Saturday, October 31, 2020

Brown Season: Glorified Driveways

This time I embarked on the ride from Cedar River Access near La Porte City.
We have now 'officially' entered "Brown Season". The period of time after the first hard frosts, the end of harvest, and before a blanket of white snow covers the landscape. Officially? Yes, because I said it is official. So there. You do not have to agree, but just go look out into the Iowa landscape, and tell me it isn't mostly brown now. I think you'll find that it is most definitely "Brown Season". 

Anyway, on to more of "The Quest" story. My attempt to ride every gravel road in Black Hawk County by the end of this year. This time I mop up more of the Southeast corner of the county. Specifically, I was taking out all the roads between Brandon Road and the Cedar River. It was a LOT of out and back in which I made an interesting observation. Each dead end road ended on a private property. It was as if each bit of road that was designated as a dead end was really a glorified drive way. There were no signs at the ends of these roads to indicate that you were on private property past a certain point. The road just dumped right into a driveway, or a farm yard, or a front yard. It was bizarre and I've never encountered anything quite like it before, especially multiple times in one area.  

But before I get into the ride details I need to share this ride's kit that I wore and the weather that informed my choices. It was a raw day, with strong Northeast winds gusting to 26mph and the air temperature was in the upper 30's at the morning start. Wind chills were around 30°F. I wore the GORE Windstopper® gear I was sent to review for  This included the Phantom Jacket, Thermo+ bib tights, and a windproof base layer shirt. sandwiched in there was my Twin Six Standard Wool short sleeved jersey. I wore some Twin Six wool socks and the Northwave Winter boots I have. I'm not enamored of the GORE mittens I got to review so I wore my SealSkinz gloves. A Walz Wool earflapper cycling cap and the Rudy Project Cutline glasses made up the rest of the kit including my Bontrager helmet, of course. In this get-up I rode two hours very comfortably. 


The first out-and-back was Carr Road. 

Barns For Jason #1

After finding the first 'glorified driveway', I headed East on Harmon Road. The wind seemed okay at this point, nothing really that bad. Then the route ran into a "T" intersection with Bader Road. I had to run South to get a dead end portion there. So another out-and-back. 

Barns For Jason #2

The roads were mostly really good for bicycle riding. 

The roads were mostly clear of the big chunk, but I did have a few places where the gravel was deeper. Fortunately most of those sections did not coincide with going North. That direction was hard enough with the wind. As I went along, it became even more difficult as the winds picked up a bit. 

Barns For Jason #3

This tree has been engulfing this derelict windmill for decades.

I then made another out-and-back on Lange Road but instead of ending in someones yard, this road dumped out to Brandon Road, which is paved. Then it was back to Wright road which turns South and becomes Purdy Road and then on to two consecutive out-and-backs. 

Beef cattle grazing on a hillside along Wright Road.

The western terminus of McChane Road, which dumps into an abandoned farm yard.

One of these out-and-backs was McChane Road which terminated into an abandoned farm, again, with no warning signs or anything. So odd! same with Purdy Road's Southern terminus, which bailed out right into a farmer's drive in front of their home. 

The last of the Fall colors hangs on here and there.

Rest stop on the Black Hawk/Buchanan County line. Looking back into Black Hawk County here down McChane Road.

The last bit going North on Black Hawk/Buchanan Road was brutal. By now the winds were a constant blast from the Northeast and if they were anything under 25mph, I would have been surprised. It was almost every bit as bad as that Saturday I rode recently North of here. But coming back from the corner where the road went to pavement was super easy. I almost coasted an entire mile! 

Barns For Jason #4

After the last out-and-back I ran the main drags back the way I came and then one more bit I saved till the end- an out-and-back on Garling Road to Brandon Road. Garling actually continues on North past that intersection, but I'm saving that for the last ride in this area which should happen this weekend. Stay tuned for that report coming soon.......hopefully!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Friday News And Views

The new Trek bike packaging. (Hard to see a difference) Image courtesy of Trek
 Trek Tries To Reduce Waste In New Bike Packaging:

As a bike mechanic with well over 20 years of building new bikes experience, I can say with some authority that there are literally pounds of waste materials generated from every new bike sold. Plastic bits being the worst offense here. But there are also  rubber bands, cardboard, foam, Styrofoam, plastic film, tape, and even paper waste that can become a burden, not only on price, responsibility to the bike shops, but on the Earth. I've said it for years- While bicycles are often said to be a 'green' alternative form of mobility, the bicycle industry is far from 'green' in reality. The packaging of new bikes being one of the worst offenses here. 

Well, some companies are out to do something about this. I reported on something along these lines a year ago on in a report on a company that was seeking to reduce waste in packaging their recycled stainless steel bikes. Trek changed their packing up in December last year on some models and reduced some amount of plastic. You'd be hard pressed to see much of a difference. But, something is better than nothing, or actually increasing packaging, which is possible and happens. 

The thing here is that there is a balancing act between getting a bicycle to a destination unscathed, (harder than you think), getting it to a destination in a mostly assembled state, and keeping costs reasonable, which is nearly impossible. I remember in the past, the least waste in packaging for a new bike was always an USA made Cannondale, which had everything zip-tied to a big cardboard plate which was then stuck in a box. The problem with those bikes was that almost nothing was pre-installed, but was often still in OE packaging, which- if you think about that, is another level of packaging bike brands have almost zero control over. Anyway, dealers hated the extra labor that building a Cannondale bike from a box took back in those days. So, despite the reduced waste in packaging, it wasn't practical in terms of doing business. When Cannondale went overseas for production, they ended up becoming packed like every other brand. It just made more sense from a money standpoint. 

Image courtesy of Bike Europe
So, I commend Trek for trying, but this will not be an easy nut to crack for them, or for any other big brand. 

UPDATED: Yesterday an industry news site, "Bike Europe", carried a post on their site saying that - at least out of one factory in Europe- Cannondale has developed a 100% recyclable bicycle carton and is shipping HPC bikes made in this Dutch factory across Europe now. 

