Meet the Bikes: I’m Henry!

Most of my bikes have been through some sort of evolution throughout their lives. That is the nature of having a thing… you start off with it, then, over the course of time, you change things, add or remove bits, modifying it to make it suit your needs. My bikes… some start off serving a specific role, but maybe that role changes. Or they start off with one set of components, then get a completely different set. Sometimes, even whole new frames.

The question could be asked “Is it still the same bike if none of the parts are the same? I say… it depends. When I name a bike, I’m naming an idea, the personality, the soul that develops around the bike. Sometimes, the name is tied to the hardware that the bike is made out of. Sometimes… it is tied to something deeper, more personal.

Out of all my bikes, no bike has changed over time as much as Henry the Packmule.

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“I’m Henry!”

Henry has existed across three bike frames and countless changes in parts. I think the only original part is the kickstand. Henry even has a history that starts before there was a bicycle named Henry, but you’ll have to ask my sister about that, she knows the story better than I. Suffice to say, she named him.

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Henry the Packmule started out as a Trek 820 frame, built up with road components from another bike, and a Surly 1×1 fork. I built my own front and rear racks, because why not? I was on a budget, and it was cheaper to build them from scratch myself.

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Original Henry in the wild.

Eventually, Henry got moved to an aluminium Giant Boulder SE frame when I noticed that the steel Trek frame had a slight bend.

Then, one day, my dream frame went on sale.

I had long drooled over the Surly Big Dummy, but man they were pricey. Worth every penny, but it took a lot of pennies to buy one. So, when Surly updated the design of the Big Dummy frame, they put the previous model on firesale. I still really didn’t have the money, but I crossed my fingers and bought it anyways.

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I think it was one of my better choices.

I built the Big Dummy frame up with mountain bike parts, used the old wheels and brakes, and built my own rack for the back. Xtracycle was having a sale on their bags, so I picked up a set of those for cheap. Many adventures were had.

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From the doomed Grand Canyon ride attempt, overlooking the Babbitt Ranch.

Eventually, I built my own wheels, installed disc brakes, put a 29 inch wheel on the front, set Henry up with the Surly Dummy Cargo Kit, and have gone back and forth endlessly with front racks and baskets.

I’ve hauled a few hundred pounds of wood home with Henry, carried other bikes, some light bike touring and camping, gone mountain biking, ridden in parades, towed (pushed) a car, and had it in the air. I’ve even brought home groceries.

Even more impressive are the bike moves with the trailer I built.

Currently, Henry is the bike that gets the most miles, partly because the platform pedals let me ride in sandals, but mostly because, for the most part, Henry is set up just about perfect for me. With a 29 inch front wheel (helps smooth out bumps, and stabilizes the bike) a 26 inch rear wheel built around a Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 internally geared hub, (the Big Dummy frame was designed with this hub in mind.) Hydraulic disc brakes keep the speed in check. (Haha!) The Dummy Cargo Kit with a few mods is the ideal setup for my needs, the bags swallow whatever I throw at them, and a homemade wide loader bar helps me cary anything big or heavy. All this rolls around on Schwalbe Big Apple tires.

And I almost forgot… Henry has the coolest horn.

Henry looks big and unwieldy, but for a packmule, he’s surprisingly quick and nimble. Sure he’s heavy, but he rolls fast and smooth, even with a load. Once you’re moving, you don’t feel the weight. And once you get used to the long wheelbase, he’s a surprisingly capable mountain bike, too.

I feel like this is turning into a long term review…

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Henry and Two-Spot

So, what’s left to change on Henry? Well… not a whole lot. I like Henry, even after all these years, as he rolls now, Henry is still my dream bike. Getting on Henry is like putting on your favorite old jacket.

I guess that’s another part of having a thing. You make changes to it over time, and if you stick with it, eventually, you make it perfect for you.

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The Dummies, catching some sun.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Henry the Packmule. This took a while to write, as Henry has the most history behind him, even though he’s not the oldest bike in the garage. I know I had fun remembering, going back and reading and looking for old pictures, and re-living some of the old memories with Henry.

Take it easy.

That thing electric? ~ The majority of people who come up to me as I’m strapping down an impressive load to Henry

The Ongoing Struggles of Photographing my Artwork

I love and hate taking pictures of the things I make, especially when they are gifts. I love it, because I get to stare at it a while, in different lighting, and study this thing I’ve made, and really memorize it, because usually I’ll not see it again, at least for a long time.

