Groomed Trails, Fatbikes, and the Gallatin National Forest

During the winter of 2013/14 a group of SW Montana fatbikers became aware that the local U.S. Forest Service district had written a special order banning bicycles from the network of ski and snowmobile trails in the Gallatin National Forest.  These trails are open to skiers and snowmobilers and we felt that there was little to no reason they shouldn’t also be open to bikes – particularly with the absolute onslaught of fatbikes now hitting the market.  The special order was more than likely put into place as a means of putting bikes on hold while the USFS had time to “think things through” but it was in our opinion a bit shortsighted considering numerous other Forests and forest managers throughout the nation were dealing with bikes in a very positive and successful way.

A group of us set about lobbying our local district and the team of FS employees were very easy to work with, were accommodating, and did an excellent job of balancing all forest user’s needs in the process.  Although it took more than a year to make things happen, during the summer of 2015 the special order was rescinded and fatbikes were written into the travel plan as being allowed on the more than 400 miles of marked snowmobile trails in the Forest.  Although ski-specific trails remain off limits we are considering partnering with local ski clubs to gauge interest/dislike for consideration for access to these in the future.

A friend was visiting from Seattle and we borrowed a fatty for him and we headed South to a long, groomed creek corridor and laid down eight miles of pedaling among trees heavy with snow, a creek slowly becoming choked with ice, and a sunny, warm sky overhead.  It’s amazing what four to five inches of rubber running low pressure can allow you to pedal through.

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Sub-24 Hour Overnight Bikepacking in the Gallatin Mountains

I am the father of a seven month old so opportunities to get out into the backcountry are precious these days.  I don’t want to miss out on time with my baby and wife but I also don’t want to miss out on nights spent in the mountains either so last evening I threw my leg over the top tube of my bicycle at 18:00 and pedaled from town twelve miles up into the high foothills of the Gallatin Mountain Range arriving around 20:00.  I live only about a block from access to our town trail system and I chose a route that consisted of mostly trails and gravel road all the way to my camp requiring only three miles of riding the shoulder of a mid-speed asphalt road.

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I hunted deer in this zone thoroughly in the Fall and have explored this timber-cutting road system on skis in the winter as well so I knew generally where I wanted to make camp.  I came to a wide, flat pass but pushed on another mile to see if the next switchback would offer better views.  I decided it did not and turned around to return to the pass.  I left the road and headed to a rocky promontory that made up the Eastern part of the pass and set about making camp… well, more like I cracked a beer and enjoyed the view for a few minutes before making camp.

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The view off to the SE through a gunsight set of peaks of the rugged Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness complex was sublime and I couldn’t help but gaze off into it thinking of past trips in that wild set of mountain ranges.  Opposite that view the lights from my town of Bozeman and the greater Gallatin Valley were beginning to twinkle.  The sun was setting to the West and the silhouette of the Tobacco Root Mountain Range drew my attention heavily.

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Camp made I took off my shoes and those diaper-like cycling-specific under shorts and found a comfortable spot on some sun-warmed rocks.  The weather was delightful and I sat in my short sleeves until long after dark just taking in the view of the setting sun, the lights of town, and the slowly rising nearly-full moon.

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Sleep came slowly as large critters banged through the woods near me.  Presumably just an elk or a deer but the notion a bear is hanging out near your camp is a hard one to ignore regardless of the fact I’ve spent hundreds of nights sleeping out in the wild.

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I don’t know what time I fell asleep but I lay with the door of my simple shelter open and allowed my gaze to drift to the night sky.  The full moon made things very clear and the stars were alight with the twinkle ever-enhanced by being even just a few miles away from the light of the city.  I awoke at dawn, climbed out of my bag and scanned the distant hills for wildlife.  I will hunt this zone again this fall and seeing even just one critter on a nearby hillside was a pleasant sight.

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My trusty Bushbuddy fired up a few cups of water and I had a cup of coffee in hand by 06:30.  While it brewed I broke camp and packed my gear back onto my bicycle.  I spent the evening leisurely soaking in the surroundings but my plan for the morning was to attempt to make it back home for arrival about the time my wife and daughter were awaking.  The beauty of a twelve mile climb on the way in is you know you’ve got a fast, twelve mile descent on the way back out.

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I made it home by 08:00 just as my family was waking and my lovely wife had a second cup of coffee at the ready.  We made up a proper Saturday morning breakfast of bacon and eggs and now have the whole weekend still lies ahead of us.  Make the most of your minutes, hours, and days.  Enjoy the company of your family as well as your solitude.  I enjoy living in the moment, especially since each and every one of them equates to huge changes in the life of my little girl.  But at the same time I look forward with great interest in having the family join me in future micro-adventures.

 

 

Morganzo 55: Double Nickels on the Grime – 2014

I participated in my second (of three) of our little local gravel bike ride/race the Morganzo 55: Double Nickles on the Grime last weekend.  It’s a beautiful fifty-five mile course all of which (minus the first 1/4 mile or so) is on gravel roads of quality varying from regularly graded to rutted farm two tracks.  There were around 15 participants this year who turned out for the ride under partly cloudy skies with temps pushing near 90 deg. F.

