Tag Archives: gravel

The Final Bicycle Cockpit

My Breezer has gone through several cockpit iterations over the past several years as I have looked for the perfect combination.

I started with the compact drop bars that came as stock and transitioned quite quickly to a Salsa Cowchipper, which had been on my previous gravel bike.  This led to a return to a flat bar with and without bar ends.  Nagging wrist and hand pain forced me to reevaluate.

Toward the end of last season I installed a cheap swept bar that I bought on Amazon.  The geometry of the grip area was similar to the Jones H-bar that I had been looking at for a while.  My hope was that the inexpensive bar would provide an analogous experience to the Jones bar at a fraction of the cost. 

My experience with the swept bar was good.  The hand and wrist pain that I was experiencing was lessened, but the lack of hand positions was uncomfortable over the long run.

So, over the winter break from riding I built out a totally new cockpit:

This is a Jones H-Bar Loop in the 710mm size.  The grips are ESI XXL Extra Chunky cut down to ~7 inches from their original 8.25 inch length.  The components are the same as prior versions including the TOGS thumb grips.

In the loop area I installed a Surly Moloko bag.  It fits perfectly and I prefer the style to the Jones bag.  Of particular note is the Surly bag’s bungee straps on top that allow me to stuff a sweat rag for easy access or stow my sunglasses if the weather changes rapidly.  It’s a little thing, but when you are riding fifty miles from home the little things start to matter a lot.

Unfortunately, the weather in Iowa this spring has been absolute garbage.  Cold, rainy, and windy have been the order of the day for the past month or so.  Riding opportunities have been limited, but the forecast looks good in the upcoming week.  My hope is to put some miles in to report on how the cockpit setup is faring.

Happy trails!

2021 Personal Goals Scorecard

2021 was a year.  Actually, it felt like more than a year.

Looking back I do not know what I really did for an entire year.  Work feels like pretending as our ad hoc work from home arrangement is entering its third year with no end in sight.  Play feels like a constant question of “is this worth the risk of potential exposure?”  Heck, every time I think about going out to grab a pizza my minds starts to think about transmission rates and air handlers.  Yeah, that is what 2021 did to my brain.

Anyway, I digress.  How did I do when it came to my goals for 2021?  Read on below to find out.

Here goes:

  1. Read 60 books—73 books in total against a goal of 60.  Victory.
  2. Ride 3,000 miles on my bicycle—4,103.6 miles against a goal of 3,000.  Victory.
  3. Ride 3 “new to me” trails—I only rode one “new to me” trail: the High Trestle Trail in central Iowa.  It seemed like coronavirus and weather killed every effort I made to ride new trails.
  4. Local, direct, and packaging free beer—Pretty good.  You can see the details here, but the theme was heavy on the local (only one non-local purchase all year) and decent on buying direct from the brewer and/or in a packaging neutral form factor.
  5. No new car in 2020—Epic failure.  We got through March before the reality of needing two cars that could travel more than 75 miles or so set in.  Granted, I am glad we did not spend the first half of this year trying to rent cars for those few weekends of kids activities separated by hundreds of miles. A single weekend was going for about what our car payment is right now.  That would have hurt.
  6. Less lawn, more life—I feel like I am about halfway to my goal of ripping out my lawn in various spots.  I started to build out a large pollinator garden in 2021, but 2022 is probably going to see my finish the project and undertake another similar style bed in another part of my lawn.
  7. Deeper decarbonization—Like the prior year, I do not know how to categorize this goal.  Without any effort on our part, my wife and I “avoided” 218 days of commutes to work.    Since 2019 we have “avoided” 383 days of commutes to work.  This is a lot of avoided carbon dioxide and other attendant pollution.  I have also decarbonized my lawn care with a battery electric mower.  It does feel, however, like we stalled out a little this past year.  Our delayed effort to replace out natural gas water heater with a hybrid air source heat pump model ran into supply chain realities.  As a household we made some efforts to reduce natural gas usage by keeping our house a little chillier and focusing on heating the person via electricity.  If there is one thing I am going to work on in 2022 this is it.

