Saturday, March 25, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 12

If it wasn't a rock, it had a spike sticking out of it that could rip yer flesh open.
Ten years ago on the blog here I was relating my experiences riding in the Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso, Texas for the first time. It was, understandably, an eye opening experience for me.

By this time in my life I had ridden a mountain bike in Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and all over Iowa. But I had never seen rock, rock, and more rock like I saw in El Paso. It was unbelievable. I was overwhelmed by the experience of riding in the desert.

The bike I used was the Dos Niner, and despite the fact that it maybe had 3/4's of an inch of rear travel, I was super glad it had some travel! I remember slamming into a wash so hard I thought the bike should have broken in two pieces. Amazingly, the Dos held up and so did I. I also found out I was way out of shape, but I think I cleaned more than I should have just on pure adrenaline and the excitement of riding in a new place.

I certainly came away with a new appreciation for El Paso and mountain biking in general. It made some things I used to think were tough into child's play. In fact, it kind of spoiled me that way. There aren't too many places I have ridden since then that even come close to how hard it is to ride those trails.

Going steeply up on loose, huge sized gravelly rock, snaking your way through a minefield of thorns. Typical El Paso trail.
While all that was exciting and fun, I had to turn my attention forward to Sea Otter and beyond that, to Trans Iowa v3. Jeff was mostly out of the picture, but at this time ten years ago I still didn't know for certain how little or how much he was going to be involved. Then there were some bizarre requests to photograph the event from oddball folks I never had heard about, all of which I eventually turned down. There also was another, strange, unbelievable request from a guy from Portland, Oregon which I had to field as well.

See, this was a huge transition for me, and I was going through it ten years ago, and I was not at all comfortable with this. Originally I was just Jeff's helper, a "gopher", the route maker, and I facilitated Jeff's desires in how to run things. But here I was with Jeff absent most of the time and me having to field all the requests and questions that Jeff would have normally handled himself. Now I was becoming the "director" of Trans Iowa, only I wasn't really seeing it that way. You could say that I was in denial.

Anyway, this guy from Portland was an author and he kept e-mailing me and calling me with all these questions. He was getting an "advance" from a publishing company to write a book about underground, under the radar sporting events. He had heard about Trans Iowa from Ira Ryan, who was starting out as a custom frame builder in Portland at that time. Ira won the first Trans Iowa.

So, this whole thing was surreal, and I didn't believe it, really. I didn't believe Jeff wouldn't be a part of Trans Iowa.  I didn't believe this guy who said he was an author was for real. But the guy says he is coming, so I wrote about this ten years ago and had the following to say about what it all could mean for Trans Iowa:

"In the end, Jeff and I run the thing and put it on. It's up to us whether or not it is what it is.......for now. I suppose if it gets away from us for whatever reason, we can always shut it down. Are we part of a revolution? Ahh.....well, maybe. I think history, or maybe this upcoming book, will be the judge of that. All I know is, we want to ride our bikes for crazy long distances self supported, and we think you do to. As long as we have that basic understanding, then we have things like Trans Iowa. If that's a "revolution", then so be it."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday News And Views

The Terrene Honali 700 X 50 tire.
Terrene Debuts New 50mm Honali Tire:

Terrene Tires has made quite a splash with the three tires that they entered the market with last year. The mtb "Chunk", the fat bike specific "Wazia", and the gravel oriented "Elwood". I have the Elwoods and I think they are as good a gravel tire as you'll find.

Of course, with only three offerings, (or even if they had 300), there are tires we wish we could get from Terrene. I asked about something maybe more in tune with a Fargo for gravel. Terrene said, "Hold on.....". Now I see this offered up from the ongoing Taipei Cycle Show show. It is a 50mm wide touring tire dubbed the "Honali". I'm not sure how you should pronounce that. Hmm.......

Well, however the name sounds, the tire looks good. Maybe not exactly what I had in mind, but we will have to see about that. There is a reflective sidewall, which I think is cool if you do anything late evenings or at night. Some folks don't like that reflective stripe, but it never bothered me, and it could save you from getting hit. I like that idea.

