Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday News And Views

Less expensive, 1 X 12, will be seen everywhere
New Bike Season: It is that time of year when new stuff for the new bike year, (2018 in this case), starts to trickle out. We've seen a few things already, like the new Ultegra and Niner's new SIR 9 model. Another recent intro that I haven't mentioned is SRAM's new, more wallet friendly version of 1 X 12 Eagle in the GX level. Said to be a direct competitor to XT, GX Eagle will be seen on a ton of new 2018 bicycles.

SRAM made sure you'll know it is GX Eagle because the new GX crank arms are flat and wide. Perfect for a huge "GX" logo. One of the other GX Eagle components is a grip shifter. I know that seems odd ball to many of you, but to my mind, a grip shift 1X 12 is a perfect fat bike set up. Think gloved hands, cold air, and keeping your digits warm by ganging them together in an overmitt, or under a pogie. Triggers can be a bit much in those situations whereas a grip shifter is much easier to operate under those circumstances.

Of course, the big expense in the flagship Eagle component group is the (almost) one piece, carved out of a block of steel, cassette. GX gets a pinned together set of 12 cogs. I've used a similar 11 speed cassette on my fat bike and it worked fine. So, it isn't marvelously light, but it certainly isn't heavy by any stretch of the imagination.

An entire Eagle GX groupset can be had for under $500.00, so it isn't a bad upgrade for anyone running an 11 speed SRAM 1X group. Again, I'm not necessarily a fan on all fronts. I totally get 1X for fat bikes, due to the nature of how a front derailleur ends up becoming a focal point for muck collection. (I use a fat bike for wet, muddy, slushy excursions.) I don't necessarily agree with 1X from the standpoint of chain efficiency. I still think there are times when a 2X is a better choice. I like Shimano's thinking in this regard.

The Otso Cycles, Lithic brand, "Hiili" model carbon gravel bike fork.
More Clearance:

The move to make a gravel bike, (read "fat road bike") your "One Bike to Rule Them All" bike, lately has spawned all sorts of oddball stuff that no one was dreaming of 5 years ago. In fact, had anyone introduced a 400mm axle to crown fork that fit a 29" X 2.1" tire, they would have been considered nuts. At least there would have been a lot of "WTF" going on.

But then again, maybe there still is a lot of that thought going on! 

Anyway, there it is. Otso Cycles has this very fork. It can be stuffed with all sorts of fat tired, different diameter wheels, and it could be just the thing for cyclo crossers looking for the maximum mud clearing front wheel holding device. That said, I would think a strut would be better then. Probably would look too weird, eh? But then again, there is the Lauf fork......... Who knows?!! 

Okay, so I am older, I like classic parts, and so this fork doesn't bother me so much since that huge arch looks more like a sloping investment cast crown than a uni-crown fork. Uni-crown forks are obviously a very structurally sound way to make a fork out of metal, but carbon is supposed to be able to be formed into certain shapes and retain strength. Why not approximate a sloping crown steel fork in carbon? Now that would keep some folks hair raised, I am sure, but how cool would that be?

Anyway..... My main beef with carbon forks is that they typically are brutal to ride. I sure hope this fork is not one of those forks, if ya know what I mean. Hopefully more like the TRP CX fork I got to try, or the 3T fork I heard was nice. But that isn't all Otso had to tell of......

They now are a component brand to the consumer and industry. They will be selling this fork and a handle bar, and wheels, and fat bike rims under the "Lithic"brand label.

Fatty hasn't been the same since.......
 Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational News:

I have been pretty quiet about this so far this year, but now it is getting closer and I've got plans to share. The next GTDRI happens on July 29th. (YES, I know that is the last day of RAGBRAI. That's on purpose....) That Saturday we will be going on a "tour of dirt roads" Iowa style in Tama County.

The inspiration for this route is from my friends in the Pirate Cycling League who do their own "Tour Of Dirt Roads". I thought it might be fun to try that up here.

It's a huge risk, because if it rains it will be a re-route fest and it could become a wild, weird day of wandering instead of cruising cool dirt roads, but whatever happens happens. I'm going for it.

