Rider and Rig: Monique and her Soma Wolverine
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In this Rider and Rig, we catch up with Tucson’s Monique Laraway, bike mechanic, artist, and bikepacking enthusiast, to talk local desert campouts, getting more WTF on bikes, and why she loves her jet black Soma Wolverine. Plus, Mo gives us the lowdown on her Sonoran Desert overnight packlist…
Tucson, in southern Arizona, is fast becoming a winter bikepacking mecca. There are trails galore. Dirt roads abound. And, best of all, the city’s impressive cycling infrastructure and traffic-free bike paths offer an easy shuttle into the surrounding Sonoran Desert. You might recognise Monique Laraway from our WTF Bikexplorers Summit report. With a decade of living with bikes to her name, we catch up with Mo again and ask her for bikepacking insights… in between loops around the Lost Barrio BMX pump track.
To begin, tell us a little about your background, with regards to cycling. Where are you from and how long have you lived in Tucson?
My fondness for bicycles started when I began commuting to college and went car-free in northern Arizona. This happened in 2004 after moving away from my hometown in Mesa. Growing up in the Phoenix Valley encouraged a dependence on motorized transportation that I was eager to get away from, so it was liberating to ditch traffic and explore local trails and bike routes. Midnight dance parties, dumpster dive potlucks, and DIY wrenching all were a huge part of my baby bike roots, which have since spread into huge bodacious wings.
The decision to move to Tucson revolved mostly on living in a bigger bike and art community, and Tucson excels in both. When I moved here, I started riding longer distances into the mountains and grew a strong affinity for the desert. Bike camping was the next natural step and stole my heart and my wallet because that swag ain’t cheap. I volunteered at a small bike coop in Flagstaff before moving down here and had heard of this epic huge bike center, BICAS, which was a dream job for me. I began volunteering for a year and was eventually hired and learned a ton. Riding year-round without snow and sludge has been pretty nice and keeps me going. I’ll be celebrating my 10-year Tucsonniversary in August!
It seems like you have a wonderful backyard to play in. How often do you get out on bikepacking trips?
The Sonoran Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world and I’m constantly in awe of its uniqueness and harshness. I try to get out every other month for at least an overnighter. Duncan, the shop owner at Transit Cycles has given me a schedule that allows for this, which I’m beyond grateful for. Sometimes I’ll have my bags ready and roll out right after closing time. Juggling art, work, and other life duties is not always my strong point, so I’m figuring that out. Most of my trips are overnighters because it’s the easiest and what my schedule permits, but I usually get out on multi-day trips a few times a year.
This past weekend, I got to meet up with some out of town buddies and ride out to Chiva Falls for the first time ever, which was incredibly challenging and beautiful. Such a precious oasis that I can’t believe it took me so long to check out! Water in the desert is such a treat!
Tell us more about your work as a mechanic at Transit Cycles.
I never thought I’d be hired to work in a bike shop because I’ve never really seen people like me wrenching in those spaces. It was always something I secretly wanted and thought I couldn’t have and/or the cultures in those spaces always felt too macho, drunk, and elitist. The industry has changed so much even in the last two years. More women in shops and people are talking about FTW (femme trans women) inclusion. WTF, it’s awesome.
When I took the position at Transit Cycles two years ago, I was leaving behind a wonderful role as art coordinator and mechanic/instructor at BICAS. But I was ready for a big change and to refocus on my own skills and hands-on repair. It was a drastic leap from what I was used to at the nonprofit, which was administrative work, hands-off repair, and instruction. And low budget (or no budget, people could do work-trade to earn parts) bikes parted out with used components based on availability. Now, I get to work on all the fancy bikes and parts that I can only dream of owning and color-coordinating. The shop is very commuter and touring-centric, so if you want to haul stuff, we provide the bags/racks/gear to do so, but we work on a little bit of everything. It’s also a hub for monthly rides and the occasional campout, gear swap, and guest talks. The shop will be celebrating its five year anniversary at the end of the month. Yay!
As for bikes, what drew you towards the Soma Wolverine? Anything else bikepacking-related in your stable?
The flat black, the metal lettering, the belt-drive compatibility that I’ll never use. My “Wolfy” boasts 27.5 x 2.1” tires, disc brakes, and was originally set up rackless. But right now, it needs a bag-support in the front so I can affix my Fabio’s Chest up there. I’m borrowing my partner Colin’s Zeitgeist as a temporary option. I’ll also be adding a dropper post at some point since I’ve been mountain biking with it a bit.
