The Bikes

I love bikes.  There are times I try to figure out why; they cause me to sweat, bleed, curse, and hurt.  The best explanation is that they make me feel timeless.  When ever I walk into a bike shop I feel the same as I did in 1992.  When I get on a bike and ride I feel the same as I did in 1998 (mentally, physically not so much).  My life is very different than I ever dreamed, however, there has been one constant:  Bikes.  I have done things that some would not dare and that others wish they could. I have lived an amazing life and I have scars (both visible and invisible) to prove it. I would not trade those scars for anything in the world. If I were to pass tomorrow I would be more than satisfied with the life I lived. By the way, I don't plan on passing tomorrow, there are many to many more scars left to get!

Everyone has a story, my bikes tell mine.  I love bikes and each of them have a story and have helped me heal some of the invisible scars while causing more physical scars. Here are their stories (and mine).

Salsa Las Cruces: aka Old Faithful

Over the years I outgrew my GT triple triangle mountain bike and stopped riding it. I had shopped for several years and couldn't afford the bikes I wanted. Then came a combat tour in Iraq. It was an opportunity to make a little extra money and a bike would be a great we to decompress from a stressful year.

I spent precious down time waiting to access the Internet so I could shop for the bike I wanted and could now afford. I wanted something I could ride just about anywhere and decided a cyclocross bike would be the best combination of speed, comfort, and utility. I fell in love with the Salsa Las Cruces' color. Every one needs an orange bike just like everyone needs a bike called Old Faithful.

Emily found a bike shop in Fairbanks, AK and ordered it so it would there when I got home in August of that year. Only I didn't get home in August. I got home 4 months later for a total of 16 months. Two days from going home we were extended and sent to Baghdad.

This was a dark (mainly because I did the night shift) and scary (I think I can say that now) time in my life. I had led an infantry platoon for a year and now I had four more months! While the Las Cruces hang in a bike shop half way around the world I discovered what true stress and sacrifice is.  Then I lost a squad leader to a sniper in a Baghdad slum. Most of those experiences and emotions I will never share publicly. However, Old Faithful has shared every one of those emotions. Over thousands of miles we have shared pain, sorrow, laughter, and a few tears have fallen on that orange painted aluminum.  To this day, this has been the most maintenance free bike I have.  It is definitely my favorite ride.

Salsa Salsa Mukluk (Retired): aka the Panzer

This bike was an absolute game changer.  From the moment I tested it I knew it must be mine.  I had been looking at fat bikes for a while, the most common being from Surly.  But most shops didn't know enough about them to really sell them.  This bike was a game changer because once I got it, I had no interest in any other bike.  Period.

Not even close to efficient, it did amazing on the mid-Western trails of Iowa where roots and man-made obstacle prevailed.  While the original geometry was not ideal for trail riding, it ate everything in it's path.  So what if it took longer to ride to work!  It was Fun!!

When it was first introduced, it was advertised as a Snow Bike.  Everything about it from painted on reflectors, the paint scheme, and geometry were for snow.  The long wheel base made tight turns or zig-zag like features to cumbersome.  I eventually switched out the bars with Jones Loop H-Bar and a sweet 1x10 setup with Middleburn cranks with a Wolftooth narrow/wide chainring with a snowflake cut out (stereotypes).    

It had a few shortfalls which have been worked out with subsequent models.  These are by no means deal killers, just observations.  First was the weird rear brake cable housing routing which created a P trap similar to plumbing under a sink.  I found on a couple of occasions when it got really cold (-30F) that water would freeze and prevent the rear brake from working.  There were a couple of commutes where I was running a front brake only.  Second, that model year was equipped with a substandard crankset.  Heavy and no enough Q-factor to allow the chain to clear the rear tire when you were in granny gear.  This meant dishing the rear tire a few millimeters.  Again not a deal killer but why would they do that?  Parts were largely unavailable and expensive, which has improved over the years.

The final and possibly most annoying was people asking about it.  While it was fun to talk about at first, it got old.  It is an oddity (or was at the time) and people would jump out in front of me to ask about it.  The most common question, "how much?" Nothing like telling a bum in the park my bike is worth more than he owns in this world.  I like to commute on bike and enjoy the solitude it provides.  But then people ask the question.......

I rode this bike more than any other mountain bike I owned and it survived the "Great Purge of 2014."  Then Salsa came out with a new model and I was smitten by it.  Mostly the improved geometry, complete with shorter chain stays.  That meant shorter wheelbase.  It was sold as part of the deal to purchase the Blackborow.   There was some emotions as my boys that that the Mukluk was their birthright and Diga would inherit it.