Panaracer Gravelking SS Plus+ 1,000 Mile Check-In

Passed the 1,000 mile milestone on the Gravelking SS Plus+ tires about a week ago.  As the weather turns for toward the nasty—forget the Instagram worthy pictures of sunlight dappled fall leaves because it has been rainy and windy here in eastern Iowa—I get to spend some time reflecting on the past riding season.

These just might be the holy grail tires I have been looking for the past couple of years with one caveat.  As you can see from the photos below the tires are wearing like iron.  Previous tire sets really began to show wear on the rear tire at the 1,000 mile mark.  The Gravelkings have not even shed all of the rubber “hair” from the molding process.  I will probably rotate these at 1,500 miles or so.

The ride quality is good on either pavement or mixed surface trails.  Honestly, I do not even think about these tires.  I just “point and shoot” when I am riding like a mountain biker in the 1990s trusting his Smoke/Dart combo would carry him through.

The only caveat is that the 43C width might be a bit much.  This is a chonky tire.  With a nearly slick center section you have to rely on the width when the going gets soft.  Like the WTB Byways previously, you have to wait until the tire sinks a little bit into the terrain before the side knobs bite.  Granted, the trails around here were mostly like concrete all summer with drought like conditions persisting.

A quick note on size.  The specification is for the tire to have a width of 43C.  With my fancy new digital calipers I measure the tire at ~44.5C front and rear at several points along the tire’s circumference.  This is a chonky tire.

Below you will see how my tires have weathered the riding season so far at various intervals:

Note: I bought these tires with my own money.  Nothing has come to me from Panaracer.  If I were pimping a product I would let you know.

Third Quarter Progress on My 2021 Personal Goals

I am nine months into the year and the end is coming into focus.

Let’s see how things are shaping up with just under a quarter of the year remaining.

  1. Read 60 books—57 books down.  Two in process should put me on the doorstep of my goal before mid-October.  With some cooler weather there are going to be some good reading nights in the near future.
  2. Ride 3,000 miles on my bicycle—Ended September having ridden 3,839.2 miles.  Success and then some.  Aiming for something closer to 4,500 miles as a “stretch” goal.
  3. Ride 3 “new to me” trails—Rode 1 new trail (High Trestle Trail), but COVID-19 seems to be getting in the way of me riding anything else.  Or the weather.  I have taken three days of vacation where it has rained—during a summer of drought—so I am not thinking this is my year.
  4. Local, direct, and packaging free beer—Keeping it local.  You can check out my beer purchasing below:
  • No new car in 2021—Fail.  I have spent enough time dwelling on this failure.
  • Less lawn, more life—Took out some scrubby turfgrass and planted the start of a large pollinator garden.  (Part 1 and Part 2)  I have a few more things to do in order to get the bed read for the winter and future planting next spring when I intend to complete my vision of a pollinator oasis.
  • Deeper decarbonization—Again this is an interesting case of how you frame the situation.  I did not end up replacing our water heater or furnace with air source heat pump models because supply chain constraints meant high prices that pushed me to wait until next year.  Plus, we finally got contractors in to complete repairs stemming from last year’s derecho so our house budget was kind of blown. However, consider that by the end of September my wife and I had not commuted to work for ~165 days or more than the entirety of 2020.  With three months to go, we will have avoided well north of 200 days of commuting.  Plus, we have not taken an airplane flight since the summer of 2019.  The direct carbon emission savings of those two differences is a big deal.

Revisiting My Bicycle Cockpit

It seems like an annual effort.  Here I am again making major changes to my bicycle’s cockpit in the hopes of achieving something close to comfort without sacrificing control.

The journey has gone from a compact drop bar—OEM equipment that lasted a few rides—to a Salsa Cowchipper—which I never could get comfortable with—to a carbon flat bar.  The carbon flat bar with chunky MTB style grips has been with me for a few seasons of riding and it is the cockpit with which I am the most comfortable.

Call it age or call it wisdom, but I am beginning to question the long-term viability of the flat bar setup.  I could go back to a drop style handlebar.  This is the default answer of most gravel attuned riders in my area.  These same riders also seem to come from road specific bikes and traditions, so it makes sense that the drop style handlebar is in their comfort zone.

