Fatbikes and packrafts are the only way to explore a remote section of Alaska before mankind’s approach changes the landscape forever.
On a late July afternoon, we rode our fatbikes off Homer Spit and onto a 176-foot landing craft, a ship loaded with cargo for transport to the remote side of Cook Inlet. Though the vessel had made this crossing many times, passengers were uncommon and in our case, a curious sight. In addition to our oversized bicycles, Brent and I carried one packraft apiece, five days worth of food, plus some minimal camping gear and camera equipment. After an exciting and sleepless night onboard the vessel we were deposited on the far shore of the inlet at 4 a.m. Waiting for the light, we watched the boat unload its cargo and then began cycling the gravel Pile Bay Road to Iliamna Lake in the early dawn.
I was drawn, in part, to this route because Alaska is in the midst of mineral development projects that could entirely transform the landscape. Our route would bring us through a proposed, controversial, open pit copper mine—the Pebble Mine. I wanted to see clear streams full of sockeye salmon, bears and untamed landscapes, as it has been for millennia, before it is allowed to be transformed—forever.Tweet
Here’s the first part of the documentary about the Transcontinental Race, from London to Istanbul. Get caught up with the backstory here.Tweet
Before Specialized launched its AWOL adventure bike, Recep Yesil of Turkey and Erik Nohlin of Sweden took prototype models across Europe in an unsupported, single-stage race known as the Transcontinental. There are no support teams, no predetermined route, and only two checkpoints along its 2,000-mile route. The rest is up to you.
Below is a trailer for an upcoming documentary about their journey. Episode 1 will premiere December 1.Tweet
Fat bike rider and Alaskan explorer Bjorn Olsen embarked on a journey from Cook Island to Bristol Bay, Alaska, last summer and more than just document the trip, he turned it into a film, “Hunting For Monsters”.
The full film will premiere Saturday, November 16, at the Homer (Alaska) Outdoor Film Festival and HoWL Annual Auction.Tweet
The Adventure Cycling Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials announced that AASHTO’s Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering has approved U.S. Bike Route 50 in Maryland, which follows the C&O Canal Towpath, and U.S. Bike Route 23 in Tennessee.Tweet
Off-pavement touring and bikepacking is one of the fastest growing passion of cyclists, and the Adventure Cycling Association has responded by releasing the second edition one of the definitive guide books of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
Read more after the jump. Read the full storyTweet
In 2011, Rob Lutter was a struggling filmmaker in London struggling with his obsessive compulsive disorder. One day he ran across a book, “The Man Who Cycled the World.”
In that moment, Rob’s life changed forever. Read the full storyTweet
The Out There program tells the story of two iconic cycling routes, the people who ride them and the uncommon adventures they have along the way. These routes, the Pacific Coast Highway and the Great Divide, serve as the blank pages that the Blackburn ambassadors, nicknamed “Rangers”, will craft their stories of adventure upon.
The Pacific Coast Bicycle Route and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route were created and are maintained by the Adventure Cycling Association, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering people to travel by bicycle, please visit at adventurecycling.org.Tweet
Via the Velo Orange blog.Tweet
By Seth Gernot
It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas. Well, at least it was an idea. Pictured above are two people that are having fun, right?
Fun isn’t the right word. It was a combination of fun, pain, and pain. We still can’t figure out who had the idea to ride to DC in 24 hours on a tandem…
The last you may have heard from us, Rebecca and I were poised for our trip. The support crew was ready, the gear was all set, and the weather was looking beautiful. The start was set for 7:30 a.m. at Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited before big events. My inner child gets all wound up. Sometimes sleep is hard to come by when you’re on the precipice of something big. So, I figured drinking a single bottle of beer around 9 p.m. the night before would help usher in a couple of sinking eyelids.
Instead of grabbing a bottle opener I took a shortcut and popped the top off with my multi-tool. I’m not very good at this maneuver. Not very good at all. In fact, in one quick motion the cap flew off, the multi-tool broke the bottle, and the big knuckle on my right index finger drove into the newly shattered bottle. It was bad, quite bad. And the timing was awful. I needed sleep more than stitches. So, gauze and a duct tape was all that was used to stop the bleeding.
The next morning Rebecca inquired about the liberal use of duct tape on my now swollen hand. I admitted that the cut was pretty serious, but the show must go on. I decided then that a full-fingered glove would be placed over the hand and not removed until we reached Washington D.C.
As you can tell from the statements above, I am not a doctor. But, I can ride a bike and I’m kinda stubborn, so let’s continue and see what happened next.Tweet
By Adam Newman
We’re excited to see more bikes coming around for the kind of riding we love the most: rambling adventures from the city to the mountains. The Giant AnyRoad might not have an innovative name, but the design is perfect for a huge segment of the bike-riding market. The aluminum frame offers a hugely sloping top tube for standover clearance, room for 700x48c tires, a carbon fiber fork and fender mounts.Tweet
In Summer of 2011, alpinist Kyle Dempster set out across Kyrgyzstan’s back roads on his bike. His goal – ride across the country via old Soviet roads while climbing as many of the region’s impressive peaks as possible. He was alone. He carried only a minimalist’s ration of climbing gear. Ten Kyrgyz words rounded out his vocabulary. He’d purchased his bike just weeks before and had never bike toured.
