Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday News And Views

Wait a minute.......wasn't yesterday Friday? It sure seemed that way to me, but it wasn't Friday yesterday, today is. Uh........that's weird... Anyway.....

Darin (L) and myself.
The Story Of Ears:

 There are a few things I am proud of in terms of my life's accomplishments, but maybe none more so than being involved in Darin, "Ears" Kueker's life. Well, it may not seem like much to you, but to me, it means a lot.

You see, when I met Ears, he was a teenager living in a trailer home mostly unattended. He has a mother, but she was mostly absent and Ears was pretty much on his own. That was where he was at when I met him in 1994 or so. I'll spare you the details, but between myself and a few other people, we invested into Darin's life and made sure he was okay. He actually lived with me for a spell back in the day. Anyway, I consider him a "son" of sorts, and when I get to see him, it is a big deal to me.

So, I was super stoked when I heard Darin call out my name while I was commuting home. He was back in the area on not so great terms- his mother has contracted cancer- and he was looking for me at the bike shop, but caught me on my commute home instead. We talked for about 45 minutes on the side of the road, and it was a good time. A great time, really.

Anyway, there is a lot more to this story, but suffice it to say, it is the people you touch, invest into, and have relationship with that are the most valuable things in this life. That's my opinion, anyway, and I think it is pretty spot on.

Good to see you again, Ears. Rock on!

Rockin' The T-6 Standard:

I have been getting in some rides on the Twin Six Standard Rando lately. I had this bike in mothballs so long awaiting the wheels I needed to get the thing going that I forgot how it rode.

Well, besides a saddle that has given me fits off and on, I remembered why it was that I liked this bike so well. That is because it rides so smoothly. It points out a fatal flaw that a lot of the so-called "gravel/adventure" bikes have that are coming out of the woodwork these days. That being that, for some unknown reason, they ride horribly on..........wait for it- gravel! Yes, I'd think that would be accounted for, but apparently riding over crushed rock and the vibrations that can cause seem to have slipped the minds of these folks. The main culprit here are carbon fiber forks, none of which, (yes, I said none), are designed in such a way that they can even come close to absorbing the chatter of a gravel road like a good steel fork can. Some of these bikes don't even have a good back end to make up for it either. Think I'm the only one complaining? Read this review and see what I mean. I'm not the only person noticing this.

The trouble is that it seems as though bike designers are finding it hard to actually design specifically for off pavement riding because it is so misunderstood by the masses that they err to the road bike side. Either that or they are popping out "me too" designs to capitalize on a trend without investing much into R&D. Yeah....... You decide which.

Anyway, the saddle. Right. I decided upon a Brooks C-17. It should be on the bike over the weekend. Stay tuned for what I think about that coming up soon.

Hoping to see more of this over the weekend.
Of course, this is a big holiday weekend. Memorial Day is the traditional start to Summer for many of us Mid-Westerners, and the weather has sure cooperated with that notion of late. It has been in the 80's, humid, and we've had some nasty thunderstorms that have torn up the woodlands around here of late. Traditionally we get some wet weather on this holiday around here as well. I just hope I get a window of opportunity to get a ride in. Maybe two.

One of those will be a traditional 3GR ride from the usual place on Saturday morning at 8:30am, as long as it isn't raining or worse! We'll see about that.

So, you all have a great weekend. Stay safe, have fun, and say thanks to those who have served and are serving in the military. Remember your loved ones. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!


youcancallmeAl said...

why would anyone want a carbon fork for gravel anyway?

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl: Yeah....I don't have an answer for that. Other than it is lighter weight, but the compromises aren't at all worth that.

Tim said...

I fully agree that investing in people, meeting them and accompaning them on their journey of life makes life deeply meaningful. Our culture lacks that gift of compassion too many times and brings us into large scale self-centeredness. But than again, compassion doesn't market as well as self-gratification.

Smithhammer said...

"....The main culprit here are carbon fiber forks, none of which, (yes, I said none), are designed in such a way that they can even come close to absorbing the chatter of a gravel road like a good steel fork can."

Ok Ted, I can't help but play devil's advocate to this one - as one example, let's look at virtually all of the top finishers in the Great Divide race for the last several years - they have pretty much all run rigid carbon forks as far as I can recall. Covering 150-200 miles a day, largely on dirt/gravel roads, for two weeks straight. No one (at least not the repeats) are going to consistently choose something that doesn't work as well as possible. If steel forks offered greater compliance without exception over carbon, then why would racers in such a tough event like this consistently choose a fork that would supposedly be more punishing? This isn't a race where one can afford to be unecessarily beat up day after day. Certainly, there would be no advantage, and significant downsides over the long haul to such a choice. Yet the consistent fork material for the top finishers seems pretty obvious.

I'm not saying that there aren't some carbon forks out there that are very stiff, to the point of being excessively so. But on the other hand, there are some steel forks that are noodly as heck when the terrain gets rougher. I think there is more to the picture than just material choice. My .02.

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithhammer: Apples & Oranges, Sir. Not a fair comparison. All the TD rigs I see are mtbs, for the most part. This is important for two reasons- bigger tires, (usually run tubeless), and longer forks.

