Wednesday, September 30, 2020

WW4M: Donnelly USH 700 X 40mm Tires


The Gravel Bus with the Donnelly USH 700 X 40mm tires.
This is another "WW4M" post. That means "What Works For Me" and it may not work for you. So, take that with the following words into consideration.....

So, we have a tire review here of a tire that, frankly, I was prepared not to like very much. See, I had tried a USH from (then Clement) Donnelly Tires back when it first came out. that tire was a 'skinny' 35mm or so wide and just wasn't very impressive. Oh yeah, this was back when all gravel tires were tubed. Those were the days, eh?

Anyway, I needed a tire for a wheel set test last year and the marketing person for Donnelly was amenable to having me look at the USH again. So I got my mitts on a 700c X 40mm pair of the USH tires. Skin wall ones, of course. These ended up on the Noble Bikes GX5 for a time and then they went on the BMC MCD and afterward they sat on those Irwin Cycles AON GX35 carbon wheels while other stuff got tested. Then came time for the Gravel Bus to be built and well, those wheels went on and that was that. In between I knew that I wanted those tires to stay on those wheels. 

Why? Well, it goes back to a ride I did with N.Y. Roll back in late 2019 where I was testing some lights and I just have that ride stuck in my mind because, for some strange reason, those tires and I bonded. I just thought they worked well on smoother gravel. Back into the Winter months the gravel around here gets pretty smooth and was perfect for the USH. 

Now when Spring came and gravel got thick and chunky, I wasn't thinking the USH would be what I would end up running on the Gravel Bus, but ya know what? I ended up liking them just fine at "a bit lower than I had been running pressures". (No, I have no idea what it is exactly. ) I just air them up until I see that tire squat about 'just so' and then I know what I am seeing will run about right. Pay no mind to that gauge! I probably should look sometime to see what it is, but frankly, I hate giving out psi info because that information is personal and for me. It isn't a 'gospel message' or a hard and fast rule for anyone, not even myself. But most folks don't see it that way. Whatever....

This is about the USH, and I like it a lot. It's fast, the casing feels damped, and it actually isn't as bad as I thought on rough, chunky gravel. It 'works for me', and I think it is a tire that maybe deserves a bit more attention than it gets. 

Note: Donnelly Tires sent out the 700c X 40mm Strada USH tires for test and Review to Riding Gravel in 2019. I was not paid, nor bribed for this post and I always strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

When More Is Too Much

Are inner rim widths getting out of hand?
 Wheels are an interesting subject. We've been doing a lot with regard to wheels on this year which has prompted me to take a closer look at trends for 'gravel' wheels and I have noticed something that concerns me. Are we getting to the point where our wheels have unnecessarily wide internal rim widths? My opinion is that the answer to that question is 'yes', and here is why........

Ten to twelve years ago, a decently wide trail bike rim for a 700c based mountain bike was about 28mm-30mm overall width. Note- we didn't ever think about rims in terms of inner rim width. That came about when carbon rims had to have wider rim bead/wall dimensions to withstand the beating the rims might undergo in use on mountain bikes. That made outer rim dimensions meaningless. So, we flipped to talking about inner rim dimensions. So, back in the day, how wide internally were those old trail rims? That is what we need to look at first. Here are some actual measurements of some older popular trail and XC 29"er rims.

  • Bontrager Race Lite wheels- 18.5mm
  • Bontrager Rhythm Wheels - 21mm
  • Stans Flow rims - 21.5mm

Are you surprised? I was. These old mountain bike rim designs would be shot down in a heartbeat on a forum dedicated to gravel wheels. For further context, keep in mind that any good suspended trail 29'er back then was running Stans Flow rims. "Wide" mountain bike rims were maybe 30-35mm in overall dimensions back then, which in aluminum would have yielded an inner width of about 26mm-30mm maximum. 

Also keep in mind that things in the MTB world haven't changed all that much. Look up any decent XC hard tail and check the rim spec. 23mm or so internal rim widths are common, and for a full on trail bike? You are looking at around 30mm internal rim widths. Okay? What about current trends in gravel wheels?

This is interesting to note. Four years ago, I did a wheel build as a project for called "Project Wide Gravel Wheels", and for those wheels I used, what I thought of as then being, a ridiculously wide inner rim width of 25mm. Now given all of the above information, you might see why I was thinking that way. In 2016, a twenty-five millimeter inner rim width for gravel was unheard of. 

Project Wide Gravel Wheels used a 25mm inner rim width.

