Thursday, May 31, 2012

Good to go

All packed, new tires seated tubeless, new chain, clean, pretty and 6 fresh tubes ready to tackle the flint. Yup, we're good to go here. See you after DK or at the starting line. Enjoy the porn

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

going farther...

Last weekend I didn't get to scope the full route for R2G2 due to some mechanical issues in the car. But I did get to scope the first leg - it's pretty damn awesome and I'm very excited about it. I've thought of doing a shorter version to attract more folks, but with Dirty Kanza coming up I had another idea, and I'd love some feedback.

The gravel race scene is exploding. There must be over 100 events now. The thing is, most of them are in the Midwest and remarkably similar in style and length. I love riding among the cows and farms, but the stuff I saw on the SPDF and in my R2G2 scouting trip is radically different; it's really something special. I'm also seeing that big and gonzo attracts a certain crowd, but those events with the most mystique are in Kansas/Iowa/Minnesota. Why not have something truly incredible here? Something that's an enormous challenge. Something very different from the gravel on DK200, Almanzo, Trans Iowa etc. Something that's worthy of the name "epic" - a true test of endurance that will attract a wider crowd willing to test their mettle. It's not to say that these events aren't great, but the point is rather to say, "Hey, thanks for the inspiration. You've got some great stuff there. We do too, and it's pretty different. Are you up to testing yourself on our alpine gravel?"

Right now the R2G2 is 170 miles, which is a big day. But for some reason we're attracted to numbers and 200 has a more worthy sound to it. Add in that it would be mostly over 8000ft and include probably around 18k of gain and the list of folks for whom this is a reasonable route dwindles; for the rest of us this would be a massive challenge.

 To this end I present the routes I've developed:

Elevation Gain*
Rampart 200
Rampart 170
Rampart 140
*all of these are likely UNDER estimated. 

These are all solid. Barring a forest fire they are all on open, maintained roads. I am trying to contact some private land owners so that I can run the route past the Bucksnort Saloon, which is simply a cool place along a pretty amazing road. I'm not sure if this year is or is not the best time to do this. I'd do the 200 starting at 4am and expect to finish around midnight (my own personal time estimate) - that's a lot of night riding in late September. End of June might be preferred. Of course late Sep means all the Aspen are changing (bonus) and the dark would add to the challenge - a la Vaportrail 125. This could go under the Endurance series heading, but I could see this also being something a bit different at some point. I'd also kinda want to change the name a bit. Something that throws down the gauntlet. Perhaps the Rocky Mountain High Gravel Challenge. One option is to have all these as options - another is to only have the 200 (my preference). 

So this is where my brain is going... Any thoughts, opinions? Think I'd get folks to do this? September vs June? Do it this year? 

Monday, May 28, 2012

R2G2: Scouting Leg 1

We're getting down to the wire on DK. By this time next week I'll be back here, the race will be over and I'll be on to other things. Ironically the race it self doesn't seem like it's as big a deal anymore. My training has been going so well that I although I know 200 miles in the heat will be an endurance challenge, I know it's well within my range. I suppose something else that reduces my enthusiasm for DK is my excitement about other things. I was beginning to get a little burned out on the long distance gravel. This scouting mission was just the ticket to bring that back. Since I wanted to do very little riding I left the bike at home to avoid temptation.

I had planned to drive down through Woodland Park Saturday check out the town, get some details about resources etc, then drive the first half before camping and driving the second half on Memorial Day. Well, since I didn't get my CV joint fixed last week I was only able to do a day of driving - I didn't like the sounds I was hearing and I didn't want to risk needing to call for a tow way out there. I was able to get some good info on our start location.

The first leg up Rampart Range Road (RRR) is pretty awesome. There is just a bit of pavement for the first 5 miles or so and an initial climb accompanies this. Up on the ridge there are many miles of scenic views, rocky crags, and quaking aspens. This is gonna be pretty darn cool in late September when the leaves are beginning to change.

RRR is very well maintained. There are a few lengthy sections of washboard, but it always looked as though a bike could find a smooth path. There were also several sections that were a bit more rough, but they never lasted very long and a cross bike still seemed plenty adequate. It's hard to tell exactly what shape the road will be in over the next four months. I've seen a road near Mead go from loose fresh gravel with washboard to concrete hard and smooth in the span of a month.

Coming down towards the Platte River I found that The Sprucewood tavern should still be open from 11am-8pm when we're racing. You'll only hit it around the 40 mile mark, but it's nice to know it's there in case something happens. Going down Pine Creek Road is an interesting affair. There's a half mile section that pitches down at a 15% grade with a cliff to fall off on the left and rock walls on the right. It's over quick and you're rewarded with a very gentle grade in the amazingly gorgeous Platte River Canyon. The current plan is to go through Foxton to Buffalo Creek, which is rather nice, if paved. However, I'm working on contacting some private land owners to see if they'll allow us to roll on their road. It'll will take us past the Bucksnort Saloon on one of the most amazing jaw dropping roads out anywhere.

For now enjoy the images and some damn good reasons to be excited about the backroads here.

