Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday News And Views

Pseudo Fenders:

You may have seen all these thin, plastic "fenders" that you zip-tie on fork crowns or snap into place on your seat rails. Ass Savers, a company known for such equipment, has now got something that attaches to your down tube that acts like a mud flap for your front tire. So basically you have a mud flap, but no fender. I know it sounds weird, but I am trying one out here.

Ass Savers calls it the Speed Mullet. They claim that it keeps your feet dry. Well.......it doesn't. I know. But it does do a bang up job of keeping your face clean from spray from the front tire and it does, sort of, keep your drive train cleaner.

I mounted mine on my Twin Six Standard Rando with 42mm tires mounted in the 700c format. Let me tell you- there is absolutely zero room for traditional fenders with 42mm tires. So, clip on fenders are the only thing that will work with that bike with those tires on it. As far as having something to deflect spray from water and mud, this Speed Mullet is better than nothing, which would be my only other choice with this set up on this bike.

So, I see this as a very niche product. I mean, if you can fit fenders, then why wouldn't you? This little gizmo hardly does anything, but like I said, if this is your only other option, then it is better than nothing.

Full suspension gravel bike? Niner Bikes from Sea Weasel. Image by Grannygear
Niner Bikes Shows FS Gravel Rig:

Well, you know what I've said over and over again- "Any bike can be a gravel bike." Niner Bikes set out to prove a point with this design effort shown at Sea Otter. (Image thanks to my friend Grannygear, who is at the event) As far as I know, this is just a prototype now. I wouldn't at all be surprised if it comes out though.

Before you diss this and make some pithy comment, I thought something I heard just the other day on a GCN video made a lot of sense. They said that much of what they were seeing as "gravel tech" was actually recycled XC mtb tech from years ago. This bike would seem to be proof of such things. Certainly, it would seem that the short travel FS/hard tail XC 29"er/650B bikes are blurring the lines between them and gravel merely by adding a drop bar.

Oddly enough, I actually used a drop bar version of a Salsa Dos Niner soft tail bike in Dirty Kanza years ago. The thought of using a XC 29"er bike for gravel was definitely not unheard of back in the day. In fact, many times it was not unusual to see dual sus 26"ers in gravel events ten years ago or more. This makes me curious about resurrecting that Dos or my Fisher HiFi as an exercise in FS gravel travel. Maybe I will try it for fun. Stay tuned.......

My commute to work on April 18th, 2018. Are you kidding me!


Trans Iowa v14- The Count Down Begins!

It's pretty crazy to think that in one week I'll be on my way to Grinnell to put on yet another Trans Iowa event. I'll be busy packing things away for the trip and the event. Papers, numbers, supplies, cues, prizing, personal stuff, and more will all be getting arranged for the send off on the 27th at the Pre-Race Meat-Up and the event on the 28th-29th.

Roster numbers are about what I'd expect. We're down to 103 as of now, and I suspect a few last minute drops and that we will see something in the high 90's for starters. Well......if the weather seems good.  Last year the forecast looked dim and a bunch of folks bailed at the last minute. Which leads me to......

The weather. Yes- you just never know. Especially this year. It snowed the 18th, and with a week to go, it is forecast to be much warmer, but now thunderstorms are creeping into the forecast. Rain, and especially lightning, could really make things interesting. Winds will be a factor for sure, but what they will be and from what direction is anyone's guess at this point.

You can keep up with all of this via Trans Iowa Radio, (the number will be posted soon for the riders), and on my Periscope which you can access from Twitter @guitarted1961. I may even do a Facebook Live post. Who knows! It's going to be a big weekend so I expect that I will be quite busy with all the hoopla. Stay tuned......

Have a great weekend and ride yer bikes!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Getting More Than You Bargained For

Direct to consumer sounds great, but what you assume in responsibilities is not well communicated
The changing economy. It's the talk of the town and has a lot of people wringing their hands. We are no strangers to these changes in the bicycle industry. This has been happening for a decade now and things are not going to switch back to the way we used to do things. That said, a lot of what has already happened is not very well understood by the common person. When you carve out the traditional supply chain and short circuit the old economy by going direct to consumer, there are responsibilities that were once the realm of distributors and retailers that now fall into the end user's lap.

