Monday, June 26, 2017

Reflections On A Big Weekend In Cycling

Sarah Cooper finishing Trans Iowa v12 as Ari Andonopoulous looks on.
The month of June seems to have become the pinnacle of cycling, at least to my mind. Obviously, here in Iowa we all were rooting for Sarah Cooper, a RAAM rookie and an incredibly talented and focused athlete. This weekend she attained not only the goal of finishing this tough, 3,000 plus mile, cross country event, but she was the first placed female finisher, and led the event in that category, if not the entire way, for the majority of it. Not only this, but amongst solo competitors, she was ninth overall, (by my observation and according to results I have found.)

So,that's a big deal. I want to say "Congratulations Sarah!", and also to the team that supported her, many of whom I know. Good job!

But there were a lot of other things going on. All just over the weekend. I know folks that garnered "National Championship" jerseys in the first ever Gravel Nationals, just held in Lawrence, Kansas. I know a guy that finished the Lutsen 99'er over the weekend, and I know some folks that are on the Tour Divide route, another grueling event, which has many coming close to finishing there.

I'm probably missing a few things.....

To all of you, a hearty congratulations on your accomplishments. I guess as I reflect on the enormity of Sarah Cooper's accomplishments, and of those of several other folks, it becomes hard to process it all. As I think about this, I can only offer a few observations......
  • The "watching of dots" and the comments posted on social media make me think that this cycling thing has the power to bring folks together. Actually, it isn't necessarily the sport of cycling. We, as human beings, seem to have the capabilities, at times, to be very supportive, encouraging, empathetic, and positive. Cycling can be a catalyst for this. Big challenges seem to pull us together, even if we are sitting on our butts in office cubicles or whatever. The protagonists are the rallying point, but there is something worth latching on to here that we all can draw off of, whether we are sportsmen or not.
  • There is also a perceived negative effect by some onlookers. The "heroics" of others can seem to make us seem weak, small, and not very good. I hope that if you are feeling this that you understand that these folks that pull off these challenges are, for the most part, just like you. They have their bouts of self-loathing, doubt, and are prone to depression at times as well. They in no way want what they do to have this negative effect. Talk to someone. Don't let it fester......
  • You don't have to "go big" to get the same feelings and respect from others. I read about an event over the weekend that featured 100 miles of gravel. There were people commenting about how their finish was sweet and very memorable due to some folks being there at the finish to cheer them in. The event doesn't even have to be that big to get the same feelings. I know that there are events, like the Dirty Kanza 200, that seem to try to place a monopoly on having that vibe, that, "find your limits" thing. But don't you go thinking that they have a lock on that for a minute. The point is, go take on a challenge, and no matter how big or small it is, you will grow. You may not even finish it and it may be a life changing event for you. This could be just riding, or walking, or running, or whatever for any distance. Don't measure your challenge by the Tour Divide or RAAM. Your challenge, whatever it is, is just as big a deal as those events are. 
Just a few things I felt about all of the weekend's goings on. Thanks for reading............

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 25

Vendor bikes at the Big Wheeled Ballyhoo demo in Decorah, Iowa
Ten years ago this week I was involved in this festival/demo in Decorah Iowa that I wanted to call "The Midwest 29"er Meetup". In fact, I didn't want it to be anything else but an actual meeting of riders. All I wanted to have happen was to have riders have fun and ride bikes.

Instead, I let the guy who owned Twenty Nine Inches at that time talk me in to something else.

Boy, do I ever regret letting that happen. 

Which taught me a lesson: Don't ever let anyone talk you out of your dream or vision of how you see something going if you really believe in it. It will never be a success if you let that happen.

So it was to be with this deal called the "Big Wheeled Ballyhoo". It never really worked out, and I never really felt good about it. We had to cancel it due to weather in 2008 and in 2009 I gave it one more shot with help from good friends, and in an effort to start to turn it back in to the thing I thought it should be. Well, it snowed 8 or 9 inches, or some ridiculous thing, on that one. Plus, it happened that I couldn't even be there due to a member of the family having a health serious issue, which required me to stay home.

