Mountain Biking Vernal

Got up this morning with one thing in mind, “I need to ride my bike.” With household approval to take off for the next 30 hours I packed up kissed my lady and again I was off to adventure, much like my bike packing adventure.

The drive from Heber to Vernal in Utah is only 2 hours and on the way out along US Highway 40 I can watch Utah change back into what it mostly is. Good fortune has allotted that I live in a tourist driven area where folks come to take advantage of a largely unmined landscape. By this I mean, none of this:

oil derricks
All along highway 40 you see these things on the horizon

Yes, Utah is a lot of oil and gas drilling. I guess there’s money in it. While it’s not east Texas, it seems like oil is the name of the game out here.




The drive out was dreary until the clouds started to break apart. Then for hours on end there were some cool opportunities for amazing contrast shots. The ground was lit, being reds and yellows, it contrasted heavily against the deep gray clouds of the northern skies.

Around sunset, the contrasts between earth and sky were amazing
What happens when you want the picture but the clouds keep the sun in

The Riding:

What leads someone to consider mountain biking Vernal, Utah, you ask? Well this:

While these aren’t all the trails, I covered a few of them and they are stellar

McCoy Flats has always been spoken of as the riding in the Vernal area. There are plenty of other fantastic places to ride; however, this is simply off the highway on the way into town arriving from the rest of Utah.

It’s some of the best desert riding single-track around. When you go to Moab, the rock is nearly stiflingly awesome and there’s usually a lot of double track as many of the existing trails are mine road remnants. After some time on it you’re ready for dirt again, single-track dirt. The trails at McCoy Flats are full spectrum: easy to technically challenging. There is dirt here, not so much sand. Talk about refreshing desert riding!

While all seems ride-able, there are few obstacles that trick the eye. I got temporarily hung up on some of these. But oh such great riding. My new favorite line is called “Fire Sale” which branches off of “Retail Sale”. Ride it from West to East. It takes up all the available real estate on two hills.

A few of these trails are directional. It makes for a nice consistency. You can’t ride up certain rock drops. Also, you won’t find yourself riding up a skid. All the trails are well marked and circumnavigate the parking area. This added convenience is nice for a pit stop, snacks, and refreshments.

This is why folks pack their bike and head to Vernal.

Continued Discussion – Bicycle Commuting

Somebody please fix these numbers:

87% of daily trips take place in personal vehicles
91% commutes take place in personal vehicles
(Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

“…Each gallon of gasoline burned creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide…”
“…Every mile pedaled rather than driven keeps nearly one pound of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Even a short, four-mile round-trip bike ride keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe…”
(Conservation International – What You Can Do)

Search on Google to see how efficient your auto is. I haven’t driven my car for a couple weeks and it feels so great! I ride all over. See my recent post on riding (bicycle commuting) home from the car service center 50 miles from my house. I’ve car pooled some places, with my wife to go see family or friends. Riding my bike to work and the store is simple and requires little more time. Of course, I admit, that my small community makes it easy to spontaneously go to the store on my bike.

Making it happen:

Some communities aren’t so small and require more planning but that shouldn’t stop you from being able to ride a bike to fulfill your daily chores including work. Bikes come in such a vast variety that you can literally find one that mozies around or one that rides like a bullet to do the job. From Touring bikes to competitive road bikes, you have your choice. If you work in a mountain town there are great trail bikes around.

a touring bike
road bike

 

I guess, the hardest part is building it into your day. I once had a customer that was busy enough with family and work that his daily commute was his exercise plan. He built it into his day and each way was about 17 miles through traffic. He was an investment officer. Every person has to figure how they are going to make it work if they decide to do it.

Bicycle commuting is the kind of thing that promotes good health, both physically and mentally. In articles all over the web you can read about how exercise improves mood and productivity at work. The increased blood flow to the brain and body may have something to do with this. Here are a couple articles about exercise and one specifically about exercise before work, 5 Reasons to Exercise Before Work and 7 Benefits of Morning Exercise. Think of the morning commute to work as this way to exercise and brighten your day.

Bicycle Power!

