Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday News And Views

Riding Gravel Jersey Update:

Last week I posted that we at RidingGravel.com were thinking about rebooting the jersey idea and I posted two new designs courtesy of Bike Rags. I then asked you readers, if you cared to, to give me feedback on which one you'd like. I also posted these designs to the Riding Gravel Facebook page for consideration.

So, after all of that..... there was no clear winner! So, I'm not quite sure what to make of those results. Here's the kicker: We are not doing both. So the decision will likely fall on my shoulders to make. I'm going to allow this to carry on through the week next week, and if I do not get anymore feedback, the light blue one (with a slight mod) will be my choice. 

Now.......there is still time to swing things the other way, so let me know now or it will definitely be the lighter blue one. The changes I want to make would be to go with a shade darker orange and add a strip of orange to the top of the rear pockets like the dark blue design has on it.

The orange on the darker jersey is not how dark I would go on the lighter blue jersey, just for reference. The orange on the light blue one just looks a bit too 'creamsicle' for my tastes. And if the deal is left in my hands to make the call, that's what it'll be. 

So, one more week and we will then see how it goes. This isn't a super-high priority deal for RidingGravel.com. We do have our eyes on doing two t-shirts, classic designs we have done in the past that we are bringing back, and maybe a hoodie design. Stay tuned......

There also will be sticker packs and maybe one other kind of goodie as well. I doubt that we will get any of this off the ground for gift giving this holiday season. It will likely be later into the Winter before anything becomes available, unless I get surprised by something. We will see. 

Oh! And just for the record, I don't hate the darker blue design, I just like it less than the lighter blue design. Plus, the lighter blue is more in keeping with our other jersey we put out a few years back. So, the continuity of that appeals to me a bit. Just thought I'd throw that out there. 

The new Japhy from Esker Cycles.

Esker Cycles Debuts The Japhy Hardtail:

I had heard via Esker Cycles' head honcho on Facebook that there would be a new hardtail capable of handling a 29+ tire. Well, it was released Tuesday and it is a steel frame called the Japhy

You may be familiar with the Esker Hayduke, which has been around now for a while. This seems to be Esker's 27.5 platform now that the Japhy is out which has been designated the 29"er in the range. The Japhy has all the up-to-date slack/long/low thing going on with its geometry. No real difference from many bikes like it in that regard. But what I see here is a great value in a steel hard tail.

The Japhy frame set, which has a 148 Boost rear through axle, the sliding Portage rear drop out, a seat collar, and a Wolf Tooth head set, is fairly priced at $750.00. Not just in one color either. No, you get to choose from four different colors. That's crazy value, but the frame isn't some gas pipe tube set either. Esker says it is a quad-butted, seamless ChroMoly tube set. It has a dropper route, and with those Portage drop outs, it can be set up to accept various hub widths and supports a rack as well. 

I think it is a fetching bike for the buck. Especially compared to many others in this category. I'd look strongly at getting one if I lived in a place where it would make sense. The thing is, I don't live in a place where this makes sense. 

Image courtesy of Twampa
Wood You? Ride A Wooden Bike, That Is.....

The idea for using wood as a structural element isn't anything newsworthy, but when it comes to something that is like a bicycle? Well, that's a bit more unusual, although not unprecedented. Wood has been used to make bicycles and parts of bicycles for the entirety of the history of bicycles. But you'd have to agree that it isn't something you see everyday now. 

I have seen wooden rims, handle bars, and a complete wooden bicycle before. The last one I recall being pretty noteworthy was the Renovo road bike. I actually worked on one at the shop I was at prior to my gig at Andy's Bike Shop. (Renovo went out of business in 2018) Wood is a very qualified material to use to make a bicycle frame. It has its challenges, but the unique characteristics of wood become immediately familiar when we associate its use in some everyday things we know well. Like tool handles. Many are made from hardwoods like ash because they are strong and absorb shock well. Think about Major League baseball bats. They are made from wood as well for similar reasons. 

So, it makes sense that a frame for a gravel bike made from ash might be a worthwhile thing to do, and that's exactly where the company Twampa, from the U.K., is coming from with its new 'GR 1.0' gravel bike. Their unique take on a bicycle uses some cool machine work which features puzzle-piece junctions at major frame member joints and looks like a regular frame with, you know......wood grain.

Image courtesy of Twampa
Now, I looked over the Twampa website and there was no overt reference to pricing, but using the old Renovo bikes as a historical touch point, I cannot imagine these bikes would be inexpensive. A story I saw about the company said a frame is about $3000,00 USD though. Then we in North America know that the Emerald Ash Borer beetle has decimated ash tree populations here and it is expected that ash will no longer be available as a material to work with very soon. You have to wonder if English ash trees are under any similar threat. 

Then you have the suitability for any given bit of timber to be used in a structure like a bicycle frame where a material's characteristics are pushed to their outer limits. Select trees may only produce a finite amount of suitable material. That's probably why you don't see a lot of wooden bicycle frames. Getting a consistency from 'nature' in quantities on demand at fair prices? Good luck with that. That's why prices for such objects generally are quite high. (Thinking about guitars here especially)

But it is an interesting thought- a wooden bike- and I would ride one, given the opportunity. It would have to be spectacularly awesome and loads more comfortable than say, carbon fiber, or steel, for me to even give thought to buying one. Why? because I don't see the value proposition being an advantage over what I can buy for, (likely) a lot less. I mean, if this frame alone, with no fork, mind you, is 3K? Yeah..... That's very difficult to justify unless it is so much better than titanium, carbon, or high end steel. But, you'd have an unusual bike, that's for sure! 

And that's a wrap. REJECT BLACK FRIDAY! Go for a bicycle ride.....or a walk even...instead! have an awesome weekend!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thoughts On Giving Thanks

 Today isn't like many late November Thursdays for many people in the United States. Typically there would be big gatherings, lots of food, and maybe a bike ride, or probably a football game on the T.V. We'd not give a second thought to our 'traditions' and we'd simply go through the motions. But maybe not this year, right? 

You know, I typically don't veer far off the cycling path here on the blog, but today calls out for something a little different, don't you agree? Well, I do, and this is my blog, so......

