London Calling

I guess this bike (frame set) was released last year, and sold out, but I didn’t hear about it until some time this winter.  I decided I had to have one, and made a pre-order.  A bike swap was attended and items purchased, the pre-ordered frame set arrived in stock and shipped early, and a very promising looking weather forecast had been revealed, which clearly seemed like the end of winter.  And so I find myself, a few weeks later, with a completed Planet X London Road, custom build.  And riding it around in balmy Spring weather.  Awesome!

london road in stock

This is what it looks like.  How ’bout that color, huh?  Zesty!  So what is so great about it?  Well, if it isn’t obvious…

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Planet X kind of pitches this bike as a full time commuter and part time cyclocross bike, and potentially a bike with which one could do some touring.  But here in the US, gravel racing is kind of a big thing.  I’m sure there must be dirt and gravel roads in England, but perhaps not to the extent of rural North America.  So calling it a “gravel bike” to an English audience would not make a lot of sense.  Fair enough.

But this is indeed a gravel bike.  And a commuter, a tourer, and a cyclocross bike.  It is a disc road bike, with rough road and off road capability.  Because of tire capacity (40mm+) it can offer a greater measure of comfort than other road bikes, if you desire or need.  But no reason it can’t go fast, too, with the skinny tire bunch.  I think it is a brilliant design, combining things in a way that I don’t think has quite been done before.  In the early days of gravel racing, people were adopting bikes that already existed, but now there are bikes and frames designed and optimized for this kind of riding, and I think this is one of the best.

 

 

 

 

Ride Race Rest Rinse Repeat

It’s been quite a while.  Last post was after the Almanzo, way back in June.  Can’t help but thinking some times “really, do people actually read this blog?”  But you visitors do keep coming (and my devoted regulars).  And so, if your curiosity and your search engine brought you here, I will try to bring you something worthwhile your visit.

IMG_1616Who am I?  I’m a guy who spent a lot of time building things.  Homes, garages, townhouses, commercial buildings.  Then I renovated and remodeled buildings.  Then came the time that my body, back, and mind had its fill, and it was time to move on.  But move on to what?  That is a question that is still being answered.

But for the last 5 years, my life has been filled with bikes, and cycling.  Cycling has been a part of my life, since I was a kid, but has become a renewed passion, more than it has ever been.  I’ve been busy tuning, repairing, building, rebuilding all kinds of bikes for a lot of different kinds of people.  And for myself!  I’ve got a nice little collection of bikes, all of which get ridden in different venues and different times.  Some more than others.

Although I did a fair amount of riding on my road bike, and another bike for commuting, it is my gravel bike that has gotten a lot of miles lately.  (What is a gravel bike, you ask?  That is a good question.  Stay tuned for more on that subject.)  This is my gravel bike.

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In 2012, I learned about gravel racing.  I rode 2 events.  The first one I didn’t even finish.  I missed the registration of a couple more.  I made it into a second race late in the year, and finished.  Last year, 2013, guess what?  More gravel.  And my bike changed, pretty radically, like three times.  And above is the result of the changes and experimentation last year.  I’m really happy with this bike, it has served me well.  But I will curtail talking more about it for now.  And try to talk about what has transpired this year, which is, basically lots of riding, and racing.

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At the Filthy 50, I was with this group, for a few minutes…

Yes, racing.  It became apparent that certain folks would show up at these events, and amongst themselves things were quite competitive.  Last year, I found my times and results getting better as the year went on.  My appetite was whetted for more.  I began to pick the events I would attend in 2014.  I tried to maintain or improve my conditioning through the winter.  I lost some weight.  And I entered a bunch of races, the last of which will be tomorrow.  And sometimes I find myself riding with guys like the above.  And other times, I’m chasing.  Make no mistake, this is a work in progress!  But there is progress.

pit stop kids

But I don’t want this to develop into something too painfully long, and so I will cut it short.  Let’s just for now consider this a preview to a few more posts going into more detail about this cycling season, now drawing to a close.  One more race on my calendar, the Dirt Bag.  October 25, 2014.  Tomorrow!  So stay tuned for more, now that the summer’s silence has been broken.

