Monday, December 09, 2019

Guitar Ted Productions "Rear View Decade" Part 2

The "Rear View Decade" posts are my take on the soon to be closed out decade from 2010-2019. These posts will be a look back at some of the most impactful, notable, and odd events I posted about here on the blog with some new commentary. This will be from a perspective having the benefit of time to consider things, so I reserve the right to have a bit different opinion on some topics than I did "back then". Enjoy!

If you missed the first post involving my look back at the decade, you can see that here. In that post I explained how it was that I discovered that 2014 was a seminal year in my history from this past decade. The year was mostly packed with things on the back-end, but you'll get it as I go along. Let's dive in!

The year pretty much kicked off with a bang as I finished my third Triple D fat bike race in a row. This was a lot of fun to do, but after experiencing it three times, I felt I had milked as much fun out of the event as I could. This was my last attempt at that event. On a sad note, a very good friend of mine died who I had been playing music with in the band from my church. Still miss you, Larry!

Moving on, a really devastating event happened in July at the annual Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational when Dan Buetnner and I were struck by a drunk driver along the route. The situation was, without a doubt, bizarre. Not only were we struck as we were walking our bikes alongside the road, but we had a heck of a time getting emergency vehicles there as we were in a remote area and RAGBRAI was also going through at that time. Thankfully, Dan was okay, I was treated and released at an area hospital, but I still have the effects of this event impacting my daily life to this day. By the way, the driver of the vehicle was apprehended and convicted of a DUI. This despite his leaving the scene of the crash.

These were some of the volunteer firemen who responded to the 911 call after my getting hit.
On a bit happier note, the "Trans Iowa Master's Program" went off without a hitch the Summer of '14 with a few making it, and several failed attempts as well. Only Greg Gleason made the adventure as a solo- individual time trial style finisher. This was a challenge I set up as a way to celebrate ten years of Trans Iowa and to feature the old, point-to-point beginnings of Trans Iowa.

Speaking of Trans Iowa, I tried to make it so T.I.v10 would be the last Trans Iowa, but afterward I was prevailed upon to continue it. Again- these tales will be shared in future "Trans Iowa Stories" posts. 

I also started sharing experiences with my son, Jacob, at Iowa Speedway. The first one was an very memorable camping event where my then 11 year old son and I were stuck in a two-man backpacking tent in an epic thunderstorm as we camped overnight at Rock Creek State Park. That's an experience I don't think either one of us will be forgetting!

In the Fall of '14 I held the first "Geezer Ride". This was an idea I had to encourage first timer gravel rides, and have these rides be super-chill, slow events where no one would be intimidated, or left behind. There have been several Geezer Rides since, but none more successful, perhaps, in the original mission, than the first.

I had a woman show up, in her late 40's, and she had just begun to ride. As in just a few months before this event, for the first time in her life! She showed up on a Specialized mountain bike, and she was telling me to "just go on ahead, don't wait for me!". Well, of course, we did wait for her. It was a slow 40-ish miles around the Amana Colonies, but afterward, when she had completed the event, she was elated. She told us it was the best day she had ever had. While I doubt that was the best day she had ever had, the sentiment was there, and I felt proud that this ride had produced such a result right out of the gate. I hope this woman is still riding, but even if she isn't, this was a high point for me in 2014 and for the decade.

On the bicycle front I got my Blackborow DS, a fat bike I still own, and certainly one of my favorite bikes. I also got the Tamland 2 gravel bike, a bicycle I helped to direct the design of. This was such an odd and very proud thing I was involved with. The Raleigh design team called me on a conference call in 2012. They asked me what I would do if I had free reign to design a marketable gravel bike. The Tamland was the result. I probably will never have such an opportunity to do that again. And by the way- I bought my Tamlannd 2 from the shop where I worked at. I never was given one by Raleigh. But I'm completely okay with that.

Joel Dyke was honored with this special brew in 2016. I miss him. #biggrin
Then things weren't so fun for a while. November brought bad news when I learned of Steve Hed's sudden death. I met him the year before and really liked the guy. I was hoping to get to know him better, but obviously that won't happen. Then, in December, I learned of the accidental death of Joel Dyke.

This one hit me hard. While I could never have said that Joel was my close friend, he was super influential on me and my views concerning Trans Iowa and gravel events in particular. Many of you don't know this, but Joel was "johnny-on-the-spot" to be the first to encourage me if he detected a sense of me being down about Trans Iowa. He obviously was reading this blog, and his perceptive encouragements were valued greatly by me. Trans Iowa wouldn't have been the same without him.

At the close of 2014, a couple of major shifts in my semi-professional life as a writer/reviewer/website owner happened. First off, I got out of ownership and contributing to "Twenty Nine Inches". While I know that many people benefited from my efforts there, I was wanting out from underneath that burden for years. In fact, I never should have ever agreed to Tim Grahl's offers in the first place. That was a bad decision on my part, minus the great, lasting relationships I gained from having agreed to those ill-conceived notions of his. Anyway- I am still torn about that. I get that I have things I would not have had otherwise, but I also know there was a ton of stress, worry, and loss due to those days of working on TNI. The release I felt at the end of it all was liberating.

The second big deal was merging "Gravel Grinder News" with Ben Welnak's . This has worked out a heck of a lot better for me than my previous gig and I really still enjoy it.

Finally, I was gifted a Surly 1X1 by a departing co-worker at the shop where I was wrenching. This was a bike that had been passed on from mechanic to mechanic and I was the sixth "possessor" of this rig. This is the sort of gesture which I really am touched by. While the 1X1 is a size too small for me in reality, I am super-stoked to be able to use it. Thanks to the previous mechanics: Vance, Jeff, Carl, Adam, and Brian.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: The Myth Of The Triple Crown

Dan Hughes shortly after winning T.I.v13 Image by Michael Roe
 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

Once the gravel scene got rolling, and I would say this would have been around 2007 or so, there was an idea batted around. This idea had to do with promoting the Mid-West as the "center of gravel racing". It was, most likely, a way toward a path which has manifested itself in another way, and I think it is easy to see now that time has passed us by. But back in these days, I am not sure anyone really had the vision that maybe only one or two others did at the time.

This is the story of the mythical "Triple Crown of Gravel".

Trans Iowa inspired the Dirty Kanza 200. That's not a claim that is up for debate. It's been said many times by Jim Cummins, the co-founder of the DK200, and it was also acknowledged by the late Joel Dyke, the other co-founder of that Kansas event. So there was a certain kinship that developed early between us and our events.  At some point early on in both events timeline, Jim had brought up the thought of coming up with a "triple crown" with me, but at the time he was thinking along these lines, he didn't have a particular third event in mind. What other "like minded event" could it be? There were two- the T.I. and the DK.  I recall that Jim thought it might be desirable to have that third event be in Nebraska, a natural choice because of geography and the interest in gravel riding at the time in Nebraska.