Obviously there are times when we require our auto but I believe that most of the time we can do the work of the auto under our own power and gain massive benefits for our bodies and environment as a result.

I suppose I’ll make an argument for using cars less and less in the next part of the ongoing discussion about bicycle commuting.

Day 3, Soapstone to Washington Lake

Morning light shone through the pine tree limbs in a warm orange tone. It was chilly. The temperature had dropped to 43 degrees by early morning and I was grateful to have a warmer sleeping bag. I laid there and tried to drift back off to sleep. It worked.

After a bit I got up and made coffee and breakfast, wrapped up camp and headed out by 8:30. Honestly, wasn’t thinking that breaking camp would take so long. But when you’re solo and all the gear has to get on the bike it takes more planning, arranging and time. Then you attach all that crap to your steed. Securing the load is part of the packing ordeal. Unlike backpacking, this is an extra effort.

I headed up the mirror lake highway early enough that traffic was still light, for a Sunday. It was still cool outside until the sunlight hit me. The road I was looking for was off to the left about 3 miles up canyon. It was called Spring Canyon. Aptly named and gorgeous, it is lightly trafficked and dispersed camping is here and there on primitive spots.

Climbing and climbing, the trail wouldn’t relent for 1600 vertical feet. The dirt road was rocky, loose, and dusty. It made for great riding, even with the gear. It was rowdy enough that it kept most vehicles out on the highway. For a laden fat bike it was easy work. My mind is still kinda blown, looking back and thinking there was no way that this guy with his fat tires was gonna clear the incline that looked like a rocky river bed. Surprised, I rode to the top of it. Not sure I understand the physics of how that all happened but it did.

From there it was all 4×4 road; I meandered through the forest seeing lakes and spur roads all over. I noted that this would be a great spot to explore by bike with good times to be had. It was beautiful. Haystack mountain was the backdrop for the entire area. So everything looked like it had to be amazing.

I found a few campers. But because of the nature of this road it was more like normal, with high clearance trucks and jeeps, and tents! Tents, friends. No tin shelters. It was great! And quiet. And soon the road became a graded thoroughfare with the appearance of more RVs. I was way past the point of disappointment in our society.

I was really close to finding my wife and hopefully some yummy snacks. I was approaching Washington lake, an upstream neighbor to Trial Lake. Lots of people. After the two days with relatively few people around I felt like I had shown up at a mall.

Filtering water out of Trial Lake and then taking a swim in the same I was ready for some relaxation. The car had been left with a hammock. I turned on the radio and laid in the hammock for hours. The radio was a hand radio. I was waiting for my wife’s sweet voice to come over the air and let me know where she was.

She radioed in at two miles away. She was surprised to hear my voice come back. I swung gently in the hammock, in the cool mid-day air of the mighty mountains of the Uintas. It was a good day.

Fat Bike Packing – Day 2, Soapstone

Back out on the open road I descended on into Soapstone Basin by following the switchbacks down the mountain-side. The road was beleaguered by trucks hauling smaller off-road vehicles. The men driving these trucks were of size. They never move a muscle in order to move about.

This is how the Terminator won the battle against humanity.

Water. The spigots were an oasis in a country that shouldn’t have been devoid of water. There was a river nearby. This seriously shouldn’t have been the first water I’d seen in so long but I failed to trust the sources I did see because of the large populations seemingly living in such close proximity. This water was good. No nasty flavor, no hint of chlorine. Hell, it may have been free of Fluoride. Don’t tell anyone. It’s a good thing.

I drank a bunch. Topped off my reservoirs and headed immediately out to find a place to camp. I wasted an hour thinking I could find a place just there off the road. But in the end I paid $20 for a spot over a the Soapstone campground. At least, I thought, there should be running water there. I was wrong. There wasn’t a single spigot that worked. Turns out that the only running water at a campsite was the Lost Creek site, some 15 miles up the road.

So I grabbed a sweet site in the middle of the campground close to a toilet. It was open and spacious, like a comfortable house. I had room to walk around and contemplate my existence. After setting up camp I grabbed my extra bladder and headed for the sanitary station once more 1 mile back the way I came. I was able to bring back one more gallon of water.

