Monday, February 28, 2011

CIRREM 2011 Race Report

The 2011 version of CIRREM, (Central Iowa Rock Road Endurance Metric), is a "metric" century gravel road event. For those of you still mired in the standard measurements of the King, that makes it about 62.14 miles. (The "century" part refers to the 100 kilometer distance) This event starts outside the Cumming Tap in Cumming, Iowa.

<===The Cumming Tap in Cumming, Iowa

The day started very early at 4:30 AM so I could get up to eat a little something, pack up the final bits of gear, and be ready for the pick up by Mike Johnson and his wife, Amy. We made great time to Cumming and were there by 8AM.  Just in time for bacon, egg, and sausage burritos.

Many friends were either already there, or showed up. If nothing else, these gravel road events are a blast for the social end of things and for checking out everyone's rides. My ride for the event was determined by the weather.

I had gotten a tip from a fellow CIRREM rider on Facebook that the Des Moines area was receiving snow and maybe up to three inches. Since I haven't ridden the Black Mountain Cycles rig enough, and never in snow, to have a feel for what it would do in those conditions, I opted for a bike whose handling I fully understand in snow and mud. That would be the Badger drop bar 29"er.

Not only were those bigger tires a welcomed advantage, the gears on the bike would end up being the biggest advantage of all. I fully intend to "gear up" the BMC, but I still am in parts acquisition mode there, so it still is a single speed, and will be for some time yet.

The snow predicted did come. Probably somewhere between an inch and two inches of the brilliant white stuff had blanketed the hills surrounding Cumming and it's quiet, rustic streets were not plowed. It was also cold. Temperatures were in the mid-teens at the start, a wee bit of wind, but not much, was also wending its way through the pack of riders. We stood shivering in the street in front of the bar listening to organizer, Jed Gammell's final instructions. At 10AM we were off and rolling into the Iowa countryside.

The first thing I noticed was that I was colder than I would want to be at the start of a ride, especially my hands. I had my trusty old red Therma-fleece gloves on, so I was a bit worried if they weren't going to work in keeping my fingers toasty.  Everything else was fine for the time being.

The next think I noticed was all the mechanicals and flat tires within the first five miles. Odd that.

Then I noticed something more important- freezing rain. Or should I say "mist"? I guess mist is better. It really was a mix of snow, sleet, and frozen crystals of ice that would accumulate on any hard surface, including your eyewear. With the higher down hill speeds, the lack of vision was not appreciated. I took off the glasses several times only to get a "fork-in-the-eye" sensation from all the ice crystals stabbing my eyes as I sped down hill. Danged if I do, danged if I don't. It was just one of the things I had to deal with the entire ride. In the end, I opted for the no-eyewear route. It was just a less frustrating way to ride.

I rode with Paul Jacobson for a bit. He's been in Trans Iowa and volunteered at last year's event. We chatted for a bit before we stopped to aid a rider with a flat and I headed off for a "nature break". Paul ended up motoring onward to a 4th place single speed finish.

The course was easy to navigate, what with all the tracks of those ahead to follow by.  I never looked at the cues sheet until after the first checkpoint.

Then after a break at the top of a particularly steep grade, I ran into Steve Fuller, who will be the T.I.V7 photographer this time. We bombed a few down hills before I could see that his speed was faster than mine, and I let him ride off. It wasn't too much later that I came across the one and only check point at about 30 miles in. I was actually about a half an hour ahead of my goal so far. Bonus!

I scarfed down some of the cookies available and a Fat Tire Ale. I didn't want to stick around too long, so I was out of there in about ten minutes, which probably was still too long, given how chilled I was after I took off.

Speaking of "chilled", my left foot was practically a block of ice at this point in the ride. I stamped it back into some semblance of feeling, but not long after I took off, it was back to being a real problem. I wanted to wait to stop again until I had about an hour behind me from the checkpoint, and when that time was up, I opted for the emergency plan.

That plan was chemical warming packets that I threw in my saddle bag early that morning. I stopped and installed them, one in each shoe, and took off. Since there weren't any instructions on the packets, just a bunch of warning, I wasn't sure if they would work. I'd heard they needed to be exposed to air for a bit to activate, so I did that, but the meager warmth being produced wasn't very impressive. Hey! At least it was something.

Thirty minutes later, my foot was frozen again, and I had just under 20 miles left to go. The ride since the checkpoint was pretty much on my own. I pulled away from a smaller group I passed just after the checkpoint, but one guy on a Redline cross bike was trading places with me off and on every so many miles. Finally, I dropped a chain on a shift going into a climb and he rode away from me. It was all good. I was getting into a tough place anyway, what with my feet, (both of which were frozen by now), and I was getting really tired and hungry from all the work.

<===Matt Gersib stylin' with the Oakley's he won from the prize table at CIRREM. 

 The course had been slightly rolling to start out with, but it quickly turned into a steep climb followed by another, then another, for 64 miles. (There were a couple more miles than a metric century, apparently.) I was pleased with the way I climbed and the descending was fun, albeit sketchy with the snow covering and masking the good lines. Jed Gammell told us up front that there would be a "few sections of fresh gravel". (Translation: Mile and miles of fresh gravel that were big, chunky, and loose.) The gravel conditions and snow were reason enough for being glad I was on the Badger, but the gears that it had versus the single speed cross bike were even better, and I know I would not have done as well on a single speed on this course with the gearing I have on that bike.

With all the messing around with my feet, the dropped chain, and checking the cue sheet a couple times, I was off schedule by a bit. I finished in just over six hours, but at least I finished. I wanted to finish in six hours or less, but it wasn't meant to be this time. Still, I was pretty pleased with being able to pull off that ride in those conditions.

<===Good times with old friends and new.

I was starving coming into the finish, and by the time my sorry carcass hit the door of the Cumming Tap, (which was the official finish line, by the way), all the food for the post race had mostly been devoured. A few meager white bread rolls remained, which I snatched a couple of just to get me by. Free beer was also pouring for racers and I availed myself of this "carb replacement fluid" as well. You know you are in a nutritional deficit when three glasses of beer don't even phase you one bit!

