Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday News And Views

Well, yesterday's post I seem to have stirred the pot a bit. Some great comments, (26 so far!), and lots of views. Here's a few points to follow up with....

  • Any Bike Is A Gravel Bike: Look- we do not need a gravel specific bicycle. That said, we do not need 27.5 inch wheels for enduro bikes, we do not need gears, and we do not need electronic controlled drive trains either. But ya know what? Those things make doing specific rides and tasks easier. The industry is capable of doing them, and consumers like it. Okay? So if the industry wants to pursue a gravel specific bike, I say, "get the dang thing right", and that was part of the point with yesterday's post. With the amount of hits and comments I have gotten from yesterday's post, I'd wager there is some significant interest in having a gravel specific rig, or nothing would have come of it. Right? 
  • What Gravel Is To You May Not Be What Gravel Is To Someone Else: I get that some folks see "gravel roads" in the context of where they live. That might mean mountain fire roads. That might mean backroads which are dirt only. That might be a foreign concept, since some places don't even have gravel roads for a point of reference. When I give my opinion on this sort of bicycle, it is based upon where I have ridden all across the Mid-West, which is arguably the "World Center of Gravel Roads".(<===Not my idea. Actually this was brought up by a West Coaster I recently spoke with.)  I've seen and ridden on lots of different types of gravel roads, and that's where I base my "what is best" from. It is not going to be a bicycle for everyone, (but then again, neither is a 5" travel 27.5"er enduro rig either, or a cyclocross bike, for that matter), so if you see this as a big waste of time, I get that. 
  • Brakes: I knew my thoughts on brakes would get some attention, and it did. Look- I ride disc brake bikes on gravel roads. I know lots of folks that do as well. It isn't terrible if you want those sort of brakes, but I will also stand by my take that disc brakes are overkill for gravel roads. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be offered for gravel road bikes. I just do not think it is the best way, for the reasons I detailed yesterday. (Disc brakes ARE the most marketable way to do a gravel bike though, which is an entirely different thing.)
Finally, you are going to see more "gravel road" specific bikes coming. In fact, I have it on good authority that tomorrow at the Dirty Kanza 200 there is going to be a "well known rider" astride a prototype from a "well known brand". It's just the beginning folks........

Dirty Kanza 200: Right now there are a lot of folks in Emporia Kansas, or getting there, that will be testing themselves against 200 miles of flinty goodness. I salute each and everyone of you, and wish you tailwinds and to keep the rubber side down.

I elected not to go this year. I had an open invite from the race, which I always feel weird about, (for several reasons), but the reason I can not go is just the nuts and bolts of money and time away from my job and family. I have another trip to Nebraska in three weeks or so which will eat up some time off, and also the GTDRI about two weeks after that, so adding another big trip without the family- just ain't right. For me anyway.

So, have a great ride, if you are in the DK this year, and I look forward to all the great stories that will surely be told afterward.

3GR: Well, if it isn't raining like last week, I'll be at Gates Swimming Pool parking lot in Waterloo at 8:30am for the 3GR. Cedar Falls trail network, which I utilize to ride out of town on a normal 3GR, is all inundated with this flooding, so a W'Loo departure this time again! I am thinking of doing the loop up past Denver and back down again,just in case you are coming.

 The Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational by the Slender Fungus Cycling Association: 

July 13-14 mark your calendars and come to Eastern Iowa for a hilly son of a gun called the "GTDRI" for short. It's a no drop group ride and is being put on by the Slender Fungus Cycling Association, which are some cool cats, if I do say so, (and I do!)

One thing that "El Presidente' Ari" is asking for is that if you are coming, please say so here. Several gravel grinding aficionados have already committed, so why not you? Once the SFCA knows a bit more about what to expect for rider numbers, they will hit us back with details on lodging/camping, route, and whatnot.

While I am not privy to the route details, I've seen enough recon photos to know that you'll want to be geared low and be able to carry plenty of food and water. There will be some stops, but in July, with expected hot weather, it is always wise to plan ahead! The route should be over 100 miles and no more than 150. It'll be an all day ride fer sure!

Maybe I'll bust out the Gravel Mutt Project bike for this one!

Okay, ya'all have a great weekend, and ride those bikes!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"It" May Never Happen

Once again, due to circumstances and the way things played out yesterday, I was doing a bunch of thinking. Which is never a good thing for you blog readers because that means I am about to download an opinion piece on something or another. So, here I go with the standard disclaimer.....

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

Gotta have room for fatties and mud.
 What Is "It"?

The world of cycling may never quite understand, but there is room for a gravel specific bike or two from the bigger brands. The thing is, "it" may never happen, and here are some reasons why....

Tire Clearances: The gravel cyclist should have options to account for different conditions and to mitigate the rougher ride a cyclist experiences on gravel. There is one really great way to do that, and that is to allow for bigger, fatter tires than a cyclocross bike uses. My observations have shown me that tire size is somewhere between 35mm-45mm which covers most gravel grinder's needs. Not all- but most.

That means chain stays need to be a lot more accommodating than many rigs I have seen out there. The thing is, manufacturers are loathe to go big on the stays for reasons I am not really clear on. At one time I was actually told that "it wasn't possible" to make for bigger tire clearances without using stupid-long chain stays. Which was funny, because I have a bike that actually fits bigger tires than I am indicating here and has reasonably short chain stays, within what was being told to me was "acceptable".  Anyway.....

Lively, Lightweight Frames: (That aren't waaaay expensive!)

Some companies get this, but the thing is, due to over-reaching safety tests and worries about litigation, a lot of companies just plain can not offer a steel frame that would have a sweet ride and be light. So, aluminum, right? Maybe, but nice riding aluminum frames get into the same territory here with regard to "safety" and what not. An over-built aluminum frame is going to ride.....well, not as well as gravel riders would like. (Assuming gravel riders know the differences here.) So, you end up having to look at titanium and carbon, which I have no quibbles about, but they are expensive alternatives.

Too bad. I remember nice, lively steel mountain bike frames, and those will never happen again from the bigger companies either, due to similar reasons. Gravel riders may never know how good it could be unless they go custom. Again- pretty expensive.

