Thursday, July 27, 2017

Like, Venture To The Max, Dude

The "Captain America" rig with the Ritchey Venturemax bar
Handle bars that were flared for off road use, and also great for gravel travel, were rare as hen's teeth only a few years ago. I can remember putting On One Midge bars on my Karate Monkey back in '06 or so and thinking how weird that was that you could even do such a thing.

Even before this, getting flared drop bars was no joke. It was really not a very easy thing to find. WTB probably can be blamed for putting flared drop bars on the map, and Specialized/Nitto also helped in that regard, but even those were super rare. Not many folks had a use for such a beast as a flared drop bar.

Compared to those days, you would have to consider thinking about how these days, flared drop bars are almost commonplace. This is the "golden age" of flared drop bars, if you will. There are more companies than ever offering them, and you can even get carbon fiber ones now. I never figured on seeing that happen, by the way.

So, now there are more flared drop bars than you can count with both hands. One of the late comers to the game is Ritchey. They have a "Venturemax" model out, which they have sent me to test for RidingGravel.com. The overall flare, sweep, and drop is probably most like a Cowchipper. That's what I've found the best comparison is. But when you look at the thing, it looks kind of like the cross between a Cowbell and a Bell Lap bar, which were both Salsa Cycles offerings. That "ergo bend" in the drops.......I am not sure about that. 

And I know that now days that everything is trademarked, so coming up with a name for a product is a real pain. Names that are obscure, mythical, ancient cultural things have become names for components and bicycles. It's almost as if you are taking a World History and Ancient Religions classes when you are trying to figure out names for things like tires and forks and the like. So, Ritchey uses a naming convention that is a bit of a uninspired thing in a world of oddball names. Their names are almost campy and hearken back to a time when "valley girls" meant a way that you walked and talked. I mean, "Venturemax"? Like, venture to the max, Dude. 

Well, at least they are consistent with their names. More on the bar to come.....

Ritchey sent the Venturemax drop bar for test and review to RidingGravel.com at no charge. I have not been paid nor bribed for this review and I will strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Authentic Austenitic

Meet the Warakin. It is austenitic stainless steel.
My RidingGravel.com gig has afforded me the opportunity to try something out I've never tried before. After having been on so many different bikes in my lifetime, and especially in the last 15 years, that's saying something.

The thing in question is the frame material this bicycle from Otso Cycles is made from. It is a frame made from stainless steel. The bike is called the Warakin. The steel it is made from is not only stainless, but it is a certain kind of stainless.

I remember seeing the press release for this model from Otso Cycles and seeing an image of the frame tubing sticker. It had "Austenitic Stainless Steel" printed on that sticker. I laughed. I thought someone got "Authentic" spelled wrong. Well, the joke ended up being on me. You see, there are actually three kinds of stainless steel, and Austenitic Stainless Steel is one of them. (Click and learn, my friends. Click and learn) I had no idea before I saw this sticker that there were three major groups of stainless alloys. The internet sometimes really is the "information super-highway" and not always the "Info-tainment Super-Highway". Who knew?

Well, now I know! Anyway, stainless steel frames were ballyhooed a few years back and were said to be the "next big deal" in bicycle frames. Stainless (I checked and it seems that the big promoter in this was a maker of martensitic stainless steel), was supposedly lighter than Titanium and stronger than typical steels used in bicycle tubing. But then I never heard a lot about stainless frames until Salsa Cycles made their Vaya Travel. I thought that frame was rad, but I never did end up getting one.

So, anyway, all that to say that this bike is one of the rare ones out there made from stainless and as far as I know, the only "austenitic" stainless steel one. At least, the only one advertised as such.

Ya learn something new everyday........if you have an open mind!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dirt Home From Work: Adventure Time

Impromptu wading with bikes here.
I went on another "Dirt Home From Work" ride yesterday. I used my Singular Buzzard and went out to see the old fitness trail that the CVAST guys opened up again. This would be the one that comes off the hard trail right after crossing the Pfieffer Park Bridge. Anyway.....

It's an old trail. I recognized much of the old parts. There used to be a great swoopy connector to the main hard trail back in the day that either is completely lost or that they don't know existed, but either way, that isn't available anymore. Chances are it has been swallowed by nature never to be recovered again. So I went on past the "T" that used to be the main entrance from the hard trail and which may still be, I just never went that way yesterday. I continued Eastward to see how far they had opened the old thing back up. Well, I found out soon enough.

Flooding had introduced a drainage from the low lying area to the North of this trail and with high water it was full again. I had to dismount and pick my way across via some roots that were exposed. Having successfully crossed without getting wet, I was off again. It wasn't long before I realized I was on an island!

So, another water crossing, eh? I waded through some deep weeds to make my way toward a tree fall which had a root ball where I figured I might find some footing. I walked directly behind my bike and the bike acted as a plow of sorts, parting the way through the weeds toward my goal. When I got to the water's edge I found that the logs there were floating and would not provide the best footing. I wedged my bike across the channel and tried a few different steps, none of which were going to keep me dry footed. I tried one more thing and........whoops! 

The rest of the ride was incident free.
 I went down on my right foot, sinking until I reached the bottom with that foot and was up to my hip in water. Only my grip on my Buzzard saved me from going all in. I managed to get out, and edged my way up a steep embankment to dry ground. Now I had both feet soaked and my right shorts leg was dripping wet. Oh well! Advenure time will do that to you!

Getting wet is a bit of a shock, but really...... After that you cannot get wetter. Only my squishy Vans were really annoying. Oh well. A small price to pay for fun times. I mean, it is better than duking it out with cars on my main commute line that I always use. That's pretty boring. So, I made my way through the Geo Wyth Park and out the other side. Then I went on home. No more notable things happened, but it was a good dirt ride with some time away from the normal grind. I hope to do more of this sort of thing now that the "slow" season at the bike shop is at hand.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Happy Birthday Jacob!

