Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kind Of Like It- But Not

This cuts a similar profile to something I've seen before. Hmmm.....
The whole "Adventure by Bike" deal really got kicked off about ten years ago when Salsa Cycles coined the term and used it as their catch phrase since then. Obviously, back in those days the term "gravel bike" was something only a few Mid-Westerners were even using, let alone aware of.

A lot has changed since those days, obviously. It boggles my mind, to be truthful about it. I never imagined a day when we would have "gravel specific" tires, let alone tubeless ready ones. I could go on........

But one thing always made me scratch my noggin in wonderment since 2008. That being that there are not a lot of Faro-ish bikes out there. It took several years, but finally a Fargo imitator arose in the Bombtrack Beyond. You don't see many of those around, but it's about as close to a modern take on a Gen 1 Fargo as there is. In fact, I'd like to think it is what the Gen 1 could be today, if Salsa had not "mtb-ified" the concept.

Now that gravel bikes keep pushing the limits on tire sizes, I am starting to see other bikes that are getting "Fargo-ish". 650B and wider tires, knobby patterns, and more "braze-on zits" than you can shake a stick at. One bike that is a bit different than that is from a series that Breezer Bikes has dubbed "RADAR". An acronym standing for Road And Dirt Adventure Rig, this bike reminds me a lot of something that might result if you were to cross a Tamland and a Fargo together. You get the extra braze ons, tire clearance, and mtb drive train from the Fargo matched up with the skinnier steel tubes, geometry, and overall profile of a Tamland. The result here looks pretty cool to me.

While the RADAR Expert I have around for a while to test and review for RidingGravel.com isn't a Fargo, it is kind of like one. More so than anything that has come around since the Bombtrack Beyond. That's a good thing, if you ask me.

Monday, November 19, 2018

C.O.G. 100 Recon Report

0-DARK-THIRTY: HWY 63- SNOWING. ROAD CONDITIONS- POOR
This C.O.G. 100 Iowa Single Speed Gravel Championship idea requires that I follow through with some work. Gotta do my due diligence and come up with a course and then go and look at it. Stuff like actually thinking through logistics, how the roads link up, making it interesting, and of course, it's gotta have hills.

As most of you know, I have a background in doing all of the above. So, you probably won't be too shocked to hear that I scrapped my entire first draft for the course and did an entirely different route the night before recon. The night was short, as I awoke at 5:00am to get ready to be picked up by N.Y. Roll and his dog, Ella, so we could go do the course recon.

The weather was great last week, right up until late Friday night, when it snowed. Of course it snowed! We couldn't go out and recon in perfect conditions, that just wouldn't be right! Well, at least I thought we might be doing recon. I wasn't 100% sure after we passed Traer. They had a bit more snow through there and things were in bad shape as we drove Southward.

We had a bit of a respite on Highway 30, but then as we tried to go South on Highway 146, we found it was closed at LeGrand for the installation of a railway overpass. We ended up following a pick-up truck for several miles on gravel as a workaround. Then eventually, after almost two hours of driving, we made it to Grinnell and the Frontier Cafe.

Breakfast at the Frontier cafe is a must when visiting Grinnell.
After grub time was complete, we headed out to Miller Park and started recon. It was not very good out in the country. Snow was all over the roadway, but we were in a Subaru Crosstrek, so we had that going for us. As we rolled along the flat light of the washed out sky against the all white roadway made for tough conditions as there was little contrast. N.Y. Roll did a great job keeping inbetween the ditches though.

First tracks as we get going on recon.
Later on the air temperature and whatever rays of the Sun that were getting through cleared up the road a bit, but then it got muddier and softer. Just before all of that, we came up on a Level B Road I wasn't prepared for. N.Y. Roll managed to negotiate it just fine, and we considered the options. Well, seeing as how it would be the only mile of Level B in the entire 100+ miles, we are strongly considering leaving it in. We are probably going to have a contingency plan if things look way wet in the Spring where we can avoid it though.

Another thing long time readers of the blog know is that I almost always have an instance to share where I end up saying something like, "This is why we do recon......". Well, just such an instance came up again. This time it was a bridge that is out. A very recent take out which isn't indicated on any map or GPS mapping program. In fact, N.Y. Roll went to bring up an online map at the point we saw the signs and there was no cell service. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times- You gotta put your eyes on your course to make sure it actually exists. There are no short cuts to this.

So, we will have to re-route around that, but the workaround we used Saturday, I think, will actually do just fine. It kind of throws a wrench into a plan but something else I saw may make up for it. Vague. I know, but details will come out. I'll get back to this later......

N.Y. Roll's Crosstrek got pretty trashed!
So, with the re-route and all I think we are around 110 miles at this point. My inclination is that it may actually be slightly less since the best estimate of distance we have at the moment is N.Y. Roll's odometer. Of course, we backtracked a mile or so, and that's why I feel we will see that 110 figure go down a touch more. I have to dig into the route map again here and get it nailed down.

So......I'm not inclined to make it be exactly 100 miles. It's going to be slightly over that. Now you know.

Convenience store: I had mentioned that I was going to provide an optional course for resupply choice which would make you add even more miles and take away time. Well, my original intention was taken out by the missing bridge, so I was a bit disappointed. That said, the route goes within about 5 blocks or less of a convenience store riders will see from the route while going through a small town at around the 80 mile mark. My inclination is to advise riders to carry ennough food and water to last 80 miles. I think that was always around what I had advised, on average, for Trans Iowa riders, so I think I'm probably going to stick to that.

So, from this point we are going to do another draft of the cues. These will be checked against reality later, probably next year closer to the event. Cues will get printed after final verification. We are looking into getting two "Championship" jerseys readied for the potential winners. Designs are being drawn up for that. The registration details will be finalized very soon. We are pretty sure we are going to have a $25.00 entry fee which will cover insurance. Finally, details that will be on the radar will be finalizing the roster, doing number plates, and getting some venue details finalized. Stay tuned.....

A major hurdle crossed today though. The course will be hilly! Also, we hope that we don't see as much traffic as we saw. We most likely will not, since the reason there was so much traffic was the hunting that was going on.

More soon! 


Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Touring Series: Prairie Town Horror- Part 1

A Guitar Ted Productions series
 Thanks for joining me again on another adventure in "The Touring Series". This tour was dubbed the "Race Against Death Tour". This tour occurred in August of 1995. The three participants, Ryan, Troy, and your's truly, left from Cedar Falls, Iowa to try and get to Winter Park, Colorado in two weeks. Here I am reproducing the tale, mostly as it was posted on the blog in 2009. There are some new edits and additions. I also will add new remarks and memories where appropriate at the end of each post. 

 Once again, there were no cell phones, internet, social media platforms, or digital cameras in use by we tourers in 1995. I will post images where I can, but this tour wasn't well documented in images, so there probably will be very few sprinkled throughout. A modern image will be used only where it depicts things I want to clarify, like where we were in that part of the tour via a map image, or the like.
 

The "Touring Series" will appear every Sunday until it ends. Look for past entries by scrolling back to a previous Sunday's post, or type in "Touring Series" in the search box to find more. 

