Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Rush to the New

I was riding with KT the Man and we were talking about this new 27.5 wheel size thing.  He and I were both on 29er FS bikes so we are big wheel type guys.  But neither of us have an axe to grind either and he feels like I do…that one should ride the biggest wheel size that works best for them, whatever 'best' is.

He drives a demo van for a bike company and lately they have been besieged by people asking if they have any 27.5 bikes to ride on the demo visits.  The question most asked him used to be "do you have any 29ers?".  Times change.  Now that is fine and all, as the company he works for does make a 27.5 bike(s) but they are pretty heavy duty models and really not what would suit most trail riders in most areas of the country.

However people are buying them anyway, just because they are the latest wheel size.  Regardless of the obvious fact (to anyone looking at the situation with a cool and critical eye) that this person would be better suited to another bike in the line-up, wheel size regardless…or another brand's 27.5 in a more moderate build…they are buying them anyway.  It makes no sense really, but there it is.  And KT was shaking his head in a mix of amusement and wonder at the entire deal.  Why would you buy the wrong bike, and a very expensive one too, just to have a 27.5" wheel?

And it got me thinking that the same thing happened with 29ers.  There were a lot of them sold to people who got caught up in the newest thing that 'everyone' was rushing to have.  However, many did not end up with a bike that was best for them.  Even though that big wheel does some really cool things to the dynamic of a ride, it is not the end all be all for everyone.

This new 27.5 wheel size is certainly going to replace the 26" wheel for nearly any MTB model of bike shop quality (and Wallmart will have 'em too, if they don't already).  It really is, as one industry wag noted, "A better 26" wheel".  But that does not justify buying the wrong bike just to have the new hoop-hype working for you.

It will be interesting to see how this all pans out for the consumer.  It is giving any 26" wheel holdout/29er nay sayers a reason to buy a new bike that appears to be an improvement over their old bike and yet maintain their disdain for the really big wheeled bikes.  Not only does their pride remain intact, they get a new bike and make the bike industry money, which it surely needs.  A win win, so it seems.  29ers sure did that for the industry the last few years but now, as 29ers become more and more 'just a bike', they need to do something to get folks excited about filling up the credit card.  27.5, good, better or best, will do just fine for that purpose.

And I have no problem with that. However, buy the right one for the right reasons.  Whatever the wheel size, it does not transcend common sense.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Getting Ready to Ride Over Stuff.

Back when I test rode a Trek Stache 8, I was impressed with how much fun that bike was.  It was my favorite hard tail 29er with gears that I had yet ridden.  The combo of a dropper post, 120mm fork, slack 68.6* HT angle with 51mm offset fork and moderate length (17.5") chainstays were a great combo.

And it got me thinking about having a bike like that in my quiver, but I did not need a complete bike, just a frame. However, Trek was not offering a frame only deal for 2013/14.  So I began to look for options to the Stache that had the same vibe and combo of geometry.  I pretty much struck out.  Custom Ti or steel was more than I wanted to spend.  Production stuff was either a miss in geometry or sizing and the one bike I did find that ticked all the boxes was a Euro model and expensive to try to get a hold of.

Well that sucks.

But it did get me thinking about a trail bike hardtail 29er that was more about fun than fast and I realized that if I opened my eyes a bit wider I could include some of the All Mountain rated frames out there.  Canfield Nimble 9, Kona Honzo, etc...short chain stays and slack HT angles rated for up to a 140mm travel fork.  They were not the Stache, though.  Heavier for sure, these were all pretty burly frames.  Super short rear centers are not very good on faster, rougher trails as you give up some 'rear trail' and a longer rear end keeps things pointed ahead and tracking well.  A combo of a 140mm fork, short stem, wide bar, and short CS length can be a nightmare if you are climbing up some steep, narrow trail as the front of the bike will wander and waggle.  So the more open, less technical nature of our trails here and my tendency to be more of a trail rider never seemed to be worth it to accept the extra bike weight and burly attitude of this type of bike.

But I was curious about the whole 'short back/long-slack front' hard tail deal.  It was just not a priority and I dismissed the thought.

Then I rode a Niner ROS9 at Interbike and it was quite interesting.  The cockpit setup was a bit close and wide for my world and the frame was on the small size for my body dimensions.  But even with burly wheels/tires and a 130mm fork, I was having a LOT of fun.  It got me thinking again about my dilemma with wanting a more trail capable hard tail 29er.  I wondered if that, with a slightly lesser fork, say 120mm, a longer, lower stem and a slightly narrower bar, full 2x10 gears, a dropper post and a great set of wheels...well I might be in a happy place with something like a Yelli Screamy or this ROS9.

So I read and thought and read and wondered and pondered and studied geo charts and considered it all.  Till today.

That is when I ordered this.

Just the frame of course (and mine will have gears), but a ROS-9 in a Large size, Grey color.  The sizing for me was a bit of a tweener deal but in this bike, even with the moderate fork/build I will be running, it seemed better to 'size down' a bit.  We shall see.  

