Saturday, January 16, 2021

Where Once There Were None

Curve Cycles' Walmer Bar- Just an example of our drop bar rich times.
 As I researched my blog to make updates to the 'Archived Drop Bar Articles' page, I realized that in the last ten years the choices in drop bars for off-pavement riding have become so numerous it would be impossible to name all of them. What a big change from when I first started using off-road drop bars! 

Back when I started riding off-road, it was shortly after the 'drop bar craze' in MTB in the mid to late 80's. There were a few well known choices then. You could get maybe three, maybe four different bars, all based around the customized Cinnelli bars that Charlie Cunningham was making for his own custom bike line. Eventually, WTB, the comapny Charlie helped found, made a version of his bars, Specialized used something Nitto made, I believe, and there may be something I'm not remembering, but the off-road drop bar was a rare bar even then. 

WTB continued to produce their off-road drop bar well into the 1990's. I recall putting a few on one particular guy's bike back then. He got a new WTB Dirt Drop every year. Had I known then what I know now I would have hoarded all his take-offs! It wasn't maybe five years later, after WTB ceased production of the Dirt Drop, that the prices for used ones were around $150.00! This, in turn, prompted On One of the U.K. to collaborate with a few riders to develop the On One Midge Bar, a design with its roots in the WTB Dirt Drop and those older, 1980's dirt drop designs. 

Now by this time I had gotten on the internet and read up on all the old mountain bike stuff I could find. I was aware of the old dirt drop craze as I was heavily into mountain biking magazines back then. So, I sought out more information on folks like Charlie Cunningham, John Tomac, the Specialized Dirt Drop, Ibis, Salsa Cycles, and any other brands involved in the off-road drop bar craze. What I found and read up on changed my mind about using drop bars for off-roading. 

My Karate Monkey, circa 2006, with On One Midge Bars

I then took my Karate Monkey 29"er, which had flat bars originally, and I set it up with an On One Midge Bar. This would have been around 2005 or so. I was hooked, and with Trans Iowa sparking a love for gravel riding, the idea stuck with me as I found myself doing more gravel riding  every year. My love of the off-road drop bar deepened then, and I was trying every new flared drop bar I could. There weren't many either. 

There was the original Gary Bar from Origin 8, a fairly close rendition of the Midge, but with even more flare! There were maybe a couple of other odd-ball ones early on in the late 00's, but there wasn't a lot of traction behind the idea until late in the decade. This all started with a very influential bike model introduction.

Around 2006-2007, some in the gravel/MTB community were asking for something with big volume tires and a flared drop bar. Now, I was getting a ton of questions about my Karate Monkey set up with drop bars. I decided that I needed a 'real off-road drop bar bike', so in 2007, I decided to have not one- but two custom bikes made! Each would address issues I had with drop bars on a MTB-able bike. Well, as it turns out, I wasn't the only one thinking along these lines. 

You may have guessed it, but when Salsa Cycles came out with the Fargo, it was this bike that forced Salsa to design their own take on the flared off-road drop bar. At first, they had the old cyclo cross design called the Bell Lap Bar on the Fargo, but within two years the Woodchipper debuted and the race to develop bars with flare and sweep was on. Shortly thereafter, the Ragely Luxy Bar, the Origin 8 Gary II Bar, and the Salsa Cycles Cowbell appeared. Gravel cyclists gravitated to these bars and subsequently, any bike claiming to be a 'gravel bike' had to have a flared drop bar. It was one of the identifying characteristics of a gravel bike. 

The scene, and the bikes to support it, blossomed wildly in the late teens until we reached a point several years ago that there were so many new flared drop bars at every price point that it became bewildering. You can get cheapo, heavy aluminum dirt drops all the way up to high-zoot, ultra-light carbon flared drops. Widths between 40mm and 60mm are out there too. heck when I started out with these flared drop bars there was one width and we liked it! (HA!)

Oh! And those two custom bikes? One was my Badger and the other is my Pofahl, both of which I still own. Both have Luxy Bars too, which is pretty oddball. But anyway, I find it amazing that in 2021 we have all these choices. It truly is the golden age of flared drop bars.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday News And Views

 Sea Otter Moves date To Fall:

In a short statement sent to media via e-mail on Monday, Sea Otter confirmed rumors that it was going to move its traditional Spring date to Fall for 2021, citing COVID issues. The statement read as follows:"After recent discussions with health and permitting officials, we’ve determined we will not be able to conduct an event in May."

The new dates are October 7-19th, 2021 and the event will still be held at Laguna Seca raceway near Monterey, California. 

Comments: As of this writing California is in strict lock down due to a rise in COVID-19 cases recently. While there is a vaccine being distributed, it is widely accepted that most people will not have gotten vaccinated before late Summer at the earliest. 

Sea Otter has become the de-facto consumer/trade show/exhibition since the demise of Interbike. Traditionally the mid-April date was used as a way for companies to introduce new product. With shortages due to COVID-induced demands causing supply short-falls, it was dubious as to what, if any interesting products would have actually been there for introduction. Waiting until Fall may actually prove to be advantageous in this regard. Plus, many more North American dealers could go and make this an Interbike replacement of sorts. 

Road Boost rear spacing is a thing now. Focus Atlas 6.8 image courtesy of Focus.
You Knew It Was Coming, Didn't You?

I have said for years that the next big innovation/evolution in road bike standard would be the move to a wider rear spacing standard. Well, it appears that Focus, a brand some may know from cyclo cross or MTB, has made 'Road Boost' a thing now with the introduction of the 2021 Atlas gravel bike range. 

First things first: Up until now, all road bike based bicycles used a 130mm rear overlock dimension standard. This determined not just the spacing between the faces of the inner rear drop out where the wheel axle interfaced with the frame, but it also determined where the rear derailleur sits in relationship to the crank set, and essentially, it limits what a designer can do with regard to tire clearances, frame members, etc. When through axles became ubiquitous, this standard did not change, excepting that a through axle fit differently, so the dimension was listed as 142mmOD. Through axles did not fundamentally change anything else, just the way wheels were attached. 

Now with 'Boost' spacing, designers can take advantage of the moving of the drive line outboard a bit. The rear axle is wider now at 148mm, so that 'pushes' the cassette outward that much more also.  This removes barriers to wider tires and still having traditional frame member bits like straight chain stays instead of drooped ones, or elevated ones, to get short chain stays, wider tires, and crank sets all a space to 'live in'. 

You'll note that the Focus Atlas 6.8 has Shimano GRX cranks. Those cranks were set outboard from traditional road bike crank set chain line to allow designers to get wider tires in, so yes- In a way the Focus Atlas is the first all Boost road bike. I suspect it won't be the last. 

Gravel Worlds Registration Opens Tomorrow:

Get ready, get set, GO! Gravel Worlds registration opens tomorrow at 8:00am CST. Hit that link and it will take you to the 2021 registration site on BikeReg.com. (I post that as much for my convenience as anything, just to be forthcoming!)