The prizes were handed out then, (I got a sweet Planet Bike 1watt Blaze commuter light), and then Steve Fuller and his family, Matt Gersib, and my company on the ride down and back, Mike and Amy, all went to a local restaurant for grub where we had a great time. Then the long ride home, unloading the gear, and walking into my home at about 9PM in the evening. What a long, wonderful day!

I hadn't even had a chance to remove my booties in all this time since the event. As I took them off, the chemical warming packets fell to the floor. I picked them up and what do you know?

The dang things were hot! 

So much for the timing on that! Oh well, I had a successful ride, the first one I've finished in a long time. Now it's onward to working on the Dirty Kanza 200, and finishing that beast off once and for all.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Dirty Kanza 200 Chronicles; More On The Bike & More!

Updates To The Bike Set Up: This week saw a longer training ride in a pretty stiff head wind, (more on that in a bit), and some tweaks/additions to the bike were tried out. It is my belief that you need to train with the set up you will be running during the event, at least a few times, so you can "de-bug" anything that isn't quite working for you. In my case, I am going to train my race set up as much as possible this time.

Additions to the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross #42 are as follows:

  1. Two Velocity Bottle Traps. I like these mostly because they hold a bottle well and it is virtually impossible to launch a bottle in the rough stuff. That they come in colors is a bonus. 
  2. Revelate Designs tangle Bag. This one is the "Mountain" sized one. I can stuff all my repair gear in here and an extra water bottle. The contents of the bag are still "Under Construction", but I'll detail that out once I have settled on a set up. 
  3. Geax Barro Race TNT 29"er tires. These are really 1.85-1.9"ers and not 2.0's as marked. They fit with about a couple millimeters clearance and more importantly, lend me more suspension with the higher volume. Barro Race TNT's also have stiffer, more resilient sidewalls, can be run at lower pressures with no detriment to tubes and rims, and of course, can be run tubeless, if I so choose to. These could be the "sleeper tire" of "monster cross". Weight is 630 grams each. I think they will be tough enough for Dirty Kanza, but light enough to still keep some snap in the wheels. 
More on the bike and how it is doing later.

Details On Training: I'm still sticking to the diet plan, and as expected, my body is not responding as quickly as others might. Just for reference, I practically have to stop eating at all, with detrimental effect to performance, to lose weight at a quick pace. My body just never has responded to increased levels of activity and less food intake like others do.  All that said, there has been a slight decrease in weight so far.

Training rides have been happening, albeit sporadically due to the wonky weather of late. Wednesday I got a great 30 miler in with some strong headwinds for good measure on half of that. Yesterday I participated in CIRREM down in the southwest  Des Moines area. Details on the ride will go up tomorrow, but here were my goals going in. #1- Finish, and #2 do it in less than six hours if possible. I met one goal and just missed the other. Finishing was awesome, but I had a bit of a frozen up left foot that put me behind schedule in the second half of the event. (Temps were low 20's F and there was about an inch to two inches of snow covering the roads depending on where you were at on course.) There also was freezing rain which made seeing through eyewear difficult and without eyewear it stung your eyes badly.  Under better conditions I may have had a much better chance at the time. As it was, I only missed it by about 15 minutes or so.

Okay, that's it for this week. As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments section. Look for a full CIRREM race report tomorrow.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Trans Iowa V7 Update #16: Volunteers And Other Details

<===The Starting Line will be here again for T.I.V7

Update #16: Volunteers And Other Details: Well, believe it or not, but there are less than two months to go until T.I.V7 kicks off in Grinnell Iowa. Here is where we are at with regards to a few things....

Volunteers: We have all we need to get T.I.V7 running smoothly. Thanks to everyone that volunteered, (and please do show up at the Pre-Race Meat-Up!) Remember, you can opt in to T.I.V8 in 2012 if you so desire by completing your volunteering in T.I.V7. d.p. and I thank you all!

Drop Outs: Inevitably some of you will need to drop out from Trans Iowa for various reasons. It is super important that you e-mail me as soon as possible to let me know. d.p. and I will be getting in to the race preparation mode, spending money on things like race numbers, supplies, and getting a head count for the pre-race deal. So, even though you may not think it is important, it is! Don't leave us hanging with extra work done for no-shows.

Finish Line: It is looking like we may have to come up with an alternative plan for the finish line due to the Easter holiday. This isn't a huge deal, but our expectations have been lowered to keep more options on the table. Stay tuned for a final determination to be made very soon on this matter.

Finally, this will be a short version of a T.I.V7 update! The only thing I have left to add is that all folks on the roster should expect an e-mail in the coming week or two asking about the pre-race attendance and meal options. Stay tuned for that in your in-boxes.

Happy Training! See you soon!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday News And Views

They Should Re-Name The Show: Well, if you are any sort of bicycle geek at all, you know that today is the opening round of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, or "NAHBS", in Austin, Texas. For the next three days, scads of bicycle nerds will be geeking out on steel, titanium, carbon fiber, bamboo, and whatever else someone decided to form into the shape of a bicycle. Already I've seen mentions of Calfee Bikes bamboo "tall-bike", which is supposedly a "show-stopper".

NAHBS is the bicycle equivalent of a Trekkie convention. Only cyclists see the imminent importance of the show and its meaning for "life-as-we-know-it". The rest of the world could give a rip. Heck, dog shows get more attention than this bicycle show does. And for that matter, what bicycle isn't hand built? Oh.......yeah- there is the "North American" thing. But even NAHBS has builders from overseas.

You know, bicycles are built by highly skilled laborers in Asia. Handbuilt indeed! While they may not sip espresso from an Italian cup, or sport a "soul patch", I really do not see any differences in what they do and what the "Hand built" guys are doing at NAHBS. You might say that the "art" of the bicycle is elevated to a higher degree. Okay, I'll give you that much, but the "art" doesn't make it ride any better.  What is more, the Asian builders have repeatability down pat. Try that with your fancy-pants bamboo tall-bike.

Look, NAHBS is cool, but lets call it what it really is: The "North American Rolling Art Show" would be more appropriate. High bicycle art commissioned by discerning bicycle connoisseurs, is what is actually happening. Of course they are hand built, but so is every other bicycle in a bike shop. Big deal.

