BLBBRBK: January 26, 2014

BLBBRBK 2014 is a Go.

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Full details on the Facebook Event Page.

January 26, 2014.

BLBBRBK is ON. And there will be a Slemans start.

What is BLBBRBK?

A Fatbike ride (race?) in Campton Hills, Illinois. Details on exact location will be forthcoming, as we want to keep the venue secret-ish at present. What do you need to know:

1) Bike Requirements: Fatbike. For our purposes, we’ll take 29+ (that means 29×3 or larger) and traditional 26″ fat bikes (3.7″ or wider tires). If you show up with skinnier tires, you won’t ride. (Also, see #5 below). (If you don’t have access to a fatbike and want to ride, let us know. We have great local bike shops that will gladly sell you one).

2) Teams: Plan on 2 person teams, with 2 bikes per team. If you don’t have a team, show up and we’ll get you one.

3) Format: The race will be a few mile circuit of forest, doubletrack, single track, prairie and awesomeness. Each team will have to complete 5 consecutive laps. The final lap has to be ridden TOGETHER, and you have to be touching your partner as you cross the finish line. (Hopefully, you’ll be touching in a PG fashion). But for the first 4 laps, you can ride together, you can take turns, or you can have one glutton do all first 4 laps. You will check in on each lap, at the start/finish line. Plan on laps taking 10-15 minutes.

4) Facilities: We will have a parking lot, a building with a roof, a blazing fire, and all-season toilets. We will not have running water, food or other amenities. Bring what ya need, folks. (Note: this will be on public land, so open display of alcohol is verboten).

5) Sled: You will need at least one sled for each team. You will need the sled for the Slemans start. What is a Slemans start? See the glossary below.

Expect more details in the coming weeks. For now, mark your calendars, folks. We are planning this as a snow or no snow event. (If there’s no snow, the sledding part will be interesting).

Glossary:

Lemaze: A breathing method for women in labor.

Lemond: A famous cyclist who is loved/hated.

Lemans: A famous automobile race, wherein the drivers start the race by running to their cars, hopping in, and roaring off. This type of start has been adapted to bicycle racing by having riders run to their bikes, hop on, and ride off.

Slemans: A bicycle race starting technique where you sled down a steep hill, get on your bicycle, and then ride your bicycle up said steep hill to start the race.

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Beargrease Love

I am in love with my Beargrease.  Today, the day after Christmas, I rolled out early to hit the snow before dawn.  12 degrees, little to no wind, and a few inches of wind-driven snow.  I hit some gravel roads that were unplowed and untracked, and enjoyed the solitude of snow-covered tires crunch-munching through driftlets.  I hit the forest preserve and churned through deeper snow, finding that in many areas, the crust would support me and allow me to ride through ridiculously deep drifts.  I ran a few errands in full snowbiking regalia, and generally had an awesome time.

When the air is cold and the snow is powdery, if you ride fast enough, your tires throw up a little shimmering cloud of powder coming off of the tread.  It’s mesmerizing.

I have nothing but praise for the Beargrease.  I haven’t had a bad ride on it.  For my early worries about the 28T chainring, it’s perfect for snow.  For the summer, I might throw a 30 or 32T on there to have a bit more top end, but e-gads it’s fun with the stock gearing in the winter.

Snowbiking allows me to use some of my favorite gear–my Wolvhammers, my Gore stuff, and my Salsa Beargrease.

Get out and ride.

You Down with I-C-E?

Yeah, you know me.

We’ve had some interesting weather over the past week.  We started with 5-6″ of accumulated snow, followed up by some warmer weather and rain, and then another cold freeze.  That left just a couple of inches of snow, with an ice rime on top of it.  If you were breaking through the rime, it was challenging riding (essentially, fatbike icebreakers, putting most of your effort into constantly breaking the snowy crust).

Anywhere there wasn’t snow, it was just ice…like this:

I don’t have studded tires, as we don’t have much call for them here in Illinois.  Riding on glare ice is…well…challenging.  So when BPaul and I struck out on Saturday, we headed for the snowy bits, and hit a local forest preserve.

Honestly, riding in that small amount of crusty snow is harder than riding in 6″ of powder.

