Of Gravel, Winter & Training

By December 18, 2014 Uncategorized

So I’m still stuck in the indoor rut.

In a way it’s good, I’m riding inside, which means I’m riding.  But I’m still not riding outside.  Somewhere between still being exhausted from getting well and training AND needing to get to various shop tasks I’m basically stuck in a place where I have very little in the way of motivation to get the ‘cross bike running in winter mode.

That is until I stumbled upon these gems.

First up is an fb pic from current World Marathon Champ Jaroslav Kulhavy from his island training trip in Calpe, Spain.  What’s interesting to me is that he’s on a Crux rather than a Tarmac or other more road-ish bike for this trip.  Presumably there are awesome roads there and one would want a pure road bike to enjoy them, but perhaps Jaro is a fan of versatility.   His Crux is setup in a decidedly non-’cross-ish arrangement which means it’s much better suited to real road riding rather than making concessions for slow speed handling and the like.  Note that it still has proper road chainrings up front.

Pro bikes are pretty much always cool.



In a similar vein is the Seattle-made 333 Fab winter & gravel bike as featured on their website.  I’d sort of forgotten about these guys as they’re under the radar, but this is a very cool setup and features the ever popular Ultegra Di2.  Spinney is likely to get that drivetrain on his new race bike so I’ll get a chance to tinker with it first hand, but this seems to be the go-to drivetrain for many ‘cross and gravel bikes.  This particular bike features a 7-Eleven inspired paint scheme similar to what you’d see from Hampsten.


Damn that’s sharp.  Not sure on whether the wheels are tubulars or clinchers and the tires look like Challenge file treads.  The pic below shows the tire label centered over the valve stem which makes me think it’s a clincher (as tubulars are often printed completely offset from the valve or somewhere completely haphazard).


And again.  Hate to see you go but love to watch you leave.  And it’s ti which you can tell from the barely exposed dropouts and chainstays.

Last up is the somewhat unlikely ’92 Mongoose IBOC.  It looks to be anodized and features Yeti-esque looped stays, full XTR drivetrain, Syncros post, Turbo saddle, and an Answer ATAC stem.  Full-on vintage and awesome, though I would ride it mainly as a commuter as the performance is likely also retro (read: there’s a reason you don’t still see these at the trailhead).  It’s also likely USA-made based on its age.


Maybe I’ll get the cross/winter/necessary bike back to a double today and be able to ride it this weekend.  Maybe this will be the motivation to do it.

Maybe I should get out and ride.

Maybe you should, too.

Riding In The Cold

By December 15, 2014 Uncategorized


OK, so I haven’t been riding outside enough recently.

There are some good reasons (like getting over pneumonia) and not so good reasons (being lazy about switching the cross rig back to a double ring up front) but generally I’ve just been riding inside.  Yeah, and it’s not awesome, so I’m looking to change that.  I have a ton of winter gear, and the setup I tend to run these days generally keeps me pretty comfortable.  Here’s what I’ve been doing.

Feet- this is the big one for me, and usually what gets insufferably cold.  I’ve gone a little crazy sometimes, but I’ve started to run one to three pairs of shoe covers.  My super nice Craft Nemo booties tore past the zipper after a relatively short lifespan so I’m using a mix of older Bontrager and Nike options.  I’ll often use the sock type and the heavy neoprene type together, sometimes with the neoprene toe covers as well.      I’ve also used some insulated Superfeet footbeds and small in-shoe warmers.  The warmers are pretty small, and the footbeds help add some insulation to the sole where the booties aren’t adding any warmth.  Socks are just a single pair of the DeFeet Wooleator- not the Woolie Boolie.  Thick socks restrict circulation so I pretty much always use the same socks under 60 degrees.  This is all easier with road shoes, but you can get similar results with mtb shoes if you size up the shoe covers and are willing to fight to get them on.  In the past I’ve covered shoe vents with duct tape which adds a surprising amount of warmth, but I’d only ever recommend that for old shoes that you would otherwise retire.

Legs- if it’s below freezing I’ll use windproof bib tights.  I have two pairs- one from Bontrager and one from Craft, and they’re generally both good on the road if it’s really cold but way too hot if it’s above freezing.  If it’s just above freezing to say 50 degrees the best combo I’ve found is the Ibex wool bib shorts and matching leg warmers.  The shorts are super comfortable and notably warmer than normal bib shorts and the leg warmers are absolutely awesome.  The Ibex bibs are also great under the aforementioned windproof tights.

Core- always a wool baselayer, and the debate is only whether it should be short or long sleeve.  Generally I go with the long sleeve and a long sleeve thermal jersey over it, so the question comes down to jacket.  If it’s below freezing the windproof jacket comes out to match the tights, otherwise I may wear the lightly insulated model shown in the picture or one of the lightweight wind shell variety.  The jersey pockets get a lot of use as my jackets may or may not have any decent pockets.

Head- I’ve really been fond of the Lazer rain/aero cover offered for their Genesis and Helium helmets.  It adds some warmth and weather protection while still allowing some air flow to keep the rain forest effect at bay.  Under that it’s a wool cap- Ibex’s Coppi or Meru, or sometimes one of Swix’s wool options if I’d like something heavier.

Hands- if I get the core and head warm then my hands are usually fine.  In fact I’ll often go without gloves if it’s over 45 degrees, so I’m not the guy to ask about hand comfort in cold weather.  And I hate gloves in general, but I’ve had awesome luck with the Craft Neoprene glove.  They don’t seem like they should be warm but I’ve worn them down to 20 degrees with no issue, and they’re too hot to wear over 35, but see above disclaimer about hand warmth.