I have been giving a lot of thought to how 2020 has really radicalized our entire culture. Both in good and bad ways, things have been shaken up, mixed around, taken away, and added to. However you look at it, you would have to agree, there has never been a time quite like this for any of the current generations on Earth. I have been giving thought to the various ways all this has affected my world. 

I have noted a few things, and foremost of all is that most of my contacts with humans close to me in family, business, and in the cycling world, such as it is, have all been much richer, deeper, and heartfelt than I can recall at any time previously. People genuinely seem to care about my health, my safety, and well......me. I noticed that I seem to be that way in regard to others as well. To be sure, not everyone is like this, but to say that there has been a noticeable uptick in caring and concern? Yes, I believe that is correct. We also all seem to be yearning for decency, compassion, kindness, and you know......just to see some character in others. Maybe I'm the only one, but even if I am the only one seeing this, I know it is real.

There was a time similar to this, when I felt the lines were blurred between people and we felt like we were all on a similar, if not the same, page. That was the period during the months following September 11th, 2001. It was a really special time when Americans seemed to be focused in the same, general direction, and things seemed a lot less divisive. This time things are deeper than that, and there is a great divide which is perceptible, but the 'good stuff' I see is stronger now than it ever was. 

Yet, one has to wonder that as we see some sort of hope that we will be coming through this dark valley that is COVID-19 someday, that we also won't see a similar fading away of 'the good stuff' as we did in 2003 and years later when any semblance of unity became a rare commodity amongst the American people. 

But for now, I am giving thanks for those of you who have reached out to me, to those of you who are doing things in a more intentionally compassionate way, even if it is a small thing. It matters. 

My hope for all of you is that you see what I have seen, that you grab hold of that vision, and that you cultivate it despite any future 'return to normal', because a lot of what was our past "normal" isn't anything to be valued. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Playing The Numbers Game

Image of racers on gravel during T.I.v10 by Wally Kilburg.
The other day I had a request from a person writing up a story about a gravel event which included a question about the number of gravel events happening now. How many are there? Seems like a simple question. However; it is a question that has a lot more complexity to it than you might think. I have a bit of experience cataloging these events, so I get asked this question a fair amount. Most people don't like my answer though. 

First of all, in my opinion, one must define what a gravel event is. I had guidelines in 2009 when the calendar took off, to help weed out pretenders and events that weren't anything but an adventure race, a 'monster cross' event, (remember those?), or a glorified group ride. I made the stipulation that to be on my calendar, your event had to feature at least 50% of the course in crushed rock, with no more than 20% single track/dirt, and less than 10% pavement. Using those guidelines, how many events that you know about wouldn't be a 'gravel event' anymore? 

Do those guidelines seem too strict to you? I bet that they seem really restrictive. However; let's take a look at this from another vantage point. How about a mountain bike event? Let's say a certain event has a large percentage of its course on smooth dirt double track back roads, that a major part (over 10%) is paved, and that only 30% of the course is actually single track. Is that a mountain bike race you'd want to do? Listen, I used to pay to race off road on knobby tires, and if I showed up to ride a course like that, I'd want my money back. But maybe even that would do for you. Okay.... but do you see though how things can get vague real fast without some guidelines? So, my guidelines were there to make sure events that people attended were, you know, on gravel for the most part. 

Well, then gravel got big and people were telling me that these road races with sectors of gravel were 'gravel events' and that these fire road events in the Rockies were 'gravel events' and on and on. They were contested on skinny tired bikes with drop bars, maybe, but who knows? Then the Gran Fondo thing happened and if any of those had even a sniff of off-pavement action they were dubbed 'gravel events' and the calendars others were putting out were filled with all sorts of "not-so-much-gravel gravel events" because that was the thing to do. Gravel was big. It was popular, and event directors wanted full-fields, sell outs, and notoriety. They weren't getting that from putting on criteriums and road races anymore. Just ask USAC about that. Even mountain biking events dried up in some areas due to the turn to gravel events by promoters. 

Look, I get it. I understand, but let's get back to the question- How many gravel events are there? Well, I tried to keep a decent level of 'quality' to my gravel calendar, although even I had to relax my standards after many complaints. But even so, I figure that in North America in 2019, maybe there were around 500 gravel events. Many outlets were saying that there were (or are) 700-800 events. I have no idea what they are saying is a gravel event, but those numbers are really inflated in my opinion. Worldwide? Maybe. North America? No way. 

But whatever. This whole thing about 'gravel' has been blown up and now with the pandemic, we are on a 'pause' of sorts. It is hoped that in 2021 that events will once again get back to being the sorts of athletic and social gatherings that we once enjoyed pre-COVID-19. Once things do get there you can be sure that the marketing/hype machine will get cranked up again. All sorts of nonsense will be put out there about the number of gravel events being 700, 800, or heck, why not just go for a thousand while we're at it? 

Ah! Well, it won't really matter to me. I'll just go do those events that I like that are on actual crushed rock and put on with a welcoming, open atmosphere, a dearth of rules, and a sharp sense of adventure in the air. Whatever they decide to call them........

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

End Of Year Plans

The last month of 2020 is nigh, and that means a few different things for you- the reader- here at Guitar Ted Productions. So, assuming some of you may be new here, or that some of you may not have been hanging here in years past during December, I thought I might lay down what you can expect for the last month of 2020 blogging. 

So, no "Black Friday" specials, just to get THAT out of the way! Sheesh! I can't believe that's a thing this year. It seems so.....crass? Yes, crass is the word. Ill-informed would be another term I'd use. Anyway..... None of that nonsense here. 

No, but I will still be doing an end of year review series that I call "Rear View" which I have been doing for all 15 years of this deal. Included in the review will be a look at the bikes I used and that is called "Bikes Of 2020". So, besides the year in review series you will see those bicycle posts. 

I also have a special Thanksgiving post this year,( I know- that isn't in December, but I thought I'd throw that out there.), and I will have a special 2020 post concerning my thoughts and feelings as we continue working through this unusual season in all our lives. That should about wrap up my 'special added extras' coming up.

