Monday, October 17, 2016

The Official Fat Bike of Fall

The truth be told, I’m not a real good fisherman. A good part of it is simply lack of practice and lack of adequate instruction. During the 26 years that I was a Park Ranger I rarely took time to do any fishing, and when I did it was with my ultralight equipment that I bought in the Adirondacks, 35 years ago. I used to really enjoy fishing in the trout stream behind our cabin in the Adirondacks, or in Fall Creek below our home in McLean. And when my father-in-law was still alive, and we went to their home in East Texas I usually joined him in some bass fishing. Ironically, when we moved to Minnesota where the walleye is king, and trout streams are few and far between, I pretty much put away my fly rods and even my ultralight pack rods, except to teach my granddaughters how to fish.

In the past year two things have changed that. One is my retirement from the Minnesota DNR, and the other is my Cogburn CB4 fat bike. Although I have another job, and my EMS/STS training business, I now have more time to devote to fishing. I have even become active in organizations such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Trout Unlimited. You could say that retiring gave me the time, and the Cogburn gave me access.

Cogburn Outdoors is a division of the cycling giant, Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), headquartered in Bloomington Minnesota. QBP was the first bicycle manufacturer to embrace fat bikes, back in the early to mid-2000s with the introduction of the Surly Pugsley. Fat bikes had their origin in Alaska and a transplanted Minnesotan brought the idea back to Quality, who did more than take it and run with it; they created three separate divisions, Surly, Salsa and Cogburn, to design and market the wide-tired mountain bikes.

Of the three, Cogburn is the one specifically geared toward the outdoor sportsmen, primarily hunters and fishing enthusiasts. With it’s custom wrapped frames featuring camouflage from Realtree, Kuiu and First Lite, internal cable routing, exceptionally low gear ranging, and of course the 4-inch wide tires, Cogburn’s CB4 aptly deserves its self-created description as a “human powered all-terrain vehicle designed to take hunters and anglers far into the backcountry quickly and quietly.” That last section of the description is what “hooked” me. I had the use of a Surly Pugsley for the year prior to my test-riding the Cogburn for the first time, and although they share the same tires and front fork, the aluminum Cogburn handles like a totally different machine. It was “love at first ride.”

The thing I keep telling people who ask me about my Cogburn, is that it puts the fun back in bicycling. Not that I don’t enjoy riding my Volcanic mountain bike and Bianchi touring/road bike any less, but riding the Cogburn is like being a kid on your first bicycle. Even my daughter, who I hate to admit is in her 40s, had this huge grin on her face the first time she rode the Cogburn. It is, quite simply, a fun bike to ride. My year on the Pugsley taught me how to manage tire pressure, so I keep the tires at 10 to 15 pounds in the spring, summer and fall, and 5 to 10 pounds on snow in the winter. The drive train is Shimano Deore 2 x 10 speed, which obviously is not the best Shimano offers but is perfectly adequate for this application. I find I use the small ring whenever I am on less defined trails and forest roads, and the large front ring on gravel and paved roads and trails. As most people who have ridden with me know, I am not in this for speed or competition, so this set up works fine for me.

At the time that I bought my bike, QBP was going through some redesigns on their cargo racks, so I opted for a Blackburn Outpost rack and cages on the bike and they have worked out extremely well. When I decided to get the Cogburn Gear Carrier to tote my cased fly rod, the Blackburn rack took a little engineering finesse, but I have had it working really well ever since. While I am talking about the gear carrier, the one drawback to the whole Cogburn system is the clamps that hold the carrier to the cargo rack. They are small, they require the use of an Allen wrench, and it is very easy to lose pieces, because you almost have to stand on your head to get the clamps in place. To be honest, I do not keep the gear carrier on the bike because it will not fit in the back of my truck with it on, and if I put it on the rear rack,  it sticks up above the topper thereby affecting gas mileage. So when I am in the field, putting all these little pieces together, inevitably I lose something. I would like to see Cogburn offer accessory packs containing extra clamps, bolts and nuts, and different sized gear brackets, but that’s just me.

Although I ride my Cogburn year-round, off and on, I have dubbed it “the official fat-bike of fall.” Whether it’s backcountry fishing on the Chequamegon or Superior National Forests, or simply leaf-peeping in nearby County parks, for me fall seems to be the season when the Cogburn really shines. It is also a fantastic “bikefishing” vehicle. Over this past summer the National Forests I frequent were subjected to severe windstorms that left much blowdown. Forest Roads into numerous designated trout lakes and trails along my favorite rivers were often impenetrable by truck, but with a little work I could almost always get the Cogburn through. It’s really nice on a sunny fall day to be able to skirt the blowdown, and go into a backcountry lake, knowing that if you see anyone at all, it’s because they either hiked in or were on a mountain bike themselves.

The Cogburn is not inexpensive, but it is worth every penny. It is an extremely versatile bicycle and as I said earlier extremely fun to ride. As much as I like my custom Volcanic Vx7 patrol mountain bike, if the Cogburn had come out a year earlier I may never have ordered the Volcanic. (Yeah, I would have. You really can’t beat the comfort of a custom – built bike.) If you are somebody who would use in ATV for utilitarian purposes rather than sport riding, and if, like me, you prefer human – powered transportation, then I would encourage you to check out the Cogburn at your local QBP bike shop. Okay, I admit you’re not going to haul a full-grown bull elk out of the Montana backcountry with it, but it is going to take you farther and faster than on foot, and quieter and cleaner than using a motorized vehicle. I still may not be the best trout fisherman in the world, or even the neighborhood, but at least with my Cogburn Outdoors CB4, I am getting out there more often!

Proceeding on,