Bike Packing from Bozeman: A quick trip around the block

bikepacking Bozeman custom frame

The Past handful of summers I have travelled across the country to ride some well established bikepacking routes. The trips have always been well worth it, but it is always painful to leave Montana during our exceptionally short Summer season. Also, if the reason to live up here is great access to NFS and endless mountains, why not explore more in the back yard? Those were my thoughts this summer, but sometimes things get busy and it takes some friends from out or town to get you motivated for that trip.

Big Janet, the one and only, @ultraromance was the main instigator in this case. He was going to be up in Montana and connected me with Warren as well as Hubert from Madrian Cycles and his friend Bill, who's first bike tour this would be. No way to make friends like 4 days out in the woods.

Bikepacking Bozeman gravel grinder

The route took us from the shop in Bozeman, across a great dirt route - Trail Creek Rd. - into Paradise Valley where we camped on the Yellowstone River the first night. From there we refuled in Livingston before we headed East into the West Boulder River Valley and camped on the border of the Absorka Wilderness. The first two days proved to be smoky and hot, but not much less can be expected in the West this time of year. We pedaled up some winding, climbing roads, as the views of the Absorka mountain range egged us on ahead.

Day 3 started nice, with a flowy singletrack leading us back to Boulder Rd. We ripped some big descents before rolling once again into Livingston for a stop at the famous Mark's in n' Out. Here Warren and Sam had to roll the Highway back to work for Monday, but Hubert, Bill, Ronnie and myself got to push onward. Instead of the highway we routed around the Bangtail mountain range, up Willow Creek road. This climb is normally hot and exposed, but a cool breeze made it pass quick and the smoky grasslands only became prettier and more eerie as the sun set on our climb. We camped at the base of the ridge where we dined on ravioli and Poppi's house red. 

bikepacking montana sklar bikes

The next morning we awoke to grey skies. The rain threatened to come from time to time, but for the most part we were just hanging surrounded by a cloud. As we worked up the 3,000 ft of climbing the winds picked up and we decided stop for lunch and warmth in a nice sheltered spot. Once we were ready to keep moving, we hopped onto the Bangtail Divide, one of Bozeman's classic trails. Normally this singletrack is surrounded by breathtaking views of the Bridger and Crazy mountains, but riding it 10-50ft visibility mist gave it a whole new spin. We dropped through the bermed out woods onto Olson Creek road for a easy spin down Bridger Canyon back into town. 

Kipp's Titanium 29er for 2.6" Tires

First it was 2.2's then 2.4's then 3.0's then 2.8's but now the future is here and it is 2.6" wide!

I've been having this conversation with customers a lot. The plus tire craze took the hardtail world by storm and those massive 3" treads are really fun. We found out that low PSI is amazing and traction is good. But also we found out that heavy tires do make a difference and that much rubber leads to vulnerable sidewalls. Those reasons are why I for one am really psyched to see more 2.6" tires out in the world. This size offers just enough of that high volume to run a very pleasant tire pressure but still maintain a reasonable weight and durability of a tire. Expect to see 2.6" tires on all of my mountain bikes for the foreseeable future and if you are ordering a MTB from me, expect me to talk you into a set as well.

Anyhow, this post is more about Kipp's new ride. A sweet Titanium hardtail designed around 29x2.6" tires, a 140mm travel fork and 12 speed drivetrain. Kipp is tall and so this frame is pretty large. He plans on riding everything from rough singletrack to smoother jeep roads and the occasional gravel path. We went with a more "all day XC" fit for comfort and handling, and hung some parts on the frame that should last Kipp a really, really long time.

Anyhow, if I were to have just one bike, it would look a lot like this, albeit a little smaller. Can't wait for Kipp to get it out on the dirt!

Learn more about Sklar Custom Titanium Mountain Bikes here

Initial thoughts on Pinion Gearboxes

sklar custom pinion gearbox bike

The Pinion Gearboxes have been around for a long while now but their popularity in Europe is just now starting to break its way into the US bike scene. Last Fall Sklar Bikes started receiving orders for frames built with the mounting system for these gearboxes and as someone who had eyed them for years, with only a little riding experience, I was pretty excited. Being that Sklar builds all custom bikes, it feels great to offer something that is really special and harder to get. These frames have mostly seen use as commuters, “bikepacking bikes” and everyday trail bikes for customers who are maybe less maintenance-inclined or just intrigued by this neat system. So far all of those customers have been psyched on their bikes and I am happy to build with pinion, though there are certainly pluses and minuses that come with it.  At the end of the day, it is pretty easy to overthink a bike, but of course overthinking bikes is my job and so what follows are my thoughts on Pinion from the perspective of someone who builds bike frames for a living and also spends a whole lot of time riding them.

I will start with the things that I like about Pinion.

