Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blackborow DS: First Ride

I was finally able to scratch up enough cabbage to get the Blackborow out of hock from the bike shop. The maiden voyage included many icy city streets, a large portion of single track, and some grassy traverses. We got a nice crunchy coverlet of fresh snow Sunday night/Monday morning, and it was snowing during my ride.

The Blackborow DS is a parallel single speed drive train package with a "high" ratio of 30T X 18T and a "low" ratio of 26T X 22T. I ran my first ride in the "low" range, just to see if I could tolerate it on a longer flat ride. Well.....mostly flat. 

 We'd been tooling around on this bike at the shop ever since it came in. James and Todd both seemed to really think it was something special, but I wasn't going to give it my stamp of approval until I could get it off road and into some slippery, technical stuff. Fortunately, that's exactly what the conditions were. Slippery streets were met with a solid, confident feel. Of course, I wasn't tossing it into turns and manhandling it, because while it was stable, it doesn't have studded tires. Ice must be respected! But the grip level seemed pretty good so far.

The initial section of the new trail in Sherwood Park is pretty twisty, undulating, and has a few technical moves over rock piles and what not to negotiate. The Blackborow felt like it was Velcro'ed to the surface and I had no problem at all going through here. Further on, I had to make the short, steep climb out of the area to the bike path, and also up the hill at Northland Oil, (Both maybe 20-25ft high at 15% or so with snow on the trail), and both were cleaned with no issues. The ratio was fine for trail riding, and "okay" for spinning down the streets, but I probably will opt for the "high" ratio on days when the streets are clearer.

Initial impressions are that this bike is indeed maneuverable, and it feels more nimble than a Mukluk with 3.8"ers. The ride quality is somewhere between my Titanium and aluminum Mukluks. Not too harsh at all. Smoother than I expected. Tires grip like mad. Interestingly, this bike coasts and rolls freer than any of the other fat bikes I have had.

Modifications and component swaps will be minimal. I will swap to Ergon grips, and at some point a titanium post is going on here. Another Salsa Regulator. But for now, this'll do juuuuust fine! More on this bike later.....

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sneaking One In

Melting snow, warmer air, and a chance.
This past weekend here we finally got a respite from the Arctic air that had plunged us into a January weather feel. It came around at the same time that I finally had started to feel better after having been down and out for three days with some sort of a sinus like malady that had sapped me of my strength and was giving me these pounding head aches. Well, I wasn't one hundred percent, but this chance was not to be missed. I had the added pressure of having to review this bike that came in recently for Twenty Nine Inches, so there was that as well.

The Plan: Ride as easily as I could to that new trail someone cut into Sherwood Park, do that loop, and get some impressions. Then take it easy on the way back. Maybe I'd not knock my health backward and I could get done what I needed to get done, with the added benefit of getting a bicycle ride in after having missed that the past three days before that.

So I got out late in the morning, or "fore noon", as my grandparents would call the hour between 11:00am and noon, and did what I had planned. I took it nice, smooth, and slow. The good thing? No pounding in the temples. Still, I wasn't pushing things yet, which I planned on doing once I reached the trails. What condition they would be in was anyone's guess at this point. The temperature was rising quickly and was forecast to top out at the 50 degree mark. At the time of my ride it was in the upper 30's and cloudy, with the slight hint of fog lingering in the air from earlier in the morning. It quickly got warmer, so I ditched one of my pairs of gloves for just the liners and opened the zippers some.

Not a lot of elevation gain, but a lot of twisty turns, obstacles, and snow covered single track.
A partially frozen over Cedar River was clearing again with the warmth. 
The ride was good. I couldn't really go as fast as I was planning because of the slicker conditions with the snow melting, but I did get what I wanted to know from this ride and that was the main goal. The secondary goal was met as well- no bad feelings and I didn't knock my health backward as a result. In fact, Sunday I felt even better than I did on Saturday.

On the way back to the house I saw that where there had been snow on the way out that it had melted and it was gone. Things were wetter. Water was trickling down the streets and alleys as if it were a Springtime melt. The Sun even popped out after I got about halfway to the house. The chance I had for a decent ride had passed. By the time the Sun appeared in the sky, the trails would have started to become a mire of mud and slush. It would not have provided the opportunity for me to get what I needed out of the ride. I guess I got lucky and hit the timing just right.

