Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday News And Views

59 Trips Around The Sun:

Well, I made it. Another year was marked yesterday. I make a silly deal out of my birthday every year, because, really, it's just another day, but we do "mark time", don't we? So, yeah..... Very blessed to be here and to have had the life I've had so far. I'm very much looking forward to what is to come, despite the assurances of sorrow and heart-ache being alive will bring.

I say this many times here, but at the risk of sounding cliche'....

Thank you so much for reading the blog. It means a lot to me, and this has become a big part of my life, obviously. What started out as a silly stab at writing, on the insistence of Jeff Kerkove back in 2005, has become a daily routine for me that I thoroughly enjoy doing. I guess I'd better enjoy it for all the time I put into it!

But anyway, thank you. Thank you all who sent greetings and well wishes on Facebook and text yesterday. I read each and every one and appreciated them all. Too kind, you all are. Too kind!

This years C.O.G.100 hat.
 C.O.G.100 News:

First of all, we sold out entries! Thanks to all who entered this year's event. We had initially set 75 as the limit, sold that out, added ten more, and sold those as well. N.Y.Roll and I appreciate the commitment to our event.

So, with that done we sent in the orders for the hats. Due to a weird requirement where getting 100 patches for the hats cost less than getting 90, we will have a very limited number of patches available. How we are going to deal with the ten or so extras we haven't decided on yet. If you really gotta have one, let me know and what that's worth to you. Maybe we can make it happen.

Secondly, the t-shirt offer stands till February 29th, (it's a leap year, ya know), so take a look HERE and order from that page. We will push go on the order March 1st and then that's it. No more will be made ever again.

Remember, all the artwork is by yours truly and is completely original. Very unique, and so you won't be seeing this on every street corner. The proceeds help to pay for the shirts and that's about it. We are probably going to break even this year, if we're lucky, as last year we ended up doing that as well after expenses were accounted for. So, we're not making a living, or even beer money on this deal. Just so you know.....

A Tweet from "Elizabeth @eGrindcore", a Nebraska native, on Wednesday.
 Media Hop On The Gravel Bandwagon: 

What was it with this week and media concerning gravel riding and racing? Must have been the "gravel summits" I mentioned in my post on Tuesday. Anyway, suddenly all the endemic cycling publications are falling all over themselves to get out some sort of "whatever will gravel do once it grows up" posts.

"Cyclingtips" had one by Neil Shirley, and so did "Velo News" in an article about power and the winner of Gravel Worlds last year. There were others as well. I got a laugh when I read the Tweet I have posted here. Yeah....."seven years behind the times" is about right.

Anyway, "Welcome late-comers".  We're not so goofy, or stupid as you once thought, eh? I'll say it again though, these endemic outlets haven't changed their tune, really. They still are trying to bend the narrative toward "professional level competitive racing". It's all wrong. They just do not understand how exclusive and "old" that narrative is. Times have changed, but the old media dogs that cut their teeth on the Pro racing scene haven't changed their colors, or learned new tricks, as they ought to have by now. It's a shame, really.

Even the Pro roadies they quote keep saying they like gravel events because of the relaxed, laid back, all-inclusive, fun nature of it, then in the next sentence you read something about doping controls and who will come "out of the gravel scene" to contest some Old World road event. It's tone deaf as all get out. But I also know some of these writers get it. They've done gravel events, so the disconnect is even more baffling.

Then I see the UCI is considering a true Pro level World Championships with doping controls, rules, and regulations. There is only one way that gets off the ground and that is with the same teams, athletes, and infrastructure they have now. Everyone that is outside Pro level racing is outside of it for a reason. Again- I don't see it working, at least not in the U.S.A., and that's where the action is on gravel anyway.

That's it for this week. Get out and ride if ya can!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Iowa Gravel Expo Pop Up Series Report #2

Dangerous Dan presenting the Sterile Iowan event for those in attendance.
Well, Wednesday we put on #2 of the 4 Iowa Gravel Expo Pop Up Series events at Second State Brewing. Unfortunately, it was snowing most of the afternoon, and with a lot of cancellations, we were a bit down on attendance. Still, we had about 10-12 folks in the back of the brewery and they got an awesome presentation from Dangerous Dan from the Sterile Iowan event.

