Friday, September 19, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - The Bike

When I was a kid, my parents allowed me a ridiculous amount of personal freedom, and I rode my bike everywhere.  On road, off road, in traffic, through fields, across town - wherever the adventure du jour was taking me.  When I got to high school, my grandmother bought me my first real road bike, a Peugeot PS20.  Chromoly frame, Shimano 600 group, all white.  A thing of beauty.  Of course, I did nothing to change the way I rode my bike, or where I rode it, and within a few months, the shape of the rims reflected my beliefs about what a bike should be. 

Ever look back on a past relationship, feel a tinge of regret, and wish you'd been a little more kind and a little less harsh?  That's how I feel about my Peugeot.  Live and learn. 

Fast forward a few years, and now I'm deciding which bike to use for the Tour Divide.  Which bike do I think is going to help me go the distance?  My overall philosophy is that generally, the fewer moving parts, the better.  Less things to go wrong.  I'm not keen on the idea of being in the middle of nowhere when a suspension seal blows out.  Plus, suspension adds a bunch of weight which I'd rather not have to pedal up all those mountains.  So, hardtail with rigid fork it is.

In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to contend with derailleurs either.  I've lost count of how many hangers I've snapped.  However, Pinion gearboxes aren't widely available here in the US, I've heard mixed reviews about Rohloff hubs on the TD, and friends, single-speeds are not for sissies.  I'm not saying I'm a sissy here, but after about a month of researching what ratio every previous TD single-speeder has used in the past, and contemplating what that would mean for ME out THERE...  Ya know what, fine, call me a sissy.  I need my gears.

So I started checking out my options.  My initial intention was to buy a naked frame & fork, and build from the ground up.  What better way to get to know your bike, right?  I put together half a dozen "virtual" bikes in the form of spreadsheets, searching for the ideal combination of frame and components.  Know what I discovered?  Building a bike from scratch is expensive.  Budget considerations eventually prevailed, and I couldn't resist the value offered in a complete bike.  But I still didn't know which one to get.

I've done enough riding on a flat bar mountain bike to know that going long distance on such a bike is very hard on my hands.  At the other extreme, there's a whole spate of drop bar cross and gravel bikes out there, but I didn't relish the idea of being hunkered down over road bars for days and days.

Salsa Fargo 2, fresh out of the box.
Thank goodness for the Salsa Fargo.  Salsa's motto is "Adventure by Bike," and in my view, no bike exemplifies this better than the Fargo. 

The Fargo is one of the go-to bikes on the Tour Divide, as it combines the best aspects of MTB and road/cross bikes into one clean, sexy package.  A more upright position than a road bike, paired with a unique shallow-drop handlebar with flared ends make this the perfect back road touring mule.  

I bought the Fargo 2, which means it has a steel frame in lieu if titanium, and some of the components are a step down from the top shelf.  Would I have preferred the Fargo TI?  Of course!  My dream bike would be a TI-frame Fargo-style 29+ bike with a Pinion 1.18 gearbox and belt drive.  How sweet would that be?  But when one has champagne tastes and a beer budget, one learns to make concessions.

Is the Fargo 2 perfect?  Few things in life are, and the Fargo is no exception.  There are two improvements at the top of my list.  First, make it belt compatible.  The bike has these nifty "Alternator" dropouts on it, but if you're running single speed or an internally geared hub, you're still stuck with a bike chain.  Lamesauce.  Second, make it 29+ compatible.  While I was waiting for my bike to arrive at my local Salsa dealer, I emailed someone at QBP to ask if it was possible to run 29+, if not front & rear, at the very least up front.  I was told that such an arrangement would "ruin" the bike's geometry.  Now that I have the bike, it's clear the Firestarter carbon fork has ample room for a 29+ tire, but there is no way to shoehorn a three inch Knard between the rear stays.  I haven't tested a 29+ tire up front, so I can't say whether or not anything would be "ruined."  But it is tempting to give it a try.

So, perfect?  No.  Awesome?  Yes!  And getting more awesomer with some choice modifications.  I'll get into those modifications in future blog posts, but suffice it to say that I wish this bike had been available when I was in high school.  Maybe then I wouldn't still feel that tinge of regret.