Category Archives: Mobility

It’s Ok to Wear Cotton

Cotton kills.

If you spend any time performing an activity outdoors someone has said that to you in the past year.  It might have even been you, which in that case you are “that guy.”

Here’s the thing.  Cotton is actually pretty damn comfortable, it doesn’t end up with those funky synthetic fabric odors, and I do not look like Dwayne Johnson when I am riding the three miles to work on my bicycle.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  Heck, I even prefer cotton t-shirts to performance wicking t-shirts on any bike ride save my long days in the saddle when the mileage creeps up around the fifty mark.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  We all do not need to be kitted up like pseudo-Tour de France racers for a quick pedal around town with the kids.  Sure, your jersey, shorts, socks, and handlebar tape are all color coordinated but you still look like a tool when you are following behind tottering children struggling to finish the ride.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  When we step off the bike and stop in for a beer no one wants to look like a pack of MAMILs (Middle Aged Man In Lycra).  It’s a thing and it is not pretty.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  We all probably have several cotton t-shirts sitting in a dresser drawer waiting to be worn.  There is no need to head out to the shop and buy a special shirt just to ride a bike.  Dig into the dark recesses of your forgotten cloths, pull out that t-shirt from vacation a few years ago, and wear it with non-ironic pride on your next ride into work.

It’s ok to wear cotton.  If we want cycling to be anything other than a niche activity pursued by enthusiasts we need to stop telling people that it is wrong to wear a simple t-shirt. We want people out of their cars and on bikes.  People are healthier, the air is cleaner, and our communities are more resilient when people drop the keys and start pedaling.  Too often the people who should be helping get others onto saddles are the same ones who are scaring people away with their mantras about cotton.

Join me this summer in putting away the wicking fabric for just a moment and taking a ride in a simple cotton t-shirt.  You might actually feel like a human being again.

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A Few Hundred Miles on a Redshift Sports Shockstop Stem

In the 1990s I did not think that there was a better mountain biker than Thomas Frischknecht.  I tried mightily to emulate his riding style and kit.  At the time, the most notable difference in how Frischknecht set up his bike versus the rest of the field was with regard to suspension:

THOMAS FRISCHKNECHT CLINCHED THE OVERALL TITLE AT VAIL USA GRUNDIG WORLD CUP 1992

His bike did not have a suspension fork, which was then the height of mountain bike techno wizardry.  Oh my how things have changed.  Instead, Frischknecht used a suspension stem from Softride.  I wanted one of those very bad, but in the pre-Internet shopping days finding the right steam was not so easy.  It was probably for the best since everyone I know who owned one has nothing but negative things to report back.  Damn memories!

Well, it’s like a blast from the past.  As gravel or adventure bikes have proliferated so have the solutions to tamp down shock and vibration from crappy roads, rutted gravel, and whatever happens to dirt tracks from winter to spring.  Full on suspension forks seem like overkill and wider tires run at lower pressure do a yeoman’s job in making the ride more comfortable but everyone is looking for just a little more cush.  Enter Redshift Sports Shockstop Stem:

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It may be a suspension stem, but it is not trying to compete with suspension forks like the Softride stems of yore.  The goal is to provide a limited amount of travel in a simple package for riders looking to take the edge off of gravel, adventure, or touring rigs.

To accomplish this goal it uses elastomers:

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A lot of people have bad memories of elastomers from forks like the Rock Shox Quadra series or various Manitou forks before dampeners helped mitigate the pogo stock effect.  Here is the deal: elastomers are a lightweight and simple way to provide shock absorption.  In a limited travel application, as opposed to trying to provide multiple inches of travel, an elastomer can work very well because the perceived or actual rapid rebound is less noticeable.  Springing back from full compression on my Q21 was never any fun.

The installation of the elastomers on the Shockstop Stem is a little tricky because it is unlike any other product.  You could say it is tricky because it is specific.  Read the instructions people.  It is really not that hard.  Here is where the magic happens:

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Ride quality is adjusted by mixing and matching various elastomers to your preference.  I began with the combination suggested for my weight, which is shown in the combination above, and found it to be a little stiff for my typical rides here in eastern Iowa.

The thing with the Shockstop Stem is that is imperceptible.  The travel is limited, but it is working to smooth out the bumps.  If you lighten the elastomers to such a degree that the travel is perceptible it ends up blowing through its arc without really tamping down any of the big bumps.  Look, I am riding a bicycle on trails, gravel roads, and unmaintained farm access roads that might see a road grader once a year.  I do not expect to be riding in a leather recliner.  The Shockstop Stem does not make your rig a leather recliner.  It does make things more comfortable and when you are staring at fifty miles plus into a headwind on crushed limestone every bit of comfort counts.

