Writing Gravel

The good folks over at RidingGravel.Com have a site full of useful information for those of us who prefer rocks to road.  It’s a solid resource for thorough new gear reviews, very important as gravel supplies are not cheap, bike news, events, and a very active and what is probably my favorite forum.  RGDC is home to a few of my my favorite people, Guitar Ted and MG, and a few other folk I hope to get to meet in person at some point.  What I’m saying here is that you should go visit this site if you are of Gravel Mind and Body, they have the goods.

All of the contributors at RGDC are Dirt Accomplished in their own right, so it is an honor to have been tapped by GT to make some contributions to their site.  I sincerely hope that every post that I submit to RGDC lives up to their standards, and helps guide Grinders in their Grinding Life.

My first article is up this week, it’s about a subject near and dear to my heart, Dyno Hub Lighting.  You can read it here.

I encourage you to visit the site, do some exploring, and maybe make some connections with like minded folk on the forum.  What’s the worst that could happen, you have even more fun in the dirt?




Yes, I realize that we are only two hours into the actual race, and that even though the conditions are pretty decent (aside from some serious wind), nobody is finishing in two hours.  I mean, some people may be finished at this point, but the finish line is still devoid of whatever you call those people who cross the blah blah blah blah.  Yeah, whatever that whole things was.

Last year I announced to the world that my little know DFL Gravel Racing Career was over, done, finished.  It was time to move on and do fun things, WHICH I HAVE BEEN DOING, but damnit if old habits are hard to break.  I think we can all agree on that point. Unfortunately my drive for bike racing mediocrity overturned my sense of fun and I entered CIRREM.

CIRREM is absolutely the worst, yet achievable, event for me.  It’s “only” 65 miles of gravel, albeit with some nasty climbs here and there, and the weather is definitely a factor in some past failures.  Iowa in February is a weather crapshoot, more crap than shoot.  Last year I had let my health slip and was a total fat ass, out of shape dude that couldn’t even muster a DFL on what would possibly be the nicest day of CIRREM weather ever.  It hurt. I made some changes, lost a grip of weight, decided that I would just take it easy and skip the attempt at heroics, but GODDAMNIT I HAD SOMETHING TO PROVE!



Did my weight loss help my ability to finish?  Did my massive improvement in internal health mean I would be able to finish this thing I started trying back in CIRREM 3 or so? Questions needed to be answered.  It was decided to start really getting some miles in, the end of last year was so busy that I had very little time to bike, and log every single mile.  I rode over 300 in during the last three weeks of January, which isn’t bad in these parts and during our absolute shit winter weather.  Thanks, fat bike. Then I moved to a new house that is rotten with stairs.  Due to my own terrible organizational skills, most of the move was done solo, and during one of those days I reawakened an ankle injury that happened in July of 2016, and took about a year to clear up.  This past Thursday night I rode out to the Cumming Tap to drop off my donation for the race, and on the way back decided to horse it and see how fast I could get to town.  There was a lot of standing up and cranking away, then more beers, then Friday I could barely walk on the ankle at all.  The severe pain has continued today, and I had to make a decision whether to push through it and do all the climbing or rest and hope that this doesn’t screw up my entire year of cycling.  I have some big plans.

So I pulled the plug on my CIRREM around 7am this morning.  I’m really not happy with it, I was as prepared as ever.  The course looks pretty dope, glad they postponed for a week due to very unsafe conditions.  I will be back next year for #11. I will be more prepared, the good lard willing, and smash my own course record of DNF.

Thanks for reading along, and godspeed to all those out there cranking away through the hills, rocks, and wind.


Tips From The Back Of The Pack

wpid-FxCam_1272290632827.jpgSome race for the glory of the podium.  Some race for the thrill and challenge.  A lot of us are just racing the cutoff times and for the satisfaction of a strong DFL* finish.  I am a one of those types who tends to live in that neighborhood of riders that cause checkpoints to be staffed until the very last minute, a place called The Back Of The Pack.

The Back Of The Pack isn’t a glorious place, but it doesn’t have to be without its good times and fun.  I’ve put together a few tips and tricks here to help those of us BOTP’ers be more successful at last place.

