Chad and his “26 Ain’t Deaders”

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Cass heads out with Chad and his Mexico-bought “26 ain’t deaders,” complete with DIY bags, motorbike handlebars, dollar-fifty brakes, and a Dangle Boot. He ponders the essence of an ATB and wonders if perhaps we should all foster a vintage mountain bike in preparation for our planet’s uncertain future, and even load it up with homemade gear to celebrate the halcyon days of All Terrain Biking. Plus, find out what thrift-store specials have earned a place in Chad’s technicoloured bags…

I’ve mentioned before how Oaxaca forms an alluring destination for bikepackers pedaling north or south, like a busy junction on a cyclist’s long-distance trading route. Chad, however, has transplanted himself here on more of a semi-permanent basis, all the way from Toronto. It’s a move that meant leaving behind his beloved and expansive ensemble of vintage mountain bikes, now stored beside his self-built cabin in a 1970s Airstream (at an undisclosed location in the Canadian forest). Not that it’s taken him long to create his Oaxaca Collection, each reflecting Chad’s inimitable sense of taste and flair, a few of which are showcased below.

This e-stay Benotto was bought in neighbouring San Pablo Etla and was previously owned by a local XC racer. It came with Miche hubs and Shimano brakes.

After all, vintage mountain bikes – dating from the late 1980s through to the early-2000s – lend themself especially well to countryside rambles, especially here in Mexico. I reason it’s the way they pragmatically meet the demands of honest terrain, where the curious cyclist can encounter something of anything on every outing: well-tended dirt roads, washed-out farm tracks, faint agricultural singletrack, and even hand-placed cobbles that will rattle a headset loose.

The bike n’ trike scene in many of Oaxaca’s hamlets is on point, as are the connecting terracerías.

Such bikes also blend seamlessly into the aesthetics of the Oaxacan countryside. Both are patinaed, history-laden, and endearingly rough around the edges. Such bikes barely draw a glance within its pedal-powered landscape; they already adorn the campo, leant up under a cypress tree, or in an agave field, or parked outside a busy Sunday market. And, such bikes can be repaired in any Mexican town for a handful of pesos; these machines of the past are future-proofed, because they’re easy to work on and there are so many parts in circulation.

Mods include a BMX handlebar and bar ends. Just like it says on the down(ish) tube. Extreme!

While it’s true that one need only shuttle up to the mountains to find a world of enduro trails carved into the cloud forest (trails built with more ostentatious bikes and garb in mind, big and engineless motorbikes with golden suspension, face-hiding helmets, and the body armor of gladiators), down on the valley floor at least, more modest and unassuming bicycles – along with a rider’s wardrobe of baseball caps and sombreros – still rule supreme.

Huesos always loves helping out when there’s a mechanical.

In fact, seeing how relevant these decades-old mechanical marvels continue to be is a useful reminder: bikes are more than the sum of their parts, even if those components are the very simplest ones. It also has me thinking. Do we have a duty of sorts to keep these cycling heirlooms roadworthy? Their value could be infinite within a couple more decades, because by then (excuse my pessimism) we might all be in need of easy-to-fix transportation like never before.

And, as I watch Chad’s bikes bounce merrily along old drovers tracks, or be piloted down rocky descents with cerebral precision and a smile, or provide the perfect excuse we need to stop and picnic over punctures, or divert us towards a bike shop to tighten a headset and linger and chat, maybe there’s no finer way to celebrate the art of two-wheeled exploration than touring on an old and well-loved ATB. Because these aren’t bikes that collectors will haggle over and covet. They’re intended to be ridden. So without further ado, let’s meet three bikes from Chad’s Oaxaca Collection:

90s Haro with Elevated Chainstays

Chad chose his late 90s Haro for a half-day bimble to Presa La Mina, a body of water that lies at the foot of the Sierra Norte, just being the town of Tlalixtac, known for a plaza surrounded by ornamental hedges pruned into the shape of animals (including elephants). It’s one of my favourite escapes, in part because the city exit is relatively mellow (bar the road block of unruly street dogs through which Huesos must negotiate safe passage). It also passes by a number of friendly hamlets where waves and fresh fruit are guaranteed. Then a rough and stony dirt track flanks the mountains, crossing into Tomaltepec’s community land.

The ride out to Tlalixtac and Mina La Presa is the perfect vintage ATB bimble, complete with dirt roads, quiet paved streets, off-the-cuff singletrack.

