Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Gravel Worlds 2017: Nebraska's 14'ers

Josh Lederman riding single speed. He would go on to finish.
One note before I get on with the story. In the scrum at the start, I thought I set my Lezyne Super GPS to record, but I must have not hit the button good enough, because about seven miles out I looked down and the dang thing wasn't recording any distance. "0.00" it read. BAH! The thing is, a wired or wireless computer records without any input but the wheel turning. WHY can't we figure it out on the GPS side folks? I mean, record all the damn things and let me decide later what to keep, instead of making me start a recording and then asking me later if I want to keep it. Ya know? Sheesh! How hard does this have to be?

So, I hatched a plan while riding. I determined approximately where ten miles would fall on course and hit the damn record button as I passed the spot. I was really close to being right, like two tenths off. So I did well to get it so I only had to add ten to whatever my read out was. But that still ticks me off. GPS computers are still a step backward in user interface compared to an old styled computer.

Okay, rant mode off. 

Checkpoints are always kind of interesting at these longer gravel events. Valparaiso was no different, but it wasn't really a checkpoint. It was a third of the way in and the first opportunity to resupply, so almost everyone was stopping. I saw a lot of folks there. The local Boy Scout Troop was selling water and eats outside, which was nice and convenient. A "den mother" and a small boy politely asked me if I needed anything and I had them fill my water up. They were very helpful.

Meanwhile I had found Tony who had been up ahead of me most of the ride so far. I had caught him coming in to Valparaiso, but he made it there ahead of me. I saw Janna Vavre, the first women finisher of a Trans Iowa, and she high fived me. I told her my toes were frozen, (and they really were!), but she scoffed and said it wasn't that cold! 

I ate and used the restroom and we were off in search of Nebraska's 14"ers. Not 14,000 footers, but 1,400 footers! There would be plenty and a few higher coming our way in the next section of the course.

A pretty smooth and fast MMR just after leaving Valparaiso gave us a taste of dirt.
 
Part of my way to get up climbs faster and without focusing on my misery is to watch the altimeter function on my Lezyne and try to guess how high it will end up reading. I saw several 1400 plus readings after Valparaiso, and the spectacular views affirmed that we were indeed up pretty high. Pro Tip: If you climb a hill and see a communication tower or water tower on the top, you can bet that elevation is some of the highest around.

We came across Josh Lederman, a sponsor and friend to Trans Iowa over the years, and he was toiling away on a single speed with some really skinny tires that he wasn't real impressed with. Still, he did get a finish, so it couldn't have been too bad! Josh was riding strong and we didn't easily leave him behind.

You could see a looooong ways from up there! The perfect conditions only enhanced the view.
I kept seeing the elevation creep up. The highest I observed while riding was 1452 feet, but after analyzing my data afterward I saw that 1551 feet was the max. You know, Iowa's highest point is only about 100 foot higher! So, it was fun hunting Nebraska's 14"ers on the Gravel Worlds course. It kept my mind off things and we were cruising fast! This course was tough, but with little wind, it wasn't as hard as it could have been, and it wasn't super hot. Not yet...... That would come later! 

Not sure what the purpose of this building is/was, but it said "District 73" on the sign. I believe it did, anyway!
 
A farmer making wind rows the old fashioned way just North of Malcom.
The big hills wouldn't last though, and we were heading down a bit towards Malcom. That quaint little village that is my friend, MG's, home town and the place where the Malcom General Store is. I was looking forward to eating more and getting a Coke here. Back in Valparaiso I bought a sack of gummy bears to keep me alert when the sleepies hit me, and two at a time when I needed them was working well for me. The Coke I was hoping would be a shot in the arm to keep me awake as well.