2014 Almanzo 100

I rode the Almanzo this year.  100+ miles on gravel.  Gravel, dust, wind, steep hills, 42mph descents, river crossings, and horses!

 

Here is my recap– It was a beautiful morning, and a beautiful day.  Chris came along, and met up with her parents.  My support crew.  I wanted to quit at mile 40.  And then again at mile 67.  But I didn’t.  The winds blew up and the climbs were steep.  And I made it to the finish, with a few tears I’ll admit.  I know that’s not really macho or badass, but that is how it happened.

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And that All City Mr. Pink is a new bike to me, and rode quite excellent for this day.

So basically, I rode my ass off, conquering gravity and the wind, and summoning the will to finish this thing.   And the horses, who broke free just to run along side of us, we won’t forget.

 

 

 

 

And here is a little gallery of some nice photos, taken by my soigneur and now race photographer, Chris.

Spring Classics — April Gravel Update

It was just two years ago I rode my first “gravel grinder”.  The following year (2013) I completed 6 or so events.  And this year I may have 3 knocked out by the end of this month.  Yes, I kind of got hooked.

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I was always a cyclist, my entire life really, but had pursued it with varying degrees of intensity over the years.  But an addiction to tobacco, of the smoking variety, had hooked me in a different way- nonetheless, the cycling continued.  But I began to feel and experience things that became pretty clear signs that my health was declining and something had to change.  And I finally discarded the cigarettes, really without much fanfare, and haven’t touched them since.  Was it easy?  Hell no!  Nicotine withdrawl is very unpleasant and difficult.  The human body becomes dependent on nicotine on a chemical and neurological level, and suddenly removing it from a person who is addicted can cause some very unpleasant reactions.

But I did succeed in quitting, and part of my strategy was to pursue cycling again with a new vigor, with a longer term goal to be able to ride/race competitively on some level.  It was kind of like in the same way that I ravenously chased the nicotine rush, I was going to ride my bike with purpose and start to pursue these previously abandoned goals of racing on a bicycle.  Becoming more healthy of course was a pretty significant “side benefit”.

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So, it is 2014 now.  We had a long, cold, and snowy winter this year.  Everyone was saying “when will it end?”.  But we have had some pretty nice spring weather, and the 2014 gravel season is underway.  Lakeville-Milltown-Lakeville would be my first event of the year, right at the very end of March.  Arctic air was just starting to loosen its grip on our area (again), and temperatures for the day started in the low 30’s and climbed into the upper 40’s in the afternoon.  From previous warmer days, the roads had cleared of all snow, and dried quite a bit, but then sections might have been frozen, too, it seemed, but overall, fast and very good road conditions.  But, the day before the event, I developed a fever.  I was getting sick.  But I decided my fever was just below 100 and I could still do it.  Probably was a bad idea.  But hindsight is 20/20, right?

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The race was 82 miles.  I rode with the lead group for, I don’t know, 6 or 7 miles, but then was squeezed off pretty handily after 2 or 3 bumps we had to climb over.  There were other riders to spend some time on the road with after that, some passing me or leaving me eventually, sometimes me catching riders who had been dropped later on.  I got to the halfway checkpoint in okay shape.  The lead riders had already come and gone.  Once I stopped, I became chilled pretty quickly, and realized I was really wet with perspiration.  I took off some layers and tried to dry them and myself in the sun behind Milltown Cycles, while eating donut holes, hot bacon, drinking hot coffee and gatorade.  The longer I lingered behind the bike shop, the more I realized I really felt like crap!  I was sick.  I started thinking there might be somebody who had driven down from Lakeville I could beg a ride back with.  Then my thoughts started to turn to calling Chris back in Minneapolis.  But I had her car, and she can’t drive mine.  I’m going to have to finish this thing.

