Wednesday, July 29, 2015

GTDRI '15: Part 3- Slow Cookin'

Winding our way slowly up out of Elkader
With a bit of a snap to my pedal strokes, now that all was right with the world, I was looking at the toughest part of the course with a bit more optimism. However; let's be real here- The day was very hot, the Sun was beating down with perhaps the greatest intensity that it will have all year, and there was little to no wind. The hills? They would be steep, long, and unrelenting. There would be a few highlights along this section, but we all realized, I think, that we were about to get punched in the face, and the going would be slow. Hey.....where do you think the name for this ride came from anyway! 

So, with that reality facing us, we moved on out of Elkader under an unrelenting Sun and climbed up and up to the highest elevations we would reach for the course. We stopped a few times under whatever shade we could find, just to drop our core temps when we had a chance. Lance was heard on several occasions praising slight puffs of air as being the best thing since sliced bread. Yes.....it was ridiculously hot. When you get that warm, you can feel an ice cube's vapor from a mile away, or so it would seem.

When we approached Ironwood Road, which has unfortunately been paved since we did the route twice in '09 and '10, Jeremy started in on how there was no way he was riding Impala Road. Now, this road has a pretty well known reputation amongst Northeast Iowa cyclists. It isn't a long road- maybe two and a half miles- three miles long? But what it lacks in length it makes up for in roughness. Typically this road, which bombs down the side of a steep, tall hill, is most like a mountain bike trail than it is a road. The bottom, (which technically speaking is a different road, I understand, but we're going with "Impala Road" anyway), runs along the Turkey River, and depending upon flooding, could be benign, or really a mess. Who knows what we'd find there, but first, there were some other things to overcome before we even got to that infamous dirt road along the Turkey River.

Imperial Avenue was another B Level which was a great escape from the Sun and a fun road to ride up. 
There were some giant rollers featuring steep climbing just before the dirt of Impala Road. 
There was Imperial Avenue to tackle, which is a fun bit of B Level Maintenance road. It climbs an entire mile, mostly shaded from the Sun, and makes for quite a grind, but at least there is shade! Then there is a bit of Imperial Avenue that has gravel that comes back out to Ironwood Road that has a brutally steep climb. We all stopped to gather ourselves up here for the monster that is Imapala Road.

Imapala Road is more than just about a B Level Maintenance road. It has a gravel section about two miles long, and there is not one single meter of it that is flat with the exception of a bridge deck at the bottom of a steep ravine. So, by the time we reached the beginning of the dirt, which is at the summit of another grunt of a climb, of course, we were obliged to "chill out" a bit. Now, it needs to be said that Jeremy managed to talk a couple of the other riders out of doing Impala Road, for fear of the roughness of it. This would come back to bite them later on, as we will see!

So, anyway, we were taking our leisure under the shade of a crab apple tree and munching on Sun-ripened apples from another tree nearby. After a brief spell, we all managed to get back onto our bikes and bomb down the dirt, which wasn't quite as gnarly as in years past. It would seem that someone had actually been doing a bit of maintenance on this road! A bit of water erosion prevention was evident, and a lot of the rubble noted on the upper end in years past had been cleared off. Impala Road still wasn't easy, by no means, but it was fun. The lower regions being mostly affected by storm damage and rutting of the Amish folks wagon wheels.

We kind of took over the convenience store in Elkport, much to the chagrin of the locals, it would seem. 
We met those who by-passed the goodness of dirt at the bottom of Impala Road, and then we made the next stop in Elkport where there is a very rustic, but decently stocked convenience store. Most importantly, they had very cold air conditioning and chairs to sit on! No one really made any sign to oppose staying here as long as we wanted to. The heat was really dictating that we take care of ourselves in order to complete the course. With so many Garmin computers on the ride, we had temperatures recorded several times during this stretch of well over 100°F with a maximum reading, (that I know of), topping out at 113°F!! So, you can imagine that we were really getting slow cooked out there. It was all we could do not to turn ourselves into a casserole for wild beasts to eat out on the side of some forgotten gravel road!

The right turn on Hennipen Road. You can see the riders on the left in the distance at the foot of the big climb here. 

At the top of the Hawk Road climb. We were all super cooked!
Leaving the convenience store behind, we embarked upon the last difficult bit of the day. We had about 28 miles to cover, but it would be a slow, really tough, 28 miles! First up was Hennepin Road's big climb out of the Turkey River valley. Then even more climbing after a descent on Hawk Road, which is long, steep, and unrelenting in its brutality. That was enough to stop us at the crest of that climb for an extended period of time to cool off. Oh yeah, did I mention that wasn't even 5 miles of riding?! Sheesh! Maybe we would end this ride in the dark after all. It was rounding past 5:00pm already, and we had been at this almost 12 hours so far. I was pleased that I was riding, and doubly so that I had a 24T granny gear! I used it quite a lot during this period.

I noted while I was resting on Hawk Road that my upper calves were "crawling". Like I had parasites underneath my skin. It was odd, and it looked like something from an alien freak show, but I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary. I suppose my electrolytes were depleted and my muscles were freaking out. I started to drink liquids in earnest.

