Surly Krampus 3yr Review

Get up on it!

Get up on it!

Overview

I’ve just wrapped up my 3rd season of bikepacking on Surly’s 29+ Krampus so I thought it was time to jot down my thoughts. I’ve used the Krampus mostly for lightweight mountain bike touring. The Krampus replaced a light hardtail 29er bikepacking bike with classic XC geometry. My riding has been split between Vancouver Island, Chilcotins and CDN GDR route. That encompasses a wide variety of conditions from technical gnar-fest to high-speed logging road cranking.

Walking the Krampus...

Walking the Krampus…

Frame

Like all Surly frames the Krampus is made from 4130 chromoly. It’s got a custom butted set of tubes. What that exactly means is impossible to know without cutting up a frame and measuring it. What I can say is that the tubing has some of that lively feel that a lighter duty bike has which I like a lot. It springs forward in a pleasant way and doesn’t feel dead like an overbuilt frame does. At least that’s true for my 180lbs on a medium frame.

I’ve crashed, dropped, dragged and thrown my Krampus around on my various trips. Although I describe the tubing as more flexible than a typical Surly touring tank don’t get the impression it’s some delicate boutique shit. It’s not. I have worn the powder coat away in a number of places and scratched the tubing, but I have not managed to dent or damage it in any significant way.

Naked and ready to be built up...

Naked and ready to be built up…

The Krampus uses standard bike parts. A 73mm BB and 100mm/135mm hubs. That’s great. You can swap parts from a 29er you have in your garage and ride the Krampus without having to rebuild wheels with Boost hubs. The fact the Krampus works just fine with 3″ tires on 100mm/135mm hubs makes the argument that Boost is needed for “plus” sized tires silly.

One feature of the Krampus frame I really dig is this cast yoke. If you look at a lot of other 29+ bikes you’ll see a bent section of flat plate on the drive side chainstay in order to make room for the chubby 3″ tire. Putting a flat plate in this area that has to resist all the pedaling forces is bad engineering. It’s done because the two other options are:

  1. Custom yoke is too expensive for most small companies
  2. fatbike wide BB has a ridiculous q-factor the builder would prefer to avoid
Love this yoke!

Love this yoke!

Although Surly is considered a low bling brand they do have the engineering and financial might of QBP behind them plus they sell in enough volume that they can amortize a kick ass feature like this yoke over enough frames to make it financially viable.

1 1/8

1 1/8″ or tapered – you choose…

The headtube on the Krampus is 44mm which allows you to use a straight 1 1/8″ fork or a tapered fork. Over the test period I used the Krampus rigid with the stock fork for 2 seasons and then with a tapered 130mm suspension fork for this past season.

Horizontal dropouts - simple and versatile...

Horizontal dropouts – simple and versatile…

The Krampus I have is the Bass Boat Green version with horizontal dropouts. You can now buy a Stealth Black version with MDS swappable dropouts so you can have vertical dropouts if you are running a derailleur. I read a lot of angst online about Surly’s horizontal dropouts. I’ve been using them for 8yrs now and I don’t understand what the problem is. Fixing a flat takes an extra 30 seconds which I have never noticed. You do learn to get the wheel installed more efficiently once you’ve used these dropouts so it does take a moment to master them. With a QR IGH I use 1 or 2 Tugnuts to keep the wheel in place. With bolt on hubs they are not needed. For a derailleur hub they are not needed as the axle is slammed all the way forward in the dropouts. I have ridden with folks whose bikes use EBBs, sliding/swinging dropouts and they all have their problems – such as creaking, stripped hardware and unwanted flex. The Surly horizontal dropout is a low cost, elegant, versatile solution for a bike that could be setup many ways [IGH, SS and derailleur] and it’s pretty much bombproof.

MDS = many delightful solutions...

MDS = many delightful solutions…

As noted above if you can’t cope with the idea of horizontal dropouts you can simply buy the MDS version of the Krampus and then select the type of dropout you prefer. If you are exceptionally crafty you could even have a custom dropout machined for a MDS frame since it would just need to mate to the attachment points. I would not be surprised to see some aftermarket options show up in the next while.

My Knardly Surly Krampus...

My Knardly Surly Krampus…

So far I’ve been pretty positive about the Krampus’ frame. There are a couple things I do not love. It has a aggressively sloped top tube. These are fashionable, but having mountain biked with old school high TT’s a bunch I have never hurt “my boys” because of a high TT. The sloped TT cuts into the frame space if you want to fill it with a bikepacking framebag. The other thing I don’t love is the skinny 27.2mm seat tube. It’s fine for a rigid post, but it limits your dropper post options. Other Surly frames are coming with 30.9mm seat tubes so hopefully that’s on the way for the Krampus at the next revision.

The last thing I’ll touch on with regards to the frame is the sparkly green powder coat. It’s rad. Definitely my favourite of all the Surly finishes I’ve seen and pretty much my favourite of any production bike to date. Aside from looking sweet it’s fairly durable. I have managed to fuck it up, but I had to try fairly hard to do so.

The Big Green Machine...

Krampus with suspension fork…

Geometry and Handling

If you compared the Krampus’ geo to the older Surly bikes like the Karate Monkey. You’ll see it’s slacker and longer in the reach department. That’s not shocking because that’s what’s fashionable right now. The other fashionable thing at the moment is an uber low BB. The Krampus doesn’t have that and I like that a lot.

Excited to be nearing beer...

Excited to be nearing beer…

The longer reach allows you to run a short stem and wide bars if you want to or to size down one frame size while running a longer stem and narrow-ish bars. I’m doing the later and riding a medium instead of riding a large. The reasonably short 17.6″ chainstays and shorter front end make for a very manoeuvrable/playful bike. Since I live in BC with lots of trees that seemed like a better choice. For wide open trails or logging roads I’d probably pick the larger frame and run a short stem, but still stick with narrower bars. I’ve never warmed up to the uber wide bar thing.

