Axletree: At The Center Of It All…

The cycling community in Northern Illinois is surprisingly strong.  When I started riding “seriously”, I initially rode with several different cycling clubs in the Fox Valley area.  I’ve previously blogged about how I started going to North Central Cyclery after a chance encounter with a Big Dummy in their store window.  For the past two years, I’ve participated extensively in their shop rides and special events, and have gotten to know the staff and owners very well.

North Central has done something that I think is incredibly important for the cycling community: it has supported the creation of Axletree, Inc., NFP, a Not For Profit Corporation.  That’s what today’s blog is about.  I’m proud to say that I’ve helped with the creation and organization of Axletree, and that I support its mission and goals.  (In no way am I fully or even primarily responsible for all of the cool things that it has done, or will soon do.  There’s some seriously talented people involved.  As a general rule of thumb, if it’s cool, it probably didn’t come from me.  If it involves a multi-page waiver of liability, it probably did come from me).

Axletree is a synonym for linchpin—you know, the part that holds everything together.  That metaphor is the underlying motivation for the creation of Axletree, and the driving force behind its operation.

What is the significance of a not for profit corporation, and why does it matter?  It matters for a number of reasons:

1.         Liability:  From a professional perspective, it has to be acknowledged that we live in a litigious society.  As unfortunate as that reality is, any business has to identify potential risks and determine reasonable means of mitigating them.  North Central has, in the past, put on events like the Gravel Metric…amazingly fun, challenging, creative pursuits.  As a rider, I look at the Gravel Metric as something I really want to ride and enjoy.  As a professional, I look at the potential liability associated with running such an event, and shake my head.  Utilizing a NFP to organize and operate events such as this just makes sense.  Anyone is free to sponsor the event, and many organizations, such as Salsa (and North Central itself) have stepped up to do so.  For those companies, they have assurances that the proceeds from the event will be used for non-profit purposes, and they have the assurance that there is an organization out there responsible for the event and responsible for handling the liabilities associated therewith.  When a NFP organizes and runs an event, it removes one potential barrier to the event that companies would otherwise have to give strong consideration to.

2.         Advocacy:  Bicyclists need advocates.  We need people to go out and support the need to create bike lanes, bike paths, mountain bike trails, terrain parks and other cycling related areas.  We need organizations that can do things as simple as remind public bodies to install bike racks that we can lock our bikes to, and as complicated as lobbying the state or federal government to pass laws that protect cyclists, or repeal laws that inhibit cycling.  Advocacy can be a dangerous place for a for-profit corporation to go.  If Ford came into your community and started advocating for the need for more car parking spots, a profit motivation would be clear.  Similarly, no matter how well-intentioned a bike shop might be, when a for-profit bike shop advocates for cycling amenities, they can be subject to the same criticism.  Bike shops may also be concerned about the potential for political or social fallout related to cycling advocacy.  Forming or sponsoring a NFP creates an entity that can be vocal about cyclists’ rights and needs, without necessarily reflecting upon any single supporter.  It gives local cyclists a group through which they can join their voices to create a (hopefully) cohesive platform to advocate from.  It can be used to make clear to local or state governments that there are many people concerned about bike-related legislation…and not merely those who stand to potentially profit from greater bike use.  (Historical note: I use the Ford example above tongue-in-cheek…because that’s exactly what automakers do.  Remember “See the USA in a Chevrolet”?  Automakers used to run ads encouraging post-war Americans to do their patriotic duty by contacting their senators and congressmen, and encouraging them to build more roads, so they could drive more and burn more fuel.  Really.  It gets kind of creepy when you start looking into it.)

3.         Culture:  Fostering a culture of cycling acceptance is incredibly important.  When I started riding, just a few years ago, I remember going on rides wearing bike shorts under running shorts, and wearing a t-shirt on top.  I remember seeing guys in spandex and lycra, and thinking that they were some sort of extremists.  It was only through repeated exposure to those ‘extremists’, through group rides and group events, that I came to see myself in them, and came to understand them better.  It is my hope that Axletree can serve that same kind of role—as a group of mentors for new riders of all ages.  Part of the Axletree culture will be riding, and racing, in events together.  As a team.  As a part of something bigger than us as individuals.