Upon arrival, Kyle found himself pulled into the Kyrgyz culture – heavy drinking, friendly curiosity and families carving existences out of yurts in the foothill. From his maps, he picked a circuitous path of back roads between the regions incredible mountains. When he arrived, he found that the roads had been abandoned. Crumbling roads led deeper into the heart the Kyrgyz wilderness before disappearing all together. After crossing a few rivers and nearly being swept away in the process, Dempster realized that his path back was blocked. He had to keep, pedaling, pushing and carrying his bike. It meant crossing rivers raging with summer snow melt and navigating game trails.Tweet
This is pretty much the device I’ve been dreaming of for years. This week Garmin announced a new GPS cycling computer specifically designed for touring and long-distance cyclists. It highlights the mapping and navigating features but does without some of the performance features of the Edge 810 model to keep the price down.
The Edge Touring and Edge Touring Plus provide on and off-road navigation and can even create a loop for you to ride based on your distance and terrain preferences. It comes loaded with maps and points of interest and you can add more as you go. You can also load a route you created with Garmin’s software or your own GPX track.
The waterproof, 2.6-inch touchscreen is designed to be usable even with gloves on and the whole unit weighs less than 100 grams. The rechargeable battery will last up to a claimed 17 hours.
The Edge Touring Plus model adds ANT+ integration for heart rate straps and can even display information from some ANT+ equipped e-bikes. It also includes a barometric altimeter.
The Edge Touring will retail for $250 and the Edge Touring Plus for $300. They will ship this fall according to Garmin.
Editor’s note: We were tipped off to this story by Jeff Jones, creator and namesake of the Jones mountain bikes. Olsen rode his Jones 2,858.75 miles to finish fifth in the 2013 Tour Divide from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M.
Words and photos by James Olsen.
Just over a week ago I arrived at Antelope Wells after 17 days and about 5 hours of the most intense riding experience of my life. I’m back at home now, I’ve been meaning to get something written down for a few days and it’s only now I’m starting to accept that it’s in the past, no longer waking in the night feeling that it’s time to get up and roll along the trail for a while, warming up before settling in for another long day in the saddle. The Tour Divide was everything I went out there for, it was beautiful, intense and at times almost crushingly hard and it got the best out of me.
Firstly, my bike and kit. I bought a Jones Titanium Spaceframe a couple of years ago and it changed my riding. Really, this wasn’t just new-bike love. Longer rides went by in comfort, the handling was addictive and motivated me to ride almost every day and the comfort meant my rides got longer and my fitness improved noticeably.
I bought a steel diamond frame with truss fork for holidays and bikepacking trips and found it was the perfect tool for the job. Comfy and efficient but also a huge amount of fun downhill—a bike-packer ride that wasn’t ever dull or a compromise when we found unexpected gems of trails. Not once did I think “If only I had my susser here…” on those trips. For the Divide there really isn’t a bike I’d have felt so confident in.
I used my steel diamond frame for the frame-bag space and the Ti truss fork for less weight–it all counted. The Velocity P35 rims let me use my tires at maybe 17-18 psi at times when the washboard roads were beating me up, or simply when I wanted to roll more easily along the rougher trails. Others were sticking to 40+ psi and thinner, lighter rims and I think I had an advantage there. I’m certain I was getting less beat up than other riders.
I used Geax Saguaro 2.2 tires that do roll very well and work well on both loose or hard ground but I think a bigger tyre would have been a wiser choice. Fast-rolling 2.4 tires aren’t so widely available but perhaps the tread is less important at lower pressures. On the roads an Ardent 2.4 at 40psi would’ve been slower than the Saguaro, but on balance it may have been faster or comfier over the rougher sections. I saw a couple of Surly 29×3.0 Knard-equipped bikes on the route and eyed up their tires enviously.
A Ti Loop H-bar was the perfect bar for this kind of ride, plenty of space for lights, computer, route maps etc as well as the grip options. A good number of racers were using them this year.
I used a single 34t oval chainring and a 12-28 six-speed modified cassette on a Hope singlespeed hub, using three single-speed cogs and three Shimano cassette cogs stacked up. This was a really hard-wearing combo in the gears I used 80 percent of the time (16, 19 and 22 rear) and I was confident 2,800 miles wouldn’t put too much wear on them. The shifting wasn’t as slick as a normal cassette but it was ok, like a singlespeed with a few options either side of my usual 34-19 ratio.
The straight chain line and front single ring would have been a benefit in the infamous Divide mud, but it was my downfall on a fast road section at the end. A triple may have been a wiser move, certainly if I’d known it was going to be generally so fast and dry I would have fitted one. Shifting was done by a bar-end shifter with a Paul Component mount and I used XTR v-brake levers on BB7 brakes with 160mm and 180mm rotors. Pre-greased cables were a little sticky at first but ran smooth the whole way and I only used one set of pads. My wheel set uses the same spokes throughout so I only carried 2 spare spokes. All my kit came to around 11 lbs., just under 2 lbs. for my sleeping kit on the bars, 3 to 4 lbs. of clothes and waterproofs in the seat pack, the rest was a camelback for food and water and in my frame bag that had extra space for a full 2-liter water bladder if needed.
As for the ride, the Tour Divide isn’t that well known outside mountain bike circles but the number of entrants has increased sharply the last few years and blue-dot watching (trackleaders.com) has added a new spectator dimension to races like this. This year there were 140 or more of us, mostly gathered at the YMCA Lodge in Banff on the morning of June 14, heading south.
I guess most of us had discovered bikepacking in recent years, seen “Ride the Divide” or read Jill Homer or Paul Howard’s books and been hooked on the idea. Some had been planning the race for a couple of years, others for less time. I fell into the “less time” group. At New Year’s I decided I wanted to do something committing on the bike and the Tour Divide was big and exciting enough to really motivate me (fear is a good motivator I found).
