Thursday, March 30, 2017

Trans Iowa v13: Numbers

What if a six turned out to be nine?
In the process of producing a Trans Iowa, I deal with tons of numbers. That is actually pretty ironic. If you know me well, then you'd know why. Numbers and I have had a troubled relationship over the span of my lifetime.....

Well, be that as it may, I cannot let that bring me down. So I have enlisted help where necessary and the rest I try my best with. Mileages, time cut offs, roster numbers, costs for stuff, t-shirt size numbers. Numbers, numbers, numbers! 

Then there are the number plates. These are super important. They are what enables my volunteers to keep track of your coming and going at checkpoints, so scoring can be accurate, and we have a handle on how many folks are still out on the course at any given time. It is the number you use to call in a DNF with, and it is the number, should you be lucky enough to finish, that we need to record a finish time with.

I have used, off and on over the years, these "Olympic sized" Tyvek numbers meant for track and field events. They were found in a box at the shop where I work at. Since the shop doesn't put on races, and these numbers were just sitting around, I got to using them up. Well, I've depleted the supply. I am about a 1/4 of the total roster number shy for this year. So, I purchased a 100 new ones. Just like the old ones.

Greg Gleason exhibiting proper number plate placement.
So, I'll have all the numbers I will need, but they won't do any good if you don't use them right. We have had issues in the past with folks not having their numbers displayed properly and it has caused issues with my volunteers. So, there is a "right" way to do number plates at Trans Iowa. Here is a short list of things to remember:
  • Don't pin your number to your jacket in the morning. Why? Because at some point you'll get too hot, take it off, stuff it into a frame bag or hydration pack, and guess what? My volunteers do not have x-ray vision, that's what. 
  • Don't modify your number plate by cutting it away, folding it, or by trying to be all aerodynamic. This will get you into a DQ pickle right quick. Just pin it on like everyone else does and you'll be fine.
  • Pinning the number to a hydration pack is allowable, but do a good job. If it flies off and you don't notice, guess what? You won't get scored anymore. Call it a "nature's DQ", if you will. Take that and make decisions based on that in regards to your number placement very carefully.
  • If there is room, you can pin your number on the side of a frame bag or trunk bag, as long as the number plate is not modified in any way. Again, make sure it is secure and that you will not lose it.
  • Finally, the preferred placement is shown at left here with Greg Gleason's winning set up from last year. Take note.......
Finally, I want to add that while some may see this list of "numbers rules" as a bit Draconian, I am doing this to make the job for my volunteers easier. They are doing this for Trans Iowa, and for you, for nothing other than a "thank you" and for the experience. Don't make the experience a lesser one by messing up with your poor or modified number plate placement. That will not be seen as something "good". Make sense? Be cool!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

WW4M: Brooks Cambium C-17

Brooks Cambium C-17 in Natural.
Saddles are a highly personal item and being one of the all important "touch points" for a human on a bicycle, there is a lot of debate on "what is best". So- take the following opinions on this saddle with a grain of salt. This may be your worst nightmare in terms of a bicycle saddle, or it may just not suit you. I get it. Save the comments. I am just sharing "What Works For Me", (WW4M, get it? ), and it may or may not be something you can use. Okay? With that said.......

Brooks saddles were traditionally made in leather for well over a century, have been lauded and hated on, and are still one of the most iconic bicycle components ever made. Maybe even the most iconic. Traditionalist, tourists, and hipsters have all been fans of the Brooks saddle over the decades. But with all of that, there was one thing that was a big issue. Moisture.

Brooks saddles are not really very moisture friendly. They can stretch, crack, and get all sorts of issues if you get them wet on multiple occasions and do not fastidiously take care of them. I have had Brooks leather saddles on other bikes, enjoyed the heck out of them, but I would never have put one on any of my gravel bikes or Fargos due to the problems Brooks saddles have with episodes of wetness. The comfort was there for me, but the durability without doing much maintenance was not there.

