Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Found It!

"Crossroads On The Cedar" by Clarence W. Baldwin.
 Quite some time ago now my friend, Tony, lent me a book he had which was one part history of the Cedar Valley, one part geography, one part geology, and one part about how humnas traversed this area from antiquity up until the 20th Century. 

I found its contents fascinating, because I live here, but also because I have become intimately familiar with the land in and around Black Hawk County. I knew vague tidbits and hints of the past, but this book unlocked the secrets of this area and made my eyes see why things have developed as they have over the past 200 years in this area. 

As I say, Tony's book was a loan, so I read it once, scanned some maps in it, and gave it back to him. I then started looking for a copy, but then one thing led to another, and well that idea got driven clean out of my head. That is, until I started digging around again recently concerning the plat maps of 1910 for Black Hawk County, and ran across more history of the area. 

There was a reference in one story about a really well researched book concerning the old trails in Black Hawk County and that the author's name was Clarence W. Baldwin. A little sleuthing revealed that this was a reference to the very same book Tony lent me. I found a single copy on Amazon, ironically a retired copy from the Waterloo Public Library, and bought it. It's a little beat up, and the maps are mostly missing, (fortunately I scanned Tony's copy), but I was stoked to get my hands on this resource over the weekend. 

It's got a lot of great information regarding where the old Native American trails ran, why they ran that way, and how those trails influenced immigration to this area. It tells the tale of where these trails were likely to have informed current highways, and why many faded away due to farmers not liking trespassing wanderers who were seeking ways to the West. It tells the tale of Waterloo and Cedar Falls early days and now I kind of know why the streets ran parallel to the river instead of along the compass points in the original plat. (This really screwed up subsequent additions and is partly why Waterloo is a nightmare to navigate for new folks.)   

So, between this and the 1910 Atlas of Black Hawk County I have found online I will be having a bit more interesting rides than I used to. Again, like I stated on Friday, I encourage anyone that rides in a rural area to dig into their local history. It is enriching, and enlightening, and you will have a treasure to pass on to future generations.

Monday, April 12, 2021

In Case You Forgot- It's Still Spring!

Got those 650B tires set up over the weekend.
 Remember when I was telling you it was too dry and that I had been riding in shirt-sleeves, and that it was in the 70's? Well, about that....... nature has a way of balancing out, and well, it is still Spring! We got the memo this past week.

Cold winds, rain, and grey skies dominated the latter part of the week and over the weekend? pssssshaawww...

Let's just say that if this had been a Trans Iowa weekend it would have been a classic weekend of weather for it. I wasn't going to go out and battle 25-30mph winds in air that was often so wet that it seemed like we were in a mist-machine of some evil Summer hating villain. Besides, I was going to err on the side of caution in terms of health.

You see, in case you missed the mention last week, I got my second shot of the Pfizer vaccine last week and the side effects were being felt all the way into the weekend to a degree. I just wasn't quite 100%, and the weather we had demands that you be 100%. Because that kind of weather will drag you down, in terms of health, and if you are already weakened? Not good.....So, I played it safe and just decided to set up the tires and risk a bit of a test loop around town here to make sure the 650B's were settled in correctly.  

Since I am on a single speed with these tires, you notice the diameter difference between 650B and 700c a bit more acutely. Using smaller diameter wheels lowers you gear ratio a tad bit. I was definitely feeling that on the test ride. But it isn't terrible. I could maybe get back to where I want to be with 700c by dropping a tooth in the rear, but I'll leave it for now. I've got plans......

More on the wheels and tires soon.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: It's About The People; Part 2

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

In this special edition of Trans Iowa Stories I wanted to pause again to take a look at the folks who became an integral part of the event from T.I.v8- T.I. v11. Some are volunteers and some are people who rode in the event during those years. 

Some of the characters of Trans Iowa carry over from my "Part 1" of this mini-series within the Trans Iowa stories. You can click that link to go back an re-read that if you'd like. 

From L-R: Robert Fry, Jeremy Fry, Cornbread, Jason Boucher- T.I.v9 CP#2
I need to stop in this series for a bit to acknowledge the people integral to the event from the period of Trans Iowa v8- v11. I found this previously used image from v9 that has three folks I need to acknowledge and that were very important to having Trans Iowa at all, in one case here, and definitely in having the event run as well as it did for the last half of Trans Iowa's run. 

So as you may have picked up on by reading previous entries, Jeremy Fry became my right hand man in terms of putting on Trans Iowa. We did recon together, bounced ideas off each other, came up with ideas for courses together at times, and Jeremy's math talents were leaned upon heavily by me. Cue mileages and descriptors were often only as good as they were due to the diligence of Jeremy Fry. 

As if that wasn't enough, Jeremy often was a checkpoint volunteer, most often at checkpoint #2, and so many riders got to know him a bit from seeing him throughout the years. I also should mention that Jeremy participated in four versions of the event- v5, v6, v7, and v14., finishing two them. 

My favorite things about Jeremy are his cutting, dry sense of humor and his dogged determination to help make Trans Iowa as good as it could be. Sometimes I think Jeremy was more adamant about that than even I was! 

Another Fry, Robert Fry, a native of the U.K., was another figure in this time period of note. Robert was a distinctive individual in that he had toed the line at the very first Trans Iowa and had been around to see the beginnings of things since he is a resident of Waterloo and an avid cyclist who knew Jeff Kerkove. Robert was also heavily involved in randonnuering, so things like cue sheets, time cut -offs, and long distances were ideas not foreign to Robert. Besides riding in the first Trans Iowa, he rode in v8 and in v10, posting finishes in both events. 

Robert also was a huge help in volunteering at checkpoint 2, with Jeremy Fry, and Robert played off of that by declaring he and Jeremy as the "Brothers Fry", although they are not related. One of the more notable things about having Robert help out during this period was that during these years we had a few fellows come over from the U.K. to ride Trans Iowa. Robert, being an ex-pat U.K. fellow, was their biggest champion. 

This Jason Boucher shot of rider Paul Errington from the UK. at T.I.v9 ended up becoming an iconic Salsa Cycles catalog image.

Finally from the image above we have Jason Boucher, who was responsible for the email after T.I. v3 which influenced me to keep Trans Iowa going. I seriously doubt I would have continued on without his influence then. Jason also was connected to Salsa Cycles and took a lot of inspiration and information from Trans Iowa which informed gravel product for years to come. He was very influential in getting other Salsa/QBP related employees into Trans Iowa by way of talking up the event, and so we would not have had champions like Joe Meiser, or John Gorilla, more than likely, had we not had Jason Boucher in Trans Iowa's corner. 

Jason's passion is photography, and he brought his formidable talents to bear at Trans Iowa on a few occasions which not only was an honor for me, but also enhanced our event experiences and obviously preserved a lot of important memories from over the years. Not only that, but the story of Trans Iowa was told to far more people than it otherwise would have been because of the influence of Jason.

