Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Gravel Comes Back To The Tour

It won't be as challenging as Iowa gravel, but crushed rock roads are back in Le Tour.
The pinnacle of Professional road racing on bicycles is certainly the Tour de France. No other Pro road event approaches the scrutiny, passion, and importance to riders and sponsors that this event has over the decades. 

So, when the 2024 Tour de France route was unveiled to a well-heeled, high fashion wearing crowd of Pro cyclists and media there was a lot of attention placed upon one stage in particular. That would be stage #9. A stage that has a high dosage of white crushed rock,

Now, I want to put this into perspective here. Stage 9's length overall is 123+ miles or 199Km. Out of that there will be 14 separate gravel sectors that will total all of approximately 20 miles. Breaking that down, that's an average sector length of a little more than 1.4 miles at a crack. These short gravel sectors will be sprinkled throughout the last 3/4's of the event with none occurring until after 30 miles into the stage. 

So, nothing like what we think of as "gravel racing". But for these pros, the mixing in of narrow, Champagne department French rural farm roads is raising some valid concerns and technical challenges. 

I've seen images of the actual roads that will be used and they are maybe wide enough for a farm tractor of average size. You could get a Ford F-150 down these, but there is essentially no room for an oncoming truck to get by you. These roads are ancient cart roads that were made long before there were cars and trucks. 

The gravel looks to be of a finer gauge than that used here in the Mid-West and in the images I've seen, two clear tracks existed where vehicles have pushed the larger crushed rock aside, essentially making these roads quite attractive to the average gravel cyclist in the Mid-West here. They look nothing like the carpet of chunky crushed limestone I am familiar with, that's for sure!

So, that's my take on the technical aspects of the roads there. Now what this really points to is how the UCI is using this to bring more awareness to its own Gravel World Series and how this is certainly a marketing move to show that the UCI is indeed aware of its history and the importance of gravel cycling today. How the UCI parlays that into more beneficial aspects of events promotions for themselves will be seen later, I am sure. But make no mistake, gravel appearing in the Tour was not done to be cute.

Monday, October 30, 2023

That Was A Change!

This Fall has been......odd. Weather-wise, that is. We had a few chilly days, but for the most part, we had more Summer than Fall, in terms of temperatures, all throughout September and a lot of October. 

Then things changed

Thursday it was 71° and I rode downtown in shorts and a t-shirt. Friday it slipped from there to the high 30's and I ran an errand in the afternoon on my bike in my Winter gear

Yeah, what happened to all those beautiful 50 degree days of Fall? The crisp air. The blue skies and Fall colors. Well, at least we had Fall colors. 

This weekend it has been windy with wind chills in the upper 20's and Tuesday night they (those goofy weather people) are saying it might snow. Snow? Gah! Give me that Fall weather that you ripped off from us! (Actually, the temperatures are supposed to moderate later in the week,) 

Well, I shouldn't complain, but thinking about 2023, the weather has been really, really odd this year.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The GTDRI Stories: Gravel In 2018

The DKXL was a very "Trans-Iowa-like" event which first ran in 2018
"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!

 As I approach the end of the GTDRI Stories I thought it might be a good time to contrast the ride against the landscape of the gravel cycling scene circa 2018. I also wanted to paint a bit of a picture as a backdrop concerning where things stood in 2006 when the GTDRI first rolled out.

To be honest, there was no gravel scene in 2006. It hadn't been developed yet. Looking at things from a perspective that I have, back in 2006 you would have been thought to be a madman if you rebranded your event as a "gravel race". People would have had a laugh at that, and most riders would have had no idea what the heck you were talking about. 

That's the truth. But in 2018, things had changed. Money was in Gravel™, and other forms of bicycle racing were waning fast, or had almost completely been erased from the consciousness of riders in that time. Take, for instance, 24hr MTB events. They still existed, and still do, but do they have the same weight in the general consensus of riders in 2018 as they had in 2006? No way! It's all about gravel events in 2018, and big corporations were about to make their presence known in Gravel™.

The DKXL, a new facet of the DK200 events, was announced that year, in 2018, which hearkened back to Trans Iowa and the beginnings of the gravel scene, but that bit of nostalgia was overshadowed by the purchase of the DK200 event by Life Time Fitness, a huge corporation that looked to cash in on the gravel cycling craze. 

Jim Cummings giving tribute to myself and Trans Iowa at the start of the first DKXL.(Image by Chris W. Nichols)

The USAC organization started making waves in gravel circles at about this time as well, getting together with several of the most prominent race directors and asking about gravel events. At that time, most RD's and organizers rejected any overtures made to them by USAC, and it would be several years before USAC held a gravel event nationally. 

Pro level racers, semi-pros, sponsored riders, and even trade backed teams were being seen at the bigger events like the DK200. Meanwhile, upheaval in the ranks of the early adopters of gravel was being felt as the gravel scene matured and became big business in all areas. 

And what of the lowly GTDRI? Trans Iowa was ended in April of 2018, just as all these other changes were happening. Although I felt Trans Iowa had run its course as an idea, and despite my having run out of enthusiasm for the event, I still was interested in long gravel rides and my thought was that the GTDRI was a perfect 'anti-race', gravel group ride/get together type event that I really was most interested in. 

The last Trans Iowa start. Image by George Keslin.

In fact, there was another event I used to be involved in that had been twisted out of what I had wanted it to be into a "corporate serving" thing and I always had regretted that was the case. That was a 29"er event and not a gravel event, but the "get together", just-ride mentality of that very grassroots idea was never fully realized. I felt that the GTDRI more closely resembled what I had envisioned for that, but even the GTDRI wasn't quite "that" event either. 

I also held smaller, more casual "Geezer Rides" back then as well, and these were fun and drew a wide range of riders out onto the gravel roads, some for the first time. And then there were all those gravel group rides I hosted starting in 2011. Those were hyper-local in nature and never really very big in terms of the numbers of folks that attended them. But those who did had a great time. 

Gravel in 2018 was becoming something else. Maybe it is better to say that Gravel was one thing in the beginning, back in 2005, but it now was multiple things. Different goals, different things which were seen as "necessary". Different viewpoints and different expectations. 

