Monday, March 19, 2018

Country Views: Geezer Ride Recon

Gravel track across the plains: It was a beautiful day to be on a bicycle.
I was hoping I could say, "What a difference a week makes", when I got back from my recon ride of the Geezer course Saturday. Last week it was a mushy, mucky mess. I took a day Wednesday to clean off the, what had become by then, cement, off my bike. It was a lot worse than I thought! I was sure hoping that by the time the weekend would come that things would clear up more.

And they mostly did. I decided to wait out the morning where we had seen a light coating of snow overnight and cooler temperatures for clear skies and warmer air in the afternoon. So, I didn't get out as soon as I wanted to so that I could cover the 40 mile course, but I decided that I would just have to push it and hope that the roads were clear and dry.

I started from the Prairie Grove Park car lot where we are to meet this coming Saturday. There was a light, Southeast wind and bright Sun. It was going to at least be comfortable and as pretty as "brown season" can be out there. On my way down the beginning stretches, I saw hundreds of Robins. No doubt more invaders looking to move North into Minnesota. Lots of Red Wing Blackbirds were now taking up posts on the fence rows and telephone polls, looking to establish their territories for breeding season and beyond.

Much to my relief the roads were dry, but there had been gravel laid down and it wasn't super fast. That is, until I turned on to Petrie Road and then to the South on Beck Road where I had been last week. The road was completely dry and the surface was fast! I noted the ruts I put into the road from my ride the week before. Not a particularly good memory there!

Spring is coming! A hint of green was noted in the field to the left here as I looked Southward into Tama County.
I took the course all the way South to Tama County and where we will get a reprieve from gravel for two miles going through Buckingham. Then I crossed Highway 63 and oh boy! That was a big surprise!

Want to work hard? Try pedaling over deep, chunky gravel laid over soft mud sometime!
See, we have this deal where the frost has to be drawn up out of the ground by the Sun's energy. When that happens on a gravel road it has the effect of "fluffing up" the road bed so it is like cookie dough. Either that or it makes goo out of the clay or black earth base. Talk about a situation where ruts can get out of control! Well, the County generally does a dump of big, chunky gravel until they know the frost is up to prevent the rutting issues. Try riding a bicycle over a patch like that and your legs won't be very happy with you. Oh! And you go very slow as well.

It was such a great day out. I could see for miles from some of the hill tops I ascended.
So I was on a time schedule. I had to get going! This slow, soft gravel was not good! I decided not to go any further West and just keep plodding through the worst gravel I'd ridden on since the week before. I took the next turn North and the road was a lot better, but still wet and gritty. I found out later that this area received a bit more snow and that might explain the wet gravel down there.

Eventually I felt that I needed a "nature break". It's harder when the crops are out and everything is wide open. It isn't hard to see that most of Iowa was actually part of the Great Plains at one time when it is "brown season". I finally came across an abandoned farmstead that was out of sight of any nearby farms and I stopped and did my business there without any issues. It was on top of a hill, and on this particular day, the view was spectacular. I could see for miles.

The bike may look cleaner than last week but the roads West of HWY 63 were messy.
The road going North was messy a lot of the way back. Soft, wet in spots, and even a touch of mud here and there. I was a bit surprised, but as I drew near to Hudson it seemed to clear up. I was off the proposed route at this point, but within a mile or two of the route all the way up until I peeled off Eastward on Griffith Road because I didn't want to go through Hudson as that would have slowed me down. I was pressed for time! I had to be back home before 7:00pm so my wife could go to a movie with my son and I was to hang out with my daughter.

As I flew down the final miles on Aker Road there was a complete calmness over the land. It was getting on toward Sunset, and I couldn't have had a much better ride. The country is just barely waking up from a Winter's slumber, and everything was still except the Western Meadowlarks which were flying about and whistling their distinctive call. In a way, although everything looked dead in the fields, it was a beautiful world to be in just then.

The ride was over, and I did make it home with plenty of time for my wife and son to get to their movie. Hopefully the Geezer Ride will have a similarly beautiful day and we will have even better roads.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Touring Series: Day Two: The Stonemason Of Petersen

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.

We rejoin the tale of the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour" with the beginning of Day Two that started out at the Old Barn campground on the Root River Trail.

