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Introducing the Monkey Wrench Bag

By Carl Gauger,

 

We have tossed around the idea of designing a bag for a while, and we always thought it would be rad if we could get Scott at Porcelain Rocket to make it for us. Well, we were chatting, and he thought it was a great idea too, so we went through some ideas we had, and he busted out a couple prototypes for us to test! We wanted a bag to be used in conjunction with our favorite basket, the Wald 139, but also wanted the option to use it as a stand alone bag on our favorite rack the do-it-all Pass and Stow.

We were really pleased with the prototypes. It’s a simple Cordura design, with a reinforced inner bottom, and rolltop closure. For commuting and short trips around town, the bag snaps into a basket with the two roll-top clips: easy to remove and bring into the store with you, but plenty secure enough to make sure it doesn’t rattle out. For longer trips where weight is more of a concern, but you aren’t going to need to remove the bag for any reason, it makes sense to ditch the basket and strap it directly to the rack. The bag can pack down very small, or expand upwards to hold an extra large load. The daisy chains on the bottom of the bag make it easy to fix to the top of any big platform rack.

The first batch is slated to be done mid-February. We are going to do a grab bag assortment of colors, but if there is something you’d like in particular, get in touch with us at the shop in the next week or so, and we can make a special request. We are planning to launch our webstore with this bag as the first item, so, for those of you who live out of town, ordering one should be a cinch. Retail will be $175. Check out the photos for more details, or feel free to send any questions you have to info@monkeywrenchcycles.com!

 

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Introducing the Steve Potts Trail Bike

By Carl Gauger,

 

We are so excited to show off this new model from Steve Potts Bicycles, available exclusively through Monkey Wrench. The project initially was proposed to Nate by Steve’s son Daniel, and it quickly caught Steve’s eye as something he was really interested in. The finished product is a collaborative design between the three of us, Steve, and Daniel.  It is in some ways an homage to the stock bikes that Steve has built in the past, but designed to fill a niche in our current style of riding with all of the best advancements in modern technology. The Trail Bike echoes a lot of the sensibilities of the bikes that Steve was building 20+ years ago, such as extra wide hub spacing, big tire clearance, oversized tubing, Type II fork, and the fact that it’s a stock sized bike. We wanted a bike that would handle well off road, essentially a mountain bike in its own right, but also was stiff enough and burly enough to tour and carry weight. Honestly a lot of the riding that we find ourselves doing involves some mix of singletrack, dirt roads, and exploring game trails. We want the ability to strip the bike down and go shred some trail, or do a week long tour in the back country and on forest service roads. That’s one of the reasons that we had Steve build the bike specifically to handle the Pass and Stow front rack. Matt Feeney’s rack is, in our opinion, the finest do-everything cargo and touring front rack on the market. I’ve written a bit more about the rack and why we love it here.

 

Here are some of the details of the bike. The bike is non-suspension corrected. This means that it will only take the Type II fork that’s built for it so there’s no option to run suspension. This plus sized Type II fork crown will fit a 3″ tire with no issues whatsoever. The bike is built with Boost 110 front and Boost 148 rear spacing. Not only does this design look forward technologically speaking, but it also harkens back to the bikes that Steve Potts and Charlie Cunningham were building thirty years ago with 115mm front spacing and 140mm rear ends. The fork legs have some beefy tabs and the crown is threaded for an M6 bolt specifically to mount the beefy Pass and Stow rack perfectly. The Type II fork has a tapered steer tube fabricated by Paragon Machine Works, and the frame is built with a 44mm headtube. The bottom bracket is English threaded 73mm, because OF COURSE.

 

The bikes will be built in batches with stock sizing. All but one of the first batch are spoken for, but we are also planning on doing at least a second run of the bikes. The first run will have a Medium, a Large, and an Extra Large size, and will be available in Gun Metal Blue that you see in the photos or Ivory Pearl White. Cost for the frame is $2000, the fork is $1070, and the stem is $260, for a total of $3330. The only option is if you want the painted to match stem or not. Two slight modifications from the prototype here are that the frames will have a third water bottle mount under the down tube, and will have full derailleur housing instead of the split housing that’s pictured.

