Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Sea Otter Fall-Out

Kona Ourobouros Image courtesy of Kona.
 Over the last four days of the previous week the Sea Otter festival happened. It seemed to go off without a hitch with several events and the gathering of the industry was had which was a cause for celebration. However; one sour note that was sounded there is probably the only thing people will remember from this edition of the event. 

That had to do with what at first appeared to be mysterious happening involving Kona Bicycles. Many of you know by now that Kona, owned by Kent Outdoors, a company more known in water sports, set up their Sea Otter booth on Tuesday of last week only to have it torn back down again on Wednesday with all the employees leaving the venue. No comment as to why was given at the time. 

Wednesday evening a statement went out to Kona employees that a "town hall" meeting would be held on Thursday of last week. News then came on Friday that Kent Outdoors was putting Kona up for sale, specifying "economic headwinds" as an issue for this legacy brand. Word on social media then came that several Kona employees were let go. 

This cast a pall over the industry gathering which became the headline for the week, despite Life Time, the owner of Sea Otter, trying its best to blast my email box full of overly-hyped news of racing and attendance for the weekend. 

To throw even more gas on the fire, Colorado Cyclist announced a 30% off store-wide "closing sale, which many believe marks the "end" of this longstanding retailer. Now, of course, these could all be isolated incidents and not indicative of anything in particular. However; the industry is on pins and needles wondering if, or when the fall-out of the historically high levels of inventory and flat to lower sales figures for the beginning of 2024 will begin to manifest as business failings. UPDATED 4/23/24 Evening:   Seeing Specialized is running a site-wide 50% off sale. Whoa!

 Without significant changes to the way the cycling industry does its business, I've thought for years that there are too many brands and not enough ways to slice up the pie to fulfill all needs. Is this the purging that I've thought might happen, or is it just random news that just came at a time when the temperature of the room is ripe for making people sweat? We will certainly see soon enough......

Monday, April 22, 2024

A Eulogy For Wally Kilburg

Wally Kilburg at the checkpoint #2 for Trans Iowa v8.

A message has reached me today that a good friend to myself and to Trans Iowa, Wally Kilburg, has died today.

Wally came to be a friend via a random email in 2010 asking if he could be a moto follow vehicle for Trans Iowa. I was skeptical, and eventually Wally's persistence carried the day. I'm glad it did. Persistence was one of the qualities that Wally possessed in spades.

He was persistent in not only his desire to help me and Trans Iowa, but to be a force to help elevate the event via his talents as a photographer. But what you may not know is that Wally also was an advisor, a helper in reconning courses, and was fiercely loyal to myself and Trans Iowa.

Wally moved on after Trans Iowa was done to be a loyal and fiercely supportive husband as he watched his wife be taken away from him slowly by Alzheimers. He was a true inspiration to me from afar as I simultaneously watched my mother die from the same disease.

The struggles for Wally took him away from being my friend, and rightfully so, and so I was not in touch with him recently. That stings a bit, but I understand. I had my own struggles as well.

Wally, your memory will live on with me and many others as well. Thank you my friend.

Pro Gravel Riders Push For Separation

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

First of all, you long-time blog readers all know that I have advocated that Pro gravel riders need to be a separate entity from the amateur/recreational riders that fill the fields of events like Unbound, SBT GRVL, the Belgian Waffle Series franchise events, and others. I have pointed out that the rise of prize purses and riders that are trying to make a living off racing would be the end of mass-start gravel events at these bigger events where "lining up with the Pros" is seen as a benefit/feature for riders that are attracted by those sentiments. 

But I am "just Guitar Ted" and maybe I'm just a ranting old bicycle mechanic that has little to nothing to do with what any "serious gravel cyclist" would need or want in a race setting. What do I know about any of that? Who am I to say?

If that was your take, I understand. Okay, how about this then? One of the top female contenders on the Pro gravel circuit, Lauren De Crescenzo, says essentially the same things in a recent article on the cyclingnews.com site recently. 

A few choice quotes from the article to illustrate:

"In addition to my racing, I am actively engaged in shaping the future of gravel through my involvement in an athlete advisory group collaborating with Life Time. Our focus is refining the start protocols and drafting rules for the Life Time series."

So, from this quote we can surmise that change is imminent. If Life Time changes their protocols in accordance with Pro gravel riders, you can bet that, if it is successful, other events will look seriously at changing likewise. Does this foretell a "governing body" which would oversee Pro gravel in the US? Does USAC adopt these new stances? It certainly is interesting and does open up possibilities for this and other outcomes in the future. 

Now on to what Lauren De Crescenzo thinks should happen:

"I have advocated for increased intervals between start times to optimize race dynamics. For instance, proposing that pro-men begin at 7 a.m., followed by pro-women at 8 a.m., and then other racers at 9 a.m. Ideally, I envision a future where women's races start on separate days, mirroring the successful approach used at the UCI World Championships in Italy in 2022, where I represented the US team."

Boom! Now if this happens, and I've said it would, and still believe it will, then how do you sell people on your event when they used to be able to "line up with the Pros" and ride the same course as they did in similar conditions? Does a separate "fondo" day happen, and is it competitively timed? How is this  not like typical Pro road events that exclude people because they are not elite athletes

Specific to the Unbound 200, would this mean that the cut-off time for the amateurs would be extended three hours? Or two if the Pro Men went at 6:00am? Would the City of Emporia allow that to go on until 4:00 - 5:00am in the morning? Lot's to think about there..... 

The so-called "spirit of gravel" has to give way to the "business of gravel", and when it becomes a thing that affects business and livelihoods, then those things, whatever they may be, have to be eliminated.

One of the main reasons gravel got started in the first place was so that elitism and exclusion would be eliminated. Also, rules, attitudes, and entry fees which were out of control were a part of the early rejection of oversight by a committee of competitively minded, for profit promoters. (USAC, NORBA, et al) 

And finally, this quote which makes it unmistakably clear:

"Gravel races and events with significant purses necessitate separate starts to ensure fairness. "

De Crecscenzo couldn't have been more succinct. This was a sentiment that N.Y. Roll and I covered last year in the podcast episode "Gotta Keep'em Separated" and which we also touched upon in our "The End Of The Age Of Gravel" podcast episode as well. In my opinion, the separation of the amateur classes at Unbound, and other big-time gravel events, and the Pro fields is inevitable when prize purses reach the level that they have reached. The so-called "spirit of gravel" has to give way to the "business of gravel", and when it becomes a thing that affects business and livelihoods, then those things, whatever they may be, have to be eliminated. 