This is a photo of my son, Jacob, photobombing a family picture I was taking recently
14 years ago today at approximately 5:00am in the morning I was sleeping in a motorhome in Oskaloosa, Iowa when I was awakened by a phone call. It was Mrs. Guitar Ted. She said, "My water broke...". That set in to motion a series of events which saw me leaving my post as a mechanic on RAGBRAI, getting dumped off in front of a HyVee grocery store with my duffel bag, and trying to get a hold of my sister, or anyone, to get me back to Waterloo so I could be there when my baby was born. We knew it was to be a boy, and his name would be Jacob.

Well, as it turned out, that was the last time I wrenched on bikes for RAGBRAI. It was a bonus that I got off the route early, and my sister did get me back in plenty of time for the birth. I wasn't sure I'd make it at all there for a while, as I sat on a pile of water softener bags out in front of that grocery store, looking like some kind of hobo. Fortunately, RAGBRAI's presence in the town masked my oddity. So, this rascal's birthday is always a good reminder of that day for me.

Anyway, it's been a blessing to have had him come in to my life and I just wanted to give him a special shout out on the blog here.

Happy Birthday, Son!

No Dust Ride

A field of flowers and puffy clouds. A near perfect riding day.
We've had some real gully washers lately around here. Rain at night, generally speaking, has been heavy and persistent, most of the end of last week anyway. It rained once while I was at work so hard that I knew it was raining by the sound I heard on the roof. Where I work it has to rain really hard for me to hear it.

Well, Saturday was sunny, but it was beastly humid. I rode a couple errands on the Big Dummy, and that about wasted me. I think I got a bit of heat stroke last week on my Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational recon, so the residual effects have stuck with me throughout the week.

I ended up not doing much after the errands so I decided to wait until Sunday afternoon when the weatherman was saying that the humidity was going to start clearing out. Only one thing- there would be a stiff, Northwesterly breeze. I'll take it over no wind and high humidity and heat any day!

So, I set up the Tamland for the ride. By the way, my daughter has named this bike "Captain America", since it is red, white, and blue, and she is in to all the super-hero movie stuff. I'm good with that, so from now on, you'll see the Tamland referred to as "Captain America". Okay, so with that out of the way.....

Yeah, I was ready for a ride after lunch and headed out straight North toward Burton Avenue. There was a wind, sure enough, but it wasn't so bad that I could not just keep grinding away at it. I stopped to take a picture of a field full of flowers and then headed on Northward. I never really knew how far I was going to go. I was just making plans as I went based upon how I felt.

I saw a lot of Monarch Butterflies.they seemed to like these orange flowers.
I ended up going all the way in to Bremer County and then hitching a ride East on the Waverly Rail Trail which then turns into the Readlyn-Grump Trail, (Really! Readlyn-Grump!) Readlyn has a "Legend of The Old Grump" and holds a celebratory "day" every year to observe it's legend. Anyway..... I didn't go to Readlyn Sunday. I turned off before that thinking I'd get a nice tail wind push back to town, (which I did), and get in about 40 miles of riding. I came up short on the mileage by a mile and a quarter. Oh well! My math skills aren't the best.

The gravel was pretty chunky Sunday. I couldn't find much for smooth lines in either county I rode in. The weird thing was that it wasn't dusty. Usually chunky, fresh gravel equals dust and lots of it. However; those rains I mentioned must have washed all the dust away leaving just rocks. I looked down several times at my WTB Resolutes and they were clean and bluish-black looking. Generally you look down at your tires after riding several miles here and they are off-white. The dust usually coats the tires in a fine gritty mess. Even the cars I saw, which were few, weren't kicking up much dust. That was kind of weird since it wasn't cool and wet or raining.

The ride was good.  I didn't feel anything negative due to last week's rough ride nor did I have any issues, really. It was fun to get away form the town of Waterloo for a bit and enjoy some solitude on the bike. While I did not get any further with the recon for GTDRI, I did get out North on the gravel, which I had not done for a long time. Too long. I like riding up that way a lot. I also thought that it was a nearly perfect riding day. It was so beautiful out, and despite the wind, I had a great time. I likely won't experience a "no dust ride" anytime soon out there, that's for sure!






Sunday, July 23, 2017

GTDRI '17: Update

As of now.....this is the route!
GTDRI Update: 

Due to last weekend's recon, I had to revise the route. That was actually a good thing. Now, I may have to revise it again. I may find something this weekend that will cause further rerouting. I also may do a "B" route without dirt roads in case of wet weather, but I may just fly by the seat of my pants and not do that. If it rains, what the heck. We'll decide to do something else. Whatever that may be.....

Here are the salient points so far, including news on the reroute.
  • The reroute actually forced me to clean up a couple of oddball things I had in the route and now it flows beter.
  • I also got in three more miles of dirt road, but I likely lost at least one. Net gain- Two miles of dirt, including the low water crossing of Wolf Creek near Traer. 
  • There should be a solid 25% of the mileage in dirt roads on this 102+ mile length route. 
  • We will pass by Dysart, but I really do not want to have to stop there. It would add two miles- out and back- to get to the Dysart Casey's convenience store. 
  • The first planned stop will be in Traer at about Mile 49. 
  • The second planned stop will be at Mile 76 in Garwin, Iowa
  • After Garwin there will be approximately 27 miles to finish up at the Broad Street Brewing Company in Reinbeck. 
  • Start Time: 6:00am in front of Broad Street Brewing
  • Finish time: Approximately 6:00pm. This will depend upon weather, the group, and winds. 
  • Plan to meet rain or shine. If it rains we are going to wing it. The dirt roads won't be rideable. The route could be completely different. Be prepared for chaos and adventure if the weather goes pear shaped.The route could be 25 miles or a century if that happens. 
  • Plot A Route gpx file will be available pending recon. 
  • The ride has no fee, no swag, no prizes. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU!! 
  • Be prepared to ride at least 50 miles with all food, water, and repair items you think you will need to be self supported. 
  • NO SAG AVAILABLE! Plan accordingly
  • Cell service WILL BE SKETCHY!
  • There will be farm dogs and possibly wild animals. 
  • There will be deep, fresh gravel, dirt, and maybe some sand. 
  • We will cross highways and run alongside HWY 63 for a 1/2 mile total in two different places. 
  • This ride will be primarily in Tama County with short forays in to Grundy County and Benton County. 
  • YOU ARE INVITED.
Stay tuned......................