The steep bit on Pine Cr Rd. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Dirty Kanza is rapidly approaching. It's relax, taper, recover from SPDF time for me. There won't be many ride posts till after Kanza, but I'm sure I'll have a few things to blather about. For those of you so inclined,  there is now a live streaming of Dirty Kanza - at least of the beginning and the end. I don't expect you'll see full live race coverage like on Le Tour, but it's a start. Times include Friday 6/1 at 6:30 (I assume local) and race day 6/2 at 5:30am from the start line, and 6:30pm at the finish line.

Free live streaming by Ustream

I'm actually rather surprised that this is happening, but it should make interesting viewing. Well, for those of us involved it 'll be interesting to see and reminisce when we're old and sodden, waxing about the days when we used to be hard. So long as they don't run me into a fence I'm ok with pretending I'm a celebrity.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The List (of ill fate)

Somewhere out there is a list. It's a list of those things that can possibly go wrong. There is a section of things you can screw up yourself, and things that just sort of happen. Many things on this list we can head off before they happen. Others simply happen but it sure helps if we know what to do when they do come up. Problem is we don't know how long the list is or all the things that are on it.

Fellow blogger, XXC friend and novice endurance racer Zandr found one of those things the hard way and inspired this post.

Caveat Lector: Kind reader. Please forgive my loquacious rambling here, but I find that this is something I'm fairly passionate about. It is not my purpose to preach or claiming any special knowledge. I've simply learned a lot  - mostly through suffering - and want to pass on what I know. That's really what this entire blog is about. If you're not completely satisfied you can ignore everything here and I'll refund your money. Moving on...

Cursing the gods

Some things just happen, and we have absolutely no control over them. Remember the video of the guy getting run over by an antelope in South Africa? Yeah, I don't think you can predict or avoid that. Sometimes shit just happens. It doesn't have to be this wacky though, it could be some completely unpredictable mechanical or equipment or health failure.

While the totally unexpected out of your control does happen, not too many people run into a bear at 45mph. Usually there's some reason, a cause we could be aware of. When one of these oddities happens though it's actually a bit easier to handle. Why? Well, for starters you have no opportunity to blame yourself. There's nothing you or anyone else could have done. It just happened. Secondly, it's so rare that these things happen out of the blue that they're not likely to come up very often, and they can happen to anyone.

Birds crap - it happens. Sometimes it lands on you. There's no possible way you can learn the flight patterns and bowel movement indicators of birds to dodge their evil little bombs. Wipe it off and move on. This is on the list, but you don't control it, you can only deal with it.

Some measure of control

Some things are completely out of our control. But others, not so much. Sometimes we know about them, or that they could happen ahead of time, and others we don't, but we could possibly still handle the situation without is ruining the ride. Some can obviously have higher consequences (rattlesnake bite) than others (a flat tire without a spare in a race). Here's kinda how I see it:

Things on the list of ill fate 

Do you know about it?

Know how to deal with it?
Safe. It may happen, and it may suck but it’s no big deal.

Not a huge issue. You didn’t see it coming, but you have the right skills or attitude so you can keep rolling.

You’ll probably beat yourself up about this one. You knew it could happen and for some reason don’t have the skills/knowledge to deal with the issue.

Unexpected pain and suffering lurk here without a good sense of humor.

Cursing someone else

Some days it's someone else screwing with you. Here's a sadly not uncommon event - locals (usually kids) changing course markings. You're in an event, the course has flags or other markings. Sometimes those markings fade or disappear. Sometimes those things are more or less maliciously moved. It could be local teenagers pulling a prank they think will be funny. I've also heard of locals who don't like events, or other trail users of a different modality trying to exact some sort of revenge.

It's unfortunate and often frustrating, but there's often not a lot you can do here. I say often, but not always. Sometimes you can be a bit prepared with a good cue sheet or navigation, but not always. If someone moves a sign that indicates a road I'm supposed to take I'll probably follow that road (and be pissed and confused later). If I'm on unsigned singletrack, I'm from out of town and have no knowledge of the system, and there's no real mile marker system to follow, I'm going to end up lost if someone removes or changes the markings. In the SYDC 2012 I listened to two different locals say I was on route when I thought we might have missed a turn. I went three miles off course before I finally paid heed to what my Garmin told me and got back on course. No malice on their part, and I don't blame them, but it did happen.

Sometimes it's a course director that gets the blame. "That $#%*!^@ didn't even __________." (Fill in the blanks as as you see fit for the tape in your head.) I know this happens and some folks have thought or even said this, but again it's not something we can really predict. I haven't been racing that long, but have yet to encounter much of this or meet people who have. Most event planners (paid expensive events and free grassroots events) try really hard to make the thing work so everyone has a good time. We all make mistakes. I can forgive that and move on. One the other hand, I also know there are some idiots out there. I'm not so starry eyed and optimistic as to think otherwise. The lesson? If you're unlucky enough to find one, don't go back to the events run by idiots.

Screwing ourselves

Many times, when something goes wrong, we DO have someone to blame. Often it's ourselves. I could have done X differently. I should have known how to handle Y. I could have prepared Z (equipment) better. We either knew, thought we knew, or were completely ignorant. If we're smart, we learn from the experience and move on. (If you wanna up you're Karma points help someone else learn the lessons you had to learn the hard way.)