There was a possibility of the third event becoming the one which Nebraskan Skip Cronin helped put on. It was a very challenging, mostly dirt road and remote event that ended up being a one-off and never happened again. Then, in 2008, the Pirate Cycling League put on the first "Good Life Gravel Adventure". It was a 150 mile challenge and in its first year it drew a handful of riders, but the 2009 version saw much greater interest. The PCL started talking about a "gravel worlds" back in those days, and that sort of grand thinking was something that perked up the ears of Jim Cummins who then poked around with the triple crown idea again. What the PCL was doing was right up the pipeline of where the DK200 was going, and the PCL took some cues from both T.I. and the DK. I am sure that the 2009 announcement of the AGRS (Almanzo Gravel Road Series) "Race For The Cup" in Minnesota was another influencer upon this renewed talk of a "triple crown". There were a few emails going around between myself, the PCL, and Jim Cummings back then discussing how a triple crown might work.

I recall that I found several difficulties with the idea. How would a points system be set up so that riders could accumulate points from one event to another fairly and in a way that was easy to understand? How would the differing events come to terms with the difference in opinions regarding rules? Would there be a separate "governing body"? Would there be entry fees? Prizing?

There were far too many obstacles to getting there, in my mind. Add in the fact that I would have had to make some fundamental changes to Trans Iowa, which, frankly were not going to happen due to my loyalty to Jeff Kerkove's original ideas, and as far as I was concerned it was a no-go.

So, maybe you can blame me for the death of the "triple crown" idea. But I do recall that the PCL wasn't super jazzed on the idea either. That said, it is fun to look back and think "what if"? Had a true "Triple Crown of Gravel" series been set up, where would that be now? I'm betting things would be a heck of a lot different these days.

The whole idea died then, or so I thought, until April of 2017 when Dan Hughes crossed the line first at Trans Iowa v13. Afterward, in Dan's race report, he mentioned something about being the only "Triple Crown" winner. See, he had won Dirty Kanza, Gravel Worlds, and at that time, Trans Iowa. Dan, being fairly close to Jim Cummins back in the day, may have found out about the Triple Crown idea from him. Especially when you think about Dan winning the very first DK. It maybe would have been discussed back then, in 2006. But however Dan came to his knowledge of such a myth, it was just that, a myth. There never was a "Triple Crown of Gravel", but if anyone could lay claim to such a thing, it would be Dan.

Next week; I talk about how Trans Iowa was influential early on, but soon became the outlier in the young gravel scene in "How This Event Became "The Trans Iowa"".

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Minus Ten Review 2009-49

Anybody remember this?
Ten years ago on the blog here I made mention of a communique from the DK200 guys, Joel Dyke and Jim Cummins, concerning their plans for 2010. In fact, it was a "Gravel Grinder News" post. I got a kick out of looking at this, so I will share a bit of the e-mail they sent out back then to past participants. I think some of what you will read here today is now going to seem a lot less like hyperbole and a whole lot more prophetic. Check out the following lines from their e-mail:

"Our Vision... that The Dirty Kanza 200 will become North America's premier annual ultra-endurance gravel road cycling challenge."
You have to hand it to Jim. He eventually made this come true. I think Joel left the event after 2010, for sure after 2011. I cannot recall now. So, it was pretty much Jim's idea here, I think. Also, you will shake your heads at the following concerning roster size: 

"Field Limit: We will expand our field limit this year to 150 participants.Note... Last year's limit of 100 participants was filled in just four days of registration."

One Hundred Fifty. Can you even imagine the Dirty Kanza ever being that small? I think this coming year they are pushing 3000 for a limit between everything they are doing. Which brings me to the following point- The Dirty Kanza back then was only a 200 mile event. 200 or nuthin'! Check the following out: 

 "Classes: Open Men Open Women Single Speed Masters Men (50+)"

Pretty simple, eh? And the entry fee was waaaay below a hundred bucks, but I cannot remember what they charged back then exactly. Plus, they were working on a fancy "dot com" site, but back in those days the DK200 used a Wordpress blog. (Logo above) It's still there if you want to take a look. The quaint simplicity of it all is probably due to Joel Dyke, since it was indicated in the e-mail I am quoting that he was in charge along with his wife, Michelle, of the website end of the event. 

A shot I took from the 2009 DK200 course.
Yep! Things were a bit different back in those days. Much simpler. No lotteries. You knew just about everyone at every event you went to. You would end up by yourself for long stretches of the event. (A more authentic experience of what the Flint Hills normally is, in my opinion) That's how it was before this thing exploded into a world-wide phenomenon. Yes- world-wide. I was contacted last week by a fellow from Brazil who was looking for history on gravel grinding. He is starting a community of riders in Brazil who ride mountain roads and rural byways. It's crazy how far reaching this idea, which we grew here in the Mid-West, has gone. 

Brazil.... Who'd a thunk it?

Friday, December 06, 2019

Friday News And Views

The new Cosmic Stallion will be available in January
New All City Cosmic Stallion:

Did I ever mention that my favorite color is purple? No? Well, it is, and since that is the case, you'd think I'd have owned a purple bike by now. I had one, but it was kinda more "eggplant" than purple. That was the old '07 El Mariachi that was Gun Koted for a "Twenty Nine Inches" review. So, that is kinda weird, I think. I cannot remember any other purple bikes I may have owned....... Nope.

So, whenever I see a good looking purple bike, I get all excited. There have been a few. I remember that Krampus from a year ago, the Vaya for 2019 in purple was killer. But I haven't seen anything I'd actually pop for until this came along. The All City Cosmic Stallion.

Now, fade paint jobs are another thing I like. AC has done several really good ones, but again- nothing I would pop for. However; this bike tics nearly all the boxes and would serve a purpose in the stable. If I were to get one, it would replace the aging Raleigh Tamland Two. Now- that bike has a lot right about it, but it is "aging out" in terms of standards, and it is getting pretty beat up. I'd like to "stop the bleeding" and preserve what is left of it due to its significance to me and to gravel grinding.

A lot of things would work for me with this AC rig, which I would change the name of, it it were mine, to "Cozstal", which is a mash-up of its weird name. But that's another story... Anyway- The AC rig has front and rear through axles, making it a perfect platform for testing wheels and tires for It also has clearance for 700 X 47mm tires. Nice! Again, perfect for what I would need there. The head tube is also tapered, and that, unfortunately in my view, is where everything has gone, so again, a step into more current standards versus the Tamland. Rack & fender mounts also figure in to working well for what I need to do.

But like anything else, there are a couple of "not-so-good" things. The head tube angle for my size is 72.2°. Why? (sigh) I really, really think that a good gravel bike should be in the 71° range for my size and have a higher figure on the fork offset, like in the 50's of millimeters. The Tamland was in that realm, and it is nearly spot on. I would have liked to have seen a slacker head tube angle on this AC bike. I could live with that 72.2°, but it isn't the best. The other thing is the stated size for max 650B tires in the rear at 42mm. That is outright no good at all. This, more than the head angle, really cuts into the Cozstal's capabilities as a tool for Riding Gravel's uses. uggh! Too bad. Such a beautiful bike.

I still say this is something I'd pop for more so than anything else I've seen in purple for bicycles, but it juuuust misses the mark. That makes it a "maybe", and I'll keep looking for now. I still need to retire the Tamland.

The Walmer Bar from Australia's Curce Cycles
How Wide Is Too Wide?