The C-17 in slate- Fear not the water!
My friend MG decided he had heard enough good things about Cambiums that he would pop for one. They are an expensive saddle, so it was a risk and it very well may not have worked for him. However; at the time folks were snapping up used ones in an alarmingly short amount of time if they became available, so he knew he could flip it if need be.

Well, as he told me later, he was angered by the Cambium. You see, he liked it so much he wanted four more! That was a costly try out! Eventually, he did get four more C-17 saddles to outfit his fleet. So, I trust his opinion to a great degree, and I decided last Summer to give a Slate colored C-17 a flier on my Standard Rando. I had the saddle on the bike by mid-summer and have been using it off and on since then.

Cambiums are made out of a textile and bonded to a natural rubber base which is stretched out over an aluminum frame. The materials are different than a traditional Brooks leather saddle, but the basic idea of the design remains. The rubber base acts like the leather, like a sort of hammock, and the aluminum frame is much like its steel counterpart in the leather saddle. Besides the materials, the Cambium differs in that it can withstand being very wet without having to be carefully maintained afterwards. A big plus for bikes that might see muddy roads, rain, or even wet snow on occasion. Body moisture in the form of sweat can deform a saddle made of leather as well, but the Cambium also is not affected by sweat in the same manner.

Okay, that's all just great, but was it comfortable? At first, I wasn't so sold on the Cambium. The base was stiff and not very forgiving to my body movements and bumps from the road. However; after about three good two to three hour rides, the saddle came in and was a completely different experience. The base was forgiving after this, and now it is one of the most comfortable saddles I have ever ridden. Obviously, the shape also agrees with me.

One final thing. The comparison to a leather Brooks and the Cambium. In my opinion, there is a "sweet spot" on a leather Brooks and you don't have a whole lot of fore and aft "wiggle room" before you get to the rivets or a spot that is uncomfortable in some way. With the Cambium, I feel that this is far less of an issue. I'm not sure if that is due to how the Cambium's undercarriage is different or not, but I suspect that this is the reason I find that I can move around a bit more with comfort on a Cambium saddle.

Would a Cambium work for you? Heck, I don't know. I just know that they work for me and I bought a second one based upon my experiences.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gearing Up For Gent's Madness

It should look like this.
The Renegade Gents Race v7 is happening this weekend. Yes, you know that it is one of my favorite rides of the year. do if you have been paying attention here. So, like any other year, I have to decide which rig to pull from the Lab for duty.

The last few years, I think, I've been using the Raleigh Tamland Two. I've used a Vaya I used to have and my Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" in the past. I could use the Twin Six Standard Rando as well.

Right now the Tamland is running a strong first for the choice and the Standard Rando is a close second. I recently swapped out the saddle on the Tamland and man! Why did I not just go with what I knew all along and stick a WTB Pure V on there in the first place? I don't know. Sometimes I inexplicably try odd things because......well, they might work. You never know until you try, right? Uggh. Then again, you could be wasting time when a great solution already exists. It's a saddle. Don't mess with what works.

So, then there is the issue of having to wrap up the review on the Gevenalle HYDRAULIC components, and what better way to do that than put in a metric century within the context of a race? The downside is that the roads of the Gents Race call out for a tire that is a bit wider. I have 37's on the wheels on the Tamland currently. The Standard Rando has 650B X 47's. I know those wider tires could be a game changer. The sandy gravel in the area really can be a bad deal, especially if the maintainers have been out and about. Then there are the occasional fresh gravel dumps which make wider tires a better deal as well.

This could also be the look for the weekend.
Then there is the lack of miles. This could erase any choice of bicycle. I just haven't had opportunity due to illness and weather to log in any longer rides so far this year. Not that this is anything new running up to the Gent's Race. Many years I have been in Texas a week or so beforehand and/or doing Trans Iowa stuff, so getting miles in March has never really ever worked out for me.

At any rate, I should be having a good time, and for the first time I won't have to wake up at "dark-thirty" to get my carcass down there on Saturday morning. This is because my family is joining me and coming down with me on Friday evening so they can all go to Tacopocalypse and gallivant around Des Moines for the day. So, I actually may even be rested this time around. There is a first time for everything!

