Monday, January 31, 2011

Wheels, Bars, And Fur!

Well, as many of you readers know, I have a snow/fat bike I dubbed "The Snow Dog". What many of you don't know is that I had some trouble already with it. Here's the deal...

I got the thing together and rode it to work the first time just over a week ago. It was making noises, and that isn't to be wondered at, since things were new, used, and just assembled together for the first time. I figured there would be a few hiccups. No big deal.

I dialed things in and did another ride a week ago Saturday. Whoa! Things were snappin' and a cracklin' that shouldn't had ought to be. I determined that something was amiss in the drive train. I got home and pulled the rear hub apart, and yep!  There it was. Bad pawl that caused a torn up drive ring. The situation didn't look good, but I wanted to ride it on my birthday, so I popped it back together, and Sunday a week ago went for a final ride before I would send in the wheel to Phil Wood & Co. for repair. I wasn't going to have a wheel for possibly up to two weeks, maybe more.

As you can imagine, I was pretty bummed out. It was like giving candy to a baby, and letting them taste it, and taking it away. Well.....except that I didn't bawl and throw a huge fit! Let me tell ya, I felt like it!

I just tried to let it go, but when I told Ben Witt about it, he hatched up a plan. My buddy Captain Bob was to pick up his new Spearfish from Ben's shop on Friday, so Ben sent his own fat bike Phil Wood hubbed rear wheel back with Captain Bob so I could ride for awhile. Awesome!

So, there it is, all blue with a rim strip that is all furry like the interior of a 70's Chevy van conversion! Thanks Ben! I totally appreciate the kindness!

I'll update what the ol' Phil Wood & Co. do with regards to the first hub later, but for now, I'm rollin' fatties again. Wait.......uh........that didn't sound right. Awww.. whatever!

Next, I got ahold of the new Gary Bar II from Origin 8. Remember the old Gary Bar? Yeah......well this one is totally different!

The first Gary Bar  was loosely based off the On One Midge bar. The overall dimensions were very similar, but the "slope" of the drops was more severe. Here is a link of a comparo I did between the original Gary Bar and the On One Midge Bar.

I'll also be doing the "big comparo" again with the newer version, but for now I can say that the Gary Bar II is waaay different than a Midge Bar, or any other off road drop bar. The new bar also uses 6000 series aluminum and has a nicer overall finish and feel than the older Gary Bar did. The "flare" or "slope" was radical on the first Gary, and on this one, it is very subtle. Less than the Midge for sure. It has more drop, and the extensions are even longer than the first Gary Bar's were. It also sports a bit more reach to the drops as well. It is 5cm narrower than before and looks much closer to a road bar than an off road bar. Less sweep to the drop section too. In fact, if I didn't know any better, I'd say it was a closer knock off to a Nitto bar than anything else.

The new Gary Bar II is also bar end compatible and retails for about $40.00. I bought my own, so I could compare it to the Midge, (which was graciously submitted to me for use by Captain Bob. Thanks man!) As I said, look for more soon, and another contender or two will also be added to the mix. Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thinking About Gravel

Man! All this talk lately of gravel races, registrations, and combined with how cold and snowy it has been has me thinking more and more about grinding up some gravel under a blue sky in the Iowa countryside.

Well, that could be done now, but it is awfully cold out there for anything very long, and of course, these days, gearing up to ride and taking it off at the end takes as long as the ride itself! Still, I need to get out there. CIRREM is just around the corner, and I want to get that ride in, if possible.

Mike Varley, of Black Mountain Cycles, posted this pic of the BMC frame/fork combo mounted up with Kenda Karma 1.9"ers!  That's awesome news. That means that I won't be sacrificing anything to not having gone with the Presidio, since that was the main feature of that bike I found attractive, besides the complete build spec.

Not  that I would run that big of a tire, but I could, which makes the frame/fork that much more appealing. In fact, I will be running some older IRC tires, 42mm, that I have been sitting on for some time. These will fit easily, and they are kind of heavy and tough, so they will make for some good training tires. Eventually, I will be going to a different, undisclosed as of now, wheel set, which I will use for actual events. I've got something in the works in that regard, so I'm holding back until all the details are worked out and I feel confident in announcing that.

Until then, I have a few wheel sets to "use up" in the Lab that I have collected for various reasons. Cast offs, or stuff that came with other deals. I'll most likely train on some 80's era Shimano Sante' hubbed wheels with Matrix rims, barely used. If the wheels have 50 miles on them, I'd be surprised. Better fix that, eh?

Well, here's lookin' forward to some gravel grindin' good times in 2011.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Trans Iowa V7 Update #13: Volunteers Update & More

Another Saturday, another Trans Iowa Update! Here is Update #13 with more on the Volunteer Situation:

We got a great response to the call for volunteers such that if everyone that showed interest actually commits, we'll have Checkpoints #1 and #2 covered. This means that we still could use a few bodies for the finish line and at the start line.

There is a rumor floating about that after Checkpoint #1 closes, there will be a gravel grinder happening that will go for about 50 miles or so, depending on the weather. Stay tuned for any updates on that front as Trans Iowa V7 draws closer.

Loose Ends: As of now, we only have cue sheets to produce, number plates to do, and a finish line to get sorted out. Our original hope was that we could use the barn we had wanted to be the finish line at T.I.V6,but seeing as how it is Easter weekend, the family that owns the property will be having a family get together on Sunday and we do not want to impinge upon that. Final word is still pending, but there is a big chance we will be changing our original plan to..........something else. 

Pre-Race Meat-Up: We will be getting organized the night before T.I.V7 at The Grinnell Steakhouse once again for the required pre race meeting. Remember: You must attend this event to get your cues to start T.I.V7. No exceptions! Last year we had our meals subsidized by the Grinnell Chamber Of Commerce's Tourism Board. This year, we unfortunately could not appropriate those funds again. So, this one will be on you guys and gals to pay for. I'll have details on exact costs and menu choices in the near future.

Final Checkover: While we have reconned the entire course for T.I.V7, we will be doing some spot checking of certain sectors before the event. These will be reported on here in the Updates as they occur, so look for those once the weather starts to break here in Iowa.

Until next time......happy training!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Musings On The Name

Mountain Bike: The name conjures up some of your favorite memories on a bicycle, or maybe it brings to mind a certain favorite bicycle you had, perhaps your first good mountain bike. Perhaps it makes you think of riding your favorite trails. Whatever that "name" does for you, that's a personal thing. I was just wondering if it is the right name for what we are doing.

Think about it: A large part of North America, (or the world, for that matter), is not mountainous. Experts seem to think the percentage is about 23-25% of the earth's surface is mountainous, and of course, most of the world's population doesn't live on a mountain. So, if you are not riding on a mountain, are you a "mountain biker"? I dunno. My feeling is that we got the name all wrong for this activity in the first place.

<==What the heck are these guys doing if it isn't being done on a mountain?

A long, long time ago, if you went off-road on a purpose built machine for the job, you would very possibly be on a "Mountain Bike" brand bicycle. Yep! That's right, the name coined by some mechanic some where for the new crop of off road bicycles was used as a brand name by Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher to sell frames and forks brazed by Tom Ritchey and assembled by Kelly/Fisher. Everything else was, well.......something else!

Like many things in this culture, folks caught on to the imagery that "mountain bike" conjured up in their minds and pretty soon, "Mountain Bike" became "mountain bike" as we now know it. I should add that many early companies called their off road bikes "All Terrain Bikes", which if you stop to think about it, makes a heck of a lot more sense than "mountain bike" does for all the types of bicycles we think of as "mountain bikes".

But who am I kidding? The whole idea that the name is wrong and should be changed is like tilting at windmills. It ain't-a-gonna happen! But that doesn't stop me from thinking that maybe it should be changed.

Have a great weekend ya'all!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday News And Views

And The Winner Is.... Well, it didn't take long yesterday to make a decision on which frame to base my gravel grinder on for now.