Looking back down Hawk Road the way we came up. 
I finally got up and motioned that we needed to move on. We weren't going to get anywhere seated there! Plus, the next bit was going to mark somewhat of a personal milestone for me. It would be the first time I had been at the spot where I was hit by the truck last year. I wasn't really sure how I would feel about that, and I was eager to push by that spot to "get it over with", as it were. I climbed up and down some roads for a bit. We stopped again under a shade tree where a big German Shepherd dog came bounding out to say "hello" to us and it was quite friendly. A lovely young lass came out from the nearby farm house just then and assured us that the dog was friendly. Derek asked her what the name of the dog was and she replied that it was Jake. I think it was Marty, but someone retorted, "Oh, like Jake from State Farm!", in reference to a humorous advert on T.V. here. It was a lighthearted moment during a fun, but brutal afternoon. We eventually made our way down the road, and as we turned onto Fantail Road, I found myself at the tail of the line.

I was determined to get to the top, and past the "spot", but my legs had other notions. Cramps! So, I hoofed it up the road, Jeremy did as well. I also noted others off their bikes, but some actually did make the climb and disappeared over the hill where I was laid in the ditch by a white Silverado only a year before.

Tony and Jeremy recounting the details of an event that happened a year ago at this very spot in Clayton County. 

When I reached the "spot" I saw Jeremy, Tony, and Marty waiting there. Jeremy and Tony were the only two here this time that were there last year and witnessed the crash. I laid down and rested, since I was cooked again, and tried to relax. Really, all I wanted to do right then was sleep, since I was dog tired, but Marty and Jeremy were asking if I was okay, insisting I keep hydrated and eating. I was okay with drinking, but eating? I had kind of a sour gut by now and nothing sounded good at all. So, I drank, but I didn't eat.

Oddly enough, the scene didn't really hit me one way or the other. Quite frankly, I think it was because I was so consumed with merely existing and trying to get it together to move on that the past didn't matter. I really didn't even ruminate on the crash and my experience one bit. Eventually we were moving up the road again, and I gingerly pushed against the pedals expecting a "lock-up" to occur at any moment. Thankfully, that didn't happen, and perhaps due to my taking of two Gu Energy Endurolyte caps, it didn't happen again for the rest of the day.

The last highlight of the day for all of us was Bixby State Preserve road.
I kind of had a second wind through here as I went on ahead and turned up Firefly Road, which in years past was a B Level, but now is a C Level road. There was no gate, so I dove into a weedy two-track and out the other end to take a short left jaunt to "Fortune Avenue" which is the backside of Bixby State Preserve. Well, here was a conundrum. The road was closed to traffic, and the barricade was only set up so as to prevent autos from descending the long, steep down hill, which as I recalled, was pretty rough and rocky. Well, it was all of that and maybe a bit more than that. Ruts were big and deep, and the rocks were chunky, ledgey, and loose in spots. Of course, we went down it anyway. Jeremy and the others that avoided Impala Road came down this as well, not knowing what they were coming in to, and ended up riding a road far rougher than Impala Road was after all! Ha! That'll teach ya to short cut the route!

Well, then there was the beautiful climb out of that ravine, and then on to Mission Road towards Strawberry Point. It is only a seven mile jaunt to town from the turn out of Bixby State Preserve, but it seemed to take forever, and now I was running out of steam. I stopped along with Marty and Derek and downed some gummy bears. Then I got going again. I made it back to Strawberry Point a little before 7:00pm and headed toward a convenience store to grab a Coke. Inside I saw Lance and his daughter, Josie. Lance asked kindly if I'd sit with him while his wife went for their car, since they were done, and Joe, their companion, could ferry my truck back as well. So, I kindly accepted that offer, and with 106.75 miles in the books, I finished my GTDRI for 2015.

Tomorrow: Some comments, a gear review, and final thoughts on the GTDRI '15.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GTDRI '15: Part 2- I Love A Parade

Good people, blue skies, and a ribbon of gravel road- What could be better?
It was high time to leave Wadena, and as I accepted my fate internally, I wasn't trying to be outwardly negative. I lost my wallet and my money, sure, but it was all my own fault, and that shouldn't dampen the spirits of those riding on this awesome, hot, humid day.

So we rolled out of Wadena on Herriman Street. I noted the spot where I had seen Ira Ryan and Brian Hannon ride by me during Trans Iowa V3. I also noted the road that the old Trans Iowa route took off across the Volga River over a cool, old steel gabled bridge. I mentioned it to Tony, and he said he knew of it. He is a pretty well traveled Iowan, when it comes to the rural areas.

So, we headed North. I'm pretty sure T.I.V4 came down this road towards Wadena, and I was thinking a lot about that too. These roads are like old friends to me, sometimes. Well.....maybe more like old memory reminders. Anyway, I didn't dwell on that too long, as there were hills to climb and people to chat with. I found myself riding with Derek a bit through here, and Jeremy, of course. Jeremy, who rode with me at Odin's, and had been on the GTDRI the previous year, was determined to see this course completed and to see me do that as well. Sort of making a statement against what had happened last year, I guess. At least I was feeling like that was part of our determination to get this knocked out with no questions.