Well, however it goes, I need to pick a bike. Stay tuned for that later this week.....


Monday, March 27, 2017

Industry Blues Makes For Odd Times

If you believe the hype, this is what will "save" the bicycle industry.
I have been reading a lot of news of late concerning how far off the business of bicycles is and has been over the past year plus. It isn't just a little off either. It is waaaay off. Like double digits of percentages off.

Anyway you look at it, the statistics are showing less money at retail, less money at wholesale, and manufacturing is actually taking the biggest hit. Imports are way down, unless you are talking the kids sidewalk bike category, and the meager numbers of "e-bikes", (In comparison to the rest of the categories, e-bikes are one of the smallest overall.)

Yep, these are the bad old days. It doesn't look like they are going to get better anytime soon either. Oh, and by the way, this isn't relegated to just the bicycle industry either. Many segments of retail are down over the past year as well. But I'll just keep the focus on bicycles for this post. I just wanted to point out that you may be hearing "loud sucking sounds" elsewhere in the economy.

So, I am thinking that while we know businesses are down, I have noticed something else on the rise over the past year or so as well. That being how many oddball, strange ideas are surfacing claiming to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. It started out with a few categories and products, but of late, it seems that things are getting really weird.

You could argue that a fat bike based cargo bike is another big reach for the industry, but this is Surly after all!
The industry is in what appears to be desperation mode. The proliferation of gravel everything is one such indication. There is no denying that gravel events are one of the only growth segments in cycling today. More people are doing more events on gravel every year. The industry is trying to cash in. Gravel specific clothing, (yes- it is a thing), suspension forks, dual suspension gravel bikes, gravel wheels, tires, and on and on are being shoved digitally down our eyeballs at an ever increasing rate in response to the rise of gravel riding. But that isn't the only thing, not by a long shot.

There are more oddball ideas than you can shake a stick at. Mountain bike specific bell mounts, bent wire saddle suspension that relies on how fore and aft the saddle is set to accommodate rider weight, electric bikes that look more and more like motorcycles than bicycles, and there are more.

So, if it seems that the bicycle industry has lost its mind again with some new idea, standard, or bizarre product intro, just remember, they need to find a cash flow solution and fast. Otherwise we may see a lot less of even good ideas in the future. This downward trend cannot be sustained much longer without a lot of collateral damage.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

It Depends On The "How You Do It"

"Grinder Nationals" poster.

Many folks hear that, or read that, and the hair goes straight up on the neck and the claws come out. If you are one of those folks, I urge you to calm down and come back to this later. There isn't anything here to get upset about, really.

So, if you are still with me, there is going to be a Gravel Nationals, and there are going to be "National Championship" jerseys, and the whole deal is being done by the USECF which is a sanctioning body. Now, I'll admit, when I got wind of this, I was very skeptical. Who are these guys? I had never heard of this organization before.

Well, as it turns out, the reason why I had never heard about the organization was because the USECF is all about adventure racing. So, how in the world does this organization get into gravel event production?

Great question. I actually spoke with one of the board members of the USECF for the "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch" ( Click that link for the podcast) and I got a chance to hear firsthand about that. I encourage you to check it out and listen for yourself.

I'll just say that I was impressed by the similarities between the adventure racing community and the gravel racing community. The way the events are nurtured, the spirit behind what they do. It all hearkens to how I feel about and have experienced the gravel races I have been at and have facilitated. Once I knew "the how" of what the do, and why they wanted to keep things that way, I was 100% more comfortable with the whole idea of the USECF putting on a "Gravel Nationals".

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Minus Ten Review- 12

If it wasn't a rock, it had a spike sticking out of it that could rip yer flesh open.
Ten years ago on the blog here I was relating my experiences riding in the Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso, Texas for the first time. It was, understandably, an eye opening experience for me.

