Friday, July 31, 2020

Friday News And Views

Pirate Cycling League Announces Virtual Gravel Worlds:

Donate. Ride. Submit.

That's what ya gotta do to participate in this new virtual challenge which the PCL has set up in lieu of holding Gravel Worlds this year, which has been cancelled due to the pandemic. let's see what this deal is about.....

Donate: From the Gravel Worlds website: "In order to participate in Gravel Worlds Virtual, you must donate at least $10 to the Randy Gibson Fund at the Lincoln Parks Foundation. The Lincoln Parks Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit; therefore, the donation will be tax deductible. Our event promotion team will not receive any of the money that is donated. All donations go directly to the non-profit, Lincoln Parks Foundation."

The Randy Gibson Fund is something set up to help pay for a special rest stop on a recreational trail in the Lincoln area to honor Randy Gibson, a very influential local cyclist, and a volunteer/graphic designer for many of the Gravel Worlds events in the past. It's a worthy cause and the outcome will honor the life and influence of Randy Gibson, who is dearly missed by many in the Lincoln cycling scene, not to mention his family. 

Ride: The PCL has several courses set up in the Lincoln area to use for the challenge. Riders are encouraged to do 150 mile, 75 mile, or 50K distances to be a part of this. From the website again: "After the donation, the participants have three distance options to choose from: 150 miles, 75 miles or the 50 km. Speed isn’t essential to participate. You just need to be able to complete the distance(s). Any course anywhere in the World will work. It doesn’t need to be on gravel. Just get out and ride! Create your own route and ride in your City!"

The PCL is offering this challenge through the month of August. Anyone anywhere in the World can participate. The only stipulations being that you must donate and you must complete the distance you choose. Riders can also do all three challenge distances, but each ride must be accompanied by a separate donation, so if you did all three rides, you must donate three different times at the 10 dollar minimum. Now you are two thirds of the way there! Finally.......

Submit: No.....this isn't about some weird dictatorship or oddball sexual practices. This only refers to getting your ride into the hopper at Gravel Worlds so you can be documented and be a part of a random raffle to win one of many prizes that the generous sponsors of Gravel Worlds has offered to be given away.

You must fill out the form showing you donated. Then, you can upload them a gpx file, you can take an image of your device showing the mileage completed, you can send the PCL a photo documentary of your challenge ride. You could maybe even send the PCL a handwritten manuscript including images of your journey. A pirate map? Why not! Just submit your ride details to the PCL via their website instructions.

I'll be joining in the fun, since Gravel Worlds was on my calendar of things to do in 2020. Stay tuned for my attempt to be documented here.

The Mason Cycles "In Search Of" model is very much like a Fargo.
Interesting Fargo Alternative From The UK:

There are not too many alternatives to a Salsa Cycles Fargo out there. Some bikes come close, (as we examined earlier here and here), but most aren't quite 'there' in one way or another. I have noted the company Mason Cycles in the past as an interesting company focused upon adventure, challenge, and fun. They use aluminum a lot, but steel is also in their vocabulary there, as well as titanium, at times. Their model dubbed the "In Search Of" looks very interesting if you are in mind to have a bike like a Fargo, but different than most would choose.

First off, the frame is top notch and made from Reynolds 853 steel. Sounds good already! They custom form it, (note the bend in the down tube, as an example) and top that off with their own 100mm suspension corrected carbon fiber fork with the requisite "adventure warts", of course. It also features those mounting points you'd expect to find on such an adventure bike as well. Multiple bottle mounts, and it is upgrade-able to a special dynamo lighting package Mason Cycles offers.

The obvious 'bendy downtube' is only one of the unique aesthetic features of the ISO. It also has a kind of splash guard/rack thing-a-ma-bob over the front wheel that Mason is rather proud of. They say it can carry up to 2kg of cargo. Cute...... Not sure it is of much use, but its there if you like it.

I'll say that, if you can get by the odd-duck looks, this is a pretty close alternative to a Fargo. It doesn't have any way to bail you out if you should experience a derailleur failure. (Yes- that really can happen. I've had to push a fellow Fargo rider that was on a pre-Alternator Fargo out of the woods on one occasion) That omission kind of seems like an oversight to me, but otherwise, this might be a cool rig. You don't hear much about these 'over here', so I thought I'd share what I've seen is a good choice in "Fargo-like" adventure bikes.

If you want to cosplay at a gravel event as The Joker, well then....Image courtesy of Shimano
 Shimano Shows New Color For The RX8 Gravel Shoe: 

Sometimes when I get a press release I say, "Wow!", and at other times I also say, "Wow!", followed by some 'other thoughts'.

I opened a recent Shimano press release and the 'wow' came out followed by, "are you kidding me?" Yeah.....those are some fancy, flashy slippers for cycling right there! And those colors! 

Now listen people- I like green and purple. A LOT! My favorite two colors ever right there. But on my shoes? Ah.........sheesh! I'm not so sure about that. Maybe if they were all one color or the other? Yes. Then I would be down with that. All purple or all green. But this mix?

Supposedly this is inspired by the Southwest's deserts and the blossoms on prickly pear cactus. Thus the name of the color, "Cactus Berry. I dunno..... They look more like The Joker's footwear to me, but I could be way off there. I'm thinking the 60's era, made for T.V., Cesar Romero Joker. Anyway....

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend and keep on keepin' on!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Country Views: Summer Heat

Hazy, lazy,and hot. Typical late Summer Iowa weather.
Wednesday was forecast to be 'nice' out. Whatever that means, is up for debate, but a more correct description would have been 'typical' Summer weather. Humid, hot, not much wind, and hazy skies.

I set out for Petrie Road's Level B section to test out the new Kinekt Stem I am reviewing for Riding Gravel. I've had this stem on several rides already, but this was the first time out to Petrie Road.

I took the Black Mountain Cycles MCD and when I was loading it up, I noted that the seat tube water bottle cage was wobbling more than it should. It had a full, large bottle of water in it already, and while that should make the cage move a little bit, this was excessive. I decided I could tighten things up at the launching off point when I got there.