The stuff we know

There's quite a bit on the list we know about that could screw us. I know I should wear sun protection but on the Echo Valley 60 in 2011 I didn't and got a heinous burn. I knew about sunburn, but didn't deal with it.  Now I use sun sleeves and recently purchased leg coolers that I'm testing. I know that I want my ride in perfect working order for DK200. That's why I'm taking it into the shop today to get a race check even though I do most of my own work and things seem fine. I'm doing this 10 days before we leave so I have plenty of time to fix or get parts for anything that comes up. Didn't have to learn this one the hard way.

The stuff we think we know

There's also stuff we think we know. The obvious one is nutrition. After climbing for 15 years I thought I knew nutrition. I could get away with a Clif bar every 2 hours. Yeah, that just doesn't work on the bike. I thought I knew nutrition after months of prepping for the High Cascades 100 in 2011. Yeah, it turns out after 70 miles what I thought I knew fell apart (I cannot eat a gel ever again). I learned from that experience, I read, I sought answers, I experimented. I thought I wanted calories in my hydration. I experimented with Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Drink Mix (I also wish they still just called it Secret Drink Mix) and found I did much better eating my calories and drinking fluids. Up until this last ride I had trouble eating around the 9 hour mark. On SPDF 2012 I was tired but food didn't start to taste bad. I still have plenty to learn.

The point is, nutrition is an evolving knowledge. It's not like knowing how to set-up a tire tubeless; knowledge of nutrition is deep and evolves. There are layers of knowing that are uncovered as we evolve in the sport. I'm a far different athlete now than I was just a year ago when my longest ride was 60 miles. Our understanding evolves as we change how we play the game too. What worked for a 50 mile race did not work for a 100 miler. What works for me now at 65-75 degrees in Colorado may not work for me at 90 degrees when I tow the line in Emporia for DK200. It's just not that hot here and I can't turn up the heat to see what I need. I'm trying to be as prepared as possible though.

Ignorance - The stuff we don't know we don't know

Ignorance isn't an insult - it's simply a lack of knowledge. You are ignorant when you don't know ______. You might have known that you could break a chain and knew how to use a replacement link, but had no idea that you could remove a link or how to do this. You may know that you need a bike that fits right but perhaps you didn't really understand just how critical fit is once you start logging big miles. You may not understand terms like varus, vargus, pronation, supination or how leg length imbalances impact cycling.  And this ignorance may actually be causing you physical pain and potential long term injury. (read this  to learn a lot more - I learned more from this book than any other)

A wise man learns from his mistakes. An even wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. 

You can find this aphorism attributed to several folks, but usually it's an Asian source (a Zen proverb or the Buddha). In this case it's true. Learn all you can. Be self aware. Learn from the mistakes you make yourself and DON'T repeat them. Learn from others as much as you can too. Read books, listen to podcasts (XXC and MBR are good options), talk to those with more experience. The lessons you learn yourself are always stronger than those you learn from others (my chances of forgetting the option to remove a link are greater than Zander's). There's always something in the column that you didn't know, but make that part of the list as short as possible.

I had shifting problems beginning on the AntiEpic pre-ride where my chain kept dumping off the big ring. At the time I didn't know how quickly chain stretch would occur and that this was one consequence. Now I do. Now I have a better chain checker. Now I have a backup chain in my gear closet because I know I'll wear this one out and I absolutely do not want to ride a worn out chain on a big ass event like SPDF or DK200. You can bet that I check this pretty frequently now and I know how to deal with this.

One big bastard of a lesson, or a different kind of training

With all of these things that do or can happen we have the opportunity to learn and grow stronger.  Z broke a chain and walked farther than he needed to. I highly doubt that will EVER happen to him again. I pushed a bit hard by setting the High Cascades 100 as my 1 year cycling goal and got to learn what a muscular avulsion fracture is. It's still on the list of stuff that could happen, but now it's in the "I know how to deal with it and have the confidence to deal with it" category. That's where we want everything. It's a different type of training than simply going on long rides, doing hill repeats, or learning to ride technical terrain. My own personal list of ill fate has items in each of those categories below, but I'm doing my best to have as much as possible in the green.

Dealing with Things on the list of ill fate

Do you know about it?

Know how to deal with it?
Safe. It may happen, and it may suck but it’s no big deal.

Nice job! It'll be even less of a problem if it happens again

Not a huge issue. You didn’t see it coming, but you have the right skills or attitude so you can keep rolling.

Learn a bit more so you're even more prepared.

You’ll probably beat yourself up about this one. You knew it could happen and for some reason don’t have the skills/knowledge to deal with the issue.

DON'T beat yourself up. Get over it and learn how to deal with it next time, so it's not a big deal. 

Unexpected pain and suffering lurk here without a good sense of humor.

Assuming you live through it, this was a hard lesson to learn. You now know it could happen, I hope you take some time to figure out how to handle it next time. 


I'm sure I missed stuff in here. I'll admit that I'm not the most experienced rider (my vast worldly experience with cycling won't even hit the two year mark till September 2012). I've learned as much as I can from others, but made a lot of mistakes. My aim here is to pass on what I learned so hopefully you will have more fun and suffer just a little less. If you have any input or insight, if you've benefited from this (or any post really) please leave a comment. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gravel with Altitude: South Park Dirty Fondo

The South Park dirty Fondo (SPDF) was new this year and run by Brian Behn. It's a great route with some serious climbs and a lot of time over 9000ft, but you're rewarded with amazing views and some very cool towns (? towns might be a bit generous) that you go though.