While not a checkpoint, Malcom was a busy place while we were there.
We parked ourselves across from the General Store by the Post Office, and we munched food and took a well deserved rest. Dan Buettner was there and chatted for a bit. He has a great looking Rohloff equipped Soulcraft in red that is just a sweet ride. Anyway, we hung out for a bit and then headed out for the short-ish ride to get to the first "real" checkpoint, The Reinkordt Farm. It was getting warmer out by now, and I was feeling the effort, but still doing well. Getting to the farm shouldn't be too tough, I thought.......

Next: The Nut Gets Turned

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gravel Worlds 2017: Beautiful Sunrise

Riders gathering at the start.
The weather for Gravel Worlds was about what I would have expected- Humid, hot, and not a cloud in the sky. The one thing that was missing for much of the day was wind, but it did not stay away all day. I was prepared to be calm, structured, and resolute in my approach to this event. Despite all the concerns I have in terms of dealing with the heat, I felt I was going to do okay. Oddly enough, it was cool and clammy at the start. That suited me just fine.

We got up at 4:00am only to find out that the hotel's breakfast for the riders didn't start until 4:30am. That seems like it is cutting things close, but at least they had the basics for food and I got a decent breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and a little bacon. A cup of coffee topped it all off and I was hoping to have a "morning constitutional", but it never happened. Bad sign number one right there......

So we piled in to Tony's truck, which we drove to the start and parked in the "VIP" lot, thanks to the kindness of Cornbread who helped check us in the night before. That meant we were a very short bike ride from the start. The parking lot was jammed with vehicles of the "Bike Nerd Tribe". You can easily spy these tribal members by the folding bike rack, or on occasion, the roof rack. The vehicle also must have bicycle company related stickers and/or event stickers on the back. True dedication to the sport of cycling is shown by such vehicular manifestations. (I joke, of course, but check it out sometime. Many of us do drive cars like this!)

Tony attends to final details just prior to the start of Gravel Worlds. He went on to have a nice finish.
So anticipation grew as the time drew nearer to 6:00am, the "official" starting time. Either Schmidty was using a winder watch which was slow or Cornbread was just too busy chattering over the loud speaker, I don't know, but 6:00am came and went. We finally heard a faint "beep beep beep" of some car. Off we went at a couple minutes past. Not a big deal from my standpoint, although I will say I missed the big blue Ford truck rumbling away in front of us.

It's never really totally dark at the start, if the sky is clear, at Gravel Worlds. This year the sky was clear as could be.
The start was calmer than some I've experienced here and after the few roundabouts and paved roads we were off on to the gravel. The course headed mostly North and East to start out with. The gravel wasn't as washed out and deep as I remembered it to be two years ago when we left in a similar fashion to this year. I wasn't swanning around and neither were the riders around me. Another surprise was how quickly the field strung out. I don't remember being passed by a lot of folks like last year nor passing a ton of folks as I did two years ago. Calm. Nice. Not too nervous. It was a good start.

A spectacular Sunrise greeted the riders of Gravel Worlds.
The hills weren't bad here, but it was rolling countryside. The hill tops afforded fantastic views of foggy valleys and the encroaching pinks and oranges promised to give all those up early enough to notice a spectacular Sunrise. I suppose about half the field was snapping away with digital devices out there, and I do not blame them one bit. It was a great morning to be a cyclist and be alive. So, pardon me the indulgence, but I took not a few images during this part of the ride!

I processed this in Photoscape to allow you to see the condition of the gravel. Note the washboard.
So, I have a few more of these Sunrise time frame images, but those should give you an idea of what it was like. Beautiful with a capital "B". No wind. It was cool. Just perfect riding conditions. The one thing I think shows up really well in the last image above is the way that the gravel is around Lincoln, Nebraska.

It is sandier gravel. There is a hardpack base, which when exposed looks like an aggregate that you sometimes see in concrete or blacktop roads. It was harder, but it wasn't always "there". Most of the time it was like riding on coarse sand/dirt with a lot of "ripples" or washboard, as we call it in the Mid-West. Get into that washboard and your bicycle starts bucking and pitching you into an uncontrollable mess. Not to mention the jarring sensations to every part of your body. Out of the washboard was generally deeper, looser sand/gravel which would suck the life out of your legs and cause your bike to wash out. Much of the course was like the image above.

