Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Tony, his Fargo, and my BMC "Orange Crush"
Holiday weekends are often so packed full of activities that we tend to lose the handle on what the heck the whole day off is for in the first place. So, I would like to say Thank You to all Veterans and those still serving. This man appreciates all they have dome, are doing, and will do so I have freedom and the country I live in.

I hope that you take a moment to make your own observations on this holiday and what it means to you.

This begins a weird week for me. I have Tuesday and Wednesday at work, then I am leaving with that guy in the image here today to travel to the Dirty Kanza 200. I won't be racing, but I am taking a bicycle to ride while I am down there. I'm going to plan on a solo ride while the DK is on, ( not on the course), so I can do some testing of some stuff and get in more miles before Odin's Revenge.

Then after four more days off I'll come back and get back into work mode again. That'll be really weird. I won't know what day it even is by then! I may not even get regular posts up on here whilst I am gallivanting around the Mid-West. Apologies beforehand and a forewarning.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Country Views: Part 1

I guess the views I have posted in my "Spring In The Country" posts struck a nerve with a few of you. So, instead of limiting the idea to Spring, I just decided that calling it "Country Views" was maybe a bit more appropriate. So, with that, here we go with the first in the series.....

The grass is getting really tall out there now! My Standard Rando just about disappears here. 
Old power line posts all used to have these ID tags. The cement post usually meant that it marked a survey point on a farm.
The "big rock" of Big Rock Road. 
And a pile of "little" rocks to go with that. 
Orderly lines of emerging crops bordering a chaotic water drainage. 
A small smattering of flowers. The ditches are full of wild roses and other colors right now. I'll have to go out and track down some more images of those.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Minus Ten Review- 21

The one and only checkpoint at the first DK200- That's my Inbred there.
Ten years ago this week on the blog I ran down more of my Dirty Kanza 200 experience. It didn't end the way I wanted it to, but it went like about the rest of my attempts have- I start out well, run out of water, get hot, and fade to black.

It's been like that at almost every hot, dry gravel event I've ever done. I have a lot of trouble in heat. Still......I keep on trying. I know....... I'm insane.

Anyway, the event was so tiny and grassroots, "under the radar" that I almost laughed when I went back and researched this for the post today. I mean- just look at this image. Can you imagine that this is a checkpoint image from a Dirty Kanza event? That table and tent is the checkpoint folks. That was it! You all know that the Dirty Kanza is about a universe away from where it came from in those days, right? I! It really hit me when I think about this and my experience that I had at the DK200 last year.

Then the other thing was my bike. I just got that frame back again, and I was thinking how a lot of the parts are long gone now. But, actually, they are not. I realized that I put that seat post mounted water bottle cage on that Salsa Shaft seat post in 2006, and then I transferred that over to my OS Bikes Blackbuck in '07, where it stayed until last year. Then I moved it to my 1X1 Surly. Only the saddle was changed. The head set is still in my Blackbuck, and the brake levers are on that bike yet too. The crank is on my Pofahl, and I still have the rear hub in a fat bike wheel. Good parts never leave you, even though the bikes may move on, eh?

So, will I try to recreate that build? Nah! I'll do another one, but I still haven't figured out whether or not it will be a geared or single speed build.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday News And Views

Wait a minute.......wasn't yesterday Friday? It sure seemed that way to me, but it wasn't Friday yesterday, today is. Uh........that's weird... Anyway.....

Darin (L) and myself.
The Story Of Ears:

 There are a few things I am proud of in terms of my life's accomplishments, but maybe none more so than being involved in Darin, "Ears" Kueker's life. Well, it may not seem like much to you, but to me, it means a lot.

You see, when I met Ears, he was a teenager living in a trailer home mostly unattended. He has a mother, but she was mostly absent and Ears was pretty much on his own. That was where he was at when I met him in 1994 or so. I'll spare you the details, but between myself and a few other people, we invested into Darin's life and made sure he was okay. He actually lived with me for a spell back in the day. Anyway, I consider him a "son" of sorts, and when I get to see him, it is a big deal to me.

