Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Six String Side: 1988 Fender Strat Plus

When I started this blog over ten years ago, I stated that it was a "Bicycle and guitar oriented elixir....". Well, the "guitar" part sort of got pushed out by the bicycle stuff, but I've always been playing. In the Easter post, I mentioned playing my '90 Strat, and someone suggested I detail the fleet, so here ya go. Hopefully ya'll enjoy the change in pace. I'll post something periodically throughout the year. Here's #1.....

1988 Fender Strat Plus model in "Antique White".
 The first guitar up in this series is my '88 Strat. I am the original owner and it is still one of my favorite guitars. Here's the story on this particular instrument.....

In 1987 I was hankerin' for a new guitar. I never had purchased a brand, spankin' new one, so I was going to use my tax return and check out something new. I was all over the latest guitar news in the magazines back then, and I saw the new Fender "Strat Plus" models featured and they looked to have some cool new features over the Strats of the past. I was always warned by guitar players to be careful about Stratocasters. They told me that many of the 70's and early 80's pieces were fraught with quality issues, wouldn't stay in tune, and the tremolos were essentially unworkable. Of course, there were "pre-CBS" Strats, the models made when Leo Fender still ran the show, but even in the 80's, those were really hard to find and then you had to have a lot of cash to get one. More than I could afford at the time.

The pick ups are "Lace Sensors", which at the time were really cutting edge units.
The Strat Plus seemed to address many of the issues I had heard about and were priced well. Fender had been bought back by some employees and the factory was moved and revamped to get the guitars made in a way that ensured a better instrument. The Strat Plus featured some new, and to me, unknown features that attracted my attention. The tremolo was a Wilkinson unit that pivoted on two studs instead of the old fashioned six screws that Fender had used since the 50's. The nut, the part the strings break over at the head stock, was a roller bearing, so your strings wouldn't hang up when you used the tremolo bar and make you go out of tune. What is more, the Strat Plus had these cool locking tuners. No more winding strings forever around a peg, and string changes were far easier. Finally, the three "Lace Sensor" pick ups looked so cool. They were supposedly quieter than previous Fender pick ups, but I know now they still produce noise. It's okay though, because they sound great and still look pretty darn cutting edge, even after all these years. 

So, in April of 1988 I had my tax return and I heard about a "Guitar Month" sale on Fender guitars at the old music store we had in town called the "Music Corner". It used to be located in downtown Waterloo, but by this time it was playing out its last days at a strip mall in Cedar Falls, ironically where Bob's Guitars is now. I'll get back to that in a minute.

Mmmm! Locking Schaller tuners! Staying in tune is important to today's musician!
So, anyway, I went to the shop and asked about the Fender Strat Plus model. Bob Guthart, (yes, the Bob of Bob's Guitars), worked there and he said, "This one's a pretty nice one.", and he reached over the counter to hand it to me. The minute I touched it I knew I had to have it. It's kind of weird, but my favorite guitars all have made a pretty quick connection with me, but the Strat Plus was instantaneous. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was more than my tax return, so I had to scrape up some more cash, but within a couple of weeks I had purchased it. I want to say it cost about $850.00 or so at the time, but my memory may be off there. Hey! It was almost 30 years ago now!

So, anyway, that started out a relationship with Bob that I have right up to this day. I don't think I had ever met him before I purchased this Strat. He runs his own shop now, as I mentioned, and I still buy almost all of my gear from him. So, this guitar represents a longtime retail relationship and I believe it is the longest running one I have going. I have purchased several items from Bob over the years. Some guitars and at least one amplifier, and some of that will be discussed in this series at some point. Of course, Bob went through the Music Corner and another shop first before he got Bob's up and running, but anyway...... I digress......

No. 8
 The last story about this guitar has to do with the sticker on the upper horn. It is a dirty old sticker with a number "8" on it. Back when I bought this guitar, I figured it was the eighth one I had ever owned. Then shortly after that, I got a new pair of trousers and in the pocket was a tag that said "Inspected by...." and this sticker was on that tag. I guess I got inspired to stick it on the Strat, and it has been there ever since.

I have the original hang tags and all the "case candy" for this one, and the original, blow-molded case, which I had to repair once. One of the latches broke off from its plastic moorings, so I fashioned a new, more reinforced back plate and re-attached the latch. It's been fine for several years now.

That's number one it this series, and at some point, I'll photograph another guitar and write up another story. Almost all of my stuff has some story attached to it, so it should be an okay diversion from all the bike stuff once in a while. If not, ya'all let me know and I'll can it.

Thanks for reading, as always.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Trans Iowa v12: Checkpoints, Convenience Stores, and Chit-Chat

Trans Iowa multiple finisher, Mike Johnson is making these 3D printed tokens for all the riders.
Three weeks to go, and the time will fly fast! Trans Iowa is about to kick off its twelfth version and before we get there, here are a few tidbits of interest to those in the event and, perhaps, of slight interest to onlookers as well.

First up, I wanted to underscore a point that I've made in the last several Trans Iowa versions. That being- There are NO CONVENIENCE STORES at CHECKPOINTS!! That's right. You will not find anything but cheerful volunteers and a fresh set of cue sheets at checkpoints, so be prepared!!

As always: Be prepared at the start to ride 100 miles with no chance for water or food!!

Convenience stores will be on the route. They just will not be at checkpoints. You will have ample access to convenience stores and the route will go right by several. While the following should not be construed as a comprehensive list of all convenience stores on the route, the overnight section of Trans Iowa will be highlighted by ONE store open all night. There also will be two other chances in the late afternoon/early evening hours before night fall, so be aware that YOU NEED TO MAKE THE CORRECT DECISIONS!! This means YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU.  Should you pass a convenience store and not check to see if you need water or food, you are making a poor choice and will suffer the consequences. Trans Iowa, its directors, volunteers, nor anyone associated with the event are responsible for your nutrition, water, safety, or decision making. It's all on you.

Checkpoint volunteers will have these hats on so you know you aren't dealing with imposters!
Keep in mind that Trans Iowa will also not reveal the location of the second checkpoint, and checkpoint #1 will not be revealed until the Pre-Race Meat-Up. I do this to cut down, eliminate, and dissuade anybody from trying to get out on the route to spectate. Trans Iowa is not a spectator friendly event. I am often asked, after this statement, "But what if a rider needs help?" Well, then that rider can and should call you, (the support person), if there is a need to extract a rider from the course. It isn't that tough to figure out where someone is by the cue sheets if you have a cell phone and an Iowa map. Plus, we strongly urge riders ride in small groups.  This not only ensures a greater chance at finishing the event, but riders can look after one another and in cases where someone needs to bail out, we have found that other riders are more than willing to help out. Bottom line- We don't want, nor do we need, folks gallivanting around the course. It invites cheating, and it is not necessary.

A quick note on cell phones: Riders will be in areas with little, or absolutely no- coverage. You are advised to turn off your cell phones until they are absolutely needed. (UK translation: Cut the power on the mobile unless you want a dead battery.)

That said, we understand that folks want to know how their rider is progressing. You can suggest one of the following two options, or both, to do just that. First, you can purchase a SPOT tracking device and have your rider wear it. They are very reliable and follwing a SPOT tracker of a rider is super easy to do. If this appeals to you and any rider you may know, the option will have to be pursued on your end. Trans Iowa does not offer this option. The second way to keep up with any rider is to encourage them to make call-ins to Trans Iowa Radio sponsored by This is also where I will be updating on the event as well.

