Saturday, December 03, 2016

Minus Ten Review- 48

Some of the first T.I.v3 cards we received during that Trans Iowa's registration
Ten years ago on the blog the talk was about Trans Iowa v3.The registration had been announced and we were starting to receive our very first Trans Iowa post card entries. That's right.....our very first Trans Iowa post cards. 

You see, Trans Iowa did online registration for the first two versions. Then we regressed! We decided to make it even more simple, and we also decided that we were going to be a free to enter event. The insurance costs, which is what the entry fee used to cover,was becoming just too much for our minds to charge riders. Besides, post cards were, and are, more fun to get. So, that is what we did and 2006 marked the first Trans Iowa post card entry receptions.

We went backward and never looked ahead! Trans Iowa seemed to spawn other "post card" entry events after this. Even now, when I see things like the Almanzo 100, I grin because post card entry action was pretty much instigated by Trans Iowa. At least in the gravel grinder category. Some events used to use post cards, but ended up going to online registrations, which is cool, but Trans Iowa will never do online registration again.

Someday I'll have to display my favorites, but after 13 versions, it gets hard to choose!

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday News And Views

Which color would you get?
Anniversary Time And A Jersey Announcement:

An anniversary was reached yesterday for me. Two years have passed now since I aligned with Ben Welnak and Well, at least officially. We had been collaborating on certain things before that, but the melding of the old Gravel Grinder News with was not announced until December 1st, 2014.

Now we have often spoken with each other, Ben and I, about doing a jersey for Riding Gravel. I figured as long as I was riding in events I should be repping the company, ya know? So, it went from a casually mentioned thing to full on project status recently. I am happy to report that now it is actually going to happen, and I will have a "team" jersey for the events I ride in next year. The only question remaining now is what color I will be wearing.

By the way, it is possible to get one of these or yourself, and there will be an opportunity to do just that, to be announced later. Stay tuned for that. However; for now, if you would actually order one of these, you need to help choose which colorway we will go with. Hit me up in the comments here, or click that link and take the survey and let me know. Once a color has been chosen, finer details on how to order one for yourself will be released here and elsewhere on the RG site and social media.

Whichever color gets chosen is good with me, but I do have a personal favorite, which I will talk about after a color has been chosen. Stay tuned for that and the finer details on the process of getting these out to be announced soon. Oh, and thanks for taking the time to weigh in on this.

Global Fat Bike Day is tomorrow
Global Fat Bike Day:

Saturday is the so-called "Global Fat Bike Day". Hmm...... I may or may not participate. It just so happens that this always falls on the opening day of shotgun season for deer hunting. Not a good day to be traipsing about the woods out in the country, and probably not a good day to ride the gravel roads. You never know where those slugs are flying.

That leaves running around in the Green Belt as my best option here. Meh. I'm not really all that excited about riding a fat bike just because it is a certain day.  Maybe I will, but maybe I'll do something else.

In fact, I think I should be taking care of Trans Iowa recon. That first section needs to be looked at. Yes...... I may have to deal with hunting, but hopefully the "Truck With No Name" won't be mistaken for a deer as much as a cyclist would be. Besides, it is supposed to snow next week and when the roads get snowed in I may as well wait till Spring, and I'd rather not have to do that.

Then again, I may not do either. We will see. Global or not, I'm sure a throng will be riding locally, at the State level, and nationally here and there. Hopefully they all have a good time.

Spotted Horse Is On:

In my "Planning Ahead" post on Wednesday I mentioned one of the events I was interested in was the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra. I mentioned that this was an iffy commitment, not in small part due to the fact that I knew at the time that it may not even be held again.

Well, lo and behold, yesterday I see that the date for 2017 was announced, so it is actually being planned to occur again in October of 2017. Pencil in the 7th for this long, arduous 200 miler.

So, I have that on as a solid commitment this time. I mentioned that I had signed up for it this year but the Fargo Reunion Ride happened and I had to go do that. I am very glad that I did, but I also really want to give the Spotted Horse a go, so seeing that they committed to doing it again, I am going to commit to going to do it. There's another chance to fly the colors that I mentioned above!

All right folks, that's a wrap for this week. If you go do the Global Fat Bike thing, have fun and stay safe! Otherwise, get out there and don't get shot by a deer hunter!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Slow Rollin'

Serenity on Marky-Mark
Another Wednesday, another bike ride. This time it was the Blackborow DS and I actually managed to get all of the Green Belt done. It was a slow rollin' affair though. I wasn't speeding through because it was wet and mucky, and I didn't bring my rain pants, or a fender.

So going slower was the order of the day, and I managed to keep pretty clean until the very end when I biffed trying to cross that ditch. Oh well!