I hate it, because I can never seem to take pictures that do it justice. But I’ve gotten better, largely due to a new camera and lens setup that gives me more manual control. This time, my problem was mostly lighting, which was my own darn fault.

Aaanywho.

So, a good family friend? Niece-in-law? Not sure how to put it? Anyway, she graduated high school, so I decided to make a graduation gift for her. For no apparent reason, I decided to make a pen, which is something I learned to do when I was in high school, and not something I do often. (The significance of this was lost on me until my sister pointed it out…) To dress it up a bit, I opted to make a nice case for it as well.

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Have you ever had one of those projects that ended up going a different direction than you intended? You start off with something in mind, but due to materials, or tooling, or desire to do something new, it ends up miles away from what you had envisioned? Not to mention, way cooler?

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Yeah, that happened with the case.

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Focus on the front
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Focus on the lid

The pen, and both the base and lid of the box are all cut from the same figured walnut board. The lid is mortised, with no joints. The pen groove is flocked. The whole thing is sanded to 1000 grit, then rubbed with steel wool and my finishing mix, then buffed with beeswax. What I love is that you can feel the texture of the figuring in the wood, something that is usually lost in sanding, but makes for a much closer, natural feel of the wood, in my opinion.

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I could gush on for a while about this, so I’ll stop here. However, it’s not the biggest thing I’ve made, but it’s definitely one of the more fulfilling, and nicest things I’ve made. Between trying new things with it, and nailing everything on the first shot, I am very happy with it, and so was Autumn!

 

A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist. ~Louis Nizer

Campout and Sunset Trail Day

What is normal?

nor·mal

ˈnôrməl/

adjective

  1. conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

When normal people go camping off their bike, they take all their lightweight gear, compress it into an impossibly small space, strap it to a lightweight bike, and ride, all the while trying not to complain about how the weight changes the handling of the bike. It’s called “bikepacking.”

I go a different route. I throw all my camping stuff at a Big Dummy, and ride. It doesn’t change the handling, nothing’s super compressed, and it’s got plenty of room for extra stuff like trail building gear, extra water, marmots, and tree stumps. Sure, the bike is heavy to begin with, but you don’t really notice the extra weight. (at first…)

This past Saturday, the 19th, there was a trail day up on Sunset, up on Mt. Elden. I try to ride a bicycle to as many trail days as I can, but I also enjoy sleeping in on the weekends. So, as a compromise, I end up trying to camp out the night before nearby the work site. It’s a great arrangement. I get to sleep outside in the hammock, sleep in, take my time waking up and having breakfast,  and then go build trail. Everyone wins!

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Let’s go!

So, I loaded up Stitch with all the fixings of a trail day campout: My usual complement of camping gear, an LPG stove because I can’t use my wood stove due to fire restrictions, boots, a hardhat, a soft hat, my trail day backpack with rock hammers and chisels and a saw, and extra water. We rode up the Arizona Trail to Schultz Pass, and from there we went up the backside of Sunset trail to Sunset Peak, where I found a great pair of trees well off the main trail. I hung the hammock, cooked dinner, and watched the stars come out in the hammock, as the coyotes and elk and wind made the music of the night.

Click to embiggen.

The next morning…

I woke up to the Sun in my eyes. This was as planned, as I purposefully hung my hammock so that the Sun would hit me in the face as it rose. It’s a big bright warm gentle alarm clock.

An hour later, I was packed up and bombing down Sunset. The meeting point was at the bottom of Red Onion, a tight, techy social trail with logjams, narrow gaps, and tight turns, and I was a little curious if Stitch would fit. He did, but only just. That silver bar on the left side of the bike? That’s my wide loader, and it’s bent now. Aside from that, we made it down Red Onion without incident.

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People arrived, breezes were shot, and trail was worked. The section of Sunset trail we were working on was heavily eroded, due to poor layout. We couldn’t really re-align the trail here, so we put in some huge drains in the worst erosion spots, and improved drainage further up the hill. The Flagstaff Hotshots crew was there working, which helped immensely, many thanks to them.

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Some rockwork I helped out with. The only picture of actual trail work I took.

After the trail work, and the consumption of much post-work pizza, (Mmmm Fratelli’s…) I had a choice to make. I could take the easy way and ride down Lookout Road to get home, or I could essentially retrace my steps and ride back up Red Onion, up Sunset over all our freshly done work, and down the steep other side, adding a few miles and a lot of steep climbing to my ride.

