Category Archives: Mobility

A Quick Ride on the MoPac East Trail

On the way out to Colorado to finish some trim carpentry on a friend’s vacation home I stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska.  As a reader of this blog would know I end up in Lincoln once or twice a year.  Unfortunately, every time I end up in Lincoln it is usually hot and windy or hot and humid or just so hot it does not matter.  It is my belief that the city of Lincoln is trying to kill me.

Stubborn to a fault, it was my mission to hit up one of the local trails that I had not ridden and see what eastern Nebraska had to offer the gravel set.

The MoPac East Trail is built on an abandoned Missouri Pacific rail line that runs for about 26 miles along its entirety.  The eastern portion, hence the MoPac East, runs just under 22 miles from the eastern edge of Lincoln at the 84th Street trailhead to the town of Wabash.  The difference in mileage is for the portion that runs through town and is paved.

I rode just a little over 15 miles of the 22-mile portion due to a combination a wind, heat, and lack of knowledge about the trail conditions.  I did not want to find myself gassed in 90-plus degree heat facing a headwind on the return trip and end up exhausted the next morning on an eight-hour drive into the mountains.  For the out and back (just over 30 miles round trip) I gained and lost ~450 feet of elevation, which squares with most trails I have ridden in the region.

The trail conditions were fairly good.  I am going to attribute the rutting in some locations to the intense rainstorms that the remnant of Tropical Storm/Depression Cristobal dropped in the region.  Otherwise, the trail was graded well and most of the gravel was evenly distributed.

I will note that I forgot what it is like to ride on crushed limestone.  The white dust is nothing short of insidious.  For whatever reason Easter Iowa trails are using less crushed limestone and more of a cleaned rock.  In preparation for a paving project the northern portion of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail outside of Center Point has a packed base that has been rolled over many times.  It is almost as hard as pavement at this point.

All in all, I would say that I favor the MoPac East trail over the longer Homestead Trail that I rode last year.  The MoPac East’s surface conditions were better and there was enough variation to break up the long slogs.  The Homestead Trail felt like a singularly long bike ride through a straight tunnel of trees.

One trail new to me down and one to go to complete my goal for the year.  Where will I ride next?

A Quick Note on My Revised Gravel Drivetrain

Coming into the 2020 riding season I needed to do some serious revision to my daily rider.

A new wheelset was in order as I had just about burned through the life of the OEM wheelset.  Plus, the OEM wheelset was a boat anchor.

My drivetrain also required a refresh.  Building on prior modifications—carrying over the SRAM GX 10 speed shifter and rear derailleur from my prior ride—I set out to complete the transition to a 1x 10 speed adventure setup.

In a prior season I was forced to go to a 1x setup a little earlier than I had wanted due to a strange accident where my chain skipped off the chainring, bent the front derailleur ninety degrees, cracked a water bottle cage, and generally made a mess of things.  My solution at the time was to swap out the double rings on the SRAM Via Centro crankset with a “made in China” narrow wide ring.  The BCD on the SRAM Via Centro crankset was odd, so I had to machine some material away on the new chainring to make everything work.  Thousands of trouble-free miles ensued.

Over the winter I noticed a crack developing on my crankset near one of the bolt holes.  Whoever designed the SRAM Via Centro crankset probably did not intend for it to be used for thousands of miles in a modified single ring setup.

As a 1x convert I knew that whatever replaced my Frankenstein setup was going to be similar in nature.  The problem I discovered early on in the process was that my threaded bottom bracket was 73mm wide as opposed to 68mm wide.  Why is this a problem?  It is not hard to find cranksets for 73mm wide bottom bracket shells.  It just happens that most of those cranksets are mountain bike oriented so the chainrings are generally in the low 30 tooth range and the BCD does not make it easy to find a chainring in the 38 to 42 tooth range.

The good folks at Goldfinch Cyclery in Cedar Rapids—my go to source for solving bicycle related problems—came up with a great solution:

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The setup is a Race Face Ride crankset with a Race Face Team outboard bearing bottom bracket with an Easton Cinch 42 tooth chainring.  The Cinch direct mount system gives me a lot of options for changing the tooth count of my chainrings.  After this season I am probably going to install a 40 or 38 tooth chainring.  I have found that I rarely use the smallest three cogs on my cassette (11-36 10 speed), but I would like some extra range at the low end to assist in climbing the hills of northeast Iowa.  It is the only time I miss having a second front chainring.  Wolftooth Components has just what I want.

