Saturday, March 24, 2018

Minus Ten Review - 12

No dirt here folks. A trail in Franklin State Park near El Paso, Texas
Ten years ago this week I was in El Paso, Texas to visit my relatives and ride in the desert. This would have been the second time I had ridden down there.

It's hard to impart just how difficult it is to ride through these trails. Everything is a rock that you are riding on. They vary in size and shape, being loose, hard, bedrock, or deep gravel depending upon where you are. Since it typically is so rough, loose, and rocky, the going is very slow. I once rode about 15 miles, I think it was, and it took over 3 hours. I was just crawling, but then again, on that trip I had a hard tail.

The trip ten years ago was to test two rigs I had for Twenty Nine Inches. One was a rare Siren Song soft tail single speed. It was over-geared for the terrain but a nice bike. The Hi-Fi was a better match there but unfortunately I have no good recollection of that ride anymore. Not that particular one, anyway.

So, what I do know is that I liked riding there. While, as I say, it was tough going, it was very different than anything I've done before then or since. I enjoy it every time I get the chance to ride down there. Unfortunately, it has been several years since I've been able to. The last time I was there my father in law was in hospital, so we spent the main portion of the stay with him there, and then I got sick at the end and.......well, I'd rather forget that!

Here's a couple more shots of the trails down there for reference......

That's the Hi-Fi in the image there. 
I remember thinking this looked like a brick building had been razed here and someone made a path through the middle.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday News And Views

Bar Yak Q-Pro cue sheet holders. Image by Joe Stiller.
Trans Iowa v14 : Updates

With a hair over a month to go till T.I.v14 (!!!) I have been pretty busy with things behind the scenes. Cues were formatted and sent to my secret checker who will be going around the course solo to see if the cues really make sense or if they are wrong in spots. Once any revisions necessary have been made, I will go have the cues printed and we will collate them into the batches they need to be in. Volunteer boxes will be set up for each checkpoint, and for this year, the start as well.

Numbers have been ordered and should be here in four days. I will be seeing about customizing these a bit and, of course, be writing everyone's name on their designated plate. Then I will need to print up waivers, a special T.I.v14 "Welcome" letter, and get that packed away.

Prizing is beginning to be shipped here. Bar Yak is sending three Q-Pro Cue Sheet Holders and my intention is to get those out to three lucky riders before T.I.v14 so they can be used for the event. Velo Press and Nick Legan have sent out five copies of "Gravel Cycling" to be raffled off at the Pre-Race Meat-Up. I also have been promised some goodies from Pedal of Littleton, and I have a plan to include WTB tires and some other baubles which will all go to the riders.

Communications will be sent out to riders about the first of the month and volunteers will hear from me shortly after that. Meeting notes will be drawn up and a schedule made to meet goals all through April. It's going to be a busy month!

Wireless Di2? You knew it would happen.....
Shimano Patent Hints At Wireless Di2:

The big cycling media companies have uncovered a patent application by Shimano which seems to indicate that the cycling component company is getting set to introduce a wireless Di2. Current Di2 electronic shifting requires that hard wires run from each component to "junction boxes" and then to a battery for power supply.

While not a lot of fine detail exists concerning just how the Di2 wireless set up might work, one can already guess at the implications of such components. Obviously some sort of protocol for the radio waves must exist. SRAM developed their own, independent wireless standard, but it is not clear at this time if Shimano will use a currently established network or develop their own.

Then there is the functionality. It is obvious from the patent application schematic that one could probably use this as they would a typical mechanical Shimano group, but other possibilities are endless. Remote triggers, assignable functions, and Shimano's own SyncroShift technologies will probably all figure in to the new designs. Obviously, flat bar applications will also be developed which will bring Shimano a leg up on SRAM as that would be second generation Di2 for off road while SRAM has yet to introduce any version of E-Tap for off road. Although I would bet Sea Otter will be where that finally happens this year.

Do you want to run a 42T rear cog with your drop bar shifters? Image couresy of Wolf Tooth
Wolf Tooth Introduces Road Link:

The obvious move by SRAM to eliminate front derailleurs continues on the road side, but what about really low gears? Well, you can thank Wolf Tooth for being a "johnny-on-the-spot" and for making this "Road Link" for the new Shimano Shadow style road rear derailleurs.

Now you can get one of those 11 speed cassettes with the "ridicu-low" rear cogs and then ditch your front derailleur, or be a mad scientist and run a double anyway with several sub-one-to-one gears. Wolf Tooth says the Road Link is,"Optimized for use with 11-36t, 11-40t, 11-42t 11-speed cassettes" and that with a 11-42 it will work, but not to "factory spec shifting quality".

