Wednesday, August 31, 2011

News And New Stuff

More Eurobike Meanderings: As if yesterday's post wasn't enough..... Anyway, I see one of the "big news items" of the day was Ibis' outing of their much rumored 29"er project. Thankfully, they didn't name it the Mojo 29.

Ibis Ripley 29: Yes- all carbon fiber!
Nope, instead they pulled another older name out of the hat, and that would be "Ripley". I think it will most likely fit the bike rather well.

Why? Because with a 120mm fork, the head angle will be 71 degrees. I already have a bike that does that, (albeit heavier, and far less sexy), in the Big Mama. Yes, the rear travel is less on the Salsa, but my point is about handling, and this bike will be a very snappy handling bike, judging from the numbers.

Which isn't always a good thing to do, (judging by geometry charts, that is), and yes- it is green lighted for a 140mm fork, which would get you back to 69.5 degrees. Not very earth shattering there. In fact, that's about what a Rumblefish gets you. Okay, so Ibis hasn't bought into the "slacker is better" geometry-du-jour that 29"er nerds are calling for. It'll still be a great bike, I'm sure, and it is definitely going to be a technological tour de force.

Plus, it'll appeal to a wider audience. Always an important factor with a high priced rig that needs to show some results for Ibis. 

Oh Yeah! Eurobike.... See this is what I was talking about yesterday. Ibis slipped the info, not at a North American show, but at Eurobike. Yup. That's what I'm talking about......

A couple more interesting tidbits: The "Show Daily", an electronic newsletter about the day's biggest newsy bits, mentioned how American dealers are going to Eurobike. Why? Is it because it is cooler, with better new stuff to see, and you get to go to Europe? You tell me.... Also, I was speaking with a prominent Mid-Western based rep yesterday who mentioned that only about 5% of his dealers in his territory are going to Lost Wages  to attend Interbike. Wow! Are the two things connected? Most likely not. But it is an interesting observation, none the less.

And Speaking Of Carbon...Completely off topic here, and a break from all the industry babble- I picked up a sweet deal on a carbon Trek fork for my "Orange Crush" rig, and will be trying it out very soon. I hope to get a bit of a test ride in on it tomorrow. Just an experiment here, to gauge the differences between the steel and carbon. I'll report on the findings later.

Another thing about carbon that is amazing- All the carbon hard tail intros at Eurobike, (and the as yet to be covered Interbike, which will surely add to the pile), are mind boggling in their numbers. I bet that at least double the amount of carbon hard tail 29"ers that were in existence last year have already debuted at Eurobike. Crazy! Wanna know something else? Strip the paint jobs off and a lot of them look veery similar.  Just sayin' I think that it is rather odd. You have to wonder what the marketing departments are thinking now that all the curtains have been raised on these things.

Whoops! I did it again. Talked about this danged industry show stuff and carbon fiber. Okay. Shutting up now.....

Tomorrow I promise to write about something totally different!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lift The Lid

Well, the show in Europe has started. It's the defacto introduction show for anything worth checking out in the cycling world these days. In fact, Interbike is "just another show" these days with little "news" to show for itself.

In fact, some American based brands will drag all their stuff to Europe and not even show their wares at Interbike at all. That should speak volumes, by the way.

So, what's big?

New Moots MX Divide FS 29"er
Well, like I've been saying all along, it's 29"ers. Euro brands are showing them like crazy, and American based brands are showing new models there for the first time, totally bypassing the North American market place for their debuts.

Think I'm wrong? well, have you ever heard of the MX Divide 100mm travel Moots? No....because it is debuting at Eurobike. I'm not sore about that. I just think it points out a few salient things about 29"ers in particular, and the cycling market in general.

Obviously, manufacturers see a huge, untapped potential for "something new" in mountain bikes for Europeans to chew on. The time is ripe too. Europeans have seen one of their own Continentals winning World Cup XC races on 29"ers now, and others are using big wheelers as well. The German federation sanctioned 29"ers for racing only fairly recently, and weights of complete rigs have finally come down to acceptable levels, thanks in part to years of pushing the market here in the U.S. The marketplace is primed, and the manufacturers are rushing in with hard tails and full suspension rigs to satiate the perceived desire. By the sounds of things, the Demo day for Eurobike was slammed with 29"ers out almost the entire day.

Secondly, I see something that isn't being talked about a whole lot, but I can't help but wonder if this doesn't have some bearing on the trade show aspect of the cycling industry. If you had a choice of going to Fredrichshafen Germany, or Las Vegas, Nevada, which would you choose? (Thinking in terms of cycling here.) Cycling economy is world-wide now. Not showing at one, smaller show isn't going to be seen as being a bad deal anymore these days. Especially when U.S. dealers are so intimately courted by the bigger companies, (QBP with Frostbike, Saddledrive, Giant with The Link, Specialized, Raleigh, and Trek doing dealer invitationals, and others as well), so going to Interbike isn't all that necessary. For sure, manufacturers seem to agree by their actions.

If someone were to build a huge pavilion for shows, and had enough lodging with a near by airport in a picturesque setting amongst the mountains in the U.S., maybe things would be different. But it doesn't exist here, and it does in southern Germany. Enough so that it seems to be getting to be the place folks would rather be. Just my opinion. I could be all wrong about that, but if I could swing either show in terms of time and money, I know where I'd be headed to.

Anyway, back to what the "big deal" is at Eurobike. Carbon fiber hard tails are being shown all over the place! (I know.....I'm floored as well!

Besides the obvious, the only other big deal there appears to be the second coming of the moped, otherwise known as the electric bicycle, or "e-bike" for short. Bosch will be showing its newest e-bike technology which will hurtle you down the road, (or bicycle trail, I would assume), at a blistering 28 miles per hour.

That's the thing about these "bicycles". They really are mopeds, and at the speeds these things can be easily modded to go at, they find themselves marginalized here in the U.S. Too slow for normal traffic use, and too fast for safe use on bicycle paths, where the average speed of users is quite likely half of what Bosch's new e-bike stuff is capable of.

But, that's the big deal over there.

So, the lid has been lifted. More on what crawls out later in the week.

Carbon Hard Tails Are "It" For 2012, But Don't Forget This......

An example of carbon done well.
I've said it here before, and it is true. Carbon hard tails for 29"ers in 2012 is the big story that will come out of the Eurobike and Interbike shows. Whatever you might think about carbon bikes, they are viable and here to stay. We may as well get used to that.

And I like the material if its potential is maximized in a design. Carbon for "carbon's sake" is going to happen though. Heavier, stiffer, deader. This sort of feeling I have felt in old carbon road frames and it isn't very fun, comfortable, or inspiring. You could say the same thing about cheaper aluminum frames and even cheap steel frames can have that type of "dead", lifeless feeling and usually poor handling to go along with it.

But there are great handling, fun to ride carbon fiber bikes out there, and some of them are even 29"ers! I would stick my Specialized Stumpjumper Expert carbon in that group. Nice feeling ride. Stiffer than some, but weirdly smooth as well. Hard to 'splain it. But that's the sort of "magic" that carbon fiber is supposed to bring. Like any material- It can be done right, or wrong.

The Milwaukee 29"er: Might be seeing a nuther one soon!
But Don't Forget The "Classics":

In all the carbon "hoopla" you will see and hear for the coming year, it should be noted that steel framed 29"ers have not gone the way of the dodo bird. Nope! They still are quietly being pumped out and I'll tell ya- They are still impressing riders out there. 

