Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Rear View '17: Part 1

The look back on the year for 2017- dubbed "Rear View", is a traditional year ending series on the blog each year here. This is Part 1:

2017 started out with a Winter that was quickly failing its promise started earlier in 2016. By the New Year the snow was dismal for anything Winter related and it only got worse. By early February we were already out on the gravel roads and enjoying March-like weather.

I was fretting over a snag in the route finding for Trans Iowa which saw a complete re-writing of the opening leg that needed looking at. There were a couple of sore spots for me coming into and out of Winterset, which was a looong way away from Waterloo.

I got sick in January with a cold/flu. Again. Like about every year.....

I went to the Iowa Bicycle Expo again and it was a pretty good time. Well, except for that one vendor who shall remain nameless that pretty much did all he could do to ignore me. That was interesting.....

February dawned with a bit of a solo recon mission on the first leg of Trans Iowa v13. It went smoothly and was deemed a great success. I spent a lot of time clearing out the Lab, adding new bits to old bikes, and dreaming of making the Black Mountain Cycles rig an 11 speed one, but that last part never happened.

There was white wall tires for the Big Dummy, the resurrection of the '03 Monkey in a "green theme" and the start of the restoration of my custom Badger. News bits included the catastrophic DK200 registration, the revealing of a "gravel fork" by Fox, and the announcement of the Riding Gravel jersey and more.

Winter took an early leave in 2017
March came with the news that I was going to be back with the crew again for another Renegade Gents Race. Weather was awesome. It was no problem getting in good gravel miles and the Sun was warming things up really great. Would Spring come early? I was hard pressed to think otherwise.

Well,the weather took a turn back toward Winter about the 10th of March and right as I was able to get out and complete the Trans Iowa v13 recon. It was a huge load off my mind and just in time for the last gasp of Winter to come and sling down some wet snow on us.

That snow was on its way out a week later and I was on a mad scramble to get in some sort of fitness for the quickly approaching Gents Race. Between Trans Iowa recon and that snow, the weeks leading up to the Gents Race weren't kind to the training schedule. Of course, I was also busy behind the scenes trying to knock out cue sheets and getting the special T.I.v13 shirt order in so they could get printed up in time for the event. This also included sourcing number plates and getting those in so I could start customizing those for each rider.

March closed out with the shocking news of Mike Hall's death while participating in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. The news took the ultra-endurance and bikepacking riding scene to a level of distress and mourning which had been unprecedented.

Coming Soon- Part 2

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bikes Of 2017: Pofahl Custom

Back in the "greener days". The Pofahl set up for gravel slaying.
It is that time of year when I start reviewing the bikes that got me through 2017. Many of these bikes have been tweaked and changed so I will talk about that and why they were important to me this past year.

If you were reading over the weekend you would have seen my Pofahl in its original set up. I was intending for that bike to be a bit of an all-around rig that could cover gravel and single track duties. Basically what I had been doing with my original 29"er, the 2003 Karate Monkey which I had fitted with drop bars.

Interestingly, my gig with the now defunct "Twenty Nine Inches" website really disrupted my gravel leanings for years and simultaneously put off my using this bike for far too long. Now that having to test mountain bike stuff all the time is a thing of the past, I have returned to the riding of the Pofahl, and that has been a refreshing change.

Many of you may be wondering about the strange arrangement of tubes this bike sports. I don't blame you. And please- don't blame Mr. Pofahl! (Yes, there is a Mr. Pofahl) The frame design wasn't his fault or idea, it was all mine.

You see, I had a hankering for design going back to my jeweler days and I was doodling up frame configurations all the time back in the early 00's and when 29"er design was in its infancy. I also was, at about the same time, all into what was the benefits and history of drop bars on mountain bikes which eventually led me back to the very beginnings of mtb in the modern era. That in turn uncovered the Breezer V1 bikes with the twin lateral tubes and all. See, I figured it might be cool to emulate that early design, incorporate some modernized elements of the past, and get rid of those pesky seat stays, just because.

The result is what you see here.

It's been raced on gravel, and spends most of its time doing gravelly things, so it is overbuilt for the task, having been originally thought of as a single track rig . But it still rides great, and the absence of seat stays? Hmm...... The bike might be a touch more compliant, maybe. It's really hard to tell. I do know that it fits me really well and with the 1995 Race Face 180mm cranks, it can crank out a single speed gravel climb very well. It's obviously very unique and I like it. That's all that matters in the end.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Friends And Family

Celebrating on Saturday evening at my workstation
I've worked at my job I have currently over 15 years now. That in and of itself isn't all that remarkable, but when you consider that I am a bicycle mechanic, it might be. Most mechanics move around a lot, or quit the trade entirely for more lucrative and stable employment.

