Tuesday, January 31, 2012

So......Now What?

This winter is.......fading fast! With the snow getting visibly less every hour during daylight, it won't take long with these 40 degree days to roach all the snow and put an end to fat biking on snow exclusively.

Fun while it lasted....
Yep! I am back to commuting on "skinny" wheels, wearing a helmet again, and using clipless pedals and shoes. I rode the "Project Two-Six" bike to work yesterday and I had to actually go looking for icy spots to test the Continental Winter Contact tires. There just wasn't any ice to be found!

So, I have been in the game of switching gears mentally to spring time. Too early, you say? No.......no, spring is coming.  I know. I heard the Cardinals start singing already, and that usually doesn't happen until mid-February. The forecast says 40's all week. I'm digging out the Gryphon and "Orange Crush" and I'm thinking long gravel rides are coming on fast.

I have an event coming up at the end of February too, so I need to get the gravel grinding done in preparation for CIRREM which is a hilly, challenging course. It is the same distance as Triple D was, so I should be okay with that part.

Single Gear Suffering?
I'm pretty sure I'll do the majority of the training on my Singular Gryphon. The gravel probably won't be too kind to a geared drive train for a while, and a single keeps the pace more constant on flatter terrain.

Plus, it has just been too long since I spent quality time aboard this bike. It certainly is a comfortable enough rig. I rode this one the last time I did Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, and spent all day on the bike. That didn't stop me that day, but the extreme heat sure did!

If I really wanted to be a goof ball I would just ride this in CIRREM. Who knows......maybe I will! Heck, it goes up hills just fine. I know that from my Nebraska trip. Just stand on those 180mm White Industries cranks and get goin! If CIRREM looks to be a peanut buttery mess, I definitely will be taking this rig.

Otherwise it'll be a Black Mountain Cycles kind of day. Either way, I will be needing to take some time plying some Iowa gravel roads and seeing what is going on out there in the country. The off road trails won't be up to snuff for quite a while yet, and the snow biking, well.......those days are done for this year. 

Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I bet not. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Unplanned Success

Current state-o-the 'Buck
Saturday's fat bike ride tweaked out my legs again, so Sunday was going to be a planned off day. Something about riding those fat bikes really knocks it outta me, especially since Triple D. I guess I have not quite recovered 100% from that day just yet.

So Saturday night I stayed up until the wee hours to get all of the T.I.V8 cues written that I could. I now can say that they are all written down but about 20 miles worth, which I am leaving open dependent on just how the event will end, which I should have made clear to me very soon. Once that happens, all the cues will be formatted and that should be that barring any corrections that may need to be made.

Yep! Sunday was going to be an off day, and I was doing great at that until I went down to the Lab to weigh something. I got a bit distracted though. I had my OS Bikes Blackbuck hanging in my repair stand waiting to have some wheels installed, pedals installed, and front brake mount changed to accept a 185mm rotor.

Curvy stays
One thing led to another and the next thing I know, I am wrist deep into grease and turning wrenches. I added a couple of things to the old 'Buck. The wheel set came off my retired 2007 El Mariachi. This is an Industry 9 single speed specific wheel set with Bontrager Duster rims. Pretty "buzzy" sounding hub, by the way. Really buzzy!

The hub already had a Boone titanium cog on it with the matching spacers, but I had to rearrange those to dial in the chain line a bit. I found a black Salsa quick release for the rear, and I'll have to track down the front one. Got a silver one in there right now from some off-brand replacement wheel set.

I had already mounted these Czech made Rubena Scylla tires to the rims, tubeless of course, and the post mount brake set up on the Tower Expert fork was swapped to get the front wheel in there. Once that was done I scavenged my Shimano clipless pedals from the El Mar and it was all ready to ride.

Well, I got outside, wearing my clipless shoes for the first time this year, I think, and took off for a short little test ride. I have to say that riding a 29"er now seems like cheating. After so many fat biking miles this winter, the single speed with the "skinny" 2.1"ers seemed easy to ride and almost too twitchy. Now when the snow does finally go away, the ol 'Buck will be raring to go, and it should be a hoot to ride this way. I was glad I got it put back together and that it turned out well.

Oh yeah....I did get back home and I weighed that part after all. Even though I wasn't supposed to ride at all today, it sure felt good for that short few moments.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gettin' It While I Can

Along The Cedar River
Saturday was beautiful out, and before all of our snow gets roached by the Sun, I decided to head over East of my casa to check out my typical winter riding hangouts.

One of the reasons I wanted to get Big Fat Larrys was to get the little bit of extra float that they might provide over the 3.8"ers I used on this bike last year. I knew that over the years a lot of snowmobile traffic goes along the river, so I had high hopes of getting the BFL's into an area where they would actually be a benefit.

I started to get close to where the trails pick up and I saw a hopeful sign. Snomobile tracks heading west. Certainly that meant they would go east and towards more open country. Well, I was wrong! I got down onto the paved bike path which was covered in snow and post-holed with lots of pedestrian traffic.

Okay, so it would be a bumpy ride then! I focused and made it down and around and across to where I like to stop for a photo op. These big limestone blocks make a nice backdrop for bicycle photos. Atleast I think so

Follow the footprints!
Well, after that photo op, I had more post-holed trail to follow until I found some buried snowmobile tracks. I hit these and made better time, even though they were underneath a few inches of snow and were hard to make out going into the bright sunshine. I just "thought like a snowmobiler", and that worked out until I crossed a road and went up on top of a dike where it was really easy to see the trail the machines left behind.

This turned and went down. I had a blast descending this snowmobile trail, but I forgot that the weight distribution for not "punching through" and the weight distribution for descending don't match up all the time. Actually, to be honest, I didn't forget that, I learned that! I don't know if I could have saved it. Maybe going slower is the key.

Well, at any rate, I was following the snowmobile tracks and they doubled back to where I had come. Bah! That's no fun. I had seen something veering off the dike earlier though, so I figured I would go and investigate that before heading back toward home.

Now THIS is why I got the BFL's!
I trundled along the dike until I found a snowmobile track heading eastward down the steep slope of the dike. I followed and had a bit of a thrilling ride down the slope full of loose, deep snow, but I stayed upright. Then through the small opening in a chain link fence.

After this I found an undulating, twisting, turning trail that a few snowmobiles had layed down. My bike was tracking nicely along this, but as opposed to having my weight back a fair amount, here I needed to allow for more of a weight balance between the wheels. This kept my rear tire from "punching through" and kept me motoring along the snowmobile track.

Then the track doubled back again! What is it with these snowmobilers? Well, I went back util I found a branch off where a truck had made it part way back into the woods. I followed its tracks out to a paved road. At this point I could see I was along the ATV park, which was fenced off from the road. I decided to try and find my way in by following the road back eastward along the fence line.

Ice fisherman on Mitchell Sand Pit Lake
I ended up not finding a way into the ATV park, but I did find the wood disposal station for the City of Waterloo. Massive mounds of wood chips everywhere! The road turned into a muddy dirt surface here and I was glad for the big fat tires which walked right over the mushy surface.

This went by the Waste Water Treatment Plant and the road went back on itself again where I had come from. I continued on back to the point I popped out of the woods, went on further, and found out I was gated in! It wasn't that I couldn't get into the ATV park, I couldn't get out of the city property I had found my way into! Okay, so back out the way I came it was for me.

