Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Country Views: Calm Before The Storm

Arguably the "first" day of Spring 2018 was Sunday.
You just knew it had to end sooner or later. Winter was chased out of the State of Iowa on Saturday and Sunday was gorgeous. Stunning blue skies, Sun in copious amounts, and the temperatures soared into the upper 60's for the first time in the year. (At least around here- Southern Iowa is a different story.)

I decided to head out after a late lunch since I had to play bass guitar at church Sunday morning. I chose to wear my Bontrager long sleeved jersey, a nice wool one, and it was very comfortable, but barely so! The wind, out of the Northeast at 15mph, (add more for being out in the country), was keeping me fairly sweat free. Had there been little wind it would have been a different story.

I decided to hit up Newell Street to the East of Waterloo. It doesn't have many good North-South turn offs until you get several miles East of the city. That meant I was up against the wind until Pilot Grove Road where I finally made the turn to the North.

The roads are fantastic.....well, at least they were on Sunday! The County maintainers will be out pronto to layer on the gravel fresh, thick, and chunky for the Spring planting spree that is sure to happen around here quickly now that the weather has finally cracked. Last year corn was all planted by Trans Iowa time and this year nothing has happened......yet! 

I stopped by the cemetery we stopped at late last Fall on our single speeds.
 The roads are incredibly dry. Really dry. The dust is in mid to late Summer form here. Once fresh gravel is laid on top of this the dust will likely be ridiculous. Trans Iowa will be really something else unless it rains, what with the dry, dusty gravel. Riders should consider face and mouth coverings. For real. It's gonna be a scene!

But then again, if it rains, and stays wet up until the event, then it won't matter. Who knows! I've seen it flip-flop for Trans Iowa before.

Barns For Jason

 Once I had the wind at my back the miles flew by. The roads were smoother than pavement, at least most of the time. I ended the ride by visiting the Big Rock of Big Rock Road and tacking my way South and West toward Waterloo again. Once I got back in the City it was crazy busy with traffic on West 4th. The construction season will have that street way too busy for cycling, I suppose, most of Summer.

These carbon 650B wheels from Irwin Cycling are pretty fun.

 The country is just turning the corner from Brown Season to Spring with the ditches just starting to blush green on the edges. Soon the dirt will be turned in the fields and new furrows will be made by the planting equipment.

Birds are still migrating through the state. I saw a huge flock of Red Wing Blackbirds Sunday. They haven't quite set up shop around here, which should happen any day now. When they do, the birds will be harassing me every mile out there! Turkey Vultures soaring in the air are not finding much to eat, not yet. When the animals start moving again we will see more road kill. Then those soaring scavengers will be busy again.

Hoping for some flowers soon. Nothing to see that way yet. Stay tuned.........

Monday, April 23, 2018

Trans Iowa v14: A Note On Riding Gravel


Okay, with five days to go until T.I.v14, here are a few things I think we will need to be keeping in mind for the event as riders.
  • The weather has finally broken and warmer weather has hit Iowa with a vengeance. This means that farmers will be trying to get out into the fields. This will be happening especially if we miss the rain forecast for Thursday and Friday. If that happens I will require that all riders dismount and allow Ag equipment to pass. Today's equipment is huge and takes up the entire roadway. Don't even think about trying to ride by this stuff. 
  • Of course, if it rains, especially on Friday, then all bets are off in terms of heavy Ag traffic, but there will be a lot of farmers moving things around getting ready for the planting season. This means that, more than ever, you must ride on the right side of the road! Especially when cresting hills. Anyone observed not doing so by myself or my volunteers will run the risk of being DQ'ed. We're taking this seriously. 
  • Another major issue we had a few years ago is emergency vehicles and riders not yielding to them the right of way. Yes......emergency vehicles on gravel roads. It happens. ALL riders will be required to dismount and stand aside on the edge of the road when emergency vehicles displaying lights and sirens pass by. If I hear of any violations, I will summarily DQ anyone in the vicinity of the incident. The last time this happened it took a week of back and forth with a volunteer fire department chief to get things settled down. I DO NOT plan on having to do this again. 
  • In the case of inclement weather, riders must ascertain what is the safe decision to make and  MAKE THE CORRECT DECISION! It isn't worth it to continue to ride if the weather becomes dangerous. In fact, the event well could be terminated early if weather gets too far out of hand. See Rule #16 for more.

