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 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 (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 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.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nerding Out On Bikes

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 49

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


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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2017

Friday News And Views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Three Hundred Thity Eight-ish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Black Mountain Cycles Shows Disc Proto

The Black Mountain Cycles Disc Monster Cross prototype. Image by Mike Varley
Okay, as I've said, my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike, otherwise known as "Orange Crush", or sometimes as "Old #49", is perhaps my "desert island" bike. One of the ones I have around I am not willing to get rid of. It's a good bicycle. Really good.

So even though Mike Varley of Black Mountain Cycles, a little shop in Point Reyes Station, California, has made a few tweaks and several color options available since I bought mine out of the first run, I wasn't enticed to purchase another BMC. Yet.....

I always have had it in the back of my mind that if Mike ever offered a disc version of this bicycle I would jump on that. Disc brakes are the way the industry has chosen to go now, so although I am totally fine with using rim brakes, I have invested in the disc brake side heavily since that is where other brands have gone. It just makes sense to keep everything similar in the fleet, as much as I can. Splitting off into rim and disc brake bikes for the stable complicates my wheel inventory. I don't need more complications.

So, I figured Mike, being totally fine with rim brakes, might not ever actually make this unicorn come to life. Well, he has! Here is the evidence. Besides the disc brakes, there are some important differences to my rig. You can read it straight from the man's blog here.

My "OG" BMC rig.
Here are my thoughts on the minor differences besides what brakes are being used.
  • Sloping top tube: Well, I really prefer the old frame's top tube, it being more level, but this seems like what I have with my Tamland and fits what I've used on a couple of other bikes. I don't mind it, and it reminds me of something else I'll mention further on down here.....
  • The fork is segmented: Cool. I don't mind this. It gives a lot of clearance for bigger tires and mud. It's a little more "mountain bike-ish" without resorting to a unicrown fork. I'd rather have a plate crown fork, but hey! That would be expensive! 
  • Through axle wheels: The fashion of the day. With disc brakes they make a ton of sense. I'm okay with that.
  • Room for 2" tires. The image shows Mike's proto with Nano 2.1"ers. I'll probably never go that big, but it is nice to know that 50mm tires like the Donnelly MSO and the Terrene Honali might be a good fit in this rig. 
  • Rack mounts and water bottle mounts: Oh yeah!! Mike made a choice for one of my favorite details on a gravel bike- Having two down tube sets of water bottle bosses on top and one set below. Bigger frame sizes allow for this. Of course, smaller ones do not, so if you are small in stature, bummer! With the seat tube set of bosses you can mount four bottles. Hooray! Mike isn't down with fork bosses for water bottles or Anything Cages, but that's cool. There are front rack bosses instead, so put a water bottle in a bag on a rack. It works on my BMC! 
  • Frame tubing specs remain nearly the same: Only the seat stays are different, (thinner by a tiny amount, Mike says), so that bodes well for a good ride quality. The extended seat post extension I would see would also help out with this. 
Finally, is it just me, or does that rear drop out look vaguely like a Salsa Fargo drop out? Hmm..... That, the sloping top tube, the non-suspension geometry, and the double bottle bosses on the down tube make me think a lot of a Fargo Gen I.

Probably just me.....

Anyway, no geo figures yet, but I read on Mike's blog they are coming. I'm confident that they will be good. Mike knows his stuff. If that end checks out I am all in for getting one of these. So, if it does come to pass that I get a BMC MCD (Monster Cross Disc), I have some plans.

First- The current BMC will become a single speed gravel rig. I had that bike set up originally that way and it rocked. The horizontal drop outs really help there. Then I will thin the herd. I have two bikes that will go on the chopping block if this happens. I'll cross that bridge if this new BMC actually gets purchased. Can't be piling up bikes I won't ride much.

So, anyway, I am pretty excited about this possibility. Stay tuned.......

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Taking It Back To The Fun

2016 saw me experiencing the Flint Hills in a totally different, and more fun,way.
There is something about going out on a bicycle to see the "how far", "where you can go", and "what you can do" that is very appealing to me, and by the way, is not at all connected to competition. You maybe can call this "touring", or you might call it "adventure by bicycle" like one company has done, or you maybe could just distill it all down to one simple word- fun. 

