Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday News And Views

The Rooster- A bicycle, not Alice In Chains
More 29+

The whole "29+" format, which Surly invented when it came out with the Krampus, and furthered with the ECR, hasn't really caught on as fast as I thought it might. Some custom and very small brands aside, Surly has pretty much had this to itself since the dawning of the green, sparkly Krampus trail rig. 

Not anymore though. A prototype Singular, dubbed the Rooster, is going to be "Kickstarted" soon and I suspect many folks will be very interested in this frame/fork. By the way, the image shows a regular 29"er tire in the back, but this bike will take the full 29X3" rubber with no issues. (I have seen other, unpublished images which confirm this.) An eccentric bottom bracket, which is typical for Singular, is also on tap for your single speeding pleasure.

The hopes are that the Singular will be easy to set up with a front derailleur and 2X cranks. If that is the case, and with Surly's Dirt Wizard tires soon to come in 29+ sizing, I could see this as the choice for most Mid-western single track. I can also see this as a great bike packing platform. I hope to be getting a closer look at this soon. Stay tuned.....

T.I.v10 News:

This week I am glad to have made contact with my two Springtime recon partners, Wally & George, who are planning on coming out again to verify the cue sheets as they drive by the cues across the proposed course. This has proven to be the final check before the cues are locked in and readied for printing the past two Trans Iowas that I've done and it has helped me get the cue sheet errors down to zero. 

With 84 days left to the start of Trans Iowa, I am going to be starting to ask about riders not being able to make it. I like to weed out potential "no-shows" because it cuts down on a lot of wasted effort and materials on my end. So- if you are in Trans Iowa, but it looks like you won't be making it for any reason, please let me know. It does make a big difference.

There is some concern this Winter with the very cold weather we've had that frost will damage the gravel roadways. While this may very well happen, the big thing to remember here is that it depends on when Spring comes! If we transition slowly into Spring, there will be less of a worry here. Especially if it starts to cycle up to warmer temperatures sooner than later. In the end, it's anybody's guess as to just how it will go!

Winter still holds court
More Fat Biking:

The fat biking has been really outstanding of late. The really cold weather firmed up the trails and I got out Wednesday for a good two hours along with the regular forays to work and back. I hope to slip out at some point this weekend, possibly with my son in tow, to grab a bit more of this primo fat biking weather before it all goes away in about a month. 

One thing I've noticed is that the Dually wheels are not really holding me back from doing what I want in regards to "bushwhacking" my way through the trail system. I suppose a more accurate term would be "sno-whacking". I don't mind post holing a bit, or even busting my way through a drift here and there. Which is good because I did a healthy amount of both on Wednesday. I think a recon of the Mitchell Avenue area is in order soon. I usually make a pilgrimage out that way every Winter to have a bit of an adventure, since I've had a fat bike.

By the way, there is a fat bike race out at George Wyth State Park this weekend, but I have plans that afternoon to be with my son, who is looking forward to an adventure. Race or adventure with my son? I do not even see a question about how that is answered! Good luck to all who toe that line though.

That's all for this edition. Have a safe weekend and get outside!

Friday News And Views

The Rooster- A bicycle, not Alice In Chains
More 29+

The whole "29+" format, which Surly invented when it came out with the Krampus, and furthered with the ECR, hasn't really caught on as fast as I thought it might. Some custom and very small brands aside, Surly has pretty much had this to itself since the dawning of the green, sparkly Krampus trail rig. 

Not anymore though. A prototype Singular, dubbed the Rooster, is going to be "Kickstarted" soon and I suspect many folks will be very interested in this frame/fork. By the way, the image shows a regular 29"er tire in the back, but this bike will take the full 29X3" rubber with no issues. (I have seen other, unpublished images which confirm this.) An eccentric bottom bracket, which is typical for Singular, is also on tap for your single speeding pleasure.

The hopes are that the Singular will be easy to set up with a front derailleur and 2X cranks. If that is the case, and with Surly's Dirt Wizard tires soon to come in 29+ sizing, I could see this as the choice for most Mid-western single track. I can also see this as a great bike packing platform. I hope to be getting a closer look at this soon. Stay tuned.....

T.I.v10 News:

This week I am glad to have made contact with my two Springtime recon partners, Wally & George, who are planning on coming out again to verify the cue sheets as they drive by the cues across the proposed course. This has proven to be the final check before the cues are locked in and readied for printing the past two Trans Iowas that I've done and it has helped me get the cue sheet errors down to zero. 

With 84 days left to the start of Trans Iowa, I am going to be starting to ask about riders not being able to make it. I like to weed out potential "no-shows" because it cuts down on a lot of wasted effort and materials on my end. So- if you are in Trans Iowa, but it looks like you won't be making it for any reason, please let me know. It does make a big difference.

There is some concern this Winter with the very cold weather we've had that frost will damage the gravel roadways. While this may very well happen, the big thing to remember here is that it depends on when Spring comes! If we transition slowly into Spring, there will be less of a worry here. Especially if it starts to cycle up to warmer temperatures sooner than later. In the end, it's anybody's guess as to just how it will go!

Winter still holds court
More Fat Biking:

The fat biking has been really outstanding of late. The really cold weather firmed up the trails and I got out Wednesday for a good two hours along with the regular forays to work and back. I hope to slip out at some point this weekend, possibly with my son in tow, to grab a bit more of this primo fat biking weather before it all goes away in about a month. 

One thing I've noticed is that the Dually wheels are not really holding me back from doing what I want in regards to "bushwhacking" my way through the trail system. I suppose a more accurate term would be "sno-whacking". I don't mind post holing a bit, or even busting my way through a drift here and there. Which is good because I did a healthy amount of both on Wednesday. I think a recon of the Mitchell Avenue area is in order soon. I usually make a pilgrimage out that way every Winter to have a bit of an adventure, since I've had a fat bike.

By the way, there is a fat bike race out at George Wyth State Park this weekend, but I have plans that afternoon to be with my son, who is looking forward to an adventure. Race or adventure with my son? I do not even see a question about how that is answered! Good luck to all who toe that line though.

That's all for this edition. Have a safe weekend and get outside!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Going Long On Gravel

Cross Nation Gravel Route? (Image by C. Matthias)
Crossing the nation by bicycle has been a benchmark for many a cyclist ever since bicycles were invented. West to East, North to South, and all manner of crossings by bicycle have been done over the last century plus. There isn't anything new to that idea. But what about an all gravel route?

Since I am connected to a lot of gravel riding folks in one way or another, I hear about a lot of rides and routes that are not necessarily "events", per se', but are impressive none the less. Crossings of Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Wisconsin are all things I've heard about in the recent past. All on as much gravel and dirt roads as possible.

However; I am now hearing about a possible route that would go North to South across the Great Plains, all on as much gravel as possible. A veritable "Great Divide route", only gravel centered and made for the gravelist. But wait a minute.........

Isn't that exactly what Adventuire Cycling had in mind for the Great Divide Route? Here's a brief description of the route from their site:

"The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is Adventure Cycling's premier off-pavement cycling route, crisscrossing the Continental Divide north to south. This route is defined by the word "remote." Its remoteness equates with spectacular terrain and scenery. The entire route is basically dirt-road and mountain-pass riding every day"

(Underlined emphasis is mine)

I'm not trying to be a "Negative Nancy", nor am I saying the route as proposed should not be done, but I am saying it won't be the first of its kind, because it already exists.  You'd be hard pressed to find a more spectacular route, but that isn't the reason I am pointing this out.

