Monday, March 08, 2021

Country Views: Hero Gravel

Escape Route: Burton Avenue North.
 How does the saying go again? If March comes in like a lamb it is supposed to go out like a lion? Something along those lines. I must say- if the beginning of March is any indication of how the end of the month will be, the end is going to be bad! Seriously. The beginning of March has been stellar. The best I can remember. 

And the gravel roads- so far- have held up on that end as well. "Hero Gravel", is what we coined it years ago now. That comes from the old mountain biker descriptor for primo dirt conditions. Conditions so smooth and tacky that anyone could corner like a hero. Thus "hero dirt". Ah......anyway......

The day was spectacular, blue skies for miles, maybe a breeze from the Southeast, but it was no big deal, really. The roads- wow! So fast and smooth it was like pavement. Maybe a few potholes and ripple-like bumps here and there, but this was the smoothest I've seen the roads in a long time. Dry too! Really dry. A very unusual start to the riding season. So good that I keep wondering when it will all go to pot and we will get slapped back into reality again. I'm sure that day is coming! 

So, it was way up into the 40's again, and we've seen the snow get burned off by the high-riding Sun so fast that I can no longer in good conscious call this "Winter" anymore, so I broke out the first use of "Country Views" for 2021. Unless March goes out like a lion and we see a return to Winter, it'll be "Country Views" until Fall. 

 

Just North of Waterloo on Burton Avenue. These shrubs are blushing red against the leftover snow.

Burton eventually turns into a gravel road. This is "hero gravel" and it was like this for miles.

This time I was on the pink MCD from Black Mountain Cycles. It has those bars on it now that I am testing that I can't say anything about yet. Very soon..... Stay tuned. Anyway, the MCD has those big 700 X 47mm Teravail Rutlands on there now which I like. I figured that I'd need a wide, higher volume tire to deal with the mucky, soft post-Winter conditions, but so far I have not needed that characteristic of the big Rutlands. Nor have I really needed the fenders. I mean- it's nice to not have to worry about water spray, but I could have navigated what I've had to deal with, so far, without fenders. 

Like I said- every road was like this. Total hero gravel.

 
Rare tree lined gravel just North of Cedar Falls on Mount Vernon Road.
 

I had to stop for a 'nature brake' and that always is a logistical nightmare on the prairies when the crops are gone. Well, I finally found a suitable spot near where a high-tension electrical wire went across the road. As I stood there to relieve myself, I could hear a faint, low frequency humming. It was coming from the pole holding the wires up near me. After I finished, I ventured over to the pole carefully and leaned in to put my ear as near to the wooden pole as I dared without touching it. I could distinctly hear the tones, and then I noticed that the entire pole was vibrating when I touched it with my gloved hand. Crazy! 

Anyway, I got going again and I eventually went West on Bennington Road over to Leversee Road and South to Mount Vernon Road. My aim was to get into Cedar Falls and maybe visit Andy at the shop. Then I could tool on over to where I live through the cities. My way back into Cedar Falls was going to be on this little known chunk of gravel called Strayer Road. Well, unfortunately the city or county must have chip sealed that road in 2020. Too bad! Another gravel road lost.......

Other than that bummer, it was a great ride.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: A Good Plan Goes Wrong: Part 1

A rare clean-shaven G-Ted. Image by Jason Boucher.
 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy! 

The lead-up to Trans Iowa v11 was pretty smooth. I did the cue sheet printing- for the last time ever- on my home machine. My wife and a family friend both helped stuff the cues into their neat little baggies and everything was a go by two weeks out from the event. I had processes in place to make things very smooth in as far as how things were done. All refined to a knife edge since the Trans Iowa v7 event when I felt things were somewhat of a disaster on several fronts. Things that gnawed at me. All forgotten now by this time. 

