Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Fattening Up

Going back a year or so ago I rode the Tamland Two I have with a set of Irwin Cycling wheels. GX35's, I want to say, and while they had been great wheels up to that point, I noted an issue cropping up. The free wheel wasn't engaging correctly and I experienced a few "hiccups" in the engaging process after coasting. 

It had been extremely dusty up to that point and I thought that perhaps the grease in the free hub body was too thick due to dust intrusion which might account for my problem.

I got the bike back to my shop and re-greased the hub after cleaning it out. That seemed to have a positive effect as I did not notice any problems for several rides after that. However; on this latest ride I did, I noted the issue again, and this time it seemed worse. In fact, I thought that I may not make it back to the house. 

Well, that did it for me and those Irwin hubs. I cannot afford to get stranded out in the country by a sketchy hub that won't engage properly anymore. My plan was to swap out wheels and then do something with the Irwin carbon rims and another, new hub set, But in the meantime I wanted to get the Raleigh back up and running as soon as possible. The problem is that I've wholesale swapped over to through axle wheels, and quick release is almost a dead thing to me now. 

Fortunately I still have a few options in the house. One of them found its way onto the Raleigh, but now I have a different problem! The Raleigh was never meant for "fat" gravel tires, but they are so close to fitting that I had to give it a try.

The Tamland Two with some older Roval XC MTB wheels.

The plan entailed taking off these old Roval wheels I got from my friend in SoCal, Grannygear, and use the tires that were already mounted on them which are SOMA Cazadero 700 X 50mm tires. They looked a bit narrow on the Roval rims and so I thought maybe, just maybe, they might squeeze into the frame and fork. 

The Roval wheels are pretty much a set of DT Swiss carbon wheels seeing as how they have DT Swiss spokes and hubs and then you have the Far East manufactured carbon rim with Roval stickers slapped on there. The partially red theme works a lot better on the Raleigh than it did on the Fargo, where they were mounted previously. (More on the Fargo in a minute)

Obviously the wheels and tires went in, but that rear tire jussssst grazes the chain stay where the wheel is slightly out of true. Too little leeway to play with there, so a different set of tires will have to be mounted on the wheels. 

No daylight there!

Bummer! I was so hoping to ride fatter rubber on this bike, but hey, what do you expect? The bike was designed in 2012 and there weren't any gravel tires above 40mm - 42mm then. So, making clearance for 50's would not have even been imagined at that time. I get it. And I'll be okay. No big deal! 

Okay, so I'll have the Raleigh sorted soon with a wheel set that is reliable and won't cause me any worries in the hub department, at least. That ratchet design DT uses is pretty robust. But that wheel set came of the Gen I Fargo, and well, now what to do?

Fortunately, I still had the older wheel set I was using on the Fargo hanging in the rafters. That would only need to have the cassette swapped out to what I had been using on the Fargo and to have a tubeless sealant refresh. And this is what that will look like......

Tires so fat they wouldn't fit in the frame of the image!

The Surly Extraterrestrials on Duster rims fit here with room to spare. That's a 29" X 2.5" tire, and it slots in nicely between what I have going on with the Singular Gryphon Mk3 and the other gravel bikes I own. I just need to refresh the sealant and that one is good to go. I may end up doing a little tweaking on the stem/handlebar set up by reversing the ShockStop Stem to negative rise and lowering that stem on the steer tube by a couple of spacers. 

But otherwise this bike is set for some gravel touring duties and I intend to use it for that this year. The relaxed position, Redshift Shift ShockStop Stem, and those fat tires will make for a much more comfortable and smooth ride. Plus, it can carry a ton of water! 

Anyway, that's what I've been up to over these rainy days we've been having. I'll have an update on the tires for the Raleigh soon. Stay tuned.....

