I rode the NFE Explorer to work today. During lunch I rode to the dry cleaners downtown and picked up my clothes. Then I went for a short ride and the long way back to work. I passed by a couple of police officers who were talking to a man. One of the officers looked at me, nodded, and says, "Nice Elephant." I still have the frame bag on, which almost covers up the Elephant name and logo, so he must know his bikes. Or at least Elephants.
I made a frame bag, gas tank bag, and a porteur bag for my Elephant NFE and used them on the Idaho Hot Springs Loop Mountain Bike Trail. How did they do?
The gas tank bag worked great. I'd like to make it a little taller and a touch longer even though it intrudes into my stand over space. The zipper opening was exactly the right length to get my glasses case and phone in and out, which means it was a snug fit. It would be a problem if you were in a hurry to get the case or phone in or out but when you're bike packing, what's the hurry? The bag also carried a small notebook, pen, folding knife, and DEET spray.
The only thing I need to do with the frame bag is make sure I pack it properly. I had stowed a small tupperware container full of chamois cream in the bottom of the bag. The contents shifted during the first day. I heard a rhythmic thump while pedaling that I thought was coming from my bottom bracket. It turned out the crank arm was hitting the bag where the tupperware container was pushing outwards. That was a quick fix and I had no more problems with it but it did damage the bag. The bag also held a Tyvek ground cloth, a rain fly, a 3-liter water bladder, a water filter, and an extra 2-liter bladder that I usually filled and used at a camp sites.
The porteur bag held up and worked pretty well during the trip, but it could use some improvement. I was concerned about the mounting straps because I felt too much play resulted in the way I attached the straps to the nylon material of the bag. Nothing tore and I didn't see any damage, but the bag really bounced on the frame when hitting all those ruts, wash boards, holes, rocks, etc. Maybe that's normal behavior for a porteur bag. But maybe I could snug it down a little tighter. The velcro strips I put on both sides and the back held the lid on and never gave out. Nothing bounced out of the bag but the way it was shaking on a lot of those rough forest service roads, you'd think the contents were going to bust out at any second. I sewed a clear vinyl piece onto the top of the bag with the idea the map and my phone could sit underneath them. But the space between the pliable nylon and the vinyl was too loose so anything under the vinyl would start working its way out during the ride. The cue sheet was the only thing that would stay. Plus, when the sun was high the clear vinyl would reflect the sunlight into my eyes.
The bag carried a bivvy, stove, fuel can, foil shield, pot, pillow, food, energy bars and snacks, mug, map, first aid kit, dental care kit, body care kit, and my phone when charging off the dynamo.
Looking fresh and new on the first day.
Aesthetically pleasing except for the black velcro on the front. The cue sheet under the vinyl top was easy to read good except when the sun was high.
The crank arm was striking the slightly bulged out part and damaged the bag.
Starting to show some use.
Oh, we're dirty now.
Six days in and still going strong.
The down side of a light-colored bag. The dirty spots are easier to see.
But this bag is a keeper.
I didn't do a practice gas tank bag so this was kind of that, too. I attached two sides of the velcro straps backwards. Rather than take everything apart I just cut the straps, flipped them over and sewed each one to its reversed partner.
The elastic cord used as a backup for holding the lid closed quickly started wearing and fraying where it looped around the rack. I'll substitute shock cord and see if that holds up better.
I had two velcro straps on the back of the bag that went around the sides of the rack.
And two straps that went around the middle cross piece of the rack and then forward to the front side.
Velcro strips on each side of the unattached lid.
Back of the bag where it opened from.
Coroplast lined to give the bag shape and structure. Duct tape to hold the pieces in place. I used a trash bag liner so no small bits would fall through the cracks.
Pretty much useless vinyl top. The sheet of foam, attached to the vinyl using double sided sticky pads, didn't help hold anything in place.
I rode my Elephant NFE on the Idaho Hot Springs Loop from July 15-23. It has Gevenalle GX shifters, Avid BB-7 brakes, Thunderburt tires, Sugino crank with 26 and 40 chain rings, and an 11-36 cassette. I mounted a Luxos U headlight on the Haulin' Colin porteur rack. I made the frame bag, gas tank bag, and porteur bags.
First of all, this if not the way to load the NFE and I knew that from the start. When loaded this bike wants a low center of gravity. What I needed was a low front bike rack and panniers instead of the rear rack. But time and budget pressures forced me to go with what I had, which was a set of Arkel Dry-Lite panniers and my sleeping bag and Thermarest sleeping pad bungeed to the rear. The high center of gravity resulted in a lot of speed wobble, mostly when I was on pavement. It was easy enough to counteract but it was also a constant irritant.
