New Adventures Ahead

I rode 42 miles yesterday.  It was a perfect Iowa day with lots of sunshine, a light breeze and temperatures hovering around seventy degrees.   It was absolutely as good as it gets.

I’m still training for the Omaha Jackrabbit, a 125 mile unsupported gravel grinder that  will take place on October 13 in the wilds of eastern Nebraska.  My cycling of late has been all about that and so I’ve been dividing my rides into four equal segments and trying to do each segment a little faster than the previous one.   I go out at about 6 hour century pace and turn it up from there.  Some days I turn it up a lot.  Other days, just a little.  It depends on how I feel.  So how’d I do yesterday?

  • 1st 10 miles: 36:21, 16.5 mph
  • 2nd 10 miles: 34:14, 17.5 mph
  • 3rd 10 miles: 31:19, 19.2 mph
  • 4th 10 miles: 28:55, 20.7 mph

Not too shabby…  I’ve found that there’s no better way to learn to be a disciplined cyclist than by doing this.  I used to do two segments, but using four completely changes the dynamic.  It’s much more about riding under control and it is much harder to pull off.  You have to be engaged the entire ride.  This may sound like drudgery, but I find it to be anything but.  It felt like I was back home in no time at all.

It has been fun, this magical bicycle journey.  I have learned so much…about myself…about the world around me.  When I first got back on the bike in 2013, I never dreamed I’d get to the point where I would be doing the miles I am doing today.  I never expected to go here.

Going forward, I’ll be doing less.  I gave my employer notice this morning.  I’m leaving my corporate home for the last four years and the new job is going to require a lot more time out of me.   That means there will be less time for cycling.  I’m going to have to travel, too…as soon as early October.  That means the end of my continuous day streak. It’s all good.  It really is.

Going forward, I still plan to ride most days, but instead of averaging 40 miles a day, I’m probably going to be closer to 20.  I’m okay with this.  I think I’ve proven to myself whatever it was that took me down this road.  I love cycling more today than I ever have.  I plan to continue doing it until they put me in the ground.   It’s just going to be a little different for the next little while.

I have been vaguely uncomfortable with what I was becoming for some time now anyway.  I justified it because I wanted to complete Seattle-to-Portland.  It was so far out of my comfort zone that I had to treat it seriously.  That’s what I told myself.  Maybe I went further than I needed to.  I don’t know.

In hindsight, it was all merely justification for riding more miles because more miles was where I was getting my validation and sense of worth from.   I think I finally got clarity a few weeks ago in Omaha when some nice person snapped this picture of me. Add big hair and a red nose and you have Bozo the bicycle clown.  You can even see my beer belly right there between the Space Needle and Mount Rainier.  How truly mortifying.

Cycle Dork. Not my best look.
Cycle Chic, Copenhagen.  The normalization of the bicycle commute.

But I’m never going to get rid of this picture because it will remind me of what I don’t want to be.  That said, I am slowly getting rid of most of my cycling specific clothing.  This week alone I tossed two jerseys and a pair of lycra shorts.  I will be replacing them with loose fitting hoodies and cargo shorts.  I’ll keep one or two pairs for really long rides but the rest has got to go.  My helmet (because we Americans wear helmets) is designed to be as inconspicuous as possible.

So what does my future as a cyclist look like?  I’m not really sure and I don’t think it’s all that important.  I’ll still cycle most days, but I think it will be more relaxed and spontaneous.  I’ll be slower than I am now.  I might leave the Garmin at home and not worry about how far I go.   I think my around town bike might be more upright and have only one speed…something that doesn’t need to be locked.   It might even be clunky.  There’s something about those bikes I really like.   I’ll also have to eat better because I won’t have those 40 mile calorie burners every day to bail me out.

Regardless of what it looks like, my primary objective won’t change.  I want to have fun and feel the wind in what’s left of my hair.  I want to smile spontaneously and see the deer run and the birds fly along with me just like they do now.   I’m not interested in changing the world.   I plan to explore and will keep the blog to share thoughts and pictures of the places I go by bike, but I’m dropping my League membership and will no longer be a League Certified Instructor.

In hindsight, I never was any of that.  I guess I felt like I needed it to prove that I was a cyclist.   Now that just seems silly.   Now I know I’m a cyclist.  I don’t need the clothes or the titles or the miles or any of that.  All I need is a bike.  New adventures await and I will share them as they unfold.  Until then, roll on.

 

 

 

 

Some Thoughts On Tires for Gravel

One of the problems with riding a lot of miles is that I go through a lot of tires.  Tires aren’t cheap and if I’m not careful, I find that I can spend as much on bike tires as car tires.  This makes no sense to me, but it is what it is.

So it is with a certain amount of dread that I go shopping for new tread.  I’m not a gear junkie or a bike snob, so I typically head straight for the clearance rack. As you might expect, I’ve made some mistakes but other purchases have resulted in pleasant surprises.   I can’t say that I’ve ever found a tire I liked well enough to want to buy again, that is, until now.

I needed new rubber for the Salsa Fargo I plan to take to Nebraska next month.  I’m riding the Omaha Jackrabbit, a 125 mile unsupported gravel grinder that promises to push some boundaries a little further out for me.  That’s good.  Unsupported means that I’ll be on my own and while I understand that eastern Nebraska is a far cry from the Australian Outback, it is somewhat remote.  I’d rather not be changing tires on the side of a dusty road some sixty miles from the finish while watching the sun melt gently into the southwestern horizon.  Mid-October can be quite chilly when the sun sets in these parts.