Nothing wrong with the show in Austin, and of course, I'd go in a heartbeat, if I could have afforded to, but let's not get distracted by the "hand-built" moniker. I believe it cheapens what hard working people are doing elsewhere with bicycles, that in reality, are touching far more lives than anything you'll see coming out of NAHBS.

James Huang of  says of NAHBS that it will be the harbinger of what is to come from mainstream bike companies in the next few years. I think he's right to a point, but what NAHBS can influence is limited. Really- NAHBS is more of a proving ground and introduction for new parts by the component industry, and a showcase for how they can be used more than it is an innovator of cycling trends. In fact, you could argue that NAHBS trends are heavily influenced by mainstream cycling companies, instead of the other way around.

Well, enough of that, now go and geek yerself out!

More Monster: I noticed on the Black Mountain Cycles blog where a guy stuffed some Nanoraptors in his BMC Monster Cross rig. I also know that Kenda Karma tires have been shoe horned into that frame and fork. Well, I thought about it for a minute or two, then I remembered I had a set of Geax Barro Race tires in the TNT flavor which, as I recalled, measured about 1.85" on 24mm wide rims. Perfect candidate for the BMC!

I mounted them with tubes and they fit just fine. (By the way, they are not shown in this image, I'll get a pic later to share.) I also recalled that I was able to run crazy low pressures tubeless with these. I set them up and test rode it around the neighborhood. What a fantastic cushy feel. When I got back, I found out I had barely over 20psi in each tire! Well, I'll run a bit more than that on gravel, but these are going to be great "suspension" for gravel roads. At least I have some "monster-cross" like tires on the "Monster Cross" model from Black Mountain Cycles now. Ol' #42 is looking pretty good with those shoes on.

CIRREM: Tomorrow is the Centarl Iowa Rock Road Endurance Metric, or CIRREM, which is about a 63-ish mile slog over the hills of Madison County. I'll be taking the BMC and will get a ride report up for Monday. Look for that then. (It'll be a bone-chillingly cold ride, I know that much!)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Grayscale Day On The Gravel

Wednesday was the day I had planned all week to get out and do a good, long ride on the new Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike. It was forecast to be partly sunny and above freezing, so I was really a bit miffed when I saw that it was mostly cloudy. Oh well! The ride must go on!

I felt that the blustery Southeasterly and lack of sun called for more black and white imagery, so I shot everything in black and white for this ride.

I decided to take a measured approach, seeing as how this was still a bit of a shake down ride, and I planned on a 30 mile route. The first half was straight into the wind. I had the BMC set up with the Revelate Designs Tangle Bag which is pretty cavernous. A person that is a good packer could go nuts with that thing!

I kept just an extra bottle and repair stuff in it this time, but it could have held more. A lot more. I'll definitely be keeping this on the bike for longer gravel rides.

The roads south of town were in great shape. The route starts out with some chip-seal, and then sort of morphs into solid gravel road after several miles. The traffic is high enough here that the roads were swept clean of gravel and were smooth, solid, peanut butter looking and were fast. I couldn't tell when the pavement ended, and the dirt started it was so smooth.

Too bad I couldn't have taken full advantage of that, since the winds were at a constant 20-25 mph at this point. Even though the temperatures were nearing 30, the wind chill made it feel very cold. I had to stop about ten miles out to stomp my feet into some semblance of feeling. I figured a few more miles south, then a couple west,and I could head back north with a brisk tail wind at my back. It couldn't be much longer, or my feet would have frozen solid.

Funny thing about this ride was that I had to stop to urinate much more than usual. Weird. At least it gave my feet a break from being sucked of all their warmth!

Once I made the right turn on Reinbeck Road, it was as if someone turned off the noise. Peace and relative quiet were there without the wind rushing by my ears. That was another bit of relief I enjoyed. Sounds of the wind whistling through my spokes could now be heard, and the constant crunching of dirt and gravel on the IRC tires was always there.

Another quick stop under a high tension wire for a (you guessed it!), nature break, and a quick bite to eat. I heard a strange moaning, as if the earth itself was bemoaning the fact that the skies were gray and the Sun had turned its face to play in the sky-fields rather than cast its warmth upon the ground. But I suddenly became aware it was really the wires high above my head, vibrating in a mournful way in the wind. It gave me the shivers. So I quickly rolled on to find my home.

Getting closer to the paved sections I began to hear a jingle when I would hit a bigger bump. I thought perhaps my tools had shifted in the Tangle Bag, but after giving it some thought, I realized that I had nothing in it that would resonate at that frequency. So, I began to pay attention to how the bike felt. Nothing strange there to indicate that anything was loose, but still, the noise persisted on bigger bumps and it was bothering me.

By now I was well into the city, four or more miles after I had first heard the noise. Now that I had hit a secluded patch on the bicycle path, I could hear the noise much more clearly, and it was coming low and from the rear wheel. I looked back, and it was the cog I was using to hold on the spacers and Surly 20T cog of the drive train. It was dangling from the axle and would bounce up and ring when I hit a bigger bump. Thank God the cog didn't com off somehow! I stopped and managed to hand tighten it back on for the final run in to my home.

30 miles, a little less than three hours, and two frozen feet later I was back and smiling, even if it was all gray skies.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ballad Of The Snow Dog And The Hub

I have a Salsa Cycles Mukluk fat bike I dubbed the "Snow Dog". It's a pretty special bike to me for several reasons.

I've always wanted a fat bike, for one thing. Ever since I saw Dave Gray's Surly Pugsley prototype sitting in front of Quality Bicycle Products warehouse. They have always been something I thought would be fun to ride, but the cash outlay to get yer mitts on one was too high, or so I thought.

Then late last year Salsa announced the Mukluk. I jumped on the ordering list for one. The asking price was too attractive, and I knew that Salsa would have the bike dialed. They did get it dialed, but unfortunately, a certain part of my Snow Dog isn't quite so dialed.

