Favorites: J-Paks GravelPak

I’ve been a frame bag user for quite some time, using Revelate full frame and Tangle bags on my gravel/fat/mountain rigs, and a sweet Porcelain Rocket custom frame bag (thanks to my deer friend Zen Biking), on my Ti Fargo. I’m a big fan of these convenient packs, but I have one problem. I’m a pack rat and my frame bags end up looking like something out of “Hoarders, Bike Edition.” The “map compartment” side is usually stocked with old cue cards from races past, random keys or mud scraping devices (aka ti tent stakes), licorice ropes, batteries, empty gel packs, and the main compartments are a collection of mini pumps, ancient granola bars, lighters, expired gel packs, gas station trinkets, a goddamn red clown nose (???), crushed beer cans, and it just goes from there.  Basically, my frame bags become a rolling landfill. Pretty rad.

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The J-Paks Gravel Pak on my Salsa Warbird Carbon Gravel Rig Of Doom

Enter my new favorite bike thing: the GravelPak from J-Paks. I picked one of these up a few months back, and it has become my go to for bringing along anything I need on a ride. It’s similar in shape to the ubiquitous seat packs you see on most bikepacking rigs, but it’s smaller and less unwieldy than it’s larger brethren.  There is enough space for a tool kit, phone charger, base layers/jacket, extra gloves/hat (I always carry spares, especially in the cooler months. I like to change out these items about half way through a ride), some food items, maybe even an extra water bottle or can of beer if you feel so inclined without taking up frame space, and you hardly notice the seat pack. Somehow the GravelPak also lends itself to repacking and keeping things organized, and since it is a roll-closure and not something you simply unzip and toss crap in, you are less likely to pack rat away all of those cool (useless) gas station finds.

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GravelPaks in the not so wild. Image ripped off from jpaks.com

The Gravel Pak is great for switching between bikes, its two clipped straps for the seat rails and one very secure velcro strap around the seat post can be easily popped/undone and moved to whatever steed you are riding today. You can have your “winter kit” on hand and move it between your gravel rig, fat bike, whatever bike, and with so much less hassle than undoing 400 velcro straps you find on frame bags.  You can use a regular seat pack for things like this, but the J-Pak bag is like the “Baby Bear’s Porridge” of short to medium range riding. It’s just the right size.

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Hey! Hooman! Paws off my #$%&ing porridge!

Due to the ever changing Iowa winter weather, I have been using this bag between my road bike, my gravel bike, a single speed, and my trusty Mukluk with no problems at all. It’s a sturdy build that shows no signs of wear after over 500 miles of mixed use and many bike swaps. I’m looking forward to a good spring of many more miles with this bad lad, and to maybe picking up a few of J-Paks other offerings from their J-Paks Shop.

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J-Paks GravelPak on my trusty road bike outside Jamaica, IA

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And here it is on the trusty Mukluk. (Thanks, DMPL, for gently shoveling around my steed)

Yeah, that’s it. No crazy stories, just a solid piece of kit that will keep you organized in your travels, and transfers easily between bikes.  Kudos, J-Paks. Thank you for the righteous gear.

Sam, CNB

I Like Bikes.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life with bikes. Riding bikes, looking at bikes, working on bikes, cussing at bikes, modifying bikes, collecting bikes, racing bikes, shopping for bike parts, learning about bikes, talking about bikes, you know. Bikes. I like riding on roads, bike paths, gravel roads, dirt trails, beaches, river beds, snow, ice, wherever. I like frequenting businesses who are bike friendly. I hang out at bike shops. I help race organizers with rides. I’m guilty of putting people I’m hanging out in that situation where they have to excuse themselves because I’ve run in to a bike friend and we are talking in bike.  If you don’t talk bike, like technical bike, not “bikelish” then bike conversations are about the most eye glazing bore fests you can be privy to. I do that. Bikes.

Riding bikes with others is a really great time, but riding alone for me is one of my favorite things to do. It gives me time to clear my head, time to think through things, time to breath fresh air into my lungs and my mind. The sounds of tires crunching through gravel, the wind whistling through the fields, and the thrill of farm dog sprints are all things I long for daily.  Maybe not the dogs haha. I think after all this time I’ve cultivated a bit of a solitary bike life, but it suits me fine. It’s time away from the world while simultaneously exploring the world.

