Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Heart Of The Bicycle

For me, it's all about the head set.
Whenever I build up a bicycle from the frame and fork, I find that there is one thing that is vital to the process going forward. There is one singular component, that in my opinion, if you don't have this, you don't have a bicycle.

Sure, you have to have the obvious. Two wheels, because, well......that's how the dang thing got its name. But beyond the obvious, there is one component, that if I don't have this in hand, I almost cannot do anything else on the build until I obtain it.

That would be the head set.

Think about it- if you you do not have the head set, you cannot have two wheels, and what you are working on is two bad unicycles until you get that part installed and mount the fork. I have to have a head set or, in my mind, there is just no use to doing anything else. You cannot string up your cables, (or in a Di2 scenario, your wires), you cannot mount your brakes with their levers, unless you don't care that they dangle without purpose. You pretty much cannot effectively do anything but mount your crank set and derailleurs.

But what's the point of that without a head set?

So, in my case it was my old Badger that I wanted to rebuild, but I had no head set. Guess what? I didn't do anything with that idea until yesterday when I got a hold of a used Velo Orange Grand Cru head set. By the way, what the heck is with that name? "Grand Cru? seems like there should be an umlaut over the "u" in Cru and a back catalog of hair metal music to go with that name. Hmm...... Didn't I see those guys in '88?

Ah...... Sorry! 

More on the Badger soon.......

Monday, January 23, 2017

Happenings Of Late

January.....no snow, no ice, and lots of mud and water!
This is a period of time now where Winter has gone AWOL and we are left with foggy, drippy, cool weather which has depleted the snow. We are now back to the "Brown Phase" and everything looks sullen and dreary.

The ice storm from last week has also had all of its effects melted away, creating another issue- flooding. Since the water that melted and the rain that fell had no where to go in to the soil, due to frozen ground, it ran into all the rivers and streams instead. That has caused ice jams and flooding that is more akin to early March weather than mid-January fare. Hey, at least it isn't below zero!

So, I've been back to riding just recently since being sick. I have been spending most of my time on fat bikes and will continue to do so until I feel better and especially if it snows again. It might do so Tuesday. Anyway, with the water sitting around, and with what little ice there is, it all dictates that I ride the fat bike, which is more sure-footed. It doesn't have a tendency to sink in the mire in a couple of places where I have that on my commute.

I felt good enough to spend Saturday going down to see what was up at the Iowa Bike Expo in Des Moines. Plus, I got to eat lunch at Krunkwich Ramen House, which I highly recommend if you find yourself in Iowa's capital city. Anyway, following are a few of the highlights of the show from my viewpoint. I'll add a bit of commentary as we go here.

Bombtrack Bikes are from Germany, but distributed out of Ames Iowa.
I first came across a Bombtrack Bikes "Beyond" model that caught my eye. It is pretty much a take on a Gen I Fargo, so I was happy to actually get to take a look at one up close. The frame tubing is Columbus CroMor double butted, and seems to be a good thinner walled spec. The bike nails the vibe of a Gen I Fargo, but every time I check out the Bombtrack geo chart on this bike I kind of shake my head. A 72.5° degree head tube angle and a 38mm offset seems really weird. But.......if you load the thing down on the front wheel with gear? Maybe that is what Bombtrack had in mind.

Possibly a gravel rig here?
The Bombtrack Hook-2 model was also present. The "all-road" offering looks the part of a gravel rig, but once again, the geo chart leaves me scratching my head. The Hook has a head angle that is a half degree slacker than the Beyond, which is weird in itself, and the bottom bracket drop is merely 60mm. Way too high for my tastes. Crazy high, I would say. I took a peek at the 36mm Clements and they had just enough mud clearance to get by, but a bigger tire would be a no-go. I'm thinking this is an off the peg cyclo cross frameset here. Sure looks that way at any rate.

The Bianchi "Allroad"
I spied a patch of celeste blue and knew immediately that I was coming up on some Bianchis. That brand's signature color is their calling card. Fortunately, besides a bunch of road rockets, I found the Allroad, Bianchi's take on what would be good on gravel roads. The geometry is a bit too cyclo-cross-ish still, with a bottom bracket drop of 68mm and the head tube angle is 72°, which is acceptable, but not pushing any boundaries. Okay, so how's that tire clearance?