So, I did finish.  I finished somewhere behind the middle of the field.  Not terrible, but not great, either.  But I did finish.  Went through quite a bit of pain, psychological and physical, but I did finish.  And bronchitis and full blown upper respiratory infection quickly set in in the ensuing days.  Some asked me as I crossed the finish, “how was it?”  I replied “How was it? It was horrible!”  It wasn’t that they put on a bad race, not at all.  It was just that I suffered to get to that finish line, and there wasn’t a happy feeling left in my body.

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I started to recover and was back on the bike in a few days, though still to this day I don’t think I have this illness 100% beat.  The next event on the calendar would be the Dairy Roubaix.  It takes place in Wisconsin about 3 hours or so from us, but only 1 hour from Chris’ hometown of Decorah, IA.  So we decided to spend the Easter weekend with her family, and I would get out to the race on Saturday.  The weather turned very nice Saturday, warming through the 50’s as the day went on, and beautiful sunny skies.

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I found myself hanging onto the lead group from the start.  “Alright, let’s see how this goes.” The little bumps we were going over were straining me, and I thought “oh no, what is going to happen once we hit a real climb?”  Somewhere around mile 8 or 9, not even on that significant of a climb that I can recall, I was ejected from the rear.  I rode on and was eventually joined by a pair of riders.  We rode together, at first it seemed they were happy let me pull them along on a fairly long paved section, but then I decided I wasn’t going to do all the work for them.  I sat up a little and moved to the rear, we never really got into a cooperative groove as a trio, but I think each of us took some turns at the front.  Then during one of my turns one or both of decided together to leave me.  They pulled away, and I decided to let them go.  It seemed too early to fight to stay on a wheel, no less chase back to the lead group.  I was used to riding these things alone.

But somewhere down the road, back in the coulees and gravel, I was catching some stragglers again.  And then a bigger group appeared ahead of them.  It was the leaders again.  As I was gaining ground on the stragglers, it appeared that they surged.  I realized they were going to make a run to bridge to the lead group.  I hesitated.  Then I decided, I’ve got to do it, too.  I likely won’t get another chance.  I saw some of my supporters on the road gave them a shout and wave, and then shortly after, I was back with the pack.  And we were flying along, up and down the rollers and bumps, twists, and turns of some of the prettiest gravel roads in the world.  And I was more than content to sit right on the very back of this fast moving group, for as long as I could.

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And the miles ticked by quickly, and the rest stop was fast approaching.  And it didn’t even occur to me that people wouldn’t stop.  But as I slowed, the entire group went right by, minus myself and maybe two others.  I didn’t see that coming.  But I didn’t see coming riding into the rest stop with this group, either.  I ate some food, drank, and used the bathroom, and decided there was no reason to hang around.  There was a very long climb back up from the river town to the Wisconsin prairie.  I passed one rider not far from the end of this climb.  It was very slow going.  It was not long after that the first tailwind section came.  A strong steady breeze and some long paved sections.  This was a good place to ride alone and not lose time.  I tried to keep my tempo high, and use the wind as much to my advantage as possible.  It was then onto more gravel and hills, each one always just taking a little more from you each time.  It was within the last 10 miles I was joined by a rider.  We chatted a little bit.  He asked about my tires.  We took a paved breakneck descent together, interspersed with small gravel sections.  I thought “that felt a little sketchy”.  And then other riders were approaching from behind just before the turn where the 107 milers split off.  They went right, and I went left.  Nope, I’m not doing that, I am almost done.

So I finished.  One other rider caught me before the finish.  I wasn’t able to hold his pace, but didn’t really care.  I already thought I had had a pretty good ride.  It didn’t matter if one more guy passes me.  And I hit the sand pit and went flying off my bike, my pedal carving a nice long gouge in my shin.  Got back on and finished.  My computer recorded my time as 3:24.43, with an average speed of 15.9 mph, a distance of 54.51 miles, and a max speed of 42.7 mph.  My actual race time was actually about 3:35, though, on account of my break, which my computer didn’t record.  I have never seen any official results posted anywhere, but I am fairly certain my placing was somewhere around 12th or 13th.