This all was not lost on me then, and I was hearing that some of these ideas were encroaching upon my goal for the GTDRI. I was hearing that the GTDRI was a "training ride" for other events. What?!!

This prompted me to reconsider why it was I was putting on a free ride that was supposed to be just a day on bicycles. I wrote a response to this idea I had heard about after the 2018 GTDRI, but it is relevant to where my mind was at in late 2017 and all of 2018 as well. The following paragraph was written in August of 2018 as part of my GTDRI ride report for that year. Note the foreshadowing. 

"If that's why folks are coming, well I'd rather just do my own ride and enjoy the flowers, the scenery, and not be looking at any FTP numbers afterward. And someday that's what is going to happen. Because there won't be any rides organized by me again. I'll just ride for the sheer enjoyment of it and that's not probably going to be very fast or long at some point in my future."

But by 2018 I wasn't quite out of gas in terms of putting on events, or, at least I thought that at the time. Even though Trans Iowa was off the table, there was another GTDRI to do, and with the route all locked in from the previous year, all I had to do was to pick a date and show up on time at the start. What could be easier? 

Next: The lead-up to the 2018 GTDRI.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Enduro Bearings Components: Reviewed

 Notice: Enduro Bearings sent over its components in this review for test and review to Guitar Ted Productions at no charge. I am not being paid, nor bribed, for this review, and I always strive to give my honest thoughts and views throughout. 

Chart provided by Enduro Bearings
Late in July of this year I received some Enduro Bearings components to install in my bicycles. I chose the Twin Six Standard Rando as my test sled. Previously, I had installed an outboard bearing, Shimano-type bottom bracket in my Singular Gryphon Mk3, which I will also talk about here as well. The introduction to this review can be found HERE

Since I do not have sophisticated means for testing bearing performance, my aim for this review was to ride the components throughout the Summer and Fall, gain an understanding of how they perform, and gauge their effectiveness as best I could through subjective means. So, that's somewhat limiting, but I wanted to give an honest assessment up front of what to expect here.

I have 30+ years of experience dealing with bearings for bicycles and thousands of miles of riding experiences with all sorts of bearings, both good and bad. So, take that into consideration as well. In the end, this is my opinion on these products, and your opinion may vary.

Okay, with all that behind us, I am going to take a quick look at each bit I received and give you my take on that particular component in an unvarnished manner. First up are the bottom brackets.

The MaxHit outboard bottom bracket is in this bike.

MaxHit Bottom Bracket:

I spoke to this component in the introduction linked above pretty specifically. I won't bother covering old ground here other than to say that this bottom bracket, at $180.00 plus, is expensive, but in my opinion it is worth every penny. The component has a lifetime guarantee, and I suspect it may last as long as I can ride that bike, or want to. It spins so freely and smoothly, even under extreme pressure with a load as you see here, that I cannot fathom not wanting to buy one of these now for a bike build I planned on keeping around for several years. I mean, don't bother putting this into a bike you will hardly ever ride, because that smoothness would be a criminal thing to deprive yourself of. 

I am only half-kidding. It's totally eye-opening.

I wasn't quite so taken with the Torqtite Bottom Bracket.

TorqTite PF-30 to 24mm Bottom Bracket:

The TorqTite PF-30 to 24mm conversion bottom bracket I am using in the Twin Six Standard Rando v2 was not quite as impressive. This one has a bit more complexity to my take than the MaxHit bottom bracket did.

So, first off, this bottom bracket spins very freely. I was super impressed right away after installing it by that. Most bottom brackets, when new, exhibit a fair amount of "seal drag" which may get to be less and less as the bottom bracket settles in. However; the TorqTite spun impressively well immediately. It would only get better as I rode it in. 

But you will recall that I have mentioned in the introduction to this review (linked above) that typical Shimano bottom bracket has this weird "rumble" to the bearings when you are applying pressure to the down stroke of your pedaling cycle. I noticed something similar here, with the TorqTite, that resembled that feeling I got through the crank arms and pedals with typical Shimano bottom brackets. 

It wasn't the same exact feeling, but it was there, and it made me miss the smoothness of the MaxHit version of an Enduro bottom bracket. So, should you spring for the MaxHit instead? Well, the TorqTite sells for around $200.00, and unfortunately, MaxHit doesn't come in this configuration. (MaxHit uses the actual outer cup portion as a bearing race whereas TorqTite uses a separate, pressed in bearing) You could upgrade to the Ceramic bearing version for an extra $80.00 or so, (depending upon retailer), but here is the kicker: A Wheels Manufacturing PF-30 to 24mm bottom bracket feels pretty good and costs $80.00 less than a Torqtite bottom bracket. 

If the free-spinning nature of the TorqTite suits you, then get that. It definitely is a noticeable benefit over the Wheels BB.

MaxHit Headset:

Here's a component that you just don't think about until it starts giving you troubles. Headsets don't spin much, so bearings seem superfluous on the surface of it. But have you ever ridden a bike with bad headset bearings, or headset bearings that are too tight, or not spinning freely? That makes a bike nearly unrideable. 

So, a headset is a critically important part of your bike. Thing is, it is hard to justify spending a lot on one when good, fairly reliable headsets are well below $100.00 these days. 

That said, a good, high quality headset will run around $100.00 plus a little, and that's right where you'll find the MaxHit headset priced at. What do you get for that sort of expenditure? 

Well, you get a stainless steel construction - fully stainless steel - , bomber reliability, and 440C stainless bearings which are sealed in high-pressure grease which adds up to a Lifetime guarantee. The bearings are actually larger than a typical headset's are, they are angular contact bearings which handle loading better, (most other head sets, including Cane Creek, are not), and all that spreads loads out better and headsets get a LOT of loading. 

So, yeah. It isn't all blingy-anodized and matchy-matchy, so if that is your thing, you won't be at all interested in this headset. But if you want a high degree of reliability, longer bearing life, and silver is a color you can get behind, then this one is a recommended choice.

Enduro DirectLine Pulleys:

Derailleur pulleys in the aftermarket are a weird world of innovation and bold claims of efficiency gains. Some have their own proprietary cages to accommodate their bloated diameters. Prices for these visual assaults on our senses can be frighteningly high. 

