Bikes

I’ve been riding since 2006, touring since 2008 and racing since 2015. I’m setting out to ride the first 300 miles of the Arizona Trail on Christmas Eve for the Festive 500 on my Stumpjumper.

Specialized Stumpjumper Carbon Comp

As part of the Festive 500, I’ll ride the first 300 miles of the Arizona Trail on the Specialized Stumpjumper starting December 24.

Specialized Epic Hardtail Pro

In June 2018, I got second overall in the Navad 1000 in Switzerland– 1000 kilometers with 30,000 meters of climbing through the Alps on the Specialized Epic HT. Customizations include Hope components, Revelate Designs luggage, dynamo lighting (SP hub and Sinewave Cycles Beacon) and Ergon GP2 grips. In August, I modified the bike with a Lauf Trail Racer fork and aerobars to race the French Divide.

S-Works Tarmac

In January 2018, I flew to Specialized HQ in Morgan Hill, CA, picked up a Specialized Tarmac, got a professional bike fit and rode it 1,000 miles back to Tucson. In March 2018, I rode up the 6700′ Mt Lemon Highway every day for a week.

Specialized Diverge

In the summer of 2017, I rode all of the major roads in Alaska on a Specialized Diverge. The terrain was a 60/40 mix of pavement and dirt for 4,500 miles. I completed this project in a series of rides over 3 months. In the spring of 2018, I hosted the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship where the winner received a Diverge to ride her own 1,000 mile Alaskan adventure. I also ride the Diverge for guiding endurance gravel camps for The Cyclist’s Menu in Southern Arizona.

Specialized Fuse

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I rode a Specialized Fuse with a 130mm RockShox Pike fork and 27.5+ wheels on the Colorado Trail, the Reno-Vegas route and assorted rides through California. In January 2017, I switched the Pike for a Lauf Trail Racer fork for a tour down the Baja Divide. In March, I rebuilt the Fuse with a 100mm RockShox SID and 29×2.6″ wheels for my Baja Divide FKT.

Specialized Ruby Pro Disc UDi2

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In 2016, I won the Trans Am Bike Race on this Specialized Ruby Expert. I also toured from Anchorage, Alaska to the start of the race in Astoria, Oregon and toured after the race in Connecticut, Vermont, New York and Montana. Customizations include Roval CLX64 tubeless wheels with an SP dynamo hub, K-lite dynamo lighting, custom Revelate Designs luggage and aerobars.

Specialized Fatboy Expert

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I raced and toured the White Mountains 100 on the Specialized Fatboy Expert as well as winter touring around Alaska and single-track riding in Anchorage.

Advocate Cycles Hayduke

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I rode the Advocate Cycles Hayduke for the investigation of the Baja Divide in the winter and spring of 2016. In the fall of 2016, I hosted the Lael’s Globe of Adventure Baja Divide Women’s Scholarship where the winner received an Advocate Hayduke to ride the 1700 mile Baja Divide.

Specialized Era Expert

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I rode a Specialized Era Expert on the Arizona Trail in 2015. Nicholas and I toured the route before I attempted an ITT along the AZT750.

Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29 World Cup

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Returning to Alaska after ten months of touring in Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East, Nicholas and I built this bike for me to race the Tour Divide. I rode from Alaska to the start of the race in Banff, AB and established a new women’s record, finishing in 17 days 1 hour and 51 minutes. But on that ride I got sick and had to go to the hospital, and I knew I could do better. Later that summer, I rode to Banff again and challenged the record on my own, finishing in 15 hours 10 hours and 59 minutes.

We modified this bike with a rigid carbon Chisel fork, Profile Designs aero bars, an SP Dynamo and Supernova lighting. We installed a 36T chainring and more durable tires (29×2.2″ Specialized Fast Trak Grid/29×2.35″ Schwalbe Racing Ralph Snakeskin).

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Raleigh XXIX

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I toured on the Raleigh XXIX from 2012-2015, using it for the Colorado Trail, the Arizona Trail and dirt tours in Europe, South Africa and the Middle East. When I got a new bike, I gave the Raleigh to my friend James in Flagstaff, Arizona.

