Lands of Lost Borders – A Journey on the Silk Road

We are lucky. We know it. All day, every day, we work with people on bikes they will do amazing things with, and sometimes, as we found out recently, they’ll even write books about those things.

Longtime followers of this blog will possibly remember the Cycling Silk Project, undertaken by Kate Harris and Melissa Yule in 2011, when, in their own words they, “lurched off the European shore of Istanbul, Turkey with overburdened bikes and quaking legs. Just a few days ago, in late October, we pedaled into Leh, a small city barnacled onto the Himalayan mountains in northern India. In the months between, we consumed roughly 10,000 packs of instant noodles to fuel nearly 10,000 km of riding, polishing our souls on roads rough as pumice on this pilgrimage to the Silk Road’s wildest mountains and deserts.”

We got a copy of the book in the mail recently, and it was nice to walk back down memory lane and hear an expanded version of a story we followed closely as it was going on. We were enormously proud to build the bikes Kate and Mel rode, a pair of Expat S off-road touring machines. These bikes played into our thinking as we evolved designs of the early Evergreens, so they, and this project, were highly inspiring and influential for us.

The book is available now.  We recommend it highly.

The Sevenduro 2×2 Scrambler

Well, that’s a mouthful, but it’s a bike with a LOT going on. The basic idea with this project was to build a massively versatile machine that can maximize performance across a range of ride types. The knock on some multi-purpose bikes is that they’re not great at any one thing. The 2×2 Scrambler aims to be great at many types of riding.

Here is what it’s for and how we optimize for each thing.

For this specific design project we optimized for these two distinct ride functions:

  • A bike ideally suited for fast gravel and dirt road riding in hilly terrain (Sevenduro mode)
  • A bike optimized for New England mixed terrain riding: sections of singletrack with equal sections of paved roads — and a bit of everything else thrown in (Scrambler mode)

These two bikes are very different in function, and therefore design. How do you get this to work? Beginning with tire choice and wheel diameter decisions, the optimal design produces a frame geometry that allows for versatile rider position, fine tuning for each type of riding.

With this Evergreen 2×2 we have two hot-swappable modes. The first configuration is a pure gravel riding setup for the 700c wheels, we call it the Sevenduro Mode — because it’s designed for endurance gravel rides. It’s lightweight and provides a perfect gravel balanced rider position.

For the second hot-swap configuration we’ve optimized for 650b riding. We’ve tagged it the Scrambler Mode — named after a type of bandit off-road motorcycle race. The Scrambler Mode has a flared drop bar for better trail handling, wider grip stance for more control, a shorter stem for slighter reach and improved body language control, and slightly higher front end to facilitate rolling over logs and other adventure obstacles.

There is a ton of new tech in this bike, features that make it a great travel bike, a worthy race bike, an all-weather commuter and adventure rig. Read more on the specifics here.

Travel Bike Optimized

We build a lot of travel bikes. Increasingly, riders are realizing the value, not only of riding in far flung places, but in riding their own bike along to do it. BTC couplers and travel cases make this dream a much simpler reality than it might at first appear. We like to think about more than just getting the bike into the case though.

Part of the value of the way we build bikes, one-at-a-time, for the specific people who will ride them, is that we can be thoughtful about the whole bike and how it serves the larger goal.

With that in mind, and with a request from one of our readers, we thought we would break down, in detail the bike above, one of the bikes we brought with us on our most recent trip.

This bike is optimized for traveling just about anywhere in the world.  The kit is chosen for easy service at any reasonable bike shop on the planet.

  • Model:  Evergreen SL
  • Kit:  A mix of Dura Ace and Ultegra.  Ultegra rear derailleur so the rider could use a wider range cassette.  Shimano because it’s the most popular and common kit on the planet so easiest to get replacement parts.
  • Gearing:  11-32t cassette with 44/28t chainrings.  11-32t rather than a wider range cassette because it’s easy to replace while traveling if needed.
  • Crank:  Rene Herse.  Why?  We used this crank in order to get a lower gear ratio for steep technical climbing.  Herse cranks use a classic tapered and threaded bottom bracket for easy service while traveling.
  • Saddle bag:  Revelate Viscacha
  • Handlebar bag:  Bedrock bags Tapeats Handlebar Bag.  We like this because it has a waterproof closure at the top.  Easy to access.
  • Tires:  Clement MOS 40c tires.  With tubes. Tubeless is nice to ride, but presents serviceability issues when traveling.
  • Wheels Pacenti rims with White Brothers hubs.  Centerlock for traveling.  Classic hook spokes for ease of service.  700c wheels because they are ubiquitous anywhere in the world.  The bike also works with 27″ wheels — if you’re really in the boonies — and 650b or 27.5″ if needed for some reason.
  • Brakes:  Mechanical Shimano CX77.  These work really well for mechanical discs (which are easier to set up and break down) and are very low service.
  • Bar, stem, post:  Seven parts.  Aluminum and titanium, so they are as durable as possible.
  • Pedals:  XTR
  • Saddle:  Fizik Arione
  • Lights:  Light & Motion Urban 1000s.  Easy to mount, easy to charge, light weight, multi-function, helmet mount and bar mount.