Once I arrived at the starting spot, I took a closer look. While the mounting bolts were a little loose, it was really the fault of the cage being broken in two places. Hmm..... A quick decision to roll with that and maybe transfer water from the tall bottle to the shorter bottle I have to use on the top of the down tube was made and so I got going under a hot Summer Sun.

The roads South of town were laden with fresh, dusty gravel. The cars that passed me by early on left clouds of the stuff hanging in the air, but you could barely discern a slight Northerly component to the air. Whatever. You certainly could not feel the air movement and the heat, although only in the upper 80's, was stifling. The only relief was moving on the bike.

These fist sized rocks on Petrie Road gave the Kinekt Stem a good test.

After I stopped for some water the second time, I decided to drain what was left into my mouth of the water in the smaller bottle so I could put the water from the big bottle into the small and thus give the wounded cage a lighter load. However; when I pulled the big bottle out, the cage disintegrated, breaking again, and was not useful even to hold an empty bottle at this point. So, I shoe-horned the big bottle into the upper cage somehow, put the now empty small bottle under the down tube in that cage, and moved on.

Holmes Road looking North across Schrock Road near Hudson, Iowa.

I was riding along a non-descript portion of gravel when HEY! What the...... My frame pump jumped ship for no apparent reason. Weird! I retrieved it and put it back into its place. But when really weird things start happening like imploding bottle cages and ejections of frame pumps, I tend to take those as 'signs' that I need to just cut back my grandiose riding plans and head home. So, whether rightly or foolishly, that is what I did.

A solo detassling machine.
I came across one of those detassling machines in the field working. I had pictured a row of them in a storage area not many weeks ago here. Anyway, it was interesting. This machine is operated by a single person and the beams sticking out either side have cutting blades that basically mow off the tops of the corn which they don't want to cross-breed. Look carefully and you can see the perfectly cut tops in the field ahead of the machine in the image.

So, now they won't be needing bus loads of young teenagers to hand pull tassels anymore. Although some of that is still happening, as I have seen out there as well. No doubt someday this operation will be automated to the point that the machines will work by GPS directions and will only require a single person in a truck command center to keep track of them. But for now, it would seem that the days of hand labor in the fields of corn in Summer are nearing their end.

Times are a changing.......

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Long Term Shimano GRX Review

The GRX component group I received last Fall on the day of the unboxing.
The shocking news last May that Shimano had released a purpose-built, stand-alone group of drive train parts for gravel riding is now something not even questioned. Think about that. We accept it as 'no big deal' now. Of course there is a gravel road drive train gruppo. Why wouldn't there be one

The fact that GRX was adopted so quickly says that gravel/all-road/adventure cycling has walked into the spotlight and it isn't some fringe activity we Mid-Westerners do in our spare time. It's serious business now, and Shimano legitimized gravel bikes in one fell swoop with the introduction of GRX.

Since I am a co-owner of, I was afforded the unique privilege of being one of the first people to get to handle, install, and ride GRX components. The review for the site was wrapped up earlier this year. I've continued to ride the GRX stuff since and I thought I would write up a follow-up post to this one I wrote last Fall. Instaed of hashing over all the well worn paths again concerning GRX, I thought I would address, point-by-point, my post from last Fall to see how I feel about those things after more than half a year has gone by and hundreds of miles of gravel riding.

So, if you want to know details about weights, technical aspects, and whatnot, just follow those links I have above, which should satisfy your curiosity. I'm going to try to stay in focus here on my thoughts from last fall. Here we go!
  • Shifting: I said it last Fall, and in speaking with someone just the other day about my GRX stuff, I basically said almost the same thing, word for word, more than 8 months later with no looking back at that post. I guess that means the GRX shifting really is that good! Now- I have had to tweak on the barrel adjuster a couple more times since last Fall, but really- is that unusual or surprising? The only way you are getting away from that is to upgrade to Di2. So, GRX is top-notch in the shifting department. 
  • Brakes: I also said this last year, and it stands to this day. Best Brakes For Drop Bar Bikes. Period. So easy to actuate the brake and from the hoods, you can one-finger these to stop on a dime. They are that easy to modulate and apply. No noises either. Not a peep. Amazing brakes!
  • Ergonomics: Hood shape and lever feel are still tops and what I said last year hasn't changed for me. I will only add one thing, If you prefer no-gloves, like me, and if you get really sweaty, the hoods get kinda slippery, and those ribs molded into the hoods don't help with grip very much. In fact, I have to wonder if the strips of raised rubber don't actually cause less grip when my hands are dripping with sweat. I might advocate for a smoother, perhaps slightly textured grip, or maybe an area based on the type of folds you see on some ODI lock on grips. Anyway, overall, this is my only serious let-down with GRX so far. If my hands are not dripping with sweat? I have zero issues. I didn't have the opportunity to experience this until this Summer, since I got on the GRX essentially on the cusp of Winter here. 
  • Ride Performance: Again- everything I said still holds true with the exception of the aforementioned ergonomic issue. I will add that as a 1X group, I was prepared to not get on with that aspect of the drive train. However, with Shimano's closer ratio cassettes, and with their easier shifting, I am smitten with the 1X drive train now. It still is not my preference, I just don't dislike it anymore. The quick shifting is great, but I still feel when the chain is at the extreme angles and a 2X would allow me to put the chain in a more efficient chain angle and still give me my gear I prefer at the moment. But that maybe is just me.......
  • GRX Wheels: When you think about Shimano, I don't think you will have "great wheels" come to your mind. Maybe I'm wrong, but if you are anything like me, Shimano wheels don't rank high against the competition. But, at a tick over $400.00 for the set, I have to say that the GRX wheels present a pretty great value. I have had zero issues with the set sent to me to test. Nothing. Tubeless performance has been excellent. Like I said last year, "In my opinion, these are wheels you just ride into the dirt, however long it takes, and you don't worry about them along the way." Nuff' said.
The GRX wheels and group here from the 4th of July ride I did recently.
Recently, Andy of Andy's Bike Shop got GRX stuff for his Twin Six Standard Rando v2 build and he absolutely loves the stuff. I know MG, who tested the Di2 stuff and the 2X mechanical 11 speed GRX loves it as well. There are a lot of newer bikes coming with GRX now, and a LOT of people are finding out how a purpose built group for the kind of cycling we do is worth its weight and trouble to get. Because GRX has been pretty hard to source unless you buy it on a new bike.

