Showing posts with label Green Belt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Green Belt. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

In Search Of Marky-Mark: Part 2

The nearly full moon over Marky-Mark
Another foray into the dark to search out the West end of Marky-Mark. Last time I went out there I got a little off trail near the West end, which was no big deal, but I wanted to see if the entire trail was still rideable.

So I grabbed the new fatter version of the Snow Dog and threw on some lights. I grabbed a water bottle and hydration pack and hit the road to the Green Belt. The initial route is well known to me. Riding it by night would be no issue. I didn't even fit a head lamp, just two bar mounted lights.

Once into the woods, I scared off a couple deer. Then further on in I heard an angry owl hooting when I approached. Maybe I screwed up its plan to aquire some prey? I don't know, but it made quite the racket as I went by.

Lighting without a helmet mounted torch meant that going around the tighter corners called for a slower speed, just so I didn't go off  the trail. That was okay, as I wasn't in that big of a hurry. I made my way to the Western end of where Marky-Mark would have dumped out into the shelter area off Ridgeway Avenue. I found it just behind a big pile of dead trees and branches. It was obvious where the single track went back into the woods.

The initial stretch that I missed last time was obvious, so I was curious as to where I might have went off track the last time coming from the East. It didn't take long for me to find where that was! I floundered around for a bit, but I stopped, dismounted, and grabbed one of the lights and scouted around. I finally came upon the solution to the problem and was back on the bike in a jiffy. A bit of branch clearing was all that was needed, and Marky-Mark is cleared to ride through.

Of course, this is no pristine, wide, clear walking trail. This is real woodsy single track. It is narrow, twisting, and there are dead falls which you can try and bunny-hop. It's not a long trail, but it is very, very different than anything else in the Green Belt. I'm amazed it is still there to ride, but I am glad it is.

Monday, October 06, 2014

As Fat As It Can Be

New shoes on the Snow Dog
All the while that I have had a fat bike, (January 2011), I have opined about not having enough float and/or control in deeper snow and on slightly packed snow. The type of snow we get here lately is very challenging. Either it is too "sugary" or it is too shifty for the tires I have been using. The Big Fat Larrys showed some promise, but there were many times that the lack of lateral traction was quite evident and it made me frustrated at what might have been had I been using the widest rubber and rims.

I should say that since I am a bigger fella this is more of an issue for me than it is going to be for those who are lighter weight folk. I'm solidly in the Clydesdale category, and I need those bigger pontoons, at least I thought so.

Well, since this issue is limited to Winter, I didn't get right out and take care of this until last year when I purchased some Fatback Sterling tires. I was a bit let down, to be honest, since they were billed as 4.25"ers and they weren't anywhere near that. While marginally better than the old, worn Big Fat Larrys, I was still pretty much in the same boat as the years before. Bummer......

The boy ended up with the Sterlings
So, I ordered the Blackborow DS which would definitely fit the bill of, as Salsa describes it, " fatbike exploration". Perfect! That's exactly what I use my fat bikes for most often. With its 100mm Clownshoe rims shod with Surly Lou 4.8" tires, I will end up right where I want to be with regard to flotation and traction.

However; something happened on the wait for the Blackborow. I was contacted by a company to test a bunch of tires and give my feedback on them. One of those tires is a sample of a proposed fat bike tire that looked pretty nice and big. Anyway, it sure seemed like a nice tire for around here and was around the same size as the Big Fat Larrys I have when mounted on my Rolling Darryls. That is to say, not as huge as a Bud or Lou tire, but definitely bigger than anything else I'd tried.

Then a co-worker had a fat bike front wheel just sitting around down at the shop. It had a Bud mounted on a Marge Lite with a red anodized DMR hub. I kept looking at it and finally asked my co-worker about whether or not he'd want to let it go. He suggested a trade, and before you knew it, I had this wheel back in the Lab. I swapped out the front wheel on my son's fat bike for this "new" one, mounted both Sterlings to his wheels, and took the Bud and fitted it to The Snow Dog.

We had a great ride on a gorgeous day.

Then, not a couple of days later I found out that I could keep the sample tire I had tested. It's a wire beaded sample, so nothing light, but I was happy to get it on the back end of the Snow Dog and see if it would fit. If it would, I maybe could see if the ol' Snow Dog would make for a good bushwhacker after all! I slipped down to the Lab and swapped out the Big Fat Larry for this un-named tire and whoa! It was a very tight fit, fit! 

So, Saturday morning was spent cleaning up the muck that was stuck on the Snow Dog from the tire testing. It took a bunch of elbow grease to get it all off, but I eventually got it all off. Unfortunately, the cleaning was a revelation. I found that in several places, the Snow Dog's blue powder coat is starting to bubble and lift off the frame. Well, what do you expect? This ol' girl has been abused pretty sorely over the three years plus that I have had it. 

Pretty tight, but there is light there!
The boy and I hit the trails with our new set ups and had a nice ride. It was an eye opener for sure, since I now had the biggest rubber I had ever used on the Snow Dog. I floated over the sand and the little bit of mud I could find. I tried some beach crawling and it was no contest. I didn't even feel any difficulty.

Sure, that was one ride, but it probably points to how the Snow Dog would do in the snow as well. I was especially impressed by the Bud, which is probably exactly the tire I should have been using up front all along. Well.......ever since it has existed, that is. So, isn't this the ultimate incarnation of the Snow Dog then?

