Thursday, December 18, 2014

On The Radio

After almost 10 years of blogging, I have added a microphone to the battered G-Ted desk
The new Riding Gravel.com collaboration has me doing a podcast now. That is something I have been on a few times in regard to being a "guest host" for the Trans Iowa Radio thing, but now I am a co-host with Mountain Bike Radio's Ben Welnak. Our show, centered around gravel road riding, is called the Riding Gravel Radio Ranch.

Ben sent me a podcasting microphone that showed up just the day before yesterday. With all the hullabaloo surrounding the day in regards to my family affairs, I didn't even crack open the box until yesterday, just mere hours before we were to record, and my wife, the resident techy talent, was off to work. I wasn't going to be able to lean on her for assistance if something was beyond my abilities to understand.

No worries though, as my musical background and the good instructions had me up and goofing around with mic levels before you knew it. Then we got "on air", and for the next 2.5 hours we had a great time with our guest, Bobby Wintle of District Cycles talking about his background, his shop, and his idea dubbed #unlearnpavement. The show link is HERE for those who want to check it out. Be forewarned! It's a long show so maybe it might be best to listen in when you've got a couple hours to spare! That said, it's got a lot of great stuff in it. But I'm biased!

So, a big day yesterday as we got into the first "real" Riding Gravel Radio Ranch. Hopefully folks dig it and there will be a lot more to come. I have to say that it is a bit more enjoyable than blogging!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Salsa Cycles Anything Cage HD: A Review

NOTE: I was provided these samples of the Anything Cage HD by Salsa Cycles at no charge for review. I was not paid nor bribed for this post and all of the thoughts and comments are mine alone. 

The Anything Cage HD and what you get in the package.
 Salsa Cycles has been one of the only, (if not the only), company really pushing for riders to go beyond the "normal" limits of cycling. In that vein, they have not only made bicycles useful for these varied "out of the boundaries"  cycling pursuits, but they have tried their hand at various unusual ways to accessorize these bikes. One of those has been the "Anything Cage", which originally was meant to be mounted on the "Three Pack Bosses" of forks like those found on the Fargo, Mukluk, and now the Blackborow.

Background: Original Anything Cages were made from tubing and  had a reputation for being less than successful at staying in one piece for some folks. That was back in 2010. Since then Salsa Cycles has responded by introducing a redesigned Anything Cage which became available earlier this year. However; unbeknownst to us, they were working on a new design. A heavy duty version of the Anything Cage which has become public knowledge only just today. Dubbed the "Anything Cage HD", it is obviously quite different and I was forwarded a couple samples to try out about two weeks ago.

Technical Info: The Anything Cage HD is made from injection molded impact resistant nylon. It features a new shape but still does the old job of carrying your roundish shaped objects like water bottles, Nalgene jars, dry sacks, or what have you. Basically anything that will sit well on the cage and weighs 6.6lbs or less. The new Anything Cage HD still mounts to the Three Pack Bosses found on many Salsa Cycles forks or down tubes. Each cage comes with longer bolts, three washers, and two Salsa Cycles webbing straps to lash cargo to the Anything Cage HD. Each Anything Cage HD will cost $35.00USD and the two samples sent to me weighed in on the scale at 160 grams with hardware. For comparison, the original Anything Cage, which I own, weighs 100 grams.

An original Anything Cage (L) next to the new Anything Cage HD
The Anything Cage HD mounted to my Blackborow DS and loaded with a tent and dry bag
In Use: The mounting of the Anything Cage HD is straight forward if you own a Salsa Cycles product with the Three Pack Bosses. I followed the simple instructions and they went on easily. Now to mount up some suitable dummy loads and ride! I chose a Topeak By-Camper tent, which is a heavy-ish one man tent that comes in its own dry bag, and an Outdoor Research dry bag stuffed with various items such as extra warm clothing, tubes, an air pump, and on occasion, a flask with coffee and extra water bottles. The loads in the dry bag varied, but the tent stayed on during the entire review period. NOTE: It is important to lace the webbing straps as Salsa indicates in the instructions for the Anything Cage HD for proper load bearing and cinching up of those straps.

