Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mud, Snakes, And Sand

The longest mud/water hole, but certainly not the only one on my ride.
It rained quite a bit here on Friday, so I knew that any off roading would be done on the fat bike and that in the Green Belt, since I didn't want to tear up anybody's trail work. The Green Belt doesn't care, and the trail work, (if you can call what the Parks Department does in there "trail work") is basically trail work by barbarism. They essentially run an end loader through the woods and scrape and push anything that gets in the way out of the path. It's ruined what once was a winding single track path through there. Most folks that have been riding the Green Belt for only the past five years wouldn't know any better, but 20 years ago it was a much different ride through the woods on true single track. No more.......

I guess I should be happy I can ride through it at all, but I also feel that this could be a much more inviting trail than what it has been made into now. Obviously, it is much easier and cheaper to just run the end loader through, and anything else would cost more labor and expense in equipment for a city already strapped for cash. It is what it is.

Anyway, the ride..... I used the Snow Dog for mud duty. Does that make it the Mud Dog? I probably could have made an excellent case for the name change yesterday. Mud was slinging up into the air like cow dung off a manure spreader. (Non-farming types won't get that one, will they?) So much sticky black earth and sand. Good thing the drive train parts on the Snow dog are mostly worn out! If they had been newish I wouldn't have been too stoked about what they went through yesterday. It was particularly nasty there for much of the mid-section of my ride.

We got yer sand right here!

One of two snakes seen on the ride.
A bewildered fawn. It didn't quite know what to make of me after I stared down its mother. 
Winding path through a young woodland area. 
A border between some older woods and a mature prairie that could stand a burn. 
Checking out a bandit trail. It dead ended right before the lake.
The plan was to hit up most every trail on the Green Belt. The main trail hugs the Black Hawk Creek, but if you know where to turn off, there are a few diversions that the City has deigned to plow through with its big implement so we can all get through there. I wasn't on a quest to ride absolutely everything, although I probably rode 80% of it all, but as it was, it took about 2.5 hours. Granted, on a fat bike and going at a slower, measured pace due to much sand and mud, so on a good day with a 29"er, I probably could have ridden everything in 2.5 hours.

Going off on a rabbit chase down a dead end bandit trail didn't help, but a little bushwhacking is never a bad idea. In fact, I ran across three deer- two does and a fawn- that I had one of my "stare down" contests with. I'll explain.....

Many times when I see a deer I will stop and freeze. I won't move a muscle. Deer have a hard time actually seeing you if you do not move at all. They can still smell you, and they can see something, I think, but they cannot figure you out if you do not move. It kind of drives them nuts after a few minutes. One of the does today, for instance, started stamping, and then snorting. The other one, which seemed less agitated and was moving a bit more calmly, snorted and made an awful noise at one point. A vocalization of some sort. Finally, after at least 10 minutes, (and this whole time I am standing dead still), the two does figure that they cannot stick around anymore and the bolt off. Meanwhile, as the stare down was in progress, a fawn emerged. Being a young one, it wasn't versed in the deer ways, I suppose, since it stood there and watched me from a distance. When the two does left, it stood there blinking at me. I started moving and reached for my camera, but the fawn didn't scare off, and in fact, I had to wait a good five minutes more for it to finally saunter off in search of its mother.

Flowers on Black Hawk Creek
Bushwhacking near the end of the Green Belt just North of Hudson, Iowa.
A perfect day for a bicycle ride.
After the deer encounter I saw another red fox scampering into a fence row, (I had seen one straight away at the beginning of my ride as well), and I saw another young doe. Two grass snakes as well, sunning themselves out on the trail in two different locations. A banner day for wildlife in the Green Belt. Usually I don't see much of anything but an occasional deer in this area. That was fun to have experienced. I suppose the fact that there had been no other human traffic out before myself after the rains didn't hurt that from happening at all!

The Snow Dog's poor drive train bits were getting hammered, and by mid-ride I had to be careful not to put too much pressure on the pedals or I could get the chain ring to skip. So it was "spin-spin-spin" and keep the momentum up as much as possible. Fortunately the back third of the ride was not so sticky-gooey and the drive train behaved itself for the most part. That said, I have to switch out parts now. It will make cleaning the bike up easier with all the bits pulled off it. I have need to look at the bright side!

It was an excellent day out and I got in some great, steady miles on the fat bike. This will be good for getting me back up to speed on fitness and working up to being back on the game for Triple D in January. Yes......I believe I'll be pulling the trigger on that again. More on that in the coming months. But until then, I have some work to do if I am going to get back in shape again. Plus I have the Geezer Ride and Trans Iowa V11 to get figured out. Much to be done, and the year is running out. But all that aside, I had a great day on my first fat bike. I still really like that thing even though it isn't all the "latest and greatest" stuff, or some whiz-bang frame design in carbon fiber.  I'll just upgrade that thing and keep on truckin'.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

MRP Fat Fork vs On One Fatty Fork- Part 2

Part 1 can be seen HERE

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned..... And: Both forks mentioned were purchased with my own money. I am not being bribed, nor paid for this post. 

On One Fatty Fork on The Snow Dog
Okay, so as promised, here are my riding impressions on these fat bike forks suitable for 1 1/8th steer tube fat bikes with 470-ish millimeter axle to crown lengths.

On One Fatty Fork: 

This fork not only transferred over to the Mukluk with ease, it feels much like the Enabler fork it replaced in terms of handling. If you love your Muk's handling, this fork is the one to get.

It feels maybe a bit less harsh than the Enabler. I sometimes think it is smoother, then other times I think it is very similar. I can see the lower third of the fork legs really working over small chatter, so it is doing something. In terms of being "wowed" by carbon fiber? I don't see that here in terms of feel.

