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Karakoram / Pamir / Umling La

Old 08-26-22, 03:27 PM
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I think I had some 35s. It was great in China and Thailand but in Laos my wrists took a beating. This year I bought one of those Redshift suspension stems, total game changer for mixed condition road touring where you occasionally encounter bad roads.
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Old 08-26-22, 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
Thats pretty typical Guatemala, and why I will never tour again in these sort of varying conditions with anything less than the 2in tires I used. Thats the one downside to 26" wheels, is that some of the newer tires aren't available in 26, and there seem to be some great tires out there, like Almotions for instance.

but its always going to be a balance of figuring out what sort of tread pattern tires to use. On roads like these with diff stuff, as well as dirt that isn't too bad, I still find lightly treaded wide tires to work well for these situations, but also good and quieter for all the paved sections, no matter the quality of the pavement.
I have been really happy with the folding version of the Schwalbe Extremes that have been out of production for almost a decade. My heavy duty touring bike (I call it my expedition bike) has 57mm ones. They are quite noisy on pavement, but they roll with very little resistance on pavement. They are 26 inch.




I think about half the tread is gone in the middle now on my rear tire.


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Old 08-26-22, 03:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Yan View Post
I think I had some 35s. It was great in China and Thailand but in Laos my wrists took a beating. This year I bought one of those Redshift suspension stems, total game changer for mixed condition road touring where you occasionally encounter bad roads.
oof, I ride 35s on my commuter, but 45 would be my minimum, and one big reason is how 45-50 or even more, is great when those few times happen and you have bail onto loose roadside surfaces when a dangerous vehicle situation pops up. I'm pretty good riding on loose surfaces, but boy wider tires make it so much less of a drama, and while I've never tried suspension stems, I'd favor the wider tires for the front end traction.

and of course, being able to lower pressures on wider tires for extended really loose sections/sandy/whatever, is a game changer for me.

*interesting topic Gauvins btw.
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Old 08-26-22, 04:26 PM
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I strongly recommend the stem. It's like having 10mm wider tires, but without the additional rotating weight and rolling resistance. The stem is not much heavier than a normal stem, and the cost, while not cheap, is not terrible for what you're getting. There is no play or looseness whatsoever. There is no bounce. On smooth roads it is indistinguishable from a normal stem, including when you're sprinting out of the saddle. It's really quite remarkable.

In fact I paired the stem with one of the elastomer based suspension seat posts. It's like riding on the back of an elephant after riding a horse.
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Old 08-26-22, 06:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Yan View Post
I strongly recommend the stem. It's like having 10mm wider tires, but without the additional rotating weight and rolling resistance. The stem is not much heavier than a normal stem, and the cost, while not cheap, is not terrible for what you're getting. There is no play or looseness whatsoever. There is no bounce. On smooth roads it is indistinguishable from a normal stem, including when you're sprinting out of the saddle. It's really quite remarkable.

In fact I paired the stem with one of the elastomer based suspension seat posts. It's like riding on the back of an elephant after riding a horse.
I have been wondering about those stems, thanks for your positive comments. I might go for one some day. My light touring bike has 37mm tires.
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Old 08-26-22, 06:38 PM
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interesting. I guess really one would have to physically try one to see how it works, but I believe you in that it would make a real difference.
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Old 08-27-22, 01:22 AM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
interesting. I guess really one would have to physically try one to see how it works, but I believe you in that it would make a real difference.
I would expect that stem is more useful on narrower tires at higher pressure for rough pavement and vibration. I do not think it would be a substitute for a suspension front fork on rough trails.

I did a week long trip with ACA, van supported so all we had to carry each day was our lunch and water. I rode my folding bike which had 40mm wide Schwalbe Marathons. Trip was in West Texas and they had a VERY rough chip seal pavement. The first day my 40mm wide front tire had between 55 and 60 psi and the vibration on the handlebars was terrible, my GPS was starting to act up too and that GPS continues to act up now four years later from the vibration that day. Day two, I dropped my front pressure to between 40 and 45 psi. That was much better, hardly noticed the rough chip seal at all on the handlebars. But if I had tires that were much narrower, I would not have wanted to risk dropping the pressure that much. I rode the rest of the week at that lower pressure in the front tire. Many in the group had 28mm tires, I was glad I did not have tires that narrow to deal with.