 The "Race Against Death Tour" moves on from Wood, South Dakota on an extremely brutal, hot day....
 __________________________________________________________________________

Leaving Wood, we encountered some big rolling hills. The combination of the days heat and miles was taking it's toll on me. Well, that and the fact that there wasn't any water in Wood. I ran out of water somewhere on this last stretch of the day's road. I thought I was really done for. This is where one of the enduring phrases describing myself arose from. Right from this moment on this very day.

I was "Barney-ing".

A rare image from the tour of me catching back up with the guys. Image by Troy
I am pretty sure it was Ryan that coined the term. He saw my face as I toiled up a climb he and Troy were waiting for me at the top of. Ryan exclaimed, "He looks like Barney Fife when he had that long face, ya know? He's "Barney-ing"!" Troy saw the resemblance, I guess, and laughed. The term was forever cemented in my mind as what I looked like when I was bonking. Barney Fife. I suppose I could look worse.

Troy said something about the fact that we were all about out of water, but that White River was just up the road, and that we probably should cut the day short, wash clothes, re-supply, and hit it hard the next day. We all agreed to that, then just like that, Troy and Ryan were gone, leaving me to toil up the big rollers in the incessant heat.

I reached the turn off to White River and I could see Troy and Ryan up the road. I was angry, and I suppose the adrenaline helped get me the rest of the way into town. I was going to be really glad to get into a town of a reasonable size, the first since we left Winner, and get something to eat and drink. What I didn't know was that I would never forget White River for other reasons, but at this point, I just wanted this day to come to a merciful end.

As we reached the outskirts of the town we pulled off the highway to the business section of town and found that there wasn't a street. Well.......they had a street, it was just torn up. It was as if they had been doing construction, but the cars were just driving through the dirt. There were no "Road Construction" signs, just some orange netting and some sawhorses with blinking lights here and there. It was a bizarre scene, but that would be just the tip of the iceberg of the strange things that we would find in White River.

White River was an odd town not only for the dirt street in the main business area, but for its retail environment as well. We had some things we needed to do, and laundry was at the top of the list. So we asked about a laundromat, got pointed in the right direction, and headed over to an old wooden business front. At first, we thought there must have been some misunderstanding. This was a joke....right?

What we found was a building with broken out windows, lined along three sides and down the middle with washing machines and dryers, and all were filthy beyond imagination. The dirt and litter was actually drifted up in the corners and against the machines, in some places a foot deep! The watch of the bikes fell to Ryan. Troy and I set about finding a clean enough machine to use for washing. We found two that didn't take much to clean out after looking at about twenty absolutely filth ridden machines. We got change at the hair dressers next door and away we went. About this time, Ryan leans his head in through the open window and says, "I need one of you guys to come out here. NOW!" He had an odd tone to his voice. I asked what the deal was, why did I need to come out? Ryan just motioned his head sideways as if to indicate he couldn't speak in the presence of someone and whispered loudly, "NOW!"
__________________________________________________________________________

The water situation we had in Wood, and for the rest of the day, really, was only the beginning. It also probably was the cause of the bonk, obviously, but also something else. My getting dropped by Troy and Ryan made me feel abandoned. Keep in mind I had just come out of a divorce due to my former wife getting addicted to meth and leaving me. I didn't put two and two together then, but this would foreshadow a big turning point in my life on this tour in the days to come.

The town of White River, a small town, run down, and at that time in obvious disrepair, was another example of what became a very big impression upon me. We need not go to foreign countries to help with "third world" issues. We have them right here. The disgusting laundromat was just the beginning of our experiences regarding this.......

An editorial note- This post has been combined from two separate posts and the remainder will appear next week with some further, new material. 

 Next Week: The "Race Against Death Tour", stopped at the end of Day Five at White River, South Dakota after a tough 92.14 miles of heat and climbs, continues its weird journey.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Minus Ten Review - 46

The best tasting "post card entry" I ever got for Trans Iowa
Ten years ago on this blog here I was reporting on the registration for Trans Iowa v5. It was one of the first Trans Iowas which featured "tiered" registration. We were letting "Veterans" of Trans Iowa past take first crack at the roster spots and then whatever was left over was fair game to rookies. In this case well over half the roster was opened up to Rookie Class riders. I think the limit was 75 riders back then.

Registration back then was a "controlled chaos' of an affair. I used to have fun with it bacck then. There were flowers, gifts of booze, and even a pizza. Those were the fun times of registration. From about this time till we got to v9 or so. Then it got waaaaay out of hand. But that's another story.

I was also talking about a bike I was testing. It was a Milwaukee Bicycles 29"er. The white frame on that rig was sooooooo smooth! I really loved the way that bike rode. I remember that it was one of those bikes you just wanted to ride all the time. Since I pretty much had to so I could write a good review on the bike, it made that a good problem to have.

The bike had to be shipped back, but I was offered a killer deal on it at that time to keep it. I just didn't think I could afford it, since it was Winter, I was working far less, and money was tight. But if there was one bike I regretted not keeping in all my Twenty Nine Inch reviewing days, that Milwaukee rig would be maybe number one. I can think of one other I would have loved to have kept, but it was a dual sus bike, and nothing like this bike.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday News And Views

Artwork for the special poster for the C.O.G.100
C.O.G. 100 Single Speed Championship Gravel Event Poster:

Okay, between my daughter and I we have done some final tweaking to the C.O.G. 100 poster artwork. This limited edition poster is a joint effort between my daughter, Izabel, and I, and will be printed up in a run of 75 prints. These will be signed and numbered by myself and by my daughter. They will be given away to each attending rider at the inaugural C.O.G. 100.

I posted a version of this on Twitter and someone suggested it would be a great tattoo for the winners. Ah..........yeah........While that may be true, I am not forcing anyone to do that. But, if anyone who wins wants to go get the ink done, who am I to stop them? Tattoos are kind of.......personal. Not something one just has done to them because they crossed some arbitrary finish line first. But hey......that's just me. And I happen to be running this shindig, so...... No.

Anyway.... Course recon will be happening tomorrow. Then I'll draft cues and later on we will do the whole recon thing one more time before the event to verify everything. Doing 100 miles versus over three times that much will be......easy. In relative terms, that is. So, I'm getting off easy now. Plus, I already know most of the route. It isn't like I haven't been on the gravel roads around Grinnell before,ya know?

Just to recap, the C.O.G. 100 will hold registration on January 2nd, 2019. Time TBA, fee TBA. Think around $20.00 though. Shouldn't be far from that figure. Field limit will be 75 folks. Start will be at Miller Park, Grinnell Iowa. Pre-event Meeting will take place promptly at 7:00am and the event proper will start promptly at 8:00am. Cues will be handed out just prior to the event at the pre-event meeting. NO GPS FILES FOR THE COURSE WILL BE GENERATED BEFOREHAND. Self-supported, NO PASS THROUGH TOWNS*.

*Note- I am running the course near a town with a convenience store. An "alternative route" will lead you through this town to get supplied. IT WILL ADD EXTRA MILES. So, if ya gotta resupply, you will suffer a mileage and time penalty by default. If not, well...... Then you decide to take that chance.

Ooooo! Purrrrrrrple!
New Twin Six Standard Rando Color:

While the frame and fork remain the same as they have been for a few years now, the color is new. Actually, Twin Six does fantastic colors on the Standard Rando every so often. About the only clunker in the bunch, in my humble opinion, was the white with green stripes. Otherwise...... Winning.