Remember that little opening in the chain link fence after the dike? Yeah......that was the only way out! So, I went back through the way I had come, and then out along another snowmobile trail across a huge, empty field to a city street. Once there, I made my way back home.

It was a fun adventure on the fat bike, and I learned a few things about the city I live in along the way. Good times!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tips On Riding Gravel Roads For T.I.V8 (Or Any Other Gravel Event)

  Note: This is a compilation of gravel road riding tips I doled out a year ago in preparation for T.I.V7. These are still good tips for the upcoming T.I.V8, so I combined the best of both the older posts and am putting them up for your gravel riding knowledge today. Enjoy!

Gravel Road Riding Tips For Trans Iowa: Once again, this is aimed at the first timers out there, but ya'all might want to pay attention, since there might be some things I mention here which will help bring to mind stuff you may have forgotten about. 

Please read and familiarize yourself with the Race Safety & Supplies section of the Trans Iowa site here.

I mention a few things there that are in keeping with my post here, so I will not cover those again. Here you will find some basic gravel road riding tips I have learned over the years and also things I have observed by putting on seven previous Trans Iowas and from my other gravel road racing and riding experiences.

#1: Ride "Right": Just because you are in a remote, rural area, and just because there is little to no traffic doesn't mean you can relax on your road etiquette here. Ride on the right side of the road folks, especially going up a hill! Rural Iowans will expect that when they crest a hill in their automobile, that they will be on the right side, and so would anybody else coming the other way be on their right side of the road, thus preventing any accidental crashes at the summits of hills. That's how it works, so don't forget that, and don't try to push your luck out there. It could cost you your life.

#2: Don't Be A Hero: Trans Iowa is a long, long event. It isn't worth it to blow through stop signs, not pay attention at intersections, and to not wait for cars and trucks to clear out when crossing paved roads. Obey traffic signs! Stop at paved crossings and be very careful. Don't be a dick when going through towns and tick off the locals with your "get out of my way" attitude.

NOTE: If I, or any of our volunteers report or see a T.I.V8 rider violating #1 or #2 above, you will be disqualified immediately and asked to stop riding. I won't tolerate riders being stupid, ignorant, or willfully breaking laws or rules of conduct. Period

#3: "Read" The Road: It is important that you recognize the difference between loose gravel, and smoother sections of the road. Obviously, you'll want to take the path of least resistance, but I am thinking of the fast down hill sections. The ability to look further up the road and "read" the conditions of the gravel will allow you to descend with more confidence and safety. This will become imperative at night. Don't outrun your lights, and ride within your skill level. That said, reading the road will be a handy tool during Trans Iowa. Getting out and practicing this on gravel ahead of T.I.V8 would be the best bet.

#4: Take Corners Very Carefully: Generally speaking, bicycle tires and speedy gravel corners are not things that go together without mishap. Be careful going around corners and you'll be fine. Criterium style cornering will be met with a case of severe road rash!

#5: Easy On The Brakes!: Similarly, heavy, sudden braking is a no-no on gravel and a recipe for going down. Gently squeezing the levers and giving yourself plenty of room to make a stop is advised. Keep drafting distances longer, unless you can implicitly trust the riders you draft off of. If one guy or gal in a draft line makes a small bobble or slips on loose gravel, you will find yourself in a big pile up. Also, keep a light touch on the brakes while descending at speed. Too much brake and you can easily lose control and stack it up heinously. (And it doesn't take much brake to be "too much" on gravel!) Don't draft on the down hills! Especially steep ones. (Getting a gravel chunk in the eye, or a face full of dust or mud is a distinct possibility)

#6: B Road Roolz: B Maintenance roads present their own set of rules. First and foremost is deciding whether to even ride in at all! If it is wet, your best bet may be to dismount while you are still on the gravel and test the road by walking on it. You'll know within a few footsteps if you could ride it out, or not. Better to have clagged up shoes than a mud packed, 70lb bike that you have to carry!

If the B Road has a ditch, you may be allowed to pass in the grass, but if it's like the one I have pictured here, you'll be obliged to walk the entire length of it. Trust me. You shouldn't try riding on a rain soaked B Road! If it is dry, you can pass, or maybe if the sun has gotten to it after a rain, you may find parts will be rideable, but it is best to err on the side of caution here. Added to this is the fact that road obstacles like embedded rocks, holes, ruts, and even random junk are waiting to toss you off your bike or ruin your tires and wheels, and it should become apparent that B Roads deserve your respect.

#7: Road Conditions: Gravel roads in the area of the event will likely vary quite a bit. Here is a short list of what you can expect to find out there.....

  • "Normal" Conditions: Gravel roads normally have at least a "two track" of solid, packed "dirt" to ride on, and usually a three track. This is where the fastest, least resistant path for your tires will be. Along the edges and in the middle of the road, the gravel will be deeper, loose, and difficult to ride in. Remember: Ride on the right side!!
  • "Fresh" Gravel: This is something you will see in patches, (repairs to a gravel road), for several hundred feet, or up to several miles. Fresh gravel is loose, chunky crushed rock, (generally limestone, or other native rock), laid across the entire roadway. This will present a much more resistant path for your tires, and skinnier tired, lighter bikes will be most affected by it. You'll want to scan and hunt for the best lines, but "Ride On The Right Side"!!
  • "Damaged" Gravel: This can be anything from frost heaves, (a few inches or a foot of heaved up earth that is the consistency of thick flour), ruts, mud patches, or wash outs. Be very careful to avoid all of these. Depending on the weather, these can be rather prevalent features, (T.I.V4), or not, (T.I.V5).
  • "Peanut Butter" Gravel: This usually occurs if it rains. And it feels just like you might imagine. Sloppy, nasty, and wet. Not much one can do here but grin and bear it. On second thought, do not grin. You'll get a nasty mouthful of gritty stone in there!
#8: Weather: I've experienced just about everything out there on gravel roads in terms of weather. The worst can be downright nasty. Most of it is survivable. However; there could be an event where your life is in danger. Here is the excerpt from the Race Rules to read here that deals with what we will do in case of severe weather events:

16: Weather Related Stoppage and Time Cut Off Rule: In case of severe weather during the event, we will do the folowing things so you can act accordingly. Remember: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOURSELF!! If the sky is falling, or you see Dorothy's house go spinning by your head, you should take appropriate actions to protect yourself. We will not be responsible for ill advised heroics in inclement weather. Be smart, or be pig fodder! This is only given out so that you as an event participant will know what our actions will be in regards to keeping tabs on your progress and what will be done with prizing. Weather related cancellation of the event will be enforced at the checkpoints. All participants will be directed as to where and when any prizing will be distributed at checkpoints by our volunteers. If you pull out before a checkpoint, you will need to contact the Event Director to find out if the event is being terminated. Results will not be tabulated if we have to stop the event. If cut off times to a checkpoint are not met by any event participant then the event will be terminated and all will be considered as DNF's. Prizing will be distributed by raffle to the remaining participants in the event at the time of stoppage or when it becomes clear that the cut off times will not be met. Must be present to win. Decisions of the event directors is final.
So, as you may have noticed, Rule #16 deals mostly with what we do with prizing, and little to do with anything related to you, the rider. That is because you need to use your own best judgment in these matters. As stated in Rule #16, ".....you should take appropriate actions to protect yourself", and we mean it. You Are Responsible For Yourself!! Get in the ditch, knock on a farmers door to ask for shelter, or call in the cavalry, but DO NOT EXPECT TRANS IOWA OR ANYONE CONNECTED TO IT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY! Don't be stupid. Trans Iowa is not worth risking your life for in the instance of severe weather. (Or for any reason, for that matter)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday News And Views