 Geometry That Works Better For Gravel:

Head tube angles and bottom bracket drop. Those two things never quite come together for the betterment of gravel riders. Cyclocross rigs often come in with a pretty good number on the head angle, (typically 72° is commonplace), and that gets within a half a degree of what I would like to see, but you never see those bikes with a road bike-like lower bottom bracket, which would add all sorts of stability.

Loose, fast descents just really call out for a stable, easy to control handling package which the slacker head angle/lower bottom bracket would give riders. Gravel riders don't need to lean over hard and pedal through corners, so the higher bottom bracket that cyclocross rigs use is worthless on gravel. Manufacturers don't get that a road bike with a slack geometry, wide tire clearances, and a nice, shock absorbing tire are what gravel riders need. That bike seems to be too weird to contemplate. Then add in the brake thing, and well.......

A Word On Brakes:

In my opinion, gobs of power in a brake is not what gravel grinders need. You're essentially braking on a surface littered with marbles.  Locking up a wheel, (and remember kiddos- a locked up wheel is an out of control wheel), is super-easy to do on gravel. Rim brakes are lighter. Set up well they work wonders on gravel. Rim brakes can modulate for days. Adverse conditions are not a big deal with cantilevers. Plus, (and this is the biggest reason I like cantis), the frame and fork do not have to be beefed up to accommodate a disc brake mount. This is especially true on the fork, where a good, steel fork design would be totally screwed up by adding disc brake mounts. could design a carbon fork to take care of that, and charge us accordingly. Not necessary. Not in my opinion.

And the industry has a different agenda here, where the perception is that riders "want" disc brakes, so that's where the designs and R&D will go. Too bad. It doesn't have to be so complicated, nor so expensive to work well.

So, for all those reasons and more, we may not ever see a really great design purpose built for gravel riding being sold by the mainstream companies. But then again.....

I could be all wrong about that.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gravel Mutt Project: Camo Madness

Psychedelic Camo
I mentioned in my last post that I had made some significant progress on the Gravel Mutt. Well, I have, but I took a step backward as well. Here's the deal: I am not a painter. Yet! 

Technically I am cutting a lot of corners, but that is for a reason. See- I am ultimately trying to demonstrate that one does not have to go to great lengths to have a, (sorta), cool gravel grinder bicycle. Low expenditure and a little time invested, and here ya go: A gravel grinder bicycle that can tackle anything you throw at it. That's the premise here. While things like a Salsa Cycles Warbird are cool, not everyone is ready and/or able, (or may not even want to),  to throw down that kind of coin to try out the gravel road scene.

So, back to the painting issues. I thought I cleaned up the metal before I painted it well enough, but something I was using must have had a small amount of oil on it, which was just enough to make the paint do some pretty weird, and cool, things. Weird and cool are okay if that is what you want, but I wasn't looking for a crackle finish or for mad pores/orange peel. Not all the frame did this, but in certain areas, there will be some sanding and repainting going on. I consider it a "second chance" of sorts at the theme for the paint. A "take two", if you will.

So, I will forge ahead, getting some clean, new wet/dry paper and I'll wet sand it down to smooth, then re-shoot the thing. That shouldn't be too awful long from now, considering trails are wet, it is forecast to rain almost everyday for the next week, and I should have plenty of time on my hands!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

....And All I Got Was This iPhone Pic!

Finally! A ride happened.....
Well, that was a typical Memorial Day Weekend. Rain, thunder, lightning, high winds, and flooding all weekend until Monday fore noon. Then it finally dried up enough to get out and enjoy some gravel.

Saturday I awoke to grumbling skies and rain, so I didn't go out on the 3GR. Props to those who may have ridden in the rain, but I am not motivated to go out and do that. So, I waited it out to see if things would clear up, and for a time in the afternoon, it did, but I was obliged to do some family time. Not a problem for me to drop a ride to spend time with the family at all, so no big deal.

I did get a lot of work done on the Gravel Mutt, (which I will detail later), so I was pleased to get that project pushed along a little further. There will be another sanding, painting, and hopefully thread chasing session after this. Then I will move on to assembly. I also did some tire swapping on the gravel wheels and on the Project White Inbred bike.

Sunday I played bass at church, then back to the house to meet with a guy who is going to help fix our kitchen cieling, and then I watched a race. Of course, it was raining cats and dogs with high winds most of the day here anyway, so no bike riding was even contemplated for Sunday. Monday I grilled out for lunch, then I hit the gravel South of town. It was so humid I felt damp the entire ride. The gravel was correspondingly mushy and soft in a lot of places, but it was riding a bike time, and I was on it!

Both my cameras were down on battery power simultaneously, so all I got from the ride was a single iPhone pic. It shows the somber mood of the countryside well enough though. Lots of standing water everywhere. Black Hawk Creek has topped the banks and spread over the low lying farm fields adjacent to its banks making for a sight. Almost as if there were a big lake South of town now! What a contrast to a year ago when it was mid-90's, blazing Sun, and dry for weeks on end. Either way, I'll take this ride and be glad. I really needed it!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Memorial Day Message From The Way-Back Machine

Four years ago, I wrote the following post on this blog. It seemed that it is as pertinent today as it was then, so why bother re-writing something similar? Here it is in its entirety.....

The Weekend When It Always Rains

Memorial Day weekend. Yeah....the opening salvo of summer. That weekend that signals the start of camping out doors, bar-b-cues, the opening of swimming pools, and school about to end for the summer. Oh yeah..........and one other thing.........rain!

I can't think of a better "rain magnet" than to declare a late May weekend as Memorial Day. Since I've been a kid, (a long, long time ago........) this weekend gets rained on more than not. Weird, but true.

Of course, if you take time to think about it, the rain may be appropriate. The whole idea of Memorial Day isn't for what I started this post out with. No, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. In that sense, maybe a solemn gray rainy day is a reminder. A way for us to be prodded into stopping for a moment to recall the sacrifices of those who gave all. (If you want to find out more about the true meaning of this weekend, then check out this.)

So maybe while you are out on a ride this weekend, maybe you could stop for a moment, and remember. It is because of the sacrifices of many men and women that we can enjoy the freedom we have. One of those freedoms being the enjoyment of riding a bicycle.