The Black Mountain Cycles "Monster-Cross" will be the sled of choice. I got a lot of comments on this particular frame and fork, and since not everyone reads the comments, I thought I would toss out some kernels from that discussion here.

The thought that it was "cool to get the niche brand" was certainly an appealing factor here, but not just the only one. Mike Varley is a smart designer, and he has learned a thing or three about bikes over his tenure in the cycling industry. Mike was the guy behind the original Haro Mary 29"ers, and he also did the design on Masi's cross bikes, as well as a lot of other rigs, so there is that pedigree behind the BMC stuff. It isn't like some ol' shop owner just had some "catalog" frame branded with his logo, or something. I have some high expectations for this bike, but that said, it will be cool that only 50 of these are going to be out there. (For now, anyway)

Other considerations were the taller head tube, the slightly longer chain stays, and the bigger tire clearances. My parts should swap over very well, for the most part, and they will get used. I really have had a hard time looking at the bike the parts are on just hanging there on the hook all these years, being neglected. Not good.

I'll have more to say about the frame and fork later on, but for now I want it to be understood that the custom ultimate gravel bike is still on the radar. This won't replace that idea, but will be in addition to that. Eventually, I have a plan for a single speed version of this BMC frame, so stay tuned for that.

That Circus Of A Race In July is in the news again. For only the second time ever, and the second time in five years, a rider is being stripped of his Tour de France title. I won't bother to link to anything here, it's all over the cycling press today. Of course, we all knew this was coming ever since the tainted beef story came out months ago. Now that the gloves are off, and the suspension has been announced, the real question is that of Contador's character.

He has repeatedly said that he would quit cycling and walk away if the allegations against him turned out to result in a suspension. However; he signed a lucrative contract with a new team in the meantime, and it would be hard to believe that he could walk away from that if some sort of plan could be concocted to keep him on the payroll through the reported one year ban. Many athletes claim the high road only to waffle later on. I'm thinking Contador will return.

If he does, it will only add to the "clown-like" nature of this cycling-circus called The Tour de France. Hey! I've got an idea! Let's just call it what it is: The Tour de Fraud.

And In Other UCI News: The ongoing story on the possibility of the UCI requiring a frame certification for road and time trial bikes, (which I wrote about here), and was postponed by the UCI until further review could be done, is being more clearly discussed. In a newspeice by "Bike Europe" it is being reported that the UCI was taken aback by the realization that a lot of frames would be submitted for testing. To quote the article:
"Apparently the UCI miscalculated the number of frames that would be brought forward by the industry. In particular as the International Cycling Union plans to test all frame sizes and all frame variations." 

And with a 12,000 Swiss Franc fee for each carbon fiber frame, that's a lot of coin, time, and trouble- potentially. Think that might raise the costs of bicycles just a little bit? I think so. So do 45 other cycling companies, which are listed at the end of the "Bike Europe" article linked above.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Plan To Get By On For Now

Now that I am committed to the Dirty Kanza 200 which happens on June 4th, I am now in the planning stages for coming up with a lighter steel cyclo-cross-ish bike that will do two things. #1: It will get me riding sooner on a rig I can train on that would be similar to my "Ultimate Gravel Rig", which is going to take some time to get together, and #2: It will possibly be a donor rig, as far as parts go, if it is a complete. What if it is just a frame? That's cool. I have 9spd Campagnolo parts just gathering dust that would be fine for this.

But What About The Ultimate Gravel Grinder Bike? Yeah.....I wish I could get that done now. The thing is, the earliest that can get started is this spring, and finished by......? I don't want to rush that. So, I want to get on something lighter, steel, and that will get me a feel for what I like and don't about a cyclo cross based gravel rig. My plan is to get lighter. Both me and the bike. The plan concerning me is in motion already. Time to work on the bicycle part of the equation. Bonus: If it doesn't pan out, I have the Badger which will play as back up bike. Now that I have laid all that out, here are the contenders....

Fisher Collection Presidio: Previously I had been looking at the Erwin, which is a step below this bike, and opined that I didn't like the spec or the value for the dollar so much. Well, this Presidio is what I would like for spec, and I looked into the employee purchase on it, and it is do-able. Okay, that said, here are a few other thing I am liking.....

Steel, obviously. Carbon fork, and low mount hangar for the brake. Good. Single speed capability. Great! Big tire clearances. Great! Geometry, Okay. Wheels.....meh! (But I can build wheels)

So, this one looks like a contender. The final nice thing is that most all of the hardware could go to the new custom rig with this frame getting a permanent single speed makeover.

Black Mountain Cycles Cross Frame: Industry veteran, vintage mountain bike maven, and shop owner Mike Varley owns Black Mountain Cycles, a bicycle shop in Point Reyes Station, California. He commissioned a design for a cyclo-cross/all rounder in steel that is a pretty smart design. (There is a smartly designed steel road frame as well. Read about both here.) is what catches my eyes....

Steel- Great! Steel fork- Great! Big tire clearances, (but not quite as big as the Presidio), Great! Geometry- Good. Small Brand Coolness- Off The Charts! (For what that is worth, I happen to like that) Smart details- Great! Not available as a complete- meh! (But like I said, I have some Campy stuff sittin' around) Price: Excellent! Single Speed-able- Great!

Another strong contender. I like orange, but it is also available in a rich brown hue as well. Hard to choose between this and a Presidio. Either would get the job done.

Either way I could be up and running sooner than later, and either would do well on gravel. The BMC, (That's Black Mountain Cycles ya'all, not the Swiss roadie marque), would put to use some long neglected road stuff I have, so "re-cycling" in this case has an appeal to me. The Fisher Collection rig supports the shop I work at, in a way, so.......  Like I said, tough call.

Then there is one other remote possibility that is rumored and yet to be announced. 

Choices. What a nice problem to have.....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Materials Vs Design

Wow! I was on the internet-o-sphere again yesterday and saw where another mid-level bicycle compnay is going to offer a carbon fiber 29 inch wheel based hard tail. The news source reporting this said that some companies are being accused of being “late to the carbon 29′r HT party". Really?

This would indicate to me that the thought process is that it is all about what you make your frame out of. If that is the case, I can tell you a lot of folks are being snookered by "Carbon Fiber: The Snake Oil Of Frame Materials".

Hey! Don't get me wrong- Carbon fiber, used correctly, and of a higher quality, can be a "magic carpet ride" material. But let's face it, you can use the "best material" and still come up with a "klunker" of a bicycle. And the way things are going, it seems that it is more about having a carbon fiber hard tail, and price point, than it is about smart design, and maybe, possibly another material better for the job.

 <===Yes it is carbon fiber, but the design is what won me over.

As I have said, a smart design in carbon fiber is one thing: The material and geometry working together to bring a higher level of performance, or a more enjoyable ride, or both together, ideally. Then you have the frames that are carbon fiber, but are, well.......they aren't that fun to ride, or they just stink from a handling/performance standpoint.

But hey! We have a carbon fiber 29"er hard tail for ya! Right over here! Step this way! Snake oil, I tell ya. Get on the bandwagon. Which leads me to....

Carbon Fiber: The Commodity: I've written about this before here, where I talk about how some companies are using scary-similar looking molds and charging vastly different prices. Carbon fiber is "carpet fiber", right? I mean, look at the rush to the bottom on the road bike side. Companies are fighting to bring carbon road bike frames into their lines at sub $1500.00 for completes, and next year that will go lower. The "grey market" on carbon road frames is crazy right now, and as I stated in my piece from a couple weeks ago, mountain bikes, and 29 inch hard tails in particular, are headed down this slippery slope at breakneck speed.

<===OS Bikes Blackbuck II- Steel, reasonably priced, great performance.

