Tuesday, July 07, 2015

GTDRI: Starting Somewhere

Hiking- Urban style
Post Odin's Revenge saw me come down with a nasty cold, so I have been on the down low since then, and only doing commutes by bike when it isn't doing the monsoon thing here. Drinking lots of fluids, (mostly water), and trying to get some sleep, I hope to be out of the woods soon.

That said, I cannot just sit around too much. Sunday I finally had enough of being idle and took my son out for a brisk, two mile walk around the neighborhood. It was quite humid, so we brought water and we tried to keep a good pace the entire time.

I'm a big fan of walking, actually. I've always had a penchant for longer walks and I suppose had I not been into bicycles, walking longer distances would have been my main gig. In fact, back in the 80's before I bought my first mountain bike, I used to walk along the old railroad bed, (now a bicycle path), to Hudson and back, (about 14-15 miles round trip), about every other weekend. One of my favorite mountain biking trails locally, the Green Belt, was walked its entire length long before I ever bicycled it.

Anyway, it is a good activity, and I figured I needed a quick hit for some physical activity and a good short two miler was not going to do me any harm, what with this cold and all. Hopefully, this cold will abate later in the week and I'll be back to riding two wheels on longer routes soon. I need some hot weather hill training before the GTDRI comes!

Monday, July 06, 2015

The State Of Tubelessness: Progress

WTB's Nano 40TCS led the way, but others are coming
Last January I wrote a piece on the tubeless gravel bike tire scene, (which you can check out here), and it wasn't looking too great back then. Now the landscape has changed, and it looks to be improving significantly very soon.

WTB's Nano 40 TCS tire was the pioneer here. With TCS rims already in existence, both in rim and disc brake versions, the introduction of the Nano TCS meant that a true system approach for gravel bikes was attainable. I've used the TCS Nano extensively since it's introduction and it has worked very well. I can run any reasonable pressures I want, air retention has been good, and the performance of the tire is also quite good. I have had some reports of premature wear issues, but nothing that affects its tubeless performance that I am aware of has been a negative so far.

So, that's one choice, but obviously, there needs to be more, and the good news is that there will be several more tires soon. What "dimension standard" they use is yet to be determined, but I feel these will be like WTB and be based upon UST type tubeless dimensions. One of the announced additions to the tubeless gravel tire scene is Schwalbe, who have been a brand that has been highly regarded in the past by gravel riders. The other exciting news is that a new tire brand called Teravail will debut soon with a gravel specific design tubeless tire in a 38mm size.

These tires, and probably more we don't know about quite yet, will be coming out, likely late this year and early next year. The wildcard is what rim type these new tires will be designed to. Again, I hope that it is UST and not a marginal, half way in between UST and Stan's deal. Time will tell, but the good news is that there is progress, and soon there will be no reason to run tubes in gravel road bike tires. That will be a welcomed time.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

GTDRI: Next Up

Could this be the bike.....
Odin's is over with and now I am looking on to the next gig on the calendar, the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational. I've spoken about this ride here before, but once again- you do not have to be "invited" to come. It's just s big, silly name I came up with back in 2006 or so. Anyway, this year is the same route as last year, which you can get the cues for HERE.

So, this one happens in about 3 weeks, (July 25th), so I have to get going on preparations now. I had a week of relative recovery topped with a dollop of head cold, so I was run down most of last week. Now I am on the mend, so I am going to buckle down on some training, all the while being busier than all get out with the RAGBRAI coming up real soon.

I will be choosing between the Tamland and the Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" for this ride. I'm leaning toward the Tamland with its slightly lower gearing. I figure I'll be needing all of that low end if the weather is typical of late July. Last year I used the Tamland but I only had a low gear of 32 teeth out back. Now I have a 36T on there. The BMC only goes to 34T. Both bikes are lower geared now than the Tamland was last year.

Looking beyond this I have the Geezer Ride coming up in August. That will be a piece of cake. 44 miles and I think I'll grab my single speed for this one. Then it will be Gravel Worlds on August 22nd, and for now, that will close out my 2015 campaign. Things will be coming up fast in the next month and a half and then I'll be done for the year with my big events. At least, that's how it looks now.