Greg Gleason pulls a line of riders up a hill at T.I.v10 Image by Wally Kilburg

Greg Gleason was a rookie rider at Trans Iowa v10 who no one knew anything about. After the finish, everyone there wanted to know who the heck this guy was that just won Trans Iowa. Well, we all found out in the years that passed since that Trans Iowa who Greg was. Just a very talented, fast, durable cyclist that animated every Trans Iowa after that until the end. That's all.

Greg was always one of my favorite riders at Trans Iowa. Always affable, kind, and supportive of myself and Trans Iowa, Greg became an ambassador of gravel riding there for a hot minute after he floored us all at T.I.v10. I'll have more to say about Greg in my last part of this mini-series. 

Another rider that started showing up around this time was Sarah Cooper. She had been involved in ultra-distance cycling and gravel riding was a fairly new thing for her. Yet she persevered and became a winner of the Womans Open class twice in her four attempts. She also figures heavily as an influencer of the event behind the scenes and in another way which I will get around to in my last post in the mini-series. 

Monica Sattler (L) finishing T.I.v9 with Paul LaCava

Monica Sattler who was from Germany, also was a pretty impressive rider from this period. She only rode in Trans Iowa one time, but she not only finished, but she won the Woman's Open! That's impressive! She then took her experiences from Trans Iowa and a few other gravel events and wrote an inspirational book which featured a bit from her Trans Iowa ride. Again, an ambassador for the event, spreading the word far and wide which we would never had the pleasure of having without her one ride in the T.I.v9.

Not only that, but I recall the banter we shared at the finish line that morning as being really enjoyable. I don't think I've had an exchange like we had with anyone else at any Trans Iowa. 

Jana Vavre is one of the most notable figures in Trans Iowa history. She became the first woman to ever finish a Trans Iowa at T.I.v7 and the first woman to repeat as a finisher when she came in 2nd in the Open Woman's class, 6th over all, at Trans Iowa v9. Jana's breaking of that barrier in v7 made it known that it was a possibility for other women to finish Trans Iowa. It was obvious that after her finish that more women started trying Trans Iowa, and I credit her valiant effort in v7 for this. By repeating as a finisher Jana only cemented this fact even further. Jana is a very influential, and underappreciated woman in the overall gravel scene in my opinion. She also figures into my last post in this mini-series. 

From the sponsor side we had a couple of what I would call "Super-Supporters" of Trans Iowa. One was a bit more behind the scenes, but Josh Lederman, who also rode in Trans Iowa, was my contact for sponsorship through Ledermann Bail Bonds. This sponsorship kept Trans Iowa going by way of financial support during times when I did not have the funds to do a lot of the things I wanted to do to enhance the experiences of those who came. Things like the 10th anniversary t-shirts, getting my truck repaired one year, and so on. Josh, and Ledermann Bail Bonds were vital to how Trans Iowa came out for several years there during this time period. 

The other "Super-Supporter" of Trans Iowa was Will Ritchie, then with WTB. It was Will's passion for Trans Iowa and for how I did things which caused him to become a huge advocate for Trans Iowa, and gravel riding in general, during that time. In fact, it could be said that without Will's insistence that WTB get a hold of this gravel grinding thing, and support Trans Iowa, a few things may never have happened. I'll have a lot more to share about Will and WTB in my last post in this series. 

Just as I have started this post with talk of volunteers, I am going to end it with volunteers. One of the biggest super-fans of Trans Iowa was the group known as the Slender Fungus. I counted on them heavily during these latter years of Trans Iowa for their unwavering support. Ari Andonopoulous, Mike Baggio, Arik Gum, and T.J. were indispensable and an integral part of various bits behind the scenes and as volunteers. 

Next; A Moment Of Reflection

Saturday, April 10, 2021

To "B" Again

I picked up a pair of 650B Gravel Kings to try out.
 The gravel bike scene has seen an integration of what was competing wheel sizes in the mountain bike realm. 700c based rubber and 584 ISO based rubber, or more commonly known as 700 vs 650B. In mountain biking, this is known as 29" vs 27.5. But whatever you want to call it, in the gravel scene, both wheel sizes coexist seemingly without much issue at all.

Bikes often will accept either wheel size and work out fine. I first found this out when I saw a Raleigh Tamland at the DK200 and it had the then new 650B WTB Horizon tires. I went home and pulled off the same thing with mine and it was just fine. Different, but fine. Then it was my first Standard Rando which I ran the 650B wheels and tires on. But since then I haven't run the wheel size much.

Occasionally I would get a chance to review a tire or some wheels in 650B, and then I'd pull out the Raleigh, or in later years, the Noble Bikes GX5. But I didn't use the wheel size in a regular way for a while. Not that I don't have wheels and tires for it, I do. But I just never really stuck with that wheel size. 

Lately I've been looking for something to spark a renewal of interest in my 650B set up. I have a new Standard Rando, the v2, and I did try the 650B wheels and tires I have now in there, but I wanted a better tire. Well, that tire has come along and I am excited to get this set up on the bike and get rolling. It also fits into another plan I have to swap some wheels around in the fleet. 

So, first I'll get the 650B set up going as these new tires are going to get reviewed for RidingGravel.com. Then when I get some time to mess with the rest of this plan I will swap around a couple of other wheel sets and tires as well on my other bikes. Once everything gets settled in, I'll be trotting out the changes here and letting you know why I did what I'm going to do. 

Stay tuned............

Friday, April 09, 2021

Friday News And Views

Can't ride it if you can't get the parts.
 Impending Disaster For RAGBRAI Riders?

The other day it dawned on me how a typical season with RAGBRAI goes down. Generally speaking, traffic in the repair department starts an uptick in June, with a final crescendo of craziness just before RAGBRAI, which is always the the last full week of July. Okay......so what? 

Well, if history proves to be a reliable record, and I've been wrenching for nigh unto 22 years now during RAGBRAI years, these bikes we're about to see haven't been looked at, for the most part, for at least a year, and now since last year's pandemic-cancelled ride, it may be two years. Not to say that these bikes haven't been ridden at all- they just may have not seen a repair shop.  Now imagine the following.....

June rolls around, and as we all know, parts and new bicycles are in VERY short supply. Ordering in stuff? Not going to happen. Cassettes, chains, tubes, tires, and even accessory items like cell phone holders, computers, and racks are NOT going to be available readily, if at all!

So, stop and consider this if you, or anyone you know, is going on RAGBRAI this Summer, because what you expect will be very different from reality when you visit your local bike shop. My advice? get your bikes in ASAP and hope that what you need can be had before RAGBRAI. Be patient. It may take weeks to get stuff, and maybe you'll have to 'make-do' with the best situation a bike shop can come up with. But a warning: If you wait until June-something to get your bike ready for RAGBRAI you may be very disappointed. 

Don't say I didn't warn you.   

No Bikes For You!

Scuttlebutt and reports from industry insiders are pointing to the fact that 2021 bikes will be very difficult to impossible to get. It's looking more and more like 2022 will be when new bike supplies start to normalize. There's even some saying it won't happen until 2023! 