Multiple-race-winner Matthew Lee’s posts on Divide racing attitudes and ethics on a forum clinched it for me, it was a race that seemed to appeal when racing rarely does so. For five months my spare time was focussed on little else. There was no race experience in my past to base any confidence on but I had done plenty of reasonably long rides and bivi trips in the past. I feel at home when alone and outdoors and I love sleeping under the stars. I felt confident in my self-sufficiency and felt that I could answer a reasonably confident “yes” to the “Are you up to this?” check-list on the Tour Divide site. Or at least, ‘yes, after some preparation’.
I also had found the perfect bike for my long rides and overseas trips in my Jones bike. What I needed to do was get myself in shape for the demands of the race, finalize my kit and decide on some kind of strategy.
I wanted to race in a certain style, influenced by what I’d read about the original Great Divide race and Matthew Lee’s approach to Divide racing. I really wanted the Divide to be a tunnel that I entered into with the only way back to home comforts being the finish line, or retirement from the race. That meant (to me) racing without a phone or GPS, being 100 percent reliant on myself for bike servicing or repairs and I wanted to sleep out trail-side every night and find a rhythm that worked with daylight hours and my body clock to maximize rest or minimize physical and mental disruption.
The Divide route was to be an open-air experience and roofs were off-limits between start and finish. I think a few more storms would have tested that aim towards the end, but I’m happy that the stormy nights were times when I pushed on out of town in the evenings, set up camp in the dark downpour and lay safe under my small tarp as the lightning lit up the fabric every few moments. Other nights, the storm threatened, tested my resolve then backed down and let me rest with only a light drizzle that couldn’t disturb my coma-like sleep.
Before the race I said that these ideals or ethics may cost me a few places but racing style was important to me, I had some kind of “clean, onsight” kind of climbing ethics in mind that could only really be done once as a rookie on the route. Ask me about ethics after I mis-read my cues again or rode miles past a turn and spent a stressful time uncertain whether it was the right one and you’d have got a different angle on Divide racing! GPS is a good thing if you want to go fast and phones are a faster way to find out about fire diversions, but adventure and uncertainty is also part of the experience.
I think I had a couple of advantages in the race that made up for a lack of race experience and helped keep me in the top five most of the race. One was being happy to sleep trail-side anywhere and in almost any weather which saved me time, the other was having reliable equipment. I was confident in my bike and gear as I’d used it in roughly a Divide’s worth of distance of bikepacking and touring trips before without a single issue. Some of my kit was fairly new but simply a lighter or simpler version of what I’d used before. Some other things I’d do differently next time having completed the race, but that’s always the case with an experience of that magnitude.
The training went well and I enjoyed the long overnight and weekend rides I did in preparation. By the time the race came around I was nervous, scared almost, but raring to go. If you love long rides and existing with the minimum of possessions the Great Divide is a wonderful place to be. Remote in places but rarely dauntingly so, it’s a route where you’ll often feel very small under dramatic skies and expansive views. The feeling of open space is simply huge. If it wasn’t a race there would have been times when I would have got off my bike and just sat or stood in the middle of these great spaces, trying to take it all in. But it was a race and that added a pressure I never predicted.
I’d ended up in the top 10 on day two; when Billy Rice (a northbound rider nearing Banff, who would then turn around to ride south, completing the first TDR double last week) stopped to say hi and tell me there weren’t many ahead of me I realized I was making my way towards the front of the field. After that there was no letting up, I wanted to do well. If I was going to be happier at a slower speed I could tour the route another time.
Naturally I found myself close to other riders on different strategies and with different strengths but the Divide evens things out soon enough. Racing so closely with Alex Harris for over 2,000 miles taught me a lot as well as stretched my ability and my mental strength, I found I could pedal longer and harder than I expected but the lack of sleep and need to compete with a very experienced racer/adventurer was tough, it wore my nerves down at times but it also stopped me slipping into default tourer mode when I felt tired or close to being beaten by the scale of the route.
I don’t think we were ever more than a few hours apart and all I could go on were tire tracks. If there weren’t any signs of Alex’s tire tracks ahead of me, every time I stopped for any reason I was looking behind me and the pressure built. I learned soon after riding with Alex for the first time that he had experience and a source of strength that I would find it hard to compete with when things got difficult, and it was simply a case of when that happened, not if it would.
Things got difficult after La Manga pass, going into New Mexico. Alex and I were low on food but had eaten well in Platoro, 30 miles or so earlier. We were headed into the first of New Mexico’s wilderness stretches, the Cruces Basin, a very beautiful area that we first saw through rain and a fog of hypoglycaemia as we separately tried to make 800 or so calories each last well over a hundred miles of mixed ground. At times it was among the hardest terrain of the route and all of it was at high altitude.
We both knew it’d be hard as we went in, we’d briefly debated the wisdom of going off-route for 30 miles for food or the ethics of hitching off-route. I didn’t want to hitch or delay but I also wanted food. I remembered Aidan Harding’s comments about considering how a racer-to-be would feel when much-needed resupply points were closed, leaving another half-day’s ride to the next point. I thought it was something I could cope with.
Bravado was called out as Alex decided to head into the wilderness. I think the racer in him knew it could be a pivotal moment in our two-man race. Maybe he was just calling my bluff, I don’t know. But I had to follow. As I pushed uphill in the rain to save what little energy I had only ten miles in, he slowly rode away and I felt alone for the first time in the race. I’d enjoyed riding alone for so many miles before that and at times I wanted to break away from Alex simply to ride alone again, but after the first week’s fatigue I wasn’t up to putting more than relatively brief, almost futile gaps between us and I also enjoyed his company.