I hope you all enjoy your weekend, ride your bicycles, and remember.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Gravel Mutt Project: The Front End

I started working over the fork for the Gravel Mutt. At one point, I was going to be getting a Surly Cross Check threadless fork and a new headset, but......that isn't the "mutt way" to be doing things, now is it? No. It is not the Mutt Way. The Mutt Way is using the binned parts and cheaply gotten bits to build a workhorse bicycle.

Using the original fork and headset would be fine, but this presented a bit of a problem. The "old way" of doing a stem, (quill style), generally doesn't use a face plate. When they do, they are ug-a-leeee! Plus, I may end up with a 31.8mm handle bar, so this made me go the route of a quill adapter.

The quill adapter is clean looking, and allows me several choices in stems which can suit any drop bar handle bar, and look pretty good doing it. Cheap too. Besides, it isn't a new idea at all. Early mountain bike builders would do a similar thing but would actually braze in a stub into the steer tube that extended above the threaded head set. A "clip on" stem would then be used, and the top cap? It usually was a coin! Modern adaptations are similar, but look more like a standard threadless steerer.

As I am sanding down the paint for priming and finishing, I note that the drop outs are Tange ones on the fork ends. Probably a Tange fork too, I am guessing. That's nice. The frame tubes are True Temper. All steel means a solid gravel grinder base. Abuse friendly, no worries about scratches, dings, or damage. If I like it so much when it, if ever, needs repair, it can be done at a reasonable cost.

Random thought: Paint frame and fork flat black and call the bike "Crow Molly". 


Quill adapter
 Hopefully I will be making some major progress on this over the three day weekend. I would like to throw on some paint, and if it goes well, I might be able to assemble the thing in a week or so, once the paint cures.

Then the build should pretty much go quickly. The plan is to go with a 1 X 9 drive train. One bar end shifter, a set of Tektro RL 520 levers is sitting around here somewhere, and I may need to score some better cantilevers.

I found a nice Ritchey seat post in the bin, and to top that off I want to get a B-17 or possibly a Flyer. The handle bars may be something I have laying around, or a new set of Cowbell 2's. I really like Cowbells! They are the bars I use on the BMC. Wheels will be the aforementioned XTR/Salsa Delgado hoops shod with whatever tire I need to be riding at the time. (The bike will be used for testing stuff for Gravel Grinder News when necessary.) Otherwise I plan on just using this one for the 3GRs and maybe some night time riding this summer. Bad weather will see this one on the roads as well. Hmm.......maybe it needs fenders too.....

The bike will then get outfitted with a frame bag, a top tube bag, and a couple of bottle cages so it'll be ready for long or short distances at the drop of a hat. That's about it, but before I get there, I have a lot of work ahead of me. Details to come. For now, it's sanding and painting time.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday News And Views

Candy Smokes & Processed Beef Products!
It's the big weekend holiday and everyone will be scrambling to recreate. Lots of barbeque, beer, and whatever else trips yer trigger. But just for a moment, let's not forget why we're getting to do all these crazy things in the U.S. of A. these days.

Our folks that served in uniform, giving the ultimate sacrifice in many cases, deserve our thanks and recognition. Say thanks to a Veteran, or at least make a special note of thanks in a way that seems significant to you at some point this weekend. It's the least we can do.....

More Stories Added: Just an update to a past Friday News And Views where I listed all the T.I.V9 stories and accounts I had at the time. There are more added now, in case you want to check it out. If anyone knows of accounts that are not listed there and want to suggest adding them, just comment here or hit me with an e-mail.

A Mule Kickin' In The Stall: As most of you cycling geeks are aware of, this is the midst of the Pro Cycling season and local criteriums are on at full tilt. It is with this in mind that I would like to point out the most recent "Bicycle Times", (edition #23), which just hit my mailbox today. (I know......a paper magazine! They still exist!) Anyway, the publisher, one Maurice Teirney, of "Dirt Rag" fame, writes a letter flaming Pro Cycling and its deleterious effects on riders of the more common cloth and on the cycling industry at large. The letter starts out with "To hell with pro cycling!" and rants on from there. Definitely worth reading, if you get a chance.

I would agree with much of Mr. Teirney's points, but I also see a couple things worth noting. One: Big Maurice is a mountain bike dude from way back. (In fact, he's in the MTB Hall of Fame, if you didn't know.) There has always been a bit of "anti-roadie" in the culture of mountain biking, and I'm certain Mr. Teirney is steeped in that culture. Secondly- pro racing has paid his rent, at least in part,  for many years, so I find it interesting, and a bit ironic, that he would so vehemently go after Pro Road Cycling.

That said- I get why he's peeved too. Well......go read it if you can. That's "Bicycle Times" issue #23, page 9.


This week the ride is being moved again!  Due to high water this time, the 3GR will once again start from Gates Park swimming pool parking lot at 8:30am tomorrow. It sounds like there is a 50/50 chance there may be a thunder storm late in the morning, so I will be keeping an eye on the sky, but as of now, the ride is on.

I am not sure anyone will show up, because it is a Holiday weekend, but I will be there and likely on the BMC. I wanted to ride the Vaya, but I discovered that an odd sensation at the pedals turned out to be a slightly loose crank arm. I haven't taken it off to inspect it yet, but I fear the splines are wallowed out and that is not good.

So, I'll look into that later into the weekend, but for now it'll be the ol', reliable Black Mountain Cycles rig. Which needs a new bottom bracket, by the way. I should do something about that before it becomes "critical"! For some reason I want to put a Chris King in it and replace the head set with a King unit as well. Both silver, of course. That bike is worth that upgrade!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Bit Wet In Spots

Okay, this is your notice that "Camp Ingawanis South Side Trails" is now going to be known as "Ingawanis Woods". Officially that happens on June 1st, but I am jumping the gun! The Scouts sold the parcel of land off to Bremer County last fall and the transfer takes effect on 6-1-13.

With that bit of business out of the way, I will continue with my little story of an unusual ride out there Wednesday. Unusual because of the heavy rains received up North on Sunday night that added up to 5-6 inches of rain fall and flooded the Cedar River. That moved downstream to us and the crest was early Wednesday morning, a few hours before I went up to ride.

There is a lower section of the trails up there that I knew would be unrideable, and has been unrideable for quite sometime now due to the higher water levels this Spring. I figured that was off the menu, but I hadn't gotten a half a mile in before my first check at a ravine crossing. There was a short work around, but then another 100 yards or so I was stopped dead in my tracks and had to turn tail and head back where I started. I wasn't about to give up on my riding opportunity just yet though.