To my way of thinking, "fun" on a bicycle, as described above, is why I got hooked on bicycles in the first place. It wasn't about being faster than the next guy, it wasn't about the latest lightweight gizmo, and it certainly is not about gaining notoriety on social media. No! It was simply a joy in riding around, searching, looking, and experiencing the terrain and the things alive on it and in it. That pretty much sums things up in general terms for me.

Now, before I go any further, I want to explain very clearly that competition has its place. I even enjoy competing in events on occasion. But I also want to make it very  clear that competition falls way down the ladder of reasons why I take to the gravel and ride. I also want it to be very clear that what I am about to share goes for me only. I don't speak for anyone else here, so please let that sink in a moment.

Just sittin' around and having some fun out on a gravel ride this past Summer. From the GTDRI by Rob Evans
Someone online the other day accused me of being "all patriarchal" about some of my views pertaining to the gravel scene. Well, I am a male and I've been around this scene, some say influencing it, for well over a decade. So, yeah, I'll own that. You can see that as a negative or whatever. It is what it is, and so I'm going to put this out there as one of the people others say has a word or two to share that might have some weight to it. You can decide on that ultimately.

Anyway, I feel that chasing races and somewhat manufactured experiences is getting kind of old. Not that I won't ever pin a number on one of my bicycles again, because I plan on doing that, but I won't do that a lot anymore. Why? Because I'd rather have more "fun". I'd rather do more rides like the GTDRI, the "Geezer Ride", 3GR, and whatever else others do out in the world that isn't about paying someone a bunch of cash and racing.

Just being a bunch of Geezers in 2015.
There are free to enter races, sure. I get that and I like that way of doing things. I'm not averse to paying for an event though, but in some cases I've just had to say "no mas!". Enough is enough. Chasing the race scene is cool from the people aspect, but I have found that you no longer even have to do the race to get in that aspect of things. I have also found that getting together with a group of like minded individuals, be that one other or many others, seems to be a lot more enjoyable, creates a lot more "good times", and can be done on a shoe string budget. Besides that, these experiences on rides I have either put on myself or have been on with others seem to create their own special "vibe" that no event/race I've ever done has possessed.

Then there is this whole thing about "getting the value for the dollar spent" , which from where I sit, has taken precedence over the "why I ride in the first place" aspect of gravel and gravel events. So, you know, if you spend this, in my opinion, exorbitant amount of money, the attitude seems to be getting to be, "what's in it for me besides the riding?" And to be honest, that's on us, the riders. I know it is really popular to blame the event promoters for "selling out the scene", but if people keep buying, who really should we be pointing our finger at? I say, look in the mirror.

And maybe that's okay with you. I get that. But again, it isn't why I am riding gravel.

So I Tweeted out the following the other day:

 That got a ton of responses. Some direct from Twitter, but I also was contacted by e-mail from a "like-minded" individual who shall remain nameless at this point. Needless to say, I felt that I was not the only person with feelings that the gravel scene, in particular, has been loosing its way when it comes to its "real reason to be", which isn't racing and a bunch of other hoo-ha attached with it.

Take the linked event in my Tweet, the SWIG Tour. You can ride it, you can race it, but the general vibe is that of a guy who wants to share in what he believes is a great place to ride. He feels the views and the roads are too good not to share. I can get behind an idea like that.

Then yesterday I Tweeted the following based upon responses I had gotten from the first Tweet and my further thinking about this: 

So this Tweet got an even bigger response. Now as I stated at the top of this post, I am speaking here only for myself, but it is very clear that others out there are thinking along the same lines. How many folks are getting this vibe, I have no clear idea, but from where I sit, it is more than I thought. It's apparently more than a few of you out there.

So, as I say in the Tweet, I am not sure where this all is going, but it is going! Already there are plans for rides, special "stuff", and more surrounding this groundswell of "just riding". I know that as far as I am concerned I would like to recreate something like my "DK MY Way" ride out in Nebraska where "Odin's Revenge" used to be ridden. Probably as a long weekend, three day deal where we ride out and back to Gothenburg for three loops of the old courses we used to ride.