  • Ride your bike: You don’t have to have a personal coach or even a HRM (although monitoring heart rate/power is pretty helpful for distributing physical resources during long distance riding), you really need to simply ride your bike. Ride as much as you can, take a rest day or two here and there.  If you are planning to do a 200 mile event, work your endurance up by riding longer hours in the saddle. Once you can put in a couple 80 mile or more days in a row, you can probably finish that DK200.  The main point is that if you don’t ride your bike, you aren’t going to be any good at riding your bike.
  • Navigation Is Salvation: If you are off the back and relying on cue cards for direction, PAY ATTENTION to what is going on around you.  Riding solo, or even in a group of folks who are having their own struggles, can end poorly if you aren’t practicing the three R’s for yourself: Reading the Cue Card, Remembering The next turn or sequence of turns, Reacting to the landmarks.  It’s easy to sit on someone’s wheel and hope they are navigating properly, but face it: self supported means you are on your own. Too many times racers have taken wrong turns and added to their race mileage because of trusting the person up front, not having a proper light to see road signs, or simply spacing off.  Remember that these events are difficult enough without adding to the challenge with your own personal bonus mileage.  Pay attention to navigation at all times.  Getting lost sucks.

READ, REMEMBER, REACT. Learn it, Live it.

  • Conserve Energy:  It’s REALLY tempting to go hard off the line.  This is probably one of the biggest fails.  You’ve prepared for your event, your legs are feeling fresh, and there is a veritable Excitement Buffet buzz buzzing around the start line feeding your confidence level. The signal happens. It’s go time. Do you:
    • A) Take off like a jackrabbit with the lead pack and blow up shortly after starting?
    • B) Stick with the middle of the pack until you can’t maintain pass and drop off the back or
    • C) Ride your own pace?

It’s always best to ride at your own pace, especially if keeping up with whatever group you’ve opted to ride with is draining your physical resources. Ride smart and if you are feeling fresh at the half way or past, kick it up and burn it on in!

  • Know What To Wear: Some of these events span the course of 24 or 36 hours, and you will see temperature drops and possibly erratic weather changes.  This kind of goes back to riding your bike. When you are doing said riding, do some in shit conditions. Make note of what clothing/shoes/gloves/eyewear works for what temperature/conditions.  I have a mental log of temp ranges and which base layers/outer layers/socks, etc work within those ranges.  I also do a stupid thing I call Training Cold, which involves long rides in cold weather being purposely under-dressed for the conditions (I pack extra layers in a seat pack for safety sake – in case my mom is reading this). This prepares me for sudden unexpected weather changes out on the road when maybe extra warm gear didn’t get packed, or I just don’t feel like stopping to layer up.  My point is DON’T OVERDRESS, if you are super warm and toasty on a 30 degree 4am starting line, you will sweat out in 5 miles. I see folks out on 50 degree days on the bike trails with full on winter gear, helmet covers, lobster claw gloves, and it’s kind of ridiculous. These fine folk are probably not going on a century ride like that, but still.   DON’T OVERDRESS. Sweating out/overheating is a sure fire fast track to failure.
  • Don’t Over Pack: The more weight you are carrying on your bike, the more you are pushing up hills. If you are riding gravel, you are most likely pushing up a LOT of hills, and if you are just fit enough to pull a DFL or back of the pack, an extra pound or five can be enough to wear you down more quickly.  If you are riding a 5-6 hour gravel event do you really need to pack a spare tire?  If you have a drop bag option at the mid point, do you need 6 water bottles on your bike?  Take a good look at what you are using during training. What do you use on the regular? How far are you riding? How far is the event? What are the conditions of the gravel?  Are your tires up to the task? How much food do you really need to carry?  So many questions that can be answered by a pretty simple formula: If you didn’t need it for 100’s of miles of training/preparation, you probably won’t need it for a 100k event.  This subject deserves a post of its own.
  • IMG_5743

    Bring some comfort er…food

    Bring a few comforts: Yes, don’t over pack, but bring something that motivates you or can comfort you if you pull out. I bring a flask of Wild Turkey 101 on almost every long ride, and on TIV8 I packed that and some Marlboro Reds (yes, I once in a while have a smoke with my whiskey. It’s a terrible habit and I know it).  When my ride went south right out the gate (cold, rainy 4am start, mechanicals from mile 10 on, etc) I reached a point where it was do or die, try to squeak through CP1 or hang a right on the highway and tailwind back to town. I had some whiskey and a smoke, weighed options, and made the hard call to drop out.  You don’t have to drink or smoke, I might be a little extreme, but bring one of your favorite candies or a picture of your family, or an iPod with your favorite playlist, or whatever will comfort you when the chips are fucked.

