Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Odin's Revenge - Western Nebraska grinder

Well, you're right - Nebraska isn't on the front range, but at under 5 hours western Nebraska is still a hell of a lot closer than most of the Midwest grinder round up.

Odin's Revenge appears to be taking form for late June. According to the on Guitar Ted's blog post the event should be about 180 miles leaving from Gothenburg, NE.  It's new, details are not final, there's no website and there may be limited space, but it could be a good event if it really comes together.

UPDATE - The website for this event is up and running, albeit in early development stages. Check out the photos of the course. This thing looks awesome! If I'm recovered from DK200, and there's room I hope to go.  Looks like a fantastic route in any case.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like...

This beauty arrived today along with the crank and front derailleur. Man and I excited to build this bike! Looking at the fork there's just no comparison the the Whisky. I'm so glad I went with ENVE. The finish and detailing are far superior, and the weight is dead on at 460g.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Undiscovered country

I've been posting more and riding less due to a slight illness. I hope to change that soon. One of the main reasons I started this blog was to share some of the wonderful Front Range routes I’ve found. Before I can share ‘em I have to find them. This post is about that. In another I’ll discuss following the route.  

Finding routes has really followed two tracks. The first is following others. Well, not literally, but I have been following some of the routes that others have done before me. These include race routes like the Creekside Dirty Century, and the Gold Belt Century. I’ve yet to follow one of these completely, but they become the basis of a route. I’ve also used non-race routes as the basis of a ride. This includes routes others have posted on their blog, and routes I’ve found by searching Strava or Garmin Connect. I know this can be done through Map My Ride and probably other sites as well.

The second major path involves a lot of time staring at maps online. With a combination of the map, satellite, terrain and bicycling view in Google Maps I can usually find the gravel and avoid pavement. IT takes a bit of time, but in the end not too much. I’ve gotten more efficient, but it still takes a while to switch through all those views to determine road surface.

The more problematic drawback is that there’s no map view that I know of which indicates property boundaries. This is huge. Many of the gravel routes get a bit more remote and some of the roads are closed to public travel. I’m not talking just driveways here. Some of these roads appear to be through roads. Many of these are maintained privately by the several residents on those roads and so the road is considered private. This kinda sucks to encounter when you’re 35-40 miles into a loop and have to turn around. This is what I encountered attempting to go over Rabbit Mountain up to Carter Lake. You can get up and over the mountain, but on the way back down (headed North) there is a ½ mile stretch of private property which prevented the connection. It’s the only chunk of private road on the route and it prevents riding through at least without going stealth and risking trespassing issues – something I’m not likely to do. (Call me crazy but I just don’t like the look of the front end of a shotgun nor the jaws of a farm mongrel.)

So, how to deal with this? So far it seems pretty safe to stick to numbered roads. All of the numbered roads (e.g. Co Rd 73) are public - at least to my knowledge. However, this leaves out a lot of other roads which are not numbered, but which are open to the public (e.g. Old Flowers Rd outside Fort Collins). Really it just seems to be part of the game.

Private roads are what I run into most often, but another part of the adventure comes when the road has degraded. Co Rd 61 in the Pawnee National Grasslands is one such road. This road has become something between footpath and double track. While it looks like it can be ridden, it’s not exactly a road anymore.  Something else came up in the PNG. There’s a point where I was heading South on Co Rd 69 and turned East on Co Rd 114 – I hadn’t planned on doing this. When I came up to the intersection I was greeted with a big yellow arrow indicating that the route turned left. Now there is a road that keeps going South, but the road goes from well-maintained gravel to double track, goes through a fence (ungated) and looks for all the world like a driveway. There was no private property or no trespassing sign so perhaps I could have gone straight, but it didn’t look wise.  Not a huge deal, but something that made the route interesting. It’s always helpful to have an alternate plan when following a new route…but that’s a post for another day.

This has been my experience. It’s all part of the adventure. How do you find new backroad routes? 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Selecting part-icular-s

Not long ago I posted about the new gravel racer I’m building. I finally had the chance to review the first draft of the build earlier this week with Chris at ProPeloton. We reviewed some of the dimensions and discussed the implications. We did make some changes to deal with toe overlap and stand over height, but these were minor. The final specs came in this morning and it looks unique. The tubes may be cut as soon as the end of next week. Looks like I may have a new ride before the end of February.