In the meantime, I will still be doing all the usual posts everyday. You will still get the "Friday News and Views" posts. I will still have the Sunday series called "Trans Iowa Stories" all through December. You'll get to read about how Trans Iowa v10 was supposed to be the last Trans Iowa and why it wasn't. Going into 2021 that series will continue, by the way, but I suspect that I will wrap that series up sometime next year. All this will mean that many times throughout December there will be two posts a day.

And as long as I am mentioning 2021, I will once again be doing my opinion piece on the gravel riding scene called "The State of the Gravel Scene". That will post during the first few days of 2021. 

So, this is just a kind of 'heads up' post to let you know what to expect and if you see some unusual posts in your feed, (is that still a thing?), or when you fire up your devices, you'll know why. Well......that is IF you read this!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Brown Season: George Was The Only One

Three short stubs to bag this time.
 As "The Quest" winds down I have found that the roads are getting odder and harder to get into a loop or get to from a spot that makes sense to head to with the truck. Fortunately most of the oddball stuff is out of the way now that this past Sunday's ride has been completed. 

This time I had three, really short bits to knock out and all three were in the same vicinity. One I passed by multiple times on other excursions out to bag roads. It is a half a mile stretch called Merle Road. Just about every time I went by it I thought to myself, "I probably should just knock that out, but...."I wasn't into doing out-and-backs just yet. Not when I had perfectly good loop rides I could do. 

But, of course, now that it is coming down to it, I have to do these bits. I decided to combine Merle Road with two other bits on the map that looked like two quarter mile strips right on top of each other coming off a county blacktop. There was no real way to link those two bits up to anything thing else, so I have left them hanging until now. Merle Road actually fit pretty well into this plan, so once again, a mostly paved ride to bag a mile of gravel. Well, I thought it would be a mile of new gravel. 

The day was partly cloudy with a 15mph wind out of the Northwest. So, that pretty much dictated a tailwind out ride, which isn't how I like to do it, but whatever. Sunday was the day. The temperatures were in the 40's, so I wore a suite of GORE Windstopper gear I am testing for RidingGravel.com. Otherwise I was in my standard gear I usually have been in this Fall. The bike I chose was the Standard Rando v2 single speed. It's pretty flat out the way I was going, so I figured I'd be okay. 

The majority of this ride was done on the MLK bike path.

There is not much room on the pavement, but there is a wide gravel shoulder. You know which part I took.

The major out-and-back was on a bike path along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive which meanders Northeastward out of Waterloo out to the Tyson meatpacking plant and the very busy Elk Run Road. Fortunately for me, Elk Run Road has really wide and smooth gravel shoulders, which allows me easy access to an Eastbound gravel road called Newell Street. However; this time I had to go South and I did not know how far the good shoulder went in that direction. If I was lucky, it would take me right to those two short quarter mile sections of gravel. 

Little wider than a typical driveway, George Drive was the only bit of gravel out there off Elk Run Road.

Well, it isn't a DOT barrier, but that'll do! Found at the end of George Drive.

Fortunately I had a good gravel shoulder all the way out, but the first short bit of gravel that I was supposed to find had been chip-sealed. What!? Had I ridden out here for no reason? I was wondering at this point. And it also was a great reminder that DOT maps are not always correct. 

Fortunately, the next short bit, dubbed George Drive, was gravel, and it turned out to be the only one of the two stubs that was gravel out there. So I went and did the short out-and-back. That didn't last long! I found myself headed back North going to Newell Street and out to bag Merle Road. 

Newell Street looking East

Merle Road looking North

I'd been out along Merle Road before. A long, long time ago when I got the Snow Dog and everything was snow out there. There was a great snowmobile trail which was so packed in that I was able to ride the Mukluk I had on it without sinking. This ended up taking me out into a field, the very field on the East side of Merle Road I was riding on Sunday. So. I'd been near this gravel, but never on this gravel. 

So, I did the out-and-back. Funny thing about these dead end roads. It seems that the folks that live at the ends of these things are more paranoid about.......something, that many times I see things that make me shake my head. This time it was a security camera on a pole above the mail box. Weird.  Anyway......

The end of Merle Road

The low angle of the Sun at this time of year makes things look more dramatic. 
 The ride went well and while I thought I was getting a mile of new-to-me gravel, I only got 3/4's of a mile. Oh well! A little scrap off the list of gravel yet to do and now I have even less to knock out. 

I did identify another tiny bit of gravel I need to knock out near a little village called Voorhies.  A little bit of gravel that comes out of the town on the East side. So, I'll have to go get that bit done. Then there is another bit of roads down by LaPorte City and that's been a known bit all along. Once I get those two things down and off the list, then it's all over. I should be getting this done soon. 

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: The Wind, The Hills, The Lightning!! Part 2

(L-R) Williams, Shotz, Gleason. The T.I.v10 leaders at North English

 "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!

 As the morning of Trans Iowa v10's first day wore on, the wind was picking up. It started out as a mere breeze, but by 9:00am or so it was a full-on issue that caused a lot of duress for the many riders still left in the event. A record number- 99- made it through the first checkpoint. At this point into the event, I was afraid that there might be so many riders coming through to Checkpoint #2 that I might run out of cue sheets again, like I almost had the year prior at Checkpoint #1. Only the resourcefulness and leadership of Brent Irish and his volunteer crew saved that day the year before. 

But Checkpoint #2 for Trans Iowa v10 wasn't in a small village where even a small home printer could be found. No, it was in the same location as the checkpoint #2 for Trans Iowa v7 was. It was about two miles away from Norway, Iowa though, so maybe there might be a way? I was very concerned about this, and I got a hold of longtime Trans Iowa volunteer and former T.I. finisher, Jeremy Fry, who was going to do the Checkpoint #2 duties along with Omaha, Nebraska resident, Scott Redd. 

Jeremy hadn't left Waterloo yet to come down to man his station, so he made some plans to print up about 20 mores sets of cue sheets, just to cover my butt. See, I never in a million years thought I'd see the day when nearly 100 people would start a Trans Iowa, much less have that many go through the first checkpoint! With that concern well in hand, I was free to continue on and keep tabs on the fast, whittled down, lead group, which was now only three riders. 

