Thursday, November 30, 2023

Say Hello To John

 I need to introduce you all to John Ingham. 

I was introduced to John via a mutual acquaintance  and gravel event promoter, Trenton Raygor of the Filthy Fifty. He told me about John, his background, and how John had a desire to contribute to the gravel riding and racing folks via his writing. 

I decided to check John's chops out and I was blown away. John is a LOT smarter than I and writes at a much higher level than I ever could hope to. It's "college level" reading, annotated, researched.... It's scholarly stuff, but John makes it relevant and more importantly, he will make you think, in my opinion.

But instead of having me blather on about John's background and credentials, I asked John himself if he would like to provide us all here with some information about himself. He graciously agreed to do just that and following now is John's bio for you all to read. 

  "John is 83 now and still riding, despite getting longer in the tooth. He is a retired--one might say, reformed--anthropology professor. He did research in a rural village in the central highlands of Mexico, and specialized in thinking about the interrelation of personality and culture, with passing interest in medical and biological anthropology. 

John has been drawn to adventure since he was a boy in Southern California. as a teenager, among other things, he did spearfishing trips to the gulf of Mexico and scrambled on local rocks. He has enjoyed running, skiing, wilderness canoeing, backpacking, cycling, and especially rock climbing and mountaineering. He gave up climbing eight years ago when his hands became too arthritic and took up gravel riding instead. Being way up there and way out there are about as good as it gets for him

He is married to Mary Grove. They have a son and daughter and three grandchildren, with a fourth, "little bro," on the way, ETA just after Christmas."

Okay, now I will wrap this up and let you know that John has one of his amazing papers to share with us which I plan on running this Saturday, December 2nd. It's going to be a long read, so make sure you have everything settled in, maybe even an extra large java for this one!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Got A Big Head? Check This Out

The Lazer Kineticore Helmet

Note: Lazer Helmets sent out a white Strada Kineticore helmet for review to Guitar Ted Productions at no charge. I am not being paid, nor bribed for this review and I always strive to give you my honest thoughts and opinions. 

My relationship with helmets for cycling has been marked by frustration and a dash of "rules breaking". See, I have a big head. Not the "big head" in terms of an ego, or pridefulness, but an actual "BIG HEAD".  As in a 7 7/8ths or 63.5cm sized melon that resides on the top of my body. 

So, to say that I am quite familiar with how the cycling industry is not "size inclusive" is putting things mildly. Let's talk about jersey sizing, jackets, or shorts some day. But not today. Today is all about heads, big heads, and how helmets don't come often in big head sizes, if they do at all. 

I can honestly say that since about 1993, when I started wearing a helmet, I hadn't had a helmet that truly fit me without modifications until 2020. Yep! 27 years of cycling in ill fitting headgear because, well, I suppose cycling helmet providers didn't think people had bigger heads than 7 3/4's size. If they even went that big. 

Kudos to Bontrager/Trek for finally making cool helmets for larger noggins. I ride with two different Bontrager helmets that fit me quite well without any mods whatsoever. But that's just one company. What if I wanted to ride in something different? Well, I'm here to tell you that I discovered another helmet company that just might fix you up. 

Lazer helmets got a hold of me recently to tell me about a new gravel helmet they have out now and 'would I like to try one'? 

Well, I always chuckle when I get these helmet offers. I check the sizing, with a pretty good idea of what I am about to see, and have my suspicions confirmed. The Lazer gravel helmet was no different. The only thing I can do a lot of times is to tell these people to ask one of my friends that review stuff to try that out, or I just say "Thanks, but no thanks!". However; this time I decided to tell the Lazer rep that they don't make helmets my size and that I have one helmet company I can use. 

The Bontrager Starvos has been my jam since 2020.

Just to backtrack a second here, Lazer actually had insisted that they had a helmet to fit me at one point about five or six years ago. I kept telling them that they didn't, but they sent one out anyway. Aaaaaannnnnd......I was right. It did not fit me at all. So, I was pretty confident that this time Lazer would be either going back to the drawing board or telling me that they couldn't help me. But they did neither of those two things.

Instead, the rep told me about two helmets in the Lazer range that had been made to fit larger heads. "Would you like to try one of them?" And you know what? They do have a helmet that fits! The one I was sent, at no charge to me for a trial fit and review, was the Strada Kineticore model in white. It is supposed to fit up to a size 64cm head, which is just a bit larger than what I need. 

The helmet is what I would call a mid-range helmet with some decent protection features and nice styling and plenty of decently sized vents. It's not super-lightweight nor does it have the fancier features some higher end helmets have, but it is nice. And it fits my head without causing me any uncomfortable tight spots or strain. Now, it isn't perfect, but lets not let perfect be the enemy of the good here. When you have a head like mine, you don't get a lot of choices. 

That said, if your head trends to the rounder side, this helmet will fit you better than it does me. I have a decidedly egg-shaped, longer head, and there is s slight bit of side-to-side looseness when I have the fore-aft right for my head. It isn't terrible, but it could fit a bit better. 

The textured strip on the back adjusts the cradle internally.