So, kind of ironic, eh? But this is certainly a good sign and should point towards industry-wide rethinking on packaging for new bikes, as this idea has been set up as an 'open standard', meaning the ideas and ways to make this new bike packaging are free to any company seeking a way to make their carbon footprint that much smaller.  

The factory representative quoted in the story also claims that there is no additional costs to doing this. That's even better. Elimination of all foam, plastic, plastic type tapes, and PVC materials is awesome and I hope to see this packaging technique become more widespread. So, while I said that the monetary expenses looked to be the biggest barrier to change in this area, this story seems to contradict that thought. Hopefully it will prove out to work as they say it does.

HD "Serial #1" from the early 20th Century.
Harley Davidson Spins Off E-Bike As Separate Brand:

The "FN&V" has reported on the development of a Harley Davidson branded  HPC (electrified bicycle), before, but now it all looks to be coming true (sort of) in a Direct To Consumer model and the company will be a separate entity from Harley Davidson according to several media posts I saw on Tuesday. The company will be called "Serial 1", which is a reference to HD's first HPC (Hybrid Powered Cycle) which is known as "Serial #1", according to the same reports posted Tuesday. 

This becomes interesting since, obviously, it sends another brand in a crowded marketplace against established traditional cycling companies. While Serial 1 will use a DTC model for sales, these HPC's will be available through select Harley Davidson dealers as well, according to reports. This means that these bikes will enjoy a somewhat built in distribution model and possibly reach a new audience. This also points to how motorcycle sales have plummeted over the last several years, making electrified bicycles an attractive market for motorcycle companies to get into since the market share for HPC's is on the upswing. 

The 'Serial 1" company's first HPC offering.
The Serial 1 company has only one model on offer for a March 2021 release, but the reports I read mentioned possibilities of others in the future. Interestingly, some of these reports were from non-cycling publications and their discriminating view of the electrified two wheeler market was enlightening.

One publication alluded to an existence of an 'e-moped' segment of the marketplace. This is very different from what talking heads in the cycling industry say, as these sorts of throttle controlled HPC's seem to be invisible to the cycling industry, or they point to them and say that they are 'illegal' because these vehicles do not adhere to the three-class "e-bike" guidelines.  While this is a distinction I have called out as being silly, the cycling industry has been sticking to their guns on that point, saying that laws are being drawn up across the nation in support of a three tiered class system for what they call 'e-bikes'. See, this sort of ignoring of reality is what is going to cause the cycling industry to eventually fall to the wayside as a provider of motorized transport. 

Consumers could care less about the three tiered class rules. If someone is riding a cargo bike that happens to have pedals but is cruising along at 20mph uphill and not pedaling, this is the sort of magic that attracts their attention. In human terms, the race to the easiest option, the path of least resistance, is far to attractive to be ignored. I mean, look at all the gizmos we have in our lives nowadays. I used to manually turn on my radio. Now you ask your 'digital assistant' to do that task. But I'm a guy with a vehicle that has crank down windows and starts the engine with a key. So old fashioned and ya know......waaaay too much work! So, what do I know/

As consumer trends and desires change, I foresee what I've always said would happen here. The so-called 'e-bike' will eventually shed its nearly useless pedals and cranks as consumers look for easier to ride, more powerful, and eventually, less bicycle-like options for their mobility needs. Attaching motors to bicycles has been done before, and we are simply repeating history with a different motor type, is all. That Harley Davidson has a hand in this market is particularly ironic. 

International Singlespeed Day- November 2nd, 2020:

There is literally a 'day' for everything under the Sun, right? I mean, even the Sun gets its own day once a week. (Sorry! I couldn't resist!) Anyway......I found out that International Singlespeed Day is 11/2/20 this year. Maybe it's the first year for this/ I don't know. I've never heard about this before this past week anyway. But you all know that sort of talk is right up my alley! I love me some single speed bicycle action. 

Well, however it started, I'm certainly in on this. Now the dilemma for me is which one? Which single speed device do I celebrate this day of being in the wrong gear at all times? How do I choose just one to be at oneness with? I suppose it comes down to gravel or single track, and then I go from there. Gravel narrows things down to three main rigs and dirt means I could go with one of two, maybe three if you allow a 'dinglespeed' and I keep it in one range. 

My predilection is to go on a gravel ride, since, ya know, I have this quest thing to finish up. So, that could all change depending upon weather and family obligations, or the fact that this falls on a Monday. We'll see. But this has much more appeal to me than a "World Fat Bike Day" which almost always is on opening day of deer shotgun hunting season here, and I do not want to be in the woods on that day! Heck, I stay off gravel on that day, generally speaking. But yeah.........stay tuned on this single speed deal.  

NOTE: For my opinions and comments on yesterday's announcement concerning the Unbound Gravel event in Emporia, Kansas, I wrote a post about that yesterday.  Click Here to see it.

That's a wrap for this week! Have a great weekend and get out and ride!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Life Time Debuts Unbound Gravel Event

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

Life Time events, the owner of the former DK200 event, has announced its replacement, called "Unbound Gravel".  While Life Time is soft-billing this as "Same Race, New Face" they may as well drop that and admit to what this actually is- it's not a rebrand- its a brand new event

The old Dirty Kanza 200 was Jim Cummings' (and Joel Dyke's before he left the event), and his personality infused the event from top to bottom. All the marketing for the event mentioned Jim and lauded him as the face of the event and the heart of the event. The propaganda machine built up by the DK Promotions team never left any doubt as to the importance of Jim Cummings to the Dirty Kanza and he was ALWAYS front and center in everything the event did. 

Obviously Jim's social media miscue was cause for his dismissal and that and the name change issue combines to make anything smacking of the DK200 a bad deal. So any connection to the past seems......not very genuine? I think this "Same Race, New Face" is a weak attempt at keeping the heritage that suits their agenda and dumping what doesn't, and if that is true, it stinks. 

But be that as it may, the name change that was promised has now happened. The diversity committee that was promised is supposedly being assembled. There will be 'changes' made. So, how is this the same event with a new name? That's easy- it isn't the same event. It shouldn't be either. If Unbound Gravel, (Maybe it should be Unburdened Gravel?), tries to reach back into any of the 15 years of Dirty Kanza 200 heritage, I don't see those efforts as being very genuine at that point. Life Time cut ties to Jim and the name. In my opinion, it's all or nothing, and the table was set on that by the whole dismissal of Jim and the cultural heritage issues as well. You cannot have your cake and eat it too with this deal. 

