This bike is the direct result of many experiences, beginning with my 44 Bikes touring bike and culminating with the Moots Baxter I spent a great deal of time on last year both fully-loaded and set up in what I could call expedition mode. After a lot of back and forth, I realized that I like 29+ bikes for bikepacking and yeah, titanium is really nice for desert riding. These mental musings came to the full realization after spending some time talking with Adam from Sklar Bikes this summer in Bozeman.
The most straightforward definition of Obsidian comes from Wikipedia: “Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock. It is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth.” In parts Owens Valley and Death Valley, Obsidian is just another ground substrate. As lava fields collide with alluvial fans, causing the land to spill out over and through roads, this mineral litters the landscape, capturing sunlight and distracting even the most focused eye.
During numerous points on our trip, Obsidian fields distracted us from our pains, our cold hands, and hungry stomachs. We scoured the grounds, finding unique pieces, to hold up to the light and gaze in awe, only to place them back where they had decided to fall in the first place. Dylan took this practice very seriously, and in return, often wandering out into the depths of a shrub field only to shout out “check this piece out!” I felt it the perfect mineral to represent his murdered out S-Works Fatboy.
So, what’s so special about this bike? Honestly, not much. It’s bone stock, features a manual-shifting “bail out” chainring and was the lightest “fully-loaded” bike on the trip. Dylan borrowed the bike from a friend, upon realizing that fatter was just simply better for the terrain. He packed it out with the essentials, along with a few choice creature comforts – like walkie-talkies – and the entire time, rode it like it had an e-battery…
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.
On this expedition, we – Erik, Dylan and myself – were prospectors… For over a hundred years, Death Valley has had its minerals extracted by machine and mule. Not just for gold and silver, either. Prospectors scoured the mountains for antimony, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten, packing out their load by mule. We are modern day Prospectors, however, we are not seeking riches, yet experiences, of which will be beaten into our soul by miles of washboarded and rocky roads. Our mules are our bicycles and we’ll take only photos, leaving no trace, taking nothing from this land. It’s given enough over the decades and its scars are still visible on the surface.
Last Friday we embarked on a 100 mile journey through Death Valley National Park. The route was familiar to Erik, who attempted it years ago, but in reverse, with a band of other explorers, who fell victim to this great desert. Returning this round, Erik had a new found respect for this land, as well as much-needed reconnaissance by yours truly. My report: we should ride the biggest tires we have access to. This would soften the blow from the rugged roads and allow us to move with elegance through deep sand.
On top of that, literally, would be our provisions for four day’s worth of riding in the High Desert. This meant we’d need lots of water, lots of food, and warm apparel, on top of the standard backcountry emergency items. Packing all this in on a bike that’s destined to climb well over 10,000′ in its journey is no easy matter, yet the three of us took our own unique approach to outfitting our Pack Mules.
We are three prospectors and this is our creed:
For over a hundred years, Death Valley has had its minerals extracted by machine and mule. Not just for gold and silver, either. Prospectors scoured the mountains for borax, antimony, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten, packing out their load by mule. We are modern day Prospectors, however, we are not seeking riches, yet experiences, of which will be beaten into our soul by miles of washboarded and rocky roads. Our mules are our bicycles and we’ll take only photos, leaving no trace, taking nothing from this land. It’s given enough over the decades and its scars are still visible on the surface.
There’s no death in this valley, but life, at a micro scale, so nuanced that without the pace of the bicycle, might be passed over, unnoticed.
Path Less Pedaled looks at bikepacking bags versus saddle bags used on the front and rear. Kind of like how I used the Moots Baxter versus my Sklar Pack Mule. Russ makes a lot of good points but I’d argue that I prefer a mix of the two, kind of like how I tourer on my old 44 Ute. Which do you prefer? See three examples below….
Bikepacking the Huascarán Circuit
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson
Last time I was in Peru, the main focus of the trip was centered around circling the highest mountain in the country, Nevado Huascarán. The route has that perfect combination of spectacular scenery, challenge, and culture, so I knew I’d have a hard time resisting going for it again on my way south this time. The fact that the forecast called for clear skies the whole time sealed the deal. Last time I was here, the mountains were engulfed in rain clouds virtually the entire time, so I never really got to see many of the massive glacial peaks that dominate the route.
