Sunday, October 04, 2015

Trans Iowa v12: Bringing In The Harvest

A combine in a soybean field
One of the treats of doing recon for any Trans Iowa is seeing the countryside. It varies a lot from year to year, but this time we hit on a day where there was a lot of harvesting going on.

Everywhere we went, combines, tractors, wagons, trucks, and semi-tractor trailers were about doing their business. One thing I noted was that when you saw a combine crew, it usually consisted of three vehicles/trailers/implements.

First was the combine proper, which almost always took up the entire road, although through cooperation, we were able to pass by several of them on the day that we were out. These rigs were minus their "heads" which were either a corn harvesting head or the grain harvesting head which was for soybeans. That was generally being towed on a trailer by a pick-up truck. Then the third part was an enormous tractor pulling an enormous grain wagon for grain transfer from the combine when its on-board grain storage was at capacity. (I apologize to my more technical savvy readers that work for John Deere that know the proper terminology here!)

Anyway, following are a few images from the harvest of 2015. We saw so much more than I had a chance to photograph, but I hope this imparts a bit of what it was like out there yesterday. Enjoy!

Where harvesting had taken place already, there were many round bales of the refuse which sometimes is fed to cattle.
We would sometimes pass semi-tractor trailers awaiting loading so the grain could be taken to storage. 
Mostly we saw soybeans being harvested, although corn was also being picked in places now.
We saw this Bald Eagle standing in a recently harvested field. A VERY rare sight to see one on the ground like this. 
My attempt at "art" showing how many combines were kicking up dust as they harvested. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Trans Iowa v12: Recon Trip

We are expecting conditions to be about perfect for recon
If you are reading this during the daylight hours of 10/3/15, we're probably bouncing down the gravel roads in The Truck With No Name doing recon for Trans Iowa v12. It promised to be a spectacular day to get this done, and our aim is to fly as fast as we can go to our start point, get the entire loop done, and be back home late in the evening.

Along the way we plan on stopping at one of our favorite cafes for breakfast, seeing lots and lots of harvesting going on, and probably dodging lots of grain trucks along very dusty roads.

It'll be tough to get the 330 plus miles in and the travel to and fro, but we'll give it our best shot. We likely will get it done if we don't run into any closed roads, closed bridges, or mismarked roads. If we manage to pull it off, we'll be moving on to number crunching, and then we will do an actual cue sheet for our Spring recon where we double check everything and get the green light on the way the cues are written. But first the goal is tomorrow's complete recon, and then we will see what we have to do from there.

Stay tuned for a recon report complete with pics from the course coming Monday or so......

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday News And Views

The Teravail Sparwood
Teravail Tires is a newly minted brand by Quality Bicycle Products. I heard about Teravail at Frostbike last February, and I got to see the first prototypes for the gravel tires at Dirty Kanza this past Spring. They looked quite intriguing and the product engineer that was on hand had some really interesting research information regarding the tire's development stages.

The research into how a tire interacts with gravel was a big part of how these tires came out the way they did. The claim was that the tread pattern actually helps the tires go over the gravel as opposed to squirming around on it. This interaction between gravel and the tires usually causes gravel to squirm, and a result of this can be gravel bits shooting out from under your tires. This is a loss of energy that causes higher resistance to rolling, it was claimed. The new Teravail designs are said to interact with gravel in a way that helps cause less of this loss of energy and a gain in speed and energy to the benefit of the cyclist.
The 38mm option dubbed the Cannonball

The new tires have been ride tested in the Flint Hills by cyclists and the reports are good. Now these tires are finally available for gravel riders everywhere.

The 29 X 2.1" version is dubbed "Sparwood" and was the tire that Jay Petervary used during his run at the Tour Divide this past Summer. Jay reported that wear was remarkably low. This tire would be a great option for those running 29"ers and especially for something like a Fargo. It is tubeless compatible as well

The other model in the line up that looked interesting to me was the 38mm Cannonball. This obviously is the tire that would benefit a large portion of the gravel/back road riding community. The tubeless compatibility is there, and it comes in two options, one with lower TPI count and less puncture protection, and a higher, 120TPI thread count with more puncture protection.

There is another option, which I am not a big fan of, honestly, and it is called the Galena. This is a 32mm wide tire, (the part I am not big on), and otherwise looks like a down scaled Cannonball and comes with all the same options. Perhaps a great tire for places with tamer gravel, smooth dirt, and for lighter weight folks. Obviously, a good cyclo cross option as well.

I hope to obtain at least one pair of these soon and check them out. Stay tuned.....

Riding the River Bottoms, November 2008
River Bottoms To Be Paved:

This issue may not mean anything to many of you, but in the context of what passes for "progress" and "access" these days, I think it might just find meaning elsewhere. You can be the judge of that.....

