Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Country Views: Riding Into Fall

Escape Route: Bike Path: University Avenue
 Tuesday I had some time to myself in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day, with hardly any clouds, low humidity, and a stiff Northwesterly breeze. I decided on a three hour ride to the North of Waterloo via some alleys, bike paths, urban Level B, and single track. Not necessarily all in that order. 

I was needing to test some tires, so that was part of the reason for the route I chose, but also, it is a good route when the winds are out of the Northwest. I go West mostly under the cover of woods and urban buildings, so there isn't much open headwind that way. Plus, it takes in part of my old commute to Andy's Bike Shop, which I miss riding.Then a lot of the North bit is sheltered as well, which is nice. 

Along the Cedar River. The sunflowers are numerous and about 7-8 feet high this year!

These abandoned mixer bodies remind us that at one time Lower Hartman Reserve was a sand and gravel quarry.

I veered off to take in Shirey Way and a bit of twisty, turny single track through Lower Hartman reserve which I helped put in years ago. Hardly anyone knows that around here but me, but it is true. It used to be called "John's Trail" when it was new. I have no idea what the folks who came in afterward decided to name it. 

North looking up Leversee Road.

 Looking East down Bennington Road 

After some urban street scrambling and bike path action North of Cedar Falls, I emerged on a blacktop road which took me to another, major County blacktop and I turned East out of the wind. Major relief! Then a mile north on what used to be gravel, but they ruined that and put down chip seal. Bah! 

Eventually I got up North on Leversee Road to Bennington Road's Eastern side. I don't care who you are, East Bennington Road is one of the most beautiful sights looking East that I know of in Black Hawk County. 

A SUV stirs up dust going North On Streeter Road

The prairie sunflowers dominate the landscape this time of year.

Going East was nice. However; the county maintainers have visited Bennington Road and the gravel was deep and thick. This made for some laborious riding, but I managed. At least the recent rains have settled the dust to a great extent and even though it was windy, I saw no evidence of the usual 'dust drifting' which you can often see on gravel when it is windy out there in the country. 

A "Wooly-Bear" seen on Moline Road. This one says, "Bad Winter!" But.....

....this one seen less than five feet from the other seems to say "Huh? What Winter?"

Wooly bears are out now. I learned from Dave Pryor when we rode together recently that the bigger the orange stripe, the better Winter is supposed to be. Well, I saw four Wooly Bears on this ride and two were completely black and two were completely orange. 

Not sure what that means! 

Fall is definitely working in now, whatever the Wooly-Bears might be trying to tell us. The Sun sets early now, and the corn is beginning to dry down. I was a bit saddened over the last week. There were so many things I wanted to accomplish over Summer that I never even got started on. Rides planned and not done. Time out in the country not taken. But maybe that's the "american" coming out in me. I am not what I have accomplished. That doesn't fulfill me. 

I should be happy I got out at all. That I can ride is something I am privileged to be able to do both physically and from an economic standpoint. Some folks cannot do what I do at all for various reasons. That I didn't get to go nuts and ride until I passed out and then be upset about that is crazy. I need to learn to be satisfied with what I am, where I am, with what I have been given. That should be sufficient. It's more than I really need, to be honest. 

I need to relax about my ambitions sometimes. Other times I waste time and that gets on my nerves too. But Life is a balancing act. We aren't always going to get that balance right. And that's okay. 

I got a three hour ride in. I was satisfied and blessed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Tire Tools: Odds And Ends

 Last week I wrote a post on tire levers (HERE) and in that post I mentioned I would be back with some ideas for other good tools that you might want to consider for your home shop. I have two things which are related and one sort-of tire lever addition that also does another task you may be needing a good tool to do. 

These tools are a must-have for tubeless tire installation.

"Tire-Jack" Tools - These are a must-have for tight fitting tires like tubeless tires if you are not familiar with tire installation, have delicate or weaker hands, or if you just want to make life easier. These have been a little known secret of shop mechanics until recently when tubeless tires gained popularity and other manufacturers/brands got into the game. 

The one on the left is probably best known as a "Kool Stop Tire Jack", although mine is branded something else. The Kool Stop one is nearly identical to this. The premise is that you have one bead of the tire up and over the rim in the inner rim well. Now you are down to that last 4-5 inches of tire that you need to get set into the rim, but things are getting pretty tight and hard to do at this point. That's when you take this tool and place the non-hinged, straight end against the rim edge on the other side of the tire- where it is seated into the rim already- and the "hook" end, which is hinged, has a lip on the end which you place under the edge (bead) of the tire you are trying to "jack over" the rim edge. 

The operation is intuitive once you get the tool placed correctly. Anyway, this was pretty much the only choice for decades until others like the Challenge tool on the right showed up. That tool is ergonomically better, has a better leverage over the tire, and the "hook" end grabs better without slipping off easily. It is also spring loaded which helps with the operation of the tool in one hand. 

The basic "Kool Stop" version is about 13-14 bucks. The Challenge "Smart Bead" version is about 16 bucks. I highly recommend spending the extra for the Challenge tool, or a similarly designed one.  

The Topeak Power Lever X

The next tool is really a few things in one. It is the Topeak Power Lever X tool. I'm focusing on the tire lever bit here, but this might be a great tool for the touring cyclist, bikepacker, (aren't those the same person?) , and any adventurer. 

This lever set also will install or remove a chain quick-link and it can remove a Presta valve core. The tool comes with a clip to harness the chain and provide some slack to ease the installation of a quick-link and has a storage spot for a spare quick-link. So, it goes beyond just being a cool tire lever set. 

