Friday, March 06, 2015

Friday News And Views

The people of Cedar Valley
Playing Teacher: When I was a younginz way back when, I thought I might become a teacher someday. Nothing ever became of that thought, well.......until now a days. Ever since coming to work at the shop where I am now, I have taught mechanics classes from time to time. It seems that lately I've had a small run going on them.

Last night it was the Cedar Valley They were having their monthly meeting and wanted a refresher course on trail side maintenance and repair. Last weekend was a full on mechanics class at the shop, and tomorrow I have another. I may get tapped to do a basic maintenance class with a couple other guys as well. Then the teaching will have to take a back seat to work, since we're supposed to swing into Spring around here next week. I tell ya what- I am ready. This Winter has been weird and the ultra-cold right at the very end really hurt.

Speaking of "hurt", I did just that to some of my digits riding to work Thursday in the sub-zero wind chill. Some of my fingers were really on the verge of frostbite by the time I got to work. I should have used the pogies........ Stickers:

My partner Ben at shot over this image of a sticker we are thinking we'll have soon.  They'll be high quality vinyl 4.25in x 1.38in and will be $1 plus postage. Not sure if I'll have any locally for pick up, but I bet I will, or could. Interested? Let me know. Just something fun to show your love for riding gravel.

Transformer mode: Soon.
 Okay, Let's Try This Again:

Last year I built up a set of 29+ wheels and slapped some Surly 29 X 3.0" Knards on there which all ended up on my titanium Mukluk. Dubbed the "Muktruk" by Mke Johnson, who did the same thing with his titanium Mukluk, I tried the concept out for several months before deciding that it wasn't right for me. The wheels jacked up the bottom bracket and I thought the feel of those wheels wasn't very fun on that frame/fork.

I decided to sell the wheels, and I did just that. This doesn't mean I don't like the idea though, because I do. The Borealis Echo I tested last Summer showed me that much. That bike was lower to the ground, lighter, and slacker. It all added up to a ton of fun.

So now I have the Blackborow. It was designed around the largest tires on the widest rims that are available now. That puts the overall wheel diameter really close to 29+. Close enough that I won't be changing the geometry on the Blackborow at all if I decide to put on 29+ wheels. The Blackborow has a slacker front end, shorter rear end, and lower stand over height than my Mukluk does. It should, theoretically, rip with 29+ wheels. And I will be finding out if it works in truth.

Stay tuned for a mighty transformation to the Blackborow, coming soon. Summertime looks like it may be a fun one around here.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Sprucing Up For Spring

Tour Of Duty: Completed
As I have stated before recently here, the ol' Black Mountain Cycles bike was in desperate need of some maintenance. Well, the day finally arrived when I had the time and all the parts, (I thought, we'll find out about that here in a minute), so I got it refreshed and ready for Spring and beyond.

Essentially, I had roached the drive train and the bottom bracket. The cassette and even the chain rings were worn significantly enough that I felt it would be best to just swap it all out rather than take the risk that the chain rings might not shift or worse.

Replacement parts consisted of a new set of Enduro bearings, a new set of Shimano chain rings in the CX series. A 46T and a 36T. Then I bought a new 9 speed Shimano cassette, an 11-34T range, which is from the mid-range of their series. An HG-something or another. Then I got a 9 speed SRAM chain. I still trust these, but no way will I ever buy another 10 speed one! Okay, so with all the stuff I needed arranged and after I grabbed a few tools, I got to wrenching.

Of course, when you pull a two piece crank set, which is relatively easy, you see all the nooks and crannies where gravel dust has been hiding all that time. Well, you may as well clean it up, right? So after disassembly of the chain rings from the crank arms, I spent quite a bit of time poking around the non-series crank set getting all the dirt outta there.

I should get this analyzed!
That done, I swapped out the chain rings. You know, Shimano has a way of machning their parts so that they fit beautifully together, but woe unto you if you use someone elses parts, even though they match the so-called "standard" Shimano might be using. I knew, for instance, that SRAM product just wouldn't fit at all. The old FSA rings were barely useable, but I got them to work, obviously. The taking of them off though was tough. More difficult than it should be for parts that are "supposed to work together".