And because the helmet is near to the end of its size range capabilities, I can only get in a thin head-buff nylon sock thing over my head to keep the Winter chill out, and that's all the room I have. Compared to the Bontrager Starvos helmet, which I can get a nice wool, ear flapper cycling hat under, this is a bit underwhelming. Also, the fit system and cradle style of the Lazer helmet is a bit fiddly and not as easy to use as the Bontrager's. 

But the Strada Kineticore does have a really cool rubberized sunglasses port which neither of my two Bontrager helmets have and I do like that. By the way, the Starvos and this Strada Kineticore helmet are near to each other in price, especially now with Lazer's sale going on. Typically, the Strada is about 30 bucks to 40 bucks more expensive, depending on where you look. 

I wore the Strada Kineticore on my Turkey Burn rides over three days and found no real problems while riding with it on. I cannot speak to the venting, as it is Winter here and venting is not a good thing now. I wore the aforementioned buff-thingy which pretty much kept me in the dark concerning venting. But it fits! That's the biggest win here for me. 

And hopefully Lazer will take my story and make their high-end helmets big-head friendly. time will tell.....

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Turkey Burn Report: Part 2

We went full "Winter Mode" after Thanksgiving here.
As I stated yesterday, I figured I had something like 30+ miles in for the Turkey Burn from that adventure. I couldn't start until after lunch, and as you saw, I didn't get home until dark. These days, your Sunlight is limited around here. 

Then the weather went down the toilet. We got a lot of wind on Friday, and I had family obligations, then I had to work Saturday and that cut into my time. Add in a last minute crunch on a couple of writing projects and a big feature on the blog coming up for this Saturday and I was pressed for any free time as it was.

Sunday morning, very early, it snowed. Then it got really cold. So now I am not looking at riding anything but my Ti Muk 2 with some 45NRTH pogies attached. 

Between commuting to work and some "garbage miles" around the neighborhood, I figured I had pushed in ten more miles, maybe a couple more. I rode a bike everyday, I just didn't have very good weather or the time to get into a longer ride. 

I'm probably 15 miles short of a metric century, but it is what it is. I tried, and I didn't get there. I have to consider that the wind chill has been in the single digits and the Sun doesn't stay up past 4:30pm for long now and well..... All was not lost, as I got out on a bike everyday and that is better than not getting on a bike. 

I did get a few people to join me on this Virtual Turkey Burn idea though and those reports have been coming in already. I may get some more before the deadline at midnight tonight. We will see. I'll start running those reports starting this coming Monday, December 4th. 

Stay tuned.....

Monday, November 27, 2023

Turkey Burn Report: Part 1

Escape Route; Out of the darkness....Into the Light!
My Thanksgiving actually happened on Wednesday because all members of my household family had that day off this year. So, Thursday was a wide open day for me. It also was going to be the best day for the weekend to ride out in the country, but even then, it wasn't "awesome", despite the brilliant sunshine. A stiff Northwest wind kept the "real-feel" down into a pretty chilly range, and out in the open areas it was a brutal headwind if you were going North or even West. 

And as well, I had no gumption to attack the conditions to knock out the metric century goal in one ride. So, I made up my mind after much going back-and-forth to do a big push on Thursday and a few smaller rides sprinkled throughout what became a much chillier weekend. 

Plus, I had to get more time on that Tumbleweed Big Dipper bar, so I came up with a plan to hit the Washington-Union Access trail and then some gravel on the way back into town. The Washington-Union Access is Northwest of where I live, but much of the way out I would be hugging the Cedar River and staying in the woods, out of the wind. 

It isn't yet 2:00pm at this point and it looks like the Sun is setting! this time of year, it is!

The new bike trail along Center Street in Cedar Falls. (Old HWY 218)
The Singular Gryphon, with its big 2.8" tires, was like a floaty magic carpet ride on the way out. Those big tires would be a huge asset on the Washington-Union Access trail coming up. This trail has been a fire road type corridor for decades that not many people utilize in their riding. I first heard about it way back in my college days when I overheard some UNI football players speaking about using it as a training run course. 

I first went up it back in the 1990's on my MTB bikes, but since then I don't hear a lot of chatter about people using it. Fortunately it has received a bit of attention from the County as it has been maintained better than it had been in the early 2000's. 

The trail starts at this inauspicious looking gate. Beyond it is where Adventure begins!

Looking back here. Right off the get-go you get this very rocky section.

 There has been a bit of maintenance done quite recently that mitigates the former severity of the rocky section which I usually would have to dismount for. Loose, baby head sized river-washed limestone boulders were strewn across this section and if you had a full-suspension rig, yeah maybe then. But I wouldn't risk it on a slow-roll, such as it is, on a full-rigid bike previous to this new situation. Still, you never know what is underneath that carpet of leaves! 

The Washington-Union Access Trail is pretty wide and smooth in spots.

I made some navigational errors starting at this beautiful meadow

My original plan was to find the intersection of the Ford Road Access Trail with the Washington-Union Access Trail. I had been on the Ford Road section from Ford Road about a month prior to this ride, and it was looking to be in fantastic shape. However; I was snookered into following a trail that turned out to be a dead end instead. 

The Sunlight was running out and making circles in the forest was not on my radar. I was a bit frustrated, but I wasn't through making gaffs just yet. Not long after I rejoined the Washington-Union Access Trail I saw a sign that said something about the Cedar Valley Savanna Project and a fresh-cut trail that led off in the general direction of the Ford Road Access. 