I was bike-only for a 4 years after I realized I didn’t really drive my car so I sold it to make room in my garage for more bikes.

I started Tacopocalypse by bike. It all started during talks on bike rides and after bike rides at the Cumming Tap. When we started doing tacos there was no car or van to transport things, I used giant coolers on a Surly Bill Trailer, or a smaller cooler on a BOB trailer, when it all started. I sometimes rode 40+ miles to gather the groceries needed to make tacos for Tuesday nights. I sometimes rode through blizzards to get to the Cumming Tap to serve tacos. It was pretty brutal. It kept me in decent shape. I am pretty sure it’s the only restaurant in Iowa that was started by bicycle. Woot.

I’m back to pretty much bike-only after a few years of intense business building involving catering, driving big vans to the farmers market, traveling to sell tacos on RAGBRAI, etc. It’s great to be at a spot that I can get back to my roots and do what I need to do on two wheels. I live downtown, a few blocks from one of my restaurants, about two miles from the other. It’s a quick ride to either. There is a grocery store downtown now, it’s really more of a food court/liquor store, but you can get some fresh produce and whatnot there.

Anyway, my point is that I like bikes. You probably like bikes, too, if you’re reading this. If you don’t, maybe reading this will help guide you towards liking bikes. Bikes are good.

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Here are some pictures of some of my bikes, except the purple Masi. That’s Mel’s in Philly that I was graciously allowed to use while visiting. Also that Powderkeg is owned by a great couple (and sometimes ridden by a Marco) who have put it to great use. 

RIDE BIKES.

SAM, CNB

BRTB “Buss Ride To BRR”

Last Saturday marked the thirty-something running of the two-wheeled bull um…run…known to the greater world as BRR or, the Bike Ride to Rippey.  This ride came from humble beginnings, with a few souls braving the brutal Iowa February winter weather to go out for a little bike ride from Perry to Rippey.  Some years it is below zero, windy, and just a handful of riders participate.  Other years, like 2009, it is in the 50s and more than a thousand people come out to party.  Regardless of the weather, the bars of Perry are filled not only with

blah balh blah.  whatever.  You get the point.  BRR: cold February ride.  got it.

A few years ago a man by the name of Steve had this great idea.  BRR isn’t really THAT challenging (the ride from Perry to Rippey and back is about 26 miles), so why not do something like ride gravel from DSM to Perry.  Great Idea.  This year was the fourth running of the GRR2BRR, and would have been my second.

The weather took a huge turn south on Friday, and I was pretty perplexed as to what bike would be the best for the job (which would probably have been my still-unfinished Fargo project).  I had company at home, watched a movie then realized it was after 1 am.  Shit.  I had to pull out of my house by 5:30 am to make it to Steve’s house for the start of the gravel ride.  Of course, I woke up at 7.  They were leaving at 7:30.  Shit.  Time for plan B.

Plan B involved trying to squeeze some 2.1’s onto the Vaya and hauling ass on the trail system to try to catch up with the GRR ride.  Plan B fell quickly by the wayside.

Plan C put me on the Bar Fly bus with no intention of riding a bike whatsoever.  I conferred with a friend who was also taking the bus, and it was decided that leaving the bikes at home was completely acceptable.  I gathered my party partner and headed towards the “Bus Depot”.  (Party Partner had also had plans fall through, so it was officially on)

Ride Report

Fireball got the holeshot, with a whole bottle being finished within three laps around the bus.  This was not an endurance pace day.  After the first bottle went down, the “Pit Bottle” was unleashed and a few more hot laps ensued.  Beer was flowing, then we hit the first barrier.  My “purple drank” four loko was opened and quickly rejected by almost every bus rider.  This left me, party partner, and two other people holding the tail of this grape flavored dragon.   We were about a quarter of the way to Perry.

Things slowed down and the field settled into a sustainable pace.

Okay, I am getting bored again.  So we get to Perry and see a bunch of friends, meet some new friends, and I got assaulted with snowballs and more beard questions/comments than usual.  I understand, the comments flow more freely the colder or hotter it gets.  (Colder=I wish I could grow a beard like that, Hotter=Doesn’t that thing get hot?)  I found the remaining contingent from the GRR2BRR ride, which numbered FOUR.  I knew I had made the right decision.  They GRR folks looked exhausted.  (okay, I had actually made the wrong decision as every mile counts between now and the TI).  We had some fun, then headed to Bouten.