From Benelux to Barcelona

On Saturdays and Sundays, through the winter, we watch the cyclocross racing from Europe. Flemish language commentary bounces off the shop walls as we go about our weekend rituals, cleaning and tuning bikes, and so, when we spied a (mostly) free week that lined up with the World Championships in Valkenburg, Netherlands, we packed our travel bikes and headed to the airport.

We flew into Belgium, the spiritual home of cyclocross, and drove east to Valkenburg.

Our original idea was to ride our bikes to the race, but there was so much mud it proved impossible. For two days we mixed with the oddly quiet crowd as the racers whipped by in their colors. A streaker sprinted down the course just before the men’s elite event, slipping, covering himself in mud, and bringing loud guffaws and cheers from the spectators. This wasn’t the R&D we had in mind, but we laughed along.

It snowed. It rained. It sleeted. But we didn’t mind.

On the Monday we rode the flat farmland outside the city, rolling through the open spaces on mostly car-free roads.

The next day we drove down through France, pausing for a quick ride in Lyon, before finding our hotel in Barcelona. There we did three rides, one an urban adventure, trying to find our way in the hectic, fever-pitch traffic of the city. We found the cycling infrastructure really impressive, but we struggled to keep up with Barcelona’s fast city riders. Still we fed off the energy and everyone we met was friendly and helpful.

The next day we put our tires on some dirt, riding portions of the Olympic mountain bike course, near the velodrome. The single-track was beautiful, swoopy, and fun on our Evergreens.

Later, we took a night ride up into the hills above the city, where we found wide mixed-use paths with stunning views. Beyond that we could see miles and miles of more technical dirt calling to us, but we were out of time. We’ll have to wait for another week, mostly free, to get away.

Joe Cruz in Croatia

Another missive from our buddy Joe, adventure cyclist/philosophy professor, this time from Croatia. Beautiful images. Good words. All his. All adventure. Read on.No place is a unity, not if you’re open and look to learn something even from small things. In riding in Croatia, then, we didn’t find it to be one place. But the diversity was macroscopic, ranging over the thick parts of culture and movement and affect. In a single day we might pack up our gear from a woodland camp, take lunch dockside in the swirl of festive Europeans on holiday, clinking white wine glasses and bobbing yachts as backdrop. We might then climb on rutted tracks between centuries old stone goat fences up through half abandoned villages—cherry and apricot trees twisting in brightness—to pedal with our hearts in our throats through uncleared landmine acres, then sit at mountain camp with grinning Croatians sharing their stew and bread and stories. The next day we’d drop down off the ridge again.

Our hours were that kind of glorious haphazard fabric, unexpected warp and weft. The only constant was Homer’s wild northern sea, the Adriatic, always in sight or at least its suggestion.

Another evening after a restaurant dinner, the owner talks about her family’s olives, how when growing up in the era of Yugoslavia she used to drink olive oil as part of becoming strong for gymnastics. She doesn’t say so, but her voice suggests that it’s also a metaphor. With the sun a few fingers over the horizon, we pedal to a late ferry to Krk. When we reach the island, it’s plenty dark so our headlamps go on and we ride onto a dirt track, looking for a camp spot. The riding is rugged, dry. Demanding though buoyant. Water will be hard to find for these coming weeks. We’ve learned to spot the wells, low stone chimney looking blocks with an iron lid. Looking down at our reflections, the rain water is placid in the catch, three meters down. We lower an improvised pail, a cut in half soda bottle with a long length of wire. Jack carries the wire coiled on his saddle bag, I carry the bottle strapped on my front roll.

Later we feel the accumulation of ascent, scaling passes into a cracked plateau with the white gravel track disappearing before us deep into Velebit National Park. There’s a feeling of remoteness that we didn’t expect: from towns and people, of course, but also from the recent history of this region, as if the crags are trying to be a sanctuary from memory. For the first time on the trip we’ve had to put on our jackets against chill and a greying sky.

In total we ride a mix of demanding mountain bike track, dirt roads, asphalt that remains new in the way that only sunny warm climes can allow. We sweat and bend our shoulders against the sky, exalt in long descents and sometimes push our wheels up through thorny brush to emerge into expanse. We visit a Croatia that’s wilderness, that’s jumping accelerating commerce, that’s nearly silent alleys. We stop at the Nikola Tesla museum to have our arm hairs stand straight up near the big coil. We ride around holes in the tarmac where we can’t tell if they are from heavy truck tread or from shell fire twenty-five years ago.

Croatia unfolds to us and our days there are far too few.

Joe Cruz is a professor of philosophy, an expedition cyclist, and an ambassador for Seven Cycles. Find more of his words and images at joecruz.wordpress.com and on Instagram @joecruzpedaling.