Thursday, June 20, 2024

Review: Ortlieb Fuel-Pack & Toptube-Bag

 Note: Ortleib sent over their Fuel-Pack and Toptube-Bag for test and review at no charge to Guitar Ted Productions. I am not being paid, nor bribed, for this review and I will always strive to give you my honest thoughts and opinions throughout. 

There are a lot of bag makers out there these days ranging from small, home-based makers all the way through to big factory-made products sold with other company's branding. What bag is best? Where do you go to find the best features and construction for a good value on the dollar spent? 

Maybe I am like you and I see all these bags and get kind of paralyzed by all the ways to go. A sort of Tyranny of Choice, as it were. I guess that is why I was a bit surprised that this press release I received recently spurred my attention and interest in Ortlieb's bags for touring and bikepacking. Of course, the Ortlieb brand is synonymous with high-quality, dependable touring gear. And as I wasn't really interested in panniers or the like, I wasn't expecting to find anything there that I would want to review, but these two top tube mounted bags I have in hand now did pique my interest. 

Ironically the press release wasn't about any specific Ortlieb product. It was a message pointing out the company's efforts in sustainability. Now, generally this can be a somewhat confusing subject and often claims are made that are not verified or even understandable. But Ortlieb owns their own manufacturing plants, and since that is the case, they can verify the carbon footprint of every one of their bags. So, if you go to any Ortlieb bag page on the Ortlieb website, you can see a little green box, (natch) down in the right hand lower corner and it tells you how far you'd have to cycle to offset the carbon footprint for that particular product. 

Now if you know Ortlieb, you know that their products are very durable, well designed, and even repairable, so from that standpoint you have a leg up on many company's bags that aren't made as well, repairable, or both. Another hallmark of Ortleib products is their waterproofness, and these two bags I have should be excellent in that regard. So, enough said about all the sustainability and whatnot. What do I have here anyway?

What It Is: These are two of Ortlieb's top-tube mounted bags from their Bikepacking collection. the first bag here will be the Fuel-Pack. This is a new bag in Ortlieb's Bike-packing range. This bag has a 1L capacity, a magnetic closure "flap" style lid, and attaches via either a top tube boss set, (if your bike is so equipped) or via a two-strap perforated rubber system. If your bike has the two-bolt bosses on the top tube, you can use the rubber straps and included plates to mount a water bottle to a frame member, or use the plates to offset the placement of the Fuel-Pack on a set of top tube bosses if necessary. 

The Fuel-Pack has PU-coated Nylon fabric construction with an outer mesh pocket. There is also an integrated cable port for the recharging of devices. 

The Fuel-Pack weighs in at 110gm for the bag alone and the hardware weighs in at 43gm (rubber straps are included in that) Dimensions of the bag are 8.3"L x 4.7"H x 3.3"W. The Fuel-Pack is available via Ortlieb's website for $75.00. 

The Toptube-Bag is similarly featured when it comes to pockets and the magnetic closure, but it is larger.  9.1"L x 4.7"H x 3.3"W. The weight of the Toptube-Bag with the clip-on rail attached is 194 grams while the hardware weighs in at 53 grams . The Toptube-Bag is $95.00USD.

The Toptube-Bag has a unique rail attachment which allows the Toptube-Bag to be clipped off the bike. More on that in a bit.

The Ortlieb Fuel-Pack

First Impressions: When talking with the representative for Ortlieb I was a bit torn between this Fuel-Pack and the following Top-Tube Bag for a choice. I was wondering if 1 liter was too small but 1.5L sounded huge. Fortunately, for you and I, Ortlieb was okay with sending both bags out for this review. This way we can compare and contrast easily, and hopefully you can be better informed as to which one is right for you. 

The two pockets that receive the magnets can clearly be seen here.

I do know that both are impeccably made and the quality of construction looks top-notch. There are two very strong, I assume neodymium, magnets inserted into the flap-style lids of both bags, which protrude from the lid. But unlike many other magnetic closures I have seen on bags, these have matching pockets to land in which are molded/held in place by the bag fabric. When the magnets land in these plastic pockets the resulting 'snap' heard is satisfyingly loud enough that I think you won't wonder if the bag is closed or not while riding. I have had instances with other magnetic closures where I thought the bag was closed but the wind had actually lifted the top up and everything inside was in danger of being lost. I don't see this as an issue with either of these two bags, but we will see. 

