between Boise and Bend, and most of the multiuse trail in the region decades overdue for maintenance choked full of downed beetle and fire kill, I began exploring fire roads and decommissioned motor vehicle right of ways. I found myself continuously aghast at what people would attempt to drive. It became immediately apparent that the ‘roads’ of this region were quite different than anything else I had experienced before.

The 2 million acre Malhuer National Forest alone contains over 10,000 miles of gravel – and with an absolute bare-bones road crew and budget, these roads have atrophied over the decades into a gravel cyclist’s paradise.

 

 

It’s difficult to describe just how remote & intimidating this region’s landscapes are.

Nowhere else I’ve traveled – including my homestate of Alaska – has the perfect balance of decaying access & beautiful emptiness which defines the old ghostly homestead, timber & mining roads of Eastern Oregon.

Most other environments would see these paths fade as mother nature reclaims what is hers, however, these landscapes are so extreme it can take a century for a road to fade back into its natural state.

I met Mark Hall of Mahall Bikeworks at the first inaugural Skull 120 Gravel Grind Race in Burns, OR, a collaborative rebranding project I helped fashion in the aftermath of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupation. It’s been called America’s Most Gnarly Gravel Bike Race and it’s a social-political experiment in bridging the urban/rural divide.

I had noticed Mark Hall’s personal spectacular handiwork leaning against a fence at the finish line while its owner was walking about with a measuring tape in his pocket studying other rigs. Obviously, when all was said and done that evening, I got Mark’s number.

In 2018 I flew down for another Skull 120 event and met up with Mark outside of Bend, OR after a year of email correspondence. He had brought the bike I had seen the prior year for me to try out as we honed in on a custom build. I pedaled backroads from Bend to Burns as a trial run with Mark joining me for the first day of bikepacking, pen and pad at the ready to jot down insights, sizing, etc.

When I got to Burns I kept pedaling and threw in the Steen’s Mountain Loop before race day. When I saw Mark again at the starting line, I said, “I want this bike.”

 

 

Mark’s bike was an absolute behemoth – solidly too big for me, had a non-replaceable derailleur hanger which I consider a non-starter, and was built with a focus on gravel racing, not bikepacking. In any case, it felt right. Mark up and gave the bike to me on the spot saying “we’ll build you a new bike when you break that one”… I have a reputation of breaking bikes.

It’s been a couple of years now and I still haven’t been able to break the darn thing and believe me I’ve tried. She’s been bikepacking through Alaska’s backcountry and across glaciers, carried 117lbs of supplies on a multi-week trip through the Owyhee Canyonlands, survived jump lines as I ride the local singletrack on my commute to work and so much more than it was ever intended for. Apparently 631 Reynolds Steel with lugs is a winning combination.

With a new 900+ mile adventure bikepacking race route in the region about to debut, Mark swears he’ll force me to retire this tried and true companion. If he succeeds, I’ll likely end up with virtually the same bike but with sliding dropouts, more tire clearance and perhaps a degree or two slacker headtube angle.

Click here for an in-depth look into this year’s work on the 900 mile Cap the Climax Stagecoach Odyssey route.

“Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe.”

~ Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The Spec. Sheet

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This bike’s build kit has undergone some tinkering over the last couple of years (as you can see by variations in the photos provided). The evolution of this rig has been strongly shaped by my ‘gravel” bikepacking endeavors in Eastern Oregon.

 

 

As mentioned, the backroads I find myself exploring are often more reminiscent of enduro singletrack than something you’d send a vehicle traveling down. I have found most dedicated gravel rigs on the market to be under-equipped to handle my ramblings. Likewise, more traditional mountain bike configurations are often non-starters for the sustained, long-distance self-supported travel I embark on when various grades of gravel and fire roads are mixed in.

