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Monday, July 31, 2017

A Yellow Monkey doing Karate on the Colorado Trail (Pt.1)

I just finished riding the 900+ km of the Colorado Trail on a Surly Karate Monkey. Below you will find some of my personal impressions of the bike, the trail and the setup and gear used for the ride.
For those of you not familiar with the trail, the CT extends from Denver to Durango and on its way it gives you a taste of almost every kind of ecosystem that Colorado can offer. From high and exposed rocky mountain ridges to semi-desertic sage covered mesas. The ride has a bit of everything; technical, flowy and awkward sections; short and strenuous hike-a-bikes, gravel, some pavement; historic mining towns, Disney-looking ski towns and isolated sections where elk, deer and moose seem to be the only inhabitants. The combination of these elements, plus three awesome riding partners results in a pretty unforgettable ride...

As you would expect from Surly, a versatile, durable steel frame is the core of the setup. The geometry of the KM is a nice blend between an aggressive trail ripping machine and some features of a long distance bikepacking hardtail. This combination makes for a very versatile mountain bike. 
With slight modifications, the Karate Monkey can mutate easily to fit a variety of riding preferences. Leave the stock rigid fork, swap to a 29x2.2 wheelset and throw a combination of bikepacking bags and racks or a basket, to produce a long distance touring mountain bike to tackle the Peru Divide or the Trans Ecuador Dirt routes. Add a suspension fork and a dropper post and leave it naked to ride your local singletrack on a playful responsive trail bike.  Combine both of the above and get the bike shown below: a trusty, playful and reliable bikepacking combo to tackle long distance technical routes where reliability and responsiveness are needed.

Only two major changes were made to the -stock- KM to meet the needs of the CT, a 140mm Manitou Machete replaced the rigid fork and the stock SRAM NX 30t was replaced by a Surly OD crank with a steel 28t ring. The rest of the bike remained the same.

A 11-42 Sunrace cassette and SRAM NX derailleur and shifter wrap up the drivetrain equation, a relatively low cost combination that in my perspective make up for a great durable easy to maintain setup.

40mm Alex D40 rims plus the knobby Surly Dirt Wizard 27.5 x 3.0 tires are in charge of keeping you on track. I was particularly happy with the grip and sturdiness of the Dirt Wizards,  even though they are not the lightest, they can bite into different kinds of terrain and they are strong enough to endure a ride like the CT.

A homemade handlebar harness and leather framebag combined with the high quality products of Revelate Designs (Terrapin and Gas Tank) are my top picks to carry stuff. I have been using this system for many years and beside being used to it, it has proven bomb proof when the going gets rough.


Even the best ride can turn into a disaster if your fellow riders are not the right ones, but it can also go the other way, a good ride can turn into a memorable one if you end up with a bunch of great people. I could have not asked for better company...

Cass's Niner SIR B+, with 27.5 x 2.8 Maxxis tires. 

-- Cass "El Mayor" Gilbert --
Few people in the bikepacking world are not aware if his existence. Cass is one of the pioneers of modern bikepacking and dirt touring. His blog and his amazing photography have drawn hundreds of people to travel on a bike. This is not the first time I ride with my "compadre", we have done a few challenging routes together and each time he inspires me to keep adventuring on two wheels. Looking forward to our next one!

-- "Surly" Paul--
I first met Paul when he showed up at the Quito airport with a 12 foot bike box containing a pre-production Big Fat Dummy that we where going to test at the farm, incorporating it into our sustainability school and agriculture project. We went on a 3 day bikepacking trip as part of his visit and even when he was about to pass out due to high altitude he kept smiling and ripping every bit of trail. We had a blast and he never refused a beer... I knew we would ride together again. 

Paul rode a new Surly Krampus with 29 x 3.0 Dirt Wizards.