There will be elements that are similar, of course. The 200 mile course, the same venue, and many of the same trappings will be pulled over, but this event is not anything like its predecessor just because it starts in the same city and uses the Flint Hills for its course. Just ask the promoters of La Grind, another gravel event based in Emporia, Kansas. 

I'm not saying Unbound Gravel cannot be a good time, a successful event, or as influential as the DK200 once was. It could be all those things and more, or not. Unbound Gravel will have to live or die on its own merits. 

Enough of that. What about the name? Ah.........well. Here's my take. The email I read from Life Time states that "Our summer was spent building a task force full of Emporia businesses and locals, media personnel, professional and passionate cyclists, and many of our partners to create a new name worthy of the magic that the gravel roads in the Flint Hills hold." That's a fancy way to say 'design by committee', and of course, the new name had to be one that couldn't possibly be construed to be offensive to anyone. So, hoping that you'd get any other flavor here than 'vanilla' is just insane thinking. 

It's on the same page as "Mid-South" is to my way of thinking. If anything, the logo and the name are about as corporate-think as one could get. Think of the branding opportunities! In fact, the email I received already was trying to sell me stuff. " We would love for you to share your excitement with us! Visit our partner Gravel City Adventure and Supply to pre-order some new UNBOUND Gravel merchandise." Yeah.... We're sorry. But we've changed! Buy our stuff! 

I apologize if I am a little cynical, but this all just sits cockeyed to me. I'm hoping that this awkward moment passes by and Unburdened.......sorry.... Unbound Gravel makes a splash and saves some of the benefits that the DK200 brought to Emporia and its residents. The tragedy that could happen would be if all this 'changing' combined with COVID ruins the financial windfall that the DK200 was to this area. Not to mention the cultural shift in thinking that the DK200 brought to the residents of Emporia concerning cycling and health and well being.

And speaking of COVID. Yeah, who says that Life Time will even be able to hold a mass start event in early June of 2021? I'd be surprised if that was a good idea by that time seeing as how we aren't any closer to getting through this than we were last June. Hopefully it's all behind us then, for the benefit of Unbridled.....sorry....Unbound Gravel, and the rest of us as well.


The Tamland Two on a recent Fall ride.
 Last year I decided that the wheel axle standard and a couple of small details concerning my old (relative term here) Raleigh Tamland Two was making it a bit of a liability when it comes to testing stuff for So, a search began last year to find a substitute that I could press into service for wheel and tire reviews. Maybe other things as well, but mainly for that sort of thing. I ended up getting the Standard Rando v2, and from the beginning of 2020, I had parked the Tamland Two. I figured it would be the bike I might pull out for things like the Gent's Race, or whatever event I had coming up. 

Of course, 2020 threw us a curve ball and I had all my events pulled out from underneath my feet, and so the Raleigh sat forlorn in the Lab, not being used at all. It sat so long that the sealant dried up in the tires and dust was covering the paint job. It made my heart hurt to see that, but I was so busy with trying to get all the review stuff done, well I just didn't have time for the Tamland. 

Then I got sent four sets of tires at about the same time. I just didn't have enough open wheel sets and bikes to really do it justice. So, while I tried to figure out what to do, I was down in the Lab just staring blankly and my gaze fell upon the forlorn Tamland again.  Well......why not? Why not use the Tamland again? It is a shame to let it just sit around. So on went the Vee Tire Rocketman and that was that. I was going to ride the Tamland again. 

And when I did, well that same feeling of comfortable and stable handling was right there. I felt like I had been riding the bike all along. And in one sense I had been. See, the Noble Bikes GX5 is a bike with a very similar geometry and layout to the Raleigh Tamland. In fact, if you don't know, one of the engineers on the Tamland owns Noble Bikes. So, it only makes sense that the GX5 and the Tamland would be similar. Only the frame material is really different. Carbon vs steel. 

The Tamland Two was really an unsung influencer on the gravel bike market. To this day there are vital things that the Tamland has that are defining features of gravel bikes in 2020 and beyond. Head angle, seat angle, bottom bracket drop, and massive tire clearances. The Tamland preceded the 650B/Road Plus thing but those 47mm tires slot right into the Tamland regardless. But there are a couple things that the Tamland missed out on when it hit the scenes in 2014.  

One was the fork mounted water bottle bosses. It also didn't come with a bottom of the downtube bottle boss. Obviously the early Tamlands didn't have through axles either. But those minor issues are no big deal when it comes to the basic bones of what makes a great gravel bike. The Tamland did things the Warbird did not do back then, such as have a lowered bottom bracket and big tire clearances. And you could put through axles, a carbon fork, and add those water bottle bosses, keep everything else the same, and the Tamland Two would be still in the mainstream of gravel bike handling and geometry in 2020. But nobody remembers that the Tamland was the first bike like that. It was the trend setter. 

So, I guess I've 'unretired' the Tamland. And I am glad to have it back.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Season Of Fatigue

This is home. This is Mean Street.
I don't have to tell you. You know.......this year is getting old. Not just because we are about to enter the last two months of of 2020, but you's the whole pandemic thing. The freaking election. Advertising that is beyond nauseating. Fear mongering. So much is 'fake' we don't know what is real anymore. Maybe that's why it seems drivers along my commute to work have lost their minds lately. 

My favorite move a driver of a car or truck makes is this: Multiple lane road intersects with your path, your 'flight plan', whatever. As a cyclist, you don't even need to be on a road. I had this scene play out as I tried to cross a five lane (one way) highway Monday as I came out from under a bridge about 50 yards from an intersection of any type. 

Anyway- a driver sees your approach. They stop. Now they may do this right at an intersection, or no where near an intersection- doesn't matter. I call this move "The Misdirected Kindness Move". The driver tries to have you cross in front of them. It's as if they are deferring to your weaker mode of transport by stopping and allowing you to cross while they wait inside their climate controlled capsule and stare at you as you are going to be- they hope- parading in front of you. Only their big fail is that they are not in control of the other lanes of traffic adjacent to their vehicle, which may have vehicular traffic bearing down at this scene at a high rate of speed. See.....I'm not falling for this. Then it gets interesting.