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So, a pretty long and tough race to start the season, still finishing with not a small amount of adversity, and then a pretty decent result for the second event.  Not a bad start for 2014.  I have managed to hang on to last years fitness, and can build on that this year, with a lot of riding yet to do.  This year I will participate in the Almanzo for the first time, the Dirty Benjamin again, and several others.  Also, I’ve got my eye on some road races I might give a try, and I’m still wanting to try to race on the track, too.  Stay tuned and we’ll see what unfolds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Bike (650b Gravel)

I’m pretty excited about my new bike.  I had this frame sent over from England, it was almost the last one.  It is a Cotic X.

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For winter, I built this with a 1 x 8 drivetrain.  Shown with slick Pari Moto tires, just before our epic winter had struck.  It is 8 speed in the rear, because a Campagnolo 10 speed shifter pulls just the right amount of cable when coupled with a Shimano 8 speed cassette and a suitable Shimano derailleur.

I hardly was able to ride this, before it got cold.  Then really cold.  Then snowy, icy, and really cold.  Shoot!  I was looking for winter tires in the 650b size, but everything was too big.  But I decided to give the Vee Rubber XCX a try, based upon measurements others had taken.  And yes, the 650b/27.5″ x 1.95 Vee Rubber XCX did indeed fit in this frame (rear), without modification to tire or frame (which I was pretty close to doing).  And the Kona Project 2 fork, well it has tons of room, so I went with a Vee Master Blaster.

IMG_20140129_161538_402I’ve tried to get out on this as much as possible, but it has been so freaking cold!!  But so far, I like it.  I think it is going to shine the most off road and on gravel, which of course is the intended use.  And it handles the snow well, too.

The story of this bike…well, of course, I could go on and on about all the minute details- and, I really have nothing better to do, so here goes…

Actually, not a long story.  But, my experiences last season with the 650b wheels and gravel races were good, and I started thinking about what would make the bike better.  And I realized that the best thing would be to design a frame from the ground up, optimized for the wheel size.  And I sat down with Google Sketchup, and designed a frame that I thought would do everything I wanted it to.

650b Gravel RacerAlthough there are a fair number of production 650b road bikes out there now, and more coming, these are all (mainly) in the Randonneur style.  And of course there is nothing wrong with that, but it is not what I was after.  And then there is the route of the custom builder, too, which has been and is being done.  But the custom frame does carry a higher price tag, which I am not currently able to embrace, psychologically  or practically.  And if I can’t afford to employ an experienced frame fabricator, I wouldn’t be able to afford building it myself, either.

But roaming around the vastness of cyberspace, seeing bikes others had converted (to 650b), well, I searched to see if I could find something that I could convert, and meet my requirements.

My Criteria:

  • Bottom bracket drop around 60mm
  • Short chain stays, overall short wheelbase
  • Steel, but not excessive weight
  • Disc brake mounts
  • Sloping top tube geometry
  • Generous tire clearance

And I found the Cotic, and it pretty much hit all the points, closely enough, and was pretty darn close to my drawing.  So I pulled the trigger, and got it.

IMG_20140129_161839_417The main purpose of this bike is gravel racing, which I am looking forward to doing a fair amount of this coming season.  I have other bikes, road, mountain, track, but what is cool about this bike is you can take it just about anywhere.  Really just a tire change makes it capable on pretty rough off road conditions, and with a 38c lightweight tire, the bike flies along pretty well on the smoother and harder surfaces.  I really like that!

So, like I have said earlier, I have ridden this a limited amount.  I was never able to take it on a gravel ride to make a good assessment.  But I am hopeful this will be my “go to” bike this year, and proves itself up to my anticipation.  I have some new components at the ready, just waiting for Spring to break and get this bike into full racing dress.

