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 it...it 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!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Current State of the Surly Ogre

The guys at Surly did an outstanding job when the came up with the Troll/Ogre concept.  So many times bikes are single purpose built.  While they can usually be altered to fit various needs, they don't work very well.  In comes the Surly Ogre:  a Jack of all trades and a master of most.

A few things worthy of note:  1.)  It does not take fenders and 29er MTB tires well, you can use a decent volume touring tire and fenders fine.  I don't use fenders so I don't care.  2.)  If you use a smaller tire there is clearance with the front derailleur, if you use a mountain bike tire it will rub on the front derailleur so you need Monkey Nuts to provide clearance.  If you plan on using both, set it up with the Monkey Nuts for chain length....I learned this the hard way by setting it up for road and and then needed a new chain when I put on mountain tires.  Aside from that the world is your oyster.

The original idea was that I would use a 45c tire and a 48 tooth chain ring so I could go really fast.  This was also done with the intent of riding it on RAGBRAI.  With the swap of the tire, I could also hit the trails if I wanted.  I was concerned about clearance with the 48 tooth setup, but didn't have any real issues since the trails around here don't have big rocks or stair step type drops.  So for the first year I had a more road specific setup with smaller tire and this worked well for me. My concept of commuting bikes has changed.  I will post pictures next week.

Surly Ogre road/commuter 2012 Irish Tsunami edition major bits and pieces:

Crank set/BB:  Shimano Deore 48/36/26:  This has the Hollowtech crank arms and the chain rings are stamped.  Not the smoothest shifting but I it is hard to find a mountain bike crank with a 48 tooth chain ring....plus it was cheap.  It cranked.

Wheels:   XT Hubs and Salsa Delgado Cross.  I love these wheels, I have had numerous sets made over the years. Salsa got out of the rim business so I will be sad when these pass.  They take a lot of abuse and can be used for MTB XC and cyclocross.

Tires:  Specialized Borough XC 700x45c:  Low rolling resistance with some knobs on the side for loose stuff.

Shifters:  SRAM X.9.  Nothing fabulous, I took them off another bike.  I feel strongly either way about them.

Drive train:  SRAM X.9 9 speed rear mech, SLX triple front mech, SRAM chain with powerlink, SRAM 9 speed cassette.  I am not a fan of SRAM MTB parts, the rear mech is weird.  It was laying around and served its purpose.  As far as I am concerned a front mech is a front mech.

Brakes:  I used Avid Speed Levers and Avid Single Digit 7 brakes.  These brakes worked well, which is to say that they stopped the bike.  No real complaints.

Handlebars:  Jeff Jones Loop Bar......All I can say is that I love it.  I will be getting one for the Mukluk!

Cargo Solution:  Porcelain Rocket Mission Control and Booster Rocket.  Great, but I realize I need a little more space for running shoes and boots and uniform.........

A change of attitude:  This past winter I started riding a fat bike to work.  This changed my commuting mindset a little.  I went from a 45c (1.75 inches) at 75 psi to 3.8 inch wide tires at 4-7 psi.  Can you say "rolling resistance?"  This added about 15 minutes to my ride (due to big tires and snow/ice).  This just meant I had to get up a little earlier.  I like the cushion of the ride knowing I would sacrifice a little, but I am only going 8 miles, it is not like I am trying to race or knock out 300 miles.  So I decided to go to a lower rolling resistance MTB tire and I think I have a good speed/comfort ratio.

Surly Ogre Current State of Affairs:

I decided that since I needed to replace the drive train (I put thousands of miles on it), I would spend a little extra and go to a Shimano XT 3x10 speed.  This meant new shifters and crank set, I decided that I would get what I want vs. settling for what is in the parts bin or on sale.  I am pleased with the decision even though it cost a little more.

Crankest/BB: Shimano XT 42/32/24:  This has machined chain rings and shifts with ease.  I was a little concerned about the 42 tooth for commuting, but it has not been an issue and feels light years faster than the Mukluk.  By light years I really mean minutes....but who is monitoring?

Wheels: XT Hubs and Salsa Semi 29er rims.  Even though these said not for tubeless, I did it anyway.  These are considerably wider than the Delgado Cross.  I put some Continental Race King 29er tires on.  They roll really well, at least compared to the Endomorph/Larry combo on the Panzer.

Shifters:  Shimano XT M780 3x10. I love these shifters, I took the little things off that show you what gear you are in.  Personally I think they are stupid and get in the way.  I love the way these shift.  They are snappy and when you push/pull the triggers there is an audible click and a rapid shift. 

