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.


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)


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.


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.

dirt bag brown email

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


Short Post — Recent Ride Photos — Shimergo Monkey

Not a big story, but thought I would upload some recent ride photos.

This is (was) my Shimergo Monkey.  It was great, but several things were borrowed to build another bike.  This set up was pretty fun, though.














Here is Chris trying out her Rocky Mountain Hammer.  I think she likes it.





This is my latest gravel bike, on a recent ride in the countryside.  And some scenery.  That’s all.  Thanks.





650b Gravel Grinder Midsummer Update

IMG_20130723_120303Well, as much as I enjoyed the last “gravel bike”, I became inspired to try something new (above) and found an appreciative owner (buyer) of the last one.  Found a 90something mountain bike frame, with nice light steel tubing, and one day started to imagine it as a gravel bike.  Built to accomadate the once standard 559 ISO/26″ wheel size, the frame seemed like it had the room for the bigger 650b/27.5″/584 ISO wheel, and a fairly fat tire. Not a lot of 650b tires out there still, but a niche growing in the mountain bike world right now.  And then I found the Vee Speedster in 1.95″ size, and thought “this could be a gravel tire”.  And then I started imaging this bike being a pretty versatile and capable off and on road, gravel or paved, machine.

Some of these parts I had, some were borrowed from another bike build (Karate Monkey), which was great and super fun, and I never posted about!  The Karate Monkey will take a different form soon, but I wanted to get the new gravel machine ready for September and October events.


Build highlights–

~Eric Noren at Peacock Groove happily obliged to weld on for me a disc brake mount.  And wicked fast he did.  Thanks, Eric.  This solves the brake problem…

~Vintage Shimano 600 crankset, and derailleurs, with Salsa and Ritchey chainrings in 38 and 48 tooth

~New SRAM chain and cassette, 8 speed ~Campagnolo 10 speed Ergo shifters (do they still call them that?)-(YES, 10 speed Campy shifters shift a Shimano/Sram 8 speed cassette, with a Shimano derailleur, Perfectly!)

~A Kona Project 2 Disc only Cross fork was pretty key in making this all work without blowing the budget, allowing a disc brake, with room for the 650b wheel/tire in width and height, without disrupting the original geometry and handling of the frame, and with the bonus of rack and fender mounts, should I ever gear this thing up for longer than one day events.  The frame has rear rack mounts, too.

~New hand built wheels.  I love building wheels for my bikes.  I’m always a little budget conscious, though.  Wishing I could spring for more prestigious and probably better hubs, I chose an Ebay find which seem very nice and a good value, and I hope prove to be a durable hub.  They do spin nice and look pretty good, too.  The rims are Sun Inferno 27 in 650b size.  I think the rims are great, and were one of the easiest to build ever.  And Sapim Race double butted spokes to tie them together, also a great spoke, if you ask me.

~Hayes Disc Brakes, good brakes

~And the Rubber—Vee Rubber Speedster tires.  Kind of new, a company not previously prominent but coming out with new products now, and hitting the 650b size with some interesting offerings.  These are cool tires, I like them but need to put them through some more to reach my full opinion.  I am setting these up tubeless, BTW. IMG_20130723_124021


So how is the bike?  It’s pretty cool.  I like it.  Actually, I was riding it around with 700c wheels, and 38c tires, for a while, while waiting for my 650b wheel parts to all come in.  And it worked really well like that, too.  And I think that might be a cool twist, that this bike could accomadate another wheel size and tire, which might be more appropritate for a particular race or ride.  An interesting idea. I had a good ride yesterday, a trail that runs through our sister city, St. Paul, in which you encounter mud, rocks, deep sand, railroad ties, broken bottles, and sometimes garbage and various dumpings.  There is a nice stretch where it goes down giving you some speed, with some really deep sandy sections, which are very dry now.  And the bike handled it all really well.  I will say that I did notice the wheel size changes the ride characteristics, from 700c to 650b.  The smaller wheel feels different.  And the tires both had tubes on that ride, but will soon be both tubeless, and I think will feel and handle a little differently.  So, so far so good.  I think this might be a good gravel bike.