And the custom frame, or the self custom frame, will have to wait.  But in time, that may come, too.

October Gravel Update

IMG_20120401_120931Well, to any new readers, or to refresh the collective memory, it was last year that I developed the interest in “gravel grinders”, and entered my first event.  (Well, actually it was two, but I try to forget about the first one…)  And that first event was The Heroic, to which I brought my wonderful old ’73 Raleigh International, and rode.  And I didn’t do too bad.

And this event and the emerging gravel racing “scene” rekindled in me a desire to race bikes, which I had abandoned (regretfully) 25 years prior. Give it another go.  And I discovered that all kinds of people show up for these events, but some race their bikes in other “disciplines”, and take these events pretty seriously.  They show up to not just finish, but to race.

IMG_20121006_130952Like this guy–

This is Mark Skarpohl.  He won the Heroic last year, on his vintage Raleigh International.

I don’t know him personally, and haven’t seen him around this year.  But his ride last year was a pretty big inspiration for me.

If he can do it, maybe I can.  And I don’t mean win, necessarily, but be competitive (reasonably), at least.  Train, and become fit, and fast, and race.  And age is not an excuse.

And this year, I set out to do it.  To enter several events, to train and push myself farther than I have before, and to see what happens.  And below, a list of events, in the order they occurred in 2013, the last of which will occur in just a few days.  (Ha, my “race calendar”, if you will…)  And then I’ll do a quick synopsis of each one.

  1. Dairy Roubaix (April, gravel)
  2. Ironman Bike Ride (April)
  3. Dirty Benjamin (June, gravel)
  4. Southside Sprint (July)
  5. Lifetime Gran Fondo (August)
  6. Inspiration 100 (September, gravel, 1 day before my 45th Birthday)
  7. The Heroic (October, gravel)
  8. Filthy 50 (October, gravel)
  9. Dirt Bag (October, gravel)

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The Dairy Roubaix.  65 miles. Early in the season, and late snow made it tough to get enough miles in the legs.  I rode a new bike, the course and day were beautiful.  I did pretty decent, and passed the guy on the fat bike in my finishing kick.

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Ironman Bike Ride.  A week after Dairy Roubaix.  100 miles was the tentative plan, but was shortened to 78.  Had a strong ride, and rode with and then dropped some pretty “racy” characters.  It was one of best Ironmans, weatherwise, ever.

Dirty Benjamin.   This was to be my first 100 mile gravel ever undertaken.  And only the 3rd time, ever, I would cover 100 miles on my bike.  I pushed a little too hard for the first half, and there was not much left for the last thirty miles.  A pretty violent and windy storm blew through, too, which I had no choice but to endure and pedal through.  I was alone for most of the second half of the course.  Sheer determination got me to the end, and in almost exactly 8 hours.  I was really glad I left that rear mudguard on.

Southside Sprint.  A circuit road race in my town, Minneapolis.  I had known about this race earlier on in the year, but didn’t give it alot of consideration, until a couple or few weeks before.  I didn’t train well, and showed up with tired legs.  The clouds were gathering early that morning, just as predicted.  Much rain fell, just before my race, and continued through my race.  I worried about crashing, and was scrubbing a lot of speed in the corners.  But honestly, I would have likely been dropped no matter the circumstances.  The race was going very fast, and I just couldn’t keep with it.  And then I was pulled from the course, because I was getting lapped.  I left there pretty frustrated.  A small consolation — I made the local news.

Lifetime Gran Fondo.  This was a road event, and a little more racy folks than at the typical century events.  The mileage for this course was 60.  I had done a lot of road riding through the summer, and tested myself with time trials nearly every week.  I thought this would be a good test of my legs, and a bridge to my next gravel event in early September.  I did ride with a pack early on, but more treated this as a long time trial.  I faded a bit towards the end, but I was proud of my time, finishing 60 miles in 3 hours and 15 minutes.