What seems to be occurring is that smaller, "second tier" brands are announcing that they will not have 2021 bikes at all, or anymore. I know Kona, Jamis, and (rumored) Felt are in this situation. It seems that the big four companies, (Trek, Specialized, Giant, and Cannondale), may have 'muscled out' the smaller brands for production of what limited amount of bikes that could be made for 2021. I, (nor anyone) knows that for certain, but by what is coming out, that seems like a plausible situation. 

Whatever the causes, it has become quite apparent that new bikes for 2021 are rare, and in some cases, non-existent, so - once again- same song, second verse. A so-called 'bike-boom' goes pfffffffftttttttt! as the momentum that was created by the pandemic gets slowly crushed by the lack of supply to meet demand. By the time 2022 bikes hit, which may be in the dead of Winter during the 'off-season', will consumer demand still be there? Will economic forces come to bear that make buying recreational stuff not as attractive? 

We will all find out, but for now, it seems that empty racks, more often than not, will be the norm in bike shops across the nation this Summer. 

A page from the "Black Hawk Co. Atlas" published 1910
Learning History:

As some of you longtime readers may have guessed, I am interested in history, and in particular, local history. Poking around on the innergoogles, I have come across a few choice tidbits of source material which has piqued my interest. One of those is a site which has a 1910 atlas of Black Hawk County scanned for all to see. 

The atlas not only has maps, but a written historical account of the county's settling and culture. (Of course, this from a Western man's point of view) So, I have found a few interesting things which have made my rides out in the country a bit more fun from a historical standpoint. 

One being a story, written in the first person, by a pioneer who settled on Miller Creek Southeast of Waterloo. This person claims, at the time he settled there, which was in 1850, no one lived between his place and Vinton, Iowa, a distance of approximately 22 miles or so. The writer tells of having to go to Cedar Rapids during the Winter, a trip undertaken on foot (!!!), and that due to the severity of the Winter, they could not return home until Spring broke. When the weather did turn, this person walked, being forced to ford and creeks, streams, or run-offs that were encountered. (Remember, in 1850 there were no bridges in this part of Iowa.) At one point, near where LaPorte City is now, the writer had to cross a creek swollen with Spring run-off, forcing him to swim in his clothes. After reaching the further shore, he was hit by North winds cold enough to freeze his clothes, but having only six more miles to go to reach home, he made it. 

And we think we have it rough. 

There was more, but the other anecdote I found fascinating was the description of the land and how that determined where settlers chose to take land. At first, the only trees were found along the bigger rivers and major streams in this part of the state. Wood was a precious commodity, seeing as how shelters were made from it, not to mention fence posts and more. This was such an overbearing point that the earliest settlers figured that the prairies would never be settled! Obviously, that didn't last long as by the 1860's land for claiming by white settlers was getting very scarce in the county. Railroads helped accelerate the growth. The first line reached Waterloo in 1860. 

There is also some information regarding interactions with the Native Americans between the white settlers, and regarding interactions between tribes, which was sometimes acrimonious. What is mainly apparent is that the "Turkey Foot" area, the conjoining of the Shell Rock, Cedar, and the West Fork of the Cedar, was a huge draw for tribes due to its rich and diverse wildlife hunting opportunities. Tribes often held council in this area, the last time being in 1858. There is more to it all, I am sure, but it is interesting reading.

So, anyway, the maps are fun since they show all the locations of rural churches, cemeteries, and rural school house locations. Obviously, there are few rural school houses left, but I will have to make notes for future rides to see the locations of those and also to see where any old churches may have stood. The page from the atlas I chose to show here shows all of Black Hawk County and the rural routes are marked in red. Heck, I could even ride the old rural routes for fun! I encourage you to research your own areas and see what, if anything you can learn. I think it brings a bit of perspective to find out the what, why, and how when it comes to your area's past. 

Okay, that's a wrap for this week. Keep on riding and smiling.....

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Jersey Time: Part 2

Craig Schmidt, one of the Gravel Worlds promoters, holding up the first Gravel Worlds jersey.
 Last February I posted about my ordering a new Pirate Cycling League jersey. Well, actually.....I got two designs that they offered. Those just came in to Guitar Ted Productions headquarters, so I thought I might just go ahead and show off all the PCL jerseys I have collected throughout the years. 

The first one I ever got wasn't really just a PCL jersey. No.....it was a Gravel Worlds jersey. No....I did not earn it, so no one has ever seen me wear this thing, and no one ever will. I was just honored by Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey, one of the promoters, by this gift of a GW jersey. Since the PCL puts on the event, it was my first in the collection. You can see an example in the image here to the left. 

Okay, then I am pretty sure the next one I got was this older design with a mostly black background with a red and white design all over it. I have a short sleeved version and a long sleeved thermal version of that jersey. I have to be honest and say that out of all the ones I have, this one is my least favorite design, but it isn't that I don't like it. I do like it, but subsequent designs out of the PCL have been better, in my opinion. After that one I have lost track of which design came before which. So, I'm just going to wing it and throw them out there for your consideration. 

The next one here is a jersey I had to have because it hearkened back to an original PCL jersey from about 2010. It was an army green design with the traditional PCL skull and chain logo. I saw it on Troy Krause originally when he wore the OG design at Trans Iowa v7. When the PCL did a tribute jersey to that one, I had to get it! 

I'm pretty sure this might be the first PCL jersey offered to the 'outsiders' of the PCL

This design was inspired by an earlier one available mostly only to PCL racers.

Again, I cannot remember when I got each of these, or if I got two designs in the same year, or what. So, these are not in any sort of 'order'. Next up is maybe my favorite PCL jersey of all, the red version, which also was done in black. I happen to have both. But for some reason I think the black and red ones were different years. I say that because I have two red ones, and I cannot imagine myself popping for two red ones and a black one. 

I'm getting older. I don't remember everything!

Perhaps my favorite in my PCL collection are the two red PCL jerseys.

This is the black version of the red one above.

The PCL's Gravel Worlds celebrated ten years of gravelly goodness recently, and to honor that, they had a special ten year anniversary jersey made. Well, you know I had to get that one! NOTE: The guard on the sword handles are drop bar shift levers!

Here I am modeling the ten year anniversary Gravel Worlds jersey.
This season's two choices in designs were both so good I could not decide which one to get, so I just got both! I like the red one because of the pattern and the colors they chose, but orange! Yeah, it was going to be way too hard to decide between the two for me. Here they are....

The subtle fade in the red/black pattern was a surprise that I liked.

The orange one is stunning, in my opinion.

You can definitely see a theme with the PCL jerseys and I like that they keep a certain continuity to their yearly offerings. That said, they really do a nice job choosing themes and colors that make each one stand out and I don't seem to be getting bored with what they come out with! 

Also, I certainly do not have every year's designs. I did skip a few years here and there over time and some years had alternate designs I did not choose to acquire. There are a couple I wouldn't mind having, but hey! It isn't like I am lacking for PCL jerseys! 

You may wonder why I get these in the first place. Isn't this a club, or a team that I am not affiliated with? Fair question. So, here's my answer.....