Higher ground
I tried heading up towards the Eagle Lodge, but it was pretty muddy, and I got out of there as soon as I ever could. Heading up higher, I found that the trails were actually in really great shape. There are a few decent hills out there which rise above the river level far enough that I was finding some decent trail, albeit in an unconventional, (for me), order of experience. Basically, I was going what I would call "backwards" on the loop.

I had heard of a new loop cut in as well, and it wasn't long before I found the fresh cut-in trail. Fresh made trail, (at least in Iowa), is always a chore to ride. The ground, which generally hasn't seen any traffic whatsoever, is soft, loamy, and very irregular. This trail section had been cleared, but very few bicycles had been on it yet. Ooof! Gear down! Trundling along, I was happy just to be able to check it out, and find it all above water!

This new trail impressed me in two ways: First- it will be a flowy, fast trail once it gets "burned in". A great single speeder's section, if I do say so myself. Secondly, it is longer than I expected. This is a big section of trail and my hats off to Karmen who, (as far as I know), pretty much single handedly cut this in. Nice work!

And one other thing- it's clearly "jungle season" again. The underbrush is growing at a mad rate, and soon will be overtaking several spots on the trails. Crazy weather we're having here. Only three weeks ago it snowed!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Elusive Promise Of Carbon Fiber: Wheels

Last week I wrote about this subject in relation to bicycle frames for 29"ers. Today I want to talk about another major component that carbon fiber is used for: wheels.

Does carbon make wheels "better"?
Several years ago, 29"ers were not getting the "best" engineering, tech, or features like the smaller 26"ers were. Back then, (I am talking like '07-'08), you could get on a 29"er, slam it into a corner, and most likely you would feel a lot of wheel flex. Aluminum extrusions for 29"ers were mostly scaled up 26 extrusions and not specifically designed for the stresses that bigger wheels cause when riders do that mountain biking thing. The answer back then was carbon.

At that time, a Utah based company named "Edge Composites", (Now Enve), rolled out a couple carbon 29"er hoops that radically changed how riders would perceive the 29"er handling traits. The Edge wheels were stiffer. Way stiffer than anything else out there at the time. Yes- they were, ( and still are), super expensive. But if you could afford them, they would radicalize your 29"er experience. In fact, it took frames a while to catch up to how far Edge had taken the possibilities for frame stiffness and wheel rigidity in concert with each other.

But since then, aluminum designs for wheels in the plus size have come a long way. The gulf between aluminum and carbon in terms of ride performance has narrowed dramatically. Is carbon fiber even worth it anymore for 29"er wheels?

Aluminum rims have come a long way for 29"ers
Case in point: SRAM introduced some new wheels recently- the Roam and Rail wheels, (see here), and you have a direct comparison between what you get and what you don't get, (at least on paper), with comparably designed and purposed aluminum and carbon rims.

The Roam 60, a carbon rimmed 29"er wheel weighs in at 1625g, has a 28mm outer/21mm inner rim dimension, and costs $2199.00. Now the similar Roam 50, with an aluminum rim, weighs 1610 gms, has a 25 outer/ 21mm inner rim dimension, and sells for $1072.00. You can see that weight, inner rim dimension, and the cost are the three specs that jump out here.

The aluminum Roam 50 actually weighs less, has the same inner rim dimension, and is over a grand cheaper. To be fair, SRAM says the carbon rim on the Roam 60 actually weighs 10 grams less than the aluminum Roam 50 rim, but so what? (You can not buy just rims here, right?) And what's 10 grams versus saving a grand? Again- SRAM has said the Roam 60 is stronger. (Interestingly, the word stiffer was not used to describe the Roam 60 rim versus the Roam 50 rim, but I don't know that it is not stiffer.)

Well, you can argue the minutiae all you want, but the difference in price is not minute. The difference in performance? Maybe not so much, eh? It will be interesting to see, but again- Carbon doesn't automatically call out "better" here. And even if it is, by a little bit, the costs are dramatically different which seems to point to less value in the carbon format. Thinking about some of the other details on those SRAM rims brings this out even more.

And not all carbon rims are appointed or perform similarly, I get that. However; there are not too many companies making such similar wheel models in carbon and aluminum. In this case, the promise of carbon fiber seems to have a flat taste in the mouth.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

GTDRI '13: An Introduction

From the 2012 GTDRI
What It Is: 

Okay, it is time to start thinking about the upcoming "Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational" again.  This year's event is happening on July 13-14th, 2013.

Okay- every year the name of this ride causes confusion. Here's the deal: The ride is FREE. ANYONE is invited that wants to ride a lot of challenging gravel. Maybe a 100 miles or more in one crack. Yep. Maybe less if the weather dictates. It is a NO DROP group ride. Everyone sticks together, and this IS NOT A RACE!!  Feel like having a good time in the hot sun on some hilly, challenging Iowa gravel with like-minded individuals? This might be a great ride for you to show up to.

Where It Is: This year I am doing something totally new and different for me. I am turning the reins over to the Slender Fungus Cycling Association, a tight knit bunch of cycling aficionados that have a strong love for Iowa and gravel roads. They have already scouted out roads in Jackson County, Iowa, and will be providing some clearer details on the route and what not soon. Stay tuned....

When It Is: The ride has been on Saturday in recent years, but since a couple of the guys on the Slender Fungus squad are bike shop rats, the ride will be on Sunday this year so they can attend and not miss work on Saturday. This was the way it used to be for a while when I would camp oout on Saturday night before the gig and go home afterward. So, on Saturday night....(place yet to be determined).... I will be camping out and anyone that wants to is welcomed to stop by and hang out for some conversations and maybe a few adult beverages. (But I am going to limit that since in years past we would drink too much and stay up too late......with the next day's ride being negatively affected. )

The ride typically starts at sun up, so that's the time we'll be taking off. Generally that's about 6am, but if the SFCA says we need to get a head start, that may be moved up. Generally we ride till sundown. It's an all day affair! Stay tuned for more details as I get them........