Ha! Not good. 35mm tires were mounted and that's all you are squeezing in between those chain stays. Moving on now........

My daughter liked the Cannondale 27.5+ bike on display, the Beast Of The East.
The Salsa Cycles Timberjack was in the house.
Specialized's Sequoia
Later into my walk around the expo area I found the Specialized Sequoia, a bike that is getting a lot of press as a bike-packing/touring/adventure vehicle on two wheels. I was pretty curious on this one so I took a much closer look.

It is quite evident once you get up close and personal that the Sequoia was meant to be a beast of burden. Big, beefy chain stays, stout tubing, and that massive front fork are obviously made to be stiff under load and track straight while carrying you on down the road. That said, a carbon fiber touring fork?

We had a good time there, saw a few friends, and zipped on to other business that had to do with the rest of the family.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

My New T-Shirt

Yeah.......we've got a lot of gravel roads here.
Gravel roads are a thing here in Iowa. Due to laws passed in the 18th Century here in the US, the foundations were laid for the "grid system"  to be imposed upon the lands that were to be organized for settling by the immigrants coming to the "New World". These gridded out tracts of land were to be accessed by "roads" so that settlers and government officials would have an easier time navigating the vast lands of North America that were to become the United States Of America.

In the end, the roads in Iowa were "paved" with native quarried limestone or "glacial drift" that could be found local to wherever in Iowa roads were to be platted out. Obviously there were geological, political, and practical influences which informed the end result, a matrix of well over 70,000 miles of gravel and dirt roads across "The Beautiful Land".

Saturday I received a t-shirt depicting all the unpaved roadways across the great state of Iowa. All 72.000 plus miles of them. To me this is incredible on several levels.
  • That there are THAT many miles of gravel and unpaved roads.
  • That these roads were imposed upon a bleak, unmapped prairie which was criss-crossed by a meager amount of Native American trails. 
  • That by printing out ONLY the unpaved roads, a recognizable image of the State Of Iowa can be discerned. 
So, tell me, why would you NOT want to ride all these roads, which are mostly devoid of car and truck traffic?

In other words, get out and grind some gravel folks! 

Interested in one of these shirts? Keep a close eye on www.bikeiowa.com for a very limited amount of these to be offered soon. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 3

Ahh! Remember when January used to be a snowy month?
Ten years ago on the blog things were a bit subdued on the biking side, and with good reason! Snow was blanketing the trails and the temperatures were, well......Winter-like! Yes, there was a time when we had copious amounts of the white stuff to play around in, but of course, that was all pre-fat bikes. Dang it!

Generally speaking, it used to snow right around Thanksgiving time. That typically was enough to effectively shut us out of the trails, in terms of cycling, and the only alternative to cycling in the woods then was XC skiing or snow shoeing. For me, we never really ever had enough snow cover to make snow shoeing necessary, or even fun. I got spoiled by the Winter of 2000/2001. (36" of snow in December alone!) Anyway.......

So, I did XC skiing, and back in those days, you could lay down a classic style two-track from the Ansborough access all the way out to Shaulis Road and it would never get ruined by walkers or, of course, cyclists, at all. You pretty much had the woods all to yourself in those years. Of course, it wasn't too many years later when snow shoe rentals became a thing, and by 2011, fat bikes started roaming the woods and now there is no way in the world two track XC skiing would survive the Green Belt in any section. It's certainly a completely different dynamic now.

One could say that "getting more folks in the woods is a good thing", and I would agree, but I also miss those quiet days in the cold snow looking at virgin white, undisturbed, snow covered trail. There was something kind of special about that.

I am glad I got the chance to experience that here. I highly doubt we'll see anything like that again in my lifetime these parts. Of course, that goes without saying unless we get a real Winter again!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday News And Views

The Lance- circa 2005. Image by J. Maus of BikePortland
Should He Or Shouldn't He?

You've probably heard by now, but just in case you haven't, it appears that Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, and a maybe a couple of other former USPS teammates of theirs are going to do a mountain bike event coming up sometime soon. This has raised up the dander of the internetists who are concerned about the "purity of the sport". The cry of "Never!", or the alternative, and somewhat more measured calls for "live and let live", all have been noted.