  • IMG_6658


    Pick The Right Bike: Obviously, if you have one bike for everything, take that bike. Beats walking 100k.  If you have some options, pick the one that is most comfortable, is geared properly for the amount of climbing, and has the proper tire for the terrain.  You don’t need to try being a hero and ride your loaded fat bike through 100k of climbing, I’ve seen it happen and it wasn’t pretty. I’ve also made the mistake of trying too much climbing on a bike geared for flatter riding (or better climbers), and that kicked my ass entirely too fast.  Come to think of it, I didn’t do great on that bike riding a flat course either.  It was a rough year… Ride what you are comfortable with, could be a Cross Check, a Fargo, a Routt 45, a vintage steel Bianchi, a Beargrease, whatever it is run what gets you to the finish without fighting you the whole way there.

  • PICK THE RIGHT TIRE: OOOOOOWEEEEEE this is a doozy.  We have a 100k gravel race here in Central Iowa called CIRREM.  It’s held around the end of February and it has seen weather from 15 degrees and somehow raining (that year was really weird), to 60 and sunny with a mild breeze.  It’s generally known to be a shit show. On some of the more nasty years, the week leading up to the race has social media buzzing with the query “what tire should I ride?”  If it’s 25 out and the roads are a fresh sheet of ice, don’t try riding slick 28’s. (or old chewed up Michelin Mud 35’s, I did that year and ended up with a cracked rib from wrecking on the ice about a dozen times)  If there is a ton of fresh rock on the road, also don’t ride 28’s. In fact, just don’t ride 28’s on gravel unless your power/weight ratio is in the Pro Peloton range. A file tread 40mm 700c tire is pretty solid choice for any condition, as you can work the tire pressure to adapt to conditions.  Similarly, 650bx47 handles most any gravel condition. Two true “do it all” tire sizes for everything but gnarly single track or ice riding.  If it’s sheets of ice, and you are super cereal, pick up some lightly studded cross tires or bring out the MTB for something more substantial and grippy.  Also, take into consideration that more voluminous tires will provide a little extra cushion, which your arms and back will thank you for on ultra distance stuff.
  • Know when to say when: The best tip I can give is to know your limits.  Riding past your limit is part of endurance racing, indeed, but there is a vast plain of physical and mental badlands that lie somewhere after that 4th or 5th wind.  Know your own personal signs. Dropping out isn’t a crime, but injuring yourself is criminal if you knowingly take things farther than acceptable “too far.” Have an extraction plan (or know the shortcut back to the civilization), means of communication, also see “Bring A Few Comforts” above. I’ve definitely taken things too far and spent weeks recovering from making that mistake, don’t be that person.  Live to ride another day.

Know when your ride is over, even if it’s not the end of the race. 

This is in no way a comprehensive lesson on “gravel racing,” but if you follow these words, it might help you achieve that DFL finish you’ve always wanted!

Until next time, ride your bike!


*DFL: Dead Fricken Last. If you aren’t familiar with this term, good for you pal.

Sinewave Cycles Beacon: First Look

IMG_6255 2

Sinewave Cycles Beacon mounted on my Salsa Cycles Fargo Ti for testing

Hi, my name is Sam, and I’m a Dynoholic.  (group: Hi, Sam) Today I’m here to tell my story of Dynoholism to help some of you out there who may be struggling with this sickness (or wanting to develop it) too.  I’ve spent many years searching out the perfect light to pair with both my hub of choice (always Schmidt SON28, fyi), and intended use.  I’ve used Supernova E3 Triples, B&M units, the Luxos lights with built in USB charging and remote switching (great units for touring/commuting, not great for off road riding), and most recently the K-Lite system, which is my favorite light/USB system for off road/long distance use, although it had one big drawback – two external boxes that require finding a home on your bike (newer units have a smaller usb conversion unit, made by Sinewave)  I’ve also used the Top Cap USB unit and Sinewave Revolution in conjunction with non-usb capable light systems to give extra hours to my electronics (I will be reviewing that here soon, also).  All in all, my Dynoholism has led me to where I am currently: testing the Sinewave Beacon.

Sinewave Cycles is a company based out of Cambridge, MA (also home to places you may have heard of like Harvard and MIT), that designs USB Dyno-power conversion products which are manufactured in the USA.  Somewhere along the line these fine folks decided that they would skip to the chase and incorporate their proven products/tech into an all-weather light unit of their own.  My first impression is that they pretty much nailed it.