The Divide racers’ dilemma perhaps, you need a strong head to race the entire route solo, refusing any company. Further up the trail I found half of the small bag of trail mix that a couple on quad bikes had given us earlier. Alex had split it and left it clearly on the trail… “This really was half, honest! : ) ” it said on the bag. Riding alone was losing its appeal, tough times are better faced as a team but this was a solo race and more so now than before it really felt like a serious, solo race for me.
Dark, irrational thoughts closed in and I thought I may end up losing a few places as I walked, then stumbled, for miles and miles to the next potential food supply but my decision had been made and only I could affect the outcome or take the blame.
It turns out that years of long rides and often-poor pace management had taught me a lot about managing “the bonk” and by eating a tiny amount every twenty minutes I eventually stabilized and perhaps much of my lethargy was due to altitude, or caution-induced. I then had a reckless moment when I ate more than half of my only cliff bar in one go and as the sun went down my energy returned. I caught Alex shortly after turning my lights on and we rode together until we emerged onto a five-mile road climb between the wilderness/forest park areas at around 11 p.m.
It felt like a fairly lucky escape but there were still 50 or more miles to go before any hope of resupply. I was pretty sure that the first possible source of food would be shut anyway, as often had been the way. “Don’t get your hopes up”. I chose to bivi there and rest despite saying earlier that pushing on through the night was a good plan, since by then it was a clear night and getting colder and shivering costs calories. My thin but cosy down bag and cushy Neo-air mat was calling again. Alex had only a bivi bag and down jacket so he pushed on to the next shelter which turned out to be only six miles away. We remained within an hour or less of each other but all I knew the next morning was that I was following his tracks again.
The next day in the town of Abiqui I bought the Divider’s breakfast of two double cheeseburgers each with fries, a large milkshake and large Coke but only after being unable to get any cash at a post office and riding past two cash-only shops over the previous 30 miles. I was also caught at the post office by Liam Crowley who may not have got the friendly hello he deserved from this tired, run-down rider. Sorry Liam… He then gave me a spare bar in a generous offer that I won’t forget.
From that point on, I saw a lot more of Liam. He’d been behind us for almost a week but something had lit his fire and he was riding well, he’d closed a half-day or more gap with what must have been a tough all-nighter across the Cruces Basin from Platoro, a big effort that didn’t seem to cost him in the long term.
In the final miles of our Tour Divide we passed each other as we napped separately for an hour or so or paused at food or water points within 125 miles of the finish. I wanted to ride right through to the finish but sleep deprivation was building and mild, continual hallucinations affected me and falling asleep on the bike for brief moments happened too regularly. Waking and swerving across the road without crashing showed how in tune you can get with your bike after 17 days of almost continual riding but there was a real risk that I’d crash out of the race within sight of the finish.
I had an hour and a half’s sleep under a tree as light rain continued to fall and was back on the bike soon after 4:30 a.m. As dawn broke across the beautiful final desert stretch I was riding strongly but following in Alex and Liam’s tire tracks. Passed Separ, I saw no tracks and got my head down for the last 65 miles of road to Antelope Wells. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized I really was going to finish the Tour Divide, relief that it was almost over was mixed with sadness of a journey’s end, something magical grasped.
I thought I may be about to finish third, unthinkable to me really despite having spent a number of days between third and fourth position and as good as that thought felt, I tried not to dwell on it. It just didn’t seem possible. When I saw two dots behind me on the horizon I upped my pace to my limit, I felt good that morning and thought I could hold the pace for another 35 miles to the finish but whether I actually could, I’m not sure.
My 34×12 top gear was good for a speed that was about as high as a rider with 2,800 miles in their legs could maintain, but Alex slowly reeled me in. I sat up and we regrouped as Liam joined us. For a few miles the pace dwindled and we joked about all of us being caught again as we slowed up – half seriously, as we knew Brian Pal (top US rider that year) had been riding strongly and gaining ground in the last few days.
A truck drove past and pulled into the road side. A big guy in a checked shirt, Texan hat and suspenders got out and stood in the center of the road. His pose was pure wild-west, ready to draw. As we rolled up to him he smiled and held out cans of cold condensation-dripping Coke. Lloyd and Roger Payne, thank you for the best welcome committee possible. Racing was off the cards as we drank two cold Cokes each, then it went back on the agenda as a final sprint was mentioned.
From the one mile out roadside marker.
We were at mile three and I was itching to go. I did feel good, but I was tired enough not to realize that my 34×12 top gear wasn’t going to get me past either Liam or Alex on a flat road. But finishing as racers was the only fitting way to finish, there wasn’t to be any joint-placings among us.
By the time we wound up the sprint, I was back in 5th spot watching the others ride away over the last few hundred yards. It wasn’t a welcome sight yet somehow places mattered less to me then. In the early days I was elated to be top 10, as I moved up the field the only place that mattered was the one I held then and the racing had motivated the best riding I’d done. Ranking mattered less to me than how we’d ridden and coped with the challenges, racing all the way yet happy to ride together when our timing and pace matched.
I’d stuck to my no outside-influence bike service and sleep-out-every-night plans and had nothing but pride and satisfaction for how the race had gone. I’d finished, after all. As much as I’d have turned myself inside out to have got third place, Alex truly deserved his podium spot and at the time I’d have traded that cliff bar with Liam for a place any day. The 17 days had gone by in a blur of huge vistas and wide-eyed discovery, tiredness and endorphins and massive appetites. I’d ridden in sublime places with great people and seen how welcoming small-town American people could be toward tired, smelly bike racers with accents they rarely could place. I’d met Kirsten at Brush Mountain Lodge and Megan and Clay at the Toaster house for not much more than an hour or two and it had felt like I’d known them for years. All the fatigue and pain that was to follow as my body went into a minor breakdown a few hours after finishing were worth it.