Interestingly I have been running an 11-36T cassette on my Raleigh Tamland for two years with a standard Ultegra 11 speed rear derailleur and nothing else special at all. I also set up my Twin Six Standard Rando the same way. That gets me a one to one ratio gear in the low 36T coupled with my inner ring on the crank which is also a 36T.

I haven't tried that with the new Shadow rear road derailleurs, so maybe that wouldn't work and I would need a Road Link. Or maybe not..... Sometimes we bicycle mechanics pull off stunts that "should not be done" and get away with it where the average humanoid cannot. Hard to say.

Well, we are supposed to get 8" of heavy wet snow this weekend. Yay! The rest of you, go ride your bikes! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Green Belt Report

Mostly good, some not so much, but rideable.
I needed a break from Trans Iowa non-sense and other gravelly pursuits Wednesday. I mostly just needed a pedal. So, I thought about the Green Belt. It seemed to me that the frost had mostly been drawn up out of the ground here and that things were firming up. Maybe the Green Belt was going to be okay to check out via fat bike.

It wasn't all that warm out, but it was Sunny. The area is nearly devoid of any signs of the past Winter and even hints of the grass turning green is evident here and there. There was only the specter of mud that may be a hindrance. I figured I might have to turn tail at some point if the trail was too greasy.

Starting out things were actually really good. In fact, I was surprised how dry it was. Of course, we went into Winter in almost drought conditions and that rain we got? Yeah, that just ran off because the ground was frozen, so it didn't do a bit of good as far as the water table goes. I noted that the Black Hawk Creek looked like it was at late August levels instead of being swollen with Spring run off. 

Things on the dirt were pretty good though. There would be the occasional bit of wet, sticky dirt, but I wasn't sinking in and causing ruts, so onward I went. The only trace of my passing was the imprint of the Bud's tread blocks. As it should be.

There were still traces of Winter to be found if you looked carefully. 
I was not really having any second thoughts about the Green Belt until I reached the usual water crossing points. The first is the reroute made a few years ago which bypassed where the culvert used to be. That bypass is now so eroded that you must dismount and traverse two small eroded in channels of water. Actually, going back to the original crossing and putting a culvert back in would be best. But I'm not very influential in the affairs of Waterloo Park and Rec, so it may never happen. Something will get done though, because as it stands now, they won't be able to get their end loader and brush hog mower through there. I expect some real nonsense to occur here come drier weather.

Marky-Mark was in remarkable shape. I was pleased to find it so clear and rideable. But going from the shelter on the West leg of the trail to where it joins the East leg means another water crossing dismount. That wet spot just North of there is water covered but rideable. Just hope that you don't have to put a foot down or lose your front wheel grip going through because the mud is extra thick and gooey there right now. You'd be a hot mess if you fell down in that.

Otherwise the Green Belt is recovering well and fat bike-able for now. That is until this weekend's nasty weather blows through.

Geezer Ride Postponed!

I'm sure no one is interested in roads like these with rain on top of it all!
Well, as my old friend Jeff Kerkove used to say about weather for Trans Iowa: "The weather is the wildcard." The same is true for any Spring time scheduled event in the Mid-West.

This Saturday looks downright ugly at this point. With snow a distinct possibility overnight Friday, and that after rain, the roads would be a complete mess. Added to that is the threat of continued showers, winds gusting from the East at well over 20mph, and you have a recipe for misery and hypothermic conditions.

Not gonna risk that for a ride aimed at beginners.

So, I have pulled the trigger on a postponement of the ride to April 14th, a Saturday, same time and same place as originally planned. This, hopefully, will end up being a better date with decent weather. There has been tremendous interest locally and regionally for this edition of the Geezer Ride, so I am happy to try to accommodate all with a riding experience that isn't quite so nasty.

Now if there are any questions or comments, feel free to drop them in the comment section or you can also discuss this event and keep tabs on it by visiting the Facebook Event Page for the Spring Geezer Ride 2018.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Will This New Materials Technology Revolutionize Cycling?

Graphene, found in tires now, and helmets, is poised to change everything- or will it?
Every so often something happens which opens the door to newer ways of doing the same old things in cycling. Like when steel rims were replaced by aluminum and then those aluminum rims were made stronger by heat treatment. Same idea- something to mount a tire on, but with better and better materials technology.