One of those newer things that were being done for this version of Trans Iowa was that the Slender Fungus- the loosely knit fellowship of cyclists who all had some connection to Trans Iowa- were doing the number plates this time around. Another first would concern something many had worriess about for several years- that being my solo driving and event directing during a Trans Iowa. This time Matt Gersib, my friend for several years, was to be my driver, taking responsibility for my transportation around the course while I ran the show. 

Matt and I were to meet in Grinnell, do the whole Pre-Race Meat-Up shindig, and then we were all set to board up in the loft apartment of Craig Cooper's above his shop, Bikes To You. This would put us at the start line easily. All we had to do was to roll out of bed at the proper time, walk downstairs, and we would be there. Perfect! Matt was stoked. I was stoked. This was going to be a lot of fun! 

Matt was going to drive his Subaru and we were going to have almost two full days of hanging out with each other. It was definitely going to be epic on several fronts. We had chatted via email several times and the excitement level was high. When we met at the Pre-Race, it was all smiles, despite the gloomy forecast, and with all the processes and logistics nailed down, I now had so much freedom to just hang around it was ridiculous. 

Thanks to volunteer help like MG, (L) and Mike "The Bonk King" (R), I could breath a lot easier.

Thinking back, it was probably at this Pre-Race for v11 where I first felt the oddness of not juggling five different things at once and having the stress of the event on top of that. I had the registration table manned by trusted volunteers, the pre-event set up was all handled by the Slender Fungus guys, Matt (MG) was there to help out, and several others pitched in wherever they could to make v11's pre-event scene so different for myself.

Previously I was so concerned about everything being done right, and that I had to be the one that made sure it was right, that from v8-v10 I really didn't have a lot of fun at the pre-event. Not so with v11. People were telling me to relax, go have fun, and take it easy. I had a few beers. It was great to connect with folks a bit more than usual. 

Craig Cooper of Bikes To You recounts the tale behind this pre-War Paramount.

The Pre-Race went super-smoothly. As the years went on, this meeting got more streamlined and shorter. I liked to be finished by 8:00pm, but generally we'd get out of there by 7:30pm if not sooner.

After the v11 meeting, MG and I decided to head down to Bikes To You, where the loft apartment was, and we hit up Coop and heard the tale of a Pre-War fixed gear Paramount track bike a resident bought new and rode everyday in Grinnell. 'Every day', as in 365 days a year, for decades. Craig was the last mechanic to care for the bike, and ended up with it after the gentleman that owned it died. After this amazing story, Matt and I went up to that loft apartment, settled in, and prepared for our 2:30am (more like 2:00am) wake-up call to get ready to get this show on the road. 

Of course, you never just go straight to bed! No, MG and I stayed up later, had something more to drink, and I think we could have talked all night had we been at unawares of the time. Once we broke off our yakking, it was time to try to sleep. And then it happened...... This is something I never heard much about from the racers, since they generally stayed about two miles South, along the I-80 motel strip, and not in Grinnell proper. Good thing that they usually never did stay in town. That damn freight train! Every year I stayed downtown, it came through at around 1:00am and it's engineer hung on that blasted horn at every city block intersection. Of course, this was only a few blocks away from where the loft apartment was. Dang! I never really slept well when we stayed up there, but it sure was convenient. 

And the night of T.I.v11 was no different. I got bits and pieces of sleep, but before long I was up and at 'em, looking to get downstairs and get the ball rolling. Matt was up as well, saying something to me about it being hot up there all night. I guess I didn't mark his comments until much later. At the time, I just wanted to get the event started and get going.  

Wally Kilburg takes an image of me giving "The Fatherly Advice" previous to the start of T.I.v11.

The start was always something that started out chill and the tension ratcheted up every minute until at the stroke of 4:00am, I would be off. This time in MG's capable hands. However; as the minutes ticked off, MG, who had said he needed to hit the convenience store a couple blocks away for some last minute things, was not back at the start area. I grew increasingly concerned. Then, he showed up. Finally! Man! Was I really tense that it was at the last minute. 

