Lords Of Chaos: CIRREM Ride Report.

Saturday, February 25 marked the 4th running of the gravel bulls known as CIRREM.  All weather leading up to the race (CIRREM is a 100k gravel race held in South Central Iowa, if  you didn’t know) was optimal.  The winter had been mild, the roads were a dry hardpack, almost like riding on pavement.  By all accounts it was going to be a super fast race to the finish line.  All of that changed on the Thursday prior.  Momma Nature decided to treat CIRREM like she treats most yearly sporting events in Iowa..by showing her best at being worst.  Wet snow fell, followed by a very sunny and mild Friday…a Friday which had participants frantically seeking out advice as to what tire would be proper for the unknown race conditions.  Amid all of the Facebook speculating I decided to talk a bunch of trash then follow up the trash talk with taking a ride out to the country on the Vaya for a first hand look at the course.  Wow.  Incredibly bad conditions ranging from ice-filled ruts to snow drifts over the road to pure peanut butter mud and more could be found all within one mile.  I turned back after a few short miles. Saturday was going to be rough.

I awoke early Saturday morning to finish race prep and found the Vaya with a flat rear tire.  DAMMIT.  This is a bad sign, but I got things changed out, finished cleaning and lubing the bike, packed my gear and headed towards the Cumming Tap.   I drove part of the course, just to check the conditions…they were even worse.  During the course of Friday it looked as thought the county had decided to plow the wet snow into large sheets of ice.  Sweet.  The Tap was alive with racers picking up packets, chatting, and grabbing a bite from Bob’s breakfast spread (btw, those mini bagels saved my butt out there).  One of the things I really love about racing, and cycling in general, is the friendships forged with people of the same mind.  It’s a great community and I am very happy/proud to be a part of the whole thing.

Nine am rolled around and I decided it was time to get geared up and check out the bike.  Suited up, Camelback on, hopped on the Vaya and checked the shifting, made some small adjustments then waited for the start…or for the urge to drink some of that Four Loko I had stashed in the van…mmmm.   9:55 and everyone was in formation ready for our LEAD OUT?  New for this year was a lead out start around the initial 1.5 miles.  What?  No holeshot?  Okay, we wound our way south then up to cross G14 (where an SUV almost took out a few cyclists.  I can understand how hard it was to see 100 people on bikes crossing the road.  thanks for honking) and we were released to go north on 30th.  Things were a little sketch on the north side of the hills, and when we came to the “wheel eating bridge” (come on, they are 10″ planks…just pick a line and ride it) many of the front of the pack stopped and walked, effectively inch worming the entire field and almost causing a few accidents in the middle of the pack.  The turn to go west on Adams was icy, and I saw the first of many wrecks at the intersection.  People were sliding out and crashing each other.  Awesome.  I rode on trying to get further up front to find a fast group to ride with.  Mile 6…I went down pretty hard.  FUCK!  This is where the real cursing began as I realized my rear tire was a little to “used” for the conditions (and I had a brand new set sitting at the shop waiting for me).  I was riding in BarMitts, which kept me from freeing myself from the bike.  I went down elbow, shoulder, head.  I got back up, dusted off and continued on with some sharp pains in my left elbow and knee.  It’s okay, still in the “warm up” section of the race, everything will loosen up in a while.  The ice was making it difficult to climb hills, I had to get all the way down in “easy peasy” to get any traction to spin up.  Then, thanks to my gift of economical downhill gravity use I was in danger of smashing through other racers whom were insistent on braking all the way down the descents.  This is a hard reality for me, I am just okay at climbing, good enough to get up the hills…but downhill I have a distinct advantage.  If the road is clogged shoulder to shoulder with people braking I cannot take advantage of the momentum while going up the next hill.  This is also a symptom of riding alone almost all the time.  If I rode/trained with other people, I would have known what group to get in with at the starting line instead of searching out from the back of the pack.  I will work on this racing error in the future.

I got in with the Mables for a few miles, they were riding a conservative pace in a group of about 5 or 6.  I sat back and rode off the back of their group, not to draft, but for pacing.  Dave went down, then a we saw a few more crashes.  My knee and elbow were feeling sore, and my goddamn camelback feed tube was a little iced up (whoops, my bad again) so I decided to stop and have a little snackiepoo.  Goodbye Mable group, but I figured I would catch up with them somewhere on Old Portland road and this hydration issue would become a real problem in the next 10 miles if not attended to.  Hopping back on the bike, I felt refreshed and totally jacked up on the Caff thanks to a power gel.  THEN GUESS WHAT HAPPENED?