I like the extra length for leverage, the stiff steel core, and the wide, angled bead lip here. Cons are that these are a little heavy, and you still would need a chain tool in certain instances to repair a chain in the field.Of course, if you don't need a lever set with the other functions it is a non-starter for you. But I'd be fine packing this lever set for long gravel rides on a bike with tubeless tires. You know- just in case a tire failed to seal. But then again- how often does that happen to you? Risk versus reward. That answer will be different for everybody. I like the idea because it has other functions than being a tire lever set. In fact, wouldn't this thing make a great mud-scraper tool in wet weather?

The price isn't bad for what this can do at 15 bucks or so. Also, I have reviewed this tool before on Riding Gravel and am doing a more in-depth look at it again there. So, the Standard Disclaimer applies here, and for that Challenge Smart Bead tool as that was provided to me by Challenge Tires.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Thoughts On The Gravel Family

Dave Pryor, GT (L) and a reflection of N.Y. Roll Image by Dave Pryor.
I posted that "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch" episode with Dave Pryor the other day, (here) and as I was re-listening to it, I was reminded of how Dave interpreted the term "gravel family". Now, I know a lot of you out there may roll your eyes at the sight or sound of that term, but if you listen closely to what Dave Pryor is saying there, I think you'd come away with a deeper understanding of that term, and an appreciation for what it stands for.

It can be shrugged off as merely marketing, or a goofy construct of gravel riders, say like the term "Spirit of Gravel", which has been bastardized to the point that it is now a term of mockery for the gravel riding enthusiasts. However; in the podcast episode linked there, if you listen to it, I think this whole idea of "the gravel family" and what that looks like up against what has been traditional bicycle racing, will become apparent. Much of what is happening now in the upper echelons of gravel racing will make more sense. 

I really appreciated Dave's viewpoint where he says that there are "different religions" and when you marry into a family with a different "religion" than your traditional family's that the sense is that you start to have a different viewpoint. This becomes apparent with regard to the gravel scene when we start looking at inclusion, representation, and equity. These are also terms which many roll their eyes when they see or hear them, but if you take a closer look at the gravel scene, it actually means something. 

I think this term, "gravel family" also helps us identify ourselves a bit differently. We are not 'just cyclists', or "racers", or part of a "tribe". If we consider ourselves part of this dusty, dirty fellowship of humans, then we see more similarities and we celebrate our differences, not drawing lines and separating ourselves into factions. We know that parts of our family are challenging, perhaps even distasteful, but hey! We love them crazy outliers as much as we do our close friends because we all stand together. Apart we will fail. 

Dave mentioned that we have a participatory activity in the gravel cycling scene. We all can come together and do this thing. We need to be together and enjoying each other's company and the gravel scene, I think, has done more of that than anything I know of. 

And the World could use a little more of that.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The GTDRI Stories: Getting The Word Out

Start area of the inaugural DK200. Image by Paul Jacobson.
 "The GTDRI Stories" is a series telling the history, untold tales, and showing the sights from the run of Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitationals. This series will run on Sundays. Thanks for reading!

When I went down to Emporia, Kansas for the first DK200 in 2006, it was the first time I had lined up for a bicycle event since early 1997. The XC MTB thing didn't make any sense to me at the time because I was paying nearly $50.00 bucks to ride an hour and spend six hours in a car to get to and from the venue. The DK200? That was merely $40.00, (if I recall correctly) and I got to spend the entire day riding, and longer, if I wanted to. Plus, it was on a course that hardly anyone riding knew anything about. What would we see? What surprises lay in store for those who would take the start? 

I loved the feeling of adventure and discovery. It was akin to something I felt at a venue near Morrison, Illinois when we did those XC MTB events. The RD of the Morrison series would develop these insane courses that were borderline adventure race territory. Having to ford creeks, walk up and down steep ravines, and cross irrigation channels on "I" beams of steel laid flat on their sides. It was nuts, and when you finished, you didn't care what place you got. It was just something to actually make it through the course. What would that madman have in store next time we went down? It was exciting, and the earliest gravel events were just like that. 

P Avenue in Tama County South of Traer, Iowa. Image 2006 from GTDRI recon.

I came back from that first DK200 with a greater appetite for adventure on gravel. The "death ride" idea was brought up and Jeff Kerkove, who at that time was still working alongside me as a bicycle mechanic, kept egging me on to put out the idea as an event. I hesitated but to no avail, and I had such an enthusiasm for such pursuits that Jeff ended up just creating a blog under my account for the ride. 

After that it was pretty much just a given that I would announce this. Of course, times were different then. Many of us that were early into the gravel scene were either regular readers of cycling blogs, or they were a gravel cyclist who maintained a blog. I'd wager a bet and say that 2006-2007 was the height of this blogging activity, at least on the cycling side, and there were so many cycling blogs it was ridiculous. 

This was important because most folks had about a half a dozen blogs they followed via an "RSS feed" or that they just checked on. This meant that anything you wanted to proclaim made the rounds in that community in a hurry. I recall that I had several blogs I checked in on and I let slip in a comment on Paul Jacobson's cycling blog that I was doing a 'death ride' gravel grinder thing. Well, that was all it took to spark the fire. 

The first header on the 2006 GTDRI blog that Jeff Kerkove created for me.

