Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gravel Worlds '16: The Long Slog Northward

Hills, Wind, but low humidity and temperatures, which made it all tolerable.
Leaving Roca I decided to hit out before my riding mates, Tony, Martin, and the others in our little loosely knit band. I figured I could set my pace while those guys would likely reel me in and pass me handily. So, off I went up the paved road out of Roca Eastward. When it came time to get back to gravel, it was right into the headwind. But you know what? I didn't think it was a thing, I just plugged along. Sure enough, within about five or six miles, Tony went by on a climb and I set to just doing my best.

Somewhere in the stretch to the next checkpoint at mile 75.2, I was by myself and then I found myself going back and forth with a women who finally faded behind me for a bit. Then on a down hill into a little valley, I heard a startling sound. It had been fairly peaceful, with just the noises of gravel on my Sparwoods and the wind, but then this sound! I thought it was peacocks. They sound like girls screaming, you know. But then I heard actual words in this cacophony, and I realized it was a few women who were excited to have come across each other out on the course. Wow! Well, now that I knew what that was, I just got back to grinding. Sometimes you forget there are a lot of other people riding not far from you.

As I was plugging along, I found I had come to the end of a cue sheet, and I had to swap over to the next. I was checking on a place to do this, because it takes a lot of my focus off the road and that isn't good on hills or in bad gravel and sand. So I ended up having to stop to swap the sheets quickly. When I did, I didn't see a checkpoint marked. What I didn't know was that the blank line on my page that I was looking at was where my printer decided to print white on white, so I didn't know if that was a cue I was missing or what. I wasn't worried about missing a turn, because I could see multiple tire tracks and sight riders up the road most of the time. But.......where the heck is the next checkpoint?!! 

At the Reinkordt Farm checkpoint. Mrs. Reinkordt is by the hayrack with the black t-shirt on. Her pickles are famous!
 I ended up tracking down Tony and I asked him where the next checkpoint was on the cues and he allayed my fears. So it was closer than I thought, and that was good. The Sun was out full force now and it was warm. But I was still on my schedule of nutrition and water uptake, so things were working and despite aching legs, a mind that was wanting to go to sleep, and wind, I was doing okay.

The Reinkordt Farm has been a standard on the Gravel Worlds course off and on since the beginning. I love stopping here and I was glad it was a checkpoint for 2016. I have always left a bit more enriched than when I first rolled in whenever I've been there. This time was no different. Since it isn't a blog-safe story, if you ever see me, ask me about the Spanish foreign exchange student's take on the American Slang concerning the wind. It's a hoot of a story. Really. Mr. Reinkordt, if you ever read this, know that my friend Tony and I have been laughing on and off about that story ever since!

It's a gravel grindin' bike, don't cha know?
An ancient "gas pipe" tubed Schwinn converted into a single speedin' gravel mutt! We don't need no stinkin' carbon!
The Black Beard Micro-Pirate says, "Onward ye scalawags! To Malcom!
Leaving the Reinkordt Farm was a good time. I felt refreshed after a Lime soda which had me wide awake, and I was feeling great. Ten miles or so to Malcom, and I knew the road there well enough, having ridden it a few times. I was on fire in a good way, and my riding showed it. This was arguably the best section during Gravel Worlds for me.

The Malcom General Store was an optional stop this year, but as we were all getting tired as the afternoon wore on, we kind of all made the move to park for a bit and take our ease. I decided to not buy anything here, and looking back on that decision, I probably would have gone in given a second chance. It was an issue with falling asleep and getting mentally dull that was going to rear its ugly head again, but I didn't think that was possible after staying on my scheduled nutrition plan and just having had the best ten mile stretch of the ride so far.

Malcom was buzzing with riders and afterward I heard not a few who had taken sustenance at the barbecue place there and they all had declared it good eating.  I don't know. Another year and I may have eaten something, but after the GTDRI debacle with eating and stomach shutdown I was loathe to get off my nutritional bandwagon, and that meant staying out of convenience/general stores with lots of things to get me sidetracked. So, I just sat on the green grassy bank opposite the general store and drank water and ate my own vittles.

Martin photobombing my Malcom General Store pic. That yella bellied scalawag!
The Black Beard Micro-Pirate says, "Get ye up ya lazies! There's a wind a blowin' no good and ye have ta gets ye to Valpraiso! "

So, we cruised on out of Malcom heading North and then there was a brief respite out of the wind to the East. The hills were beastly and the wind was picking up steam. The hill climbs were actually better than the down hills. At least you were sheltered from the blasting Northwest wind. I don't know what it was, but in here I was getting the worst of the wind. I don't think it was my imagination either, but again, I was getting tired and nodding off more as the miles wore on.