With the rise in popularity and, therefore, money-making opportunities, in the gravel/all road/bike packing sectors, there have been a slew of specific components launched in the last several years to tickle rider's fancies. Perhaps no other component for gravel/off-roading has been so tortuously reformed and redesigned as the off-road drop bar.

There are few hits (Luxy Bar, Cowbell/Cowchipper. Midge Bar and their ilk) and more than a few misses. Some are laughably so bizarre and off target that you have to wonder how they made it off the design table. Today we are looking at another weird, flared drop, that for all I know is perfectly fine. It's the width on the one end of the scale that is a bit extreme here.

The Curve Cycles "Walmer Bar", a flared, swept drop, is available in 46cm, 50cm, 55cm, and 60cm, with the widest one being 750mm at the widest point. That's over 29 and a half inches, for you 'mercans out there. That's wide! Is that too wide? 

Well, that depends. Are you a really tall guy? Are you bike packing? Are you using these on a trail MTB bike? Then no, they are not too wide. For gravel travel for most folks? Probably far too wide, even the 46's. For reference, most flared drop bars offered on the market show 46cm as being the widest on offer.

The other thing is that these cost $189.00. yeesh! That's spendy for an aluminum bar, but I suppose they aren't a big numbers production item, need to be designed to work in a mtb-like fashion, and are from Australia, so there is all of that. Other than the really wide width though, these are not doing anything substantially different than a PRO Discover Big Flare bar, as a for instance. Those you can get for under 60 bucks. So, yeah..... Unless you have some monster handle bar roll you need to portage around on some off-the-beaten-track tour, I cannot say these move my needle all that much. But maybe for you they might. Choices are good, and this one looks pretty decent.

The Cherry Grove Community Center is on the old Almanzo course.
Spring Valley 100 To Run On Old Almanzo Course Again:

Wednesday I got an e-mail from the organizer of the "Spring Valley 100" which will use the former Almanzo course on May 30th, 2020.

This is all part of what occurred with the demise of the Almanzo name, which if you missed all that, is recapped here. Last Spring an event did occur on the former Almanzo course, but it wasn't well publicized. Originally known under the moniker "Keep Gravel Weird" it eventually landed on "Spring Valley 100" and happened out of Spring Valley with the city's blessing. While all details are not available now, this is good news for those who might miss the annual gathering in Spring Valley.

Comments: In my opinion, the demise of the Almanzo name/events is one of the biggest stories in gravel grinding from the 2019 year and maybe in the last decade. The event was often featured in publications and on websites as a prototypical gravel grinder, one that "should be on your bucket list". Even Shimano, when they were testing and doing research for their GRX group, came out to ride in the Almanzo 100. That should indicate what sort of stature this event has held in the past.

So, one cannot understate the importance of the Almanzo 100. The end game for the event was, in my opinion, regrettable, but out of the ashes we will receive two new events- The Spring Valley 100 and The Heywood Ride. One can enjoy Almanzo's past while riding the Spring Valley 100, with full support from the city, and what is promised to be a great after-party. Or one can enjoy the new event where the Almanzo was handed off to a new group eager to bring the same ethos and experiences that the Almanzo 100 once provided. Two events at the price of losing one? It might actually be a better deal.

Personally, I was very sad when the Almanzo was pulled from Spring Valley because I knew how important the Almanzo had been to the small village of Cherry Grove where, during the 2018 running of the Almanzo, I learned that the donations riders so freely gave at the Community Center provided enough funds to maintain the building for a third of the year's budget. That's impressive, and amazing when you understand that the donation bucket was not advertised in any way, and no prior mentions were ever made about it to the riders. That's the sort of thing gravel grinders are great at- charitable kindness, and these small communities thrive from the presence of gravel events either based in, or that run through, their communities.  Bravo to the folks behind the Spring Valley 100 for making a scene like that possible again in 2020!

UPDATED: 12/6/19: Marty Larson of the Heywood Ride called me to say that they were scrambling to get details out ASAP. I am supposed to be meeting with he and Ben Witt, the other Race Director, soon. I also noted on Facebook that there was an indication by Marty that all three courses would be in play out of Northfield that were used for the 2019 Almanzo. (100, 165, and 380 miles) Ben Witt also chimed in to say that "This is not a rebranded Almanzo, but an entirely new event." Stay tuned.....

 Life Time Events Purchases The Crusher In The Tushar:

The Life Time Events acquisition of gravel events is in the news again as Life Time has reportedly purchased the Crusher In The Tushar event. No details have been released as of now, nor has anything detailed on how Life time plans to handle the successful event started by former Pro roadie, Bruce Swindlehurst.

Comments: What we do know is that at the time that the Big Sugar was announced recently, Life Time events stated through one of the organizers that its intentions were to have six gravel events under its umbrella of events in a few years or so. Life Time currently owns and operates Leadville, The Lutzen 99er, Chequamegon 40, Dirty Kanza events, and the Big Sugar Gravel NWA events. Of those, the DK and Big Sugar are gravel based events. The addition of the Crusher brings them halfway to their goal, as stated recently.

So, let's think about this. The DK is at the end of May, the Crusher is mid-July, Big Sugar is October. Add in a June event, and August event, and maybe a Springtime one. Probably another West Coast based event in the SoCal region, perhaps. One on the East Coast. Maybe one South-central one. (Texas?) Six events spread across the season. Life Time sets up a points championship across age groups and single speed, fat bike, tandem. You get the idea? It makes a lot of corporate business sense to have your customers buying into an eco-system of events where expectations for each would be the same, formatting, structure, and all. The experience would be similar at each, so you get "repeat customers".

Watch to see if I'm close on this.

That's it for this week! Get out and ride if you can and I'll see you again here with new content next week.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Rear View '19 - Winter

Hello Readers! Once again I am doing the annual retrospective on what went down over the year of 2019. This post will focus on Winter. Subsequent posts will cover the other seasons for a total of four, one each week of December. 

The Winter going into 2019 was odd in that we experienced many days with above average temperatures. This allowed for me to get out during the first two weeks of the month and continue to ride gravel roads. I also added to the "State Of The Gravel Scene" pages with a few posts to kick off 2019.

Then Winter came in and deepened as the month went on. I swapped gravel wheels for fat tire ones and started riding in the woods. Most of the riding was accomplished on the old Ti Muk which was an awesome rig. As the season wore on, I was asked to speak at the Iowa Bicycle Conference in Des Moines. That was a first for me.

I also posted two posts in January which have become requested posts by readers since. The "How I Clean My Bicycles" post led to the "How I Keep My Drivetrain Clean" post the following day. Later on in March I answered questions prompted by those two posts.

February was the record breaking, most snow fallen in Waterloo EVER month, so you can imagine that not a lot of riding got done. That was okay because we were busy trying to get the final touches done for the inaugural C.O.G. 100 event which was to take place the following month at the end of that month.

The C.O.G. 100 special run jerseys.
We also released details on how folks could get their own C.O.G. 100 jersey. The jersey differed from the championship jerseys in that we used a different color and the "SS Champ" designation was not on this version of the jersey. If the "kernel" in the jersey looks familiar it is because we took the iconic Iowa State Patrol's insignia and modded it for our use.

