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 then.......you 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.......

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Has It Been That Long Already?

The Snow Dog as it has been for the last few years.
While contemplating where I might end up using the Archer Components D1x shifting system and the Whisky Milhouse bar, I had my thoughts light on the Snow Dog. Oh...... maybe you don't know about the Snow Dog? Well, if you've forgotten, or are a newer reader here, let me refresh your memory or bring you up to speed. I sometimes forget I've been at this for over 15 years and I don't remember there are new readers.......

Anyway, if you recall back previous to 2010, there was one fat bike. And you had to build it up. In fact, it wasn't even known then as a "fat bike". No, the Surly Pugsley wasn't a "fat bike" then, it was a snow bike. That's what everyone called them back then. And to be perfectly fair, there were more 'snow bikes' than the Pugsley, but they were all from small custom builders based out of Alaska or elsewhere that fat tired flotation bikes made sense. The "snow bike" scene was pretty niche and tiny back in those days when you had to build up a bike from parts. Surly made it easier by making a lot of what you'd need to do it, like offering a tire- yes, a single model only- so you could get on with Winter riding. 

So, keep this in mind. You couldn't just run down to the bike shop or department store and buy a bike and be riding an hour later. No. This was a long process of choosing parts, carefully putting them together in a way that was functional, and spending probably 2000 dollars or more in the process. All for a bike that, well back then anyway, we thought you might use for three months out of the year tops. It wasn't a slam-dunk bike to own back in those days. It may not be a particularly practical bike for most people in 2020, but for a few short years, "snow bikes/fat bikes" were all the rage. Once a big hurdle was cleared, that is.

The Snow Dog as it appeared in February 2011.
All that to paint a picture going into 2011 when we found out late in 2010 that Salsa Cycles was going to release a fully built, in the box, snow bike dubbed the Mukluk. The news spread like a Colorado wildfire and people were so excited that the first run of the bike sold out pre-release. Shops were holding parties where gear for Winter riding was being shown and the Mukluk was already being upgraded before anyone had one yet! I know this because I attended one such party at Milltown Cycles in Faribault, Minnesota where a young Ben Witt was the proprietor. Those were crazy days. 

Anyway, I ponied up for a Mukluk. This would have been ten years ago now this November. Ben, who was scrambling to find enough Mukluks to satisfy demand, called one day to ask me if he could sell the wheels off my bike when it came in! He mentioned that there already was an aftermarket hub set from Phil Wood that I could build a better wheel set with, so I gave my consent and ponied up for the new hubs. This meant that I would have to wait last in line to get my Mukluk. But.......what I didn't know was that Ben and some other friends had a plan.

And that plan was to buy my frame and fork for me for my birthday, which is in January. So, here poor ol' Ben was having to put me off, making up excuses as to why my bike was being delayed, until my birthday arrived in late January. To say that I was blown away by that gesture is a gross understatement. I still am amazed by their generosity. So, that's a long story to explain that this bike became the Snow Dog, because, well.....these things were snow bikes to begin with. 

Okay, a long winded story- sorry - but that should bring y'all up to the moment here and now on with it.....

I plan on switching that Archer Components D1x and the Milhouse Bar over to the Snow Dog. It just makes sense and I think it will also help make the ol' Snow Dog a useful rig again. But ya know...... If you've been around here long enough, you know I am full of ideas and many never get beyond this blog. So, don't hold your breath, but my plan is to get the Snow Dog out on a bit of a "Tenth Anniversary Tour" and celebrate the fat bike's tenth year of (complete availability) existence and my tenth anniversary of owning this bike, of course. 

Stay tuned........

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Winding Down

 I spent the latter half of the weekend resting after that big effort Saturday and ended up taking stock of things. Time to think about the end of 2020. This has been a super weird year and a few things have jumped out at me concerning how the year has transpired so far and how it is likely going to close out.

First off, I realized that 2020 has been the first year in 15 years that I have not planned and produced a cycling event. That's weird to consider. It also was extremely liberating. I cannot express the feelings I have had over the past several months that I have felt while 'just riding' without something I have to plan and put on hanging over my head. 