Obviously in the weight department this fork has a bigger impact, (no pun intended), on the overall feel of the Snow Dog. At approximately half the weight of an Enabler, the inertia in steering, making quick maneuvers, and in lofting the front end are all different feeling now. I don't know how that will also affect soft conditions handling because we haven't had much opportunity for that this Summer. The jury is still out there.

Tire clearance is obviously copious with 3.8" - 4.0" tires. I have stuck a 4.7" tire in here and if it had significant side knobs, I would be pushing the limits. This is with a Rolling Darryl, by the way, which is not pictured here. 100mm rims and Bud tires? A tight squeeze, most likely.

The MRP Fat Fork on the MukTruk
MRP Fat Fork:

So an aluminum fork? You've all heard the byline on aluminum a million times: Harsh, rigid, stiff, and unforgiving, right? Well, the MRP fork acts like aluminum really is, and that is flexible and not super rigid. It is a surprisingly smooth fork.

The Fat Fork hasn't been ridden with fat tires, just the 29+ wheels I have, so far. At some point I will be getting something built up that supports proper fat bike tires and rims, but till then, keep in mind this impression is with the 29+ set up.

That said, I feel that the higher pressures I have used with the 29+ Knards and the lower volume overall of those tires versus fat bike tires should ride slightly harsher than a full on fat biking set up. I can only guess now- but my opinion is that on a fat bike, this MRP Fat Fork would feel awesome.

The weight isn't terrible, but it doesn't approach the feathery weights that many of the carbon forks are coming out at. Still, it is metal, rides super smoothly, and should be an easy fork to live with in the rough stuff. Tire clearances look on par with Salsa Cycles Bearpaw Aluminum fork, so this should swallow a Bud on a Clownshoe easily. The trail figure that this fork will make your fat bike have will mean slower, more sluggish handling in drier conditions, but slow speed stability should be tops.

Conclusions: If you want to simply make a swap, ditch a lot of weight, don't mind futzing with carbon steer tube plugs, and won't miss triple boss mounts on your fork, get the Fatty fork from One One. It is cheap, but light, and seems durable. would seem to break Keith Bontrager's Law. However; if you have an aversion to anything structural on your bike being anything but metal, love stability, and don't mind not being the cool kid at the trail head, get the MRP Fat Fork.

Obviously both of these forks don't support the all out adventure ethos that the Enabler fork espoused, so maybe you'd better hang on to that chunk of steel, just in case. But both of these forks will improve any early model Mukluk and provide you with certain benefits that an Enabler fork doesn't have. I can recommend both for different reasons.

Hope this was useful.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday News And Views

So....When Does Registration Happen? 

Okay folks......remember when I said I didn't want to get a bunch of you pinging me about registration Have you bothered to actually read the Trans Iowa site's "Details & Registration" page?

Many of you have, but guess what? Some of you have not. Some say that getting in to Trans Iowa is as hard as the event itself.......really? Try reading and following directions folks. It isn't all that hard. Maybe I expect too much........

Sorry about the mini-rant. Now on to a bit of TIMP news, and the very last attempt which will be starting this Saturday at 9:00am. For all the SPOT tracking fun you can stand, go HERE. Greg Gleason, the T.I.V10 champ, is gunning for a sub-24 finish of the 380 mile course. Can he do it? Will the weather allow for it? Keep clicking the link to see!

Yep! I got a B+.
Plus Sized Madness:

 The B+ thing I've been talking about? I will be testing it out to see if there really is anything to it here soon. I have some ideas that I think would be great for such a concept, but the B+ thing needs to "measure up" to expectations first.

The components to make the experiment happen showed up this week. I'll be using some of my own hubs, Chris Kings, and lacing them up to these Velocity Blunt 35's and there will also be another wheel set in the makings to try these out on as well.

The idea of B+ is that you could have a voluminous tire, (2.8"er), that would fit into a 29"er frame to allow for a "mid-fat" experience without having to buy anything but wheels and tires. My take on it is that this might be a great idea for a fully rigid chassis that might work well comfort-wise as a bikepacking platform, or as a rigid single speed bike with give. We'll see soon enough.....

The "madness" is all this wheel size nonsense. It's confusing and isn't really well understood. I was chatting with my boss yesterday and we thought it would make more sense if rim size and tire sizes were kept totally separated. For instance, if this were the case, all mention of "29"er", 27.5, B+, 650B, 29+, or "fat bike" would all go away. Here's how we see it.....

You take the ISO rim size- for instance, 584. This describes the diameter, then you add rim width, say inner rim width, since that's all that really matters with disc wheels and tubeless set ups. That gets you everything you need to know for dimensions on a rim. You'd have a 584/25mm, let's say. Then take the tire and use the ISO diameter again- (584 in our example)- so you simply matchy-match those tire numbers with rim numbers. Then you add in the overall width of the casing, (which most of the time is an approximation anyway), and then you know if said tire is a match for said rim. So 584 X 52mm, let's say. Manufacturers could simply say a bike is set up with 584's, or 622's. It'd be pretty obvious if it were a mountain bike or road bike, I think. And make everything be measured in millimeters!

I's a pipe dream.

Rather Tamland-like
Another Gravel Bike:

Many long time readers know about the Tamland by Raleigh from my posts here about that bike. (If you don't, this post explains it all) The ideas behind the Tamland were also put to work on a U.K. Raleigh offering, and will appear in aluminum for 2015 as the Raleigh "Willard" model. Raleigh is owned by Accell Group, and they have several brands. So it wasn't that big of a surprise when I came across another rig that seemingly is in the Tamland's genetic pool, if you will.

It is in the Torker line for 2015 and the model is the "EM 50", which sounds like a farm implement model designation or something. is looking like a good budget entry into a bike that was designed for gravel riding and exploratory back road shenanigans. MSRP is $1250.00 and it is equipped with a Sora gruppo and disc brakes.