Meanwhile, companies like OS Bikes, Vassago, Singular, Salsa Cycles, and others are selling reasonably priced steel frames and aluminum frames that are, well.......awesome! And yes- steel and to some degree aluminum, rides great, but the deal is that these companies and others have just made use of great materials and designed a bicycle with great geometry that is fun to ride, high performance, and reasonably priced. Oh! Did I mention that these materials are proven in the field with years of use? Not that carbon fiber couldn't be, but the variables are far greater with regards to carbon fiber. 

 Some of these bikes have a lot of thought in the geometry and the execution of the design. Yet they are not all that fancy-pants in the marketability department, apparently, like carbon fiber is.

So, what's the point? Forget the hype maybe, I guess. It just seems to me that the hype over the carbon frames is getting a little lopsided and design, and smart materials use is being overshadowed, that's all.

Monday, January 24, 2011

So, How Did You Celebrate?

So, yeah..........yesterday was my birthday. I am not a big one for parties, and whatever folks do for birthdays out there. I just like to have a day, ya know? Peaceful, fun, relaxing. Time spent with my loved ones, and some time spent alone.

That's my idea of a birthday celebration, and that is exactly what I did.

I got out on The Snow Dog both days this weekend, thanks to what I refer to now as "The Conspirators" who made the frame and fork a reality in a much quicker and less painful fashion than it would have happened otherwise. (Thanks to you fellas!) The Snow Dog got built sooner than I thought and it made for a great "birthday weekend" for me. You can tell because if you look over there I am smiling. Yes, this was on one of the rides and no- I don't wear a helmet in winter on snow rides. Really, it isn't that big of a deal. I can keep my head warmer this way anywho....

I peeled off the bar-mitts to show you all out there The Snow Dog without them. A "certain Trans Iowa winner" asked me how much it weighs. I retorted that I didn't realize folks weighed these things. I mean, it is a "fat bike" after all. After a certain point, it really doesn't matter, I think, but I would say it is 30 something pounds.

How does it ride? Well, as you can imagine, it is different. Bouncy? Yeah, a wee bit. Hard to pedal? No- amazingly it pedals rather well. That said, you can tell immediately when things start tilting upward, and I use a lot of the lower gears on this thing than I would normally. Does it float over everything? No. It needs help from cars, snow machines, or a lot of people. Packed in snow is your friend. Loose, un-packed snow is a no go. Especially the snow we have here now which is really dry, and acts like "hour glass" sand.

It does handle "car snow' rather well, and icy, packed in snow is no big deal at all. Even icy patches are a lot less dangerous. Still slippery, but not "instant down" like it is on skinnier tired rigs. Another nail in the coffin for studded tires for me. (I don't like studded tires, personally.)

I found some snowmobile trails and although the traffic has been low, I still made it through with ease. I wouldn't have been riding on last year's 29"er that I used.

One thing I didn't do, that I should have, was to disassemble the Phil Wood free hub and put in some thinner grease or heavy oil. I had free hub pawls hanging up badly yesterday and today.  Oh well! I guess I'll get to see how that comes apart now!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bike Shop Horrors: Basket Mount

A customer at the shop dropped off a "comfort bike" for a tune up the other day with a Wald wire "paper boy" front basket mounted to it.

Now when Wald designed this accessory, they never accounted for bikes with suspension forks or super long head tubes. Add in a tall stem, and the mounts on the basket that attach to the handle bars make the lower struts far too short to reach the wheel axle, where the lower strut is supposed to be attached.

Never fear! Shade Tree Mechanic is here!

Note the threaded hook, much like you might see used on a traditional clothes line, which has been employed to clamp the upper part of the chromed steel stanchion on the suspension fork. Instead of hack sawing it off to a decent length, the owner looks to have used a spacer, (why? I can't really say), and then used two nuts to one- tighten the hook against the stanchion and pinch the rack stay to it, and two- to jamb the inner nut so it can not back off. (Why not just use a washer instead of the spacer and a Nyloc nut? Ahh........who am I kidding?! These guys are grabbing what is at hand.  And of course, the whole idea of attaching to the fork stanchion......bah!)

Anyway, the threaded portion must have been protruding out further than the owner was comfortable with so he nipped it off with what appears to have been a bolt cutter, leaving a nice, jagged steel edge to snag on, or worse- Cut you to ribbons.

And just to give the guy some well deserved credit, he actually uses this bike to grocery shop with, leaving his car at home. Bonus points there at least. 

Awesome! This is the kind of stuff that keeps me going in the dead of winter. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Trans Iowa V7 Update #12: Volunteers

<===Two T.I.V6 Volunteers waiting to assist riders at Checkpoint #1:

Calling For Volunteers: Trans Iowa doesn't run without people helping out. I found out the hard way in T.I.V1 and T.I.V2 that we would need a real corp of folks to help put this beast on. Ever since T.I.V3, Trans Iowa has not had any shortage of volunteers.

This year we have a handful of folks already committed to helping out with T.I.V7. (d.p. and I thank you!) However; we need more folks. Here's a brief outline of where we need some help.

The Start: T.I.V7 will get underway at 4am Saturday April 23rd. That's pretty early! We are going to need a couple of clear minds to help with a highway crossing right after the start. Basically, you will stop riders in case of traffic. Otherwise, we won't really need any help at the start, but the more fans the merrier!

Checkpoint #1: Since we have a short distance coming into Checkpoint #1, this is where we need the most volunteer help. I figure riders will start arriving around 6:30am and that checkpoint will be open until around 9:30am. So, if we could get some bodies at Checkpoint #1 by 5:30am to set up and catch the riders coming in, give them cue sheets, and check them off on lists, we would appreciate this. As I say, we have about a hand full committed to this checkpoint already, but we need several more folks. You'll be done and out of there by 10am, so it isn't a long gig.

Checkpoint #2: This is a bit of a different, and difficult, assignment. d.p. and I are looking for up to three individuals to man our remote, rural checkpoint. Individuals thinking of volunteering here should be prepared to spend several hours outdoors with minimal shelter. (Your car, most likely, will be it) Folks that can get by on a little, (think no bathrooms, etc), and that don't mind long hours should be the only ones taking this one on.

The time slot on this one would be about 1:00pm Saturday to about 9pm in the evening. That's a long haul, so keep this in mind.

The Finishline: We're going to need at least two folks that can get up early and be at the finish line by about 4am Sunday morning to catch any possible finishers. (Likelihood of a sub-24hr finish is highly unlikely, but some crazies are gunning for this) Most likely, we won't see a finisher till about 5am, but we have to plan on the best possible finish right now. (If the weather is at all inclement during the event, that sub-24hr, or even a 25hr finish won't be happening.) d.p.and I are a fail-safe here, but essentially we will need a couple pair of eyes to do the tallying up of names and finishing times. The finish line will be in operation until 2pm at the latest. We are thinking two people minimum, but more are always welcomed at the finish.

Okay, that is our volunteer call. Remember: Anyone volunteering for T.I.V7 gets a free pass in for T.I.V8 in 2012. Interested? Hit me at this e-mail and let me know.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bonus Post: The Snow Dog

Okay folks, (and especially those of you Conspirators that were involved with the frame/fork deal), here is the photographic proof of existence.

This was taken Friday morning on my commute into work at -8F. Yes- it was cold, but I was prepared.