Any place that was shaded became a coveted riding line. Any respite from the heat was appreciated!
In a replay of the previous year's GTDRI, we came across the same, energetic herding dog we saw last year, and sure enough, it was ready to run with us. We all tried to coax it back home, but it was having none of that. It yipped and squealed with excitement if we stopped, and would run like lightning when we were moving. Just like last year, we lost it finally on the fast descent to Echo Valley Road.

This was the beginning of our "river bottoms" portion of the ride, and was a good section to get in some miles and see scenery before we reached Elkader, ate lunch, and really threw ourselves into the teeth of the lions! Those would be some brutal hills, but for now it was about having fun and riding bicycles without a care in the world. At least, I tried not to think too much about what had happened to my money.

We drafted this combine into Elgin, Iowa. 
Two by two along the Turkey River just Southeast of Elgin, Iowa
We rolled through a little town called Elgin, and I always chuckle when I am there, because they have a bike lane on the main road through town marked with "sharrows". There maybe two folks in the whole village that even know what those represent! Well.......maybe that is exaggerating a bit, but I bet there aren't many that can interpret those marks. Elgin has a pretty steep climb out of town, and then we dove back into the gravel South of there on "Abbey Road". Some folks ask how I make up routes, and sometimes I pick roads solely based upon their name. Abbey Road, which has an obvious reference to the "Beatles", is one such road. It just so happens that it is really a cool road to bicycle on!

So we were cruising onward toward Elkader, and suddenly Marty whoas up a bit. It appeared he had a phone call. My interest was piqued, sensing it may be news about my wallet and money. I soft pedaled and Derek slowed up with me, as we were chatting about Steb's Amusement and other such sundry Cedar Falls Iowa trivia as we rode. Eventually, Marty gets back up with us. Unfortunately, the news was not good. The Park personnel had cruised the lots and had seen no evidence of my belongings on any bumper. I kind of suspected that would be the answer. Marty apologized for being the bearer of bad news. But hey! It wasn't his fault at all.

Joe flatted and Jeremy photobombed me!

The others seemed to understand what was up and asked what the outcome was when we caught up to them. I relayed that it wasn't good news, and then they all tried to encourage me with thoughts of good people doing the right thing, which was really appreciated, but ya know.....  In my heart I figured it was a done deal. I texted my wife when I heard a text come in from her, signalling me that I had a good signal. (Or something like that!) Anyway, I let her know she should cancel the cards and that the others were willing to cover me for the day on expenses.

On we went until Joe sat up and said, "I've got a flat!", along with a few other choice words. We yelled for those up ahead to stop, found some nice shady spots, and took our ease as Joe repaired his tire. Apparently Lance had Joe on the clock, because I heard Lance say "Six minutes and change....", and we were off again on our way to lunch. I needed lunch too, as I was getting quite hungry. Otherwise I was feeling great, and Jeremy was encouraging me all along.

The policeman stopped the parade and waved us through!
Finally we reached Elkader at 12:08pm and were rolling downtown toward "2Mit" and other food choices in town. Suddenly, I saw two fire engines parked along the street. Tony, who is a fireman piped up and said he thought there must be a parade. I figured it was over with, since most parades I am aware of are in the morning.

We parked in the shade of some low trees behind a building adjacent to 2Mit and I thought we would be eating 2Mit burgers but Lance suggested we try the local Irish themed pub and get a meal there in the coolness of their A/C. This sounded wonderful, as I was cooking in the now 90-ish degree heat. It was much warmer than the forecast led me to believe it would be! Air conditioning sounded heavenly. So we marched in, ordered, and waited way too long for our meals, but it was good stuff.

Then we reconnected with those who did have a 2Mit burger, got our stuff topped off- water, food, and whatever else needed attending to.....and what the heck! I pulled out a water bottle to get it filled up out of  my Bike Bag Dude Chaff Bag, and saw something odd way down inside the bag at the bottom. I reached in, and pulled out my wallet and money! I payed Lance off for my lunch and Tony too! I was so happy to have that off my mind. I texted my wife the good news,  and off we went........right into a parade! The parade had just begun, or so it would seem, since the fire engines typically lead off parades in Iowa, and they had just passed by. Suddenly, a gap in the parade line occurred and an officer waved us through. We waved to the onlookers as we hastily made our way up the street and to the gravel East of Elkader.

Next: Part 3- Slow Cooked

Monday, July 27, 2015

GTDRI '15: Part 1

The start was in Backbone State Park.
The 2015 Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational was this past weekend, and like many of these events, there were some surprises, and some tough parts for all involved. This year the event was deemed a big success by those who showed up to ride it, but it didn't come easy!

I woke up at 3:45am to get ready and drive the 60-ish miles over to Backbone State Park to meet up with whomever was going to show up and ride at 5:30am. Well....not really! Knowing how humans usually do things, I figured if we took off before 6:00am, we were going to be good! So, I arrived with plenty of time to spare, even if we'd have started at 5:30am. I ran into our first rider, Derek, as he was preparing to get ready for the day, and I was excited to see who else might show up.