So, as of now I am planning on the following for the route:
  • Distance- At least 100 miles, but not more than 120.
  • Starting Point- Traer Iowa. We will loop back to here to end the ride as well.
  • Pass Through Towns. (Subject to change) Toledo, Garwin, Reinbeck
  • Ride happens rain or shine with or without anyone showing up.
  • This is a free to attend ride. Anyone that thinks they can hack it can show up. 
More soon...... Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend! Ride your bicycles and stay safe!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Soggy Solstice Ride

I could see the rain coming......
Wednesday. Time to ride. would be, if it ever would quit raining on Wednesdays. Last Wednesday I got snookered out of a ride and this one looked to be headed in the same direction. We had a nice thunderstorm roll through in the morning, so I took the time to maintenance the Twin Six Standard Rando and change the elastomers in the Redshift ShockStop stem I am testing on it.

Around lunch time it cleared out and I decided to eat and then I would get out there. Well, about the time I am headed out the door, radar indicated rain all around Waterloo. I went out anyway. Heck, sometimes radar indicates rain and it amounts to nothing. Fake news and all. I wasn't going to miss out on riding.

Things looked wet all around, for sure, but where I was it seemed dry enough. No standing puddles, no spritzing of rain, no immediate threat to me. So, I went onward. Aker Road to Washburn, and around down on Holmes Road to Petrie Road to test the new Resolute's mud clearing capacity. I figured the rain would have made some nice mud for me to get in to.

That would be found out in due time. Right at that moment I had a nasty Southeastern headwind to push against. It was tough sledding heading South. The gravel was wet and actually muddy in some spots here. They must have gotten quite the gully washer that morning. No trouble with fresh gravel, at least there was that. I found plenty of good lines on my way.

Best to heed the sign, but I had testing to do!
Petrie didn't look too bad. I actually made it to the place where the black dirt turned to clay, then all bets were off. The wheels stopped turning and I was obliged to walk after that. You can see the top of the hill in the image here, and that is where I finally could drop the bike and roll it along where there was a line of clover blooming on the left side of the roadway.

Once I reached the grassy margin in the middle I could ride again.
The Resolutes clear mud like a champ, so once I got rolling again I didn't have to stop to scrape mud at all. In fact, after about a half mile of gravel you'd never know that I had been packed up with mud unless you looked at the frame. The tires looked fine.

Heading East was better than going South, but when I turned out on Ansborough, I got the full effects of the tailwind and I was off to the races. The gravel was newer over here, but as long as I was headed North it did not matter. I found it easy to keep hammering.

I went down Washburn Road and back to Aker, then started making my way back toward Waterloo. I was keeping an eye on the sky the entire ride, but it wasn't until I made it back on to the Sergeant Road bike path that I began to think I might end up getting caught in some rain.

It was going to be a close call, but in the end, I decided not to try to outrun this. I know when to make a run for it and this rain cloud wasn't warranting a heavy output. So, I motored onward.

Getting wet on the bike is maybe something a lot of people try to avoid. I guess I'd try to avoid getting into a heavy thunderstorm, but your garden variety shower? Meh..... Not that big of a deal, especially in the Summer. I wasn't too worried, and as it turned out it didn't really start raining on me in earnest until I was about 12 blocks from the house.

It is kind of a weird thing with me and rain. Once it starts raining, and I am riding, I get a boost of energy. Once on a Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitaional it rained on us and I took off up the steep hills of Jasper County like I had a turbo boost. A friend started calling me "Contador" because I was climbing so well. It was just that it was raining. I cannot explain why I am that way.

Well, the rain made me go like a son of a gun and I was home before ya knew it, dripping wet on the front porch. Some "solstice ride"! Usually it is a long day in the saddle where you expect to have to use copious amounts of sun tan lotion. Not dodging rain storms and lightning bolts!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Thinning The Herd: Part 2

Navigating the Iowan jungle.
Back in the first "Thinning The Herd" post I spoke about the Fargo Gen 2 bike and why it was that I was parting ways with that rig. I sent the frame and fork off to its new owner, and that should be arriving with him this Friday, if not before. So, that chapter in my bicycle fleet is now nearly closed.

