Sunday, February 19, 2017

When The Hammer Comes Down

No snow, 65+ degrees, and people are golfing. On February 18th!
So I was out riding gravel and thinking that I was just slightly overdressed.  I had a long sleeved wool jersey on and a base layer up top with a pair of bib tights on. Now this is mid February and I was originally thinking that this was so awesome. I mean, generally it is very snowy at this time of year, cold, and often we get these "Alberta Clippers". Those systems which dip us below zero for a night or two before we warm back up to the upper 20's/lower 30's in the daytime.

But this hasn't been the case at all during February 2017. It has been more like mid-March instead of February at all. The snow trails for fat biking have turned to ice and mush. Off road riding is off limits for the time being. It just got warm enough for the roadies to break out their rigs. Gravel roads are perfect right now. This is weird. Then it hit me.

Nature seeks balance.

So, I am thinking things are going to swing hard the other way in March. Talk about coming in like a lion. It's going to be cold, nasty, and windy. Mark my words. I am no weatherman, but I have noticed how things go often times.

Hopefully I am wrong, but I don't think I will be.........


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 7


Karate Monkey in '07 "perfection mode".
On the blog ten years ago I had plenty of images! Hooray! I think the deal was that I was not well versed yet in how to get files uploaded on Blogger, so until I figured that out and was comfortable with that, I went a few times without images. From this point on though, things like that seem to be rare, if not non-existent.

Anyway, here is a shot of my Karate Monkey from February of '07 right after Planet Bike sent me some Cascadia fenders for 29"ers. I mounted those up on my Monkey, which as I posted earlier this week, was dialed to perfection at that point for gravel travel. You can see the Cooks Brothers crank set and the disc brake set up which I no longer am using on this bike.

I was deep into getting bikes ridden and components tested at this time. I was fiddling with the XXIX+G, which I had the good sense to have sent to me in a size Large. The medium XXIX single speed was a medium, and it didn't fit as well, so that bike already was languishing in the basement unridden and would eventually get sold off later in '07, I believe it was. The Haro Mary was also a medium, but seemed to fit a little better. So that was still in play yet and I had wheels and tires being tested on that bike. Plus I had other pet project bikes I was dealing with which included a vintage 650B Raleigh mountain bike.

Another interesting development was that I had tried some DuMonde Tech lube at this point based off of an experience I had with Mike Curiak, who was using that lube at Trans Iowa v1. Later on when I told the DuMonde Tech rep about that, he contacted Mr. Curiak who then, (according to the DuMonde Tech guy) denied that he had ever used the stuff, or at least he couldn't remember ever having used it. Whatever. I saw what I saw, and it influenced me to try it. By the way, it was as good then as it is now. You should try it out too.

Now those are some REAL wagon wheels! Image courtesy of Ben Witt
Then also on the blog ten years ago- I was forwarded an image of what I thought was, (and very well could be), the first 36 inch wheeled mountain bike. It was a collaboration between Mike Pofahl and Ben Witt. Ben owned and operated Milltown Cycles then and Mike Pofahl is a custom frame builder from Northfield Minnesota.

In this image there is also a Salsa Cycles El Mariachi 29"er. You can see how those 36" wheels really dwarf the 29"ers!

This is the same 36"er which Ben had painted a maroon color later on. (Note- It is in a raw, unpainted state in this image and remained that way for several years) This is the very same bike I had here for several months on loan from Ben to use. I mostly did commuter rides on it. Oddly enough, it never did draw any attention as I rode it. People hardly noticed that it had gargantuan hoops.

Weird that.