The "River Bottoms" is the unofficial name for the unofficial trail that runs along the Minnesota River in the Twin Cities metro area. This land that runs along the river is prone to flooding, and was left as "useless" by developers for well over a century of the Twin Cities history. Somewhere along the line, (some say 20-25 years ago), off road cyclists and hikers forged a trail through here that runs about 10 miles or so through fens, woodlands, and hard against the backwaters of the Minnesota River.

I was introduced to this little gem of rustic beauty that is hidden in the heart of the urban landscape by Salsa Cycles' crew and specifically, their then head honcho, Jason Boucher. I was able to ride the entire length of this on maybe three different occasions and my takeaway from it was that this was a perfect foil to living in a big metro area. You literally almost forgot that within a mile from you at any time was a bustling community full of cars, pollution, and all that goes with that. I remember folks on the ride marveling at this. I thought it was too good to be true, and I knew that if I lived up there, the River Bottoms trail would have been very close to my heart.

Well, apparently, it was too good to be true. Jason told us back in 2008 there was a plan to pave parts of that area and for a connector bridge at the point where the old Cedar Highway once crossed the river. It seemed like a pipe dream back in 2008. Now, that "pipe dream" is about to become a full fledged paved trail through the area with work slated to begin next Spring. (See a story on this HERE)

I get why there are many sad folks and I get why officials want to see this get done. However; I often wonder why, as a nation and culture, do we feel the need to "urbanize" wild areas for the "benefit of getting more users" to that area. Why is it "unfair" that this area is not served by a  paved pathway? How does creating a man-made path through this wild area benefit the wild area?  What is the "real" reason that the officials really want to pave this? Tourism? Money? Is that a good enough reason to do this? What about maintenance, as mentioned in the linked article. Seems like that might be a big deal with regard to flooding and whatnot. I know our local State Park's paved pathway, and the paved pathway along side the river opposite of that both suffer damage on a yearly basis due to river flooding issues. I suppose all these questions are hashed out to death concerning the River Bottoms, but what about where you live? Maybe these are questions to ponder.

Maybe I am a Luddite that is "anti-progressive". Maybe..... I do like my gravel and dirt roads, so there ya go.

Bought and paid for with my own damn money.
And As Long As I Am Feeling All Minnesota.....

Take a look here at the newest addition to the fleet. It's that Twin Six Standard Rando I was testing for back this past Summer.

I did not buy the wheel set that came on it though. See, I am what you might call a wheel snob, and I wasn't 100% on board with Stan's hubs and rims. (Which is what the bike was shipped with, by the way.) I want something more suited to my tastes in wheels, so I sent that wheel set back. I have my own wheels as a placeholder in the image here. Those won't be the wheels this ends up with. I need to get an 11 speed wheel set built up, since this bike has SRAM Rival 22 and as you may or may not know, you cannot put 11 speed cogs on a ten speed free hub body. Won't fit. So, I have to build a set of wheels.

Anyway, more on wheels some other time. Let's talk about this bike, shall we? I bought this because the Standard Rando really rides that good. I once had a test bike back in my Twenty Nine Inches days that rode so good. Actually, there are two I can think of right off the bat, and both were single speed 29"ers. Anyway, I was offered to buy one of them at a cut rate, but I did not do it, and I have regretted it ever since. You just don't come across very many bikes that just "hit you the right way", for lack of a better term, and the Standard Rando was one that did. However, there is one other thing about the Standard Rando that made me go cross that line to purchase it- and that was its low bottom bracket. 

Now I've had commenters say that I make these geometry statements and am slicing it down to millimeters and that this doesn't matter.Whatever.... It does, and I put my money where my mouth is. Nuff said....

I am going to really get on with this bike, and I look forward to many adventures on it. So, stay tuned for that and the wheels I build up for it will all be documented right here.

That does it for today. Have a great weekend and get some riding done!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Dirty Reiver

Hey wait a minute! That logo kinda reminds me of sumpthin....
I got a message yesterday about a new event for gravel riders, only it's in the United Kingdom! Don't worry, if you want to go, you have plenty of time to figure this out. The event date hasn't been "officially" set yet, but it appears it will be sometime in April of 2016.

Okay, but what the heck is a reiver anyway? Well besides being the name of a Western Iowa college sports team, the reiver name has a chequered past wrapped up in robbery, pillaging, and general badness. The Borders Region of the United Kingdom was the reiver's territory, and these ne'er-do-well men carried out their lawlessness from the late 13th Century to the early 17th Century on both the Scots and Anglos. The event takes place there in the Borders area in the Kielder Forest on various gravel logging roads.