N.Y. Roll and I also collaborated on and ran the second "Iowa Gravel Expo/Bike Party" at a local joint. We featured several Iowa based gravel event promoters who came to tell the gathered folk about opportunities to get into events in Iowa over the Spring, Summer, and Fall of 2019. I think it went over really well and we were encouraged to do it again in 2020. Details will be posted here soon.

Between work and shoveling copious amounts of snow, I managed to get in a couple of fat bike rides. But mostly I ended up just doing some work on the events calendar for Riding Gravel and waiting for March, which I was hoping would be a lot better for riding. Plus, N.Y. Roll and I were nervous about snow for the C.O.G. 100, or more likely, soft, muddy roads.

March kicked off with a snowy, messy recon of the C.O.G. 100 course. It was a successful recon, and all we had to do after that point was to get cues printed up and get the riders to Grinnell so we could put the event on. The snow started melting then, and within two weeks, it was almost all gone. This quickly melting snow saturated the ground and roads with water making for some epic "slop season" riding.

Just before the "official" end of Winter, N.Y. Roll got me out on a mixed surface ride that featured riding on top of frozen snow drifts and across icy patches with my pink MCD shod with 650B X 47 Venture tires. The tires did great, more than I expected, but it was still a sketchy ride! It was great to get back on the bike after being shut in for about three weeks or so by all the snow and constant icy run-off in the first two weeks of March.

Next week: Spring

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Message From The Trenches

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

There was an article circulating over social media during the Thanksgiving weekend which was talking about bicycle mechanics and tipping them. ("Bicycling" February 2019) I wanted to slide my two cents in as a person that has wrenched on bikes professionally for 20+ years now.

First of all, as you might expect, there were a lot of trolls and comments to the effect that if being a bicycle mechanic requires anyone to tip, then "get a real job". These people are likely also the same ones that say that LBS mechanics are terrible and screw everything up. Using their logic, things would be bound to get better, right? 

Good luck with that.

So, besides that nonsense, what I drew from reading comments on this article where it was posted in two different places, and on the original article, is that there are two camps of thought regarding bike mechanics and the work that they do. First is that it is such basic stuff that "anyone can do it" and so it requires little skill. It's mostly just specialty tools and nothing more, and since bike shops own the tools, why should some grease monkey get any money for a job that is basically on the level of flipping burgers.

The second opinion I saw voiced most often was that bicycle mechanics are a valuable resource and should be paid commensurate to their value to the community. Look at other mechanics and service people who make far more dollars per hour.

One side thinks bicycles are simple machines that require little skill to fix, and the other side thinks we are like car mechanics and the like. Guess what? Both have it completely wrong. Let me explain.

It's just tools- anyone can do it. Right- Tell me what this is and how to use it. I know both.
First off, bicycle mechanics are not anything like car mechanics, or what have you. There is one reason for that- people don't need bicycle mechanics to live. I've worked on cars and I've seen the panic in people's eyes when you tell them that their vehicle is too dangerous to drive. It is as if you have told them that their Mother has died. Worse in some cases. Life stops. All sense of reason flies out the window. People cannot even imagine the world without cars.

Bicycles? pffffft! We can live without those. So, the people that fix them are a luxury tax. A necessary evil. Why, these toys can't be that complicated! Any child with the right tools can fix a bicycle. And of course- that thinking is completely wrong as well. 

Now- you need mechanics. Why? Because a LOT of people have no idea, inclination, nor talent to fix anything. That's why. Not just anyone can "fix". Give them all the fancy tools you want, it ain't happening. That is truth. I've seen these people and know them. They live all around me. And guess what? That's okay- because I don't cook all that well, and I can't sew worth a damn, nor can I do woodwork. You get the picture. I can draw portraits. You can't. Tools have little to nothing to do with it.

I find most people that think we don't need mechanics to fix bicycles, or that if we do- they should get minimum payment, are the ones that (a) are mechanics but don't work in the field and think everyone possesses this talent, or (b) are thinking bicycles are toys, not worth investing a ton of money in to, so a mechanic's pay is dispensable. Again- both have poor perspectives.

Tipping: I wish we weren't even having this conversation. I do not tip anyone but waiters and waitresses because their economy is jacked up and we have accepted that practice instead of actually paying for servers that get paid well. I don't tip a plumber, an electrician, or the guy bagging my groceries because I expect they are all getting a fair wage. Bicycle mechanics do not get a fair wage for their knowledge, skill, and for the amount of BS that many bicycle mechanics put up with.

Oh.....and I own my own tools, thank you! I have to buy new ones to keep up with ever changing standards. I have to learn new things every year to keep up with the latest in technology, which is delicate, subtle, and beyond the comprehension of even some engineers I have met. Sometimes I have to buy tools to cover old standards which might be found on jobs people bring in that I didn't already have tools for. I have to also know how and when to use all of these tools. You cannot expect to have a high school boy or girl, or even college aged younginz, know this stuff, because I've watched all of them come and go through the doors of the two shops I've worked at, and let me tell you- hardly any of them were, or are mechanics worth training. 

So, when I read articles and the comments that go with them regarding bicycle mechanics, pay, and tipping, I shake my head in sadness at the misconceptions and laugh at the foolish thoughts on display. Most folks have little idea what bicycle mechanics actually have to know, nor what innate skills and thought processes make for a person with an aptitude for being a mechanic. They have no sense of what is appropriate behavior when dealing with mechanics. They have, in many cases, irrational expectations and beliefs. And articles like the one I saw only help to prove all of this.  

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Bikes Of 2019: Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross

The "Orange Crush" went single in 2019.
Most of you readers that have been around a while know all about my orange Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross" bike that I have had sine, what? 2011? Wow! That's been a long time, right? So, for many years you readers have known this bike as a geared rig with a 2X9 drive train. Back in 2011, that made sense to have. Now? Not so much, as 9speed stuff is getting pushed away more. Good cassettes, good chain rings, and all that will become hard to get a hold of. I contemplated going to 11 speeds with this bike, but that would have required a new wheel set and with rim brakes, well, I wasn't too awful stoked about doing all of that.

What many of you readers may not realize is that the original set up for this bike was single speed. It didn't remain that way for long, but I thought, hey! Why not? I had the stuff on hand, so I took an afternoon in December of 2018 and converted the bike to SS mode.

The list goes like this:
  • Crankset- 180mm 110 BCD Sakae from an early 80's Specialized sequoia touring bike.
  • Chain ring- 40T "no-name" steel ring, likely from an old 7 or 8 speed triple. 
  • Cog- 16T Boone Titanium with matching single speed cassette spacers. 
  • Bottom bracket - Old 90's era UN-52 Shimano cartridge style. Square taper natch! 
Everything else remained the same. And.......the ride? Well, with those long cranks it is different. I had to lower my saddle a bit, which was good, because these first run Monster Cross bikes had pretty high bottom brackets. Otherwise, it is the ol' Orange Crush. I do forget at times that the levers don't do anything and I have no gears to select though!

I have had an idea running for several years now to get out and do a single speed century. When I do, it will be on this bike. I added a Wolf Tooth B-Rad rack adapter which allows me to squeeze in an extra water bottle, and where I have that pack mounted may become another mount. A nice Lezyne side loader cage should make that possible. Then I'd have 4 bottles on board. Plenty to get quite a ways down the road.