Bouten brought skittles and a wild game of Flippy Cup.  I had never played this game, but since I have spent the greater part of my life being bored and flipping things over (you should see how I amaze convenience store clerks with my ability to flip a cigarette pack into my hand), I was a natural.  Party partner DID have to explain the rules (thanks for attending college, Party Partner) and the first round I messed up, but it was smooth sailing after that.

I don’t have the slightest idea what happened after that.  I think we went back to Des Moines.  I am pretty sure I ate a steak burrito at Abelardo’s.  I do remember waking up sometime in the middle of the night lecturing my cat on how much I hate it when he touches me in my sleep.  Not like THAT.  He kept trying to lay on my legs.

All in all, it was a great not ride.  We all had a good time,  everyone made it home safe.  Thank you Mace, Bill, and the Bar Fly bus for a great time…and saving me from sitting at home whining about not making it to BRR.

CNB

Here Comes The Rain Again

One thing that sticks out in my mind while mounting my bike on lovely Iowa mornings such as this is how many times I hear a phrase of this sort:

Are you riding your bike in this weather?  It’s raining out!

Yes.  It is raining out.  Am I put off by it?  Only because I wish it was snow.  Yes.  I am riding my bike in this weather.  Why wouldn’t I?  I have expended quite an effort to properly equip myself for just about any conditions and the thought that I should not utilise the gear which I have gathered is, to me, laughable.  Bikes are a wonderful thing in the fact that they are adaptable to just about any riding style, weather, ground condition, etc.  Riding in poor weather conditions isn’t some kind of heroic effort worthy of wicked high fives from the four-wheeled masses, but is a gift for some, a neccessity for others, and just plain rad to experience.

I am not writing this to tell the tens out there reading that you shouldn’t strike up a conversation about why a person is riding their bike in inclimate weather.  Actually, I have no idea what the heck I was saying.  Still be impressed with those out there doing it every day, but also use them as an example instead of an exhibit.  YOU TOO can get on a bike in the rain, the snow, the sleet, although you may want to skip blizzards and tsunamis as they are just plain dangerous to begin with.  What do you have to gain besides some astonished faces staring back at you?  The exact same benefits you would reap in sunny, warm weather.  Sure, you might spend more time getting suited up.  Yes, some days you will be soaking wet and miserable.  I look at it like this: if I had to run from my house to get into a car anyway, why not just be outside and deal with it for real?  Why sit around the house all winter thinking about all the fun you had on your bike during the “riding season”?  Get yourself some fenders, some warm/dry clothing, and ride your damn bike.

If you have any questions as to how you should go about getting properly equiped, feel free to ask me…or any of the other “crazies” you see out there riding their bikes.

Extra “Real Bikers Pedal” statement:  Let’s see the average Harley rider break out the hog in sub-freezing temperatures just to go for a fun ride with friends.

CNB

The Ice errr…SNOWman Cometh.

I have put most of my life on hold today due to some issues.  I really hate when this happens, but it is sometimes unavoidable.  I feel the mental/physical fatigue, the the downward spiral sets in, and a day or two later I am back in action.  I am currently smack dab in the middle of one of those moments, but something is about to happen.  Something that is such a big deal that I am going to put my “putting life on hold” on hold because I can’t just sit home moping while it transpires.  The first snow of the season is allegedly falling on Des Moines tonight, and I am on standby for some snow-riding glory.  I threw almost this whole day down the crapper and was poised to sit in bed watching shows on HULU all night, but goddamn if the snow isn’t all too compelling for this sad little panda to stay indoors while his world gets a good whitening.

So the bike is ready to roll, my snow gear is laid out and ready to be squeezed into.  I am sitting here at the computer watching the radar while writing some things, and all I can think of is “when the hell is this shit going to fall?”  This probably won’t be as spectacular as last year’s first blizzard death ride/live tweet for those of you who followed along.  This will be a solitary, soggy snow slog for a bearded man who needs a little cheering up.  I would like to thank Mother Nature in advance for the frozen gifts we are about to receive.

This is what I am talking about. (image heisted from bikepacking.net)