Monday, January 21, 2019

It's Not All About Racing

From a recent Tweet from "The Path Less Pedaled"
This past Friday I was part of a thread on Twitter where someone had opined that the "media" was going to ruin gravel riding by focusing almost exclusively on racing gravel. A few responses came and then this quote from "The Path Less Pedaled", "So burnt out on the default mode as racing".

Okay, a bit of housekeeping on this quote: What "..the default mode.." refers to is how the bicycle industry, and the major media that covers it, almost always uses racing bicycles as its touchstone for any cycling related subject. This has been something I have criticized for years. When a small percentage of bicyclists actually race during any given year versus the overall amount of cyclists, it doesn't make any sense for cycling media and the industry to almost exclusively speak in terms of racing. This is especially bad when it comes to pavement style cycling. But when the industry desperately needs to bring in new cyclists, it really makes no sense at all to focus on something most people that ride bicycles would never do.

Of course, there are publications dedicated to racing. I get that in those instances, but many publications are not, and the default mode from them in reference to cycling is almost always about racing.

No numbers, smiles, and a casual pace. From the '18 GTDRI.
Then there is the basis for many designs of bicycles to be directly or indirectly influenced by racing. That has been a really bad route that the American market has gone down for decades. Look at any European city and most bicycles are definitely not racing bicycles because most people are not racing that ride.

Of course, this has as much to do with culture as it does a misplaced focus on racing, but the cycling industry could have been helping itself by focusing on more practical and fun modes of cycling, but it never got around to it. Not in any serious, long term way.

Yes, there is People For Bikes and some "feel good' donating and lip service being shared by the bigger brands. However; what dominates their social feeds is racing. Their marquee offerings are racing bicycles. There has been somewhat of a shift with the gravel scene poking its dirty little head into the goings on, but even that is getting the "racing treatment" by the brands and marketing wonks. The "default mode" still reigns supreme.

So, this all ties back into what I was talking about late last week with the media stories talking about the "Pro roadie" issue with gravel racing. So, there you go. The reason for the quoted reaction above by the PLP folks. It is such an old, hackneyed way to look at cycling that it becomes tiring when those of us that see the potential of cycling see and here these views again, and again. 

There are good things happening out there though, and I think I speak for some of us when I say that it would be nice if those things got some run in the press, if they influenced new gear, and if the narrative was redirected toward fun and freedom from competition. I know that we in the shops have been touting the "let's have fun" line to sell cycling and not the racing side. yet the industry seems entrenched in the racing side of things. The big brands sponsor race teams, the media focuses on them, and the narrative we all get from both is "race-centric".

Let's not eliminate racing, but let's put it in its place. It isn't what most cyclists do, so why should most companies and media make it the basis of any stories told to all cyclists about cycling. I like some of what I see going on out there. But I also get tired of "the default mode".

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Touring Series: Beggars Again

 
A Guitar Ted Productions series
Thanks for joining me again on another adventure in "The Touring Series". This tour was dubbed the "Race Against Death Tour". This tour occurred in August of 1995. The three participants, Ryan, Troy, and your's truly, left from Cedar Falls, Iowa to try and get to Winter Park, Colorado in two weeks. Here I am reproducing the tale, mostly as it was posted on the blog in 2009. There are some new edits and additions. I also will add new remarks and memories where appropriate at the end of each post. 

 Once again, there were no cell phones, internet, social media platforms, or digital cameras in use by we tourers in 1995. I will post images where I can, but this tour wasn't well documented in images, so there probably will be very few sprinkled throughout. A modern image will be used only where it depicts things I want to clarify, like where we were in that part of the tour via a map image, or the like.
 

The "Touring Series" will appear every Sunday until it ends. Look for past entries by scrolling back to a previous Sunday's post, or type in "Touring Series" in the search box to find more.  



The "Race Against Death Tour" is looking for water...again!
___________________________________________________________________________

Now with about 20 miles to go to Rapid City, we had to find some water. Troy had motioned that we should stop at the next likely farm house. It wasn't very much further up the road when we came across a farm, hard against the side of a steep hill, at a point where the road turned straight west to Rapid City. The wind had let up somewhat, but was still a formidable force, and after our hard efforts, we were not at our strongest at this point. The wind also had contributed to a much higher than expected water uptake by all of us, so we were again in a desperate state of mind as we knocked on the screen door.

