Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday News And Views

pactbike Battlecat
The Evolution Of The Hardtail:

Just because I ride a lot of gravel roads these days doesn't mean I am not still watching what happens with mountain biking. One of the things I've noticed and that I cannot seem to get my mind off of is the move to longer, lower, and slacker mountain bikes with longer travel suspension forks.

The whole idea is intriguing to me. Most of these bikes are 27.5+/B+ bikes too, and I like that tire/rim combination a lot. Set up tubeless on wider rims, these wheels can give you loads of traction without the cumbersome acceleration a full on 29+ bike would have which keeps things fast, maneuverable, and over all, pretty fun. The over all diameter is slightly less than a 29"er, so you do lose certain nuances of a 29"er wheel. This is why I still think a 29"er with fat rims and fat rubber is also a good bike, just not a full on 29+ bike. 2.4"-2.5" tires is something I think is about right there. Trouble is that there are not a lot of tires in that size range. Anyway....

The point isn't about the tires, it is about the geometry. The long front/short, stubby stem set ups with sub 68° head angles. The shorter chain stays, low stand over height, and dropper posts. It is a different look and feel than where we have been with 29"er hard tail bikes, and those were so "XC-ish" for quite a while. I like this "trail-All Mountain" kind of hard tail, and so I find things like this, the pact bikes Battlecat, pictured above, and the Advocate Cycles Hayduke to be really interesting bikes. Then I wonder if you couldn't be in a similar ball park with the versatility of doing fat bike tires and wheels from time to time with a Surly Wednesday. Ah! It's all too much!

Besides, I have a nice Singular Cycles Buzzard already.......

The next project on my radar......
Standard Rolling Stock:

With the Project 1X1 bike up and rolling, it is time for another project to tackle. That has to be the wheels for my Twin Six Standard Rando. As I have mentioned before, I want to roll on some nicer, 11 speed compatible, disc brake hubs. I am aiming at obtaining some White Industries XMR hubs. I already have the WTB KOM i25 rims sitting there waiting to go.

As suggested by my cycling friend, Mr. Fuller, I am going with a "touch of color at the hub" and get the gold anodized versions to give the bike some pop off the base green powdercoat and black componentry. I'll likely go with black spokes and black nipples as well.

The WTB rims are tubeless compatible, so my plan is to wrap these wheels up with a nice set of tires, and the obvious choice will be the WTB Nano 40 TCS tires. Keeping it all in a system. I know it works and it will make the Standard Rando a great gravel road going rig.  I'll be posting about building those wheels when the hubs are procured.

Although the snow is all gone, it is still a day for the fatty.
Mud & Snow Tires:

The big snow we got last weekend is a memory washed away by warmer weather and rainy precipitation. The fat bike path I beat in last weekend was a worthy work that did what I needed it to do Monday, and maybe it was a mild benefit Tuesday, but I made it through on the 1X1, so it wasn't all that difficult. Of course, without snow, I shouldn't have to use a fat bike to get to work, right?


There are a couple of places where I have some serious mud to deal with, and that is where the fat bike to work idea starts to come into its own. Yes....there are long stretches where it doesn't make sense. However; the stretches of my commute that are prone to mud would make many of my other bikes grind to a halt, at worst, or really mess them up, at best. The fat bike has flotation over these stretches and makes running through the mud, (almost), no big deal. The newly added Dave's Mud Shovel will make that even better.

Okay, that's it folks. Have a great weekend and ride off that turkey!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Today is the day when we in the USA try to get together with family and loved ones to celebrate and remember to be thankful.

Actually, in my opinion, everyday should be thanksgiving day. I am pretty blessed to have a family, a wife, a house, a job, and bicycles to mess around with. I've been overwhelmed with good things, and if I don't stop to remember that, and give thanks, well, then I am headed for big trouble.

Anyway, I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I would encourage you, wherever you are, to count your blessings today and everyday. It will make a change in your life, and I bet it will be for the better.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Day That Rim Brakes Died

One disc to rule them all in in the caliper bind them.....
Yesterday it was very quietly reported in the news of cycling that the UCI, (ruling body in all things Pro road racing Worldwide), green-lighted the use of disc brakes in the Pro and amateur road (Note- Amatuer ranks in 2017), racing ranks for 2016. You can read about what some of this may mean by checking out what "Red Kite Prayer" has to say about it.