I used it all before I left camp the following morning. Mostly drinking it.

I never really took stock before when backpacking how much I used water at camp, between drinking and cooking, one gallon per person per night seems to be about par for me. The next time I do this I’m simply going to bring an empty jug. And planning routes around water is such a legitimate thing. Which isn’t a thing I’ve ever spent much time thinking about! While backpacking in the true backcountry I just grab water where I find it. But it always seems more common. With bike packing, as this was my first experience touring altogether, water stops seem more dispersed and something to consider while planning routes and camps.

With all the consideration for water, the other main concern was food. I had definitely brought enough, with an emergency supply of bars and electrolyte powder as a luxury, just in case. But I didn’t have anything else. Night took its time getting to camp, descending slowly as I ate some more oysters and mashed potatoes. That felt like a dinner I’d repeat and recommend to others.
The camps adjacent to me were literally all trailer or camper oriented. I was there with a bike, empty car park, and a lone single man tent. My experience was so completely opposite of my fellow campers that it was nearly only laughable.

I built a nice fire out of some scrap wood I’d found around the area. While I didn’t mind the solitude a fire is about as useful as a cold fire pit when you’re not sharing it with someone. My fire-ring companion is my wife. We always enjoy them together. This time, I was alone and staring blankly into a fire that simply burned for warmth. There was no social gathering around this fire.

About 9:30 I stuffed the fire out and headed for the tent. I tied the bike to a tree so that the local children would have a hard time borrowing it for the night. There were a lot of children about. And I slept really well that night. It was quiet except for the one guy with his generator running into the night and early in the morning. Not sure what he needed all that electricity for. Probably his electric toothbrush.

Fat Bike Packing day 1 of 3

Headed out from home in down town Heber, Utah, I was in the completely wrong hour of the day and I knew it. The sun was in its full strength for the day and it was near 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I knew the hours following the ride would be fitful and I was right. But that could mean anything from a minor headache from the heat to full blown heat exhaustion. Whatever awaited me at the terminus of the days’ ride would be acceptable. It was time to head out.

With everything packed and my shift done for work all I had to do then was kiss my wife goodbye and hit the road. I left her with all the maps of the areas I’d cover, which Forest Service roads I would be on and what timing to expect. At the end I would meet her in the high alpine area of the Mirror Lake Highway through the Uintah Mountains, a location approximately 60 miles from home. I would either find her or her car. We had radios for getting in touch once I was close enough to where she would be in the mountains on Sunday.

She watched me ride off in a romantic kind of way, sweet and exciting. “I’ll see you in a couple of days,” she said with a kiss. Or that’s how I remember it. Anyhow, it was me and the open road. Traffic on surface streets was light. I was on the most rural roads of our rural city. It was hot. After 7 miles the pavement ended. It was all dirt from that point. I took a photo of the bike all loaded down to mark the occasion.

I had lightly chosen my gear for this, based on the availability of Specialized’s bike packing bags and my experience in backpacking. The “Specialized Adventure Gear” suited me well, was up to the task, and looked good. However I would like a different choice of color than black… my lightest and most minimal gear was with me. I had a few things along I wouldn’t take again.

The view from my route

With water and repair gear I had 34 pounds added to me and the bike. My final post will be a gear review. For now, on with day one’s ride. I made the dirt road by 5:00 PM. That was an hour later than I had hoped. I was also hoping that the canyon I was going to be climbing would be sheltered from the sun. Disappointed as I found no shade. Fortunately the road had been recently graded and relieved of most serious ruts. Once the road pitches up it doesn’t relent. I had programed the route into my GPS which has this annoying yet informative feature that shows where you are on the elevation profile, in real time.

I realize the chart doesn’t do this climb justice, but the brute of the climb was over the last 8 miles climbing 3500feet with a bike that was 34 pounds heavier than normal. The benefit was knowing when to anticipate breaks in the climbing which would last for mere seconds. The last climb of the immense slog appeared to have no end, at no point could I estimate a break or relief, it just kept on climbing. And the hours were passing. I knew that there was no way for me to make Wolf Creek Pass that night. I had half an hour of daylight by the time I finished the climb.