Day two dawned cool and overcast. We had our first breakfast on the road: oatmeal. We decided to cover the Root River Trail north eastwards. We left around 7:30 am or so and hit the trail. The trail was overgrown above with trees and was made darker by their shadows. The sumac was already turning red and the hint of fall was seen here and there in the woods as we sped on our way. Well, maybe that is too strong a word for our early morning travel. Troy complained of, "...legs that feel like lead." I should have been making that complaint, but I felt fine. Before I left I stretched out according to Steve's directions and had some ibuprofen.

Soon it became apparent that the next town would be further than I had hoped. The trail kept meandering around the feet of the tall hills. Rising slightly, then falling a little as we went. One of the guys called for a halt at a little bridge at the foot of a steep hill that we had been skirting. Here it was that Troy felt compelled to defile this most innocent of structures with his vile expectorations. I promptly admonished him to no avail, but much to the amusement of Steve, who snapped a photo of the event.

After remounting and cruising along a while longer, we finally came upon the first small town on our mornings journey, Lanesboro. It looked very quaint, with morning hustle and bustle in high gear. We had a good pace going and did not stop to investigate further, although the town looked worthy of it.

The road to the next town was not as long but more anticipated. Steve knew of a business owner there that ran a small pie and coffee shop. The thought of a little extra fare for the belly sounded excellent at that time. However, when we reached Whalan it was as if the town was deserted. We spent about a half an hour wondering what to do when it was decided to just leave a note and depart. We left without prospects for pie and coffee being fulfilled, but our appetites demanded something. At the next town of Petersen, a concerted effort to find something to satisfy our hunger was made.

This city was at least awake and operating, if at only a slow pace. There were a few shops open, so we poked around and found out what people in these parts had to offer. It seemed that junk food was the order of the day. We managed to find a few tidbits and parked ourselves along a brick wall on a side street. My Fig Newton munching was interrupted by the appearance of three elderly gentlemen making their way slowly towards us. One of the trio looked nigh unto ancient. A man of 80 or 90 years, no doubt. He was responsible for the trios slow approach, his feet barely coming off the ground as he shuffled along in his old leather "shit kickers".

We exchanged pleasant "hellos" when the old man stopped and gazed upon us. "Why aren't you boys lookin' fer girls?", he said shortly.

I replied with, "Well, we would, but we don't see any around here."

"They're all in the bathroom!", the old man snorted, as he motioned towards the building we were leaning against.

"Oh!, Ha ha!", was our general response, being polite and all.

"Do you guys know who you are talkin' to?", one of the younger, but still elderly gents says, as he propped up the older man from behind, guiding him to their car.

"No!", we all said in unison.

"He's an old stonemason!"

"Oh, really...That's uh...great, uh......"

They were getting in their car as we all sat dumbfounded by what we had just experienced. It must have been a generation gap, perhaps, but I'd wager that the "gap" was between their ears!

We left the strange people of Petersen to ponder why all their women were in the bathroom while "Stonemasons" were about on the streets, and we hit the trail once again. Suddenly we came out of the valley we had been wandering in all morning and out into the open. We ran a straight path on towards Rushford. 

This was one of my chief memories of this tour and a story I've told countless times ever since. The Stonemason of Petersen incident was so bizarre that it seems made up, but it really happened that way!

Next: To The Mighty Miss'

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Minus Ten Review - 11

Siren "Song" 29"er
Ten years ago this week on the blog I was talking about many varied subjects. First notable thing was commuting by bicycle. Gas was approaching $4.00/gallon and many folks were thinking commuting by bicycle was in the imminent future.

Well, we all know how that turned out! Istill cannot believe gas prices haven't been anywhere near that level now for almost a decade.

The other thing I was gabbing about was the planning for the next Big Wheeled Ballyhoo. I had gone up to Decorah, Iowa to meet with the trail group there to discuss ideas for the event. It was fun.......then. Several months later it was not so much fun, but that pivotal story will have to wait for later.

There was a lot of tubeless tire converting going on in advance of my trip to Texas to see my in laws and ride at Franklin Mountain State Park. This would be my second trip with bicycles to this area. I set up my first set of tires with the now famous "MG's Secret Sauce" tubeless goo and another wheelset with Stan's.

I also was taking the fetching Siren Song single speed soft tail mountain bike along for the ride. I was pretty stoked to try this rig and I was honored to once again ride a small builder's bike. But not all was well in the custom bike builder's world and at about this time Badger Cycles was imploding and since I had one of their bikes it was making me a target for some nasty comments. It is one of the reasons I put the bike away for many years, with only brief encounters with the outside world.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday News And Views

Uhhh......That Didn't Go Over Very Well!