Salida, CO
I rolled into Salida early to check out the town, the local bike shop and Amica's. Absolute Bikes was first on the list. They're a full service shop with pretty much everything you might need last minute. There even have a few things from Relevate Designs just in case you need a frame bag. Downtown Salida is a great little place to wander - you won't need more than an hour though as it's not that big. However, I did manage to find Subculture Cyclery, Salida Bike Company and the local hostel. Of course I stopped in Cafe Dawn (the meeting place for the start of the race) for a quick hour before a pizza dinner at Amica's.

Race time!
The morning came bright and early and Brian and I headed over to Cafe Dawn for a breakfast burrito and some hot bean juice before the race. I have to say I loved Cafe Dawn. Even if you don't start a race there the coffee, food and ambiance are all fantastic. Everyone I met that worked there was also pretty friendly and interested in the event. When I came in Sunday morning they even asked how the race went. Good peeps - go see em. Just remember to brig cash as they don't do plastic.

As the small crowd of racers rolled in Brian gave the course preview and description of some critical points of the course. He was kind enough to distribute maps of the course, but like any route this remote and this length a one page printed map is only a rough guide. Mounted on our respective steeds we rolled out to a neutral start - all ten of us - on the far side of the one and only bridge in Salida that crosses the Arkansas River. I lagged back to take a picture so began back o the pack.

Aspen Ridge
Weather predictions had shown we might have a high anywhere from 50 to 65 and might even see snow somewhere in the day. Te race began bright, sunny and warmer than expected. The first leg is a major ascent of nearly 4000 feet in 15 miles up Aspen Ridge.  I stowed my shell after about three miles and kept on rolling. I'd need it later though as it rained near Hartsel where the wind also picked up and the temperature dropped to around 40.

I knew I had passed a couple folks in the back, but had no idea how many people were ahead of me. Somewhere around mile 5 I caught up with Drew and we rode together for about five miles. Drew was in his full Chamois Butt'r kit and I found out that we'll meet again at DK200 in two weeks. I broke off at around mile 10 to go at my own pace and kept heading up. In those first 15 miles the road goes from paved to gravel to double track to rather rough double. Nothing ever gets so bad that you'll need more than a CX bike however. (No pix of the bumpy stuff - I needed both hands on the hoods.) The scenery also changes as you head up from the arid canyon bottom to the Aspen covered ridge passing quarries and many rocky crags along the way. It's a fantastic segment and you'll feel great when you realize you've done nearly 40% of the elevation gain for the entire course in the first 15 miles.

Gang of four
Gasping, puffing, wheezing and generally doing my Darth Vader impression I gained the high point at a bit over 10k feet. I arrived just in time to see two other riders begin the drop off the back side. I was so excited to see other people I didn't stop to take in the scene, and instead began the chase. It took me another 11 miles to catch up, but I finally managed to connect with Aaron and Eric. Within 10 minutes Drew joined us. We were all rolling about the same pace and ended up essentially riding the rest of the route together.

The descent off Aspen Ridge is a fun downhill heading north. After a very brief stretch on the highway we were rolling on some fun and smooth double track headed towards Antero Reservoir. This portion of the route is wide open and the wind easily found us. We only had rain for a brief spell but the temps dropped and the wind howled from the reservoir all the way into Hartsel.

Hartsel, Colorado is your first refueling option and it appears at about mile 50. We only made a brief stop long enough to get water, use the restroom and roll on. We stopped int the first (only?) convenience store gas station. At the end of the 6 building town it looked like the old Mercantile was closed. Continuing down the plains we had fantastic expansive views, some of which included pretty ominous looking dark grey clouds. Fortunately we never caught any of those clouds and the wind even died down as well.

Guffey and Rita's
The route from Hartsel winds south of Eleven Mile State Park and over Thirty Nine Mile Road to get to Guffey at 83 miles.  Thirty Nine Mile Road is  decent climb but you get to enjoy a brief high speed drop into town. Most of this is pretty mellow before the climb so I was able to take more pictures.

Riders on the storm

The road to Thunderdome

Apparently what looks like a fist there is Eric providing a one finger salute. Not sure why I have that look on my face... 

Guffey is an interesting place. I wish I could have spent more time taking pictures there as we passed all sorts of weird stuff including the skeletal prison wagon (image below) and a tribute to Elvira, which I missed. The main attraction in Guffey, however was Rita's. Rita's is a haven. I walked in not knowing what to expect and was shocked to see an offer of not only pastries such as chocolate raspberry bunt cake and rhubarb pie, but also espresso! With three more big "rollers" and 5000ft of climbing to go I elected for the espresso. While we were inside feeding ourselves the rains came - hard. For about 15 minutes we had a little deluge. Once that was done we mounted back up and headed out.

Cotopaxi is the last stop before rolling back into Salida. We knew that the store there closed at 6pm. Now we leaving Rita's at 2:30 which gave us a lot of time to make it from mile 83 to 128, BUT the rollers stood between us and Cotopaxi. The 15 miles before Cotopxi are one long descent dropping around 3500 feet - big fun - but the rollers lead up to that descent. It's not really fair to call them rollers in the traditional sense that this means. You'll find rollers on the AntiEpic and I imagine on DK200 but there were three successive hills, fairly large steep hills. Hes they were a bear, but you get through them. Aaron was right, the segment was pretty gorgeous and while it doesn't completely distract from the pain, it does help... a little.

