In the summer of 2012 I intend to ride a substantial portion of Adventure Cycling‘s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route on a Surly Pugsley “fat bike”. This blog will chronicle my philosophy of, preparations for, and completion of this goal.
Why ride the GDMBR?
I’m a 53-year-old father of two. I grew up in the midwest, went to school there and in Seattle, and have resided in Colorado for the past 20+ years. I have lots of bicycle touring experience, but since I got married really haven’t done any — other priorities, you see. This all changed recently.
This past summer (2011) I started following the Tour Divide. I’m not sure how it came to my attention, but once I found out about it I was riveted by it. I followed the progress of the race every day. I also watched Ride the Divide, a movie about doing the race. Now don’t get me wrong, I would never want to race this course, but it got me reminiscing about my touring days. And I thought, someday I think I’d like to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR).
Well, “someday” got a lot closer due to recent events. To begin with, both of my parents passed away within the last 4 years, making me aware of my mortality, but only in a general sort of sense. Based on their experiences, I thought that, realistically, I’ve got about 20 years of relative vitality left, then about 10 years of precipitously declining quality of life, and that’s it. So I need to get going on my bucket list, but it’s not urgent.
However, within the last 12 months, two friends of mine succumbed to cancer. The more recent of the two — who was younger than I am — had only 10 days from diagnosis to the end. This was shocking to everyone who knew her, yours truly included. Her death made me realize that you can’t count on being around 5 years, or even 1 year, from now.
So, while it wasn’t realistic to do the ride this year — it’s too late in the year — I resolved to do it in 2012!
So am I just some middle-aged guy having a mid-life crisis? Perhaps. Does it matter?
Why do it on a Pugsley?
Having read several blogs about riding the GDMBR, it appears that people choose to use all different types of bikes for it. Full-suspension mountain bikes seem to be popular, as do hardtails. But the majority of the route is on gravel roads; it is not technical at all. There are three main obstacles: snow and mud when the weather is wet; sand when it’s dry, especially in New Mexico; and washboards — miles and miles of ’em, until you want to just stop and scream.
Now let’s think about this. For snow, mud, and sand, the bigger your contact patch the better off you are. No question there. What about washboards?
Suspensions don’t do you a whole lot of good on washboards because (a) they don’t really react quickly enough to smooth them, and (b) washboards cause a hell of a lot of wear and tear on them. For washboards, the bigger the wheels, the better. A 29er is a must; a fatbike is even better.
But won’t a fatbike be slower? Not really. First of all, if you’re in snow/mud/sand, you will find it easier going than on a “skinny” (e.g., 2.25″) tire bike. It might even make the difference between riding and pushing.
Second, the myth of rolling resistance on these large tires is just that, a myth. This is because the wider tire has less radial deformation than a skinny tire at the same pressure. Also, on irregular surfaces, there is significant energy loss caused by having to climb out of all of the surface irregularities that tires fall into. This is a tiny up-and-down motion as you ride, but it’s constant and drains away several watts of power. (Sorry I can’t find the reference for this right now.) The larger the circumference and the wider the tire, the less up-and-down. This is why 29er wheels roll better than 26″ wheels.
Matt RC has logged over 5000 miles of touring on a Pugsley. He comments:
For off-pavement touring, the Endomorphs make for an extremely comfortable ride. I think on most unpaved surfaces, I can actually sustain a faster pace with less effort than any other bike I’ve ridden, since the tires just tend to float over loose gravel, potholes, washboard and the like without slowing down as much as skinnier tires would. And definitely more comfortable than any other bike I’ve ridden for day after day off the pavement. I’ve also found with the Endomorphs at 20-30 PSI the Pugsley isn’t really noticeably slower on the pavement than a normal bike with wide Marathon XRs or similar tires… Having the option of riding across sand, snow, loose gravel, and other surfaces that might be impossible to ride on a normal bike is also really nice and gives you more options when touring.
When the going gets rough, you can air down the fat tires and you effectively have a suspension. It’s modest — only 2-3 inches of travel. But you’ve eliminated all of the mechanical complications of a suspension system, and that contributes greatly to reliability.
Of course, there are drawbacks too. Fat bikes are heavy: my Pugsley tips the scales at 36 pounds. (Note: now that I’m going tubeless, that will probably drop about 1.5 pounds.) Much of that extra weight is rotating weight. However, rotating weight is not the devil that everyone believes it is. It makes acceleration slower, but once you’re up to speed, it has no effect except as a flywheel, which is actually beneficial on rough terrain.
And the Pugsley has some additional attributes that are geared toward expedition-level touring. The frame is steel, which makes it strong, resilient, and possible to repair even in small towns. The rear dropouts are horizontal track-style, which enables you to run a single-speed or internally-geared hub (IGH) without a tension roller. It uses the same hub spacing for both the front and rear wheels, allowing you to switch wheels if, for example, your freehub body or your IGH self-destructs. Both wheels use a rear disc brake, giving you yet more parts interchangeability. All cables are fully enclosed for resistance to the elements. Read Surly’s design rationale for Pugsley for more info.
A rigid steel, IGH Pugsley having no suspension, derailleurs, or tension roller, equipped with cable-actuated disc brakes such as the Avid BB-7, is the ultimate in simplicity, resistance to the elements, and on-the-road repairability. And it can go anywhere that any other bike can, plus a lot of places other bikes can’t!
My Pugsley keeps impressing the heck out of me as a versatile bike that just eats everything up and is more fun than you can imagine. From snow to sand to expedition touring to technical mountain biking it is the swiss army knife of bikes.
So that’s why.