The frame is a bit more in cost then many in this genre, like a Kona Honzo, but is less than something like a Chromag Surface.  The weight will be over 6 lbs for the LG frame and that is pretty beefy, but it is also what all the others are for the most part.  There are some things I like on this frame that swayed me over.  First of all, but not the most important thing, it is good looking.  Some of them, like a Nimble 9 are kinda ugly.  I hate ugly bikes.  Function be damned.  It has to please the eye.  The EBB allowed for a lower CG and a 17" CS length.  I did not want to be under that length.  1/4 inch may not seem like much but it matters.  17" was already pushing it IMO.  No sliders.  Yeah, I know that the EBB that Niner uses had teething issues in Gen 1, but this Gen 2 has been solid for folks so far and sliders are warts on a prom queen (besides shortening tubing lengths...a bit of a ride killer although this bike may not care).  It's steel.  I like steel bikes.  The frame is well thought out with Stealth dropper ports, nice block-off plates, and clean routing of cables.  

And another says Niner on it.  Yeah, I know...who cares?  But hey...these guys are really into big wheels so why not celebrate that?   This is not a bone tossed to the circus wheel crowd by some company looking for a slice of the market.  For Niner Bikes, it is the main meal, the buffet, the whole enchilada.  I kind of resonate with that.

The build will be what I have laying around, but will be nice, solid parts:
  • Shimano SLX group with 2x10 24/38x36 gearing.  Shadow Plus rear der.
  • SLX brakes with 180F/160R rotors.
  • White Brothers Loop fork.  120mm at first, but it can go 130mm or 140mm depending on what feels right to me.
  • I need to stretch the cockpit a bit so 100mm stem flipped to get weight a bit forward and down.  Maybe a 90mm if I can.
  • 740mm carbon bar from Answer Products.
  • Reverb Dropper post.
  • WTB Pure V saddle.
  • Options here, but I am thinking a set of American Classic Wide Lightning wheels.
  • Specialized Ground Control 2.3 rear/Purgatory 2.3 front tubeless.
  • Shimano SPDs
That ought to be an interesting blend of parts and I am hoping for a trail bike vibe with a tilt towards fun and agility.  I think this bike will be good, even on epics, as long as I am not looking to KOM all the climbs.  I am hoping for a 28lb build.  We shall see.  

My first instincts about this type of bike may have been right and I may have just made a mistake, but it will be a fun journey in the finding out.

We shall see.  C'mon, big, brown, santa.  There is stuff out there that needs riding over.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Thankful that.....

God has given me a life companion that has only gotten better with time.  Godly woman, lover, buddy, mother to my son, business owner, banker, and friend to all things with wet noses and wagging tails.

And a cyclist.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

    "An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life." Proverbs 31:10-12

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Quiver adjustments: Sorting the arrows.

Well as winter comes in to Southern California and we prepare for 'Storm Watch 2014', where we get two inches of rain over two days and forget how to drive our cars again, I am looking at shifting a few bikes and parts around.

It is so odd, thinking of when I had just one bike.  Weird.  If I had to choose just one it would be agonizing to come to a decision.  But I still need to change things up a bit and slim things down...sort of.

The Ti Lynskey just is not getting used and is not working out like I expected so that is on the chopping block.  Some lucky buyer will be happy with that.

The Epic Marathon from a few years ago has been sitting around with flat tires and a missing front brake caliper adapter I borrowed for another bike.  Shame, that, as it has some carbon wheels and XX parts on it.  I always loved that bike and I think I need to rekindle that flame.

The carbon Stumpy SS is good to go.  Nothing has shown up to topple that from the single speed throne.

The Camber and FSR are getting a bit long in the tooth and with the progression in 29ers, I think I could marry the best of both of them into one bike with 130mm of travel and a carbon frame.  The search may be on for that set up for 2014.

The Karate Monkey frame may get a reason to get off the garage hook and be back in action as a bikepacking set up.  We shall see.  Darn versatile frame that KM, but I would never use it as a regular XC/trail ride again.

There are a few more frames and parts that need to see ebay listings, but there is room for another bike that is something quite different from anything else in the garage.  It is a bike I thought I would never own yet I am drawn toward the notion regardless.  Moths to a bright blue frame, so to speak.  We shall see.

Meanwhile, I am getting out the heavy winter clothing to get ready for winter.  You know...sweatshirts and long pants.  Southern California will kill ya' if you are not prepared.

This guy is all about the quiver.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Everlasting Gobstopper award: Jandd seat bag.

I have no idea how old this seat bag is, but it has outlived so many bikes I cannot recall them all.  In a world where we increasingly accept disposable goods and technology...consider ink jet printers, for example...things that are made well, do what they are supposed to do, and last a long time are a marvel, really.  The other day one of the zipper pulls fell off.  A bit of parachute cord will fix it right up.  Other than that, nada.  Good as new except for the fine patina it proudly wears.  