Again- these are not predictions of a future which consumers face. No- it is current reality. Or, at least it is if you engage in direct to consumer economic transactions. The following is just a sampling of what I have observed over the past ten years of being in the bicycle retail business arena as a mechanic.
  • Warranties are the responsibility of the end user. It used to be that warranty issues were facilitated by dealers, but that ain't so if you buy direct. The hidden implications of this are that unless you are savvy at mechanics and understand technologies, you'll not only have to cover shipping defective items, but pay someone to remove and install parts as well.  
  • Tune-ups, adjustments, and fitting issues are the responsibility of the end user. Again- if you don't have the time, skills, or both- those things will have to be paid for. Many times shops will not charge you for these things, or give you significant discounts, if you purchase from them.
  • Buying the wrong bike: Sizing issues? Got the wrong bike for your application? Maybe you bought a bike and six months later you decide that it isn't for you and you want to go a different direction? Too bad. You're stuck with the original purchase. Or, you have the hassle of shipping an item back. Don't forget your time and energy dealing with all of that. Generally speaking, a good local shop will work with you on issues like these so you don't have to. 
  • Bought the wrong parts: This happens A LOT! If I, as a mechanic, order the wrong part, it's on the shop. If you, as a consumer do that- too bad. That's your issue to deal with. Hopefully you don't value your time and money, because if you did........ Well, you get the picture. 
  • Bought direct to consumer bike- got the last decade's geometry, design, and tech: This is the hidden fault with many direct to consumer bicycles. Buyers of such rigs will get their dander up big time when you say that these bikes "aren't as good as LBS bikes". They generally don't understand that the geometry is wonky, hidden parts that generally are not considered are sub-par, and the technology, especially in rear suspension bikes, is archaic. But as long as they are  happy....... That said, there is always a reason those bikes cost less. That reason is- many times- the aforementioned things.
A warning found on the Scott Sports site
But these are not the only minefields consumers are now saddled with dealing with. Fake sites or low quality components masquerading as "real" brands are popping up all over. That Specialized, Pinarello, or Scott bike you got for "a really great deal" on-line may very well be a fake, and at best, an under performing product. At worst these bikes and components can be downright dangerous.

Even carbon components direct from Chinese manufacturers can be dodgy and stories of successful purchases are balanced by just as many failures if you invest the time to research out the myriad threads on-line about such things.

There is a great series of articles on fakes and how consumers and brands are having to deal with this on the industry trade site called "bikebiz". You can read the articles here. The issue is so massive it took 20 articles to cover! So, be ready for a long sit if you should jump over there to read it all. The point being- this has been going on for quite sometime, and if consumers continue to bypass traditional forms of retail, they can expect to have to navigate some pretty murky seas with almost no recourse should things go pear-shaped.

While traditional retail is certainly dead, I do not expect that your "traditional" bike shop will completely go away either. The shops will eventually morph into a new form, consumers will still patronize bike shops in their new form, and on-line retail? I think that is destined to change as well. One thing is for certain- the only constant is change!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sea Otter Cranks Up Again

More new "old stuff" surfaces- Yeti founder John Parker's new Underground Bike Works Revival
Sea Otter starts tomorrow in California and the press release machine is cranked up. But first- just what is this Sea Otter thing? Well, it is probably the single most important North American bicycle reveal/show/news event since about 2010 or so. Mostly mountain bike in focus, Sea Otter has road racing, mountain bike racing, group rides, a festival atmosphere, and a LOT of vendors showing and selling wares to the public.

There are a lot of companies that coordinate their releases around Sea Otter, even if they are not there. The news cycle created by the activity around Sea Otter has increased the amount of attention, and eyeballs, that the industry craves. So, it behooves any company with anything new for the season to announce it around Sea Otter.

Specialized announced its new Stumpjumpers, there was a 29"er downhill fork announced! Crazy stuff gets announced around this event. This year a lot of gravel oriented product will get announced and already has been announced. My partner, Ben Welnak is even out there for his "Mountain Bike Radio" gig and RidingGravel.com stuff.

I'm certain I'll have some stuff to share soon, so stay tuned....

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Old Idea Reborn: Cane Creek Cranks

The original Sweet Wings crank set in CroMoly
I saw an image on Twitter and I had to do a double take. Wait a minute! I checked the calendar. Yep! It is 2018 alright! I thought I was swept back to 1996 for a minute there. I look at the image on Twitter again...... Nope! It's 1996 again! 

Ah! The 1990's and mountain biking. You could hardly keep up with all the "new" tech that was burbling up out of garages, failed military contract company's materials technology, and whatever color anodization was in vogue at the moment. It was a seemingly ever flowing stream of "the new".

Of course, we didn't have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or the internet, (at least schlubs like us didn't), back in the 1990's. We had monthly periodicals. You might remember them as "magazines". Ya know........print media? Yeah, and it refreshed at a rate of once a month. It was really something else. We had a lot of time to do other stuff back then. Not like today where you are checking social media every half a second when you aren't answering push notifications between surfing the innergoogles and trying to eat lunch. Or something..........

