Perfect Pair: Gates Carbon Drive & Bronto Bikes

Josh Fonner - HeaderJosh Fonner | December 21, 2014

bike dorkI’m a bike dork. 

There I said it…I’ve had the pleasure of riding some of the most amazing bikes in the industry: carbon, ti, steel, full squish, rigid, you name it.  Despite all the amazing technology out there, it never ceases to amazing me that the piece of the bike that helps move it forward is the one that is most exposed to the elements: dirt, water, grit, and grime.  This would be the drivetrain of course.  I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a totally enclosed drivetrain, i.e. – a driveshaft like on some motorcycles, but alas, we’re still here with chains.

Radio Flyer Trail. Vail, CO. (2012) Photo by Jake Orness
Radio Flyer Trail. Vail, CO. (2012) Photo by Jake Orness

When they work right, chain drive systems are amazing.  Electronic shifting was a huge leap forward.  Single chain ring drivetrains revolutionized the MTB world.

Bronto Bikes built the frames with a splitter specifically for the belt drive.
Bronto Bikes built the frames with a splitter specifically for the belt drive.

At the end of the day though, they all seem to be working with an inherently flawed system.  Enter Gates carbon belt drives.  With a nearly maintenance free system, that is almost totally silent, it offered some promise to help break the chains (man, that was a stupid pun!) of the chain drive world.

So why hasn’t the belt drive system gotten more traction?  The challenge is that to run a belt drive system, you must have a compatible frame – meaning there has to be some sort of apparatus that can allow the one-piece belt to slide through the frame and into place.  Luckily for us, our good friends over at Bronto Bikes got us dialed on some belt drive splitters when they were making our frames.

New Bronto Day!
New Bronto Day!

The first up on the belt-drive extreme makeover was the Bronto Willy singlespeed.  After years of talking 32×18, 33×20, etc., it was a change to no longer talking gear ratios. Belt drives operate with a different set of gear ratios.

gear calculator

This is easily done, however, with a handy calculator located on Gates’ website. In the initial set-up, belt tension is a critical item.  This can be measured in a couple ways, from an iPhone tension app to a specifically designed tensionmeter to squeeze testing it.  The latter is least advisable, though often used.

Our initial test rides on the singlespeed revealed, well, not much.  I say not much in a good way – silence.  It just plain worked, no metal on metal grinding, no squeaks, just pure simplicity.

My wife tested out her Gates Belt Drive on her Bronto, too!

Though it was silent at first, I was advised to pick up a can of silicone lube at the hardware store to keep any dust and grit from leading to a noisier ride later.

Of course, the belt is a frequent talking point on the trail.  From “How do you like that thing?”, to “Man, that is cool”, to “Stupid singlespeeder” are all phrases that are often heard…so get used to hearing some comments!

The belt drive is a constant point of interest!
The belt drive is a constant point of interest!

Though I spend most of my time on a singlespeed, we really wanted to dial in some killer, low-maintenance, geared bikepacking rigs.  We don’t really like getting bitten by the upgrade bug later, so we went all in.  S&S couplers, titanium, Thomson, Rohloff…and Gates Belt Drive of course!

We picked up the bikes from Gates...ecstatic!
We picked up the bikes from Gates…ecstatic!

Winter hit the mountain so we haven’t had much of a chance to pedal the Rohloff rigs yet…but there is no doubt they’ll prove to be just a reliable as the singlespeed version.  The one challenge is that the sliding dropout on the Rohloff bikes does not have a tensioning bolt, which makes setting the proper belt tension almost impossible.  Hopefully that won’t negatively affect the longevity of the belt.

One of our rigs set up for bike packing.
One of our rigs set up for bike packing.

We’ve definitely got some testing in mind for the belt set-ups coming up in 2015.  Some desert training rides, 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Leadville 100, and some to-be-decided bike packing destinations all should put the belts to the test.  Looking forward to putting some more time on the belts and to minimal maintenance in the process.