There was the Branched Oak Farm oasis stop which allowed me to regroup a bit, but I was definitely suffering like a dog about this time. It wasn't fun at all through this stretch of Gravel Worlds. I wasn't very talkative, and I think Tony could see I was fading a bit. I resolved to see triple digits on my computer though, so after a bit, we slipped out and made our way to Valpraiso. I would regard my ride with more scrutiny then, but not until then.

Dark times for me at the Branched Oak Farm oasis. Even the Black Beard Micro-Pirate didn't come out to hang with me!
After peeling out of that farm I had the darkest time of all with regard to my day's riding. I was just slower. I was getting really hungry, and I even had to break schedule to eat a half an hour earlier than I should have just to stave off a bonk. I had water a plenty. In fact, I had to stop to take a nature break. Tony was faster than I and was long gone up the road. I was alone and maybe for good this time.

I looked at my cue sheets a little closer. The better to distract my mind from my screaming legs and the incessant hills of doom. These dang hills! Then I saw it. A little mountain icon right on the cue line I was on course at. Dang it! No wonder I am suffering worse than ever now. This is a bad hilly section! No wonder I was working so darn hard. I was determined to go at a sustainable pace, and that was a bit slower than I had been going. I was okay, but I was going to need to see that convenience store in Valpraiso soon!

I was coming up a very steep hill when I noticed a bunch of riders gathered off on the left side around a pick-up truck. Hmm.... Maybe more "course cruisers"? Tony and I had noted a few cars that seemed to be following along as we went, with certain riders seemingly "visiting" said vehicles at times. Ahem! Well, it isn't my race to run, so I'll just leave it at that, but after a bit I noted that this wasn't one of those deals. It was a "trail angel" and her kids with some cold drink dispensing for any and all. I decided to stop, then fought the impulse, and I was undecided. Then I saw a familiar blue frame and a figure coming into focus. Tony! He was waiting for me! Wow!

Tony looked me straight in the eye and asked, "How ya feelin'?" I replied, "I feel fine, I'm just slow. I had to stop for a nature break...." Tony was relieved, and gave a hearty "Good! Good! Glad to hear that!", in reply.

I knew from that minute we were  finishing this thing.

The scene in Valpraiso.
There was no coke in the trail angel's truck, she'd just been wiped out by the previous horde. I grabbed some beef jerky and left with Tony. Suddenly the hills were less, the wind was dying, and we were rolling up into triple digits on the Gravel Worlds course. Valpraiso was just up the road and the headwind section had been conquered. Now to finish this thing off. No matter how long it took, it was going to happen now.

The Black Beard Micro-Pirate said, "Drink ye deep, me hearties! The home stretch be all that's left and then to Paradise!"
Next: It Ain't Over Till It's Over.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Gravel Worlds '16: The Mushy Road To Roca

The Moon, just past full, hangs fat over the start area for Gravel Worlds
4:00am, Room 1208, Holiday Inn, Downtown Lincoln- 

The alarm sounds and Tony springs into action. I follow along somewhat less rapidly. Tony is a fireman by trade and he showed it by being ready for action. We got ourselves kitted up and then we were downstairs for the complimentary rider breakfast buffet. A spinach and bacon omelet, some fried potatoes, and a bit more bacon, (of course), was the fare for my morning. Then it was time to load up the bikes and get over to the Fallbrook area where the start was to be held again, just like it was last year.

The start in the dark concept was something we did for Trans Iowa years ago. I usually am running the event, not riding in it, when all the start line blinky lights are blazing, so these Gravel Worlds starts are an opportunity to see what it is like from "the other side of the fence", as it were. One thing remained the same as when I am running the event, I was not wasting any time getting there. Tony and I arrived so early to the parking lots we beat most of the volunteers to the area. We had time on our hands for sure.

The flag on the local YMCA was standing straight out and it was a bit chilly, almost Fall-like. We marveled at the air temperature, having been used to sweat inducing humidity for the better part of the last three months. The wind? Tony and I had ridden in so much wind this year, we weren't all that concerned with that part of the weather.