I could see that stem being quite useful on my light touring bike with front panniers because I would have to have more air pressure in the 37mm tires on that bike with the heavier front load. But my 50 or 57mm tires on my other touring bikes would be able to handle the rough pavement with the wider tires, thus I do not see that stem as that useful in that situation.

That said, this is all a guess, I have never ridden with one of those stems.
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Old 08-27-22, 09:35 AM
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[Update]

The situation in Russia, Western China and Pakistan is such that Karakoram/Pamir highways have limited appeal for the time being (and foreseeable future).

Umling La, though, has serious potential. The pass (highest in the world) scores an impressive 4.9 on Google reviews. I got a reply from an Indian blogger who wrote an excellent entry about the Umling La pass in anticipation of a motorbike trip. Among other things, it is now (apparently) possible to get the required permit online. My current plan is to exchange a few mails to assess the feasibility (he writes about the importance of physical fitness for motorcyclists...) and post info if this is of interest to members of this community. (life is too short...
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Old 08-27-22, 09:56 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
...
Umling La, though, has serious potential. The pass (highest in the world) scores an impressive 4.9 on Google reviews. I got a reply from an Indian blogger who wrote an excellent entry about the Umling La pass in anticipation of a motorbike trip. Among other things, it is now (apparently) possible to get the required permit online. My current plan is to exchange a few mails to assess the feasibility (he writes about the importance of physical fitness for motorcyclists...) and post info if this is of interest to members of this community. (life is too short...
So this is not wishful thinking but serious consideration?
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Old 08-27-22, 12:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
So this is not wishful thinking but serious consideration?
Well, wishful until it gets done. There could be an opportunity in 2024.

I'll look into it fairly seriously. In the meantime I'll read about and scrape bits of info.
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Old 08-27-22, 04:46 PM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
Well, wishful until it gets done. There could be an opportunity in 2024.
Not quite as high as Umling La but in the same neighborhood would be Taglang La (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taglang_La) as part of the Manali to Leh highway (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leh%E2...Manali_Highway).

In 2014, my brother and I traveled to Manali with thoughts of cycling to Leh. As we climbed up Rohtang Pass (this is before the Atal Tunnel was built but believe is still an option) it became apparent we had underestimated what it would take to do this ride. We descended back to Manali and took the bus to Leh.
So I got a chance to see the route - which was a mixture of paved and rough unpaved sections. Even in July, parts of it were frigid cold. The bus stopped briefly on top of Taglang La and us tourists walked around some.

After arriving in Leh, we cycled from Leh to Srinagar instead.

Looking at CGOAB, it looks like at least three journals when I search Taglang La and that should give an idea of more ideal conditions when there are sections of paved roads.
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Old 08-27-22, 05:18 PM
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mev Thanks for the info.

WRT road surface, yup, looks like one should expect a mixture of new tarmac, awful tarmac and dirt. I'd tend to bet on good tarmac at the moment, that'll degrade over time. But based on the YouTube videos, this isn't a major concern.

WRT temperature, frankly I don't know what to expect. Haven't weathersparked the surroundings yet, but based on glimpses, I'd expect the possibility of freezing temperatures during the day and sub freezing at night. As a matter of fact, I was looking at the down jacket market today (zpacks is, again, a serious contender).

WRT to your experience - worth it or unfavorable pain/gain ratio?
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Old 08-28-22, 08:03 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
mev
WRT to your experience - worth it or unfavorable pain/gain ratio?
I wish I could have done the Manali to Leh highway as it would have been a type 2 fun type experience (tough when it was happening, but not so much so that I wouldn't have looked back and think it was fun). The BRO does a pretty good job with the roads they construct, though some of these are open part of the year and there also seems to be continuous re-construction/clearing in the months some of the roads are open. Leh is an interesting spot - as it has an international airport and hence tourists from everywhere. This district is Buddhist and doesn't have the same feel as Srinagar district with a heavy Indian army presense.