Of course, I stripped a bunch of parts off that bike and I alluded to that in the first post linked above. The Gen 2 Fargo was known as the "Fat Fargo" since it was sporting those 27.5+ wheels and tires. This was a key part for another bike, my Fisher. Sure, it was actually a bike sold as a Trek, but c'mon! This is a Fisher bike that came out the year after Trek absorbed Fisher. I'm sure it was meant to be a Fisher.

Now for a bit of history on the Sawyer. The  Sawyer was a 2 X 9 bike with a rigid fork. Trek sold it for two years and then it went away. Obviously, it was a special model made to be an evolution of Gary Fisher's original "Klunker" bike. A model of which made a cameo appearance in the mid-90's as well. In my opinion, the 2011/2012 Sawyer model was the best looking non-custom cruiser styled mountain bike ever. Unfortunately, the absorption of the Fisher brand in to Trek's corporate "borg hive-like" culture killed the marketing of this bike. Essentially was it doomed from the get-go because Trek dealers largely ignored the whimsical, oddball Sawyer and due to the lack of marketing buzz, many riders didn't know what to make of it.

The 27.5+ wheels and this bike were meant for each other.
 Trek sent me a Sawyer to review for Twenty Nine Inches back in the day and when I was done, they, as many companies did, ignored my requests for instructions to send it back. it is to this day. I liked the Sawyer as it was offered, but it had almost no corporate buzz and getting anything beyond the basics from Trek about it was met with radio silence, for the most part. As I surmised at the time, it was an expensive bike to produce, since it had so many proprietary castings and the frame was difficult to produce. With its triple top tubes having to be precisely bent and welded into place, I can imagine that this frame kept some Trek folks up late at night worrying that they might have a load of misaligned frames on their hands. What is more, it has a split drive side drop out, which is one of the trickest belt compatibility solutions I've ever seen. Had this been a NAHBS one-off custom, it would have been a very popular rig. But it got stuck with a Trek head tube badge and that pretty much killed the "cool factor" right there. Many Sawyers, which were about $1500.00 retail, ended up selling at a grand or even less by 2013 just so dealers could clear them out.

So, like I say, I had this thing setting around so I began to play with it. I had an older Fisher with a 100mm Fox fork, a G2 geometry fork, so I put it on the Sawyer. Then I swapped the geared set up to a Gates Center Track for another review of those parts. Along the way, I had trouble getting comfortable with the gangly, high, and akward Sawyer. It was like a teenager that hadn't matured into its overly large feet and hands. It just never set well with me, and although I was, (and still am) in love with the look, I could never reconcile with how this bike felt despite multiple changes to it. The stock set up seemed to be far better, so I purposed to go back to that to see what I was screwing up with what I had been doing to this bike.

So, the whole 27.5+ thing started blowing up in 2013, and I got sent a set of WTB Trailblazer 2.8"ers to try out. The Sawyer was a perfect candidate for the wheels. I knew people had shoe-horned 29+ wheels into Sawyers, so the clearances were there. The bottom bracket, in a choice made by Trek/Fisher in what I am sure was an influence from Gary himself, was made to have almost zero drop. Putting slightly smaller diameter wheels on the Sawyer would be okay then.

The wheels seemed tailor made for the Sawyer. For the first time the bike seemed "right". I actually had a ton of fun with it set up with the 27.5+ wheels. But I ended up choosing to go with these wheels on the Fargo, which, for a time, proved to be a great choice as well. The Sawyer, in the meantime, languished in the corner of The Lab where it was doomed to sit until I either sold it or got some 27.5+ wheels for it. I never was motivated to build up another 27.5+ set up, so instead, I almost sold the Sawyer a couple of months ago.

Then the realization that I may want a Ti Fargo more than two steel ones came along. I sold the Gen 2 frame and fork, and the wheels were suddenly available again, so.... Now I am planning on keeping this bike around.

Now you know the rest of the story.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

5 Things I Learned From Mountain Biking

Riding single track can teach you a lot of bike skills.
The innergoogles loves it when you post a title with a number in it, and marketers say that "list posts" are some of the most read posts. Whatever. I don't care. So, for no other sane reason than I just want to write about this, here we go with some things I've learned and valued along the way that came from my mountain biking experiences.