Monday, May 20, 2013

3GR Report: Withering Wind

The Lilacs in bloom were sweet smelling
The 3GR for Saturday was an odd ball one, for sure, since I knew that many regulars were out of town for the Almanzo events.  I also had to push back the start to 2:30pm due to my neighborhood clean-up, which happened on Saturday morning. So, I knew there was a good chance this ride would be a solo one.

Turns out I was right about that. At least it was warm and clear out, for the most part. However; there was a wind, and it wasn't what I would call a "favorable wind", what with it coming out of the South and me going North to start out with. Yes- a tail wind North, but that meant a head wind to finish it off. I usually prefer that to be in reverse order, but it was what it was.

So, I set out alone on the Vaya and headed through the bike paths which get me out North of town and out to gravel. I met a few riders that probably are training for RAGBRAI, judging by the loud music they were playing on their bike mounted music systems. I was glad I was headed in the other direction. The music of the wind, birds, and the crunch of gravel on my tires was what I wanted to hear.

Of course, headed mostly North should have felt great, but for whatever reason, I was out of sorts. I never could get into a comfortable rhythm and I knew it wasn't going well for me. The Vaya has a couple of bugs to be worked out yet: a pedal, (I think), that is going bad, the seat and stem positions are not right yet, and the saddle isn't good enough.

I got this!
Along about this time I note that my right side bar tape is unraveling. Okay.....if there is one thing that ticks me off on a drop bar bike- it is unraveling or loose bar tape. So, I make the decision to stop right then and there to rewrap it. I carefully undo the finishing tape so I can reuse it, and then I get to work. Within minutes I have the job done and I am back riding again. One less thing to bug me while I am out riding!

Then I notice the rear derailleur cable is too loose, and I try fixing that on the fly. After a few attempts, I get that taken care of. Another issue to deal with when I get back home though. The barrel adjuster is pretty far out, and that isn't a good thing either. At least I can shift the thing up into lower gears now! I understand at this point why customers of the bike shop that do not have the skills to do this sort of stuff get frustrated though. If this happened to me and I was clueless on what to do, I would be pretty mad! Fortunately, I do know what to do when mini-disasters strike out on the road. (Gotta remember to put a little tape in the kit next time though!)

Good as new!
I roll out to finish off the Northward march. I finally hit on a bit of rhythm here, but I still feel slightly out of sorts. I can not really put my finger on it either. Just not feeling it today. I was trying to decide if I should go for the big loop, or cut back on the original route and then over toward home. My decision was helped when I turned East just past C-50. Wind! I would be hitting a pretty significant headwind going back. Probably 20mph with higher gusts. Not as bad as the week before, but this would be at the tail end of the ride and not in the beginning of the ride, like it was last week.

I'd been looking for a likely place to stop and have a "nature break", when I crested a small hill and the road went back North again. Here was a little turn off into a farmer's field that put me out of the general view of anyone around, so that was perfect. I swung over, ditched the bike, and did my business quickly. Then after a few shots with the camera I remounted and headed back out on the gravel. The road was strewn with newer gravel, but it had been beaten in pretty well by the copious amounts of farm traffic of late.

That's Ingawanis Woods in the distance.
Finally I go by Ingawanis Woods and hit the big rollers by the rock quarry. The road is always super-fast through here. Better than smooth pavement. I like this bit and it doesn't disappoint on this day. Even the wind seemed to relent and let me enjoy the climb and descent down to my right hand turn and back into that wind.

The Wind: I can remember thinking to myself, " we go!", as I made the turn. After a few rollers I was out in the open and getting pummeled. The wind was actually getting stronger, and puffs of gravel dust were being driven along which would sweep by me and keep on rolling Northward. Not me. I was resigned to going slowly South and hopefully, eventually, back home.

Every pedal stroke was laborious, hard, and was starting to hurt my right knee. These are the times that, overall, probably pretty much suck in terms of cycling and why I do this, but there are other reasons to be. I was trying to focus on those things. Overall, I would say I was successful, because, ya know, I made it back home to write about it!

There was the young buck in the rusty Chevy with a load of seed corn. I would say, if I didn't know any better, that he was slowing down after he passed me to dust me in his wake. Unfortunately for him, the slight Southeastward origins of the withering blast were directing his limestone assault off the road rather quickly. He then turned around and with an impish grin, waved hello as he drove back the other way to douse me one more, albeit brief, time. Bah!

A field of Hopes and Possibilities
Then there were the several farmers out planting in the fields. Frantically working against the clock, these farmers were putting in seed with the fainting hopes that it wasn't too late to get a good corn crop. Last year, in comparison, the corn was already knee high.

Beans will be next, but this is the time to plant those, so the rush isn't as extreme as it is for the corn crop. I was wishing them well as I passed slowly by on my way South. An insect compared to the behemoths of the fields which crawled back and forth across the newly tilled earth.

All these things kept me from thinking about how much this ride was actually hurting. It was definitely not fun to deal with that nasty wind and the heat, which wasn't too extreme, but it was in the 80's. I was often reminded of how the Dirty Kanza 200 could feel like this. A brutal wind, no where to hide, and running out of water. Been there, not quite "done that", but I'd given it my best shot all three times I'd tried it.

Eventually I made it all the way back into town. One thing I discovered, and I am pretty convinced of this now, is that  the BioPace ring I am using makes a definite difference. I found I was able to power through hills with out getting those peak loads on every revolution that really take your momentum of pedaling away, and cause you to shift down, or to stop altogether. I was glad to have that discovery.

Back home I was wiped out! Good thing it was family home made pizza night!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gravel Mutt Project: Working On It.....

 The used to be a front derailleur here.
I've been doing a lot of hand sanding lately. Chasing irregularities and finding new ones along the way. I probably could have taken the frame somewhere and had it bead blasted, but for me, there is something.... Well, there is something about hand work and metal that I like. I used to be a bench jeweler, and I got to polish  up a lot of gold and silver, but I also would polish up about anything metal in my down time. I once polished a prong file's back side to a chrome-like, mirror finish. It's kind of a mental clearing activity, and I suppose I have something wrong with me.....

But you all knew that! 

Anywho, I enjoy the hand sanding, and I find it rewarding when I can make something look better than it used to, if it is metal. Maybe I should have built custom cars or something, I don't know....