I was thinking a bit about tossing on a set of Surly 700c sized Extraterrestrials, but those tires are heavier ( reportedly over a 1000 grams each) and burlier than I think I need. Great tire though. Love the 26"er version on my 1X1. I just feel I don't need that big brute of a tire on my Fargo. I don't think I need all that flat and sidewall protection, for one thing. Maybe the Honali will be similar but not as beefy? That's what I'm hoping to find.

Resurrect your decade old FS 29"er as a "full suspension gravel device"!
Now That Is Taking It Too Far:

Another Taipei Cycle Show find was news concerning the showing of a "full suspension gravel bike".

No, I am not making that up. Go ahead- click that link. 

I wish I were making it up, but it is apparently an idea being floated in Taiwan which I am sure some company is hoping will catch on. Ya know, I hate to break it to them, but there are these devices called  full suspension 29"ers out there that are already doing the same thing they want this bike to be doing, only they do it better. Heck, I bet there are a lot of decent, first generation full suspension 29"ers out there that would be had for a song that you could actually use as a gravel bike. Well, actually I don't have to bet. People are already using those bikes as gravel bikes. I saw a few last Summer at Gravel Worlds, as a matter of fact.

So, yeah........I happen to still have that Fisher HiFi in the image here, and I think I might just go right ahead and try this myself. I mean, why not? A set of lighter disc wheels, a nice set of tires, a Jones Bar, and BOOM! I even serviced the fork for this recently.

Like I need a new project, but again- why not? Stay tuned for a post dealing with my experiences on dual squish bikes on gravel and how this Fisher might work out coming soon.

Sun Race 11-50T 11 speed cassette
Now That Is Taking It Too Far: Part 2

First SRAM comes out with Eagle 12 speed and says this is the best wide range cassette 1X option you can buy. Well, is it really? Sun Race makes a case for their 11-50T 11 speed cassette which slides on to a regular splined free hub body and costs a heck of a lot less than SRAM Eagle. Plus, if you already run 11 speed mtb shifters and derailleurs, this is supposed to work fine with those components.

The image here doesn't do the scale of this cassette justice. Those big cogs are ginormous! My gravel bikes don't have chain rings that big!

I guess this puts SRAM on notice that, for many of us, if we are going to pop for something along these lines, the value per buck spent is going to be tilted in this cassettes favor more often than not. I mean, you don't have to have a specific SRAM wheel, you don't have to have SRAM Eagle, and you don't have to spend a ton of money to expand the gearing range on your 1X set up. That is, if you are into such a thing.

I still think 1X is a flawed system that compromises chain line, increases wear, and has gearing steps which hearken back to 6 speed mountain bike freewheels. My opinion is that human powered mountain bikers will someday realize that maintaining momentum and cadence is easier with close ratio gearing set ups. But then again, maybe I am a dreamer. 

A tire for skinnier rigs- WTB's new 32mm Exposure.
 And One That Isn't Taken Quite Far Enough, Maybe......

One more bit that was just released news this week- A tire from WTB to join the currently offered 28mm and 34mm Exposure line up. This one is the "Goldilocks" 32mm size.

Many folks may not realize it yet, but many disc road bikes can take 32mm tires with ease. This might make your roadie rig, (if it is a disc road bike), something more adept at smooth dirt roads and maybe even some finer gravel. (Looking at you, Southeastern Minnesotans!) I like the idea of that, but in practice, at least around here, a 32mm tire is not going to work. 

Yes, I have tried it. Even 30mm tires, actually. When you find that gravel that has been swept cleanish of "real crushed rock" and has that fine, hard, gritty limestone base showing, then heck yeah! 34mm or even 32mm tires absolutely are a blast to ride. Or you could cruise alleyways. That gravel is pretty tame. However, you aren't going to find miles of unbroken stretches of that in Iowa. On the contrary, you are more likely to find miles and miles of deep, fresh, chunky gravel, which would make a 32mm tire a big chore to ride, and super unpleasant to experience.

So, I like the idea of the Exposure, and maybe it would work where you live, but it doesn't go far enough for me. I'll stick to my 37mm Riddlers and other, bigger, supple, more capable gravel tires here.

