Monday, September 30, 2013

Interbike '13: A Review

Surprised that there wasn't more of this...

Okay, now that my little rant about gravel bikes  is in the rear view mirror, I wanted to write about what was cool at Interbike this year. If you'd rather listen than read, you can check out Mountain Bike Radio's "Guitar Ted Show" for my take. Otherwise, read on.....

The three big things: Fat bikes, Gravel bikes/stuff, and 27.5"ers/enduro- were not surprises going in and that was exactly what was a big deal this year. Now.....whether or not you agreed with all of that, that was what was up for debate and what the chatter was all about at the show. In fact, the show was a lot less about a bicycle, component, or trend, and a lot more about debating issues concerning trends. Evolutionary changes were evident, for sure, but was there anything "big" that everyone was buzzing about?

No. Not really.

In a year when Greg LeMond announces he's going to sell bicycles under his name again, and in a year when we're all supposed to go gaga over another wheel size, the news on the show floor that captured everyone's attention was how bad it was to navigate the show floor.

Yep. Navigation of a new convention center was bigger news at a bicycle convention than bicycles were. That's an indication of how uninspired Interbike has become.

I wasn't surprised there was a lot of this....
That said, here are a few quick observations on the show:
  • I was surprised there wasn't more 29+ action. Last year the Krampus was an unqualified hit. I figured somebody would follow that up with a new addition to the 29+ platform. Besides Velocity USA's Dually rims, there really wasn't anything going on with 29+ outside of Surly's new ECR. (But of course- we all knew about that since July....)
  • I wasn't surprised that more gravel oriented stuff was on display, like the Surly Straggler, the Raleigh Tamland, and Giant's Revolt, because......well, we all knew and had seen  that stuff ahead of Interbike.
  • There was a ton of fat bike carbon fiber stuff everywhere, and even more tires and aluminum framed complete models all over the show. But once again......all of it had been revealed ahead of Interbike. 
Notice a pattern there? Yep......there really wasn't anything new at Interbike we all have not already seen before. That is the reason why the show floor layout was a big deal. That is why folks took to debating whether or not we've heard too much about enduro, whether fat bikes are stupid, and why on earth we need a gravel specific bike. It was all about the minutiae of  ideas. Nothing about how cool this certain bike was. Well, that isn't 100% true. .......there was one thing that stood out.

Steve Hed explaining his adventure rig
 There was this bicycle in the HED Wheels booth and it turned out to be probably the coolest bicycle at Interbike. First of all, it was a big surprise to see such a rig in HED's booth. Second of all, it was a custom design by Eric Noren of Peacock Groove. Essentially, this was a NAHBS bike discovered at Interbike. Yep....a custom bike show happened at a lackluster bicycle convention. 

Not that there weren't some darn impressive things at Interbike. Who can deny that the carbon fiber fat bike stuff is not awe inspiring and jaw droppingly expensive? Who can resist looking at all the cycling paraphernalia on display if you are a bike nerd like me?  I do have to also make a shout out to the super cool single speed cross bike in Twin Six's booth that belongs to Jesse La Londe.   That was a stealthy, cool bike.

I know a lot of you out there would just have loved to have been prowling the floors of Interbike, but I am also betting you would have walked away talking more about cycling stars and Industry wonks you met than you would have talked about cycling products or bicycles. I'm pretty sure that would be the case. Why?

Because you would have seen all the stuff on the Internet before the show. That' s why. But I could be wrong about that. So, other than the HED bike, you could have seen and read all about almost everything seen at Interbike before the show. Maybe there were a few other things like that HED bike to be found, but I probably missed them trying to find my way around the show floor.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

3GR Report: A Wet One

Papa Smurf was found and came along for the ride.
There have been many "iffy" mornings for 3GR over the past two years, and another close call with wet weather was expected to occur Saturday again. I was feeling okay about getting the whole loop in though because it was not supposed to rain before noon. Plenty of time to do the course we usually do.

Besides, I was expecting John to show up. He has been coming in and building up new bikes at the shop where I work. John is retired from John Deere here and is an avid cyclist, usually seen on a recumbent. He had joked around about bringing a recumbent on 3GR, so I was curious to see what he might show up on.

Saturday I awoke to no internet service, so I couldn't geek out on weather radar and talk myself out of even trying to go on the ride. I peeked outside once the Sun arose and it didn't look too bad, so I kitted up and headed out aboard the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike to head out to the meeting spot.

I arrived with ten minutes to go till the start and no one was there. Hmm......maybe this would be a solo ride. I always think that though, so I didn't put too much credence in that thought. Sure enough, I saw a helmeted head appear, and slowly Robert rode up the grade into the parking lot to join me. We chatted for a bit, and just as I was about to say we should leave, here came John after all on a standard bike.

Threatening skies as we headed Northward and the roads were dusty.
Ripening fields South of Denver- just before the deluge.
We took off and started on up Moline Road, as always, and I noted that the roads were pretty dusty. The wind was at our backs so all the hills made you feel as though you had super-human power with that pushing at you along. I knew, as did John and Robert, that the return leg would not be as fun. However; we didn't know just what was really in store for us yet.

John had never been up this road so I was taking the time to point out some of the sights along the way up. We were making good time, what with the wind and all, before we got close to Denver. Right about that time, we all felt the spitting of rain, but I still felt as though we were not in for an all-out rain, since it just didn't feel that way to me.

Full-on rain. The road isn't dusty now!
However; when we were passing by Denver on the East, the rain made itself known. John and I discussed a turn around option, and I thought it sounded prudent. I approached Robert with the idea, and he said he was game to go either way. In the end, we made an about face and headed right back the way we had come.

Well, we hadn't gone a 100 yards before the wind swept rain was so heavy that we were doomed to become soaked. Robert stopped to don his rain jacket and John stopped to bury his cell phone as deeply as he could into his trunk bag for protection. I didn't have a choice. I had my Zoic Nirvana jersey on and my Twin Six knickers on for protection against the elements, and that was it, so I soldiered on in the knowledge that once you are soaked, you cannot get any wetter! 

The rain was hard at first, and I thought for a split second there was some melted hail in there, but it was gone in a flash, whatever the more solid, stinging bits were. The rain continued on for a bit, then let up enough that I risked a few images with my old Fuji Z5.  (Otherwise known as the camera that won't die.) I thought I saw some lighter sky, and I was thinking we'd weathered the worst of things but I was wrong.

A ray of sunshine.
The rain came back again, just about as hard as before. The roads up until this time were taking on the rain like a sponge, but with the redoubled efforts of the clouds above, the smoother bits in the road soon became running streams of water and were filled with limestone silt that was getting sprayed all over us if we chose to ride the smother lines. Robert was up the road and I could see his rear tire spraying a rooster tail ten feet in the air and it was being blown down the road behind him for quite a ways. I backed down and got out of the direct line behind him to avoid the gritty slurry.