Enduro takes a different approach to these components than many others do. Enduro believes that the original functionality of any rear derailleur is somewhat predicted upon the size of pulleys the manufacturer designed for their particular models of rear changers. Change that and you run the risk of getting poor shifting, or not as good a shifting performance as you might with standard/stock sized pulleys.

Enduro uses a special Delrin material to machine the pulleys out of that is Teflon infused. Enduro claims that this interfaces with the chain more efficiently than titanium or aluminum does, increasing overall drive train efficiency. They also claim this will get better the more miles that you ride the pulleys. The pulleys are guaranteed against corrosion for life. 

Okay then- "What did I think?" Well, these pulleys certainly aided in the free-running feel of this drive train. Shifting was always spot-on as long as my cable was adjusted right, so no worries with the pulleys there at all. I guess what I saw that impressed me most was that the typical ring of gunk that builds up on most Nylon/plastic pulleys was never noted with these DirectLine pulleys. They were dusty, for sure, but I never saw one bit of build-up on them. That's amazing right there. 

Now, the pulleys I put into my GRX rear derailleur cost $140.00. That's twenty bucks more than the rear derailleur cost alone. So, does doubling the cost of your rear mech make any sense? 

When I spin this drive train backward it spins a few times easily and comes to a halt. My other drive trains? Maybe the drive train will spin around one and a half times.  Efficiencies are hard to gain in high-end bicycles without spending a lot of time and money on yourself or money on your bicycle. If I were racing? This makes sense to have these pulleys. If I am toodling around and riding for fun? 

That's a tougher answer to come up with then. It comes down to appreciation for the claims of Enduro Bearings. I can only tell you that these pulleys, (and the bottom bracket), make a discernible difference in how easily the parts move. And again - you shouldn't probably do this to a bicycle you'd hardly ever ride or to a lower quality bike. That doesn't make any sense as there are likely several more meaningful upgrades to make in those cases, or a better, more used bike in your stable to utilize this stuff on. 

I'd say that if the bike is a quality piece that is going to see significant use, and if you care about efficiency, then the answer is yes.  Then these pulleys are worth the extra expense. 


MaxHit Shimano-style outboard bearing bottom bracket? All day, every day. I'm sold. Recommended highly. Even despite the expense. I have gone through several cheapo Shimano BB's which would easily equal what I would pay for a single purchase of the MaxHit BB and I'm getting a smoother bottom bracket to boot. One bottom bracket versus many and smoother? You know the answer.

The TorqTite bottom bracket I have a harder time with. It is not as smooth feeling as the MaxHit bottom bracket and it is expensive. I mean, it's a fine bottom bracket, but it is harder to recommend it over less expensive options. 

The head set is a no-brainer if you don't care about fashion. If you do? Then look elsewhere. If you just do not care about headsets? Get a Cane Creek 40. 

The DirectLine pulleys are not cheap. But..... If you have a high-end rear mech they are worth the dough. They don't gather the gunk, which is a big deal to me, and they are guaranteed against corrosion, which is impressive. They do spin very freely and the claims of chain to pulley efficiencies make more sense to me than some of the wattage savings claims other aftermarket cage/pulley purveyors make. Plus, my mech's design is preserved so there is no loss of shifting performance or messing about with affixing an abomination of a cage to my derailleur. 

The pulleys I could convince myself to invest in, but only for a well-used bike or for racing. 

Thanks to Enduro Bearings for the components and a chance to review them. For more information on Enduro Bearing products see their website here: https://cycling.endurobearings.com/

Friday, October 27, 2023

Friday News And Views

Podcasts For Your Weekend Listening Pleasure:

If you happen to have some down time, are travelling, or just want to escape reality for about an hour or so, I've got two suggestions for podcasts this week that I am on. 

You can hear my sultry voice on "The Shiftless Podcast" Episode #32 "Expert Edition With the One & Only Guitar Ted" by clicking HERE

In that chat you can hear about the origins of "Guitar Ted", what I think of some facets of the bicycle industry, and my take on the current gravel scene. All that and more there with Kevin and Brad, the two hosts of the show. 

Then, as if that isn't enough of me, I interviewed Jason Strobehn and Matt Gersib of the Gravel Worlds team for the "Guitar Ted Podcast". That show can be heard by clicking HERE

That was a tougher show to get out, not due to the guests or N.Y. Roll, but because of my lack of technical skills. I had a learning curve for getting this one up and out there, that's for sure!

I'm calling this episode the "Frankenstein Episode" because I had to "stitch" it together from six different parts and try to make it all sound somewhat cohesive. Which.....it doesn't, but I am learning how to make it all work, like I said. 

Because this took a week longer to get out than I had anticipated, there will end up being another episode coming out on this one's heels. We try to do three episodes a month, minimum, and the days are running short! 

We will have about four new episodes coming out in the next four weeks or so and then we are taking a month off starting around Thanksgiving time until the new year kicks down the door like a shiny super-hero. 

If you are a listener to the podcast, I truly appreciate you, and I know I speak for N.Y. Roll when I say that we are floored by the response we've gotten. The "Guitar Ted Podcast" went live coming in on the coattails of the old "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch" about a year ago now, and the growth has been steady and upwards. So, "Thank you"! 

Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles
Salsa Cycles Announces v2 Cowchipper Carbon & Cowbell Carbon Handlebars:

You might remember that the original carbon flared drop bars from Salsa Cycles were recalled early in the year. Well, now they have a new version of the bars out which have addressed the previous bars' shortcomings and is said to be stronger. These are also compatible with Salsa Cycles' EXP Series Anything Cradle

The new carbon bars are $230.00 USD for either model and are available now through Salsa Dealers. There were no design changes made, so these have the same shape, flare, and width availability that the originals had.

Comments: I  checked on Whisky Parts Co. to see if they've gotten a v2 0f their No. 9 12F and No. 9 24F Carbon bars and they do have those for the same prices. (Essentially the same handlebars as the Salsa branded ones) 

My favorites in flared drop bars, the Cowbell and Cowchipper Bars, are perhaps only eclipsed by the Whisky Parts Co, Spano Bar. It's fifty bucks more than a Salsa Cowbell/Cowchipper/Whisky 24F or 12F, but if you want more ergonomics and comfort, the Spano Bar is well worth that extra cash.