Will this old bridge be here in 5-10 yrs? (Image by A Andonopoulous)
 I am pointing out Adventure Cycling because they have the horsepower to take care of a route. One of the things I feel very strongly about is that if anyone wants to draw up a route, publish said route as something anyone might ride, then there is a responsibility on the route creators to make sure the route is, in fact, there and rideable.

I also feel that if someone desires to make sure a route is correct, there is only one way to verify a route, and that is by "putting your eyes on it". A physical recon, is in my opinion, the only way to do a route "right". This means that if you establish a cross-nation route on gravel, it not only becomes a monumental task to recon, it becomes an even larger obstacle to maintain that route to be correct. Again, I am not saying "it cannot be done", I am saying it is a bigger bite to chew than maybe some folks have considered.

For example, there have been adventure routes planned to cross the nation by motorcycle, and these have met with mixed results. There are several cross-state motorcycle routes off pavement, and these are constantly updated by the riders to help those following in their tire tracks to make their rides successful. Could a cross-nation gravel route be done in like manner? This would assume enough riders, and enough that would care to report their findings, would indeed happen to ride said route. Maybe they would, and then again.......

Putting my money where my mouth is, I am going to be reconning a route, (Trans Iowa Masters Program), that will cross the entire state. It will be a big task to recon it to make (mostly) sure it is rideable for three months. What about next year? The year after that? I don't know. That's why either I, or someone else, would necessarily have to check said route on a regular basis to insure there were no truncated roads due to development, no major sections paved, no bridges out, and no damage to roads due to natural events that would make the route impassable. That's for 370 miles. Try thinking about doing that for a route 2-3 times as long!

Going Long On Gravel

Cross Nation Gravel Route? (Image by C. Matthias)
Crossing the nation by bicycle has been a benchmark for many a cyclist ever since bicycles were invented. West to East, North to South, and all manner of crossings by bicycle have been done over the last century plus. There isn't anything new to that idea. But what about an all gravel route?

Since I am connected to a lot of gravel riding folks in one way or another, I hear about a lot of rides and routes that are not necessarily "events", per se', but are impressive none the less. Crossings of Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Wisconsin are all things I've heard about in the recent past. All on as much gravel and dirt roads as possible.

However; I am now hearing about a possible route that would go North to South across the Great Plains, all on as much gravel as possible. A veritable "Great Divide route", only gravel centered and made for the gravelist. But wait a minute.........

Isn't that exactly what Adventuire Cycling had in mind for the Great Divide Route? Here's a brief description of the route from their site:

"The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is Adventure Cycling's premier off-pavement cycling route, crisscrossing the Continental Divide north to south. This route is defined by the word "remote." Its remoteness equates with spectacular terrain and scenery. The entire route is basically dirt-road and mountain-pass riding every day"

(Underlined emphasis is mine)

I'm not trying to be a "Negative Nancy", nor am I saying the route as proposed should not be done, but I am saying it won't be the first of its kind, because it already exists.  You'd be hard pressed to find a more spectacular route, but that isn't the reason I am pointing this out.

Will this old bridge be here in 5-10 yrs? (Image by A Andonopoulous)
 I am pointing out Adventure Cycling because they have the horsepower to take care of a route. One of the things I feel very strongly about is that if anyone wants to draw up a route, publish said route as something anyone might ride, then there is a responsibility on the route creators to make sure the route is, in fact, there and rideable.

I also feel that if someone desires to make sure a route is correct, there is only one way to verify a route, and that is by "putting your eyes on it". A physical recon, is in my opinion, the only way to do a route "right". This means that if you establish a cross-nation route on gravel, it not only becomes a monumental task to recon, it becomes an even larger obstacle to maintain that route to be correct. Again, I am not saying "it cannot be done", I am saying it is a bigger bite to chew than maybe some folks have considered.

For example, there have been adventure routes planned to cross the nation by motorcycle, and these have met with mixed results. There are several cross-state motorcycle routes off pavement, and these are constantly updated by the riders to help those following in their tire tracks to make their rides successful. Could a cross-nation gravel route be done in like manner? This would assume enough riders, and enough that would care to report their findings, would indeed happen to ride said route. Maybe they would, and then again.......

Putting my money where my mouth is, I am going to be reconning a route, (Trans Iowa Masters Program), that will cross the entire state. It will be a big task to recon it to make (mostly) sure it is rideable for three months. What about next year? The year after that? I don't know. That's why either I, or someone else, would necessarily have to check said route on a regular basis to insure there were no truncated roads due to development, no major sections paved, no bridges out, and no damage to roads due to natural events that would make the route impassable. That's for 370 miles. Try thinking about doing that for a route 2-3 times as long!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More Choices In Fat Tires & Rims Soon?

Click on this image to make it bigger- then look at the tire.
I've been thinking a lot about fat bike tires again, ever since I rode the Snow Dog the other day, and I have determined that the fat bike tires we have pretty much suck.Yep. They are sub-par at what they are meant to do, (or as in the case of being tubeless- not do), and if fat bikes are to really get going, we're going to need some better tires.

Surly makes great tread patterns. Their tire maker makes okay casings. But the consistency of quality has been suspect over the long run, and they are not sold in a tubeless version. This won't do going forward. Oh, and I am also looking at you, 45NRTH, your tires are essentially the same in this regard.

Don't tell me your split tube method is working great. That is missing the point. We should not have to use split tubes, or Gorilla Tape, or any of that backyard nonsense. There should be tubeless tires and rims for fat bikes. The bigger brands are already getting beaten to the punch on this by China and the smaller brands. (And they jumped on 27.5"ers because they didn't want to repeat the "missing out" that happened when they drug their feet on 29"ers?)

Vee Rubber makes a couple of tubeless compatible tires, but rims for that are rare, and the Vee Rubber company has not quite figured out how to make a big, voluminous tire that works like Surly's do. So, there are our two tire company choices- Surly/45NRTH on one hand and Vee Rubber on the other, and they both stink overall. (Yes- I realize I am being somewhat of a spoiled sport here since only five years ago there was exactly one tire choice!)

Well, this image I posted today from Twitter shows a Trek Farley with a Bontrager branded tire. Bontrager has an excellent tubeless ready system. Will they be smart and bring it over to fat bikes? Will their tires be something that has the tubeless ready nature and work as well as Surly tires plus be big? What about Specialized's Ground Control fat bike tires? What will Specialized bring to the table. I've heard rumors that Kenda Tire is doing a fat bike tire. What will that be like?

The fact that we can even legitimately ask such questions now is reason to get excited about the possibilities. Let's hope we don't get let down by all of them.

More Choices In Fat Tires & Rims Soon?

Click on this image to make it bigger- then look at the tire.
I've been thinking a lot about fat bike tires again, ever since I rode the Snow Dog the other day, and I have determined that the fat bike tires we have pretty much suck.Yep. They are sub-par at what they are meant to do, (or as in the case of being tubeless- not do), and if fat bikes are to really get going, we're going to need some better tires.

Surly makes great tread patterns. Their tire maker makes okay casings. But the consistency of quality has been suspect over the long run, and they are not sold in a tubeless version. This won't do going forward. Oh, and I am also looking at you, 45NRTH, your tires are essentially the same in this regard.

Don't tell me your split tube method is working great. That is missing the point. We should not have to use split tubes, or Gorilla Tape, or any of that backyard nonsense. There should be tubeless tires and rims for fat bikes. The bigger brands are already getting beaten to the punch on this by China and the smaller brands. (And they jumped on 27.5"ers because they didn't want to repeat the "missing out" that happened when they drug their feet on 29"ers?)

