Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In Search Of Marky-Mark

Real dark- Real single track
The story of the "Marky-Mark" trail goes way back into the late 90's. I was just freshly divorced, had a new job at a car repair shop after working at a bike shop for 3 plus years, and had little time for cycling of any sort. I still wanted to be biking, but with working a very physical job for 60 hours a week, well- it left little energy for anything else.

Even though I was drained physically most every day, I concocted a plan to do some new trails all by myself in the Green Belt. One of those trails is long gone now, but one remains. It connects two "Y" sections of the original bridal trails made in the 50's in the Leonard Katoski Green Belt. The trails "Y" off at a point just Southeast of Ridgeway Road and terminate at Ridgeway, leaving about a quarter mile of distance between the two trail heads. "Marky-Mark" connects those two ends of the "Y" so you can loop across on off road trails instead of riding along Ridgeway if you wanted to create a loop on the Southeast side of Ridgeway towards Ainsborough Avenue.

I spent many hours hacking out "Marky-Mark" and sweated out many decisions about where the trail should go through at. Although I was helped out with the trail to a small degree by another man, I did about 95% of the actual single track work to cut that trail in. It got named because both myself and the guy who did a little bit of work on this trail were both named "Mark". I didn't give it that name, but that is what stuck. I don't write all this to brag, or for any glory, but just to set the record straight and tell the story. That's my trail out there, for what it is worth.

One of the older trees in the Green Belt is on Marky-Mark
Anyway, every year I usually try to get out there to see how "Marky-Mark" is doing and ride it. Last night was that ride for this year.

I don't ever do any maintenance on that trail and I haven't lifted a finger to do anything on the trail for well over a decade. I decided a long time ago that I had done way more than my share in maintenance for the few years that I toiled alone in maintaining "Marky-Mark" and back then it was a totally thankless effort. I ended up getting married again, having a family, and life took me in a totally different direction. I think it also is good to remember that in the late 90's mountain biking was at its nadir in the Cedar Valley so interest in my trail was nil. But that was then......I moved on, but others eventually stepped in and have kept "Marky-Mark" alive for well over 15 years now. That's pretty dang amazing to me. And to whomever is doing the work- Thank you very much!

The young crescent moon setting early.
 This trail stands in stark contrast to most Green Belt Trails. "Marky-Mark" is really narrow, primitive single track. I bet most folks think it is a well worn deer trail, not realizing that it wasn't there before I scratched it out in 1997.

I rode it and it is all clear with a few big logs to jump over and weeds about three feet high in places along the sides of the very narrow tread of this trail. Someone recently cut off a bunch of branches on a dead fall to make the trail passable, which is nice to see. Apparently a few folks, at the least, seem to think that this trail is worthwhile! I doubt they even know it has a name though.

That's okay with me, by the way. I don't really care if I get any notice for that trail at all, but I am glad to see that my efforts of over 15 years ago are still being enjoyed by at least a few folks out there. That brings me some satisfaction, I won't lie about that.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Trans Iowa V11: Recon Report

Downtown Grinnell Iowa
Trans Iowa is an event with a big course every year. Every year that course is different. That means I have to go out and see if the roads I have drawn the course over actually exist, or are the kinds of roads we would want for a Trans Iowa course. The process of examining the course is called "recon". That's what my friend Jeremy and I did on Saturday for 14 hours.

It's not easy, but it has to be done. 4:00am comes early especially when you can't sleep the night before because you are thinking about the course too much, about what you need to bring for recon, and whether or not the course would be correct for Trans Iowa.

One thing Jeremy and I do know and that is you have to start by having breakfast at the Frontier Cafe. It may not look like much from the outside, but inside it has some "old school" charm and more importantly- great food and service. Let's just say that this stop for breakfast is a highlight of the whole trip for both of us.

Well, with bellies full and everything set, we took to the start line and drove off to see the course. The day which looked like it may start out wet was actually beautiful, sunny, and with little wind. Oddly enough, the vast majority of all the roads we traveled, (but not the dirt ones, obviously), had freshly laid gravel on them, so it was dusty. Really dusty. At this point, that was merely an observation, but it would be an important factor later on the day.