In short, The Big Wheeled Ballyhoo was doomed. I just wasn't meant to be, in my opinion.

Brandon, a mechanic for Milltown Cycles, riding Ben Witt's 36"er.
Oh, there were some good things that happened at that first Ballyhoo. We got  to hang out with some great folks. There were some cool bikes to check out including the first ever, (I might be mistaken here), ride by anyone of a G2 geometry Fisher Paragon with the brand new Fox fork for 29"ers. If we weren't the first, we were close to it.

Of course, there were the previously mentioned lessons learned. Invaluable to me going forward in regard to putting on Trans Iowa. At this point ten years ago, Trans Iowa was a dead idea to me, but when it was resurrected not more than a couple of months later, the Ballyhoo experiences were what I leaned on. Those experiences steeled my desire to keep Trans Iowa true to its roots and to not let anybody talk me out of that.

I also learned who some of my friends were and who supported what I believed in and who did not. Character was shown and taken note of. The entirety of the Ballyhoo experience was good in that I made some good friends, learned who I could trust, and left the rest behind. I do not regret ever doing it, but it was not a pleasant experience overall.

Sometimes learning things and growing up is hard.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday News And Views

Less expensive, 1 X 12, will be seen everywhere
New Bike Season: It is that time of year when new stuff for the new bike year, (2018 in this case), starts to trickle out. We've seen a few things already, like the new Ultegra and Niner's new SIR 9 model. Another recent intro that I haven't mentioned is SRAM's new, more wallet friendly version of 1 X 12 Eagle in the GX level. Said to be a direct competitor to XT, GX Eagle will be seen on a ton of new 2018 bicycles.

SRAM made sure you'll know it is GX Eagle because the new GX crank arms are flat and wide. Perfect for a huge "GX" logo. One of the other GX Eagle components is a grip shifter. I know that seems odd ball to many of you, but to my mind, a grip shift 1X 12 is a perfect fat bike set up. Think gloved hands, cold air, and keeping your digits warm by ganging them together in an overmitt, or under a pogie. Triggers can be a bit much in those situations whereas a grip shifter is much easier to operate under those circumstances.

Of course, the big expense in the flagship Eagle component group is the (almost) one piece, carved out of a block of steel, cassette. GX gets a pinned together set of 12 cogs. I've used a similar 11 speed cassette on my fat bike and it worked fine. So, it isn't marvelously light, but it certainly isn't heavy by any stretch of the imagination.

An entire Eagle GX groupset can be had for under $500.00, so it isn't a bad upgrade for anyone running an 11 speed SRAM 1X group. Again, I'm not necessarily a fan on all fronts. I totally get 1X for fat bikes, due to the nature of how a front derailleur ends up becoming a focal point for muck collection. (I use a fat bike for wet, muddy, slushy excursions.) I don't necessarily agree with 1X from the standpoint of chain efficiency. I still think there are times when a 2X is a better choice. I like Shimano's thinking in this regard.

The Otso Cycles, Lithic brand, "Hiili" model carbon gravel bike fork.
More Clearance:

The move to make a gravel bike, (read "fat road bike") your "One Bike to Rule Them All" bike, lately has spawned all sorts of oddball stuff that no one was dreaming of 5 years ago. In fact, had anyone introduced a 400mm axle to crown fork that fit a 29" X 2.1" tire, they would have been considered nuts. At least there would have been a lot of "WTF" going on.

But then again, maybe there still is a lot of that thought going on! 

Anyway, there it is. Otso Cycles has this very fork. It can be stuffed with all sorts of fat tired, different diameter wheels, and it could be just the thing for cyclo crossers looking for the maximum mud clearing front wheel holding device. That said, I would think a strut would be better then. Probably would look too weird, eh? But then again, there is the Lauf fork......... Who knows?!! 

Okay, so I am older, I like classic parts, and so this fork doesn't bother me so much since that huge arch looks more like a sloping investment cast crown than a uni-crown fork. Uni-crown forks are obviously a very structurally sound way to make a fork out of metal, but carbon is supposed to be able to be formed into certain shapes and retain strength. Why not approximate a sloping crown steel fork in carbon? Now that would keep some folks hair raised, I am sure, but how cool would that be?