Jandd, thanks for all the memories on bikes and rides where your bag safely kept all my stuff intact.  To you I offer the Everlasting Gobstopper award.

Monday, October 28, 2013

JeffJ is turning 100.

Miles that is.  I am not sure when the mad plan was hatched, but it sure was incubated as our road miles accrued and his fitness increased.  The day we pedaled to 80 miles he said to me that this was the farthest that he had ridden on a bike...ever.  Cool.

Let's go farther, yes?

So the 'century' ride, as in 100 miles in a day, was the next thing to shoot for.  The route was determined...nothing wild, just reasonable and coastal to avoid the late in the year mid 80s temps that the inland areas were seeing...and the invites went out.

The attendees were his daughter, JenJo, who was a CAT2 road racer until not too long ago, a young man she knows named Andres, Ed the Tall, Stevie Ray and yours truly.  I was not sure about the new guy, Andres, until I saw his bike.  It was a Specialized Venge with carbon wheels and Di2 shifting.  Oh.  Ok.  The team kit he wore (and races for) said the rest.  I think he will make it.  I knew JenJo would be fine and Ed the Tall is always strong.  Stevie Ray is a CAT1 MTB racer, or was when he raced and he is still a grey hound even though there is more grey than there used to be.

So the only doubts were the two old guys...JeffJ and I.  Even money bet for both of us.

But in the end, we rolled back to the car with 101.xx miles on the clock and most of our faculties intact.  It was a fun day and once again showed me that cycling is a boundary crossing activity.  We were wide spread in ages, fitness, backgrounds, education, gender, and abilities yet we all supported, encouraged and strengthened each other.  In the process we became more as a whole than we were as individuals.

In short, it worked.  We won.

The big guy came rolling in next to Ed the Tall with a big ol' grin on his face.  He hit a milestone along the good old 'path of life' and did it on two wheels, 27 gears, and next to friends and family.  We could have done much, much worse with our Saturday and I would not have wanted to be anywhere else.

Congrats, BMOC (Big Man On a Cannondale).  Thanks for sharing your life with us.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What a Difference a Cheeseburger Makes.

Those words were said by JeffJ as we uploaded calories of a greasy kind after a 65 mile road ride.  We had spent the day riding with a group of triathletes as they prepared for an upcoming Ironman event in Arizona.  It was an interesting day.

I had never met any of them before but we had an invite to the group through a friend of my wife.  I had pretty good feelings about the group dynamic and the route so off we went at a ridiculously early hour on a Saturday morning, pointing ourselves toward the promised cooler temps of the So Cal coastline.  JeffJ was a bit more concerned that he would be a pariah, seeing that he tends to ride in baggies and a visored, bass boat green MTB helmet.  A bit Freddish, but we are all mountain bikers at heart anyway.  Introducing himself as "Jeff, or you can call me Fred" did not register at all with the group and just resulted in nervous laughter and odd stares.  Exit, stage left for Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har.

So we were pilgrims in a strange land, this try-ath-a-leete deal.  And as the bikes were unloaded and clothing assembled, I was struck by the complexity of the bikes.  Oh my!  There were angles and wedges and bobbles and bangles and widgets and bottles and wings and bags all over those bikes.  They had handlebars that reached waaaay out in front so you could, I presume, steer with your elbows which makes some sense as I do not recall ever using my elbows much on a ride anyway, so they should do some work too.

I had an extra tube strapped to my bike.

I asked the group where the button was to transform the bikes into Optimus Prime.  No one laughed.  Serious folks, these tri people.  No Fred jokes, no Transformers jokes.  Got it.

Be careful what button you push or... get this.

Rolling out into the quiet of the morning coastal fog, we began at a nice, friendly pace.  This, I was told, was 'Zone 1' training.  Later we would get into Zone 2 and 3.  Hold on...what is a zone?  Is it like a zip code for cyclists?  I am not sure I have zones.  When I am riding the SS up some stupid long climb and my tongue sticks to the stem, what zone is that?  There is more to this tri stuff than meets the eye, and that is saying a lot as the bikes were just so complex looking, but still cool in an odd way.  I am thinking that tri-folks are the golfers of the cycling world, always looking for that new 'thing' that will give them the edge.

Riding alongside the leader, a very fit lady on a very carbon bike, I asked her if that bike was comfortable to ride as it looked pretty stiff, all those airfoil shapes.  She glanced at me with an odd look and then said, "it goes real fast in a straight line".  Then she clicked up a gear or two, got onto the tri-bars, and showed me how that worked.  Well, I guess so.  See ya!

Seriously, that was pretty cool.  She would just ride away from me with what looked to be barely any increased effort and I would have to up the wattage dial to just hang on.  I guess riding the cycling equivalent of a Cruise missile aerodynamics study has its advantages, even if comfiness is not one of them.  Zoom zoom.  I considered tossing the extra inner tube strapped to my seat stays to see if that would help but I think I was just entering zone 2 and I did not want to mess that up.  I might not ever get there again or if I do, they will not let me in.