I also like to carry a large zip lock bag with another pair of gloves, a hat, and a packable windshell.  It’s sort of a small insurance package, but I go by the motto of always having enough food and clothing, and in cold conditions that goes double.  The bag keeps it dry from road spray but also from sweat- nothing worse than putting on a soaking wet hat or pair of gloves that’s supposed to be warm and dry.

For tools I carry a Crank Bros M-17, two tubes, a tire lever, and a patch kit.  Cartidge CO2 doesn’t work below 40 degrees, but I use the frame pump on the road bike anyway.

Food wise it depends on my mood, but I’m really liking pineapple rings for an on-bike snack and Powerbar Performance in the water bottles.  I’ll also have a Coke for a mid-ride energy boost (well-documented).

So there you have it- go on, get out there.

Review- 1 x 10 for Cyclocross

By December 4, 2014 Uncategorized

photo (52)

A few weeks ago I made the switch over to a single front ring to make my cyclocross bike a 1 x 10.

I’d been considering it and sizing up my options for a while but when the new X9 rear derailleur was delayed I pulled the long cage X0 type 2 from the trail bike and used it instead.  That was almost identical to the X0 rear derailleur I had been running but with the necessary clutch to keep the chain engaged.  I’d purchased both 40t and 42t front rings and opted for the 42t as I felt most often I’d wanted to stay in the big ring rather than switch down to the 36.

Out back I’d been running an 11-32 cassette which works out to be slightly lower than the 34t x 28 I had been running on this bike previously, so in my mind that lower cassette is really what makes this possible.  On flatter courses I’d consider running a 28 or 30 as well, but only after a thorough pre-ride to be sure.

It’s worth mentioning that racing and training have different requirements, and the single ring does limit the versatility somewhat.  Tim Johnson races on a SRAM CX1 single ring but trains on a double and has stated he’d consider racing a double under certain conditions.  My mountain bike background means I’m more used to pushing big gears and keeping traction where others may prefer to spin; with most climbs in ‘cross being short and punchy I felt the risk of being overgeared to be minimal.

The recent Shedd Park race course featured two very sharp but rideable run up sections, so that’s about as much steep vertical as I’ve seen on any course and I had enough of a low gear to clear those when not riding in traffic.  Extreme mud may be a different story, but if it’s that slick it’s likely to be a forced dismount anyway.  On the faster sections of the course I really liked being always in the right gear up front whereas I often felt in between with the 36/46.  This was helpful especially exiting corners and on up & downhill transitions.

With a Raceface Narrow/Wide chainring, the aforementioned X0 derailleur, and proper chain length I never dropped the chain once though I did mount a SRAM Red chain catcher to the braze on mount with some scavenged Thomson seatpost parts and an M4 bolt from the hardware store.

For flattish trail and road riding the single ring is fine and I never wanted for more.  On a particularly steep and snowy dirt road ride I felt a little over geared, but that’s really the only time I felt that way.  Given that most off season rides avoid prolonged steep sections it’s usually a non-issue, but once I fully commit to training mode I’m likely to switch back to the double up front.

It’s worth noting that the 1x is inherently better suited to extreme mud or snow and ice buildup as shown in these pictures from my ride on Thanksgiving Day.  Front derailleurs are more prone to jamming and in conditions such as this and they’ll often leave you with just one chainring anyway.  Shifting and general drivetrain operation were largely trouble free in spite of the massive ice buildup, though the cassette did collect some to make the smallest cog unusable.

In the same conditions Carrie had more drivetrain issues with her Force/Rival 11 speed combination and had the same snow buildup problem in the cassette, but the tighter spacing between cogs meant that she lost the use of more gears than I did.  When I spec’ed out her bike I went with the new 11 speed because it was actually cheaper than 10 speed and I knew it would be easier to get parts for it going forward.  That’s mostly been the right call as the overall performance of that group has been great, but not great enough for me to endorse dumping a perfectly good 10 speed setup- especially for racing off-road.

photo (47)


Same story out back, too.

photo (46)

I didn’t realize quite how bad the buildup was until later- notice how the ice has been shaved by the chain catcher.  Oh, and the Stages Power Meter still worked fine, too.

photo (48)

Overall I think the 1x option is great for racing and offers simplicity along with consistent performance.  To get the most out of it I would recommend the wide range 11-32 cassette and a 40t or 42t out front.  You could swap out the cassette to an 11-28 or 11-30 for flatter races or even swap around rings as low as 38t or 40t and as high as 44t or 46t.  For me the 42t is just about right.  It’s slightly less awesome for really rolling courses or for training rides on variable terrain where longer climbs and descents abound.  It will still work there of course, but you’ll be wanting gears further apart rather than all accessible right in the middle.  

To make this setup work you’ll need new school narrow/wide chainring (like Wolf Tooth, Raceface, or Absolute Black) and a clutch type derailleur (X7, X9, X0, XX, XX1, Xo1, X1, or CX1) though going with one of the latter 1x specific models will limit your ability to go back to a double.  I’ve heard reports that the 10 speed X9 works fine with 11 speed drivetrains though I’ve not confirmed it myself.  I’ve also heard reports that you can run a standard short cage 10 speed road derailleur (non-clutch) with a short enough chain and have no issues dropping the chain, provided you have a Wolf Tooth Components or other similarly tall profile chainring.  My suspicion is that it would only really work if you ran a really tightly spaced cassette to keep the chain slack at a minimum.