That was a complete disaster as it was a trail so new that it had a thousand sticks and branches laying in the bumpy, tractor-tracked up trail which was a recipe for a sheared derailleur if I ever saw one. Fortunately I extricated myself without any damage to myself or machine. But not before I had probably wasted another fifteen minutes chasing a trailhead I never found. 

Back to the main trail! Time was running out on this day!

Coming back out of the Cedar Valley Savanna Project trail which was a total dead end for me.

This field marks the ending of the trail on the North side. Those woods are where the Washington-Union Access is located.

The Sun was Westering and I needed to get a move-on. I was smart enough to have a full lighting kit with me though, so I was only really concerned with getting back into the city environs before I lost all Sunlight. 

Plus, I would have the benefit of a fairly stiff tailwind all the way back home, and I was looking forward to that. I figured I might even claw back some of the time I lost going in circles trying to find that Ford Road cut-off. 

Riding alongside County C-57. I stayed on the gravel shoulder.

And now the tailwind section starts! Ford Road looking South from C-57.

I reached C-57 just East of the bridge over the Cedar River which marks that river's confluence with the Shell Rock River. Just a bit further upstream on the Shell Rock is where the West Fork of the Cedar River joins the Shell Rock River. This entire area was once a large hardwood forest and a gathering place for Native American tribes in the past to do their Summer hunting. This went on until the late 1850's until the last of the Ho-Chunk people quit coming there due to the encroachments of European settlers which began hacking back at the Big Wood for lumber, farmland clearing, and road construction. 

It was the Native Americans which gave this area its name, "The Turkey Foot", because the waterways formed a sort of "turkey footprint" on the land. Now it has become a popular riparian area and a place where Americans now build their rural "McMansions". 

Another new "McMansion" going up on the North side of Ford Road.

The shadows grow long on Ford Road

Ford Road was in excellent condition for fast gravel-travel. I pushed the pace to try to beat the Sun before it set and get back to Cedar Falls, at the least. I was pleased with my pace as the Sun seemed to linger on the horizon.

That round, dome shaped building is the Cedar Falls Ice House Museum. Yes- it is an old surviving ice house.

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church stands awash in the last glow of Thanksgiving Day, 2023.

I made it back into Cedar Falls. The Sun was setting, but I turned my tail light and head light on low anyway. I suspected not many motorists would think a cyclist would be out at that time of day on a Thanksgiving. 

I quickly rode along darkening city streets and bicycle trails. Maybe I would make it back before it got really dark. That tailwind really helped me out! I was thankful for that for sure!

I encountered an abnormal amount of people on the Trolley Car Trail, and amazingly, each group or individual was walking a dog. Weird! I must have hit the jackpot on dog walkers. 

A last ray of Sunlight strikes this graffiti art. As seen on my way through Cedar Falls.

The Sun finally sets just as I crossed Black Hawk Creek, a half mile from home.

I rounded the corner to see my home just as it was getting dark enough to have to have the lights on. I was able to squeeze every last bit of the day out enjoying that ride, for the most part. Those minutes lost scrambling around on fresh-cut trail notwithstanding. It was a great nearly four hour adventure, and I figure it left me with about half the mileage to go on a metric. (I should have run a GPS, but I didn't!)

Let's see in tomorrow's post if I am able to chew into that deficit some more.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

The GTDRI Stories: The 2018 GTDRI - Part 3

 "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!

The ride eventually pulled into Traer with one of the largest groups I've ever been in hitting a small town convenience store. This always was a bit of a blessing and a curse for these small stores because we were an outlier in their planning.

On one hand, we probably made their day, week, and month by showing up and purchasing goods. On the other hand, we threw off their planning by using up more stock than they thought they would and maybe we even threw off future stocking plans because the store manager may have thought we were a "trend" in an upward trajectory for the future. 

Of course, at the time all we cared about was getting water and grub to refuel for the next half and a little more of the course. Timing-wise we were way ahead of schedule, arriving nearly an hour earlier than we had the year before. So, I was in no particular hurry to leave again. But, as is the case with me, I feel the urge to get-a-move-on at some point and I finally herded up the cats and we left Traer's confines on one of my rides for the last time ever.

The only Traer stop shot I took. At the time I had no reason to believe this wouldn't happen again.

We had a bit of flat tire bother after leaving Traer.

The next section of the ride I have little memory of. In fact, that loss of memory starts in Traer. I just don't have many impressions from that part of the ride at all. I remember "O" Avenue's Level B dirt, and that we had some issues with tires along the way. Then my mind goes blank from there till we got to "I Avenue" and that "barely there" dirt/grass track. 

I cannot even say I was riding bad or good. The report after the ride said that the bike I was testing, an Otso Waheela S, had a SRAM 1X drive train that wasn't shifting into its three lowest gears. I suppose I wasn't having any fun at all throughout most of this part of the ride since it was the hilliest part on the course. 

Double "I" Avenue. ("II Ave")

I do recall shepherding the riders across HWY 63 and because I was being so carefull I ended up being waaaaay off the back. This meant that I wasn't in the conversations being had, but this ride was for those who showed up, not so much for me, and with a bigger group, I felt all the more responsibility for them. 