I didn't have to wait long before several other vehicles with bicycles attached to them began to show up. We had Martin, with his blue Fargo, Joe, Josie, Traci, and Lance from Dubuque, and Jeremy from Waterloo. Then a couple of brothers showed up from the Cedar Rapids area, the Frey brothers, and finally, at the last minute, Tony from Waterloo came screaming into the lot to make 11 riders with 10 bikes. Yes- one was a tandem. The first on a GTDRI, and the stoker, the eleven year old Josie, becoming the youngest to ever do a GTDRI.

The forecast was for a beautiful day, 80's, but humid. No big deal, since that's par for the course come late July. At least it wasn't looking like there was a high probability for thunderstorms. As we got ready to ride, it was apparent that the humidity was going to be a big issue, as it was 72°F at the start, and there was hardly any wind.

The Sun had yet to rise, but we were on our way.
The start comes up out of the lowest point in Backbone State Park, and it is a steep climb out. Many of those in attendance later remarked at how they were sweat soaked by the time they got up out of the park. It would be the theme for the day. I cannot count how many times I thought about how bad we must have smelled to others throughout the day!

The opening miles were on pavement , but we turned onto our first bits of gravel after about 3 miles in to it. The roads looked great, and we were all pretty stoked to be on our way. It was the first year of the GTDRI to have a tandem team, and Lance and his daughter Josie were looking good on their Vicious Cycles tandem with same side drive, which I'd never seen before. Joe was on a Tamland Two, which was cool to see. Tony was sporting his classy Rivendell Atlantis, and there were a few cyclo cross bikes in attendance. So the 11 riders and 10 bicycles went forward to meet the day.

The opening miles of gravel looked like this.

Eventually the Sun made its presence known and it would be a major factor later in the day on the riders. 
The initial miles were not remarkable except for the immediate camaraderie between the riders. It always amazes me how soon people are getting to know one another on these rides and the way that folks seem to be open and accepting is rather remarkable. Not only considering these times, but from the perspective of cyclists overall, it is refreshing to find this to be the case.  I'm pretty sure most of the riders had never met before, which solidifies my feelings about this phenomenon.

We cruised right through Strawberry Point, and then hit the historical "A Mission Road", or Mission Road, as it is most commonly referred to as. The road was an early 1800's Army supply route, and then became an important supply route to settlers in the area of Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota before the railroads came through. It still exists as a gravel road running contrary to the typical grid system here, and takes one Northwest from Strawberry Point. That led us into our first big hills for the day South of Volga, Iowa and circumnavigating the St. Sebald church.
That road in the distance is one we took to go around St. Sebald Church 
This section represented the first big climbs of the day, and we were grunting along in our lowest gears, but there were no complaints at all. Everyone seemed to be of good spirit and the riders were chatting and carrying on as if they were on an easy, flat terrain ride. The clouds were keeping the Sun at bay for the time being, and a delightful Easterly wind was blowing us cool air from time to time as we made our way to the day's first stop in Wadena, Iowa at 39 miles into the route,

The first "big" climb to test our legs
Getting to Wadena wasn't easy!
The clouds started thinning out as the morning progressed. 

Oddly enough, we didn't slow down, nor did anyone seem to want to. Miles passed by, but the resolve of the group held firm, and we did not stop at all for about 30 miles from the start. It was pretty remarkable as far as I was concerned that the entire group was okay with hammering out three hours of riding with no respite. I thought about this a few times, but given the fact that I also felt okay with it, I let those thoughts die in my head, and just kept pedaling.

When we did stop it was at a place the ride had stopped at last year. There is a little ranch gate just past the spot where the Trans Iowa V4 landslide occurred at, and that's where we took a brief rest before rolling into Wadena.

Barns For Jason
Cruising the last few miles to Wadena. The Sun really popped out at this point.
The first extended stop in Wadena.
When we reached Wadena, I had felt the ride was going spectacularly well for everyone, and in particular, for myself. I felt strong, and the heat and Sun weren't bothersome yet. However; almost immediately after arriving at Wadena, I couldn't find my money, credit cards, or ID. I frantically searched all my bags, to no avail. I struggled to recall what I had done with the stuff, and I clearly recalled that I had set my money and credit card holder on the back bumper of my truck. My heart sank.....

I stood around shell shocked and wondered for a minute if my ride was over. No money, the prospect of loosing credit cards? Could I ride back to Backbone in time to retrieve the stuff before anyone found it? Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed. Tony gave me some money to resupply at Wadena, and Marty was on the phone to Backbone to see if he could rouse anyone there to go look for my stuff on the bumper of the truck. With a downcast heart, I stuffed a few items in my face, filled my bottles, and we were off to get to Elkader about 30-ish miles more up the road.