Again, one can certainly scorn steel bikes as being too heavy, technologically behind the times, (Not many tapered head tubes or PressFit BB-30's here!), and just....skinny! However; these beasts are still being pumped out, and riding just peachy, thank you very much. Some folks will like the "standard" components that most steel rigs still use, and some will gravitate toward the more, well.......gravity oriented hard tails that are being produced now as well.

Yup! Big wheeled, longer travel forked steel all mountain rigs are already out there too. While those may have a limited appeal, the XC/Trail hard tail in steel, done well, is a joy to be riding on. Easy to take care of with a known failure mode. That's a nice bit of "peace of mind" that some folks will find attractive, for sure.

All I know is that a good, well designed bit of steel is a whole lot of fun to ride on. I am sure glad that we get carbon fiber wunder-bikes  to look at and ride on, but give me a great steel bike and I might not ever come back to look at carbon again. Something about that stuff. Like I said about carbon, it is true for steel as well- hard to 'splain it!

Trans Iowa V8: New Header For The Site!

Well, another year of Trans Iowa is under way. Usually around this time I get my old co-worker, friend, and Trans Iowa founder Jeff Kerkove to design me up a new header for the site.

He has graciously responded by doing some really great graphic design work for Trans Iowa. This year is no exception, and I think it is pretty hilarious.

Again, we'll see if it causes any issues, but seeing as how we are not selling anything, I think it will be okay.

Things are heating up on the cycling show side of my web work, so anything T.I.V8 related will be put off till later in September. By then I want to nail down exactly where we will be based out of , and get going on the route.

There has been some discussion in regards to moving from Grinnell, but nothing is set in stone yet. Got an opinion bout that? Any ideas? Hit the comments and let me know.

More T.I.V8 stuff later in September. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Calm Before The Storm

A beautiful day to single speed
Saturday I rode with someone I hadn't ridden with in a long, long time. Rich and I have been trying to get together for a ride for a long time, but with both of our families and busy schedules, we couldn't make it work out.....easily!

As with anything, you need to  put in a bit of effort some times to get good results. Well, Saturday was a "good result" and I am glad it happened.

Rich is someone I have known for a long time, but nearly well enough, and definitely not often enough. He was involved with Advantage Cyclery at one point, and if you remember "Bike Shop Tales", you might remember me mentioning him in one or two of those posts.  Rich was the first person I ever rode a tandem with, oddly enough. He also was a fun person to ride with back then.

This time we weren't grinding up a steep single track pitch into Pfieffer Park in Cedar Falls, (yes locals, this was before the paved bicycle trails!), but we were at the Camp's South Side. I expected to be showing Rich, whose first time it was being there, a great ride on fast, buff trails. However; inexplicably we were coming across huge blow downs. It was really puzzling, since we haven't had a storm out there with wind since I last rode there on Wednesday. It was perfect then, but Saturday there were at least two large trees down, and several dead and live branches.

Rich and I bull-dogged a bunch of it off there, breaking off branches, and pushing things aside enough to get by where we could. So, we not only got a ride in, but some resistance training as well! We came across Paul who was out there maintaining the trails, (Thanks!), and the offending foliage should be removed or routed around by now.

The rest of Saturday was chill,  and Sunday I took a casual ride around with my son. I just felt it was a good time to spend with family, since this week I will be getting buried with Eurobike, then Interbike comes September 12th. Lots of crazy, busy stuff will be going on here before it gets as calm as it is now.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Time For A Concept Bike! Part V

Inspiration: BMC #42
I figured I would use this space on weekends to do the updates, (when I have them), on the Project Gravel Bike.

The latest is that I will be doing a design with some input from a close friend and then plans will be drawn up to base measurements off of. That's the next action I am taking, at any rate.

Then it will be time to make a few concrete decisions. Stuff like lugs, fork crowns, and tubing have to be decided on and then purchased. Some discussion has already taken place in this regard. Sounds like a plate crown fork is being discussed. I like those a lot!

The builder says he'll likely be doing a frame alongside this one, and by the sounds of it, I'll be doing much of the work on this frame for myself. So, look for updates periodically as I get things rolling here with this gravel bike.

Oh, and as for "Orange Crush", I want you all to know I still really like that frame, and once I get the new frame readied, BMC #42 will become a single speed again.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


After yesterday's, (and the day before that!), bombardment of "fat" stuff, it was time to let the battered brain cells soak it all in. Some of that was helped along by having a couple of conversations with Ben Witt.

Not built up yet....Soon though!
Ben called and we chatted about the tires, and all the possibilities! Fat bike cruisers, fat bike cargo rigs, fat bike rock crawlers, and of course, fat bikes in winter, were all topics we covered.

You know, these are not "just for snow" anymore. (Well, they never have been just for snow, right Marty?) Throw on some Black Floyd tires and ride paved surfaces, smooth dirt, gravel, and sand all day long. Put on the Nate 3.8's and claw your way up unthinkable climbs. Or squeeze into some ridiculously humongous Big Fat Larrys and float over......well, just about whatever you'd want to, I guess! The choices have become mind-boggling.

By the way, it has been decided that I shall build my wheels with Ben up in Faribault over the Labor Day weekend. So, look for some fat riding goodness after that point on my new hubs.

More Conversations: And today I'll likely broach the subject of the gravel grinder rig with the builder as we are riding together tomorrow. It should prove to be an interesting journey, building this frame. I think it will be pretty fun.

Next week is Eurobike already Holy Cow! I'm gonna be really busy with posts and then I'm off to Interbike September 11th. Not too far away! Man! Next thing ya know it's going to be October. Crazy!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bonus Post! New OBP Brand 45North Announces Fat Tire!

I've been aware that a new Quality Bicycle Products brand was being developed aroun the idea of cold weather riding called "45North". I figured it would be about gear and clothing, which it is, but they dropped this bomb on facebook today about a fat bike tire.

This on the heels of Surly's downlaod I reported on yesterday, and it would appear that the fat bike is poised to make huge in roads into cycling.....or fail miserably! 

I'm betting it'll do quite nicely!  I am excited about this tire, since it seems to be the bicycle equivalent of "Blizzak" tires for cars. Siped knobs get better grip, and a more open pattern to disperse snow makes sense for my winter commutes.

This tire is supposed to hit just before winter here. I can't wait to slap a pair of these on the Snow Dog!

"Big" News

Well, if you have been living under a rock lately, I can forgive your ignorance, but those that read this blog surely know that I have become a recent convert to "fat biking", which I can blame my Salsa Cycles Mukluk for, (bum hub or no). Well, now that love has been seriously stoked!

Moonlander- Seriously fat!
Yep! There it be. The 4.7" tires, the steel frame, and the "Surly" moniker in the scrawled script. Feast yer eyes on the largeness.

Obviously, some folks will be stumbling all over themselves to get one of these. I am mildly intrigued. There are some things I can embrace about this bike. Other things are just......well, very Surly-ish. 

Surly stuck with 135mmOLD hubs front and rear necessitating a monstrous 28mm offset to the frame and wheels. This so it could clear the 2 X 9 drive train, which itself is customized to fit the frame and purposes of the bike. That is cool. But......I have found that I use a triple quite frequently. 

The Moonlander may swing me over yet. I'll wait to see about it after Interbike and hopefully, a test ride.

100mm wide
I'm more excited for the Clownshoe rims, which are 100mm wide. That's 18mm wider than my current Rolling Darryl rims. I think these in combination with a Endomorph rear and Big Fat Larry in front might be the ticket to the "slightly more float" that I craved for last winter. Plus, I am reasonably sure that this would fit my current Mukluk, and, er.......something else I have up my sleeve!