Vee Rubber makes a couple of tubeless compatible tires, but rims for that are rare, and the Vee Rubber company has not quite figured out how to make a big, voluminous tire that works like Surly's do. So, there are our two tire company choices- Surly/45NRTH on one hand and Vee Rubber on the other, and they both stink overall. (Yes- I realize I am being somewhat of a spoiled sport here since only five years ago there was exactly one tire choice!)

Well, this image I posted today from Twitter shows a Trek Farley with a Bontrager branded tire. Bontrager has an excellent tubeless ready system. Will they be smart and bring it over to fat bikes? Will their tires be something that has the tubeless ready nature and work as well as Surly tires plus be big? What about Specialized's Ground Control fat bike tires? What will Specialized bring to the table. I've heard rumors that Kenda Tire is doing a fat bike tire. What will that be like?

The fact that we can even legitimately ask such questions now is reason to get excited about the possibilities. Let's hope we don't get let down by all of them.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Snow Dog Lives!

The band is gettin' back together......
With the son's new fat bike build last Fall I had to strip down the old Mukluk and hang it from a peg for a while. But now it is back up and running! Here are the details of the build and my thoughts following after not having ridden this bike for a few months or so.

  • Wheels: I used the idle wheel set from the titanium Mukluk. I put the old Larry 3,8's with Bontrager 29"er tubes in there as well. Basically this is the wheel set from the original titanium Mukluk build. 
  • Bottom Bracket/Crankset: New FSA DH 100mm ISIS bottom bracket with some old take-off Bontrager ISIS cranks. I decided since I did not have the front derailleur for this to go 1X9. I used the purple e13 Guide Ring in 32T size from the original titanium Mukluk build. Pedals are some old pinned flats I had lying about. 
  • Cassette, Rear Derailleur: I had a 11 X 34 cassette and an old SRAM X-9 derailleur from the parts bin. 
  • Saddle/Seat post: Right off the original titanium Muk build as well- FSA SLK post and WTB SST saddle. The post is shy of being long enough, so it will get replaced with something else soon. 
  • Brakes: Magura hydraulics that were the brakes on this bike when I stripped it down. I did have to replace the rear rotor with an Avid and the front stayed with the Ashima that was on there, so the rotors are not the matches for the brakes. At some point I will get those rotors back to the originals. 
  • Controls: I used a 9 speed X-9 shifter, the Magura levers, (obviously), and Ergon grips which are no longer in production, but are like the new enduro grips they have coming soon, only those will be smaller and better!
 Ride Notes: 

In no particular order, these are some thoughts I had while riding the Snow dog yesterday....

  • This geometry is stellar for going through deeper, softer terrain. I was feeling that I didn't have to make much for weight shifts. Although the titanium Mukluk is supposed to be the same,  it doesn't handle in the the same way as this bike. It never has, actually. New Mukluks are not the same either. That's why I'll likely keep this one up and running for a long time. 
  • Surly Tires work far better in deep, drifted snow. The verdict will really be served today, as I am using the Sterlings to ride to work, but the Larrys are noticeably better at "float" than the Vee Rubber tires are. Self steer is unheard of, and with the ridiculously low pressures, the tires don't feel like boat anchors to pedal on harder terrain or pavement. The Sterlings have far better forward bite though, and can be set up tubeless, which makes them really good, but more like "regular mountain bike tires" than "fat bike tires". 
  • I need a longer seat post!
  • 1X set ups are okay, but I really need at least a 2X for serious, longer distance fat biking. That or one of them fancy 42T add on cogs for my cassette! 
So, there it is! Back up and running for awhile. I will definitely be tweaking this out as I go along, but it was sure mighty fun having the Snow Dog back underneath me again on a Winter day's ride! 

The Snow Dog Lives!

The band is gettin' back together......
With the son's new fat bike build last Fall I had to strip down the old Mukluk and hang it from a peg for a while. But now it is back up and running! Here are the details of the build and my thoughts following after not having ridden this bike for a few months or so.

  • Wheels: I used the idle wheel set from the titanium Mukluk. I put the old Larry 3,8's with Bontrager 29"er tubes in there as well. Basically this is the wheel set from the original titanium Mukluk build. 
  • Bottom Bracket/Crankset: New FSA DH 100mm ISIS bottom bracket with some old take-off Bontrager ISIS cranks. I decided since I did not have the front derailleur for this to go 1X9. I used the purple e13 Guide Ring in 32T size from the original titanium Mukluk build. Pedals are some old pinned flats I had lying about. 
  • Cassette, Rear Derailleur: I had a 11 X 34 cassette and an old SRAM X-9 derailleur from the parts bin. 
  • Saddle/Seat post: Right off the original titanium Muk build as well- FSA SLK post and WTB SST saddle. The post is shy of being long enough, so it will get replaced with something else soon. 
  • Brakes: Magura hydraulics that were the brakes on this bike when I stripped it down. I did have to replace the rear rotor with an Avid and the front stayed with the Ashima that was on there, so the rotors are not the matches for the brakes. At some point I will get those rotors back to the originals. 
  • Controls: I used a 9 speed X-9 shifter, the Magura levers, (obviously), and Ergon grips which are no longer in production, but are like the new enduro grips they have coming soon, only those will be smaller and better!
 Ride Notes: 

In no particular order, these are some thoughts I had while riding the Snow dog yesterday....

  • This geometry is stellar for going through deeper, softer terrain. I was feeling that I didn't have to make much for weight shifts. Although the titanium Mukluk is supposed to be the same,  it doesn't handle in the the same way as this bike. It never has, actually. New Mukluks are not the same either. That's why I'll likely keep this one up and running for a long time. 
  • Surly Tires work far better in deep, drifted snow. The verdict will really be served today, as I am using the Sterlings to ride to work, but the Larrys are noticeably better at "float" than the Vee Rubber tires are. Self steer is unheard of, and with the ridiculously low pressures, the tires don't feel like boat anchors to pedal on harder terrain or pavement. The Sterlings have far better forward bite though, and can be set up tubeless, which makes them really good, but more like "regular mountain bike tires" than "fat bike tires". 
  • I need a longer seat post!
  • 1X set ups are okay, but I really need at least a 2X for serious, longer distance fat biking. That or one of them fancy 42T add on cogs for my cassette! 
So, there it is! Back up and running for awhile. I will definitely be tweaking this out as I go along, but it was sure mighty fun having the Snow Dog back underneath me again on a Winter day's ride! 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Announcing the 2014 Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational

Official GTDRI artwork by Izabel Stevenson
The Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational- July 25th-26th, 2014

I figured it was time to announce my annual Summer ride on gravel. This year's date was strategically chosen to coincide with the last day of RAGBRAI, which will give me a much needed respite from what I assume will be a busy time at the shop just ahead of the ride this year. The date usually is around this time anyway, so there is tradition in it as well.

What: A No-Drop Group Ride On Gravel. It is as simple as that.
Who Can Come? Anyone. The "invitational" part of the name is a bit tongue in cheek, since I invite any and all who want to try the challenge.
When: The Friday of the 25th is a gathering time, and it is not necessary to be there then, but it is good socializing time. The ride proper will likely start predawn on the 26th and last until about 6 or 7 in the evening depending on the group dynamics. I'm still hashing out details on the start, (see below), so that will be announced at a later date.
Where? The 2014 GTDRI will reprise most of the '09-'10 route. I am a bit disappointed to say that a major connector on part of the route has been paved since those days, so I am looking at re-routing a bit. Never the less, it will mostly be in Clayton County Iowa with a bit of Fayette County thrown in for good measure. Back then, when we first did this route in '09, we started at the remote and primitive Echo Valley State park near West Union. However; since there seems to be growing interest in this event, I am considering moving the start to either Strawberry Point or Edgewood. These towns have actual motels and are either right on the route or super close to it. I will make a determination based upon feedback from riders and research into the possibilities.