So after putting more effort into tire research than I put into my entire senior year of college, I purchased a pair of Vittoria Mezcals.   The Mezcal is a 29″ x 2.25″  tubeless ready tire that fits ISO 622  (29″ or 700c) rims.  I mounted it on WTB’s STP i23 (23 mm) rims and it fit great.   I played around with mounting it tubeless but in the end I discovered I was going to need to retape the rims and I decided to throw tubes in as I am running out of time and don’t have the tape.   I’ll play around with tubeless once the snow flies.  For those who might be interested, the tire was extremely easy to seat and popping the bead was a breeze.  I used an Airshot at 130 psi to do so.   Fit was pretty much perfect.

Buying the folding bead version of a tire is one way to save a few grams of weight.
Already dirty. That’s good.
The center ridge lowers rolling resistance on pavement.
But the tires also performed admirably well in the loose, deep gravel that is typical in Greene County.

Most people probably wouldn’t choose the Mezcal for gravel because it’s really more of a cross country MTB tire.  It’s big and relatively heavy compared to most gravel tires, but the Fargo offers enough clearance to mount it. The reviews I read suggested that the Mezcal offered the most attractive combination of suppleness, grip, rolling resistance, weight and durability.  I paid $41/tire at Jenson USA.  If I was running a gravel racing bike like the Salsa Warbird or Raleigh Tamland, I would have chosen the Donnelly X’Plor MSO 40 mm or maybe the Panaracer Gravel King.  I think both would be excellent choices for the right bike, but they would have been very odd looking on the Fargo.

So I finally got to ride on the Mezcals this past week and I have to say that I’m a bit blown away.   They’ve completely changed the whole gravel experience for me. They are night and day different than the WTB Rangers I had previously mounted.  They’re very grippy and stable at speed.  In fact, there was a moment on Sunday when I took my hands off the bars to snap a picture.    I was going almost 20 mph…on gravel.   This is not something I would have tried on any other tires.  That’s stability.

Stability breeds confidence. 19 mph and no hands on gravel. Nice.

I decided to push them a little and for the next hour or so, I was bombing corners and diving from pavement to gravel and throwing everything I could at those tires and they handled it all.  I didn’t lose the back end one single time…not even a little.    The only time they got a little wonky at all (and it wasn’t a big deal) was leaning heavily into turns on pavement.  They didn’t feel bad there…just different.  I don’t think it will be an issue as I get used to them.

As I rode, I found myself thinking of a blog post from Guitar Ted where he talked about the fact that you really didn’t have to give up speed on gravel if you chose to run wider tires at lower psi.   This is counter-intuitive, but it resonated with me because I don’t care for the feel of skinny tires on the kind of loose gravel that is so prevalent in this part of Iowa.    The front end seems to have a mind of its own and if I’m not bouncing all over the place I feel like I’m sinking into quicksand.  Neither feeling is good and with these wider MTB tires I can avoid both.

So far, I’m very pleased with these tires.  We’ll see how they wear.   That’s really the only thing I don’t know at this point but it might not matter.   Riding the Vittoria Mezcal is good clean (dirty) fun.  I might just pick up another pair while I’m thinking about it.

 

Summer’s Last Stand

The windows are open and a cool breeze wafts in as I write this morning.   Sunrise is still an hour or so away and so perhaps it will warm up later but maybe not so much that we’ll have to turn the air conditioner back on.  Fall is coming.   It won’t be long now.

It has been a summer of endless blooms along the Raccoon River Valley Trail.
Roundup time.

It has been an amazing summer.  I’ve ridden more miles than ever before and I’ve seen the most incredible things.  On the wildlife front, I’ve ridden with the bulls.  Okay, technically they were cows but you get the idea.  Most people never get to see cattle run.  It’s quite a sight…all that weight charging forward.  I’ve also seen copious deer, eagles, beaver, one curious gray fox and even a bobcat.

I’ve added Montana, Oregon and Washington to the list of states I’ve now cycled in.   I’d been to all of these places before, but seeing them on a bike is different and better and I have a new appreciation of just how special they all are.   Portland was everything I heard it was.  Billings and Missoula are completely different, but both delighted me in ways I didn’t expect.   If you ever find yourself heading to Billings and are looking for suggestions, let me know and I’ll share with you where to stay and where to eat.  It has blossomed from the gritty little oil town I remember into a nice smaller city.

Downtown Billings. I like it here.
I liked Missoula even more.
I crossed both the Mississippi and Columbia by bike for the first time this summer.

Closer to home, I crossed the Mississippi River in Davenport and rode the Hennepin Canal towpath in Illinois as well as the Three Rivers Trail in Hampton Iowa.   We also visited Cedar Falls for the first time.  If I was young and just starting out and looking for an affordable Midwestern “mountain” town, I  might consider moving there.  It reminds me of Boulder way back when.

The passing of summer doesn’t mean that cycling season is over.  Minnesota beckons.  The Root River Trail is one of America’s best and this month they’re having a Taste of the Trail.  That’s a good excuse to head north before the snow flies.

I’m also heading to Nebraska in a few weeks to ride the Omaha Jackrabbit, a 125 mile gravel grinder.   Like Seattle to Portland earlier this year, I have absolutely no idea what this entails.  It’ll be fun to find out.

The Loess Hills…another one of my “happy places.”

I plan to ride through the winter again this year.  I probably won’t go as many miles as last year, especially on those below zero days, but you never know.  I do plan to get out in it regardless.   I’ve even found myself looking wistfully at my Surly Wednesday fat bike these last few weeks.

That’s a good thing.

Ride on.