Way back in about 2006, a bunch of Lincoln, Nebraska cyclists came to the second Trans Iowa and became big fans and supporters of the event. Of course, me being new to all of this gravel/endurance stuff, I didn't know anyone. I only found out later that this was a core bunch of the PCL that had come to support what I was doing. In fact, they became inspired to do something for a gravel event themselves, and when I heard about it, I was compelled to reciprocate. It didn't hurt that I was becoming friends with these people too. 

So, when the PCL put out a design for a jersey that anybody could get, I jumped at the chance. Over time, they have created a sort of "PCL diaspora". Adopted pirates of the gravel seas who, like them, just like to ride bikes on gravel. Pretty simple, really. And so I consider myself one of them as I ride displaying 'the colors' and I try to always "Ride Right" and not be a dick to others, because I am pretty sure those are the only bylaws of the PCL. I can dig it. So, I am all-in with that. 

Hope you enjoyed seeing my collection. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The B.O.G. Series: What Accessories You Should Consider

Repair tools are one accessory item you should consider.

 Welcome to the Basics of Gravel Series (B.O.G.)! In this series I will attempt to bring a very foundational knowledge of gravel and back road riding to anyone reading that may be curious or a beginner in riding off-pavement, but not wanting to be mountain biking. There will be a new entry every Wednesday until the series is complete. To see the schedule, click this LINK. Thanks! 

In today's article I want to touch upon a few things that you may want to have along for the ride on gravel, or in a rural area. There will be a lot of my regular readers that will have about twenty things to add to this list, but remember: This is geared toward the beginner/rookie to gravel. I'm keeping this very simple, very 'low-barrier', and as such, let's consider this a 'starter kit' that in time could be added to. So, these are bare essentials, to my way of thinking. 

So, breaking this down I have three simple categories: Food and Drink, Repair, and Fun/Useful Items. (Readers may quibble about my category names. Fine! Call it whatever you'd like. These names are functional) Okay, so as I see things, you need a way to be fueled, which we discussed previously, but you also need a way to carry the stuff. Let's take a look at that first. 

Example of a water bottle cage- a Velocity Bottle Trap in this instance.

Water is essential and the most traditional way to carry it is in a cycling style water bottle and a 'cage' to hold that bottle with. Your bicycle probably has one, hopefully two, and perhaps more water bottle bosses for this. If you have no mounts don't sweat it. You still have options. There are strap-on bottle cages from a couple of sources. But you also could go with a hydration pack, which could also carry other things as well, depending on what you get. 

Food is one of those 'other things' you could carry with a hydration pack, or you can go with a 'saddle bag' like this, or a top-tube mounted 'bento' style bag like this. Or, hey! Get both, and you'll have even more versatility. (And room for repair items!) The good thing about a decent set of bags is that you can move them from bike to bike, so they are something you can get years of use out of. 

Speaking of repair- You should invest in the tools to do your own flat tire repairs. There are complete "flat tire repair kits" available for bicycles, but you can piece one together as well. I am assuming tubed tires here, which is what most beginners will have. Okay? So, here's the short list of things to consider for your flat repair kit:

  1. Tire levers, like these
  2. A small pump, like this, or this, or this. Or you can do a CO2 type system, like this, but that is less environmentally friendly, so keep that in mind. 
  3. A rag to find foreign object with. 
  4. A spare tube, of course, in the size you require. 
  5. An air gauge, a pair of tweezers and a Sharpie (These are optional)

I'll explain #'s 3-5 next week, and how to use all of this kit. 

Additionally a well prepared cyclist will also carry some sort of multi-tool. There are about a million different kinds. A good, solid, simple one is good to get you started. Like this. You don't have to have a multi-tool, but it is going to end up in your bag if you keep at this at some point. Gravel and back road riding has a way of loosening up things you want tight. Like water bottle cages, so it is nice to be able to take care of that when necessary. 

I've used these locks for security and liked them.
Fun/Useful Things: Now there are some other things which can make your ride time a bit more enjoyable. many of these things cyclists will end up getting anyway, but keep in mind, you don't have to buy any of the following to ride on gravel. You just may want to add these items to make your riding more enjoyable and versatile. 

One thing a lot of folks like are cycling 'computers', which, when I think about that name, it is rather funny that we call these things 'computers'. Anyway, they can tell you how fast you are going, how fast you went at maximum, they can tell time, distances, and more. You can spend a little or a lot here. Basic computers are sub-50 bucks. Top-o-the-line Garmin GPS units can be hundreds of dollars. 

Cell phone holders are another product a lot of cyclists want, but be very careful here as gravel and back road riding can jar phones from many mounts meant for pavement riding. Make sure you are getting something that is very secure, or......just toss the phone in a bag. You could do without the distractions anyway, right? Just a thought.......

If you live in a wetter area, clip-on fenders or full-fenders are a great way to make it so you can keep riding without getting a 'skunk stripe', (the wet stripe up your backside from riding through a wet puddle or on a wet roadway)

A security system of some sort can be useful. If you have to stop at a convenience store, as an example, you may want to lock up your ride while you are inside. There are a ton of security locks out there, but I've used these before and they are easy to carry and use. It isn't the only option, so explore at your leisure.

I could go on, but those are some things that I feel are essentials. 

Next week: How To Repair A Flat Tire

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Back At Full Throttle

Next in Life Time Fitness' attempt at world gravel domination.
While many of us understand that things are beginning to look up in terms of the pandemic, some are running out there like it's over. The very news of the distribution of the vaccine may be at the root of it. (I got my second shot yesterday, by the way) One example of this could be seen by the slew of news and promotions coming on now concerning races and events. Apparently, we're done listening to experts and the 'race back to normal' is on full throttle, by this measure. Maybe it'll all be alright, maybe it will not be quite so great. Color me skeptical and perhaps overly-cautious.

You may have some strongly held opinions and beliefs concerning that, but it doesn't matter. Economics and people's desires to 'do the stuff' have been bottled up for too long and now the genie (the hope placed in the vaccine's help) is out of the bottle. There is no putting it back in, apparently. And in that vein, concerning gravel based events, an explosion of new events along with the traditional dates being announced have appeared as if from a fog to try to gain our attention. 

One of the big movers and shakers, pre-pandemic, was Life Time Fitness, who had been rumored to have a goal of six major gravel events spread across the calendar year. They started out by buying the DK200, which due to some turmoil ended up becoming the new event called the Unbound Gravel, which will run for the first time this June. Then they also had planned on another new event dubbed the Big Sugar NWA, to be held in Arkansas late in October. Life Time also acquired the Tushar in the Crushar, a July event. Now they have just announced a new event which they plan on having this year in Trinidad, Colorado, dubbed "The'Rad". 

Another announcement was made recently concerning the "Jingle Cross" gravel event, which started out as a ride, but now will become a full-on competitive event.  Now dubbed the Jingle Cross Gravel GX, it will happen on Saturday October 16th. Which is right in the heart of corn harvesting season. Hmm..... Hopefully that won't tic off the farming community! 

I also know of several smaller gravel events kicking off for the first time in 2021, like a new series I heard about in Washington, and a revival of a series in Oregon. So, there is a lot of new gravel activity happening out there. I suspect that there is a lot more I am not hearing about as well. 