Anyway, I got the new rings on with no problem, so it was time to move on to the bottom bracket. I have a nice Chris King outboard bottom bracket tool and that thing is so well made it is a joy to use. Fits onto Shimano cups like a hand in glove. Once those got removed, it was time for a bit more cleaning in and around the bottom bracket shell. Like I said, these are places you just cannot get to when the bike is assembled.
A new Shimano ring- Fit was perfect.

Then it was time to peel off the plastic shims from the stock Shimano bottom bracket cups. That was tough to do, but being patient pays off and I got them out. Then to knock out the old bearings. I tried to do it in my Lab, but to no avail. So, a trip to the shop was in order.

We have a bearing puller there that we usually use for such jobs which I got out. The set up looked perfect, so I went for it. Then I went for it........ Okay. One more time.......

What the.....?!!

I tried as I might, but those bearings didn't even move one iota in those cups. I assume they were frozen in there, because I had done some wet weather riding, and last Spring I rode through some low water crossings. Whatever the case might be, I wasn't separating those bearings from those cups without doing some major damage, which would have been time consuming and counter productive to using the Enduro bearings. Bah! Plan B then......

All cleaned up and ready to reinstall
The shop had some stock Shimano bearing cups so I went home with those. Disappointed, but they will be workable, and that's what I used, obviously, before hand. Next time I'm not screwing around and I'm just going to get a Chris King bottom bracket for this bike.

So, I got home and, of course, everything went together beautifully. The ol' Orange Crush is ready to go for the gravel season ahead. I'm still running the HED Ardennes wheels and folding bead Nano 40's on it. This will go toe to toe with my Nano 40 TCS set of wheels to see what, if any differences there are. I suspect that the tubeless Nanos will be smoother, but I'll know shortly.

The weather is about to turn here. 40's are predicted all next week, and that is warm enough now to do some longer miles out in the country. My health is slowly improving, and Daylight Savings Time kicks in this weekend. Yep! Like the GoDaddy commercial says: "It's Go time!"

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Disc Brakes For Gravel Bikes- The Good And The Bad

Bleeding brakes? What's that?
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Disc brake road bikes, disc brake cyclo cross bikes, and disc brake equipped gravel road bikes. You need them, right? Why? Well.......because disc brakes work better in poor conditions, have more power, and are "better". 

Are they really better though?

I'm going to say "NO", and I use disc brakes a lot, so it isn't like I am being all "retro-grouchy" here. No, I get why disc brakes are good for a lot of things. However; I am still not convinced of their necessity on road bikes and gravel/dirt/back road type rigs. They work okay, of course, and as stated, I have used them extensively. That said, I know I probably really "needed" to have disc brakes on any of those gravel road rides over the years once. Maybe. I'm allowing for the odd chance I may have forgotten a time there.

I'm thinking disc brakes on most gravel road rides are over kill, are heavier than alternative cable actuated cantilevers, and due to the loose surfaces on most gravel roads, disc brake "power" is never able to be utilized effectively. So........does any of this matter? Certainly not anything I am saying will mean a thing, since - like it or no- disc brake road bikes, gravel bikes, and cyclo cross bikes are what manufacturers need to create demand and make old bike designs "new" again.
Putting disc brakes on chain stays has prompted design innovations.

Then again, disc brake design has created some innovative ideas. Mounting disc brakes on the chain stays has freed up seat stay design to be a part that supports the rider with more forgiving attributes. Moving the brakes down nearer to the axle on the fork has removed the mud catching cable across the top of the front tires and opened up that area for mud clearances. Perhaps in some cases disc brake bike set ups are easier to operate, due to their increased power and efficiency compared to cantilevers.