The new Mukluk has similar geometry to the Blackborow, particularly the chain stays.  Truth be told, if this model was available when I bought the BB, I would have gotten another Mukluk.  What a bike.  Tears were shed when it was sold....Diga cried too.

Salsa El Mariachi (Retired): aka the Red Headed Stepchild

I have always loved the outdoors and I have amazing memories of mountain biking in Montana with the crew from the Morning Light. Like so many young people, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. So I mountain biked and all but lived at my friend Dan's house, his parents even set an extra plate for me at the table. Dan and I were far from great but rain, snow, or shine we rode.

I missed mountain biking and had abandon the purple GT in all of its purple anodized glory. I was looking at low maintenance hard tails with decent front suspension and as usual the price got in the way. At the time 29ers were common but only produced by a select group of manufacturers. The trend was to have a steel rigid 29er which saved a ton of money. 

It was a rough time in the Army and there was a lot of attrition. I was considering getting out when Uncle Sugar offered a retention bonus. I figured that if taking the money meant another year over there, I might as well get that El Mariachi.

I liked the options that Salsa advertised. It had a sweet stem painted to match the frame which allowed me to relive the glory days of purple anodizing. It had a 1x9 setup which met my goal of keeping it simple. It boasted a Bushnell eccentric bottom bracket so it could easily be set up as a single speed. Above all it had Salsa's beautiful detailing and amazing red paint that sparkled even in low light.

So why the "Red Headed Stepchild" (I will call it the RHS and no offense to anyone who may have red hair)?  This bike has been the least favorite and has caused nothing but frustration.  By far the least favored.  I ordered it and it arrived after a  grueling 36 hour Army induced ordeal.  Sleep deprived I drove to the bike shop to get it.  There it sat in it's beautiful red glory.  I took it home and adjusted the seat height (not checking the bolts that the bike shop should have tightened to hold the seat on) and went for a ride.  It turns out that no one at the shop turned a wrench on that thing.  The seat popped off, the eccentric bottom bracket shifted to the left and right causing the chain line to shift and in turn the chain jumped from gear to gear.  The cables wore through the red paint to the steel on the first ride.  The seat post would not clamp in place and I would have to raise it every half hour as the steel frame cut grooves in the post (I later learned about carbon paste which creates enough friction to keep it in place).  The tires were ridiculous, they were the widest 29er tire on the market and there was little to no clearance for mud which tore up the paint.  Then there was the recall on the beautiful matching red stem and just like purple anodizing, it was gone too.  So after countless trips to the bike shop for them to adjust this and that and find out that it was something else the bike fell out of my favor.  It is nice to ride but the EBB has always given me fits. 

I have now converted it to a single speed and I despise the EBB (something that Salsa has moved away from on subsequent models).  Maybe the bike was a mistake like taking the bonus.  But whatever, I have the bike and a job!

The Basso Lotto (Retired):  aka The Mistress.

This story begins a few years ago in a nice community called Mosul, Iraq.  During the course of a year I was patrolling this city, I was hit by four road sidade bombs.  This did not include the many rocks that hit me in the head (and fortunate for us no one was injured in Baghdad by the friendly guys dropping cinder blocks from an eight story building).  Ariend of mine who was retiring recommended that I get this documented and get some testing done for mTBI.  "It will make it easier down the road." he said.  This turned into numerous trips to Portsmouth Naval Hospital and I don't think it made it easier.

This involved a long drive with lousy traffic (four times).  One day I noticed a small bike shop in Portsmouth and having some time I stepped in.  Nothing unusual, it was a bike shop like so many others.  Except a thing of beauty.  A 1994 Italian Lugged steel bike.  Just so happens it was my size.  It had never be ridden!  Fortunately for me most people don't have gorilla genes like the Irish Tsunami have.  It was perfect the guy never put pedals on it.  Outfit with a classic Campagnolo Chorus 16 speed components and white handle bar tape (which always looks hot until the first time it is used).  Never ridden!  It would be mine, it had to.  I will spare you more details and refer you to the following blog post.  The bottom line is that I had to wait a month or two to save and pay cash (Household 6 rules) and I was worried the whole time that some other tall guy who wanted a 16 year old bike would randomly walk and buy it.

She became mine, and I love her.  Though the 16 speeds are geared for racing and not for a great slow beast like me.  The last century I rode with it I cussed at the limited number of options.  Amazing bike with a pretty good story.

By the way, I have a hard head and apparently bombs and rocks made no difference to my average intelligence.

Giant Anthem X 29er (Retired):  aka the bike of freedom

I have never been overly interested in full suspension.  Mainly because I didn't understand it.  I always thought it was about cushioning the blow of rocks and roots.  Why would I want to spend a bunch of money on a complex bike when the point was to have the challenge of rocks and roots?  If I wanted a cushion I would sit on the couch!  I have since learned that it is not about cushioning the impact, rather, it is about keeping the tires in contact with the ground.  This means traction, which means control at higher speeds.

