Molly Fin 5 – doodads

I noted in the frame and wheels post that a hub dynamo was an important element of the build. Having reliable lights makes cycling in low light conditions way safer; battery powered lights have the annoying Murphy’s Law habit of being fully discharged when you need them most. A dynamo can also charge a phone, a GPS cyclocomputer, battery packs, etc. I’d already purchased a Busch+Müller Eyc (rhymes with ‘bike’ I’m told) headlight and a tiny but powerful (love that LED technology!) taillight for the blue bike – they got redeployed on to Molly Fin. I wired in a Sinewave Revolution to take care of USB charging duties.


The hub and headlight. The silver thing is a pump.


Yes, I’m all about weird little grace notes.

The wee taillight got a significant upgrade courtesy of my son. He has *proud father voice* an collection of 3d scans of skulls. and scanned my taillight as well. Result? Skull taillight cover! Pure awesome.

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Wiring up the bike.

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“Real” bicyclists look down their noses at kickstands, but for cargo bikes, they are a very useful addition. The Blackborow frame has a kickstand plate – good move, Salsa – with the mount point off-center, optimized for a 1-leg kickstand. The kickstand Salsa recommends seemed a little light-duty for me. I ended up going with a hella-stout Pletscher Optima Flex.


I think that’s about all I want to say about the build – it’s the riding that’s the reason for all this and Strava tells me I’ve put 300 miles on Molly Fin so far. I’ve been switching back and forth between her and the blue bike because I want to give my body time to get used to the different ergonomics.



Molly Fin 4 – drivetrain

I went with a 2×10 drivetrain: 2 chainwheels in front, 10 cogs in back. One-by drivetrains are all the rage right now, and may stay the default choice for mountain/gravel/fat bikes, but I am a retro-grouch and like the additional range the two-by front end gives me. That the 10 speed chain is slightly more robust than its 11 or 12 speed relatives was also a big consideration – I would have gone for an 8 speed rear and an even beefier chain, but didn’t want to be too out of the mainstream.

I do most of my riding on the big (well 36T isn’t exactly big, but) chainwheel and have a nicely spaced 9 cog range to zoom along in. In the woods on more demanding routes, I’ve dropped down to that lovely stainless steel 24T chainwheel – ideal. Derailleurs are Shimano in back and SRAM in front as specc’ed by Mike at Maine Bike Works.

One little detail that I’m pretty proud of is pedal choice. I’m a big fan of MKS Lambda pedals; I have them on the blue bike and my winter commuter. They would have gone on Molly Fin, too, but I had an idea. Rinko bikes are full sized rides that can be easily disassembled for train travel and such. One of their features are pedals that come on and off without tools. I’m betting sooner or later I will end up pushing my bike (google ‘great divide route fleecer ridge’ – .3 miles of 38% grade!!) and I always always always manage to bark my shins on the pedals. It struck me that Rinko pedals would allow me to take the pedals off before a long stretch of bike-walking. Mike did a little looking around and presto! one of the distributors MBW uses imports the MKS Lambda Ezy (Rinko-ized) pedals. Groovy:

One more post about the build – electrical system and various bits & bobs – upcoming, then I’ll be on to other things….

Molly Fin 3 – Cockpit

Handlebars, shifters, brake levers and stem are non-standard enough to warrant their own post. The handlebars are Crust’s Towel Racks. They are w–i–d–e: I have relatively wide Nitto Noodle bars on the blue bike – they measure 48cm across. The Towel Racks are a majestic 66.6cm from end to end. This translates to lots of hand postions and plenty of leverage to guide the big bike through rough terrain. They also provide plenty of space for my handlebar bag, J. Bené Romanceür Esq.’s Fabio’s Chest.

The levers/shifters are from Gevenalle. I could have gone with my usual solution: bar end shifters and plain old levers, but the bar ends are soooo far apart and I wanted to dip my toe into technology that’s been ubiquitous for 25? 30? years – indexed shifting. Brifters didn’t attract me. They work beautifully, I’m told, but when they fail, they fail catastrophically. And they are limited in how many cogs you can shift with one hand motion. The Gevenalle levers are mechanically simple, have a fallback friction shift mode and let you shift as widely as you like with one sweep of the lever.

The stem is short! 35mm, I think? A short stem works beautifully with wide bars, especially for those of us with normal wingspans. A bit of bike heresy to keep your eyes on: Analog Cycle’s (w)Right Stuff 0mm offset stem.Click though and read if you are at all interested in bike fit – interesting!

One maybe two more bike build posts coming, but I may interrupt the ‘all bikes all the time’ flow to fill folks in on the results of an upcoming Breuklyn trip. Heading down to do some visiting, but while I am there I’m hoping to say hello to Wes Modes* or at the very least catch the show at the Waterfront Museum (holy carp is Lehigh Valley No. 79 a car ferry barge? holy carp!).

* one degree of separation via good internet friends I’ve yet to meet IRL: John and Kate Young

Molly Fin 2 – Frame and Wheels

I think I’ll break the Molly Fin build list into a few separate posts. lest I bore people unto death. Better multiple short, skim-able posts than one ignorable one! So this one will cover the core of the bike: the frame and the wheels.

