Friday, April 9, 2021

Our Randonneur Frame Set Gets More Grand


It took years of requests from our customers, but the Grand Randonneur frameset finally gets the disc brake treatment. We went with the IS disc mounts front and rear, because at the time we did not have a good looking flat mount solution for the curvaceous 65mm rake fork. But don't fret, there are still a few good road brake disc options in IS/Post Mount and since we went with a new modular rear dropout system made by Tange/Long Shen, it can be upgraded to Flat Mount and potentially future standards.

We have tried to keep the all the things GR riders liked about it.

• Front load bias geometry for better handling when using a front rack, bar bag, or basket.
• Traditional 1" threaded fork with investment cast crown
• Three sets of bottle bosses
• Front mini rack and pannier rack compatible
• Slender and lightweight CrMo tubes. We lightened the seatstays, but are using a larger diameter, but thinner gauge tube for the downtube for more bottom bracket stiffness.

Other updates:
• Thru-axle hub compatibility for improved handling and stability in corners
• Improved tire clearance. While optimized for 650b x 42mm tires with fenders, the frame easily fits most 650b x 47mm tires
• An additional size: 46cm

This all adds up -- we hope -- to a more premium, more modern package worthy of the Grand Randonneur name.​

Friday, October 2, 2020

Soma Double Cross: A Significant Update for 2021


When we launched Soma with just four frames back in 2001, the Double Cross was always meant to be our most versatile frame, the one that flew that "jack of all trades" flag: Commuter, long distance road, light touring, trail riding and CX racing. It fit tires up to 700 x 38mm with fenders at a time there were hardly any performance tires in that size. You could build it with drop bars or flat bars with no one giving you grief.  

It was based off the cyclo-cross bike, because that was the category of bike that could adapt to all of the above the easiest, but in the last few years, we have seen the gravel bike really shine as a "do-it-all" platform.
They have a slightly lower bottom bracket height, so that improves their on-road handling loaded or unloaded over a CX bike. Their slacker head angles reduce toe overlap with beefier tires. And while early gravel designs started out twitchier handling than CX bikes, many of them now have longer wheel bases and slacker head angles, so they are easier to manage in deep gravel.

The new Double Cross is unabashedly "gravel" and we tried to put it squarely between "racing gravel" bikes and "backcountry bikepacking" gravel bikes. We didn't want to alienate those who love the Double Cross for its agile, unloaded handling on smooth trails and pavement. 

What did we change:

1) Head angle is half a degree to one degree slacker, which puts the trail number at about the same as mid-90's XC bike. Chainstay length remains the same to keep things agile.

2) Bottom bracket drop is 4mm lower on most sizes. ( The largest sizes keep the 66mm drop in case long-legged cyclists want to run 180-185mm crank arms.)

3) New color matched fork: We wanted to add 3-pack mounts and a simple unicrown fork design clashed less those mounts than the previous lugged crown, curved blade design. We specced a smaller diameter Infinity tube than our aftermarket straight blade CX fork. It is stiffer and lighter than the lugged crown fork. It will fit a pannier rack too, just not with cargo cages mounted.
As before, the fork is optional. 

Other options: If you are OK with a black or chrome fork, you can opt for our Lugged Crown CX fork, our low trail Champs Elysees fork, or our All-Road Carbon Fork.

4) Added a third water bottle boss to the downtube. This used to be as unfashionable as having a kickstand, but thankfully no longer. 

5) Slightly more stack on some sizes.

6) We debated whether to jump to thru-axles, 44mm headtube and flat mount brakes. We even asked for your opinions on social media. We decided to run with the tried and true standards (QR hubs, IS disc) for at least one more generation. This allows for customers to use parts in their garage and just allows for a lighter, more nimble bike.

7) We ovalized the top tube so it is wider than tall. It is better for shouldering the bike in cyclo-cross, but we mainly did it to eek out some torsion stiffness in the front triangle.

8) It has more peripheral clearance for 650b x 47mm tires. Will fit up to 700c x 45mm tires with 1x drivetrain. 

9) MATTE PURPLE: After 8 straight years of black and shades of gray and silver,  we wanted to have something fun this year. 

