Fatbike Century

Yesterday, I rode a Fat Century.

Today, I am sore.

Started out at a balmy 9 degrees.

The Muk was expedition ready, with a Porcelain Rocket Booster Rocket and top-tube pack, and a set of aero bars…seen here in the hallowed halls of North Central Cyclery.  More on the aero bars later.


I’ll give a full gear report soon.

We lit out around 8am, under clear skies, minimal wind, and cold temps.

The gravel was positively heroic.  Some areas were iced over, but for the most part, it was hard and fast.

Casting a long shadow with the morning sun.

My man Chad, pumping along, early in the ride.

And of course, we took the bridge is out route.

Chad was having some equipment and personal comfort difficulties, such that by 10:00, we had only covered 12 miles.  At that point, we reviewed our goals for the day.  My goal was a fat century.  Chad’s was survival with some level of personal comfort.  Looking at winds that were starting to pick up and Chad’s growing knee pain, we opted to part ways at mile 12.  (He continued on in an alternate direction, for a different, more local ride).

Between ~10:00 and ~3:30, I covered 91 miles.  Just wanted to throw that out there.

While we started with a planned route, when things disintegrated, my route guidance changed.  I blasted West on my beloved Elva…

Which continues in a ribbon of white as far as you can see in that pic.

At the end of Elva, I turned south, and then west across (over) 39/51.  I then proceeded under these rules of engagement:  1) head only into the wind (south or west); 2) ride only on gravel; and, 3) ride until you get over 50 miles.  I’m not sure what roads I was on, but ones that I’ve never ridden.  I’ll have to do a Map My Ride postmortem.

I wanted to be committed to riding a century.  I figured that riding into the wind and getting 50 in would guarantee that I’d blow home.  I stopped for some snacks that I’d been packing around mile 57, and then pointed northeast, towards Paw Paw.

Rolling into Paw Paw, I had to catch some pavement to make sure I went down the main drag, and hit the Casey’s.  That lead me into Bulldog Territory.

In Paw Paw, I hit the ubiquitous Casey’s for some liquid refreshment.  I ended up with a fruit juice and some Gatorade, although the premium “wine by the cup” selection was pretty tempting.

You thought I was kidding.

I stopped in the nearby park to refill some bottles, and cram down the last of my sausage sticks.


You may note only one bottle on the bike.  The other 2 were in jersey pockets.  More on that tomorrow.

I then proceeded South out of Paw Paw on Ogee, then South Paw Paw Road, and then a bunch of other roads.  There was a Sven something, County Line, East Paw Paw, and a myriad of others.  I ended up passing Leland (the town of), and then taking Burma Road up to Pine Road, across to Maplewood, and then up north from there, with a brief detour through Afton Forest Preserve, when I realized there were no fatbike tracks in there.

A badly backlit pic from crossing the LaSalle County Line the third or fourth time.

Aero Bars in Action.

And a few artistic pics, because I needed a break on Crego.

I got lucky with the weather.  Until noon, it was cold (started at 9 and warmed to about 16 degrees), but still.  I’ll take cold and still.  I got in the hard part of the miles (into the light ~5mph wind) then.  About the time I turned around, the afternoon sun brought temps up to 28 degrees, and incited a SW wind at about 12mph, according to TWC.  That was perfect for blowing me home.  So my average speed, while still representative of significant effort, also was the result of beneficial weather conditions.

Fatbike century was a great way to finish out my riding year, because I’m not riding today.  My quads are quite pleased to stick to walking and sitting at the moment.  Everything worked–gear, body, health, fitness, schedule, weather.  I went past Afton Forest Preserve with enough gas in the tank to make a loop and throw down some fatbike tracks in the minimal snow…and I rolled back into town at the end of the century, feeling good–darn good.  I had some fuel left, and could have ridden further…I was in a good zone, with warmth, hydration, eating and output.

With time, I’m getting a better and better idea of how my body and gear perform under varying conditions.  I selected gear appropriate for a wide (20 degree) temp swing and set some challenging goals, and accomplished them.  I could have picked a simpler, flatter, more paved route.  I could have ridden the Vaya and gotten a lot more miles.  I could have done a lot, but I did this ride, and I rode it well.  It was a fitting capstone to my 2012 riding season, and the close on a new personal record for miles in a year.