The Future: We mused on this during our latest recording of Episode #55 of the Riding Gravel Radio Ranch recently, but I cannot imagine that the all-new GRX Di2 type lever won't be trickled down to the mechanical group. I imagine a 12 speed Di2 option with a 2X or 1X option on the crank set. I imagine this being introduced ahead of a Dura Ace offering because gravel/all-road is more important than road racing now. (Wouldn't THAT be a shocker) I imagine Di2 integration with a Shimano sourced or branded, or co-partnered GPS computer/navigation system. I imagine a GRX Di2 type dropper post option which would be run electronically. I imagine a higher end GRX wheel set (Carbon perhaps?)

However it goes, I know that with GRX we are looking at a new era in cycling. I'm still excited about it, and I still think Shimano is tops in this type of cycling. Will we see SRAM or even Campy rise to the challenge? Time will tell........

Disclaimer: I did not pay for the GRX bits and Shimano did not bribe me, nor pay me to write this up. In fact, they are not even aware I am doing this here. As far as I know anyway.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Spiffing Up The Blackbuck

Current state of the Blackbuck
Yawn........ another single speed on Guitar Ted Productions? Really?


Long time readers all have seen this rare bird several times before. This is a 2006 OS Bikes Blackbuck, in case you did not know. I guess this is almost a "vintage" 29"er" now days! It's old enough a lot of people have probably never heard about "OS Bikes" and this single speed.

OS Bikes was a short-lived outside project of Mark Slate's. Mark is one of the founders of WTB, a Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member, and one of the true 'pioneers' of the modern mountain bike, and certainly a big part of why the first 29"er tire ever was made. So, to say that Mr. Slate was a highly influential man in cycling is no hyperbole. In fact, he still is pretty important at WTB, and still has a hand on what riders are doing with their MTB's and gravel bikes in the year 2020, more than 40+ years since he got started.

Mark's biggest influence was on tires and saddles, (he designed the saddle on this bike you see here) He was not particularly known for his design of bicycles, but this is one of his efforts. This particular Blackbuck comes from the first run of 500 bikes that were made. I purchased it as a frame/fork. The original rigid fork was super short, had a 51mm offset, and resulted in a ridiculous 74° head angle with a trail figure down into the upper 40's, as I recall. This resulted in a textbook example of "Twitchiness".

I tried it a couple of times but it was so nervous that I just didn't jive with it. So, I have tried a multitude of forks on this bike and finally arrived at what you see here as being the best thing I tried out of them all. That fork is a Bontrager Switchblade, a fork steeped in mystery and rumors. I'll maybe get around to writing about that fork and its history with me later sometime.

Ultra-modern bar standards- Ultra-old school 29"er vibes.
The OS Bikes name actually stands for "Of Spirit Bikes", and why a Blackbuck, well, I'm not sure. I'm betting there is a story there, I just am not sure I know what it is. Anyway, the point is that I really like the bike and my aim is to slowly bring this up to a coherent looking build versus the hodge-podge of anodized stuff I've hung off the bike in years past.

My first "spiff" was to jettison the tired Salsa Shaft seat post in favor of a Thompson lay back, which is what the build deserves from a class and era-correct viewpoint. The next spiff happened when Grannygear gifted me his White ENO front and rear hubs and the excellent White Industries freewheel. I paired all of that up with the aforementioned fork, which also features silver anodized bits, and the look is coming together well. Finally, I threw on a Bontrager 35mm bar clamp diameter stem with matching Bontrager handle bar.

I need to score some Paul Love Levers in silver, a silver 1 1/8th King head set, (or equivalent), and a silver seat collar. Finally, I have a first gen (silver, natch!) XTR 180mm crankset, courtesy of the same Grannygear, which will be paired with either a black ring or silver ring. OR- I will get a White Industries crankset in silver.

Maybe I should go all White Industries/Paul Components. Get the White Industries head set, crank set, and the Paul levers and brake calipers. Ditch the Thomson post for a Paul Components Tall and Handsome, maybe... Except those parts are priced beyond what the Gross National Product of several nations is. Yeah.......maybe not!

The point is, with some silver bottle cages, I would be all silver and black then, and the bike would finally look 'right', ya know? OR- I could just shut up and actually, ya know.......go ride some single track with it already! 

 Yeah. Going riding then........

Monday, July 27, 2020

Plans Postponed

Saturday was supposed to be my next hundy ride. It didn't happen because I could not sleep at all Friday evening. Not sure why, but I am blaming what we had for my son's 17th birthday celebration- such as it was. 

Socially, my son's life sucks due to what is going on. There aren't many kids his age getting together around here for any reason, and as a result, as a parent, I feel bad about the situation. So, as a way to give him something to have a part in, he got to pick what we had for the evening meal on his birthday. He chose Popeye's chicken, because he really likes their stuff. Okay, chicken. Not a big deal, right?

Well, lately, and by "lately" I mean within the last five or six years, I have developed a bad reaction to any fast food's offerings. It started off a long time ago with Burger King's french fries, and now I just cannot have anything fast food. It makes my body swell up, my joints ache, my muscles feel like I got tackled by a linebacker, and I cannot sleep. I should have said, "Hey- you guys go ahead, I'll cook my own food.", but that would seem kinda bad on the son's birthday, so........

I was basically up all night into Saturday, it was supposed to be really humid, and hot, of course, and I was in no position to tackle 100 miles of gravel in the state I was in. In fact, I didn't feel quite "right" until later in the day. So, no- I did not nap. Which meant I slept like a log Saturday evening and on Sunday I felt tapped out. Just worn down from being so off kilter, food-wise. So, from here on out- no more fast food. 