The event is being organized by Paul Errington, who I had the pleasure of meeting when he came and rode in Trans Iowa a few years back now. Paul also has completed the Dirty Kanza 200, and through that event he made friends with its director, Jim Cummins and they put their heads together to help Paul get the Dirty Reiver off the ground. (The event's logo kinda looks like the old DK200 logo, doesn't it?) The length of the event, 200K, is the "metric nod" to the DK200's length. The event date- again, sometime in April- is a nod to that other event I mentioned Paul was in.

So if you want to know more and need to keep tabs on the developments with this event, check out or find this event and others on the RidingGravel Events Page.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Evil Wheels

Goin down the highway to Hell.
I've got this Surly 1X1 and it has been nothing but a frustrating machine since I've gotten it rolling. The issue is flat tires. I cannot ride this bike much over a mile without the valve stems failing, (mostly), or having the tube fail mostly in the front wheel, although I have gotten a flat in the rear finally now.

Punctures? Nope. Never have the tubes ever punctured. Not once in the seven flats I've gotten has any of them been caused by a puncture.

The cause is the evil wheels that are on it. To be even more precise, it is the Mavic rims. I've tried every trick in the book I've learned in my 16 years of being a mechanic on bicycles and all to no avail. These evil wheels must die! I have not ridden this bike once over the distance of one mile very far without getting a flat tire. The wheels are cursed, I say, cursed!

So they will be torn apart and the rims will be replaced. Perhaps even the hubs, and then the wheels can stay in one piece, but who would want such a cursed wheel set? Not I. I am done with these circles of doom. These evil wheels of doom!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Saturated Fat, Fat Tubeless And More

When brands like Ellsworth start making fat bikes, you know the market is saturated.
With Interbike firmly in the rear view mirror, we can safely assume that most all of the fat bike related news has been sprung for 2016. I've been looking at all the introductions and following is my own analysis of the recent weeks of news.

First of all, with the fat bike market flattening off last year after several years of stratospheric growth, it was quite a surprise to see more brands introduce fat bikes. Brands like Raleigh and Ellsworth, companies you might not think about at all when it comes to fat bikes, entered the fray. Out of all of these new introductions, I recognized that most were either on the high end of the pricing scale, or they were on the lower end. "Mid-level" priced bikes were also introduced, but not like we have seen in previous years. Interestingly, most current brands in the segment seem to have softened their retail prices, some by a little, others by a lot. Even components, which are fat bike specific, are coming down slightly in price.

This all points to a market, in my view, which is getting pretty saturated. This might sound a bit harsh, but with bicycle sales flat to shrinking, and retail outlets becoming fewer by the year, it seems to me that this would point to many of these brands cutting back on fat bike production in the future. Then you have to ask the question, do fat bikes ever become the "ordinary man's mountain bike"? Because if they don't, then I cannot see how they will sustain the offerings currently available into the future.

Heller Bikes Bloodhound
Then their is Heller Bikes. I mentioned them before a couple of times, but this new brand has a compelling story, as it turns out. The brand is trying to lure the internet buyer who shops "direct from China" with its lower pricing enabled by Heller Bikes use of "catalog frames and forks", also known as "Open Mold" frame and forks. These are designs that Asian manufacturers make to entice potential buyers from the biggest brands all the way down to the bargain shopping consumer with an internet connection.

This has been a growing segment of the bicycle economy for the last five to six years. The only issues people have with these lower priced options are parts compatibility issues, warranty issues, some failures, and return issues which are complicated by distance to the Asian sources and language and culture differences. Heller Bikes seeks to give the consumer a tested product with a warranty, and seamless customer service based in the USA, while still offering attractive pricing, albeit not as low as direct from China. Still, that warranty, parts compatibility, and service have to be worth something. It looks like the Heller Bikes Bloodhound fat bike frame and fork in carbon fiber will run about $1250.00. More than direct from China, but about a grand less than many carbon frames and forks run.

This could turn out to be a revolutionary tactic. A "middle man", as it were, doing the behind the scenes testing of product and streamlining of the interfacing process with consumers for direct from China products. Sort of like what On One/Planet Bike Planet X does in the UK now.

My Other Brother Darryl rims by Surly are tubeless ready!
I've given Surly the raspberries in the past for charging high prices for ordinary, non-tubeless technology in rims and tires. Well, I came across this podcast recently, and within the banter, there is an interview with Surly's Thor, a product engineer, and he lets on about much of what we can expect from Surly soon.

First off, the new OBD rims, (seen at the left here), are tubeless compatible. The design was fussed over to give riders the optimum profile for mounting the tire yet being able to seat the beads of a tubeless ready fat tire, presumably with a hand held pump! This is fantastic news, and what must be in the future for all of Surly's rims. But these tubeless ready fat bike tires they speak of? Is this coming from Surly?

According to the information in the podcast, they are already out there! At least all the 4.8 Big Fat Knards are sporting Surly's new tubeless bead design. Apparently, this will be a running change with all their fat bike tires, and I would assume the "plus" sized fare will also become tubeless ready in the future. But that's not all.....

