Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trans Iowa v14: The Final Day To Prepare

T.I.v14 rider schwag
Well........tomorrow is THE day. I'd better be ready to go by the end of the day or....... Well, we won't even think about THAT! I'll just make sure I am ready to roll tomorrow. I had all day yesterday off from work to tie up a bunch of loose ends.

I packed up tubs, cue sheets, made forms, roster sheets, and got some little details taken care of. I was running around most of the day doing stuff. And I still do not have the schwag items for the riders. I am hoping to take delivery of that stuff today. Then Friday morning I load up and head out down to Grinnell to put on another Trans Iowa.

I posted this image Wednesday on Twitter of the bottle opener that riders are going to get. Man! The reaction was crazy. So, just to head off any reactions or questions here, I want to let everyone know that there is a very limited number of extras of the bottle openers. Those are going to sponsors and very special "friends" to the event. So, they are pretty much all spoken for.

And if this whole deal drives me to drink, I'm covered there as well.
 Anyway, thanks to my RidingGravel.com partner, Ben Welnak for the goods and to Lederman Bail Bonds for the funding to get this done. Without them, none of this happens.

I feel pretty good about how things are coming together for this one. The weather looks like it will even be decent as well. That said, weather will likely play some factor in all of this before it is all said and done. Exactly what that is will be revealed later. But in the grand scheme of things, it seems unlikely that we will see any rain, or catastrophic conditions, ala T.I.v11 or 13.

Work at the shop today should be rather crazy. I'm sure we are way behind schedule since the weather broke. But I cannot do anything about that after 4:00pm today because I'm clocking out and then it will be Trans Iowa 24-7 until Sunday afternoon sometime whenever I manage to drag my sorry carcass home. Hopefully between now and then things go smoothly.

So, you can expect a scheduled ""Friday News And Views" post tomorrow, a "Minus Ten Review" on Saturday, and another edition of "The Touring Series" on Sunday here. If you were wondering about Trans Iowa's progress over the weekend tune in to "Trans Iowa Radio" where I and a lot of riders will be posting brief messages about how the event is going.

Now......I better go over that checklist again and get back to work!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Is A Gravelly Bubble About To Burst?

There is even a bike named "Gravel" now. (Image courtesy of Grannygear)
Well, the "dust" has settled after Sea Otter and the overall vibe from the show was that gravel "everything" was front and center. Well, that and the so-called "e-bike". Funny...... I haven't seen much, if any press coverage on that though. 

My partner Ben was there and messaged me during the festival over the weekend to say that road bikes are dead. "Nail in coffin. Rotting", was the way he put it. Another press report from the festival by the esteemed James Huang of "Cyclingtips.com" echoed the same sentiment. Now, it should be pointed out that Sea Otter was, and is still, a mountain bike festival. Road bikes did feature in the event only due to the road races around the Laguna Seca Raceway there where the venue is. But if the vibe was that "road is dead", then that is saying something. Think about that for a minute......

Huang wrote in his Sea Otter coverage, "This is no fad; gravel bikes are clearly here to stay, and there’s a growing tidal wave of interest behind them." So, as he further went on to indicate, media outlets heavily weighted toward Pro road racing were now going to be covering gravel. And why wouldn't they? If consumer interests have swung over to doing gravel events, riding gravel, and especially when purchasing new gear related to gravel, then it only makes sense to, as they say, "follow the money".

Niner's controversial full suspension gravel rig. (Image courtesy of Grannygear)
And who can blame these companies? Seriously, it is what you are supposed to do when in business- sell what the consumer wants. You may think that this whole "gravel" thing is all just "marketing". (Read- evil intentions of heartless corporations to bilk innocent people of their dollars for no good reason) That isn't how this is working at all.

People are leaving the organized, licensed crit/road racing scene in the U.S. in droves. Just a few years ago, USAC, the sanctioning body for such road events, reported a precipitous drop in license sales and participation numbers in their events fell drastically. Sanctioned mountain bike racing has shown little to no growth for years. So where were all the people going? Were they quitting cycling altogether? Many did, but most went somewhere else, and by the numbers of events seen on gravel, it would be apparent that gravel/back road events are where people are spending their time and money. Of course the industry is going to chase that. You can only blame yourselves for this, cyclists. Stop doing gravel and the industry will drop gravel like a hot potato.

But that said, has the industry gone too far with offerings for this niche segment of cycling, or will it continue to cannibalize mountain and road bike sales into the future? How does the electric motor figure into all of this? Hard to say. But one possibility here is troubling.

Breezer Bikes has debuted a new adventure line. (Image courtesy of Grannygear)
Remember when fat bikes came around in an easy to buy, complete bike format in 2011? (Pugsleys were frame/fork only from 2005-2011) Yeah, then a short two years later everyone had a fat bike in their line. Companies with zero fat bike "cred" were producing corpulent tired monster bikes and trying to surf the fat biking wave. It didn't work out.......

That "bubble" burst in 2014 and sales of fat bikes, once a sure thing for Mid-Western shops, became a tough sell. Everyone that wanted one had one. Many companies have dropped fat bikes from their lines in the last few years or have severely curtailed their offerings. Fat bikes were once a runaway sales hit, and while they will never go away, it will never be like it was for three years or so there.

One could argue that gravel-all road bikes are on the same trajectory. Companies with no background in "adventure" style bikes are now jumping in with both feet into this market. Mountain bike companies that never really pushed road anything have "gravel bikes" now. Get the picture here? It sounds a lot like the same song sung in 2011-2013 with fat bikes.