And I’m looking forward to tomorrow – unboxing my Jones, simply lubing the chain and riding my local trails again.
See more of James’ photos from his trip in his Flickr gallery.Tweet
By Adam Newman and Jon Pratt
We’ve written about the Great Allegheny Passage trail a number of times, after all, it’s right in our own backyard (read some here and here). This past weekend the GAP celebrated its completion, connecting downtown Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, and beyond to Washington D.C. via the C&O Canal Towpath.
The trail was, of course, once a railroad, but when it was sold by the Western Maryland Railroad in the 1970s, new ideas began to sprout. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy purchased a 26-mile stretch of railroad between Connellsville and Confluence in 1978. The 9-mile trail from Ohiopyle to Ramcat opened in 1986. People loved it. By 2001 the corridor had an official name: The Great Allegheny Passage.
Countless individuals and several local advocacy groups and sponsors along the corridor have worked for more than three decades to make it happen, and finally on June 15, 2013, the trail reached Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
To celebrate, Bicycle Times photographer Jon Pratt made the trek from Washington to Pittsburgh and documented his journey:
The Great Falls On The Potomac River, 15 Miles Outside Of Washington, D.C.
The Desert Rose Cafe in Williamsport, Maryland, is a great, bicycle-friendly place to grab a bite to eat. We were happy to get out of the rain and mud.
The Paw Paw Tunnel is one of the most famous, and darkest, spots along the C&O Canal Towpath.
In Cumberland, Maryland, the C&O Canal ends and the Great Allegheny Passage begins.
After the more than 20 mile climb out of Cumberland, you’re rewarded with spectacular views from Big Savage Mountain.
It’s nice to know it’s all downhill from here!
Crossing the Salisbury Viaduct—1,908 feet spanning the Casselman River Valley outside Meyersdale, Pa.
Naturally we stopped at the Wilderness Voyageurs’ Beer And Gear Festival In Ohiopyle, Pa.
The Roundbottom Campground has plenty of trees for hammocks, and even a few shelters to sleep in.
The final stretch that needed attention was a few hundred yards near the Sandcastle water park. Now it is paved and the point is made!Tweet
By Jeremy Kershaw
The Trans Iowa is many different things. Speaking for myself, but I think many would agree, the race is a once-a-season phenomenon. It is a marker by which the rest of the year is gauged. You are either preparing for the T.I. or recovering from it… physically and emotionally. The high that I received from finishing last year endured many months afterward. This year, I will try to roll away optimistic, philosophical, but also more than a little disappointed. To me, that shows the gravity of this wild gravel race across Iowa farmland.
The wonder of the T.I. lies in the many different parts that build the whole of the event. There are the obvious: months and miles of base hopefully laid down beforehand. In the Northland, that means hours spent riding cold, wet and often snowy conditions in order to gain a little spring time endurance fitness, or worse, more-than-I-can-remember spins on the indoor trainer watching cartoons so that I could pretend I was kind of parenting and training at the same time.
Then there is the bike prep. This year, that meant endless emails to fellow singlespeed racers trying to guess as to what would be the best gear ratio for such a long race and exceptionally hilly one at that. Going singlespeed represented to me an analogy similar to mountain climbing high peaks without oxygen. Why not up it a notch, the already crazy challenge, into the just plain insane? I chose a 40×19 gear this year. It was probably as near to perfect as I could hope for.
There is the palpable sense of togetherness at the dinner the night before the race. So many genuinely good people about to share in an adventure that will test everyone of them to their limits.
Laying in the hotel bed the night before, watching the Weather Channel or The Simpsons, knowing full well that you have to be awake and ready to go by 2 a.m. That mix of fear and excitement makes for an extremely fitful few hours of rest.
Then, 90 riders, all with their white headlights and red flashing taillights on, huddle together at the start line in downtown Grinnell. Guitar Ted informs us of last minute changes. Confident handshakes and words of encouragement as brakes are tested, computers zeroed-out and tired eyes look blankly ahead into the darkness.
For about a mile, even the slowest rider can be up front, leading the pack through the first few turns out of town. You feel like a real bike racer. Hell, I can win this thing if I really had a good day!
The first crunch of limestone rock under the tires. A few unsecured water bottles already fly into the ditch. Many riders are very experienced with the jolt that riding "gravel" induces on the bike and the body. A few are already suffering the cruel facts of life on these rough farm roads. Too much air pressure in the tires equals exceptionally squirrely handling. Too little, and you risk suffering a pinch flat. Just right means a compromise between some form of air comfort and a rim dinged from tennis ball sized rock.
A quick look back and you realize that the race is on. A long string of lights rattling through the predawn darkness. In only minutes, though, I find myself in my own little pocket of speed. How is it possible that no one else is going the same pace as me? I know this will change as the day goes on. Alliances will be forged. New friendships made. But for now, quiet time, alone and many many miles to go.
Frogs. Lots and lots of frogs doing their spring chorus from the roadside ditches and marshes. If there is one thing I love about riding in the wee hours of the morning and night it is the sounds of birds and frogs. I never feel lonely when I hear them. I remember two years ago walking along a ditch of a "B" road ("unmaintained"), shoes filled with mud, grass and water, bike caked with ten pounds of Iowa’s finest black dirt, headlamps turned on trying to see through the foggy darkness of predawn. And the chorus of frogs was the only soundtrack supporting this scene of chaos. Millions of them. I wonder if anyone else noticed. How lucky we all were to be out there covered in shit, serenaded by amphibian music.