And where does it go from there? I'm going out on a limb and saying the pursuit of the "business of gravel" will "kill" that part of the sport, just like it did with any other cycling discipline that "went big" and went for the dollars and forgot its roots. The latest form of cycling to feel this inevitable evolution being cyclo-cross which will have zero World Cup events in North America for 2024. None. Not to mention that cyclo cross has also been losing rider's interest in the Mid-West and elsewhere as well. Oh, and crit racing's supposed savior, the NCL? Well that got cancelled recently after a truncated 2023 season. Guess the venture capitalists that were behind the scenes didn't see enough return on investment. Once the grassroots elements of any cycling discipline get spurned/turned off, this is what happens. Support for those events erodes. That may well point to the same fate for gravel on the big stage. 

The "spirit of gravel" may survive all of this, thanks to a huge base of grassroots activity and events that hold true to serving the base that brought gravel to its current popularity. But it will have to deal with a media that sees only the "business of gravel" as being legitimate and an industry that is mostly blinded by traditionalism. There are outliers, and let's hope that they prevail. But when you see Pro's like De Crescenzo claiming that they speak for all of "gravel" and its interests, then it is hard to fathom that any of the other Pro riders, their sponsors, or the media that covers them will think or say otherwise. 

Maybe I'm wrong about all of that. Let's hope that I am.....

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Keep It Big, Keep It Straight

I came across an article on Bike Radar recently that was addressing the uptick in use of big chain rings by Pro roadies. The article is fascinating from the standpoint of how Pro cycling has changed in regard to equipment choices, but what I found most interesting was the technical aspects regarding drive train efficiency. 

What I found there in that article hinges on two basic principles of drive train efficiency and informs all of us how we can make the best use of any chain driven drive train. Both of these ideas were expounded upon years ago and that is where I learned these ideas and have implemented them into my thinking about bicycle components and which has informed my choices about drive train components over the years. 

It's been so long ago that I read about these ideas that I forget where it was I learned these ideas specifically. I know that before the Internet's widespread usage, there was an article published in "Dirt Rag" that was written by Keith Bontrager. In it he attempted to explain how to use a typical for those days triple crank set drive train. 

You can read in the "Bike Radar" piece I linked to about these same ideas, so this is knowledge that has been around for decades, but it is criminally either missing in most rider's knowledge base or completely misunderstood. At any rate, you can break it down into two basic things.

Keep It Big: Chain articulation around cogs is a source of loss of power as the smaller the arc of the cog is the more the chain has to articulate to conform to the cog shape and this causes a loss of energy. Efficient use of a derailleur drive train would be to use the largest cog/chain ring combination that is reasonable and that provides a ratio that allows the rider to do whatever it is that rider is attempting to do, be that climbing, descending, etc. 

There is another reason a rider would consider doing this and that is for the longevity of the drive train parts. Smaller cogs on a cassette contact chain links more often as they spin than larger cogs will. Also, that chain articulation under tension is supported by fewer teeth on a smaller cog, so the combination of frequency of load bearing and the focused wear on fewer teeth means that smaller cogs, when used often, will wear out more quickly than would the same/similar ratio using bigger cogs and chain rings. 

Both reasons are why I try to use bigger chain rings and cogs on my single speed bikes. As an example, I could run a typical 32T x 16T on a 29"er for a gear inch of 58, or I could get the same 58 gear inch by running a more efficient, longer wearing 40T X 20T set up. Of course, the weight conscious amongst us would cry foul, and yeah, some big chain rings will not fit on some bicycles. But the point remains valid. 

Image courtesy of Campagnolo

Keep It Straight: The other thing Keith Bontrager said in that old "Dirt Rag" article was that the straighter you kept the chain the more efficient the drive train would be. This principle of derailleur drive train usage is also expounded upon in the "Bike Radar" piece. 

This idea helps riders understand when to shift, and why. It helps explain why certain combinations, while usable, should be avoided if possible. The commonly heard term, "cross-chain" came out of discussions about how to use triple and double crank set drive trains. The more misunderstood "duplicate gearing" concept is also part of this discussion. Similarly to how one would want to always defer to a larger combination of cog and chain ring, one also would (or should) want to choose  to use a straighter chain line whenever possible over a cross-chained set up. 

Efficiency increases with a straighter chain over that of a cross-chained choice of gear, but again, wear is accelerated with cross-chained choices. And where do we see a lot of severe chain angles now? That's right. In 1X systems. 

Front derailleurs were eliminated in MTB for several design choice reasons not based on drive train efficiency. Gravel bikes ended up adopting 1X to a degree due to the MTB influences, and rarely will you see 1X in Pro level road racing, because efficiency is king there. I would also put forth the argument that consumers see 1X as being "easier" since they don't have to think about how to use a front derailleur. Compounding this is that shifting a front chain ring is harder to do than shifting at the rear and you can see why 1X is so popular now. 

It may be popular, but 1X has shown that it is not as efficient as a multiple front ring crankset by wearing out chains laterally as well as in the traditional way. In fact, many mechanics have posted online that they change 1X chains now based more on lateral wear than based on the traditional way that chains are measured for wear. That's an indication of less efficient operation.

Conclusions: Of course, you don't have to consider any of this and you can have fun riding a bicycle without any knowledge of the above. That said, if you care about efficiency and wear issues, these ideas might help you out.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

It Has Been Ten Years Already?! Part 2

From the recon of Trans Iowa v10's course.

 Here's another tale I'd forgotten about concerning Trans Iowa v10 which happened ten years ago this month. Oh, and by the way, good luck to those riding in Iowa Wind and Rock today, tonight, and tomorrow!

If you missed the first tale, you can read that HERE.