The NFE performed great on the ride. Outside of moving most of the rear packing to low front panniers, I would change two things. First, I'd go with a 22 or 24-tooth chain ring. I found myself having to power up the hills in the lowest gear while my son on his mountain bike was spinning. The second change, if possible, would be to add brake interrupter levers. Going downhill for miles on rough, washboarded, and washed out dirt/gravel roads with my hands on the brake hoods got very tiring. The force of hanging on was great enough to allow me to develop callouses at the base of my palms even though I had thick-padded, high quality gloves on. I would like the option to move my hands to a different position. The Thunderburts were awesome. They roll so easy. My son was always complaining at how I could coast so much and for so long while he would have to pedal to keep up. The Luxos U light was good to have although I didn't need it for night riding. It did a good job of keeping my phone charged.
Damaged derailleur cage on day one.
Day three a little before the derailleur got trashed.
My brother John and my son Geoff and I had quite the adventure riding the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Loop. There are too many stories to be told here so I'm providing a number of photos and some short snippets. Riding the loop is hard work, but it's also rewarding. There were areas that seem so desolate and lost. There were wonderful people along the way.
Geoff, me, and John just after breakfast on day one.
Our bikes and gear weigh between 72 and 80 pounds.
Climbing. It's what you do on the loop.
Although there are some 50 or so hot springs along the way, we stopped at very few of them. Some are privately owned. Some we missed because we weren't watching the GPX map on our phones. And sometimes the last thing you want to do during the heat of the day is sit in hot water.
An entrenchment tool makes for an interesting bicycle head badge. We never needed it but Geoff brought it along just in case. He's super fit so the extra couple of pounds didn't faze him.
A persistent chipmunk at the Deer Flat campground between Warm Lake and Stanley. While we were eating lunch at the picnic table we heard, CRACK! Crack-crack-crack-crack-CRASH! A tree about 50 yards away fell towards us. We were in any danger but it sounded like it was coming through the trees right at us so it was a bit alarming.
One of the summits between Warm Lake and Stanley.
Who wouldn't want one?
John ordered a cinnamon roll to go in Stanley. It lasted him four days.
Somewhere on the first day of riding, a rock or something hit my rear derailleur cage and broke part of it. We bent it back into place and figured it would be okay for the duration. It wasn't. On the third day and about 26 miles out of Stanley, the cage gave up the ghost. To top it off, John, who was our mechanic, was no longer with me and Geoff. The climbs were really getting to him and the fact that his small chain ring had 28 teeth didn't help at all. So when he left Stanley, he took the Lowman Cutoff which gave a him a shorter route back to his truck. Geoff and I were about six miles away from the highway. Fortunately, we had about 600 feet of elevation to drop down so I coasted most of the way back. We stuck our thumbs out and in five minutes we were being loaded into a pickup truck. The mechanic at the bike rental shop in Stanley had a busted bike with a good derailleur. He installed it and we were back on the road. But now it was 4:30 pm and we had 67 miles to get to Ketchum and an 8700 foot summit to get over. As fate would have it there was a strong, hot headwind blasting our faces to make our trip even better. I had enough of that after 15 miles and stopped where there was room for someone to pick us up. We stuck out our thumbs again. An 80-year-old German-American woman named Juda (yoo-duh) stopped and saved our bacon. Juda has quite the life story, which I will share some day. She dropped us off in Ketchum and we were extremely grateful.
Geoff and I on our first attempt to leave Stanley.
Geoff's panoramic shot of what lie ahead not long before my derailleur broke.
The Ketchum to Featherville section was pretty tough. First we had an 8700-foot summit to get over. Then we had a long ride in the heat. I knew a section of the route between Ketchum and Featherville was washed out but that it was also passable on foot. Signs and people along the way warned us about the big washout and that the road was closed. We paid them no mind. An oasis we stopped at, The Big Smokey Bar, we got to drink ice cold Cokes and Gatorade.
You call this a washout?
When we reached the washout we found it wasn't all that bad. It seemed to us everyone was making a big fuss over nothing. Then we hit the real washout.
We had about 1/3 mile of clambering over and through rocks to get to the other side. Geoff and I offloaded our gear and carried across and then returned for our bikes. It added about an hour to the day's trip. We crossed paths with two Australian women who were the first loop riders we'd seen so far. They were doing the southern section.
Hike a bike time.