And the winningest color so far is the newest. Purple, of course, because.....Minneapolis. What other color could it have been?

Sometimes I wonder what may have happened if Prince had liked, yellow. Keep everything else the same, just yellow. Well........maybe not. "Yellow Rain" would not have had the same feel as it did being "Purple Rain", now would it? No. Ah......okay. 'Nuff of that nonsense.

Twin Six needs to upgrade this design though. It needs to be through axles and it needs more tire clearance. They claim 700 X 43, but trust me, this is a 700 X 38mm tire bike, maximum. 650B wheels and tires actually work really well, but here again, you should stick to 650B X 47. Lots of folks are thinking 700 X 45 and 650B X 2" now, so I think it is high time for T-6 to redesign this model. Color changes only go so far. That said, it is a fantastic riding bike. I really liked mine. 

Anyway, you should get a purple bike. Salsa Cycles is doing a super cool purple Vaya as well. so, get yer purple on and look at these rigs.

68 years ago this was new.
Radio Radio.....

And now for something completely different!

My boss at the shop collects a few oddball things. Clocks, old camera equipment, and of late he has been the recipient of some old tube radios. (For you U.K. readers, that would be valve powered radios) Anyway, he got one the other day and showed it to me yesterday. I thought it was pretty rad. So, he decided to let me have it.

It is a 1950 Crosley. It has 5 Crosley branded vacuum tubes in it, (Here is a blog post from a radio repair site about the guts of this if you want to geek out. Click here) . It is AM only, of course, and it does work. Anyway, I think it is pretty cool.

The knob on the left turns the unit on and you have to wait to let the tubes warm up before anything happens. Then the knob on the right is the tuning dial and that is connected to the pointer in the center by a rubber "O" ring type belt which rotates pointer to indicate which station frequency you are picking up. 

Of course, there are not many AM radio stations operating anymore. But this reminds me of when I was younger. You had to have patience and sit and try to "tune in" whatever you could find out there. Now days everything is more direct. If your selected web site doesn't load instantaneously, you get frustrated. Heck, with this old gizmo you might take five minutes, or more, just to fine tune in a station to get the best reception. Thunderstorms in the area? Fahgeddaboudit! You were listening to every lightning strike!

Anyway, I hope y'all enjoyed seeing this old relic of days gone by.

Have a great weekend and as always- Thanks for reading G-Ted Productions!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Like Cake, Only Grittier

Gravel roads have been "Winterized" for the most part around here.
Wednesday I waited until it warmed up about as much as it was going to for the day before heading out for a quick jaunt South of town. I used the Bubblegum Princess with the Enve wheels attached and those fancy new Northwave boots with the long name. The Sun was out and it was looking pretty outside.

It's that time of year again and the light from the Sun is......weird. I've mentioned this in years past, but I never cease to be fascinated by this phenomenon. I suppose it has something to do with the lower angle of the Sun relative to Earth where I am at. Plus, the Sun was already Westering and it was probably more like riding in twilight than what I am used to for mid-afternoon Sun.

One thing the images here won't convey and that is that the wind was up and constantly blowing right at me as I went South at 20mph. Steady. It made for a rough go because the roads going South were all freshly graveled for Winter. Big, dusty, chunky goodness. All the way across the road.

I was headed down Ansbourough and I had decided I should climb that long climb up Petrie, then maybe go down Beck Road South a bit more. But after I reached the intersection with Petrie Road, I decided I had done enough pushing into the wind for one day. I headed straight West toward the Level B section of Petrie Road. I didn't think it would be dried up all the way yet, but I figured what moisture there was had frozen by now. Of course, it was above freezing as I rode, but it hadn't been for several days. I figured I'd be okay.

Surprise! It was wall to wall mud and water almost right out of the gate.
Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. Petrie Road was not only wet, but tore all up from harvesting machinery. I had to dismount just to get around some standing water, and the tread marks, ruts, and sand were treacherous until I passed the field opening where it seemed that the heavy machinery veered off into the adjacent corn field. That field was now empty. Just like every other field around now. Bonus- now there is absolutely nothing to hold up the wind! 

I moseyed on up the hill and as I went along the roadway here was sandy and underneath that the dirt was cake-like. My tires were doing the "pizza cutter" thing and resistance was high. I ended up having to dismount for a bit and walk along in the now dead weeds to avoid a short section that was not cake-like, but outright muddy. Once around that, it was difficult to get going again due to the spongy ground, but I managed to ride up to the top of the hill where that puddle of water almost always is.

The good news was that, while the mud was bad, it wasn't overwhelming. I could bounce the bike and knock a lot off that way. My boots still engaged the pedals. Mud wasn't fouling the wheels. So, not a disaster, like I thought it might have been. Just......an adventure! Once at the top I dismounted and got out my camera to shoot a few images for the reviews and then I just looked around a bit. It's a great place to see Northward since you can see Hudson, Waterloo, and everything in between from this ridge. I spied cattle grazing in a field not far off and decided to grab that image on this trip.

Cattle grazing with the outliers of Hudson in the distance. 
Water up top and more dead ahead in the distance to deal with. 
Cue the angelic voices......
Onward now and the descent off the ridge was hairy. LOTS of ruts, softer, muddier places, and I was feathering the brakes. Being very careful not to slip up and end up dumping myself into the mud . I also didn't want to cake up the wheels any worse than I had already.

I hopped off a couple of times briefly to negotiate water and mud, and then at the bottom there was a long stretch of hike-a-bike. Oddly enough, even though I was bushwhacking a lot through tall, dead weeds, I didn't get any stickers all over my wool socks. I had expected to look like a weedy, seedy mess, but I actually came out looking just fine.

The turn North was....whoa! Fast! That wind was kicking me straight up the road and I was carrying 18-20mph with little effort. Downhill speeds were higher. The road was chunky, of course, and the handling was a bit sketchy at times due to that. So, I wasn't able to just sit there for the ride. I had to pay attention or I may have eaten dust instead.

But all was well and I made it back okay. It was a perfect ride from the standpoint of length and effort. I'm very glad I decided not to go further into the wind. My body was dead tired afterward. Time to clean up the bike and get ready for the next nice day I have a chance to ride........

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Frozen Tundra

Winter has made an early appearance here in Iowa. We've had a skiff of snow, that melted, and now it is just plain cold. Really cold. My commute yesterday was at 9°F with a wind chill well below zero. And I forgot to take my neck scarf to put up over my face as I rode directly into the Northwest wind. Bah! The little things we have to relearn every Winter. Well, that and Winter pounced upon us all at once. No easing into it this year.

It rained and flooded not long ago and the water soaked ground is now rock hard. Frozen tundra. Riding on grass or dirt is like bounding over broken up pavement. There is no forgiveness at all. It's funny that you don't realize how much Earth has give to it until it doesn't.

The Bubblegum Princess rolling on the Enve wheels was getting a work out over the frozen dirt. Patches of ice gave me pause. I ran through a couple of those puddles with thin sheets of ice layered like thin window panes. The loud crunching of ice breaking as my WTB Resolutes cut through was alarming, but somehow satisfying all the same.