Anyone with an eye on cycling knew this was coming one of these ol' days. Mountain bikes embraced the disc brake starting in the late 90's and by 2005, you were going to have a hard time finding a brand new, high end rim brake bike anymore. Then the disc brake crept into the world of cyclo-cross, where it was hotly debated for a season or two, then was generally accepted as the better choice amongst Pros, for the most part. Now it would appear that Pro road cycling will be all disc brake by 2017.

Interestingly, much like many changes in cycling, I find that histrionics and grandstanding generally happen during big changes like these. People bemoan the changes, and throw their collective hands in the air, post missives on social media blasting "The Man" for "forcing us to change" and bilking us for money for these "unnecessary changes" purely for profit. I know......I lived through the advent of 29"ers and am still getting an earful from various places about the whole "gravel bike" thing.

Like I have always said- "You don't have to buy into it." So, for instance, say you don't like disc brakes for road bikes, well......don't buy a disc brake road bike then. Think "gravel bikes" are a stupid idea? Then don't buy one. Still think wagon wheelers are daft? You can still buy a smaller wheeled mountain bike. Nobody is taking your money unless you are letting them. All the decrying and hand wringing about something new is pretty much wasted energy. That said.........

Hey! Whattya know! They still make this stuff yet!
Many times there is actually something to these changes. You when free wheels were invented. Or, how about disc brakes while we're at it. Yes.....rim brakes work, but I've tried these new fangled hydraulic road disc brakes, and you know what? They are pretty dang awesome. At least the Shimano ones are. Modulation, power, ease of use- all there. It doesn't get much better, and I have tried a lot of road caliper brakes. None can hold a candle to the power and ease of using that power that these road disc brakes have.

Now, that said, obviously the title to today's post is sarcastic. Rim brakes are not going away, and you can still buy , and will be able to in the future, a lot of rims and different caliper and cantilever style brakes that are really quite good. Add to that the vintage and used stuff out there that is still serviceable and you will have rim brakes to use for decades to come.

The bottom line is that you might see a bunch of ticked off posts, or rambling rants about how the industry has wreaked havoc again on poor, unsuspecting consumers because your stuff will be "obsolete" in a year and a half. Well, it just isn't true. Maybe it won't be the same again on high-end, new road racing bikes, but rim brakes and frames, wheels, parts, etc, will all be around for a long, long time. In all likelihood, you'll wear out that bike with rim brakes before parts for it are all gone. You don't have to have a disc brake road bike, if you think it is a dumb idea. There will always be alternative choices. Probably good new ones too. They just won't be sold by the "big companies" in the future. Well......probably not, anyway.....

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Salsa Cycles Blackborow DS: One Year In

A ride early on with the Blackborow DS
The Blackborow DS from Salsa Cycles was a one hit wonder, from the standpoint of it having a simple, parallel single speed drive train, or "dingle speed" set up, as it is commonly referred to. Of course, the Blackborow was offered as a geared bike, and continues on into 2016 as a geared bike. However; Salsa did not continue on with the DS version, so it is kind of a rare offering in the fat biking world, having been the only out of the box, dinglespeed, fat bike I am aware of.

That said, most of the handling characteristics I speak of will transfer right over to a geared version of the Blackborow for anyone curious about one of these bikes. So, with that in mind, here are my impressions of the Blackborow DS.

Set Up: For the most part, I haven't modified this bike with the exception of adding a Rock Shox Bluto fork for the majority of the Summer. Other minor details that were not satisfactory were addressed here such as the grips, which I exchanged for Ergon grips, and I did modify the front brake cable clip on the inner fork leg so it wouldn't collect mud and snow so easily. I accessorized the bike with various bags, water bottle cages, and most recently, with a Dave's Mud Shovel rear fender. Otherwise everything has been box stock for the entire first year. The fit for me, at 6'1", was spot on for this size large specimen, and I did not change the saddle, nor stem or bars to accommodate me, since it all worked just right from the get-go.