Also, consider that bicycle shops are closing their doors at a steady pace, so being able to work in one place, even if you wanted to, isn't always an option. My first bicycle shop job ended that way. I didn't want to quit wrenching on bicycles, but with no openings in the area, I had to move on to wrenching on automobiles for five and a half years before coming back again to wrench on bicycles.

So, while I have some part in being at the job so long now, my boss has the other important factor in hand which is keeping the shop alive these past years so that I have that place to work. That was why we gathered Saturday evening to celebrate his owning of Europa Cycle & Ski for 30 years.

Interestingly enough, invitations to past mechanics of the shop were answered and several of them showed up for the event. The mechanic who originally purchased the Surly 1X1 I have now was there and was blown away that the bike has stayed in the Europa "mechanics family" now all these years with myself being the seventh mechanic to own it. Other mechanics going back to the early days were there and we all heard some great stories of the past 30 years.

There was beer, snacks, and great conversations. I attended with Mrs. Guitar Ted and we both had a great time. After things wound down at the shop we went to a local brewery and had more conversations and got to know some nice folks connected with the shop.

"New" single track in an unusual place was scouted out Sunday with my son.
The next day I spent with my family. I had heard about a bit of new single track added in at a point I found rather intriguing, so I asked my son if he would go on a bike ride with me.

This was going to be a bit of an exploration trip, as I had no clear idea of just where this track was supposed to be taking us. It was vaguely mentioned at the shop by a customer and from his directions it was not clear as to just where the trail started. Fortunately, since I was looking for "something", I found the track.

It was on the other side of the "elbow" lake which runs along the South Riverside Trail between Greenhill Road and Ansborough Avenue. An old oxbow of the Cedar River has generally been full of water here ever since the expressway went in during the early 90's. There along the highway on the other side of the paved bicycle path there stands a bit of a grove of trees which splits the highway and the oxbow lake. I often looked across that shallow lake to those woods wondering if there were any good reasons to try riding back there. Flooding typically ravages this area, so I didn't take it very seriously when I had the urge to explore back there.

The track has all the hallmarks of a cleared deer trail. It stays relatively high and probably clear of water. Well, that is if water was there! This oxbow lake is almost dry now. I've never seen it like that before, but this impending drought we are staring at might make it so I could traverse the mud flats of the old lake bottom next year. I'm keeping an eye out for that opportunity.

Anyway, the track is very off camber in spots, and it isn't really "burned in" all that well, so that if it gets slippery, I suspect that it would be a treacherous traverse. But Sunday it was dry and easy enough to navigate. That it runs right next to the DOT fence for the expressway isn't my cup-o-tea, but I doubt I will ride this when the roads are icy anyway, so the possibilities of a car coming off the road and careening through the fencing when I happen to be there will be very low.

This new trail section gets you up close and personal with the HWY 218/27 fencing in many spots. My son is off in the distance here.
Of course, the legalities of such a trail existing are questionable, but....... It is there now. So, in keeping with my quest to have ridden all the local tracks since 1988, I had to try it at least one time. I hear I have one other to hit up, but that trip will happen another time as my son was not having anymore of this bushwhacking adventure! Seems that the "adventure gene" may not have passed down to him. But he was a trooper and indulged me on this ride anyway.

I ended the weekend by taking a four mile walk with my daughter and then we went out and viewed the Christmas lights around town. It was a great way to spend the weekend and with the weather being tranquil, it was great to add a ride in to the mix too.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nerding Out On Bikes

I've spent an inordinate amount of time nerding out on bikes, but I'm not the only one.
Bike nerd here. Maybe you are as well? How do you know? Maybe if you cannot keep from constantly thinking about "improvements" to your bicycle. Maybe if you are super curious about "that other guy's rig", or how that set up works. Basically, you think "bike" all day.

If any of that fits you, it may mean that you are a "bike nerd". I am, (big surprise!), so are a lot of other folks. It's okay.