I kept telling myself it was okay. The Sun was shining. It could be worse. I was warm-ish. Work harder to get warmer, and on and on. It's funny how that self-talk can take your mind off the negative and you end up being okay. I made it to work and my face didn't even freeze off.

November in a bike shop in Iowa. Nuff said. That was tough. I think working during this time of year is actually harder than it is when we can't get ahead on jobs. Too much time on my hands makes for a long day. Of course, we'd all rather be busier now, but this cold intrusion has pretty much chased all but the most hardcore cyclist off the trails and roads. Even some of them are doing their "smart trainer" work indoors now.

Flood waters that had yet to evaporate or get absorbed by the ground are now beginning to freeze.
The ride home promised to be warmer, but for whatever reason, I felt just as cold as I did in the morning. Weird! I took the long way home from work, doing the out and back on Shirey Way and then cruising Riverside Trail over toward Waterloo and my neck of the woods. The Northwave boots I talked about yesterday are looking to be pretty good. I wasn't cold in the feet on the way to work and an hour ride after work proved to leave my toes just "chilly", but considering I had sweat in my shoes at work...... Well, more testing needs to be done there.

The weather is supposed to moderate to highs in the upper 30's, maybe low 40's? That will feel like a heatwave after this cold shot. I will be enjoying it the best I can. You know it won't last, because we are nearly halfway to December and Winter will be in full force, or it should be, by that time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Shoulder Season

45NRTH Ragnorok
Weather has a huge effect on how you dress for a ride on your bike. Summer is minimalist and during Winter, (if you ride at all) you layer up and armor yourself against the elements. But the inbetween seasons of Spring and Fall, which some wiseacre marketing wonk has called "Shoulder Seasons", is a different animal. Temperature swings during these times of year cause consternation. Too cold in the morning for shorts and short sleeves but where do you put the windbreaker and arm warmers at 11:00am when it is getting too hot for that stuff? Fall can be nice in the afternoon, but as the Sun lowers the air temperature may dip and the toes get cold. Wish you would have toted along those overshoes?

Call it what you will, Spring and Fall weather is challenging every day in a different way most times. Besides covering and uncovering extremities during rides, getting your feet happy was the other major issue to be faced. Many times Spring and Fall are wet and cold, which is a deadly combination for feet. Wearing shoe covers was what you did, but with their open bottoms to allow for a pedal cleat to engage the binding of the pedal, and generally sketchy construction over all, shoe covers usually didn't do a whole lot of good for very long.

That's why when 45NRTH first came out with the Fasterkatt, I was blown away. Here was a boot made to be worn during "shoulder seasons" and was built to withstand water intrusion, keep feet dry, and wind out. It worked way better than shoe covers despite some serious issues regarding the zipper and some other technical parts of the boot's construction. 45NRTH has since done two revisions, calling them different model names since, and the idea has been mimicked by other companies as well. Louis Garneau did a version that looked good, but the sizing was wonky. Now there is a newer version of this idea from Northwave called the Extreme XCM 2 GTX.

Northwave Extreme XCM GTX boots.
I received a pair of the Northwaves to test for RidingGravel.com. I got them out of the box, and much like the new 45NRTH Ragnoroks, the advances in design are impressive. The materials mate up in a seamless fashion, the construction is sleek. Where plastics and rubbers meet fabric you see no defects. The different rotating retention device, (it isn't a BOA), is awesome and works well.

It's amazing to me that shoe covers/booties/whatchamallcallem's are still a thing. Well.......yeah, they are cheaper to buy. Sure, I get that, but they are a total compromise in most situations I have ever used them for. In fact, I bought a pair of shoe covers last year to finish out testing some Summer shoes I had due to the end of the review period coming in late Fall. These were really nice covers, but they weren't going to do the basic job of keeping my feet warm when the shoe underneath was all about keeping my feet cool.

So, these boots are expensive, yes. But, if you could ride in comfort, without having your piggies go numb, then why not get a pair? I figured that a decent set of shoe covers goes for around $50.00 and can be as high as $100.00 for a pair. Spending that much money every couple of years, (because that is about how long they typically last used regularly), and you are getting into a price spent which makes these boots, which last years with reasonable care, make a lot of sense. My 45NRTH Fasterkatts are at least five years old and still going strong. These Northwave boots are made even better, so I suspect that they would last at least as long, if not longer. All those seasons of better coverage, warmer toes, and drier feet make the hundreds you spend up front worth it, in my opinion.

I mean, it's crazy to think that we spend hundreds on saddles, bars/grips, and yet feet get the frugal treatment. It doesn't make sense. By the way, this goes for socks as well. It's weird. Everyone seems to want to cheap out on their feet, and I should mention pedals also. Whatever. I'm not wearing shoe covers unless I have to. These boots are a way better solution.

Monday, November 12, 2018

700c vs 650B For Gravel Travel

700c Wheel on the Tamland
With all the new gravel bikes coming down the pike these days, I've noticed that several of them have a certain feature. That is that they are capable of being set up with 650B or 700c wheels and tires. This post will seek to convey my take on the attributes of each wheel size and why I think one or the other is good, or why one or the other may not be so much.

Let me say right up front that neither is terrible, bad, or a wheel size that you shouldn't try. Each has their merits. That said, I have a favorite and I won't be shy about telling you about it. Now, on with the show......

I suppose I should give my background for these opinions. First of all, I have 650B experience going back over a decade. I have ridden mountain bikes, road bikes, and gravel bikes set up with 650B wheels and tires of various tread patterns and on various bicycles. Of course, I have a LOT of 700c experience going back, waaaaay back, and along with this I have ridden a lot of on road and off road 26" wheel and tire combinations. All of this is being drawn upon to formulate these opinions. Basically, I have had enough time on all of these wheels that I feel that my opinion is not lacking in experience based observations.

Despite the latest "Ride The Supple Life", or whatever the slogan is, marketing, and despite the efforts of marketing wonks, the simple truth is that 650B is basically going to end up being your "mtb-ish" wheel for gravel bikes going forward. This is for good reason. Taking into account the limitations of "gravel bikes", the 650B option allows riders to put the biggest footprint on the trail possible. Add in aggressive tread and you have, what I call, "mini-mtb" wheels. They are about 1.8" wide, and essentially turn a gravel going bike into a late 80's XC mtb bike with drop bars. This is cool, fun, and useful, if you want that sort of deal. Obviously, it is a flavor not everyone will desire, or even understand.

The Tamland with 650B tires and wheels
Smoother, more "gravel" oriented treads, are certainly out there for 650B. Basically, the only time I'm opting fr the 650B gravel type tires is when things are really loose, wetter, or when the course is going to present a lot of looser dirt and gravel. Basically anytime I want more flotation. I might also opt for 650B if there are a lot of quick accelerations or short sight lines between turns- basically single track. This would be because these wheels and tires accelerate a bit easier than 700c, generally speaking, that is. Obviously a 700c X 35 tire might actually accelerate easier than a 650B X 50mm wheel and tire just due to weight differences. But all else being the same, I would say 650B accelerates a bit easier. Especially so at 47+mm widths.

The other way I would use 650B and smoother tires is for loaded touring on roads. The wheels would be stronger, the tires fitted could be wider, more comfort might be eeked out, and again, looser gravel and dirt would't present an issue. Not that you couldn't do a wider 700c tire, but keep in mind, some of these "dual wheel size" gravel rigs are limited to 42mm-45mm tires. That may not be big enough for some. There could be an argument made that says it doesn't matter with the wheel strength thing too, but I'm giving the nod here to smaller wheels.