There were two, independent reviews of the final cues for the event, and they passed both reviews with flying colors. The final test will be on April 16th when we field check the cues for accuracy and clarity. We will also verify the existence of the roads as being open. Then, and only then will the cues be printed. If there is one thing I have tried to make absolutely as perfect as possible, that would be the cue sheets. Speaking of cue sheets, the size is approximately 4 3/8ths long by 3 7/8ths wide for each sheet, although there may be some variances in that since the sheets are hand cut and complete symmetry is not possible. Also- and this is very important to note-  the cues are not moisture friendly. So, try to make sure you do not get them soiled by perspiration, wet from your water bottles, or get rain on them. They won't survive that.

That's it for this time. Hit me with any questions you may have in the comments section, please.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trying To Make Lemonade

That's not mud spewed all over, that's sealant from my rear tire.
There was a great plan. Ride home from work the super long way. That would be to go out of Cedar Falls Northward to hit the gravel and cut across Eastward on Mt. Vernon Road to Burton Avenue and then back home. Great plan, and it was really nice weather. Not too windy, sunny, and a light Northwest breeze.

Great plans often get derailed, and that's obviously what happened to me. My almost brand new Gravel King 40 rear tire was cut down somewhere on the Big Woods Lake bike path. A hole, or possibly a cut, so big that almost all my sealant spewed out before 30 seconds went past.

I couldn't get it to seal, and no wonder, since the sealant was all over my bike and not in the tire. I resorted to a tube, pumped it up with my new pump, and then I decided to investigate what it might be that caused the flat tire. I vaguely recalled seeing a large object that I nailed dead on with my rear tire. It shouldn't be too hard to locate, I thought. Well, it wasn't, and I was not surprised to see the reason why I had flatted. The bike path was strewn with broken shards of thick, irregularly shaped glass in a 10' X 10' area. There was no way to not hit glass. I saw the chunk I hit which I had smashed into smaller bits. Crap!

So, here's the deal. Lots and lots of people use this trail, yet not one of them had the idea that maybe they should clear the trail of the glass? My hope in humanity was somewhat dimmed at this realization. Despite following the herd, which would have been too easy, I did the rebellious thing and I actually swept the trail as best I could. You know...... Because it was the right thing to do, maybe?

The Weeping Willow is always one of the first to sprout leaves in Spring. 

Wow. My countenance was not the best after this. Yeah, I was upset about the tire, for sure, but I was maybe more ticked off about people that don't do anything, even when it would be so easy to do the right thing. I had some steam to burn off, so I put it into the big ring and hammered along the bike paths, dirt roads, and back streets along the river to make my way home. Bicycles are a great medicine for what ails ya.

An Iowan bayou?

After several miles, my now cooler head prevailed and I eased back a bit, and even stopped to take in a few sights along the way. Spring is emerging all around us here. Yards have green grass, the flowers are out, the early daffodils and the like are, at any rate. The willows are green and sprouting leaves. Touches of color stand in stark contrast to the dead browns and tans of Winter. In fact, the whole scene will shift from dun colors to the deep greens and splashes of color from flowers very soon. It's all a bit early this year, but that's okay.

Soon I found that I had calmed down. I had a perfectly good tube in the tire now. I was riding. The tire was still working, and I had the satisfaction that I had done something to change the condition of that little spot in the world for the better. Sure, I was still a little sore about what had happened, but I was trying to turn my lemon of a ride, (to start out with), into lemonade. I know.....pretty cheesy, but it mostly worked, and that's what matters most.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Gravel Travel Saturday

Red sky in the morning, and all that....
Saturday was "gravel travel day" and I was not to be denied a chance at getting out there to enjoy it. I decided that with a forecast that looked to be rainy around the noon hour that leaving a bit earlier than usual was maybe prudent, but I wasn't going to place all my bets on beating the weather. So, I packed a pair of rain pants in the Tangle Bag and wore my Bontrager Lithos Storm shell as a way to ward off any potential showers or rain.

I had a couple of folks indicate that they were going to meet at the usual place to ride with me, but when you get up in the morning with showers in the area, you never know who you might see in the parking lot. I was quite surprised to see Ron waiting when I pulled up. It has been quite some time since I have pedaled on the crushed rock roads with him. That left the other two that indicated they may show up, and within a couple of minutes, Robert and his yellow Fargo appeared on the horizon. We chatted a bit, then Jeremy finally came along, so it would be a foursome. After allowing Jeremy to catch his breath since he was a bit winded from his effort to get there, we left under sullen skies stained with the red of the early morning Sun as she rose in the East.

Being chased by the Three Musketeers of gravel!
I rode the trusty Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" rig. It had all the bags already attached, plus the big reason I took it along- mudguards. I know.... Here in the US we call them "fenders", as a general rule, but after having witnessed first hand what these devices are really good at out on gravel, I'll go along with the UK moniker- mudguards.

I was prepared for the rain to come, and I planned on doing the entire route, the 3GR route, and then, maybe, a bit more. Maybe. I had to clear that with the family first, of course. We headed out with a Southwest wind at our backs, and it seemed easy to go fast, well, at least I thought so. I looked back a couple of times only to find myself off the front. I wasn't meaning to be doing that, but we did hit the first part of the gravel with quite the head of steam, so I guess I was thinking I was just keeping the pace the same. Maybe I wasn't. I don't do computers and devices, as a general rule, so I have no real good idea. All I know was that I felt pretty chipper.

Ivanhoe Road. This is the last we would see of Jeremy for a bit...... There he goes off the front!
Jeremy decided he had some Strava business to attend to, as Robert guessed at when it was happening, and he took a flyer on Ivanhoe Road. We were a bit perplexed at the sudden burst of speed, but we were content to let him go, as we were having a good ride and conversation. The road wound around North and West then we came across Jeremy at the corner where Hilton Road turns South towards the Boy Scout Camp. Then it was my turn to go.

Hilton's rollers are a favorite stretch of road for me, and I often turn on the burners to high and cook myself trying to go as fast as I dare up the short, punchy climbs and down the long, fast slopes past the Boy Scout Camp. Instead of waiting up at the "T" intersection, I hung the left and climbed the slow, lazy curved stretch of gravel up, trying to squeeze out more effort from my now tired legs. Down the following hill, and turning right on Ivory Road, I looked back to see Robert close behind and another figure I assumed was Ron. It turned out that it was Jeremy. Ron had decided to peel off to the West at the intersection and told Jeremy he was headed back to Cedar Falls.

My view most of the way back after we got to Bennington Road
I was starting to feel the effects of my efforts after we gained Black Hawk County once again, and it was then that I recalled that I had a Garage Bag full of gels on board. I took one and ate it while hanging on to the back of Robert and Jeremy. This propelled me down the road again for a bit, but then I started to lag a little once again. I suggested we turn up Burton Avenue, since it made no sense for us to continue on to our starting point. We all had ridden down to the start of the ride.

This would, of course, put us on a more direct course to Cottonwood Canyon, the downtown Waterloo coffee shop, where we would end up stopping at for post ride cups and treats. The place was busy, and the young lady at the counter asked if I wanted breakfast. I thought that was odd, since I've never been asked that any other time we have stopped there. Jeremy reminded me that we had started early, and our infernal pace got us back into town in time for a late breakfast there, had we wanted that. Nice!