Since then, inner rim widths for 'gravel' category bikes has been creeping upward. 24mm is probably average now with some (FLO Cycling G700, which I recently tested) being 25mm and now we're seeing 26mm inner rim width being pushed as a 'gravel' wheel idea. Granted, materials technology advancements have allowed this to occur without the negatives of weight being an issue, but things are beginning to get out of hand, in my opinion. 

First off, when do we start calling these wheels mountain bike wheels? I'd say we're pretty much at that point. The Boyd wheels linked here are even marketed as 29" XC rated wheels. And then you've got to wonder how tires are being affected at some point. Width ratios are getting a bit out of whack when you look at the differentials between tire overall width vs. inner rim width. Consider that the Bontrager Kovee Comp rims, with an inner width of almost 23mm, has a 2.4" maximum tire width rating. Think about that for a minute in comparison to average widths of tires for gravel uses. 

But let's say the Kovee Comp is on the anemic side for XC use. Okay, maybe what? Go to 28mm inner rim width? 30mm? That's still only 3-5mm wider than where we are with current average gravel wheels which are using tires much smaller than an XC MTB will be using. 

Look, I'm not against experimentation and I happen to think about 24mm inner rim width is about 'right' for a gravel tire in the 38mm-45mm width range. I think 22mm is okay for a racing wheel, for sure, where lighter weight and all is paramount. But when we are talking 26mm inner rim widths? Hmm..... Do we really need that, and I have serious doubts that our tires are going to work correctly over that wide a rim if we are talking the sweet spot for gravel travel, which in my mind is still 42-45mm wide. But if you are in the 38mm-40mm tire crowd, that 26mm inner rim width or wider? I think you've gone past the point of 'good' and your returns are diminished. But maybe that's just me......

Monday, September 28, 2020

Fall Views: Something A Little Different

Saturday I decided that 25mph Southerly winds were not going to be conducive to being out on gravel and having anything that approaches 'fun'. So, I decided to do something I haven't done in months- go for an off-road ride. Yep! I grabbed the OS Bikes Blackbuck and headed for the Green Belt for a quick jaunt into the woods where the wind was not able to get its searching fingers around me. 

Plus, I have a 'plan' for something coming up- possibly- that may require the use of the Blackbuck. I cannot say more than that right now, but if this actually comes together, I think a lot of  minds will be blown. It would be rad. But we'll see.......

Anyway, the single track promised to be super dry, and since we hadn't had much rain at all since July, the sometimes flooded Green Belt would be at its driest overall, and it was. Traditionally wet areas where you have to get off and hike-a-bike across were all completely dry or very rideable. This was a super rare occurrence. Maybe not since four or five years ago has the Green Belt been this dry. Fortunately the Blackbuck is sporting some voluminous Kenda Honey Badger tires which I aired up (with tubes) to 20psi and that took the edge off a lot of the rough bits. 

I was thinking of running the Fargo with its new Extraterrestrial tires, but with Fall and winds come sticks. That means derailleur removing events are a distinct possibility. Single speeding takes that out of the equation. Once I got out there, it didn't take long to see that I had made the correct choice. While I may have gotten through just fine with a geared bike, why take the chance, especially when the terrain keeps you in one gear most of the time anyway. 

There were some bigger things than sticks blown down in the Green Belt.

A view up Marky-Mark Trail looking West.

I decided to go check out my old trail, Marky-Mark, which is one of the rare bits of 'true' single track in the Green Belt. It was all rideable, as long as you can bunny-hop a downed tree here and there, and it was pretty clear in the tread at least. I could see where the Summer growth maybe had made this trail less than desirable to ride, but the recent spate of dry and hot weather has accelerated the die-down cycle of the underbrush. This has made the trail okay to ride through again. 

The open prairie section just North of the Ridgeway Avenue Access.

There was plenty of color in the prairie section to take a closer look at.

Normally every year I do a 'pilgrimage ride', a mountain bike single track tour of the Green Belt that I do almost every Fall to see the colors of the season. I decided to count this  ride as the one for this year. Why? Because I think this one beats all due to the fact that the situation with weather has kind of blended Fall into the back-end of Summer so well that we are getting late Summer flowers along with early Fall tree colors. Generally speaking, the two events are exclusive. 

So, that was a fun, relaxing ride. I thought perhaps I may have forgotten my off-road skills but I shook off the rust fairly quickly and was carving turns as always when I felt like it. The day was warm. Perhaps the last Summer-like day we will have in 2020. Next week things will turn much colder and I suspect stay cooler until Winter begins to creep in. It was a good season of warm weather riding this year. This ride was a good way to cap that off.

But now coats, wool jerseys, and gloves will be getting dug out, freshened up, and put out where I can find it for the cooler weather rides that are surely on the doorstep. I'll be wearing 'shoulder season' gear and getting used to the constrictive feeling of pants again. Oh well....... 