Not to mention the headwind, but oddly enough, I wasn't very focused on that, and in reality, we were making good time despite the elements. John said we should go on ahead of him and he would catch us up back in town at the coffee shop. I bridged up to Robert to tell him, and as soon as I had, here was John passing us both! Then a blast of wind rejoined the fray and John went backwards and I didn't see him until the aforementioned coffee shop rendezvous.

Passing the golf course. There were still guys golfing!
The rain never really ceased and it kept waxing and waning in intensity all the while the wind was whipping us from the Southeast. By the time we reached town again I was ready to get out of both the rain and the wind  and to get to that good cup of coffee at Cottonwood Canyon in downtown Waterloo.

As we passed the municipal golf course, I had to chuckle as we saw golfers vigilantly at their game. Only cyclists and golfers would not know enough to get out from the rain, eh? Seems that we're both a dedicated sort when it comes to enjoying our respective sports.

Coming into the downtown area I was careful not to ride directly behind Robert as to avoid his roost of water which resembled a plume and trailed out from his bike's rear tire quite a distance. Longer than it had in the country! Eventually we reached the coffee shop and when I dismounted I had another chuckle as I noted that my WTB Pure V saddle was completely covered in silt. I imagined that my backside was as well! Perhaps we would be kicked out of the coffee shop? Dirty cyclists that we were.

I didn't have to worry about that though, as I found a cleaning rag and laid it down on the seat I was going to use and did not lean into the upholstered back  so as not to soil it, or get it wet. Then the coffee! It was wonderful after the wet ride. John came in not long after and we all enjoyed the respite from the rain before we all three made our way back home in the drizzle. A fine mess we made of our bicycles and ourselves! But it was a good, fun ride nonetheless.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #4

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

Should this man have won the first Trans Iowa?
 One more story from the first Trans Iowa before I move on.....

That first event was a real education for both Jeff and I. Probably more so for me than anyone else. Our plan going in was that Jeff would actually ride the event. He was doing loads of "double secret" training, logging centuries and 150 milers in the night getting ready to put the hurt on the field of riders. I think it was a point of pride for Jeff. He had all these heavy-hitters coming from the endurance community to his home state, and he wanted to put on a show.

Well, that didn't pan out very well, since that heavy wind sucked the life out of him and many other riders. I watched as all the carnage went down in Algona and only a handful of riders made it out of town a little before six in the evening. Jeff's parents stayed behind in Algona to tally the riders staying in the event or dropping out. Now I was all on my own, going forth into the night to finish up putting on this beast of an event.

Of course, early on it wasn't very tough. I made my way past the few riders headed toward Forest City and then I hit Pilot Knob State Park, where we were to have the riders go down about a mile long, heavily pock marked bridleway. None of this was marked, and I had never been on it, nor laid eyes on it till the very moment I arrived with my flags and course tape. Things just got a whole lot tougher!

The Red Bull tent just about didn't survive the wind!
I had to run the entire length of the bridleway and back again, deciding on where to place flags and tape. I scrabbled around there for about an hour and a half before I finally said, "good enough" and jetted out in the shop van to check on the roads further up the course. It was dark by now, and I was all alone on the country roads.

Behind me, chaos broke out at Pilot Knob. Riders were confused as to where to go to enter the bridleway, the tape and flags were hard to see in the dark, I guess. However; several onlookers who had figured out where the course was going were on hand and those familiar with the park were directing riders to pass through on the park roads. Not what we intended, but since there were no "course marshals" what were we to have done? Live and learn lesson #1.

Now the wind died out to nothing, the stars shone in the velvety black vault above, and a moon rose up shining brightly. The temperatures dove down to the freezing mark. It was a cold, raw night. I had reconned the route to a little town called Lourdes on Highway 63 when I decided to park for a while and risk a bit of a nap. I was waaay ahead of any riders, so I figured it would be okay. I slept in five or ten minute fits and then would wake up, afraid that I was going to miss someone coming down the road. It was past 2am in the morning by now. I would see flickering lights, think they were riders, stare for ten minutes, and then realize it was a farmers yard light. Then I would repeat the process five minutes later, staring at the same light, swearing I just saw it move!

The famous "podium shot". L-R: Hannon, Ryan, Dolpp
I decided I better move on. I took the roads at 20mph or slower. I was so out of it, I didn't trust my reactions. I made it finally up to Cresco, where the route would pass through. It was the last town out before the finish 40 miles later in Decorah.

The plan was that I was to call a volunteer for the Decorah Time Trials to let them know who and how many were headed their way. Our finish line was the same as the time trials, which was to get underway later that morning. I parked just out of town on the North side of Cresco, parked the van well off the road, and walked to and fro, shivering in the now sub-freezing temperatures at about 4:00am in the morning.

I was beside myself with chills and I needed to hop into the van to warm up. I hit the motor and turned the heater on high, all the while trying to keep an eye out for any signs of a rider. I ended up dozing off for a second.......or was it longer? I was sure it was a head bob and nothing more. I jumped out of the van and into the chilling night air to awake my tired body and mind.

Just then I saw a bobbing, bluish-white set of lights. A rider! The first I would see since leaving Algona hours before. It was Alex Dolpp. I could tell by his brightly colored kit and the Specialized mountain bike he was riding. Wow! He had been in the lead out of Algona and still was leading! (Or was he?) I watched as the Sun began to brighten the Eastern sky and finally crest the hills towards Decorah. I saw six more riders go by. I called in my results as riders were spotted.

Suddenly my cell sprang to life. It was a volunteer in Decorah who said that he had three riders in, two of which I had not notified him of! It seems that Ira Ryan and Brian Hannon had come in ahead of Dolpp. How did that happen?! It must have been when I fell asleep for a moment! I was ticked off at my lapse of consciousness and felt horrible about that. Jeff and his Dad eventually relieved me of my duties and we went and had a bite to eat for breakfast.

Ira Ryan, (in front here), early in T.I.V1
Ira Ryan won Trans Iowa V1, we went about our lives, and things about T.I.V1 were put to rest. All but that lapse of responsibility I had. It ate away at me in the  following months, and even the Decorah Time Trial folks gave me a heated e-mail and phone call about our "negligence" in tracking the riders.

So it was as I was perusing Ira Ryans custom frame site months after Trans Iowa had finished and I accidentally clicked the mouse over an image on his front page. It led me to an "Easter egg" of sorts- Ryan's Trans Iowa story! I had never read it, or even knew it existed. In it, he told of the later hours on Saturday evening. He and Brian Hannon were riding together behind Alex Dolpp. It told of when they lost sight of his tail light and apparently made a wrong turn, or went straight and missed a turn. Then they came across some drunks in a car who led them to a near by county blacktop where Ryan and Hannon cut the course before eventually getting back on East of Cresco, essentially leap frogging me and Alex Dolpp in the process!