The driver with "The Misdirected Kindness Move" now in play gets agitated. They wave at you vigorously. I often give them a 'go on ahead' wave, which 95% of the time gets ignored and more vigorous waving and observed jaw flapping starts. Of course, I cannot hear a word that they say. Apparently these people believe in some magic that not only makes anyone coming down the road stop for me also, but defies the laws of physics and says I should be able to understand their verbiage. Then comes one of three possible outcomes.

One: If I am up from a controlled intersection, the light finally flashes the lanes "The Misdirected Kindness" driver is in the green light and they get the idea and move along. Two: In case the driver has a green light,the oncoming traffic whizzes by the stalled driver and they get the idea and move along, or Three: The uncontrolled intersection allows them to sit there forever, (or until another vehicle comes along) and there appears to be a stalemate. If #3 happens and it looks like a standoff, I turn around and go the other way. THAT finally gets the driver's goat and they blast off with an application of "angry acceleration" at which point I turn around and resume my commute. 

This has occurred more often as fall has come on, and on Monday it happened twice. Both times on the way home from work. Even when I stop 20 yards up from an intersection on a bike path, put my foot down, and show no visual contact, this sometimes still happens to me. Why don't drivers just go ahead and do what they are supposed to do, so I can expect a consistent behavior from the operators of these rust buckets? Because the moment I do that, I get waxed by a driver that is inattentive, or just doesn't care. Or the person in the is just desiring to be mean, which happened on Monday as well.

I'm minding my own business when I see a passenger of an oncoming vehicle crank their hand, which is holding a 20 oz. beverage of some sort, above the roof line. They bob the bottle and I can see this person is trying to time a throw at me. Yeah, the person was so lazy they couldn't be arsed to get out of their seat to get anything on the throw, so failure was predictable. The bottle missed me by a mile, but the intent was there, obviously.

People are getting fatigued. There is no will to use their critical thinking skills, so they are either misdirected in their kindness or they just don't give a rip for their fellow man. That's what I am seeing. I don't know.....maybe I have too much time to think as I ride along.......

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Update On The Whisky Parts Co. Milhouse Bar

The Snow Dog set up with the Milhouse Bar.
 After my Saturday of travel and volunteering at the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra, (reported on yesterday), I took Sunday off from gravel travel to do a bit of testing with the Whisky Parts Co. Milhouse Bar. This is their carbon moto-inspired handle bar which Whisky Parts Co. sent me to evaluate. I did not pay for this bar and am not being paid or bribed for this post. I just thought I'd get that cleared up first. I did want to let those who are curious know what I have thought about it so far. 

As I shared last week, I ended up sticking the Milhouse Bar on my old fat bike I call The Snow Dog. It just made a lot more sense on that bike than it did on the On One Inbred I originally had installed it on. The bar not only looks better on the Mukluk, but it does a better thing for that bike than it did on the Inbred. I'll get to that in a moment....

I took the Mukluk on a bit of a bushwhacking ride this time. The first thing I did was to check out the progress on the new section of University Avenue. To get to that meant I was going to have to climb a dike and then try to traverse some wet dirt. The Mukluk with this Milhouse Bar on it really makes a huge difference in weight distribution over the bike. This means it is really easy to loop out on a steep climb. At least if you try to stay seated. I ended up finding that standing and climbing actually worked better. 

Weight distribution is changed so much that I felt like almost all my weight was on the saddle. This meant that using the Redshift Sports ShockStop seat post ended up being a great idea. I fact, it makes the bike ride super-smooth. The carbon bar has a wee bit of give too, so that helps as well. 

The Milhouse Bar is wiiiide! You may have trouble getting between trees in some places.

After getting a good look at the new pavement for University Avenue, I headed over toward George Wyth State Park with no real agenda. On the way I remembered "Casey's Trail", a new-ish single track along the expressway which I have ridden maybe three or four times, but not in 2020 at all. So, I figured why not go and check it out? It's really one of only a few "true" single track trails in the area. 

You'd never know by looking that you are about 50 yards from a busy highway right here.

The Milhouse Bar is so different from anything I've tried that my typical MTB control layout wasn't working as well as I'd like. I ended up stopping at three different spots to make incremental adjustments to the lever and shifter placements until I was satisfied with the ergonomics. I still have to adjust the lever reach a tiny bit, but I didn't have a small enough hex key with me on the ride to do it then.

The changes made the experience of riding with these bars even more enjoyable. I will take a bit longer to become better acquainted with how the handling of this set up works. The weight distribution, width of the bars, and how the steering geometry is now have made it so the Snow Dog rides like a completely new-to-me bike. 

The drive train needs an update too. These old 9 speed parts are pretty tired and the range of gearing is not what it should be. I almost am pulled toward going with a nice 2X front crank and front derailleur, but eh.....maybe I should stick to 1X here. At any rate, I need a clutch rear derailleur and a 1X specific ring up front. I almost torqued off the chain twice on my ride as it was. 

Nature is the 'hook", my clothing, the "loop".
Follow the Yellow (Leaf) Road!

I ended up doing some twisty single track for a bit and then heading to the house. The Milhouse Bar is a really different, but really nice bar. The 70mm rise and the 810mm width is a flavor I have never had the pleasure of experiencing before this. I would like to see this bar on a proper 'trail bike' type geometry bike where I could use a stubby stem and not the long-ish tiller I have to use on the Snow Dog so I could evaluate this on a 'proper' set up. That said, I can certainly see how this bar can make a fat bike handle better by allowing more rearward weight shift to allow for front tire flotation, but still have a good climbing capability (standing climbing) and turning grip. 

Obviously, if a handle bar like this is interesting to you, you generally had to accept that the bar would weigh quite a bit. However; the Milhouse bar brings all the attitude and benefits of a moto inspired riser bar without the weight and better comfort than a handle bar made out of metal in this style. That said, it ain't a cheap option, but carbon fiber handle bars made to a MTB testing standard are not inexpensive, generally speaking. Especially if they are unique, as this bar is. 

