Canning Stock Route : Part 3 – For the Gearheads
I thought I’d go all Star Wars with my post-Canning Stock Route posts, and start at the bottom. Part 2 will contain some general route info, statistics from our traverse, info on logistics, and a bit of my reckoning on all these things. Part 1 will, naturally, be a bit of my emotional reflection on a journey completed. Stay tuned in the next few days for Parts 2 & 1.
In the meantime, and potentially as a point of reference, have a scroll through the photos I’ve posted to my Flickr page.
This is, what I consider to be, a fairly comprehensive breakdown of the setup I used for the expedition, and my thoughts on the performance of most things.
– THE RIG –
Frame & Fork : Custom Rick Hunter High Plains Drifter mid-tail fat expedition frameset. A+
♦ Flawless. I honestly cannot think of a thing I’d change on the design, or execution of the frame and fork. The whole package was a dialed and balanced way to achieve the massive load-bearing tasks required on an un-supported traverse of the CSR. All three previously successful bicycle expeditions along the route have been accomplished with a more traditional, standard-wheelbase fatbike (i.e. Surly Pugsley) and a single-wheeled trailer (i.e. Extrawheel). As a keen tinkerer and bike nerd, I always find myself looking for ways to accomplish things in a different manner than has been attempted before. The decision to attempt the route on two wheels, rather than three, was no exception. My travel partner on the expedition, Tom Walwyn, employed a trailer setup, and it was more-or-less successful, without major complication.
Wheels : Surly Rolling Darryl rims, DT Swiss spokes, Hadley 170mm hubs. Built by Mike Curiak. A+
♦ Again, nearly flawless. Wheels were, I think, my biggest worry/concern on this build. Due to the insane load that they would be required to carry, nothing but the most bomber wheels would do. In my mind, I really only trusted the build of this wheelset to one person, wheel-Jedi Mike Curiak. Due to the design of the frame and fork, Mike built two identical rear wheels, using Surly Unholy Rolling Darryl rims, DT Swiss Competition spokes, DT Swiss Prolock nipples, and Fatback-branded Hadley 170mm rear hubs. The fork was custom-built to accept a 170mm-spaced hub. In this way, much like early Pugsleys, the wheels could be swapped, if a freewheel failure were to occur. Thankfully, it never came to that. No spokes worked loose, none failed. Save for a very slight flat spot in the rear wheel, the wheels are as close to perfectly true as the day I received them.
Tires : Surly Big Fat Larry. B+
♦ This is a tough one. Tires, and especially on this trip, are expected a lot of. All in all, the Surly Big Fat Larry’s did their job without complaint. Punctures were a continual problem on the route, though the tread lugs on the tires remain surprisingly intact. Threads are badly exposed along the sidewalls. I think that the BFL was good choice for the CSR, in terms of providing float in the soft sand that dominated the track, and the tread pattern seemed well-suited to the terrain. I did swap the tires front-to-rear about halfway along the route, as the rear tire carried far more burden than the front. The rear was run in the ‘backwards’ rotational orientation.
Drivetrain : SRAM X9 / Shimano XT 9-speed(ish). A
♦ Ideally, I would have opted for the trusty Rohloff Speedhub to drive the CSR rig, but the end-decision to build the frame and fork symmetrical and spaced for 170mm hubs meant that a conventional drivetrain was required. I have long-respected SRAM shifters and derailleurs for their positive and fast shift performance, so I opted for an X9 short cage rear derailleur and matching shifters, both in the 9-speed variety. Shimano XT 11-34T cassette, front derailleur, and chain rounded out the remainder of the spinning bits. The two smallest cogs in the cassette were removed and replaced with spacers behind the cassette for chain-to-tire clearance. Fatback-branded FSA 100mm cranks were used, with the supplied bashguard, 32T middle chainring, and the stock 22T granny was replaced with an ActionTec titanium 20T ring. No real issues to speak of out of the drivetrain, other than the occasional cable adjustment and lube of the chain. Neither Tom nor myself broke a chain on the expedition.
♦ These things are a matter of personal preference. I chose Jeff Jones Loop bars for the CSR, as I’ve used them to much satisfaction in the past, on several short tours and everyday trail riding. Overall, I’d say they were great for this expedition, though I did experience some ulnar nerve-related numbness, which still lingers. I attribute this to the extensive gnarly washboard, and the inability to rest or move hand positions, rather than the sweep of the bars. In terms of grips, I used ESI chunky grips wrapped in Salsa cork bar tape for a nice, fat grip section. The front loop section was also great for mounting GPS and lights. My experience with the Selle Anatomica saddle was similar. While I’ve used this saddle to great success on shorter tours, I did experience some soreness in the nether regions. Again, I think this has more to do with the rough conditions of the track, rather than the design or fit of the saddle. I can’t imagine any saddle would provide 100% comfort on the CSR. The saddle did tend to stretch fairly quickly, and when adjusted, it did not seem to hold it’s adjustment. I think the adjustment bolt could use a jam-nut, similar to Brooks saddles, to help solve this problem. One of the rivets came apart, but did not adversely affect the comfort of the saddle.
