Sunday, January 30, 2011

Single Minded.

The last week was full to the top and overflowing with early mornings, long days, and packed schedules.  Saturday was a 04:00 to 21:00 hour day.  No rest for the weary.

But Sunday.  Sunday was a quiet morning.  Breakfast cereal.  Devotions and contemplation.  Then wool.  It was a morning for wool, singlespeeds, and singletrack.  And a single minded pursuit of pedaling over God's earth as it prepared for rain. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ramble Ride #2

A while back I came up with an idea.  It floated to the surface of my brain like the triangle in the Magic 8 Ball (look it up) and there it was.  Ramble Ride.  The idea of a Ramble Ride, to recap, was to string together a series of smaller rides into a bigger loop that includes some bike path or road work to connect the dots, then schedule in a twinkie stop at a watering hole.  Pace is friendly.  Ramble Rides are 'No-Drop' rides.

Sounds innocent enough, but the Sierra Pelona Ramble #1 is deceptively hard.  36 miles and enough climbing to work ya.  I was looking for another route for #2 and I had 75% of it figured, but I could not connect it up.  Then, recently a buddy led a ride onto some private property he had access to.  At the end of the ride, which ended up on National Forest land, I ended up discovering a road that I thought had been lost to a housing development.  I had ridden it years ago, but now, finding it to be still there opened up a route to complete the loop.  Oh Baby!  The Ramble Ride #2 is on!

I love the concept.  It takes some creativity, lets you get some bigger rides by stringing together the combos, and feels more social with the snack stop, etc.  I think this one will be around 35 miles too, but will not have a ton of elevation gain.  It re-connects me to some old stomping grounds, lets the new folks see more bits of the countryside, and gives me something to look forward to.

Even before I have this one ridden I am thinking about Ramble Ride #3.  Fun stuff.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tom Ritchey: Faith, compassion, bikes, and coffee

Don't know much about Project Rwanda?  Or the character of the man who began the project?  One of the founding father's of MTBs talks about forgiveness, compassion, opportunity, and the power of the eternal, human soul.

I need to meet that man someday.  God bless ya, TR. 

PS:  The Timbercomp rocked.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baggies or no Baggies?

That is the question.  Whether tis nobler to wear the skin tight lycra or drape on da' bags?  Hmmm.  About 3 years ago I traded in my lycra for baggies and since then, I have worn either a combo short/baggy or a separate short/board short thingie instead of just the regular old lycra riding short.

I came to love the pockets, not so much to carry things while I ride, but just to put my car keys in, cell phone, etc as I am putting around after and before a ride.  And, the extra protection is kinda nice for brushy trails or falling down.

But there have been a few times that I would default back to just lycra for whatever reason and something would tickle my brain a bit, something just at the edges of my sub-conscious...I felt faster without the bags on.


So, for most of this fall/winter I rode in nothing else but the most excellent set of bib knickers that I had ever worn...see more here...and just recently, with some Jan temps in the high 70s, I slid into some short/baggy combos and went riding.  Ahh....hmmm...I felt...well, dowdy.  There is a word for ya.

Do bag ladies ride MTBs?  Not sure.  I felt less than sleek.  I felt cumbersome and not fast.  Now I doubt I was actually slower, but who wants to feel slower, regardless?

This may take some adjustments to my kit and I doubt it will be cheap.  Used baggies, anyone?  Sightly worn by a bag lady on a bike.  Bottle not included.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Musings on Running a Bluff and Gunfighting

For some strange reason, I have gotten a reputation in the local area as a fast guy on a bike, something I find very amusing, cuz I am anything but that.  First off, I never was fast, even when I was young, and now that I am getting older, I am certainly not going to change that much.  So I am not sure where this comes from, but I think many of the young guns that I ride with are just too new to know what really fast is.  So, for now I am running a big bluff.  Call it MTB Poker, if you will.  The cards I am holding may not be a winning hand, but I am crafty, sneaky, experienced, and downright dishonest as to what I may or may not have up my sleeve.  No short sleeve jerseys for me...I need all the 'luck' I can get.

So I will continue the game as long as I can, hoping that a good poker face and a carefree disposition will keep 'em wondering.  And, every so often I will get a winning hand as the fates allow.  Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while, ya' know.  That lucky hand, a singlespeed, and the mean look in my eyes will have to do to keep the young guns from calling my bluff.  It proved itself for many a grizzled and bent cowboy in the past and they only had one gear on them horses too.

Riding a singlespeed has a tremendous psychological effect on the young guns.  It makes them wonder what you have tucked away in the waist belt that is just under that long coat of yours.  It worked for Clint works for me.  Just imagine showing up to a gunfight with a single shot pistol.  It makes an impression:  "I only need need one bullet to kill you", it says.  Hah.  Gotta love that.  Even if I am not quick to the draw, I have the emotional edge going into the fight. 