Well, well! Now I knew I had not missed Ryan and Hannon going by me because they never did! I felt justified, but as this discovery happened about six months past the ending of Trans Iowa, there was nothing anyone could do. Ira Ryan won Trans Iowa partially because of our ineptness in putting the event on and due to a decision made in the heat of the moment by he and Hannon that led to their getting ahead of Dolpp.

I decided to just keep my mouth shut back then and let it roll. But it is one of those stories that I feel is a good one to tell now. Obviously, this all set into motion many changes in the way we were going to put on V2, and I'll move on to that event next week.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday News And Views

It's been a big week with a bit of fall-out on a couple things, so strap in with a good cup of your favorite beverage. This could go long....

The road less traveled...
Open Source Naming Project: 

Thanks to the literally 100's of responses on the last few blog posts. Both the comment sections, e-mails, and from elsewhere. It was overwhelming and I am amazed at the varied and thoughtful responses to the query regarding the renaming of gravel grinder bikes. I am going to leave that be for now, but it will become interesting to see if anything at all becomes of it.

Backlash: As with anything involving passionate people, there were some instances where I noted folks saying this exercise was "dumb", "a waste of time", or that "they didn't care if the name changed, I am still calling it a gravel grinder bike".   That's all good. However; I think many of these folks do not understand that it isn't about their perception and name for their bikes. It is about expanding the appeal of such bikes to others.

It may be a surprise to some of you, but I have read other commentary that states "gravel grinder bikes are stupid", unnecessary, and a waste of time. Gravel grinding is silly, and why does this even need to be addressed, just ride your road bike. Yep. Obviously these folks don't have a grasp on this deal either, but hey- that's okay.  They may not get the appeal of riding all sorts of rural roads. Fine.

But again, I say these bikes make more sense than road racing bikes. You know, because you don't drive an F-1 car for a daily driver, yet we keep foisting F-1-like road racing rigs on the average cyclist. That's limiting, and frankly, I think it is a bad thing for the cycling industry. The "All Road" bike is about having fun, going where you don't normally go in a car, (or on a road bike because they don't work very well for this activity), stopping for a beer, or coffee, or heck.....just to look at something. You know....having fun! Why fight traffic when there are literally thousands of miles of back roads, country roads, or gravel at your disposal? Yeah....that's what these "gravel bikes" are really for.  At least in my opinion.

Raleigh Tamland
But Why A Special Bike?

Then there are the questions about "gravel grinders". (Bear with me, you gotta speak the current language to be understood.) Why a different bike? Isn't this a touring bike? Isn't this a cyclo cross bike?

Once again, let history teach us a lesson. Many folks have either plain forgotten, or just are ignorant to facts. Let me tell you a dirty little secret......The "gravel grinder" design is nothing new.  It is actually a throw-back bike. Let me explain...

In American Classic's Interbike booth, I stopped to chat with Bill Shook, the man behind American Classic and its designs. I explained my take on "gravel geometry". He got it immediately and said, "Well, you just described my first racing bike...." (Yes...Bill is a seasoned veteran of humanity.)

That's right, gravel geometry is "old racing bike geometry" because old racing bikes needed bigger tires, slacker angles for more stability, and were focused on rider comfort. Why? Because the roads those old guys and gals raced on sucked! That's why. Many were unpaved. You know........gravel? Yes, gravel, and dirt, and the infamous cobble stones. 

They say the first roads were made for cyclists, but that hasn't been the case for decades, and if you ride most any paved road, you are fighting a losing battle with cars, trucks, SUV's, and adults and teenagers texting while driving. Get outta there and hit a back road though, and all that is left behind you, and you can actually enjoy riding again, but you'll want a better bike than a carbon fiber road rocket.

Clearances for 40mm tires
So, I'll tell you another thing you may not know. Raleigh called me over a year ago and asked me what I would do for a bike that I could ride anywhere- Gravel, dirt, choppy roads, anywhere. I told them my thoughts and they made the Tamland to my suggestions.I got the idea from old racing bikes. I didn't invent anything new here. It's just a modern take on an old idea.

Yes, it would be a great gravel grinder, but it is more than that. It can be ridden anywhere save for "real" mountain bike trails and should be more stable, more comfortable, and more fun than a "real road bike", which is designed to be raced. Last time I checked, most people buying bicycles at the shop where I work do not race. Nothing wrong with racing and those who do it, its just that you are in the minority of cyclists. So again, why should these folks even be on a bike designed with a limited use? It's stupid, really.

And if I am wrong about bikes like the Tamland, I will admit to such, but I really don't think that I have to. It's different for good reasons. It is not a cyclo cross geometry. It is lighter and uses more delicate tubing than a true touring bike for reasons of comfort. Calling this bike a "gravel grinder" will only limit its appeal, so there is why I feel the name should be more widely appealing.

So, there you go. You do not have to agree. You can call your bike what you want to, I am fine with that. You can say I'm daft and all I need is a road bike or a cyclo cross bike. However; I believe this kind of bike is what would be fun, and a bike that would appeal to the senses of those who don't want to race, (but could on a bike like this), folks that do want adventure, practicality, and versatility. If I had to peel it back to one bike for almost everything, it would be a bike like this, or my Black Mountain Cycles rig seen so much on this blog. One Bike To Rule Them All, as one commenter posted in the comments here this week.

Nuff said.....

3GR: The forecast calls for rain and so if it gets wet around 8:30am, or looks bad, I may not be out there. If there is a window for a ride, I will be going at the same time, same place as I have all year.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Open Source Naming Project: An Open Letter To The Industry

To Whom It May Concern: 

I am a rider that likes to ride across hill and dale. I used to do this activity on paved county roads on what the bicycle industry commonly refers to as a "road bike". However; the traffic concerns, attitudes of some road cyclists, and the average uncomfortable nature of road bikes these days led me to riding even deeper into the hinterlands. A place where cars and attitudes are sparse. A place where a different kind of bicycle rules the day.

Many call these bikes "gravel grinders", and that's fine by me. However; it is perhaps a bit of a limiting name. Many places do not have gravel roads, and many riders may not want to do a gravel road ride for several reasons. That said, it is my firm belief that a fatter tired, slacker angled, more stable road bike is exactly the sort of bike the industry ought to be concentrating on. It would be more comfortable, easier to ride, more versatile, and therefore has more potential appeal than road racing style bicycles and the culture they represent, which I would suggest is not the culture the majority of potential cyclists can aspire to, or relate to. The gravel bikes appeal on a more basic level. They can be associated with relaxed rides, versatility, recreation, and yes, even racing. 

These bicycles need not be heavy. They can be nearly as light as racing bikes. They definitely are not touring bikes. But what is missing is a good name for them. Several have been suggested on this blog over the past few days. There are 76 comments between these two posts with name suggestions: (Here and Here)  Take from it what you want.

I have no horse in this race, and neither do the core group of gravelists that commented here. My aim is to broaden the appeal of such bikes for the masses. It is my firm belief that this sort of bike is the best bike for the majority of the populace for all sorts of roads no matter how they are surfaced or not.

