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)

047??????????????????

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.

IMG_20130428_111235

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.

IMG_20131019_150325

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!

IMG_20120920_115653

Advertisements

Gravel Bike Baby!

IMG_20130222_104448

Snow Bike

I did a couple gravel events last year, and in the snowy dark depths of winter, I started to think about the new biking season.  Actually so much so, that I started biking in the snow and ice, but maybe that should be another blog entry. I put this together (right) with a home made studded front tire.  Salt is brutal on bikes, though.

And I caught wind of the Dairy Roubaix, and signed up.  And started thinking about the upcoming season, and what I wanted to do, and to accomplish, on my bike.

And I needed a bike.  I rode my old Raleigh on a gravel event last year, and had a great ride.  But I don’t want to beat up the Raleigh, so needed something similar, that had the same kind of ride and fit as the Raleigh.

IMG_0433

The Raleigh International was a “sport touring” bike, if you will, with a longer wheelbase and slacker angles than the sportier racing models.  And built of light and lively steel tubing.  It wasn’t a racing bike, but wasn’t a full touring bike, either.  Somewhere in between.  And on gravel, in my opinion, all these things come together beautifully.

Roughly a year ago I started a project.  I had an old frame with bad paint, and decided I could practice brazing on it.  If I wrecked the frame, not a great loss.  If I succeeded, possibly a nice bike that could serve a variety of purposes.  I purchased all the little frame parts from a place that supplies that stuff to bike builders, a cheap brazing torch, and silver solder (and flux).  Learning to Braze and Part II.

IMG_20120412_134639

A couple of quick notes about the frame, why I thought it might be ideal.  One, the right size.  Another, steel, which can be brazed, and the ride quality, as previously noted.  And one more thing, but important–  the frame was originally made for 27″ wheels, a little bigger than the now standard 700c.  This creates an oppurtunity, as switching to the smaller wheels can allow a bigger tire and fenders, if desired.  And adding cantilever brake mounts gives the desired brake alignment to the smaller wheel size, and an all conditions brake.  One more thing, this lowered the frame which was really a size bigger than I usually ride, but helped to make the fit just right.

IMG_20120412_134703

Other things came up (last summer), personal things, and this project was hung up (literally), and almost forgotten.  And it can be hard to start again a project, there is a momentum that is lost.  But I needed a bike for the gravel races, and it occurred to me that this frame might be just what I needed.  After repair of some brazing errors, it was off to the powdercoater.

This is what the bike looked like completed.

IMG_20130425_105829

IMG_20130425_105813The color is an olive drab with low gloss, a color actually used by the military.  The bike is a mix of old and new.

The old, summarized-

  • vintage steel frame and fork
  • vintage quill stem and handlebars
  • vintage (80’s) hubs
  • vintage 7 speed cassette (customizable for gearing, longer lasting than modern 9, 10, or 11)

The new, summarized–

  • tubeless tires (awesome!)
  • modern cantilever brakes with advanced brake pads
  • modern crankset and pedals
  • very comfortable and effective brake levers
  • cartridge bearing headset (no longer offered by Shimano, though)
  • modern rims and spokes

The end result?  Well, I love the bike.  It eats up the gravel roads.  Just the right gearing for hills, mushy patches, or whatever.  Tires are, dare I say, the perfect combination of ride comfort, speed, and traction.  Tires did not slip on steep climbs, and helped me not go down when I hit a slippery section downhill at high speed.  Tires also are quite fast on pavement as well.  Steel frame absorbs road buzz and shock, and gives just the right amount of spring.  Brakes strong and confidence inspiring when going downhill and fast. Shifting  functioned without flaw.  Wheels strong, light, and compliant, adding to the comfort on a long ride or race.

IMG_20130425_105956

redneck ingenuity

I’m looking forward to more riding and racing this summer.

One more thing about this bike.  See the pulley?

I brazed on a post to mount a pulley, but managed to snap off a bolt in it, trying to fix the threads.  One prototype and then a second attempt resulted in this pulley, made from the clamp from an old front derailleur, and a derailleur pulley.  Works great.

All for now…

Gravel Baby!

The Dairy Roubaix has come and gone.  I remember in the photo I was trying to look wasted and pathetic, but don’t know if that really worked.

??????????????????

our resident gnome, getting buried by snow in April

Our resident gnome, getting buried by snow in April

The Dairy Roubaix was 54 miles, or 100 and something miles on mostly gravel roads in hilly western Wisconsin.  I had a great time.  This was my second gravel event.  I did my best to train, but the unrelenting snow and winter made it tough to get any significant miles in.