Another Gravel Tire:

The Panaracer "Gravel King 32" (courtesy of Panaracer's Facebook feed)
 Last year Panaracer introduced the pretentiously named "Gravel King" tires and rolled out a 23mm, 25mm, and 28mm size range.......for gravel? Really?!!

I am sure that almost all the guys and gals that ride gravel that I have met at Trans Iowa or elsewhere would not even consider a 28mm tire and certainly not a 23mm tire as being king of anything but pinch flats, but there ya go. A company jumping on a perceived trend and missing the bulk of the market altogether.

Well, now it seems that the "Gravel King" has crept on to the radar screen for gravel riders since Panaracer has announced a 32mm wide version of this tire which is minimum width, as far as I am concerned, for any reliable gravel going tire. It's got kind of an odd tread pattern, but who might just work. I've ridden Panaracer Pasela tires on gravel and Bruce Gordon Rock & Road tires, (made by Panaracer) before and they are decent enough tires, so I would expect similar results at minimum for wear and ride feel. I just wish Panaracer would have paid attention to the 32mm to 42mm range, which is where the king should have its realm, ya know?

Okay folks, it is the last weekend of Summer! Labor Day weekend here and most of us have a three day hootenanny to look forward to. Get yer bike on and keep the rubber side down!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Last Of The Summer Singletrack Rides

The tell-tale signs of Fall's arrival are evident.
Green. That's all you see in Summer on our single track here in the Mid-West. The single track being the only deviance from the otherwise monochrome cladding of the woods and forest floor during the high Summer months. The days are growing shorter though, and the rains aren't as frequent. The late Summer dry spell has come and went, and now the early signs of Fall's arrival are becoming evident in the woodlands.

Dead leaves. The yellow-brown hues of the leaves that have fallen are in stark contrast with the overarching greenness of the woods. That balance of color will be shifting now at a much more rapid pace. The singletrack will get increasingly harder to see at times. The crunch of leaves under tires will replace the rumble of rubber on dirt. The humid, thick air will be getting taken over by crisp, dry, cool air that will have me reaching for the wool stuff in the clothing pile again. I am ready.

But it isn't Fall yet, and the humidity still says it is Summer. Just not for much longer. I went up to Ingawanis Woodlands for a single track ride on the Singular Buzzard with the MRP Stage fork on the front of it. Although the Buzzard is probably thought of as more of a severe terrain, mountain going sled, I have found that it can scoot along just fine- thank you very much- around the twisty-turny single track and that it gets up the short, punchy climbs without any fuss as well. Recent rains had made the dirt tacky, and the wide, aggressive On One Chunky Monkey and Smorgasbord tires were digging right in. That's good and helped along by the Velocity Dually rims, no doubt. I love the wheels and tires on this bike. Yes.......they are tubeless. I've never run tubes with this set up and never would consider it.

The ride started out fast and furious with the near perfect traction and zippy handling of the Buzzard motivating me to keep pedaling. Then I ran into another sign of Fall- nettles! They are hanging out there waiting to snag you, your clothes, and anything those little ultra-Velcro-like seeds can get their tentacles into. Bah!

The Buzzard (and I) taking a break in the action.
The bees were busy gathering before Winter comes.
Kind of hard to see here, but there was a Bald Eagle flying up the river, which I tried to capture with my camera.
 After zipping along a bit post nettles extraction, I decided I needed to stop and see if the Eagles were out and about. I cruised on over to the bottoms, where the trail draws nearest to the Cedar River, dismounted, and walked about 30 yards to the shore where I found a nice bit of late Summer flowers and a great perch of dead wood from a fallen tree branch to sit on. Okay, why not? I stayed about 15-20 minutes, just watching Nature.

The bees were busy. Different kinds of bees too. It is a good thing to see that. It reminded me that the season is getting on and gathering and storing that the creatures are doing now is for the coming cold. I looked out over the calm Cedar River as it flowed downstream, and suddenly a Bald Eagle was spotted, flying upstream, lower than the tree tops, and I tried to get a shot of it.

I sat there a while longer, admiring the flowers, and then I decided I'd better get a move on. I also decided that I was going to enjoy the rest of the ride more. Not going hell bent for leather. While that is fun, and I like to rip some single track, I also enjoy the times that I get to slow down and relax in Nature. There are all kinds of things vying for our attention these days, but there simply are not enough times to slow the heck down and take in some quiet time. I decided that yesterday's ride was "that time" to take it down a notch. It wasn't like I was lollygagging along, but I didn't bury my head down into the stem and gas it every inch of the way either.

It was a fine morning ride, and I couldn't have asked for a better day, trail conditions, or bike. Everything just clicked into place, and when it was all done, I packed up the bike stuff, threw on my street shoes, and started the drive home. I was satisfied with the ride for sure, but then I got a phone call that made me excited about the future.

Fall is coming and change is part of the cycle of life. There will be more things changing than just the seasons around here though, and as far as I am concerned, it is for the better. In fact, I bet there are things I don't even know about yet that will be adding themselves to the list of changes coming up. I can feel it. Like a cool, crisp breeze in the tail end of Summer.

I cannot say exactly what is coming yet, but as time goes on, more details will work themselves out, more ideas, more discussions, and more plans will be laid. I am stoked to move into this new thing, and also- I am stoked to see Fall coming on. It's the best time to be out in the woods on a bicycle, ya know?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

MRP Fat Fork vs On One Fatty Fork

The One One Carbon Fatty Fork
If you own one of the "first wave" fat bikes that have only an 1 1/8th compatible head tube, like I do, your fork options besides the stock fork that came with your rig, are limited. If you were like me, it was hard to find any good information on such forks, because most folks are all buzzing about "the next shiny object" and not some antiquated 1 1/8th steer tube fat bike fork option. Hopefully this will help correct that for someone out there......