Stay tuned for more GTDRI updates soon.........

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy 4th of July

Well, it is a Saturday and it is a holiday. Major off the hook potential here. I suspect many of you will be doing some epic ride or another to celebrate, and that's a good thing.

I probably won't be doing that, as I have family things going on, and quite frankly, I probably should take a day off from everything cycling related.

See ya soon, and in the meantime, have a safe, happy, and exciting 4th of July weekend!

Friday, July 03, 2015

Odin's Revenge Report: Gear Review And Comments

The "Fat Fargo" was the perfect tool for the job for me.
Following are a few thoughts on some gear I used for Odin's Revenge. I won't do a total breakdown here, but I will touch on some highlights and hopefully these things will help you out in some way when you choose your gear.

Fat Fargo: My bike, dubbed the "Fat Fargo" due to my use of 27.5" wheels on Velocity Blunt 35's, was so good on the Odin's course. The Fargo is a very versatile bike, but I feel that it is even better with the fatter, more voluminous rubber which gives this bike better stability and comfort levels. During Odin's this showed up as an ability to surf the silty dirt without the bike getting upset, or slowed down. There also was a bit better ride over the ruts and bumps, which were plentiful, especially regarding the fact that well over a third of the 90 miles I rode were minimum maintenance road. The tires, set up tubeless, of course, have done nearly 250 miles of Dirty Kanza and Odin's without a single tire issue. I ran high 19psi pressures (19.8 and 19.6) in each tire for Odin's which worked quite nicely. The Velocity Blunt 35's which give the Trailblazer 2.8's a nicely crowned profile, were perfect, and did not make the tires have a totally flat profile, like a wider rim would. Plus, Blunt 35's are lighter than the 45-50mm rims many are using for B+ tires.

Could I have used regular 29"er tires? Yes. I could have, and perhaps these were overkill, but the volume and tire profile are impossible with 29"er wheels and tires in the Fargo. I feel those two things were key to how well they rode and performed for me.

Cowchipper Bars and the ever present Bike Bag Dude Chaff Bags.
The new Cowchipper Bar from Salsa Cycles gets a huge thumbs up from me. I have decided that the best way to describe it is that it is a lot like the Cowbell, but with "more Cowbell". (There ya go Salsa. A new marketing slogan for the Cowchipper! You can thank me later.)

The Bike Bag Dude Chaff Bags are indispensable items on any longer gravel travel adventure for me. I cannot imagine what I would do without these handy carrying bags. Good for water bottles and food, I have used these now for a few years with great success. Just wait till you see the updated version of this bag coming here soon. Stay tuned for that.

The pedals as they looked post DK200

The Pedal iSSi Triple model pedals have been through the wringer and still are working fantastically well. Smooth engagement, free spinning with no slop, and these are light too. I have been duly impressed with these pedals and they are Shimano cleat compatible. At about $80.00 bucks, give or take, they are a complete bargain, being as good as XT pedals with a lighter weight and a lot lighter impact on your wallet.

You can check out my initial review of these pedals HERE.

My hybrid 9 speed rear/10 speed Gevenalle GX shifter set up has been totally flawless through both the DK200 attempt and through Odin's. No missed shifts and no hiccups. I know it isn't supposed to work, but it does. Maybe now that I don't have any events coming up where I want to use the fat Fargo I'll have some time to switch out that left side bar end shifter to the other Gevenalle shifter! If anything was a negative, it was having that left side bar end shifter on there, which is far less convenient than the Gevenalle shifters are. Finally, on the drive train front, I was super pleased with the DuMonde Tech lube again. I'll post more about that in my next "Lube-Off" update coming up here next week, most likely.

Wally Kilburg captured me on the Odin's course in this image
One thing I was super stoked on were these Sol Skin arm protectors I used in the Pirate Cycling league colors. Yes, they are black, but amazingly they worked very well. Any air movement over them caused a noticeable cooling effect, and they wicked sweat famously, as the black fabric turned a frosty white due to my sweat over the course of the day. Obviously, with a rating of 50+ on the UPF scale, I didn't need to use any sunscreen, and usually that is something I would have had to have done on a bright, sunny day, such as we had at Odin's this year. It is my belief that sunscreen plugs up my pores and doesn't allow the efficient sweating to help me stay cool, like the Sol Skin arm protectors do.  I'm convinced these are the real deal and will be wearing them more often. And yes- they do work to help keep you warmer in cooler weather. I tried that this past March with great success.