Image courtesy of Iowa Wind and Rock

Iowa Wind and Rock Announces 2024 Registration:

It's that time of year again. Registration Season! I feel compelled to feature the announcement that Iowa Wind and Rock is opening registration on November 1st, 2024. 

If you are new to the blog you may not know that this event is essentially an evolution/extension of the event I put on for fourteen years, Trans Iowa. That event being credited as the first of the "Modern Day" gravel events. (For a history of gravel timeline, see "Gravel History With Guitar Ted: The Eras"

From Iowa Wind and Rock's homepage you can read the following:

"For 14 years, TransIowa, one of the most difficult gravel races in the US, took place in Iowa at the end of April. It was difficult not only because of the terrain, but also due to notoriously fickle Iowa weather, and the challenges it required riders to overcome just to make it to the starting line. The end of TransIowa in 2018 meant that a unique chapter of gravel racing history closed. As Iowans, TransIowa finishers, and people who enjoy stretching personal boundaries, we didn’t want to see this unique opportunity for people to challenge themselves disappear. Iowa Wind and Rock is NOT, nor will it ever be TransIowa. However, we want to provide people a similar challenge – A free, 340ish mile, cue sheet navigated, late spring, Iowa event that allows entrants to challenge themselves, expand their boundaries, and allow them to see what they are capable of."

So, if you've come here and ever wondered if there would be another Trans Iowa event, well....There ya go. Do Iowa Wind and Rock. It's as close as you'll ever get now, and remember folks: These chances don't last forever! Get off yer duff if ya ever thought you might wanna do sumpthin like this and sign up. 

You only live once.

Gravel Worlds Registration Opening Soon:

As long as we're on the registration train, let's make a stop in Lincoln, Nebraska and take a look at Gravel Worlds

You can sign up for several distances or even run on gravel. if you want to, and that all starts on November 18th this year. The sign up, that is, NOT the events! 

They even have an ultra-distance, 300 miler called The Long Voyage, if that suits your fancy. Either way, you should check out this one if you haven't. Of course, if you want to find out more, check out the link above and listen to that podcast I mentioned at the top of the post today. 

Okay, that's a wrap for this week! get out and ride and thanks for reading Guitar Ted Productions!!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Gravel Mutt v3: Verdict

I've been running the Gravel Mutt v3 rig around the city enough now to know what I do and don't like. I thought I'd hop on here and list those things here and then give an overall verdict on the bike.

Things I Like

The bike is steel, obviously, and while it has no fine pedigree as far as the alloy used in the tubing, it does exhibit all those "steel ride" attributes you'd want in a steel bike. In fact, it rides so springy-smooth that I keep thinking my rear tire is low on air, but it isn't. It is a little disconcerting at first, but you get used to it.

So, I'd keep that part of the bike. Smoothness is good, but if it makes the bike 'noodly', well that's another thing altogether. That'd be no good. I'm happy to say that the ol' Schwinn probably has thick enough tubes that it keeps the lateral flex in check enough that I felt no issues. I can torque on the bars and the entire front end stays under me. I've had old steel bikes that I could almost laterally sweep the front tire off the ground while torquing the bars with the rear wheel staying vertical. Scary! 

The 1" head tube is a keeper as well. One inch steer tubes definitely track better over rougher terrain. While head sets for threaded one inch steer tubes are not common anymore, I could do 1 1/8th as long as it was a straight tube, not tapered. 

The geometry, mostly, is pretty good. The head tube angle is great, the seat tube angle is fine, but I'd go for a touch more bottom bracket drop and a tiny, tiny bit longer front/center. 

Back to the frame. The material isn't all CroMoly, so while that's okay, I would probably like a full CroMo set of tubes if for nothing else, the slightly lighter weight. Otherwise? I dunno.... As long as steel is put together well, CroMo is nice, but High Tensile Steel in small amounts and in the right places is not such a bad thing. But yeah.....if I were to get a custom based upon this and that Honeman bike, it would be CroMoly steel all the way. 

What I Would Definitely Change:

I'd have true, single speed-specific rear drop outs. In fact, I would take a grinder to this frame and open that drop out up. It would make for a tensioner-less set up, but I would gain a bit more clearance with the tires as well. 

If I were going full-custom, there would be through axles. They just make more sense, especially so on a single speed bike. Even if you stick with cantilever brakes, which I would have added to this Schwinn if I were to make it a long-term Gravel Mutt option. 

More bottle mounts. One would not cut it for me and that's all the Schwinn has. What the heck? Were camels riding Schwinns in the late 1980's? I am pretty sure hydration was a thing, even then. Anyway, if I had my druthers, this frame would have a lot more water bottle bosses.

Sorry kickstand freaks, but the kickstand plate is not a thing I want to have. Ironically, it may be part of the reason for the slack geometry. To shoehorn that in there, you need room and a slacker seat tube allows for that along with slightly longer stays. 

Then there is the biggie- tire clearance. This bike is safe to ride with the 37mm tires on these slightly skinny rims as is, but you've seen the gravel around here, haven't you? It's chonky and deep. These tires would be pinging around, searching for a clean track to roll on the entire time you would be on gravel. 

My ideal bike along these lines would have a minimum of 43mm tire clearance and 45mm would be ideal. So, yeah.... This frame is no where near to providing that option. It would be just fine if I lived in some other areas, but in my locale, where we may have some of the roughest gravel around, it doesn't work. 


This is about as good a "gravel mutt" as I've done. It's very close to doable for here but for that critical tire clearance issue. The geometry is really pretty close to perfect for me. The steel frame is lively yet not a wet noodle in corners or under hard torquing/accelerations. It's got a couple of glaring issues, water bottle mounts being one of them, but I could work around those. This bike, as is, would be considered by me to be a in-town rambler though. So, close, but no cigar. 

I am glad I built this up and gave it a go though. Now I have an even better handle on what my future single speed gravel bike should be like. This will get torn down and returned to the Cedar Valley Bicycle Collective where I got it from as it was when I picked it up. 

