Friday, December 31, 2010

Guitar Ted Productions Rearview 2010: Part II

Last day of 2010 and my last chance to look back at what was. Here is the link to Part I, (if anyone out there actually cares to look!)

And You Thought You Were A Racer: Yeah- 2010 found me signing up for all kinds of stuff and with the winter not being conducive to outdoors riding coupled with my intense dislike of indoors training, well, let's just say I wasn't even close to being ready to do anything until June. Then when I went on a ride/race, it was invariably hot. No.....wait....super hot. No.....stupid hot!

But just before all of that, I snuck up to the Twin Cities and rode Battle Creek which was an amazing trail system and I got to do it with Gnat on a new Salsa Cycles El Mariachi. Pretty sweet!

At the Dirty Kanza 200 it was about 110 with the heat index figured in and it just cooked me. Big fail there. Then the Fargo Adventure Ride came up, which went lots better, but it wasn't crazy, stupid hot either. In fact, it was the only planned ride I would finish in the entire year. Moving on into July, the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational lived up to its name big time. I got fried again. August saw me tackle the Gravel World Championships course in another scorcher of a day, going 108 miles before I bailed out. I was on a single speed in that one. Whoa! It was a tough day.

Back To Bidness! Fall then came and much of my time was being spent riding around here on the local trails doing Twenty Nine Inches testing. There was Interbike, of course, which was........meh! Las Vegas.( nuff said.) But I did get to ride and hang out with Grannygear again. Too little of that going on, but at least we get to do some amount of time together. (And discovering a cool little bakery was icing on that cake<====HA!)

The Trans Iowa night time recon rides with my co-director, "d.p.", were happening in the Fall again, and these were some of the best rides I had all year. One particular solo recon ride was also a standout, as well. This was sort of a redemption for all the good, but unfinished rides of the summertime. Early October saw the Rawland Fall Tour happening, which if it wasn't for a flat tire, I would have gotten the whole ride in. Time constraints and the mechanical caused me to cut it short though. Still, it was a fantastic ride with great folks. Then, in late October, I did the Night Nonsense event, which was a gravel grinder held entirely in the dark. It also ended up being held during some of the most horrendous riding conditions you could imagine. Rain, lightning, and wind all figured into a very, very long and tortuous 80 miles for me. Quite the adventure for sure!

Then I had one last hurrah in Minnesota at Lebanon Hills and Murphy Hanrehan with my friends Gnat, Ben Witt, and Captain Bob. It actually was probably the last good shirt sleeve day of 2010 and the trails were perfecto! It was the first and only time I got to ride on those two off road trails all year. Gotta change that for 2011! Then I kept riding the local trails, right into December. It was a long, great Fall season for riding.

And those were my riding highlights for 2010. I will post my New Year's Resolution Ride Post Saturday, so I won't get into next year's plans just yet!

Have a safe, Happy New Year's celebration tonight, if you are so inclined.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Paved Battlefield: Part III - Car Culture And Cycling

 This is Part III of the series "A Paved Battlefield". You can check out Part I here and Part II here.

In my last post I described how we as cyclists are misunderstood creatures out on the road by non-cycling Americans. That is certainly part of the problem, but there is another issue that is even more subtle and pernicious to the well being of all of us. I call it "Car Culture". Now, I admit to this not being my terminology. Lots of folks use the term, but in this discussion, "Car Culture" will be used to describe the subversive way our culture, our people, have been led to believe that "this is how life works". To help illustrate this point, I have employed a favorite little ditty of mine called "Cars", a "New Wave" and proto-tech song from 1980....................

"Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
In cars "

From "Cars" by Gary Numan

Mr. Numan explains the basis for the song by saying it grew from an incident of road rage he experienced in the U.K. and says the following as well: 

"It explains how you can feel safe inside a car in the modern world... When you're in it, your whole mentality is different... It's like your own little personal empire with four wheels on it.": Gary Numan

A Personal Empire: I believe Mr. Numan has described very succinctly what has happened to us in America, and perhaps wherever automobiles are the most preferred mode of transportation. We didn't consciously buy into this way of life, it just sort of happened over the last 50-60 years. Everything got built around the automobile, and then, we got suckered into thinking that our car interiors were our own little kingdoms. We wield powers while inside of our vehicles that we would never imagine using outside of them, much less as violently as we do. Yet something odd overcomes our psyche when the car door latch snicks shut and we turn the key in the ignition. (Or push a button, as is becoming more common these days.)

Suddenly we are little dictators, with powers and wills that would frighten even Nero in his most morally bankrupt state. With no regard to courtesy, compromise, or manners, we bully our way down the road playing "chicken" with our cruise controls, racing to the first place at the stop light, and all the while, putting our lives and the lives of others at risk without a second thought. 

I used to work "for the enemy", as I refer to that time in my life nowadays. I was a car mechanic at an independantly owned four bay repair shop that arguably had the highest reputation for the best repairs in town. (Still does to this day, as a matter of fact.) Well, the point is that when I would inform someone that the car they just brought in to have checked out was in too poor a condition to drive anymore, and that they should stop driving it immediately, they would look like I just told them they had cancer and had 24 hours to live. They would freak out in some instances. I would watch as their whole existence crumbled underneath them as they wondered aloud how they could even live their life without the automobile. It was an enlightening thing for me. Cars = life in a lot of peoples minds. Simply amazing. Sick is really what it is.

The Rebel Forces: Now throw these two wheeled pests, these cyclists, out there on the pavement with this "Car Culture" that we have and you have a volatile mix just waiting for a spark to set off a fire. While the law says cyclists have a right to share the road, and slogans, programs, and more are out there trying to proselytize these motorists into compromise with "the enemy", the sad truth of the matter is that it isn't working. Heck, we can't even get motorists to get along with each other in many cases. Laws? ha! Even many cyclists don't obey the laws of the road, much less the car driving public. (Stop signs and speed limits anyone?) 

 The Long Road: It is my belief that this needs to change for all of our good. I think many people agree. The thing is, we're an impatient lot, and folks want to see this get fixed "yesterday". Obviously, that is unrealistic. I think getting things "fixed" in the next ten years is just as unrealistic. My feeling is that it took upwards of 60 years to get us where we are at, and it just might take that long to get things turned around. Hopefully I am wrong, but you know, it might just take decades. 

I think that our culture has to decide that cars are not "all that" and that we, as a people, want to see pedestrians, cyclists, mass transportation, and yes- automobiles as part of an educational system for our youth, and as a main directive for the reshaping of our infrastructure. That means some of our current culture will need to be torn down: spiritually, mentally, and physically, and re-shaped. As with any sort of change, there will be detractors, whiners, and people that will throw down some spectacular tantrums. Get ready for that part. That said, I believe it will be worth it, even if I am not here to see the end result. 

And I think that is the way we current cyclists have to look at this. We may see incremental change in our lifetimes that we can enjoy, but that should not be the "why" of this move to tear down Car Culture. It should be understood that we have to start a process to bring us out of this, and that for a better world sometime down the road for those who follow in our tire tracks.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Paved Battlefield: Part II- Know Your Enemy

Know Your Enemy: In the cycling world, we all get why we do what we do. You know, riding a bicycle, staying healthy, being more responsible with our resources, and well, let's admit it- having fun. 

 Trouble is, we're like the Amish. We know why we do what we do, like the Amish know why they do not have electricity, but the rest of the world thinks we're odd, at best, and at worst, they think we're stupid. 

I mean, look at me here (<==) This was taken last week when it was snowing on my commute to work by bicycle. If you are a cyclist, you understand, but we're a vast minority, and most people just do not get it. Like the other day, a family friend that knows me well told another friend of hers that I was out riding, in December, in the cold, while it was snowing. The guy thought he was being lied to. He told my friend, "No one rides a bicycle in this kind of weather!"

See what I mean?

Or how about this story published on "Cyclelicious" where a cyclist is harassed by two policemen, one of which is quoted as saying, " shouldn’t be riding a bike in San Francisco. I don’t ride a bike here, it’s too dangerous!!” The story goes on to relate how the cyclist educated the police chief as to how and why she rode in the metro area, to help preserve her life. The police got educated. One small victory.