In fact, you could make a really stout case for 26" wheels and loaded touring. Especially "world touring", but I won't get into all the why and why nots about that. Just know that 26" isn't dead in that area of cycling. Almost all my loaded touring experiences were on 26" wheels.

650B gravel rigs are very reminiscent of this 80's era Ibis. Image courtesy of VintageMTBworkshop.com
My predilections run toward 700c for gravel travel because of the way a 700c wheel tackles the loose gravel, dirt roads, and rolling hills I encounter most often. 650B is okay, but 700c is definitely better in ride quality and in terms of performance. This is my experience talking, but you may have a different take on it. My 700c set ups carry momentum just a bit better too. It just is a better tool for the job I am doing.

As far as ride quality goes, a thing many 650B enthusiasts like to hang their hat on, I'm not pickin' up what they are layin' down. 700c is every bit as smooth if you have quality tires and wheels as 650B is. All things relatively equal, that is. Of course, a 700c X 28 at 100psi is not going to feel as smooth and pillowy as a 650B X 47mm tire. However, I have a 700c X 42 set of tires on some wheels here I'd put up against anything 650B for smoothness. So, "supple life" can be had in bigger diameters.

So, which wheels should you get? My advice would be that if you are going to ride wide open gravel roads, maybe some pavement, and if you'd never consider loaded touring, single track drop bar bike action, and would never ride in adverse, softer conditions, stick with 700c. Otherwise, get both sizes. My ideal set up is going to be a 650B tire with some tooth to it for single track/dirt/looser stuff and 700c the rest of the time. Almost every inch of in-town trail here could be easily tackled, when it is dry, with a drop bar mtb bike. Slapping on some "mini-mtb" 650B wheels and tires would be great for doing that activity here. I might do smoother tread 650B in Spring around here when things are softer and 700c tires tend to push into the softer road ways. But that kind of condition is only about two weeks out of the year, so........maybe not so much. I will say that 650B X 47mm was a boon when it was like that last Spring around here. So, it is a viable option when things are wetter and/or looser and deep.

But yeah, I'm primarily going to opt for 700c most of the time for gravel travel.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Touring Series: Festus And The Bombed Out Town

A Guitar Ted Productions series
 Thanks for joining me again on another adventure in "The Touring Series". This tour was dubbed the "Race Against Death Tour". This tour occurred in August of 1995. The three participants, Ryan, Troy, and your's truly, left from Cedar Falls, Iowa to try and get to Winter Park, Colorado in two weeks. Here I am reproducing the tale as it was posted on the blog in 2009. I also will add new remarks and memories where appropriate at the end of each post. 

 Once again, there were no cell phones, internet, social media platforms, or digital cameras in use by we tourers in 1995. I will post images where I can, but this tour wasn't well documented in images, so there probably will be very few sprinkled throughout. A modern image will be used only where it depicts things I want to clarify, like where we were in that part of the tour via a map image, or the like.
 

The "Touring Series" will appear every Sunday until it ends. Look for past entries by scrolling back to a previous Sunday's post, or type in "Touring Series" in the search box to find more. 


The "Race Against Death Tour" rides into another blazing hot summer day on a lonely stretch of State Highway 44 in South Dakota.....
_______________________________________________________________________

As we rolled along, the heat increased and the cloudy haze began to give way to more intense, bright sunshine. We were going through water like crazy with the temperatures hitting around 100 degrees that day. So it was that we came to a tiny spot in the road that on our maps said was a town named  Witten. We pulled off the road to see what looked like a feed mill and grain elevator operation in a dusty, unpaved "cul de sac" with a few houses back behind that. We noted that there was a little water spigot located right behind a small shack. We didn't need to knock, as our conversation alerted a few of the operation's employees to step outside in the blazing heat to see what the heck all the commotion was about.

After one of them gave the okay to use the water spigot, he quickly ducked back into the air conditioned shack, leaving a short-ish, wiry fellow to speak with us. I quickly found Troy taking my bottles so I would have to be the one to talk to this fellow. Ryan sort of shadowed me for a bit, but when it became apparent this guy was slightly odd, he too shrank away, leaving me to deal with our latest "V.I.P".  Actually, I thought this guy was okay, just sheltered, shall we say?

He kind of was a cross between that character on the 60's show "Gunsmoke" named "Festus" and a town drunk. We'll call him Festus since I didn't get his right name.  He was not what you'd call "sensitive to cultural differences", and I am not going to sugarcoat his language here. This is exactly how it went down in '95. Anyway, you have to think of his dialogue in a western drawl....

Festus: "So, where ya'all headed?

Me: "We're going to the Black Hills, and then to Rocky Mountain National Park."

 Festus: "So, yer goin straight up 44, eh? That's Injun country, ya know. Those folks is a little waspy. 

Why I carry me a pistol by my side on the seat in the truck whenever I go through there.

Me: So those folks aren't too friendly?


Festus: "Well theys shoot ya soon as talk ta ya, but it depends on what yer doin'.

Me: "Huh! No kiddin? "
He then goes on to tell me he trades in horses. He says he carries large sums of money at times from the sales of the animals, and that he needs the protection of the side arm.

 Festus: "Did yew know that it's zactly two hunnert miles from here ta the race track at the edge of Rapid City? Two hunnert miles! From right here!" He points to the ground at his feet.

Me: "No kiddin?"

 Festus: "Yep! And didja ever go up in any of them caves? "He goes on to tell me of a family vacation where he describes the stalagmites and stalactites as "icicles" that shown like "jew-wells" in the lights and "didja know its a constant 49 degrees in there?

Our route from Witten to Wood, South Dakota

Well, you get the point by now, I am sure! Troy and Ryan finally tore me away from this guy and we were off to the road, but not before Troy could voice his fear of the Native Americans. He had overheard Festus'  comments about the "waspy" folks and heard "guns" and was thinking we should re-route. I said that we were not in danger of anything. Heck, the guys that Festus was afraid of were after his horse money, and we had nothing any Native American could want. We were about as poor, destitute, and stinky as they came. What would they point a gun at us for? Our stinky chamois? And with that we went off down the road again.

It wasn't long though, and we were in need of more water. We saw a spot on the map and aimed our bikes for there. The town was named Wood, and it was slightly off the road. As we approached on the blacktop leading into this tiny town, we saw busted off trees, broken buildings, and there wasn't a green leaf to be found. A small pack of dogs took up to barking and gave chase as we rode up to the first outliers.

It wasn't so much like a tornado had hit this place, even though it may have, but it looked like one of those WWII pictures from my high school history books. Bombed. That's what Wood looked like. A bombed out town. We scattered as the dogs approached. Ryan with his frame pump held high, ready to strike, me barking back, and Troy yelling at them in a stern tone of voice. The dogs finally relented, we rolled up to a gas station, and searched for something to drink.
__________________________________________________________________________
This tour would be one for the ages if this was the only weird day we had, but it wasn't, and it wouldn't be the last. Oh no! Anyway, the guy in Witten! I could have listened to him talk all day. What a character! I'd never met anyone that sounded like a character straight out of an old Western movie, but this guy was a dead ringer for the "typical" cowboy.