Why? Because I have waaaaay too many bikes! I don't need another urban cruiser sitting around and taking up valuable space in The Lab. So, this one will be going away soon. It was never going to be anything else but an experiment.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Get A Grip

The Redshift Sports Cruise Control Grips
Recently my experience with the new Ergon GP1 Evo grips reminded me of how I thought that Ergon should have tried a drop bar specific variation on the GP1 back when I first got a hold of the GP1's in 2005. I know that back then the market for such grips probably was pretty limited, but now?

Well, there are "drop bar specific grips" from several companies and they are starting to catch on. I saw where Jay Petervary was using some of the Redshift Sports Cruise Control grips on that longtail Esker bike. That's a pretty high-profile endorsement of such a grip for long gravel rides. 

But Redshift isn't the only idea out there. I used some longer ESI silicone grips on my Pofahl briefly back more than ten years ago to try to find some relief from the gravel. For myself, that didn't work so well, but those are still a good idea for some folks. Now Ritchey Design has a similar grip out for drops in their WCS Drop Bar Grips.   

The Ritchey WCS Drop Bar Grip (Image courtesy of Ritchey Design)

To my way of thinking the best design for a drop bar grip is more like an Ergon grip, but not everyone may agree with me there. That said, you've got two basic choices in grips with a variation that could be seen as a third variation on the theme, I suppose. then you also have shaped handle bars, which are a separate component and which have their own sets of plusses and minuses for the gravel rider. 

The Ritchey Design grip is representative of what I call "track bar style grips". Grips that go on a drop bar's extensions and maybe as far as up to the lever clamp. There are certainly those who may think, "Just buy a track grip!", and be done with it. Well, that is an option, but the gravel influence usually means that this sort of grip has some "beef" to it and that it is designed to absorb vibrations. That's the idea behind the Ritchey grip. 

My Pofahl custom signature bike with the original set-up featured ESI silicone grips on the drop bar.

 The other variation on this "track bar style grip" is similar but they have "ergonomic bumps" to aid in grip on the drop bar's extensions. I haven't seen a lot of this sort of thing, but examples do exist and I have photographic evidence to share below.

ERE Research grips

The "Shape My Grip" accessory grips fit over the bar and then are wrapped over.

My feelings on this sort of adaptation to drop bars is that they don't really do anything for vibration reduction. The may give you a bit more purchase on the bar in slippery situations, but most of the time they aren't doing much for you.

And maybe that is a criticism to be leveled at all of the solutions I've presented so far, because, ya know, most folks are riding on the hoods a large percentage of the time that they are on the bike. Things down on the extensions aren't of much use to them. That's why shaped bars have become more popular. 

The PRO brand "Vibe" bars (Image courtesy of PRO)

Shaped, "ergonomic" bars, especially carbon handle bars, are very popular because the manufacturer can put the "comfort features" closer to where riders will actually use that. The "tops" section is probably the most commonly affected section of a drop bar in that regard, but the PRO branded "Vibe" bar takes this to an extreme because they have designed that bar to mate with Shimano levers. Understandably so, since PRO is owned by Shimano! 

The thing is, the ergonomic bar has two things going against it. One: The angles and positioning overall of any ergo features are not adjustable. Either you get on with what the designer did, or you do not. The expense of such handlebars makes risking choosing one a harder thing to do. Two: We are hamstrung by the brake lever clamp standard which has been in use for a century and dictates the way we attach levers and therefore it makes any radical changes to the bar shape tough to accomplish. 

Because Whisky designed the Mason Bar to have MTB sized extensions, I was able to mount these Ergon grips.

So, at this point grip technology for drop bars is kind of at a standstill. To my way of thinking, although many people don't ride in the drops, the Redshift Sports Cruise Control grips are still the best thing I've come across for comfort and vibration reduction for drop bars. Yes, the fact that they are very "ergon-like" is not lost on me. But it only makes sense that this is what should be pursued for that particular position on the bars. 

I love the more integrated idea that PRO used on the Vibe bar which transitions the lever to the bars well. That's probably the smartest place to work on for other companies to innovate in because of all the time most people's hands are on the hoods or right there where the lever connects to the bar. 

Time will tell if anybody comes up with some solutions, but I think this is an area ripe for the taking in the gravel market now.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Signs Of The Times: Part 2

Word is that Wiggle/CRC is in deep financial trouble.
 Back in late September I posted that signs were looking like they were pointing to a time of upheaval in the cycling industry. Well, going into the weekend news broke that the largest online bicycle retailer, Wiggle/Chain Reaction Cycles, was going into "receivership" , and then during the weekend news was that these online giants were not taking anymore new orders and had ceased paying vendors. Both serious bad signs for retail in the cycling sector. 

As I perused YouTube I found a couple of creators that are independent shop owners who were telling their tales concerning the state of retail in the US. One claimed that "one of the big brands" has enough entry level hard tail mountain bikes warehoused to last them for 6 years worth of sales

I had been reading about the overproduction and warehousing issues plaguing the industry, but six years worth of inventory in one of a brands best selling categories? Ouch! And I would imagine that this "big brand" is not alone in that issue. 

Another point claimed was that lay-offs and consolidation is happening at a wider scale than is being reported openly, and that I can believe. In fact, I have sensed that a couple of my contacts are part of this "contraction". When these sorts of things happen, at least in the business of cycling, it can be very "hush-hush", even during good business times. So, that is why I tend to believe that point. 

The comments from the viewers of these videos I have watched seem to have a few common threads. One being that there is a definite angst toward the cycling industry concerning "COVID-inflation", or the sharp increase in prices seen during the pandemic. Many people are pretty sore about that. One other point I see a lot is that bicycles are over-priced, with a comparison to motorcycles often used. The point there being that a road/trail worthy motorcycle costs less than many companies mid-to upper tiered MTB/Road product. Finally, lots of consumers seem to feel that, technologically speaking, bicycles are fundamentally unchanged in the last 5-10 years. I can sort of see this point as full suspension has evolved more than it has innovated while road bikes are essentially the same just with more cogs on the cassette. 