The “Need To Get On My Bike So Here’s Some Quick Bullet Points” List:

  • The Beacon is an all-in-one, completely waterproof unit sporting 3 led bulbs creating a symmetrical beam rated at 750 lumens.  The innards are epoxy potted and the external connectors have gold contacts for corrosion free performance in the worst of conditions.
  • The USB out on the light, and coaxial input that, when run with the supplied coax to USB cable, allow you to power the light with the same battery you are charging.  This is perhaps the most impressive piece of new tech for dyno lights since the advent of USB charging.  This means that when you are riding, you can either select to “charge only” or “shared power” (splits power between the lighting and USB charging) and your external battery will charge.  If you stop or get into some heavy technical trails/steep climbs that would normally relegate you to relying on the stand light (if available on your unit), the battery that you are charging will act as a power source and kick the Beacon back up into full on light mode.  WHAT WHAT? Yes, you no longer need to worry about the light situation when you slow down.
  • Did I mention that it is all-in-one, so no external units to find homes for.  Makes for very clean mounting, and if you add quick connects and use a mount like the Supernova handlebar mount, it’s very easy to switch between bikes.  One unit can be used for all of your Dyno-hub equipped rides!
  • Not only is it potentially easy to switch between dyno bikes, but with the Battery Input you can throw it on a standard hub bike and use an external battery to power the light! You can replace your battery powered or rechargeable lights with the Beacon. It’s essentially a do-all light.  I will be testing the light on battery-only run time with both a 10,000 and 16,500 mA battery in the near future.
  • The Beacon DOES NOT come with a mount.  It’s compatible with all standard 10mm dyno light mounts from Supernova, B&M, etc, which you need to source yourself.  This was initially a strike against it in my book, but after choosing my own mount (Supernova Handlebar Mount), it became apparent that this is a very smart way to do things.  Sinewave need not anticipate users’ mounting needs and carry or manufacturer a wide range of solutions when they already exist in the real world.  Smart.
  • Comes in multiple colors or custom combinations.
  • Two-ish week lead time, as they are built to order. My unit arrived in about 8 days.
  • The list price of the Beacon is $350, which may seem a little pricey for some.  After my first few weeks of use, the value of this unit has proven more than its cost.  The Beacon is a super-versatile unit

This Dynoholic has high hopes and heady plans for the Beacon. More on that later…


ESI RCT Wrap: First Blood

ESI RCT Wrap: First Blood

9146g8ituul-_sy550_I recently decided to bring my Salsa Fargo out of retirement, the poor babe has been hanging on the basement wall for over a year with no rides.  It needed a tune, some cleaning, was getting some new-to-it wheels from the Warbird (which was getting sold), and it definitely needed new bar tape.  I had been running the same orange Lizard Skinz 2.5 tape on the Ragley Luxy bars since the bike was built up brand new, and it was pretty ratty looking after a lot of gravel miles logged back in the day.  I run Lizard Skins on all of my drop bar bikes, it’s has a lot of strengths, but it is time for a change.


ESI’s RCT comes in an array of colors to match most builds/tastes.

When building up the Mukluk last year, there was a bit of a grip conundrum.  What grips would work best on Jones H-bars while running a Rohloff Grip Shift setup?  After some intense research the ESI Super Chunky silicone grips seemed to be the best for the application at hand.  After a few hundred fat biking miles, they have proven to be tough, comfortable, and look just a good as they did on day one.  They also come in crazy colors, and ESI will even put together custom color combinations.  Did I mention that all of their grips are also made in the USA?  Big bonus.

So… when it came time to choose new bar wraps for the Fargo, taking into consideration the needs of a rough-service bike packing setup, I thought it was time to give ESI’s RCT (Road, Cyclocross, Triathlon) bar wraps a try.  They are 100% silicone, reversible, and are available in the same selection of colors as ESI’s MTB grips.  I have high hopes for the RCT.


ESI RCT wrap on the Fargo, Silicone Tape on the Aero Bars. 

Wrapping the bars with RCT is a breeze, since they are reversible there is no “tape side” paper to test your sanity (my messy shop floor is also thankful for this), and you can stretch or not stretch the wrap to fit the thickness needed at each hand position/bar bend (LS advises against stretching their tape, regular cork can slide around when not stretched enough).  The bevel in the tape gives you a close-to-exact guide for wrapping also, so it’s even easier to get a nice, even look.