No. It isn't, because with wide tires come wide tire issues. Specifically with regard to the drive train. I will have to stick to a 1X drive train and truncate the cassette to stick with this set up. It is a drawback to the first generation Mukluks that doesn't allow for the bigger meats to clear the chain in lower gears. I could go back to narrower 4.0'ers, but then I'm back to square one. So......I think there may be a replacement in the future. 

Why not? I'll have the Blackborow DS and that's a bushwhacking dinglespeed which will work great for the really extreme stuff I want to do. Then if I can swing it, a Mukluk 2 frame only with the Alternator Drop outs should do the wider tires with more clearance and a better drive train compatibility. Maybe even a Rohloff set up........ Maybe. Bluto? Sure. It'll work on a new Mukluk and the Blackborow too.

But anyway......for now all that matters is that I have a bike and my son has a bike and we got to ride together Saturday and had a bunch of fun. I got to teach him how to climb a long grade and why his gearing and cadence matters. I showed him some ways to get what he wants out of his bike, and I pinpointed a new challenge that I think he is into tackling. It's a good thing, these bicycles.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In Search Of Marky-Mark

Real dark- Real single track
The story of the "Marky-Mark" trail goes way back into the late 90's. I was just freshly divorced, had a new job at a car repair shop after working at a bike shop for 3 plus years, and had little time for cycling of any sort. I still wanted to be biking, but with working a very physical job for 60 hours a week, well- it left little energy for anything else.

Even though I was drained physically most every day, I concocted a plan to do some new trails all by myself in the Green Belt. One of those trails is long gone now, but one remains. It connects two "Y" sections of the original bridal trails made in the 50's in the Leonard Katoski Green Belt. The trails "Y" off at a point just Southeast of Ridgeway Road and terminate at Ridgeway, leaving about a quarter mile of distance between the two trail heads. "Marky-Mark" connects those two ends of the "Y" so you can loop across on off road trails instead of riding along Ridgeway if you wanted to create a loop on the Southeast side of Ridgeway towards Ainsborough Avenue.

I spent many hours hacking out "Marky-Mark" and sweated out many decisions about where the trail should go through at. Although I was helped out with the trail to a small degree by another man, I did about 95% of the actual single track work to cut that trail in. It got named because both myself and the guy who did a little bit of work on this trail were both named "Mark". I didn't give it that name, but that is what stuck. I don't write all this to brag, or for any glory, but just to set the record straight and tell the story. That's my trail out there, for what it is worth.

One of the older trees in the Green Belt is on Marky-Mark
Anyway, every year I usually try to get out there to see how "Marky-Mark" is doing and ride it. Last night was that ride for this year.

I don't ever do any maintenance on that trail and I haven't lifted a finger to do anything on the trail for well over a decade. I decided a long time ago that I had done way more than my share in maintenance for the few years that I toiled alone in maintaining "Marky-Mark" and back then it was a totally thankless effort. I ended up getting married again, having a family, and life took me in a totally different direction. I think it also is good to remember that in the late 90's mountain biking was at its nadir in the Cedar Valley so interest in my trail was nil. But that was then......I moved on, but others eventually stepped in and have kept "Marky-Mark" alive for well over 15 years now. That's pretty dang amazing to me. And to whomever is doing the work- Thank you very much!

The young crescent moon setting early.
 This trail stands in stark contrast to most Green Belt Trails. "Marky-Mark" is really narrow, primitive single track. I bet most folks think it is a well worn deer trail, not realizing that it wasn't there before I scratched it out in 1997.

I rode it and it is all clear with a few big logs to jump over and weeds about three feet high in places along the sides of the very narrow tread of this trail. Someone recently cut off a bunch of branches on a dead fall to make the trail passable, which is nice to see. Apparently a few folks, at the least, seem to think that this trail is worthwhile! I doubt they even know it has a name though.

That's okay with me, by the way. I don't really care if I get any notice for that trail at all, but I am glad to see that my efforts of over 15 years ago are still being enjoyed by at least a few folks out there. That brings me some satisfaction, I won't lie about that.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mud, Snakes, And Sand

The longest mud/water hole, but certainly not the only one on my ride.
It rained quite a bit here on Friday, so I knew that any off roading would be done on the fat bike and that in the Green Belt, since I didn't want to tear up anybody's trail work. The Green Belt doesn't care, and the trail work, (if you can call what the Parks Department does in there "trail work") is basically trail work by barbarism. They essentially run an end loader through the woods and scrape and push anything that gets in the way out of the path. It's ruined what once was a winding single track path through there. Most folks that have been riding the Green Belt for only the past five years wouldn't know any better, but 20 years ago it was a much different ride through the woods on true single track. No more.......

I guess I should be happy I can ride through it at all, but I also feel that this could be a much more inviting trail than what it has been made into now. Obviously, it is much easier and cheaper to just run the end loader through, and anything else would cost more labor and expense in equipment for a city already strapped for cash. It is what it is.

Anyway, the ride..... I used the Snow Dog for mud duty. Does that make it the Mud Dog? I probably could have made an excellent case for the name change yesterday. Mud was slinging up into the air like cow dung off a manure spreader. (Non-farming types won't get that one, will they?) So much sticky black earth and sand. Good thing the drive train parts on the Snow dog are mostly worn out! If they had been newish I wouldn't have been too stoked about what they went through yesterday. It was particularly nasty there for much of the mid-section of my ride.

We got yer sand right here!

