When Andy and Kami White sent a note in the middle of the winter, curious whether Cycles Chinook (then Granite Tandem Design) could build them a custom gravel tandem for an upcoming bikepacking adventure, we didn’t hesitate getting started on this project.
Unpaved touring isn’t new, but the equipment used to traverse such terrain has evolved over the past 10 years. Particularly the luggage set up has gone from backpacks or rack and panniers to frame bags incorporated into the bicycle’s frame. The tire selection and gearing resembles a mountain bike, the position and handling is closer to a road bike. It’s a pleasant evolution in bicycle design. Depending on what you’re looking for, stock options may not hit all the items on one’s wish list. Andy and Kami’s wish list didn’t seem extraordinary to us, but we can say with some certainty the gravel bikepacking tandem that was born from that list, isn’t available at your local bike shop.
El Burro, named for the “kickass adventures” planned for it, is a titanium “gravel bike”. It can fit up to 3” tires. El Burro also features low enough gears for climbing loaded, a lower center of gravity than a mountain tandem, but more ground clearance than a road tandem, appropriate geometry for toe clearance, low q-factor cranks for stoker comfort and efficiency, frame bag mounts to avoid Velcro (you’re welcome Morty Seinfeld), a custom titanium fork, and many more finely worked out details.
The level of detail with breadth of possibility this build presented was a challenge, but also huge pleasure to design and create. After several weeks of designing and building, we flew out to Colorado to assist with assembly and of course test ride El Burro with its new owners. It was a blast!
Needless to say, when El Burro finally set out for its first major voyage this July, we followed along — envious of their adventure, captivated by their photos, and hopeful everything would go smoothly. Thankfully the adventure was shared with us through their daily updates on social media. So, without further adieu, here’s a kickass adventure on El Burro straight from the riders themselves. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to have a bike made for your own kickass adventure.
All-Terrain Colorado Traverse (following sections of the American Trail Race route): 13 days of riding, 715 miles, 54,100 feet of climbing, 80 hours in motion and some 96.5 hours on the road including lunch breaks. Oh, and Andy lost 8 pounds.
Day 1 ATR – Colorado west to east: Moab to Paradox. I’m happy to have this day done as one of the tougher days planned for this crossing with 7500 feet of climbing over the La Sal mountains and Geyser Pass. 4am start was dark thru sand flats Rec area (beside slick rock) with a nice sunrise. Tougher day than expected with pretty chunky gravel and sand. But also prettier than we’d expected with the dramatic rocks in Moab up to alpine environment over the pass. Two water harvest opportunities we really needed, but no support otherwise. Met a rider Brian Sparks doing an out and back on our route. Took us just under 12 hours with two lunch breaks to finish 50 miles. Pictures include a dawn view of the La Sal Mtn beyond we eventually summit.
Day 2 ATR- CO the west to east Mt Peale to Naturita. Short but pretty route. More paved than our original plan before the San Juan forest was closed due to fires. Took the Y-11 road (a local said historic maps recently researched calls this Shamrock Road) thru a wonderful narrow Canyon and had the gorge to ourselves. Hanging flume was pretty cool.
Day 3 ATR- CO west to east Naturita to Montrose. Departed 5am before sunrise for a nice cool 5,000 foot climb to 10,000 feet to the Uncompahgre plateau which we found heavily forested. Saw a nice sunrise on the la sals. Had our first lunch after 4 hours of climbing and it struck me it was still before my usual Monday morning staffing meeting. A much better way to spend the morning climbing in the forest! Planned on a water harvest but none available, fortunately we were able to ration the 1.5 gallons we carried up the mountain. Finished just under 9 hours.
Day 4 ATR – CO west to east – Montrose to Paonia. A little recovery day 50 miles thru cool overcast desert gravel roads that Andy think look like Mars and Kami thinks look like oatmeal. Then farm country roads. I find farm country with horses watching and nodding at us as we go by, cattle and corn with irrigation flowing is peaceful to ride. But I could do without the country dogs. Finished with a peach shake from the field next to the store and a walk thru Paonia’s “Cherry days” festival.
Day 5 ATR – CO west to east – Paonia to Mt. Crested Butte via Kebler Pass. Ride to heaven in memory of Kami’s dad, Larry, 14 yrs above today. Day was 8 hours with climbing the first 40 miles. The hwy 12 west elk loop climb thru the west side valley below Kebler Pass was really beautiful! Mostly compacted good surface which we appreciated for the long climb. Getting in our rhythm for long days with an early start and two lunch stops. Late in the ride it was getting hot but we managed including a water harvest stop. We also saw a seemingly wild flock of 200+ sheep on the mountainside across the road on both sides, just finding their pasture as they please.
Day 6 ATR CO – Crested Butte loop. We took the day off to enjoy a ride in Crested Butte unladen with our gear. 30 miles and 3,000 feet up Schofield pass and down Paradise Basin. Got up into more alpine terrain than the rest of the trip so far. A four hour ride is what we do for a rest day.