Oh, and it never did rain. Not a drop. In fact, the Sun nearly made it clear of the clouds there for a bit during our ride. The rain held off until quite a bit later in the afternoon, but the winds were pretty heavy by the end of our ride, so there was that. Robert continued his pursuit of miles after our stop, but Jeremy and I went back to our respective homes, which I was swiftly taken away from again by my family to go shopping.

At least the day started out right!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter

A post card entry for T.I.v7 which was held on Easter Day 2011
Not everyone is all about Easter, and that's fine, but if you are, you know the real reason for the day.

It ain't about plastic eggs and Easter hay neither.

My plans are to play my 1990 Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster at the church today and then we all bug out to my Mom and step Dad's place for the afternoon.

So, have a great day, and I'll be back tomorrow with a regular version of the blog for ya'all.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Minus Ten Review- 12

Salsa Delgado Disc rims laced to purple Surly hubs for my old Inbred
Ten years ago on the blog I posted about some wheels I built, more 29"er stuff, endurance cycling news, Mike Curiak dropping out of T.I.v2, and more. However; in my review of this past week a decade ago, I saw a mention of a funeral I went to for a fellow cyclist. I didn't give any details beyond what I have written in the last sentence, but today I wanted to touch upon this man's influence on me. Because it was an extraordinary thing that he did.

The man's name was Don. Not a name with much going for it, but the man transcended that name with grace, courage, and kindness. Don had a physical limitation, but you'd never know that. His leg was amputated below the knee on one side. Don never let it slow him down, and in his prime, he could drop you on his road bike like a bad habit. He also had a great sense of humor about his physical being. He'd play practical jokes by pulling off his prosthetic and doing goofy, unexpected things to shock folks. But mostly, he seemed "normal", because, well......he was. 

But that isn't what influenced me. Don was diagnosed with cancer late in his life, and he had to quit work and concentrate on his battle. Don played guitar most of his life, and he was part of a church worship team, like me, so he would stop into the shop once a week to commiserate and share his wisdom, all under the guise of two fellows talking bicycles and guit-boxes. But like I said, it was his perspectives on life that really struck me.

Here was a guy that was suffering and dying, yet he would never let on that he had anything but joy in his heart and a will to encourage his fellow man. I didn't say much on the blog about this back then, just a mention of attending his funeral. But trust me, Don made a big impact on me ten years ago, and I have not forgotten him.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday News And Views

SRAM Eagle 12spd 1X XX-1
Yes, It Is Real:

Remember those leaked images of a SRAM Eagle 12 speed 1X group I had on here a while back? Well, as you may know now, it was a real thing. SRAM introduced the "improved" group yesterday in XX1 and X01 flavors. Yes......they are way expensive. $1417.00 and $1193.00 respectively for all the parts. Which, if you think about that, are only the cassette, shifter, derailleur, crank set, and chain. You can bet that a big chunk of that expense is in the XDome cassette, just like it is for 1 X 11 stuff. And yes....the derailleur, chain, cassette, and chain ring are all proprietary and specific to 12 speed. So, barriers are there for sure.

I had a long chat online about the merits of this system with a friend yesterday. Here are my main thoughts on 1X in general: First of all, try thinking of any vehicle/powertrain combination that is seeking engineering and technology to find ways to make its powertrain have bigger steps between ratios. Yeah...... That would make the powertrain less efficient. So, why do we, as humans, think bigger jumps between gear ratios is a better way to do mountain bike drive trains? By the way, Shimano does not buy into this way of doing things, (bigger gear ratio jumps), and that is why they have resisted the whole 1X drivetrain thing from the beginning. It is not because they couldn't do this.

Secondly, the entire reason for going to the 50T low gear was to erase the complaints against 1 X 11's lack of a low enough gear to compete with 2X10 drive trains, and of course, now 2X11 drive trains. This makes the suite of parts more marketable, but again, not more efficient for "the motor" that drives it all. Other reasons for 1X drive trains are mostly about aesthetics and fashion. "Cleaner" looking, no front derailleur to "mess up" the looks of the bottom bracket area, and an "uncluttered handle bar". Shorter chain stays and suspension designs not possible with front derailleurs can also be touted as "benefits". None of that makes you go faster. Some claim weight benefits, but with a 50T cassette cog spinning back there, can we now start looking at rotational weight as being a negative for this idea? Maybe.... But the big deal here is the jumps between gears and that isn't the best thing for the rider, nor does it promote keeping your momentum up, since your cadence gets jacked with those bigger gear jumps.

The Renegade Gent's Race 6.0 flyer
Renegade Gent's Race:

It is happening again, and so the reboot of the Careless Whispers is going to happen again as well. The sixth running of the Renegade Gent's Race, which has been such a great event for me so far. It is responsible for new friendships and such great times that I never would have had if I had not been invited to ride with three strangers and a Trans Iowa vet back in 2011.

The Gent's Race has been a growing deal since the beginning. I'm not sure this year that it will be bigger than last year, but at about 300 folks, maybe it's big enough! That's not a concern for me though. It's kind of funny how you end up riding with your team, seemingly all alone out in the country, at least a few times during the afternoon. So, no matter how many teams do end up coming, I think that will still be the case again this year. Then there are the times when you are in a bigger group, and that seems to be okay as well. It's a weird dynamic, but it is fun.

So, as I alluded to the other day, I have to pick a rig to go with that day. I am sentimental, so the Black Mountain Cycles rig is high on the list of bikes I will choose. Maybe the Tamland with those big ol' Gravel King 40's. That's the only other bike I've ridden there, I think. Nope! I just checked, and I rode my Vaya one year down there. Oh well...... It isn't like it will matter a whole lot, so whatever I choose will be fine, I am sure.

Nothing "new" to see here..... Move along!

Have you noticed more chatter about "gravel this" and "gravel that"? Bigger magazines and websites are all over the "gravel bike" scene now. They are saying things like"do we need these new bikes", and "how to prepare for your first gravel race", like these sorts of things are so unknown and new that they need explanation.

Well, if you've been a long time reader here, you already know all about this stuff. Heck, just look above at my Renegade Gent's Race mention. Notice that it's version six? Trans Iowa is in year 12!! The Dirty Kanza is going on 11 years. I could go on. My Black Mountain Cycles rig is six years old now. My Tamland, a gravel specific rig, is going on four years old now. These things aren't new.

Plus, if you are really paying attention, you'll know that gravel roads were being ridden since gravel roads existed, and gravel events are not all that different from something like a long, 100 mile mountain bike race, or any other cycling competition. Bikes that work on gravel roads have been around a long time. What happened was that the industry forgot about those bikes and chased after the "F-1" style road bikes that the Pro roadies use. Those bikes pretty much suck for gravel roads. Well.....the thousands of miles of gravel roads in the middle of the country, and elsewhere. They just weren't the best idea, and still are not, unless you, know, do criteriums and actual paved, fully supported road races on closed courses. Nothing wrong with doing that, but bikes drilled in sharp focus for that pursuit flat out suck on gravel. No way to sugar coat that.

So, in those terms, we don't need a "new genre" of bike to do this "all roads" cycling, we need to get back to where we were a long time ago, and we are. This is good. isn't anything new. Neither are the events. Just keep that in mind when you see all these articles about gravel this and that pop up in the big media productions. I say....Welcome to the party! And...calm down! It's not that big of a deal, y'all. We've been here for years. 

