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Thursday, September 8, 2022

Bikepack Testing the Ronin

The F-18 NATOPS contains everything they want you to know about your aircraft.
I'm assuming you know the book, inside and out. 
(tosses book into trash). So does your enemy. 
But what the enemy doesn't know, is your limits.
I intend to find them. Test them. Push beyond.
Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Top Gun Maverick (2022).

Fully loaded for an overnighter, the Ronin flies on Primary roads.

All summer I've been riding my new Alchemy Ronin gravel bike on an mix of pavement, prairie county gravel, Black Hills dirt, and even single track. It's light, fast, and agile. And a whole lot of fun.

Even with a big technology update over my older bikes (see New Bike Day), I find that my biggest adjustment is its weight. At 18 pounds, the Ronin handles so differently from my much heavier steel bikes, especially when navigating around and over obstacles. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

One afternoon, while bouncing over rough Forest Service roads exploring my limits of fun on a feather weight drop bar bike with 45 mm semi-slick tires, I realize that summer is quickly fading. Flying up the schedule is the Pony Express 120 Bikepacking Adventure, a two day event that I rode two years ago on my Black Mountain Monster Cross. 2020 Pony Express Bikepack. I wonder if the Ronin is up for an overnight load.

Onto a Low Standard road, the loaded Ronin just handles it.

So, I assemble bags and gear for a 120 mile warm weather overnighter on north-central Kansas county gravel roads. Compared to a multi-day or multi-week self-supported bikepacking ride, my sleep kit, cold and rain clothes, tool and repair kit, food, and kitchen are significantly scaled back. I'd call it appropriately minimal for the Pony Express ride. 

All my gear fits into three Revelate Designs bags:  the Salty Roll and Egress Pocket on the handle bars and a 14L Terrapin on the saddle. A small Gas Tank on the top tube holds on-the-go food. With judicious loading, the Ronin feels pretty well balanced, fore and aft. This may work. 

Topped off with 2 liters of water, the loaded bike weighs in right at 37 pounds, about one-half the weight of my loaded Jones 29+ at the start of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route last summer. That's good, as I'm currently probably at one-half the strength and conditioning as then.

A view of the south side of Buzzard's Roost, a popular single track trail system.

Starting out on a USFS Primary road, I certainly feel the extra weight, but it's all relative. At 37 pounds, the loaded Ronin weighs about what my Jones 29+ weighs with a couple of water bottles and a few M&M's. Other than taking a little more work to get up an incline, the extra weight matters not. The Ronin rides straight and smooth, undisturbed by the light gravel and uneven surface.

More specifically, the Ronin handles solidly on the Primary roads, perhaps even a bit more stable loaded. It does not wander through loose gravel and is not skittish over washboard. Onto a series of USFS Low Standard dirt roads, I work more of the road to ride a suitable line and the Ronin just handles it.

The loaded front end feels different from my Black Mountain Monster Cross, which features a relatively stiff aluminum stem and handle bar coupled with a gently sloping steel fork that visibly moves to absorb vibrations. The Ronin carbon fork feels much stiffer, but the carbon stem and carbon handle bar feel much more active, which I had not noticed so much unloaded. That's a pretty long head tube, so the titanium frame probably contributes, too. I don't know.

Overall, the ride seems to be comparably comfortable to the famously comfortable Black Mountain. More time in the saddle will test this initial conclusion, but so far, so great. And, yes, the Ronin is headed to Marysville, Kansas for the Pony Express 120 Bikepacking Adventure.

Pilot Training Scene, Top Gun Maverick (2022)

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