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 29

"The Pines" on the North Side of Ingawanis
NOTE: Due to computer maintenance this post is a little late today. 

 Ten years ago on the blog this week I posted about riding on the trails at the Boy Scout Camp Ingawanis. Ironically, there was little going on for riding on the South Side in those days. All we rode was on the North, for the most part, and those were the best trails by far back then. They still would be, but for some oddness having to do with two factions.

The most grievous thing was that the North side trails were also used for horseback riding. When the trails first opened up to mountain biking in the early 00's, the mountain bikers cleaned up and extended the trails in the North Side until there were some issues with the horse folks. They used all of the new stuff, but even though they were not averse to complaining about trail conditions, they never lifted a finger to help out. Secondly- The horse folk, who tpically have a lot more disposable income, were paying rent and event fees to pasture horses on Camp properrty and to have horse back trail riding events at the Camp. The Boy Scouts were looking for money any way they could get it and a measly mountain bike race didn't compare to the thousands of bucks horse people threw at them to use the land.

So, when we bikers complained bitterly about having to maintain the trails with no help, having to deal with trail being obliterated by grazing horses, and having the trails shut down to us during horse back riding events, the Scout Ranger turned a deaf ear to us. That's what pushed the development of the South Side into high gear, because those trails were off limits to the horse back riders due to the fact that the COPE area was there, and the rules for the Boy Scout Camp forbade the horses and riders to be anywhere near that area. Somehow or another mountain biking was allowed, but even we had to keep our distance from a certain hilltop on the South Side. Anyway..... it worked out that by about 2010-2011 we were not riding on the North Side much at all, and a couple years later we weren't riding that side.

David Pals checks his camera settings during recon for the 2007 GTDRI in Tama County
By 2014 the Camp was in such dire straits money-wise that the Scouts had dispensed with the on-site ranger and pretty much had shut down any mountain biking on the North Side. Logging of both sides, which the Scouts allowed to get more money,  also disrupted trails. The South Side trails were repaired, the little used North Side ones weren't always maintained back into rideable shape. The increased development of more sustainable and exciting trail on the South Side made this a moot point, however. Now there is talk again of re-entering the North Side and doing trail work for mountain biking, but the equestrian question and how we would deal with the Boy Scouts of America has not been addressed, so I am not too hopeful at this point that anything will happen in the near future.

Also, I was discussing Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational details. The route was mainly devised by my then Trans Iowa co-director, David Pals. He devised a route in and out of Marengo, Iowa, where he lived at the time. The recon took in several gnarly Level B Maintenance roads, one of which is pictured here. David inferred at one point that this pictured road, along with another that followed it, are now no longer open to travel. I have not been down that way since T.I.v6, so I have not confirmed that, but I need to get back down that way to have a look and see what the situation is.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday News And Views

This and three other designs coming soon....
Stickers:

I found out yesterday that my partner in Riding Gravel, Ben Welnak, has come up with four new stickers that should be available sometime soon. When I know more I will pass it along here.

There will be "Addicted To Gravel" stickers in this run, in case you were wondering. Stay tuned.....

News on next year's Grinder Nats has come out...
 Grinder Nats, Gravelleurs Raid Join Forces:

The Gravelleur's Raid event has been an annual event for a while now and when Grinder Nationals announced that they were going to have an event in the same area, but later in June, it sent out a red flag to the organizers. To their credit, instead of fighting with each other these events have now joined forces and Grinder Nationals will now happen in conjunction with Gravelleur's Raid on April 7th, 2018.

Here's the Press release:

PRESS RELEASE: Alright gravel peeps here we go.
The Gravelleur's Raid 100 mile gravel road race will now be your gravel Grinder Nationals event. It will be a fully supported gravel event.
It is owned and operated by the United States Endurance Cycling Federation. http://www.usecf.com/
We will be growing the event and making it one of the top gravel races in the United States.
More info to come.
The 50 mile non-competitive event will be called Gravelleur's Raid and become a bigger and better event also.


There ya go......

Commentary: There will be a lot of folks that want to piss and moan about how "gravel racing is being  ruined", or by expressing some similar comments. I have talked with one of the USECF head honches, Troy, worked alongside of him, and have interviewed him. He gets it. The USECF grew up out of a grassroots background. The USECF wants to keep the vibe that gravel racing has always had, but they want to also have an opportunity for its best racers to gain recognition and be rewraded with a jersey that shows that. As far as I know, that's all they want to do. 

Like I have said, I've spoken with Troy from the USECF. Have any of the other commenters dug into this and asked folks from the organization what's up? Or are we just shooting from the hip? Uh huh.......

I will pass along this: The USECF jumped at the chance to do a "Gravel Nationals" because they knew that the USAC Federation was going to try to do it. I doubt that USAC would be interested in doing things in a "grassroots way" judging by how they have operated throughout their history. So, there is that nugget to chew on as well.

Finally, I feel that the Grinder Nationals is not doing anything now, or will do anything in the future that say, an event like Dirty Kanza has not already done before. That's likely what the organizers are shooting for here. So, the DK200 draws well over 2000 racers and supporting folks to Emporia every June. If that is the Grinder Nats template, I don't see how that "ruins" gravel racing, or the scene. I guess if it rankles your feathers, you could always just not bother with it, ya know....... We do have a choice.

2018 Trek Roscoe 8- A 27.5+ rig (Image courtesy of Trek Bicycles)
Trek Resurrects The Roscoe Model, Gives it Plus Wheels:

Remember the old Fisher Roscoe? Well, Trek has dredged up another old Fisher Bikes model name and tacked it on to this new, 27.5+ wheeled hard tail. You can think of it as a smaller wheeled Stache.

There will be two models offered to start with. The Roscoe 7 will retail for right at a grand and the Roscoe 8 will basically be $1200.00 list. The Orange Roscoe 8 has an aluminum frame with internal rear derailleur and dropper post routing, an NX 1X 11 group, and comes with a dropper. It also has a 141mm, open drop out rear end that is like a Boost hub but with a quick release. The fork has 120mm travel, by the way, and the bike is surprisingly shown with Schwalbe tires.I imagine at some point Bontrager will have 27.5+ rubber for these bikes.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward because the X Cal series, also redesigned for 2018, is in this same price point. Trek will certainly be eyeballing which line does better and I wouldn't be surprised to see one or the other go away in the future. But then again, this is Trek and they manufacture a boat load of models.