Then there are the tires. The "Black Floyd", which is a wide, smoother treaded tire, looks perfect for gravel, pavement, or smoother surfaces where treaded tires make less sense on a fat bike. 

The "Nate", a really heavily knobbed 3.8 incher, looks to be the perfect rock crawling tire for El Paso fat biking, or on real off road rides where grip is needed. I can totally see having all these tires in the arsenal for my fat bike. (And future fat bikes. Yes- there will be more!)

So, the tire and rim offerings coming out make more sense to have for my needs in terms of the fat bike stuff.

Surly Ogre 29"er
I may retire my '03 Karate Monkey. Hold all will make sense here in a minute! 

You see, I've been wondering how long my '03 KM is going to hold out. I would be sorely heartbroken if it broke, or failed in some other way. The BB is stuck in it, and I know it is knocking now, which isn't a good sign.

Now I see the Ogre. This is Surly's take on a 700c/29"er Troll, which is there "utility bike". I basically have put the KM into "utility mode" for the past several years, but it isn't ideally suited to that purpose. For instance, the KM has no rack mounts, no real good fender mounts, and I can't really love that rear drop out/disc brake set up. Never have. The Ogre solves all that and has trailer capabilities as well.

I have all the parts to build one now. I just would be adding a rack, and off I would go doing "lite errands". This would also become my foul weather commuter, and I could totally see an Alfine 11 speed hub on this one. Add the Alfine generator hub up front, and it's all done. A total, go anywhere, anytime rig for my commute/errand needs. My '03 KM would be returned to mtb duty then? Not so fast!

2012 Karate Monkey

Enter the 2012 Karate Monkey. It has ditched the cantilever posts, (finally!), and Surly lightened up the fork a bit.

The other changes made throughout the years since 2003 have also been retained: Different butted tubing, newer, nicer rear drop outs, "braced" top tube for better stand over, and continuous housing cable runs. Nice things to have, and I would like that.

Now I would transfer over a lot of the stuff from the current KM set up, retain the single speed deal, drop bar, and us it for single track. It wouldn't cost me much extra beyond the frame.

My current KM would be hung from the wall. It has served me well all these years, and this would give me time to carefully remove the bottom bracket at some point, after hours, days, and perhaps months of soaking in some magic elixir!

At any rate, Surly has really brought out some very interesting stuff for 2012. It will take a while to process all of this. And ya know what? They haven't shown us everything up their sleeve yet either......

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Past, Present, And Future

The Past: I was going through some Facebook posts yesterday when I came upon a link that I found fascinating. It had a connection with last weekend's Gravel Worlds that were held in the Lincoln, Nebraska vicinity.

The Krull House, circa 2005
The fellas from War Axe Bikes wanted to help out with the Gravel Worlds this year, so they hatched a plan to host a "secret checkpoint" on the course. It turned out that the choice was an old limestone structure that was a pioneer home called the "Frederick Krull House".

The story behind the old limestone farm house is fascinating, and what I found ultimately inspiring was the dedication that the new owner, Matt Steinhausen, has for restoring this structure, and what is more, the history behind it.

You just don't see this sort of thing often enough in this country, and I think that preserving the history, and making it real by living in the house, (which is eventually the plan), is extraordinary. Click the link, but be prepared to read a bit! If you find rural, pioneer history and the efforts to preserve it interesting, it is a must read.

For me, it is just another reminder of the things you will see and learn about by gravel grinding. Getting "off the highway" and seeing the land, getting in touch with the people, and experiencing things from that perspective is just really refreshing, at least for myself. YMMV.

Finally, I found it really cool that the Pirate Cycling League guys and War Axe Bikes think to give these gravel events a bit of a historical and local flavor. I know that is something I always hope folks take away from Trans Iowa events. Cheers to the good guys and gals of Lincoln!

The Present: Yeasterday I went to Cedar Bend for my ride since we got dumped on by a good amount of rain on Monday. Things were really good there.

The Stumpjumper Expert Carbon rig I rode is one of my favorite bikes. I rode it about 4 laps there and it just rips around the corners, (with the proper amount of "body English"), and goes up climbs like crazy if you've got enough motor to do it.

I like testing wheels on this bike, because I know if I feel anything giving way, it isn't this frame! This thing doesn't flex much, if at all. Not that I notice anyway. The thing is, it doesn't "zing" you like aluminum does. Funny stuff, this carbon fiber, and I am surprised I have grown to like a carbon frame as much as I do this one.It's kind of ironic too, since I would characterize myself as being a "steel kinda guy" and having some "retro-grouchy" tendencies.

The Future: Which leads me into another interesting thought I came across from Dave Nice. He asked if carbon fiber frames will ever be thought of as "classic" in the same vein as steel frames from the early days of mountain biking.

2012 Breezer Lightning 29 (Steel!)
Maybe, but only if they (a) survive, (b) are unique, and not a "catalog bike" from a Chinese distributor or carbon factory, and (c), have imparted some special ride quality that is noteworthy. Something that is "first", or "last", or "considered best" in carbon fiber might be a consideration as well.

So sure- Carbon frames of some sort will be revered for some reason down the road. I could see the early Fisher branded Superfly as being one of those bikes, or maybe even the Specialized I have now. Maybe.

The thing is, the market is so fickle, who knows? Maybe carbon frames will all somehow be disqualified for being too, well........plasticky.   If anyone did know, they would be stashing away whatever it is by now! I guess if I had to pick, I would say no. Carbon, unless it was something really revolutionary, is not going to be considered "classic" like a Willits, the Karate Monkey, (In Campstove Green!), or the first year of Fisher's Super Caliber 29"ers.

Well, we can all look back in 20 years and see what happened, right? See ya down the trail......

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Time For A Concept Bike! Part IV

Well......way back when, like last NovemberI floated an idea for a bike specifically built for gravel grinding. I was at that time being teased along the lines of a such a bike by a small brand that had asked my opinions, and then promptly dropped all my considerations and went an entirely different direction.

Then I struck out on a "get by" plan, and ended up with the BMC #42 Monster Cross model I dubbed "Orange Crush"

It's a good un!
While I've been putting in lots of mileage on this bike, I've been keeping the "project bike' in the back of my mind all along. Little nits, and good things filed away for the time when I was ready to get the custom rig under way.

I think the fit and some other major considerations are really close with this bike. The handling is very close. Ol' Orange Crush does a lot of things very, very well for me.

Then there are a couple of things I am wanting to tweak, and one thing I really want to do that I've started to notice more and more of on smartly built gravel specific rigs.

  • First, I want to slacken the head angle about a half degree with a similar fork off set to the BMC. This should provide the skosch  more stability I am craving. The BMC is oh-so-close. 
  • I want to lower the bottom bracket a bit. Not a lot, but definitely I want more bottom bracket drop than the BMC has. This will also lend a more stable feel. It also will have the effect of setting me a hair more "into" the bike. 
  • The big thing, which I am starting to notice guys doing, is to have a track end type drop out with a derailleur hangar, like this. I might not need that much throw, but to be able to single speed the bike in an emergency seems to be an important thing in gravel grinding, and I don't need "swift rear wheel changes", so if it is a bit fiddly, I wouldn't mind. Truth is, I've had a bicycle with similar drop outs in a Klein Attitude, circa 1992. 
So, with these basic ideas, and my other parameters like 42mm tires with clearance, maybe rack mounts out back, and fender mounts, (Yes Ben, fender mounts!), I am going to look at getting the ball rolling here this fall, or early winter. Depends on how things shake out.