More Education: So, we just need to educate people better, right. Right. Absolutely correct. We need to start by realizing, like it or not, that most everyone that isn't a cyclist probably thinks we are freakish, weird, odd, possibly stupid, maybe insane, and that because of this, we don't know what is good for us. Maybe they think that we are so "out there", we can't be reached, so they may as well just treat cyclists like the idiots they are. We as cyclists need to be educated as to what the reality of our existence means out there on the roads.

Harsh? Unrealistic? Well, think about this: If a man walks into a pit full of alligators, willingly, and gets eaten alive, most of us are going to figure that this doofus had it coming, no? I mean, why would you think you could even do such a dumb thing and live, right? I believe this is exactly what most of non-cycling America thinks about cyclists on the roads and byways.

I don't mean to say that we as cyclists don't belong on the roads. I don't mean to say that what happens to cyclists at the hands of folks in automobiles is somehow excusable, or even remotely "right". I'm just saying this is probably the psychology of most non-cyclists out there. They don't understand the "why" of what we do. They have no basis for making a case for what we do as being sane, so they react to us in like manner, as if we were insane, and it goes down hill from there. To them, we are putting ourselves at unnecessary risk.

So, yes: the non-cyclist needs to be educated, but so do we. We need to understand that in many ways, we cyclists are "the enemy" in the minds of a lot of folks today. We need to accept that what we do isn't seen as something a normal person would do in society in the U.S. today, and hopefully we can change that perception for tomorrow. That will take some time.

Until then, we as cyclists should act accordingly.

Tomorrow: The Car Culture And Cycling

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Paved Battlefield: Introduction

Special Series: I'm going to tackle a subject for at least a few posts that is complex, raises passions, and might be seen as a bit odd for this blog. But it isn't, really, if you stop and think about it. I'm talking about cars, bicycles, people, and how we all interact as users when we are riding on/in these vehicles.

To be honest, this subject was one I thought I might write a rant on and move along to something else the next day. However; it quickly became apparent that a conversation I had about car drivers versus road cyclists was going to become a much more multi-faceted subject than I had thought at the outset.

High Stakes: Recent newsworthy stories about cyclists being injured by car drivers, or even killed by car drivers, are becoming all too common. I wrote recently about a high profile case in which a driver struck and seriously injured a cyclist, then left him for dead on the side of the road. (The driver escaped felony charges which prompted much outrage and this Facebook site which exists to allow stories of this sort to be collected and discussed.) One has to wonder why there should even be a debate at all on such behavior, which shouldn't go unpunished, or even happen in the first place.

Obviously the stakes are high in this debate, and passions are hotter than a tin roof in the Texas sun when it comes to these stories. I do not claim to have the answers or the salve to sooth the damages done, but I wanted to explore this subject and offer up my take on it. I've started a dialogue with a few folks already on this topic and their thoughts will be influencing these posts as well.

The Problem Is You: Generally, in cases where lots of fingers are getting pointed outwards, there needs to be a realization that there are four other fingers pointing back at you, and those fingers belong to you. Yes, everyone has a lot to learn in this area, and we all could do well to look in the mirror and clean up our own acts first. As drivers, and as cyclists, we need to be reminding ourselves that we all have a right to live, to not be afraid as we are using the roads and streets, and that we all need to abide by rules and laws that exist on the books today. It is my belief that if we do our parts in being responsible as cyclists, we will garner more respect and have a stronger influence. That alone in itself won't solve the issues, but until cyclists get their own house in order, it will be hard to convince "the other side" that they need to change their ways.

What We Need To Do: Tomorrow, I will talk more about the issues and actions that cyclists need to understand and change in order to show other road users that we can play fairly and responsibly out on the pavement.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Digging It

Get a good look at this image. Wonderfully white winter wackiness. Okay, so that's what it looks like now. My weekend was dominated by dealing with this stuff.

It all started on Thursday night when it started to snow again. (I'd also ridden on Tuesday last week in the snow). Friday I woke up and saw about 5-6 inches already on the ground with flakes still falling. Time to arm myself with a shovel and hit the street.

Yes- I said, "hit the street." I have to clear out the snow from around our cars out front. We do not have a snow emergency plan here. My alleyway never gets plowed out, so fah-gedda-boud parking in the garage. It's the street for us, and we need to shovel out about 10 yards from the curb.

Of course, our neighbors do not do a thing. Now- this is an optional thing I do, but in order to preserve a spot for our vehicles, I shovel the street in front of each neighbors house on either side of me. Yeah......lots of shoveling.

That ended up becoming 4 hours of shoveling which was very physically demanding work. But hey! I can park my car now, and I burned up a lot of calories.

Now, it would be nice to have my "Other Bike Project" here to ride now, (Salsa Mukluk), but it isn't here, and now I'm hearing that by the end of the week, it is supposed to get real messy and weird out there. Yeah.......and if it does, I bet the Mukluk shows up. Oh well! I knew it would go this way. Primo snow conditions and the Mukluk just were not meant to happen at the same time for me.

But that doesn't mean that I have not been messing around with what I do have. I mounted up a Larry tire on a Rolling Darryl with some red ribbon just for the fun of it.

Nice table center piece, eh? I was going to get more creative with the rim strip, but the red matches our Cinnamon scented candle better and well, truth be known, I got the ribbon for free! Works great too.

Mukluk's are blue, so the red accent deal should work okay and I have plenty of ribbon, so it looks as though this will work for now. I may even look at adding a few more red bits here and there.

And that fat Phil Wood hub? I have spun the free hub so many times I think it is well worn in by now!

Ah well. If and when I see the Mukluk I will be riding it come snow, wind, or rain, so what if this week end's weather wipes out our great snow cover? Right? I just hope it all doesn't turn into one gigantic sheet of ice and stays that way till March, that's all.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Trans Iowa V7 Update #8: Equipment Choices

<===It's all about making the right choices.

Equipment Choices: In this update, and with the following one, (at the least), I am going to give you, (The Trans Iowa Rookie), my insights as to equipment choices for Trans Iowa V7. Some of this will be from my observations, some of it from personal experiences.  (note: This is not limited to the Rookies, but they are the ones I am primarily directing this at.)

First, before you go any further, you should review the "Safety and Supplies" section of the T.I.V7 site here.  Go on..........this can wait until you've read it!

Okay- If you have perused that section of the T.I.V7 site, we can get on with the main source of questions regarding this event, and all of gravel grinding really. That being: "What type of bicycle is best to use for Trans Iowa?" This was one of the very first questions we dealt with back in 2004 about this event, and it probably is still one of the top five questions I get about Trans Iowa.

First of all, let me just simply say that any bicycle in good, working order can be used for Trans Iowa. Okay? There is no "one special bike" that is best. There are some that won't work as well as others, but short of recumbents and time trial bikes,  I think about every kind of bicycle has been represented at Trans Iowa at some point in the six events that have been run. (Yes- even full on skinny tired road bikes!) This will be about the bicycles I have noted as being the ones that have done well, and a bit about what type of riders have been on those bikes. I will also mention a few bikes I think are on the fringes of being "good choices". That said, I will repeat that just about anything will work for you, as long as you are comfortable on that bicycle for multiple hour rides  on rough roads.

<===The "go-fast" bicycle of T.I.V5 winner, Joe Meiser.

The Cyclo-Cross Bike: The first type of bike I'll mention, and the most popular choice amongst the "go-fast" Trans Iowa competitors, is the cyclo-cross bike and its variants. These rigs are the closest approximation we have readily available today to the old road racing bikes of yore. Not the "pavement road bikes", no, no, no! I'm talking about road racing from before 1950, when many roads were poor excuses for paved by-ways, and gravel was high on the diet of any seasoned Euro pro. Tires were bigger, angles were more relaxed, and chassis were longer. Some of these things are reflected in today's cyclo-cross rig. Bigger tires and clearance for mud, slightly relaxed angles from the crit-machines seen on the roads, and drop bars for the most part. These bikes probably are the lightest Trans Iowa rigs as well. They promote higher speeds and generally speaking, the front runners will be on something like the bike pictured here.

