A Death Valley Prospector’s Pack Mule: My 44 Bikes Creosote Cruiser

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!

  • Peter Chesworth
  • Beau Street

    I love seeing stuff like this. Always curios as to what your load out/weight of gear is, you ever done a write up on what you carry?

  • Medium Rick

    Love a good desert bike.

  • Locke Hassett

    Been on the fence about Onzas for a bit now. I’ve been running both of my MTBs (rigid and full squish) with a Rekon 2.8 120tpi up front, and I’m really not stoked on the tread pattern for loose over hard, as well as its propensity to disengage when layed down. Can’t seem to find the right pressure: too low and it tends to pinch and ping rims, too high and it loses all the benifits of a plus tire, and corners like garbage.

    My hesitation with the Onzas was always the price and weight. But, it seems like you didn’t find them to be too heavy? Would love to hear some more in depth review of these tires, either from you or just the Radavist family in general.

    • I find the Rekon and Maxxis’ EXO casing tires in general to have very good sidewall support for their weight. The Rekon is actually a relatively light tire (~800g) for how much grip and sidewall support it gives, but if you’re riding it on suspension bikes I can see how you’re finding its limits.

      It’s tough to be picky about both weight and grip, as they generally have an inverse relationship. Low weight usually means thinner sidewalls, and that means you need to run more pressure to keep them from folding. Low weight often also goes along with less tread and less grip. Grip is a function of knob shape, rubber compound, sidewall support, and what pressure that combination is happiest at.

      27.5×2.8″ tires in the 800-850 gram range are pretty middle of the range. That’s about the weight of a high grip 2.3″ tire. So I don’t know if you’re going to find a huge improvement by going to the Onza, and by the sounds of it you’d probably hate riding Schwalbe’s (even lighter) options.

      If you’re set on 2.8 and you want lots of grip and sidewall support to run lower pressures, I’d recommend you check out the Maxxis Minion (either DHF or DHR, they’re both great as fronts) in the 3C MaxxTerra compound.

      • Locke Hassett

        Ive been mulling all of this over for a bit now. I suppose in the end I just have to try a buncha tire and rim combos. Im g5oing to see how the profile of the Rekon changes by putting it on a narrower rim, hopefully getting a bit more side kob engagement before it finds the dead spot in fast corners.. I think the Rekon might handle the trails in Prescott/Sedona/Phoenix a bit better with a more rounded profile. It sits pretty square on a 35mm rim, and I think that is a large part of my issue. It’s not folding persay, just loosing engagement at a point, due to high sidewalls. Maybe my takeaway is that for an agressive riding style on loose and rocky trails, I just need to be getting tires that are on the more aggressive end of the spectrum. That, and the fact that what might be a great set of rubber for bikepacking isnt nescicarily the best choice for rallying through high desert chunder.

        Ordered some 2.35 DHF’s, for the full squish, in 60tpi WT, EXO, (skinwall, naturally). Those will sit on 35mm rims, and live on my Knolly. Morgan, you know me, weight reduction isnt my biggest priority (kilt, 140 travel shreddy hardtail on the divide, generally a decent ammount of food and whisky). I’ll be keeping the plus tires on the bikepacking/mellower trail rig for now untill they wear out.
        Thanks for your knowledge, Morgan!

  • Sebastian Burnell

    As usual you take pool position!

  • adventureroadbiker

    Wasn’t that into this bike when you first got it but this setup looks hella rad

  • Robert

    love my Fabio’s Chest for my bikepacking rig, but I’m thinking I should go to mechanical discs since the brake lines for my hydros get a little smooshed when I use the bag. I’m trying to keep it rackless, but running a Surly 8 Pack rack would probably help keep it from interfering with my brakes. This is giving me some inspo to try some other solutions!

    • Yeah, that was my main concern with switching any bike that I could or would tour on to mech. brakes.

  • Frank

    Hi sir John.
    Can I please have your impressions of the Sinewave beacon vs Edulux ii?
    Many thanks. Frank

    • From what I understand, the Sinewave Beacon is an off-road beam pattern like the Supernova E3 Triple. Compared to the Edelux, these are like high beams versus low beams.

      I’m also curious about John’s thoughts on the Beacon now that he’s had it out on a trip. Its biggest innovation is its ability to run off battery power and give you full power regardless of how slow you’re riding (pushing). I love the brightness of my E3 Triple but it’s pretty dismal until you’re moving.

      • We luckily didn’t have to ride at night at all, so I kept it on battery charge priority while riding. But yeah, the E3 sucks for slow climbs at night IMO.

        • Well then, I still look forward to hearing your thoughts when you find yourself needing to use the battery mode.

        • recurrecur

          Look forward to your review of the Sinewave light, especially against the Supernova. I’m running a Supernova with Sinewave’s top cap charger, and it’s been great – but this light sounds more versatile.
          Also, how did the Sinewave light work with the Supernova tail light? They get along ok?

          • It works great! It keeps the rear light on well after you’ve stopped pedaling.

  • Scooterbug Likes Bikes

    Looks like you were playin it pretty tight with what looks like only four liters o’ h20. How much was Erik carrying in his panniers?

    • I drove out and cached 20L water cans and fire wood for each night. Otherwise we would have been carrying four day’s worth.

  • Daniel Smith

    Does anyone have any experience using portable chargers on longer rides that aren’t dynamo powered? I’m looking for something not too heavy, weatherproof, and can fit in a top tube bag and keep phone, gps, and lights charged at the end of a 10+ hour day? This wouldn’t be for multi-day outings, and the charger obviously wouldn’t be used until the later in the day.

    Btw John, the bike looks dialed. Made even more perfect by a good coating of desert dust.

    • I use the Goal Zero Flip30 pack. It’s like 3″x2″ and will charge an iphone / garmin like 5 or 6 times.

      • Daniel Smith

        Thanks for the suggestions, guys!

    • I’ve used some powerbanks. They worked well for me for 3 days on the bike something between 10000-20000 mAh worked for me charging a Garmin and a phone. But dynamo is definitely the way to go, if the beacon was out when I purchased my E3 I would’ve defintiely went sinewave.

  • terriblemcnaughton

    Hey John what pedals are you kickin around on that 44? Solid ride.

  • Chris Kyle

    John, how are you liking the Beacon/Supernova tail combo? I just finished the same setup on my disc Space Horse; but haven’t really used it yet.

    • I like it a lot, actually. Expect a further review shortly.

  • alexroseinnes

    Sorry, you answered my camera question in this post. Great shots. I was wondering what you thought after your time with the Sony A7r ii earlier this year.

  • Andrew Mc

    Still probably my favorite bike you own, @johnprolly:disqus.

  • Kai

    One of the most visually pleasing bikes I’ve ever seen.