The ultimately predictable responses to the news yesterday about Canyon's gravel bike were all focused on the goofy looking handle bar. There were memes, snarky remarks, outright disdain, and my favorite comment of all:

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”.

I didn't say much about it yesterday because I knew immediately that was all anybody else was going to talk about. Too bad, because even without the polarizing bar design I think Canyon missed the mark on a few points. But you probably read yesterday's post, no need to get into all of that again.

I did want to say that I got a comment about what I thought "old road bike geometry" did right. I referenced that yesterday with my 29"er geo remarks, but I wanted to expand a bit here.

First things first- Much of what was done then was exaggerated to accommodate the shortcomings in materials technology, so when I reference "old road bike geometry", I don't mean that I think we need to do it exactly that way today. Actually, what I do think is that a less extreme take on that would be best today. At any rate, the purpose that geometry serves is to introduce the opportunity to design a fork that has fore and aft flex, with the longer offset helping to get the wheel out from under the rider a tad, which is also promoted by the slightly slacker head angle. We're talking something like what I advised Raleigh to do with the Tamland. The original, steel fork version. That head angle was 71.5°, but originally I was thinking 71.0° or 70.5° at the extreme with a 50mm plus long offset. I didn't tell Raleigh to do that in 2012 because I felt it was too radical. But that's what I would do today and it reflects how old road bikes were done pre-WWII. And interestingly, at 9:00am this morning a bike will be introduced by Salsa Cycles that fits some of that criteria. (I have a story on about that introduction which posts after 9:00amCST.)

New Teravail Cannonball 42mm tires. Courtesy of QBP for the Geezer Ride.
They Made Them Better:

If you've been around here a while you know that I had a dim view of the Teravail Cannonball and Sparwood tires which I tried a couple years back. They were sluggish, heavy, and dead feeling.

I gave the Cannonball tires away for a sixer of beer and the Sparwoods came off last year and likely will never get put back on anything at this point. I just have too many better choices to use.

Then I saw the QBP rep the other day and he showed us at the shop what is up with Teravail. They have revamped the quality of all their tires, plus they are adding some new items, which I don't think I can talk about just yet. Anyway, Teravail has definitely made a change. I handled a Sparwood in the Light casing version which felt completely different than the Sparwoods I have. Plus the Sparwoods will be coming out with a cool, "skinwall" look, but don't think the traditional "tan" skinwall. It is a unique looking tire, but very cool looking as well.

The rep also handed off the pictured Cannonball 42's which are the "protection" models and these are for giving away at the upcoming Geezer Ride next weekend. I haven't decided just yet how that will work, but these were a spur of the moment sponsorship from Teravail to support the ride. Teravail will be making a big push this season, so keep an eye out for that.

The new hard case type Silca Premio seat bag with Boa attachment.
Hard Case:

Silca is at it again with a hard case style seat pack but this one attaches with a Boa type closure. That's interesting, and maybe unnecessary. I mean, it is one way to do it, and it looks clean and all, but lots of bag makers have tried things like this and have used clips which clamp on to your seat rails and that seems to work well. But I get it- the Boa thing doesn't need a clip which stays on the saddle when you move the bag, and you don't need extra clips.

But besides that, I really do not like how it opens. I know me, and if I had this bag, I would have all manner of things stuffed into it which would promptly fall out when I opened it up. Maybe minimalist, very organized folks would dig it. Not me!

My all time favorite seat pack is still the Topeak Aero Wedge Pack I actually used one so much in terrible conditions I wore it out. But I have another and it is doing fine. I can perfectly pack a good tool kit, open the bag without dumping anything out, and as I say, the thing takes a ton of abuse well. It is about half the price of the fancy Silca one and does a better job, in my opinion. Of course, I haven't actually used a Silca pack, so that may be seen as being unfair, but for twice the price I don't see twice the benefits or a huge increase in design features here.

Twin Six Rando XC....... Nice!
 Another New Bike Intro:

Sometime this morning Twin Six will also be releasing details on the evolved Standard Rando design called the "Rando XC". I am betting it is wide tire capable and Boosted..... We will see.

Sigh..... So many bikes, so little time!