I managed a casual ride Saturday morning. Not what I had intended.
It was hard to take because I was ready on every other level. I had a route, with cues "good enough" for me to follow. I had the Black Mountain Cycles pink MCD all ready to go. I had excitement for a new-to-me set of roads in an area I hadn't been in the country in for over a decade. I was super-bummed out.

But, in the end it maybe wasn't such a bad ride to miss on that kind of day. It was simply brutal out Saturday afternoon. The kind of day I often get beat by. I've had to cut short Guitar Ted Death Rides, Gravel Worlds rides, and Odin's Revenge rides because of weather like that. And really- I don't have anything I need to prove to anyone else or myself. It wouldn't have been prudent to try that kind of a ride on that kind of a day even had I gotten the best night's sleep ever.

So, I postponed the ride to another, more favorable weekend when I hope that the weather will be not quite so dangerous for me. No need to get out in such extreme conditions if I really don't have to. The route is set, I have what I need ready to go, and time is on my side.

Besides, this isn't like an event which has to happen on a certain day, right? That's when the weather is whatever the weather is. That's when you shrug your shoulders, say, "Well, here we go again!", and you clip in and shove off. But there is no such situation at hand in terms of this challenge I have set up. There is no set "date" to do this. It's refreshing, in a way, to have that liberty.

But I was a tad bit sad because this past weekend was the 'traditional' weekend for the Guitar Ted Death Ride invitational, and boy! Did the weather ever cooperate! If this had been a 'normal' year, I would have been torched out there Saturday. So, it was a blessing in disguise that things are the way that they are. And- the GTDRI used to happen in August years ago. That was before I started going to Gravel Worlds all the time. Anyway..... Later on in August, maybe, I'll get that century done. No hurry.

I ended up doing some casual ride Saturday morning, and while doing so, I found another excellent in-town testing area for Riding Gravel stuff. I also got my Lab organized a bit, I filed away some odds and ends, and I re-upped the Garage Sale Page with new stuff. Have a look and see if anything trips your trigger there.

I'll get around to this century thing later. Stay tuned.......

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: Two To Go

The leaders of T.I.v8 not far past Checkpoint Alpha.
"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! 

With the success of Trans Iowa v8 in the rear view mirror, I had focused upon the next Trans Iowa. In fact, I already knew before T.I.v8 that there would be a Trans Iowa v9, and not only that, a v10. How? Most of the time all anyone ever heard from me was that Trans Iowa could end at any time. While I always held out that possibility for the event I now had a solid goal.

Since v8 was such a success, and since it solved issues for me with repeatable processes, I now could seriously entertain those thoughts I had going all the way back to T.I.v5 about getting to ten events and then getting out. See, I knew it would be only a matter of time before something bad could happen to someone that might turn ugly. I never was much on math, but the theory of probabilities was a vaguely familiar idea to me. The longer the thing went on, the higher the probabilities were going to be that something would go very wrong. That's where my head was at.

Trans Iowa was a huge risk for me personally. Just think about how things could have went pear-shaped had someone been seriously injured, or worse, died. This was always on my mind. This is why I was horrified when cues weren't done, or when they were bad. This is why I was so upset when I found bits of the course that I had not reconned were putting riders at unnecessary risk, as in T.I.v7. I would literally lay in bed at night awake for hours thinking through how I could do things to help prevent this from happening.

And then there was putting on the event itself. Which at times was fun, and at times I was too busy to notice, but many times there were moments when I was sitting on pins and needles wondering what was going on, (like when Charlie Farrow went missing in v8), or when it was dark, cold, and I was wondering why the leaders weren't where I thought that they should be at a certain time. The sudden rise in heart rate every time the cell phone went off, only to find out it was someone wondering where their boyfriend or husband was at. I apologize if I came off somewhat coldly, but please understand, I was struggling with my own demons out there too.

If it weren't for many people, like the Slender Fungus, shown here, I wouldn't have kept going.
There were the people who 'just didn't get it' that pestered me with inane questions, there were those who thought my rules and processes were untenable and wanted me to modify things, and the grind just to get certain things done with the event that were burdensome. Tying together all the logistics, getting processes in place every year, and then there were the all important cue sheets and course finding. Every year..... I told people that Trans Iowa was literally a ten month to twelve month undertaking for me. It was never far from front and center in my mind all Summer, and of course, after I announced another one coming up, things ramped up for months until the climax of another version of Trans Iowa was to set me off on another sleepless weekend.

Don't hear all this as complaining because I loved putting on Trans Iowa. I just had this other, darker side which was tearing at me all those years as well. I often was torn in two by this. The love and the fear. It was very difficult at times, and I am not doing well here trying to describe this. But just know that I knew I could not continue Trans Iowa indefinitely. I've quoted this before, but this seems like a good time to remind you of some sage observations Charlie Farrow had post Trans Iowa v5:

"My message to all those that did not finish, for what itz worth, is to go for it again next year, but with an eye on using all that is given to you. One reason to make another attempt next year stems from the simple fact that guyz like Guitar-Ted and D.P. are a rare treasure to the cycling community and consequently, certainly, it would be unfair to simply assume that they will indefinitely be willing or even capable of providing us with this truly novel cycling experience year after year."

Note: emphasis mine

Charlie 'understood' and while I have never confirmed this with him, I am quite certain, based upon the above quote, that he knew this event's days were numbered just from his keen awareness and observations while at Trans Iowa. He could feel that which I am trying to articulate above. He knew instinctively that the joy of giving would someday be quenched by the darkness of fear and the weariness of worry. I am sure many Trans Iowa participants also felt that vibe also. 

This is why I set a decade of this nonsense as a limit. I figured after Trans Iowa v8 that I had at least two more of these in me. I could do what I had done for v8 more easily now. I had more people drawing up alongside of me, willing to share the load. I could lean on that resource to help me weather two more Trans Iowas. Yes. I could do two more. 

But that was it. After v10, my intention was to just walk away and never look back. 