One of the enduring facets concerning riding gravel in the Mid-West has to do with our unmaintained roads. Those (usually) dirt roads that leave you wondering if you've made a right choice by entering an event that uses them. The mystery of the dirt road has caused much wonder, consternation, and has been the hammer that forged a lot of people's characters over the past 20 years of gravel grinding. 

This all started when, back in 2005, I included, unwittingly, two miles of what we call in Iowa, a Level B Road. This was a feature that was expanded upon for the following year, but with copious amounts of moisture, it made the event unfinishable that year. The legend was born concerning muddy dirt roads and ever since then these roads have been a legendary part of several gravel events. 

A previously unpublished image by Jeff Kerkove from T.I.v2 showing riders dealing with mud from a Level B Road.

Of course, being the RD of Trans Iowa all those years, I got a LOT of queries concerning Level B roads and how to deal with them. The effects of putting these roads into my courses was weighed heavily and was not done willy-nilly by any means. Each section of dirt was carefully considered and work-arounds were usually in place in case things got really crazy. But even then, keeping the crazies happy by including these challenges was not easy as a LOT of people would cry foul as well. 

The whole thing with the Level B road madness came to a head in Trans Iowa v10's run-up as potential riders of the event were concerned that I would be putting in too many roads of dirt and doom and that this alone would prevent their finishing of Trans Iowa. Little did they know what would actually happen that year that would knock most of the field out, and it was not any dirt roads! 

Of course, the riders had no clue as the event approached. The focus for them was on what these roads, which I had said there would be 10 sections of in the event, one for each year of T.I.'s existence, would be on their efforts. One or two riders asked about how long it might take to traverse a Level B Road with a typical bike set up for Trans Iowa. Well, I took that as a challenge. 

From my test of 2014 to see how long it took to walk one mile of Level B Road.

I had a bike, my Raleigh Tamland Two, that was all set up for gravel travel, much as a Trans Iowa competitor might have a bike set up, and as fortune would have it, it was a rainy Spring. I had an opportunity to go down to Petrie Road's Level B Section, a prototypical Level B Road from the standpoint of how it had a hill, a flat section, sand, and mud when wet, so that I could actually time myself walking that section of road. That particular Spring the road was wet, muddy, unrideable, and so it was perfect for this test. 

Turns out that, at a moderately fast pace, it takes 20 minutes to walk a muddy mile of Level B Road. That was what I found, at any rate, and was what I reported to my riders for T.I.v10. How they used that information was up to them after that.

Naturally, as I alluded to above, it wasn't muddy Level B Roads that would knock riders out of the running that year. No, it was a mighty East wind, sideways rain in the night, and lots of miles. The Level B roads? Certainly, they played a part, but they were not the knock-out punch many were thinking that they could be that year. 

One more tale to go!

Friday, April 19, 2024

Friday News And Views

Image courtesy of Rivendell Bikes

 A Corpulent Sea Otter Edition

Seven Speed Specific Hub From Rivendell:

I found this on Instagram recently. A seven speed specific rear hub from Rivedell. Why, in an era of 12 speed rear cassettes, would anyone want a seven speed hub

Well, if you asked that, glad you asked, because I can think of several reasons why you'd want this. 

First of all, and less obvious, these hubs have a shorter cassette body, just like the original 7 speed cassette hubs of the 1980's, and that allowed Rivendell to spec a wider hub flange spacing. This allows for a stronger, more reliable wheel, especially for carrying loads. Secondly, seven speed components, like the chain and cassette, have more material than current 11 and 12 speed chains and cassettes which is advantageous from a wear standpoint. Finally, if you get the right sort of cassettes, they can have shifting ramps that stand more proud from the cassette cog enabling better shifting under loads and longer wear as well. 

The Rivendell rear hub is available in silver and a light green anodized hue as shown. The cost is a reasonable $170.00 and they weigh  a claimed 314 grams. I'm not sure if there is a matching green ano front hub, and yes- rim brake only. This is Rivendell, after all. 

Image courtesy of Cane Creek

Cane Creek Debuts Invert Gravel Suspension Fork:

Monday of this week news dropped concerning the new Cane Creek Invert, a gravel suspension fork Cane Creek claims is the "first gravel suspension fork". 

Using a novel combination of a uni-crown style carbon crown and carbon steer tube mated to aluminum uppers and lowers, this fork utilizes an inverted telescopic design, thus the name, "Invert". 

Two models are in the range, one with lock-out, one without. The fork utilizes an air spring, oil bath lubrication, but no damper system as Cane Creek believes that things happen so quickly on gravel with regard to shock absorbing duties that a damper cannot keep up. In fact, their testing showed that a fork in prototype form utilizing a damper was not as satisfactory as one without. 

The travel is limited, as it is with all telescopic "gravel" suspension designs, to either 30mm or 40mm of travel. This forces the axle to crown to be at 425mm for the 30mm travel option, or 435 for the 40mm travel option. So, unless your gravel bike is designed for suspension forks, this will mess with your fit and handling to a degree. Most non-suspension designs for gravel will have an axle to crown of around 400mm, plus or minus a few millimeters.  

Cost is $1,099.00 for the Invert with no lockout, the lightest at 990 grams claimed weight, or $1,199.00 for the lock-out version which weighs a claimed 1,113 grams. 

Comments: Again, this is a telescopic fork, and I will refer you to what I wrote earlier about such forks HERE if you want my full-take on why these types of forks are not ideal for gravel use. I am not saying this, or any other telescopic gravel suspension fork will not work for gravel riders. I am saying this is not the best option for gravel. (See that link for why that is, if you want more on my thoughts) 

I will also point out here that - yes - the Invert has a service interval of every 50 hours for an "oil flush" and every 100 hours for "Full Service". So, keep that in mind when you are thinking about this option. Just to remind you, suspension stems do not have such limitations. Finally, while Cane Creek is to be commended for reducing the weight of this fork to a level that mimics a steel, uni-crown rigid gravel fork, the Lauf Grit weighs a claimed 936 grams right out of the box. Cane Creek is basing their claims on a cut, 165mm steer tube, so it is close to a Lauf but not quite, and the Lauf is maintenance free. 

