Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Is Social Media Killing The Local Bike Shop?

Social media sites like Facebook are rife with pages that anyone can find a good used bike on.
Throughout the last decade or so, the bicycle industry has been banging on about how retail is changing at a rapid pace and how bicycle shop owners are going to have to change the way they do business to survive. Internet site sales by former mail order companies and massive retail internet sites like Wiggle, Chain Reaction, and others are often blamed for this malaise the bicycling retailer with a physical location is suffering. ("Brick & Mortar" in industry lingo.)

 I've not seen much, if any, chatter in the industry rags about how social media is cutting in on the action. I believe that social media has changed the landscape. There is a bustling business in used bicycles and parts going on right now on various social media sites, but the biggest of these has to be Facebook.

Thinking back on my time in this industry, it has become apparent that the social media era we find ourselves in was the missing link to a market place that was just waiting for the right answer to come along to its problem. Throughout the decades, there have been thousands of new bicycles produced every year. The way the industry used to work was based on enticing consumers to buy the latest thing in cycling. That may have been the safety bicycle back in the late 19th Century, or the bicycle with a freehub and a coaster brake in the early 20th Century. "Ten speeds", mountain bikes, and the ultra-lightweight, carbon road bike all had their heydays in the pre-internet world.  Part of the reason why was because there weren't any other venues or ways to pursue getting a bicycle easily than the local bike shop, or "LBS", for short.

Barely used bikes at bargain prices are listed all the time on Facebook.
Another big reason why new bikes always sold well was because it was hard to see what used bikes were available. Think about it- where did all the thousands upon thousands of bike shop quality bikes go all these years? 

You either found them randomly at garage sales, maybe traded in at the local bike shops, or they hung in various garages, barns, and storage sheds across the nation, never to be seen again. You might have had a vibrant sporting goods section in the local newspaper at one time, but you know what happened to all of those want ads? That is right, the internet killed that off. Besides, not everyone took a subscription out to a newspaper.

There was no real used marketplace for bicycles that was easy to use for decades. However; that all started to change with the advent of e-bay and Craigslist. Facebook has just accelerated the way used bikes are traded since the ads are free and there are no fees to trading beyond shipping the goods back and forth. There is no "negative feedback", ratings, or hoops to jump through. Anyone with a smartphone and a modicum of ability can set up an ad on Facebook's various cycling pages. Facebook cycling pages are basically modern day "want ads" without any cost.

Many times retailers will even use the various Facebook pages to close out excess inventory.
  Since the social media sites have created a marketplace for used gear which is easy to use and costs the users essentially nothing, it has accelerated the pace at which the marketplace for used bicycles and gear has grown.  Now used gear is a serious threat to new bike sales and new accessory sales. With all the barriers swept aside, cyclists don't even have to enter a bike shop or use an online retailer to get the gear they want. Simply staring at several cycling related Facebook pages on their cell phones or tablets incessantly until the right deal comes up is all they have to do. And let's face it, who doesn't have spare "device time" to burn up looking for a deal?

Now I've noticed a fairly new phenomenon where a user associated with a bike shop will list discontinued, demoed, or slightly used gear from a bicycle shop on various Facebook pages. The way this is done makes it difficult to pin down who the shop behind the deal is. Sometimes the use of stock photos is a clue, or the item appears to be in a shop setting. Sometimes I've seen comments in threads under sale posts that reveal that the gear or bicycle in question is indeed bicycle Brick & Mortar inventory. I guess it is a case of "if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em."

So, the bottom line is that these used bicycle gear sites and "pages" have to be taking a bite out of the LBS's sales. I can point to a few things I am aware of that affected the shop where I work, so I am sure we are not an outlier there. This is an undercurrent of the troubles that the bicycle business is experiencing that isn't being addressed by the talking heads and so-called experts in the industry. The bicycle business based its existence on "model years" and the "latest thing" for so long that the bubble of used gear that built up has now become a flood of commerce that is happening right under the industry's nose, and the industry doesn't even seem to notice it.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Original '06 Inbred fork (L) and Carbon Superlight fork from On One (R)
The tale of my old 2006 (it may actually have been an '05 model) On One Inbred 29"er continues. A brief recap in case you haven't been around here for long:

I purchased a close out On One Inbred 29"er frame and fork very early in 2006, (thus the possibility that it actually is an '05 model), and built it up as a single speed which I then used in the inaugural Dirty Kanza 200. Sometime later in 2006 I got an On One Carbon Superlight fork to mount on it and the steel fork was retired by myself, never to be used again by me. Fast forward to 2008 and I sold the frame with the original fork to a co-worker with the caveat that I had first dibs on buying it back should he ever want to get rid of it.

Meanwhile the Superlight fork made a few appearances on other bikes but was retired and eventually I sold that fork in either 2015 or early last year to another co-worker. Okay, so the original frame came back to me in May of last year, I believe it was, but with no fork. Then the original fork came back later in the year last November. So.......the old bike could be built up, right?

Actually, this brings us up to the story as it sits now. So, here is the latest.

Team Stoopid- First place 12hr Team category. We all rode rigid single speeds!
The Inbred is a special bicycle to me, not only for the DK 200 run I had on it, but also because I had used that bike for the only event I ever got a first place in. Well......it was a team event, but we came in first place. It was the 2007 Iowa 24hr Race held near Boone Iowa. I raced on a team which all used rigid single speed devices and we entered the 12 hr category. So, while it wasn't a well contested category, (we may have been the only team in the 12hr category, I am not sure), we still got first place. So, the Inbred had a special place in my heart.

Yes, I probably should never have sold it, but c'mon! We've all sold something we wish later we wouldn't have. Anyway, this is my "I shouldn't have....." and I got it and the fork back. Amazing, right?

It sure looked like I was going to be well on my way to putting the Inbred back together. However; in the years that the Inbred was with my co-worker, it led a life of hard use. The co-worker lent the bike to a brother who needed a mountain bike, then the fork was separated and sold off to someone in Colorado who rode it hard. Really hard. When the fork came back it was in rough shape. There was rust, there were plenty of scuffs, and a scratch that concerned me. Maybe it wasn't a scratch? I needed to investigate. I wasn't about to ride a fork that was compromised in any way. So, I took it to the deep looking scratch with Mother's Mag polish, hoping that it was only a deep scratch in the paint. However; upon further application of "elbow grease", it became apparent that it was something much more serious. It was a crack.

Ah! Forked!

This fork was no good.

That put me in somewhat of a pickle, since straight steer tube, 1 1/8th forks with long off sets and 470mm axle to crown heights are pretty scarce these days. Back in 2007 they were a dime a dozen, but ten years down the road they are antiques. A cursory search on the innergoogles brought up almost nothing, so I decided to shelve the project until I could bring myself to slap on a G2 offset Reba I happen to have which would have worked. I just didn't want to use any suspension fork because I never had used one on the old Inbred and I wasn't about to now.