I had been having trouble with the icy road conditions all day, but was holding a 14mpg avg with stopping, etc.  I felt that it was a good start and could be improved upon in the time when the sun softened up the top layer of permafrost and the roads became peanut butter.  Then it happened…Mile 17 I went down like a _______(enter your own joke there).  Hands caught in my Mitts, I took the spill at about 21 mph on my left side, landing “chicken wing” style with my arm tucked into my ribs.  I bounced on the ice and felt a snap in my rib cage.  NOT GOOD.  I got up, “focused” my bike, aka threw it into the snowy ditch, and checked myself over.  Yep, all there…and the rib thing didn’t seem to hurt, not any more than my knee.  I pulled the Vaya out of the ditch, straightened out the stem, apologized for the abuse, and took of again.  I felt like I was getting so far behind, and also thanks to the gel, that my adrenaline was rushing and I felt little pain.  It was a pretty easy 5 or 6 miles to the first really bad hills, and I was hell bent on making some time before the climbs.  I made the right onto OPR, blazed down Cemetary Hill aka “The Wall” (thanks for not making us ride up that this year) and hit my top speed of 41.3 mph.  I passed a few folks and headed towards the first of many bullshit climbs…then it happened.  at mile 21.85 I got out of the saddle to climb and almost fell off my bike.  Ribs decided to let themselves be known, and I stopped.  If I couldn’t climb out of the saddle then the race was over for me.  I stopped, took stock of the situation, almost cried (the thought of breaking ribs just two months away from TIV8 was a bit too much to think of) and decided since I didn’t know the extent of the damage that I would drop out, get a sag, then go get examined to make sure I wasn’t putting myself in danger of collapsing a lung or further injuring myself.  The rest of the field that was left passed me by as I made the call back the the Tap.  Nick Larson stopped and gave me some ibuprofen.  This race was over.

Mile 22, the end of my CIRREM.

Hector from the Tap found me perched atop Cemetary Hill (I got bored and walked a little), scooped me up and drove backwards looking for anyone else in trouble.  Not one rider was left behind me.  Nice job.  We got back to the bar and found the others who had gotten injured and were forced to drop.  That ice was a real MF out there.  Took down a good amount of racers.

I ate some BBQ, then decided to just hang out with some friends from out of town that I never get to see.  These ribs would make it a few more hours on their own, and every beer helped nurse the pain.  Actually, seeing good friends is what really nursed the pain.

Things loosened up out on the road and everyone from first place on down was covered in mud.  Awesome.

I think I made it home eventually?  Sunday I took a trip to the hospital where I was diagnosed as having bruised ribs.  BEST NEWS EVER as I was waiting to make the call on the next two upcoming races.  I am still able to ride and still in the game.

What did I learn from this year’s CIRREM?

  • Do a better job at choosing tires, in fact I am ordering some 38c studs for next winter… just in case

  • If it is anywhere near 32 degrees, put the feed tube warmer on the GD Camelback.  Duh.

  • Even if I can’t hang with the lead group, at least start with them so I am not stuck behind people.

  • Bar Mitts probably saved me from a broken wrist or collar bone.  If I had been able to get my hands of the bars faster it could have been a disaster.

  • Never forget your flask.  I forgot mine, it’s always good to have on hand in case you have to wait for a sag.

Other than the wrecking and positioning I had the proper nutrition before and during, and was dressed perfectly for the temperature.  I wasn’t riding a borrowed bike this year, which was a big plus, and had no major mechanical problems aside from a little shifting issue here and there.

Overall I would say it was a good run, and I wish that I had been able to finish the ride.  It was great to have the opportunity to see some good friends, I can’t wait until next year.

Until We Meet Again, CIRREM…


if you made it this far, go grab a brewski…you deserve it.

Continental Tour Ride Tire “In Review”

Today I would like to speak with you a little about the Continental Tour Ride touring tire.  I spent the last 7 months almost exclusively riding on this tire, which came stock on my Salsa Vaya (a bike I spent about 6 of those months trying to “make work” for me. Which it does now.) in 42 cm.

Salsa Vaya with Continental Tour Ride 42's, The RAGBRAI 2011

First Impression:  I generally opt towards “skinny” tires (a risky venture for someone over 250lbs, let me assure you) so I was visually put off by the big, meaty 42c tires.  They initially reminded me of putting “slicks” on a MTB to do the RAGBRAI.  Not very sexy.  BUT the promise of flat protection and long tread life rang like wedding bells, and especially for a bike I had intended for fully loaded (take that any way you want to) touring.  I was also grossly over budget after a top notch dyno light system and new bags…so…perfect time to not buy new tires to replace new tires.