In the Carbon Beargrease realm, my Beargrease is now sporting XTR brakes and ENVE handlebars, courtesy of my former Superfly.

I ended up running about 3-3.5psi, and at that pressure, I could float on the ice rime.

Note the substantial tire deformation.  I was probably running a little bit too low…but as you can see, I wasn’t breaking through the ice.

Areas that had ice-hardened footprints were not terribly comfortable to ride.

This is the scene of last year’s Fatbike Faceplant.  If you haven’t seen that video, you should.  Everyone should.

This year, it was frozen enough that I was able to ride across with only minimal breaking through of the ice.

Here’s the Beargrease in service.

Check out that rear tire pressure…

Frozen lakebed FTW.

Yes, those are Wolvhammers and Gore Alp-X Magic Pants.  If you look close, you can see Gore WS Thermo Lobster gloves.

Then, BPaul got on the Beargrease.  Me thinks that he’d need just a little more tire pressure in the rear…

A bleak, damp day.  Crappy, crusty snow.  Not terribly beautiful terrain.

And yet, ridiculously fun.  Way more fun than we had a right to expect.  I’ve ridden in some pretty crappy conditions on the Beargrease this year, and I haven’t had a bad ride yet.  It’s an amazingly fun bike, and I look forward to continuing to spend more time in the saddle.

Doing It Right.

I may be a bit unhappy that the SRAM Red Hydros on my Moots are currently under a DNR (do-not-ride) order–in fact yes, I am definitely unhappy about that–but I want to drop a word of thanks.

I have no issues calling out companies when I think they need criticism or redirection (and hey, Outside Online just called me a “well-known columnist” with “fairly clear sighted commentary”), but that’s not what today’s post is about.  Today’s post is to commend SRAM, just a little bit.  Again, I’m not happy about a high-profile product failure, but I am happy about their response.

The first thing they did was let their dealers know.

The second thing they did was set up a very easy-to-use website to provide information about the status of the recall.  I wish there was more information on the website, but it looks as if they’re telling what they know.

Third, the President of SRAM is personally owning the situation.  There’s a fair amount of criticism of SRAM buzzing on the webs, alleging a history of releasing products that are not ready for primetime.  My own past SRAM experience has been positive, running Rival on the Vaya for several years in grueling conditions, and running SRAM drivetrains on my fat and mountain bikes with great success, but not everyone has been that lucky.  So with a premium product that is failing very soon after its release, it would be easy for SRAM to have a public relations calamity here.  It would be easy for them to walk into a situation where they worsen their problems by either remaining silent or saying the wrong thing.

I’m writing today to say that SRAM is doing it right, in taking the bull by the horns, acknowledging the problem, apologizing personally and in a sincere fashion, and then committing to a global resolution to a challenging problem.  It’s encouraging to see an industry giant make a mistake and then do the right things to fix it.  Don’t get me wrong; I wish they hadn’t made the mistake in the first place.  But it has happened, they are working to fix it, and they’re being transparent about the process.  That’s a pretty awesome response to a pretty daunting problem.  I don’t necessarily know any more about how things will be resolved, or if I’ll be happy with the ultimate resolution, but I feel better knowing that at present, I know everything that there is to know about the situation. I feel better seeing daily updates on the recall website, even if they are just to say “we’re working on it.”  So in contrast to some other companies’ early silence in the face of problems, kudos to SRAM for owning their problems.  Mr. Day is right–these are high-profile bikes at high-profile dealers, and as the owner of one of the bikes, this is personal.  I appreciate his acknowledgment of the problem.

I don’t envy the position of big companies.  There is risk inherent in silence, and there is risk inherent in speaking and saying the wrong thing.  I believe that it’s better to say something–even if you don’t know what to say–to reassure customers that you’re working on the issue.  Whatever you say cannot be as bad as what the public fills the void with if you remain silent.  Keep talking, SRAM.  And thank you, Mr. Day, for speaking up personally.  That’s the model that the industry should emulate.

(I don’t mean to suggest that every time a company has a hiccup or a product recall that their president needs to go online and take a personal beating.  I don’t expect a call from the president every time I have a product warranty issue.  But on big, high-profile issues, it’s the right move.  Big, high-profile issues should be rare enough that a message from the President is an unusual move that shows a serious commitment to resolving the big problem).