Enjoy some moist trail riding on my Surly Krampus...

Enjoy some moist trail riding on my Surly Krampus…

Although slacker compared to tradition MTB geo the Krampus is not a chopper at a 69.5 degree head tube angle. It’s a good compromise for riding techy steep terrain while still being able to carve up singletrack. Some folks are mounting up longer suspension forks on this frame to get a slacker geo and some squish. I tried that and concluded I preferred the more balanced feel from the stock rigid fork. Loaded up with camping gear I am only going to get a little rowdy on the Krampus. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough benefit from the 130mm Fox Float 34 compared to the extra weight which made it harder to loft the front wheel and the slacker steering which was not as sporty when things got tight.

Matchy Matchy!

Stock fork and geo is pretty sweet…

Getting back to that high BB it may not be fashionable, but it works great. You avoid a bunch of annoying pedal strikes and the higher bike handles slow speed tech better as it’s more stable than a lower bike. It gives you the ability to run “normal” 2.4″ 29er tires and still maintain a useful BB height. What about stability at speed with a higher center of gravity? Interestingly despite a short wheelbase on my Krampus once I get those big 3″ tires up to speed they generate a lot of stability due to the gyroscopic effect.

Good times!

Good times!

The shortish chainstays keep the bike manoeuvrable and with the light front end it’s easy to get it up when tackling some tech. This is especially true when climbing where it feels like I am on the back wheel for the most part helping it dig in for epic traction and letting me pop the front wheel up and over obstacles or simply place it down on a better line.

Time for some blue bling...

Big tires and short-ish chainstays…

The big tall tires erase a lot of trail roughness for a smoother ride than you’d expect from a rigid bike and keep rolling like a monster truck once you get them up to speed. On rolling terrain this is not a slow bike. It loves to charge hard and seems to laugh at whatever the trail throw at you around the next corner.

This combination of slow speed tech crushing and high speed stability plus the big 29+ wheels ability to tame the trail is pretty magical. No really magical! I’ve looked at getting a bling custom 29+ frame a few times and what stops me is feeling like I’m going to spend a lot of $$ and might not get a bike that handles as well as the $575 Krampus.

Wet feet - get used to it!

Wet feet – get used to it!

Parts Spec

I built my Krampus up from a frame/fork.

  • Medium Surly Krampus & fork
  • Cane Creek headset
  • Race Face stem [100mm]
  • Race Face 3/4″ riser bars [700mm]
  • Ergon Grips + bar ends
  • Surly Rabbit Hole rims
  • Rohloff rear hub [32T x 16T]
  • Hope Evo Pro 2 front hub
  • Shimano SLX brakes [180/160mm rotors]
  • Shimano Deore cranks & XT BB
  • Spank Spike pedals
  • Brooks saddle
The views weren't too shabby...

Flathead Valley Area…

Stuff I tried:

  • Fox Float 34 x 130mm fork
  • 65mm stem and high rise bars w/ Fox fork
  • Surly Knard 120ipt tires
  • Bontrager Chupacabra tires

There is nothing fancy about my build other than the Rohloff hub. Everything is solid and works well. For a touring bike that’s more important than bling. The Rohloff is a dependable drivetrain that offers a wide gear range that ignores weather and is very hard to damage. The trade off is a heavy rear wheel.

Tugnut #2...

SLX brake caliper…

The only components I’ve been disappointed with are the SLX brakes [older 2008/09 version] when used in really challenging steep technical terrain they are not particularly powerful. I’m going to try some more aggressive pads and if necessary move up to a 203mm rotor up front. For less demanding touring they have worked fine. To be fair riding techy terrain with camping gear is not an easy job for a set of brakes. To their credit these brakes have been 100% reliable. I just want more stopping force out of them.

Surly Knard + Rabbit Hole tubeless...

Surly Knard + Rabbit Hole tubeless…

29+ Tires

I’ve only tried two models of tires, but they have turned out to be excellent for the kinds of riding I do so I’m very happy.

The Surly Knards in 120tpi roll fast and grip well enough for general bikepacking duties that cover logging roads, pavement and easy trails. I’ve ridden on a fair bit of sharp rocks and only managed 3 flats over 3 seasons. All of which were easily fixed. They setup tubeless well and have been 100% reliable once setup. Their main weakness is the lack of aggressive knobs which means they wash out on steep loose sections and loose off camber sections.

Where is my fatbike?

Plowing through some snow with my Chupacabras…

The Chupacabras have only been used for one major trip so I won’t be able to report on their durability, but they do offer much better traction [especially on loose off camber terrain] at the cost of a bit more rolling resistance. I did not suffer any flats with Chupas, but it’s still early days. Surprisingly they were a bit harder to setup tubeless than the Knards, but once setup they were 100% reliable. The Chupas are a bit pricey so I wouldn’t want to wear them out on easier terrain where I didn’t need them.

For logging roads and easy trails I’ll grab the Knards. If things get more challenging I’ll use the Chupas.

Hombres at the Cape Scott Park start...

Hombres at the Cape Scott Park start…

Bikepacking Setup

For the most part I have used Porcelain Rocket softbags on the Krampus. They carry enough stuff to get me through 1 week trips. They are rugged and stable so I can thrash the Krampus as hard as a middle aged weekend warrior dares.

Wash out...

Older style seat bag…

I have tried two versions of the PR seatbags. The first version is a typical frameless bag that attaches under the saddle and to the seatpost with a combination of straps with buckles and velcro. This style of bag is really easy to use on different bikes and is light and lower cost. The main downsides are that it can move a bit when really charging rough trails and it’s easier to leave on the bike at camp than pull off each night.

New Porcelain Rocket gear...

New Porcelain Rocket gear…

The other version of PR seatbag uses a metal frame and harness that is separate from the cargo bag. The frame stays with the bike and you can easily pull the bag off and take it to your tent. This option is much more stable for better techy riding. The downsides are high cost and it’s more effort to move between bikes. This is the bag I’m currently using on the Krampus.