Then N.Y. Roll got up and gave about a half an hour presentation to the gathered folk on how to decide upon, and prepare for your gravel events this coming season. It was short and sweet, but very informative and fun.

We are halfway through the Pop Up Series now and we have two more events at Second State Brewing to go. Those will be happening on February 5th and February 19th, (both Wednesdays) at 6:30pm in the brewing room of Second State Brewing. The next one will feature two race directors, (Snaggy Ridge and Lake McBride Fat Bike Classic) and N.Y. Roll will go over his BC Epic run from last year. Don't miss it!

Thank You: Thanks to our sponsors, Second State Brewing and Andy's Bike Shop.

Got A Minute For A Blackborow DS Ride

The Blackborow DS gets least once in snow!
The changeling weather has swung to the really snowy, really cold side, then out again. Good thing I squeezed in a ride on the Blackborow DS again. This silly weather almost went all the way through January with little to no reason to break this Forest Service Green beauty out again. (And this is a weird name for this color. I just wanted to point that out)

Anyway, with the oddball Winters of late, owning this bike seems, well.......useless. If there is one thing that grinds in the background of my mental state it is when I have something I know is good but never gets used. That's especially true of my bicycles. The Blackborow is so good that it is a darn shame to see it just wasting away in the overflow of the Lab all year.

Then something happens and I get a chance to try it out in proper conditions. So, we had about ab 8" total of snow on the ground on MLK Day. I took the DS out and was able to pedal through a few sections where the snow had not been trodden down, plowed, or tracked in. This without any concern for tire pressure, which was too high, to be honest. That's how good this bike is. And it, once again, sold itself to me on keeping it. Here's a bit of background on why.

See, when I got the Snow Dog, the original 2011 Salsa Cycles Mukluk, (which I still have, by the way), I was thrilled to be able to do a LOT of things my previous "fat bike", a 2010 Soul Cycles Dillinger 29" X 2.4" tire bike, could not do. didn't take me long to find out I wanted more. More flotation, to be exact.

This was before "ride groomed" was a thing, by the way. You went out and hunted down snow machine trails and rode in their tracks, is what you did then. Punching through was a regular occurrence, and I knew that with "more" I could do "more" stuff. But in 2012, you had no options. So, I waited out the development cycle, and in 2014, in November, I purchased a Salsa Cycles Blackborow DS. The 4.8" tires on 100mm rims solved my problems with flotation, but then the climate went whacko and Winters have, more often than not, been on the poor side for fat biking. At least around here they have.

I've only changed handlebars on this bike since I got it.
But when things are right, the Blackborow DS is the perfect fat bike for bushwhacking snowy sections, following snow machine trails, and for urban hooliganism down alleyways and sidewalks which are un-shoveled. I don't have to go far from home to get a lot of fun in, and the Blackborow DS is so simple that there really is not much that can go wrong here.

Simplicity means I rarely if ever have to do anything to this bike. Maintenance is a snap. A quick wipe down, maybe lube the chain, that's it. The brakes are Avid BB-7's and are super quiet, low maintenance, and obviously won't ever have issues like a hydraulic brake can.

So, in one sense, owning this bike is really easy, and it won't decay, or anything like that, just because it sits for a majority of the year. I suppose I should look at it as though this is a special circumstances tool. A thing brought out when the need arises, and you are glad you had that thing, because it solves a lot of problems when the times call for this tool. And that's a good description of what this bike is for me.

As I rode it Monday I was thinking about that long tailed version of this bike that Salsa sells now. Many have said, "You should try one! It rides like a regular fat bike.", and for them, yeah, maybe it does. But when I was traversing that icy section, and my tire was slipping just a bit, and I could ease back my weight, and smooth out my pedal stroke "just so", well at that moment I'm thinking, "Yeah, I bet the long tailed version would just spin out here." Those newer ones are like a pick-up truck with nothing in the bed. I find it hard to believe that my bike wouldn't be the better of the two versions in these conditions. Then I pop over a snow plowed berm, and think, "Yeah. Let's see your long tail pop over that." And then there is the whole dinglespeed thing. Well, you get the picture.