It didn't take long for us to find a discrepancy in the maps versus reality. A road we chose was truncated by a bridge that had been out for at least ten years, judging by the trees growing behind the barrier. However; that wasn't the oddest thing. We saw something strange on the barrier and checked it out. It was a HP laptop that had been punctured/shot/drilled by someone. We took some pictures and left it where we found it.

Okay, that oddity out of the way, we moved on. Then there was, almost immediately, another strange road that was signed as "Road Closed" but had been freshly graded and we drove through just fine. Of course, it was dirt, but still. Anyway, we decided it was too weird and decided to make another re-route there as well. Moving on then. We found a pretty rough B Maintenance road, and went onward. Then there was a big mess we had to work through due to a road being paved that wasn't marked that way on the maps.

The harvest is in full swing out there. Corn here is being dumped into wagons for transport.

An B Road overhung by trees on the course.
Further on we ended up scrapping about 15 miles and re-routing down a completely different set of roads to get around a very difficult knot of B Roads, truncated roads, and pavement. It was a very frustrating middle of the day, for sure.

I will say that we saw some really rad B Maintenance roads that would be a blast to ride on, just not roads that were suitable for Trans Iowa in late April. Some roads were drawn on a couple different mapping sources that were, in reality, now C Maintenance roads and gated off. Some we drove had low water crossings, that although were dry when we were there, probably would not be when April came along.

This is why you have to go look at your course before your event, (unless the course is the same all the time and you travel it often), because you just never can trust the maps. Anyone's maps. Even the State DOT maps are often in error. You also should look at your course to see just what the riders will face in the order they will face it in. Only then can a race/event director make informed choices on the course. Anyway......that's what I believe.

It got so dusty that my camera's auto focus started focusing on the window!
So, back to the course- It was a mess, but we figured out a way to make things work. It was not just the roads either, but we even re-routed the course for re-supply reasons. Twice!

Ongoing dustiness was a cause for concern. We almost got pegged by an oncoming car once that was hurtling around a corner in a huge cloud of dust. This obscured our vision around said corner for us. Another time it was a van ahead of us that was kicking up so much dust that I had to keep slowing down to avoid running up the backside of it as it slowed to make a turn. I just couldn't see it at all in front of us. The dust also made seeing difficult as it was accumulating on the windshield and the glare of the Sun off that was darn near impossible to see through. No amount of washer fluid and wiping seemed to be effective.

I know....cry me a river, right? That said, the dust actually was a reason we had a slower trip than maybe we should have. Having only 80 miles left to look over is better than going into the ditch. It was a long day too, and fresher eyes and minds will be a good thing for the last bit.

It is going to be a very different Trans Iowa course. Without saying too much, this course will feature an entirely different feel than anything Trans Iowa has ever had before. Well......that is if I don't decide to pitch a bunch of it and change things up more. Expect less climbing than you've known or heard about. Expect dirt roads. That's all I'll say for now.... Stay tuned for a recon follow up coming in a month or less.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Trans Iowa V11: What You Won't See

Your tour guide- Guitar Ted (Image by J Fry)
The recon process usually produces some weird findings. There have been slaughtered pigs in plastic 55 gallon barrels, broken down pianos, discarded roadside sofas, and various flattened and decaying animals over the years. I never cease to be amazed by what we find out in the boondocks.

It only makes sense that people think "no one will find this out here" because of the rural nature of this area. It also goes to show you that you shouldn't think that way. Somebody always finds what you don't want them to. Eventually.

Of course, there are a few roads and features that never make the cut for a Trans Iowa course for one reason or another. We found a lot of that kind of thing this year because of how much of the course we drove and the higher percentage of dead ends and bad features we found this time. I decided to share this post showing what fell on the cutting room floor. Things you will not see on Trans Iowa V11. With no further introductions........

For more on this, see tomorrow's post. Imaged just the way we found it here.....
Old cedar tree decorated with various cans and bottles.
A major re-route cut this dirt road out of the course. Don't worry. There are others that will be on T.I.V11.
It's been dry lately, yet this crossing is too wet for a Trans Iowa. It was routed around and won't be included in T.I.V11
Freshly graded road. All black earth. Marked as "closed". We routed around this to avoid potential conflict. 
This cool, twisty road was axed due to no good way to route it through a certain city that shall remain nameless.
Look for a recon report on what will actually be on the course tomorrow. Well.......don't think I'll give anything away. It's more just a story about the day. But there will be a bit about what to expect. Stay tuned.....