 Ortlieb says there is an "external mesh pocket" here on the Fuel-Pack, but it isn't really external. It is essentially between the flap on its "hinged side" and the reinforced inner space. There is also another inner pocket inside. Interestingly, Ortlieb cautions against putting a bank card in this bag unless it is in that "outer" mesh pocket, furthest away from the magnets. This is due to the detrimental effects that a magnet can have on a chip card or a magnetic strip card. The interior is a plush, fleeced type of fabric that should keep noise to a minimum but could prove to be an issue with gooey gel packets and melted chocolate covered energy bars. 

The Ortlieb Top-Tube Bag

The Top-Tube Bag is similar in design, but obviously larger. It also has a unique rail attachment that allows you to quick-release this bag from your bike. You don't have to use this feature, but it could be a handy way to turn your Top-Tube bag into a convenient carry-in bag for safe-keeping of valuables or just so you don't buy so much stuff that it won't fit in the bag!

A look at the interior of the Toptube-Bag

 I decided to go with the Fuel-Pack on my Honeman Flyer while the Noble GX5 is getting the Toptube-Bag. The Honeman Flyer is a steel framed bike with relatively small diameter tubing compared to most bikes seen today for gravel. Think "classic road bike" steel tubes and this bike is closer to that sort of tube diameter than not. Meanwhile the Noble has standard, for today, larger cross-section carbon fiber frame design. This is important to remember here as it pertains to the fit of these Ortlieb bags. 

Overall, the set up was easy using the included instructions. It's kind of "Ikea-like", but there are clear images and instructions to follow, so give it some patience and I think most folks can do this assembly with no problem. That said, a traditional hook and loop strapped-on top tube bag is pretty easy to mount. Much easier than these bags were to mount, so as far as installation goes, the Ortlieb's score low on the scale compared to the competition.

The Ortlieb Fuel-Pack
Note how the straps are forced into a very sharp angle over the buckle on this narrow steel tubing.

Fuel-Pack: I was a bit disappointed in the results I saw with the combination of the steel frame and the Fuel-Pack. The straps were forced into a sharper bend onto the hook which secures the bag to the bike because of the narrow steel tubing. This, in turn, allowed the strap to pop off easily if you touched the straps. So, a slight brush from a leg, let's say, while standing and pedaling could cause this. That was unacceptable. 

Furthermore; due to the narrow stance of the plastic standoffs for the attachment of the bag, it was most difficult to find the hook to attach the silicone rubber strap. I managed to do it, but a wider stance in regard to the mounts would have alleviated this frustration to a great degree. 

I think what I need to do next is to mount this bag to one of my bikes that has a wider cross-section top tube to see how it will go there. The way the Toptube-Bag mounted to the Noble bike gives me hope in that regard. But as for my steel framed gravel bikes? I am afraid this Fuel-Pack is no good as a match for them. 

The Ortlieb Toptube-Bag

Toptube Bag: This was a complete 180° experience. The removable Toptube-Bag mount is separate from the bag, so strapping it on was super-easy. Plus the bag is far more stable on a wider top tubed bike as well as being a good foundation for the base plate. This allows super-easy removal and replacement of the bag using the release on the base plate. 

The Toptube-Bag, while dimensionally only slightly bigger according to Ortlieb's specs, is far larger in reality than the Fuel-Pack. The Fuel-Pack tapers to the rear of the bike, is slimmer in the rear, and it also slopes to the rear in profile. The Toptube-Bag, in contrast, is much more a "box" and has copious amounts of room inside the bag. 

So Far... I am reserving any judgement on the Fuel-Pack until I try it on a different bike. Meanwhile, I am very impressed with the Toptube-Bag with its removable feature. However; there is also the function of its flap-style, magnetic closure top that is superior to the Fuel-Pack's, despite the similarities. The Fuel-Pack's lid has a weird fold in the front which sometimes does not allow the lid to fully close. A slight tap on the lid usually does the trick, but still.... 