Surly is reportedly going to offer a tubeless kit, with a new design, nylon reinforced rim strip, valve stems, and sealant. So, a complete system from Surly is in the works, and we can finally have the kind of tires, rims, and tubeless bits that I felt Surly should have had all along. This is a big, big deal, especially if it works as well as Surly's Thor seemed to describe in the podcast. Kudos to Surly! I'll gladly be paying for these parts when they are out .

That's my take on thing fat now. Again, it's just my opinion, and you need to think things through for yourself. However; I don't see or hear anything at this point to make me feel differently about these subjects. Got another opinion? Hit me up in the comments.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Harvest Begins

Well, after getting a bunch of work done on and in the house on Saturday, all the while chomping at the bit to go riding, I finally got out there on Sunday. I had heard the harvest was starting up from some other gravelluers, so I was anxious to witness that for myself.

The day couldn't have been much more picturesque. It was Sunny with big puffy clouds and the sky was that blue color that can only be seen during the Fall here. Intense and deep, I would say. Only a stiff South wind was going to be a nuisance, but I wouldn't have to deal with that till towards the end of my ride. I had a new route that I wanted to try out. A circumnavigation of Cedar Falls by gravel. Only the Eastern end of the loop would be paved. I sat with a map, jotted down some quick cues, and I was out of the door by noon.

Someday I will have to figure out if I can do this around the entire metro area, but I know that route will run way over 100 miles, so I am going to have to wait on that for another time. This one was going to be longish, but I didn't sit around and figure up the mileage before I left. I just grabbed my cues and went for it.

There were a lot of fields ripe for the picking. 
I headed out West first toward Dike, Iowa, but before getting there I cut Northward towards New Hartford. I was obliged to actually go through New Hartford, as I needed to cross the Beaver Creek. Then I had to go even further North to clear the confluences of the Cedar, Shell Rock, and the West Fork of the Cedar River. It was all new to me road and I was having a good time riding with the wind.

There were some fields that had already been harvested.
There are not many of these old, gabled steel bridges left. This one is over the West Fork of the Cedar River.
Barns For Jason
I had hand written cues for most of the first half of the loop. I had gotten through most of that list, but one of the last cues struck me as being a wrong turn. So, I had to stop and consult my "electronic device" to confirm my suspicions. I was right, the list was wrong. I should have just gone with my hunch. Anyway, I looped around the Northernmost side and started into the wind. It was really kicking about this time of the day. It was also rather warm, probably in the 80's, and the humidity was low. My jersey was white with dried salt from my perspiration. It looked rather dramatic on my black Pirate Cycling League jersey!

I was getting hungry, more so than my gels could satisfy, so a planned stop in Janesville was just what I was looking forward to. I crossed the Cedar River by way of a new pedestrian bridge and went straight up the following street to a convenience store to grab some grub.

The new ped bridge across the Cedar in Janesville. 
Refuel lean.
I went in to the convenience store to grab a resupply of water, a sandwich, and some salty chips. (Crisps for you UK folks reading here) I was only there for ten minutes and then I slowly headed out East and then South, straight into the heart of the wind.

I was really kicking up the dust by this time, and with my "food baby" on-board being digested, I tried to throttle it back to keep moving, but the wind was really working me. I ended up stopping to relieve myself by a tree near the roadside and took my sweet time doing so, to try and allow my guts to do their thing. Back on the bike, it was a struggle to go 12mph since the winds were so strong. I decided to go two miles South, then two miles East to ease the effort and break up my stints into the wind.

That worked pretty well, and I only had to stop once more to take a break. That stop was marked by an oversight by myself. I didn't scan the roadside before I plopped down. It wasn't long before I felt something amiss. Well, I looked down and I had sat myself on a few thistles! what!?

I managed to brush out the little stickers rather easily, which was quite a surprise. I was thankful for that! Next time I want to recline in the grass along the roadside, I might be a bit more observant! It might help prevent a bit of unpleasantness. The good thing about it all was that the extra bit of time it took to clear up all the thistle needles allowed my guts to catch up and I felt much better after remounting and heading off into the wind again. I still tacked the wind by zigzagging my way back home though, as I was really feeling the effort in my legs on this hot, dry, (for Iowa), and windy day.

Stand clear!
As I neared Waterloo again, I saw a cloud of gravel dust and flashing lights heading my way. By the size of the thing, I could tell I needed to dismount and get to the very edge of the road. It was a wise move, as an enormous combine went by, then a pick-up truck pulling the grain head, followed by a tracked tractor pulling a big grain wagon. The pieces were being moved into place! Soon all these golden brown fields will be reduced to stubble and the drab look of late Fall and Winter will take over the landscape.

It was good to get a look at the start of the harvest and ride one more time amongst the fields of corn and beans.