A casual conversation at the shop one day led to a connection I had in the past which has developed into a verbal agreement to have a local builder help put this dream into reality. In fact, I may end up actually doing some of the work! 

Scary, I know!

So, stay tuned later this year for little updates to what I hope will become my gravel grinder project.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are We Just Too Big To Be A Cycling Nation?

Last week I had an interesting conversation with Dan, one of the fantastic reps we have come in to the shop where I work. We talked about a lot of things, but it was the subject of commuting that grabbed my attention.
It's a big, big country!
Dan has a territory to cover with his job that doesn't allow for "commuting by bicycle" much. And obviously, doing work in a multi-state territory is going to require an expedient way to get from one retail shop to another. At least for face-to-face relations.

But what about folks that live in cities? Well, even then you run into obstacles. Dan had a great example where a couple, strapped for employment, had to find jobs in different cities, which made for a decision to live in a town in between the two jobs. The distance is too great to make cycling a practical choice for them. And then there are cities where folks live so far away from the employment centers that traveling by bicycle would just consume too much time.

Are we just too big of a country to be a commute by bicycle nation?

I think it is a fair question. The way this country grew up, with its vastness and open lands being plentiful, it lent itself to "spreading out", as opposed to the close, centralized villages and towns that are common in older countries. The "spreading out" of America is still happening. Just look where towns and cities grow. It is at the fringes, mostly, while at the center, things decay.

Doing Things By Bicycle
Of course, there are exceptions. Portland, Minneapolis, and even my local communities are making strides to revitalize the metro-centers and install bicycle infrastructure that promotes doing things by bicycle.

Doing things by bicycle in communities is great, but "commuting to work" by bicycle is where things seem to get more difficult.  Distances to employers seems to be a great factor in why folks don't, or won't commute by bicycle. Is this a detriment to doing any commuting by bicycle for most folks? I don't think it has to be.

Obviously, where there is a will, there is a way. Dan, for instance, travels to bigger cities, then uses a bicycle to visit different clients in that city. Another blogger I know used trains and bicycles in his commute on the west coast. Maybe we should start thinking more in terms of "hybrid-commuting". Maybe using a combination of bicycles with other forms of mass transit, or commuting partially by vehicle.

Whatever it is, cycling will have to be seen as being something practical, useful, and smart before it is seen a "cycling as we cyclists know it". In other words, to get these folks commuting, at least in part, by bicycle, there will have to be some economic/cultural incentive. Just expecting everyone to be "bitten by the bug" is a bit too utopian.

This country just doesn't cotton to dreams without a consideration to its harsh realities.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What I Missed And What I Didin't

Well, with the summer almost gone, there are some things I am thinking about that I haven't done. I really, really want to do these things, but either it is too late, or I chose something else, or fate wasn't in my corner. Oh well......

Malcom, NE
Gravel Worlds were this past weekend, and that was one of the deals I really wanted to get to. More for the folks down that way than for the riding, but the riding is fantastic. Lincoln cycling folks are top notch. I have always been welcomed there and treated great by those people and I know I am not the only one that feels that way.

Things just didn't swing the right way for me to get there this year, but I did get to ride my bicycle with my son, and spent a bunch of time with my family, which is always a good trade off.

In fact, I rode my Snow Dog. It never ceases to amaze me. The looks people give me, and the comments I get while riding that bike. Awesome! Oddly enough, I rode one of Ben Witt's 36"ers around town for a couple of months and no one batted an eyelash! Weird.

Sawyer In The Morning Light
I also got out on Saturday to ride in Geo Wyth State Park. I checked out the Alice Wyth Lake section of trails and they were super fast.

Yes......there were spiders. Not as many as what you'd have to deal with on a Saturday morning at The Camp this time of year, but there were some anyway.

The funny thing about the trails out there is that while most re-furbished or newer trails are just fine, I came across a ludicrously tight section of trail that, well......defies description. I can't say what was going on in the minds of those that put that chunk of trail in, but it folds back on itself so tightly that riding it, or running it makes it seem as though you are on a dirt version of a bad merry-go-round. I know it seems sometimes like some things would be a good idea while walking a trail, but put yourself on a bicycle, or run it, and it all becomes a very different story.

The good news is that it is a very short bit of trail, and there is a optional pass-by. Crazy. Besides that section, I say "well done" to those who worked hard in putting the trails in and fixing the old ones up. That Alice Wyth section rips. Good stuff.

Okay, I still have a lot of the year left, and many things to do. I hopefully will get some of these things checked off my list before the year ends. I'm going to be quite busy, I am.

And then there is Trans Iowa to think about.........

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A 29"er Hauler

I have been using a Thule T2 rack on our vehicles for several years now. The fold-up rear hitch mount rack could hold two 29"ers, albeit just barely. Especially if they had big tires. Well, I finally had to replace my rack due to severe rust, (don't leave yer rack on all winter long, ya dufus!), and I went for the T2 rack again. Guess what? It's been updated!

Rack folded up
Rack folded down!
Looks pretty much the same, eh? Well, there are a few details that set this one apart from the older T2. This time Thule recognized that 29"ers are a force to be reckoned with, and allowed for more travel on the ratcheting arm that secures your front wheel. No more grazing the front tire, or pushing down on it to gain clearance.

The next thing they did was to install integrated locking cables to secure the frame on the ends of the ratcheting wheel  holder. You simply pull out the cable from the end of the tube, and it retracts when you unlock it from your bike. (Note: The original place for lock cylinders on the base of the ratcheting wheel holder is still there, but lock cylinders for those are not supplied.) So, you can lock each bike to the rack, and a separate key and lock cylinder now comes with the T2 to lock the hitch pin to the hitch as well. Nice!

Getting Close There!
What's Not So Nice? Well, as with the previous T2 I had, the wheel tray might get into the rear bumper cover of certain vehicles in the folded up position. This is an issue with our 2003 Highlander. I had to trim a significant portion of the tray off to clear the bumper on the old rack. This shows how close it is on my "Truck With No Name". I couldn't put my index finger in between the bumper and the tray without pinching a bit. The other thing I noted was that my fat bike won't fit on this rack either.

Looks like I may have a project making some Snow Dog compatible wheel trays for the T2!

Over all though, the T2 does work great. It folds up out of the way when not in use, and you can drop it down to get access to the back of vehicles with hatch backs, or to lower the end gate on a truck. (My truck's end gate clears like a champ.) You don't have to remove wheels from bikes, so through axles are no issue, and nothing touches your frame, unless you use the locking cables.

The rack doesn't sway around, is stable, and is reasonably weather resistant. (Don't be stupid like me and leave it on all winter though!) You can even get a two bike extension for the T2, increasing capacity to 4 bikes. The T2 holds bikes from 20"ers to 29"ers, and is adjustable for wheel base.

Expect to pay something well north of 4 hundred bucks for one of these. I say it is well worth the dollars if you take seriously long trips with bikes, or just appreciate a nice, secure, easy to use rack.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday News And Views

Fat: It Isn't Just For Snow Anymore: I have been getting very inspired to ride my Mukluk recently, despite the clack, snap, and pop, of the dreaded hub. I have been dreaming of big adventures as I ride my Snow Dog to work and then back home again, trying to hit all the dirt and gravel bits I can along the way.
In Dirt Or On Snow: Awesome!
I first was getting stoked from this thread on called "Iceland Trip Report". The imagery is off the hook cool, and fat bikes are strewn throughout doing what they do best.