The downfall of choosing a cyclo-cross rig is that they are not the most comfortable bikes and they are definitely more physically demanding in that sense than other bicycle choices you might make. Bloody chamois, numb digits, (for weeks after the event), and other physical maladies have been reported by riders that have chosen a cyclo-cross bike for a Trans Iowa. Probably the biggest reason for that is that cyclo-cross bikes are generally built for efficiency over a short period of time. The genre' tends to be defined by stiff, light bikes because of this. Compliance and comfort are not keywords to cyclo-cross design generally speaking. So beware of that. Certainly there are exceptions to the rule in cyclo-cross bikes, but not generally.

Cyclo-cross Variants: Some bicycles are available with cantilever brakes, bigger tire clearances, and more comfort oriented geometry. Randonnuer, touring, and some sport road bikes fall into this camp. I would suggest that as long as you can fit a 35mm tire with clearance for mud, you are good to go with a bicycle of this type for Trans Iowa. Some examples would be Salsa Cycles Vaya, Surly Bikes' Long Haul Trucker, or certain Rivendell models and Raleigh models fit into this category, amongst others makes and models.

Mountain Bikes: While it may seem a "slow" choice in a Trans Iowa bike, a mountain bike, and especially a 29 inch wheeled mountain bike, is a great choice for Trans Iowa. Not many riders choose 29"ers or 26"ers, but I have seen these bikes end up in the top five placing of finishers more than once in this event, so don't discount that type of bike for doing well. It's the motor, not the bike, after all! That said, I wouldn't bring a Turner 5-Spot to Trans Iowa and expect it to be a great ride for Trans Iowa. I would suggest a rigid mountain bike as being great, and even a front suspended model is okay as a choice erring towards the comfort side of things. That said, I have seen a full suspension 26"er finish in the first Trans Iowa, so it isn't like you couldn't do that as well. Still, an XC rig would be most likely the best bet, or something like the Salsa Cycles Fargo, pictured here, would be a good way to go.

Downfalls to a mountain bike choice would obviously be in weight. Also, some mountain bikes might actually be overbuilt for gravel roads and end up becoming uncomfortable, especially if you put skinnier tires on them. Stick with something around a 2.0" tire. That's what makes riding a mountain bike on gravel a good choice, comfortable tires that float over the rougher stuff and that may be an advantage in softer conditions. While going fast on a mountain bike is possible in Trans Iowa, generally speaking it is a slower going gravel vehicle than their skinnier tired brethren. If you want to go fast, and post a good finish or win, the mountain bike may not be the best choice. If comfort and finishing are high on your agenda, a mountain bike, properly set up,can be the best choice of all.

Single Speed and Geared: Finally, I wanted to touch upon this, although your choices have been made by class designation already. The point I wanted to make here is about gearing for singles and for geared bikes.

Single Speeders: While huge gears in the upper 60's of gear inches and higher have been pushed in Trans Iowa, I wouldn't recommend that. Probably something in the upper 50's to low 60's would make sense here. Keep in mind that you'll be mashing for hours on end, so erring to the easy side might be advisable. of course, every single speeder is different, so be sensitive to how you perform best, of course. If pressed for what I would run, I would say that on one of my 29"ers I would run a 38 X 18 or 38 X 17, but that is just me.

Geared Riders: Of course, with a triple you are well covered, but let's say that you want to run a cyclo-cross bike with a double. With something that gets you a ratio of close to 1 to 1, you would be fine. I would think 1 to 1 ratio would be overkill, actually. Running a 12-27 cassette is going to get most folks by on a double that has at least a 39T inner ring. (Assuming you are a "go-fast" guy on a cyclo-cross rig) If you aren't planning on smoking a sub-30 hour Trans Iowa, then maybe err to the lower side and put on a 32T cog out back in your cassette.

Other Points: Finally, and maybe most importantly, the other choices made for your bike are going to be critical to your success in Trans Iowa. Contact points are on top of that list, obviously. Think about your saddle, for instance. Ever been on a ride of over three hours on it? If not, you may want to seriously consider doing that before too much longer. Getting a saddle that works for an hour or two is not a big deal. Getting a saddle that works for four hours or more? Yeah- that's tough to find, and you'll need to experiment with that before you get to Trans Iowa. What you think has always worked may be your undoing at T.I.V7. Trust me. I know this! Same goes for grips, pedals, and shoes. Again, if you haven't been on multi-hour rides on your equipment, you seriously need to start doing it NOW!

This will also help you with regards to clothing, gloves, (or no gloves!), and with nutrition. However; in regards to bicycles, I will only be touching upon your water carrying capacity. If you are limited to two water bottles on your rig, the next big hurdle for you is how you want to add to that capacity. Remembering that we are advising that you carry supplies for a century ride on your bike, (or on YOU!). So, will you be adding water bottle mounts to your rig, or doing a hydration pack? Maybe both? This is something you should be working out now, and it could influence your choice of bicycle for T.I.V7.

More On Equipment Choices: In the next Trans Iowa Update, I'll hit upon other topics like lights, clothing, tires, and more.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Guitar Ted Productions!

Here's hoping you have a wonderful holiday with friends and family. 

And also that you were good and got some shiny bike bits!  

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday News And Views

The History Of The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er Page: With the conclusion of the series the other day, I gathered all the pertinent posts, edited out the redundancies in the first two original posts, added an introduction, and edited in some comments received after the posts were published, and put that all on its own page. You can see the link to it under the header here. That will be permanent and can be referenced at any time. You'll also notice a link to my Fargo page up there as well.

Since everything has been re-arranged, you might want to dive in and see where the new info has been plugged in. 

Thanks once again for all the great comments and encouragement i received while doing the posts. Thanks also to all who contributed to making the series a lot of fun and very informative.

Trans Iowa V7: I received the first drop off the roster the other day. Please keep in mind that if you can not make T.I.V7 for any reason, we really need to know you are not coming ASAP. It really cuts down on logistical costs when we know we don't have to deal with any number of folks that let us know they can not make it. Thanks in advance. Also, we need more Volunteers for checkpoint duty. Let me know if you are interested. (You will get a free entry to T.I.V8 if you volunteer for V7)

 Maintenance Garage: I've been doing a lot of maintenance lately on "the fleet". Tubeless tire "re-charging". That's when the sealant is old, or completely dried up. I just inject some more, and I'm good to go. I repaired a broken nipple in a rear wheel, and I also got some tires swapped around on a couple of bikes. Maintenance will continue on in light of the winter months lack of optimal trail conditions. I've also been doing some tinkering on the Karate Monkey with the fender and on the rear brake. There are too many bikes down in The Lab, as always, so there is always something I could be doing!

Happy Holidays! It's Christmas Eve, and many of you will be celebrating with family and friends. Take care and be cautious as ya'all travel to and fro.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tour Of Duty

For the past several years I have been using the Karate Monkey primarily as my winter rig. This is the same one featured in the recent history of 29"ers series. A 2003 Camp Stove Green one. Of all the Karate Monkey colors ever issued, this is still my all time favorite. The newest Battleship Gray is a close second.

My Karate Monkey has been an exercise in constant change ever since I've had it. The latest tweaks are the Cane Creek Thudbuster ST post and a Jaand Frame Pack. The little strip of white is an experiment down there by the crank.

That's a deal inspired by Geoff Apps. It is a work in progress. A chain guard that will eventually become part of the Planet Bike Cascadia fender. It is designed to keep my rear wheel from dumping "crapola" all over my chain, which then distributes said "crapola" all over my chain wheel and free wheel cog. So far, I have used a huge Tyvek based prototype and now this minimalistic prototype made from some plasticky header card material from a Geax tire. My final effort will be in black, to blend in with the fender, and will be riveted right to it.

I almost forgot to add that I have a really great Sun Lite free wheel on this thing. Basically, a Dicta free wheel, but it does seem to be made with a higher level of quality than I am used to seeing from Dicta. I know-I know.....White Industries, yada, yada, yada. Look. I will be subjecting this to wet, grit, snow, mag-chloride, and you know- "crapola"!  White Industries free wheels are too expensive to use in that environment. Besides- I get to overhaul a free wheel once in awhile, which is strangely satisfying. (Well, at least for me!)