By this time in my life I had ridden a mountain bike in Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and all over Iowa. But I had never seen rock, rock, and more rock like I saw in El Paso. It was unbelievable. I was overwhelmed by the experience of riding in the desert.

The bike I used was the Dos Niner, and despite the fact that it maybe had 3/4's of an inch of rear travel, I was super glad it had some travel! I remember slamming into a wash so hard I thought the bike should have broken in two pieces. Amazingly, the Dos held up and so did I. I also found out I was way out of shape, but I think I cleaned more than I should have just on pure adrenaline and the excitement of riding in a new place.

I certainly came away with a new appreciation for El Paso and mountain biking in general. It made some things I used to think were tough into child's play. In fact, it kind of spoiled me that way. There aren't too many places I have ridden since then that even come close to how hard it is to ride those trails.

Going steeply up on loose, huge sized gravelly rock, snaking your way through a minefield of thorns. Typical El Paso trail.
While all that was exciting and fun, I had to turn my attention forward to Sea Otter and beyond that, to Trans Iowa v3. Jeff was mostly out of the picture, but at this time ten years ago I still didn't know for certain how little or how much he was going to be involved. Then there were some bizarre requests to photograph the event from oddball folks I never had heard about, all of which I eventually turned down. There also was another, strange, unbelievable request from a guy from Portland, Oregon which I had to field as well.

See, this was a huge transition for me, and I was going through it ten years ago, and I was not at all comfortable with this. Originally I was just Jeff's helper, a "gopher", the route maker, and I facilitated Jeff's desires in how to run things. But here I was with Jeff absent most of the time and me having to field all the requests and questions that Jeff would have normally handled himself. Now I was becoming the "director" of Trans Iowa, only I wasn't really seeing it that way. You could say that I was in denial.

Anyway, this guy from Portland was an author and he kept e-mailing me and calling me with all these questions. He was getting an "advance" from a publishing company to write a book about underground, under the radar sporting events. He had heard about Trans Iowa from Ira Ryan, who was starting out as a custom frame builder in Portland at that time. Ira won the first Trans Iowa.

So, this whole thing was surreal, and I didn't believe it, really. I didn't believe Jeff wouldn't be a part of Trans Iowa.  I didn't believe this guy who said he was an author was for real. But the guy says he is coming, so I wrote about this ten years ago and had the following to say about what it all could mean for Trans Iowa:

"In the end, Jeff and I run the thing and put it on. It's up to us whether or not it is what it is.......for now. I suppose if it gets away from us for whatever reason, we can always shut it down. Are we part of a revolution? Ahh.....well, maybe. I think history, or maybe this upcoming book, will be the judge of that. All I know is, we want to ride our bikes for crazy long distances self supported, and we think you do to. As long as we have that basic understanding, then we have things like Trans Iowa. If that's a "revolution", then so be it."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday News And Views

The Terrene Honali 700 X 50 tire.
Terrene Debuts New 50mm Honali Tire:

Terrene Tires has made quite a splash with the three tires that they entered the market with last year. The mtb "Chunk", the fat bike specific "Wazia", and the gravel oriented "Elwood". I have the Elwoods and I think they are as good a gravel tire as you'll find.

Of course, with only three offerings, (or even if they had 300), there are tires we wish we could get from Terrene. I asked about something maybe more in tune with a Fargo for gravel. Terrene said, "Hold on.....". Now I see this offered up from the ongoing Taipei Cycle Show show. It is a 50mm wide touring tire dubbed the "Honali". I'm not sure how you should pronounce that. Hmm.......

Well, however the name sounds, the tire looks good. Maybe not exactly what I had in mind, but we will have to see about that. There is a reflective sidewall, which I think is cool if you do anything late evenings or at night. Some folks don't like that reflective stripe, but it never bothered me, and it could save you from getting hit. I like that idea.

I was thinking a bit about tossing on a set of Surly 700c sized Extraterrestrials, but those tires are heavier ( reportedly over a 1000 grams each) and burlier than I think I need. Great tire though. Love the 26"er version on my 1X1. I just feel I don't need that big brute of a tire on my Fargo. I don't think I need all that flat and sidewall protection, for one thing. Maybe the Honali will be similar but not as beefy? That's what I'm hoping to find.