The manufacturer, Salsa, describes the frame as a mid-tail to distinguish it from real longtails like the Surly Big Dummy or Extracycles. Seems right to me. Eyeballing it, there’s approx 8 extra inches between the bottom bracket and the tube that ties the chainstays together right in front of the rear wheel. Here’s the frame, as delivered – the big gap behind the seat tube is obvious.

The long rear triangle does 2 things – one obvious and one maybe not so much. Clearly it allows for a huge rear rack, suitable for fly rods and smol hunting dogs. More subtly, it changes front/rear weight distribution, balancing the total rider and load weight more evenly between the front and rear wheel. The back wheel always gets more load than the front, but this setup moderates the imbalance.

There was one thing about the frame that I was not wild about: the fork. It was carbon fiber with 150mm through-axle spacing. The front wheel was definitely getting a SON hub dynamo, and the 150mm version is $$$! And, though I’m not quite the crabon-hater Grant Petersen is [inside baseball: big big name in most favored niche loathes carbon fiber], still, the vulnerability of carbon fiber to scoring (a hazard when you’re riding trails) combined with shattering/delaminating as a failure mode gave me serious pause. Turns out that dropping back to 135mm front spacing would save enough money on the hub to cause a Surly Ice Cream Truck fork to net out at approx +$30. Steel and more mount points? Done. That left me with a bit of a dog’s breakfast, paint-wise, but Mike at Maine Bike Works knew a powder-coater. Paint swatches, ahoy! The result:

The wheels were easy but interesting. I went with 27.5 Plus as the target tire – one nice thing about disc brakes is that you are not locked in to one rim diameter – and really liked the look and size of Velocity Dually rims. The hubs were obvious – SON dyno in front and a DT Swiss in back (there were other options but omg the extra $$). And the tire had been in my cross-hairs all along: Schwalbe G-Ones. Good on the road, good on dirt, just plain good.

Big pieces, decided upon and built:

Next: cockpit and controls.


Molly Fin (the bike) 1

Before I get too deep in the weeds regarding component choices, a couple words about how the bike I’ll be hobo-ing on came to be…

I’ve been riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker for a bunch of years now and have it pretty much dialed in as a comfortable fast-enough touring/utility bike. It was what I was planning to ride until I did a test load-up this spring. Two big issues emerged. I’m taking a couple fly rods with me and even though they are both 4 piece, the rod tubes are long enough that they’re going to stick out inconveniently somewhere. And Lotte the teckel is coming with me – a crate for her, plus tent etc. on the rear rack is a pretty tall pile. I’d been daydreaming about a Salsa Blackborow ever since I saw this bike

credit link

on The Radavist and in Maine Bike Works’ Instyfeed. After the test load, the daydreaming became scheming – not only would the Blackborow solve the cargo volume issue, it would allow me to ride much more challenging terrain (it was going to be Rte. 1 rather than Baja Divide on the Trucker, for example) and disc brakes would be good for my peace of mind on big descents out west. I pulled the trigger and asked Jason at Maine Bike Works to order a bare frame. Component selection is next post, but let me tell you, it was fun.

Not all my bikes have names, but some do, A name for this one was obvious (to me at least). My motto/mantra/theme for this venture is “M’allé couri dans deser” – Louisiana Creole meaning “I am going into the wilderness”. It’s the phrase that morphed into the opening call and response of Indian Red: “Madi cu defio, en dans dey, end dans day”.

Molly for a first name then. Reinforced much later when my son told me that the most bad ass rider classification in the Dakar rally is the Malle Moto – motorcyclists who ride the event unsupported. Proper. It was apparent early on that the bike was going to get a custom paint job; inspired by Mike ‘Kid’ Riemer’s Ode To Trout build, I decided to use ‘spawning brook trout’ as my color palette. There’s an old married wing wet fly I especially like – the Fontinalis Fin. It’s supposedly inspired by folks using clipped-off brookie pectoral fins to bait their hooks. A lovely fly.

from my copy of Ray Bergman’s Trout

And there you have it – Molly Fin. 


Sam Gribley goes for a bike ride

I’ve been dreaming about going nomad for a long time. Events of the past few years, both personal and on the world stage, have convinced me that there’s no time like the present. I’ve considered different ways to go mobile: Airstream, van conversion, motorcycle, but kept coming back to my favorite way to move through the landscape — a touring bike. Bicycling is the cheapest, most flexible and lowest impact of my alternatives, so saddle up! it is. More on the bike itself in the next post; the general plan is to leave New Hampshire in early September with an eye towards arrival in Los Angeles at Xmastime for holidays with family. From there I’d like to ride the Baja Divide route to La Paz, take the ferry to the mainland and ride from there up into Barrancas del Cobre. Eventually I’ll make my way back to the US and then – assuming I still feel the way I do now – it will be decision time. One option is the Great Divide route north and then a jog east to hang with my kids in the northeast; another is to head to Long Beach and hop a container ship bound for the Pearl River delta and ride the silk road (with a detour to Yunnan?). Regardless of where I go or how long I’m on the road, this is an exercise in reclaiming possibility and expanding horizons.

Boojum Tree!

Boojum cactus

The title refers to the narrator/protagonist of My Side of the Mountain – a kid’s book that had a huge role in shaping me.