Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Let's Get This Ball Rolling Already! Part 2

The Noble GX5
So the weather is improving day by day. I've been readying the test fleet and items for review and have started using a few of these items already. To make matters worse, (better?), I got another piece of kit to review yesterday. Plus, I have something I purchased for personal use that I very well could review, but that will have to wait until I get this backlog of stuff ahead of it in line done and out of the way.

Anyway, I wanted to share this rig here, the Noble GX5 gravel bike. It is an evolution of the Tamland, which you long time readers here know I had some influence on when that bike was developed. However; for those who haven't heard the tale, I think it bears repeating here, so please indulge me the chance to briefly bring those who don't know about this up to speed......

In 2012, I was working at the bike shop, wrenching on repairs, when I got a call. It was the brand manager at that time for Raleigh Bikes, Brian Fornes. He had a room of people listening on speaker phone and he wanted to know what I would do if I spec'ed out a gravel bike under the Raleigh banner. Now keep in mind, I had no idea this call was coming and the information I gave Raleigh was right off the top of my head.

To be sure, I had been exploring here on the blog concerning the "ideal gravel bike for me", so the information was fresh. Still, that I was able to convey anything that made any sense to the product engineers sitting there thousands of miles away is pretty incredible. Apparently, it made sense because they used every single suggestion I made in the development of the Tamland, which debuted in 2014.

Fast forward: Mark Landsaat, one of those engineers in that room that day in 2012, started his own brand, Noble Bikes, and he took the "DNA", so to speak, of the Tamland and infused a bit of modernity and his own take on things to come up with the GX5. I know some folks will say that this bike is "just a Roker with a different name", but it isn't at all. It's VERY different from that bike.

I am pretty stoked to get out on the GX5 to see how it stacks up against the Tamland and other bikes I've tried. It is 1X........ahhh, yeah, about that.......This wouldn't be my gig of choice, but it is Force 1 and it does shift great straight out of the box. So, we'll see.........

Bell z20 Aero helmet.
The thing I bought was a helmet. A Bell helmet, to be exact. I'll let you in on a secret- no manufacturers helmets fit my head really well. Bell's come the closest. My hat size is 7 7/8ths, or if you are metric, that's about 63cm around the noggin. Not the biggest head in the world, but to compound matters, my head is long and narrow. Not round. Many helmets, if they even go on my head at all, hit me right in the front and the back with gaping gaps on the sides. Giro helmets do that. They actually hurt me to wear. Lazer, same thing, and on and on.

In fact, if I get a new Bell helmet in size Large, which almost fits me, but not quite, I have to remove all the padding and those pesky Velcro strips, and then and only then does it begin to work. I tried a Bontrager helmet, but it wasn't better than a Bell and it sat up on my head leaving the lower parts exposed and it looked weird. So, I went back to a Bell this time. An aero helmet too. We will see how it goes, but a friend who wears an older Bell aero helmet swears by them and so I figured I'd give one a try. I will say that it doesn't look as odd as the older, super spiky roadie helmets I used to get.

One more confession before I go. If it weren't for friends and my wife, I wouldn't wear a helmet. It feels so much better to not wear one, but I know. Save the "who will take care of you when you are brain injured and drooling in a cup" admonishments. I'm going to be wearing a helmet! I just wish that there were good choices in a helmet that actually fit my head, and not a compromised fit, which honestly, it may not be a whole lot better than not wearing one. Who knows...... (Don't get on me! I'm going to wear a helmet!)

More coming in the weeks ahead......Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Head East In October

Over a year ago I heard about a brand new event that was going to be getting put on in Pennsylvania dubbed "unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley". It sounded ambitious, because the organizers were saying that they were aiming, eventually, to be the premier gravel event on the East side of the US. On the order of the Dirty Kanza, or Rebecca's Private Idaho, as examples of what they wanted to aim for.

I was skeptical at first, but after dealing with one of the organizers, Dave Pryor, it became immediately apparent that his heart was in the right place and that he respected the gravel community's feel and vibe to a high degree. Of course, coming from a background of bandit cyclo cross event promotion, it made sense, but at the time, I was none the wiser.