Okay, that's a wrap for this week. Have a good weekend and ride yer bicycles!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Shocking News And Husky Rubber

A Rock Shox Judy?! Yes, a new Judy is coming soon.
Blast From The Past- Only New!

 What better way to kick off a "Throwback Thursday" than to talk about yesterday's news that a new Rock Shox Judy will become available as an aftermarket and OEM suspension fork for 27.5" and 29" bikes. SRAM marketing mentions something about "entry level" bikes getting this nicer fork, so take that under advisement. It seems that it has decent features, and with the 29" Boost version, you can go with 27.5+ tires.

Of course, all of this Judy gab is really a distraction since Rock Shox also announced several updates throughout their fork line up. You can catch up, if you care to, by checking in with our UK based dirt heads here.

There is an irony here since the Judy is not being offered in its original 26" wheel format. Of course, the 26"er forks have been relegated to sub-standard status by most of the industry and it has been that way for a few years now. You could say that 27.5 is the new twentysix. I've held that theory for several years now. It worked to drop 26" and make everyone that wanted/needed an upgrade to go to 27.5", but now that ruse is over, and it seems that the industry is fishing around for other ways to get your dollars sucked out of your bank accounts. 27.5+ seems to be where that wagon is hitched right now because there was zero mentions of 29+ in the article I saw. Maybe that's an announcement for Sea Otter......

29 X Husky. (Image courtesy of Team Dicky's Facebook page)
Call it Husky:

 First there were 29"er tires, then this whole thing went nuts with fat bikes, "Plus" sized 29"er tires, and 27.5+ stuff. I'd heard rumors that a category of 29"er rubber was going to be made in that empty space between current 2.5" tires and 3.0", "plus" sized 29"er tires. Well, it seems that 2.6" is the size we will see first and Maxxis is showing a tire at the current Tapei Bike Show happening now. There will be a lot more of this sort of thing, so that begs the question: "What bikes will they fit and when will we be seeing them?".

Obviously there are already a few rigs out that are 29+ that this would work in, but I figure we will start seeing some real burly, front and full suspension bikes that utilize this size tire and will not be full on 29+ bikes. After having spent a lot of time looking into and riding on various 29"er tires over the years, it is plain to me that to make a tough tire that has decent knobs that won't wilt at the sight of rocks and what not, you are talking about adding a not insignificant amount of weight. This means that those flimsy Surly Knard 29 X 3.0's folks often slag on because they cannot handle rocks and things of that nature would weigh far over 1000 grams each if they did have a tougher casing. And that is without adding rubber tread blocks. This is why the Dirt Wizard is "undersized", because if it were a big casing with all that rubber on it the tire would weigh as much as many fat bike tires do.

I've believed all along that 29+ was just a bit "too much" in terms of dimensions and weight to become a very widely acceptable wheel/tire format. The numbers there will always be small. This new aim at making a tire with a 700c bead seat diameter and a 2.6" width has some legs, I think. It keeps all that weight and diameter in check, to a degree, and I think it is just enough to make it more appealing than full-on 29+ (three inches or larger) wheels and tires. I don't think 29 X 2.6 is "plus"sized, but maybe it is "husky"? Well, whatever it is, I like it. Eventually my Singular Buzzard will see that size tire on it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Something Old, Something Blue

It will get the job done.
Parts bin parts are sometimes a good thing, and then again sometimes they can be a curse. I mean, what the heck am I saving this stuff for? Then comes a day when you find that part that allows your build to continue forward and you think you are a genius for saving all that stuff.

Most of the time though, it is stupid and a burden. Of course, there are those bits one should never toss out, like good 8/9 speed derailleurs. I had this old 90's era XT derailleur hanging around and I decided to employ it once again for the rebuild of the custom rig I have here. You might remember the post about the chain rings from last week? Yeah, that bike build.

Anyway, I have found the derailleurs for the build. The front, a shiny top pull XT, is likely the one from the original Fargo. I'm not sure though. It had a clamp that fit the fillet brazed frame I am building up perfectly though, so whether it was from a Fargo or not, it was likely a steel framed mtb of some sort. Parts bin parts, ya know. Their origins are sometimes murky at best.