That's all for this week! Get out there and turn some pedals, and have a meaningful and enjoyable Easter for those that observe that. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Weather Affected Alternative Activities

Wednesday- My day off to do "other stuff", which I was hoping would be a metric ride on gravel for my Cuo-O-Dirt series, but the weather was predicted to be craptastic, and I wasn't about to deal with high winds, rain, and temperatures in the low 30's. I've seen what that is like back last April at T.I.v11. So, since I seem to have a distinct dislike of hypothermia, I decided to tackle some T.I.v12 business. Emails needed to be sent out, and there was a bit of a surprise in terms of sponsorship which came up.

The "herding of cats" as it applied to getting responses back on meal orders for the Pre-Race Meat-Up were avoided this year, since the Grinnell Steakhouse said to me that it wasn't necessary on their end for me to gather that intel anymore. No worries! I was glad to avoid that bothersome task. Now all I had to do was make sure people actually got the e-mail I sent, and that was mostly done with no issues. I had a few pingbacks, but all were covered within a few hours time.

Prototype cue sheet holders from
Then about mid-day I got a ping on Facebook from that was telling me I could expect a couple of their brand spankin' newly designed and prototype cue sheet holders as prizing for Trans Iowa. Wow! These aren't even available quite yet, and we're getting them to add to the prizing for T.I.v11.

The really interesting thing is that BarYak is a company started out by a Trans Iowa vet, so things like the cue sheet holder were actually inspired by events like Trans Iowa. That's pretty cool to know. Check out the BarYak story here.

Then I posted a great Land Run 100 recap by Uncle Dudley, a guy from Kansas who also puts on the event Gravel Ride For Masie's Pride. So, editing that and publishing it took up a chunk of the day. Then I got to get down to the G-Ted Labs to do some fiddlin' with the Karate Monkey. I finally found something that will look good and not cost a ton that will slow me down when I need to. More on that soon.

So, a busy day of not riding bikes. We'll see about that big gravel ride on Saturday, hopefully.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Okay, so I've had these Gravel King 40's on for a bit, (See my review of them so far HERE), and I put them on the Twin Six Standard Rando first. I thought that is where they would fit the best, since these tires have less tall tread blocks than the Nano 40 TCS tires have. Those Nanos ended up being 42mm on the wide, KOM i25 rims, so the thinking was that the GK's would be better here and I thought everything was going to work out. Bzzzt! Wrong!

The GK's stretched, a lot! Initially they did look better, and there was a decent air space there under the momo-stay and fork crown. However; that all disappeared within about 24 hours of having mounted them. The measurement just after inflation wasn't taken, but I am going to say these things grew at least a couple of millimeters all around. I was floored when I put the calipers on them and they read 43.11mm!

Well, that was just too much for the ol' Standard Rando as I said last Saturday here. Something had to be done about that. I couldn't be having small chunks of gravel jamming in between the tire and fork crown or under the mono-stay in the rear. They already were doing that with the Nano 40's. So, I did the ol' switcheroo. It occurred to me that now I have two eleven speed wheel sets. I had almost forgotten about the Tamland Two's Ultegra 11 speed drive train.

Big tires? Not a problem here!
I had tried out some 2.0" 29"er tires on a whim on the Tamland once. They were WTB Nineline tires. They were too big, because they had no mud clearance at all, but they both spun in the frame freely! That knowledge suddenly came back to me as well, so I already knew these GK's would work. I simply swapped wheel sets and bam! There ya go. Clearance for days and the Standard Rando has the tires on it that it should have now.

MUCH better now!
Lesson learned. Bigger gravel tires go on the Tamland, 35mm-38mm tires go on the Twin Six. The wheels that were on the Tamland are nothing spectacular, but they are decent wheels, as I have had zero issues with them in two years of pretty demanding riding at times. The wheels are set up with tubed Challenge Gravel Grinders, and those are really pretty nice tires. I've never even thought about converting those wheels to tubeless, and I don't think I will. If anything, I'd just re-lace the hubs to new tubeless ready rims at some point.

But that's for another time. Now I have the wheel set with the big meats in a frame and fork where everything fits comfortably, and the Standard Rando is fit to be ridden without fear of tearing up tires, the frame and fork, and me! This is a good thing. Now I did set up those wheels for the Standard Rando, but they always can be switched back and mounted with, say the 36mm Clements, and I think that should fit just fine. I think I may do that eventually.

Now I just have to decide upon which bike I want to ride at the upcoming Gents Race. I wanted to run my new wheels and tires in the T-6, but those are on the Tamland now, so maybe I'll just go with that. Or I could just ride the old standby- the Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" rig. Heck, that's the bike I've used the most down there for that event. It's almost a tradition!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trans Iowa v12: What This Event Is And Is Not

It occurred to me the other day that Trans Iowa, now in its 12th year, is old enough that maybe many finding out about it recently do not know or understand how it works, why it is set up the way that it is, and maybe do not understand why I do things the way that I do when it comes to how the event is set up to have zero support, no spectators, and no "hoopla".  So, consider this a "primer" on the event, if you will, good for a refresher to those who know the event, and a "Trans Iowa 101" for those new to this thing. By necessity, this may come off as brutal, and maybe too brief, but as the veterans of the event know, it is what it is.....

First off, you need to understand a few basics....

Here's a reminder of what Trans Iowa is.........We are informing you all that are in the event that if you don't agree that you are on your own, that you are responsible for yourself, and that this is being undertaken of your own volition, then don't take the start.
Read that and consider it carefully. 

That means you are self-supported, there are no spectators, and no big deal at the finish line. Yep, I don't care if you don't like that, and the bottom line from my view is that I'd rather only have a handful of riders come to a Trans Iowa that "get that" than have 120 that don't. The reason why? 

I don't charge for this event. I don't make money off it. It is not done for any benefit to me, or my family, beyond a personal satisfaction I get from providing an avenue for cyclists to realize they have the ability to overcome a challenge they thought they were not able to overcome previously. The challenge of Trans Iowa is all there is to it. This is why Trans Iowa doesn't have a cool finish line, or big fancy prizes, or things that won't amount to squat to anyone, including the riders, in 6 months, a year, or ten years from now. The Trans Iowa reward runs deeper than that. It means more than those "things".

What other race  have you been to where the leader helped a local kid fix their bike during the event?
Trans Iowa will never be the "greatest gravel grinder in the USA", or "The World's Premier Gravel Grinder"and Trans Iowa doesn't have merchandise for sale, promote itself as the most important of anything concerning gravel events, nor will it ever. Not that there is anything wrong with those things if your aim is to market yourself/your event and make money.  

Trans Iowa isn't like "other events", although many of the gravel events that are well known now  once were like Trans Iowa. Trans Iowa has stayed doggedly close to its roots which were a mix of ideas drawn from the early mountain bike based ultra-endurance events and 24 hour mountain biking events. The whole point of Trans Iowa is that it is a challenge to overcome. It was never conceived as a way to turn a buck, gain fortune and fame, whatever that looks like to you, or to be popular amongst cyclists.

You Are Responsible For Yourself!
So, it comes down to you against a challenge. There are no "aid stations", no one to cheer you on, no hub-bub besides the camaraderie of fellow riders at the Pre-Race or along the way during the event.  We provide the cues to navigate public roads and bicycle trails, the framework of the challenge, and you do the rest. If there are any issues along the way, it is entirely up to you to overcome them, or not. If you decide it isn't going to work out, for any reason, it is on you to find your way out. This is why we stress that you need a "bail out plan", someone to help you when the challenge is too much, or things don't work out mechanically, health-wise, or for reasons outside of your control, (see last year's event). 

