Monday, December 16, 2019

Guitar Ted Productions "Rear View Decade" - Part 3

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". This is the third and final post in this mini-series. Enjoy!

If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, click on those links and check them out. 

2015: After a tumultuous 2014, I wasn't looking for a whole lot more craziness to start out the new year. Unfortunately, I had another death in the family when my maternal grandmother dies in the Spring. Then things were relatively quiet until I was asked to attend the 10th running of the Dirty Kanza 200 in May of 2015. That turned out to be quite the adventure!

Of course, if you are up on your DK200 history you know 2015 was forever etched into the history books as "The Mud Year". I was honored to be riding with my Trans Iowa friend and head of the Slender Fungus Cycling Association, Ari Andonopoulous. That three mile march in the worst Level B Road mud won't soon be forgotten. It also ended up being the day I rode over 150 miles and missed the last checkpoint cut-off by 2 minutes. Yeah..... That kinda bit, especially when I had to wait for 20 minutes at the "optional oasis" for the event to resupply that station with water for the riders. But, a fantastic adventure there I won't ever forget.

Not far from the last checkpoint during the 2015 DK200
2016: Another death in the family to start out the year as my Dad died in February. Then a sudden opportunity in May arose where Riding Gravel got the call to support the Almanzo 100 at the Cherry Grove Checkpoint. I took along my son, Jacob, and although it was windy as all get-out, we had a pretty fantastic day seeing the riders and handing out goodies. N.Y. Roll went along as well and was handing up whiskey shots to people. It was pure fun.

My heart was broken when Odin's Revenge announced it was no longer. I had done the event three times, and never finished it, but it was an epic ride every time I tried it. While I did not ever finish that event, I did finally finish another one I was trying to get under my wheels for several years. That was Gravel Worlds. That one will be a memorable ride for years to come. Since then I've tried every year and failed, for one reason or another, but in 2016, it all came together for me.

The year finished up with my getting a Big Dummy finally, and with another fantastic time at "The Fargo Reunion Ride". 

Jason Boucher took this image of me at The Fargo Reuninon Ride in 2016.
 2017: Pretty quiet year marked by the passing of my Father-in-law on Easter Sunday and Lincoln cyclist, artist, and over-all awesome dude, Christopher Van Oyen, or "CVO" for short. While I did not know either of these men as well as I would have liked, I respect and miss both of them dearly.

Another year supporting the Almanzo, this time in torrential rain and cold. Despite the lowered numbers of riders and difficult situation, my son and I had another fantastic adventure. 

In the realm of bicycles I was very excited to learn that Black Mountain Cycles was going to finally make a disc brake version of the Monster Cross model. I anxiously awaited for pre-orders, to open up, because I was absolutely not going to miss getting in on that.

I added another Black Mountain Cycles bike to the stable in 2018
2018: Of course, the end of Trans Iowa was the biggest deal in my life during 2018. This was something that had been thought about, planned for, and avoided for years. Again- let's save it for Trans Iowa Stories. I'll divulge all the nitty-gritty details in those posts. I wasn't done with putting on gravel events though. No, no! N.Y.Roll and I announced the C.O.G. 100 Single Speed Gravel Championships event that Fall.

Besides ending Trans Iowa, I also had the next biggest thing happen to me in quite some time that year when Jim Cummings feted me at the start of the inaugural DKXL event. It was an honor I don't take lightly, and I will never forget Jim's gracious and kind remarks about my influences on gravel events and concerning Trans Iowa. Thanks again, Jim!

The third, and what turned out to be final, support of Almanzo was a day of decent weather, lots of fun, and lots of good memories of people. I will miss seeing the event go through Cherry Grove, but I am glad my son and I got to do that three times. 

Okay, I have been going over 2019 separately, so I won't be mentioning anything here about this (almost) past year. Look for the "Rear View 2019" posts before this one and coming along after this. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: How This Event Became "The Trans Iowa"

Furniture on gravel roads is nothing new. From the T.I.v5 recon
 "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!

Words mean things. When people talk about events or stories, their words that they choose tell a story behind the thoughts on whatever it is that they are referencing. Take this event, Trans Iowa, as an example.