Drive train: Shimano XT Shadow+ 10 speed rear mech, SLX triple front mech, Shimano 10 speed chain, and Shimano SLX 10 speed cassette. I didn't specifically order the Shadow+ option which has a clutch mechanism to reduce/eliminate chain slap.  The shop ordered the wrong one and didn't charge for the upgrade.  I may never understand/appreciate the benefits, but I will say that the XT performs so much better than the X.9.  The SLX cassette now has allow carrier for the three largest cogs to cut on weight, that is a minor feature for me.

Brakes: I used Avid Speed Levers and BB7 brakes. These brakes are the industry standard for mechanical disk brakes. 

Handlebar: Jeff Jones Loop Bar......I love it and won't get rid of it.

Cargo Solution:  OMM Rack.  I got a new fit kit for my Mukluk Sherpa.  It works really well.

I love my Surly Ogre, it is the first bike I have owned where I really feel like I can kick around on it.  It is ok outside in the sun and if it gets banged up at the bike rack I will not lose sleep, the Army Green finish is forgiving.  It is durable and overbuilt.....just like me!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Riding Out the Storm: A great day to ride a Fat Bike.

Thursday, May 30 showed a reprieve from the severe storms.  I am not a fan of missing opportunities to ride and while I rely on the weather forecast so I can make informed decisions, most of the time they let me down.  Several days last week we were looking at severe lightning storms and high winds at the tail end of the severe weather path cutting through the mid-west.  I chose not to ride those days for a number of reason, only to find they were the most beautiful. 

There was a threat of rain on Thursday, but not much more than that.  I had my Surly Ogre disassembled so I jumped on the the Salsa Mukluk I affectionately call "the Panzer" and plodded off to work.  When I arrived, I checked my phone and somebody was interested in buying a pair of road shoes I had posted for sale.  I agreed to meet him at the government bridge at 4:45 p.m. to make the transaction.  My wife was going to be in the area so she dropped off the shoes that morning.

It rained a good portion of the afternoon but then it cleared up nicely.  I got to the meeting point a little early, the afternoon turned out beautiful and I sat at the end of the island enjoying the warm breeze.  Then I noticed some ugly dark clouds moving in fast.  It was not long before the beautiful sky had gone dark and the warm breeze became a cold wind blowing the branches of a tree horizontal.

I moved to a small building with a slight overhang and waited for the guy.  He was ten minutes late and by the time he arrived it was starting to rain.  I put my phone in my dry bag for obvious reasons, pulled out the shoes and the transaction was complete.....except I was riding a fat bike and everyone wants to talk about the fat bike.  So I spoke for another few minutes and then started moving to my bike.  By this time the rain was horizontal and the wind was gusting 50-60 mph.   

He asked if I was really going to ride in this weather.  I told him yes, besides, I had the Panzer I can go anywhere with that.  Within seconds of leaving the shelter I could feel the rush of cold water running down my back.  The lightning was striking and thunder was near simultaneous.  I was second guessing my judgment and was uncomfortable on the government bridge,  a mass of steel with a mesh surface so you can see Old Man River rushing angrily beneath.  I was pedaling the Mukluk with it's 3.8 inch wide tires as fast as I could in a severe crosswind.  As I turned into downtown Davenport, I thought it was hailing, only to discover the 50-60 mph gusts were not only stopping me in my tracks but pelting me with rain.  I passed a parking garage and thought about stopping.

I was soaked and I knew I would be cold if I stopped.  Who knew how long it would last, so I kept on cranking into the wind.  Then I turned North and started up a steep hill.  As I crested it the rain slowed and the wind stopped.  Just as quickly as it started it ended.  When I approached Van Deveer Park, I realized the destruction that this storm had. 

There were branches and limbs everywhere.  As I continued down Main St, I quickly found huge limbs across the road. 
Passage of Lines!

As I passed through a maze of limbs and branches it occurred to me, had the guy not been ten minutes late, I probably would have been in this area when limbs were falling. Furthermore, I was grateful that I pulled the Ogre apart which forced me to ride the Panzer.

The Panzer was a perfect choice for the commute.  I was also glad I had my light weight Porcelain Rocket gear as I carried and rode my the fat bike over downed branches!!

After I snapped some photos, I noticed House Hold 6 had sent a text "where are you?"  I found it odd that it didn't say "do you need a ride?"  I brought this up when I got home and she said "I figured you made it through 16 month in Iraq, you would figure something out!" 

She is as tough and unforgiving as the weather was!