Comments: "Corporate Gravel®" will be a big deal going forward. Curated event experiences will be packaged and sold as "adventure" for the masses which will all be scrambling to get out and do things now and going forward. Only a rise in COVID cases would stop this in its tracks, or perhaps rising travel costs, which we are starting to see as well. 

I like to see the smaller, local flavor events with a more 'homemade' atmosphere myself. Not having the rider's every need catered to allows for unique experiences, which cannot happen if more things are 'controlled'. Also, I'm not a huge fan of pre-packaged anything, so whatever these 'big time' events have in store doesn't really speak to me personally. So, I have a bit of a bias to overcome there. I admit that. But live and let live..... 

I will always call out crazy marketing claims though. And some of these bigger events have done some ridiculous marketing in the past. Some claiming to be "World Class events" before they had ever run the event a single time. It used to be that a person, or an event, had to earn that kind of respect. Now they claim it before they even run the event, or have only one or two runnings under their belt. I don't know about you, but that raises some red flags for me.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Country Views: Resistance Training

Escape Route: bike paths to the East.
 We have been experiencing quite the 'weather-whiplash' here of late. Earlier this last week it was 18°F in the morning and it never got above 40°F for the day. My son said he saw snow flakes during his track team's practice. Saturday? It was 75°F and Sunny. Weird weather! 

So, you know I was planning on getting out to ride Saturday, and that's exactly what I did. I even made it out of the door before 9:00am, leaving Guitar Ted Productions' headquarters at 8:30am. The ride would start out in the upper 40's and end up around 70 degrees before I got back. That always makes dressing for a long ride a challenge. But I figured a wool jersey, arm warmers, and a vest would make my choices variable enough that I could make it work. I also wore a pair of knickers over some bib shorts and long wool socks on my feet. The Giant MTB shoes I have are a bit too warm for Summer, but for Spring they are spot on. The bike was the Noble GX5 which I am using to test the WTB Proterra wheels for a review for RidingGravel.com

So, the route plan was South, West, then back home in a giant loop. The wind was supposed to be light- 7-8mph with gusts of 15mph out of the Southwest. That didn't sound too bad, so I made my way via the bike path network to Foulk Road and I planned on heading South first. 

Morning light strobing through the adjacent trees always makes seeing tough.

Four of these giant cottonwoods, all spaced evenly, stand vigil on the East side of Foulk Road near Washburn, Iowa.

Of course, once I hit Foulk Road I found out that the wind was raging. This was definitely not a mere breeze, as forecast. It was a full-on gale, and I was struggling against it on the flat opening plain of this section of my route. Also- fresh gravel. I mean, why wouldn't there be? So that made the going even harder. 

There was a bit of a respite as I went East on Eastman Road a mile.

I thought my eyes went buggy. The sky was a weird grey-blue Saturday.

I hopped over to Cotter Road and then I went as far South as Reinbeck Road and then back West. No quarter was given by the howling wind, nor by the copious amounts of fresh gravel on the roadway. At times the gravel was so deep and loose that the bike would pitch sideways as the stones rolled underneath of the tires. 

I'm not sure why, but I found it really hard to get my legs going. I felt sort of dead, and that further compounded my difficulties. While I try to always be very grateful for every opportunity to ride in the country, I must admit that the 'suck meter' was pegged at about this point in the ride. I made frequent stops to give my legs, heart, and lungs some relief. 

Lots of fresh gravel on Reinbeck Road. Here's a look at it from a spot I stopped to rest.

A nice, clear stream, a spur off of Miller Creek, which sang a babbling song to me as I rested.

I ended up stopping to make a plan to see if it were possible to tack into this nasty Southwestern gale. I came up with a good plan which netted me a turn about every mile or two. This would give my tired legs a break. 

I took this shot over my shoulder of a passing tractor. Note the dusty cloud getting blown away by the stiff winds.
A tractor waiting for its next assignment.

As my fate would have it, every Northbound section had cleared gravel, or was so smooth it was like pavement. Then I'd turn left into the wind and boom! More deep, fresh gravel, because, why not? I just kept on pedaling....

I've feared that our very dry weather would begin to break down the roads into dust. This is Hammond Avenue.

This farmer painted his house and garage a kind of purple. I salute his boldness!

As I plodded along, a strange thing started happening. I 'found my legs', as the saying goes. I was making decent headway, and what is more, the winds seemed to be relenting now as well. The big gusts were gone, but it wasn't like the wind went away. 

This lonely cement pillar was probably a survey marker for an old farm plot long gone now.

Ditch burning is a traditional activity during this transition to Spring. Note all the gravel flung into the ditch by snow plowing.

While my legs found new strength, by this time I was getting pretty tired from my earlier efforts. Talk about sore muscles! But I wasn't going to get home by whining about my legs. I kept on pushing and tacking the wind until eventually I ended up on Aker Road and the end of battling the wind was coming. 

A pile of dirt from a burrowing animal on the road, and a tractor doing field work.

I'm not 100% familiar with all of Iowa's burrowing creatures, but some are finding this breakdown of the roadways to their liking and are boring holes right into the road bed. Big piles of dirt, flung up from excavations, were seen here and there on my ride. I'm sure the County maintenance department will be having some complaints filed concerning these activities! 

I also spied my first tractor in a field for 2021. Kind of early, but with these unusually warm temperatures, I suppose the soil temperatures are following suit and farmers will be getting prepared for planting with a vengeance here. 

I finally made it home after almost four hours and about 35 miles of riding. Slow.....but really hard. The resistance to moving was high for much of that time I was out, so I burned some matches there! My legs were aching for quite a while after that effort.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: The Gathering

The memories of the end of T.I.v11 will be cherished for as long as I live.
"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 drive back to Grinnell was taking forever, as I recall. I suppose two-plus hours on Iowa two-lane roads in a truck alone isn't what anyone might call 'fun', so what's new, right? But I suppose it was compounded by MG and I sitting around all afternoon already. I was certainly ready for a change in scenery and some interaction with whomever might show up at Lonski's for the impromptu after-party for T.I.v11.  

I'll never forget walking into the place and hearing the cheers go up when the assembled riders saw me. I was heartened and encouraged, for sure. I was also very humbled and I was quite conscious of the fact that most of these riders had invested months and months of planning and training to only see it washed away in the first four hours of Trans Iowa. Had I been met with pitchforks and pikes instead I totally would have gotten it. But that wasn't the case. I was walking into a hero's welcome. It was, frankly, quite an unexpected and confounding experience for me. 

But no time for pondering the reasoning behind the obviously exuberant welcome. A chair was pointed to where I was to be sat, and rounds of whisky shots were ordered and sat before me. Toasts were made. Hearty proclamations and accolades were spoken. Then it was time to reflect a bit on the day's happenings. I was then able to have some meaningful conversation with several riders. I will always treasure that I had that opportunity. 

Here MG, (R) is having a word with 'Dr. Giggles' (center) while Ari Andonopoulous is obscured to the left here.