The project was out of mind until last week when I noted that the coworker who had the On One Superlight fork was interested in selling the fork back to me. We made an agreement, and last Friday I got a hold of that fork and it is in excellent condition. This means that the Inbred project is back on again.

The ironic thing is that the Inbred was set up with the Carbon Superlight for the Iowa24hr team event I was in. So, it is a good deal that I was at least able to obtain that fork again. It preserves the geo/handling the Inbred was designed for, and obviously, it is lighter.

Stay tuned for more later on in the Spring......

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lessons Learned From Teaching

Yesterday I just finished up with my last Mechanics Class for the year. I had a four hour class which was held twice with two different groups of cyclists/students. I taught them the basics of bicycle mechanics, how to tune up their bicycle, and some tricks of the trade I've learned and used over almost twenty years of being a bicycle mechanic.

I'm sure the students learned a lot, and if I take their comments after the fact to heart, I would say that they actually did learn something or three along the way. But what they didn't know was how much I learned teaching them.

The classes were attended by more women than I expected. Fully one third of the total number were women. That was very heartening and, I might add, exciting from my viewpoint. I was stoked because it showed me that several women were not intimidated by the shop, or signing up for classes, and that they wanted to learn. I also was stoked on every class attendant's willingness to learn, by the way, but in this day and age where you hear all kinds of chatter this way and that about how shops are or are not doing a good job with women's needs in cycling, well...... I guess the shop I work at is doing a pretty fair job in that arena.

So, I learned that.

I also learned that people around here don't mind getting their hands dirty. That's good to see. The students dug in and worked with their bicycles and were getting knowledge built through doing. But more than that, I learned that there is a certain joy in giving away knowledge and wisdom gained through a lifetime of work.

I could be like so many mechanics who begrudgingly give out snippets of information, or who won't teach the tricks of the trade for fear that they will lose business or......whatever it is they are afraid of. I don't know. I guess I don't see it that way. I learned something quite different, actually. I learned that when you share some good information people actually respect that and trust and relationship in terms of the business actually grows stronger.

So, those are a few of the things I learned from teaching. I hope to continue that and learn even more.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 8

Still rolling these things.
Ten years ago here on the blog I had plenty of pictures! However; I must not have pulled my camera out at Frostbike ten years ago because I had no images posted of that show at all. I think I know what happened there.....

A little over eleven years ago, nobody had ever heard of me. Then this blog got started, I got recognized by the bicycle industry as a 29"er guy, and then all the Trans Iowa brouhaha blew up, especially after V2. By 2007, I was getting tapped on the shoulder and shaking a lot of hands wherever I went to a bicycling type of gathering.

Looking back on my Frostbike report from '07, I see that I ended up yakking for several hours before I went into "work mode" and went about the show at the last minute to gather information. This between times of riding Ben Witt's 36"er outside, gathering up my brand spankin' new Industry 9 single speed wheel set, and more gabbing.

So, that was a prototype and foreshadowing of the next several Frostbikes to come for me. That weekend used to be pretty crazy, but those times are gone now. It was a fun period in my life I won't soon forget.

Anyway, the I-9 wheels were part of a special bike build I was having put together which included the special custom fillet brazed frame I mentioned yesterday in the blog. That frame was supposed to be a single speed frame, but due to some weird circumstances, it came to me as a vertical drop out frame with no provisions for single speed set up. So, this wheel set ended up on a completely different bike, and is on that bike to this day. One more thing- This was supposed to be an orange anodized hub set, but it came out an orangey-bronze-brown instead. Very odd. Definitely NOT orange like I-9 has been doing of late.

More on those special bikes as we get into the Minus Ten Reviews this year.......

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday News And Views

Pre-Order Ends Today:

Just a friendly reminder that the RidingGravel.com jersey/shorts/accessories pre-order ends today.

If you've ordered anything, the deal is supposed to be all manufactured and sent out in Mid-March, so this stuff should hit about the time that good weather comes to stay. (Hopefully!)

So this year I will have this kit, and I also pre-ordered the "army green" Pirate Cycling League kit again. I like supporting that group of guys. They've truly been some of the unsung pioneers of the gravel scene. Lincoln, Nebraska had gravel grinders before anyone knew what they were. I'm talking way back.

Anyway, new jerseys are coming, and even though they aren't wool, I will wear these when I am training or riding for fun. Of course, I'll likely fly the RidingGravel.com livery at selected events. I'd like to make a jersey based off our design for the RG jersey in wool. I may have to look into that.....

Creamy. You'll understand later.......
Another Piece Of The Puzzle:

I am continuing to gather up the parts I want to get for the old frame I have in the basement put back together again. It is a fillet brazed piece and you've seen it before here on the blog. Ten years ago is when I got it, so it seems only fitting that I resurrect it now.

The Salsa Ti Regulator post will be what this Brooks C-17 gets mounted to. I expect that the result will be one super-cushy ride. Each of these components I have ridden before, but not in combination, so I have an inkling that it should prove to be a good way to go.

I'm choosing the "Natural" version of the C-17 as it will really compliment the paint scheme of the frame and the over-all look I am trying to achieve here with this bike build. I have much of the drive train sorted already, and the last bit remaining that will be a big expense will be the wheels.

So, I will be researching my choices in the wheel department. I am looking at new hubs. I really don't need to get hubs because I have some that would work, but in this instance I think I have to "do it right". The reasoning there is because I didn't "do it right" the first time I built this up, nor the second time that I built it up. I basically hodge-podged the thing and that always bugged me. It is a custom frame, for crying out loud. It deserves a top-flite build, so that's what it is going to get.

There is a reason this visual abomination exists.
When "Stiff" Isn't What Is "Good"

I was reading about a prototype "gravel bike" that will be coming out soon. In the "blah-blah" about the bike, the comment I saw that raised a red flag for me was one referring to the proposed frame for the bike. It read as follows, ".......should help improve stiffness up front"

If you ride rough, gravel laden roads, the last thing you want is a stiffer anything up front. Unless you like getting jack-hammered into submission and think that makes you more "manly" or something. I don't know. I just don't get all these "stiffer forks", "stiffer front ends" and whatnot. Obviously, there is a missing link here with "designers of gravel bikes" and "people who actually ride" gravel bikes.

Take the ugly duckling of a fork many are flocking to to relieve themselves of vibrations. That would be the Lauf Grit model. It flies in the face of the "stiffer is better" mantra by using 30mm of undamped travel. Travel- as in suspension travel. Not stiffness. 

Whatever you may think of the Lauf, it brings up an interesting conundrum when considering what many companies are saying we need in a gravel/all road bike and what many riders are actually seeking for in a gravel/all road bike. That quality riders would be seeking is less vibrations, and I am pretty certain that a "stiffer front end" and a "stiffer fork" are not going to be bringing on the "less vibrations" feelings. Yeah........I am pretty sure about that. 