Granted, I am only a few hundred miles in and a lot of that has been on pavement now that the Cedar Valley Nature Trail is paved all the way into Center Point.  I do, however, feel that the Shockstop Stem is worth a look for anyone who puts a lot of miles in on gravel or trails as a way to increase comfort which will hopefully lead to more enjoyable rides.

Does anyone out there own a Shockstop Stem who would like to provide their impression?

 

Note: I spent my own money to actually buy this stem.  No one from Redshift Sports has ever contacted me about the product.  That is to say, I am not some internet shill “influencer” posting photos on Instagram in exchange for bags of chips.  I actually use this stuff.

Homestead and Jamaica North Trails Ride Report

This past weekend in Lincoln was a blast…okay, spending two days in a garage driving nearly 500 2” pan head screws for a slat wall in near 100 degree heat was not a blast but I did get to ride.  Specifically, I spent a morning on large chunks of the Homestead Trail and Jamaica North Trail southwest of the city.

For a lot of people this is the Homestead Trail:

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Look it up “Homestead Trail” on Google and this is likely to be in almost all of the images.  Yes, bridges and century old ironworks are cool but this bridge is about a mile south of the trailhead.  It is not like people are really getting deep into the trail to get their shots for Instagram.

The trail runs thirty miles almost due south from the trailhead on Saltillo Road in Lincoln to Beatrice.  I rode about halfway to Beatrice before a headwind really picked up and I started to get concerned about the rising temperature.  It was already in the low 80s by mid-morning.

The ride reminded me a lot of what the Cedar Valley Nature Trail used to be like before it was paved all the way into Center Point.  It’s not good or bad that the trail is paved.  It is just different.  The surface is a thin layer of crushed limestone—yay, limestone dust in every crevice—over packed dirt.  There were very few ruts and it did not seem like anyone had been out when the trail was wet to cause any trouble, which is more than I can say for some of the unpaved sections of the CVNT north of Center Point.  Whoever rode their fat bike on the trail and put a wandering two inch wide rut in the trail for about three miles can suck a fat one.  I digress…

At about the mid-point of my ride the Homestead Trail ran parallel to Highway 77 which is a four lane divided highway from Lincoln to Beatrice.  You will find yourself exposed to some serious wind in this section.  Be advised.

The Homestead Trail is connected to the rest of Lincoln’s trail via the Jamaica North Trail.  The Jamaica North Trail runs a little more than 6 miles north and south on the west side of Lincoln.  The southern portion is crushed limestone like the Homestead Trail and the northern section is paved.  I did not ride on any pavement for the portion I rode.

On a hot day this was a nice ride because it was shaded by thick vegetation.  The gnats were not even that bad on the day that I rode.  It was even too hot to eat a Runza.

Right now the biggest issue with this great trail pair is that most of the southern portion of Lincoln is isolated from the trail via active railroad tracks.  There is a fundraising effort underway to build a link connecting these trails to the existing Rock Island Trail near Densmore Park.  One can never have enough trails.

If you find yourself heading to Lincoln grab your adventure bike and get out on the trails.  The Great Plains Trails Network has some excellent maps to guide you on your way.

Remember, where the pavement ends is where unlimited possibility begins.

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104 BCD Unicorn

Over the past two seasons of riding I have fallen in love with the single chainring setup on the old dirtwagon.   With the arrival of my new Breezer Radar I was thrust back into the world of dual chainrings up front and the horror of a front derailleur.

In all honesty the dual chainring has not been that big of a deal save for the annoying rubbing of the chain against the front derailleur’s cage.  I had begun to take for granted the blessed silence of a single narrow wide chainring doing the duty up front.

The plan all along was to migrate to a 1x setup on my new bike.  It would likely be something similar to what I installed on the dirtwagon using SRAM mountain bike components on a drop bar bike.  The only fly in the ointment is that my current crankset has a bold circle diameter (BCD) of 104.  Spend some time online with Race Face or Wolftooth and you will discover that most 104 BCD narrow wide chainrings top out at 36 teeth.  I want to have something with 40 or 42 teeth.  It is like I am scouring the land in search of a mythical chimera.

I followed rumors of such a chainring to the deepest corners of the internet.  Ever heard of Amber Bikes?  I had not until I spent time checking out the Lithuanian company’s website.  It looked like this might be a winner, but the price put me off and so did the internet comments about slow shipping.

In my time of need and desperation I turned to AliExpress.  If you want to see what the wild wild west of manufacturing, intellectual property theft, and just plain strange capitalism looks like head over the AliBaba’s e-commerce portal.  If you thought Amazon had a problem with fake products you have not seen anything until you have checked out AliExpress.

However, there are a lot of companies producing no-label bicycle components like this little beauty:

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This is a 42 tooth, 104 BCD chainring delivered to my door for approximately $20.