Guitar Ted

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Open Source Naming Project: The Contenders

Giant's Revolt _______rig. (Fill in the blank)
Okay folks. That was a great response to yesterday's request for names to attach to these bikes that are better than racing bikes but not mountain bikes. These bikes that are versatile, multi-terrain eating, fast, light bicycles that resemble road bikes but are more.

(See- I am resisting the urge to call these gravel bikes!.....whoops! Ha!)

Well, anyway, I figured I would present the contenders for a final vote which will reveal the name I will use in an open letter to the industry here and on Gravel Grinder News. (But I'll clue you- the industry is already looking inon this.)

All Road: There were many thoughts left in support of this one. I still think it isn't going to work from a copyright perspective, but I could be wrong about that.

All Rounder: I believe this is a term in Europe for such bikes like to what we are thinking about here. Good, but maybe too generic. Brits seem to be all about this term.

Country Bike: This is a term used by Rivendell's Grant Petersen. I don't mind it, but I wondered yesterday if it doesn't bring up a negative perception. It is a good foil for "Urban Bike", or "Townie", so maybe it could have some legs.....

All Purpose Bike: Sort of reminds me of "All Terrain Bike", the term that was bandied about before "mountain bike" finally won the day. Not sure the acronym, APB, is appropriate.

VRB- (Versatile Road Bike): Good descriptive name. Maybe would end up being called "verb". Hmm...

Multi-Road, Multi-Surface, Multistrada: I like the names in this vein. The "Multistrada" name is sexy, but since it is a motorcycle model name, it may be tough to appropriate it for bicycle use. Of these, Multi-Road is perhaps the winner, but I do like Multistrada.

Fat Road: Still one of my favorites....

Utility Road: Came across this today. Interesting...

Cross Road: A new one just suggested. I like it.....

Okay, vote in the comments or make another suggestion.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Open Source Naming Project

The Open Source Naming Project or "Kickstarting A New Name For Gravel Grinder Bikes"

Too good to be just used for gravel
 Okay folks. I am going to enlist your help in making a sea change in how we are going to refer to the fat tired, "not-a-cyclo-cross-bike", bikes that some of us know now as "gravel grinders". Why? Well, if you have not been paying attention, here's a recap....

Calling a bike by a specifically named purpose for such a bicycle generally doesn't work well. "Mountain bikes" being a notable exception. "Road" bikes is a misunderstood term, so that's not applicable here either. But what I am saying is that by calling a certain obese tired, mountain bike-ish looking bicycle a "snow bike" instead of a "fat bike" makes a huge difference in perception. I believe something similar happens when we say "gravel grinder bike".  It also is my belief that these "gravel bikes" are really the best bike for all-around riding for most folks.

Typical road racing style bikes, (which is what the vast majority of "road bikes" are), just do not do what most folks want, or could be doing with regard to everyday cycling, adventurous cycling, rural cycling, smooth dirt cycling, commuting, and a bunch of other kinds of cycling. Racing bikes are designed for "racing" and have geometry to match. They are not as comfortable as they could be, nor as stable as they should be, for daily, average cyclists usage.

The "gravel bikes" coming out do things like the racing style bike, but go waaaay beyond them in terms of use, versatility, and in terms of having fun. You remember fun, right? It probably was the reason why you got hooked on cycling in the first place.

But calling these bikes "gravel bikes"or "monster cross" bikes just doesn't produce the right mental image here. We need another, better name that is wider ranging and inclusive for these beasts.

"Monster Cross"? Nah.....
So, there are the reasons I feel we need another name for these bikes and why I am inviting you to brainstorm a name up. A few considerations:

  • "Any Road" is already used up by Giant
  • "All Road" and "All Roads"is already used up....
  •  Non-sense suggestions and obscenities are not allowed. 
  • Yes- this is serious.
  • This is going to be an "Open Source" name. I am not schilling for a company here. It is purely for the betterment of any company that wants to use the name, if a name surfaces that folks agree upon.
Okay? Hit the comments section with your suggestions. I will not approve of negative, non-nonsensical, or offensive comments, so save your typing for something else if you were going there. Otherwise, have at it.

Need a suggestion to start out? Fat Road. See my discussion of that name here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Interbike 2013: The Verdict

I am glad to be back from Interbike 2013. It was quite the trip, once again, and I can say that I have some definite conclusions coming out of the trade show. Some having to do with the new venue, some with Interbike itself, and some about what I saw there. Here we go....

From the show floor...
The Venue: I spoke to some of this last week here, but I think overall this move will be a good thing for Interbike. It can be tweaked to be better, a lot better, but for a first time run, they have shown this place has potential and the basic set up that should be seen as a big improvement over The Sands Convention Center. Now if they could only get rid of the exorbitant union driven set up fees for the show, the event might even be seen as better from the vendors standpoint as well.

Trends: No news here coming out of the show. You all knew it going into the deal: Fat bikes, 27.5"ers, and gravel bikes. Those were the big chatter makers at Interbike, and maybe you could add in the electric that is, into that conversation as well. Fat bike stuff was seen all over the show floor. Specific fat bike companies, booth decorations, and bikes being wheeled about made the enormous tires the talk of many attendees, and not all were flattering, or approving of the obese wheeled set.

While 27.5 inch wheeled bikes were everywhere, you just didn't hear anything being spoken about them. It was as if they were being merely tolerated, not being seen as something "buzz-worthy". But let's be honest here, 27.5 inch wheeled bikes have been shown yearly at Interbike for the past six years. It is not anything new. Not if show goers were paying attention.

Salsa wasn't at the show, but a Beargrease was!
Gravel stuff was all over the place too. I saw where tire and wheel companies were quietly putting "gravel" in their marketing speak. For instance, several of Reynold's wheels were marked as being good for gravel. Some tire companies were marking their wares as being good for gravel surfaces as well. While not being overt about it, you could see that "gravel riding" as a category is being thought about and marketed to.

Of course there was some definite "gravel" marketing that was right out there in the open, namely Niner Bikes own RLT 9 bike, and if you were observant, Raleigh had a Tamland sitting prominently in its space and it was being touted as a gravel specific machine.

Other things that were interesting, like all the electric powered rigs, and Greg LeMond's return to the cycling business, were mildly interesting things, but overall, this show was.....uh.....not very exciting. If it were not for Steve Hed's gravel rig built by Peacock Groove's Eric Noren, which I saw at the HED wheels booth, this show would have been a real yawner.

Again, just like last year, all the pre-Interbike dealer camp, press camp, and dealer only shows pretty much made Interbike an "also ran" in terms of excitement and buzz for the industry. Honestly, it makes you wonder that, if not for the getting together with the industry people, why Interbike has to happen at all. Maybe even companies that go there are thinking this as well. I noticed several that were not showing their entire lines, or even major portions of it. Specialized, Giant, and Marin come immediately to mind here.

I've got more Interbike stuff to wade through here, so don't be surprised to see at least a couple more mentions on it....

