Monday, December 18, 2017

Bikes Of 2017: Twin Six Standard Rando

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.

Another standard of 2017, (HA!), was the Twin Six rig, which sees duties as my 650B tire testing mule most of the time. I don't think I had a 700c wheel in this frame throughout 2017.

I also swapped in the Redshift Sports ShockStop stem this year from a review on RidingGravel.com. Boy, did that make a big difference. I had put a Salsa Cycles Cowchipper on the bike as well, which also helped a ton. My left shoulder was a big problem during 2016 and these modifications made a huge difference in totally relieving the pain I had which caused me to not ride this bike much at all during 2016. I also swapped out the SRAM Force 22 group, keeping only the crankset on the bike, for Shimano Ultegra 11. That also was a much liked change.

I feel like I gave SRAM a shot but it just isn't for me. The shifting was slower and clunky, plus I didn't get on with the levers and hoods at all. The Shimano is an improvement in almost every way. This goes only for myself here, but I cannot imagine any way that SRAM is better for a drop bar set up. Okay........maybe E-tap. Maybe.

Depending what happens with Black Mountain Cycles disc bike for next year, which I'd like to get, this bike may go on the sale page in some form or another. But we'll see.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Bonus News And Views

Hold the presses! It's 1992 again!
All City introduces the Electric Queen:

No- it isn't an e-bike.

No- it isn't a vacuum cleaner. (Although it could Hoover all the money out of your wallet in January when it becomes available.)

No- It isn't a 1992 Park-Pre hard tail. (Although it looks like it could be from that era.)

Nope- it is the ubiquitous slack, long, and short rear ended steel hard tail that everybody and their brother is making now. Welcome to the sheep show, All City. Get to know the dozen or so like minded designers and their bikes out there.

I will say that the fade paint with splatter is dead on early 90's though. All City nailed that one. Nicely done chaps!  

Salsas does kids bikes.....again.
 Salsa Introduces Kids Bikes Again:

Back in the day, (as they say), Ross Shafer of Salsa Cycles, who started the brand,  made a serious 24" wheeled kids bike. It flopped because it cost what an adult's bike cost, and ya know......kids grow like weeds. Get them a bike that fits today and two years from now they look like a circus bear on a bike. Parents don't like making high dollar short term recreational investments. At least not in this market which I am intimately familiar with in this Mid-Western town.

That's why I am not jumping for joy about $500.00 plus kid's bikes from Salsa Cycles. I mean, yeah.......for a few folks, this is rad. But for most parents I see coming in, this is going to be a non-starter. $250.00 Trek kids bikes are one thing, doubling the money? Yeah......I don't think that's going to fly here. 

Maybe where you live it will. I don't know.  

Velocity does now indeed have fat bike wheels.
 Velocity USA Fat Bike Wheels Confirmed:

If you are a regular reader of the blog you know that a while back I came across some Velocity fat bike hubs on an online retailer's site. There had been no word from Velocity about that and I found that really odd. Plus, I wondered if Velocity would be partnering with someone to do full wheel builds.

Well, Friday Velocity announced that it will be selling wheels and hubs for fat bikes now. Huzzah! 

The rim company they partnered with is HED and they are offering the carbon and aluminum rims in a Comp and Pro build along with just hubs if you want them. Head over to Velocity USA for all the details.

I may have to see if I can lighten up my Blackborow a bit with a set of these wheels and tubeless tires.

Minus Ten Review- 50

Ten years ago on the blog I was busy doing the "Rear View" for 2007. But I did do one post IO think maybe I should try again. "The Top Ten Weird Things of 2007".

Here's the list as it appeared in 2007. Some of the things are still relevant today, but some are dated. You can guess which is which. Here we go...

The Top Ten Weird Things of 2007

1. Las Vegas. If you haven't been there, it is hard to explain this. If you have- 'nuff said!

2. Driving around Iowa for 30 plus hours with a car full of alcohol during Trans Iowa V3.

4. The feelings experienced around hour 40 of no sleep just after T.I.V3

5. Watching a Luther College athlete "breathe fire" at a campground in Decorah during the Big Wheeled Ballyhoo, then ride trail all the next day while drinking said fire.

6. Mike Curiak's personal Lenz Lunchbox 29"er. By the numbers, and for the amount of travel this machine has, it should handle like a pig. The crazy thing is, it rides and handles better than some hard tail 29"ers out there.

7. How a certain individual was allowed to sell directly on mtbr.com (650B stuff) and another individual was blamed for doing this, (and wasn't) and got banned not once, but twice.