My course checking duties led me far ahead of the pack of riders and I pulled into North English, Iowa, which had been the scene of several memorable Trans Iowa happenings previously. It was here that Tim Ek swallowed a banana in about two bites during Trans Iowa v5, and it was in this little hamlet that Trans Iowa v6 had its dramatic ending. This time things weren't quite so dramatic. This time it was an oasis. The first big convenience store on the route, about 100+ miles into the event. As the situation of this particular day unfolded, it also became the end of the line for several riders. 

This was due to that East wind, which was picking up in intensity and was decimating the rider's energy reserves. Stronger riders were falling by the wayside as Greg Gleason, Chris Shotz, and John Williams' blazing pace wore them out one by one. Smarter riders throttled back and tried to save something for later when, perhaps, the winds would die down somewhat. But that didn't happen......

The scene at CP#2 with Jeremy Fry, (L) and the race leaders.

 Of course, all that did was reduce numbers so that when the rider count was taken after Checkpoint #2 closed, it was revealed that 37 riders never even made it to that checkpoint and all my worrying about not having enough cue sheets ended up being a non-issue. But what was fascinating was what happened immediately after Checkpoint #2 was passed. 

As I have said, Norway, Iowa was not far from Checkpoint #2 that year. I had it placed about five to six miles away from there, as the course went, using lessons learned when I did this for Trans Iowa v9. However; instead of encouraging more folks to continue, it became a veritable triage center for riders who were exhausted and decided to pull out of the event. While 62 riders took cues for the last portion of the event, 43 called it quits before the end, and probably half of those 43 were sitting waiting for a ride from Norway Iowa's Casey's Convenience store. I heard tales of bodies and bikes strewn across the parking lot for a short while during the late afternoon hours. Of course, I knew many were pulling the plug, because from about 6:00pm to around 11:30pm my phone never quit ringing with reports of riders quitting T.I.v10. 

One of my all-time fave T.I. images. Matt Gersib leads three other riders up a steep hill. Image by Wally Kilburg

 The really ironic thing was that, while the wind never quit blowing out of the East, the course went due West for many miles immediately after leaving Norway. Riders may have had a chance to catch a break, and especially so since a lot of this part of T.I.v10 was pretty flat in comparison to what came before Checkpoint #2. But pushing into a heavy wind on a bicycle in hilly terrain on gravel for nearly 180 miles is no joke, so I do not fault any of those folks at all for what they decided to do. 

The clouds build in. Image by Wally Kilburg

Unfortunately I never saw, nor got any images of, the carnage at Norway's Casey's. Looking back, I kind of wished I had known more about how that played out for the convenience store, as having all that unforeseen business may have been seen as a negative, like it was back in the checkpoint town of Lynnville earlier in the day. However; I never did get any hard feedback on that, although hints of some issues were related to me via some of the folks that picked up riders there at Norway. 

Although I never really did get to see that scene, or many others, I guess I saw enough. But Trans Iowa was run on a shoe-string, it was run with empty pockets, and there weren't opportunities for me to be gallivanting here and there, observing the field front to back, and back to the front again.

No, I was busy crossing the very flat portion of the course just North of Belle Plain, Iowa. I recall that there was a very flat one mile stretch of dirt road there which went straight West. The winds were coming from the East and gusting so hard that my truck was being overtaken by dense clouds of dust kicked up and driven along by the gale. I remember trying to catch one of the waves of dirt just right so my miserable little point and shoot camera could grab an image. Even though I was stopped, it wasn't working. So, after several tries I felt the urge to get back to work and move on down the line, even though I was very far ahead of the leaders, and miles ahead of the nearest chasers. 

The course ended up coming into a ridge road which meandered, more or less, Westward and Northward. This would have been just east of Toledo and Tama Iowa. Here it was that I found myself seeing the Sun disappear behind a mess of gathering clouds and the skies were looking ever more ominous. By this time I was getting weather reports for the evening, and there was a chance of severe thunderstorms. My stomach was in knots looking at this scene before me as the Sun sank.

And of course, the most hellish part of the event was yet to come.......

Next: The Wind, The Hills, The Lightning!! Part 3

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Brown Season: Three River Ramble

Escape Route- Janesville, Iowa
 Well, that was a big ride in terms of "The Quest". The gravel roads I haven't ridden in Black Hawk County are now very few and far between. Especially now since I knocked out a big chunk in the Northwest corner of the county. This is the area that is broken up by the 'Turkey Foot' as the Native Americans called it. 

The 'turkey foot' is the confluence of the West Fork of the Cedar River, the Shell Rock River, and the Cedar River, (formerly known as the Red Cedar River at first). These three rivers form a shape where they come together which the Native Americans found looked like a turkey's foot. This area also was home to the "Big Wood", an area of hardwood trees which somehow escaped the ravages of prairie fires to form a huge tract of forest, (for Iowa), stretching from Eastern Butler County all the way across to where Denver Iowa is now and from just South of where Waverly Iowa is now to the very Northern tier of Black Hawk County, then down along the Cedar River to Waterloo, Ia, where there was a break in the trees and the prairie came right down to the river banks. This is why Waterloo, Iowa was first known as Prairie Rapids Crossing. 

Native Americans from the surrounding areas would Summer in the Big Wood, hunting, fishing, and gathering for their Winter stores. Once Fall came they all would head back to their tribes. I often think about that when I ride through this area, which still has a sizeable remnant of the Big Wood. Now days the Turkey Foot is called Turkey Foot Heights and is a gated community of well to do Iowans. The hills which feature remnants of the Big Wood West of Denver is called 'The Denver Hills' and features pretty fancy-pants homes as well. This stretches over almost all the way to Waverly. Ingawanis Woodland, the tract of hills and woods I ride mountain bikes in, is also a part of this area. 

I decided to make the village of Janesville, Iowa my embarking point. It is a curious little town which straddles the border of Black Hawk and Bremer Counties. In fact, it lays claim to being the oldest city in both counties. I parked the truck in a City Park along the Cedar River, and then headed across an old steel gabled bridge which used to carry traffic for Highway 218 across the Cedar, but now is a county blacktop. This I took West out of town and onward to knock out my first bits of gravel in this area. 