Barns for Jason- Gravel Worlds Version
I ended up riding with a few people here in this section. A nice young woman from Chicago who was a native Washingtonian. It was her first go at a gravel event. I also had the honor of riding a bit with Lee Buel from Des Moines. It was a great section and I felt very good through this first part of Gravel Worlds.

I was a bit amused by a section where the County had closed the road, (but the signs were pushed aside. For us?), and there was a load of what the Nebraskans were calling "white rock", or in Iowan's reckoning, "just plain gravel". It is vastly different than Nebraska gravel though and this short patch, which was about four inches deep in fresh gravel, had folks dismounting to walk through it. I rode right on by. Of course, I knew how my bike would handle it and I knew I could do that.

Then the hills rolled on, we went Eastward a fair bit, and the elevation gain was piling up. My altimeter was grinding upwards toward 1350 feet many times through here. I know you mountain folks scoff, but Gravel Worlds had 11.000 feet of elevation gain, so it ain't no joke. Nebraska is definitely not flat!

Valparaiso Nebraska at about 50 miles in.
 Soon I crested a big hill and then came the fast descent into Valparaiso, Nebraska. This was about one third of the way in to the course and my first stop of the day. Only about a 100-ish miles to go!

Next: Nebraska's 14'ers.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Gravel Worlds 2017: Wacky Lodgings

Gear pile ready to load out and go.
Well, I had a plan, but it fell apart in the end. How did I get there? Well, first of all, I had to get there. You know, to Lincoln, Nebraska to ride in Gravel Worlds.

My friend Tony and I had planned on going to this for months. I had tweaked and trained and tried to refine my ideas for this year's ride. I felt really confident in how it was all going to result in a finish again at the Fallbrook area of North Lincoln.

I decided to take the Tamland. Last year I had been dealing with a damaged rotator cuff injury incurred when I body slammed myself on a slick patch of ice. Pretty much the only thing I could stand riding for hours was my Fargo Gen I with the discontinued Luxy Bar. But this year the shoulder has shown a lot of improvement and riding a different, lighter bike was a real possibility. I got some Ritchey Venturemax bars to try out so I decided to use them. The bike was also kitted out with the Redshift Sports ShockStop Stem and Cirrus Cycles Body Float titanium post. Besides that I had the Gevenalle HYDRAULIC system which utilizes the hydraulic brakes by TRP. The bike rode like a Cadillac, worked perfectly, and oh by the way, I used the WTB Resolute tires which were perfect. So, my rig was dialed. You'll hear more about that as the report goes along. Also- my shoulder did not bother me one iota. Bonus!

Anyway, the host hotel for Gravel Worlds changed hands over the course of the last year. It had been a Holiday Inn, but it was now called "The Graduate". I thought the Holiday Inn was more than adequate for our needs, so this change was met with some skepticism by myself. However; I was not prepared for what we found when we walked into the lobby and when we saw the room. It wasn't worse, it may have been better, but it was certainly weird. 

It was supposedly a take on college dormitory life but it came off as a Vegas stunt.
 Now, you'll have to forgive me this indulgence in to a description of a motel, but this was so odd, it bears a paragraph or two. First I will admit to not being all that well traveled. That said, I've stayed in many motel/hotel rooms in my day and I have been to Las Vegas numerous times. So, with that said.....

Motels and hotels are usually somewhat similar. There are basic, no frills places all the way up to the hoity-toity joints with saunas and what not. I've seen all that plus the crazy theme motel/hotel stuff in Vegas. The Graduate is a college life/dormitory based theme motel, which, on the surface of it, makes sense since it is within sight of the University of Nebraska's stadium. I'm sure Husker football weekends pack the place out. But college buildings and dormitories would never pass for a hotel experience. Those of you that have been to college know that.