At the weekends, there’s a small fee to pay to access the reservoir; beyond lies a slippery, rocky trail that locals use to access firewood. They pedal as far as they can, leave their bikes in the woods, then continue with their donkeys and dogs on foot, returning home by bicycle with their troupe a few hours later. We picnicked on its shores and Huesos seemed happy to feel turf under his paws, zoomies-ing around in concentric circles and chasing imaginary friends. Then we all poked around a dry riverbed, bushwacked through a thicket of bamboos, before retracing our tracks home again – via a round of mushroom-loaded gorditas, cooked over a comal at a corner side stand, washed them down with plastic goblets of just-too-sweet agua de jamaica.

When you’re ambling around the countryside rather than racing, thumbshifters do just fine. It’s all about real-world needs.

As you can see, the Haro sports distinctive elevated chainstays, U-brake bosses, and a chrome-plated fork. Chad says the thumb shifters, bought locally, were less 70 pesos for the pair (about $3.50), which just goes to show how financially inclusive these robust old bikes can be to run and repair.

22.2mm BMX stem and bars, with risers bars, works magic with short stacks and long reaches typical to this era of bike. Just be realistic with your braking expectations…

MTB of Unkown Exact Origin with Partial Framebag and Overnight Bikepacking Gear

Striking out across the Mitla valley to Yagul is one of my favourite local overnighters, in part because the ride southwest of town promises such bucolic campo scenery, with barely a moment on pavement. Completely dodging the highway, it’s just one little hamlet after another, each with its own rendition of memelas, or tlayudas, or aguas del dia.

The bike that Chad chose for this occasion was a mountain bike of Unknown Exact Origin. We’ll call this one the Mercurio, a popular Mexican bicycle brand founded in 1964, even if it’s just a sticker added to a bare frame, as people often do here.

Chad and his Mercurio Hotwheels, for want of a better name. Who knows what stories that steel frame could tell…

Like all his bikes, it’s set up with tubes and trust. On this occasion though, a spate of punctures meant it was sunset before we made it to the camping zone in Yagul, up on the lip of the mesa top. Still, time enough to find a primo spot and enjoy the glorious views over grassy marshlands towards the archeological zone, ringed by cacti-speckled caves and enclosed by the Sierra Norte and its inky clouds beyond.

And about those dastardly goatheads. Once you’ve gone tubeless, punctures are invariably an inconvenience of the past. That is, until they’re not, when they’re suddenly far more concerning, often inciting frantic bicep workouts with impractical bicycle pumps, or a catherine wheel of sealant streaming into the air, or a third tyre plug desperately jammed into a hole. Old-fashioned punctures, on the other hand, can be frustrating at times but are rarely more than an exercise in patience and process, which happens to pair well with convivial conversation.

A half dozen goatheads provide excuses to chat ‘n snack. Thumbs Up for punctures!

For the return leg, we tried a route back that stayed flush to the ragged hillsides to the north of the highway. We barely saw a soul (mostly goats munching on thorns) and successfully swapped busy asphalt for barely travelled rocky roads and a few connecting trails too. We routed via Teotitlan del Valle, mostly because there’s a great coffee shop where we sat in the street and watched Sunday life go by – some passing dogs that Huesos sniffed, a band heading to a fiesta (magnificent tuba gleaming in the sun), and a few tourists on the lookout for traditionally dyed woolen carpets, for which the town is known.

The Gouadeloupe headbadge and yellow cable housing really tie this bike together.

One highlight back to Oaxaca was the handful of delicious guavas gifted to us, freshly poked out of a tree with long sticks. Despite their micro spines that caught in our lips, the cactus fruits we collected were quite delicious too, as were the chocolate con agua, atole, and tejate – all classic pre-Hispanic beverages that can be found on any rural ramble here.

Best guava ever? Probably. The Oaxacan countryside is well stocked with tasty surprises, like sweet and delicious cactus fruit.

The bike itself was bought on Facebook Marketplace in Oaxaca City and came complete with a Guadeloupe head badge. But it likely originates in Taiwan, having been brought back from California to Mexico in its doubtlessly potted history. It’s nothing flashy to look at, but the Tange-branded frame and original parts that remain suggest a certain level of quality and intention. With Chad’s trademark mods – namely, a BMX stem and 300 peso ($15) Italika moto bars – it’s now a comfortable steed for exploring these Oaxacan countryside lanes, with a lofty ride position that promises commanding views over the tallest agaves.

Note OG Shimano parts, a generous handful of brake lever, the Pink Panther, and Oaxacan Dangleboot.