The guys did wait up for me at a few spots, so we did get to ride "I Ave" together, so maybe this is why I don't remember much about the route between Traer and "I Avenue". Maybe.... That or I am losing it. 

Yes, it really is a public roadway. Hard to believe.
More "II Ave" action. You can see riders way up the path here.

Kyle Platts (R.I.P.) took this one of me on "II Ave". Note the barely visible rider in the background!

Well, if there ever was a "hit roads" compilation for rural Iowa gravel, "II Ave" in Tama County would have to be a Top Ten " Hit Road". I've been on a lot of rural tracks that weren't fit for man or beast and that one is a standout road. Of course, I haven't seen 'em all, but ya gotta admit, that's one bizarre road right there

The riders all thought so as well. We gathered up everyone at the Northern terminus of the grassy track and everyone was remarking on how cool that experience was. That certainly made me feel good about the course, and I will never forget that response I received from everyone that spoke up. I imagine a few thought it was unnecessary, bonkers, and that I could have left that out of the course, but if there was anyone there that day that felt that way, I never heard about it. 

And at that moment in time, I figured that was the climax. the highlight of the ride, but we had a lot of riding ahead of us and I was afraid that the riders would be disappointed in the remainder of the course.However; I hadn't counted on something that happened that day that I, nor anyone else, could have imagined would happen. It turned out to be the highlight of the 2018 GTDRI. 

Next: The 2018 GTDRI - Part 4: Potato Water

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Registration Season

This time of the year isn't all about football, Black Friday and its variants, or eating turkey leftovers. Nope! It's Registration Season! 

That means that these gravelly good times many like to have are open to your interest now. later?

maybe not so much, as these events have field limits and time limits to accept your registration, so here are a few of the events that are opened up for registration now that you may not have realized were taking names. (And your money, natch)

Flint Hills Gravel Ride /Run:

This is Bobby Thompson's event and he is a very passionate fan of the Flint hills, having grown up there, and of gravel riding. This is an event where the people behind it truly are caring and fully invested in seeing that you have a great experience. Plus, this is an alternative to what Life Time is doing down there, which isn't saying what Life Time is doing is bad, but look.... That event is gargantuan and more corporate driven.Not at all what this Flint Hills Gravel ride is like. 

Plus you can run/walk it as well! (This seems to be the novel offshoot of gravel bicycle events these days.) Anyway, you can get more information HERE and registration is open now. The event is on April 13th, 2024, by the way.

The Solstice 100:

This is a gravel race that is held out of Beatrice Nebraska on or near the solstice in June. This year it is June 22nd. 

I've been to this event when it was held at a different venue and it is another, smaller, well run event that has people behind it that are pouring out their hearts to make sure that you have a good time. 

They offer three distances: 100, 50,and a 30 mile course. Their unique offering here is a three-person relay team category, so you don't have to go it alone! Of course, there are categories for masters, fat bikes, and single speeders. 

Registration opens up for this one on December 21st, the equinox, (those clever event directors!), so you'll have to wait a bit to jump on this one. Details can be found HERE

Gravel Worlds:

Well, of course, you've probably already have heard that Gravel Worlds has opened up registration. The event will occur on August 22 - 25, 2024. Registration can be found HERE

But what you may not know is that there is also a Winter event connected with Gravel Worlds called "Winter Endurance". 

This is a bicycle event on gravel roads which will be held outside of Lincoln, Nebraska on February 17th, 2024. That could mean a fat bike would be good, or.... Maybe a gravel bike. Depends on what kind of Winter we get in the Mid-West. 

So, there are three events, well four if you count Winter Endurance, that might be good to check out for your 2024 cycling plans. These are events I am impressed with or have participated in over the years that I would recommend. 

Otherwise I have no connection to any of these events and I am not responsible for anything that they are doing, have done, or will do in the future. I have to post that disclaimer because I have had people in the past think I am an organizer of any event I post about. Which is obviously weird, but hey! It has happened.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Friday News And Views

The Guitar Ted Podcast Episode # 33 1/3rd:

Hey, in case you missed it, N.Y. Roll and I did another podcast that dropped last weekend and is available on Spotify, Apple, Google
Podcasts, and other podcast outlets. You can also listen via This Link.

Of course, we talk about not just our tips and tricks for route finding, but that new Tumbleweed handle bar also. Check it out if you have a spare hour to hear our thoughts. 

Programming Note: The next episode, #35, (Hey! I was never good at math!), will be our last one for the year. N.Y. Roll and I plan on taking the month of December off to recharge and spend time with our people. We may meet at some point in there to discuss Season #2 which we plan on cranking up in January. 

If you have any episode ideas, please drop them in the comments below. They do not have to be gravel related, by the way. We can and will be doing podcasts with varying subject matter over the course of the New Year. And as always, thanks for listening, if you choose to.

Virtual Turkey Burn Challenge:

Just a gentle reminder that I put out that Turkey Burn ride challenge a while back and if you wanted to participate, you can read how to do that HERE

You have from today through Sunday to complete a metric or full century ride, snap a few images, write a few words, and hit me up at Submissions must be in by Tuesday, November 28th. 

