Sunday, January 20, 2019

Measuring motorcycle chain wear

According to my service records, I installed a new Regina 520 Z-Ring chain on my WR250R in March 2017 at 21,000 km. My odometer now reads about 38,000km on the same chain. In that distance I've completed many muddy backwoods rides, long highway rides, and a 7,500km ride down the Continental Divide--all with a loaded bike.

Nevertheless, after 17,000 kms, this chain hardly shows any wear other than some cosmetic polishing. It has no stiff links, and there's a consistent mild resistance when bending the chain (as in a new chain), indicating that the Z-ring seals are all still good. Here's the outside after cleaning with mineral spirits:

And here's the inside (left) and outside (right).

My maintenance ritual has been a daily brushing with a nylon motorcycle chain brush ($10 online) to remove trail grit, then spraying with a paraffin-based chain lube while the chain is still warm from riding. The paraffin builds a tenacious Cosmoline-like layer on the chain that repels water-blasting even in heavy rain. This routine has rewarded me with no significant wear of chain or rear sprocket (a Dirt Tricks sprocket--awesome quality), although I've had to replace several front sprockets which is to be expected. Previously I used Dirt Tricks front sprockets, but when I was not able to get a replacement in time, I thought I'd try Renthal sprockets at half the price, and was pleased to see a good 8,000+ km out of one before it needed replacing. I'll probably stick with the Renthal counter sprockets from now on, as they are cheaper and more easily available, and I don't see a significant wear or running advantage over Dirt Tricks.

Dirt Tricks has a great guide to measure your chain wear. I didn't want to disconnect my master link, so I measured 50 spaces between pins and got exactly 31.25", which is exactly half of the 62.5" you should measure for 100 spaces on a brand new 520 (5/8" pitch) chain.

I was surprised by the lack of chain wear and at this rate will likely get another good season out of it before it needs replacement.

Continental Divide ride 2018 - Part 6

Part 5

Although we were awkwardly jammed together in a rental car with all our motorcycle gear, the relative comfort and lack of wind noise was a welcome respite from regular 10+ hour days of dust in the saddle. The sprawling vistas of sage and pine scrolled past, accompanied by the soundtrack of our various playlists in rotation on the stereo. We didn't talk much; just listened to tunes and took in the scenery.

Our route beelined for Jackson Hole via Yellowstone on Interstate highway and paved secondary roads, saving our intended dirt and backroads route for when/if we were able to repair Jeff's clutch and resume our journey on 2 wheels.

This is mountain stream country, with clear, sparkling water in every valley and many opportunities for camping.

Finding a campsite was sometimes a challenge, as the area is popular for fishing. Some  locations were full, but a little persistence paid off. We found it's sometimes not obvious where a particularly beautiful campsite would be, so a little exploring was needed.

Most of these campsites are self-serve and on the honor system, meaning you stake out a site, then go self-register and deposit your cash in an envelope at the entrance. Fees ranged from around $7-21 per site depending on location and amenities. At the above site, just south of the small town of Ennis (the only stop for supplies in the area), it was the first time we actually met the rangers who did the rounds from site to site to collect camp fees. They informed us we are only allowed two tents per site, but after telling them our sob-story about a broken motorcycle, one person per tent, and the indignity of having to travel by rental car, the kindly rangers laughed, gave us a wink, and said no problem: we could all use the one site without issue. Thanks for the break!

It's worth pointing out the brilliance of the US Forest Service toilets at these campsites. Considering the extensive use they get, we were impressed by how clean, non-smelly, and functional they were--with very few exceptions. Parks Canada could learn a thing or two from the design, as it's vastly superior to the pit toilets I've used across Canada. The solid concrete design with steel door could also serve as an emergency refuge from aggressive bears.

En route to Yellowstone, we passed through Earthquake Lake, the site of a massive landslide in the middle of a summer night in 1950s, where half a mountain slid down and killed unsuspecting campers below, dammed a river, and rapidly formed a lake in the now blocked-off valley.