Typically I might have a quick word or two with riders as they attended the Pre-Race Meat-Up. Maybe 30 seconds of 'how ya been doin'' type chit-chat. I may even have had a five to ten minute chat with a few of the riders at the end- if they finished- and that would be it. People disappeared and went home. There were few 'good-byes' at any Trans Iowa. Most people that attended Trans Iowa were like ghosts to me. They appeared out of nowhere and faded back into the mists of time. But this gathering was different in that respect. 

Gerald Heib speaking with me with MG standing to the left . Image by A. Andonopoulous

 I was most satisfied with the fact that I was able to sit down and share a beer with the two riders that came from Germany, Gerald Heib and Ralf Stormer. They had been to Trans Iowa v10 as well, so having made two cross-Atlantic trips just to come to Trans Iowa? I was and always will be floored by that, as well as the commitments made by a few others from the U.K. who also made the leap over 'The Pond' to attend this event. But at this point, getting to know Ralf and Gerald a tiny bit was just so amazing for me. I am forever grateful for that chance. 

Of course, there was a duty to perform as well. I had to hand out tires. I had cases of WTB gravel tires and I remember walking through the restaurant handing out pairs to every Trans Iowa participant that I could find. There were other Trans Iowa riders at Lonski's not seated at the table I was at. They were either sitting in smaller groups or having dinner with support people. Among those were Tim Ek and Amy, his partner in life. Tim kept saying this thing to me. Everytime I passed his booth, he'd reach out and stop me and say the same thing.....

 "Trans Iowa is bigger than you. Don't forget that."

I guess I never really quite understood the urgency with which Tim made that statement. Maybe he was sensitive to the feeling I had that v11 was a failure of sorts. I suppose he could have been trying to impart to me that I should never think that Trans Iowa was centered on me, that it was a 'thing', a movement, a spirit, that no one person embodied.  And maybe I found it odd because that was what I always had thought about the event. Or maybe I just never really understood what he meant by that. I can't be sure. It was the last time I ever spoke with Tim. I just recall that being a very odd statement and it has always stuck with me ever since. 

As with all things in this Life that end, our time at Lonski's also had to end. I remember stepping outside with my brother in Life, my good friend, MG, who only a few years earlier was at odds with me at the end of another Trans Iowa. We looked into each others eyes, knowing without words that we had both just walked out of a once in a lifetime experience. The smiles were all it took to convey our deeply felt feelings about that evening. With a few words, we parted ways, and I climbed back into that truck of mine one last time to make one last trip for Trans Iowa v11. The long, lonely trip back home. 

The event was a failure. The event was a rousing success never to be repeated. That's how it often is with things. It all depends upon your perspective. I doubt that anyone there at Lonski's that evening would have traded that day for anything. I know I wouldn't have. But there were people who called me, and Trans Iowa, out for being a waste of people's time. I should have cancelled, postponed, or made a way for all those people's time and energies that had been invested to have paid off somehow. The 'somehow' being a traditional finish of the event, obviously. But those people did not understand Trans Iowa at all. I knew that. So, I didn't pay much attention to those voices, but they were loud, and they were out there. 

(L-R) Keisuke Inoue, Mike Baggio, Ralf Stormer. Image by A. Andonopoulous

 I did have motivation though. Not to change Trans Iowa, but to allow for another chance by putting on another one. Looking back, Trans Iowa v11 was the last Trans Iowa to be truncated. I'd had four years previous where Trans Iowa had run it's full length and time. Only v2, v4, v6, and v11 were shortened. You'll have that in Spring in Iowa. Looking back, it was all good. In fact, people often said to me that it wasn't a 'real Trans Iowa' unless it had been a shortened one, or if the weather wasn't gnarly. So, the people that came expected a certain experience. If they didn't get it, they were, in an odd way, somewhat put out. The next Trans Iowa after v11 being a perfect example of this. 

Greg Gleason became something of a folk hero after this event. The fact that no one but him made the first checkpoint was a story that many found amazing. It was, in fact, very amazing. But in the end, it was a doomed effort. No one finished T.I.v11. One of only two times that ever happened. Some say Greg 'won' the event, (including Greg), and even my results page on the Trans Iowa History site says "we declared him "the winner"", because we wanted to honor his efforts, but officially? No. It was a no-finisher year. 

But while that seems dour, things have a way of balancing out. Trans Iowa would find a balancing out the following year. A BIG balancing out. 

NOTE: A special "Thank You" to Trans Iowa vet and Slender Fungus member, Ari Andonopoulous for sharing the two color images in this post with me which I had never seen until March of 2021. 

Next: It's About The People: Part 2

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Missing It Again

From the Renegade Gent's Race 2011
 Maybe Facebook is good for some things. Things like jolting your memory with reminders of things you posted years ago. Such was the case the other day when a reminder of the Renegade Gent's Race popped up.

I was pretty pumped last year in January thinking that I'd be partaking in my tenth Renegade Gent's event in a row. But, ya know....... No need to remind anyone why that didn't happen, right? Of course, there was the thought that maybe the pandemic would ease off in the Fall and, ya know, we'd get the band back together then. Well, yeah...... Now it is 2021 and we've still to get around to that bit just yet.

There is chatter that the "Gents" will happen in June this year, and maybe it will. I don't know what is going to happen, but I told one of my "Careless Whispers" teammates that if it does, count me in. So, maybe we'll have a bit of a reunion then. It will be odd not to be doing this in April, but we'll see. No matter what, it won't quite be the same anyway. 

Why? Because June weather will be totally different. Why? Because of COVID-19 precautions. Why? Because my team is changed. Things are different now. Does that mean it is going to be a bad time, or "less than good"? No, no it doesn't. It just means it won't be the same anymore. It may end up being even better than before, or not, but one thing I know is that it will not be the same. 

We have this thing called 'nostalgia'. The familiar, the comfortable, and the 'known' are all things that make us want for the 'old times'. But if the Gent's thing does happen, I will go and it will be a thing I have no idea about. I will have (probably) two new teammates due to circumstances of the time. I will have a completely new weather experience, and with COVID protocols in place, I don't know that the situation I once knew will happen. In fact, I know it won't. 

But that's all good. New isn't necessarily 'bad', it's just most definitely 'different', and maybe uncomfortable. I don't have to make that a 'worse than' situation, but I should make that an opportunity, just like the first Gent's race was an opportunity. I mean, talk about your chances for things to suck! A new event, three people I needed to work with that I had never met before, and an area I had never ridden in before. It all could have gone completely pear shaped, and before it happened? I was anxious, nervous, and afraid. 

Team captain, Steve Fuller,won't be able to attend in '21.

I was really nervous about that first Gent's event. "Would these guys like me? Would I be treated as the 'outsider'? Because on my team, I was the only one not from the Des Moines cycling community, and I figured that humans being what they are, cliques and friendships may find me on the outside looking in. Much like it was when I went to visit in Minneapolis. 

But nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, quite the opposite happened. I was taken in and treated as an equal, and more than that, friendships were formed that last until this day. I had no reason to believe that would happen before the event. It was going to be a HUGE change for me. But I am so glad I was able to break through that wall of fear that could have kept me from experiencing almost a decade of awesome times. 