Anyway, fast forward to last year's Dirty Kanza. Dave was going to be there volunteering to get an inside look at how the DK200 was organized and produced. I met him as he shadowed Jim Cummings, who I have known for years. Come to find out as we spoke to one another, I had already met Dave once before. At a cyclo cross race in Las Vegas. He was the guy in the full-on bacon printed suit. I remember him being pretty cool and interesting at the time, but as it was pure mayhem at that point, I did not get a lot of time with him then. I just knew him as "Bacon Suit Guy". Now I had a name for the suit......er face! 

So, anyway, Dave twisted my arm pretty hard to come out to the inaugural unPAved, but I had already committed to too much at that point and I couldn't make it work. That seemed to change this time. I have N.Y. Roll to blame. He found out about this event separately from me and he told me this past Saturday he intended to register when registration opened Sunday. I told him that if he got in to let me know, because Dave was twisting my arm again already via an e-mail sent last week. Well, N.Y. Roll got in.

This will be me either being thankful or cursing. Come this Fall we'll find out which it is. Image courtesy unPAved
So, some strings were pulled and now I'm in the event too. So, come mid-October I will likely find myself in N.Y. Roll's Subie headed East to Pennsylvania. Never been there before, so this could be interesting. I do know that with a promised near 10,000 feet of climb over 120 miles that it should be a challenge to finish it out. But, I hope that having a bit more temperate conditions to ride in will be to my advantage. These hot, humid rides are not in my wheelhouse. That said, I'm not going to not do GTDRI and Gravel Worlds. I know.......stubborn old coot! 

Now is the time to start getting ready though. I hope to be piling on miles starting now. The weather has turned and only the roads need to catch up so I can start getting fitter and more importantly, get these test/review items that have back logged on me going forward again. That should make riding a priority, then after the glut gets cleared up I can get on with things like the C.O.G. 100 and the Renegade Gent's Race. After that my April is wide open.

First time for that since 2005!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Adventure Ride: Frozen Version

The streets of Waterloo were quiet Saturday morning.
N.Y. Roll had proposed a ride to recon a "dive bar" ride he was planning and asked if I was interested in coming along. Now it was forecast to be in the 20's Saturday morning when we were to leave, but there was supposed to be little wind. I agreed to go, hoping against hope we would be warm enough to make the jaunt enjoyable. That added with the snow melt, which was sure to be hardened ice Saturday, made bike choice critical.

I thought about throwing on the 45NRTH Gravdal studded tires, or maybe taking the Fargo with a wider mtb tire mounted, but then I remembered that I had to get to riding those WTB Venture 650B X 47mm tires I am reviewing. That would probably work, so I looked over the Black Mountain Cycles MCD- otherwise known here as The Bubblegum Princess- and went to sleep Friday with the alarm set to be ready to ride by 8:00am.

Of course, I was up and ready roll by 7:00am! I was fiddling around and thought I should text N.Y. Roll when I heard my phone ping. Wow! Telepathy is a thing, apparently! Anyway, I told him I was ready anytime he was, so he moved up the start time to 7:30am and when he arrived at the house here, we took off.

Early navigational issues. Apparently GPS units don't like the cold.
As we slow rolled through downtown Waterloo, I felt the bite of the crisp air on my ears and cheeks. Good thing I decided to swap out to Winter gloves! It was 27° and when we were moving, it was chilly! At least the downtown streets were clear of run-off ice, so we had no problems moving along.

N.Y. Roll's route connected several "dive bars" in the area. Basically these are run down buildings which house neighborhood bars that have been in existence for years. The first was near a famous restaurant in Waterloo called the DK Hickory House. It is a rib joint, but if you ever saw the exterior, you'd not believe it was a restaurant, first off, and you'd likely have a harder time believing it was once a famous place where many celebrities of the past would come to eat. Anyway, the "Park Road Inn" was right across the street from this joint and once we got un-turned around with directions, we found it and we were off to find the next "dive bar".

