Monday, September 22, 2014

Kisatchie Mud: Fat biking in Louisiana

I have neglected my fat bike, The Panzer, lately.  While my shoulder has been recovering from surgery I swore off mountain biking (the source of the injury).  That hasn't been hard since there is not much single track in my neck of the woods.  

It was kind of sad to go to Montana on vacation and not mountain bike, but I resisted the urge.  Anyway, as I have been riding on forest service roads on my Giant Revolt, I have noticed plenty of areas that are ideal for a fat bike.  Specifically, inhospitable terrain such as muddy roads, barely roads, and severely loose roads.  Perfect for the Salsa Mukluk.

I decided that I would head out and do a little stomping around the Kisatchie National Forest.  It gets a fair amount of military traffic and recreational off road traffic.  The result is roads that aren't all that great.   Perfect for the Panzer 

Kisatchie national forest fat bike
Such as the bend in this road which turned out to be deep and slick.  I was barely able to power through it.   
 I was wishing I had a set of Nate tires for better traction.  The Larry tires were quickly overwhelmed.  

  There were a lot of roads like this that were very loose and soft.  It could be done on a normal mountain bike, but this is much more fun.
There are a lot of unimproved Jeep track.  You can sort of see the road but it has a tree across it.  No Problem to go around with the Panzer!
Again, there was barely a path.  This is ideal terrain for fat tires. 

 Over all, the Kisatchi jeep track is a nice alternative to the less than ideal paved roads.  The Salsa Mukluk is a Prime candid for this terrain.  I am still cleaning sand and dried mud from odd nooks and crannies.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Louisiana: Bicycling paradise?

I have taken a liking to riding on dirt/gravel roads.  It provides a change of scenery and some challenges.  Gravel Grinders have become very popular throughout the Mid-West and beyond.  I have said it before, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in Montana because I thought mountain biking was king, if it wasn't single track it was garbage.  Life changes and so has my view of riding.  Since I don't do as much mountain biking I started road biking.  Then I moved to the Mid-West and there was an abundance of gravel roads and gravel enthusiasts.  

I bought the Surly Ogre and that was my first "gravel bike."  I am a big guy and I need to have slightly larger tires and most cyclocross (to include my Salsa Las Cruces) wouldn't accept the tires I wanted.  When I found out I would be going to Louisiana I quickly settled on a Giant Revolt road bike.  This is truly a different beast but it suits me well.  Disc brakes, drop bars, third water bottle mount, and the ability to run large tires.  Specifically a 40mm Clement MSO.  

When I told people I was being stationed at Fort Polk I got the customary nose scrunch and "oh, I am sorry!"  I saw something different, small population, no amenities, and lots of dirt roads.  Simply put, heaven on earth.  I called my go-to "LBS" Bike and Hike in Rock Island, Illinois put one on order.  Steve and Phil take great care of me and since I move so much I don't mind supporting them, after all they are a brick and mortar bike shop not some online outfit.  Even more important since the nearest bike shop is 55 miles away.

Aside from military traffic, the National Forest roads see little traffic.  There is a lot of variation in road types.  Some is heavily graveled.    

Giant Revolt forest service road
Others are Southern red dirt roads.

Giant Revolt bicycle Jeep track
Some are soft sandy jeep track.

Some are.......

Louisiana Gravel Grinder

Even the pavement is rough!  These are gaps as big as two inches in places.  Tooth rattling.

No shoulders and big seems.  If you drop off the edge it could be a bad day!

Or you can ride roads that are sand.  The smoothest road surface in LA is the damp sand.  These are better than many of the paved roads.  which is why I like riding the gravel.  At least if it is rough there is a reason.  The Giant Revolt can handle them all!

All in all, I love it here in Louisiana with national forest right out my back door.  For all of the neigh sayers, Fort Polk is a great place.  For all of those concerned about a lack of riding, lose the skinny tires and get out and enjoy something different.  