So, to that end I post today about one of the "OG" riders of what is now known as "Tour Divide". Back then, it was "The Great Divide Mountain Bike Race" and one of its pioneers was Mike Curiak. He has been randomly posting his memoirs and images drawn from his experiences racing the Divide in the early 00's. Mike recently posted an article on his bike choices here. It is a fascinating look at the gear and why he chose it. He also goes on to explain what he would use if he were to attempt Tour Divide today. That's "if" as in "never again", according to how I am reading that, but it is a good look into how Mike would choose his bike and basic set up.

This is all especially interesting to me for several reasons. First off, the obvious- it is about bicycles. Then I find it fascinating since Mike has often said that Tour Divide is essentially a gravel race/route. That makes what he is saying about bikes very relevant to my interests. Mike also did the first Trans Iowa, on his Moots YBB, by the way, so there is also that connection. Finally, Trans Iowa drew most of its structure and rules straight from Mike Curiak himself. Even the full, original name of the event I am known for drew its inspiration from the GDMBR- "Trans Iowa Mountain Bike Race". (Jeff Kerkove and I decided to drop off the "Mountain Bike Race" part of the name after V1, but the official name of the blogspot site still includes that bit.)

At any rate, if you enjoy nerding out on bikes as much as I do, check out that link and get ready to go nerdtastic!

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 49

Back when it used to snow. In December. Remember that?
Ten years ago on the blog here I was trying to test these new Schwalbe 29"er tires. There was snow on the ground and we had a lot of ice too. Yes.......on the first week of December. I know, weird, right? I mean, we go almost to Christmas anymore without snow, except last year, when we had snow, and then it melted on Christmas and that was that.

Anyway.....

Enough grousing about the weather. Back ten years ago, the deal was that these tires were the bomb for snow riding. That sounds so odd now. But keep in mind that we were a good three years from being able to buy complete fat bikes out of the box. I was well aware of the Pugsley at this time, but it would have been a 2G investment at bike shop employee discount to get one built. Surly sold you the proprietary parts- the frame, fork, rims, and crank set. You supplied the rest. Building up wheels, sourcing the parts, your time, and headaches had to all be figured into the price.

Of course, not knowing that a fat bike would blow my mind and perceptions sky high, I could not justify a 2G investment for a bicycle I thought I would only use for a month, month and a half tops, every year. Yeah...... Unfathomable now, but I used to think that.

Anyway, Racing Ralphs, the original ones, were very supple, grippy tires on consolidated snow and packed snow. They were amazing in that regard. Ultimately they would go on to be one of my favorite tires I ever used before going tubeless. They were awesome on dry to tacky single track. They just weren't tubeless rated. Bummer. Then Schwalbe came out with tubeless Racing Ralphs and changed the tread pattern. The tire was never quite the same for me after that.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Friday News And Views

Olympus Tough TG-5. The replacement camera has been sourced!
Camera Problem Solved!

Last week you may remember that my Olympus Tough TG-3 went for a flyer out of my Chaff Bag and slammed into the pavement which ended up, (my diagnosis- I could be wrong), displacing the sensor. The camera fires up and electronics funtion but only about an eighth of the LCD screen shows an image and that is blurry. Everything else is black. If I give it a slap I can see the image move slightly, which tells me that the sensor is probably damaged inside or has come loose from its moorings, or.......something! 

Whatever happened wasn't good, and the camera is useless in that state. So, I had posted about that on social media where a good friend, Jason of "Barns for Jason" fame, got a hold of me via a private message. Turns out that he had a brand new TG-5 he decided he was going to part with. So we made a deal and soon I should have this camera in hand and be posting some good non-iPhone shots. (Yes, that's all I have now.)

The TG-5 has some upgrades over what I had. Ergonomics are slightly improved, there are some technical upgrades, like RAW capabilities, but it is essentially much the same as what I had before.

I'm pretty stoked that the situation is being taken care of so quickly and with a camera I was eying anyway. I was pretty satisfied with the TG-3. I really had no issues with its performance and I was not looking to replace it anytime soon. But a silly little mistake on my part cost me and I will end up getting a new camera far sooner than I figured on. But that said, I am excited to get this camera and start using it. I'll have more to say once I get the thing in hand. Stay tuned......

Funded by French auto maker Peugeot, this "car" could overtake e-bikes in the future. Image from "Bike Europe"
The Future Of E-bikes May Have Four Wheels:

I've often said that e-bikes = motorcycles and when the motorcycle manufacturers get involved, the e-bike will quickly fade away. What I didn't see coming were electric/gas powered "micro-cars" from a well know manufacturer. Sure, I've seen the cheapo Asian made four wheeled electric vehicles before, but nothing as refined and with such high design as this Peugeot. To be fair, it is actually classified as an "LEV" (Light Electric Vehicle) and is positioned to compete with "speed pedelecs". This rig has heating, regenerative braking, and can travel at speeds of up to 70Km/hr.