 The Golden Rule. The sponsors, organizers, and anyone having anything to do with this race are NOT responsible for your safety. Think of this race as a 300+ mile hard training ride with prizes. We can't say this enough.....YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU!

From the very beginning, a dozen years ago, this has been the #1 rule. I make rookies transcribe Rule #1 on post cards and the reason why is because unless riders understand this, internalize it, and abide by it, there will not be a Trans Iowa. The unsaid part is that, as a rider in Trans Iowa, you have to have the desire to not be a burden to anyone, or to the event. The riders need to be the enforcers of the rule, and the riders need to pull themselves out of the event when it is the right thing to do. Character and honor are highly prized at Trans Iowa. The winners are everyone that shows up to ride. The losers are the ones that cheat or push themselves too far and don't pull themselves out. It's a weird deal, and not how many events are done, but it is the way this one works. 

The last thing I want to touch upon is how I have limited the number of folks that get in during any one version of Trans Iowa and how "getting in" is a hard thing to do. I feel it is a huge responsibility to keep Trans Iowa on the course that it has been on for over a decade now. It isn't an easy event to do, both from the production side and from the rider's side. It takes a tremendous amount of focus and energy from all involved to do this. The event's feel and function can only be maintained at a certain level. I feel, after running this for as long as I have, that we're at the limits of what riders and volunteers can handle, not to mention the towns we go through, and the roads we run on can also handle. If I did anything, I would make Trans Iowa smaller and even harder to get into in the future. And speaking of anything beyond Trans Iowa v12, well, I am not fielding any questions beyond this year's event. I've been asked about how to get into a future Trans Iowa one too many times already this year. You really don't want to get into Trans Iowa if you ask me about that now. Trust me....

Again, I don't expect a lot of people to understand this, or even like it. Frankly, I don't care if you do not agree with it. Like another famous event promoter said about the way he ran his events, "If the way I do things doesn't suit you, maybe this event is not for you."


Monday, March 21, 2016

Adventures With Dave

Wet, cold, but we went out anyway.
Saturday was forecast to be dreary, chilly, snowy, and possibly rainy. I discarded any thoughts of putting out an invitation to anyone publicly to join me for a ride, but I was definitely going out. I just wanted complete freedom as to the route, time, and distance for the effort. Much, I figured, would be dictated by the weather, so inviting others may get into more disappointments and trials due to the weather, and even hoping that anyone would dare to come out was aiming too high, I thought. Dave contacted me about whether or not I was going for a ride, and I explained myself to him. He was game anyway, so at 8:30 am, I stopped by his home to pick him up.

The first thing that went wrong was that Dave's Garmin locked up on him. Okay, so I am not a big techno-geek when it comes to gadgets and riding, so I didn't see this as being a downer. Rather the opposite, in my opinion, but Dave was a bit put out by that, and I guess I can understand that. Anyway, so we saddled up and made our way through the town to the North, thinking we would be heading out into the wind, and enjoying a tailwind coming back.

Grey skies and drizzle.
The wind wasn't bad at all, really, but it never really ever quit drizzling rain on us, unless, that is, it was snowing. The precipitation was never heavy enough to soak my base layer on my legs though. It was just an odd day, in more ways then one, as we would find out later. Dave had a new Brooks Cambium saddle, so we stopped at a point North of town so he could adjust it. Once we started pedaling away, Dave let out an expletive and I found out that he had misplaced his phone. He thought it was back at his house, maybe in the yard, or on a railing. So, he was, once again, pretty put out by his misfortunes.

The ride went straight North up Burton Ave and on to Kildeer in Bremer County. The interesting thing about this particular road is that it continues to climb and descend, but always more climbing as you go, all the way up to Ivanhoe Road. By the time you get close to Ivanhoe, you are on a gravel road roller coaster that has some pretty steep, punchy climbs.

Burton Avenue turns into Kildeer not far up the road from here. 
Just north of the intersection with Gresham Road, I noticed a skunk in the middle of a field, several deer, and I saw a huge fish splash in a creek as I crossed the bridge that spanned it. We had seen two hawks so big we thought maybe they might be immature Eagles earlier on as well. Apparently, the wildlife was not deterred by the somewhat inclement weather. I haven't seen this much activity in terms of wildlife in quite some time.

Dave wasn't inspired though. He was dragging behind a bit on the climbs and was complaining of a heaviness in his lungs which he said was making it hard to breathe. Hey! We all have our "off-days", so I backed it down a bit and we stuck together, conversing and grinding away up to Ivanhoe Road, then East to just North of Denver. Kind of a backward tracing of the first part of the 3GR route.

Dave on his "Bird Of War", as he likes to refer to his Salsa Cycles carbon Warbird. 
A little "hero gravel" on Ivanhoe Road. Mostly we experienced fresh graded gravel on this ride though. 
A "frost boil" and fresh gravel patch. We haven't had roads this torn up from Winter in several years.
Continuing on it was apparent, as we turned South, that the wind had switched up on us and was coming from the Southeast now. Oh well.....a headwind ride it is then! We were okay with it, since the wind wasn't very strong, and we were having a good ride despite the wind. We were passing Denver on the East when Dave called out to stop. He wanted to fiddle with his tire pressure. I was asked if I had a pump. I did. An old one I bought back in 1996 that I was packing on this particular day. I hadn't used it in a long time, but it was always a reliable pump. Dave tried it and promptly let out most of the air in his tire. Whoops! Set for Schrader. Back then, we didn't have "smart pump heads".

I took the head apart, and smacked the back end of the head to pop out the little plastic piece I had to reverse, and hey! Where was the gasket? Oh great....... Well, Dave had a CO2 cartridge, but his inflator wasn't right, and he burnt that up into thin air, mostly, without getting the tire inflated. So, here we were with a bad pump, no more CO2 carts, and no way to pump up the tire. It was enough that we decided to call in the cavalry, and I placed a call to my wife to come and fetch us in Denver at the convenience store, a mile away as the crow flies. Only we had to walk further.

Despite our failed attempts at inflation, we had a good ride. This was as far South as I got!
I can heartily recommend the accommodations at Casey's General Store on the South side of Denver.
Well, we made it over to the convenience store, and Dave kindly bought me a muffin and himself a slice of breakfast pizza. We sat down at one of the tables inside by the front and waited for Mrs Guitar Ted to arrive. When she did, she got herself a hot cup of coffee, and we chatted for about 45 minutes before loading up to go home. But not before Dave noticed something odd underneath his bib shorts on his inner thigh. He dug around and pulled it out.

His cell phone!

Yep. It was just that sort of a day. We loaded up and carted Dave and myself back home, and afterward, I went to the shop and bought myself a shiny, new mini-pump. The old 1996 model has been permanently retired!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Minus Ten Review- 11

Ten years ago this week I had no pics on the blog. So here is one from last weekend!
Ten years ago this week I hit upon two subjects during the week that maybe still have some relevancy a decade later. The first one is about electric shifting groups for bikes, which was just about to become reality back in 2006.