I had fun and even met a fellow fat biker along the way. It was a colder ride, with temperatures in the mid to upper 30's for the entire ride. Precipitation was copious and in about every form one could imagine, mostly of the frozen types. At one point I am pretty sure I was walloped on the back of the hand by a chunk of slush. Maybe that fell off a tree as I went underneath it, or maybe it was flung down from the heavens, I don't know which.

The constant precipitation was making the trails constantly more wet, more mucky, and muddy. It never got real sloppy, but there was plenty of standing water and tacky dirt to just outright mud on the single track. I'm okay with that. I had time and a steady fat burn of a ride is just what the doctor ordered after Thanksgiving weekend.

Moss on the bridge.
Black Hawk creek on a dreary, rainy last day of November 2016.
There was a fat bike ride the night before on these trails. Seems as though it will be a weekly thing for a little while until they get their trails sorted over across town after the flooding this past Fall. I don't mind the extra traffic, but I did notice one thing that kind of irritated me and a thing I also find quite ironic. That would be the "lensing" of the trail wherever there was standing water. This is an old term used to describe what happens when riders tend to avoid water on the trail by riding around the puddles, causing a "lens" or widening of the tread.

Original trail directly behind my bike, the bandit line is to the left here.
  I chose this example above since it dramatically shows what I mean, but typically this is a much more subtle deal. In fact, in the example above, I don't mind the bandit line as it actually adds to the trail feature and isn't a textbook "lensing" of the trail, per se', but there are a lot of places out there where this has popped up now since the trail is getting a lot of usage during this wet period.

Anyway, what a lot of younger off roaders do not understand is that the tread, or the single track line, is actually a harder bottom than where you ride around the water puddles. Riding around the puddles erodes more land, detracts from the aesthetic appeal of the trail when things dry up, and actually ends up getting you more dirty than if you just rode straight through the water. But the biggest deal to me is that it widens out the tread and the single track becomes "not single track" every where there is water.

Keep Single Track Single Please!

Bridge Troll
 The ironic thing is that these folks supposedly were doing a fat bike ride and were avoiding doing "fat biking". I mean, it is why you got the thing, isn't it? To go through the mud, water, sand, snow, and rocks? It isn't a road bike, fer cryin' out loud! A little water on the trail is not to be avoided, it is to be celebrated and ridden through. Heck, if you are that afraid of getting you and your bike wet, slow down, take it easy, and grin all the way through. If that doesn't work, why are you even riding off road? 

Well, whatever. I am not going to be afraid to do a little swampin' out in the Green Belt, and I will be doing my part to Keep The Single Track Single. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Planning Ahead

So where will I be riding in 2017? Image by W. Kilburg
With one month to go in 2016 I am starting to piece together a plan for 2017 rides. This will be a bit of a different look than in years past due to my business with, whose livery I will be sporting for 2017. (More on that later this December, hopefully.)

First off, I've been asked about fat bike racing and I am not going to enter any of those. They (mostly) are like XC mountain bike racing, which I also don't care for myself. It just doesn't do anything for me to do a circuit race. That's not interesting at all to me, but for those of  you who dig it, by all means..... Go for it. I'd rather do big mileage events that keep me engaged over a full day of riding that allows me to immerse myself in a place. Yes.....there are fat bike races like this. But I am not doing any fat bike racing this year, so there. Maybe next Winter.

So, that leaves gravel racing, and I am pretty sure my first solid commitment in 2017 is to doing the Renegade Gents Race on the first weekend in April. I may find something earlier than this, but I will play that by ear. I'm keeping options open there. No......not CIRREM. That is filled up already, and I have done that race once as well.

Then comes a period where I will be pretty tied up being a supporter or running an event or two. Trans Iowa v13, of course, and probably a Geezer Ride which will fulfill the director side. Then I will also be supporting at Almanzo 100 and at the Dirty Kanza 200.That takes me up to June.

June will hopefully be focused upon doing Odin's Revenge again. I had to bail on Odin's last Summer due to a family gathering I couldn't miss. So, this time I am hoping to be able to make it out there again. It is one event I really would like to complete. So that will be high on my agenda for sure.  This year really helped with figuring out a lot for my hot weather riding plan. Since Odin's is usually a pretty blazing hot deal, that should go a long way in helping me conquer this crazy event.

GTDRI time is usually in July
July will bring another Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational. I will have to decide upon a venue for this one, but I have had my eye on a certain section of the country for a while that I'd like to check out.

I probably won't do 150 miles, but I'll plan on 100 plus miles for sure. Wherever I decide to do the ride will eventually be the biggest factor in figuring out how far we'll ride that day. I'm not locked in to one certain place, I just have an idea. That could change, so stay tuned.

August is Gravel Worlds. I probably will go do this again. Either in a supportive role or as a rider, I haven't decided yet. But one way or the other, I feel this will be a solid for the schedule next year. After that, I am leaving things wide open. I have penciled in the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra, but that event isn't a done deal for '17, and that is a long way off.