Carbon Piedmont wheels Image courtesy of e'Thirteen

e'Thirteen Debuts New Piedmont Gravel Wheels:

Known more for their MTB components, e'Thirteen have just announced new Piedmont Gravel wheel sets in alloy and carbon. 

Utilizing straight-pull hubs with a 4 pawl, 3° engagement, the new rims are now 26mm inner rim width on the carbon and 24mm in alloy. The rims use a proprietary Quick Fill valve stem which is provided with the wheels.

The carbon rims have a 31mm profile height, are made from high-modulus carbon fiber with a hookless bead design, and have a lifetime warranty. The carbon rims weigh in at 340 grams each. Wheel set weight is estimated at 1400 grams for the set. 

The alloy rims have a 19.5mm profile height and weigh in at 415 grams each. The alloy rims are also a hookless design. Wheel set weight is estimated at 1500 grams a set. Hubs are identical on each set and the spokes are Sapim D-Lites at 24 count front and rear for both wheel models. The front hub is convertible with the supplied alloy end caps to be either 15mm or 12mm through axle compatible while the rear is a 142mm X 12mm only.

Prices are $1,679.90 for the carbon versions and $749.90 for the alloy versions. 

Image courtesy of Kona Bikes

Kona Ouroboros - Carbon Drop Bar Bike:

Kona announced a new model on Wednesday called the Ouroboros, a front suspended carbon framed "gravel/MTB" bike. 

Using the the Fox TC32 on the entry level $3,799.00 model and the Rock Shox Rudy XPLR Charger Race Day (really?!) fork on the range-topping $6,999.00 model, the bike will allow 40mm of front travel. There is a rigid fork model in between the front sus bikes at $4,799.00 which is also the only bike sporting a front derailleur (!!) All bikes feature wide gearing ranges from SRAM. 

Comments: This bike, I think, is the bike that someone from Kona tipped me off to last year, or was that 2022? Anyway, it was quite some time ago now. The point is, I've been patiently awaiting news of a new drop bar bike model from Kona for quite some time, and now it appears that it is finally here. 

There are certain things I see here that are great: Lower range gearing, big, 2.1" tire clearances, a decently low bottom bracket, and a slack, sub-70 degree head tube angle at a claimed 69.5°. However; by now you should all understand that I am not a fan of "under-traveled", 'gravel' suspension fork designs. Especially spec'ed on a bike aimed at mountain bikers who, for the most part, are not going to think 40mm of travel is enough when their forks are running three times that amount of travel, or more. And then you have the Salsa Cycles' Cutthroat, which actually does support a real MTB fork and has big tire clearances. 

So, in my opinion, this bike is kind of a weird fashion statement, and the real gem is the rigid bike. But maybe that's just me.....

But Wait! There's More! Apparently, according to a "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" report released on Wednesday, Kona had set up their Sea Otter booth and then tore it back down at the behest of their company overlords, Kent Outdoors. (Kona was sold a couple years ago by the originator's of the brand) Reportedly a group call will have been held on Thursday with the entire Kona staff and then..... Who knows? Maybe the Ouroboros won't be a thing after all.  UPDATED 4/20/24: Scuttlebutt on the social channels, with some claiming insider info, are saying Kona has been shut down by it's owners. This is not verified public info., Late Saturday evening "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" posted that the company would be put up for sale by its owner, Kent Outdoors. Se the article HERE.

Image courtesy of Munich Composites

More Wheel News:

More introductions concerning wheels happened this week. One of the most interesting to my mind was the acquisition of Munich Composites, a company from Germany, by the Cardinal Group and Boyd Cycling. This new arrangement will bring carbon wheel manufacturing to North Carolina where a state of the art facility will begin producing carbon fiber wheels made with continuous strand technology. 

The patented technique is said to produce a stronger, lighter rim without the use of sheets of pre-preg carbon which then has to be laboriously laid up in a mold. The technique utilized by Munich Composites braids the rim together instead. (See image) The company hopes to have rims produced in the  USA by mid-Summer.

Classified, the internal geared rear hub maker, has just announced that they are now partnering with Enve to offer their proprietary hub, cassette and shifting system in Enve wheel builds. The press release also said that the wheels would also be available on Enve carbon bike model "rolling chassis" options as well. Prices are, as one would expect, on the upper end of what wheels cost these days, but you are getting a partial drive train and shifting system as well. 

Image courtesy of Ritchey Design

Ritchey Design Offers New Butano Ridge Super-Logic Bar/Stem:

Ritchey Design announced a new carbon stem/handle bar with its latest offering, the Butano Ridge Super-Logic 

The design features internal cable routing which can be accessed by a removable cover, a "flattened round" shaped top section, and low weight, of course. The 44cm wide, 110mm length stem version weighs in at 417 grams. 

The Butano Ridge has a 17.5° flare and comes in a matte UD finish. Price in the USA is $599.00. See Ritchey Design for more details on options for sizes of this bar. Keep your eyes peeled for some other Ritchey news in the near future that I think many will be interested in. 

Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles

Salsa Cycles Debuts E-MTB's:

Salsa Cycles continues to roll out their electrified bicycle models and at Sea Otter they are featuring two new MTB eBikes.

The first, here shown to the left, is the Notch, a 160mm travel enduro bike which features a 65 watt/hr Bosch mid-mount motor producing up to 85Nm of torque. 

The other model is the all-mountain Moraine with 145mm of Split-Pivot suspension and a Fazua motor. Each model comes in two spec ranges and each model starts at $4,999.00 and tops out at $5,999.00. See these and other Salsa eBikes HERE

Image courtesy of Delium Tires
New Gravel Tire Brand Delium Debuts:

Another gravel tire brand hits the market at Sea Otter and their name is Delium Tires. There are some Delium MTB tires already out there, but these three new models are their first foray into the gravel market. 

To the left here we see the AllRounder, a tire meant for multiple surface types. If you thought it was a Gravel King you could be forgiven, but it isn't a Gravel King. 

The Delium AllRounder comes in 38mm, 43mm, and 50mm widths, all folding bead and tubeless ready with a medium dual compound rubber. 

The next tire up is the Delium SpeedX. This one excels on dry terrain and hard-packed conditions. This model has a triple-compound rubber with a softer, grippier center tread. It comes in a 38mm, 40mm, and 45mm widths. 