So, before I get any further, here's my standard disclaimer, with an addendum...

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned..... And: Both forks mentioned were purchased with my own money. I am not being bribed, nor paid for this post. 

(sigh!)...Okay then, with that outta the way, here's the way I see these choices for your fat bike. First up, the On One Carbon Fatty. This fork is, as the name implies, carbon fiber and surprisingly enough, so is the steer tube. It comes in black or white and has some ridiculous clear coated graphics. Price from On One direct is $248.46, give or take a bit depending upon currency exchange rates. 

  • 470mm Axle To Crown length
  • 55mm offset
  • 590 grams cut to fit a Large Mukluk
  • Rear Standard Brake Mount
  • 10mm QR axle only
  • 135mm OD
Notes: The Fatty fork is pretty much a direct replacement for an Enabler fork. Similar axle to crown length, offset, and brake mounting standards mean you just install the fork, swap over the brake and stem, and you are ready to ride. Well, that is if you have a carbon steer tube plug to take the place of a star nut, which cannot be used "no how-no way" on a carbon steer tube. (Or at least, it shouldn't be.) The Carbon Fatty does have a bit of a protruding "shelf" at the crown race seat, but this is so it matches up with the larger bottom part of On One's fat bike head tube. Mukluk owners will have to just put up with the eyesore. Note: You could use this on a fat bike with a tapered steer tube fork by replacing the lower head set with an 1 1/8th compatible reducer. This means the fork will swap over to your next fat bike too.

MRP's Fat Fork
The next contender is MRP's Fat Fork which is quite a bit different than the On One fork and has more options available. The MRP fork is the evolution of the White Brother's SnoPack fork. With the change in name of the company, the fork was dubbed the "Fat Fork" going forward. This fork is available in aluminum or aluminum crown, steer tube, and drop outs with carbon fiber legs. Both versions have 34mm diameter legs. The fork is also offered in two axle to crown lengths, and one would work with Pugsleys at 450mm. MSRP is $449.00 for the carbon legged versions and $339.00 for the all-alloy ones. 

  • 468mm Axle to Crown length
  • 43mm Offset
  • 990 grams cut with star nut (Carbon is 910gm uncut)
  • Front Standard, post style brake mount
  • QR axle only
  • 135mm OD
Notes: The Fat Fork transfers over well to a Mukluk, but the fly in this ointment will be the front brake standard that MRP uses. While I have seen a creative kludge to adapt a rear standard brake mount front hub to a front brake standard fork, it isn't easy, and it isn't commercially available. Most will be best served by swapping over to a more "modern" front standard hub. Yes.....a new wheel build. But look.....everything going forward is front brake standard, so why not? The other thing of note is the offset, which is shorter. This means more stability. Well......theoretically it does, and it probably will in practice. What does this mean for you? A "slower" handling bike. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe not. I like it for softer conditions. Note: This fork would also be swappable to another fat bike regardless of headset/head tube sizing with the correct head set. Front brake standard hubs are plentiful now as well. 

Comparisons: The On One fork seems to win on paper with its direct swap-ability, lighter weight, and lesser price. However; that is tempered somewhat since your hub choices are limited going forward and you need to deal with a carbon compatible pre-load plug to adjust your head set. (These can be a bit frustrating depending on the style, plus they cost more than star nuts do.) The MRP fork doesn't have hose guides, which is unforgivable in 2014. Both forks do not have any provisions for bottle cages or Anything Cages, which may be a negative for you. The MRP's price is 100 bucks more, and that's hard to swallow, but it does get you into the modern world when it comes to hub/brake standards, and it isn't carbon, which for some folks is all they will need to know to choose it. 

Okay, so how do they ride?  See Part 2 HERE.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MukTruk Update

Handles sand okay.
The MukTruk has been ridden pretty extensively since I got it together about two weeks ago now. Here's a bit of an impression of what it is like to swap fat bike wheels out for the "plus sized shoes" that I have on my Mukluk now.

It Is Not A Fat Bike:

While three inch wide tires can do a lot, they don't have quite the float of 3.8"ers or wider. Sand traps, while eminently more "doable" than on a 29"er, are still a chore on 29+ tires, while your fat bike would simply laugh and roll on. Still, your traction and roll over are tremendous with 29+. Definitely a "plus" over any 29"er set up and better in many ways than a fat bike set up.

You also have a lighter weight than a full on fat bike set up, and less rolling resistance with a better turn in than fat bikes have. If you can live without the flotation factor, this set up really rules.

Higher Bottom Bracket: Probably the biggest negative here is the higher bottom bracket, which makes dismounting and mounting a chore. If your fat bike has a dropper post, or can take one, get one if you go 29+. It will definitely enhance the ability to get going again off road, not to mention getting down steep stuff will be easier. I'd say the 29+ set up on the Ti Muk sent the BB height up at least by an inch, although I haven't actually measured the difference.

Smoove: The combination of a slightly bigger diameter wheel, tubeless, lower pressure tires, and the titanium frame, seat post, and aluminum MRP fork all add up to a much smoother ride than this bike ever had before. I sometimes forget to unweight the saddle when I hit sharper bumps since this set up simply erases small chatter. The fork has been particularly revealing in this manner.

So far I am really liking this set up. Of course, when Winter comes in, I will be swapping out wheels to fat bike wheels and tires again. The plan is to swap wheels with the boy's bike which has Rolling Darryls and to not use a front brake in Winter, since the fork and hub are not compatible. Until then, this bike will be getting the call a lot in the coming months for more adventures and for just cruising around.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Loose Ends

TIMP Update:

This past weekend there was an attempt on the TIMP course for an ITT, (Individual Time Trial), finish which turned out to be thwarted by rains and hot, humid air. That makes for three attempts with none being successful, as far as the ITT style attempt goes. Overall there has been 12 attempts at the course. The three aforementioned ITT attempts, and 9 "Group Style" TIMP attempts, where folks could try the cross state route in the company of others. Of those 9 attempts, only six were ultimately successful.