Tony and I have some time to reflect before we line up to do battle with 145 miles of Nebraskan gravel.
We sheltered out of the wind by some retail buildings just across from where we would be starting. The same blue Ford F-150, it looked to be a late 70's or early 80's vintage truck, which we started behind last year, was waiting in the dark. It wasn't long before we heard a voice over the loudspeaker that it was time to assemble for the "rider meeting".

As riders slowly filed in behind the pick-up truck, we were seeing many faces both new and familiar. Kevin Fox, who was volunteering this year, stepped up to Tony and I to encourage us and take a start line image for us. He had given me his phone number the night before, just in case I needed to.......well, you know. Kevin said in no uncertain terms I wasn't to consider using his number, but I had it. All in good fun, but there was an element of seriousness there that we both understood to mean that I was going to finish.

Tony McGrane and I. Image by Kevin Fox
I remember one time a couple of guys at Trans Iowa gave me a ribbing about my "Words of Fatherly Advice" before the start of Trans Iowas. They said I sounded like a parent sending their kids off to school. When Craig Schmidt got the mic and spoke to us at the start of this Gravel Worlds I got that vibe. It's a race director thing, I suppose, and maybe it is cliche', but we really do care about the riders. So much so it ties our guts up in knots and makes us fret about ten years worth in the period of a few days. Yeah....I felt for Craig. He was seen wandering around in the start area, a look of concern overshadowing his countenance. But like he said, it was all out of his hands by that point and on us riders to do the right thing.

Anyway, the truck rumbled to life and pulled away. We were off. I overheard one rider say, "What? No cannon, no horns?" Yeah..... This is Gravel Worlds, but it still has that unpretentious, down to earth feel that the Pirate Cycling League has been known for all these years. This ain't no roadie circus, that's for sure!

The start was like any other for me. A pavement roll out, lots of people passing me, and some nervous jockeying for positions. I saw a weird image. A light so low that at first I thought someone was down, but it was a LED headlight that had fallen off. It was lying in the middle of the street and pointing up the road. A silent beacon showing us the way out of town.

Gravel was finally contacted by tires and when they did, the easy rolling feel of pavement was soon forgotten. Riders were diving, juking, and searching for the best lines in the dark to avoid the mushiest parts of the road. I could feel it. It was as if I was dragging a cinder block in some places compared to the pavement. I thought that this might be a really tough day if these roads do not improve. But that thought was fleeting. I had a bike to power up hills and keep from washing out from underneath me. Riders went by or I passed a few, but the dark hour was marked by little else than my keeping a solid pace and not burning too many matches this early in the day.

On our way to meet the Crack of Dawn.
Slowly things start to come into clearer view.
The ride had started and Tony had jetted up the road on me, which I was okay with. I was prepared, (I thought), to go the distance no matter who was along for the ride. Typically you end up in a rotating group of riders and you have time to chat with most of them along the way. Right now though it was just riding along, after the few "hellos" I got just after we started from faster folks like Steve Fuller, Josh Lederman, Jim Cummings, and a few others that shouted out as the sped by me.

The course headed North, into the wind, at first for about five miles or so, and I didn't think the wind was all that awful, but combined with the soft roads, it was a chore. Then we got a reprieve from the wind, at least while we headed East several miles, and watched the Sun rise. It was spectacular and the day looked to be a wonderful one despite the wind. I ran across Corey Godfrey, one of the "Pirates" of the "League", and to whom we sang a hearty "Happy Birthday" to just before we rolled out. He was riding with Matt Wills, another of the Pirates, and we had a nice chat before our paces separated us again. Meanwhile, the route took us to a little town called Greenwood, and then a long slog South where there was a Casey's convenience store at a little town called Eagle. I had run across Tony here, as he was stopped, and I stopped as well to top off on fluids. We were 32 miles into the route, and I hadn't even looked at my cue sheets yet!

The Sun rose to reveal the mushy gravel and mud we were fighting against in the early morning hours.
The stop at the Casey's was where I noticed riders I would be around the rest of the day.

In five miles I had to pull in to the first checkpoint at Schmidty's Farm.  I planned on a quick in and out, but there was an animated, life sized pirate there that I decided to get my photograph with. Why not? If I couldn't have fun, it wasn't worth the agony. I also picked up a little "mojo" in the form of the "Black Beard Micro-Pirate", which you'll see later on in the report.

Wait! Is this Davey Jone's Locker? Image taken by a kind woman at the Schmidty Farm checkpoint.
With that little distraction out of the way, the roads went further South, through Bennet, and then zig-zagged their way on down to and over Eastward to lead us into Roca.