Okay, that's it for this week. Have a great weekend and get some miles of smiles in!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Canyon Grail Gravel Bike: My Take

Canyon range topping Grail 8.0 Image courtesy of Canyon
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Canyon Bikes is a German outfit that is a "disrupter" in the bicycling marketplace. They are a very well engineered and produced bicycles sold 'consumer direct", meaning- this won't be sold through a local bike shop. I don't mind their business model, so I've no axe to grind there, but that is a huge part of Canyon's DNA and something that needs to be thought of whenever you see their bicycles. In some ways, the "checks and balances" that a traditional retail model brings to design choices is not present with Canyon. That can be a good thing or a bad thing.

That said, here is my take on Canyon's gravel bike, the "Grail". Besides the obvious religious reference the name brings up, it also conjures up the thought of earnest pursuit and desire. An interesting moniker for such a bike. Unless Canyon thinks this is the "holy grail of gravel bikes", in which case I'm going to strongly disagree. I'll get to that later......

Of course, the bike is carbon fiber, a fact barely mentioned by most media coverage of the bike so far. I looked at a few reports, but this one from Cyclingtips is the best, most detailed I've found yet. Then again, with the oddball "Hover" handle bar/stem system, one might be forgiven for focusing on other fare here. Yes, that's an innovative take on vibration management. is also proprietary. That can be good or bad. A few media folks have already stated their misgivings on the design, which may reflect deeper negativity towards the design, since when your host flies you out to a swank media camp for the unveiling, it isn't easy to be harsh on the product. At any rate, early commentary by others is interesting in that it doesn't go all in for the Hover system.

A look at how the Hover bar geometry works in relationship to traditional set ups. Image courtesy of Canyon
I won't get into details about the design. Go read the Cyclingtips article, but the bottom line here is either it fits you, you like it, and you won't ever want to change, or it is a big ask from Canyon to have folks compromise on fitting and ergonomics. I'm betting on the latter, but I still tip my hat to Canyon for trying something different. Beyond the striking, shocking design, here is my take on the Hover Bar system, and that will lead into why I feel Canyon missed the boat on the geometry here.

First off, they tell us that the Hover Bar is most comfortable when you ride on the hoods or even more so with your hands nearer to the stem. This is very traditional roadie positioning for rougher sections of riding in road races. Okay, fine, but.......those sections typically don't last a long time. Obviously, if road races were chock full of sections so rough that riders needed to use this position to survive them, and sit upright, not being very aero, then we would see a sea change in design to allow for more aero positioning in the drops. In fact, that's how road racing was pre-World War II. Front end design was extremely different then as compared to today.

In gravel racing, the "rough sections" are often times the entire course. Then we throw winds into the equation. If you are thinking about racing and sitting upright to make the bars work their best on this Canyon you won't be cheating the wind like the other riders around you. Even having to sit on the hoods all day isn't optimal, so Canyon's claims of great compliance may be true, but not entirely practical.

Secondly, this also leads to Canyon's choice of traditional road geometry in the front end. Weight off the bars and on your butt allows for the use of a steeper head angle with a shorter offset fork, which according to the numbers posted in the Cylingtips article, I think they are using here. That's fine until you weight the bars and the front wheel gets planted. The steep head angle (stated at 72.5°) with the short offset will make impacts want to "tuck the fork under" the rider. This was what was wrong with 29"er geometry in the beginning. Designers wanted a quicker feeling front end for 29"ers so they steepened the head angles and used the shorter offsets to achieve that. They were successful, but when used in practice it was a horribly unstable, harsh, crash prone way to get better handling due to the way forks would want to bend backward under impact, effectively making the trail figure less and therefore more unstable.

This problem was solved by using longer offsets with slacker head angles, putting the fork more in line with impacts and ridding the bikes of the mechanical trail issues while riding. This is exactly what is going on with the Canyon bike. They are effectively doing the "29"er v1" geometry mistake for a bike that is meant to be ridden in rougher terrain. The trail figure they reached is fine, but just like early 29"ers, when the rider is in the drops and fighting rough, gravelly roads in a headwind, this bike won't handle as well as a bike with a slacker head angle and longer offset with similar trail figures. Having that front wheel "out there", floating above the gravel instead of digging in is also a factor to consider here.

Otherwise I like the deep bottom bracket drop and chain stay length looks fine. The tire clearances aren't optimal, but if this is a racing bike then......fine. If it is a do everything-go anywhere at anytime bike, well then they screwed up here. You decide what they mean by limiting tire/mud clearances.

Bottom line- A striking bike that will have its fans but misses on a few key points in my opinion.