 

 

Here are a couple more photos.     049047

 

 

 

 

 

There I am, roaring into the finish!  So fast, I passed a Pugsley.

How was it?  It was tough.  I did an extra 10 miles, 64 total, because I lost my cue sheet.  And then, I tried to follow some other guys in, who turned out to be lost, but didn’t know it.  I was really mad at those guys!

 

It snowed like mad the day before we left, but there was almost no snow anywhere, 200 miles to the south.  The sun broke through, and it turned into a pretty nice day.

I’m really liking this gravel thing, and I plan on doing more of these.  The Dirty Benjamin is up next, unless I find something else sooner.  I’ll be adding some more about the bike I rode later.

The Heroic (L’Eroica) Update, Finally

SONY DSC

Last October, I entered a bike race called The Heroic.  It is an (approx) 60 mile race through rural areas on almost entirely gravel roads.  It was started in homage to another race held in Italy, called L’Eroica.  (Unfortunately, it (the L’Eroica website) is only in Italian, they keep promising an English version, but never seem to get around to it…)

The L’Eroica is a non-professional, non-sanctioned “race” held in Italy.  It is intended to celebrate and honor the history of the sport of bicycle racing.  There are some requirements regarding your bicycle and dress.  Some guys show up like this.

P1000976This was my get up.

Ha Ha!     That is an inner tube wrapped around my shoulders.  The old timers didn’t have support and had to do their own repairs, and so carried tires like this.  The early Tour De France actually forbade riders to receive any help whatsoever.

This was the bike I rode.  It is my Raleigh International.  It was made in 1973, though built with later components.  It rode very well on the gravel.  I of course could go on and on about all the details of this bike, but will save that for a separate post!

IMG_0433

IMG_20121006_130952This is the guy who crossed the line first,  Mark Skarpohl.  He beat a lot of younger guys.  And he rode the same bike as me, except his was stock, with some really tough gearing, too.  Way to go, Mark.

This was my indroduction to gravel racing, and it was a great experience.  I had a solid performance that I was proud of.  I will be back to this and looking into other events as well.

Vive La Gravel!!

P1070812

Maiden Voyage

On Saturday,  I loaded my gravel grinder (bike) in the car, and headed about 30 miles or so south of the Twin Cities, to where the gravel starts.  The temperature was 45 F with a brisk and sometimes gusty wind out of the East.  My first training day on gravel.  It was a good experience.  I learned some new stuff.  The bike works just as I hoped it would.  A good mix of conditions and terrain.  Gravel, asphalt, mud, grass, sand, got a little bit of everything.  Hills and wind, too!

 

 

Gravel Grinders and Monster Cross

I decided to start a blog today.  I wanted to talk about bike stuff.  Bikes I am building, new things I am trying, etc.  I’m not sure about where this will all go.  We’ll see.

I’ve become pretty interested in “gravel grinders” or “gravel centuries”.  I haven’t done one  yet, but soon.  I built this bike for that purpose and end.  I am pretty happy with it.  It is a great fit for me, a comfortable ride, and performs as good or better than I could have hoped.  Gravel Grinder News is a good place to go for information about these events.  So is Guitar Ted’s site.

There are a couple things unique about the bike.  The gearing set up is a little unconventional.  My front sprockets are 46 and 30 tooth.  What I might call a “touring compact”.  They are mounted on a triple crank, with a bashguard on the outermost ring.  I am a fan of the compact crank idea, and I think it works well with this bike.  I found a triple derailleur shifted smoother than a double, even though I am only using two rings.  Shifting from the 30 to the 46 is very quick and smooth, and vice versa.  The larger 46 is ramped and pinned.  I am using a Campagnolo “Racing T” on the front.  (I love how you can easily remove a campy front derailleur from it’s clamp, and install it on another clamp in minutes)   The rear shifting is your garden variety Shimano 9 speed, 105.

Another unique feature perhaps worth mentioning is the handlebars.  The last item I was waiting for, Origin 8 Gary Bars, were delayed by a backorder or some such thing.  Frustrated that I couldn’t start building the bike, one early morning I decided to try and bend my own.  Aluminum is bent when rims and handlebars are first made, right?  So why can’t you bend some aluminum bars a little more, the reasoning went.  So, with the help of a wood jawed vise, and some brute force, I bent an old SR bar into the form I was looking for.  No, the aluminum did not fatigue and crack.  No, the bars did not catastrophically fail on the first ride, or second, third, fourth…  I am really pleased with them.  I would do it again.

I will write about this bike with some more detail in the My Bikes section.