Gravel Worlds will have the 150 mile, 75 mile, and 50K distances available which are the traditional distance offerings from recent years. The 50K is a 'non-competitive' ride, by the way. All rides will start and end at the Schilling Bridge Cork & Tap House in the Northwest area of Lincoln, Nebraska on August 21st, pandemic pending, of course. 

I have gone on and on about this event, and I have participated in this event many times, but if you are new and wondering if Nebraska is even worth considering, I can give you my hearty recommendation. The terrain is HILLY! The weather will be hot, humid, and there most likely will be wind. The gravel has a sandy consistency which can make for some interesting handling characteristics at times. But more than anything, Gravel Worlds is a snapshot of what made the genre famous and attractive. That being that the event has a definite grassroots feel, the people are welcoming, the locals have a hand in making the experience more like visiting relatives, (good ones, the ones you have fun with), and overall Gravel Worlds just encompasses everything good about gravel riding. Go do it. You won't be disappointed. And hopefully we will be able to "go do it"!

G-Ted Productions Notes:

Okay, once again, this is probably going to get mentioned regularly for a while here, so if you've seen these announcements already, please bear with me or skip over this section. 

  • Quick Links To Series Posts: Just a reminder that now you can look at any "Trans Iowa Stories" post or any "Touring Series" post by clicking on the page link for each series. Those page links are under the header here. (Look above, just under the main page image) Each newly published "Trans Iowa Stories" post will be added as I go along. 
  • Archived Drop Bar Articles: I also finally figured out how to publish page header links with these series posts which meant that the long hidden drop bar page got published there as well. The page was set up a long time ago and I quit working on it when Blogger changed the formatting here over a year ago on the backside where I work on stuff. So, now that I have that figured out I will be adding links to more G-Ted Productions drop bar posts as time goes on now. 
  • G-Ted Productions Merchandise: And finally I will remind you all that t-shirts, stickers, mugs, and more can be purchased with the "G-Ted" icon at the link for my daughter's Redbubble site which you can find under the "My Events and Web Sites" header in the far right column here on the blog. Remember- I don't make a penny off that, it helps support my daughter's art habit. She gets a cut from sales there. 
  • C.O.G. 100, Events Announcement: Just to make sure you are all aware- First off, the C.O.G.100 is no more. Gone, se ya later! N.Y. Roll and I decided to cut bait and close down the event since we cannot in good conscience hold it with the pandemic going on. And since that is the case, I took the opportunity to end my involvement in events promotions. I've been at this since late 2004, so it is high time to move along now. So- no C.O.G.100 ever again. If and when N.Y. Roll wants to do something I will post about that here. 
That's about it! Have a great weekend and try to get out and ride if you can.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Winter Views: Like A Dog Off The Leash

Escape route: Shaulis Road Bike Trail
 Wednesday was one of those unusual days in mid-January. First of all, it wasn't bone-chilling cold out. It was about 30°F when I left in the morning and rising. I needed to see if the gravel roads were rideable and by all accounts I had heard, they were. So due to the warmer weather, I was given a golden opportunity to find out for myself. But that wasn't all. There was more to it than that. 

There was no wind. Well, if there were any breezes, I couldn't feel them. It was a super-rare occasion. To have no wind in January on the barren plains is amazing to me. Coupled with the high temperatures for this month, it meant that the air would not deal me any issues due to wind chill. I mean, it can get warm in January, but it usually is accompanied by a monster Southern wind of some sort which drops the wind chills back into a "I'm not going out there in THAT" range.  So, I cannot overstate how awesome the weather was Wednesday. 

I was pretty stoked to get out there too. It had been a while since I was able to get out and ride gravel without being in 'survival mode', and Wednesday promised to be just a relaxing time on the bike out in the country. I had to do some checking on how the Spinergy GXX wheels were doing, but even more importantly, I had to check out those Challenge Tires Getaway treads I am reviewing now. I was hoping the roads would be good for doing both things. 

The plan was to embark from the Prairie Grove Park on the South side of Waterloo and to do about an hour-plus ride. I didn't want to over-do it since I haven't been out in about a month on 'country gravel'.  Being out on the open prairie is a bit different than riding in the urban area where I am sheltered from wind and cold. So, a shorter ride, not getting too taxed, and taking it easier was my plan. I loaded up the truck and headed out mid-morning and was off well before noon. 

The Sun shone a wan light and the roads were surprisingly clear of snow and ice.

At times it looked like some sort of precipitation was imminent, but nothing fell from the skies.
I headed south, then I figured I could grab some images for my reviews, then I headed off on the 'wheel test' route I came up with last Summer. It is short and loops right back to the truck. I figured if the roads were bad, I could manage at least that much. However; the roads weren't bad, in fact, they were excellent. As fast and smooth as you could hope for. Not 'hero' gravel, but fast. I was hoping for some decent chunk to test those Challenge Tires on but I had to go out of my way to find any loose, deep gravel. In fact, what loose gravel I found was frozen down and was more like 'coarse chip seal' than anything. I eventually did get into a bit of loose gravel later on, but it was hard to find! 

The turn-around point on Aker Road.

It was nice not to have to try to bag miles of gravel or to have to figure out a cohesive route to get all kinds of oddball roads into my route. I could just ride these roads I know so well already and enjoy them. So, I did just that and soaked it all in. 

The Sun eventually came out for a bit during my ride.

A couple of horses lounging in the January Sun
 Well, I probably rode a bit too fast. I hadn't been out for so long, I was riding like a dog off the leash for a bit. I had to dial it back and concentrate on shifting, breathing, and just riding for some enjoyment. Not pounding the pedals like I was on a single speed, going as fast as I could go in one gear. 

If I have a fault in my riding style, it is that I tend to default to single speed mode all the time. Shifting a bicycle drive train is something I typically have to think about doing, and it isn't a natural thing for me to do. Being a native single speeder means that sometimes I am committed to a gear on a grade, let's say, that is eventually going to blow me up. So, this joy in being out in the country again took my mind off what needed to be done and I was in default mode for a bit there.

I am glad I finally got around to being aware of myself and that I needed to be intentional about my riding. It made a rare day in January that much better.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Wheel Build Parts Puzzle: Part 1

Yeah.....that'll work!
 Last week I wrote a post about getting around to building up a wheel set for myself. Something for testing RidingGravel.com stuff like tires, mostly. I can always use wheels for that activity. Anyway, I put the word out and maybe a day or so later I got a message from a friend who said he had these DT Swiss 350 hubs laying around. Would those do? Well, ah.....YES! Those would do just fine.

So, those are here now and will be getting laced to......something. That's the next problem. Rims..... All I know now is that the rims, whatever I end up getting, will have to be for disc brakes, be tubeless compatible, and will have to have 28 spoke holes each. Beyond that, I don't have any real stipulations. Well........I probably wouldn't go for white painted rims. That's sooooooo oughties, don't cha know? Seriously, they probably should be black anodized or carbon. That brings up my next point.....

