The Art of Falling

Usually my posts are text only- just a story about my adventures. It has worked well for me and I have liked it that way. As of late, specifically the past few days, I have taken on a little something new. I am learning to ride a unicycle! My intent had been to sit down and wax eloquent on my repeated attempts to stay on board the little one-wheeled contraption, but upon the suggestion of a few folks and having been inspired by a couple great creatives on Youtube, I have decided to try my hand at a vlog. So, new apparatus, new medium and new avenues for me to learn things.

Please check out my creation below. Be easy on me. It’s my first time shooting video in this manner and editing. If you find it interesting, please like the video and subscribe to my channel. If you have comments or suggestions of things you would like to see, feel free to comment here or on my Youtube page. I am really looking forward to sharing with this new-to-me tool. Without further ado, here is my video!

And so it begins….

First, a little bit of back story.

Last spring I was in the throws of training for Trans Iowa and Trans Am Bike Race. As often as I could, I would be out on the bike and regularly found myself doing long rides. After hours of saddle time alone in the hills of Southern Missouri and Illinois, I welcomed anyone who wanted to come out and ride with me and especially so if they wanted to do a long ride.

Bring in Jason Kulma, fellow TI vet and someone I see at local events off and on. We had met at the inaugural OT100MTB in 2014 when Jason hung out at the finish line after finishing up with the relay team he was on. I came in much later, actually in the middle of the night. He was hanging there at the finish cheering folks on as they came in. He chatted me up and a friendship was born. With Jason living right about 75 miles away in the outskirts of St Louis, it just made sense that we would then get together as we both prepared for TI and TABR for 2016.

One day as we were on the phone planning out a bikepacking weekend of training, we talked about our regular rides done around home. Jason commutes to and from work some 17 miles one way and I told him I was a bit jealous of that built in training. I also mentioned I would love to have a commuter-type bike, something cheap and unassuming that I wouldn’t be worried about leaving outside shops in town. I just hadn’t stumbled across what I was looking for. He mentioned that he was getting a new adventure rig to use for TI and TABR, which would bump his old adventure rig to the commuting role and in turn, leave his old commuter unused. I offered to buy it and he refused saying it was pretty wore out and he wouldn’t feel right taking money for it. I told him I could work with that and a deal was struck.

The next time I went up to meet Jason at his home and ride out on a weekend of training, I picked my new-to-me commuter up. It was a Voodoo Wazoo in metallic blue. I believe he said it was late 90’s vintage. It was steel frame and not rideable at the time as he had grabbed some stuff off of it. He sent me home with the bike minus saddle, tires and pedals. I could deal with that, seeing as it was F-R-E-E!!!

With my focus strictly on TI and TABR, the bike sat tire-less and saddle-less for months. Before it was all said and done, I cabbaged the set of carbon Easton handle bars off of it for my TABR rig replacing the heavier aluminum bars I had, leaving the old Wazoo looking more like a carcass than anything.

After TABR, one day it struck me that I had just about everything that I needed to get the old girl going, I just needed to do it. So….I did. I put my old, stock aluminum bars that the carbon Eastons had replaced onto the Wazoo. I then added a pair of pedals I had laying around that are flats on one side and Shimano SPD on the other. Those would be perfect for a towner. I pulled the Clement USH 35’s I used in Trans Iowa out and loaded them onto the wheels. The final piece was the saddle, which I did not have. I went to my local bike shop and was able to grab one that had been a take-off for $15. I added the killer saddle deal to the mix and had a finished product! Well, not really. I didn’t wrap the bars, but it was rideable. I never even threw my leg over it, but instead my son used it occasionally to ride to the school or park to play soccer. It was being utilized a bit and that was good enough.

Back to present day, or at least the last week or so. After months of not doing much at all and eating WAY too much, I have found it difficult to find the motivation to get out and ride. Even when the new year rang in, I still didn’t saddle up. I was starting to get the itch though. I decided to try out some things with the Wazoo. Maybe, just maybe, I could make a TI rig out of it?