 

Please feel free to send any questions to info@monkeywrenchcycles.com, or just call (402.477.4104) or stop in at the shop! We are super stoked to talk about this project and answer any questions you might have.

 

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We National-Forested Away Labor Day Weekend

By Carl Gauger,

 

It’s a little late making it to the blog, but I wanted to put up some photos from the Labor Day fun that we had up in the Bessey Ranger District. Five of us met up at McKelvie National Forest on Friday night, rode Saturday and camped again on Saturday night before going our separate ways on Sunday. Vince and I continued on to the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey on Sunday and Monday. It was a totally fun time that included, but was not limited to riding, hiking, swimming, grilling, and staring for hours at the incredible night sky.

Hopefully we will do more like this in the future- perhaps based out of Halsey next time. Enjoy the photos!

 

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Pine Ridge Weekend’r

By Carl Gauger,

 

Just because I’m a glutton for punishment and Nebraska, as well as on Nate’s suggestion, I decided to drive up to the Pine Ridge area of the state for the weekend. Southeast corner to Northeast, and well worth the 8-ish hours in the car each way. I’ve driven through the Chadron area before, but never spent a whole lot of time there. I was blown away, and can’t wait to get back later this fall with Vince for a weeklong tour in the area.

 

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Getting in late on Saturday night, I slept under the stars in the unreserved tenting area at Chadron State Park. I was up early to get on the bike the next day, and consequently didn’t spend any real time in the park, but it sure seemed like a nice state park with tons of amenities. The first part of the day I spent trying to follow portions of the Pine Ridge Trail and the Coffee Mill Trail. I quickly realized that the overgrown trails were too much for even my fatbike, and were built with no real regard for erosion. Most of the extremely steep pitches were heavily eroded, and hard to ride. Lack of use has sure taken it’s toll on the trails. Once I had climbed out of the canyons I took Table Road west and dropped back down on West Ash Road, a terrific descent with a great campsite at the bottom…

 

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…and delicious fresh spring water running next to it…

 

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I followed West Ash Road all the way out of the canyon through the flat lands on the north side into the town of Crawford. I was blown away by the amount of businesses and general bustling atmosphere of Crawford. I assume they get a fair amount of economic stimulation from nearby Ft. Robinson state park as well as Toadstool Geological Monument and the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill. In any case, everyone was super friendly, and the burger and ice cream that I had at Dairy Sweet were top-notch. There’s also an awesome full grocery store in one of the old brick buildings downtown, and a variety of restaurants.

 

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I stayed the night at Fort Robinson, three miles west of Crawford, but again didn’t devote much time to exploring beyond what was in the immediate vicinity (historical building, the museum, etc). Next time I’d like to check out some of the more sobering historical parts of the park, the 1879 massacre of Cheyenne warriors, women, and children, as well as the WWII internment camp. There’s also a great deal of hiking trails available, and a bison herd. The park facilities were awesome. The restaurant in the lodge opens at 6:30 sharp- I had forgotten my coffee maker, so I loaded up on an entire pot of coffee and the breakfast buffet.

 

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The sun rises early in the eastern reaches of mountain time- 5:45am

 

There was a front rolling through as I headed east from Fort Robinson. Plenty of rainbows and crazy lighting.

 

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After climbing Squaw Creek Road, I found myself on Table Road again headed east. I descended East Ash Road, which I discovered to be my absolute favorite road I have ever ridden in Nebraska, ever:

 

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The rest of the ride north gave me a stunning view of the ridge as I headed back to Chadron State Park. Chimney Butte and Rattlesnake Butte were amazing, as well as a small group of badlands on Buttermilk Road.

 

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I drove back along Highway 20, and was struck by this feather image in Cody, the town which is self-proclaimed to be “too tough to die”.