Ahh......Roca!! It's where I had to bail out of last year's Gravel Worlds. I saw Pell Duval there, and he made mention of that day last year at this bar. I was reminded that I couldn't even speak, I was so gassed and burnt up by the heat and humidity. Pell said about my inability to speak then, "Well, that was fine with us, since we probably didn't want to hear what you would have said." Yep. He was right about that. I would have spewed some negativity, most likely, and they didn't need that last year.

We got more water here, and I ate some of my food I packed along. I will get all into that later, what the nutrition plan was, but at this point, I popped out my "flattened bananas" and shared a bit with Tony and Martin. Meanwhile, country music spilled out from some unseen speakers while we sauntered around the outdoor seating area of the bar. Country music? Well, I should say "Real, Authentic Country Music". Stuff by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and older Willie Nelson stuff. Not this cotton candy country music that they play today. Bah! Well......anyway...... Roca was as far as we were going South. Now it was time to start into the hard part of Gravel Worlds. The long slog North into that head wind.

Black Beard Micro-Pirate says, "Eat yer stinky banana and get ye headed Northwards to Malcom and points beyond! Arrgh! 
Next: The Long Slog Northward

Monday, August 22, 2016

Gravel Worlds '16: The Family Reunion

Ready to roll on Friday before Gravel Worlds
Gravel Worlds. It used to be called the Good Life Gravel Adventure. My old cohort in Trans Iowa did it in 2008 and highly recommended that I come down for it in 2009. It was put on by a loose knit group of friends who had dubbed themselves the Pirate Cycling League. I got myself signed on for the 2009 version and since I knew a few of the "pirates" I got accommodations in the "D Street Hotel", the home that housed a few of the said pirates and had served as the nerve center of gravel grinding in Lincoln for years. (Amongst other things that D Street served as!)

I tried a single speed, and in August, with all the heat, humidity, and hills, I got fried and after a 100 miles or so, I was toast. 2010 found the event turning into "Gravel Worlds". I went back with another single speed, and the scene repeated itself. The following year I tried my Gen I Fargo, but I was thwarted once again. The heat, humidity, and hills. A deadly combination to me.

So, I didn't go back again for many years. Then last year I tried it again. I took the Raleigh Tamland and once again, the heat, hills, and humidity got me, just as in the years before. This year came around and, oh......what the heck. I signed on for another try.

So, why would I do that? After several failures in conditions that are not conducive to my doing well, why would I sign up again? I'll tell you the main reason why- the family reunion. Family reunion? Yes. The people that show up to this deal and the people that put it on are all very special folks to me. So, I only get to see many of them once a year, and that is why I go to Lincoln, even if the odds are tilted against me for finishing this event.

The view from the room
There was good news though. This year the cold front coming from Canada was to arrive Friday, the day before Gravel Worlds. Despite forecasts of gusting winds, this meant that the temperatures would be far lower, and the humidity would be far lower than any other year I've ridden down there. The hills? Well, they were still there. Just as they ever have been. Not a whole lot you can do about that part.

Tony picked me up Friday and the trip down was fairly uneventful. We checked in to our room, and then it began to rain. We went on down to Cycle Works for the sign in and met all these great folks, and some new ones, that make this event so special to me. We actually stayed so long the staff at Cycle Works began shutting off the lights to get us to move along. It was such a great gathering of riders and folk I know that I miss the rest of the year, I didn't want any of it to stop. But, like all good things, eventually they come to an end.

Afterward, we left with MG in tow to a Mexican restaurant for a belly full of great food and then we took MG back to his place. We headed back to the motel and settled in for a (hopefully) good night of sleep and a 4:00am wake up call. Tony and I were in good spirits and we had a good feeling about the next day.

In fact, I had been so upbeat and positive about my fortunes I was almost shocked at my own behavior. I was not worried in the least about the wind, or what the roads might be like due to Friday's heavy rains. I was not worried about my nutrition, or my bike, or anything else. I was as cool as a cucumber. Weird. This wasn't how I was normally acting before an event, but this time wasn't normal. However; the night had been awesome no matter what happened the next day.

Next: The Mushy Road To Roca

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Minus Ten Review- 33

This header died ten years ago this week.
Ten years ago on the blog here I woke up one day and stumbled down the hardwood steps like I have a million times since I've lived here and sat down in front of the PC. When I fired it up, I was stunned.