So, I figured out, again, that I am holding onto this bike. Well........unless a titanium version comes along. Then I might jump ship. But I bet that would have to be a custom bike, and I am not motivated that much at this time. So, yeah...... I'm glad to own this bike, and even happier I got to use it at least once this Winter in conditions that warranted owning it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Concept Bike Revisited; Part 2

Last week I re-introduced my decade old idea and quest for the "perfect all roads" bike. (click here to see that post) Remembering that in 2010 there were no gravel bikes being marketed as such, (hard to believe now, innit?) we now have to adjust our viewpoint due to the current situation. So, let's see how far off I was from things which I spec'ed in 2010. This will be focused primarily on geometry.

A quick refresher for you non-clicker types that may not have seen, or remembered, last week's post then before we continue. This also will serve as a good quick reference anyway.

  • Head angle 71.5° (I said 72° might be okay)
  • 73° seat tube angle.
  • Bottom bracket drop in the 75-80mm range.
  • Moderate length chain stays.
  • Room for 42mm tires.
I need to address the fourth point because I wasn't very specific. I can say that we were thinking around 430mm there. So that's "shorter than a touring bike's chain stays" and definitely not as short as a cyclo cross bike's. Also, as a note on the tire clearance, that assumes plenty of mud clearance as well. In dry conditions, this ideal frame could run 45mm tires too, but my ideal, all-around tire width was thought to be a 42mm tire at that time. Keep in mind that there were no gravel specific tires at this point in history either. Yes- A lot has changed in a decade!

Now let's take a close look at a "modern" gravel bike. My Noble Bikes GX5 will be our subject here. It has a carbon fiber frame, internal cable routing, disc brakes in the flat mount style, and basically could be thought of as a prototypical gravel bike circa 2020.

The current state of the Noble Bikes GX5
So, if we consider the geometry here, things are not far off from my list of desires. Here is the geometry of the Noble Bikes GX5 from their site. This is for the 58cm size, by the way.
  • Head Tube Angle: 71.5°
  • Fork Offset: 52mm
  • Seat Tube Angle: 72.5°
  • Bottom Bracket Drop: 72.5mm
  • Chain Stay Length: 440mm
  • Tire Clearance: 40mm recommended*
Okay, so I'll contrast and compare starting from the top of the list. So, first is the head tube angle which is dead on what I was wanting here. The fork offset actually is a tick longer, which leads to a slightly quicker handling bike. That's maybe counter-intuitive to you, but that's how offset works given other parameters stay the same. Longer offset = quicker handling. Shorter is the reverse.

The seat tube angle is a half a degree slacker on the GX5. Note that the rest of the size range has 73° seat tube angles. Pretty close here. But now we come to bottom bracket drop and something which we could not consider in 2010 affects this a bit. That being wide 650B tires for gravel travel.

Fatter 650B tires allow for a different ride characteristic and performance.
These tires allowed for a wider, more voluminous tire to be fitted to a bike that might otherwise not be able to handle a 47mm-50mm tire in 700c. The slightly smaller diameter meant that your bottom bracket would end up being closer to the ground though. This could be a problem. It all depends on your bike and its bottom bracket drop.

So, as an example, I had a Twin Six Standard Rando for a while. This bike has a 75mm bottom bracket drop. Right in the range I wanted for this "concept bike". The Standard Rando worked well with 650B tires and wheels, but I would clip a pedal now and again running the 47mm width tires. How close was it? With 172.5mm crank arms I could dip my heel in my size 46 shoes and drag my heel off the tops of the rocks on the road. Any lower in bottom bracket height and I'd be in trouble with 650B X 47mm tires.

So, I've modified my bottom bracket height requirements for a bike that would run dual wheel sizes. Now if you weren't ever going to run 650B wheels and tires, then dip that bottom bracket lower. It'll be fine. Same thing with bigger tires. If you'd never run anything smaller than a 700c X 45mm, then the bottom bracket could be made to be lower as well.

Note also that Noble Bikes GX5's in smaller than 58cm sizes are running 75mm bottom bracket drop. So, this bike would be a candidate for 650B wheels, but........ What about tire clearances? 

The Noble Bikes GX5 with 650B wheels and tires mounted.
 *Well, Noble listed the GX5 as being good for only a 700c X 40mm tire. That said, this is based upon a very conservative industry standard. Noble cannot recommend anything larger per this requirement, but that doesn't mean bigger tires won't fit. 700 X 42's will work fine, and you can even shoehorn in a 650B X 47mm wheel and tire. There is not a ton of clearance with 650B X 47 on this bike though, so no wetter or muddy gravel or dirt.