Available October 4, 2020.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Meet Karina our First Russian Brand Ambassador

We at Soma don't really go looking for Brand Ambassadors all that often. However we recently picked up as a our distributor in Russia. Since Soma is totally new to this huge country, a brand ambassador seemed like a good move. Konstantin of Planetarki connected us with Karina, who may be the only woman working as a bike mechanic in Moscow, maybe all of Russia. She also runs her own bicycle discussion group on VK (Russia's equivalent to Facebook) where she has over 2000 members. A few may have joined to find out who is this woman who imagines herself a real bike expert, but most have no problem with her and are happy to swap experience and knowledge with her. We are honored to have her on board.

Hello! My name is Karina Simonova. I grew up in a small village near Smolensk, at the age of 18 I moved to St. Petersburg to study. There, in a big city, I realized that the best way to get around is a bicycle. So I bought an inexpensive used bike and used it as my main transport. It often broke down, and I, a poor student, had no money for maintenance and repairs. So I had to learn to fix it myself. At first, cycling friends helped me with simple questions, but I mastered more complex repairs myself.

A few years later, I got a job as a salesperson in a bicycle shop. A year and a half ago I moved to Moscow - there I found work as a bicycle mechanic at Mosgorbike.   I am responsible for repairs and warranty service. Rumor has it that I am the only professional female bicycle mechanic in Russia.

In order to discuss the issues of repairing my bicycles and share my experience with a wide audience, I organized a community called Karina's Garage on social media. Here I post reviews on bike parts, hiking cycling equipment, and raise not-so-simple topics of women's biking.

Over time, various companies began to contact me to test various bike components and write reviews about them in Karina's Garage. Since last summer I have been actively cooperating with the PLANETARKI.RU company. PLANETARKI.RU recently became a distributor of Soma in Russia and they offered me to become an ambassador of this brand in Russia. I got interested because Soma gravel bikes have always impressed me. I have long dreamed of a good steel frame for gravel and touring, and this dream came true in the  Wolverine. The difference with the bicycles I had before is enormous. The Wolverine is like medovukha (an alcoholic drink made with honey) -- strong, but sweet, too. With her, I can handle the asphalt and gravel roads of Russia and abroad. And I am glad to share my experience with Soma products where ever I ride.
From the moment the bicycle appeared in my life, work and hobbies have merged into a single whole. Bicycles at work, bicycles at home. My precious vacations also involve cycling! I have traveled in Russia from the White Sea to the Black Sea, was in the Caucasus mountains and Tsimlyansk Sands. I saw bears in the North and itched from insect bites in central Russia. I have participated and volunteered with the Russian ultra-distance self-supported bikepacking race Tour Unite, based on the legendary Tour Divide. 

I dream of starting my own workshop– the name for which I suppose already exists (well, you know what I mean)  and  I wish to have more travel opportunities. I have a bad temper, I draw mediocrely, I sing terribly, but I love my cat and my bicycles with my whole heart. In appreciation to those who will read this boring story to the very end, I drew a picture that depicts everything that I love so much - moving forward, my cat and my new bike Soma Wolverine.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Cape to Kapp: Facing The Pandemic in the Middle of a Solo Tour

About 147 weeks ago, Teresie Hommersand began her solo bike tour from Capetown, South Africa. Her destination is Kapp, Norway (thus Cape to Kapp). Of course with all these types of endeavors, the journey is more important than any destination. Wish her well and learn more about her 13,700 km ride going from South Africa to Norway and her charity crowdfunding campaign on her Facebook page and Instagram.  The last time we posted one of her travel stories she was just leaving Africa by crossing the Suez Canal. Thru 2019 and this year she has gone thru Turkey, Greece, and is in Europe now. This is her account of touring thru Austria and Germany in the midst of nation-mandated security measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Unforseen Challenge
Amongst the many challenges I thought I might face cycling solo from South Africa to Norway on my Soma Saga, a pandemic was never one of them. None of us saw this coming, but now it's affecting our lives in various ways and to various degrees.

Teresie's Soma Saga in front of a blocked off bicycle bridge in Austria.