The route will feature climbs up to 15% gradient: Image from the '09 GTDRI
Route Details: 

The '09 version, the only time we finished the entire loop, featured 6 feet shy of 10,000 feet elevation gain. Several ascents were in  the 10%-12% range with one climb registering 15% on one of the guy's GPS units. I cannot vouch for accuracy there, but I rode this route and the climbs are brutal. One in particular, Fantail Road in Clayton County, is at least 3 miles long!

There are also a couple of outstanding B Maintenance roads on this route that I and others I know relish. One is Imperial Road off Kennedy Road which is a steadily climbing mile of two track dirt goodness. That comes only a few miles ahead of the really good one, Impala Road, which we take going down hill. It drops off a bluff over the Turkey River and at first you might think you are on a mountain bike course. The rocks at the top are pretty big! It goes down steeply at first, is very rutted out, and then gets more gentle on its two mile track to Garber Iowa.

History: Another thing I have come to appreciate is the historical element behind the route which is featured by our traveling on Mission Road. This road pre-dates Iowa's statehood, going all the way back to 1841 when it was commissioned as a supply route to the Camp located near present day Fort Atkinson from Dubuque Iowa, a distance of roughly 100 miles. It was to be a "most direct path" between the two points, thus neglecting the "grid" system that had been outlined previously for these territories by the Federal Government. The road helped to establish the Camp, and later the actual Fort installation at Fort Atkinson designed to protect the Winnebago Tribe from the Sioux, Sauk, and Fox Tribes, whom they had been warring against. (This also facilitated the immigration of White settlers into the area, obviously) Supplies flowed to and fro on this road until the rail road came through, largely along the same route. Pioneers coming to Northeast Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Southern Minnesota used this route heavily in the mid 1840's to late 1880's to settle this part of the country.

A portion of the modern day Mission Road as it appeared in 2010
Mission Road lives on in Clayton County as a gravel road which closely follows its original route. We'll ride part of it coming Westward into Strawberry Point and leaving Westward to a point a few miles west of Strawberry Point, near to an old trading post site. There we will leave the old road and go on back into the steep hill country.

Besides this, you'll note a ton of awesome scenic views from the tops of many hills that you will ride, (or walk!), up. This part of Iowa is really spectacular that way. There may also be Mennonite/Amish sightings, which are always fun. You definitely will see cart tracks on some of the roads. There is a stretch of the route right hard against the Turkey River that is pretty cool. This leads to Elkader, which is a very scenic river town with great architecture.

So, there will be more details and some figuring out of things coming, but this route is pretty spectacular, and at about 115-120 miles, (depending on a minor subtraction and addition to the route, isn't too long.The day of the ride, being on a Saturday, gives you a chance to hang out Saturday evening and not have to rush back home. I won't say it will not be difficult, because as the other two gentleman who attempted this in 2010 will attest, it is very hard and heat will make it nigh unto impossible. That said, if we are allowed to pass, it will be a ride to remember!

Stay tuned......

Announcing the 2014 Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational

Official GTDRI artwork by Izabel Stevenson
The Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational- July 25th-26th, 2014

I figured it was time to announce my annual Summer ride on gravel. This year's date was strategically chosen to coincide with the last day of RAGBRAI, which will give me a much needed respite from what I assume will be a busy time at the shop just ahead of the ride this year. The date usually is around this time anyway, so there is tradition in it as well.

What: A No-Drop Group Ride On Gravel. It is as simple as that.
Who Can Come? Anyone. The "invitational" part of the name is a bit tongue in cheek, since I invite any and all who want to try the challenge.
When: The Friday of the 25th is a gathering time, and it is not necessary to be there then, but it is good socializing time. The ride proper will likely start predawn on the 26th and last until about 6 or 7 in the evening depending on the group dynamics. I'm still hashing out details on the start, (see below), so that will be announced at a later date.
Where? The 2014 GTDRI will reprise most of the '09-'10 route. I am a bit disappointed to say that a major connector on part of the route has been paved since those days, so I am looking at re-routing a bit. Never the less, it will mostly be in Clayton County Iowa with a bit of Fayette County thrown in for good measure. Back then, when we first did this route in '09, we started at the remote and primitive Echo Valley State park near West Union. However; since there seems to be growing interest in this event, I am considering moving the start to either Strawberry Point or Edgewood. These towns have actual motels and are either right on the route or super close to it. I will make a determination based upon feedback from riders and research into the possibilities.

The route will feature climbs up to 15% gradient: Image from the '09 GTDRI
Route Details: 

The '09 version, the only time we finished the entire loop, featured 6 feet shy of 10,000 feet elevation gain. Several ascents were in  the 10%-12% range with one climb registering 15% on one of the guy's GPS units. I cannot vouch for accuracy there, but I rode this route and the climbs are brutal. One in particular, Fantail Road in Clayton County, is at least 3 miles long!

There are also a couple of outstanding B Maintenance roads on this route that I and others I know relish. One is Imperial Road off Kennedy Road which is a steadily climbing mile of two track dirt goodness. That comes only a few miles ahead of the really good one, Impala Road, which we take going down hill. It drops off a bluff over the Turkey River and at first you might think you are on a mountain bike course. The rocks at the top are pretty big! It goes down steeply at first, is very rutted out, and then gets more gentle on its two mile track to Garber Iowa.

History: Another thing I have come to appreciate is the historical element behind the route which is featured by our traveling on Mission Road. This road pre-dates Iowa's statehood, going all the way back to 1841 when it was commissioned as a supply route to the Camp located near present day Fort Atkinson from Dubuque Iowa, a distance of roughly 100 miles. It was to be a "most direct path" between the two points, thus neglecting the "grid" system that had been outlined previously for these territories by the Federal Government. The road helped to establish the Camp, and later the actual Fort installation at Fort Atkinson designed to protect the Winnebago Tribe from the Sioux, Sauk, and Fox Tribes, whom they had been warring against. (This also facilitated the immigration of White settlers into the area, obviously) Supplies flowed to and fro on this road until the rail road came through, largely along the same route. Pioneers coming to Northeast Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Southern Minnesota used this route heavily in the mid 1840's to late 1880's to settle this part of the country.

A portion of the modern day Mission Road as it appeared in 2010
Mission Road lives on in Clayton County as a gravel road which closely follows its original route. We'll ride part of it coming Westward into Strawberry Point and leaving Westward to a point a few miles west of Strawberry Point, near to an old trading post site. There we will leave the old road and go on back into the steep hill country.

Besides this, you'll note a ton of awesome scenic views from the tops of many hills that you will ride, (or walk!), up. This part of Iowa is really spectacular that way. There may also be Mennonite/Amish sightings, which are always fun. You definitely will see cart tracks on some of the roads. There is a stretch of the route right hard against the Turkey River that is pretty cool. This leads to Elkader, which is a very scenic river town with great architecture.

So, there will be more details and some figuring out of things coming, but this route is pretty spectacular, and at about 115-120 miles, (depending on a minor subtraction and addition to the route, isn't too long.The day of the ride, being on a Saturday, gives you a chance to hang out Saturday evening and not have to rush back home. I won't say it will not be difficult, because as the other two gentleman who attempted this in 2010 will attest, it is very hard and heat will make it nigh unto impossible. That said, if we are allowed to pass, it will be a ride to remember!