We rode 73 plus miles that day from Interior to Rapid City.
A shadowy figure of a woman answered, but did not come out. She seemed apprehensive and afraid of us. I suppose we did look strange, being cyclists, and there were a lot of those crazy motorcyclists about too. Strangers. Not welcomed....

She spoke to us from the relative safety she had behind the door. After explaining our situation, she was willing to help, but we couldn't come in, and we had to hand up our bottles through the door. It didn't really matter to us, because we were focused on the water only. However; we did manage to ask about the wind. She had a name for it......(I wish I would have remembered it). The woman said it came at odd times, sometimes lasting only a few hours, sometimes for a whole day. Well, we got a closer to a full days helping, and we were not thinking it was good luck either!

As we bade the woman farewell, we took the last run into Rapid City, which seemed as though it was going to take forever. I remember I kept looking at the map and thinking every mile was an eternity. Well, I suppose we were going pretty slowly, even though the wind became less and less until just before town, it was fairly calm. No matter, the damage had been done already, and we limped into a road side convenience/tourist trap late in the afternoon about ten miles from Rapid City.

Here we saw a couple of motorcyclists playing pool on the pool table as we rummaged about for good stuff to eat and for anything suitable to re-hydrate with. We wandered about the place, seeing things and just vegging out on anything mildly interesting. Not really wanting to move on, we mounted up and made the last stretch into Rapid City, where it was agreed upon that we would get a hotel room for the night. We were beat, and setting up camp was quite out of the question.

Modern day Google Earth image shows the race track at Rapid City (Green dot)
It wasn't long before signs of civilization were everywhere. This buoyed our spirits after a long, tough day. Rapid City not only brought a slight uptick in our spirits, but also in our tempo. Of course, there was a LOT more traffic which added to our excitement.  But we weren't put out at all. A "real" city, and something we hadn't seen since Sioux City, was a welcomed thing. I saw the race track on the edge of town and thought back to the "V.I.P" I spoke with back at Witten. "200 miles to the race track at Rapid City", I could clearly hear the words being spoken in my head by the man. I smiled as I remembered and the race track disappeared behind me. We forged into the heart of downtown and found a place called the Lazy U Motor Lodge. Looked good to us, so we checked in and got cleaned up.
______________________________________________________________________



Whew! What a day! The whole experience was so overwhelming, I think we were in a daze by the time we got to that little roadside store near Rapid City. Then it was a feeling of relief, the wind was dying, the city was nearing, the day was almost over. Excitement rose in each one of us. The strangeness of the day, my experience alone, (which I never spoke of to Troy or Ryan), the awfulness of it all...... We just wanted it to be gone. And for the time being, it was. Now it was time to cut loose.  

Next week: The Rapid City Scene!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Minus Ten Review 2009- 3

Early marketing handout from WTB about the "new" 29"er tire, the Nano
Ten years ago on the blog I was talking about how history was made by "The Tire". Since I've been on a bit of a history bent lately, this seems fitting to discuss for today's look back.

If you haven't heard about "The Tire", you could be forgiven. It was the component necessary to kick into motion the entire movement toward how we experience and know mountain biking today. WTB introduced "The Tire" in 1999, and while it didn't catch on right away, eventually it did, and a bunch of other folks followed in "The Tire's" tracks.

Of course, I am referring to the WTB 29" X 2.1" Nanoraptor tire. This is the tire which spurred Wes Williams of Willits to coin the term "29"er", and it was the tire that Gary Fisher did a lot of testing around and motivated him to want to add 29"ers to the Gary Fisher Mountainbike line up in 2001.

Anyway, ten years ago I came across a scan of a document which was handed out by WTB to dealers and OE manufacturers describing this new thing. It is kind of cool to have these sorts of historical touch points to reflect upon. If you'd like to read more about 29"er's beginnings, I wrote a series on that called "The Beginnings of the Modern 29"er: A History" where you can read all about it, as they say.

Back ten years ago the entire 29'er thing was still being argued about and being put down by many mountain bikers. Of course, things have changed and even those who said ten years ago that 26" DH bikes would never die now are probably riding 650B wheeled DH sleds or even 29"er DH bikes.

My how times have changed!

The Green Belt ten years ago this week. There would be a LOT more fat bike tracks now!
Also ten years ago this week there was a LOT of snow and very cold temperatures. Of course, it would be another two years before anyone around here had fat bikes. But let's be honest here......hardly anyone did anything outside back then. 