And some time during the summer, ideas started to simmer about a new bike, and this was the result of those ideas, ridden in the Inspiration, and for two more events that year.  It has worked well for me.IMG_20130911_150237

2636763824_535398a1d3The Inspiration 100.  A day before my 45th birthday.  100+ miles of gravel.  Turned out to be a very hot day.  The roads were soft and loose, and some pretty decent hills on the course, to boot.  It was a very tough day.  I overcooked it a bit, again, and the last 30 miles were pretty grim.  Even “Our Lady of the Hills” couldn’t deliver me from the suffering of that day.  But I managed to finish on a day when others had to abandon the race, and still managed to better my best 100 mile gravel time by more than 20 minutes.  Progress?  God, I hope so.

Then in the beginning of October would come again The Heroic.  65 miles of gravel.  The race that one year before had started all this madness.  I finished not a huge amount behind the winner, and I was included in the “leader’s group” officially, despite having not seen another rider for perhaps the last hour.  I put in a time of 4 hours and 10 minutes.  It wasn’t terrible, but still left me a little discouraged.

f50-lgThere were going to be two gravel events for me in October, two weeks apart.  But then somebody decided to host a brand new event called the Filthy 50, in Stewartville, MN, just south of Rochester.  50 miles of gravel.  (Officially, by my record, 51.84 miles)  And I got myself registered, and I was in.  And there was more than a little buzz about this new race, and 300 people fairly quickly filled up the roster.

And I felt really good at the start of this, and thought I might have a good day.  I really wanted to be ” in the race”, even if for just a while, instead of just “completing the course”.

And I got what I wanted.  I wasn’t going to try to go with the fastest group, I’m not a fool.  But with as many riders as showed up for this, I had hoped a 2nd, or 3rd or 4th group might form on the road, that I could join with and ride and contribute, and maybe get to the finish a little faster with our collective effort.

So as is typical, the lead group went away, and I found myself in a smaller pack, which seemed to be disintegrating quickly.  I tried to not panic, but I was determined to hold a wheel as long as possible.  I watched a smaller group form and start to split and drift ahead of mine.  That’s okay, I told myself, just ride your race, and stay with these guys.  And that’s what I did.  But it wasn’t long at all, and my group was starting to split up and disorganize.  One guy was surging forward, only to drift back again on a hill, or after a turn into the wind.   Other guys one by one were dropping away behind us.  This group was soon not going to be a group at all.

And then the unthinkable happened.  I don’t exacltly remember making the decision, but I just started to ride away.  And as I was going ahead, I thought, “maybe I can bridge to the next group”.  And I worked hard, but within my ability, and not at my limit, and the group that had gone ahead of us, starting drawing closer and closer.  And then, BAM!  I was with them.  I got in the rear of this line, and was able to collect myself.  And I rode along in this new group, usually at the back.  And I started thinking, “these guys seem pretty good, how am I riding with them this fast, and not cracking yet?”  And I stayed with this group, for quite a few miles, and I felt fine.  The pace was quick, but I could do it.  I even took a turn at the front a time or two.  But then the unthinkable happened again!  I don’t remember exactly if our group had slowed or what, but I found myself on the front again, and then, I went again.  I rode off ahead.  And I bridged again, to another small group.  I don’t remember exactly, but I did this 3 or 4 times.

I found myself with another two riders, who were going okay together, but not great.  And then we caught some other riders, and our group grew to 6 or 7.  I thought most everybody would stop at the first water stop, and I didn’t need water, but had planned to grab some food then.  But nobody stopped, and I was like, “okay, I have to eat”.  And I dropped off of this little bunch just a bit, hoping I could get some food into myself and rejoin them.  And then an important turn was coming up, and this group of 5 or 6 all blew right by it.  But I didn’t.  I made the turn and suddenly I was alone.