With less than one week remaining in August, I only am aware of one possible ITT attempt that might happen. We'll see, but suffice it to say, this route is a tough nut to chew. A few things jump out at me right now........

A muddy B Road on the TIMP course, (Image by Al Brunner)
First of all, the old saying that Jeff Kerkove coined about Trans Iowa still rings true: "The weather is the wild card....." Which brings me to the following....

More than once, folks have asked me, "Why not run Trans Iowa later in the year so the weather isn't such a factor?" I've always held that every season has its own peculiarities when it comes to weather and that by moving the date of Trans Iowa all you do is introduce some new possibilities for weather that could shut down any rider. Witness two of the three failed ITT attempts and at least one of the failed Group attempts as examples of this. Want another example? The B Level roads at this Spring's Trans Iowa were all rideable, all eleven of them. Not so on TIMP this year. Summertime didn't help that at all.

And then you have heat, humidity, and contrary winds, not to mention heavy rains, which played a part in every TIMP attempt this Summer. Let's not even get into the mental and physical fatigue issues.

So, I hope this answers that old, tired question about Trans Iowa's date. Whenever Trans Iowa might be scheduled, "the weather is the wild card." That much I know for certain. You may get a "hall pass" and the weather might be great, but more likely than not, the weather will play a big, and perhaps deciding role, in any Trans Iowa-like event. At least in Iowa! 

If you were supposed to get a finisher's certificate for a TIMP attempt that was successful, I have them in the mail now. I waited on sending out the four I was sitting on to see if I had to do two others, but both those attempts failed. So, I apologize for the delay, but I was wanting to knock all of that out at one time.

With less than a week to go, I figured I was in the clear for any possible certificate mailings, that is until I heard about another possibility Saturday. It isn't scheduled, or even in process yet, but that may change very soon. Stay tuned.......

Finally, a warning: If you ever thought you might want to attempt the route, go to the Trans Iowa Masters route pages HERE and HERE and copy them NOW! After August 31st, the info is being pulled and will never be made public by me again. The TIMP is a one time deal and will never be repeated. (So yes- those links will be broken after August 31st!!) Obviously, I will not sanction, approve of, or recommend that the route ever be done in any shape or form officially since I cannot guarantee the route's safety or existence after the 31st. If you copy it and try it, you are responsible for your own actions. Nuff said...........

 Trans Iowa Clinic: 

The Trans Iowa Clinic was a big success last year, judging by the reactions and feedback I received from it. I was down in Des Moines Saturday and I have confirmed that the same venue we used last year is available again for another clinic. Some of the same folks that were involved last year will also be involved again this time, but we hope to bring in a few more in an "official" capacity. (And we have already confirmed a couple of you that asked to be a part of another T.I.Clinic)

All that said, we have a lot of things on the table for discussion on this year's version of the clinic. These include, but are not limited to, the following....

  • An earlier date, even before Registration for T.I.V11 happens. Possibly late September/early October? The registration may be announced at the clinic, and perhaps even an actual registration of Finishers and Vets may take place on the premises. (Don't get too excited, I am just throwing out ideas..)
  • The clinic may include an actual ride on gravel, as long as the date does not interfere with any cyclo cross event in the area, which admittedly, might be hard not to do.
  • Last year there was interest in a video of the roundtable portion of the Clinic. If there seems to be any interest in this again, we can possibly work on that this year. Should we show "300 Miles Of Gravel" again?
  • Last year we had an "expo" of actual equipment used in Trans Iowa. If this seemed profitable, we can recreate this again. Perhaps bring in a local shop to help? Ideas??
  • Last year we had requests to do another T.I.Clinic in another location. If we were to do that, where else other than Des Moines should we consider this?
Okay, that's all I have now. If you are at all into Trans Iowa, or gravel events, let me hear from you in the comments or e-mail me your thoughts.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Out To Lunch

Too wet to bring the bikes along, or so we thought.....
Saturday I went with my family to Des Moines, about a 110 miles away, so my wife and daughter could go to a special cosmetics counter we don't have anywhere else near us for make up and a make-over. Girly stuff.....

In the meantime, I though maybe the bikes could come along so my son and I could explore the metro area a bit, but with thunderstorms happening when we left, and my son not totally into the idea, I decided to not push the issue. In fact, we ended up being pressed for time, so it wouldn't have probably have happened anyway.

And then it ended up like this!
I did get to eat at Tacopocalypse, so that was awesome. Once again, if you are ever in Des Moines, search out this place, (it's like three blocks from the State Capitol building), and get anything on the menu. It's amazing food.

The decor is a bit industrial at the new digs for the restaurant. Actually, my son Jacob, who is 11, put it best when he exclaimed that it seemed to be like "a gangster warehouse". 

Don't ask me how kids come up with this stuff, I am just so stoked when they do though! Gotta love that. I hope Sam, the proprietor and Chef uses that one. It's too good not to.

Well, off to the make up counter after eating and my son and I became mall rats for an hour and a half before we got outta there and set sail for home. A day shot there, but I got some awesome food, saw Sam, and nailed down a plan for something Trans Iowa related which I will talk about soon. Stay tuned on that front, and also.....I heard about another possibility for a last minute TIMP ITT attempt! Stay tuned on a possible announcement on that front this week.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bike Shop Tales: Building Up Wheels- Part 2

Through the valve hole....
Four to five years ago now I did a bit of a series called "Bike Shop Tales". It was mostly about my early days at Advantage Cyclery. That was my first shop gig and I worked there from 1993 till early 1997.