One of two snakes seen on the ride.
A bewildered fawn. It didn't quite know what to make of me after I stared down its mother. 
Winding path through a young woodland area. 
A border between some older woods and a mature prairie that could stand a burn. 
Checking out a bandit trail. It dead ended right before the lake.
The plan was to hit up most every trail on the Green Belt. The main trail hugs the Black Hawk Creek, but if you know where to turn off, there are a few diversions that the City has deigned to plow through with its big implement so we can all get through there. I wasn't on a quest to ride absolutely everything, although I probably rode 80% of it all, but as it was, it took about 2.5 hours. Granted, on a fat bike and going at a slower, measured pace due to much sand and mud, so on a good day with a 29"er, I probably could have ridden everything in 2.5 hours.

Going off on a rabbit chase down a dead end bandit trail didn't help, but a little bushwhacking is never a bad idea. In fact, I ran across three deer- two does and a fawn- that I had one of my "stare down" contests with. I'll explain.....

Many times when I see a deer I will stop and freeze. I won't move a muscle. Deer have a hard time actually seeing you if you do not move at all. They can still smell you, and they can see something, I think, but they cannot figure you out if you do not move. It kind of drives them nuts after a few minutes. One of the does today, for instance, started stamping, and then snorting. The other one, which seemed less agitated and was moving a bit more calmly, snorted and made an awful noise at one point. A vocalization of some sort. Finally, after at least 10 minutes, (and this whole time I am standing dead still), the two does figure that they cannot stick around anymore and the bolt off. Meanwhile, as the stare down was in progress, a fawn emerged. Being a young one, it wasn't versed in the deer ways, I suppose, since it stood there and watched me from a distance. When the two does left, it stood there blinking at me. I started moving and reached for my camera, but the fawn didn't scare off, and in fact, I had to wait a good five minutes more for it to finally saunter off in search of its mother.

Flowers on Black Hawk Creek
Bushwhacking near the end of the Green Belt just North of Hudson, Iowa.
A perfect day for a bicycle ride.
After the deer encounter I saw another red fox scampering into a fence row, (I had seen one straight away at the beginning of my ride as well), and I saw another young doe. Two grass snakes as well, sunning themselves out on the trail in two different locations. A banner day for wildlife in the Green Belt. Usually I don't see much of anything but an occasional deer in this area. That was fun to have experienced. I suppose the fact that there had been no other human traffic out before myself after the rains didn't hurt that from happening at all!

The Snow Dog's poor drive train bits were getting hammered, and by mid-ride I had to be careful not to put too much pressure on the pedals or I could get the chain ring to skip. So it was "spin-spin-spin" and keep the momentum up as much as possible. Fortunately the back third of the ride was not so sticky-gooey and the drive train behaved itself for the most part. That said, I have to switch out parts now. It will make cleaning the bike up easier with all the bits pulled off it. I have need to look at the bright side!

It was an excellent day out and I got in some great, steady miles on the fat bike. This will be good for getting me back up to speed on fitness and working up to being back on the game for Triple D in January. Yes......I believe I'll be pulling the trigger on that again. More on that in the coming months. But until then, I have some work to do if I am going to get back in shape again. Plus I have the Geezer Ride and Trans Iowa V11 to get figured out. Much to be done, and the year is running out. But all that aside, I had a great day on my first fat bike. I still really like that thing even though it isn't all the "latest and greatest" stuff, or some whiz-bang frame design in carbon fiber.  I'll just upgrade that thing and keep on truckin'.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Post flood flotsam and jetsam along the Black Hawk Creek.
Sunday I awoke late......very late! I had slept in since I arrived back home with my son so late at night from our adventure to Iowa Speedway. The family wanted to go do different things, so I was left to my own devices later in the afternoon. I needed a bicycle ride stat!

I grabbed the test Borealis rig and decided to plunk along the Green Belt to see how things had fared post flooding. The flood was a bad one, by all accounts, and the Black Hawk Creek in particular had risen very high before receding back into its banks late last week. I wasn't even sure I'd get back in there at all, but initially I was rather surprised to find it nearly dry and only a few odd logs and branches to show for the deep water's passage.

That changed though as I turned in on the creek itself. I found large log piles not navigable on a bike and I was dismounting about every 50 yards on average to crawl over, walk around, or circumnavigate a section to avoid the wreckage left behind. In between I found damp, wet spots, but really- there was little mud. Usually the mud is heinous back here after higher water events. There was sand bars a plenty! Those were easily dispatched by the 29+ wheels on the Borealis.

Not going any further here!
I had one tight spot where trees had been uprooted and branches were tangled in such a mess that I had to pass the bike over as I found another way to get over to the other side to retrieve it. That was compounded in difficulty by the swarms of hungry mosquitoes that were hounding my every move. As long as I kept moving, I was okay.

I decided to ditch cruising the creek and head over towards the lake to see if I could find some open trail stretches longer than I had been. I mean, cyclo cross is okay, but I wasn't in the mood, nor did I have the right bike! I finally reached the turn off, and I was looking good as I rode toward the lake and then......

Dead end! The West side of the lake had overtaken the trail and beyond. I ended up having to bushwhack my way through some tall grass only to find myself forced to make my way through someone's back yard to avoid the waters. I didn't like having to do that, but there seemed to be no harm, so no foul.......this time. Hopefully there isn't a "next time"!

I gave up! The water wins this time.
I tried then to see how far around the other way I could get and was stopped about a third of the way around. Dang! I do not remember this being so bad since 2008, and that was a really bad flood year. Seeing as how it is mid-July now, I don't see this getting any better for awhile, and of course, that depends on how much it decides to rain.