Price- I could score carbon rims, I am sure, but I also could probably buy four aluminum rims for the price of one carbon one. Sooooo....... And these are not going to be show pieces. These are an everyman's wheel set I am building up. If I were doing a show-off build I'd get something a lot more flashy. I wouldn't turn down a carbon rim set, but I am not prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on a set of rims either. Like, not more than a couple of hundred or so for rims, that is what I am thinking here.

The other thing I think I am looking at here is that the inner rim width has to be, at a minimum, 25mm. I am looking at anything from 25mm - 28mm internal width. Why? because gravel tires are trending wider and I have wheels with narrower inner rim widths already. This way I could mount tires from 45mm-50mm and have an appropriately sized rim laced to a wheel that could go into the Black Mountain Cycles MCD, for instance. Or, if I pull the trigger.....a LaCabra from BMC. (available in March, according to Mike Varley)  

If I really wanted to go low-budget, I have some ten-plus year old Bontrager Rhythm wheels with 28 hole rims. I could cut out the hubs..... (The rear is QR and the front is 20mm through axle!) They would be decent rims, basically they are Duster rims, but they are silver, and old.........and silver. Too close to white, not a polished looking silver, and not all that wide internally, to be honest. So, that's a last ditch choice there.

Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Winter Views: Dog Trail

Sergent Road Trail-I'm the only fat bike rider here? 
 It's been a while since I've been out on the gravel. It's going to be a while longer.... Not going out when it's been so cold and with the ice in places? Hmm..... Maybe this week when it warms up. Stay tuned on that. Anyway...

It was 21°F when I went out Sunday morning for a check of Marky-Mark, the trail connector I put in along Ridgeway Avenue back in 1997. I'm still amazed that this bit of single track has survived the last 24 years. It's amazing that this trail hasn't been sanitized, changed significantly, or that it hasn't been eliminated due to urban sprawl/development. Everytime I check on Marky-Mark these things blow me away. 

I fully expect someday to go out there and find that the City has decided that trail needs to be 10 feet wide like the rest of the trails out there or to find that it has been closed off for development. So, I always go out there with some degree of anxiety about that. Of course, then there is the more likely situation that the trail just gets neglected and blow-downs screw it up and no one cares to clear it up. 

I left on the Ti Muk 2 this time because the snow cover has evaporated and been smashed down to the point that it is barely necessary to even use a fat bike in places. Well, with the exception of Sergeant Road Trail between University Avenue and Fletcher. No one but myself has ridden a fat bike through there. Amazing! I suppose that having the new tunnel not finished and that end all blocked off scares people away, but I still think that's odd. Well, it made for a post-hole-free ride through there. 

After that section I hit up the dike along Black Hawk Creek. It was okay riding since the snow machines had laid down some decent tracks on top. Then it was a dive down the dike and on into the Green Belt. That was when the riding got way easier. The trail was beaten in so smooth and fast that I could have used a mountain bike with 2.5" tires and been just fine.

An XC skier heads off down the trail. I ran across a lot of trail users Sunday in the Green Belt.

Lots of foot traffic made for a rough trail, but it was fast.

I started coming across people using the trail. First it was an XC skier, then a fellow fat biker. Then it was walkers with dogs. Apparently a light wind and reasonable temperatures were bringing out the recreational folk. Like me! Ha! 

Well, it was a fairly typical ride out to Marky-Mark and I was amazed to find it was not only there yet, but that it was getting traffic! This always gets me excited since, well, you know, I was the one that put this in and now others were enjoying it. They have absolutely no reason whatsoever to know that I had anything at all to do with that, so it isn't about the notoriety for me. In fact, unless you read this blog you wouldn't know about Marky-Mark Trail at all. 

Black Hawk Creek looking rather 'post-card-like' this past weekend.

I put this bench cut in almost a quarter century ago. It's amazing that it is still around!

So, Marky-Mark was in good shape, and I noted that someone had cut out a dead-fall near the East end and that they had taken out the old 'log-teepee' that had been there for quite a few years. Hmm.....Well, the main theme of the trail still hasn't been messed with and it is obvious someone- or many people- are 'taking ownership' and responsibility for this trail. So, that's encouraging as well, since I cannot solely keep that thing going. 

Then it was a fast ride back. I came across several couples with dogs. I always am a bit amused that people take their dogs on the Green Belt Trail because there is a huge dog park at the trail head where they are supposed to be taking their dogs. Some people were fine with other trail users, but there is always that one couple, or person with a dog(s) that has a stern look, or an attitude about you being out there on a bicycle. Uh......excuse me? But there is dog park right over there. You know that, right? And don't get me started on the ones with their dog off the leash. Anyway.....

It was a great ride out. A necessary 'mind-wipe' after the events of the past week. Glad I got out and rode, and even happier to see that Marky-Mark not only survives, but that it thrives.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Bonus News And Views

 Note: With a plethora of news coming out the first week of 2021, I didn't have room to run it all in the "FN&V" last week, so the spill-over is here today for your consideration.

Forager Cycles Cable Cherries (Image courtesy of Velo Orange)
Cable Doo-Dads Hearken Back To 90's:

Back in the hey-day of MTB in the 1990's,we had anodized everything for components, there were wild full suspension ideas, and we had  accessory dress-up parts that were all the rage. One of those categories used to fill up the counter at the first shop I worked at. There were anodized cable ferrules in all the colors, top-caps for "Ahead Set" equipped bikes, and valve caps that looked like skulls, cue balls, and of course, "chromies". One of the most unusual items we sold back then were cable end doo-dads which kept your cut cables from fraying. They were available in every anodized color, in many forms, and all attached via a small 2mm grub screw. 

Well, Forager Cycles, a small company which makes a couple of accessory items, has these "Cable Cherries" which work on the same principle. These items have been picked up now and are distributed by Velo Orange. They will have them in silver, Gold, Black, and Forest Green. (Right now they show no stock) Check these out here. A pair, when available, will set you back about seventeen bucks. 

The nice thing about these is that they are re-usable. The bad thing about these is that they can be knocked off in rougher terrain and you are out ten bucks, or more if you lose both. (Ask me how I know) I still have some of these items from 'back in the day' that weren't quite so well made in a box somewhere in my Lab. When I saw these Cable Cherries, it reminded me of those halcyon days of MTB in the 90's. Maybe you are too young to have those memories, but this product is but the tip of the iceberg for items that used to be around like this. 

The Ritchey Outback TandM Breakaway (Image courtesy of Ritchey)
Tandem Gravel Action:

This came across my radar last week, and while it really isn't 'new', it isn't well known, so I thought I'd share. it is a tandem, and while that in itself isn't a big deal, this is one that could do gravel travel. It is the Ritchey Outback TandM

Most folks looking for a gravel compatible tandem are seeking out a used Salsa tandem, (because they quit making them a while back), and maybe a custom or a repurposed MTB tandem from years ago. This Outback TandM might make more sense to those who are looking at doing a tandem challenge on gravel, but need that bike to do everything else too. Because let's face it- tandems are really expensive and niche. The likelihood that a couple would have multiple tandems for road, off-road, and MTB are slim. 

