After months and months of wistful longing, I dialed City Bike and pressed send…
[Six Months Earlier]
Working remotely for six weeks had not been so bad, despite my “office” consisting of the space below my upper bunk, with my computer set up on a TV tray, Max Headroom: 1.5 inches. Not so bad, at least, until the call from HR came to inform me that this particular Friday would be my final Friday of employment with them. No notice. No severance pay. Three weeks of accrued vacation time vanished. I was unemployed and in no position to be dropping $2000 on a silly fat tired bicycle. It would take six months before I would regain my adventurous self, before I could again create a future with sufficient silliness to float this fat tire dream. Six months of responsible delayed gratification, of job hunting emails, interviews, rejections, and finally, an offer.
But the unemployment nightmare was over. I was starting to loosen up on the remote screen share meetings and last night’s web search for “bikepacking Florida” had returned some very interesting results. These had tipped the scale toward action:
I was ready to dial, but would have to wait until until daylight when the store was open. Alas, my job, my wonderful, beautiful, fantastic job kept me busy until a mere fifteen minutes before closing time. Finally, finally my fingers tapped the glassy surface and my phone was ringing up City Bike! The machine picked up. It went to voicemail? The store had closed early on the very day I make the call, debit card in hand? Not possible, not even with Hurricane Eta spinning slowly 70 short miles off shore. Most Floridians are are wimpy weather weenies. I just never thought people who sold Surly bikes would be among them. I redialed, only to hear the same voicemail greeting. This time I left a message…
Hi. This is Paul in Clearwater. You’re supposed to be open until 6:00, and it’s only a quarter till.
[spoken quickly, like Ralphie describing the Red Ryder at the Higbee Company Department Store, just before Santa boots him back down the slide]
I want to order a bike. I want a Surly Wednesday, large, in Blue Monday with Edna 4.3 inch tires and the Surly Rear Disc Rack and maybe some fenders, those little mini-fenders, not the big full kind…[Sigh]
[Spoken sadly, like Eeyore on his birthday]
I guess I’ll have to talk to you about it. My number is 9… Oh, I’ll call you back.*
*Update. I called City Bike back the next day and was told Surly has no available inventory and to call back in mid December. The earliest possible delivery would be in January.
In the 90’s I raced triathlons on a DaVinci time trial frame. In search of speed I vainly attempted to keep up with the Jonses (literally) by switching to Tubeless Tires. Why? Today, I cannot name the advantages, and after one season, I switched back to tubes. I still patch my flats to this day, usually after walking my bike home. I have seen it done on the open road, and am confident in my ability to do this myself.
These days, however, I prefer comfort* to speed, and bumpy forest trails to smooth paved roads. My next bike will be a 2020 Surly Wednesday, large, in Blue Monday. But for some reason(s), I have not been able to bring myself make to a final decision and pull the trigger. First it was the matter of the Thru Axel, and now this. The Experts, people who should know better, keep advising me to equip my fat tire bike with Tubeless Fat Tires. Not this again. Why?
Following my own Rule #1, “Don’t doubt the engineer until you have a look at his plans,” I decided to take a closer look.
Surly Bikes puts it this way in their “Surly Tubeless Kit” ad copy, “A properly set up tubeless fat bike tire is like the holy grail of suppleness.” Superlative words, but not the Holy Grail of informative helpfulness. The Surly blog has more info on the kit (and the Edna 4.3″, my tire upgrade-of-choice) here: “Edna 26 x 4.3 tires and the Tubeless Tape Kit”, but no data concerning the costs and benefits of Going Tubeless, in general.
“One tip, I suggest to people, is if you’re going to get a fat bike, go tubeless. This is a fat bike tube [holds tube up for camera], it almost weighs a pound and a half, with no air, just the rubber tube itself is almost a pound and a half. So, two tires, that’s almost 3 pounds of weight that you’re spinning around. Go to your local bike shop. They’ll hook you up. Basically what you’re going to do is, you’re going to drop the tubes and they’re going to put some sealant in your tires, and they’re going to tape up the rims, and the sealant covers all… It’s like a car tire. Car tires, truck tires there’s no tubes in automobile tires, right? They just rely on the sealant aroung the rim. Kind of the same thing with bike tires, except that you need some sealant in there that spins around with the tire just to make sure if there is a pin hole, it gets filled up. It works great for flats. If you run over a thorn, it seals itself up. So, as opposed to a tube, you’d have to take it out and patch it.”
Tubeless Pros and Cons from the Canadian Mountain Co-Operative
What if you run over something bigger than a thorn? Or a number of somethings? How easy is it to repair/replace a truly flat tubeless out on the open trail, compared to patching a tube? How much extra gear would I have to carry? What if I had multiple flats, far, far from the homestead or the nearest shop?
With a fully stocked patch kit, it would be no problem. Annoying, but somewhere before bedtime I would arrive at my destination under my own power. Can tubeless tires do that?