Stay tuned......

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #32

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

Another awesome T.I. header by Jeff Kerkove
 Trans Iowa v5 had just concluded and already another Trans Iowa had been decided upon, but where would v6 be? I knew as well as David did that there was no way we were coming back to Williamsburg for anything. That ship had sailed before T.I.v5 had even begun. So, where should we go?

David had memories of his father living on a farm near Grinnell and had been around that area plenty of times. He liked the city as well, so I agreed that maybe it would be a good city to look into for a Trans Iowa start/finish town. We didn't get anywhere with planning until Fall though, and as we had not really thought of anything beyond the Grinnell choice, we headed over that direction to check things out. Some route ideas were punted around, and we decided a visit to Grinnell proper might be in order. One other thing helped solidify that, which was an offer to have the finish line in a barn just outside of Grinnell. Hmm......things sounded interesting, but we were not sold on going to Grinnell just yet.

A look from the new T.I. vehicle: The Truck With No Name
That all changed on a November day. I had spoken with Craig "Coop" Cooper of Bikes To You, a Grinnell bicycle shop, and he was giving me some low down on Grinnell, the surrounding area, and asked me to come check it out with David. Oakley rep and Coop's good friend, Rob Versteegh was there, and another key individual, who basically is the reason Trans Iowa has stayed in Grinnell to this very day.

The story went something like this: We were in Coop's shop batting all sorts of super rad ideas around. Finish line in a barn, starting line right outside of Coop's shop, and he would become our "official bike shop" too. Course ideas were shared which got David and I really excited, but we'd need a place for the pre-race meeting, and what about lodging? Coop thought for a minute and called someone at the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce. He said a woman would be coming down, would we be there for a bit? I said yeah, probably, (thinking it better not be over an hour wait), and within about ten minutes, here was a lady with a pen and paper in hand, asking "Okay, what do you need?" I was rather taken aback, but we laid out our desires. She said she would get back to me on those questions and took down my contact info.

Now, you know how these things can go. Trans Iowa is admittedly odd, and most non-cycling folks would be a bit skeptical of anything so outlandish, I would think. I didn't expect an answer to come for awhile, but I also was already very impressed with our opportunities in Grinnell. However; when I got home, I saw an e-mail already from Mrs Parmely of the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce. I figured it was just a thank you. Well, it was that, and a heck of a lot more, which blew me away.

She already had a motel deal lined up, and options for two host sites for the pre-race meal, and was planning on submitting a request to subsidize the meals through the Grinnell Tourism Council, plus she was going to "clear the event" with the City of Grinnell. Wha......?!!!

Okay, so we went from getting summarily snubbed in Williamsburg to being swept off our feet by the folks in Grinnell. Yeah.......this was a no-brainer! 

Next: Difficulties.......

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #32

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

Another awesome T.I. header by Jeff Kerkove
 Trans Iowa v5 had just concluded and already another Trans Iowa had been decided upon, but where would v6 be? I knew as well as David did that there was no way we were coming back to Williamsburg for anything. That ship had sailed before T.I.v5 had even begun. So, where should we go?

David had memories of his father living on a farm near Grinnell and had been around that area plenty of times. He liked the city as well, so I agreed that maybe it would be a good city to look into for a Trans Iowa start/finish town. We didn't get anywhere with planning until Fall though, and as we had not really thought of anything beyond the Grinnell choice, we headed over that direction to check things out. Some route ideas were punted around, and we decided a visit to Grinnell proper might be in order. One other thing helped solidify that, which was an offer to have the finish line in a barn just outside of Grinnell. Hmm......things sounded interesting, but we were not sold on going to Grinnell just yet.

A look from the new T.I. vehicle: The Truck With No Name
That all changed on a November day. I had spoken with Craig "Coop" Cooper of Bikes To You, a Grinnell bicycle shop, and he was giving me some low down on Grinnell, the surrounding area, and asked me to come check it out with David. Oakley rep and Coop's good friend, Rob Versteegh was there, and another key individual, who basically is the reason Trans Iowa has stayed in Grinnell to this very day.

The story went something like this: We were in Coop's shop batting all sorts of super rad ideas around. Finish line in a barn, starting line right outside of Coop's shop, and he would become our "official bike shop" too. Course ideas were shared which got David and I really excited, but we'd need a place for the pre-race meeting, and what about lodging? Coop thought for a minute and called someone at the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce. He said a woman would be coming down, would we be there for a bit? I said yeah, probably, (thinking it better not be over an hour wait), and within about ten minutes, here was a lady with a pen and paper in hand, asking "Okay, what do you need?" I was rather taken aback, but we laid out our desires. She said she would get back to me on those questions and took down my contact info.

Now, you know how these things can go. Trans Iowa is admittedly odd, and most non-cycling folks would be a bit skeptical of anything so outlandish, I would think. I didn't expect an answer to come for awhile, but I also was already very impressed with our opportunities in Grinnell. However; when I got home, I saw an e-mail already from Mrs Parmely of the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce. I figured it was just a thank you. Well, it was that, and a heck of a lot more, which blew me away.

She already had a motel deal lined up, and options for two host sites for the pre-race meal, and was planning on submitting a request to subsidize the meals through the Grinnell Tourism Council, plus she was going to "clear the event" with the City of Grinnell. Wha......?!!!

Okay, so we went from getting summarily snubbed in Williamsburg to being swept off our feet by the folks in Grinnell. Yeah.......this was a no-brainer! 

Next: Difficulties.......

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #31

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

A T.I.v5 B Road: Image by Cornbread
 Well, Trans Iowa v5 was definitely one of the "peaks" of my Trans Iowa experiences so far. Not so much the social, pre-event stuff, but the event was just spectacular. This maybe is why I really am distraught that I cannot remember certain parts of T.I.v5. What is in a fog would only make this experience richer for me. But, it is what it is.....

The aftermath was bittersweet then, as I recall. I remember vividly coming home via Highway 21, falling asleep at the wheel, and then pulling into Dysart, Iowa for a convenience store stop. I picked up a couple cans of energy drink and then I backed the Honda up to get out of the lot. When I looked forward, I could see a long trail of gravel dust that had fallen from the rear drum brake. I smiled and chuckled just then. I don't know why I thought that was so amusing, but it stands out to me as a very clear memory to this day.

I'm sure that dust blew away eventually, and it is like that with this particular Trans Iowa. It was a "one hit wonder". We did that Trans Iowa there in Williamsburg and never came back. Not that where T.I.v5 started mattered at all, because it didn't. The town didn't want us, and we found out we didn't need them. I just think T.I.v5 is where Trans Iowa as a whole kind of turned a corner as an event. T.I.v5 could have happened anywhere in Iowa that year, but the feel, the look, and the "underground","under the radar factor" of Trans Iowa never has been quite as pure as it was that year ever since.

It also was at this time I was doing a lot of thinking about Trans Iowa. The effort it took to put it on, the toll on all aspects of my personal life, and I thought a lot about how much more I was willing to do . Something Charlie Farrow wrote in his Trans Iowa v5 race report following T.I.v5 resonated with me then, as it still does to this day:

"........ it would be unfair to simply assume that they, (GT and D.P.), will indefinitely be willing or even capable of providing us with this truly novel cycling experience year after year.
This event was not only impactful for me, but as I have come to find out, it really changed a lot of folks directions and made indelible imprints on lives that I know about, and probably many I do not know about as well. For this reason, I am particularly proud of T.I.v5. Every T.I. has been special for many reasons, but this one really stands out for me. 