I was not thrilled to be moving to an outboard bearing crankset as I had a lot of longevity issues with a prior SRAM GPX outboard bearing setup.  It seemed to eat bottom brackets by about 1,500 miles without fail.  However, I have over 1,000 trouble free miles on this setup and I see no problems developing in the near future.

Maybe I will even give my bike a wash sometime soon.  Although I consider the accumulated grime the sign of a good season.

1,000 Mile Tire Check-In

I cannot believe I have already put over 1,000 miles in the saddle this season.  All of this time stuck at home because of coronavirus is at least good for something.

At the beginning of the season the good folks at Goldfinch Cyclery in Cedar Rapids hooked me up with a set of WTB Venture 700x40c blackwall tires set up as tubeless on my new wheelset.

In terms of ride quality I have been very happy with how the tires have performed on everything from smooth pavement to messed up gravel.  Compared to my prior tires—Donnelly X’Plor USH 700x35c—the WTB Ventures are more compliant.  This is a big deal when you are staring at a twenty mile return trip home in a nice springtime headwind in Iowa.  Trust me, it happens way more than you would think possible.  People from the arctic may have many different names for snow and ice, but in Iowa we have a lot of different names for the wind.  Not all of them are safe for work, either.

For a set of tires the quality of the rise is one factor in deciding the overall rating.  The other major factor is wear.  Below is a progressions showing the tire wear for the front and rear tire at 500 miles and 1,000 miles:

Tire Wear 1000 Miles

As you can see from the image progression above the front tire is looking good, but the rear tire is starting to show some serious wear.  This image is fairly indicative of the tire’s condition overall, but there are some spots where the tread is even more worn down.

The rear tire is suffering from gravel pattern baldness.  It might be the high ration of pavement to gravel early in the season.  So far I would guess that my riding has been split 70-30 pavement to gravel.  As the conditions dry out it will migrate to a more evenly split mix.

My plan is to rotate the tires and hopefully get another 1,000 miles out of the set before having to thing about replacements.  At $60 per tire the level of wear is a little disconcerting.  On the other hand, maybe I will just call them semi-slicks and ride them as such.

A Note on the Sac and Fox Trail Condition

It was hot, humid, and windy in Cedar Rapids yesterday.  This means that my usual rides are miserable affairs, so I change directions and head south.  The Sac and Fox Trail in southeast Cedar Rapids is one of my respite rides when the heat index climbs toward 100.  There is something about riding under the cover of trees that is just a lot more comfortable.

From the East Post Road trailhead to Otis Road the trail was in great condition.  Save for a few ruts it was otherwise clear sailing.

South of Otis Road the trail was completely covered in stagnant water.  There were no signs or indications that this was the case.  It was also a little odd considering we have not had much rain in the area and the spring snowmelt is long gone.  The Cedar River, which backs up into Indian Creek when it is high, currently stands well below flood stage.

Thankfully the traffic was sparse on Otis Road and I was able to make my way to the trail system downtown without any issue.  I just got roasted riding exposed in the sun for a lot longer than I expected.  Next time.

I might try and ride this same trail in a week or so to see if conditions have improved.  Stay tuned.

A New Set of Wheels for My Daily Ride

Being stuck at home is the perfect time to conduct a major overhaul of my daily ride.  The Breezer Radar that I bought a couple of years ago has already been through some major changes since the day it arrived on my doorstep.

In keeping with tradition, I felt that it was time to hit the reset switch and improve some things.  This entire process was also caused by some “cabin fever shopping” during the shut-in time over the past two weeks due to COVID-19.

The single biggest change that I undertook was a new wheelset.  The stock wheelset on the Radar was fairly mediocre.  This is to be expected in an OEM wheelset on a bicycle that came with a value build component set.

I went with a wheelset from online retailer Bicycle Wheel Warehouse.  The set that I ordered was BWW Trail Pro 29er Custom Build.  My set was built with the Speed Tuned Super 6 quick release hubs, Shimano freehub for a 10 speed cassette, and DT Competition 2.0/1.8 spokes.  For a little bling, I went with blue alloy nipples:

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Yeah, it cost a little more but you only live once.  All in, with a 20% discount coupon, I paid just under $300 for the wheelset.