If you can’t tell, I’m a pretty happy camper, in the realm of my biking.  The size of my bike-comfort wheelhouse has grown exponentially this year, and I can see it continuing to grow into the future.

Have a great New Years Eve.  Gear info will follow later this week.


Fatbike Tubeless Update

I’ve gotten quite a few miles in on the fatbike tubeless setup, and am very pleased with the results.  I’ve run as high as 30psi, and as low as 3/4 front/rear.  No flats, no burps, no tire retention issues.  I’m pleased enough and confident enough that I trimmed the extra tube off of the tires, before tomorrow’s Eve Eve ride (which I’ve now decided to ride Fat).

I had originally thought that trimming might save 10-20 grams.  To my surprise, it saved a lot more.

64 grams (0.15 pounds), which brings the total weight loss to nearly 2 pounds of rotating mass lost with the tubeless setup.

I also pulled a shiny part out of my parts bin and slapped it on the Muk.  I was previously running a 3×8 setup, to clear BFLs on Rolling Darryls.  Running Husker Dus, now, I can run a full 3×9.  I had a PG990 cassette that I had been saving for a future build which has now been placed on hold, and thus, I slapped it on the Muk.

The stock cassette, even trimmed to 8 gears, weighed 438 grams.

The PG990 weighed in at 290 grams, for a reduction of about 150 grams, or about 1/3 pound.  It’s rotating mass, but at the center of the wheel, so the effect isn’t as dramatic as reducing tire/tube weight.

However, it looks blingtastic with the red hubs.


And it’s nice to be back to a full 9 gears, without a big skip at the end of the cassette.

In related news, in preparation for the ride tomorrow, I threw my aero bars on the Muk.  That’s for 2 reasons: 1) in a monster headwind (if it happens), aero bars really do help…even on a fatbike; and, 2) riding a century plus with flat bars can get tiresome…simply having an alternate way to rest your hands and change your back position can be quite welcome.

She’s all kitted up with my Porcelain Rocket Booster Rocket and Top-Tube pack.  With temps starting at 14 degrees, I’m planning on rocking the Wolvhammers…it will be their longest ride yet.  Tomorrow’s going to be fun.

Just a reminder…This Sunday. New Years Eve Eve Ride. Drop me a line if you’re coming!

riding against the grain

Everybody knows that Rudyard Kipling’s birthday is the Eve of New Year’s Eve, which falls on Sunday, December 30 this year.  In celebration thereof, we have planned a gravel-licious ride departing from North Central Cyclery on 12/30/12.

Depart promptly at 8am.  If weather and roads are clear, it’ll be gravel bikes for 164k.  If weather and roads are snowy, it’ll be fatbikes (or your chosen ride–mountain bike, etc.) on gravel and B-roads for 88k.  Either way, fun times will ensue.

This will be self-supported.  Plan on stopping at poorly provisioned rural gas stations and/or catching and preparing wild game animals along the way.  There will not be a SAGwagon or rider support.

If you’re thinking of joining us, drop me a message and let me know to look for you.  This will not be a hammer ride…but we are covering some distance and will keep moving.  It’s a perfect…

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Grinding in the Cold.

Last night saw temps and wind both hovering around 20.

In the country, at night, with wide-open fields and nothing to stop the wind, that feels mighty cold.

Nonetheless, it was time for the Wednesday night gravel ride, and hence, Chad and I mounted up and rolled out into the darkness.  Given the conditions, I figured we wouldn’t be rolling too quickly, so I decided to mount up the Singlespeed and head out.  Chad was astride his Trek XO cross bike–also a good choice for the evening.

With the wind out of the North/Northwest, we rolled a bit south, and then headed west on gravel, with a few interspersed chunks of pave.  We encountered snow and ice, including a bit of sketchy black ice on the pavement.

The ‘wet’ pavement at the left of the picture. Umm, yeah. That’s ice.

We also encountered…a missing bridge.  That required nothing more than a dismount, run down the embankment, hop a minor creek, and climb up the far side.

Chad was wearing a Gore Phantom jacket, and I’m not sure which pants, but Gore windstopper pants.  I was similarly kitted.  Two quick notes on gear: 1) Windstopper…well, it stops wind.  Effectively.

2)  The reflective strips on the gear work…and make up an important part of my Winter Visibility Plan.

From a distance, the red light is more visible than shown in the pic.  At any distance, the reflective silver bits are super visible.