Next: Another change of venue.....

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #31

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

A T.I.v5 B Road: Image by Cornbread
 Well, Trans Iowa v5 was definitely one of the "peaks" of my Trans Iowa experiences so far. Not so much the social, pre-event stuff, but the event was just spectacular. This maybe is why I really am distraught that I cannot remember certain parts of T.I.v5. What is in a fog would only make this experience richer for me. But, it is what it is.....

The aftermath was bittersweet then, as I recall. I remember vividly coming home via Highway 21, falling asleep at the wheel, and then pulling into Dysart, Iowa for a convenience store stop. I picked up a couple cans of energy drink and then I backed the Honda up to get out of the lot. When I looked forward, I could see a long trail of gravel dust that had fallen from the rear drum brake. I smiled and chuckled just then. I don't know why I thought that was so amusing, but it stands out to me as a very clear memory to this day.

I'm sure that dust blew away eventually, and it is like that with this particular Trans Iowa. It was a "one hit wonder". We did that Trans Iowa there in Williamsburg and never came back. Not that where T.I.v5 started mattered at all, because it didn't. The town didn't want us, and we found out we didn't need them. I just think T.I.v5 is where Trans Iowa as a whole kind of turned a corner as an event. T.I.v5 could have happened anywhere in Iowa that year, but the feel, the look, and the "underground","under the radar factor" of Trans Iowa never has been quite as pure as it was that year ever since.

It also was at this time I was doing a lot of thinking about Trans Iowa. The effort it took to put it on, the toll on all aspects of my personal life, and I thought a lot about how much more I was willing to do . Something Charlie Farrow wrote in his Trans Iowa v5 race report following T.I.v5 resonated with me then, as it still does to this day:

"........ it would be unfair to simply assume that they, (GT and D.P.), will indefinitely be willing or even capable of providing us with this truly novel cycling experience year after year.
This event was not only impactful for me, but as I have come to find out, it really changed a lot of folks directions and made indelible imprints on lives that I know about, and probably many I do not know about as well. For this reason, I am particularly proud of T.I.v5. Every T.I. has been special for many reasons, but this one really stands out for me. 

Next: Another change of venue.....

It's Just A Name

Not a problem for just any bike, right?
You know all about this if you come around here much. Gravel grinding: You've read reams about it here, but ya know- many folks have only just been made aware about the term, and that there are actually bikes and components being made for the activity by bicycle companies. It's "new", it's a "trend", and some people are offended. Some folks are making some outlandish comments to skewer the idea as being stupid or worse.

What a bunch of maroons.

Then there are some who "get it" as far as the activity, but still........that name! Check out Jan Heine's blog post about that here

What I find amusing about the article is how the term "gravel grinding" is found to be distasteful, yet the term "grinding up a climb" is used by one of the commenters and Jan himself refers to the "taste of the effort". I really make no distinctions there from "gravel grinding", (which has been a term used for this sort of riding long before marketers got a hold of it, by the way.) I would suggest that it isn't so much the term folks find distasteful, but rather it is the marketing, the "profiting" off of the term that turns people off. Which itself is a bizarre concept since just about our whole economy and political system is based off of marketing of one sort or another. In other words, move along, there is nothing to see here, and go ride whatever bike wherever you want.

The term "gravel grinding"- It isn't new at all.
 Then there are the bikes for gravel: 

For some weird reason these same folks get all up in arms about companies making "gravel grinder" specific bikes. I've been talking about what would make a "better" tool for the job here for years. And again- if you've frequented these digital rants here, you already know what I think. But for the uninitiated....

  • You can ride any bike on gravel-  yes. But that doesn't mean a specially designed bike for gravel should not exist, just like a special bike for time trials shouldn't exist, or a special bike for down hill off road trails shouldn't exist, and so on....
  • Cyclo cross bikes are........cyclo cross bikes! Yes- they can be ridden on gravel, but that doesn't mean a specific design for gravel should not be pursued. 
  • Just because someone doesn't believe a gravel bike should not exist doesn't mean a gravel bike cannot be done. People may not understand the need, or the reasons, but the same could be said of just about any niche of cycling. That doesn't make a gravel bike more or less valid. It just means people have opinions. 
  • Many companies are making cyclo cross bikes with minor tweaks and calling them "gravel specific" bikes. This does not mean that they are. Most are not even close. Most folks wouldn't know the difference. That's what these companies are banking on, and in the end, it doesn't matter, as long as they get ridden. This does not mean a gravel specific bike should not be pursued either. It just means marketing worked.....or it didn't. 
As I have said all along here- I know what I want in a gravel road bike. Some folks agree with me. Not everyone will agree, or care, about that. However; that doesn't stop me from pursuing the "better" gravel bike, and it shouldn't make any difference to anyone else unless they are interested in making a better tool for the job, like I am.

 The point is, it is just about tweaking "the bicycle". That's all. It isn't a big deal, but if you let yourself get swept away by the punters and marketers, you may think otherwise. Really..... they are  just ranting about a name folks. Nothing to get worked up about.

It's Just A Name

Not a problem for just any bike, right?
You know all about this if you come around here much. Gravel grinding: You've read reams about it here, but ya know- many folks have only just been made aware about the term, and that there are actually bikes and components being made for the activity by bicycle companies. It's "new", it's a "trend", and some people are offended. Some folks are making some outlandish comments to skewer the idea as being stupid or worse.

What a bunch of maroons.

Then there are some who "get it" as far as the activity, but still........that name! Check out Jan Heine's blog post about that here

What I find amusing about the article is how the term "gravel grinding" is found to be distasteful, yet the term "grinding up a climb" is used by one of the commenters and Jan himself refers to the "taste of the effort". I really make no distinctions there from "gravel grinding", (which has been a term used for this sort of riding long before marketers got a hold of it, by the way.) I would suggest that it isn't so much the term folks find distasteful, but rather it is the marketing, the "profiting" off of the term that turns people off. Which itself is a bizarre concept since just about our whole economy and political system is based off of marketing of one sort or another. In other words, move along, there is nothing to see here, and go ride whatever bike wherever you want.

The term "gravel grinding"- It isn't new at all.
 Then there are the bikes for gravel: 

For some weird reason these same folks get all up in arms about companies making "gravel grinder" specific bikes. I've been talking about what would make a "better" tool for the job here for years. And again- if you've frequented these digital rants here, you already know what I think. But for the uninitiated....

  • You can ride any bike on gravel-  yes. But that doesn't mean a specially designed bike for gravel should not exist, just like a special bike for time trials shouldn't exist, or a special bike for down hill off road trails shouldn't exist, and so on....
  • Cyclo cross bikes are........cyclo cross bikes! Yes- they can be ridden on gravel, but that doesn't mean a specific design for gravel should not be pursued. 
  • Just because someone doesn't believe a gravel bike should not exist doesn't mean a gravel bike cannot be done. People may not understand the need, or the reasons, but the same could be said of just about any niche of cycling. That doesn't make a gravel bike more or less valid. It just means people have opinions. 
  • Many companies are making cyclo cross bikes with minor tweaks and calling them "gravel specific" bikes. This does not mean that they are. Most are not even close. Most folks wouldn't know the difference. That's what these companies are banking on, and in the end, it doesn't matter, as long as they get ridden. This does not mean a gravel specific bike should not be pursued either. It just means marketing worked.....or it didn't. 
As I have said all along here- I know what I want in a gravel road bike. Some folks agree with me. Not everyone will agree, or care, about that. However; that doesn't stop me from pursuing the "better" gravel bike, and it shouldn't make any difference to anyone else unless they are interested in making a better tool for the job, like I am.