I also used a base layer tank top from Bontrager, which I also credit for keeping me much cooler and definitely more comfortable during the ride. Again, this is something I will continue to use going forward in hot weather, or any weather, most likely. I had really great results with this base/jersey combo and wouldn't ride otherwise if I have a choice. There will be more base layer purchases in the future for me.

As far as things that didn't work, there isn't much to say. Nutrition on hot days maybe? That's probably one thing. Otherwise everything functioned as it should and I had no gear issues whatsoever on the Odin's course. Should I have used a lighter bike? Well, lighter would have been better, but at the expense of the wide tires, umm.........I don't think so. Ideally, the new Salsa Cycles Cutthroat would be the bike I would say was perfect for the Odin's course. Carbon, light, wide tire compatible, and designed for frame bags. It would be the best weapon for the job, plus the Class 5 VRS would play well with Odin's ruts, bumps, and occasional rocks. I'm keenly interested in this bike anyway, so don't be surprised if you read here that I am going to Odin's next year on that bike! 

That's about it from the gear perspective. I think Odin's is a very unique course that demands a bit of a different approach in set up. I think a 40mm tire would be minimum width I'd ever consider there, and tubeless is the only way to go at that event. With the amount of MMR and its silty, loose soils, I think a fatter, floating type tire is advisable. Going skinny/light might work if you have tremendous bike handling skills and are fast, so you get the course over with in a hurry. Otherwise I don't see any advantages going skinny/light on bike/bike set up.

The beauty of West Central Nebraska as captured by Wally Kilburg
Odin's Revenge is, as I stated in my opening of my race report, is a throwback event. Or maybe it just never cared what others thought. Either way, it is run by the DSG as a grassroots event and as far as I can tell, they don't plan on making it a "bigger/better/whatever". The "flavor" of this event is very intimate, "down home", and welcoming. The touches that Merrie Quigley puts on the event, the way that her husband, Chad runs the show, and the laid back, soft spoken nature of Matt Bergen all make the Odin's experience one I look forward to eagerly every year. Nate brings the craft beer, which is top notch, and helps with the show as well. Then you have Bob, Garrett, and the others that pitch in and it just makes for a great experience for all who show up. It's like you are going to visit family, and they take care of you well.

Now none of that would be of import unless there was a good reason to ride your bicycle there, and it goes without saying that there are several good reasons to do that. The terrain out there is spectacular, challenging, and so very different than anywhere else that I ride, that I would suggest to you that it should be a bucket list ride, even if Odin's didn't exist as an event. In fact, Matt Bergen mentioned that he was thinking of splitting the Odin's course into two days worth of bike packing, which I think is a really awesome idea. Add in the fact that Potter's Pasture is perhaps the most unique mtb trail system anywhere and right on the Odin's course, and you could bicycle there for a week and never get sick of it.

So, yeah.......I like Odin's Revenge a lot, and I like the people behind it a lot as well. I'll go back again, and maybe I should just go back out just to ride during a different time of the year, just for fun. It's that good, really, and I cannot say enough about the area.

Okay, that's a wrap. Have a safe, fun, bicycling time on this 4th of July weekend!

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Odin's Revenge Report: Dirt Nap

While published highs were only in the mid-80's, radiating heat made it feel much worse.
Mile 80.1- Road # 395, Odin's Revenge Course:

I had walked to a stop by Jeremy. I was debating how it was I was going to make the last 8 miles to Checkpoint #2.  I was panting, wobbly, and weak. I sat down on the edge of the roadside looking out over a green field of grass and I noticed that the gravel was very hot. Almost like sitting on a black vinyl covered car seat that had been baking in a mall parking lot for a while. It hurt to feel the heat, but I was so out of it I didn't care. My head was in my lap, and my eyes were closed. The heat on my feet made my shoes feel like they were made from fire, but I wasn't overheated in the way that I traditionally had felt. This was different. My legs hurt, and they were very weak. Then I lifted my head and opened up my eyes......