But the point here is that I have large areas of exposed metal that I needed to cover up, and all I have around to keep rust at bay right now is some Pepto Bismal Pink spray bomb paint. So, most of this  rig looks mighty bright pink at the moment. Might just incorporate that color with another really bright hue and do some masking and....well we'll see. I am getting ahead of myself here.

I sanded off the down tube decals, just because, and I think I am going to sand all of them off. May as well, and that will leave a cleaner looking frame to lay ones eyes on. Stay tuned, this could get real interesting....

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday News And Views

Trek Remedy 29 image found on Twitter
Trek Intros New Bikes- Tries New Approach To Intros:

Yesterday Trek Bicycles made a big announcement about two bicycles done up in 29 inch wheels. That isn't too news worthy, other than the fact that the two models in question probably should have made the leap to 29 inch wheels at least four years ago. (Those being the Remedy and Fuel EX)

More on the bikes later, but what I thought was really interesting was how Trek approached this and the new direction they are taking with introductions. Trek made the prototypes, tested the prototypes, spec'ed the bikes, did all the advertising and POP for the bikes, manufactured the bikes, stocked the bikes, and made then available to order all before the media announcements and before the dealers knew about the bikes. That is unprecedented, and that is a "big deal" when you think of traditional marketing, or even "new school" marketing.

Media launch is May 30th. A full two weeks away, and that says a lot about Trek wanting to control the message and do something different with the media. How that plays out will be quite interesting to see, (and I have opinions that I can not share just yet- stay tuned....), but this is going to mark a different approach to media/marketing/dealer relations that we haven't seen since the pre-internet days.

And what about those bikes? Well, that's also pretty interesting as well. Obviously there are legacy bikes/names from the Fisher era, and the Remedy and Fuel EX , (which are still also offered in 26, by the way), stayed out of the 29"er realm so as to not duplicate/overlap product. Well, with the Remedy and Fuel EX 29"ers, doesn't it make sense for Trek to ax the Rumblefish?  Seeing as how these new Trek Fuels are pretty much taking the place of the old HiFi as well, it would almost look like another washing away of the Fisher name from Trek's line.  I also saw a rumor that Domane technology is crossing over to the 29"er racing platform. If true, that would be another odd thing when seen up against some of the current models. Well, who knows.........we'll find out soon enough.

And wait until you hear what Trek says about 27.5"ers...... 

Good Luck Almanzo Riders!
 Big Weekend In Gravel Grinding:

Well, one of the "biggies" of the gravel grinding calendar happens this weekend with the latest edition of the Almanzo events. Things kick off tomorrow with the "Alexander", a 380 mile route that will take riders from Southern Minnesota to Southwestern Wisconsin, back in to Northeastern Iowa, and eventually back to Spring Valley Minnesota.  The Almanzo 100 and Royal 165 events kick off Saturday morning. I'd like to wish all the riders tailwinds and sunny skies, (with clear nights for the Alexander riders), and to keep the rubber side down.


This brings me to tomorrow's  3GR, which is going to happen. The thing is, I have a chance to take advantage of a neighborhood clean up and that happens in the morning tomorrow. So, I am going to push back the start of 3GR to 2:30pm at Gateway Park. If you are game, show up and we'll ride about 30-ish miles of primo gravel.

That's all for today! Have a great weekend and good riding wherever you are!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Elusive Promise Of Carbon Fiber

I've been around this bicycle stuff for a while now and because I am blessed with something of a decent memory, sometimes things float to the top of consciousness that make me ponder whay the things are the way they are now. One of those times was yesterday, when I was out speeding around on a carbon hard tail wonderbike.

Yesterday at Ingawanis Woods
I recall that back in the early 90's, the bicycle companies were touting carbon fiber as the material that could be "tuned". Up until that point, frame materials were some sort of metal, for the most part, and of those, most had a "reputation" for a certain ride trait.

Steel was the "springy, lively" material, but heavy, aluminum was the "dead, harsh riding" material, but had lighter weight, and titanium was the "magic carpet ride", but was very expensive and had a reputation for being flexy.

Carbon fiber, it was being said, was a material that could be all of those things, because it is man made and controllable as far as how one would want it to feel in terms of a bicycle's ride qualities. It had a "promise" of being light, like titanium and aluminum, but ride like steel, and still be stiff where you wanted it to be, but maybe not as stiff where you wanted rider comfort.

This didn't happen right away. This didn't happen in a few years after it was being said. Maybe.....just maybe, it is happening now, a full 20 years afterward. Is that not sort of weird? Maybe, maybe not. Bicycles are not at the top of the heap when it comes to getting new technology. No, that goes to defense, aero-space, and the auto industry first, and maybe that's why the promise took so long to trickle down to the lowly cyclist.

Check out those bluebells!
So, whatever.....yesterday I was riding this Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon rig. I had one of these back in 2010 here, which was a great bike. Carbon fiber and all, and it rode quite nicely, but it was dead feeling and actually, it was a bit harsh in the saddle. But I liked the way it handled, the way it accelerated, and it was decently lightweight.

Now I am riding this 2013 model as a review bike for Twenty Nine Inches, and it is night and day different in feeling. This rides like a steel bike. It springs and smooths out things, and all at an amazing light weight. Is this finally the fulfillment of that "carbon promise" made all those years ago? Hmm.........ya know, maybe it is. 

And maybe it isn't either. I mean.....this bike is expensive! You don't get a front shock,  and don't even get a front derailleur! So, there is that money factor, the price to buy in, that carbon fiber has seemed to always been  at the extreme of. You also still have that specter of failure to hang over your head as well. Carbon fails catastrophically, most of the time. Not an appealing feature, and added in to this is the fact that carbon can be quite weak in resisting blows if they are applied at an angle the frame wasn't meant to deal with them at. Snap! Crack! Yeah.....

While that is getting rarer and carbon fiber frames are used in DH competitions and in other realms thought to be the exclusive place for steel, (BMX), and aluminum and titanium, (XC/Trail), it still figures into the public's consciousness.

Carbon fat bikes? Why yes...
But carbon marches on and is being put to use in many places. Even fat bikes are going to get the carbon fiber treatment and you have to figure that those big rims will be another thing rendered in carbon and resin soon.