I asked back then: "Where does it end? Couldn't the derailleurs be controlled by reading information from a riders heart rate and power output? Couldn't the system then shift to the best gear for that particular riders cadence, power output, and desired speed without the rider initiating anything? Adding to this the virtual coaching that every pro rider is getting in his ear via radio and what do we have? Who is winning the race? The rider or technology? "

While this hasn't happened yet, (that we know of), it seems more plausible than ever, given the proliferation of power meters and all the inter-connectivity between those units, computer heads, and the drive train being governed by electronic impulses. In fact, I would not be at all surprised to find out it is already happening. While we're all looking for motors in seat posts, a guy watching a data screen in a car is shifting the leader's bike into high gear. Crazy talk? Maybe, maybe not......

The other subject was the, then at least, never ending debate on "what wheel size is best?" question. That was something that was attempted to be answered a few times by "scientific means", but it was pretty clear, even early on, that the means to accomplish the test in an unbiased and fair manner was almost non-existent unless a lot of cash was thrown at the issue. I don't think the cycling industry was keen on finding that out back then either. What if a scientific, irrefutable study had come out saying one size or the other was "bad"? Well, you can imagine all the enthusiasts would have been ditching the one for the other, and sales would have been chaos on the one hand and grand on the other. It would have ruined some companies for sure. 

Interestingly, a study did come out last year and it touted the big wheels as winner. Mostly. Well......heck it doesn't matter anymore. Riders had gone and figured out what they wanted, companies were able to move with the market, and control it, while the results were argued over by some who still had pride to defend. Mostly, no one cared, or even noticed anymore. Big deal. 

Well, it would have been ten years ago, but maybe for different reasons than we might have thought about then or now. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wheels For The Standard Rando: Update 2

Tires swapped to something "kingly"
Okay, here's an update on how the big gravel tires are doing on the big gravel rims. In my last post on this bike and wheels, I had Nano40TCS tires on which were measuring out at 42mm in width. I wanted to try out some Panaracer 40mm Gravel Kings  with the hope being that they would clear the frame a little better. Lower knobs and all of that. But, with a completely different manufacturer, it wasn't a sure thing.

The tires came in on Thursday and Thursday night I mounted them. By the next morning, they looked ginormous. They were taking up as much room as the Nano 40's, despite having lower knob action. I rode the bike into work, checked the air pressure, and measured the width of the casings with a digital calipers. The pressure was 35psi in the rear tire and it measured at 43.11mm.


The tires were actually bigger than the Nano 40 TCS tires on these 25mm internal width rims. That's breaching into monster-cross/29"er territory there. But my bigger concern was that the mono-stay design of the Twin Six Standard Rando was making clearance an issue with these tires. Even more so than with the Nano 40's. So, I am finding out that the bigger rims are making these tires not only wider, but so voluminous that they don't clear the T-6 frame with enough air space that I am comfortable with those big tires on that bike. Time for a change......

I've got something in mind for the short term and a longer term fix is in the works as well.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday News And Views

Spring Cleaning
Practical Cycling:

One of my favorite things to do is to figure out how I can use my bicycles for ordinary tasks. You know, like getting a gallon of milk. Grab the "townie" and pack the jug of moo juice home in a pannier. That sort of thing, but even on larger scales.So when Mrs. Guitar Ted said she had many bags of clothes to donate to Goodwill, I said that I would take care of that task. It was a perfect task for my Xtracycle.

One of my favorite things about the Xtracycle is that, if you put your mind to it, you can usually figure out how to carry some ridiculous loads. The one thing I hate about my Xtracycle is that those loads push it way beyond its practical capabilities.

See! This is why I need a Big Dummy! 

I know, I know..... "just go get one already!" I hear ya, but my "practical thinking mind" says that I already own such a beast, and that the wobbling, snaking down the road, flexy wheeled, poor braking beast is enough for me and my needs. Gah! I drive myself crazy with the back and forth of it all. Sometimes I wish the damn thing would just break, then my mind would be made up for me. Ha! Trouble is that this rig is like a cockroach. I cannot kill it. It isn't like I don't try to though......

How kingly art thou?
A Pretentious Name:

I got a pair of new tires for the Standard Rando to try out. When I first got the bike, almost a year ago now, to test for, it came shod with the narrower, 32mm Panaracer Gravel King tires. They weren't much fun on Iowa gravel, so off they went and I never looked back again at those tires. I knew at the time Panaracer was planning a 40mm version of the tire, so I held out until that tire was available, and here it is.

The really ironic thing about the whole Gravel King line up is that when it was introduced, the first tire was a smooth 28mm skinny-minnie that wouldn't do squat on gravel we have here but maybe cause you to work way too hard and pinch flat. "Some 'gravel king' that tire is!", I thought. Then the 32mm with tread appeared, and, well, that was another fail, at least here. So, now we have a 35mm, which I wanted to try, but was unavailable at this time, and this 40, which I expect to be more than capable. The testing will commence soon and be reported here and on

The thing is, gravel isn't the same everywhere, but here is my point. Gravel tires should be such that you can tackle anything and do it with relative ease. A 28mm tire is not a gravel tire you can take anywhere. No......fat road tire? Maybe. Heck, it is almost a "normal width" for a pavement road bike tire now. Now, a 35-40mm tire? we're talking. Is that overkill for some places? Sure it is, but you won't be wanting when you do go to those "other places". And....if your bike can handle big tires, you can always mount skinnier ones. Try that on your Trek Madone.  Okay, that's my rant on the name. It is silly, it doesn't make sense across the range, but whatever. It is what it is......

Trans Iowa v12 Update: 

This past week was spent mostly on dialing in cue sheets. The mileage, which we strive to get right, was off in one, small section, and it would seem to be easy to fix. However; you underestimate the complexity and enormity of the task if you think that.

With several turns, this way and that, markers for road crossings, and name changes, the mileages pile up. Figures differing only one digit or two are common, and it gets to be really easy to mis-transcribe numbers. However; what got us screwed up was our mapping program, which wanted to route back and forth over itself unless you dialed up the resolution on the map to the point you couldn't see the forest for the trees, so to speak. I missed one spot after map clean up and it made the route in one section a quarter mile longer than it should have been. Why the route making program didn't reconfigure the entire route a quarter mile longer, I don't know. I have a way of messing up these sorts of things.

The point is, finally we got the thing straightened out. It went back and forth over the period of a day, but between Jeremy and I, we got it. Now we just have to verify the route via recon the week before Trans Iowa, and print the cues, and..... Whew!

I've gotten a few drop out notices from riders, thanks! It saves us work on our end if we know ahead of time that you cannot make T.I.v12. 

New Logo from the Facebook Page Logo:

We've been working on a new look for lately, and we have been coming up with some awesome ideas. Sometimes though, the simplest idea can be way better than anything else you have been looking at.

Case in point: The traffic sign logo that my partner, Ben, came up with, is just killer. In fact, it was so good that he went right ahead and made it our Facebook page avatar. I think it is brilliant.

Now, this doesn't mean that our other ideas went in the circular file. No- It just means that this is the perfect way for us to depict what it is to be riding gravel. Rural, somewhat dangerous, and it is eye catching in a super simple format. I don't know- maybe I am all wrong here- but I like this and I think it fits really well. What do you think?

That's a wrap! Have a fantastic weekend and keep the rubber side down.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

WW4M: Tubeless Tire Tips- Questions Answered

 Okay, ya'all should know the drill now. "WW4M" stands for "What Works For Me". NOTE- It may not work for you. Consider everything here carefully. Think it through, and if it makes sense, it may work for you as well. may not! 