Anyway, this bike caused quite a stir, and Ben and Mike later on collaborated on another version of this bike with some big improvements in the design. I reckon this first one is the stone that kicked off the entire 36"er bikes for off road niche as it stands today. I don't think Ben and Mike get any credit at all for doing this and being innovators. They should be recognized as such, in my opinion.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday News And Views

What looks like a Fox prototype shock could be a gravel specific design. (Image courtesy of Bike Radar)
Fox Shox Prototype Gravel Fork? 
 Riding gravel roads is akin, many times, to being on  a two wheeled version of a paint shaker. The jack hammering action of the handle bar is really bad with the current crop of ultra stiff, cyclo cross/road racing carbon fork designs being foisted as "gravel forks". So things like ISO speed decouplers and Lauf "forks", (I hesitate to call that visual assault to the eyes a fork), are things deemed necessary to ward off the incessant banging hands take on chunky gravel roads and rougher pavement. Let's not forget that Cannondale went on its own path, (again) with the Oliver Lefty fork for similar reasons.

Now I see that yesterday "Bike Radar" broke a story about a possible gravel fork from Fox Racing Shox. (See their story here) I won't get into the technicalities of such a device. Telescopic front suspension forks aren't anything new. What is most important about such a possibility is the ramifications of the shock's mere existence. If this is for real, you can expect a major sea change in the volume and intensity of the marketing behind the gravel/all road/adventure bike segment. I say this based upon what we can learn from the past.

Before Fox Shox made a fork for 29"ers, the entire segment of wagon wheelers was doomed to be nothing more than a small niche market. This despite the fact that Rock Shox made a token Reba 29"er fork to give the segment some legitimacy. Once the Fox Vanilla 29"er fork came about, the 29"er segment found its legs and the rest is history. The second conclusion we can draw here is that some big brand, or brands, are behind this.

We can assume this with some certainty since Fox doesn't make anything unless they get orders for a fork or rear shock. The fact that we are possibly seeing a prototype gives rise to the question of who (which brand or brands) might be pulling the trigger on a line of gravel/adventure bikes featuring front suspension.

It will be interesting to see if and when things come to light regarding this.

Near record breaking temperatures are forecast for this weekend.
Spring Break In February:

Winter is drunk. Winter is AWOL. In its wake we are forecast to have Spring-like temperatures for this weekend and into the beginning of next week.

Because of the odd-ball break in Winter's normal program, I am scheduling some gravel travel. I am back to 100% health-wise and I need to get a couple review items out and tested. Plus, who wouldn't want to ride in February in 60 plus degree weather? So, it is a no brainer. I am going riding tomorrow. Maybe Sunday too. Probably......

This weather obviously will not last, but considering that March is right around the corner, any return of Winter's snowy and cold blasts are sure to be short lived. I think we are due to "swing back" the other way too. Nature has a way of balancing things out, so I expect that March will come in like a lion, and we will have some nastiness to deal with the first half of the month. All the more reason to hit the gravel roads Saturday and Sunday.

Long. Black. Pimped.
Big Dummy Gets Stares:

The XR-1 Bontrager 2.4" whitewall tires have really brought a new level of inquisitiveness from the natives here. I think the use of the aluminized tape for a rim strip on the Northpaw rims doesn't hurt either. A little "chrome" bling to go with the blinding white sidewalls.

I actually have to really pay attention to people when I ride this bike, or I would miss a lot of the reactions. Like the guy who rolled down his window and leaned out to get a better look at me and the Big Dummy the other day. Or the people that rubberneck as they see me roll by. People that are definitely non-cyclists are even walking over to admire the weirdness that is my Big Dummy.

Anyway, those big puffy tires are really a boon to the ride of this bicycle. I get a much smoother ride and better stability. Traction, despite the small knobs, is far better, especially since I have the 47mm wide rims and lower air pressure capabilities as a result. The bike has been such a huge benefit to me in such a short amount of time that I can say without hesitation that it will be getting a lot more use this coming year once the weather straightens out.

And I suppose it will draw a lot of eyeballs and comments too.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend and enjoy riding in this weather we have if you are in the Mid-West!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

RidingGravel.com Gear Pre-Order Opens

Okay, so here's the deal. I am a partner in RidingGravel.com and we sell some gear. There.....I said it.

Okay, so if you are down we have jerseys, bib shorts, vests, and leg and arm warmers. They come in two different versions, so pay attention when you click to the pre-order site HERE.

And......you have to decide soon. The pre-order lasts till February 24th, then we're sending in the order. You should see your gear Mid-March or so, is what I have been told.