The one thing I did have fun with was the 29+ tires on the Borealis. They seemed to roll better than a full on fat bike set up but had that bushwhacking, roll over garbage effect that 3.8"ers do without the weight and inertia in steering. This set up feels like a 29"er on steroids, for lack of a better analogy, and as I am pursuing a similar set up for the titanium Mukluk, I feel it is going to be a really fun set up once I get that completed. In fact, it may become my favorite rig to date.

Whenever this B+ thing hits, I feel it will also be a similar deal as it is with 29+. Things are going to get real interesting come Fall, I bet, and I feel once something non-Surly becomes available in bikes, tires, and rims, a lot of folks will step up and find out this is the way to go for fun, adventurous mountain biking, bikepacking, and just general goofing around on bicycles. Don't get me wrong- fat bikes are really fun and capable, but I'm really digging the 29+ feel and I see a ton of potential here.

Monday, June 09, 2014


Yes- You'd better like the color green if you ride here in the woods!
June in Iowa- The height of vegetation growth is upon us now and that also brings with it the lush, green woodland carpet, the "green smells" that permeate the cooler air under the canopy of trees, and bugs. Bazillions and bazillions of bugs!

2014 has been noteworthy so far for the gnat infestation. We usually get a somewhat annoying amount of these pests for a brief period, then they are quickly forgotten. However; this year there appears to be a bumper crop of the pesky, tiny black and brown flying insects. Clouds of them pepper you as you pass through them in various places. I'm not sure that they bite you as much as they just get into everything and annoy the heck out of you, but Mrs. Guitar Ted says that they bite her. Your mileage may vary. The mosquitoes beginning to appear now, on the other hand.......

Weeds six feet tall line the single track in places.
Then there are the weeds that have sprung up over the height of an average man in places. These weeds are grasses, so they don't really cause any problems, except that you cannot see the trail sometimes, and the weeds get wrapped around your derailleur, and whip you in the arms and legs. But isn't a big deal! Oh yeah, the weeds harbor all those insects I mentioned as well too. That said, at least the stinging nettles haven't overrun the trail just yet!

I was in the Green Belt and the trails were in their highest state of variability. There were dry, fast, hard packed parts, sandy pits, muddy, greasy parts, and water and deep mud as well. Really, a bit of everything out there yesterday. It's fun, but it is challenging to keep your wheels underneath you. Go too fast in the wrong place, and you go down right away. However; if you are hip to these trails, and know when to go and when to stay slow, it can be a fun ride not possible anywhere else.

The rear tire can slide a bit, you counter steer and punch the pedals. Sand tries to slow you and swap your tires, but you grab the handle bars and wrench against it. Punch the pedals again and straighten it right out. You see the grease and you just float the bike upright through the corner at a nice, wide arc to keep the wheels underneath you. The mud hole just demands some pure power to slog through. It's all dirty fun. And you get really dirty out there!

The repaired bridge was a nice surprise.
That and the weeds really make riding single speeds out there your best choice. No derailleur to rip off, no weeds wrapped around cassette gears, and no mud clogging up shifter cables and derailleurs. It's nice to just concentrate on sussing out the last bit of traction without worrying about shifting or what might be trying to destroy your drive train.

I was pretty averse to stopping for any images, so I kept rolling most of the time so I wouldn't get eaten alive by bugs. I stopped at the turn around for about five minutes to get a few images, and when I did I spent most of the time running around in circles trying to lessen the clouds of pests. So, I had absolutely no plans to stop again but when I saw the new bridge work, I had to take an image. The bridge had been falling into disrepair the last year or so, and I was afraid that it wouldn't be maintained, so when I saw that it had been done and done well, I was pleased.

Then I figured one more quickie of the tall grasses would be okay, and actually, I found the bugs weren't as bad as I thought they were way back in the Southern part of the trail. Eventually, I heard something that gave me pause and I decided no more stopping was a great idea. It was a sort of "pfft-pfft" at revolutionary intervals. A flat happening? Sealant coming out? The tires felt fine, but there was no way I wanted to deal with a flat in these woods with these bugs around! I hightailed it to the lake, and out in a more open area, when I determined it was my wet shoes making a weird noise, and not my tires. Whew! But by then, I was out of the woods and decided to just pack it in on the bike trails and went back home.

A great ride, but with these bugs, I may not be going back in the woods for awhile!

Friday, June 06, 2014

Friday News And Views

The map of the Trans Iowa Masters Program route (Courtesy of Scott Sumpter/Bike Iowa)
Today at 6am CST two intrepid cyclists have taken on the Trans Iowa Masters Program route. The 377 mile route was designed to take in many parts of past Trans Iowa routes and to celebrate the across the state nature the event was founded upon. Riders can accept the challenge from now until August 31st when the challenge shall be withdrawn. More than just a ride, the TIMP is also a challenge to document the ride via imagery and to write a written report which will then be shared online. The route itself is a challenge, of course, but the entire TIMP idea is a way to share the challenge with other, like-minded individuals.

The TIMP is mostly gravel roads with some dirt roads and pavement sectors in and out of towns. It starts on the Big Sioux River just west of Hawarden and ends on the banks of the Mississippi River in Lansing Iowa. Our first two TIMP riders are Andy Ziener and Scott Sumpter. You can follow their progress via a SPOT Tracker device HERE.