The memories of the Renegade Gent's Race will always be something I cherish the rest of my life. If I can add to those in a way that is meaningful? Why not? Yes, things have changed. It never will be like the old times, but then again- it shouldn't be. Why not get a bit uncomfortable, charge into a new-ish situation, and see if there might be something there that can make me grow? 

So, again- maybe it won't happen,but if it does, I am already willing and able to accept a new deal. A new situation that may be great in its own way and that may give me things I never dreamed I'd gain in life. It will be fun if I let it be fun. I have a big say in the outcome, I realize that. I'll be making sure that I take the opportunity seriously if it happens. 

And if I never ride another Renegade Gent's Race again? I'm good with that. I will never be bitter about that possibility. I have already made so many great memories that it cannot be measured in value. Friendships were made. Experiences shared. Things I am not very proud of and things I am extremely proud of are parts of those memories. The Gent's Race will always be a highlight of my life. The possibility of adding to that? I'll take the chances......

Friday, April 02, 2021

Friday News And Views

New Riding Gravel stickers are in.
 Riding Gravel Apparel & Stickers Are In:

Thanks to Bike Rags the newest editions of Riding Gravel t-shirts and the new stickers are in. We kept things simple and brought back a classic design this time. 

First up, Ben, my partner in RidingGravel.com brought up a tagline and posted it with one of our Riding Gravel Radio Ranch podcast postings. He came up with "Fun On The Rocks" and it was something that just struck a chord with me. I like that it points to this type of cycling as being a good time, not just gnarly adventure, racing, or suffer-fest nonsense. Not that those things cannot be a part of the gravel riding scene, or that they shouldn't be, but that is not the main attraction here. "Fun" is. 

Bike Rags did all the printing and sourcing of the shirts. They did a great job. For shirts we have an ash grey colored "Addicted To Gravel" shirt featuring that phrase in a clearly read black font. Next up we decided to bring back a classic shirt from 2013-14. It is a dark grey shirt wth white printing showing an old time high-wheeler bike with the saying "Riding Stones Shaking Bones" above and below the cyclists in old Western style font. 

Bike Rags is also the sponsor of the Riding Gravel Radio Ranch which just posted another episode which you can get the link to here. Fancy yourself a t shirt, or just want to check them out? See this link. Every order gets a free sticker too. Thanks!

March went out like a lion, I rode my Trek commuter bike anyway.

Townie Update:

That old Trek I featured here earlier in the year is getting out and getting used again. I thought some of you might be interested in how it has been going so far. 

My main concern was the seated position which put me a bit further out over the front end than I typically like. I do have a silver set-back seat post I want to install in the bike but I haven't gotten around to that yet. I am not in too big of a hurry to get that done, obviously!

Secondly, I was a bit concerned that this frame would flex, or that the quick release skewer would be too weak to hold the wheel straight under heavier pedaling, and the tire would rub on the chain stay. But so far? Nothing to report there. In fact, this frame does ride a bit stiffer than I would have imagined that it would have. It isn't all that smooth, to be honest. I was a bit surprised by that revelation.

I also do not like how the handle bars want to slam to one side or the other when I get off the bike, or if I try to push the bike without having a hand on the bars. Something is a bit off in the front geometry of this rig. Of course, all that forged stem weight and the additional weight from the bottle cages, sitting where that does, affects this trait negatively as well. It's not a 'deal killer' but it is really annoying at times.

But the bike does what I need it to. I get errands done on it and save wear, tear, and gas on the truck. I get exercise instead of no exercise while driving.  I get to dodge car traffic and wonder if 'that guy is going to pull out or.......?' (Of course, the same thing happens when I drive, so- no difference!) So, that's how it's been going with the old Trek. The bike doesn't carry much, so that's a bit problematic. I need to drag that old Schwinn with the rack and panniers out and get that going again. It is pretty much a 'pump the tires up and go' job but for one small detail- I have to recondition the old Brooks saddle on it. Once I get that squared away, I'm good to go. Then I'd be all set as far as cargo rigs and townies. 

Lezyne Gravel Floor Drive

Yes- Gravel Specific Pumps: 

If it is for bicycles and if it can be marketed it probably has an option which is 'Gravel® Specific'. It's weird, I know....... I wish it would stop as well, but trying to market to folks using 'gravel bikes' makes it harder to call this 'just a pump' which would be great for your gravel tires when you can sum that all up by saying "This is a gravel specific pump". (sigh!)

So, we get all this goofy 'gravel specific' this and that thrown at us to consider. The latest groan-inspiring marketing play came last week when I got information regarding Lezyne's new range of floor pumps for gravel. Now, maybe it is wrong, or maybe it is not, but most companies sending me stuff like this? I delete it. Garbage time. But I know Lezyne has quality pumps and so, I opened the email. 

Okay, here's the deal: I have floor pumps. Multiple floor pumps, but I have specific jobs for each. My basement/shop pump is an old, almost dead, Bontrager Charger pump. My 'upstairs' pump for years has been a Topeak Joe Blow. Both of those pumps are really aging out fast. I use them a LOT, and so, no surprises there. I've gotten my money's worth out of both of them. 

I have one other pump. A review item which Silca did not want back, which I have been using consistently since it arrived here. That's probably going to take over the 'upstairs' duties completely. The old Joe Blow will retire to the basement and I'll use that as a back-up pump to.......

What I hope to be getting in for a review is one of those Lezyne gravel specific pumps. I have had good luck with their stuff and I still have a Mini-Drive pump I bought something like 14 years ago that I rely on as an emergency pump in one of my top-tube bags. It should be said that that old Lezyne pump has saved the day on many an occasion since I've had it. For myself and others. 

So while the whole "Gravel®" thing gets long in the tooth, I do think that many products actually do deserve some of our attention. Perhaps if we can put aside our collective distaste for how a product is marketed and look at what things actually are- in this case, a decent floor pump - maybe then we'd find some worthwhile aids to our cycling experience. That's what I'm hoping to find here, anyway.

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

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Then vs Now: How "Gravel" Bikes Have Changed

In 2005, a new era in cycling got started. What were the bikes like?
 So, you long time readers know that sometimes when you comment, you put an idea in my head and I have to let it out, right? Well, you should know that. It's a thing. So, today I am posting from the inspiration of a comment left Tuesday on the blog here. The subject? What were the bikes like in 2005 for gravel versus the last year I did a Trans Iowa, in 2018. What was the equipment like? 

This post attempts to answer that question. 

I started this by mentioning in Tuesday's post that there weren't any gravel bikes in 2005 when we started Trans Iowa. In fact, there weren't any 'gravel bikes' at Trans Iowa, or anywhere, until about 2009 when Salsa Cycles sent Joe Meiser out to T.I. with a titanium LaCruz, which they said was a 'cyclo cross bike', (wink-wink), but we all know where that went eventually. So anyway.....what bikes were being used?!

The big 'cyclo cross vs MTB' debate for T.I.v1 eventually was won by the cyclo cross crowd. We never saw the sheer numbers of mountain bikes at Trans Iowa after v2, but mountain bikes continued to be used quite a bit up through the years. It probably wasn't until about Trans Iowa v8 when seeing a mountain bike line up for Trans Iowa was considered 'weird'. 