But then my intensity at Matt's missing turned to grave concern. Matt was sick! Really sick! I told him to stay put. I know he felt tortured inside because he felt he had let me down, but there was no way he was going to be well enough to help, and he needed to look after himself. I asked one of the guys that was staying behind to look after him, and then well..... it seemed rude, but I had a race to get going. 

A last minute change in plans! I rolled with it, I'd done this before, so it wasn't out of my wheelhouse. Behind all the immediate concerns with getting T.I.v11 underway, I was very concerned about my friend, and very disappointed that he felt so badly about letting me down. But no time for niceties. I rolled my truck up to the start line, got everyone lined up behind it, and tried to make sure I had all the things I needed to run the event in my truck. Good to go at the last minute!

Honk-honk! Trans Iowa v11 was off, and the good idea to have someone drive me for the event would have to wait for another year.

Next: A Good Plan Goes Wrong: Part 2

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Winter Views: Melting Into Spring

Not a cloud in the sky and nearly 50°F.
This probably will be the last of the "Winter Views" posts for the '20/'21 Winter Season. The warmer weather and Sun is overtaking Winter very quickly now. The snow will be a minority of the scene very quickly now. Things will start turning green again. Spring is coming in. 

Typically that means lots of wind, but Wednesday was calm as could be, absolutely no clouds, and bright, warm Sun over all. I remarked to myself at the end of the ride that it just doesn't get a whole lot better than that. Not for any time of the year. And the roads! But I am getting ahead of myself here.

I decided to switch wheels out on the Noble GX5 gravel bike to the new WTB Proterra wheels that I need to get going on for a review on RidingGravel.com. So that was the bike I used on Wednesday. I didn't know how the roads would be South of town, but that is where I was going to ride and so I'd find out if they were as good or better than they were up North last weekend. Sooner or later the frost is going to come out and then the roads will get weird. 

The air temperature was about ten degrees warmer than Saturday and maybe it would get to 50°F, but either way, it was super comfortable out. It's so weird once you've been acclimated to sub-zero weather how 50° can feel like "windows down in the car" weather, but I wasn't the only one running around with side windows open Wednesday. 

The Prairie Grove Park car park was a royal mess when I pulled in. The big piles of snow that the City plowed back were on the uphill side of the lot and so all the run-off was soaking the entire lot. Oh well! At least the gravel was firm and the truck was in no danger of getting stuck. This may change once the frost comes up, but hopefully those piles of Winter snow will be much smaller- or gone- by that time.

The Proterra wheels on the Noble GX5

I got going after lunch and headed down the old, familiar roads. I didn't ride these roads much after mid-Summer last year, so it's been awhile now. That said, I will be off to some other places soon. I don't want to grind the same roads all the time as I have in years past. 

Seems like the drifts must have been bigger South of town this year.

I saw this hawk fly over my head and light on this high tension wire.

The roads South of town, on Wednesday, at any rate, were fast, dry, and super-smooth. Best conditions on gravel ever. "Hero Gravel", if you will. hardly any loose, crushed rock at all. Of course, that will all change once the frost starts coming up. Then it will become a mucky-mess. Who knows when that will start, and for how long it will last, but if the next week, week and a half weather forecasts are to be believed, it will happen very soon and be over quickly. 

That said, I am predicting major frost boil action this year. It should be crazy on certain roads, like it was a couple of years or so ago when frost boils destroyed roads and the farmers with big machines and semi-tractor trailers will perpetuate the damage- just like they did back then. Hopefully, I'll be wrong about that. We will see....

This was about the most gravel I ran across.

Another big drift on Washburn Road.

So it was an 'ordinary test loop' ride but it was perfect. Such a beautiful day to ride. I also did not want to put in a big effort because I wanted to just start working my way up to being able to do bigger rides. I am hoping to be able to squeeze in a hundy sooner than I did last year and maybe that will help with getting in a few of my goals for 2021. 

Next ride- Those weird handle bars which I should be able to talk about next week. Stay tuned.....