However; I am pretty sure had disc brakes never come over from mountain bikes we wouldn't miss them. The thing is, road and cyclo cross designs have been homogenized and indistinguishable from year to year, brand to brand. Well.......that is until disc brakes came along. Then suddenly the old was new again. Especially in cyclo cross where it was perceived that disc brakes just had to be good like mountain bike disc brakes are. I'm not going to comment about that, since I do not cross race, but as for gravel roads? It is overkill, and not necessarily the advantage one might think. Road racing Pros seem to have ambivalent feelings about their use, although certain media darlings swear they will eventually overcome and be accepted as "better" than caliper brakes.

But in the end, I don't think disc brakes are "better" than cantilever brakes or caliper brakes. I do think they are different which is really why they will appear on road, cyclo cross, and gravel/all road bikes in the coming years. It's marketable, it is what consumers perceive to be "better", and it makes a visual difference in new product versus old. Sometimes I wonder when I listen to this chatter and marketing babble on disc brake road bikes. I mean, how the heck did they manage to stop with those old cantilever brakes and caliper brakes 50 or even ten years ago? It must have been magic or something. Weird.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Dirty Kanza 200 Chronicles V2: Let's Try This Again

So, since the original post disappeared, I am going to move on and give ya'all an update on my progress toward this year's attempt at the Dirty Kanza 200.

The DK 200 is a tough event, that much I think everyone pretty much understands to one degree or another. Two centuries back to back on wind swept prairies, sun drenched roads, and breathing in that arid, (for me), air means a really tough day in the saddle. However; there is more to a DK 200 attempt than meets the eye. For instance, you've got to get there somehow, and that will cost you some time and money. From where I am, this is a day of windshield time going and another coming back. Oh yes......the time you need to take off is another thing. That has been an issue for me in the past and I have had to ditch out on two previously planned attempts because the time I needed to "spend" on the DK 200 trip had to be allocated elsewhere. So, travel expenses, "time" expenses, and then you need a place to shack up while you are there.

It used to be that every single person that went to the DK 200 wouldn't even fill one motel. Nowadays this event fills up every available bedroom in the town. Seriously. Even the local college has had to open up their dorm rooms to racers, for a modest fee, of course. So, not only do you need to consider housing expenses, but you may need to do some scrambling just to get a room in the first place. Then if you cannot do that, they have a place for you to pitch a tent. Crazy stuff! Next project- a palatial DK 200 Hotel building. 

Anyway, training is only one facet of the DK 200 attempt, and so at this point I am glad to say that I have hitched my wagon up with my good friend, MG, and he has secured a joint for our attempt at this shindig. What's more, we have the option to show up early to acclimate. I know that this may not seem like "that big of a deal", but in the grand scheme of things concerning this event nowadays, it really is a big hurdle to overcome. 

So, a big "thank you" for now to MG, and my mind is a bit more at ease today than it was a day ago before this got sorted. Now....on to the riding of bicycles!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Missing Post

Place holder for the Nano 40 TCS tires.
What the .....?!!!" I had this reaction yesterday when I went to look at the blog here and a whole post I had done and set to go live was......missing?!! Completely gone. No trace of it anywhere.

I don't claim to understand these computers and programs at all. Far from it, actually. So when something like this happens here I am at a complete loss to explain it. I am sure that there is a logical explanation for this, but as of now, I am blaming the post burglar and until I hear different, that's who caused this mayhem!

Anyway..... I was going to explain that the Nano 40 TCS tires I have here to try are really quite far. I haven't done a lot of riding of late, since we have been hit with these brutally cold waves of air and snow. I've done a little bit of riding on these though and I think that due to the excellent tubeless set up the Nano 40 TCS tires will actually feel smoother than the tubed Nano 40's that I also have. I want to do some back-to-back rides to confirm that though. The Nano 40 tubed tires are on the "Orange Crush" BMC bike, and that ol' girl is due for a drive train refresh and a new bottom bracket.

In fact, I'm going to go with this suggestion and I think it will make for a great test of those bearings since the Black Mountain Cycles rig is mostly used on gravel anyway. Putting in another set of Shimano cups would just result in another short lived solution. Well.......time will tell there.