You just know that Wyatt Earp was a singlespeeder.  Look at that handlebar 'stache and steely eyed look. 

Wyatt Earp March 19, 1848--January 13, 1929
"Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything."
Wyatt Earp
Amen, brother Earp.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Information Is Power and the Race to the Bottom

A recent event on a 29er based website was amazing to watch.  A press release went out about a new carbon fiber bike frame from Europe.  The pricing reflected a premium product, near $1800.00.  Two years ago, that would have been a marketable price, though still high, but CF 29er frames were priced at that level for the most part, if you could get them at all.

Then, over that last year, something changed all that.  There are not many places where a CF bike is made.  Pretty much all of them are overseas/Asia and a lot of that is now in China.  Aside from the major players like Specialized, Giant, Trek, etc, who may have special arrangements and proprietary molds/specs/designs, basically anyone with a checkbook and a marketing plan can ring up China and order their own branded CF frames.  How many do ya' want?

Now that is still not all that remarkable, but what happened next is...the Chinese factories began offering these CF frames direct to the end user for a very cheap price.  It was not at all unusual to see a frame that was identical down to the frame bosses, etc, offered for a third of the cost of the original frame as was sold by the company that developed the CF frame initially.  This could be the EXACT same frame...or maybe not, but it was something that I am not sure that bike companies expected.  Now I have not seen a complete copy of a Specialized Stumpjumper Carbon S works and I doubt you ever will.  But if you were the kind of small to mid size company that shopped from the catalog of CF frames that were somewhat pre-designed and expected to have a certain profit margin in that product, you may just have the composite rug pulled right out from under you.

That brings up the original mention of the thread about the Swiss offered CF frames and what happened there.  The post was made, the readers let out a collective guffaw at the inflated cost over what was offered here for a huge discount, and the raspberries rang out over the innerweb.   The challenge was thrown out to the company marketing the Swiss bike..."tell me why I should pay that much for what looks to me to be the SAME product?"  Good question.

Lesson number one:  "Information is power".  The internet empowers the consumer in ways that companies are struggling to keep up with and anticipate.   The end result of this example?  The Swiss bike will be re-priced before it is even launched.  Wow.  That is remarkable.

Lesson number two:  "The Race to the Bottom" has begun.  And, I am not so sure that is a good thing.  Follow along here for a minute.  A bike company spends money and resources to develop a CF frame and have it manufactured by a Chinese company.  They expect a certain financial result from their efforts.  Customers enjoy a quality frame with a proven warranty and or dealer network with support in case of any issues.  The pricing of the product reflects all this assumed cost and all is well.

Now the Chinese (in this case, anyway) begins selling what looks like a very similar product both in style and performance for a 50 to 70 percent discount direct to the consumer.  It may not be the same frame.  Was the product cheapened in any way?  How much QC was actually put into this?  No one knows for sure.  But that cheap price will entice many to buy them anyway.  Now the consumer is empowered and the other companies will have to prove their worth to justify the increased cost of their offerings, but if they cannot forecast a reasonable enough profit to make it worth their while, they may just pass on developing anything further.  Now the consumer still can buy a cheaper frame, but do the smaller companies still offering the CF stuff have the resource dollars to continually refine the product?

Not likely.  That is not good for the consumer.

Race to the bottom=Walmart CF bikes?  Shudder!

Will it happen that way?  Maybe not.  Maybe the quality will be very high for all those bargain bin frames.  But I always remember something an engineer for a very significant American company told me after they had exported all the technology and intelligence to Asia for their manufacturing:  "They (the Chinese) have no trash cans."  Meaning?  Well, what we may reject for our standards is just fine for you to buy directly from the 'Perfect Joyous Butterfly' factory in the Land of the Dragon.

And, if the cheap frames begin failing and the customer experience is not that high after all, and the cost of improving that requires an increase in costs to make up for that...we will likely see an upswing in pricing from the direct sellers too.