I set my "PR" for my coldest commute ever at -17°F with this bike.

 Winter Biking: I got the Blackborow DS just before Winter set in here and as a Winter bike, it was a revelation. My previous fat bike experiences were on a 2011 Mukluk and a 2012 Titanium Mukluk. Those bikes were stable, with really good slow speed handling, but compared to the Blackborow, they were like driving a truck versus the Blackborow's "sporty sedan-like" handling. The geometry of the Blackborow DS has an easier to loft front end, a snappier acceleration feel, a more solid braking performance, and with the through axles front and rear, a much more precise feel on the trail than previous quick release style fat bikes. With all of that, the most impressive feature, in my opinion, was the ability to traverse more difficult terrain with the 4.8" Lou tires on Clown Shoe rims. The wider foot print does the obvious- gives you more float, but the tires give you incredible amounts of grip forward, and a really good lateral stability. This allows for more forward bite and also helps keep your bike from pitching sideways so much. I traversed deeper snow with this bike than I have ever done for longer stretches than I have ever been able to. As a Winter bike, it put my other fat bikes in the shed for the season.

The addition of a Rock Shox Bluto was a boon for Summer riding.
Summer Riding: The Blackborow's nimble feel and improved handling did not come at the expense of a loss of slow speed stability. That was important for snow, but in the Spring and Summer, it also was good in the underbrush, sand, and mud. One thing fat bikes do really well, and that is that they go places you just don't go on a mountain bike, because you (a) can't easily, (b) it is too risky for flats or derailleur carnage, (c), or you don't want to get stuck in the muck!

One thing that was a big surprise for me was how much better Summer riding was with a Rock Shox Bluto swapped in for the stock rigid fork. I figured it would amount to additional dead weight. Boy! Was that ever a wrong assumption! The suspension fork made the riding more enjoyable than I thought, with the capability to go faster, and the bike was amazingly calmer to ride. I will not be using the Bluto in Winter here because of corrosion concerns and when I have to push, or heft my bike over deeper snow, I want it to be as light as I can have it be. However, come next year, that suspension fork is going back on.

Overall then, I was having a blast poking around through sand, mud, and underbrush. Going places I wouldn't go on other mountain bikes was fun, and a diversion from gravel road riding. Plus, I could find all the out of the way places I could want right in my local area.

The Blackborow DS as it sits after one year of ownership
About That Dingle Speed Thing: I get asked from time to time if I would, or have in the past, gear up this Blackborow. A year ago, had you asked me that, I would have said, "Maybe.....probably will." However; I was able to negotiate everything I wanted to in "high range", and as a single speed rider at heart, I was fine with that. Especially around here. "Low range" is really low. Best saved for grinding out longer climbs and for traversing the deepest, most difficult terrain. By the way, "high range" is 30T/18T and "low range" is 26T/22T. You will notice that if you add 30 and 18 it equals 48. So does 26 plus 22. This is how a parallel single speed drive train can use the same length chain. Simply drop the rear wheel, to gain some slack in the chain, swap the chain to the desired set of cogs, and reinstall the rear wheel. Bingo! A crawling gear or a cruising gear with no chain tensioning fuss. Gear swaps are about a two minute drill. I could modify that range, but I found it works well here for my needs, so I have not changed a thing. That said, if I wanted to gear this thing up, all the cable stops are there, but I would have to buy a drive side Alternator drop out with the derailleur hangar.

So, After One Year.... I haven't changed my mind much since I wrote this back in February. Of course, since that post, I have used a suspension fork, and it did do what I expected then, but it worked in places I wasn't expecting as well. I still think a carbon version would be cool here, but my mind has been swayed somewhat to how this bike would work as a titanium bike. In the way that I think most folks would use it, which is for rough and tumble, "out of bounds' type riding, I think titanium makes far more sense.