I will run my report, if nothing else, but if I get submissions I will run those Starting Monday, December 4th until I get through them all. Again, that is if I get any submissions

Last year I got a few and one from Europe! So that was really surprising and fun. Let's see what shows up this year. 

Salsa Cycles announced this promotion last Monday.

I Wouldn't Get Used To This:

Okay, okay! I get that you probably are swimming in ads and promotional sales stuff today, but that isn't really my point here. I'm just trying to point out that these are unprecedented times

30% off Salsa bicycles? When has that ever happened before? And I saw one deal that had some specially selected bikes at sixty percent off

All of this is unsustainable, of course, and this is really the industry trying to move the pile sitting in their warehouses now so that they can start getting some cash-flow to pay the bills off. 

And if you, as a consumer, don't buy? Well, if enough sit on their hands, there is going to be a reckoning coming soon, and it won't be a pretty thing to see. People will lose their jobs if that's the case, and brands you know well may disappear from the marketplace. 

Compounding this are the boatloads of used bikes on the market as well. Recent models too, not just old, clapped-out rigs. And due to market pressures, those folks are going to have to start taking less money as well, or you know, you may as well just buy a heavily discounted new bike. 

Image courtesy of Sate Bicycle Co.
State Bicycle Co. Announces Fat Bike:

State Bicycle Co. announced on Monday this past week that they now offer a fat bike. Retailing for $999.00 USD, the bike features a Shimano Altus 1 X 9 drive train, Tektro brakes, and a 6061 aluminum frame and fork. 

The frame can handle up to 4.5" X 26" tires and comes with Kenda Juggernauts in that size fitted to the bike. You can check out the Wildberry version HERE.

Comments: State usually has some pretty decent designs This fat bike kind of kicks it back to the old Pugsley geometry with a 71°/73° head/seat tube angle. The bottom bracket is a cartridge square taper type. 100mm wide shell, natch. The axle spacing is also a bit odd in that the fork is a 135mm spaced fork but the rear axle is a 190mmOLD. The price is good, I think, for a decent fat bike for a fat-bike-curious person, or for the tinkerer that wants to bling out a platform. 

Downsides that I can see are the solid aluminum, double-walled rims, which portend a heavy wheel. That rear mech looks like a cheap Altus rear derailleur, quick release wheels instead of through-axles, and a limited gear range. All that adds up and the claimed weight for a size Large is about 40lbs.

Public Service Announcement:

I'm posting this today because the "FN&V" gets a lot of eyeballs on it and this affects the blog here.

The "End of Year" posts will be coming! Now, that isn't necessarily something to be alarmed about, but you should know that the month of December here can be busy.

I'll have multiple posts hitting most days. So that means you may have to scroll down the page, or check out the right side margin for the current posts. Scroll down to "Blog Archive" to find those latest posts listed. Those are clickable links, by the way, so you can go directly to a post from that list.  

I have an "End Of Year Announcements" post already to go which will drop on December 4th that will spell everything out in detail, so stay tuned for that if you'd like to know more. OR - You can go to the Blog Archive, pick any year, and it will take you to December where you can scroll backward to see what a December typically looks like here now. 

That's a wrap for this week! Thank you for reading Guitar Ted Productions!

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Happy Thanksgiving from Guitar Ted Productions!

Today is that day that we here in the USA stop to give thanks, gather together, and feast. If you are reading this from another country, there is nothing at all that says that you cannot stop to give thanks as well. You don't need a national holiday for that!

So, wherever you are in this World, I hope that today you can find a quiet moment to reflect on those things that you are thankful for. I know one thing you could be thankful for, and that is your eyesight, because you are reading this! 

As for myself, I want to say that I am very thankful and eternally surprised that you, (Yes- YOU), have stopped by to read this blog everyday, or at least on occasion. You know, when I started this blog I had no expectations. I seriously thought that no one would read it, or even care what I had to write here.

Boy! Was I ever wrong about THAT! 

So, I appreciate you all here very much! I hope to keep up the work here at a high level for several years yet, so stay tuned for more here at G-Ted Productions. Until next time, have a safe and happy day, whether it is an official "Thanksgiving Day" or not.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

So, How Did I Do?

From Gravel Worlds 2021
I was researching material for another of my posts in the "GTDRI Stories" series when I ran across a post I wrote in 2018 that I found interesting. I sometimes randomly will go through most of a year's worth of posts when I am researching something on the blog, so this isn't a random activity. But when you've written 6,836 posts, (as of this writing), I don't think anyone would blame me if I forgot I had made a post predicting what would happen in the gravel scene in 2018. 

Well, I did that, and so let's see how I did with my prognostications. For context, this was later in the same year that I stopped doing Trans Iowa as an event and I was planning on doing the C.O.G. 100 Iowa Single Speed Championship event with N.Y. Roll. 

The post, (you can read it in its entirety HERE), is not without its flaws, and I will cover that as we get into it today. But I did nail some things. What I will do is I will take each point I made one-by-one and comment on that from my perspective today. 

The prediction will be lifted verbatim from the text and printed in bold Italics, so you'll know what is from then and what is my reaction today. Okay? Let's have some fun, shall we? 