View from the top of the second roller.

We made it to Cotopaxi 20 minutes before the store closed. While I only needed water I indulged in a bag of chips as well. We only had 24 miles to go to the finish, but for some reason stayed at the store for nearly 20 minutes. Eric had been riding his single speed and of course spun out on the long drop. It'd didn't take him too long to catch up - perhaps 4 minutes - but he decided that the last flat bit along the river didn't sound like fun on the SS. Since a friend appeared at Cotopaxi Eric took the opportunity to exit stage left. The gang of four broke up and we were a trio to the end.

The road to the finish
While parts of this last leg were actually fun (enhanced by a mild tailwind) others were certainly not. There are two brief sections of perhaps 3-4 miles each where you must ride US 50. Some portions of which have no shoulder and nowhere to bail if two opposing tractor trailers are passing. Fortunately those segments are brief and easily forgotten. The canyon from Cotopaxi to Salida is quite nice and would be even more enjoyable fresh.

Between the two brief paved bits are two sections of gravel. This first is your standard well maintained gravel road. The second quickly becomes rocky double track which is quite rough at times including a crossing of Badger Creek. Since Drew was on a 29er and Arron riding wider 40c+ Schwalbe Marathons I had to slow quite a bit on my relatively delicate Small Block 8's. These two could smell the barn though and we raced into the finish. Ninety minutes after leaving Cotopaxi we were back at Cafe Dawn signing into the log book and posing for our Finish Photo. A three way tie for "first".

After a droppign off the bike and a quick change the real finish was perhaps at The Fritz. While the place was packed and a band was raging on the patio, I managed to get the last table, where Aaron Drew and I were able to quaf a tasty beverage, toast our outstanding day and enjoy a very tasty burger. Two thumbs up for the Fritz.

This is a great event. The route is pretty amazing with overall good roads and great scenery. I loved the fact that there are three places to refill food or water if you are so inclined. I highly recommend the event and the route, but you should be aware of the level of commitment this route brings before you go. There are very few places where you will have cell phone coverage on this route, so if the unexpected happens you might be walking for a long time. Additionally, while there is a bail out option it doesn't save a ton of time or mileage. The nature of this course just means that there are not a lot of roads in the middle of this loop where you can bail. Lastly, like all courses of this kind you need to be prepared for navigation. A GPS is probably your best option, but have a backup and realize that roads often don't have signs and mileages might be slightly off.

As a last caveat there is one major difference between this and most gravel grinders: altitude. An enormous portion of the course is at or above 9000ft. I moved from Portland (70 ft) to Boulder (5500 ft) about 7 months ago. I finished in good time but didn't realize the effect the altitude was having on me till later in the game. I didn't suffer from sickness or anything but I do think it led to more fatigue than I've experienced on similar rides such as the Buckhorn route. Just something to note.

Ok enough of that - it IS a fantastic route and I do recommend the SPDF. While I've done long solo rides and loved those it's a completely different experience doing the ride as an event. In the AntiEpic I rode with many different people for a dozen miles each. This time I rode with a group for over 100 miles. It's a completely different experience and I enjoy both for different reasons. Go out there and have fun.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Packing with friends

The inaugural South Park Dirty Fondo is tomorrow so I'm headed up to Salida today to check out Absolute Bikes, Amica's and get a sense of the town. I'm fortunate enough that I'll be staying with the event director, so I hope to get the inside scoop on how to dodge raindrops and lightning at 10,000 feet (yeah there's a decent chance of rain). I have a couple new things I'm bringing which may get a first test run here.

The packing ritual is getting to be routine and no longer something I stress about too much. I do spend a bit of time the week before the event doing some planning such as looking over the route, planning how long segments will take, where I'll be able to refill water, how much food to bring and what to wear.

I do however have a new pleasant packing ritual - XXC Podcasts. The podcasts almost always consist of XXC front man Jason Mahokey, along with Ben Welnak and Zander Benedict. Often there are guests discussing events they host or have participated in, but there's always plenty of time where the three stooges generally ramble about topics somewhat related to endurance racing (e.g. nutrition and Zander's idea that Pop-tarts or gas station donuts are excellent pre-race fuel) to topics almost completely unrelated (e.g. Amish Cocaine, and sex with armadillos). Personally I get more than a few laughs out of the show, and sometimes I even learn something (gasp!). Highly recommended for your packing day ritual.

While this is a gravel related blog I'll be switching gears to follow singletrack just after DK200. I've been having an inner debate about how to handle this switch on the blog given the gravel in the title. Ben seems to think the gravel grovelers are really mountain bikers on a wider trail. One of Ben's recent projects Mountain Bike Radio has provided another interesting perspective on a variety of events. I'm blaming two of the podcasts from the AZT 300/750 for my recent purchase of a Relevate seat bag. I'm told there will be a website soon, but for now check it out on Facebook - I'm sure MBR will increase those stock offerings you just purchased.

Off to the race.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wheels: Enve 29er XC

This is a review/ramble of the wheelset I finally have rolling on the Mosaic. It's been quite a saga to get these rolling.