So, there was already a site, I let the word slip, and next thing you know people are commenting on my blog to the effect that I was putting on a Summertime event. Keep in mind, there were like two, maybe three events promoted as gravel events in 2006. Initially I had chosen a date in June, but I found out in a hurry from the endurance MTB riders that the date I picked was in conflict with the 24 Hour Nationals in Wisconsin. They wanted me to reschedule it to a date that would work for them.

So, on June 12th, 2006, I announced the first "Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational". It was scheduled to occur on August 19th, a Saturday, and it would be "Sunup to Sundown". I was going for a ride of about 150 miles. If you wanted to come, you could.....

Next: Just What Is This?

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Guitar Ted Productions Podcast

 Announcing the new 'Guitar Ted Productions Podacst" now on I'm going to be sharing news, things I am up to, details regarding Trans Iowa, the Guitar Ted Death ride Invitational, and the "series" on this blog related to that.

I'll also be posting Riding Gravel radio ranch stuff there as well. You can listen to the latest one of those HERE which features Dave Pryor of the unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley.  OR listen by licking the link below right here.


Muluk Maintenance: Part 2

New bottom bracket, chain ring, and chain installed.
A couple of weeks back I mentioned that the Ti Muk 2 was up for some work. I decided that since the Ti Muk is priority #1 for Fall/Winter commuting/errands/just riding, that I'd better make the funds available to repair it. That I did, and so I was able to scrape up enough funds on my own to purchase a new Race Face bottom bracket, a Race Face 32T 'narrow-wide' chain ring, and I found a new chain in my stash to complete that part of the job. 

This left the annual Rohloff servicing to be done. I had a Rohloff Oil Service kit on order from Waterloo Bicycle Works since March. (Thanks supply chain issues!) and what do you know?! Earlier this week it showed up. So, more money scraped up, more maintenance to do.

Since Rohloff hubs are kind of rare 'in the wild', I figured I'd share a bit on the oil service for this hub. I won't do a break down in images and text to guide you on a servicing of a Rohloff Speed Hub, but I'll give you the gist of it and how it helps the hub life and operation.

The Rohloff's drain plug is shown here in the center of the hub.

First off, many don't know what this is at all, so a brief introduction. The Rohloff Speed Hub is an internally geared hub meant to replicate the gearing range of a mountain bike. Inside the hub shell is an array of 'planet' and 'sun' gears which are shifted in such a way that you get 14 "gears", or gearing choices, to use. The range goes from really low to moderately high, and this will be dependent upon your chain ring and rear cog choices as far as where that range falls. 

So, for instance, if I were using this on a touring bike, I might go for a larger chain ring and smaller rear cog to move the gearing range toward the speedier end. Conversely, my set up has the Rohloff's range shifted into the lower speed stuff, which makes sense for a fat bike. That said, I have a gear to cruise at 12mph-15mph easily, which is good on fat bike. The lower gears can move me and this bike through 6" of fresh snow, deep mud, or scale steep dike walls with ease. So, for my needs, this range is awesome. But again- if I were using this on a strictly pavement bike the chain ring and rear cog would be different. 

Why spend the money on a system like this? Well, for me, it is because of Winter and the snow, slush, and chemical road treatments used here which destroy derailleur drive trains and make them work poorly in a hurry. Exposed cable bikes are even worse here. The Rohloff is unaffected by this. The chain, being a single speed set up, is up and out of the way of the slop, and therefore it lasts longer, plus being a single speed outwardly, that chain can be a heavier, more durable chain anyway. The only maintenance I have to do regularly is this oil change which is required once a year, or at every 5000Km/3,106 miles. This is to insure that the hub has the required 25ml of oil in it and that this oil is not contaminated or dirty. 

The Rohloff Speed Hub Oil Maintenance Kit.

So, for about 30 bucks a year and about an hour of my time, I can keep the Rohloff happy and full of oil. The kit I have used now three times has a bottle of cleaning fluid, a bottle of the special oil, a new grub screw with thread treatment for the drain hole, a plastic syringe and hose, and instructions. 

The first step is to introduce the cleaning oil and spin the cranks, shifting through all the gears and especially between 3 ad 5 for about five minutes or so. Then you drain out that fluid into the syringe and discard that properly. Re-introduce new oil into the hub, screw in the new drain plug, and that's pretty much the overview on servicing the Rohloff Speed Hub. 

The instructions say that if the thread treatment looks okay on the old drain grub screw, that you can reuse it, but I never do. I suspect that the treatment is an oil resistant one that seals that grub screw because I've never had oil leak from there. 

The old oil mixed with the cleaner oil.

I made a mistake when I did my first oil change procedure on this hub and I did not get all the old oil/cleaner oil out. That left me with an over-filled condition after I put the new 25ml of Rohloff oil in. (This is a clear oil in color, by the way) 

I remember that when I started riding the Ti Muk afterward that the hub was super-silent! I suppose all that oil in there was damping the gear noises. But I would also see a big oil spot on my concrete floor after every ride. The oil was seeping past the seals due to the overfilled condition. 

So, the next time I did service I concentrated on the draining of the cleaner oil/old oil. I got out approximately 40ml of fluid. (25ml was the cleaner oil) This time I reached that same amount, so I was down about 10ml, or maybe less, in the hub to begin with. I doubt you can get every drop of old oil out, and so I figure this amount I got back out isn't completely accurate to gauge what I had in there to begin with. I would guess that instead of the 25ml I was down about 5-7ml due to leakage or what have you. 