 

Salsa Mukluk 3

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I rode the Salsa Mukluk 3 in Alaska for the winter of 2013-2014.

Cannondale Hooligan

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I toured on the Cannonade Hooligan in Europe for the summer of 2012 and used it for commuting around Albuquerque in 2013. I loved this bike because I could pack it into a bag and take it on an airplane free of charge. I gave the Hooligan to my friend Jacquie to take to South America.

 

Surly Pugsley

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I rode the Surley Pugsley in Alaska for the winter of 2011-2012. It was the winter that set the snow record and my first experience riding a fatbike.

Surly Long Haul Trucker

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I toured on the LHT from 2009-2011 in the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe. After our first trip riding down the east coast in 2008, I traded my 1982 Bianchi road bike towards credit for an LHT because I wanted to be able to carry more gear. When I got into mountain biking, I gave the LHT to Deja in Flagstaff, Arizona.

58 thoughts on “Bikes

  1. Ian says:

    Hi. I noticed that you mostly have straight handlebars with little back sweep paired with short stems on the mountain bikes you rode. How does this affect your hands and arms during very long rides?

    • laelwilcox says:

      I really like the position and handling of a short stem and either a flat bar or a bit of sweep. Ergon grips are also essential for me. During really long rides, I typically use Ergon grips with bar ends and like to set up some kind of an aero position. I used aerobars for the Tour Divide and a wrapped a little bar tape around the central portion of my handlebar for my Baja Divide FKT. During my long rides, my pinky and ring finger typically go numb at some point, but gloves help a lot.

      I also really like drop bars for road riding because they have a variety of hand and body positions.

      • Bike endlessly says:

        Hi what about the golden hubs that were on your specialzed epic hardtail? What are they!?

        and what are the blue hubs on your epic now?

        Also lastly, what tires are you running most recently? Size and make?

        Thanks so so so much! Your an inspiration!!

      • laelwilcox says:

        Thanks for writing! The front gold hub is a custom SP dynamo hub that I pair with a Sinewave Beacon headlight. The rear blue hub is Hope Tech. I rode the 2.25″ Tufo tires all summer.

  2. Ian says:

    Excellent. Will look into the same handle bar set-up. Ride safe!

  3. Dillon says:

    Hi Lael, Thanks for sharing your journeys. I’m looking to buy a used raleigh XXIX, based on your and Nicholas’ recs. I’m about 5″7″, around the same height as you I believe? Did you ride a small or medium frame? Thanks, and keep up the inspirational riding and writing!

  4. Todd Murdock says:

    Lael: I wonder if you’ve ridden a Salsa Cutthroat? or if you think it might have advantages over a traditional mtb set up?

  5. tomshooter says:

    You’re an inspiration Lael, I learnt about you via the Wired video on Youtube and am blown away with your story. I am a proud owner of a Surly LHT, love it to bits but your insights above about your different bikes have given me food for thought for my next tour, so thanks!

  6. Amer says:

    Hi lael,

    Thanks for being a wonderful inspiration, I will teach my children about you!

    I am wondering what do you think would be a good tire size that would work well for daily use, given I plan to bike in the snow 4 months a year, and I will carry about 20lbs

    • laelwilcox says:

      Is it deep snow or packed snow? Typically a mountain bike is the best solution for an all terrain bike– 29″ wheels with at least 2″ tires. If you’re riding through soft snow, you might want to look at a fatbike (4″ tires) or a plus bike (3″ tires).

      • Amer says:

        It is for a folding electric 20″ bike, I need to drive in and out of new york city, and tuck the bike under my desk at work.
        The amount of snow is usually not that much, but there is more ice on the side walks, and I do a little off roading to make much commute to work less boring

      • laelwilcox says:

        In that case, fit the biggest tire that you can. Maybe consider studded tires for winter riding.