Stay tuned for an update coming soon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Anatomy Of A Gravel Ultra

Since I got started in the gravel riding scene I've been fascinated by what motivates the riders. Ever since the very first Trans Iowa in 2005, I have been curious about seeing what it takes to participate in these events, not to mention the finishing of such events. 

I was anticipating the experience of just being around the ultra-distance legends of the day back in 2005. Mike Curiak, Steve "Doom" Fassibinder, Ira Ryan, the LaLonde brothers in 2006, and several other stalwarts of the 24hr racing scene who came and allowed me to mingle amongst them. I wanted to learn from them, but more than anything else, I just wanted to observe how they went about their business. 

I got to soak in that for fourteen years of Trans Iowas, and as a participant in other events, like Odin's Revenge, Gravel Worlds, and the Dirty Kanza 200. I came to an understanding of the "what it takes" to do these events, and I know a bit about what these events do to a person. But explaining that, well, that's a tall order. 

But recently a man who goes by the name of Bill Jeffery documented his ride at the 2024 Unbound XL, a 350 mile gravel event that happens the same weekend as the Unbound 200. I thought the 37 minute documentary was eye-opening with some very compelling content. 

I think Mr. Jeffrey does a really great job here because he was motivated to share his experience in a very transparent way. He didn't have to put this out into the World. Secondly, this isn't some sponsored content. It isn't done from an influencer's viewpoint to drive clicks to any money-making for him. I think that all is important here because it speaks to an authenticity that is pretty solid. 

Finally, if you ever were curious, like I have been for years, about how a person gets up for one of these events, how that effort unfolds over the course of more than one day, and what can happen to your mind and body while doing an ultra-distance gravel event, then check this documentary out. There is a TON of course views as well, so if you've never experienced the Flint Hills of Kansas, this documentary will bring you all the good stuff to see. 

Anyway, I was impressed by the work of Mr. Jefferey and I recommend this as a good way to see into the workings of one ultra-endurance racer. And maybe you might get what this whole "Spirit of Gravel" thing is really about as well. See the documentary HERE.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Victory Ride Report: Experience 'Murca

Image by Rob Evans
One thing about rural Iowa that might be not so unique, but maybe not very well realized, is that it is a place where political leanings are typically far right of center. Funny thing is, if you can get past the veneer of that, people are genuinely very kind and giving. 

It's easy to lean on popular characterizations of people and judge the book by its cover. That's the cool thing about gravel riding. You might be rubbing shoulders with a conservatively leaning rider, and you may be a liberal in your views, but when we ride together, does any of that really matter? Generally speaking, it has been my experience that no- it does not matter. What does matter is treating each other with kindness and empathy. When we do that, and it seems to happen more naturally and commonly with gravel rides and people, it is a beautiful thing. 

I'll circle around back to this later....

We rode through the middle of Vinton's Farmer's Market!

Stopping to gather up the tribe.

While we were in Vinton the wind finally came up as advertised out of the Southwest. Good thing we were heading mostly Northward now! I was riding alongside Warren for much of this stretch and we had a nice chat. It also started spitting rain about this time. 

The skies were looking a tad bit less friendly for a bit there.

This section of the ride was less hilly, twisty, and was out in the open more. Much more like what I am used to than what we rode in the morning. I enjoyed rolling some miles with Warren and the rain drops, while intermittent, never materialized into an outright rain. 

The weather was actually about as good as we could have hoped for, and the wind was a bonus for the time being. I was feeling fine and rolling along at a steady pace. My gear (40T X 20T) was a bit lower than the others had, (Yes, there were more single speeders), and so my speed in the flats was not as high at my lazy cadence as theirs was. 

Then there was THIS hill!

Rolling into Brandon

There was one last brutal hill. Rob said he registered 17.5% for a grade on that one. All I know is that more than a few of us walked it. No shame when you are riding a single speed. Walking should be a part of your riding if the hills are steep and you have a single speed. 

Because you just have to, right?

The story

Of course, we all had fun with "Iowa's Largest Frying Pan" and we took several pictures there. Once that was done, I asked about refilling a water bottle for the last 10 - 12 miles of the route. I was told we should go to the CVNT trailhead in Brandon where there was a restroom. However; if that did not pan out, there was a bar in Brandon we could check out. 