Trading this for that.
Sticker Share: Recently I was asked if I had anymore of those Trans Iowa stickers that were printed up for T.I.V6 and handed out then and again this year for T.I.V10. I said that I had found a few left overs and asked to get a self-stamped, addressed envelope to send them out. Well, the mail came yesterday and......

I got some "sticker share". Cool! I don't know if I am right or wrong, but it would seem that cyclist are sticker hounds, no? I feel that many of us are. So, I figured I would share more than just a few T.I. stickers back. Today they go out to be shared by another cycling/sticker geek.

Maybe it would be a great idea to randomly select a friend and send them some cool stickers you've been hoarding in an envelope or box for years. I mean, what good are they doing in some unseen, dark place? Let them be free and share them with someone who will put them on their kid's tricycle, a tandem, or maybe their race bike. Start a "sticker bike", or like me, festoon yer bumper with 'em! I think it would be great and I plan on sending away an envelope or two more soon here.

Self portrait- Night Ride Rest Stop
Night Ride:

I finally got up the gumption to go do a short little night ride yesterday after thinking I should be doing that sort of thing for too long with too little action. Night rides are really a lot of fun, but I have a theory that night riding needs to be shared to really get the most out of it.

Unfortunately, with being a family man and with all my responsibilities to writing stuff, I cannot really plan on when a night ride will happen for myself. I either have a window of opportunity, or I don't. Even though I have been doing night rides most often by myself, and although I think these sorts of rides are more fulfilling when done with company, it doesn't mean that these rides aren't good for me.

I get a lot out of them both physically and mentally. The night time just seems really good for doing some on-the-bike thought since you can really only see the little globe of moving light and what it temporarily illumines as you silently glide along. Last night was a bit of a disappointment in that regard due to an Avid Elixir 9 brake that needs a bleed job. (Imagine that- an Avid brake that needs servicing? )

Okay, ya'all have a spectacular, safe, and fun weekend on bicycles. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Fat Bike Beach Combing

Frozen lake and beach combing Muks
Last weekend I decided it was high time that my son experienced the "beach combing" capabilities of his new fat bike. I'd been telling him all about how we could do this for awhile, but I knew he'd just have to experience it for himself to really "get it".

Of course, it was also going to be a partial night ride, since the Sun is setting so early now, so we strapped on lights and headed out down the Green Belt. There was still a little snow and ice left over, even though the temperatures had been high enough the day before and earlier that day to obliterate most of what had fallen. Still my son was thrilled by his ability to cruise right on over the snow patches we did discover.

At one point, I heard my son cry out and he was down. A slight off camber sent him down that was muddy, greasy, and the Big Fat Larry couldn't deal with it. Same issues I had with those tires, he was having. Looks like something like some Nates will be in his future. But we finally got going again and reached the lake where the low water levels of late have revealed a big chunk of sand to ride on most of the way around the lake now.

 Once down on the beach we had no trouble rolling along. We just had to be wary of the washouts due to drainage and some bigger branches that had either fallen across our path or that had been washed up by the waves.

While it is a pittance of what this guy gets to ride for beaches, it'll have to do for us! Call it "beach single track", if you will, but it is all we have and it still makes for a lot of fun. We leave little trace of our passing and ride where my 29"ers would have a very difficult time going, if they could go at all.

Of course, my son, being 10 years old, had to stop to toss some sticks and watch them slide across the ice. He also was sorely tempted to go ride his bike out onto the ice, but the ice is no where thick enough for that just yet, so I had to restrain his enthusiasm there!

After our "stick tossing stop" we hit the lights and rolled back towards home. My son is still a little unsure in the dark, which caused me some anxious moments but we arrived back home in one piece with no further incident. Mrs. Guitar Ted was quite happy to receive us with relief, (apparently she worries about us!), and then we sat down to a mighty fine dinner. A great way to end a long weekend off from work!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Fun With Mud

The trail is hiding. Fortunately, I know where it is!
Wednesday was maybe going to be a big, muddy, messy ride. That's why I pulled the Fargo out with its mudguards on and went out to test out these Winter shoes I have to be testing. (Look for more on that later)

Anyway, it was in the mid-30'sF and the Northwest wind was a blowing a bit. Not terrible, or to the point that I felt the branches may break off and smack me when I was in the woods, but it was definitely "there".

I dressed in a wool base layer, a long sleeved poly jersey, and my ever present Endura Stealth II jacket. I wore another Endura product in the 3/4's Humvee pants, and with that I wore some Twin Six wool socks. The head got a Challenge Tires fleece beanie and the hands got a pair of Answer full finger gloves. Oh...and a Bell Super helmet, of course! First pair of footwear was the Fasterkatts by 45NRTH.

So, out the door and over to the Green Belt I went. Once again, I do not advocate riding on muddy trails, but the Green Belt is flood plain, and it gets damaged more from Black Hawk Creek than anything! The all-day rain previous to my ride was surely going to have the trails a mess, or so I thought. Maybe the creek would be up too. However; when I got over there to the creek, I could see it wasn't up much, if at all, and the dirt was tacky. Not messy and muddy like it should have been.

Oh, there were puddles of standing water here and there, and also a greasy spot on occasion, but overall, it appeared as though we'd only had a brief shower, not the all day rain we did have, which should have left more of a mark than it did. I was amazed. Perhaps it is drier than we thought around here. I do know that the Fall was devoid of rain until only recently.

