Winter in northern Nevada can be a tricky time to ride in the dirt. We have some of the stickiest peanut butter like clay conditions mixed in with our steep rocky sandy back roads and trails. This year has been particularly wet, which is great for our drought stressed wildlife and agriculture, but challenging when planning an outing. After a break in the storms, rain followed by snow in this El Nino year, a few sunny days on south facing slopes produced favorable conditions. My friend Brandon Anderson rented a fat bike so I thought an outing to the Virginia Mtns from Winnemuca Valley would work out, even though I some doubts.
On a previous trip into the Incandescent Rocks and Painted Hills I had ridden a short ways on a fire road up a canyon that I knew I wanted to return. So that became our objective. The canyon was beautiful with the craggy red, white and purple geology in contrast to the brown and sage mountainsides. As expected but still remarkable there was water flowing where I had not seen it for years.
Luckily the route was steep and sandy enough to manage the water. We did not struggle with the sticky clay as feared. The upper elevations, especially in the shade, were still holding snow. The ride ended at a series of zig-zagging switchbacks that were linking mining interests. We were close to the ridge top that would have given us a view of Pyramid Lake. I know people have made it to view Pyramid near here, so the next canyon to the west is a likely candidate. The descent was fun and squirrely. The outing was best suited to fat bikes with the mix of sand, snow, and steep terrain.
The next day I returned to try the route through the next canyon to the west with some changes to my company and my bicycle. My conversation-less companion was Lily, my dog. And I was field testing my 27.5+ conversion to my Salsa Fargo. Low on the approach I traversed the base of the mountains and the low angle road had collected water and clay. I was able to skirt the worst of it without much clumping on the tires or clogging in the frame. The next muddy challenge came a bit higher at a saddle that resulted in scraping mud from the tire sidewalls, fork legs, and frame rear triangle. This is not a criticism of the equipment but just a reality we are faced with off road in northern Nevada.
Above that the climb was loose and fairly unrelenting. The mix of geology in the canyon was entertaining with the hope of seeing Pyramid Lake as a great carrot. There were a few false summits along the way that prided great views of where I had just been. I came to another split in the road, to the west was a climb but to the northeast the road looked like it went along a ridge. I followed it out along the ridge and there was Pyramid Lake a couple thousand feet bellow me with a hanging valley separating me from the lake shore.
This ridge line road ends at a mine site but the road to the west has potential to wind through the Virginia Mountains to Paradise Valley Rd at the north end of Pyramid Lake. This could be a potential north-south dirt route out of Reno to avoid Nevada’s State Routes 445/6/7.
Field Test 27.5+ Conversion on Salsa Fargo
I had been using a WTB/Shimano wheel set on my Fargo up until this trip. I have been using a variety of tires from 29×1.95 to 29×2.4 as well as winter studded tires with great results. But there were always rocky or sandy conditions that begged the question would a wider tire be ideal. Over the last couple of years the topic of 27.5+ conversions for 29’r mountain bikes has appeared to be a holy grail in the quest for optimal tire sizing. So I jumped into the quest myself with this conversion.
I laced up Sun Mulefut 50SL rims to SRAM X7 hubs. This seemed to be a good mix of affordability and performance. I mounted Surly Dirt Wizard 27.7×3 tires and installed them on the bike. The front fit fine in the fork. I have even read accounts of 29+ fitting in the Fargo fork. The rear just fit within the frame, but there was no room for dish or wheel true errors. The biggest issue came with chain line in the lowest gears, the chain rubbed on the tire. My drivetrain consists of a tripple up front in which I only use the inner two chainrings and a 10s mountain cassette with mid cage X5 rear derailleur (heavy). Shifting is accomplished with SRAM Rival brake/shift levers. A 1X drivetrain might allow for chain clearance but I went with the WTB Trailblazer 27.5X2.8 tire as my solution in the rear and left the Dirt Wizard up front.
So far I am very pleased with the setup. I will follow up after 500 miles or so.