Never Break a Spoke

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve never broken a spoke. Never, not even while cycling coast to coast on light weight 16 spoke wheels over some of the worst roads I’ve ever seen. I can’t say for sure to what I owe my good fortune, but I believe it has to do with maintaining properly tensioned spokes.

Correctly tensioned spokes are critical for strong reliable wheels. I’ve learned that just because a wheel is true, doesn’t mean the spokes are properly tensioned. Consequently, it is important to check spoke tension even on a true round wheel.

But how do you check spoke tension while touring? Unless you are tone deaf, plucking the spokes is a quick and easy method to determine if the spokes are at different tensions. I simply pluck all the spokes on the same side of the wheel. Similarly tensioned spokes will have the same pitch. If the spoke has a higher pitch, it is tighter than the rest. If it has a lower pitch it is looser. Therefore, it is easy to hear an unevenly tensioned wheel and determine whether the spoke needs to be tightened or loosened.

Ken Whittaker

Disc Trucker Gets Fenders

Disc Trucker with Fenders

The Disc Trucker is getting a lot of action lately. Ever since I was struck from behind by a car, I enjoy riding on rail trails without the worry of being killed by a distracted driver. Luckily, I have an 80-mile rail trail close to home that I can cycle. Nevertheless, one of the drawbacks to trail riding is the constant bombardment by dirt kicked up from the trail.

Fortunately, the Disc Trucker is designed to accept full-length fenders to keep me and the bike cleaner. In my case, I used an old pair of Zefal 65mm (approx. 2.5-inch) fenders although I’m only running 1.6-inch tires now. These fenders will give me full coverage no matter how fat a tire I might use later. I chose the Zefal fenders because they have two stays front and back making them strong and secure.

Perhaps it’s just me, but adding fenders makes the bike look like a real “Trucker” now.

Ken Whittaker

Who Needs Fenders?

No Fenders

I never used to consider cycling in the rain before I started cycle touring. Now, I sometimes have no other choice. While I occasionally find a cool summer rain refreshing, I generally prefer to stay warm and dry. Although it’s clear fenders make a big difference in keeping me dry, they are also protecting my bike from being deluged with a wet mixture of mud, sand, gasoline, oil and who knows what else that is kicked up from the puddles and rivulets along the way.

I have little doubt how damaging this concoction is on my bike since I can hear this abrasive mixture grinding away on my bike every time I apply the brakes. However, fenders are just as valuable at protecting my bike and keeping me clean when it’s not raining. While not as obvious, fenders also protect all my bike’s moving parts from the filth sprayed up while riding on dry dirt trails and roads.

All moving bike parts will last considerably longer and work more reliably if you protect them with fenders, rain or shine.

Ken Whittaker

Easy Find Tire Pressure

Tire Pressure at Valve Stem

Helpful Tip – I always like to mount the tire so that the recommended tire pressure is located just above the valve stem. This makes it easy to find the recommended tire pressure and helps to ensure that I inflate the tire to the proper tire pressure.

Ken Whittaker

Not a Race Winner

As bikes go, a stock Disc Trucker is not light weight at about 28 lbs. Obviously, this frame is not designed to win races. On the other hand, it is known for being a sure-footed bike, designed for rider comfort, that can carry a load and has the stopping power of disc brakes.

I am not a bicycle weight weenie. In fact, I believe that it would be a better investment in time, effort and money to lose a few extra pounds of body fat than pay to shave weight off a bicycle.

I just hope I am strong enough to pedal the beast.

Ken Whittaker

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Complete Disc Trucker Specs

Disc Trucker without Thud Buster Seat Post


Frameset: Surly Disc Trucker 4130 CroMoly steel. Main triangle double-butted. TIG-welded

Sizes: 50 cm with 26˝ wheels

Fork: Surly Long Haul Trucker, 4130 CroMoly, lugged and brazed. Proprietary sloping crown with threaded eyelets, tapered and butted curved blades with mid-blade rack eyelets, dual dropout eyelets

Seatpost clamp: Surly Stainless, 30.0mm


Crankset: Shimano XT FCM770 9 Speed Triple with 44-32-22T

Bottom Bracket: Integrated in crankset

Front Derailleur: Shimano Deore XT M771 Front

Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore XT M771 Front & Rear Derailleur

Cog or Cassette: Shimano XT CS-M770 9 Speed Cassette

Chain: Shimano 9 speed with master link


Headset: Cane Creek S6 sealed bearings

Brakes: Avid BB7, G2 160mm rotors front & rear mechanical disc brakes

Brake Levers: Dia Compe Road Brake Levers, long pull and TRP, Tektro Top Mount Carbon Fiber Cyclocross Brake Lever