Will there be further shake-ups? Absolutely. During my ride with Ben this past weekend he told me that the outdoor retailer, REI, has just made some sweeping layoffs in response to poor retail performance. I suspect this sort of news will become more common in the near future, not less. This Winter will sift out those barely hanging on and upheaval will be more commonly seen than not. Pundits in the industry say this inventory problem will last far into 2024, and with no budging in consumer spending on bicycles, the writing seems to be on the wall.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Country Views: Special Guest Ride v2

Escape Route: West 2nd Avenue.
 Back in November of 2021 things were loosening up a bit with regard to the pandemic we all went through. Due to that and a pent up wanderlust and sense for adventure, many people started doing things together again for the first time in nearly two years. 

One of those things were rides with other people. I was contacted by a son of a former co-worker, Ben Morris, who came down on a windy, raw day in November of 2021 and we did a nice gravel grinder. 

Well, Ben was back in the area again this past weekend and so he had reached out to see if I might be able to join him for a gravel ride. I said "YES!" and so that happened Sunday afternoon. It's a good thing it was Sunday, and not Saturday, as the winds were simply brutal on Saturday. While there was a significant breeze out of the South-Southeast, it was nothing compared to gale force blasts we had on Saturday. 

So, I had church in the morning and I ate a lunch but as soon as I was finished I had to get ready to leave as I was to meet Ben down at Prairie Grove Park at 2:00pm. I had to ride about 6.5 miles to get there, so I figured on leaving by no later than1:15pm. However; I didn't get going until 1:30pm so I had to floor it and I basically time trialed in between having to stop to cross five busy roads. 

I would say it was about peak leaf-peeping here.

Ben and I did hook up on time.

Let me just say that I do not recommend scarfing down lunch and then almost immediately hopping on your bike, going fast over six miles, and then expect to keep up with someone young enough to be your son. Especially with almost no rest. 

Ha ha! I'm not maybe in as good as shape as I'd like, but whatever it was, I was starting to gasp for air and about four or five miles in I had Ben stop so I could catch my breath and so we could decide on our route. I gave Ben three options and he (probably taking pity on his gasping companion), chose the middle distance route. 

It was a spectacular Fall day.

Ben agreed that gravel was pretty coarse and rough.

Since we were riding into the wind going South of Waterloo, the gravel was pretty rough. I mean, after all this time, what should I expect, right? I figured that since the harvest looks to be 99% complete here, the County decided to dump fresh rock everywhere. There maybe was about two or three miles where it wasn't super-loose and chunky. I followed grader tracks as much as I could, but the initial miles were brutal, which also led me to want to stop, as I mentioned earlier. I was simply working too hard. 

No real tracks to follow unless you hit that grader track you can see on the right.

Ben was riding this nice Canyon Grizl.

Ben was riding a Canyon Grizl. I haven't been able to really eye-ball a Grizl before, so this was interesting. Ben had 45mm tires that he said had stretched to about 47mm. On the Grizl there was room to spare and then some. Ben had told me he knew people running 29" X 2.1's on this model. 

He also was running that Canyon/Ergon leaf spring post I have had here a couple of times now. I've had to send those off to lighter-than-me riders because the weight limit on the post is something like 220lbs or whatever it is. Ben said he really was noticing the post working here on the rough Iowa gravel. Not so much on the Wisconsin blacktops though. So, a mini-review for you there. 

This big boy wanted to play, but he stayed in his yard, thankfully!

I gave Ben a tour of the Level B Section of Petrie Road.

I kind of figured that Petrie Road would be rideable since we still are in a severe drought here in Iowa. I was correct. It was certainly rutted out and rough, but that was preferable to me than buffed out dirt. It was a fun part of the ride and I was glad I got to show Ben that bit of his old backyard. (He's originally from Cedar Falls) 

Ben cleaning the West end of Petrie Road.

It was a fun two hours with Ben. Of course, I had to ride back home, so I ended up with three hours altogether. It was great to get out there again, and with an old acquaintance who I get to see too little. 

The weather looks favorable in the near term, so I think I will be trying to get ready for the Turkey Burn I do every year. Stay tuned for more on that soon.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The GTDRI Series; Fall Out From The 2017 Ride

Resting after the N Avenue climb. Image by Rob Evans.
   "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!

After the 2017 GTDRI I received many comments about the route. there was a lot of enthusiasm about the ride. Even my report here on this blog engendered a few wistful, "I wish I would have been there" comments.

So, as the rest of 2017 went on, I became more and more convinced that I should just rerun the same exact course and go for it again. But while that decision may have seem to have been made based on what people could see from the outside, the reality was quite different.

2017 was a very stressful and significant year for me on a few levels. First off, my mother was in decline from Alzheimer's and it was clear that it wasn't going to get better, it was going to get worse. Fast. Secondly, my job at the bike shop I had been wrenching at since late 2002 was now not looking like a stable source of income. There were troubling signs that the business was in steep decline, and my income reflected this as I had my vacation pay and holiday pay yanked out from underneath me without warning. Finally, it was the year that I had decided Trans Iowa, the seminal gravel event that started in late 2004, was going to come to an end in 2018. 

The Otso Warakin I rode for the 2017 GTDRI.
Those heavy influences pretty much dominated my psyche throughout the closing months of 2017. In fact, I've no doubt now looking back at this time that all my stress was a big factor in why I was sick for the better part of that Fall.

Changes. They are never easy to navigate, and I was facing the beginnings of what would end up being lifestyle, family,  and friendship altering changes that would be ongoing for the next five years. 2017 was pretty much the end of Life as I had known it since 2005. 

And I didn't think a lot of that was anyone's business, and in the case of Trans Iowa, I was trying to be ultra-careful with how I was presenting myself and every shred of information around the event so as not to give anything away. That only added to the stress. 

Anyway, that was all a huge reason to just keep the next GTDRI the same. No course recon, no worries. Just roll out the same cues and be done with that. People seemed to be jazzed about the dirt roads concept and the brewery ending, so I figured, why not

Besides, the pall I was under concerning Trans Iowa was overtaking everything. I couldn't even think about a course design, and the entire weight of that and trying to figure out how to end it was a real drag. Doing anything else was just not really feasible at that point. 