The day had grown mighty hot and the skies had totally cleared off. This was not at all the forecast I was led to believe we would have, but it fit right in with the cookers we've had for previous GTDRI's. So, it wasn't like I was surprised, I was just a bit disappointed and I was fearing the worst for a while. Eventually, I realized it was what it was. I just had to manage things the best way I could, and rely on the others to support me in more ways than I had realized from the start.

Next: I Love A Parade- Part 2

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday News And Views

Will the tiger lilies be as spectacular as they were in '09?
GTDRI: 

Tomorrow at 5:30 am in Backbone State Park some gravel road cyclists will be gathering for the tenth running of the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational. Here is some interesting information on this event you may not know.

The first GTDRI was held in 2006 and started in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was also the longest one, at 151.7 miles. Also, I did that one on a single speed. Until this year at the Dirty Kanza 200, that ranked as my longest single ride ever. The next GTDRI was truncated down to 80-ish miles due to rain during the event and was run out of Marengo, Iowa. The next year saw me run the event one of two times it came out from Hickory Hills County Park. In '09 and '10, the GTDRI originated out of Echo Valley County Park near West Union. The '11 GTDRI was the second out of Hickory Hills. In '12, the GTDRI rode out of Grinnell, Iowa. 2013 saw the Slender Fungus come up with an epic 150 mile course starting in Jackson County. Last year was a revisit to the '09/'10 course, but I modified it so we started in Backbone State Park, where this year's ride will also start from.

So, out of the ten that will have occurred, four of them are basically the same course. The reason why is that this particular loop presents some of the greatest challenges, and the most spectacular scenery, with some of the best stops along the way we've had on GTDRI's. Expect a full recounting of the goings on starting Monday.

The Fat Fargo and Bike Bag Dude for the GTDRI
The Rig:

The year has been all about the Fat Fargo so far, so why change a good thing? I was going to use a different bike for the GTDRI, but I happened to use the Fat Fargo for a commute the other day and I realized I had the bike so dialed in with the new Cowchipper Bar and the Bike Bag Dude bags that it was immediately comfortable and felt perfect. There is that, but the "straw that broke the camel's back", as it were, was something else.

The course has brutal hills and they have really steep gradients. There are plenty of 10% plus grades and some in the 15% range with one going as much as 18%. There are also some longer climbs out there with one well over two miles long. (That's a lot for Iowa!) The Fat Fargo is the only bike I have going now with a wide range triple. The other bike? Meh....... It would hold its own, but there is no bail-out gearing, and after many hours and miles in the saddle Saturday, I may need that super low gear to be moving at all. So, I am going for the familiarity, comfort, and gearing on the Fargo. Not to mention the cargo carrying capacity for water, the fat tires for stability at 40mph downhill, and the Bike Bag Dude kit which is custom made for the bike.

Then there is the fact that this bike carried me 158 miles into the Dirty Kanza 200 for my longest ride ever. It also got me through, arguably, the worst of Odin's Revenge. I know the bike can do it. Now about that motor.......

GTDRI 2011
The People:

I never know who will show up for sure at any given GTDRI. Yes........I know it says "Invitational", but that is tongue in cheek. I don't "invite" anyone based on any criteria other than that you need to ride a bicycle and you should be prepared for a tough, self-supported, 100+ mile ride. Anyone that feels they have what it takes to bite that off, chew it up, and swallow it can join in the fun.

So I know of about six individuals that have said that they were coming. Maybe we'll see all six show up plus myself for a grand total of seven. That's an average showing for this event. I've had as many as 24 and as few as myself and two others. However many show up, we'll have a good time, and we will not leave anyone behind.

I expect to see a at least one person show up that is a surprise. I've had people drive all night, hundreds of miles, just to ride the GTDRI. I've had people from as far away as Michigan, North Dakota, and Kansas come for this ride. You just never know who might be pulling a bicycle out of a car at the start. It's quite humbling and I am honored to ride with anyone that shows up.

The people make this ride what it is, so before I even get there- Thank You. Thanks to all who will be coming and that made time and sacrifice to ride along with me on this silly little gravel road course. My hope is that each and everyone of you has an awesome, good time.

See ya next week! Have a great weekend folks!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Salsa Cycles Blackborow And Bluto Fork

The Bluto dealt with mud better than I thought it would
It was Wednesday and the mighty RAGBY was coming into town. I worked till about noon, bugged out, and got on my Blackborow to see how the Green Belt was doing. I had heard rumors that it had been mowed and was clear enough to ride through.

I had just installed a Rock Shox Bluto fork on the front of the Blackborow recently. My intentions were not to be running these wheels or the dinglespeed drive train on it, but the rest of my parts have not been procured as of yet, so I have to hold off riding, or decide just to go with it as is, and of course, that is what I did.

I had no idea what to expect other than what I had heard from a few trusted folks I know that were pretty positive that it would make my Blackborow better. One of those folks, MG, had plenty of time with one and had lots of good things to say, so I was positive about trying it out, but I didn't really think it would make that much difference. You see, the Green Belt is not necessarily known for it's elevation changes, nor for lots of rough trail features. I already had 4.8" fat bike tires at low pressures, what else could I need? Well, not a lot for the Green Belt, is what I was thinking. I took off on a sunny, pleasant afternoon and headed over to give it a go and see what all the fuss was about. I didn't even check the fork's air spring pressure, which was set by the previous owner and felt plenty stiff to me.

