Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Celebrating Ten Years Of Gravel Worlds

Sportin' my brand new Gravel Worlds Special Jersey I received yesterday.
Doing an event for ten years straight is quite the accomplishment. But putting on an event that long is quite another thing altogether. I may know a thing or two about why that is....... Anyway, I am happy to say that the Gravel Worlds event turns ten this year in August and that the guys and gals behind this stellar event are top notch folks.

I say that for several reasons, but one of those reasons is that the Lincoln Crew, (as I named them back in the day) were stout supporters of Trans Iowa. I think a bunch of them got wind of Trans Iowa after v1 and they showed up for the second version and every year since then, a fair number of Lincoln area gravel grinders have graced Trans Iowa with their presence. Right up until the end, they were there last year too. There are a lot of great stories involving the Lincoln Crew and Trans Iowa. But I would have to say that having gained a Brother out of the deal in MG is the best story of them all regarding those folks. That's something for another time though.....

I have always thought Gravel Worlds embodied the full essence of what a grassroots gravel event was all about. Somehow or another the Pirate Cycling League, (PCL), has managed the tightrope of being able to attract Pros and the regular adventure seekers without alienating either group. They have found a way to keep the event a legit competition, but they also have found a way to make it an event where the local citizen can feel like they are a part of the hoopla. Even to the point of allowing hand-ups, making certain residences "oasis stops", and involving the local charities and groups in the area. It's like a "real race" and a gravel RAGBRAI all rolled into one tasty treat. Roll it as a tour, or race it until your heart rate is pegged. Whatever. Everyone is welcome.

Anyway, the PCL almost always offers a special jersey every year. Usually they are specifically PCL themed, but this year they also offered a Gravel Worlds Tenth Year Anniversary Jersey. That's what I got. I wanted to throw my support their way by flying the colors.

Thanks for all you do, PCL! See ya in August!

Monday, April 29, 2019

You Can't Do This

You aren't seeing those wheels on this bike. Really.
As a bicycle mechanic, you learn pretty quickly that there is an unspoken tradition of doing things you aren't supposed to be able to do. Components deemed not compatible being used together successfully, techniques for doing things that sound incredibly questionable, and "bending of rules" that would be frowned upon by manufacturers, brands, and marketing firms.

I have tons of examples, and many of those things are also done by consumers. So, mechanics aren't the only ones, but we tend to be the most successful at things of this nature. Take for instance my use of 80's era Shimano aero brake levers and Avid MTB BB-7 disc brakes. Technically, this is a no-go. Impossible. You cannot make it work at all. But I rode my Karate Monkey with that exact set up for years and had great braking. Tricksy, it was. I've done the long cage Ultegra 11 speed derailleur with an 11-36T cassette for years too. That's another no-no. Cannot do that! But.......I do all the time. 

 I guess we mechanics just like to see what we can get away with. Now to be sure, some of these tricksy, false things don't work perfectly. A customer would never put up with the functionality of some things we do. But mechanics seem to know when to over shift a hair, or when you have to do something a "certain way" to make it "work". I'm not saying any of this is a good thing, mind you, but it happens. Experimentation. Tinkering. Basically being a mechanic means you have a proclivity for this sort of behavior.

So, today's example- Wrong wheels with tires not rated for the bike because "they do not fit and screw up the geometry", and a cassette from Shimano on a SRAM 1X chain and rear derailleur. It's not supposed to be. You aren't seeing this. It does not work at all. You cannot do this.

Except when it does for me........but I am a bike mechanic, after all.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Story Of Guitar Ted: Staying In Touch

A Guitar Ted Productions series.
Welcome to a brand new series on G-Ted Productions! This series will jump off from the time where the "Race Against Death Tour" ended and will take you up to the beginnings of Trans Iowa in late 2004. This is an eight year period where my life was transformed. You could say it was metamorphosed from the old to something quite new.

This won't have a lot of bicycle stuff in it at times, but it is all essential to the story of "Guitar Ted". This isn't about where the name came from. That's all here. No, this is about the person. 
As with previous historical series on the blog, images will be a rarity. Cell phones, social media, and digital images were not available to take advantage of in those last days of analog living.