1: Look Where You Want To Go, Not Where You Don't: This sounds so simple it is crazy, but think about some crashes you have maybe had in your cycling. Many times that drop off, that rut, that bad pot hole, we look at it and we go right in to it. Bang! Crash!

The trick isn't to ignore things like that, but to identify them as hazards, and then look where you do want to go. Because if you keep an eye on that hazard, it will bite you. Look beyond the things you want to stay away from, focus on the good line. This is especially true for gravel road riding.

2: Arms & Legs Are Suspension Devices: Long ago all mountain bikes were rigid. Both ends. This meant that you either learned how to deal with trail irregularities or you crashed a lot and broke stuff regularly. This also meant that if you didn't want to crash and burn "you had ta get yer butt offa tha saddle and absorb them bumps wit da arms and tha legs". (Regards to the "Old Coot") Yes, arms were suspension and so were your legs.

Even today I lighten my pressure in the saddle whenever I see bumpy terrain by using my arms and my legs. You also use your core, but let's not get all technical here. You get the picture. I learned this from mountain biking on rigid mtbs in the early 90's. Still pays dividends today.

3: Go Low On The Air: Before there were fat bikes or tubeless tires, you had to learn how to play with air pressures as a mountain biker. Too high and you were washing out in corners, getting bucked and bumped all over the place, and rattling your eyeballs out. Too low and you were folding tires over in corners, pinch flatting on rocks, and denting rims. It was a delicate balancing act that, if you got it right, meant that your shred was stellar. Mountain biking taught me that tire pressures were never meant to be "as high as the tire sidewall said you could go". In fact, I almost always disregarded those recommendations. I still go as low as I can on gravel for the best ride quality, traction, and best rolling resistance characteristics.

Lessons learned from mountain biking. Here I am using really low pressures at the 2015 DK200. Arms and legs for suspension. Image by A Andonopoulous
 4: Check Your Fasteners Regularly: Having a rigid mountain bike taught me that things can and will vibrate loose over time. Important stuff like stem bolts, crank arm bolts, and rack or fender bolts all can work loose and if you do not check them regularly, you could be in for a big surprise someday. I find that gravel riding is actually worse than it ever was for mountain biking in this area.

5: Shift Early- Shift Often: This is one that I repeated to myself all during the "DK My Way" ride about a month ago. It is also one I violate the most because, well........single speeding! I gotta learn when to not think like a single speeder.Which is tough, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, shift a lot and do it before you get a ton of pressure on the pedals.

Back in the early days of mountain biking, before shift ramps and pins, and Di2, you had to have some serious shifting skills. That or you'd be in the wrong gear a lot. Because if you didn't "let up" a bit on the pedals, spin a decent cadence, and if you waited too long before you got into that hill, you were single speeding! That old 18 speed triple drive train wasn't going to shift! So, you learned to "shift early" and you shifted a lot, or you were wasting energy. That still holds true today. Shifting early means less pressure on the chain, less wear and tear, and less chances for breaking the chain. Which, if you hadn't noticed lately, has gotten a lot thinner than it used to be. Plus, shifting early and often takes less of a toll on your body. 

There is my list. I have learned more than this from mountain biking, but those are the things that came to mind first. So there!


Monday, June 19, 2017

The New SIR 9 From Niner

Niner Bike's new SIR 9- The "what the El Mariachi should be like" bike.
Niner Bikes announced a new SIR 9 bike today. The steel hard tail is an evolution of their first model which was introduced in 2005. This new SIR 9 is more in the "modern geometry" vein and also sports the ability to be a 27.5+ bike or a straight up 29"er bike. They also figured that most folks that have a hankerin' for a steel 29"er hard tail probably will also be inclined to do a bit of "bikepacking" (read- bike camping) and Niner added a bunch of braze on points for hard mounted frame bags.

This all makes sense. Steel frames are regarded as being tough and up to the task of the back country cyclist. Hard tails eschew the complications of a full suspension bike. Plus, many regard hard tails as being more efficient, especially for touring/bikepacking/bike camping. The SIR 9 started out as Niner's flagship XC oriented hard tail SS/geared bike. The times have changed and so Niner offered up an update of this iconic model.