(As always, you can click on the image to make it viewable)

The build list is as follows:

  • Salsa Cycles Mukluk frame/fork. Size: 19"
  • Wheels: Phil Wood SS 135mm rear used as a front hub/Phil Wood 170mm custom rear laced to Surly Rolling Darryl rims with Sapim butted spokes and brass nipples. Custom "guitar strap" rim strip by Ben Witt.
  • Tires: Surly Larry 3.8" with Surly tubes.
  • Brakes: Avid BB-7 with Ashima 185mm front and Avid 160mm rear rotors (Rear will be changed to match the front later) Levers: "Cheapo" Avids. Standard cables, Jagwire white housing. Rear has customized line near rear caliper made from two brake noodles, some Nokon silver anodized housing,  and a Jagwire in-line adjuster.
  • Crank set: Older Bontrager Race Lite ISIS Drive 44/32/22T
  • Bottom Bracket: TruVativ GigaPipe 100mm ISIS
  • Pedals: Welgo platforms in powder coat white
  • Chain: SRAM PC-951
  • Cassette: 12-36T Shimano 9spd.
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM X-9
  • Front Derailleur: Shimano XT Direct Mount
  • Standard derailleur cables, Jagwire full run housing in black.
  • Shifters: SRAM X-9 Twisters
  • Grips: Cut down Ergon GP-1
  • Head Set: Chris King 1 1/8th, blue lower cup, orange upper, and silver compression cap with blue top cap. One 3mm headset spacer. 
  • Stem: TruVativ Stylo 100mm 31.8mm clamp.
  • Handlebar: Ragley Carnegie's Bar Carbon pre-production sample, no graphics, Kevlar wrap gives it a mustard color. 
  • Seat Post: Bontrager carbon OEM take-off. 27.2mm X 350mm, aluminum single bolt clamp. 
  • Saddle: Bontrager "Inform" RL in white
  • Seat Clamp: Salsa Cycles Lip-Loc in anodized blue.
  • Bottle Cages: Velocity Bottle Traps in main triangle, one Bontrager Race on right fork leg, all in white. 
  • Pogies: ATV Classic- (Farm and Fleet sourced for 20 bucks)
  • Skewers: Salsa Flip Offs, 135mm/170mm in black anodized. 
That about covers the build, but if anyone out there has any questions, let me know. (I will be changing out some items down the road, but for now, this is how she rolls.)

Thanks: Salsa Cycles, Milltown Cycles, Surly Bikes, Jason Boucher, Ben Witt, "The Conspirators", Chris DeStefano, Chris King, Europa Cycle and Ski, "Mrs. Guitar Ted", and ayone else I may have forgotten......

Friday News And Views

Update On The UCI Certification Story: Monday I posted a story about how the UCI was going to set in motion a plan to have all road and time trial bikes meet a certification process and how that might affect the bicycle industry. (Read that post here)

Although some poo-pooed the idea that it was detrimental to the industry, or that the UCI's scope would expand, it seems that now the industry has had its say with the commission heading up the inquiry into the plan for the UCI. Now it appears the plans have been put on hold.

Although full details are not known, it is widely held that the bicycle industry vociferously opposed the new regulations as being too much of a financial burden. Guess we'll all see where this goes after February 1st.

Update On The Snow Dog: Late Thursday evening it was completed. All approximately 34lbs of fat bike goodness. Yes: that is one heavy bicycle! I'll tell you that most of it is in the wheels. Those babies will be some gigantic flywheel-like, rubber doughnuts for sure. One thing I know- I am going to burn through some calories pushing that bike around hill and dale.

I couldn't get an accurate weight on it since my scale wouldn't grab ahold of the thing properly. When I get it to work, I'll get a proper weight on it, but suffice it to say, it weighs more than any other bicycle I own. I'm sure it will hold a line quite nicely! Yes- Templeton Rye was drank afterward in celebration of the finish.

Pics? Well, it was too late to go outside and get any, besides which, it is wicked cold out there, so I'll grab a few images to post later. Stay tuned............

So, What's Next? Next I am turning my attention to maintenance of the "fleet" here. Then I will focus on getting my three main gravel grinders in tip top shape. The Badger will be getting new levers....maybe.....if the guy that is selling me his Ultegra levers ever hooks up with me. I will also be looking at a few nice upgrades to the Fargo, and possibly the Singular, although being a single speed, and tricked out, there isn't a whole lot one can do there.

But first I have a lot of work to do to get test mules and test bikes for Twenty Nine Inches in tip-top shape. Yes.....I believe in Spring! Warmer weather is coming. No......really!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Snow Dog Comes Together

Yes folks, the Snow Dog is starting to take form in the bowels of the Guitar Ted Productions Laboratory now. Two of the major pieces of the puzzle showed up Wednesday in a big cardboard box with a giant red splotch of color on the outside. Yep! The frame and fork made it in.

Before I whisked it into the Laboratory to start throwing parts on it, I got it out for a brief photo session in the January sun. The winter sunshine was playing a jewel-like symphony of light as it reflected off the myriad freshly fallen snow flakes from the night before.

You can click on the pics for larger versions, as always.

The Mukluk frames come with a blue anodized seat collar. A Salsa Lip-loc, no less. Nice touch there.

Salsa has been hitting it up with new, adventure inspired graphics for each of its new models. The Mukluk features a North-woods type of feel with the eerie bluish and ghostly white evergreen shapes behind a silvery Salsa logo. The blue is called "Moonshadow Blue", so I guess it works from that standpoint.

The three bosses in a row on the down tube can handle an Everything Cage, or standard water bottle cages in two positions. I have an old Blackburn Bomber Cage that will also fit this arrangement nicely.

The Mukluk I  was possibly going to get was to have a black painted fork, but at the last minute, a painted to match one was found and that's what I got instead. It's an Enabler Fork, of course, and has all the Enabler Fork features. Things like a 135mm spaced drop out standard to fit rear hubs or specially made front hubs. This wider spacing makes living with 3.8" tires on 82mm wide rims a lot easier to do. The Enabler also features mounts for Everything Cages on each fork leg, or standard water bottle cages in a high or low mounting position. There is also a water cage mount under the down tube. Yeah- that's a lot of water bottle options! The frame, seat collar, and the direct front derailluer mount weighed in at 4.15lbs on my Park Tool digital scale. The fork weighed 1225 grams with an 9" steer tube and star nut installed.

The Build: Of course, I am putting this thing together, but it is going to be a process. Originally I signed on for a Mukluk complete. A no-muss, no-fuss option that would get me into the snow biking world at a very reasonable price. Then ol' Ben Witt started showing me fancy-pants hubs and rims, and well......this is a purely custom build now! 

It's going to be a pretty unique Mukluk and "The Snow Dog" name will be a fitting moniker for it once I roll it out. When will that be? Hmm.......that depends. I'm waiting on a special package and I have a few conundrums to wheedle my way through, but if all comes together without anymore delays, it could be this weekend.

Stay tuned! The Snow Dog will roll soon!

Update: Late last night I found out something that I had no idea about. Thanks to those involved in bringing this frame and fork to me as an early birthday gift. I am humbled and will always remember each of you every time I ride The Snow Dog. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Keeping It Simple

While most folks have expounded upon their 2011 goals and racing schedule long ago, I have not. In fact, I have ben reluctant to even speak about it to many folks. There are several reasons for that.

Last year I was in several events where the temperatures were in the upper 90's or lower 100's. It was absolutely brutal. Of course, it could rain at every event this year, but I am not coming into 2011 wanting to bake my insides out again. That means I will need to basically work harder at getting ready, which means I will have to do a lot more preparatory riding/training. Since I have to do Trans Iowa first, that cuts into spring time riding a bit. The good news? I have next to no recon to do. That will help, but still, spring is unpredictable and time is tighter then. Result? No spring events for me. There will possibly be CIRREM if I can work it out. That will be a training ride, for the most part.  Every open time slot will be spent testing for Twenty Nine Inches, or doing longer gravel rides. The first event will demand that I be at my best to finish: The Dirty Kanza 200.

Secondly, I discovered night time gravel road riding with d.p. That will hopefully start again with the warmer weather. It certainly could help with early season miles. At any rate, it should be fun. Oh I'm going to be making sure that more fun rides happen as well.

The next big ride, and the last big competition for me for the year will be Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, Nebraska. I love that event, and I want to finally finish that one. I am pretty certain I can, given a day that isn't well over 100 degrees!

So, besides the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational, which most likely will be in mid-July again, I am not really doing anything organized as of this time. I may add one thing here or there, but I am keeping the focus sharp on these events and rides and that's it.