While I was now a car mechanic the bicycle stuff never let go of me. Here we find out how I was never that far away......

Staying In Touch: While working at Sherm's seemed like the death of my bicycling life, it wasn't to be. There were a couple of things that happened that ended up drawing me back, and a couple of things that happened that stuck with me for a long time afterward.

The first thing was that a customer of the old Advantage shop, Mark, had a road bike and he stayed in touch with me after the shop closed. He also was friends with Tom, the old owner of Advantage, who now was doing construction jobs and doing well, from all accounts. Tom never contacted me in any way after the closing of Advantage. Mark thought that was very strange. He also marveled at how I managed to handle the closing of Advantage and that I did not take advantage of Tom's situation, which I easily could have done.

Thinking about it, I did find it strange that Tom hadn't said anything, or even acknowledged my handling of affairs- good or bad- but whatever. Life was going on, and I could not look back. I did see Tom at the back of the old shop as I drove by one day, and I waved. He waved back.

Mark and I then started riding road bikes together on weekends. Short rides, and we'd almost always end up back at Mark's house for a beer or something. Mark told me that Tom had the shop's tools and stuff stored in a shed in Waterloo, not far from his house. He asked if I wanted anything from it. I said, well, yeah, but I didn't know what to ask for. It really wasn't my stuff anyway.

Well, then a day came when Mark said he was going to ask Tom what I should get out of the Advantage shop, because he thought I deserved something for my loyalty and for how I handled affairs at the end. Well, I was going to be satisfied with a screw driver, if that was all I got, because I felt I didn't really deserve a thing. However; apparently Mark was persuasive, and one day he told me that I needed to come over and get the tools I was gifted by Tom. It was an entire bike shop's worth of tools! Tom had three complete stations at Advantage, and I got one. The double arm Park stand and cutting tools, and wrenches.....everything. I was floored! It even included a Campy tool kit in a wooden box.

I set the stuff up in my basement and Ears, who I stayed in touch with after the bike shop was closed, helped me make a bench for my "bike shop" and we hauled it into the basement. It was a bench made from an 8ft section of bowling alley! It's pretty dang heavy, and I doubt it ever will come out of there!

The Campy tool kit I had little love, or use for. Troy, my old touring partner, co-worker at Advantage, and then owner of Bike Tech, learned about my having the kit. He knew what it was, of course, having seen it several times when he worked for Tom. So, he proposed a bargain. I ended up getting a roof rack system for the Accord Wagon, and a good bit of a 1996 Bontrager Race bike built up for it. So, that ended up becoming a pretty sweet deal, and I was all set to mountain bike anywhere with my Bonty and the Accord Wagon.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Bonus Post- About That Bike

Hold on just a minute..... What about this bike?
Earlier on Saturday my usual "Minus Ten Review" post went up and I posted an image of Ben Witt's 36"er he lent me for a few months. I got a message from N.Y. Roll that asked for more information, so this is what this post is about. What I know about this bike. Maybe you wanted more about it as well? Hope so, but if not, pass on by....

Okay, so the first thing you need to know about Ben Witt is that he is a thinker, tinkerer, and loves mechanical things like bicycles, motorcycles, and cars. His father, Mark, runs an auto repair shop in Northfield, Minnesota, so Ben has been around this stuff all his life.

I came to know Ben when he got a hold of me to take a look at a 29"er design he helped develop back when he was the owner of Milltown Cycles in Faribault, Minnesota. Ben spent a lot of time working up ideas on BikeCad, a design program on the internet that allowed you to make drawings which could then be used to fabricate a bicycle frame and fork. Ben was aware of a local to him frame maker, Mike Pofahl, and Ben has had several designs brazed up by Mike over the years, including my Pofahl Special gravel grinder.

The very same 36"er as above, only in its unpainted state, next to a 2007 Salsa El Mariachi 29"er. Image by Ben Witt

Ben sent me an image one day and he was telling me about this 36" wheeled bike he was having built. The image was a BikeCad drawing and Ben shared a lot of his development thoughts which we discussed as his project went along. Now before I get to the story proper, there are a couple of things you need to know about 36 inch wheeled bicycles circa 2006-2007.