I mean, just look at the image. XC ski tracks, and..........nothing else! Think about all the folks walking, snow shoeing, and fat biking. This would be an unheard of scene now in the Green Belt if we have snow. But ten years ago I pretty much had the Green Belt to myself for XC skiing. I cannot recall seeing maybe more than a handful of people doing skiing, or anything else, out there in the winter when I XC skied.

Maybe I should call that time "BF"- before fatbikes! Ha!

But there was something about what happened in 2012-2013 when everyone and their brother discovered fat bikes and started getting outside and off trainers and what not. Suddenly the woods were tracked to death by every mode of Winter-specific travel types. Not to mention all the post-holed bumps given to us by walkers. Yes, suddenly everyone was on the trails.

Weird how that works.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday News And Views

The scene as recorded by Australia's "9News" cameras.
"E-Bike" Fire Causes Concerns:

Recently a Pinarello road bike, retrofitted with an electric motor, had its battery catch fire and cause a minor brush fire in Australia. You can read Carlton Reid's story here.

Pinarello was quick to point out that this bicycle was retrofitted with an aftermarket electric motor kit not approved by Pinarello. But this isn't an odd case. There are a lot of retrofit kits out there, and the potential for something along these lines to happen again, with possible devastating effects, is rather high.

The story from Australia brings up a couple of interesting points to ponder. I've noted several modded bicycles and scooters in the Mid-Western city I live in. I would assume that nationwide, that it is true that there are other examples of such vehicles running streets and trails. We have no idea if the installations were dodgy, if the products are safe, or if we might see more battery explosions causing fires. The fellow in Australia escaped with minor burns, but the next person may not be as lucky.

The brush fire also brings up another interesting point to ponder. That of what might happen, say if this scene were to play itself out in a western state, with major consequences. Wildfires start easily and have had devastating effects which are well known to us all. Even if an electric motor on a two wheeled vehicle is installed properly, it only takes a spark.

Former Pro roadie, Ted King gets a hug after winning the Dirty Kanza 200
More On Why Grassroots Gravel Isn't Dying: 

Okay, tacking on to what I posted yesterday, and which I mentioned there I would be talking about here, is the following. A bit of redundancy, I know, but I do not think everyone is getting the point here. ......

Another article speaking about the Pro roadie invasion of "gravel" events, (which is really just another story about the Dirty Kanza 200), hit the web this week written by Joe Lindsey for "Outside Magazine".

It's an interesting take, but again- it really is only referring to one event. There is a reason for this.

The Dirty Kanza 200, for all intents and purposes, is "the" gravel event. Outside of folks who know and love gravel, this event is really the only event anyone knows much about. Even the media focuses on this singular event as being the example of "gravel" as it refers to cycling. That's a bit skewed. No.........it is a LOT skewed. But it is what it is. The DK200 has positioned itself over the years to be "THE" gravel event in the eyes of the cycling world, and it has largely achieved this goal. It's no wonder then that publishers like "Outside" almost always reference the event in their coverage of the gravel scene. Sure, there are token references to other gravel events, but they are not the focus here.

Really, if you think about it, the story headline should be "No, Pros Won't Ruin The Dirty Kanza". There ya go, "Outside", fixed that for ya..... The point being is that the gravel scene is far more than just that event. Obvious, yes- but it is not portrayed this way in coverage to average cyclists and casual onlookers. This is really why grassroots racing won't be affected by the Pros. Because there are more gravel events than just the Dirty Kanza. A LOT more!

Canyon Strive with 29" wheels
 It's Remarkable Where 29"ers Have Gone:

When I started blogging in 2005 (GASP! It's been that long ago!) I was really passionate about the then new 29 inch wheeled mountain bikes. I still am, but, ya know.......they are pretty much just mountain bikes now, right? I mean, you have some 27.5" stuff, but most mountain bikes are 29"ers anymore. Nuthin' new there!

But back then we never thought long travel or DH bikes would ever be 29 inch wheeled bikes. Why would they be? That was ludicrous. No way.....

But it has all happened. Long travel, big wheels, full suspension, all in one bike? Crazy. The latest news came from Canyon Bikes who debuted the enduro-centric Strive 29"er yesterday. The team issue one has a 170mm travel front fork and 150mm travel rear suspension. What the what?!!! That's crazy talk right there.

But I am pleased to see that it seems just like "the normal thing to do" now. No one is really all that surprised by this. It is the trend now. Long travel 29"ers, a dream ten years ago, are reality everywhere in 2019. Crow is being eaten. Hope it tastes good.......