Another place I have been getting fat bike stoke is from GNAT on his blog here, and also now on the Salsa Cycles blog here. The recent trip to ride beaches along Alaskan coastline is another jaw droppingly great look at what fat bikes are capable of and where you can ride them.

First off, after you are done being amazed by the scenes in these trip recounts, I would submit to you that fat bikes are not "snow bikes". Sure, that's what they were originally intended to be, but they are capable all terrain bikes in their own right. I gotta say, I wish I had thought about it that way years ago now when I saw my first Pugsley. If you are holding back on getting one of these because you think, "I'll only use it in winter", you should re-think that position. Especially in light of the evidence. Fat bikes can do it all.

Get Yer 5G Commuter Bike (Yeah right!)
The Fastest Commuter Bike In The World (Really!)

Okay folks, rant mode ON!

You know, and I know that commuting by bicycle  is good stuff for people and the planet. I think anyone that buys this (gulp!) $5500.00 bike, and rides the bejeebees out of it, is awesome and should be cheered on.

But.......five plus G for a commuter bike? This isn't going to be a bike that gets "more butts on bikes" (Sorry QBP, but I'm borrowing that phrase for this post, okay?), but it is going to get some folks a bike that is "cool" and maybe will be added to the other rigs in the stable, or decorate some wealthy persons garage.

I don't know, but these exercises in style are okay, but let's get the folks not on bikes on bikes, ya know? The world doesn't need more "cool, uber-expensive commuter bikes". It needs cheap, reliable, long lasting, utilitarian bikes that will turn people on, not make them wave their hands in disgust at how stupidly expensive commuter bikes are.

Nuff said. Rant mode OFF.....

WTB Pure V Saddle

 Now For Something Good....

I know everyone's butt is different, but I gotta say this WTB Pure V saddle is the best perch for my behind I've yet tried. I could sit and ride on this thing all day long. It is ultra-comfy.

I recommend it for all day, cushy comfort that also doesn't get in the way when you mountain bike. The dropped nose doesn't snag, and the up-turned rear end is great for climbing longer grades. Or, you can skooch up on that padded nose for the steeps. Love Channel action takes the pressure off the nether regions for no numbness. I like feeling things.....uh, sorry! Back to saddles!

WTB also makes my second favorite saddle of all time, the classic SST. This is a better choice for mountain biking when you are in a hurry, or out of the saddle a lot, or both. Shorter rides are great with this one, but I've done all-day gravel grinders on one of my SST's, so they will cover a lot of riding.

As long as we're on the saddle kick, my Number 3 best is a Brooks B-17. Now, you could mountain bike with this, and some folks do, but I like mine on my single speed gravel grinder. Wow! Is it ever a comfortable saddle for long, rough road riding.

All Super-Hero Fabric, Crazy Tech For Yer Hands
Ergon HA-2 Gloves:

Okay, a while back I received these Ergon HA-2 Gloves with the HE-2's I looked at here. I gotta say it: These gloves are weird!

In fact, the gloves were so odd looking, with the shiny "Batman" rubber-like black trim and white rubber-like logo that I just decided I was not going to like these. I mean, they just looked like they would be waaay too hot, and I guess I failed to see how all that rubbery stuff was going to stay put on fabric that was going to stretch every which way from Sunday while I wore them on a bike.

In fact, I figured I'd send them off to my friend in California to try, but they were too small for him. Then the other day, my friend in SoCal and I were chatting about the gloves, and I remembered that I should still have them around. I figured, "Oh well! What the heck! I'll try them."

And you know what? They worked out just fine. Ergon says these are best used with the GA series of grips, and that's just what I used them with. Much of what I said about the HE-2's applies here. Tight, snug fit. Stretches a bit after a couple wearings, very tactile feel, and no nose wiper! What was different?

The wrist closure on this model is waaay better. It doesn't hardly come down onto your wrist, first of all, and the opening is biased so that it mates with the angle of your wrist/hand joint. Impressive and, well........ergonomic!

If you don't mind a "second skin" feeling in regards to gloves, hate bunching up, bad seams, or poor interface with your grips, you should check these out. I'll have to wring them out more before I pass final judgement, but these are interesting mittens, for sure. (Although the "super hero" look is not really growing on me!)

Okay folks! That's it for today. Get out and ride!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Surfing With The Arachnids

Wednesday I got out to The Camp for some single track testing on the Geax Gato tires. As always in August, there is a certain little something one has to deal with if they are the first out on the trails that day.

Surfing A Different Kind Of Web
That would be the terror of the Arachnids, the spider web. These webs get laced across the trail where two trees are close enough together, (only needs to be less than ten feet in most cases), that the insect murderers can sling their webs of death across the open trails. Then, when the sun arises, they hope to have unsuspecting flying insects get caught in the sticky network of nearly invisible silk while the spiders wait patiently in the center.

A mountain bike rider doesn't really stand a chance of seeing these fine works of the Arachnids until it is too late. I have taken my past experiences as a warning though. I went quite slowly on my first circuit through the Camp's South side.

Squinting into the shadows, I could barely make out the gleam of the spider's handiwork before I tore through it. Most webs have their makers residing somewhere on them. As I said, usually in the center, right where your body makes contact with the web as you ride along. I saw several within the first 100 yards in. I would stop, pick up a stick, and looking like a mountain biking version of Harry Potter, I would wave my wooden wand and strike down the offending eight legged creature and then mount up and ride away.

A Likely Spot For Them
There were some sections where the trees were too far apart, or there were open areas, where I could ride without fear of hearing that ripping, zipper like sound of a web being stretched to the breaking point across my face. I could surf along the twisting single track with no worries, but only for a stretch. Then the trees would come together again, the webs would re-appear, and I would be waving my arms in front of me to ward off unseen traps.

I suppose I would have looked pretty spastic out there had anyone other than the couple young deer had seen me. Fortunately, no one did. I made one slow circuit, then it was wide open. I ripped through the turns, the hard pack, Geax Gato tires, and Salsa Cycles Big Mama all working in harmony. Well, now that I figured out the air pressure settings this tire likes!

I was running 20psi rear and in the mid teens up front. Those TNT sidewalls were just getting really happy at these pressures and allowing the tire to work the terrain much better than they would at higher pressures. Even in corners covered in an inch of fine sand, I was getting Velcro-like traction while ripping through the corner. Outstanding!

I'll have more to say about the Gato soon on Twenty Nine Inches.

Hopefully, I'll have no more to say about riding through anymore spider webs!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wheel Building Shall Commence!

I have said several times that I was ready to move on from the debacle with that Phil Wood & Co rear hub for the Snow Dog. Well, the first, really big hurdle was getting my wheel back, which happened a while ago. The next big hurdle was waiting for the matched pairs of Salsa hubs to become available. Guess what......

New Hubs for the Snow Dog
Here they are! I just got these Tuesday, so now I need to score some spokes, and then a wheel building session will take place. Can't wait!

There are several reasons I am excited. Obviously, this rear hub will be much better than the old, crunching, popping, snapping one.

The Snow Dog will be right, for once! And.......I get to build some wheels. I take a good bit of pleasure in that fact. It will be fun to get this together. Building wheels is very enjoyable for me, but maybe I am an oddball that way. (No wait! Don't comment on that! Ha!)