So, I was super stoked when I heard Darin call out my name while I was commuting home. He was back in the area on not so great terms- his mother has contracted cancer- and he was looking for me at the bike shop, but caught me on my commute home instead. We talked for about 45 minutes on the side of the road, and it was a good time. A great time, really.

Anyway, there is a lot more to this story, but suffice it to say, it is the people you touch, invest into, and have relationship with that are the most valuable things in this life. That's my opinion, anyway, and I think it is pretty spot on.

Good to see you again, Ears. Rock on!

Rockin' The T-6 Standard:

I have been getting in some rides on the Twin Six Standard Rando lately. I had this bike in mothballs so long awaiting the wheels I needed to get the thing going that I forgot how it rode.

Well, besides a saddle that has given me fits off and on, I remembered why it was that I liked this bike so well. That is because it rides so smoothly. It points out a fatal flaw that a lot of the so-called "gravel/adventure" bikes have that are coming out of the woodwork these days. That being that, for some unknown reason, they ride horribly on..........wait for it- gravel! Yes, I'd think that would be accounted for, but apparently riding over crushed rock and the vibrations that can cause seem to have slipped the minds of these folks. The main culprit here are carbon fiber forks, none of which, (yes, I said none), are designed in such a way that they can even come close to absorbing the chatter of a gravel road like a good steel fork can. Some of these bikes don't even have a good back end to make up for it either. Think I'm the only one complaining? Read this review and see what I mean. I'm not the only person noticing this.

The trouble is that it seems as though bike designers are finding it hard to actually design specifically for off pavement riding because it is so misunderstood by the masses that they err to the road bike side. Either that or they are popping out "me too" designs to capitalize on a trend without investing much into R&D. Yeah....... You decide which.

Anyway, the saddle. Right. I decided upon a Brooks C-17. It should be on the bike over the weekend. Stay tuned for what I think about that coming up soon.

Hoping to see more of this over the weekend.
Of course, this is a big holiday weekend. Memorial Day is the traditional start to Summer for many of us Mid-Westerners, and the weather has sure cooperated with that notion of late. It has been in the 80's, humid, and we've had some nasty thunderstorms that have torn up the woodlands around here of late. Traditionally we get some wet weather on this holiday around here as well. I just hope I get a window of opportunity to get a ride in. Maybe two.

One of those will be a traditional 3GR ride from the usual place on Saturday morning at 8:30am, as long as it isn't raining or worse! We'll see about that.

So, you all have a great weekend. Stay safe, have fun, and say thanks to those who have served and are serving in the military. Remember your loved ones. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Change Is Coming

Direct to Consumer brand Canyon is coming to the US in 2017
You may not be in the bicycle industry, but if you are, you've likely already have heard about Canyon Bikes and their planned entrance to the US market in Spring of next year. The details of the story are best read here, so I won't bother with all of that. What I wanted to discuss today is how changes are coming to the bicycle industry, and how Canyon's presence here may hasten that change.

The bicycle industry has been mostly stagnant, or arguably decreasing in size, since 2000 or so. The industry, largely entrenched in its ways developed over the past 40 years or more, hasn't fundamentally changed the way it does its business internally or externally. This is about to be changed, is changing now, and will change more over the next ten years. My prediction is that what we see as a "bike shop" now will not exist in ten years. Oh, there still will be bicycles, and they will still be sold, serviced, and replaced in time with newer ones, but the way we see that being done is going to be very different in the very near future.

Direct to consumer bicycles are not anything new, but let me be clear- what you get from this channel now is sub par compared to traditional bike shop brands. I know, I know..... Those of you that own such bikes are going to get your hackles up and say I'm wrong, I'm being a snob, or whatever. But just you wait and see what Canyon Bikes will be offering. We're talking bikes that will blow a Motobecane out of the water when it comes to the levels of engineering and performance, and you'll barely have to assemble anything when it comes to your door. There is zero comparison to what Canyon Bikes is doing with anything currently available direct to consumer in the US now, and even the big bike brands know this.

Canyon Dude 9.0 fat bike $3240 and change USD
Take for instance the Dude fat bike, which is on par with anything any other company does for a carbon fat bike. Most of these top of the line carbon fat bikes are 5G plus. The Dude? If Canyon was selling it here today it would go for sub-$3300.00. That's a substantial difference that many won't ignore. I can tell you that the established brands here are not ignoring this.

