Tag Archives: gravel

Personal Goals for 2020

Welcome to 2020 folks.

I have always said that I do not do “resolutions.”  Except for the year I told people that I was going to take up smoking, gain weight, and drink more.  Granted, I failed on all three but I made some resolutions. However, I will make some goals.

The reason I publish these goals and cadence them on this blog is that I have found it is hugely effective in getting me to execute.  The power of accountability. What follows does build on what I wanted to achieve in 2019.

Here are my goals for 2020:

  • Deeper decarbonization: It is one thing to put solar panels on your roof and buy an electric vehicle.  That is just the start. As I look at my household energy use holistically I can see several opportunities for deeper decarbonization.  A couple of examples: replacing an aging gasoline powered lawn mower with an electric lawn mower; replacing an existing natural gas fired water heater with an electric air source heat pump “smart” water heater.
  • Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: It is one thing to replace a gasoline powered mile with an electric powered mile, but it is an even better thing to replace all of these miles with human powered miles.  Why? While an EV is orders of magnitude more efficient than an ICE vehicle, both pale in comparison to the efficiency of human powered transit. It is not just about the direct energy costs of delivering a human being to their desired location, but the embodied energy of the infrastructure required for cars.
  • Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: Last year I rode over 3,000 miles.  I am keeping the goal the same for this year because I am looking to incorporate more commuting into my summer riding and I am going to try and branch out with some different riding.  Maybe I will even get back into mountain biking after almost a decade out of the saddle.
  • Ride 2 “New to Me” Trails: There are so many potentially amazing trails just in my region that I have not ridden.  It is easy to become complacent and ride the “usual.” I am going to try and break out of the rut.
  • Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: It is one thing to buy local beer, but it is better to buy it directly from the brewery without creating packaging waste.  Combining all three is like the holy grail of beer consumption.
  • Read 40 Books: Last year I read 51 books against a goal of 25 books.  I guess that I was sandbagging a little bit. Moving the goal up to 40 books, but there are a lot of thick and dense tomes on my book list.  Like Capital in the Twenty First Century dense.
  • Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: There is too much grass.  Our lawns are giant monocultures that are crying to be diversified.  The goal this year is to take some of that grass out and replace it with diverse plantings that are beneficial for both the environment and wildlife.
  • Maximize Local Food: Month in and month out, food is the second largest expense in my household after a mortgage payment.  Directing as much of this money as possible to local vendors and producers is the single biggest change that I can make in 2020.  I have about three months of detailed information from the end of 2019 when I began thinking about this as a baseline, so I think I will know if I am doing a decent job.

Final Report on 2019 “Resolutions”

It is time to take stock of my so-called New Year’s resolutions for 2019 and see how I did.

Without further ado, here is the list:

  • Decarbonize transportation—My 2015 Nissan Leaf has been in the garage for about a year.  Over that time ~7,987 miles at an average efficiency of 5.2 miles per kWh. The Leaf saved ~9,119 pounds of CO2 being emitted compared to my prior vehicle.  Furthermore, I added ~62% generating capacity to my home’s solar photovoltaic array so for 2020 I should be driving on sunshine 100% of the time.
  • No more Amazon—A little bit of failure and a little bit of success. I definitely spent a lot less money at Amazon than in prior years, but it speaks to the company’s ubiquity that I ended up buying anything at all.  Want to buy that odd little gadget?  Guess what, Amazon is about the only place to find fulfillment.
  • No more Walmart—A little more success as I the only trips to Walmart were few and far between for the year. Over the course of the entire holiday shopping season it never entered into my mind to even shop there.  Once a store is no longer part of your “consideration set” that has to be considered a success.
  • Read twenty five books—51 books read.
  • Drink local—Pretty good, but I think I can do better in 2020.
  • Declutter my house—Fail. My family and I spent some time getting rid of old clothes and other stuff that was taking up space in our closets.  However, it feels like we replaced whatever we got rid of over the course of the year.  I know that I will never be a fervent follower of Marie Kondo’s methods nor will I ever embrace modern minimalism.  I thought I could do a little better.
  • Replace existing toilets with low volume flush models—One toilet was replaced. A second toilet is scheduled to be replaced in January.  The third toilet in the house does not get enough use to merit replacement at this time.
  • Plant at least five trees—Two Norway spruce trees are in the ground.  Three Colorado blue spruce trees in the ground. Mission accomplished.
  • Reduce lawn coverage—Fail. I had the best of intentions to start replacing some of my lawn with mixed plantings and landscaped beds.  While I got the trees in the ground the rest of the plan did not come together.  This is where I am going to focus my 2020 landscaping efforts.
  • Ride 2,500 miles on gravel roads—Over 3,000 miles ridden on the year. Mission accomplished.