Wow! What a year it’s been. In the past twelve months, we’ve shot roughly 300 bikes. From gravel races, to NAHBS, the Philly Bike Expo and our normal travels, we really captured some unique builds and we’ve got a good handle on the bikes the readers of the Radavist enjoy checking out based on some key metrics.
Every year we try to do our best to sort through twelve months of archives to narrow down to this list. The first filter is the comment count, which we start at 50 comments. Then comes page views, with the minimum number being 20,000 views. Finally, we look at the social media chatter; including Instagram comments and how many times was the post shared across various platforms.
What we end up with is a list that is filled with a plethora of interesting, versatile, and quirky bikes. The only editorial decision I myself made was to omit reviews of stock bikes. So no Santa Cruz Stigmata or Cannondale Topstone this round!
Check out the full Top Ten Beautiful Bicycles of 2019 below, in no particular order…
Over the years, I’ve had the honor to throw my leg over many bikes, try them out, write a review, and then send them back. While the bikes return to their companies, the experience stays with me, and in the time I’ve been running this website, I’ve developed my own belief for what the perfect geometry for a hardtail mountain bike is. About a year ago, I began talking with Adam Sklar and Colin Frazer, who were about to launch a new production, US-made frame company called Mystic. We wanted to test the waters with a Radavist edition frame, dubbed the Alluvium. After chatting about numbers and branding, we felt like we were getting closer to releasing this frame. Then the reality of such an undertaking took hold and we killed the project.
Out of the blue, Salsa Cycles announced the arrival of the new and improved titanium Fargo, with a Firestarter 110 fork. These frames are veritable do-it-all pack mules, offering a variety of cargo solutions for just about any excursion you could throw at it. See more details at Salsa.
Inyo County. Home to the lowest and highest point in the contiguous United States. Home to Death Valley, the White Mountains and parts of the Eastern Sierra. When I think about Inyo County, I think of a certain sense of exploration, of all-day, or week-long excursions into the unknown. I think of the very thing that motivates myself and many others to drop everything, pack up the truck, and just go.
This sense of exploration has fueled so much of the content of this website over the years and when I look at just last year’s best stories, most came from Inyo County. From our Triple Header out of Lone Pine to the Prospector’s Pack Mule bikepacking trip, and countless other stories from the region, this beautiful place has inspired me, and others, hopefully, to take full advantage of our beautiful public lands.
All this goes without saying, but there is an obvious underlying message in much of this content; be smart, be safe, and be kind, to the animals, the land, and other humans.
I first met Adam Sklar a few years ago while riding bikes with a bunch of frame builder friends in Santa Cruz. I was impressed by the character of Sklar’s bikes – those flattened swoops are pretty sweet, can’t deny it – but it was Adam’s personality and lighthearted approach to riding that made me really appreciate his brand. Our paths crossed again in Moab for the most fun week ever and I was convinced that I wanted a bike from Adam. Fast-forward a few months and imagine my stoke when he asked me to do drawings for Sklar Bikes! Since then we’ve been cultivating a cross-country creative partnership, one that emphasizes creativity, exploration, and good times.
The neon hub of the American West is Las Vegas. An oasis for many, plopped just outside the California / Nevada border, in an otherwise inhospitable zone if it weren’t for the constant intravenous drip of water and tourism capital.
As Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi outlined in their manifesto, Learning from Las Vegas, the “ugly and ordinary architecture, or the decorated shed,” epitomizes man’s ruin. My interpretation of this architectural masterpiece is man’s inability to create anything that competes visually with the natural world, just beyond the boundaries of this neon wasteland. This is not a cynical view of development, or architecture in general, rather a point of departure for this particular trip.
“The human argument for setting aside vast stretches of the American desert as parks and preserves and wilderness and plain open space always includes the importance of unspoiled vistas. As the only real difference between Las Vegas and Death Valley is that we made a strategic decision to fill one with casino hotels and insurance company headquarters and neighborhoods while leaving the other more or less intact for the mutual benefit of humanity and the plants and creatures and ecosystems in such a mostly wild place.” Ken Layne, Desert Oracle, #016.