I aimed to finish in less than five hours and I pretty much managed that.  My GPS read 05:01 but that included a 1.5 mile out-and-back detour due to a bad route finding decision.  Oops.  As one of the race promoters you’d think I’d know the exact course.  Anyway, it was a great ride, with great participants, and I expect we’ll do it again next year.

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Practical Bicycling in Bozeman and Beyond

In May of this year I participated in the 11th PechaKucha Bozeman with my presentation of “Practical Bicycling in Bozeman and Beyond”.  The format for PechaKucha is the display of 20 photo slides for 20 seconds apiece.  As a proponent of bicycles as a means of everyday transportation I felt it would be a worthy topic to share with the community.  The fruits of my labor are available to anyone who has seven minutes of free time via Youtube.



DIY Pogies for Winter Cycling

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Winter bicycling can be cold in Bozeman and I gave my Bar Mitts to my wife so a set of pogies was in order.  I ride a Surly Open Bar mustache style handlebar on both my daily commuter and fatbike so I built these to work with both.

I designed, patterned, and sewed these in a little under six hours this weekend.  Inside is a very soft fleece over a layer of continuous filament polyester insulation.  Outside is a water-shedding nylon ripstop with 1000d Multicam Cordura trims.  The fleece, ripstop, and insulation set me back about $10 and the Multicam was scrap so aside from the time commitment these were pretty cheap.

The RecycleCycle on Bike Hacks

I follow a great DIY blog called “Bike Hacks” which features reader submissions for creative hacks related to bicycles.  These are usually really down and dirty, low cost solutions for people more interested in function than form.  As a practical cyclist I’ve created myriad hacks to the many bicycles I’ve manned in my day and have submitted a few of them to “Bike Hacks”.


The blog recently featured one of the hacks I came up with wherein I put a front derailleur to interesting use as a chain tensioner on my the DIY long bike I built a few years ago.


Front derailleur as chain tensioner

Front derailleur as chain tensioner


For those who’ve not seen my long bike which I lovingly call the RecycleCycle you can view a gallery of the build process and some of it’s recent iterations in the DIY Longtail Cargo Bike Build aka RecycleCycle gallery I keep at Flickr.


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EDC for the Bicycle Commuter

Bicycle commute EDC


I ride my bicycle to work and for many of my errands year round and as such the potential for a mechanical is always in the back of my mind.  Fortunately a few simple tools are all that are necessary for most repairs.  The other key repair element not pictured is a telephone – because 9 out of 10 times you can just call a friend to come pick you up!


 

  • adjustable wrench
  • tire levers
  • multi-tool
  • tube patch kit
  • tube
  • pump
  • snickers
  • sunglasses
  • flashlight
  • paracord

What items are you carrying that differ from mine?  The gear pictured above differs when I’m on a trail ride, a road ride, or an overnight tour and lighter options of much this kit exist. I find a balance of weight, functionality, cost, and other factors come into play.

Asphalt and Corn: Biking and Skiing

Yesterday morning after a very positive job interview (which I look forward to sharing more about in the near future) my buddy Mike sent me a text about going for a bike ride. We’d been talking about strapping our skis to our bicycles and heading up the most popular mountain access road in Bozeman – Hyalite Canyon. At this time of year the Forest Service gates the road to motorists for reasons based on impact but bicyclists are still allowed to enjoy the dry, clean pavement. The road winds about five miles (8km) and gains a few thousand feet of elevation which means its a great climb followed by an even better descent.

 

 

Mike and I planned this for the later afternoon so it wasn’t within our time constraints to ride directly from town and up to the mountains so we can’t claim pure smugness for this trip. We loaded bikes, skis, poles, boots, clothing, water, warm-temp ski wax, and panniers into Mike’s Suby and headed out.

 

Arriving at the trailhead and setting up the bicycles with ski gear is fun for a couple gear/bike dorks like Mike and I. The best part of it is living in a town like Bozeman doesn’t even proffer up a bunch of goofy what-the-hell-are-you-doing looks from other trailhead users. People just give you a nod of approval or a vocal ‘way to get after it!’

 

 

We had a great, albeit short ride up the asphalt road, then down a dirt and snow covered side road up to the snow line. Mike and I both chose to ride our “townie bikes” which have +/- 2″ MTB tires which made for a good choice given the multiple surfaces we rode upon.

 

 

From here we transitioned to skis and other than having to walk three short sections of dirt we were able to ski about four miles of pretty decent corn snow. We applied some Swix warm-temp wipe on wax before setting out which kept the snow from sticking and provided good glide.

 

Mike and I both ski on Madshus Epoch skis and were really enjoying the control that the shape and edges provide. In the downhill sections of our ski we were both making alpine turns in the slush and whooping with enjoyment. Mike skis in a Fisher BC NNN boot and I ski in a Rossignol 3-pin boot.