I rode this Wednesday across town to the bicycle shop and back to pick up the Jaand Frame Pack. Oddly enough, the set up is so balanced on this bike that it handles snow amazingly well. It gets a wee upset in deeper stuff, but what bike wouldn't. Recently, a bunch of banter on heavier wheels has me thinking that perhaps it is the wheels on this thing that are helping me out.

The wheels on the KM are my "Chocolate Chips" wheel set. Custom color Velocity Deep V rims laced to Surly "Jim Brown" anodized New Hubs with some "Aerolite-ish" type spokes that I found at the shop. Nutted axles, but that really doesn't matter. What does matter is that the Deep V is a heavy rim. That and the Specialized Fast Trak Pro tires are heavy. These are the first issue Fast Traks, before Specialized even had a 29"er. They don't make them like this anymore and for good reason. Too heavy for a 2.1 and the rolling resistance is very high, since the traction is high. That's all good in snow though, so I leave them on winter after winter. Anyway, the flywheel effect of these wheels is noticeable and that carries you right through car-snow, ice, and, well, most any "crapola" that I encounter going to work and back, or wherever I ride in winter. They just do not get knocked off-line all that easily due to that. It's all good!

This bike holds another distinction for me: It is the bike I did my longest ride ever on. It was the first organized "Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational" back in 2006, I believe. That ride was 152 miles, but I did ride over to and back from the start, which wasn't recorded on my report. So, I figure I can add about an extra 10 miles to that and that makes the Karate Monkey my all time longest ride holder by far at 162-ish miles in one shot.

Which leads me to think that I ought to ready this dog for some long distance gravel duty this summer. Maybe there is something about the set up, maybe not. Oh well- I would just like to try it again, as the ol' KM has been stuck doing winter duty for far too long now. This spring, the fenders are coming off, and I'll put the KM in some different kind of "crapola"! Gravel that is!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More On The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: Final Thoughts

 What It All Means To Me: First of all, thanks to everyone involved in making the 700c mountain bike tires, rims, forks, and frames a reality. What ever you might think about 29 inch wheels, they have made mountain biking more fun for a lot of people that otherwise may have given up on the sport, or never got into it to begin with. That in itself is reason enough to celebrate the history behind the format.

I know that for myself, I would not have been as deeply involved with riding mountain bikes anymore if it had not been for 29"ers. I was getting really tired of the way my 26"ers rode, and behaved for me. The 29'er made mountain biking more fun for sure. It's like Gary Fisher once told me: Buying a suspension fork buys you some "grace". The 29"er is like that for a lot of riders. It brings more "grace" and therefore you get to enjoy the ride more.
 Well, that made a lot of sense to me, at any rate, and I know it is true. The 26"ers were fun, but "hair trigger" for me. I crash a lot less often these days, and for me, at my age, that is a very good thing! (Just ask my wife!) The way the wheels roll and make trails more fun is very much appreciated by me as well.

 I could have been as happy as a pig in the mud the rest of my life just enjoying my 29"er and riding it. Trouble is, I found out about blogs and started writing about how great I thought these bigger wheels were. That got me into something I never foresaw before I started tapping on this keyboard. It took me to places and I met people I never would have dreamed I would have met before. So, I have the 29 inch wheels to thank for that privilege as well. Things started out with the now defunct site, "The Biking Hub" in 2005, and then, of course, it was on to "Twenty Nine Inches". Now I've been scribing there for over five years. I suppose you could say I've seen a thing or three concerning these 29"ers in that time. I've certainly met a lot of people, and some of them are part of the history I wrote about in this series.

Speaking Of People.... I have been reminded as I wrote these posts how blessed I am to have met many of you folks out there. I have also been privileged to have had contact with many of the rest of you. Without getting overly dramatic......thank you one and all!

Where Do We Go From Here? Ah, the inevitable question is that, isn't it? There still are some things 29"ers are not best suited for, and may never be. That said, these big wheels have gone from just a dream to places that I never thought they would. (29 inch down hill bikes? Really?) In the future, I still believe that the 29 inch wheel will eventually supplant the 26 inch wheel for beginner mountain bikers and in the hard tail category especially. Women will continue to find the 29"er to be a stable, fun, and safe feeling off road machine. Longer travel 29'ers will continue to be developed as new forks, tires, and rims develop to cater to those styles of riding that demand "big" equipment.

The 29 inch wheel is perhaps, as Wes Williams believes, the biggest advancement in mountain biking since the purpose built mountain bike was first born in Marin, California. If not, it is pretty close to that. We still have not seen the extent to which these wheels will change the sport. 26 inch mountain bike wheels will never go away, most likely, but neither will the "adult" sized wheels. They are here to stay, thanks to those passionate and visionary folks that helped make it happen with "The Tire" in 1999.

I would like to thank and acknowledge the contributions to this series by: Wes Williams, Geoff Apps, Gary Fisher, Mark Slate, Ross Shafer, Bob Poor, Bruce Gordon, Charlie Kelly, Charlie Cunningham, Mike Curiak, Mountain Bike Review, and anyone else that had a hand in bringing the WTB Nanoraptor into existence.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More On The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: Part VI

It's winter, the "off-season", and I don't have much better to do than to delve back into this whole deal again. Today I wanted to talk a bit about the early days of the "modern 29"er" as I call it. (Yesterday's post:  Part V of this series, can be found here)

<===My 2003 Karate Monkey in Campstove Green.

"The Early Days Of 29"ers": After the introduction of "The Tire", (WTB's Nanoraptor 29), a new era of  bicycling was unleashed. Not only could those who wanted a 700c based mountain bike now have a legitimate mountain bike tire on those old touring rims, but they could get an ever increasing amount of custom builders to make one for them. Many custom builders suddenly found themselves with several orders for this new type of mountain bike.

It might be argued that this ended up becoming a shot in the arm to the custom bike building craft and that things like the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, (NAHBS) maybe wouldn't have taken off without the influence of the 29"er. Certainly the lack of manufacturing 29"er brands early on matched up with the early desire for folks looking for something new and different which resulted in a lot of small builders getting very busy.

Perhaps it was a "perfect storm". The burgeoning internet forum activity also played into this phenomenon. In the 90's it was all magazine based information which was limited and mundane. By mid-decade a parade of wonky suspension designs and "NORBA" hard tails were all you would see every month. Now with the advent of relatively cheap PC's and the "world-wide web" available on a large scale, folks were circumventing the staid magazine editors and company marketing machines to find a bubbling, effervescent sub-culture going on, which included 29"ers and custom bike builders most of us had never heard about before. Put this volatile cocktail in a web based forum and you have what became "Mountain Bike Review" or "".

With a daily flow of news and development rumors flying, the 29"er enjoyed a small, cult following. Maybe things would have transitioned beyond this eventually, but the next "big" development in the evolution of the 29"er movement would certainly have to be the introduction of Surly's "Karate Monkey" model. Surly, a Minneapolis Minnesota based concern, was well known for being a player in the single speed movement. The introduction of the Karate Monkey at the 2002 Interbike trade show marked the first time North Americans were going to be able to "buy into" the 29"er movement without paying custom bike builder prices. The Surly site says this about the Karate Monkey:

"It didn’t create the 29er category, but it helped bring it to the masses and set the standard for what a 29er could be."

I'd go further and say that this model was copied by more manufacturers and custom builders than any other single 29"er ever made. To say that the Karate Monkey was "influential" would be an understatement. Now just about anyone with a little faith and about 800-1000 dollars could build up a sweet 29"er from the ground up. And what is more, the Karate Monkey actually, (and still does), ride quite well.

The Fisher Influence: Meanwhile, the Gary Fisher Bike company was plugging along, trying to make the 29"er thing work in the traditional bike shop category. Fisher was able to bring IRC tires into the 29"er tire market, and also managed to get Marzocchi to manufacture a couple of  suspension forks. That was all well and good, but the dealer network was having a hard time understanding the big wheeled oddities being pushed by their reps and even more shop employees had no idea what they were looking at. Times were tough at the retail level for 29"ers.