-- "El Comandante" Zach --
"He can ride stuff that I didn't know was rideable on a bike" is what Cass first told me when we invited Zach, and indeed, he is a -monster- whether it is up or down, El Comandante makes every move on a bike seem easy. But skill is not all he has, few times I have travelled with someone that is as knowledgeable and easy going as this dude... For more details about Zach's setup go to

Zach's Trek Stache 9.8 with 29 x 3.0 Chupacabra's


Before we get into the CT itself, I have to say that I arrived to Denver after several weeks of health issues, a partially dislocated shoulder due to a bike crash, a lung infection, my babies (one only 4 months old!) and work made sure that I had no time on the bike before we started the ride. This proved to be a wonderful thing. The CT is a hard ride in every aspect; it's technical, long, commiting, and really pushed me to the limits in some sections. Being on the edge is always a great tool for learning, and that is what I did, I learned more about my physical body, my strengths and weaknesses and my own limits.

With 22.000 meters of vertical gain spread out through 950 km the CT it's a monster of a ride. Even more so if you consider that 60% of it's singletrack and a good chunk happens above 3000 meters of elevation. Let alone the technical aspects of it.
We started in downtown Denver and finished 14 days later, with a cold beer in downtown Durango. Out of the 14 days, 2 of them were only half days of riding in order to rest our tired legs and re-supply.


-- After a mellow ride from Denver to Waterton Canyon we started getting a real taste of the CT as soon as we hit the trail. It requires stamina, strength, skill and will to ride it, occasional hike-a-bikes are mandatory.

-- ... but that's just one side of the coin. Smooth, flowy singletrack starts smiling at you right from the first day too and keeps on coming until the end. Its mindblowing how much high quality singletrack is packed on the CT.

-- Wrapping up our first day of riding and (below) waking up to the next one. The simple nomadic life dictated by the sun... 

-- I can't remember the last time I used a 'non-wooden' spoon out on the field. Food definitely tastes better when eaten with a hand carved piece of wood. Paul made the one on the left from Maple. Marcela the one on the right from Nazareno, a rare red wood from Colombia.

-- Tired and content bodies after several miles of gravel as we tackle the first wilderness detour. Bicycles are prohibited in each of the six Wilderness Areas that the CT crosses; Thru-cyclists are required to detour around them.

-- A hardtail with plus size tires was the option we all gravitated too. The hardtail keeps thing simple and the high volume tires smoothen up the roughness of the terrain.

Random semi-destroyed structures appear occasionally to remind us about the mining and ranching history of Colorado.

-- Fueling up... Eating and hydrating properly becomes crucial in these longer rides; not only does your body need it, but it becomes a great ritual for the soul...

-- We didn't meet many bickepackers on the trail, but we where glad to meet and ride for a few days with Joe on his 29' rigid Karate Monkey.

-- Its amazing how capable a fully loaded  hardtail bike can be. Finding a good balance between weight and weight distribution allows you to fully taste the sweetness of the CT.

-- Cass negotiating rocky terrain as he tops up above Frisco.

-- Every hard climb is rewarded with amazing -vistas- and fun descents.

-- We started early on the season (June 28th) and a few snow patches remained on the higher sections of the route forcing us to contour around them or push our bikes over them. The good news is that we avoided de 'peak' of the monsoon storms.

-- Even though the route is well marked, a GPS with a topo map installed and a phone with GAIA GPS app on it were nice to have to make decisions as we rode.

-- There is definitely no shortage of amazing campsites along the trail.

-- Warming up the engine...

--  The master at work... (whileoutriding for his amazing images)

-- Coming out of Leadville on our way to Buena Vista. Mt Elbert rises on the background.

-- It was hard not to smile at the end of every descent. Varied and fun riding is abundant.

-- Nice house combo... old kayaks in the corners make convenient flower pots.

-- Buena Vista, CO was the departing point for our friend "Surly" Paul and it also marked  (roughly) half of the ride. A night under the stars, a good meal and a visit to the local brewery in order to properly say -adios- to this awesome compañero. 

-- I had the Triple IPA on the right. More than a beer it was an alcoholic elixir rightfully called "Epic Day"

-- After Paul's departure, half of the ride remained in front of us. Check Part 2 for the second half of this adventure. (coming soon)


  1. What a great post, what an incredible ride, and what wonderful memories! And thank you for the kind words compadre (-:

    1. Glad you liked it compadre. Buena suerte en Peru. See you soon

  2. Great post - Great photos! Must do this sometime.

    1. Thanks should, its an awesome ride.
      Just a few days ago Marcela and I were digging your website, it's pretty amazing work you have there. Beautiful the see Aotearoa through your lens.