There was a new look to the Guitar Ted Productions blog!

If you remember that header, you've been reading this blog a long, long time, and you re one of very few people who have been reading that long! Stat counters were a thing for bloggers back in the day, and some even displayed how many folks had visited each day on a little window counter in the right margin so you could see how popular a blog was, or was not, in many cases. Stats are still a thing, but most are hidden "behind the curtains" now on the blogger's "dashboard". I remember checking stats back in those days and getting real excited if I topped out at 300 views a day. 500 was a rare day here back then. Big time, mark with a gold star stuff.

The new header ten years ago this week.

So, if you remember this old header, I thank you for being one of those few folks that stopped by here back then. Oh! I suppose I should finish the story of just why it was I was surprised by the change in look here back then. That's all Jeff's fault. Just like I blame him for hooking me up on a blog in the first place.

You see, back in the day, if you went behind the curtain on your blog and tinkered with the look of things, you had to know HTML code. I had zero idea what that even was back then, and I am only mildly familiar with it these days. However; Jeff Kerkove had gone to college for graphic design, and they taught him all that crazy stuff. So, being that he was the instigator of all things digital in my life, he had the "keys" to the kingdom when it came to the inner workings of my template. So, he mentioned something one day when he stopped by at work about maybe there should be a new look soon for this site. I thought it was an okay idea, but I never knew he'd just do it and pull the trigger. 

That header lasted until a year ago now when I finally decided to switch things up again.  Thanks again, Jeff!!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday News And Views

Somewhere near Lincoln Nebraska in 2015 during Gravel Worlds
Gravel Worlds:

Today will be travel day to Gravel Worlds in Lincoln Nebraska. This is always a fun get together with people I have gotten to know through doing gravel events over the past decade plus. I enjoy getting back together with these people and getting to know new folks as well.

The weather. Yeah..... It is always the talk going in to any of the big gravel gigs. This time of the year in Nebraska is generally brutally hot and humid. Gosh.......I've been toasted so many times down there, it is amazing I have gone back again, but like I say, it's the people. Anyway... This year we're hitting the weather jackpot, in a manner of speaking. Sure, there will be a massive, long, hill ridden stretch in to a Northwest wind, but that temperature! A high of 72°?!! Are you kidding me? I've started at Gravel Worlds in warmer temps at 6:00am than that!

So, yeah.. The pressure to finish this thing is on big time now. The weather will, for all intents and purposes, be perfect, for this time of year. I just have to keep fueled up, keep hydrated, and pedal, pedal, pedal..... I have a new strategy for fueling that should help with the gut issues, so I'll have a report on how that goes and everything else that goes down coming up Monday.

I think the Geezer Ride will take in this road again.
Geezer Ride:

The second Geezer Ride of 2016 will take place again September 17th, 2016 out of Cedar Falls, I am thinking at this point. The Geezer Ride is already getting some attention from locals here and two guys I have spoken with about this are complete rookies to gravel riding. This is what I like about this ride, and it is the whole intention of it. To get new folks out in the country.

But even more than this, I feel that the Geezer Ride is just a great way to enjoy cycling as it was meant to be. Casual, fun, and with a small element of challenges and adventure thrown in. Getting off the couch and moving. However slow that is, at least it is moving time. I always tell folks that we go as slow as the slowest rider, so this is definitely NOT a competition.

Geezer Rides are also pretty easy, easy as I can make them! That said, the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area I use for the Geezer Ride is typically pretty flat. I know how I can string together a pretty pleasant route, and we'll do 40-ish miles and it may take 5-6 hours with stops, but it will be totally doable. I also typically throw in an after the ride meeting spot for beverages and story telling. So, if this all sounds like fun to you, stay tuned to the link above and I will be posting details after Gravel Worlds when I have a chance to start riding my proposed course.

Riding Gravel Radio Ranch, Stickers, And More:

If you haven't heard, I am part of a podcast. That's tech-speak for a downloadable audio track and in this specific case, you get to listen to myself and my partner, Ben Welnak, gab about all sorts of crazy stuff. Sometimes we have guests too, which is always fun. Anyway, check out the latest one here. It's Episode 16, and Ben and I go on about the ills of the cycling industry and more, including some love for Gravel Worlds.

The next podcast we do should be about your "Average Joe" gravel cyclist, and we have a potential guest lined up. We will talk about the gravel scene, what the perception of some hot topics are from the viewpoint of an "average cyclist", and we will discuss what beer we would have if we were at a bar post gravel riding. It should be fun. Stay tuned for that one......