Speaking of time- Maybe my planned post for Sunday did some sort of time travel deal, or got sucked into a digital black hole into another "world wide internet", ya know- like a parallel universe? I swear I scheduled it for posting, and now there is no trace at all of it but my memory.

Then again, I could have just dreamt the whole thing up.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Decade Of Nonsense: Part 4

2007 marked the first time in ten years that I had raced a mtb event
 2007 continued on with the insanity of activity on the blog here and in my life. In many ways, it was a watershed year.

This was the year that I had two custom 29"er frames done. Both were conceived at nearly the same time and to this day stand as the only two custom frames I've ever had done for me. I still have both of them as well. One I have had rolling since this time, the other has been built and torn down again at least three times and is currently a bare frame and fork. These were both things that were results of the blog, initially here.

Of course, a lot of the first part of the year was spent getting ready for T.I.v3, and saying goodbye to Jeff Kerkove, privately, and alone. He wasn't really "leaving" at the time but he was obviously going on to Ergon, and was not around much after Spring hit. Frostbike that year saw me staying with Brent of Twin Six in the then "World Headquarters" of the fledgling company, which at that time was in his basement.

Plans were also being put together for a "Big Wheeled Ballyhoo", which was supposed to be this "festival" of riding and industry demos of 29"ers that was originally just an idea by me to "get together" and ride 29"ers. However; I let myself get convinced by my Twenty Nine Inches "boss" that it should/could be this "really big deal" someday. Let me just say that the Big Wheeled Ballyhoo ended up becoming a huge thorn in my side for three years, and never really ever was what I wanted it to be. The last year, it would have been but for a freakish snow storm, but by then I was burnt out on the idea. All that to say that I regret where I let this idea go in the beginning of '07. I sure have learned a lot since then!

The Big Wheeled Ballyhoo in '07 was the only one that actually happened in full.
 Later in Spring I was to go to a "press camp" and I reported on that and my going to Sea Otter in Monterey California. Here I was less than two years from starting this blog being jetted out to California, staying at a beachfront motel, eating at Keith Bontrager's home, and going to Sea Otter. It was crazy stuff that I never had envisioned happening to me at all at that time.

Bam! I get back to home from this surreal California experience and then I find out the cue sheets for T.I.v3 are way off and need to all be redone. This and the fact that I was left to organize the event on my own was overwhelming. On top of all of this, I had a guy from Portland, Oregon coming out to write a story about Trans Iowa to be part of a book he was going to do about "Renegade Sports". All this and Trans Iowa was a bit too much, but there was no rest for the wicked and I had another Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational coming, which was basically saved by David Pals doing all the groundwork, or that never would have happened, most likely.

More bike review craziness, I was on a mtb 12 hour four man team at the Iowa 24 hr race, dubbed "Team Stoopid", because we were all on single speeds, and Interbike came and went again. Summer went by fast!

Jeff Kerkove's last "Friday Night Lights" gravel grinder ride announcement.
Jeff made his final ride here a Friday night gravel grinder before he moved off to Colorado, and thus ended an era of my blogging/work career here. It just hasn't been the same since. In fact, before Jeff left, I was rudely reminded of how things were changing when his replacement left in the beginnings of July, just as the RAGBRAI work load increased. It was even worse due to the fact that the ride was coming to our area, so repair jobs were at an all time high, and I had no one at the shop to help bear the burden. It was a tough Summer at work! Not having Jeff there was crudely pushed into my face and I had to make a major adjustment in my ways at work, which has lasted right up till this current time.

Well, the end of the year finally approached, and promises were still being made on the front, so I was sure that '08 would see less blogging here. Not only that, but I made an ill conceived decision to become a contributor to another site with another individual that didn't work out. It was good that I tried, but I think it was ill-advised and I wasn't very experienced at the time. It didn't seem to trip me up here though, so that was good. 