The next day was rainy and still warm, but trail riding would have been out of the question, so it only confirmed that I had hit the timing spot on for what I needed on that ride. Late Saturday and again on Sunday I got in two longer walks with my family as well, so I felt somewhat back on the road to health too. I'm looking forward to this short week and sneaking in some other rides soon. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trans Iowa V11: A Look At The Rules Part 11

Ira Ryan & Brian Hannon crossing a county blacktop in Wadena IA on T.I.V3
Last year I did a historical overview of each Trans Iowa up to T.I.V9. This year I am going to revisit something that I feel many folks have overlooked for a long time; The "Race Rules".

Last week I discussed the "single speed rule" and this week we take a look at a concern Jeff and I had about our course which was taken into account with the next two rules seen here....

11: You are completely on your own. Use your head. Look and yield for traffic. There will be no course marshalls to hold up traffic. Don't be a dumbass!

12: Riders must wear an ANSI or Snell approved helmet, must obey city, county and state laws and Rules of the Road, and conduct themselves in a manner that will not bring discredit to the event.

As I was doing the mapping for the first Trans Iowa to be held in 2005, I was alarmed by the amount of North/South county roads and state highways we were going to cross. It seemed as though there was pavement every five miles or so. Stop signs aplenty! I knew traditional road races had lead cars, maybe a sweeper car, and in many cases, a closed course. There was absolutely no way we were going to be able to pull any of that stuff off, at least in any traditionally understood way. Jeff told me not to worry, that he'd take care of it, and he did that with these two rules.

Rider- Matt Maxwell T.I.V7: Image by Steve Fuller
The first rule is purely Jeff. This was the rule that was to point out to riders that they needed to be careful at road crossings. The second rule was likely something Jeff copied over from somewhere else. The wording of these two rules would indicate that. It's easy to see that the wording is completely different.

In my opinion, these two rules are the second most important rules behind the self-supported rule of Trans Iowa. Riders must use discretion and caution at every crossing and especially going through larger towns and villages. Without riders being at their best, Trans Iowa cannot exist in its current form, or at all, really.

Finally, I always thought that the part that says "...conduct themselves in a manner that will not bring discredit to the event" was kind of weird. I suppose it would be easy to enforce this rule, say if someone was pitching a hissy fit in some town in front of a bunch of folks. However; I have no idea what most of the riders are doing when Trans Iowa is happening, so it is almost an unenforceable rule. Well.....until after the fact. I suppose. Then I could enforce banishment. <==HA! 

Next Week: Turn on the lights and charge up them cell phones!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Trans Iowa V11: On Volunteers

Okay, since Trans Iowa V11's Rookie registration has ceased, I have seen and heard from several would be riders that they would like to see about volunteering in Trans Iowa. This is all well and fine, but when I see suggestions from friends of folks that missed out that they should volunteer because they would be guaranteed entry into the next T.I.?  Well, that raised a lot of red flags with me. 

First of all, I have all the volunteers that I can use now, so there will not be anymore bodies added. All that I contact in the Spring and actually show up to volunteer will be given a free, nontransferable pass into a possible Trans Iowa V12. Realizing that isn't a guarantee, by the way, just that if it happens, these folks have that grace to utilize.

People are "hungry" to get into Trans Iowa, I get that, but the thing is, now volunteering is seen as a way to get into the event, not so much as a will to actually help with a free, grassroots event on rural roads. It used to be that I had very few actually use their "free pass". Obviously there were a lot of volunteers last year and only three are coming back to use their opportunity to ride in T.I.V11. That's typical. I bet if I didn't already have so many volunteers I could staff the event totally with a group that had their eye on being in the event next time. That, to me, would be a shame.