Scott has an even newer version of this seatbag [I just can’t keep up!!] that is waterproof and uses an improved harness which makes taking the bag off the bike even easier.

Getting muddy...

Older PR bar bag…

I’ve used two different PR handlebar bags so far. The first used a burrito style bag with a pouch on the front that you filled with your gear and rolled the ends closed. I typically slid a dry bag inside the outer bag to keep my sleeping bag dry. Loading this bag took a bit of time, but once your stuff was inside it was well protected during the day’s ride.

The newer style of PR bar bag I’ve used is a simple harness that you use with a dry bag and then attach a pouch over top. It’s a bunch lighter, simpler and easier to use than the pervious version. The only issue with it is that your dry bag is not protected by a durable outer bag which makes it easier to damage.

For trips where durability and robustness are most important I’ll use the bar bag with an outer bag. For trips where the simplest and lightest setup is valued I’ll use the harness/dry bag version.

Custom PR frame bag...

Custom PR frame bag…

My framebag is a pretty standard unit. One main zipper access storage area with a map pocket on the other side. Typical PR ruggedness and quality. Scott makes a zipperless roll top framebag now, but I simply don’t bikepack enough to realistically wear out a zipper and the zipper is easier to use if I want to access the contents frequently.

VikApproved and the Mighty Krampus...

VikApproved and the Mighty Krampus stay hydrated…

Water

I tried mounting a water bottle to my stem with a hose clamp and really loved it. I’ve used that setup on every bikepacking trip since. It’s next to free and 100% secure. With the right bottle I find that it stays put despite super rough downhill pounding, but I have rigged a simple bit of bungee I can throw around the bottle’s nipple that prevents ejection completely. This bottle is so handy that it’s the only one I use to drink from during a ride. I then just refill this bottle from a creek or from a bigger bottle carried elsewhere on the bike as needed.

I have used fork mounted bottles in the past, but I didn’t like that setup. It affects the bike’s steering, ease of lofting the front wheel and they snag on stuff during the inevitable riding/HAB through thick vegetation.  For the same reason I have zero interest in fork mount Salsa Anything Cages. If you are keen on fork mounted cargo you can attach cages to a stock Krampus fork with either electrical tape or hose clamps. Both are secure and effective. If you must use bolt mounted cages Surly sells an aftermarket Krampus fork with braze-ons for water bottle and Anything cages. The cost is ~$100.

Where I prefer to carry my extra water is below the downtube. This keeps the bike narrow and the weight low where it affect the handling least. I’ve used two hose clamps and a strap to attach a Topeak XL Modulus Cage to the Krampus and carry 1.5L of water. It’s a 100% secure and effective solution.

The heavily loaded Kram-pig!

The heavily loaded Kram-pig!

Racks

I do my best to keep my gear load light and compact so racks are not needed. However, occasionally a trip calls for them. The Krampus is not the bike I would pick for dedicated fully overloaded touring, but if that’s something you do once in a while don’t worry the Krampus can take dual racks and panniers. I’ve only had to resort to a rear Old Man Mountain rear rack with panniers, but a front OMM rack would mount easily to this bike. You don’t need any special braze-ons to make it work.

Puddle hopping...

Puddle hopping…

The Future?

Although I dig my Krampus a lot I do have some tweaks I want to make so it’s even better suited to my adventures.

  • Dropper post – descending steep techy terrain I want to lower my saddle easily to get into a lower and more confident riding position. The first challenge is finding a 27.2mm compatible dropper which I have done [KS E-Ten Dropper]. The second challenge is what to do about the rear seatbag since it would end up hitting the tall 29+ tire. I have a solution in mind that I will share once I’ve got it worked out and field tested.
  • Jones Loop H-Bars – cranking out the long days riding down Vancouver Island I was reminded that while riser bars are great for trail riding they lack enough hand positions for gravel grinding in the saddle all day. I have a few sets of Jones bars gathering dust that worked well for me on non-technical tours. So I want to use one of them on my next logging road ramble.
  • Lighter Wheels – The Rohloff hub is robust and weatherproof, but it’s heavy. The Rabbit Holes on that wheelset are also a bit porky. So I’m in the process of building a set of Velocity Blunt 35 29er rims using Hope Hubs. I’ll be able to run them SS or 1x on the Krampus with either 29+ rubber or some “skinny” 2.4″ tires. I’ll also multi-purpose those wheels with any other 29er MTBs in the fleet.
  • Carbon Fork – I bought a used Whisky #9 carbon fork. I’m not sure how I’ll use it yet. I might use it to replace the steel stock fork on the Krampus. I may use it on my On One Scandal 29er frame for a lightweight 29er bikepacking rig. I’ve also pondered getting a Krampus MDS frame and setting it up as light as possible with Jones bars so I have a techy trail Krampus and a gravel shredding Krampus without having to mess with setting up the bike fresh every trip. No decisions made yet.
100' of riding? I'll take it!

This is what it’s all about…

Beyond these mods I’m just going to keep rocking the Krampus. 3yrs in and it feels as fresh and relevant as it did back in 2012. It looks like the Bass Boat Green version is history once it sells out so consider grabbing one while supplies last. Owning the first 29+ bike ever is kind of cool. 🙂

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Chilcotins 2015 Bikepacking Trip – Part 3

We were not alone out there...

We were not alone out there…

Day 6 – Spruce Lake to Tyax Lodge

Waking up reasonably early we were tempted to eat our oatmeal outside the “rippers'” tents and talk loudly about how we preferred chunky old school tech to modern flow trails, but we were too mature to resort to the eye-for-an-eye thing. Possibly we were also in a kinder gentler mood because we knew we’d be riding 99% of the time on the trail today. 😉

Alpine meadow riding...