More soon.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Volunteering At The Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra

Old DX gas station in Murray. Iowa.
 5:00am Saturday, October 24th, 2020: The alarm goes off on my iPhone and I jump up out of bed, careful not to awake Mrs. Guitar Ted, but not quiet enough for Minka The Cat. She accompanies me downstairs where I immediately feed the ravenous creature its breakfast. Then I get to making my own meal before getting kitted out to do my turn at the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra. This event, in its fifth year, happens to be down South of me about a three hour drive away. So, I have to be quick about things to be able to hit the road by 6:00am or earlier, if I can. My turn to serve starts at 10:00am, but they wanted me to show up by 9:30am. 

My destination is Murray, Iowa, a small village West of Osceola, Iowa on US 34. Wikipedia says the population, as of 2010, was 756 people. Hmm.....I'd believe it if it was less than that. Anyway, I'd never been there, or even heard of the village, until my assignment was given via e-mail to me from Race Director, Sarah Cooper. I was to be paired up with another of the RD's, Dori, and the lead at the checkpoint was Amanda. I knew Dori and Sarah from Trans Iowa, but I had never met Amanda before. 

The Spotted Horse is a 150 mile or 200 mile event which had been modified this year due to COVID-19, and was run (kind of) concurrently with the postponed from April Iowa Wind And Rock, the 300+ mile event which was strongly influenced by Trans Iowa. I wasn't sure what to expect, since these sorts of gravel ultras are hard to train for and what with 2020 being what it has been, I wasn't even going to venture any guesses as to what the attendance might be. Added to this was the fact that it was forecast to be raw, cold, and grey for the weekend, and I wasn't thinking this was a recipe for a large turnout. But who knows?

Some Murray, Iowa flavor. I don't know how smaller villages like this hang on these days.

Besides a public school and a Casey's convenience store, this was the best maintained building in town.

I arrived a half an hour early, you know, like a good Mid-Western boy should, and sat around getting the stink-eye from locals gathering at the public area we were to set up the checkpoint at. They were gathering with their elementary school aged children for a bit of a soccer game. I have to say that I was duly impressed by the turnout. There must have been 30 children of various ages running amok at one point. Anyway, me being an outsider with non-Clarke County plates, well, I was a stranger and therefore to be suspected of.....well, I'd rather not guess what. I'm sure it wasn't 'good'. 

The forlorn streets were mostly devoid of activity, with the exception of a stray cat and dog.

I had my picture made with (From L-R) Dori, Steve, myself, and Sarah. (Image taken by Amanda)

Not long after I arrived a silver VW sedan with a bike rack turned around the corner up the street from me. Ah! The 'bike people' are arriving! It was Dori. We said our hellos and got to setting up the checkpoint. Dori is one of the RD's of the Spotted Horse and a very inspirational person to be around. Not long after this, Amanda arrived, and we were ready to go. Then Steve and Sarah, the other RD's of the event, arrived and we had a few more folks stop by as well, including the couple from Bottom Bracket Biking and Lisa, who was banged up and recovering from a bicycle accident earlier this year. 

This is always my favorite part of events like this where you get to chat for a time with folks you only see at gravel events. It's where the term, "Gravel Family" comes from, and it's a big reason why the grassroots gravel scene is so popular. 

Siphamandia Simelane came in second to Checkpoint #1

Dori's self-described "bitchy notes" for the riders at the checkpoint

As volunteers we were instructed to be wearing masks and to have riders take off water bottle tops, hand the bottles to us, and we would fill them from the spigot. This worked marvelously well, and all riders I helped were very compliant with the protocols. Other than this small inconvenience, this was basically like any other aid station/checkpoint experience I have had. 

The first riders did not show up until the stroke of ten o'clock, so we had about a half an hour of chatting freely with Steve and Sarah before they had to move along and get up the road. I found out that the situation in the Iowa Wind And Rock event had caused everyone to fall away until one was left standing- or riding, in this case. It was, no surprise to me, Greg Gleason. The two-time Trans Iowa winner was riding IWAR single speed, and some of the stories shared by Steve and Sarah concerning Greg's performance were fun to hear about. 

The situation with some of the other riders was also shared with me, which was very kind of them, and of course, told in confidence. I wouldn't say anything, but they never asked me not to. That sort of trust is rare. I appreciated their confidence greatly and always will. Anyway, Greg ended up winning and being the only finisher. Amazing! 

We were graced by a visit from the Burger King. Who knew that he lived in Murray Iowa? Crazy!
Past Spotted Horse events have been noted for their derailleur-destroying conditions. Many single speeders showed up this year as a result.

As I said, the first two riders we saw come in showed up at the stroke of 10;00am. By this time the soccer brigade had cleared out and left the forlorn streets of Murray, Iowa to us bike freaks. We went about our business, seeing cyclists come in pairs every so often, until we heard a train blow its lonesome call. A big freight train, by the sounds of it, and I was wondering, along with the others, if it was holding up some of the rider's progress to our position. 

As the rumble of the iron wheels faded we saw a slug of riders headed our way, the biggest pack we would see all morning, and sure enough, they related to us that the train had caused them all to bunch back together. We moved quickly as we could from rider to rider to service their needs and one by one they eventually all made their way back on down the road. 

Amanda was our leader and record keeper. It was great to get to know her during my time there.

A few riders getting ready to head out to checkpoint #2.

Eventually riders stopped trickling in. 11:30am came and went with no further activity. Technically speaking, we were to be done then, but we all agreed to stay on until noon to make sure no straggler was left behind. As the noon hour approached we packed up most everything and I said goodbye to Dori and Amanda, the only two left there, and made my way back home. 

While turn out wasn't spectacular for either event, everyone was stoked to be there and riding. I saw a lot of happy faces and it was good to be out doing something kind of normal for once. Oh......yeah. This is the first time I've traveled out of town for anything social since before the pandemic. It was odd, but not weird. If that makes any sense. I had a bit of anxiety about it, but overall, I am okay. I think the event was done right and we were safe, as far as you can be. 