At least I am able to ride, right? I shouldn't complain.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: T.I.v9 Photo Dump Part 2

 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

 Last week I shared with you a bunch of images from the morning, (mainly) of that foggy, ethereal Trans Iowa v9 start. Today I will finish up with the rest of the best, with the exception of certain images I am reserving for story-telling purposes. Again- I regret that I have seemed to have lost a bunch of the images from Jason Boucher and Wally Kilburg. They took images mostly up until the close of Saturday, then Jason had to bug out. Wally reappeared with George the following morning for some killer shots around The Barn finish line. Fortunately, I have been able to source some of these men's shots from T.I.v9 race reports other riders still have up in 2020.

I'll add in some comments along the way to help explain some things as necessary. I hope that you all enjoy looking back at these. For many of us involved in this particular version of Trans Iowa, it should stir up some memories. For the rest of you, this might help explain, in a visual form, why Trans Iowa stuck in the hearts of those who became fans of the event. 

More of that big, chunky gravel on the second leg of T.I.v9's course.
From the morning of T.I.v9's start, after CP#1 near Melbourne, Iowa. Image by Wally Kilburg
Trans Iowa never was noted for long climbs, just hundreds of short, steep ones like this. Image by Wally Kilburg
Just one more from that foggy morning- again- from Wally Kilburg
The Level B road shortly after CP#1. This is now a gated C Level Road

The above image is notable for two reasons. One- the road was completely rideable. Tough, but rideable. Had we had any sort of moisture before the event, it would have knocked a LOT of riders out, since this was a very steep descent and climb, just out of view in this image, which is looking backward on the course, by the way. 

I took this image while leading out ahead of the event that morning. The reason why was that I had to be the one to mark any unmarked corners. The second notable thing here being the lathe board with the day-glo ribbon, which was the protocol I used to mark directions at unmarked corners on the cues. This was a technique I borrowed from the first running of the DK200 several years prior to this. 

Dodging farm equipment on the course of Trans Iowa v9. Image by Michael Lemberger.

This scene above was one I never really witnessed during any Trans Iowa, and - fortunately- I never heard about any incidents involving riders and farm equipment. This was a warning I gave every year prior to any Trans Iowa. SEVERAL times, and perhaps was a help in why we never had any troubles. Of course, Trans Iowa weekend often fell during prime planting time for farmers, especially when the weather was good, and we had near perfection for weather during T.I.v9. So, seeing this image from Michael Lemberger's race report is no surprise. 

Gravel posse: (L-R) Ben Oney, Jat Barre, Paul Errington, and Tim Ek. Image by J. Boucher or T. Ek.

Convenience stores were integral to running Trans Iowa. The distances necessitated opportunities to allow riders to resupply on water and food. These convenience stores also relieved me of having to have aid stations and more volunteers which both would have increased costs and fundamentally changed the event. 

Convenience stores eventually became more than just resupply points. They were strategic points for planning for riders getting through the night. They ended up becoming places where riders could bail out of the event, leaving them at a point easy to reach for support people, and a place, an oasis, of comfort from pain, weather, and mental fatigue. 

Here, in Trans Iowa v9, at Gladbrook Iowa's Casey's store, there was a lot of activity. Riders quit, strategized for the oncoming night, and it provided for a glimpse into the bonds formed by riders in the event. Above we see such a thing happening between the four riders pictured. I highly doubt any of the four pictured here will ever forget those moments together. By the way, I'm not sure if this is a Jason Boucher shot or a selfie by Tim Ek. Either way, it's a good scene. This was also a first for Trans Iowa- the convenience store was beyond checkpoint #2. This REALLY messed with rider's logistics and was a big factor in some rider's either making it to the finish or not. 

An image which Salsa Cycles used a few times. Paul Errington  during the Saturday of T.I.v9 by Jason Boucher
Sunday morning of T.I.v9. Image by A. Andonopoulous

That's a wrap on this photo dump, but there will be more awesome images shared as I tell about a few notable stories behind the scenes at T.I.v9. I'll also have a story about the incredibly emotional finish line scene of this event, so stay tuned......

A Special Note: I learned this week that a former Trans Iowa rider, Paul Black, succumbed to cancer and died recently. He was a well know Des Moines area rider who counted many ultra-endurance events and feats of long suffering cycling as accomplishments. He also has been noted as being a very unassuming and modest man, never making anything of his vast achievements and always at the ready to help other cyclists in their pursuits. Paul was a finisher of Trans Iowa v3. My condolences go out to Paul's family and friends upon the loss of this man. I would like to dedicate this post of Trans Iowa imagery to his memory. 