This year, we are graced by a nearly full moon preparing to set, sheets of early morning fog hanging over the low-lands, and a sun just dying to rise on a rare, clear Iowa countryside. I have my small camera along, tucked in my jersey pocket. I nearly die from the missed opportunities of images that I could have captured only if I had stopped and taken the time to shoot. It is a dream landscape. A scene where a thousand pictures could be made, ready for local bank calenders, chamber of commerce flyers, and stock photo galleries to showcase the pastoral beauty of rural Iowa. It was one of those mornings that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Huh…I’m still by myself. That’s OK. I don’t want to have to worry about going too fast right now anyway.
The first checkpoint. On these long races, you have to force yourself to ride checkpoint to checkpoint. It’s just too long otherwise. The T.I. racers are lucky to have some of the best volunteers in cycling. After my first 50 miles of alone time, it’s nice to see people again. Shed layers. Remove gravel from socks. Stretch. Swap out a fresh bag of cue cards. Clip in and go again.
Cue cards. An icon for these gravel races. Count them. Make sure they are all there. Without them, you are one turned around fool in farmland. I race to checkpoints, but I really race to the bottom of a cue card. A small victory every time you get to the last turn of the card and flip a new on top. A huge victory when you see you are on your last one.
Convenience stores. In this edition of the T.I., that meant Casey’s General Stores. Now, I love the science of sports nutrition and endurance physiology, and there have been tremendous strides taken in educating the average cyclist about what to eat and when, but I am seriously waiting for someone to write a manual on how real gravel endurance cyclists eat. It ain’t by the book.
Pizza slices? No problem. Coca Cola? Sure. Cinnamon rolls, Cheeze-it’s, Hot Tomales, chocolate milk, Peanut Nut Rolls…if you can keep it down then you win the game of ultra nutrition. A convenient store on course is like a little Christmas every 60 miles. A time to eat, socialize, stare blankly out into space while stuffing a bag of chips in your face. And lots of very friendly old farmers wondering where you are going and why you are going by gravel road instead of by Pontiac.
Back on the road, after a stop, there is a small period of re-acclimation. There is never the ability to replace what you are burning in calories. But for about 15 minutes, you have a vague feeling that you should not have eaten that last fruit pie.
Time to think. About important life decisions. Hours to re-plan your life and make mental check lists of things you are going to change when you get home. Actually, that’s kind of bullshit. Really, it’s some damn cartoon song that is stuck on repeat in your head. Dora the Explorer must DIE!
At mile 120 my butt begins to feel a bit chafed. Nothing serious. I wonder about about other rider’s butts. Does anyone really escape this thing without undercarriage damage? Does anyone really have the perfect saddle? Except for those fools riding their precious Brooks antiques. (I actually covet one and I think they may be the ONLY ones with intact butts at the end of the T.I.)
At mile 160 I feel the first and maybe the most ominous sign of bodily frailty. Rather out of nowhere, my left knee feels weak while standing on a climb. Then, a few miles down the road, both my knees feel weak while riding the flats. I think it will go away. But deep down I know this is not good—especially with no other lower gears to fall into.
Really? Still alone? I could have sworn there were other riders this year…
If I were a mathematician, I would probably win the Nobel Prize. Why? For naming the phenomenon that exists when you realize that your diminishing speed, coupled with a distance less than 10 miles, will always mean that it will take a half hour to reach the final checkpoint. I think there are probably still a few riders trapped out there in this black hole of time-space-cornfield.
The call of shame. It is both a curse and a blessing to have a Casey’s store only a couple of miles from the last checkpoint. For sure it represents an oasis in which to re-fuel and warm up. (This one looked like a cross between a bike swap and a homeless shelter. I think I watched a man fully change kits at the end of the candy aisle) It is also a spider web of defeat to those that get trapped within the sticky grasp of more pizza, bright lights and a place where your support crew might be able to find you.
I called Guitar Ted and informed him that I was done. I paced the sidewalk for a good 20 minutes before dialing the number. There followed an acute feeling of disappointment. Failure. A general sense of "what does it all mean". And a fleeting wave of relief.
This year I stopped riding at mile mark 180. I had ridden alone for nearly all of the 15 hours I was in the saddle. I chose to go singlespeed this year. The muscles surrounding both my knees, ten miles before the last checkpoint at mile 170, simply started to fatigue to the point that I couldn’t stand and pedal without a sense of impending buckling. I just couldn’t see making another 150 miles. So I called in and ended my bid for a second T.I. finish.
The importance of races of this grandeur can not be minimized. The Trans Iowa is a study in perseverance. Endurance. Cycling community. Hope. Breakdown. And a dusty stage to act out one’s own dreams of being a gravel god(ess).
Thank you, Guitar Ted, for creating and producing the Trans Iowa.Tweet
By Adam Newman
Jeff Jones isn’t afraid to think outside the box. In fact, it’s safe to say he probably isn’t concerned about the box at all. He has been designing and building his own unique brand of non-suspended mountain bikes that have made the pages (and pixels) of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, for years.
In recent years, Jones has brought a production version of his bike to market and after we reviewed it as a mountain bike, he pointed out that it is just as versatile on the road as on the trail. Since a couple of the staff use 29er mountain bikes with slick tires as all-purpose commuters and touring bikes, the idea struck a chord.