It is a working prototype to see how common platforms might be developed for future versions of this project. You can read about it in more detail here.

The idea seems tailor made for the bigger urban areas in the colder regions of the country. You just are not going to sell commuters e-bikes in the latitudes where Winter rears its ugly head. Not to current, non-biking folks, at any rate. You know- the people the bike industry keeps saying should have their "butts in saddles", to paraphrase a popular catchphrase of one distributor. Well, good luck with that when the commutes are measured in tens of miles and the wind chill is under zero.

A heated, zero emission LEV though? Maybe that might work. Maybe. I ain't holding my breath on any of this taking over here though.

Europa doesn't look anything like this, by the way.....
Party Time:

My employer has owned Europa Cycle & Ski for 30 years now. The momentous occasion is being feted with a party on Saturday. You can expect the following:

Discounts on merchandise store wide from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

From 7:00pm to 9:00pm there will be a celebration with beer, vittles, and tomfoolery of some sort not yet known to me. You'd have to come and find out. I'll be there later in the day. So, if you want to tip a few with me and some other Europa crazies, be there.

I'm also going to put this out there now. I will be helping to put on a "gravel curious clinic" at an establishment known as Doughy Joey's in Cedar Falls on January 13th, 2018. I will be talking about how to ride gravel roads, local routes, and what gear to use. What a "gravel bike"is, whet tires and pressures to use, and how to deal with dogs and more.

I'll be talking about this more in the near future, but for now I'll share the Facebook event link with you. CLICK HERE. Stay tuned.....

And that's a wrap for this week. Stay warm and stay active!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Three Hundred Thity Eight-ish

Mapping out a new route for next year's Trans Iowa has proven to have been a real test of my patience. I cannot remember it going quite like it has for this go-round.

Usually once I have the idea settled in my head that I am going to do another round of this madness I can start spouting out ideas for a route. Then it just becomes a game of connecting the dots, making the convenience stores work, and then breaking it down into three chunks. But those ideas didn't come bubbling up after I made the decision to do another Trans Iowa last Spring.

Oh sure, I had something in mind. I didn't draw a total blank, ya know. I quickly sketched out the first leg, and I had an idea for the beginning of the second one, but it stalled out right there. I guess you might say it was sort of like writer's block. Nothing sounded right. I had no goals and nothing seemed exciting beyond the initial few miles I had down already.

That was back in October, and I didn't get "the spark" until just this past week. It's December! I'm usually all done with recon by this point, at least as far as the last several years go. One of the things that maybe contributed to this a bit was that my usual partner in this recon and route finding was not available to me. The absence of Jeremy was kind of a damper on the proceedings. I kind of figured that I was on my own for recon, but eventually I ended up asking my friend Tony and he agreed to help out, so I will have a sidekick for recon after all.

So, will recon be snowy this time? Most likely.
Anyway, I got an idea the other day and the dam broke. Suddenly I had all kinds of ideas again. The thing was that the computer fought with me tooth and nail to get my ideas locked in. I took six hours of back and forth with this digital demon before I had it transcribed and locked in for research out in the field. It usually takes me half that amount of time. To say that I was frustrated is an understatement.

But that's behind me now. I have a route sketched out and all that is left is to get out there and verify it now. Sounds easy, but I know that one hitch in the route may cause a whole rerouting of a major part of this proposed route. That actually happened last year. I sure hope it goes smoothly, but you never know.

So, the initial count shows 338 and change for mileage. That's about right, but don't set that figure in your mind just yet. It could change slightly, or by a lot if the route requires a big change. I'm pretty confident that things will at least be close to spot on. We will see, and hopefully very soon!

While I cannot say much about the course so far, I can tell you that it has a lot of new stuff in it. You'd think by now I'd have run out of new options to use, but no. I even surprised myself. There will be the usual historical/cultural bits, if anyone is paying attention, they will see this. Much of what you might experience this time will be the first time for a Trans Iowa. There is  a brand new, never used before first checkpoint, and this route will be pretty dang amazing in my opinion.

So, stay tuned. I hope to be doing recon on this very soon.