Trek started offering their bikes on-line last year, and soon the other big brands followed suit. The convenience of buying from home though is not going to be enough, and in the case of the other brands, you still have to pick up your purchase at a shop. Canyon won't be hamstrung by such limitations. That's going to force the hand of the established companies in some way if Canyon makes any sort of a dint in the marketplace, because there isn't enough "pie" to go around now, much less if Canyon takes a slice.

While that sounds dire, it may not be the biggest motivation for change in the marketplace of bicycles. There are many internal issues within the industry itself which are unsustainable, not to mention how bike shops themselves are operated. Many stories about that can be found all over, but suffice it to say that change is in the wind and even without Canyon's influence, the changes would happen. I just think it may be sooner than it would have been with their entering the US marketplace.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Off Road Drop Bars 101: More On Design

Last week I wrote about how an off road drop bar design's radius maters to the overall set up of an off road drop bar. You can reference that post by clicking here. This time I am going to cover why a couple of bars have gotten the design more right than wrong. Hopefully this will help you find a bar for off road drop bar use on your steed of choice. 

Wide tops, enough flare to clear your wrists, and a decent amount of sweep.
 Let's consider what is generally thought of as "good" when it comes to a typical off road/mountain biking handle bar. One of the latest trends is for a really, really wide bar and a short stem. It used to be that it was the other way around- really narrow bars and a really long stem.  Either way, what the idea is that the bars and stem are working together to give the rider maximum leverage over their front wheel. Keeping that front wheel going where you intend to point it is crucial to having a good experience on an off road adventure. Off road drop bars can be tough to comprehend in terms of set up, because the bar itself has a component of "reach", which is usually in the realm of what the stem is for. I'll cover off road drop bar stems in another post, because besides radius, they are one of the most critical parts of an off road drop bar set up.

So, let's talk about why you would want a drop bar design for off road riding with a wider top. Looking at our flat bar users, we see that the wider bar, as well as the tops of an off road drop bar, are going to pretty much determine where the controls end up being in space. Typically you're going to want wider tops than narrower on your drop bar set up for control reasons, just like flat bar users do. This can be tough to find in an off road drop bar. That is because several off road drop bars have flared drops that are at such a severe angle that the slanted in drop section took away from the width of the bar overall. This puts the hoods at a much narrower point, not to mention slanted over on their sides more, which is putting your hands in a narrower stance if you are on the hoods. This makes riding the hoods less appealing, or not at all appealing, depending upon the radius of the drops. While being in the drops is where your set up should be focused upon, having a hoods position compromised due to excessive flare is not ideal. Remember- flare on the drops is there to clear your wrists and forearms while down in the drops. Enough flare for that is plenty, We don't need more.

The ramps shouldn't "reach" out too far forward of the top section.
"Reach" is how far forward from the tops that the ramp section sticks outward to the front of the bike. The point where your levers mount is usually the most forward part, or should be. Levers that have to mount downward from a point level with the tops create another odd hoods position, which, again- is not necessary or desirable. Besides the inherent reach in the bars, we have stems from less than 50mm all the way beyond 100mm and less reach means we can usually use a "normal" length stem so that we are not locked into finding a short reach/high angle stem, which there are very few of out there these days. Remember- stems will be covered later.

Again, due to stem limitations, we don't want to have a ton of "drop" either. Drop is the distance from the tops to where your hands will grip the extensions while in the drops. Deep drops are harder to use since they require a higher rise stem, and again- those are tougher to source without going custom. Besides, a slight difference in height for positions from "in the drops" to "on the tops" is easier to negotiate off road. Obviously, weirder radius bends can cause the extensions to have "constantly varying drop" which can get so radical the extensions/drop position is essentially unusable. The bars with a tighter radius bend tend to have the most usable positions because of this.

The Cowchipper has a reasonable swept extension outwards which should appeal to most riders.
Sweep is how the extensions are bent to "sweep" outwards from the bottom of the drop sections radius bend. The Woodchipper and the sadly defunct Luxy Bar have what I would term as "radical" extension sweep. This appeals to those riders who find bars like the Jones Bar appealing but want the variety of positions a good drop bar can give in different levels. (High/sitting up and Low/bent over) Less sweep is found in a bar like the Cowchipper, which is less radical but still allows for a nice, ergonomic feel and helps with the "elbows out", attack position for off road riding. The Midge Bar/June Bug Bar fall into this less radical sweep category as well.