The visitor's centre and memorial, located on top of the rubble of the slide, is well worth a stop. You can still see the dead trunks of trees submerged by the rising waters of the lake below.

Soon after, we reached the western entrance to Yellowstone, where we discovered a Taqueria School Bus with delicious, low-cost Mexican food.

Finally, we could use our National Park passes that we'd bought at Glacier--bypassing the long line-up at the park entrance. However, after only about 30 seconds in Yellowstone proper, we hit the end of a massive traffic jam with no where to turn around; it was dense scrub on either side of the narrow two-lane road, and no turn-outs. Apparently, eager tourists a few kilometers ahead had spotted a bison, causing the entire line of vehicles to grind to a halt. After about 2 hours of slowly inching ahead, we had pretty much given up on our plans to visit the park and had started looking for a safe spot to U-turn. Coincidentally, at that moment the traffic finally started moving. It would've been agony sitting through this on a motorbike; by car is was barely tolerable.

Now the views opened up for us, revealing the splendor and marvels of Yellowstone's volcanic environment.

Continuing on the loop road through the park, we stopped at many of the fumaroles and other volcanic features along the way. Although some of these sites were moderately crowded, it was easy to stop, explore, and learn something interesting about this remarkable landscape.

Lots of wildlife casually chilling among the crowds: no problems spotting three of the larger mammals within the space of a few hours. Although these shots seem close, rest assured that I was in a safe location and using a telephoto lens!

The shore of Yellowstone Lake presented some stunning mineralized colors of its boiling acid pools. Not recommended for swimming.

No visit to Yellowstone is complete without a stop at Old Faithful, which erupts about every 45-60 minutes. The landscape of bleachers surrounding the main event suggested enormous crowds could be possible, but as we had arrived late in the day and seem to have just missed the last eruption, there was just a handful of people wandering around. After waiting patiently for the better part of an hour, we were finally rewarded by an eruption, which started all of a sudden with a soft hissing sound before rising up a hundred feet or so in gentle plume of "shhhhhhh" in the afternoon light. Worth the wait.

Onwards to Jackson Hole, as the sun set over the Grand Tetons to our right.

The town of Jackson was a complete tourist trap, aimed at wealthy skiers and wannabe ranchers with big, clean pickup trucks and pressed jeans. Not the kind of place where we fit in or wanted to be, except to pick up Jeff's clutch parts. Accommodations were scarce and unaffordable, but we lucked out by finding the retro Virginian Motel on the south side of town by the highway. It looked like a relic of the 50s and 60s, complete with overdone western decor. However, we lucked out and got a large room that served our purpose--and allowed each of us to enjoy a bed for a change.

The next day, while waiting for Jeff's shipment to arrive, we checked out the nearby elk preserve, a historic site where one of the first wildlife conservation efforts was undertaken in the US. A old homestead on the site offered free tours and insights about the conservation efforts.

With Jeff's new clutch parts finally in our hands, our mission to Jackson was complete and we headed straight back to Butte, MT for a third time, now via a different route through Idaho. Fortunately our bikes were still there at the Hampton Inn, and a few hours later, Jeff's clutch was back to new.

Comparing the old and new friction plates, it was now obvious that replacement was the only option, That silver ring on the left is supposed to have cork on it; it was completely ground down to bare aluminum. 

With Jeff's bike now running like a champ again, the next day we loaded up, returned the rental car, and headed out to resume our two-wheeled journey, taking the interstate to make up some time and skirt our original route down Fuckery Hill which had gotten us into this mess in the first place. For the first time in a while, the sky was gray with rain. Looming storm clouds and gusty winds chased us off the Interstate towards a historic stagecoach trail where we picked up our original route.  