I was in Austria when the first regulations intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 came into force. The plan was to stay a little bit longer in the country, but with all the uncertainty and the possibility that I would not be allowed to cross the border to Germany next, I sped up to avoid getting stuck. As I approached Salzburg, the border city, I got news that the next day the German chancellor was going to give an update on the situation in Germany and possibly implement even stricter rules. I then decided it was best to cross the next day. But how?

Strategy and Butterflies
All the borders were already being checked by the police, and only goods and commuters were allowed to cross. You were only allowed to travel, if you had a darn good reason. Does what I do fall into that category? I looked into other options. Finding places I could cross that was still not controlled. I found a walking path through a neighborhood. Friends told me about small bicycle bridges across the river that borders Austria and Germany in this area. Others said I could cycle through the forest at night. I just had to make sure I didn't stray into the military area nearby. In the end I decided to cross at a police checkpoint, after I learned that it was illegal and you could risk high fines, if you tried to cross the border in any other way. I had butterflies in my stomach. It would be one thing to be told I couldn't cross, but it would be another thing to be told me I had to get on a plane and fly back home. After all my two and a half year tour across continents was to avoid flying because of climate change.

Border Crossing
I arrived at the border. 'Hi!'. They were nice. 'What you're doing is certainly unusual and a bit tricky to categorize'. 'Is there any ways that you can get on a train?'. 'I'd rather not'. After about 10 minutes of the police trying to understand my situation and them thinking long and hard about if it qualifies as a transit or not, they said it was ok. 

'You can continue'. 

Woo-hooo!!!!!!! What a relief. So happy. 

I had the biggest smile as I took my first pedal strokes in Germany. Not long after I came past the mentioned bicycle bridges I considered cycling across to avoid the police check point. They were completely blocked and the Austrian army was even patroling this normally sleepy riverbank in their army vehicles. So surreal, and so glad I crossed the border in a legal fashion.

However, now the real challenge began. With everything closed, I had limited access to water, food was ok, but finding a place to charge my phone was problematic. I've spent a lot of time in churches lately, charging my phone, as this is the only place that's open. Because of the charging situation I've also reduced the usage of my phone to pure navigation and absolute minimal communication with others. Pretty much all toilets are closed which is not a problem in itself if it wasn't for that this part of the world hardly has any wild nature, only wide open farmland or people.

It has been more of a challenge to find places to set up camp for the night.

I was hit hard by a cold spell and the illegal camping was made worse because of minus degrees and frost. Wild camping is not allowed in Germany so I had to pack up first thing in the morning so no-one would see me - before my sleeping bag and tent had a chance to dry. You can also forget about breakfast. It's too cold to stand around and eat. Before the coronavirus I used to stay with people, camp in their gardens and have the most amazing time together. Now at night I've been hiding out in bird lookout towers, behind tool sheds, at closed campsites and next to unfinished buildings. The enjoyment is to a large extent gone.

I'm cycling through a new country but I'm not learning anything about it. I'm not engaging with people, only observing limited life in public. I didn't have a proper, meaningful conversation or connection with a fellow human being for a whole week. It makes me really sad. I've long ago realized that I could never cycle from South Africa to Norway without truly connecting with people along the way. I might be physically strong, but if I'm not happy, if my heart is not in the right place, I could not manage this.

The importance of people
I've learned this through countless, beautiful and most precious experiences along the 20,000 kilometers I've cycled to date spread out over two and a half years. But now, for the first time, I'm also learning it through not having this anymore. Because of social distancing. I am genuinely and deeply mourning the loss of these beautiful meetings with fellow human beings. When it boils down to it, they are what has kept me going this whole time.

In Slovenia, she rarely had to camp outside as locals invited
her into their homes.

Safe haven and the way forward
Right now I'm so thankful for finally having reached a good friend and to be staying under her loving and caring roof. Going forward, I'm preparing myself for rougher days. For longer periods of only cycling with a few select 'safe havens' (friends) along the way up to Denmark.
I know other people have it way worse than me during these times, but this is how I'm currently experiencing cycling from South Africa to Norway on my Soma Saga. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

I Was Running Out of Water

The SOMA FURTHER BOTTLE is the largest bottles designed to fit securely in standard water bottle cages. 38 oz. Over 1.1 liters. Still squeezable like other bike water bottles.
Ideal for bikepackers w/full-suspension bikes that only have a single set of water bottle bosses.  A must-have for those who go on super long rides and don’t like hydration packs.
Here is why Jon Severson requested Soma to take on this little project.