The beast emerges from the jungle!
The Bluto looks nice with the graphics on my Blackborow DS and compliments the bike nicely. 
The initial ride over and whatnot was nothing different than usual. Which is a positive thing, I think. Of course, the bike gained a bit of weight in the exchange, but as I pedaled it along, I didn't feel anything dragging me down. The Green Belt was mowed, as reported, so I dove in and cruised the mostly smooth trail for the first sector.

A lot of the trail was like this- no big deal.
I was going along and feeling good about the bike, but as I have said, the trail wasn't really all that demanding. In fact, at first I thought is was uncommonly dry for having had rain a day before. Much of the initial parts were so dry the earth was cracked.

Then I came across some sand, and I didn't catch this at first, but later on into the trail, I realized that instead of washing out the front wheel, I was able to correct the way the front end was headed, and avert any crashes or stops to catch myself from going down. I feel it was due to the suspension fork being able to absorb my initial corrections which gave me time to get the bike back underneath me and carry on. That was a good thing.

Then I started coming up on some blow downs that had trail work-arounds so you could get by the limbs and what not. This coincided with the occurrence of muddy spots and then out and out mud pits where the big 4.8's showed their worth. I was able to pretty much motor right through without too much trouble at all. All of that done in the "high" range on the dinglespeed drive train. That made me happy, because when I got the bike, using the "high" range wasn't working for me. Now I was pushing that gear with no real problem at all, and even climbing the dikes in it. Guess I must be in better shape than I thought.

A deep, sloppy mud hole that the Blackborow just floated right through.
Old school single track in Marky-Mark
I decided to try and take as much of the Green Belt in as possible, so I took several of the spur trails and they were all pretty clear, for the most part. I got into the Robinson Bird Sanctuary portion of the trails and things were still fine with the exception of about three or four blow downs that mostly had ride-able work-arounds already burned in. The sandy stuff way out by Shaulis Road was no big deal for the fat bike. In fact, with all the muddy spots and with the sand, a fat bike is the recommended bike to use out there, I would say.


On the way back I rode Marky-Mark, and much to my surprise it was clear and open to ride. That was nice to see. I blazed that trail, (mostly), myself back in 1997, so it is nice to find that, not only that it still exists at all, but that folks seem to care about that connector enough that they keep it clear to ride.

So- is the Bluto worth the trouble? That's a great question that I am inclined to say "yes" to right now. It handled all the gooey mud I threw at it without getting the front wheel bogged down. I used almost all the travel, (see image above for where the orange "O" ring is), and for the most part, I didn't notice any big differences in handling. The ride was definitely smoother, and big jolts were absorbed well so I didn't have numb hands or more fatigue than necessary. I felt cornering was enhanced a bit.

But let's not be hasty. I want to ride this some more on different trails before I get too excited about it. Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Curious Case Of The Vaya

The Vaya Ti: Almost....
The Salsa Cycles Vaya has been a long running choice for cyclists in Salsa's line up having debuted in 2010. However; it is one of the more curious models in their line up. It was kind of pitted as the foil to the hugely successful Fargo which preceded the Vaya in the line by a year. Here's what I wrote about the Vaya here on this blog in 2010:

"The Vaya will definitely speak to those who have found traditional geometry in touring bikes lacking for comfort. A tall head tube with the sloping top tube is going to automatically turn off a lot of road going touring aficionados. Too bad. The Vaya will offer riders a far more comfortable rider positioning in terms of multi-hour rides than any traditional touring rig. I am sure that Vaya also has other cool features, (disc brakes for one), but to my eyes, the Vaya nails the nice upright, relaxed rider position perfectly and will really be valuable on rougher roads and gravel. In fact, I would agree with what Dirty Kanza promoter, Jim Cummings has written when he opined that it was the best gravel road rig he's laid eyes on. Yeah, at least from a production bike standpoint, I think that is correct. "

 What is interesting to note is what I wrote there is pretty much what happened to the model. It was immediately embraced by the gravel road riding enthusiasts. It was the "anti-cyclo cross" choice and for good reason. The Vaya handles gravel road riding really well. It can take a pretty beefy tire, and with that and the lowered bottom bracket and slightly slacker angles, well, it was a bike that slotted right into many riders needs for a gravel going sled. My good friend, MG, had a Vaya and wrote a review of it for the old "Gravel Grinder News" site, and it became one of the most popular posts on that site. Obviously, the gravel cyclist "got it" when it came to the Vaya.

MG's 2010 Vaya. The review of this bike was one of GGN's most read posts.
Touring cyclists did turn up their nose at this bike, and casual road cyclists, (at least in our area), didn't know what to make of this bike. Many thought it was odd, just a heavy road bike, or whatever. It just never caught on, despite it being probably one of the most versatile "all-road" type bikes available. Perhaps it was ahead of its time.