Anyway, the Sweet Wings cranks were something that was the answer to a lot of our brainstorming about cranks and bottom brackets back in the old Advantage Cyclery days. My old boss, Tom, actually pretty much conceptually figured out two piece crank sets and outboard bearing bottom brackets one day while we were musing on the deficiencies of square taper crank/bottom bracket designs of the day. I never forgot that conversation, especially when Sweet Wings came about. They were the two piece design done right, not like Bullseye cranks, and they were light. At least for that time they were. A titanium version was teased back then, but I am not sure they saw the light of day before Sweet Wings kind of passed from the scene.

Cane Creek's eeWing Cranks in Titanium
Apparently, in the years that have since passed since those halcyon days of yore, Cane Creek picked up a brake design from a guy with a company called "Edwards Emnginerring". The brake was some CNC'ed masterpiece dubbed the "eeBrake". ("ee" for Edwards Engineering) Apparently this is the design source for the Sweet Wings crank idea, and so now we see in 2018 what you could call a modernized version of Sweet Wings dubbed "eeWing Cranks" by Cane Creek.

You can go read all the amazing hoopla about them here. They really are not a whole lot different than they were over 20 years ago. Same basic concept with some tweaks on the finer details. The big thing is the interface of the two parts of the crank arms. Instead of the splined interface of yore, Cane Creek has gone with a Hirth Joint, which is similar to how Campy road cranks are joined. Of course, the new eeCrank is made from Titanium, fully realizing Edwards Engineering's intentions for the design way back when.

So, why? 400 grams and a thousand bucks? Well..........yeah. You can spin this a thousand ways to Sunday and the fact is that these are insanely expensive crank arms. Cool? High tech? Yes. Better than high end carbon cranks? Probably. At least you shouldn't pull pedal spindle inserts out of these, like I've seen with a certain carbon crank a time or three. And 400 grams is pretty dang light, so......

Anyway, what is old is new again, only better. You could say that about a lot of current bicycle technologies. I just find the eeCrank intriguing as I did over 20 years ago when I saw its ancestor, the Sweet Wing crank. It's a really great idea, but it is just too danged expensive. So, in a way, that hasn't changed in the years since I was a younger shop rat than I am today!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Trans Iowa v14: Cues And Random Thoughts

DON"T GET EXCITED- These are from LAST year's Trans Iowa!
On Cues: 

I've written reams about cues for Trans Iowa, so I won't get into all the finer details of things. However; there are a couple things I wanted to mention about cues for this year that are things you, (if you are in Trans Iowa), should understand.

First off, there will be a LEGEND provided for the cues that will include a LOT of info that you will need to keep throughout your ride in T.I.v14. This cue sheet page will come with the first set of cues and should be at hand for all the event, SO DON"T THROW IT AWAY OR LOSE IT!

It has the phone number for calling in when you are dropping out. It has the RE-ROUTING PROCEDURE on it, and I am going to try to get the T.I. Radio number on there as well. All of this will, or MIGHT BE , necessary IMPORTANT information that you will need to protect and keep track of.

Also- the cue sheets are 4" X 4 3/4"s in size, in case  that matters to you.

FINALLY- and of great importance: THE CUE SHEETS ARE EASILY DAMAGED BY MOISTURE! So, be careful handling them with wet gloves, for instance. Don't spill your energy concoction on them, and don't let them get wet from precipitation. Just don't let them get moist! It will be BAD if you do.

Cues are printed on a little thinner paper than we used to use the past couple of T.I.'s in order to save some money, so they should be handled with great care. We used to use straight up typing paper, and this stuff is heavier stock than that, but not by much, so just be aware of that. Cues will come in zip-loc type sandwich baggies. There isn't anything special about these, and they are NOT WATERPROOF!

Commitment:

 I was going to personalize the numbers this weekend, and it would have been a perfect weekend to do this, since it was really bad weather outside. However; a certain rider e-mailed me to say he "might not be there" since this individual has to deal with an injury sustained last month and isn't sure of himself for the event.

Really?

So, I put that off for a bit, I sent a reply asking for a decision, and hopefully I'll get the courtesy of a solid commitment one way or the other today. I mean, why even bother sending me an e-mail like that? It's weird, and it doesn't do any good for anyone. In my opinion, if you are iffy physically you shouldn't come to try a 345 mile bicycle race under stressful conditions.

But what do I know?