The old hub will be taken care of, one way or the other. I tell ya, I think it is possessed. I was riding it to work Tuesday, and it was doing its normal "snap-pop" deal after every coast, when it suddenly started in to popping on every pedal stroke. Weird! I coasted, started pedaling again, and.......silencio!

For six blocks or so, it was perfect, but then, "snap-pop" came back again, and it even freewheeled a half revolution today, which it hadn't done yet since I got it back. I tell ya. Ya just gotta laugh at this point. It is sooooo ridiculous.

Heck, I won't hardly know what to think if I get a rear wheel that belongs to me in this thing that actually works as it should!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Big News For The Shop

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have caught on that I wrench at Europa Cycle and Ski. I have worked there nearly 9 years now, and was a wrench at a former Cedar Falls shop before this. Well, the shop just made a change yesterday that I think is going to be awesome.
Salsa Cycles Is Coming!

I've been a big fan of Salsa Cycles for a long time. Their recent change to being "adventure focused" follows on my view that "adventuring" will be/is the next big trend in cycling in the U.S. If recent happenings at Salsa are any indication, I think I am right, and they are on to something.

So, a bit of a disclaimer is in order. The shop where I work has been pursuing becoming a Salsa Cycles dealer for the last six months. I suppose I have influenced that to some degree, but I do not own, nor manage the shop where I work. I am "just a mechanic". Okay? Of course, I am thrilled that Europa is a Salsa dealer now, but it wasn't my decision to pull the trigger on this.

Now, when I speak of Salsa Cycles products, I will be reminding you all that now I work at a Salsa Cycles dealership. Just so you know, it doesn't matter from the standpoint of these digital pages whether we are or are not a dealer where I work, but I think being up front about that is what I should do. I will still be giving you my honest opinion on the brand's products.

What It Means For The Shop And Locals: Soon, and I don't know exactly when, Europa will have a nice, entry level selection of Salsa Cycles bicycles. You'll be able to check out Fargo's, a Vaya or two, an El Mariachi, a Mukluk, and a Casseroll.

I think the customers of the shop will really be well served by these models. They offer a lot of things the other lines the shop carries don't, and Salsa's designs work very well.

I'm stoked about this, because I really like my Fargo and my Mukluk. My old '07 El Mariachi is one of my favorite rigs as well. Salsa has other bikes like the upcoming Horsethief full suspension rig, the Spearfish full suspension rigs, the Chile Con Crosso cross bike, and the Mamasita as well which the shop is not bringing in, but I assume we can order these. Oh yeah, did I mention that there are titanium versions of several of these models? Yup, there are, and those titanium bikes are made in the U.S.A. as well.

So, there ya go. Just thought I should let everyone know what's up.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Drop Bars: Catching Up With The Testing

I've been doing some drop bar research over the course of the year in between all the other stuff I do around here. I thought it was high time I get a round up together of where I am at so far with regards to checking out all the various choices I have been able to get around to. (What a problem to have, by the way! Four years ago, there was the Midge and Gary I bar, and that was it!)

So, here is a bit of a snap shot as to where I am at so far with an eye towards maybe getting some of this wrapped up soon so I can move on to some other bars....

Origin 8 Gary II Bar
The Gary Bar, Take Two: 

I've been using the Gary Bar, version II since early in the year. This one is about done as far as testing is concerned.

Essentially, this is a rendition of a deep drop road bar with minimal flare. It is so radically different from the original Gary Bar as to be something that really deserves its own name.

It is comfortable enough, sure, and I've put down some long miles with it. This bar reminds me of the older touring bars with deep drops we used to use 15-20 years ago. I don't particularly care for it off road though. The drops are just too deep, and the sweep and flare is too minimal for my liking.

The Ragley Luxy Bar
And Now For Something Completely Different: 

The Ragley Luxy Bar is so far to the other extreme from the Gary II that I can't imagine how a drop bar meant for off road could be anymore different. Shallow, really flared, and really swept, this bar is either a "like it or hate it" proposition.

I've tried it with gears, (STI shifters, to be exact), but my favorite way to use these is with a single speed set up. The Luxy is so wide and swept that it just lends itself to single speeding. I think it offers more leverage out of the saddle. However; the width can be an issue in tighter trees and in fast single track where clipping those swept ends is a definite possibility.

The Cowbell 2
Ding! Dong! Is This One A Winner?

The Salsa Cycles Cowbell 2 came along this summer and I have put hundreds of gravel road miles on it so far.

I wouldn't really like it for off roading though, because much like the Gary II Bar above, the Cowbell just doesn't flare or sweep quite enough for my tastes. If it did, it would probably be my "go to" off road bar, since it is tantalizingly close to what I would want in a single trackin' off road drop bar.

However; for gravel travel, or rough roads, or heck......just plain road ridin', the Cowbell is the best handle bar I can imagine for use with today's "brifters". (Soon we'll all be just pushin' buttons and none of this will matter. In fact, I bet someone will figure out pretty soon that Shimano's levers are unnecessary for Di2 to work, and will run whatever old, lighter aero levers they are used to.) Anyway, these are to die for if you need a slightly swept, variable radius drop bar. I just wish Salsa would come out with silver ones!

Salsa Cycles Woodchipper Bar
Old Reliable:

I continue to use a Salsa Cycles Woodchipper as well. It does seem to cut a good middle ground between bars like the Luxy and Gary I Bars and the bars like the Gary II Bars and the Cowbell.

It works great with STI levers and it works great with a single speed set up. It seems to be pretty decent off road too.

The only issue is like with the Luxy Bar- The sweep may cause you to clip a tree now and again, so this may not work best for tighter, woodsy trails.

I really like the Woodchipper though, and it has a great balance of comfort and ergonomics. I don't like the bend coming off the drops to the extensions though- or I should say, the radius of that bend, which I feel isn't tight enough, but it isn't terrible.

Other Bars: I've ridden Midge Bars a ton, and have two sitting around here still. I also still occasionally use the Gary I bars, and have two sets of those yet. (No wait! Three!)

I would still like to get a WTB drop bar, and that Nitto bar I mentioned a while back, but those will have to wait until fall.

Once I get rides on all of these, look for a detailed ride report on one page. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Whelp! I Guess I Guessed Right?

Rebecca Rusch (Image courtesy of Specialized)
Friday evening I put up a post on Twenty Nine Inches that was based off a press release from Specialized that featured two of its sponsored riders, Todd Wells and Rebecca Rusch. I named the post:"Leadville 2011: Could 29″ers Take The Top Spots?".

As many of you now know, I got it right. Well, I think if you consider the details leading up to the event, it wasn't all that hard to guess correctly. Let's consider the following:

-Lance Armstrong, although he qualified to race, wasn't toeing the line this year. Had he thrown his hat into the ring, he would have been a top pick to win it.

-Six time  Leadville champ, Dave Wiens wasn't racing either. Again, you'd have to slot him in as a number one pick had he been in the race.

-Many pro roadies were already racing in the Tour of Utah, or were going to be at the Tour of Colorado. Roadies? Yup! The LT 100 suits roadies quite well, and this year they graded out rougher sections of the course, making them "B Road" smooth. Levi Leipheimer has won the event before, in record time, just last year.

-Many top mountain bike riders were overseas contesting the World Cup. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, who came in second last year, wasn't there either. This narrowed down my choices quite a bit.

-Todd Wells is in top condition right now. He just won the National XC Championship jersey, and Todd is always a top contender at any XC race he enters. Why didn't he go overseas to contest the World Cup? I can not say for sure, but Specialized has a top flite XC racer this year in Jaroslav Kulhavy who is making history every time he wins on his Epic 29"er. Keeping Todd in the US for another shot at making history might have been too good to pass up.