 

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Weekend exploration in Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest

By Carl Gauger,

 

I spent the better part of my weekend romping around National Forest land, but this time I headed up to Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest, which lies north and west of the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey. McKelvie NF is situated between the Niobrara and Snake rivers, just before their confluence. More sparsely forested than its southern counterpart, McKelvie has 116,000 acres of rolling sandhills, only 2,300 of which are forested. Just like Halsey, there are windmills pumping water all over the forest, so water availability isn’t an issue, and the windmills also provide necessary landmarks when trying to navigate the area. I definitely relied heavily on the windmills and my forest service map to help me navigate, it’s really easy to get turned around and confused when your surroundings all look the same.

 

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Instead of doing an overnight trip like I usually do in places like this, I opted for setting up a base camp at the Steer Creek campground in the southwest corner of the forest, and doing a long day ride from there. Steer Creek is an awesome campground, nice pine forest, tons of firewood, and beautiful views of the surrounding hills. Saturday night I was the only camper, and there was a motorcycle tourist there on Sunday night. Kind of unbelievable for such a rad spot!

 

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I had a really positive experience, despite spending a really long day in the saddle, and doing a bit of hike-a-bike and backtracking. The Steer Creek valley towards the eastern edge of the forest was really beautiful, and took me by surprise when I stumbled into it. I came across what I can only assume is labelled as “Arnold Camp” in my Gazetteer, a group of abandoned buildings and a trailer down at the intersection of a few 4wd trails. Miles in on sand roads! Some google searching turned up another traveller’s similar discovery here. I wonder how long it’s been abandoned…

 

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After a day exploring the forest in a big clockwise loop, I rolled back into the Steer Creek campground at sunset. Twelve hours in the saddle had me beat down, and I barely finished my dinner before passing out next to the fire. Terrific weather over the weekend for sleeping under the stars!

 

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I got rolling early on Monday morning, made a stop to check out a couple bridges by Valentine, as well as a couple of spots in the Valentine National Wildlife Reserve. I also got a chance to stop at the Bessey Ranger Station and chat with a few of the forest rangers. Stoked to have so many rad people working for the Forest Service! They are an invaluable resource, and have all sorts of knowledge that I sure appreciate them sharing with me.

 

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Early morning light on the valley from Steer Creek Campground

 

Finally, for anyone who is interested:

We (all three of us monkeys here at the shop) will be heading back out to the McKelvie National Forest for Labor Day weekend (9/5-9/7). We’ll be staying at the Steer Creek campground, and you are welcome to show up! This isn’t really an event, it is NOT supported, and a lot of us will probably end up doing different things and rides, just think of it as an open-ended invite to go hang out with some like minded bicycle folks in the Sandhills for a couple days. Basically if this type of tomfoolery seems like the type of tomfoolery that is up your particular alley, we’re going to be out there doing it, and you might as well be too! Some of us will be there the entire weekend, and folks will probably be doing day rides, overnights, swimming down at the Merritt Reservoir. If you’re curious about bike/gear setup, or what all this weekend might entail, feel free to ask for me at the shop or shoot me an email at carl@monkeywrenchcycles.com!

Keep the rubber side down,

Carl

 

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Halsey NF Overnight Ride Recap

By Carl Gauger,

 

Every time I leave the Sandhills region, I’m confounded about how I got lucky enough to have experienced such a wonderful wild open place. It’s a stranger, more fascinated feellng than I have really felt in any other space. It makes me proud to live in Nebraska, and lucky to boot. Being from the pervasively agricultural eastern part of the state, we don’t often get to experience the wildness and openness that is central and western Nebraska. Of course, the Sandhills region has changed over time and looks different now than it did a hundred fifty years ago before white folks started ranching it. But still it offers a truly rare glimpse into the feeling of existence on the grasslands of the Great Plains. Its a pretty rad feeling to be alone in the openness of the plains. It makes you feel small.