How do you know when your sealant is dried up?
Yesterday I posted some knowledge on tubeless tires I have garnered over the course of a decade and asked if anyone had any further questions. In fact, a reader from South Dakota did, so today I am posting this follow up, because many folks do not read the comments section. I figured it would be better off to make it a stand alone post that others could get some use out of. Again- If you have any specific questions regarding tubeless set ups, I'd be glad to answer them, if I can, and maybe your questions will be answered in their own blog post here. Who knows?

So, here's the first question: "Is there a "normal" amount of leakage over time?"

In my opinion, a "good" tubeless tire and tubeless set up should not leak down faster than your typical tubed set up, and a really good tubeless set up will actually be better than a tubed set up in this regard. So, if your tubed set up leaks down 10psi in the course of a few days to a week, you should expect your tubeless set up to do exactly the same thing. I recommend checking air pressure before every ride, and monitoring the results as you go to get a feel for how your tires, sealant, and over-all set up is performing, because when you notice a change, it may be time to add more sealant.

 "How do you know when you need to add sealant? Any tips for doing so?" Well, as I have just stated, a change in your air pressure readings from your previous check which shows a lower pressure than normal is a clue. When sealant gets dry, it begins to be less capable of keeping air from escaping the tire's casing, not to mention the ability to seal punctures goes out the window. So, it is critical to understand when to add sealant. Keeping tabs on air pressures is one way to do that. However; there may be mitigating factors which might change when you would want to check your sealant. Things like extreme heat, a hot, dry storage area, a puncture which caused a loss of some sealant, or just the passing of time, all of which may point to a different time to check that sealant than normal.

Many sealants are coming packaged in such a way that you could bring it with you on a ride now.
Hot, dry weather, or a hot, dry storage area will dry up sealant faster than if you lived in a more humid, wetter, cooler area. I find that here in Iowa, sealants based on latex formulas typically go around three months before they dry up. People living in the Southwest may experience a drying up of sealant in less time than that, and some folks get half a year or more out of their sealants. How can you know when yours is dried up, besides using air pressure as a monitor?

You can use the auditory method. Take you wheel off the bike, hold it vertically, so that any sealant pools in the bottom of the tire's circumference, and shake the tire. Listen for any sloshing noises. If you cannot hear anything, it may indicate a dry, or nearly so, sealant situation. There is also the "dipstick" method. You can use this method with the wheels on the bike. Park the bike for a period of at least an hour or more to allow the sealant to settle in the bottom of the tire. Also- It works best if you have the valve stems at the six o'clock position. After the bike has sat awhile, take out the valve cores, allowing all the air to escape. Then, using a toothpick, or similarly thin, long-ish object, dip the toothpick into the valve stem and use it like a dipstick in a crankcase of a motor to see if you have wet sealant at the bottom of the tire. This may not be preferable if the tires you are using have a looser fit, because letting the air out may break the bead seal, and that might be a headache, but usually it is not an issue.

Getting more sealant in a tire is usually pretty easy. Again, you typically will have to remove the valve core, and the proper tool for that job, or the appropriate sized spoke wrench will remove that core easily. Then you can use a small length of plastic tubing, or buy a Caffelatex Injector, (my absolute favorite tubeless tire tool), or a used Stan's single serving bottle, if you don't buy the aforementioned injector, and add in about two to three ounces of new sealant, depending upon how big your tire is. (More for bigger mountain bike tires) While that may seem like a lot, I'd rather have extra than "just barely enough". Your mileage may vary. By the way, Caffelatex has a great tubeless tire table concerning this which you can find HERE.

Sometimes it is best to remove a tire and do some "Spring cleaning"!
There are times when removal of a tire and a thorough cleaning are necessary. Stan's users know this all too well. They tend to get a "bouncing, rumbling, tumbling" sensation inside their tires, which is the indication that the Stan's sealant has dried up. Their are several names for this phenomenon, and "Stanimal", "Stan's Booger", or other such names based on Stan's are common for describing this. The problem is that Stan's dries up in such a way that it forms a large, solid, strangely shaped chunk of latex which ends up bouncing around in the casing of the tire. It can only be removed by breaking down the tire from the rim and getting that "booger" out of there.

Other sealants form a dried layer, or a "skin", which can either be washed off with mild, soapy water solutions, or peeled off like a Sunburned layer of human skin. It is good to do this from time to time to keep the layers from building up and adding unnecessary weight to your tires. Sometimes layers of dried sealant coagulate around the valve stem area, and can impede the inflow of air when you are trying to inflate a tire. This should be cleared off if that happens. Beads of tires and bead seats of rims are also places where you may need to clear off excess dried sealant at times.

How often you break down a tire and clean it up is not a hard and fast rule, but I would suggest at least doing that once a year and more often if you use Stan's as a sealant. Obviously, switching out tires presents a perfect time to clean up the rim and inspect your rim tape as well. Don't forget to clean up those removable valve cores from time to time also.

Hopefully this additional info was helpful. Again- Please ask any questions in the comments section.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

WW4M: Tubeless Tire Tips

Okay, ya'all should know the drill now. "WW4M" stands for "What Works For Me". NOTE- It may not work for you. Consider everything here carefully. Think it through, and if it makes sense, it may work for you as well. may not! 

There are more tubeless gravel oriented tires coming out all the time.
 Recently I have been reminded how many riders are not really very well versed in tubeless tire lingo, knowledge, or usage. I have been dabbling in tubeless tire technology for over ten years now, and I have handled, set up, and used a ton of different tires tubeless and have used several "systems" along with having used several "garage based tech" tubeless solutions. Maybe I could pass on some of the basics that work for me to you out there? That's what I was thinking anyway. Let's see if I can manage that.....

Get With A System:

New to tubeless tire users really have no excuse, or reason to not go with an already proven system. I think a system is, at a minimum, a tubeless tire and rim that a manufacturer, or group of manufacturers, say will work. Sometimes you'll get roped into using a specific rim strip, but many times you have options there, as well as in choices for sealant, so I won't talk about those things just yet. Let's stick with tires and rims for a moment.

I am not at all a fan of garage based tech, normally, as I tend to favor engineered solutions in the area of tubeless tires for bicycles. (A shout out to my enginerding friends!) Garage tech is sometimes very useful, but typically it has a failure rate which I am not comfortable with, so I typically will not use it personally, nor do I recommend doing so. And again- why would you? There are many great ways to go that avoid the hassles and potential pitfalls of garage based tech out there to choose from.

Tires and rims that go together are your best bet. That way the fit is pretty much guaranteed. Mix things up and you start running into issues. Not always, but the chances go way up that failures creep in, so keeping things basically "same to same" is your best bet. When rim manufacturers don't make tires, and vice-versa, that's when things get iffy. I'll go over this later......

I happen to be a huge fan of a few systems, and WTB's TCS system is one of those solutions I like that encompasses everything you need to go tubeless. They make tires and rims, sealant, valve stems, and tape. Bontrager has a really bombproof system which uses a specific rim strip, and of course, they have valve stems, sealant, and tires as well. Velocity, while not making tires, does make tubeless ready rims and sells tape and valve stems to go with that. I haven't found a tubeless rated tire yet that won't work on a Velocity rim that is rated tubeless ready. So, there are a few systems, but there are way more than this out there to choose from. 