And the Outback TandM is a Breakaway model too, which makes packing this thing up and taking it places a lot more attractive. Yeah......it only takes up to a 40mm tire, but I think many could make that work on gravel, and of course, that's plenty for road going too. 

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting option maybe some of you didn't know about. 

Unbound Gravel Announces Lottery Application and Event Dates:

Life Time Fitness' new gravel event, Unbound Gravel, has announced its lottery application and event dates. This is a similar deal to "That Former Event In Emporia That Shall Not Be Named" in that they expect a lot of applicants- more than they can accept. So, they are thinking they will need to have this lottery process to draw names from. 

There will be two weeks to put your name in the hat from January 15th till the 30th. If you are chosen you will be charged $240.00 for the chance to ride 200 miles of Flint Hills gravel. It should also be noted that due to COVID -19 issues, the Unbound Gravel event will not be like previous iterations of "That Former Event In Emporia That Shall Not Be Named". There will be limitations on people's access to various parts of the event, like packet pick-up, the finish line, and the rider meeting may very well end up being a virtual affair, not in the Granada Theater as used to be the case. See the protocols in place and possibilities of other actions HERE. 

Even the start will be different with masking required and social distancing in waves will be enforced, so be prepared to see a very different sort of experience there, if they can have it at all, which, in my opinion, is a very tenuous possibility given the predicted pandemic/vaccination situation going into the Summer. 

Also- if the the price for this event is too dear for you, remember- you have other Emporia Kansas based options to ride the Flint Hills. There is the La Grind event, and a new, grassroots styled event called "Flint Hills Gravel" which you can also check out.  Of course, keep in mind all this may go up in smoke due to the pandemic. As an example- Industry scuttlebutt has it that Sea Otter, traditionally a mid-April event, is rescheduling for Fall 2021. These Kansan events are scheduled in April-earliest of June. So, keep your ears to the ground if you are thinking about these events.

Speaking Of Cancellations Due To COVID.....

Friday on Facebook The Heywood Ride, the ride which grew out of what once was the Almanzo events, once again cancelled their ride for 2021. This would be the second year in a row that the inaugural Heywood Ride has been cancelled. The page cited COVID-19 restrictions in their announcement:

 "In keeping with the City of Northfield and State of MN guidelines, based on today's conditions there is no way we can in good conscience proceed with the event. It breaks our hearts."

The announcement also included plans to hold a virtual event on May 15th, at 9:00am CST. No further details on the virtual ride were released but the announcement said details on that would be forthcoming. 

Comments: Unfortunately it appears that 2021 will be 'the same song, second verse', at least for the first half of the year. Restrictions on events are becoming commonplace for anything from these cycling events to racing, and for other stick and ball sports as well. I expect further news of event cancellations/postponements to be commonplace throughout the Spring. 

Gravel Worlds News:

Last Saturday Gravel Worlds released the list of 100 riders who are scheduled to take part in the "Long Voyage", a 300 mile course being set up by the Pirate Cycling League. The list of names was published on their Facebook page.

That list has some very interesting names on it. One name I have to wonder if many of the current crop of gravel riders even knows about. That name would be John Stamstad.

He was pretty much the "OG" ultra-endurance off-roader. Back in the '90's he was noted as the first to solo a 24 hour MTB event, he did the first known solo time trial of the Great Divide Route, and was a principal figure in the early ultra-MTB scene. He has been off the radar for well over a decade, so I suppose you can be excused for not knowing who he is, but he definitely has a pedigree and is a historical figure in grassroots cycling.

Then you have Jay Petervary, who is John's contemporary in the ultra-endurance ranks. Alexandera Houchin, a female who has turned some heads with her on-bike performances and also with her social views on certain events in the gravel community, is also on the list. There are a lot of former Trans Iowa riders in the field, including my Brother MG. It's always heartwarming to see those former T.I. nutcases on these rosters for the big events. 

This coming weekend, on the 16th, Gravel Worlds opens up registration for their 150 mile, 75 mile, and short recreational distance rides. Be on-point if you want in because this will fill up fast this year.  https://www.gravel-worlds.com/race-day  The registration time is 8:00am CST

That's about it, have a great Monday! 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: A Prank Entry and Registration Madness - Part 1

A couple examples of post card entries for T.I.v11.
  "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!

Trans Iowa v11 was perhaps the weirdest version of the fourteen versions. As we learned in the previous two posts, recon was doomed, or seemed to be, and then registration...... Oh my! This version's registration process caused all sorts of ill feelings, anger, and resulted in a big change to registration for the last three Trans Iowa events. But perhaps the weirdest thing that came out of registration was a prank gone wrong that stirred up a hornet's nest of debate concerning doping and former doping athletes. 

Before I get into all that though, I probably should recap how registration for Trans Iowa was done for many years. Things were quite a bit different back in the early days of the event! But maybe most surprising to many people is that for the first two Trans Iowas, we had what would be considered a fairly normal entry process. We had a fee, used to cover our insurance, and registration was held online via a hosting company, (I cannot remember who), and the field was filled out in that manner. Once the available spots were taken, registration closed. However; the third Trans Iowa revealed that our costs were going through the roof for insurance, had we opted to use it, and the rate would have pushed the entry fee to get into Trans Iowa far above 100 dollars. 

This wasn't a deal-breaker with myself at the time, but Jeff was particularly disturbed by this trend of insurance costs. He was coming from the solo 24hr racing world when we started Trans Iowa and entry fees for those events could be $300.00 or more. One of the things about Trans Iowa Jeff wanted to have as a feature was a very low, or no, entry fee. Our first entry fee was something like $25.00 and the second was $40.00, if I recall correctly, so this proposed jump was, to say the least, rather alarming. 

This pushed us to drop the insurance, go rogue, and find some other way to run the registration. I believe it was Jeff who suggested post cards in the beginning, so that is how we landed on that idea. Riders would simply fill out a cheap post card with the data we required, send it in during a specified time window, and once the field filled up, we were done. 

It didn't take long for riders to figure out that sending a post card via 'snail mail' could be a pathway to being left out if the roster filled. This fear led to many folks sending entries via over-night express service, like FedEx, or UPS, and even USPS Priority Mail. Once that began it was kind of a competition to see who could get my attention in other ways. I'm not entirely sure why people started sending 'gift entries', but that started fairly soon as well. Pizzas, cases of oil, flowers, and potato chips were sent to me along with some other odd things. Finally, when a local entered Trans Iowa by dropping off his entry at the shop where I had entries sent, more people started showing up at the shop dropping things off. This all came to a crazy head as Trans Iowa v11 registration started. 

Generally it was the "Rookie Class" that was the most affected by this madness. Winners of past Trans Iowas were guaranteed entry upon request, and people who had done the event before, or as I called them, "Finishers" and "Veterans", were given priority for entry. I split the available spots up three ways- Winners/Finishers first, then Veterans, and anything left over from the first two batches were added to the Rookie's allotment. Competition for the Rookie slots grew to a fevered pitch during the last few registrations before v11. For this eleventh time around, things went completely off the rails. 