 

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Plans fell through with a couple people, so I ended up riding out at the Nebraska National Forest by my lonesome this past weekend. As much fun as camping with a group can be, I certainly welcome the solo time when it happens, especially in more remote places. I got a bunch of exploring done, and look forward to many more trips back for further investigation. Next time I’ll give a bit more advanced notice so that folks can fit it into their schedule if they want to come!

 

My pugsley doesn't have a generator, and I didn't have enough battery to record my route, so I tried tracing my route on  transparency film

My pugsley doesn’t have a generator, and I didn’t have enough battery to record my route, so I tried tracing my route on transparency film. The brown ink covers my ride on Sunday, and the black ink on Monday.

 

I left the directly from the shop after we closed on Saturday to make it in late to camp, but be fresh early on Sunday morning. The drive took just under 4 hours, and that was with a gas stop. I headed straight for site 38, where Vince and I have stayed before, and lucky for me no one was there! I was in bed by 11, and ready to go the next morning at 630. Daylight made me realize that the whole Bessey campground was full of OHV users, and I hoped that there wouldnt be too much traffic on the trails. I had planned on parking at the Dismal Trailhead and leaving my car there till the following day. The trailhead was empty and I was on the bike by 8 am.

 

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The Dismal Trail is a developed OHV trail that runs from the trailhead, just a few miles from the Bessey Campground on the north side of the forest all the way down to Whitetail Campground on the southern border along the DIsmal River. It was a blast! While there is a lot of climbing you lose quite a bit of net elevation over the course of 12 miles. There were definitely some steep pitches, and there was actually some plastic netting staked into some of the steeper grades, which made for great traction climbing. I didn’t encounter these nets anywhere else in the forest, but this was also the most cross-cut trail with the steepest grades. Lots of really fun, steep, bermy descents- I don’t think I have ever hit some of the speeds that I did on my pugsley before! I definitely had to get off the bike a couple times and finish a few climbs, but I’m pretty sure tha with either a) a lower gearing than my 1×9 drivetrain provides b) a more aggressive tire like the Surly Nate or c) any 4.8-5″ tire things would have been a little different. That being said, the 3.8″ Surly Knards worked great, and if you aren’t hiking at least a little bit, you’re probably missing out on some of the experience anyway…

 

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A guy and his son passed me on four wheelers just past this turn, and said something about me having made it pretty far. I told him I hoped to get a lot further! I was having a blast bombing down some of these descents. It’s for sure a unique kind of riding, and can be as fast or as slow as you want, but everything feels kind of flowy in a soft, drifty sort of way. The Dismal Trail is definitely an ATV trail- a lot of the other stuff that I rode was more along the lines of a sand road or doubletrack, but this one was definitely designed with speed and fun in mind. If you make it out with a fatbike I hightly recommend it!

I had initally been thinking about staying at the Whitetail campground, but when I made it there by 11 in the morning, I certainly thought that making it to the Natick camp on the western side would be feasible, but I stopped to take a break anyway. I explored a bit around the campground and filtered some water for myself out of the camp pump, and parked it in the little OHV area along the river. This little designated several acres is full blown out sand- no grass whatsoever. It’s fun, but a lot of work in dry, blown sand! I sat and had a sandwhich and took a swim in the Dismal before heading out again.

 

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Everything I had ridden so far was forested, but as I made my way west along 203 Road, it was fairly flat and out in the open. 203 follows the river valley for a bit before it starts jogging more north and into the hills. A lot of slow climbing eventually got me into the western part of the forest that is completely open and extremely sparingly forested. I was wanting to check out “Signal Hill” which is marked as a point of interest on the map, but I must have missed the turnoff for it. Next time! Regardless, with just a little elevation and no trees, you can see for miles and miles and miles and miles. Green sandhills as far as the eye can see.

 

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I followed 203 Road as it wound its way north and turned back east towards 212 Road and Natick campground. What a wonderful winding ribbon of sand! While 203 is labelled as “maintained gravel road”, the sand content is still extremely high. It also seemed to me to have been really recently graded, on account of the gravel being real soft and having a lot of green plant bits mixed in, and it seems I was actually just trailing the grader for most of the day, as I passed him just a few miles from the end!