Then Salsa Cycles sort of forgot about the Vaya. When it debuted in '10, it came out with the standard 1 1/8th straight steer tube, but road cycling and mountain bikes were quickly adopting the tapered steer tube by this time, yet Salsa did not update the Vaya until now. 2016 Vayas will finally get head tubes capable of accepting a tapered steer tube fork. This is puzzling, since a Vaya owner would become locked into the heavy Vaya steel fork, and would not be able to lighten up the bike with a carbon fork, which may have helped when it came to folks wanting a light touring rig that didn't weigh a lot. It certainly would have made sense for gravel road riding. Interestingly, Salsa did modify all the other steel bikes in the line up, along with the aluminum and carbon offerings to reflect modern day headset standards. It seems odd then to leave the Vaya behind, as it were.

Then there is the curious case of the Ti Vaya and the Vaya Travel. The Ti Vaya, which was a hard to get bike to begin with, was a coveted gravel racing frame set. Salsa did not carry over the frame after 2013, yet they did continue the titanium models up through the 2015 model year in other models. The Vaya instead went to a coupled, stainless steel framed bike. It was a curious choice, since stainless steel frames are super expensive but not as marketable as titanium was/is. The only really cool thing about that frame was the addition of the Alternator drop out, which was a great way to add internal hub gear drive trains, single speed a Vaya, or to use as a way to bail yourself out in case of derailleur failure.

The Vaya Travel was the only Vaya ever equipped with Alternators
Salsa then had a surprise intro of a new Vaya Ti recently, which included a head tube capable of accepting a tapered steer tube, but did not have the Alternator drop outs. Oh so close, but again......not quite there. At $2500.00 for the frame alone, it seems to me that this kind of misses the mark as well. That's custom titanium frame price territory. Hmm......

As stated, the 2016 Vaya will have the bigger head tubes, and the Titanium bike gets the carbon tapered steer tube fork, (finally!), but it may be too late now. Salsa has some stiff competition in the gravel ranks, and they themselves have introduced a full-on touring bike called Marrakesh. So.....just how does the Vaya for 2016 fit in? 

Salsa dubs the bike as thus: "The Vaya is our road adventure and light-touring bike, designed to handle any road surface, from pavement to gravel to dirt."

So it is still a sort of mish-mash bike with no central focus. Or......is it the Swiss Army Knife bike everyone that owns one says that it is? Their own description reads like every other company's gravel bike marketing spew. So, why not make this the gravel bike it was always accepted as and that Salsa doesn't have, (but it does, it just doesn't market it as such.) Take out the "light touring" aspect, and amp up the marketing side to reflect what the Vaya is good at. 

However it goes, the Vaya seems to be a very curious case in Salsa's bike line up. It is a bike that is passionately loved by its owners, but has no featured place in the Salsa story like the Fargo, El Mariachi, Mukluk, and Beargrease. Even newer models like the Cutthroat and Marrakesh have already been celebrated in their marketing as adventure bikes worthy of consideration. It makes the Vaya hard to figure out for many consumers and I know from experience it is even a hard bike to get across to some of  my fellow bike nerds.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

News Season: Salsa Cycles 2016 Highlights

Salsa Cycles Pony Rustler GX-1. Moar B+!
The Saddledrive dealer only event is happening right now in Utah and Salsa Cycles preempted all us blogging fools out here by spilling the beans simultaneously on their website. So, if you'd rather look for yourself, go to the 2016 Preview here.

If you are in for a dose of my unfiltered opinions, read on.

Okay, a disclaimer- I have had about two weeks to ruminate on this news, since it was shared with me early on the promise I would keep my trap shut. Well, now I don't have to do that anymore, but I put that out there to let you know that I've considered these opinions a bit over the past two weeks.

Plus Bikes: I figured Salsa would respond to the B+ thing, and the "Pony Rustler", (more on that bike and its name in a bit), fit that bill. No big surprise to me there. However; it was slightly surprising to me to see a "Fargo" in 29+, only it isn't a Fargo, it is a Deadwood.

The Deadwood 29+ drop bar bike
29+ is cool and all, but as I have written here, you are limiting the sizing that works well to bigger folk. Yes.......there is a small size for the Deadwood. But look closely and you can easily compare a Small Fargo and see where Salsa's engineers had to design around those huge wheels. Oh.....and there is an XS Fargo, but not in a Deadwood. So there is a perfect example of how 29+ isn't really good for folks sized under a typical Medium 29"er, unless the geometry compromises don't bother you.

B+/27.5+ makes more sense here in terms of the Deadwood, and I am a bit surprised to see Salsa go with 29+, although as a marketing/sales product, I bet they sell every one they make. The buzz is huge around this bike. Speaking of "how many they will make", I got the feeling there won't be a lot of these made. I wasn't told outright that this would be the case, but I wasn't dissuaded in thinking so either. Take that for what it is worth.