The $850 Jones diamond frame and fork feature everything a touring cyclist could need: rack and fender mounts; room for fat, comfy tires; three water bottle cage mounts; a shorter effective top tube and high, comfortable handlebars. Those handlebars are another of Jones’ original creations, a loop shape that puts your hands at a relaxed 45 degrees and creates a platform for carrying gear.
One of the key elements of what makes the bike unique in mountain bike mode is the ability to use a 29er front wheel or a 26×4.8 fat bike front wheel. As such, the fork is a specially designed unit that uses a 135mm fat bike front hub. When laced to a 29er/700c rim, it creates an especially strong front wheel that tracks straight, even when loaded. The rims are Velocity’s Blunt 35 that measure a huge 35mm wide and give the 29×2.35 Schwalbe Big Apple balloon tires even more cushion. Propulsion is provided by a Shimano 2×10 XT group that is geared low enough for even the steepest hills.
I packed up the panniers and the specially-designed frame bag that Jones sent us to try and had a great weekend riding and camping along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. While I wasn’t setting any speed records, the big tires and relaxed fit kept me cruising in comfort.
We’ll be putting the Jones through its paces all summer as we explore the countryside. One thing we’ll be paying close attention to is how the Jones fits a variety of riders, as it is only available in one size. The setup you see here is for my 6-foot-2 self.
Watch for it to make more appearances on bicycletimesmag.com and for a long-term review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss an issue!Tweet
By Karen Brooks
Quite a long name, eh? But it tells you what you’re getting, pretty much.
This was to be the bike for my second annual trip to and/or from the National Bike Summit, along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails, back in March. Alas, it was not to be. We got extremely lucky with the weather last year, but this year we got cold temps and snow before the Bike Summit, and yet more snow—heavy, wet snow, and lots of it—afterward. Bummer. Still, I’ve been having a good time on this bike just doing my normal commute plus some extra-curricular riding around.
It’s nice to see that a big company like Specialized has not totally abandoned steel as a frame material, especially for an all-rounder bike like this. Some of the other current TriCross models, as well as past versions, rely on Zertz vibration-damping inserts at key points to soften the ride of their aluminum frames. But to me, and a lot of other classic aficionados (or retro-grouches, if you prefer), steel makes sense for smoothing out the ride, in a refined and comprehensive way.
Indeed, this bike is smooth and unflappable. As you can tell from the dust and splashes in the photos, I’ve been riding it in some dirt and gravel. The Body Geometry bar tape with gel padding helps keep that smooth feeling without being too fat. I dig the integrated bell on the top brake lever. I also dig the no-nonsense graphics — the bike looks sleek and serious.
It’s been a while since I rode a bike with a triple crank, mountain or road. I had to really concentrate not to end up in the big/big gear combo. Funny how quickly we forget… But the granny ring has come in handy for traversing my local park via singletrack trails as well as the wider gravel paths.
The bike’s Avid BB5 brakes were doing a weird pulsing thing for a while. It almost felt as though the rotors were of uneven thickness, or as though I’d gotten a wad of gum stuck to one. But the pads looked fine, and so did the rotors — I went so far as to measure them with calipers. (Any excuse to get out the more esoteric tools!) After consulting with Specialized and with Avid, I’m gonna chalk it up to contamination of some sort. I swapped pads and rotors and have had no trouble since.
It looks like I’m going to go on a long ride with this bike after all, at least for a day—from our HQ in Pittsburgh to Raystown Lake for the Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, 130 miles. This is the kind of bike that encourages such impromptu adventures.
Check out the full review coming up in issue #23.Tweet
By adding a new section of U.S. Bicycle Route 45 in Minnesota, Route 76 in Missouri, and realignments for Route 76 in Kentucky, the U.S. Bicycle Route System now encompasses 5,616 miles of official routes in 10 states. The changes were announced today by the Adventure Cycling Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
The routes are currently found in Alaska, Kentucky, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia. Presently, more than 40 states are working to create U.S. Bicycle Routes.
Minnesota: U.S. Bicycle Route 45
With the completion of the middle section through Minneapolis and St. Paul, U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR) 45 now runs the entire length of the Mississippi River in Minnesota from the headwaters at Itasca State Park in northwestern Minnesota to the Iowa border. Also known as the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), USBR 45 spans 700 miles, with route options on both sides of the river in certain sections.
The northern segment of USBR 45, designated in October 2012, begins in Itasca State Park, where the river originates as a small stream. The route then travels through the north woods and past numerous lakes, to Bemidji, Cass Lake, Grand Rapids, Brainerd, Little Falls, and St. Cloud. At Cass Lake, bicyclists have an off-road option to travel roughly 100 miles on the Heartland State Trail and Paul Bunyan State Trail.
These routes merge in Brainerd, where the river widens and the land opens into farmland. The newly approved middle segment passes through the Twin Cities Metropolitan area and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area — a 72-mile-long park managed by the National Park Service. Much of the route is on bike paths with scenic views. This segment of the route offers opportunities to connect with great restaurants, museums, parks, and festivals along the river.
The southern segment, which was designated in May 2012, extends from just south of the Twin Cities Metro area in Hastings to the Iowa border. Also known as the Mississippi Bluffs segment of the MRT, this section includes bicycle-friendly roads and multi-use paths that closely follow the Mississippi River through steep limestone bluffs and hardwood forests.
Detailed maps and information are available to print, or access via smart phone or GPS unit, at www.mndot.gov/bike/mrt.
Missouri: U.S. Bicycle Route 76
Missouri’s newly approved U.S. Bicycle Route 76, also known as the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, begins at the Mississippi River in Chester, Illinois, traversing 348.5 miles before exiting the state 28 miles west of Golden City. The route passes through the hilly Ozark Mountains then levels out toward the western end of the state. Considered by geologists to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, the Ozark Range consists of deeply eroded hills, which are blanketed by hardwoods and pines, small farms, and numerous rivers.