So, that's my plan. As of right now anyway. I bit off way more than I could chew last year, and had to blow off a couple of events due to lack of training, and suffered like a dog when I was at events. Not fun. And as I said, I am adding in more fun for 2011.

I remember racing was a pain back in the 90's and was reminded of that again last year. Fun is still fun. I get that. So I am going to have fun in 2011. I hope you all do too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thinking South By Southwest

I saw some race report yesterday that got me thinking. It made me kind of sad, actually. It was a race report for the El Paso Puzzler. You should take a moment to read it here. It was written by the winner, Evan Plews. Evan does a great job reminding me of every gnarly facet of the Franklin Mountain State Park. I won't say you'll get the same feelings I do by reading it, because that area is close to my heart now, and I've ridden it several times since about 2007.

I've included a few images from my last trip there. The El Paso area is in the desert. The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America, but ironically, it isn't the type of desert most folks think of when they conjure up desert images in their minds. Most folks think of the iconic Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert, or the great Joshua Trees of the Mojave Desert. The Chihuahuan Desert has no icon, not that I know of. It is just a rocky, spiky, dry area that presents a unique challenge to any mountain biker. While it isn't necessarily typical of the Chihuahuan area itself, Franklin Mountain has one main feature you need to come to terms with.

Rocks. And lots, and lots of them.

Most of the time you can know you are on the trail in the Franklin Mountain State Park because you are not in the brush and cactus. There really is no other good way to see the trail in many places. And as you can see from my images, the trail is essentially loose, busted up rock of various sizes. Imagine riding on rubble, and you will have some modicum of understanding the trials and tribulations of riding in El Paso's surrounding mountains.

If you read Evan Plew's report, he gives you a description of coming off Mundy's Gap into a mile long rubble field. Yep. I get it. Rocks. It's what's for dinner in the Franklin Mountains.

What these rocks do is they resist your wheels passage, they slip out from under you wheels, knocking you off-line, and robbing you of precious momentum, and they can, (as Evan describes), bust up your equipment. It is a very tough place on rider and bike.

One other thing: It is a dry, dry, dry place! If you ever get down south, by southwest, to the El Paso area, you'd better bring lots of water with you to do any riding. The combination of the tough, unforgiving trails, and dry climate mean you will be going through a lot of moisture, and you will need to be able to replace it on your ride. It is remote, and even though it may seem that you are not far from El Paso, there isn't a good, direct route to water without doing a ton of work to get to it. Just so I know I warned ya!

So why ride there at all? Well, it is hard, but I am learning that it takes a different way of riding to get the most enjoyment out of what you put in. I think it is more of a "rock crawler" mentality. You won't be ripping along, feeling the flow for a half mile, or even a quarter mile here. (There is some amount of "flow", but that is even different there.) No- It is more of a measured pace sort of mentality, I think, that garners the most enjoyment out there. That and stopping to enjoy the scenery once in awhile is highly recommended.

I am sad, as I said in the beginning, because I will miss going to Texas this year due to a conflict with my wife's work. Sad because I love my family down there, of course, but I also love riding in that Chihuahuan Desert. Check it out sometime if you can. It is tough and challenging, but really rewarding in the end.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The UCI Is Coming! (Or Are They?)

A recent cry has gone up amongst bicycle manufacturers in regards to a proposal by the Union Cycliste Internationale that would require all examples of time trial bicycles and road bicycles used by Pro Tour teams to be inspected prior to use and those receiving the passing grade would have a sticker applied to the frame. This would then allow race officials to quickly inspect machines at start lines and supposedly weed out cheaters. This then would supposedly make all manufacturers even in terms of aerodynamics specifically, although other parameters might also be affected.

In a recent article posted to the U.K. site, "Bike Biz", written by editor Carlton Reid, Masi's head honch, Tim Jackson claims it will drive smaller brands not only out of racing, but out of business. When figures of upwards of U.S.D. $14,000 per bicycle model to have the proper sticker applied are mentioned, it seems not too far fetched a proposition. But, why should we as mountain bikers even care?

Well, as of right now, maybe we don't, but perhaps, we should. The reports claim that the certification process will expand to clothing, helmets, and other components. This will, if enacted, cause major price increases for manufacturers. The price increases will have to be absorbed by someone, and you know who that usually is, right?

Then if the professional ranks are subjected to, what will in the end be, "spec bikes", clothing and whatever else, innovations will be snuffed out. This will also affect mountain biking. If companies are forced to conform on the road side, and spend more money, it would make sense that the certification money would come out of R&D budgets, since you would be less inclined to innovate anyway. Less R&D on the road side, more expensive certification costs would equal less for mountain bikers.

And this assumes that the UCI never goes after Pro mountain biking with the same zealous fervor. If they do, it may not be out of the question that 29"er wheels get banned. In fact, I am willing to bet that would be one of the first things on the chopping block.

All this focus on "cheating" in terms of hardware, and still you would have cheating in the biological realm. In fact, I bet that the UCI's move to level the playing field on the bicycle side will make doping more attractive, not less, especially at the highest levels.

In the end, it seems to be nothing more than a power/money grab on the part of the UCI. It will unnecessarily burden cycling teams, manufacturers, consumers, and most assuredly will put people out of business. The meager benefits to racing will be far outweighed by the negatives, that much is very clear.

Time for a revolution? I think so....especially if the UCI is really coming.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's That User Conflict Thing

Since I had a few hours of free time Saturday I decided to take out the snow shoes, get some exercise, and in the process, scout out trail for The Snow Dog. I found out that somebody had also been scouting out trail for their vehicle. A motorized one.

The Green Belt is a multi-use trail that does not allow motorized vehicles. Of course, I have noted ATV tracks in the woods anyway. Not recently, though, and never an eye-witness to the activity. I figured it was just some younginz blowing off some steam. This time it went over the line though.

The Green Belt is used in winter by walkers and XC skiers for the most part. They get along by having the XC skiers take the outsides of the main pathway through for their two-track classic skiing. The hikers/walkers go up the middle. ATV machines? They just go wherever the heck they want to, I guess. Too bad. The classic tracks are wiped out from Ansborough to Ridgeway.

I trudged on in my snow shoes, not having to worry about the XC ski trail now. The ATV guys did their job too well. Fortunately, the previous thaw and re-freeze caused the underlying snow to keep the ATV machines from going all the way through to the dirt. That's good. New snow is supposedly on the way, but it shouldn't be too tough to get a good snow bike trail going through here now. This is on the regular mountain bike trails that go through along the river there.

I escaped the mountain bike trails and chased some well pounded in deer trail for awhile too. Some of this might be good for The Snow Dog to tread on as well.

This area by the lake is pretty neat. Some great cedar trees back here, some of the thickest I've seen alive around here too. I can't wait to go through here on the bike, as it isn't all that far from home and will make a great loop.

The main thing is to avoid conflicting with the XC ski people, which doesn't seem likely now that the ATV people have gone and trashed their tracks anyway. More snow shoe recon will happen, but this is looking pretty tasty out here right now.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Trans Iowa V7 Update #11: More Gravel Road Riding Tips

More Gravel Road Riding Tips: The last update on Gravel Road Riding Tips can be found here: Update #10

In this update I will continue with a few other thoughts gathered from experiences on the rural gravel and dirt by-ways.

#1: Critters, Varmints, and Pets: Iowa is home to a vast and varied palette of wild creatures, some of which you may encounter on the way during your quest. Most of these won't be a bother, but do be aware of the following...