The ride from the washout to our destination, Featherville, was hot and dry. We were loaded with dust when we rolled up. We got a beer at the Featherville Saloon and then grabbed dinner at Cyndie's Cafe where we dutifully signed the register as Hot Springs Loop riders. A room with two beds and a shower at the motel was a bargain at $64 so we treated ourselves.
Leaving Featherville, we decided to use two days to get to Idaho City. Geoff and I saw no sense in doing a 1000 and then a 2000-foot climb and then follow those late in the day with a 4000-foot one. After the two climbs it turned into another scorching day. About 10 miles from our destination, the Cottonwood Campground, we found George's Tavern, yet another place in the middle of nowhere with cold drinks. Two other bikers were there. They were doing the route counterclockwise. We told them about the washout but that it was passable. They had a third member who had trouble getting over the 4000-foot climb and was somewhere behind them. His name was Alex. About five minutes after leaving George's we found Alex sitting in the shade. We told him the other two were just a few minutes ahead drinking Coors and Mike's Hard Lemonade.
"Get out of here!" And he waved us away.
I don't think he believed us. So we left him there to kick himself later for not getting up and going. When we arrived at the campground we saw the canyon ahead of us was filled with smoke and ash was lightly falling on us. That made us a bit uncomfortable but since the wind had died down we just went with it. It was clear in the morning. The climb going to Idaho City was long and hard. I walked a couple of times not only because it was steep but to give my butt a rest from being ground into the saddle. Soft tissue management is a must on a trip like this. If you get behind (pardon the pun) you may never catch up. And it's painful.
The 4000-foot climb on the way to Idaho City.
To call this a road would have been a kindness.
Peaking at an unnamed summit.
Coming down from the top we ran into John who had since made his way back to McCall and his truck. He brought cold drinks and the fixings to make sandwiches. What a welcome sight and what a high point of our ride. The icing on the cake was being relieved of much of the weight we were carrying on the bikes and putting that stuff in the truck.
John had scoped out Idaho City for us. All the motels were full. The city was being used as a base for the fire fighters. But the owner of Idaho City Lodge would probably let us pitch our tents in the back yard. And the power was out because of the fire. (There were two fires. One between Idaho City and Boise and one northeast of Idaho City. The first knocked out the power. The second was being fought from Idaho City.) Cinda, the owner and proprietor, charged us three $20 to camp in the back yard and she provided towels for the shower. The power came back on. We bought steaks and salad and shared a barbecue with Cinda and two guests. Cinda made the best potato casserole I've ever tasted.
The wildfire off in the distance from Crouch was not in our way.
From Idaho City we passed through Crouch and camped at the Trail Creek Campground. That meant we'd attack the first climb early in the morning when it was cool and hope the third climb (2000 feet) wouldn't be too hot. John scouted out Cascade and found it busy with everyone coming out for the weekend. We scored tent sites at an RV campground where we also had showers and laundry. My single jersey, shorts, and sun sleeves were grimy looking even though I rinsed them out just about every day we traveled.
Our final leg from Cascade to McCall was an easy 53 miles in comparison to what we'd done already. My butt was tired after nine days in the saddle so I was relieved to be done.
There's more to be said but for now I'm thankful these two great people were with me.
This week I loaded up the NFE and rode it to work on Thursday and Friday. Yesterday I took it for a spin on my favorite gravel hills on Kronquist. While on pavement I noticed a slight back-and-forth wobble on the front end. I couldn't find anything mechanically wrong so I emailed Glen and John at Elephant Bikes. The NFE is designed to have most of the weight up front and John recommended I go with the low racks and panniers. I have less than two weeks before I hit the Hot Springs Loop and I've spent enough money and the issue is noticeable but not unnerving. So I'm going with my current setup.
Interestingly, I had removed a couple of pounds from the rear panniers before yesterday's ride and I did not notice the swaying. I'm going to take another look at how I'm packing things up and try to get more weight up front.
The NFE climbs so nicely even when it's loaded down. I was in the crawler gear for the steep parts but it was always steady progress. Going west on Farwell from Forker--the center of the Rorschach test-like diagram showing the elevation--the road is pretty darn steep. I was making good progress and putting out a substantial effort. When I'm pedaling hard like that I tend to forget to relax my upper body and instead pull on the handlebars. That causes me to swerve a little back and forth. On one such swerve the front tire went into some deep gravel and then slid out from under me. So it was walkies until the road leveled out some. Pushing the loaded bike uphill felt like it took more effort than riding it.