Next: The "Lone Ranger" of T.I.v9

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Fat Fargo v2

The original Fat Fargo experiment did not work. 
Five years ago I tried 650B X 2.8" wheels in my Fargo Gen I bike. I was really hoping that it would work, but there were issues. First, the clearances were minimal. The tires would spin freely, but there wasn't much room there with the fat 27.5"ers. 

The second thing was that the smaller wheel diameter put the bottom bracket on this bike in the weeds. That wasn't going to fly at all. So, I abandoned that idea, pulled the wheels off, and stuck them in my Fargo Gen 2 bike which I used to own. The wheels stayed there until I sold the bike and then those wheels went on the Sawyer which was sold recently. 

The B+ experiment was a qualified success. I did a couple of things, which in my looking back on it, were very unlike what the industry did with the idea, or what many riders did with the idea. Had I modified one component in that wheel assembly, the experiment likely would have been short lived. So, what was it that made it so compelling? 

I think the main ingredient was the WTB Trailblazer 2.8" tires. Had the tires been anything other than this tread pattern, I likely would have bailed out on the trial sooner. Much sooner. See, the Trailblazer had certain attributes that made it ideal for my applications. First, it wasn't too wide. It was a true 2.8", but it didn't have a super wide casing, so it fit the Fargo, and it made the tire ride well on the rims I chose to use. 

Those rims were Velocity Blunt 35's. They were far narrower internally than what the industry first went with for B+ tires, and far narrower than what most riders thought they needed. However; that narrow profile crowned up what was a really flat profile. The WTB Trailblazer was a very flat tire putting a LOT of its tread width on the ground, especially by the popular pairing of this tire with 50mm wide rims. This made the tire slow, but the Blunt 35's made the tire ride reasonably fast for its size. Especially on that center ridge the Trailblazers have. 

Me riding the Fat Fargo (Gen 2) at Odin's Revenge. Image by Wally Kilburg

I had some excellent rides on the Fat Fargo (The Gen 2 Fargo). I used it to great effect at the "muddy year" of the DK200 and later at Odin's Revenge. The big tires had their day in the Sun in specific conditions where some float was advantageous, but a fast rolling tire was paramount to success. 

The set up was good, but there were some things that weren't so good. Big diameter wheels just were much more to my liking. Once I had ridden a fat bike set up with some very light 29+ wheels, I was smitten by the possibilities of having a large diameter wheel with a wider tire in the 2.8" - 3.0" range. However; manufacturers didn't quite see things that way, offering few choices, and most of what was available was over-built, suspension corrected, or more mountain bike-like. 

So, despite the 'almost but not quite' 2.8" Fat Fargo set up, I ended up going back to 29"er wheels for the Fargo Gen I and rode that bike so much I sold off the Gen 2 version and as stated earlier, moved the wheels over to the Sawyer. Then gravel bikes took off and well...... I left the Fat Fargo idea to simmer, maybe never coming back to it at all. 

However, the other day I was offered some 29" X 2.5" Surly Extraterrestrial tires that Andy, of Andy's Bike Shop, had which he never used, or if he did, very little. They looked nearly perfect. Now Extraterrestrials were a tire I was very familiar with, having run them on the 1X1, ironically now in Andy's possession. They are heavy tires, but they roll fast, are tubeless ready, and are very voluminous for their size. I was quite tempted many a time to run the Surly as a gravel bike, as one of its previous owners, Jeff Kerkove had. But I never got around to it. 

These tires in 29'er size? Intriguing. I took them with plans to mount them on my old Gen I Fargo. That bike is set up with a rather pedestrian, and very heavy wheel set, a Bontrager Duster wheel set laced to Shimano Deore hubs. Nothing too fantastic but a serviceable wheel set. Duster rims are modestly wide, and in fact, are about the same width many 'gravel' rims are now. I was afraid to mount these big, voluminous tires to anything wider or they may not fit into the Gen I Fargo. 

The Fat Fargo v2 with 29" X 2.5" Surly Extraterrestrial tires.

Well, happily, they did fit. The clearances are acceptable, and these tires, while not quite the volume of a 3.0" tire, have the same, or very close to it, volume of the old 2.8 Trailblazers. I know it says 2.5" on the tire, but on these narrow-ish rims, they already have puffed up to exactly 2.5" and I suspect that they will stretch a bit beyond this, as the 26"ers I had did. 

Will they scratch the itch I have for large diameter wheels and big, floaty tires? That's yet to be determined, but if they end up being anything like what the 1X1 was like, hmm.......I think maybe- yes. And if they do pass that test, lighter wheels will be in order. There is no denying the weight and inertia these monsters have now, and a LOT of the fat is in the hubs here. Those Deore disc hubs weigh a ton. 