Next: I take a quick look at volunteers of Trans Iowa and how I managed that part of the event.  

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Why Is "Aero" A Dirty Word?

The Noble GX5 with FLO Cycling G700 wheels. (Why all the "G" stuff?)
Earlier in the week I posted my introduction to the FLO Cycling G700 wheel set on As I usually do, I shared the link on RG's social media outlets. Then the comments came.

Nothing unusual about that process, but what was said in particular about the aero wheels was......interesting. As we plod through 2020, maybe I could forgive anyone some grumpiness, but these comments are consistent with something I've found strange for years.

Anytime you brought up the subject of aerodynamic efficiencies for gravel riding you'd get poo-pooed at best and outright slammed for even thinking those 'dirty thoughts" at worst. Why? Even I could tell as early as 2012 that aero was something gravel riders should be paying attention to. I wrote up a review on the HED Ardennes+ wheels I got back then here on the blog which mentions "aero" a bit. I recall every time I did, someone would eventually tell me I was nuts and everyone else largely ignored me on the subject.

Too bad. The benefits are real. These newer designs, which concentrate on having big tires as part of the package, obviously work better than my old HED Ardennes+ wheels do, which, by the way, are still kicking around with lots of life left in them. Anyway, the obvious benefits to the deep section FLO Cycling wheels were the ability to cut through heavy cross winds, ease up on the effort in a headwind a bit, and the obvious push from the tail wind was there, just as I felt back in 2012 with the HED wheels.

Some may scoff. How can you fit a range of tires on there that would work aerodynamically? Well, FLO Cycling tested and found benefits at a certain range of widths. They adjusted the rim design accordingly. The best width to use is 37-40mm wide, and I have 42mm's on there, so I am a bit above what is "optimal", but there are still benefits. Make sense? FLO Cycling realized people would use varying tire widths and took that into account. Smart move. Had they made the wheel to work specifically with one tire, well......that's goofy. 

So, anyway....You may dismiss aero as being only for really fast roadies and tri-geeks all you want. I know it works on gravel too. It isn't a "dirty word" as some feel it is, judging by the responses to the subject I've noted. Also- it isn't just for the fast folks. Anyone can benefit. Or......just deny the benefits of aerodynamics and keep wearing loose, flappy clothing, sit upright, and ride box section wheels. Nothing at all wrong with that if you are into it. You be You. But don't complain about headwinds/crosswinds and wonder if there is something you could do to make it easier on you. There is something you could do. It's called "being more aerodynamic". It makes a difference. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Friday News And Views

New Bottle Trap colors from Velocity USA.
Velocity USA Debuts New Bottle Trap Colors:

If you've been an observant reader of this blog for some time you've probably heard about Velocity USA's "Bottle Trap" cages. I have been a faithful user of these for quite some time now.

These injection molded cages come in a variety of colors and now Velocity has added three more to its line. They are, from left to right in the image, "Terra Cotta","Sea Foam", and "Mocha".

Me being an artist and all, I see these as, from Left to Right: Brick, Sage, and Limestone. Your mileage may vary. We all see things differently. The bottom line is that these new colors reflect a bit of a muted palette which may fit your bike's paint scheme better than some of the more garish colors Velocity offers in the Bottle Trap.

If you've never tried a Bottle Trap, well, these are what they say in the name. They can vary a bit in terms of grip from "almost impossible to remove the bottle", to "Kinda Tough To Get Out", to "Meh! No Big Deal!". I have had all three, and let me tell ya, the first type is a pain! They can loosen up a bit with use, but even the loosest ones grip your bottle VERY securely. That's why I recommend them for fork mount cages, or anywhere you want to store a bottle on a bike where you don not need hand access to said bottle while riding.

For cages that you need to get to while riding I'd recommend Blackburn stainless steel, Lezyne side mounts, or the ultimate, King Cage. But if you like the colors, and you need a really safe cage, in terms of not losing a bottle, this is one of the least expensive and best for the job.

Revelate Designs, Wolf Tooth Collab On "ToolCash" Product: 

Tool rolls are a really efficient, highly organized way to carry "in-the-field" tools and small items like valve cores or a rolled up derailleur cable. This genre of products includes a lot of goofy ideas, but some of the better ones are of the 'wallet' type. This new collaboration between Wolf Tooth and Revelate Design is such a beast.

The ToolCash is made from Revelate's "Rev-X-Pac" fabric and ideally made to hold Wolf Tooth's own Pack Pliers and EnCase System, this little tri-fold wallet sells for $44.95.

Of course, you can put whatever you want into this wallet as long as it fits. So, money, quick links, extra bits of chain, wet-wipes, nutrition pills, tire patches- you get the idea. Whatever smaller items that you pack that might normally be easily lost in the whirlwind of stuff in a cyclists bag can be safely corralled in the ToolCash wallet.

The size is nice too. It is said to fit easily into a jersey pocket, so that means it'll easily go into most seat bags, handle bar bags, or feed bags. It might even fit into some top tube bags as well. That makes it a pretty cool organizational item.

One final thought. In these "Pamdemic Times", if you are out on a ride and need to buy something, keeping a card or cash in the wallet, along with a pair of disposable gloves, might not be a bad idea. Anti-septic wipes could go in there as well. Just a thought......

Teravail Tires Now Available On-Line:

Teravail Tires, a brand started up by powerhouse bicycle and bicycle parts distributor QBP, has announced that Teravail Tires are now available consumer direct. Previously Teravail Tires were only available through local bike shops Teravail will give a portion of each online sale to the nearest local Teravail dealer.

Comments: This isn't anything surprising when you look and see that most tires are available direct from manufacturers/brands these days. It makes buying more convenient for riders and that's obviously a good thing for the brands.

However; if you take the time to think about this as a shop owner, "why would you give any shelf space to a company that sells consumer direct?" That space needs to turn a profit, and if the convenience of a store having them on-hand is superseded by  on-line availability, then you maybe start looking at something else that isn't available online that would be worth the trip for a consumer.