 The point is, it is just about tweaking "the bicycle". That's all. It isn't a big deal, but if you let yourself get swept away by the punters and marketers, you may think otherwise. Really..... they are  just ranting about a name folks. Nothing to get worked up about.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday News And Views

I rode this bike about a 100 miles before I made any opinions on it.
Concerning Reviews:

Of course, if you've been here for any length of time, you already know I do reviews on products for Twenty Nine Inches and Gravel Grinder News. Sometimes I even do a review or two here.  (If you didn't realize this, well......now you should.) Next- I will say that by training, (ie: in the college training sense of the word), I am not a "journalist", but by definition, what I do fits that term more closely than not. You be the judge. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what anyone wants to call it to me. However; I do take what I do very seriously, and I try my level best to do a good job and to keep getting better at it. Again- let the reader be the final judge in such matters.

All that to say that I have seen and read a couple things lately that I have found to be.......hmm, how shall I say this- disappointing? Incredible? Sad? Well, anyway, here is a video that is an example. Another example in the written form comes from a well known magazine and can be read here. My jaw dropped open at this line:

"We found a five-mile out-and-back trail in East Saguaro National Park that was fast and hard-packed with enough sand, ruts, and steep uphills to put the gravel steeds through their paces."
Five miles? Really? Please go back and ride the DK 200 on it, then we'll talk........or at least do multiple days on the thing with rides lasting over an hour or so before the pronouncements come down about how "this or that" is awesome. Anyway, I'd like to think that at least they would put a huge disclaimer on that piece saying it was a brief impression, and not a.........well, whatever it is. It certainly isn't what I would deem as a review. But maybe I am all wrong here.......

Riding on gravel- Reaching For A Slice Of That Pie
The Marketing Of "Gravel Grinding": 

Many years of riding gravel by cyclists have happened before I came along, and many have happened since then, but now bicycle companies have taken notice and they want you to think it is "new and exciting".

Mostly I do not have any issues with marketing saying stuff about "gravel grinding" as long as it is based in truth and not just some re-packaged component or bike being flaunted as a "gravel grinding" product. But that's another story......

My point today is that the overall bicycle market base is not expanding. This means that companies are fighting tooth and nail for your cycling dollars. Gravel riding has become much more popular in the last six years. Marketers have aimed their promotional machines at the gravel segment and are firing up all sorts of ideas to attract you to spend your hard earned money. This should not surprise you. It's how the economy works these days with any market.

You also will see folks grousing, (getting angry, actually), and saying all sorts of crazy stuff in reaction to this phenomenon. In the end, none of what they say will matter. Folks will continue to ride gravel roads despite the hype because they want to. I would suggest that no matter what the "newest, greatest thing to hit cycling" is you will hear this negativity when the marketers get ahold of it. (Fat bikes?, enduro?)

So, I would suggest that if you "get" what riding gravel is all about, cool. If you learn about it and try it, again- cool. If you don't get it, and think it is stupid, that's cool too. Marketing will happen despite how you feel. It is the way of this world. Not worth bothering about it all, really.

Three years ago......
The Return Of The Snow Dog:

No, it isn't some mash-up of J.R.R. Tolkien and Rush, (although, that sounds rad), it is the rebirth of my first fat bike.

Three years ago I received a Muluk and matching Enabler fork for my birthday, (which happened again yesterday, by the way), and I was stunned. Several friends and folks I had not even met yet all contributed to the cost to purchase this frame and fork so I could build my very first fat bike. To say that this gesture, objectified by the Snow Dog, (which is the name I gave to the frame/fork), was very much appreciated is an understatement. It means more than I can say...

I paid that forward when I stripped much of the running gear off the Snow Dog last year to get my son on a fat bike, which has worked out brilliantly. However; since then the Snow Dog's remains have been hanging from a hook, waiting to be re-assembled again into a working fat bike. Well, the time has come and work has begun to revive the ol' Dog and get it rideable once more.

There will be some switcheroos going on between this bike and the titanium one, but plans are to have one be the "wide track" bike and the other a 4"er.  I'll have an update soon, I hope.

Stay warm! Get outside and be active!

Friday News And Views

I rode this bike about a 100 miles before I made any opinions on it.
Concerning Reviews:

Of course, if you've been here for any length of time, you already know I do reviews on products for Twenty Nine Inches and Gravel Grinder News. Sometimes I even do a review or two here.  (If you didn't realize this, well......now you should.) Next- I will say that by training, (ie: in the college training sense of the word), I am not a "journalist", but by definition, what I do fits that term more closely than not. You be the judge. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what anyone wants to call it to me. However; I do take what I do very seriously, and I try my level best to do a good job and to keep getting better at it. Again- let the reader be the final judge in such matters.

All that to say that I have seen and read a couple things lately that I have found to be.......hmm, how shall I say this- disappointing? Incredible? Sad? Well, anyway, here is a video that is an example. Another example in the written form comes from a well known magazine and can be read here. My jaw dropped open at this line:

"We found a five-mile out-and-back trail in East Saguaro National Park that was fast and hard-packed with enough sand, ruts, and steep uphills to put the gravel steeds through their paces."
Five miles? Really? Please go back and ride the DK 200 on it, then we'll talk........or at least do multiple days on the thing with rides lasting over an hour or so before the pronouncements come down about how "this or that" is awesome. Anyway, I'd like to think that at least they would put a huge disclaimer on that piece saying it was a brief impression, and not a.........well, whatever it is. It certainly isn't what I would deem as a review. But maybe I am all wrong here.......

Riding on gravel- Reaching For A Slice Of That Pie
The Marketing Of "Gravel Grinding": 

Many years of riding gravel by cyclists have happened before I came along, and many have happened since then, but now bicycle companies have taken notice and they want you to think it is "new and exciting".

Mostly I do not have any issues with marketing saying stuff about "gravel grinding" as long as it is based in truth and not just some re-packaged component or bike being flaunted as a "gravel grinding" product. But that's another story......

My point today is that the overall bicycle market base is not expanding. This means that companies are fighting tooth and nail for your cycling dollars. Gravel riding has become much more popular in the last six years. Marketers have aimed their promotional machines at the gravel segment and are firing up all sorts of ideas to attract you to spend your hard earned money. This should not surprise you. It's how the economy works these days with any market.

You also will see folks grousing, (getting angry, actually), and saying all sorts of crazy stuff in reaction to this phenomenon. In the end, none of what they say will matter. Folks will continue to ride gravel roads despite the hype because they want to. I would suggest that no matter what the "newest, greatest thing to hit cycling" is you will hear this negativity when the marketers get ahold of it. (Fat bikes?, enduro?)

So, I would suggest that if you "get" what riding gravel is all about, cool. If you learn about it and try it, again- cool. If you don't get it, and think it is stupid, that's cool too. Marketing will happen despite how you feel. It is the way of this world. Not worth bothering about it all, really.

Three years ago......
The Return Of The Snow Dog:

No, it isn't some mash-up of J.R.R. Tolkien and Rush, (although, that sounds rad), it is the rebirth of my first fat bike.

Three years ago I received a Muluk and matching Enabler fork for my birthday, (which happened again yesterday, by the way), and I was stunned. Several friends and folks I had not even met yet all contributed to the cost to purchase this frame and fork so I could build my very first fat bike. To say that this gesture, objectified by the Snow Dog, (which is the name I gave to the frame/fork), was very much appreciated is an understatement. It means more than I can say...