SpeedX image courtesy of Delium Tires.

The final tire in the new trio of gravel treads from Delium is the Loamer. This model is all about grip in looser dirt and - the company claims - wet dirt. 

This one has the dual-compound rubber like the AllRounder and also comes in the same sizes as the AllRounder. 

Casings for all three tires have what Delium calls a 'Dual Zone" construction with the side walls being a cut-resistant material and the top of the casing being a more supple construction for lower rolling resistance, grip, and comfort. All three models have 62TPI casings. All three tire models are e-bike certified and cost $49.99 each no matter the model.

Comments: "Tire tread designs are purely fashion". That's what one famous designer of tires told me one time, and well, I think the eye-test for Delium shows that they have hit on some "fashionable" looking tread designs. 

Delium Loamer. Image courtesy of Delium Tire.

That said, it is how a tire feels to ride that matters. If the tire doesn't do anything weird in terms of handling, if it feels good......what's not to like? Looks? Price? I'm going to take a stab here and say that if the Delium tires work out in terms of ride feel, looks, and weight, then the cost makes these pretty desirable. The sizes are right, the tread designs are spot-on, and the only thing missing is where you can get them at. 

About that: Hitting up their site, all three gravel tires are "pre-order" status only, and not all the sizes are available. (No 50's? Boo!) That's not a great start. 

Final Quick Hits: TIME has a revamped gravel pedal line. Looks nothing like the original gravel pedal from them and is essentially a two-sided Xtrac variant that is very expensive. Hope has a new aluminum 24mm internal width wheel with their signature hubs and new valve stems to match. Maxxis is making their Team Issue XC MTB tires available for a limited time. DT Swiss unveiled a ne 90T Ratchet free hub. 

Good luck to all the team at Iowa Wind and Rock this weekend. I hope all the riders are safe and have a great ride.

Whew! That's a wrap on this edition of the FN&V. Have a great weekend and good luck to all the Iowa Wind and Rock riders and volunteers!

Thursday, April 18, 2024

A Statement Concerning "Riding Gravel"

Back at the beginning of December 2023 I announced that all my reviewing work would be appearing here on this blog. I said at the time that I couldn't really say anything more about the situation. Well, now things have been wrapped up in totality with the site "Riding Gravel", and I have ended my part-ownership in that entity. So, now I can talk about it

First - Why talk about this at all? I think it is fair to say that readers of that site and this blog may have some questions that pertain to my association to that site and may wonder what happened there. I have noted some of these questions recently. That is why I feel a bit of an obligation to those supporters of mine to give them somewhat of an explanation as to why I left that site. 

That said, I am not going into any personal feelings I may or may not have and opinions on what may have gone down with my former partner. Speculations will not be a part of this. 

Okay, so I think it is fair to say that I had expectations of being compensated for my contributions and in the beginning, I did receive a fair share of revenues when advertisers did pay the site for advertisements. However; that started to dry up in 2022 and there were also the issues with getting the "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch" podcast uploaded on a regular basis for whatever reason that was due to. All I know is that it was a bit of a source of frustration for me. My former partner was supposed to be helping with that. So, I took that into my own hands and started the podcast production and publishing myself. Then I broke that off from "Riding Gravel" altogether. 

My initial plan was to stop contributing to that site at the end of 2022. However, an email which was sent to me and my former partner from a potential advertiser promising a $5,000.00 spend came in December of 2023. This advertiser was coming on, in large part due to myself, and the contributors to the site, being writers there. I felt an obligation to that loyal advertiser and supporter of mine, so I decided to stick around for 2023 and see what would happen. 

And all throughout 2023 neither I, nor any of the contributors, were compensated once for our contributions to the site. That much is fact. So, I decided after the advertiser's obligations were met that I would cease writing for the site. I asked my former partner to be released from our agreement. Then, a week or so ago, the settlement came through which effectively ended the partnership and released me from the former agreement. My compensation wasn't anything to write home about, but at least it was something. 

So, to sum up: I asked to be released from the partnership agreement mainly because I was not being compensated for my work and because of the difficulties involved in dealing with my former partner. I regret that it came to that, and I apologize to any former and current advertisers, to the companies that entrusted myself and the contributors with review work, and especially to the readers of that site, who enjoyed my content, and the contributor's content, but will no longer will see our contributions there. 

As stated, the contributors who came on due to their relationships with me are also no longer contributing to that site, and that is of their own volition. I did not ask for them to end their work with that site. To be sure, the contributions of Matt Gersib (MG) Michael Troy, (Grannygear) and John Ingham, and with the podcast - Dave Roll, (N.Y. Roll), and Andy, amongst a few others, were central to whatever success we enjoyed at that site and brought untold opportunities to myself, the site, and enriched the lives of the readers and listeners to a degree that cannot be measured. They all contributed without compensation as well. I owe a LOT of my own success to these individuals and I would not have come as far as I have without any of them. Many thanks to these folks for being such great people to work with! 

And with that I will not be mentioning this again. I just thought it would be good to clear the air since I have noted a few misconceptions and questions about my actions voiced on the internet. Hopefully this will answer any of those questions and clear up any misconceptions about my actions since December of 2023 in regard to Riding Gravel.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Guitar Ted Lube-Off: Update On Flowerpower Lube

 NOTICE: The Guitar Ted 'Lube-Off' is a comparison of different lubrication products for bicycle chains that is undertaken in 'real world' conditions in a set way. Then I compare and contrast the results with past 'Lube-Off' products to see "which one is best for me". This is done for entertainment purposes and the reader should apply their own reasoning and discernment while reading my 'Lube-Off' entries. What works for me may not work for you at all. None of the companies represented in this Lube-Off have any knowledge of this review, nor are they sponsoring me at all. 

UPDATE: I was hoping that the weather would provide a bit of wet conditions riding in my last update (HERE) but that did not materialize due to our severe drought conditions which allows the moisture to disappear into the soil around here so fast that all I got was one ride in semi-moist conditions. Not at all what I would need to judge the Flowerpower lube in wet conditions. 

Oh well! At least it has remained dry and that plays right into the purposes of the test anyway, so there we go! Let's take a look at how the Flowerpower wax lube has been doing since Mid-South....