Sunday, September 22, 2013

3GR: Fall Cometh

Long shadows now on the ride.
A post Interbike ride was certainly necessary, however, one so soon after being up for 40 plus hours was maybe not advisable. Well, I've never been one to do things in an ordinary fashion. I got a regular amount of sleep, nothing extra, and awoke wishing I had the time to stay in bed. That wasn't an option, not to my mind, so I hopped out, dressed for the ride, and got out in the chilly air to meet Fall face to face.

This was also quite a shock after dealing with 90-100°F temperatures all week in Las Vegas. A nice pair of Twin Six knickers and a wool Raleigh jersey took the edge off though. On the way over I figured I wouldn't see anyone for the ride  since there was a night ride Robert and Mike were going to do. I thought it would be a chilly solo venture.

I was wrong, of course. Tony was already there waiting, and we chatted a bit before figuring out no one else would show up. I was just glad someone showed up, because I wasn't too motivated to go very hard without someone to push me a bit. Once we headed out we could feel the Northwest wind on our cheeks and I knew it might be a really tough go. The first hills were getting my heart rate up there and this had me a bit more than a little concerned. I was wondering if this was going to have to turn into a slow ride! Fortunately, it never came to that and I was able to feel better the longer we rode on.

The trees are starting to turn here and there.
The crops are starting to turn as well.

Harvesting corn for silage to feed cattle with.
Tony enjoying the morning.
The wind was just a steady resistance, not gusty, and so it wasn't too bad going North. Once we got up into Bremer County, the roads showed more fresh gravel, which added to the resistance, but my legs seemed to be responding and I was cruising along okay. Tony and I alternated periods of chatting and silence as we pushed on into the Ivanhoe Road section.

It was obvious as we rode along that it is Fall now. long shadows were across the North roads as the Sun is rising later and later. The trees are turning shades of color and the fields are all drying up. We saw one harvester out turning corn into silage and it won't be long before the big combines will be out in force. I'm not sure how things will go, but I don't think at this point an early frost will be an issue, even if it does happen.

Tony and I made the left hander to start coming back and put the wind at our backs. It was obviously going to make things easier, and it felt great. Even the freshly laid gravel patches were no big deal with that extra push coming in from behind. Tony and I cruised into town in a decent time and my fears of not feeling up to a fast paced ride were unfounded after all. Thanks to Tony showing up, I didn't lollygag as I might of had he not come along for the ride.

It never really ever got warm during the ride, but at least the Sun was out and it didn't get to the point where we were freezing out there. Actually, it was one of the nicest days for 3GR all year, and we've had some beauties this year. Top it off with coffee and a scone and, doesn't get a whole lot better than that.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #3

Mike Curiak @ T.I.V1's Algona checkpoint
In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

 Remembering back to the very first Trans Iowa, it was a weekend when weather played an important role in the outcome of the event. Like many T.I's afterward, the "weather was the wild card", and of course, we had no idea what we were in for standing on that cold, chilly April morning on a bright, sun drenched high school parking lot. The forecast was for a sunny day, albeit a bit on the chilly side with highs forecast to be in the lower 50's.

I recall that the early morning was a bit chilly and I was pretty bundled up for a bright, late April day. (By the way, that's me in the flouro jacket in the image.) I didn't recall the wind being all that big a deal early on, but as the day wore on, it ratcheted up to at least a 25mph constant blast with huge, heavy gusts coming in that probably topped out at 40mph later on that day. It was from the North-Northwest, and resulted in a side wind for most riders. Even so, this wind prevented drafting and was causing mayhem out on the course. Folks were crashing, but more importantly, they were getting fatigued and dehydrated at alarming rates.

By the time many riders had reached the first town out, Primghar, there was a lot of dropouts. Moving on from there, even more riders were calling it quits. The wind was just wreaking havoc on the small field of 52 riders. Veteran endurance rider Mike Curiak saw this, and he was smiling. Yes, he was happier than a pig in the mud, because Mike knew a thing or three about being in the wide open and riding against gusty, stiff winds. That wasn't a foreign concept to one that had several Iditarod and Great Divide rides under his belt.

I was waiting things out in the only checkpoint of Algona, marveling at how long it was taking riders to get 127 miles down the road. The start had been at 8am, and still by 4pm no riders had pulled into Algona yet. When they finally started showing up, Mike rolled in and headed straight for his, (then allowed), drop bag support and was changing out his clothing when I approached him and asked how it was going for him out there. He replied without hesitation, "Do you think you could ratchet up the wind a bit more?"

I thought he was being sarcastic, but he was dead serious. Mike knew more wind would favor a rider like himself, one who had ridden literally 100's of miles at a crack in such winds. I was astounded by his request, and it made me look at him in a new light.

Mike was one of the very few to soldier on from Algona, but a knee overuse injury cropped up about 3/4's of the way into the event and he bailed out in Osage, Iowa late Saturday evening. While the wind had died out by sundown Saturday evening, it had taken its toll on the field, guaranteeing a small finisher's list of 9 riders for that edition of Trans Iowa.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday News And Views: Late Edition

Gravel Nation!
Okay, About This Gravel Grinder Thing...

Yes, Interbike was rife with gravel specific that, gravel grinder this, and talk about the category was only rivaled by that about fat bikes. You could walk through the aisles of the Mandalay Convention Center and hear the chatter amongst Interbike's attendees. They either were gabbing about fat bikes or gravel stuff.

I had a very interesting and in depth conversation with Steve Hed, (yes....the HED Wheels guy), about gravel. I won't get into the entire thing here, but what was very interesting was that Steve described what I am also thinking about these bikes directed at being used for gravel: That is they are really the bike most folks should have for most of their riding outside of mountain biking. Calling them "gravel bikes" is, perhaps, not the best name.

I'll have a comprehensive look at what I found on the gravel scene on Gravel Grinder News soon, but for now just know that this deal is getting into the spotlight with the industry. Folks in the industry were talking me up one side and down the other about gravel stuff, and wanted to get my take on it. As stated above, I feel it is the bike most folks should be riding and works for places most folks should be riding. Namely, off busy paved highways and blacktop roads where vehicle speeds are high and traffic counts are vastly higher than backroads/gravel roads.

For instance, John Tomac was recently quoted in an article in the trade paper, "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" on this very subject:

"It is a model, (gravel grinder bike), that I find very useful personally as it allows me to get out on so many more county or forest roads and away from most traffic which is a huge bonus when road riding," Tomac said. "The amount of riding this bike opens up is amazing and although it is road geometry-based it also becomes quite useful in 'cross, touring, commuting and winter weather riding applications."
(See the entire article here)

3GR: Yes, late notice and all, but I'll be there.....

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cross Vegas & The Squirrel Cage

Straggler post....
Well, I took a vacation from a regular post here because, well.....I decided to have some fun for once. Namely, going to my very first cyclo cross race- Cross Vegas.