There are a few other 'upgrades' to come to the Fargo Gen I, so stay tuned for those and I think you will be surprised by a couple of the things I have in mind to do here.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday News And Views


LeMond Confirms Gravel, Road Offerings To Come:

In the past several FN&V posts you've read about the LeMond company's new carbon fiber efforts in the cycling realm. I have been convinced that there would be road and gravel bikes coming from LeMond and was also convinced HPC's (Hybrid Powered Cycles) would be a part of this venture as well, which was confirmed last week. 

In a recent "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" article, the gravel and road lines are also confirmed as something LeMond is bringing to the market. The road bikes coming in November with the gravel bike line to follow later. 

Comments: In LeMond's lead up to these revelations, they stated that these bikes would be something "surprising" considering the brand's history, but are they really all that surprising? I don't think so. Here's the thing: In 2020 and beyond, if you do not have an electrified bike, you are not being smart. It's where the money is in cycling. Market data supports this assumption every time new figures are released. Of course, someday that won't be the case, but for now? Yeah, you have to have motors on your bikes. 

Then consider gravel, (which is the wrong name for this category, but whatever.....), again- you'd be nuts not to offer something here. This is another growth category in cycling. Not to the extent that HPC's are, but there are no other growth markets in cycling. None. So, yeah, why not do a gravel bike? 

Then we are talking LeMond here, right? Three time Tour de France winner and World Champion? Road racing bikes have to be a part of the brand. That's obvious. So, where is the surprise? I really don't see it. Now if there were, say, a tandem, or a mountain bike, or say something for kids? Big surprise there. But also a dumb move in the marketplace. None of those categories are movers on the high end, which is what LeMond bikes will be marketed as. These are going to be high dollar machines. 

The "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" piece also mentioned LeMond is going to try to bring the manufacturing of the carbon frames to the US and Europe. That would be a big deal if it happens. Also, a World Tour Team is in the plans as well. Again, not surprising, but that might be interesting to see. It also makes me wonder if LeMond might also dip their toes into gravel racing. At least in the US, that would be something that would make sense. 

The Nordest Ti gravel bike

Gravel Trends In 2021 and Beyond:

I've noticed a few things lately that are becoming trends in the gravel bike marketplace. Most having to do with where the influences come from regarding geometry for the future gravel bikes. As I see things, designers are taking cues from mountain biking or from road biking and ending up with very different bikes. Let's take a brief look......

Mountain: Bikes like the Evil Chamois Hagar are probably the best known of the type I see as being influenced heavily by MTB design. But they are not the only ones. Their is a bunch of small, third tier brands that are doing similar designs. Take for instance the Nordest Super Albarda Ti and CrMo gravel bikes. (Pictured here is the Ti model) 

They have decided on a long front/center, a slack sub-69° head angle matched with a deep bottom bracket drop. The company called "Hudski" also offers a similar design in aluminum but with a higher bottom bracket on their Doggler model, which- by the way- has flat bars. So, this seems to be something that is catching on. Big tire clearances are here, along with all the "Adventure Warts™", and all are not suspension corrected. 

Road: Then we come to the road-ish designs, which, in my opinion, are evolution of road racing bikes to better reflect the all-around uses of road bikes, or......yes...more of what I was talking about ten years ago. Bikes like the Trek Domane Disc, the Giant Contend ALR Disc, and the new LOOK 765 Optimum+. All bikes that can take up to a 38mm-40mm tire easily. Geometry is being adjusted on these bikes to have slacker head tube angles. the new LOOk bike has a 70.5° head angle! 

The thing here is all of these bikes do not have the extra water carrying capacities that the normal "gravel" bike might have these days, and yes- maybe we really have become addicted to fat tires in this space. So, a 38mm-40mm tire may not turn you on, but ten years ago we would have swooned over having such choices. That said, to my mind, these more "road-ish" choices are probably all the gravel bike most folks will ever need. 

The more mountain bike-like of the lot are NOT where we need to go to get more butts on bikes. To my way of thinking, they are neither good at gravel nor good at mountain biking, and definitely would not be the best geo for roads. So, if you are trying to get more MTB folks into "gravel", hey! I've got an idea: Make a nice hard tail MTB that isn't all slacked out, long, and goofy. You know, like you used to do 10-15 years ago? THOSE would be rad gravel bikes that could "send it" too. Remember when you used to use bikes like that? I do. 

Campagnolo Ekar 13spd cassette

Campagnolo Debuts Ekar Gravel Group-set:

The rumored Campagnolo 13 speed gravel specific group-set has been officially unveiled as of Thursday this week. The group-set was developed to compete with Shimano GRX specifically and to some extent, SRAM's AXS, although that is not a specifically gravel group. 