The next several entries of "Trans Iowa Stories" will delve into all this registration stuff and will include stories about how registration affected the shop I worked at, what the post cards were like, and it will cover gifts and other oddities. I will get all that out of the way first and then the climax of this all- the registration for Trans Iowa v11- will be told. In my view, you won't really get a feel for the final wild open registration unless you understand the building up to those events. 

Next: A Prank Entry and Registration Madness - Part 2

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Some Plans For Series Posts

 It was suggested to me by a reader of this blog on Wednesday this past week that I might want to think about providing an easier way for readers to go back into a series, such as the current "Trans Iowa Stories", and look up older posts. This particular reader had not been able to keep up to date and was digging backward through the blog to find the posts he had missed. 

I also had been considering ways that I could add the blog series "The Touring Series" to the header as a page, and perhaps work it up into book form at some point. Well, this particular reader sparked a couple of ideas and I wanted to share how I'm implementing the plan to make getting back into these series easier. 

First of all, the Trans Iowa stuff all has the tag "TRANS IOWA STORIES" at the end of each post. I did not know that you could hyperlink that and it would pull up the series in backward chronological order. Note- You still have to scroll back to get to where you want to be, but at least you have just "Trans Iowa Stories" posts to dig through! 

The other thought was to put up a page here where I could list each title and date and have that hyperlinked to take you directly to that post. No need to scroll. I think that's the reader's preference here, but that idea is a lot more work too. 

So, I have taken the opportunity to put the tag link in the header on the far right of the page. It is listed under the heading "My Events and Websites" and is simply titled "Trans Iowa Stories". Hit that and you will see every "Trans Iowa Stories" post listed from the latest published and then chronologically backward to the start. You'll have to scroll a lot, as there are well over 70 entries in that series now. Each new post that gets published will automatically appear on that list due to the tag. NOTE- Some posts that are not actually part of the series, but have news about the series in it and are tagged, "Trans Iowa Stories", will also show up there, so it isn't a perfect system.

So, for those that can't deal with that, I also built the page where all 70 plus links will live to take you back to wherever you want to go in the series. These are dated and titled. They are also listed in chronological order from first to last. This should allow for a quick and easy reference, or allow you to go back and read through sections you missed or want to re-read for the fun of it. The link is just under the header as "Trans Iowa Stories". I'll add new ones as I go. New ones may not go up immediately, but I'll try to keep that list up to date.

I'm going to get this done for the touring posts as well, but that will come later.  As a side note: I also put up a page about drop bars which has a couple of old articles by drop bar MTB aficionado, Matt Chester. Okay, if that all makes sense, then great, but if you have further thoughts concerning the plans, let me know in the comments! 

UPDATED: I also got "The Touring Series" up. It's listed under the header as well! ENJOY! 

As always- Thank You for Reading Guitar Ted Productions!

Friday, January 08, 2021

Friday News And Views

Brooks saddles, like the one on this bike, are made in the UK
You Cannot Get A UK Made Saddle In The UK Because Of Brexit?

In a weird twist of fate, Brooks, who have made saddles since the late 1800's (Really!) in the United Kingdom will no longer be able to sell them in their own country of manufacture, at least for the time being. This all due to Britain exiting the European Union, which became effective on New Year's Day. The story was broke by cycling journalist, Carlton Reid for Forbes online, and that article can be read HERE

I have been a casual observer of this whole exit of the UK from the European Union for a few years now. It seems as though, at least from this outsider's viewpoint, to have been a not very well thought through, or executed plan, and this laughingstock of a story about a UK manufactured product would seem to be evidence of this. The issue with Brooks arose out of the fact that Brooks is owned by Italian bicycle saddle manufacturer Selle Italia. The Brooks saddles are distributed out of their facility in Italy, so all production from Brooks goes to Italy, and due to the convoluted importing laws that "Brexit" has imposed upon the UK, the Selle Italia company has chosen to not import any saddles for sale to the UK, which includes Brooks saddles. 

Weird and, well......stupid. I've seen some other import nonsense concerning stuff coming into the UK from Ireland as well. Someone posted a diagram showing the requirements needed to move goods between the two countries and it was simply mind boggling. Makes me glad we don't have those sorts of trading issues within the U.S., (but if you check history, we very nearly did have those issues early on)

I've mentioned this before, but it would be hard not to imagine that the raw materials necessary to manufacture goods in the UK wouldn't be affected since those need to be imported as well. Could this mean higher prices for us outside the UK for their products, like stuff from Hope, as an example? Matched up with increased demand for cycling product and it is hard to say that we wouldn't see higher pricing on those things coming to us from the UK.  

UPDATE: A story was released on Wednesday saying that, in fact, you still could buy Brooks saddles in the UK and would be able to. I'll post more if there is a definitive answer to which way it will actually be. Right now this is pretty confusing!

Public Service Announcements:

Just a few things to share here concerning the blog/what I do. First up, another Riding Gravel Radio Ranch podcast dropped Monday night. It was meant to be dropped during the holidays, but oh well! Lots of ranting by yours truly on this episode. Get it at this link or wherever you get your favorite podcast feed. https://www.ridinggravel.com/podcast/episode-69/

Next I wanted to post the link to the latest "State of the Gravel Scene" opinion piece. I have been doing this along the turn of the year for the past few years now. The first was a series and so was the second, but I've cut it down to one, easier to read post for 2021. You can always find the links at the bottom of the page listed at the base of the blog header above or here is a direct link for your convenience: https://g-tedproductions.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-state-of-gravel-scene-2021.html

Finally, I wanted to post the link to the Redbubble page for G-Ted Productions merchandise. Any purchases will have part of the proceeds go to my daughter to help her out with college and just getting going in life. You'll always be able to access this link, as long as the merch is available, by looking over at the far right side-bar of this blog under the heading "My Events and Websites" - https://www.redbubble.com/shop/ap/62984846

Wireless, cable-less gear systems are already in development.
A Wireless Future?

A recent story published in "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" online suggests that Campagnolo, SRAM, and Shimano all are working on various ways to do things by wireless means on bicycles. The story I read focused on shifting ideas, including a couple ideas from SRAM and Campagnolo using a glove with sensors in it which then could be pinched together with the forefinger and thumb to activate a derailleur. Wild! 

Not that this would ever become a reality, as "BRAIN" noted, since one of these ideas has been in the bag for five years with no further development. It is commonplace for companies to develop, patent, and sit on ideas without any intentions of using them. This is done for two reasons: One is that these ideas form a repository of knowledge and a basis for further product development at a later time. Secondly, it keeps other companies from developing similar ideas and beating them to market. So, the electronic glove idea may never see the light of day. 