4.         Events:  The Axletree slogan is: “Events.  Advocacy.  Awesome.”  That first point, events, is a key reason for an NFP.  As I discussed above, having an independent organization run events is a major help from a liability perspective.  Perhaps more importantly, when you have an NFP, you have a group of people gathering around a core mission, who are excited and enthusiastic about organizing and hosting events.  Creating the group provides a seed for growing fun events.  Being responsible for the Gravel Metric is one example…hosting weekly group rides in DeKalb is another…and there are many more examples around the bend.  (I’d love to try to organize a group-based gentlemen’s race similar to some of the Rapha events…we’ll see).  There’s BLBBRBK, the Northern Illinois Fatbike Snow race.  There’s the “Night Bison Gravel Nocturne”, coming this fall…details to be announced, but it’s going to be amazing.  There are a number of “Get Off The Road” mountain bike excursions in the planning…hopefully including an overnighter or two.  There are tons of things coming.  Axletree isn’t a one-trick pony.

5.         Awesome:  Creating a new organization, with new, creative and energetic people, unleashes the Awesome.  It’s just that simple.  The Awesome is on the way.

In the coming months, readers are going to have an opportunity to see the great things that Axletree does.  I’m hopeful that many in the area, and in the cycling community at large, see its mission and support it…and mirror its efforts across the country.

To find out more about Axletree, visit its Facebook page, or leave a comment for me or contact North Central Cyclery.  There will also be a forthcoming website…and when it’s up and running, you’ll hear about it here.  If you’re interested in supporting Axletree, either as a volunteer, participant or sponsor, drop me a line.  Truth in advertising: Events.  Advocacy.  Awesome.


Xtracycle Sidecar–Products that Intrigue

I’ve posted of my Big Dummy love before…

I just saw that Xtracycle is pre-marketing their new SideCar for long tail bikes (including the Dummy).  Details at the link.

I’m not sure that it’s a product I have a need for (my Dummy loads tend to fit within the capabilities of the Dummy as configured in the Review, with or without Sideloaders), but it certainly is a neat concept.  I’m really, really curious how it impacts handling, given that it hinges at the bike–you’d think that would make it hard to keep the bike upright with a heavy load…but perhaps not.  Maybe if you put heavy loads out towards the outrigger wheel?

In any event, it’s an interesting idea and concept, and I’ll be curious to see how well it is executed.  For inter-City deliveries (where the bike goes out loaded and returns empty), this may be a great alternative to trailers…since you can fold it up out of the way when you’re empty.


Salsa. A Year in Pictures.

I’m working on a response to Salsa’s postcard project right now, that requires me to go back and look at the year in pictures, as my life relates to bikes…and more specifically, as it relates to Salsa bikes.  So many great memories.  So many amazing experiences.  The past year has been really fulfilling for me in many ways.  A lot of new challenges, a lot of new tests, a lot of success, and a lot of opportunities to try again.

Their project asks riders to talk about where they want to ride–dream trips or special destinations.  If you had asked me that a few years ago, I would have talked about places–like the School of Spearfish Sedona trip.  If you asked me today, I think my answer has changed.  If you ask me where I’m going today, my answer is forward.  I want to keep progressing forward, and I want to celebrate the journey as much as the destination.  If we only enjoy where we’re going, and we don’t enjoy getting there, we will spend a lot of time unhappy and unfulfilled.  I’ve decided that my life goals cannot all be distant targets–I have to enjoy the ride along the way.  And in the great big metaphor of cycling, I’m in love with the simple way that a good bike translates my efforts into forward progress.  So that’s my dream–to keep moving forward, and to share the ride with good friends and family.

In trying to pare down the Salsa related pictures from the last year, I found that I have several thousand images.  Here are just a few of my favorites.