I sprung for an "upgrade" to my Mukluk that I had on order. I thought owning a set of Phil Wood hubs would be a no-brainer on this bike. I mean, they have the quality and reputation that most companies would kill for. That doesn't come just because they make high-dollar, good looking parts either. They certainly earned their keep over the years with a lot of folks.

Unfortunately, something went very wrong with my rear wheel, and I had to send it back to Phil Wood after three rides. Three rides after which the free hub was skipping so badly you couldn't ride it safely anymore. The wheel went to California and a gracious Ben Witt loaned me his brand new, unridden wheel with a blue anodized Phil Wood hub in the meantime. What a great friend! I was able to put in several rides on the Snow Dog while I waited for my own wheel to return.

When the wheel did come back, I swapped out wheels and components, and went for a ride the next day. Much to my disappointment, the hub exhibited the same popping and snapping noises that it did from the get go. Five miles to work, and it popped about 10-12 times. On the return trip, I counted. It popped and snapped 24 times in five miles, and slipped once.

It was no good. 

I contacted Phil Wood again, and they sent out a call tag, (last time shipping was on me), and today the wheel goes back to California. It really bothers me because it's Phil-freaking-Wood, and this isn't supposed to happen to their stuff. Everyone tells me they have never heard of anything like this about that company. (Well, now they have, and so have you.)

Secondly, I was super-stoked to finally get a fat bike, and now that I have one, it isn't rideable. Pretty ironic, that. Added to this is the fact that several friends, met and un-met, had collaborated to bring me the frame and fork for my birthday, and now their efforts are sitting in a corner gathering dust. That bothers me a great deal.

Finally, and not least importantly, I do not trust that hub. Ben Witt's Phil hub was flawless for me, but the one I own is cursed. I am afraid Phil Wood is simply going to try to fix it......again, and I don't want to even try it.......again. I haven't decided what I will do, if they decide to simply fix it and send it back. I have an idea or two, but I am pretty convinced I know that hub will never be right again. One thing is for sure- By the time Phil Wood and Company does anything and gets it back to me, it will be well into March, and fat bike prime time will be gone until winter 2011. I've got time to weigh my options.

It was good while it lasted, Snow Dog, but I am afraid you'll be hanging from a hook for quite awhile now. See ya next winter.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

10W/30 Is The Drug

Yesterday on my commute home from work, I crashed on the bicycle shown here on an icy patch going downhill at about 20mph. I'm okay, just a wee bit sore, and I knarfed the bar tape, but otherwise, everything is fine.

Why is all of the above important to this discussion? Because 95% of Americans (a) couldn't ride to work on a bicycle, (b) and even if they could, they wouldn't unless the weather was "perfect", and (c) if they did and crashed, most would give up cycling forever. (Assuming they weren't injured for life anyway.)

Why is that true? Well, all you have to do is go out to your garage, driveway, or street, peek inside a vehicle, and see that the creature comforts and opulent luxury we all can have at our disposal is head and shoulders above the suffering one must accept and become accustomed to in order to ride a bicycle. It is much more enticing and serves our sensual natures to simply give over to the siren call of the automobile. Cultural heroin, it is, and you have to be outta yer tree if you think "America" is giving up on that drug easily. No sirree!

Many years ago I was invited to go see the Swedish Royal Treasures at a museum in Minneapolis. It was the first time any of these artifacts had ever been seen outside of Sweden's borders. It was an amazing experience. I saw the actual battle mask of Gustavus Vasa, replete with notches and scars, presumably from enemy swords and spears wielded at close quarters. There was also a Royal Carriage. Now mind you, this was a country that at one time was considered one of the richest in the world, and certainly in Europe. This was no ordinary carriage.

Be that as it may, it pales in comparison to the coddling a driver gets in a modern F-150 pick-up. The King bounded down unpaved roads, or rough cobbles in a cabin not sealed against the elements, and certainly not with his own personal symphony, communication devices, and cup holders. Heck, the King had to scour the countryside for a worthy cup holder he could trust, while the F-150 has several of them. (Another job lost to "high technology", alas!)

Yes- we are rich beyond measure, and our chariots prove as much, not to mention the rest of our accouterments. Why, if your 3G phone fails you almost would think the whole world was going to crumble. Can't download that You Tube video? Feeling frustrated? Really?

I've been reading a lot about how the predicted gas price increases are going to "force people out of their cars and on to bicycles, mass transit, and other forms of alternative transportation". Not without a big, huge fight. People will throw hissy fits, asking the government to "fix" the problem, and will claim that their "rights" are being infringed upon. Just wait and see. If oil runs out, gets scarcer, or is limited in supply, America is going to whine, and if you think we're "soft" now, you ain't seen nuthin' yet. It'll get ugly before anybody takes to a bicycle by "the forces of price", as some suggest.

I mean really, how many non-cycling Americans are going to ride to work on a bicycle in 33 degree temperatures with mist, sleet, and snow blowing in their faces in late February? (Besides me) I'm betting most would rather die first, and the sad thing is, many have, and perhaps many will, just to insure our "right" to be little kings and queens addicted to 10W/30.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Frostbike 2011

What a wild weekend! The weather played a big part in the goings on, but I'll get to that later. First things first: The annual Mike's Bikes gathering happened again in Northfield, Minnesota. Hi-jinx was happening, as usual, but mostly from the other guys this time.

I had to return Ben Witt's rear wheel so he could put it in this. His new fillet brazed Pofahl snow bike. (Click pic to make your eyes pop out)

I must say, the green color is really my favorite and the bike itself is stunningly beautiful. Besides that, it actually works as a performance snow bike, and is not just some garage queen, show bike.

Kudos to Mike Pofahl and Ben on this stunning collaboration. I really, really like the way it came out, and if it ended up in my quiver, I wouldn't mind one bit. (Hey! At least we know that rear hub actually works, right?)

That led us up to eating Greek pizza and drinking some finer beers. The gathering was attended by John and Stuart, the shop guys at Mike's, Curtis, the Milltown Cycle wrench, Ben and his wife, and my wife, myself, and another young fella who was super fast around Mike's on bikes. I never did get his name.

Inspiration for the hi-jinx of this particular Mike's Bikes gathering were the things found at Mike's. You just never know what cool, old cycling stuff you'll find there. Like this fillet brazed Ritchey mountain bike frame that has never been built up. Classic stuff with the red, white, and blue there.