So get in now, because we may not have this offer up again. There could be a limited amount of stuff later on, but do not count on that.

Thanks for checking the gear out!

The Green Monkey Era Begins

There she is! The Green Monkey.
I mentioned last week that I was going to "green up" my Karate Monkey and then I also mentioned that on Monday. The final piece to the puzzle arrived Tuesday and yesterday I got it all put together. The era of the Green Monkey begins now.

This has been a process that has been a long time in coming to this point. I feel pretty confident in saying now that "it is finished".

Again.

Let's hope this time I do not dismantle it and ruin what I had, like I did last time I had the Karate Monkey dialed to perfection. That said, this variation is actually a better one. There are a couple of reasons for that. One thing I should have done a long time ago and the other bit wasn't really a possibility until last year. Both things were critcal in making this version work and work better than before.

When I first got this Campstove Green Karate Monkey in 2003, I set it up with disc brakes, which at that time was a new technology for mountain biking. There was no way I was going to use cantilever brakes, even though they were a known quantity and the '03 Monkeys could accept them. Nope! Even though the cantilevers would be lighter, I wasn't going to do it. That led to frustrations.


I believe Homebrew Components is defunct now, but that is where I got these green anodized bits.
 Anytime I had to, or wanted to remove the rear wheel it was a half an hour ordeal. Loosen the caliper, move the chain tensioner, unbolt the axle, deal with the chain, then reverse the entire procedure when you wanted to reinstall the wheel. Good luck getting that brake caliper in the right spot! Especially out in the field. This time around, I went with rim brakes, and that takes away one step of the procedure. It has been a lot easier dealing with the rear wheel this way. I should have just bit the bullet and gone with some super cool linear pull brakes back then.

The other bit that made all the difference is the Velo Orange Cigne Stem. That has the On One Midge Bars right in the sweet spot. Before this stem, I could get close. I just had to put up with a bit of discomfort at times, but no more. This stem is exactly what I needed to run drop bars on the Karate Monkey.

Other than that, the last thing I needed to get to recreate the old "perfect" version of this bike was a longer crank. I used a 177.5mm Cook Brothers crankset on my original build. That accepts a 110 BCD type sprocket, and when I tried to remove the hidden fifth bolt and nut, it siezed up and I basically haven't gotten that separated ever since. So, I ended up selling a bike recently that had a 180mm White Industries crank set on it, which I kept. I just swapped that over with its green Homebrew Components 38T ring and also matched that with a 17 tooth cog from the same company. (I believe that company is no more, by the way.)

Yes- this is not the saddle I spoke of last Friday.
Finally, sharp eyed readers will notice that the Apple Green Brooks B-17 was not mentioned before, but I did say I had a green Brooks B-17 Special which had turned nearly black. Well, after last Friday's post went live, a regular reader here named Steven contacted me about the Apple Green Brooks he had and wanted to sell. He thought maybe I might like a truly green saddle better.

He was correct. So, a deal was struck and earlier this week the saddle arrived. I mounted it to my Ritchey post and took the Green Monkey for a spin. Everything felt perfect. It is one of those rare, happy bicycling moments when everything just falls to hand and you get that satisfying feeling. Well, I had that feeling and the Karate Monkey has not felt this good while riding since 2007. I am beyond happy with how it all turned out.

While there may be some adjustments, maybe a tire swap, or maybe newer wheels at some point, I don't see anything being changed out from this point forward. I am excited to get this out on gravel, and I know I can ride hours and hours on this thing now. It's gonna be good.

A short explanation about why this was torn apart back in the day now- Well, I have to credit this bike with getting me excited about 29"ers, and also about gravel road riding. I was riding this bike exclusively on gravel in the years 2006-2007. Then when I got entrenched in "Twenty Nine Inches.com", I had to pretty much forsake any gravel riding time for testing and reviewing mountain bike parts. Cue up the hours and hours spent at Camp Ingawanis, Ingawanis Woodlands, and Cedar Bend Park. Gravel was a rarity for me after '07.