Just Ride

A Tweet of mine from March 1st. Musta hit a nerve...
Yeah......I don't know why, but sometimes certain things I see just hit me the wrong way, ya know? Most of the time it is stuff on social media and I just scroll on by. Thirty seconds later and I've forgotten about it. Generally it is not all that important to engage with, or to even give space to it within your mind. But once in a blue moon something kind of grabs me and I struggle with the thoughts expressed and I have to find a release. This time it was on Twitter and the quote was the following:

"Once that starting gun goes off, how long does it take you to settle into a groove, smile, and take in the beauty of your surroundings? Twenty minutes? Twenty miles? Once you're solo? When the finish line is in sight? "
 

See, the message wasn't all that bad, but the idea at the very front end- that the joy of riding has to be within the context of racing? That was the first thing that rubbed me wrong. Then you have the other race references within the message. "Once you're solo? When the finish line is in sight?"

Look, as I Tweeted in response, what the hell does racing have to do with it? In fact, "racing" itself is the distraction from all of the nice things the Tweeted message lays out there. And, in a weird way, they intimate that as well by saying "Once the starting gun goes off, how long does it take......?", because, well, you're racing. It takes away from these more perfect sensations and experiences. 

So, yeah, I responded. 

My message? Don't let the rat-race of "racing" dictate your enjoyment of cycling. Let the lotteries to get in, the money spent on fees, and the stress of "having" to have better fitness, equipment, training, etc beat you down. If you don't have a problem with racing and training, if that's what you "live for", well go on then. You do you. But don't let the narrative of racing dictate your joy. 

That's all................

Friday, March 05, 2021

Friday News And Views

The Message Does Not Match The Rhetoric:

As I scrolled through Twitter earlier in the week I came across a sponsored Tweet from the Mashable website featuring a new HPC (electrified bicycle) which was supposedly cool from a styling standpoint. It looked like a 'retro motorcycle'. 

Now you may shrug your shoulders and say, "Whatever. As long as people are out of cars and riding bicycles, I am good with it." End of story, we move on......

But hold on here a minute.... I watched the entire video Tweet and not once did the person on the machine make a pedaling motion. Not once. The message there? "It not only looks like a motorcycle, it is one". Now, of course, you may have to actually pedal this particular contraption to get assist, but that is not the visual messaging here, nor does it explicitly say in the video that "you have to pedal this". 

Next, I saw somewhere, (I apologize, because I should have a reference, but it wasn't cycling specific where I saw this), that recreational activities cease for most people surveyed recently when the temperatures get below 60°F. This also has been my contention- that if we think that cycling will become a major transportation mode, we're deluding ourselves. For the poor and less fortunate, yes- but they already are walking and cycling. That doesn't forgive our lack of infrastructure, but it isn't going to increase numbers of cyclists if non-cyclists can find easier ways to be mobile, even if we have infrastructure for cycling in a meaningful way. Electrified cars will pacify most people's feelings that we're 'environmentally conscious' (although I'd say its six of one- half a dozen of another from where we are now) and if you can afford a car- you will live in that mode of transportation every time over that of two wheeled varieties. Especially when everything is miles from everything else and weather is what it is for six months out of the year in the USA. 

Why? Because it is easier to roll with 'car culture'- even over an HPC/electrified bicycle, even if you only have to sit and coast around on it. That's why. Maybe I have a dim view of humanity, but go ahead- change my mind. The message I see being sent doesn't match what the cycling pundits are thinking. Speaking of messages sent, where are the ebike police on this one? Class systems will prevent HPC's from becoming motorcycles? Pssshaw!

New Riding Gravel Radio Ranch Episode #73:

Another podcast is up, which you can grab the link to HERE. But the big news I wanted to point out is that the podcast is now sponsored by Bike Rags. They are the Iowa based supplier of customized apparel for events, businesses, and brands. Mostly cycling related stuff here, but they do hats, t-shirts, and stickers too, so you could use Bike Rags for any promotions you have in mind. 