Warren said just then that if all I needed was some water, he had that and to spare. So we filled my water bottle and when we were done I turned around and no one was there. I had no idea which way they may have gone either. 

It isn't a "real bar" in Iowa unless it has one of these in it.
'Murca: Part 2

Well, we wandered around a bit but we found the group and so that feeling of dread and of being left behind was but a fleeting memory. The shelter at the trailhead proved fruitless so we went to the bar. Several were quite ready for a libation. So we marched in.

Remember what I said at the top about how we judge each other too quickly based upon stuff that doesn't matter? Well, when we came in we saw two - what I assumed to be locals - sitting at a booth chatting up the female bartender. We definitely got the stink-eye. These two didn't stick around long after we came in. Well, we mostly, I think, were on our best behavior and were pleasant and spent money there. So, the bartender was cool with us. And in the end, we all ended up getting along just fine, wishing each other a good day when we left. 

Pounding out the final miles on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail

A final "Barns For Jason".

As we were getting ready to leave, it was apparent that we were going to be facing a strong headwind if we rode the planned route. It was suggested that we could take the CVNT instead, which was more direct and tree-shrouded for most of the run back to Brandon. There was a bit of debate and no one wanted to make a call, but it was apparent that the sentiment for going straight back on the CVNT was strong. So, I made the call. Everyone sighed a sigh of relief. Besides, it was almost raining at this point. 

The trail was being worked on. The construction was ongoing, but as it was a weekend, no work was being done. The trail surface varied from smooth, compressed dirt to asphalt freshly laid and was peppered with various concrete water crossings, or mini-bridges. These were often marked by their meeting with the asphalt by a 'step-up' or 'step-down' of an inch or more since the last layer of asphalt hadn't been laid yet. Every road crossing had two "Road Closed" signs to navigate around. There was caution tape across the trail in many spots as well. So in other words, there were plenty of obstacles in the way.

We saw a lot of cyclists for this more remote portion of the CVNT. I was impressed by this. Then we came upon a transition from a gravel road crossing, of which there were many, to the trail again and having to negotiate a "Road Closed" sign which was barring entrance to the trail. I dropped my wheels down into the softer dirt alongside some freshly paved asphalt, had my front wheel wash out to the left, and subsequently was dumped off my bicycle to the right, smashing my knee into the paved surface, and then rolling across to a stop. 

I had few strawberries on my knee but no other damage to body or bicycle. With a little assistance from the others, I was up and running again.

Making the post-event t-shirts in the parking lot.

A finished product

When we returned Warren got out his t-shirt making supplies and everyone that brought out a t-shirt to be spray painted got a t-shirt done up right there in the parking lot! By the way, I didn't have time to get myself a proper t-shirt for this black logo, so Warren sent the template home with me. 

Image by Rob Evans

We then walked over to the local coffee shop, which honestly rivals anything I've seen in any big town, and sat in the beautiful outdoor patio area. We chatted for a bit, and then around 4:00pm we said our good-byes and departed from each other back to our homes again. 

N.Y. Roll quipped as he dropped me off back in Waterloo, "I think that was a success", and he isn't wrong. It was great. I received many compliments on the area, the ride, and how the day went. We had requests to do that again. So, if you have that sort of feedback, yeah, I'd say we did good. We? Naw.... Not me! I just showed up and rode this. Warren Weibe and N.Y. Roll are the guys to thank here. 

Will we ever do this again? We will do something. We will hold a ride like this but maybe somewhere else, or maybe......I don't know. We did the "Hall of Fame Ride" in 2022. We did the "Victory Ridethis
year. I can't make any promises, but if something happens, I hope that it is like this ride, and I'll tell you about it here first. 

Stay tuned..

Monday, June 17, 2024

Victory Ride Report: A Lot To Be Thankful For

Image by Rob Evans
 The Victory Ride is over and this post will be part one of two that covers what happened Saturday. First, I wanted to thank everyone that came out for this ride. It meant a lot to me to have the group show up that did and I appreciated all the kind words about the event and the course that I heard or read later. 