Titanium Bronto Bike with Rohloff hub (and now a Gates Carbon Belt Drive!) - ready to map out a new adventure.
Titanium Bronto Bike with Rohloff hub (and now a Gates Carbon Belt Drive!) – ready to map out a new adventure.

In the meantime, there is some snow in the hills, and some skin track to put down.

For now, we'll be skiing but once the snow melts, we are back on our Bronto Bikes with Gates belt drives!
For now, we’ll be skiing but once the snow melts, we are back on our Bronto Bikes with Gates belt drives!

Copyright 2014 Roam Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Swiftwick Wins South Africa

Christine Fonner | June 21, 2014


My Love for Swiftwick Runs Deep

About a year ago, I started exclusively only wearing Swiftwick socks. It wasn’t a conscious decision – they were just more comfortable so when I would look in the sock bin and eye all the sock options, I inevitably would pick up a pair of Swiftwick until, one day, there were just no other socks except for Swiftwick.

So, it’s with no great surprise that when I was packing my carry-on bag for a nine-day stage race in South Africa, that, without hesitation, I piled in all the Swiftwick socks a girl could need and then decided to also throw in my Swiftwick Arm Sleeves as well.

You Don’t Know About Swiftwick Arm Sleeves??

Ah, the arm sleeves. Not arm warmers. These nifty little sleeves do much more than keep your arms warm. If it was cold out, I would throw them on and marvel at their stretchiness. They kept my arms warm. If it got hot out, I would forget I even had them on until I was properly sweating up hill. They kept my arms cool. They breathed really well. They protect from sun burn. They never seem to smell and are incredibly comfortable. I was in love.

The Swiftwick Arm Sleeve was carefully designed to be effective as a wind break, offers great UV protection and its an easily removable base layer protecting against the cold.
The Swiftwick Arm Sleeve was carefully designed to be effective as a wind break, offers great UV protection and its an easily removable base layer protecting against the cold.

I had learned to use the arm sleeves often. All the time. On all my rides. My Swiftwick arm sleeves (seen or unseen) have been part of many amazing friendship driven adventures and life moments (my wedding engagement, bottom left!). I’ve become emotionally attached!


I knew they breathed well, were stretchy, and you could wear them for a long time and not feel hot when the sun was beating down on you. But I can’t begin to tell you how much MORE grateful I was that I brought these little arm sleeves to South Africa for the JoBerg2c Mountain Bike stage race, especially after wearing them for 9 days straight.

South Africa’s JoBerg2c – 9 Days, 900 kilometers

South Africa’s JoBerg2c 9-Day Mountain Bike stage race is no joke. It takes you from Johannesburg, South Africa all the way to Scottburgh, at the ocean. 900 kilometers over 9 days with many of those days climbing you up and over the mountains of the Free State. 99.5% of the route is off-road. Over the course of the race, only 10 kilometers is on actual paved road. It isn’t until Day 6 that you finally get to see some proper descending. The race is an amazing way to see a very diverse (and big!) country.

The 9-Day JoBerg2c route

For my partner and I, race was a term we used loosely. For us, it was about finishing every day and enjoying the experience of crossing half a country by bicycle. Over the nine days on a bicycle, we were averaging 7-9 hours on the saddle each day. We become a well-oiled machine and learned what works and what doesn’t work. Part of my essential gear were comfortable, breathable socks that could keep the toes warm in the morning and let them breathe once the sun warmed us up and would help in preventing blisters, sores, etc on my much used feet.

I climbed (and sometimes walked) many hills.

Or climbing and climbing...until your legs give out.
Climbing and climbing…until your legs give out.

It was also essential to have socks (and arm sleeves!) that could get wet and dry quickly. In addition to crossing on top of water, we had to sometimes cross through water. Once, it was up to my stomach!

I crossed floating bridges

Floating pallet bridge on Day 2
Floating pallet bridge on Day 2

And sometimes had to cross non-existent bridges!

The Invisible Bridge - Day 6
The Invisible Bridge – Day 6

I experienced amazing descents (70 km an hour!) and looked out across amazing vistas.