Narrower, lighter: Sometimes better.
In yesterday's post called "The Oasis" I got a lot of interesting comments and thoughts about "float", wide rims, big tires, and weight. I think a few things were being discussed there that are important, but weren't really relevant to my particular experiment. Here's what I have to say about my particular experiment first.
  1. My ride conditions were not in packed snow. I was riding in 8+ inches of virgin, untrodden snow for my test. So, "float" was not the biggest priority here. 
  2. I chose to ride these conditions as a way to find out what works best to "bust my own trail". Obviously, on snowmo trails, or places that have had some sort of compaction on the snow, "float" is king. 
  3. My conclusions were that fatter tires, wider rims, and heavier bikes were conspiring to make riding these conditions tougher. 
Again, on trails that are compacted by something, (people, snow mobiles, dredges), flotation with wider tires, wider rims, and lower tire pressures makes more sense.  However; when you are slogging through deep, new snow, or really powdery, flour-like snow, I think a narrower tire is going to cut through that with less resistance. And a lighter bike overall helps in this.

Hope that clears that up a bit.

Yep! It's baaaack!
A 650B Reprise: One of the things that 650B fans used to say about the wheel size was that it would be a better fit for long travel applications where a bigger diameter wheel could roll over stuff easier than a 26"ers.

Well, I thought that of all the claims being bandied about back in 2007 for 650B, this was one of the more credible ones. Turns out that this is the one thing that 650B will hang its hat on in 2013.

I've seen this image of a MY2013 Rock Shox Revelation since back in mid-December when it was leaked to me from Australia. So, I've had a little time to dig around on this. 650B is coming, new tires, new forks, and all packaged for big bikes with travel from 130-160mm. Back-country, big hit, All-mountain rigs.

Will it work? Will this finally be the niche where 650B will slot in and take over its rightful place in mountain biking? Hard to say as of now. The core market of riders in this category are not real keen on 29"ers at all, but this might be what sways them away from 26"ers, or will it be?

I know one thing: Sea Otter 2012 will be an interesting place to be come April, and the internet bike nerds will have another field day posting rants in support and against this development. But one thing is a sure bet: 650B will be here soon.

Short, Sweet, T.I.V8 Update: In news about T.I.V8, I have narrowed down a primary and secondary date for recon-testing of the cue sheets for this new course. A couple of volunteers have stepped forward to offer to drive with me around the course and see to it that all the cues make sense. We'll also be pinpointing a location for the remote Checkpoint #2.

Did you know that the "Official Trans Iowa Site" has a FAQ page? Well, now you do! And by the way, if you have a suggestion for a FAQ I should add to the list, feel free to leave it in today's comment section, and I'll make that happen.

I saw stripes!
Shorter, Sweeter GTDRI Update: The "Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational"is a fun little gravel grinder of a 100 miles I do every summer. It has a large, pretentious name, but don't let that deter you from checking this little gig out this coming summer. "And when would that be?", you might ask.

Well, mark your calendars for July 14th, 2012. I've been asked several times by different folks to not have the GTDRI on a RAGBRAI weekend. Well.......wish granted! Hopefully that works out for a bunch of you all to show up and ride the gravel back roads of Iowa in the heat of summer.

I may reprise the course from last year when we saw zebras, but I might just do something different as well. I will make a determination later, but for now, just know this is back on again.You can read about last year's foggy, heated, dusty ride here and here. You can be sure that this year's ride will be something similar, so that dhould give you a good idea of what this is all about.

Okay folks, that's it for this edition of Friday News and Views.  Get out and ride a bike, or just enjoy the outdoors this weekend. Have a good one, ya'all!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Oasis

Concrete jungle
Wednesday I went for a morning ride to test out a theory I had regarding the Larry 3.8" vs the Big Fat Larry. I was wondering if I would have made more progress through some deep, granular snow on the BFL's than I had on the smaller 3.8"ers.

I also was wondering how the inertia of the heavier wheels might affect all of this. The overall weight of the two bikes might also come into play as well.

So I left to go ride a couple of stretches I had ridden earlier this week where the snow had not been plowed. Temperatures were similar for each day, but there had been some warmer weather where the snow may have firmed up some over what I had originally experienced. As I reached the unplowed sections, I had high hopes that the Big Fat Larrys would float up a bit better, despite the bike weighing more.

I found out that even though I had bigger tires and that the snow was maybe better, I didn't see any real advantage. In fact, it may have been a disadvantage really. I think a couple of things were working against me on The Snow Dog.

Big ruts!
Those Big Fat Larrys push more of a "wake" than the skinnier tires do, so I was working harder when the tires did sink in. Secondly: Those big tires didn't float up like I thought they might, so I was fighting the higher resistance to the wheels more with the wider tires. Part of this was due to the heavier wheels/bike overall.

By-Tor the Titanium Mukluk has much lighter wheels, tires, and tubes which gave it a big advantage in the inertia department, as far as overcoming wheel weight. I also found that the skinnier tires seemed to deal with the snow in a similar manner to the BFL's, but since the weight of the front end was so much less, the titanium Mukluk would float over stuff better, leaving the rear to dig down and get traction.

Either way, the rides were both exhausting exercises. I had to go at a high torque, low speed setting and my legs and body were working hard to keep either bike going straight and moving forward. I think things were a bit more successful on the titanium rig, but that's splitting hairs. Dealing with ruts on The Snow Dog made life harder, which I didn't have to do with By-Tor.

Rest stop at The Oasis
The Wednesday ride saw me taking a break underneath a bridge for Highway 218. The bike path goes underneath here and on either side the snow was very deep. Both bikes were grinding in the snow near here, and my body was working way too hard to keep it going, but I was having fun seeing what I could ride over.

I stuck around a while to cool down, took some images, and then lumbered home with legs that were shaking when I got home from all the hard work. It was fun to figure out which worked best for what, and technique was honed as well.

Obviously, Big Fat Larrys are better suited to situations where trail/snow has been packed down some and skinnier tires are punching through a bit. I would probably find that on snowmobile trails, but the snomo folks must be sticking around to the country, because I can not find a snomo track in town yet to save my life. Guess I'm going to have to head over to Mitchell Sand Pits next, if there is any snow left this weekend!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Western Nebraska Gravel Adventure Coming Soon!

You know, what with running Gravel Grinder News, I have to say that the number of gravel grinders are just growing with no sign of abating anytime soon. Just over the past month I've nearly added a third again as many events as I had before the Holidays on the site.

In another converging tangent to this, I have been hearing about a small, but passionate group of riders doing some amazing back road/gravel stuff in a place many think would be totally boring. Let me tell ya, nothing could be further from the truth!

Typical Western Nebraska terrain
I actually got to go out and see some of the stuff I am talking about for myself a few years back. Me and my buddy from Linclon, NE, MG went out on another mission, but suffice it to say that what you will find out there is nothing short of amazing.

Nebraska? Amazing? Hey.....ya gotta get offa the interstate! What a lot of folks don't realize is that I-80 follows a river valley. So yeah.....it is gonna be boring.