Below is how the bike sits today and will likely remain:

FRAME / FORK

Mahall Bikeworks (Lugged 631 Reynolds Steel) / MRP Baxter

RIMS

Rolf Prima Hyalite 25 (650b)

HUBS

Rolf Prima 100×15 (front) / Rolf Prima 135 QR (Rear)

TIRES

Rene Herse Juniper Ridge 650bx48 Endurance Casing (front) / Rene Herse 650bx42 Pumpkin Ridge (rear)

HANDLEBAR

Ritchey WCS Venturemax (46cm) w/ ESI Bartape

HEADSET

White Industries (straight 34mm) Lower & Cane Creek Viscoset Upper

CRANKSET

White Industries G30 Gravel/Adventure Cranks / 40T White Chainring

CASSETTE

Sram Eagle X0

DERAILLEUR

Sram Eagle XX1 (I in no way condone spending this kind of $$$ on a Derailleur)

BRAKES

Paul Components Klampers (short pull) / TRP RRL Levers

SHIFTER

Sram Eagle XX1 Trigger mounted to Paul Components Drop Bar Shifter Adaptor

SADDLE

Brooks Cambium C17

SEATPOST

Cirrus Cycles Kinekt 2.1

STEM

Paul Components Box Car (90mm length)

FRAMEBAGS

Scavenger Bags Full FrameBag / Andrew the Maker Half Framebag

OTHER BAGS

Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion Saddle Bag / Baryak Ultra with Voile Straps and a 10L Drybag for Barbag Kit

Changes Over Time

If this rig was a commuter, racer, or even weekend warrior bikepacker I would have likely let things be. It was the fear multi-week solo trips across the high desert instilled in me which forced a niche lens to my desires and thus, the bike itself.

My first component change was a big one: I swapped out a gorgeous Mahall Bikeworks steel fork for the 40mm travel MRP Baxter. At the time, I was going through a rigid phase so it turned some heads when I tossed the only suspension fork I owned on my gravel rig. If any wheel in my quiver was going to end up tacoed, it was going to be while gravel bikepacking barrelling down chunky roadbeds at dusk when a stray pothole decides to leave you stranded. I set up the MRP to be stiff yet blow off steam on big strikes, saving my rim from having to endure most of any sting.

 

 

A big round of changes came on the heels of a large route scouting mission June 2019 through the Owyhee Canyonlands. I swapped out my Andrew the Maker half framebag for a truly monstrous full framebag by the secret bag maker – Scavenger Bags – capable of holding more than 10L of water plus misc. supplies. A frame two sizes too big means two more liters of water; a fair trade when crossing remote desert landscapes. My 44t White Industries Chainring got dropped down to a 40t. My 100mm Thomson stem became a lovely 90mm Paul Boxcar stem in purple because matchy-matchy and stems deserve more than M3 socket heads.

It pained me to pull my purple White Industries upper headset but the advantages of the Cane Creek Viscoset were too numerous to pass by. All my bikes of late have made room for Viscosets which are particularly useful for bikepackers – especially gravel bikepackers – and one of my favorite innovations to cycling componentry in the last decade. Bikepacking.com did an article on them if you’re curious (which you should be). One nice tidbit the linked article forgot to articulate is that Viscosets allows you to push your bike single-handedly while it tracks straight and true and that the wheel doesn’t come swinging right at your face when you’ve got to carry it over some damnable mountain.

The most substantial change for this expedition was the move to 650b Rolf Prima Haylite 25 Wheels. The 650b platform freed up some more tire volume which I filled with my first set of Rene Herse tread in their new endurance compound which I have been made a believer in. While my bottom bracket height dropped a tad, the trade-off was well worth it.

 

 

I started riding Rolf Prima wheels spring of 2019 with the recommendation of Mark Hall and Rolf Prima coming on board as a major sponsor of the Skull 120. I’ll admit I was more than a bit skeptical. I’m no weight weenie, and I push my gear hard. Given the remoteness of my adventures, I put durability as the top requirement of all my cycling purchases and I just couldn’t fathom how a 24 spoke wheel could cut the mustard. Half a year has gone by on three different Rolf Prima wheelsets which have been thoroughly bikepacked and abused and I haven’t had to true any of them once. Surely there’s some kind of voodoo witchcraft afoot, but I’m not complaining.

 

 
Other Component Choices of Note

In my humble opinion, Paul Klampers are the best gravel brakes money can buy. Are they worth the additional investment over BB7s? I’d say it depends on your goals and budget. Given the degree of remoteness of my travels, the investment has proven worthwhile to me.