Head sells bicycles and related gear, but is best known for tennis and ski gear.
Head Sport Buys Up Bankrupt Bike Company:

Recently the bicycle industry was rocked by the news that ASE, parent company to brands Fuji Bikes, Breezer Bikes, Kestrel, and more such as retailers Performance Bike and Nashbar, was going bankrupt. Now news is spreading via "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" that Head Sport has offered to buy the ailing companies.

You may remember Head if you were of age in the 70's. They were part of AMF, remember that? The same AMF company that owned Harley-Davidson back then. Anyway, Head makes tennis rackets and ski gear, which has been their bread and butter since the 50's when the company was founded by Howard Head.

Head sells bicycles under the "Head" brand name in Europe, for the most part, and carry a full line of bicycles and HPB (Hybrid Powered Bicycles) units as well. In terms of the particular brands we know that were part of ASE, it is a good thing and it seems likely these marques will live on to see another day. What becomes of the retail side of the business seems to be up in the air at this point. My feeling is that if Head decides to keep a few outlets open, they won't be anything like the old Performance/Nashbar. But we will see.

That's all for this week! We have snow coming in, so I hope to get a fat bike ride in. Get out and ride!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Setting The Record Straight

Certain details- Important ones- are lost on "The Media". I won't let them forget.
Long time readers here know all about this gravel scene. You've been with me every step of the way if you've been reading here for ten plus years. You know the drill.

However; since gravel grinding has become "THE" thing these days, a lot more twisting of stories, false claims, and downright ignorant "knowledge filling" comments are being noted by myself and my long time friends. Sometimes I consider the source and let it go. I cannot enlighten everybody to what really went down. That said, every so often I notice how the chains get yanked by marketers, podcasters, and especially media wonks. I see total fabrications, lack of depth of research, and "spinning" on stories and when enough pile up, I have to let off some steam. Today is one of those days.

First, the "twisting" of story lines. I will address this again on "Friday News And Views", so I won't get too far on this today. However; when you read in many online and print media publications about "the gravel scene", and then read several lines about how "Pro/roadie" things are possibly going to "ruin gravel", what they really are talking about is the Dirty Kanza 200. How do I know this? Because it is pretty much one of a half a dozen gravel races annually that attract legit Pro riders and is the most well known of any of those races by a country mile. 

So, when you see "doom and gloom" stories about how "grassroots gravel" is possibly on life support, just remember that there are over 500 other events across the USA that are not the Dirty Kanza 200 and don't have any Pro/roadie issues. So, if you want to say that these types of twisting the story line articles are click bait, yeah........I'd go along with that. At best, it isn't truthful journalism. Not when it comes to gravel events. Basically, stories like these aren't even stories worth printing.

I'm not the only one who thinks this...... (From Twitter)
I've also noted that a few pundits out there are making statements that "such-and-such event" was a "gravel event" back in the day. They almost always are "pre-Trans Iowa" dated. Then there is no other explanation, context, or history given to educate the listener/reader. That is misleading people and isn't right. The implication being that somehow the referenced event had something to do with what is happening today within the gravel scene.

First off, I'd point these foolish individuals to the following historical reference- "The State of the Gravel Scene" Secondly, anytime you read or hear folks refer to any one event, or even three, or four, as being "gravel events" back in the day that, by implication, were the precursors to today's scene, your "B.S. Meter" should be pegged. They weren't influential to today's scene. They just were events. Plain and simple. They did not spur the modern (within the last 15 years) grassroots movement everyone recognizes today as "gravel grinding".

Finally, you will hear and read about the mythical "Godfather of Gravel". I've heard at least four or five different people being referred to in this manner recently. Okay, this is simple. The "Godfather of Gravel" is about as real as Santa Claus. Period.

I get it. Everyone wants a source. A beginning. Some way to codify and box up things and tie that all up with a neat little bow. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of individuals who were responsible for what you and I know today as "gravel". The DK200, Barry-Roubaix, the Almanzo, Gravel Worlds, the former Trans Iowa, and many others all have individuals and groups of people, male and female, that forged what you know as "gravel" today. There were people involved in the scene before there was a "scene" to be in. I try to be careful to give credit where credit is due. There is no "singular" individual responsible for this scene. There just isn't and any attempt at saying that there was is just people being goofy.

 As with most things in life, any subject is generally more complex than many make it out to be, and always requires thought and research to understand it correctly. Ultimately you can choose to consume the "fast food" stories parading as knowledge or you can dig deeper and find out what is truth and what is fiction. I am not in charge of that. That is true. But I'm not going away either.........