"Hey Jeremy. Is it foggy out? 

Jeremy replied that no, in fact it wasn't.

"Oh.....well that's not good."

My eyesight was fuzzy. Dimmed may be a better description. Everything looked foggy to me. I knew that was bad. I closed my eyes and lowered my head again. Jeremy said some encouraging things, but honestly, at that moment my internal debate was louder than his words. I was trying to get the gumption to get another 8 miles under my wheels. Only 8 more lousy miles, then I could rest as long as I wanted.  I opened my eyes and things were only half foggy. Good. A little more time.

Jeremy was anxious to go, I could tell. It was getting down to it timewise. I tried to stand up and pirouetted right back down to the ground, my legs were so weak. Jeremy said. "I think you'd better call it....." 

And I agreed.

I stood here and watched Jeremy disappear over that horizon......
Well, there was no reason that Jeremy should have to wait on me any longer and miss the checkpoint cut off. The rest of the gang had gone several minutes ahead of this time, so I shooed Jeremy away, although I must say he was very reluctant to leave me there. Good man, that Jeremy, but he needed to see what he could do now. I could take care of myself.

So, I watched him disappear over the horizon. Then I drew myself up, and shuffled one foot in front of the other, slowly, lethargically moving onward. Pushing the Fat Fargo up. up, and up a long, gradual climb. Then a cloud came and parked overhead for several minutes, as if to take pity on me as I toiled under the blazingly hot Sun. I stopped and enjoyed its stay until it moved on.

When I reached the next turn I hopped onboard the bike and rode again. It wasn't so bad. I made the highway, where we were to turn right, and I went along a bit until I spied a lone tree near to a corner that overspread a fine looking patch of long, green grass. I saw paradise. I headed directly to that spot, parked my Fargo carefully, and flopped down onto my back in a soft bed of greenery.

As time ran out, I was recuperating under this tree.
I closed my eyes for a while. Oblivious to all else in the world. Nothing else mattered but rest. Recuperation.

I don't know how long that moment lasted, but it is one of those priceless moments to me. How often is it that you reach the end of your rope, and nothing else matters? No worries. No responsibilities. You just are. It isn't a place we get to visit very often in our lives, but I got to be there for a short while on a highway South of Curtis, Nebraska.

Of course there was a price to be paid. About 75 chigger bites worth. But at the time, I couldn't feel a thing. Then I decided that I had better move along before someone reported a dead man in the grass. I sat up just as a car came by. I wondered if I startled them.

I studied the cues and realized that the course left the highway and returned to it again before entering the village of Curtis. I surmised that I probably would get there if I stayed the course and did not leave the highway, which proved to be correct. I rolled into town and stopped at a local grocery store, texted Chad, the race director, my whereabouts, and waited for the broom wagon. Matt eventually came by and scooped myself and my Fargo up. We picked up John, the guy on the Beargrease West of town too. I found out that Jeremy, Scott, and Tony had made it through CP#2, and I was glad of it. Matt's cold beer went down well, and I was eventually deposited back in Gothenburg, safe, if not a little disappointed.

I got in 90.2 miles for the day. Respectable, but not a finish. Jeremy, Scott, and Tony all eventually succumbed to the heat as well. I suppose it was tough, but more finished than didn't this year, so we were in the minority. I am not sure what it was exactly that caused my issues, but I feel it was nutritional in nature. I never did get too hot in the head, causing dizziness, or a thumping head ache, which is usually how it goes for me. It's something I'll have to work on.

So, at any rate, that was how Odin's Revenge played out for me last weekend. Tomorrow I will have a gear review, talk about what worked and what didn't, then I'll have a few final thoughts on the event itself.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Odin's Revenge Report: Burned

Don't tread on me! Image by Tony McGrane
Checkpoint #1: "Hey! Would you like some ice with that?"