But unless something can be done about these things costing $2000.00-$2500.00 for frames and forks, (at least for the "best" quality stuff), and until the public can accept this material fully and trust it wholeheartedly, the "promise" remains an elusive one in the bicycle world. A promise reserved for the well heeled and fortunate to taste? Mostly, it would seem that way. Yes, there are the direct from China offerings, but those are generally not the "latest-greatest" technology on the planet for bicycles either. The price is definitely a lot more appealing though. That's for sure!

So, I am saying that while the "promise" of a smooth riding, lively carbon frame can now be manufactured and is available, it still is a rarefied air sort of product that not many are going to be able to justify. Certainly not when you see titanium frames with outstanding features and competitive weights selling for less. And those are "metal" frames with a reputation for resiliency that resonates with consumers. So a "steel-like riding" carbon fiber frame- elusive, yes- but possible.

The saying goes that carbon is just too labor intensive to come down in price much, but you never know. Maybe manufacturers will drop all this super-stiffness nonsense. Maybe someday the promise won't be quite so elusive,(and expensive!).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Monkey Decade: Part 6

Intro: This year marks the tenth year I have been riding 29"ers. It also is my ten year anniversary of owning my Campstove Green Karate Monkey. There will be several posts throughout the coming months about my story with my KM and what is going to be happening to it now. Here is the last update.

The Battle has been enjoined...
Enough talk..... I've been all over the history, the "why" of how I came to get this Campstove Green 2003 Karate Monkey. I've detailed out some great memories that were created while riding upon this rig. Now it's time for action.

As I stated in my last post, the biggest hurdle to overcome here will be the removal of the dying UN-52 cartridge bottom bracket. The first thing I knew was that this was going to require some extreme force to accomplish. To be able to apply that force, I was going to need to be able to stabilize my bottom bracket removal tool, so it would not "walk out" when I wrenched on it.

I'm kind of good at improvising things mechanically. Sometimes it works out great, sometimes it is just "okay", but it is a talent I possess at any rate. I grabbed my tool for the bottom bracket, located a crank bolt, and found a SRAM cassette lock ring, but I needed one more piece to the puzzle. Something that would cover the hole in the cassette lock ring, but be big enough in the center to be able to pass the crank bolt through. Aha! I found a derailleur jockey wheel that was without its bushing. Perfect!

The bolt would go through the jockey wheel, and then through the cassette lock ring, which was positioned so the threaded part sat against the tool, and essentially acted as a standoff to give the wrench room to purchase the tool. Tightened down, the tool has no chance of walking out, or stripping the bottom bracket cup. Hammer time........nuthin. 

So, I removed the seat post and introduced a copious amount of penetrant and let it marinate. I'll let that sit a day or so, then I will revisit this little battle and!

Stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Two In A Row

We didn't get very far Saturday...
This past weekend my Son decided it was high time he and I resumed our weekend riding. So despite the fact that I had already wasted myself on a 3+ hour slog in 25-30mph winds, I suited up and went out with him in the afternoon after lunch. The wind had not abated, by the way, but at least we were in town!

I decided to trundle along on my titanium Mukluk and I got stopped by someone with the obligatory questions: Where did ya get that? How does it pedal? 

We got to the downtown area and as we were traversing a street, a big, violent blast of wind came rushing down on us. Now my Son has never liked being taken by surprise, and especially by loud sounds.   I heard him cry out and turned to see him straddling his bike with his hands over his ears, (standard operating procedure when exposed to sudden loud noises for him), and I realized he has never experienced such a wind blast out on his bike. I suppose it is kind of frightning if you've not been exposed to that before.

Anyhow, we didn't get much farther because he was ready to get out of the wind after that point! We found a good place to have our snacks. We hung out and chatted for awhile and then we turned about afterward and headed for the shed. That was okay with me! I was tired out already from the morning's 3GR.

...but we had a good ride on Sunday.
The next day was Mother's Day, and after I cooked up lunch and sent Mrs. Guitar Ted to the library, (she loves books), my Son and I hit the trails again. This time it was a much more tranquil day and we made a big loop around the Waterloo trails along the Cedar River.

Part of every ride with my Son has to include a stop to eat. So I typically bring along some healthy cycling style grub and we find a nice place to sit and chew some Clif Bars, or whatever I've brought along for us. This ride found us stopping alongside the Cedar at a point where there were a few large trees and some concrete blocks set up for folks to lounge on and rest in the shade.

I spied a younger man leaning back on one of the trees looking out at the river as we pulled up. He had given me a friendly wave. I looked again and could see that he was smoking weed, and my nose told me I was right about that, as we were downwind from him. My Son didn't notice anything right away, but the younger man, after seeing we had stopped, got up and moved on down the bank about a 100 yards and continued his activity.

Not that there is anything wrong with all of that, (in my opinion), but I did point out to my Son that putting smoke in your lungs of any sort isn't the best idea. I left it at that. We then continued to munch our snacks as I contimplated the odds of all that happening just then. Then we rode on. The steep ramps to the top of the dike in several places was getting the best of the boy. I tried working with him on shift points. He is getting the hang of it. I'm sure he'll be cleaning those ramps with ease very soon.

We meandered along until we finally reached home and my Son was tuckered out. Another adventure in the books. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gravel Mutt Project: An Introduction

Trek 520 frame
Saturday I mentioned the "Gravel Mutt Project", the concept and the reasons for doing it. Here I will introduce the bits I am using and working on currently.

The frame and fork are early 90's vintage lugged Trek steel and made in Waterloo, Wisconsin. The original finish is a version of "Trek Green", which Trek must have had semi truck loads of back in the 90's. I can't count how many Trek bicycles were some version of this color, or this color and purple.

Although the frame was made with lugs, Trek had an assembly line set up where all the lugs were joined to True Temper tubes by machines which expedited the process of making lugged frames. So, it is not a "hand made" in the truest sense of the word, but these frames do have a good reputation for ride quality and handling.

Previous attempts at customization
The previous owner was the original purchaser of the frame, and he put something like 40,000 plus miles on this. Over the years, he made attempts at touching up certain scratches, oxidation, and paint chips by applying his own gold and green paint. So, the frame and fork were well on their way to "mutt bike" status before I got ahold of it!

The main area of concern for me was an oval patch of rust pitting that showed through the paint on the top tube. I immediately attacked this spot and sanded it down to determine if I was dealing with a frame in need of further repair, or just a surface irregularity. While the pitting was bad, it did sand out and I feel I will be just fine with a paint job and rebuilding of the bike.

