Mark’s Orange Crush

Mark is a rider we’ve collaborated with a few times. He brings a lot of forethought and passion to his bike projects, and this was no exception.

This is Mark’s Expat S, monster cross bike, and some kind words, below.

Thanks again for your help (and Neil’s help) on the monster cross…”Orange Crush.” I’m still working rounding up a few orange accessories, but for the most part, she’s all built up and ready to ride ! I’m excited for future adventures!

Regarding the build, I decided to use a SRAM 1 x 11 drivetrain. A work colleague was selling parts, so I was more than happy to buy those from him! I’ve always loved Shimano parts, but I do really like the simplicity, reliability, and range of the SRAM single chain ring set-up.  To support the orange theme, I used the Chris King mango headset, headset spacers, and bottom bracket (ceramic…so smooth!).

I tracked down a Phil Wood orange seat post collar. And I had the head badge powder coated at a local auto paint store. The orange flame decals are a work in progress. These ones aren’t sticking very well, so I suspect they will be short lived. For wheels, I stuck with DT Swiss hubs…so reliable and easy to service. The anodized Chris King, I-9, and Hope hubs are nice, but I’m a DT Swiss fan. The hubs are laced to DT Swiss XM401 rims and I’m currently using Maxxis Treadlite tires. The cockpit is complete with Thomson post and stem, Salsa Cowbell handlebars, and Cobb saddle.

Mike’s Expat S – France, Belgium & Pike’s Peak

This is Mike and his Expat S at the top of Pike’s Peak.

And here is Mike’s Expat S at the foot of the Kemmelberg in West Flanders, Belgium.

Mike does cool stuff and makes us look good. Thanks, Mike and big thanks to our friends at Bike Doctor Waldorf for collaborating with us on such cool builds.

He says:

I thought I’d pass along a couple of shots from the adventures I’ve had on the last bike you did for me.  It saw lots of early-season action during the Polar Vortex before heading out to Belgium & France to ride the Tour of Flanders route as well as the Paris-Roubaix Challenge Sportif.  That was followed a trip out to Denver in August to ride & watch some of the US Pro Challenge as well as climb Pikes Peak.  The bike has been a rock star throughout, so I’m looking forward to many more great trips with it!  I’m currently registered for the Bike Four Peaks stage race in Austria this June with the newest build, so it’s going to get lots of love too!

Thanks!

Mike

On the Road: Zand Martin Cycling the Chinese Altai

Checking back in with Zand Martin as he and his expedition partner stalk the Golden Mountains, the Altai, of central Asia. Below, more of Zand’s photos and his luminous prose.

We make certain assumptions when looking at a map. It is a designed object, the recipient of refinement, and bears a certain authority in its geometry. But despite the weight of accumulated knowledge they exhibit, maps are not infallible. The person who designed our map of Xinjiang lives, I believe, in Budapest. I don’t think this person has ever been to this lonely spot in north China, but they created a layered image representing it that was then printed, and is now in a plastic bag in my hands flapping a tih-tih-tih staccato around my thumb and forefinger.

I am in a town that doesn’t exist, and on a road whose route is deviant from the world as known to our Hungarian cartographer. In this barren stretch, we rely on sparse settlements to restock. Beyond the kilometer marker where our village should be, an empty valley of rock, sand, and scrub stretches to the horizon. This is our third phantom village today, and evening has begun to draw the curtain on our misfortune. The road is not right, and the towns we expect for food and water do not exist.

We camp behind a low brown hill, and use our last water to cook our last food. I find a scrap of rug fallen from a camel train and set it before Brian’s tent as an entry way to lighten the mood. I find a scorpion on it as I set it down, spoiling the gift.

The wind rises at 1AM, and we lose our sleep wondering if the tents will hold. They do, and at 6AM we move to the road and encounter an early morning resumption of the previous days direct, soul crushing headwind. Today it is stronger, and has come earlier.

With eighty kilometers to the next settlement and no water in bottles or landscape – not a drop to the horizon – we flag down a truck and are whisked into Beitun. I can think of no other activity comparable to cycling into a 35 knot wind. It is soul crushing. You can still crawl along without much risk, but it is excruciatingly difficult and slow. There is no rhythm. In this land, there is no where to hide and it roars in your ears the whole day long.

