Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Two Off-Seasons

New tires for a gravel tire review. Temperature well below freezing. Hmm....
Since about 2007 I have experienced several things every Winter. There are three of these things which are pretty consistent in their appearance though. One would be an "off-season" of sorts from whatever my primary form of riding has been previous to Winter. Lately that has been an absence from the gravel roads. When things get windy, real air temperatures dip below 20°F, and the roads are frozen solid as rock with ice and/or snow, I am not going to be doing anything effective out there. Even survival is questionable many days.

The second thing which I hate, but has been a regular visitor every Winter for years, is that I get sick. Really sick. Every late December or early January. I get pretty tired of that one! Next Winter it would be really good if I got an off season from that! 

The third thing is my off season from reviewing. December's approach generally sets off alarms here at Guitar Ted Laboratories where I can have three or four things going on at once in terms of reviews. Marketing companies seem to like to send out review things which should be used in hotter weather in the late Fall and early Winter. I never have quite understood this, but for over a decade now that has been a notable occurrence.

So, I generally am scrambling every day to do something which can further me towards the end of a review by late November. Once in awhile I get bonus December riding, as I did in late 2015. However; I generally am shut down sometime early in December and everything gets put on hold then until later into Winter or early Spring. Meanwhile I am in limbo, waiting, wanting to clear the slate, but that first 40° day and thawing roads is a bit a ways down the road yet.

Waiting to ride out there again too weighs on my mind. Sickness puts off even the odd commute and fat biking I can actually have fun doing right now. This off-season stuff is for the birds. I'm not a fan, but then again, I probably need the rest. Time off makes the time I can ride mean more to me.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Winter Views

It's white for now, but not for much longer.
Last week we lost all of our snow in the first warm up of the year. Then we got a nice little dusting on Sunday evening. Essentially about 3 inches of Arctic fluff, but at least it was something. However; Monday we had blinding winds and that really blew off a lot of that fluff so it only covers the ground really, and just barely at that.

But, it is what it is, so I decided that Monday it was just too brutal to ride with that wind and below zero morning temperatures. Plus, I was just coming off the flu. So Monday was a no-ride day. Tuesday things were set to be a bit different though.

I felt great, for one thing, and the temperature at my departure for work was a balmy 1°F above zero with a 15mph Northwest wind. Of course, I ride toward the Northwest to get to work. But I did it. I made it there with no issues. Once work was over, the plan was to take the long ride home.

I decided just to putter around a bit. The wind was the same, but now it was 8°F! WooHoo! Actually, all kidding aside, it was Sunny and the snow was perfect. Now we are supposed to start getting warmer and by Saturday it will be 40°F and.....buh-bye snow! A replay of last week, it would seem. Sunday coming up another storm is due. We'll see what that brings. So, anyway, yesterday was going to be the primo riding day. I took advantage.

Lower Hartman hadn't seen much traffic and was a pretty nice ride Tuesday
I ended up wandering down to Lower Hartman Reserve where bicycles are allowed and wandered around on trails there. I first hit up what I know as "John's Trail", although I am sure that the CVAST group has their own goofy name for it. Whatever. It's "John's Trail" when I ride it as he is the one that put it in. Not that anyone cares anymore about history or anything...... Bah! 

So, anyway, the trail was completely navigable, and I decided to poke around some more. There is a tiny bit of trail South of old Shirey Way, (another lost name to the younginz), and I decided to take it back toward the Hartman shelter on the paved bike trail. Along the way I noted movement, as I had a bit earlier when I flushed out four deer. But these weren't deer. It was an older man and a woman following him hiking in the same direction as I was traveling. Of course, I was going to overtake them eventually.

I got about 30 yards behind them, my tires scrunching and screeching on the dry, fluffy, super-cold snow. I was making enough noise I figured that they would easily hear my approach, but they made no indication as to the knowledge of my presence. I could hear their talking, I was that close, but they couldn't hear me? Weird. Well, having had enough encounters with hikers to know that there was no way I wasn't going to scare them half to death, I decided to pull up to a huge cottonwood and prop myself against it while they went on ahead.

They got a good bit ahead, and I soft pedaled along, but I was going to overtake them again, so I stopped alongside another tree to sit and wait until they exited the trail and crossed over the paved bicycle trail into Upper Hartman. Then I proceeded to go my way. No harm-no foul. I am certain these folks had no idea I was behind them. No need to frighten the poor souls, so I did what I did.

"S" stands for Shirey. The old sand and gravel company used to own all the Lower Hartman area once upon a time.
After that encounter I went off a circumnavigated that big backwater pond next to the Cedar. That was fun, and then I started my way back home. I ended up riding for an hour and a half. Pretty good for having been off the bike since last week with a bout of flu in between. I was pretty hungry when I got home but my daughter saved the day with some good chicken curry and rice.

This is going to be a wonky Winter. Saturday I think I am aiming for a gravel ride, the first I will have done in 2018. We'll see. This weather swings one way then the next so hard it is difficult to keep track of what to wear and when. One day I am wearing two layers, or three, then a couple of days later I am wearing one jacket and feeling hot. Depending on what happens Sunday I may or may not have more Winter Views coming. Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Another Option

"Well, of course they did.", is what I thought several weeks ago when my buddy MG let on that he was in the "DKXL" , a 350 mile version of the event, the Dirty Kanza 200. A couple of months previous to that I had been contacted by the Dirty Kanza 200 event director/co-founder Jim Cummins with a question about how I set up cut offs for Trans Iowa. I also noted that he and a group of other riders did a huge "bikepacking" excursion through the Flint Hills about this same time. Hmm.....something is up here, methinks! 

So, when my friend MG let on about the DKXL I wasn't surprised. It makes sense that is what they would do, especially after the other DK events on gravel seem to be maxed out in terms of numbers for participation. When your aim is to diversify, provide new ways to satisfy demand, and "grow", this news fits the bill. When your sponsor says things like, "The DKXL is very exciting to us because it represents a continued a gravel event..", well you know that some goals were set that are making them happy too.

At least, that's how I read the press release. YMMV.

So, some folks have asked what I think, because I run Trans Iowa. Well, I don't really mind one way or the other, frankly. It's their gig, they can do what they think is right by them and their customers. As far as a ride goes, yeah. It's cool. It would be a great challenge. I'm not sure what the DK Promotions has in mind for 2019, when they say they are going to have this idea fine tuned and ready for the masses to engage in. I would hazard a guess that it will be more expensive than the 200 miler. I cannot imagine it wouldn't cost some serious money to get into. So any ideas of this being like, say, an Alexander type event, well, that probably doesn't fit the DK200's "MO" of the last seven years or so. Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I wouldn't bet on it.