I've compared myself to a new parent with this bike. You know how new parents have a reputation for overanalyzing their first child and obsessing about things? Then their second or third kid comes along and these same things are no big deal? Yeah. That’s me. Mea culpa. I’ve definitely been overanalyzing the build specs of this bike. But it’s a dream bike, it’s not cheap and I get to choose EVERYTHING! What drivetrain? What shifters? What crank? Do I reallllllly  need top shelf stuff here? Where should I act the weight weenie and where should I go with the heavier known quantity? Where is it important to buy the best and where does it make little if any difference? What are the pros and cons of each? and where do I get it from? While I’d love to source everything new from my LBS, this thing is a narrow margin so I’ve been looking for the best deals by trolling CL and eBay. It’s been driving me a bit batty and I’m honestly glad that I’ll have all the parts purchased by the end of this week. Two big changes have occurred since the last post about this bike a little over a week ago. 

I ended up going with SRAM parts, mostly Force, but with Red shifters, over Shimano. After switching between riding the Vaya (Shimano) and the Ridley (SRAM) I was less and less stuck on Shimano. The Shimano shifting seems a better up front and the hoods are slightly better on my hands, but the ergonomics of the levers and shifters have always fit my hands better with SRAM. It’s also hard to dispute that SRAM is lighter and cheaper overall. 

Compatibility was another consideration. While I really like the Dura Ace crank, you’re stuck getting only DA rings, which are damn expensive. When the Force rings need replacing I'll be getting some WickWerks rings.With SRAM I can also use a mountain rear derailleur if I ever choose to. Lastly the next gen DA looks to be 11 speed and it also looks to be NOT reverse compatible. Bummer. Verdict = SRAM. At this level of quality it's hard to go wrong either way, but this is the direction I chose.

The fork not taken
The fork choice also changed, but for very different reasons. I had planned to use the Whisky Disc Cross fork. The only other fork I considered was the ENVE disc cyclocross fork. ENVE has a great reputation and many of their parts are US made (the forks are not). Whisky is pretty new. Comparing the forks over the last couple months the specs looked nearly identical.  The weights were essentially the same (ENVE 460g, Whisky 459) both had similar clearance, both offer a matte finish. Both were also only offered in full carbon tapered steerer tubes. The ENVE lists for $546 while the Whisky lists at $345. A big difference for nearly the same fork! Plus who wouldn’t want a ride that says Whisky on it!? :)

When the fork arrived I inspected it and weighed it – 530. WTF? I understand that variance can and will occur in weights, but 71g is pretty far off from what they listed! Bike Rumor actually found theirs to be 546, so I guess I got lucky. Inspecting the actually build I was a little disappointed there too. The finish was not UD matte but clearly matte paint. Not a big deal, but even for paint it looks a little less than stellar. There were a couple imperfections near the post mount and rear fender mount where you could see slight paint drips. When I attempted to thread a screw in one of these it was rather tight and seemed like the machining quality was pretty poor. Some of the finishing on the carbon of the steerer tube was also lower quality. All in all I have to say I was a bit disappointed.

I’ve followed the Whisky’s Facebook feed for a while but thought it better to contact them through email and give them a chance to respond in a little less public forum. (I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.) Well, the email on their site is restricted. Foul. If you want to be taken as a professional high quality company then in this day and age you need to have a site that works and one that’s up to date (many dates are way off on the site). Consequently, I contacted them through FB. To their credit Whisky responded fairly quickly stating that the weight was a misprint they need to fix, and mentioned that I could return the fork. Rather than go through Whisky, I contacted the shop I purchased the fork from, told them the story. They were pretty awesome about the whole thing. They immediately agreed to take the fork back (the shop guys even said they would do the same thing and came to the same quality conclusions when they looked at the stuff) and swap it for the ENVE. They also did a price match against a competitor which saved me a Benjamin and earned them a loyal customer.

Did I really need the top shelf kit here? Well no. I probably could have stayed with the Whisky and been fine, but to be honest I lost a little faith in the company after seeing the product and the pretty big misprint. That combined with the pretty outdated website from a new company that’s not really a known quantity were big factors. When it comes down to it, I’m building a custom Ti frame I expect to last decades. Something I plan to ride thousands of miles every year. The difference in price is minor when compared against the total build, and the fork is an integral part of the bike. It’s something that’s not cheap to replace or upgrade, something that can greatly affect ride quality and something that in the end I decided was in fact worth getting top shelf kit. I’ve never heard one bad thing about ENVE products and my wheelbuilder and many other custom builders have nothing but positive things to say. When the fork arrives Tuesday I’ve no doubt that I’ll be happy.  When Dirty Kanza happens in June I’ll be there riding this beauty. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Once Upon a Time in the Pawnee National Grasslands West

After a few weeks staying local, and one trip up Rabbit Mtn where I was stuffed by a private road sign, I finally had a nice adventure ride. I debated scoping out part of the AntiEpic route with Ben (the organizer) but changed plans since I didn’t want to roll out of bed at 5am. It sounds like Ben had some “fun” with mud and wind that I was happy to skip.