A Couple Questions Answered

From time to time I get asked questions that deserve answers in a different way than I normally answer them. Usually I just respond directly in the comment section here, or if I get the question via e-mail, by that mode. However; every so often a question, or in this case- two questions, get asked that I feel are questions many of you may have. A direct answer would obviously immediately satisfy the asker, but what about everyone else that I feel may be sitting there wondering similar thoughts, but never take the time to actually ask? Well, this post is for those folks. (Hopefully I am right and you folks are actually wondering about these things!)

A fancy-pants tool roll. You don't really need anything this esoteric.
Tools For Gravel Travel:

In my post Monday I mentioned that I was happy that I had the proper tools to keep me going that day through the mucky-muck. Someone in the comments asked what sort of tools are those? So, I am going to put out what I feel is a good set of things for a solo gravel rider to have on board in case of emergency.

Of course, you can probably guess a few items straight away- tube, tire lever, spare chain links, etc. However; I often augment my kit with a few things that go beyond the basics, but for the list, I will include everything. Sometimes I actually will add and subtract items depending on where and how far I am riding. For instance, I'll carry a much more extensive kit for a foray into the Flint Hills of Kansas alone than I would for a local 20 mile ride. That said, I'll indicate the "extras" I consider here (With an asterisk) and the reason why I will should now be understood. And finally- this is my version of things. You may not agree, or you may actually carry completely different stuff than I would.

The List Of Tools For Gravel Travel:
  • A Bag: Gotta have somewhere to put the kit! This could be a seat bag, a frame bag, a top tube mounted "gas tank" style bag, or a handle bar bag or front rack bag. I use all of the aforementioned types on different bikes. 
  • Spare tube: The appropriate sized spare tube (700c or 650B or...?), with the correct valve stem length for the wheels. NEVER carry a tube without protection from a box or individual wrap of some sort. I use an old sock or handkerchief/bandana for this. If you let a tube rub on the bag on your bike or against other items in the bag unprotected you could damage the tube to the point it will have failed before you need it. That won't do anyone any good!
  • Tire Lever: I like Pedros latest, but there are a lot of good ones now. You only really should need one, but they usually nest together, so two isn't a bad choice here.  Bonus Use: Mud scraper.
  • Patch Kit*: Remo Patch kit only for me. 
  • Multi-Tool: There are a lot of good ones. Minimalist tools are......usually hard to use. Sometimes I will substitute in "real tools" like individual Hex keys, Torx keys, chain breakers, or the like. The weight is no big deal, unless you are doing Tour Divide or suffer from  "weight-weenie-ism" It's a thing!
  • Inflation Device: Sorry folks! I am not a fan of CO2 carts. (Although I've been known to have them and have used them) I'd rather use a good mini-pump with an extendable hose, thread on attachment or good quality lever lock, a BIG barrel to push a LOT of  air, (I don't normally ride anything that needs more than 50psi) and one that is built from metal, not plastic.  Best pump: Frame pump! Bonus Use: (Frame pump only) Warding off dogs.
  • Chain: Quick links AND bits of chain links is what I generally carry. I've seen chains get twisted where you would have to remove a couple links. Best not to run a too-short chain due to the possibility of shearing off your rear derailleur if you inadvertantly shift to the "big-big" combo. You may say, "Yeah, but I'd never use that combination.". I reply- famous last words! 
  • Mud Scraper: I have metal mud scrapers fashioned from barbecue skewers, one made from a plastic spatula, and the aforementioned plastic tire lever which can work in a pinch or tight spot. 
  • Derailleur Cable*: Only taken on long solo rides.
  • Pliers*: Sometimes as part of a multi-tool, sometimes separate mini-pliers. Used for cable tensioning/cable replacement, tubeless valve nut removal, and for holding a nut in a pinch. (Sorry about the pun!)
  • First Aid Kit*: Should be obvious. This can include lip balm and suntan lotion. 
  • Chain Lube: I didn't indicate this as an "extra" as I have it along for most rides and have used it often enough that it stays on the short list here. 
  • Tubeless Sealant*: An extra I carry only in remote areas on really long rides. 
I could go on, probably, but this post is getting out of control already, so...... On to the next question!

What could this mean?
Trans Iowa v14 Logo/Header Art:

I also got a question about what the background/meaning could be in regard to the Trans Iowa art for v14. Well........there is a story here. 

