Continuing our documentation of these high desert Pack Mules, is my 44 Bikes rigid mtb tourer, decked out in desert bikepacking mode, with a few key adjustments to its normal build we’ve seen before.
This bike proved itself on our 100 mile Prospector’s Tour of Death Valley but initially, I was worried. Worried for a few reasons, but mostly because of the tire size. While riding in the desert is not new to me, doing it fully loaded, for four days, in Death Valley is. Everything in my mind told me to track down a fat bike for the route. After driving it last month, I was aware of every change in ground substrate; the Eureka Valley presented sand and loose tuff. Steel Pass was gravely, with corners suddenly sinking into inches of loose rocks and the climbs out of Saline Valley are washboarded, rocky and can take a toll on your hands.
At some point, you have to stop wondering the “what ifs” and just do the damn thing.
I took the bike, as-is, removed the front rack, swapped out the Supernova light for the new Sinewave Beacon, mounted to a clever hack using a Paul Thumbie mount, with a Supernova bracket to the Jones Bar. My thought was, it’d be better to have the light above the bag, making it easier to access the front flap. With the Sinewave’s three light mode, I was able to keep a large battery bank charged, well enough to keep my phone and GPS watch full – you can read about Sinewave’s design and mode settings at their site – all powered by my SON hub. Expect a more thorough review at a later date.
While we’re on the cockpit, for bags, I chose the Fabio’s Chest for ease of accessibility, a new Andrew the Maker Mag-Feed-Oh Sack, an Outershell Stem Caddy and an Oveja Negra top tube bag, which housed my battery pack and other necessities.
For more portage space, my trusty Porcelain Rocket frame pack with zippers held onto my stove, tools and my 100-400mm lens – I carried my Canon 1DX in my FStop Kenti backpack. While PR has adopted welded, roll-top bags as of late, I find the zipper the easy-to-access option for lens swaps mid-ride. The Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion kept my clothing and bivvy nice and snug on the wild descents. Water was an issue, made easy by Widefoot‘s 1.5L Nalgene cages. SRAM GX Eagle 10-50t, White Industries cranks with a 28t ring, WTB rims and Onza tires proved to be very reliable, with only a master link chain snap being my only mechanical. Luckily, I brought a spare chain and link along with me.
So how did the 2.8″ tires fare? Actually very well. Sure, the deep sandy sections were a bit of struggle, but once I aired down to 15psi, it was smooth spinnin’. There were no tears, or sealant leaks and all in all, the bike’s current iteration proved to be very reliable. Best of all, it climbed much easier since I wasn’t having to push a full fat tire.
I chose the Creosote plant to represent this bike, because of its resilience, ability to adapt to any terrain and timeless nostalgia. There’s something about a bike like this in the desert, all loaded down and dusty, that just makes you want to get out there and experience it all over again. Which is what I’m doing this weekend!