By Jon Severson, founder of Monstercross News and guest contributor to Cyclocross Magazine

It’s been awhile since there has been more than an incremental gain in any bicycle related component outside of a few exceptions. So when I teamed up with Soma Fabrications awhile back, my goal was to see what could we do that would change how people ride or make it more fun? Ideas for new types of frames, tires, and more were flowing, so I went for a ride to sort them out and do a little trail-based thinking. 

In a series of rides analyzing terrain and the frame of an existing bike, I kept thinking the bike needed some tweaking to make it perform better for me, but later I discovered one other thing was holding me back on each test ride. It was not the width of my tires or rims and while subtle tweaks to frame geometry or more fork travel would definitely make incremental gains across the terrain, there was something far bigger. 

I was running out of water. 

With just one bottle cage on the frame, my initial thought was well we’ll just add a 2nd bottle inside the triangle and that’s an easy fix. Yet still, on some frames this would only fit a small bottle and on the smallest sizes, that wouldn’t even be an option.  And for me, throwing a bottle under the down tube only to get covered in who-knows-what and not being able to grab it while riding is a no-go. 

Some would say just add a hydration pack, but I dislike riding with something on my back and cleaning those bladders isn’t as easy as tossing a bottle in the dishwasher. Those tiny bite valves can’t deliver water fast enough on a 95-100 degree day here on the Southern Front Range either. 

I listened to many other riders regarding hydration on long training rides, gravel rides, and bike packing. Their frustrations were very similar to my own: “Not enough water,” “don’t wanna leave my bike in front of a store to get more water”, “don’t wanna carry a heavy lock, so I can go into the store to get more water,” and “not a fan of hydration packs”. 

One late evening I had this nagging question, “Why are all bike bottles basically 20/22oz or 24/25oz?” Well, small bottles are easier to use and lighter for races where you have aid stations, support crews, or domestiques. The old argument against bigger bottles was “Well, that’s how it’s always been”. And while a couple half hearted efforts into the 33oz-ish size have been made, they had issues with leaking or too stiff a plastic or both. They were also VERY hard to find on top of it all. So the decision was made, how big could we really go? 

So for the last year I analyzed existing bottles, bottle cages, bottle cage materials, looked at non bike bottles, talked with consumers, and begun the design process. I knew the last thing the industry needed was a new standard, so I worked with existing bottle cage standards as the starting point. Next, who’s gonna be using this primarily? Well, it’s a daily driver-type product vs race day first and foremost. Yeah, I have little doubt that you’ll see riders in the lead packs of the Dirty Kanza or SBT GRVL, etc... sporting these bottles on their 140-200 mile journeys. But the guy racing a crit even in Cat 5 isn’t gonna be using this; he’ll be using the quicker to grab small bottles designed for races where seconds matter.  No, this would be the bottles people would be using every day where extending time on the bike matters more than shaving seconds off each lap. 

With this purpose in mind, I began looking at how we could get the most volume possible, while still being easy to grab from the cage and use while pedaling. The lower portion of the Further bottle is just ever so slightly bigger than the average bicycle bottle, so we could be sure to fit 98% of the bottle cages that hold bottles by slightly squeezing them. Next, how big around can we go up top? Got to thinking there is no good reason to make the top of the bottle the same diameter as the bottom other than tradition. So, we went as big as we could possibly go without compromising your ability to grip it. This helped to shave a little height, too. Too much height could create fit issues on some bikes. 

With two Further 38oz bottles I can ride 40-45 minutes longer without stopping to refill compared with having two 25 oz bottles

After all is said and done, the Further 38oz is 170% bigger than a 22oz water bottle and 152% bigger than a 25oz water bottle. In an era where most advancements are saving grams over the last gen or increasing stiffness in a product that was already plenty stiff, I’d say we made a significant gain in an accessory that’s been overlooked for decades. 