Alpine meadow riding…

Cruising south along the east side of Spruce Lake we joined up with Gun Meadows Trail and enjoyed some high speed more or less buff alpine meadow riding. We merged onto Gun Creek Trail and kept dropping through forests and meadows on some amazingly fun curvy singeltrack.

Getting duty in the trees...

Getting dusty in the trees…

A lot of the trail is on the softer looser side which you don’t realize when running 3″ tires since they provide just the right amount of float and traction to deal with the trail surface. When I was riding the same trail last year on my 27.5″ x 2.35″ tires I was shocked by how much I sank in and how much that slowed the bike down. Sections that were easy coasting and pumping good times on 29+ required constant pedalling on the skinnier tires.

Bridges - how civilized!

Bridges – how civilized!

My Krampus loves these sort of fast rolling trails and it was the one trail where I could stick with Scott most of the time. 3″ 29er tires roll faster than 2.8″ 27.5″ tires. Mild roughness equalized things and if things got really rough Scott’s full-suspension rig had the advantage.

Excited to be nearing beer...

Excited to be nearing beer…

This trail is so entertaining a couple hours whiz by without you realizing it.

After a good long section of forest singletrack you get into some rough techy double track that’s even faster and at speed just as entertaining with logs and rocks coming at you fast and furious. My cheeks hurt from all the smiling.

An artistic Sherpa shot...

An artistic Sherpa shot…

Eventually you get spit back on a dirt road. It’s still pointed down so you don’t mind, but if you’ve been here before you know that the ride is almost over and the last ~4kms are fairly climby and tough in the mid-day heat. Traffic whizzes by you to remind you that you are back in the world and the dust makes you wish you were already at the bar at Tyax Lodge.

My view for most of the trip...

My view for most of the trip…

I can assure you that first cold $7 beer at the bar was delicious. 🙂 I will warn you not to order the $30 steak at Tyax. It’s a snack sized meal. 😦 The burger is a better choice.

The Tyax campground was full so we grabbed some ice to cool our beer and headed to one of the free campgrounds nearby to relax and pack away our touring gear. I was both very happy to be done and sad that another tour was wrapping up.

Scott making me "sherpa" his Sherpa! ;)

Scott making me “sherpa” his Sherpa! 😉

Afterword

It was great to spend some time hanging out with a buddy in such beautiful country. A lot of the riding and all of the hike-a-bike was hard, but we don’t mind an honest effort. Aside from camping at Spruce Lake there really wasn’t anything bad about this trip. The weather was perfect and the bugs were light in most places.

Having said that I don’t see myself going back to the Chilcotins for a longer trip in the next few years.

The bottom line is that hike-a-bike to riding ratio is just too high. Even for someone who doesn’t mind some walking. I think we averaged something like 50% riding/50% HAB on a time basis. That’s probably 25% more HAB than I really want to do.

I’m sure I will be back though for shorter long weekend trips where I’m not eating into my limited holiday time. I’ve got some specific routes to explore, but I can do that in 3 days of riding with less food/gear.

If you’ve never been to the Chilcotins don’t let the HAB discourage you. It’s well worth a major trip and seeing the amazing terrain for the first time takes away much of harshness of the pushing.

Chilcotins 2015 Bikepacking Trip – Part 2

Hard to beat this view...

Hard to beat this view…

Day 4 – Over Iron Pass to Lorna Lake

Waking up high on the west side of Iron Pass to a glorious sunrise I was once again blown away by the beauty of our campsite. Simply stunning!

It didn’t take long to get over the top of the pass both because of the short distance and the reasonable grade. Up top we enjoyed the views and started the hike-a-bike downhill. Yup no riding down….at least not right from the top of the pass. Too much loose steep rock.

Where is my fatbike?

Where is my fatbike?

We did see a cool bear den where a grizzly had spent the winter as evidenced by the massive amount of fur and animal bones. And we got to ride/slide down some remaining winter snow patches which was fun.

50lbs of bear fur...

50lbs of bear fur…

Eventually the trail looked rideable so we gave it a shot. Both of us crashed good. At one point as I was tumbling down the side of the hill the trail was cut into I saw my bike flying over top of me! Luckily it was relatively soft so I got away with some scraps and a bump or two. I decided I could walk the bike a bit lower where the steepness relented and the trail was safer to ride.

Push up. Push down!

Push up. Push down!

I’m happy to report we did get to ride a bunch of the valley lower down. It was fun to be rolling and cover distance at double digit KPH rates for a change. I had a GPS track from last year which we were following. Amazingly the vegetation was so think in places we lost the trail despite having that GPS track. I was impressed we had managed to follow it last year without having GPS to follow, but I guess we had 8 sets of eyes to sleuth the trail.

Can you spot the grizzly?

Can you spot the grizzly?

Partway down the valley we took a break by a tiny creek to refill on water and munch some snacks. As Scott rolled out I snapped some photos of him then started out myself. I ran into Scott a moment later which was unusual. I guess a big old grizzly bear on the side of the trail will stop a mountain biker dead in his tracks! 😉 We yelled a bunch which did not interest the bear at all. Then I fired off a bear banger – careful not to get it behind him which would send him our way. He didn’t seem all that fussed, but the banger got him lumbering past us slowly about 20′ away until he was behind us and we could keep riding down the trail. I felt bad for disturbing him, but he went back to munching berries quickly so I don’t think he minded too much. I did wonder if that was the same bear who wintered up in the den we found near the top of the pass.

Fine. I'll eat berries over here!

Fine. I’ll eat berries over here!

Funny thing was at the end of the trip when we were looking at photos on my laptop it was easy to see the bear down the trail in the last photos I shot, but at the time we didn’t spot him until Scott was right on top of him. His head was turned towards us in the photos so I’m sure he knew we were coming and just didn’t give a shit.

Yeah Baby! More riding!

Yeah Baby! More riding!