♦ The remaining parts are all fairly standard bits that all performed as one would expect. Without a second thought. The Old Man Mountain Sherpa 170mm rear fatbike rack, which was customized to fit on the fork, stayed put and carried the front panniers without any reason for worry or woe. The Paul Tall & Handsome seatpost went without adjustment, and was creak-free. The tried-and-true Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes did their job faithfully and silently, despite the massive load. Mated to Paul Love Levers, this is a fantastically reliable speed-scrubbing setup for off road touring bikes. And the inverted Chris King NoThreadset was, as usual, rock-solid.
– GEAR & PACKS –
Expedition Gear, in general :
♦ There are so many different bits of gear, used on trips like this, that it would be a complete waste of my time (and yours) to list each and every one of them and the reason I do or do not like them. Instead, I’ll just highlight items, which saw extensive use on the CSR, that I feel are especially worthy of praise.
• Keen Commuter III SPD-compatible sandals
• Big Agnes Fly Creek Platinum 2-person ultralight tent
• Icebreaker Tech T Lite merino t-shirt
• Patagonia MicroPuff Hooded jacket & Baggies shorts
• Garmin 60CSx GPS unit
• SPOT Generation II locator
* Seventh Generation Baby Wipes
• Backcountry Cuisine Freeze-dried meals
Porcelain Rocket packs :
♦ All of the packs for the expedition, with the exception of Tom’s trailer-mounted Ortlieb panniers, were built custom for the CSR. Ultimate durability is key out there, and this dominated design and materials decision-making.
• Side panels on all the packs for my rig were spec’d with Dimension Polyant‘s D40, full-Dyneema, woven and laminated packcloth. This fabric is extraordinarily abrasion and puncture-resistant, while being extremely water-resistant. This choice proved invaluable, as the panniers often acted as brushguards for the relentlessly unforgiving shrubbery that lines the CSR. All of the packs built with D40 were outstanding in resisting tearing from abrasion. The one notable exception was a rogue tree branch that decided to spear the side of my left rear pannier, on a high-speed descent from a sand dune. The nearly-petrified branch did manage to puncture the D40 fabric, and produce a 3″ tear. Despite Tom’s excitement to prove his skills with a Speedy Stitcher, I decided to leave the tear alone, out of curiosity. Despite bearing the weight of 15L of water + 14 days of food, the tear has not spread at all, I am pleased to report.
• The construction and the remainder of materials used on all packs were the same as those that come standard on all Porcelain Rocket gear.
• Industry-standard YKK Uretek water-resistant zippers were used on all packs. #10 zippers were used for main frame pack openings, and #8 zippers were used for all accessory pockets and smaller packs. On a whole, all the zippers were trouble-free. Fine dust tends to be the plague of zippers on any outdoor gear, and this expedition was not lacking of dust. On occasion, the zippers did tend to be a bit tough to close, but with the application of a bit of saliva, all was moving again. I cannot emphasize enough that zippers should be cleaned at regular (and frequent) intervals.
• Arkel Cam-Lock hardware was used on all the panniers built for the expedition. I really cannot say enough great things about Arkel’s Cam-Lock hook & rail system. They are an insanely easy and fast, not to mention sturdy, mounting system for bicycle panniers. It would be nearly impossible to improve on this design. However, only the upper rails from the Cam-Lock kits were used, in favour of Ortlieb QL1 rails and hooks for the lower attachments. This proved a bombproof, reliable, and praise-worthy combination.
• I opted to remove the front panniers from my rig, during our rest day at the Kunawaritji community, about 2/3 of the way through the expedition. At this point in the trip, gear could be consolidated to just a rack-top drybag in front and everything else residing in the rear panniers. This decision was made in order to improve slow-speed handling in the deep sand sections and washboard sections. I continued to the carry the front panniers inside my rear panniers for the remainder of the trip.
• No seams or plastic hardware failed on the expedition. I would not hesitate to use all of the packs for, at least, another traverse of the CSR.
Whoa! You still with me?
Hit me with any and all questions, and I’ll do my best to answer in a timely and thorough fashion.
To be continued…