Now, back to the Pony Rustler and B+ wheels. See, this is the way I figured the Fargo/Deadwood thing would work. The Pony Rustler is nearly analogous to the Horsethief. Check out Salsa's description on both bikes and you will see references to both bikes being able to accept 29"er with up to 2.4" tires or B+ wheel sets with up to 3" wide rubber. You see- a Deadwood could have been the B+ analog to the Fargo, but it isn't and there ya go. To my mind, that would have allowed an XS size with limited geometry gymnastics, not to mention a good size Small with no geo craziness.

Horsethief XO-1 Carbon
Now as for that name- "Pony Rustler". Most unfortunate. I was a bit shocked when I heard it, to be honest, but as with the Horsethief, I am sure it will become "just another model name" in the future. But really........Pony Rustler? It sounds kinda illicit and dirty. But yeah.....I like the B+ suspension bike idea, and putting everything on Boost axle width standards makes sense going forward. Sure.....it will be painful at first, but we'll all get along and have stiffer wheels in the future. It's a good thing, in my opinion.

What will be interesting going forward is to see how many Horsethief bikes versus Pony Rustler bikes get sold. I'm betting the B+ wheels will end up taking over this category of bicycles once folks get on board with the fun-factor they provide. They just have tons of grip, comfort, and they will expand the possibilities for those going way off the beaten path on these full suspension rigs. It just makes a ton of sense.

So, that's Salsa's push into "plus bike" territory. One thing makes a ton of sense and the other is going to be one of those bikes that I think will be a flash in the pan. Maybe that Deadwood will end up on B+ wheels in the future. I think that makes far more sense than what they have put out there now, but that's just me maybe.......

The new Marrakesh touring bike
Touring With The Marrakesh:

It's no secret that across the aisle at Surly Bikes one of their most successful models has been the Long Haul Trucker, and its disc brake equipped sibling, the Disc Trucker. Salsa had the Vaya, but to my mind, the Vaya has been a weird bike from the get-go, and still is. It doesn't really do any one thing really well, and to my way of thinking, that is its downfall. It isn't a full-on, unashamed touring tool, and it isn't the steel framed gravel slayer it could be either, although it will do both of those tasks reasonably well.

Enter the Marrakesh, a steel framed, down and dirty touring rig with a lot of cool features. I'm an old, over-the-road touring fan and I keep an eye out for good touring rigs at reasonable prices. I've seen a lot of great touring bikes with super-spendy price tags, I've seen some cheaper models that just weren't right in one way or another. The Long Haul Trucker and Disc Truckers are cool, but- and this may be just me- I don't want a Surly logo on my touring bike. It just doesn't sit well with me, for whatever reasons. In my opinion, a touring bike should be very understated, but classy, and of course, most importantly- functional. All within a reasonable budget. This Marrakesh looks like it should fit the bill.

I'm oddly excited about this bike. I am not at Saddledrive, obviously, and I haven't laid hands on this bike, but if Salsa gets this right in terms of function, handling, and if it isn't the weight of a tank, (like Raleigh's Sojourn touring bikes), then I would be very tempted to dust off the ol' panniers and go find some where to tour to. Oh yeah......did I mention that Salsa claims you can put up to 2.0 29"er tires on this bike? Did I mention the Alternator drop outs? Oh, and if drop bars aren't your thing, they have a dedicated geometry for flat bars too. All at $1599.00. Crazy. Hopefully, they did get this right! 

Cutthroat X-9: Possibly the ultimate do-it-all gravel bike?
 Honorable Mentions And Miscellaneous Comments: 

The Cutthroat, introduced earlier, has to be one of the big highlights of Salsa's line up for 2016. Despite its carbon fiber frame and fork, I feel this could be the ultimate gravel rig for "go-fast" folks that Salsa has yet produced. Big tires? Go with the stock set up. Skinnier tires or lighter wheels and skinnier tire? Yep! With loads of mud clearance too. The Class 5 VRS system should also be stellar on rougher roads. I feel like the Cutthroat could be the single bike solution for many gravel racer enthusiasts.

Now of course, there is the Warbird, and that bike does a road drive train and likely could be the lightest bike for gravel road riding. If bigger tires aren't on the radar, (bigger than 42's), then this bike might work well, although I feel Salsa should add some bottle bosses to the fork here to aid in making the Warbird that DK200-ish length bike choice.

Then there is the rest of the line up, which isn't too surprising. Paint and suspension forks are the only big deal on the fat bike side. Fargos remain basically unchanged with paint a spec updates. So too with Vayas, El Mariachis, and Spearfish.

What may be a shock to some is the dropping of the titanium line with the exception of the Ti Vaya. I am not sure what is happening there, but I will only speculate that instead of sticking limited resources over steel, titanium, carbon, and aluminum bikes, Salsa is focusing on new wheel platforms, carbon fiber, the VRS technology, and expanding into the touring bike thing. I know some things about Salsa Cycles and one of those things is that they cannot "do it all". They aren't a big company with unlimited resources. Another thing to consider is how well the titanium bikes are selling. I don't know myself, but if they are not moving well, and carbon fiber is, then, ya know, what would you put your money in to as a company? Customers vote with their dollars and if the votes are saying titanium is not marketable, then it isn't. But again- that's purely speculation on my part there.