Wabi-sabi is an ancient and deeply-held Japanese philosophy that sees the beauty in imperfection, appreciates simplicity, and accepts that change is inevitable. This concept, if applicable to any bicycle, feels most appropriate for a custom, handmade, rigid singlespeed 29er mountain bike. Especially a Monē Bikes. That’s not a dig at all on Cjell’s abilities as a framebuilder but as he spelled it out in a text to Matt Mason, this bike’s owner and the co-founder of the Monumental Loop, “Gotta fuck it up… just a tiny bit.”
A Monumental Monē
Imperfection is perfection. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shot a handmade bike—be it from Taiwan or the USA—and it’s almost a game for me to pick out the subtle indicators that a human being made it. Maybe it’s a hiccup in a bead overlap, or perhaps the rear end is just slightly out of square. These aren’t faults, rather they’re celebrations of what it means to be human: we are not perfect.
Brands that tout perfect bikes attract owners expecting perfection. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But like Kendrick Lamar states:
“I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop… Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.”
Show me the mistakes; show me the bike’s soul.
Matt “Matterhorn” Mason, aka the Chihuahuan Desert Sasquatch, aka the Monumental Loop co-founder, in his constant support of New Mexico-based makers and brands, bought himself a custom Monē Bikes. During the early talks with Cjell, the two were texting frenetically back and forth between Las Cruces and Silver City when Cjell dropped a knowledge bomb on Matt:
“I’m trying really hard on this one but gotta fuck it up… just a tiny bit.”
Cjell’s bikes are hands down some of the most unique creations in the world whipped up by a torch and brass. When you see a raw clearcoat over big, fat, thick brass overlaps, tri-plane forks, and diagatubes, you know it’s a Monē. I feel so lucky to live in a state full of weirdos and nerds like Cjell and Matt, as a weirdo and nerd myself.
Last week, upon my yearly migration from Santa Fe, the Highest Capital in the USA at 7,200′, down to Tucson, Arizona to escape snowfall and frigid temps, I swung through to catch up with Matt in Las Cruces. We had a lot of tea to spill and a lot to catch up on. I camped out in the Troopy in his driveway, and we stayed up late (9 PM is late!) chatting about the previous year’s events.
I proposed a ride around Tortugas Mountain–in Matt’s backyard–for the AM before I finished rolling down to Tucson. Because I always have to ride with a camera, I’d document Matt’s Monē…
Matt has done a lot for the Las Cruces cycling community. He, along with Angelica Rubio, a New Mexico House legislator, and Pablo Lopez, the owner of Outdoor Adventures (a local bike shop in Las Cruces), have formed the Monumental Loop board of directors. Together, as a team, they are working to bring adventure cyclists from across the globe to ride the Monumental Loop during the Dangerbird and Bikepacking Summit in Las Cruces each year.
Collette Marie, a local indigenous artist in Las Cruces, was on the board of directors but has since stepped down. Collette was responsible for the Loop’s new branding, helping the event move away from its previous re-appropriated and problematic Zia symbol. Best known for her drawings of native plants and animals, Collette’s unique style brought the Loop’s iconographies to life.
Cjell, Karl (Cjell’s finish wizard), and Collette conspired behind closed doors to adorn Matt’s Monē with a menagerie of desert flora and fauna. Found all over the bike are roadrunners, horned lizards, jackrabbits, coyotes, bats, jaguars, datura plants, and more. It’s this community effort that makes bikes like this so special. All of the detailing was a complete surprise to Matt, who only saw the final product when he picked it up from Cjell’s shop in Silver City.
Singlespeed mountain bikes are always a blast to document. I don’t know why they are always overflowing with personality. In a lot of ways, they remind me of fixed gears and track bikes–the two phenotypes I cut my teeth documenting in the early oughts–and this expression of personality is often my favorite part about singlespeeds.
Because Matt lives in a plane of alluvium, being surrounded by a number of mountain ranges, his rides often undulate across rocky escarpments and sandy washes. As such, his gearing reflects his terrain. This bike rolls on 34:20 with 29×2.6″ tires.
Perhaps the crowning achievement of the build is the massive titanium seatpost, by Oddity Cycles. This flexy post keeps Matt’s bum happy on washboard roads and rough terrain. However, its leverage gave the bike some issues and a stress riser soon formed, prompting Cjell to repair it with a sleeved gusset. Evidence of this new torch work is found at this moment. Steel is fuckin’ real, y’all!
With bags from Buckhorn Bags, Farewell, and Rogue Panda, Matt supported Southwestern makers when he put this build together. A Paul Boxcar 22.2 Stem, OddMonē riser bars, TRP brakes, and a Brooks Professional saddle, round out this stellar build kit. That Monē Tri-Plane fork really ties the room together, stacked like New Mexico enchiladas. What? Y’all roll yours?
Speaking of rolling, keeping up with Matt as we zipped around Tortugas Mountain was a great way to spike my heart rate early in the morning. Documenting him on his home turf, aboard this stunning bike was a welcome way to kick off my early winter desert romp.
If you haven’t ridden the Monumental Loop, I highly suggest it. Knowing good people are stewarding the event into the future with careful consideration is just the icing on the cake. Check out past Reportage from the archives:
- Wind, Chile, Chonk, and the Monumental Loop: the 2021 Dangerbird in Las Cruces
- The Monumental Loop 2.0: A Father and Daughter Bikepack
- The Kids Are Alright: Eric’s Tour of the North Loop on the Dangerbird
- Not About Bikes: 2023 Bikepacking Summit and DangerBird Ride
Thanks for the time and the sincerity, Matt. Let’s get together more often.
Cjell, you are a madman, and I love it!