The next section of riding basically was taking us East through the Northern edge of Waterloo. Apparently the next bar was in Raymond and it would be several miles before we got there on paved roads. These residential streets N.Y. Roll chose to get us there were sometimes a bit sketchy with run-off ice, especially in the corners, so I was taking great care so as not to go down hard and screw myself up.

Looking back at Waterloo, we saw this flooded field with hundreds of Canadian geese. 
Anywhere near the Cedar River was flooded. Recent run-off has swollen many Mid-West creeks and rivers beyond capacity.
Once we broke free from the city proper we were greeted with the rising Sun in our faces and warming air. Well.......slight warming of air, really. It was still pretty chill and my sock choice was not on point. My tootsies were frozen by this time into the ride, but I pedaled onward despite that. The road was lined with frozen flood waters from the run-off of snow melt. These are typical areas to see flooding happen, so we weren't getting the disastrous floods like they are in Nebraska. Still, it was impressive to see just how much water was covering the flood plains.

N.Y. Roll enjoys the morning Sun as we ride the frozen shoulder coming into Raymond.
Eventually we were obliged to turn onto a fairly well used County road. Fortunately the pea graveled shoulder was smooth and frozen. It was as easy to ride as pavement. This took us into Raymond eventually and our next "dive bar" location was identified. Then it was straight on to the South to Gilbertville and the next bar location.

We stayed on the shoulder, only here it was on a strip about a foot, maybe slightly wider, of paved road on the right side of the "white line". Cars were giving us a full lane as they passed and we did not experience any close calls except for one where three cars met going opposite directions right as they passed by us. So we were all within close proximity of each other there, but no harm- no foul.

The Cedar River bridge at Gilbertville.
The first stretch of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail we tried wasn't too bad.
We made it through Gilbertville okay, but then N.Y. Roll wanted to go "off-route" and recon the CVNT (Cedar Valley Nature Trail). I figured it would be a complete waste of our time, but hey! This was an adventure ride, so...... The trail didn't look awful after we passed the depot, where it was mostly iced up due to pedestrians. We started out and N.Y. Roll promised me that if it got too bad we'd bail out at a gravel road intersection ahead.

Out on gravel! (Well......mostly dirt!) The frozen ruts were......interesting.
The trail conditions quickly deteriorated into a hard coat of frozen snow and glare ice from snowmobile traffic. I hen-pecked my way along while N.Y. Roll walked away from me with his wider, more voluminous mtb tire set up. We finally reached the promised gravel road turn off and made our way Northwestward, more or less, keeping to the CVNT as much as possible. After a few miles of gravel we were obliged to hop back on the CVNT and it was wild! The snow was much deeper here and frozen with soaked in rain which we had fall on the area earlier in the week.

If you look closely you can make out the herd of deer we saw.
Hike-a-bike for me, but N.Y. Roll cleaned most of this on his 2.25"ers.
The snow was rideable at times for me. I was amazed at how I could claw my way through at times. But there just wasn't enough "float" with 47mm of tire and N.Y. Roll walked away from me on his 29 X 2.25"s. At one point my front tire punched through a drift up to the hub! That was funny. I ended up walking a fair amount of this section.

A guy then rolled up on me riding an ancient Honda three wheeled ATV. He was amiable, and smiled at me as he started up a conversation with me. Apparently he had tried to keep this part of the trail clear with a truck and plow, but the blizzard a few weeks ago was just too much for him and his truck. He also stated that he had been busy fighting flood waters on his property and was out this morning to check on the angry Cedar River, to see if there were any ice jams.

Eventually we ended up on the bridge over the Cedar. All three of us peered at the turbulent waters rushing by. Finally the nice man bid us farewell and we turned our eyes toward Evansdale and the next "dive bar". We didn't have far to go, and once we found it, the next came fairly soon after. That was our cue to hit the recreational trail out of Evansdale toward Waterloo.
It may look peaceful, but it was anything but. The Cedar was forcast to crest later in the day Saturday.
Headed out of Evansdale on the recreational bike trail to Waterloo.
N.Y. Roll made a suggestion to stop at Rockets Bakery in downtown Waterloo for coffee. I was excited to do that, and when we got there we were greeted by a young lady behind the counter that thought it was funny that I was riding a pink bike while N.Y. Roll was wearing a pink helmet. I suppose that did look odd. Anyway, the coffee was excellent, and my stool, which had been sitting in the Sunshine, felt like a heated car seat after all that chilly riding. That made me think- are there any heated bicycle saddles? 

