I wasn’t sure what to make of my first interaction with Pete Koski, bike engineer at Salsa Cycles. We were sitting at a trailhead south of Tucson setting up the suspension on a new Redpoint for me, getting ready for a shakedown ride before a three-day bikepacking trip that would serve as part of the official launch of the bike.
“What pressure do you run your suspension at?” he asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
He paused, shock pump in hand.
“What do you mean you don’t know? Don’t you check your shock pressure before every ride?”
I paused for a second. Was he joking, being sarcastic? Or did he actually expect me to check my shock pressure each time before I rode my bike? I took a gamble; maybe he was just trying to be funny.
“No,” I said.
What followed was a stern lecture on how bikes were designed to work with a certain suspension setup and that I really should check shock pressure every time. I really wasn’t sure what think of it at the time (had I just committed the ultimate faux pas?), but as I’d come to ride the Redpoint over the next four days, it made me appreciate people like Pete who did pay attention to details enough to check shock pressure every ride and could create bikes that performed absolutely flawlessly over the terrain that we were about to take them over. Pete handles the details, the rest of us get to benefit from it and just enjoy the ride.
A few weeks earlier, I’d gotten an email from Joe Meiser of Salsa explaining they were looking for a last-minute place to put together a trip for the Redpoint launch. What did I think of Tucson?
I generally jump at any opportunity to show off my backyard, so I quickly replied, “I think Tucson would be perfect.” They wanted beautiful scenery, appropriate terrain to showcase the 150mm of travel that the Redpoint had, and a unique, out-there experience.
We settled on a three-day, 70-some-odd-mile route linking up the Arizona Trail through the Gila Canyons south of Superior. Our crew consisted of Scott and me, Joe and Pete, Eric the driver of one of the big red Salsa demo vans, and two members of the BIKE Magazine Staff - photographer Anthony and gear editor Ryan. A big group with a wide range of bikepacking experience, ranging from Scott, Joe, and I who’d bikepacked plenty, to the BIKE guys, who’d set up their tent in the photo studio back in San Diego and taken a nap in it as a test run. They were in for an adventure, and that was the idea.
The day started off with a significant climb to the inner canyons on the AZT south of Superior. When I’d heard that the bike that was being launched was a 27.5, 150-mm travel machine, I questioned its ability to climb. Our route had a lot of climbing. But amazingly, it went uphill like a dream. Was I about to be sold on the benefits of a big-ish travel bike?
Picket Post Mountain overlooking the Arizona Trail…
The bike flew on the downhill. The loads we were carrying with three days’ worth of food did little to compromise the handling, and I found myself grateful for spending the time to correctly set up my suspension as we flew through corners and over the chunk that is ever present on the trail.
The Gila Canyons…
Near the bottom, I pulled up to Pete. “This bike is something special.”
We continued downward in the late afternoon light.
A photog at work…
“Welcome to camp!” Scott and I announced, pulling off of the Arizona Trail onto a side jeep road.
The crew looked around skeptically. Where’s the water? The muddy Gila was still far below in the distance. One of my favorite parts of taking people around the Gila is showing them Scott’s secret water source. Not on any maps and consistently flowing, it’s a special little spot down in a ravine surrounded by plants that have no business thriving in the middle of an otherwise arid desert.
The Gila River may or may not be the most ideal drinking water source…
The desert is full of surprises, and Pete would have been in for a big one if I hadn’t stopped him from picking up a ball of cholla cactus that had fallen near the water source.
Pete: What’s this? (Reaching for it)
Me: Don’t touch it!
Pete: But… (clearly resisting a strong urge to pick up the ball of spikes)
Me: Seriously, bad idea. Each of those spines has barbs on the end that will embed in your skin at the slightest touch. Then it’s pliers to get them out.
Pete looked skeptical but luckily heeded my advice.
The desert is also ready to hurt you if you’re not careful.
We spent a restful night under the stars before pointing west on a series of 4x4 roads that showcased the beauty of riding a bigger-travel bike. Aggressive bikes are needed for aggressive terrain. Scott and I have been preaching this concept for years, and based on the design of the Redpoint, Pete seemed to agree. It was great to exceed expectations with the roughness, remoteness, and tech of our route. Pete had been worried that the trails would be too mellow to really showcase the bike. He was no longer worried.
It’s not all ridable…photo courtesy of Scott Morris
We ended up in a giant box canyon, which took us down towards the Gila River.
Box Canyon…photo courtesy of Scott Morris
Some roads, on which the Redpoints pedaled beautifully I might add, brought us to a beach on the river where we stopped for lunch and a swim.
Then onto Area 52, an area of slickrock covered in kitty-litter gravel that offers a multitude of free-ride opportunities. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas, and we were quickly scurrying for cover under a large overhang while rain hammered down all around us.
There are worse places to make coffee and watch it rain…
Adventure. Or something like that.
We emerged from our shelter after the storm had passed to assess our camping options. The rain had filled up many of the depressions in the rock with significant pools of water, and much of the ground was damp. Tents were set up on various flat spots, and we settled in to make dinner.
In a moment of quiet, Pete came over to Scott and my perch on the rock.
“So, I have 2L of water left. I need half a liter for dinner, half a liter for breakfast, then some for coffee. How much water do I need to conserve for tomorrow? Where’s our next water source?”
Pete Koski might know a lot about suspension and may design some pretty amazing bikes, but he definitely doesn’t know a whole lot about finding water in the desert.
Scott and I looked at each other, then down at the giant puddle of clear water by our feet that had just fallen from the sky, and pointed to it.
“There?” We asked. “There’s another deep one just over there.” We pointed to a few feet away as we watched the light bulb turn on in Pete’s head.
Ah yes. Water in the desert.
Area 52…photo courtesy of Scott Morris
We spent the next morning riding beautiful roads above the Gila making our way over to the southern end of the Ripsey segment of the Arizona Trail.
The canyons of the previous two days made our backdrop…
We made short work of the approach to the base of Ripsey, then played the no-dab contest on the way up and paused for a quick lunch on the high ridge.
From there, it was just a handful of miles, and a large, switchback-filled descent back to the trailhead where the Salsa van was waiting, stocked with water, beer, and snacks. I’ve ridden those switchbacks on a variety of bikes and never had I cleared so many of them, even with bikepacking gear. I was amazed.
Ripsey Ridge on the AZT…
We directed the crew to our traditional post-Gila Bikepack dinner spot, La Casita in Mammoth, where the food is fast and good, and the portions are large.
Did people get epic’d? Maybe. A little bit. Were people impressed with our little slice of Arizona? I’d like to think so. As for the Redpoint, I fell in love and started plotting ways that I could keep the one that I was riding without anyone noticing.
I’d like to think that we all came away with new knowledge. Pete now knows how to work the pumps on cattle tanks to get water and how to filter out of puddles in the rock. He also knows to not touch cholla. I now know that I should check my shock pressure every ride, and even if I don’t, to tell Pete that I do.
...or to read their reviews of the Salsa Redpoint see below…
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When Eszter Horani was in second grade, living in Tucson, Ariz., her dad bought the entire family Schwinn mountain bikes; she’s been riding ever since, dabbling in racing disciplines from road, to cross, to track and mountain biking. Most recently she’s loving adventurous long rides, bikepacking and exploring the world from two wheels. zenondirt.wordpress.com