But what does that really add up to? For me personally at 230lbs, using the Further Bottle over my normal 25oz bottle allows me to add 20 minutes to my normal after work ride. On a long gravel ride, two 25 oz bottles were good for a little over 2 hours – maybe 2.5 hours on a cool day. With two Further 38oz bottles, I can ride 40-45 minute longer without stopping to refill. Smaller riders will get even better results. 

So guess you know now why I named this bottle the Further Bottle, because it allows you to ride further. That’s something beginners or pros will appreciate every day. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Riding to Honor My Dad

By John M. Gruber

Last week was Thanksgiving. Naturally I reflected on what I have to be thankful for and this year my thankful thoughts drifted toward memories of my dad. My dad passed away just over a year ago after a three year struggle with ALS. One of the many things I am thankful for related to my dad is that he instilled in me a love for cycling. I have memories of him helping me pick out my first mountain bike and my family dropping him off in the middle of nowhere with his bike so he could ride back in to town as he trained for his triathlons. Some more recent memories are our early morning rides on our local bike trail and the hope we would continue these together during his retirement.
Once my father was diagnosed, I knew I had to participate in a charity bike ride to raise money to fight ALS. The first ride I discovered in my search was the Death Ride Tour. The Death Ride happens in the mountains of Colorado. The ride usually takes place the first weekend of June and encompasses a loop starting in Silverton, then to Telluride, continuing on to Durango and then returning to Silverton. The total mileage is approximately 235 miles and total climbs are 16,000 feet over multiple mountain passes.

Being primarily a mountain biker and recreational road rider, I was going to need a new bike to participate in the ride. The bike I put together for the ride is very special. It started with the last bike my dad rode, a Trek Madone that he spent his last years riding. My dream was to ride his bike, but unfortunately my dad was a bit taller than I was, so my vision turned to using as many of the parts from his bike on a frame. Researching both custom and factory options, the Soma Fog Cutter rose to the top. My local bike shop, Spoke n Sport, in Sioux Falls, SD assisted me with the build, transferring the parts and helping me to ensure the bike was ready. 

The handlebars, crankset, shifters and derailleurs were all parts from my dad’s bike. It was surreal riding in the mountains of Colorado knowing my dad’s hands changed gears with these shifters and turned the pedals with these cranks. Unlike some years, the weather conditions were great and the ride was breath taking in both the views and physical exertion. The Fog Cutter handled everything with ease, from washboards leading up to stop signs, riding in a pace line with some serious “roadies” to descending out of the mountain passes with speeds reaching 50mph. When the bike disappears beneath you it makes the ride so enjoyable and over the course of the ride, this happened. Each morning, I woke up and had a smile on my face knowing my time in the saddle was going to be great.I continue to be thankful, I was able to raise over $1600 for the ALS Therapy Development Institute and honor my father by doing something he loved.Instagram: @johnmgruber

Monday, August 19, 2019

Soma Wolverine V4 A-Type Reviewed by The Path Less Pedaled!

If you have been curious about the Wolverine, especially the A-Type which has a significant design changes over the previous generations. you should check out The Path Less Pedaled's YouTube video.

We tried hard to equip the frame with the parts we thought he would appreciate. See if we got close.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Decompressing and Reflection After Months of Letting the Road Lead the Journey

Bill Heimann is a veteran tourer and retired bike shop owner. Every time he goes out he sends back a few paragraphs via e-mails to his friends and family whenever he reaches a new town and has some rest time. No public Instagram. No Facebook journal either (even though he participates on Facebook cycling groups.).
This most recent tour was to pedal from Athens, Greece to Norkapp, Norway with no clearly defined route. That is how he likes to do things. This was a particularly tough and significant adventure: learning how to ride big mountain hills agains, failing to finish a climb with 15% grades and having to go back down and find an alternate route, and turning 75 along the way.

This is his final entry of the tour written from the comforts of home after returning to Ashland, Oregon.

This morning I got up and made coffee.  Standing in the center of the front window of the humble abode enjoying the steaming cup, I viewed a doe, a fawn and a buck, an unusual site to see such a family.  But the viewing from my favorite morning place was also unusual for me.  It has been over 3 months since I last stood in this place.  A very good 3 ½ month journey has ended and another chapter has begun.