Or it could be Mike himself, who happened to be away in NorCal for the first time since he left in the early 80's. Mike was an early "klunker" rider, so he collects all sorts of old Schwinn stuff. Certainly, the fact that a lot of older iron was sitting around had something to do with Friday night's goings on.

Then there is the fact that Mike's is kind of a "monster garage" of biking anyway. They have been throwing together cool rides with a certain sort of dingy, underground flair for years. Yeah, definitely the whole vibe of Mike's Bikes lent a hand in what went down there that night.

Where else can you find a shop with a concrete floor and decent, long-ish straight-aways with technical turns and obstacles to go around at 20mph?

Then you have youthful exuberance to credit for some of this. Young minds full of mischief, ready to pull off a stunt to amuse themselves and others that are standing by watching.

Here we have "the mad scientist" types for the evening. From the left: Curtis, John, and the unidentified fast guy. We'll just call him "Fast Guy" for the duration of the post, shall we?

Works for me anyway.......

Following is a photo-essay of the night's activities.

First up, Fast Guy and Stuart put the hurt on a repair left too long without being paid for. Take note you slackers out there! We mean it at bike shops when we say, "Any repairs left after 30 days will be subject to forfeit to cover the cost of repairs". What that really means is that the island of misfit mechanics gets another bicycle to torture into submission using arcane bicycle tools no one knows how to use properly any more.

For instance, Stuart demonstrates this medieval looking device which was for straightening forks bashed in by frontal impacts. Probably wasn't a good idea back then to fix those, but you know, what the heck?!!

By the way, the quick release came squirting out on the next throw of the lever here at a very high velocity. This photo-journalism stuff is dangerous my friends! Don't try this at home!

After all the distractions, John managed to get the "klunker/mini-velo/scorcher" bike done in time for some hot lap action.

That's a pre-war Schwinn frame folks. (The term, "pre-war", for you hipsters that might be reading this, refers to a time previous to 1939-40 in American culture and is nominally equivalent to saying something is "older than dirt")

Also worthy of note, the frame/fork was a red, white, and blue combo, reminiscent of the Ritchey from above in this post. Hey- it all comes together in the end here, please be patient! You'll understand where I'm going with this soon.

Now while I was going to go with a retro-flavored black & white theme for the rest of the images here, my buddy Captain Bob was over earlier and told me this was a good image. He knows his stuff, so I had to put this one in.

Call it my "Mike's Bikes ode to Gary Fisher's famous RePack down hill pic from the 70"s" feel for this post. Well, like I said, Mike himself was a Marin klunker dude and did ride RePack, so, ya "fits", right?

Just goes to show ya, what comes around, goes around, and then it comes back again and BOOM! Upside yer head with the the whole scene re-invented for the times. Who knew?

Okay........nuff said. Back to the B&W stuff.

Here's John coming into the very technical retail sales area just before the "Mechanics Pylon" which is a really tight sector on the Mike's Bikes course. John was coasting in for a quick pit-stop here after some blazing hot practice laps on the whip.

Eagle-eyed amongst the readership will note the two purses on the stools. Yes, we had females in the crowd as mentioned before.

Yes, they thought we were totally outta our trees, but bless them! They suffered us like champs and we all walked out still friends. That's a good thing, by the way.

A killer coaster brake applied skid mark, eh?

Well, we had a great time, as always, and then we hit the hay at Ben's place for the evening. The next day, I went up alone to attend the Frostbike show at Quality Bicycle Products in Bloomington, Minnesota. I got there and chatted with several of my acquaintances and friends that I get to see too little of, but am glad to meet up with at Frostbike. If you want all the technical babel on Frostbike for 29"ers, go here.

I always love spending time with these folks, but it is always too short. One nice thing about Frostbike is that it is small enough that folks are not in a hurry, (usually), and will spend extra time just hanging out with you. I like that more than anything. Too bad Interbike can't be like that and not in Las Vegas. I guess that makes Frostbike all that much more appealing for me.

Anyway, afterward I hit a Korean restaurant with Mrs. Guitar Ted, Ben and his wife Meg, Curtis, and another couple, Marty and his wife, and we had a great, great time. Hitting the Cutter's Ball afterward was something of a letdown though after the high point of the meal. That was one of the most enjoyable nights at a restaurant I've had in a long, long time.

Then we got back to Ben and Meg's place. I checked the computer before turning in for the night and the weather forecast was ominous. I called a retreat to Waterloo instaed of staying, so at midnight we packed up and hit the road back home. We got here safe and sound at 4AM and I was very glad we made the effort after I awoke Sunday. Wow! Frostbike, and the Twin Cities got hammered. But the worst thing was all the iced up raodways we would have had to have traveled if we had stayed even an hour longer.

Sometimes you gotta do what ya gotta do.

Thanks Ben, Meg, Mike's Bikes, and all at Frostbike, and we'll be back again soon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Dirty Kanza 200 Chronicles; The Bike

This week in the Dirty Kanza Chronicles I am introducing what I hope to be my rig for the big event. I searched many spec sheets and models of cyclo-cross type bikes before arriving upon this frame and fork. I'll get into more of that decision later, but for now, let's take a look at the bike as it is now....

Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross": I've been talking about Black Mountain Cycles for awhile now, so I won't get into that too much. (You can use the search term "Black Mountain Cycles" in my search box or Google to learn more.)

This frame is double butted chrome molybdenum steel alloy that is TIG welded. Horizontal drop outs allow the single speed set up. Cantilever brakes, of course, and all cables are routed over the top tube. Two water bottle mounts, rack mounts, fender mounts, and threaded rear brake cable stop and front derailleur cable stop with derailleur type adjusters are a nice touch.

The front fork is also steel featuring an investment cast sloping crown with plenty of clearance for big tires. Probably up to 1.9's will shoe horn into this fork and frame.

There's the STX Shimano cantilevers with Kool Stop brake pads. The hangar is an unknown model. It was floating around in my parts bin attached to some odd ball Dia Compe brakes, so it could be that manufacture. The head set is an Origin 8 cartridge type.