Coffee slurped, we remounted and headed back home. An excellent morning on the bike! I hit pavement, gravel, dirt, snow, and ice, all on the same ride. That's what I call "multi-terrain" riding, right there!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Story Of Guitar Ted: RAGBRAI 1996

A Guitar Ted Productions series.
Welcome to a brand new series on G-Ted Productions! This series will jump off from the time where the "Race Against Death Tour" ended and will take you up to the beginnings of Trans Iowa in late 2004. This is an eight year period where my life was transformed. You could say it was metamorphosed from the old to something quite new.

This won't have a lot of bicycle stuff in it at times, but it is all essential to the story of "Guitar Ted". This isn't about where the name came from. That's all here.  No, this is about the person. 

As with previous historical series on the blog, images will be a rarity. Cell phones, social media, and digital images were not available to take advantage of in those last days of analog living. 

This post will detail my experiences doing a complete RAGBRAI in 1996........ 
_____________________________________________________________________________

Every year my boss at Advantage Cyclery would do RAGBRAI. I had heard of the event, of course, being from Iowa and all. I mean, how could you not know about the mighty 'BRAI. Back in the 90's, it was a ride with quite the reputation for wild antics, partying, and debauchery of various types. This wasn't without damage. My boss found his wife cheating on him during the ride one year which led to a divorce. Still, he wouldn't miss the ride for anything.

Weird.......

Anyway, Tom insisted in 1996 that I was going with his crew on RAGBRAI. I was mildly interested in this since I'd never been on a RAGBRAI and also that it was scheduled to pass through my home town of Charles City, Iowa that year. It would mean that the New Orleans touring idea would have to be scrapped, but in some ways, that was pretty much a given. Without the energy that Troy had given to the efforts the two previous years, and Ryan and Tim's lack of any excitement for the idea, I was left to be the one to drive the idea, and frankly, I just didn't have it in me at that point in my life to be a bicycle tour organizer. I had done the maps and rough sketched a route, but after Spring kicked in, and the requisite 12 hour days at the shop, I had zero time for actually riding bicycles, or doing tour preparations.

So, I said yes to RAGBRAI and Tom's motley crew. They had a core group of guys that were very close, had their own "language" and symbolism that only they really understood, and they, to their credit, were very friendly to "outsiders". Despite their attempts to assimilate me into their culture, I still felt like an outsider. I felt a lot closer to some kids half my age who were customers of the shop. It was a couple of them that I ended up bonding with during RAGBRAI.

These guys ran with a few others but mostly would end up coming into the shop to drool over the latest mountain bike stuff we had. The new Judy fork from Rock Shox was one such thing which one of them purchased and I set up on their bike for them. But mostly, they were there to hang out.

They were "Straight Edge" and oddly enough, they took a shine to me. 16-17 year olds usually don't like people their Dad's age, so I was honored to have their affection toward me. They often would chastise me for drinking since, you may know, that isn't the Straight Edge way. But other than that, we got along famously. We went to mountain bike races together, and started hanging out a bit outside of work. One of their crew was a bit closer to my age, and his name was Clay. He ended up worked at a competing shop called Europa, where I would eventually end up later.

Anyway, two of these guys had decided on coming out for the rest of the week on Day 3 of the '96 RAGBRAI. We spent much of our time together heckling riders, being fools, and generally causing mayhem. It was a ton of fun, and without them, I'd have had a miserable RAGBRAI hanging out with Tom's crew. Not that they were bad guys, but I just didn't bond with their way of doing things. In fact, after Day 2, I didn't even hang out with them until it was time to come home.