This has extended to my not having attended any cycling related events all year up to this point either. And that also has been extremely liberating. I kind of thought I'd miss that, and, well.......the parts regarding the social interactions? That part I missed. The rest? Meh. Not so much. If I've learned anything from 2020 in relation to cycling it is that I love the exploration part. I love just going for long rides with no other purpose than just to do exactly that. Oh sure, I have the review thing going on, but that's no biggie. 

The event bit will not be excluded through to the end of the year though. No, I have a volunteering job I am doing at an event, so technically, yes- I will attend one event as a volunteer. Stay tuned. I don't want my attendance to be noted. I'm just helping out, nothing more, nothing less. 

Anyway, the important thing is that 2020 will influence my cycling goals to a great degree going forward. I will uphold my commitment to doing the C.O.G. 100- if we can - in 2021, and we probably will, but...... (Who really knows?) After that? I'm likely not going to organize anything in terms of cycling events again. 15 years of doing that is enough. 2020 showed me it is time to just enjoy riding bicycles again. And I plan on doing just that.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Fall Views: Harvest Season Wraps Up

Escape route: Duffy Road
 I knew it would be windy Saturday, but I had some business to do with Northeast Black Hawk County that wouldn't wait. "The Quest" rolls on, wind or no! (ha!) Anyway, I grabbed the Raleigh Tamland Two again, as it has those Vee Tire Rocketman tires I am reviewing, and because it has gears. I wanted to ride the Twin Six Standard Rando v2, but since that is a single speed, and riding in heavy winds is really hard, a geared bike made more sense. Besides, I like my knees. 

The temperatures weren't too bad. This will probably be the last time I get to ride in shirt sleeves for the year though. I did wear my Riding Gravel gillet and I wore some older bib shorts underneath the Stolen Goat Gravel Shorts. I also used these new Q 36.5 gloves. Yes......the brand name is "Q 36.5". That sounds like a radio station call sign. Weird. Anyway.... The gloves sure are nice. 

The plan for this ride was to knock off the roads up in the Northeast corner of Black Hawk County. I had finally settled on a way to do this in the most efficient manner I could come up with staring at the maps. Then I drove on up to Dunkerton, Iowa, where I was thinking I'd find a nice public parking place and be able to embark from there on my planned route. The only thing was, there isn't a good place to park there in that village. So, I came up with a better plan. Actually, it was far better than I had planned at home. 

Barns For Jason #1

Buck Creek Road. That's a dead raccoon on the left in the road there.

I suddenly realized that on another trip up this way I had come across a public hunting area with a tiny access right off a dead end gravel road. It was perfectly placed to save me even more time and it fit perfectly into my route. Brilliant! I was on my way, and the winds weren't even too bad yet. Fortunately, I was getting a tail wind for most of the first half of this route. 

Barns For Jason #2: Did I suddenly go back in time to the 1960's?

Barns For Jason #3: South of here there are hardly any barns. I had the first three here within 5 miles.

Leaving the truck I had only to go a quarter mile to Duffy Road. I needed the Northern bit of that road off the to-do list. On the way I did an out-and-back for the 3/4's of a mile of Buck Creek Road that exists in Black Hawk County, and then I headed up to C-57 to head West and pick up the dead end section of Adams Road.

Barns For Jason #4 on C-57


Adams Road South of C-57

By the time I got to the Adams Road section South of C-57 the wind was picking up pretty quickly. The weatherman said this would happen. It made riding South a real pain, but it wasn't just a South wind. No- it was out of the Southwest, so going West was no picnic now either. 

Not your usual Iowa farm animal!

The corn harvest is coming to a close.

I headed North, crossed back over C-57, and covered the Northern section of Adams Road. This "T"'ed into a road that wasn't named on the Iowa DOT map, but as it turned out, it was the lone, furthest East section of Gresham Road. I took the last bit of that West which turned me up North again into Pace Road and on to Highway 281. 

Soon all the wagons will be parked for another year.

Barns For Jason #5

This ended up being an odd section to get cleaned up because Highway 281 isn't on the county line, like Marquise Road is further West of this area. No, for whatever reason the engineers laid out this road a quarter mile South of the county line. This left me two stubs of gravel sitting North of the highway I'd have to do out-and-backs on. 