So, fundamentally I think it would be a different event than the older style ultra-distance events, but that's just a guess. When MG does this, I'll hear about it, and we'll know more then, I am sure. But at any rate, I  wasn't surprised about this and no- I really don't have any strong feelings about their doing this one way or the other. I'll be interested to see what they make of it next year for sure.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Iowa Gravel Expo/Bike Party Report

Guitar Ted pontificating. Image by Izabel Stevenson
The Saturday evening gig at Doughy Joey's almost didn't happen. Both myself and NY Roll, who was also helping to put this on, were deathly ill on Friday. I was fighting the flu and NY Roll had food poisoning, (he thinks). At any rate, collective sighs of relief were had by both parties when on Saturday morning we both woke up feeling human again. Whew!

So, I puttered around getting stuff together most of the day as we had to head over to the venue at 4:30pm to set up. NY Roll was already there, so we started hauling stuff in from the car. Oh yeah......I said "we". I should mention that my 17 year old daughter decided to help out. Izabel took all the images for today's post, by the way.

Anyway, people started coming in almost as soon as we got there. Des Moines was represented, and a few locals were showing up. I wasn't expecting a huge crowd. I had told NY Roll that if we got 30 folks I would consider it a success. He was fully convinced we were going to see a lot of folks. So we made a friendly wager that there would be more than 50 or less. I took the "under". Well, I was sooooo wrong!! 

People started coming and for a while, there was a line of people waiting to sign in for the raffle for tires and a seat bag. It was crazy! I was busy yakking to folks and before I knew it, NY Roll said, "That was 50!", and there were still folks rolling in. I think we eventually had 76 show up. Amazing!

A full house! Five more people and we would have been making the Fire Marshall upset. Image by Izabel Stevenson
A lot of people stayed and hung out well after I was finished. This started at 6:00pm and this image was taken at about 9:30pm. Image by Izabel Stevenson
There was free Grain Belt beer and pizza for all. Image by Izabel Stevenson
So, we had folks from all over Iowa and a couple of guys stopped in from Michigan as well! I was totally blown away by the attendance. The crowd was attentive for the most part and I received a lot of great feedback from people that talked to me afterward.

A few event directors were in attendance so we had them speak on behalf of their events. The Iowa City Gravel event director was there as well as the guys from the first time "Three Bridges" event which is happening in June from Waverly. We also talked about getting another Geezer Ride going locally this Spring for the gravel rookies in the area and, of course, anyone else that just wants to come and have fun. Then I was approached by the guys from Cresco Bikes that want to do a route in their neck of the woods and host a Geezer Ride, so it looks like I'll be heading North at some point to help with/ride that event.

Lots of great connections were made and I am hopeful that the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area can come together and get a vibrant, fun, inclusive gravel community together and that we start seeing a lot more gravel travel in the area. It certainly won't hurt to have more people on bicycles having more fun.

Soooo.... The $64,000.00 question: Will there be another Iowa Gravel Expo/Bike Party? Based upon the feedback we have received already? That answer would be a "yes". Very positive feedback. So, I don't know what that will look like, but I assume that this time next year we can expect something akin to what we had, at least, and maybe more. However; this was financed out of pocket, so funding for something like this in the future is a big question too. Stay tuned on that front......

Thank Yous: NY Roll, (financing) Riding Gravel (personality, resources, schwag), Doughy Joey's (venue), WTB (tire giveaway) Lezyne (seat bag giveaway), Izabel Stevenson (assistance, photography) and everyone who came out that made this evening worthwhile in spades!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Grassroots Events, Sponsors, And Sanctioned Racing

A Guitar Ted Productions Editorial
The series I posted dubbed "The State Of The Gravel Scene" a while back spurred a lot of positive commentary. Mostly I get the feeling that many of you out there lament the potential loss of the more "grassroots", inclusive events that don't have the "uppity", cliquish feel that maybe your USAC criterium is often accused of having. (Note- It isn't necessarily my experience, because I don't race crits. But it is an accusation I hear a LOT about crits.)  I don't know if any of that matters, I just know that the "feel" a lot of events I go to has is what it is that people are attracted to.

Well, with that in mind I found a parallel instance where the "grassroots feel" is being threatened by change and a change motivated by the need to accommodate sponsors. This is something which I feel is kind of a subtle influence on events and promoters. Of course, having a great sponsor is a wonderful thing for a lot of reasons, but sometimes, perhaps, there are perceived obligations that, maybe, can influence where events go in their futures. Well, I think the following link will take you to an article that paints a good picture of what I am talking about. It is an example from motorsports, a sector of sports I follow, and has to do with an event specifically. It is called the "Chili Bowl" and is a dirt sprint car event in Oklahoma. Here is the article by Jeff Gluck which might help explain how sponsors become influential on the "feel" of an event.

The other thing I want to say here is that sponsors are not a bad thing. It's how promoters and events use those sponsors and cater to those sponsors that can be a reason things get beyond the grassroots level. I know of great events that have excellent sponsors and still retain that "feel". So it isn't like we have to eschew sponsorship totally and refuse to be "influenced" by the monetary or other tangible and intangible factors at play when you get a sponsor. It doesn't have to be the "you sold your soul to the devil" thing that some folks I've talked to and messaged with say that it is.

And, as I stated in my series- some people actually like events where sponsors have radically changed the feel of the event. That isn't crazy talk either. It is a real thing. Just look at the Dirty Kanza 200 as a prime example. They wouldn't be having that lottery they had Saturday for entries if people didn't actually like how that event has changed over the years. So, in the final analysis, grassroots events still exist and serve their purposes, but so do the slick, high end, "bucket list" experiences that many people want. Choice is good, so don't be a hater. Just support the events that you believe in. The rest will take care of itself.

Another point that I wanted to make was on sanctioned racing. This scares the hell out of a lot of the grassroots folks. Here's the thing- there are a lot of folks that believe points, categories, closed courses, and "proper race environments" have a place in competition. Some are saying gravel events should be offered to satisfy this segment of racing. Now, I am not one of those folks, but hey! If they want it, build it and they will come. As a matter of fact, it already exists in many places. Try the Iowa Spring Classic as a prime example. Those events have occurred for several years now and guess what? It hasn't affected grassroots gravel racing one iota. They both coexist in harmony. Again- Choice is good, so don't be a hater. Just support the events that you believe in.

I'm not big on all the categorizations and points and whatnot, but hey! It trips some folks triggers and why not let them have an event on gravel. Ultimately it will be something that flies or not.  Grassroots or "big, slickly produced event", doesn't matter if you just pay attention to what you like and let the rest go. Both ways have their place. I think it is a good instance of "Live and let live".

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Minus Ten Review- 2

The first Gary Bar, offered in silver, has been long discontinued.
Ten years ago on the blog here I was gabbing about stuff still relevant for 2018. One of those things was (surprise!) the weather, which ironically mirrors what we've had here this week. Snow looked great, then there was a thaw, which ruined the snow, then fog, which froze, and a threat of ice or snow that would sit on ice and basically screw up Winter sports activities for the remainder of Winter. Yep! Checked all the boxes for what is happening here currently. Weird!