I only ever referred to it by the numeric description and basic name for the event's most recent version: For example, "T.I.v5" was "Trans Iowa v5", and nothing more than that. I never wrote or spoke about Trans Iowa as some did by writing and saying "The Trans Iowa", (capitalized "T" in "the" my emphasis.). Some even went so far as to call it simply "The Trans" in their speech. What were these people saying about the event by referring to it in this way?

Going back to the beginnings of this event, I do know that Jeff and I sparked a lot of imaginations. People realized that yes- they could do this thing. They could produce events like this. It was easier than they thought, there were rules to borrow, and a precedent had been set. But more than this, my feeling is that what Trans Iowa represented and started was an example of the "people's event". The type of bicycle racing that was for the regular folks. It was relatively easy to get in to an event like this in the beginning, it was easy to understand these events, and it usually didn't cost an arm and a leg. They were different, they had no shackles or restraints. This could be anything you wanted it to be. So, many folks set up their ideal events. I am not sure a lot of what happened would have happened without Trans Iowa kind of making it known "that you could". I think that was our biggest influence early on. We broke the glass case and let the ideas out of the bag.

Trans Iowa blurred the lines between reality and myth for many. Image by J Kerkove from v2


However; as an "event", Trans Iowa was, admittedly, weird. It stood apart from most of what followed in our wake. Most early gravel events mimicked what people romanticized as the classic European road event, the Paris-Roubaix. This was reflected in the various takes on the name "Roubaix" in many event's names, or in the way they were set up as Springtime events, trying to cash in on the "hardman" weather Spring often brought. That precipitated further growth, and by 2010, Trans Iowa was pretty much the odd man out in the growing niche of gravel based cycling events.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told how Trans Iowa resembled that odd running event dubbed the "Barkely Marathons". The running event that has been spoken of in hushed, reverent tones, and derided as "not a real race" by both its admirers and its detractors. More than the event itself, it is the aura around it that, I believe, has more relation to Trans Iowa. More so than the way I ran T.I. compared to the Barkely's race director.

That running event is almost always referred to as "The Barkley Marathons" and sometimes just as "The Barkley". Sound familiar? Folks have personified the event. It has a mythical air around it, and its "out there" aesthetic and culture is unlike any other running event on the planet. This event is downright weird, but many people have found an odd attraction to it.

This is pretty much what Trans Iowa had going on with how folks saw the event by Trans Iowa v5. It was an event that had a personality, and it was given power by those who rode it as if it were a thing that was alive. I recall many a person saying that "If  'The Trans' allows you to pass, count yourself lucky", or some variation thereof, as if Trans Iowa were some "gravel god" that granted passage, or not.

To say that I was uncomfortable with any talk of that kind about the event is an understatement. I never could adopt such thoughts regarding the event, and I often dismissed any expressions resembling these characterizations of Trans Iowa. I get it though.... For some it was a valid way to believe in the event that was hard to wrap their minds around. But I am still not very comfortable with thinking about Trans Iowa in those terms.

Another odd thing about Trans Iowa is how some folks use "Trans Iowa" and "Guitar Ted" interchangeably.  As if the event and I are the same entity. This happened when I announced the end of Trans Iowa when a few folks told me, "You ARE Trans Iowa!" I figured it was all just emotions at the moment when the event was ending forever. But just the other day, a co-worker said, "I see you got a mention in 'Velo News' recently." Wait........I was mentioned in 'Velo News'! Well, as it turned out, Trans Iowa, the event, was what was mentioned, but this person equated myself and Trans Iowa as one deal, and he isn't even into the gravel scene! The event apparently has swallowed me whole. "THE Trans Iowa" indeed!

Next week: I get into the stories surrounding the one-off Trans Iowa held in Williamsburg, Iowa- Trans Iowa v5.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Minus Ten Review 2009-50

Mr. Steve Fuller got me this ten years ago. I still remember how good it was. Thanks!
Ten years ago on the blog I was reminded how my (at that time only about four years) blogging was reaching readers and that, at odd times, my daily life and digital persona would intersect. Back then I was always surprised to know that anyone was reading my scribin'.