  7. sahil says:

    dear mam

    just fews days back i saw u in a video on youtube!!! ur passion for cycling is faboulas and also u r motivating other girls to do it!!
    mam im from Jammu and Kashmir (India) its kind of mix terrain steep hills and trails smooth roads in patches and rough roads in patches which bike will be suitable along with specifications plz guide me through this and y dont u open ur own cycle brand specially for touring and u can also give master classes on 1. how to motivate urself to go through a long ride?
    2. fitness both physical and psychological
    3. basic repair and modifiying cycle according to requirements
    and mam when are u coming to INDIA i would love to c u here!!!!

    awaiting
    sahil

  8. Shu Yang says:

    Hi Lael,
    I wonder what’s your thoughts on the new Specialized Roubaix – they have this new “future shock” suspension on the front. I am a newbie so I am not sure if this bike would be a good one for a long tour?
    Shu

  9. Shane Dawson says:

    Your my hero!!! Tour Divide for me in 2019. Maybe yoyo the route…..slowly though lol

  10. Mary Folkerts says:

    Hi Leal, Everyday you are an inspiration to me to push on and do more Thank You, I am looking to buy a bike that fits me better and is comfortable for all round use mostly I’m on paved trail now some gravel and a few cow paths but not as extreme as mountain which bike would you suggest?

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Mary!

      Thanks for writing.

      As an all around bike, I definitely recommend a hardtail mountain bike with 29″ wheels– like the Specialized Chisel (the Expert 1x is a little pricey, but definitely an awesome build).

      Lael

  11. David Butler says:

    Hi Lael, I’m really interested in your impressions of the Lauf fork compared to conventional suspension on gravel and mellow singletrack. Best of luck on the French Divide and the Silk Road!

    • laelwilcox says:

      I think of the Lauf as rigid plus. It’s more similar to rigid than suspension, but it does give you a little more comfort and give on rough gravel. Also, it’s extremely light weight. I used a suspension fork for the Navad 1000 route in Switzerland because it’s more of a mountain bike route and I used a Lauf for the French Divide (not sure if this was 100% the best choice, but it worked pretty well).

      • David Butler says:

        Thank you! This is super helpful.

        And I really enjoyed the vid of the Navad 1000. I can’t imagine having such fortitude.

  12. It’s amazing the passion and effort you put in your life and biking. I’m following you at French Divide. Bravissima!!! 🙂

  13. Mariya says:

    Hiya!

    Since writing this article, have you changed to having more than one bike at a time?

    I’ve currently got a roadie that I’ve transitioned into using for commuting, but I want to build up a more rugged commuter/tourer… Not sure if I should sell my bike and take the plunge (financially and physical-space-wise). How do you deal with this? 🙂

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Mariya! I currently own two bikes– one mountain bike and one gravel bike. I’ve been using the mountain bike for racing and touring and the gravel bike for guiding. It’s a little more complicated now because I don’t have anywhere to store the extra one. It’s currently at my parents’ house.

  14. Rachel Blount says:

    Hi Lael, I am working on a children’s educational book about Cycling sports for girls and would like to use an image of you with one of the bikes you ride, perhaps your latest one in the book please? Are you able to send me a hi-resolution image to use? We will of Course be able to credit you and the photographer for the use of the image. I hope you can help.
    Many thanks!

  15. Allan says:

    Hello Lael, could you comment on your gearing, specifically the 1x chainring? What size ring and cassette do you use? I’m looking for a 29er mtb for some easy jeep trail riding and to use for some road touring with 38mms slicks. Its easy to switch tires and I didn’t want to buy a touring bike. I’m 63 yrs old and wondering if that 1x will get me over the Rockies. Thank you.
    Allan

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Allan,

      My gearing definitely depends on the ride. For racing the Navad 1000, I used a 30T chainring with an 11-50 cassette because it had so much steep climbing. For the French Divide, I switched to a 34T chainring. On my gravel bike, I run a 38T ring. For the kind of riding you’re talking about, I’d recommend a 34T or 36T chainring with a wide range cassette. I’m always more focused on getting up the climbs than pedaling down descents.

  16. Selena says:

    Are thicker tires easier to ride on any terrain, or do you change them out?

    • laelwilcox says:

      thicker meaning wider? Wider tires definitely help with rough, loose terrain. I change out tires depending on what I’m riding. In general, narrower tires are faster on smooth terrain.

      There are also tires with thicker sidewalls– these are best for rocky rough terrain as they will hold up better to the abuse.

  17. Angela Hammond says:

    Hi Lael,
    You are an inspiration and I would love to live your lifestyle. How do you afford all the bikes, gear, airfare etc?