That wasn't going to help me with my Winter boot testing very much! I was hoping for slop, water, and spray so I could ascertain the abilities of both types of footwear I was testing for water resistance and holding up to extreme conditions. I got a little of all three things, but I was hoping for much more. So, I had to take matters into my own hands!

I was planning on looping around the small lake out there and making a sort of "lap" to run both shoes through the same wringer. I decided on arriving at the lake that I would find a suitable place to wade in and see just how well each shoe held out the water. Oh, I didn't go too far in. Just enough to cover my instep.I completed my lap, then back home I switched to the Mavic Drift shoes and did it all over again.

There was one winner and one "also ran", and I got a solid two hours of fun splashing in water and running through what muck I could find out there. I guess I picked up on my "inner boy"tendencies again yesterday!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Weekend Report

Out with the boy Muklukin'
Saturday was a day that I felt was a better day spent with family, so part of that included getting out with my son and getting his new Mukluk dirty. The venue was going to be the Green Belt.

The plan was to take him back out to where we had ridden out there this past Summer when he still was riding his 24"er. On that ride he complained profusely about the sand, and he struggled mightily with trying to get through the sand without dabbing. Then there was also the Prescott Creek crossing, which I wasn't letting him try with that 24"er, with those skinnier tires, which I felt would not work well on those loose, baby head rocks out there.

The light was perfect for dramatic photos and the woods were a perfect place to be with the strong winds. Our fat bikes were crunching leaves and snapping twigs. I was just hoping that one of those sneaky twigs wouldn't find their way into one of our rear derailleurs. Fortunately, that did not happen. I suppose we could have set up either bike in single speed mode had it occurred though. Both our Mukluks have Alternator drop outs.

Well, my son crushed every obstacle and rode well. I was so pumped for him, and so glad that I went the fat bike route for him instead of a 26 inch wheeled, traditional mountain bike. It was so obvious riding behind him, as I did for quite awhile, that the stability and roll over anything nature of the fatter wheels was working for him and keeping him riding instead of having to ditch off the bike or crash.

More pics from the ride...

Checking out Black Hawk Creek

Rest stop on the way back
Dirt path going under paved cycling path

Like needlepoint for Men
Sunday I spent the afternoon watching a race on the television while I studded a 45NRTH Gravdal tire. I had a pair laying around here waiting to get worked on, and I decided to just be done with as much as I could get done with in one sitting. That turned into about three hours of on again-off again tire studding.

Yeah, that's a long time for one tire, but there were 252 studs that I pushed in by hand! The Gravdal has stud pockets molded into it and you can opt to use them all, or do a minimal pattern if you want to save some weight. However; with the alloy wrapped steel studs that 45NRTH uses only weighing an extra 80 grams for all 252 studs, I figured why not just put them all in.

The Gravdal tires and the studs for them came with a 45NRTH stud installation tool that made sticking the studs into the tire pretty easy. I just probably took longer to do 252 than most folks, but that's okay.

One thing I will say about this tire so far that has impressed me. It is an Innova made tire, and I have had several examples of Innova studded tires in the past. They were effective, but dismal in terms of ride quality. The tread compound seemed hard, the casing very stiff, and of course, they were wire bead tires. These tires are very different. They have a folding bead, for one thing, and the tread compound feels worlds softer and the casing is by far more supple. With the different studs, I expect a nicer ride quality. We'll see soon enough when the snow flies. These are to be my commuter tires when the Winter finally comes, so stay tuned....

Anyway, that was my weekend!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Bit Too Early

Not quite there yet.....
Every year I go back to my roots, so to speak, and try to hit the Fall colors in the Green Belt where I learned my first off road lessons back in the late 80's. Although the trail has been in a constant state of change through the years due to the flooding of Black Hawk Creek on occasion, a few things have not changed all that much.

One of those things is a view from the trail past a prairie grass field to a line of trees that borders the creek. Generally these are pretty spectacular if you can check them out when Fall is in high gear. Unfortunately for me, Fall has yet to climax here yet. Poor me! That just means I'll have to go ride this again soon!

The other thing I always do this time of year is to ride a single speed back in there. This alleviates the possibility of derailleur carnage from all the sticks, branches, and debris that gathers on the trails from a seasons worth of winds and rains. The Green Belt is a wilder, less kempt place where trails tend to be unpredictable in manner. Never more so than in Fall.

Still green as emerald in places.
The Blackbuck was the steed of the day for this passage of the old bridleway and XC skiing trails. If any sticks decided to try and foul the drive train, they would meet with a crunch and snap from my chain and Surly cog.

The Blackbuck is also sporting the wide Salsa Cycles Gordo rims, (out of production, sadly), and on those I have the Kenda Honey Badger tires which have an excellent, shallow "C" crown to them when mounted tubeless to these rims. That rim and tire combination proved to be invaluable yesterday and helped me to decide that I maybe didn't need to get something I had been considering for a while.

See, I had to traverse several places on the trail where fine sand hand been deposited at a pretty significant depth from the creek's flooding activities this past Spring. Generally, it is fat bike territory, but I had been wondering if a 29+ Knard tire would maybe be sufficient. Of course, you have to have a compatible frame and fork for that experiment, and the only thing I have that is close is my titanium Salsa Mukluk. That requires different hubs than anything else though, and I wasn't too keen on spending the money on Rabbit Hole rims and Knard tires just yet for an experiment. Now, I am pretty sure I don't need them anyway.