I was reminded of the old series when I wrote about Brian's going away party held on Thursday evening. I figured I would resurrect the series as an on again-off again subject to write about here. Heck, it's been almost twelve years now that I've been at Europa Cycle & Ski. I figure I've got a few more tales about bike shop days to share!

So, here's a link to part 1 on building up wheels. Now I want to share more about building up wheels these days. It's a bit different now with regard to what we do.

Back in the Advantage days, we had everything anybody would likely want or need for a wheel build. Ordering stuff was rare. Now days it is exactly the opposite. We can call in an order and have everything we need the next day and build up a wheel. That's exactly what we did with the one I built up Friday. Otherwise, not a whole lot has changed.

I still use almost all Wheelsmith spokes and nipples. I've built with DT Swiss with good success, but again, I just don't really care one way or the other, since both work great and I am accustomed to Wheelsmith more than I am DT Swiss. So, I am a creature of habit in that regard! The tools have changed a bit too. Wheelsmith doesn't calibrate the old tensionometers anymore, so I have been using a Park Tools one. It's okay. I am not enamored of their chart that goes with the tool, but it isn't a tool and system that is the equivalent of a small country's national budget to buy, like some others are.

Finally, I have to admit I still am fascinated and satisfied with wheel building. I am glad that's the case, because I get to build four more wheels real soon here! Stay tuned for what those are......

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday News And Views

Riding Off Into The Sunset
Last evening I spent time with Brian, a coworker of mine, who is leaving after today to start a new chapter of his life in Minneapolis Minnesota as he is going to attend the University of Minnesota in pursuit of his medical degree.

We started out with a nice ride around on our great bike path system here and afterward there were "adult beverages" consumed, which eventually resulted in the late posting of this edition of "Friday News And Views".

But it was totally worth it.

The shop was filled with laughter and the guys all seemed to have a great time. So missing posting last night so it appeared here "on schedule" isn't a big deal. Not investing time with people? That is a big deal, to me anyway, and I am glad I went.

Good luck in Minnesota, Brian. You'll be missed at the shop!

Very red
Becker Sewing And Design

The Fargo Gen 1 got gussied up the other day when a box showed up bearing a red Becker Sewing & Design frame bag.

Head honch, Tupper Becker, lives up there in Fairbanks Alaska where he does some amazing work for cyclists and mushers. Some of his sled bags are really amazing. His company's motto is "Our gear is tougher than you are", and it probably is, since his designs get tested in some of the world's harshest conditions.

This bag is already field tested as I used it last evening to ferry a sixer of bottled beer to Brian's going away gig. I had room to spare and I look forward to stuffing this bag with actual camping gear and what not for adventures on the Fargo. The Gen 1 Fargo is a good choice for a frame bag, since the frame's main triangle is so big. That's a result of this version not being suspension corrected, which allows for the maximum volume for a frame bag. This one is a bit more voluminous than the bag on my MukTruk, as an example.

But let's say you don't have such a huge main triangle, or that you are a smaller person. Does having a frame bag make any sense? I think so, just look at my son's Mukluk here. That's the XS size and it's got the tiniest frame triangle you'll likely find on most any bike. The frame bag Tupps sewed up for this is amazing in detail and fits the bike great.'s tiny, but there is room in there to put stuff in which otherwise would have to go on your back.

I'll be talking more about these bags in detail, but for now I just wanted to show them off and introduce you folks to Becker Sewing and Design which can make you your own bag for your adventures in most any color and configuration you can imagine.

TIMP Update:

As the month of August runs out the TIMP will cease to be anymore. The last scheduled run on the course is an ITT attempt by multiple Trans Iowa finisher and Tour Divide finisher, Mike Johnson. You can follow along with his progress today HERE.

I wish Mike all the best as he rolls across the state. He let me know he plans on doing this in 38 hours, so keep checking back. There will be soft B Maintenance roads and possibly bad weather for Mike to deal with, so it'll be a tough ride, no doubt, possibly made tougher, depending on the weather.

That's a wrap on this late edition of Friday News And Views. Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Lost Images

From a recent night ride
The replacement camera had a problem. My computer wouldn't recognize it when I plugged it into the USB port. It was as if I hadn't plugged anything in at all, which is weird since the computer recognizes everything else that I have that I plug into the USB ports on the CPU.

Well, having spent a sizable sum, (for me), on this new camera, to say that I was alarmed was a gross understatement. I tried everything, from contacting Olympus support to reaching out to friends via social media. Nothing I could research or find was helping at all.

I had a revelation on one point though the other day. My old, ancient card reader was recognized by the computer, but I couldn't communicate with it to download anything. Then I realized- new card technology + old card reader = kaput. New card reader time!

Well, after I got that here, plugged in the SD card, and plugged into the computer? BAM! Instantly worked as if nothing was wrong. Downloaded images, and all is good. Now.....what the heck is going on with the camera when I plug it in? I think it has a bad cable or a bad USB port. Since I cannot get another cable for it without dinking around on the net to find one, I think I will just live with using the card reader for the time being.

Humid August gravel riding.
Petrie Road's B Maintenance Level section.
So, it would appear that I have at least a workable solution to the camera downloading situation for the short term, at least. Now I will have to spend some time getting to know this beast and working up some more good imagery. Stay tuned......

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One For The Album

B+ It's real! (Image credit C. Artmann
Just this past Friday I wrote about the "Plus Sized" mtb revolution. (No pun intended) How ever much I rant and rave about that though, some of you may not get it. It's like a conspiracy, a tinfoil hat thing, ya doesn't exist. Or maybe you like the idea, but you just don't see it. You need a visual aid. Okay, look to the left here. That's real. It is being ridden. Click the image and read the tire hot patch.

That's what I'm talkin' about! 

This is a 29"er fork, for reference. The is a new one from WTB. It is meant to go with the new tire, tubeless TCS style. However; this tire will fit down to rims with a 25mm inner rim width and work just fine.