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

C.O.G. 100 Update

Jersey pre-order has closed.
Okay, it's time to talk about the C.O.G. 100 some more. The latest update is that we have 9 spots left to go before the event field limit is reached. Registration is open until March 22nd and we still have a few spots left that we are designating for women entrants. So, if you are considering an event for late March, here ya go.

It is single speed only though, just so ya know. It isn't for everybody, and that is perfectly alright. No event I've ever done was "for everybody". Really, no single event on gravel is. Anyway......

On the jerseys, we got 14 commitments to purchase these. So, that pre-order window closed Monday, and the order will be put in after about a week or so to allow for everyone to get their funds in. No funds-no jersey, so if you dilly-dally no one will get these. An e-mail was sent out yesterday regarding this to those interested parties. If you are one of those folks and didn't receive the e-mail, let me know.

Next on the agenda is getting the cues drafted. Then when that is done those will be checked next month in the field on another course recon. If everything checks out we will go to print. Along with that I will begin doing the race numbers and finalize those in March.

Finally, we have a couple of other things that are not 100%, or even 50% nailed down just yet. I cannot say a lot about those two things other than one has to do with an idea for awards to places 1-4 and the other has to do with a joint to hang out at post-event.

Stay tuned on those and more coming soon. The event will be just around the corner, so I hope that y'all are sharpening up your single speed devices and getting into shape for this deal. It's going to be a fun time and I cannot wait to see everyone down in Grinnell on the weekend of March 29-30.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Winter Views: The Season Finally Caught Us

Looks like a January now.
There was a big snow storm over the weekend across the mid-section of the country. We almost missed it entirely. We were on the Northern edge of things, so it was a tranquil, soft snow that fell most of the day on Saturday. The flakes were so tiny that despite the precipitation lasting all day, we maybe got three inches. Maybe.

The snow fell so gently, and with little wind, that it coated trees and structures like white paint. Everything looked clean and glistened in the lights at night. We got just enough snow that it covered the brown stuff we've been looking at most of the time since late October of last year. So, at least it was pretty if not very deep!

I headed out to the Green Belt for a spin on the Titanium Mukluk. I didn't expect that the trails would be very difficult. Especially since there had been a sizeable amount of fat bikes out there the day before me. And as expected, I found a nice, wide swath of beaten in snow. In some places the traffic had iced over the trail. Not real bad, just noticeable in spots.

It was a grey day, and the Sunny days we have been having for weeks seem to be gone for a while now. This is much more Winter-like, and the temperatures are certainly reflecting it as well. Although it was in the upper 20's while I was out, the air felt chilly due to all the moisture in it. That's okay though as it could easily be well below zero at this point of the year. In fact, I believe the second week of January is traditionally the coldest week of the year here. that probably will not be the case this year.

Black Hawk Creek remains unfrozen and has plenty of flood related flotsam and jetsam sitting in it.
My old trail, Marky-Mark, is in pretty good shape. The reroute seems to have worked, (not shown here), so I was pleased with that.
I decided to run over to my old trail that I put in back circa 1997/98, and see how things were, especially after my re-route. I did that the last time I was out there to get around a big knot of downed limbs and tangled vines. Yes. Vines. We get these, I don't know what variety they are, but they are big, woody, long, sinuous vines that grow up around trees here. They can be 30-50ft long and 3-4" in diameter. They are tough as nails too. You cannot break them. So, when they come down with branches that break off, or when trees snag one and pull it down as they get blown over, it is best to just route around them, under them, or bring a sharp saw and a LOT of patience. I chose the "go around" option and it seems to have been understood and accepted by riders, judging by the tracks I saw.

Frost on the trees across the lake.
 You know, I was just thinking about this, but that trail has been in for 20 years now. That's pretty crazy to think about. I remember working on it nights after I would work all day at the car repair place I worked at then. As if working 10 hours a day on cars wasn't enough! Ha!

I ended up taking a bit of a shortcut home which led across a frozen bit of backwater. That is one of the bonus features of Winter woods riding. You can cross small streams and run-offs without worry. Places that you cannot cross any other time of the year are accessable in Winter. It is pretty fun when that works out.

At any rate, it was a good day out and I got two hours of riding in that I wouldn't have otherwise. The gravel roads are maybe too icy to ride, I don't know. I have to go check that out, but I have a feeling this will be the case. So, fat bikes in the woods it is for now.