With a heavy bike and tired legs I finally hit a plateau in the climb and the ridge line riding started. I needed to find a camp so I wouldn’t be setting up in the dark. The place I found was next to some drunk bow hunters. They went on into the night. “Remember that old time back at Stinky Springs?” and other nonsense that they reminisced sung across the gentle breeze of the cool mountain air.

My one man tent was a great shelter and pretty comfortable. I was a 15 mile bike ride from home. I had a nice phone call with my wife, something that surprised us both because of the seemingly remoteness of my location. We said good night and I turned in, sleepily hearing the nonsense that my drunk neighbors were rambling.

But sleep was fleeting. The exertion and heat had rewarded me with a moderate headache. It was the price for traveling when I did. It made it near impossible to sleep. My heart rate wouldn’t settle either. I promised myself that I would sleep in if it were possible but when morning came I couldn’t’ help but leave that camp. Adventure awaited me and I knew it.

Gravel Bike Problem Solving

So, with my carbon Specialized Crux I had to make some modifications to accommodate my 11-36 cassette. This was before the x-horizon derailleur platform was available from Sram just 3 summers ago. With a mid cage x0 rear derailleur I was able to use a 34/50t chainring combo as well.

The problem with the carbon Crux was that the rear derailleur cable stop was internal. The cable exited the frame just above the dropout and was designed to feed into the rear derailleur from the rear, because that’s how road rear ders work.

My conundrum was how to route the cable housing so that it didn’t look idiotic and still worked. I fished out an old thing called a “rollamajig” made by Avid (Sram) a long time ago. They aren’t made anymore…

And Nokon housing which was purchase by Jagwire and is pretty alright stuff for this application:

It works exceptionally well. And is now paired with a 36/52t chainring combo. It is a super-competitive gravel grinder.

Don’t Crash into Rabbits

This is a friend of mine. I have several friends. But not as many as the rest of you. A lot of them ride bikes. And two of these guys have had issues with animals on the road.

In a 140 mile event buddy no. 1 saw something fly onto the road. Much like the creature from Aliens that flies across the road to latch onto your face, this creature was only recognized after the accident. At 40 miles per hour this rabbit jumped into the front wheel, an 18 bladed spoked wheel. The animal died. Friend went to the ER.

Bike, well take a look:

The front and rear triangles were being held fast by the internal cables connecting the rear brake and derailleur. Once I snipped those the frame fell apart. There was blood all over. And it wasn’t buddy no. 1.

Don’t hit bunnies.

Let Us Speak of the Electronic Tonic (part 1)

Unless you’re living in the bushes in a desert alcove you’ve prolly heard about electronic shifting, first introduced by Shimano, then wireless-electronic shifting offered from Sram and the EPS groups from Italy that no one was ever too sure about. Shimano also brought us the first electronically controlled mountain drivetrain system.

XT Stuff (Shimano.com)
And who the hell is still using a front derailleur? Shimano offers this expensive tech for that one guy… but I guess if you’re on a road bike then sure, why not.

Now there are fully integrated E-bikes. These sometimes don’t use electronic shifting but they’re using a pedal-assisted electric drive, giving the rider uncanny range and extra pedal power.

Something Trek built; note the large bottom bracket and battery. Who wants a water bottle?
Two places that electronic definitely doesn’t fit, bike packing and bike touring. Both of these involve traveling long distances with as little electronic gear as possible. While it could be done, having to charge your drivetrain with a solar panel while you should be moving down the road seems a little off-putting. Do what you want, though. The charge on this stuff apparently lasts a long time. I don’t see a reason to add this tedious task to packing or touring.




Where it does belong: on a bike whose owner has a track record of bad shifting. The electronic stuff shifts precisely and completely; there won’t be any of this half shifting where the chain ends up on a bite on the next cog up the range, causing weirdness. If you don’t know how to shift and you blow through drivetrains, get electronic.