Trans Iowa riders have for years accused me of routing the course in such a way that it will pass by every available rural cemetery I can find.  Of course, old timers will also remember V3's ending at a cemetery and V5's starting at one. I also had V12 run through a cemetery just before the finish line.

While the three examples concerning starts and finishes for Trans Iowa were intentional, I can assure you that any rural cemetery Trans Iowa goes by is completely random and unintentional. There really are just that many of them out there. In fact, my longtime recon companion, Jeremy Fry, used to keep a tally of the number of cemeteries along each route we would explore. 

Can you see any resemblance?
 Then I also have been keeping a tally of cemeteries I ride past on gravel rides. I will take an image of my bike under the gate, if any, and generally speaking, these gates have names of the cemetery on them so I can recall where it was I found them.

These gates have a certain style and flair all their own. Generally made up of tubing and twisted flat stock metal, the ironwork is sometimes pretty incredible. This example seen here above of the St. Francis Cemetery gate East of Waterloo is a great example of what I mean.

So, I figured why not celebrate that style and the legend that I route Trans Iowa by cemeteries on purpose with a stylized "gate" based on the iconography not only of cemeteries in the rural Mid-West, but of my last several Trans Iowa artworks. (Note the "wings"?) There is also a different story with the "cross" in the center. That is something entirely different in its origin.

That pays a kind of homage to Jeff Kerkove's first Trans Iowa logo he designed in 2004. Jeff had a weird, "L" kind of "crooked cross" thing going on there in each corner. If you look at the original logo here, you can see how I pulled the image in the center of this year's logo from the upper left corner of Jeff's design.So that had a different influence than the rest of this year's artwork, but I felt it all worked together well.

Hopefully that satisfies y'all out there. I could add more but that should suffice for the time being. That said, you are always welcome to ask questions in the comments or to e-mail me questions anytime.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Geezer Ride Update

It may not even be this green for the Geezer Ride!
Geezer Ride 2018 Update:

Today is final recon for this year's Spring Geezer Ride on Saturday, March 24th, at 8:30am at Prairie Grove Park on Shaulis Rd .

I expect to do a route of approximately 40 miles and the way things are going, I may not have a Level B in there, but maybe I will..... Hard to say. Last week it was still covered in snow, so it takes a while to unfreeze those things and thaw them out.

Once again, the Geezer Ride is for anyone "gravel curious", beginning to explore the idea of riding on gravel roads, or for anyone wanting to join in a casual paced gravel group ride. Things will go slowly since we will regroup often, so no rider will get left behind. The route won't be particularly tough by gravel standards, but there will be some significant rollers to deal with, so be prepared to do a bit of climbing.

The end of the route will pass through Hudson, Iowa where we can decide on what to do in as far as stopping for drinks, eating, or departing for the cars.

Weather should be cool, so bring a wind jacket, tights, light gloves, and wear appropriate eyewear for the day. It may shower on us, but this ride is happening unless it is an outright downpour the day of. Roads should be clear and hopefully still in "Winter state" which would mean some fast riding conditions. But we could just as well be riding on the first fresh gravel of the season too. So bring puffy tires and use less air pressure.

Finally, I am going to post a Facebook event page for the ride today. UPDATED: Here is the link to the event page on Facebook. Also- I will have a set of 700c X 42 Teravail Cannonball Tires to give away to the lucky person who shows the most grit and determination on this ride, judged by Guitar Ted.

Stay tuned for more info soon.......

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Relax! It's Just A Dog!

It took a while, but the confrontation with these two farm dogs in Kansas was successfully diffused....and I lived!
Ask any gravel rider what their biggest fear about riding in the country is and a large percentage of them will say it is dogs. The fear of dogs is not unfounded, I know several people that have been bitten, terrorized, or otherwise taught to greatly fear dogs, so that what I am about to write here doesn't minimize those feelings. That said, 99% of the time dogs are really no big deal out in the country. They are probably less likely to harm you than a car or truck, really, and if you do some simple things, your next encounter with a farm mutt could be just another facet of your adventure.

I've ridden thousands of miles of gravel in many states and I have had encounters with dogs from all over. So, I feel that I have enough knowledge of the subject that I can pass along a few tidbits that probably will come in handy for many people.