I can’t do anything easy, so up I went. My phone was on point with motivation, as it played My Silver Lining, by First Aid Kit, one of the lyrics being “I won’t take the easy road.” For how heavy Stitch is, between bike and cargo, he climbs pretty well. I did my part to pack in the fresh dirt. Then, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I made the climb up the side of Observatory Mesa to take the Loop Trail home, rather than ride through town.

I loved every minute of it.

Ultimately, this was another good shakedown ride for Stitch and I. I have a better idea of how the bike handles technical singletrack with a load, I should leave the wideloader at home, and I think I’ll trim the front fender some, as I popped some zip ties as it hung up on a drop. I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed the ride as much on a shorter, lighter, more normal bike with the same load.

The experiment continues.

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I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road

My Silver Lining, First Aid Kit

Meet the Bikes: Stitch!

Let’s kick off the Meet the Bikes series with the biggest, longest, fattest, heaviest, and youngest ride in the rack, (If he could even fit in the rack…)

Stitch!

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Wrong Stitch! (Lilo and Stitch, Disney)
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Stitch, the bike!

Stitch is a Big Fat Dummy, built by Surly Bikes, and is a variation of the Extracycle longtail standard. With tires over four inches wide, and up to 400 pounds of load hauling capacity (Rider and cargo) this is the ultimate go-anywhere-do-anything utility bike.

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Do these tires make my hands look small?

I’ve gone bikepacking, trail building, mountainbiking, and snow biking with Stitch so far. I’ve even brought home groceries with him. He climbs mountains with forty pounds of camping and trail-day stuff on the back, and does it with more stability than a shorter, lighter bikepacking rig.

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On the way up the mountain for a camp out and a trail day!

Stitch also inspires my creativity a bit. I’ve made two frame bags for him, (The blue bags in the middle of the frame) as well as coroplast fenders to keep the mud and spray away from me and the cargo.

So…. why a Big Fat Dummy?

It’s weird. I mean, the bike is weird. It is big, and heavy, and unique. I like unique bikes. And it looks cool. It’s art in function and design, and a testament to the fact that I don’t need a car. And he’s sturdy. Like a lobster!

I went back and forth for a long time before I got Stitch. I mean, I already have one longtail. But  ultimately, I knew I would use it. I bought Stitch as we were finalizing the Trail Faeries, with the intent of using Stitch to haul trail tools, camping gear and myself to a worksite, in addition to the bikepacking and winter commuting and errands.

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Custom tool cradle on the back, holding a McLeod, pick/mattock, a shovel, and a pair of pants.

So…. why Stitch?

You’d have to ask my sister, she named him. But, it’s a good name, an accurate name. All my bikes seem to grow a personality, except this one. Stitch came with a personality, and if you’ve ever watched the movie Lilo and Stitch, Stitch the bike, and Experiment 626 are cut from the same cloth. Both are outrageous, a handful, out of control at times, but in control at the right times, and make me giggle. And they’re both blue, so there’s that.

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Stitch puts his foot down.

Stitch and I went on an adventure this past weekend, an overnight camping ride on Mt. Elden ahead of a trail day. He’s still new to me, and I’m still getting to know him, whittling down the list of things to add onto or change, to make Stitch my ultimate bikepacking ride, as well as just figuring out all the quirks and tricks to a new bike. But, we’re getting close, and I’m glad Stitch and I are friends!

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Down Little Bear? Maybe next time.

 

The correct number of bikes to own is n+1 . While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1 , where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1 , where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

Spin it Up!

Today was spent mostly in the garage/shop, working on bikes, taking care of a few maintenance items, making changes, fixing things… that sort of thing. It was nice to turn up the music and do some laid back work, after all the heavy trail work the past couple weeks.

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Yesterday’s (Friday) trail work, about four tons of (really pretty) rockwork, with a berm on top to widen out this turn. Our best work yet so far!

What’s also nice? Having an excuse to fire up the old Atlas metal lathe and make something cool! What’s cool? Custom motorcycle centerstand swingarm spools!

(Click photos to embiggen)

I am happy with how these turned out. (Ba-dum psshh) Stuff like this makes me want to run the metal lathe more.

Walk the walk. ~ Keith Fenner, TurnWright Machine Works

It Ain’t Gonna Build Itself!

Currently, it is weathering outside, and I am loving it.