So here we were, JeffJ and I, on our round tubed, old school road bikes, having a very nice ride at a very decent pace along with a very nice group of very well equipped people pedaling two wheeled airplanes.  At some point we split the group as most folks were heading out to get some required training work done that apparently we had not done enough of and then they had to run across the county or some such thing and we better not stop too long here or we will drop into Zone 1.65 and that could be fatal.  Whew!  Close call, that one.

What zone are YOU in?

And so when JeffJ, seated outside the pearly gates of In-And-Out, said that immortal statement of truth-ness..."What a difference a cheeseburger makes!", it struck me that this revelation born of beef patties and grilled onions on a toasted bun was about more than just a much needed celebration of un-holy calories.  No, it also was all about the day and the dynamic of the ride.  JeffJ and I were just riding with no agenda than to see some new roads and ride our bikes hard in the company of some new faces.  At least one other lady rider was out for fun as well, but all the others were there for a singular purpose - to be in Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, etc for the required time to get the required data to get the required result.

Now I respect that, even though it may not seem like it, because if you have a serious goal then you need a serious plan.  And a full Ironman is no joke.  I can throw a rock farther than I can swim.  Running?  No thanks.  So I do understand the world of a serious athlete and the dedication it takes to make it happen, especially if you are making a living at it.


If you are just Joe and Jill average and you do not own a bike without a PowerTap hub and deep dish carbon wheels guaranteed to slice .006 seconds off a 2 kilometer time trial, then something is wrong.  Because all the data downloads in the world cannot make up for missed opportunities like where a deer bounds alongside the road in a woodland echelon and you missed the sight, being so wrapped up in 'the zone'.

There are roads never taken that beckon a hard right turn just to see where they go.  Close the laptop and be your own Google Earth.  Pause long enough at a rest stop to rest.  Life is a mad rush at the least.

Zone zero is OK every so often.

And a cheeseburger, when it is all said and done, makes all the difference in the world.

Although I still wonder how you steer with your elbows.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Idaho Gravel: Part Three

The last oasis.
I could see the flags in the distance.  Pivotal flags, as they heralded the rest stop that was at the beginning and end of the lollipop 'loop' section that was the top of the 93 mile route.  I rolled in and asked what the cut off time was.  He looked at me and said, "You are it, but you are welcome to take the loop."

I had made the cut.  But did I care?  I considered my options.  I had been riding at a 10mph average pace what with my less than 'Type A' personality and pic taking, etc.  I felt OK at 35 miles and I knew what I had before me if I flipped now.  A lot of that return would be into the wind on a slight to more than slight grade.  The next 25 miles if I did the loop included another good climb and was an unknown otherwise.  It was supposed to be quite beautiful as far as scenery goes, but the smoke was kinda limiting that.  If I flipped now, I would be at 72 miles or so and that was still pretty far.  On the other hand, did I come here to ride 93 miles or turn away and accept less?

Oh my.

I decided to flip and make this the apex of the ride.  I relaxed a bit, ate some goodies and watched some of the fast folks come in and go out.  Rebecca was there, being the queen bee and talking to Levi Leipheimer.  They looked pretty fresh as they rode out chatting.

I have to confess I felt a bit alone now.  If I had been with someone I might have pressed on, but looking down that road into the last loop, it seemed a bit much.  That typically does not deter me as I have relished many long hours of alone time on a bike.  But in the back of my main was the limitations of my body.  I tend to leg cramps.  I rarely if ever just run out of gas, but leg cramps have always been my kryptonite.  I manage them better now with keeping fitness up and with good supplements, but walking up the last climb at 80 miles had little appeal.

Back I went, tail slightly tucked in but still resolved to it.  Then the road tilted in my favor and I roared out of the last checkpoint toward home.  Well, it felt like roaring until I was passed by two riders, one a lady-type, in a particularly rough section of washboard like I was tied down.  Wow.  The downhill had me feeling pretty good and I was seriously bummed about not taking the loop.  But later on, Ed the Tall would tell me that this 27 miles had the worst road conditions in the entire ride and was actually harder than the rest of the route.  I did not know that as I rode along, doubting my decision, but at around 50 miles, when the road turned up again, only a slight grade now, but into a headwind...well, I think I was wise to cut my losses.

As I rode this direction, the air, now in my face, also was clearing out some of the smoke and that was nice.  It was almost worth the extra effort it required, just for the cleaner air.  I tried to hop a freight train or two (pace lines) going by but they were just a gear above what I could manage and still feel good about the distance.  So, I sat up, pulled the reins in and let the other horses go.

My photo pal.  She and I were hopscotching along for a bit as we would take turns stopping for pics.  She was the only person I spoke to for hours.

I recognized the last climb of the day towards the first/last aid station and knew that I had a couple of miles of climbing, then the loooong downhill towards town.  I was feeling pretty tired now, but still could climb out of the saddle and put down some power, but not for any length of time.  I had some odd twinges about mid/low outside left calf that felt weird, but no other signs of leg issues.  Golden!