By late 2004, their was talk at Fisher/Trek of pulling the cord on the life support 29'ers were on. However; a new take on the big wheeled bikes actually saved the 29"er line, and it came in the form of "Dual Sport" bikes. Hearkening back to the original hybrid bikes of the early 90's, ironically, the Dual Sport bikes were more easily understood as hybrid bikes by shops and consumers. The Fisher company couldn't get enough of them out to dealers. By late 2007, 29"ers had entrenched themselves and were outselling 26"ers at Fisher. The tide had turned.

Fisher can also be credited with getting Rock Shox and Fox Shocks into the 29"er market, solidifying the category even further in the retail bicycle trade. Meanwhile, by 2006, more mainstream bike companies were jumping on board with 29"ers, and by 2010 it was easier to count those companies not making 29"ers than those that were. Gary Fisher Bikes had a big hand in making all that happen.

So it is that now, at the end of 2010, we have 29"ers coming from all sorts of companies in all sorts of forms. Accessory items like wheels, tires, and forks are readily available. Specific 29 inch designed stuff is commonplace now. All thanks to a few passionate individuals working the big wheeled idea for years before finally, "The Tire" was introduced and everything changed for big wheeled mountain biking afterward.

In my final post on the beginnings of the modern 29"er, I'll take a look at what it all means to me from a personal standpoint. Look for that tomorrow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More On The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: Part V

It's winter, the "off-season", and I don't have much better to do than to delve back into this whole deal again. I wanted to lay some groundwork as to the "pre-history" of the "modern 29"er" as I call it. (You can read Part IV here)

Why The Nano And What Happened Afterward: As we have seen in Part IV, WTB was being pressured to make the first true, 2.0-plus 622ISO tire with a mountain bike tread. No tire this large with this aggressive a tread had ever been proposed, much less built before. Questions as to whether the mold machines in Asia could even handle such a tire were very real and were considered seriously. This on top of whether or not WTB could ever recoup their investment into such a tire in the first place.

These questions and more were what drove the choice of the first tread pattern to be used in making this new 700c based mountain bike tire. Wes Williams wanted to see something like WTB's immensely popular Velociraptor tires become the new tire for 700c mountain biking. However; when he visited WTB in 1998 to pursue his dream of getting a mountain bike tire in 700c, he was shown something different. Charlie Cunningham, (who was a founder of WTB and was still working there at that time), showed him a prototype 26"er tire called the Nanoraptor. It was a racing tread with lots of smallish, low height tread blocks. Not at all like the big-blocked Velociraptor tires. This was the tread design WTB had in mind for the new, bigger diameter mountain bike tire.

Was it a fear that the mold machines wouldn't accept a bigger, blockier tread design? Actually, this is a valid point. 29"er tires have been limited in this regard until very recently, so it may have been a contributing factor to getting the Nano made instead. Was the bigger, more aggressive design not appealing for other reasons? Perhaps. It very well may be that Mark Slate, WTB's head tire designer, may have thought things through and foresaw that the Nano would be a better "first impression" for the 29"er format than the other choices he had at hand.

No matter in the end. WTB made good on the Nano in 700c size and by early 1999, the first prototypes were in the hands of Gary Fisher and Wes Williams. (See this post for more detail) Very quickly things started to move forward in the back round of mountain biking. Wes Williams made several "29"ers", as he dubbed them, early on. It was an obvious step up from his 28"ers, so it only made sense to call the bikes fitted with the new tires 29"ers. The moniker caught on with the early supporters, who included Bob Poor, a fellow who was one of Wes' friends, and internet saavy. Bob hopped on and also started a website that pronounced the benefits of 29"ers to a world-wide audience. Things didn't take off right away, but a small ground swell of riders that believed in the concept and were involved in the internet culture began to make small inroads into the consciousness of the mountain biking's cutting edge riders.

Meanwhile, Gary Fisher was busy doing his own testing, having prototypes made by Steve Potts, and later, by Trek. Gary had the first primitive suspension devices, modified 26 inch forks, and was also instrumental in working out design issues with components like the front derailleurs, and geometry for the big wheelers. Finally, in 2001, Gary Fisher Bikes introduced a 29"er mountain bike in their line up. Across the pond, Nishiki also jumped in with their "Bigfoot" model. 29"ers were commercially available for the first time.

That wasn't the end of the story, and the 29"er story is still being written to this day. In my next post on this topic, I will touch upon "The Early Days Of 29"ers". Stay tuned for that. Then I will offer up a closing post on this series.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Guitar Ted Productions Rearview 2010: Part I

Oh Brother! Not Another Year End Review! Yes folks, it is time to start looking back on the year and looking forward to 2011. I'm going to spare you all the gory details and just talk about what I thought was awesome from the past year, and that doesn't mean all good stuff. There will be plenty of "awesomely bad" stuff mixed in here as well.

The Beginning of 2010: Well, the whole winter was snowy, cold, and it was even more snowy and cold, with outbreaks of really snowy and super-cold weather. Yeah, something like that! It was wearing pretty thin as far as Trans Iowa thoughts were going. I had lots of sponsor news, logistical news, and exciting news about being in a book about events and sports like Trans Iowa.

Then I started messing around with an idea I got late in 2009. I figured someone ought to list all the gravel grinders in one spot with links to the individual event websites/blogs. I figured I'd get about a dozen or so events. I started Gravel Grinder News using an old blog test site I had and the interest was much more than I thought it would be. So much so that I got an actual "dot-com" site up and running for it. So it goes that now I have opened a second page on the site that is a crude calendar of sorts. Anyway, it is what it is and I hope it continues to bring folks happiness in terms of gravely goodness needs.

Other than that, I got a couple cool rigs in to test for Twenty Nine Inches and registered for Gravel Worlds, Dirty Kanza, and a couple more events. It was my biggest, most ambitious race calender in my life. And I am not even a racer! Crazy me.

Next I'll talk some about the Springtime and the highlights from that. Might be a few days before I get to that though. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Trans Iowa V7 Update #7: Questions Answered

David and I get asked a few questions about the event from time to time, but recently we got an e-mail from a Rookie looking to come to T.I.V7 that had several questions we felt were worth answering publicly. Many of these topics have been covered in detail before. In these cases I will provide links and direction as to where to find the answers. That will be easier than re-creating every thought already expressed in minute detail somewhere else. It's pretty simple really, you just have to actually read this stuff I'm putting out here. One thing you really should have read by now- (if you read nothing else, READ THIS!), are the Race Rules found here.

With that said, let's dive right in......

-What are the dimensions of the cue sheets?  How many sheets?  I would like to find a good way to hold/access them.
 Answer: Cue sheets are approximately 5" X 4" and fit neatly into sandwich bags. (hint) Also, Zip-Locs, (another hint), and most handle bar map holders. We have no idea how many cue sheets there will be. It depends upon the amount of turns and overall instructions we detail out on each sector of the course.

-Will we be getting the cues/route before the pre-race meeting?  The whole route or only partial? 
Answer: Only the cues to the first Checkpoint will be handed out at the Pre Race For more on why, see this. (See paragraph #7 for the reasoning) You will receive the cues to Checkpoint #2 @ Checkpoint #1. Then if you make it to Checkpoint #2 on time, (or at all), you can opt to take the cues to the finish line. You must earn your cues sheets! All this is dependent upon you making the time cut offs. Oh and by the way- if you don't make the Checkpoints, we do not reveal the unknown parts of the route to you. Ever.

-Will there be turn markers on any roads?  Both sides of the road or only on the right? 
Answer: Short answer is "No!" However; we will put up markers in case of an emergency re-route. Otherwise you will have to use the cue sheets to navigate by. In the case of a re-route, we put the markers, (Dirty Kanza style) on the right side only. Remember: Every cue has the name of the road on it, and should match the "street sign" at the corner you are at. In extreme cases, we also reserve the right to mark the road in ways we deem necessary which may include the creative use of duct tape. (For an example, see here. Note: Scroll down page to view example!)

