Where Did All the Mermaids Go? Courtney Reviews Her Crust Bombora Gravel Bike

Where did all the mermaids go? Emblazoned on the Crust Bombora chainstay, this legendary question can finally be answered: The mermaids went to the Sonoran Desert.

A Mermaid… In the Desert

Under the mounting gloom of the early pandemic, a few friends and I took to the desert. We assumed silly costumes. Among spiny cholla and towering saguaros, a mermaid emerged beneath the stars, sipping cheap red wine. My magnificently gaudy, pink-sequined, resplendently-tulled dress created the illusion of a scaly, mythical tail. In the overwhelm of a world full of suffering and uncertainty, the image of good friends transformed into desert mermaids offered gentle comfort and shared joy. Months later, I fell in love with the Crust Bombora and her mermaid artwork – the perfect evocation of what had become to me a personal nod to the power of friendship.

Fast forward to July 2021. The pandemic persists, and bicycle parts cover every surface of the kitchen in an 800 square foot apartment in Tempe, Arizona. The cat is very pleased with the sudden new box situation. I stand akimbo in my now very crowded kitchen, observing a trove of scavenged treasures like Ariel encountering terrestrial trinkets for the first time. Rising proudly in the center is the extra-small frame of a dusty pink Crust Bombora, less than five pounds of steel with an eye-catching ENVE adventure carbon fork weighing in at 1 pound 2 ounces. Over several months, I had scrapped together funds from an array of odd jobs and schemes to supplement my graduate student teaching stipend to purchase my dream bike. I sold items from my home, won a scientific elevator pitch, walked dogs, taught watercolor classes, and became a commissioned artist.

As a field ecologist and backpacker, I spend a lot of time outdoors on foot. Graduate school and the omnipresence of a pandemic that made outdoors the only responsible option for tending to friendships and community further cemented my enthusiasm for new ways to be outside. The idea of covering more ground, swiftly, with new people, and on the most beautiful bike in the world elated me. I had never built a bike before. I felt equally excited and nervous. The artist in me chose to build a Crust Bombora specifically for the quirkiness and personality that such an exceptionally unique frame would nurture. She would become an extension of my own inner mermaid.

Building my Bombora

Like any intrepid sea creature gaining her land legs, I could not have brought Pearl, the Desert Mermaid, to life without a fellowship of amazing friends. Clutching my newly acquired frame and faced with a shortage of bike parts globally, I called up some friends at Rage Cycles in Scottsdale, Arizona. Nate Fitzgerald was all business; within twenty minutes, we had a full parts list for my dream bike. Luckily, the drivetrain, stem, seat post, rims, and brakes were already in existence, on another bike in the shop.

I chose the SRAM Rival 1 because the Bombora takes a road crank, and it seemed like a great mid-level groupset for my riding abilities and budget. YouTube University also had many, many instructional videos on the install. The 40t chainring and 11-42 cassette give me a suitable range for climbing and speed, which I was particularly thankful for while huffing and puffing up Mt. Humboldt to snag third in the women’s category during State Bicycle Co.’s Beam Up Brownboldt challenge. Imagining Pearl loaded with camping gear after I graduate, the Salsa Cowchippers provide the perfect amount of cockpit space and enough flare for downhill stability. I opted for the Shimano EH500 SPD Sport Pedals, which were gifted to me from my college roommates, because I like the flip-flop options between clipping in or riding flat. What can I say, sometimes I am an indecisive gal!

Ultradynamico’s Rosé Race tires are one of the first things people notice, because a beautiful lady must have beautiful shoes. These tires functionally rule and are extremely versatile on and off road. They have now endured several thousand miles, from Tempe to Tucson and back, Flagstaff volcano ascents (and descents), Ruta del Jefe gravel, Prescott Valley pavement, and a whole lot of Phoenix dirt canals in between. So far, I have only had one puncture from a rogue nail. My Brooks saddle was gifted to me by Lau, who encouraged me to build a bike myself in the first place. The octane teal color compliments the lilac frame and perfectly matches the Brooks cambium bar tape. Finally, the Rage guys convinced me on the turquoise Chris King headset because “it would look very, very cool” (it does) and will also outlast any apocalypse.

Wanting to support our local bike co-op, and on a very small budget after my big purchase, I took Pearl to Bike Saviours in Tempe, Arizona, to begin installing parts. If you are ever in the Phoenix Valley and need a tube, cables, $3 gloves or retro jerseys, pedals, or any odd part in a pinch, this is the place! Unfortunately, I hopelessly taco’d the front wheel attempting to true it here. You can imagine my embarrassment returning to Rage. Lance greeted me with a very loud “WOW! I can see how bad that is from here!!!” After some merry shit-giving, the guys examined the damage. “Alright, let’s get some coffee and a few cigarettes in Jason, and then he’ll make it right,” Nate declared. Jason Simons indeed made it right again.

Everything was smooth sailing after this incident. My dear friend and fellow PhD student Sam Jordan loaned me a box of a tools, some quips and tips, and a bike stand. I sat there in my Tempe apartment with my very curious cat, carefully piecing together Pearl every night, starting with the drive train and ending with the small aesthetic touches, such as tokens from friends reminiscent of almost a decade spent in the deserts of the southwest. By August 2021, she was complete.

What I love most about this bicycle is her complete embodiment of style and comfort. She fits me perfectly. The steel frame is resilient, but she is incredibly zippy and feels weightless to handle. The sloping top tube on the extra small frame allows me to comfortably step a foot down to rest without feeling as if I am riding a broomstick, and yet there is ample room for storage in a full frame bag. The variety of mount options on the frame and fork will be excellent for future bikepacking adventures. She is eye-catching, full of stories, and built with love. She is the most beautiful Desert Mermaid that can do it all. She cruises around gravel canals past homemade petting zoos and horses of South Tempe, catches air off whoop-dee-whoos in Brown’s Ranch, traverses sky island grasslands of southern Arizona, floats up hills of Cave Creek, and rips down King Kong to the Salt River. Best of all, I smile and think of my friends and local bike community every time I go for a ride.

Build Specs

Frameset: Crust Bombora steel frame (52 cm) w/ ENVE carbon fork
Front Hub: Novatec 12 x 100mm
Rear Hub: Novatec 12 x 142mm
Rims: Alex Adventurer 2, Tubeless ready
Tires: Ultradynamico Rosé Race, 650b x 47.99
Drivetrain: SRAM Rival 1 w/ 40t chainring and 11-42 cassette
Pedals: Shimano EH500 SPD Sport Pedals
Handlebars: Salsa Cowchipper 42 cm bars
Stem: ProMax 31.8
Seatpost: Promax 27.2 x 300 mm
Saddle: Brooks cambium C17 in “octane”
Brakes: TRP Spyre (mechanical), 160mm rotors
Headset: Chris King tapered nothreadset™ EC34|EC44 1-1/4″ in turquoise
Tape: Brooks cambium rubber bar tape in “octane”
Bags: Hand-me-down Cannondale saddlebag (w/ alien patch acquired in Roswell, NM); Oveja Negra snack pack (small); Oveja Negra lunchbox
Other: Donut stem cap (a lovely birthday gift from my dear friend Liz), lucky donut reflective keychain, REI co-op bottle cages (which are bendy to squeeze the heck outta my bottles during bumpy rides)


Nate Fitzgerald
Jason Simons
Rage Cycles
Sam Jordan
Liz Dietz
Lau Gherardi
Bike Saviours and Shamus Burns
Troy McCarthy and Kristen Countryman
My college roommates
Artemis the cat
Mom and Dad