  • Deer: Iowa has a huge deer population, and during the dusk hours, you may encounter these creatures bounding across your path. 
  • Raccoons: Nightime creatures. You may see one in your headlights, but they are a wary critter and most likely will scurry away before you really know what you saw. They can be the size of a medium sized dog or slightly bigger. If you come across an injured one, steer very far away from it!!! These critters can be quite nasty! Especially if they are injured or threatened.
  • Coyotes: Iowa has a strong population of coyotes. They shouldn't be a bother to you, although you may hear them yippering in the night!
  • Other Rodents and Mammals: Iowa has a fair share of woodchucks, beavers, opossums, fox, and other critters that if you are lucky, you may catch glimpses of. None should be any issues for you.
  • Red Wing Blackbirds: Of all of Iowa's birds, these pesky, determined little black birds with the red shoulder patches may be the most bothersome. They will harry you, and occasionally peck at your helmet to make sure you are headed away from their nesting area, which is typically every ditch along every gravel road in Iowa. A squirt of water usually is all you need to dismay even the most ardent Red Wing Blackbird. 
  • Bobcats and.....Cougars?: Now, I wouldn't get too worried about the following, but cougars have been spotted in Iowa, and the secretive bobcat lives here as well. As I say, it shouldn't be an issue for you, but they are out there......
  • And finally- Dogs: As we say in the T.I.V7 Safety And Supplies section, "be ready to throw down with a mutt". There are lots of dogs in Iowa, and d.p. and I have taken measures to avoid known bad dogs for you, but with well over 300 miles of gravel roads to canvass, we certainly didn't find all of them. Most dogs will bark, many will give chase for a bit, and some will run with you for miles. All of these usually are harmless creatures, but there are a few surly mutts out for a fight, and you will be best served by first getting off your bike. Then placing your rig in between you and the grumpy fur-bag, try to scare it off. Usually, this will result in the dog backing off. But sometimes, it doesn't. You may need to make a decision based on circumstances at the time. Be aware that this is very rare, but a possibility out there. 
A Quick Dog Story: In re-conning T.I.V7, at night, d.p. and I met a surly dog intent on taking us captive. Really! It was trying to herd us, and I don't know if it was a cattle dog, but it showed every trait of a good one. d.p. and I were off the bikes, with our rigs in between us and the furry critter. We were yelling at it in commanding tones. No quarter was being taken or given. Standoff!

Well, I finally resorted to pointing my LED light at its eyes, and in the few moments of momentary blindness that ensued, we were able to get away.

So, there is one story for ya!

#2: Road Conditions: Gravel roads in the area of the event will likely vary quite a bit. Here is a short list of what you can expect to find out there.....
  • "Normal" Conditions: Gravel roads normally have at least a "two rack" of solid, packed "dirt" to ride on, and usually a three track. This is where the fastest, least resistant path for your tires will be. Along the edges and in the middle of the road, the gravel will be deeper, loose, and difficult to ride in. Remember: Ride on the right side!!
  • "Fresh" Gravel: This is something you will see in patches, (repairs to a gravel road), for several hundred feet, or up to several miles. Fresh gravel is loose, chunky crushed rock, (generally limestone, or other native rock), laid across the entire roadway. This will present a much more resistant path for your tires, and skinnier tired, lighter bikes will be most affected by it. You'll want to scan and hunt for the best lines, but "Ride On The Right Side"!!
  • "Damaged" Gravel: This can be anything from frost heaves, (a few inches or a foot of heaved up earth that is the consistency of thick flour), ruts, mud patches, or wash outs. Be very careful to avoid all of these. Depending on the weather, these can be rather prevalent features, (T.I.V4), or not, (T.I.V5).
  • "Peanut Butter" Gravel: This usually occurs if it rains. And it feels just like you might imagine. Sloppy, nasty, and wet. Not much one can do here but grin and bear it. On second thought, do not grin. You'll get a nasty mouthful of gritty stone in there! 
#3: Weather: I've experienced just about everything out there on gravel roads in terms of weather. The worst can be downright nasty. Most of it is survivable. However; there could be an event where your life is in danger. Here is the excerpt from the Race Rules to read here that deals with what we will do in case of severe weather events:

16: Weather Related Stoppage and Time Cut Off Rule: In case of severe weather during the event, we will do the folowing things so you can act accordingly. Remember: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOURSELF!! If the sky is falling, or you see Dorothy's house go spinning by your head, you should take appropriate actions to protect yourself. We will not be responsible for ill advised heroics in inclement weather. Be smart, or be pig fodder! This is only given out so that you as an event participant will know what our actions will be in regards to keeping tabs on your progress and what will be done with prizing. Weather related cancellation of the event will be enforced at the checkpoints. All participants will be directed as to where and when any prizing will be distributed at checkpoints by our volunteers. If you pull out before a checkpoint, you will need to contact the Event Director to find out if the event is being terminated. Results will not be tabulated if we have to stop the event. If cut off times to a checkpoint are not met by any event participant then the event will be terminated and all will be considered as DNF's. Prizing will be distributed by raffle to the remaining participants in the event at the time of stoppage or when it becomes clear that the cut off times will not be met. Must be present to win. Decisions of the event directors is final.
So, as you may have noticed, Rule #16 deals mostly with what we do with prizing, and little to do with anything related to you, the rider. That is because you need to use your own best judgment in these matters. As stated in Rule #16, " should take appropriate actions to protect yourself", and we mean it. You Are Responsible For Yourself!! Get in the ditch, knock on a farmers door to ask for shelter, or call in the cavalry, but DO NOT EXPECT TRANS IOWA OR ANYONE CONNECTED TO IT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY! Don't be stupid. Trans Iowa is not worth risking your life for in the instance of severe weather. (Or for any reason, for that matter)

Okay, that's about it from me on the gravel road riding tips. I highly recommend that you get out and try riding on whatever you can that resembles gravel, or actual gravel, with your set up to test, refine, and think through
your bike, gear, handling, and strategy.

Next time: Some event updates and status report......

Friday, January 14, 2011

Frigid Friday

Its another cold, cold morning in Iowa and the only thing I am excited about right now is The Snow Dog build. Sorry, but that's reality for me right now, and with the special news I got yesterday, I think you might agree.

As mentioned earlier this week, all I really lack for The Snow Dog is the frame and fork. Let's be honest, I really did not expect to see a Mukluk frame or fork for me for a long time. I was all prepared to sit things out until spring, when I figured that Mukluk demand would taper off, and Salsa Cycles would get caught up. I was very comfortable with this possibility from the moment I ordered the bike from Milltown Cycles. Really. Of course I would have liked to have believed all of the earlier prognostications for delivery, but in the back of my mind I knew it would be a process that might be a long time in fulfillment.

So, imagine my excitement when Jason Boucher himself calls from Salsa HQ to tell me that he and Ben Witt of Milltown Cycles had spoken and that a frame had been found. Caveat: no painted to match fork yet. So, it looks like if it all comes through, I'll have a bike similar to Joe Meiser's pre-production proto, (image left), in looks.

So, now I'm in a mad scramble for small bits and pieces and crossing my fingers that by this time next week I'll have a rideable Mukluk and that the first ride on The Snow Dog will have occurred.

And if it doesn't go down as tentatively planned, then I'll be okay with that too.  Hopefully whatever plans ya'all have for the weekend are successful and fun. Have a great weekend folks.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday News And Views

Today I am going to throw out some random stuff to clear off the desk here. (Hey, not every post is going to incite passionate responses and be "top notch", ya know.) So, check out the following tidbits-o-stuff that has been accumulating while I have been firing off missives on other subjects. (Winter time: Gives me too much time to think, ya know?)

The Snow Dog Wheel: Notice that isn't a plural "wheels" yet. Soon......very soon! Small technical difficulty to overcome yet on the front, but here is the rear wheel in the meantime.

Technical: The Phil 170mm O.L.D. hub, Rolling Darryl rim, Sapim butted spokes, nipples, and Larry 3.8" tire with the special guitar strap-like rim strip showing through the rim's "windows".

The cassette is a Shimano 12-36T 9 speed and the Rotor is an Ashima made Origin 8 185mm rotor. The cassette is the one from the stock Mukluk. The rotor is larger than the stock spec 160mm rotor. I didn't really care that it was this big, but I just happened to pick up a pair of 185mm rotors, never mounted, for a song. These are better rotors than Avid's by far, and I have had really good experiences with them in combination with the BB-7 calipers, which I have for this bike build.