Stuffed only 1/2 mile from a paved public road. 

Instead I headed North to the Pawnee National Grasslands. The Grasslands encompass just under 200,000 acres split into two large parcels. I was looking for a 5 hour ride so I did a tour of the West side. I stashed the Outback  in the post office of Carr, CO. While I planned to park in Carr there really wasn’t much for options and there are no services there. I appreciate the service provided by the USPO but I doubt I could have purchased a tasty beverage. Still it was a safe place to park and probably the only place.

I rolled out of Carr headed East for a few paved miles towards the grasslands. A brief jog to the North provided some stellar views of the chalk cliffs on the Wyoming border. The northern portion of the route was certainly the most scenic as it afforded lovely views of these cliffs.

The gravel begins.

Looking North to the Wyoming border.

The Grasslands are not really populated per se, but there are a farmhouses, albeit few and far between. It’s important to note that there are NO services for the entire route. This a wild land full of stark beauty. If you go, be prepared.

More horses than people out here.

I ended up using my spare tube and two patch kits from encounters with pesky thorns. I’m just thankful that they happened in the front where I run an EDGE rim. Changing the Ritchey Speedmax tires is easy there, but an extreme PITA on the Stan’s I run in the rear. I had my first flat at mile 47 on Co Rd 104. This is one of the more desolate roads I was on. It happened in a low lying area about 200 yards from an old windmill. These rusted sculptures dot the landscape like lonely sentinels – frozen and forgotten. As if to emphasize the consequences of my location should I experience an epic failure, this one decided to creak and moan its eerie song. The scene reminded me of the opening sequence from Once Upon a Time in the West. This windmill’s song was not quite as friendly and impartial as the windmill in this sequence; rather it sounded more like harmonica’s foreboding tune.

The numbered roads in the Pawnee National Grasslands are open to vehicle traffic, which meant that I never ran into a dead end. However, there are a few private roads in the area which do appear on a map. Some of the numbered roads turn or become almost wagon tracks unexpectedly, which lead to a couple of very minor detours. There also appears to be at least one lesser road that may be more of a trail now (Co Rd 61). Co Rd 104 on the other hand was a blast. While nearly all of the other roads are well maintained hard packed gravel with some loose and only a little washboard, the first few miles of Co Rd 104 was hard packed dirt – you’re classic “B” road. In these conditions it might have been a bit faster and less jarring on a 29er, but the tradeoff would not be worth it for the rest of the route. However, if this “road” was wet or muddy it would be a nightmare on any ride.

Co Rd 104

Finally headed back toward the mountains

The benefit of a sunset finish.

This was a fantastic place to explore and I’m really looking forward to heading back. The eastern portion of the grasslands should be just as desolate but more scenic given the interesting geologic formations – the Pawnee Buttes. I’ve already planned a route that takes in the best of this and links up to North Sterling Reservoir for a different view and a resupply. Since it's a wee bit longer (140) I’ll wait for longer days to do this one. If you’re keen to go just let me know.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The bespoke year: Building a Ti gravel racer

I've been researching and dreaming of titanium for a while. After finally demoing a Moots CX frame I was sold on the idea. I've been riding long enough to have a much better idea of the equipment that will best suit my needs and it seems like custom is the way to go. Why? Well, I spend most of my time these days on long gravel rides and I like disc brakes. Ti really does have a dreamy smooth magic carpet ride quality, and lasts pretty much forever so it seems the material of choice. My options were to get something stock, something custom or something customized.

Stock is just as it says. You look at the specks and you take what you get. Since Virgil is a 2010 Vaya, the Salsa Vaya Ti was my first choice as the stock frame and fork run $2000 and have many of the qualities I wanted. Unfortunately it also has some I didn't. I wanted a lite build and knew I would ditch the steel fork. However, there's currently no carbon 1 1/8 disc fork that compares to the tapered offerings when you're considering weight. The BB is a bit low, and the wheelbase is a bit long. The Lynskey ProCross was another option I considered, but their price begins to approach custom prices (depending on the builder of course), and I really don't like the aesthetics of their helix tubing.