All my journeys have chosen their own paths and their own times.  I seem to have little say in the matter.  When I found myself in the very small Greek village with a broken bike I had no desire to return to the island of Evia, but the trip had its own idea of where I was to go.  After the repair and a stop in a cell phone store to talk with island born young man, I spent another, almost 2 weeks on the island.

My original trip plan was to try to find a way to cycle to Norkapp in Norway but the road would not have that plan.  Brussels and the Tour de France became the destination.  A wonderful hostess in Brussels, a friend in Prague, a meeting with a family from Tanzania at the Tour, all combined to show me the end of this journey.

As I sit here at my home computer talking with you, flashes of this journey come into my vision. The first days with John visiting an old touring friend in Phoenix, cycling to Bisbee, AZ through the Sonora desert and camping on Lake Pleasant for a farewell to John and the US. 
The first days of cycling, out of Athens in heavy traffic and up the steep hills to find a campground that had burned down in their version of the fires of our west, comes to my eyes.  The long, yet short ride to Thessaloniki that I thought would mark the end of Greece but again the road had other ideas.  A night with a wine producer added another day to my stay in the country before the final crossing into North Macedonia and the bringing of a new country to my tires.   
The meeting of a missionary family in the Skopje, the capital, a food tour and enjoying the old bazaar, where my hotel was located added 3 days to my stay in Macedonia.  Then Serbia, a country I had heard a lot of negative about, most of which turned out to be untrue.  The wonderful mountains with their great climbs, the friendly people and good food left me with a whole new picture of what is Serbia.

An unplanned short stay in Croatia, because I followed the river the wrong way did not give me enough time to really appreciate what I was finding to be amazing people.  Leaving the town of Mitrovica, I followed the Ibar NW instead of NE, forcing me to turn north into Hungary much earlier than planned, producing another example of the road leading the journey.

Budapest, Hungary brought the beginning of the end.  Now I was headed to Brussels and the Tour. 
Next, Munich instead of Passau due to a train mix up.  I wonderful mix up as I met a Spaniard living in Munich, Mixx.  How more appropriate could that have been.  We spent 2 great days together enjoying Munich and its beer gardens.  It is always great when what appears to be a problem shows itself to be a wonderful opportunity. 

Then to Karlsruhe, Germany, the home of a long ago friend I could not find, and back to cycling.  Up the Rhine River to the Saar and then along the Mosselle River and into Luxemburg, trying to be in Brussels by the 5th of July.  Good riding along the rivers with paved bikeways, no climbs or motor vehicles. Soon the bikeways became a little boring, just pedaling along though the little changing scenery – not really why I tour but great for making time.  One hundred kilometer plus days are easy.  I finally pedaled off the rivers into Luxemburg, back into the mountains and their ever changing views. 
My hostess in Brussels and I had been talking using What’s App and she suggested that I find my way to Wiltx, Luxemburg and pick up a ravel (pronounced havel) a rails to trails facility and follow it to Bastogne. Then another ravel to Libramont-Chevigny, Belgium to catch a train to Brussels as my time had run out.  No matter how tight my schedule is, I try not to miss the opportunities of meeting the locals and learning about their lives. So, extra delays always appear on my agenda. 

Marilyn is a great hostess.  She met me at the Brussels train station and we cycled to her narrow 5 story, 100 year old downtown home.  From then on we toured Brussels, watched the Wimbledon finals, ate good meals, worked on her 8 bikes, her son’s commuter and enjoyed each other’s company. 

The Tour de France was exciting and fun.  We walked around the Fan Zone buying once in a life time items, seeing the riders, talking with the sponsors and soaking up the atmosphere on Friday.  Then on Saturday during the Grand Depart I stood on the starting line.  While seeing the wonderful backs of all the taller folks in front of me I watched the start on the big screen in the Royal Plaz.  Sunday brought the Team Time Trial, with a great viewing place within touchable distance of the teams as they flashed by.  It also gave me the opportunity to meet a wonderful family from Tanzania there for the race.  The son is studying architecture in China, the daughter is studying in a Brussels high school and the mother and father work and live in Tanzania.   It was fun sharing with them how the race worked and learning about their very unusual lives.