Range - The first time I hopped on a 12 speed pinion bike I was pleasantly surprised by the range of gearing. The 12 speed gearbox boasts 100% more range than an Eagle cassette and it feels like it too. This part is really impressive

Simplicity - if you are like me, derailleur cages get smashed, sticks get tossed into cages. None of that to happen with Pinion and that is pretty cool. No derailleur dangling off the back is nice aesthetically, though I wouldn’t choose the gearbox if vanity was number one.

Setup and Maintenance - getting these gearboxes setup is surprisingly easy and pain free, which I was relieved to find out after some headbanging experinces with Rohloff and the like in the past.

There are though, a number of things that I’m not 100%  excited about with pinion

Weight - While the Pinion system is still drastically better than an internal hub because of its’ placement on the bike, at the end of the day it is still heavy. I’ll be the first to tell you that weight is one of the least important characteristics of a bike, but any time it is concentrated in one place, it is going to change the way a bike rides. Is it bad? I’m not sure, but definitely different.

Chainstay length - A number of builders are using their own mounting brackets for Pinion gearboxes and if Pinion continues to be a popular option I am going to have to go that route too. Pinion’s cast steel bracket is nice, but due to it’s design a frame can only be built with realllllly long chainstays. I am talking minimum of 460mm on a 29er - that is long. To spend so much time and effort designing a drivetrain system and entirely overlook something as important as how the bike will handle is crazy and frustrating to me. A lot of folks are using these for touring bikes where long chainstays are fine, but to put a gearbox to use on a bike that will see everyday offroad use is really tricky.

Gripshift - word on the street is that a thumb shifter option is on the way, but for now gripshift is the only option. Gripshift is not for me.

Cost - not the most approachable

So will you see a gearbox on my next bike? Ahhhhhh, maybe… I am still up in the air to be honest. As the spring rush slows down and I have some more time on my hands I reckon I will sit down at the computer and CAD up my own mounting system, at which point I suppose I’ll have to give it a shot.

pinion gearbox bikepacking frame
sklar pinion gearbox commuter bike.jpg

Lost and Found Gravel Race - Raffle to Benefit Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

I first encountered the Sierra Buttes Trail stewardship when I attended the first Grinduro race back in 2015. I was immediately impressed by what this small trail organization was able to create - A solid community helping to build world class trails throughout one of the coolest regions in the US. Fast forward a few years and a few more trips to Northern California for SBTS events to where we are now. This past spring a few framebuilders - Sklar, Mosaic, Stinner and Mcgovern cycles decided to get together and do something exciting to benefit the trail stewardship. Enve Composites, Chris King Components, SRAM and WTB also stepped up to donate parts for these world-class bikes. 

The chance to win one of these beautiful handmade bicycles is now yours! Enter the raffle Here:

Remember that all of the raffle money goes to support trails and you are able to write off your ticket purchases as a donation to a 501c3 non-profit.

About The Sklar up for Raffle 

Win this Sklar All road!

Built with the same precision and attention to detail as any Custom Sklar frame, this bike is ready to handle it all. Ample clearance means you can run a 700 x 42c tire or 650 x47.

The "58" cm frame would be ideal for someone in the 5'10-6'2" range. The geometry errs more on the road bike side of things, so this bike is perfect for long days on gravel, like the Lost & Found gravel race for example, but is fast, fun and snappy on single track too.

The build is as nice as they come. Chris King bearings, Enve cockpit and seatpost and Enve's brand new, yet to be release G23 rims (I have gotten to test out a pair the past few days and they are so nice). This bike is as nice as they come and I'm looking forward to sending it off to one lucky winner.

Sklar All-road | A steel all arounder for gravel and more

Gravel grinders and All-road bikes are hot these days! These buzzword-laden names describe a type of bike that is, at the end of the day, a really versatile and fun bike. As I have described before, some of these bikes lean towards a "mountain bike with drop bars" while others are more of the "road bike with big tire clearance" category. This bike is closer to the latter. Road bike-ish geometry with clearance for a 700x45c or 27.5x2" tire. When I say road bike-ish I mean that the fit is similar to what you may see on a road bike, though the head tube is slightly taller and the stem just a touch shorter with an ever so slightly longer top tube. These very slight changes keep handling snappy and fun, but a lot nicer on the descents. A few mm of added bottom bracket height also helps with pedal strike off road while keeping the handling fun on roads paved or not. This bike uses super lightweight steel for a light and responsive ride. 

All that stuff is cool. But what does it actually mean?

What it means is that this bike is really fun for leaving your front door and seeing where the day takes you. It's good for that early season lunch ride where you plan on riding road, but you notice that a new trail has dried out. It's perfect for keeping up with your friends on road bikes when you want to, or hanging with friends on light trails too. It is also going to be fun (probably type 2) when I ride it 100 miles at the Lost and Found gravel ride in a few weeks.

If I could only have one bike, this would be it, and I can't wait to put more miles on it because this one is mine!

Lear more about Sklar All road and Monstercross bikes here