With Ryan and Tim fading from my social scene that Summer, these younginz were pretty much my mates outside of the shop. That was solidified during RAGBRAI, and afterward as 1996 wore on.That isn't to say Ryan and Tim were on the outs with me. Oh no, not by a long shot. In fact, there was one last touring hurrah, and it was short, but it was memorable.

Next: A Backbone Overnighter


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Minus Ten Review 2009-13

Gravel bikes in titanium are hot now. ten years ago it was 29'ers in Ti.
Ten years ago on the blog I was talking about a few forward thinking designers of bicycles that were working with 29'ers. one of those, "Shedfire", (Brant Richards, of On One fame and now involved in making trousers great again) was designing a rig in titanium back then which never really saw the light of day as a titanium rig. But it was realized in aluminum under the Ragley Bikes name.

The other thing I was yakking about was how the economic collapse of 2008 hadn't really affected the bicycle business. Record sales were being recorded and the outlook for 2009 wasn't bleak, and so it was looking to be a great year.

Not so ten years down the road. The shop I work at has been struggling. Many other shops are as well. Some I know of have closed. Things look bleak, and to be honest, I wonder now whether or not I'll be wrenching on bicycles at all by the end of the year. I mean, it isn't like there are a lot of bike shops around!

Anyway, the only constant is change, and whether or not I am working in a shop in the next few weeks or the next few years is anyone's guess at this point. I know I have no idea at this point.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday News And Views

J.Guillem Ti Gravel bike from Lindarets Design
Season Of The Ti: 

Lately it seems that there has been a gaggle of titanium gravel bikes introduced. I suspect more custom, outta this world priced rigs will be shown at NAHBS this weekend as well. But even if that doesn't happen, what I have seen introduced already is kind of unusual. Its almost as if a trend of titanium bikes has been unleashed upon the gravel cycling world.

There is the Lindarets/J.Guillem bike, the Knolly bike, Moots new Routt YBB, and Mason Cycles has something new in titanium as well. Of course we have had Twin Six's titanium Rando bike and there has been titanium gravel bikes from Lynskey and Litespeed for years. Salsa used to do titanium.

What the heck, Salsa? You should never have stopped doing titanium gravel bikes. Anyway....

So what is going on here? Why titanium gravel bikes and why now? I think there are two good answers to that question, and those answers are tied to one another. First, if it isn't obvious by now, the all road/gravel category is one of the only bright spots in cycling. It seems people are still out there finding out about these gravel events and the bikes suited for them. So, if you were to get into making money on bicycles, gravel/all road is the lowest hanging fruit on the tree now. That's because the only other sectors doing anything in cycling are motor assisted bicycles and dual suspension devices. Both of those require a lot higher investment, they both require a high level of technical acumen to pull off correctly, and both have a really stiff competition in the marketplace.

The other thing is that there are a ton of aluminum and "milk jug" (carbon fiber) gravel bikes, but up until recently, there were few titanium ones. That void is about to be filled. Obviously. But that said, if you wanted to make a gravel/all-road rig, a titanium one makes you stand out from the crowd. So, I guess that makes sense as far as why titanium gravel bikes are coming out of the woodwork lately. Not that I mind. It's the material, besides steel, that makes the most sense, in my opinion, for gravel travel.

C.O.G. 100 Update:

Well, it is two weeks out from the inaugural C.O.G. 100 Iowa Single Speed Gravel Championships. Things are quickly coming together for this event.

I have the hats, posters are printed, and I just got the cue sheets printed and they are in hand as of this writing. I will need to collate and bag them, find 98 number plates, gather odds and ends, and other than that, we're ready.

N.Y. Roll and I will be at the Peace Tree Grinnell tap  room Friday from 6:00pm till 10:00pm. If you decide to show up, we can get your waivers signed and give you the swag early. Keep in mind that inspection and cue sheet hand out starts at 7:00am in Miller Park.

A few folks have wondered how the course will shape up. Of course, I cannot answer that with any surety, because who knows what will happen between now and then. That said, I feel we will be okay. Long range forecast look mostly dry, warm, and windy. All good things for making the gravel good to ride on. So, I don't expect the Level B mile section to be rideable, but.......you never know. 