Then there was the mention of "rumors" and knowledge I had of products about to be revealed. Same. The situation this time is that I happen to know about two new series of gravel bikes that are going to be pretty significant. On one hand there will be a "price point" set of gravel bikes coming that I think will present a great value to the consumer who is looking to get a "serious" gravel rig but doesn't want to spend a lot of cash on one. The second will be an innovation which I have seen coming and will, upon its debut, be the best gravel bike you can buy, in my opinion. It will become the bar everyone else will shoot for in gravel bikes. Expensive? Yes. But there will be a range of models and there will be some more affordable ones in the range.

Then there was Trans Iowa. Well, of course that is the same, but the details were not. In 2008 we were looking at doing the second "big assed loop" version of Trans Iowa. I was hinting that it may only be 320-ish miles maximum, and that the route would be "awesome". It was notable that I mentioned that I had many folks asking me to let them volunteer. That's been an ever-present thing about TI ever since then. I never have had to push for volunteers, ever. That's incredible and it still is happening to this day. In fact I had a request this week. One last week, and I will get more, I am sure.

I'll forever be amazed, humbled, and grateful for the volunteers I get for Trans Iowa. There is just no way to thank those folks enough when I know that other events have a tough time even getting enough folks to run their events. I have to turn folks away every year! Amazing! Thank you, thank you, thank you, volunteers! You rock!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday News And Views

Paul Components Klamper brake. Now works with Campy. Or would that be "Kampy" now?
Paul Components Klamper Brake Now For Campy Levers:

Paul Components did what SRAM had over a decade to try, but never would- That is to make a high end Avid BB type brake. Well, as the saying goes, if ya snooze, ya lose! I still cannot believe that SRAM never did a better BB-7. Actually, SRAM downgraded the BB-7 over the years, going to a two piece caliper body, which is far inferior to the one piece caliper version. I know, I have examples of both in my fleet.

Anyway, where there is a hole, something is going to fill it. Paul Components filled that hole with the Klamper. Now they offer a special one that works with Campy levers. I suspect that this was, in part, driven by the NAHBS builders who probably pestered Paul to do a Campy compatible actuation lever for the Klamper. But however that is, it is cool to see an American small builder/manufacturer doing things like this.

I also get that Paul Component parts are insanely expensive. At $208.00 per caliper, it isn't going to be on many people's radar to have these on their bike. That said, if you'd rather avoid hydraulic Campy calipers and be able to score a high functioning, silver anodized caliper for your Potenza 11 speed disc bike, well, here ya go

Mike Varley's Black Mountain Cycles "MCD" prototype
 Black Mountain Cycles "MCD" Update:

You might remember that a while back I was gabbing about the new disc version of Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross" bike. I bet you do remember, because I have it from Black Mountain Cycles' proprietor, Mike Varley, that many of you tell him you heard about the BMC rigs here. (Thanks for the mentions folks!) Anyway, here is some news on this new Monster Cross version dubbed the "MCD".

Mike has pulled the trigger on production, but don't get all up in his face just yet about a pre-order. He ain't takin' yer money just yet! (See his latest post here) However; when that day comes that he will take yer dollars, he will only ask for $695.00 of them. Just think- you could buy a MCD with four Paul Klamper Campy compatible brake calipers and get change! (Whatever that would be in parts!) But that probably wouldn't work. I doubt Mike would take exchanges like that!

But really, only $695.00? (!!!) That's incredible for a through axle frame and fork which will, if I am not mistaken, be an awesome gravel rig. I'll let you read Mike's post I linked above, but there are a few subtle changes and sizing is a bit differently described, but ultimately physically should feel the same as before. Kind of hard to wrap my mind around what size I'd take just now, but hey! I have some time to figure that all out.

So, yes. I am getting one of these and I will retire a couple of rigs once I get one. That doesn't look to be happening anytime real soon. That means parts acquisition mode shall be activated this Spring. I have a pretty good idea on the build. Gevenalle shifters, White Industries crank, hubs, and head set, and probably some TRP Spyre brakes. In fact, I already have the calipers in the Lab here. Stay tuned for more on this coming up throughout the Spring. Whatever colors Mike decides upon will be a big factor in my decision making. He mentioned pink was in the running. (PLEASE! MAKE THE MCD IN PINK!!)

Trans Iowa v14 Sponsor News!

This is a good segue way into my next bit of news which is that Trans Iowa v14 is going to have sponsorship from Black Mountain Cycles. This Trans Iowa will see a BMC frame/fork given away to the rider in T.I.v14 that finishes and puts in what I and the volunteers deem as the "Grittiest Ride".

We did this same theme in T.I.v10 where Charlie Farrow won. He didn't actually finish, coming up about 6 miles short at the 2:00pm Sunday time cut, but we have the right to bend the rules a bit at Trans Iowa in instances like this, so be advised that the winner will be chosen at our discretion and the decision of Guitar Ted will be final.

Mike Varley told me that since so many folks have mentioned seeing and hearing about the BMC frames via this portal he wanted to support T.I.v14 in this way. So, if you would, don't hesitate to let him know that you heard about this and want to thank him.

More Sponsorship News! I also have Lederman Bail Bonds back as a sponsor again for Trans Iowa. The company believes Trans Iowa is a great event and puts Iowa in a good light, so they are helping out again as they have for several years now with swag items and behind the scenes support of the event.

Wolf Tooth Portable Master Link Pliers
Wolf Tooth Introduces New Gadget:

Quick links for chains are boon to riders in the field who need to fix a chain issue, or who need to go to a single speed set up due to a rear derailleur failure. While they can be assembled with ease, they often can be nigh unto impossible to undo. That's where the Wolf Tooth Master Link Combo pliers comes in. This tool pinches the rollers together to help release the link so a chain can be disassembled in the field. (NOTE- You still really need a chain breaker, so don't be ditching that tool just yet!) Here's a feature set from Wolf Tooth's press release:
  • Compatible with 9-, 10-, 11-, and 12-speed chains
  • Holds two pair of most brands' replacement links (sold separately)
  • Compatible with most tubeless valve and presta tube locknuts
  • Compatible with most standard (5mm) Presta valve core flats
  • 38g tool weight
  • CNC machined from 7075-T6 aluminum
  • Type II anodized in red or black
  • Choice of five pivot bolt colors on black pliers
  • Designed and manufactured in Minneapolis, MN USA
Since it serves a few functions besides being a quick-link pliers, it makes for a great tool to put into your kit. At 38 grams it won't weigh you down either. I can see this being a contender for a place in my kit for sure. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Cold Weather Head Gear Strategy

The Blackborow DS post ride.
Everytime we get some "Real Winter" to enjoy I am thinking a lot about how to deal with the cold weather. I have a lot of my cold weather strategies figured out now after having the opportunity to be on a fat bike every year since 2011. Even the few years before that I was regularly out riding 29"ers in the Winter trying different things to stay warm.

One thing that has often been a struggle for me is how to keep my face warm when it gets around 0° or below with any wind at all. Exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite pretty quickly in these temperatures and the first instinct is to cover everything up. That may work for some folks, but for me, it was never an option. Everyone has their own issues, preferences, and style when it comes to cold weather head gear, but I thought it may be helpful for some of you dealing with these things to read about a solution I have found works great for me. But first, here's what I don't like.....