I used the Blackborow DS with two Anything Cage HD's on rides that varied from commutes to work to single track to some bushwhacking and beach rides. I cannot go on with this review without making mention of how well the Blackborow DS rides with two loaded Anything Cage HD's on board. That was a nice surprise. You'd almost think those wily Salsa engineers thought of that ahead of time, eh? (<==HA!)

Anyway, the dry bag side was unloaded almost everyday for the two week review period to reflect how one might use this in a bikepacking set up. I changed the load occasionally as well. As Salsa Cycles indicates, using "roundish" objects will work best, and my tent was a testament to that, never getting loose or hardly shifting around in the Anything Cage HD at all. The other side featured those "not so roundish" loads, and with a bit of care and a touch of extra attention, even those stayed put. I had to wrench on the straps pretty severely, but the Anything Cage HD stood up to the task and I felt that these racks performed flawlessly at carrying loads.

With the Anything Cage's past in mind, I tried everything I could, within reason, to put the loaded racks to the test. This included ramming curbs at speed, bounding through rough, frozen, tussocky grass, riding frozen dirt churned up by heavy construction equipment, and doing the whoop-de-doos on local single track to put all sorts of forces into these cages. Nothing shook them loose, nor did they break or show any signs of doing so. I think these "Heavy Duty" cages have earned the moniker and that they should do well in the long run.

Verdict: With a solid two weeks of bouncing around fully loaded and using several various loads on the one side, I have to say that these cages are the real deal so far. They are easy to use and make any Salsa Cycles rig with the Three Pack Bosses into a mule capable of hauling around more than you could without them.

On a negative note, I will only say that they are an unlovely beast of a component. Unloaded on the bike, they look like some sort of freakish radar/ microwave receptors. It is a sure bet that the new Anything Cage HD will not win any beauty contests. Well, that is unless you decide to rely on them to pack your tent and sleep system on some long outing. Then they may be the most beautiful things you've ever seen. It's all in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Of course, you can still buy the Anything Cage in its tube constructed version if the HD is just too much for you to handle visually.

The Anything Cage HD is a worthy compliment to any Salsa fork or down tube where you may want to pack on some cargo. This rack certainly fits into the "Adventure by Bike" ethos and the new design should provide many miles of faithful service to those who decide to employ it. The ease of use and versatility make the Anything Cage HD something you could use for touring or everyday use. I'll be looking for more ways to use these in the future and I'll be back with a long term use update later on.

As noted above, these Anything Cage HD's came from Salsa Cycles at no charge and I will strive to use my honest thoughts and opinions about these products here and in the future.

Gravel Event Calendar PSA

Public Service Announcement: 

If you, or anyone you know is involved in gravel event promotions, listen up. We need to update the calendar on Riding Gravel.com for 2015.  Known as the Gravel Grinder News Calendar, it is the same effort I have put forth since 2008 to catalog all the gravel events across the nation and Internationally. It's completely free and gets you all the eyeballs out there involved in gravel and back road events to check out your deal.

Over the years, I have had many event promoters say that putting their event on the GGN calendar has made a big difference in attendance and enthusiasm for their events. That was fine for the old days, but with the new Riding Gravel, there are more benefits if you want them. You still get the free listing, the eyes looking at that calendar and planning on coming to your events, and the best known and comprehensive listing of gravel events anywhere, but now you can have a forum thread just for your event on the Riding Gravel Forum. You could have links to Facebook pages, and maybe even a guest spot on the podcast specifically aimed at gravel/back road events called the "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch". Don't feel like being "on air"?, no worries, we can talk about your event for you, if you want us to.

We can even do post event coverage of your race/ride with interviews on the podcast, or by having your story written up and posted on the site. If you really want to have me come out to your event to check things out first hand, that may even be possible, just give us a shout. Maybe you are the independent type? Great! You can upload your own event details on the Calendar Page, just scroll down at the bottom for the field to enter your event details. We'd really like to get your 2015 dates on the calendar, so you can even leave a comment here if you want and I'll take it from there.