I like the Roscoe 8. It seems like a better spec than a Timberjack and you'll likely be able to actually find one to test ride. I am a little leery of the rear axle spacing, which seems out of step with the current "axle du jour" standards. But otherwise it seems like a decent entry to plus bikes from a good name brand company.

Okay, that's it for this week. Have a great weekend and stay cool!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Transformation

Velocity rim/hub on lower left- Bontrager rim/Velocity hub upper right
Okay, so back a few years ago I heard that Challenge Tires were going to make a big, fat tubular for gravel riding. In fact, they asked me if I'd try out a pair if they made them. Since I am all about tires, of course, I said "yes".

Trouble was that I did not have a tubular wheel set. That's kind of a problem if you want tubular tires. So, something had to be done!

That "something" was fulfilled by Velocity USA and they set me up with a Major Tom Disc wheel set. Disc because.....oh, I don't know. I figured that would be the coming thing then. I was mostly right about that part!  So, anyway, here I was, all set for some fat tubular gravel tire action. I was told that the ride quality would be amazing, and I still do not doubt that it would be the case. I was also told that there would be a new, pressure sensitive tape which would make gluing up tubulars a thing of the past. I was stoked about it all. So, I waited, and waited.....and waited........

And it never happened. Those wheels hung in the Lab for years.....no tubulars. I looked in to buying some to just give the idea a try out. Gulp! Fat, quality tubulars exist, but my goodness......... No, I wasn't going to pay that price for an experiment that, in all reality, not many people would have benefited from, and I wasn't that curious. So, what the heck! I had these wheels that were no good to me.

I tried selling them, but to no avail. So, I came up with this crazy idea to "spoke over" some compatible rim to this wheel set, freeing me from tubular prison. I looked at the wheels and they were 24 spoke count wheels?!! Uggh! That made finding a good rim candidate a lot harder. As did the ERD for the Major Tom, which is larger than many rims in the 700c category for disc use. 

Finally, I came across some close out Bontrager Scandium rims which would work. So, they were rim brake rims. Ahh.......at this point, I didn't care. I got them and the process of swapping the rims out is complete now. Wheels transformed! Now I can actually make use of them. They are TLR, meaning the rims are designed to use the excellent Bontrager tubeless rim strip, so that will be getting installed soon along with tubeless valve stems. I was pretty happy that the wheels ended up weighing 1600 grams on the dot. Not bad at all.

Now, the wheel with the silver rim pictured above is not the "before", tubular wheel. It is a completely different wheel  from a set I just bought from a co-worker. That wheel set is going to go on the rebuild of my original Inbred 29"er. So, stay tuned for that.....


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Blame It On The Bottom Bracket

The lowly bottom bracket. This one is a thread together PF replacement by Wheels Manufacturing
Many of you know that I have been a bicycle mechanic for a long time. Just about 20 years now, and I also was a car mechanic for 5 1/2 years as well. I really like working with my hands for a living.

That said, in all my bicycle mechanic years, I would have to say that the lowly bottom bracket gets blamed for everything. Especially noises. Those always seem to come from the bottom bracket! 

Okay, before I go on let me say that I know not all noises come from the bottom bracket, and so do many of you. I speak as one who works retail. In that world, bottom brackets do get blamed for an awful lot of things that they shouldn't be blamed for. It's kind of like the proverbial saying where someone has a little bit of knowledge and then is "dangerous" with it.

Besides being blamed for all sorts of creaks and groans, some of which bottom brackets are to blame for, these components get blamed all the time for not conforming to "standards". I think what many folks get bent out of shape about is the seemingly never ending parade of different, competing bottom bracket styles. You have your Press Fit 30, Press Fit 41, Outboard Bearing cup, BB 30, fat bike, Press Fit 121, GXP, Shimano 24mm, BBright, and who knows what else. That seems absurd, but you really have no idea what absurd was concerning bottom brackets unless you go back about 30 years.

Remember these clunkers? This was actually pitched as a "standard" everyone should use!
I laugh at the complainers today when I think about the machinists cabinet we used to have to look through to match up spindles. There were about seven rows eight drawers across filled with different ones. Then you had to match up the cup threading. It could be English, French, Swiss, or Italian. Then you had a different taper for Campagnolo compatible square taper bottom brackets too. Then you either had bearings in a cage, or you packed in loose ball bearings in a few different grade choices. Oh yeah......and you had to choose your grease. Then you had to have the correct tools to install the cups, but wait! Did you chase the threads and face the shell first?

Yeah....bottom bracket standards. Those were the days, right?

I also remember a time when "The Industry" was trying to standardize the bottom bracket without Shimano. There was a bottom bracket which was an alternative to Shimano's "Octalink" cartridge bottom brackets that was going to sweep the industry and everybody would be using them. It was the ISIS style bottom bracket, developed as an "open standard" so there were no patents to observe or licensing fees to pay to utilize the design. There were only going to be three spindle lengths in three bottom bracket shell sizes. Simplified bliss! We would all cheer for joy because bottom brackets had finally been standardized!

Except that one niggling detail- they sucked at actually working for very long. 

Yeah....that's a problem. So then we all forgot about trying to unify the competing bottom bracket factions under one style to rule them all, and now we have all these wonderful choices.

Choices are good.......right?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I Am A Road Rider

This is a road. I like roads like this to ride bicycles on.
I was made aware of this post about "never riding a road bike on the road again". I took a gander, and you know what? I kind of took issue with the post, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

First of all, I am a road rider. My roads just are not paved. Small technicality, but one many people make a big distinction on. I know that I have been a big advocate of riding gravel, but I have been careful about not saying anything about it being a completely different discipline in the general sense, because in my mind, it isn't.