Finally, the chain stays on the GX5 are 440mm long, and 10mm longer than I figured necessary. Okay, I will admit that the GX5 is a really stable, really smooth riding bike, and no doubt, that extra chain stay length probably lends a bit to the tire clearances, but it is longer. Could this be done in a 430mm length? Probably, but perhaps at the expense of comfort. Maybe a compromise of 435mm? Maybe. I think a steel bike could be 430mm chain stay length, so I will allow that the carbon construction here perhaps is the main limitation. To get a shorter stay, you'd probably see that dropped drive side chain stay, like so many other carbon bikes have.

Now with that done, the next post will cover frame materials and things like water bottle bosses, fender mounts, and smaller details. Then I'll get on to my final vision for the concept bike. Stay tuned.......

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Gravel Grinder News; Pow-Wows And The Future Of Gravel Events

Part of a problem or part of a solution?
Gravel Pow-Wows Portend A Changing Future For Events On Gravel:

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

I've mentioned here previously that there would be a meeting between officials from USAC and the gravel promoter community in Bentonville, Arkansas this month. Apparently, that meeting has happened according to this report in "Velo News".

The outcome of this meeting is seemingly that the status quo will remain for the time being, but make no mistake, as I've been saying for several years now- USAC wants in on this scene because they are bleeding membership and loosing money because of it. (Although USAC claims membership/license sales are "flat" now, they had been reporting substantial losses a few years ago.)While it may be incorrect to say that the organization is on the ropes, it is not far fetched to say that it cannot keep its status in the cycling community without getting involved in gravel events and promotions. The organization has become irrelevant and the abdication of several top athletes from road racing to gravel events is just one of many ills that USAC faces.

Obviously, from reading the article alone, you can feel that USAC has a "previous reputation" which it will have to address before it can move forward. Many in the gravel community have passionate, negative feelings about any sanctioning organizations, not just against USAC. Gravel riding and the events which fall under its banner were created and grown by individuals and groups which followed their own patterns. The sheer variety of events means that individualism and freedom from conformity is at the center of what makes gravel riding attractive to many people. It also makes conformity under an organization's license or sanctions, if you will, a  rather difficult task.

But that said, I notice a large response in the community to the false pretense that USAC "makes things easier" for promoters. Generally insurance is central to this theme. This is patently false. (Ask me how I know) Insurance for events is easily obtained through other means than USAC. Then the question remains- "What other benefit does USAC provide beyond insurance for events?". And perhaps more importantly- "What benefits USAC from becoming involved in gravel cycling besides selling insurance?" That, to my mind, is a far more important answer to get here than anything else asked.

As of now, we do not have a solid answer to that question, and neither does USAC. But rest assured, they do not want to just be an insurance provider. That much is obvious.

Evidence of  another "Gravel Pow-Wow" from this Tweet from Yuri Hauswald
Another meet-up also happened recently in Arizona, according to a Tweet by Gu Energy athlete Yuri Hauswald. This apparently happened with promoters, industry folk, and "influencers". What was going on there is not well publicized.

This activity all points to the cycling industry's malaise in terms of mountain biking and pure paved road cycling arenas where participation numbers are flat to declining. The only bright spot now is in the gravel sector, and this industry is always hip to cashing in on any trends, (29"ers, 27.5", enduro, e-bike), so why should "gravel" escape the focus of the folks trying to scrape a living out of the scene?

The talk of "growing" anything always revolves around the generating of cash. That always means some folks are going to get left off the train. This ends up with the bike industry creating another niche down the road and the whole cycle starts over again. Only this time I think things are different, and I will use the example of 29" wheeled mountain bikes to help illustrate what I mean.

29"ers were definitely not what the bicycle industry was wanting, or thought it needed.The push for the big wheelers was totally started at a grassroots level by very passionate people, (Wes Williams, Bob Poor, Gary Fisher, Mark Slate, etc.), and some of those folks just so happened to have industry ties to help it get off the ground. Then once the parts existed, the average guys and gals took it from there until the bicycle industry had to do something. Trek/Gary Fisher bet early and often, almost losing their shirts on the whole thing, but once the nut turned there was no going back. By 2007 it was fairly obvious that 29"ers were trending hard at a grassroots level to the point that 26 inch wheeled bikes were in a sales decline. Companies scrambled to hop on the bandwagon until by 2011 most all companies had jumped in.