How good is it? I have no clue, but considering that most of the problems with chainrings come from difficulties in shifting there should be less chance of this occurring since the drivetrain will not be shifting up front.

What about Wolftooth or Race Face or some other mainline manufacturer?  I would have loved to gone with one of these companies’ narrow wide chainrings.  However, none of them made what I wanted in 104 BCD.  Maybe as more compact road cranks use this BCD or other people repurpose bikes with cranks that use this BCD we will see such a product but until that day I am forced to go elsewhere.

Updates to follow as I make the drivetrain changes over the coming month or so.

April was Brutal

It has been a brutal month of April for anyone who wanted to spend time on a bike in Iowa.  How brutal?  Here is what things looked like on April 8th:

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If you were thinking that this was an aberration here is what things looked like from the same vantage point on April 15th:

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Measurable snow on the ground in mid-April.  Icey road conditions, sub-freezing temperatures, and lots of wind into the third week of the month made this a brutal time to try upping my bike commuting miles.  Add in a hectic kids’ activity schedule and you have a month of me sucking to reduce my transportation emissions through two wheeled salvation.

On the bright side, the last week of April has been perfect.  Like high-60s in the afternoon, plenty of sunshine, and no significant precipitation perfect.  If you can deal with the joys of wind in Iowa you can enjoy some time in the saddle.

If I could just get my new bike dialed in…

What is This Saddle?

Somewhere there is a product manager for Wilderness Trail Bikes getting a bonus for having cut out anything resembling comfort in this saddle:

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A ride on this saddle is like experiencing one of the levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno.  My first ride was a short ~16 mile out and back on a paved recreational trail.  Smooth asphalt and concrete the whole way at a nice 16 to 17 mile per hour pace.  Nothing special and nothing extreme.  Oh boy did my rear end hurt at the end.

I chalked it up to the first ride of the season, which is always a somewhat tortuous experience as winter’s rust is shaken off.  Seriously, I feel like some kind of waylaid creature summoned when the weather warms up—kind of, if you know what spring has been like in Iowa this year—who breaks free of magical stone shackles.  No seriously, how can I spend the winter working out five and six days a week yet suffer mightily on the first easy ride of the season?  It’s like I should stop trying.

A subsequent ride confirmed my worst fears.  This saddle was designed to drive traffic into bike shops by users looking to upgrade to something that would not turn their most personal of areas into overcooked brisket.  Thankfully the solution to this problem was in my garage already: the Selle Anatomica Titanico X on the old dirtwagon.  Much better:

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A human being interfaces with a bicycle at three contact points: pedals, handlebar, and saddle.  At each contact point there are almost infinite options for one to choose from, but the saddle stands out for products to really suck.  Maybe it is personal preference or just the many ways our asses can be shaped.

On a related note, I had forgotten just how much fiddling was required to get a new bike dialed in.  After you have ridden thousands of miles on an old bike these little details are generally already taken care of and you just throw a leg over to get riding.  On a new bike you are fiddling with saddled tilt and height, fore and aft position, SPD cleat alignment, and the list goes on.  At this rate I do not think I will have everything locked down until well into May.

The Missing Link in Local Trails

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is an amazing recreational trail here in eastern Iowa.  Travelling from just north of Cedar Rapids in Hiawatha over 50 miles north to Waterloo it is justifiably a gem for those of us addicted to two wheeled recreation.

Notice I said travelling north.  To the south things are decidedly less amazing.  Paved trails exist throughout Cedar Rapids and extend as far south as the small town of Ely.  In Ely things peter out as you approach the Linn County-Johnson County line.  I say peter out when what I really mean to say is end abruptly.  As in the trail literally comes to an end at dirt with nothing more.

Plans have been in the discussion and preparation stages for what seems like a decade.  Now, this spring—despite the horrible weather—construction has finally begun!

It will take two years or more to complete.  Bet on the “or more” as delays are almost inevitable with projects like this and Johnson County is notorious for meddlesome parties to become involved in delaying projects for spurious reasons.  Nonetheless, the future is bright as this section of trail south of Ely into Solon will connect the trail systems of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City for the first time in forever.

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You can take a look at the trail map of the Iowa City-Coralville-North Liberty area and imagine a purple line extending from the intersection of Highway 382 and Ely Road NE into the town of Ely.  Now merge that with the trail map of the Cedar Rapids-Hiawatha-Marion area to get an idea of what a combined system will look like.

It is my hope that this combination becomes a catalyst to complete the connections to orphaned sections of trails throughout the area.

Now, if spring would actually get here we could really get to riding.  How bad is it?  It’s April 19th and there was measurable snow on the ground this morning.  Seriously, what is this?  Minnesota?