Now, the manufacturers will tell you it is different, and the cycling media heavyweights will definitely poo-poo the idea that I am a "road cyclist". They have condescendingly called what I do "groad" riding and people that do it "groadies", as if it is something to be laughed at or sneered about. And whether that is actually true or not, that is the vibe that these editors and writers put out there.

I call it "gravel grinding, because, ironically, that's what the old roadies that trained on gravel called it before me. But the media wonks don't want to hear about that. They had to come up with a dumber sounding name themselves for it, and they succeeded, I might add. What a stupid term for road riding.

Anyway....

This is a road bike. It is pictured on a road.
The point is that the story I referenced at the top says that road riding is too dangerous. Well, yeah.......if you ride where the traffic is heavy, or fast, it is. However; we have 70,000 plus miles,  just in Iowa, of roads that are not paved. These roads have almost no traffic. These are the roads I enjoy riding all the time without fearing for my life. These are the roads I ride where I do not get buzzed by cars going 60 plus miles an hour. These are the roads where car traffic, when I do encounter it, often slows down and pulls off to the side of the road to give me more than three feet. Heck, most of the time the drivers actually wave a friendly wave at me. 

So, my question is, "Why would I want to ride on paved roads anymore?" The answer is, I do not. Because I have a resource right outside my city limits that affords me the opportunity to ride all day long and see only a handful of cars, if I see any at all. 

I can also see things I would not ever see on paved road rides. I see remote, rustic farms, animals- both wild and domesticated- and I see landmarks and natural features I'd never see on paved rides. I can ride all day by myself, or if I ride with a friend, they can ride beside me and no one gets angry about it.

That said, I did agree with the author of the tagged post above that cars are too easy to drive. Combine that with the last decade of increasingly self-absorbed cell phone usage, and you get a dangerous stew. Cyclists are not the only ones suffering from the collateral damage caused by this phenomenon. Pedestrians and other motorists are also in harms way of the "distracted driver". While some things are being done about it, and more sweeping measures should be taken, I, in the meantime, will not be found on paved roads unless it is for my commute to work.

That isn't to say riding gravel roads is completely safe from motorist doing harm to you as a cyclist. (Ask me how I know.) But I'll gladly take the odds for being hit on gravel or dirt roads against riding on paved black top roads and highways any day.

Monday, July 17, 2017

GTDRI '17: Update- Some Recon

 I'd never seen a heli crop dusting till Saturday, and then I saw two on the same day!
Saturday I got out for a partial recon of the GTDRI route. My route has a road in it which I had never been on and which looked rather suspicious. It had a lot of Level B Maintenance sections, creeks running across it, and it was in the most remote part of Tama County there is. After having been bombing around the countryside since 2004 doing recon for gravel events, I have picked up a few tips on what to look for on a map when it comes to problems, and O Avenue had all the hallmarks of a road that had closures. Never mind that the DOT map showed that it all was there. That doesn't guarantee anything.

So, my goal was to ride to the start of where the route picks up O Avenue and run it through to see if we can use it, or if I would have to do a reroute. Of course, O Avenue is a long way from the house, so this wasn't a small undertaking. I chose the Fargo Gen I as my ride since it carries so much water and has meatier tires which deal with loose gravel better. With a beautiful day on tap, I had nothing holding me back from doing the trip.

I had loaded up the Fargo the evening before and I was out of the house by 8:30-ish, which wasn't too bad. I figured this trip at about 70-75 miles, depending upon what I found.

Fortunately, there were no workers at this site to say "no". I rode across.
I had a few maps, mostly to help me navigate around Wolf Creek and Twelve Mile Creek since the roads don't go across these rivers in many spots. I ended up choosing 130th Street in Tama County to cross Westward over to P Avenue which would eventually get me to O Avenue. There wasn't too much loose, deep gravel going this way, and the Southerly wind wasn't blasting me in the face. The going wasn't bad then. However; I passed a blown over road sign which looked all the world like a road closed sign. Dang it! Would 130th be closed? I had a sneaking suspicion I may be backtracking a few miles.

As it turned out, there was a new bridge being built, and fortunately, the new decking was already poured. I walked around the barriers and rode across, being very careful not to run over something sharp. The deck of the bridge was a complete mess of construction debris. No workers were there to say "no", so I scooted by and didn't look back. That was one check avoided!

P Avenue, looking South, just North of Traer, Iowa.
The low water crossing of Wolf Creek just West of Traer, Iowa on O Avenue.
Eventually I reached O Avenue, but North of where we will be getting on it. I wanted to check out the low water crossing of the Wolf Creek which is one of my favorite stretches of Level B Maintenance Road anywhere. I just think it is pretty odd that such a wide, vigorous creek is crossed in such a manner. Usually this sort of thing is reserved for much smaller, narrower creeks.

Then it was on to HWY 63, a bit of a jig-a-jog to the West to get to O Avenue's run South of HWY 63, and then on to five miles of Level B Maintenance road. Interestingly, all the Google generated maps have this first mile South of 63 listed as "Level E Road", which is very odd. Anyway,it is, in fact, signed "O Avenue", and it is black earth for about two straight miles.

Our GTDRI route joins this from the East a mile in on 190th Street. Then the GTDRI route will turn left and go straight South for several miles. Or that is what I was expecting. Following are several shots of the dirt roads on this stretch of the route.

This is after the black earth section and is mostly clay here. 
Then in the next mile O Avenue deteriorates into this grassy two-track. Note the dogleg in the road.
This interesting intersection leads out of the two-track.
The 4th, and last mile on O Avenue we will see of Level B, runs back into a grassy two-track before it turns back to gravel.
Unfortunately, I found out with a mile and a half to go on O Avenue that there road ends in a dead end. Actually, I wasn't surprised by this from the looks of the maps I'd seen. So, once again, it is always best to verify maps. They often are not correct, especially in rural areas. Now I'll have to do some rerouting....

But first, I needed to get back home, so of course, I rode all those rad dirt roads backward to Traer! Then I got off at the convenience store to resupply. I had a grilled chicken sandwich too. Then I took off again. By this time, it was getting really hot, and I was traveling with the wind, so there was essentially no cooling going on from the air. I felt like I was baking in an oven.