You see, there are folks that want to be a part of the Trans Iowa experience that would never ride in it, either due to physical issues, or they just aren't motivated that way. However; they do want to get an up-close look, or are just altruistically interested in helping. I'd like to keep the door open for those folks. So, if there is a T.I.V12, there will be a limited number of free entries into a possible next Trans Iowa event. I'm thinking that number is three. That's about the average from the past, and I think that is a fair number.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday News And Views

Trans Iowa Clinic

Last year we did a Trans Iowa Clinic and it was quite well received so it was decided that we should and could do this again. The basic format will be similar. The focus will be on the Q&A session with former Trans Iowa Veterans and Finishers including Steve Fuller, Mike Johnson, Dan Buettmer, and Sarah Cooper. Some of these folks are actually going to be in T.I.V11 and some are going to be volunteers. We may be adding a couple more folks, but this is a solid panel. If you are coming into Trans Iowa as a rookie, or thinking of doing some other longer gravel events, (which all of our panelists have done as well), please consider attending.

  • What: Trans Iowa Clinic: A gravel grinder question and answer session with seasoned Trans Iowa riders. There also will be an expo of several bikes set up to do a Trans Iowa. Attendees will be able to get a close up look at the bikes and gear used in a Trans Iowa along with an opportunity to pick these athlete's brains to your heart's delight. 
  • When: December 6th @ 5:00pm
  • Where: Krunkwich Ramen House, 621 Des Moines Street, Des Moines Iowa.
  • Why: To aid anyone curious about Trans Iowa to learn more about what it takes to get 'er dun!
  • Who: Anyone. You do not have to be registered to do Trans Iowa. You just have to be "gravel curious"!
What You Need To Do: The clinic is FREE but we will require a preregistration only so we know how many chairs to rustle up and who to expect. Simply e-mail me @ g.ted.productions@gmail.com to give me your names. Expect the clinic to run until 9:00pm or so depending upon how the questions flow. Sorry- no children please!

Plenty of room
27.5+ For Winter:

I think that in many cases I could get away with a 2.8-ish sized tire for many snow rides. I used to do many rides on snow "pre-fat bike" on a single speed Dillinger with Blunt 35's and 2.4" Ardents. In fact, I have Duallys with 2.4 inch tires on there as well. I may even be doing something with that bike, but the Sawyer with the 27.5+ wheels and the original rigid fork should be better since it is a single speed with a belt drive which is supposedly better for durability in poor conditions. Maybe we'll just have to see about that.......

If the experiment turns out to be a positive experience, I would then be very interested in getting one of the 170mm OD Rohloff hub. That would go into the titanium Mukluk with a chain drive at first, and maybe a belt drive later. I feel that would be a great set up. Maybe it wouldn't be the best for everything, but one thing I do know- it would be super expensive! The hub alone is $1800.00.

That's a short post but I am a bit under the weather here and need to rest. Have a great weekend folks and get outside!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Meeting In The Middle?

Less "fat"- more "mtb".
As I look at what is going on with off road bicycles, I see a lot of things being tried. It is almost as crazy as it was in the early to mid 90's when so many small manufacturers were putting out dual suspension ideas and components were being turned out of small machine shops at rates none of us could keep up with at the time.

This is almost the case again, only now it isn't about which suspension design is going to end up being "best", but what wheel size, and even more than that, how wide and voluminous a tire are we going to end up with. 

Fat bikes are part of this, but so are the 29+ and the 27.5+ bikes. Big, voluminous tires on wider rims are all the rage now. Regular 2.4" tires, which were considered huge only 5-6 years ago, are now seen as "ho-hum" skinnies. Even I have caught myself looking at 3.8"-4.0" fat bike tires and thinking they were "small". Then I remember when I built up the Snow Dog in 2011 and thought those 3.8" Larrys were humongous!

So, what the heck is going on here? Do we really need these monster truck tires? I've been having several interesting conversations with folks in different parts of the cycling world that have given me a lot to think about. Here's where I think all this is coming from and going to......

29+: Fat and TALL!!
First of all, choices in what you can have in tires, widths of those tires, and in the rims you can mount them to have never been better. You had one choice in the 90's that was wide enough to get you by for mountain biking, and nobody thought twice about it. The reason? No choices. It was simply ludicrous to entertain thoughts of differing wheel sizes and widths of tires when there simply was zero chances you'd ever see it in your lifetime. Or so we thought......