I'm still pretty amazed to see my stats when I look at them. People all over the world have read my stuff, and of course, most of them I won't ever meet. But like when it happened ten years ago, my blogging/reviewing gig still intersects with my day-to-day life at odd times. I still have a bit of disbelief when it happens. But, then again, why should I be surprised? It's been about 15 years now......

Ten years ago we also got a huge snow storm which dumped something like 15" of snow on us. And me without a fat bike! Well......most of us didn't have fat bikes ten years ago. I think that is easy to forget. Ten years ago, you either put together a Pugsley from scratch, or had a custom fat bike from Alaska somewhere built. They were a two thousand dollar plus proposition, and when you were thinking maybe you'd only ever use it in snow, well, that was a lot of money to experiment with an idea that you had no background in

Of course, now looking back, it was a no-brainer. I should have just done it when I saw Dave Grey's prototype Pugsley in 2005. I would have been fat biking ten years ago instead of sipping scotch on a cold Winter's night. Not that it was a bad idea........

Friday, December 13, 2019

Friday News And Views

A collection of proposed Harley-Davidson HPC vehicles.
Sea Change In HPC Terminology and Sales Afoot:

A recent "Bicycle Retailer And Industry News" post on their website has an interesting story about how HPC (Hybrid Powered Cycles) are now breaking into the power sports dealerships and what sort of "vehicles" are being promoted for sale in these avenues and why. While this is an interesting, and frankly, not surprising development, what I found interesting were the terms used to describe these things in a couple of places in the article.

Giant, the Taiwanese based bicycle titan of the industry, was quoted in the article saying the following about people coming to a show where they displayed HPC vehicles, "....... it makes sense to give them a peek at the latest from the industry leader in hybrid cycling technology." (NOTE- blue highlighting done for effect) Interestingly not using the ubiquitous term "e-bike" here.

While "getting more people on bikes" is always given as a reason for electrifying bicycles, it is interesting to note that this trend to sell through power sports dealers is reaching dirt/moto bikers and they use the bikes not so much for transportation, or even as a mountain bike, but as a sort of "pit bike", or two wheeled ATV to recon courses or to watch events from as they zip from point to point around a course. If this is actually the case, it would seem that the aspect of cycling is secondary to "just getting around easier" so that it becomes more of an avenue for the manufacturers to make product flow than it would be for achieving the ideal of getting folks to get out of cars and exercise.

Finally, an interesting quote from a Specialized's Saul Leiken, head of e-bike marketing, "I talk to a lot of riders who don't expect IBDs (Independent Bicycle Dealers) to sell electric bicycles, even though bicycle is in the name. They see electric bicycles as vehicles and they expect to find them at a retailer who sells vehicles.." (Again, blue indicates my emphasis.) Vehicles, not bicycles. Kind of a fundamental difference there.

Bicycles in the early 20th Century were fitted with motors, while still having pedals, and they were bundled with straight-up motorcycles for sale alongside of traditional bicycles. So, all of this is just the same scene, only a 100 years later. What happened back in those days? You know the answer. I've been pointing to this all along. And what happens when Yamaha, Honda, and Harley-Davidson finally start making their versions of electrified two-wheeled vehicles? These HPC's will eventually just become electric motorcycles. Time is telling.....and will tell. Stay tuned......

The Standard Rando 2.0 is coming in Spring 2020
 Twin Six Teases New Standard Rando:

Twin Six, the clothing company out of the Twin Cities since 2005, has been teasing an update to their classic Standard Rando bike on Instagram and Twitter. They've shown detail shots but this is the first I've seen of a full-on bike shot.

The Standard Rando was supposed to be their take on a "go-long" road bike, but since it came out upon the advent of the gravel scene, it was quickly adopted as a gravel bike also. I had one for a few years just selling it off recently, as a matter of fact, since it had QR wheel attachments and putting anything over a 38mm tire in the rear was asking for issues with clearances. Actually, the fork was not much better for clearance, come to think of it.