I recently added some fender "skirt" extenders....flaps? Not sure what the rando guys call those, but this will make the Orange Crush a lot better in sloppy, wet, and rainy conditions, which is partially why I went single speed with this old rig. It'll be the Winter hack, mucky roads choice when those situations arise.

Stay tuned next week for the next "Bikes of 2019" post.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Guitar Ted Productions "Rear View Decade"- Part 1

The "Rear View Decade" posts are my take on the soon to be closed out decade from 2010-2019. These posts will be a look back at some of the most impactful, notable, and odd events I posted about here on the blog with some new commentary. This will be from a perspective having the benefit of time to consider things, so I reserve the right to have a bit different opinion on some topics than I did "back then". Enjoy!

As I researched material for these posts, I was immediately struck by a couple of things, but first, I should give you my criteria for choosing what I did.

I used previous "Rear View" posts to select my topics, since those posts already were a filter, as it were, for the bulk of posts I had put up for any given year. When you have 300+ posts to choose topics from each year, a filter is a must! With that filter already in place, I filtered out even more, trying to use only what I deemed to be the most important stories from each year. That said, there will not be a "top ten", or anything even close to that! My hope was to end up with three posts, no more, and then move on. I may actually have that, but there is one oddity that sticks out like a sore thumb here.

The year 2014.

I used a note pad to jot down topics for reference for these posts, and I ended up with three pages. The year 2014 took up an entire page! The other years filled up the other two pages. So, it is quite obvious to me now looking back that for this past decade, 2014 was by far the most impactful year I experienced. We'll find out why in the next "Rear View Decade" post. Okay, onward.........

2010: The fact that I ended up being a character in a book, albeit only one chapter of the book, was a surreal experience. This isn't something you think about becoming a reality when you are grown up. Maybe as a kid I thought I'd be a movie star, or in a book, for a hot minute, but I never thought this would be my reality. (In fact, both things happened to me, as we shall see.)

As I read those pages for the first time, I remember being very conscious of  what other folks think of me. It was scary, and very much as if I had been under a microscope. In the end though, I have come to accept the characterization of myself, and perhaps I have even embraced it somewhat.

Then there was the "official" dot-com "Gravel Grinder News" site which I launched that year. This had existed as a sub-text and before that, a subject, on my blog since 2008. This led to new reviewing opportunities and new connections. All from a desire to just see a calendar of events created. In the same area of website ownership, I fully became the recognized owner of "Twenty Nine Inches" in 2010.

In 2011, I was in a film! This was a documentary of Trans Iowa v7 by Jeff Frings. I won't get into this too much here, because it is really a story for "Trans Iowa Stories". All I'll say here is, it almost never happened. Stay tuned for that story.....

Furthermore, related to Trans Iowa, was the production of Trans Iowa v8, a singularly important Trans Iowa to me personally for many reasons. Again- these stories will be saved for the "Trans Iowa Stories" series, but this was monumental for me personally. You'll hopefully understand why later.

Late in 2011 I got the original Ti Mukluk. A great bike that I put a lot of time into riding, tweaking, and writing about. I just sold it this year, but I loved that bike and it was important to me for a lot of reasons. Moving on to 2012, I started up a gravel group ride dubbed "3GR". I probably was too far ahead of the times with this, as I struggled to drum up much interest in doing this activity. Also in '12 I wrote the page detailing the history of 29"ers, which you can find at the top of this blog under the header.

I met Steve Hed during my last trip to Interbike in 2013.
2013 marked my last trip to Interbike. I had a love-hate relationship with the show. I hated the venue, I disliked the format, and I loved seeing the people. One of the highlights of all my Interbike trips happened the last time I went, and it involved meeting someone I never dreamed I'd ever meet, that I was super stoked to have met, and count myself blessed that I had the chance.

Briefly- I was cruising the aisles at the Mandalay, when I ran across someone that said Steve Hed was wanting to meet me. What?!! The triathlon guy? The aero wheel roadie guy? What on Earth do I have in common with him? 

Well, as it turned out, we had a LOT in common! We both loved riding gravel roads, peacefulness, and rural settings. We had a great little chat, and he turned out to be nothing I thought he was. I can say with confidence I would have loved to have spent a lot more time with him, but it wasn't to be.

I got to see a Pro level cyclo-cross race when I attended Cross Vegas. That was neat. I introduced the Trans Iowa Clinic, held in Des Moines, to spread the word on ultra-gravel event prep. I also started up the framework for the "Trans Iowa Master's Program". Finally, in terms of events, I attended Odin's Revenge for the first time in 2013, meeting a lot of great folks, and getting bitten by the bug for that event which haunts me to this day.

To close out this first "Rear View Decade" post, I wanted to mention that my childhood hero, and one of my mentors as a kid growing up, a man I learned so much from- my Grandpa Kenny, died in August of 2013. I was a pall bearer, as he outlived all of his contemporaries at 102 years of age. I still recall all those leggy, yellow prairie sunflowers waving in the wind in the ditches along Highway 63 on my way home from that event. To this day, I call them "Grandpa Flowers".

Next: "Rear View Decade Part 2. This one covering only the year 2014. Stay tuned.....

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: Endurance Promoting Part 2

Using County road signs to direct T.I. About as subversive as it gets from an RD's standpoint!
 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

Last time we left off at the T.I.v4 checkpoint. This was the point in the event where it went from "typical T.I. RD activity" to "emergency management mode". It was one thing after another from this point on, with the exception of CP#2 which was a bit of an oasis of calm for David and myself.

There was the well told story of the landslide, the huge amount of miles, (for a re-route) we had to navigate on the fly, and the tracking of the few riders left in the event who were scattered across three counties at one point.

I guess the part I haven't talked about much was the point after CP#2, in the dark of night, when we came upon the biggest frost boils I have ever seen on any road since. This particular stretch of road had heaves so large and high that the road had been closed to traffic. We were walking around them to see if a cyclist could make their way. It turned out that it was possible, but these heaves were like ski moguls. Four feet high, maybe ten to twelve feet across in some instances, with smaller ones everywhere else. As if that wasn't enough.....

There was a fallen tree across the road at one point. It had just occurred probably within the previous 24 hours. The tree had leaves on its branches and was live yet. We almost gave up at this juncture, since the roadway was blocked. I decided to wade in and break off branches, to see if I could clear away enough room to allow a cyclist to pass without going into the deep ditch that was there. As I toiled away, David went on to check on things further up the road. Then it suddenly occurred to me......

I was alone, it was pitch black, and I had no means to get anywhere except by foot, and I wasn't exactly sure where I was, because I had no map, cues, or a cell phone with me. Hmm..... "I hope David comes back....", I remember thinking. And he was gone for what seemed like an hour. I had actually cleared away about four feet of the roadway so it was obviously passable to any rider approaching this. Keep in mind I was doing this with my bare hands. I had no tools, and the wood was green. That took some time and a ton of effort, and here David was no where to be found.

Of course, David eventually did come back, and we muddled our way to that now infamous washout North of Edgewood. There we decided to truncate T.I.v4. It was just far too crazy and things were getting weirder and more dangerous as we went. Besides, by this time we knew there were only five guys left.

