I spent 3 months in 2013 on my first bike tour, bikepacking/road touring from Seattle to Fernie BC to Antelope Wells NM at the Mexican border, then from San Francisco back to Seattle. I was lucky to have minimal technical problems with my scandium hardtail 29er over the whole 5600 mile trip.
Last year’s setup: an Air 9 by Niner, scandium hardtail 29er with a Rockshox Reba fork.
This Spring I spent some time trying to determine what would be the right rig for my next journey, in which I’d be attempting to circumnavigate the world by bike, staying on dirt whenever possible. I knew I couldn’t stay on my light aluminum frame as it would likely break at some point and aluminum cannot be fixed once it cracks. I decided on steel as a frame material, as it would be most easily weldabe in a pinch while traveling through less developed countries, and it was cheaper than titanium.
I wanted to be able to ride on just about any terrain, from pavement to gravel to dirt to single track. I wanted it to be fun to ride on trails, and be stable when loaded down with gear. These things are often somewhat mutually exclusive, as the most nimble and responsive mountain bikes are not built to carry weight or ride smoothly when loaded. I knew I was going to ride it rigid (no suspension front or back) so that I could minimize the amount of moving parts that might wear out. This bike needed to be dependable, as bomb-proof as possible.
While there are a few companies producing bikes in this genre, the most affordable and strongest steel frames seem to be made by Surly. Certainly not the lightest, but that’s not their goal. After scanning their catalogue and ambivalating about my frame choice, I landed on the Ogre. Mountain bike geometry, built strong, and with all the braze-ons to mount any type of bags you could want. Designed to fit 29” wheels and tires up to 2.5” wide, it seemed like the perfect fit. Most long-distance touring cyclists traditionally travel on 26” wheels because replacement tires are most commonly available in that wheel size in distant lands. But this is changing. 29” wheels are far preferable as a touring wheel size in my opinion because they roll faster on pavement and can roll over larger obstacles more smoothly due to the increased wheel diameter. Not knowing if I’d want to remain as minimal as I was the previous Summer, I set the Ogre up with the same bikepacking bags from the previous bike, but added two rear panniers for extra stuff. I chose 2.1” wide tires that married the needs of some off road tread and an ability to roll fast on pavement, the Schwalbe Smart Sam Plus tires. I ran a standard 3×9 XTR drive train pulled off the last bike, and had a Schmidt Son 28 dynamo hub built up for the front wheel, XT hub in the rear.
The original Black Ops Ogre fully loaded weighed in at around 95lbs with food and a little water.
I rode the Ogre with all that gear from Seattle through Alaska, Canada, and into Northern Montana. By that time I realized that the panniers were often mostly empty and served as an excuse to just carry too much unnecessary crap. So I left them with my cousin in Whitefish and continued down the Tour Divide route with a more svelt appearance:
I’ve stayed with this incarnation for 4 months since losing the panniers. I know it’s still super loaded down by modern light bikepacking standards, but I’m living on this thing long term, and have a couple little comforts that take up a little extra space…
The next evolution of the Ogre came when I got to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I’d been offered a discount on parts from Matt and Tracy, owners of Gearhead Bike Shop in Pacifica CA through some friends. Given that I’d already replaced my chain 3 times and replaced my rear cassette twice so far on the journey, it was time to make the big purchase of a Rohloff. Rohloff is a German company which produces the most dependable internally geared rear hubs on the planet. They are guaranteed for 50,000 miles and need only minimal service. Internally geared hubs (IGH) are ideal for long distance off-pavement touring, as the gears are sealed inside of the hub and therefore shielded from the mud, dirt, sand and water which typically contribute to gears wearing out faster. They are VERY expensive, but I justified it by doing the math and found that I’d end up saving money in the long run, and gear replacement would be one less thing to worry about.
Brock at Orange Peel Bikes in Steamboat built up the wheel and installed the Rohloff onto my Ogre.