As you can see, it is a way to really get the word out if you want to, and on the first and biggest calendar for gravel events anywhere with benefits. Of course, if you are a rider, just hop over to Riding Gravel and see what you are looking for, what you want to discuss with others, or for what you want to listen to, all in one site.

Thanks and I look forward to serving ya'all and seeing you out there in 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Bad And The Good

Foiled by a Schrader valve
I was going to ride the 1X1 to James' going away party no matter what, and a spot of rain wasn't about to stop me. I went home from work and scrounged up my Cascadia 29"er fenders and fitted them to the 26" wheeled 1X1. So there was a little extra clearance! I didn't mind.

I took off with the intentions of stopping at the grocery store that is only a few blocks from the shop to pick up some fine brews. I was about a mile and a half into it when I felt the tell tale sign of a flat rear tire. Sure enough! Bah! It was pouring rain, of course, and I found out I didn't have a tube or an air pump. Too excited to leave the house, I guess. That was my own fault, but wouldn't ya know it? It couldn't have happened on a sunny, 60°F day, could it? Nope! It was downright miserable, and mostly my own fault too. I called Mrs Guitar Ted for a bail out. She took me the rest of the way, but not before I stepped in about eight inches of gooey mud on the side of the road trying to get into the truck. Insult to injury!

Once dumped off at work, I dug into the rear wheel and found out it was a slightly cut rear Schrader valve. It would hold air in one position, but shift it a little bit and poof! I installed a new tube and all was well, right? Well.......we'll see about that later.....

Everybody showed up to wish James well on his next chapter in life.
Lots of folks showed up to wish James well and to share a beverage to see him off. It was a really grand time in the sense that it was obvious that James was well liked and we all came together for the cause last night. That was good to see. Beers were hoisted, laughs were had, and merriment went on for several hours. However; it all had to end at some point, and I finally took my leave and grabbed the 1X1 to head for the shed.

It was not raining as hard as when I was attempting to come to the party, but it was pissing down a fine, steady rain still, and everything was either swimming in water or muddy as all get out. I pummeled the 1X1 into a mud pit and then I heard a terrible scraping sound when I hit the next section of pavement. I stopped to find out I had severed the rear fender down near to where it attaches at the chain stay bridge. Gah! Would this bike be cursed or something! I nursed it home all right, but that was certainly a star crossed maiden voyage on that bike.

So, on the one hand we had an excellent gathering at the shop to celebrate a fine fellow and send him off well, and on the other hand my 1X1 build seemed cursed from the get-go. Not at all what I wanted for a first ride experience on that bike, but maybe I have all the bad stuff out of the way now, right?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Eye Opener

Headed South out of town on the rail-trail
The weekend was a doozy, for sure. So warm for December here that I cannot remember the last time I saw two days in a row like that and now today as well, but we're back to work, of course, and tomorrow things are to return to "normal" around here.

I think the last time I recall a really warm mid-December day was waaaay back when I still had a carbon fiber road bike, (YES! I really did have one once!), and I rode it on December 15th with just a bib short and jersey on. That had to have been almost 20 years ago.

Anyway, I had to pick one day to ride because the other would be household fix-it day. I chose Saturday, since Sunday it was supposed to rain, but as far as I know, it never did. But boy howdy! Was it ever humid here! 100% they said and it definitely was foggy. While every cyclist worth their salt was out at one time or another, I rode alone since that was how it worked out.

 I wasn't feeling all that great so a late morning sleep in was allowed and I didn't get out of the house until just after noon. I saw that the temperatures were in the low 40's and that I would be riding straight into the wind. I figured a typical wet wind that would cause a chill would call for some wool layers. I put on a long sleeved wool base layer, a wool jersey, and my ever enduring Endura Stealth II jacket over all. The lowers consisted of a wool base layer, bibs, and a Endura 3/4's Humvee pant on top. Wool base layer gloves and Answer full finger Winter gloves over that. My Planet Bike beanie and the Bell Super topped it all off and on the feet went some long wool socks and the Mavic winter boots.