I want to get the old 3GR ride up and going again as a regular local gravel grind. I also want to do a Geezer Ride, or two, or three. But however it goes, I want to experience more places and people in casual riding atmospheres instead of every big ride being one of being under the gun to race and all that entails. We'll see how that turns out...

More on this subject later as things develop.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Bikes Of 2017: Big Dummy

On a recent recycling run.
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.

The Big Dummy is a bicycle I wanted to get my hands on for many years. I shouldn't have waited so long. I love having the thing around.

I most often use it for recycling duties. Once in a great while I do a Post Office run or go to the grocery store with it. But most often it's loaded with cardboard, plastic milk jugs, and clear glass for recycling. Sure, I could do those blue cans that the City will come and pick up, but that's not getting me outside and pedaling.

Now when the Surly guys and gals introduced the Big Fat Dummy, I was taken aback. Then Salsa Cycles re-introduced the Blackborow as a cargo carrying fat bike. Now what?!! The siren song of fat bike wheels made both options attractive to me. However; for the way that I use my Big Dummy, it just doesn't make sense to dive into getting a bike that I would not need the capabilities of for probably 8-9 months out of the year. Besides, I can do a studded set of tires for this bike and I can have a second wheel set with those ready to go anytime. For getting around town, that would likely do what I needed.

So, while what I do with my Big Dummy isn't all exciting and adventurous, (in fact, it probably is boring), I really have enjoyed having it around. Those bigger wheeled, fatter tire cargo bikes are all cool, sure, but they aren't necessary to do what I do with the Big Dummy. Don't expect any exciting stories anytime soon related to this rig!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Local Not Fat Bike Day

Seeing more low water pond bottom crawling opportunities
Yesterday was "Global Fat Bike Day", and locally, I hear we had 50+ riders enjoin in the festivities. That's awesome. However; it was no where near "fat biking weather" or conditions. 

While it is true that fat bikes can double as a mountain bike, that isn't what they are for. Riding when Winter has failed to appear on "normal" single track can hardly be said to be the ideal fat bike celebration terrain or conditions. I mean, why not ride where a fat bike actually makes sense? Like the myriad opportunities that exist now with all the low water and exposed pond, lake, and river bottoms not to mention sand and gravel bars. could just ride a regular mountain bike and forget Global Fat Bike Day. 

That's what I chose to do instead. I just don't see the point in doing a "fat bike day" specific ride when nothing about the day calls out for a fat bike, unless, as I say, you search out some fat bike specific riding opportunities. That wasn't what the group here was about, so let them be and I did my own thing. To each their own. At least we are all out riding bicycles.

So, I went out to breakfast with my son, went to the local barber shop, where we both got trimmed up, and then afterward went on a single track ride on my Pofahl. The weather was fantastic for early December. Sunny, 50-ish, low wind. I pretty much had the trail to myself with the exception of one other mountain bike rider. Well, that and a few dog walkers.

These little islands look like sugar loafs now. Generally they are just barely sticking out of the water.
Originally the Pofahl was meant to be a single speed specific drop bar 29"er in the vein of my '03 Karate Monkey. It almost immediately was turned into a gravel rig with 38 X 18 gearing. That's what I rode out on the single track. It wasn't bad for around here. It is pretty flat with almost zero technical difficulties. (Another reason fat biking single track in normal conditions here is silly.) So tall gearing works okay.

Mid-afternoon light.Tough to see well in during this time of year.
In fact, even riding the Pofahl was super easy. I probably could just as easily have ridden one of my gravel rigs through here and I would have been fine. The dirt is smooth, fast, and pretty grippy. What trail obstacles that do exist are pretty short lived, easy to negotiate, and don't call out for anything with a big tire like my Pofahl, unless it gets wet. There maybe is a tiny bit of sand here and there over the way I went, but it isn't anything like what the Green Belt can dish out for sandy spots.