Monday, April 29, 2024

Review Redshift Sports Top Shelf Bar: Mid-Term

The new Redshift Sports Top Shelf Bar on the Tamland Two.
Update On The Top Shelf Bar:

 Note: Redshift Sports sent over their Top Shelf drop bar for test and review at no charge to Guitar Ted Productions. I am not being paid, nor bribed, for this review and I will always strive to give you my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

It has been about a month and a half now that I have been riding the Top Shelf Bar from Redshift Sports. You can see my introduction and initial impressions of this handlebar HERE

This update on the handlebar comes at a time where this option is in short supply. Apparently, Redshift Sports has a hit on its hands with the Top Shelf bar. I've seen replies to comments on social media threads on the Top Shelf from Redshift saying more handle bars are incoming, so while you may not be able to get one right now, these will be in stock, hopefully, very soon. 

This reaction to the Top Shelf Bar has caught me a bit by surprise, to be honest, but as I thought about that, I feel as though it has to do with Redshift Sports' design decisions and from their basing the design for the Top Shelf on the popular Kitchen Sink Bar, which was a smart thing to do. The design of the Top Shelf Bar doesn't do that much different than other riser drop bars, in terms of easing rider positioning, but it does have a very different look and functionality than its competition. 

The main difference is that the central section of a Top Shelf Bar is usable for accessories like GPS heads, lights, or even a bell, if you roll that way. The competitor's handle bars mid-sections have too many curves to be usable for most accessories, and that can present problems that the riser bar section causes even though the position for the rider may be improved. 

One more thing that I'll mention that I've seen brought up in online comments and that is to reiterate that the Top Shelf Bar has exactly the same flare, reach, and drop dimensions as the Kitchen Sink Bar. So again - If you have ridden the Kitchen Sink Bar, or thought that it might be a good option, the Top Shelf should serve you similarly. 

My continued riding on the Top Shelf Bar has only reinforced my earlier opinions on it. Of course, since I got on so well with the Kitchen Sink Bar, I would naturally be inclined to like the Top Shelf Bar as well. It only makes sense. But what about that rise? 

I think there are use cases where that riser section makes sense. Perhaps you have a bike that you have had for years, but now you aren't quite in the same physical shape you once were in and a riser bar might just breathe new life into that old bike. Or perhaps you are going to do a very long distance event and a bit of a more relaxed position would be a boon to helping you be successful in that endeavor. Bike packing situations and the Top Shelf Bar would make a lot of sense. I am probably going to get a handle bar bag in soon to help illustrate that option. 

So, yeah.....Again I am just impressed with the design, ride quality, and options that the Top Shelf Bar provides. Stay tuned for more in the near future.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Country Views: Necessary Medicine

Escape Route: Unnamed bike path
Thursday was THE day. Yes, the only day that would work. That's because the weather is taking a turn for the wet and windy for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Huh.......you'd think it was Trans Iowa weekend or something

And traditionally speaking, it would have been scheduled for this weekend. My, my! This would have been quite the epic edition of T.I. had I still been doing it. 

But of course, that is not happening and so it is just a note to make mentally. This time of year the thoughts about the old event are inescapable for me. There are reminders everywhere I turn concerning the event. 

And to top it all off Wally Kilburg's untimely passing only added to my mental state. I don't blame him, certainly, it was just the way it all worked out, but the timing of his death was sort of ironic in that it happened between Iowa Wind and Rock and what would have been T.I. weekend. It all just fits too well, if you ask me. 

It bothers me - all of that stuff does, and I needed to get away for a minute or two. A bicycle ride almost always cleanses the palette, so to speak, and this ride was about that, mostly. I just needed a break and a reset.

The Cedar River at Evansdale

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail

To get out of town to gravel going East takes a lot of riding. Same thing going West. The wind was pretty brisk out of the Southeast so heading into that wind first was a priority. The dirt roads Southewast of Waterloo were the target. That meant a LOT of paved bicycle trails.

A smaller planting rig which would have been considered huge when I was a child!

The farmers were well aware of this impending storm system and they were hot on the trail to get things planted so that this rain would be a benefit to them. There were tractors and whatnot crawling around all over out in the country. 

I was hot on the trail to get a ride in, and I was working against that stiff breeze the whole way out. The first dirt road was McKellar Road and I was still going into the wind! That said, it was still fun!