The tires are WTB Venture 700×40.  This tread is a little wider than the Donnelly X’Plor USH 700×35 tires that were installed on the previous wheelset.  I went with something wider and a little more aggressive in the tread department because I felt that the tread profile on the USHs was a little squirrely on the rough stuff around here.  Wanting to spend some more time on more remote routes this year led me to a more off-road focused tread pattern.

The bigger change is moving to a tubeless setup. The good people at Goldfinch Cyclery in the NewBo district of Cedar Rapids got me rolling on tubeless rubber.  Sure, I could have done it myself but I was a little intimidated to make the effort.  After more than thirty years of being used to tubes it will take a little bit of time to teach me some new tricks.  Here they are ready to roll:

You will notice that I removed the decals from Bicycle Wheel Warehouse, so now the wheelset looks like a boring old OEM wheelset.  Minus the blue nipples of course.  There are also some other changes to my bicycle that you might notice.  I will explain at a later date.

The wheelset works with quick releases as opposed to thru axles because that is what my frame can accommodate and the disc rotor mounts via the 6 bolt standard as opposed to centerlock.  A lot of people advised me to go with a centerlock hub and use an adapter, but I sort of despise adapters.  Plus, this wheelset is not going to get moved to another bicycle so choosing specifications based on its requirements alone is a safe bet.

All in—wheels, tires, sealant, cassette, skewers, rotors—the new wheelset came in at a total of 3,810 grams (1,630 grams front and 2,180 grams rear).  This compares with an all in weight—including tubes as opposed to sealant—for my old wheelset of 4,495 grams (1,750 grams front and 2,745 grams rear).  That is a ~15% decrease in rotational weight without breaking the bank or doing anything exotic.

So, for less weight I get wider tires on a wider rim without having to deal with tubes.  This might be the biggest win in a long time.

It’s going to be a hard few weeks waiting for things to dry out in eastern Iowa.  I so want to see how this revamp rolls down the trails.

 

Note: I bought these wheels with my own money and received nothing in return from any of the companies mentioned.

January 2020 Solar Production and EV Efficiency

Okay, January kind of sucks if you are living the electrified life.  On average, January and/or February are the worst months for solar production and EV efficiency.  Why?

For my solar photovoltaic array the answer is in two parts: snow and clouds.  For part of the month, it is common for my panels to be covered with snow.  I have tried my best to knock the snow free with a foam roof rake, but this is really just scratching at the surface of the problem.

The second part of the problem is that the month of January is just not that sunny in eastern Iowa.  The sun came out on Saturday and everyone in the house sort of looked surprised.  It was a “Do you remember the last time you saw the sun” kind of moment.

The end result is that you do not make very much electricity.  For the month I am unsure of just how much my PV array produced because my monitoring setup is still not reporting correctly.  Needless to say, I know that I was in the hole ~400 kWh for the month.  Ugh.

The cold weather will also bit you on the rear end when you are driving an EV.  Granted, the cold weather will also impact the efficiency and performance of an ICE vehicle as well.

When you turn on the heat you watch your range and efficiency go into the tank.  On my 2015 Nissan Leaf which uses a resistive heater I can see the “guess o’ meter’s” range drop by at least 30% and more like 40% usually.

If it gets cold enough the “guess o’ meter” will also show less range because the batteries are chilly and cannot discharge as well.

To add insult to injury, regenerative braking is not as effective in the cold weather so more energy is lost to heat in the form of actually using the brake pedal.

However, given all of that downside I still managed to drive 850.5 miles at an average efficiency of 4.7 miles per kilowatt hour.  This compares with the same period last year where I averaged just 3.6 miles per kWh.  I chalk that up to the weather not being quite as harsh and me understanding how to wring more mileage out of my little Nissan Leaf.

For the month I saved ~953 pounds of CO2 from being emitted versus my prior vehicle assuming an average carbon intensity of electricity from the grid.

Like most people in eastern Iowa I am kind of excited to see February be here because it means an end to the ceaseless political ads and a potential break toward more electrified living amenable weather.