Barns For Jason #6: This one is on Highway 281

The county at least marked where the border was so I didn't have to guess.

Fortunately, the County marks the border with a street sign in the ditch, so when I was going up Pace Road, I could find the border and then go back to Highway 281. By this time the wind was so nuts that corn leaves were flying through the air around me and the bursts of wind were pushing along dust clouds down the road. Going against this was a really tough deal. 

The vastness of the Iowan landscape dwarfs this monster articulated tractor and disc rig.

The most Northeasterly section of gravel in Black Hawk County ends here.

So, I had a fight with the wind the rest of the ride. Even going East, which wasn't hard to do in terms of work, was rough because the wind was trying to push me out into the speeding traffic on Highway C-57. I was very glad to head North on Black Hawk-Buchanan Road to the corner with Highway 281 and reach the Northeastern most gravel in the County. 

Tractor with a mower attached. Not a John Deere, which is odd around these parts!

Barns For Jason #7: This barn is covered with garage door fascia on the end.

There was now a long slog South into the wind on Black Hawk- Buchanan road, which is the county line road on the East with Buchanan County. The wind was really bad! I maybe was doing 6-7mph here. This section took forever to ride. But, things ended better......

Teem Road. A nice, sheltered respite from the madness before.

The Wapsipinnicon River

I had one last road to knock off, Teem Road, which ended up being a nice, sheltered road along the Wapsipinnicon River. It was also beautiful, despite all the Fall color having been blown out of the trees. I bet it was spectacular a week ago. But that just shows you how fast things can change in Nature. 

It was a tough ride. I didn't ride all that far, but it took nearly three hours to get it done. I was pretty toasted afterward. I also was happy to have this troublesome section of "The Quest" off the list of things to have to get done. There will be more goofy bits to knock off the list, but that can wait a bit. Rest is on the docket now.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: Let's Get This One Done - 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!

Rich Wince crosses the line 1st at T.I.v9
 In a previous entry to this series, I was speaking on why it was that Trans Iowa v9 seemed like one of the only Trans Iowa events I didn't really have any strong feelings about. I don't ever really think about this version of Trans Iowa when I think about the 'good times' associated with the event. There doesn't seem to be any really big, stand-out events surrounding it when I briefly consider this version. But that is not a problem for me when it comes to the other 13 versions of Trans Iowa. Why? This was a question that has dogged me for months as I was preparing to cover this part of Trans Iowa history.

The answer seems simple, once I had covered over old ground. I looked back at my initial race report. The week after a Trans Iowa was always dedicated to recapping Trans Iowa from my viewpoint. So, I thought there must be tidbits of information there which might spur on some memories and maybe give me a clue as to why I seemed so ambivalent about T.I.v9. 

The thing is, there would appear to be no outward reasons for this ambivalence. Trans Iowa v9 was a smashing success, compared to the eight that went down before it. The weather was nearly perfect, allowing for 36 people- a new record at the time- to finish. There were no really glaring faults to the running of the event, (there was a near miss, which I'll get to), and I witnessed a second time Women's class finisher and four of the nine women starters finished. We even had a single speed women finisher- Christina Mihaescu, the only one in Trans Iowa history - despite many women trying it single speed afterward. 

Checkpoint #2 @ T.I.v9- (L-R) volunteers Robert Fry, Jeremy Fry, rider Corey Godfrey, and photographer Jason Boucher.

 So, why wouldn't I have fond memories of T.I.v9? The Barn finish was highly successful, we had great volunteers, and no one had any real huge issues. No, it wasn't any of that which made me want to bury this one from my memory banks. What I think partially causes my lack of enthusiasm for T.I.v9 had to do with excess amounts of stress that I had going into 2013. 