The expected clutch rear derailleur is here and the group is 1X specific. 13 speeds are spread fairly evenly until the last 3-4 cogs where bigger jumps occur. There are three ranges for the cassette with a 9-36, 9-42, and a 10-44 spread being offered. Front chain wheels are wide-narrow toothed, of course, and are offered in sizes 38,40, 42, and 44T. Campy uses a typical paddle/thumb lever shifter on the right side with a simple brake lever only on the left side since there is no front derailleur option. Hydraulic brakes, of course, and the typical UltraTorque bottom bracket. 

Comments: While this is "gravel specific" it should be noted that Campy has been used successfully at gravel events for well over a decade now. At any rate, now you have what 4,500 canvassed 'gravel riders' told Campy they wanted- a 1X specific, 13 speed, (because one or two more cogs is better, ya know?), group-set. 

Listen, if you didn't already know it, 11, 10, and 9 speed cogs wear out fast. But any 1X group will be hard pressed not to have these ultra-short life cogs if they want wide range gearing. The chain engagement on those smaller cogs is so acute, and in terms of times a tooth engages a chain link, not advantageous, due to the fact that wear is accelerated on the chain and cogs in those faster gears. Secondly, and I've banged on this for a long time, your chain line will also be severe in those faster gears, (and in the lower ones as well), so that this will also affect wear. Not to mention, it isn't as efficient as having a double front ring set up. But 4.500 gravel riders know better, so 1X is all you get, and Campy says so. 

But have no fear! You can buy a new Ekar cassette and 13 speed specific chain for $300.00 or so. Yes, Campy is not cheap, and the entire group-set will likely only be found on upper end bikes from the likes of Pinarello, Ridley, and on Specialized's Diverge with the Campy option. 

In the end I am very skeptical when companies start adding cogs, especially at the expense of front derailleurs. The trade-offs to have 1X that 'works' are many, and I am not convinced it is worth it from several standpoints. In fact, other than a simpler to understand drive train and maybe a mud clearance benefit, I just do not see why 1x is even necessary. Especially in an era where front derailleur/front chain ring technology is perhaps at its very best, not to mention electronic shifting, which essentially can take any complexities of understanding how to properly make a 2X work and eliminate those concerns altogether. 

But we've been programmed to understand that adding rear cogs and 1X fronts are "better" and an "advancement" in technology and performance. I'm not buying into it folks. I think you should be skeptical as well. That's my take. 

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend and enjoy some Fall riding if you can!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Fall Views: Harvest In High Gear

Wednesday..... Time to bag more roads on "The Quest". I had a few miles of Southern Hammond Avenue and Kimball Avenue to cover in my attempt to ride every mile of Black Hawk County gravel. So, with some time to spare on Wednesday morning, I broke out the "Gravel Bus" and headed out to Prairie Grove Park to head on down South. 

We've had weird skies of late. At first it was from the wild fires out West, but now I think it is just dust from harvesting. The machines are out all over now and kicking up a mighty mess of dirt into the skies. The air has been really dry again, so how that plays into this atmospheric weirdness, I am not really sure, but it does make for very dusty conditions on the roads and in the fields. 

The other thing contributing to the dusty conditions is the fact that Black Hawk County has made some hefty contributions to the gravel levels on the roads lately. It was super-chunky and made a big cloudy, dusty mess when cars or trucks went by. It was pretty rough going with a few notable exceptions. I rode a lot on the very margins of the gravel and grassy ditches.

Some post-harvest fertilizing going on here. Note the chunky gravel.

Big semi-tractor rigs and Ag machinery was everywhere.
There wasn't a whole lot of wind, which was nice. The forecast said eventually it would be from the South, but I really don't know that this ever happened while I was out. There was juuuust enough breeze to take the dust off the road if I met a truck or car, but really, it was calm. I had the single speed cranking the rollers and besides the chunk, it was a nice ride. 

Barns For Jason #1: My camera battery bit the dust at this point in the ride.

For some reason, the iPhone has a heck of a time getting the Gravel Bus' color right.

I really didn't have a lot of issues getting all the way down Hammond Avenue's gravel section. This is a street that starts in Waterloo and turns into gravel well South of town. So, it's maybe just about half paved, half gravel. Anyway, I've ridden the length of it now. I ended up having to go all the way down a mile and a half into Tama County to get to a connector gravel road which would transport me over to the gravel section of Kimball Avenue. Kimball has a LOT less gravel than Hammond, but it needed to be ridden. 

