Rider and Rig: Mathias Dammer and His Burly Surly Krampus
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We share a ride with Mathias Dammer, father, farmer, guide, and co-creator of both the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route and Bolivia’s Mama Coca, a 500km traverse of the Cordillera Real. Mathias tells us how a successful outdoor career almost came to end after a terrifying climbing accident, reminisces over a MTB racing career that started at the age of seven, and shares his enthusiasm for his simple, reliable, and affordable steed, a Surly Krampus…
Born into a farming family in Ecuador to parents of German descent, Mathias Dammer is the younger brother of Michael, whose exploits we’ve previously featured here on BIKEPACKING.com.
There are, in fact, three Dammer brothers in total – we’ll post a story about sibling Thomas later – all of whom live on the same permaculture farm, sharing duties that include tending to dairy cows, growing organic produce, and guiding within the Andean mountains they’ve grown up around. Hence, perhaps, Mathias’ well-worn T-shirt that he wore every day of the trip: All good things in life are wild and free…
Like his brothers, Mathias believes in the values of leading living a simple, wholesome, largely self-sufficient life. Much of the bikepacking gear he uses is self-made and he also built his own off-grid home on the family farm, after living in a yurt for a number of years with his wife and daughter.
Mathias’ outdoor experiences began at a tender age. When he was just seven, the three brothers set off on their first extended adventure, a four-day horsepacking trip into the mountains, loosely chaperoned by a carefree uncle, who left them in charge of building fires, cooking food, looking after the animals, and planning the route.
His love of mountain biking developed shortly thereafter, when his father Francisco – also a well-versed adventurer and explorer – imported all three of his sons mountain bikes from the US. There was a caveat though: first, they had to pay them off by working at a local canning factory. Mathias was soon racing locally, albeit on a 21″ Raleigh frame, his feet unable to touch the ground. Talk about investing in a bike with room to grow into!
A respected climber and alpinist, Mathias’ rich and varied outdoor career almost came to an abrupt end in 2009 after a horrific climbing accident in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Falling some fifty meters off a cliff face, his breakages included five vertebrae, a femur, tibia, perone, right shoulder, and left wrist. Once his crumpled, bloodied form had been laboriously medivaced to safety by his brothers, he spent a month in intensive care, followed by several years of slow recovery as he adapted to his new, metal-implanted body. Undoubtedly in part thanks to his strong-willed character as well as a formidable strength, Matthias not only defied his doctor’s morbid predictions he’d never walk again, but went on to continue making the outdoors his life and business. He now co-runs Nahual, a youth development program that teaches wilderness living, navigation, bikepacking, and paddling to students from both Ecuador and the United States.
As for his bike, Mathias says: “I like its simplicity. It’s versatile. It performs well in any terrain. It’s reliable. And best of all, it’s cheap to run.” Although he’s interested in trying front suspension, Mathias – a man who clearly favors gear that lasts – reckons the fully rigid Krampus does well without, especially for farm life and the expedition-style trails that he likes most.
Over the time he’s been riding it, the tires have changed from Surly Knards to Maxxis Chronicles. The current setup features slightly narrower Dirt Wizards, chosen to help offset the first generation Krampus’ relatively tight spacing in the rear triangle – mud clearance is a necessity in Ecuador. Future plans include running a higher volume Chronicle up front. While his wife Nicky has a Karate Monkey set up with a 27+ wheelset, Mathias reckons he’s happy sticking with 29+ rubber, adding, “Once it gets rolling, it eats a lot of the terrain.” Watching the speed at which Mathias descends Ecuador’s intensely burly trails, it’s hard not to see his point. Also worth noting is that the bike’s original Rabbit Hole rims have proved incredibly resilient to his many uncompromising bikepacking adventures, as well as trailer pulling duties during family trips in Peru and Guatemala. Thorns mine the cobbled roads of the Dammer farm, so the tires are set up with sealant using the simple and time-honoured split tube method, and run at a low pressure to really make the most of the mid-fat platform.
Given his years of climbing experience and an undeniable penchant for gruelling hike-a-bikes in the quest for remote singletrack, Matthias is a lean packer; his setup includes a handmade leather framebag stitched for him by his brother Michael – made with leather sourced on the farm – and a massive leather gas tank to add some capacity to the medium-sized frame. The front harness is made in the farm workshop too, designed for accommodating a capacious (20L) Sea to Summit rollbag. A Revelate Terrapin is the only commercially made bag on his bike; it’s tough and fully waterproof, a necessity given Ecuador’s wildly mixed climate. A homemade feed bag accommodates his valued thermos, always filled with hot coffee. An early riser, Matthias is always the first to get the brew on.
And then there’s the Andes factor. Most of his riding takes place between 3000-4000 meters (10,000-13,000ft), so gearing has been modified from the factory setup. The family farm is surrounded by steep, protracted, lung-busting inclines, so the front chainring has been replaced with a 28T model (stainless steel for longevity, of course), teamed with an 11-speed cassette now adapted with an expanded 42T Wolftooth GC cog. In fact, he’s already on his second Wolftooth, which just goes to show how much time he spends in those low gears when mountain biking and bikepacking in Ecuador. Tempted to go ride the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route he co-created? Bear this well honed setup in mind!
BIKE BUILD HIGHLIGHTS
- Frame and Fork: Surly Krampus (first generation)(medium)
- Headset: Cane Creek
- Crank Arm Set: Surly OD 175mm
- Cassette: Shimano 11-36T with 42T Wolftooth GC cog
- Chainrings: Surly stainless steel 28T
- Handlebar: Answer
- Saddle: WTB
- Grips: Ergon GP-1
- Pedals: Shimano SPD
- Chain: KMC 10 speed
- Shifter: Shimano SLX
- Brakes: Avid BB7
- Front hub: Shimano Deore
- Rear hub: Shimano Deore
- Rims/tires: Surly Rabbit Hole with Dirt Wizard 29×3.0
More info on Mathias and the Dammers
Find out more about Mathias’s adventures, as well as those of his brothers, by checking in at the family blog, El Taraumara. Details on the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route – the singletrack/hike-a-bike version is more Mathias’ style – can be found here. With thanks to Michael Dammer for additional photos.