Over the crest, having tanked up with one last bottle and a couple of roasted/salted potatoes with rosemary, I dropped into the descent.   It was buuuUUumMMmPpPpppEEeeEee.  Washboard hell.

Holy smokes.  There were a few times that I nearly reached the physical limits of being able to grasp the hoods, brake, and steer all at once.  The drops were an answer to that, but that was a bigger strain on an already tired neck.  Did I actually climb this about 6 hours earlier?  I guess so.  Here is one of the places I would have loved to have a real mountain bike with some kind of suspension fork.  Any kind.  But I still was going pretty good and once on the pavement rollers back into town, I was surprised how strong I felt.  Must have been those Idaho potatoes.

I felt great rolling through the banner, tired, dirty, salty, crusty, but great.  Until I got off the bike and found that my left ankle was really, really mad at me.  It only hurt when I walked.  It hurt a lot.  Weird. that was just like the time on that desert bikepacking trip, only then it was the right ankle.  I thought it was from walking for 6 hours in bike shoes pushing my 45 pound beast through the sand.  I could pedal, but not walk without pain.

So here I was again, but no hiking to explain it.  Odd.  That would require some bio-forensics to see what is triggering that response.  I rode back to the car, changed, drove back to drop off the bike and waited for Ed the Tall while I enjoyed a root beer float.  Done and done.

But I left some things undone.  I would like to come back here and see this place under clearer skies.  I would like to see that unridden 27 miles of gravel.  Things left undone.

That evening, full of food, including some of the best grilled chicken I have ever had, and, after a shower in the swankiest YMCA I have ever seen, Ed and I talked about the day and what was next on the adventure calendar.  Tomorrow would be a long day's drive back to So Cal, away from Idaho and a long stretch of gravel road that calls to me still.  It is a friendly voice that calls, calm and soft, but there is a bit of a challenge underneath those soft tones.  A questioning lilt that turns up the corner of the mouth as it is spoken.   A twinkle in the eye, perhaps?    Part happy memory and part challenge, that is what I am hearing.  A mix of "thanks for being here" and "is that all you got, son?"

Things left undone are often like that.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Idaho Gravel: Part 2

Gentlemen, this is a gravel road.

It was with the rising of the Sunday morning sun that we could tell the winds had shifted, literally, and it was not in our favor.  There were some big fires burning in Idaho, one that threatened to erase Sun Valley/Ketchum before it was beaten back by some valiant efforts by firefighters.

But the smoke of the still burning but distant fires was now holding thick in the valleys where we would be riding all day.  It was not all that unpleasant to breath, but it sure would kill the otherwise stunning views that a place like this normally offers.

The camp stove brought us hot coffee, tea, oatmeal, and some home made egg/bread/spinach muffins topped with 'borrowed' green salsa packets from Taco Bell.  Number plates were pinned on, bottles were filled, packs packed.  Off we went.

Parking near the venue, we unloaded and rode over to the start, already crowded with the eager riders, onlookers, and associated support crews.  The local police lead us out of town at the starting bell and the first few miles out of town were pleasant enough;  paved and on a gradual grade towards the mountains.

The gradual part did not last long and soon we were grinding up a stutter bumped gravel road toward the sunrise.  I ran out of gears pretty quickly on the Crux and settled into a low RPM grunt along with the Fat Bikes, Tag-alongs, unicycles and Tandems pulling Burley trailers loaded with livestock.  I am and will always be a leisurely climber and I was not about to burn all the matches on the first climb of a long day.  Ed the Tall disappeared into the distance.  Fare thee well, brother.

I stopped to adjust layers of clothing, and pressed on toward the summit, now in view.  The first checkpoint went by in a flash as we let gravity do the work for us, and I let the Crux have it's head, passing all the fat bikes and more timid descenders.  Wheeeeeee!  That turned to a slight downhill grade for miles as the valley opened up.  As I feared, the smoke really was a buzz kill as it smudged the expansive views that must normally be a part of this route.  Oh well.

From here, the cross bike really paid off.  It was darn fast on the sections of road that were not too beat up from all the vehicle traffic, but a good deal of the time I was in search of the thin, smooth line.  Usually there was some part of the road that was not too washboarded so that was doable and the rough road surface was no match for the tires on the Crux.  You just had to believe and pedal.  It opened my eyes to what is possible on a burly road bike.  I might want one of these.

I passed the 50 mile route right turn and continued towards the 93 mile route.

Pedal, pedal.  I would grab my camera out of the chest mounted case, turn it on, and shoot a pic all while riding.  I managed to not toss my Sony NEX5 into the dust of Idaho and the ride continued.  Almost completely alone, I was seldom passed unless I stopped to take a pic.  All the fast folks were ahead and anyone behind me was about the same as I pace wise.  I stopped here and there for photos.  Yeah, I know, but I was in Idaho for crying out loud!  I may never get here again.  Pace be damned.