So, Ride Right, get off the road for emergency vehicles, and get off the road for agricultural equipment.  Seems pretty simple, no?

Now for a few reminders.......
  • Pre-Race Meat-Up: You MUST ATTEND THIS! Doors open at 4:00pm on the 27th at the Grinnell Steakhouse where you must sign waivers and are encouraged to patronize the Steakhouse by buying dinner and/or drinks. Then at 7:00pm the meeting proper starts where you will receive your race packets and your race numbers. I will try to get you out of there well before 8:00pm. 
  • The event starts at 4:00am, but you MUST BE AT THE START AREA BY 3:30am! We will begin to arrange the riders in order to file them through the cue sheet hand out line where your race number will be observed on the front of your bike and your number matched with our records. Then you will receive a cue sheet packet and be told to line up behind the lead out vehicle. This process will cease at 3:50am. If you are late, you will not ride in T.I.v14. Don't even bother trying to get there late. 
  • At 3:55am I will make some final remarks.....
  • 4:00am the event lead out vehicle pulls out and T.I.v14 is underway. 
My goal for this Trans Iowa is that everyone be smart, ride safely, and avoid calamity. We can only insure these things if we follow the practices advised here, but in the end YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Touring Series: Heading Into Cranberry Country

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 last week, 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.

When we last left the three intrepid wanderers they were in Millston, Wisconsin. Here they are about to go in for lunch........

It was called "Granny's Place", or something of a rustic nature similar to that. Inside we found a few people who stared wildly at what they saw as our outlandish appearance. They didn't seem very impressed. Well, the menu was not very impressive to us. Tit for tat! I could not find anything that I would have considered "bike friendly food". I ended up having a hamburger and fries, as did Steve. This was once again "food trauma time" for Troy. I think he had a fish sandwich, or something else that he found disgusting. I noticed that he ate it though! The thing that really made our stop distasteful was the dirty bathroom. Apparently there was fecal matter spread around in there, but I didn't go in. I was just disgusted with the high prices of the mediocre food.

Now we were back on the road, and in somewhat of a hurry, since it was now early afternoon. The County "O" road now took us on a rolling, turning path much different than before. We came upon great cranberry farms. They featured large, rectangular plots of flooded ground with cranberry plants growing in them. Many of these plots were arranged together forming large areas of flooded ground. Alongside of these were large expanses of flooded marshlands. The marshland waters were used to flood the cranberry fields in the fall for harvest.

Now Troy was pushing the pace. He was getting me acquainted with drafting techniques so we could go faster. It was getting breezy, so this came in rather handy. The drafting allowed us all to expend less energy and go faster. However; Troy never took a draft. He always lead, never slowing down unless we did. I was amazed at this and it made me feel bad that I couldn't lead and give him a break. Well, I could have lead, but not at the pace that Troy wanted to maintain.

The pace we kept was maintained by Troy calling out for average speed updates from Steve from time to time. Steve was the only one of us that had a computer. Heck, he even had a radio, which he kept on to take our minds off of the effort being put forth. At any rate, Troy wanted to maintain a 20mph average pace. Steve's computer was showing just slightly less than that. Well, you know what that meant! Go! Go! Go!

Well after all of that "go-go-going" we were soon out of Cranberry Country and coming into logging country. We came across a logging machine at work. It looked like an end loader fitted with giant hydraulically controlled scissors. It moved from tree to tree, snipping them off at ground level. It received bad reviews from Troy and especially Steve. They both vocalized displeasure with the contraption, so I didn't say I thought it was cool!