Here is a little closer look at that special guitar strap-like rim strip. Ben Witt picked it out for me. I thought it was a rather thoughtful choice, so I am pleased with it. In fact, when I opened the box of parts it came in, I thought it was an actual guitar strap!

The spoking pattern may look odd here. What is going on is that the Rolling Darryl is drilled so that you can use the spoke holes over to one side to offset the rim, say for a Pugsley, which uses an offset frame requiring offset built wheels. Or, you can lace a symmetrical wheel, as I have done, which means the unused spoke holes alternate from side to side, instead of all being on one side like a offset rim build would show. Otherwise it is a standard 3 cross wheel build.

Cutter's Ball II: Here we go. Last year I went to the first Cutter's Ball at the Angry Catfish Bicycle and  Coffee Bar. Good times for sure. This year it moves to he new Peacock Groove space. That should be pretty dang cool. I just read through all the Peacock Groove history on the Velocipede site, and I'll tell ya what. It is pretty amazing stuff.

Erik Noren used to weld at Croll back in the day, and I just loved those rigs whenever I would see them. His own gig doing Peacock Groove is far more creative and free, and you can tell he has talent. 

This should be a good time and I hope to be able to swing over and see the place and maybe a bicycle or two. Last year Erik Noren showed a couple of really rad bikes and his style is totally unique, which I happen to enjoy seeing.

This flyer is posted up over at Gravel Grinder News, but I bring it over here because to me it is amazing to find out that gravel grinders are happening in Australia. You know, I was pretty much a "latch key" kid in terms of travel as a kid, and growing up thinking that "gravel" is only an Iowa thing was a given. Well, of course, I saw the surrounding states and figured, "Well, yeah. The Mid-west, but where else?"  Then I found out that Europe was once a gravel road haven, and my mind was opened. Now.....Australia? 

Yep! Oz has gravel back roads. Who knew? Well........other than the Aussies! You know what I mean. Gravel. It's Worldwide, ya'all.

I like that idea myself.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Who Are We Trying To Impress?

One of the "mantras" of the cycling industry these days is to "get more people to use bicycles for utility", or just "to get more people riding bicycles". Sounds good, right? Health benefits, ecological benefits, and all the "green" stuff we keep talking about. Yeah. It's all good, right?

Well, that depends on who we're talking to.

The assumption that is made here is that "getting more people on bicycles" is referring to the people who "are not on bicycles". Seems simple enough, right? I mean, a lot of people are not cyclists and the more cyclists we get the better we get as a whole, no? More health, more green, yada,yada,yada. Okay, great. But where are the new people? I am not seeing a rush to the bicycle anymore than there has been over the past 20 years or so. So why is that?

It's because we, (as cyclists and as an industry), are talking to other cyclists, not to what I like to call "Non-cycling America".  Here is what I mean....

Take a look at this bicycle by "Beloved". It is part of the Rapha Bicycle Collection. Rapha being that cycling clothing company that manufactures a romantic, mid-20th century cycling aura that you can buy in to. (I wonder, do you see everything in daguerreotype when you ride in Rapha clothing? Just curious.) Anyway, check out the simplicity, the utilitarian "monkey grip" to help haul it up stairways, the fenders, and useful rack all driven by an internal geared 5 speed transmission. Cool, right? Practical, no? Well, cool your passions folks, and check out the asking price: $5,195 + shipping. No, that isn't a typo folks. That's 5G of utility sitting there. How many of the "Non-cycling Americans" that you know will be interested in this?

Yeah.........not many, I'll wager!

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about when I say that the cycling industry, and cyclists are all hob-nobbing and slapping each other on the back with congratulatory salutations while speaking the right words but directing them all at the choir. All the while "Non-cycling America" is looking at us like we're speaking in some alien language, running around in ridiculous get ups, and pissing them off by getting in their way on "their" roads. (Well, because we are!) No wonder there is such a gulf between cyclists and everybody else on many cycling issues.

Think I'm crazy? Try talking "bike" with your non-cycling friends, relatives, or acquaintances, and get back to me on that. I'm betting you will "get the look" while they strain to comprehend what the heck that it is you are trying to talk to them about. Now look at the cycling industry, and tell me they are "talking" to these people any better. They are not, and that's a big problem if this industry really wants to get more folks on two, bi-pedaled wheels.

Now, check out this rig. Here's a guy from Nova Scotia, (if I recall correctly), that runs a shop. He got in several "town/urban" type bikes, canvassed the average citizen, and came up with the bicycle in his hands there. It is something casual and "non-cyclists" told him would work for them. And you know what? This fellow is going to start up a factory that will supposedly crank out about a 1000 of these 8 speed internal geared bikes with fenders, upright seated position, and sprung saddle per year for...........wait for it.......

About $1000.00. Yup! (And I think that is still too spendy for "Non-cycling America", but hey! This is headed in the right direction.) Oh the way, notice the man's garb? Yeah......practical. Looks like the guy next door, no? And what's more, this fellow wouldn't sell typical bicycle helmets to his customers because he knew that they thought the racing inspired helmets we see in every bike shop were going to make his customers feel stupid. Well, ya know.....he actually is talking to non-cyclists. Gosh! Isn't it amazing what you'll learn if'n ya just listen? Wow!

While it isn't very romantical, cool, or inspired by Europe's hard men, this guy is going in the right direction to get more people on bicycles. You know, the people that are not already on bicycles that we all want to get on bicycles? Yeah, those folks. Not "us". We already have bicycles.

I suggest we use 'em as often as possible too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Big Wheels Of A Different Sort

"The Other Bike" Update: Okay, first off, I came up with a new name for the Mukluk snow/fat bike project. It has its roots in classic rock, so see if you can guess where the name came from. Here it is: "The Snow Dog".

Okay, no prizes will be awarded, but it'll be fun to see if anyone gets this one. (No fair Googling! Use yer own gray matter!)

Now on with the hardware pictured here. I needed a front hub to go along with the rear I had. Welcome to another rear hub! (You are wondering something now. I can feel it!) Yes, another rear hub folks. You see, fat bikes nowadays use 135 O.L.D. dimension hubs for their front ends. These make for stronger wheel builds by allowing for a symmetrical wheel. No dishing for a front disc. So, that being the mountain bike standard for rear hub spacing, you get yourself a rear hub for a front hub on a fat bike. So, the smaller hub to the right is actually a rear mountain bike single speed hub and that is dwarfed by the ginormous 170 O.L.D. rear fat bike hub. Both spin on super-smooth Phil Wood bearings and are carved from aluminum and polished up like jewelry. These will make a nice looking and long lasting fat bike wheel set for The Snow Dog.

The Phil Hubs will be laced with Sapim spokes to the Rolling Darryl rims that I have, and a surprise rim strip provided by Ben Witt will be the crowning touch to these spectacular wheels. (Thanks for the perfect selection, Ben!)

Here I am after riding home on the freshly snow covered streets from work yesterday. Hopefully I will  be doing such exploits on The Snow Dog soon. I just need this one small, insignificant bit to complete the project. Nothing big.

Just a Mukluk frame and fork is all!

ha! Well, hopefully it won't be all that long from now. We still have a fair bit of winter left to go now and I am sure that when "it" gets here I will have it together in no time.

I sure hope that it will get done before Frostbike. I'd love to drag it up to Northfield and do some trail riding up there and then hit up the show, with maybe an after ride on some of the Twin Cities stuff. We'll see.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Changing Landscape

In the world of the internet, all sorts of wild, wacky stuff has been going on, and likely will into the foreseeable future. Wiki-leaks, Facebook, internet stalking, and what have you. One of the more interesting things the "Information Highway" has brought us is knowledge of source manufacturers for our toys that we play with. In this case, it is carbon mountain bike frames.