After the bear excitement we had a pretty easy ride down the rest of the valley. Yes I said riding! So nice to be pedalling and not walking! 🙂

Field repair...

Field repair…

Our cruising came to an end near the junction with Big Creek Trail where we had to ford the Grant Creek. Scott’s well worn Keen sandals blew out at the back leaving him with a SPD flip flop! I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to repair, but we sat down by the creek in the shade and got to work on it. A few zipties later it was functional and the repair held the rest of the trip.

A lot of creek crossings after Iron Pass...

A lot of creek crossings after Iron Pass…

We made our way south on Big Creek Trail to Lorna Lake. I was pretty impressed with how technical the riding was. It was a real challenge to keep the bike moving in many places. This is where I hurt my arm last year at the very start of the ride and I can now see why that happened. I was leading the charge with 7 guys behind me all amped up on testosterone. Not wanting morale to flag I gave it my all trying to make it look less gnarly than it was. In all that thrashing of the bike I badly tweaked by left tricep tendon. The next 5 days of riding/pushing probably didn’t help either! Nor did the next Chilcotins trip in Aug 2014 that started after just 2 weeks of rest.

Fishing at Lorna Lake...

Fishing at Lorna Lake…

Getting to Lorna we found 3 packs at the campsite, but no people. Some serious snacking ensued and we debated staying here for the night or getting over Lorna Pass and camping along Tyaughton Creek Trail. Scott was keen to keep going and I was keen to ride the fun singletrack descent on the far side of the pass fresh the next morning not to mention do the hike-a-bike while it was cool. Scott was gracious enough to go with my plan.

The owners of the packs showed up in the early evening having been dropped off by Tyax Air that morning and gone out for an unloaded loop that day. They were a nice bunch of guys and unlike the morons at Spruce Lake could hang out with each other and not make a huge racket!

Sketchy bridge at bottom of Lorna Pass...

Sketchy bridge at bottom of Lorna Pass…

They were sporting these very large packs and day packs on top of them. Their plan was to ride over Lorna Pass and then Deer Pass with those packs on their backs. That seemed bold, but they said they’d done it before so we gave them the benefit of the doubt as they were fit looking.

Scott at the top of Lorna Pass...

Scott at the top of Lorna Pass…

Day 5 – Lorna Lake to Spruce Lake

We got up after a great sleep. Amazing what camping with some considerate people does for your mood! Ate breakfast then sipped tea to let the other guys head out and up Lorna first. After about 45mins wait we headed out. I had a lucky crash at the bottom of the pass. Not lucky that I crashed, but I ended up wrapped around a large sharp rock that looked like it would have snapped my leg had I fallen 8″ further back. Whew!

TYax Air heading back to the lodge after a drop off at Lorna Lake...

Tyax Air heading back to the lodge after a drop off at Lorna Lake…

Scott took off uphill like a rocket. I pushed my bike at a steady pace knowing the pass wasn’t too high although it was quite steep in places. Once I got out of the trees it was really pleasant hike-a-bike with a bit of wind to keep the bugs at bay. Tyax Air flew over dropping off a crew at Lorna before heading back to the lodge.

I really enjoyed the break at the top of the pass. It was bug-light, a nice cool temperature still plus I knew this was the last pass of the trip and a long downhill shred was about to happen. I’m glad we waited to climb Lorna Pass. I was feeling energized and I felt like I’d make much better use of the vertical now than I would have tired the previous evening.

Riding down Lorna...

Riding down Lorna…

The ride down didn’t disappoint. Fast swoopy alpine singetrack then into forested trails lower down. It was great to be riding and knowing that the rest of the trip was going to spent pedalling not pushing. About the only downside to the descent off Lorna was that it was over too soon. Probably a good thing as my brakes needed to cool! 😉

Meadow singletrack...

Meadow singletrack…

We took a break at the sweet campsite along the creek we stayed at last year after crossing Deer Pass. While we were there a large group of 18yr old shredders who had been dropped off at Lorna by Tyax Air rode by. They had a freaking powered sound system with them. I’d come to hate that fucking speaker by midnight, but I didn’t know that yet. They were “broing” and “schralpping” and “rallying” to each other for what went on for an eternity. You might say “Vik you are a boring old man with no tolerance for morons.” You could be right. 😉

That was fun! :)

That was fun! 🙂

The ride down Tyaughton Creek Trail was pleasant as it wound its way long the creek. There was some steep climbing and some loose “side hill of death” stuff to contend with, but for the most part it was rideable and it was lovely to ride. As the trip wore on the days got back to nearly-Africa-hot. So it was great to ride in the forest when possible. When we reached open meadows and rode along the un-vegetated cliff sides there was some roasting going on.

Getting a little deep...

Getting a little deep…

There were five creek crossings on this trail. Four of which were within a 500m stretch. I remembered the first two of the four so I had a couple WTF? moments when I got to the second two crossings. The water was nice and cool on my feet and not too deep – although one crossing was deep enough to be interesting. One of these days I’ll find fast dry shoes I like to bike and hike in. Until then I have to stop at each crossing to remove my shoes and walk across barefoot. It’s a slow process so I’m glad there weren’t more crossings.

Scott rocks some Keen sandals. I have no idea how he handles the steep mountainous hike-a-bike with those. My feet and ankles get worked over pretty good in some reasonable mountain bike shoes.

Scott schrallping!

Scott schrallping!

After the last creek crossing we climbed up over a ridge on WD Trail and rolled downhill to Spruce Lake. There were a few small groups of 2 to 4 people at various sites in the campground. We grabbed a spot in the middle that we usually take and had a nice time chilling with the remains of the sunshine, a dip in the lake and I did some much needed laundry. All signs were pointing to a great night….well except for some luggage piled up on the dock waiting for a group of riders to show up. They didn’t arrive until after Scott and I had already climbed into our tents to sleep. It was our luck that it was the same group of “rippers” that passed us at the bottom of Deer Pass. The group with the sound system. Who the fuck brings powered speakers to a backcountry campground and plays them after dark???