From the touring side of the house comes the swept bar solution.  This has more appeal to me because it allows me to retain the brake level style and grips that I prefer.  Almost to a person the handlebar I was steered toward was a Jones H-bar with the loop.   These bars are a nice piece of hardware, but I was hesitant to spend $80 to $300—that carbon bar is a nice piece of bike bling—on something I might end up tossing after a few weeks of riding.

A little Amazon hunting later and I came upon this handlebar.  The handlebar apes the geometry of the Jones H-bar.  My goal was to see if I liked the swept back handlebar and more upright riding position without spending the coin on an actual Jones H-bar.  If I like it then an upgrade will likely be in order.  If not, I am out a few bucks and an hour’s time to reinstall my old carbon flat bar.

With ESI Extra Chunky standard-length grips this is what I am riding for the rest of the season:

About 200 miles in with the new setup I can make a few observations:

  • Shoulder and wrist pain is reduced if not eliminated
  • Hand numbness is less of a problem; I only notice it toward the end of my normal 30+ mile ride instead of at about the mid-point of the ride
  • I wish I had opted for the longer ESI grips to get a wider variety of hand positions along the sweeps
  • I feel a little slower with this setup, but the GPS does not lie as I am within the normal variation for my normal 30+ ride

Maybe that carbon Jones H-bar loop is in my future.

So Close…

The pavement on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail is all the way to Center Point now:

Yes, the trail is still closed but it is so close to being open.  I am kind of like a kid at Christmas just waiting to open the presents beneath the tree.

This project seems like it has taken forever, but that is a product of the trail being closed during the meat of the riding season.  It is going to be so nice to have pavement all the way to Urbana during the months when the weather is not the most cooperative.

Panaracer Gravelking SS Plus+ 500 Mile Check-In

This may be the tire I have been searching for all of this time.

Has it already been 500 miles?  Oh yes and the Gravelking SS tires just seem to keep asking for more.

First, the tire seems to be wearing like iron.  My riding has been about 60/40 pavement/loose surface so it is not like I am babying the tires on smooth pavement.  The rear tire even has some of the rubber whiskers after 500 miles.  It is an encouraging sign.

Second, I do not even think about the tire.  Heck, the section of trail I have been riding has nice drops where the pavement is supposed to meet transitions to the roadway.  I just bomb it without a second thought.  It feels like the glory days of the Smoke/Dart combo.

Third, these tires hold pressure really well.  I was getting used to coming out for a ride and adding 5-10 PSI every day.  Not so with the Gravelkings.  I need to adjust the air only every few days now.

A quick note on size.  The specification is for the tire to have a width of 43C.  With my fancy new digital calipers I measure the tire at ~44.5C front and rear at several points along the tire’s circumference.  This is a chonky tire.

Below you will see how my tires have weathered the riding season so far at various intervals:

Note: I bought these tires with my own money.  Nothing has come to me from Panaracer.  If I were pimping a product I would let you know.

Just Getting Started with a Set of Panaracer Gravelking SS Plus+ Tires

That’s all folks.  The WTB Byway 40Cs that were installed on my bike became squishy messes that would not hold air.  I tried adding a boatload of Orange Enduro sealant to no effect.  It looked the tire casing was going through puberty with how many little dots of white were showing through when the tire was pumped up to 50 PSI or so.

It did not break my heart—despite my inherent aversion to spending money—to dump the Byways because I had a set of Panaracer Gravelking SS Pro+ 40Cs in my garage waiting for installation.  

A note on installation, the tire went onto the rim with no trouble but the bead was a bear to seat.  It wanted to roll over onto itself for some reason.  I had to manually nudge the bead along the diameter of the rim close to the rim edge before blasting the tire into position with an air compressor.  The SS Plus+ (or SS+ depending upon the marketing material) uses a bead to bead layer of Panaracer’s ProTite puncture protection belt.  After suffering two fairly serious punctures with my previous tires I am excited to see if this feature would eliminate that problem.