Now, there were other trends that the industry foisted upon the market- fat bikes, 650B MTB, and aero road bikes, but none of these had the effect that 29"ers had. Meanwhile, the industry left R&D for 29"ers for several years to flounder, thinking 29"ers were "past news". Well, sales persisted, and so by 2015, you see a redoubled effort to bring 29" wheels to enduro and even down hill, which was heresy only five years previous. But 29"ers stuck because the market dictated it, not the brands. 

So what? How does this relate to gravel riding? Well, just as with 29"ers, the gravel scene grew out of a grassroots style change and was definitely not driven by Pro racing, USAC, or the bicycle industry. In fact, media, industry punters, and Pro racers derided gravel events as "not real racing" ten years ago. They said we didn't need "gravel bikes", and they laughed at the scene as being a bunch of dorky Mid-Westerners out for a good time. But now? Now that the Pro road racing ranks are jumping ship for gravel events, and USAC license sales have tanked, well "now we need to look into this". 

My, my! How the tune has changed! Well, not 100%. USAC and even some paid marketing writers masquerading as "media" experts are saying the scene is made up of "hobbyist promoters". As if competition is only "real" if professionally administered. And that is why the whole scene got started in the first place. That whiff of arrogance and pride that emanates from behind the "friendly gestures and fake expert reports by ill-informed "marketing companies" are what make the stench of having "sanctioned gravel events" so unappealing now. At least to me. And this is why the grassroots foundation of gravel riding isn't going to fade away.

It also has to be noted here that USAC and endemic media are only speaking with the "most important/biggest events" as deemed by........? Well, I suppose themselves. This is dangerous, because the narrative for the entire gravel scene cannot be dictated, or even known, by a very few promoters of the "most prestigious gravel events". This "representation" of the gravel scene by such a small subset of the events held every year is not a bellwether for all events. So, again: The sheer variety of events means that individualism and freedom from conformity is at the center of what makes gravel riding attractive to many people. It also makes conformity under an organization's license or sanctions, if you will, a  rather difficult task.

Just as with 29"ers, the gravel scene is genuine movement not motivated by profits, having a standing in the World at Large, or by competition itself. We have competitions, to be sure, and they are very real, but competition is not our idol where we kneel down to worship. And that is baffling to many who don't understand the gravel scene in the first place. Get that straightened out and I think only then will any sort of deal with USAC or any other organization have even a sniff of success.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Marky-Mark Maintenance

Looking a bit more like Winter here these days.
Well, Winter finally stuck around long enough that fat biking makes sense and the wet spots are frozen, making fat bike travel ideal. The level of snow is still on the meager side. We could do with more for good fat biking, but hey! We'll take it. the way things have been going this is almost more than we could hope for.

Wednesday last week N.Y. Roll and I went out on a mission. That mission was to make Marky-Mark somewhat traverse-able. there were about five points where dead falls had made things where you had to dismount to get over them. I had already been there and done a bit of clean-up through a re-route that had been neglected. That happened about a month ago or so.

It was colder, but not crazy cold. 19°F when I started out with no wind to speak of at all. However; it was spitting something. Freezing rain? Freezing fog? Not sure, but whatever it was had coated the street and I knew it was going to be dangerous to ride on the pavement. Car drivers would be getting out of control on this stuff. So, I ducked off onto the nearest straight through alley I could find and the snow was perfect. Packed but it had traction. I noted an accident on one corner as I crossed a street. N.Y. Roll told me later he almost got taken out by a car out of control on his way over to the Green Belt.

The whatever it was falling from the air ended up turning into snow, then it disappeared. I got into the Green Belt, met up with N.Y. Roll, and then I followed him to the first dead fall on the East side. I had brought my "battle hatchet" with me. It is a funny tool that came out of a fire kit on a light aircraft from France. (Long story) Anyway, it has a weird, frightening shape and a red and yellow striped handle. We started hacking away and actually got about 3/4's of the way through this 12'-15" round log. It was hard work. We really should have had an axe. A nice long handled, heavy axe.

CAUTION! Men at work!
Then we came to our senses. N.Y. Roll grabbed a 7-8 foot long branch and tried levering the log. I looked and remembering my 7th grade physics, I motioned that we should find another shorter piece of wood to act as a fulcrum. With this crude, simple machine the two of us levered the 25' long tree trunk off the tread of the trail Success!