So, the Monkey got pressed into commuter duties, but when after four years of Winter's muck and mire made the old UN series bottom bracket go "clunk", I found that the bottom bracket was seized up in the frame. This would have been around 2010. Then I didn't have the time nor gumption to get after that because I wouldn't be able to ride that bike much anyway.

But now things are different. No more mountain biking review duties, and all my focus is back again on gravel riding. Getting the Karate Monkey up and running again made sense now. So, there is your back story.

Now for some good times on the Green Monkey!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Maybe We Need Wingnuts

There are probably some "wingnuts" out there that could find creative ways to screw these up too.
The ubiquitous quick release is probably one of the most misused components in cycling. Well.....maybe saddle bags are a close second. But those are accessories, not really a component. Yeah.....so quick releases it is. At least this is my observation from my repair stand.

There are a lot of lawyers that have made a lot of money from issues arising from failure to use quick release mechanisms properly. For instance, did you know that those dratted "lawyer tabs" found on everyone's front forks since the late 1980's were a result of a quick release issue? There are probably instances of the misuse of this clever invention by Tulio Campagnolo going back to Tulio's days. I think how the the "QR" works is definitely one of the hardest concepts for people to grasp today. I see all sorts of glazed eyes when I try to gently explain how these are to be used.

I thought that the through axle, as devised by Fox Shox and Shimano, would eventually be the device that would finally put the long in the tooth QR out to pasture. It was so simple to use, it was insane. Maybe DT Swiss' Ratcheting Skewer is actually better. Either one would have been okay with me. But noooooo! You have to license those designs and, of course, no one is going to want to do that. So now we have about ten different through axle styles and many of them really suck. They are so fiddly to use that all they end up doing is pissing you off.

So, getting a through axle standard for all bikes was not going to happen. What then? Hmm...... Maybe we need to just go back to the point when Tulio invented the infernal quick release thing and do what they were doing back then. We could use wingnuts.

Nah! They would probably find ways to screw that up too.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Deadwood Sus Introduced By Salsa Cycles

Deadwood Sus XT-. Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles
Yesterday Salsa Cycles introduced the Deadwood Sus, which isn't a Deadwood with a suspension fork. That is what I immediately thought when I saw the name. Nope. This is like a "Ponyrustler Plus". It is a full suspension 29 plus wheeled bike. Not a drop bar 29+ bike with a suspension fork.

Okay?

Now with that out of the way, you can begin to calm down. This bike introduction was fairly obvious. Spearfish and Horsethief platforms giving way to their next logical conclusions, the aforementioned Ponyrustler and now this- the Deadwood Sus. I guess the name pool is running dry at Salsa Cycles or something. Talk about slightly odd..........

Anywho.... Yeah, big wagon wheeler suspension devices are rare. This one is more than likely well sorted out. Most of the Split Pivot stuff has been really nice to ride. I see Salsa is saying a few things here which I find to be smart, and if well executed, could well make this bike a really great ride for mountain biking all day, for fast paced, ground covering racing, and for just a great exploration tool. The things they are saying relate to how they are supposedly tuning the suspension to work with the big, puffy tires. The tires have some inherent suspension qualities. Let them do that work, and make the frame's suspension do the rest- rebound control, taking over damping on bigger impacts, and not getting in the way of the rider's propelling the bike. If Salsa truly dialed this in, I think they are on to something here.

Deadwood Sus GX-1- Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles
No doubt that burly carbon front triangle is going to be a stiff foundation for this idea. I read it is the very same front triangle as the Ponyrustler. Many will roll their eyes at the Press Fit style bottom bracket. I guess I would have rather have seen a threaded bottom bracket myself. They are easy to keep creak-free. That said, my Press Fit style bottom bracket in my Blackborow has been absolutely creak free. That's going on three years now come this Fall. I haven't exactly treated that bike with kid gloves either. So, maybe I would not say this Deadwood's Press Fit bottom bracket is a deal breaker for me. I'd give it a shot.