Anyway..... My main beef with carbon forks is that they typically are brutal to ride. I sure hope this fork is not one of those forks, if ya know what I mean. Hopefully more like the TRP CX fork I got to try, or the 3T fork I heard was nice. But that isn't all Otso had to tell of......

They now are a component brand to the consumer and industry. They will be selling this fork and a handle bar, and wheels, and fat bike rims under the "Lithic"brand label.

Fatty hasn't been the same since.......
 Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational News:

I have been pretty quiet about this so far this year, but now it is getting closer and I've got plans to share. The next GTDRI happens on July 29th. (YES, I know that is the last day of RAGBRAI. That's on purpose....) That Saturday we will be going on a "tour of dirt roads" Iowa style in Tama County.

The inspiration for this route is from my friends in the Pirate Cycling League who do their own "Tour Of Dirt Roads". I thought it might be fun to try that up here.

It's a huge risk, because if it rains it will be a re-route fest and it could become a wild, weird day of wandering instead of cruising cool dirt roads, but whatever happens happens. I'm going for it.

So, as of now I am planning on the following for the route:
  • Distance- At least 100 miles, but not more than 120.
  • Starting Point- Traer Iowa. We will loop back to here to end the ride as well.
  • Pass Through Towns. (Subject to change) Toledo, Garwin, Reinbeck
  • Ride happens rain or shine with or without anyone showing up.
  • This is a free to attend ride. Anyone that thinks they can hack it can show up. 
More soon...... Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend! Ride your bicycles and stay safe!



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Soggy Solstice Ride

I could see the rain coming......
Wednesday. Time to ride. Well.........it would be, if it ever would quit raining on Wednesdays. Last Wednesday I got snookered out of a ride and this one looked to be headed in the same direction. We had a nice thunderstorm roll through in the morning, so I took the time to maintenance the Twin Six Standard Rando and change the elastomers in the Redshift ShockStop stem I am testing on it.

Around lunch time it cleared out and I decided to eat and then I would get out there. Well, about the time I am headed out the door, radar indicated rain all around Waterloo. I went out anyway. Heck, sometimes radar indicates rain and it amounts to nothing. Fake news and all. I wasn't going to miss out on riding.

Things looked wet all around, for sure, but where I was it seemed dry enough. No standing puddles, no spritzing of rain, no immediate threat to me. So, I went onward. Aker Road to Washburn, and around down on Holmes Road to Petrie Road to test the new Resolute's mud clearing capacity. I figured the rain would have made some nice mud for me to get in to.

That would be found out in due time. Right at that moment I had a nasty Southeastern headwind to push against. It was tough sledding heading South. The gravel was wet and actually muddy in some spots here. They must have gotten quite the gully washer that morning. No trouble with fresh gravel, at least there was that. I found plenty of good lines on my way.

Best to heed the sign, but I had testing to do!
Petrie didn't look too bad. I actually made it to the place where the black dirt turned to clay, then all bets were off. The wheels stopped turning and I was obliged to walk after that. You can see the top of the hill in the image here, and that is where I finally could drop the bike and roll it along where there was a line of clover blooming on the left side of the roadway.


Once I reached the grassy margin in the middle I could ride again.
The Resolutes clear mud like a champ, so once I got rolling again I didn't have to stop to scrape mud at all. In fact, after about a half mile of gravel you'd never know that I had been packed up with mud unless you looked at the frame. The tires looked fine.

Heading East was better than going South, but when I turned out on Ansborough, I got the full effects of the tailwind and I was off to the races. The gravel was newer over here, but as long as I was headed North it did not matter. I found it easy to keep hammering.

I went down Washburn Road and back to Aker, then started making my way back toward Waterloo. I was keeping an eye on the sky the entire ride, but it wasn't until I made it back on to the Sergeant Road bike path that I began to think I might end up getting caught in some rain.