Other than a novelty cruiser built by the Coker brand, there were no 36'ers, and most definitely no "serious" 36"er bikes for gravel or dirt. 36" wheels existed mostly for unicycles. See, unicycles rely on wheel size for their "gear", just like the old time high wheeler bikes did. The taller the wheel, the faster potential speed the bike, or unicycle had. With the development of the chain for tricycles in the late 19th Century, the mechanical advantage of multiple cogs and wheel size was employed to make the basic bicycle as we know it today. So, anyway, 36 inch wheels were a unicycle thing.

Spokes, rims, and tires for 36" wheeled unicycles in 2007 were pretty crude. The tires, with a thick casing and thick, smooth rubber tread, were not conducive to any potential successful, or fun, single track activity. So, Ben got a tread cutter, similar to what a moto-cross racer would use to trim knobs on tires, and he cut his own tread pattern into the stock unicycle tires. Wheels were laced, the frame and fork was brazed by Mike Pofahl, and Ben supplied the other components. By Frostbike 2006 the beast was rideable and I rode it at Frostbike for the first time then.

Originally, the frame and fork were bare steel. Ben wasn't sure the wheels would hold up under the pressures of disc braking, and the fork, which placed the back of the front tire precariously close to the down tube, might flex enough to actually contact it. So, I am not sure the bike was considered a "mountain bike", but it was really fun to ride and the potential for what could be was certainly opened up for discussion.

Eventually Ben had another, improved 36"er built. By this time folks were catching on to the idea, and several other 36"ers started popping up. It wasn't like hundreds of them were being made, but a few here and there. The OG 36"er got painted and Ben lent it to me for a time, which is what the previous "Minus Ten" post was mentioning. I'm not sure what happened to it, but I know Ben was pursuing the sale of it at one time.

And that's what I know about that bike.....

Minus Ten Review 2009-17

Ben Witt's first 36"er. The first one I ever saw or rode. I actually had this a while.
Ten years ago this week I bet you can't guess what I was up to my ears in. Go ahead......guess. I know that you know the answer.

That's right, it was Trans Iowa time, all the time, for the whole week. Well, almost the whole week. I did have a couple of diversions including getting Ben Witt's first 36"er that he had made by Mike Pofahl, the frame builder from Northfield Minnesota.

But it was definitely mostly about Trans Iowa. T.I.v5, to be exact. I was detailing the fact that we had several drop outs from the roster. Not that it was unexpected. It happened every year. I was also enlightened to find out that the drop out tradition has continued with the inaugural Iowa Wind And Rock. They had 71 on their roster, apparently, the day of the pre-race, and started 57. Damn droppers. I know the IW&R folks never said anything negative about this, but that had to chap their hides a bit. And really, it is completely unnecessary and totally unfair to the organizers to just not bother showing up for an event when the organizers have busted their asses for the riders.

Here's what I said ten years ago:

"Anyway, I see we are down to 59 riders as of today. I have said all along that just above 50 is where I'd expect the roster to get to before the start. With the expected "few" no-shows, this is a stone cold lock now. We may even get below 50, which would be dipping into record low numbers for a T.I.

Does that matter? Not to me. I don't measure the success or failure of T.I. by numbers. If the event comes off safely, and folks get some satisfaction from the challenge, then that is all that really matters in the end

I'm willing to bet that the IW&R folks also really care about the same things more than folks not showing up, but still- shame on you folks if you just didn't show up without warning. Of course, I can say that now, because I am not running that event, but I know exactly how it feels to be on the end of the stick IW&R is, and it sucks when you just don't bother to be a responsible adult and you just don't show without warning. Trust me. 

Anyway, I'll have more to say about this when I get to my "Trans Iowa Stories" series here on the blog. Stay tuned for that.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Friday News And Views

PBO spokes on the Spinergy GX wheels are.......different.
Non-Metallic Wonders:

Many times we assume certain things are always going to be a certain way. The Sun is coming up tomorrow, you will pay taxes, and some day you will die. Pretty sure bets. But sometimes we think things are going to always be a certain way......until they aren't. 