Another Paul piece of note is the Sram MTB shifter mount for drop bars. This piece of gear has been on the bike since day one and is the blackhorse of the group. I honestly did not expect to like this mounting configuration and planned on changing over to the microshift Eagle bar-end shifter (another great no-nonsense shifter option for MTB groups on dropbars) before I had ever even ridden the bike. While it did take some tinkering to get the shifter mount configured in a way that wouldn’t interfere with other cockpit mounts and bar bags, I absolutely love this mounting solution. I do not find the shifting position to be of hindrance and it’s worth noting I ride in the lowers – far from the shifter – much of the time.

Lastly, my Cirrus Cycles Kinekt seatpost paired with Brooks C17 Cambium is my best friend on big gravel adventures. Having come from the position of using a Cane Creek Thudbuster, I must say there is no comparison between the Thudbuster (meh) and the Kinekt (outstanding). If you’re listening Cirrus Cycles, kindly look into moving your spring tension from the rear of the post head to the front so us bikepackers can adjust the tension while using saddlebags. Better yet, add some sort of dial which can be adjusted on the fly as I find myself wanting to adjust my spring tension throughout the day on big rugged gravel expeditions.

Follow my adventures on my Instagram feed @Renaissance.Cyclist.

 

“With ‘Skull’ event, Burns stakes a claim as America’s best gravel riding destination!”

~ Bikeportland.org

Mahallin’ Down the GDMBR

Part II – Mr. Hall in Whitefish & the Birth of Mahall 015

Image: Jeremy posing in front of a mountain range in Glacier National Park.

Words & Photos by Eric Melby…

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is a cycling adventurer’s dream. The route travels 2,747 miles from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, NM through the Rocky Mountains, criss-crossing the Continental Divide and some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet. After months of training and planning, and nearly a decade of dreaming, I set off to complete the GDMBR on June 22, 2019 on my trusty Mahall stead. Through this series of posts I will discuss some of the highlights of the journey, my gear, and bikepacking tips for those looking to set off on their own epic adventures.

A Friendly Face in Whitefish, MT

I was excited to get moving on the morning of June 25th, day 4 of the journey, because part of the day would be spent in Whitefish, MT with my friend and framebuilder, Mark Hall. Jeremy and I had spent the previous night at Tuchuk Campground, just west of Glacier National Park in the Flathead National Forest, after completing our first century of the trip. My excitement was chilled as I emerged from my bivy and felt the 25℉ air on my face, and my fingers were not thrilled about packing up and pumping water from the nearby stream. Besides the chilly start, it was smooth sailing on the ~60 miles from Tuchuk to Whitefish, during which we were treated with incredible views of mountain ranges within Glacier, a lovely lunch stop along Red Meadow Lake, and a sweet gravel downhill from the lake that extended for nearly 20 miles. Not long after I hit the pavement I was greeted with shouts from a passing car, and it was none other than Mark tracking me down to dish out beer and bananas!

Image: Mark Hall and I just outside of Whitefish, MT. Hard to beat friends, beers, and bananas!

The hospitality did not end there. Mark and his wife Shari had planned a stay at a friend’s vacation home in Whitefish around our GDMBR timeline (no complaints from me about a roof over my head and a cozy bed!). As we arrived the drool-inspiring aroma of a hearty pasta sauce was in the air, so Jeremy and I made quick work of laying out our wet gear in the sun and showering so we could enjoy a delicious, home-cooked, protein- and carb-filled spaghetti and salad dinner. After filling our bellies Mark brought us into town to resupply, check out downtown, and imbibe local beer and whiskey. When we returned to the house for the evening Mark and I made the short walk down to a dock on Whitefish Lake, where we enjoyed chatting about the trip, a lakeside beer, and a lovely sunset over the lake. This moment on the dock had me reminiscing about the beginning of our friendship, which sprouted along with the lovely Mahall frame that I was riding on the trek…

Image: Sunset over the mountains and Whitefish Lake.

The Birth of Mahall 015

Image: What a beauty! Mahall 015 posing by Red Meadow Lake.