I don't like balaclavas because I feel uncomfortable in them and they shift on my face enough that I spend way too much time futzing with the position to get it "just so" that I get frustrated. I have tried using the Cold Avenger thing which I found wasn't dealing with my air intake efficiently and it just felt awful to me. It didn't fit right and no amount of positioning could help with that for myself, anyway.

Then I tried Buff type fabric tubes. This has been a lot better deal for me, but I still had issues with how the fabric, in my case the synthetic type meant for cool weather uses, compressed my nose down if I tried using it as a face mask/balaclava-like deal. I almost always pulled it down to just cover my mouth, if that, and well.......then your nose is sticking out there. Not ideal in sub-zero weather.

Cruising some internet information on fat bikes I started to notice guys wearing strips of fabric across their noses which were like bandanas. Separate from whatever they had on their face/jaw area. Jay Petervary then posted about what he was doing. He used a cut down Buff and then put it around his head to just cover the nose with another fabric tube used lower down over his jaw/mouth area. Of course, he had head gear on up top, but that isn't hard to figure out. I decided to give that idea a try this Winter.

Not much  for looks! But it was the best set up I've tried.
I happen to have about five fabric Buff-like tubes, all stretchy, thin ones meant for warmer weather use, but for my uses, work perfect in Winter. Anything that keeps the wind off is all I need, typically. That said, Buffs come in heavier fabrics like wool if you want to go with a more insulating layer.

My head gear layers went something like the following:
  • Polarfleece beanie
  • Twin Six Wool hoodie
  • Buff fabric tube over the top (The camo piece you can see in the image here.)
  • Red cotton bandana rolled up to just cover my nose with a corner draped down over my mouth.
  • Spy Optic amber lensed "shield"type eyewear.
  • "Old Man Winter" Bontrager coat
That was it. The temperatures I was riding in were at 5°F or slightly below with a bit of wind, so the windchill was well below zero. Now typically I would be only able to put up with cold on my face like that by either using a system I was unhappy with and had to fuss over constantly, or this new set up which was a joy to use. The difference maker was the bit over the nose and how I had it set up.

With the bandana corner hanging down over my mouth, I had a couple things going on that were pluses. One was that my breath was directed away from my glasses which kept them fog-free throughout the ride. Secondly, if I needed to drink, spit, or just wanted to have my mouth free I simply flipped that corner of fabric up and I could easily have access to my mouth or be able to spit, etc. Note- The bandana froze at the corner which made this even easier to do.

Now, I am not saying this is "the way to go" for everyone. I am suggesting that what JayPee and others are doing is a smart solution and by using different fabrics and arrangements you probably could achieve similar results. As for myself, I am good with my simple, easy to use, and readily at hand solution for these brutal temperatures and conditions. I rode 2.5hrs with this set up and went home only because I wanted to. I could have ridden a lot longer in total comfort.

By the looks of things, I may not have to bust this system out again this Winter, but if the really cold stuff comes back, I will be ready.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Gravel Clinic

From the Facebook Events Page
The grandiosely named "Iowa Gravel Expo/Bike Party" is something I am involved with here locally and will be happening on Saturday at 5:30pm at Doughy Joey's restaurant in Cedar Falls, Iowa. We will be in an upper room and we will have a few things going on as follows:
  • Drinks &  pizza- Limited quantities available.
  • Cash Bar
  •  Bikes on display for discussion purposes
  • Two Sets of WTB TCS 37mm Riddler gravel tires. One set for guys, the other for the gals. Must be present to win
  • One Lezyne XL seat pack for the person who comes the longest distance to the event. In the case of a tie a quick raffle will determine the winner. Must be present to win
  •   Discussion on the what/Why/How of gravel riding is and can be for the casual cyclist and budding adventure cyclists. 
  • Q&A
  • Route sharing for local rides
  • Hobnobbing with other cyclists
If parts of this or all of this sounds good, please come. You are invited! There is no fee to attend but we will be taking free will donations for our time and to defray the costs of the room. Thanks!

Is The Answer Technology?

Will emergency vehicles, regular traffic, cyclists, and peds all be connected wireless someday?
In my series on the gravel scene posted last week, (and which can be accessed now on its own page link under the header here), I mentioned how that paved road riding by cyclists and distracted driving were things not likely to get sorted anytime soon. Well, the Consumer Electronics Show, (CES) is happening now and developments are being shared which point to a possible future where all road users might be connected wirelessly. In one story we can learn about how radio connectivity between emergency and mass transit is going to sync with traffic lights. This is something that is happening in many cities but this story is about Madison, Wisconsin's efforts to test a system which will allow traffic lights to sync with ambulance/fire/police vehicles and also allow busses to stay on schedule, as examples.

Another example is Trek who is working with a company called Tome and also with Ford Motor Company to start down the path of putting technology to work in vehicles and on bicycles so that cars, in the future probably autonomous/driverless cars, will be made "aware of" the presence of cyclists, and probably at some point, pedestrians.

You may have heard about how driverless cars are having issues "detecting" the movements of more random road users like cyclists and peds. Well, if each ped and cyclist has a "beacon" which signals these autonomous vehicles, the theory is that the vehicles could better recognize when and how to avoid these more mobile urban users. You can check out that story here. This sounds plausible, but wait! There is a possible downside here:

Maybe this is more "number of the beast" than "future urban utopia"? From a recent Twitter thread.
Obviously not everyone will be wanting to, or will buy into this, but one could imagine a scenario where insurance and licensing gets tied into a system like this making it virtually impossible to get around without becoming a part of the plan.

Also, this stuff, according to the stories I've seen, is at least a couple of decades off, but Trek states it is pressing for "in the field studies now". It's also worth noting that the Madison experiment is set to go off this year, with results garnered from the trial test soon as well. Given that Trek is based nearby in Waterloo, Wisconsin, it is reasonable to assume they will also be watching that study closely. Trek promises to publish the results of their findings when they are available.

So, what does it all mean? Likely that technologies to use AI and other user interfaces on autos and bicycles will be trialed and tested in urban areas in the very near future. How this will look in the future, I don't think anyone quite understands just yet. I would be interested to know how much of our liberties in freedom of movement would have to be ceded over to make this all functional. Hopefully that would be considered in any solutions chosen and implemented.

At any rate, it all bears watching, and at least in metropolitan areas, it looks as if some sort of wireless communication between all urban transportation users/vehicles is set to happen at some point.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Jones Bikes Announces Spaceframe Plus LWB

Image courtesy of Jones Bikes
Jones Bikes are an enigma amongst the other brands out there. They are rare, they don't follow any sort of convention, and they have evolved into a highly refined machine, as opposed to changing design completely every few years or so.

I have always been drawn to Jeff Jones ideas, He is an iconoclast in the bicycle world. His designs eschew suspension, or even the provision for a suspension fork, using a weird looking truss fork instead. Jones doesn't seem to be affected by the latest "geometry du jour", or by the allure of carbon fiber for his frames, or by much of anything one sees as commonplace these days. It's as if Jones Bikes were like Australian marsupials, allowed to evolve on their own apart from outside influences. Well, while that seems to be the case, it isn't all totally fair to say either.