Now before I go any further, yes- I have had some really mean, nasty dog encounters. I've been cornered on a hilltop at night by an Australian Shepherd in Benton County, I've been nearly bitten by a large, black mutt in Bremer County, and I had the encounter, pictured to the left here, in Kansas last year- a Great Pyrenees and a shepherd of unknown lineage gave me no quarter. However; I can also say that I've never been bitten either. Nipped at- yes. Never bitten.

A dog giving chase at the Renegade Gent's Race
So, anyway, here are a few things you can do that will definitely help diffuse your next encounter in the country with a dog.

Don't Ride Alone: I've found many dogs, not all mind you, but many, will not give chase if there is a group of people. They will bark, come out on the road, but they aren't usually going to come after you if you are "in the herd". Generally the dog will stop at the end of its perceived territory and that will be that. But there are the occasional mutts that think the group is for play time, and the dog may follow you or even frolic around within your group. This kind of dog usually means no harm, but they are no less dangerous. They can easily cause a crash. Generally by stopping and giving a strong "Go Home!" command you can rid yourself of the unwanted companion. Or not. I've had dogs follow for miles, just happy to run. Oh well..........

Don't Be Afraid: Outwardly showing fear just seems to egg mutts onward as if they can sense that their "prey" is "on the run". Dogs are instinctual. Don't act like prey animals! Showing fear isn't helpful to your situation, at any rate. It clouds thinking and your amped up voice will, in the very least, only excite the mutt further. Be assertive, but don't be afraid. (At least until afterward!)

When You Are Alone: I often ride alone, so dogs are a bit bolder when it comes to single targets. I ALWAYS scan farm yards I am approaching for movement. Dogs will try to cut you off at an angle of pursuit that intersects with your direction of travel that matches up with their speed. Go faster, you can disrupt that angle in your favor, but keep in mind- dogs are fast. Bigger dogs are faster! I've had to go at speeds of upwards of 25mph to ditch medium sized mutts. A big dog like a German Shepherd or a Pinscher can easily go faster than that for short bursts. Smaller dogs with shorter legs can even go pretty fast, so gauge your reserves and situation accordingly. Downhill with a tailwind? Outrun that dog. It's fun! I call it "Dog Sprinting". But what if you cannot outrun that mutt?

Short legged dogs like this Corgi are easy to outrun, but watch out! They can still cause you to crash!
When Out Running A Dog Is Not An Option: Sometimes you are working a head wind, going up hill, after 40 tough miles, and a mutt charges you. You are not going to outrun this dog. What then?

I don't allow the dog the chance to intersect me in his line of pursuit. I stop immediately, get off my bike, and put the bike between myself and the charging dog. Probably 90% of the time that is all it takes. Here's an example that happened just last weekend on Aker Road.

I got off my bike and this big, probably 70lb-80lb dog was barking, running back and forth up along its property line, and would have pursued me had I tried out running it. I spoke kindly to it until I felt I could walk along the far side of the road. All the while I spoke to it. He came out on the road way once, but that was early on. The more I spoke to it the less amped the dog was. I felt I was going to be able to walk past its territory easily until the owner heard all the commotion, called the dog, and the dog ran back to the house. By that time I was nearly home free anyway.

Now there are the other 10% of cases. The Kansas duo, above, took me about 20 minutes to "talk down off the edge" before I could remount. In fact, the image I took shows them wandering back to the house, having decided I wasn't a threat.

Sometimes you will get the dog calmed down, it will look good, then the owner yells and the dog figures they now must protect their person at all costs. Back to square one! In those cases, I have had to stand there till the owner came right out on the road to get the dog. I've run across hundreds of dogs, and I think this has happened three times.

There was that one time I was chased by cats. Really!
Alternative Actions: Of course, I'm not the only one that has had dog encounters out on gravel roads. There are a few things I've heard about and seen that also will get you out of a pickle with a farm dog.

One is "The Command". I've seen a few folks use this to great effect. A stern, loud, "Go Home!", or "No!" can dissuade a dog and send them back to the house.

I've heard that tossing a dog a treat can also get a dog to calm down, although you may end up with a traveling companion for several miles! This tactic was put to good effect at Trans Iowa one year by Sarah Cooper, the well known ultra-distance cyclist.

You could also employ the ever popular "squirt the water bottle in the face" technique, although I've never seen that done or heard that it actually was effective. 

Finally, while it may seem really weird, I have disoriented dogs by actually barking back at them. Admittedly, I've been told that I have a rather convincing bark. So, that may not be a good alternative for everyone!

Got any good tactics for dealing with farm dogs? Tell me in the comments!