In other news, yesterday marked the 2 year anniversary of the blog.  In that time, well over half of a million people have viewed these hallowed pages, and daily readership is increasing on a…well…daily basis.  When I look back at the early posts, I’m somewhat surprised by the combination of chutzpah and naiveté.  I’m only now starting to realize how much I don’t know.  To celebrate, I’m going to ride my Salsa Beargrease tonight.  As I hit the deep snow and shift down into the low gears on my SRAM XX1 drivetrain, I’ll be happy to be in the saddle, and happy to see a positive move in the bike industry.  So far, SRAM’s response is a model for other companies to learn from.  Hopefully, that positive trend continues.

I don’t say this often, but thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing a couple of minutes with me from time to time.

What Price Innovation?

I recently heard some chatter from the bike industry about the price of innovation.  I’m generally a tech-oriented guy.  I like new technology.  I like the latest and greatest.  I haven’t yet reached my retro-grouch stage, although I recognize that it will come at some point in my future if I follow the traditional cyclist trajectory.

Our discussion was brought on by a talk about the latest disappointment from the cycling industry.  After last week’s trademark debacle, I was hoping for good and positive news this week.  And then this.

SRAM Recalls all Road Hydraulic Brakes.

That irks me quite a substantial bit because I have these:

Installed on this:

SRAM’s notice says that all umpteen-thousand sets of hydraulic road brakes that they’ve sold, for disc and rim use, must not only be recalled, but must “stop use immediately.”  That essentially means that the Moots is currently shelved.  I’ll be curious to see how this is ultimately resolved, and at the very least, the good news is that it’s currently fatbike season in Illinois.  If it wasn’t, I’d be pretty steamed.

The bike industry chatter I heard suggested that there are basically two different ways to bring products to market: 1) innovate and bring product early, resulting in failures that are recalled and replaced, using the market to do your quality control; or, 2) test, test, test, and bring your product to market late…ending up with a quality product but one that is no longer innovative.

I’ve gotta tell you, as a consumer, both of those options suck.  Is it unreasonable to expect  that a $2,000 or more set of components will work when you put them on a bike?  Is it unreasonable to expect that new products can be released and will be innovative and reliable?  I don’t think I really need to write a long blog post explaining that my expectation is that new products released by major manufacturers will be thoroughly tested and reasonably safe to use–but some in the industry apparently don’t share that same belief.  I went hydro because of the benefits of hydro, and in the process, I’ve been sold on the 11 speed setup.  But if you had told me that my setup would be dangerous to use after only 4 months of use…there’s no way I would have made the switch.

What price are we willing to pay innovation?  I’m seeing, more and more, that it isn’t just the up-front investment…it’s the long-term hassle.  And let me tell you, Shimano is looking better and better.

The Need for Bigger Knards.

Short post today…

I’ve had the chance to spend quite a bit of time around Krampii.  I’ve seen Chad do amazing things on mountain bike trails, and I’ve seen Brendan horse one through pretty horrendous mud at Brown County, and now blast down some serious snow action.  The Krampus is the 29+ bike…tires that are marketed as being essentially 29×3.  Looking at tire clearance on the bike, it looks like there’s room for 29×3.5″ tires.

In mud and wet clay, the Knards ball up pretty quickly.  On wet trails, they’re relatively slippery on leaves and roots.  In snow, they’re simply not aggressive enough, either laterally for forward/aft.  They’re great in dry conditions, they’re great in gravel, they roll fast, etc.  The mini-Knard (700c) version makes a lot of sense.  But to state the obvious, there’s a need for a maxi-Knard.

We need a 3.5″ 29+ tire with aggressive tread…a 29+ Dillinger, for example.  That’s what will be needed to take the Krampus, or the new ECR, to the next level.  Tire world, get on it!

A Treatise on Tire Direction

Seriously nerdy commentary follows.  You’ve been warned.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about running tires backwards on the rear, to increase traction.  That incited a very good question about what it means to run a tire backwards, and whether such a practice actually does anything.  Full disclosure: I’m a tire nerd.  I grew up in a family of tire nerds.  I used to sell tires.  I spend an unreasonable amount of time thinking about and looking at tires.  I notice when friends or acquaintances get new tires.  I like tires.