The Leh to Srinagar road was normal type 1 fun (while it happens). It brought us along part of the line of control through some villages - and high point Fotu La of only 4100m. It wasn't particularly severe and we came into Srinagar at Eid and stayed on a houseboat there.
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Old 08-29-22, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
[Update]

The situation in Russia, Western China and Pakistan is such that Karakoram/Pamir highways have limited appeal for the time being (and foreseeable future).

Umling La, though, has serious potential. The pass (highest in the world) scores an impressive 4.9 on Google reviews. I got a reply from an Indian blogger who wrote an excellent entry about the Umling La pass in anticipation of a motorbike trip. Among other things, it is now (apparently) possible to get the required permit online. My current plan is to exchange a few mails to assess the feasibility (he writes about the importance of physical fitness for motorcyclists...) and post info if this is of interest to members of this community. (life is too short...
You're not going to be able to ride up a 5800m pass without a rigorous acclimatization schedule. Starting at 3000m, it will take you a week to slowly make your way up there. If you decide to rush it, you'll be able to ride up to 4000m in one go with no issues, but once you are up there be prepared to spend all night gasping for breath and get zero sleep. It's always fine when you are awake. Sleep is when you suffocate. Take some Diamox with you.

On the last day of the acclimatization you can make a big push and do a lot of gain, as long as you descend the far side before sleeping. Prepare to be trashed by the end.

Plenty of fit people have died at these heights from pulmonary edema. At the first sign of issues, make a u-turn and descend.
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Old 08-29-22, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Yan View Post
Take some Diamox with you.
Thanks for the info.

There's no firm plan for me at this time -- my typical approach is to ensure feasibility first, and then desirability. A possible scenario would be to fly into Leh, visit the region for several days before heading for Umling La (probably over one week) . My understanding is (a) altitude sickness affects people differently and that being fit is not guarantee that all will be well; and (b) the usual recommendation would be to avoid gaining more that 500M/day. So, your suggestion to take a week to get to Umling La from Leh appears to be right on. FWIW -- I may have experienced mild symptoms this past summer at 2500M -- I have felt a strange respiratory "distress" (much too strong a word. I'm trying to say that I've noticed a strange feeling breathing) while falling asleep. OTOH Garmin's health tracker showed all vital signs AOK and I had no problem riding the passes at 2200M+

I've found only one video involving cyclists doing the Umling La. In a brief scene we see one of them using a respirator (presumably after reaching the summit)
.

To add WRT feasibility/desirability -- the video to which I linked suggests that this is not beyond my reach. OTOH there might well be other, "more desirable rides". Lots of alternatives to consider, the Spiti valley being a strong contender. To be clear, Umling La wins on the bragging rights dimension, but other routes may offer better touring potential. This being said, thinking about this is an interesting process.
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Old 08-29-22, 01:56 PM
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gauvins, have you ever considered biking in the Andes in South America? Colombia, Ecuador, Peru?
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Old 08-30-22, 05:04 PM
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By the way, looking around Youtube, found the following video on (automobile) travel to Hanle -

They have some good views of the road, landscapes and general area. Looks like there is river water most all the way to Hanle. At that point one is at 4300m so still some climbing to do, but not a huge distance.
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Old 08-31-22, 06:52 AM
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Thanks for the link. Will certainly watch.

This is another good one
. Puzzling thing about these videos is how frequently road surface goes from smooth tarmac to dismal (and what proportion of each to expect).
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Old 08-31-22, 07:14 AM
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gauvins, I don't know, but 5800m ? These Indian youtuber dudes with their drone shots are on very lightly loaded bikes, riding to that height on a bike where you'll have to be carrying a lot more stuff than usual seems like a very daunting task.
Not to mention the logistical aspects of food, water and as you mentioned, the very good possibility of having gastro intestinal stuff going on.

like with anything in life, you just have to be pragmatic and realistic about something like this.
Would be way too daunting for me, I freely admit.
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Old 08-31-22, 07:49 AM
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Well, turns out this was a tour organized by the Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI). I inquired to them today.