For instance, Jones immediately embraced 29 inch wheels and has championed the 29+ wheel in particular. So, it isn't like Jones hasn't been paying any attention to the other developments in cycling. It is also fair to point out that Jones was an early proponent of long fork offsets for big wheels, wider front hub spacing, and "alternative bars" with his highly evolved "H-Bar" designs. His latest creations, the "LWB", or Long Wheel Base bikes, claim to smash preconceived notions about good handling big wheels and long wheel bases being mutually exclusive ideas. Jones claims the LWB's are nimble and not barge-like at all.

Image courtesy of Jones Bikes
Since the early 2000's, I have followed Jeff Jones as he has evolved his designs. I never have gotten to ride one, although I did see him demonstrate the bike's compliance at Interbike probably around '09-'10 or so. Jeff was showing how the titanium Spaceframe had vertical compliance yet was laterally stiff. Yes.....the ultimate unicorn of bike characteristics. The thing was, he was actually proving his point right there in front of my eyes.

It was readily apparent that the Spaceframe did what Jones claimed and I have no doubt the titanium frame, at least, has this magic carpet ride. Jones Spaceframes are also available in steel, but I cannot vouch for how that would work out. My eyes are on the titanium frame, at any rate, because, well......titanium. It would last a long time, never need painting, and have a better ride quality than the steel version.

Jones Bikes had its first LWB in the "Diamond Frame" version, which looks more conventional than the Spaceframe but lacks that frame's vertical compliance. The Diamond LWB Plus bike was billed as the "ultimate bikepacking rig", since it had a big area for a frame bag. The Spaceframe was the next design to receive the LWB treatment. Its debut is today. This version is dubbed as perhaps the most versatile, comfortable gravel travel machine ever, (amongst other things).

That's a big claim. I know a lot of folks will say that this is just overkill, that you do not need anything over a 40mm tire and certainly that you don't need anything that looks like this! But hold that thought right there a minute. There is also a completely legitimate, valid reason why one would choose a bicycle like this. Let me explain.....

I've been to a lot of places to ride gravel and dirt. I also know of areas where "typical" gravel bikes and all-road machines would be a handful, and at worst, a liability. I'm not talking about mountain biking. These places are listed as public roads. Roads that, yes, look like a mountain bike trail, in many cases, but could be encountered in a cross country ride on public roads in many places across the nation. Wouldn't you rather have the tool to tackle that and not have to get off and walk?

The Spaceframe Plus LWB will come in three sizes- Small, Med, and Large.
This is one of the reasons I always choose my Gen I Fargo when I go someplace I don't know the roads. And you know what? I cannot think of a time when I thought I took the wrong bicycle when I did choose it. In fact, I more often than not needed to have those 29"er treads and that Fargo underneath me. 

Then I think about some of those roads featured in places like Nebraska where the sand and the dirt can be so loose and unconsolidated that a plus sized tire is a huge benefit over a 42mm gravel tire. I can think of times where I saw a 29+ tire float on mud that the other bikes were "pizza cutting" into. I have also been glad to have been on the longer wheel base of the Fargo when other bikes were swapping ends in moondust or on loose gravel.

Image courtesy of Jones Bikes
The way I look at it is this: If I could only have one bicycle, for the way that I like to ride, this Spaceframe Plus LWB would be that bicycle. My "desert island" bike, if you will. I could likely pull off 90% of what I do every year as well if not better with this bike than I can with anything else I have.

Not only does it have the capabilities in handling and comfort I look for, but it also has features I look for in a bicycle. Titanium is obviously one. However; I also like that you can fit five water bottles to a size large frame. I like that it has rack and fender mounts, and I like that you can get special bags that fit the truss fork, handle bar, and frame from Jones or other manufacturers. The bike can easily be set up single speed, so if you whack a derailleur, you can rig it in the field to go single speed and get back home.

So, anyway, this ticks a lot of boxes for me. Yes, it is expensive, (pricing was to be released today here in this informational blogpost on Jones' site) I am not sure I could swing it anyway, but I think this could replace my beloved Fargo. So, yes- I think the claims for this being a great gravel bike, (and much more), are valid. "Ultimate" is a big, very definitive word. I wouldn't go that far until I had one for a while and had some experiences on it. But the potential is certainly there.

One thing is certainly a given- no one would mistake this for something else out there! The Jones Bike certainly cuts a different swath than your ordinary rigs do.

Monday, January 08, 2018

What I've Been Up To

Of course, we've gotten a wee bit of snow since around Christmas.
With all of the late year reviewing and then the series on the "State Of Gravel Grinding" that took up the first full week of the New Year, I wanted to bring you up to speed on what I've been up to during that time.  A short list here then.......
  • Staying warm
  • Shivering
  • Putting on more layers
  • Riding a bicycle once or thrice
  • Staying warm
Did I forget to mention in my list I spent much of my time staying warm? Apologies if I forgot that bit. has been very cold here. 

We broke records, at least twice, during the last two weeks and was near to the record low for several other days. Waaaaay below zero Fahrenheit! It also has managed to be windy enough that the effects of the combination of wind and ambient air temperature, (or wind chill, as we call it), has often been in the -25°F to -35°F range.

That's beyond my capabilities to cycle in. I don't have the proper gear for that, and secondly, I just don't feel the need to do bicycling in that sort of weather. Kudos to those of you that do it. Thirdly, since we rarely have stretches of this sort of weather here, it makes no sense for me to gear up for that. I simply resort to driving for these kinds of days. Sue me!

Of course, there were a few days that were not "brutal" so I actually did ride.
 Just before New Year's Day we got a fresh dump of snow and it was warm enough that I managed a few commutes to work during this time. I also had my hours cut back- again- so I haven't had to commute as much. My kids had Winter break, so I spent a lot of time with them instead. That was all great, but not so much for my bank account! Being a bicycle mechanic during Winter in the Upper Mid-West is tough. Tougher still when the entire economy is sluggish.

I busted out the Blackborow DS for a nice ride recently.
I should also mention that I spent the majority of the last two weeks recovering from a nasty cold/flu that I picked up around Christmas time. That was a huge factor in my "not going outdoors" as well. So, I had a lot of time on my hands to write, and that's why you got the series on gravel grinding you got. Fortunately I felt pretty chipper by New Year's day and shortly afterward I got in a couple of great rides on the fat bikes. The snow has been awesome, albeit not very voluminous, and the temperatures have been tolerable for a few days. The Green Belt trails have been in primo Winter riding conditions. Hopefully we get some more snow for a solid base and that we can enjoy fat biking through February. That'd be nice. it looks like we won't. Bah!

Along with this cold I have figured out a new cold weather fat biking set up for wearable items and I will detail all of that coming up. Stay tuned.......