Oh, you are talking to an international bike mechanic.  I went to visit a friend in Prague, leaving Marilyn with some instructions on getting parts for her son’s bike.  While in Prague she texted me asking what had to be done with the parts.  After a couple of texts back and forth we got the problem solved.  Think about that process, an American bike mechanic in Prague working on a bike in Brussels.

The trip to Prague was very nice.  To meet an old traveling friend, share a wonderful city with a food tour and learn about the culture while staying with a local, how much more can I say?

The road brought me to all I have seen and experienced on this journey.  Over many years letting it decide and direct my travels has always been my way.  I say that like I have a choice, I do not.  I hope the road continues to guide me the rest of my life and maybe beyond. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Handlebar Shape Database is a Very Helpful Tool

Chip Marten's labor of love,  is a database of currently made handlebars showing specs like rise, sweep, and drop and overhead views, so you can overlay our Clarence Bar and Osprey Bar to see their subtle differences. Database includes mainstream brands like Bontrager and Zipp as well as bars from custom frame builders like Ahearne and Sklar.

Be sure to check it out next time you are considering renovating your cockpit.
And consider donating to keep the project going.

More Bar News:
We will be adding a 46/52cm (XXL) size to our problem solving Condor 2 Handlebar.
Available October 2019

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Experiencing the Geographical Majesty and Hospitality of Nepal

Born and raised in the Sonoran Desert of Tucson, Arizona Elliot Dumont loves traveling by bike. His trips include the Arizona Trail, Continental Divide, Colorado Trail, Mongolia, Nepal, and Baja among many others. Cycling has always been a staple in his life,  since since middle school and it is where he finds himself to be the most comfortable. For this trip Elliot wanted to take a different turn and focus on not just on riding, but explore the cultural aspects of our changing world and using a bicycle for a vehicle of connection with the people and the landscape. I love my Soma Juice 29er and feel it was the best choice for any international trip.

Words and Photos: Elliot Dumont, Roadrunner Bicycles

Flying into Katmandu I was struck with the thought that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. These were really big mountains. And these weren’t even the big ones. The mountains that surround the Kathmandu valley rise sharply as does the rest of the country. Nepal is about the size of Tennessee with its lowest point being about 1000 feet above sea level and then the land literally skyrockets upward to the height of Everest at 30,000 feet. My plan to ride back roads from Kathmandu to the Annapurna circuit, then around the circuit and find a bus back to Kathmandu alone and self supported suddenly seemed figuratively and literally much more daunting than I had thought.The airport was full of adventure-seeking tourists and business people as well as local Nepali. Outside the street was full of hired drivers with signs with a lot of yelling in Nepali for taxi cabs. The dust from the dirt road rose as cars passed by in the thick humid air. The heat of the sun was penetrating. The monsoons were nearing a close and though rainstorms were frequent, the sun had dried the roads. The ever growing population and traffic made the air quality in Kathmandu pretty poor. Traveling through the streets packed with people, the life of the city ebbed and flowed around the narrow streets and along the stalls selling tea, dahl baht, all sorts of steamed and fried goods, clothing, tailor services, kitchen equipment, and motorcycle shops.I pulled into the hotel unloaded my bike box, checked into my room, dropped off my luggage and quickly assembled my Soma Juice 29er. It was my vehicle of choice for this adventure. A sturdy frame that was a great ride when I rode across Mongolia. It had the dependable handling and comfortable feel I wanted knowing I would be navigating some pretty gnarly descents and spending very long days in the saddle. A few days prepping in Kathmandu and I was off.