So, the place was trying to be a kitschy, campy take on college life with upscale amenities. It was extremely well done. No detail was too fine for the remodel. Tony and I were constantly amazed by the details which ranged from relic'ed doors, mirrors, and picture frames which looked as though they might have been dinged, handled, and worn over 60 years of use. Heck, even the lobby's brick walls were painted white with faux chips and flaking! Anyway, it ain't cheap to stay there but the staff was exemplary and the experience is like going to a Vegas theme hotel without the Vegas part.

A Cosmic Stallion in the flesh!
Once we had everything settled in at the hotel we scurried off to Cycle Works to get checked in and join in on the "gravel family reunion" and cycle expo which always takes place there. Once again, I saw so many people that I really like and don't get to see often enough. Warren Wiebe gave me an Iowa atlas to enable my future route findings and that was well appreciated. I got a great hug from Matt Wills, saw MG, and even met some folks again from years ago that I met at other events. Good times!

But all good times must come to an end and we needed to eat and then head for The Graduate to try to sleep a bit before the alarm went off at 4am. It was not a good night of sleep for me. I tossed and turned most of the night and basically only ended up getting a few hours of quality sleep. Oh well! I still felt confident of a finish despite a poor night's sleep.

Next: Beautiful Sunrise

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 33

Rich Dillen has a town named after him in the Cheese State? Who knew?
Ten years ago this week on the blog here I actually had images posted! Crazy. Anyway, one of the deals I got to go to back in the day was Trek World, the dealer only show Trek holds in Madison Wisconsin. Well.......except that it isn't a "show" anymore. And, not all dealers can go, plus the ones that can have to pay to get in. It isn't any big deal though, because you can learn all about Trek's newest bicycles online these days if you have a dealer portal. Still, it isn't the same as seeing the bikes with your own two eyes. That was special.

Plus, you got to meet people like Gary Fisher, the engineering team, product managers, and more. It gave a face to the company and you felt as though you were not working for some cybernetic, faceless corporation. Yes.....some dealers and international dealers do still get this treatment. They get to see the people and the bikes. It's pretty obvious that Trek doesn't see the US bicycle shop as being worth courting. In fact, they are buying up bike shops. But that's another story.....

In other news I talked about what was going on with my Special Projects. The two bicycles were the custom builds I had done in 2007. The Pofahl would be the first to get built but at this time ten years ago I was waiting on the fork to get corrected as it came to me with the rear disc mount instead of the correct front disc brake mount brazed on.

I got this swank Ergon rucksack to try out.
Jeff Kerkove was gone by this time and living in Colorado permanently, which he has been ever since that time. He arranged to have a new Ergon BD-2 sent out to me to try. It was an odd ball rucksack which had this solid plastic hip stabilizer and a ball joint which the pack actually hung from. The idea being that the rider could move without having to overcome the weight of the backpack to do so. The ball joint, or "Flink", as Ergon called it, allowed the pack to pivot on the back of the wearer.

It worked as advertised, but the rigid bits of the pack were.......annoying. The design also pushed the weight of the backpack and its contents away from the rider, which seems like a benefit at first. However; it meant that the weight of the pack and its contents had a more effective lever on your back and a heavy load seemed to be more of a burden than it should be since you were always countering that weight hanging off your back instead of having it closer to your body, which feels more natural. Anyway..... It was a neat pack.

Actually, I still have it. It's in a gear pile in the basement. It just seems like there is something about this which was a "parting gift" from Jeff, and I am a bit sentimental. So, I really should ditch it, but......anyway. 

I also was telling folks ten years ago that I was a confirmed member of "Team Stoopid". (Some say I always have been!) Team Stoopid was a four man endurance racing squad that tackled the 12 hour racing category at the Iowa 24 in 2007. All of us used rigid single speeds to race on, thus the name. It was the most fun racing I had ever had up to that point. But more on that in the near future.....