8. Somebody posted a thread on mtbr.com on the 29"er forum regarding his loss of feelings for his wife/marriage. While sad, (if not a hoax) it is very weird.

9. That we are getting the third ice storm in 2007 and we still have 20 days left to go in the year.

10. That I have the gig writing that I do and that people still enjoy reading my scribin' Now that's weird!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday News And Views

The lottery submission process ends Saturday night.
DK200 Lottery Entries Close Saturday Night And Thoughts:

The inaugural Dirty Kanza lottery process has its first stage close on Saturday evening when all submissions must be in. The next step will be for the selection process to begin. It isn't quite clear to me how that will work, but then again, it doesn't matter. It's their event and they can do whatever they deem right for them.

I know I will not be going down this coming year. My feeling is that some others are deciding against the event as well. Prices for entry seem to be the main reason I am seeing folks make the decision not to go. Granted, it is the DK200, but prices for this event are decidedly on the higher end of the scale when it comes to gravel events nationwide. Ultimately, the riders will vote with their dollars and the resulting economy will be the deciding factor here.

Some folks like to point to "gravel cycling" as the culprit. They like to say that the "movement" is getting "too big", or it is "selling out", or they blame whatever nefarious group or nebulous movement for the reason why this is happening. This "vague blaming" is easy to do. It's non-confrontational, easy to agree with, and doesn't require any real cognitive action on anyone's part. Basically it is worthless spouting of hot air. You want to know why these kinds of things like the situation at the DK200 are happening?

It's the people who willingly buy into it. No one is prying money out of wallets and "making you spend money" or making you train, or buy a package to get a free entry, or whatever it is. No one is making anyone do that forcefully. Nope! People willingly pay these prices. 

Until people willingly do not pay these prices, nothing is going to change.

Oooo! Snow!
 Wow! What A Winter So far!

Sarcasm Alert: Gee, this fantastic cold weather with no snow has really been fantastic. And just think, next week they say it will get even colder! Awesome.

Yeah, it hasn't been maybe as cold as it should be this time of year, but the wind has more than made up for things, at least around here. Plus, the humidity levels have been high enough that this air we have just cuts right into your bones. At least the Arctic air we're supposed to get just in time for Christmas will be drier and not so bad to stay warm in.

Snow has been a rarity, and by the looks of it, that should remain the case through Christmas. Yeah, that's a risky thing to say, what with Winter weather being so hard to pin down. Who really knows. We could end up with a bunch of the white stuff here, but the weather prognosticators and my gut feeling say not so much.

The point is that Winter is going to be a slow starter if ever it does snow here. Really cold air without snow is just wrong, and for me, not really Winter. If we get very far into the New Year with no snow, well then.....I'm going to say this Winter is a major fail. But there is still a lot of time left before we can really think seriously about Spring, so this Winter still has time to redeem itself. I just know that short days, brown scenery, and cold air add up to a depressing state of affairs.

Meanwhile the rivers are already icing up and many will freeze solid they are so low, that is if we get really frigid temperatures for very long. It could make for interesting fat biking opportunities, but other than that, this situation isn't good.

Can you believe anything done when this is worn anymore?
The Latest Dope:

Occasionally I will opine about Pro road cycling here. I used to be a big fan. However; I became jaded after umpteen doping scandals and now I only casually follow this side of sport.


So, the following is from the perspective of someone that rides bicycles but doesn't really know or care about the Pro racing side of the equation anymore.

That said, the winner of the last Vuelta, Chris Froome, returned a positive for an inhaler banned by the UCI at twice the level allowed. No penalties have been issued, no sanctions declared, but the court of public opinion is already buzzing about this one. However that goes, should we be surprised anymore? 

Doping in bicycle racing goes way back. You really cannot blame salaries, modern cycling culture, or sponsors for this. It is historical. Riders have doped and died for doing it in the past. That doesn't excuse what we see today, by any means, but that it continues to this day, that is no surprise. Even in competitions that pay no money, have no prizing, or any real fame or glory to offer, even those events  have their cheaters. It is human nature to cheat. That's my opinion, and maybe a dim view, but I see no other logical explanation.

So while it is noble to believe that the Pro racers are "clean" when you watch the sport, it is naive to believe that there are no cheaters. That goes for all levels of cycling. Right down to the rank amateurs.

So, the latest scandal involving Chris Froome? I am not at all surprised.