1. "My feeling is that many events are going to see Pro level teams ..." That has kind of come true, but we're still in the midst of that happening. I read just last week where Specialized is forming a Pro gravel team around a Pro racer who recently retired from the Pro peloton . I suspect that other Pro Gravel teams will start popping up. The women's side has them already. On the men's side you have Team Jukebox Racing, but again - I think this is still being developed yet as an idea. 

There still are a lot of independent, sponsored racers yet in gravel, so I would give myself a "half-right" score here. 

2. "...more Pro level riders..." Totally nailed this. There is evidence that we will see even more Pro participation in 2024. 

3. "...Pro only gravel racing in the near future." Again, 100% nailed it. 2023 saw not only the first USAC Gravel National Championships, but the second Gravel World Championships held by the UCI. While there were "under-cards" for the age categories at the Gravel World Championships, the Pro racing, at least for the Pro Males, was separated from the rest. Same was true for the Unbound (formerly DK200) event in Emporia Kansas in June, the first time the Pros had separate starts from the mass field ever in that event. 

4. "There will be a national points series started by........someone". Yep! The Life Time Grand Prix is that series, although they mixed in some MTB events in there as well. There will likely be a USAC equivalent at some point, but that has yet to be formulated. While my feeble mind was only thinking about the US here, it is actually true that there are national points series for gravel racing in some other parts of the world, notably in Finland and Sweden. Half a point here for this one.

5. "There will be more purse money". And yes, again I called it. Big money is being offered at events like the Life Time Grand Prix, the Belgian Waffle Ride series of events, and others. Even smaller gravel events are ponying up some significant dollars for top finishers. 

 6. "There will be super-high end racing bikes.." Yet again, I nailed this. Gravel racing bikes often top out now at well over 10K. "Inevitable", I said back then, and that has panned out. 

7. "...they won't be festooned with braze ons nor will they take 650B wheels and tires." True, and it should be noted that what I was getting at with this and the previous point was that "gravel bikes" which were more about utility and adventure then, were becoming "road racing bikes", just with bigger tires. Also true. 

8. "There will be team pits, as in cyclo cross, where wheels and bikes can be swapped out since team cars on gravel roads is......stupid". Whiffed! I still think this will happen though. Especially at the USAC/UCI level. Point deducted! 

9. "Most races will be between 1K and 2K in distance". I meant to type "100K and 200K", but I didn't, so while the intention was spot-on, I get this one wrong. Deduct a point! But yeah, that's where the UCI is going and a lot of current 100-ish milers fall into this category as well. 

10. "There will be big time endemic media saying they know all about this stuff." And y'all know THAT is a slam dunk. No need to say anything more about that.

Me riding at the 2021 Gravel Worlds. Image by Michael McColgan

So, no real point to all of this other than to say that it was a fun exercise to see how I did with those predictions from five years ago. Also, isn't it interesting to consider how much has changed in five years with a two year hiatus stuck in between due to a world-wide pandemic? That's nuts. 

By the way, I used these images from the 2021 Gravel Worlds not to "pick on that event" at all, but as a way of reminder that registration for the 2024 running of that event is open now.  

UPDATED 4:25pm, 11/22/23: I saw an article on regarding more professional riders doing gravel. (point #2 above) Here's a quote I pulled from the article

 "We view these events as North America's Classics,” he told Cyclingnews, adding they could be the first UCI road team committed to sending squads of four to five riders to gravel races."

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Tumbleweed Bicycle Co. Big Dipper Handle Bar: Intro & First Impressions

 Note: Tumbleweed Bicycle Co. sent a Big Dipper handle bar to Guitar Ted Productions at no charge for review. I was not paid, nor bribed for this review, and I always strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout. 

Okay, it's time to talk about this new Tumbleweed Big Dipper handlebar I have in for review now. This bar came out a week ago and has quietly been being sent out on complete Stargazer builds for a while already. You may also have seen reviews of pre-release Big Dipper Bars elsewhere, This is going to be my typical three-part review. This post is Part 1. 

I like the graphics/logo. Too bad a lot of it is under a stem face plate!

There are a couple of things I need to cover first here and one of them is my long-used terminology for the parts and features of a drop handle bar. That is covered at this link

Intentions: Reading that will help you understand what I am talking about here. Then there are the intentions for this bar in use. 

Tumbleweed makes bikepacking/adventure bikes. They wanted a drop bar of their own for their Stargazer drop bar bicycle.So, the Big Dipper was designed to enhance the Stargazer. That means we need to know what the Stargazer is about. From the Stargazer page on Tumbleweed's site we can read the following:

"The Stargazer is a nimble and balanced drop bar mountain touring bike designed for loaded trail riding. It's at home on trails, singletrack and gravel roads whether unladen or with racks and bags on an adventure. "

I'd say that says "Adventure Bike", and I think that means we need to check out this handle bar within that sort of use scenario first and foremost. Yes - you could use this on a road bike, a gravel bike, or whatever, but that is not the main focus of this handlebar's use.

So, a bicycle something like this then. (Note - The bars are Ragely Luxy Bars here)

The Big Dipper was therefore mounted to my Singular Gryphon Mk3 bike. The handle bar that was on there, the venerable Ragely Luxy Bar, is a very odd drop bar in that the extensions have a severe swept out stance. Ironically, the extensions of the Luxy Bar are actually wider than the Big Dipper Bar is overall, but where the levers mount? There is a tremendous difference there. More on that later and how that affects ergonomics and handling. 