DT 240/Crest
Since the Mosaic uses disc brakes I'm essentially using a 29er mountain bike wheelset. Last Fall I picked up a set of Crest Rims laced to DT Swiss 240 hubs. I'm a big fan of the DT hubs, and this was a great deal, albeit a little overbuilt for my needs. They're laced with 32 single butted spokes. That is, at 1620 g they could be a bit lighter.

The Grail
Several weeks months ago I found won a killer deal on a set of wheels on a popular auction site (ahem). These were 2010 Enve 29er XC rims laced to Tune King and Kong hubs. Enve makes amazing stuff and rims are their signature product.

Some of you may know that there has been a bit of an evolution in these rims and the name of the company. Enve was once called Edge. Legal name disputes caused the change. These rims were originally designed and branded as Edge rims, and the original design was not UST tubeless ready, but you could still set them up tubeless. In fact I have a single Edge 29erXC rim laced to a 240 front hub, which I purchased from a guy selling his 69er. When the company changed names, the rim stayed the same.

The single Edge/DT 240 I have.
In 2011, Enve revised their design to be UST approved and eliminated the older design. The difference is primarily in the center channel groove and slightly more shallow depth of the bead hook. The wheels I purchased were the 2010 Enve rims (i.e. they were not the UST version). No matter, I could still use tubes and/or do a ghetto tubeless setup.
  • 2009 - Edge
  • 1 September 2010 - Enve (same non-UST design)
  • 2011 - Enve (new UST design)

The first ride on this wheelset was the Swiss Recon ride with Adam. Everything went fine, but at the end of the ride the wheel felt slightly out of round. Because of the very deep channel in the design of these rims I had noticed that the slightly out of round condition on my Edge rim as well; however, I had never felt this while riding.

When I inspected this after the ride I noticed something rather shocking. The out of round feeling I noticed was caused by a cut in the sidewall, just above the bead hook, that was causing the outer casing to come off the tire! A blowout here would have been catastrophic rolling down one of our canyons at 40 mph. Closer inspection revealed that the bead hook was rather thin and sharp and actually caused the cut. This was exacerbated by the depth of the channel which mean that the bead hook contacted the the sidewall of the tire several millimeters above the actual bead (above where there is a slightly thicker more protective layer).

After contacting several shops and Enve, I learned that this was very rare, but had happened on a couple production runs from this era. My options were to send them in for inspection, or use some fine sandpaper to smooth the edge. I tried the sandpaper first, but quickly saw that I would not be able to fix the problem. The bead hook on this wheelset was 0.6-0.8mm thick compared to ~1.2-1.9mm thick on my Edge rim. Eighty dollars later and the wheels were on their way to Enve with an RA number. Three weeks later a box arrives from Enve with the same Tune hubs laced to brand new 2012 Enve XC 29er rims (the UST version).

Good things come in black boxes.

These folks at Enve were awesome! They didn't ask where I got the wheels or even if I was the original owner. The wheels only had one ride on them before I took possession, but they didn't know that. The wheels probably would have come back in a week, but for the fact that the original build used silver Sapim CX-Ray spokes, which Enve does not stock. Not only did they hand me a brand new set of their amazing wheels, but went out of their way to get these spokes. I can't imagine better customer service or how they could stand behind their products better. If/when I'm in the market for another wheelset of this caliber, I guarantee you I'll be reaching out to the Enve folks again for awesome hand built wheels (oh and the rims are made in USA).

Ok, but how do they roll?
Amazing! These hoops are damn light. Stripped (no rim tape or valve) the front came in at 625g and the rear at 725g. I don't know what else you could get for a 29er wheelset that's 1350g! After adding the Kenda Small Block 8 tires, 11-28 Ultegra cassette, a pair of KCNC rotors and Ti skewers the final weights were 380g less than the 240/Crest/Ritchey wheelset. The difference was easily noticeable. There were sections of local mellow singletrack that I was able to roll up much easier than I had ever in the past. I guarantee you that you'll notice the weight difference on the century + rides.

They're also stiff in the right ways. The Enve rims are laterally stiff so you don't really get any noodle wobbliness, but they also don't feel ridiculously stiff or harsh rolling down miles and miles of gravel and dirt. It's true that the noodle isn't something you feel too much on gravel - it's much more of an issue on my 29er - however, I've logged about 500 miles on these already and part of that has been on B roads or less (Switzerland Trail, Monument Gulch) where you would be able to at least notice this. I'm happy to report I never did.

It's not a rolling issue, but tire interaction is another consideration. Besides the weight of the Crest/240 wheels I'm scared to change a tire on them. It's just damn hard to get the tires on! It takes about 45 minutes of screaming and cursing, using a lever to pry them on, and half giving up twice before I succeed. I really don't want to go through that out on a long ride somewhere. I've had no issues at all with the Edge or Enve rims; the Kenda Small Block 8 tires and the Ritchey Speedmax both went on just fine. I did have one blow out (story for another day) that I was able to repair trailside in no time at all. What a relief. (FWIW - On the Pawnee Grasslands ride I had three flats and I was relieved that they were all in the front on the Edge rim.) Being UST the Edge rims are also relatively easy to set-up tubeless. You'll probably need an air compressor but with that it's a snap.