McKellar Road: Dirt dead ahead!

Seen off Weiden Road.

I went South on Weiden Road's dirt section, past Washburn, Iowa's grass airfield, and then a bit East on blacktop to turn out of the wind, finally. The road was Golinvaux Road, which isn't long, but it has got to be the coolest named road in Black Hawk County. 

Weiden Road's dirt section.

Gollinvaux Road. Cool name - short road.

The tail wind push was awesome. The condition of the gravel was as well. However; there wasn't a lot more gravel to enjoy. Soon it would be back to the bike paths and back home. I tried to enjoy the scene while I could and soak it in. 

It isn't as though I hate pavement. It is just that most of my life has been along, on, or near gravel roads. Ever since I was a kid staying in the Summer on relative's farms, seeing my first serious girlfriend who lived on gravel, or ever since I rediscovered gravel riding in the early 2000's, I have seemed to have an affinity for the country and Iowa gravel. I enjoy the solitude, the closeness to nature, and even the wind and hills. 

Now I am old enough that my friends I made because of gravel are starting to die and disappear. That's sad, but at least I had the opportunity to have been touched by their lives and especially because it was due to gravel riding. I hope I have touched others lives as well.

 I thought about that a bit on this ride, and I came to the conclusion that it was all good. Things come, stay for a while if you are lucky, and like a puff of crushed limestone dust, it all blows away in a second. But that road you are on doesn't stop. Not yet......

So, I keep riding. It\s the medicine I need. It's where I need to be to strengthen my spirit.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

It Has Been Ten Years Already?! Part 3

Just what an event director doesn't want to see.
So, just one more tale from a decade ago. Gosh! A whole ten years has flown by since this dramatic night I and a bunch of goofy gravel riders survived. I have to say, I would not recommend doing what any of us did to anyone out there. 

That said, this was what I would call one of those life-memories that you treasure because it was so dumb and dangerous. Some would call it "adventure". Some would call it downright negligence. 

The image here to the left pretty much is the mark where everything went upside down and is probably where a lot of people would have said, "Welp! This looks like a good place to call it all off!", but I wasn't one of those people. 

Neither were the 40-ish people still riding in the event. As evidenced by the images I saw later. Some I'll post here for the first time ever below. Let's just say that we probably weren't being very sane or safe at all, but again, I doubt any of us would trade the experience for anything. It is that way with events like this. 

Well, I suppose there are a few who don't know about that night of Trans Iowa v10. For a taste of this crazy night you can go back and read my initial report filed on that particular night just afterward HERE

For images, see below....

A previously unpublished image by Steve Fuller. That's current Iowa Wind and Rock director, Sarah Cooper to the left.

Another previously unpublished image by John Mathias

The storm we rode out together in the middle of the night of April 26th-27th was a pretty bad one. Lightning, high East winds, rain, and night time conditions all conspired to drive the riders to seek shelter wherever they could find it. I heard of several barns being commandeered. Obviously this abandoned home, above, was one such refuge. I also heard about a couple of guys getting into a corn crib to ride out the worst of it. 

By about 2:00am or maybe 2:30am the storm had subsided and the riders all started making their way again against a brutal wind South and East to Grinnell Iowa and an old red barn outside of town a few miles. Fortunately there was no loss of life, no injuries, and no harm done to property or possessions. I seriously doubt any of the landowners of those barns and homes knew of the passing of these strangers in the night. To them, they were perhaps just ghosts. Spirits bourne upon a howling wind and lightning only to be seen if they had dared to go out in the weather. 

No, they probably never knew anything about that passage of the Trans Iowa riders in the night. But yes - that doesn't make it "right" either. I understand the dichotomy of what it is the letter of the law says and what the letter of the Spirit is. If you ask me, I think the more important things were followed that evening. 