    Best always,
    Angela

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Angela,

      Thanks for writing. From 2008-2015, I paid for travel and equipment by working half the year in restaurants, bars and bike shops and saving money for travel. In the fall of 2015 (after racing Tour Divide twice) I started getting sponsored by Specialized for bikes. I continued to work to fund trips. I am super grateful that for the past two years, I’ve been fully sponsored (by Specialized, PEARL iZUMi, Hope, Komoot, Revelate Designs, Ergon, Wahoo) so I no longer have to work a side job. Now, I have more time to ride and run programs like Anchorage GRIT and women’s scholarships.

      Lael

  18. Jim Big says:

    Hello Lael,
    I have recently watched a few of your bikepacking race videos, which is something i am looking to get into and am curious about your choice of chain lube for these adventures. What do you use/recommend and why? Thank you for your time,

    – Jim

    P.S.I love the videos, especially when cooped up in doors like we are now.

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for writing! The two chain lubes that have worked best for me are Dumonde Tech yellow (Lite chain lube) and the Finish Line green (wet) lube. I can’t say exactly why, but I feel like these two lubes keep my chains going longer with less noise and need to reapply lube. Hope that helps!

      Lael

  19. Lee Rout says:

    Hi Lael,

    Been a fan for a long time and have loved the articles, podcasts and films you’ve been featured in. I hope you and Rue are safe and well during this strange time we find ourselves in. Have you got any more plans for film projects over the next year or two? ‘I just want to ride’ is something I watch regularly and look forward to the next chapter in your racing and travelling career.

    Regards,
    Lee

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Lee,

      Thanks for writing! We have 2 film projects in the works– the first will be about our route building project in Colombia with Bikepacking.com and Conservation International. The second will be about my project to ride all of the roads in Alaska, my home state. We got back to Alaska on Saturday and are excited to get out riding and be able to share this story. It is such a beautiful and remote state!

      Thanks again for being in touch!
      Lael

  20. sierrabum says:

    Hi Lael,

    As I sit here obsessing about riding the Carretera Austral and the Divide, I want to express my gratitude to you for contributing to this behavior. In researching for a new bike, I’ve come across your film projects and your amazing life path. So, thank you.

    I’m a landscape photographer, backpacking guide/thru hiker (PCT 2013) looking to transition to bikepacking. As I backpacked South America 2014/2016, I planted the seed that I would return to tour this amazing continent on bike. So, I am going for it, but first, I need to tour the Divide. I’m of the elk that set a goal, think only about that goal incessantly, and go for it.

    I’m currently looking to purchase a bike that would help me prepare on road/gravel, but not shy away from something like the Divide. I have a crush on the new 2021 Diverge. You think this is underbiking it a little too much? I love the fact that it has about 20mm of suspension via Future Shock and the fact it can run 2.1 now. Thru hikers have a saying, “hike your own hike”, which basically means that what works for you works. Being that you may have crushed a ton of miles on a new Diverge, do you have any advice for a thruhiker going nuts on transitioning to biking. Again, thanks for evoking inspiration to a ton of people.

    Saludos,
    Diego (Sierrabum)

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Diego,

      Thanks for writing! Yes, I definitely think the new Diverge would be a great choice for mixed terrain. I’m currently riding it with 48mm knobby tires and loving it. I’ve been spending more time on dropbars cause they save my hands. Nice to have a little suspension on that bike too. All the best in your planning!

      Lael

  21. Lael, you are a true inspiration. I hope you a Rue are safe during these crazy times. Looking forward to your next adventure.

    • laelwilcox says:

      Thanks Glenn! So nice to hear from you. We’re in Alaska– heading to Hope to today to tour the Kenai 250 route in preparation for the race on June 26. So happy to be here!

  22. brandonorr101 says:

    Hi Lael,
    I’m loving your updates on Instagram! Your ever-optimism is inspiring.
    I’m gearing up to start riding shorter segments of the Divide Trail until I can build up enough vacation days to do the entire thing. Based on your experience is a gravel bike the better option or would a hardtail MTB be your style of choice?