I was pretty sure the group who had missed the turn, would eventually catch back to me.  I took a look behind me from time to time, but never saw them.  It was going to be a solo effort now.  Towards the end of the big climb of the day, at which mile I can’t remember,  I was caught and passed by one rider, “a young guy” I thought to myself.  I might have caught him again a little later.  And then more lonely miles, nobody seen ahead or behind me.  Until somewhere 10 miles or so from the finish.  A group of two were behind  me, both wearing the same kit it appeared.  I could see they were gaining on me, I was going to be caught.  And I was, and tried to stay with them, but I couldn’t keep their pace.  They dropped me, I was alone again.  But I was totally okay with that.  I had set myself the goal of 3 hours for this race, or as near to that as I could.  And looking at my computer, I started thinking it was going to be close.  I continued on, and then, the two that had passed me, there they were again, on the side of the road, taking a “natural break” (peeing).  So I rode by these guys, and thought “how long before these guys catch and drop me again?”  Well, it wasn’t long before they caught me again, but this time, I wasn’t dropped.  I don’t know why, but I stayed with them this time.  And then 2 or 3 miles to go, we picked up another guy.

So there we were, the four of us, surging towards the finish.  I was happy to be with these guys, but honestly I was just racing the clock at this point.  It was coming up on 3 hours, and it was going to come very close.  I rode with these 3 and took a turn or two on the front, and then two of our four sprinted ahead for the finish.  And then I finished!

My time was 3 hours 52 seconds.  My placing was 34th of 184 riders who finished.  25 of the 209 riders who started did not finish.  I finished about 32 minuted behind the winner, and less than 15 minutes behind some pretty accomplished riders.

At times, throughout the season, I doubted and felt like I wasn’t really getting anywhere. And it’s hard to not ask yourself “why the heck am I working so hard?” when you aren’t getting the results you are hoping and training for.  But in this race, for me, things came together in a really satisfying way.

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And then the Dirt Bag would be the final gravel race of the year.  The course was set at 88 miles for this year.  The forecast was looking a little grim, with rain and cold temps possible, maybe even some frozen precipitation.  I was tempted to drop out, no doubt.

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But I didn’t.  I showed up.  And the rain did come, but not right away. (on right- my filthy bike at the finish)

Well, the race unfolded in the typical pattern.  I got to hang with the cool kids for about 6 miles.  And I found myself in a second group which became whittled down to three.  And the three of us hung together for about half the race, sometimes joining or being joined, but then becoming three once again.

And somewhere near halfway, one of our three went ahead.  And the other dropped behind me.  And then I saw the guy ahead turn off in the wrong direction.  When I got to the intersection, he was gone.  And John joined me again for a little while.  And I think it was right around this time the first rain started.

Well, it rained, on and off.  The roads became wetter and sloppier.  The winds picked up, and became pretty fierce at a couple of points.  The temperature seemed to drop.  At one point there was sleet.  Dirty water and sand was flying up from my tires, often flying right into my eyes.  I had to put the eyewear away.  Eventually the cold set in, but fortunately with not too many miles.  But the last miles were some pretty tough ones.

And I had hoped to finish at about 5 and a half hours, a time that I could be happy enough with.  Even 6 hours wouldn’t have been a terrible day (for me).  But I pulled it off even a little better, and covered 88 miles in 5 hours and 16 minutes.  I finished 49 minutes behind the leaders, and my placing was 17th overall.

And so, this was my gravel season.  I’m pretty happy with it, and am looking forward to more of this next year, and for a long time to come.  I enjoy the challenge, and it is rewarding when your hard work pays off.  For me, that payoff was improving my times and placings, and I really couldn’t have asked for more.

And of course, as always, thanks and gratitude are always owed to the people who give of their time and energy and resources, to put on these events.  You are some fine people!  See you next year!