I won’t complain any further because I am reasonable enough to see that it was our fault for not assuming the worst and camping somewhere else. Lesson learned. I won’t make the same mistake again.

Chilcotins 2015 Bikepacking Trip – Part 1

Getting silly in the mountains...

Getting silly in the mountains…

The Chilcotins kicked my butt last year. After 2 trips there in the summer of 2014 I had an arm injury that required months off the bike. Talk about a lasting memento! 😦 The bikepacking trip in July 2014 in particular was a sufferfest so I am not sure why I was so eager to go back? I guess I wanted another perspective on the place and a chance to put my hard won local knowledge to use by riding trails in what I thought would be the optimal direction. Sort of a greatest hits album with a couple new tracks thrown in for good measure. 😉

Getting loaded up...

Getting loaded up…

I met Scott at Tyax lodge on Monday 27 July 2015. We paid $30 for camping figuring we could then leave our vehicles at the lodge for a week with some eyes on them. We got off to a rough start when we realized there was a stove fuel miscommunication that meant we’d have to carry two different stoves as we didn’t have enough methyl-hydrate for my beer can stove. Good thing I had a spare backpacking stove with me. Beer was drunk. Tales were told and we crashed as soon as the sun went down as per usual.

All this pushing is making Scott crazy!

All this pushing is making Scott crazy!

Day 1 – Tyax to Spruce Lake

We got up and packed the bikes efficiently then rolled out of Tyax towards High Trail. It took a few tries to get on the right trail. I’m not sure why an area as popular as this doesn’t have a few more signs? The good news is we rode a bunch of extra trail and that was the only riding we’d be doing for the first few hours! Yes High Trail lived up to its name and was a ton of steep hike-a-bike.

No float plane this time...

No float plane this time…

We had just missed a big storm system on the weekend and temperatures remained cooler for the first couple days of the trip. It was still hot in the sun, but just normal hot…not crazy Africa hot like last year. Scott is faster than me at pretty much everything so I only saw him a few times on the push uphill. That was okay. I like to suffer in silence!

Yup it's steep...

Yup it’s steep…

There was only one route alternate route option off the main High Trail. It required extra climbing. So of course we took it without realizing it until we ended up at the Eldorado Cabin. At least it was downhill back to the main trail!

I had been up and down the west side of Windy Pass a few times last August on our Chilcotins Basecamp Trip so I was very happy to see some familiar territory when we got to the top after many hours of hike-a-bike. The ride down on my Krampus loaded up with camping gear and 7 days of food was a lot more challenging than riding my unloaded FS bike last year. Still I was mostly riding and that was something new for the day. 😉

Windy Pass...

Windy Pass…

Getting to the main Spruce Lake Campground we were greeted by a large group 0f 30 riders who had their gear flown in. I’m sure most of them were fine, but sadly the few loud drunken morons who felt the need to be assholes near our camp while we tried to get some sleep pissed us off pretty good. I don’t blame the beer. I blame the douchebag drinking it.

All in all Day 1 was very hard and set the tone for the rest of the trip. At least it did for me. I’m not sure why, but I felt weaker than I should have and the riding/pushing really wore me down. This was the most food I’ve ever carried on a bikepacking trip and the push over Windy Pass from Tyax was much harder than anticipated.

Two man crew...

Two man crew…

Although the camping sucked it was wonderful to be moving through the mountains, enjoying spectacular views and spending time with a friend I don’t get to see much.

Click for bigger map and GPS track...

Click for bigger map and GPS track…

Day 2 – Spruce Lake to Warner Lake

We got up after a poor sleep excited to get the hell out of the campground and away from the losers that had ruined our sleep. Our initial plan had been to drop some food in the bear vaults at Spruce Lake so we could ride with about half our food and then resupply mid-trip. However, with 30+ people in the campground the vaults were full and we didn’t trust that our food would remain unmolested. If we came back and the food was gone our trip would be over. So we decided to just carry it all the whole trip which meant we didn’t have to come back to Spruce Lake.

Water was no problem...

Water was no problem…

We ripped down Gun Meadows Trail on buff sinuous singletrack down some lovely meadows to Gun Creek Trail. There we pointed our bikes NW and headed uphill towards Warner Lake. We were able to ride a fair bit of the trail between Gun Meadows and Trigger Lake which was nice. We took the lower alternate route on Gun Creek which is really overgrown, but surprisingly rideable.

I should note that we were happy to see that bugs were very light on the east sides of Warner and Lorna Passes. That made rest breaks so much more pleasant. The west side of those passes was another story, but we’ll get to that later.

Views didn't suck...

Views didn’t suck…

We made good time towards Warner Lake reaching Hummingbird Lake and Trigger Lake without killing ourselves. After Trigger Lake we started a significant hike-a-bike to gain elevation until we were above Warner Lake. Then we contoured around the lake to reach the campground at the west end.

We had enough daylight we could have continued over Warner Pass, but it would have made for an EPIC day and we were both tired from a terrible sleep the previous night so we stopped early and chilled out in camp. I took the opportunity to wash some clothes in the nearby creek. Scott seems unfazed by his own funkiness. I on the other hand always dread putting on stinky 2 day old t-shirt in the morning.

A peak at Warner Lake...

A peak at Warner Lake…

Dinner was excellent. Both of us made some good choices as far as freeze dried meals were concerned and I had along a bunch of extra food to supplement my meal with. Looking back I probably had too much food, but it’s hard to nail down exactly how hungry you are going to be over 6 – 7 days.

Night one had been quite warm, but night two proved to be very cold. The last few hours of my sleep were fitful as my summer sleeping bag didn’t have enough insulation to keep me comfortable even though I was wearing my puffy jacket and long underwear plus toque. By the end of the trip I had decided to buy that down quilt I’ve been looking at despite the sucky CAD to USD exchange rate. I don’t want to carry my heavy/bulky 3 season bag on bikepacking trips and I am too old to suffer at night for easier riding/pushing. Thankfully there is a solution…albeit an expensive one!