Much further past here and it is private property
The Honey Badger tires and Gordo rims made mincemeat of the sand sections. I rolled right on through, staying mostly on top of the sand, and not cutting in, or getting sideways with the front end. Sure, some of that could have been the Blackbuck, with its shorter wheel base and that making getting off the front end easier. However, I believe the wheels and tires were the key. This brings up another point....

I am pretty sure I will be having a set of the new Velocity Dually rims which will be laced to standard mtb hubs. Yeah......I know, pretty much the same deal, (in terms of rim width), as the Rabbit Holes, but not quite and that may be a good thing! With clearances limited on most of my standard frames, I may not be able to use them anyway, but we'll see. It is said that narrower, lighter tires are actually a great set up on these wider rims. Tires like the Honey Badgers, perhaps? We'll see. The Duallys are 10mm wider than the Gordos are, so it still may not work. I may not even bother, since the Gordo and Honey Badger tires are about as good as anything I've tried together.

Well, anyway, the ride was most excellent and I went all the way down the trails that I could go. There is a place where you cross over to private land down there, and it isn't well marked, and probably not marked at all. I haven't ever seen a demarcation, but it might exist. I only know I am on private farm land when I see the field!

I didn't go that far, but I did every public route that travels mostly North-South all the way through the Green Belt and did a partial loop around the lake as well. I noticed the clouds were rather frothy and moving along at a great speed when I stopped at the lake to look. It was odd, but beautiful.

About this time I was getting tired, and I wanted to head on home, get cleaned up, and grab a bite to eat. I thought I was being a bit soft, but when I arrived at home, I noted I had been out at least 2.5 hours and in the Green Belt, you pedal about 90% of the distance traveled since there really are no hills at all. No wonder I was hungry!

While the Fall colors eluded me this time, I still had a great day out on the bike, saw an owl, and realized I had a great set up on the Blackbuck and may not ever need a 29+ rig for my local rides, despite the sandy traps out there.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Learning The Ropes

Warming up in the parking lot.
I was looking at my son, who was obviously bored, sitting inside with nothing to do, and I said, "Get yer shoes on, we're going for a bike ride." He was curious as to what the agenda would be. Up until now, most of our adventures had started and ended from the front door, but this time I told him we were loading up the truck and ferrying the bikes to "ride in the woods".

The "woods" I meant were the Green Belt, which is a strip of unkempt woods on either side of Black Hawk Creek running Southwest from the city and extending up to 8 or so miles along either side. The Southeastern side has dirt trails that were originally bridle paths back in the 50's but eventually became XC ski trails and left to go wild during the summer months. Bikers and hikers basically keep the way open besides the minimal City maintenance that happens at the beginning of August and whenever a bad storm goes through and downs a bunch of trees.

This is where I learned to ride an off road bike in the late 80's and early 90's. I figured it would suffice to teach the boy some new skills on his, (now too small), 24" wheeled mountain bike.

Lots of yellow flowers lined the trails out there.
My son has been jamming in the alley, skidding sideways on the gravel, so I figured he was getting much more confident and stable with his handling. I figured the occasional root and rock would be no issue for him now.

As we got going, I had to remind him about getting out of the saddle, pedals leveled, and letting the bike bounce underneath him. He picked that back up straight away, and we were off doing quite well.

Interestingly enough, it appears that he is a "spinner", while I was and still am more of a "masher". Then again, I never had a derailleur equipped bicycle until I was almost out of my teen years. When I did get one, I didn't know, or care about how to shift the chain, so it was all lost on me! My son, however, gets the geared thing and is pretty adept at switching things to his liking, which, as I said, is mostly on the high cadence side of things. Good for him, I say!

Eventually we ran into the sand traps of the Green Belt. These are an ever changing, shifting sort of a feature along the trails where the creek sheds its sand and pushes it into big drifts whenever it is raging out of its banks, which was most of the earlier part of this year. There were some expected areas for the sand, and a few unexpected, new drifts. These sand piles are made up of very fine sand, which I liken to "hour glass" grade sand. Very fine, and it is really "clean" sand as well. I was told once that back 70-80 years ago the sand in this area was coveted by cement plants for its quality and cleanliness.

But for my son, well he couldn't care less about cement, hour glasses, or cleanliness of sand. He hates that stuff, and it was driving him nuts not being able to clean his way through the crap. I reminded him that his upcoming fat bike would help a lot with that, and he was wishing he had it NOW!

Ha! Well, he is a bit impatient, and only 10 years old, so I forgave him his little outburst, but I reminded him we needed to stay on task, or there would be no ice cream afterward. Oh cream after a hot days riding. That was the goal, after all!

He did well, and we came through pretty much unscathed, excepting my little brush up with some stinging nettles. Those things are packing a particularly intense sting this year. The key, (at least for myself), is to resist touching the affected area at all. It is hard, because it itches and stings so intensely with an almost palpable heat. It actually grows in intensity and then it is gone, as long as you just leave it alone, but that is very hard to do.Fortunately, I won!

The ice cream cones were great, by the way, and my son was tuckered out from the exertion in the very hot, humid conditions. Can't wait to get him on a fat bike!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Night Ride

Yesterday I was pretty busy after work writing up my ideas for the Trans Iowa Master's Program. (If you missed what that's all about, see this) But I was getting so many lines cast out I had to stop and clear my brain out. I needed to go for a ride.

It's been quite awhile since I've been on a night ride. I seem to have given away my old, nice night riding light, or I lost it. Don't know which. But since that happened, I haven't been on a good night ride. Well, that got rectified when a new light my friend was testing for Twenty Nine Inches came my way so I could finish up the review. It's one of those ultra-bright, ultra powerful gizmos that you'd have to see to believe.