I thought about posting some links to previous posts, but it’s a ton of the blog.  There’s been the Schweet Mukluk review, the Vaytanium review, the Spearfish 1 review, the Spearfish 2 review, the whole School of Spearfish series, tons of talk about Ti El Mariachis, tons of great rides from mud to snow to camping to gravel to the Barry Roubaix to the Gravel Metric, to the just-posted El Mariachi Tandem.  I could keep going.  I’m mildly (moderately?) obsessed.

In looking back at those pictures, I’ve noticed a few things.  I tend to like the same bike perspectives.  I take way too many pictures from the non-drive side.  My legs are hairier than I remembered.  I can discern between mud from different states, different rides and different seasons.  Sometimes what makes a picture great is the image…and sometimes, it’s the memory that the image triggers.  I should be sponsored by a company that sells bike cleaning products.  Many of my favorite photos are favorites because of who is in them, not because of what they are.  I have some goofy–and great–friends.

Some of the highest highs, and some of the lowest lows, but always riding against the grain.  To Forward Progress.

El Mariachi. Tan-Daaaaaang.

Salsa just uploaded this to Facebook.

El Mariachi Tandem.

Alternator Dropouts.

29er (obviously).

Suspension fork (with anything cage mounts, or just hose clamp mounts?)

Look at that beefy frame.

XO drivetrain.

Apparently, it’s doing the Tour Divide this year.  Hey Salsa…can I borrow it in May, 2013, for the Gravel Metric, Part IV?

2012 Gravel Metric

Veni, Vidi, and then I was Vici’d.

What an awesome ride.

Weather was a scorcher.  It was in the nineties all day…started around 90 at 9, got up to a high of 98.  On one asphalt road, BPaul’s bike computer reported 111 degrees.  It was toasty.  Toasty enough that if my legs grazed the top-tube on the Vaytanium, it was hot to the touch.

Pics that I show on the blog today are from a variety of sources.  Some are mine, some are unattributed on Facebook, some are from Jon Schratz, and some are from the incredibly talented eye of Sir Chad, from the Brown County adventures.  (Not Hand of Midas.  The other Chad).

North Central Cyclery is the host of the event, and had the whole crew ready to help.

Had a HUUUUUGE turnout.  Over 200 riders.

The Vaytanium was ready to rock.  I was sporting 4 bottles, given the weather conditions.

I was also sporting the 700x35c Continental Cyclocross Speeds.  With about 3,000 miles on them, they’re just not wearing out.  Here’s the seatpost mount bottle cages:

Here’s Nice Jeff, shooting the breeze with Ben Berden.

Ben was super-nice, very easy to talk to, and a great guy to spend a bit of time with.  More on that later.  He was out riding for Clement, and there were a TON of bikes sporting Clement’s new line of gravel-oriented clinchers.

Crowds amassing:

Ross, taking waivers:

Mudge, getting on his game face:

Nearly everyone at the shop rode the race.  Ah-mazing.

We had an incredibly orderly lead-out through town this year.  Right down Route 38, then up Annie Glidden Road, and then left on Twombly.

Cyclists had both lanes.  They were running red lights, swinging through corners without stopping…wait–it’s not what you think.

DeKalb’s finest lead the way, providing a much-appreciated escort out of town.  Here’s Nevdal and Tobie, at the head of the pack.

Smashing new NCC kit.

When we eventually got to Twombly, and it turned to gravel, things got real.  Here’s yours truly, mixing it up with Ben, the professional cyclocross racer.

I believe this is his ‘game face’

Actually, I’m not sure we were mixing it up.  He was just waiting for a nice spot to pass.

The lead group, early in the race:

That’s Dan Eiten up front in the NCC Kit, and I’m about 3 bikes back.  But then again, that’s only a couple miles in.

I’ll do the ride review first, and my personal experience later.

Terrain was varied.  Paved, gravel (tons of gravel), dirt, creek crossings, etc.

Some riders had difficulty with the creek crossing.  The good line was far to the right, and it was a straight shot across, and then a little 5″ curb jump to get out.

Other lines were not as successful.

This is Ben, enjoying a leisurely ride in the country.