Eventually the T.I.v14 route did get done.

The malaise I was in lasted until almost the end of the year, but then I came around and I was able to get recon finished with the help of my friend, Tony McGrane. It was a huge relief to get that behind me and after that, things kind of started flowing more naturally for a bit. 

At least I did not have the GTDRI to worry about in the beginnings of 2018. Trans Iowa dominated my thoughts for the most part, and of course, the next GTDRI would be the first one done in the "post Trans Iowa" timeline. 

Next: How things in the gravel scene were lining up in 2018.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Blurred Lines Or Just Bicycles?

Once upon a time most road bikes had 32mm tires.
As I wrote yesterday at the end of the "FN&V" post, today I wanted to look at just what is going on at the brand level with gravel bikes, so-called "endurance road" bikes, and the influence of mountain bikes on gravel bikes. 

Things that once seemed unimaginable even just 10 years ago are now commonplace and things that seem like they are really "gravel" or MTB are called something entirely different by the industry. 

Tires kind of define the genre' and so it has been for many decades, but what was once a "road bike" tire fell out of favor only to resurface as a "road bike tire" that many see as being "gravel lite". 

Let me explain....

 If we go back 30 plus years ago, and when we think about the original "bike boom" which was fomented by the "Gas Crisis" of the 1970's, we can see something that resembles "endurance road" bikes from today. Especially if we are mainly defining that by tire size, which the media and brands seem to be doing. 

How is that the 1970's road bikes are congruent to today's technological marvels? Again, if we focus on tire size, most road bikes of the 1970's were using 27" X 1 1/4" size wheels. There were some 1 3/8ths tires, and a few 1" wide tires thrown in for good measure, but the vast majority of road bikes people were buying up by the thousands in the 70's were 27" X 1 1/4" wheel sized bikes. 

That's ISO 630 X 32mm for you metric folks. 

Trek Domane bikes come standard with 700 X 32mm tires.

They say "What comes around goes around", and while the 27"/ISO630 diameter tires have been left behind, the width, 1 1/4"/32mm, has resurfaced as the standard road bike sized tire. 

So, stretching that a few millimeters to, say 35mm, is that getting into "gravel" territory? Well, recall that 27" X 1 3/8ths was a fairly common size back in the 70's. That's essentially 35mm. So, while this all may seem like road bikes have gone mad with these wider tires, it really is a return to what once was commonplace.

So if we take into account a few things here, this really all makes sense. The return to wider widths on road bikes isn't "new", its just using what made sense for "all-road riding" for decades previous to the shrinking of tire widths which began in the 1980's. People forget. So, history is there to remind us that perhaps the cycling designers, marketers, and brands went astray for a few decades and are now "returning to their senses", as it were. 

You may see it as "they are just making up this stuff to sell new product!", and perhaps there is a little something to all of that. But there is also a historical precedent for 32mm-35mm tires as being "common" road bike tire widths. It certainly may have been spurred on by the gravel bike scene, but that does not erase the reasons these widths make sense, and have, for decades prior to now. 

The Salsa Cycles Fargo, November 2008. A bike way ahead of its time.

Now what of this MTB-like gravel bike stuff? That's really a "new" innovation, right? 

No, not really. 

Going back to the 2000's, it was a dream of many riders who were early adopters of 29"ers to have a flared drop-bar specific "adventure" bike. This having been an influence of earlier MTB folks from the late 1980's who used flared drop bars on 26" mountain bikes. 

That drop bar idea was paired with the then common 2.1" X 700c sized tire. Using these ideas, the "dream bike" would have lighter-duty frames than a full-on MTB matched up with modernized flared drop bars. This rig was thought up as the perfect bike to just hit up some easier single track, gravel, and to be able to hold its own on pavement when necessary. 

You could call this idea "gravel-plus", "drop bar MTB", or what Salsa Cycles called it, "an adventure by bike" bicycle. Credit Jason Boucher, then head of the brand, for spearheading this idea back in the late 2000's, an idea that was nearly shot down, by the way. I'm very happy it made it through the gauntlet of QBP's process, and that the Fargo, at least the Gen I version, was the bicycle that launched the legitimacy of more mountain bike-ish gravel bikes, bikepacking, and the drop bars on MTB bikes revival. 

Say what you will, but the fact is that the Fargo was a decade plus ahead of its time in terms of its affects on gravel bikes, and now 50mm + wide tires with drop bars and MTB geometry features is not such a crazy idea as it was in late 2008. 

But where does THAT fit in the gravel bike continuum? Well, a better question would be, "What is a "gravel bike" anyway?" For that matter, does "endurance road" have to be seen as encroaching on gravel bikes capabilities? Who says what is "gravel" and what is "not gravel" anyway? 

The bike industry. Bicycle mainstream media. That's who. 

If you feel comfortable using any bike on gravel, then it is a "gravel bike".

Marketing an idea is what makes money, and the public loves "categories", or the brands would not pursue those divisions and sub-sets for bicycles. People that don't know any better and want an easy, turnkey solution to perceived problems won't care to know what reality is, and this post's information would not make a whit of difference to those sorts of consumers. That said, there is history to look at, and the clarity for what may seem like random choices to pilfer innocent folks out of their money exists which actually makes sense.

Finally, these are all choices and we live in a "golden age" of bicycle choices for sure. At the end of the day, it all comes down to "just riding". Whatever the marketers or media calls 'em, they are just bicycles. 

I hope you get a good ride in soon and thanks for reading!

Friday, October 20, 2023

Friday News And Views

 Iowa Gravel Series Announces 2024 Slate Of Races:

Early in the week the Iowa Gravel Series, headed up by Chris McQueen, announced their slate of events for the 2024 season. Headlining the series is a new, all-female event and two new additional races with one of them serving as the finale to the series. 

The IGS is partnering with Prairie Bloom, the largest cycling club in Omaha, NE, to put on what they hope will eventually be one of the largest women's only gravel events in the nation. Called the "Prairie Superbloom", it will run on the same course that is used for Glenwood Gravel. The event will take place in September of 2024.