Shifters: Shimano SL-BS77 9-SPEED Bar-end Shifters

Stem: Weyless Carbon

Handlebar: Icon

Saddle: Brooks Conquest with springs

Seatpost: Cane Creek Thudbuster ST Suspension Seatpost


Front Hub: Shimano XT M775 GH Disc, 36h. 100mm, black w/QR

Rear Hub: Shimano XT M775 GH Disc, 36h. 135mm, black w/QR

Rims: 26″ Shimano XT M775 Tubeless Rims

Tires: 26˝ Continental Sport Contact, 26 x 1.6″

In the final analysis, while I didn’t keep track of the actual cost of the bicycle, I think the completed bicycle cost about the same as a stock Disc Trucker from Surly. Nevertheless, my goal wasn’t to save money. I enjoyed building this high quality touring bike and I know every part and piece of it. Not to mention the bike is pure joy to ride.

Phase II is to make this Disc Trucker into a self-supported touring machine with racks, bags etc. More to follow.

Ken Whittaker

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Fork, Seatpost and Saddle

Disc Trucker with Uncut Steering Tube

Cutting the steering column (top of fork) is the task I dread the most on a bicycle build. It’s not because it’s difficult. It is because whatever length I decide on now, it seems will be too short later. I’ve also observed a direct correlation between my age and my desired handlebar height. The older I get, the higher I like my handlebars.

Therefore, with this build I’m not cutting the steering column, instead I’m using spacers above the stem. That way I can dial in the height of the handlebar by moving a spacer from above the stem to below it to raise the handlebars. In addition, the extra column above the stem gives me a place to mount my GoPro camera. Only time will tell how well this idea will work.

I also installed the seatpost and saddle. Yes, those are copper rivets in the seat. If you have never tried a Brooks saddle, I highly recommend that you do. They may not look like it but they are the most comfortable saddle made once you break it in.

Brooks Saddle

Ken Whittaker

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Black Flies, Mosquitos and Chiggers, Oh My!

Black Fly Bites from Adirondack Loop

Like Dorothy traveling down the yellow brick road, you don’t have to worry about being eating by lions, tigers or bears on the C&O towpath. However, there is a very real danger of insects feasting on you if you don’t take proper precautions. In addition, the West Nile Virus has been found along the C&O Canal.

To protect yourself make applying insect repellent part of your daily routine. When touring in areas where insect repellent is necessary, I like to use a combined insect repellant and sunscreen and make applying it my very first activity of the day.

Unfortunately, on my last trip along the towpath it was raining in the morning and I forgot to apply my combined sunscreen and insect repellent. As a result, I ended up with over 100 chigger bites. Riding the towpath or trails is not the only time to take precautions against hungry insects. While bicycling the Adventure Cycling Adirondack Loop road route in early June without an insect bite for days, I got over 60 black fly bites when I had to stop to fix a flat tire. It pays to know about the insects in the area and how to protect yourself against them beforehand.

Ken Whittaker

Abandoned the COGAP Ride

The C&O and GAP ride didn’t go as planned. I knew that things were starting to get bad when my bike computer, a Garmin 810, kept displaying warnings about areal flooding. Our fears were confirmed when we arrived at White’s Ferry and found that the ferry boat had been taken out of the water and the luncheonette had been completely emptied in anticipation of flooding.

When we checked the C&O website, we learned that many sections of the towpath had already been closed and that a bridge had been washed out, and there was a detour at mile marker 51 through 54. In addition, the National Parks department was asking everyone to avoid mile marker 42 through 70.

The section at Harpers Ferry was forecast to be underwater today and there was already heavy damage at mile marker 58 through 63. And there were warnings that trees were starting to fall. The muddy conditions made it hard to control our loaded bikes and the trail just became too dangerous, so we had to abandoned the ride.

Remember, you are responsible for your own safety.

Ken Whittaker

Safe Camping

C&O Towpath Flooding

While the previously posted C&O and GAP itinerary didn’t go as planned, I did learn a few valuable lessons. In our case, it was raining the day we started our trip and there had been severe thunderstorms from Ohio to the Virginia Tidewater prior to our start. All the rain had increased the amount of water in area rivers, including the Potomac River. As a result, the storm water was damaging roads and bridges in the park. While the park remained open, we learned of closures and detours from park employees and riders traveling in the opposite direction.

In selecting our campsites, it became important to evaluate the safety of the campsite ourselves. While camping along the C&O is only permitted in designated sites, that does not automatically mean the campsite is safe. Many of the designated campsites are in low lying areas and prone to flooding. In fact, several of the sites were already flooded when we arrived and others had a high risk of flooding.

In addition to the potential flooding danger, there was another danger looming above us. While perhaps not as obvious as flooding, there was a very real danger of falling limbs and trees, so tent placement became critical under these conditions. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a tree falling near my tent. In the morning I also observed another tree falling near our campsite. This is a very real danger and it pays to be aware of dead trees and branches when making camp.

Ken Whittaker