The extensions length is the final piece of the puzzle and that is a personal preference that each rider can decide on for themselves. Midge Bar/June Bug Bar models tend to the minimalist side, offering only one good grip at the extensions, while a Cowchipper gives you room to move.

Luxy Bars had a radically swept extension and a shallow drop
So, to close on the design aspects of an off road drop bar, radius is the foundation. Too "open" and/or deep, the more that compromises the end user in terms of various options in set up and positions. Extensions that are more closely in parallel to the ramps work better in this regard. Then too, a long reach, or too much flare can take away from options for set up and this needlessly so because those things, when used too much, can actually render a bar less suited for off road use. Finally, swept extensions are great, and having options would be good, but as of now the only decent, highly swept off road drop is the Woodchipper. Extension length is a personal preference and shorter or longer really makes no difference in set up.

Finally, I wanted to tackle the questions about these sorts of bars and gravel road/touring use. In my opinion, we do not really need these sorts of bars for gravel road riding, although there are races/events/rides where things get rough and the control an off road drop bar lends a rider would be a nice option. I feel a wide road bar is definitely a good choice for gravel roads, and in my humble opinion, the Cowbell Bar by Salsa Cycles is the classic gravel road cycling bar. Some may say the Nitto Randonneur bar is better, or that some other bar is best, but for a road based design with modern features, a Cowbell is the bees knees with just enough flare and sweep to keep you in control.

Next time I'll talk about stems and how frame design plays into how you choose a stem.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Guitar Ted Lube Off: A Couple Of Knockouts

This chain is wearing the remnants of Smooth Operator lube
The Lube Off moves into Summer Mode once again and to recap for those of you that are new to this, or may have lost track, the Lube off is a chain lube test for gravel road use. Take what you will from this, but this is mostly about my personal quest to find the best chain lubrication for my gravel road going bicycles.

So far my top lubes are DuMonde Tech, Rock & Roll Gold, and Pro Gold ProLink.

Today I wanted to talk about a couple of lubricants that I used in the colder, wetter times of Spring on up to the drier, dustier times of the last few weeks. First up is Smooth Operator lube. Click that link there and you will get a much more detailed view on this lube from me, but as far as general gravel road use, I will reiterate that this is good stuff, but you have to clean and reapply regularly. This stuff won't get you much more than a couple of dry, dusty rides in before you'll want to clean things up and reapply it because, while it's fairly clean, it still attracts dust. When things get wet, it works better, since it still lubricates, but stays on the chain and doesn't attract as much grit.

I'll keep on using what I was sent till its gone, but there are less labor intensive solutions for sure. Call this one a technical knockout.

Chain-L: No thank you!
The next lube up, Chain-L lube, is a lube I got a sample of somewhere along the line, but I cannot remember how. Anyway, this stuff came highly recommended by a few trusted sources, so I was preset for high expectations going into using this stuff. However; I was sorely disappointed, even after some tips I was given on its usage.

I won't belabor the point here, but the bottom line is that Chain-L is a sticky, gooey lube that you must use as sparingly as possible. Even then I found that dust came on to the chain as if they were iron filings sticking to a magnet. After each application I cleaned the drive train and then carefully lubed with as little of this stuff as I could, but the chain would come back dry and covered in a sticky, dirty goo.

Well, that is a recipe for tearing up a drive train sooner than necessary, especially in dusty conditions. By the way, you'd think that really wet, muddy conditions would be better, but that's not what I found. The stickiness of this lube still attracted dirt and grit to the point that I was displeased. I cannot reconcile why my experiences were so bad with this stuff while some folks, whose opinions I trust, have had nothing but great experiences with Chain-L, but there ya go. You won't catch me using this on my gravel bikes again. Not when competing products I have tried are obviously outperforming Chain-L in the conditions I am testing in. Call this one a knockout in the first round.

So, there ya go. A couple of lubes more into the testing, and the search goes on........