Then Troy's reaction was a surprise. He really was seriously scared to go down Highway 44 any further. I was not scared at all. (Although not more than 24hrs later I would be.) These people in this area seemed okay with me as long as we didn't get crossways with anyone, and as I said, we had nothing of value which anyone would want. We actually did look fairly odd and destitute ourselves, in a way. Hauling all our belongings on two wheels and living on the road.

  The town of Wood has lived on in my life as a reference I use when people get all proud about somewhere they've been and I haven't been there. I listen politely, then I ask them if they've ever been to Wood, South Dakota. I usually get blank stares with that comment. Then I look very proud and walk away. Ha!

Next week: The Tour continues to the shock and horror of our overnight stop......

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Minus Ten Review - 45

The first, (unofficial) Fargo Adventure Ride
Ten years ago on the blog here I was detailing the "Fargo Adventure Ride" I was on with the Salsa Crew up in the Minneapolis area. This was, arguably, one of the most pivotal couple of days I've had in my lifetime in terms of cycling.

So much happened on these days. It all started on a Tuesday. I voted as soon as I could, then a friend of mine at the time and I went on to Minneapolis to meet up with the Twin Six guys. They were still in their "small phase", located at the time in their second place they had as a headquarters/warehouse. The day continued as we hit up the single track of Murphy-Hanrahan South of the Twin Cities. Then we met with then Salsa head honch, Jason Boucher. We stayed at his home that evening. We spent the last wee hours dialing in Salsa Fargo rigs we were to ride the following day. The big day to come was an unforgettable day.

First, we awoke and had a quick breakfast and then off to the Sibley House area where we started out on our journey. We hightailed it over to another point where we met up with the rest of the Salsa Crew who were mostly on El Mariachis and Fargo prototypes of various colors. Then it was off down the trail along the Minnesota River where we stopped at one point to have "field coffee" and a first time treat for me. Kid Riemer had hard boiled eggs which he was sharing and then he produced a red bottle of sauce and said I had to put some on my egg. It wasn't ketchup. It was sriracha sauce. Something I had never had up to that point. After hanging out and yakking it up, it was time to pull out and head on over to QBP for a short tour.

We got to use the famous Nine Mile Creek ferry.
Then we wrapped up our day with a meal at a burrito place, I think, (hey! It's been ten years ago.) Then we repaired back to Jason Boucher's home and a certain exchange took place which I won't forget soon. It resulted in my taking home a Gen I Fargo, the very same one I still have to this day.

One other thing I have to mention. It was while we were riding that day that we found out our new President would be Barack Obama. Historic. So, there was that. Then it was also the last temperate day of the year in 2008. It got colder and blustery after this. You can tell it wasn't too bad by the clothes we were wearing, and trust me, we were over dressed!

Anyway, yeah..... A most memorable two days. The ride that began my love affair with the Gen I Fargo. A fitting "first ride" since it was such an adventure machine for me in the coming years. The Fargo and I have been closely linked ever since this day.

There were reviews done, of course, but I just recall being excited about doing multi-terrain stuff and, of course, gravel, on the Fargo in the coming years. I had no idea at the time that I would grow to be so attached to this bike. All I knew then was that the whole experience, the bike, the crew, the friends...... That's what really hit it off for me back then. Sadly, not everyone involved in that fateful day remain friends, but most of us do. Cannot say why that is. I just don't know........

Anyway, that's the single thing that dominated the blog that week ten years ago. I got home and immediately was spending time tweaking out the set up to my tastes and taking the Fargo out on rides that closely mimicked the "Fargo Adventure Ride" as possible. I should say here that Jason didn't ever consider that first ride I had with him on Fargos a "true" Fargo Adventure Ride, but in my mind, what else could it be? 

Already tweaked out several things on the Gen I Fargo just days after getting it home.
So, back to the tweaks. I removed the original saddle and put on my old WTB SST sparkle gold saddle on the bike that would remain there until just a couple of years ago. The Bell Lap bars came off right away and were replaced by a set of Midge Bars. Keep in mind that dirt drops/off road drops were rare back then. Salsa didn't have a Woodchipper, Cowbell, or Cowchipper bar until much later. The Bell Lap was their only suitable bar at that time.

This was largely how I had the Fargo set up for several years until probably sometime around 2012 or so when I radically changed the bike again. Now there isn't much stock on the bike at all. Everything but the frame and fork, head set, and maybe the seat collar has been swapped. But, that's kind of how I operate when it comes to stock bikes. I switch out lots of stuff. The Fargo was no exception. But with all of that, the basic way that bike fits me is like no other that I have, with the possible exception of my new Black Mountain Cycles MCD, the bike I call the Bubblegum Princess. That is very much like the Fargo in how I fit it.

While Salsa was quick to point out back then that the Fargo was a drop bar mountain bike, I ended up using it almost exclusively as a gravel road rig. My earliest impressions ten years ago of the Fargo were very prophetic in this regard. I said in a post ten years ago the following: "Even though I only did this shortish piece of gravel on my ride, I was totally stoked on how the Fargo handled the gravel. The smallish vibrations from tractor tires and the road grader were all absorbed really well by the Classico CroMoly tubing. Nice! I can't wait to throw down some multi-hour rides on the gravel aboard this rig. It will be a good one to use for this, as the water bottle count can go up to six and there is room for my frame pump which will help keep weight off my back."

In my opinion subsequent Fargo models, with the possible exception of the titanium ones, became more and more stiff and mountain bike-ish.  They lost that special magic the Classico tubing had along with the non-suspension corrected geometry. In many ways, the Gen 1 Fargo is an anomaly. I really doubt Salsa Cycles will ever pull off anything like that again, not like they did in 2008. 

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday News And Views

The Blackburn "Honest" digital air gauge
Keepin' The Air Honest:

When you ride in colder temperatures, and especially if you ride voluminous tires, you should be monitoring air pressure more vigilantly. Why? Because if you set your plus bike's tires at, say 18psi, and you do that indoors, your pressure will be different outside at 28°F on the trail. In fact, it will be lower, and as you may know, 1psi can be a huge difference in feel, grip, and makes the difference between "fun" and, well.......not fun. 

Digital air gauges are nothing new. In fact, I've had one before. It was a PRO (Shimano accesory brand) digital gauge that was awesome. It was small, read very accurately, and was easy to use. Unfortunately, when the small battery went dead and I opened up the unit with expectations of replacing it, I found out I couldn't. The geniuses that manufactured the gauge tack welded in the battery.

Brilliant!  

So, I got a mechanical gauge, and my son got a hold of it, dropped it, and broke the glass over the gauge face.

Doh!

I went without a gauge last year, but I knew I needed another, and the shop where I work just got in these Blackburn "Honest" digital air gauges. I figured I'd give it a try. It has a pivoting head, holds the reading until you dismiss it, and reads in Bar or PSI. It's light and is about the size of a slightly plump BIC lighter. (Does anyone even use those anymore?) You can get one for about $24.99. NOTE- I bought this with my own damn money.

Velocity USA- More than just rims and hubs.
Taped Up:

My old polished set of A-23's from Velocity USA were quite tarnished and soiled. It was time for a clean up. This included changing the tape, which had been on there since 2012, and through various tire changes. It was time to re-do the tape, clean up the rim well, and get the wheels ready for a tire test I have to do.