Here the road became slippery with wet, slick mud and ruts from prior storms and vehicles passing through. But it felt great to ride again. Ahead of us lay even more remote regions as we continued to follow the Continental Divide south, dodging storm cells and snacking on jerky and corn nuts. Soon we would pass over the Grand Tetons from the west, crossing the route south through Yellowstone that we had taken just days before.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

How to get started in mountain biking

First of all, don't be intimidated by action shots of pros riding $12,000 bikes. There's plenty to enjoy and gain from mountain biking as a newbie, without spending insane amounts of money. In this post, I'll cover some basics learned from my own 30 years of mountain biking to help you get on the path of a thrilling and rewarding activity.

What is mountain biking?
Put simply, it's riding bicycles on predominantly natural-surface trails such as rutted dual track, tight single track, desert slick rock, and snowy winter tracks. Generally speaking, the steepness of a trail determines what kind of bike is most suitable. Long, technical descents with drop-offs and jumps is where beefy downhill bikes with long-travel suspension can make the difference between riding and walking. When you need to pedal uphill on relatively smooth trails over long distances, a flyweight cross-country bike is the best tool for the job. If your trails are covered in deep sand or snow, a fat bike with wide, low-pressure tires can make cycling not only possible, but fun. In between are countless variations of bike designs, riding styles, and trail types to optimize different aspects of the sport and cater to different riding interests.

For the purposes of this post, I'll focus on what's called "cross country" or "XC" mountain biking, as it's the least extreme of the variations and therefore a great entry point to build basic skills, fitness, and confidence, without entailing intimidating equipment and costs. I include fat biking on snow in the XC category, because the challenges are similar (perhaps even easier) and it's a fantastic way to get into mountain biking if you're stuck somewhere with long, snowy winters.

Why ride?
Swooping along a single-track trail, under your own power, is exhilarating. Over time, you build fitness and dexterity, enabling you to flow over and around obstacles like rocks, logs, puddles, etc. without hesitation, adding to the thrill. Tight trails magnify the impression of speed and allow a lot of fun to be condensed into a small area. The whole experience is tremendously liberating for your mind and body. The technical aspects force you to focus on the immediate here and now, pushing all the other daily stresses from your mind.

Mountain biking is also a highly social activity. In the North-East, popular trail networks like Valley Bras du Nord or Kingdom Trails can attract hundreds or even thousands of riders in a weekend, yet are extensive enough that groups of friends can ride and talk together without congestion. Popular riding areas often cater to mountain bikers with good accommodations, bike shops, post-ride food and beer, too.

What kind of bike do you need?
If you plan to ride mainly in the summer, look for a "cross country" or "trail" mountain bike. These designs do not need to withstand the forces of punishing, steep terrain, and therefore can be built at a lower cost. For instance, while front and rear suspension is desirable as it allows you to tackle rougher terrain, a hardtail design (no rear suspension) may suffice on smoother trails and eliminates significant weight, complexity, and cost.

Wheels size is another major variable in today's mountain bikes. Generally speaking, the larger the wheel diameter, the easier and faster it rolls over obstacles like roots and gravel. However, smaller diameter wheels are inherently stronger and more maneuverable. Consequently, modern cross-country and trail bikes tend to use 29" wheels, whereas bikes for downhill or extreme terrain typically use 27.5" wheels. If you're tall or over about 5'6", I recommend looking for a "29er" as its traction and ability to smooth out trail bumps can help you build confidence quickly. However, for riders under 5'6", it's harder to make a smaller bike with 29" wheels that handles well. As a result, some of the smaller bikes adopt 27.5" wheels to achieve both fit and handling. The original mountain bike wheel size, 26", is best avoided today. Most of the industry has long since moved on to 27.5" and 29" wheels, so you will likely face problems getting parts for an older bike with 26" wheels.

Many bike manufacturers offer designs specific to fit women, who generally have shorter torsos (and therefore reach) than men of a given height. Usually the key differences are reflected in the frame geometry, which is fundamental to fit. You can fine-tune fit by adjusting seat height and position, and  swapping out components such as the bar stem and handlebar to change their lengths, but major changes to these variables may detract from the bike's handling. This is why it's important to choose the right frame size as a starting point. A good bike shop can help you identify your frame size.