It was going to be a close call, but in the end, I decided not to try to outrun this. I know when to make a run for it and this rain cloud wasn't warranting a heavy output. So, I motored onward.

Getting wet on the bike is maybe something a lot of people try to avoid. I guess I'd try to avoid getting into a heavy thunderstorm, but your garden variety shower? Meh..... Not that big of a deal, especially in the Summer. I wasn't too worried, and as it turned out it didn't really start raining on me in earnest until I was about 12 blocks from the house.

It is kind of a weird thing with me and rain. Once it starts raining, and I am riding, I get a boost of energy. Once on a Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitaional it rained on us and I took off up the steep hills of Jasper County like I had a turbo boost. A friend started calling me "Contador" because I was climbing so well. It was just that it was raining. I cannot explain why I am that way.

Well, the rain made me go like a son of a gun and I was home before ya knew it, dripping wet on the front porch. Some "solstice ride"! Usually it is a long day in the saddle where you expect to have to use copious amounts of sun tan lotion. Not dodging rain storms and lightning bolts!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Thinning The Herd: Part 2

Navigating the Iowan jungle.
Back in the first "Thinning The Herd" post I spoke about the Fargo Gen 2 bike and why it was that I was parting ways with that rig. I sent the frame and fork off to its new owner, and that should be arriving with him this Friday, if not before. So, that chapter in my bicycle fleet is now nearly closed.

Of course, I stripped a bunch of parts off that bike and I alluded to that in the first post linked above. The Gen 2 Fargo was known as the "Fat Fargo" since it was sporting those 27.5+ wheels and tires. This was a key part for another bike, my Fisher. Sure, it was actually a bike sold as a Trek, but c'mon! This is a Fisher bike that came out the year after Trek absorbed Fisher. I'm sure it was meant to be a Fisher.

Now for a bit of history on the Sawyer. The  Sawyer was a 2 X 9 bike with a rigid fork. Trek sold it for two years and then it went away. Obviously, it was a special model made to be an evolution of Gary Fisher's original "Klunker" bike. A model of which made a cameo appearance in the mid-90's as well. In my opinion, the 2011/2012 Sawyer model was the best looking non-custom cruiser styled mountain bike ever. Unfortunately, the absorption of the Fisher brand in to Trek's corporate "borg hive-like" culture killed the marketing of this bike. Essentially was it doomed from the get-go because Trek dealers largely ignored the whimsical, oddball Sawyer and due to the lack of marketing buzz, many riders didn't know what to make of it.

The 27.5+ wheels and this bike were meant for each other.
 Trek sent me a Sawyer to review for Twenty Nine Inches back in the day and when I was done, they, as many companies did, ignored my requests for instructions to send it back. So.......here it is to this day. I liked the Sawyer as it was offered, but it had almost no corporate buzz and getting anything beyond the basics from Trek about it was met with radio silence, for the most part. As I surmised at the time, it was an expensive bike to produce, since it had so many proprietary castings and the frame was difficult to produce. With its triple top tubes having to be precisely bent and welded into place, I can imagine that this frame kept some Trek folks up late at night worrying that they might have a load of misaligned frames on their hands. What is more, it has a split drive side drop out, which is one of the trickest belt compatibility solutions I've ever seen. Had this been a NAHBS one-off custom, it would have been a very popular rig. But it got stuck with a Trek head tube badge and that pretty much killed the "cool factor" right there. Many Sawyers, which were about $1500.00 retail, ended up selling at a grand or even less by 2013 just so dealers could clear them out.


So, like I say, I had this thing setting around so I began to play with it. I had an older Fisher with a 100mm Fox fork, a G2 geometry fork, so I put it on the Sawyer. Then I swapped the geared set up to a Gates Center Track for another review of those parts. Along the way, I had trouble getting comfortable with the gangly, high, and akward Sawyer. It was like a teenager that hadn't matured into its overly large feet and hands. It just never set well with me, and although I was, (and still am) in love with the look, I could never reconcile with how this bike felt despite multiple changes to it. The stock set up seemed to be far better, so I purposed to go back to that to see what I was screwing up with what I had been doing to this bike.