This is pretty much what it looked like the entire ride. Gloomy! Wet! 

At one point, the haze parted and I actually saw the Sun and blue patches of Sky! (Image rendered in B&W for effect)

Down at the crossroads.
Well, I was comfortable as I rolled down the bike path, but as I got into the steady headwind and on gravel, I was starting to burn up. Before long I was really laboring, and I could feel the sweat rolling on my skin, so I pulled off and stripped down to my base layer on top and felt........perfectly normal. It wasn't all that cold at all! Off with the wool jersey and outer gloves. Fortunately the Stealth II jacket has a cavernous zippered rear pocket in which I could stuff the unwanted layers. I briefly contemplated ditching the beanie but opted to just roll it up instead so it uncovered my ears. A shoe adjustment or two, and then I was off again, beating against that stiff Southerly wind.

It was a really weird day out. If I turned my head to one side or the other, my glasses would instantly fog over, and I could actually see vapor rushing by. It was almost as if I were like a high flying jet leaving a contrail. The gravel down South was dry, maybe bordering on flour-like in consistency as far as the dust in it went. It was obvious that the roads were mostly soaking up every ounce of moisture they could get here. However; other riders up North of town were encountering wet roads and looked like they had been sprayed with concrete afterward. I am glad I chose the Southern route! I didn't get a lick of dirt on me and the bike looked perfectly fine after the ride.

That's a patch of blue sky way up there, no?
I still was feeling like crap on the Southern leg of my ride barely able to maintain 12 mph at a steady pace. My legs hurt, and maybe this fat bike riding screwed me up for the normal bikes, because it was very unnatural and uncomfortable for the first ten miles. I almost turned around and went home, but I decided to just take what the ride was giving me and roll with it. That meant not going all that fast and suffering, I guess.

Barren fields and wide, empty expanses are the norm here for the Winter.
I decided to not go quite all the way to the county line and turned left on Reinbeck Road. Then it was about three miles to Ansborough and a right. The winds were more favorable in these directions and I picked up speed and the legs hurt less. Things felt better all the way around and I was starting to get comfortable on the Tamland again. Now I wasn't suddenly tearing it up, but at least this was semi-enjoyable now instead of being a sufferfest.

With the winds at my back on Ansborough I was starting to keep the bike in the 20's for speed and I was feeling even better than before. However; I knew it was a short lived "feel good" and I wasn't about to test myself again against that wind. I continued on into town and just before I reached the stop light on San-Mar-Nan I saw the light go green. Sprint!! I actually made it under the yellow light, and then I slowed down and felt satisfied that I had the energy left to ramp up a small sprint for a light at the end of a ride. Well, it wasn't the end exactly. I still had to go about two miles or so to get there. Along the city streets I saw a small pack of roadies. They maybe were heading out. It was a great day to hit the roads, at least for this time of year.

My ride ended and I was wasted. Flat out burned up. I actually went down for a nap I guess I have some work to do, or something to get over. At any rate, that ride was an eye opener for sure.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Trans Iowa V11: A Look At The Rules Part 13

Cues have changed a bit since T.I.V3
Last year I did a historical overview of each Trans Iowa up to T.I.V9. This year I am going to revisit something that I feel many folks have overlooked for a long time; The "Race Rules".

I skipped this series last week due to the Trans Iowa Clinic, but now I'm back on track again. The last post in this series was about lighting and cell phones. This time we're talking about Rule #14 which reads as follows....


14: Racers will be supplied a course map, a.k.a Cue Sheet.

A short rule with big implications. This isn't so much of a rule as it is a promise from myself/Trans Iowa to the riders in the event, and it takes a lot to get these published. Obviously, it is something pivotal to the event. The whole "self-sufficient. self-navigated" ethos of Trans Iowa falls on its nose if cue sheets are not part of the event and especially if they do not work as intended.