Some dust, but not bad.

You might recall that after Mid-South this chain looked red with that dirt from Oklahoma. Well, that theme continues on only with a grayish dust from Iowa limestone now! This seems to be a theme with Flowerpower wax lube, but the layer of dust is fine and pretty thin. It could be partially blamed on the finish of this 8 speed SRAM chain as well which is not very smooth and allows places for dust to grab hold. Now on to the "Touch Test" where I check for gunk and smoothness.

Not much to show here!

There was little to no residue coming off the rollers and side plates of the chain. Wow! This might be the best result I have had for a Touch Test. The chain is quiet and feels slick to the touch as well. 

Okay, so let's contrast this with the bike that has had the SILCA Super-Secret lube on it since last year. I've ridden this bike just a little bit this year, no where as far as the Honeman Flyer, but the lube on this chain has been there since last year when I was riding this bike on the regular. 

Not much dust here.

 The SILCA Super-Secret lube is the current "champ" in the Lube-Off and shows a little dust accumulation, but really only on the inner link plates. The outer link plates stay shiny for the most part. But is this because the Connex Chain has a better finish than the PC-830? I think that has something to do with it. On to the Touch Test....

Again, pretty darn good!

I did get a bit more residue off the SILCA lubed chain, but barely. So, I would say this comparison is a wash so far. The Super-Secret Lube lasts a fair amount of time. How will the Flowerpower Wax lube hold up? That's the last big test to consider here. 

Obviously, this will take some time, and I'll have to consider running the Flowerpower on a derailleur drive train just to make it fair. Stay tuned for another update to come in a month or so.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Gravel Grinder News: Changes At Gravel Worlds, Big Purse, First To Last Initiative

First To Last Celebration For Final Finisher:

Garmin Gravel Worlds announces today several changes in the event for 2024. The most notable being a celebration of the last place finisher which the event is calling the "First To Last Initiative". This will be a philanthropic initiative "which celebrates every participant’s unique journey", according to the press release. Garmin Gravel Worlds has added professional cyclist, Hannah Shell as the "First To Last Coordinator" to head up this initiative. 

Shell is quoted in a Garmin Gravel Worlds Instagram post announcing the new coordinator as saying, "Gravel worlds is one of the races that’s dedicated to preserving the founding principle of gravel that we celebrate first place to last place equally, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team making that happen."

Image courtsey of Garmin Gravel Worlds

Jason Strobehn, the newly minted "Lead Promoter" of Garmin Gravel Worlds, is quoted as saying, "When the sun goes down on the finish line, every rider will be welcomed with a party inside the finish gate..., underpinning the notion that all late finishers will be getting a big finish line welcome. Central to the efforts to do this for the later finishers of Gravel Worlds' 150 mile distance will be an extended cut off time for the event.

Image courtesy of Garmin Gravel Worlds' Instagram

New Pro Field & $30,000.00 Purse:

New this year will be a $30,000.00 purse sponsored by Goodlife Brands which will be evenly split between the Men's and Women's field which will be capped at 40 riders each. 

The addition of dedicated Pro fields is being done to show the event's commitment to higher levels of competition , yet being able to celebrate each individual effort throughout the field as the event has done in the past. 

Charitable Donations:

Also new this year will be Garmin Gravel Worlds efforts to donate $30,000.00 to, as the press release states, "...causes aligned with the gravel cycling community’s values." A portion of these funds will be derived from $200.00 donations from each Pro cyclists registered in the event to a charity of their choice. The charity each rider chooses will have their name on the number plate of the rider choosing to donate to them. 

Strobehn is quoted in the press release as saying, "Garmin Gravel Worlds has always been about more than just the race, It’s about the shared experience and camaraderie among participants, while also contributing to causes much greater than ourselves. "

Finally, Strobehn ends the announcement by summarizing thusly, "We are out to prove that one event can celebrate the peak of human performance, while also celebrating every participant that’s persevered through their own challenges. Our commitment to inclusivity means we’re elevating the experience for every participant. We invite gravel cycling enthusiasts worldwide to join in the excitement and spirit of the “First to Last” initiative and experience the sense of community and adventure that define the Gravel Family.”

Changes At The Top Not Announced: 

There was one other big change to the event which was not formally announced at this time, but which I became privy to in a curious way on Thursday of last week. This has to do with the two co-founders of Gravel Worlds, Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey and Craig "Schmidty" Schmidt. These two pioneers of gravel grinding left the event under mutually agreed upon terms and along with that it was told to me that the Pirate Cycling League is also no longer affiliated with Garmin Gravel Worlds. This news marks a significant time in gravel cycling history. 

Comments: I need to clear the air concerning something that happened when I learned this news. The information about this parting of ways, when it was presented to me, was not prefaced in any way, or framed as a conversation that should be kept under wraps. In fact, it was quite the opposite as I was told "I don't know if you heard the news..." which indicated to me that the cat was out of the bag for the news to be heard by anyone. I don't know how else one would interpret that. To make matters even more curious, it was not until Friday that I was told not to make the news public by the person (one of the two co-founders of Gravel Worlds, by the way), who told me in the first place, after I had already Tweeted out the news the day before. 

 On Thursday, when I Tweeted about this, (or "X'ed" it), it got around to the current promoters and staff at Garmin Gravel Worlds that the news was out somehow. Not a half an hour later I found out that I had unintentionally stirred up a hornets nest with the Gravel Worlds folks and that the news was not for public consumption just yet. After a bit of explaining on my part, it was understood that I had not intentionally undermined those who had wanted to keep this under wraps at that time. Because things happened in this way, and the news was out, and for other reasons unspecified, the folks at Garmin Gravel Worlds decided to forgo any formal announcement of this fact, as I understand it

My social media post that stirred up some concern.

I am not going to go into all the nitty-gritty concerning the parting of the co-founders from the event. Again, my understanding is that it was a mutually agreed upon separation by both sides. Also, I was not at all surprised by this news. In fact, I was surprised it took this long to happen. A little history to illustrate this is appropriate, I think.