Oh! And there was this Banjo Brothers interview. Check it out if you haven't already. 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Minus Ten Review- 1

The only images I posted the first week of 2008 were of my Badger.
Ten years ago on the blog I wasn't doing any reporting on riding because, well........Winter! Typically it wasn't warm enough, there was ice on the roads, and we did not have fat bikes yet.

I did show off some parts I installed on my Badger. That bike just took forever to get going on due to financial constraints and the over all vibe I was getting for even having one of these bikes. (The story has been told before, I am not going to re-hash it again here.)

Anyway, both things were downers and caused me to really draw out the finishing of this rig. In other news I noted a Planet Bike presser that stated they had switched over to solar power. I also noted Jeff Kerkove was now bitching about wind in Colorado. He was doing a lot of gravel riding out there at the time. I thought it rather ironic that he was complaining about the wind since he was famous for saying , "The wind is our mountains.", when he lived out here in Iowa.

Finally I was talking about doing my own gravel travel soon back then. I was pretty much hooked on doing gravel back in '07 and I wanted to just ride miles and miles of the stuff if I could. The trouble was that I was then hooked into doing this 29"er site and product reviewing at that time which ended up keeping me away from gravel riding for the most part. That lasted another six years. Ooof!

Glad that is over now! 

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The State Of The Gravel Scene: Final Thoughts

A Guitar Ted Productions series
This is the final post in this series. For the others, please check the following links: INTRO, PART 2, PART 3, Part 4

Gravel cycling has a lot to offer the person interested in human powered activities that is capable of taking part in them. It isn't for everyone, nor can just anybody take part. That said, more people would cycle if they felt safer and felt that they had a community/social aspect of that activity to enjoy. 

First off, considering the battle between bicyclists and those trying to drive on paved roads, we are not going to see more people take up cycling until it is made safer. That isn't going to happen for paved road cyclists anytime soon. Meanwhile, distracted drivers are taking chances with all user group's lives and this presents another issue that affects both urban and rural drivers and riders. This issue also doesn't look to be getting solved anytime soon either.

While we as cyclists have a right to ride on the open road, it doesn't matter to my family that I have that right if I end up maimed or dead. Does this mean we as cyclists should just give over? No! Not ever! But in the meantime, I would rather be riding where I don't have that worry so present to mind. I would like to enjoy the ride. I really cannot do that currently on paved road routes.

I can do this on gravel roads though. Ironically enough, while there are exceptions, the vast majority of other gravel road users are kind. Not to mention the much lower traffic counts. I can ride 40-50 miles and maybe get passed by one or two vehicles. Maybe none at all. The peace of mind this lends me is, in my opinion, priceless.

Add in the scenery, the historical elements out there, the wildlife, and the challenges of roads not cut into the earth as much as they roll with the terrain. It is an experience that is diametrically opposed to the one I used to have when I rode paved routes in the country and a far cry from urban cycling. It is an experience I believe is so superior to traditional road cycling that I cannot see myself ever even wanting to ride paved roads again. Not the way things are now, at any rate.

The State of Iowa has the unique honor of hosting the largest paved cross state ride in the nation, and it is also the longest running. Of course, I am speaking of RAGBRAI. Technically the ride happens on "open roads", but for all intents and purposes, the ride takes over the roads to the point that you just do not think about dealing with automobiles and trucks. Other cyclists are another thing, but cars and trucks are not an issue.

The social aspect of the event is also a big draw. It is my contention that these two characteristics are the main draw for RAGBRAI. Now if, on a much smaller scale, a community of riders springs up and does gravel rides periodically throughout the year, that same feeling could be a thing out in the country. My contention is that this sort of situation could immediately be grown and implemented across much of this nation. I feel it would draw a lot of folks out to bicycle that are not doing that now. Oddly enough, this was exactly what happened in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century with cycling. It still happens this way in Europe in many places. I'm saying, "Why not here?"

Friday, January 05, 2018

The State Of The Gravel Scene: Where Does It Go From Here"

A Guitar Ted Productions series

NOTE- The first "Friday News And Views" for 2018 will be next week. 
In my decade plus of my involvement in gravel rides and races which includes promoting, riding , competing, writing about, and reviewing products, I have seen a lot of changes. I have a lot on my mind about where the scene has been and where it is going. I have thoughts on what it is and what it should be. So, buckle up for a series of thoughts and opinions concerning gravel grinding. It goes without saying that these opinions are my own and may not reflect anybody else's. So here we go.......

If you haven't read the introduction, Part 2, or Part 3, please go HERE, HERE, and then HERE. This is the fourth part of the series.

The last Interbike show I went to was in 2013. I was editor of the now defunct "Twenty Nine Inches" website and I was cruising the halls of the showroom floor at the Mandalay in Las Vegas for the latest big wheeled things. I received a message that Steve Hed of HED Cycling Products wanted to meet with me. I was a bit perplexed by that request, since HED  was all about triathlon and aero stuff. Hardly the beat of a 29"er mountain bike site. But, although I considered not going over, I decided to show up. I was about to be blown away.

Steve knew I was into the gravel scene and that I ran Trans Iowa. He wanted to show off his gorgeous custom built steel gravel bike to me. It was built by Eric Noren of Peacock Groove. But beyond the bike, Steve was really interested to make sure I understood he was really a "gravel grinder" at heart. He said that was where his heart was. It was how he enjoyed cycling as a youth in Minnesota. His ongoing focus was going to be more about this gravel grinding culture. Not racing- but just the whole idea of enjoying friends and nature out on crushed rock and dirt roads. 

Sadly for us, Steve passed away the following year and never got to push his passion for gravel to the fore, as he said that he wanted to. However; I feel that he was dead nuts right. He got what the scene needed to be about. Shaved legged, skinny young men on dirty drop bar bikes with dropper posts doing silly mountain bike-like things is definitely not what it is about. However; much of the industry is trying to re-frame gravel cycling as a pseudo-enduro, "bro-culture", rad activity that isn't inclusive of the average ordinary individual who is seeking fun, a safer place to ride, and wants a social aspect to their experiences.

Neither is the industry getting it right with regard to the bike packing aspect of gravel cycling. If your scenery doesn't include a mountain as a backdrop, you're seemingly not "getting it", according to the small niche of folks driving this genre. "Routes" that are pre-packaged as "epic" bike packing experiences don't seem to include any gravel rides to a local State Park in non-mountainous areas, but maybe they should. There are probably more people that could relate and see themselves doing that instead of some grandiose Chilean jaunt hardly anyone will ever get to experience.

So, you may be thinking, "All right Guitar Ted. What are you going to do about any of this? Qwitcher bellyachin and give us some ideas on solutions!" Fair enough, and in fact, I have been planning all along to do something in my own back yard. On January 13th here at a place called "Doughy Joey's", which is a local pizza place, we are inviting any beginner gravel folks, curious people, or cyclists that just want to hang out and hear about it to find out how I see this moving forward. I want to see more folks take whatever bike they have and just give gravel a try. I am going to provide 4 different local routes. I am going to suggest there are good reasons to ride gravel. I also am going to talk about the social aspects of the scene. Note- I am not going to say much, if anything, about racing. (Facebook event page here)

So, there ya go. That's what I am going to do. Who is next up?