Paradise indeed!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Big Changes in Life

We recently moved to Louisiana.  Not my first choice but hey, I haven't disliked a place I have been sent.  So far I love it.  Doing some research I found that I would be in the middle of "no-where."  Lots of National Forest with little legitimate mountain biking (that is single track, there is plenty of jeep trails) and really bad roads both paved and dirt.  It actually suits me well, I enjoy small Army bases and out of the way locations.  In fact, moving to a place called the Sportsman's Paradise is far superior to an urban traffic jam.    The only real issue are the roads.  Louisiana is in the top ten states with the worst roads.  I was also going to be living in a considerably smaller home with no garage.  This meant that I had to make some decisions when it came to bikes.  I had, yes had, many wonderful bikes but not all of them were suited for Louisiana, at least the parts I am in now.  The nearest single track is about 35 miles away and it is only 10 or so miles.  

I had to cul the herd.  At the beginning of 2014 I had 6 bicycles (mine, not including the families), so I decided that I would have to pick my favorite three bikes.  Then I became a bike selling machine.  I sold the Basso, El Mariachi frame, the Surly Ogre, and the Giant Anthem X29er.  I planned on keeping the Salsa Mukluk, Salsa Las Cruces, and I added a gravel bike a Giant Revolt which I will explain later.  

Here is what went and why.

The Basso:  A great bike, I didn't put many miles on it but the gearing was very limiting which meant is was not a go-to bike.  It looks great and was a great conversation starter but since I have limited space and am an introvert, it had to go.

The Giant Anthem X29er:  An amazing bike.  When I bought it I knew I would never do it justice.  I don't like a lot of maintenance but with hydraulic brakes and suspension, it added a little more maintenance than I wanted to deal with.  Then there was this time when I wrecked last year in Kansas at Wyandotte County Lake.  A great and relatively secret location where I may have been trying to do the bike the justice it would never see from me.  It resulted in a torn Labrum and surgery which I am still recovering from.  Due to a serious lack of single track and it is jinxed.  Easy decision except bikes depreciate and I took a bath on this one.

Surly Ogre:  This one pained me a little bit.  It was a genuinely hard decision.  It is such a versatile bike and I loved playing with it.  But really it came down to the lack of mountain biking and type of mountain biking.  This frame went quick.  I live less than a mile away so I don't need a serious commuter.  I decided that I really only needed one mountain bike so I stuck with the Salsa Mukluk which is an ideal bike for these parts.  It would be great for bike packing but I don't have time for that with my current job.  I sort of miss the Ogre but this opens the door for an ECR or Krampus later in life.

Salsa El Mariachi:  I would love a new El Mar with the Alternator Drop outs.  Bottom Line, I disliked the EBB.  I am a big guy and I never felt like I could mash the pedals without slippage.  This was easy.

What I kept

The Salsa Las Cruces:  My favorite bike of all times.  It needs some updates component wise but it is a great ride.  It is near and dear to my heart for a number of reasons.  It suits roads in Louisiana since I can get bigger rubber in it.

Salsa Mukluk:  Need I say more.  Yes, but that will be a future post.

What is new

Giant Revolt

I like weird bikes.  Most of the bikes I buy are jacks of all trades and masters of none.  I enjoy riding gravel roads (plenty around these parts) and I am big so I need more than a 32c tire.  I know there is much controversy over Gravel Bikes, but I don't think Giant calls it that specifically.  What they do advertise are jeep roads, logging roads, gravel roads, and pavement.  It will take up to a two inch tire and is great for all surfaces.  

It is an odd looking rig!  

It has a longish wheel base, by no means twitchy or ultra responsive like some road racing rig. 

Nice wide bars with flared drops for stability.

Carbon fork and disc brakes

I don't know what is going on with the rear end.  The only thing I can think of is that it allows for a lower bottom bracket.
Down tube protector and full cable housing.  It is a weird plastic thing and is necessary for cable routing.  I would like to see it go but I don't see an alternative.  
It has a detachable "fender" which I have removed.  I don't know that it would keep much muck off but I will try it this fall.

There is a third water bottle mount under this plastic thing.  One hole is pre-drilled to hold the plastic thing on.  I had to drill the second.  Really, three water bottles are necessary for certain rides and in the heat of Louisiana.  I don't like riding with a Camel Bak with it is 100 degrees.