The only evolution that occurred since was being convinced of the value of the fattest tires I could fit on the bike. I’d ridden much of the continental divide, tons of single track trails and large sections of the Colorado Trail all the way to Durango before my 2nd rear Smart Sam (2” tire) was totally finished. Sam Newbury in Durango gave me an enormous WTB Kodiak (supposedly a 2.5” tire but the treads made it even wider than that in measurement, now discontinued) which instantaneously doubled the comfort of my off road riding. It had better grip and I could run it with less air pressure which gave me a little more cushion on rocky terrain.
When Max Cooper in Telluride had a matching Kodiak I graciously accepted it and put it on the front to have a matching set of big tires. Unfortunately the sidewall blew out on the rear tire at one point, which got exchanged for a Maxxis Ardent 2.4” tire. Although the Ardents are still quite a big wide tire, I could feel the loss of cushion.
Saying goodbye to the big fatty Kodiak (left) and throwing on the Ardent.
This setup lasted all the way to my current location in Phoenix, except the Schmidt front hub stopped producing power at some point along the way. Upon arriving in Cave Creek just North of Phoenix I met Kaolin, the owner of Flat Tire Bike Shop, who generously offered me a discount on any parts I needed to order. I decided to warranty the schmidt hub and use this time to make my latest addition…
As I stated previously, I’m sold on big fat tires. That said I wasn’t quite ready to make a full (and expensive) conversion to a 26” fat bike with 4” wide tires. It would be the perfect bike for the beaches of Mexico and Central America, but the conversion would just cost too much, and I’m still not sure if I want to commit to full fat tires with big stretches on pavement. Luckily there is a newish development in tire size options for 29” wheels, the 29+. Initially introduced by Surly as the middle ground between a normal mountain bike and a fat bike, the 29+ is 29×3”, and would allow a significantly larger/wider tire to be ridden but would still roll reasonably well on pavement when necessary. Trouble is that the Ogre is not really designed to fit 29+ tires in the frame, especially in the rear. After studying up on the geometry of Surly’s 29+ Krampus frame and fork, I decided to do a 1/2 conversion: Install a Krampus fork which had bigger cleareance for a 29+ tire and would also slightly slack the front wheel geometry down and forward enough to make the Ogre a more aggressive trail bike. So with out further ado… Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the OGRUS:
Part Ogre, Part Krampus. 29+ Surly Knard in the front, super beefy Maxxis Minion 2.5” downhill tire in the back. Both run tubeless on Velocity Blunt rims. Super heavy. Super awesome.
I just finished setting it all up yesterday and took it out on a test ride today. I rode 16 miles of pavement each way to and from National Trail on South Mountain, outside of Tempe. On the pavement I can definitely feel the bike is a little slower with the new tires. I can’t tell how much of this is due to the bigger front tire versus having new tall tread on both front and rear, which has increased the rolling resistance on pavement. But the change is not severe. The magic happened when I hit the trail. I could feel a significant amount more cushion and grip from both tires due to the lower pressure of running tubeless. The slight difference in geometry of the Krampus fork made a quite noticeable difference in descending: way more confident just having that front wheel a little further out in front of me. The fun level went up twofold.
I’ll still have to see how the new setup compares with riding the old Ogre once it’s loaded when I hit the Arizona Trail to Tucson in a couple of days. But for now, it’s great!!
Special thanks to all the bike shops and wrenches that continue to support me on my way South, deeply appreciated:
— Christaan at Ride Bikes in Seattle
— Nick with The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage
— Jonah at Icycle Bike Shop in Whitehorse
— Peter at McBike and Sport in Smithers
— Matt and Tracy at Gearheads in Pacifica
— Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish
— Brock at Orange Peel Bikes in Steamboat
— Joey at Velorution in Durango
— Max at Boot Doctors in Telluride
— Gary at Chili Pepper in Moab
— Ray and Andrew at Bikesmith in Prescott
— Kaolin at Flat Tire Bikes in Cave Creek
— Joey at Shade Tree Bikes in Phoenix