The rest of the trail is navigable and passable by skilled riders adept at hopping logs. Probably when Spring comes I'll have to get someone with a bigger saw or axe to chop out about two other dead falls. But beyond this, the old Marky-Mark is doing just fine after 23 years. Can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: The Legend Of Charlie Farrow

Charlie Farrow, (blue jersey), cemented his legendary status in T.I.v5 Image by K Stuedal
"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 story of Charlie Farrow's adventures on bicycles was one that was well on its way to being a fairly successful, legendary one in the circles of ultra-mtb and in Minnesota/Wisconsin in particular, by the time I got to know him. However; what happened at Trans Iowa v5 may have cemented his status as "legendary" in the annals of the tales of the early gravel scene, never to be forgotten.

Charlie Farrow signed up for Trans Iowa v4 and when people saw his name on the roster I was noticing a certain reverence, a "respect" in the tone of conversations concerning him. Charlie came out of the Northern Minnesota scene, Duluth to be exact, and he and a few friends had formed a confederacy of cycling loosely held together under some cryptic name or another. (Death Before Dishonor? Something like that....) Charlie knew and drew in another cyclist into the fold named Tim Ek, another Duluth resident. Their training exploits were of epic nature and their friendship, at the time of T.I.v5, was solid. Tim, a finisher of T.I.v3 and Charlie eventually became stalwarts of the event in terms of support and performance in the event for a decade. But perhaps no story these two were involved in is more amazing than that of Charlie's ride in T.I.v5.

Charlie came into T.I.v5 with some high expectations from David and I. So, when Charlie showed up in the front running group at the first checkpoint in Washington, Iowa, we weren't surprised. If you've been reading this series you know Charlie figured into a four man break after the stop at the North English convenience store where his friend Tim Ek joined him along with Joe Meiser and Dave Pramaan, himself a rider from "up north". In fact, all in the break were from "up North"!

Things were going along well for the quartet as they punched through Level B roads and headwinds along their way to the second checkpoint in LeGrand, Iowa. If I recall correctly, David and I missed seeing them there, as we arrived before they did, and left to do a little recon of a "lollipop" part of the course before we decided to head on over to Checkpoint #3. That would be in a little town called Traer, Iowa. This is a town I doubt Charlie will forget for a long time, although I do not know if he even knows the name of it.

We commandeered another road sign for our own directions during T.I.v5
David and I were feeling pretty good about T.I.v5 as we rolled into Traer. Our checkpoint volunteers finally took up their spots at the convenience store and we waited. The furious pace which the quartet of break away riders were holding was so fast we knew that they, if they could finish, would be the group the winner came out of. Who would it be? Could they break the 24hr barrier to finish? It sure looked like it was still possible late into the event.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity. It was getting toward nightfall, perhaps about 7:00-7:30pm. A fellow from my city, another cyclist named Paul Buchanan, showed up just to hang out and see the goings on. Generally I wouldn't have allowed such a thing, but Paul is cool and he actually ended up documenting, and helping out the event, so it was all good.  But where were the four Northerners?

Well, it wasn't much longer before they showed up in the twilight of an early May day. Three of them..... Wait! Three? Charlie? Where is Charlie?!!

A dismayed Tim Ek told us that Charlie had to stop. He had run into a gut issue and it was making him slower. They begged him to get back on and make it to Checkpoint #2, but he wasn't able to hang after that point, so they reluctantly had to cut him loose. Dave Pramann shook his head, and his words echoed Tim Ek's- it didn't look good for Charlie. There was some hope though, as I hadn't gotten any word that he had missed the Checkpoint, so he must have kept going.......

Charlie Farrow at the Traer, Iowa convenience store. Image by Paul Buchanan.
Well, at this point Charlie fell out of knowledge to David and I while the event was still underway. However; we know the tale of Mr. Farrow well now.

He did indeed have to fall off the lead break, and he apparently had to stop a few times to deal with his malady. He made it through the CP#2 on time, and eventually he made it to CP#3, but not before the convenience store had closed up, and nearly everyone else had left.