Such were my thoughts about spokes early into my mechanic career. Steel is what spokes are made of. Why wouldn't they be? They are about perfect for the job at hand, and if things are designed and assembled correctly, they can last the lifetime of a bicycle. Then someone made spokes out of titanium. Hmm.......that wasn't as good. Then someone made spokes out of carbon fiber. Yeah...... Not so much. Then someone made spokes out of aluminum, and you know what? That works, but they are odd and not common. Then I saw PBO spokes in the late 90's. What the what? Yep- fiber based spokes. Okay, well Tioga did that tension disc thingie, maybe there is something to this too.....

So, anyway, I have these wheels from Spinergy with the PBO spokes to review for RidingGravel.com and I have to say that yes- there is something to this. But anytime you are going up against a widely accepted and proven technology, the question that begs to be asked is "why go a different direction?" It's a fair question to ask about the PBO spokes too. I will have to ride these quite a bit more to answer that question, but to my mind it's going to take a pretty substantial benefit to beat steel spokes. We'll see.......

Colored treads......again.
Panaracer Does Colored Treads And New Sealant:

I remember colored rubber tires when I was a kid. Then that disappeared and came back again in the late 70's/early 80's with BMX. Then it kind of went away again until the 1990's when colors popped up on Michelin MTB tires, some other barnds too, and then it went away again. Urban fixie riding had a dalliance with colored tires. Schwalbe kind of dabbled in it for a while. Then nothing again....Until now.....

Panaracer has revived colored rubber tires in its Gravel King series, (what else would it be!) and they just announced three more limited edition tires. I maybe can see myself riding the Ivory colored tires, but the other two colors are.....not for me. I actually really like Gravel King SK's and recommend them often to those who ask me. But the colored ones, not so much. That said, there is a Gravel King SK tire I have my eyes on, but it isn't a skinny one!

Panaracer sealant, yada,yada,yada....Look at the tire!
In an image sent to me in a press release about Panaracer's new sealant with Walnut shell chunks in it, (really!), I saw a tire I am interested in. The 700 X 50mm Gravel King SK skin wall tire. Yes! I like that idea a lot.

See, it is about time to switch up tires on the old Fargo, and I've been wanting something 50-ish wide and the Gravel King SK 700 X 50mm tire seems about right for the job. That it could be skin wall is even better. Maybe I might even try that new fangled walnut shell infused sealant of Panaracer's as well. We'll see, because I make my own sealant which has never been a problem for me, and there are other killer sealants on the market also. (I recommend Orange Seal and the Muc Off sealant) So, Panaracer has some high hurdles in the sealant game to leap over before I would be impressed. But they do make a good tire, and the Gravel King is about as good as there is for gravel travel out there. So, this 50mm one has my eye. Stay tuned.....

The press release said something about a more puncture resistant Gravel King and that 650B sizes were available. I could see a 650B X 50mm tire on a couple of my rigs at times. I'll have to look into that as well. I know Donnelly does a 650B X 50mm MSO, but it is black wall. I know........picky, picky, picky! 

Saturday snow in late April? Yep.
 Just When You Thought Winter Was Gone:

Well, that's a slap in the face! Last weekend it got up into the high 80's both days. Sure, it was windy as all get out, but it was so warm. Not at all humid either. Just glorious. Now a week later, the bill comes due.

 That bill is in the form of much colder weather, snow in some places, and rain everywhere else. Temperatures for highs Saturday will hover around the 40's in most places in the state. 50's if you are lucky. Then Saturday night/Sunday morning it is going to freeze. Like really freeze!

But I gotta be honest, this freeze is not at all unusual. I think for at least the last few Trans Iowas, and I know many of them, it has been under 32° at some point during the night Saturday or early Sunday morning. So, a sub-freezing night at this time of year is nothing new. But snow is odd, and rainy weather plus sub-freezing temperatures makes for a bone chilling weather pattern. Break out the thermal tights! (Where did I put those again?)