Marquise Road is truncated here at the Shell Rock River coming from the East.

Headed back East on Marquise Road. There isn't much gravel, but I had to get it ridden!

Marquise Road was up first. This road forms the border with Bremer County to the North. From Janesville it starts out as a black top, then the County road goes South, but Marquise continues on a a chip seal road until for the last half mile, which is gravel. Then it is cut off by the Shell Rock River. That meant this stretch was an out-and-back. The rivers would cause me all sorts of running around on this day! 

The Southern end of Taylor Road just turns right into someone's driveway!

Newell Road looking North.

There were a couple of out-and-backs up next interspersed with long stretches of county highway. First was Taylor Road, an offshoot to the South. In typical Black Hawk County fashion, it ends by just turning right into someone's driveway! I just think this county is so odd in how they minimally sign things like this. 

Then it was back, with the wind, to the North and back West on a county highway to get across the Shell Rock River. The wind, by the way, was blasting out of the Southwest at around 25mph. Fun times! Anyway, once I got across the Shell Rock and had ridden two miles or so of pavement, I found my next offshoot to the North called Newell Road. 

This was approximately a 3/4's mile out-and-back, so 1.5 miles total, and this road was truncated by the West Fork of the Cedar River. Back to pavement again! I found myself soon enough in the little hamlet of Finchford, Iowa. 

A church in Finchford, Iowa 

Marquise Road West of the Shell Rock and North of the West Fork of the Cedar River.

Leaving Finchford North on more pavement, I rode a mile to get to the Western bit of Marquise Road I had to bag. This would be 2.5 miles in and then back out again. This road has memories for me, actually. I had been on it before, but not on a bicycle. This was a road that almost was in Trans Iowa v3.

I was doing recon for the third Trans Iowa, by myself in those days, in my old Honda Civic hatchback. I had been planning on using Marquise Road as a way to take the riders from the Northwest area of Janesville into Janesville itself, because they had a convenience store  there, and still do. Every map I could find showed a bridge over the Shell Rock on Marquise Road, so I felt confident I could route the event over this road. 

And it is a cool stretch of road with curves and woods. But, as you know, that bridge has been gone a long, long time. Ironically, the 'up-to-date' DOT maps still show this road going through! Ha! Well, it caused me a five mile round trip just to bag this Western section of this road. And then I went onward....

The gate near the old ending of Marquise Road. You used to be able to go further by about 200 yards.

A big rig tilling the fields for next season.

Then I made a mistake! Up until this point I had been running off memory, since I had stared at the maps so much, I knew the route by heart up to a point. Well, my memory failed me as I came back West on Marquise Road. Where it turned to pavement for its final half mile in Black Hawk County, I turned back South and went back to the West Fork Road, which was just North of Finchford. I thought it was my next mission, but it wasn't. 

No harm- no foul though, I just had to make the West Fork Road and Butler Road an out-and-back instead of a single pass is all. Once I did this, I was back on track again. This bit took me to the very Northwestern corner of the county, which is sort of unusual. This and the southwest corners are the only two corners you can reach via gravel roads. 

This is the very Northwestern corner of Black Hawk County.
Butler Road looking South

After rectifying that miscue, I went back South through Finchford again on county highway to reach the corner with Cedar Wapsi Road, which is paved going East, but there is a short section going West that isn't paved. This then turns South and becomes Butler Road, which is the border road with Butler County. 

This took me to Mark Road and my last section to bag up here. From Mark Road East I took in Pashby Road and Van Wert Road, both going one Mile to the North off Mark Road to C-57/Cedar Wapsi Road, and then taking Mark road to its end at Union Road, which is paved. 

A sign seen off Pashby Road looking North.

Gerholdt Cemetery off Van Wert Road near the intersection with Mark Road.

From there I took Union to Cedar Wapsi Road and then I did a couple bits of short gravel and another section of Waverly Road pavement sandwiched in there to get back to the truck. It was a great ride, but I was out for three hours to bag about 11 miles of gravel. Such was the problem with getting all these disjointed sections of gravel in and with having to traverse across all these rivers. I ended up crossing all three branches of the 'turkey foot' at one point or another too. So, I was scrambling all over this corner of the county. But I got everything mopped up that I needed to, and that's the good news. 

So, this leaves me with just a tiny bit left now to go. I'm looking forward to getting this knocked out. Stay tuned.......

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday News And Views

Standard Rando v2 in Turquoise. Image courtesy of Twin Six.
 Twin Six Debuts A Minty-Fresh Standard Rando Color:

Those marketing mavens at Twin Six know that color matters. A clean design with the right color can catch a person like a fly in honey. Such is their aim with the Standard Rando v2, a bike that outwardly appears much as it has since its inception years ago, but gets consistent refreshes in base color from time to time to make the design seem brand new again. 

This time they went with a minty looking color they are calling "Turquoise". I am not a fan, but you know, someone or many will be, and that's the point here. Those same fans of turquoise may have hated the "School Bus Yellow" which I found really cool. 

And let's not forget that Twin Six is not the only company doing this. All the QBP brands do the same thing to some degree. Surly? When was the last time they significantly changed a model? The Karate Monkey maybe? Otherwise they introduce a model then they just make color changes for years. Salsa Cycles? Pretty much the same thing with a few new models sprinkled in to take the place of outgoing ones. 

Anyway, it's a thing, and maybe this turquoise Standard Rando v2 is for you. Wondering what I think about this bike's ride characteristics? See my post on it here.

Jersey design #1
Riding Gravel Jersey Design Starts:

Several years ago I and my partner at RidingGravel.com, Ben Welnak, set out to get a Riding Gravel jersey and kit made. Well, a lot of time has passed and now we are back at the drawing board again, this time working with Bike Rags, an Iowa based company, to figure out what we want to do for a jersey design.  I've been pretty happy with how our C.O.G. 100 jerseys came out last year and Bike Rags did those as well. So I would expect a similar level of quality at the least.