I first came across this when I started going to Interbike again. In the Asian Pavillion, the companies from the far East were displaying their wares trying to attract companies wanting branded components. I spied a familiar looking carbon fiber and aluminum 29"er fork in one of the booths. Upon closer inspection, it was found to be the "mother fork" to about a half dozen companies 29"er forks.

It was explained to me later that these companies simply specialize in some technique or facet of bicycle production, and then hawk their services to any bicycle company willing to work with them. Nothing wrong with any of the above, really. The thing was, it used to all happen behind closed doors. Not anymore.

Now let's take the case of the two carbon fiber frames I have posted here today. One is from a new start up in Switzerland, one is from an e-mail sent to a consumer direct from the Chinese manufacturer. Are they the same frame? Well, there is plenty of evidence that suggests that the two frames, while maybe not identical, are very, very similar. Too close for comfort, really. But the price? There is a grand difference between the asking prices for these frames. That's not chump change.

The thing is, you can contact Chinese companies that are advertising directly into the U.S. and buy frames, and complete bikes, direct. By-passing the normal economy. It's a product of the internet age, and it is going to change the landscape as far as how business is done at many levels.

What will happen is anybodies guess, but it is fascinating to watch it all play out. Obviously the consumer that is looking for value and the businessman/entrepreneur is at odds in this game and changes are on the wind. I'm betting sooner than later.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Trans Iowa V7 Update #10: Gravel Road Riding Tips

Gravel Road Riding Tips For Trans Iowa: Once again, this is aimed at the first timers out there, but ya'all might want to pay attention, since there might be some things I mention here which will help bring to mind stuff you may have forgotten about.

The last update, #9 on equipment choices, can be found here.

Please read and familiarize yourself with the Race Safety & Supplies section of the Trans Iowa site here.

I mention a few things there that are in keeping with my post here, so I will not cover those again. Here you will find some basic gravel road riding tips I have learned over the years and also things I have observed by putting on six previous Trans Iowas and from my other gravel road racing and riding experiences.

#1: Ride "Right": Just because you are in a remote, rural area, and just because there is little to no traffic doesn't mean you can relax on your road etiquette here. Ride on the right side of the road folks, especially going up a hill! Rural Iowans will expect that when they crest a hill in their automobile, that they will be on the right side, and so would anybody else coming the other way be on their right side of the road, thus preventing any accidental crashes at the summits of hills. That's how it works, so don't forget that, and don't try to push your luck out there. It could cost you your life.

#2: Don't Be A Hero: Trans Iowa is a long, long event. It isn't worth it to blow through stop signs, not pay attention at intersections, and to not wait for cars and trucks to clear out when crossing paved roads. Obey traffic signs! Stop at paved crossings and be very careful. Don't be a dick when going through towns and tick off the locals with your "get out of my way" attitude.

NOTE: If d.p. or I, or any of our volunteers report or see a T.I.V7 rider violating #1 or #2 above, you will be disqualified immediately and asked to stop riding. I won't tolerate riders being stupid, ignorant, or willfully breaking laws or rules of conduct. Period. 

#3: "Read" The Road: It is important that you recognize the difference between loose gravel, and smoother sections of the road. Obviously, you'll want to take the path of least resistance, but I am thinking of the fast down hill sections. The ability to look further up the road and "read" the conditions of the gravel will allow you to descend with more confidence and safety. This will become imperative at night. Don't outrun your lights, and ride within your skill level. That said, reading the road will be a handy tool during Trans Iowa. Getting out and practicing this on gravel ahead of T.I.V7 would be the best bet.

#4: Take Corners Very Carefully: Generally speaking, bicycle tires and speedy gravel corners are not things that go together without mishap. Be careful going around corners and you'll be fine. Criterium style cornering will be met with a case of severe road rash!

#5: Easy On The Brakes!: Similarly, heavy, sudden braking is a no-no on gravel and a recipe for going down. Gently squeezing the levers and giving yourself plenty of room to make a stop is advised. Keep drafting distances longer, unless you can implicitly trust the riders you draft off of. If one guy or gal in a draft line makes a small bobble or slips on loose gravel, you will find yourself in a big pile up. Also, keep a light touch on the brakes while descending at speed. Too much brake and you can easily lose control and stack it up heinously. (And it doesn't take much brake to be "too much" on gravel!) Don't draft on the down hills! Especially steep ones. (Getting a gravel chunk in the eye, or a face full of dust or mud is a distinct possibility)

#6: B Road Roolz: B Maintenance roads present their own set of rules. First and foremost is deciding whether to even ride in at all! If it is wet, your best bet may be to dismount while you are still on the gravel and test the road by walking on it. You'll know within a few footsteps if you could ride it out, or not. Better to have clagged up shoes than a mud packed, 70lb bike that you have to carry!

If the B Road has a ditch, you may be allowed to pass in the grass, but if it's like the one I have pictured here, you'll be obliged to walk the entire length of it. Trust me. You shouldn't try riding on a rain soaked B Road! If it is dry, you can pass, or maybe if the sun has gotten to it after a rain, you may find parts will be rideable, but it is best to err on the side of caution here. Added to this is the fact that road obstacles like embedded rocks, holes, ruts, and even random junk are waiting to toss you off your bike or ruin your tires and wheels, and it should become apparent that B Roads deserve your respect.

Next Update: More Gravel Road Riding Tips....

Friday, January 07, 2011


One Step On The way To The Gravel Concept Bike: Since the idea for the Gravel Concept Bike has been largely decided, I have been thinking about an interim rig to "get by" with for awhile and to test the waters on some of the ideas for that ultimate gravel road warrior.

So, I've had a look at the Fisher collection cyclo-cross rigs. They have several bits I like about the geometry, and are pretty basic looking with a single speed option. Thursday I got up close and personal with an Erwin, in my size, since the shop I work at received one for stock which I built up. There are quite a few interesting things about the Erwin, and the Fisher Collection steel cyclo-cross bikes in general that I liked, and a few things I didn't like.

Overall, the bike is pretty dang cool, and for the most part, I could probably live with this on its own merits. The geometry is decent, with exception of the bottom bracket drop, of course, since it is a cyclo-cross rig. That BB height is noticeable too. I really felt like I was sitting up in the air on this rig, and it only had 32mm tires on it! Bigger tires would jack it up even higher. Not my cup-o-tea, but there are several things that I did think were cool, and speaking of bigger tires, that's one of them. in fact, I am certain XR-1's would shim into this frame. That's a 29"er tire folks! The clearances on this frame are enormous. The head angle is slack enough, and the bike in a 58cm fit really well. They moved the cable hangar for the front brake to the fork to reduce front brake flutter, and it has the hidden fender mounts that Fisher Collection road bikes have. Rack mounts too. The sliding drops mean single speeding this is a no-brainer.

I don't really care for Tiagra shifters and components though, and for the price of the Erwin, it seems a bit cheap on the drive train spec. ($1500.00MSRP) The wheels are "meh", and so is the crank set. I do like the Presidio's SRAM spec, but that is the next step up and even more money for the same frame and fork otherwise.

Ideally I would get the Presidio and when the custom bike was done, I'd swap over most of the geared stuff to it and single speed the frame on the Presidio, (or Erwin), and keep it, most likely, as my SS gravel rig. We'll see.

And In The "Other Bike" News: I got a voice mail message from Ben Witt yesterday, (Thank you sir!) saying that everything for the Mukluk is in but the frame. I suspect that by next week then I'll be getting my wheels built and will be anxiously awaiting my frame and fork.

Maybe, just maybe I'll have it in time for Frostbike. And maybe, just maybe- if everything falls into place, Marty and Ben will have their fat bikes and we can all goof off on fat bike at Mike's Bikes in Northfield. (hint-hint), or do some other dastardly fat biking around that area. Hmmm.........

Well, it is rather cold out this weekend, but if you can, go outside and do something fun. Have a good one folks!