The roaming collective of international bicycle tourers is the only tribe I really belong to. No exclusivity here: for instant access, just turn up with wheels, enthusiasm and wanderlust.
Bike-love transcends borders and cultures, and out on the road, the club has extra perks. As much as I enjoy meeting fellow bike tourers from more relatable backgrounds, connecting with local riders is always a moment to savour – like my time in in Sichuan province, China, where the humble bicycle bridged language chasms, and introduced me to friends I’d otherwise never have made.
Within mountain biking circles, travelling by bike has provided, so often, a ticket straight to the inner sanctum. As a keen roughstuff rider, little beats being privy to favoured local trails – wisps of singletrack, the majority of which may well have taken years to unearth and polish. I’ve appreciated this close-knit mountain biking camaraderie in the US, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador, to name a few.
Wherever it may be in the world, the experiences are universal. The toils of a chin-down climb, and the elation of a let-loose descent. Adjusting derailleurs, fixing a flat. The satisfaction of cleaning an awkwardly placed rock. A nod of acknowledgement, a smile of encouragement. At the end of each peel of singletrack, my reactions are studied inquisitively. So? What do you think? I know the look; it’s one I give visitors to my local trails, keen as I am to show off the best there is to offer.
This community is one of the reasons I chose to tour on the Ogre. I figured, despite its rigid fork status, that big 29er wheels would hold their own on more challenging Andean singletrack. Which they have done, ably. A 29er makes a great dirt road tourer, while offering surprisingly little compromise when the terrain gets technical. The world (and all its singletrack) is your oyster.
The Cordillera Blanca – whose trails have certainly given me good reason to pause in my travels – is a perfect case in point. Aside from its epic, unpaved roads, I’ve revelled in foraging around on day rides, as well as taping into a rich vein of overnight, bikepacking potential. I know I should keep heading south, but it’s hard to press on when you’re onto something good. I ride to discover places, not to pass them by.
And, when it comes to embracing communities, the Huaraz Riders are a prime example; they’ve been more than happy to pour over my maps and field my incessant questions. A band of brothers who’ve explored these mountain trails since they were teenagers – here’s one of their favourites – they live to ride. No expensive branded apparel necessary: jeans and a cotton T-shirt are likely to be their garb of choice. Downhill is their MO, though their notion of a ‘downhill’ rig is probably an old hardtail, crammed with the largest tyres that will fit. Short stem, wide bars, flat pedals.
And seat dropped low…
You ARE truly AMAZING…. Cass G… (just like your Dad if he reads this 🙂 Pity I’m on this NO Carbohydrates diet in a vain attempt to lose 5 kilos… cuz that pic of the assorted potatoes has given me a Pavlovian response over the Internet. My gas has run out and there’s a pile of sweet potatoes waiting to be steamed too… arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… I hate dieting but 5 do LOVE your blog… safe travels and love X
really enjoying reading about your terrific adventures!
Looking forward to the next instalment!
Two wheeled diplomacy will be the salvation of the Planet.
Maybe it was the camera angle but Julio looks like he has some gnarly legs. Do you know what pedals those are on the Specialized fleet? They look huge and comfortable.
Julio has been exploring these mountainous parts for the last 18 years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some gnarl to his legs.
Not sure what those pedals are I’m afraid. I’m more of an SPD person. I need to revisit flats, especially with all this hiking.
I was having trouble with numbness and removed my toe clips as an experiment. Much better! For a few hundred road miles I have been, as Nick says, “footloose.” I do miss the straps, but not enough to replace them. I have a new pair of MKS Sylvan touring pedals that I will be trying out this week.
I have never used SPD pedals. I have a set but need shoes. I expect, like the toe straps, I will ultimately return to my footloose ways. Less efficient, perhaps, but since losing the straps I notice my feet are all over the pedals, depending on riding position and speed.
That is why I was curious what a local rider like Julio was using.
If you are happy without SPDs, don’t try them now – you probably won’t want to go back. That is their curse.
Personally, I still prefer being clipped in; I like the connection I feel to the bike. Clomping around is the sacrifice, and I’m okay with that. But, as I’m increasingly finding myself lugging my bike up one mountain after another, I’m feeling the need to check out platform shoes pedals. I’m kind of envious of people who can ride really well in flat pedals – I think it takes a lot more skill.
As for Julio, he has flat pedals for his clients – SPDs for him.
I have gotten to quite like my Powergrips straps, but admittedly I haven’t been doing much technical riding with them so I can’t comment on how they perform in that respect.
Cass! So hyped after the Sach pass and looking through your latest posts leaves me feeling like we’re there with you too!
Wow, Sach has to be the hardest most beautiful pass ever – took us 8 hrs to get over it… doubt much has changed since you were there 6 odd years ago. Stunning landscapes.
Andes and Himalayas are 2 peas in a pod.
Will post and entry on my blog one of these days detailing the route. Thanks for your inspiration always!
That’s great to hear. Sach Pass was always a favourite. The first time we did it pretty late in the season (October?) and the river had turned a beautiful glacial turquoise. Look forward to reading more about it.
Oh cool, I still think back to that trip, I think I was on the first tour they did through there? That 4300 m pass was pretty high for me and here Cass is spending most of his time at that elevation in the Andes. That’s what I need right now, some altitude training.
I remember rattling my arms off on the Chamba side coming down the cobble, did they pave that? They were doing lots of blasting and roadwork when we did it.
Doing the update now, finally! Dont think much has changed!
I always enjoy reading about your “local experiences,” and finding a passion that crosses cultures and borders is the best way to get those types of experiences.
Cass: reading your comments on the benefits of 29’er as a off road touring bike with a rigid fork are interesting. I’ve been planning a Troll for that same purpose (with Rohloff and a coil sprung 100mm fork + Old Man Mt front rack). Given the choice between the two–a 29’er with rigid fork or 26″ Troll with a 100mm coil sprung fork for off road touring, having ridden both, which would you pick and why. Thanks in advance for your thoughts. Carl
Carl, I can’t really give a definitive answer here, just some ponderings, as I’m not sure what kind of riding you have in mind.
As is probably evident, I’m a big fan of 29ers (I’ve been riding riding an On One Inbred 29er for several years), largely thanks to the way they roll so smoothly along. Being on the taller side, they also feel more in proportion.
As ever, to some degree it boils down to where you are planning to ride – there’s no doubt that outside of the US, riding a 29er takes more forward planning, and there’s less touring-worthy tyres to choose from too. Neither of these factors have proved to be a real issue for me, but they’re certainly worth considering, especially for longer journeys, or those where you’re especially heavily laden.
When it comes to pure dirt road touring ‘performance’, I much prefer the way a rigid fork and a big wheel/large volume tyre feel under load – compared to a suspension fork and 26in rubber. It’s amazing how much comfort you can gain from a tweak of tyre pressure.
This said, there’s definitely a trade off in out and out plushness – ultimately, a rigid 29er is still passive in its form of suspension, and that can be noticeable out on the trail. For the kind of riding I do, the pros outweigh the cons. Most of the time I’m carrying stuff, and when I’m not, I’m happy to get beaten about a bit over rougher trails. As a footnote, my titanium handlebars most likely take out a little of the sting, as do the Ergon grips I like to run.
In any case, I’d definitely suggest trying out a 29er if you can before making your choice and seeing what you make of it. The Ogre and Troll are both very nicely thought out bikes, with plenty of overlap between them. Sometimes too much choice leads to paralysis of indecision. If I hadn’t had access to the Ogre, I’d have been more than happy on the Troll. As it is, my personal preference hedges towards its big brother…