Anyway, besides that I was very glad to be giving back to the gravel community again in a bit different role than I have before. I might have to do this volunteering thing again someday. It was pretty fun.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: Planning For A Big Exit - Part 1

The digitized logo I came up with for T.I.v10.
 The running of the tenth Trans Iowa event was immediately on my mind post T.I.v9. I was excited, after I got over my emotional melt-down post T.I.v9, to get on with getting to "The End." I'm really not sure I can communicate how hopeful and expectant I was to be out from underneath doing Trans Iowa ever again as I prepped for "The End". Not only that, but I also had made headway toward getting out of being the proprietor, main writer, and main editor of "Twenty Nine Inches", the website I got tangled up with back about the same time I was starting up Trans Iowa with Jeff Kerkove. 

Ten years. Ten years of running around like a chicken with my head cut off, stressed out, missing friends, family, and other opportunities because of my feelings of responsibilities toward the website and Trans Iowa. The stress of getting people happy, satisfied, and taken care of. People that weren't always reciprocating in kind. All these "THINGS" were unnecessary to living a happy, peaceful life. I didn't care about being "Guitar Ted" if it meant being drained of life and energy most of the time. I blamed the website and Trans Iowa. It was time for me to get out of both. And to be honest, there was a third thing I was completely ignoring, and that was my job, which was probably the worst of the three things by far. 

Yeah, looking back I was probably having more fun doing the website and Trans Iowa, but the job paid me and the other two did not, so hacking out the 'unfruitful' elements of my life made more sense from a practical standpoint. But really, it probably all came down to my dissatisfaction with my job situation back then, but that's another story.

Anyway, the tenth edition, and probably more importantly to me, the last Trans Iowa, needed to go out with a bang. Fortunately I had a benefactor with regard to sponsorship for Trans Iowa in Lederman Bail Bonds. Yes.....a bail bond company. See, one of the principals of that company was a huge fan of gravel cycling and Trans Iowa. His name is Josh Lederman, and he participated in Trans Iowa from v9-v13 every year. So, for v10 he sponsored the event allowing me the freedom to do a few things to celebrate, what I was intending to be, the last Trans Iowa. Hats and t-shirts were designed up and made available for every attending rider. 

The original v10 header I designed on the computer.

The original logo/header design for this version of Trans Iowa was also a departure from the past. For all the years leading up to Trans Iowa v10, Jeff Kerkove would graciously design up a logo/header for the event. By the time T.I.v9 was over and I was thinking about v10 in late Summer of 2013, I figured maybe I should just design the thing myself. Jeff's life had taken a turn so far away from the event that I felt asking him was more of an annoyance to him than a way to keep his name attached to the event. Plus, this was going to be the last one. I thought it was high time to put my touch on the proceedings. So, one late afternoon in August, I came up with this digitized mess of oranges, reds, and dark hues and made it the 'temporary header' for the site. 

As we will find out, those oranges and reds with a silhouetted row of hills was a sort of prophetic scene for the actual event. But I have already alluded to this in a previous entry to this series. I will touch upon this again soon. That said, this became the de facto header for much of the lead-up to T.I.v10, although that was not my original intentions. The t-shirt design logo ended up as the header art, but that came later. That logo was inspired by a container trailer sitting on the East side of Waterloo that I would pass by every time I got a haircut at my local barber shop. It featured a stylized eagle with long, angular wings. I adapted this idea with a bit of the Van Halen band logo from the late 70's and voila! A new Trans Iowa logo! This logo became the inspiration for the v13 and v14 as header art as well. 

Still the best t-shirt for Trans Iowa, in my opinion, we ever came up with.
Along about this time I also started a retrospect look at Trans Iowa starting at the beginning and running up to 2013. It was called "Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales", and the series ran up to the beginning of Trans Iowa v10 with one, or two at the end, entries every weekend. There were 49 entries in all, and since much of the meat of Trans Iowa was told in those stories, I have, in this series, tried to focus on more personal details and stories left untold. At any rate, the series started in 2013 was done as a way to recap the story of the event so that once I did lock the door and throw away the key, all of the past would have been fresh in many people's minds. It was just another way to celebrate ten years of doing Trans Iowa. 

In addition to all of that, prizing for this edition of Trans Iowa was off the hook. We had prizing from small shops where some of the T.I. riders worked, we had a bunch of stuff from Salsa Cycles, and more on top of that. The tables at the Grinnell Steakhouse were laden with goodies back in the meeting room awaiting the riders when we held the event in 2014. It was, by far, the biggest swag haul since v1, and that was by design. I wanted the riders to benefit and be a part of an unwitting 'last rodeo' ride for the event. 

Now all of this hub-bub seemed to telegraph something which I feel made this version of Trans Iowa more urgent to riders than maybe subsequent ones were. I don't know why, but Trans Iowa v10 holds the record for the highest number of starters. We had 106 take the start that year, and it remained as the only Trans Iowa to have over 100 starting at the roll-out. Was there a feeling amongst Trans Iowa fans that this would be the last one, or was it the whole 'decade' thing that made them all show up? Maybe it was the weather, which for a Trans Iowa was looking far more warm and Spring-like than many had in the past. Who knows? 

All I know is that I was excited to be in the process this time. I was looking forward to tying up all the details and pulling all the disparate parts together to pull off, what I hoped would be, the best Trans Iowa ever. Especially from a rider experience standpoint. Obviously, the weather was not under my control, but I was also very hopeful there that it would be a year that would be finish-able. Not a year truncated due to weather related issues, which would have really soured me on ending at ten editions of Trans Iowa. 

Next: Some more observations on the tenth edition of Trans Iowa.

Saturday, October 24, 2020


 So, today I am off doing something I haven't done in years- volunteering for an event's production. Yep! I mentioned earlier this week that I wasn't doing any event promotions/productions anymore, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't help someone else. 

Besides, I figured that my volunteers for Trans Iowa were invaluable to helping produce that event, and so when the call went out for volunteers for the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra, I figured I would return the favor and maybe give back a little in recognition of my fortunes in getting stellar volunteers. 