Of course, it should be noted that Lance Armstrong serves a lifetime ban from any "sanctioned" events. So, there ya go folks. Cycling has served its verdict and that's that. However; you'd think that by somehow having Lance Armstrong even dare to enjoy the bicycle ever again is an affront worthy of.......I don't know. Ask these people that are getting their pants all wadded up.

It is also worth noting that despite Lance Armstrong's sins against cycling, he did raise a lot of money for cancer research and brought a lot of people hope in that realm. Maybe he was a bully, or unsavory in character, I have no clue. You can find all sorts of stories about his character on the innergoogles if you want to waste your time doing that.

All I know is that he is riding his bicycle in a competitive endurance event with some friends. I don't think that's going to hurt anyone.

Winter On Hiatus:

Well, I actually got back to riding the bike to work yesterday. That was a good thing and it felt awesome to ride a bicycle again after a break for being really sick. I am still not 100%, but I feel a lot better.

But in the meantime, as I stated on this blog previously, Winter has taken a flier and gone somewhere else for a while. In the meantime we have had an ice storm, rain, and more rain, with some fog, then rain. This has eradicated the snow, made a lot of standing water, and that water turns into ice.

In some cases, that ice gets pretty slick, and in some places, there is no way around it. You have to forge ahead. I chose "by foot" in the place I am showing here, but in a few other instances I took my chances. I was sideways more than once on the way to work. But, I made it! No dumps, no foot off the pedals. Then, while I was at work, the skies opened up.

Rain on January 19th and temperatures in the 40's. Wonderful. Good thing I decided to pack the rain pants.  That long stretch of ice I walked in the morning shown in the image here was drowned in two inches of water. Super slick! I was very careful when I walked back across that in the afternoon! Funny thing about frozen ground, it doesn't absorb rain water. So, there was a lot of running water and standing water puddles all over that place. The river and creeks here are all on the rise. Flooding in Winter? Could be a reality for some folks, unfortunately. Sheesh! Will Winter ever make another appearance this season?

I'm betting it will. In fact, they are talking about something possibly hitting next week. Stay tuned......

Well, that's a wrap for this week.  Have a great weekend and stay warm!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Value Based Decisions And Tubeless Tires

Trying to "garage tech" my way into a tubeless set up.
Tubeless tires are really a great idea for bicycles. Really, they are. There are a lot of reasons to pursue that for your bike, and I would wager to say that the wider the tires are on your bicycle, the more vital it is that you go get those tires set up tubeless. Fat bikes, as an example, really will make that fact, (and it is a fact), better understood.

So, keeping the above in mind, I will let you know when it is a bad thing to even mess around with trying to do a tubeless tire set up.

The first clue you should take note of when discerning whether or not to try tubeless with your current stuff is identifying what technology it is that you possess. Old, (as in maybe only three years ago old), components like tires and rims, may not be tubeless compatible. In the fat bike world the likelihood that your fat bike came with tubeless rims or tubeless ready tires is slim to none. While you can set those kinds of things up tubeless, and you will get folks screaming it out from the rooftops that "It works!!", there is no reason to mess with that these days. In fact, the benefits vs headaches ledger will show that converting the non-tubeless stuff to tubeless isn't at all worth it.

I know, I've seen it work both ways. The main point that one should take into consideration is your time. If you do not value your time, well then......have at it. I've got better things to do than sit around taping up a special layer for a tubeless set up, or splitting a tube, to get my tires to work tubeless. Especially when there are ways to do tubeless on fat bikes that takes minutes and can be pumped up with a hand pump with the valve core still installed. Plus, you can swap tires at will. No messing up a tape job or replacing a split tube. We've got that kind of luxury today.We don't need to beat our heads against the wall and try to make something work the way it wasn't designed to work.

But.....if you must know, here's the tape I used.
So, here is what happened with my attempt. I spent probably 45 minutes on this, and keep in mind that the rim was pre-taped from a successfully done tubeless set up with these same components before.  Oh, and that was all on one tire. I never even tried the other.

I had the tire actually taking air, then the bead let loose on me and it wasn't taking air again. That's when I cut my losses. 45 minutes of messing around on one tire and rim is 35 minutes longer than it took me to set up two fat bike tires at work which were tubeless components.