Resurrect your decade old FS 29"er as a "full suspension gravel device"!
Now That Is Taking It Too Far:

Another Taipei Cycle Show find was news concerning the showing of a "full suspension gravel bike".

No, I am not making that up. Go ahead- click that link. 

I wish I were making it up, but it is apparently an idea being floated in Taiwan which I am sure some company is hoping will catch on. Ya know, I hate to break it to them, but there are these devices called  full suspension 29"ers out there that are already doing the same thing they want this bike to be doing, only they do it better. Heck, I bet there are a lot of decent, first generation full suspension 29"ers out there that would be had for a song that you could actually use as a gravel bike. Well, actually I don't have to bet. People are already using those bikes as gravel bikes. I saw a few last Summer at Gravel Worlds, as a matter of fact.

So, yeah........I happen to still have that Fisher HiFi in the image here, and I think I might just go right ahead and try this myself. I mean, why not? A set of lighter disc wheels, a nice set of tires, a Jones Bar, and BOOM! I even serviced the fork for this recently.

Like I need a new project, but again- why not? Stay tuned for a post dealing with my experiences on dual squish bikes on gravel and how this Fisher might work out coming soon.

Sun Race 11-50T 11 speed cassette
Now That Is Taking It Too Far: Part 2

First SRAM comes out with Eagle 12 speed and says this is the best wide range cassette 1X option you can buy. Well, is it really? Sun Race makes a case for their 11-50T 11 speed cassette which slides on to a regular splined free hub body and costs a heck of a lot less than SRAM Eagle. Plus, if you already run 11 speed mtb shifters and derailleurs, this is supposed to work fine with those components.

The image here doesn't do the scale of this cassette justice. Those big cogs are ginormous! My gravel bikes don't have chain rings that big!

I guess this puts SRAM on notice that, for many of us, if we are going to pop for something along these lines, the value per buck spent is going to be tilted in this cassettes favor more often than not. I mean, you don't have to have a specific SRAM wheel, you don't have to have SRAM Eagle, and you don't have to spend a ton of money to expand the gearing range on your 1X set up. That is, if you are into such a thing.

I still think 1X is a flawed system that compromises chain line, increases wear, and has gearing steps which hearken back to 6 speed mountain bike freewheels. My opinion is that human powered mountain bikers will someday realize that maintaining momentum and cadence is easier with close ratio gearing set ups. But then again, maybe I am a dreamer. 

A tire for skinnier rigs- WTB's new 32mm Exposure.
 And One That Isn't Taken Quite Far Enough, Maybe......

One more bit that was just released news this week- A tire from WTB to join the currently offered 28mm and 34mm Exposure line up. This one is the "Goldilocks" 32mm size.

Many folks may not realize it yet, but many disc road bikes can take 32mm tires with ease. This might make your roadie rig, (if it is a disc road bike), something more adept at smooth dirt roads and maybe even some finer gravel. (Looking at you, Southeastern Minnesotans!) I like the idea of that, but in practice, at least around here, a 32mm tire is not going to work. 

Yes, I have tried it. Even 30mm tires, actually. When you find that gravel that has been swept cleanish of "real crushed rock" and has that fine, hard, gritty limestone base showing, then heck yeah! 34mm or even 32mm tires absolutely are a blast to ride. Or you could cruise alleyways. That gravel is pretty tame. However, you aren't going to find miles of unbroken stretches of that in Iowa. On the contrary, you are more likely to find miles and miles of deep, fresh, chunky gravel, which would make a 32mm tire a big chore to ride, and super unpleasant to experience.

So, I like the idea of the Exposure, and maybe it would work where you live, but it doesn't go far enough for me. I'll stick to my 37mm Riddlers and other, bigger, supple, more capable gravel tires here.

Okay, that's a wrap for this week. Have a good weekend and ride yer bicycles!