Gravel Worlds was an event conceived by Corey and Craig back in 2009 when they were putting on an event called "The Good Life Gravel Adventure". The gist was that there was no "world championships" for gravel, and at that time, no one thought that there should be an event like that, which is exactly why those two, tongues firmly in cheek, decided to call their event "Gravel Worlds". 

It was a thumb to the nose to the entire format of Pro road racing, its drug-fueled riders, and rule-laden governance. The Pirate Cycling League, and Gravel Worlds in particular, was a celebration of the freedom from those rules and all the attendant hoopla. It was, as the original event pointed to, an adventure, not so much a competition, but there was a nod to that element with the jerseys and the name. 

Craig "Schmidty" Schmidt holding the OG Gravel Worlds jersey.

 The formatting of the event was a perfect example of the mixture of adventure and competition that the PCL was trying to balance. The riders followed printed cue sheets for navigation. There were four required stops at businesses that sold Nebraska Power Ball lottery tickets. Each rider had to purchase one ticket to "prove" that they had been to the checkpoint/business. This is somewhat reminiscent of randonnuering events, by the way.

The winners of each category then received a "rainbow jersey" which indicated that they were the "Gravel Worlds Champion" for that year. The integrity of the jersey's meaning was kept intact by the PCL not selling any to folks who did not earn them, and very, very few are in the hands of anyone who did not win a category in any of the Gravel Worlds events. 

Then as time wore on, gravel events changed. Gravel Worlds stuck to its guns for quite a while despite all the changes around it. As late as 2013 Gravel Worlds was still doing post card registration and had no entry fee. But five years later, the 2018 event cost $80.00 to enter. Now, in 2024, the entry fee has ballooned to $175.00. 

The event has an expo, far more categories, and satellite events and collaborations with other events. The event has a presenting sponsor and now, all the changes which were announced today. It has become quite the complex entity. As this all evolved over the past six years, if you paid attention, Corey and Schmidty's presence grew less and less. 

(L-R) Skip Cronin with Corey Godfrey at Trans Iowa v4 in 2008.

I remember talking with Schmidty around that time in 2018 and to my ears, it sounded as though he and Corey were coming to the end of their time with Gravel Worlds. I had just gotten out from underneath Trans Iowa then, and I could see a similar weight on Craig's shoulders.

I think the addition of Jason Strobehn to the Gravel Worlds team around about that time postponed the ending of Corey and Craig's association with their event. Whatever it was that eventually did precipitate  the "end" for them is not known by me. Whatever it was, all I do know is that it is now apparent that Gravel Worlds will no longer reflect Corey or Craig's personalities and talents.

That's neither good nor bad, just different. And to be honest, this event has pretty much been Jason's baby for a few years now. At least that is how I've seen it from my perspective. You could feel this by attending the event, which I had been doing up until a few years ago. All of this, to my mind, is kind of a 'big deal' historically speaking. But maybe no one else really cares.

GT at 2021 Gravel Worlds (Image courtesy of McColgan photography)

 The Future:

In the text exchange over social media with Schmidty on Thursday morning he shared some thoughts with me about  what might happen with the PCL going forward, Out of respect for Corey and Craig, and their important contributions to the gravel scene, I am going to let them spill the beans when they are ready to do that. If they ever are ready to do that. I really cannot say.....

As for Gravel Worlds, these new changes are going to take the event in a significant new direction. How riders respond to this will be seen soon. In my opinion this new round of changes brings Gravel Worlds into the same tier of events as SBT GRVL, Unbound, Big Sugar, and the Belgian Waffle Ride series. The tie-ins to Mid South, with the celebrations of last place, running events, and whatnot may seem as though that Gravel Worlds has the same, or similar vibe, but having been to both events now I would not agree with that. Of course, that could all change as well.

Whatever the future may bring, all I can say right now is that another facet of the early gravel scene is now behind us. That, again to my mind, is a significant story to be told. And again, I'll say it: Hat's off to Corey and Craig. Thanks guys!

Announcing The Twentieth Anniversary Celebration Of Guitar Ted Productions

Today I am announcing that in mid-May, next month, I will start my Twentieth Anniversary here of blogging. Twenty years! It is hard to believe that it has been THAT many years. 

Throughout the rest of 2024 and beginning of 2025, until mid-May next year, I will periodically be doing some special things to mark the occasion. 

This will definitely include my special "20th Anniversary Headers" which will recap each of the semi-permanent headers used during most of the first ten years of this blog's existence. These will be replicas of the headers with special 20th anniversary marking.

Don't worry if you are a fan of the constantly rotating header as I will still be interspersing those as the year goes on as well. 

I may also offer some other things to celebrate such as stickers, a t-shirt design, and maybe some other stuff. Maybe.... Stickers are almost a given at this point just because I like stickers! But there will be posts all throughout the 20th Anniversary year looking back on certain aspects of the blog, re-postings of popular themes and maybe even posts that were significant throughout those years. Throughout all of it, I hope that some of you will enjoy seeing where this blog, and myself, have been and how it all ended up here. 

Over the course of twenty years much has changed in our worlds and in cycling in particular. Specifically to this blog, the two themes of 29"ers and gravel bikes and events were certainly central to the writing here. I'll aim to cover it all as the blog showed it coming up soon. If you have any suggestions for topics, or questions, please let me know in the comments or email me at g.ted.productions@gmail.com. 

Notice: A special Gravel Grinder News post will show up here at 8:00am 4/16/24 due to an embargo.

Monday, April 15, 2024

It Has Been Ten Years Already?!

Want to feel "old"? It has been ten years since Trans Iowa v10. So, yeah, that hit me last week and I found it kind of hard to believe. But it has been that long ago now that the tenth (!) Trans Iowa was about to be run. Thanks Facebook memories! Ha!

Of course, I have written reams about Trans Iowa on this blog, since this blog was the de facto secondary source of information on the event back in the day. I wrote a series in 2014 about all the previous Trans Iowa events, and of course, the entire saga of Trans Iowa in the Trans Iowa Stories series. 