Just as I was pulling into Natick it started to sprinkle, so I set my tarp up in some haste and prepared to hunker down. After a cup of coffee and a second late afternoon lunch, the rain let up and I went out for a couple hour hike. Natick is situated on the westernmost stand of trees, and also has quite a bit of elevation, so if you venture out just a little bit west you are rewarded by some pretty incredible vistas.

 

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Back in camp I was already starving again, so I made some tuna and couscous, had another cup of coffee and fifteen other things, and called it a night. It had started drizzling again, but the rain never really took off in earnest, and I was cozy under my giant tarp in either case. It definitely felt weird to be sleeping outside in 60 degrees after sweating it out in the 80’s recently!

 

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Natick may be my favorite of the campgrounds at Halsey. While it doesn’t have the proximity to water that Whitetail does, it’s a bit more remote, has little attraction to OHV users, and has some really wonderful hiking around it. All of the campgrounds have extremely well maintained vault toilets, and water pumps. I wasn’t sure if the water was potable or not, so I filtered just in case, but it sure tasted great!

I woke to a misting rain the next morning and packed everything up pretty quickly after some breakfast and a double helping of coffee. I had scoped out a route that would hopefully take me on some more minor 4wd trails back to Scott lookout tower, and to the Dismal Trailhead from there. The trail I was really counting on was 201, which picks up acoss 212 from Natick next to the windmill. Windmills are really the best way for locating yourself- they are all numbered, are everywhere, and you can pretty easily find which one you are at by looking at the windmill numbers on the map. Pretty convenient when you are disoriented in the middle of miles of dunes in every direction. Anyways, 201 looked like it cut across to the eastern part ot the 203 loop which would connect me back to the north part of the forest.

At the start 201 was at best a doubletrack, and pretty soon became barely legible. If I hadn’t already been on it, I think I would have been hard pressed to point to where the trail was! The grass was mostly above waist high, and was covered with water, so naturally I was pretty soaked and picking up tons of sand. Fortunately my drivetrain hummed right along, and other than stopping occasioinally to pick some grass stalks out of my cassette I had zero mechanical issues! After miles of grasslands, I began weaving in and out of stands of Ponderosa pines, and eventually back on to 203.

I would like to go back and ride more of the 4wd tracks like 201 on a drier day. The water definitely slowed me down, and because I was so wet and sandy I was afraid to take the camera out and only got a few pictures, but it was really incredible just riding along on barely-a-trail in the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure that these tracks would be great without the wet grass, they’re well tamped down due to lack of OHV use and you can really cook on them! I should also mention that none of this would be possible without tubeless. The goatheads are incredibly thick out there, and I was riding over whole bushes of them the entire time. Not a single flat, and I never even had to add any air.

 

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Once I was back on the main drag (203) heading north, it was pretty easy, dry going. I wound my way up to Scott Fire Tower and had some lunch there. The view from the top of the fire tower isn’t to be missed! Hands down my favorite in Nebraska. There is a National Recreation trail from the firetower three miles back to Bessey campground that I wanted to check out, and it actually was the only time I rode a trail that wasn’t a double track. It was fun, but for sure designed with hikers in mind, and didn’t flow quite as well as the OHV trails in the same area.

 

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It was a pretty short trip all things considered, but I feel like I got to explore some new areas, and learn a bit more about my gear, riding conditions, and planning some future routes. I can’t wait to get back out here, the place is truly a gem, and I’m pretty convinced that a fatbike is the best way to see it. Hopefully we’ll be planning some sort of similar venture out to to the Samuel McKelvie National Forest which is just north of Halsey near Valentine, Nebraska over Labor Day weekend. The riding should be similar, though we may base camp in one spot and just do some day rides from there instead of overnighting it. If you’re interested… let us know!

 

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