Frame materials for modern mountain bikes are mainly aluminum, carbon fibre, or a combination of the two. Aluminum is a proven, mature material in the bike industry. Excellent value can be achieved by selecting a bike with an aluminum frame, so that more of the cost can go towards better (more durable, lighter) components on the bike. Carbon fibre offers lighter weight, vibration damping, and highly tunable performance but at much higher cost.

When you're just starting out, a second-hand bike can make an excellent choice to learn what you like       to ride without breaking the bank. Mountain bikers tend to be gear weenies, with many upgrading their rides every 3-4 years (or sooner) to take advantage of the latest advancements in components and fashions. Unless they've completely thrashed their bike (uncommon with XC or Trail bikes; common with downhill bikes), you can often find a great deal that only needs a tune up and perhaps some common parts that are easily replaced (e.g. chain, cassette, brake pads, fork seals) to make the bike ride like new. Late summer is also a great time to buy a new bike, as shops are often trying to clear out their seasonal inventory.

To find a bike, start with a reputable bike shop and scour the classified postings on your local Facebook groups for mountain bikers. Anywhere there's a local chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) or a managed trail network will almost certainly have a vibrant market of good, used bikes and parts. Asking around can turn up some great deals.

Other recommended equipment

  • Helmet. Many managed trail networks require riders to wear helmets for insurance and liability reasons. There are great helmet options available that don't look overly dorky and weigh hardly anything. Large vents are recommended, as is a "peak" to help shield your eyes from the sun, branches, bugs, and grit. If you're building skills, you're going to come off your bike--it's when, not if. And you'll probably find yourself upside down on rocks. A helmet will save your head. 
  • Gloves. Full-finger gloves protect your hands when you bail, improve grip when you sweat, and reduce the effects of vibration.
  • Riding shorts. Baggies give you freedom of movement, protect you from branches and in a wipeout, and act as a friction-reducing "slip" layer when worn over conventional (chamois butt-padded) riding shorts. 
  • Riding shoes. Mountain biking shoes come in two main flavors: flat, grippy rubber soles to be used with flat pedals, and treaded soles with cleats for clip-in pedals. Both versions incorporate fairly rigid sole plates which improves pedal efficiency and control while reducing fatigue. For this reason alone, riding shoes are highly recommended. Whether you choose cleated or uncleated pedals is personal choice. If you're not sure, I recommend starting with uncleated shoes and flat pedals, as it makes it easy to start and stop, and it forces you to develop good balance and technique from the outset. Cleated pedals that force you to clip in allow you to deliver more power to the wheel, but require practice to learn how to clip and unclip smoothly and quickly to avoid getting caught in your bike.
  • Sunglasses. At minimum, a pair of clear lenses is essential to prevent grit and branches from getting in your eyes. Different colored lenses (e.g. yellow, pink) can improve contrast and visibility of trails in low-light conditions. 
  • Hydration pack. This isn't essential, but is so handy I rarely ride without one. Use it to store snacks, water, tire repair kit, and tools. 
  • Tire repair kit. The simplest tire repair kit consists of a replacement inner tube of the correct size, one or two tire levers (the Park Tools blue levers are excellent), and a set of peel-and-stick patches (Park Tools makes a nice version), and a compact, high-volume bicycle pump. Note that bicycle air valves come in Schraeder style (same as used for car tires) and the slimmer Presta style. Inexpensive/old bikes are more likely to use Schraeder. Most riders now use Presta. Be sure to check which version you have, because your pump needs to fit it. 
  • Tools. Park Tools makes an inexpensive but excellent fold-out set of hex wrenches that is constantly handy to have. There are more elaborate tools out there, but in my experience, 95% of the time I can get by with only the 4, 5, and 6mm hex wrenches (and sometimes an 8mm).
  • Floor pump. This is one of those items that may first seem like a luxury, but is quickly proven to be valuable when swapping tires, etc. Get one with a pressure gauge so you can see what the optimal pressure is for your weight, tires, and style of riding.
  • Armour pads. There are many options for soft knee and elbow pads to take the sting out of wipeouts. Some of the soft options that use materials like D30 for impact protection are lightweight and comfortable to wear. I don't wear armour when mountain biking but lots of people do, so don't feel self-conscious.
Fat biking
Fat biking started out as a winter sport in Alaska and other northern regions. The large, low-pressure tires (typically ranging from 4-5" wide--similar to a motorcycle rear tire!--and 3-10 psi) make it possible to ride almost effortlessly on loose snow and sand with remarkable traction and control, where other bikes would simply bog down or be too hard to pedal. 