Rolling a 32/16 gear ratio, I was spun out at ~20mph heading out of town with a tailwind, but perfectly geared for hammering into the wind completing the loop, headed back North.  The El Mar may have been overkill…but was super fun to ride.


Of Knobs and Zen.

I’ve been putting in a lot of mountain bike and fatbike miles of late…predominantly because it’s winter.  Winter means early dark…so if I’m riding solo, I try to ride off-road.  It means snow and ice (though we’ve had precious little snow), which means road riding can be perilous.  Even a little ice on the road (or a frost, for that matter) can ruin your day at 20mph on 23c tires.  So that’s meant lots of doubletrack and singletrack (which has been pleasantly frozen), lots of gravel, powerlines, and various and sundry other forms of biking entertainment.

A few years into this whole biking thing, I still have discoveries that seem earth shatteringly new to me that are old hat to others.  Todays’ theme: of knobs and zen.

I’m firmly in the weight-weenie category, selecting parts for function and durability, and also for lightness.  Given two otherwise equal parts, I’ll select the lighter.  Given two otherwise equal tires, I’ll select the faster rolling.  What I’m finding is that the ‘otherwise equal’ thing is pretty rare.

This winter, I’ve been running Husker Dus on the Mukluk, in lieu of the Big Fat Larrys I ran last year.  The BFLs undoubtedly spin faster…even though they’re larger.  But the HDs hook up in just about any conditions, much better.  Seeing the difference in traction even in the light snow we’ve had…or on glazed ice on the road…or in mud…or in sand…it’s singularly impressive.  Our snowfall, on the other hand, is unimpressive.

But at least the bikes look good.

My Superfish is set up as a lightweight build, with my beloved Maxxis Ikon tires.  Of late, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the Singlespeed El Mariachi, with its comparitively boat-anchor-ish OEM Stans rims/spokes/Continental Trail King tires.  The Trail Kings weigh in at close to 900 grams, each.  My Ikons, by comparison, weigh 545-560 grams.  That’s 3/4 of a pound, per tire, in weight difference.  Historically, I would look at those two tires and say, without a doubt, the Ikon is the right tire.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been railing corners on the Trail Kings.  Sure, they’re heavier…but the big knobs on them are confidence inspiring.  They hold on a lot longer than the Ikons, and don’t threaten to low-side me when I bend it like Beckham.  The Ikons are great tires–don’t get me wrong–but I’m beginning to see the merit of tires that are a bit knobbier and more aggressive, even for non-muddy conditions.

In the coming months, I’m going to start my hunt for a tire that strikes a bit of a better balance between weight and knobbiness than either the Ikons or the Trail Kings.  Perhaps running a Nobby Nic up front on the Superfish would add just a bit more cornering confidence (and I likely can keep the Ikon in the rear).  We’ll see.  For now, I’m enjoying a little bit of knobbiness all over…even at the expense of greater weight.

And here’s Chad, enjoying epic beard status on the frozen singletrack, astride his tasty Dos Niner.

Knog Blinder Review

I cannot even estimate how many times I’ve read a story about a cyclist getting hit by a car, where the story features a comment along the lines of “the cyclist, who was not using any lights, was travelling eastbound…”

A couple of months ago, I made a commitment to start using lights on every road ride.  Sure, if I’m just bombing around the mountain bike trails, I’m not running lights.  But if I’m riding on road, whether day or night, I’m running lights.  I decided to develop 2 setups, for road riding.


Rear-facing red flashing light.


Headlight of some sort.

Separate, forward-facing, flashing white light.  I adopted this after seeing just how much a flashing white light aided in cyclist visibility, when I was driving my car and came across a cyclist riding at night.

Rear facing, flashing, red tail-light on bike.

Separate, rear-facing, flashing, red tail-light on helmet.  I adopted this for three reasons: a) redundancy, after having my standard taillight die on a long gravel night ride; b) the general concept of increasing visibility with 2 separate lights; and, c) I strongly believe that a separate light on the head has a disproportionate impact on visibility.  On that latter point, the head is at a different (higher) height, tends to move around, signals intentions to turn, etc.

In the coming weeks, Axletree is going to work on a taillight pledge–working to increase the visibility of cyclists and prevent cyclist accidents.  More on that another time.