A "nice weather" Trans Iowa. Image by Wally Kilburg
 Weather Chit-Chat Starts Now:

The weather for Trans Iowa this year will start coming into focus now with about 12 days to go. Right now, they are saying Winter will finally die and a brief Spring time weather feel should appear.

Before I get ahead of myself here, I want to address the "weather legend" concerning Trans Iowa. This all got started with Trans Iowa v2, which no one finished.

It got to be kind of a thing there for a while. T.I.v3 was beautiful, T.I.v4 was awful! Strong winds and snow at the start of that one. Then T.I.v5- beautiful, maybe a tad windy, T.I.v6- terrible weather, and by this time the legend of the "awful even numbered Trans Iowas" was solidified. T.I.v7 was pretty nice, but then something started to swing the other way. T.I.v8 looked to be terrible. The thunder and rain carried on right up to before the start, but by mid-day that Saturday, the roads were perfectly fine, and wind was not a big deal. Wait! What? An even numbered Trans Iowa that was nice?!

Then v9 was what everyone expected, very nice, and v10 was tough, with bad wind and a tremendous squall line of thunderstorms overnight. But that was the last bad even numbered Trans Iowa.

V11 was as bad as it gets and the event was over before it started, really. V12 was perfect! So much for the curse of the even numbered TI! V13 was super tough, in terms of weather, so it stands to reason that this TI would be quite nice.


Hey! It could happen!

The main thing is, I don't want to hear anything about the "even yeared curse" anymore, because, obviously, it doesn't hold true. Add to that the extended forecast which says the high temperature for Saturday the 28th will be 71°F. Yeah.......instant Summer!

My only concern with this would be that this may be "rush hour" for planting activity. Tractors, trucks, semi-tractor trailers, ag equipment, all running to and fro in a frenzy to put crops into the ground. I just hope traffic isn't a concern for the riders. We will see.


And of course, the forecast will change five times before T.I.v14 anyway. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Touring Series: A Tale Of Hills And Hurry

A Guitar Ted Productions Series
 Welcome to "The Touring Series". This series is a re-posting of a story I told here on this blog in 2008. The story is about what I named the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour". This was a fully loaded, self-supported bicycle tour from just Northeast of Waterloo, Iowa starting in a little village named Dewar and the goal was to get to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada in one week's time. The plan called for us to be picked up there and taken home by car.

When I returned home from this tour I wrote a rough draft manuscript of about half of the trip. It is 27 pages of hand written stuff, front and back, and this is what I will be posting to begin with. You'll be able to identify the 1994 manuscript material by my using italics to post it here. After the manuscript information ends, the rest of the story will be picked up from memories written down in 2008. That will appear as regular text here. As mentioned, cameras, smart phones, and the like did not exist for us in 1994, so images will be few. There are some though, and I will sprinkle those in when they are relevant.
____________________________________________________________________
Today the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour" rolls out of Sparta, Wisconsin on its way to parts unknown....

We once again noted how chilly it was for August as we made our way through the early morning traffic of Sparta. Once clear of the city, the terrain consisted of rolling hills and dairy farms. The road itself was clean blacktop with a narrow paved shoulder. Our bikes did not want to roll too well on this pavement though. We did not take much notice of this strange phenomenon, instead we delighted in making fun of the rustic names seen on each mailbox as we rode by. There were many of these names which, unfortunately, I can not note here. I was too busy riding my bike to write them down as I went by.

Soon our road sent us over some more difficult hills. the farms disappeared for the time being. We had come upon some sort of highland area. Suddenly I saw rising before me a very steep and tall hill. This reminded me of the hill outside of Preston, Minnesota, only this hill was not as long and was steeper than that hill. I was certain I could make it, but I was waiting to see how long it took my companions to drop me. As I gazed over to Troy, I saw him put his head down, shift up a gear, and walk right away from us. He crested the hill far in front of Steve and I, then he disappeared. I was busy in my granny gear again, this time holding my own against Steve. The dratted hill decided to steepen on me just then though. This was almost my undoing. Almost.

Steve managed to reach the top about fifty yards ahead of me. There he stopped to watch me as I agonized up the last section. My body screamed to halt, but I would not let this hill beat me! I made it to the top. I was breathing so hard that I thought my chest would never stop heaving. Once my mind cleared, I looked out to see the distant farmlands, but Troy was no where to be seen. Steve congratulated me on my victory over the hill. We had some water and pop tarts to celebrate right in the middle of the road. Soon though, we gave our attention to finding Troy. 