The rest is open for discussion. I am keeping Fall pretty open for anything. Otherwise, this is my plan going into 2017. Feel free to convince me to try something else out there in terms of gravel events. I'm all ears, but if it is during Spring, I probably will be too busy already.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pro "Un-Road" Racing: Old Is New Again

Man vs Nature: DK200 2015- Is this what Pro Road Racing should be?
The gravel racing genre has been what I have lived and breathed now for more than a decade. I often get asked why folks have tend to gravitate toward this sort of bicycling. I can think of a lot of reasons that it has been a growing genre of cycling. Many things are exciting about this type of riding. But what is it exactly?

Why has gravel racing become so popular?  I think if we look at the obvious, the biggest reason it has become the fastest growing form of bicycle racing is that it pits "man" against "nature" in a way that is exciting, attractive, and touches our innermost visceral core. Here is why......

I can pretty much sum it all up with one name: Roubaix. Of course, I refer to the seminal classic of Spring that road racers take on in Northern France. Oft called "The Hell of the North", Paris-Roubaix's name is the most often copied or referred to moniker for gravel road racing in the USA. Consider that "Barry-Roubaix" is the most popular gravel road event in North America. Or consider that there are at least 15 other gravel road based events in North America that currently use the word "roubaix" in their name. That's not even counting events that refer to the classic Euro event in their race descriptions or other race names that emulate the event without using "roubaix". Why? Why is it that this European clasic road event is so revered and emulated?

Grit, determination, fortitude against all odds. That's what we want to see. Image by Jason Boucher.
 Well, think about Paris-Roubaix and what image that immediately conjures up. Likely it is one of a mud covered face on a road bike traveling over cruel stones. We are drawn to such displays of the human spirit overcoming Nature's worst and the primitive roads and slots cut through the countryside. All those "sanitized" road races that happen the rest of the year seem somewhat less in comparison.

In fact, I believe that this is one reason why cyclo-cross has become such a popular sport. You all know that the cyclo-cross races we still talk about, the best ones, are contested in truly awful conditions. No one recalls that sunny day in dry weather when the grass was green and everyone was as clean at the start as they were at the end. Ho hum.......

Not many years ago, Pro Road racing took to the gravel again, if only in small bites, in an event called the Strade Bianche. It became an instant hit. With the sagging popularity of road racing in North America and in Europe, an event that strikes a cord like the Strade Bianche raises some eyebrows. So seeing that and working on revitalizing a declining event, organizers of Schaal Sels, an event in Belgium, went to the dirt. (Read about it all here) The event, once on the verge of anonymity, has become the shining example of a revitalized race and interest in dirt and gravel racing seems to be on the rise in Europe as well. Again, it seems that the primal attraction to dicing it up on dodgy roads is the main appeal.

“You don’t know what’s going to hit you next — but to be honest you can’t wait because it’s exciting and it’s just plain fun,” Dan Craven (Cycling Academy)- from an Instagram post after the 2016 event. (Via Velo News online story here. )
I think this is what riders want to ride and what we as spectators of the world's greatest cyclists would want to see. Riders riding in Paris-Roubaix type events more often. Events that have dirt, gravel, stones, or what ever types of road ways we can ride on. That's what the US gravel/back roads scene is all about. The crazier the conditions, the better, it seems. 

 At any rate, it would seem that the Pro Road scene is finally picking up on what it left behind those many decades ago. It is rediscovering what made cycling great to begin with. Even Ghent-Wevelgem is getting in on the action.  It sure isn't what we have gotten lately that is making people take notice. We have gotten team cars, totally pampered and prepped Pro Road racers, over-blown budgets, and doping in the last three decades. What really gets us to take notice?

A muddy Paris-Roubaix, some white gravel sections in one Italian based event, an obscure Belgian race that has taken its course out to the farm roads, and Froome running down a mountain road. That's about the extent of the highlights. 

When all we have to talk about is Peter Sagan riding wheelies and how he wears his hair, there is a big problem. We need dirt, dust, grit, and grime pitted against steely eyed riders on two wheels who are self supported and maybe a good ol' rain storm thrown in for good measure. That would make for some drama. That would be inspirational. I mean, how many bunch sprints or mountain top finishes do we have to endure? Everything else is fodder for the dust bin. 

That's why we ride these gravel events. It is an adventure, it makes us stretch ourselves, and sometimes parts and bodies don't hold up. But that's all part of the fun. Just like the quote from the Velo News story above. We cannot wait to see what's next because it is exciting and fun. 

I think it is high time we saw some fun and excitement like that in Pro Road Racing, but who knows......Maybe we'll see that happen. But...... I ain't holding my breath, I'll tell ya that much.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Bikes Of 2016: Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross"

Yes..........that bike again!
The time of year has come that I will be reviewing the bikes I used the most throughout 2016 and why. The ups, downs, changes, and more will be discussed.