Funny that it gave you the impression that the ride is extreme. It had the opposite effect on me, with the exception of being puzzled by the state of road surface and muddy/washed out segments. Probably shot in August (monsoon).

My thinking for now is to plan for a trip to India, and if possible join a YHAI your in Ladakh and once in Leh, based on the Manali-Leh experience, opt for Umling La or a simpler itinerary (yet to determine). But I am certainly more convinced that this will happen (I'll have to determine how sensitive I am to altitude sickness. I now suspect that I may have had a mild case this past summer. Zero adverse effect, but at low altitude... I need to talk to health professionals)
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Old 08-31-22, 07:57 AM
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its really more the altitude aspect that I find hard, and then if you are really on your own, schlepping a very heavy bike up and over 5800m, so much more physical effort than the guys in the videos with very little on their bikes.
I hope that you can make this work though.
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Old 08-31-22, 08:01 AM
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Agree that altitude must be considered. Gear weight doesn't worry me too much - not many people around to make fun of me if I have to walk
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Old 08-31-22, 08:47 AM
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I think you are seriously underestimating the challenges of such a high altitude since I gather that you, like me, have lived most of your life near sea level. As I previously wrote, I didn't experience altitude sickness when I biked fully loaded up to 3,713m in Colorado and almost as high a couple of other times. But I was once at 4,600m in Ecuador on the slope of Cotopaxi volcano, though I didn't bike to that altitude. Fortunately, I had no altitude sickness. But I did have the opportunity to ride a mountain bike a brief flat-ish distance at that altitude, and it was absolutely exhausting to pedal for 30 seconds. I can't imagine trying to push a loaded bike uphill at that altitude, much less ride uphill. 4,600m was a quantum leap above 3,713m in terms of difficulty, which in turn was a quantum leap in difficulty compared to riding at 3,000m.

Before you undertake such a journey, I think it would make sense to attempt to ride up some of the high passes in Colorado, or ride at altitude in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, or Bolivia.
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Old 08-31-22, 11:17 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
...
... (I'll have to determine how sensitive I am to altitude sickness. I now suspect that I may have had a mild case this past summer. Zero adverse effect, but at low altitude... I need to talk to health professionals)
I was wondering what the elevation was in Yellowstone and nearby when you were there. Logan pass in Glacier was not very high at 2025 M.

Pushing a bike, you can do that at any speed where pedaling a bike you have to go fast enough to maintain directional and vertical stability.

I noted before that I think age can cause altitude sickness to be worse, in my 20s I thought nothing of backpacking with a 50 pound (22.7 kg) pack over 13,000 feet (3,960 m) of elevation. But I would need a lot of time to acclimate to that now that I am in upper 60s.

One thing to keep in mind in your planning, a great trip is one where you did everything you wanted to, but a trip where you would probably not enjoy parts of it, you have to wonder if you would have been better off if you skipped those less enjoyable parts of it.
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Old 08-31-22, 01:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
I was wondering what the elevation was in Yellowstone and nearby when you were there. Logan pass in Glacier was not very high at 2025 M.

​​​​​
I think the highest has been 2200M or do.

I wear an Enduro that captures breathing pace (and would have been able to measure oxygen saturation but I never activated that feature.)

My usual breathing rate is 13bpm. That has been more of less constant for the duration of the trip *except* for a segment between Fort Mc Leod and Glacier NP where I've climbed 1000M during the day - average BPM stood at 25, perhaps not only because of the breathtaking view (I set up camp at an amazing view point that evening, thunderstorms in the distance, so who knows

From what I read on altitude sickness so far, seems that it is *less* likely in older people (and I am old and that fitness isn't a good predictor (shucks - i am fit). It also sounds like unless you are not taking action on early warning signs (i.e. going at lower elevation if you experience symptoms) you are not likely to develop severe cases.

So at this point I am not overly concerned. Worst case is that I'll not be able to go all the way.
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