I did notice each time I've done servicing that the hub is quieter and that it shifts incrementally better than it did just before servicing. And obviously, getting that dirty, contaminated oil out is a good thing. 

Idea: I'm thinking about running this old oil, (I have it from three changes of oil so far) through a filter, mixing it with something like alcohol, and running that as a chain lube for single speeds. Might be a dumb idea, but what the heck! Gotta do something with it or take it someplace to   

So now I'm good to go, right? Not so fast! The next ride after servicing the hub, I had the generator lights quit on me. Gah! Back in the shop and it is time to bust out my volt/ohm meter. An update will be forthcoming.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Friday News And Views

The new Stormchaser single speed color- "Silver"
Salsa Cycles Announces New Color For Stormchaser SS Bike:

The pandemic craziness of 2020 was mostly a bummer, with the exception of one bright spot, for me at least. That was that I had a Salsa Cycles Stormchaser single speed around to get out in the country and ride on. 

If I did not already have too many bicycles and single speeds, I'd probably track one of these down. I really enjoyed riding it that much. With the exception of its too-stiff front fork, I absolutely loved riding it. 

Since then the Stormchaser has been offered in a shiny red, a suspension equipped, geared version, and now once again in a new color. Basically all else about this bike remains unchanged from the 2020 bike I rode. (Except that it costs more at $1899.00 USD vs $1499.00 at introduction in '20) I had to laugh a bit when I asked about the press release I got on this bike. It did not say what the color was specifically and it looked like it could be grey, or maybe silver, or pearl white? I asked and the answer was "They tell me it is Silver". 

So, there ya go! Silver it is.

The Otso Fenrir Ti. Image courtesy of Otso Bikes
 Otso Fenrir Ti Announced:

It was a very long time before any good "Fargo-Alternatives" were available and one of the better ones is Otso Bikes Fenrir. Offered in stainless steel, now it is offered in titanium

The bike is designed to be built up either with drop bars or flat bars, lending it even more versatility. The tire clearances are 29" X 2.6" or 27.5" X 2.8". A Fenrir Ti frame set with fork is $4050.00USD. 

Comments: The price! (ouch!), but you'd better look around and see that things have all gotten much more expensive in terms of bicycles now. And if history teaches us anything, we are not going back to pre-pandemic levels of pricing again. better suck it up if ya want a new bike. 

So, why this over a Ti Fargo? Well, the Tuning Chip drop out, which thankfully now can be converted to a single speed, is a nice feature. That is a thing that can be useful instead of just a "feature'. The Fargo has its way of doing single speed, but that Alternator plate is not without its drawbacks. This idea, and Trek's very similar drop out, seems to me to be a good solution. 

Otherwise?  Yeah, pretty similar idea, but it wouldn't be a good Fargo alternative if it wasn't similar, so there is that. 

Standard Rando v2 in "Fog" Image courtesy of Twin Six

It's Not You- It Really Is Foggy!

Twin Six recently introduced another new color for their Standard Rando v2. It's called "Fog", and in the images I've seen it looks like the pictures were taken with black & white film. Put Fausto Coppi from some grinding Alpine climb on this and you could easily believe this was a period-correct design from the 1940's. 

This is a favorite bike of mine, but of course, mine is yellow. About as opposite as one can get from this color scheme. That said, everything else about the bike is the same and I know it would ride quite nicely. 

Worth noting (AGAIN! Sorry!) is the price increase here. I got mine right as the pandemic was hitting and it was about 200 bucks less than it is now, but even at $850.00, this frame and fork are a great buy. If you like classic design, steel, and good looking bicycles with an eye toward the understated side, the Standard Rando should be on your radar. There really is nothing else quite like it.  

The Jones Bikes H Bar circa 2002. Image courtesy of Jones Bikes.

Jones Bikes Celebrates 20 Years:

I first heard about Jones Bikes in a magazine. (Remember those?) The weird Space Frame and truss fork idea was out of this world. The first time I saw anything related to the company with my own two eyes was their "H-Bar", which was on a bike used by one of the guys at the first DK200 in 2006. 

Those H-Bars really had my attention. They were possibly one of the first "alt-bars" for a flat bar set up I ever encountered. The swept back extensions fell in line with what I had been reading about flared drop bars at the time and my experience with those made me think that the H-bar might not be a bad idea. 

This is my OS Bikes Blackbuck in 2008 with a set of Titec H-Bars. The design was licensed from Jones Bikes.

 Well, the closest I ever got to trying them out was a Titec version of them. Then later on I used the Jones Carbon Loop Bar on my fat bikes. I know people that own a Jones bike, and they are huge fans, and I've even spoken to The Man him self, but I haven't ever gotten around to trying one of those far out creations yet. 

Anyway, I consider Jones Bikes as being one of the last "innovators" in bicycle design and no one has really ever quite come close to what he has done. Happy Anniversary, Jones Bikes!

That's a wrap for this week. Thanks for reading Guitar Ted Productions!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Tire Tools: A Lever Round-Up

You need more than just an air source.
 Tires: Nothing gets people talking more about bicycles than perhaps what tires that they think you should run. But tires are pretty useless without specific tools to work on them with. 

In this post I will cover a little spoken about tool that is an imperative for anyone wanting to ride a bicycle. It involves removal and installation of tires. You really, really  need to know how to remove and install a bicycle tire. This skill set is so valuable and important that I cannot believe that what I am going to share today doesn't come up more often than it does. 