So, if you are working for a company that is seeking to bring out a model for gravel/all road riding, don't make the front end stiffer! That's the wrong direction. Make the front end more compliant, more comfortable, and hopefully, better looking than the Lauf Grit fork.

If you take my suggestions to heart, we'll be heading in the right direction. For once.......

That's all for this weekend. Stay warm, stay upright! Get out and ride if ya can.  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Country Views 17: One Last Time Before It Goes

The Tamland Two in repose
This spate of warmer than usual weather has been going on for about two weeks now. Wednesday was the zenith. The finest day of them all,with last Friday a close second. Not a trace of snow can be found now, however, and even the grass is greening up in places.

But it is over for now.

Today we are sliding downward to more natural for late February temperatures. It was nearly 70 degrees out Wednesday and by Saturday it will struggle to get into the low 20's. The warmer weather we saw won't be back again for a while. How long is anybodies guess, so I was in no way going to miss out on a gravel ride on Wednesday.

This time I assumed that the winds would be Southerly, and I was correct. I just didn't know how strong they were going to be. I figured that they were a pretty steady 20mph and higher at times. Right out of the South-Southwest. It was a grind going down Aker Road, but every mile pedaled South put another mile into the "fun bank".

The gravel certainly wasn't an issue. It was packed in by the traffic during wetter times and hasn't been maintained yet at all. It was fast and with the warmer weather and winds we've had, it was dry to slightly damp. In a few places it was outright wet, and I saw one place with standing water, but really, it was quite good out there.

Apparently the foxes are digging up these holes along Aker road. A co-worker saw a fox in this area Saturday.
It was sunny and windy for my entire ride but back toward town looked cloudy.
I was thinking I might go to Traer on this ride, but with such a strong wind requiring a lot of work, I decided not to burn too many matches up and cut that plan short. I ended up turning back East on Reinbeck Road and then back North on Beck Road. It was a good plan for me since the rest of the day after I got back I was cooked. Building blocks. I'll be doing bigger rides later with no problem.

That's not a gravel road that goes anywhere. It is a service road for a new wind generator due to go up soon.
I had read on-line on the local news provider's page that new wind generators were going to be getting installed soon in Southern Black Hawk County. I ended up going by an access road and saw where one of those is going to be going in. I got a picture of the unsullied horizon line, just so I won't forget what it looked like before the thicket of generators goes up.

Looking South towards Tama County. Looks like some farmers have been doing some tilling already.
 There really wasn't much to look at on this trip. I saw a couple of Red Winged Blackbirds already. I saw a nice hawk in a tree as I swung back over to the Sergeant Road bike path, but that was about it. I had a good, tough, but fun ride anyway. Riding without a jacket on February 22nd? Are you kidding me? I'll likely never be able to do that again.

Or let's hope that is the case!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Is A Mountain Bike?

This is the only geared MTB I have now. The Singular Buzzard
I rode my Singular Buzzard to work and back yesterday. It is massive overkill for a commuter bike, but you have to love how that 140mm travel fork erases curbs. You have to try it to understand. There is no bump sensation at the bars at all.


I got to thinking, I don't have a "real mountain bike" except for this Buzzard. Sure, I have the Fat Fargo, and I have a few single speeds, but when it comes to rough and tumble off roading, well....."you need a real mountain bike". That is what I was thinking. Then the very next thought was, "What is a "real mountain bike" anyway? I bet you could get six different answers from ten people if you asked ten folks that question.

Probably the only thing you could get everybody to agree on is that the tires need to have volume and knobs. That said, I seriously feel that the rest of it is up for grabs when you try to define the quintessential mountain bike. Basically, the real answer is, there isn't such a beast anymore. There are just too many permutations of what is used off-road now that to say that one of those many variations is a "real mountain bike" is just not possible, nor  wise to even try to do.

Years ago this was your only choice for a mountain bike.
Once upon a time, from about 1980 until around 1990 or so, the name "mountain bike" meant a hard tail, 26 inch wheeled, rigid forked, multi-speed, fat tired, knobby machine. Heck, around 1980 the term was a brand name. 

That's right. The very first brand to actively market these off roading bicycles was a company dubbed "Mountain Bikes" and was owned by Charlie Kelly and another fella by the name of Gary Fisher. Yes......that Gary Fisher. 

However; after 1990 the term started to mean more than a simple hard tail with gears and knobby tires. That kept evolving and now anything goes. Fat bikes, down hill bikes, enduro bikes, single speeds, 29"ers, 27.5"ers, front suspended, and fully rigid. Even "e-mtb's", with motors on 'em, are dubbed "mountain bikes".

So, what the heck is the definitive mountain bike? That's like asking what is the definitive dog breed. There isn't one. They are all just "dogs". You cannot really say which breed is best, or preeminent, or a "real" dog. I say this has happened to mountain bikes. Heck, some folks say road bikes are mountain bikes. But don't listen to those folks. They are crazy.

So, anyway, back to my Singular Buzzard. It isn't really a mountain bike, it is a super commuter bike! At least that is what it was yesterday. And in the end, it worked, I had fun, and that is all that matters. No matter whatcha callit! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Who comes up with these names? Really? Image courtesy of Quarc
Randomonium- The Gizmo Edition:

There have been a few introductions lately that are mildly interesting. First up is this electronic device that monitors your suspension 1000 times per minute and then connects to a phone app to tell you how you should set up your suspension devices.

The device is from Quarc who do power meter stuff. So, it is likely based on technology they already were working with, accelerometers and whatnot. Anyway, it is another analyzing gizmo that you can drive yourself nuts with. I suppose for those who need to have every last advantage, it is a tool that makes sense.

Single speed your XD cassette driver. Image courtesy of QBP

Problem Solvers released this gizmo for single speeders that can turn your XD cassette body into a single speed ready set up. It is based on the IS standard brake mount (six bolt standard) which some fixed gear cogs have been released in. I have a "Tomi Cog" that uses this hole standard. Problem Solvers are also going to make a selection of cogs now using this bolt pattern.

The main body can be spaced with provided spacers to align the chain line so that your cog lines up with the chain ring. They are calling this gizmo the "Zinger".

Ya know, if you've already ditched off your front derailleur, because, ya know, who needs that device?!! Well......you may as well go all the way! Get rid of that dangly bit on the rear as well. Who needs 12 cogs out back? Eagle-schmeagle! Go with just one speed and mash!

I half jokingly made reference to getting a system for converting an XD driver to single speed use a while back, and now here it is. Crazy.

32T capacity now for WiFli eTap. Image courtesy of SRAM

eTap now has a mid-cage rear derailleur and capability to be set up for a low 32T rear cassette gear. That means we may see this stuff start showing up in the gravel races. Maybe.