Now, as we went into this ride I had no idea why Warren, who came up with the idea for the event, wanted it to be called what it was called. I promised that I would find out, and here is what Warren told me. He also shared what he wanted the ride to accomplish with this event.

Warren said that he feels that anytime he can get out for a ride that it represents a "victory" for him and he felt that the celebration of riding should be seen as such for us all. Of course, Warren isn't wrong here and I agree that we all should consider every ride - long or short - a victory and a blessing. 

Warren also wanted this event to not be a burden on me, or stress me out in any way. He had wanted to make it simple as could be and was willing to just come up and ride with me on one of my regular routes, if that was what I wanted. But considering that, I felt like there may be some folks that, if word got out that one person or two, (Warren was originally coming up with his nephew) got to ride with me, then some might wonder why the event wasn't opened up to them. So, to avoid any possible hurt feelings, I announced the ride on this blog. 

Finally, Warren wished that this ride would be a kind of "thank you" to me for all the things I have done for others in putting on rides throughout the years. He asked me a couple of times during the ride if my "cup was filled up" with the thanks and gratitude expressed from the riders and from just seeing who showed up. And I have to say, yes. Yes I was feeling that cup filled up. 

Getting ready to roll out.

N.Y. Roll stopped by my house at a little before 8:00am and we loaded up my Honeman Flyer onto his rack and settled in for the short trip to Urbana, Iowa to where the City Hall is at to meet up with whomever was showing up. I knew of a few folks that said they were coming from previous communications. 

Heading out on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail Southward.
First gravel

I was contacted by Rob Evans of Fairbury, Nebraska first. He and Jackie, plus another friend, Dave, would be coming over. Later on Rob mentioned an Omaha area transplant to Waterloo named Justin would be joining us as well. Of course, Warren from Lawrence, Kansas was coming up. Then N.Y. Roll and I from here, plus my old riding friend, Tony, who said he was to join us as well. Later on, a blog reader here named Nathanael, from Vinton, would be joining us for a part of the route. So, that was nine. Were there any 'surprise riders'? 

Well, not really. Kat, a mainly road and mtb riding local, had inquired about the ride via N.Y. Roll, and she did show up. The final rider was Robert, who used to join me on the 3GR group rides back in the day, had done Trans Iowa, and was one of my volunteers for that event. So, we started with a nice group of eleven riders. 

Ridgeline road views are always great in Iowa.

The scenery was great despite the pockmarked pavement here.

This was kind of a sandwich day between a Friday that was utterly perfect weather-wise and a Sunday which was soupy with humidity, rainy, and HOT. Previous forecasts for Saturday had periodic thundershowers, high winds, and temperate weather outside of that. What we got was overcast skies, decent temperatures, okay humidity, and a couple of times we were spit on with rain drops, but it never really rained. The morning wasn't even windy, but the afternoon? Different story. I'll get to that in Part 2. 

Oh yeah! It's Barns For Jason!

Our route took us over the Cedar River a few times.

I'm not really certain what this field is filled with. Box-like structures for...?

Now, I have to say that there were a couple of route-related things that bugged me a bit during the ride. One: Pavement.... I know that in the area we were riding in that pavement is hard to avoid. Fortunately we had some things to look at on a lot of the paved sections, but a few were really busy with traffic and that wasn't fun. (The run into Vinton stands out for me here.) 

The other thing was that N.Y. Roll had a different route loaded into his GPS than I, and a few others had. He was the 'ride leader' for the first half of this ride, then after lunch it was more every man for himself. Ha! At any rate, at one point early on, he went Left where our GPS units said to go straight. I know that for the majority of the first half of the route I had no idea where I was at times. That was 'fun', but I'm not sure what 'type' of fun it was! I might be wrong and it could have been just my computer that was glitched because the route file I got out of the Wahoo looked perfectly normal afterward. You know me and computers! We get along so well together. Ha!

Ooo! Rollercoaster!

You got it! Barns For Jason again.

There was a heinous, steep climb up to a rural cemetery we stopped at for a bit. The tree frogs in this section were LOUD! Then we headed onward to a killer 'roller coaster' section that ended up leading to another crazy steep climb. I have to say that there are some real gems of gravel hidden along the Cedar River between Center Point and Vinton. 