I rode an old trail I helped lay out in the mid-90's back there.  It was fun to reminisce about when there wasn't any trail back in that particular spot and how this one has lasted all these years when others have faded from memory or have been taken out by the Cedar River. Some have succumbed to wind storms and the resulting tree falls that choked them out. Others were victims of land access rights. It's been a strange 25 years of riding single track around here, that's for sure. It's also weird when you are one of the only people around anymore that remembers any of that stuff from way back.

I cannot ever ride back in these woods without memories of how the trails once were coming to the forefront of my mind. It almost is distracting. I'll just leave it at that. Suffice it to say that I have a lot of strong feelings about all of that stuff that, in the end, doesn't seem to matter, and so I have decided to let that go. Pick your battles, and all that........

I had a good ride though and got some more important things done. That was the main thing I wanted to do. And as far as fat biking goes, well, I hope to get back over there and cruise some of the exposed sandy, rocky stuff that is typically underwater. That stuff looks like what a fat bike was made to ride on.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 48

Remember those goofy triangular knobs?
Ten years ago this week I was scrambling just like I am this week to get in some last minute testing for review purposes. Some things never change.

Anyway, 29"er tires were the topic of the week, for the most part. We had Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.4's come in and I was hinting that Continental would finally have some real 29"er tires as they were set to introduce the 2.4" Mountain King. It was an odd tire with triangular knobs and at first, it was really undersized. Funny thing was that if you dared to set them up tubeless, (and I did), they stretched out to be just a hair over 2.4" wide. Weird! They were knid of squirmy in corners and off cambers, and Conti didn't stick with this design very long before they pulled it and introduced an updated design with more traditional squarish knobs.

The Racing Ralph, on the other hand, was awesome. It was big, voluminous, and the knobs worked decently well. We really liked it on our single speed bikes here. Too bad they weren't tubeless. They were great on packed snow though. I'll have more on that in a future "Minus Ten Review".

The "Rear View 2007" kicked into gear, (as it will for 2017 soon), and I was reminiscing about the major bicycle related events of the year. Sea Otter backed up by Trans Iowa v3 was.......stupid. I did that one other time and then I pushed Trans Iowa out to the first week of May once, a never again done time for Trans Iowa, all because doing Sea Otter the weekend before Trans Iowa was so draining. After 2009, I never went back to the Otter mostly due to being involved in Trans Iowa.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Friday News And Views

A larger Husker Du- Claimed "true 4.8". We'll see about THAT!
45NRTH Debuts New Larger Husker Du:

45NRTH has some pretty cool treads for fat bikes. One of the originals was the Husker Du. The tread has since been redesigned, but it was never offered in a big, wide casing. That has changed with the announcement of a 4.8" (claimed) Husker Du.

The new Du is said to be tubeless. That's really good. It also is supposed to be available in a 120TPI folding bead casing.

This is good if it is really a 4.8"er. 45NRTH has introduced tires that hinted at being big, but in reality they weren't so much. This has always been a bit of a pet peeve of mine about the brand's tires. That and getting anything 45NRTH is about as easy as it is to win the State lottery.

But aside from that, I really like that the tread design was made in the way that it was. If you want big, chewy, tractable knobs, you've got choices. However, since the demise of the Big Fat Larry tread design, a truly big, low tread design suitable for flotation and low rolling resistance needs has been lacking in the fat bike world. Well, at least good choices are lacking. The Husker Du in the 4.8" size, (again- IF it is that size), would be super for semi-groomed trails, where the snow isn't completely packed in. It also would shine on sand, deep gravel, or marshy terrain where float is the paramount characteristic one is wanting.

I could totally see this as a second tread for my Blackborow DS. In fact, it should weigh less, due to the lack of big rubber blocks, than a Bud tire, and with a carbon rimmed wheel set, I could also gain some speed. I like the idea of this tire. Let's hope it is what 45NRTH says it is and that one could actually get them.

The Sonder Camino AL, also available as a titanium frame
A Word About Gravel Bike Geometry:

I've talked about this off and on for the last five years or more, but I believe that there is a certain geometry that is most conducive to fun and pleasure on the gravel roads.

Please note- I am not talking about racing. 