There were a couple of things I insisted on with this new design. First, it had to be congruent with our current branding, which I have been pretty happy with. Secondly, I preferred that it use the same colors as we have had- sky blue, orange, and white- but it didn't have to be that. Thirdly, I was interested in having a design with an Argyle or similar looking design for the theme. 

  So with those design parameters set I sent off my thoughts to Tony at Bike Rags and let he and his design team get after it. After a few misfires we got on track and he sent me back these two designs which could become the next Riding Gravel jersey offer. Maybe...... I'm just floating this out there for now. 

Jersey design #2
So, why am I showing these? Well, I am trying to get some feedback from others as to which, if any, would you actually be willing to buy? The feedback we get may influence us to (a) actually offer something and (b) choose which design to get made. These should come in at a fairly attractive price point, but that is still to be determined. Think along the lines of "about what other decent jerseys cost, and you'll be on the mark, most likely. 

If this happens we are thinking that we will do pre-orders and that Andy's Bike Shop will also have some on hand to actually look at. Besides this idea we are also looking at doing more stickers, t-shirts, long sleeved t's, and maybe even hoodies. Some or all of this may happen and some or all of that may be available locally at Andy's Bike Shop as well. 

Now back to the jerseys. I know which one I prefer, but both are really good, I think. Let me know in the comments if you like one or the other and we'll go from there.
 

Jones Bikes LWB Space Frame

Two Things About Bikepacking:

I was perusing the innergoogles, ya know.....since I am trying to live the hermit life these days, and I have come across a sentiment which appeared in a 'for sale' post of some pretty fancy-pants bikepacking rigs. The thought being that since we are in a world-wide pandemic, all big world adventures are kind of, you know, not such a great idea. So I see some nice rigs up for sale now. 

I can see the validity in that way of thinking. I mean, who wants to take a chance on bringing a virus to a secluded corner of the world where it may wreak havoc on the local human population? Well, that is.....if you have a shred of humanitarian thought in your brain case. I would think that would be a prudent idea, not to go right now. But what I find curious is the thoughts of, well.......and I am guessing here, obviously, but why not wait instead of bailing out? 

Seems like a good idea to me. Obviously, this isn't going to last forever, and you can have another shot, I mean, it's not over until its over for you, yes? I dunno. Maybe the people need the money, 'cause they lost their jobs due to this pandemic. Like I say.....I am just guessing and observing. It just seems odd.....

Then, as always, whenever I see a bikepacking bike topic I start dreaming about a Jones Ti Space Frame again. It's a sickness. I'll likely have to get a better job or I'll have to take out a loan, because on my current salary this bike is waaaay outta my league, but yeah.... 

A couple thoughts on the bikepacking deal in regard to our times, such as they are. 

And that's a wrap for this week. Hopefully y'all are staying safe, getting exercise, and being nice to other humans. Have a great weekend! 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Hiding From The Wind

The Snow Dog rides again!
 Well, it was supposed to be really windy on Wednesday, so I postponed plans to go bagging more gravel roads and did something a little different instead. I decided to take a spin on the ol' Snow Dog, my 2011 Salsa Cycles Mukluk fat bike. The Snow Dog hasn't been ridden a whole lot until this year because I had other, more capable fat bikes that went further afield in worse conditions than that old Mukluk ever could. I think the first gen Mukluk is a cool bike, but it is a unicorn rig in the fat biking world now days. 

It was a shocking bike in late 2010 when it was introduced. Ten years ago you couldn't get a fat bike at a bike shop and ride it out the door. Well, not unless that shop put one together for you from scratch. That would have been a Pugsley, and it would have likely cost you about $2500.00 unless you had a lot of spare parts to put on it. Wheels would have had to have been built by hand, a special crank set and bottom bracket would have needed to be sourced, and your tires and tubes would have been Surly products. Nothing else was available. That old Endomorph tire was kind of an oddball too. Not everyone got on with it. 

But when Salsa Cycles announced the Mukluk in 2010, they also announced a new tire for it as well. The 3.8" Surly Larry was a welcomed addition to the fat bike world and made a lot more sense than the Endomorph for many riders. What is more, you didn't have to buy the tires separately. They came on the bike as it was a complete package. A turnkey fat bike out of the box was a completely new thing and at the price the OG Mukluk went for, approximately $1800.00 plus taxes, it was a huge value over building a Pugsley from scratch. So much so that a couple of months after the Mukluk announcement, Surly announced a complete Pugsley would also be offered. The frenzy to get in line to buy these rigs was crazy at the time. It was the start of about a three to four year run on fat bikes that has never been matched since. 

The Surly Endomorph. Remember that tire?
The thing about the Mukluk that made it pretty much the fore-bearer of the fat bikes you see today is that it had a symmetrical frame and fork, not the offset fork and frame that the original Pugsley featured. This appealed to people's sensibilities more, but the reality was it did not affect performance, really. It just looked 'right'. Otherwise, the two bikes at that time, the Pugs and Muk, were essentially the same deal with different frame materials.  

So, my 2011 Mukluk has a pretty 'mountain bike-ish' handling from the 90's era, much like a Pugsley would, with maybe a bit of a nod to a slacker head angle, but not by much. The top tube is maybe a bit stretched out compared to an old MTB, but again, not by a lot. In fact, I run a longer stem on my Mukluk than I do on almost any other bike I own. (It's the stock stem, by the way) They stuck a really long head tube on this bike, which is odd, and with the 70mm rise carbon Milhouse Bar I have on there now, this bike has a very upright riding position. I have had to re-learn how to ride this bike since putting that bar on it.

And re-learn I did on the Green Belt. The wind was just getting on with its blowing when I left and in the woods I was shielded from its fury. The Green Belt is actually in pretty good shape. However; the freeze-thaw cycles have kicked in and the top layers of dirt were greasy mud. You have to be very careful when cornering on that stuff. I know from years of experience. Especially with the minimally treaded Larry 3.8" tires, which are still the original treads I got with the Snow Dog. There isn't much for grip there! However; this makes the Larry a killer tire for gravel. I wish that it was still in production just for that reason alone. But alas! The Larry is no more and it never was made in a tubeless version either. Too bad!