Farmington, a mid-sized town along the route, is a bicycle-friendly community featuring a local bike shop, TransAm Cyclery, and the TransAm Inn, a hostel known affectionately as Al’s Place. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park on the East Fork of the Black River offers a spectacular demonstration of Mother Nature’s hydraulics in a series of rock chutes and channels — a must stop for swimming.
The route also passes through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park created to protect the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, and the scenic Alley Mill, or "Old Red Mill" history museum located in Alley Spring. In western Missouri, the route intersects the 35-mile Frisco Highline Trail in the small town of Walnut Grove. Before leaving the state, cyclists should be sure to stop at Cooky’s Cafe in Golden City to sample one of their homemade pies.
The Missouri Department of Transportation will begin installing USBR 76 signs along the route later this summer.
Kentucky: U.S. Bicycle Route 76 Realignments
In Kentucky, U.S. Bike Route 76 spans 563.7 miles, entering the state near Elkhorn City and leaving at the Ohio River crossing via the Cave In Rock ferry. The route, which was originally designated in 1982, had not been documented electronically at AASHTO and was in need of some updates. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet did a thorough review of the route across the state and submitted realignments for the route based on their Bicycle Level of Service Model for rural roads. Adventure Cycling Association plans to adopt these same realignments for its TransAmerica Bicycle Trail.
Kentucky’s U.S. Bike Route 76 passes through a variety of terrain from the steep Appalachian Mountains in the east, and the hilly, wooded Cumberland Plateau to the rolling, fertile farmland of the Bluegrass Region. Berea, known as the gateway to the Appalachian Mountains and coal mining, is a notable highlight, home to Berea College as well as several museums.
On the route, cyclists will pass the Lincoln Homestead State Park, and they can access the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site by taking a short side trip off the route. Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest explored cave system in the world, is 40 miles south of the route but well worth the ride. The Rough River Dam State Park offers boat rides on the reservoir and bird watching opportunities. Once cyclists reach the Bluegrass Region, they will be treated to white-fenced horse farms and quaint towns known for their antique shops, country dining, and southern country hospitality.
About the U.S. Bicycle Route System
The U.S. Bicycle Route System is a developing national network of bicycle routes, which will serve as visible and well-planned trunk lines for connecting city, regional, and statewide cycling routes, offering transportation and tourism opportunities across the country. Adventure Cycling Association has provided dedicated staff support to the project since 2005, including research support, meeting coordination, and technical guidance for states implementing routes. Work on the U.S. Bicycle Route System is highly collaborative and involves officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, natural resource agencies, and nonprofit organizations including the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc.
AASHTO’s support for the project is crucial to earning the support of federal and state agencies and provides a major boost to bicycling and route development for non-motorized transportation. Securing approval for numbered designation from AASHTO is a required step for all U.S. Bicycle Routes. AASHTO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing highway and transportation departments in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. A powerful voice in the transportation sector, AASHTO’s primary goal is to foster the development of an integrated national transportation system.
Support for the U.S. Bicycle Route System comes from Adventure Cycling members, donors, and a group of business sponsors that participate in its annual Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. fundraiser each May. The U.S. Bicycle Route System is also supported in part by grants from the Lazar Foundation, New Belgium Brewing, Climate Ride, and the Tawani Foundation.
When complete, the U.S. Bicycle Route System will be the largest official bike route network on the planet, encompassing more than 50,000 miles of routes. Learn more at www.adventurecycling.org/usbrs.
By Adam Newman
Here at Bicycle Times our portable potables come in all shapes and sizes. We’re never on a ride without some sort of liquid nourishment, usually water, often coffee, and sometimes something even more potent.
Pictured here are three types of water bottles we often carry, and some new bottle cages designed to carry them. From left we have one of our very own stainless steel water bottles made by Kleen Kanteen and available in our online store (hint, hint), a typical 32 oz. Nalgene bottle, a standard Bicycle Times water bottle (also available), and finally an 8 oz. Stanley flask emblazoned with the logo of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.
First up is the TwoFish QuickCage ($25), a standard-sized bottle cage that uses a rubber bumper and a robust Velcro strap to secure it to any round surface. The latest version is made from stainless steel, and is plastic dipped with a rubber texture to prevent slipping and scratching on our nice, shiny Kleen Kanteen bottles.
The XL Quick Cage ($32) is designed for the larger water bottles on the market such as this Nalgene. It too is made from plastic dipped stainless steel and has two straps for security.
Now let’s step it up to something a little more festive, with this stainless steel flask cage from King Cage. Made by hand in Colorado like all of King Cage’s products, it is designed specifically to fit these Stanley flasks. It retails for $22.
Beverages are of course important, but when you’re touring, so is food! You can carry a camp stove along with this prototype of the King Cage Manything cage—it can’t carry anything, but it can carry many things.
What’s important to note here is that like other cargo cages, this one is designed to mount in three, equally spaced bottle cage eyelets, which we don’t have on any of our bikes. I mounted here with two bolts just to demonstrate. The old adage applies: do as I say, not as I do.
Anyway, the stove—in this case a Jetboil Flash—is secured with toe straps. Other items like large water bottles, sleeping pads, stuff sacks and more could also be used. This design isn’t finalized yet but we’re going to try it out and let you know as soon as it is.
Now you can carry ALL THE THINGS!
Special thanks to the lovely Surly Krampus for being our model today.Tweet