Running lights a lot means using a lot of batteries…or using rechargeable lights.  I decided that rechargeable made sense.  With the crazy rides we do, in all weather, I wanted something waterproof.  And bright.  With long run times.

Where do you find bright, waterproof, rechargeable, durable visibility lights?  (I’m not talking ‘seeing’ headlights…I’m talking ‘be seen’ lights).  Answer: Knog Blinder.  (More precise answer: your local bike shop).

Here’s the kit I settled on:


4 LED Blinder 4 Circle

This can be configured in multiple ways, with either solid illumination, or 2 or 4 leds flashing in different patterns.  I use it on the handlebars–works equally well on drop bars and flat bars.

‘Helmet Light’

Knog Blinder 1 Cross

This uses a single LED flashing to the rear.  I’ll show more details on the attachment below, but the flexible silicone strap that is used to attach it very easily wraps around part of just about any bike helmet for secure mounting.


Knog Blinder 4V Pulse

This mounts easily on the seatpost or seat stay…or on a backpack, if desired.  4 red LEDs, and can be set to solid, flash, ‘running’, or a number of other 2 or 4 LED patterns.

As far as mounting go, all use a flexible silicone strap and little metal buckle to attach to whatever you’re strapping to.

It’s very easy to use, very flexible, and surprisingly stretchy.  Because it’s silicone, it is kind of ‘sticky’ and stays in place when you strap it on a bike.

On-Off-Mode duties are controlled by a single switch at the top of each light.  I will say that controlling the mode with gloves on, in the winter, can be a bit challenging given the placement of the switch.  On the other hand, the placement of the switch prevents accidental activation or de-activation…given the choices, a secure placement as Knog selected makes sense.

They are USB rechargeable…which is super-nifty.  I use an old powered USB hub to charge mine.

That also conveniently charges my Garmin, camera, etc.

When they’re low on battery, a tiny red LED illuminates on them.  When they’re fully recharged, it glows green.

Battery life has been very good.  I have not run them dead, though I have run them down to the red LED being illuminated.  My practice has been to ride them for a week, and charge them on the weekend.  I’ve easily put 10 hours on them without an issue…although I use lower energy settings (typically alternating 2 flash on the headlight, ‘running’ 1 flash on the taillight, and flashing on the helmet-light).  About the only use that they would likely not suffice for is multi-day trips where you’re riding at night, for multiple nights in a row.  Based on experience thus far, I’d be pretty confident running them all night for 1 night.

Recharging is a snap.  On the 1V, the usb recharging plug is built into the mount.

That’s it on the back of the pic.

On the other 2, there is a little USB charging tab that folds out of the back of the light.

Waterproofness?  I’ve had ’em in snow, downpours of blinding rain, creek crossings, and various other torture tests.  No issues.  At the recent Gore/Knog demo I attended, the Knog rep had a 1 LED light flashing in the bottom of his bourbon glass.  They are waterproof.

I’ve had no durability qualms after a few months of use–the silicone straps hold up well, and stretch easily around weird shapes (like a Mukluk seatstay, a Madone seat mast, or a the edge of a helmet, or a backpack strap).

Brightness?  They’re bright.  The 4V up front is not quite bright enough for headlight use…but plenty bright for visibility.  I’ve tried to take pics to show how bright they are, but ended up either under or over-exposing each shot.  They are visible from a long ways off.  I could get all lumens up in this joint, but I think a better measure is rider opinion.  They’re bright…bright enough that on the high impact settings, they’re annoying to ride around (if others are using them).  That’s an important point–they have nice, low-speed flash options that prevent you from giving other riders seizures.  That cannot be overlooked.  And they’re bright–you can see them from a long ways off, on the road.

Eric, over at Transit Interface, took this beautiful photo of the taillight in action.

The Knog lights are rugged, useful safety equipment.  They’re also elegant.  They’re elegant in design, in control, in mounting, and in simplicity: no more wasted batteries.  The USB rechargeable design is super commuter-friendly and, for riders like me, is easily accommodated with a garage USB hub (available for about $10 at a store near you).

They’re a worthy piece of kit to consider.  And if you look at price (at your local bike shop), consider that over the long-term, you won’t be replacing batteries.

It being Christmas Eve eve and all, I suspect that if Santa had a set of Knog Blinders, he likely wouldn’t have needed Rudolph.  Merry Christmas (or other seasonally appropriate greeting) to you and yours.