I volunteered to for a free trip to Iraq.  A couple of weeks before I was to depart, I still didn't have orders.  Then one day there were Islamabad, Pakistan.  I am still trying to figure this one out, it really shouldn't have happened, but it did.  Because of some "administrative" errors, I was unable to go on a mid-tour leave and ended up spending 350 consecutive days there.  It was a great experience, one I love, have fond memories of, and will always cherish.

It was also very stressful.  Not the same kind of stress that I had in Iraq.  I had my frustration, and trust me, after 350 days in Islamabad while watching friends come and go got to me.  It had it's scary times too.  Much like the the Salsa Las Cruces I was going to use this as an opportunity to get the bike I wanted.  I spoke to a friend at my preferred bike shop and told him I wanted a Felt.  He told me that I didn't want a Felt, that I wanted the soon to be released Anthem X 29er.

So I committed.  A lot, considering it wasn't even on the market yet and I hadn't had a test ride.  Again, the Anthem X 29er sat on the show room floor for some time before I was able to ride it.  I will never do this bike justice and it has made me a better rider.  I feel as though I have a ton of control, allowing me to step outside my comfort zone, which is an important place to be.  Admittedly, I wreck more on this bike than any other, but it is because I am testing my limits.

Every time I ride it, I get the same feeling I felt when I landed on American soil after 350 days of "administrative" error.  The feeling of the wind through my "hair."  FREEDOM!

UPDATE:  I truely loved this bike and it was always going to be a bike that was far better than I needed.  After a wreck in Kansas, I needed shoulder surgery.  I don't believe in jinxes but I always went to fast on this bike and it was so smooth.  

Surly Ogre (Retired):  The Olive Drab Roller (ODR).


I like it.  I like it a lot.  It feels right.  It represents the desire I have to get out and explore the world and to experience life and be able to overcome any obstacles in the way.  I have been riding the Ogre since spring of 2012.  It has undergone a few changes and will remain at its current state.  I bought this bike because I wanted to get a reliable and versatile bike that could adapt easily to how I felt at any given point in time.  Primarily something that could haul stuff just about anywhere.  I wanted something that could take abuse on the road, trail, or heaven forbid…at the bike rack.  I looked at some other options for on and off road touring and I kept coming back to the Ogre.  This frame was tough to get, they were constantly out of stock, which ultimately made me want it more.  Like most of my other bikes I used hazardous duty money to purchase the bike.  In this case, I only spent a month overseas on a short assistance visit so all I could afford was the frame.  That was fine because the stock bike was not what I had in mind.

I have had a lot of fun trying different drive train and tire options and I feel confident that this bike is capable of just about anything (as advertised).  I put some 700x32C tires and a 48-tooth chain ring on it and used it for the whole week of RAGBRAI XL.  There was only one day I regretted it and that was a handle bar issue rather than the bike as a whole.  That day I ended up riding 120 miles with a steady headwind and strong gusts in 100-degree heat.  I really wanted to go to the drops but I had my Jones Loop Bar on it (the bar was great for the other days though).  During that time a friend of mine on the ride suggested that I call it the ODR (olive drab roller).    

This bike has paid off this year, the flooding has been really bad along the Duck Creek Parkway bike path and I am glad I put 29er tires on because of the sand, mud, and debris deposited on the path.  Easily one the best bike purchases I have made.     

UPDATE:  One of my favorite bikes of all times.  I didn't want to sell it but I did.  I just made sense at the time.  Almost two years later I regret it.  It did everything I wanted it to do and more.  Why did I sell it?


  1. Stumbled upon your blog while doing a Google search for the Surly Ogre as I want to build one up with a 24" frame for touring in the longer term, I'm running an aluminum framed rigid 29er as my commuter/basher bike now and will move the bits over to the Ogre and continue the build.

    I also have an Anthem X 29er and laughed in agreement when you said you wreck on that more than any other bike, but that riding it means freedom! It's like riding a plush armchair and I love flying past people downhill AND uphill on it, feels like I'm cheating by riding it. I'm also a veteran, recently diagnosed with PTSD 10 years after my last deployment and have recently got back into biking, it's a great rush and mood lifter.

    1. Dan, thanks for commenting. I love the Ogre, I really feel like I can get out and enjoy life on it. It is pretty forgiving on my commute. I am in the process of upgrading parts for it, I am thinking of going with a mountain drop bar like an On One Midge or Salsa Woodchipper. I will be in Kansas for a year and foresee some long gravel rides.Take care, Brent