More about this bike in the next post.  I will say that there have been a lot of changes over the last year.  So far no complaints.  Who can complain about crawfish étouffée or boudin sausage?  Not this guy!  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thanksgiving Success: Beef Jerky, Rootbeer, and trophies

While most people sit down to watch football on Thanksgiving, Digga and I took a quick trip down to Kansas City to participate in a friendly cyclocross race.  It started out rough, which I will get to in a moment, but on the way home I bought Digga a piece of beef jerky and a root beer (with sugar).

He said to me "Dad, this is the greatest Thanksgiving ever."  I asked him to explain and he said "I won a trophy, I got beef jerky and a root beer, and I got to spend time with you."  How can you argue with that?

So here is how it went down, Digga and I go to a tuesday night cyclocross practice in Leavenworth, KS.  One of the guys asked if we were doing this event.  I hadn't heard of it so I looked it up and it took some digging since it was an unsanctioned event.  As it turns out, there is a nice park along the Kansas River that is home to a cyclocross training course.

It was chilly, high teens/low twenties depending on the breeze but not a deal killer at all.  I told Digga that I wanted him to leave his pajama bottoms on under his wind pants so that he would have a little extra layering.  He informed me that this would not be acceptable.  Appearently no self respecting dude wears pjs under his pants.  I brought them just in case and off we went.

Finding the location was not hard but it was deceiving and I always worry about getting lost in the middle of nowhere along a river (I watched the deliverance at a very young age and it has pretty much scarred me for life).  Funny thing is that as I left I noticed he had spray painted arrows at the intersections....whatever.

Upon arrival, Digga jumped on his bike and began riding through fields while I got my stuff ready.  I grabbed my stuff out of the back of the Suburban and shut the tailgate at which point I heard a familiar "beep-beep."  I looked around and noticed that I had the only Chevy in the lot and instantly grabbed each door handle with desperation.  My car, which is designed to not lock with the keys in it turned on me.  The lady in the car next to me offered some wire hangers but cars these days don't really do that well, everything is rounded so you can't get a wire around anything.  Of course someone had to ask "you have on-star right?"  Come on man.....I am too cheap for that crap.

So I borrowed a phone and called my wife.  In the mean time I had what was needed to race.  The lady that let me use her phone warned against was cold and what would I do after I got hot and sweaty and stopped in the cold.

My response was simple and from the heart.  I said "Ma'am, I am an idiot.  Because of this, I have to be stronger than the rest, it is an evolutionary trait."  She laughed, though I don't think she took it seriously.  I am dead serious.

I went to put on my biking shoes and bam, they were in the car.  So I angrily walked over to the course with Digga.  In the end it worked out because some of the obstacles and run ups would have made it impossible for the boy.  So I ran around to cheer and support.  Here is a run down in photos.

Digga at the Start, he showed no signs of intimidation around all of the adults.

                 I think it is fun to see his little bike and body crank away amongst the crowd.

I was probably shouting for him to change gears.  This is something I cannot get across to my kids.

I don't care who you are, this is a painful event.  He makes it look effortless even with small wheels and scrawny legs!

To say the run ups were a challenge was an understatement.  I carried his bike and he is jumping back on!

He makes it look easy!

He got second in the youth category.  There was one other kid in his early teens who got first.  Vance was stoked (I didn't tell him he was the only other kid).  Besides, I doubt there were many kids his age getting up at 0630 to go race cyclocross in the freezing cold.

By that time my darling wife showed up with the keys.  I was glad she didn't get lost, that may have made her grouchy.  At that point I was able to grab my shoes and hustle down for the relay.  Digga and I were going to rock it!  As you look at these photos I ask that you don't judge, I look nowhere as suave and debonaire as Digga.  In fact I look pretty pathetic.

About half way through, I had snot pouring out of my nose.  Stay Classy KC!

These photos don't do the run ups justice.  

I am terrible at mounting the bike.

As memory serves, that log was about twice that size.  I thought the camera was supposed to add to the size.  Again, no grace on my part.

Coming in for the handoff.

Our mouths are gaping open, his is joy while mine is pain.  Keep in mind, this was my first lap and he had already finished the first race.

I quickly ran over to meet Digga at the first obstacle, these drops were steep and loose so I helped him a little.  

At the end of the day we walked a way with the P award.  As in we came, we raced, and we lost....I have never been so happy to receive a participation award!  Digga summed it all up, Thanksgiving was a success; trophies, beef jerky, root beer (with sugar), and spending time together!  It doesn't get better than that.