The whole gravel/all-road thing gets held against standards based upon racing bikes by the traditional cycling media hacks all the time. The idea of not racing at all on a bicycle seems to be a foreign one to many of these people. I see complaints about gravel bikes not being "snappy" upon acceleration, handling like a wagon in turns, or being too upright. Well, maybe you don't have the right perspective. Maybe you could have a gravel racing bike, and maybe the rest of the rigs could be for non-competitive, enjoyable, fun bicycling. 

I know, crazy talk. I should just shut up and get out of the way. Right? You'd think so by reading reviews these days.

Anyway..... There is a geometry I think would work best. The Sonder Camino AL really hits most of the marks I would like to see in a gravel bike. Lower than 70mm bottom bracket, 71° head tube angle, 435mm chain stays, and a tallish head tube. I'm not big on aluminum, but you never know. It could feel okay. They do make a Camino in titanium, so there is that. Oh! It's an Alpkit bike, so you'd have to order from the UK.

It's pretty intriguing, as it ticks a lot of my boxes, but it does have a carbon fork. Not big on that. I might have to swap it out for a proper steel fork, but then again, I am in no rush to do anything right now. It is almost Winter, right?

Another one bites the dust.
Hi! I'm Guitar Ted, And I Am A Camera Killer:

I remember it well. It was a Renegade Gent's Race where I had my old Fuji point and shoot and I dropped it on the pavement, ending its life. Well, I pretty much repeated the act again Thursday riding home from work. My Olympus TG-3 is dead.

I was riding the Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" and I had my camera stowed in the Bike Bag Dude Chaff bag. That bag has a cinch top, but I just had the TG-3 sitting in there like it was in a cup holder. No big deal, right?

Well, I was getting pretty aggressive on the ride home, going along at a good clip, maybe 20mph, when I hopped a curb. When I came down the front tire hit pretty solidly and the camera bounced up and out of the bag. Of course, it didn't hit dirt, it hit the pavement at 20mph. I figure it knocked the sensor askew as it doesn't frame up a shot correctly anymore. It's okay, I've had a good run with it.

I posted something about it on social media and almost immediately a friend reached out with a possible solution to my dilemma. I won't be able to say anything concrete just yet, but things are looking good for a quick and agreeable solution to my mishap.

Stay tuned, and more importantly, make sure that whatever you put in a bag on your bike is restrained somehow from bouncing out. My bad!

Have a great weekend and get some riding in!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

News Flash: Dirty Kanza 200 Registration Opens Friday

To be a part of this scene in 2018, you have to make it through the lottery drawing.
Registration By Lottery For 2018:

A big change is coming for those hoping to jump into, or back into, the Dirty Kanza 200 and its attendant shorter distance events. This change has to do with registration.

In the past registration was conducted on-line, like many other events, but due to the ever increasing pressure from riders to get a chance to ride this event, the on-line way of doing things became untenable. There are just too many folks vying for roster spots which caused issues with the how the on-line process worked. This caused a lot of ill feelings and a bunch of headaches for the promoters of the DK200. It was obvious that a change was necessary.

So, to alleviate any unfairness and ill will due to the registration processes failure to handle the demand, the DK Promotions folks have opted to go with a random selection lottery. The process will still be enacted by riders using an on-line process, but instead of having to hover over your computer at "dark-thirty" waiting to push "enter" with your info, hoping it will beat the thousands of others doing the same thing, you can enter your info at your leisure, starting tomorrow until December 16th.

After the sixteen day window for entering closes, the pool of names will be drawn from to fill the allotted spots for the DK200, 100, 50, and 25 mile options. There is even a way for groups of riders to get in. Check it all out HERE.

So, if you have a mind to enter, get your info submitted starting tomorrow.

Bonus Days

Sunny, reasonably warm, means it's testing time!
The November heat is still going strong here and that means I have to get to riding while the riding is good. The recent addition of the Vittoria Terreno series tires to the mix here has come at a time when I usually am winding down my reviewing end of things here. But not this year, and the weather is cooperating.

We're back to the super-dry, drought like conditions were were in a while back again. Creeks and rivers are crazy low. The gravel is super dusty. There aren't many places that haven't had another layer of gravel added at a time of year when fresh gravel is really odd to see. At least the roads aren't iced up or too snowy!