But now I'm seeing some improvements. Is that a 44mm head tube? Maybe..... Through axle attachments for the wheels, perchance? And what about tire clearances? Hmm...... I'm seeing fork accessory mounts, and in one image I saw, there are two down tube mounted bottle boss sets, one on the seat tube, and if there is one on the down tube, well.......

Not to mention, T-6 frames are generally pretty reasonably priced. Depending upon details, this could be a front runner to replace the Raleigh Tamland Two. Tire clearances will be key, as will what the steer tube compatibility is as well. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for future details........


I got these fender "skirts" at Frostbike years ago.
So, What Have You Been Up To Lately?

Yeah, so this is a "blog", right? You come here to see what I am up to, what I am thinking of late, and all you get lately are these posts about old stuff. So, you may be wondering what is up lately. (Or maybe not....but why are you reading then?) Anyway, here is an update on December so far.....

On the bicycling front, I've gotten a few rides in. Mostly commutes though, and I've fallen ill with a nasty head cold here. So, I never got to enjoy those great days last weekend when it was so warm out. I did get the C.O.G. 100 recon done though, which was huge. That was a major goal before the end of 2019.

I've been doing a LOT of reorganizing in the "Lab" at G-Ted Headquarters. This is due in part to my lack of being "on top" of things down there throughout the Summer months. But there is another major issue which will be talked about here soon enough which necessitated the doing of the deed now. Actually, truth be known, I've been busy organizing for months now. Since last Spring, really. Anyway.... More on that front soon.

I finally got that other chain lube which I wanted to use in the last "Lube Off".  It's kind of a "cottage", home-made type formula with a pretty big following in SoCal with mountain bikers, for the most part. I got this stuff on my chain which was part of the GRX group test, and I have something like maybe an hour on that so far. I'll try to squeeze in some more rides here and there, but I have to rid myself of this pesky cold first.

I also came across these pictured Surly branded "fender skirts" which I found while re-organizing stuff in the Lab recently. These plastic guards were part of a schwag giveaway that Surly did at Frostbike, like maybe what? Ten years ago? At least that long. So, don't ask "Where can I get those?" because you can't get them. Not that I am aware of.

I decided that since the Orange Crush rig was now dedicated to single speed and nasty weather that these flaps belonged on that bike. I attached them with a nut and bolt to my Planet Bike Cascadia AX fenders and I will see how that goes. Glad I found those things again!

That's all for this week! Stay tuned for more "Rear View" stuff and the Trans Iowa Stories coming Sunday. 


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Rear View '19 - Spring

March saw the inaugural C.O.G. 100 event which N.Y, Roll and I put on.
  Hello Readers! Once again I am doing the annual retrospective on what went down over the year of 2019. This post will focus on Spring. The previous post covered the Winter season, with two to come,  for a total of four, one each week of December on Thursdays.

Spring: Things kicked off with the inaugural C.O.G. 100 Iowa Single Speed Championships. N.Y. Roll and I put the event on out of Grinnell, Iowa on a wet, cold, and very windy day. We had a great group of enthusiastic riders whittled away by the severe conditions and not many survived to beat the time limitation on the event.

My next big deal came only a week afterward when I did the Renegade Gents Race with my old team for the ninth year in a row. I ended up getting a bad hip pain, likely due to an ill-advised fixed gear gravel ride I did before the event by a couple of weeks which really made my hips sore. In fact, it took most of the Spring and into Summer for the effects of that to go away. So, it resulted in a DNF once again for Team Careless Whispers. Dang it!

Later in April I got a full set of Bike Bag Dude bags to replace a set I had gotten years ago which were so soiled that the Bike Bag Dude wanted to replace them! He saw my bike on Facebook with the old set and asked me to throw those old filthy things out! The guy cracks me up, but he is a good dude and many folks agree. BBD bags are top notch and used by many well known ultra-endurance folks and bike packers.

With the close of the rewritten "The Touring Series" posts, I started up another series called "The Story of Guitar Ted", a series to bridge the gap in time between the closing series and when I became a blogger here. That took April and May up to tell, and then I started the "Trans Iowa Stories" posts, which are still running on every Sunday.