My sincere hope is that road cycling just becomes "any road cycling". That the road racing style bikes be cornered into the niche place they belonged in all along- for the committed crit racer only. The "common road bike" going forward should be what we are calling "gravel bikes" now and that silly moniker- "gravel"- should just go away. The whole point, at least for me, was that a bike with capable tires and slacker geometry with fittings to promote versatility would become the de-facto choice for most cyclists all over the U.S.A.

But the cycling industry and media keep getting caught up in traditional pigeon holes and in chasing trends so much that they cannot seem to see where this could go. That's the biggest problem I see. If it goes like it has been, I fully expect the bubble to pop, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Country Views: Calm Before The Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barns For Jason

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, April 23, 2018

Trans Iowa v14: A Note On Riding Gravel

 

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

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

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Touring Series: Heading Into Cranberry Country

A Guitar Ted Productions Series
 Welcome to "The Touring Series". This series is a re-posting of a story I told here on this blog in 2008. The story is about what I named the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour". This was a fully loaded, self-supported bicycle tour from just Northeast of Waterloo, Iowa starting in a little village named Dewar and the goal was to get to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada in one week's time. The plan called for us to be picked up there and taken home by car.

When I returned home from this tour I wrote a rough draft manuscript of about half of the trip. It is 27 pages of hand written stuff, front and back, and this is what I will be posting to begin with. You'll be able to identify the 1994 manuscript material by my using italics to post it here. After the manuscript information ends, the rest of the story will be picked up from memories written down in 2008. That will appear as regular text here. As mentioned last week, cameras, smart phones, and the like did not exist for us in 1994, so images will be few. There are some though, and I will sprinkle those in when they are relevant.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Next: Getting Juiced

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Minus Ten Review- 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we all know what happened after that.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday News And Views

Pseudo Fenders:

You may have seen all these thin, plastic "fenders" that you zip-tie on fork crowns or snap into place on your seat rails. Ass Savers, a company known for such equipment, has now got something that attaches to your down tube that acts like a mud flap for your front tire. So basically you have a mud flap, but no fender. I know it sounds weird, but I am trying one out here.

Ass Savers calls it the Speed Mullet. They claim that it keeps your feet dry. Well.......it doesn't. I know. But it does do a bang up job of keeping your face clean from spray from the front tire and it does, sort of, keep your drive train cleaner.

I mounted mine on my Twin Six Standard Rando with 42mm tires mounted in the 700c format. Let me tell you- there is absolutely zero room for traditional fenders with 42mm tires. So, clip on fenders are the only thing that will work with that bike with those tires on it. As far as having something to deflect spray from water and mud, this Speed Mullet is better than nothing, which would be my only other choice with this set up on this bike.

So, I see this as a very niche product. I mean, if you can fit fenders, then why wouldn't you? This little gizmo hardly does anything, but like I said, if this is your only other option, then it is better than nothing.

Full suspension gravel bike? Niner Bikes from Sea Weasel. Image by Grannygear
Niner Bikes Shows FS Gravel Rig:

Well, you know what I've said over and over again- "Any bike can be a gravel bike." Niner Bikes set out to prove a point with this design effort shown at Sea Otter. (Image thanks to my friend Grannygear, who is at the event) As far as I know, this is just a prototype now. I wouldn't at all be surprised if it comes out though.

Before you diss this and make some pithy comment, I thought something I heard just the other day on a GCN video made a lot of sense. They said that much of what they were seeing as "gravel tech" was actually recycled XC mtb tech from years ago. This bike would seem to be proof of such things. Certainly, it would seem that the short travel FS/hard tail XC 29"er/650B bikes are blurring the lines between them and gravel merely by adding a drop bar.

Oddly enough, I actually used a drop bar version of a Salsa Dos Niner soft tail bike in Dirty Kanza years ago. The thought of using a XC 29"er bike for gravel was definitely not unheard of back in the day. In fact, many times it was not unusual to see dual sus 26"ers in gravel events ten years ago or more. This makes me curious about resurrecting that Dos or my Fisher HiFi as an exercise in FS gravel travel. Maybe I will try it for fun. Stay tuned.......

My commute to work on April 18th, 2018. Are you kidding me!


Trans Iowa v14- The Count Down Begins!

It's pretty crazy to think that in one week I'll be on my way to Grinnell to put on yet another Trans Iowa event. I'll be busy packing things away for the trip and the event. Papers, numbers, supplies, cues, prizing, personal stuff, and more will all be getting arranged for the send off on the 27th at the Pre-Race Meat-Up and the event on the 28th-29th.

Roster numbers are about what I'd expect. We're down to 103 as of now, and I suspect a few last minute drops and that we will see something in the high 90's for starters. Well......if the weather seems good.  Last year the forecast looked dim and a bunch of folks bailed at the last minute. Which leads me to......

The weather. Yes- you just never know. Especially this year. It snowed the 18th, and with a week to go, it is forecast to be much warmer, but now thunderstorms are creeping into the forecast. Rain, and especially lightning, could really make things interesting. Winds will be a factor for sure, but what they will be and from what direction is anyone's guess at this point.

You can keep up with all of this via Trans Iowa Radio, (the number will be posted soon for the riders), and on my Periscope which you can access from Twitter @guitarted1961. I may even do a Facebook Live post. Who knows! It's going to be a big weekend so I expect that I will be quite busy with all the hoopla. Stay tuned......

Have a great weekend and ride yer bikes!