I wouldn't have wished for an evening like that to happen at my event ever. But am I glad it happened? Yeah...... Yes, I am glad it happened. Those things those people and myself along with the volunteers experienced? Those are treasured memories that can never be replicated, and I am pretty sure each man and woman that participated in those events that weekend knew that deep inside. 

Were the evening's events stupid, dangerous, and unnecessary? Probably...... Yes. That's the paradox of it all. That evening probably should not have gone down like it did. Maybe the event should have been truncated. Everyone sent home, safe, warm in a motel room and cursing the weather that took away their chances to finish a Trans Iowa again. 

But that ain't how it happened.

Friday, April 26, 2024

A Celebration Of Life: Wally Kilburg

I'm taking a break from Friday News and Views this week to do a special post for my old friend and Trans Iowa volunteer/photographer/advisor Wally Kilburg who died last Monday. (You can read my eulogy HERE

Taken as I left Wally and his friend George the last time I spent time with Wally.
Wally was a special person in my life, and while I did not know him very long or all that well, he still managed to touch my life in a way that I did not expect. Of course, his elevation of Trans Iowa via his imagery was stellar. It is probably what he is most well known for by cyclists and since that is the case, I wanted to share my favorite Wally images today to celebrate a man and a life well-lived. 

These are going to be mostly Trans Iowa images, so many of these have been shown before, but I still wanted to share them with you today and to remind us all that we should take time to see, call, or get in touch with friends and family. If you get nothing else out of this post, I hope that it is that you act on that thought today. 

And with that.... (All Images by Wally Kilburg )

Current Iowa Wind and Rock RD, Sarah Cooper at a Trans Iowa start line.

Trans Iowa v9

Trans Iowa v9

Trans Iowa v10

Trans Iowa v10


Trans Iowa v12

Trans Iowa v10

Trans Iowa v12

Trans Iowa v11

Current Iowa Wind and Rock RD, Steve Fuller finishing T.I.v9

Trans Iowa v9

Trans Iowa v12

Trans Iowa v9

Trans Iowa v12

The last shot here is really special to me. I never have had anyone capture myself and Trans Iowa in a way that made us all look like rock stars, but Wally did it and what a brilliant shot! Wally, being the sweetheart that he was, printed this out in large format and sent it to me for free. What a guy! What a gift! I look at this image on my wall often and I thank Wally every time for that. 

Goodbye Wally! I will miss you!

The last time I spent any significant time with Wally, and George Keslin, of course, the two were nearly inseparable, was at the end of checking cues for Trans Iowa v13. That was when Wally was just starting to deal with his wife Irene's failing health. 

It was a difficult day, at times, but we made it through and at the end of it all I sat out in the back of the motel that Wally and George were spending the night at for a bit of a chat. 

Wally was smoking a cigar, as he was wont to do, and we had a few beers at a picnic table sitting near a farm field facing East. I remember the breeze and the grass waving in the wind. It was a great day for mid-April, and it was warm enough to sit outside for quite some time. And that is exactly what we did.

Wally and George were quite a pair, and anyone who knew them could tell you that these two guys were two peas in a pod. They had shared many an adventure, and the stories were almost too wild to be true. I enjoyed being regaled by them with their tales. 

On one hand, I felt honored to be in the presence of such fast friends who were willing to share with me their lives. On the other hand I felt as though I was unworthy of being their friend. My life was a boring story compared to these two troopers! But Wally would not have had it any other way than to have me sitting there that evening. And I know that, if it were possible, he would have spent even more time with me. But it wasn't to be.

I saw Wally briefly at the very start of festivities for Trans Iowa v13, but he had to get back to Chicago to take care of Irene, and that journey was just beginning for him. In the end, it turned out to be the last time I spoke to him. 

So, I will always treasure that warm Spring evening at that picnic table out back of a motel in Grinnell. At least I had the chance to sit and relax once with Wally and his friend George and just put everything aside that had to do with Trans Iowa and just be with them. 

Rest easy, Wally! Thank you for all you did to enrich my, and others lives the way that you did.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Next Gig

The month of May is just around the corner and I will be getting geared up for a trip to Emporia, Kansas once again to attend the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame awards ceremony, and hopefully, the group ride which happens at 11:00am Wednesday May 29th. 