I paid that forward when I stripped much of the running gear off the Snow Dog last year to get my son on a fat bike, which has worked out brilliantly. However; since then the Snow Dog's remains have been hanging from a hook, waiting to be re-assembled again into a working fat bike. Well, the time has come and work has begun to revive the ol' Dog and get it rideable once more.

There will be some switcheroos going on between this bike and the titanium one, but plans are to have one be the "wide track" bike and the other a 4"er.  I'll have an update soon, I hope.

Stay warm! Get outside and be active!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Triple D 2014: Race Report Part 4

Purveyors of the "finest" convenience store light beer trailside.
Wanna Beer? This road crossing was an amusing break from the treacherous snow on the Heritage Trail that I had been wrestling with since leaving the Dyersville checkpoint. There was a pickup truck and two gents offering free beers to any passersby. Keystone Light may not even be on my "beer radar", but I obliged their offer and quafed one while we chatted briefly. Suddenly the whine and whirr of snowmachines came into my hearing, and looking toward the East, I saw several machines headed our way.

The two beer wielding young men were dismayed that their freshly spray painted sign on the trail would be churned up by the snowmobiles, but I quickly whipped out my camera and saved their work for posterity! (See the bottom of yesterday's post) Hey.....I'm only trying to help out a couple of generous fellows, ya know! 

The snowmachines approach. Angels or Devils? I wasn't sure at this point.
 As I watched the snowmachines approach, I was gauging whether they would perhaps do me any good. I was doubtful, having seen the way this snow had turned into a frozen water version of wheat flour. There was almost no lateral support and the only way to make any headway without struggling with your bike mightily was to find the tracks of those ahead of you and stay in them as best you could. Of course, with my slightly narrower than average tires, I found it easier to do this. Getting out of the beaten path was death to my forward motion though. I feared the snownachines would not provide that packed down track I needed.

I vocalized my fears to the two gents and one of them assured me that the next section of the Heritage Trail would be packed in and faster. He said, "....you'll really be able to lay down the power." I took his assessment under advisement and rolled off, thanking them for the barly pop.

Well, much to my dismay, the fellow couldn't have been more wrong. I was correct in my fears that the snowmachines were not my friend on this day. I was hoping that this would be only a mere oddity and no more of these two cycle, oil burning apparati would be encountered. But I was further dismayed to find that another "train" of these machines was headed my way, and again I was obliged to pull aside and wait to avoid any accidents with these things.

This hiker called out a welcome and called me "Boss". I liked that, it was a much needed lift in a bad stretch for me.
The Westering Sun called out the end of a beautiful day and marked the beginning of a firmer trail.

The church overlooking the intersection of the Heritage Trail with Girl Scout Road

The trail begins to firm up again, and no more snowmachines! Yay!
Bad JuJu: Okay- here's where I went into a "dark period" for a while. After having to dismount for the fourth time for snowmachines to pass, and having to deal with the aftermath they left behind, which was almost impossible to ride on quickly, I began to vent my frustrations out loud. Of course, I had been riding alone since the Dyersville turnaround and had not yet seen another rider for several miles. I guess I thought I was the only guy out there. I let loose a curse of snowmachines and then looked up to see another rider ahead kneeling besides his Surly. I saw that he was repairing a chain. I felt kind of silly at this point, because I knew he had heard my outburst.

I apologized for that and asked if he needed anything. He was okay, but also agreed that the snowmachines were a curse upon the fat bikers on this particular day. I could see he too was outraged by the conditions at the time. I put my head down and settled on just pushing through without being so outwardly negative.

I think I underestimated the anger of the Surly rider, because not long after I had passed him he came around me at such a high rate of speed it caught me off guard. He pronounced a further malediction upon the snowmobilers and sped away as if he were sprinting for the finish line. He made me sit up and I thought to myself that he was really holding a nice line through the inconsistent snow. I felt maybe he was on to something, so I clicked down a couple gears and gave pursuit. 

Into the bluffs and limestone outcroppings before the light of the Sun faded away.
It Gets Better: It was working, but it was taxing my reserves a bit too much this far out yet. I backed down a hair and was content to follow his tire tracks. Only they got obliterated twice more by the dratted snowmobiles! I finally started to see signs of more tire tracks further on up the trail afterward, and the trail firmed up with the steadily dropping temperatures to a point where I was hauling the mail once again. It felt good to be back up to speed and heading toward Durango, which had a bar that hosted the final checkpoint for the event.

I was still stopping regularly to eat and drink. I also snarfed down that brownie I got at the Dyersville turnaround, which was a highlight of this stretch for me. Man! Something about really pushing yourself on a bike makes the simplest foods taste like gourmet fare. Anyway, a couple of chocolates and pieces of beef jerky later and I was in the Durango checkpoint before I had to switch on the lights. Inside, Traci Andre, one of the event directors, gave me a fist bump and I was stoked to finish out the final 8 miles of this grueling event. I drew another poker card. An 8 of something.....Bah!

I pulled out of Durango just ahead of two other riders and I pushed up the speed to a point where I gapped them off and held them there. Once the gap formed, I couldn't make anymore headway against the two, but I pushed on as hard as I could, because I knew the last section after we left the Heritage Trail was going to be brutal. I crossed the new Highway 52 Overpass bridge and immediately found a man by a snowmachine who waved me over. He asked if I had gotten any directions for the end of the event at the Durango checkpoint, and I said no, but that Lance Andre had told us at the start to watch out for this turn. He said, "I am Lance!" Ha! I didn't recognize him, but I had probably been pushing so hard that I was a bit out of sorts.

Pushing the bike more than riding it marked the last four miles of Triple D
Lance gave me some final directions and I was off for the last four miles. Lance said it would probably take me all of an hour and a half to get through it! That was a hammer blow to my brain, but there was nothing for it, and I wasn't about to quit now so close to the end.

The End Game: The two chasers caught me here, of course, and with the change to the off-road snowmobile tracks, my tire/wheel choice really became a burden for me. I was relegated to walking where these other two were easily riding stuff. The snow was horrible. I let the two guys go and sank into a dark place, pushing feebly up a dark, long, steep climb which gained almost 800 feet in elevation. I could hardly step further than six inches at a crack, and it was slow going.

There were downhills that I coasted down, but otherwise I walked probably 80% of the last four miles and finally got back to the race headquarters at 7:17pm in 33rd place overall. But not before I crashed on one last run out after a down hill. That was four for the day! I was super glad to see the folks that were kind enough to clap for me and offer congratulations. My wife and daughter were there, (my son was off on an adventure in the motel somewhere else), and it was a great relief to have that over with and behind me. It was the slowest time for any of the now three Triple D races I have done, but it was by far and away the toughest.

Unfortunately we were unable to stay later, and I had to bug out right away afterward so my wife and I could be at work the following day, but I need to thank a few folks:

Thank You: Lance and Traci Andre: You guys and your volunteers put on a great event and this year was tougher than I have experienced here. Thanks for the opportunity to test myself. To The Land Owners: Thanks for letting us cross your land and enjoy some beautiful Iowa backcountry! To the Asbury Snowhawks Snowmobile Club: Thanks for working with Triple D to give us the chance to ride off bike trails in Iowa! To the Best Western Plus: What a great venue and the rooms were ace! Thanks to Mrs. Guitar Ted and my two wonderful kids who let me do this nutty stuff and even come along occasionally with me on my adventures.