At about 32 miles, when the road was no longer smooth and easy, I spotted a lone cyclist approaching. That was Burke, the winner coming back on his way towards town.  He had ridden about 64 miles in the time I had ridden 32 miles.  Oh my.  Wonder what that is like, wearing that big red S underwear when riding?  Go superman!

I was nearing the 35 mile mark and the final checkpoint.  That would be a decision point for me.  Go big or?  I passed into the Copper Basin area and pondered my options.  I still had time to think as the dirt passed by, punctuated by passing vehicles and clouds of dust.  Just me, the Lone Ranger, and my thoughts.  Hi Ho Silver and away.

Next, it is decision time.  I wonder what Tonto would do?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Idaho Gravel: Part one.

The tent wall brushes my face as I roll over to find it still dark outside.  What time is it?  I wriggle an arm out of my down quilt and reach for my phone, the one with the alarm set for o-dark-thirty and find it to be deader than a doornail.  Nuts.  That requires a further search for my reading glasses and Petzl light so my watch can give me a clue.  06:00 AM.  In a tent.  In Idaho.  Ride day today.  How did I get here?

It began with an email invite to Rebecca's Private Idaho, a 93 mile gravel road event to be held in Ketchum, ID.  The idea intrigued me.  I had never been to Idaho.  Never ridden gravel.  And only once before had I come to the century mark off road.  I put it in my calendar and got back to day to day life, but I had a goal to get there in some state of readiness.

My summer was hardly a firestorm of riding success, as is typically the case.  I find So Cal summers to be pretty uninspiring for MTB riding.  It gets hot, dry, brown, dusty and hot.  Yuck.  Then the fires came though and burned a lot of the area I most like to ride.  Double yuck.  What to do?  I needed to get miles and hours in the legs, not just do hill efforts on the SS.  So I actually got out the old road bike and made some adjustments to get it worthy of some longer rides, clicked in, and pedaled for a while.  That, combined with the weekly MTB rides would have to do.  Would it be enough?  I was skeptical, but undaunted.  To Idaho we go.

I was lucky to have Ed the Tall with me for the folly in the Saw Tooth Mtns.  It would make the 16 hour drive palatable and give me a stalwart companion for the adventure.  Ed is a strong rider and fully capable of nearly a hundred miles off road with altitude tossed in and he was ready for a road trip.  Next stop, Ketchum.

Ed the Tall (middle) shows Rebecca that his last name has no vowels in it.  Always good for a laugh.

Salt Lake, Utah, kinda sucks.  I have driven through there twice now and both times it was hot, crowded traffic wise, and just did nothing to make me want to linger.  But leading up to that was a surprising showing across the Nevada desert of greenery.  Lots of it.  Big patches of grass and mud puddles lined the road, a mute but vibrant testimony to the heavy monsoonal rains that have been sweeping through the deserts and the tenacity of the flora here.  Nature is an opportunist and when it rains and in this case, pours, things just get all happy and make the best of it.  That led to the southern Utah area of St George and Cedar City, both parts of my favorite areas of Utah.  But Salt Lake?  No thanks.

We crossed into Idaho in the darkness and took a big gamble that there would be a campsite somewhere near Ketchum that we could base out of.  God was gracious and we found a killer site for two tents full of two tired persons and settled in right about midnight.  I really need to get a tent that does not require a refresher course in tent pole geometry every time I go camping.  Sleep found us and carried us away to the sounds of running water in the distance.

About 50' behind our tents.
The next day was all about getting to know Ketchum, eating pancakes cooked by a volunteer group in town, parade watching, shopping (don't go to Idaho without a sun hat),  picking up our race packets, and grabbing our bikes.  We never figured out the whole duck race thing but that was a great wagon.

Oh yeah.  the bikes.

I would have just run fast tires on my best hard tail 29er, but Specialized had a better idea.  They offered a test ride on some cyclocross scoots that were tailor made for this type of ride.  I normally do not risk taking something so unknown into the wilds but support would be generous and I did not expect and real surprises.  I had never ridden a cross bike before, so this would be new for me.  Can you ride a road bike in the dirt, even if it has sort of knobby tires?  Dunno.  I hedged my bet by bringing a saddle that I trusted that was attached to a smooooth riding ti seat post.  If the butt is happy, so is the rest of me, or close enough.

My Crux

Ed's Crux
And then, we set around the campfire, tossed out all kinds of thoughts about this and that, and then tucked in for a bit of nervous sleep.  And that is where I found a tent in the dark in Idaho, getting ready to get ready in the cold and dark of a smoky Sunday morning.  Ed was stirring in his tent too and we were on a course to adventure and quite possibly a good amount of suffering.

More to come...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sometimes you have to follow your heart.

Cupids with too much time to think...
The heart is not to be trusted.  This must be clearly understood right from the beginning.  It is a self serving trickster that is no good compass for steering the ship of your life.