Yep, I had not ever seen the spectacle of cyclo cross in person before. It isn't that big of a deal around where I live unless I travel a couple of hours somewhere to witness it where it is a big deal. I just never had the inclination to make that effort. Cross Vegas just may have made me change my mind on that note.

My chance came when an industry contact offered me two tickets to get in the venue. I had already discussed going with my friend and co-conspirator, Grannygear, and he was amenable to the idea. Once I stated that I had the tickets, he was all in.

There was a lot to tell, but here are my impressions of the event in bullet point form....

  • The venue was HUGE. I had no idea cross courses were that long and covered that much ground. The undertaking to put on an event of this magnitude can not be underestimated. 
  • The amount of participants in the field was impressive. Over 150 riders alone in the Industry Class. 
  • The Pro Women's field was FAST!!
  • The Pro Men's field was BLAZING FAST!!
  • Sven Nys is World Champion for a good reason. He simply outclassed the entire field. 
There is a lot more to it. The VIP area, the noise making, the heckling, and the spectacle of rider skill and fortitude is a lot of fun to be a part of. Due to my positive experience, I am seriously considering going to see another big event if I can.

On Interbike's New Venue: Interbike moved to the Mandalay and the convention hall located there, in specific. I liked a lot of things about this. The Mandalay is located almost at the very end of The Strip, so you can really avoid most of that nonsense further north up Las Vegas Boulevard. The "in and out" of driving there and walking in was streamlined, shorter, and with less cigarette smoke and casino exposure. Almost none, in fact.

I didn't like the layout of the show. There were no real easy routes through the booths and by the look of the map, it could have been made a lot easier to navigate. (The Interbike phone ap was a Godsend for me, but some folks had trouble with the functionality of that as as well.) If it hadn't been for my phone, I would have continually spent my time running in circles inside a bewildering puzzle of booths and befuddled conventioneers. My friend Brent, of Twin Six said, "It's like a corn maze without the corn and whiskey!" I would have to concur on that point!

As it was, the Squirrel Cage that was Interbike did not defeat me, but it was mildly frustrating. The show floor plan was obviously far more compact than when we were in the Sands Convention Center, so it seemed busy, but I think it was a trick of the venue. No matter. Interbike will say more folks were there and more vendors were there, yada,yada,yada.... Why wouldn't they say that? 

Okay, I am on my way back to the MidWest, but I will have far more to share about Interbike, so stay tuned.....

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

More Withering- Now With Added Wind & Dust!

I have to tell you, I have no idea why anyone would want to go out to Bootleg Canyon this time of the year to ride bicycles. Absolutely brutal sun, wind, and dust. It is as if Interbike is making you pay penance for riding rad bikes by making you do it in Vulcan's  blast furnace of solar fire and dust.

And if you manage to be one of those folks that is content to be a wandering observer, you still get the joy of having the moisture sucked from within you by the hot winds which were emanating from a fan set on "high" position located in the desert somewhere. At least, that's my take on it.

Then there are some cool things, of course. The "Ride To Recovery" happened that morning. Seeing some of the machines that were being ridden made me pause and remember that I am a very blessed man and have nothing to complain about. Humbling. Very humbling.

Motor + Bicycle = Motorcycle.

One thing I find baffling about the bicycle industry is the so called "e-bike". The name refers to electric motor equipped two wheeled vehicles that happen to have cranks and pedals emanating from them. The very name is meant to cleverly direct your thoughts towards "technology", and a certain computer company in regards to product appeal.

Somewhere along the line we have forgotten history, once again, and we are paying the price. Look- here's the deal: Back in the early 20th Century some fellas got the hankerin' to put an internal combustion type motor on a bicycle. It was deemed cool. These new contraptions were dubbed "motorcycles" because they took a "motor" and added it to a "bicycle" and the name "motorcycle" was born. It makes perfect sense, no?

So why is there a disconnect these days when some folks get the hankerin' to add an electric motor to a bicycle? It's a motorcycle plain and simple. Remember- motor + bicycle = motorcycle. Every time. Period.

I was reminded how this disconnect is not good. In fact, it is dangerous and likely to cause some major friction, (at the least), and trail closures in a worst case scenario. I was climbing the fire road back into Bootleg Canyon today when a guy went around me going up at at least 20mph on one of these new fangled motorcycles. Not a big deal? Well, my friend was walking up hill, made a slight wobble to one side, and nearly was knocked into by a fellow going uphill as fast as the guy I saw was going. People are already up in arms about trail users going downhill fast, what do you suppose they might think about folks on "e-bikes" going uphill as fast? Do you think they will disbar motorcycles, or all bicycles instead? 

Well, it looks as if we're going to find out, if these electric motor equipped motor cycles start getting popular off road.

Going to head to the Mandaly today for the indoor portion of Interbike. Stay tuned......

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Fatback Carbon
The crazy Sunday that turned into an overnighter at the airport in Minneapolis turned into a fry pan hot day at Bootleg Canyon and then a wilted Guitar Ted wobbled off to a seedy dive in Las Vegas with visions of food and bed in his addled brain. what's cool at the show? Fat bikes, 27.5"ers, and .....and...blah! It's funny this year, but there seems to be a distinct lack of enthusiasm for much of anything. Maybe it was the seeming lower attendance. (I wasn't the only one mentioning this, by the way.) Maybe it was the fact, as I have said on many previous occasions, that we've already seen all this stuff, (for the most part), already.

But you know what? When it is cloudless, 100ºF outdoors, and the wind starts blowing, it is not fun to be out there at Bootleg Canyon. Not fun at all.

But yeah....the fat bike thing is getting ridiculous. Carbon rims, carbon frames, carbon forks. It's crazy expensive, and obviously lighter than metal. I did see the new Fatback tire, Industry 9 fat bike hubs, and a double walled, drilled carbon fat bike rim on a Felt fat bike with a Bosch electric motor. Wait......wouldn't that make it a fat-motorcycle? Yes it would- with pedals!

There was also the Giant Revolt gravel rig. I like it, but the down tube guard they put on wasn't very well thought out. Let's just call it a "mud collector" and leave it at that. The Surly Straggler is a lilac, sparkly beauty, (not really purple at all), and heavy. Maybe it should be renamed the "Tankler". 

Oh yes, there were a few good things floating about. 36"ers, and adult sized "big wheelers". And $370.00 Shimano mtb shoes you can mold to yer tootsies. I'll have more on the shoes here later. And I'll have more on other gizmos and bicycle shaped objects coming your way soon.......

Monday, September 16, 2013

Let The Dust Be Kicked Up!

The Outdoor Demo starts today, and if I am safe and sound in Vegas when you are reading this, I will be out there in the brutal desert heat kicking up some dust and kicking some tires on the new 2014 offerings being displayed and offered for test rides.

Update 11:14pm, Sunday, September 15: Due to a plane delay, I get to stay all night at Minneapolis/St. Paul's airport. Usually I don't pull the all nighter in the airport until the end of the trip, but since that wasn't going to happen this year, I suppose it is appropriate that I get to do it now, before I get out there. By the time some of you get to reading this, I should be Westward bound again.....