A car passed where I stopped to rest. You can see how much dust got kicked up.

Barns For Jason #2: Can you spot the horse?

My route turned West at the point where I was just on the Northern border of Hickory Hills Park, which is a geological feature in the area called a paha. In fact, it is really called 'Casey's Paha', but no one around here calls it that. It is a land feature, pretty much unique to Iowa, that you can see for miles away, and it rises above the level of what already is pretty rolling terrain to form even steeper, taller hills. The area is also tree covered and this also makes it easier to spot amongst the landscape. You can see a hint of it behind the barn image above to the right. 

 Barns For Jason #3

 Geneseo Church. Can you spot the caretaker?

Once I traversed the mile West it was back North on a mile and a half of Tama County V Avenue and then on to Kimball. Here I saw damage from the August 10th derecho which had flattened a lot of corn. The beans looked okay, but I'd say 80% of a couple of corn fields I saw were toast. I just saw a tiny sliver of what damage there is out there, most of which is a lot further South of me than Northern Tama County. 

The only standing corn here is light colored. The rest is laying flat due to the August 10th derecho.

Barns For Jason #4

Kimball Avenue gravel doesn't last too long. After a few miles I had that nicked off the list and I was in Eagle Center, a small crossroads with a few buildings and homes there. From here I went one mile West on the pavement, (cheating!), and then turned back South on Ansborough and then back to Prairie Grove Park and the truck. I got in just shy of 30 miles in under three hours, so I was moving pretty well on the G-Bus. 

Barns For Jason #5- This one isn't long for the world either.

A combine harvester kicks up a cloud of dust while harvesting soybeans South of Waterloo, Iowa.

This bit of road-bagging now clears up most of Southern Black Hawk County leaving only the far Southeastern corner for me to get around to. I have a bit to clear up around LaPorte City, and then the far Northeastern corner of the County has some buggers to get around to with no good way to do it other than a bunch of out and backs. I also have one more 'big-loop' ride left to do which will bag Nesbit Road for me and some odds and ends around Dunkerton. 

Once I get those major pieces done there are like 'tiny bits' left here and there. Crumbs of roads, really. I should get all this mopped up yet this year. That's the goal anyway. Stay tuned........

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Thoughts On Future Projects


With Fall and Winter on the way, I am collaborating with Andy of Andy's Bike Shop on ideas for the future of Riding Gravel and beyond. I thought I'd float out a few of my ideas and let you in on the inside of what's up here. Remember- these are just ideas we're considering. We aren't announcing anything unless it is specifically specified as an announcement. 

So, first up, an announcement! Ha! Yes, we are already into setting up a You Tube Channel for Riding Gravel. We will be posting some stuff to compliment our written reviews and show the products we are working with in a bit more detail. We think this will enhance our reader's experiences and give those that want to send in stuff for review another reason to get their products in front of folks. 

This may also end up being a forum where we can have some video of our podcasts. Especially if we have guests. In fact, we're very close to having our first in-studio guest, so stay tuned for that. It should be a pretty fun interview. Anyway, yeah......You Tube. Can you believe it? Crazy. But, we feel it is something worth trying, so we are trying it. 

Speaking of podcasts we have been recording a bunch and there are several episodes 'in the can' waiting to get posted by my partner in RG who is on vacation hunting, I guess. So for those of you that have been asking me what's up- that's what's up. The podcast will forge on and I think we are going to start to try to get some more guests in-studio and on the horn as well in the future. If you have any ideas on who we should be talking to, hit me up. 

It's been a few years since we did the Riding Gravel jerseys. I am thinking about cranking up a new design and seeing what the interest would be in getting them done for sale. T-shirts are another thing I'm considering, and we are already doing up a batch of stickers. Any suggestions for merch you would buy, let me know. This stuff would go on Andy's Bike Shop's online store and also would be available in-store as well, for the locals. 

So, I'll be busy thinking, designing, recording, video making, writing, and riding into the near future. I hope that it hits some marks, and I hope that Andy and I can get these things accomplished in a timely manner. 

Stay tuned......

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fall Views: Field Serviced

At least it was a win!

This past weekend was an odd one due to my son's football game being an away game and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This threw off my entire biological clock, I tell ya. I was way out of whack until later on Sunday. All that nonsense I used to do in my youth never helped me now, I know that much! Anyway, after eating very late Friday, then getting to  sleep on what amounted to early Saturday morning, I was pretty much out of commission in terms of getting anything significant done on Saturday proper. 

But I did ride a bicycle. I just kept it in town and ran a bunch of side streets and recreational trail. Something to break up the constant diet of gravel road riding. Plus I needed exercise and to clear out the cobwebs from my brain from Friday's goofy schedule. It worked. The plan then was to do a bunch of new-to-me roads on Sunday. 