When I started dreaming about the GDMBR over a decade earlier I never gave much thought to the bike I would ride. I got more serious about the trip in 2016, thanks in large part to improved fitness riding with a band of Hooligans in the Tri-Cities of Washington (including Damion from the previous post). Thinking more about the bike I wanted to ride, I realized that bike did not exist. I reached out to Mark with my dream bike wish list in July 2016. From this point forward, I had the best time working with Mark to take the bike from a dream to a reality. Mark was exceptionally responsive to my messages and ideas. I think what I absolutely loved the most about working with Mark on this frame is his willingness to push the boundaries of his framebuilding to meet the needs and desires of his clients. Prior to this bike, Mahall 015, he had never built a belt drive compatible bike or one that had equivalent front and rear axle spacing. He worked tirelessly with Gates Carbon Drive to design and build the bike around their drivetrain and with Ti Cycles in Portland to bring my 142×12 spaced fork to life.

With Mark, the service does not end when the bike leaves the shop – he ensures that his clients are 100% satisfied at every stage of the process from design through application. When there were issues with the belt “ratcheting” (slipping on the sprockets) Mark was quick to work on a solution to the problem with both myself and Gates. To this day I still work with Mark when it comes to this frame and its components, and he has done countless other modifications to the other bike frames in my garage. I always look forward to time spent in the shop enjoying a pint and discussing the next adventure. I cannot recommend Mark enough for the cyclists out there thinking about dipping their toe into the custom bike world – you will not be disappointed.

Next up!

Part III – Hooligans and the Champ

#Bikepacking #framebuilding #greatdividemountainbikeroute #tourdivide #customsteel #whitefish #Montana

Mahallin’ Down the GDMBR

Part I – Takeoff

 

Words & Photos by Eric Melby…

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is a cycling adventurer’s dream. The route travels 2,747 miles from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, NM through the Rocky Mountains, criss-crossing the Continental Divide and some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet. After months of training and planning, and nearly a decade of dreaming, I set off to complete the GDMBR on June 22, 2019 on my trusty Mahall stead. Through this series of posts I will discuss some of the highlights of the journey, my gear, and bikepacking tips for those looking to set off on their own epic adventures.

Richland, WA to Banff, AB

An early hurdle a GDMBR rider must cross (besides the necessary planning, fitness, and a bit of insanity) is the logistics of getting one’s self and gear to the starting line in either Banff or Jasper. I have many people to thank for enriching this incredible journey I had the good fortune of undertaking, and the first will go to the Miller family for delivering me and my gear to Banff. Ghislaine, Damion, Coco, and Lance planned a Canadian Rocky camping trip around my planned GDMBR departure. I cannot thank them enough for the ride, the good times camping, the use of their truck to pick up my riding partner Jeremy in Calgary, and a couple warm meals. They helped keep my mind off of the intruding doubts and fears that start to creep in just before setting off on such an expansive expedition.

 

 

June 22nd, 2019 – It’s go time!

After properly fueling ourselves with a big breakfast in Banff (and taking a breakfast burrito wrapped to go), Jeremy and I headed out from downtown Banff – escorted by Damion for the first 30 miles. With so much time spent planning and dreaming about this route my emotions were running sky high. While it was a disappointment to not have Damion continuing with us for the length of the route, his light-hearted antics were just what the doctor ordered to help us appreciate what was right in front of us as opposed to being overwhelmed by the entirety of the ride we were just beginning.

Jeremy mentioned at the start of the ride, “I hope we see some bears, I have never seen one in the wild.” Well, we saw our first grizzly bear not more than 20 miles into the day, fortunately at a safe distance. This was followed shortly by our first black bear sighting. Later in the day we saw a grizzly sow and cub grazing in a lovely meadow. I let Jeremy know that he had jinxed us for the entire trip (and little did I know at the time, but this was just the beginning of the bears).

Our jaws were continuously dropped as we took in the stunningly beautiful, snow-capped Canadian Rockies. A late season snow storm on the previous day – the first day of summer – dumped up to a foot of snow in these very mountains. The majority of the first day had us rolling along lower elevations that were snow-free, and just as we thought we were going to get away without running into any of the white stuff we began the climb up Elk Pass. We found plenty of snow, and the warm temperatures that day meant that we also found plenty of mud. This was the first of many times that I was thankful for my meaty tire choice, 2.35” Schwalbe Nobby Nics. No matter the conditions, but especially in messy conditions, I love these tires for bikepacking.