This is why the days of super-stocked bike shops is coming, or more correctly, already has come to a close. Repair parts? Yes. Those have to be at hand for obvious reasons. But for those who look to upgrade and want that "different" thing? Well, there is where the old days are gone. And that is a workable deal for shops as long as their service department is good and open to "cooking other restaurants hamburgers", as it were.

It used to be that shops would turn up their noses and refuse to work on stuff not purchased through their retail business, but if any shops are still doing that, well, I don't see that as being a workable strategy going forward. Obviously, there are certain things a shop just cannot do. Things like working on unsafe bicycles, putting things together that shouldn't be together, or working on specialized product, like some HPC/electrified bicycles that require specialized diagnostic equipment. (yes- like automobiles)

But outside of those obvious exclusions, shops just have to focus more on service and less on offering a wide array of parts and accessories. Decisions like those of QBP/Teravail and others like them just make it so that shop owners cannot afford to carry items, and really- have no motivation to do so when consumers can order things direct from the confines of their own bathroom throne- if that's what they dig. Whatever..... I'm just saying that there needs to be a compelling reason to go to a store these days, and the internet has pretty much usurped any of those reasons to make the effort to go. Add in these crazy times and the reasons are even less than ever.

Maybe in the area where things need to fit, in terms of actual color perception, and when things are very technical, there are reasons to visit a store. But when things we buy experience commoditization, no- Then the reasons to make the effort to go to a shop to see them becomes less and less.

Special Shout-Out: To my son, Jacob, who turns 17 today. I love you, Son!

Well, that's it for this week! have a great weekend and stay safe! Roll those miles of smiles!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Country Views: Learning To Fly

Mother Red Winged Black Bird on the wire can mean only one thing.
Wednesday was another cracker of a day. I think Summer 2020 has been one of the nicest- in terms of weather- here in the Mid-West in years. Sure, we get the occasional humid, torch of a day, but interspersed between have been some of the most pleasant days I can remember. Wednesday was about as good as it ever gets in July.

Speaking of July- It is about over. We are on the backside of Summer and Fall is not far away. In fact, you could almost feel a snap in the air Wednesday. A faint portent of things to come. Even my next door neighbor said he was seeing signs of fall coming. Leaves turning brown and falling away. The walnut trees are already dropping their fruit here. Birds are becoming scarce. The Robin's song is getting rarer in the mornings.

I noticed that the Red Winged Blackbirds are now sitting on the high lines watching their new broods learn to fly. The mothers are off their nests and sitting alongside the males. Soon, once the youngsters are strong enough, they will also start to vacate the area and head on to their Wintering areas. Attacks from those birds should fall way off now. They have no reason to be protective now that the young are getting all grown up.

I was heading South on this fine day aboard the ol' Fargo Gen I bike. Off to test some tires on Petrie Road's Level B section. I did not know if that area got little, or a lot of rain the day before, so I had no idea what I was in for. All good! I like surprises sometimes. The gravel roads on the way down were full of chunk. Apparently the county finally got around to depositing fresh gravel again. The roads had been in a state of smoothness around here for quite sometime until now.

The wind was at my back, but it wasn't a big deal, it was more about the nature of this gravel that was the tough thing. It was just really loose and was rolling around under the tires causing me to work even harder. So, despite having a tailwind, it was not an easy trip to Petrie Road.

That arrow points to a whirlybird spraying crops.

The back end of Summer is always a weird time for me. The days are getting perceptibly shorter again. Plants and flowers are matured, or close to it, and new growth is over for the year. Things are ripening, turning brown, yellow, and other earthy hues. I often ride with a strange feeling on myself this time of the year.

A field with some yellowing plant or another shows in stark contrast to the greenery surrounding it.

Time falsely seems to stand still this time of the year, I feel. Lingering twilight evenings, the sameness of the skies, the seemingly everlasting greenery, and the calmness of weather that comes about this time of year all seem to make time crawl. But we are not stalling out. It's easy to get caught up in the "endless Summer" thing. Soon, things will seem like they are falling off a cliff toward the first frost.

This corn has already silked out. It won't be long before it is ripened and drying down. 

This weird year doesn't help with the strange feelings I have now. 120+ days into it, and no end in sight, and schools and all that thinking they will be opening. Man...... With a son heading off to his senior year in high school, I just don't know..... You can say it's no big deal all you want. The thing is, nobody knows how it will go. So, I have that hanging over my head now too.

I knelt down in the middle of Petrie Road's dirt and just listened to the sounds of the wind and of Nature all around me. Many minutes passed me by........

Actually, I stopped a lot on this ride. I looked for flowers and anything to distract me. These rides are really precious. The time I get to just go away from it all is needed and rejuvenating. I am really blessed to be able to do this. I see what other people are going through now and it breaks my heart. To have these opportunities is amazing. I try not to forget that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Another Story About An Annoying Noise

Remember the noise issue I had with this bike?
Several weeks ago I had the Salsa Cycles Stormchaser here. You may recall my saga concerning the creaking noise I had which led me on a journey which included taking things apart, greasing things, riding, hearing the creak, taking things apart, greasing things, riding, and on and on. I eventually found out it was the seat tube mounted water bottle cage which rubbed against the seat tube when it flexed. (Read about all that here if you want)

Well, I have another story about chasing noises and it is just about as weird as the Stormchaser story. So, here is the deal. The Twin Six Standard Rando v2 has an unusual eccentric bottom bracket, I'm using a 1X SRAM crankset which had seen some use on another bike, and the chain is a 9 speed chain, not the 11 speed chain the crank was designed for. So, there were a number of things that could be issues with regard to noise. That said, the first ride showed up no noises at all.

And the second and the third..... This didn't crop up until just the other day when I went out for a short ride. I heard a consistent "tink.....tink.....tink....". It was every pedal stroke. It quit when I coasted. So, it was crank set related, right? I tried one-legged pedaling. The sound quit when I one-legged with my left leg. Hmm.... So, I thought about chain ring bolts. That's where I went first.