Trans Iowa V11: A Look At The Rules Part 3- Sayin' It Again

Be Prepared! (Image by A. Andonopoulous)
 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".

 Last week this series kicked off with the "Golden Rule" which was all about being responsible for yourself. The next rule was probably more or less just restating things in a different way, but has a similar idea behind it to the Golden Rule. Here it is.......
2: The Trans-Iowa Mountain Bike Race is a non-stop, self-supported, solo competition along the gravel roads of rural Iowa. Competitors must carry with them ALL necessary equipment.
So, yeah......the whole self-supported deal again. I'll get to all that in a minute, but first, you may have noted the "Mountain Bike" part in that rule. Here is the story behind that.  Jeff, as I have said, was coming from a mountain bike point of view. We had no real good idea what sort of bike would eventually win out as being "the" choice for riding gravel. We were certain that the pounding of gravel and uncertain conditions regarding the course would call out for a mountain bike. Others were not so sure about that, (which will be discussed in a special rule coming later), and this created no end of hot, passionate debate on the online forum at mtbr.com where we had set up a Trans Iowa thread in the Endurance XC Racing section.

Mountain bikes were the most prevalent in T.I.V1: (L-R: GT, Patrick Humenny, Dave Kerkove)

 Jeff was keen to make this a mountain bike race from the onset. We were always on the lookout for single track opportunities along the route, and this was why we went through Pilot Knob State Park, as I knew there were bridal paths through there we could maybe fit into the route. It also is a big reason why we went to end the event in Decorah. We had high hopes of using some of the excellent trails there for the final miles of Trans Iowa, but that plan was nixed early on, and subsequent Trans Iowas just led us further away from the mountain biking idea altogether. That said, now you know why Jeff wrote that rule with "Mountain Bike" in there.

Now as far as the self-supported part, it was necessary for us to reiterate that there would be no allowance for "help" from outsiders along the route. Of course, there was the single checkpoint in Algona, where riders were going to be allowed to have support from a "crew", ala 24 hour racing. Again- an idea brought in by Jeff. (Ironically, the Dirty Kanza 200 adopted this tactic for their event several years ago, but did not have such a rule to begin with.) It also is noteworthy to remember that Mike Curiak advised against this idea from the onset, being more stringent on the self-support idea than we were at the time.

Finally, you may note the words, "non-stop" in the rule which was underscoring the fact that there would be no time for sleeping. (Yes- we were getting asked about whether that might be allowed or advisable.) More on that facet of Trans Iowa coming later.....

Next Week: Rule #3

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Recon Day

Good signs.
If you are reading this Saturday morning, I am probably out there.......somewhere. Jeremy and I will be out all day doing T.I.V11 recon. Last year we knocked this out in two sessions. I think Jeremy wants to hit up the entire thing this time!

I'm not so sure I will find that doable, since there are a TON of question marks going into this route. Again, I expect revisions, and you just never know how many roads will be gone, under construction, or just plain suck. Any of those could cause me to scrap a huge part of the course and that would slow us waaaaay down.

Another thing I need to gauge is the B Road count. I haven't a very good handle on how many and where the B Roads are at in this loop. I hope that this recon helps clear that up somewhat. We also need to identify two checkpoint locations, and find where the convenience store opportunities will come at. These are all things that only putting eyes on the land will answer. They may also take up more time in decision making.

So, I feel that if we can achieve at least 170 miles of recon, that will be sufficient. Any more than this will be gravy on top, but I do expect to be back out one more time at least to finish up on loose ends.

It's a great day. You should go for a bicycle ride!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday News And Views

The fat bike phenomenon continues to roll along and seems like an avalanche when you consider how much stuff was introduced at Eurobike and Interbike. (HA! I said "avalanche"!) Anyway.......