Next: Final Thoughts

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The State Of The Gravel Scene: Things Changed

A Guitar Ted Productions series
In my decade plus of my involvement in gravel rides and races which includes promoting, riding , competing, writing about, and reviewing products, I have seen a lot of changes. I have a lot on my mind about where the scene has been and where it is going. I have thoughts on what it is and what it should be. So, buckle up for a series of thoughts and opinions concerning gravel grinding. It goes without saying that these opinions are my own and may not reflect anybody else's. So here we go.......

If you haven't read the introduction, or Part 2, please go HERE and then HERE. This is the third part of the series.

 Things Changed

The first six or seven years of the gravel scene were heady years. The events were fun, very  grassroots oriented, and the overall vibe was of excitement and camaraderie.  For the most part, these events were cheap to enter or even free. Participation numbers in some events soared. Then about 2010 or thereabouts a shift in the scene was felt. Plans to make some events different than they were ruffled feathers. The bicycle industry was taking notice and was starting to make "gravel specific" bicycles and accessories. Series started popping up. Backlash was coming from several sources.

 Over the  past decade, gravel events have exploded in popularity and have become, for all intents and purposes, completely mainstream. One benefit to that is that the events have become incredibly easy to find and attend.  But with all of that has come bigger crowds at some of these events. Along with these crowds has come a perceived need to bring the overall level of these bigger events up to suit the monetary and attendance needs/goals of promoters, insurers, sponsors, and the host cities. Bigger, better, and many times far from where the roots of gravel grinding began.

On the other hand, riders keep pushing to get into some of these events. Riders keep paying ever increasing fees to have the opportunity to ride in some of these "bigger" events. It can also be said that many riders have a predetermined idea of what an "event" entails and expect certain features and amenities. It is important to note that riders do not have to do these events or pay for them.  But they often do just that.

So, you can argue that the demand is there, so why not satisfy it? Fair enough. In any segment of society, it seems to me at any rate, that we here in the USA feel "growth" is how we measure "success", and growth is often measured by the metric of "numbers of people" and "amount of dollars generated". This concept, in my opinion, is deeply flawed and it is why movements, genre's, products, companies, churches, and more become bloated, less meaningful, and eventually implode upon themselves. Is gravel grinding at this point? Shouldn't we be more concerned with the "growth of people" instead?

A former promoter of a gravel race sent me a message one day and he had the following to say regarding this subject:

".....when they (gravel events) become like a is a "bought and sold" experience. The money kills the spirit of the experience."

 Some Things Got Better

While some folks from the early years of gravel grinding bemoaned where some of the events were headed, there were also signs of things within the scene that were years ahead of other forms of cycling. One of these was how women were/are treated at gravel events. The all inclusive nature of gravel events meant that, much of the time, there were no shorter courses for women. Payouts generally are level across the board, and prizing has typically been fair across gender lines. This in stark contrast to Pro cycling events.

While women were not quick to flock to gravel events, the numbers of women riders has increased recently by surprising numbers. Events have embraced ways to try to encourage more female participation. In terms of gender equity, gravel grinding as a genre seems to be at the forefront in the competitive cycling world. That isn't to say that there still isn't a lot of progress left to be made there, by the way.

The move toward just having fun, recreational rides has been there from the beginning and this facet of the scene has also been on the rise. Since I have the unique viewpoint afforded to me by having kept a gravel cycling event calendar since 2008, I have noticed that recreational, fun, challenge type events, and even family oriented rides are increasing in numbers every year. These are not just some side show either. The numbers for these events are a significant fraction of the overall number of events. Many of these rides are part of larger, competitive events as well. This isn't just about competition. Like I said in my first post in this series, and it should stay that way. I would argue that this facet of the gravel scene actually needs more attention and fostering by the cycling industry. 

Some Things Stayed The Same

While there have been a lot of changes, some things haven't changed. Most gravel events still are relatively chill, low key events which still feature that welcoming spirit. There are still plenty of the self-sufficient, "You Are Responsible For Yourself" types of events out there also. Gravel grinding's roots are still on display for all to see in many corners of the country. No fear of that disappearing anytime soon, thankfully. You can still find free to enter events, like the classic Almanzo 100. The grassroots, no sanctioning body, free-form type rides and events were still being invented and produced in 2017 just like they were when we did that first Trans Iowa.

Next: Where Does It Go From Here?

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

The State Of The Gravel Scene: When The First Domino Fell

A Guitar Ted Productions series
In my decade plus of my involvement in gravel rides and races which includes promoting, riding , competing, writing about, and reviewing products, I have seen a lot of changes. I have a lot on my mind about where the scene has been and where it is going. I have thoughts on what it is and what it should be. So, buckle up for a series of thoughts and opinions concerning gravel grinding. It goes without saying that these opinions are my own and may not reflect anybody else's. So here we go.......

If you haven't read the introduction, please go HERE. This is the second part of the series. 

When The First Domino Fell

When Jeff Kerkove said "Let's do it!", in late November 2004 after hearing my thoughts on whether a cross state gravel route was possible or not, something in the atmosphere changed. That evening he put the word out on the internet and before we ever had any inkling of the "how" about Trans Iowa, we had people asking us "How are you guys setting this up?". Once we had some semblance of the "how" formulated, it set off a million light bulbs across the nation. People, almost immediately, started scheming how they to could get in on this action.

The following is how one individual saw this moment. Craig Groseth, a resident of Western South Dakota, caught the "gravel bug" in 2013 and recently wrote the following on his blog concerning the idea Jeff and I had for a gravel event:

"Back in 2005, Trans Iowa was created by a couple of free-thinking bike shop jocks with too much time on their hands and too little sense to understand that one simply does not ride a bicycle across the State of Iowa on 340-ish miles of gravel roads, on an unmarked course, with no team support and no aid stations, in less than a day and a half in April. You just don't. And nobody would want to, anyhow.

Mark Stevenson and Jeff Kerkove, however, dared to think otherwise. Unconstrained by an aristocratic governing body, or by any other conventional thought, they dreamt up a mind-bending ride that challenged what one thought of as possible and then opened it up to anyone curious enough to give it a shot. In return, they asked for little more than a commitment to show up, follow a few rules of conduct and ride with all you have. A culture was born. 

I discovered the initial Trans Iowa on the forums, simultaneously intrigued by the challenge and baffled as to why anyone would want to do such a thing. But ride it they did, creating gripping tales of brave souls willing to go way out there just to see what's way out there, and to find what's within. Even afterwards, racers struggled to articulate their near mythical experiences deep into the gravel hinterlands of central Iowa, far beyond their perceived physical and emotional boundaries. Something special was happening out there.

As the years passed, Trans Iowa took root and endured, building a grass roots following, unleashing a legion of converts and sparking a movement across the country. All sorts of different grass roots gravel races, events and rides sprang from this humble beginning in Iowa."