The steppe is utterly empty until we reach the abrupt edge of downtown. Our map uses font size to indicate settlement size. Beitun is marked as being the same size as Saribulak, one of the towns that did not exist. In reality, Beitun has 90,000 people in a compact city of modern buildings, leafy avenues, hotels, markets, and restaurants. It is the opposite of the countryside in every way.

Beitun is brand new, and under construction. It speaks of recent Han colonization, of a risen China appropriating its ethnic periphery and casting a web of super modern infrastructure across a landscape unaccustomed to such attention.

There is MUCH more to this story.  Read herehere and here for our own past installments, or visit Zand’s expedition blog for the full text and even more photos. Zand rides an Expat S, built to carry everything he needs over months adventuring in the farthest flung wilderness Earth has to offer.

On the Road: Zand Martin Cycling the Russian Altai

Last week, we saw the set up for Zand’s expedition. This week, we’re underway.

The Altai Mountains are quite probably where skiing was conceived, not in the modern form we know, which originated in Scandinavia, but in a more elemental way, practiced by the indigenous people of Central Asia. Zand’s expedition sought out some of the terra prima of skiing, but approached all the overland travel by bike. To get into the mountains, Zand and his partner first had to ride the Chuysky Trakt. Some of the photos, and Zand’s own words below.

This road, the Chuysky Trakt, was cut through the mountains in the 1930s by gulag inmates, and runs 1000km from the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Mongolian border. We began in Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the semi-autonomous Altai Republic, and will steadily gain elevation until we reach the highlands of Mongolia.

Across the pass, we push bikes along a snow drifted ribbon of cracked asphalt to the half-abandoned Soviet-era ski base atop Seminsky. We nearly missed it in the low cloud, but on emerging from the ail, the sun had made an effort and a few cuts were revealed on the mountainside.The road drops down and we find our way over plateau and valley back to the Katun, and a cold, dry steppe climate. The road is good, and easy to navigate: if you leave the spiderwebbed asphalt, you are going the wrong way. This 500 kilometer line runs through the heart of the range, and we follow it over passes and through small log villages clustered around shingled rivers.

Confederations of sheep and goats wander thawing hillsides under the occasional watch of dog and motorcycle-borne shepherd. Cows and pigs march the paddocks closer to home, though the pigs fade from prominence as we transition to a Muslim minority in the mixed ethnic map of Russian, Altai, and Kazakh. The Altai here is religiously diverse, with Russian Orthodox, Islam, Tengrism, Tibetan Buddhism, and less organized belief systems often called Shamanism, but really more a blend of animism and ancestor reverence.

As we leave the Katun Valley for the last time and begin to ascend the Chuya, we pass our last church in Aktash village and enter the Chuya steppe, a dry, barren, high altitude grassland hemmed in by mountains. Entering the frontier town of Koch Agash, we pass our first mosque, a humble green timber affair with a crescent moon of beaten sheet metal on the peak of the hall.

Here, we plan our first extended foray into the mountains.

 

Watch this space for more installments and gorgeous photos from Zand in the Golden Mountains, the Altai, or check out Zand’s personal blog from the trip.

 

On the Road: Zand Martin in the Altai Mountains

Zand Martin is an explorer. You met him here prior to this expedition. “Circling the Golden Mountains” is an attempt to circumnavigate the Altai by ski and bicycle and to tell the story of this region, its people and landscape, to as wide an audience as possible.

We outfitted Zand with an Expat S backcountry touring bike, which, as you’ll see, he packed with skis plus everything he might need to live in the wilderness for weeks at a time. Here are some photos from his trip prep, and some brief words about his plans.

We intend to trace a 4,000-kilometer route through Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and Russia, and to carry skis on our bicycles and execute between two and three dedicated multi-day ski tours in each country, with peak ascents and roadside missions as spring advances. We hold an absolute dedication to a light, fast, and low-budget aesthetic, and unless we hold to this style throughout, the route will not be possible.

When I first started running my own expeditions, sourcing maps was one of the most intimidating details for me. If you want to hike in the White Mountains or paddle in Maine, you can probably get by with an atlas and gazetteer, or a swing by a local outdoor store for a specialty map. Kazakhstan, rural France, or even more distant places in North America would at first seem impenetrable  without the right tools, and a novice could have trouble finding those tools. To be clear, I am talking about paper maps. The ability to read terrain and landmarks, and associate them with features on a topographic or physical map printed on paper is the key skill in expedition navigation, both in the front country and the wilderness.

Watch this space for more installments and gorgeous photos from Zand in the Golden Mountains, the Altai.