The Meat:  From the very first ride on the Continental equipped Vaya I was not impressed.  The whole rig felt slow and sluggish.  The bike rode like there was tons of brake drag (which there was sometimes, thanks to the Avid BB5 disc brakes…but that is another story), but HEY! NO FLATS!

The first real test was a straight through ride from Cumming, IA to Breda, IA fully bagged out to meet up with “The RAGBRAI.”  Over 130 miles from 2 am to noon, with a few meal and rest stops in between, with an 80 lb bike and I was zapped.  The amount of work put forth due to the increased rolling resistance was very noticeable, but the zero flats thing…makes up for it a little.  I really hate changing flats on loaded touring bikes…especially when I am loaded.

The true test for me is how well these tires would hold up against Iowa’s finest gravel roads.  They are definitely a “road” tire, but the large size gives them plenty of pull in dry situations.  The performance was diminished from my normal gravel rig, but after hundreds of miles I still had no flats.  It’s a trade I am willing to make for leisurely solo riding, but not for faster paced group rides.  Also lacking was the “overdrive” feeling of popping back on paved stretches, the tires seemed to perform equally on dirt and road.  And not in a good way.

The Damage Done: in a little over 2000 miles I managed to break a few spokes, rip a cleat out of my touring sandals, destroy a chain, bend a der hanger, go OTB a few times, and break a high end boutique saddle.  No flats.  Wait, that’s not entirely true.  I was riding out of one of DSM’s wonderful trails and hit some broken glass, and not the kind that flat protection will help you through.  I got a slow leak.  I made it 2 more miles to the nearest LBS (I left home without my mini pump…I hadn’t had a flat in 6 months.  Got lazy) and fixed the problem.  Also after 2000 miles the rear tire is nearly shot.  It has been retired, and I have switched to some smaller, faster cross tires which have redeemed the Vaya.

The Summarization Thing:  If you are not concerned with speed but are concerned with having to change flats, this is a great tire for you.  If you crave even a tiny amount of performance, look elsewhere.  The Continental Tour Ride is best for slow touring, where your miles to beers ratio gets a little drinky (and you hate changing flats), and for urban commuting where the roads are rough and there is a high risk of broken glass.  Past these two uses, I see little reason to ride these sluggish tires.  But if big and slow is your thing (and you hate changing flats), this is a great option.

The Beyond:  The Tour Rides are being installed on an old fixie of mine for a little Gravel Track Bike Action.  I can’t wait to try skidding on these monsters.


74 Days…Almost Dog Lunch/Incidental Intervals

Yesterday I made a few adjustments to the Vaya, including shedding those swampy Continental Touride 42 monstrosities for my current preferred craws setup, Ritchey Speed Max 32 rear, Kenda Small Block 8 32 front.  Then it was test ride time.

I headed south to army post road, then west to Pine, popped on the GWT for a mile to hit the lean to for a 4square check in (fatbike would have been nice there), and on to Adams.  The road conditions were nice and solid, and the Vaya was rolling like a champ on top of its new rubber.  Then I noticed something odd.  There seemed to be a lot of “free range dogs” out on Adams, and not at the best spots for your chubby narrator to sprint away safely.

Time for Incidental Intervals

Incidental Intervals – Unplanned intensity training due to circumstances happened upon during the course of a low intensity ride

Incidentals come in many form, the safest being succumbing to the urge to chase down and dust off slower riders on the bike trails, the most dangerous being trying to pace tractors manned by angry country folks with firearms on backroads.  My favorite of all time is being chased by dogs on gravel roads.  It used to be a thrill, with the dogs getting the element of surprise, but now that I have travelled most of my routes enough times to know where the “problem dogs” lie in wait, it is a simple fact of “Ok, here comes hill X, right over the top is an ankle-hungry canine.  Make sure to have enough speed to pull away from the chase.”  This day was a little different.  There were four new problem houses within 5 miles.  One of those dogs was on the bottom half of a very long and steep climb.  fuck.  The others were very little problem to drop, chasing me down the gravel with all the zeal of a nearly-retired government office worker (no offense to that group, but you know you don’t move with much purpose).  This guy was different.  It’s as if the little pooch knew he had me in a jam (and judging by the fresh looking, swerving cross-tire track in front of me, I wasn’t the first victim of the day) and was not about to stop without a little leg-lunch.  I was in the big ring, hammering up the side of Mt. Mutt, hoping I didn’t get a mechanical during the sprint.  Dog face gave up just before the crest, I gave up about half way up the next hill.  Yeah, I was scared. So what?