The rear derailleur, well, I think I know the story here and the blue, sealed bearing jockey wheels are my clue. I had a 1996 Diamondback V-Link Pro dual suspension bike and it was an XT equipped rig. I remember it had a raw aluminum/blue theme to its look. There were the blue grips and matching Panaracer Magic blue treaded tires. Not really blue rubber. It was so dark you almost could mistake it for black, but it was definitely blue.

At any rate, I decided to swap in more blue anodized bits and these jockey wheels would have been something I would have done back then. So, I think this rear derailleur was from that Diamondback V-Link Pro. Most likely, it was. Blue jockey wheels don't really go with the theme of this build, but the nostalgia for me carries the day and this will be the part I use. I suppose if I really am offended by the blue I can swap out to silver sealed bearing pulleys easily enough.

Oh! And I tracked down a set of 9spd bar end shifters, so I will be going with Gevenalle's Audax shifter/levers for shifting and braking duties. Stay tuned..........

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

650B Gravel Bikes: Are They Mountain Bikes Too?

The Twin Six Standard Rando now comes in 650B or 700c
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Okay, here we go folks. Just to reiterate, this is only my opinion.

The industry is making so-called "gravel bikes" which are dual-wheel size compatible. These are the "latest" thing now. The entire genre probably got its start with Open's "UP" model. Once that bike made a big splash it didn't seem to take long for others to follow suit. This is the gravel bike "du-jour" of 2017-18. Most will be made of carbon fiber, but I've seen aluminum and steel models too. Big, chunky carbon forks with through axles will be on the front, disc brakes all around, and typically these sport shorter chain stays to appeal to the roadies out there who think longer than 425mm chain stay lengths are "unresponsive".

There are a lot of announcements, but not much in the way of details, and even less in terms of ride reports. The one thing all of them tout is the ability to run a 2.1' X 650B mtb tire. This seems to be just "accepted" as being a "good thing" by all who have reported on these bikes. However; I don't think it is so much a feature as it is a marketing tool to get you hooked up to buy one.

Yes, I have tried it, as a matter of fact.
Before I get into that though, I will say that I do totally buy in to using a 650B wheel and a tire suitable to gravel riding, and for using that to actually ride gravel roads. What I have found is that there are certain benefits to running a light, supple, high volume tire tubeless on gravel roads with the 650B size. There are other benefits that 700c brings to the table that this 650B wheel size does not possess. But that said, both have their place.

While one could do whatever the heck they want, and run a heavier, knobbier tire and call it a gravel bike, I don't think this is what the marketers mean. I think what they mean is that your gravel bike can be a mountain bike. So, leaving the gravel stuff aside, let's take a look at what makes this a not such a great idea.

Okay, here's my take. When you eat steak at a restaurant, you could use a table knife to cut yourself a bite to chew. It is a knife after all, and why shouldn't you be able to use a knife for butter when eating steak? Well, I don't know about you, but when I eat steak, I like to use a steak knife. Just like when I mountain bike, I roll out a mountain bike, not some small wheeled, kinda knobby tired, drop bar bike. Why? Because one tool is better for the job than the other is, that is why.

Again, you can do whatever you want to do, but my point is that marketing these 650B/700c "gravel bikes" as do-it-all bikes that could be a mountain bike isn't reality. For someone, or two, or maybe three of you, yes. It will be that bike. For most folks that buy in to the idea, they won't be satisfied. They won't be satisfied because, if they have ridden a mountain bike, they will quickly realize that road-ish geometry and road bike positioning, which most of these bikes have, isn't an ideal solution for mountain biking.

So, I am totally not buying this malarkey about using these super-designed, gravelly bikes for mountain biking when they are the furthest thing from what reality in mountain biking is these days. Not for most people, it isn't reality.  Again, there are exceptions to every rule, I get that. But that said,  these 650B gravel bikes are not mountain bikes too.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Country Views '17: Where Eagles Fly

Riding the Great Plains looks easy, except you cannot see the wind here!
Saturday I planned on doing a longer ride. This would be the first planned longer ride since I have (mostly) recovered from a nasty head cold. My nose was still runny, but otherwise I felt fit and good to go. The weather was not ideal. The temperatures were in the mid-30's and the wind was stiff from the Northwest, but I have gear for that. No excuses!