The series is also adding two new events in the Kalona Horseshoe and the Fairfield Harvest Rush. The Fairfield event will close out the IGS events for 2024 and so the IGS is hoping to offer a prize purse for both the over-all series and the event that day. Sponsors and details are TBD, but stay tuned to the IGS site (link above) for announcements or follow the Iowa Gravel Series on social media. 

Comments: Back in 2020 when I saw the way that Chris McQueen was doing things, I knew that he was going to bring in a very different, aggressive approach to gravel events in Iowa. The state was ripe for the taking, in a way, since the gravel racing/riding scene, well established by the late twenty-teens, had not been pursued by any promotional teams or developed by an organization despite the vast opportunities Iowa has to offer. Besides the new-ish series of events put on by Relentless Events, which are all ultra-distance in nature, the state did not have a cohesive series of "standard" distance events until the IGS started up. 

The announcements for the 2024 season are typically aggressive and forward-thinking in terms of what we have had for gravel events in Iowa in the past. Are the events that the IGS puts on "too fancy"? Some may be put off by the progressive, more promotionally driven messaging that the IGS has, but again- Iowa was a wasteland in terms of any "big-time" gravel events, if that makes any sense. Iowa had nothing like the SBT GRVL, Unbound, Big Sugar, Gravel Worlds type of thing going on, and really, I find that rather bizarre. Why not? This state has been, for all intents and purposes, passed by in the bigger gravelly world of cycling when it should not have been so. (And I realize I may have had something to do with that fact.)

Maybe the Iowa Gravel Series will change that. We'll see.....  

Raputitsa Celebrates 10th Edition Of The Event In 2024:

The Raputitsa, a mixed terrain, "gravel" event in Vermont, is setting up to celebrate 10 years of the event's running in 2024. To mark the occasion, the event directors have chosen to feature several sections of the original Raputitsa course and have decided to "up the adventure quotient" by moving the date earlier to potentially capture more "challenging weather". 

Known to have muddy, sometimes snowy sectors on the course, Raputitsa says that by moving their date forward by a week they hope to catch a bit more of that sort of thing. They are quoted in their press release as stating, "Mother Nature is going to test your mettle, and we're here for it!"

Registration and lodging for the 2024 Raputitsa opens up November 1st. 

Comments: You know, it's kind of ironic when you stop to think about this dynamic of having very challenging conditions for an event. There have been cries of "foul" where challenging, muddy conditions have occurred during certain, very high profile gravel events. Event RD's have been taken to task for "putting riders through terrible conditions" just to hold an event, or use a particular course.

Then there are those who think the event may not have been a genuine one if the course is super-dry and there is no wind. They feel "cheated" out of a "real experience". One that they trained for and expected the trials and tribulations of the event to be a part of their personal, prideful "success story" afterward. However; if things were too easy, that kind of short-circuits the possibilities for "epic story telling" after the fact. 

So, there is no winning that debate when it comes to Race directing and promoting. All you can do is cast the net as far as you can in terms of getting the information about course conditions and possibilities to as many as you can. Maybe you will get racers/riders informed. The rest is on the rider to decide. Don't like the course conditions? Well, no one is forcing you to ride in any particular conditions.You can go ahead and stop at any point. As for your event fees, well, you should know the "refund policies" ahead of your attendance. I'm going to guess most events don't have refund policies, and if they do, usually they allow a deferral to the following year's event.  

For those who didn't get all the mud, snow, wind, or whatever they were expecting? There is always next year, or another event.

Image courtesy of Lauf Cycles

Lauf Debuts Uthald Road Bike:

Lauf, the gravel bike company known for their carbon linkage fork, the Grit, has now made a road bike. Well..... Not your typical road bike. 

Lauf claims that they rode at least one test mule with a variable head tube angle across multiple terrains and with several riders and arrived at a bike with a slightly slacker head tube angle and with less offset than you might think you'd want with that head angle. 

They also added copious, (for a road bike, that is), tire clearance with a recommended maximum size of 35mm, but I've already seen where someone has fitted in a 38mm tire. 

The Uthald has a short rear-center and so the wheel base is kept somewhat in check. The bottom bracket drop isn't crazy, but it is 73mm, and that's okay. The thing here is all about the higher than expected trail figure and slack-ish head tube angle. For a road bike, that is. But then, I'm seeing this as another move back toward where things once were in the early 20th Century. 

It's also wireless only. Yep! Something I think we'll be seeing more of in the future as companies push the electronically shifted drive trains more and more. It's probably not a bike I would choose to ride here in Iowa, (I don't have any desire to ride pavement), but it is an interesting development in road bike offerings. Definitely NOT your average road bike.

Merida Silex 4000 (Image courtesy of Merida)

The World Champion's Gravel Bike:

Merida Bikes released their newest version of their Silex range of gravel bikes on Thursday. This brand is not sold in the USA, but I thought the bike, and its unique design, was noteworthy. 

As the headline states, this was the bike that was under Matej Mohorič when he won the Men's UCI Gravel World Championships recently. That becomes an important note when we look at the Silex's geometry. 

This is the other noteworthy bit, that being that Merida took cues from their mountain bike range when designing the newest Silex range. The old Silex had an already slack-ish 71° head tube angle, but this new one goes under 70° to a 69.5° head tube angle. The bottom bracket drop is a healthy 75mm, and the chain stays are not super-short, but with a maximum 45mm tire capability, 430mm is about as short as you'd want to go, I think. 

The mountain biking influence on gravel bikes is being seen more and more, and on the other end, we are seeing bikes like the Lauf (above) creep up on "gravel bike" territory. In fact, Merida has its own "Endurance Road" bike that can handle up to a 35mm tire. 

This begs some questions: "When do "road bikes" become "gravel bikes"? Also, "When do 'Gravel bikes' become MTB/XC bikes with drop bars?" Does any of that matter? Apparently it doesn't too much to a two-time Tour de France winner who just won a single day UCI gravel race. (With a lot of paved sections, I might add.) 

Tomorrow I will take a closer look at the blurring of lines in terms of gravel bikes. 

That's it for today! Thanks for reading Guitar Ted Productions!