Interestingly, MEC does not rank weight saving as a key factor. “Once you take the tubes out and replace them with sealant, you often get a slightly lighter system, but weight savings shouldn’t be the reason why you choose to get rid of the tubes.”
These are the KEY considerations for me:
Cuts down on flats: “Unless you slice your tire open, flats will feel like a thing of the past.“ Better Cornering: “You can run your tubeless setups at much lower pressure without the risk of getting pinch flat. This means that you’ll be able to take corners much faster before your front wheel washes out.” Better Climbing: “The lower tire pressure you can run with tubeless increases the contact patch of your tires to help you gain extra traction up steep hills.”
Tight Fit: “Tubeless tires have a tight bead that helps keep the air in, but this also means a tire that is harder to get on the rim – sometimes frustratingly hard.” Spare Tube Required: “That’s right, if you end up with a puncture big enough that the sealant can’t fully seal it, you’ll want a way to get back home. For most riders, that means carrying a spare inner tube.”
My decision comes down to prioritizing puncture repair over performance. How often do I believe I will be a fair distance away and beyond practical help, where walking home is not a viable option? Once would be enough, wouldn’t it? But, if I had tubes on my rims, a pump, and a patch kit, I could ride home. And what about that tight fit? Is that something I want to deal with 60 miles from nowhere? And I would have to carry a spare tube anyway, not just a patch kit?
Prioritizing the tube’s ease of flat repair over the tubeless’ handling performance, I choose tubes.
How I equip the bike will ultimately depend on the next ride’s risk factors. I will most frequently not be venturing very far afield. So at some point I might own multiple sets of wheels for rides of different risk levels. I considered ordering my Wednesday with tires for the majority of my riding, and put off till later the “long haul” wheelset, especially now that tubeless tires have made flats “a thing of the past.” Why was it the Titanic had too few life boats? “Unsinkable,” right. I will order my Wednesday with Edna 26 x 4.3 tires, WITH TUBES. Hopefully, the extra width will add some cornering and climbing performance, even at the higher pressures required to avoid tube pinch flats.
Rule #2. What’s right for one may not be right for another.
Leave a comment if you learned something, too, or if you disagree. Especially if you disagree.
Paul Guernsey The Guern
*Try riding triathlon-style aero-bars day after day, with your upper body weight resting on your elbows and your neck cranked back in order to see the road ahead? #PityTheFool #GregLemond #TourdeFrance1989
**Don’t you just have to trust the words of a Canadian who bikepacks with his hound?
In the early 90’s I raced triathlons on a DaVinci time trial frame. This bike had style and class. It was fast, responsive, and reliable, at least as reliable as a skinny tired road bike could be. It also had quick release hubs, NOT THROUGH AXELS, because Campi hadn’t invent one.
Tullio Campagnolo (26 August 1901 – 3 February 1983) invented the quick release hub out of personal frustration with the standard hubs in 1923. Campanolo was having a day of it on his ride up the passo Croce d’Aune. Back then, you had to flip your wheel around to change gears since each side had a single sprocket. Unbolting and reinstalling the wheel was a pain, especially with cold, wet fingers. Changing gears should not be difficult and physical pain painful.
Tullio Campagnolo’s invention would remain standard bicycle hardward for 80 years, so why would a bike manufacturer BRAG about using inferior, non-Campi-based designs? Who do these Fat Bike people think they are?
Time to take a step back and follow my own Rule #1, “Don’t doubt the engineer until you have a look at his plans.” At least try to grasp the problem he is attempting to solve before you pretend an understanding greater than his. This DiyMountainBike.com web page answered my through hub questions.
Before I left home in 1977 to become an exchange student in Sweden, Mom gave me a book of etiquette. There was a paragraph on sidewalks, and on which side men and women should pass. The man was supposed to pass on the street side to protect the woman from splashes from the road or other traffic related dangers.
But these days, the Wuhan virus presents a potentially more ominous threat. The question of etiquette has become, “Who should walk downwind?” Should men still wear the role of protector, despite the virus’ apparent propensity to be more dangerous for the male gender?
My answer, “Of course we should.” Etiquette is based on tradition and culture and civility. It never went out of style for a man to open a door for a woman. It was never about weakness vs. strength. Etiquette has always been a matter of Respect, as well as a prepackaged set of solutions to a myriad of potentially confusing daily human interactions, like this one. Civility. Respect. Some things are more import even than our own health.
What was it like before, a few short weeks ago when public contagion was not the only topic on the news? Were we a friendlier people then? No, but then our faces passed with sufficient closeness to discern the colors of each other’s eyes. We passed each other on the way with nods of recognition or the curls of smiles on our lips. Nothing more than civility and manners expressed in joint respect for those with whom we share a bit of space for just a breath of time.
We Are Here
We are here, both you and I,
and we shall pass in peace,
as busily we fill our separate days
with striding forward toward
our not indifferent ends.