September 2019 Solar PV and EV Numbers

The past month was surprisingly similar to the same month the year prior:

Sept 2019 solar

Almost 416 kWh of clean, green electricity from the funky yellow sun.  All in, including 100% of my EV charging needs, I ended up down ~122 kWh for the month.  The weather was schizophrenic this month bouncing from cool fall weather to hot and humid.  The third week of the month felt like the dog days of August with 90 degree temperature readings and similar humidity levels.  Needless to say, the air conditioning got turned on to cut that down a little bit.  Until that point I was running ahead in terms of production versus consumption.

For the month I drove my Nissan Leaf EV 755.1 miles with an average efficiency of 5.9 miles per kWh.  For the month I required ~128 kWh of electricity for my mobility.  Compared with the F150 that the Leaf replaced, I avoided emitting ~879 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere assuming that I drew electricity from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my region.

For the first nine months or so of the year—my Leaf arrived the second week of January—I have driven a total of 5,893 electric miles at an average efficiency of 5.2 miles per kWh.  The total C02 emissions that have been avoided versus the F150 that the Leaf replaced are 6,733 pounds thus far.  Again, this assumes 100% of charging occurs from the grid with an average carbon intensity for the region.

Interestingly, the total amount to charge my Nissan Leaf for the month–~128 kWh—was about how much I was “down” for the month in terms of solar production.  This aligns with my original estimates where my initial sixteen panel PV array would provide ~100% of my electricity needs.

As the weather turns cool and the pumpkin spice flows freely I am waiting on an install date for the solar array expansion.  The plan is to add 8 360 watt panels to my existing 16 290 watt panel array.  This represents a ~59% increase in solar capacity and given the new panels will be on the same azimuth it should represent the same amount of increase in terms of actual production.

The increase in solar array capacity should account for more than 100% of my Leaf’s charging needs and provide a cushion of excess production for additional electrification.  The future is electric.

Labor Day in Lincoln, Nebraska Leads to…

Bikes and beers of course.  Were you thinking I was going to say University of Nebraska Cornhusker football?  Hah!

As a loyal University of Iowa alumnus going to spend a long weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska I was not going to participate in any game day festivities.  Instead I was going to attack the Homestead Trail south of town.

Last year over the Memorial Day weekend I went on a ride that covered a portion of the Homestead and Jamaica North trails.  At the time the temperature was hovering around 90 some degrees with an equal percentage of humidity which forced me to cut my ride short.  Heading back to my truck I vowed to return.

The route from just south of Lincoln at the trailhead off Saltillo Road southward to Beatrice is a little over 30 miles.  Round trip I expected this ride to take about 4 hours assuming I could keep a consistent cadence on the gravel.

The morning started out cool and humid.  How humid?  Like fog dripping from the sky humid.  Like trailside grasses sagging under the weight of morning dew humid.  At least the trail dust was kept down by all the moisture in the air.  One can really tell that it has been a wet spring and summer in Nebraska just by the density of the greenery along the trail.  It is damn near jungle-esque.

Traffic on the trail was light.  A few ultra-runners early on, but almost completely depopulated by mile ten.  I passed a few people on bikes the rest of the way.  If you want to be alone with your thoughts on a bike I highly recommend the Homestead Trail.

The trail surface was in good condition for most of its length.  Somewhere around mile 20 the trail was scarred by what appeared to be quad bike tracks that whipsawed across the width of the gravel surface.  It was as if someone deliberately came out after a rainstorm and dug deep tire tracks in an effort to frustrate cyclists.  If so, that is just sad and belongs in the hall of shame next to the guys who “roll coal” next to cyclists at traffic stops.

I have got to be honest, the trail is a lot of this:

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If it looks really flat that is because the trail is really flat.  Over 60.34 miles—out and back to Beatrice—I gained a total of 479 feet.  That is right, just an average of less than 8 feet of elevation gain per mile.

I made it to Beatrice:

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Barn wood…it’s not just for people from Waco, Texas:

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Caution: Animal Holes…my new favorite sign:

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The reward for achieving my goal of riding to Beatrice and back was a trip around Lincoln to try out a few, new to me breweries.  My legs were rubber after sixty miles of riding, but I was game for quick pit stop by White Elm Brewing and Code Beer Company in Lincoln.  Both breweries put out a well-made IPA.  I really only had the energy to sample a few beers before heading to dinner and bed.

Like before, I will be back.