Last man in: Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey speaking with Skip Cronin (L) after he finished T.I.v4
I guess my favorite part of T.I.v4 came toward the end. We had been sitting in Edgewood, Iowa for hours. By this time we had four finishers. Corey, "Cornbread" Godfrey, one of the RD's for Gravel Worlds to this day, was the last person on course. Charles Parsons had come in well over an hour earlier and David and I were pretty concerned about Cornbread. The Lincoln Crew folk had warned us that Corey was apt to getting lost, so he might be muddling along on some forlorn gravel road, off course, for all they knew. Now, they didn't seem all that concerned about it, as after the hoopla had died down upon their arrival, they all went back to their van and went to sleep, seemingly. David and I were left alone, pacing the cold, dark streets of Edgewood Iowa at three o'clock in the morning.

It was David who finally got to the breaking point. He turned, looked at me with a serious face, and said, "Let's go!". No explanation necessary. We were on a mission to find Cornbread. We backtracked the route, and about five miles or so away we came across him. A lone, bluish-white LED lamp was a dead giveaway for a cyclist on a gravel road in the middle of the night. Cornbread was aware of the situation up the road, about the truncated course, because he had been alerted to this development at CP#2. He refused a ride in, so we did the next best thing. We escorted him into town. This was when I got a "wild hair" and decided to do something fun.

Remembering the fanfare that Team Polska had given to every returning rider the year before, I decided to turn on the four-way flashers on the car, flick the brights on and off, and beep the horn as we rolled into the right hand corner onto the street we set the finish line up on in Edgewood. It was a risky maneuver, but I figured the Lincoln Crew would rally upon hearing the fanfare and be out to greet their long-lost brother. They did and they were. Mission accomplished!

That was quite an exhausting affair, running ahead of the riders, literally fighting through things to get the event as far down the road as we did. I remember being glad that we had decided not to push the event out on to paved roads on a Saturday evening, risking drunk drivers and possibly getting folks more lost. Our endurance was taxed, but I was so glad I had a co-director to share the load and the experiences with that weekend.

Next: We take a break from the serially told Trans Iowa Stories to take a look at things like the mythical "Triple Crown", how Trans Iowa influenced the early gravel scene, and how series in Minnesota and a new event in Nebraska called "Gravel Worlds" were signposts of big changes to come, and how that affected Trans Iowa.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Minus Ten Review 2009-48

Some nice flowers sent to me for T.I.v6 registration
Ten years ago on this blog I was detailing the "fallout" from the just completed Trans Iowa v6 registration. This was back during the "heyday" of post card registration where I would get in a bunch of gifts and nice things from registrants.

Today's image shows flowers which I always liked getting, and still do, although now there isn't a reason for anyone to do that. So, this is something I miss, and looking back, I cherish those times when I would get something thoughtful like this from a registrant.

I will detail the whole evolution of Trans Iowa registration in the "Trans Iowa Stories" series at some point, so I won't dive too far down the rabbit hole on that front. I will say that this particular Trans Iowa was about when the press to get in was felt. I had about 45 card entries that didn't make the cut off for T.I.v6.

Looking back, I had a roster limit of 75, and of course, not everyone would ever come to any T.I., so realistically speaking I'm looking at 60-ish starters. Out of the 45 extras, I would assume, based upon the fact they were rookies, and rookies were always the biggest part of "no-shows", that maybe 15 of the 45 would have actually shown up. This is why we eventually went to 100 as a limit, then 120 in the last few years. My intentions were always that we not overwhelm volunteers and, especially myself and any co-director I may have had at the time, because we wanted to be sustainable, provide a good experience for all (including myself and volunteers) and not to overwhelm the local populace with hordes of cyclists.

What the "right" amount was, in my view, was right around 100 riders actually in the event. The record number we ever had was 106, or 108, I'd have to verify that, but that was max for convenience stores and the locals in my view. Had we gotten any "bigger", I would have had to fundamentally change what Trans Iowa was at its core. It would have ceased to be the event I had guided it into being.

A great example of this is the Dirty Kanza 200. They realized after a while that they could not continue to have the original, Trans Iowa based format they used to use. The convenience stores were just not cutting it. This is when they went to the aid station formatting that they continue to use to this day. How they get around not irritating road users and locals probably has something to do with the fact that the Flint Hills are sparsely populated and there aren't many to tic off in the first place.

Anyway, that's a quick hitter on why I did what I did back then.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Friday News And Views-Black Friday Edition!

USAC Gets A New Director Of Membership

I came across an interesting podcast the other day with USAC's new Director Of Membership, Lindsay Goldman. She used to run a professional women's road squad up until recently. So, why should I- or anyone else- care? 

I have stated here several times how gravel events have helped to erode the base of membership for USAC here in the US. It is no secret that USAC has lost thousands of dollars- perhaps millions- in membership/licensing monies over the past three to five years as the rise of gravel events, the fear of riding the road, and ambivalence toward USAC has grown.  Lindsay Goldman has been tasked by USAC to revert this trend. In fact, she states on the podcast (linked above) that her mandate is to grow USAC membership by 50%. (!!)

That's a stout figure and a big mountain to climb. I was hooked into skimming over the podcast to hear if anything gravel related would be mentioned beyond the typical roadie affairs. There were a few mentions, and from these, I think we can draw a couple of vague conclusions. Goldman wasn't overtly pointing toward gravel riders and events as a means to gain that heady goal set before her, but I think gravel events are definitely on her radar, and thus, USAC's as well.

A question about NICA, the highschool MTB league association, and whether a road or gravel equivalent might be started by USAC, led to this comment from Goldman, "...don't know what the plans are for that. I know people (within USAC) are talking about that."

When Goldman spoke about how she would transform USAC through membership drives it was clear that she was detailing how USAC wants to shed the perceptions that it is a "road cycling/racing based organization only" and move perceptions towards USAC being the "community leader" when it comes to all cycling issues- transportation, recreational, and participation in cycling by minorities and women. She summed this up by saying, "If we (USAC) can be not just the national governing body, but the primary highest level community in America for uniting cyclists, and encouraging participation, and looking after the interests of cyclists, I think that's where the organization (USAC) wants to go."

Obviously, this includes gravel cycling. In fact, as an aside, Goldman mentioned she had signed up for "several" gravel events in 2020. She mentioned that she wouldn't be "racing" but enjoying "just being out there", again enforcing the idea that USAC wants to shed the "roadie/racing only" perceptions it has outside of road racing.  You can bet that she, and USAC in general, will be eying what makes gravel events tic and how USAC can get involved.

I think I've also mentioned that I have heard that in January USAC has a meeting planned where they want to talk with event promoters and riders involved in gravel events. You can bet that if this is true, the "big" events and "influencer" type riders will be the ones called to the table. But what about the grassroots event directors and folk? I'd be really surprised if that type of promoter or rider was invited. I'd be very surprised if that were the case.but, however it goes, this USAC thing bears watching. Stay tuned........