In May I was deeply moved and honored by many of you readers and my good brothers, MG and Sam, since you all were instrumental in helping me to get Sam's old Ti Muk. That post, with all the contributor's names, can be found here. One thing I have to say, and that is that all of you are very generous readers when it comes to me and doing kind things for me. I will never forget this, or past efforts on the parts of G-Ted Production readers, to be kind to me in unforeseen ways. Thank you!!

Later on I wrote an article on terms used to describe drop bars for off-road use in "Drop Bar Terms Defined", which also can be found on RidingGravel.com's site.

Many gravel roads in my neck of the woods were like semi-Level B roads up until mid-Summer.
Gravel riding commenced and I was finding lots of dirt and mud instead of dry, dusty limestone. It was all due to a late, heavy Winter with a fast melt, then wet and cool Spring weather. This did not allow for the road beds to heal and the roads were torn up pretty badly well into Summer. I also was noting that dogs seemed to be ganging up on me. It was a consistent enough of a trend to warrant me finally declaring 2019 as "The Year of the Dog". Of course, as soon as I did that, the dog encounters went down and then disappeared altogether.

Next: Summer

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

C.O.G.100 Course Recon Report

Please keep in mind that Iowa is flat.
Last Saturday N.Y. Roll and I decided to forgo the Global Fat Bike day festivities and do our duty with regard to C.O.G. 100 course recon. It was one of the nicest days in December you could ask for, not very "fat bike" type weather anyway. So, off we went to Grinnell and the start line of the 2020 C.O.G. 100.

Speaking of the start line, we have an idea to tweak where that is so it starts North of HWY 6 and directly opposite of a large parking lot. We have to do some asking and get permissions first, so stay tuned on that.

The course will head out on the same road riders used last year, but that is about the only thing that is the same this time for 2020. We have a course this year which packs in a lot of the same type of things Trans Iowa was known for but in a smaller, 100 mile bite. It'll be easy. So easy you'll only need ONE GEAR. Oh......yes. This must be said again, because I am sure it will come up, but your bicycle MUST BE A SINGLE SPEED. No exceptions. We had a full field last year which figured out how to show up on a single speed, so we know you can do this. In other words, don't show up thinking your zip-tied, locked into one gear, multiple speed equipped bike is sano with the C.O.G. 100, because that ain't a gunna fly. Be a single speed committed rider. Ride a single speed bike. Period.

There will be big rollers, long grades, mind numbing flat sections, big long stretches with no turns and sections with turns every mile or less. Your navigational skills will be challenged as well as your physical skills. Yes.....this means you will be using cue sheets. There will be no GPS files made available to navigate by. Everyone will be on the same page- literally- for navigation. This drops any advantages some may have due to their ability to have a GPS device over someone who cannot. Plus- cue sheets demand your engagement. This is important, it is more difficult, and as such, requires another level of skill. We're not forcing you to come to the 2020 C.O.G. 100, so remember- "If you don't like the rules, maybe this event isn't for you."

Part of the single Level B Maintenance dirt road which will be on the 2020 C.O.G. 100 course.
Of course, there will also be a Level B Maintenance dirt road in the course for the C.O.G. 100 next year. This one will have a 90° turn in it and will be approximately one mile in length. The road slowly changes over back to gravel as you get toward the end, (as we will be taking it) of this section. Oh yeah.....it's mostly uphill too. 

Amazingly we were able to drive it this time. I wasn't expecting this, but with the angle of the Sun now days, the tree lined road was shaded enough that the dirt was frozen, for the most part. there was one open section where it was a touch greasy, but N.Y. Roll's Subie made mincemeat of that, and we rolled right through. Don't count on such luck in late March. But then again, you never know! 

I thought that there might be a very short section of dirt road at another point on the course, but there is some construction going on around a bridge, and the road is being changed. We are not sure just what might become of this as of now, but my feeling is that the old dirt section will become gravel and the bridge? Well, we do not know at this point. If it gets taken out, we have a possible re-route we can employ here. The best part is that it neither adds nor subtracts course mileage.