I recall in the 90's when carbon fiber was just making inroads as a material to be used for cycling. I was a bit apprehensive when I started out using a carbon fiber fork on a road bike in the 1990's. But who can imagine a lightweight road rocket without a carbon fork now? It's common place. Materials technology made it so.

And speaking of carbon fiber, how about this new stuff we've been seeing. Nanotubes, and now Graphene. Just what is Graphene anyway? I had a set of tires to try out from Vittoria with the stuff in them. I knew it was some atomic structure, and Vittoria had a bit of info on the stuff, but it wasn't until I found out helmet maker Catlike was using the stuff in helmets that I found a better explanation. Here's something from their site:

"Graphene is a totally new material, derived from graphite, comprised of very interesting physical and chemical properties. Its basic structure is formed by carbon atoms set out in a hexagonal shape. This creates layered structures (like a honeycomb) of a thick atom whose intercalation, along with the “Van der Waals” forces, achieve a material up to 200 times more resistant than steel, yet is extremely light.

This material exhibits enormous mechanical resistance and some unique electronic properties. Its extraordinary properties and its potential technical applications have made Graphene one of the most active research fields in materials’ physics."

A chart found on the Catlike site showing general uses for Graphene now.
Of course, tires are the big news in cycling regarding this Graphene stuff. It has been touted as a material that increases traction without affecting rolling resistance. It also increases wear life and offers better puncture protection. Sounds like magic? Or maybe B.S.? Yes, it does at first blush, but reports coming back from riders are proving that Graphene is actually the "real deal".

In an article posted to "Bike Europe" recently about Vittoria and Graphene technology, we get a picture painted for us describing Graphene's attributes by the Italian patent holder for the material: 

"In a statement Directa Plus says “The G+ use in tyres produces the joint effect of simultaneously reducing rolling resistance and increasing grip. The result is a tyre that is both faster and safer in turning under braking or in extreme weather conditions. In addition, the effectiveness of G+ reduces fuel consumption as well as increasing the lifespan of the tyre due to reduced wear. As a result the application of G+ offers economic efficiency as well as environmental sustainability.”"

As we can see from the quote, there appears to be a future for Graphene in automotive and e-bike fields. So, that would point to a wider use of the material there. But what if Graphene gets applied to carbon fiber parts for bicycles as well? Could it be a game changer like it appears it is well on its way to be doing in the tire field? It is intriguing to think about.....

I was told recently by a person in the industry that Vittoria has the exclusive on Graphene for tires. I also found out a certain bicycle brand has been pressing Vittoria for them to make tires under their brand with Graphene in them, but they were rebuffed. This would point further to how important this material is and how it could significantly affect tire technology now and in the future.  

Maybe it will be a flash in the pan, but it would seem that in the years to come Graphene and its applications may be seen as a significant advancement just like the heat treating of aluminum for rims or carbon fiber frames and forks were in the past.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fyxation Subzero Pedal Reviewed

Flat pedals are making a comeback these days. You may have noticed that many mountain bikers and fat bikers are turning to flat pedals again. Not only that, but so are commuters and even some gravel road riders. Bikepackers often use flats if they do rides in areas that require lots of walking. So, if you think all "serious cycling" is done with clipless pedals, well, you'd be very wrong in that assumption.

Long time readers also know that flat pedals figure into my own riding pretty heavily. I'm a big fan of Fyxation's Mesa MP pedals. I've been using them on many of my bikes, but my longest running set is on my Titanium Mukluk which has seen at least four Winters of use now with those pedals on that bike, plus a 100 mile ride on gravel a couple years ago. They show their age, for sure, but they aren't dead yet either!

Well, a month ago or so Fyxation told me about a new version of the Mesa pedal, the limited edition Mesa Subzero, which is based off of the Mesa MP, with the impact grade nylon pedal body and stainless steel pins for grip. The Mesa Subzero also features those things, but they have new graphics and colored pins and spindles. MSRP is $69.95. See the spec list here:
  • High impact nylon body built to take abuse
  • Smooth running sealed bearing and DU bushing
  • Electroplated cro-moly spindle
  • Electroplated stainless steel replaceable pins for added grip with shoes or boots
  • Nylon body doesn't suck heat out of your feet like alloy pedals do
  • Installs with 15mm open end wrench or 8mm hex wrench
  • Pin Spec - M3x0.5 x 7.5mm
  • Spindle Thread: 9/16
  • Height: 14mm
  • Width: 105mm
  • Weight: 351g/pair
  • Color: Black/Black, Gray/Black, Black/Blue, Black/Orange
So, obviously these went on my Blackborow DS. Fat biking can put a pedal into some pretty difficult situations. Considering I occasionally commuted on the bike as well, that makes the situation potentially worse. The salty, chemical stew mixed into the "car-slush" can be pretty corrosive.