Location of Cataract, WI
 The long, fast descent was a welcome reward for us. We made about two to three miles pass beneath us before we saw Troy. He was parked at a fork in the road near a farm waiting for us. We got regrouped and took off once more. We were looking forward to reaching the town of Cataract and maybe a bit of something to eat as well.

We pulled into the small city only to find a small gas station/grocery store along the road. The day was partly cloudy and pleasant, so we took our purchases out to consume them by the road. A local woman stopped by to say hello, but when she spoke, it was apparent that she wasn't a native cheesehead. We were surprised to find out she was a native of Belgium. She expressed her countryman's love for cycling and how she did not find that here in the U.S. The three of us nodded in unison. She went on to tell us that she admired us for our goal of reaching Canada. She was the first adult that had dared to talk to us vagrants. We thought that was really nice.

We left and found out we were not out of hill country just yet. Just north of Cataract the hills were not so big, they were just ganged together! Troy and Steve pulled away and I was left behind. Far behind! At the top of a hill I saw Troy and Steve at least three quarters of a mile ahead of me. This made me quite irritable. Absolutely mad! This in turn motivated me to catch them. I had a long down hill, a flat space, and then a short steep hill after a left turn. Going into the corner I thought I might actually reel them in, but I just didn't have enough left in me to get the job done. I was mad again. Then just as things were looking pretty grim, I noticed that Steve and Troy had pulled up and were waiting for me. I was immensely grateful!

After a short rest stop at the top of the hill, we moved on again. It was decided that we would not continue on towards Black River Falls, as it was out of our way northwards. We took County "O" to the east, and that road was a very nice straight blacktop that had young, tall pine trees lining both sides for as far as we could see. This screened off the view, and the wind. We could only see up the level road and the sky above our heads. There was no traffic at all on this lonely stretch of road which allowed us to all ride together and converse freely. After awhile it seemed that this road would never end. We knew that the next town up was called Millston, but we had no clear idea of how far away it was.

Then we saw an alarming sight. Fall color! Not just a little bit either, but a whole grove that had fallen under Fall's powers. We stopped to take some pictures which didn't please Troy. Apparently "stop" was a word equivalent to "defeat" in Troy's mind.

That became very apparent once we took off again. Troy set a pace that was borderline brutal. This had been a tough day for me and it wasn't even noon yet! Finally we reached a turn in the road, which was cause for some celebration since this road was so flat, straight, and boring. Troy agreed to a stop here and we discovered the reason for the turn. It was a lake, which we took some photos of. I was thankful for the break, but I wondered where Millston was. It seemed that it really wasn't on this road. Not much later on though, we came to the outskirts of Millston, and I was relieved to see that town. Since it was around noon, we hoped to find a place to eat. We didn't find much, just a local joint, but it looked good from the outside.
____________________________________________________________________

Looking back on this I don't think it occurred to me that perhaps I was suffering from fatigue after two really long days in the saddle which were unprecedented in my lifetime. Then again, it is remarkable just how well I adapted to these long days. The Belgian lady was funny. She actually kind of sized us up before she gathered the courage to speak, but I am still glad that she did.She wasn't the first adult to speak to us, that would be the Stonemason of Peterson, but she was the first to actually have a conversation with us beyond a simple remark.

Next: Heading Into Cranberry Country

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Minus Ten Review- 15

The first ride with MG was pretty much like every ride with him since, fun and fast!
Ten years ago on the blog here I was yakking a lot about three things, mainly- The upcoming Trans Iowa, Sea Otter, and bad weather. Well, ten years later it seems that we are experiencing deja vu.

Today the weather is pretty "craptastic". Here's an excerpt from ten years ago about the weather:

"Well, we're stuck in this seeming holding pattern of crap-tastic weather lately. I wake up this morning to the sound of rain and see that the temperature is a balmy 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Great!"

Sound familiar? 

Then there is the Trans Iowa bit. Another excerpt from ten years ago:

" Besides the field work on T.I.V4 I have some organizational work concerning volunteers, photographers, and equipment necessary to put on the event."

Still the same ol' bag ten years down the road! Well, besides the "field work", which was already accomplished last week, thanks to Tony, one of my volunteers. Then there is Sea Otter. Did you know I almost went this year? Almost. Next year I probably will be on duty for RidingGravel.com there. But this year I was spared the trip and my partner Ben is going to be there.  

Another momentous occasion happened ten years ago, and that was the chance I got to ride with my (now) good friend, MG. I didn't know him all that well ten years ago, but this ride was a good way to get to know him, and I owe the pleasure all to MG, who went out of his way to make this ride happen on a really crappy day. Thanks MG!