Going Back to a Flat Bar Yet Again

There are certain themes I seem to come back to time and time again.  When it comes to my bicycles the past is prologue which means it must be time for me to give up on the drop bars and return to a flat handlebar setup.

After several thousand miles and two different drop bars—the OEM compact set and a reused 44cm Salsa Cowchipper 2—I spent a weekend rebuilding my primary bicycle into this:

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Let’s get a few things out of the way before the drop bar mafia makes their presence known.

Compared to the variety and comfort of flat bar grips the usual drop bar solution of grip tape basically sucks.  You can point me to extra cushioned tape or thick natural cork tape or gel pads under tape…it all sucks compared to a set of Ergon grips.  Plus, I can never seem to wrap a bar neatly or in such a manner that the grip tape starts to come undone in less than a month.  My Ergons are held in place with a single bolt and stay rock solid.

When it comes to hand positions, which is the primary reason that the drop bar mafia claims to love drop bars, I found myself riding almost entirely on the flats or hoods.  You know what those two positions look a lot like in my current setup?  The two primary hand positions.  Hmmm…

Additionally, the position on the flats of my Salsa Cowchipper 2 never felt wide enough.  It was the most comfortable position for my hands, but it felt like someone was squeezing my shoulders inward.  That is not a sensation that is particularly comfortable on a big day ride.  I could have opted for a wider drop bar or gone to a bar with more flare.  However, that would have made the outer hand positions feel wider to a degree that was also uncomfortable.  Do you see where I am going with this?  I could not find a good spot to put my hands for a long ride.  Any ride over the two hour mark really started to hurt my hands and wrists.

In addition to switching to a flat bar I switched out the OEM Shimano Sora 9 speed drivetrain for a SRAM GX based 10 speed drivetrain.  Both setups utilized a single 42 tooth chainring up front.  If this setup looks familiar that is because it is reusing parts from a prior build I did on my old bicycle.  Hilarity, so to speak, ensued when I discovered late Sunday night that the derailleur cable for my rear shifter was about an inch short.  Naturally, no bike shop was open and my build had to wait to be completed until Monday evening.

A big shout out to the guys at Goldfinch Cyclery in Cedar Rapids.  When I could not get my drivetrain to shift accurately—it would not get into the largest cog—they got everything working lickety split.  Turns out you need to exaggerate the alignment a little bit to get everything working.  Who knew?

Stuff I Like: Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry

I will admit that I do not clean and lubricate the drivetrain of my bicycle nearly enough for the amount of riding that I do.  Compounding this fact is that a lot of the riding that I do is north of the paved section of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  This is the section of trail where a weird amalgam of crushed limestone, loose dirt, sand, and whatever else has been spread over the years comprises the surface.

In the 1990s and for probably a decade or more afterward I was a firm believer in the lubrication powers of White Lightning.  Not the white lightning of rural American fame, but the chain lube that used to promise a quiet and clean running chain.  Somewhere along the line the formula changed or my expectations changed.  No longer was it the preferred choice.

After a series of products recommended by the Internet, friends, not so friends, and whatever I call those dudes who ride recumbents in jean shorts I was at my wits end.  Why?  All of the lubes I tried seemed to become a mass of trail dust, grease, and other gunk within a few rides which necessitated scrubbing my drivetrain clean with a stiff bristle brush.  Is there anything more tedious than spending a weekend morning scrubbing your cassette?  I thought not.

On the recommendation of the good folks at Goldfinch Cyclery—best bike shop in eastern Iowa—I bought a bottle of Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry:

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Like Popeye’s Chicken in the oft derided Adam Sandler classic film Little Nicky, this stuff is the shiznit:

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All right, early aughts nostalgia aside The Absolute Dry is the answer to my lube prayers.  That sounds all wrong when I say it out loud.

Here’s the deal: I put this stuff on when my drivetrain starts making some noise and I generally forget about it for a week or more.  What more can I ask out of a bottle of chain lube?  Oh wait, it also does not create the mini mountains of trail crud that seem to result in using more moist lubes that promise to endure miles of abuse.

If you ride a lot of dust strewn miles get a bottle of this stuff and save your weekends for riding.

Note: I bought two bottles of The Absolute Dry with my own money and of my own volition.  I receive no compensation or reward for suggesting that this is an awesome product.  There is no influencer pimping going on here.