Fat bikes are inherently simple machines: most have no suspension whatsoever and rely solely on the cushy tires to absorb the bumps. Fat bikes with suspension forks remain a minority, and full suspension bikes are still exotic, rare, and expensive. I ride a fully rigid, full carbon fat bike that I built myself from the hubs up. I wanted a lightweight bike, and at the generally lower speeds I attain in the snow, sacrificing some additional control (and undesired complexity) of a suspension fork was a reasonable tradeoff. 

Fat biking has gained popularity in the summer as well. Personally, I'd rather ride my 29er in the summer because it's lighter and much (3-4x) faster. But if I could have only one bike, I'd consider a hard-tail fat bike because it can be ridden year-round. If you haven't tried fat biking, I highly recommend it, as it's a whole new sport and an absolute blast. Check if your local bike shop rents fat bikes so you can give it a try. 

Tradeoffs in selecting a bike
Time for a rant: Bike prices have become astronomical in the past few years. I have a real problem with this, because with few exceptions, there has been very little fundamental innovation in the industry to justify the price increases. Most of the innovations have been essentially cosmetic, e.g. changing the size of components or their geometry for marketing reasons, but not changing the underlying science or technology in any profound way. Wheels still use wire spokes, hubs are still aluminum, chains are still made the same way, tires are still rubber, bearings are bearings. The trend towards carbon fibre is welcome because of the substantial performance improvements, but the technology (the resins and carbon, mould-making, etc.) is largely lifted from other industries (like aerospace and automotive) and has become commoditized. All modern design shops use the same computer aided design tools for structural and aerodynamic analysis, and manufacturing is largely done by the same massive factories in Taiwan and China where economies of scale are unbeatable. 