That is a wrap for this week. Hope that you get out and ride some. I'm going to try to get out at some point.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Country Views: Planting Begins

Things are starting to look less dead and more orderly out in the country.
Wednesday was supposed to be "beautiful" according to the early weather reports last weekend. It wasn't "bad", but it wasn't "beautiful". Dreary? Yeah...... Cool-ish and gray.

The wind on Sunday, which was ridiculously strong and sent me packing, was there yesterday also but it was a mere breeze. Not the gale force blast that had me doing max effort going South. This was tolerable, if not a bit tough, and so my goal was to be met this time. That was to go down and see Petrie Road's Level B section for the first time this year.

The frost was long out, and the winds with little to no rains have left the roads very dried out, sandy, and deep. That was a good sign that Petrie's Level B might be rideable. But that dirt slot has its own mind and you just never know what you'll come across. I've seen water sitting on the roadway at the mid-section of that mile when it hasn't rained for weeks. So, just because everything else was dry didn't mean that Level B would be passable.

But as the saying goes, "You'll never know unless you try".

First check!
I got through the head wind, soft, sandy roads, and turned on to the Level B section. I crested a small hillock to see the above. Torn to hell by tractors and a mudpit waiting. But it looked like there was a way around it. While the dried tractor tire lug impressions made for a ride like a constant rumble strip, I was able to navigate that mess while riding. Not even a dab! I was stoked. Now up that sandy hill......

That sand wasn't dry! It was saturated and I had to search for the best line I could. The skinny 40mm tires were doing the "pizza cutter" thing and resistance to forward movement was very high. Eventually, I cut too deep and came to a halt. That was as far as I could ride.

Fortunately I only had to hoof it about 20 yards and then I came out of that super saturated sandy bit to more solid footing. Back on the Bubblegum Princess and pedaling again. This time I made it to the top section. The highest point of that Level B, and where I generally stop to take in the surrounding view.

It's a pretty rare day that you don't see at least a little bit of water at the top of the ridge here.
After that visit I planned my descent into the valley and this is where I had to dismount twice more to navigate two stretches of just torn up, saturated, muddy ground. It was a mess, but there was a way to walk through it all. During this walkathon, I noted an ag machine spraying nitrogen fertilizer. It was travelling at a pretty good clip so he got three good looks at me as he made his rounds. He was probably freaking out about some crazy old looking dude on a pink bike passing down the dirt road. No doubt he thought I'd lost my marbles.

The big planting rigs have been busy already
I got out of that mess and headed back North again with the wind at my back. It was apparent that I had been working hard going South because going North was super easy. Fast even! Along the way I saw a lot of planted fields already and many farm machines were moving about the countryside.Planting of corn is well underway here, and I've no doubt the rest of the week will be similar in rural areas of Iowa with all sorts of machinery moving from field to field.

This is what most of the gravel is like now. Loose, sandy, and deep.
The messed up roads continued to dominate the scene with little to no solid ground to ride on. My bike was fishtailing and the front wheel was pushing sandy gravel all the way back to Waterloo.

I did see a road maintenance crew out consisting of a dump truck full of gravel and a grader machine. Both were busy dumping and smoothing out fresh gravel across the roads. So, either I was pushing through sandier, deep gravel or over chunky, fresh deep gravel. High resistance training! My legs were done by the end of the ride.

But I did get to ride, (kind of) Petrie Road's Level B section, so that was fun. I'm sure it will straighten up given time and better weather, which by the looks of things, isn't going to be for a while. It looks mostly cool, wet, and cloudy now through the end of the weekend. That actually might help straighten out the other roads though, which would be a very welcomed thing. It also would have made for an epic Trans Iowa, had I still been running that this year! They say my date for that always seemed to have the craziest weather.

Anyway..... This may slow down the planting season a bit, but I'd guess within the next two weeks it will be all over for corn. In the meantime, we should be on the lookout for big trucks, pick-up trucks, farm machinery, and county maintenance graders and dump trucks. Traffic is going to pick up for a bit out there!