Climbing away from Warner Lake...

Climbing away from Warner Lake…

Day 3 – Warner Lake to Iron Pass

With 2 nights in a row of poor sleep we were not at our best in the morning. After eating oatmeal for breakfast we sat in a meadow near camp in the sun warming up before heading out. Scott tried to ride the trail out of camped and crashed pretty good. I didn’t even bother and started my hike-a-bike up Warner Pass right from where I slept.

I knew Warner was going to be hard having come over it the opposite direction last year. That was okay because I remembered some great trails on the far side that should be an amazing ride down to the Taeseko River. I was just investing in good times later that day. So I kept my head down and pushed my bike. The chunky rocks were hard on the ankles as they shifted frequently. I wished I had some light hiking boots.

Got chunk?

Got chunk?

As I got towards the top things got silly steep and loose. The sort of goat trail where you push up two steps and slide back one step – then repeat. I started getting harassed by horse flies at this point and the sun was getting warm. Little did I know this would be much more fun than I was going to have a few hours later. Having last year’s hike-a-bike experience in my pocket I knew not to get attached to the moment and just keep pushing.

I met up with Scott at the top. The first time I had seen him in a few hours. The two of us going on a bikepacking trip is like two solo trips with a buddy to hang with in camp. Not much you can do when your natural speeds are so different. We enjoyed a break up high. Soaking in the views, munching on some snacks and battling a few horse flies.

Warner Pass!

Warner Pass!

Realizing I had a bit too much food with me I made a point of eating as often as I could. Both to keep energy levels up and to lighten my pack. I never did feel super strong on this trip even though I had been riding well all summer up to this point, but my pack was getting lighter so that was something to be stoked about! 🙂

The ride down the far side of the pass was going to be great I was sure of it based on my memories of last year. Too bad I was wrong. Things started off well enough as we bounced down the rocky alpine part of the trail. It was hard riding on all the loose rocks, but it was riding so I wasn’t going to bitch too much.

Testing out the Sherpa in the alpine...

Testing out the Sherpa in the alpine…

The problems started when we entered the tree-line with 2/3rds of the trail still to go. There had obviously been a big winter storm because there were a lot of downed trees across the trail. That meant frequent stops with laborious efforts to get rider and heavy bike over/under/around the trees. I don’t think we rode for more than 60 seconds at a time before we would have to get off and deal with an obstacle. It sort of felt like we had won front row tickets to see the Rolling Stones, but their flight got delayed and instead Nickleback got up on stage. 😉

This was a bummer both because we were tired and because it would have otherwise been a sweet fast fun ride down to the river. With no other choice we simply put our head’s down and worked our way slowly downhill until we reached the Taeseko River and the ATV track that would take us up and over the ridge between us and the Battlement Creek Trail towards Iron Pass.

One of many...

One of many…

We tried to have peaceful lunch break along the river, but it was fly-pocalypse! You could either swat a fly every 15 seconds or you could get bitten hard. Your choice. Needless to say we ate fast and started moving uphill. This ATV track turned out to be much steeper and longer than we remembered. Probably because coming down would have been very quick. The day was getting quite hot by this point with minimal shade on the track and at least 30 flies on each of us the whole time.

Resting with the flies assaulting us was impossible so we just gave it our all and pushed non-stop. Large fallen trees across the track were hard to get by due to thick branches and the steepness of the track. To say we were happy to see the top was a massive understatement. It felt like we had done 2 passes so far in the day and the flies were driving us crazy. So crazy we decided to set up our tents in the shade and take a break for a couple hours until the temperature went down. Frankly I think it was more a sanity preservation measure than a need for rest. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed laying down for a bit and not being attacked by flies. It was pure heaven!

Almost rideable...

Almost rideable…

Eventually we got up and started rolling again. If you are keeping track we didn’t ride our bikes very much so far this day and that trend would continue. After about 5 mins of cruising downhill we had to hike-a-bike bushwack to Battlement Creek. Cross the creek and then bushwhack up towards Iron Pass. We had a GPS track from last year that we knew would get us through, but it was still hard work with so much thick vegetation to plow through.

Okay...this doesn't suck...

Okay…this doesn’t suck…

We did find a clear trail as we climbed out of the trees and bushes into the alpine. Sadly the trail was too rough and broken to ride uphill so we pushed our bikes. Our plan had been to ride up to a small lake near the top of Iron Pass. We got close, but as the sun started to set I decided that camping at the lake could not possibly be worth the effort compared to just setting up my tent where my feet were standing! It was a good choice as this turned out to be the nicest campsite we would have the whole trip. A solid wind kept the bugs at bay and we had amazing views in all directions. I was a bit concerned that our altitude would mean another cold night of poor sleep, but as it turned out it was nice and warm.

Despite hardly getting to ride our bikes and a ton of hard hike-a-bike at least we had an amazing campsite. Sometimes it’s the little things that make it all worthwhile. 😉

100' of riding? I'll take it!

100′ of riding? I’ll take it!

Vancouver Island Bikepacking Route

Click on image for interactive map and GPS track...

Click on image for interactive map and GPS track…

I live on a sweet mid-sized island off Canada’s West Coast. I’ve been here 5yrs and wanted to bikepack it to see the sights and have a easy access bike camping alternative out my door since living on an island everything is an expensive flight or ferry to get to.

Bikepacking is just starting to become a thing here and any old-timey epic bike tours were not documented well enough to survive the decay of time so a bunch of friends and I started putting something together.

Hombres at the Cape Scott Park start...

Hombres at the Cape Scott Park start…

We’ve got a boat load of logging roads on the island, but what’s on the map and what’s on-the-ground are two different things. Especially in the south island it was a challenge to find a way through to the mid-island with geography and development blocking the obvious choices. After a bunch of on the ground recon, internet searching and Google Earth fly throughs we had a route worked out.