I know.......that bike again! But I really do use it a lot, and of course, I really like it a lot. The Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross frame and fork is Mike Varley's best selling bike.  Well, that's what I read on his site, at any rate. That's fairly surprising when you think about a cantilever brake standard, quick release type frame in 2016. It seems like a throwback frame and fork.

But apparently there are enough folks digging the ride that when Mike comes out with a new batch, sizes in the most popular range sell out lickety-split. In fact, he is even taking pre-orders on frames now. So, it isn't just me. It is a lot of folks that have found out these bikes really are a do-it-all solution for cycling. In my mind, "do-it-all" is "all-road/gravel". That's the sole reason I bought this frame and fork. While it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it does what it does so darn well that you begin to accept its flaws as part of its personality.

Look, you folks see this bike constantly here on this blog and I have written tons of posts on it specifically and alluding to it as well. I'm sure that if you are a long time reader here, you get the song and dance. But I want you to know that if anything happened to this bike, heaven forbid, I would seek to replace it straight away. I bought this first gen one sight unseen, and it has turned out to be an invaluable tool for adventure ever since. Besides my first gen Fargo, this has to be one of my most ridden bikes these days. In fact, I have almost bought a second one several times, but as yet, I have not done that.

The BMC "Orange Crush" rig and I were out on an adventure with my friend Tony earlier this Summer.
One of the reasons I have held back from getting another BMC Monster Cross is that Mike has said he is working on a disc brake version of this bike. I have invested heavily into disc brakes for these types of bikes, and almost everything I own that is gravel/backroad/adventure bike category stuff is based around disc brakes. That said, I think cantilever brakes are just fine, and Mike has tweaked out the Monster Cross with a few geometry changes and a newer fork that I find rather tasty. It's tough not to want another Monster Cross here, but when you have as many bicycles as I do now, you have to be really picky. The whole deal would be a lot easier if I could just wear out my first BMC Monster Cross, but try as I might, I just have not been able to do that yet. I'll keep trying though!

One final thought before I stop here. I have ridden this bike more this year because my Winter shoulder injury has made riding some of my other bikes rather painful affairs. The BMC is less likely to cause issues with my shoulder, and I think the reason why is the ride quality of the frame and fork. That fork is especially active and smooths out the road tremendously. I cannot vouch for the updated fork, but you'd be hard pressed to find a nicer riding steel frame and fork than my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Country Views: Turkey Burn Ride

I used to always hang with a few mountain biking friends and go up to Camp Ingawanis for a Turkey Burn ride after Thanksgiving. Many times it would end up being the last ride of the entire year! Usually I would not be able to ride single track due to it being covered in snow. Back in those days commercially available, complete fat bikes were not a thing yet, and gravel riding on icy gravel wasn't advisable. Boy! have things changed in the last five years!

Barren fields and dun colored ditches greeted me South of town.
Now there are no riders gathering for that Turkey Burn mtb ride, and the weather of late for this time of year has been snow-free. Fat bikes are a common place thing, and groomed fat bike trails adorn the Green Belt just a few measly blocks from my home. Cycling all year long is not only possible, but many do just that now.

Even at 3:00pm the shadows are long during this time of year in Iowa.
So, it wasn't until Saturday that I actually got out to ride. I was busy house cleaning and rearranging my workshop Friday all day long. A long overdue project, I might add! That said, I made great headway in getting organized and cleaned up. I still have a long way to go, but progress there feels good.

So, it wasn't until Saturday that the ride actually happened, but after lunch I got away for a while to see how things were out in the country.

With the fair weather we've had, farmers have many fields readied and waiting for Spring planting already. 
The barn at the corner of Griffith Road and Aker Road off in the distance.
The wind was out of the South so I left Waterloo and headed out Southwards to get the headwind portion of my ride over with first. It was sunny and in the low 50's, which is outstanding weather for this time of year. A little headwind wasn't going to ruin my attitude since a late November ride in sunshine is a rare treat. The roads were in pretty variable shape. There would be smooth, almost hard pack sections for a few miles then parts which were "normal" and then a few miles of deep, fresh chunky gravel.

I went down to a point I figured I could turn around at and still get home with plenty of time to beat the Sun going down. I had the wind at my back now, lights just in case, and a wind jacket packed away just in case the temperatures started to fall quickly.

Thankful for the great weather, my health, and an understanding family!
Well, I made it home well before the Sun set, but I realized then that I had left my keys at home, and my wife and kids had gone with a friend to catch a movie. Whoops! I sent a text explaining my predicament to my wife with the addition that I was willing to wait till they got home to be let in. How ever many hours that would be! Well, I guess I must have the best wife ever.

She borrowed the friend's car and came back to let me in!

I better not push my luck and forget my keys ever again though!