Numbers? Sub-1000 gram tires, (just over 900, actually), and the rim? About the same as a Velocity Dually, (in more ways than one). When? Soon......they are real and will be available. How big? Depends on the rim width for over all width, but think 64mm-71mm wide. Diameter will vary as well, with the wider rim flattening out the tire more and the narrower rims making the diameter larger. Think about 15mm-20mm smaller than a 29 X 2.3" tire diameter. That's gonna lower your bottom bracket height a bit, so be aware of that. Costs? Don't have a clue yet.

Why? Because wider rims and bigger tires really do make a difference. A big difference. It is much betterer in a way that you cannot know about until you actually try something like this. Traction will be better. You will take corners faster. You will have more comfort and stability. One thing you will not have is a need for a new 29"er. These tires on the right rims will work in loads of 29"ers already out there. Sure, it won't work in a lot of them, but on many it will. It's going to be a big deal going forward.

I have a feeling this is just the start.......

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Less About The Rock And More About The Roll

Note: The following originally was posted to Gravel Grinder News on 8/17/14. I thought that since not everyone reads GGN, it might be good to share this post here as well. 

2015 Raleigh Willard Two
Less About The Rock And More About The Roll- by Guitar Ted

With the big trade show season about to unfold for the bicycle industry, we start to look forward to what might be getting unveiled for the gravel road riding cyclists amongst us. The bicycle industry has shown some interest in catering to this genre, but not without some backlash, and subsequently the mid-summer releases were less specifically about “gravel” and more about……well, we’ll get to that in a bit here. The point is, it is becoming easier to find off the shelf solutions for gravel and back road riding. Anything from tires, rims, and components all the way up to specific designs in complete bicycles aimed at gravel and back road riders.
2015 GT Grade
 Crushed rock roads are a mainstay across many of the states in the midst of the United States, but that isn’t the only form of back road/mixed terrain riding available, and certainly it doesn’t represent what is possible all over the country. In fact, many riders don’t even know what a gravel road is and why you’d want to “grind” one. Who could blame them? While many get stuck on the name, it isn’t the point, and it is definitely not the goal of many in the industry to promote “gravel riding” exclusively. That would be selling the whole thing short of its potential, in my opinion.
 The gravel scene is real, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon, but it is only a facet of what I believe could be a revolution in cycling. It is really great to have the industry come to grips with gravel riding’s specific demands, but what works on gravel roads really works everywhere from just short of road racing right up to and including some single track riding. The bicycle industry is catching on to this too. Specialized and GT Bikes, to name two, have shown short videos featuring their new “all road” bikes doing pavement and dirt, with bunny hopping and spirited sprints part of the action.

Even some of these company’s marketing spiels are saying things like, ” this isn’t about racing, but just riding bicycles“, which is a breath of fresh air in an industry that has focused too long on European Pro road racing. While that sort of cycling is exciting, it isn’t what the masses are going to do, or should do, with their bicycles. Bike shops have been filled with fast, light, hard core, unapologetic road racing machines for too long, and the mountain bike market keeps pushing longer travel full suspension bikes that really aren’t necessary for a vast majority of cyclists.
However; as stated above, the industry still hasn’t come to grips with just how to market these bicycles. The term “gravel grinder” was latched on to early on, but that term has been registered as a trade mark, (not by us!), and besides, it is not well understood by most cyclists anyway. What to call it then?
This is the sort of “mountain biking” most folks could be doing.
Yes….this probably sounds like it is coming straight from a certain retro-grouches “blug”, but if you stop to think about it, an “all -road” type, country bike capable of mixed terrain riding is a lot smarter, safer, and more fun for the kind of “just riding a bicycle” that brought us into cycling in the first place. Getting out there, using a “general purpose” bike just to have an adventure, be with friends, or to get away from it all, is the basis for most riding we do.

This same sort of bike can be your commuter, your light touring rig, an errand runner, and yes… ridden on gravel roads. But let’s not get stuck on what a “gravel grinder” is, or why bikes should be designed “specifically for gravel road riding”. No, let’s make it less about the rock, and more about the roll. The riding, and having fun along the way, with a light, reasonably designed bicycle that is capable on a wide variety of terrain types and roads.

We’re not going to be changing our name anytime soon here, since the rides this site promotes and the bicycles and gear we talk about are going to be measured by how they help us “grind out the miles on gravel“. (“Gravel grinder”, now do you understand?) We literally have hundreds of thousands of miles of crushed rock roads surrounding our little headquarters here, so it makes sense for many of us. However; we aren’t so short sighted that we think everything has to be about gravel riding, and we think the bicycle industry should keep moving in that general direction as well.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting Back To It

MukTruk hauling fishing rods
Saturday I did a little experimentation with my son. He wanted to go fishing, and I wanted to ride my bicycle, so I had to do a bit of on the fly thinking to accommodate both requests.

I could have easily taken the Xtracycle, but that was too easy, and I wanted to try using the new "MukTruk". (29+ wheels in a titanium Mukluk) I had a few Velcro straps and I used them to lash the two fishing rods and reels to either side of the top tube/seat stays. A bungy cord for more security, and it was done! Then all I had to do was squeeze in some supplies into the Bike Bag Dude frame bag, and then we were off, with everything we needed for a bit of fishing. Yep.....there we go! Off to the water then.

Well, the fish weren't biting, but it was a good two hours or so spent with my son and we learned a few things together. He's getting the hang of casting, and figuring out patience is a good trait for a fisherman. We'll be back out doing this again soon. Me? I figured out why I liked that old Boron Carbon rod and Shimano reel. Smooth and sensitive! It's been a while since I had that rod and reel out. Kinda forgot how it felt, I did.