I'm stoked that we have a sponsor for the podcast now and we will be doing some cool things in the near future with Bike Rags, so stay tuned for that. 

In the meantime, check out the newest podcast and let me know what you think. We are planning on some new features and new ways to access what we do there, so I am excited about the possibilities. (Think visual) I am also proud that since a year ago now we have done twice the output of podcasts in that time than the six previous years combined. I was always a bit dismayed at the haphazard roll out of new podcasts in previous years and one of my goals for 2020 was to get that rectified. With the help of Andy of Andy's Bike Shop that goal was achieved.

The first 29"er- Wes Williams' Willits New Sheriff. Image courtesy of Wes Williams
22 Years Of 29"ers:

The other day on Facebook I noted where Wes Williams posted an image I'd seen several times before. An orange "New Sheriff"  model Willits bike sitting against a building in the snow. It was March 2nd, 1999. You may be saying, "So what?". Well, that bike, and Wes Williams, and a whole bunch of other people behind that bike- and especially "The Tire", ended up revolutionizing mountain biking as we know it today.  

Back in 1999 a bigger wheel for a mountain bike was unheard of. Literally- no one could have even conceived of such a thing. Well, that is unless you were Wes Williams, or some folks from WTB, or Bruce Gordon, or some other folks like Gary Fisher, and others like Bob Poor. Yep! It took a small village, but they got the ball rolling and now look at how things are. 26"ers? Gone..... As a real alternative size for most anyone, it is a dead thing. I'll tell you what- that is a small miracle. I still find it amazing. 

And give credit to 650B/27.5"ers. They helped eradicate 26"er MTB as well. But the 29"er was the thought, the idea that finally became reality, and through every adversity, prevailed and opened up a lot of doors and minds to something better. 

Want to know more? I wrote a history of the wheel size and you can read my page on it HERE

Fakes of real products are never made to the same standards.
This Blog Is Real:

Earlier in the week I saw that a deep-fake video had surfaced showing a visage that was purportedly Tom Cruise, but it wasn't. It was so convincingly realistic though that now experts are worried that technology can now be used to influence people by way of using faked images of real people saying and doing things that the 'real' versions of those folks had not ever conceived of saying or doing. 

Sounds like science fiction? But it isn't, and it is truly worrisome. I've seen benign uses of this technology used to animate historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.It's creepy for sure, and I can see how this sort of thing could get out of hand. But what does faking real people have to do with cycling?

Well, due to the parts shortages, forgery of bike parts and bicycles themselves, while always having been a thing, is now a very big deal. People are more susceptible to falling for these scams when the 'real thing' is not available through traditional sources. This came to focus again when Mavic found that forgeries of Mavic wheels were being sold to consumers that were of such low quality that they had caused injury to at least one cyclist. This as reported by road.cc. Furthermore; apparently Mavic tested these wheels after purchasing a set and found that they were so far below standard that they posed a risk of injury and death to anyone who fell prey to the companies that are foisting these fake Mavic wheels on the unsuspecting consumer. 

The lesson? Don't believe what you see celebrities saying and doing on social media and don't buy fake bike parts and bikes. If the sources are not verifiable, traditional retail, don't bite. Or even better- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

That said, this blog is real and I- Guitar Ted- approve these posts.

Sale On C.O.G. 100 Hats:

I've got a lot of C.O.G 100 hats left and I need to move them outta here. So, through the month of March, I will be knocking $5.00 off the price making these one-off hats fifteen bucks each plus shipping. See the link to the "Guitar Ted's Garage Sale Page" underneath the header image and scroll down a bit to see how to order. 

Mention this post and I will throw in a free hat if you purchase a jersey, also listed on the Garage Sale Page. 

There are not many jerseys left, so once those are gone- they are gone for good and the hat offer will end. So, if you want a piece of gravel grinding history, grab a hat or jersey and wear them proudly. Plus, it will help me get good stuff into the hands of people so it can be used up and I won't have to hawk the stuff here anymore so I can clear out space in my basement. 