Just drive about five to ten miles in any direction perpendicular to that ribbon of mind numbing concrete and you'll find some undulating, scenic, challenging terrain perfect for exploration by bicycles. And that's exactly what some folks I know have been up to for several years out there in the western reaches of Nebraska.

They have been plying their trade in adventure cycling out there and realized that they have something to offer in terms of a gravel grinder type event. Talk has gone in ebbs and flows over the years. I remember some banter at one point about doing a companion event to Trans Iowa and the Dirty Kanza 200 and would have been part of a "Gravel Triple Crown". Heck, I know for a fact that ol' MG has been pushing for something like this for years. So, while this may be some news for most, I know some of us will be thinking, "bout time fellas!", and meaning that in a "hell yeah!" sort of way. We know how difficult these sort of deals are to put together, so you can't expect folks to just jump on putting together a 150 plus mile event.

More Nebraska gravelly goodness.

Yep, I said 150 plus miles! Maybe even close to 200. Details are being sorted now as I speak. They even have a name for this beast- but I'll let one of the "DSG Crew" guys, (the fellas that are involved with the event), tell ya direct-like:

"The "DSG" crew in Western Nebraska is working to put on a gravel grinder . . . but this one is different.  The terrain is varied and the route is very remote.  The overall mileage will be in the neighborhood of 180 miles.  We're still working out a lot of the details, but it will be in the self-supported spirit of races like the Trans-Iowa and Dirty Kanza.

The event will occur on June 30th with the pre race meeting on the 29th.  It will be based out of the small Nebraska town of Gothenburg, which has Swedish and Germanic roots.  In keeping with the local heritage, we're calling the race "Odin's Revenge".  Odin is the king of the Norse gods, known for seeking wisdom at great costs and inflicting suffering where necessary.  He's also associated with a number of other cool mythological elements, including being the father of Thor.

We plan to have a lot more information in the coming weeks, including a web presence, registrations details, course profile, etc."

Okay, so while this all sounds pretty rad, and there is a date and such mentioned, don't go and get yer panties in a bunch just yet. No registration has been announced, and I have zero idea how it all might play out other than to say that the first year will be limited to 75 folks. How they do the registration and roster cut off is their deal, and as yet, undetermined. 

But ya gotta be stoked about the possibilities of an event like this. The terrain will be remote, and the feeling will be much like the DK 200, only even more "western", if that makes any sense.   

When I know more, I'll let ya all know. Till then, stay tuned............. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fat Road: New Trend In Old Clothes?

Black Mountain Cycles: Fat Tires Fit Here
Not too long ago in "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" there was that article I talked about which was instigated when I saw the story about "fat road tires" in some coverage on Taipei Bike Week.

Fat road? Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? We're so accustomed to thinking "road bikes = 23mm width tires" that the terms "fat" and "road" are seemingly incongruous with each other. Well, it hasn't always been that way.

There was a time, long ago, when road bikes were plying roads not so well manicured as ours and the tires were a bit more "voluptuous" than they are these days. Of course, those tires were usually tubular, glued on types, and when the easier to manage clinchers came along, tires started out big, then they got small.

Materials technology allowed for insanely narrow, tiny tires to be produced which bred a perception that the skinnier and higher pressure you could get was faster. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but just try prying those 23mm tires way from most recreational roadies. Go ahead. I dare you.

Anyway, being locked into riding "just pavement" was never in my DNA as a cyclist, so gravel, dirt, big rocks, ruts, and mud all figure into my cycling. Your skinny roadie bike is a total fail where I go, most of the time. So, I resorted to 29"ers at first, and then I found the BMC "Orange Crush" bike, slapped some 1.9" fatties on it, and never looked back. You can check out these frames here.

If you check out that link, you'll read how a trend to building road going bikes with more versatile, fatter tires is not just a thought, it is here, and probably coming to a local bike shop. (Well, in fact, it already is here.) The fatter road tires to fit these bikes are rare now, but the manufacturers are gearing up to make more with the same/similar features you see on high end road clinchers in the 23-25mm range now.

Why should you care? Because for years, most road cyclists have been riding "stupid for them" bikes. That's right- bikes meant for serious criterium/long road events being sold to the average recreational cyclists is a really stupid idea. That's right- I said it.

Think about it: If you have bought into the high end roadie bike because "I can own the equivalent to a F1 car" , you are being blinded to the cold hard fact that this road racing rocket is impractical, uncomfortable, and not the right road bike for you.

Let's say you could own an F1 car. Would you actually drive it? Well, heck yeah! At least once or twice, but are you going to commute to work in it, go get groceries in it, or take the kids to a picnic in it? No, you are not. I would submit that this is what you are doing with your "F1 roadie rocket" though.

At the risk of sounding all "Grant Petersen" on you all, the "fat road" bike trend isn't new, but it is practical, and you should be paying attention. Hopefully a better road bike is in your future.

Monday, January 23, 2012

51 Trips Around The Sun

Ready To Blaze Thru Another Year
First off, apologies to the regular readers here for this, but today is my day to mark my appearance to this World. It's been a good ride so far. All 51 laps around the Sun of it.

There certainly were some parts I'd rather not remember, and wished I didn't have to go through, but I wouldn't be who I am without that stuff.

As for this space where I write and blather on, I will say that I continue to be amazed and humbled by the numbers of folks that say they read "Guitar Ted Productions" on a daily basis. To you I say "Thanks!" I am certainly appreciative of you all stopping by.

Of course, I get out and about sometimes and people find out that I am "Guitar Ted". It's always interesting, but I'll share one experience that happened recently that reflects on what this day means in a small way.

I was at Triple D, and waiting in the start line, when someone a few folks over heard me mention who I was.

"You're Guitar Ted?, I heard a voice say. I looked over to see a younger man than I and I answered him that I was indeed that person. He went on to say he read this blog and then he mentioned that I was older than he thought I would be. That he thought I was a younger man, a racer type, and ........well.....

Of course, by this juncture he was feeling a bit embarrassed, not knowing if I would be offended by that statement. Of course, I ribbed him a bit, but really, it was no big deal. (So, if you are this fellow that I am describing, no offense was taken, none meant from me either.)

I think it illustrates the personal/impersonal paradox that is the inner-web-o-sphere. You all "know" me, yet there are seemingly obvious things you may not know about me, like how I look in person, or that I am "old". Then there is the other side, the actions and words I portray here are maybe not those some may think of when they think of "middle-age", (whatever that is). So, I take it as a compliment when folks are surprised to see my white beard and silver hair. Yep! I've been around awhile.

And I intend to be around a while longer. See ya'all down the trail somewhere...................

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Celebrating In Snow: Part II

The one year celebration of the Snow Dog continued Saturday with an invitation from Captain Bob to join him and maybe a few others on a snow ride. Plans were made and the time was set. I went to sleep Friday night as the mercury plunged well below the zero mark. (That's zero Fahrenheit, my non-U.S.A. friends)

The Capt. and Alan just outside of Denver. (That's Denver, Iowa)
When I finally crawled from the sleep-sack, it was 15 below zero. (-26.6C), and I checked out the hourly forecast. Fortunately it called for rapidly rising temperatures. Within two hours of my awakening, it was already 6 above, (-14.4C), and was supposed to go a wee bit higher still.