But we still should pay attention to these wild-eyed ideas because it means that other, more scalable/marketable ideas are being developed in the same vein. What wireless controls might we see in the future? It isn't out of the realm of possibilities that 'remote shifter' points could be embedded into bar tape, or grips, as an example. And then we have to think about what a wireless controller could, you know......control. Brakes? Suspension settings? Tire pressures? 

Obviously, the HPC vehicles being developed will leverage a lot of wireless tech and I can see where that will be where these ideas get implemented first. A wireless shifter in a grip would be something I could see on an electrified bicycle, as an example. Not something you need to rotate, just a pressure sensitive thing-a-ma-bob. I wrote in this segment not long ago about a bike that was shifting automatically by sensing rider pressure on pedals, so this sort of thing is already in development. 

The DBR from Archer Components. (Image courtesy of Archer Components)
 Archer Components DBR Unit Available Soon:

If you've been following the blog over the last several months or so, you probably remember the Archer Components D1X on my original Mukluk fat bike. That's the remote and shifter box which can turn any drive train into an electronically controlled one. (See the tie-in with the above points?) Well, now Archer has released pre-sales of their new DBR (Drop Bar Remote) system and we now have a few of the questions answered that I had about this idea. 

My biggest question was how in the world Archer was going to integrate a remote into a system with so many proprietary variants. How would it integrate with Shimano, SRAM, or even Campagnolo shifting? Well., as you can plainly see, Archer didn't try to kludge a remote to work with everybody else's levers. No, they partnered with TRP who have a hydraulic lever with no integrated shifter and made the DBR to integrate into it instead. Probably a smarter idea, but for consumers, it complicates things a bit versus the D1X flat bar system. 

Now you have to buy into a brake and lever system. Of course, not many people are familiar with the TRP drop bar brakes either. Are they any good? How do they feel? Well, as it happens, I've been using TRP made brakes and levers on my Tamland now for a few years. The very same brakes as what these DBR hoods are meant for. Yes, the remote is a hood replacement for the TRP Hylex brakes. (I told you it was a bit more complex than the D1X) 

Many of you will have already tuned out by now, but if you are still reading this, the TRP Hylex brakes are incredibly powerful and require very little input to bring your bike down to a halt. In fact, they require so little input that it is super-easy to lock up the brakes. At least mine have been that way. So, these are incredibly powerful brakes. WAY more power than you'd ever need on gravel. 

Of course, that means you have to buy the brakes too. At $220 a set, plus installation, that's not small potatoes. Add in the DBR ay the introductory price of $400.00 and you're talking a pretty expensive set up now. But......it may be great for your situation. If you run a 9spd set up, here you go. Even 10 speed set ups would benefit since there are hardly any 10 speed electronic groups out there to lay your hands on, and even the ones that are out there aren't being fully supported anymore. So, for the right situation? Yeah....this DBR deal from Archer might be good. 

That's a wrap for this week! Get out and ride if you can!

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Foggy Future

The last time I was part of the team....
 You may remember the last post of 2020 where I said "It's Over, But It's Not Over Yet". Well, I got an email from my health provider Monday and the outlook, at least from my view, is not good for participation in future events. 

We all have been in a holding pattern, as far as life goes in general, since this all began almost ten months ago now. The hopes were that by some point we'd get a vaccine, as that was (really) the only way this thing was going to be neutralized and allow for some semblance of what we knew as 'normal life styles' to continue, as they were in 2019 and before. 

This is really the only way events can happen with any assurance that a promoter or organization is not being irresponsible, since with vaccination cards, one could assess if participants were going to be 'spreaders' or not. Without a vaccine, well, we just cannot say that events can happen in a responsible way without severe protocols and adjustments to formatting of events, as we've seen already. 

But you all know that vaccines are being rolled out, and so.....what? We can just roll onward now? Hold on, not so fast buckaroo! This roll-out of vaccinations is not a slam dunk affair. We've already seen how it isn't happening at a pace we once thought it might happen at. Essential medical personnel, those at highest risk in the population, and those who work with those high-risk people are the first to be getting the vaccinations, as it should be. Of course, I am not in any of those categories. 

My health provider's email had this quote, "We expect COVID-19 vaccines to be widely available to the general public later in 2021." "Later" in the year? Well, I would assume by the Fall then, maybe? If that's the case, I'm stuck in the same situation that I've been in for months. Again from the health provider's email, "In the meantime, we encourage you to wear a face covering, social distance and wash your hands frequently in order to help reduce your risk of COVID-19."

So, here we are. Yes, things may change for the better, but who knows? All I know is that to sign up for anything where the promoters think all will be roses is not a high percentage decision on my part if I am thinking these events will actually happen in a responsible manner before Fall, and maybe not even then. Optimism is fine, and we'd like to think we'll be okay to have these events in 2021 like we had them in 2019. But I think it's a foggy future, and I'm not banking on it happening right at the moment

Convince me I'm wrong....... 

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Need To Lace Something Up For Myself

I think this is the last set of wheels I built for myself.
 Well, as I have been on the down-low as far as riding lately, I have been doing some assessments and looking at what needs to be done around my home shop that I call "The Lab", although "Dank Dungeon of Doom and Some Bike Stuff" might be more appropriate for a hundred-plus year old basement. But I've always been one to be a bit goofy about my humble abode and whatnot.

Anywho...... As I was contemplating what I need to do to clear up the wheel madness going on down there, I realized that I don't have any current wheels that I built. Not that I am some maestro of spoke weaving, but I can build a pretty mean wheel when I have a mind to.  So, I do like to have a set or two that I built that I can use for bikes that I use often. 

Let's see...... Now there is one 29"er set around here I built. That's been on the Fargo off and on. But otherwise I have no current wheels I built for any of my gravel bikes. I did have a set that was nice but I was talked into selling them to a then co-worker of mine back at the old shop. I guess those are still being used too, ironically on another Tamland! (See the image here of those wheels on my Tamland)

So, I figured it is high time that I built up some wheels for myself again. I'll be looking at hubs to start out with. Last time I used White Industries hubs, and those were sweet. I don't have to go that way again, but you know, those are high on my list. Of course, the stalwart DT Swiss choices are there, along with the boutique stuff from Chris King, or Onyx, or Industry 9. Big bucks, those hubs, but pretty cool too. 

I also need rims, obviously, and I have had great luck with WTB and Velocity, but in these times it may come down to what I can actually get my hands on. Spokes would be my regular Wheelsmith choice, with an outside chance I might use DT Swiss or Sapim. I've built with all three, but Wheelsmith has been my go-to spoke for years. 

So stay tuned for the slow search to grind away here as I get to looking at hubs first. I have no idea how long this might take as supply may affect choices. But the goal will be to get something built by Spring to ride on and I will document the process here as I go along.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Crank-Crankity-Crank-Crank

SRAM AXS FORCE
 When you have blogged for 15 plus years almost on a daily basis primarily on the subject of cycling, you end up hitting upon a few themes. One that I have come back to many times is all about gearing for bicycles. This is a very interesting subject to me, and apparently to many of you readers as well. I know because I've gotten the most feedback in the comments from writing about gearing. 