The monsoons had dumped their last bits of rain as I had made my final preparations to leave Kathmandu and the roads were not dry yet. I left the city behind as I climbed into the clouds along the main road that headed north. The road turned to dirt and soon mud. The sedimentary rock that comprises most of the lower Himalaya create a soupy mud like mixture when wet that is great for farming but poor for roads and draining. The roads when wet can be nearly a foot deep of mud and nearly impassible if only by a large truck or tractor. Somehow buses and all sorts of other vehicles find their way along these windy and dangerous mountain roads. I was glad I was on a larger tired 29er bike that could torque through the mud better than a gravel or touring bike.
The hillsides in Nepal are an impressive feat. The people in Nepal have found a way to eek out a living on the steepest terrain. The climbs meandered for miles gaining thousands of feet of elevation before plummeting in a similar fashion down into the next river valley. These large geographic barriers have led to Nepal being an incredibly diverse place with over 100 ethnic groups and nearly as many languages. Due to the rain and the steepness of the terrain, it took me an extra day and a few diversions to get to the start of the circuit. One delay led me to stay at a family’s house. It was getting dark and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the town I wanted to. The sun was setting. I had asked about the location of campsites as I passed through a town earlier. I was instructed to just go to a tea house. I had no idea what a tea house in the countryside looked like. I found this family sitting on their front porch. I pulled over. Put my hands by my head as if I was mimicking sleeping and said, “Tsea?” (Tea) and pointed to their house. They paused for a second and then waved me over. That evening we chatted as they made dinner. Their grandson was staying with them and he translated for us. They let me stay the night with them and in the morning we ate breakfast together. I paid them what I thought was a fair price and they agreed. It was an amazing experience to be able to connect with total strangers and be in awe of their hospitality. 

Entering the circuit I was struck by how different the towns were from those in more rural areas. The abundance of hotels and amenities like wifi and western food was reminiscent of home and a sign of how these towns had transitioned to a tourist economy. The road along the circuit was in fairly good shape although landslides were an ever present danger. During the monsoons, the landslide danger grows exponentially with one villager telling me about a village across the valley that was nearly wiped out from a large landslide. The road would sometimes be covered by a landslide and I had to choose between picking my way across the steep debris field carefully or backtrack and ride/carry my bike along the trekking path. Moving further up the circuit, the mountains of the Annapurna range came into view. They were impossible to look at without craning ones neck upwards. They were huge.
The religious mix of Nepal is spread between 80% Hindu, 10-15% Buddhist and the remaining 5% split between ethnic religions and Christianity. These religions are commonly split up along altitude. Ethnic groups that inhabit higher elevations are more likely to be Buddhist and those lower down especially along the border with India are Hindu. It was evident as I climbed along the circuit to witness the change in morning rituals and through conversations with people. The route climbed up to Thorong La pass at around 18,000 feet. Definitely the hardest hike a bike I have ever done. Leaving before daylight, I had strapped my bike and all of my gear to my back, around 80 lbs all together. I slowly made my way through the darkness. The stars were out and the faint moonlight illuminated the distance snow covered peaks. The temperature was pretty chilly, my CamelBak I had rested on my chest pack was starting to freeze over. The sun came out and that warmed the air a bit, but the wind picked up and sucked any warmth away. Due to the weight of my pack and the altitude, I could not walk far or fast. It was slow going. I would take ten to fifteen steps then rest on my hiking poles. After 5 hours and 2,500 feet of ascending, I reached the summit. It was delightful. The descent was amazing and it burned through a pair of brake pads. It descends some ridiculous amount of feet in a very short distance. There has been nothing like it I have ever ridden.

"The descent was amazing and it burned through a pair of brake pads."

I descended into the lower Mustang region. Upper Mustang, further up the river valley, is the most remote area of Nepal. It has been deemed by the government, in the name of cultural preservation, a protected area that requires a guide and a steep entrance fee to be able to explore that area. I descended through the holy area of Muktinath and further down the valley towards the rain forest below towards Pokhara. The dry arid desert slowly turned to pine forests and then dense jungle. I was blown away by how the descents kept going and going. When I thought I had descended all that I could I would come a vista and see yet thousands more feet I would descend to the next town. I ended the biking portion of the trip in Pokhara before spending a day before taking a bus back to the bustling and chaotic streets of Kathmandu.
It was an incredible and rich experience. I was fortunate enough to speak to many different types of people from all different walks of Nepali life. I found out just how little I knew about Nepal. In the day and age of adventure and the freedom by which we throw that word around little attention is paid to the people, places, and history where these adventures take place. I would like to thank Soma Fabrications for their support and help to get me along this journey and empowering me to be able to research and write a book about this adventurous place and its people. Thank you also to Stan’s No Tubes, Thompson Components, and all of the people that contributed to my Kickstarter. Thank you to my family and my girlfriend for their love and support.