Nevertheless, the cost of a top-tier bike today hovers around the $10-12k mark, whereas even 6 years ago it would've been around $6-7k. The top bike of today isn't twice the top bike of six years ago; it may ride a bit better, but the inherent costs are essentially the same. I feel like I'm getting ripped off for all that extra money. So the question is, how do you get most of the performance without spending most of the money?
  • Choose an entry-level bike. Today's entry level bike from a major brand is still an excellent bike, because components, standards and quality have generally trickled down from higher price points, albeit with some delay. $1000-1500 gets a pretty decent starter bike that should last a few years before you outgrow it. From there, a mid-tier bike ($1500-3500) will offer significant performance improvement (generally, better suspension and components) and lighter weight. From this point up, you're essentially paying to get more suspension (more adjustment, more travel), and lighter weight (better components). But unless you're fit and skilled, you are unlikely to benefit from the weight-savings that a more costly bike offers. 
  • Tires and wheels. These two factors account for a large part of how a bike feels and performs, yet it's often an area where manufacturers cut costs when putting a bike on the showroom floor.  First, the hubs may have poor designs for the bearings and free hub, resulting in premature wear (especially in wet conditions), poor serviceability, and poor adjustability. Second, the rims are likely to be excessively heavy. Strong, light rims are more expensive to make, but they are important because they reduce weight in a key area: a large, spinning part. Upgrading wheels--particularly to a version that allows for tubeless tires--can profoundly enhance your riding experience. 
  • Bearings. Hidden away in your headset, crank, hubs, and suspension pivot points are ball bearings that should allow for smooth, play-free movement. Small/inexpensive bearing tend to wear out quickly or cannot be adjusted well, resulting in a bike that just doesn't roll smoothly or turn precisely where you aim it. If you're looking at a used bike, have someone inspect the bearings, as they can require some effort (and cost) to service properly.
  • Suspension. Whether the front fork or rear shock, each component is designed to operate within a specific range of loaded weight (bike plus rider) and trail conditions (size, frequency of bumps). Designing and manufacturing suspension components that can adapt to a wide range of variables is more costly, so cheaper bikes tend to use parts that lack some adjustability. If you're unusually heavy, or riding particularly rough terrain, you will benefit from better-quality suspension components that can handle the higher demands. Tuning suspension to your set of requirements is a specialty science in itself, and best done with the input of someone who is experienced with it.
  • Seat. Bike seats are designed to fit different types of bums. If you're a woman or a larger guy, you may want a wider design to better support your pelvic bones. Try different saddles to see what works best for you. Being comfortable (or at least, not in pain) on a bike is key to enjoying the sport. Yes, it's entirely possible, but it will required some patience and experimentation even once you get past the initial discomfort of getting used to being on a bike.
  • Handle bars and grips. Cheaper bikes come with aluminum handle bars. A decent carbon fibre bars isn't expensive and can dramatically improve the handle and comfort of your ride. Same with bar grips. There's a wide variety of grip materials, shapes, and sizes to fit your mitts. 
Go riding!
Find a local riding group to ride with and learn the basics. Usually these groups are subdivided by level of experience and speed, allowing you to find a pace and challenge appropriate to your ability. Sometimes people swap bikes with each other, so you can try different gear for a few minutes. Don't be afraid to push yourself a little past your comfort zone. This is how you learn, and you may discover you're capable of much more than you thought after only a short time.   

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Continental Divide ride 2018: Part 5

Part 4

With Jeff's DR650 out of commission because of a fried clutch, and replacement parts arriving in Jackson, Wyoming in 4 days, we had to change our plans to make the most of our forced delay. Otherwise, we'd face the unwanted prospect of cutting our overall route short--and that would be a real disappointment, because the apex of our loop was far ahead at the high passes of the Rockies in Colorado.

After much debate, we agreed that renting a car and driving to Jackson via Yellowstone would be a decent consolation prize, with the bonus of having some time to visit the Butte mining museum before heading out of town. It was a sensible decision, and after several tiring days in the dust and heat,  the prospect of air conditioning, tunes, and not being patinated by sweat and grime seemed downright appealing as well as a bit of a culture shock.

Getting a rental car proved unexpectedly challenging, as there was a major festival in town and the only rental options were at the Butte airport. Pete and I took advantage of a Hampton Inn free shuttle to the airport (thanks again, Judy!), arriving to find that the terminal was both a remarkable work of architecture and completely deserted. No planes, no passengers. Nothing. Just one person staffing the car rental booth, and one other customer equally concerned about securing a car. We got the last vehicle available in town, and amazingly, it was an SUV that fit all our gear.

A nice display of minerals stoked our curiosity about visiting the Butte mining museum. 

With the car packed and our bikes parked at the Hampton Inn for the next few days, we headed off to look around town and geek out at the mining museum - a trip highlight for me.

First up was the visitor's centre overlooking the main mining site. Today, the ores are being actively mined through open-pit techniques, but scattered throughout the site are many remnants of the original mines, with prominent head frames that led down to thousands of miles of underground workings. Here is the head frame of the Badger copper mine, one of the oldest continuously operating mines in Butte (from 1883 to 1966), and which reached a depth of 4,169 feet.

Butte was very much a multi-cultural city during its heyday, attracting workers from all over the world. This overlook with flags of the different nationalities that worked the mines was constructed with core samples (the cylindrical features) drilled from the hard rock.

Tragedy lurked at every step though, with one of the most horrific accidents in mining history happening right here.

This engraved stone shows the depth of the workings where the fire occurred--at the 2600' level of the Granite Mountain shaft.