That is if we see less failures. There is a lot of chatter out there saying eTap is locking up and leaving riders in the lurch. I'm seeing this on mechanic's boards on-line and seeing riders complaints about the issue.

I know many gravel riders are chattering about Di2 and that seems to be working well out on the gravel roads. I don't hear much about eTap. I am still waiting to see even one eTap group out in the wild yet. Meanwhile, FSA is set to bring out another electronic group, and Rotor is doing a hydraulically actuated one. Seems that the simple Bowden cable is under siege and may suffer somewhat from all of this gizmo action. But you can bet that cables and housings will be around for a long time yet.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Country Views '17: First Gravel

No snow, or anything green to be found just North of town.
This weekend I took advantage of the current situation to get out on the gravel again. It has been a while and it felt good to get back out there. Having been sick for almost a month to kick off the year didn't help any, but given that conditions pretty much were the worst for cycling that I could imagine, I wasn't too put out by having missed the month of January and part of February in terms of riding.

Now I am in rebuilding mode. I had to be careful not to be the "dog off the leash" and cook myself back into relapsing or injure myself with some stupid big, high mileage ride out of the gate. Although it was hard not to keep going, I reigned it in. It is especially hard when younger folks are out crushing big miles right now in this weather, but I have to be smart, not satisfying my desires and ego. The big rides will happen. I just have to make good decisions and be patient.

Okay, well- enough of that! I figured that it has been a while since I had done a "Country Views" post, and since I found something interesting to share this past weekend, I figured now would be a good time for these posts to kick in for 2017.

I didn't see any snow at all till I was nearly in Bremer County. 
I started out the ride with the temperatures in the upper 40's. It was supposed to get into the 60's, but I didn't know if my morning start would see me getting a chance to feel that out there. When I got up near Bremer County, I was cooking with my Bontrager wind jacket on, so I stopped to shed that layer and stow the jacket. Turns out that a wool long sleeved jersey and bib tights were enough. In fact, by the end of the ride I could have been riding in bib shorts.

What a beautiful day! This was far better than spending 8 hrs in a car driving to Minneapolis and back.
Traditionally, as we all know here in the Mid-West, it isn't like this in mid-February. Typically we are getting Alberta Clippers, snow, and we see an occasional dip below the zero degree mark during the month. In fact, traditionally I have shoveled more snow, living in this part of Iowa, than I do at any other time of Winter. So, when the shovels have set idle all month long and the temperatures soar into late March territory, you take advantage of that. There was no way I wasn't going to ride on Saturday.

The thing is, traditionally Frostbike happens right at this time as well. It used to be a "can't miss" event for me. However; as with anything else in life, things change, and now Frostbike is just a mildly interesting facet of the bike industry calendar. Anything that is "new" these days doesn't get introduced at a show. It gets "press released" whenever it is ready. So, almost anything noteworthy has already been revealed long before, (or as in the case of the Salsa Deadwood and Surly's Ogre, right before) the show. Going to see what is new is not a reason to go anymore.

I used to also go up to spend time with friends that have moved on to new things and are busy with the show proper. None of them would really have had the time these days to spend with me, so going for that reason is less of a reason to go now. Added to that is the fact that I would have to drive 8 hours minimum to be at a show for maybe 5 hours. That's a total of 13 hours shot when I could be riding in 60 plus degree weather and then grilling out and eating food with my family. So, that decision was a no-brainer.

A rare February "Barns for Jason" shot.
First cemetery gate shot of 2017- The gate reads "Pioneer 1864"
Now when I take off and ride North of Waterloo, I generally have to get up into Bremer County North of Highway 3 before I get into roads I am not all that familiar with. I don't expect to find much of anything that I don't know about already if I am South of Bremer County, as I was on Saturday. However; I surprised myself by discovering a mile section of road I have apparently not been on before. I noticed a cemetery gate on Gresham Road and stopped to see what it could be.

Ironically enough, it has a relatable story from today's headlines. That would be the poor treatment of immigrants. Check out the following closeup of the sign posted on the fence......

This was a new one on me. I know that there are many cemeteries in the rural areas of Iowa, but I figured I knew where most all of the prominent ones were in Black Hawk County. Guess that I didn't! So, good history to know and the first cemetery gate found during riding in 2017 that I haven't seen before.

Someone planted this little American Flag on the big rock of Big Rock Road. 
I turned and came home on Sage Road and back eventually to Waterloo. It was a good chunk of miles done at a good pace. My shoulder was fine until I hit pavement, then it ached. Weird. Well, at least I am getting the fitness headed in the right direction. That's a good thing! Stay tuned for more "Country Views 17" posts later on in Spring.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

When The Hammer Comes Down

No snow, 65+ degrees, and people are golfing. On February 18th!
So I was out riding gravel and thinking that I was just slightly overdressed.  I had a long sleeved wool jersey on and a base layer up top with a pair of bib tights on. Now this is mid February and I was originally thinking that this was so awesome. I mean, generally it is very snowy at this time of year, cold, and often we get these "Alberta Clippers". Those systems which dip us below zero for a night or two before we warm back up to the upper 20's/lower 30's in the daytime.

But this hasn't been the case at all during February 2017. It has been more like mid-March instead of February at all. The snow trails for fat biking have turned to ice and mush. Off road riding is off limits for the time being. It just got warm enough for the roadies to break out their rigs. Gravel roads are perfect right now. This is weird. Then it hit me.

Nature seeks balance.

So, I am thinking things are going to swing hard the other way in March. Talk about coming in like a lion. It's going to be cold, nasty, and windy. Mark my words. I am no weatherman, but I have noticed how things go often times.

Hopefully I am wrong, but I don't think I will be.........

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 7

Karate Monkey in '07 "perfection mode".
On the blog ten years ago I had plenty of images! Hooray! I think the deal was that I was not well versed yet in how to get files uploaded on Blogger, so until I figured that out and was comfortable with that, I went a few times without images. From this point on though, things like that seem to be rare, if not non-existent.

Anyway, here is a shot of my Karate Monkey from February of '07 right after Planet Bike sent me some Cascadia fenders for 29"ers. I mounted those up on my Monkey, which as I posted earlier this week, was dialed to perfection at that point for gravel travel. You can see the Cooks Brothers crank set and the disc brake set up which I no longer am using on this bike.

I was deep into getting bikes ridden and components tested at this time. I was fiddling with the XXIX+G, which I had the good sense to have sent to me in a size Large. The medium XXIX single speed was a medium, and it didn't fit as well, so that bike already was languishing in the basement unridden and would eventually get sold off later in '07, I believe it was. The Haro Mary was also a medium, but seemed to fit a little better. So that was still in play yet and I had wheels and tires being tested on that bike. Plus I had other pet project bikes I was dealing with which included a vintage 650B Raleigh mountain bike.