A long downhill section started up ahead here.

A woodshed covered in license plates.

I was super thankful that the route went in the direction we were going because there was a downhill section leading to the Cedar River that had to be way over a mile in length. It had twisty-turny roads and it was pretty steep in parts of this section. Not only that, but we were meeting cars and trucks which were kicking up dust and making it hard to see at times. I was glad my brakes worked as they were severely tested several times during this ride. 

This road ran hard along the Cedar River for a bit.

This row of vintage tractors was sitting alongside the road at the top of a long climb.

Up.....down....up again. The road turned this way and that. This was nothing like riding around Waterloo and Cedar Falls, that is for sure! We finally were getting close to Vinton and our run in to town where we had planned to stop at a Casey's convenience store. 

So far, this ride had been pretty spectacular. We stopped often, but we were making good time and got to Vinton in a little over two hours. Not bad for over 25 miles, (due to the route discrepancy, we rode extra miles than had been originally planned). 

This massive cement railway bridge is on a gravel road coming from the South to Vinton.

It seemed like we rode five miles through Vinton alone!

The convenience store hangout was fun and it provided a chance for the eleven riders to get to know each other a little better. I think we stayed there close to an hour, but we got going eventually and were back on the road by Noon. 

And that's just the first half of the ride! Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Separating Wheat From Chaff: A Look At Specialized's New Crux DSW

Image courtesy of Specialized Bicycles
 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Marketing is often blamed for a lot of 'cloak and dagger' theories proffered up by internet pundits and keyboard warriors. Sometimes there is something to these mostly crackpot theories. Sometimes there is nothing worth mentioning. 

While I could be accused of being one of those aforementioned internet "opinionaters of doom and destruction", I have actually been a part of a successful bike design and I have ridden a lot of takes on what works well on unpaved surfaces in regards to 700c based bicycles. So, it isn't as though I don't have any expertise. That all said, this is still just my opinion on this Crux DSW. Okay? With that all said, here we go...

This is Specialized's take on a bicycle that could do several things. It could be a road bike, it could be a gravel bike, and they claim it can do cyclo cross too. It is made with hydro-formed aluminum sections welded together in a special process they call 'DSW' , Specialized claims this process can allow for the lightest alloy frame ever made for this type of bicycle and that it has similar attributes and ride qualities as carbon fiber. Note that Giant Bicycles has claimed that their hydro-forming could also rival what carbon does and have been saying so for several years now. It isn't just a 'Specialized thing'. 

My Tamland Two in 2014.
While Specialized rightly portrays this bike as a great bicycle to do a lot of things with, their marketing is peppered with the word "gravel", so that is probably the main target audience for the Crux DSW. If that assumption is correct, this is how I am going to judge the bike. Using Specialized's own numbers and claims, I will compare this "cutting edge aluminum bike" to a ten year old design I had an influence on, the Raleigh Tamland Two. 

Since my bike is a 58cm, we will compare this to the 58cm Crux DSW. Keep in mind that the geometry changes slightly in smaller sizes and with the largest sized Crux DSW. 

Specialized makes a big deal about tire clearances. They said that the Crux DSW has 700 X 47mm tire clearance. They also claim that the bike will handle a 650B X 2.1" tire. Compare this to the ten year old Raleigh. I can barely squeeze a 700c X 2.0" tire in that bike, but a 47mm tire is no big deal. The Raleigh handles the 650B X 47mm "Road Plus" WTB tires handily, but I doubt a 2.1"er is going in there. That said, while Specialized can hang their hat on the two-way tire use, 650B is quickly on its way to extinction as a general use gravel wheel size. It won't die off completely because smaller sized people will make good use of that wheel diameter, but 650B in my size is dead. 

Now, let's talk about general geometry. The big numbers for me back ten, twelve years ago, were head angle, bottom bracket drop, and fork offset. Specialized's Crux DSW in a 58cm has a 72.25° head tube angle, a 72mm bottom bracket drop, and a fork offset of 50mm. The Raleigh Tamland Two has a head tube angle of 71.5°, a bottom bracket drop of 72.5mm, and a fork offset of 50mm. 