I rode a while with Rick, the organizer of Barry Roubaix (who complimented my B-R water bottle before I knew who he was).  He was riding this beautiful Steelman cross bike:

He was a great guy, and was riding strong.

But this is what much of the ride looks like:

Or this:

The Vaya makes any surface just a little bit better.

Part of the ride looked like this…although with no rain, it was totally dry and super-fast.

And after that, I didn’t take any pics on the ride.

Here’s the aftermath:

That’s salt.

The Vaytanium rocked it hard.

It was an awesome ride.  Hard, hot, fun.  North Central Cyclery was the consummate host, and Dan and Tobie killed it on the ride.  There should be more pictures forthcoming…I’ll link some in when they’re available.

As for my ride, I rode as well as I could, and am happy with how I did.  The first 5 miles of actual “racing”, I was on the lead group and felt strong.  That was 20-22mph on loose gravel.  A number of guys went down in the pack (and on the day, there were a few injuries and some heatstroke).  With all of the gravel riding we’ve been doing, I felt totally comfortable, regardless of how loose and sketchy the gravel was.  I also knew enough to watch the road ahead, and when it got loose, I would get in a track.  The guys I saw went down did so for predictable reasons…they rode into gravel that was unrideable at 20mph, lost control, and wiped out (usually while over braking with their rear brake).

The first 15 miles, I felt pretty darn good.  I was rocking the Paul-o-ton with BPaul, running a nice rotating 2 person pace line into the wind.

Around mile 20, my strength started going, but my technique was still good.  I know exactly what happened, it was totally predictable, and I learned from it.  I didn’t ride as hard as I could have–but I know what I could have done and I’m comfortable with it.  I also am very pleased to have picked a sustainable pace starting at that point, and riding to the finish.  There’s no point belaboring what was really a slow result for me–it is what it is, I know why it happened, and hopefully, it’s a stage of life that’s behind me.  Live and learn.  Notwithstanding that, it was still a really fun ride.  Wind was out of the SSW…the ride started going generally Northwest, then generally southwest, then east, south, east, south, north (out and back), and then generally Northwest.  There was a nice tailwind on much of the way back to the shop, which was greatly appreciated.

Lessons Learned:

1.  Did not need 4 water bottles.  Too much unnecessary weight.

2.  At the start, get behind guys you know and trust.  It was totally reassuring to be behind Dan and Tobie.  I knew their riding, they were predictable, and I could be on their wheel without worrying that I was about to go down.

3.  No matter what, stay on another bike.  Riding significantly faster with a rotating pace line is easier than riding alone and going slower.

4.  Practice gravel before the race.  A lot.  I had done this, and was totally ready for the gravel.

5.  Practice single track on your cross bike.  I had done this as well, and felt totally comfortable in ruts, dirt, creek crossings, hopping obstacles…totally comfortable.

6.  Have fun.  The extreme parts of the Metric are what make it memorable.  Last year, it was hail, lightning, and flash flooding.  This year, it was blowtorch heat.  Some of the paved roads, with a hard crosswind, felt somewhat akin to a convection oven.

At the end of the ride, I was wasted.  Wasted, as in when people ask you if you’re ok, you say, “No.”  But some great friends at NCC took care of me, and with a little water (some in a bottle, some from a hose), I recovered quickly.  It was a great ride.  If you missed it, put it on the calendar for next year.  Thanks, North Central!

I’m experimenting with a new “ceramic” chain lube and I’m not sure if I like it or not.  I’ll have further thoughts on that in the coming months.  For now, it’s time for a little more post-race R&R…back to the grind tomorrow.


Everything is ready. Chain, bottom bracket, hubs, headset, idler pulleys, pedals, brakes…all lubed, adjusted, cleaned, loose. I’ve been experimenting with a higher saddle, lower bars for a couple weeks. This will be the test. 3 bottles for the predicted 98 degrees on Sunday. Everything is ready.


New Kit, New Regimen.