I hope that my help is one-tenth as valuable as the volunteers help I got for Trans Iowa was and that my tiny contribution is of some worth. It will be fun to see some of the folks I haven't seen in a long time and maybe see some folks for the first time. 

The weather should be interesting. A high of 44°F with a light Easterly breeze, and I know it will be slightly colder than that in the morning which is when I am scheduled to be "on point" for my assignment. I will be traveling three hours each way to get there and back, so my day will be pretty much driving and standing around for a bit. That will be most of today's time I have to spend. 

A report on my tiny slice of the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra will appear here on Monday. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Friday News And Views

The Snow Dog with the Milhouse Bar.
 The Snow Dog Modified:

Recently I told you about the upcoming tenth year anniversary of my getting my first fat bike, a Salsa Cycles Mukluk. I also added that I had thought about adding the Whisky Parts Co.  Milhouse Bar to this bike. Well, as you can plainly see, I have done just that. I basically just swapped bars between this bike and the On One Inbred.

This match is a much better pairing. The On One/Milhouse pairing just didn't work for me. Not sure why, but mostly I think it was an aesthetic issue. It just looked like a "gangly teenager" set up. On the Snow Dog it looks a bit more 'moto'. So, there is that. However; it also feels better on the Snow Dog and that big, wide bar helps overcome the inertia a fat bike wheel has when you want to turn. 

I also did a couple of other swaps while I was at it. The first was the swap of the pedals. I had a set of some clunky, but light and very grippy flat pedals on there. Those I took off and replaced with these Fyxation Mesa MP Subzero pedals. The Fyxations are a lot slimmer and I have really liked their performance in the past. 

The next swap was of the seat post and saddle. I had a Cane Creek Thudbuster on it with a WTB Pure saddle. This was replaced by the Redshift Sports ShockStop seat post and a WTB Volt saddle. The Thudbuster is a decent post, but it gets loose in the pivots on me in short order, which then starts a clunk, and yeah...... Plus it is an elastomeric sprung system which doesn't play well with colder temperatures. The Redshift post has a coil spring which is not temperature sensitive and the pivots are bomber on this post. Super-solid, no worries. 

I still may be moving over the Archer Components D1x system to this bike. Stay tuned for that......

New Family Member At G-Ted Productions HQ:

Hey everyone, meet Minka. We just adopted her from the local animal shelter this past week. The story of her arrival here is a long one and has to do with a few odd things. None of that matters now, but the tipping point for getting a cat was a mouse problem we had been battling. All it took was for my daughter and I to find out that the mere presence of a cat was a good deterrent against mice coming  in to our abode. 

The surprise is that we have found out in a few short days that all our lives have been enhanced by the addition of Minka to the household. Mice prevention or no, we're all really happy to have her here. She's full of the berries, as she's only about five months and a little more in age. Still has to grow out of being a kitten, but that's okay. I grew up with cats, so I have a bit of experience with them, and it has been a quick refresher course with Minka running riot around the house here. 

I guess we shouldn't have waited so long to get a pet, but whatever. Now is the time and we have a cat now. Life will certainly be a bit different but we are all in on this and we will make it work. Got any cat tips to share? Go ahead and send them to me if you feel so inclined. 

The new Ritchey Ultra MTB frame
It's The Nostalgia Factor:

Every so often Ritchey Design produces one of their mountain bike frames in the iconic red/white/blue fade paint job. Every time I see it, I want it. Why? It's the "nostalgia factor". I remember those early 90's days looking at MTB mags and seeing these being raced, tested, and in the advertising. They were one of the most sophisticated, high performance, lightweight steel frames one could buy back then. Those final days of 'fully rigid' mountain biking were quite the innovative days. 

Ritchey Design has done it again with the Ultra, a 29" or 27.5+ machine with the conservative take on the 'modern trail geometry', so probably not a bad design for most single track here. I looked at this, and looked......and looked. But really? C'mon! When do I mountain bike anymore? I'm always out on the gravel and mountain bikes are a side show for me these days. I like mountain biking, but I can get on a gravel road, do some Level B Maintenance stuff, and get all my mountain biking vibes in that I ever could on what we have for single track around here. In fact, I would wager that many Level B's in Iowa are better than mountain biking anywhere in the state. 

That's a bold statement, but those that know- well they know. So, I really am not in the market for a bike like this Ritchey, but I really like the way it looks and the history it represents. Bad reasons to get a frame, right? And besides, look at that fat bike up there. That's a mountain bike too. I feel like that fat bike is actually a more versatile bike around here than a straight up mountain bike is. My opinion, your mileage may vary.

And that's a wrap for this week. Have a great weekend and get in some riding if you can.....outdoors!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Fall Views: Post Harvest

Escape route: Gilbertville Road
 The ride on Wednesday could have been called "Barns For Jason" as there were so many barns in this area that I almost never had the camera out of my hand. I have never ridden or driven these roads in my life, so I did not know exactly what to expect. What was a bit of a surprise was that this area was not in the flood plain, so it was made up of gentle rollers and there were some places that were high enough that I could see for miles all around me. 

The ride started in Gilbertville, Iowa this time, and I rode Southeast out of town from a park right at the edge of town. I don't know why I don't hear more about people road riding down this way because the bit of blacktop I was on was fun and had spectacular views of the Cedar River Valley. I was on that road for a bit over a mile then I dove off Eastward on Rickard Road. 

As I said last time I reported on a ride, I had to forego riding in shirt-sleeves. It was now in the low to mid 40's, mostly cloudy, and a threat of rain was in the forecast for later in the day. The winds were light, but they were 'there' out of the Southeast. So, I wore my heavier Bontrager windbreaker, a wool jersey, a base layer, inner short liners, and Twin Six 3/4's pants. I used GORE-Tex Mid-Stretch Gloves, a Walz Caps wool cycling cap with ear flaps, and my trusty Bontrager helmet. On the feet were Sock Guy long wool socks and Northwave boots. My only complaint was that I maybe was a tic too warm up top. 

This ride featured the Black Mountain Cycles MCD. I haven't ridden that bike much in a while now and I was struck by a couple of things that I've gotten used to with the Standard Rando v2 and the Noble Bikes GX5. That mostly had to do with stack height and the saddle tilt which can be adjusted on the MCD to more closely match that of the other two bikes. It's funny because I thought the MCD was 'spot on' from the moment I got it built up and now it feels like it needs tweaking. 

