Tag Archives: gravel

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.

Stuff I Like: Oury Bicycle Grips

My bicycle’s cockpit has undergone several evolutionary cycles.  From the original equipment compact drops bar to a Salsa Cowchipper to a flat bar with bar ends to the current configuration:


I spoke about the TOGS in a prior post.  This is about my switch to Oury grips.  Or, rather, a switch back to Oury grips since these were my go-to option back in the go-go mountain bike 1990s.

For the past couple of seasons I have ridden with Ergon GP1 grips.  I liked them well enough and felt that on rides of twenty miles or so there was an increased level of comfort.  Past the twenty mile mark my hands fell victim to the same comfort issues with other grips or bar configurations.  It was better than the discomfort I experienced with drop bars—compact or flared, it did not matter—but it was not good when I was looking to increase the mileage of my weekend rides into the fifty mile realm.

The problem, in my opinion, is that while the Ergon grips were comfortable there was a prescriptive nature to the grip where only a single position was possible for any period of time.  Once that became uncomfortable you were shit out of luck.

With the Oury grips there is no set position for your hand.  You are free to rotate around the circumference of the grip.  Combined with the TOGS you can really switch up for hand/wrist positions in a lot of ways on the fly as you ride.

The Oury grips are also a little thicker, but not fat paw thick, and squishy so a non-glove wearing rider like myself does not feel impaired.  Trust me, some of the grips out there have a texture and hardness that is akin to a rotary grinder disc.  Maybe that is just me.

This setup has been good to go on the thirty mile rides I have been knocking out during coronavirus isolation.  I am very curious to see how things play out when I aim for some fifty mile or more rides in June.  Stay tuned.

Note: I paid for these Oury grips with my own money and received nothing in compensation to recommend the product.  It is just something that I think is a good thing.

Stuff I Like: Thumb Over Grip System (TOGS)

The one bonus to the current lack of travel options is that I have been spending a lot of time in the early part of the cycling season actually on my bicycle.  If the weather is even slightly favorable I will clip in and head out for a ride.  It is just about the only thing keeping me sane right now as everyone in my house is going a little stir crazy after more than six weeks of isolation.

For the current cycling season I changed up a lot of things on my bicycle.  New wheels.  New drivetrain.  New cockpit.

Anyone familiar with my struggles over the years—compact drop bar to flared drop bar to flat bar—will not be surprised that I am trying again to find the combination that feels right.

Previously, I set my handlebars up with a carbon flat bar, Ergon grips, and stubby bar ends.  This was a cockpit very similar to my mountain bikes in the late-1990s.  I enjoyed the different hand positions afforded by bar ends and I did spend a lot of time with my hands “splayed out” to combat the dreaded numbness that comes with spending hours in the saddle.  However, it was never quite “right.”

Enter the Thumb Over Grip System (TOGS):


It is hard to see from the image but the TOGS are a little stub that extends out from the handlebar to give you a place to rest or hook your thumb.  Doing so allows you to unwrap your hands from the grips and achieve a different grip position without sacrificing a measure of control.  Sure, you could do something similar without TOGS, but you risk your hands slipping fairly easily.  Trust me, I have had it happen.

Installation of the “flexible” version is a snap.  You do not even need to remove your grips because the TOGS can be slipped over your bars and screwed in place.  It’s a no risk installation, although with most grips being of the lock-on variety anymore I do not know how much this helps.  Reposition your controls and off you go.

After about three hundred miles of early season riding I consider myself a fan of TOGS.  As someone who does not ride with padded gloves or gloves of any sort unless it is cold outside I appreciate the multiplicity of positions I can grasp without sacrificing control.

A bonus is that by forgoing bar ends I can add a set of pogies for cold season riding and still maintain a lot of different and positions.  Remember, I dislike gloves.  Win, win baby!

NOTE: I bought the TOGS with my own money, installed them myself, and use them every ride.  I received nothing from the manufacturer to write this piece.  I am not pimping products like a B-grade influencer on Instagram.

Progress Against 2020 Goals in the First Quarter of the Year

Here is a breakdown by goal of my progress so far in 2020:

  • Deeper decarbonization: An electric lawn mower and weed eater are in the garage ready to go. I cannot wait to report on the run times for the batteries and the overall experience of completely shedding small engines for yard maintenance.  Some other projects, most notably a new electric air source heat pump water heater, are going to have to wait until the restrictions around coronavirus subside.  In a way, all of this restriction on travel, which leads to less shopping and wasteful trips, is decarbonizing my life.  It’s not good to be going through this saga, but the energy diet is a nice side effect.
  • Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: This one is a little hard for me to imagine right now as we are not driving at all. The cars in our garage are basically sitting save for a weekly trip to get groceries.  I will be very curious to see what our mileage totals look like for the month of April as the lockdown continues.
  • Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: 47.93 miles by the end of March. It’s not much, but it is ahead of last year’s pace.
  • Ride 2 “New to Me” Trails: A goal for warmer weather. Stay tuned.
  • Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: Check out the details here. A little bit of a misstep as I prepared for coronavirus lockdown by buying up some cans from local breweries.
  • Read 40 Books: 22 books down. Not too shabby for one quarter.
  • Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: This is a goal for the spring, so look forward to some progress now that the temperature has gone up and the snow is off the ground. Plus, what else am I going to do in a world where we are sheltering in place.
  • Maximize Local Food: Until about mid-March I was killing it with local food. According to my calculations, local food comprised almost 50% of my grocery spend.  Then coronavirus happened and we decided to stock up.  A couple of big trips to warehouse clubs and weekly grocery pickup have killed my local grocery shopping.  Even so, local groceries make up about 33% of my household grocery spend.  I am hoping to improve upon that in the coming months as we all learn how to navigate a world impacted by coronavirus.

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:


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.

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!