Friday, November 15, 2013


I am currently in a professional school and unlike college, I am getting paid.  Because of this I feel compelled to apply myself, again, this is unlike college.  The result is that I am spending many hours a night reading, writing, and studying for exams.  So in my free time I have to make some choices; I can ride my bike, spend time with family, study, or write on this blog.  You guessed it, the blog gets neglected.  The great thing is, I have been working hard on cycling.

Since I am an introvert and borderline anti-social, I typically ride alone.  However, I have changed that up a little bit.  The LBS, Santa Fe Trail Bikes has well organized group rides.  This has forced me  to challenge myself.  My style of riding is push it when I feel like it, slow down when I feel like it, stop when I feel like it......I think you get the point.  However, when I am around this group I feel compelled to push myself, even to the point of racing.  Many of the riders are genuinely fast and I work hard to keep up with them and by the end of the 25 mile rides I am done in.

While pushing it that hard is not my style it has helped me a lot.  Additionally, I entered a cycle-cross race.  I have never officially raced before that, mainly because I don't see the point of paying a whole bunch of money to lose.  I obviously take the Ricky Bobby approach "if you ain't first, your last" since I don't win anything to make the entry fee worth while.  Anyway, I decided to challenge myself and do it anyway.  More on that another day!

In Pain!

I have also been enjoying the vast amount of gravel roads that Kansas/Missouri has to offer.  I had to back out of one great looking event because of the large amount of studying I have.  However, I also entered a ride called Gravelicous.  That was a challenge, more on that another day!

Look at the size of my Quads (in an attempt to get you to look away from the dumb look on my face)!  BTW, that look is pain.        

Overall, I have less time to tinker with bikes and ride, but I have been making the most of the opportunities I have.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nothing Changes but the Road Kill: Sometimes that doesn't change much!

A while ago a friend of mine and I were talking when I said that although I missed Montana, it was really becoming homogenized in the sense that all of the cities are the same as any other city in the U.S. with the orange glow of the Home Depot and neon lights of Applebee's and Chili's.  His response was that he drove his son to college on the other side of the continent and that all that really changed from state to state was the road kill.  I love and use it when people ask about moving all the time "Nothing changes but the roadkill" I say.  While it is clearly an understatement; obviously some places are greener or more mountainous, it is very true nothing changes too much.

Hiking in Missouri.  Diga and Nater love to hike.  I love this picture, it makes me wish I were a better photographer.

Well, we have moved again and though it seems that we haven't since the roadkill consists mainly of raccoons and opossum in Iowa/Illinois/Kansas/Missouri, bicycling opportunities have definitely changed.   Dramatic changes.  While the Quad Cities is not my favorite place ever it was an amazing bicycling community.  The hundreds of miles of well maintained bike paths and delightful mountain bike parks seem to have vanished into thin air.  As with my beloved LBS Bike and Hike, Rock Island, IL.

Don't get me wrong, Kansas has an amazing bicycling element;  there are mountain bike parks, Dirty Kanza, some great rail to trail opportunities, and from what I can tell a healthy cyclocross scene.......Just not where I am.  There is one bike shop, the jury is still out on that.  Silly me, I asked them if there  were any bike paths around and they all stopped what they were doing and stared at me as if I was I was the glowing green and holding a sign that said "dumbest guy on earth."  I have been in several times and they act like it my first every time I walk through the door.  It is not like I am some famous guy, but does it hurt to pretend!

The Irish Tsunami all strung out while exploring some new hiking and biking opportunities.  

The best part of moving is exploring new places.  I have been on a few shop rides (they see me riding with them though they act like they don't know me when I walk in the shop) and the landscape is beautiful.  Rolling hills with some steeper and longer climbs than I am used to.  Less corn, more hay and trees.  It is nice.  My big issue is that the nearest MTB park is 30 miles away.  With soaring gas prices I may be focusing on road riding.  It is too bad I am mountain bike heavy and have neglected the road stuff for a while.  This is exactly why I have an arsenal of bikes.  I can do just about anything just about anywhere.  They make moving a challenge but it is worth it.

OGRE + LAS CRUCES + ANTHEM X29er + BASSO + MUKLUK= Go anywhere, do anything!