And as long as I am here, I'll mention the link to the G-Ted Merchandise on the right column of the blog here. Hit that link and it will take you to Redbubble and my daughter's page there where the G-Ted merch can be ordered. A portion of each sale made there goes directly to my daughter to help fund her art work. Thanks for considering all of this.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

It's That Time Of Year Again

Like a bullet! Dogs are part of gravel riding. Get used to it.
The roads in Iowa got rideable again and the next thing ya know there are all kinds of questions about dogs. Yep! People getting bitten, scared half outta their minds, and left wondering what they could have done differently. 

NOTE: I wrote a pretty comprehensive post about dogs and country riding in 2018 which you can read HERE. This post will be about some additional thoughts I have had since that time.

Dogs. They are a part of riding in the country- paved, gravel, or dirt roads, and even in towns and cities. Legendary tales of mean dogs and feats of speed are told every year around this time. Ever notice that it seems to be that late Winter and early Spring are the worst times for this? I mean, I almost never hear about dog issues in late Summer and Fall. ("Almost never" means it happens, just not as often.)

Dogs are cooped up, left with little to do in the Mid-West for months. What do you expect they want to do once the weather breaks? I'd be chasing you if I were a dog after sitting around in negative wind chill Iowa for two months straight! Bark!

So, I think I would suggest that you should expect to have to deal with dogs on gravel rides- especially in Spring. I am always on the alert when I come across a country abode and I scan the area for a dog. Many times the barking will alert you to a dog's presence, but believe me- the silent attacks are the worst- and to detect a dog you need to be aware. Generally they almost always are around houses and barns. Rarely if ever will you have issues with aggressive dogs away from properties. So, whenever you pass a property, you need to be sitting up and scanning the area. 

Dogs can and will be seen out away from properties, but almost always these are benign encounters. The dog can be a issue because of getting in the way, but I've rarely had an aggressive dog away from a property.


I rarely, if ever, see dogs in empty country.

 Secondly, I have noted a lot of people recounting dog encounters that were negative and there is no mention of stopping. If you don't stop, you will perpetuate the 'prey instinct' dogs have which is triggered by your movements on a bicycle and by the speed you are traveling at. Legs moving up and down and speed are two triggers to a dog's embedded instinct to hunt herd animals. You will not break them out of this until you stop and dismount. Many times the dog's demeanor changes so drastically at that point when you dismount that it can be comical. But whether or not the dog is disoriented by this, you need to be willing to stop and dismount, place the bike between you and the dog, and be patient. 

Trying to outrun a dog is usually a great way to end up getting bitten. Dogs live for this. They are hard-wired to hunt. Only the most disciplined dogs will resist this urge, and there aren't that many well trained dogs on the loose in the country. So, before you ever get out on a ride, you need to be prepared to swallow your pride and stop. I'm not sure why cyclists generally do not see stopping as an option, maybe it seems counterintuitive, but all I know is that it is a necessity when riding where dogs may be wanting to chase. 

Finally- you have rights as a road user and a citizen. If a dog does become an issue, either by its continued aggressiveness or due to inflicting injuries and damage to personal property while you are on a public roadway, the dog owner is liable. Report any incidents to county sheriffs or whomever handles the law enforcement in the area. Contact dog owners and file grievances where possible. Remember- you have a right to ride the roads, no matter what property owners may think, and as long as you stay on public roadways, you are good. Your rights become compromised once you get off public roads. So, stay out of fields, Level C Maintenance roads which are supposed to be gated, and the like. You are only inviting trouble if you venture off public roads. 

This goes for approaching a farm house for assistance. So be super careful if you are placed in a situation where you need water, for an example, because all bets are off if you walk into a farm yard where a dog is present. Just be smart and be well prepared ahead of time. Self-supported cycling is something to strive for, but I realize there are times you may need to ask for assistance. I have- been there-done that. Just be hyper-alert and careful. 