Here is a look at the Sante' hubbed, Matrix rimmed front wheel. The rear matches. These wheel were pretty much NOS condition, yet aged from over 20 years of sitting around. Gotta love that pearl anodized glow Shimano used to put on some of their nicer components. Best looking finish they've ever used, in my opinion.

There never has been a nicer looking quick release made by Shimano than their Sante' QR from the late 80's.

That's a big dust seal, eh?

36 hole wheels insure plenty of strength.

Ragley Luxy Bars in silver. Some unknown model of Dia Compe brake levers. Clunky Bontrager 31.8mm stem. The levers and stem will be up for replacement at some point. (The stem has to be silver, ya know?)

The Luxy bars are nice, but really, really wide. I may not stay with these. Time will tell.

Sugino crank found in the parts bin. 170mm length crank. Steel 40T ring. Old, pretty worn out WTB branded "Spud" type pedals. (Hand-me-downs from Jeff Kerkove!) Hiding inside is a Shimano UN-52 square taper cartridge bottom bracket.

20 tooth Surly cog and various spacers I had. Note that early 7 speed cassettes had no lock rings. They used a threaded on final cog instead. So I did too!

You get a peek at the drop ot adjusters there, and rack and fender mounts.

Campy aero seat post, Bontrager RL Inform saddle. Lurking at the bottom of the image is the brake cable adjuster on the brake bridge, and the IRC 42mm tire. The seat collar is stock BMC fare.

Why This Bike: The BMC was chosen based upon a few criteria I had going in: Steel frame, single speed capability, big tire clearances for at least 42mm tires, and geometry. My search landed me upon three choices: Surly Bikes CrossCheck, the Fisher Collection Presidio, and the BMC Monster Cross. I was able to straddle an Erwin, (model just below the Presdio), and it just wasn't quite right. The price was a bit steeper than the other two as well. The final came down to the Surly and the BMC. The BMC wins me over due to a few details. The head tube is longer on the BMC by 24mm. This keeps the bars up there without resorting to a ton of spacers. The BMC is also 3/4's of a pound lighter to begin with. That's substantial. (I'll take advantage of this in my later incarnations of this bike) Finally, the chain stays are 13mm longer, which translates into a bit longer chassis for a more stable, more comfortable ride.

Granted, any of the three would have been awesome bikes for my purposes. No "losers" here. I just found a few things about the Black Mountain Cycles flavor to be more tasty than the others. Plus, who can argue against orange? (Okay- well maybe a few of you!)

Training Update: Last weekend I got in a nice, almost three hour gravel grinder at a moderate pace. Commutes to work have been lengthened to gain more miles. With warmer weather I will begin to add night rides.  Diet is holding well. I am going to get a bit more disciplined concerning that after the weekend at Frostbike. CIRREM is next weekend, which will work well as a training ride. More next week.....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Frostbike '11: Update

A brief update from Northfield, Minnesota.......
  • Ben Witt's snow bike is psick!! I have images, but so as not to steal his joy of first showing it off, I will reserve those for later. Trust me on this though, you haven't seen one like this and it will blow your socks off.
  • Mike's Bikes was awesome once again. Bikes were ridden indoors and so fast that a "blue groove" was created around each corner. 
  • The mechanics of Mike's Bikes and Milltown Cycles are a psychotic, bike torturing cadre' the likes which have not been seen before. (I have images and will post them!)
  • Greek pizza is perhaps the best pizza I've ever eaten.
It's dang cold up here, and Sunday there is a inter storm watch in effect. Will I make it home? Stay tuned....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday News And Views

Frostbike '11: First up is Frostbike and I am attending again on both Saturday and Sunday. Tonight I'll be hanging out in Northfield, Minnesota and maybe doing some silly things, who knows. However that falls out will get reported on here throughout the weekend. Stay tuned for that. Also, I already have gotten some 29"er specific news that is pretty cool, so stay tuned to Twenty Nine Inches for that as well.

Orange Crush #42: Here she is all built up after the maiden voyage to work yesterday. I'll do a separate build list and photo essay on this rig, but please keep in mind- this is a total parts bin build!

The only part I had to buy for this as you see it was the frame/fork, and head set. The rest was all sitting around in The Lab, being unused. Notes: The lighting at work washed out the color here. It actually looks brighter and darker outside. It is obviously set up as a single speed, and will stay that way for a while as we work our way through the crap weather. So far, I am super stoked about the ride. I went for a bit more aggressive position than I would have on my 29"ers and so far it has been great. The #42 refers to the serial number. Less than 100 Black Mountain Cycles bikes exist and only about 50 of them are cross bikes.  More later......

Trans Iowa V7 Updates: Due to the Frostbike weekend, the regularly scheduled Trans Iowa update will not happen this week. In fact, I may put it on hiatus for a couple weeks unless I come up with a worthy reason for updating. Hopefully, all the training is going well out there and everyone is getting a plan together. Remember: If you can't make it for any reason, please let me know ASAP!!

DK 200 Chronicles: This may still happen for Sunday, which is the day I have chosen to post these. I can tell you now it will be most likely the build out post for the BMC bike above, but there may be more. Stay tuned....

Off Road Bar Update: I'm going to do a massive off road drop bar post on Gravel Grinder News and an update on the Ragley Luxy Bar on Twenty Nine Inches soon. Stay tuned for that.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The "Orange Crush"

Wednesday is my day off, and it worked out that the FedEx man was supposed to head over to Guitar Ted Laboratories and drop off the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross frame and fork. I was in great anticipation of this farme and fork, since I want to use it in just over a week at CIRREM.

You might know how it is when you are expecting the delivery man. Checking the windows. Was that a noise outside that I heard? Yeah.....pretty much paranoid! I couldn't even work down in The Lab since I was afraid I'd miss the guy and he would leave the dreaded "yellow note" saying he'd try again tomorrow. Time seemed to drag. I made lunch. Still no delivery man.

Well, around about noon I heard the tell-tale sound of a diesel truck motor. I zoomed up to the front window. Drat! It was the "Brown Santa". Not at all the guy I was looking for.