Like I say, it is warm for November this late in the month. 50's, high 40's, and it stays above freezing some nights. The only atmospheric hurdle I have right now is the wind. It is cranking most days. Yesterday it was out of the South and I was crawling to get far enough South of town to hit Petrie Road to do a bit of B Road testing. But the wind isn't so bad as long as the air is warm, and you don't freeze to death.

That the days are so nice this late into the year, I have to consider them "bonus days" to get this stuff reviewed and get that out of the way before it gets too cold or whatever. If that happens I just shut down the reviewing end here till Spring. It is kind of a drag when that happens, but I do live in Iowa, and things get dicey this time of year with the weather. Unless it is like it is now, of course!

A Black Mountain Cycles sunburst!
The other odd thing is that the days are short. It starts getting dark around 4pm now, so I really have only a few hours where it works for me to get something tested and ridden. The mornings are often too cold, the afternoons can be cut short due to low light, so to get the best conditions for riding and imaging, I have a shorter window of opportunity now.

It is looking like we are going to close out the week with this nicer weather, at least, so I'll be trying to make hay while the hay is good. With any luck, I'll have just about everything I need to get done in a few more good rides. We'll see!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

News Flash: Niner Bikes Files For Bankruptcy

An early Niner RIP-9: The company is reportedly being sold to an investor group.
A surprising story broke today by "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" states that Niner Bikes has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy ahead of a planned sale to an investment company. The move is claimed to help expedite the the sale in the "...cleanest and fastest way to do it.", according to company co-founder, Chris Sugai.  

Of course, Niner Bikes made their name on the 29 inch wheel, which they famously championed early on and stuck with doggedly although 650B wheels and plus sized wheels became more popular within the last five years. The company even stayed out of the fat bike craze, much to their credit, I might add.

So, was this devotion to a single wheel size killing the company? Apparently not. According to "BRaIN", in this story published today, Niner stands in good stead financially. However; it appears that they cannot fund new R&D, new product lines, and yes, that means e-mtbs, which are the hottest selling bicycle in Europe by a long shot right now.

Added to this is that I have read or heard somewhere that Niner sells more of its gravel/all road/CX bike product than it does the mountain bike stuff. This isn't due to a dogged devotion to 29"ers, but most likely it is just what the article in "BRaIN" is saying- a lack of engineering and product development capabilities. This hinders growth and innovation on their mtb side, and also it affects the ability to diversify. (So, yes, maybe Niner is thinking they cannot compete the way they want to with the limited array of products they offer now.)

Interestingly, the "BRaIN" article closed out with this quote from the Chapter 11 filing:

"With a recapitalized balance sheet, the Debtor will be able to, among other things, hire the engineers and product managers necessary to design bikes for women, to begin offering kid’s models, to create electric mountain bikes, and continue to increase models with different wheel sizes. The Debtor also believes that by enlarging their omnichannel footprint they will be able to increase brand awareness and engagement, ultimately leading to substantial revenue growth."

Note the word "omnichannel". Of all the things coming out of this news story, this reflects what I think is going to be the most weighty of impacts. Not only for Niner's future, but the cycling industry as a whole. We won't be buying cycling stuff in the way that we once did anymore, nor in the way we think will will. It's going to look radically different before all is said and done.

Still, as I posted earlier today, it is the "pie" that needs growing, not the "how you sell it" that needs fixing so much. Unless the industry can entice people to ride by making safe places to use bicycles, then how you try to sell them will not make much difference.

Chasing "The Next Big Thing" Is The Worst Thing For Cycling

A Schwinn Collegiate from an old Schwinn catalog
 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned....

I used to have a job as a jeweler where I sat at a bench making, fixing, and designing jewelry next to a man that was a good friend of mine. He was married, I was not. I wasn't in any hurry to get engaged either. He thought I was being complacent. He said I was like a catfish, waiting for whatever came downstream. He thought I needed to be more proactive in finding a mate. It caused no end of discussions between us.

Well, that may seem like an odd story to bring up to lead into a story about cycling, but the industry has, for decades, been like me in the 1980's. Slow or just not about looking for "mates". The cycling industry wasn't proactive, and it hasn't been very much good at getting out there and trying to find cyclists until recently. What it has done is to sit complacently and react, for the most part.