Looking out across the mighty Umko Valley
Looking out across the mighty Umko Valley

I froze in the morning and felt scorched in the afternoon.

The temps varied widely from morning to afternoon.
The temps varied widely from morning to afternoon.

The days were long and challenging…but the singletrack made you holler for more…

day 4 - 2

and the people made the experience unforgettable.

The "Back of the Pack" Crew at the finish line!
The “Back of the Pack” Crew at the finish line!

When I came home, I found I was at a loss for words on how to describe such an intimate, challenging, long, and unique experience. How do you explain what 77 miles riding your bicycle feels like? How do I describe the hot wind scorching my lungs as sugar cane leaves smack my face down double track? How do you describe the endless miles of cattle trail and how absolutely uncomfortable single track can be when it’s that bumpy?

You can’t. Not really. A person has to experience that for themselves. I can tell you that it made me closer to the Earth, to people, and to my bicycle. It made me really grateful for good gear and comfortable clothes. And, most importantly, after all was said and done…it made me look forward to my next adventure on my bicycle.

Do what moves you.

– Christine


Liv/giant Team Shorts (Black/Purple)

By Isabel Suppé

As I travel across the United States on my bicycle, I am finding the trendy Liv/giant cycling shorts  are a perfect match for my female curves.

Photo courtesy of Liv/giant
Photo courtesy of Liv/giant

Super light and thin, they brought me great relief while cycling through sun-scorched Eastern Washington in seething hot  July weather. Since I had  had bad experiences with skin reactions to silicone in the past, I was at first reluctant to wear the shorts but was positively surprised.

The tiny but very grippy silicone strips hold the shorts perfectly in place but haven´t caused me any rashes, not even in 100 degree weather!  The leg beads have the exact right amount of tightness. Another greatly appreciated feature was the very comfortable rear-end padding. The short’s breathability shows the difference between high-end and cheap products. Liv/giant Team Shorts are a sure recommendation from me!

Brand: Liv/giant
Price: $125.00

Isabel cycling through the Cascades, Washignton
Isabel cycling through the Cascades, Washignton

For more information on Isabel’s book tour visit:


ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline

by Christine Perigen

The Roam Life Team recently went on a cycling adventure in Taiwan. While searching for rental bicycles, the ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline came in really handy.

ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline (Photo: ChicoBag)
ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline (Photo: ChicoBag)

I am a very light packer. I never carry a purse or wallet or bag or…well anything but my passport and credit card while traveling. I threw this little satchel into my backpack last minute thinking it might come in handy. Boy, was I RIGHT!  The ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline is perfect for adventure traveling. We threw two sets of pedals, two helmets, two cell phones, and a water bottle in the bag and it sat comfortably against my side as we hiked the streets of Taichung.

The bag is light. Given the materials it is made out of, it is also surprisingly durable. The bag is 99% recycled PET (Polyethylene terephthalate, aka, plastic bottles) and the carabiner is 97% recycled aluminum. This bag became an extension of me for the rest of the trip. When it wasn’t in use, I scrunched it back up into it’s travel bag and when I needed to go out on the town, I whipped it out and had it over my shoulder in no time.

The sling - bundled up in it's built in pocket
The sling – bundled up in it’s built in pocket

For a self-proclaimed “Bagless Chick,” the Sling rePETe was just too practical to say no to.

Brand: ChicoBag

Price: $14.99

And color coordinated to boot!
And color coordinated to boot!


Swiftwick Pulse Zero Cycling Socks

By Christine Perigen

Swiftwick socks were put to the test by the Roam Life Team.

Swiftwick Pulse Zero Compression Socks (Photo: Swiftwick)

From the moment these Pulse Zero Compression socks snug around your feet, you’ll forget you have socks on. Light, stretchy, and comfortable, they breathe well as you spin on the trainer, hit the road, or hop logs in the woods. Don’t be fooled on durability and quality by their lightness: these socks are built strong and reliable. Compression level: 7, Weight: 19.2 g

Brand: Swiftwick       
Price: $13.99