What is that? Well, it is the lowly tire lever, that's what. Everyone knows you have to have air in a bicycle tire, so a pump, or some air source, is important. But when it comes to removing a tube, or a tire, you will quickly learn the importance of a good tire lever.

You've probbaly seen these on the counters of bike shops near the money exchanging machines. (I'd say cash register, but hardly anyone under 30 years of age probably uses a buying method that requires one of those anymore.) Anyway, those odd levers in plastic. Generally stacked together in sets of three. Yeah....whatever. A tire lever. psssshaw! They are all the same.....

So wrong.....soooo wrong! 

I've swapped hundreds of tires- maybe thousands- over my career as a bicycle mechanic, so I'm intimately familiar with tire levers, and I can tell you that there certainly are good ones, bad ones, and okay ones. Today I will show you all three types. Now- this is not an unabridged tire lever review. There are a LOT of tire levers out there and I certainly will not have covered all the good ones. But I do know what to look for, and I know what a bad tire lever is. So, let's take a look at what I have to show you today.

Tire levers from my collection, and this is not all of them!
In the image above you see a collection of tire levers and numbers corresponding to each. Below you will get my take on each one of these. 

  1. KOM Tire Levers: These are pretty darn good tire levers and the reasons why are many. They have a nicely shaped, wide hook to pry with. The material used to make them with is stiff and sturdy, so flex- which is bad- does not hinder your levering. They have ribs on their body for really good grip. They have a Presta Valve core remover built in, (good for you tubeless tire users) and the spoke hook is angled well to allow for you to work on another lever when removing a tire. (How you do that is not covered here) When you buy these from KOM you get a nifty aluminum Schrader/Presta core removal tool which nests right in the lever pair which nests into itself rather securely. Nit: The spoke hook bit s finicky. Overall Rating: 9.5 out of 10
  2. Not really a "tire lever", per se', but a nifty tool nonetheless. This is the Quick Stik. It is used to peel off a bead from a rim on stubborn tire/rim combinations. You probably would never want one on the bike, but this is a great tool for the shop and comes in handy if you have a fleet of family bikes to maintain, for instance. Overall Rating: 7 out of 10 because it isn't a tire lever and is sort of specific in use. 
  3. Generic Lever: This is an example of those cheap, add-on sales type levers you may see in a big bowl, or in a box at the front of a store. Usually sold in sets of three nested together. Note the minuscule lip on the bead hook. See how short the lever is compared to others here and how narrow it is. This is a great example of a bad tire lever. Do not buy! Overall rating 2 out of 10. 
  4. Bontrager Tire Lever, circa late 00's/early 2010's. No longer available. This was a pretty decent lever. The pointed lip on the bead hook was pretty useful in certain situations and the lever was stiff. Could have been longer and the tips on these were prone to breaking off. Overall rating: 5 out of 10 for the weak tip and short length. 
  5. Park Tools TL-1 Tire Levers: These levers, since discontinued for the nearly equally as bad TL 1.2, are not good. Weak plastic means that the bead hook lip deforms quickly, the spoke hook deforms, and the levers become nearly useless. The shape and size of the bead hook are not good.   Overall rating: 1 out of 10. 
  6. Pedro's Tire Levers: These levers, and Maxxis tire levers, (not shown) are some of my all-time favorite tools for tires. A wide bead hook lip and sturdy plastic construction give a firm grip and these are a joy to use. They come in pairs, in several fun colors, and are really durable tools which should last most people nearly forever. Overall Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (Same for the mentioned Maxxis levers) Nearly perfect tools. 
  7. Soma Steel Core Tire Levers; These are good. Really good. I just wish that they were a bit wider. Stiff as all-get-out due to their steel core. Heavy due to their steel core. They do not nest together, so its easy to have them get separated and to lose one one or both. Get these if you have really tight fitting tires with tubes. Overall Rating: 8 out of 10. Just misses on a few points for me. 
  8. Old Bontrager/Trek branded levers: Not a great design due to their overly curved shape and plastic that was a bit brittle which led to a lever easily broken. Shown as an example of a goofy shaped lever which isn't necessary. If you see something like this, avoid it. Overall Rating: 5 out of 10.

So, again- there are more levers you can shake a stick at out there, so I get it if you have your favorites not shown here. Honestly, I could live the rest of my days with Maxxis and Pedros levers and never look back, so perhaps this is why I don't show you more than these. Just grab a set of Pedros levers and be happy. But if you have others you like, rock them! 

I'll have a companion post to this covering other tire tools soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

If You Don't Have "Gravel"- You Are Not A Thing

Iron Cross' BikeReg header from 2021
N.Y. Roll sent me a screen shot Monday for an event out in Pennsylvania called "Iron Cross". It's a long-standing event which has been known for ridiculously tough courses that went "beyond cyclo-cross", which is what the original event was based upon. Thus the event became known as an "ultra-cross" event. 

Those types of events then sprung up in the Eastern part of the USA and were noted for their fun atmosphere and adventurous nature. A YouTube video posted on 2013 for the 11th Iron Cross said this about those events: 

"Turned up to 11! The Original North American Ultra CX Race! Iron Cross, a 68 mile race with 7,000+ feet of climbing inside the Michaux State Forest in Pennsylvania, USA. It's not a dirt road race, nor a mountain bike race, but it's not a 'cross race either. At this race you'll see 'Cross, MTBs, 29ers, 26ers, 650Bers, FrankenCross, MonsterCross, UltraCross and SuperUltraDoubleUberCross bikes. The organizers don't care. If it has wheels and is human powered, it's in."

