If two paths fork in the woods, the one I'm interested in is the one to the right of the one on the right, or the one to the left of the one on the left. I’m prone to rambling and prefer to make my own paths--literally, and as a metaphor for living.
I toured professionally as a folk musician/singer-songwriter for 13 years. I made eight studio albums, got to perform all over the world, and met lots of remarkable people. About 5 years ago though, I started to question what I was doing. It wasn't the art that brought on the conflict. It was the enterprise, the music business, and the lifestyle. I was always inside--disconnected from the world I loved and the things that inspired my art.
By way of several diversions, I realized what needed to change. I needed to travel to my shows by bicycle, and my shows needed to do more than just offer audiences entertainment. They needed to take place in connection with, and give something back to, the wilderness that always inspired me.
Since this moment of truth, I’ve been riding bikes around the country, preferring to do performances outdoors or in alternative spaces, using music and bikes to inspire people, and to offer new ideas for how we can live more fulfilled, satisfying lives with healthier connections to our land and ecosystems.
This past July, I circled Lake Superior on the new Salsa Marrakesh. I performed in conjunction with Provincial Parks, the Great Lakes Commons, and other environmental groups to raise awareness about fresh water and Lake Superior. The ride was approximately 1,400 miles. I made 13 stops to perform, closing the circle in 16 days.
If you compare my pack list to most traditional road cyclotourists, it doesn’t take long for the differences to jump out. I carry both my guitar and banjo with me on the bike. I also carry guitar chords, pedals, CDs, and other merchandise. From there the list finally starts looking more conventional: my tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, and clothing.
I carry my guitar on one side of the rear rack, and my banjo rides on the other in a custom waterproof pannier that Banjo Brothers made for me. I pack clothes around the instruments. My sleeping bag, camp clothes, and food go in a Revelate Viscacha seat bag. Since the Marrakesh is made for hauling and distance, it has every braze-on and hole drilled in it I’d ever need, and this allows me to run the Anything Cages on the fork that carry my tent, sleeping pad, and other miscellaneous items. Up front, I carry a fixed bag or handlebar roll. For a long time, I thought carrying things up front would be cumbersome and clunky, but on the Marrakesh the weight enhances the balanced load that enables me to ride at the pace I want and need to keep.
When I am riding I am usually working on a timeline. My tours consist of long distances overall, which make for big day-to-day mileages. In many cases, I am riding 100-plus miles in a day, then playing a show. In order to arrive on time, which includes time to rest before I perform, I need to ride my loaded bike between 15 and 20 mph, and I need to maintain that pace for up to 150 miles in one day, day after day. This means that the bike I ride, the way I pack it, and what I bring or leave behind can make all the difference in the world.
Since July, I have ridden the Marrakesh nearly 3,000 miles, including the ride around Lake Superior, regional rides, and a trip in the Pacific Northwest. In all these miles, I have covered incredibly diverse terrain. Salsa calls the Marrakesh an “all world” touring bike. Granted, Canada aside, I have yet to ride it out of this country (that plan is in the works), but I feel the Marrakesh confidently lives up to this declaration. I have ridden it on about every surface one might encounter (short of boulder fields or beaches, which I don't think many people are attempting to conquer on traditional touring set ups). But mixes of gravel, single track, dirt, pump tracks, and straight-up bushwhacking through the woods have all been gracefully conquered.
Spending as much time on the Marrakesh as I have in a relatively short period of time has afforded me the opportunity to understand how and where it wants to go, then tailor my packing and set up accordingly. As with all things that are about the process, the time spent dialing in the fit and making fine-tuned packing adjustments has rendered me in love with this bike. It is at the top of my list and the preferred rig for my current touring.
I have to be completely honest: Even though I am a rambler, and I take pride in my love of maps, I brought the Marrakesh home and had to look up its namesake on the Internet to find its exact location. The more I’ve thought about it, that action seems quite fitting--a good bike should make you ask questions.
Here are some specific things I love about the Marrakesh, with reasons why I’d tell anyone contemplating purchasing one for their next adventure to do so without hesitation:
Fitments: I mentioned above that the Marrakesh is loaded with them. They make for endless mounting options, and variations for how and what you carry. There are no limitations here.
Alternator Dropouts: I have encountered derailleur hanger breakage and bent hangers on previous bikes that I will never have to deal with on this current set up.
Wheelbase Adjustment: There is the ability to adjust the wheelbase. Not only does this change the handling of the bike relevant to terrain or load variances one might encounter throughout a tour, but it can also help with things like tire clearance.
Rack: The Alternator 135 Low Deck rear rack that comes stock on the Marrakesh runs in close behind the seat and has a narrow platform that keeps the weight closer to my overall center of gravity, not way out over the sides and rear wheel.
Easy Repair: All of the hardware, Alternator dropouts, bar-end shifters, and the spoke holder on the chainstay speak to a well thought out, easy-if-anything-arises-mid-tour design. With the exception of overhauling hubs or pulling out the bottom bracket, you can fix just about anything with a hex set and quick links.
Go Anywhere: There is certainly terrain out there that you will be challenged to ride unless you have 4- or 5-inch tires, but the ability to ride a 700x50mm tire on the Marrakesh means that you should be able to go just about anywhere you would go on a mountain bike. That opens the doors pretty wide. I have tried. It works.
Stability/Maneuvering Under Load: In my opinion what sets the Marrakesh apart from any other touring bike is this: It has a remarkable ability to carry heavy loads without compromising stability or sacrificing steering and maneuverability. Most heavily loaded bikes I have ridden feel whippy in the back, steering becomes sloppy and sketchy, and maintaining a line in adverse weather or road conditions is a struggle. I rode the Marrakesh across the Trans Canada highway with semis constantly barreling past, and climbed and descended with wind coming from every direction, and I was never blown or shaken off course. No matter what I faced, the Marrakesh went where I steered it like a biscuit through gravy. In my world, finding a bike that can offer this kind of stability and maneuverability under load without compromising the soul of the ride or feel of the terrain is equivalent to striking gold.