Roller coaster

Last year we took a little criticism of where the convenience store stop was in relation to the course mileage. We had the one and only stop available at about Mile 80-ish. This year we are adjusting this to be as close to right-smack-dab in the middle as we can. It worked out that at around mile 48-49 you'll get a chance to swing in and resupply on water, food, or use a restroom. We scoped out this store Saturday and it should serve riders well. But that said, it isn't anything to write home about. It's maybe the "next step up" over what was on the course last year. Maybe. These are small town villages we are talking about here, so don't expect a super-market type joint. It isn't available in rural Iowa.

Also- We had to make a "lollipop" loop in to and out of this town to get you into this convenience store opportunity. There will be approximately a 1-1.5 mile stretch where the loop overlaps onto the same piece of road you started the loop on. This means that, since the loop is about 20-ish miles in length, there may be some leaders on the road coming through some slower riders as those slower riders enter the loop. We are planning to demarcate the cues where there will be overlap so riders will know where this could occur. Bottom line- pay attention to your cues-do not just follow a wheel! You could end up on the loop again, or find yourself short cutting the loop off, if you aren't paying attention.

There also is a convenience store opportunity at around Mile 68. It's visible just down from an intersection and would probably add about 3/4's of a mile if you took advantage of it for a "round trip", off the route and back on again. This may get lost if we have issues with re-routing for that bridge I mentioned earlier, so stay tuned......

So, this bears repeating, but YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU! We do not supply an "aid station", nor do we have a "sag wagon", or any such thing to serve you as a bail-out option. You need to provide that. Carry along the food you need, water for at least 50-60 miles, and have someone available to cart your broken down self/bike/both in case you get stranded and cannot continue in the event. We won't be there to bail you out, hold your hand, or make decisions for you. That's all on you.

The roads were super-smooth and fast, but don't expect this in March.
Mind-numbing flats? We got that. Also- Note the chunky gravel here. This is more representative of what you'll see in March.
The course distance has been reduced to 102-ish max. Maybe 101. We have ideas on the finish line which when we get those straightened out, we will be able to say an exact distance. But yeah.....ten miles shorter than last year. 

C.O.G. 100: Real. American. Gravel
Other ideas are still in flux. We are toying with what to give riders for the championship recognition. Jersey? Trophy? Both? Let's hear some feedback. Plus, I have a great idea for this year's icon/header for the site/schwag idea. I'm working up the art now, but the slogan I came up with is "Real American Gravel" and N.Y. Roll and I are pretty sure this will end up being a hat again. There will be a pre-event gathering/pre-sign on at Peace Tree Tap Room again in downtown Grinnell. So, plan on joining us for that as well. (They do have a non-alcoholic choice or two as well for those who do not drink alcohol.)

So, just a bit of backstory on the #RealAmericanGravel and how this came about. As we were doing recon, we came across a Bald Eagle sitting on a carcass of something alongside the road. We passed it by and it did not move a muscle. Amazing! then I saw a US flag on a hill, and I guess I was inspired. It took me about two or three stabs at a phrase but when I said "Real American Gravel" I knew that was it.

So, now you know how that happened.

We are pretty happy with the course. I think it will provide a bit of challenge in several ways, worthy of a "single speed championship course". We certainly have our work cut out for us on our end, but we should be able to pull this together and provide details on the remaining areas we need to get nailed down soon. This includes registration.

Stay tuned......

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Bikes Of 2019 - Ti Muk 2

Salsa Cycles Ti Mukluk, or "Ti Muk 2", as I call it.
This bike makes its first appearance on the "Bikes of....." list as I just received it this past Spring. This bike has a very special story attached to it.

So, as most of you long time readers may remember, I have had a titanium fat bike, the original "Ti Muk", since about December 2011. I rode that bike on all sorts of adventures, fat bike races, gravel rides, slogging through mud in the Green Belt, and more.