Internal routing? It's the "thing to do" these days. I'm not a fan. I don't care how good you make those frame grommet entry points, that still is a place for crap to get into your frame. Conversely, I like internal routing for the dropper posts on any bike. I know......not a very consistent philosophy there! Maybe when those new fangled wireless dropper posts come out, I can hate on internal dropper post routing as well. That'll be a good day! Anyway, the Deadwood has mostly external routing. That's a good thing.

Okay.....back to the bike! Suspension travel is limited to a whopping 91mm out back. That's a hair over 3.5" for you metrically challenged folks out there. You'll notice that this ain't much squish compared to other trail bikes with monkey motion these days. Salsa, (and all the media wonks that they invited to take a whack at this thing before it was publicly announced), say it "feels like more", or that the bottoming out of the suspension "wasn't noticeable". Draw your own conclusions there. I say this- there is no substitute for suspension travel. This is no knock on the Deadwood, (I'm leaving off the silly "Sus" part of the moniker), because I am sure that it does the job it was intended for. I just get kind of tired of all the word forging that is masking that this is a short travel, XC-ish bike. You know what? There isn't anything at all wrong with that.

Deadwood XO- Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles.
Salsa Cycles compares this new bike to their Spearfish short travel full suspension bike, and that bike is really a replacement for the old Dos Niner soft tail bike. Salsa has a history of short travel full suspension bikes going back over a decade. Why try to hide that? (To be completely fair, they aren't) I know some folks won't get it- why not have five inches of rear wheel travel here? Ummm.....because this is supposed to be an XC-ish adventure machine. That's why. (Note- This is my take, not necessarily Salsa Cycle's or anyone else's.)

Oddly enough, there is an introductory video for this bike which shows two riders doing nothing but ripping these new Deadwoods down hill. There are no shots of climbing with this, or much to indicate that you should use this for cross country type of fun. To be completely fair, some of the invited media did write that part up. Apparently, it actually climbs well, if not a bit more ponderous and slower than other bikes. The point is that some media wonks seem bent on positioning this bike as some sort of magical unicorn of a suspension device that makes 91mm feel like.......something more. 

What it is more of is "expensive". The "entry level", as of now, is at $3800.00. I say "as of now" because if you dig into the website on the Deadwood you'll find the following statement: "This frame offers a 340 grams weight savings over the aluminum version." Wait...... What? There is an aluminum version? 

Maybe there "will be." Or maybe it is a mistake. I've discovered mistakes like that before on Salsa's website, so that wouldn't be a surprise. Time will tell which it is, a description of an as yet unheralded bike, or a mistake.

An aluminum version would be slightly less spendy, but make no mistake, starting at $3800.00 and topping out at $6G is not making this bike attractive to a wide range of riders. I suppose it is the price you pay to play these days. Still, if it were within my reach, I would take something like this in a heartbeat to El Paso's Franklin Mountains trails or anywhere that demanded a tool like this.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Things Are Getting Greener

Sneak preview of the Greener Monkey
This past weekend was a busy one around here. I had two guitar playing gigs at church and an evening over at another couple's home for a dinner. I also had the honor of conducting the Mechanics Class at the shop where I had some enthusiastic students. Friday afternoon/evening, Saturday, and most of Sunday were just too busy to do anything with bikes, for the most part.

I did get in a cardboard recycling run on the Big Dummy. I think the last time I rode that bike was New Year's Day. Things were pretty clear, as far as snow and ice back then and now we find ourselves right back in that same boat again. This time I feel like it just may signal the end of Winter. Anyway, it was fun to get that bike out and use it. I met some younginz at the recycling bins and one of them stopped to compliment me on my bicycle. That was nice of the young whippersnapper!

Sunday afternoon it was really windy, so I decided not to venture out in the country. Instead, I decided to start the greening of the Monkey. I had a little trouble finding the green anodized cog I had, but I did end up finding it. It is a 17 tooth and the drive ring I am using is a 38T. That's the gearing I find most appropriate for a 29"er single speed on gravel.

I have one more green component on the way, and when that arrives, I'll be finished with the "greening of the Monkey".  Stay tuned...........