The rest of the ride was a little faster paced due to that little fanged wake up.  I ended up with 58.24 miles in just under 4 hours (half road, half dirt).  I stopped for a recovery beer (Liter of Spaten Dunkel) and some Jambalaya and reflected on the difference in performance on my modified Salsa.

I think we are done discussing which bike is going to TIV8.  In fact, It is most likely going to make an appearance at CIRREM next week.  See you there.


79 Days…Bike Debate Rages To A Halt!

Yesterday I had my fitness shot down by a fortune cookie, right around the same time I was staring at my two gravel grinding machines.  I experienced a slight white-out and a sudden urge to spit up in my mouth a little.  It all came to me during that flash of near-unconciousness and mini-vomit.  There is a sure fire way to solve the problem of the Vaya/Chili/Cookie trifecta:

Ride Your Fucking Bike.

The best way to choose between the two bikes and do a little more work to make the words printed on a slip of paper inside a shitty rice cookie slightly less defensible is to just ride, just like the best way to choose between two lovers is to give them both a chance and wait for one of them to suck at the things you need them to be good at.  Actually with me and bikes it is like choosing between lovers.  I will spare you the details here, you can read my past posts to get the full spectrum of my whiny feelings about them.

Ride Your Fucking Bike.

Four simple words can solve so many problems.  Not feeling well?  RYFB.  Afraid you might not be at the right level of fitness for that big ride/race? RYFB.  Having a really bad day and don’t want to go home to deal with your “better half”? RYFB.  Need to get to and from work? RYFB.  Want to go bar hopping and avoid the heartache of maybe crashing and killing other people? RYFB.  Need to make some new friends? RYFB. Having one of those days when everyone is giving you a hard time, from your teacher down to your best girlfriend?  RYFB.  Need something to do between swimming and running (this one is for you, Ratchet).  RYFB.

Can’t decide which bike you should use for the biggest race of your life?

So here is the deal:  I promise to stop whining and figure this out sometime before April.  CIRREM will get the Vaya.  Gents Race will get the Chili.  Between now and then one of these two will make themselves known to be the best for the TI job. I really do love the Chili…it’s fast and easy.  The Vaya requires a little more love and affection to get the job done, you can’t just hammer on it and expect to get anywhere fast.  I am hearing this from many of my friends (who aren’t mainly MTB racers) that they are having the same problem.  Whatever, I will just.

Ride My Fucking Bike

And the details should work themselves out.


80 Days and THIS Is My Fortune


There are two 40’s left until TIV8 kicks off, which means that there has been a solid 60 of me “preparing” and whining about things.  Yesterday I broke the noose…um…news that now my bike choice is in question, a sure sign of bush league struggle.  This weekend I am participating in a ten mile trail run race, another sign of sub-healthy thinking.  So today (I actually got this last week,but it resurfcaced today) I come across this fortune. 

“Work on improving your execise routine”

Sage advice passed down from a cookie received at the end of a Chinese Buffet feast.  Thanks, cookie, I will work on that. 


81 Days: I Know What I Did Last Summer

In 2010 I started riding Salsa bikes.  Not FOR Salsa, but just riding their bikes and enjoying their “Adventure By Bike” ethos along the way.  My first was a 2009 Chili Con Crosso frame, which I built up with SRAM Rival and some Ultegra wheels, a Van Dessel carbon fork, and some other parts which make it into a complete bike.  It has served me well, and it was my go-to bike for all of my long distance gravel riding since it was first built up (except for CIRREM last year which I had to borrow a bike for after roaching my BB on a B-road before the race)  Then I got a brand new Vaya.  I wanted one of these since they came out.  I hated it almost immediately.  Evidently going from the Chili to the Vaya was too big of a jump for me.

I switched to riding the Vaya almost exclusively, determined to make myself like this bike or die trying.  I rode a lot of gravel…and broke some spokes.  I rode an overnight from Cumming to Breda, fully bagged and using my amazing dyno light system.  It beat my ass.  Heavy and meant for a little more relaxed riding, the Vaya just wasn’t what I was looking for.  Then I officially forsake all other bikes and only have been riding the Vaya exclusively, almost out of spite.

Today I decided to dust off the Chili.  I know they are completely different bikes, for totally different purposes, but the Vaya was my first choice for the Trans Iowa.  I am rethinking this decision.  The Vaya does have the bitchin light system and the usb charger that runs off the dyno to charge my electronics.  BUT the Chili is just fast.  Like I can’t believe how hard I have been working to keep a pace when the Chili just rolls that fast.  I may need the extra help in the speed.  I suppose it is time to order some more battery packs for the DiNotte light.  Or maybe another light.  It’s just time to start re-planning this whole thing.