Letters recovered from some of the miners paint a moving picture of the unimaginable suffering, horror, and impending doom experienced by those trapped underground.

Although we didn't visit it, nearby is the Berkeley Pit, the remains of one of the main copper mining operations that left a 1,760' deep hole in the earth and an impending environmental disaster from the highly acidic water that's now filling the hole and threatening the regional aquifer. So much to see for another time!  

Next we went to the World Mining Museum, located at the site of the Orphan Girl mine, with much of the equipment and buildings left in place when mining operations ceased in 1970. The museum had a fantastic collection of old buildings and artifacts moved to the site, and is well worth a day-long visit. Although it's also possible to tour the underground workings, there were no tickets left on the day we were there. 

Unfortunately, none of the display buildings are open to visitors, but peering through the windows revealed some impressive glimpses of what life could be like for the different levels of society during the town's Victorian peak.

Butte hosted an impressive maze of ever-changing rail lines above and below ground to bring supplies to and remove ore from the various mines all jammed together on the Hill. Here's a map of some of the confusion:

Today some sections of track remain, with an early steam locomotive used to shunt ore cars parked on an old spur at the Orphan Girl.

More modern diesel-electric engines were parked further along:

Beside the spur was the remains of the old dry-house where an incinerator and boiler (located in the brick structure) made steam and hot water for weary miners to shower and dry their work clothes after a shift. The tracks above were used to feed scraps of wood from the extensive timbering operations (e.g. off-cuts from the timbers used to shore up the tunnels) located nearby, which also had the benefit of keeping the site clean of wood debris.

Here's the dry house in the distance, with the tracks from the timber shop. To the right is the head frame (not shown).

 And there it is: the Orphan Girl head frame, now and then. Up close, you could smell the old grease and ore dust.

Three shafts plunge 2700' straight down into the rock. On the right is the car that miners would descend in; the middle shows a similar car with an ore cart in place; the left shaft has a larger ore recovery system in place.

This is a nifty 3D representation of the ore veins and shafts of the Orphan Girl mine, showing the main shaft and various drifts at 100' depth intervals to access the vein and remove the ore by blasting it out from below.

It's hard to fully grasp the extent and complexity of underground operations of a typical mine here. The following models were built by insurance companies in the early 1900s to represent the different shafts and drifts of two mines as part of legal proceedings against the mine operators. Each "stick" is labeled and represents an individual shaft or drift cut into the rock like so many ant tunnels, with red areas representing the stopes or areas where ore has been removed.

When you multiply this example by the hundred-plus mines in the area, it's easy to see why there are thousands of kilometers of workings beneath Butte.

Each of those ant-traces was filthy, hot, wet, and dangerous in reality.

Here's a mechanized "mucker" which rode on rails and scooped up the blasted ore and waste rock for either removal to disused tunnels, or to above-ground processing or dumping sites.

Even the toilet traveled on rails! 

Each level of the mine had its own railway network and traffic control system to prevent collisions, as shown in this lighting board used to represent the location of ore trains on the 500-600' level.

Timbering thousands of kilometers of tunnels to prevent the rock from collapsing required forests of logs cut by automated saws into standard parts, using ingenious joinery that enabled the posts and beams to be assembled quickly and securely underground.

Of course, with so much rock being moved, massive power was required to winch the equipment and workers down, and ore up.

This was the main head frame winch:

And, if I recall correctly, this was one of the main air compressors used to power the mining drills. It was driven by a 150HP electric motor. Thousands of these compressors were built and sold by the Rand Drill Company.

Parked nearby was this unusual snowmobile, a design that never caught on and was superseded by  Bombardier's famous invention.

Finally, with our minds full of mining history, we left to fill our bellies with some delicious BBQ.

I couldn't help but feel a little envious of the bike packers at the restaurant who were passing along our route. 

But we would be back on our own two wheels soon enough. Meanwhile, we headed out on the road to Yellowstone!