I think that about does it for my additional thoughts. If you have any further ideas or advice for folks dealing with dogs, let's have those in the comments. It may end up becoming a resource down the line for someone. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

B.O.G. Series: What Bike To Use

 Welcome to the Basics of Gravel Series (B.O.G.)! In this series I will attempt to bring a very foundational knowledge of gravel and back road riding to anyone reading that may be curious or a beginner in riding off-pavement, but not wanting to be mountain biking. There will be a new entry every Wednesday until the series is complete. To see the schedule, click this LINK. Thanks! 

This is a 'gravel bike'.
The world of cycling is pretty 'gear intensive', and if you are new to this sort of activity, you may become bewildered by the amount of gear seemingly 'needed' to do cycling. If you've been around a bit you know that this can be a very confusing issue as well, but seemingly a necessary thing to navigate. The 'what bike?' question being a rather huge sticking point here. So, I want to wipe away all confusion, 'expert advice' you may be getting on-line or from 'that hardcore cyclist you know', and give it to you straight. 

ANY BIKE IS A 'GRAVEL BIKE'

If you can navigate the terrain and have fun on the bike you choose, guess what? YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Now with that said, if you are NOT having fun, having hurts, issues with how your bike operates, handles, or what have you, THEN you should be asking questions. All of your concerns can be addressed and you certainly can find a way to make gravel riding fun and an adventure, as much as you want to. But just to get started? Grab a bike and go check it out. 

When I started riding gravel I used a single speed mountain bike I had. Others started out on balloon-tired cruisers. Some used Wall Mart bikes. Others take some old used ten speed and get the job done. It's all a matter of what you want to do. Of course, buying a specifically designed-for-gravel bike can also be a viable solution. I'm not dissuading anyone in doing that, but I also don't want anyone leaving here thinking that they cannot go check out a back road or gravel road because they do not have a "GRVL BIKE®" like the online forums say, or that the media wonks are saying is the 'right bike'. In fact, anytime you see "GRVL" you should go the other way, most of the time this is pure marketing schlock, if you want to know the truth of it.

I led a gravel ride where these two bikes were used.

As a way to illustrate my points above, I'd like to share a story that happened in late 2013, when I led a gravel group ride called the "3GR". We met every Saturday, it was an inclusive ride, pace matched to participants, and was a "no drop" ride, meaning we kept the group together, no matter how slow we had to go.

So, two young women decided that they wanted to give gravel riding a shot. I encouraged them to show up to my group ride, and as it turned out, it was the last one held that year, being at the end of November. No one else but those two women and myself showed up that weekend. I said the ride was happening no matter what, so they felt comfortable going although they were now having 'no where to hide', as it were. One showed up on a single speed 29'er. By the way, she had been on this group ride before on an old 1970's era Kabuki 10 speed, and she did just fine. Her friend, on a 'mart bike' Mongoose, was a bit intimidated at first, but I encouraged her to give it a try anyway, despite the bike not fitting her correctly. 

It is also noteworthy that neither individual had anything cycling specific on but helmets. In other words- No- you do not HAVE to buy all the expensive equipment to go out and enjoy cycling. But that's another subject for another time. I just wanted to make that point here. 

Oh, and we rode the entire group ride course and they had a ball, despite what many in the cycling nerd-o-sphere would say were 'limiting factors'. So, they did not have 'gravel bikes', they did not have cycling gear, and they still had fun? Yes. It is possible folks. Don't let any perceived shortcomings short-circuit possible good times. 

Got an old mountain bike hanging around? Use it on gravel.

So, are there 'better bikes' for gravel? Of course! But you shouldn't wait until you get a 'better bike' because in all likelihood you have a perfectly serviceable 'gravel bike' already. Hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, even fat bikes are great on gravel. 