 That's all for this week. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Myth That Stiffer Bicycles Are Faster

Recent race bike design is starting to acknowledge that stiffness everywhere in a bike isn't necessarily a good thing.
Riding Gravel just posted a great new article about how vibration isn't your best friend on gravel rides. I've been saying similar things for years. In fact, the article's author, in an e-mail to me, reminded me of how I have advocated against the use of cyclo cross bikes for gravel riding and have gotten into some "discussions" with others about this. This because I have often said that these bikes are too stiff and don't have the ideal geometry for gravel riding.

Those bikes specifically designed for that niche of riding have peculiar traits which have been honed over decades of design and with material technologies available now, they are typically very stiff bikes. They should be. Cyclo cross is a short event which demands racers have every iota of energy come out as power to the ground. Stiffness to the detriment of comfort is something which is a given in this sport of cyclo cross, which, let's be honest, is about suffering on many levels.

Anyway, the point is that cyclo cross bikes are not tuned to absorb the sort of vibrations that gravel road riding induces. This makes them not the best tool for the job. NOTE- I did not say that you should never use a CX bike for gravel. I merely am saying that these sharply defined bikes for a singular purpose are not really "gravel bikes".  And I haven't even mentioned their geometry, which also isn't ideal.

But that isn't a big deal anymore, like it was five or more years ago. Now you can buy a bicycle tuned for gravel travel from many brands, and some of those actually address the problem of vibration by allowing flex. 

Salsa Cycles Warbird was designed to absorb vibrations over gravel roads.
 The Warbird specifically is allowed to have flex in the seat stays to allow the rider to have a less jarring ride. Bicycles like Trek's Domane, (which has technology which will be applied to a new model specifically for gravel, due in March), and Specialized's Roubaix models have existed for some time now, both which allow for flex that absorbs vibrations which otherwise would impede the rider's performance.

Obviously, stiffness isn't always the over-arching goal of design, but typically we see riders responding to claims of stiffness in a frame as being "good". Not just in terms of bottom bracket stiffness, or lateral stiffness, but in the entire frame. Customers think this is "good" in a frame, and they can feel this stiffness, so it must be "good".

Carbon frames have also  made a name for themselves by being brutishly stiff, yet having the oft misused descriptor of "carbon absorbs vibrations" attached to them by unwitting salespeople and general riders. This may have been the case 25 years ago when carbon fiber frames were not as well made, (read: having more bonding component compared to actual carbon material), but that is not the case anymore. Carbon stiffness is incredible now days, and vibrations are not muted by the material. It just passes through frequencies and energy differently than metal frames, but the energy is still getting through to the rider.

One place where carbon has made ride quality worse than ever is in the area of forks.
Vibrations which are passed through to a rider make that rider fatigued and slower. Especially if the road surface is rough, as it is with gravel road riding. This is one of the reasons why Pro riders are gravitating to wider rims and tires. Those tires on wider rims allow for slightly lower pressures and help absorb these unwanted vibrations. No longer should you listen to that guy you know from RAGBRAI who says you should run 23mm tires at 110psi. He's wrong about that. Dead wrong.

One of my pet peeves is the use of carbon forks with massive, thick legs, tapered steer tubes, and thick "uni-crown" style fork crowns. These forks do not give an inch. (Again- riders can feel stiffness and think it means "I'm faster", but they aren't) These unforgiving forks may make sense to a cyclo cross racer, where high load cornering is almost always a thing. But for the general public, and especially for gravel riders, it is a useless commodity. Forks which flex and give are far more road worthy and comfortable. Straight steer tubes, while seemingly archaic, actually allow some flex which also helps keep the front triangle, and especially the handle bars, "quieter". Less vibration means more comfort and a faster ride. Think about this. Why would Specialized and Trek work so hard to design flex into the front ends of their bikes?

But flex, and the resulting smoother and more efficient ride quality, is a hard sell. Riders feel smoothness as "slowness". This was true back when suspension forks came along for mountain biking in the early 1990's. Riders tried it and hated it, saying the devices made them slower and sluggish. However; when running similar courses back to back with suspended and non-suspended bikes, it became clear that the smoother riding suspension equipped bikes were making for faster times. All that despite these bikes being heavier and "less stiff" than their non-suspended counterparts. Well, we know what happened next......

Why is it so hard for us to understand that flex, be it passive or active, as in suspension applications, make us faster and obviously more comfortable when almost any other human carrying vehicle employs suspension and flex? Vibrations are bad, most often, and as cyclists, we should be very wary of any bicycle company claiming that more stiffness is a good thing.

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.