Another interesting development was that I had tried some DuMonde Tech lube at this point based off of an experience I had with Mike Curiak, who was using that lube at Trans Iowa v1. Later on when I told the DuMonde Tech rep about that, he contacted Mr. Curiak who then, (according to the DuMonde Tech guy) denied that he had ever used the stuff, or at least he couldn't remember ever having used it. Whatever. I saw what I saw, and it influenced me to try it. By the way, it was as good then as it is now. You should try it out too.

Now those are some REAL wagon wheels! Image courtesy of Ben Witt
Then also on the blog ten years ago- I was forwarded an image of what I thought was, (and very well could be), the first 36 inch wheeled mountain bike. It was a collaboration between Mike Pofahl and Ben Witt. Ben owned and operated Milltown Cycles then and Mike Pofahl is a custom frame builder from Northfield Minnesota.

In this image there is also a Salsa Cycles El Mariachi 29"er. You can see how those 36" wheels really dwarf the 29"ers!

This is the same 36"er which Ben had painted a maroon color later on. (Note- It is in a raw, unpainted state in this image and remained that way for several years) This is the very same bike I had here for several months on loan from Ben to use. I mostly did commuter rides on it. Oddly enough, it never did draw any attention as I rode it. People hardly noticed that it had gargantuan hoops.

Weird that.

Anyway, this bike caused quite a stir, and Ben and Mike later on collaborated on another version of this bike with some big improvements in the design. I reckon this first one is the stone that kicked off the entire 36"er bikes for off road niche as it stands today. I don't think Ben and Mike get any credit at all for doing this and being innovators. They should be recognized as such, in my opinion.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday News And Views

What looks like a Fox prototype shock could be a gravel specific design. (Image courtesy of Bike Radar)
Fox Shox Prototype Gravel Fork? 
 Riding gravel roads is akin, many times, to being on  a two wheeled version of a paint shaker. The jack hammering action of the handle bar is really bad with the current crop of ultra stiff, cyclo cross/road racing carbon fork designs being foisted as "gravel forks". So things like ISO speed decouplers and Lauf "forks", (I hesitate to call that visual assault to the eyes a fork), are things deemed necessary to ward off the incessant banging hands take on chunky gravel roads and rougher pavement. Let's not forget that Cannondale went on its own path, (again) with the Oliver Lefty fork for similar reasons.

Now I see that yesterday "Bike Radar" broke a story about a possible gravel fork from Fox Racing Shox. (See their story here) I won't get into the technicalities of such a device. Telescopic front suspension forks aren't anything new. What is most important about such a possibility is the ramifications of the shock's mere existence. If this is for real, you can expect a major sea change in the volume and intensity of the marketing behind the gravel/all road/adventure bike segment. I say this based upon what we can learn from the past.

Before Fox Shox made a fork for 29"ers, the entire segment of wagon wheelers was doomed to be nothing more than a small niche market. This despite the fact that Rock Shox made a token Reba 29"er fork to give the segment some legitimacy. Once the Fox Vanilla 29"er fork came about, the 29"er segment found its legs and the rest is history. The second conclusion we can draw here is that some big brand, or brands, are behind this.

We can assume this with some certainty since Fox doesn't make anything unless they get orders for a fork or rear shock. The fact that we are possibly seeing a prototype gives rise to the question of who (which brand or brands) might be pulling the trigger on a line of gravel/adventure bikes featuring front suspension.

It will be interesting to see if and when things come to light regarding this.

Near record breaking temperatures are forecast for this weekend.
Spring Break In February:

Winter is drunk. Winter is AWOL. In its wake we are forecast to have Spring-like temperatures for this weekend and into the beginning of next week.

Because of the odd-ball break in Winter's normal program, I am scheduling some gravel travel. I am back to 100% health-wise and I need to get a couple review items out and tested. Plus, who wouldn't want to ride in February in 60 plus degree weather? So, it is a no brainer. I am going riding tomorrow. Maybe Sunday too. Probably......

This weather obviously will not last, but considering that March is right around the corner, any return of Winter's snowy and cold blasts are sure to be short lived. I think we are due to "swing back" the other way too. Nature has a way of balancing things out, so I expect that March will come in like a lion, and we will have some nastiness to deal with the first half of the month. All the more reason to hit the gravel roads Saturday and Sunday.

Long. Black. Pimped.
Big Dummy Gets Stares:

The XR-1 Bontrager 2.4" whitewall tires have really brought a new level of inquisitiveness from the natives here. I think the use of the aluminized tape for a rim strip on the Northpaw rims doesn't hurt either. A little "chrome" bling to go with the blinding white sidewalls.

I actually have to really pay attention to people when I ride this bike, or I would miss a lot of the reactions. Like the guy who rolled down his window and leaned out to get a better look at me and the Big Dummy the other day. Or the people that rubberneck as they see me roll by. People that are definitely non-cyclists are even walking over to admire the weirdness that is my Big Dummy.

Anyway, those big puffy tires are really a boon to the ride of this bicycle. I get a much smoother ride and better stability. Traction, despite the small knobs, is far better, especially since I have the 47mm wide rims and lower air pressure capabilities as a result. The bike has been such a huge benefit to me in such a short amount of time that I can say without hesitation that it will be getting a lot more use this coming year once the weather straightens out.

And I suppose it will draw a lot of eyeballs and comments too.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend and enjoy riding in this weather we have if you are in the Mid-West!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

RidingGravel.com Gear Pre-Order Opens

Okay, so here's the deal. I am a partner in RidingGravel.com and we sell some gear. There.....I said it.

Okay, so if you are down we have jerseys, bib shorts, vests, and leg and arm warmers. They come in two different versions, so pay attention when you click to the pre-order site HERE.

And......you have to decide soon. The pre-order lasts till February 24th, then we're sending in the order. You should see your gear Mid-March or so, is what I have been told.

So get in now, because we may not have this offer up again. There could be a limited amount of stuff later on, but do not count on that.

Thanks for checking the gear out!

The Green Monkey Era Begins

There she is! The Green Monkey.
I mentioned last week that I was going to "green up" my Karate Monkey and then I also mentioned that on Monday. The final piece to the puzzle arrived Tuesday and yesterday I got it all put together. The era of the Green Monkey begins now.

This has been a process that has been a long time in coming to this point. I feel pretty confident in saying now that "it is finished".


Let's hope this time I do not dismantle it and ruin what I had, like I did last time I had the Karate Monkey dialed to perfection. That said, this variation is actually a better one. There are a couple of reasons for that. One thing I should have done a long time ago and the other bit wasn't really a possibility until last year. Both things were critcal in making this version work and work better than before.

When I first got this Campstove Green Karate Monkey in 2003, I set it up with disc brakes, which at that time was a new technology for mountain biking. There was no way I was going to use cantilever brakes, even though they were a known quantity and the '03 Monkeys could accept them. Nope! Even though the cantilevers would be lighter, I wasn't going to do it. That led to frustrations.