-Based on the last TIV7 update, the total mileage should be 310-ish, correct?
Answer: Hold on there, Podner! All mileages given in that post were "abouts". In other words- ESTIMATED. Best plan on going around 330-340, which is what we are thinking an across the state trek on gravel from east to west in Iowa would be. ("trans-Iowa", get it?) We will announce exact mileages and cut off times in a future announcement.

-It's probably close to a 3 hour drive from Grinnell to Checkpoint 2.  Is it kosher to have our rescue vehicle "near" checkpoint 2 just in case?  By near I mean in the nearest town (I see the check point is not in a town). 
Answer: No. See here for reasoning as to why.  I could cite other examples, but basically, the answer is a strict "no". If for any reason you think that is a problem, please- don't come to T.I.V7. Thanks!

-Will 24 hour stores be identified in the cues after Checkpoint 2? 
Answer: As I stated here there will be only two convenience store ops in the last sector and "we're pretty sure" they are 24hr a day joints. Use your eyes and you won't miss them. Honestly, they will be obvious. So the answer is "no".

-Will there be any rider provisions at the checkpoints?  Restroom or food/water?  I see in previous editions the checkpoints have had things like cliff bars and other sponsored products.
Answer: I'm going to make this a two part answer since this is two questions. Part #1: We are sponsored by Cliff Bar and GU Energy. They will provide some nutritional items which you might find at the checkpoints if they are not already taken before you get there.  In other words, yes- but do not count on making the event work by relying upon these sponsors products. Think of them as "emergency bail out supplies", just in case. And you may get there to find that everything is gone. Just sayin'.

Part#2: We do not supply restrooms, food, water, or anything else but cue sheets and the opportunity to test yourself against the course as it is laid out in the time we specify. That said, most towns will have places to use a restroom, and the rest is up to you to figure out. You are grown ups. You can figure it out. If you don't think so, or disagree, don't show up for T.I.V7. Thanks!

-Can you suggest a good compact map of Iowa to help with the cues or if we become lost?
Answer: Ya mean like this? Next I would say, read Rule #3 here. Honestly though, if you become lost, your cue sheets won't make sense at some point, right? Stop right there! Then.... #1: Go back to the last known cue turn you are sure you got right. Figure out what you did wrong. Don't do it again! From there it should be good. #2: If that isn't possible, knock on a farm house door. Iowans are usually pretty friendly and helpful. #3: If that isn't possible, you are likely out of the event. DNF by calling the provided number. Keep in mind: It isn't our responsibility if you become lost! You are on your own, and on your own journey. We Will Not Come And Get You. You Are Responsible For You! That said, (and I hate to be harsh, but), you'd have to pretty much be an idiot to get lost in Iowa with no recourse. Really.

Finally, you won't find a map to help with the cues. Trust me on this. Most T.I. riders have no idea what county they are in while they are out riding. Most roads we use are only marked on county plat maps. Is that an issue? No. I have ridden countless miles with no clear idea of exactly where I was. I just followed the cues, and guess what? I am alive!
Sorry if that seems a little callous, but I think some of the folks coming to each year's Trans Iowa are a bit fearful of things they need not worry themselves about. If you fear that you will become lost, or just don't like the thought of not knowing where you are at all times, (you guessed it), don't come to Trans Iowa. 

Conclusions: Here's a reminder of what Trans Iowa is.........We are informing you all that are in the event that if you don't agree that you are on your own, that you are responsible for yourself, and that this is being undertaken of your own volition, then don't take the start.
Read that and consider it carefully.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More On The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: Part IV

It's winter, the "off-season", and I don't have much better to do than to delve back into this whole deal again. I wanted to lay some groundwork as to the "pre-history" of the "modern 29"er" as I call it.(Part III can be read here.)

The Main Players Set The Stage For "The Tire": In all that came before the WTB Nanoraptor, the thing all the riders of 700c based mountain bikes were noting was that a truly voluminous, aggressively treaded mountain bike tire did not exist and was the one thing that most of these folks felt was the thing holding back 700c from becoming a truly viable size for off road bicycles.

Not that there weren't efforts being made despite that fact. Not that things like geometry and proper frames hadn't been made, because they had been done. Still, none of this was quite working as well as 26 inch based mountain biking, but the performance of the 700c stuff was so tantalizingly close and showed so much promise that the people behind the 700c movement were not giving up. If anything, they were even more determined to see it through.

In my last post I mentioned that Gary Fisher (and Charlie Kelly too, by the way), had some big wheeled  influence from Englishman Geoff Apps. Well, they may also have picked up a cue from local frame builder and general mountain bike genius, Charlie Cunningham. Charlie was often seen riding a bike with a 28"er/700c based front wheel because he liked it better than a 26"er front. Here I will quote from Mark Slate of WTB:

"Charlie has been riding a 700x35c tire bike since I think about
1978. I think the first thing Charlie heard of a fat tire for 700c rims
was when Wes came out here and brought his "Mountie" with 700x47c Goliath tires."

So it would seem that Charlie Cunningham also may have had some influence on the thoughts that a 700c mountain bike wheel may be viable thing. 

<=== 1993 Rock n Road. Image from 

 Another of the early "big wheel" proponents was Bruce Gordon, a frame maker in the city of Petaluma, California. Bruce was pushing the idea of a "multi-terrain" 700c bike he called the "Rock n Road" bike. WTB's Mark Slate remembers Bruce in this e-mail transcription found in a thread on

"Bruce is a highly opinionated and talkative guy (if he has the right audience). He is an ace frame builder himself, so experimenting with bike geometry is something he has done plenty.....No doubt in my mind that Bruce favored the bigger wheels."

Ross Shafer, the founder of Salsa Cycles, had a shop in Petaluma as well, and his remembrances of Bruce and 700c for off road cycling are also found in a thread on

"Bruce Gordon (his shop was next to Salsa's at that time in history) is indeed the first person I know of who seriously pursued trying to get fatter tires for 700c rims. I know that Wes (Williams, of Willits fame),  and he were pals, but I have no idea how much Wes had to do inspirationally or logistically with those first bigger tires Bruce got ahold of (had made?). I know that before Bruce got his tires going the biggest they could find was indeed the Hakkapelitas (sp?) from Finland. This was back in the days when the bike industry was trying hard to create a new "niche" and tried really hard to push "hybrid" bikes. A hybrid bike being a 700c bike with upright bars and tires that were fatter than your usual 700c fare. Bruce sold quite a few of the "Rock n' Road" bikes that he designed around the bigger tires he got. But the whole hybrid thing became more of a joke in the industry than anything else. Wes' is the man when it comes to really pushing the 29'er mtb thing. Wes was a friend of mine as well and if I recall correctly he first caught the bug by offroading on his fixed gear 700c scorcher bike"

From the above we can safely say that Bruce Gordon was a touchstone for setting off the big wheeled 700c idea in several folks minds, but most importantly, Wes Williams.  Wes, who was the principal frame builder, designer, and production manager at Ibis Cycles for 9 years, was tinkering around with ideas he gleaned from late 19th/early 20th century designers. He built his first "28"er" in 1988 and never looked back to 26"ers again.

Wes was thoroughly convinced that the early bicycling experimentalists that landed on the 28"er as being the ideal size for rough roading were still as right as ever, and he was willing to tell anyone that would sit still long enough to listen. Wes made a trip to see WTB and brought a 28"er with him. Again we hear from Mark Slate:

"Wes and I rode together and he left the bike with WTB so others could
ride and experience the big wheel feel. He pushed hard as you know Wes will
do when he has an idea of the better way and he certainly was not shy about
letting others know that the little wheels were inferior. I'm not sure
of the dates when Wes was here but he might remember."

The stage was being set. Gary Fisher was poking around at this time as well, having a race team sponsored by WTB in the 90's. The big wheeled idea was now seeping into the minds at WTB as shown by this inter-company Word Document Mark Slate shared from WTB in the same thread referenced before:

"Some old Word docs
survived somehow. In search of the "smoking gun" I found this (to the mold

September 28, 1998 - Gary Fisher has been after WTB to produce a 622

bead "2.1" tire. Several top riders I know in Colorado have bikes to fit
these 28" (+) tires. The Continental Goliath 47mm is now being used. These
guys are also interested in a full size tire to fit 700c rims. There is
validity to this size and we may be seeing future production of bigger wheel
mountainbikes. Mold production for this diameter tire may be a problem. Please
inform me regarding production of the 2.1 Nano Raptor with a 622mm bead.