I helped escort this turtle off the road near TF Clark Park North of Traer.
I ended up stopping to cool off four different times. Fortunately, I had lots of water and a few times I used it to pour over my head and back of my neck to cool myself down. It didn't help that the night before was a bad night of sleep for me either. A couple of the times I pulled over it was to try to catch a power nap so I could continue!

I had a chance meeting on the way home with a gentleman who was mowing his ditch. He sort of looked at me with a quizzical look that indicated that he'd like to have a word with me, so I pulled over, he shut down the mower, and we chatted. At one point, he asked me if I knew anything about this, "....whatchamacallit.......gravel road.......a race......something about a hundred miles or......do you know anything about that?"

I said, "Was it "300 Miles of Gravel"? Was it on PBS?"

He indicated that, yeah, he thought that was probably it. Then I told him, "Yeah, well I'm the guy that puts that race on."

You'd have thunk he met a celebrity.

Well, after that I rolled down the road about a quarter mile and collapsed under a tree for half an hour resting. Not very glamorous! Ha! But.....effective. I was able to limp it on home and I ended up with 69 miles on the day. I can say that I am definitely NOT ready for the GTDRI. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me. And I have to reroute the course.

Stay tuned.......

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Barns For Jason: The O Avenue Edition

Yesterday I did a recon of the proposed GTDRI course, mostly on O Avenue in Tama County. Here are some barns I saw, again in no particular order.


Look for my recon report on this portion of the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational tomorrow.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 28

Huh...... The neighbor's privacy fence sure looked a lot nicer ten years ago!
Ten years ago this week on the blog I got this review set of wheels for Twenty Nine Inches. I noted when I researched this that I mentioned that only one set of tires were recommended to be used on these. 

One. Think about that.  

Now 29"er tires are a dime a dozen. Back then the selection could be recited from memory, the list was that short. These wheels were tubeless compatible as well, so the one set Mavic recommended, the Hutchinson Python, was actually a tubeless ready tire. So that was at least some progress. 

Ten years ago I also sold the Haro Mary I had received as "payment" for doing the Haro Mary catalog copy, which I had written the previous year. Like an idiot, I ordered a size medium, and that did not fit me at all. So, I sold it to a guy that moved to Kansas City and I never saw that bike again. I also, by this time, had probably sold my Raleigh XXIX single speed for similar reasons. I got a size medium. Lesson learned back then. I was a size Large in 29"er wheeled bicycles. 

I also noted something I had written ten years ago that relates to my "Views On Singletrack" post I wrote just last Wednesday. Here is a quote from that post entitled "Riding In The Jungle"

 "Man! It's like riding in the jungle!"

That's Captain Bob's exclamation there from yesterday afternoons ride in the GW. (That's George Wyth State Park for you non-locals) Yeah, it's high summer in Iowa and the vegetation is at it's peak right about now. Tree branches full of leaves hanging down, slapping you in the face as you speed along. Weeds with itchy oily secretions making it burn! Nice thorny scratches across your shin bones. Yep! It's a jungle out there all right!

Things have changed a bit in ten years..........

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday News And Views

They kind of look like driving gloves, no?
Classy Mitts:

I talked a bit about these leather cycling gloves by Recovered Cycling last week. Well, I've worn them everyday since then and I have posted my review here on RidingGravel.com.

These gloves are pretty nice, as you might surmise from my review, but what is more, I haven't had any problems with my hands going numb since I started wearing them. I alluded to the fact that these gloves take on the shape of your anatomy, so that is probably why they feel so awesome to me. If you think about it, almost any good leather item does this. Shoes, baseball mitts, and leather saddles for cycling and horseback riding come to mind here. So, maybe this is why they work so well for me.

I almost feel like they are too classy though. I mean, maybe for an eroica type, old bicycle ride where they don't allow any modern stuff to be used or worn they might be right. I don't know, I don't keep track of that closely.  But I almost feel silly wearing them on a gravel ride. Maybe I should use cut off chore gloves! Then I might feel a bit more like I fit in. Ha! Anyway, they sure do feel good, so I'll just forget about the looks.

100th anniversary Silca "Pista" pump
Silca Turns 100:

Back when I was a younger shop rat, and I was at my first shop gig, my old boss, Tom, was always telling me about the old cycling traditions and stories. He was really in to all the old European racing things and knew a bunch of stuff that I never did catch on to. Well, one of the things he made sure I understood was the Italian company, Silca, and its place in cycling history.

In fact, I bought a Silca Pista pump in the 90's, a sky blue one, from Tom before I even worked for him. I still have it, and I will likely never get rid of it due to Tom's influence on me. While it represents a tradition that goes back to the 40's, (the Pista first came out in 1940), it was a clunky thing to use and store. It always falls over, and the handle is far too short to get both hands on to pump with the thing. Did I mention that it falls over a lot?

So, Silca is now an American company and they just reintroduced this pump with some updates. Too bad they had to stick to much of the form factor this pump has had for 80 years. It's cool and all, but for $125.00, it isn't that cool. Plus, it still looks unstable with that narrow footprint. Oddly enough, you can probably pick up a used original one, rebuild it as good as new, (all the parts are still available), and have a relic'ed pump which would really exude the traditions of the past for a lot less than this "updated one". And it probably will fall over a lot. Just so you know.....

Or you could get their flagship, $450.00 floor pump. It's maybe the best floor pump you'll never buy because........ that's crazy money for a floor pump! At least it has a better, more stable base. So, maybe it isn't so crazy. I will let others find out about that....... Meanwhile, I have a sky blue Silca Pista floor pump I have to fix since I chucked it across the home shop floor and busted the gauge on it in a fit of rage when it wouldn't stand up right for me. Dang thing anyway..........

GTDRI Update: 

Since rain has been coming at the exact worst times for me to recon this route, I have been pretty quiet about the ride so far. However; I am hopeful that tomorrow I will get a significant portion of the route ridden.

If that doesn't happen, for whatever reason, I am resorting to a drive through of the route to get this done before I run out of time. Either way, a recon report with images should be forthcoming and then I can publish the gps files for the route.