But sometimes you just need to follow it anyway, especially if it is not a life shattering decision or anything that will get your name known to the local magistrate.  So that is what I did in large part, followed my heart but not without a bit of hard thinking to back me up.

I bought a steel framed road bike.  Well, a frame at least and the parts to go with it.  And I bet in the minds of most bike riders you might talk to, that decision makes no sense at all.

The heart said "ohhhh!".  But the pocketbook said "whoa!"  And then the mind said "go!".  Or something in that order.  It is all still a bit fuzzy.

And now I have this in a box in the dining room.

Ain't she a sweetie, though?
Why not carbon or aluminum or Ti?  Great carbon is amazing.  It is the best material there is to make a sporting/performance bike from.  But great carbon costs a great deal of money and average carbon is still pretty costly and is not so special.  Great aluminum is affordable and is, in my opinion, better all around then average carbon.  Ti is the stuff dreams are made of in some ways, but great Ti is big bucks and average Ti is no better or may be worse than great steel.

So I had narrowed it down to a very well spec'd alu framed complete bike and was ready to pull the trigger when the bottom dropped out on the supply of that model and things went into limbo for a bit.  That gave me time to think and web surf.  That is a dangerous combo.  And I began to look at other options and found myself at the site.  And the Logic 2.0 frame set caught my eye.  Subtle graphics.  Thin tubes.  Graceful lines.  All carbon fork.  And I started day-dreaming about riding it.  I had not romanticized about riding the aluminum frame when I was getting ready to buy that.  So what gives?

I found myself thinking about long rides up the coast in the fog while astride this steel framed assembly of slender tubes and tidy welds.   I was pedaling along, mist condensing on my helmet edge, dripping off as I looked down at the svelte, grey top tube.  It inspired me.

It was not all goose pimples and fluttering heart beats though.  It said Ritchey on the side of it and that meant that Tom had his hands elbow deep into the bike's design and construction, even if he did not hold the torch.  And that guy is pretty smart.  It is a modern take on classic road geometry, at least to my mind.  Not a Gran Fondo/Endurance approach, but a classic all-rounder.  And since I am just learning here, that seemed like a good place to begin.

But it was still a tough decision.  It cost me more than the alu bike would and it weighs about a pound and a half more, neither being convincing arguments for buying it.  It is out of fashion, but so am I.  And I have to admit that I got a certain satisfaction when I thought about riding that steel frame in world full of resin injected, carbon wrapped, moulded machines.  Can you imagine the looks from the cycling cognoscenti as I ride past them on the road?  Makes me grin just thinking about it.

So parts gathering is well in hand and soon the wrenches will be spinning in earnest.  Will reality match my heart's desire?  We shall see.

If not, I can always blame Cupid.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Les vrais hommes montent acier.

I slide back in the saddle as I click up a gear and push harder on the pedals.  The French countryside gently rises to meet me and field stone walls flash by in a blur.  A cigarette dangles out of the corner of my mouth, the ash threatening to break off and land down the front of my wool jersey.  I do not care.  My sweat will put out the embers.

I am a man and real men ride steel.

As I pass a roadside cafe' the smell of croissants and coffee wafts through the air and mixes with the smell of the farm, my sweat, and cigarette smoke.  It is a heady and familiar mix.  I wonder to myself...when did I last wash that wool jersey?  I cannot remember.  It does not matter.  "Elle est ce qu'elle est".

I am a man and real men ride steel.

Women watch me as I ride by.  They desire me.  Their husbands scowl.  They envy me.  My cigarette is done so I toss it aside and reach into my jersey pocket for a baguette.  I ride on.  The world does not stop while I eat so why should I?

I am a man and real men ride steel.

My hair does not blow in the wind and the rain.  Chain lube and hair oil.  Is there a difference?  "Non!"  I squint into the rain as it hits my face.  Hair grease...chain grease...a squint into the rain.

I am a man and real men ride steel.

I ride past a group of other men on steel bikes.  We know things.  Secret things.  Man things.  Steel things.  We squint at each other but do not wave.

We are men and real men ride steel.

A car drives up alongside me and the passenger, a French woman with pouting lips and wild hair, opens the door as we stop to talk and says that I am late.  I am French.  I do not care if I am late.   There are mountains to climb.  French mountains.  She secretly wants my wool jersey.

The woman is persistent.  She says I am late for work, turns away and leaves.  That voice?  I know that voice.  When did my wife start speaking French?  I open my eyes and look around my bedroom and the French woman, the pouting lips, the countryside, the smells all come to a screeching halt as the reality of life comes crashing into focus.  Oh yeah.  It's Monday.  I am not in France.  I do not smoke.  No husbands scowl at my existence.  I am late, the world is still not waiting for me and we are fresh out of baguettes.

But there is a shiny, new steel road bike frame sitting in a box in the corner.  That part is real and the road lies ahead.  Ladies...I am on my way!