The tires those TD guys are using are generally much bigger than 40mm tires. Usually a 2"er or even 2.25"ers in some cases. That's a lot bigger "air spring" to work with than gravel rigs have.

The forks, being longer, can flex with less force than a "road" type gravel fork can. Consider that most 29"ers are using 490mm axle to crown lengths, while gravel forks are generally under 400mm in length. Even if the carbon construction is exactly the same in either case, the shorter fork will be much stiffer. However, the design intents of a mtb fork are completely different in most cases than they are for cyclo cross/road forks where complete stiffness in prized over a forgiving ride which most mtb forks are designed for.

Finally, considering that TD riders are loaded tourists, using baggage loads which in most cases far exceeds that of any gravel road rig, you can easily see how that might affect a fork's ride. Even if you had equal stiffness forks, gravel bike to a 29"er TD rig, the TD rig's ride would be smoother due to the heavier load.

So, I really cannot even entertain your argument as valid in this case, since the usage, intents, designs, and physical natures of the forks you are referring to aren't even in the same ballpark as what I am talking about here.

Smithhammer said...

Great points, Ted. But really, a lot of this gets back to what I see as shortcomings in what we currently term a "gravel rig" - something which, for whatever reason, seems to be unduly influenced by a highly road-oriented approach, with unecessarily limiting tire clearances that don't seem to make a lot of sense or offer much advantage, at least in my opinion (witnessed by the obvious trend toward fatter and fatter gravel tires). I have to wonder if the carbon/steel fork dilemma really stems from a lot of other design decisions, and that the perceived "need" for a steel fork to be more absorbent isn't actually just symptomatic of faults in the entire design approach.

At the end of the day, though - while it may not be a gravel race in the Mid-Western sense, the Great Divide is essentially a really long, self-supported gravel race, and the people who are winning it aren't actually riding MTBs, in the conventional sense of the word. It's entirely possible that many of the things that work for a race such as this (loads aside) could offer some insight into what a more capable gravel bike could look like, and where this "gravel" category could evolve, if the goal is a bike truly more capable of riding a variety of surfaces. Just look at the Cutthroat, as an example - it's born of the Fargo (which is sort of an a MTB) yet it also incorporates gravel bike elements and is a highly capable gravel bike in itself, without really being like any other gravel bike out there at the moment. In my opinion, this is a hint at a new, and possibly welcome, direction.

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithhammer: Well, the genre may be influenced by road bike design because, well.......they are roads we're riding on, after all. However; what that influence is does not seem to be informed by what road riding was, in the early 20th Century, before everything got paved. That's the road bike influences we really need to be seeing for today's gravel/back road cyclists. Is that "Rivendel-ish", Grant Petersen type of design, is it 650B rando influence, or should we be looking at a mountain bike influence, (where the Cutthroat came from)?

The answer probably lies in a mash-up of all of these past influences.

Whatever that may be, riding on an unforgiving fork is the point here, and again I will say it- NO carbon "gravel fork" I am aware of works as well as a steel one. Could a carbon fork work as well as a steel one for gravel? Sure it could, but it doesn't today in the narrow sense of what we are talking about for gravel roads.

Then there is the material itself, carbon fiber, which isn't without faults when it comes to this sort of riding. I personally am aware of three bikes made of carbon fiber that had holes worn through their chain stays due to the grit and mud that you can find yourself in during these events on gravel roads. So, while a Cutthroat may represent a tour de force of gravel road riding prowess, (which I don't subscribe to, by the way), it is still susceptible to becoming scrap in a way that my steel frames would resist for far longer, and may never succumb to in such a manner. Of course, anything can break and become worn out, but this sort of failure is a bit alarming when speaking of carbon frames that cost what they do.

And as for TD- I am well aware of what kinds of bikes and things people use on that adventure, along with having heard personal anecdotes of the event. I know two finishers quite well, one who I have the honor of riding with on occasion and the other who lives in my neck of the woods. I understand that it is essentially a gravel/back road event. However- the tools necessary to pull off that event successfully demand a completely different set up than even what Trans Iowa does, which I know something about as well.

I just think the TD rigs are at one end of a continuum and many of the more road-ish, so called "gravel bikes" are at the other end. In between there is something that I am talking about when it comes to forks, comfort, and materials.

Smithhammer said...

"The answer probably lies in a mash-up of all of these past influences."

"I just think the TD rigs are at one end of a continuum and many of the more road-ish, so called "gravel bikes" are at the other end. In between there is something that I am talking about when it comes to forks, comfort, and materials."

Fully agreed. And I hope we get there someday, and see these things continue to come together, because I think that something that truly melds a "TD-type rig" with with is currently considered a typical "gravel" bike is an exciting area for design, and has the potential to yield an extremely capable, well-rounded bike.

And I guess part of my point is that you're absolutely right - a 400mm or so carbon fork is generally going to be very stiff, by nature. But why in the world does a carbon fork need to be that short for a capable gravel bike? Because the frame design is dictating that length, but not because a carbon fork doesn't have the potential to ride great on gravel. It just may need to be a little longer, which means a little different approach to the overall bike design. Hence something like the Cutthroat. But to be clear, I'm with you on concerns about carbon frames, which is why I haven't pruchased one. I'm generally a steel fan myself when it comes to frames.