But in reality, I think the next bike I stuck these on is even more of a test. My current commuter now that Winter has lost its grip on things here is the Surly 1X1 single speed. It isn't just a single speed, it is fixed gear single speed. Kind of makes sense and things can have been said to have come full circle here. A Fyxation pedal on a fixed gear commuter? Perfect.

I think this bike is tougher on pedals because there is no coasting, for one thing, and with my relatively stupid-low gear, I spin like a mad man. I think I'm running a 34T up front with a 19T in the rear. Yeah......low gear! But for sloshing through melting snow and ice, pushing through mud, and riding up and down some short steeps, it works well for me. The pedals have a nice, wide platform and the pins grip well, so despite the fact that I have no foot retention, my feet stay put even at high cadences. Of course, the low gear and big platform work great when grinding through a mud slough or a three inch fresh snowfall.

The fixed gear Surly saw all of that and a good curb smash to boot with no degradation in performance at all to the pedals. I did scratch up the pins a bit, but cosmetically the pedals still look great over all. If I could offer one bit of criticism it would be that the pedals middle section stands just a bit proud over the rest of the flat section, or it is even with the edges, which can result in the occasional, slight foot slip. I've never slipped off this pedal completely, mind you, but I think if the pedal was a bit "concave" in profile it would give a more secure grip on whatever footwear you use. I've been wearing some Keen hikers, so not really very "flat pedal friendly", but I gotta keep my feet warm and dry!

That said, I can't think of a much better bang for the buck than this pedal in terms of the looks, function, and long term performance. If these Subzero pedals last as long as my original Mesa MP's, and there is no reason to believe they won't, then the Subzero pedals are a great take on that classic design.

Fyxation Mesa MP Desert Series Image courtesy of Fyxation.
And Now For Something New:

Ironically, as I was typing up this review news was sent out declaring a new color series for the Mesa MP pedals. This is this products 6th anniversary of being on the market and Fyxation decided to celebrate with a Desert Series consisting of muted green, orange, and "sand" colored pedals. These are Mesa MP's that you may be familiar with, just in some new colors. These pedals are also available in black, blue, red, orange, green, and purple. MSRP is $59.99 for a pair. Check out the story on these from Fyxation here.

So, there ya go. The shop where I work sells a lot of these and there is a good reason why. You really cannot find much of anything as good or better for less cash. I'm convinced these pedals are long lasting, tough, and durable. They are fairly thin, so if you like that idea, they are some of the only options at this price point. If you ride in Winter, the nylon body material does not act as a heat sink and your feet stay warmer. I've heard from customers that have come back to the shop that say the same thing I feel is true about the cold weather performance. Of course, for the rest of the year they work well also.

Next up I am going to stick these on a gravel bike and try out riding on gravel with them for a while. I'll report back on how that goes, but if it is anything like my Fat Bike Century ride which was all on gravel, then it won't be anything other than a good report. We'll see.

NOTE: Fyxation sent over the Mesa Subzero pedals at no charge for test/review. I was not paid, nor bribed for this review and I strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Country Views: Geezer Ride Recon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Touring Series: Day Two: The Stonemason Of Petersen

A Guitar Ted Productions Series
 Welcome to "The Touring Series". This series is a re-posting of a story I told here on this blog in 2008. The story is about what I named the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour". This was a fully loaded, self-supported bicycle tour from just Northeast of Waterloo, Iowa starting in a little village named Dewar and the goal was to get to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada in one week's time. The plan called for us to be picked up there and taken home by car.

When I returned home from this tour I wrote a rough draft manuscript of about half of the trip. It is 27 pages of hand written stuff, front and back, and this is what I will be posting to begin with. You'll be able to identify the 1994 manuscript material by my using italics to post it here. After the manuscript information ends, the rest of the story will be picked up from memories written down in 2008. That will appear as regular text here. As mentioned last week, cameras, smart phones, and the like did not exist for us in 1994, so images will be few. There are some though, and I will sprinkle those in when they are relevant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No!", we all said in unison.

"He's an old stonemason!"

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

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

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

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

Next: To The Mighty Miss'