Since I'll be at Gravel Worlds, I will have some Riding Gravel stickers along They look like the logo shown right here on this post. If you see me and want one or three, say hello and just ask me for some. I'd be glad to share the sticker booty. Arrgh! Plus, I'll be scoping out the scene down there and I may pop up a Periscope broadcast or take some pics of cool people. Maybe even get an interview, who knows. Stay tuned for anything worth sharing which I will try to disseminate via Facebook on the Riding Gravel page or on Twitter.

Okay, so that's a wrap on today's post. Have a great weekend! Stay safe and get out and ride!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

When It Has Been Decided For You

Making it obsolete is makin' my job harder.
Okay, I'll forewarn y'all- This is a rant. Okay? So, here we go.....

The bicycle industry keeps trying to make itself money, which is what it is supposed to do. It is the "how they do it" of it all that perplexes this old mechanic. You know, heaven forbid we all use the same bolt circle diameter on crank sets, as an example. Or worse yet- I hate it when a company invents a BCD only to abandon it in 5-6 years. Combine that with how many parts are OEM for brands only and never supported in the retail market place. NEVER!

It is just plain stupid, frustrating, and it ends up making people less likely to buy into your XYZ company's latest stupid gambit to be different. Or....and more likely, it has to do with a way to find a way around a patent. Thanks for nothing you "intellectual property nerds" in all those corporate law firms. Do we really need to lock people out of BCD patterns for chain rings? Really?

So, the absolute worst offender by far is SRAM. Probably it is due in a large way to two things. One- They cater to brands that spec their parts by offering the lowest price. They can do this by manufacturing near to, or right next door to the Asian factories that make bicycles. The thought of actually making these bits for support down the road, ya know.....for people that actually want to maintain their bicycles? Yeah, that is not even a concern of SRAM's. How do I know?

I tried getting a 42T, 120BCD chain ring for a mountain double as spec'ed on a Salsa Fargo in 2014. Nope! Not even the SRAM rep had even heard of the part! Road chain rings used to be like finding hen's teeth for SRAM road cranks, but there seems to be a meager supply of some of these now days.

Secondly, it surely has something to do with Shimano having locked up patents on every detail of the minutest piece of a bicycle. Ever wonder where all this 1X stuff being pushed by SRAM is coming from? Just look at front derailleurs, which Shimano has and they work beautifully. SRAM cannot make one anywhere close to a Shimano one because the patents Shimano has disallow competition from SRAM in that area. Front derailleurs are not bad, patent lawyers are. Well, not for Shimano anyway......

And don't think Shimano is a whole lot better. They tend to run parts to maintain bikes down the road, but they change stuff so often, and delete SKU's so often, that it is hard to figure out the revolving door. And you may as well source your Shimano stuff from the Chain Reaction/Wiggle UK on-line vendors because they are almost always cheaper than the industry suppliers and distributors.

So, as a mechanic, what should be an easy chain ring swap becomes a multi-day ordeal of tracking down parts and trying to recreate a set up sold in 2014 that can be maintained into the future. It is a damn hard task when so much has been decided for you in advance that the thing is almost obsolete in two freakin'  years.

That's just unacceptable.

Rant mode off.........

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Salsa Cycles Demo: Quick Impressions

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Okay, I'm going to hit on some of the bikes I rode Monday at the Salsa Cycles demo held by Europa Cycle & Ski. These are merely impressions from short loops through flat, twisty, buff single track which George Wyth State Park is known for. I may also include comments overheard by others at the demo as well.

Overall: My first impression upon seeing the bikes was, "That's a LOT of carbon fiber!" Salsa Cycles, which had zero carbon fiber in its line up just four years ago now has a ton of it. What was once the "metal brand", with titanium, steel, and aluminum bikes, has become the "carbon fiber" brand, for better or worse. Yes- Salsa still has a few steel bikes, (Vaya, Marrakesh, and Fargo), but the titanium is all gone, and even the aluminum bikes are few in number compared to all the carbon fiber frames and forks the brand has now.

My other impression? "Holy cow! We've got a ton of wheel sizes to choose from now!" That needs no further elucidation.

