Michael Dammer’s Karate Monkey & leather framebag
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In the latest Rider and Rig, we check out Michael Dammer’s Surly Karate Monkey bikepacking rig as used on the Colorado Trail, plus its awesome farm-made leather framebag…
Additional photos by Michael Dammer
As both an acclaimed alpinist and an organic farmer, Michael Dammer is something of a local legend in Ecuador. Living on a farm with his two equally adventurous brothers, their wives, and all their beautiful kids, there’s not a lot Michael doesn’t ride, climb, make, or grow. From the gear he sews for his trips, the off grid home he built and lives in, the CSA boxes his family distributes across Quito, the adventure races and events they organize, or the various alpine ascents he and his brothers are noted for… he’s rarely less than busy. And let’s not forget the bulk of the work the family do: running multi-week courses for visiting teenagers, teaching them the art of wilderness living, and imbuing in them an understanding of our environment that goes far beyond the thin veneer of a simple campout. At their farm in Palugo, they learn to build rafts to float rivers, dehydrate their own food to sustain themselves, and sew their own bikepacking gear.
Recently, Michael Dammer has penned some of the most challenging rides on this website, such as the epic Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (a route that certainly deserves such an adjective) and the remote, pioneering Tres Cordilleras in Peru. Indeed, despite a reputation as an accomplished climber, mountain biking in all its forms has long been in his blood:
I’ve ridden bikes since I was a little kid. As a consequence of growing up on a farm, all bikes, no matter what kind, eventually turn into ‘mountain bikes’. So that is what happened to my Mongoose BMX, it was ridden and used as an MTB… In 1987, when I was 9 years old, my uncle brought the first ‘proper’ Mountain Bike to Ecuador back from Colorado, where he was studying. It was a white Marin. A few rides on it where enough for my parents to see that those were the bikes needed for us on the farm, and managed to import 3 brand new ones for us. Soon after my father started getting us involved in sporadic small MTB races that were happening, and I raced in Ecuador for 12 years. Bike expeditions followed shortly after.”
Michael uses a combination of homemade and purchased bikepacking gear. His cousin runs a bike shop in Quito, which now imports Revelate gear, makers of the Gas Tank and Terrapin seatbag he uses. Both feedbags, the frame bag and the handlebar bag are homemade. Michael either buys the leather from a friend or the family or tan his own on their dairy farm, which happens to be the first organic dairy farm in the Ecuador. “I prefer to use medium weight leather that holds its shape a bit. All the sewing is done by hand with a very simple hand tool, the Speedy Stitcher.” Michael has bikepacked on various steeds over the last few years, including a Surly Pugsley, a Salsa El Mariachi, and a Salsa Timberjack, making leather framebags for each. Additionally, farm chores and family bikepacks are carried out on a Surly Big Fat Dummy.
More recently, he’s settled on a Surly Karate Monkey, finding its 27.5+ tires ideal for the challenging Ecuadorian terrain – tufty paramo, long cobbled descents, and raw, natural singletrack – while still affording sufficient space within its frame for gear. Given the vagaries of Ecuadorian transportation – whether this be in the bowels of a bus or the back of a truck – its burly steel construction suits the area well.
“I find the geometry of the KM is a nice blend between an aggressive trail ripping machine and some features of a long distance bikepacking hardtail. This combination makes for a very versatile mountain bike,” says Michael. In a country where spares can be hard to come by, or need to be brought over from the states by a visiting friend, its well worth speccing reliable parts that can handle the heavy rains and muddy conditions synonymous with riding in Ecuador. “A 11-42 Sunrace cassette a SRAM NX derailleur and a single 28T chainring wrap up the drivetrain equation, a relatively low cost combination that in my perspective make up for a great, durable, easy to maintain setup.” Given how steep and protracted the climbs can be, a low gearing is also crucial.
I’ve now joined Michael on three long distance bikepacking journeys, as well as various family outings. It would be no exaggeration to say I glean valuable lessons from him every time we ride together. For the Colorado Trail, this was how his bike was set up.
- Frame: Surly Karate Monkey
- Fork: Manitou Machete, 140mm
- Headset: Cane Creek
- Handlebar: Answer Expert
- Stem: Promax 31.8mm
- Seatpost: Promax 30.9mm
- Saddle: WTB Pure V
- Grips: Good Ones
- Crank Arm Set: Surly OD
- Pedals: Shimano XT SPD
- Bottom Bracket: SRAM Powerspline
- Chainring: Surly Steel Narrow-Wide 28T
- Chain: KMC
- Cassette: Sunrace 11/42
- Shifter: Sram GX
- Rear Derailleur: SRAM NX
- Brakes: Shimano SLX
- Brake Levers: Shimano SLX
- Rear Wheel: Salsa 110mm, 15mm thru-axle on Alex MD40 rim
- Front Wheel: Salsa 148mm, 12mm thru-axle, 32h on Alex MD40 rim
- Tires: Surly Dirt Wizard 27.5×3
More info on Michael and the Dammers
To find out more about Nahual – the permaculture farm the Dammers work, the wilderness courses they run, and the vision they aspire to, visit their website. For stories on their various bikepacking adventures, both with and without their families, check out their incredible blog. Also, be sure to follow Michael on Instagram @el_taraumara.
A big thank you from Michael Dammer to the companies and individuals who have helped out, including Paul Zeigle at Surly Bikes and Eric Parsons at Revelate Designs, both of whom have been very supportive of the work carried out on the farm. Also, stay tuned for “A Bikepacker’s Meal, Ecuadorian Style” with a couple simple recipes that sustained us on the Colorado Trail… all made from the ingredients Michael brought from the farm.