Well, I did find a couple of loose ones on the test ride, tightened them, and kept going. But no cigar. I still had the "tink....tink....tink....". I figured I'd get around to it in a day or so because my focus had to be on a couple of other things over the weekend. So, I let that go until Tuesday night.

Now I found myself chasing another noise on this single speed.
I put the Gravel Bus in the work stand and grabbed the appropriate wrenches. In the case of this particular crank set the chain ring bolts are the 6mm/5mm interface type. (Why didn't they figure THAT out years ago is another mystery) So I found four of the five bolts were in need of snugging up. Not just a little bit either. Could be it. Maybe.....

I then grabbed an 8mm Allen wrench and checked the crank spindle bolt. Hey! That was loose as well! Not just a little bit either. In fact, I was a bit alarmed at how loose it was. Nothing so loose that it would wiggle, but too loose for my peace of mind. I tightened it and thought, "That's it! I bet that was it right there."

Well, there is a reason I do not gamble.

See that cadence sensor magnet? Well, let me tell ya.....
Of course, I still had the "tink....tink....tink....". So I was on another test ride. Noise is there. Okay..... What could this be? I'm concentrating and thinking so much about it that it is getting distracting. Better watch where I'm going!

I ended up having to put my feet into it on a steep hill. I noted while cranking away that the sound is gone. Hmm..... Comes back when I get back to normal pressure on the pedals. Then I noted another oddity. When my cadence was really high, the noise got quieter, and if I went fast enough, it would disappear. Huh? This was getting really weird! 

On my test loop, I have a spot I always stop at to double check things, if need be. It is at an old softball diamond next to a tennis court area. I finally come by this spot and I decide to just look over the bike. This noise isn't terrible, just super annoying because, well......single speed bikes should be silent. That's my demand, anyway! I didn't know what I was looking for, but I did decide to turn the cranks backward to see if maybe the chain was sticking on a chain ring tooth, or if there was anything I could trace if the sound presented itself off the bike. Fortunately for me, the "tink....tink....tink...." happened with me off the bike too. I started looking and it didn't take long to find the culprit.

A loose cadence magnet was pivoting into the steel chain stay every time it passed on a pedal revolution. 

It all made sense then!

So I pushed the magnet back up the tapered shape of the crank arm and hopped on and rode away. Tink free! WooHooo! Another noise identified and neutralized. And that cadence sensor magnet? Clipped off once I got home. I'm not going to need to know my cadence on this bike, that's for certain!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Gravel Past, Gravel Future

On the latest edition of the "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch", I interviewed the unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley's Dave Pryor. (Listen to Episode #53 here) Near the end of that episode, I went on a bit of a rant about some things Dave had shared with us in light of some of the recent developments in the gravel scene and all that with the backdrop of the pandemic in mind.

The pandemic has forced a sort of introspection where it comes to how we are perceiving bicycle racing in general, and gravel events in particular. As you no doubt know, most of the racing calendar is in a shambles with hardly anything for the semi-Pro down to your everyday Jack or Jill to train for. Some events, the unPAved being one of the highest profile examples, is trying to do what they can do. But most have pushed off to next season.

Now combine that with what has happened since April of 2018. Since then, Trans Iowa, the Almanzo events, and the Dirty Kanza ran their last events ever. Those were the "biggies" from back in the day. The only one left standing, arguably, is Gravel Worlds, and we only know that they plan on doing their event next year. But as we have seen- nothing is a given these days. 

So, what do you have left? The big, "corporate" events? You still have what once was 'Land Run 100', but under a new name. Hmm......basically the same, but even that change is significant with regard to the beginnings of the gravel scene. The Mid-South is a "big event" these days, regardless. So, has gravel 'sold its soul'? Is the once grassroots scene now gone forever? Well, if you are Dave Pryor, you say, "No, hold on a minute here." Dave, in my interview with him, hit upon a term that I resonated with. That would be the term "Hyper-local". You can just as well think "grassroots gravel" when you hear that term. Just what the heck does that mean in 2020 and beyond?  

We are already seeing what it will mean. People are not sitting idly by while everything is either shut down or discouraged, (area dependent), and they are getting routes out to people to be challenged by, or gathering small groups to tackle local gravel and dirt courses set up by adventurous, creative folks for the rest of you. Some are, and have been, events in their own right, just on a smaller scale. Basically they all are local deals that, until now, had little interest in them. Now that these things are 'the only game in town', so to speak, suddenly these events are getting a lot of traction.

Grassroots cycling is dead? Long live grassroots cycling! And if you are sitting there reading this thinking, "Well, maybe where GT lives things are like this. But nothing is happening where I live." Well, I would say to you, "Get off yer duff and create something then!" Listen- I am not anyone out of the ordinary. I have promoted routes, small events, and big events, all just because I decided to do it. Want to have something to train for, to go challenge yourself by, or to share with a few, (socially distanced-natch!), friends? Then get going! You've got places to do this, get out and look.

I see no reason that grassroots- hyper-local affairs, will not be a big part of the gravel scene going forward. And that's as it should be. Will big events come back? As soon as they can- yes they will. But next year? Hey look- we thought this Fall we'd all be back riding the big events again, right? There was no way we wouldn't be doing those, remember? I'd say no one knows what we will be doing next year......yet, when it comes to the big events. So, in the meantime, I think the smaller, local affairs gain the upper hand.
 A "hyper-local event in my area. If this guy can do this- You can too!

That will make the mainstream cycling media, marketing firms, and brands sad. They will post laments and platitudes about the events they are wishing would happen. I'm sure a lot of folks in these positions are thinking with pure hearts, but there is that money thing. Don't forget that part! The hyper-local affairs don't operate that way, and maybe, just maybe, that has something to do with why these events from the past were held in such high regard. Maybe, just maybe, that was why the gravel scene took off and got to where it is today. Trust me- those big fancy pants events did not build the scene. It was all done off the backs of smaller, grassroots events and while things like the DK200 turned a lot of eyes toward the gravel scene, those types of events didn't grow gravel up. They cashed in on what was already happening.