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday News And Views

This new gravel grinder that spans the Mitten will happen next May
Point To Point Madness:

There is something about a point to point gravel race/ride that appeals to people these days. It's weird. Think about this a minute.....

The idea to span a state seems to be the intriguing factor here. I doubt a point to point event from, say Sibley, Iowa to Mason City, Iowa would generate the interest that a border to border state crossing does.

Then there are the logistics. You cannot do something like this on your own, unless you ride back to get your car at the start. There is a level of teamwork involved in doing something along these lines. I remember when Trans Iowa started out the riders thought Jeff and I should have a bus to drive everyone that finished back to the start again. I wonder if the guys that put on The DAMn or that are putting on this "Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder" get e-mails with that subject in them. Anyway......

The days of yore were different. When the gravel grinding scene was getting cranked up over ten years ago, promoters were thinking border to border was a cool idea, but really bad for logistics and in reality, who cares? Border to border is an arbitrary thing anyway, but apparently, there is some cache' to doing things point to point, border to border, which appeals to the psyche of the gravel road rider.

I know I've had folks tell me they would never do a Trans Iowa unless I did one border to border across the state of Iowa. Really?!! I find that.......weird. Plus, if I did do one that way, it would be so hard to do logistically that no one would want to do it. There would be no checkpoints with teams waiting on riders, or even a course that anyone could know about to find the riders. Then you'd just have to go to the finish and wait on folks, to see if they did finish, or fetch them when they called in from a previously unknown point in Iowa. I don't think anyone wants to do that. Besides, it would suck about 150% more to put on than a loop course. You couldn't pay me to do that.....again. Not that I got paid for the first two, but you get the point

Anyway, who even says there would be another Trans Iowa? I haven't......and maybe I never will again. So, go race across Michigan. You'll love it. It is a way of life........

The gravel family reunion at Moose's Tooth/Cycle Works will happen again today. Image courtesy of unknown
Gravel Worlds: 

Well, today I am gone. I am traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska to be a part of Gravel Worlds for the third consecutive year now. It is a great event which, in my opinion, brings the best of all of the elements of the gravel culture together in one place. For one thing, it can be argued that the Lincoln scene was one of the earliest gravel grinding hot spots in the nation, predating Trans Iowa or most any of the gravel events you've ever heard about. The folks there get it, and it shows.

But it isn't just about riding, fun, and camaraderie. There is the serious competitive aspect of the event, for sure. The jersey idea may be tongue in cheek, but over the years, the Gravel Worlds jersey has come to mean something. Not just any ol' jack or jill gets one of these deals. That's why there are some heavy hitters racing this in 2017, and I bet you'll start to see more in the future.

That said, the good Pirates of the Cycling League do know how to keep it fun and keep it real. That's why so many folks return year after year to see each other and ride over hill and dale in the humid late August air there in Nebraska. That's why, since Odin's Revenge folded, this is my favorite gravel event that happens that is of the mold set when gravel riding and racing took off in 2005. It isn't my all time favorite event. No.....that would be the Gent's Race, but since that is a team event, and not like most others, Gravel Worlds is my favorite "typical" style gravel event. Anyway........

I'm there and if you are, look me up and say "hello'!

Otherwise, have a great weekend. I'll have an event report starting on Monday.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Couple Of New Things

This is a new book by gravel aficionado, Nick Legan.
First- A New Book:

Well, I've been waiting at least a couple of years, maybe it has been three? I don't know, but I've known about this book being written by Nick Legan for quite some time. The reason being is that Nick was leaning on me with several questions about the gravel cycling scene and I helped give him some answers/opinions about his queries.