Day 7 ATR CO – Crested Butte to Sargent. Tough 11 hour day about 90 miles including Cumberland pass. We started before sunrise in the cold and got to Jack’s Cabin Cut-off just as the sun breached the mountains. In the 5 minute span while I took a picture, the valley came to life. After tempo pace up Taylor river trying to make our summit before noon, we crashed on a little gravel bridge where the boards ran PARALLEL to the direction of travel and big breaks in the timbers caught us. Nothing broken but pretty messy and bruised for sure. Cumberland pass to over 12,000 feet was very broken surface with loose cobbles that makes the going tough. A fair amount of ATV use breaks the surface, we saw 20 or 30 vehicles in the 6 hour ascent, all very polite to stop as we pass. One ATV driver said, “you guys are tough”. If he had any idea how hard this surface and a little sore from falling. We beat the rain above timberline, but chose not to do wuanita[sic] and black sage passes due to the tough surface and a big storm cell. We ended up fighting the wind from that storm cell for 20 miles to the finish escalation from 15 to 25 to 40 mph winds. Then rain, then no shoulder. But we made it to tomichi cabins and diner, yeah.
Day 8 ATR CO – west to east Sargents to Salida. If you’re wondering, ATR stands for American Trail Race from which we got our route. But with two fire detours we are only on the planned route 3 of our 12 days. Today was one of them over Marshall pass. Nice shorter day 40mi 3,000 feet. I can tell I strained my shoulder in the crash day 7 and working thru the cobbles the rest of that day. Glad today was more smooth and we actually take a day off tomorrow in Salida, even getting a massage. Kami White hamming it up at the pass. And I like the sunrise picture with the ribbon of our road catching the light as it winds into the distance.
Day 9 ATR CO – was a rest day in Salida. Nice breakfast, lunch and dinner. And a massage. And our only real riding in the rain on our trip so far was on our rest day. And spent an hour shipping a box back home of stuff. We’d sent spare bibs for a change to our hotel but decided to keep what we had. We did swap out jerseys we’d shipped and return shipped the others.
Day 10 ATR CO – west to east Salida to Hillside. 58mi, 6,300 feet. 5am start to climb 3,000 feet out of Salida before it got warm. Topping Willow Creek/Lantz Ranch Pass on CR 175, we found ourselves on County Road 12 thru Jack Hall Mountain and Stoney Face Mountain valley, north of Cotopaxi that’s a real gem. It’d be gorgeous in the fall as well. I love to see a road we’re on winding off into the distance as in a few of the pictures. Unlike some days on the road with traffic when I wish the ride were over, today was the kind of day I wished the road never ended. We get that feeling when you can see the route disappear over the horizon or around some distant pass. Made it to a cabin off the beaten path with the only services a few dinner items on the shelves in the post office.
Day 11 ATR CO – Hillside to Cañon City – an easy day 50 mi, 2,500ft. Started just before sunrise a nice time of day in the wet valley adjacent the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Stop at sugar and spice bakery in Westcliffe for second breakfast. Winding country road thru forest and eventually down the very nice Oak Creek canyon. Landed in 96 degree Canon City for ice cream and over night.
Day 12 ATR CO – Cañon City to Woodland Park. 67 mi, 6500 ft, topping out at 10,200. Another day we discovered a stunning ride via phantom canyon up to victor and cripple creek. We got up at 3:15am, on the road by 4:15am and saw a wonderful sliver moon rising (unphotographable with an iPhone). We were in the canyon, CR 67, before sunrise and climbed for 4 of the 6 hours to Victor before the sun can into the narrow canyon. Back in New England they’d call portions of this canyon a “flume” for being far narrower than it is high: 20 to 30 feet wide in spots and 100 feet high before opening up to the 1,000’s of feet to the top of the canyon. We were told by a local, Don Stanek, that the road washes out with some regularity in big storms so we were lucky to ride it! Lunch in cripple creek (at a casino food court as there is nothing else’s in cripple creek but casinos). Yes, we walked the tandem right thru the casino slots to the food court. After lunch we managed to find a gravel back route to avoid some of the hwy into Divide. Finished out the day at a cabin in Woodland Park.
Day 13 ATR CO – Woodland Park to Littleton 65 mi and 3,500 feet of climbing via Rampart Range road which is a wonderful asset to the Denver and Colorado Springs metro areas following the foothills of the Rockies connecting the two cities with gravel roads and camping. It gets pretty well used so we had more washboard than any of our other days riding. Worth it for the nice forest. The day was filled with mixed emotions feeling home sick I’d like to be home relaxed with the pets, and at the same time sad to be leaving this adventure behind. Seeing long views off into the mountains made us wish we could turn off track and head back into the mountains. It’s been a “kick ass adventure” on our tandem “El Burro”. One more short day and we’ll be home!
Day 14 ATR CO (final day) – ride to home. Lest you think the day riding across Denver was all city streets, the first 40 miles were along creekways flowing under all the roads, with all of 4 street crossings. Wonderful how the metro area has developed a nice resource for residents. Until we made a diversion up onto the street to visit Sweet Cow in Louisville for ice cream. Sad and happy to be done. All safe and essentially no bad weather. Much harder than 2017 trip with 10,000 feet more climbing in the same number of days and miles: Summary of the 2018 trip: 13 days of riding, 715 miles, 54,100 feet of climbing, 80 hours in motion and some 96.5 hours on the road including lunch breaks. Andy lost 8 pounds.