The Blackborow DS has really raised the bar, as far as I am concerned, for fat bikes. I want to still get on this with 29+ tires and wheels at some point. I think at that point it becomes my all year around mountain bike with two wheel sets which would then cover 95% of all of my mountain biking needs. I might want to try a tubeless wheel set for Winter, and that titanium frame idea is getting better all the time. That said, until a titanium or carbon Blackborow frame entices me away from this, I will stick with this bike and it will be around for a while.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Project 1X1: Ride Report

Pretty much the finished state of affairs now....
Project 1X1: Ride Report: Okay, so how does it all ride? The 26 inch wheels I built using Velocity Cliffhanger rims and Velo Orange hubs suggests a not very lightweight build and perhaps a dead, wooden feeling wheel. However; even before I mounted the Surly Extraterrestrial tires, this bike displayed rather calm, comfortable riding manners and I was already pretty surprised by that. With the big Surly tires onboard, the ride has become even more sublime. With that said, I wanted to discuss the wheels, since they are the featured attraction here and the main reason why the bike feels as good as it does.

"Beefy" best describes the Extraterrestrial tire.
The Tire: This tire I am using has transformed the 1X1 from a fun bike I would use once in a while to one I want to ride all the time. The big, beefy tires are tubeless ready, which all Surly tires will be eventually, but these are some of the first ones to have this feature from Surly. The tires are made by Innova, like most Surly tires, but the collaboration between Surly and Innova have obviously lifted Innova's game. Innova tires weren't noted for being much of anything back in the day, but you wouldn't know it by looking at these newer tires from them.

The tread, an inverted style, has a chevron type of a look to it and the negative spaces are textured to add a bit more grip in looser terrain. These tires are not lightweight, XC racer boy treads. The weight on my scale was 930/940 grams each. Or in other words, there are fat bike tires that weigh in this range. Surly isn't known for XC, weight-weenie stuff, so no surprises here. Beefy, durable, reliable- yes. Well, at least one would hope these tires would follow in the footsteps of Surly's past efforts.

Okay, so now about their tubelessness, which was a big deal for me. I mounted the first bead on the Cliffhangar rim with great difficulty by hand. The second way. I had to lever it on with my Maxxis tire lever. Tight? Oh yeah! I actually used a tire lever to mount both beads of the second tire, as my hands were roached after doing the first bead by hand. Tossed in a little of this Velowurks sealant, which is good to -30°F, and pumped up both tires with a floor pump. Easy. No drama in setting these up at all.

The Cliffhangar rim and Surly Extraterrestrial tire work perfect as a tubeless combo.
The tires were set to 20psi and the ride was smooth, as fast as I would expect, and the big volume of the Extraterrestrial simply was awesome. I loved it straight away. Not too bouncy at all, but very damped and not at all stiff, which was a surprise given the sidewall breaker barrier and puncture protection under the tread. Usually those types of features make tires feel dead and roll horribly. Nothing could be further from the truth with the Extraterrestrials.

The Cliffhanger rims really matched up well here and I feel like I should be able to run whatever pressures I want with no fear of burping the tires. I will only say that if I had a disc brake bike I definitely would have opted for the Velocity Dually 26"er rim, as I feel that would have added the capability to go to insanely low pressures for slippery Winter riding and the tires would have had great sidewall support. Imagine that set up on a Big Dummy. Oh yeah!

That said, I couldn't be happier so far with how this has come out, The tires are 61mm wide at the widest point, and my fenders are just shy of that, but they seem to do okay with the big tires anyway. The Cliffhanger rims make the tread area really arch up into a pronounced "C" shape profile, so I have great turn in on corners and the tire rides up on its central part of the tread at anything over 20 psi. Under that, things get cushier and more traction action is happening. The Cliffhanger rims, at 30mm outer dimension width, are probably the widest tubeless rim brake track rims out there for this sort of bike, and their quality is outstanding. With the fit these rims have with these tires, you'd almost swear that they were designed for each other. It really is quite a remarkable set up.

Lower than 20psi pressures really plant the tread down where you need it when things get slippery.
So, the wheels have been absolutely perfect so far. The rims built up really well, the hubs are incredibly smooth, and free wheel/fixed options are there. The tires added the icing to the cake with perfect tubeless fit, smooth ride, and available traction when you air them down a bit. The bike is a blast to ride now, simple in function, and utilitarian in purpose. I'll add a light, maybe a bag or something to carry things in, and I'll have my new townie rig.