The trouble with that is that as the air gets warmer here in winter it gets "wetter", and it actually feels worse than it does at, or near zero. Oh well....

I met up with Captain Bob, Mike and Alan in a convenience store parking lot. We discussed some ride ideas. I heard from Alan and Capt. that snowmo's had been down the rail trail just outside of town. We thought we should check it out. Captain Bob knew of an easier access to the trail than trying to fight our way through drifted snow just outside of town, so we headed a mile north and then crossed the highway to gravel.

How the county maintenance guys scrape snow off gravel without also scarring the road surface too badly must be a trick. They seem to have it down to a science with a thin layer of snow left in most spots while some gravel peeks through in other spots. Seriously, it is amazing that they can do this well when you think about it.

Alan and Mike coming under the 4 lane.
We made a two mile jaunt to access the trail, and then dove in. It appeared as though only a few, (at best), sno-moes had been up this trail so far. With the snow being so dry, it wasn't enough to really make the trail ideal for fat-bikes, but we slogged through with some tire washing outs, dabs, and fish tailing.

The snow was deep, so if you caught an edge on the soft stuff, or got out of the line, you were swapping ends and veering toward the ditch. This made the ride pretty technical. Get the weight well back, loose hands on the bars, don't steer too much, and concentrate! Sounds like riding rollers? Well, it is a lot like that, only the scenery is much better!

We stopped at a mile in to re-group, and then went another mile, with another stop there to re-group. Time was a concern for some of us, so we planned one more mile and then peeled off the trail. It was slow, hard, but it was good fun too. The ride back on gravel was cold, what with the wind coming up, and the air getting wetter. It was certainly warmer, but more humid. I felt the air was warmer when we started since it was drier back at that time too.

Alan airing back up.
Alan had to stop to air his Endo back up to road certified pressures after he had dumped a lot of air out for the rail trail section. I did notice his tire on the trail. It was a funny thing to watch his rear tire pulse with each pedal stroke he took. Flat looking to normal, ad infinitum.

Once he got that squared away we were off again, now only a couple miles from Denver, Iowa. We rolled in on pavement for the last mile and as we hit town we could see residents going about the business of snow removal.

I spotted a man with his wife as they were using shovels to clear their sidewalk. The man had a blank stare on his face. Maybe he'd never seen a fat bike posse before? I don't know, but I waved in a friendly manner. Mike said he put his head down and laughed as we went by. Likely as not he was thinking we were certifiable nut-cases for being out on bicycles, regardless of the tire size.

Oh well, we didn't care. We got a nice, two hour ride in, while most folks were huddled inside their humble abodes. I got another excellent ride in on the Snow Dog and did it with some cycling friends. Doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Celebrating In Snow

I am pretty sure it was about a year ago that the Snow Dog emerged from the Guitar Ted Laboratories to terrorize the local scene. The bike had been in the works since the November before, and with all the hullabaloo involved in getting everything together for it, I wasn't sure I would even get to ride the bike in snow last year.

Making an 8" deep furrow
But an amazing bunch of friends got together and made sure I had the final pieces to the puzzle- the frame and fork- before my birthday last year, and you know what? They even bought the frame and fork for me. Yeah......pretty dang cool. 

There is no way I can ever show my gratitude or repay these kind folks fully for that selfless act. I can only show you that I remember your actions and that I am really enjoying The Snow Dog as much as I can. Like yesterday. 

The one thing I took away from last year's snowy rides was that I thought I could use just a wee bit more float. I figured at that time I was going to have to look at getting 100mm rims. These, I thought, would stretch out the 3.8" Larry enough to get that little bit more float. What I didn't know was that a bigger Larry was on the way- the Big Fat Larry 4.7"er, as a matter of fact.

Well, it was going to be cheaper to get two new tires than it was to get two new fat bike wheels made with 100mm rims, so I thought that the BFL would do what I wanted. I can now say that "yes", the BFL is that "little bit more float" that I was wanting last year.

I rode through 4"s of fluff going to work and twice as much coming home. I know the 3.8"er on Rolling Darryls would have been not nearly as rideable. That said.......I think I may be looking for some wider rims for next winter! 

Happy Birthday, Snow Dog! (And thanks to those who made it all possible)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday News And Views

Di2 Ultegra
The Roadies, They Are A Changin': A few days back I got to build up my first Di2 bike. If you don't know what that is, well.....where have ya been? But that's okay, if ya don't know. It is electronic shifting. The derailleurs move via an electronic impulse sent to a servo motor on a derailleur.

Why? Well.......because it is "better"! (Of course) That's what Shimano, the bike companies, and the bike shops want you to believe. And in several ways it is better. But nothing comes without compromises. There are a few glaring ones that you don't hear much about when these bikes with Di2 get discussed.

A few things jumped out at me when I built the bike. In no particular order....

  • There is a corded charger you will need to keep the battery charged. Oh.......but the battery lasts a 1000 shifts....  Okay, but ya know what? In the fine print, it says you should not run the battery completely dead, because it may shorten battery life. So, you will charge that expensive battery more often than you think. Know what that means? Your bicycle just became another "device". You know......like a phone, a mp3 player, a digital camera, (shall I go on?). Yeah....so keep track of that corded charger, and always bicycle in areas with 110V outlets in the U.S.A. (Shimano sells separate chargers and cords for other electrical outlet/power standards)
  • The derailleurs are butt ugly. Yes.......I said it! The servo motors needed to move the derailleurs look like gray, plasticized tumors. They are uninspired from an artistic viewpoint, and look very out of place. Some of that is due to "newness", I will grant that, but they do not look like an integrated part of the derailleurs and thus, stick out like something alien to the rest of the machine. 
  • The Ultegra Di2 has about a 30% shorter battery life than Dura Ace Di2, even though the batteries are identical. The wiring scheme on Ultegra Di2 consumes more energy per shift. (It's in the fine print with the system, and verified by a Shimano tech meeting I attended a year ago.)
  • The levers are really cool. I love the shape of the hoods. The buttons are decent. It was my favorite part of the system by far. 
  • It shifts with precision, but faster? I will not say that. You can't screw up a shift though, unless you press the wrong button/lever. 
  • The rear derailleur, in particular, concerns me. The servo motor lengthens the body of the derailleur a lot, which presents a longer lever arm for impacts to bend/shear drop out hangars. I predict that more derailleur hangars will die due to this longer derailleur body design. 
  • Everything about the system is very expensive.
But other than that, it's awesome!

 And then there are those disc brake thingies.... The other deal going down with roadies is the whole disc brake wave that is coming for model year 2013. I find all the hoopla a bit ironic, and a bit humorous, since it reminds me of mountain biking circa 1999.

Disc brakes arguments were heated then. "It'll never be anything other than a down hill thing", or "it will weaken wheels to much", or again, "wheels can't take those forces from disc brakes without being made so heavy I won't ride them."

Similar roadie specific grievances are being put forth even now. Of course, none of it will matter in five years. By then it will be an accepted part of the scene, and road bikes without hydraulic brakes or mechanical disc brakes will be seen as quaint, retro machines, not unlike how 650B rando bikes are seen today.

My question: Will there be a "Roadie Retro-Grouch Societe'"?  I want to buy the t-shirt if that happens. I have the mtb version mothballed in my collection to go with that.