It was suggested to me that the Broad Street Brewing Company doesn't really have anything much for food. What! Beer isn't food! Anyway, there is a convenience store and a restaurant in the city should someone be so famished afterward that they simply cannot go on without solid foods. Most GTDRI's have not finished at restaurants, just to be clear, so this is a tradition I am upholding here!

So, I thought I'd throw that out there just in case anyone was wondering about food. Any other questions? Hit the comments here with those. The updates will also appear on the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational site, so keep your eyes peeled.

Okay, that's it for this week. The Summer is slipping away, so get out there and get some!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Six String Side: 1998 Les Paul Standard

1998 Les Paul Standard
When I started this blog over ten years ago, I stated that it was a "Bicycle and guitar oriented elixir....". Well, the "guitar" part sort of got pushed out by the bicycle stuff, but I've always been playing. In the Easter post, I mentioned playing my '90 Strat, and someone suggested I detail the fleet, so here ya go. Hopefully ya'll enjoy the change in pace. I'll post something periodically throughout the year. Here's #8

It's been a while since I have had a guitar on the blog here, so I figured I'd better get back to that again. This time I have the story on my Les Paul. This guitar came to me in a bit of a strange way.

I was part of the band that played for a weekly program the church I attend put on which was centered around recovery. I can't say a lot about that part but that one of the attendees asked one night if I might be interested in buying a guitar.

Okay, well, it is like bicycles you hear about from friends that are not cyclists. You know? "Hey, I got this bike in the garage. Maybe you might like it?" Almost every time it turns out to be a dusty old Schwinn Collegiate or a Huffy or something, right? How often does that ever turn out to end up being a really cool bike? Not many times, I'd wager. So, you might be able to understand my "not very excited" answer to the person. Something to the effect of, "Uh....yeah, sure. Bring it by next week and I'll take a look." You know, hoping the person would forget about it. Well, they didn't, and this guitar was it.

Yep, it says "Les Paul" right there.
I was astounded and said that I couldn't possibly afford the guitar, what with two very young children. However; I was made a generous offer with one caveat: I had to play it in the church praise band on Sundays.

Done and done!

So, since then I've used this guitar along with my Strats most Sundays. One particular Sunday as I walked off stage I heard the sickening "thunk" of my Les Paul falling face first off the guitar stand which resulted in a cracked head stock. A common malady with these guitars. Gibson decided not to reinforce the back of the neck at the head stock which other guitar companies do. Other companies use a "scarf joint" at this juncture of the neck and head stock which reinforces that area. Gibson decided that a one piece neck unhindered by joints or extra wood was a better way to get good tone, apparently. Ironically, their newest Les Paul actually addresses this with a new, back of the head stock carve meant to help avoid the dreaded head stock snap off.

Well, anyway, I got the Les Paul professionally repaired, so it's still going strong. It really made me sad when that happened, but hey..... I still have the guitar and it still sounds just as good as ever. It was made to be used, so that's what I'm doing with it.

That switch doesn't work like you think
I have made only one simple modification to this guitar since I got it and that was to the three way switch. Basically, I turned it around and positioned it differently than stock. Now when the switch is in the "Treble" position it is actually in the "Rhythm" position because it makes more sense to me to have the "up" position be treble and the "low" position of the switch to be the neck, or rhythm position.

Then the other thing I did was to position the switch to flick at an angle which is more in line ergonomically with the motion of my arm/hand.  I got that idea from a guitarist by the name of Johnny A who did something similar with his Gibson made signature guitar.

So, there it is. A cherry sunburst Les Paul that weighs a ton compared to my other guitars. Les Pauls can be pretty heavy, and I think I weighed this one at just under 10 lbs, which is about par for the course with older Standards without the premium woods or without all the weight relief action. This one actually probably does have the early version of the weight relief. I cannot imagine playing a "pancake" bodied 70's Les Paul Custom. Those boat anchors weighed upwards of 11 -12lbs! My shoulder aches already with this one. No way do I ever want to get a heavier guitar than my Les Paul!

And you thought only cyclists were weight weenies? Ha!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Views On Singletrack

You might remember this image I posted about a week or so ago....
A while back I had a ride in the Green Belt. This is a strip of wooded land either side of Black Hawk Creek running Southeastward of Waterloo toward Hudson, Iowa. It is where I used to take long walks in the mid-80's and it is where I learned how to ride single track. I've seen the evolution/erosion of the shore line. I've seen full sections of the old trail disappear in to the water never to be seen again. I've seen poorly thought out maintenance and I've seen grand plans fail.

I don't mean to say I'm some sort of "expert" on singletrack by any means, but I know a lot about singletrack in the Greenbelt and how people treat it, use it, maintain it, and neglect it. My ride a while back brought many thoughts to the fore, and a recent trail group's Facebook thread reminded me of some other things. So, once again, I must post the following disclaimer before moving on with my thoughts.

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

So, singletrack- that narrow dirt ribbon laced on either side by copious amounts of Nature. I tend to have a "narrow definition" of singletrack, (sorry for the pun), and much of what I see today in the woods isn't singletrack. Not by my definition. It is sanitized, contrived, not well thought out, and too easy. It has too much "man made" and not enough "natural". Much of the singletrack- so called- doesn't work with the area it is in, but against it, and the results are predictable.

About as close as it gets today to the classic, old school Green Belt single track.
The Green Belt, running as it does along Black Hawk Creek, is very susceptible to flooding and erosion these days. More so than ever. Much of this has been exacerbated by man's use of the agricultural landscape, draining of sloughs and other wet areas, and the run-off created by the increasing amount of paved areas. Back when the Green Belt trail was put in, for equestrian purposes, by the way, this wasn't the case. The trail was stable and pretty much unchanged for decades. It was a true, worn in single track when I "discovered" it in the 80's. There weren't any cyclists on it back then. Not many horses either. It was mostly a hiking trail and a place for those trying to get away from the attention of authority figures.

Then I got a mountain bike and I took it back in the Green Belt circa 1989-90. I rarely saw other cyclists here. There were still plenty of the original trails left, but even then I recall flooding that took out huge chunks of shoreline that used to have the trail on it. In fact, I nearly flew right into the creek on one ride when I came around a corner and poof! The trail was gone. Instead the single track ended about twenty feet above the creek in an exposed tangle of grassy roots. A hairy root ball sticking out into nothing. I stopped just in time.