Iowa's Ride Route Announced:

In case you missed it, RAGBRAI isn't the only game in town anymore when it comes to Iowa based, week-long recreational rides. That bomb was dropped when in October the entire RAGBRAI staff quit and announced "Iowa's Ride", a mirror image of what RAGBRAI is, and in more ways than one. The route, announced this past Wednesday, will be an East to West route, not the traditional RAGBRAI West to East.

Originally the Iowa's Ride was going to occur at the same time as RAGBRAI, but when RAGBRAI didn't fold up and blow away, the dates were changed so that Iowa's Ride will occur the week before RAGBRAI. Of course, this sets up the possibility for the "IR-RAG Double", where you start Iowa's Ride, go West to the end, find the start of RAGBRAI, and go back.

Whomever has tags from both rides in the same year will have the upper hand in Iowa cycling bragging rights at bars and on Facebook forever. Think of the possibilities!

Honestly, they should just fold both rides into one, make it a true competition/fondo, and call it The Tour Of Iowa, and be done with this duality mess.

I Hear You!

Tuesday's post dubbed "End Of The Year Scheduling" elicited several responses from readers saying that they didn't mind my going over my bikes here during my retrospective December postings. One reader even suggested that I write about my guitars like I have before (just search the title "The Six String Side" and you'll find all those), but there is a problem there. I've already covered all the guitars I have. In order to do more there, well, you know........I'd have to buy more guitars! I'm not sure Mrs. Guitar Ted would be down for that. Maybe I'll have a look at her guitar. It's pretty nice......

So, at any rate, I'll squeeze in a couple detailed posts about the bikes here. Likely I won't do all of them that I used in 2019, but the significant ones- yes. I'll try to squeeze those in. As I stated on Tuesday, I will be doing a little extra this December as it is the end of the decade and I wanted to touch upon that as the year closes out.

That's all I have for this week. I hope that y'all get some "Turkey Burn" rides in, and that y'all have safe travels from wherever you are to wherever it is you are going.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Guitar Ted Productions wishes all of you a happy, healthy, and safe weekend with whatever and whomever you are thankful for.  

I'll be back with the typical "Friday News And Views" tomorrow. Maybe I should call it the "Black Friday Edition"! ha! That would be pretty funny. Anyway, here's to you and your loved ones! Stay safe, have fun, and I'll hope to see you here tomorrow.

As always- Thank You For Reading Guitar Ted Productions!


Wednesday, November 27, 2019


I was chatting with MG just last night via text, and we were gawking at something he's just got in the house. I won't let that cat out-o-the bag, but something else we touched on got me to thinking again about how far we've come in regard to wheels these days.

Thinking back to just ten years ago. 2009 was arguably the year when the 29" mountain bike gained "legitimacy" amongst most mountain bikers. It was not anything but a hard tail, XC, or single speeder's bike, but I think many at that time realized these wheels weren't going away. Only a few manufacturers weren't on board yet, (most notably Giant), and there were legitimate aftermarket and OEM parts for 700c sized mtb's by that point in time.

Wheels, obviously, were the most important thing. But wheels were what was holding the genre back as well. Salsa Cycles had been one of the first to realize that wider internal width rims were going to break out the 29"er as a legitimate trail biking choice. The widest popular rims at that time were the Stan's Flow and similar rims at a 28mm outer rim dimension. We weren't even thinking in terms of inner rim widths at this point.

Salsa's visionary rims were predecessors to the "wider is better" rim movement in the mtb world, but the problem then was that those rims were deemed to be too heavy. Materials technology hadn't been applied sufficiently up to that point on mtb-worthy 700c rims to make them wide, strong, and light. Typical mid-market priced wheels at that time were in the 1600-2000+ gram area and were, again, only 28mm-ish wide.

Recently I got a hold of some wheels to test which are all aluminum and have rims that are 25mm inner width. (We never speak about "outer widths anymore. Sheesh!) They are not very expensive at 800-ish bucks for a set and they weigh 1640 grams for the set. That's amazing for wheels that wide. For about what those cost now, you couldn't get anything in 2009 money at that weight and width. Not even close, and these are gravel road wheels. 

Throw some carbon fiber at that. Now we're talking even crazier things. MG has a gravel wheel set coming in which weighs in at 1305 grams for the set. Internal width on those? 30mm!! 

As MG said to me, "We are (living) in super great times." Amen to that! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

End Of Year Scheduling

Like it or not, we are entering the final stretch of 2019. The holidays are cranking up, and before you know it, you'll have broken all your New Year's resolutions again and mid-January depression will be setting in. Or hopefully you have a more realistic handle on life and you won't be entering into any of the upcoming insanity.

I know what I'll be doing. December will be quite the month with some of the regular fixings and a couple of surprises. I'll let the surprises be a mystery for now, but I did want to go over what you can expect here over the next several weeks on Guitar Ted Productions.

Obviously Thanksgiving Day will be a day off here. Then the regularly scheduled posts will follow on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That brings us into December.

Traditionally December here brings the "Rear View" posts which is my retrospective on the year which is about to close. Since this is also the end of the decade, I'll also be touching upon some of the highlights of the 2010-2019 time span here. Those will also be "Rear View" posts, but you will know they are not about 2019.

I also have done retrospectives on the bikes I used most over the year here. I'm not sure this is a well received or looked for thing. You let me know in the comments if you feel strongly about those posts. I may skip that due to the amount of retrospective stuff I plan and with the upcoming news posts.

Finally, I am drafting up another round of "The State Of The Gravel Scene" posts. Got any subject matter related to riding gravel events that has been sticking in your craw? Wonder what I think? Ask me now and I'll cover it in these upcoming posts which will be published January 1st and beyond if there is enough to make multiple posts.

Okay, that should do it and this should give you readers an idea of what to expect now through New Year's and beyond. As always...... Thank You For Reading Guitar Ted Productions!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Brown Season: On Borrowed Time

They don't get much better than this in late November.
The skies were blue, the fields all cleared, (well.....almost all of them), and the roads were super-fast. It was time to get while the gettin' was good. Saturday started off pretty cold and frosty, so I waited until after lunch when the temperatures were into the upper 40's and the Sun was riding high. As high as the Sun gets a month out from the Winter Solstice, that is.

The respite from early Winter has made for a nice little window of opportunity to get out and ride the country roads a few "last times" before we get hammered by Winter again. Supposedly today is our last, good chance at riding without a storm, or a lot of snow and ice on the gravel for a while, at least.

As I said, the roads were fast. The harvest is almost complete around here now, and the County will not be interested in maintenance until next Spring now. The roads will freeze up, the rock has been pushed into the pulverized limestone and dirt now, and the tracks are buttery smooth in many places by this time. Despite rains and the cooler temperatures, the wind has managed to keep the roads fairly dry. That means my tires didn't push into the road bed, and that meant more speed. At least where the rock wasn't still sitting on top of the roads.

I had swapped out to 650B X 47mm WTB Venture rubber for the Winter, and that wider footprint lends better float, so had the roads been softer, at least I wasn't going to push into that as far as I may have with 700c X 40mm tires. But as I say, the wind made it all a moot point Saturday. And it was windy! In town it was very deceptive. A mere breeze. But out in the open it was a strong, Southwesterly, and I worked hard getting South on the first part of my ride.