I made it to the checkpoint with an hour and a half in the bank. I didn't really want to waste that, so I went about my business and refilled bottles, one with ice in it. Thanks to Skratch Labs nutrition I had some of their drink mix powder in all of my bottles save for one. I have to give them a shout out, as well as Culligan Water, for being sponsors of Odin's Revenge and providing the things we could not get for ourselves out here in the wide open prairies. With some grapes available in a cooler there, which slid down real well, I might add, I was topped off and ready to move out. Jeremy was busy doing some last minute maintenance, so he waved us on and said he would catch up. So Tony, Scott, and myself went out from the Checkpoint #1 just behind John on his Carbon Beargrease.

The very first thing we hit was a down hill run into a deeply cut in minimum maintenance road, (MMR), and the silt at the bottom was very deep. John was in the "good line", so I tried left of him, since I was not planning on using the brakes and was coming up fast from behind. Then I hit some really deep fluff, got slowed waaaaay down, and then pitched sideways, almost taking out Tony, who was coming from behind on the right. John kept it upright, but when he hit the powder, the dust flew up into the air almost totally obscuring him for a moment. Dang ninja cyclists anyway!

That's me in front kicking up dust. Image by Wally Kilburg

Well, that was enough excitement for me! However; we were about to find out that we had other types of excitement coming. Like getting lost! Tony was out front, but apparently had lost his cues. We could follow tracks rather easily, since the gravel was so deep, sandy, and loose, but somehow or another Tony got snookered into going straight when we should have turned left. Scott blithely followed along, and I was slightly off the back, since the corner was at the top of a climb, and I was fading a bit in the now blinding Sun. I remember checking the road sign, because I was not paying attention to the cues, but I was trying to remember signs I saw in case I had gotten dropped. That way I could reconnoiter the landscape and figure out where I was on the cues in relation to the signs I had last seen. Thankfully, I never had to do that. However; it became apparent after about two miles that we'd been on the wrong track. Scott figured out we needed to go back, and I suggested we go look at the sign I saw last. At least it wasn't hilly! (That alone should have clued us in that we weren't on course!)

As we turned around, I finally realized that this was why Jeremy had not rejoined us yet. He was probably up the road wondering why he wasn't finding us. Just about then, Scott turned and looked over his shoulder at me and said that he had just gotten word from Jeremy and that he was waiting for us up the road. We found the intersection and made the turn back onto the proper course. It wasn't too long afterward that we came upon Jeremy sitting alongside the road waiting for us. With that figured out, we went on our way.

Now about this time I was starting to feel cooked. It wasn't the heat so much as it was I was just getting weaker and slower as a result. I was trying to drink, and trying to eat, but I was getting the "drowsies" and that is always a sign I am about to bonk hard. Not good!

It seems like a scene from rural France, but it's in "flyover" country. Image courtesy of Wally Kilburg.
This is what I come back for year after year. Odin's is just fantastic from a scenery standpoint, as well as being super tough! Image by Wally Kilburg. 
Right around this time we found a confusing intersection where it wasn't clear on the cue sheets as where it was we should go. Tony was convinced he should go left, as he saw tracks going that way, and I was convinced we were to go straight off the gravel to an MMR that was there. It took about 15 minutes to figure it all out, and while that got me a chance to recover a bit, it was eating into our "banked time", and that concerned me a bit. Finally we got going again, and it was a really nice, scenic MMR that wound its way down and along a creek for a bit. This meant shaded areas, which were cooler, and I thrived on that while it lasted. Once again, the fast, rolling downward track with deeper dust and ruts was forcing Jeremy into his "anti-daredevil" mode. (Or was it self preservation mode?) We stopped at the next turn to allow him to catch back on. In the meantime we passed Mark on the Ti Potts, (again), as he was fixing another flat tire.

Many of the roads were dirt, and of such a light color that seeing contrasts was nearly impossible. Note the deep silt. 

Once Jeremy caught back on it was a long, steadily steepening climb out of that river valley and into the heat. It was around 2:00pm and we had till 3:00pm to reach a small village where the second checkpoint was located. I had to stop for a bit and I told the guys I was getting drowsy. Tony offered me a Stacker energy shot, and that did the trick. I was feeling alert, but my body was still not working through this well. It wasn't like the DK200 where I was able to fight through the down spots. It just kept getting worse.

Next: Dirt Nap