Specs: From the Big Dipper Page;

Material: Triple butted, heat treated 7000 series aluminum alloy, ISO 4210 tested for mountain bike use
Widths: 51cm, 54cm, 57cm C-C at the hoods
Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Backsweep: 5 degrees
Flare: 20 degrees
Drop: 109mm
Reach: 50mm (overall reach from center of clamping area to center of tube at front of forward sweep)
Average weight: 385 grams
Price: $115.00
The drop on this handlebar is a progressive radius.
Impressions: The Big Dipper Bar is a handsome bar with unique graphics that I happened to like. (Too bad that half of this resides under a stem face plate now!) The anodizing is rich and even. I received the 54cm bar and yes - it looks wide at first! 
The drops have a constantly varying radius which is something I like. The reach is obviously quite short, and Tumbleweed put that into the design to help with the wider widths they offer. You may still need to look at a shorter stem, however, if you should decide on a Big Dipper Bar for your bicycle. Doing the shorty-stem helps keep the ergonomics reasonable. Again, more on that in a bit.

The bar I received was actually a touch lighter than claimed at 370 grams, which is fine. I don't think you buy a wide flared drop bar for its light weight, but it is nice to see that this handle bar is not a tank-ish bar in terms of weight. 
Installation: The cables and housings from my original installation on my Gryphon were mostly long enough to transfer over the bar without a lot of extra futzing around. My rear brake cable is a wee bit strained, but I got away with it. That said, after a ride or two I decided to check into a 2cm shorter stem which will alleviate that cable issue. Be aware that a wider bar might cause an issue with cable lengths. In other words, this may cause more trouble than you were thinking of in the installation process. You also won't find indentations to run cables along or internal routing here. This is a decidedly old school design in that way.

I also missed having those hash marks on the drop section which help to align the levers at the same height on the bar, side to side. That said, I managed to use my old experiences with handle bars without those hash marks to get the job done. 

Ride Impressions: Okay, so here is where the rubber hits the road here with this bar. First up - Ergonomics. Did the bar cause an issue with my fit? The previous bar, the Luxy, has more reach than the Big Dipper, so I found that I wasn't as stretched out to the hoods, which was good. That Luxy Bar made the reach a bit much. If I ever end up going back to the Luxy, it will be with a shorter stem. I had an 80mm stem on to begin with, for reference. 

In this shot you can see how the Luxy Bar sweeps out the extensions while leaving the hoods at a narrower stance

Here you can see how the Big Dipper is a quite different handlebar than the Luxy.
The other thing I was noting was that despite the wider stance of the hoods, my arms were not "splayed out" like a newborn deer's legs. I had a fairly straight shot to the levers. I was a bit surprised. But at first, with the 80mm stem, I did note that my elbows were nearly locked out, which is not good. The 60mm stem will help with this. 
The next thing I noted is that since your weight on the bars is further from the stem, it creates a longer lever arm and the Big Dipper does flex a bit over bumps, and depressions at speed. This doesn't do much in terms of vibrations over gravel, but it does take the edge off those hits that otherwise might be zingers with stiffer bars.  
From the side the Big Dipper looks "right" despite the short extensions.

Hand Positions: With 540mm of width, you'd think you'd get a nice hand position on the tops, and you'd be right. In fact, I liked the leverage and control over the front that this allowed me to have. Thinking about a typical 46cm bar, the space between the levers and the stem is not all that wide. You really don't have a lot of leverage over the front wheel with a bar like that, and the Luxy, with its more average tops length, is compromised in the same way. In rougher terrain or on deep, loose gravel, riding a handle bar that has a narrow tops section is not my preference. I much rather would have this situation that the Big Dipper affords me with its wider tops section. 
The drop is not very deep on the Big Dipper, which is no surprise. But there is almost nothing for extensions. You have essentially one grip in the drops, and that's it. I would consider my hands as being average to somewhat small for a guy my size, so this was a surprise. It reminded me of the old On One Midge Bar in that regard, for anyone who is familiar with that classic. 

The Big Dipper does allow you to get a great hoods position with the ability to still reach the brake lever from the drops, if you set the levers up that way. I think Tumbleweed got that part spot on. 
The extra real estate between the stem and the levers is great for stability in rough, loose terrain.
So Far... Okay, that's what I have for you now. I need to load up the Singular and hit some trails here and maybe some gravel travel on the side. I want to put in a longer ride as well to see if the width starts to become an issue or not on a multi-hour ride. Then I'll be back with another update, weather permitting. 

Right now I would say that the Big Dipper is a well designed bar with no special frills, but it is finished well and looks handsome. It has some nice give to it, and it falls to hand nicely with no weird grip positions or oddities to lever set up. I would have liked to have had a bit longer extensions. The width? I was surprised, but it feels okay to me so far.

Monday, November 20, 2023

How Wide Should Your Drop Bars Be?

 Recently I have posted on various social media and here on this blog about the new Tumbleweed Big Dipper flared drop bar. Of course, as a reviewer, you are expected to push the product out which benefits you - the reviewer - obviously, but also the brand. More eyeballs on my blog and more eyeballs on the product. So, that's why I did what I did. 