Now, I could use Stan's yellow tape, and that would be fine, but did you know that Velocity USA also makes a tubeless tape and valve kit for their various wheels and rims? Yes, and it is good stuff too. So, since they make stuff made to measure for their rims, I ordered up and purchased this tubeless tape and valve kit. The tape has just the right consistency. A great mix of stretch, toughness, and sticky adhesive. It isn't like Stan's, but it is similar. The valves come with nice plastic spacers which sit between the rim and the Presta valve nut which helps lock in the valve inside the rim well better.

My old A-23's are polished, as I said, and are laced to polished Velocity branded hubs too. Classic looking stuff, but re-polishing cruddy, neglected rims is a chore! Ha! No one to blame but myself there! It took quite a while, but I got them looking pretty spiffy again. Next will be the new tape, valves, and then on to mounting the tires I need to test. By the way, if you haven't replaced your tape and/or valves in several years, you should. It may help to avoid a failure. Valves corrode and tape adhesive degrades over time. Another thing you should be doing is to replace your removable valve cores about every other time you re-up on sealant.  

Anyway, these wheels will be going on the "Orange Crush" Black Mountain Cycles bike which is being converted to single speed. I found some killer 80's era Sugino AX cranks in 180mm length in my stash that are going on there with a UN-55 sealed cartridge bottom bracket. It's going to be awesome. Stay tuned........

Special (Undeserved) Delivery:

The "gravel family" continues to amaze me with their thoughtfulness and generosity. The latest example comes from the IC Gravel event, which occurred October 27th. Originally I was scheduled to take part in the event. However; something came up within the family, (my own), and I had to cancel. I regretted doing so, and sent my notice and apology in to the race director.

I figured that was that. I would try to rectify my absenteeism next year. Although, I still am serving a self-imposed ban from the Spotted Horse for bailing on them two years in a row. Maybe I should do that in this instance. If there was anything that stuck in my craw about Trans Iowa was drop outs for no reason. While I had my reasons, I still feel like a heel for not coming, but I digress.......

Anyway.... The day was like any other day yesterday, but when my son brought the mail in, he had a package. Hmmm......... What could this be? I opened it up and it was my race packet for the IC Gravel replete with my race number, t-shirt, patches, and stickers. Wow! I was blown away!

Look, I didn't expect any of this because I didn't deserve it. Why should I get something others got because they toed the line? But that's not how IC Gravel saw it, and I have to say I am humbled. Thank you! I will wear the event t-shirt proudly and tell everyone that sees it about this great gravel event.

That's it for this week. It may have snowed where you are, but don't let that stop you from riding!

Thursday, November 08, 2018

It's About Materials Technology

The things that come down the pike never cease to amaze me.
The shop where I work at, now going on past 16 years, is a wealth of old knowledge. I've heard, seen, and done, so many things I never would have dreamed about, that it makes my head spin to think on it all. One thing I've learned is to never think you've seen it all. 

Many times this can be applied to something new. My boss and I always shake our heads and say, "It's all about the materials technology". Many ideas have existed in cycling for years, decades even, just waiting for technology to catch up so it can become a viable product for you and I.

Take these wheels, as a for instance. They are from Enve Composites. Ten years ago now I got to test some 700c hoops from them, back when they were still called "Edge Composites". This was for the old "Twenty Nine Inches" gig I once was involved in. Well, you know, ten years ago, anything carbon meant for 29"ers was rare. Like super rare. So, rims for 29"ers in carbon? I mean, we were barely seeing mountain bike rims of any sort made from carbon fiber in 2008. It was an amazing thing.

Those ended up being sub-1500 gram wheels. At that time it was considered super-light for a 29" wheel set with disc hubs. Now days? Pffft! That's average. Why? Materials technologies. Plain and simple.

These Enve wheels pictured here? Sub-1300 gram wheels. Not only that, but they have a wider internal rim width, wider rim edges, (for anti-pinch flat characteristics), and through axle compatibility. They are tested to mountain bike standards, and are tubeless compatible. Those old Edge wheels were narrower, had clincher hook beads, and weren't tubeless. Crazy how far things have come in ten years. Heck, Tour de France riders weren't on wheels this light ten, fifteen years ago. Now anyone can have wheels like this. Well...........if you can afford them.

Remember- never think you've seen it all.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

C.O.G. 100: Update

Registration News: the registration for the inaugural C.O.G.100 is being worked out, but in the meantime, here is what you need to know if you want in on this nutty idea of mine. First, be prepared for on-line registration via Tikly on January 2nd, 2019. I'll have a specific time for that to go live, but for now, that's the date.

Secondly, a reminder that our field limit is 75 people. Now, in my mind, finding seventy five nut jobs that want to ride 100 miles of gravel in late March is going to be a tough thing to do. On the other hand, I'm hearing from several folks that are building special bikes and getting their first gravel road single speed bikes together just for this event.

Wow!

I find that humbling and surprising, to be quite honest. My brother, MG, tells me he thinks this will sell out. Hmm..... Take that info with a grain of salt, y'all, but I have heard from several out of state folks that they are coming. So......

Course recon should happen this month. I rough drafted a course just the other day which came out at 106 miles. Gonna have to edit a bit to get it down a few miles, but that shouldn't be too tough. As of right now, this will be 100 miles with zero towns to pass through. I may modify that to allow for some folks that need it to get into a convenience store. I'm still thinking that bit through. If you feel strongly about that, one way or the other, hit me with a comment.

While I am not going out of my way to have any big sponsors or schwag, I am cooking up a little sumthin-sumthin for every rider to take away with them. Stay tuned........ That said, if anyone reading this wants to sponsor the C.O.G.100, let me know. I am all ears.....

More soon.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

News Season: Drivetrain Debuts

Another 1X option is set to be unleashed
News about drivetrain choices for bikes is up today. First off I noted a new offering being shown from a brand called TRW Active. This start up is based in New Mexico and they are going to produce an 11 speed, 1X system including a shifter and crank set. Their Indiegogo fundraiser is going to happen soon but they claim to have already produced 150 group sets to satisfy early demand.

There are three different wide ratio cassettes on offer along with the crank set, rear derailleur, and shifter. Curiously, the TRW Active website says the shifter is compatible with "other 11 speed systems", but does not specify which ones. The trigger shifter is notable for having a dual release trigger much like a Shimano Rapid Fire Plus does.

Comments: Is there room for another mtb component company? It's a hard market to break into, as Box Components has been finding out, along with SunRace, and others. I think this TRW Active stuff looks fine, but SRAM and Shimano components are so ubiquitous and shops generally carry spares that going off the grid with a component choice is a tough sell.

SRAM E Tap To Go To 12:

News came down via a "Cyclingtips" Tweet that SRAM will push out a new 12 speed E-Tap system coming up in January. Details are slim, but this good "Cyclingtips" article gives you all the lowdown on what might be coming in terms of features. 