Following the slow roll over Elk Pass it was smooth sailing to that evenings camping spot, a lovely site along Elk River known as Weary Creek recreation site. An unexpected amenity of the Weary Creek spot was a bridge over the river, under which we were able to store our food and take reprieve as the sky opened up and the rain began to pour down just after we arrived. We took the time to reflect on an amazing first day, giddy with the fact that we were actually doing this thing. Feeling exhausted after the first day on the trail we scurried through the rain back to our shelters. Crawling into my bivy, peeling off my rain gear and shoes, and stashing them into a garbage bag to hopefully stay dry through the rain had me jealous of Jeremy’s luxurious tent. If I do this thing again, I will definitely go with a light 1-2 person tent. Even with my mind racing about that day and what was in store for the next, I quickly drifted off to the sounds of the babbling Elk River.

Next up!

Part II – Whitefish and Mr. Hall

This blog was featured on Rolf Prima’s website & reshared here. The efforts outlined below are a partnership between Mahall Bikeworks, Rolf Prima & Cameron Sanders (AKA Renaissance Cyclist)…

 

Cap the Climax Stagecoach Odyssey:

Building America’s Wildest Gravel Bikepacking Route

 

America’s Most Rugged Gravel

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I’ve been cycling across Oregon’s rugged backcountry in search of stupid for some time now… Stupidly steep, stupidly technical, stupidly beautiful, stupid that somebody calls this a road, and stupid fun.

Eric Hoberoth, owner of Ren Cycles summed up my route selections best:

“Terrain that is more the idea of a gravel road than it is gravel or road. Most of the miles land in between challenging but never impassable; loaded with interesting vistas, dotted with livestock and wild animals, pitched at varying grades, and susceptible to the occasional rapid and dramatic change in weather. All of it runs through alpine forest, intermediate scrub, grassland, desert, and pasture that seems to spread off into the distance in every direction forever.”

 

When I first moved to Prairie City, Oregon (population 500) I was frustrated with the lack of singletrack. The nearest place to ride mountain bikes was Boise or Bend, each a 300 mile round trip away.

Desperate for backcountry riding, I got my hands on a map of the decommissioned US Forest Service roads in the Malheur National Forest. I quickly discovered I was sitting in one of the Nation’s greatest untapped treasure troves of cycling.

Eastern Oregon has tens of thousands of miles of gravel and natural surface “roads.” Most are now more like paths and cattle trails than anything else. Old ghost towns, timber sales, and mining sites dot the landscape and while the industries and its workers are long gone, the access to these places remain, connected by a seemingly endless network of decommissioned roadways.

I became obsessed with connecting them into rideable routes, slowly stitching them together with the most absurd terrain I could find. I was always on the hunt for some extra little piece of brain-candy here or there: a mine, an overlook, a change from brown dirt to red, a hotspring, a fire lookout tower you could sleep in. Some of these rides grew into Ride with GPS Ambassador Routes, now available to the public on their website.

It’s now been four years since my first forays into Eastern Oregon’s rugged backroads and they’ve changed my approach to cycling for good. These landscapes made a gravel believer out of me. Today my collection of multiday ambassador routes is substantial, and I’ve started plotting something absurd: a mega-route linking all my multiday routes together… A gravel odyssey to cap the climax.

 

A demanding, epic, amazing, scenic, tough, well-planned ride on the edge of nowhere.

~ Seth Patla, Multi-Year Sea Otter Champion

From Boise to Burns

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I moved away from Oregon two years back to return to my first cycling love: Alaska, but I am still drawn to Eastern Oregon’s endless roughtrack. I’ve made a habit of returning each June to work on my gravel odyssey and attend the Skull 120 Gravel Grind, in Burns, OR.

This year I intended to knock out most of the missing pieces of my mega-route in one massive, 500 mile, 35,000 foot gain, 10-day push from Boise to Burns. Other than the roads leading out of Boise, the entire route traveled gravel perfectly suited for a lover of the absurd.