"Les vrais hommes montent acier."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fools with tools.

It should have been no big deal.  A flat tire on a road ride.  In town.  Ten minutes tops.  But that assumes we were prepared as well as we thought we were.  Oh no...not even close.

JeffJ and I.  That is me on the left.

JeffJ and I were about 70 miles into an 80 mile loop and we were just beginning to feel the strain of the day.  I had some time constraints, so when we pulled out of the gas station/mini mart after tanking up on water, I was not real happy about feeling that soft and squishy response to pedaling.  No, not a fully loaded chamois, just a rear flat.

So we pulled over into the shade of a gas station across the street and set to fixin' things in the grass of a planter area.  No biggy.  We had three tubes between us along with two sets of quick fills, two pumps, one patch kit, etc, and it is not like this is my first rodeo with an airless tire.   So I whipped off the rear wheel and opened up my tool bag to find no tire levers.  Really?  No idea where they went.  But JeffJ had some so that was fine.  It takes a village you know.  Buddy system and all that.

Tire removed, I set about finding the source of the leak.  A thin piece of wire had pierced the casing in the tread and about ten minutes later I had it out of there with my fingernails.  Note to self:  Add metal tipped tweezers to road bike tool kit.

I grabbed my spare tube, which I keep carefully wrapped in a baggie so it survives rot and rubbing, and went to put it in only to find that the valve stem barely made it through the rim.  When I swapped wheels it had not occurred to me look at the valve stem length of the spare tube.  Rats.  OK, we had grabbed a spare tube out of JeffJ's garage before we left and that was in my jersey pocket.

JeffJ's garage

I install that and grab my pump but JeffJ's pump is a bit more full-figured so he hands me that.  It does everything I ask of it except put air into the tube.  Why?  Dunno.  So I go to grab my pump and JeffJ offers his quick fill.  Ok.  Sheesh!  This is getting to be quite a circus and time is passing by.

A quick blast and we are at pressure.  Into the bike the wheel goes and about the time I close the QR, I realize the tire is flat.  I ask JeffJ, "was that a good tube?"  He does not know.  Take any bets on it?  So he grabs the tube out of his bike's seat pouch.  In that goes and I try my quick fill.  The dispenser will not move, like the plunger is frozen but I only find this out after I pierce the cartridge.  I have never used this device and it must have gotten wet in the bag and so here we are.  I grab the frozen, non-air dispensing device of dismay and, holding it both hands, press the nozzle against the sidewalk and push HARD.

'paaaaWIIIISHHHHhhhhhhh' goes all the cO2 in a frenzy of frosty air pressure escaping into the mid day heat.  The valve, once it got moving, stayed open.  Nice.  I could just cry or laugh and I stand there, staring at the comedic circumstances unfolding before me uncertain which is the most appropriate response.

You never tested your quick fill dispenser AND your tube has a short stem AND your tire levers are missing?

So we still have my pump and out it comes with the tube number three from JeffJ's seat bag.  He had been bragging to me about how good his tires were and how it had been YEARS since he had a flat and so on and so forth and all this is still ringing in my ears as I pump frantically with air escaping out the tube in every crease of the tube's folds.  Rotten to the core.  Really?  Is someone filming this?

My spare tube is rotten?

Time is slipping by.  I am going to be late for sure for my afternoon appointment, but the bigger thought is that we are fast running out of options here.  So I grab the tube that has one hole in it from the wire and try to patch it but the wind is so strong that I cannot feel the air leak.  I take it all in my arms and go behind the gas station into an area that must be the urinal for every homeless person in Ventura County.  No deal...cannot get enough air in there with a tiny pump to feel the leak and I am fresh out of water barrels, koi ponds, or deep puddles to submerge the tube in.

Amazing.  About now the Mexican gardener comes by and looks at us as he stands next to his running lawnmower.  The lawn he wants to mow is the one we have bikes and parts spread allll over.   Really, dude?  Verdad?  Verdad.

We pile it all on the sidewalk and keep at it.

So as a last resort, in goes the good spare tube I had (with the short stem) and JeffJ grabs his last quick fill and crams it on there, hits the button, but the connection is not good and canned air air goes everywhere but in the tube.  Then he bends the valve core as he pulls the tool off the stem.


Plan B.  It was close to this...too close.

I straighten that without having it break and thread my pump on there hoping there are enough threads to get it to seal.  There are, but barely.  It is our last hope before we hit the rescue flares or I ride on JeffJ's handlebars back to the car.  It works and inflates but we are on a wing and a prayer for the last 15 miles back to the car.  One more flat and we are toast.

So some morals to this slapstick comedy of a story.  Check yer stuff.  Do your tools actually work?  Are they in the bag?  Is your spare tube just a long rubber band?  We made it back and after a post ride burrito, discussed what we should do next, what we learned from all this and we came to a decision.


There really was only one career path for JeffJ and I to pursue. One way for us to help others learn from our mistakes.   Come by and see us some time.  We fix flats.