When I say “weathering,” I mean the weather is doing anything but shining sun or starlight or moonlight. So, it could be cloudy, rainy, snowy, drizzly, or foggy. Pigs could even be flying around and it would fit my definition, so long as they were flocking thickly enough to blot out the Sun.

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Or flying deer? Oh deer…

Yeah, I’m a weird one… I look forward to the “inclement” weather, and get mildly depressed when the clouds pass by and the Sun comes back out. But water is life, and the storms are its herald.

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Come on rain!

Anyways. Have you ever wondered how trails get built? A lot of times, by volunteers, donating their time, blood, sweat, and profanity to build a winding noodle of packed dirt through the great outdoors, giving you a path to take to be closer to nature. A lot of work goes into the trails we use, rock retaining walls, drains to keep water from pooling, building on contour to keep erosion minimal, considerations for anticipated users… and all this after extensive studies, analysis, and paperwork. Most people just see the dirt on top, few see the time and effort.

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What you see: Dirt on top. Underneath, a few tons of rockwork to keep the dirt in place.

And then there’s the maintenance. Trails have two main enemies: Water, and users. A well planned and constructed trail will last years with minimal maintenance to clear drains and break down berms. A poorly laid out trail might last a season before it erodes into a trench.

A lot of the trails around Flagstaff need help. Either through poor layout and execution, or just plain use and neglect. New trails are also in the works. We have volunteer trail day events, where anyone can come out and help work on the trails, and it is a great way for the community to get involved, and see what goes into the trail system. But, it’s not enough.

Enter the Volunteer Trail Crew, a.k.a. The Flagstaff Trail Faeries. An autonomous group working to repair current system trails, and build new ones, with approval from the Forest Service. Right now it’s sort of a pilot program to work out the bugs, but so far, things seem smooth. We’ve had a few work days already, on Secret and Sunset, fixing erosion issues, re-building turns, pulling stumps, and closing cheater lines.

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Rock armoring a technical turn and drop, bypassing a section of trail that was eroding out after not even one season.

I’ve been doing trail days for something like ten years now, and I’m excited to be part of a program to work on the trails on a bit higher level than before.

So, next time you’re out on the trails, and you see a group of folks working on it, give them a high five and a thank you! Especially if they’re wearing a bright green Trail Faeries shirt!

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Rider laying tracks on freshly completed construction.

Flagstaff Trail Faeries (Public Facebook Page)

Flagstaff Trail Faeries (Flagstaff Biking Org page)

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That mountain, from another mountain. The view from Hobbit’s Forest, Mt. Elden.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
~ John Muir

Smell the Flowers

The trees are blooming in Flagstaff, and it smells amazing.

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That is all.

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City bus drag race, anyone?
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Stitch and I found some snow on the way up to the first Trail Faeries trail day. There was more higher up the mountain. Last snow of the season?

I don’t have a bucket list but my bikeit list is a mile long.

Getting Out There While I Can

Work has been rather slow of late, so I’ve been taking the opportunity to get off work early and do some riding. Yesterday, Henry and I tested out the newly embiggened 89A from the Airport to the top of the Switchbacks at Oak Creek Canyon, now with 100% more shoulder! That was fun, save for a few close calls with cars. (Why were you driving on the shoulder at speed?!?!) But, to be honest, if I had known that I was going to get off as early as I did yesterday, I would not have ridden Henry.

Between a severe lack of moisture, and the usual high spring winds, fire season is starting early this year. I’m expecting restrictions, forest closures, things that limit my access to those trails I love. And, I’ve not done as much mountain biking the past two years as I would have liked. So, I’m taking the chance to get out and hit the trails as often as I can, when I can, while I can. That, and it’s harder to get hit by a car on singletrack.

So today, I suited up the Pretty bike, and hit up Secret, which is a trail I (Shamefully) haven’t ridden for well over a year.

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Secret Overlook – Should I even be showing you this?

It was everything I love, I remember, and I’ve missed.

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Sweet sweet singletrack!

After the descent (Rush’s 2112 works flawlessly for the trail from tip top to bottom, and keeps meshing with the character of the trail if you turn left onto Pipeline and take Lower Moto.) I hooked up with the Arizona Trail up to Schultz Pass, and took Schultz Creek down to the Y. From there, it was a leisurely, low energy ride through town to home.

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Leisurely enough to stop and smell the flowers.

Don’t burn the forest down, everyone. Be careful out there.

Take it easy.

Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to ~ Dr K.K. Doty