The Marky-Mark trail is in pretty good shape for going into the Winter.

Anyway, with the more upright position I have now, I stuck the Redshift Sports ShockStop seat post on this bike and it is awesome! This makes riding this bike so smooth it is ridiculous. While the original set up here was 3X I have it 1X now with a 9 speed rear end. I may dig up something to make this a lower geared rig as I found that with a 32T drive ring I was maxed out in a couple situations on the low end. I know that this Winter that won't work in deeper snow. 

But for woods cruising this set up with the really wide bars and upright seated position is fun. I went on a loop that took me to the Marky-Mark trail and I rode it both ways. It's in really great shape, I am happy to report. I look forward to cruising through once we get a little snow to work with. I do have some burlier 45NRTH rubber I can use that came to me on the Ti Muk 2 when I got it, so I may swap over tires here when Winter comes......if it comes. 

I may commute some on this bike, and I may do some gravel travel on this bike, but it needs upgrades and I just don't know.... Quick release 170mm rear and 135 rear brake standard front wheels are so out of date now I almost cannot justify it. That was one odd concession to the Pugsley Salsa made when they designed this bike. They felt that maybe some Pugs owners would jump over and get the new Muk, but would want to swap parts. In order to keep things in the Pugs standard, which was predicated on a built in fail-safe using two rear wheels, one single speed put on the front and the standard cassette rear, both 135mm spaced quick release, Salsa made their Mukluk to work with that. So, if you had a Pugs wheel you wanted to use in the Mukluk's 170mm spaced rear, Salsa offered this left side rear drop out spacer which made your Pugs wheel work in a Mukluk. As it turned out, this was all over-thought and almost no one went this way. 

So, eventually everything went through axle. The way it should have been from the get-go and of course, almost any fat bike worth its salt has a 150mm spaced front end. So, upgrading this bike, which has a straight 1 1/8th steer tube, by the way, is kind of a tough thing. I'll probably just maintain what I have and not spend a lot of money trying to make this what it isn't. Anyway....

I had a good ride on it Wednesday and that is what matters....


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A Question About "The Quest"

The Quest has taken me down a LOT of roads I would have never traveled otherwise.
 I recently got another question in the comments section that I thought would be best answered in a post here. It concerned "The Quest". The grand name I have given to my attempt to have ridden every road in Black Hawk County that is gravel or dirt before the end of the year. So, I am going to get to the question here, but first, a bit of background to set this up.

Riding every gravel and dirt road in the county was never on my radar as a thing to do until about mid-Spring. Of course, I'd been all over parts of Black Hawk County for years. I really started riding gravel around here in 2005 or so after Trans Iowa got going. My first 'go-to' route was Ansborough Avenue to Tama County and back, which I did several times until I got to thinking about trying something else. That's when the 'explorations' started. So, over the years, I had ridden a lot of the County's gravel and dirt roads, but not all of them. I'd stuck to routes mostly South and North of town, never really going East, and not all the way down to the Southeast either. 

Then N.Y. Roll took me on a ride in March of 2019 that kind of opened up my eyes to some 'other alternatives' around the South of Waterloo. In November of 2019 I went on a ride with him and we went way down into the Southeast part of the county and I saw a lot of opportunities to ride in that area for 2020. So, by the time I'd seen a post by "T.S" that he'd ridden all of the roads in a county North of us, the pump was primed, so to speak, and the idea of getting all the gravel and dirt roads ridden in the county was hatched. 

As near as I can tell, this 'questing' activity started in April, right about the same time we all entered into this.....whatever we are calling 2020, and I set off on a different ride on gravel every time I have ridden since that month. That's a LOT of different rides and it has made this year a LOT of fun in that regard. So, this brings me to the question, finally.....

Question: How do you keep track of what you have ridden and what you need to ride yet? 

I've become very well acquainted with this map this year!

 
Answer: The first thing I did was to research where I had already been in Black Hawk County. That was accomplished by studying the Iowa State Department of Transportation's colored PDF map of Black Hawk County. (Image above) I traced out all the main routes I had ridden right away. Not physically, but just by looking and remembering where I had been. I then had to research the blog on a few questionable bits, but it didn't take long for me to realize that most of the Eastern half of the county had been unridden by me at any time with the exception of one ride I did to find a 'lost Level B road' in the very Northeastern part of the county. I'd been on a couple of roads as far over Eastward as Dunkerton, but not many of those roads were known to me out that way. 

Oddly enough, much of the Western half of Black Hawk County I had ridden at one point or another, leaving little to do over there. So, most of my 2020 has been spent riding in Eastern Black Hawk County and keeping track of it has been very easy, actually. This is due to how I was able to break up the task into bits as you can probably figure out already if you've been following along. 

I broke it up as such: Everything East of HWY 21 to the South over East to HWY 218. The strip of land running Southeast of Waterloo between HWY 218 and the Cedar River to LaPorte City. Everything East of the Cedar River and West of I-380. Everything East of I-380 and South of HWY 20. Everything North of HWY 20 and East of Sage Road. 

I tried to do rides in a systematic way to 'mop up' every road in a section, then move on to another, so as not to forget anything. Although certain bits still need cleaning up due to their not fitting neatly into a ride plan. Those plans were often considered for several days on end well ahead of rides to get the maximum benefit from each ride. Roads that were not fitting neatly into packages or that were random, short bits here and there were put off till the end of the quest where I plan on trucking my bike around to do out-and-backs and get the thing finished off.

So, this has been a well thought through plan and I've tried to be somewhat systematic and thorough in my execution of the plans. This has been tempered by opportunities related to work, family, and weather. But even though I've had to pass up chances to ride, it looks as though I will get this quest accomplished this year with no problems. I always double check the map to make sure I haven't missed anything and I am pretty sure I am on track. That said, "T.S." did use a physical map he marked up to keep track of his efforts. Neither way is right or wrong. There are no rules, but just what we think is best for our concerns. 