Chain stay length runs 425mm for the Crux DSW and on my Tamland Two it is 430mm. The seat tube angle is 73.5° on the Crux DSW and it is 72° on the Tamland Two.

The Tamland Two as it sits today.

Interestingly, as I have the Tamland Two set up now, the seat tube angle is 71° and the head tube angle is just a tad under 70°. Of course, I changed out the fork years ago for this Fyxation carbon fork, and that switched things up a bit. 

My Take: Again - Specialized markets this mainly as a "gravel" category bike. So, taking them on their word, I'd say this bike is solidly in the "first generation gravel" category. There really isn't anything here that tells me that Specialized went out of their way to push the gravel bike into new territory, or "innovate" anything here other than maybe that hydro-formed aluminum frame. But - I mean - take a look at what Giant has been doing for years in this area. What is so "new" about this Crux frame, really? 

Spec: My Tamland Two came with a full Ultegra drive train and Tektro Spyre mechanical disc brakes. I believe retail was something like sub - 25 hundred bucks. Maybe $2,400.00? The Crux DSW is $2,600.00 and comes with SRAM Apex 12 speed. The cassette bottoms out at a 44T cog while being driven by a 40T chain wheel. The Tamland had a 50T/36T double with an 11 - 34T cassette. 

Currently I run 46T/36T crank with an 11 - 36T cassette. So, the gearing is not as deep on the Tamland, but it could be, easily, if I went with a 34T/33T inner ring. Basically the same set up I have on the Standard Rando v2. But that's another entire discussion....

The point is that for today's money, the Tamland Two would have cost you $3,100.00. So, the kit on the Crux DSW doesn't look quite so pedestrian. 

My Take, Part 2: So, the Specialized Crux does present a good value. Especially when you consider that the frame is really pretty cool and that you get a decent kit bolted to that. The bike only fails when it comes to Specialized's "most capable gravel bike" marketing hooha. It's obvious that when you look at the details that this bike is "okay", but it is in no way "most capable" when it comes to gravel bikes. I mean, even the Tamland Two had rack and fender mounts, a chain peg, and later Tamland models had a third bottle mount under the downtube. The Crux DSW? I don't see mention of any of that, but I did spy a third bottle mount in the photos of the bike. Finally, the bike was designed with a sub-600mm stack height in my size. That's probably a little short for riders in the category that this bike is marketed to who, generally speaking, are going to want a bit more upright position. There will be a lot of riser stems sold aftermarket for Crux DSW's, in my opinion. 

Conclusions: So when you see a mass intro via several cycling online sites, it usually means that you are going to get some pretty glowing reviews, because these folks have relationships to nurture between the marketing departments and journos. That's just human nature. Me? I don't make my money doing this, and I don't necessarily have anyone to please either, so this is my take on things. Specialized isn't the only company I could have picked on either, but they are the latest to market with a gravel bike that has some pretty debatable claims.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Zero To Sixty

 In celebration of the twentieth year of this blog, I have a few tales to tell. This post is one of them. This series will occur off and on throughout this anniversary year, I hope to illuminate some behind-the-scenes stories and highlights from the blog during this time. Enjoy!

The original header for this blog

 Zero To Sixty:

As I ponder where I've been in life over the past twenty years I have to point to this blog as being a big influence on the rudder of my ship. Where I went over these last two decades was heavily influenced by who read the blog and what that helped me to accomplish in life. 

Becoming a part of this group started 20 years ago.

The biggest change in my life, overall, stemming from this blog writing, was two-fold and both things started at the same time. One was obviously gravel related and the other was 29"er wheels for mountain biking. 

In 2024, both of these concepts for cycling are regarded as "normal". Nothing could have been further from the truth twenty years ago. 

Take twentynine inch wheels for mountain biking. They were weird, regarded as a lot less capable than the then entrenched 26 inch wheels, and at best, these wheels were a fad. 

However; a grassroots on-line community believed in the wheels, this spurring on custom bicycle builders, and that garnered enough sales attention to perk up the ears of some marketing folks. Then in 2005 The Rig changed everything. 