Besides offering up my opinions on gearing here, I get asked about gearing much of the time as well. Recently I was asked about low gearing for gravel/back road riding where you have to winch yourself up some steep grades. I was dismayed to have to answer that the bicycle industry has largely abandoned those who want to conquer steep, long climbs under their own power and then want to burn up the flats and down hills with higher gearing. At least this is the case for the type of  bicycling many are doing off-pavement all the way up to the edges of mountain biking. 

Manufacturers like to talk in terms of 'range' now. This is only a part of the story. Gearing range can be wide, and that is a good thing, but where does that 'range' start and stop? Is that 'low' enough for you? Maybe it is, but for many folks, only the gearing range that used to be offered by a triple ring crankset matched with a  decently wide ranging rear cassette really worked. You could dip lower and go a bit higher with gearing that way than you ever could with a double or a 1X set up. And again- I'll say it for the umpteenth time- 1X is very inefficient. 

As mechanics we are seeing this more and more. 1X systems are failing at shifting while still measuring okay on traditional chain measuring tools. The trouble is, chains are wearing out laterally instead of the traditional way, and shifting is negatively affected. Not only that, but now, due to the extreme chain lines induced by 1X systems, front chain rings, chains, and cassettes often have to be replaced all at the same time and more often, or shifting suffers. Good timing for all of this as well what with the parts shortages we are seeing. 

Most of this is stuff I predicted when 1X started coming out. The gearing range is one thing, but the system would be limited as to how fast or how low that gearing could be. Parts would wear prematurely due  to the extreme chain lines and smaller cogs in many cases. Now the parts shortages, that I did not see coming! 

Triple chain ring crank sets are really a great idea. You'll find out some day when one of the big companies comes out with a new set up that has automated front shifting so you won't have to think about it anymore. Young folks will think it is 'new' and that this new efficient way to scale steeps and blaze down hills is way better than that old geezer 1X stuff their parents were riding. Well, that is if the youngsters are after a 100% human powered experience. Right now the industry would be perfectly happy to ditch derailleur drive trains and go with motorized bikes with gear boxes, like, you know.....motorcycles? It is 'progress' you know. Who needs to work that hard anyway?

Monday, January 04, 2021

Randomonium

The Ti Standard Rando v2. Image courtesy of Twin Six
 NOTE: Okay folks, if you haven't been around long enough here to know what a "Randomonium" post is, then here is the deal. I ramble, rant, and randomly moan about all things cycling in one, incohesive, bizarre post. "Randomonium", okay?

Twin Six Debuts Titanium Standard Rando v2:

The week between Christmas and New Year's Day was packed with news and one of the things that came out late enough that it didn't make the "FN&V" was the release of the Standard Rando v2 in titanium. I'll be honest, I knew of this last May when I started talking to Twin Six about getting the steel v2 Rando. They mentioned this was on the horizon and wanted to know if I wanted to wait to get that instead. I decided it was in my best interest not to spend over twice the amount a steel v2 Standard Rando would cost and wait for a bike that might not arrive when Twin Six was thinking it would at that time. Well, I have to say that I am good with my decision. Here's why.....

First off, I wouldn't have had the bike at all until well into 2021. At least completed, and then I'd have to wait for good weather. So, all those miles I put on the Gravel Bus wouldn't have happened on that bike. Now of course, that would not have made a big difference since I have other bikes to take up the slack, so to speak. But there were two other things concerning the Standard Rando Ti which I didn't like when I looked into it on New Year's Day. Had I waited, I would have been a bit disappointed. 

Those two things are maybe not a big deal to you, but I really wouldn't have preferred either of these two things in a titanium bike. One was the curved top tube. Aesthetically it goes against my sensibilities for a 'classic' looking frame, which I consider the steel version of the Standard Rando to be, and what I think is one of its strongest visual cues. Now, I could have gotten over that, maybe, but they went with a 31.6mm diameter seat post. Almost every bike I own runs a 27.2mm post, and they are more compliant as well, no matter the material, compared to a like 31.6mm sized post. Curiously, Twin Six did not use a dropper route on this bike, which would have made the choice of a 31.6mm post a sensible one. Yes- I could get a shim, but...... Well, let's just say that I wasn't too impressed by this offering when I already have the steel one and it does exactly what I need it to do. 

Interested? It'd be a fine bike , I am sure. Here's the webpage.  

Ah....wait.....what? New Year's Day didn't start out too good.
Tech Fail Leads To Upgrade (My Only Real Device Fetish Revealed):

I woke up New Year's Day and did what I always do first thing- Swing my legs out of the bed, pry open my eyes, and slap on my Apple Watch. This has been a routine thing for me for just over a year. I got my watch as a hand-me-down from Mrs. Guitar Ted, as I do with most techie device-like gizmos. See, she was into fitness tracking for a while. I ended up getting her first one, a Fitbit, when she upgraded. It was one of those simple, bracelet styled ones. Then shortly after that I got her 'real watch' styled one when she went full-on and got an Apple Watch, the first gen one. Meanwhile, I tried to make do with the Fitbit watch. I ended up getting the first one warranted when the thing started falling apart. The next one did too, and then I got a new version of their latest Fitbit watch, which seemed a lot more robust. I was really into tracking daily exercise, and I started walking religiously. 

Well, that watch ended up imploding. It was a band failure where it joined the case, and it was not a replaceable band, so it was time to bail on their platform. By this time, Mrs. Guitar Ted had upgraded to another Apple Watch version and her original Gen I watch was just laying around. I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of the Fitbit and Apple Watch to see which I liked better. I landed on the Apple Watch and wore it since then, as I say, a little over a year ago now.

So, when I woke up to put it on the first day of 2021, I noticed the face of it, the screen, felt odd. Was it loose? Maybe a little. Then as the morning wore on it felt worse, so I showed it to Mrs. Guitar Ted, and when she looked the whole dang face came loose! Now what? I felt a little twinge of sadness, because, well.........I had a string of days consecutive where I had achieved my goals going back to the weekend the pandemic started. Not that it was a life-or-death thing if my string was broken, but it kind of meant something to me. I have made a lot of health gains since this all started and this string of consecutive goal achievements was a motivator in that. 

So, with a bit of sadness, but a resolve to make-do somehow and continue onward, I took off the watch and tried to come up with a plan to start another streak somehow. Well, then Mrs. Guitar Ted, she's a 'doer'- a problem solver, and she went to work on a plan and well..... The end result was that I got a new Apple Watch and she got my info saved and the streak is alive! 

It's funny that this is a thing I got so attached to because I could give a rip about cycling computers, GPS data, Strava, or whatever the latest indoor cycling craze is. But there is something that grabbed me with these fitness watches and the Apple watch is my jam. So, this is really my only 'device' fetish, if you will. 

A Little Blackborow DS Action:

Over the weekend I had the chance to take advantage of the 5" of snow that fell and I got out on the Blackborow DS again. I love this bike when the conditions are right for it. The thing is, this bike is so capable, it takes a pretty extreme set of conditions to make it 'worthwhile' to me to ride. 