But seriously- If the whole brifter-with-hydro-brakes thing can be solved, I would definitely be interested from a drop bar mtb/gravel grinder viewpoint. And ya know what? I am 90% sure we'll see something this year yet for that. Of course, you'll have to upgrade to 11 speeds out back! That's okay though, since I'll just ditch the front derailleur thing-a-ma-bob altogether when that comes down the pipeline.

Speaking of gravel grinders..... My next event is CIRREM which happens next month near the end. Wow.....by the looks of the way things are going, I may use a Mukluk at that event too! Either way, it is a hilly, metric century length deal that I know I can do. I look forward to getting down there and seeing the Des Moines folk I have met. Great folks!

And gravel grinders continue to come out of the woodwork! i have been getting hammered by promoters wanting their rides up on Gravel Grinder News of late. The calendar is filling out nicely with quite a few first time additions.

And finally.....I have started the cue sheets for T.I.v8. So far I have up to Checkpoint #1 done, and by the end of the weekend I hope to have most of that job bagged. Then after that I will hand off some drafts to a couple of folks as we drive the course to double check things in the field. I will have also double checked everything myself at home first by that time as well.

Hopefully that part of Trans Iowa will be dialed before the event starts and not prove to be a stumbling block to any of the riders.

Have a great weekend and get outside and enjoy life if you can!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Project 26: Completed

I had to put this on the back burner for a while due to Triple D. It is my project to get a bike built around a set of Continental Top Contact Winter 26"er tires. It also was taking a lot longer than I wanted to due to the persnickety roller cam brakes. Anyway, you can go back to the original post here if you want.

Old MTB turned commuter
So, here it is in all its vintage mtb glory. This started out life as a Schwinn High Sierra, probably from '86 or so. It came stock with SunTour Rollercam brakes, so I had to stick with those as brakes. They are a bit temperamental  and it took several tries to get them to operate correctly. The only other surviving parts from the original bike are the seat post, seat post quick release, and the head set.

The wheels are even older, having come from an old Mongoose All Mountain  Pro from about 1984-85 vintage. The rims are drilled like fatbike rims and have a gold foil rim strip showing through the grey anodized aluminum. The hubs are Suzue sealed bearing units with bolt on axles. Another component from that bike is here in the form of the SunTour top mount shifter.

Next we have the stem, which was pilfered from an early 90's Schwinn Criss-Cross hybrid bike. That holds a pair of Ergon GE-1 grips and a Salsa Moto Ace 17 degree sweep bar. Brake levers are early 90's Shimano Deore DX SLR two finger type in a black anodized hue, (or is that paint? Dunno. They are very black though.).

These about drove me mad.
The crank set is from an early 80's Specialized touring bike. The Sugino arms have a nice, pearly ano finish. I miss this look in components! I bolted a single Sugino 38T ring to this. The crank set spins on a 90's vintage Shimano UN-52 sealed cartridge bottom bracket. I suspect this used bottom bracket will easily outlast this bike.

The pedals are some old Odyssey Triple Traps. These were some of my favorite old pedals back in the day.

The chain is a Sedis Sport from Sachs, which was bought out by SRAM eventually. Sedis chain was my preferred 90's mtb chain, and they do last a long time. This one is from back in the day. I pulled it out from my single speed box, since I save these old Sedis chains for single speed duty when I find them. Fortunately it was the perfect length for this application.

The chain turns through a SunTour MounTech derailleur which shifts that chain over a five speed SunTour freewheel. Again, I wanted to go single speed with this rig, but the wheels I had would not allow for this sort of set up.

The five speed set up will be simple, should stay working through most winter muck, and should last a long time. Not single speed simple, but it should be okay.

The saddle is from a 70's Raleigh Gran Prix. It is a Wrights leather saddle, very similar to a Brooks B-17. I "butchered" it to look more like a Brooks Swift model. I actually rode this very saddle, (pre-butchered), on the longest single ride I have ever done, which was over 160 miles.

I then bolted on some accessories. I had an old Vetta rack, which was used for touring back in the day by me, (I think!). Then I grabbed a set of  Planet Bike Hardcore Fenders and slapped those in there. Finally, my old touring days are represented here by my vintage Jaand Mountain panniers.

The reason for the whole deal.

During my test ride of this set up today, I found that everything works just fine. Shifts great, brakes work, position is upright-ish and comfy. I do think I will need to buy one thing to make it really useable though. That would be a Brooks saddle.

I'm thinking a Brooks B-67 in black is what I need here. My aim is to make the bike as comfortable and useful as possible, and that saddle will go a long way to making it so. Okay, other than that, the bike is finished.

Now, about those tires! I have only ridden them down to the store and back, so this is merely a very brief impression, but the grip is definitely there on packed down snow. Of course, the real test will be when we start getting some ice here and there. I'll be back with more about the tires, and this bike, in due time.

Continental sent the  Top Contact Winter tires over for test and review at no charge. I am not being paid, nor bribed to do this review and I will strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Triple D Report: Part III

Welcome back to my next installment of the Triple D Report! You can find parts I & II in the previous two posts to this one.

Department Of Corrections: I made a mistake in my post yesterday. The rider I hooked up with on the Heritage Trail going into Dyersville was not "Don", as I had written originally, but his true name is Craig. My apologies to Craig and the post has been amended to reflect the truth. (Thanks Craig for setting me straight!)

Okay, with that let's set the stage here: I was on my way out of Dyersville and headed to the intersection with Girl Scout Road, where we had originally picked up the Heritage Trail.

Heritage Trail at the Girl Scout Road intersection.
I was promising myself I would not stop for any reason until Girl Scout Road had been reached. This would be about a 10 mile stretch from Dyersville, maybe a bit more. I was starting to feel my right shoulder bothering me. It is a condition I deal with from a couple of old injuries back in my younger days, but essentially my whole upper shoulder on the right side tenses up and aches badly when I ride a long time.

I figured out why it was getting worse too. I had forgotten in my haste to leave Dyersville to take another dose of ibuprofen. Doh! Now I was not going to give in and stop, but it was pretty painful there towards the end. The other creeping need coming into sharper view was hunger. Yes- I was getting really hungry. Hopefully I'd get to stop before I bonked.

And then there was the issue of that guy up ahead with the blinker light on. I wasn't catching him, but having that "carrot" out there kept me on the gas until I stopped at the intersection. Finally! I could get that "Vitamin I" and eat. I was munching away, drinking, and taking a few images. I suspected I would get passed while I was standing there, but no one showed up. I was a bit amazed by this, since I was probably there a good five minutes.

So, I took off onto unknown trail. This was the last third of the event, and I was ready to kill this ride off. My plan was to ride as fast as I could to Graf, wherever that was at, and to not turn on my head light until I absolutely had to. I did flick on my borrowed Planet Bike blinky at this juncture though. (Thanks again, Jerry!)

Well, to my complete surprise, Graf was a mere mile up the road! Okay, so "Plan B"! I decided to try and hit Durango, the next town up the line, before stopping. I hit the pedals and clicked down a gear. I was feeling really good, and strangely enough, the trail was faster.

By-Tor The Titanium Mukluk
Maybe it was just me, but it looked like the trail had been groomed recently here, and the track was a bit crusty from the day's sunshine. Whatever it was, I could rail away at the pedals at will, and seeing the line was not nearly as critical as it was earlier. Good timing too, because the sun light was fading to darkness. Also, the trail pointed slightly downhill from here on out. Bonus!