 So, it would seem that, at least in 2013, when the gravel scene had a strong foothold in the cycling scene, that Iron Cross was forging its own identity. Even up until last year, their BikeReg header claimed that Iron Cross was "North America's Original UltraCross". But, as you well know, dear readers, if'n ya ain't got tha gravel, ya ain't got nuthin'! 

Or, that's what the marketing folks seem to think. Take a look at that screen shot mentioned earlier that I received from N.Y. Roll.......

To Hell with 20 years of marketing as an "UltraCross" event! We're Gravel! Always have been!

Yeah, I think this speaks volumes about what seems marketable and what will make an event successful now in 2022. It's odd, isn't it? 20 years of an identity thrown away to say that your event was the "Original Gravel Race"?

By the way, the Flint Hills Death Ride would like to have a word with you, Iron Cross......

Anyway, like I told N.Y. Roll- Marketing folk will rewrite history however they see fit to turn a marketing plan into a success. Even our podcast guest, Dave Pryor, who is a Pennsylvania resident and knows all about cross and ultra-cross said what those events were doing wasn't really "gravel". But it doesn't matter. 

Expect to see a lot of this sort of nonsense in the future. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

A Twofold Anniversary: The Story Of The Warbird & A Disclaimer

The Salsa Cycles Warbird in titanium as ridden in 2012
 Ten years ago today a couple of interrelated things happened which have had big impacts on the blog, my life, and likely your's as well if you are here and are into gravel riding. First- Let's remember the Warbird's debut.

The first time anyone had a chance to ride and check out the new Salsa Cycles Warbird gravel bikes was the Summer of 2012 at what was then called "Saddledrive", which was the Quality Bicycle Products dealer only Summer show. 

Afterword, a small demo tour across the U.S. was held by Salsa and one of the visits was in the Twin Cities and I made an effort to attend to see this important development. The gravel scene had its own bike now, and this was a historic occasion. 

The line up consisted of a titanium model and an aluminum model. These bikes were developed over several years at gravel events like the DK200, Trans Iowa, and over miles of Minnesota and Mid-Western roads. The design was informed most by what racer's needs were. A larger front triangle to accommodate the popular "half-frame bags and still have room for water bottles. A slightly slacker, lower, and more stable geometry than the previously popular cyclo-cross bikes had. A taller "stack height" which placed the handle bars in a bit more relaxed position. It was exciting to have a "gravel specific bike" and I wanted to check out and see if Salsa had really understood what I felt the "all-road" bike idea should be.

The Warbird in Aluminum

So, this is where the whole gravel scene really took off from. Previous to the summer of 2012, you "made do". You had to find everything for gravel travel that worked for you, and that was really meant for other cycling purposes, and then mold that into the package for all-road riding that you could use. 

With the debut of the Warbird, a bike already set up for the purposes of all-road/gravel travel at a fast pace was here. From this point onward, the gravel scene gained traction at an ever increasing pace within the marketplace until this day where you can hardly turn around and not put your hands to something or another marketed as "Gravel®". 

Now the second bit I wanted to mark is tied up into this Warbird introduction and has affected this blog down to this day. It all started ten years ago today on August 23rd of 2012. 

My trip to see the Warbird resulted in a mixed review. The bike had some things right, but I was really pretty disappointed in a couple of important details. You can go back and read all about that HERE

That opinion spawned a sometimes heated exchange of emails back and forth with one particular individual who was employed at Salsa Cycles at the time of the Warbird release. That individual did not appreciate my pointing out that the Warbird had limited tire clearances and did not take to my assessments on sizing, materials used, and a few other nits, but mainly it was my beef with tire clearances that caused the dust-up behind the scenes. 

The argument on the Salsa side was that my "dismissal" was presented as factual for everyone. My take was that I had explicitly said it was not a review and was labeled as a "ride impression", although the lack of tire clearances was a proven, and shown, fact on that post. That was a fact I had found out myself at the demo. Myself and a friend I met there surreptitiously removed the wheel set from a Vaya they had at the demo which had Clement (now Donnelly) MSO 40mm tires on it. We swapped that wheel set out with the Warbird Titanium's which was set up with 38mm tires. The 40's barely cleared as I showed on the blog.

That was a big problem, in my opinion, because I felt that a "real gravel bike/all-road bike" should have clearances for 42mm with fenders. Clearly, the Warbird did not measure up.

The impasse over the post I published was settled when I agreed to place a disclaimer on that post which would describe the piece I wrote as only my opinion. However; I made it a bit smart-alecky. Maybe you've seen it here over the years....

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

So, there is the backstory to that statement, and the bike that inspired it all. Both things which have been around for a decade now.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Country Views: Dave Squared

Escape Route: I-380 to Cedar Rapids
 Several weeks ago I was made aware of an opportunity to share a ride and perhaps get a podcast in with Dave Pryor. Dave is the co-founder of the unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley event in central Pennsylvania. I've known Dave since the early "twenty-teens" and I have interviewed him several times already, but we'd never really spent any significant time together. 

Dave had an opportunity crop up with his day job that was to send him to Marion, Iowa, just a stone's throw from Cedar Rapids, and he'd signed up for Gravel Worlds as well. He wanted to squeeze in some time on the Sunday after Gravel Worlds to meet up with N.Y.Roll and I. 

So, the plans were laid and everything came together to allow for me to get down there and ride with Dave, and since N.Y. Roll's first given name is also Dave, I think the title to today's post should be self-explanatory. 