I'll have to consider what to do for an encore, because I know I am going to miss doing this after I am through. That said, there are a LOT of roads I'll never ride again in Black Hawk County! But there are many that I hadn't ridden that I do plan on revisiting time and again. This has been a great way to see and learn about where I live and get some perspective. It has also been a fantastic way to get away from this election cycle, COVID-19, and all the mental garbage I have been dealing with that was percolating due to these things going on around us this year. 

I am extremely thankful for 'The Quest" and how it got me away from riding the same-ol-same-ol roads I got stuck to riding out of habit. In fact, I haven't been on those roads at all since doing some testing on Riding Gravel reviews back in July, I think it was. Anyway, there ya go! I'll have a bit more to say about this and other bits of 2020 in my "Rear View" retrospective which I will start writing up in a couple of weeks here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Brown Season: Secret Gravel

Escape Route: LaPorte City
The tiny bits of gravel road here and there are slowly getting mopped up. Soon I hope to have all this 'quest' business out of my hair. I'm so close to having it all done I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm thinking by the end of this month I'd better be done too! Typically after Thanksgiving we are in for snow, and if that happens, well...... Things could get really hard to do. 

So, at any rate, there were a few odds and ends all emanating out of LaPorte City. I made a plan to mop up these roads, loaded up the truck, and headed out to LaPorte City where I was able to embark from the lot which is there alongside the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. The day wasn't too chilly and the Sun ended up coming out during the ride. However; the wind was up and not friendly. Fortunately I didn't have to be out too long to bag the odds and ends I needed to get down there. 

I wore a base layer, Pirate Cycling League jersey, and a Bontrager soft shell jacket. That all over a GORE bib short, and Bontrager commuter pants. I wore some Alpaca wool long socks and my Northwave Winter boots. On my noggin I used a Minus 31 wool beanie and my trusty Bontrager helmet. Gloves were a pair of liner gloves in wool. (Note- My hands stay pretty warm so I don't need much) It was about the mid-30's and the winds were something in the 20's or so.
 

Barns for Jason #1: I left town on Bishop Drive

Shepard Road. This was about the width of a nice drive way.

Some of the gravel on this mop-up mission was pretty narrow. I was surprised by that and also how most everything was covered recently in fresh, chunky gravel. Probably post-harvest work the county has done to get ready for Winter. 

Shepard Road just peters out into a field with no barriers or warning signs.

Barns for Jason #2: Looking back down Shepard Road. 

The first road to knock off the list was a little thing called Shepard Road. This was a bit of gravel that had two farms on it, one on the West side and one on the East side and was about half a mile long. It was really kind of narrow and completely covered with chunky, fresh gravel. Coming back North was easy, since I had a tailwind. 

This out-and-back led me back to pavement and I went further East on Bishop Road, which was paved, to reach the next bit of gravel to get bagged. All this pavement reminded me of my old road riding days! At least I had 700 X 40mm WTB Byway tires on so that pavement wasn't too bad. 

Looking South down King Road.

Main Street- Yes! Really. (Eventually it takes you to LaPorte City to the West) Looking East here.

Once I reached the "T" intersection I took a right to bag a mile of King Road. Such a regal name for such a mundane bit of gravel, that's for sure! Anyway, it's pretty flat, as you can probably tell from my images here. That's because this is all in pretty close proximity to the Cedar River and so all of what I rode was in the flood plain area. 

Then I had a short out-and-back to the county line to bag that end of Main Street. Yes....Main Street. Of course, this gravel was an extension of LaPorte City's Main Street to the East until that road passed out of Black Hawk County. This point in the ride was the furthest Southeast you can get in Black Hawk County West/South of the Cedar River. 

The Cedar River Wildlife Area marks the point where I turned around and went back West.

Main Street turns to pavement here. This was one of only three bits of gravel which sits on the Southern border of the county. Oh....and Barns for Jason #3!

When I ran off gravel and on to pavement on Main Street that marked my first bit of gravel road bagging for "The Quest". There would be one more tiny bit to clear off which came out of LaPorte City to the South. A tiny portion of almost secret gravel it is so hidden. I'm almost betting only residents on the road and some folks in town even know these bits of gravel exist, well......besides the County, that is. 

The beginnings of Poplar Avenue gravel, or.......


.......is it really Selk Road?

Coming out of LaPorte Road to the South is a strange bit of gravel in a "U" shape. It starts out as Poplar Avenue and is signed as such coming out of LaPorte. The DOT maps have a different name here though. The DOT says this bit going South, a quarter mile maybe, and the next bit, another quarter mile to the West, is all "Selk Road". This "T"'s out into South Road to the North and the Southern bit from that intersection is in Benton County. One could be forgiven if they thought the Eastern bit coming out of town to the South was Poplar and only the East/West road was Selk Road. It's all soooo confusing! 

However it is really, this bit of Selk Road, a quarter mile, is only the third bit of road on the Southern border of Black Hawk County. Between Selk Road, Main Street, and Paydon/Payden Road, (The road name is spelled differently in Benton County vs Black Hawk) there is only two and a half miles of road right on Black Hawk County's Southern border and all of it is gravel. 

South Road looking back toward LaPorte City.

All of this is narrow road as well. Some of the best maintained narrow gravel road I've seen. I imagine it is the exact width that the original roads were laid out with, using this measure for every gridded out road in accordance with the Northwest Territories Act, which dated back to the 18th Century. Those laws were the template for expansion to the West and territorial governments and early State governments eventually imposed this grid after a time. 

I know from reading a text loaned to me by my friend Tony, which covered the history of trails and roads in Black Hawk County, that the grid wasn't always the way things were around here. There were Native American trails here long before gravel was a thing. Sometimes the roads hint at these early trails as, most of the time, early White settlers ended up using the same ways. You see this in the angle of Main Street, which probably was informed by an early trail following the Red Cedar River back in the early days. That trail eventually became a main pioneer road way, then it was the Red Ball Route, and eventually Highway 218. 

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. "The Quest" is coming to a close soon. I have a bit to cover in the Northwestern corner of Black Hawk County and some oddments here and there near the East side of Waterloo and near LaPorte City to the Northwest. I'm getting close. If I am fortunate I think I have three more rides to get it all mopped up. 

Stay tuned.....