I believe Homebrew Components is defunct now, but that is where I got these green anodized bits.
 Anytime I had to, or wanted to remove the rear wheel it was a half an hour ordeal. Loosen the caliper, move the chain tensioner, unbolt the axle, deal with the chain, then reverse the entire procedure when you wanted to reinstall the wheel. Good luck getting that brake caliper in the right spot! Especially out in the field. This time around, I went with rim brakes, and that takes away one step of the procedure. It has been a lot easier dealing with the rear wheel this way. I should have just bit the bullet and gone with some super cool linear pull brakes back then.

The other bit that made all the difference is the Velo Orange Cigne Stem. That has the On One Midge Bars right in the sweet spot. Before this stem, I could get close. I just had to put up with a bit of discomfort at times, but no more. This stem is exactly what I needed to run drop bars on the Karate Monkey.

Other than that, the last thing I needed to get to recreate the old "perfect" version of this bike was a longer crank. I used a 177.5mm Cook Brothers crankset on my original build. That accepts a 110 BCD type sprocket, and when I tried to remove the hidden fifth bolt and nut, it siezed up and I basically haven't gotten that separated ever since. So, I ended up selling a bike recently that had a 180mm White Industries crank set on it, which I kept. I just swapped that over with its green Homebrew Components 38T ring and also matched that with a 17 tooth cog from the same company. (I believe that company is no more, by the way.)

Yes- this is not the saddle I spoke of last Friday.
Finally, sharp eyed readers will notice that the Apple Green Brooks B-17 was not mentioned before, but I did say I had a green Brooks B-17 Special which had turned nearly black. Well, after last Friday's post went live, a regular reader here named Steven contacted me about the Apple Green Brooks he had and wanted to sell. He thought maybe I might like a truly green saddle better.

He was correct. So, a deal was struck and earlier this week the saddle arrived. I mounted it to my Ritchey post and took the Green Monkey for a spin. Everything felt perfect. It is one of those rare, happy bicycling moments when everything just falls to hand and you get that satisfying feeling. Well, I had that feeling and the Karate Monkey has not felt this good while riding since 2007. I am beyond happy with how it all turned out.

While there may be some adjustments, maybe a tire swap, or maybe newer wheels at some point, I don't see anything being changed out from this point forward. I am excited to get this out on gravel, and I know I can ride hours and hours on this thing now. It's gonna be good.

A short explanation about why this was torn apart back in the day now- Well, I have to credit this bike with getting me excited about 29"ers, and also about gravel road riding. I was riding this bike exclusively on gravel in the years 2006-2007. Then when I got entrenched in "Twenty Nine Inches.com", I had to pretty much forsake any gravel riding time for testing and reviewing mountain bike parts. Cue up the hours and hours spent at Camp Ingawanis, Ingawanis Woodlands, and Cedar Bend Park. Gravel was a rarity for me after '07.

So, the Monkey got pressed into commuter duties, but when after four years of Winter's muck and mire made the old UN series bottom bracket go "clunk", I found that the bottom bracket was seized up in the frame. This would have been around 2010. Then I didn't have the time nor gumption to get after that because I wouldn't be able to ride that bike much anyway.

But now things are different. No more mountain biking review duties, and all my focus is back again on gravel riding. Getting the Karate Monkey up and running again made sense now. So, there is your back story.

Now for some good times on the Green Monkey!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Maybe We Need Wingnuts

There are probably some "wingnuts" out there that could find creative ways to screw these up too.
The ubiquitous quick release is probably one of the most misused components in cycling. Well.....maybe saddle bags are a close second. But those are accessories, not really a component. Yeah.....so quick releases it is. At least this is my observation from my repair stand.

There are a lot of lawyers that have made a lot of money from issues arising from failure to use quick release mechanisms properly. For instance, did you know that those dratted "lawyer tabs" found on everyone's front forks since the late 1980's were a result of a quick release issue? There are probably instances of the misuse of this clever invention by Tulio Campagnolo going back to Tulio's days. I think how the the "QR" works is definitely one of the hardest concepts for people to grasp today. I see all sorts of glazed eyes when I try to gently explain how these are to be used.

I thought that the through axle, as devised by Fox Shox and Shimano, would eventually be the device that would finally put the long in the tooth QR out to pasture. It was so simple to use, it was insane. Maybe DT Swiss' Ratcheting Skewer is actually better. Either one would have been okay with me. But noooooo! You have to license those designs and, of course, no one is going to want to do that. So now we have about ten different through axle styles and many of them really suck. They are so fiddly to use that all they end up doing is pissing you off.

So, getting a through axle standard for all bikes was not going to happen. What then? Hmm...... Maybe we need to just go back to the point when Tulio invented the infernal quick release thing and do what they were doing back then. We could use wingnuts.

Nah! They would probably find ways to screw that up too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Deadwood Sus Introduced By Salsa Cycles

Deadwood Sus XT-. Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles
Yesterday Salsa Cycles introduced the Deadwood Sus, which isn't a Deadwood with a suspension fork. That is what I immediately thought when I saw the name. Nope. This is like a "Ponyrustler Plus". It is a full suspension 29 plus wheeled bike. Not a drop bar 29+ bike with a suspension fork.


Now with that out of the way, you can begin to calm down. This bike introduction was fairly obvious. Spearfish and Horsethief platforms giving way to their next logical conclusions, the aforementioned Ponyrustler and now this- the Deadwood Sus. I guess the name pool is running dry at Salsa Cycles or something. Talk about slightly odd..........

Anywho.... Yeah, big wagon wheeler suspension devices are rare. This one is more than likely well sorted out. Most of the Split Pivot stuff has been really nice to ride. I see Salsa is saying a few things here which I find to be smart, and if well executed, could well make this bike a really great ride for mountain biking all day, for fast paced, ground covering racing, and for just a great exploration tool. The things they are saying relate to how they are supposedly tuning the suspension to work with the big, puffy tires. The tires have some inherent suspension qualities. Let them do that work, and make the frame's suspension do the rest- rebound control, taking over damping on bigger impacts, and not getting in the way of the rider's propelling the bike. If Salsa truly dialed this in, I think they are on to something here.

Deadwood Sus GX-1- Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles
No doubt that burly carbon front triangle is going to be a stiff foundation for this idea. I read it is the very same front triangle as the Ponyrustler. Many will roll their eyes at the Press Fit style bottom bracket. I guess I would have rather have seen a threaded bottom bracket myself. They are easy to keep creak-free. That said, my Press Fit style bottom bracket in my Blackborow has been absolutely creak free. That's going on three years now come this Fall. I haven't exactly treated that bike with kid gloves either. So, maybe I would not say this Deadwood's Press Fit bottom bracket is a deal breaker for me. I'd give it a shot.