Either way, what once was looked at as a 'premium' product...that being a CF MTB frame...will never be the same now and may just become a commodity to the lowest bidder.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New bikepacking gear: A 'Layered' Shelter approach

I wanted to re-do my shelter for the next season, so I have been spending tons of time on the inner-web trying to come to terms with what I wanted to end up with.  Right now I have a very nice REI single person UL tent that is very good at what it does....keeping me out of the elements without weighing too much.  It is a very secure, quite comfy (but not expansive), 3 season tent.  It has an inner wall section of mostly mesh that clips/hangs under a pole arrangement, and a storm fly goes over that combo.  But, there are some things that bug me.
  • If I want to have any sense of full protection from precipitation, I needed to pack the storm fly.  In fact, even if I want much wind buffering, I need to do the same.  So, even though it seems tempting to just pack the inner layer (mostly netting with a floor) and the tent poles, I tend to hesitate for high mountain trips, even in summer.  In the spring and fall, the winds can really rip down our local canyons.  So I end up with the whole shebang, even if I do not end up needing the storm fly.
  • The same amount of insulation from the elements also insulates me from the outdoors I chose to spend time in.  How could I get to more of an 'open' feeling without just laying out in the open?
  • I would like to trim weight and gain some overall packing efficiency.   That whole tent deal nearly takes up my entire CDW seat bag and part of my bar bag.
  • I wanted to add some flexibility.  You know how the concept of layering works so well for clothing?  Well, I wanted to have that kind of layering kit for shelter as well.  From a desert summer night to a high mtn spring day, I wanted to be able to tailor the kit to meet the needs of the ride.
So, I thought and read and compared and thought and came to a four piece arrangement that hopefully will do what I want for nearly any situation while bikepacking.
  1. Tarp
  2. Bivy sack
  3. Bug Net
  4. My current 50 degree UL bag and a warmer option I am still working on, perhaps a UL quilt to be homemade one way or another.
The tarp as a shelter is as old as fabric, I bet, and is a very smart way to get out of the elements.  The new silnylon, caternary cut tarps are light, tight, and versatile.  The best thing about a tarp, besides the light weight, is the ability to remain connected with the outdoors yet still be covered up a bit.  They ventilate well and can be lowered to be storm friendly if need be.  They are roomy, too.  The bad things?  Well, there are no floors or complete protection from the elements, so crawly things can get ya'.  You can pitch them against the wind, as long as the wind does not shift around and blow into the opening that tarps typically have.  You need to stake them out and tie them down effectively or they will suck.  My tent is the same every brainer to set up, even without tent stakes.
Tarps are not cheap.  You can get a budget tent cheaper than a really good tarp.

A bivy sack is basically just a shell that looks like a sleeping bag without the insulation.  It is a barrier between you and the elements with your sleeping bag or quilt inside.  As simple as it gets, the appeal is in the minimal weight and complete protection for the crawlies and the elements without hauling a tent around.  Many racers, like in the Great Divide Race, will just roll out a bivy sack and sleeping bag and deal with the tight confines and potential for condensation.  You are not gonna' change clothes inside one very easily, so get used to baring your skivvies as you dress yourself.  If you are claustrophobic, it may not be for you.  They also tend to 'rain' inside with condensation build up, depending on how well they ventilate or what fabric they are made from.  Some of them are over 200 bucks as well.

A bug net works great with a tarp as either a drape or an enclosure.  I plan on making a net enclosure for use under the tarp for summer use in hotter weather and leaving the bivy at home.

I already have the 500gram UL bag that is pretty good down to 50-ish degrees (and below with clothing or a liner, etc).  I need to decide on whether a quilt is for me or not, and if so, I think I will make one, either from synthetic insulation and sewn fabric, or from taking a budget, down sleeping bag and converting it.  I want to get comfy into the mid to high 30s as far as temps.  No snow camping for me.

So far I have added two pieces of gear:

The Tarp - The Integral Designs Sil-Shelter.  It was on sale at REI for $99.00, regularly $140.00, so that was a good price.  It does require a pole on the inside to support it (unless you are under a tree...not likely for me in my area) but it is roomy and has a 'door' of sorts so I can get more windbreak out of this than most tarps.  We shall see.  I still need to get a ground tarp and some cord to stake it out, and then get a lightweight center pole.  That is one thing about tarps as well...they seem really light until you add the ground cloth, stakes, cord, etc, then they get close in weight and pack size to an UL tent.  Still, they offer a much more open camping feeling that no traditional tent can match and I think I will shed about a pound of overall weight with the bivy and tarp combo...even more with the bug net and no bivy.

The bivy was an REI product as well.  At $90.00, it seems to get good reviews and has a mesh panel over the face, preventing you from feeling toooo enclosed...I hope.  It comes in a 'tall' size and has two zippered vents on the sides.  If I really want to travel fast and light, I could use this and my 1 pound UL bag and it would all fit in a big hydration pack.

For now that is it.  I will look at making the bug net and the quilt (if I decide I want a quilt at all).  I think it is a good start on the path to a 'layered' approach to a bikepacking shelter system.  When I get it all figured out, I will highlight it here and on The Cyclist Site in the Bikepacking Series section, weigh things, etc.  Then, the best part....trying it out!