Cue sheets have evolved significantly through the years, but they still retain a certain basis in the cues we looked at for the Great Divide Race as it was set up and run back in the early 00's by Mike Curiak and associates unknown to me that were part of that circle. Note- this all predates "Tour Divide" by several years and that event doesn't figure into the early Trans Iowa influences at all.

It never occurred to me that cue sheets could be art!
Jeff Kerkove and I took that cue sheet idea and tweaked it to fit our needs and to be able to work on whatever file Jeff was creating them on inside of his Mac. Cue sheets would be drafted and then Jeff sent the file to a local printer to be printed, cut, and collated. I believe it cost us around $75.00 to do 50 sets of cue sheets back then.

Cues were produced in this manner through to the beginning of T.I.V3 when after getting the cues from Jeff I realized that they were way off after checking them. That year I printed them myself, a foreshadowing of how they would end up getting done in the future. The burden of cue sheet printing was then on David Pals from T.I.V4-T.I.V7 and fron V8 until now I have produced them "in house". Literally. Right in my house!

Sizes of cue sheets have shrunk mostly since V-1. I look back on some of those early ones and they look ginormous compared to what we use now. Accuracy has been honed to a fine point now, but there used to be a lot of mileage errors and even some wrong turns and mislabeled/unlabeled turns! Now it is rare with all the checks and re-checks I have instigated since T.I.v3.

On Spring cue sheet check of the T.I.V10 course
 One of the biggest changes is that now we drive the entire course in Spring using the cue sheets as our navigational guide. If something doesn't make sense, or if there are road changes, we can catch those before I print 100 plus sets of cue sheets. Also, then the mistakes don't reach the riders, and that's the most important thing. We've found mistakes and had to make re-routes after this recon too. It's a necessary thing with an event course this big.

Besides, it is a much looked forward to event for George and Wally who have been stalwart supporters of Trans Iowa of late. These two bring their rig, spend an entire weekend away from home, and bounce around on gravel roads with me to do this and call it fun. I owe them a lot, and so do the riders of Trans Iowa, if I do say so myself. Their sacrifices allow me to make sure everything is going to be pretty on the money for the cues at any Trans Iowa. But there is one more check I've put in place since T.I.V7 that also helps to keep the event cues fresh and avoid any last minute derailments.

That's my "day before" check of the route. Typically I am most interested in the first 50 plus miles to wherever the first checkpoint is located. The reason for the last minute check is to avoid the miscue we experienced during T.I.V7 where a road was shut down within two weeks of that event and was located within the first ten miles of the course. This caused us much consternation, missed signs by the riders, and was responsible for many riders missing the checkpoint #1 cut off that year. It was something that could have been prevented had I known ahead of time and could have communicated it to the riders at the Pre-Race Meat-Up. While I have not had to do anything major in that regard since then, I still will continue to do that last minute check. It did prove useful from a re-route standpoint for T.I.V8, which I did communicate before the event.

So, the rule says you will be provided cue sheets, and this is an important part of the event to me. I will strive to be 100% accurate with regard to execution of said cues for the riders to use. Hopefully I and my volunteers can fulfill that promise!


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Last Gravel Of 2014?

New tires will get christened today
Today is an opportunity day. It is abnormally warm here, and despite threats of mist and occasional rain, this can not be passed up. So, as if by appointment, some new tires showed up for test and review on Riding Gravel. They are a Panaracer made tire called the Cazadero by Soma. They run 42mm wide and look pretty interesting. Anyway, more on that coming soon, obviously.

So, I knew that whichever bike I chose, I would have to fit fenders on it, or at least clip on mud guards. I immediately thought about the ol' Orange crush rig. However; after some further thought about why it was that I hadn't ridden it in awhile, I remembered that it really needs a bottom bracket and the drive train has wear issues that need attention. A new chain at the least. Maybe more than that.