-Rebecca Rusch: Nuff said. Until she stops focusing on the LT 100, or starts to wane in her abilities, she will continue to be a threat to win the women's race at Leadville. This year? She lopped off even more time from her previous record at Leadville. Amazing! There was no way I would have bet against her at Leadville.

So, when you think about those things, and if there were no flat tires, mechanicals, or other mayhem for the two Specialized riders, (like there was for their competition, by the way), it was likely these two riders would contend for wins. They did, and they did. But, as I mention, it wasn't without a little "help" on the men's side, at least. Alban Lakata of Topeak-Ergon made a great race of it, coming in second on a flat tire. Had he not flatted? Well, who knows?

So, it was a lucky, somewhat educated guess, and no big deal in the end. It isn't like I could have picked the correct lottery numbers or anything magical like that!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Announcing Another Incredibly Dumb Decision!

After seven of these events that are incredibly tough and draining emotionally to put on, you'd think I'd know better. After losing my co-director after the last one, (who showed more smarts than me in cutting his losses), you'd think I'd have a clue. But.........I guess I ain't very smart!

Let it be known that as of today a Trans Iowa V8 is officially in the works. 

Why? Well, I have my reasons. I am not going to divulge them publicly, but I am determined to put on at least one more of these adventures.  I don't have much for details other than that I am going to run the event on the 28th-29th of April, 2012.

I won't have a lot for other details for a while yet. That could always change quickly, so pay attention to the site for finer details as I get them figured out. I will say that I have a very loose idea of what I want to do, and I will be consulting with a few individuals as to fine tuning these ideas into a course, a place to have the event, and all of that. Right now, everything is on the table for discussion, but several dominoes could fall that will make the outline much clearer in a hurry.

Stay tuned. Gravel will be traveled.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday News And Views

Fat Bike News: I like "fat bikes". These are the "snow bikes" that you may have seen like the Pugsley from Surly Bikes. I have a Salsa Cycles Mukluk here already, and love to ride it around. Now there are going to be even more of these bikes available than ever before. I reported on the as yet unseen Moonlander from Surly, and now, here is another contender. This from the unlikeliest of sources, but perhaps not, On One:

Just A Prototype....for now!
On One has brought in some new and old blood which has re-energized the company and I look for more good things than just this fat bike. This is an idea broached by Shiggy, he of fame. Shiggy got ahold of me several months ago and was asking a lot of questions about my fat bike. So.....I figured something was up. Then Brant Richards, (he was one of the originals of On One, left for a bit, and now has come back), posted this on his "Shedfire" blog yesterday.

Anywho....this is still a design in flux. It features a 44mm head tube, which is huge, but would accommodate a tapered steer tube fork. Also, and maybe more importantly, it would accommodate an angle set head set. Brant says this may get a slacker head tube angle than it has. Shiggy is calling it a "rock crawler". I like all of it!

Does the world need another fat bike? Look at this thread from and tell me you wouldn't want to do something like this. (Warning! You might be late for something because of all the awesome imagery in the linked thread!)

Look for more details on the On One frame coming this winter. I hear it may not become available until later winter or spring at the soonest.

With this, the new Moonlander, a Mukluk 2, (a better spec'ed aluminum framed Muk), and a titanium frame only Mukluk coming soon, the fat bike availability will be skyrocketing in the coming year. Will folks bite? You should think really hard about it, because it is more fun than you can imagine!

The Quick Release Is Dead! I've written before about how the "QR" is going the way of the Dodo Bird. But have you thought about whether or not we need through axles? Some companies are not convinced.

An Example of a 142mm X 12mm Through Axle Rear.
Specialized is one such company that does have through axle equipped bikes, but also does an oversized axle end cap design which they have said is stiffer than a 15QR front axle in their testing.

So, could we have such a device for the rear of our bikes and get through axle stiffness? I mean, take a look at what the actual interface is on the inside of a quick release and the frame. Not much contact area there, is there?

Quick release designs have pretty much been unchanged since the days of steel road bike frames from the 30's when Tulio Campagnolo designed the first one. He had no idea that there would be 6 inch travel mountain bikes. See what I mean?

Now, here you can stop and think about the Maxle, a SRAM/Rock Shox product, or maybe look at White Brothers Loop fork's 15 QR axle, and see some very familiar "qr-like" features. While they do not work entirely like a regular quick release, it doesn't take much imagination to see how "oversized quick releases" based on the same idea as a regular 9mm quick release could be done.

DT Swiss does another take on the traditional "QR" with is RWS type "ratcheting" skewers. These are really nice as well. I would combine the features of an oversized axle with a RWS-like function for a modern take on the regular "QR" that would basically render the "thru-axle", (threading into another bit on a fork or frame), unnecessary.

All we would really need then is bigger drop outs. Hey- If BMX-icans can do it, so can we. It's high time road bikes got in on this deal, by the way.

Yes: You Need To Add Air

The Air Commandments: Lately we have had a rash of "issues" at the shop where I work concerning folks that didn't realize that bicycle tubes and tires need to have the air topped off occasionally for proper performance and safety.

Yes- really!

So, as odd as it may seem to many of us, I can not assume that all my readers are aware that you have responsibilities as a cyclist to your tires and their care and feeding. Without the proper tire husbandry, your tires and tubes will wither and die, leaving you bereft of the innumerable joys of cycling. To aid in your understanding of your immense responsibilities towards your helpless tires and tubes, I offer these "Air Commandments". (Of course, much like the Israelites from biblical times, you will not follow these commandments and will anger the "air god" who will punish you with ultra-high roling resistance and permanently flat tires due to pinching.)

Thou Shalt Check Air Pressure Before Every Ride: To maintain your ride characteristics that bring ultimate nirvana, you must check your air pressure before each and every ride, or suffer accordingly.

Thou Shalt Own A Pump And A Gauge, And Know How To Use Them: Presta or Schrader, "Bar" or "psi", every rider should know the ins and outs of their tubes and tires, which are the most important thing on your bicycle besides yourself. Without properly functioning rubber, you ain't gettin' nowhere! Get to know a floor pump with a good gauge. You won't ever be sorry you did.

Thou Shalt Know How To Repair A Flat Tire: Duh! This one is a "no-brainer". (Or would you rather walk five miles because you don't want to get your hands dirty?)

Okay- do these and be happy. I say again- Rejoice! You will always be prepared and have tires that roll everlasting. The End!

Okay folks! Have a great weekend. Ride your bicycles. Have fun!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gates Carbon Drive Center Track: Conclusions

I have been riding the Gates Carbon Center Track on the Fisher Collection Sawyer for a while now and here are my thoughts on the system. I think Gates has come a long, long way in regard to the functionality, but.....(.there's always a "but"), there are other concerns surrounding the system that give me pause. Some are surmountable, some perhaps not so much.

"What's The Ratio, Kenneth?"
First off, the system works. I'll be perfectly clear. Gates has finally made a belt drive that you can use just like your chain system- no binding, and freer spin on the cranks, almost as good as a very worn in chain drive. The belt stays on the cogs, and there are no noises that don't belong. (Meaning no noise at all.)

Let's face it, the Sawyer is steel, and we all know that frame is twisting and flexing some. Not a lot, but the previous Carbon Drive belt I used, on an arguably much stouter steel frame, was not quiet, and did pop and squeal some times. It never ratcheted, but it wasn't dead quiet, and I had to have that belt "banjo string tight" to keep it tracking. Not so with the Center Track.