Tuning In
I don't personally know anyone else rolling Tune Hubs. The set I have is their King (front) and Kong (rear) in white. The white hubs look slick with the colors of the bike and the Enve logos on the rims. Tune uses a standard pawl system for it's engagement, so there's nothing fancy there. The engagement is not extremely fast like you would get with Chris King, Industry 9, but to be honest for these primarily road rides I don't miss it.

These hubs are fully in the weight weenie category, but should be more than adequate for my use on the gravel racer. Only time will tell how well they stand up to the muck and bumps. I do appreciate the ability to convert the front to a 15mm Thru-axle, which would allow me to use these on the 29er. On the other hand, Tune is a boutique brand and not something you can find at your local shop/ Unless that is, Fairwheel Bikes in AZ (the only US importer) is your local shop.

The wheels are amazing! They're super light. They are both compliant and stiff in the ways I want them to be and they are made by a company that really backs their products.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Buckhorn fun fest

Big Buckhorn fun fest

Just to be perfectly clear – this route is AWESOME! It’s the most challenging, varied, fun, and beautiful route I’ve done. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It has MUP (multiuse path), road, gravel, B-road and degraded double track. So sit back, relax and get ready for a long read/ride.

Beginning MUPpets
I started on the East side of Fort Collins (FTC) at the convergence of two major MUPs. There’s free parking and its pretty close to I-25. Starting here gave me the opportunity to check out the path situation in FTC and have a mellow warm up before tha major climbing began – oh yes, there will be hills.

The Spring Creek trail was pretty much what you’d expect of a MUP – it rolls and winds it’s way through residential FTC along a creek. Of course this also meant there were tons of little flying buggers I kept catching in my teeth. The scenery was easily worth it though. Starting at 7 there were folks out, but not a ton. Mostly some dedicated runners and a few folks setting up the beginning and aid stations for some race that appeared to have a later start, and of course folks walking their pets.

With Spring Creek behind me I began the ascent around the South end of Horsetooth Reservoir into Masonville where I would pick up Buckhorn Road. The temps had very quickly risen and I had already downed ½ a bottle. Fortunately this rest stop allowed me to drink a bit more and refill. I had my Skratch for the day and a few extras, so making it tasty was no problem.

The Horsetooth above the Res

There were quite a few cyclists out on the roads up to Masonville, but they all disappeared as soon as I turned off onto Buckhorn road. It’s a pity too, because Buckhorn is where the real riding starts. The first several  miles of Buckhorn are still paved (up to mile 29 by my ride) but the traffic drops dramatically, and you’re out in a much more rural and scenic valley. There’s a point where this paved road narrows and winds through a great canyon lined with rock walls.

Ok enough of this pavement
XX miles up Buckhorn road the pave road continues as Stove Prairie while Buckhorn turns West and turns immediately to gravel. This is a near continuous climb and looked heinous on the elevation profile. In reality the grade is fairly consistent and pretty gentle. Since the climb is well over 10 miles to the ranger station at the summit, you’ll have plenty of chance to soak up the scenery. Many of the Aspens has their summer coat of lush green quaking leaves. The aspens early lush growth and Columbines made the verdant climb easy on the eyes.

Just past the Buckhorn Ranger Station I turned right onto Monument Gulch Road. There is an immediate gate stating that this road is closed – to cars. It’s still open to bikes all year though. This is less than a B road since it’s falling into complete decay. While it’s mostly decayed double track, there are parts where it’s more of a clear path through the woods than an road at all. The beginning ¼ of Monument Gulch is over 8000 feet, it’s not overly steep but it is uphill and I’ll admit it was kicking my ass. It’ would certainly be a bit easier to climb on a MTB. Once you pass the initial uphill however it turned into an HUGE payoff. This thing was just pure unrefined fun! The fact that it’s a lesser road and a bit rocky meant I had to go slower on my bike than on a MTB, but honestly it was probably more fun because I had to pay attention more. On a MTB it would be fun but pretty mellow. There are a couple of different options near the top of Buckhorn road, but this is in the NOT TO BE MISSED category. It’s SO MUCH FUN!

The end of Monument gulch connects to Pingree Park Rd (CR 63E). This looks to be a steep drop to the Poudre River, but appearances can be deceiving. As big drops on gravel roads go, it’s damn near perfect. The roads are wide enough to accomodaye traffic, it’s mostly well packed, there are plenty of long open sections where you can open er up and enjoy the downhill speed, and where you encounter switchbacks and sharp turns they’re well signed allowing you to scrub speed. It doesn’t hurt that the scenery along here is pretty amazing too. Yeah I know I’m gushing here, but there were so many times on this road I was just in awe of how great this was. I’d say perfect compared to any of the super steep, loose, twisty descents I’ve done outside Boulder where you’re on the brakes almost constantly.

Down at the Poudre River it was uphill on a gentle paved road for 5 miles. Fortunately this goes pretty quick as there’s little shoulder and plenty of traffic on a gorgeous weekend.

The Climb - Part Deux
The turn onto Manhattan begins the second major climb into Red Feather Lakes. By this time you’re near 5000 feet of gain already and about to get a few thousand more. Unlike the climb up Buckhorn, the climb here did NOT feel like a gentle grade – it’s steep. I’m sure the prior fatigue had something to do with this, but the grade is steeper. There isn’t much I can say about this other than that it was a heads down, panting suffer fest. My legs had began feeling tired/sore around mile 25 and I had no idea how the day would go with an ominous beginning like that. Now after climbing 7000 feet in 62 miles I was feeling pretty toasted.