The SRAM E-Tap front derailleur is criticized for limiting tire clearances
Comments: SRAM was loved for their cross compatibility between mountain and road parts once Shimano moved to 10 speed mtb DynaSys systems which stopped cross compatibility between Shimano road and mtb components. (Yes- there are gizmos to get around this that are third party applications) So, now that E-Tap has been around, gravel riders have been eagerly awaiting SRAM's entry into the electronic shifting mountain bike components with hopes that they could mix and match electronic road and mountain bike parts.

This news about 12 speed E-Tap lends more credence to a 12 speed Eagle mtb group introduction and a possibility that the cross-compatibility scheme might become reality. However; this news also points to a possibility that it would not be necessary to cross mtb and road bits. The text mentions the wide range rear cassette and 1X road possibilities. Still, you would have to think that since most gravel/all road bikes are using mtb rear wheel spacing that the XD driver and cassette would be the go-to set up for a gravel rig.

The only nit there is that a 2X E-Tap front derailleur gets in the way of bigger tires. The article linked above does not point to a modified derailleur to address this, so 2X Di2 seems to be the only good option for those wanting a closer ratio gearing set up, unless there is a surprise waiting in the wings from SRAM. 

The chain rings on the 12 speed E-Tap are said to be machined from one piece. This is good from a technical standpoint, but in real world, practical terms, you are going to have a much higher maintenance cost and people will be pissed when they wear out one of the two rings and need to replace both. (Well, technically speaking they will be "one ring" with two sets of teeth, but people are not going to care.) Plus, customization to rider preferences will be out the window. You'll have choices in a few ring combinations and that's it.

Finally, I am still not convinced that having to plug in another device, or carry CR 2032 batteries around is worth the small increase in shifting performance for the average gravel rider. Throw in the cost of components, and the high likelihood that rear derailleurs have for getting trashed in mud, and I think it becomes less attractive. Yes- you can shear off any derailleur, but I'd rather pay to replace a mechanical Ultegra or SRAM Force derailleur than I would a Di2 or E-Tap version. Plus, stories of electronic failures are not uncommon.

Stay tuned for more "News Season" posts in the future......


Monday, November 05, 2018

The Message

The gravel scene is unprecedented in competitive cycling history.
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

The way things seem to work in life, as far as movements, trends, and "scenes" go, is that there usually is some sort of genesis point where only a handful of folks know about, or participate at all, in the activity, or trend. Then there is a growth stage where things seem pretty cool yet, but the trend/scene/activity becomes more widespread. Then you have a point where, now days anyway, folks think a scene/trend/activity "jumps the shark". It gets "ruined", "sells out", and/or "everybody and their brother does it now", so it isn't "cool" anymore.

Now, I may have missed a point or two, or I maybe have it wrong in some way, but y'all know what I am talking about. Things don't stay cool forever. Music, fashion, and whatever else that grabs our fancy seems to rise and fall according to this progression. It is a cycle which we, for the most part, have either totally bought in to, or at the very least, have just shrugged and accepted as being "how things work".

What has this have to do with cycling, and more specifically, the gravel grinding scene? Well, just recently I posted about how I had been quoted in a magazine's online article that asked if corporate buyouts of events were going to "ruin gravel". This was briefly addressed in a "Friday News And Views" which I posted on October, 26th. I mentioned in that post that I had more to say on the subject, and today's post is that time to say it.

I think that an underlying current exists within the gravel community that is a foreboding, an expectation, or maybe more of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. It has to do with what I wrote here to open this post. People are waiting for the gravel scene to fall in on itself, to decline, to suddenly be "uncool". They may be thinking, "this" is when it will happen in light of certain events. Things like ever increasing entry fees, lotteries for event entry, or bombastic marketing claims by cycling companies and event promoters. What will be the trigger, because, you know it's gonna happen. 

First of all, I think that is a real feeling folks have and I would submit, a false belief. I alluded to this in my "Friday News And Views' post linked above. Here is a quote regarding this "false" belief:

"......... we seem to feel that if an event experience we have is monetized, it cheapens our previous experiences and "takes away" from the event. Marketing can also be thrown in here. You start marketing the event to sponsors, corporate entities, and city businesses and it seems that this is a signal that filthy lucre is infiltrating the "purity" of  the event experience."

The Almanzo 100 is one event a lot of people point to when talking about "grassroots gravel".
 I wrote that thinking about existing events", but I was reminded that events just popping on the scene can also contribute somewhat to folks feeling things are too corporate. Events have marketing in some form or another. It seems as though there are certain cases where new events have some rather outlandish claims. Things hard to swallow for the discerning gravel rider, especially when the event hasn't even occurred before. Things said such as "the greatest gravel roads on earth", and imagery which shows riders on paved roads on the same event website are, well........goofy. You can hardly blame folks for thinking gravel grinding has gone off the rails when first time events say and display such bombastic statements and incongruous imagery. 

Yet we have new events also coming on the scene which do not go that route. They have the "down to earth", "real-ness" about their marketing. In fact, some are not competitions at all. Events that have a social aspect to them which is promoted as hard as the riding part is. Furthermore, as if in reaction to the corporate, highly polished event offerings, I am noticing a strong undercurrent of events cropping up. Let's call them "off the radar events". I like that term because these events are the antithesis to some of the more well known gravel events.

These include, but are certainly not limited to, gravel group rides which are happening all across the nation now on a regular basis. Just to take our local scene as an example, ten years ago there were two, solidly attended, long standing road group rides and another casual road/trail ride happening on a regular basis. Now we have a regular gravel group ride in two locations weekly along with a roadie group ride that starts and ends their season also riding gravel.

Small, loosely organized group rides are happening more often than ever.
 Then there are the "events" which are almost universally free to join and are one-offs put on by local gravel fans for fun. There was just one such event held here locally which was well attended, despite the weather, and has prompted a call for a similar ride to happen again soon.

While I am using local happenings here as examples, (none of which I had any hand in organizing, by the way), since I have an ear pressed to the ground in the Riding Gravel Ride Calendar, I can say that this is something that I've noted all over the country for a good year now. The numbers of these events that I am aware of is on the increase, and I probably don't know about many others. The local flavor of many of these events means promoting, in the regular sense of the term, is unnecessary, and thus many of these gravel events likely go unnoticed by anyone other than their participants.

These events are predicated on fun, adventure, and social gathering. They are not happening on the back of a slick marketing campaign, high entry fees, lotteries, or promises of "epic gravel". In fact, I would say that these events are happening in direct response to such "big time", "corporate" type events. So, what can we draw from this? What is the "message" here?

In my opinion, this kind of repudiates the belief on may folks parts that "gravel" is jumping the shark, about to decline, or has "sold out". Rather, I believe that the true, "grassroots" nature of this genre' is getting even stronger. It tells me that despite the groans and complaints I read when events charge more than a dollar per mile to enter a competition, or when events make outlandish claims in marketing, or even when "the roadies show up", that gravel grinding at the grassroots level is not dying. Quite the opposite, actually.

Of course, there is nothing wrong at all with the "bucket list" type event, or the slick, highly processed experience that awaits anyone that wants their experiences "guaranteed" to be "world class", or whatever attracts those riders to these kinds of gravel based rides. They exist for a reason, and many would be promoters that see that as a "legitimate event" versus the "under the radar" type of thing will try their hand at one upping the previous "world's premier gravel grinder". That's going to happen and what competition breeds. It doesn't offend me, it just is what it is.

I think that's the message I am getting.