You don’t have to be a purist to want a standard, cable operated drivetrain. In fact, Pinkbike.com is doing a poll right now showing that most of us truly want a non-electronic bike. As for battery powered, pedal assisted mountain bikes we have a different beast on our hands. “In Europe, this is all the rage.” -Industry guy I know who’d just come to the US from an extensive eBike test in Europe.

I see the appeal. I also spoke with a guy on the trail who, with his rootbeer belly hanging over his shorts bragged about how his Specialized Levo made it so he could pass his super fit and lean son on the trail, and have to actually wait for him. Sweat was still dripping off his brow. “Congratulations bro, your battery powered biomechanical extension allowed you to win the group ride.” Good for you. And now, go away.

Bicycles are all about the conservation of energy. Since the inception in 1812 this has been true. Now it seems that it’s even more about conserving your own bio-energy and expending that of electricity, which, by the way, isn’t expelling turds and farts as bi-product, largely it’s expelling burnt coal and diesel fumes, dead fish and nuclear waste. That my friends is not the conservation of energy. Not to mention the lithium-ion batteries that are used to carried the energy supply on the bike.



If you can’t stick it in your mouth or up your butt safely, it’s prolly not a great source of fuel.

Department Store Bikes (part 2)

Ok.. In this post I want to discuss how a bike is built properly. I’m going to keep it as simple as I can so it can be a short post, hoping to not further bore you with my ranting.

derailleur bolt barely threaded into derailleur hanger

Here’s a classic move, components installed half-ass and adjusted to work in a half-ass position. In this picture you see that the derailleur bolt is only a couple threads installed into the derailleur hanger, or where it mounts to the frame of the bicycle. I wish I had pictures now to show what the results of this kind of installation looked like. Anyhow, poor shifting is the least of your concerns. Once the derailleur becomes detached it can dangle from the chain and end up in the spokes of your spinning wheel, bringing the wheel to an immediate stop.

If you’re not ready for the rear wheel to abruptly stop spinning then you’ll have to compensate for the bikes abrupt deceleration by flying over the bars in one of many different crash scenarios.

Check all your bolts. All the time.



In this next example, we have a new bike from Walmart discount stores. On top of it being new it is a full suspension bike. This typically means that the rear assembly of the frame is bolted together housed in bearings and shims. If even one of these bolts isn’t properly fastened and seated to torque the bike could spontaneously self-destruct:

Proper assembly of bikes is critical to your safety. Don’t underestimate the value of a well built bike and a well assembled bike. If you’re going to get a department store bike then at least pay a local bike shop to snoop through it and make it safer to ride. Note: “safer” not “safe”.

How to adjust a rear derailleur

If you are thinking where my post about adjusting front derailleurs might be, it’s not. It’s not a thing anymore, well with mountain bikes. Road bikes will continue to use this antiquated technology until it finally arrives at the bitter end of a dark tunnel.

Step 1: Take your bike to your local bike shop.

If you are more persistent and have read on, then my instructions are below. You will find a video link attached in a few weeks.

  1. Make sure that the derailleur hanger is straight (if you don’t know what this is then repeat the above “step 1”)
  2. Disconnect the derailleur cable (for non-electric systems)
  3. Now dial in your high and low limits by physically pushing the derailleur to the low and high cogs; gently! Adjust your H and L screws so that the chain makes no strange or shifting sounds in those two cogs
  4. Back off all barrel adjusters associated with this system
  5. Attach your derailleur cable to the derailleur using the pinch bolt (gum or duct-tape attachments that work get a star) in the default (usually high) position (Hint: XTR, XT, XX1, X01 and similar derailleurs typically like a little cable slack, maybe 2mm from the tight position at the pinch bolt)
  6. Begin shifting while pedaling the system
  7. Make necessary barrel adjustments to adjust tension on the cable if the shift isn’t quite right
  8. Listen to each gear as the chain rides over it; no sounds should emanate that aren’t simply the normal chain and cog interface

I promise a video to explain all this and make it easier to follow. But for now if you’re desperate then just take it to a shop and pay the $15 to get it done right.