Now we found ourselves entering the outskirts of a town that we hoped we could stop at for a drink. We were hoping for a convenience store, but our hopes were dashed. The only things we could see right away were a pulp mill and wood chips everywhere. Well, in reality it wasn't all bad. For one thing, it was pleasant to see something other than pine trees and flooded fields of cranberries for miles! A town, any town- was a sight for sore eyes.

Notes: This brings us to the end of the original 27 page handwritten manuscript that I worked up shortly after the trip back in '94. (You'll notice that the last three lines of today's installment were in regular text) The story will be picked up now on my memories 14 years down the road. Fortunately, some of the most memorable parts of the tour are coming up. Things I won't likely ever forget! To help out, I have consulted a Wisconsin Atlas to jog my memories of places passed through and the roads we took.

You will note the note there, and I left it as it was originally only now it has been 24 years since I was on that tour! The cranberry country was really cool to see and I haven't ever forgotten that road or those scenes since then. Now it is hard to imagine how we kept those heavy touring rigs going at nearly 20 mph for stretches of up to 12-15 miles at a  crack. At least we stopped every so often to consult the maps, eat something, or drink. Usually all three. Had we been sporting navigation devices as we have today I don't doubt Troy would have ridden us into the ground!

Next: Getting Juiced

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Minus Ten Review- 16

Rollin' in style outta SFO
Ten years ago on this here ol' blog I was showing my Sea Otter pics. I was rolling in style with the former owner of  "Twenty Nine Inches" at that time, Tim Grahl. The whole TNI gig thing was pretty sweet looking at that time and I was playing around with thoughts of quitting my bike shop wrenching gig and going full time on the blog/review trail. Glad I didn't do that then, cause I would have been very sorry I made that decision in about 6-8 months from that time. Anyway......

Sea Otter was amazing, really. I had such a great time with so many "firsts" for me. The first time getting grub from a Trader Joe's, the first experiences navigating with a smart phone, and riding at the venue was spectacular.

There were so many people to reconnect with and new people met there. It was very apparent that "Sea Weasel" was a different animal than Interbike was. The vibe was so much better there in Monterrey. The industry was gravitating more and more to this festival as a place to debut new product, where at about this time Interbike began its slow decline into meaninglessness. It was a palpable feeling then, and now it has been magnified to epic proportions. Sea Otter thrives in 2018 while Interbike strives to reinvent itself with a new venue. I'm not sure Interbike will ever be relevant agian, despite all the efforts it is making.

The scenery at Sea Otter was/is spectacular.
Jason Boucher, then head honch at Salsa Cycles, riding what was a prototype Big Mama
There were sneak peeks at upcoming product, newsy bits, and lots of work typing and posting content. We were pressed for all kinds of reasons and had little, if any, downtime. The three or four days I was gone went by in a blur of activity.

It was fun, but it wasn't ideal. I had a ton of stuff to do for Trans Iowa yet, and I could do nothing at all for a week while I was traveling. This was only a year after one of the most stressful situations I had ever gone through in T.I.v3. The Sea Otter trip would have been excellent any other time of the year, but just before T.I.? Not so much.

This year, the "Sea Weasel" featured a bevvy of gravel bikes and components for such bikes. Much has been said about the gravel/all road bike being transformed into a mountain bike-like thing. I'll have news and commentary which will illustrate my thoughts on this subject later. I just wanted to point out that the mere addition of a drop bar  to anything other than a straight up road racing bike or bikes like touring and cyclo cross bikes, used to make people's head explode.

Take this Tomac rig made to look like a modernized version of the classic Yeti John Tomac rode in XC races in the late 80's. I remember some folks thought it was a cool exercise in a way, but, you know, drop bars are stupid on mountain bikes. Remember, this was mere months before the Salsa Cycles Fargo debuted. there were maybe three flared drop bars, and no gravel bikes. Anything with wider than 33mm tires that had drop bars just wasn't taken seriously.

Now, a mere decade later, you cannot turn around without hitting the next 650B X 2.2" tired, drop barred, porcupine-like,  braze-on laden gravel bike. It's like the world went upside down. No wait! It's more like what happened in 2012-2013 with fat bikes. Yeah.......

And we all know what happened after that.

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....