Okay........what then? Well, that leaves the Tamland. Yep! It has fender mounts! Okay, so I get busy with tires and mounting up the fenders and the rear tire goes smoothly. I did notice that these Cazaderos are nearly the equal of the Rock & Road tires, also Panaracer made. Uh-oh! I remember when I had the Rock & Roads on the Tamland and there was very little clearance in spots. The front was an issue with the Cazadero. I was going to have to do some modifications.

First up was how to clear the disc brake caliper. I did that by using a longer bolt and stacking Presta valve nuts in the gap I needed to create between the fender stay and the mount on the fork. Now I could try the tire for clearance. Uggh......not enough in front of the fork. The crown on the Tamland is a bit thicker and the area between the bottom of the crown and top of the tire was minimal. Hmmm......out came the Dremel! A bit of "bzzzt"! and some cleaning up of the new edge and I had shortened the fender back to the mount and the whole thing sits behind the fork now.

Okay, so I had that done and then it was new bar tape time. A nice roll of fizik black stuff and I had the bike ready. Stay tuned for a ride report later..........hopefully. This could be the last good gravel chance of the year.

I know many of you are getting ready for next year's events. You can find out about many gravel events by checking out the Riding Gravel calendar of events HERE. I'm transferring over events and it'll take a while, but if you are a promoter, there is a way to enter your own event on that page at the bottom. Check it out.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday News And Views

We'll be saying goodbye to James, seen on the right here, today.
Change is a big part of being in a typical bicycle shop. Turnover rates are typically pretty high. I often wonder how many folks I've worked with over the years. Today another ending happens. We're losing our other mechanic, James.

James came to us via Skunk River Cycles and was single when he got here. Then he got married, and then he got an internship in Idaho. So, now he's packing up his stuff and heading out the door here one last time.

I don't write about many of our past employees, but I like James and wish him well. He's the best second mechanic I've worked with since Jeff Kerkove, and that was quite a while ago now. Gonna miss that tall fella after he leaves today.

But we'll be seeing him off right proper on Monday when we all get together for a going away gathering, much like we did not long ago for Brian. It should be a good time.

From when we had snow
 Blackborow Update:

Okay folks, here's the thing- I like the Blackborow enough that I decided to permanently retire The Snow Dog. That's right, the Blackborow is that good. I said it before, and I'll say it again- this is the best fat bike Salsa has made so far for things I use a fat bike for. It just blows the old Mukluk platform away, as far as I can tell.

I haven't ridden a newer Mukluk, since Salsa added the Alternators and changed the geometry some in 2013. So, that is an outlier for me. However; the Blackborow is nimble, has bigger meats, and a shorter wheel base than the Muk does now. I think the Muk has its place, but I am super pleased with this bike and I am dubbing it "The Snow Dog V2". It will be the "out of bounds" fat bike going forward.

29+ is interesting to me, but fixing those huge wheels into Mukluks and this bike will raise an already high bottom bracket appreciably. I found that the Ti Muk was unwieldy and I wasn't as enamored of the big wagon wheels as I had been when I tried the Borealis Echo. The Echo worked really well with 29+, but the MukTruk was not so great, in my mind. I feel that B+ is a better fit for the Mukluks and Blackborows, or a 29"er set up is okay as well. 29+ is just not quite right in there. A good 29+ set up would have a lower bottom bracket for sure.

Gooey Gravel Travel?

This weekend could be good for a gravel ride. It's possible that it could get dicey with the moisture that may be hitting us though. Saturday sounds "misty" while Sunday is looking like spotty rain showers. The thing is, Sunday will be over 50°F here, and Saturday will be slightly cooler than that.

Saturdays always work best for me, but I'll have to make a "game time call" on what I am doing this weekend due to something happening today that may influence what I do or do not get to do this weekend. Whatever happens, I think with the warmer temperatures, and possible moisture, fenders or mud guards would be a good call.

Nothing like getting a wet backside and suffering the resulting "heat sucking" results as you try to pedal harder to stay warm. If you find yourself out there, be careful!

Have a great weekend and stay active!