We have been emphatically and emperiously asked to maintain a six foot buffer between ourselves and others while in public. This is wise, good, and voluntarily we comply, but the act of walking out of our way to avoid a fellow human strikes a blow to civility. We cast a shaddow of shame or feel ashamed ourselves, or both. So, now the nod, the brightened lifted face are not enough to overcome the added distance we have put between our faces. Social Distancing requires now addition of a verbal cue, a crisp, “Hello!” “Good morning!” in addition to the smile.
I step around you now with widened berth, but not because I think you harbor any threat. Well, yes, I do, but know it isn’t you. So, trying to make up for less than social distancing, I say, “Hello!” to each and every one of you I skirt. I wear an even broader smile just let you know, “I see you and we’re all in this together aren’t we?” Gladly I extend these Collateral Benefits,* for just as good and wise it is to lift your heart, to sweep away the fear as ever it was to keep you at arms’ length.
*Collateral Benefits: a term coined by Hans Eisenman on his 2020/03/28 Facebook post [from @TheSconeAge]: ‘I’m officially coining a new (?) term: #ColateralBenefits thanks to the coronavirus. Example: a lot of people we run into seem friendlier than usual right now. They make eye contact a bit more as if to say “I see you and we’re all in this together aren’t we?” What collateral benefits have you noticed, if any?’ – Hans Eisenman
Prose Poetry is not poetry, at all. It remains prosaic by its lack of verse, though may be a more artistic, creatively written prose. Poetry lives in the land of verse, and verse requires more than arbitrarily inserted line breaks. Prosists seek, by name alone, ascent to the more regal esteem in which poetry has for millennia been held. This is a usurpation and a stolen valor.
Let prose be prosaic.
Let poetry be verse.
Let the writer’s axe of art be swung, and the chips fall where they may.
 verse A metrical composition. The word verse is traditionally thought to derive from the Latin versus, meaning a “line,” “row,” or “furrow.” The metaphor of “plough” for “write” thus dates to antiquity. Verse is metrical writing. The poet disturbs language, arranging words into lines, into rows, turning them over, turning them toward each other, shaping them into patterns, Metrical writing is a way of charging sound, of energizing syllables and marking words, of rhythmically marking time. Such formal writing is markedly and perhaps even metaphysically different from prose. …The term verse is also used to refer to a single line of poetry, or to a single stanza, especially of a hymn or song. – Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary
Some wonderful photos from Scandinavia by U.S. Nordic ski Olympic veteran, Caitlin Patterson.
I love all these shots, but was especially charmed by the humility of style designed into the “warming hut” in Beitostolen, Norway, about 1/3 of the way down Patterson’s post. I love how the doorway is framed by the roof-line, accentuated by the contrasting cone of snow.
This plot of land where plow meets Earth, and swaying grasses feed the sullen sheep on gentle hills where hiding giants sleep.
A curve of hip, and here an elbow raised on high. The barn and cottage there, where cattle and the kids, both human and of goat now gainly grow.
Whence come these lives into the world, and wither do they waning go? Difficult for deific gnome so deep to delve the mysteries of life beyond this mission-farm, the only home, this heaven here on Earth.
Be watchful of the night through birth of day. In doing rounds the rough heart does rejoice much more than in these mysteries unmapped.
 See pages xxviii- xxx of Heaney’s Introduction to BEOWULF A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition, Seamus Heaney , W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 2000
“In one area, my own labours have been less than thorough-going. I have not followed the strict metrical rules that bound the Anglo-Saxon scop. I have been guided by the fundamental pattern of four stresses to the line, but I allow myself several transgressions. For exampel, I don’t always employ alliteration, and sometimes I alliterate only in one half of the line. when these breaches occur, it is because I prefer to let the natural ‘sound of sense’ prevail over the demands of the convention: I have been reluctant to force an artificial shape or an unusual word choice just for the sake of correctness. “In general, the alliteration varies from the shadowy tot he substantial, from the properly to the improperly distributed. Substantial and proper are such lines as
The fortunes of war favored Hrothgar [line 64] the highest in the land, would lend advice [line 172] and find friendship in the Father's embrace [line 188]
“Here the caesura is definite,
“there are two stress in each half of the line,
“and the first stressed syllable of the second half alliterates with the first or second or both of the stressed syllables in the first half.
“The main deviation from this is one which other translators have allowed themselves–the freedom, that is, to alliterate on the fourth stressed syllable, a practice which breaks the rule but which nevertheless does bind the line together:
We have heard of those princes heroic campaigns [line 3] and he crossed over into the Lord's keeping [line 27]
“In the course of the translation, such deviations, distortions, syncopations, and extensions do occur; what I was after first and foremost was a narrative line that sounded as if it meant business, and I was prepared to sacrifice other things in pursuit of this directness of utterance.”
— Seamus Heaney
Meanwhile, a thane of the king's household, a carrier of tales, a traditional singer deeply schooled in the lore of the past, linked a new theme to a strict metre. The man started to recite with skill, rehearsing Beowulf's triumphs and feats in well-fashioned lines, entwining his words. (866-873)