2012 marked my tenth year at the old shop where I worked and by this time things were not well with me and that job. Although I was 'okay', deep inside I hated going into work with the way the place was being run. But at the time I had no other viable options and I wasn't really thinking about that anyway. It was just something that was "there"- an underlying issue, you might say. Then another layer was my planning to get out from under "Twenty Nine Inches.com" and, ironically, Trans Iowa. My plan, which I had determined as a goal by this point, was to be free of both things by the end of 2014. T.I.v9 was just an obstacle in the way to that end goal.

Then adding in the stress of the event, having hosted a record number of racers, (91) and the issues which popped up during the event. Things like two people getting bitten by dogs, (Eric Brunt and Steve Fuller), my plan involving cutting the cues down for checkpoints, which almost cost me some major embarrassment, and my waivers getting soaked in Templeton Rye. It was enough to set me over the edge, emotionally and physically. Post v9 I was an emotional wreck. 

T.I.v9 waivers being evaporated of their whiskey content during the event near Brooklyn, Iowa.

 Amazingly, none of the potential pitfalls which could have stained the event caused any big lasting impressions. Either dog bite situation could have gone South in a big way. The waivers? Well, I decided to dry them out by placing them on my window vent with the defroster on high heat which evaporated whiskey leavings so badly that any official that may have stopped by would have had due cause to arrest me. That was kind of a dumb move on my part, looking back. Then, of course, the cues running short at checkpoint #1 was a potential bad look. Fortunately, my volunteers, led by Brent Irish, saved the day by finding a printer to borrow at a small time garage repair place in the tiny village of Ira. What were the chances of that being a resource? I still am amazed at the lengths people would go for me and Trans Iowa. 

So, big deal, right? There were all those positives. The event was won by a rookie, Rich Wince. 36 people finished. Folks thought things were run exceptionally well. There was a great time had at the Barn finish line. As I stated, the weather, despite getting bone chillingly cold Saturday night/Sunday morning, was next to perfect. Any outsider would have thought I would have been elated by the outcome. But you wouldn't have known it by my sudden, random emotional breakdowns the week following. I would burst into tears at a moment's notice. Big, slobbering tears. I had no idea what was wrong with me. It was at once terrifying and baffling. Fortunately the emotional outbursts became less frequent by the end of that following week and by ten days out from T.I.v9, I seemed to be over it all. 

A triumphant Steve Fuller finishes T.I.v9 despite being bitten by a dog during the event.

 Apparently there is a thing called "Post Event Collapse Syndrome". Some folks e-mailed me to say that it was a real thing and to reach out for help if it didn't get better. I had no idea this could happen, but it was another reinforcement to my thinking that after ten Trans Iowas, I had to bail out. T.I.v9 was over, and afterward, I think I buried my memories as a way to protect myself from what had happened the week afterward. Of course, I know it could have been other things, but this makes the most sense to me now looking back. I believe it is the reason I feel like T.I.v9 has no real big meaning to me at this point in my life looking back at it. I just wanted to forget it all, I guess. 

Next: A Hurdle Cleared- On To The Finish Line!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Chilly

Ready and waiting for Winter
 Well, compare last weekend to this weekend and the contrast couldn't be greater. Last weekend we reached 80°F during the day and this weekend we are down to freezing temperatures in the morning and maybe 66°F today and about 20 degrees cooler than that for tomorrow. The Winter/cold weather gear is going to get a work-out now! Wool me NOW! ha! 

I cannot complain. Last year October was washed out with so much rain that any riding in the country was postponed until November. We went from Summer-like temps in September to freezing cold by the time we could ride again in early November. Now we have just basically extended September into halfway into October and we're moving into November two weeks early compared to last year. Well......we will see. It all could warm back up or go straight to snow in a matter of two weeks. Who knows?

All I know is that time is running out. Time to review stuff. The time to get "The Quest" accomplished. The time to get in a fat bike century. Pretty soon it'll be deep Winter, 2021, and new goals and desires will take over. "Gotta get to gettin'", as they say around here. 

I'll probably start breaking out the Ti Muk 2 here soon. It's been tuned and ready to go for months now, but I need to re-up the sealant in the tires and see if Rohloff has any of that fluid stuff to clean up the hub and do a fluid change. I'm due there. Anyway, I'll be out battling winds today. More soon......

Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday News And Views

The State Bicycle Co. Black Label All Road bike. (Image courtesy of State Bicycle Co)
 State Bicycle Co. Introduces Another Budget Gravel Rig;

The State Bicycle Co, formerly all about fixed gear rigs, has heavily dipped their toes into the gravel bike scene and actually have done fairly well for themselves. I tested a steel single speed gravel bike from them a few years ago. Anyway, they unveiled a new aluminum rig, a "Black Label" All-Road in 6061 AL. 

This is a fairly decent looking rig, and comes with a carbon fork, so it probably is reasonably lightweight. It's got some nice options. One is to get two complete wheel sets- one 650B and one 700c with identical rotors and cassettes for seamless swapping, for an upgrade price. The other is the optional "Monster Fork, which is basically just the same fork with 3 Pack bosses on the fork legs. That upgrade is 139 bucks. 

Comments: Aluminum and "nice ride comfort" often don't mix. Add in a stiff carbon fork and you know what happens next. Maybe we'll be wrong here. Hope so..... Get the Monster Fork. Why? If you plan on any longer rides, you'll want more water. Check the bottle boss count on the regular offering. Yeah...... that ain't gonna cut it. For $139.00 you'll double the water bottle capacity, and you will be thankful that you did. 

Route Werks handle bar bag. (Image courtesy of Route Werks)
Route Werks Handle Bar Bag:

I'm a big fan of a good bag. I have often used handle bar bags but found them to be kludges, at best, and awful experiences at worst. The idea of such a thing is great, but the execution has been wanting. I ended up going the front rack mount/racktop bag route on my Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" rig and have thoroughly enjoyed that set up. However, not every bike can, or should, have that set up. 

That could be rectified with a decently designed handle bar bag, and this bag from Route Werks looks like it has a lot of promise. For one thing, it seems to be solidly attached, and for another, it integrates with current technology desires and accessory attachments. I'm intrigued by this thing. It doesn't look so big that you'll be tempted to put a lot of weight in it, which I think is wise. A lot of weight up high near the steering axis is a recipe for poor handling, so I don't like big bar bags for that reason. Keep it small, light loads, and easily accessible while riding. Route Werks seems to have it figured out.

Maybe, if they do, this will spur on some spirited designs from competitors, because the handle bar bag game has been stuck in the 1940's for waaaay too long. I may be looking at one of these bags closer. Stay tuned......

Another Solo Stint At Andy's:

Yesterday I completed another solo stint at Andy's Bike Shop since Andy and his immediate family went to a wedding in Florida. It wasn't as intense as the last solo stint I held down in early August because, well- it's mid-October. Bike shops are not nearly as busy now. So, I wasn't worried about being overwhelmed, I was more concerned about being bored to tears. Fortunately I was busy. This is a good sign, so I was pretty happy about that.

But the seasons are changing and I know exactly what that entails. Less work to do less often. I should be getting more time at home in the near future, and that means time for some projects. I have several things in mind to get going on. Some are not at all bicycle related. Many are. I'll be yakking about all of that in the weeks and months to come.

Meanwhile I am hoping we can get caught back up on stock for inventory that has been hard to get over the course of 2020. Things that are seemingly mundane, everyday bike shop things have become scarcer than hen's teeth. What a weird year! 

Riding Gravel Radio Ranch Episode #62:

Thursday the newest Riding Gravel Radio Ranch came out with a special guest, Dangerous Dan. He is the RD of the Sterile Iowan gravel event. Locals will recognize that name and event as being one of the first to occur in 2020 after "the rona" hit, as Dangerous Dan likes to say. 

It's a good listen, if I do say so myself, and a good look at what it takes to put on an event in these times. It showcases how smaller events can manage this plague better than big, fancy, "real races" like the Giro, which is on the verge of being shut down this weekend in Italy. Or compare this to gravel events like the SBT-GRVL, "that unnamed event in Kansas", or the others like it that had to be cancelled in 2020. 

 We're going to have another podcast episode pop out here any day now and a new one gets recorded today, so catch up on the latest at that link above. As always, you can find the RGRR on your favorite podcast provider.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Alt Bars Are Back!