The first order of the day was to get shorn. My hair was out of control since I did not feel that I should submit my barbers to the illnesses I experienced during January and February. So, this was the soonest I could get in. Last week I did recon, so that was out. Anyway......

I didn't get headed out until after the hair cut and some lunch. Before that I changed something  on the Raleigh Tamland Two. I had gotten a hold of a WTB Pure V saddle from my friend Tony, who I believe got it when he purchased his used Fargo. At any rate, this replaced a fizik saddle that was okay, but it never really felt good. I knew that Pure V's were good on drop bar bikes like the Tamland because I use one on my Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross" bike and I love it. So, I figured why fight it by trying anything else, and so I just decided to go with this Pure V for the Tamland.

I also popped on my Lezyne Super GPS and my FitBit watch and set both to track my ride. Okay.......gizmos. Bah! I get why some folks dig them, but for me they are an extra layer of complexity that tell me precisely what I already kind of know anyway. It isn't that hard to figure out how many miles you have ridden and in what time if you think about that with the natural gizmo you were provided with at birth. But maybe I expect too much........

The Tamland Two with the WTB Pure V now mounted.
So since the wind was out of the Northwest I decided to do a loop that took me East and then North out of town. It is a loop I generally never use unless it is early in the Spring. This is due to the fact that it starts out with miles of flat- really flat- terrain. It is good when you aren't sure where you are at with fitness and you just want to get some miles in. On Saturday, the opening stretches were with the mighty tailwind, so it was fairly easy to get settled in before I had to get working and go North.

There was a stretch which was flanked on the South side by very tall Evergreen trees. I happened to notice something moving high up in the sky, coming from behind these trees. It was a magnificent Bald Eagle, soaring across my path diagonally. I thought that was really cool, and my eyes tracked it as it moved to the Northeast, seemingly untouched by the winds which were strong then. Suddenly, I noticed the Bald Eagle had company!

At first I only saw one......
But there were seven in all.
There ended up being seven of them in all. Bald Eagles are not rare by any stretch these days, but it is odd to see them in such numbers in mostly dry, flat territory. I've seen the odd single eagle sitting in an open field at times, but this was a spectacle that I was blessed to be treated to. After a bit of marveling at them, I decided I had better push on.

Here is where I turned North, on Pilot Grove Road.
I turned North and into the head wind on Pilot Grove Road. Thanks to my friend Tony, who lent me a book on early Native American, Pioneer, and settler's trails in the area, I know now that Pilot Grove Road got its name because at the time of the first settlers coming to this area, there was a Native American trail that cut Northwestward through here that used an isolated grove of trees as a "pilot", or guide", to navigate the wide open grasslands of the day.

Of course, no one knows exactly where the grove was, but as I turned North, I would like to think it was along Poyner Creek in that hollow off in the distance where trees line the waterway to this day. I have done some other research into the area, but nothing has turned up and I may never know for certain where the old grove once was.

The last remnants of snow lining the ditch looking South on Pilot Grove Road
The wind was giving no quarter and I was working the bike hard to maintain 10mph. Of course, you cannot hear anything but the roaring of the wind when you are headed directly into it, or nearly so. This is another thing one has to train for because I feel that this wind noise is a natural deterrent to your mental drive to carry on. It wears on you mentally, and it is easy to let yourself get discouraged by that noise. I try to think about other stuff and it works, mostly. That is until your legs ache and belly aches to the point that you must stop to address those needs. That I did. A flattened banana and some water to wash it down and I felt a lot better. Then it was off Westward on East Bennington Road.

I had a plan at this point to tack the wind by going a mile West, then a mile North, and so on till I reached the county line. However, a turn North on Ordaway Road led me to a "T" intersection with a busy paved county road. Bah! A mile West and an intersection with another paved road! Okay, back South to Bennington then, and off West once more. No more pavement!

Crossing Crane Creek on Bennington Road.
Okay, now I was headed back into familiar territory once again. The way Westward didn't seem as arduous as it had been going North, so this was good, although my legs were barking at me. I knew the truncated course and plan was probably going to work out for the best on this day. Too much too soon and I would run the risk of getting sick all over again.