We were wondering at the shop when this wave will plateau, or when the whole deal will fall off, or.....will it keep on growing? Of course, no one really knows the answer to that, but I will say that I think it has to keep on growing. Why? Well, all these companies didn't jump in to lose money, ya know? More product distributed in more places will sell more products "just because". Of course, that may not be to the levels that these companies think it will go to, but the numbers are not going to shrink in the coming year. I just don't see it happening soon.

Salsa Cycles Bucksaw
There is one big key to the fat bike marketplace. That key is whether or not the average recreational cyclist can get past the "snow bike" image and buy into the fat bike as being the "all-year round" off road, all-terrain vehicle. If that happens at all, then fat bikes will be a growth market for several more years. Of course, that's just what some fat bike producers are hoping for, and some are even pushing the boundaries now.

A legitimate suspension design applied to a fat bike platform has already happened. The Bucksaw, by Salsa Cycles, is going to be seen in the future as a "first" of its kind and maybe "the bike that changed it all", or it will be quickly forgotten as a bad experiment. I highly doubt that it will be seen as a failure judging by all the commentary I've read about this bike, both from everyday riders and folks in the business. (This is a great read that illustrates what I am saying quite well) However; sales figures are what "talks", so if Bucksaws don't fly out of dealers doors, then, you know, the story will be written differently. I seriously doubt that will happen, but it could.

I'm considering getting this type of bike in the near future and tackling the tough trails near my in-laws' home. (And elsewhere, obviously.) I just have a few other goals in the way here first. (Like the Blackborow DS, for starters.)

I'll be seeing lots of this Saturday,
T.I.V11 Recon:

The day Saturday will be spent driving the proposed course for T.I.V11 with my co-conspirator Jeremy Fry. Between the two of us, we will be devising, recording, and discussing the course to death over 300 plus miles. There may be processed beef products consumed along with an energy drink. (It's a tradition, ya know.)

This doesn't mean that the course will be written in stone after Saturday. In fact, I have a funny feeling there will be more questions than answers after the day is over. That's okay too. The thing is that this will kick start the process of figuring out the course and if there needs to be some revisions, well then we've got time to figure that out. You know, things like convenience stores and check point sites.

Of course, there will be a full on report with images when the dust settles, so stay tuned for that coming probably on Monday. An announcement on registration will follow in about a week or two.

More Red:

It may be a little hard to find where I added red here.
 I have pulled the B+ wheels from the Fargo and decided to go with more "burly-ness" for the move back to 29"er hoops. That meant going back to a wheel set from the same era as the Fargo Gen 1. I had built up a Hope Evo Pro II hub set onto some Gordo rims. The Gordo rims were a Salsa Cycles product which were 35mm wide, and although Salsa Cycles denies to the death that they are tubeless rims, that's okay. They totally rock as tubeless rims.

So, I stuck with the Kenda Honey Badger rubber which is pretty fast for how wide and big those tires are. The tires should lend more cush, and with the wider rims, I can lower pressures for better rolling resistance and traction. That means more off road and less gravel stuff for the Fargo. That's okay too......

As for the red stuff, I am growing to like it. I never thought about accessorizing this bike in red things. I always saw this bike in black or maybe even gold anodized things, possibly even green. I actually was going the green route when I bought a Chris King bottom bracket in green for this rig, which ended up on the other Fargo, actually.

Anyway- This Fargo goes back to its roots as a mountain bike that can do gravel, or double track, or fire roads. I have too many dedicated gravel rigs to keep this from being what it was meant to be.

And that wraps up this edition of Friday News And Views. Have a great weekend and ride those bicycles.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sawyer B+ Update

I had someone ask about posting some images of the tire clearances with the B+ Trailblazer tires from WTB and my Sawyer. So this post will be all about that and some extra info regarding fitting these to some other 29"er frames.

Before I get to the clearance images, I wanted to report on my findings as far as how these fit into some 29"ers I have around here. Interestingly, anything full suspension has been a no-go for B+ Hard tails have all been no problem.

I have a Big Mama Salsa Cycles frame here and an older Gary Fisher Hi-Fi 29"er. The B+ Trailblazer was no where near close to fitting on the Hi-Fi and the yoke shape of the chain stays on the Big Mama pinched in at just the wrong place for the B+ tires to fit there as well. Now those are both older 29"er FS designs, so something newer may be a different story, but it is my opinion that most older 29"er full suspension designs will not fit the B+ Trailblazer.