Internal routing? It's the "thing to do" these days. I'm not a fan. I don't care how good you make those frame grommet entry points, that still is a place for crap to get into your frame. Conversely, I like internal routing for the dropper posts on any bike. I know......not a very consistent philosophy there! Maybe when those new fangled wireless dropper posts come out, I can hate on internal dropper post routing as well. That'll be a good day! Anyway, the Deadwood has mostly external routing. That's a good thing.

Okay.....back to the bike! Suspension travel is limited to a whopping 91mm out back. That's a hair over 3.5" for you metrically challenged folks out there. You'll notice that this ain't much squish compared to other trail bikes with monkey motion these days. Salsa, (and all the media wonks that they invited to take a whack at this thing before it was publicly announced), say it "feels like more", or that the bottoming out of the suspension "wasn't noticeable". Draw your own conclusions there. I say this- there is no substitute for suspension travel. This is no knock on the Deadwood, (I'm leaving off the silly "Sus" part of the moniker), because I am sure that it does the job it was intended for. I just get kind of tired of all the word forging that is masking that this is a short travel, XC-ish bike. You know what? There isn't anything at all wrong with that.

Deadwood XO- Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles.
Salsa Cycles compares this new bike to their Spearfish short travel full suspension bike, and that bike is really a replacement for the old Dos Niner soft tail bike. Salsa has a history of short travel full suspension bikes going back over a decade. Why try to hide that? (To be completely fair, they aren't) I know some folks won't get it- why not have five inches of rear wheel travel here? Ummm.....because this is supposed to be an XC-ish adventure machine. That's why. (Note- This is my take, not necessarily Salsa Cycle's or anyone else's.)

Oddly enough, there is an introductory video for this bike which shows two riders doing nothing but ripping these new Deadwoods down hill. There are no shots of climbing with this, or much to indicate that you should use this for cross country type of fun. To be completely fair, some of the invited media did write that part up. Apparently, it actually climbs well, if not a bit more ponderous and slower than other bikes. The point is that some media wonks seem bent on positioning this bike as some sort of magical unicorn of a suspension device that makes 91mm feel like.......something more. 

What it is more of is "expensive". The "entry level", as of now, is at $3800.00. I say "as of now" because if you dig into the website on the Deadwood you'll find the following statement: "This frame offers a 340 grams weight savings over the aluminum version." Wait...... What? There is an aluminum version? 

Maybe there "will be." Or maybe it is a mistake. I've discovered mistakes like that before on Salsa's website, so that wouldn't be a surprise. Time will tell which it is, a description of an as yet unheralded bike, or a mistake.

An aluminum version would be slightly less spendy, but make no mistake, starting at $3800.00 and topping out at $6G is not making this bike attractive to a wide range of riders. I suppose it is the price you pay to play these days. Still, if it were within my reach, I would take something like this in a heartbeat to El Paso's Franklin Mountains trails or anywhere that demanded a tool like this.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Things Are Getting Greener

Sneak preview of the Greener Monkey
This past weekend was a busy one around here. I had two guitar playing gigs at church and an evening over at another couple's home for a dinner. I also had the honor of conducting the Mechanics Class at the shop where I had some enthusiastic students. Friday afternoon/evening, Saturday, and most of Sunday were just too busy to do anything with bikes, for the most part.

I did get in a cardboard recycling run on the Big Dummy. I think the last time I rode that bike was New Year's Day. Things were pretty clear, as far as snow and ice back then and now we find ourselves right back in that same boat again. This time I feel like it just may signal the end of Winter. Anyway, it was fun to get that bike out and use it. I met some younginz at the recycling bins and one of them stopped to compliment me on my bicycle. That was nice of the young whippersnapper!

Sunday afternoon it was really windy, so I decided not to venture out in the country. Instead, I decided to start the greening of the Monkey. I had a little trouble finding the green anodized cog I had, but I did end up finding it. It is a 17 tooth and the drive ring I am using is a 38T. That's the gearing I find most appropriate for a 29"er single speed on gravel.

I have one more green component on the way, and when that arrives, I'll be finished with the "greening of the Monkey".  Stay tuned...........

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 6

Ten years ago on the blog I went another whole week without a picture. So here is some fried chicken!
Ten years ago here on the blog there was a lot of news and scuttlebutt going down, but no images! 

I know. Hard to imagine that even happening anymore here. It is a wonder anyone came and read the blog back then at all. No pictures? Bah! 

Anyway, like I said, there was a lot to talk about back then. One of the things that was happening then is still affecting the bicycle business today- that being the missing of the boat concerning the 29 inch wheeled mountain bike.

In 2007, that wheel size really began to sell well. Anyone that had a 29"er in their line was making a lot of sales, but 26"ers were not selling anywhere near as well. Many companies at that time, like Specialized and Giant in particular, were really feeling the pinch of lost sales to other companies that did have 29 inch wheeled mountain bikes. Subsequently, any perceived trend after this was jumped on. No one wanted to miss out on a possible run on another type of bicycle, no matter how oddball it might seem to be.

You can point right back at 2007 and see why we have gravel, plus sized, fat, and other weird bikes roaming the earth now days. 29"ers made companies sit up and take notice of trends being set by internet shared information. Something that up until that time had not happened before.

Another trend that got its start in 2007 was the whole notion of 584ISO bead diameter tires and wheels for mountain biking. Of course, I am talking about 650B. Also, it is worth noting that this was about the third time 650B had gotten a nod for off road, if you do not count the French camping bikes of the 40's and 50's.

I'll have more on the whole 650B deal coming up in other Minus Ten Review posts later on throughout the year.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday News And Views

If it weren't for the mud, I wouldn't have needed a fat bike this year, really.
2016/17 Winter Gets An "F":

Wow...... The three or four weeks going back to December when we went below zero degrees was about the most "winter" we had this year. Otherwise it has rained, been muddy, and it even flooded once. We essentially have zero snow right now and when we get further into this day, it will be more like mid-March than mid-February. The thermometer here will read about 50°F by late afternoon, and everything not paved will be sopping wet with water.

This Winter has failed us. 

Last Winter it snowed regularly and we had probably the best fat biking in this area that we've had since the Winter of 2010/11. Well, '11/'12 wasn't bad either, but really, this surpasses everything on the bad side that I can recall in recent years. I may as well not even have had a fat bike, except for the mud. Usually that only lasts about two weeks in Spring when the frost comes out, but we're going to have at least a solid month of mud to come besides what we already have had. Off pavement riding will really suffer for a long time, I am afraid.

Good thing we have copious amounts of gravel!

Making modifications sooner than later.
Pushing The Schedule Up:

Since it looks that, for all intents and purposes, that Winter is on the way out here, I am pushing up a few projects I was going to take my time on and waiting on another. I figured I would have about another month to fiddle around in the basement Lab, but that isn't going to be the case, by the looks of things. Temperatures in the upper 40's to lower 50's will bring clear roads and then we're off to the races.