Gary Fisher - the man and the bicycle company, had introduced 29"ers as a bike shop available bike in their brand line up as early as 2001. However; it wasn't going well, to say the least, and Trek, the parent company of Gary Fisher Bicycles, was getting impatient. Talk was bubbling up that Trek was going to axe the 29"er line and move on. But then the hybrid "Dual Sport" bikes gave 29"ers some life support with brisk sales. Following that Gary Fisher made a masterstroke decision to unleash a single speed 29"er with a "legitimate fork" in the Rock Shox Reba. They sold like hotcakes and this spurred on the 29"er revolution. (Along with many other folks. I generalize here, of course!)

But going into this blog while that was all going on, and ballyhooing 29"ers like I was, didn't make sense from a "popularity" standpoint. Most folks thought I was a nutcase, ill-informed, and they even labeled me as a "religious zealot" for the big wheels. But I persisted onward and, of course, we all know where 26 inch wheels are now. That said, who'd have thunk it in 2005? Even I am amazed at where we are at today with 29"ers. 

(L-R) Mike Curiak, Dave Kerkove, GT with his back to the camera, T.I.V1

The other thing I became noted for, "Gravel", also started off back in 2005 with my involvement with Trans Iowa. 

Gravel racing? What?!! No one had ever heard about such a thing back in 2005. Well, some folks think that they had heard about it. Some had actually done events on gravel. 

There was the Flint Hills Death Ride, the Colesburg 40, Iron Cross, and other "monster-cross" events. There was a gravel series on MTB's in the late 1980's and early 1990's up in the Decorah area. These were mostly associated with mountain biking, and in the case of monster-cross, with cyclo-cross racing, because there was no other context for this. 

Somehow Trans Iowa, even though Jeff Kerkove, my co-founder of Trans Iowa, tried to frame this as a mountain bike event, wasn't seen in that light. Maybe it was the battle online previous to the first Trans Iowa regarding folks wanting to use any bicycle they wished. (Originally we were going to limit this to MTB's), maybe it was all that gravel. Three hundred-plus miles of it. Maybe it was the point-to-point nature of the first Trans Iowa. 

Whatever "it" was, the difference between what came before Trans Iowa and Trans Iowa, and what came afterward, was the perception of the event. Amongst those who knew about Trans Iowa and other  gravel events which came afterward, it was more about "something else" and not MTB. This became even more entrenched in 2006 at the second Trans Iowa. The whole "MTB" thing wasn't a thing anymore, unlike what had occurred previously, which were events primarily perceived of as MTB events by their contemporaries, but held on gravel or unpaved roads. As an example, there was a time when it was "an MTB event held on gravel", but after Trans Iowa it was "people using MTB's at Gravel events".

There is a reason events like the Flint Hills Death Ride, Iron Cross, and the Colesburg Back Forty are considered "gravel events" today, and that is because perceptions changed, and that all started with Trans Iowa. That first Trans Iowa event influenced a lot of other events that called themselves 'gravel' events, and that in turn started another revolution in cycling. Here we are today, with "Gravel" racing being at, arguably, the pinnacle of bicycle racing in North America now. Again - who'd have thunk it in 2005

So, this blog has taken me from a nobody bicycle mechanic in a Mid-Western town, to a Hall of Fame and recognition I never thought I would get, nor did I seek out, when I started the blog. It all went to a speed in 2005 that I found shocking.  

Trans Iowa v1 start. I'm leading out the racers in the van. A start to a journey I am still on today.

Of course, Trans Iowa happened a half a month ahead of the start of this blog, but I was already guest-posting on Jeff's blog by the end of 2004. So, I count that bit as well when it comes to my journey so far. I guess if you really wanted to be picky about things, I already have completed most of my 20th year of blogging at this point. But I draw the line at the beginning of this blog for timing.

The speed at which all this happened I attribute to the online blogging community in 2005 and to various online sites for 29"ers, but primarily, which for all intents and purposes was the clearing house for online cycling chatting back in the day. Had I started this blog even a year or two later than I did, I think I wouldn't be where I am at today at all. So, it was the timing, and the speed at which this happened on the blog that really mattered to where I am today. 

That's it for this look back. I'll have more in the coming weeks and months to check back on regarding the 20th Anniversary of this blog. Thanks for reading!