I finally pulled the trigger on turning on the light, which was nice. The Lezyne Super Drive on low setting was all I needed to see every nuance of the snow on the trail ahead and allowed me to cruise at daytime speeds easily. However; by now I was getting hungry again. And where the "H, E, Double Hockey Sticks" was Durango? I was wondering just how long I was going to be out there, and then I just thought I'd better stop, no matter where Durango was, because I wasn't about to bonk and blow it all. So, I came up on an intersection and stopped to chow down the saltines I snagged back in Dyersville along with some Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate wafers I had stolen from my wife. While I munched away, I saw the tell-tale bluish glow of a cyclists torch coming up the trail.

I'm in orange here at the motel pre-start: (Image credit R. Christensen)
The guy asked if I was okay, and I said I was just stopping to eat. He said, "Well, you could stop at Durango. It's right up the road." Then he rolled off out of sight. Good info, but I wasn't going to stop at Durango now! I was going straight on. I was finishing up my last saltines and chocolate wafer when I saw another bluish glow. I thought, "I'm not going to be that guys carrot!", and I hit it hard out of the blocks to make sure I didn't get caught by this fellow. I also had the idea of catching up to the fellow ahead of me.

Well, I never did see that guys blinky light. It was as if he had turned it off, or he was just motoring after passing me. I don't know, but I did see Durango coming into sight, and what I thought was a blinky light turning right off the trail. When I reached the intersection, the bar where we could stop appeared to be on the left, and nothing of interest was to the right, so I guess maybe I was hallucinating, or the guy just was gone. Either way, I kept hammering in case he was still up ahead.

After awhile, with no sign of a bike ahead or behind me, I let off the gas a bit. I passed a ski hill with all its lights on. A pretty sight. The trail went through some towering limestone cuts and bluffs here. Then I came alongside a road. I could see the glow of Dubuque off to my right and ahead. The end was near! (Or so I thought.)

Awards were handed out, prizes were chosen.
I crossed a road, then I crossed another and came to what looked like a trail head parking lot. I didn't see any markings, but I found a bit more trail out the backside of this area, and found a sign leading me to believe I was on track. Then this spit me out onto a busy road. I looked across the road, wandered around anxiously for a few minutes, thinking I may be caught by a rider any second. My fears rose up inside as I got angry and cursed and yelled. I couldn't find the route!

I knew Lance had said that if we got off route in Dubuque we could just find whatever way back we needed to, so I decided to ride in on the highway I was at. It turned out to be Highway 52, and it was a four lane at this point. Still, I got buzzed by a driver, and that made me all the more angry.

I got to the intersection of 34th and HWY 52 where a sidewalk picked up, and I stopped and drank some fluids while I calmed down and took stock of my predicament. I suddenly realized I could ride up to about 15th, turn left and pick up the route we took out of town, so I hit the sidewalks of Dubuque. I saw children scurrying towards their porches and some of them were saying, "It's the bike cops!". I thought they were mocking me, but come to find out, Dubuque actually does have a bike cop that patrols that area!  I saw some other shifty looking folks and realized it wasn't probably the best part of town, but I was okay, and nearly finished with the event. I found the old factories, the cobblestone street with the trolley tracks, and the Shot Tower. All passed by the group on the way out, so I remembered these from the morning.

Matching Guys! Drew (1st place) and Curtis
So it was that I finally made the right hand turn to go in front of the hotel where the finish line was on the second floor in the meeting room we had the pre-race briefing in.  I walked around the corner and several guys congratulated me, and Mrs. Guitar Ted was there to give me a hug and a kiss. I signed out in what I am pretty sure was a top 25 place at about 6:30pm. (UPDATE: results are in, and I placed 22nd!)

The event was awesome and well run, and despite my getting lost near the end, I had a good time.  The way the event went off was smooth and again- with three different disciplines racing from three different start points, it was hard to imagine how Lance and the crew pulled it off, but they did. Kudos to all who had anything to do with the Triple D.

When asked, Lance told me he thought this Triple D fell in about the middle as far as the difficulty of the course and conditions. That made me feel pretty good about my efforts, and actually, come to think of it, I would say it was an unqualified success for me. I had been seriously ill only a month away from the event, and training in December leading up to Triple D was meager at best. In fact, my longest ride before Triple D was probably only 20 miles, so I didn't feel very confident about pulling off a 65 miler coming into this. That said, while I was riding after the technical stuff, I felt fantastic, and never was thinking I wouldn't finish.

The last place guy came in after almost 13hrs!
My equipment held up fantastically. The bike was spot on, shifting was great, the tires, albeit on the skinny side for some of the deeper, wallowy stuff, worked great when the trail was clearer. Pressure was set around 7psi, and that seemed to be perfect.

Going into the event, I didn't quite know what to expect, so I probably can be accused of over-packing. I wouldn't change a thing about what I did not knowing what I know. However; knowing what I know, I would modify what I brought quite a bit. Much of the gear I brought clothing-wise could have been left out. I brought way too much nutritional stuff as well. I figure I probably could have cut my load weight in half easily, but that's okay. Like I said, I wasn't hip, but now I know better.

Finally, I have to mention the fella that came in the front door of the motel at 11:30pm as we were about to leave for a bar. He was the last place finisher of Triple D, he had a smile on his face a mile wide, and he was loving the reception we were giving him in recognition of his efforts. Ben Wit told me he hadn't ridden a bike until he was 60 years of age, then decided to become a cyclist. He attended all three of Ben's fall gravel tours and always finished. What a great testament to a good attitude and perseverance.

Once again, many, many thanks to all involved in Triple D. I loved the event, and would highly recommend it to anyone with a mind to try a wintertime adventure. Well worth the trip! Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Triple D Report: Part II

All righty then.....Here is the second, action packed portion of my Triple D event report. You can check out yesterday's post for the pre-event stuff. Warning: Super long post!

Lining up 70 riders
With everyone raring to go, we all lined up for the controlled roll out through the streets of Dubuque. Lance said he wanted to get us over to the Heritage Trail before turning the riders loose.

Dubuque was sleepy and the streets were mostly devoid of cars. It was Sunday morning, after all, and most folks were sleeping in, or at church, or riding in Triple D!

Conditions for the start of the event were "pleasant" for January in Iowa. Bright, sunny skies, a light breeze, and a temperature in the upper teens.

The mood amongst the riders seemed to me to be relaxed and ready to have a great time. I did not detect any nervousness, but I am sure some folks were. Me? I was one of the chill folks. Heck, I even took a pull off of eventual second place finisher, "Spinner" Reyerson's flask of blackberry brandy to set the mood right. Folks around me in the waiting line to roll out were talkative and seemed to be of like mind to me.

The congregation of the "Church of the Fat Bike"
So with a hearty cry from the riders and the  lonely clang of a single cowbell we set off on our 65 mile journey at a little after 10am. The pace was relatively easy on our way northwards through the streets. Some folks on porches and stoops stood aghast as we rolled by with a loud roar from the Larrys, Endos, and the few Husker Du and Nate tires in the field.

I was chatting up race organizer, Lance Andre, as we rolled along. I asked him how fat bikes had been growing in popularity, since he is rather close to the scene. He mentioned how at the beginning of the Triple D, the fat bike was rare, but in the last year, he said the fat bikes had "exploded in popularity". He attributed this mostly to the followings that Salsa Cycles and Surly Bikes has, and the introduction by both companies of affordable, good quality fat bike rides.