A tubeless ready rim still needs tape, like this Velocity Cliffhanger.
The Basic Parts:

Obviously you have a tire, and you have to have a rim, but you need a couple more items to go tubeless. Rims have holes to pass spokes through when building up a wheel. So, those holes need sealing off. That's what tubeless rim tape is for. I have had excellent results with Velocity tape, WTB/Stan's Yellow tape, and Bontrager plastic rim inserts for Bontrager rims. Other tapes I've tried are not anywhere in the same league as the ones I like and use. (Orange Seal, Specialized blue tape, Caffe Latex red tape, and others don't measure up.) You'll also need a tubeless valve stem. I really like Bontrager's stem, but it doesn't fit all rims because of its flat interface. When that is the case then I would go with a Mavic stem, Velocity's, or the excellent WTB ones. Stay away from Specialized's stems, as they are the absolute worst I've tried. Stan's are not the best either, in my opinion. Finally, you'll need sealant. I'll get to that in a bit.

Stan's vs The Rest: 

There is a huge community of riders that loves Stan's No Tubes stuff, and that company is synonymous with tubeless tire use. However; one should clearly understand what Stan's is all about, and how that differs from the rest of the industry, so you do not get caught out with noncompliant  components.

Stan's rims work best with non-tubeless, folding bead tires
Stan's No Tubes made their name by allowing riders to convert non-tubeless tires to tubeless use. That's what the company has been about, and still is. So, Stan's does this by messing around with the standard clincher bead seat design, and in many ways, they have come up with something completely different now. There are several unique features to a Stan's rim. One of those things is a slight diameter increase where the tire sits on the rim over other rims meant for tubes or, especially UST designed rims, or rims closely based upon UST dimensions. UST stands for "Universal System Tubeless", and was developed by Mavic, amongst other companies. It represents a standardized dimension for several parts of tires and rims to allow for a perfect fit at the bead seat between tires and rims. It also covers other details, but for the sake of this post, I'll simply say that Stan's dimensions for the bead seat and a UST bead seat dimension are different enough that tires for UST, or closely based off UST, will not work well, or at all, with Stan's rims. Stan's is for converting folding bead tires to tubeless, and while some tubeless tires will work, you may not have luck with those based off UST dimensions. That is something that is not very clear when you buy tires. Again- stick with a system and you will be okay. 

Sealants: When it comes to sealants, however, Stan's is pretty much the gold standard. It works well, and it is pretty well understood. You really cannot go wrong if you use Stan's sealant, however, they are not the only game in town. I have used Caffe Latex sealant, which has been recently tweaked to work even better than it used to, with great success. I have also used some GEAX/Vittoria sealant which was really good. Hutchinson had a similar product which worked nicely. I have made my own sealant, the special "MG" formula, which is really good stuff and cheaper than the competition. I was somewhat impressed with Orange Seal's sealant also.

Then there are some real clunkers when it comes to sealants. I don't like Bontrager's sealant, Velowurks was a bust, and Continental's sealant was a bummer too. The old school "Slime" isn't very good in comparison to modern sealants, but mix it with Stan's, or use the car tire version, with black bits of rubber in it, and that stuff is great. Basically, stick with Stan's or go with Caffe Latex if you are a beginner. Bonus: Caffe Latex can be injected right past your valve stem- no need to remove a valve core.

When you use a system, like WTB's TCS tires and rims, all you need to mount tires is a tire pump.

Probably the most frustrating element about tubeless tires for beginners is the mounting of the tire to the rim. Sealant is wet, it can get all over you, and tires like to hang up, burp, or splat tubeless goo all over you and your garage. If you follow a couple of basics, you can avoid this situation.

First off, and you are going to get real tired of reading this, but use a system that features a tire and rim meant to go together!! You can save serious trauma and headaches if you just buy a complete system. Many times you can mount the tires with a simple floor pump. However; if you must mix and match, you should do the following:
  • Get a small air compressor or one of the new tubeless tire pumps like Bontrager's Charger. You need air power to mount many tubeless tires, and your floor pump won't cut it most of the time. 
  • Remove the valve core!! You need maximum punch when you hit that valve with air, so get that valve core outta there. A spoke wrench of the proper size will make do as a valve core remover, or you can get specific tools to do that job as well.
  • Lube The Bead!! You can use sealant to wet the bead of the tire, or a small paint brush and warm soapy water also does the trick. I've used straight dish soap, like Dawn, or a product like Uncle Dick's Bead Slip also will work. Anything to make the bead "slippy-slidey"will help that bead slip up into place easier than it would if the rubber is trying to slide on dry metal. 
Generally, doing those three things will win you the day. If not, you may have to take other measures, but this gets specific and maybe you need to call in the cavalry at this point. A good friend or LBS mechanic, a sixer of beer, a 20 spot, and you'll be golden. Trust me- it would be well worth that!

Anyway, once you get the tires seated, the air stays in, and everything is all good to go, remember these basic tenets  of tubeless tire use:

  • It's all about lower air pressure. Sometimes I see where guys want to pump their new gravel tubeless tire set up to nearly where they were when they used tubes. (Usually that was too much air pressure, but that's another story.) That's not necessary anymore. Without a tube, you automatically have lower rolling resistance because there is no tube chafing the tire from the inside. Plus, the casing can work over the gravel better, and it won't/cannot do that at higher pressures. Besides, many rims are not rated for much over 50psi when used tubeless, (like Stan's), and blow-offs are much more apt to happen with higher pressures. As an example, I weigh 240lbs and never use higher than 50psi in any tubeless gravel tire. I never use higher than 30psi in mtb tires tubeless. Think about how cyclo cross racers use lower pressures, and how mtb tires tubeless work better at lower pressures, and you may start to understand this aspect of tire pressure for any rougher surface. 
  • You need to maintain your sealant: Tubeless tire sealant doesn't last forever. You'll need to recharge the system, or break down the tire from the rim, and clean up the sealant once in a while. When that is depends upon a lot of factors, but three to six months is rather common. It is one of the dirty secrets of going tubeless. 
  • You still need your spare tube, pump, and patch kit: Tubeless sealant will usually seal little punctures and small cuts, and it virtually eliminates pinch flats, but there are still little land mines and meanies out there that can cut down your tubeless tire and leave you......well, deflated, if you didn't bring a repair kit. You may want to throw in a pair of small pliers to get the valve stem off and allow your tube to work. I've found that handy a couple of times myself. A rag to wipe down excess sealant is also advisable. Oh yeah.....another dirty secret to going tubeless, but it is still worth the trouble.

In the end, while there are downsides to tubeless, it is still better performing than a tubed set up and well worth the effort to set up.
So, I haven't covered absolutely everything here, but that's a good start. See anything you want to know about that is missing here? Give me a shout out in the comments section. If I get enough questions, I'll post a follow up.

In the end analysis, it may seem that tubeless is a hassle, messy, and not easier than tubed set ups, and you are right to think those things. However; tubeless systems in gravel tires and mountain bike tires are definitely something you can feel a difference in terms of ride quality and speed. Grip is enhanced, and pinch flats- the most common form of tire failure- is virtually eliminated. It is not necessarily lighter, but that's not the "why" of going tubeless. It is for lower rolling resistance, less flat tires, and a better ride on rough surfaces. Many tubeless devotees would never want to use tubes again, and for good reason, despite all the maintenance factors and potential for messy failures in the field.

I  hope that you found this helpful!