It is pretty surprising that an old, simple dog like a cantilever brake 1X1 could be such a blast and so useful, but there ya go. Bicycles are awesome no matter the wheel size, if they have been designed well and set up with carefully considered, quality components. I look forward to thrashing some urban rides and maybe even some mountain biking come spring. In the meantime, look for long term 1X1 updates in the coming months as I use the Project 1X1 as a commuter rig, errand bike, and more.

Thank You: Velocity USA for the rims, tape, spokes, and nipples. Thanks to Surly Bikes for an awesome tire, and making it tubeless, that was great of you guys and gals. Velo Orange for the super smooth hubs. Finally- thanks to all six previous owners of this frame/fork for keeping the circle unbroken.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Beating In A Path

Spent some time doing a little "trail maintenance"
I've been commuting by bicycle now since about 2002-2003 which was about the same time I got back into the bicycle industry by taking a job at the shop where I still work. I was trying several routes to work back then, but I soon settled on this certain section not far from my home. It is a fairly good sized field formed by the intersection of two highways on one end and a converted rail line bicycle trail on the other. It is sort of an elongated triangular shaped field. I took to crossing the highway, cutting across this open field, and diving down a steep embankment to the bike trail, which then leads me to a dead end street I follow for about a mile and a half. Anyway.....

So with the season's first snow, we got a big dump, which many times means that the field is unrideable. In recent years a man by the name of LeRoy and his dog have taken to using the now decade old line I have burned into the field and they sort of help keep things open when the snows are less. However; this time we got something like 8 inches right out of the gate, and LeRoy and his dog are not going to baet that down into a rideable path by Monday. So, I took it upon myself to beat down a path Saturday, so I wouldn't have to take a detour around the field which adds another mile plus to my morning commute. Besides, by Wednesday the snow will mostly be gone anyway.

Here is where I dump down off the field to the bike path.
Then I continue under the highway to the left up there and eventually back onto a city street. 
Fortunately for the last two years someone is plowing a path through the bike path as well, so I only had to beat a path into the field. After about seven or eight passes, I was riding it well enough I felt that there was nothing more I could do. So, I went off towards home and to see what other mischevious deeds I might become involved in.

I made fresh tracks through the neighborhood cemetery.
There is a cemetery near my home and I noticed that it had not been plowed nor had anyone attempted to drive, ride, or walk through there yet since the snow fall. I decided I would be the first. The Blackborow DS walked right through the snow with no issues. It was a fun way to cap off my "work" and enjoy a very peaceful place away from the general hub-bub in the city.

We'll see now how my "trail maintenance" holds up when I go back through there on Monday morning.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Trans Iowa v12: Odds And Ends

Just some small business to clear up today...

First of all, here's a tip to anyone curious about riding in a Trans Iowa: You will have to wait until, and if, there ever is another Trans Iowa. 

I have received a few e-mails since the registration closed asking about "getting on a list", or if they could ride in Trans Iowa, "please make more space", and what not. There is no "waiting list" or "notification list". There is no more room to get in. If you have a question about riding in Trans Iowa v12, and your name is not on the roster currently, the answer to your question is no. I am not answering those e-mails and I ask that you watch the site next year to see if you can have a chance.

Secondly- If you have any reason that prevents you from getting your training in, or that will prevent you from being ready for Trans Iowa, or any reason at all that will stop you from showing up 100% prepared to go, (or show up at all), please drop out. I think it is pretty plain that we will put on Trans Iowa for one rider if that is what ends up happening. (See last Spring) The number of folks on the roster doesn't mean anything to me. It is what it is. What does matter to me is that you, as a rider that has committed to show up, be 100% ready to go.

Finally- The "Trans Iowa Fireside Chats", which will basically be all about what it takes to do a Trans Iowa, will happen on Wednesdays and sometimes on Saturdays on Periscope, which is an ap that allows me to live broadcast video and link it to Twitter. You can easily access Twitter and my account at @guitarted1961. Hopefully many of you can tune in. I'll put up broadcast alerts ahead of time on Twitter, the Trans Iowa site, and Facebook the day of the Periscopes. They will be 7-10 minutes long, so a pretty quick hitting deal, but it is something. Hopefully these will help in some small way.