I asked Lance then if this was the biggest fat bike gathering in Iowa ever. He replied that it might be one of the biggest fat bike gatherings ever overall, but certainly in Iowa. That was pretty impressive to me. I was honored just to be a part of that. Then Lance suddenly realized we were fast approaching the point where he wanted to turn us loose, so he bolted off to the front to bark out some final instructions.

This was a lot harder than it looks.
We started out on a snow covered bicycle trail. It had about 4 inches of unconsolidated snow on it, the consistency of flour. If you didn't pay attention to holding a line, setting your weight back, holding loosely to the bars, you were swapping ends and maybe even hitting the deck, like one rider did in this early portion.

This part found me within easy sight of the front. I was probably about 20-25 riders back, and I felt good about this part of the event. We were not going at some infernal pace, burning up all my matches in the process. Not the case in most events, no matter their length, but Triple D is very different. I would find this out in a little bit.

In a little while we were obliged to squeeze through a narrow gap and into an open area on snowmobile trails. These were heavily traveled by snowmobiles, but they weren't packed in. They were tough to navigate, and I tried scoring the wheel tracks of anyone on a Moonlander around me. Those tracks were easier for my "skinny" Larry 3.8"ers to find support in. The trouble was, there were some really skinny tired mountain bikers in the field and they were swapping ends and cutting up the trail so badly in spots that it was tough to find a good line this far up the field.

Then we were obliged to ascend a really steep climb that separated us and strung the field way out. Up along a highway now and the climbs were unrelenting. These were at pitches like those of a house rooftop, and with the snow, it was like trying to push your bike through dry beach sand. The sun was unrelenting, and riders were stopping to peel off layers, hats, and gloves. This included myself. I took off my gloves at this point and didn't put them back on until sundown!

After this we were going along wide open stretches of land dotted with industrial buildings and a few farms. The land looked easy enough, but the grass was deeper and hid more snow than it looked. This was a difficult section. You could maybe ride the flats, and certainly anything that went down hill, but riding up any incline on this stuff was so power-sapping that you were better off walking it.

I found myself amongst three or four riders that I was trading places with back and forth here. Once in a while we would over take a rider or two, and then a couple riders would pass us back if we paused at the top of a climb. This dance went back and forth until we reached a road which then got us to another "open range" area, as Lance had described it.

A rider approaching a snowmobile bridge
This section was a new section of private land that went around a dairy farm, crossed a creek, and several of these snowmobile "bridges".

These were erected to get snowmobiles over fence lines and other smaller obstacles like stream run-offs. They were basically "tee-pees" of wood or steel rod with large gaps between the runners of the bridge so that larger animals like cows could not get across them. The gaps weren't wide enough to stop fat bike tires, so you could ride over these if you kept your speed up and held your line. The front of my titanium bike felt like it was about to be sheared off by these bridges! There were several of these crossings in this sector of the course.

After wending our way along a stream valley, we slowly crawled out and upwards to a steep climb that had everyone around me walking at this point. Somehow, I passed about four guys here, just pushing along! Then, as we hit the paved road a couple of these guys passed me back. I was yo-yoing back and forth with a fella on a Pugsley Neck Romancer in this section. He was telling me about the gnarly, icy B Road descent coming up, and just before he dove in, he said, "It's nothing but glare ice down here!". Turns out it was most likely just something to psyche me out, since he was gone, and I never saw him again. He ripped through while I was cautious. It was like a rolling, twisting flume with a few ruts that ran down the trail and guided you downward. Sure- there was some ice at points, but it wasn't anything to fret over, as long as you weren't silly enough to ride right in the groove filled with ice.

This was what the Heritage Trail looked like for most of the way.

Well, it was only a short little jaunt over to the Heritage Trail where we would spend the rest of the ride. The technical, crazy hard stuff was over. I said to myself, "That was the knock-out punch, and I am still riding." I felt good yet, I was under control, riding my own pace, and holding my own.

As I entered the Heritage Trail, I saw a few racers up ahead, and I set off to bridge the gap to the first. I passed and then on to the second one. I sat on his wheel for a bit, but he was slower than I wanted to go, so I found a good place to pass and went onward for the third rider. Sticking my front tire in a groove and getting my weight off the front tire was key. If you weighted the tire too much you were fighting the front end, and swapping ends.

It wasn't long before I was up to the next rider, but something was different. He was going at a nice, steady pace, and as I set in on his wheel, I felt I should stay and work with him. He noticed me back there and asked if I wanted around him. I said no- it was good. We struck up a conversation that took us the rest of the way into Dyersville. Turns out his name is Craig, and he is signed up to do T.I.V8 this year. He was riding a fixed gear Pugsley, and was one of two fixed gear riders in the field.

A little detour around a bridge that was blocked off presented a quick down and up that saw me take a little tumble into some sticker weeds, but no harm done. I was back riding with Craig, and we came into Dyersville with the wind at our backs at about 3:45 to the Checkpoint.

Sunset over the Heritage Trail at the Girl Scout Road intersection.

You folks quick with numbers will note that it took me five and three quarters hours to go 30 some miles. Yes- it was hard going! And I was still in at 24th place at the time. Not too shabby for an older guy with a messenger bag!

The checkpoint was at Chad's Pizza where the Triple D had provided free food, drink, and a warm environment to enjoy all of that in. I decided before entering that I would make as short of work at this stop as possible. I felt good. I thought I could finish, and I was wanting to get after it as soon as possible.

I ate a slice of pizza, well salted, and then immediately got up to attend to my bottles and to use the restroom. My plan had me grabbing another slice of pie on the way out, however, about twenty guys piled in right on my heels, and swept all the food offerings up. I looked around, grabbed a bunch of saltine cracker packets from the salad bar, and headed for the door. My plan was to get back to the entry point we made onto the Heritage Trail before I stopped again. That was about ten miles down the road. It would mark the two thirds distance point, close enough, for the entire route.

The course was scenic
Craig must have felt my vibe and wanted in on it. He was hurriedly getting his stuff together to leave with me from Dyersville. We headed out and onto the open stretches of Heritage Trail where there was little snow, and also little shelter from a very steady, strong head wind.

I was leading, and I set a pace/cadence I felt I could maintain, but was still pushing the limits a bit. I was going with as much of a crouch as I could muster on a fat bike, and still watching my line where I needed to. I looked over my left shoulder at the long shadows from the swiftly lowering sun. I didn't see Craig's "right there" on my wheel. Hmm..... I took a quick look back, and he was about ten to fifteen yards behind me, but I wasn't going to back off my pace, because I was set in a good rhythm. I had to concentrate on keeping a balance between working too hard and losing ground. It wasn't easy, I had no computer, and no way to really gauge my progress except for the next guy up the trail that I could see.

This went on for about six miles. When I had passed a guy, I looked back and couldn't see Craig anymore. I wouldn't see him again until he finished later in the evening. I passed another young man on a Snow Blind Pugsley, and then I could see a blinky light about a quarter mile up the trail. I set my sights on that, and now with the sheltered trail blocking the wicked head wind, I went into time trial mode for the Girl Scout Road intersection.

That's a good place to stop for now. I'll finish this up tomorrow!