I do the Wednesday night and Saturday morning rides at North Central Cyclery in DeKalb. (Not this Saturday, though.  I’m saving up for the Gravel Metric, which is on Sunday.  You should be, too.)  NCC just got in their new kits, with bibs and jerseys from BioRacer.  They are amazingly comfortable…the bibs have now accepted a podium spot next to my favorite Pearl Izumi knickers in terms of saddle comfort.  Anyhow, while the kits were just made available Tuesday, it seems as if a lot of riders got the memo before the Wednesday night ride.

(Note: pics shamelessly stolen from NCC’s Facebook post).

I felt strong on last night’s ride–stronger than normal, and I attribute it to three factors:

1.  Wheelsucking.  Sure, when the group was doing a rotating pace line, I did my part and pulled through the rotation.  But when a group would sprint off the front, I would swallow my pride and try to just hook onto a wheel.  I didn’t worry about sprinting off the front of the sprint, nor about starting my own sprints.  My goal was to survive in the lead group.  And I did.  This isn’t the prototypical definition of wheelsucking, but it’s close.  I’m acknowledging that I have a lot more miles to get into my legs before I’m in the same class as many of the guys I ride with.  I’m ok with that.  (Kind of.)  And I’ve decided that it is better to do my best to hang with the leaders than to lead a few valiant charges of the light brigade that end in my slaughter.

2.  Nutrition.  I read a number of posts from an exercise physiologist, and even exchanged a couple emails with her, regarding sports nutrition and those with compromised digestive systems.  She was writing about a host of conditions, including Celiac’s disease.  She spends pages describing something that I’m going to greatly over-simplify.  In short, those who are recovering from acute bouts of certain digestive or auto-immune issues can have difficulty accessing energy stores, and difficulty changing the form of energy use that the body is undertaking at any given time.  As I understand it, if my body is doing intense efforts and utilizing short term energy stores, it can be hard for my body to replenish those rapidly, or to transfer to using medium or longer term stores.  This difficulty is complicated further by my significant weight loss, and the gradual loss of long-term energy (fat) stores.  I’m probably totally butchering her theory, and accordingly, I’m not going to cite to her at this time, until I have her clearance to do so.  Anyhow, the change that I made for the Wednesday night ride was to shotgun a can of regular soda before the ride (liquid sugar), and to down a gel at around the 17-20 mile mark, when I would normally start fading.  On previous group rides, I would get to that point and my legs would just start slowing down.  I still had plenty of cardio in me, but my quads felt like tofu.  Last night, I felt much, much stronger and my legs stayed with me the whole ride.  I did go through one brief cramping moment with my left calf, but it resolved and I rode on.  I’m going to keep trying this for a few weeks and see if the results are consistently good.  Apparently, the big dose of easily absorbable sugar helps keep muscles fueled when you’re having difficulty adapting to other energy stores.  We’ll see.

3.  The kindness of friends.  I’ve mentioned that I ride with some awesome guys.  At one point in the ride, a breakaway sprint occurred and I was in a position behind another rider that prevented me from getting out and onto the sprint fast enough.  The strongest rider in the group saw my predicament, and dulled his pace long enough for me to catch his wheel, and then ride hard onto the breakaway.  There was no way I would have caught them by myself.  I’m going to leave it at that, before I start getting all gushy.

It was a great, great ride.  Today or tomorrow, I’m going to do a very short, very easy spin.  Tomorrow, I will also spend some quality time with the Vaytanium, cleaning, lubing, adjusting and otherwise pampering before Sunday’s Gravel Metric.  I’m really looking forward to this year’s ride.  Last year, the question was whether or not I’d survive.  This year, I know I can do the distance without a problem…no matter what happens, I can at least finish.  So I’m focusing a bit more on time and speed.  I need to take advantage of faster groups and wind conditions…try to finish before the sun gets too hot…and yet not go out so hard that I’m burned up by mile 20.  It’ll be a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.  I haven’t decided if I’m going to run 3 bottle cages, or just do a water refill somewhere along the way.

End of the ride, last night, talking with some great guys.

The Ridley featured prominently, above.  I swear it wasn’t staged.  By the way, the guy in blue is Paul Carpenter, the chap who’s going to race in RAAM.  Best of luck, Paul.