Oh yeah, I found another country church. St. Francis Catholic Church on East Airline Road, just off Pilot Grove Road.
This dike and emergency spillway are a flood protection for North Waterloo. Located near Moline Road and Airline Road intersections.
The Pure V saddle worked great because I never noticed it at all during the almost three hour ride. So, I think I have finally arrived at the two saddles I can ride on gravel bikes now- WTB Pure V and Brooks Cambium C-17's. That took long enough to figure out!

Hopefully this will make for a good base to get up to speed to do a metric century with my teammates for the Gent's Race on April 1st. I don't have much time!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trans Iowa v13: Notes On Cue Sheets

Formatting.....
It is that time of year again for me to go over a few notes on the cue sheets and point you back to some previous posts that explain how I have done cue sheets since T.I.v8.

The first thing you will notice is that no one else does their cue sheets in this way that I am aware of. Most events that still don't cater to the "I gotta know the course ahead of time" crowd use the "tulip style" cues, which are fine, but I didn't have that format back in the day. The format I came across is what I have used since the early days of Trans Iowa and I have just refined it and made it a staple of the event.

While I am on the subject of courses and how many events do things, let me just say that "no- I won't offer GPS files and never will." That isn't at all what Trans Iowa is about. Unless you earn all the cue cards, or finish the event and have recorded it on your personal GPS unit, (which- yes- is allowed) there will be no record of the course in the future. For instance, there is no GPS of the T.I.v11 course, since the furthest anyone got was 128 miles that year. Yes, I have that course, and no, you cannot have it. I hope that is all clear.

Anyway..... Read THIS POST here about cue sheets and HIT THE LINK IN THAT POST! Between those two links you will learn 98% of what you need to know about the cues and how they work. THIS IS IMPORTANT! You must rely on the cue sheets to navigate, as there is no other way to follow the T.I.v13 course. Get this wrong and I guarantee you will get lost and not finish.

Important Note: I have decided that in order to streamline a couple of things, and to alleviate an issue we had with the finish last year, I am going to replace the "n/s" cue, (No Sign), with "Flagged". Here is what this means and what it does.

There are a few unsigned corners in this year's Trans Iowa. That isn't uncommon, so what I have done in the past is to use a stake with two neon yellow ribbons tied to it to mark the corner where you are to change direction. This will always be on the right hand side of the road nearest to the corner you are to turn at or where there may be a question as to which way to go. As a rider, you should then look left, right, or straight head. If you were to see a similar stake with two neon yellow ribbons on it on the right hand side of the road as you looked left, you would then turn left. This should agree with your cue sheet. Right hand turns would be indicated by a stake on the right hand side of the road to your right, and odd, "Y" corners, or anyplace where there is an unmarked directional change, would be marked in a similar manner.

All of these instances will have cues that line up with what the flags are telling you AND you will see "(Flagged)" on the cue at the end of that line. Here following is a sample cue:

123.6   R   On Switchback Ave (Flagged)

So, you will roll up at about 123 miles, see a stake on the right hand side of the road with two neon ribbons streaming off it in the wind, and then look to your right. There should be, at that corner, another stake with two ribbons up the road to your right on the right hand side of the road. That indicates that you have found the turn at 123.6 miles on Switchback Ave and you should turn right at that point.

Make sense?

There will be bike paths
 It should also be noted that in past Trans Iowas I have utilized bike paths where they made sense. This will be the case again in T.I.v13, so please be alert and pay attention to the cue sheets.

Since the paths generally are not marked with street signage at intersections, you will see the "Flagged" notation on the cues to alert you to where there is a change of direction that takes you on or off of a bike path.

Finally, the "Flagged" designation will alert you to look for a change in direction where there would normally be no street signage, as was the case at the end of T.I.v12, where the final run in came through the service parking lot of a cemetery. Since those stakes/ribbons are hard to see at night, a designation on the cue may have led to riders seeing them instead of missing them as they did in the case of our first two finishers.

The stake.ribbon/signage will all be gone over again at the Pre-Race Meat-Up, but I wanted to get this info out so that riders can consider it now and perhaps ask questions if they have any now.