My daughters ink painting/drawing hanging in Veridian Credit Union
 Allow Me To Brag A Second:

Many of you know I have two children. My daughter, Izabel, has taken to art, much like her father, and has pursued it to the point that she will be going to college next Fall and will be looking to get into graphic arts. Anyway, she was asked to submit a work for a special showing of 45 works of art from across all the high schools in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area.

Her submission made the cut of 45 selections and will be hung now at the Waterloo Veridian Credit Union's main office on Ansborough Avenue for a year. We are pretty pumped about this, and I am one proud papa.

So, if you are coming to the C.O.G. 100, one of the things each rider will get is a poster of the art I came up with for the event, tweaked out by my daughter, and signed and numbered by both of us. I am excited to see everyone get one of these posters and I am especially excited about my daughter's future in the arts. I hope that those that get the poster will appreciate them.

So, that's a wrap for this week. I hope that you all get out for a ride.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Epic "Slop Season" Begins

Saturated road from T.I.v2. I hear the roads look like this in the country now too.
The Winter is dead, but Spring is spilling Winter's "blood" with a hard swing to warmer temperatures and rain. All that water, in the form of snow, ice, and frost, is playing havoc with the gravel roads right now. In fact, I saw a pretty epic video on Facebook Tuesday evening of a road North of Cedar Falls. I hear it is very bad, as in even 4X4's are having issues getting around.

So, with thoughts of going exploring on gravel roads dashed, (because, what would be the point?), I decided that prudence was necessary and stayed within the bounds of the city. It is no picnic in town either, by the way. Pot holes are popping up everywhere and we aren't even into the meat of pot hole season yet. These are some of the worst, biggest, and the largest amount of pot holes that I can recall in many years.

Water was running off the snow banks alongside the roads like someone had left a garden hose on somewhere. A huge garden hose! I had to pick my way through my loop in the cemetery where there was some ice and on the unpaved parts, it was possible to ride, but barely. My tires were doing the "pizza cutter" thing, and resistance was very high. I decided my plan for laps in the cemetery was not a good one, so I headed over to the Byrnes Park area to climb some hills.

Running a single speed, with 180mm cranks, you can find that cadence and just crank, (slowly) away and grind right up the inclines. Now, I haven't been on a single speed since mid-January, so I knew I wasn't going to be quite "single speed fit" and a little resistance was going to go a long way. I figured I maybe had an hour in me to putz around the wet, sloppy neighborhoods and then I had better hang it up.

Lots of snow melted today, but there is a LOT of snow to melt!
I think I am going to be really happy with the BMC "Orange Crush" set up as a single speed. I was having fun cranking away and the bike is really suited to being a single speed rig. I do have a wish though, and that is for a bolt on, single speed specific rear wheel, so now that I am pretty sure this is the direction I want to go with this bike, I am going to start tracking down a set of rims and I probably will use hubs I have already.

Those would be the old Surly "Jim Brown" edition New Disc Hubs that I got over ten years ago now. I used to run them on the Karate Monkey, but I switched that over to rim brakes and the "chocolate chip" wheel set has brown, no-rim brake Velocity rims on it. So, those wheels aren't much good to me with those rims. I am going to look at getting some Blunt SS rims, (Editor's Note: Reader Exhausted_Auk reminded me that Blunt SS is a disc only rim.) Cliffhangars I think, and I'll lace up those hubs. Or.......

Since the disc part is no good for me here, I may look at getting brand new hubs. Silver, of course, would be the obvious choice, and rim brake only. I'll have to look into that..... Then I could keep the all silver thing going and not have to have a black, or brown, component on the bike.

But anyway...... Enough about that. Slop Season is here and man! It is treacherous and I have no idea when it might straighten out enough to make for decent riding. I think Saturday will be another day of poking around to see how things are going, and then maybe I'll have a better idea. Thankfully it looks as though windy, sunny, no rain days are forecast for much of the weekend and through next week.