In some cases, literally "off to the races"!

I am going to swap out the drive train on the Karate Monkey to a more "gravel friendly" 38 X 18 gear by using a White Industries crank and a Homebrew Components cog I have that feature anodized green. I will also be switching out the saddle to my green Brooks B-17 Special. It isn't really very green anymore. It is more of an olive color, as in ripe olive color. Dark, dark green, almost black. Then I may give those white wall tires the boot as well. Except that I'd like to use them up. We'll see......

The project that is getting put on hold is the conversion of the Black Mountain Cycles rig to 11 speed. I figure I may as well burn up the current 9 speed stuff in the early season muck and mire, then put on shiny new bits. Makes more sense to me to do it that way, at any rate.

Shirts for volunteers at T.I.v13. Thanks NY Roll!
Trans Iowa v13 T-Shirts For Volunteers

Volunteers make many of the cycling events we go to "work". Without them, the show does not go on! I always make an effort to thank volunteers at any event I attend, since I have a pretty good idea why they are such valuable people.

Since I value volunteers, I try to also be especially good to those that come to Trans Iowa. I have had some people come alongside me in that effort, and they have managed to really make the experience a bit more special for Trans Iowa volunteers in recent years. We've had special t-shirts, hats, and other stuff in the past for just the volunteers.

This time, I am proud to say that the tech t-shirt you see here is going to be exclusively the official wear of Trans Iowa v13 volunteers. Last year NY Roll made up some shirts with my face on them, and this year these are what he came up with all on his own. So, I am putting that out there because he's the one that should get the kudos.

I also am working on another t-shirt idea for the racers. That is still very much "in the works" and the final design hasn't even been decided on just yet. Technical details may take us in a completely different direction than originally planned. Stay tuned on that front.

Okay, that's a warp on things here for the week. Get outside and play this weekend! It looks like it will be gorgeous outside. Me? I'll be teaching mechanics class all morning. Maybe after that I'll squeeze in a few gravel miles.


Thursday, February 09, 2017

Being A Teacher

I've never been one to shy away from public speaking. (Image by someone at T.I.v4- Thanks!)
So, about every year this time I end up teaching a mechanics class for the shop where I work. It is a small thing, only two sessions, and maybe eight to ten folks get in to it total. It isn't that big of a deal. Not too intimidating, well.....for me, anyway. I can't speak for anyone else.

Ironically, back in my youth, I was strongly considering becoming a teacher. I likely would have ended up becoming an art teacher, although back then I wanted to do Industrial Arts. Then I got into college without any clear plan, found out about beer and bands, and that I could skate through school without much effort. I didn't think anybody cared, so I left the whole teaching thing behind.

I probably wouldn't have made a very good teacher anyway. Not one a "school system" would have liked, at any rate! But that's all old news and water under the dam now. One thing I always did have going for me was a willingness to "step up to the mic". I remember when I kind of realized this about myself.

It was on a group ride very early in the Spring one year when the snow wasn't melted yet. A TV crew was talking to people about the break in the weather, and they asked some of our party to talk. They all came running back to where I was, asking the rest of us if anyone of us would talk to the TV people. No one really felt like doing it and were in "cowering mode". I thought they were all just being silly, and I said, "I'll go do it! They are just people, ya know!"

Anyway, so that was when I realized I didn't mind speaking in front of a camera, mic, or to a big crowd of people. Whether or not I am "informative" and give folks value for their money spent to take a mechanics class is anyone's guess!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Some Thoughts On Tires

What gravel looks like, for reference.
Many of you that have been reading the blog here know that I have been writing reviews on things for a long time for different sites. My very first review for a site was done in 2005 for the long defunct "The Biking Hub" on a set of tires from WTB. Exiwolfs, I believe they were. Since then, I've ridden so many different tires I could not possibly remember them all.

That is to say, I've ridden my fair share of tires, and there are a few things that make a tire "good" in general. You can guess the first thing- weight. No one wants to spin up a big, heavy tire, especially up a long grade. The other thing that is apparent to many riders is the way the tire's casing "works". In other words, is the tire supple, or does it ride like a solid rubber chunk of crap? (This affects more than just ride feel, by the way.) Then there are the finer things, like traction, cornering, and braking performance. Basic stuff that if it is good, makes or breaks a tire's reputation.

That seems simple enough, right? Get those three basic areas "right" and you can't lose. However; it isn't all that simple. Obviously. That's why we have a gazillion tire choices. If "one" thing worked for road, and another for "gravel", and another "one" thing for mountain biking, well, there would only be three tread patterns. That's laughable to think about, in light of reality, because we have a confusing array of tires for every different situation. Too many choices. Somewhere between "three" choices and a "gazillion" is where the truth lays.

There are a few things people get wrong when it comes to bicycle tires, and the most egregious thing, in my opinion, is when people try to tie the attributes of motorized vehicle tires to bicycle tires. While there are a few obvious parallels, the comparisons are like comparing a deep sea fishing rod to a Tenkara rod. Similar in some ways, yes, but the design intentions and performance parameters are so different that the only remaining similarities are in basic form and name.

They say you don't need tread on a gravel road going tire? Hmm.....
So, I'm not one to say that some form of tire usage outside of the cycling world is a parallel to what works on bicycles. It isn't a good analogy and what does actually work is more specific and specialized to cycling than what you'd find outside of this sport. To that end, I've discovered some traits of tires that seem to lend a helping hand to riders on dirt and gravel over the years. Some things are obvious, some not so much.

In the gravel going arena, I find that a tire totally devoid of tread isn't the very best idea, and neither is one that has all sorts of tread on the casing. Just like with the tread design choices, there is a middle ground somewhere that actually works well. However; it is something else that also needs to be there, which if not included, will make or break a tire's performance on gravel roads. That is the casing's shape, or the way the casing and the tread form a shape which hits the road.

In all of my gravel miles, the tires that perform best seem to all have a shape which isn't really "round" in cross section. Something "less C shaped" and more squared off or flattish seems to really tame loose stuff. You can get there several ways. Sometimes air pressure and rim width can do this. Sometimes tire design gets you this trait, and many times a clever use of smooth and treaded design in the right spots gets you there. Many times bits of all of the above come together to get a tire which rides wonderfully on gravel.

The thing is, a "standard", roundish shape tends to plow, like the bow of a boat, through looser gravel. This is most evident when tire pressures are too high. The resulting ride is not unlike a skinny tire on gravel. There is a lot of vibration, lateral movement, and the rider has to correct the front end much more than one should. I call it "herding" the bike instead of riding it. A tire with a flatter profile, maybe with lateral tread blocks on the sides, gives the tire an ability to float over gravel, and the flatter profile also cuts way down on the "bow effect". There is a lot less "herding" the bike and far more riding it.

So, maybe you have a different idea? Fine. That's why they make a gazillion different tire choices.