Last week we completed the first full ride through from Cape Scott in the North-West down to Victoria in the South-East. ~850kms & 12,590m climbing [531miles & 41,300′] in 7.5 days of riding.

The route is all GDR/TD style logging roads. However, you will pass through 4 towns with amazing trail networks should you want to drop the camping gear and spend a couple days shredding while reloading on beer and pizza!

The famous shoe tree...

The famous shoe tree…

It was great to see the island from my bike saddle. Especially the north end which was the most remote and where I have spent the least amount of time. I made many mental notes of places I wanted to come back and explore with more time and possibly my fly rod!

I’ll post a trip report and all the usual info here over the next few days as I get my pics processed.

Maxing and relaxing BC style...

Maxing and relaxing BC style…

I appreciate all the hard work people put into building trails and creating routes. Nothing here is really unique or something I created with my own hands, but at the very least I can curate the info for the bikepacking community so somebody from another part of the world can swing by my lovely island and take a rip without route finding hassles.

I live in Victoria, BC so anyone who wants to ride this route can lean on me for up to date info and logistic support. If my GF is in a good mood you can setup a tent in my backyard and grab a shower/use my bike tools.

My trusty Surly Krampus at the end of the ride. :)

My trusty Surly Krampus at the end of the ride. 🙂

Butt Buster Tour – Day 1

Here is the long awaited trip report from newly graduated Gravel Pimp Michael Melo aka Mr. Smooth aka The Director!

We went counter clockwise around the route...

We went counter clockwise around the route…

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Had this actually happened? Month’s or is it years in the making I have completed my first bikepacking trip. My friend Vik an experienced backcountry bikepacker volunteered to take me on a loop he had previously explored on a solo trip in the reverse direction.

A sneak peak at our rigs from later in the trip...

A sneak peak at our rigs from later in the trip…

The weather forecast looked very promising with high’s in the upper teens and possibly even lower 20’s. Our first stop after leaving Victoria and before reaching our departure point of Port Alberni was Smokin George’s BBQ in Nanaimo tucked away in an unusual setting for a restaurant amongst industrial and commercial buildings. With our stomachs full of beef brisket, fries and corn bread we continued on to our departure point. Our next task was to find a safe spot to stash the truck for a few days, fortunately a new found friend Lee at Ozzie’s Cycle was gracious enough to let us park in their lot. With our bikes unloaded gear checked and après ride drinks organized it was time to head out.

Finally rolling like a boss!

Finally rolling like a boss!

Departing Port Alberni heading first east up the No. 4 highway. Vik wasn’t pulling any punches on my virgin trip, the first leg would have us humping 15km uphill, 450m meters of climbing with grades topping out north of 15%. Now road riding is not my preferred way to enjoy cycling and this particular road less pleasant still, No. 4 highway out of Port Alberni is a busy corridor frequented by large commercial vehicles. By the time we made it to the top and entrance to the fire road my left ear was aching. Which is just as well since it took my mind off my aching legs.

Look at that climb!

Look at that climb!

After that initial noisy introduction the silence of the first few meters up the fire road was pleasantly startling. With only the sound of my wheels rolling over the gravel the air tasted sweet and was invigorating, I couldn’t help but grin widely as I felt the weight of civilized life fall away behind me. A few short rolling hills later we come to a large old clear cut. The lack of any sort of trail required us to push our bikes over the terrain resembling a forgotten game of giant pick-up sticks. We picked our way across, carefully avoiding dropping a foot into a seemingly bottomless hole and doing our best to sidestep the young thorny bushes seemingly escaping every crevice.

Someone forgot to sweep up!

Someone forgot to sweep up!

With the sun hanging low we arrived at a decommissioned bridge over a lovely small river, presumably removed to reduce or eliminate travel over this route. As Vik pointed out one of the awesome things about bikepacking is the extreme portability afforded by our lightweight mode of transportation, allowing us to push forward through these types of obstacles. After some deliberation over whether to continue on or not we chose to camp on the opposite side and walked our bikes across the shallow side of the river. The water was exactly the perfect temperature (bloody cold) to drop our brews in to cool off while we set up camp and cooked up our dinners.

Pimping a new tent... :)

Pimping a new tent… 🙂

I was excited to express my wildageek and exercise some virgin outdoor gear, including a new Tarptent Moment DW and an alcohol cook set from Trail Designs.

Time for some vittles...

Time for some vittles…

I’ve been experimenting with a new product called a Hitcase, essentially a ruggedized housing for an iPhone 5s with a wide-angle lens mounted to it. It’s the poor mans GoPro, a previous trip and subsequent video edit proved it makes for a pretty decent action sports cam. Having used the iPhone for video all day I knew it needed a charge and my first job was to pull out a new portable battery I purchased expressly for this trip and give the phone a power boost. Unfortunately I discovered that I had forgotten the iPhone charging cable in Vik’s truck. So that was it for day ones footage, I was confident that we’d be able to pick up a cable along the next days route in one of the small towns we’d be passing by.

Time for a nice cold beer...

Time for a nice cold beer…

Vik coaxed a small fire to life and despite what appeared to be a buffet of dry wood surrounding us it was surprisingly difficult to keep it going. As the waning light of the sun faded we rescued the beer from the river a welcome treat at the end of the day and chatted, finalizing our plans for the next leg of the trip. With an early start planned we decided to turn in while the sky was still a shade of blue. I’m not sure if it was the excitement of what lay ahead the new experience of sleeping on an ultra light inflatable mattress, the use of a quilt instead of a traditional sleeping bag or my bad habit of getting to bed late in my regular life. I had a hard time falling asleep, tossing and turning for what seemed like ages and two bathroom trips later at the sign of the first couple of stars I finally dozed off to the rushing sound of the river.