My last bike was a neon green (aka “hospital foam”) Surly Cross Check that I commuted/toured on for five years. Then, I was ready to try something new and capable of wider tires and disc brakes. Colin and I each built up matching 27.5+ Surly Ogres for cross-compatibility in remote areas, so we could carry one spare tire, etc. Those were built up a few years ago for the Idaho Hot Springs route, which we sadly didn’t finish due to time, difficulty, forest fire, and broken bones, but that’s neither here nor there. We’ll be back. Also, isn’t everything a bikepacking bike if you pack it up and bike somewhere?
Anything you’d like to point out with regards to your bike setup? Favourite bits of gear, bags, or otherwise?
I adore all my bags because I need bags to hold my baggage. Let’s see, some special flare would be the super custom light mount made by my sweety (@rustypedal) before my WTF Bikexplorer Summit trip last year. I recently got a dynamo hub so I’ll be adding a light someday. The gearing is something I geeked out on a ton, something I never did before on all my 3x set-ups. Going 2 x 10 was tricky enough with a mix of brand components, but I wanted to make sure my climbing gears were a little easier than my last bike, since I do more technical climbs and shreds nowadays. I tried a few cranks before staying with the current Velo Orange Grand Cru because the Q-factor was narrow for my build and I feel like I can be more efficient while riding. A Wolf Tooth Goat Link was also added to make my derailleur work with the wide range cassette.
The spoke card was a design I made for a ‘Spoopy’ Bike Race/Scavenger Hunt that my friend Brenda and I organized to fundraise for a local nonprofit, The Florence Project, that assists detained immigrants with legal and social services. The bits of leather at the ends of the bar tape were crammed in a drawer for years and made it onto this build. The pink headset cap bolt just makes me feel fancy. The black downtube cable stops were tricky to come by but I think they complete the bike. The patches/pins on the handlebar bag were gifts and rep the feminist punk nerd in me. At the end of the day, it’s pretty dialed and I feel like I finally have a bike I can shred all day on. Comfort over fashion forever.
What do you think we can do as a community to encourage more women to explore the world on two wheels, both near and far?
There’s sooo much. There’s so much healing our society needs to move forward and I think there’s a little monster in each of us we have to unlearn. Exposure and inclusion are everything. Who are we putting at the forefront and uplifting? Are we supporting and giving recognition to the folks we mean to include? That means listening, sharing resources, giving eye contact, and doing the extra work to ensure that folks feel safe, comfortable, and heard. Using non-gender-specific language until you know someone’s pronoun and being willing to listen, learn, and grow. Connect with people from different neighborhoods, organizations, and cultures. We all have something to give/gain. Giving people access to tools and the skills and resources to learn to fix something is so empowering. It can be the difference between the motivation to bike across the world and complacency with riding the same route for the rest of your life. Honestly, most of the women and minority folks I know don’t have the same money and resources, so scholarships and sponsorships are awesome in that regard, especially for projects supporting these communities. I would have never been able to afford to attend UBI if I wasn’t granted the QBP scholarship. Look at me now, all up on the interwebs, 2019.
Exposure and inclusion are everything. Who are we putting at the forefront and uplifting? Are we supporting and giving recognition to the folks we mean to include? That means listening, sharing resources, giving eye contact, and doing the extra work to ensure that folks feel safe, comfortable, and heard.”
There are awesome organizations and projects across the US that make space and encourage Femme Trans and Women to wrench and ride via weekly workshops to monthly rides and annual summits. At BICAS, we held space for WTF-identified folks each week to wrench and learn to work on their bikes. Greaserag has been doing it for years, as have many community bike centers. Last year was the first ever WTF Bikexplorers Summit, which was an incredibly uplifting and informative week jam-packed with skillshare workshops, shared meals, and a community bike campout. Over a hundred people from all over the US attended and everyone left with new friends and inspiration to keep the momentum growing in their communities.
Art plays a role in your life too. What’s your inspiration, and where can we discover more of what you create?