The light head has two LED's, and the entire case they are in fits into the palm of your hand easily. The light has a six cell battery pack, which is separate, but that's the size of a point and shoot camera on top of another one. Small. You could wrap your hand around it if you are an average sized adult male.

I mention all of this because this thing has the light out put of a shard of the Sun. It puts out that much heat as well. An incredible amount of energy, really, and all from these two components and some wires that weigh less than a can of good beer. Why, a coworker was shining the beam, on high, at his outstretched hand, and the reflected light was burning my retinas! Light reflected off his hand!

Lumens, candle power, Lux- I have mo good idea what any of that really means. I know one thing- this light is crazy bright. Brighter than an automobile light on high, and waaaay more light than I can see myself needing.

It has five levels. I ran it on the lower two, and couldn't want for more light. It runs at 2.5 hours on high, but no figures were given for lower levels. Heck- I might be able to ride all night on one charge!

But enough about that marvel of technology. I was night riding again! I decided to see what had happened to the Green Belt, since I hadn't been through that way since shortly after Winter. Well, I picked a good time to go. Obviously, from what I saw, the woods have been wracked by high winds over the Spring and Summer, but the City has already mown and cleared the trails in preparation for Winter. You see, those Green Belt trails are XC skiing trails, and around about now is when the City clears out the tall undergrowth and blow downs in preparation for Winter. They've been on this agenda for over 25 years. They've mown this trail and cleared it at this time every year I have been around this area.

So, I found cleared trail, lots of newly laid down sand deposits from the frequent floods we had experienced in May and June, and the trail has changed a bit. It always does after a round of flooding. Combine all this with a night ride and I was down to "trundling speed" on my titanium Mukluk. I was all right with that too.

I dipped down into a muddy flat and did a perfect two wheeled drift. Wee! Then I bounced around roots, slithered through the hour glass fine sand, and ducked broken off branches and low hanging clusters of wet leaves. It was humid, like a jungle, with a mist on the fringes of my light that made it seem like a ghastly apparition was lurking just outside of my sight. Only it wasn't. Just a humid, foggy August evening in the woods. There were about a billion flying insects everywhere too.

I made it over to the little lake out there and shut down the lights, grabbed my flask, and had a wee nip under the stars. I spotted a cloud wrack wreathed in lightning off to the West. "Hmmm......Rain is a comin'. I'd better get on home." It was good to be out at night again though. Been far too long a time since I did that.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Good Medicine

A dislodged chunk of creek ice
Well, the pity-party I was having about the weather wasn't going to fix what ailed me. No- I needed the good medicine- a real bicycle ride to clear the mind and soul. So that's just what I did yesterday and I did it on By-Tor the Titanium Mukluk.

It was darn cold in the morning, I think something like 7°F- but the sun was out and that brutal wind we've had for three days was gone as well. Good riddance too! This time of year, if the sun is out, 25°F feels a lot warmer than it does in January. That was the forecast for the afternoon too. Warmer with no wind. I waited till after lunch then to go out.

I headed over to the Green Belt, and I didn't know what I would find there. Snow? Ice? Flooding from the recent ice jam? Well, it turned out to be mostly everything but with the exception of the flooding. That had gone away, thankfully. In fact, it is surprising to see how far down the creek has gone already.

The air felt great though, compared to the previous days of Arctic blasting, and I was enjoying the bright sunshine as I trundled through very nicely packed tracts of snow punctuated with stretches of wet, muddy grounds. The Larry 3.8"ers were slipping a bit- Nates would be nice about now- but I wasn't going to quibble. I was out riding a bicycle, and that was what was important right then.

An icy dead end
The first leg came to a halt when I ran out of ground and into sheet ice from the flooding. The trail there is slightly lensed out from the years of use and it provides a perfect course for the flood waters to gather when the Black Hawk decides to have a walk about outside its boundaries. I stopped here and picked off a few images. It was deadly silent in this place with the exception of the occasional crashing of ice sheets falling away from tree trunks.

The Sun was doing Her work out there, and slowly but surely the patches of snow and ice were melting, despite the below freezing temperatures. I ran across some unfrozen stretches of mud which lay over frozen earth below it and that was some super slickery stuff right there! I am not even sure Nates with there knobbly tread would have done anything better than what I had in those conditions.

I turned back and climbed the dike, rode up on top of that until I came to the spot where there is a passage across a small drainage creek to the lake on the other side. I wanted to ride around the lake if I could. However; the creek ice was far too thin to trust, so I back tracked yet again to the dike and went around the long way.

 Once I got over to the entrance to the lake loop I found nicely packed sections of snow that was decently fast to ride on. There were a few slippery spots of mud where the snow had been roached off by the ever strengthening Sun, but this section was a lot of fun on the fat bike.

There were a few places where there was sand as well, which was pretty frozen up and firm yet. Sand doesn't seem to thaw as quickly as black dirt does. It is a good thing that the dirt does unfreeze as fast as it does as the robins are back, and they were concentrated on any sections of bare earth they could find.

Then I decided to head back to the shed and that was via the bike path. I hit up every stretch of frozen snow I could, since this will disappear quickly with the forecast warmth to come. I wanted at least one ride on snow that was something other than crawling or post holing/walking. The Green Belt may have been choked off by ice, but I still got a much needed shot of riding medicine yesterday with more to come.