So, now it is almost time for this book to be hitting the shelves at Velopress. However; in the meantime you can pre-order this book from Nick on his site, "Rambleur"

Note: I have no skin in this game other than that Nick may have written something about me or used information on things I told him about. So, order the book, or not. It doesn't affect me. That said, Nick Legan is a good writer, (he wrote for "Velo News" for several years among other freelance gigs). He is a good dude, I've met him a couple of times, and he has always been gracious and kind. He also loves gravel road riding and racing. I actually got to congratulate him after his 2016 Dirty Kanza 200 finish when he was riding his pink Black Mountain Cycles frame.

So, all that to say that Nick is the real deal and I expect this book to be pretty good. I actually ordered up a copy for myself already. I'll have a review of the book here and maybe on RidingGravel.com once I lay hands on it.

Jones Bikes SWB w/27.5+ rear and 27.5 based fat front
Second- A "New" Bike:

Jones Bikes- Love them or hate them, there isn't anything else really like them. I'll give Jeff Jones credit- He has evolved his design and continues to do so. It would seem that he never quits trying to push the design ideas he has forward. Not many can say that in an industry that trashes a design one year and jumps on another the next for their models.

This news isn't all that surprising, but Jeff Jones now has two basic design ideas which facilitate two different ways to approach the "Jones Geometry". The "Plus" bike was the longer, 29+ wheeled bike and then you had the original design with 29"er wheels. Well, it's a little more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea. Now the original was not "plus" rated, but going forward, it is. That bike gets a new moniker, the "SWB", which stands for "Short Wheel Base". It can handle 27.5+ and 29"er wheels and tires. The "Plus" model now will be known as the "LWB", or Long Wheel Base" model and will be the go to bike for 29+ and 29"er applications where a longer wheel base makes sense.

So, the old "Plus" model remains unchanged, it goes forward with just the name change. The SWB is; however, slightly different in that the wheel base was lengthened a bit to accommodate the 3" 27.5+ wheels it was intended to handle. Not by much, but that's the main difference. Here is a super-detailed look at the two models.

I've always been intrigued by the Jones Plus, or now the Jones LWB model because Jones claims that it"...is quite possibly the best bikepacking, gravel road, and general purpose bicycling bike ever made...". Best gravel bike? Hmm..... Well, I'd give that a shot. I do know that it looks as though Jeff Jones went to great extents to make a 29+ wheeled bike work well. That's really what I'd be interested in- a 29+ wheeled bike that works well. My experiment sure wasn't a very good experience, that's for sure!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pack Rat

It's not like I don't have enough places to put stuff!
Packing for Gravel Worlds has started up and I have to be careful. Careful not to go overboard and pack too much. I tend to overthink things when these big, self-supported events come up. "What if......" (Fill in the blank)

That can kind of drive you nuts, if you let it go on. I have to try to pare back things when I get going on packing up. I also tend to forget what I already packed and pack the same or a similar item again later. Like small bottles of lube, or multi-tools, or bits of chain. Things like that. I've come back from these events and unpacked three multi-tools out of bags I've had on the bike, and found several items that I've packed that I never even came close to having to use.

I know some people pack up, then unpack, to check over what they have done, and pack it again with deletions, and so on. The thing is, I have so much going on that packing for these events has to be fitted in to an already tight schedule. I have one shot at getting it right. Not an optimal way of doing it, I know, but it is what it is. When you throw in variable weather, this can be amplified, but fortunately, Gravel Worlds is just hot and humid. Makes it easy to figure out from that perspective! I cannot imagine what packing for a Trans Iowa must be like!

Then there is the finding of stuff. I have a terrible habit of just coming home, parking the bike, and letting everything sit for days, sometimes weeks, before getting around to de-bagging, unpacking, and cleaning up stuff. This means that in the meantime I might cherry pick out items from bags and maybe even just take bags off bikes and use the bike, then totally forget where stuff ended up. Then when it comes time to "get the band back together again" it is almost like the "Blues Brothers" when they try to find all their old band mates. It gets comical sometimes around here!

So, I'm doing that dance again this week. Hopefully I don't forget anything important!