Thanks for the responses, Ted.

youcancallmeAl said...

The fact remains I would always feel more comfortable on a material that has superior notch sensitivity and , if it does happen to fail will do so in a plastic manner rather than catastrophically in a brittle mode. Riding on gravel provides increased possibility of small nicks (read :stress concentrations) in the front fork.

Smithhammer said...

@youcancallmeAl - seriously, when was the last time you actually saw a quality carbon fork break from gravel riding? It is so rare as to be a statistical irrelevancy these days.

And Ted, I was thinking more about our exchange yesterday, and I wanted to clarify something (if it isn't obvious already) - we're clearly not totally operating on the same definition of what constitutes a "gravel" bike. It seems that for you (and certainly a lot of people), a gravel bike is defined by something like a Warbird, meant largely for gravel racing and day rides. For me, that's but one type of gravel bike, and certainly not the only kind. I come from a broader definition of a "gravel" bike as an all-road exploration bike, which could certainly include some of the bikes in the above category (though it may exclude some as well due to their limited versatility). However other bikes I would also include in this definition, that are still "gravel" bikes in my mind are examples like (in addition to the Cutthroat) the Niner RLT 9, the Gryphon, Jamis Renegade, C-Dale Slate, etc. These examples include fork lengths of significantly more than 400mm, hence why I don't believe a carbon fork option is always going to be inferior option on all gravel bikes (if you buy into my definition).

Of course, some may nitpick and say that these aren't true "gravel" bikes, they're "adventure" bikes, but that really just depends on what definition you're operating under, imo. And of course, this continues to be the problem with such pigeonholes - there are many things that can constitute a "gravel" bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithhammer: Okay, I'm checking websites and not finding specs on axle to crown on a few of those bikes. I'm throwing out the Gryphon as it is a 29"er designed to be ridden with a steel Reynolds fork designed for compliance. The Slate has a suspension fork, so again- that's not even in the conversation.

So, out of the several bikes you give as examples, two are 29"ers, (not what I am talking about), one has a suspension fork (REALLY??) and the other two don't list axle to crowns on their websites for their forks.

The two you have down as examples that come closest to what I am talking about in the post- the RLT-9 and the Jamis- have carbon forks. So, we know the RLT-9 was tested to pass the EN testing for a mountain bike. We also know it is rated to 1.75" tire size max. Okay, that's about 44mm. My Black Mountain Cycles and Raleigh Tamland both can handle tires bigger than that and have around a 400mm axle to crowm height. I wouldn't at all be surprised to find out that the RLT-9 fork is close to this. That's no where near the length of an mtb 29"er carbon fork. That's my point.

The Renegade clears a 35mm Clement USH, and judging from the images on the Jamis site, it doesn't have a whole lot more length to spare. Of course, I can only guess, but I would bet dollars to doughnuts that fork isn't "significantly longer" than 400mm.

The Warbird, which I have ridden all iterations of since its introduction at least briefly, and in some cases extensively, have all had the type of carbon fork I am saying isn't good. I have also ridden several other manufacturers versions of carbon forks for adventure/gravel bikes, all of which don't work nearly as well as my BMC's or Raleigh's steel forks, nor as well as my T-6's steel fork.

Can carbon forks work well in this application? As I have already stated- YES. However; NO ONE that I am aware of is doing that on a gravel bike.

And, nothing said so far in these discussions has turned me from that conviction.

youcancallmeAl said...


My abject apologies for declaring what makes me more comfortable. I will endeavour to be less opinionated in future.

Smithhammer said...

Like I said, Ted - you have a quite specific definition of a "gravel" bike, I have a broader definition. Your response exemplifies that.

As far as changing your conviction? I never had any illusions of doing that. I'm just sharing a different perspective.

Smithhammer said...

@youcancallmeAl: "My abject apologies for declaring what makes me more comfortable. I will endeavour to be less opinionated in future."

Please. No one is taking you to task about your preferences. I was merely pointing out that your concerns about a carbon fork breaking from gravel riding are largely unfounded. How you interpreted that as a criticism of "what makes you more comfortable" seems like quite a stretch.

zybariver said...

Ted, what is the max tire size that will comfotably fit on the T6? I'm looking for a dual purpose gravel and off season commuting rig, so also interested in your opinion of max size with fenders?

Guitar Ted said...

@zybariver: The T-6 is rated to handle a 42mm tire without fenders and a 35 with fenders. That said, a 42-43mm tire is really pushing it, as you'll have no wiggle room for mud/stones/etc under the mono-stay in back or under the fork crown. I'd say 38's are a comfortable fit, and I'd stick with 32's with fenders, just to leave enough room for debris.

youcancallmeAl said...

Your claim as to it being largely unfounded is not based on any statistical evidence as statistics have not been collected on this. Anecdotal evidence, however, is quite prolific and until something better comes along, I'll go with it.Gravel riding is not any easier on bike frames than asphalt.