When we rolled out of Boise we had to carry every tool and calorie we would need for the journey. This expedition was to be completely self-sufficient. The only signs of civilization along the entire route would be two tiny gas stations. We would encounter these as we crossed the only paved roads we saw among the unending gravel, mountains, canyons, desert, and prairie. More difficult still was carrying the 13 liters of water needed to pass through the arid landscape. All said, my loaded Mahall Bikeworks gravel rig weighed in at 117 pounds. This would be the heaviest I’ve ever loaded a bike, and the hardest I’d ever pushed myself.

Entire days went by without seeing another human being. One of the few people we did meet was a rancher, named Kent. He didn’t mince words when we rolled onto his ranch:

“You’re a couple of damned fools. Nobody’s ever

pedal-biked across these lands. Damned fools is what you are.”

The landscape dished out all manner of weather: punishing heat, snow, wind and rain. The tracks were diverse in their brutality. They seemed to seek some fiendish way to puncture a tire or dent a rim at every turn. Alongside the hardships, in robust turnout were landscapes to boggle-the-mind. Every day I found myself muttering ‘this is the most amazing place I’ve ever ridden’.

As far as bikepacking route scouting expeditions are concerned, this trip was pure gold. It was as though our bikes had the Midas Touch. Every new direction led to exciting discoveries. And we never got shot at – not even once! While some may take that as a given, it has happened to me on more than one occasion. Public access easements across private land are common in this part of the world, making our route completely legal… But when nobody other than you or your family has stepped foot on the land in generations, such laws seem to be forgotten.

With this year’s adventure to Burns a monumental success, the completion of the Cap the Climax Stagecoach Odyssey feels closer than ever.

“Where the heck is Burns, Oregon, BTW, and how do you get there?”

~ Andrew, Comment on Online Cycling Forum

Bikepacking on Only 24 Spokes!?

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I started riding Rolf Prima wheels this spring with the Alsea+ 24 spoke paired midfat wheelset after my friend Mark Hall, owner of Mahall Bikeworks recommended the Rolf Prima line. I’ll admit I was more than a bit skeptical. My cycling focus has always been on bikepacking and deep backcountry exploration. I’m no weight weenie, and I push my gear hard. Given the remoteness of my adventures, I put durability as the top requirement of all my cycling purchases.

I’d found the Alsea+ to be a joy to ride, and incredibly robust, as I tested their mettle throughout the Spring, but they’d seen nothing as arduous as this journey. As my Oregon expedition approached, I was in need of gravel wheelset. Rolf Prima, sponsor of the Skull 120 offered some new gravel products for testing during my June expedition. I hesitantly agreed to tackle this already intimidating ride on the Hyalite 25 – a paired spoke 25mm internal gravel wheel designed with these sorts of adventures in mind.

My prior gravel wheelset was quite different. Heavy and robust, its high spoke count and weight gave me confidence in their strength, but added little to the joy of my ride. I was happy to shed some weight and roll a bit faster, but it was difficult to imagine how a 24 spoke gravel wheel could possibly meet the demands of a 117lbs gravel bike traveling over seemingly endless rock gardens and cattle track. Knowing that Rolf Prima hub internals are machined in the USA with titanium bits by Rolf Prima’s production partner – White Industries, one of my personal favorite brands – set my mind at ease hub-wise, but the spoke configuration still had me guessing. As we rolled into the hills outside of the Snake River Valley I was wondering what in the hell I had signed up for. My worries proved needless.

During the following ten days, I went from cringing and braking over every big rock to thoughtlessly barrelling down steep grades filled with nasty bits of potentially wheel-killing debris. The 650b platform mated with Rene Herse Juniper Ridge Endurance tread made for the most inspiring trip I had ever executed across these harrowing lands. Though my partner in this expedition would taco his 29er Nextie MTB 36 spoke rim riding the Skull 120 at the end of the trip, the Rolf Prima Hyalite 25 wheels stayed true and strong throughout the entire ordeal, and continue to ride flawlessly as of writing this.

Just a few months ago I would have felt crazy saying it, but after what I put these wheels through, I now fully and unequivocally endorse the Rolf Prima 24 paired spoke technology. If the Hyalite 25 wheel can survive the punishing slog and brutal load I subjected it to, I have full faith that it will be a great wheel for anyone.

Follow my adventures on my Instagram feed @Renaissance.Cyclist.

 

“An epic grind that will get you way out there to test your mettle. Difficulty: EXTREME.”

~ Travel Oregon