Take the 70's bike boom. The catalyst for the massive uptick in bicycle sales during that time was not a result of creative efforts of the cycling industry. It was a reaction to demand which was brought on by the fuel crisis of 1973 and the fitness boom. Then, after millions of bikes were sold, did the industry advocate for ways and places to use them? No. They just raked in cash and thought it was going to last forever, one would think.

Later, about a decade later, some enterprising Californians decided that off road cycling was fun, and that bicycles built on a mass production scale were a good idea. Grassroots growth caused a sector to flower called "mountain biking". It was a "fad" some industry pundits said wouldn't last. It wasn't picked up right away by some of the bigger companies in cycling, and in the end, they were wrong. Obviously.....because they eventually made these bikes all about racing.

Then a thing called "free riding" came along, an offshoot of mountain biking that was more about having fun. It eschewed the then NORBA type bikes and racing culture for that of one based upon back country riding and "fun". (Imagine that. Fun, like the late 70's mtb'ers were having, perhaps?) This morphed into the long travel mtb scene which was dominated by smaller companies, not the big three, not until much later. Meanwhile a counter-culture based on single speed mountain bikes was bubbling along, largely ignored by the cycling industry. Added to this was the beginnings of the 29"er craze, a grassroots driven move toward bigger diameter wheels. None of these things were picked up on by the cycling industry who were content to keep pushing out the same old 26"er designs and road bikes, both based upon racing styles.

Then we had "The Lance Effect". Nuff said.....

29"ers were resisted by many companies until they reacted to Trek/Gary Fisher's success with them.
The cycling industry finally did react, but not to all of those movements, especially after road bike sales started to fade. With the huge shift that 29"ers brought, it kind of stuck the industry in overdrive to find "the next big thing". Remembering the halcyon days of the bike boom of the 70's and the early  to mid-90's mtb boom, and the fading road bike sector in America, the industry reached for anything it could to recreate another boom. No way were they going to miss out again like many companies did on 29"ers.

This has led to "knee jerk" reactions in the industry which have led to over-saturation of product, consumer misunderstanding, and a general mistrust of anything actually good and new in the industry. The first haymaker the industry threw was fat bikes. Then when that bubble burst they sent up the 27.5"er long travel bikes, or "enduro" rigs. When that didn't take off all over the industry jumped on "plus" sized tires, and then gravel/all-road bikes. What was going to be next?

E-bikes, that's what. Specifically, e-mtbs. But once again, while sales numbers are reported to be wildly successful, you can bet your bottom dollar that just like all the other "next big things", this one will have the rug pulled out from under it too.

The e-mtb is what the industry is betting on now.
Thinking about mountain bikes, the industry should thank and continue to support the institutions that are keeping mountain biking alive. Without IMBA, several local associations, and newer developments like NICA, mountain biking access, and therefore the sport, may have faded away years ago. What's weird is that the industry doesn't get more behind how and where people ride other bikes. There have been efforts here and there, but for a long time the cycling industry sat on their hands and did nothing to help.

Then one could also say that with all the "every butt on a bike" sloganeering going on, that the industry is really pretty hypocritical. "Every butt"? Really? Then why all the misogyny? Where are we reaching out to women? Where are we trying to reach out to minorities? I'm not seeing the industry doing much here.

The industry needs to quit chasing "the next big thing" in cycling gear and start shrinking things back to sensible levels. I read a great line on Jonathan Fields Twitter feed yesterday, it said, "More isn't better, better is better. And, that often means less." Make better bikes, simpler choices, and infuse them with more value. 

 Stop chasing the next niche and create places and a culture people want to be a part of, not more models of the same old bikes, not "the next big thing" in cycling. Stop making everything about racing and make it more about the "everyman". It isn't sexy, nor does it appeal to machismo, and it certainly wouldn't fit "The Rules". But do it anyway. Don't sit around reacting to trends, don't wait to see what happens, but create the atmosphere where things can happen. 

Maybe the industry need one of those rants my old jeweler friend used to give me!