And you longtime readers may also recall that I had mentioned that, in my opinion, the Rohloff internal geared hub on a Ti Muk might be the perfect fat bike. Of course, the getting of a Rohloff hub, shifter, lacing it into a wheel, and all would easily eclipse the 2G level, and I was not prepared to make that kind of an investment into my Ti Muk. Not only was the money a barrier, but since Salsa Cycles ill-advisedly stuck to a straight 1 1/8th steer tube format for the first titanium Mukluks, my bike was essentially out of date. I was pretty much stuck with rear brake format, 135mm spaced, straight steer tube front forks. And if you keep up with fat bikes, you know those forks are rare. So, upgrading an off-the back standard titanium frame seemed rather ill advised. I would need the second gen Ti Muk, or equivalent, and that needed to be single speed compatible. Again, not a common frame. Oh......and Rohloff only does 170mm spaced rear hubs. Not the 190mm rear, and its through-axle variants, as is most common today in fat bikes.

For a while I thought about getting the new Pugsley, with its updated geometry, and wider tire clearances. However, I didn't really need the offset wheel thing, and I am not sure Rohloff advises one do that with their hub. Also, while steel is okay, in my neck-o-the woods, titanium is best for dealing with corrosive environments as we have with city streets and the chemicals that are used in Winter to treat the roads here.

The recent addition of a Mucky Nutz fender to the seat tube has worked to perfection.
Well, it was all on the back-burner for me for those reasons until this past March when my friend Sam had decided to part ways with his Rohloff equipped 2015 Ti Mukluk.

The backstory on this bike I am familiar with. The bike started out life as a frame/fork which former Milltown Cycles owner Ben Witt purchased. (He may have been with Salsa Cycles by this time, I cannot remember.) At any rate, I stayed with Ben at his home for the 2017 Fargo Reunion Ride, where I saw this frame built with a Rohloff hub, Whiskey 70mm rear carbon rim, and nothing more. Ben said it was a project that he was probably going to sell off. I was quite tempted at the time, but going into Winter is the worst time for me traditionally to buy big bike purchases. So, with prudence in mind, I passed. Sam was the eventual buyer of the bike. He finished out the build.

Sam, being a huge fan of dynamo hubs, got the Schmidt SON 150mm disc front hub, and had it laced to a Whiskey carbon 70mm rim I had procured for him at a fantastic deal, since it was a replaced rim due to cosmetic damage. So, my story was loosely wrapped up into this bike from the get-go. But it got completely entangled in a way I had not foreseen.

On Sam's Facebook page advertising the sale of this bike, I stated that "....someone should get this as it is the perfect fat bike build!" That caught the notice of MG. Later, he asked me in the midst of a text dealing with a bunch of other stuff if I really thought that Sam's bike was the perfect fat bike. I answered that, for me, yes- it was. We moved on, and I forgot all about Sam's bike and MG's question.

Some weeks later, MG got a hold of me to let me know that he had raised some crazy amount of cash through pledges he drummed up to contribute to a "fat bike fund" for me. Wow! I am still blown away by this gesture that 21 people contributed to, which defrayed the costs to me to a mere pittance for this bike. Thank you could never say enough! So, yeah......wow. 

Obviously this is a very special bike to me. While it may not reflect the "perfect fat bike" for many, I cannot think of any major changes I would make to this bike. I have made a few additions, and they include accessories, for the most part.
  • Mucky Nutz fenders- One under the fork crown, the other behind the seat tube.
  • Modified Dave Grey Mud Shovel rear fender.
  • Salsa Cycles Alternator Rack 
  • New Schmidt rear dynamo light and wiring mods.
  • Bike Bag Dude frame bag, Garage Top Tube Bag, and Chaff Bags in purple, (originally meant for the Ti Muk 1)
  • Terrene Cake Eater 26 X 4.0 stud-able tires
  • Temporary "top secret seat post" with WTB Volt saddle.
  • Pogie Lite handle bar pogies by BikeIowa.com
Plans are to run this rig most of the time through Winter and for appropriate adventures, which will hopefully include some Sub-24 bikepacking and gravel next year.

Once again- My sincere, heartfelt thanks to those who made my getting this bike a reality, including my brothers MG and Sam who I love dearly.

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 Buettner 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 RidingGravel.com . 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 RidingGravel.com. 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.