Then about an hour later I heard the same type of noise. It was the FedEx truck! Yes! When the guy knocked, I actually counted to ten before opening the door, just so I wouldn't startle him. He slid the box inside saying, "Whatever it is, it ain't heavy." And it wasn't my Brother either! (heh! Sorry, it's late as I write this. I am a little punchy) Anyway, I ripped open the box, as you can imagine, and saw the "Orange Crush" color right away. Pretty cool.

Once again, I am impressed with Mike's work. I had the pleasure of riding a Haro Mary when Mike designed their 29"er, and I could see similar details in the cross frame. Even the box it came in was reminiscent of the frame box the Mary came in. Hmm.....Anyway.

If you are wondering, yes! I did get it built up. I threw it together with a somewhat temporary build just to get the thing rolling so I can get things dialed in with regards to fit, and what not. Obviously, the easy thing to do was to set it up single speed, which is what I did. Well, easy is relative. I had forgotten how testy Shimano cantilever brakes can be to set up. (I used an old stash of brakes I had saved since the 90's. Old STX cantilevers.) In fact, some of the parts I used go back to the 80's.

I'll detail all that out later, but for now, I am rather stoked to be riding a Black Mountain Cycles bike, and my test ride was pretty dang smooth. Yeah......smooth!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday News And Views

A few things on the radar today....

Special Delivery? The confounded FedEx Tracker has been stuck on the same information since last Saturday, (not that I have been checking it constantly....because, know!), and at any rate, the frame/fork from Black Mountain Cycles is due in today, according to the FedEx folks.

Never believe any shipping tracker device, until your package is in hand, as I always say, so I'll just wait it out till it actually arrives. When it does, I have a temporary, "get-it-up-and-running" build I will throw at it to get it....well, up and running! It won't be fancy, but it'll do the trick for now. The funny thing is, I only have to buy a few parts to finish it off, and almost everything will be silver, which is what I wanted to go for anyway. If everything plays well, I may be able to start riding this thing yet this week.

Well, assuming you can believe the FedEx Tracker, which I do not. Just sayin'!

Breaking The Mold: You know, I have opined here before about carbon fiber, "me-too" frames coming out of the woodwork from all sorts of outlets that seem to have similar "DNA" to each other. In other words, they seem to be designed in a somewhat conservative manner and sold via Chinese or other outlets with minor tweaks to distinguish one from the other. I find all of that to be rather boring and un-inventive. I mean, anyone can order from a menu, and to my mind, it belies the potential of using carbon fiber composites as a frame material in the first place.

The running line on carbon has always been that the designers and engineers could do whatever shapes that optimized performance that were necessary. You didn't have to be constrained by tubular shapes, limited tube dimensions, or difficulty in forming. Carbon fiber is very labor intensive, and thus, usually expensive. However; imagine if a wild, multi-shaped frame set could be produced to address all the inefficiencies in 29"er frame design. Then the price might just be worth the performance gained. Maybe the full potential of composites technology could be brought to bear to elevate performance, and not mimic the look of a steel cruiser rendered in carbon fiber.

Well, finally we're starting to see something like this with the Chiru Bikes I reported on, and with these images released by Giant of their upcoming XtC Composite 29"er. Giant appears to have taken a "clean sheet" approach to hard tail 29"er design with a material that allows what otherwise would be impossible to render in metal. Offset down tube, asymmetrical chain stays, and massive looking tube shapes. You may have seen some of this on road bikes, or full suspension designs, but never on such a big wheeled machine has this been seen before.I have a link to more on the Twenty Nine Inches post about this bike here.

<==image poached from the Salsa Cycles blog.

Frostbike '11: happens that I'll be seeing some other new, fun stuff this coming weekend up at Quality Bicycle Product's annual dealer only show, Frostbike. This also means that another recent tradition that sprang up a couple of years ago will also take place again. That would be the hanging out at Mike's Bikes in Northfield, MN with Ben Witt, and friends. There will be merriment of a different sort this time though, and you can look for reports on all of that coming this weekend from the source of the action.

This year promises to be a good one from the looks of it, if you are into 29"ers, so stay tuned and look forward to my reports here and on Twenty Nine Inches. One of the new rigs I hope to be reporting on is the new Mamasita, (image in red shown here), which has always been close to my heart, as it was the introduction of the original Mamasita to me at a Salsa event held out at the Boy Scout Camp that I got to know Gnat and Kid a bit better. That was a great weekend that I'll not forget, and that memory is tied to the Mamasita for me. I know I am looking forward to seeing that bike, and the rest of the goods, and most importantly- the people, this weekend.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Off Road Drop Bar Comparison: Part II

In my last look at off road drop bars, I did not have a Woodchipper handy to use as a comparison sample, and I also noted it was a heck of a lot different than most bars, other than the new Ragley Bikes Luxy Bar. Well, if you missed that post, you can read it here. This go round, I have a Pro Moto 31.8mm bar clamp diameter 46cm wide Woodchipper and a Luxy Bar to compare head to head with each other. Let's take a quick look.....

Here we have the Luxy Bar out front (330gm) and the Woodchipper in the background (330gm). Although both feature pretty dramatically swept drop sections, the big differences are readily apparent here.

The "flare" outwards of the drops on the Luxy is classic off road drop bar fare. The Woodchipper almost looks like it is bent inwards, (but it isn't, it is a trick of the perspective here), and you can also see the top of the Luxy is 31.8mm all the way across to each drop section. Finally, the Luxy is about 1 1/2" wider over-all from tip to tip, than the Woodchipper. The Luxy is the widest off road drop I know of at 27.5" wide!

Before we leave the front view, I want to point out that the Woodchipper will allow your levers to be the closest to a traditional road bike drop bar set up position that any off road drop bar can offer. The nearly vertical drop section keeps the levers almost straight up and down, albeit canted inwards, so if you value the hood position due to road bike experience, the Woodchipper is closest of anything you'll find next to the Gary II Bar from the first post. (I haven't tried the Gary II yet, but I will get that on a bike soon and give a report when I do.)