The latest snow drop is on the cusp of where the Blackborow comes on and does what my other fat bikes cannot do. It has enough float and aggressive enough tires that it can plow its own path through 5-8" of fresh snow with no worries. The Blackborow can make a snow machine track rideable due to the bigger footprint where a 4" tire won't cut it. Well, actually a 4" tire does cut through. That's the problem there. 

The trails are decent in the Green Belt, and actually really good in places, so I probably could have done fine with 4" tires there, but where there were places that were still soft I needed the Blackborow. So, I had fun, but unless we get more fresh snow, I probably will go back to riding the Mukluks again, because the need for almost 5" wide tires will go away again. And that's what makes me sad about owning the Blackborow DS.

It's such a great bike that leaving it sit for 10 months out of the year seems like a crime, but unless we have deep snow cover or mud, the Blackborow is simply overkill. I have thought about building up some 27.5 wheels on some fat bike hubs using wide rims that would support 27.5" X 3" tires. Then I could see this being a dinglespeed mountain bike. but that means I'd have to actually go, you know, mountain biking, and well, I didn't get much of any of that in during 2020. My thoughts are that I will be spending a lot more time riding remote gravel and dirt roads than I will be mountain biking, but who knows? Anyway......

Andy Has Another Mouth To Feed:

In some joyful news over the weekend, Andy, of Andy's Bike shop where I work, announced the birth of his second child, a daughter, born to he and his wife Samantha on January 2nd. they named the girl Stella and so the shop is closed for the first two days this week as a result.

Welcome to Stella! Congratulations to Sam and Andy!

That's the Randomonium for this time.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: Fruitless Searching- Part 2

Back in the game. Image by Jeremy Fry
  "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!

The last post described how recon for Trans Iowa v11 started out. This post continues on with the story of the ill-fated recon trip.

After securing our choice of village and the exact location of Checkpoint #1, we were still in pretty high spirits. As we left the small hamlet we discovered probably one of the nastiest Level B Roads leading out of a town anywhere, and just a plain ol' mean road in anyone's estimation. It was akin to driving down a plowed field.  There was a lot of debate right then and there between Jeremy and I about whether or not this would be too much of a gut-punch to the riders. They would barely be out of Checkpoint #1 and they all probably would have to stop to scrape mud off bikes and shoes! After a lengthy discussion, we decided to leave it in with a view to review this choice later. 

Then it was due South, for the most part. We had a super-gnarly Level B not long after leaving the proposed Checkpoint #1 location which had a very odd entry. Essentially, the gravel road leading to it and the Level B were heading in the exact same direction, but as the gravel came up to the dirt, the gravel veered left, because, well.....who in their right mind would go down THAT road? So, unless you were paying attention, and you'd probably have to know this turn was there as well, you would be directed right on by the entry to the dirt road and miss this. Now, it was signed, but it was obscured by trees and brush. Another debate broke out in the truck as to whether or not we needed to flag this corner. Things got fairly heated this time with myself in the camp that this was already marked, and we just needed a cue to indicate to look for the slight turn. Jeremy was adamant that we also needed to have the cue and flag it. In the end we agreed to disagree and we moved on. 

Hills and more hills! The first part of T.I.v11 would be rife with them.  

Driving recon for Trans Iowa was always an adventure and something I thoroughly enjoyed doing.

Things settled into a rhythm after that with Jeremy reading off cues and myself driving. We ticked off the miles and made our way South, then eastward into areas I'd never been to before in Iowa. This was classic Trans Iowa recon. Classic times in the truck with Jeremy. Some of my favorite Trans Iowa memories are doing recon with him. I know he misses these times too. 

Then as we approached an area I was wanting to use to direct the event into a good city for resupply chances, we found a stellar road. I had initially chosen this because it was off the grid a bit, meaning it didn't follow the rigid graph-paper-like layout of square miles. This road meandered a bit, and that usually meant you were either on a ridge or in a valley following the contours of the land. An older road or ancient path, no doubt, that made it through to remind us all that things were once different in the land we call Iowa.

This road was really promising until something further down the line didn't work out.

Nearing the resupply city, we found this out on a Level B road. No doubt a popular teenage drinking spot.

Jeremy and I were pretty stoked on all we were seeing. Soon we would draw into a town we were expecting to use as a resupply point. I had pre-planned a route through, but it was a bit convoluted and the escape from the town on the Northeastern side was a bit sketchy. We'd take a look and figure that out, I thought at the time. That is until the approach route took a bad turn.

This was about three miles out, and the road was turning more and more rustic. A Level B that petered out to two track and then ended at a gate. Dammit! Out came the maps. We were scrambling to find a reroute now, as what appeared to be a newly rerouted four lane highway now had limited access across it from gravel roads. This was bad! Really bad. Why? Because of the nature of things being off the grid, which we thought was cool, well, that same feature also limited crossing paths and alternate routes. In other words, this route was entirely unusable. We would have to completely re-do about 30 miles worth of route out in the field. 

Another bit of the course we had to discard here. This Level B led to a water crossing which would be too dangerous for late April.

What was going to be a scenic, rolling course to this particular city ended up becoming a dead flat 13 mile stretch to a couple of dead flat Level B roads and entry to the city via a completely different way than we were anticipating. This was costly in terms of time and it caused us to have to make a return trip or two to get the route fully reconned in the end. But we were still running into issues even after that debacle.

Shortly after the first big reroute we had another issue arise. A really exciting, scenic, and difficult Level B road was eventually nixed due to a low water crossing. Jeremy and I stopped at the grassy area just off the roadway at the creek and considered this feature a bit. The verdict, agreed upon unanimously, was that in late April the cooler temperatures and likelihood of higher water was too much of an obstacle and a danger for us to consider routing through. Then we saw the 4X4 truck come crashing through the low water crossing, slow waaaaaay down, take a sideways glance at us, pull up the road about 30 yards, and then stop. "Uh oh!" This looked bad!

I told Jeremy we'd better get going, and get going now! As I went back the way we came down, the truck driver, who had pulled off just enough to let us pass, came in behind me and followed us out. It was as if we were being escorted. I reminded Jeremy that rural Iowans can be friendly, but if they think anything is untoward, they can be as surly as a junkyard dog. We were outsiders, and we posed a possible threat, so this guy was eyeballing us hard and I knew it. 

I was relieved when we finally got out of the Level B and the truck veered off and we were allowed to continue without the shadow of the unknown following me hard on my bumper. Oh, and we had another reroute! Uggh! It was seeming to us at the time that this route was ill-fated from the get-go. Yet we forged ahead. Things did straighten up a bit after that too, so we were encouraged to continue on, but that stretch was challenging and shook my confidence in route finding, for sure.

Next: We take a side route to look at registration. The processes, the gifts, the post cards, a prank that led to a serious debate about doping athletes and Trans Iowa, and all this together which led to a crazy registration process for T.I.v11. The end of which led to a fundamental change in how Trans Iowa was run.