Now for the Sawyer clearance images......

Chain stay clearance
Seat stay clearance
I probably could shorten the wheel base a bit if I were running geared.
TONS of clearance with the old Fox F-29 fork.
So, it would seem that almost any older hard tail to newer hard tail 29"er will work with B+. Full suspension designs will be a mixed bag. I'm betting most older designs won't work because the tires back then for 29"ers were not that wide and designs were compromised by lack of R&D and design focus. Many newer trail/AM designs may work with the B+ format.

As far as how it affects a 29"er going to the B+ Trailblazer. I can say that anything you may have with a slightly high bottom bracket will have a second personality with B+. It will work really well, and the low pressures you can run, coupled with the crazy good traction will make you smile. The Sawyer seems tailor made for B+, since it has a crazy high BB with 29"er rubber and with the B+ Trailblazer, it reigns that in a bit and the bike is super sweet riding now. I cannot see going back to 29"er hoops on this rig with big tires again due to the better feel and lowered stance that the Trailblazers have brought to the Sawyer.

So, there ya go.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How Low Can You Go?

Along with the "wider rim/bigger tire volume" craze you also have to add in the lowered air pressures. If you have a fat bike, for example, or have gone to wider mtb rims and big tires, are on the 29+ bandwagon, or even if you've got wider road rims and 28mm tires, you aren't getting the full benefits of the idea here unless you go lower on the air pressures.

Now, this isn't a post to tell you what you should be running for air pressures. No- you should do your own reasearch. However; I can tell you what is working for me, and you know what? I know other cyclists doing similar things. This just isn't me spouting off. In fact, research has been done to prove this out, if you worship at the church of all things science. So, there is that as well.

Anyway.......I was reminded of this air pressure deal with my 29+ set up on the MukTruk. The set up is Velocity Duallys with Surly Knard 120TPI tires set up tubeless with the home brew sealant I use. The MukTruk has been my main commuter rig for the last month and a half.

The air pressures I set the tires to at first was 20psi rear, about 18psi front. Then I just kept riding the MukTruk day after day without really keeping on top of the air pressures. There towards the end I may have huffed them up a bit. Maybe a couple of times. Then there were a few kind of bouncy rides last week, but honestly, I was not working all that hard to keep going. A recently bulldozed field was a piece of cake on this bike at the (assumed) lower pressures.

The MukTruk, for reference.
Then the other day I thought the rear tire was too soft. Time to add air! I put in 20psi into the rear tire, according to my Topeak Joe Blow floor pump, which is about seven years old now. I left the front tire alone. Then yesterday I thought the front was also too soft. Aired that up to 18 or so on the Topeak pump.

Now, I've been using the Topeak pump as a reference for a long time, but I figured it was time to get a more accurate read. So I purchased the "Accugauge" as seen above, and found out what I thought was 20 was actually 15! The front was at 14 psi, so at least the differences were similar. (Assuming the "Accugauge" is as accurate as its name suggests.) Now......so what? Well, obviously the last few days I used the MukTruk before resetting the pressures I was likely into the single digits for riding pressure. All I can say is that the Topeak gauge didn't register a pressure when I pumped up the tires recently!

At the 15/14 set up, I can tell you that I was only maybe marginally faster. Maybe. I find that usually tires have a sweet spot for air pressure which balances comfort, control, and speed. I almost always ride tubeless, so pinch flatting is not an issue. Only in regard to fat bike tires and skinnier gravel road set ups do I still often use tubes, and even then, I am dumping air pressures. I have ridden much of my gravel road stuff at around 40 psi or less. (And I weigh about 230lbs, for reference.)

I will be using the MukTruk as my "less severe weather" commuter this Winter, and I know I'll be dumping the pressures into the single digits at times for ultimate traction. On my fat bikes, there have been times when the air pressures were so low the side walls were wrinkling. (Ultimate traction scenarios only) So, play with your air pressures no matter where you ride. You might find speed and comfort are not mutually exclusive when it comes to air pressures, and you may discover another higher level of performance at the same time.