So, the whole 27.5+ thing started blowing up in 2013, and I got sent a set of WTB Trailblazer 2.8"ers to try out. The Sawyer was a perfect candidate for the wheels. I knew people had shoe-horned 29+ wheels into Sawyers, so the clearances were there. The bottom bracket, in a choice made by Trek/Fisher in what I am sure was an influence from Gary himself, was made to have almost zero drop. Putting slightly smaller diameter wheels on the Sawyer would be okay then.

The wheels seemed tailor made for the Sawyer. For the first time the bike seemed "right". I actually had a ton of fun with it set up with the 27.5+ wheels. But I ended up choosing to go with these wheels on the Fargo, which, for a time, proved to be a great choice as well. The Sawyer, in the meantime, languished in the corner of The Lab where it was doomed to sit until I either sold it or got some 27.5+ wheels for it. I never was motivated to build up another 27.5+ set up, so instead, I almost sold the Sawyer a couple of months ago.

Then the realization that I may want a Ti Fargo more than two steel ones came along. I sold the Gen 2 frame and fork, and the wheels were suddenly available again, so.... Now I am planning on keeping this bike around.

Now you know the rest of the story.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

5 Things I Learned From Mountain Biking

Riding single track can teach you a lot of bike skills.
The innergoogles loves it when you post a title with a number in it, and marketers say that "list posts" are some of the most read posts. Whatever. I don't care. So, for no other sane reason than I just want to write about this, here we go with some things I've learned and valued along the way that came from my mountain biking experiences.

1: Look Where You Want To Go, Not Where You Don't: This sounds so simple it is crazy, but think about some crashes you have maybe had in your cycling. Many times that drop off, that rut, that bad pot hole, we look at it and we go right in to it. Bang! Crash!

The trick isn't to ignore things like that, but to identify them as hazards, and then look where you do want to go. Because if you keep an eye on that hazard, it will bite you. Look beyond the things you want to stay away from, focus on the good line. This is especially true for gravel road riding.

2: Arms & Legs Are Suspension Devices: Long ago all mountain bikes were rigid. Both ends. This meant that you either learned how to deal with trail irregularities or you crashed a lot and broke stuff regularly. This also meant that if you didn't want to crash and burn "you had ta get yer butt offa tha saddle and absorb them bumps wit da arms and tha legs". (Regards to the "Old Coot") Yes, arms were suspension and so were your legs.

Even today I lighten my pressure in the saddle whenever I see bumpy terrain by using my arms and my legs. You also use your core, but let's not get all technical here. You get the picture. I learned this from mountain biking on rigid mtbs in the early 90's. Still pays dividends today.

3: Go Low On The Air: Before there were fat bikes or tubeless tires, you had to learn how to play with air pressures as a mountain biker. Too high and you were washing out in corners, getting bucked and bumped all over the place, and rattling your eyeballs out. Too low and you were folding tires over in corners, pinch flatting on rocks, and denting rims. It was a delicate balancing act that, if you got it right, meant that your shred was stellar. Mountain biking taught me that tire pressures were never meant to be "as high as the tire sidewall said you could go". In fact, I almost always disregarded those recommendations. I still go as low as I can on gravel for the best ride quality, traction, and best rolling resistance characteristics.

Lessons learned from mountain biking. Here I am using really low pressures at the 2015 DK200. Arms and legs for suspension. Image by A Andonopoulous
 4: Check Your Fasteners Regularly: Having a rigid mountain bike taught me that things can and will vibrate loose over time. Important stuff like stem bolts, crank arm bolts, and rack or fender bolts all can work loose and if you do not check them regularly, you could be in for a big surprise someday. I find that gravel riding is actually worse than it ever was for mountain biking in this area.

5: Shift Early- Shift Often: This is one that I repeated to myself all during the "DK My Way" ride about a month ago. It is also one I violate the most because, well........single speeding! I gotta learn when to not think like a single speeder.Which is tough, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, shift a lot and do it before you get a ton of pressure on the pedals.