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Gravel Bike v.4 — Think I’ve Got it This Time

IMG_20130729_162349Okay, so here was the idea, and the challenge — Put together a bike, with disc brakes and drop bars, and road type shifters.  Design and build it, so that it handles well, fast enough on the smooth and straight, but also capable enough for any type of adverse terrain or surface, or weather conditions you can throw at it.  Make it light enough to be quick and responsive and climb well, and comfortable enough to sit on for 100 miles or more on sometimes smooth, but oftentimes bumpy, washboardy, or otherwise not the smoothest of roads and trails.  And then added to the above criteria, use the 650b wheel size.  And of course, it has to fit, and feel right.

Well, truthfully my goals at first were not as clear and concise as the above (but foggily close), and the 650b factor was more of a function of being able to use a mountain bike frame as the base for this bike.  And the final choices for components and tires evolved, with trial and error, and what I had available at the time.  I had just built an older steel hardtail mountain bike (Balance), and took it on some rides, and out on the gravel.  But the fit and feel of it wasn’t quite right.  And I remember hitting some nasty washboard that made the bike and me shake so hard, the whole world went blurry.  This bike was close, closer to the goal, but not quite there.IMG_20130723_120303

The tires, unfortunately, were a little disappointing.  They provided a nice cushion of air, but other than that, didn’t do anything particularly well.

The frame was long, typical of these type of mountain bikes, but too long to be set up with drop bars to my satisfaction.  And the fork was very stiff, and unforgiving.

I needed a different frame.  And I found it.

A shorter top tube.  Disc brake.  Steel.  And higher at the head tube, because of the suspension corrected geometry.  And I had a fork for it.  And, as it turns out, this frame is lighter than the last one, too.  The Soma Groove.

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And I’ll go into some detail, starting with the tires.  Pacenti Pari Moto tires, 650b x 38c.  Very little tread, just a fine herringbone.  Run at 40 to 45 psi, these grip all kinds of surfaces well, and still have very low rolling resistance (fast).  And a superb ride quality that you really have to experience, but as true as others have claimed.  And on dry gravel roads, I think more than adequate.  It was only on the softest sections these tires struggled, but I feel no less than other tires with more tread.IMG_20130911_150237

And some more highlights of the build

-The frame, nicely made and finished, with Tange Prestige steel

-Fork, Exotic carbon fiber, rigid suspension corrected

-Salsa Cowbell 3 handlebars

-Campagnolo Veloce Shifters, 10 speed, coupled with a Shimano 8 speed drive train (shimergo)

-Hayes CX 5 disc brakes, with Ashima rotors

-Hand Built wheels, cheap (but nice!) DiaTech hubs, Sun Inferno 27 rims, and Sapim spokes

-Carbon Fiber Bontrager seatpost

The Inspiration 100 would be the first real test for this bike.  And the course provided plenty of challenges for the bike, and it’s motor (me).  More than a few rolling hills, and plenty of soft gravel to suck the life out of you.  And washboard, sometimes washboard with soft gravel.  Now that was a treat!2636763824_535398a1d3

Well somewhere around or before mile 70, we came upon Our Lady of the Hills.  I can only speak for myself, but it was just at about this time I found myself in need of inspiration, and possibly even divine intervention.

And near the feet of the Lady was found friendly well wishers with a cooler of ice and icy beverages.  Maybe not a miracle, but an icy Coca Cola quickly consumed felt like a godsend to me.  And upon leaving the Lady, and resuming the race, suddenly the roads descended, became smoother and more forgiving, and the winds became favorable, simultaneously.  Morale was boosted, and confidence returned, at least for a few miles.  And I felt grateful.

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Tired travelers often stop and sit at the feet of Our Lady of the Hills

So the bike worked really well.  And I finished the race, and bettered my Gravel 100 mile time significantly, on an arguably tougher course (than the Dirty Benjamin), with an associated greater degree of suffering.

And the 650b gravel bike I will call a success.  Version v.4 Soma Groove.  I think I’ll keep it for a while.

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