So, there ya go.... 

Dave's bike still sporting his number plate from Gravel Worlds.

We rode from the heart of Cedar Rapids down this paved bike path to Ely, Iowa.

Our adventure started with some great grub we procured from the NewBo Market. Then we repaired to Goldfinch Cyclery to hook up with Dave. I can highly recommend both places and they are very close to each other in location as well. Goldfinch is a stellar shop, and I enjoyed poking around in there. Thaddeus and the rest of the crew were super nice and confirmed our planned route was a good one. They have a lot of gravel routes figured out down that way, so check in with them if you're ever in the area. 

The first hill on gravel. Welcome to Iowa, Dave!

What a great day for a ride!

The bike path scene in Cedar Rapids is serious business. I saw far more people out than I ever do around Waterloo or Cedar Falls. Sure, Cedar Rapids is a big city, but they've got us beat hands down from a vibrant cycling community perspective. 

Once we got close to Ely, we peeled off the bike path, rode a big hill into the edge of town, hung a downhill to the left and off into gravel. The first hill was a doozy and here I was on my Pofahl single speed! Grunt!

New roads to me means one thing: Barns For Jason #1

Big hills were the order of the day on gravel.

I wasn't of the understanding that this part of Iowa had such big rollers, or I'd have brought the Standard Rando v2, most likely. As it was, I was getting hammered by these hills. I haven't spent a lot of time on a single speed on big rollers in a while and it showed!

Barns For Jason #2

The prairie sunflowers reminded me of last year's Gravel Worlds in places we rode Sunday.

Fortunately "The Daves" would stop and allow me to compose myself after a few of the nastier climbs. I was appreciative of that, and I knew I was dragging a bit, but hey! I was having fun.

The last big climb brought us up to a ridge where we could look out for miles. That's Ely in the distance.

Barns For Jason #3

The route alternated between paved and gravel sections. This close to such a big city, that is not a surprise. There weren't many cars, as I recall, not until we got within a few miles of Cedar Rapids again, so it was all good. The views were spectacular though. 

A nice, twisty section of gravel that went mostly down was a welcome relief.

Barns For Jason #4

We eventually descended down to a chip seal road which was hard up against the Cedar River. We took this toward Cedar Rapids until we reached the same bike path we'd taken out of town. That led us back to the car.

That wasn't the end of the goings on though. Nope! We went then to Dave Pryor's motel room and proceeded to have a great podcast recording session. This should get released soon, and I'll likely put the link up in a future "FN&V" soon, so stay tuned for that coming up. 

Thanks to Dave Pryor for making the time for us after having to ride Gravel Worlds and drive five hours to meet us.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The GTDRI Stories: Where Did This Come From? - Part 2

In 2006 I participated in the first DK200 which sparked ideas in my head.
"The GTDRI Stories" is a series telling the history, untold tales, and showing the sights from the run of Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitationals. This series will run on Sundays. Thanks for reading!

Once I got involved in Trans Iowa, I had pretty much transferred my riding to off-pavement. By this time I had a 2003 Karate Monkey I had set up single speed with drop bars and this became my de facto 'gravel bike'. Again- there weren't any 'gravel specific' bicycles or components at this point. We were borrowing what worked, and for many of us, the new 29" platform was making the most sense. It had a wheel size based on road bikes, and the momentum and stability of 29"ers was prized in gravel riding. 

It bears repeating here that the fact was that the DK200 guys, Jim Cummings and Joel Dyke, had researched and borrowed ideas and inspiration from Trans Iowa and that also comes into play with gravel ideas I had. I've told about how their event inspired later Trans Iowas, but it also inspired the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational. It did this in a couple of ways.

Firstly, when the DK200 was announced, I felt compelled to support it by attending and riding in it. This was because 'gravel cycling' was pretty much the DK200 and Trans Iowa. That was it. Note- There were other events "on gravel" but they typically did not bill themselves as "gravel events", as did the DK200 and T.I. The Colesburg race, which was going on then for an example, was billed as a "tune-up race" for the Chequamegon 40 MTB event. It wasn't until 2022 that they started calling that event the "oldest gravel grinder in the Mid-West". 

I was excited about what was happening with gravel events, and I know others were as well. The over-arching feeling I got back then was that this idea was so much fun - No governing bodies, rules that were minimal and easily understood. The do-it-yourself nature surrounding the entire thing. Pushing yourself beyond what you thought was possible. All of that. Event production, how you rode these events, and all the equipment choices were basically unknowns back in 2005-2006. 

I rode a single speed On One Inbred at the first DK200 (image above) and it wasn't the only single speed MTB 29"er at that event. Cyclo cross bikes were also a big deal back in the day, and you'd see a smattering of those as well. But enough about the equipment.....

The thing was that we all were very supportive of each other and wanted to see this take off. 

My '03 Karate Monkey circa 2006
Secondly, as far as how the DK inspired me, I was enamored of the longer, ultra-distance stuff and bigger rides appealed to me. It was my feeling at the time that longer events were preferable since I recalled how disappointed I had been with XC MTB events that cost a lot of money to enter and lasted maybe an hour- maybe and hour and a half. These longer "gravel grinders" were cost efficient for participants because you got an event which allowed you to ride as long as you wanted, and all day if you could. 