Red Feather Lakes
There is a flat-ish rolling section near the top as you roll into Red Feather Lakes. This was the ½ way point for me and the opportunity for a rest and water refill. The Trading Post is to the East as you roll in, and the General Store shown on the map is to the West. However since the General Store was closed for business I went trading. The toughest decision here was weather to grab an ice cream or small bag o chips – I went for the salt.

I took Hiawatha to Creedmore lakes Road out of Red Feather Lakes. Passing along the lakes is a nice ramble through residential areas and craggy rocky hills. There is a point (I believe where Creedmore turns right instead of straight and becoming Huron Rd) where Creedmore turns into more of a B road and begins a long descent. This was the second highlight of the trip. This is another super fun fast downhill section. It’s nowhere near as rugged as Monument Gulch, but it’s still incredibly fun. This is not a smooth maintained gravel, but semi-packed double track and roughly follows Bull Creek downhill. I spooked a Moose somewhere in here as I speed down through Aspen and Pine past rocky meadows and on toward my destination.

A change in scenery
There’s an option to continue downhill on 82E or tun north on CR179 (Prairie Divide) an connect with Cherokee Park Rd. I took the latter option. This pretty quickly becomes an wide open prairie. This option trades the craggy rocky tree lined views for sweeping vistas and glimpses of the peaks in RMNP.  Farther East the alpine prairie changes to provide views of craggy cliffs as you get closer to the prairies. A few rolling hills and open plains later and you briefly connect with 287 near Livermore. Rather than going into Livermore I rode out on the plains rolling the incredibly smooth red dirt of CR80 towards an unnamed reservoir. Early in this section there was a gorgeous large Rattler sunning itself on the road. Since I was past the century mark, getting really tired and I already had a snake picture I took earlier on Monument Gulch, I passed.

Back on pavement
The first glimpse of pavement comes at Buckeye where I turned South. This doesn’t last long (one block really) as most of the Buckeye Lateral was dirt. However, The pavement comes again when you pick up 287 into FTC. I was a really getting tired at this point and mostly cranking hard in an effort to finish. However I was surprised to find that I was able to average well over 20 mph on this section of the route. Sure it was slightly  downhill, but I felt fried and food was getting harder and harder to eat.

9  hrs
That seems to be the mark for me right now. Nine hours is where it starts to get hard to eat. The gummies which were easy to swallow start to taste horrid, and even the solids are hard to eat. As it happened in the AntiEpic I had to really begin forcing myself to eat. I still had ~25 miles to go and knew I would need the energy. I’m not sure why this happens, but I hope it’s something I get past as my body gets used to working this hard for this long. I know my performance diminishes when I’m eating less, but really EVERYTHING starts to taste awful, I lose my appetite and really do have to force myself to eat.
I did have one minor issue which didn’t help – I forgot my rice bars. I took part of Friday to make a fresh new batch and made sure to not burn the bacon this time. After cooking, slicing and wrapping the bars I even placed a post it note on the front door to grab 8 bars. Clearly I need larger neon writing as in my 5 am stupor I missed the note and only realized my mistake 25 minutes away from my house. I had my waffles  though and a quick stop at a gas station in FTC supplied me with some wildly over priced Cliff and Power Bars. I really could tell a difference on the ride. They simply do not digest as easily as the rice bars. They’re fine for climbing, hiking, or other lower intensity activities but on the bike I need something different – something less engineered.

Home stretch
The paved roads for 10 miles connect to the end of the Poudre River MUP in Laporte, CO. I didn’t realize on the route that I was to pass through Bellvue, CO (or even that it existed) till I was there. The one outstanding this about this tiny community was the bright yellow cafĂ© and coffee shop. It is the one place I was seriously tempted to stop and if I’m ever in this area again (of course) I’m making that a destination. The Poudre River MUP was again as expected but if anything faster than the Spring Creek. There was an interesting highlight as I rolled over a bridged section for a couple hundred yards. I was really ready to be done at this point though. It didn’t help that the ominous clouds I had seen earlier had made things seriously blustery.  I don’t know what direction they were coming from, but I can say that for the last 20 miles the wind was not in my favor. In general the wind had been quite mild with only some minor headwinds down the canyons – nothing to really mention though. In general the wind had been still all day until the weather arrived. 

Earning it
Back at the car I was pleasantly surprised to arrive 2 miles before the Garmin thought I would (where did  it think I parked?). Whenever I go to FTC I have a hard time resisting Rasta Pasta and their signature dish. This was no different. I had planned up to 12 hours and finished in under 11 so I certainly earned it this time. I had, if truth be told, been craving that spicy jerk chicken pasta goodness for the past three hours. When I could barely choke down a waffle it might partly be because I was fixated in a spicy pasta.

I’ll end as I began – this is a FANTASTIC route! If you’re not into the MUP then change the beginning (I probably wouldn’t do that a second time). However, if you love the scenery around rural mountainous Colorado than the Buckhorn/Monument Gulch/Creedmore Lakes elements are not to be missed.