Of course, well made plans sometimes get derailed and my Sunday plans were no different. I woke up to a day of pretty brutal Southeasterly winds and my right knee felt tweaked a bit, for some odd reason. So, I wasn't real set on my plan going into it, and especially so since I was using the opportunity to test some WTB tires I had on the Black Mountain Cycles Orange Crush rig. See, big wind + single speed = not a long ride. Maybe. I would see what I could pull off. 

Due to the direction of the winds, and my reconsideration of what I maybe should be trying, I nixed the plans to bag more roads on my quest and just did a nice out-and-back. I just wanted to get several miles into the wind, then turn around and get the benefits of my labor. The starting point was Prairie Grove Park, since I didn't want to burn half my matches in just the getting to gravel. 

A horse pauses from its grazing to consider this strange humanoid/machine apparition.

The sky still looks odd here due to the Western fires.

The first pedal strokes from the car park were a reminder that the left pedal needs attention on the Orange Crush. I thought the pedal was worn out because it felt like my foot was slipping backward and forward as the crank arm rotated and I could discern a stopping point. It was as if the cleat was slightly too small for the clipping mechanism or, more likely, that mechanism was very worn. I mean, I don't think I've purchased new clipless pedals in over 20 years. 

See, as a bicycle mechanic, you end up with extra sets of pedals. People swap out to newer stuff, higher end stuff, or they go back to flat pedals. Many do not want the old pedals and they give them to you. This has happened to me enough times that I have every bike that I want set up with clipless pedals set up with them, and I have pedals to spare. But don't get too envious. These are not anything great, They are base level pedals from Shimano, for the most part, and are beat to hell and back.Thus my suspicions about the left pedal on this bike. It was entirely possible it was shot. 

There is a small flock of birds in flight in this image.

Filling the bins.

Well, as I got going I was super annoyed by this loose feeling pedal, or so I thought it was my pedal. I looked down at just the right time and I thought I saw the crank arm move! What?! Not good here! So, I immediately stopped to more closely inspect things. 

Well, it was bad news. My left crank arm wasn't just a little loose, it was really loose! Had I ruined the square taper? Dang it! My initial thought was to just roll back gently to the truck and bail on the whole ride, but....... Wait a minute. I had tools. Did I have an 8mm hex key? I dug out my tool roll. There was a good chance that I would have the tool, because this bike is pretty much my "Survive The Apocalypse Bike™". I had stocked it with more stuff than I would normally have on board some of my other bikes. I dug a bit and score! An old Trek multi-tool had the correct socket to convert a 6mm hex key to an 8mm one. Not much leverage, but........what the hey! 

There were miles and miles of fresh gravel out there.

Well, I had nothing to lose here. Either the square taper was toast and my efforts would be shown to be fruitless, in which case I'd be heading home sooner than later, or I would get in some kind of ride. Maybe. The cases of loose left crank arms being tightened and staying tight after having been ridden loose are few. I had not much hope, but why not give it a try? 

I torqued it on as well as I could, took off, and checked on the tightness about every two miles. I figured that with the high effort required to go against the 26mph headwinds, I would either find a loose crank arm real soon or be okay. The first check? Passed. The next? Passed again. I continued onward, but I was amazed that the crank arm had not come even a little bit loose with all the high torque I was putting into it. Checked again, passed. So, I figured on getting to Quarry Road, stopping at the bridge there, and doing one final check using the wrench and then coming home with the wind at my back. After turning around, I figured the crank force would be reduced greatly and I'd make it home no problem.

At the turnaround point. Crank checked out okay.

I reached the turn around point, broke out the tools to double check the crank bolt, and I discovered a combination 5mm/6mm hex key that would work to allow me to get even more leverage than I could with the multi-tool. So I fitted the 8mm adapter and reefed on the wrench and turned it a little bit more. So, it never got looser than I had it, but I was able to tighten it some more. Awesome! That never happens with a loose crank arm that's been ridden. Of course, it still could be bad, but at least I got my ride in. 

A farmer making wind rows the old fashioned way.  

The wind at my back was amazing on the ride back. I was flying! Even though the gravel was deep and chunky, the ol' bike was rolling pretty well. I made it back to the truck with no further incident. It ended up that trying to tighten the crank arm and to try to get a ride in was the correct decision, this time. But I am still amazed that I got that crank arm to stick with all the hard pedaling I had to do. 

Now I'll pull that arm, inspect it, and if it looks alright, I'll torque it on with a proper torque wrench and see how it goes. Worst case scenario I have to go to another crank set. I think I'll live through this!