NY Roll getting set up to test out a Pony Rustler. Yes, those are sandals. Damn Hippy!
 Pony Rustler: While this isn't a new rig for Salsa in 2017, it was by far the most pointed at when you asked "what was your favorite bike to ride today?" The PR has those fat 27.5+ wheels and the Split Pivot suspension. Many folks were amazed at how it wiped out all traces of bumps on the trail. I rode one and here are my thoughts:

The PR is a like a fish out of water here at George Wyth. It really needed rocks, ledges, drop ins, and some speedy down hills to bring out its personality. That said, the thing about full suspension bikes, and I get this from years of reviewing them at my former Twenty Nine Inches gig, is that you really need a couple of rides- good long rides- to really dial the thing in before you can say much about the platform with any gravity to your statements. I had my bike set up to spec by the capable Justin of Salsa Cycles, with proper sag, et cetera, but that was a set up for gnarly terrain. Not what George Wyth has. I felt the bike had potential, and probably would be a great rig, but in all seriousness, I just cannot say anything more than that.

Cutthroat: I was super fortunate that the only Cutthroat there was in my size. I set it up and took it for a fast paced spin of about 15-20 minutes. This bike uses the VRS Class 5 rear stay set up like the Warbird, only beefed up a bit. It is a bike meant to carry a load with frame bags and do off road touring, but it is finding its way into the gravel bike world as well. Note: Carbon Cutthroat is basically what the Ti Fargo was. I wouldn't ever expect Salsa Cycles would ever bring that model back, despite the adamant calls from Salsa that this isn't a "Carbon Fargo" and titanium has been hinted at as maybe coming back. I say no way. This is a Carbon Fargo which, for all intents and purposes is the replacement bike for the Ti Fargo. One ride told me that.
The Cutthroat I rode. A very nice, lightweight "Carbon Fargo".

It's very light, for sure. Especially if you were to spec nice wheels. It's a very responsive bike to pedal input, like a road carbon frame might feel like. And the rear end? Yes, there is a definite feeling of give at times, but as I say, this demo was over mostly buff dirt. A good gravel stomping may reveal other things. The geometry is great. I could use this bike here easily as my "everything bike". Single track, gravel, road commuting. Even the Firestarter fork felt somewhat compliant. I would take a serious look at this bike for long gravel racing or riding. I really, really liked this bike.

Nits: I got the rear end to steer a little differently than the front was going once. It was distinct, and felt like a very flexy wheel. I suspect it was induced by the Schwalbe Thunderburt climbing up a bit of "U" shaped rut in the back while I was trying to steer in the opposite direction. It reminded me of how full suspension 29"ers used to feel in the rear six or seven years ago. I likely wouldn't notice this after riding it more, but it jumped out at me on this test ride. Might be the wheel twisting a bit, or the frame flexing oddly, or.......likely both. Other than this, I really liked this bike with one major reservation- it is carbon fiber. Try riding it on an adventure in Tama County clay a few times, or in like situations at Odin's Revenge where I had so much mud stuck on the tires it ground the Fargo to a dead stop. Gritty mud grinding on carbon chain stays doesn't sound like my idea of "keeping the bike around a long time". Your mileage may vary. Maybe I'm being too cautious, but this is one argument for a titanium or steel bike that isn't going to go away easily. Other than that, this is the bike I would have come home with.

Ahh! More carbon fiber! The Woodsmoke in repose.

Woodsmoke: Probably the oddest bike Salsa has made since that tri-bike/time trial bike they had called the "El Go-Go" back 15 years ago or so. (Really. Check that out sometime)

This is the bike Salsa is making a big deal about, and the radical looking hard tail is definitely an eye catcher. does it ride? I wasn't sure I would be able to speak to this well, since there was no size large to demo, and only this XL was anywhere close to my size. I gave it a go anyway......

I'll tell you one thing, and this has been a perennial issue with Salsa Cycles hard tail mountain bikes and myself, but the sizing of their hard tails and me seem off somehow or another. I had little stand over on this rig, but the reach was dead nuts.  I cannot imagine riding a Large after riding this one with stock stem installed. I likely would need a longer stem on a large, and that kind of defeats the purpose of the "new geometry" for hard tails. Weird..... Even my similarly sized friend thought the same thing, so it isn't just me, I guess.

Out on the trail, the bike spun up far easier than I expected, but it wasn't that "snap", that instant power forward feeling that the Cutthroat had.  It kind of had a wind up to it. Like a flexible metal frame might have. Weird. Something was flexing.