With the tenuous promises of "future production mountain bikes" and Wes Williams passionate evangelism, WTB set off to do what hadn't been done before: Make a true 2 inch wide mountain bike tire based on a racing tread pattern in 26 inch size. What became known as "The Tire" to the early proponents of 29"ers- The WTB Nanoraptor.

Next: Why The Nano And What Happened Afterward.....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More On The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: Part III

It's winter, the "off-season", and I don't have much better to do than to delve back into this whole deal again. I wanted to lay some groundwork as to the "pre-history" of the "modern 29"er" as I call it. (Part II can be read here.)

The Search For Alternative Wheel Sizes: In the last post I left you all off at the point where "modern day" mountain biking started to kick off. The activity of mountain biking, as far as it becoming a competitive sport, found its roots in Marin County. A great site for delving into all the beginnings of that can be found here. That site belongs to mountain bike pioneer, influencer, guitar player, former roadie, (in both senses of that term), piano mover, and historian, Charlie Kelly. I highly recommend poking around there. We are most influenced out of what evolved there in Northern California, but that wasn't the only place people were tinkering around with off road cycling.

<==Geoff Apps posing with his 700c based Adventura off roader circa 1982.

The English Connection: When discussing early 29"er influences, one would be remiss not to include one English fellow by the name of Geoff Apps. Regarded as an early pioneer of off road bicycles in the U.K., Geoff Apps was a consummate tinkerer, always trying to find parts to realize his ideal off road machine. In his pursuits, (of which you can read more about here), he came across several alternative tire/rim combinations that he employed into his designs. Besides the old 28" rim/wheel size, he used a lot of 650B stuff, and even 700c, when he could find it. In fact, it seems that Geoff was impressed enough by the bigger wheels that he shared some info with the Marin Gang about it.

Keep in mind that early on, a lot of experimentation was going on with mountain bikes. This included, and was not limited to, wheel size. What was optimal for off roading? The Marin/NorCal group knew that they had grabbed what was at hand and convenient, but were also wise enough to know that 26"/559ISO may not be the ideal size for off road bicycles. They were searching the outskirts of cycling for what could be employed in their search for the ideal mountain bike, just like Geoof Apps was. The two camps of thought crossed paths in the early 80's. Here is an excerpt from a Bike Biz article authored by Carlton Reid which quotes Geoff Apps:

“I sent some of these tyres over to Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher, who had built a frame in readiness. They loved them and really appreciated the ride they gave, compared to 26-inch tyres, and also loved the success they had at the races. As far as they were concerned, these 29-inch tyres were the way to go.
"This was the only tyre of this type and size in the world, there was no other choice. Unfortunately getting a supply of tyres was impossible.
“26-inch wheels were not absolutely fixed at that time, so, had the supply situation been better, it is quite possible that 700C tyres and wheels would have been the mountain bike standard now."
"When I tried to promote the 700C idea to UK mountain bikers they just thought it was bonkers Apps, raving again, like he did about short wheel-base, steep angles, sloping top tube, twist-grip gear shifters…"

I also can corroborate this as I have heard Gary Fisher say something in reference to that "700c mountain bike tire" and how it was an idea that stuck with him afterward. This would help motivate Gary to get behind the development of the 622ISO Nanoraptor by WTB in the late 90's.  Obviously, that was an important influence on the modern 29"er.

More On Why 26"ers Became The "Go To" Size For Early Mountain Biking: I received some other interesting bits from 29"er pioneer, Wes Williams, in regards to why the old 28"ers of the late 19th/early 20th Century did not have the influence on early mountain biking, and why the 26 inch bikes did. Here is his note to me detailing this out:

"One of the main reasons that the 28" "Adult" sized bikes of the 1890-1915 era were not copied in the 70's was that most of these bikes had been scrapped , due to 2 world war scrap drives and the need for steel. The bikes that were not scrapped as often were the 26" "juvenile" bikes , the balloon tired kids bikes that were used as a basis for the first " Mtn" bikes . During those wars , those "adult" bikes had of course been replaced with the automobile , while little Johnny's bike was still being ridden by the children , the ubiquitous "Paper boy" . 

The 700c designation was officially decreed in 1975 , as a collaboration between Mavic and Michelin , so as to end the confusion in tire sizing . A study of The Sutherlands Manual shows all of the sizes available and will answer a lot of questions . I own a pair of wooden rims from the 1890's and they measure 25 " , the same size as a modern 700c , so we know that the basis of that rim diameter goes way back . If you look at old photos of the era , it is evident that they used a 2" tire , so the "29" "is nothing new , just new to our way of thinking . I have always tried to stress this to people , that I was just trying to bring back what the best minds of the engineering world had developed back in the 1890's .

One must remember that there were no automobiles , motorcycles , or airplanes yet , and in fact these developments were all derived from the lowly bicycle . Look at Henry Ford's first car and see what the wheel size is . Remember what the Wright brothers did for a living before they got a wild hair and built an airplane . The first motorcycles were developed for bicycles to draft behind to set records . Of course all of these thing(s) soon took on a life of their own , but the 29" wheel played a part in the development of these "modern" inventions ."

It is an interesting fact that at the time Wes refers to- the late 19th/early 20th century- the U.S. Patent Office had an entire building dedicated to the advancements made by the bicycle industry of the day. This building was reportedly the same size as the building that housed the patents at that time for every other invention. Pretty remarkable. 

So, it is true that the best engineering minds of the days of early cycling were zeroing in on the 28 inch/29 inch wheel size for "adult" bicycles. However; it would take nearly another century for the ideas of that time to catch on with mainstream mountain bikers.

Notes: Also, in the "could-a-would-a-should-a" file pertaining to mountain biking, you will find references early on to 650B sized tires and wheels. Remember that this is a 26"er variant originally made for French camping bikes and randonnuers. (Outer diameter of wheel and tire nominally 26 inches). A Finland based tire company had an aggressively treaded, narrow-ish version of a 650B tire that was briefly used on some early mountain bikes, most notably by Apps, Tom Ritchey, and another little known builder by the name of Jim Merz. (Also: Some early 80's Raleigh and Schwinn mtb based bikes were mass produced with 650B tires and rims) Some alloy rims were available in that size at the time, so it became an interesting thing to pursue. The trouble was that these tires were difficult to obtain, and when alloy 26/559 rims came about to satisfy the BMX cruiser class that emerged in the late 70's/early 80's, the 650B alternative was scrapped in favor of the now commonplace 26 inch mountain bike tire.

It also should be noted that the 700c tire used by Apps and apparently tried by Fisher may not have been a "29 inch" tire. Of course, there is no way to measure that now, and perhaps it doesn't matter. The real importance of that tire and its application at the time is its influence for the later WTB Nanoraptor in 700c size.

Next: The Main Players Set The Stage For "The Tire".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More On The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: Part II

It's winter, the "off-season", and I don't have much better to do than to delve back into this whole deal again. I wanted to lay some groundwork as to the "pre-history" of the "modern 29"er" as I call it. If you want to see the post where this all started, go here.

Obviously, this "Part II" should come before the other. Oh well! I didn't have any intentions of writing a history lesson on 29"ers. However; now I have been hit with the bug to do it, I have had some contact with one of the main players in the story recently, and I have some major chunks of the story laying around anyway. Might as well, eh?

The Safety Bicycle: The whole story really goes back to the beginnings of the bicycle as we know it. Before wheels were of equal size, there was the big bicycle craze of the 80's. The 1880's, to be exact. Folks rode "ordinaries", or "penny farthings", as they were sometimes called. These were two wheeled vehicles whose "gearing" was determined only by wheel diameter. The drive was direct- no coasting unless you took your feet off the pedals- and they were driven by the enormous front wheel. A trailing wheel of much smaller diameter was generally the set up back then. It is interesting to make note that your wheel size was described in inches of diameter and also in "gear inches", which are one in the same. (See here) This will come into play later.