It was also a given that you didn't ride the Green Belt back then without getting "high fived" by Nature. Tree branches slapped you in the face. Seven foot tall weeds lined parts of the trail, making the singletrack invisible for several yards. Nettles would scrape your legs and make your skin itch to high heaven. Waterloo Parks & Rec would mow once a year. This generally happened after the weeds and undergrowth matured, maybe early September. Late August in some years. You might not even get to ride back there some years in Summer, the vegetation was so thick.

This bandit trail in the Green Belt is a pretty good reminder of "how things used to be".
This was all part of the adventure for me. Weed whacking, back then, was a term I used to describe how myself and my bicycle would blaze a trail in the "Iowa Jungle". It wasn't about trail maintenance with a motorized gadget. It was minimal impact cycling and Nature ruled and did whatever she wanted to do. That was understood. We worked with that, not against it, back in those days. The singletrack was narrow, serpentine, and if it went through a muddy hole, so did you. Lensing out of the trail was unheard of back then.

Now days most of the Green Belt is wide enough for a dump truck and mowed on a regular basis. Some say that's better.....
The Flood of '93 wreaked havoc on the Green Belt. The City kind of abandoned the area for several years. Workarounds for flood damage were seemingly natural and often maintained and originally cleared by cyclists, who, along with hikers, were the main folks back there in those days. Then the 2008 flood did another number on the Green Belt, and everywhere else around here, and things radically changed after that.

The City brought in an end loader instead of the old, 4ft wide brush hog mower they used to use. Suddenly a clear cut mentality was being used to maintain the area. The single track was double tracked for a while. The big machines the City used were destroying what was once a wild area and turning it in to a grass highway, for all intents and purposes. Quads and motorcyclists started tearing up the place and I even saw pick-up trucks with fisherman driving up from the Southern terminus of the trail at one time a few years back. The City made it possible to drive back there due to the new, ultra-wide track they enforced on the Green Belt, so people did just that. We never saw that back when the single track was truly narrow.


The other thing that I see is how trail users want to "make things easier" all the time. If they see mud, they try to ride around it, lensing out the trail and making a little mud hole a great big one. Instead of getting off their bicycles or taking a few minutes of time, they walk and ride around fallen branches instead of clearing them off the trail. They'd rather burn in another line instead of maintaining the one that has been there for decades. I blame the super-wide mowing job the City does now. The users take the easier routes because they can. Nature is pushed further away, and it doesn't take much imagination to see that a paved trail mentality is starting to take hold of this part of Waterloo. Yeah....more run-off issues, more high maintenance costs, and more sanitized trail. Gah! I hope it never happens, but city governments seem to think paved Nature trails are an attraction for everyone.

Typical single track look that CVAST does these days.
Finally, there are those in the area, past and present, who felt that our "elevationally challenged" singletrack needed help and that "structures", stunts, and earthen berms would be the answer. What they did not, and many still do not, take in to account is that we have flood plain trails. These trails will always be susceptible to erosion and damage from flooding. What is more, wind damage is also a constant enemy to clear trails here. Accepting what you have, working with it, and not against it, is the best policy. I'm not against structured trail experiences, but we do not have the area suited for it. It is what it is. Why beat yourself up trying to turn it into something it isn't?

Now, I don't have all the answers, but I know that all across the nation, singletrack is getting less "natural" and more contrived.  I feel with the way things seem to be headed, we're taking away more than we need to be. There should be a better balance of the "natural" and the maintained. Getting dirty and having a brush with green things shouldn't be frowned upon. Singletrack should be narrow, not eight feet wide with a bare tread down the middle. Do we really need to build berms and structures, or should we learn how to ride the land as it lays? I'm not sure where the balance is there, but I see more "built" trails than I do trails that are so much a part of the landscape you barely notice it.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Shimano Sport Cam CM-2000

The Shimano Sport Cam CM-2000
The march into the 21st Century for me continues. I have a sport action camera now. But first, before I delve in to all of the gizmo-tastic details, I must tell the story of how this happened, because....trust me...I wasn't planning on getting anything like this. I still haven't totally figured out my Olympus TG-3 or my Lezyne Super GPS yet, and adding another gizmo to the mix only sets me deeper into the knowledge gathering rabbit hole.

Anyway, as a mechanic, I am entitled to access the Shimano "S-Tec" site which gives me all the details and technical know-how to work on Shimano's stuff. Okay, so they came out with the new Ultegra 8000 series of components recently and I decided to check that out and see the video presentation Shimano had on S-Tec. There is a quiz you can take afterward which I did and passed. That automatically entered me in to a drawing for the Tour de France promotion which Shimano was doing. They are giving away two prizes daily to mechanics who took the Ultegra 8000 module. Well, on the first day, I won a Sport Cam CM-2000.

Weird.....

Anyway, it showed up last week and I have just gotten around to unboxing it and getting it charged up. The general specs show this camera has some impressive features, if you geek out on such things. First of all, it can record on the command of certain Bluetooth generated parameters like your heart rate, speed, or power out put. This means that, let's say, you have a very steep descent on a mountain bike trail. This might be a section you want recorded, so you can set the camera to start recording at a threshold of a certain speed and above, then shut off after that speed threshold has been gone under again. Or, maybe this raises your heart rate, so you could do the recording by that. Power output could be used to set off the camera recording on a climb, for instance. The theory being that you only get footage of parts that are worth watching.

The display and function buttons are pretty simple.
The cam is certainly outdoors friendly being waterproof and dust proof. There is a lens cover included which has a treated glass which can help shed water which may get splashed up on it for better video results.

The water and dust proofed access door to the battery, SD card slot, and USB connection. Here also is the mount provided.
There are the usual accessory mounting options which are available separately. I may pick up a handlebar and chest mounted one. For now, it'll go on my helmet. I actually already have a mount which this should work on for my Bell Super helmet. So, that is probably where I'll start out with this.

So, here we go down another gizmo rabbit hole..........