Sunday, July 14, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: The Dissenters

Ira Ryan, (foreground) was one of the CX bike proponents that argued against MTB's in Trans Iowa
A couple of "Trans Iowa Stories" installments ago, you might remember my telling how the event was originally known as "The Trans Iowa Mountain Bike Race". That didn't last very long because of a furor that broke out due to one of Jeff's original stipulations that all riders had to be on 2 inch or wider tires.

A few things factored into this decision. First and foremost, Jeff was a mountain biker and wanted this to be about those types of bicycles. Like I mentioned earlier in these tales and elsewhere, if we could have done it, Trans Iowa would have all been on single track. There would be no gravel grinders, and that would have been that. But obviously Iowa's topography and land usage situation dictated that we had to go to our next best option- the gravel roads.

Okay, so it was Jeff's considered opinion at that time that a wider tire was better than a skinnier one. To really grasp why he arrived at that decision one needs to put things into the context of 2004. We barely had any 29"ers, and those were super rare, being either a Fisher, a Surly Karate Monkey, or some custom one off. Tires? Ha! Again- not a very good choice unless you rode WTB Nanos. Then there were copious amounts of 2" wide, 26" type tires and bicycles. This was what Jeff was using on gravel. Finally, in 700c sizes, you had okay road tires which maybe were 32mm wide, or a cyclo-cross tire at 33mm, but between that and 2" wide 29"er tires, there were only really basic hybrid tires which were heavy and slow, or armored touring tires which were heavy and slow, and even then, choices were few and far between.

Most riders in the first Trans Iowa were on mountain bikes. It was then the default "gravel bike".
Essentially, the wheel situation was thus that your only two real choices for this new event were either a 26" wheeled mountain bike or a cyclo cross bike. Jeff felt that cyclo cross bikes, with their 33-34mm tires, were just too sketchy and uncomfortable, in terms of mitigating vibrations, and that we may as well just outlaw them for everyone's benefit. Jeff also felt that unless you had the skills of a seasoned mountain biker, a skinny tire bike may prove to be an accident waiting to happen. Especially after many hours in the saddle which would build up fatigue and poor mental choices. Unless you had a lot of experience in this sort of setting, a wider tire bike was going to be a better choice as it would be more forgiving. So, the "mountain bike" part of Trans Iowa was intentional on a few levels. However; this didn't sit well with many who were looking to do the event.

First off, we had to clarify that 29"ers were "mountain bikes" and after that, the cyclo-cross group, led by some well known rando/cyclo cross guys such as Ira Ryan, chimed in with their dissent. They thought we were being unfair to not allow these perfectly capable bicycles. A few from this camp also reasoned that for many years, road riders were doing "gravel grinders" on actual road bikes to train for the spring crit season right here in Iowa, and across the Mid-West. (Note- the term "gravel grinders" wasn't something Jeff or I made up. It was commonly in use by road cyclists far prior to our use of that term.)

Eventually the furor reached such a fevered pitch that Jeff decided that we should capitulate to the CX crowd and allow these bikes, despite Jeff's deep misgivings for allowing such bikes in the event. For reference, here is the re-written rule, as it appeared forever afterward on the Trans Iowa site.

"9: Bike choice is up to you! We are allowing mnt bikes, cyclocross bikes, 29"ers, and road bikes if you really want to be stupid. Just be aware that some research is going to have to go into your final bike choice. The gravel roads of Iowa can get pretty harsh in northern part of the state. I suggest at least a 1.95, but then again, it's up to you how much you want to hurt. We'll leave it at that."

So, with all the preamble above, you can see why the rule was worded as it was. Also of note, we put the rule in red letters so it would stand out, and I left it that way afterward. Of course, in 2010, or any year after this, that rule probably seemed weird at best and very strange and unnecessary at worst. I mean, why bother? Well, obviously, when you take it in context, it makes a lot of sense. Things were far different in late '04/early '05. 

Besides this, the uproar about having only one checkpoint where support could be had was the main focus of dissent. Many of the ultra-endurance riders understood this, but many others just jumping in did not. The thought that we would not have fully stocked aid stations, or even water, was unconscionable to many. Here Mike Curiak also influenced us when our answer to these sorts of complaints was borrowed from him- "Maybe this event isn't for you." And generally speaking, that was correct. It wasn't for everyone. 

In the end, this became what made Trans Iowa the event that it was. We did not capitulate to the idea that we were doing this event"for every man", as many assumed we were. We were not doing it for just anybody, and that was intentional. Was it exclusionary? Absolutely it was. Because Trans Iowa was dangerous, as I stated a couple weeks back, and anyone assuming the challenge of the event needed to have some sobriety in terms of that fact. Keep in mind that we had decided it would be okay if no one even finished the event. This thought pervaded everything about Trans Iowa. The event weeded out the pretenders and posers, for the most part. Eventually, even just getting into the event was not easy. As the years went on, this idea, fostered from the beginning, was a point of contention for many. 

Next: As the story evolved, so did the event. Next we will learn what motivated some changes to the early Trans Iowa events.

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