Many farmers are letting the cattle graze the corn stubble now.
Super-smooth and fast roads made for an easier push against the wind going South.
This time of the year is interesting to me. In my opinion, it brings us views much closer to what this area may have looked like 150-200 years ago when nothing but tall grass prairie would have dominated the view of humans living around this area. With the crops gone, everything that sticks up off the horizon is pretty much due to the white settlers of the land in the 19th Century. Things like groves of trees, buildings, of course, and utility poles. It's easier to mask those out as you stare outward across the prairies. It must have been quite an intimidating landscape back then, with no real good way to navigate your way through.

Light filters through a decaying old farm outbuilding.
Look carefully in the middle of this image and you'll see two Bald Eagles in flight.
I decided that something between two to three hours was sufficient for a ride, so I reached a good turning point, and I went East. As I was grinding up a grade, I heard the scream of an Eagle bourne upon the wind, which was coming from my right, more or less, at that moment. I turned to look and when my eyes caught up, I saw two Bald Eagles in what can only be described as a dance with each other in mid-air. They were being carried along by the stiff wind, only taking brief opportunities to stay aloft with their long, outstretched wings. I managed to grab a shot, then I stood staring at them until they disappeared in the haze along the horizon.

I have heard that in mountainous areas, eagles mate with each other by falling through the air. Was this what I was witnessing? I don't know, but it was one of those times when the beauty and the majesty of Creation had me in tears. I was a mess for a couple of miles afterward.

It is for moments like that which I ride. They don't come very often, but when they do........ Yeah, that was good. Really good. The rest of the loop was great too. I saw more cows in the corn, and once back into town on the bike trail, I saw a beautiful red cardinal. Icing on the cake, you could say.

Will this be the last ride of 2019 for the "Bubblegum Princess"?
I noted that the bottom bracket on the pink MCD is really grumbly now. Time for a new one! Those Shimano outboard bearing units, while cheap, are not noted to be a very robust, long lasting design. I really don't like how they wear. Usually within about half their lifespan they start feeling weird, rough, and kind of grumbly. I generally put up with that for a bit until they feel really grumbly, like you get buzzed under your feet through the crankarm grumbly. All the while they don't display any wobbly knocking, like when you check a bike for a loose bottom bracket. They feel tight, but they turn roughly.

So, I am going to pony up for a Chris King bottom bracket here. I'll get a purple one, most likely, because, why not? But with money being tight and all, and since I have other bikes, well, this means the ol' Black Mountain Cycles rig is likely done for the year. It may not matter much if we get the predicted snows they have been talking about. So while the gravel gets blanketed in a covering of white, I can always ride the fat bikes I have in the interim.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: Endurance Promoting

Post-stuck image. T.I.v4 recon shortly before the event.
  "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

Trans Iowa v4 was mainly a survival event. Obstacle course? Ah.........crap-show? Well, we ended up calling our experience "endurance promoting". Trans Iowa v4 was all of the above, certainly. It all started, as most "bad" Trans Iowas do, with weather.

We had a particularly deep, late running Winter that year, as I recall. David Pals and I tried to do recon the December before, but with -12°F below zero temps, snow packed in the roads, and no good way to assess the roadways, we bailed out on recon after only a handful of miles. We kept hoping that Winter would relent, but by mid-March we were still no where closer to verifying the route and snow was still on a lot of the roadways. We finally knocked out recon just before I had to go to Sea Otter and David did the cues, last minute-like. The week of the event I was still verifying roads, in the rain, and ended up getting my Honda stuck in a Level B road. I managed to miraculously push it out unassisted, and drove it a quarter mile in axle deep mud to freedom. That was just a portent of things to come.......

Rain was prominent that week, and we were getting flooding all across Iowa. In fact, the morning of the Pre-Race David called to say that he may not make it due to a basement flooding. I was in a panic as he had the cue sheets! Well, it worked out, but then I was afraid that the roads were going to be bad. I back-drove a big portion of the beginning of the event, and saw that while things were iffy, it was clear.

The event was kicking off with the pre-race meeting at T-Bock's in Decorah, like the year before, but instead of in the vacant Odd Fellows attic, we had T-Bock's party room. They even offered two different kinds of sauce for the spaghetti. And they requested that I taste-test the sauces the morning before the meeting. The cook actually reduced the sauce all day. Amazing! It was as if this Trans Iowa thing was a "big deal" or something. I remember thinking people were taking this waaaay too seriously. Taste-testing the spaghetti sauce? Outrageous!

Back-driving the T.I.v4 course the morning of the pre-race I saw this calf. It became the T.I.v5 header
At least the riders were loose and relaxed. I recall the T-Bock's staff were amazed at the amount of beer they sold prior to a 300+ mile endurance event! The rest of that day was unremarkable. David made it up, of course, and we hit the hay and got a pretty decent amount of sleep. Overnight we were supposed to see a cold front come through. I remember hearing the wind howl across the roof of the motel as I fell asleep that evening.....

The next morning we got up at 3:00am to howling Northwest winds and snow? Yes- snow! It was blown in on a frigid wind and the riders which were gathering on Ice Cave Road that morning were all assembling behind some dump trucks parked in a gravel lot at the corner to get out of the icy blast. I recall Craig Severson, then a co-worker of mine, shivering with nothing on but a light jacket and no tights or anything beyond cycling bibs. I was really concerned for him, as it was probably in the teens for windchill that morning. Fortunately wisdom got the better of him and he bailed not long after the frigid start.

Oh yeah.....the wind! It was so powerful it was knocking riders off into the ditches. I remember John Gorilla telling me years after the event that he figures he got blown over at least three times that day. Him and most of the field of riders went down at least once that frigid morning. It even almost knocked me over a few times as I stood peering Eastward on a hilltop South of Cresco, Iowa, looking for any signs of the leaders. It was also the only Trans Iowa that I ever saw snow. Now, other riders say they saw snow in other Trans Iowas, but I can only verify that it happened at v4.

The lead pack grouped together South of Cresco, Iowa during T.I.v4
The reroutes happened all day, and with the wind, it made the going really slow. David and I were nervously watching the clock, doing calculations, and working that against what we had set as a cut off time to reach the first of two checkpoints that year. It was going to be really close for many riders. DNF's were happening at an alarming rate, and as we neared Wadena, Iowa, a small hamlet in the middle of a valley surrounded by hills, we knew the field was going to be whittled down to a bare minimum of riders.

Riders were getting turned around on the twisting roads North of Wadena and as time ran out, I recall that many of them were saying they could see Wadena as they were struggling to get in under the time cut. So close, and yet too far! What a feeling that must have been! David and I went down into the village where a lot of riders were calling it quits for the day. It was then that we heard that cell phone coverage was bad, or non-existent, in the town. No wonder we couldn't get a hold of the check point volunteers! I recall feeling bad as riders, spent from their efforts against the elements, were forced to climb the steep hills surrounding Wadena just to get a call out to their support people. Another lesson learned! (But fortunately cell coverage improved dramatically in the years that followed. Or unfortunately, as we shall see.......)

The riders were getting spanked, and we had some stressful times at points, but as the number of riders in the event dwindled, our "spanking" was ratcheting up. It didn't take long after leaving the first checkpoint for it to start in either.

Next: Endurance Promoting: Part 2