However; those Facebook memories stirred up some things I had forgotten about, and that I had not written much about concerning the tenth Trans Iowa. Any of you familiar with the history of the event may remember that this particular Tans Iowa was earmarked by myself as being the last one ever. I had serious plans for never doing the event again. Obviously, there were four more before the tank went dry, but the tenth one holds a special place in my heart, and I am sure it has a special place for those who were a part of that one. It was truly worthy of a ten year celebration, and it was a record setting event for myself, and the event in particular. 

But a lot of that has been beaten to death. What I wanted to point out were a few things I found in Facebook that I had forgotten about and have not really ever made known well enough, in my opinion. Things you all may find interesting. Well.....we'll see about that!

One of the first ten Nano 40 tires in the USA.

2014 was a year that could be said to be the first year of "gravel specific parts". Sure, we had the Warbird two years earlier with those Clement tires, and there was the Challenge Tires' Almanzo model, and maybe one or two other, hard to find bits for gravel by 2014. But beyond those few niche brands and low availability parts, there wasn't anything. 

That all changed in 2014. One of the most highly anticipated introductions that year, or since then, was the tire from WTB called the Nano 40. It was a folding bead, non-tubeless tire with a fairly aggressive tread in a 40mm width. 

WTB, and in particular, then employee Will Ritchie, convinced whomever they had to that Trans Iowa needed to be sponsored by WTB, and in a very special way. The idea was to send Trans Iowa the first batch of Nano 40 tires ever in the USA. A small batch of five pair of tires were sent to me and I was floored! 

There were, by 2014 bigger gravel events with more people attending. There were chances to bring a spotlight to those events, but WTB sent Trans Iowa these rare tires. What?!! I still am amazed that this happened. It is also worth mentioning that these went to the winners of each category, and I did not get any for myself. WTB did send a set later in the year for me to review. 

So, yeah, that was amazing, and what a thing to have happen to Trans Iowa and myself. Just an unprecedented happening, and I haven't heard about anything like that happening to an event since then. That an introduction of a new component would be sent to some bizarre event and given away as prizing? I cannot stress how rare that was. Thanks again to Will Ritchie and WTB! 

But Will and WTB didn't stop there. This isn't T.I.v10 related, but it fits this narrative in this story. That's because for the following year's T.I.v11 I received cases of tubeless Nano 40's to give away. A first for gravel, the Nano 40 TCS was not yet available anywhere in 2015. You could not buy them, look at them, or even touch a box that they were in. But I had a stack of them in my basement! And not only that, they were prizing for riders in T.I.v11. Not for sale! Amazing!

That one got me in hot water with bicycle dealers across the USA as I was getting calls to sell sets of these rare tires to shops for their customers! No doubt, I could have cleaned up on those offers, but that's not how I roll. It was a stressful thing and had I known how much demand for a tubeless gravel tire was motivating these bothersome calls, I wouldn't have made known I had them until after the event was over and I had given them away. 

Oh well! 

Look for another story or two in the coming weeks before April ends concerning the tenth Trans Iowa.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Country Views: Battling The Wind

The flags were about to rip from the flag poles on Friday.
The weather warmed a bit on Friday, the skies were beautiful, but there was an invisible enemy of cyclists about. The Wind! It was really blowing hard Friday at 25mph -30mph with a few higher gusts. Did I let that stop me? 

Not this time!

Early to mid-April can be warm, even in a stiff wind, so I just wore my Twin Six Thermal jersey and a Twin Six wind vest and I was all good to go. Had this happened in March it would have been a no-go due to the wind chills, and as it was, I probably should not have ventured out. You'll read why in a bit here. 

When the wind is out of the Northwest, as it was on Friday, I have the perfect route which keeps me sheltered going North and West until I get to gravel heading East and South. This is the route I used on Friday, and it was a good thing I did. If I had been out in the open going those directions I wouldn't have ridden very far and I would have been beaten to death by that brutal wind.

Part of the route out to gravel was on the Big Wood Lake bike path.

The second I hit gravel I am headed East.

The thing was, my route out gave me a false sense of security. I had no idea how violent the winds were out in the open. Going East on Mt. Vernon Road did not really give me the full read either, not at first, as I was just doing some rollers and there were trees enough that I wasn't getting the full brunt of the winds. 

This field looked planted.
The only vehicle I saw on the entire ride on the gravel roads.

The fields look worked up in a lot of places now. Some looked planted, but I have no idea with what. I imagine that it would be corn, but I could be wrong about that. I also imagine that farmers will be stepping up the planting around here as the days are getting warmer and the nights are starting to be almost always above freezing. 

This long down hill run provided a little more excitement than I would have asked for typically.

Just visiting......this time!

As I crested the hill at the intersection of Streeter Road and Mount Vernon Road, I began to understand that this wind might be more than I had bargained for. I was immediately going something above 30mph and then there were the gusts! The bike was getting pushed hard from the left side and I had to catch it a couple of times before I decided to lean harder on the front wheel to pin it down a bit more so I wouldn't have to react to another wind induced swerve. And of course, I was going even faster by this time. 

It was definitely one of those "I'm not in control here" moments that I just had to hang on, try to guide the bike into the best lines, and hope that everything stayed vertical. This went on for a bit over a half a mile before I felt like I had control back again. Mt. Vernon Cemetery was coming up, so I decided to gather myself back together there for a few moments before carrying on again. 

The County has been using this weird disc-like implement pulled behind a tractor to disc up the gravel off the edges of the road and kick it out into the roadway for the maintainer to re-spread across the roadway. They had done this over Mt. Vernon Road and while it was ten times easier to navigate than deep, fresh chunky goodness, it was soft and slowed your momentum down. 

That's a new one on me and I wonder if it is a cost-saving measure the County is employing to help avoid having to pay for more fresh gravel. The prices on fresh gravel have risen sharply, so I have to think this has influenced the County to take other measures to maintain the roads. 

Heading South was like being on a self-propelled vehicle. The tailwind was amazing. But this made every downhill a sketchy ride and the fresh patches of loose gravel the County was spreading at the bottom of every hill wasn't helping me out there at all. So, I wasn't too sad to get back to Waterloo. I had seen and experienced enough of that. 

Maybe I'll reconsider riding if the winds are that high again. No need to subject myself to possibly being blown off the road and injuring myself! But to have experienced that and to have made it home in one piece was nice to have behind me.