To me, that's a significant difference in time spent to the point that I pulled out of my attempt at this, cleaned up the one tire, and had both wheels set up with another tire set, tubed, ready to ride, in fifteen minutes. Oh, and there was absolutely zero issues getting that done. None. And it won't give me any trouble with seepage, "burping" at low psi's, and it won't need a sealant refresh down the road.

By the way, the set up I did at work held air without sealant, held psi with a loss less than 5psi for both wheels for one week, and can be safely run down to lower pressures with no burping or problems at all. Why try to make my set up be what it isn't? 

Now, you may rightly say, "But you would have to buy a new wheel set and tires!" Yes......obviously. That isn't the point, and it shouldn't be either. The point should be, which way has a higher benefit versus time/money spent? That answer is obvious. The more correct tool for the job is going to yield a higher benefit in the end. You can cut grass with gas motor grafted on to a push reel mower, or you can just go buy a Lawn Boy and be done with it. I know which one works better and takes less time to set up and use.

So, I will be looking at newer tubeless compatible wheel and tires in the future for my fat bike. Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


A Stroopwafel sample. Stroopwafel......riiiiiight.
Okay, if you are having trouble with the title today, let me take a moment to explain. The days where I have no direction or theme for the post I write get tagged as "randomonium" posts. Yes......the word does not exist.


 Big deal. That never stopped me from making up words before. In fact, when I was a jeweler, my boss and I had so many made up words in our vocabulary, (that no one else understood), that my former boss' wife recently told me that it was like listening to a married couple speak a foreign language.

But I digress......

Anyway, as I have already said somewhere, I have been sick of late. The annual January sickness, or so it would seem. I have noted that since I have been going back through the old blog posts for the "Minus Ten Review" posts I usually put up on Saturdays. This time it seems to be a double whammy of flu and head cold. Thankfully I seem to be on the upswing, and I have been very careful to get plenty of rest. Lots of fluids too, and the good kinds even! Water, apple cider vinegar, orange juice, and a bit of coffee here and there.

A bit more progress in cleaning up has been accomplished since I can't be out riding.
That means I have not been riding at all. Oh..... I sneak in a bit of a ride at work when I am there by riding around the showroom floor. But mainly, it has been a dry spell, and I have not liked that one bit.

That said, there are two things that I can point to as sort of silver linings in the black cloud of no riding, as it were. One is that I have been able to make a lot of headway in clearing up the shop in the basement that I typical refer to here as "The Lab".

I saw a recent post by some hot shot blogger, (Hi Dicky!), that said he had a box of stuff he needed to get rid of.

One box! pffffft!

I bet I have a pick-up load, easy. I do not mean to brag, and I am not exaggerating the pile I have. In fact, it is a downright shameful thing to have been sitting on all this junk all these years, but I have declared war on boxes of "stuff", and even cans of stuff, and tool boxes of stuff, and...well......you get the idea. I won't even get into the four foot high pile of tires I moved out to the garage for now. Oh......I should say that there are actually two piles that high! 

When warmer weather finally occurs and I can manage to plan the 26 missions my Big Dummy will have to fly to carry out its part in this war, then I will be moving this stuff down to the local bike collective. Some of it is metal scrap, some is just getting the boot outta here. But anyway..... Point is that progress is being made and I have a plan to get free from the piles of stuff that has collected over 20 odd years.

The snow is almost gone, what we have is rotten, and it is covered in ice anyway.
The other silver lining I spoke of earlier is that since I have not been able to ride the weather has gone to crap. The Winter snow has been rotted by rains, higher temperatures, and ice. Even the two Iowa fat bike races scheduled for this weekend are cancelled, and last weekend's event was a scary, sketchy ice rutted affair, or so I've heard.

So, I couldn't ride, I wouldn't ride, even if I could ride, which I cannot. Too sick still. Getting better by the day, but I am not wanting to prolong this so I am doggedly sticking to my guns. I feel like a complete slug and way out of shape, but what are ya gonna do? Besides, as I have said, it seems every January starts out this way, why shouldn't this one. 


So, in better news I have a ride to, and a room for, the Dirty Kanza 200. If nothing else, I will be doing a long, tour-ish ride of the surrounding gravel roads near Emporia with an eye to not going anywhere close to the DK200 course. That will all get determined later. Of course, there still is the outlier of my having an obligation to RidingGravel.com, so that ride may be different than I envision now, or it may not happen at all. Stay tuned.......