Feeling rather ill, Charlie went around town, gathering the unwanted advertising newspapers many people left in their mail boxes or that were in copious supplies at homes which were vacant. These were known to most of us Mid-Westerners as "shoppers", and Charlie put them to good use. He packed them around his body between his skin and clothing to build up a layer of insulation, and then he found a nice, quiet place, some say in the city park, others say in a cemetery, and he curled up, and took, what he described later as, a nice long nap.

Apparently the ill effects of "whatever" had cleared Charlie's intestinal system by the time he awoke, as he said he felt a LOT better. He had some water and something to eat, then rejoined the chase. He was back from the dead, as it were.  I recall MG saying to me several times afterward, when speaking of v5, that Charlie's appearance at one point during the night was a big surprise. As if he had appeared out of nowhere. See, when you do these events, you get a feel for who is near to you up and down the road as paths cross several times, and MG hadn't seen, nor heard about Charlie for most of the event. Charlie was like a ghost. He had disappeared, then hey! He pops up unexpectedly. So, it was definitely was a big surprise then.

Charlie Farrow after finishing T.I.v5
And no one was more surprised than David and I when we got word at the finish line that Charlie Farrow was not only still riding, but was going to finish! All we knew was that Charlie had passed the test of getting to checkpoint 3 on time, but we knew he was ill. How he managed to come back from being sick, we had no clue. At the time, it just seemed like a miracle. How in the world did he manage it?

And not only that, but when Charlie rolled in, he was chirpy and looked none the worse for wear. We were simply astounded, happy, and relieved. Our mystery about how he did it was satisfied after we were able to talk to Charlie, and we could not do anything but shake our heads in wonder at his perseverance and  grit in the face of such an obstacle.

Of course, sleeping in Trans Iowa as a competitor was not a realistic option for 99% of the riders that ever rode in the event. Charlie was afforded the "luxury", if you can call hobo-camping somewhere in rural Iowa a luxury, of sleeping due to his vast lead on time. Remember- the event finishers, Dave Pramann, Tim Ek, and winner Joe Meiser finished in about 25 hours, and Charlie was with these guys well into the event. He had built up a good bank of time to withdraw from, and his renewed vigor after his rest carried him home in 6th place, at a time of 31 hours and 18 minutes, a full 2 hours and 42 minutes before the final cut off for the event.

The legendary performance Charlie put in was never equaled again in Trans Iowa's history. Every time Charlie came to Trans Iowa, I knew he was capable of something special, or terrifying, or both. Charlie did Trans Iowa nine times total, and there are more stories concerning him to be told, but none perhaps more spectacular, crazy, and heartwarming as his story from Trans Iowa v5. But rest assured, his name will figure into several more "Trans Iowa Stories".

A final word on Charlie before I sign off here. He was especially kind in word and deed toward David and I, and for Trans Iowa overall. Here is just a snippet of words he posted on his own blog about Trans Iowa:

"Bravo for creating, developing, and continually enhancing such a masterpiece that is the Trans-Iowa. I have been around cycling for 30 years and the Trans-Iowa is to my mind the most incredible citizen’s event in USA cycling."

Thanks Charlie, wherever you are. I really appreciate you and what you brought to Trans Iowa over the years. 

Next Week: Some v5 Short Stories

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Gravel Grinder News; 2020 Warbird, Sea Otter, and Influencer Status

New colors, GRX spec dominate the 2020 Warbird range
Salsa Cycles Debuts New 2020 Warbird:

Not much to share here on the new 'Birds but colors and the expected GRX dominated spec. Noticing pink a lot these days on Salsa bikes too..... Hmmm.....

I won't get into all the technical spec on the bikes, you've seen it already if you care. What I wanted to get into a bit is based on two observations.

One- There is no "cheap" Warbird option any longer. Actually, that happened last year, but it is still worth noting that aluminum Warbirds, a staple of the range since they were introduced for the 2012 model year, are gone. I kind of expected that the Journeyman would fill that gap, but the Class V VRS frame design was cool for the aluminum bikes and now you have to spend well over 2G to get into it. That's excluding a big chunk of the market from that technology, or something like it, and it is that market/rider type that would most benefit from that sort of thing. Oh well.....

Secondly - The original Warbird was titanium. Anyone remember that? I still think it was a big mistake for Salsa to let that go in their gravel line up. But that's just me maybe. The titanium Warbird, had it been done "right" from the get-go, would be a classic rig. But limited tire clearances, a weird sizing geometry, and a too stiff for titanium frame kind of made the Warbird in its original form a bit of a let down. That and it didn't have much for versatility. (Rack braze-ons, etc) Current Warbirds have fixed all those previous issues, which is great, but I miss that titanium option. Maybe I'm the only one that does.......