So, there is another reason to pursue the "mutt bike" status. The original paint job has basically been destroyed by the previous owner and myself. Now for an appropriate paint job to reflect the "true mutt bike" soul of this project.

Wheels that came with it...
The original wheels would certainly have been laced up with some Matrix branded box section rim, but the bike came to me with some oddball aero section rims laced to the original DX level Shimano hubs. The smart money would be on the rebuild of the excellent DX hubs and shoeing the rims with appropriate gravel gobbling tires. However; these aero rims are extremely narrow and heavy. I am opting to use a set of rim brake wheels I have in reserve that are XTR hubs laced to Salsa Delgado rims.

At some point I will cut out the DX hubs and relace them to an appropriate rim as back up wheels. The XTR set are much lighter, more durable, smoother, and the Delgado rims sport a much wider inner rim dimension that is perfectly suited to the mounting and use of gravel appropriate rubber. The frame can handle some pretty beefy tires, so I'll likely go with something in the 38mm-42mm range on tires here.

7 speeds!
The drive train the bike came with, a seven speed DX group with a bar end shifter set up, will mostly be retained. I'll likely go with a single ring up front and only the rear bar end shifter with the seven speed rear end. The drive ring will be a 40T ring which should get me a good enough low gear to crawl up most hills around here. I'll likely swap out the crank to an old Sante' crank which I have that is powder coated black. The serviceable bottom bracket in the bike is perfectly fine, but I may go with a Shimano UN series cartridge since they are pretty much impervious to dust and grime.

The bike has a 1" steer tube, threaded headset, which is a Shimano 600 cartridge unit, and that will stay on the bike. The old bars were Modolo Anatomics, and I will ditch those in favor of a new set of Cowbell 2's. Of course, that'll mean something will have to be done about the stem to get the 31.8mm Cowbells to work. I haven't settled on a solution to that yet.

Stay tuned....Gravel Mutt Project will be ongoing for a bit.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

3GR Report: The Good And The Bad About Wind

The Shadow Of The Gravel Buddha
Wind: That was the operative word coming into Saturday's 3GR. That and a new starting venue. The water was still over much of the trails leading out of Cedar Falls, so I had planned on leaving from Gates Park in Waterloo instead, which has a great exit to gravel a about 3/4's of a mile away.

Trouble is, there was wind, (lot's of it), and I moved the starting point. You never know who will just decide it isn't worth hitting up the ride for that, so going in, I had a hunch I would be alone on this one. Going over, I was getting blasted by gusts of wind that would nearly stop me, and also getting a good sand blasting here and there to boot. My thoughts were that "this ride is going to suck!", but I got over to the Gates swimming pool parking lot anyway by 8:20am.

It was a big, lonely, windy spot, and as time ticked away, I just thought more and more that this would be a solo attempt. Then I heard that crazy sound I thought I heard coming over. Like a kid playing a recorder that didn't know how to play correctly.This tonal whistling. While I was waiting, I decided I may as well see what it might be. My ears led me to the area of the front hub.

Turns out it was the vent holes in the Black Mountain Cycles rigid fork. Crazy! But the wind was blowing 25mph and gusting from there, so I suppose anything is possible with enough air velocity going by those holes.

Mike with a full load on
Well, the time ticked down and I was going to head out when up over the hill comes a cyclist. It turned out to be Mike, who just caught me before I left, and he was working hard to get there by 8:30am, so I allowed for a minute or two for him to catch his breath, then we set out to go North up Moline Road.

Mike is training for Tour divide, and has been stacking up miles with his full load on his Titanium Fargo to get ready. It was no different this day, as he had full bags on and loaded. I could tell he'd been out for awhile before hooking up with me by the dried sweat on his brow showing up as a white crust. We both set our faces into the wind and with steady but determined strokes we made our way up the rollers going Northward.

I was riding the BMC "Orange Crush", as I said, so I had a bit of an advantage weight-wise, but Mike showed how strong he was by matching my every effort with ease. Impressive. I had asked at some point in the ride how he felt he was coming along with training, and he was reporting that it was good, but maybe not enough, or what he wanted. Trust me- he's crushing the pedals now. I told him I thought he was looking great.

The slog North was steady, but grueling and the wind was relentless. We gained the county line road and turned West. It felt like stones had been lifted off our bikes, yet we were still bucking a cross wind. A few miles West and we both noted that the wind had ratcheted up in intensity a bit. If it wasn't 30mph steady with higher gusts than I would be quite surprised.

Back North again, but we only had to go about three miles before we reached some trees and bigger hills which broke up the blast and gave us a slight respite from the roaring of the wind. We were obliged to go a bit further West, then North by the Camp, past there, and finally we would get to turn East and Southeast down Ivanhoe Road, which is one of my favorite roads.

Due to the intensity of the wind, and my wearing a windbreaker, there are no images here of us going out. I stopped shortly after getting on Ivanhoe to take off the wind jacket, less I cook in a tailwind situation, and stuff it into the El Cofrecito bag. Here I was drawing the ire of a Saint Bernard dog, but I just kept yakking at it, and finally the owner stepped out to find out what all the commotion was and the dog backed off a bit. I wasn't concerned, but I kept the bike between myself and the know....just in case. 

Mike is in this image going down Mt Vernon Rd.
 We got going again and man- we were flying! The payoff for suffering through the headwind. Ivanhoe did not disappoint again. It was clean, fast, and packed in. Mike's Nanoraptors were singing as we clipped along in the upper 20's mph with little effort.

Eventually Ivanhoe dumps you out North of Denver on Highway 63, and we continued East another mile plus to a Southward turn onto Midway, which becomes Moline Road in Black Hawk County. The roads had patches here and there of fresh gravel, but nothing of any significance. With the mighty wind at our backs, we were quickly raising the average speed of this ride! Rollers were nothing, and we could actually coast the down hills for 1/2 a mile at a crack sometimes. Fun!

Mike decided to turn off and head for home when we reached Mount Vernon Road, so he took the right hander there and I continued straight on solo. I reached town lickety split, and zig-zagged my way South to the house eventually. As I was going I thought, "This ride with the wind was awesome!"

Yes, it was fun. It all just depends upon which way the wind is blowing sometimes!