Elevated chain stay bikes have a history going waaaaay back to the 1980's. If you research them, you will find that almost all of the designs, and there were many, had a similar characteristic- flexy bottom brackets. The Woodsmoke has a "half an elevated chain stay" design, and on powering down with the left leg, I could get the rear wheel to almost touch", but not quite, the left chain stay. So, there was the culprit for the "wind up" that I was feeling. No big deal, but it is there. My friend that rode it afterward saw the same thing, and another taller rider actually got the stay to scrape off some mud from the tire that was stuck to it. Is it a flexy wheel? Hmm..... Could be. Something was making the wheel go left though, and not right in the same manner. That's all I can say.

Other than that, the bike was a hoot to ride and easily the best 29+ experience I've had to date. I'm not a solid 29+ kind of guy, but I could ride this bike. It was not as fun as say, the Borealis Echo I rode with 29+ wheels, but it was close. Pops wheelies if you barely try, and is rather fun on twisty single track. BIG triangle for frame bags. Could be a cool bikepacking rig.

Stock image courtesy of Salsa Cycles of a Timberjack
Timberjack: I was super bummed but there was nothing I could ride in a Timberjack frame. My smaller sized friends there could though and they both gave the bike a big thumbs up saying things like it was really fun and a playful, easy to wheelie machine.

To my mind, this bike is the sleeper in the line up. It retails for $1500.00 in the 27.5+ set up and 1G in 29"er guise. It has modern trail geometry, and should be fun to ride for years. is aluminum. Big deal. I guess that doesn't bother me when you think about how this bike is to be used.

I like that it uses typical double diamond frame design. Elevated chain stays, even "half elevated chain stays", have not passed the test of time. Maybe I could take a chance, but Woodsmokes are very expensive to get in to, and they won't do anything "better" than this format, unless you are splitting hairs. 27.5+ wheels are faster to spin up, and unless you are Yeti sized, I think they make a smarter choice, especially for folks under 6 foot tall. That's why I was so hoping to try a Timberjack, but that will have to wait till later. Maybe I'll run across one later this Fall.......

Stock image for the Rival Carbon Warbird courtesy of Salsa Cycles
Carbon Warbird: I got to ride the Rival equipped Carbon Warbird around. It was maybe one size smaller than I should have, but it felt really close to "right". Anyway....

I have ridden the aluminum Warbird enough to know that the VRS Class 5 system works. The carbon version is supposed to be better. It probably is, but again, I couldn't really say with any authority based upon the trails we rode. It did have awesome snap and acceleration like the Cutthroat. I thought it felt really good and racy.

The deal with the Warbirds now is that the tire clearances are what they should have always been from the beginning, but they are not a super versatile rig. No rack mounts. no good way to single speed it in the field, and is carbon fiber. (See concerns I voiced above in the Cutthroat take.) But if I rode a lot of pavement and wanted a legit gravel road going capable bike, I would ride this bike all over. There really is nothing wanting in its intended design and purpose. Maybe if they could figure out a way to reduce front end vibrations a bit more, ala Trek's Domane, but other than that, this is a solid choice for fast or competitive gravel road riding.

Muluk Carbon, image courtesy of Salsa Cycles.
Mukluk Carbon X1: I rode the Matte Army Green Mukluk Carbon x1 at the demo and this was to test whether or not there was enough of a "gee-whiz" factor over my Blackborow DS to make me want to save my pennies for this new model. Thankfully for my meager bank account balance, it will be safe from having to sacrifice itself for this rig.

Not because it isn't great. It is. I just don't see any big benefits to going to a carbon frame set, at least not for me. I would much rather get into some fine, lighter weight wheels, and maybe those might have carbon rims. But the new carbon Mukluk feels much like the Blackborow.  I think the cavernous frame opening is a big deal for those who need the space. If it came down to that need, I would pop for this carbon version. I just don't need that much space.

Conclusions: The Woodsmoke has me unconvinced. The Timberjack is a question yet to be answered, and the Pony Rustler, while awesome, is not something I'd get a lot of use out of here. So, as I stated above, the Cutthroat would be the bike I would bring home. It has single track manners that are awesome. It is very fast. It is lightweight compared to any Fargo. It could be a gravel rider's dream. It can handle a massive frame bag. I like it a lot, but I could never take it anywhere I felt it would be messy and wet. Mentally I just cannot go there with carbon fiber because I have seen and heard about chain stays getting ground through and I just cannot abide by that.

But that's me. You maybe do not have those concerns. Otherwise, the Cutthroat is a great rig. I'd love to be able to have one for awhile.