Had the Sawyer been equipped with the older belt, I don't think I would have given it a passing grade at all. Not with that frame, at any rate. That was a silly thing to my mind anyway. Why run a belt if it meant you had to have a very stiff, rough riding, over built frame so it wouldn't ratchet or derail? It just seemed stupid, really. Now Center Track seems to have relaxed those requirements to the point that if the frame did flex enough to give you issues, it probably would mean the frame is a poor choice for single speeding.

The new cogs are great. No more tearing up the bases of rear cogs and no goofy flanges to start making noise when things get wet/dirty. The stainless steel rear cog is a thing of CNC beauty, and the front ring, while rather bland looking, does its job perfectly.

That little fin in the middle is the magic to these. It keeps the belt from derailing, and allows for slight out of alignment conditions like when the frame twists slightly as you torque the pedals hard going up a climb. The belt itself is pretty amazing. Wider at 12mm, it is the widest belt Gates has offered for a bicycle, and it just works. I had a bit of tooth interfacing noise right out of the box, but it literally went away within the span of a couple of rides. Since then, I just periodically check the tension by pushing down on the belt, (admittedly, a no-tech way to do that!), but theoretically, the belt should never stretch, or need much of anything beyond a washing with water and a visual inspection from time to time.

Not A Lot Of Choice

So, it works. Then it is good to go, right? Not quite. There are a few things which are stumbling blocks that Gates may or may not get squared away with the Center Track. If they do, it could be the premier single speed drive train choice. It could, but.......

Cog Selection Is Too Narrow: Gates says they will offer a wide array of ratio choices at some point, but as of now, only the ratio I have is available. It was too tall to get me up some of the steeper inclines we have here, and it is way too stout of a gear for extended mountain climbing. At least on a 29"er it is. Admittedly, given time, this should get better. Just don't expect much for choice yet.

The system is very expensive. Even the previous incarnation of belt drive was/is expensive, and you can get two complete chain driven drive trains for the price of one Gates set up. Add in the fact that you will likely need a different belt and cog for different ratios, and it could get ugly on the pocketbook. Of course, the components are said to out last chains and traditional cogs/chain rings by a huge amount, but the upfront costs of getting into a Gates set up with multiple ratios would be staggering.

Tensioning is still a problem. Not everyone carries their iPhone on rides, or wants to. Then again, not all cyclists have iPhones. So that ap for "tuning" the belt tension, while clever, will not be of much use to many people. Folks that have bikes requiring re-tensioning every time they remove the rear wheel, or change ratios are going to have a hard time. Gates needs to come up with a repeatable, easy, mechanically measured means to tension their belts properly that can be carried easily on the bike. Engineers at Gates, "Go!" Let's see this get done and soon. 

And You Still Need A Special Frame. After all, not all frames can be, or should be Gates compatible. So your favorite geometry, or brand may not be compatible. Chains can be fitted to any bicycle, Gates equipped or no.

Then you have to also consider the myriad ways that a chain can accommodate making almost any ratio work on any given bicycle, and even can make bicycles not meant to be single speeds into single speeds. Derailleurs? Yeah. One choice there!

With that said, I am still excited about a Gates Center Track set up. Why? Because of winter, more than anything. I would love to see a snow bike in my stable with an internally geared hub driven by a Gates Center Track belt. To me, that would be the ultimate winter set up for around here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What's Hot For 2012? (And Beyond)

This next year is shaping up to be probably the single biggest year for 29"er introductions ever. What once was considered a "niche of a niche', something "only big in the Mid-West", is now a bike style that you'd better have in your line up, 'cause the train is leaving the station.

Have 29"ers "jumped the shark"? Maybe. I wonder.

Here's what you have to do for your line in 2012 and beyond to be "one of the cool lines with a two-niner" these days. ("Two-niner" is cool, racer lingo for the bigger wheel size, by the way. When marketing wonks start using the term, it is another sign that 29"ers have "jumped the shark").
Get Yer Carbon On

It Ain't Nuthin If It Ain't Got That Carbon: First and foremost, you'd better have a look at the catalog and pick out yer carbon hard tail at the Chinese carbon factory. Maybe make a few tweaks to a standard version, call it your own, and press go.

Carbon is the buzz word of the day, and now "two-niners" are the "next big thing". Marry the two and you are in like Flynn. Or so it would seem. It is my deal to keep somewhat of an eye on things regarding 29"ers, and boy howdy! I can't count how many brands are hitting the market in 2012 with a carbon fiber 29"er. Some of them will be pretty spectacular. Well engineered, and well thought out frames with unique looks and features.

However; I can't shake the feeling that many are also from the same "mother mold". Too familiar in many details not to be, many of these bikes will have to be differentiated simply by spec and graphic treatment. Kind of like the aluminum crowned, carbon legged fork deal that cropped up three or four years ago.

However you think of that, the fact remains: Get a carbon hard tail in the line up, or go home. It seems that this is what the steel single speed was to the 29"er market back in 2007. Back then, it seemed everybody that brought out a 29"er would only dip into the waters with a single speed, while geared bikes were rare as hen's teeth. Talking about anything with dual suspension was out of the question back then. Like I said, 29"ers were only a "niche" thing, something only found in "certain areas" of the country. Not anymore!

Boing! Boing!
Double Squish Can't Miss: The next thing you will need in your successful "two-niner" campaign is a dual squish rig. Now this gets a bit more vague, but there does seem to be a trend that is arising from several of the manufacturers for 2012.

Essentially, you need to squeeze 100-120mm from the rear end for travel. Most companies are going to offer some form of a modified single pivot, swing link bike. Mated with the de riguer hydro-formed tubing up front with a tapered steer tube, you will have most 2012 suspension offerings covered as far as basic technologies go. Most will come with 120-130mm forks, but curiously, only a few are going the full 140mm up front. Finally, through axles replace quick releases front and rear with most folks opting for the 15QR front/142mm X 12mm rear set ups, although there are exceptions to that.

The muti-pivot bikes that are out will remain, but newer designs will take more time to develop. Look for those to start popping up at shows next summer. Yeti has a Switch type already prototyped, and others will be showing up soon. Expect more "dissimilar travel" bikes, with less rear/more front. This due to the difficulties many designers are seeing with getting more than 120mm from the rear of the 29"er without doing really weird things with their set ups. (Although LenzSport has been figuring this out for years already)

Gettin' Continental: Add into all this the onslaught of European brands set to swamp unsuspecting folk with big wheels, and it seems as though my prediction that 29"ers will simply just become "mountain bikes" is closer than you may have thought only a couple of years ago.

What's It All Mean?: Well, for starters, it means that 29"ers will soon be enjoying everything that 26"ers have had all along. All the best tire technologies, suspension designs, fork tweaks, and wheel technology will simultaneously be available in 26 and 29 inch wheel sizes.........for a while. Sooner or later the market will dictate a sea change, and either one or the other wheel size will decline in popularity and therefore, in terms of supporting technology. Think I'm crazy?

Already we are hearing that certain companies will stop producing high end 26 inch wheeled mountain bikes. Really. It seems very strange to me, but that's going to happen folks. If the market seems to pick up on that, and be okay with it, look for that to be the sign that 26 inch stuff will begin to get less attention from the component manufacturers. If full suspension trail and XC bikes take over sales from 26 inch FS, then the nails are in the coffin.

We'll see.