Back in the early days of mountain biking, before shift ramps and pins, and Di2, you had to have some serious shifting skills. That or you'd be in the wrong gear a lot. Because if you didn't "let up" a bit on the pedals, spin a decent cadence, and if you waited too long before you got into that hill, you were single speeding! That old 18 speed triple drive train wasn't going to shift! So, you learned to "shift early" and you shifted a lot, or you were wasting energy. That still holds true today. Shifting early means less pressure on the chain, less wear and tear, and less chances for breaking the chain. Which, if you hadn't noticed lately, has gotten a lot thinner than it used to be. Plus, shifting early and often takes less of a toll on your body. 

There is my list. I have learned more than this from mountain biking, but those are the things that came to mind first. So there!

 

Monday, June 19, 2017

The New SIR 9 From Niner

Niner Bike's new SIR 9- The "what the El Mariachi should be like" bike.
Niner Bikes announced a new SIR 9 bike today. The steel hard tail is an evolution of their first model which was introduced in 2005. This new SIR 9 is more in the "modern geometry" vein and also sports the ability to be a 27.5+ bike or a straight up 29"er bike. They also figured that most folks that have a hankerin' for a steel 29"er hard tail probably will also be inclined to do a bit of "bikepacking" (read- bike camping) and Niner added a bunch of braze on points for hard mounted frame bags.

This all makes sense. Steel frames are regarded as being tough and up to the task of the back country cyclist. Hard tails eschew the complications of a full suspension bike. Plus, many regard hard tails as being more efficient, especially for touring/bikepacking/bike camping. The SIR 9 started out as Niner's flagship XC oriented hard tail SS/geared bike. The times have changed and so Niner offered up an update of this iconic model.

Interestingly, I find that Niner's evolution of the SIR 9 stands in stark contrast to what Salsa Cycles did when they ditched off their legacy steel hard tail model, the El Mariachi, in favor of a low end spec, aluminum hard tail dubbed the Timberjack. Many thought that Salsa would update their El Mariachi, steel hard tail 29"er, to be a "plus bike" compatible rig and that they would update the bike to "modern geometry" standards. Much like what Niner has done with the SIR 9.

The reinforced chain stay yoke that Niner developed for the SIR 9 is very complex and an interesting solution.
 Oddly enough, the Salsa Cycles Timberjack is not really even in the same vein as the former El Mariachi. It then seems rather ironic that Niner Bikes has upstaged Salsa in regards to this sort of bike. The SIR 9 would appear then to be exactly what the former champions of the El Mariachi were hoping to see from Salsa. A trail bike with bike packing as a standard focus. A bike with a short rear/long front center and a slack head angle. Steel tubes and modern amenities.

So, when I see this new SIR 9, I see "what the El Mariachi should have morphed in to". A steel hard tail that could be single speed, geared, and has modern geometry and "adventure by bike" capabilities. Not a rebadged, price point, aluminum tubed, poorly spec'ed model.

At least devotees of the steel hard tail 29"er have a champion in Niner Bikes.


Prioritizing

Capping off Father's Day with some fellow Dads.
So, while many of you reading this may not be fathers, I am. It is a distinct honor, privilege, and responsibility that I do not take lightly or for granted. I am beyond humbled, stoked, and blessed to be a "father" to two children and to represent being a father to a few others in this World.

So, bike riding, while an awesome activity, and central to who I am as a person, is secondary to being a father. This having been that weekend designated for chaps like myself, I decided to not be selfish and to engage in being the Dad that I am to the two people I have been gifted to be that person to.

It was good, but I did sneak a bicycle ride in. I went for a capper to the weekend that included a fixed gear ramble over to Lark Brewing, a local brewery, and met up with two co-workers of mine from the shop that are also fathers. We traded stories of fatherhood and more over a flite of fine brews and then I aimed my non-coasting rig back to the homestead.

Anyway, all this to say that there are some things in Life more important than cycling, and being honored and entrusted to being a father is one of those more important things. I hope that no father out there feels cheated for having to accept the accolades and/or being the dutiful Dad that this past weekend seeks to impose upon us who are blessed in such a manner.