    • laelwilcox says:

      That’s awesome! It’s definitely possible to ride on a gravel bike, but I prefer a hardtail with a suspension fork— more comfy 🙂 Have a great time!

  23. Tiago Oliveira says:

    Hi Lael! I’m not sure if you’re ever going to see this, I’m a big fan of yours and you inspired me to grab my bike and just travel across my country (Portugal). Problem is my hardtail is a cheap one and weights 15Kg. Not a big deal but I really wanted to take this serious and I want to buy my first truly special bike. If you only had money for one bike would you rather get say a Specialized Diverge or a hardtail Epic? (or maybe even a stuntjumper) I’m honestly not looking for breaking records, but because I only have money for one and I will not be able to test all of them and see which one I prefer, I though you would be the perfect person to ask this since you have experience with pretty much all of them. Thanks a lot and please continue to inspire us with your epic journeys!

    • laelwilcox says:

      Thanks for writing! This is awesome. I would love to ride in Portugal. As far as the two bikes go, I guess the three main things to consider are drop bar vs flat bar, tire size and suspension. If I’m going into a trip expecting to ride almost entirely dirt with rough or steep roads, I would definitely prefer the Epic HT. If I’m going to ride a mix of dirt and pavement (like my current trip in Alaska) then I love riding the new Diverge— I’m currently riding 48mm tires (it has clearance for 50mm). Such a fun bike! They’re both great— the Epic HT is overall more capable, but it really depends on the riding you’re planning to do.

      • Tiago Oliveira says:

        Oh you would love it! There are some really awesome trails in Portugal! I will definitely consider the Epic HT! The new one weights 7.8 Kg I’m almost afraid that it is too light for the travels I wanna do, I mean I don’t really need to be 30 min Faster in a 200Km journey. I think I’ll consider the expert version that’s about 10kg in weight…. Seems like an ok weight for long adventures

      • Tiago Oliveira says:

        Oh just one more question… do you ever had any problems with carbon frames? A lot of people are telling me to go with aluminium or titatnium alloys instead of carbon but the weight penalty is a lot! what are your thoughts on that? Also if you ever come to Portugal I will be more than happy to help you out in anything you need!

      • laelwilcox says:

        The only real problem I’ve had with carbon frames is from abrasion– when mud get caked on my wheels it can rub down the frame material. I can also lose layers from the velcro of my bike packing bags rubbing it (now I tape up my bikes to protect them). Otherwise, I love carbon! I’ve also cracked both aluminum and steel frames in the past, but this was after years of rough riding. I’ve never ridden titanium, but it’s definitely supposed to be the strongest.

  24. Louis says:

    Hi Lael!

    I have a question regarding the classic 1x vs. 2x debate.

    I was been bitten by the gravel/adventure riding bug last year, and more recently have become interested in gravel racing. Due to the pricey nature of bikes, the bike I use for gravel racing would also be used for just about everything else; living in Grand Rapids, MI, that means a biking about 15 mi through suburban areas and paved trails to reach the real gravel roads. So general recreation for me would probably involve ~60:40 road to gravel (100% road if I’m traveling between cities, or if I’m too lazy to venture out).

    I am currently riding a Cannondale Topstone 105 Aluminum gravel bike with the stock 2x sub-compact FSA 46/30T chainrings, and have had no problems; however, I do wonder if a 1x setup would be something to look into. 1x seems like it would be fantastic for gravel racing, but would it suit me for all the road riding I do too? Is 2x also perfectly viable for a do-it-all + racing bike?

    Sorry for the big info dump! Of course this is all craziness, and I should actually try it all out for myself, but outside advice always seems to help quell the analysis paralysis. Thank you so much for all of the info and great stories; they’ve re-invigorated my love for cycling, and continue to be a huge inspiration!

    • laelwilcox says:

      Hi Louis! Thanks for writing. I definitely prefer 1x systems as they’re simpler both to maintain and to use. I love the feeling. I change the chain ring depending on the riding I’m doing. Generally for gravel, I run a 40T chainring and an 11-46t (mountain) cassette and run anywhere from 28T-36T chain rings for mountain biking depending on how technical or steep the trails are. A 2x is definitely a viable option for gravel and I have friends who prefer it. They both work— it’s all about preference. I love the 1x!

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