The interesting thing about '07 was how many that I knew locally and regionally quit blogging, or curtailed their postings severely and I thought it odd. At the time I did anyway. Now looking back, maybe they were the brilliant ones! In the end, I was forging ahead and I had good intentions and hopes for a different future. We'll see how in '08 and '09 that all fell apart.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday News And Views

"Crudflap"- Not Mud Flap!

Okay, so I got the green light to let the cat out-o-the bag here by "Mr. K", the inventor of this lil' gizmo dubbed the "Crudflap". "What the heck is a Crudflap?!", you ask? Well, maybe I should start with the reasons why, then it will make more sense.

Mr. K sent me an e-mail several months ago asking for my assistance in prototyping an idea he had that would "shield" the chain and chain rings from the near constant dumping of "crud" off the fat bike's enormous front tire. His idea was that if the dirt, spooge, and slush generated by the front wheel could be kept off the chain and chain rings that the drive train would work better, longer, and maybe shifting performance at the front derailluer could be enhanced. I agreed and soon we were sending measurements and images back and forth along with plastic molded bits for me to try out.
Piles of broken dreams

There were several failures and near misses, but eventually we hit upon a couple prototypes that worked well enough that I have field tested them and, in my opinion, the ideas actually do have some merit. First off, it is nice not to hear that "scrunch-crunch" of grit on the chain after running through dirt, mud, and sand on trails or slush infested streets. I also think that this device does indeed improve chain life and shifting quality.

Right now it is still an idea in its infancy, but you never know. I think it's something worth pursuing. It isn't without its faults, (fitment for various bikes/drive train set ups would need to be figured out, for one thing), but it is a viable idea that I feel improves the fat bike riding experience.

Dunderbeist- New Fat Rubber from 45NRTH
Weird Names- New Tires:

Also from Frostbike 2015- New weirdly named fat bike tires from 45NRTH. Two new "tweener" sized tires dubbed "Flowbeist" and "Dunderbeist" have emerged and I got a really close look at them. Think widely spaced knobs, really open tread patterns here that are optimized for front and rear specific duties.

My impressions are that these are really for snow or soft conditions. Maybe small, rocky stuff, if it is loose. The lateral side knobs are impressive and look to aid in stability in cornering and for just keeping a bike on the line you want to be on. I saw these tires mounted on 70mm rims and on Clown Shoes. The tire takes on a really crowned, rounded look on the 70's and on the hundies they flatten out noticeably. The volume of 4.8's is not there. Not even close, but these tires should fit a wider variety of bikes than Bud and Lou does.

Of course, these are tubeless just like the Vanhelgas are. When I suggested that these might really be best suited to snow, the fellows of 45NRTH shot right back with "All our tires are best on snow." Going further, they seemed to think that none of their tires are really very well suited to "normal single track", which kind of took me by surprise. Take that for what it is worth.....

The Blackborow DS dominates in the deep stuff
 Late Winter Punch:

Winter was kind of.........not Winter for the longest time, but February came and it kicked in. First we got about ten inches on the first day of the month, then that kind of, well.....evaporated, for lack of a better explanation for it. By the time it snowed again the day before yesterday, the old, ten inches of snow was a sparse, barely there three to four inches, and with a lot of bare ground showing. Now we're back up there again. Maybe to about seven inches, or more, but the biggest difference is the moisture content of this snow, which is a lot higher than it has been in a long time.

The nicer snow consistency means that I have been riding into and through stuff that has been really surprising me a lot. I expect to wash out, get bogged down, or knocked off line, losing my momentum, but many times I just keep going! A good example was yesterday when I traversed a good section of deep snow that had been post-holed by ped traffic and I was expecting to lose it and have to push. I went right through the entire section instead, and the Lou tires just tractored on through. I had to keep a steady cadence, but it worked and it was fun to be able to clean these sections that have always thwarted me before.

Okay, that's a wrap for today. Get out and enjoy the end of Winter or beginning of Spring, wherever you are in the Northern Hemisphere!