I also come from a farming background, where tires have a significant impact on operations.  In the past 20 years, tires have gone from a ‘replace them when they’re bald’ commodity in farm operations to a scientific undertaking.  The big Ag schools have found that proper tires on tractors can increase tractor efficiency by huge amounts.  Between varying tire brands, changing tire lug design can increase efficiency by 5-8%.  Going from worn tires to new tires can increase efficiency by double-digit percentage.  (Perversely, depending on ground conditions, installing new tires can also reduce efficiency.  For hard, dry conditions, sometimes going to new tires with big lugs can generate lug deformation and reduced traction.  Like I said…it’s complicated).  For farmers that are running thousands of acres, increasing tractive efficiency by those big jumps is HUGE.  It means burning less fuel, going faster, doing more work, and generating less tractor wear.  Also of note, farmers are not working to eliminate slip.  They measure tire slip in percentages, with 0% slip meaning that you have perfect traction (no slip) and 100% slip meaning that the tires are spinning but the tractor isn’t moving.  50% slip would mean that the tires are spinning at 5mph and the tractor is going 2.5mph.  Farmers shoot for around 8% slip with a modern 4wd tractor.  That amount of slip reduces tire wear (don’t ask me how) and reduces strain on the drivetrain.  Less slip means that you probably have too much ballast and are being too hard on the tractor (or you’re not pulling a big enough implement and are wasting fuel).

Like I said: nerd content.

With tractor tires, the ‘direction’ of rotation is clear.  The tires have big bar lugs and you install those to “point forward” when viewed from the top.  Here’s an example.  Note that on front and rear tires, the lugs lead in the center, and then slop rearwards

In the ag world, a lot of money is spent to develop the perfect height and profile of lug.  Firestone has staked out a position that a 23 degree angle on the lug is perfect for traction.  Other manufacturers disagree.

The purpose of the forward pointing lugs is simple: they are intended to displace mud and dig down to a hard surface.  The lugs work like shovels, pushing slop or debris out-of-the-way.

You’ll occasionally see tractor tires mounted backwards.  Usually, that means that the farmer had a flat and is running a backwards tire temporarily, or that he/she had to flip the rim around to change the wheel spacing.  When reversed, the tires are not nearly as effective for traction in a forward direction.  (It might mean that if you get stuck going forwards, you can back out of the stuck, though…)

So let’s move to bike tires, because this is still a bike blog.  In the bike tire world, some tires have pointed lugs that you can view as tractor bar tread–directional in a sense.  Here’s a good example, the Husker Du:

See how the lugs are directional?

The other thing to consider is the shape of the lugs.  On most tractor tires, the front and rear of the lug are shaped relatively similar.  On many bike tires, one side of the lug will be flat, and the other side will be ramped.  On the Husker Du above, the ‘front’ side of the lug is gently sloped and the rear side is flat.  It’s more obvious on some other tires.

Generally speaking, running with the ‘ramped’ side forward (when viewed from the top) means less rolling resistance.  Running with the ‘flat’ side forward means greater traction.

In the tractor world, as noted above, running a tire backwards decreases forward traction. In the bike world, however, we’re not necessarily trying to dig down to solid ground.  We don’t have enough horsepower or ballast to do that.  Accordingly, it is often the case that running the rear tire backwards increases traction.  For example, on the Dillingers, if you run them forwards, they look like a tractor tire.  If you run them backwards (on the rear), they’re more like a paddle…and they work better in bad conditions.

So here’s my general thoughts on tire direction.  For lowest rolling resistance, run them forwards, with the ramped side forward.  For best traction (in the rear), play around with them…but I’ve found that flat side forward, and tire pointed “reverse” often works better.  It clearly works better on the Husker Du and Dillinger.  It also works better on the Rocket Rons that I run on the Spearfish.

So after a lot of talk, here’s my recommendation: try your tires in different configurations.  Don’t be afraid to try running them backwards, don’t be afraid to try the forwards.  Mix it up.  Be a tire nerd.