I started drawing when I was 14 and realized this was something I wanted to continue into adulthood. It’s always been a means of emotional healing and exploring my passions in 2D. Lately, my work has been at a standstill, but usually is inspired by bikes and desert plant life. Painting and drawing bring out the colorful side of me that’s hidden by my black clothing and surly personality. Usually, I have some prints available at the bike shop and small art and jewelry on my Etsy site. My Instagram is the best place to check out what’s new in my art and bike world, so stay tuned for some upcoming work!
MO’S SHORT RANGE DESERT PACKLIST
– Extra warm clothing layers (jacket, gloves)
– Hygiene + oil/salves for pains, burns & chaffing
– First aid kit
– Side pockets (food)
– Snacks/electrolytes/extra water
– Bandana/booger rag (wrapped around my neck for sun protection, cold, and keeping off dust when I’m riding behind folks)
– Found treasures
FRAME BAG (½)
– Tools (pump, multitool, patchkit, lever, tube, tire plugs, valve core remover, 2oz Stans, spare cable & bolts)
– Tent poles
– Sleep system (inflatable pillow & mat, bag, warm hat, socks)
– Clothing (usually compressed in my compression sack with sleeping bag)
– Tent + Tyvek groundsheet
– Side pockets (TP/shovel, snacks)
– Lens cloth for prescription glasses
– Battery pack
For the Chiva Falls trip (pictured above), I rode with two liters of water and we shared a gravity water filter among six people, as there was plenty along the way to filter. I usually carry my own MSR mini pump and have had to haul up to seven liters in late April (90°F) on the Black Canyon Trail. I’ve made a habit of carrying a little extra water, because it comes in handy when there’s an injury that needs to be flushed out, or when there are unforeseen circumstances like a mechanical failure and the ride takes longer. Gotta have that H2O.
My food is mostly hydrated and in pouches. This makes it light and small to pack out and edible without cooking if I want to ditch the stove and fuel. Homemade PB&J sandwiches usually tag along. Cherry tomatoes, avocados, oranges, apples. No cooking, no problem. Eat straight from the pouch or heat in a pot over a fire. This being said, Arizona is highly flammable with all its grasses, brush and dry spells, so foregoing a fire is often the best option, especially when it’s already warm out. I love a fire but I respect the desert more than my creature comforts.
Everything that grows here is sharp and thorny, which has an impact on ultralight gear that’s not meant for such harsh terrain. Supple life tires don’t stand a chance; tough tire casing and going tubeless helps! In the Sonoran Desert, we have mesquite trees with three-inch thorns that will cut right through your tire. No one wants to deal with sealant and dirt in the sun, so do yourself a solid and get ones with strong sidewalls. I’ve had to patch my inflatable mat a lot, so inspecting the ground under my tent is now a part of my process. The temperature drops around 40°F throughout the day, which can mean hot days and frost at night, so a waterproof ground cover like a piece of Tyvek keeps moisture out.
How hot does it get in the summer?! Where do you ride?
Like soooo hot. So hot that all the snowbirds evaporate and the asphalt literally melts. But seriously, it gets up to 120°F (49°C) and stays in the 90s-100s (32-38°C) throughout the summer. Being smart about water, sunblock, and time spent outdoors is especially important during that part of the year. I do a lot of night riding, though early morning rides are great too if you can handle the pre-dawn starts. Since all of the non-locals leave in the summer, it gets super quiet and intimate. Only the die-hards stay; it’s a precious crew.
Anywhere you’d recommend visitors to Tucson should check out? Favourite food? Galleries? Trails?
Here are some Tucson must-visit spots: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro East/West, Sabino Canyon, and Mt. Lemmon (really all the mountain ranges nearby). BICAS (one of the oldest bicycle collectives & education centers & my old stomping grounds, fix your bike, get used parts, weekly WTF night). As for art galleries, there’s De Grazia Gallery in the Sun, Steinfeld Warehouse, Citizens Artist Warehouse, and the Photography Museum at the University of Arizona. My favorite food spots include 5 Points Market & Restaurant Welcome Diner, and Cafe Poca Cosa (The Little One). Recommended trails include 50 Year, Arizona Trail, Sweetwater, and Star Pass.
You can find out more about Monique, her art, and her biking adventures by following her on Instagram , @revolta_art, or checking in with her Etsy website. If you’re headed to Tucson – and you should, as there’s all kinds of bikepacking potential, not least the Sky Islands Odyssey – pop into Transit Cycles and say hi.
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