As I say, it is really hard to take a photo of a Woodchipper and not make it look bent inwards. Here is my best attempt. The bar makes a slight "S" shape as it drops from the top to the extension, and this area is in-line with the swept extension, as you can sort of make out here. The Luxy Bar has a much more dramatic "S" shape as the bar goes from the top to the extension.

The Luxy Bar lays your levers sideways a bit, and with STI shifting, the levers almost seem like an STI Mountain lever. It is easy to use, but the hoods are canted due to this and may offend those who crave a traditional hoods position. That said, the Luxy sets the hoods up high enough to make the hoods very usable and yet you can grab the brake lever easily from the drops. This is due to the minimal drop the Luxy has.

And here is the shape of the drops, or "hooks". You can see that the Luxy has a generous "reach" or "ramp" area on top. Yet it also has a generous drop extension as well. One very important thing to note here though is how the drop extension and "ramp" are in relation to each other.

On the Woodchipper, the drop extension is not even close to being parallel to the ramp section. This "opened" hook shape means that most Woodchipper set ups will end up having the drop section pointing downwards and back towards the rear axle, or below. This is because in order to get a ramp that you can have any sort of comfortable hand position on, you necessarily have to rotate the bar from where I have it setting on the table counter-clockwise so that the ramp flows nicely into your hoods. If  you are having trouble wrapping your mind around that, look at the Luxy Bar's ramp section. See how it is closer to being level? Now what would you have to do to get the Woodchipper that way up top? (See what I mean?)

Here is the Luxy Bar on my Badger 29"er. Note how the hoods transition into the bar. (The "ramp" section) Now look at the brake lever tip. Still a great reach from the drops. Even though the Luxy technically has more "drop" than a Woodchipper, the Woodchipper in this case would have the back of the extensions pointing severely downward, and therefore would have more effective drop than this Luxy Bar does.

The Luxy still gives you a slight downward tilt to the drop extensions, but no where near as dramatic as a Woodchipper's. The sweep on both of these bars is effectively the same, and in that sense they feel identical to grip from the saddle.

Conclusions: The differences between these two bars is enough that they are each unique to use. I like the Woodchippers lever set up for single speed use, extension length, sweep, and I really like the width the Woodchipper has between the levers on the tops for grinding out long, seated climbs. The Luxy Bar has a better grip in the hooks, at least to my tastes, and the less severe slope to the drop extensions keeps things more comfortable when I ride on the back end of the extensions. I don't like the narrower tops on the Luxy, and that is a shame, since having a constant 31.8mm grip across that top is sweet. I just wish for more room, but that is a minor nit. Oddly enough, the Luxy Bar seems more compliant than the Pro Moto Woodchipper does. I like that. Shifting a STI lever is actually more pleasant on the Luxy Bar due to the way the levers are canted by the drops. The Woodchipper does come in a bit narrower, and even in a smaller width, (42cm), and in a 25.4mm clamp diameter. More versatility there.

In the end, I would say that the Luxy Bar is a worthy foil to a Woodchipper, which I considered to be the best off road drop before the Luxy Bar hit the scene. Now? It is a toss up. I really like them both, but for different reasons. More ride time on the Luxy Bar may refine my ideas, but for now, I would highly recommend either of these bars for off road pursuits.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Of Successes And Failures

<===Confidence betrayed.

As reported last week, I received the Snow Dog's correct Phil Wood hubbed wheel after the Phil Wood & Co. had supposedly repaired it. failed. 

First few pedal strokes: Pop......snap......pop! Okay.....not so good, but maybe things will smooth over. Well, after riding 5 miles to work, I had almost a dozen instances of loud, popping noises occurring just after coasting, and immediately after pedaling. This indicated to my mind that the pawls were again not properly engaging the ring drive gear.

On the way home, I counted to keep track. 24 instances of popping. This was so loud and hard that you could feel it right through the cranks. It was obviously already blowing up again after 10 miles. That was on Friday. I sent an e-mail to Phil Wood & Co. letting them know, and sometime today I am to hear about their proposed solution. My thoughts are that Phil Wood & Co. have exemplary customer service, (so far), and normally have exemplary products, (I've heard- this is my first experience with them), so I expect more of the same from their end as far as taking care of me. We'll see, and I'll let ya'all know how it goes down.

Speaking of down- I was very, very disappointed Friday about the deal with the hub. It means that The Snow Dog is through as far as riding for the foreseeable future. Of course, so is the snow. With a week's worth of over-freezing temps on tap, the snow is doomed. Already this weekend it has taken a huge hit. Snow for the Snow Dog is going to be gone anyway by the time the wheel gets figured out. Maybe I'll have it back and running for early season off road/muddy duty.

But there still was good riding to be had, and Saturday, with a warmer feel to the air, I got out the Badger and headed out for a bit of gravel travel to clear out the brain. I got out early enough Saturday that the snow was still prevalent on the roads, which made for excellent, smooth, fast going, not unlike a dry, buff B Maintenance road in the summertime.

Some of the drifts from the winter were huge, just like the last couple of years have had, and gravel was hard to come by since there were so many of these big road-side sentinels along my 30 mile route.

The skies were kind of odd Saturday, with a whitish overcast. This blended into the snowy surroundings at times to give the feeling of floating in a white cloud.

Visually it was blinding, and seeing any contrast in the road surface was difficult. At times, I would run into softer snow and the front tire would get pulled off-line, causing a moment or two of panic as I would try to control the bike. No worries though, as I was just fine for the whole ride. No biffs!

<===There is a fine line between being a "hard-azz" and a "dumb-azz"! 

I was getting a ton of odd looks from just about everyone I came across on this ride. I know some folks credit us wintertime riders with being some sort of "tough-guys", but I also know that the "General Public" thinks pretty much the opposite. If you ever want to know what the Outcasts of Society feel like sometime, I suggest you come along on a February training ride with me. I promise you, you will find Derision and Contempt staring your way along the roadsides and up and down the city streets.   Oh what a feeling!

Well, it was all good for pulling me back out of the dumps and getting my mind on track where it should be. The whole Snow Dog thing will work out eventually.

Tomorrow, I'll have more on the comparisons between the Luxy Bar and Salsa Cycles Woodchipper.