The Winston Bar by Whisky Parts Co.
Remember the mid-00's? those oddball handle bars which a lot of folks were putting on their oddball 29"ers were all the rage. Handle bars like Midge Bars, Fleegle Bars, Misfit made some which I've forgotton the name of, the H-Bar from Titec, and Salsa Cycles radically swept 17° straight handle bars. Those were crazy days. Then 29"ers went mainstream and the big companies said 'no more weird bars on 29"ers!', so folks just went back to being 'sheeple' and accepted the boring flat bar as it has been for two decades now. 

Well, someone or another at Whisky Parts Co. felt like they needed to wave their freak flag high and they have put forth a couple of weird bars in carbon fiber of all things. I wasn't supposed to talk about these until next week, but the QBP Mothership decided to open the floodgates of knowledge yesterday, and my reins were let go. So I posted this over at RidingGravel.com. But here I wanted to go a little deeper into why I think these bars are so rad. 

First, the Winston Bar, a mustache bar, is sooooo good! I was tipped off to this being in development last Summer, so I was already very excited about it. I like the idea of mustache bars,and  but for a couple of critical things, they were a perfect set of handle bar for me. Instead most traditional mustache bars are merely 'near misses'. They are almost always too narrow. Plus, they have extensions which pointed straight back. Lame! Make those sweep some! Make them in modern stem clamp diameters. Make it so I could use MTB controls and road controls. Well, Whisky Parts Co. figured this all out and made them compliant in carbon fiber, not to mention light in weight. 

And the Winston Bar is about as perfect a mustache bar as I could hope for. Wide but not too wide, and the extensions have sweep but are not crazy in that regard. They feel more ergonomic than mustache bars which point straight back. That long extension lends these bars a lot of compliance too, so the Winston feels great on gravel. I've had them long enough now to know. They are just about the best bar for anyone that doesn't like drop bars but wants more hand positions than flat bars have. 

The Winston Bar may be the best single speed gravel bike bar ever.

 I know some folks will be weirded out by the slammed over sideways look of the levers, but don't think about 'losing the hoods position' because you'll never miss it if you can open up your mind to the possibilities of the mustache design. Those levers sitting sideways are like flat bar controls that you still can grip on in about three different ways, plus they make a great platform for laying your hands down open for cruising and to give your hands a break. 

The slightly swept out and down nature of the extensions make the ergonomics for gripping the extensions far more comfortable. Plus, this extension positioning allows for a real advantage in levering a bike set up as a single speed rig. Kind of like a wheelbarrow handle grip, this aligns with your shoulders and hips to provide a better power transmission at low cadences, such as you might see on a steep, long climb. If you ever try these, this will become quite clear very soon after your first ride or two. 

The 70mm rise of the Milhouse Bar makes your seated position radically different.

The Milhouse Bar is one that doesn't seem quite so obviously awesome at first. A riser bar with a moto inspired cross bar, it seems more.....unnecessary to be made in carbon, but that thought leaves your mind when you see it for real. The light weight and width are good things for fat bikes, cruiser bikes, commuters, and yes, BMX bikes. Adventurers more interested in 'looky-looing' than covering ground as fast as possible will like these. 

I almost stuck these on one of my fat bikes. I still might. Adventure is what fat bikes are all about, right? But I already have two carbon Jones Loop Bars, one on each fat bike I normally use, so taking apart those to fit this bar is kind of a step backward. But I do still have the original fat bike I owned, the Snow Dog, so that is an option there. We will see... 

Meanwhile these Milhouse Bars are pretty nice riding bars as well. The rise and sweep is great, and you can cut them back, but 810mm of width is nicer to have than you might think. I don't know that I'd ever shorten these. Plus there is that cross bar. Hmm.....it isn't very big in diameter. It seems a waste not to figure out how to utilize that bit for accessories somehow. 

Anyway, there are some oddball, high end handlebars for ya! I'll be reporting back again soon on these. Now for the disclaimer: Note: Whisky Parts Co. Sent over the Winston and Milhouse Bars at no charge to Riding Gravel for test and review. We were not paid, nor bribed, for this review and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.