With the bead in place and a syringe full of sealant the Gravelkings held pressure with little to no sealant bubbling through the tread or sidewall.  I do not know if this is attributable to the anti-puncture belt or a difference in construction, but this is a big departure from the WTB Venture and Byway tires I had installed previously.  I hope that this bodes well for the Gravelkings’ ability to withstand the rigors of the ride.

With about 150 miles of mixed riding (60/40 pavement/gravel split) I can say a few things about these tires.  First, they are chunky.  This is not a dainty tire.  From the 43C width to the fairly stiff sidewalls this is not a tire that will awards for suppleness, but it is also not a tire that is going to leave you worried that the sidewall is at risk.  For those of us with more of a straight ahead, bulldozing riding style this is just what the doctor orders.

Second, though the tire is big it does not appear to be slowing me down.  All of the loops that I have done are within 1% of my average speed for the season with the narrower Byways installed.  GPS does not lie.

Third, it feels a little disconnected when riding on smooth pavement but the tire is a joy in the loose stuff.  Maybe it’s the width and the resulting tire volume.  Maybe it’s the chunkiness.  Time will tell.

Below you will see how my tires have weathered the riding season so far at various intervals:

Note: I bought these tires with my own money.  Nothing has come to me from Panaracer.  If I were pimping a product I would let you know.

WTB Byway 40C 3,000 Mile Check-In

I spoke of trust at the 2,500 miles check-in and I am likely to speak again of trust at 3,000 miles.

The issue now is that the rear tire, showing some serious wear, will not hold pressure for more than a day.  I have reseated the tire, changed the sealant, and check for serious leaks.  Nothing seems to change the fact that the tire loses about 15 PSI over the course of an evening.

I should rotate these tires because the front has some life left to it and I am cheap bastard.  When good tires are costing north of $60 before sealant is figured in I want to make sure to get every mile out of a set.

The question is will I end up with a situation like I had with the WTB Venture 40Cs last season.  At about 3,000 miles or a little more the tires just stopped holding air.  I would come out the next day and sealant would be bubbling out of little holes all over the center tread area.  It was like the casing itself was starting to delaminate or something.  I do not want to find myself halfway into a long ride and have to nurse failing tires home.

I do have a set of Panaracer Gravelking SS+ 43C sitting in my garage waiting to be installed.  Almost calling to me.

Below you will see how my tires have weathered the riding season so far at various intervals:

There is an interesting uneven wear pattern on the rear tire that I have never noticed with any previous tires. It is something I will have to watch in my next set of tires.

Note: I bought these tires with my own money.  Nothing has come to me from WTB.  If I were pimping a product I would let you know.

WTB Byway 40C 2,500 Mile Check-In

Trust.  When your only contact with the ground are a few square inches of rubber you need to trust you tires.

It is not that I fear a catastrophic failure of the WTB Byway 40C tires on my Breezer, but I do not know if I trust the tires completely.  At the 2,500 mile mark I am starting to think about replacing the tires, as opposed to rotating and pushing on to 3,000 miles or more.  This is even more attractive because I have a set of Panaracer Gravelking SS 43C sitting in my garage.

Why don’t I trust these tires?  It’s not about the quality of the ride.  The tire is predictable and rolls fast.  The rounded tread profile offers a smooth transition when leaning into corners, which is a departure from the prior WTB Venture 40Cs.  My trust issue comes into play with regard to the tire holding air.

Some of the leaks the tires have developed have come from trail debris, intentional or otherwise.  Recently, small leaks have developed in the center part of the tread on both the front and rear tires.  The leaks are small and the Orange Enduro sealant seems to be doing its job.  However, every ride or so I notice a little wet spot on one of the tires.

Maybe it’s the miles.  2,500 miles is beyond the life of some tires.  Maybe it’s the terrain.  Some of my miles are on gravel roads with the notorious chip style rock.  Maybe it’s the tire design.  The tires on my bike lack the new SG2 Puncture Protection.  This feature is a bead-to-bead belt of nylon designed to prevent punctures and slashes.  I just do not know.

Below you will see how my tires have weathered the riding season so far:

Note: I bought these tires with my own money.  Nothing has come to me from WTB.  If I were pimping a product I would let you know.