Interestingly, I find that Niner's evolution of the SIR 9 stands in stark contrast to what Salsa Cycles did when they ditched off their legacy steel hard tail model, the El Mariachi, in favor of a low end spec, aluminum hard tail dubbed the Timberjack. Many thought that Salsa would update their El Mariachi, steel hard tail 29"er, to be a "plus bike" compatible rig and that they would update the bike to "modern geometry" standards. Much like what Niner has done with the SIR 9.

The reinforced chain stay yoke that Niner developed for the SIR 9 is very complex and an interesting solution.
 Oddly enough, the Salsa Cycles Timberjack is not really even in the same vein as the former El Mariachi. It then seems rather ironic that Niner Bikes has upstaged Salsa in regards to this sort of bike. The SIR 9 would appear then to be exactly what the former champions of the El Mariachi were hoping to see from Salsa. A trail bike with bike packing as a standard focus. A bike with a short rear/long front center and a slack head angle. Steel tubes and modern amenities.

So, when I see this new SIR 9, I see "what the El Mariachi should have morphed in to". A steel hard tail that could be single speed, geared, and has modern geometry and "adventure by bike" capabilities. Not a rebadged, price point, aluminum tubed, poorly spec'ed model.

At least devotees of the steel hard tail 29"er have a champion in Niner Bikes.


Capping off Father's Day with some fellow Dads.
So, while many of you reading this may not be fathers, I am. It is a distinct honor, privilege, and responsibility that I do not take lightly or for granted. I am beyond humbled, stoked, and blessed to be a "father" to two children and to represent being a father to a few others in this World.

So, bike riding, while an awesome activity, and central to who I am as a person, is secondary to being a father. This having been that weekend designated for chaps like myself, I decided to not be selfish and to engage in being the Dad that I am to the two people I have been gifted to be that person to.

It was good, but I did sneak a bicycle ride in. I went for a capper to the weekend that included a fixed gear ramble over to Lark Brewing, a local brewery, and met up with two co-workers of mine from the shop that are also fathers. We traded stories of fatherhood and more over a flite of fine brews and then I aimed my non-coasting rig back to the homestead.

Anyway, all this to say that there are some things in Life more important than cycling, and being honored and entrusted to being a father is one of those more important things. I hope that no father out there feels cheated for having to accept the accolades and/or being the dutiful Dad that this past weekend seeks to impose upon us who are blessed in such a manner.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 23 & 24

The "OG" Twin Six bicycle offering. Made by WaltWorks
After taking up last weekend with my recap of my Kansas ride, we get back on track with a double dose of Minus Ten. Enjoy!

Ten years ago on the blog covering the first two weeks of June I had been allowed to talk, finally, about a bike I had been aware of for months. Twin Six's first frame and fork offering, the "CustomStock".

It was welded up by WaltWorks in Colorado and looked great. Had I not already had two custom projects in the works there is a really good chance I would have ended up with one of these bikes. Actually, I did end up with a set of wheels meant as spec for one of these frames. But the bike would have been awesome.

More importantly for this review, this T-6 frame and fork offering set off a firestorm of critique based upon how "custom/semi-custom frames and forks are rip-offs" by the keyboard jockeys of the day. This prompted a week long series about "Custom vs Production" posts here on the blog. I re-read that and I think it is something worth revisiting here. Stay tuned on that.......

In another interesting post, I talk about the ways that events like the Kokopelli Trail Race and other, ultra-endurance, off-road, under-the-radar type events were getting shut down by the BLM and government rules and regulations. I talked about how that could be spread to affect events like Trans Iowa. Perhaps this too might be worth revisiting as a topic here......

Finally, there was a two post string at the end of this time period ten years ago about "killing the blog". Not my blog! I was talking about the trend of many endurance based and grassroots cyclists who had started blogging but had found the burden of content creation too much to bear. Blogging really got cranked up in the early 00's and reached a zenith of sorts by 2007. I think ever since then it hasn't been the same.Certainly there are some solid cycling based blogs out there, but the salad days of blogging are long gone.