This isn't an indictment of those bigger events either. They are fine. They exist to satisfy a certain itch many people have. But the story wasn't started by the big, high production events, and those events should have a great interest in seeing these smaller local events thrive. That's where the passion came from for gravel/all-road/back roads riding. That's where their customers will come from and keep coming from.

The final point is that this time we find ourselves in, these 'pandemic times', can refocus us, bring more riders in, and grow local communities. We can learn more about our own 'backyards', as it were. We can get to know people in our locale, our region, maybe, a little better. We can support local businesses, and we can affect our own little corners of the world with better health and a benefit to local economy.

Gravel Past is just that- the past. I wouldn't bother lamenting the passing of those days. But if you wonder what it was like, take the leap and do your own thing where you are. That's what Jeff kerkove and I did. That's what Chris Skogen did. That's what Joel Dyke and Jim Cummins did. That's what the Pirate Cycling League did. Shall I go on.......?

Be part of the "Gravel Future". Be a DIY starter. Many around here where I live are doing just that. There are no prerequisites other than you are a cyclist and want to have an adventure. Go forth and multiply!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Country Views: Hotter 'N Hades Ride

Time to test some fancy-pants new wheels on a super hot and windy day.
The weatherman was saying all along that it would be really hot, really humid, and really windy on Saturday. For once he wasn't wrong. Dang it! Oh well, gotta go to work anyway. I had some new wheels come in for test at and windy was just what the doctor ordered to get a handle on the aero claims this company has made.

I'll introduce the wheels on the Riding Gravel site later, so I won't spoil all that here now. Besides, this is about a ride, not a wheel set. I was just pointing out that the course I chose and the length of the ride was influenced by these wheels I had to start testing. So, since the wind was pretty much straight out of the South, I went mostly East, then back West, and in the process I got in a few more miles of Black Hawk County gravel I hadn't ever ridden on yet.

The ride did not start at the G-Ted Headquarters either. On a day as hot as this was, (93°F in the shade), I wasn't going to waste my energy on meaningless paved roads and bike paths. I was going for the meat as soon as I could. So, a new launching off point was researched and I ended up choosing a park in Raymond, Iowa. It's a little town, established in 1867 along a railroad. The park I chose, as it turns out, was a softball complex, and wouldn't ya know it? There was some little person's baseball tournament going on.

I'm not one to push controversial topics here, but it was clear to me that the populace of Raymond doesn't believe in social distancing, wearing masks, or seem concerned at all about what's going on. Two big awnings were pitched at the place which had many folks underneath them crammed shoulder to shoulder to get out of the Sun. Didn't witness anyone wearing masks...... Lots of yelling and cheering. Hmm.... Anyway. Just an observation. Probably a crowd of two hundred folks there, by the way.

I saw this lone ginormous, old, grizzled cottonwood standing sentinel over a corn field.
The Red Winged Blackbirds found it impossible to harass me due to the heavy winds.
I left town on old Highway 20. Make that the old, old, Highway 20. It's been relocated twice in this area. The bit I was on was part of the original Hawkeye Highway route which became US 20 in 1926 and was the longest highway in the US. I ended up going on the crushed bituminous and gravel shoulder because I have a gravel bike and I can. Better to stay away from speeding automobiles, I say.

I ended up turning North on Ordway Road and stair-stepping to Newell Street and then going straight East to the county line.

I took several breaks due to the heat and wind conditions. Here I stopped on a bridge over Poyner Creek on Newell Street.
Here is Barclay United Presbyterian Church.
Things started off on rolling hills, but the further East I went on Newell Street, the flatter the terrain seemed to get. The roads were easy. Pretty much average, but I have noted that the gravel roads East of Waterloo have a very firm base with white limestone over the top. They seem firmer and faster out this way than they do around Waterloo. Maybe its just my imagination.

A field of goats.
Excellent looking crop of soybeans here.
I found another cemetery and it had a really cool gate. I like to stop at these, place my bike in the center of the gate, leaning the bike on it, and take an image 'for the album', as they say. This gate had a cool detail which I had never seen before, and that was these metal butterflies affixed to the chain link fence in different places. I thought it was a charming applique and that they brought some cheer to an otherwise solemn place.

New Barclay Cemetery (Note the US flag)
A close up of one of the metal butterflies.
Not long afterward I reached my furthest Eastward point and intersected with Black Hawk-Buchanan Road. I took this straight into the wind South and ended up going through the small town of Jesup along the way.

A field of wild flowers Northwest of Jesup, Iowa.
Barns for Jason: Just on the Northwest outskirts of Jesup, Iowa.
I didn't stop in Jesup. Small town folk have a mistrust of Waterluvians during normal times. They think of us as "big city folk", which I think is hilarious, but that's the perception out there. Now with COVID? pfffft! There was no way I was stopping in town for any reason. I don't need any trouble. So I motored right on through town.

It was all pavement in this section until I got about two miles away from Jesup and back on gravel again. Then I was headed back West again on Young Road, which I blogged about here about a week or so ago. I like that road. It's a pretty road for a few miles.

Barns for Jason- On the paved section of Young Road near Jesup.
Back safely at the softball complex in Raymond, Iowa.
I was kind of surprised that there was such a lack of barns in eastern Black Hawk County. So, I was a bit disappointed to only find two new ones and both were on pavement! Of course, barns are going the way of the dodo bird, so I should not at all be surprised, but generally speaking I see more than a couple new-to-me barns when I ride somewhere new in Iowa.

The other thing I was a bit disappointed by was the fact that my handle bar tape is done. I can always tell on a hot day when I need new tape because it loses its grip when I get sweaty. So that nifty striped, reflective tape is coming off for......I don't know yet. I have to check my stash to see what is left.

So, a little over two hours and that was enough on such a hot, windy day. I've no doubt that it was probably closer to 100°F on that reflective gravel surface in direct Sunlight, so baking myself for any longer would have been ill-advised. I don't do real well in heat anyway. Best to take things easy.