Laguna Seca Raceway is where the Sea Otter Classic Gravel Race will start
Sea Otter Classic Adds Gravel Race:

Sea Otter Classic. The definitive "first" Pro MTB race of the year, (well.....okay, There was the Cactus Cup there for a while), and a true "classic" mountain biking race if there ever was one in the sense of overall perception in the marketplace. They have had "gravel rides" and what not for a couple of years there, but now it is "official". They are having a Pro-Am gravel race now.

This is big. The impact of Sea Otter is unquestionably rather important, and adding in the exposure Sea Otter brings to the public, since it is not just an industry affair, means that Sea Otter is feeling the "gravel buzz" too. If you were wondering if we've reached 'peak gravel" yet, I'd say 2020 is pretty darn close to it in terms of how much traditional racing promoters and the industry overall are getting behind the scene.

It's kind of a turn of events too. Now we've seen the ballyhoo behind electric motor equipped bicycles (HPC/Hybrid Powered Cycles) over the past few years, and the genre was supposedly taking over the marketplace by now, if you'd have believed the punters five years ago. But the whole HPC thing has kind of lost some steam here in the States as mountain bike policy makers grapple with legalities and some urban areas struggle with control over such vehicles. Even stalwart industry rags like "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" have backed off the HPC bandwagon a tiny bit over the past year. So with Sea Otter giving credence to the gravel scene by offering a Pro-Am level event, well, that's a top level deal right there, and it points to the rising tide of the so-called "gravel bike" sector in the market here.

A scene from Trans Iowa v8- Mike Johnson (L) and Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey shown.
Gone But Not Forgotten:

Trans Iowa may be gone, last run in 2018, but apparently its influence lives on. A recent article posted by "Outside" mentioned how the early prototype for the gravel scene helped make riding bicycles a different deal today (Article here)

I really appreciate that the author, Joe Lindsey, thought to include Trans Iowa as one of the events that helped drive gravel specific designs that eventually changed the way many people approach riding bicycles. However; I think there is a bit more to that story than Mr. Lindsey was able to bring out in his article. Perhaps he just doesn't know. I have no idea. But here's what I know about this.....

The early gravel riders were a resourceful bunch, no doubt. There were big tires back then, despite what Mr. Lindsey would lead you to believe. Many folks were running 38mm-40mm tires back in those days. In fact, when Trans Iowa was sponsored by Ritchey Design for T.I.v4 in 2008, I ran a survey of what width tires people were planning on running. The vast majority answered 35mm-40mm. That's because the most popular "gravel" tire then was the Schwalbe Marathon series of tires. They were offered in 38mm and 40mm widths back then, as I recall.

Salsa Cycles is often credited with the first "gravel specific bike", the Warbird, but they were also putting out other bikes, while not marketed as "gravel", they were just that- gravel bikes. Check out the image here, (taken by Wally Kilburg, by the way), of Mike Johnson's bike, an orange Vaya. Officially Salsa denied this was a "gravel bike", but we all knew that is exactly what it was. It was, and still is, a really great gravel bike. Of course, the Vaya came out a couple years ahead of the Warbird. Then there was the titanium La Cruz, which Salsa Cycles' Joe Meiser rode a prototype of to victory in Trans Iowa v5, held in 2009.

There were also the calls on this very blog for the industry to quit being so "race-centric" with road bike designs going back a decade here. The Raleigh Tamland development story, WTB tires researching design via Trans Iowa, and all the researching done via the Dirty Kanza 200. I could go on.

In the end, it has revolutionized the industry, but the industry keeps trying to turn it back onto itself with more racing. Fancy-pants, high dollar events, Pro attended races, and meddling by the governing bodies will bring the gravel scene right back where we were with racing on paved roads. Is that where we want to go? Or should the industry look at providing adventure, fun, and accessibility for all versus catering to a sub-division of fit, fast racers?

Anyway, I am glad to have been a part of Trans Iowa, an event which apparently had some influences. Hopefully we all don't forget why the event existed in the first place. That would be the ultimate compliment to Trans Iowa in the end.