Trends coming into the event are gravel bikes, 27.5"ers, and fat bikes, although I expect to see some surprises in other areas. While I will be very busy doing work for Twenty Nine Inches and Gravel Grinder News, I will try to post here when and while I can. They may not be "regular" postings, but stay tuned for anything I find noteworthy, or tune in to my Twitter feed: @guitarted1961 where I will be Tweeting some images and text from Bootleg Canyon and the I-bike show floor.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

3GR Report: Chilly

3 Amigos
Hmmm......rather chilly weather has arrived now. Fall? Could be, but there is still time for a warm spell to strike. We'll see.... In the meantime, it was in the upper 40's when I awoke yesterday. That's a far cry from last week's hot, humid weather.

I was rested and ready though. I had dug out my knickers, wool socks, and a wool cycling jersey. I was warm as I was starting out for the meeting place. I was expecting a couple of riders for sure, and maybe two others. Mike and Craig were confirmed, but maybe Dave from last week, or Brian, or Tony would show up. Maybe.

Turns out the Craig was at the lot already when I had gotten there. We chatted as he pulled his rig out and started kitting up. The phone rang and it was Mike. Running late, was the word, but he would meet us North of town. Craig and I waited a minute or two past the start time, but no one else showed up. Guess it would be a trio then.

Wispy clouds and browning greenery
Lots of jet contrails and a horse in the ditch
The wind was out of the South at the start, but wasn't too big of a deal. However; it was increasing in intensity as we rode along, which we didn't notice at first, as we were motoring on Northward. That left turn West made us acutely aware of it though, and suddenly the trip back around the other side of the loop loomed larger.

There were a lot of wispy clouds in the sky, and a lot of jet contrails. Iowa is underneath a lot of flight paths for commercial and military flights, so this isn't unusual. The past observance of Patriot Day, (9-11), reminded me of that time when there were no airplane flights allowed. The skies were brilliant blue for several days then, and I remember how odd it was to not see the streaks of white in the sky. A throwback to a time I am unfamiliar with, and likely not to witness again in my lifetime.

We were also seeing a ton of car traffic on this particular 3GR. I figure that we had more cars and trucks on this single ride than we have had in all the other 3GR's this year combined. I cannot pinpoint why this would be, but all of us noted it and were puzzled. Even the blacktop highways we crossed seemed to be teaming with car and truck traffic.

My new favorite stretch of 3GR route
When we turned South it was apparent that the wind was a factor now. Not much coasting down the backside of the rollers, and with the wash-boarded road we were hitting, climbing up the rollers was harder into this wind.

I don't know why, but lately I have come to attack this part of the course. I buckled down and cranked up the first roller and I ended up out front. I could still hear Mike and Craig chatting though, and as I was going into the wind, I knew that they had to be right there behind me.

Then another roller. Their chatting grew less easy to hear. I am not sure if it was that big of a deal, since Mike and Craig could have powered away from me at any point they wanted to, but once I crested the tallest roller and hit the longer down hill section, I turned and could not see them behind me, at least not very close behind me. I cranked along a bit more, then as the corner drew nigh, I sat up. Mike rolled up just then, and in a bit of a snarky tone exclaimed, "You like that section, don't you?" I suppose it shows!

Mike usually diverts back home from this point, but he continued on with us as his wife was out of town and he didn't have a pressing schedule. It was nice to have him continue on through the entire course with us.

A Dragonfly freeloader!
Along the way we came up with an idea, (which I will share in detail later), and we didn't say much going Southward due to the now increased wind. It had ratcheted up even more and we were pushing harder just to crest the rollers and keep up the pace as best we could.

Once we got back to the parking lot we chatted for a bit and then I swung a leg over my Black Mountain Cycles bike and cruised slowly back home. I was tired, hungry, and dirty, but it was a great ride, and the day turned out to be a gloriously warm, sunny, albeit windy one. I got home and found that a dragonfly Mike had pointed out to me on my knee at the parking lot had gotten a free ride all the way home. I kicked him off outside and went in to say hello to my waiting family.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #2

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

I'd never heard of a "B Road" until we did recon for V1
Of course, with the announcement of Trans Iowa, (later known as "V1"), we had to get a lot of work done. I didn't really know just what that would mean, but I was enthusiastic and ready to dive in and do whatever Jeff wanted me to do. At first, that was to come up with a route.

Since we weren't using paved roads, an Iowa road map, (like the kind you used to have in the glove box before you had GPS- remember those?), wasn't going to cut it. I needed a map with all the roads on it. A quick search led me to DeLorme's Atlas for Iowa. It looked really good and had a lot of detail. I laid out the entire route using this resource and Jeff and I set out one cold,overcast weekend to see what we were going to be dealing with.  

First off, getting up to Northwest Iowa is a pain in the butt! There isn't a good, direct, or fast way to get to Hawarden, which was our preferred starting point. It was something like a 5-6 hour drive to get out there, and then we turned around to research our route. So yeah......we got a late start! Fortunately we had Jeff's parents waiting for us about 127 miles away in Algona, where we planned on eating and sleeping for the night before reconning the Eastern half and going home.

Things were going great. Jeff drove while I handled writing down the mileages he called out at turns that I called out from the route plan. Then after about an hour, we ran into a truncated road. What? The Delorme's Atlas showed crap! We sat and figured and did maths and scratched our heads. Remember- we were basing the mileage off a Mazda 3's odometer! 

But that wasn't all. We ran into these "minimum maintenance roads". Weird! I'd never seen, nor heard about one. Was this really a road, or were we trespassing on some dirt pathway etched into a cornfield? I couldn't tell. I felt like an outlaw though!  

Of course, we drove it, and the two others we came across. It was obvious that the usefulness of the DeLorme's Atlas was limited for our intents and purposes. In the future, I used and relied on other sources, but to find out that a "current" map wasn't accurate in 2005? That was quite surprising to me. But that wouldn't be my last surprise, or thing I learned from Trans Iowa!

To close out today's memories, I wanted to share this early post that was done on Jeff's blog before the first Trans Iowa. It concerns the infamous gnomes I set out on the T.I.V1 course, and the first hints about the Dirty Kanza 200. (Which was called the Flint Hills 200 early on)  At the time, I was guest posting on Jeff's blog. I hadn't started this one yet!

  A quick post to let all you loyal blog readers know that I have located some PERFECT GNOMES to be used as course "re-assurance" markers for Trans Iowa! I can't let on any details just yet, but you'll find out! Also- news is rumbling about the "copy-cat" event to Trans Iowa. Looks like it's going to happen. A representative of that double-triple secret event is going to attend Trans Iowa as an "observer". We better do a good job then! That way you nut-jobs can suffer crossing a yet-to-be-named state besides Iowa! Stay tuned for more updates as they become available!!!!- Guitar Ted

Note that I wrote" crossing a yet-to-be-named state...". That's right- the Dirty Kanza was first envisioned as a cross Kansas event. However; they settled on the loop format, and the rest is history. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday News And Views

With the end of the week at hand, I am heavily into "Interbike Mode", as I leave to attend the show Sunday. Here is a Special Rant Edition of Friday News & Views based on the coming show and trends. Enjoy!