When I looked at quality builders like Moots or Seven their frames are in the $3000+ range, but these are more customized than fully custom. They have a regular build that they modify to some degree for each buyer. If you want something customized then the price usually goes up. Prices vary, but things like custom geometry, third bottle cages, disc tabs 44mm head tubes are often an upcharge. Thus your customized frame may end up closer to $4000.

Fully custom frames on the other hand are designed from scratch for each person. They are truly bespoke. Prices are not much different from the customized frames, and many builder upcharge for the same additions as the customized. The big difference is in the bespoke nature of the build. The custom builder may have a general sense of the geometry, but the actual design, tube specs and specifics are built around you. For a lifetime frame custom just seemed to make sense.

Whichever way you go, building a custom Ti bike isn't cheap. At least it isn't cheap initially. Right now I'm riding 100-150 miles a week and it's early season. When the trails dry out I'll spend more time on my 29er, but there will still be many weekday training rides on this bike. However you add the numbers it's several thousand miles (and a couple hundred hours) a year on a frame that will fit me perfectly and could last a lifetime. The only other thing I own that I'll spend more time with is the bed where I spent 8 of every 24 hours.

Selecting a builder. 
I know that frame building is both an art and a science. There are several wonderful and experienced builders out there who work in Ti. Some are technically more experienced than others, and there are some very experienced builders that, like contemporary furniture designs, have an aesthetic that doesn't suite me (i.e. Black Sheep). I decided to work with Aaron Barcheck of Mosaic.

I met some very experienced riders who own his frames and they all had nothing but great things to say. I've seen his bikes and welds and they are as good as any. After contacting Aaron he showed me his shop and described the build process while I described what I'm looking for. Meeting the craftsman behind the art was a huge bonus. I love the aesthetic of Aaron's builds and I liked the guy as a person. It's high quality but understated rather than flashy, and the designs aren't always conventional (Note the custom Ti coupler tagalong). That sold me.


Pro Peloton is the Boulder shop Mosaic works with so I went there for the fitting and to discuss the build. Chris did an excellent job of not only dialing in the fit, but with providing an education. I've had a few fittings last year in Portland, OR. The fitter did a great job of correcting my achy knees, but I never really learned anything about the position and fitting. Chris explained a lot of things I didn't know as well as dispelling a few misconceptions I had.

I should be getting the blueprint for the frame any day now and I'll document the build process as it goes along. I've already spent an inordinate amount of time researching components, prices, and weights to make a final decision. Here's a little preview of what the build will look like.


  • Frame: 3/2.5 custom straight gauge Ti (should be around 3lbs)
  • Fork: Whisky No. 7 Disc Cross
    • Headset: TBD (Extralite, Tune & Cane Creek are options)
  • Stem: TBD
  • Bars: TBD 
    • Compact carbon for sure but still considering Whisky, 3T & FSA
  • Wheels:
    • Rear: DT 240/Stan's Crest
    • Front: DT 240 EDGE XC front (some day the rear too...)
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 
  • Rotors: KCNC160 front/140 rear
  • Drivetrain
    • Crank: Dura-Ace 7900
    • BB: DA threaded
    • Brifters: Dura-Ace 7900
    • Cassette: Ultegra 6700 11-28
    • Front Der: Ultegra 6700
    • Rear Der: Ultegra 6700 SS-G
  • Post: none - It'll have a seat mast. Probably with a KCNC topper
  • Saddle: still searching and testing saddles...
  • Extras
    • 3rd bottle cage on down tube 
      • possible 4th cage on the seat mast if it fits
    • Disc tabs
    • Replaceable hanger
    • Finish: Bead blasted with brushed logos
    • Badge: Sweet brass! 

AntiEpic - the new Front Range gravel event

Several new posts are in the works but I had to put this one out there right away. It seems there's a new grinder  on the Front Range!

The AntiEpic Gravel Grinder looks to be a remote 150 miles in Elbert County. More information can be found on their site including a map of the ride (not sure if it's final). Tentative date and time is 6:30 on April 7. It's only two weeks before VooDoo Fire 70 which I've already committed to, so I'm not sure I'll be able to go, but This would be a perfect first race for gravel race machine that's soon to come (more on that soon).