If there was one thing that 29"ers existence did for mountain biking, it was to show the mtb tribes that there might be better alternative wheel and tire sizes to consider. Several years later, the 27.5er size was floated, then fat bikes rose to prominence, and it was on from that point. Surly has been a rabble rouser in the alt tire size scene with its 27.5 sized 26 inch based tires and of course, the 29+ tires which debuted on the Krampus.

Things in the mtb world tend to be cyclical with regard to vast choices. It seems you see tons of innovations and then a weeding out process. For instance, has anyone seen any Allsop stems or Boulder Defiants lately? I rest my case...... well, not really! 

This just to point out the folowing: Expect the tire sizes to weed out to something "in the middle". Fat bikes and 29+ are on the extremes. XC sized rubber in 27.5"er and 29"er sizes is on the conservative end. Somewhere in between I feel things will settle out, and that "somewhere", in my opinion, is 27.5+. 

Vee Tire Trax Fatty 27.5 X 3"
Already we are seeing fat bikes being pushed as "mountain bikes", which they can be. However; do you really need a huge, 3.8" tire that requires a special frame, and what is more, a really wide bottom bracket?

What if you could get some of those "fat bike benefits" in a slightly lighter, more traditional bike dimension friendly package? Fat tires have inherently attractive qualities for the off roader. Volume means lower air pressures which gain you comfort, traction for days, and stability which bodes for more confident, faster railing of terrain. However; fat bike tires, rims, and their dimensions push the weight limits and biomechanic boundaries a bit too far for some folks. Not to mention the special designs for frames and suspension bits.

29+ showed us that going slightly skinnier was a great idea to cut down on the "fat" and super wide bottom brackets. However; the huge diameter of these wheels, (something over 31" in most cases), is ponderous and just too big for a lot of people to have a bicycle designed around them. Enter B+/27.5+ tires and wheels.

Understanding that 29"er wheels have already had every conceivable type of mtb designed around their diameter, the 29-ish diameter size of the 27.5+ wheel is an easier thing to accommodate for. It would fit a wider slice of the mtb populace than 29+, and it can be had in 2.8"-3.0" widths already. Many current 29"er hardtails already exist which would work with the wheel size and full suspension designs could be executed without too much trouble going forward.

Plus sized benefits with fat bike tire traits in a package that is already somewhat familiar to current mountain bikers? Sounds like a plan to me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where It All Began

From a 1980 Des Moines Register article

What you are looking at here represents what is pretty much one of the major reasons Trans Iowa got started. This article is the story about four road riders that decided to try to cross the state of Iowa in a single day on road racing style bikes. I happen to work for one of the four men who did this, know another, and have met the eldest one just recently. They are all nice guys, but you'd never know they had done this unless they told you. It's one of those forgotten "feats of strength" that not too many folks know about.

That's a shame really.

So, how did this forgotten ride that happened 34 years ago help to spawn Trans Iowa, and arguably, the whole gravel scene that followed? Interestingly, it was because a couple of mountain biking fans got fed up with hearing the story a few times too many.

An old story of road riding tripped the trigger for the idea of Trans Iowa Image by W. Kilburg
I mention it in the film "300 Miles Of Gravel" when I am talking about how Trans Iowa got its start and I allude to the "riding across Iowa in a day on road bikes". Jeff Kerkove and I were mechanics together at Europa Cycle & Ski, and Russ Clarke, our boss, (and still is my boss!), used to regale us with stories about road riding when the business was slow, which it typically is during November. After one particularly long assault on our mtb leaning minds, which ended with the riding across Iowa story, Jeff asked the now infamous question, "What if we rode across Iowa on mountain bikes....?"

 Of course, we wouldn't be able to do that on dirt. Iowa is, after all, a very agrarian state and most of the countryside is plowed and tilled. However; there are a claimed 70,000 plus miles of gravel roads with some dirt ones sprinkled in for good measure. You know the rest of that story......

Now, there were other influences on Trans Iowa, certainly, and the whole gravel riding scene may have popped up without us at some point, but if you ever come to do Trans Iowa, or have ridden in it, or ride other events inspired by T.I., then you have these four humble gents to thank for it. At least in part. I cannot imagine Trans Iowa ever happening without them.