 

For 2020 I am going to try and build on what was done in 2019.  The goal is to improve each year.  Different goals or different metrics, but the overall theme is improvement.

Stay tuned!

In Praise of Fall Rides

Despite the emergence of pumpkin spice lattes and the forthcoming Halloween festivities fall is an amazing time in eastern Iowa for those of us who ride bicycles.

Why?

With RAGBRAI long past and college football in full swing a ride on the weekend is usually an affair where you might see a half dozen people out on the trail.  In the summer it is like spending Black Friday at the Mall of America.  Yes, it gets that bad.

Despite the increase in wind speeds the drop in temperature is manageable through some strategic layering and thoughtful ride timing.  A friend of mine says that if you wear black in the sun it feels ten degrees warmer than whatever the weatherman is telling you.  I do not know if that is true, but fifty degrees is pretty darn nice when you are twenty miles into a thirty some mile ride and starting to really heat up.

The cool temps and lingering humidity keep the dust down on the gravel.  Save for the patches of trail covered in green hulled walnuts, which will drop you on your ass if you are not careful, the surface conditions are just about perfect.  Dry and firm with enough give for traction.  This is a trail you would have killed for in the middle of sun baked summer when the conditions vacillated between rock hard and sloppy mess.  Sometimes in the same ride.

For some reason the animals are crazy this time of year.  Kamikaze squirrels will dart across the path with alarming frequency.  Raccoons crawl out from under bridges like they are coming off three day dumpster benders.  Bald eagles circle lazily looking for the plump, easy meal of a rodent making its way across a freshly harvested soybean field.

The changing colors and dying grasses add an otherworldly quality to the landscape that has grown so familiar over a lot of summer miles.  Where there used to be impenetrable walls of tall grass is now a mottled screen of drooping stalks and golden leaves.

Perhaps best of all is that your legs feel like they are carved from springy wood.  Hardened from thousands of miles, yet fresh from a taper in riding time equals some refreshingly fast and fun rides in mid-October.

Plus, you can wear a flannel shirt on your ride and no one looks at you funny.  Try doing that in July.

Third Quarter New Year’s Resolutions Progress

It is now October and that means it is fall.  It also means that I am nine months of the way through the year which is probably a good time to check in on where I am at with my resolutions or goals for 2019.  Here goes:

  • Decarbonize transportation—My 2015 Nissan Leaf has been in the garage for almost nine months. Through the end of September 2019 I have driven ~5,893 miles.  By trading a Ford F150 for a Nissan Leaf I have saved ~6,733 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted.
  • No more Amazon—While I failed in the first quarter and succeeded in the second quarter, the third quarter was a little better. I spent some money that I was “awarded” from work via a gift card.  It was money spent at Amazon, but it was not my cash and I felt that the effort to transfer the funds was not worth the return.  Trying to reduce my spending at both Amazon and Walmart has made me think about our consumer habits in general.  More to come.
  • No more Walmart—Spent about a $100 on school supplies for a work organized effort to help out area kids during the back to school time. Walmart was running sales where I was able to pick up whole classrooms’ worth of some supplies for a few dollars.  It was craziness and well worth failing in my goal to make it happen.
  • Read twenty five books—38 books read in the first nine months.  Mission accomplished.
  • Drink local—Doing pretty good so far.
  • Declutter my house—This is probably the singular failure so far this year. Sure, some stuff has gone to Goodwill but I feel that on the whole nothing is less cluttered than it was nine months ago.  Maybe I can sprint to the finish.
  • Replace existing toilets with low volume flush models—I have picked out the model of toilet to replace my existing commodes. I have even purchased the wax rings to install the new toilers.  Now I just need to get a free day on a weekend to spend a few hours doing some plumbing.  Can you tell that this is my favorite way to spend a few hours on a Saturday?
  • Plant at least five trees—Two Norway spruce trees are in the ground. Three Colorado blue spruce trees in the ground.  Mission accomplished.
  • Reduce lawn coverage— No real progress, but I have plans. I promise!
  • Ride 2,500 miles on gravel roads—I am sitting at ~2,718 miles for the season as the month of September came to a close. Surprisingly, September was a real dog of a month for riding as the weather really conspired to keep me inside.   Mission accomplished.

So far, so good I think.

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.