Flat repaired......
Sunday I made good on my threat to get out and single speed on some gravel. This was the first ride back out in the country for me since July 26th when I was hit by that truck. It was the first ride of any significance since then as well, since I have been recovering from the crash, and sickness intervened in there also.

So I wasn't really sure how that would go. I noticed my bibs fit looser, for sure, which was quite a surprise. I figured I would go the other way there. Then there was the bronchitis I had, which I wasn't sure was gone, but hey! I needed to get out and ride. It had just been too darn long.

It was hot and just a bit humid yesterday here. About 85°F when I left, so that was another concern. The flat bicycle trail South would be a good warm up, and maybe an indicator of how long this ride would really be. I had aimed at going as far as Petrie Road and the B Level section. The bicycle trail sector didn't faze me, so I turned left and hit the gravel.

Things were clicking along well until I turned West on Washburn Road to get a mile over to catch the B Level section on Petrie Road. It was then that I felt the soft, wiggly sensation that we as cyclists know is your sign for a flat tire. Bummer! It's been a while since I've flatted on the gravel roads.  

The change went well, and actually, it wasn't a puncture, but a failed tube, so that was nice to have found out at least. Swapped out the tube and moved along to the B Road, which was pretty loose and deep with sand and fine dirt. Getting out of there I found more dusty gravel and I made my way home after 25 miles. It was good to test myself, and honestly, I came through in a lot better shape than I had expected. Still feeling where the truck hit me, but at least I am back riding again.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Luxy Bar: Why It Is The Bar Many Want But Few Can Get

Pardon my craptastic finishing tape job!
In the super-niche of off road drop bars, maybe there is no other drop bar that has engendered such curiosity and desire as the Ragley Luxy Bar. Why is that? In this post, I'll take a stab at answering this question and telling the back story on this peculiar handle bar.

The Start:

As I recall, there was a thread on on the 29"er forum that was going on about off road drop bar set ups and what bar would be best. Of course, at this time in history you had two choices: Find an out of production WTB Dirt Drop, or similar bar, or use an On One Midge Bar, which was based off the original WTB offering, but tweaked in several important and good ways. (Note- There was  also a revival of the WTB Dirt Drop that was never really embraced by the public, due to it's super-deep drop and weird anatomic drop shape, so I have left that out of this discussion.) I was in the On One Midge camp, but I had nits to pick with that design. I stated something to the effect that I had a "perfect" off road drop bar design in mind which I would have loved to have seen made. Not long after I posted this, I received an e-mail from Brant Richards.

Mr. Richards was a designer at On One, but had recently left to do bicycle and component design on his own, dubbing the company "Shed Fire". He was doing several designs for Chain Reaction Cycles UK brands and mostly for a brand Mr. Richards developed dubbed "Ragley". In his e-mail to me he asked, in his typically abbreviated style, to send along a copy of my design for his consideration.

The Luxy featured a much wider, more flared, and longer drop bar sectioned design.
So I did and Brant seemed truly interested in coming up with something. Months went by, and Brant consulted with others on the design, most notably Sam Alison of Singular Cycles. After this period of time passed, I received images of the rough prototype which no longer bore any resemblance to my crude drawings, but I found fascinating nonetheless. Not that anything I contributed was worth keeping, but I'd like to think that I influenced the design in some small way. I guess I may never know that.... Anyway.....

The design process completed, the bar went through the various stages of prototyping and manufacturing, which Mr. Richards was kind enough to keep me abreast of. It was a fascinating look "behind the scenes", and I learned a lot along the way. Finally, one day a box arrived that had two Luxy Bars inside of it. One in polished ano and the other in black ano. A "thank you" for my thoughts and whatever help I lent along the way, I suppose, and also to get the word out, which I figure was part of the plan on Brant's part.

With its extremely shallow drop and super short reach, the Luxy Bar had no peer.
The Hey-Day:

The Luxy Bar hit the scene and was embraced by a few, but from where I sat I thought that it was a a product most misunderstood at the time it was released. As far as I was concerned, it wasn't anything like I had envisioned, but it was really quite nice, actually. It had a unique 31.8mm diameter top section, and with its "wheelbarrow" handle feel, climbing torque was awesome, so the Luxy Bar and single speed seemed a natural marriage to me. However; some found geared set ups to be quite nice as well.

Still my fave!
The End:

I didn't really keep up with how the Luxy was selling, and not too long after it came out, Brant went back to On One. Whether or not that had anything at all to do with the Luxy's demise is anyone's guess, but it seemed to coincide with the disappearance of this product from stock. I am told it only had two production runs before Chain Reaction UK shut the availability of it off.

The Legend Begins:

I shrugged it off as "one of those things", and since the demand seemed soft for it, I figured that this would be the end of the story. However; maybe a year or two ago now a sudden interest in the Luxy Bar appeared and I was getting asked about the availability of the bar and whether or not I could find any for people. I actually tracked two down and sold one of them to a good friend in Des Moines. Others were being sold for about twice what they originally sold for. I am aware of at least three people that have gone to the length of e-mailing Chain Reaction UK to find out if there was some way to get them to either make more, or release the design to another company to be manufactured. 

There is a lot of behind the scenes scuttlebutt on a "Luxy-like" design drop bar being potentially developed. As of now, that's all it is- scuttlebutt. I really do not foresee the Luxy Bar, or anything very close to it, ever being made again. I think that is sad, since I really like the design, and I know many others do as well. Maybe just as many more would like to try one just because they have heard about the scarcity of these. It's an odd thing that I have dubbed "thing wanted- cannot get". In other words, it seems to me that when you could actually get a Luxy Bar, no one seemed interested, but now that it cannot be had, the "demand" for one seems to have rekindled.

The future will possibly bring other drop bars for off road to light, but maybe none will have such a legendary story as the Luxy Bar has had.