On Facebook, there was a long discussion about "How wide is too wide?" for a drop bar. I have to say before going on that the discussion wasn't rife with the usual "shots from the hip", but it had a lot of great viewpoints and I actually learned a thing or two. 

Isn't that how human interactions should work

Anyway, I apologize for the diversion, but it was quite noteworthy. Onward...

Anytime you get into how humans interface with a machine, in this case, with a bicycle, the outcomes of research and the science are often fraught with inconsistencies and generalizations. Take for instance bicycle saddles. There is a reason there are so may shapes and sizes of these components. Additionally, there are several ways to be seated on a bicycle, which is going to also affect what saddle you choose. 

Things can even get more sideways when you start talking about fit. How a component should be sized to fit any particular rider has no simple formula, although that never stopped anyone from trying to come up with one. Take crank arm length for one. How many formulas for that have been promoted throughout the years? And if you follow the current wisdom-du-jour, you would be thinking that you need a lot shorter crank arms than you ever dreamed of before. 

Between traditionalism, science, the innergoogles, and mere seat-of-the-pants feel, things can get real murky really fast. So, let's start from the point of traditionalism and build from there. 

Image courtesy of Bicycle Stack Exchange.

As you can see from the image to the left here, the width of a drop bar is measured from the centerline of the point where the levers would mount on a drop bar. NOTE: Flared drop bars will actually end up being wider in the drops due to the flare than the measurement will indicate for any particular flared drop bar. 

Traditionally, a drop bar width was determined by the measurement of an individual's acronium protrusion where the top of the scapula meets the collarbone. This measurement, in metric standard, should match up with a width of handlebar from 36cm to 46cm. 

So, as an example, if your measurement across the acronium protrusions was, say, 390mm, you would go up to a 40cm bar (400mm). 

Now, some say you should size up up to two centimeters, and that is okay. I was never taught that back in my apprenticeship days. But there ya go... Another one of those wrenches in the works! 

Okay, so that is what traditionalists would tell you. But what if you were like me, and your acronium protrusions were 49cm apart? Well, you were screwed, basically. That's because for years drop bars were made for smaller, athletic, racers, not your average Mid-Western Guitar Ted-shaped fellow. 

Now, what does science say? Well, it tracks right along with traditionalism, in that shoulder width is a big factor. However, fit specialists will also ascertain your body type, riding position, and other body measurements to arrive at a place that, ergonomically speaking, should be your ideal drop bar width. But what if you have a drop bar MTB, flared drops, a gravel bike, or what if you are a time -trial specialist or track racer? 

More wrenches in the works.... 

Image courtesy of AeroCoach

A newer trendy way to go with handlebar width for road and gravel is very narrow. I first ran into super-narrow drop bars when I met Ashton Lambie, the track riding ace from Nebraska. He was at The Solstice 100 when I did that event in 2019. He had these crazy-narrow bars on his gravel bike because, as he put it, that was what he was used to from track racing

Track racing takes aero very seriously, and so perhaps this idea grew out of the track racing scene. I'm not sure, but it has popped up in the gravel racing segment as well. 

Obviously, this idea gives no regard to ergonomics, and it is all about 'saving watts'. Is that how we should be sizing up drop bars? Wait! Don't answer that just yet. There is more! 

You also have the burgeoning bikepacking scene, and that element of riding has taken a lot of cues from mountain biking. Mountain biking has evolved a LOT since I started riding in the late 1980's when a "wide" flat bar was 660mm. That grew as the 90's came to a close and as the 2000's drew to a close we were looking at handle bars in the 700mm width range and beyond. Take a gander at most flat bar mountain bikes today and you are talking about 800mm handle bars. 


The Tumbleweed Big Dipper Bar in a 54cm width.

So, the drop bar off-roading bikepackers were looking at all of that and thinking, "Hey! Why is the widest flared drop bar a 46cm bar?" And then the next thing ya know we have these wider flared drops all the way up to 600mm in width, which, on the surface of it, doesn't sound all that crazy when flat bars are super-wide. But does that make sense for everybody? 

No, of course not

All of the above should illustrate that we are not going to get a straight answer to "How wide should your drop bars be?" because the real answer is a dissatisfying, "It depends". It depends on your body make-up, what you feel is right, how you ride, how you sit on a bike, pain management, riding time, terrain.... You get the picture. 

This is why there are a thousand saddles to choose from, several shoe lasts for different feet, helmets that are roundish, ovalish, and on and on. We need various widths of drop bars, and I - for one - am really excited that the flared drop bar idea spawned wider drop bar choices than 46cm. I am happy for those aero-freakazoids that want super-narrow bars. It's all necessary

Yes, necessary. Because if that helps riders feel comfortable, confident, and makes them want to ride, then good. If we have to swap out handlebars, there are lots of choices. Which, yes, can be paralyzing, but also good. Because if you have to get something different, or want to, you can.

So, as I review this Tumbleweed Big Dipper Bar, I am going to look at it from the lens of what it is intended for, (obviously not track racing!), and how something this wide might be, or might not be, a good thing for bikepacking. And of course, I'll throw a little gravel dust thinking on top. 

Stay tuned......