The Perfect Storm

Craig was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands of individuals who had that "a ha!" moment when hearing about Trans Iowa. Like I said before, it could have been any event that sparked this trend.  Jeff and I were just pulling the trigger at a time when the cycling community was looking for something new, challenging, but not over-organized and stuffy. The loose knit, rag-tag bunch of ultra-mountain bikers, thrill seekers, and yes, curious roadies that made up the nearly 50 or so riders in that first Trans Iowa reached a new audience of riders across the nation with their accounting of the event on-line. This in turn sparked the "we can do that!" attitude of other riders across the nation and before you knew it, a small but enthusiastic group of riders and promoters were gabbing about "gravel grinding".  Just like my friend Craig. 

I think there were a few key things that helped spark the gravel grinding scene then. 
  • No oversight, no governing body. You didn't have to deal with anyone else's idea of what gravel cycling looked like. You could frame an event in any way you wanted with no licensing fee, no extras to buy, and if you wanted- no insurance. You could even charge no entry fee. This knocked down a lot of barriers to event production and rider participation. 
  • You could do this on public roads almost anywhere in rural areas. This meant you didn't have to pay a venue to have an event. 
  • You could invite anyone to come. It wasn't a "roadie event", a "mountain biker event", nor was it tailored for any specific group of cyclists. Anyone and everyone was welcomed, and as it turned out, they were accepted. 
Keep in mind that entry fees for 24 hour events were dabbling into triple digit territory. Especially if you were a solo rider. Criterium racers had to purchase a license for the year, and pay for races, and risk getting pulled after a couple of laps. Mountain bikers faced licensing fees, race fees, and if you were a Sport Class rider, about an hour or so of trail time before your event was over. This didn't include traveling fees, time spent training, and equipment costs. Plus many of these events, both road and off road, were criticized for their cliques and the airs people gave off which were mostly described as off-putting. Only the 24 hr mtb crowds seemed to be chill and not so uptight. Gravel races offered a clear alternative to all of this.

 What That First Domino Started

With easy access to a way to spread information on the internet, (free), and low barriers to event promotion, venue areas, and participation, the gravel scene found literally thousands of rider/fans within a few years. You didn't need a special bicycle, you didn't have to buy a ton of fancy equipment, nor did you have to worry about how you might be accepted if you showed up on a Motobecane from 1972 or if you wanted to ride a 29"er single speed. You weren't judged for your kit or if you ran a saddle bag or not. "The Rules" of gravel grinding were that you were honest, open, and ready to have fun. It's no wonder then that the scene started to take root and grew incrementally every year.

Next: Things Changed

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The State Of The Gravel Scene- Introduction

A Guitar Ted Productions series.
Note- This is the beginning of a series which will continue through to Saturday the 6th of January.

In my decade plus of my involvement in gravel rides and races which includes promoting, riding , competing, writing about, and reviewing products, I have seen a lot of changes. I have a lot on my mind about where the scene has been and where it is going. I have thoughts on what it is and what it should be. So, buckle up for a series of thoughts and opinions concerning gravel grinding. It goes without saying that these opinions are my own and may not reflect anybody else's. So here we go.......

 Gravel grinding represents something for me that I am quite certain is quite a bit different than what you might think I would be thinking, and it is damn sure a far sight away from what the industry thinks it is. The pundits and media wonks get hung up on the name. They think the name "gravel grinding" is stupid and yet not one of them has an alternative name that sounds any less ridiculous. (The term "groad" is probably the silliest of them all and it was invented by a media guy covering CIRREM one year long ago.) The industry thinks it is all about "racing" and "extreme adventures", but it shouldn't be about either one of those. It wasn't all about that in the beginning either. Speaking of which, let's go back to the beginning......

The Days Before Modern Gravel Riding 

The beginning of gravel grinding goes way back before my time. It was going on all over the world, but here in the Mid-West, and specifically Iowa, the idea of training in the early Spring winds on higher resistance roads, ( gravel roads), was called by those old time roadies by a name. That name was "gravel grinding". This activity was going on in the Lincoln, Nebraska area when you could join in on any friendly group training ride that featured a bunch of college students getting ready for the mountain bike race season. That group later became the nucleus for the "Pirate Cycling League" which then started putting on gravel rides on purpose, eventually becoming the promoters of Gravel Worlds. This activity was going on in Kansas where a wily promoter named John Hobbs was putting on an event dubbed the "Flint Hills Death Ride" for anyone foolish enough to test themselves against the 70-ish mile course in the heat of Summer. This long before any hint of a Dirty Kanza ever was thought of.

There were races and events all over the nation. Paris-Ancaster was going on in Canada long before the term "gravel grinder" was a well known thing. Events in California that would later become the Belgian Waffle Ride were happening on the back roads of California long before this scene was a thing. Mountain bike promoter Richard "Deke" Gosen was putting on gravel road events for mountain bikers in Northeast Iowa in the 80's. Rides like the Colfax 40 were a thing for roadies that were crazy enough to bomb gravel descents at 40 plus miles an hour long before Trans Iowa existed.

You get the point.

Right Time- Right Place

So, why now and why is it any different than it was then? Isn't it really all about racing, feats of strength, and roadies and mountain bikers getting their kicks on gravel? Well, it was in some cases and not in others, but something changed all that. Ironically, it was an ultra endurance competition that happened at the right time.

The scene in terms of cycling in the early 00's was a very different one than we enjoy nowadays. The mountain bikers were all about going around in circles for 24 hours back then, Road cycling was enjoying the rise in popularity brought on by the "Lance Effect". Fixie freaks were tearing it up in the major urban areas. An oddball contingent of single speeders were having their own World Championships. The "latest thing" was 29 inch wheels, but everyone knew that would never catch on. There were no fat bikes, plus bikes, enduro bikes, road plus, endurance road, or e-bikes. No one had ever heard of "gravel grinding". 

It was in this atmosphere that Trans Iowa was born in. It drew from the ethos of 24 hour racing due to its main creator, Jeff Kerkove, who was a sponsored solo 24 hour racer. It also drew from a nascent movement that was an outgrowth of 24hr mountain biking and was driven mainly by Mike Curiak who was busy helping set up "ultra-endurance" length challenges like the Great Divide Race, the Iditarod Challenge, the Kokopelli Race, and others. This was all happening pre-social media and post "analog marketing". So, the internet cycling forums were then the "cork message boards", the cycling blog was the "digital flyer", and the new PC based culture which was quickly taking root in everyone's homes was the conduit for the messages about all these new, oddball ideas that were out there waiting to be found by a curious populace.

I'm maybe being a bit laborious about the set up here, but this is all about the set up. If you miss this, you will miss why it was Trans Iowa that was the first domino, and not some other event. It could have been something else that kicked this whole thing into motion, but it wasn't. Understanding the setting in the days leading up to that November 2004 announcement of Trans Iowa is necessary to attain any understanding of what came afterward. Ironically, for some of you, I had nothing at all to do with it either. I was simply along for the ride. The man who pushed that domino over was Jeff Kerkove.

Next: When The First Domino Fell