I don’t write much about what I get up to outdoors, and this year the weather hasn’t helped; We have seen the wettest three month period (may, June, july) since records began. This year, my plan was to do lots of ’bikepacking’, so in March I bought the bike to do it (you may have seen some photos here) - a Salsa Fargo. The Fargo in its original from is a ’29er’, but with geometry to allow for racer style drop handlebars. This allows it to feel much more at home on the roads than a mountain bike (with 26” wheels and straight bars). The Fargo’s 29” wheels shod with MTB tyres allow it to ride off road - something a road bike cannot do. As such it is a compromise, but it can be ridden pretty much anywhere (more on this later…). This last point is what really appealed to me; the Fargo feels really resilient.
Spending so much money on something which I hadn’t managed to test ride was a bit risky. However, when the Fargo arrived it turned out to be the right size, and, despite feeling really different to what I’d ridden before, it was great fun to ride. The drop handlebars offered a great body position on road and non-technical trail, but once things got a little gnarly, think roots and rocks, confidence soon evaporated. So, pretty much from day one I knew I would be changing the bars for something more akin to those on a mountain bike (something I’ve been riding for 20 plus years).
Before buying the Fargo my intention was to put together a ’29er’ bike of my own specification. This was not to have drop bars, but instead a Jones H bar (see image). I liked the options for hand positions and also the fact that it looked like you would be able to strap something sizeable to the bar securely (bike packing remember).
Last year I did quite a bit of cycling using both MTB and road bikes. By the end of the season I started to develop swelling and pain in my finger joints, something I put down to braking on the road bike and gear shifting (thumbies) on the mountain bike. I decided the way forward for me was grip shifts gear shifters since these are very easy on joints and require a minimum of effort. However, the problem was that SRAM, the manufacturer, had stopped making them and only had stock for older (9 speed) gear trains. I went ahead and ordered a Jones H bar on the strength of a YouTube video of somebody who had ’hacked’ a 9 speed grip shift to work 10 speed (which my Fargo ran). The bars turned up the very next day, along with an email from somebody I know telling me that SRAM were in fact about to release 10 speed grip shifts. Nice timing.
Unfortunately the bars sat in their box for another 3 months whilst SRAM got around to releasing the grip shifts, which then sold out instantly from all of the main stockists. Luckily I found a small stockist who still had a pair.
So, my Fargo is now resplendent with a H-Bar front end and 2*10 sipped grip shifts - a unique combination I wouldn’t doubt in the UK for a while yet.
On Friday I had my first relatively long ride out (42km). They combination does feel pretty special. The bars offer a really natural (as a designer I want to say ergonomic) fit and feel, as well as offering lots of different hand positions. My favourite is just on the apex of the bends on the front of the bar - the bike feels stable allows you to minimise your ’footprint’ presented to the wind. Gear changing is achieved with a flick of the wrist; a 90 degree twist accesses all ten gears.
I haven’t ridden the bike off road properly yet, but I can tell handling will be vastly improved compared with the drop bars. I look forward to putting some miles in on the bike soon.
My time exploring the concept of ’bike-packing’ over the winter allowed me to stumble upon the blog of a guy called Bruce in southern Scotland. Bruce rides the beaches south of Edinburgh using a ’fat-bike’; basically a mountain bike with wide rims and oversize tyres. These allow the bike to ride over soft of loose ground such as snow or sand. Yesterday I took the train up to North Berwick to take a trip out on one. It is pretty addictive. The ability to ride on the beach is fantastic. Fat bikes open up whole new places to ride. We rode sand and rocks, on dunes and forest trail. We even put a mile in on the road which wasnt as odious as I thought it would be. I really didn’t want to give the bike back when we finished and I’m looking for ways to justify getting one despite living inland and not owning a car to easily transport myself and bike to odd places.