The plan is to leave Tuesday and stay overnight in Kansas City because I want to take Mrs. Guitar Ted to a Korean restaurant. I heard there is a good one there and we do not have that sort of opportunity here. (Got any suggestions? Let me know) 

This plan will allow us to not have to leave Waterloo, Iowa at some ungodly time to get to Emporia by 10:30am. Sleeping overnight in KC will allow for a reasonable night of sleep with plenty of time to get to Emporia since the travel time is about an hour and a half, maybe a little more. 

I'm thinking the group ride will use the same route as last year's ride which wasn't anything too rough. There was one steep climb and that wasn't too bad. So, I am thinking I will take the Honeman Flyer to Kansas so I can have another State ridden on the bike added to the list of Oklahoma and Iowa so far. 

There is no real pressing need to take anything else to ride so I think that'll be the plan. Now I just need to stay on top of my fitness and get in some rides and that should be good for this gig. As far as the GCHoF, I have been asked to be a presenter, so if you are going to the ceremony proper, I apologize ahead of time! Ha! Nah..... It'll be fun. 

And with that, I suspect that will be the last gig of the year as I have often said here that my new job requires me to work Saturday's and taking more Saturday's off is not good for me or the Collective.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Collective Efforts

Des Moines Street Collective
Tuesday was marked by a trip to the Des Moines Street Collective to see Bobby Kennedy and pick up some of their excess bicycles which were donated over the past several weeks. The Cedar Valley Bicycle Collective does not see the amount of donations that the Street Collective does and we are able to move some of their donated inventory for them in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area.

I believe this was the third time we have collaborated with the Street Collective in this manner. It always starts with a two hour long drive to Des Moines, Iowa in a bouncy moving van. 

When I say "bouncy", I mean like a paint shaker bounce. My fitness watch claimed 17 minutes of "exercise" one way on this trip and a bunch of "moving time" even though my butt was firmly planted in a seat. That seat was shaking, but I was seated!

I did end up getting some "real" exercise when the loading part started and I was sitting the bikes in the van with a Tetris-like mindset. Trying to maximize space for the best possible bike count. I must have done it too well, as Bobby had to cut us off at 53 bicycles even though I had space for more in the truck. 

Curt Young, a Cedar Valley Bicycle Collective board member and a CDL license holder drove and assisted in the packing. I have to say that he earned his keep driving as the winds were really strong and pushing that slab-sided van something fierce! Thanks to Curt for his driving expertise!

Planting season is in full swing here in Iowa.

Part of the "haul"

Interestingly, Bobby shared with me that he has found that the relationship between the Des Moines Street Collective and the Cedar Valley Bicycle Collective seems to be a rare one. He mentioned that reaching out to other Collectives via email has been met with ghosting and cold shoulders. 

"It\s kind of ironic when you think about it.", Bobby said to me, "The Collective experience isn't very 'Collective' ." I'd have to agree having been ghosted by every other collective I've contacted in the state. Not to say that the other Collectives are "bad", just that they don't seem to see a benefit in collaborative efforts like Bobby and I have exemplified by our two organizations helping each other out. 

(L-R) Bobby Kennedy, GT, Curt Young
The bikes made it back to Waterloo and we got them unloaded and into the basement of the Collective with help from my co-worker Carl and another board member, Nick Arendt. We have enough kids bikes to help with the Summer programs we are trying to support and probably a few more that will be taken for sale to remote locations at Farmer's Markets in the next couple of months.

That'll keep us busy for a while.

So now comes the hard work of cleaning, repairing, tuning up, adjusting, and cataloging these bikes for resale and parts. I have a tear-down volunteer group coming in Friday from the local "Big Green Tractor Company" which will help make a little space, but will also create even more stuff to sort through, catalog, and store. I would imagine that the reselling side of the Collective will pick up steam here also with all the fine weather we have coming up.

It is time to get crackin' at the Collective!

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!