The bicycle of those days was a dangerous vehicle due to the design which placed the rider high in the air and which led to many a "header" where the rider would be pitched over the front of the bicycle after impacting an obstacle the wheel would not roll over. However; it should be noted that these enormous wheels rolled over stuff really well. Another point to put into our minds for later!

Soon a dash was on to reconfigure the bicycle into something "safer" to ride. The development of the chain, originally employed in tri-cycles of the day, was brought up to speed and employed by designers to eventually evolve the bicycle into the "safety" bicycle which was so-called due to the inherent difficulty a bicycle of same wheel sizing had in tipping forward over its front axle. Headers became a thing of the past, for the most part. The chain, with its two cogs, could be used to convert rider's energy into similar "gear inches" that ordinaries had. In order to figure out the gear inches, the practice of measuring the outer diameter of the rear drive wheel persisted. Eventually, "gear inches" became an esoteric term and was only used in track racing circles, for the most part. However, sizing a tire to a rim was still done by using the outer diameter method in inches, and this still persists to this day.

How The Old Ways Affect Us Today: One thing to keep in mind here is that the commonly held thought that the "inch diameter" designation refers to rims only is an erroneous one. It was always a measurement that combined the tire with the rim to get the designation. So, for instance, your rim diameter may be 22 inches or so, but put a two inch wide tire or so on that rim and you have a 26" diameter wheel. Mountain bikes are described as "26 inch" bikes, but this does not necessarily tell you the rim diameter. In fact, there are several "26 inch" wheel variants in existence. 650B is actually a 26" diameter variant, for example. It was only recently that when Kirk Pacenti introduced 2 inch wide 584 ISO bead diameter tires that the 650B/26" type wheel became 27.5". (The proponents of this wheel for mountain biking use have stuck with the "metric" designation for this wheel size for mountain biking, further confusing things, but that's another story.)

It is also interesting to note that early bicycle engineers were intent on keeping things as efficient and as comfortable for riders as possible. Nearly every design feature we enjoy today on bicycles was thought of back in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Only a lack of materials technology and funding kept most of what we know today from becoming reality then. However; one thing was arrived at that will become an important part of this discussion. The 28" wheel.

The Original "Mountain Bikers": Of course, roads, (if there were any), and trails were very crude back then. Rough tracks were tamed by the old high wheeler's big wheel diameters, but when the safety took over, wheel size was a grab bag of different ideas as to what would be best. It ended up being a nominally 28 inch diameter with approximately 1 1/2" wide tires and whatever rim diameter worked with the particular tire design used. Eventually, what shook out was what we have come to know as "700c". At any rate, these early cyclists were enjoying the biggest, easiest rolling wheel size they could ride on a safety bike with fairly voluminous tires which gave them comfort and control on the rough roads and unpaved by-ways most common in that time. Some folks point to these folks and the bicycles they rode as the earliest "mountain bikers" and the earliest "29"ers". However; in the modern definition of both mountain biking and 29"ers, it is evident that what they were doing and what they were using can only be seen as prototypes for what came afterward.

Now, fast forwarding a bit: Roads got better, so "big" volume tires were not as necessary. This evolved to the point that by the late 1980's, road bikes were flirting with 18mm wide tires. Now that has backed off to the most commonly found size of 700 X 23mm and 700 X 25mm for paved road bicycles. At the time when the Marin Gang and the other NorCal off roaders were looking for something to use off pavement, the 700c based wheels were just not even on the radar, due to the lack of tire options that would allow for proper dirt usage. Not that the idea wasn't dreamt of, because it was, but tires didn't exist then, nor frames to put them in that would accept a wider tire on a wheel bigger in diameter. However; Arnold Schwinn's "ballooners" originally designed for juveniles, was around, and relatively easy to put to off road use. Thus the 26"/559ISO size became the de facto mountain bike wheel size out of convenience.

Next: The quest for "alternative wheel sizes" begins.....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A "Bigger" Big Wheel?

Twenty-nine inch wheels have been around for awhile now and ever since the modern 29"er hit the scene in '99, (read more about that here and here), there has been talk of even bigger wheels. Of course, there are 36"ers,

and they are awesomely big wheels. Ben Witt kindly loaned his to me to ride around on for awhile last year. The big red machine was cool, but not really well suited to single track in my mind. Not that you couldn't do it, because you can. The thing is, well....those wheels are not as refined as 29"ers are from a materials aspect. Given some high-dollar tech/engineering, yeah. Then you'd maybe have something that would be competitive with 29 inch wheels. As a concept for bigger guys though, it would be great. Think about some really well made tires, rims, and some mega-high flanged hubs so the spokes could be as short as possible. Maybe use a fatbike inspired 170mm O.L.D. rear hub, a 135 O.L.D. front hub,  and a 100mm wide bottom bracket. Get a dishless rear wheel, and bigger guys probably are not as sensitive to the dreaded "Q" factor. Hmm........could be fun!

<===WTB 29"er Dissent on the right. (Image from the Cleland Cycles site)

Now comes word of this fellow from the U.K. that has been tinkering with off road bicycles since the 60's. (Before Gary Fisher even! gasp!) His name is Geoff Apps and his bicycles go by the brand name of Cleland Cycles. He has a very unique take on the offroad bicycle, but besides this, he has found his big wheel size in the old English 28" X 1 1/2" size used on old rod braked Raleighs, for one thing. The ISO bead diameter is 635mm, which compares to 622mm for the 29"er wheel. A touch larger diameter. Now with a wide tire mounted, as shown at left, you get a wheel that is 31" or so. Hmm.......

You have to wonder if this sort of thing will ever go anywhere, but with the nominal size increase over a 29"er, the experimentation and thoughts on possibilities for larger folks is intriguing. Weight will be more, but that wouldn't be a bad thing for bigger guys.

Anyway, it has been said that Ragley Bikes is making a 100 Cleland Adventurer type rigs soon. It would be cool if they could shoe-horn a few of these bigger wheels into a few of those, just so some folks could give it a whirl. I think it would be interesting to check out.

Monday, December 13, 2010

So, Just How Light Is That?

We're constantly wowed by the latest, greatest bicycle part that comes down the pike when it comes to weight. Even complete bicycles are amazingly light these days. The thing is, I wonder how jaded we have become when it comes to weight, and more specifically, materials technology. That we can even trust this gossamer weight componentry is, to me, nothing short of a miracle.

Still, as consumers, we seem to go, " what. This could be lighter." As if we expect it will never stop. For example, I remember when Bontrager came out with that 118 gram titanium bar. Whoa! That was nuts. How could you ride that? It was so much lighter than the 150 gram plus bars we were using then, it was unbelievable. Of course, that bar was super skinny because it was super short. But now, a 120 gram XC bar that is fairly wide is no big deal.

Or for a better example, how about this.....

Check out the fork. It is a Spanish made, single leg type rigid fork that weighs 668 grams with the triple clamps.

For a bit of perspective, that is similar in weight to one Salsa Gordo 29"er rim, or three Thomson stems. That is flat out amazing.

I mean, try making a single leg fork for a mountain bike that is rideable out of a Gordo rim. Ya know what I mean? That's insane.

So when things like this get shown, folks don't say, "668 grams? Are you nuts? Prove it works." No, they want to know who to send the credit card info to and if it takes more than three days to get, they will be upset. Really. It's just wonky out there.

One has to wonder where the line will be drawn in terms of what is safe that will work, and also, why. I mean just that: Why? Don't get me wrong- I love great performing, lightweight, durable, trustworthy parts as much as the next mountain biker, but there comes a point where it goes over the lines. The line of safety, the line of controllability, and the line of costs. The line of practicality, the line of reliable performance, and the line of wisdom also must be considered. Why mess with that stuff?

I don't know. I suppose there is always a fool and his money-will-part thing going on out there to some degree. I suppose some folks will always want to push the limits which will make our "reliable, trustworthy" parts even better. I suppose I should just keep my mouth shut and ride.

Speaking of which- I really wish I could do that safely right now, but it is below zero here, and not just a little bit. I guess I could, but my "common sense" and "better judgment" say otherwise.

Which might be a good thing to employ when it comes to these lightweight wunder-parts out there.