Death Valley prides itself on being the Hottest, Driest, and Lowest National Park. It, along with the deserts of Africa and the Middle East, is one of the hottest places on Earth, with temperatures exceeding 120ºF frequently during the summer months. In fact, the highest temperature ever recorded was 134ºF (56.7ºC) on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek. As its name implies, Death Valley is indeed made up of a series of basins, bordered by mountain ranges, of varying geologic characteristics. From the striped strata of the Last Chance Range, to the colorful, mineral-rich Funeral Mountains and the alien-like, almost science fiction-native, Amargosa Range.
When I received my ILE Mark II prototype, I was stoked to see Eric using the military-designed MOLLE system. MOLLE is an acronym for MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment and it looks like Eric isn’t the only cycling bag maker to re-appropriate it for his portage line. Roland at REload has a forthcoming MOLLE Collection in the works. Soon you’ll be able to purchase any of the REload bags with a completely integrated MOLLE system. What does that mean though?
Check out more below.
We had set aside that Autumn weekend months earlier, just after having briefly met at a bike race called Lost and Found in late Spring. Matt was planning an extended bike commute through my town and asked to camp in my backyard. I told him sure, I have a fire pit, so it can really be like camping, but I’m going to barnacle onto that trip because it sounds fun. This trip took on many different names, with the goal to write some mockingly weird shit about it, and this one stuck: Tour of the Barnacle: The Chronicles of Holding On. The Barnacle Tour fell through, and a story that will not be told passed between then and this, but hell, we decided to stick to doing some exotic bike trip that weekend.
The cold. Oh, the cold. Never before had I experienced 10º temperatures at night and 70º during the day. There I lay, in chrysalis, asleep in my bivy thinking to myself, “this is miserable.” That was two years ago, at the foot of the second tallest sand dunes in North America, nestled between the Last Chance and Amargosa Mountains in Death Valley National Park. Needless to say, it took a while for me to want to tour this unforgiving place again. There’s something transformative about touring in the Mojave Desert. The dryness, the elevation, the sand, the silt, the wind, the washboard roads; insurmountable obstacles really bring out the truest human condition, that Lovecraftian urge to get out and test one’s limits. Push it a little bit further and come out the other side. Had I known that this love for the deserted, the dusted, and that grandiose dolomite was merely biding its time as I shivered uncontrollably in my bivy sack two years ago, I might not have been so absolute in my cynicism. It was time for emergence.
Long Valley, the Volcanic Tablelands, Lake Crowley, Mono Lake, and in general, the graben known as Owens Valley hold timeless stories beneath the silty soil, sage, and rabbitbrush. This area has long intrigued me, looking past its main attractions: Instagram-famous – or infamous – hot springs and world-class fly fishing. The landscape is rugged and steep, with unsuspecting silt traps enveloping your wheels up to the hubs as winds flex their prowess as shape-shifting forces spanning eons. Yet its magnetism, beauty, indigenous, and geologic history make it prime for bikepacking, touring, gravel riding, and road riding. It will take some planning, the right equipment, and some determination.
Horizon is our fall/winter jersey line, inspired by the tonality of the deserts, forests, and plains. For this drop, we worked exclusively with Endo Customs who selected a quick-drying Italian fabric with built-in SPF and the uncanny ability to maintain vibrant colors after heavy use. We’re currently holding stock of a unisex MTB jersey, as well our exclusive design in women’s and men’s road jerseys. The mountain jersey is made from an ultralight Italian fabric, with long sleeves for cooler rides and built-in sun protection during the summer months. We’ve put these through hell over the past few months, dialing in the fit and testing their durability. For our road jerseys, we worked with Endo to design a two-fabric design, offering more flexibility and breathability in the side paneling, for a more comfortable on and off-the-bike fit.
The Horizon road features our Rune Amulet, Pack it In Pack it Out reminder, and Jackal on the jersey pockets, while the MTB jersey uses the RADAVIST Rune text across the tail.
When these sell out, we’ll be taking pre-orders for an early January 2020 delivery, so act fast if you want one this year! All jerseys are in stock now at our Web Shop.