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Just call it a "gravel grinder" and it'll sell!
 A bit of back story is in order for today's post. This Interbike, you are going to hear a lot about "gravel grinder bikes", or bikes designed for such, or good for that activity. On the surface of it, you'd think I would be pleased to announce this. Well, I am not. I am actually a bit annoyed by it. Here's why....

Several years ago I started talking about what I thought would make a good bike for gravel riding. Remember- most folks were of the mind that cyclo cross bikes were all we needed. (Many still hold to this idea to this day.) Many would say, whatever bike you ride on gravel is a "gravel grinder bike". You do not need a specialized bike for this. (Said as they roll away on their very specialized road, mountain, or urban bike that has been sub-divided into so many categories of specialties that I cannot keep count.) Whatever.... These people are not using their noggins. Anyway....

I began to discern, dissect, and theorize on what it would take to get optimal performance from a bicycle on gravel roads. I asked trusted friends what they thought, and I bounced ideas off of some industry acquaintances. I was going to pursue the custom bike angle, because, you know, why on Earth would anyone else even care about this? 

Along the way, a very bright and talented man I know also got the bug to do a custom design like this and he coined the idea we had "fat road". (Others have also used this terminology, we laid no claim to being original!) I liked it because it wasn't so specific as to exclude use on "any road". That's inclusive. That's getting a broader, more versatile mindset about this sort of design than "gravel grinder bike". But for convenience of conversation, I continued to use that term out of the thought that this wouldn't get anywhere anyway.

Something truly different.....
But I was wrong. The terminology and idea of such a bike took root and got sucked into the vernacular of the cycling industry and the next thing I know, and that I see, is a bicycle that comes out here and one over there that is a "gravel bike" in CX clothing. What? 

Yes, the marketing wonks are rebadging CX geometry and  calling the bikes "gravel grinders". Even the very few bikes that are truly different from CX bikes and would do well on gravel, (or I should say, "better on gravel"), are called gravel grinder bikes. Why? Because gravel road riding really is catching on, which is cool, and the marketing guys want their business, which is alright, but the "snake oil" is getting deep and it stinks of "nothing new here". At least in some aspects of the ploys I have seen of late.

So- first of all, calling these bikes, (even if they are different), "gravel grinder bikes" is completely wrong. Here's why: What do you think of when I say "snow bike"? Okay? That conjures up a certain image- maybe of a cold, windy, snowy landscape where you would be shivering, uncomfortable, and rather be snuggling in with a significant other and, get the picture! You don't ride in snow so why bother with a bike that does that, right? Now call it a "fat bike". What does that do to the previous image? It is a completely different way to think about a fat tired, all terrain bicycle, isn't it?

Calling these new, all road capable, "go anywhere there is a path that resembles a road" bicycles "Gravel Grinders" does the same thing that calling a fat bike a "snow bike" does to those wonderful, fun, capable machines. It pigeon holes them into a certain mindset that discounts them as a possibility for anyone looking for a road bike that can do anything.

....or a rebadged CX bike.
And even worse, just tweaking a basic CX design isn't doing a "gravel grinder" bike. Not in my opinion. Yes- a cyclo cross bike does a fine job of cruising gravel. However, there is a better way to do it, just like a road bike is a better way to do pavement riding than using a cyclo cross bike. See? For sure we don't need a "gravel specific" bicycle, but you don't "need" a road specific bicycle either. However; it is nice that you have that choice.

So when you read about all the "gravel grinder" stuff coming out of Interbike, just be wary. Just like you should be wary of all the 27.5"er and fat bike conversations you'll be reading about. There is a lot of marketing "hoo-hah" swirling around these facets of cycling and the industry is pushing hard for "the next big thing" since 29"ers are milked out now.

I will be commenting and reporting on my thoughts about Interbike 2013 and what I see as trends there on this blog and on Mountain Bike Radio over the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned.....

3GR: Yes- there will be a 3GR Saturday at 8:30am at the starting point of Gates Swimming Pool parking lot in Waterloo. (The construction on the highway is ongoing, so plan accordingly.)  See you there!

Have a great weekend and Ride Your Bicycles!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cars vs Bikes

The recent dry spell has made it look like an early Fall.
Okay....I know I am "preaching to the choir" here, but hear me out. I just had a day where the whole car vs bike thing was thrust at me in a rude and pointed way via a problem with Mrs. Guitar Ted's vehicle.

It would seem that her vehicle, a Toyota SUV, has developed a situation where it didn't want to idle properly and it would die, but it would restart. Being the non-mechanical half of the marriage, she blithely would just restart it and get on with her day. Of course, at first it was only occasional. But recently it got to the point where she'd had enough, and finally told me about it.

I know some folks out there are wagging their heads, but there are people that just are not "in tune" with mechanical things. I am intimately "in tune" with such devices. Hand me something digital though, and I can be lost in a sea of confusion. A car? I am so far gone that I can not listen to the radio or music because I need to hear the motor, listen to the transmission, and feel the road. In fact there is a hole in my truck's muffler and I like it better because it's louder and easier to tell what the motor is doing.

I am a bit odd in that way. But I digress......The car. The problem- It was a sensor issue, of course, and the two that control the air/fuel mixture for the engine. If that is off, well, it won't run right. Ours was going too "rich". Anyway, it is a four figure repair bill. That's a lot of money!

I took the vehicle over to the repair shop, at least 7 miles away, and had to "two-foot" it to get it there, but I am adept at such things. Before I left, I loaded up the Inbred and used that as my escape vehicle after dropping the Toyota off. It was a "night & day" experience.

The drive over, slightly stressed about the possibility of it dying on the way. Then the possibility of an expensive repair. Flip side- The ride home on a silent single speed, woods, quiet, and peace. A slowing down.

Then I thought about repair costs. Wow. Suddenly a ten speed chain, ten speed cassette , and a a couple chain rings do not seem like a big deal. Plus, I can count the number of times I have thought a drive in a car was "fun" on both my hands. Fun on a bicycle? I couldn't give you any idea what number of times that has happened. Multiple times per ride times what? Probably billions of times. How many times do you get stressed out by your bicycle ride? How about driving a car? See?

Seriously, we cyclists have a secret. Or do we? Most folks bitch and yell at us and want us to die and actually help us along that path at times, but maybe that is because of what we represent. Freedom from stress, expenses, freedom from the fast paced life. Maybe we have "real life", not some manufactured experience in a steel, plastic, and rubber cage on wheels. Maybe they do get it inherently. Maybe not.....

Whatever- I am glad I have my bicycles, and that I can ride them yet. Yesterday made me appreciate that even more so.