The 200 mile distance seemed a bit over the line for me as far as making things more on the "fun" side, so my thoughts were something a hundred plus, but maybe not more than 150-ish. That might be fun, and then that kind of worked its way into my thoughts for a "Death Ride" that I could do in the Summer on gravel. Since the DK200 was a big loop course, that worked its way into my ideas as well. In fact, the whole event idea for the GTDRI was loosely based around the DK200 profile, just not as long.

But then I got to thinking, "This needs to be a group ride." Not so much an "event", per se', as much as just a 'happening' that you could join in on, if you were so inclined. Plus, I didn't know what I was doing in terms of putting on events in 2006. I was all-new to this, and putting on another event, which I deemed necessary to further gravel grinding, wasn't so much in my wheel house. Besides, that "big-event" feel wasn't my bag anyway. So, I made it a group ride, no-drop, and kept things low-key.

My idea was 'to invite people' to my 'death ride' idea that I had been doing all along. Jeff Kerkove was privy to my spoken thoughts on the matter, since we worked together at the time. He encouraged me to take the idea to the public via a blog. Thus the "Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational" was born. Jeff actually set the blog up, and that's how the abbreviation came about for it, because a web address with the entire name would have been ridiculous. So "" it was, and I was off and running toward putting this thing on in 2006. 

 Next: Announcing the idea, and putting it into effect.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Petty Bickering Stains Gravel Event's Good Works

Moo! You Ruined My Race!
Another gravel race, another gravel related rant. They said this would happen back in the day......

And if you don't want to read about what I think concerning some complaints coming from sponsored, Pro level racers, then you should turn this off and go for a ride right now. This is your cue. (Have a great one, by the way!)

For the rest of you out there with your steaming cuppa whatever in your mitts, read on....

One of the great things that has come of the gravel scene since I've been around is social awareness and efforts to change "How Things Have Always Been Done". These efforts are plain to see these days within the organizations of several events, most notably the Mid-South, SBT GRVL, and Gravel Worlds, but certainly, those are not the only events pushing major changes that reflect social causes and issues to the forefront. Their efforts are to be commended, and are celebrated in some news articles here and there. Awareness and actual discussion and changes are occurring due to these events and riders who are taking up those issues are making differences. It's pretty obvious to see if you pay even a little attention. 

This isn't "new", but our efforts in the gravel scene weren't always so overt and noticeable. For instance, as far as I am aware, gravel race prizing has ALWAYS been equally shared across genders. Men and women got the same rewards. This was never really questioned, and much to our discredit- to be honest- it is something we did not trumpet loudly enough back then. But of course, if you take things in context of the day, we were really not caring if anyone else noticed! And that's another great thing about the early gravel scene- We didn't care about getting published, getting "likes", or satisfying sponsors with "engagement". We were 100% focused on the participant's experience. To the credit of the gravel scene, still to this day, I feel that great gravel events make an effort to do just this. 

The thing is, the gravel scene has always been subtly "political" and an agent of social change. We went out of our way to eschew the trappings of traditional road racing, and we certainly did not want to see any "attitudes" which were seen as a turn-off to participation in events. We took the stance also that "Prizing" and "Money" weren't what the riders should be vying for, but that personal growth, overcoming challenge, and becoming accepted into the community of gravel riders were the "rewards" for participating in events. The idea that "one" winner dominated over the rest of the "field" and that "second place was the first loser" were not acceptable to many of the early modern day gravel pioneers. 

Now, in 2022, we have Pro level, sponsored riders with "beefs" to air because early practices of the gravel racing scene are being bastardized to the benefit of certain, clever Pro sponsored riders. This is not in the vein of "Pro racing etiquette", and as such, a few racers are grousing and airing their complaints on social media. This has already manifested itself as "#gravelbeef" as a hashtag. 

Obviously, all that nonsense is getting amplified by social media which is, ironically, very divisive and doesn't promote community. Meanwhile, all the "good" socially conscientious activity and progress gets overshadowed by that crap. (Or since it is #gravelbeef, maybe "B.S." is better as a descriptor here) 

On the one hand, it is sad and I shake my head. On the other hand I think, "What did we expect?" When the game changes, and it becomes about the economic status of individuals- whether or not that they can maintain their station as "sponsored Pro riders", well then the results we have witnessed should be obvious. 

I wrote about how I think Pro Level Road Racing On Gravel" should be separated out from "gravel races" and that the two things are inherently incompatible with each other. This is true because at its heart, Pro level racing and events are structured completely differently than the gravel races which have spawned this explosion of popularity now. They are socially and politically completely different animals. At the heart of Pro level racing is a focus on selfishness, personal gain measured by prizing and sponsorship, and growth is measured by power meters. The gravel scene was never about any of that. Where we were saying, "You will discover you can do more than you ever thought you could!", this Pro gravel thing seems to be about elevating individuals and corporate windfalls instead. 

What gravel events did before was different. Gravel was about "Everybody". It meant that EVERYONE was capable of reaching that "prize' and equity and acceptance was central to building a "gravel family" which was stronger because of its inclusion and diversity than the old ways of doing events were. 

And again- to be crystal clear- those efforts to be inclusive still are out there. They matter, but they are overshadowed by this Pro level racer mentality and social construct that should be summarily rejected by events and done away with. But, it won't be because of  the way the way the industry has structured its sponsorship of events, the athletes, and how corporate America has latched on to the gravel scene as a way to pad their coffers with millions of dollars in event receipts. 

In other words, it's like Joel Dyke, co-founder of the DK200 told me years ago,"When the money comes in, it'll ruin everything."

I don't think it has to be that way, but that's up to all the rest of you out there to decide.