Jeff Kerkove (R) leads a gaggle of riders into a town during Trans Iowa v1.

Here in the image above you can see that the vast majority of bikes in the event were mountain bikes, since this image is fairly representative of the 50-ish rider field that day. Keep in mind that this may have been due to a few factors. 

  1. "Gravel®" wasn't a 'thing' yet. This was billed as a mountain bike event.
  2. Drop bar bikes suitable for gravel travel were rare. Road bikes were really not a good idea.
  3. Cyclo Cross bikes were rare. 
  4. Randonnuer bikes were even rarer. 

The amount of front suspension shown in the image above may be the most of any Trans Iowa even with the number of other front suspension forks in the other 13 events combined. And of course, there were other front suspended bikes at Trans Iowa v1 too. 

The other thing of note here is the number of riders using hydration packs. That was really about the only way you could get more than two water bottles' worth of water along for the ride. "Adventure Warts®" weren't a thing yet, so you did not have the capability to mount more water bottle cages by way of using braze-ons. 

Another notable thing- clothing. You can see Jeff's sponsored kit which is more indicative of later Trans Iowa looks, and toward the back of this group you see the more bulky, flapping-in-the-wind kind of get up that became more rare as the years went by. Riders realized that wind resistance over the period of a day's riding was something to contend with. 

What was old is new again? Or something like that..... A bike from T.I.v2 (Image by Jeff Kerkove)

Now once Trans Iowa v1 happened and the blogs and internet forums had had the time to digest what had happened, there was a big seismic shift in what a bike should be like for riding on gravel for long distances. Given what was available in 2005-2006, riders were often forced to get creative. 

The bike image above is pretty forward looking in many ways. Much of what you see there are ideas borrowed from the past and some ideas are new. I'm going to detail out what I see here and show how riders were really on to what would make gravel riding and 'bike packing' popular activities some ten to fifteen years later. 

  • The Bike: I've often said that the Surly Cross Check was the gravel bike of the early gravel scene. Here we see how it could make a perfect platform for any rider's desires. While it had its flaws, it was the cheapest, easiest to get, most modifiable, versatile platform for gravel riding available at the time. It was steel, pretty much indestructible, and reasonably light. Also of note- The drive train, being a single speed, is a traditional choice for gravel travel, and was popular from day one until the end of Trans Iowa.
  • Water Bottle Mounts: It is pretty much a standard issue feature on gravel bikes to have multiple water bottle mounts. Even having three sets of mounts is somewhat too few now days. Back then? You had to improvise like this fellow had done. Note the "Wolf Tooth-like" double bottle mount up high on the down tube.
  • Bags: Frame bags are no big deal in 2021. But in 2006? That top tube bag may seem a bit.....dumpy looking, but it took advantage of a space and made it useful for carrying stuff. The giant rear seat pack on a mini-rack is something that has a modern day equivalent in the Tailfin Rack and Bag system. Handlebar bags are not my jam, not traditional ones, but these made appearances in Trans Iowa throughout the years. 
  • Miscellaneous: Note the hydration bladder tube protruding from the handle bar bag.(Wait..... Now that I look closer that tube is actually coming out of the top tube bag!) This trick was one quickly adopted by riders to get weight off their backs and onto the bike. While hydration packs continued to be used up through T.I.v14, their numbers were very low by 2018. Fenders were seen as 'dorky' back in 2005/06, but various solutions ended up becoming refined and as companies paid attention, these clip-on fenders eventually became very useful and are now seen as a normal part of wet weather gravel travel.
Greg Gleason's bike here from T.I.v11 is pretty indicative of a "go-fast", long haul set up.

By the time we get into the mid 2010's the whole idea of a 'gravel bike' is well established and almost anything you can think of is 'gravel specific' if you want it to be. Materials technologies have advanced and drive train spec is amazing now. That said, there are some things that- while evolved- are fairly similar to that bike we see above from 2006. 

I chose Greg Gleason's bike from his T.I.v11 effort because (a) it is a great shot of just a bike, and (b) it is kitted out well and very representative of a set up for a long-haul ride in any event these days. So with that, I will comment as above....

The Bike: Carbon fiber, room for big tires and mud, and designed for riding unpaved roads. TOTALLY different deal now. We've got plenty of mounts, but typically 'the fast folks' don't use a lot of the bottle mounts like you'd think, plus some still use hydration packs. (Easier to sip while riding versus pulling a bottle and replacing it) Electronic shifting. Just amazing how that works, and of course, everything is optimized for light weight now and a tip of the hat to rider comfort. This is far more advanced than any steel framed cyclo cross rig. Or so one would think, until you realize that in Trans Iowa v12 Greg won on a bike like this and shared the honor with Walter Zitz who was riding a ........wait for it........A Surly Cross Check!! So much for modern technology!

Mounts: Yes, we have lots of water bottle mounts, but honestly, not a lot of the Trans Iowa racers ever availed themselves of those, especially the fork mounted bottles. Not sure why that is, because early on, in T.I.v1, Brian Hannnon showed up on a Redline cross bike with water bottle cages hose clamped to each fork leg and we thought he was a genius. 

Bags: So as you can see, Greg did not use an under-the- top tube bag, but many still do that. Otherwise he has it all nailed here with a big seat rail mounted bike packing style seat pack, the feed bags on the bars replacing the big, bulky, non-aero handle bar bag, and a sleek looking top tube tank. 

Miscellaneous: One thing Greg used here that folks have used since 2005 is aero bars. I know- I know! Controversial and all, but these extensions have been part of gravel grinding since the get-go. One piece that is missing here is the rack idea, but that bike packing style, 'rackless' bag is a big deal and basically does the same thing without the added weight and complexity of a rack in the traditional sense. I did note the fenders Greg used here, which also hearkens back to the beginnings. 

Final Thoughts: This all said, there are still experimental set ups, thinkerers, and tinkerers in the gravel scene. You'll see all manner of set ups at gravel events, which is part of the scene's charm. A lot of this is getting choked back by the "Marketing Machine" and the "Media" who are trotting out the "This Is How You Do It" articles, advertising, posts, and the like. To some degree, Greg's bike above represents that look. Racy, carbon this-and-that, minimalist, and expensive. It's certainly one way to do things, but it maybe is not representative of what most folks should be doing, or want to be doing. Not that I'm going to tell you 'what it is that they should be doing', because I like being surprised and unfortunately, too many people want to "follow the leader", so I don't want to drive things any certain way. I have what I think works, but that maybe is just for me. 

In a healthy scene, the "set ups" vary depending on where you live, what rides you want to do, and how you like events, or not. Letting everyone dictate to you what is "best" leads to homogenization and the next thing ya know everyone is on some racy carbon rocket ship that is not the best bike for them. Basically "Lance Era v2". Of course, this means you have to actually think through a lot of stuff, try a lot of things, and do the work. It is not easy. But it is very rewarding. 

But I digress.... This is what I saw, and see today, as the fly-over view of how things started and where they are now in terms of hardware for the gravel travel scene. Got any more questions? Topic ideas? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!