Within its pink and camo bags, expect to find blankets and a bivy (but no sleeping bag or mattress), some evening-wear dungarees and a furry ear-flap hat – and a bunch of recently purchased inner tubes, on account of the morning’s goathead incident. The bikepacking bag designs? DIY, straight from the needle of a locally purchased sewing machine, another Facebook find.

Doesn’t that Suzuki top pop.

MTB of Unkown Exact Origin with Full Framebag and Weekend Bikepacking Gear

For our weekend trip, Chad selected a different MTB, mainly because it had a full frame bag, providing room for warm layers and more food (mostly beans and carrots). Again, the bags are self-made; they don’t follow a published pattern as such, rather, they are from Chad’s brain and materials bought in local shops, or salvaged from bits of gear.

I’d be proud to dangle that smiling/hissing cat mug too.

This time we mixed it up, ascending into the forested heavens via the Reserva Ecológica La Mesita, sussing out a new and unforgivably steep little connector (after hiking to the mirador at Cerro Peña de San Felipe, perched up at 3,100m), riding primo Ixtepji trails through a tapestry of ferns and wildflowers, feasting on enfrijoladas downed with hot chocolate in the Centro Ecoturístico in Ixtepeji, camping up at a windy and cloudswept Pelado Chicito lookout, and then barrelling down dirt roads all the way to Huayapam for celabratory ice cream. We even stopped to forage for freshly sprouted Amenita caesareas, now that the seasonal rains are here. How I love this luscious and colourful loop; if you find yourself in the area, it’s a combination of Hebras de Ixtepeji and the Micro Vuelta de la Sierra Norte.

Chad’s MTB of UEO survived unscathed, dollar fifty V-brakes and all, which just goes to show how miraculous and wonderful bicycles are, whether they’re new and dreamy titanium or vintage steel that may well be 30 years old.

On this tour, roadside treasures included a length of pink rope and a particularly interesting stick.

It probably goes without saying that all of Chad’s clothing and camping gear (I use this term loosely, as he travels with few of the core accessories one might associate with bikepacking) were also bought in Oaxaca, mostly from a local thrift store chain (except, I believe, for one Icebreaker top that scuppers this otherwise unblemished record of bringing only pre-owned goods).

Chad’s Thriftstore Packlist (in no particular order)

-‘Dedo libre’ riding gloves
-Army surplus leggings
-Vans
-Flame shorts
-Leopard skin leggings for daytime use
-Pink ‘Snap On’ ankle socks
-Long socks
-Pearl Izumi neon windbreaker
-Yellow rain pullover
-Army paratrooper sun hat
-2 down blankets (probably Cosco specials)
-A camping throw to lie on (with original owner’s name)
-Water filter
-Hissing Cat Mug (purloined from houseshare)
-No brand bivvy
-Fleece lined camo face wrap with chin straps
-Ice breaker undershirt (non thrift store purchase!)
-Borrowed sit mat
-Mediation shawl
-Big LL Bean Bum Bag

Note fully loaded carrot pocket and bag of frijoles sleeve. The brake pads cost $1.50 and got Chad down a 1,500-metre descent in one piece. Water bottle cages are electical taped in place.

To be honest, I’m not convinced it’s a robust multi-day mountain setup, in part because we availed ourselves of my stove for soul-warming miso soup on our second, rather blustery evening, and we used it to enjoy coffee too – we would have survived without it, but it definitely set the tone for this fun weekend trip. We were also fortunate with the weather, as the rainy season has been light this year. Still, with some resourcefulness, stoicism, and good fortune (like the corrugated sheet wedged into place as a wind block on Drizzly Night 2) what Chad does choose to cram into his homemade bags certainly gets him out there.

The adventures we get up to on bicycles, and the joys they bring us, no matter their age, price, or type.

You can find out more about Chad and his love for vintage bikes by following his stories on Instagram at chrome.alone. As to his bikes in the Canada Collection – some 20 steeds strong, and dating between 1988 and 1996, there’s “a super rad Peugeot Fraser with an 80s colour way that All-City replicated a few years back – kinda a cream base with orange and yellow chevrons – with that laid back OG geo. The patina on that frame is so incredible that it might be my favorite bike. I guess I have a few Kona’s with the P2 straight blade forks, and a Univega Alpina Pro Comp, that made me fall in love with the frame geo of those Univegas with the banana chain stays. Then there’s a wildy CycleTech with blue tires I built that was such a fun ripper, had a big basket to carry pups.”

Be sure to check our Vintage Bikes Tags, and our Make Your Own Bikepacking Gear Tags too.

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