Rickard Road looking East.

Barns For Jason #1 

Interestingly, this ride featured roads which weren't dry and dusty! In fact, with the recent misty/rainy days, there was enough moisture at times that my downtube was caked in gravel dirt and it was also splattered on parts of the frame. Riding in these conditions hasn't been seen since Spring. 

Rickard Road dumps unceremoniously into this field adjacent to I-380. (I'll have more on the dog)

Barns For Jason #2

At the expected end of Rickard Road, according to the map, the road turned slightly alongside I-380 and then stopped. This is what I found, but there were no gates, no warning signs, nothing! The road passed by a farm on the South side of the road just before this so you cannot see how the road simply dumps out into a cornfield until you get there. 

To make matters worse, the gravel is freshly maintained right up to the point of the field border. At night, with speed, going around a corner, this is a recipe for potential disaster. I found this out to be true due to the dog pictured above. Yes- the dog led to the discovery of the truth behind this strange road ending. You see, this large, yellow dog of indeterminate breeding was the cause of a chance meeting with the landowner of this particular farm. 

As I approached the farm from the West, I saw the yellow dog first. Glad I saw it because it never barked, and this animal was ginormous. I would place it in the same size range as a Great Pyrenees or a Saint Bernard easily, but it had very short hair for such a large dog, and its eyes were pale yellow-green. As the dog approached me, I dismounted and was chattering to it in a calm manner, as is my way with rural dogs, and I could see that, while it seemed friendly enough, there was something odd going on here. 

Post-harvest poop spreading. They were pumping out the fecal matter at a nearby hog confinement to do this with.  

Barns For Jason #3

As I was allowing this large yellow dog to check me out, I saw another dog coming out to join in the fun. It looked like an aged Blue Healer, maybe, or was a cross with one. It was over-weight and older. Not inclined to chase or get into any extra-curricular activities. It also did not bark. Weird! 

Anyway, I decided these two dogs were friendly and were going to allow my passage to see the ends of Rickard Road. As I motioned to them that I was moving along, the yellow dog got excited and was coming along for the ride. It took off with a spring and was leading me to the end of the road up around the curve as if we were going on a fun romp. This was when I noted that this dog was powerful, fast, and indefatigable. It showed no signs of working hard and could sprint away from me like a bullet, return just as fast, and look at me like I was some kind of slow-poke. By the way, the older blue dog was content to sit up on a round bale alongside the road and watch. 

Barns For Jason #4

Barns For Jason #5

This was all well and good. I like a fun dog, but now the worry is that the dog will want to run with me until who knows when. I haven't had a dog run with me in years, but I know it happens. We had an instance of this phenomenon during the last Trans Iowa and it caused me no end of grief that weekend. Anyway, thoughts of that dog running away from home following me and an angry owner tracking me down danced in my head as I passed the farm where the dog belonged and the blue dog stopped, but the yellow dog kept right on running. And guess what?

The much more traditional end look to Rueter Road where it truncates due to I-380 on the South end.

A lone windmill looks small in comparison to the modern cell tower, both near I-380 .

Yep.....the dog kept running. Despite my repeated calls to it to go home, it just kept right on going. And guessed it, the purr of a side-by-side ATV could be heard coming from behind me. I heard the engine slow as it approached, and I knew it was the dog's owner without even looking. Self-fulfilling prophecy earlier in my head? Coincidence? Whatever, here I was face-to-face with a disgruntled, middle-aged farmer. 

After I told the man, in no uncertain terms, that I tried to get the dog to go home with no luck, he softened his look and slumped back in his seat. "Yeah", he said with a distinct resignation in his voice, "That dog is just too dang friendly". Thus started a fifteen minute conversation in which I learned a few things. 

Barns For Jason #6 - And another ugly cell tower.

Barns For Jason #7

I learned of the landowner's frustrations over working with the County to get the dead end road signed better. I learned of this man's frustrations over people being ignorant and just plain stupid when it comes to driving into unknown areas. I learned that GPS data hasn't been updated for this area since at least the mid-1980's, when I-380's construction truncated these gravel roads. I learned about how that very interstate still ruffles feathers amongst the local residents. And, I learned the big yellow dog was half wolf. 

Okay, that explained a lot! That and the dog's seemingly friendliness with anyone he met. The man told me the dog would climb in a car with anybody that stopped on the interstate to collect him if he was out on the road. The man claimed once he had to track the dog over 50 miles away. Apparently he usually is leashed, but had gained a reprieve recently due to good behavior and this is why he was free to roam when I saw him. The man said he was going back on the leash again when he got him home. I felt kind of sad.....

The skies cleared later on into the ride. This is Oxley Road looking North.

Barns For Jason #8

I took my leave of the man and his dogs, (the blue dog was along for the ride as well), and headed West, the way that I had come. There would be a few out-and-backs during the ride. I ended up skirting I-380 for much of the first parts of the ride. Then, after running across another landowner out in the yard right at a dead end sign, I turned back and went West again. I didn't want another encounter and have to spend time explaining why I was going riding on a road that obviously went nowhere. People in this area are friendly enough, but they are also very suspicious of strangers, and outright hostile toward anyone they feel is trespassing or being a nere-do-well. I will come back for that end later.

Barns For Jason #9

Barns For Jason #10

So, I was successful at ticking several miles of roads off the to-do list for "The Quest". This is the biggest area left to mop up and once I get this area done all that will be left are mere 'crumbs' to sweep aside to reach the goal. I suspect the larger part I'm chipping away at now will take about three more rides to get done and maybe four depending on my time allowed and weather. The 'crumbs' part will be a day of hitting them all up via traveling to each by truck and riding the small, short gravels I need to complete my goal. 

So, that's where I am at now. This deal is pressing on toward November now and time is short and weather is less predictable and less kind. It will be nip and tuck, but I am not giving up on it now. This weekend will be taken up with another task I am committed to, so that's a concern, but it'll all work out. 

Stay tuned.......