I led another gravel ride several years ago where a first timer, a middle-aged woman this time, showed up on her hard tail mountain bike. Oh.....and she'd only been riding a bicycle for a few months. As in EVER in her lifetime. Well, she came out and did 40 miles of gravel, albeit in small chunks with lots of stopping, which the group accommodated for, and she declared it the most fun she'd had in ages.  She did not wait to get a 'gravel bike' nor did she listen to naysayers who told her she was crazy for trying out a 40 mile, hilly gravel ride. You shouldn't listen to the naysayers either. You don't have to buy anything to come out and do gravel or dirt roads. You just need a bike and a sense of adventure and willingness to try. The rest can come later. 

And if you want to, you can get a bike suited to your needs and desires, but that shouldn't be a limiting factor at first. No- you should try things and explore. The knowledge you gain by experience will guide you to the choices which are correct for you. Maybe that will end up being an electric assisted bike, or maybe a fast, light, expensive carbon gravel bike, or maybe a single speed. Who knows? Who am I to say? You do you.

And maybe that will be what the industry has said is a 'gravel bike' and maybe not. So, what's the deal with these so-called 'gravel bikes' anyway? Well, here it is, boiled down to the easiest to digest details. A 'gravel' bike is an all-roads, versatile bike which generally has curly 'drop bars' for more hand positions and for cutting through wind, since it makes for a 'bent-over', more aerodynamic body positioning, if you want it. They generally are lighter weight, faster than many bikes, and look most like a 'traditional road bike', but they have lower range gearing and fatter tires than those bikes do. All tweaked out to handle rougher roads and unpaved areas in a fast, efficient manner. They cost anywhere from around $500.00 to $12,000.00 and all points in between, but the majority are $1,000.00 to $5,000.00 bucks. 

Fat bikes, like my old Mukluk here, make a great 'gravel bike'.

So, "What Bike To Use?" That's easy! Probably the one you already have! The good news is that all manner of bikes have been and will be used on gravel roads. More good news- bicycles specifically designed for gravel riding exist - if you want them. But the best news is that you do not have to buy one of those to enjoy gravel riding. 

NOTE: For a super-nerd-out look at gravel bike geometry ideas, and what I think makes a bike a 'gravel bike', see my post from Saturday by CLICKING HERE.  I will warn you! It is far more specific and technical than a beginner needs to be concerned about!

Next: What To Wear (Hint- You already have a clue where this is going....)

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

More Testing

Fenders installed and that Whatchamacallit Bar.
Over the weekend I got the fenders installed on the BMC MCD bike. They are the excellent, highly recommended Planet Bike Cascadia ALX fenders. I have been using these on a couple of my bikes for several years now and I have to say that they are really good. I maybe would like a tiny bit more coverage, but hey! For the money, for the ease of installation, and for the bomber performance? I'm all in on these. Get you some.....

(And for the record, I paid my own damn money for the set on this bike I have and I was not asked to write that glowing review. It's what I really think- So there!)

Sad that we live in a world where disclaimers have to be added, but anyway.....

I stuffed the Teravail Rutland 700 X 47mm tires under those fenders and they barely fit! But they fit! That's pretty cool since I was hoping to be able to run these tires quite a bit in 2021. I have really enjoyed them and they remind me a lot of my favorite WTB Resolutes, only these are a bit bigger than Reso's are. In fact, I was thinking that in the mid-00's, these would have been passed off as 29"er tires. I remember testing some Bontrager tires, in particular, that were sub-50mm tires that were being called 29"er tires. 

At any rate, I would not run a much bigger tire since the MCD is pretty close on clearances with these as it is. There is mud room- barely. Obviously there is enough room to squeeze in fenders, but where I am looking- the chain stays - The room is pretty minimal there. 

Oh! I suppose you were wondering about those whatchamacallit bars and those weird grips on there? Well, that's another silly thing, see- It's called a media embargo. I know, I know...... Just following the rules here, that's all. More can be said in about a week or so. Stay tuned......