The kit comes with two strips of ESI’s self sealing Silicone Tape (seen here also being used as wrap for the aero bars) to finish off the wrap job. It’s a nice touch, as most companies give you that weak ass branded adhesive strip that usually ends up on my shop floor in favor of the old classic electrical tape. I’ve used this silicone tape to secure dyno hub wiring, wrap parts of frames to guard against chipping/damage, shimming light mounts, I would strongly recommend keeping a roll or two around your home shop, it’s as invaluable as electrical tape without all the tape residue.


First Impressions Bullet Point List of TL,DR:

  • RCT has a slightly thicker, more comfortable feel than other wrap.  After the first 200 miles of mixed surface use, it has kept my hands happier than before.
  • It retains all of its grip in rain.  Last week I purposely rode through torrential downpour conditions to test, and RCT more than passed the…uh…test.  Part of the rain test was over some very sketch paved trail to dirt construction zone to trail to dirt, and maintaining control through these abrupt and wet/muddy changes was no problem at all.
  • I personally dig the matte finish of the wrap. It blends in more readily to the hoods of the shifters.  It’s also real stealthy, which is extremely important.
  • RCT is reversible, so you can conceivably cause wear to one side (or dirty up the brighter colors in the line), then rewrap the bars leaving them looking fresh AF.
  • Silicone Tape instead of usual crappy strip of branded tape to finish off the bar wrap job. A very nice touch.
  • Price is in line with other premium brands.
  • The supplied bar end plugs actually stay in the bar ends. Mind blown, really.
  • Did I mention that it’s comfortable? Settling in to the bars for the first time was like a true “baby bear’s bed” moment.  I didn’t expect the comfort level to be that high.


I’m looking forward to tearing these up for many hundreds of miles to come, I’ll let you know how things go!



Disclaimer: CNB purchased this product for personal use and testing, and has in no way been compensated for any writing regarding this product*.

*Disclaimer Disclaimer: The preceding disclaimer was in no way CNB fishing for free stuff, or any other type of compensation. Wink.

The Big Dirty

So I’m back in the saddle and spending less time at The Saddle, and with no goal but to have a good time while riding bikes.  I’ve ridden three of my bikes for about 10 hours the last week, seen dozens of friends that I haven’t seen in forever, and had a really fun time. Alas that goal of no goals lasted about a week, of course, and I have a new thing that I’m dreaming up for myself (and maybe some others) to do.  It’s going to be Big and Dirty…

I don’t have any real direction for this besides it’s going to be Adventure Bike based, not a race, not on pavement, and at least a little fun.  Is it an event? Is it a team? Is it just a thing that I do for six months then drop it when life gets hectic? How big? How dirty? I don’t know yet.  Event directing and team leading are not really my strong points, as business tends to get in the way at times.  Maybe it’s a thing that people can just do on their own, with a reward at the end ala Cup O Dirt.  Fuck, I really don’t know.

Anyway, I’m going to be thinking on the Big Dirty until something comes to me.  I should probably do that on a bike, though…


Back In The Saddle

The phrase “back in the saddle” has a few connotations, it could mean back on the bike, a horse, you’re an aspiring Steven Tyler, and due to my geographic proximity to The Greatest Gay Bar In The Universe, it could mean I’m back at the Blazing Saddle.  Come to think of it, I have spent more time in the Saddle than in the saddle (bike) over the last 3+ months due to things like working and also work.  It’s been one of my lowest mileage years in recent memory, and I’m ok with that.

I’m back in the saddle. Again.

This past year has been a monster, and I’m happy to just have some time to pedal.  I’m going back into this whole cycling thing with no goals but to have a good time and ride the bikes that have been collecting dust. They are practically buried alive in dust.  I’m not training, not trying in vain to prep for some gargantuan dirtbagging excursion, and not filling my calendar full of epic gravel races.  I’m going to ride bikes. I’ll ride trails and gravel and single track and roads, but just for fun.  That’s it. Fun.

They say you should go out at the top of your game, so earlier this year, I announced to Twitter my official retirement from “Bike Racing.”  I had reached the peak of my DNF/DFL/DNS career, earning more letters than numbers in all disciplines I had participated in. I just couldn’t see myself topping my past accomplishments, so I’M OUT.  NBD, and maybe I’ll do some bigger things or races again some day.  Maybe.

It should feel good to just ride, the first day was ok.  Tomorrow will probably be ok, too. I’ll see you out on the trails again, and we will have some beers and make some new memories while reliving a few old good times.  Let’s have fun. Let’s just ride some bikes.