I haven't got any inclination to stop writing here just yet, so don't get yer hopes up!.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday News And Views

Massively dusty out there.....
 How 'Bout Dat Heat?:

Since the DK200 it has been waaaay hot and very dry in the Mid-West. Uncommon for here and especially at this time of the year. It made for some very DK-like conditions when we factored in the wind up here where I live.

So, there have been days where the wind had been gusting to 35-40mph and the air temperatures were in the upper 90°'s. I don't mind a little wind, but combined with that hot, dry air, it was too much. I sat out several days of riding in the country due to that.

Then I have been battling a fatigue issue as well. I am not sure if I allowed myself proper recovery time after the DK trip. I was falling asleep almost uncontrollably several times in the afternoons last week. I've taken a few days to just rest, and with the recent heat, I think I made a good choice there. Now just Wednesday we got a break and received over an inch of much needed rain. Hopefully we will be coming out of this super hot and dry pattern for a bit!

All said, I did manage to get out on a couple rides in the country lately. Not much to see though what with all the dry air and heat knocking the vegetation and crops for a loop. I did see some dust devils and there was copious amounts of gravel dust, of course. The rain should have that knocked down for a day, at least!

The new WTB Resolute. Image by Abner Kingman
New WTB Tire Inspired By Trans Iowa:

Yesterday the news broke about a tire from WTB for gravel dubbed the Resolute. Readers of the blog here may recall that I had a picture of this tire up that I took at the DK200 expo the Friday before the event. So, here now is a bit of back story that I can share now that this tire is "official". This will show you how the bicycle industry works (or not) behind the curtains, so to speak. So, please allow me to explain, as briefly as I can, why the Resolute was seen before its planned release.

Of course, first and foremost these companies need to make money to stay viable and employ people. So, the bigger money is in selling brands your tire (or whatever) to spec on new bicycle models being produced. This is called "OE spec" in the industry. (Original Equipment spec) Of course, WTB tries to get as much of that as they can. For this new tire, I have heard that WTB was pretty successful in gaining some spec with the new Resolute. Again, we all know that components have to be sold far ahead of the release of new models so that when the time comes you can actually purchase said bicycles with (hopefully) the proper spec components. Well, there was a 2018 bike in the DK expo with 2018 spec. Yep..... We were not supposed to have seen that bike yet. It had 650B Resolutes mounted up.

Well, the good folks at WTB about choked on their lunch that Friday when they saw their "as yet to be announced" tire on my blog. I was asked politely not to talk anymore about said tire, which was easy for me to do, because I didn't know anything more about it than what I saw. For instance, I did not know there was a 700c X 42mm version coming, or that the 700c version was skinwall, (yay!), or anything about the design, other than a guess. Well, anyway, it turns out that some over eager product manager sent out a 2018 sample to show at the DK200 expo and that person didn't think about product release dates and marketing plans for companies represented by their bike's spec.


Well, that's all water under the dam now, but I wanted to show how this kind of thing happens. It isn't the first time it has happened either. I recall an incident with Niner Bikes and WTB at Interbike one year......... but that's another story. 

Twin Six Introduces New Color For The Standard Rando: So, y'all know I really like my Twin Six Standard Rando bike. It rides really well, and it is stable in loose gravel, unlike many other bikes, due to its low 75mm bottom bracket drop. Sure, it has its drawbacks. For one, in 700c, it cannot handle the bigger tires due to clearance issues. It doesn't have a third water bottle cage mount, (I understand newer ones do?), and unlike the Ti Standard Rando, they didn't put two cage mounts on the inside of the triangle on the down tube. But other than those quibbles, I really like that bike.

Well, now they offer it in blue. I really like this color. I would really like to have a Standard Rando in blue. But.......I already have a green one. (See the image above) The one I have is certainly enough, but wouldn't it be cool if somehow you could pass your bike through some ray emitter or a filter and it would change its color? That would be pretty awesome.

Or maybe it wouldn't. Maybe I'd spend 30 minutes trying to decide if I felt all blue, red, or orange, and then I'd have 30 minutes less to ride. So, yeah........on second thought. 

Have a great weekend, and ride those bikes,if you can!