I pulled my hand-built front wheel off of my road bike since it has a dynamo hub and loaded up one of the WTB Nano 40’s that I was graciously awarded for being a finisher of TI last year. Once I saw that the tire would have clearance, I then put the other tire on the back. I considered going all out and adding the B&M Lumotec from my road bike, but realized that I didn’t have a way to mount it on the Wazoo with its cantilever brakes. That could wait until I could get a new mount. I dug through my box of parts and goodies to find a package of new bar wrap and finally got the bars covered. Then just for kicks, I pulled my partial frame bag off the road bike and tried it on the Wazoo. It fit! Score! With a spare bottle cage and a quick pedal swap with the Crank Brothers pedals from my MTB added to the build, it was complete.

Having finished getting the Wazoo ready this evening, I decided there was no time like the present to finally get my first ride of the year. It was after 8:00pm and 3 hours after sunset, but I suited up and headed out with the intent to just ride south of town to Engler Park where there is a crushed limestone walking/biking path to test out the Nano’s.

Right away, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I clipped in on the walk in front of my house and pushed off, only to feel like I was about to endo over the bars. Had it really been that long since I had been on a bike? I adjusted the way I was sitting and headed out into the street. As I turned, my right shoe rubbed the front tire hard, nearly throwing me off the bike. That was something new. I rode on down the street feeling things out.

I headed south of town and out to Engler, then hit the gravel trail. It was a bit mushy in spots, but the Nano’s had no problem. When I found some areas with new, loose gravel, I stopped and aired down some. Too much I was afraid, but I rode on and the tires felt great! Perfect really!

In the end, I rode the path and then turned and came back the way I had come. I ended up getting back home with a gigantic 7.3 miles, but hey, I got my first one done!

The bike is what it is. In its time it was a nice ride. Times have changed and so have geometries. It has a short wheel base and the saddle sits forward, putting your center of mass more over the front end. It isn’t a comfortable ride for me at all, but I can appreciate it for an old steel bike.

I am a bit disappointed that I won’t be able to use it for 340 miles of gravel in April, but on the other hand, it will make a great little bike to ride around town occasionally to grab coffee or run an errand. My son will ride it and that is even better. I will likely do as I did last year and convert my MTB to a gravel grinder simply by adding different tires. My choice will certainly be the Nano 40’s. Those puppies were great on my little jaunt!

The best part of it all- I am finally back in the saddle. That makes me a bit excited. Quite a bit really. Ride on!

TABR16 Setup

I’ve been asked about my setup and what I changed from TABR15. Here is a rundown of the major bits and bobs I took with me for TABR16.

  • Bike- 2009 Giant Defy 3- This was the same bike as last year and has been the backbone of most of my adventures. Last year I ran the low end Sora drive train that came stock on it. That may be something that makes other racers raise their eyebrows, but it never failed me in anything I asked of it. That being said, I found a smoking deal on a full 105 group set this past spring and did a complete group upgrade before the 2016 race. The 11 speed 105 was 50/34 in the front and 11/28 in the rear. I must say, now that I have ridden the 105, I can’t believe I rode all I did on the low end stuff! It is a much nicer ride now. My wheels were the same as last year. DT Swiss 32 hole RR440 rims. The front was laced to a SP dynamo hub which provided power and charging. The rear was a DT Swiss 350 Classic hub. I hand-built them myself and I love them. Tires were Conti Grand Prix 4000sii 25mm. My handlebars were Easton EC90 Equipe carbon with a set of Profile Design ZBS aero bars clipped on. The seat post was an Easton EC70 carbon and the saddle was a Bontrager Affinity. Lastly, I upgraded the pedals this year from Look Keo Classics to Look Keo carbons.
  • Bags- The saddle bag was a Revelate Designs Viscacha. Everything else was custom stitched by your’s truly- frame bag, top tube bag and feed bags. Yes, I would be happy to entertain making a set for your adventures! 🙂 Details about that coming soon!!!
  • Sleep system- Last year I had my hammock- oh so comfortable, but limited on where I could use it. I ended up sleeping on the ground a few times and my setup didn’t support it well. This year I went with an Outdoor Research Helium bivy, Klymit X-lite sleeping pad and Enlightened Equipment Enigma 50 degree quilt. This system was versatile enough to handle the extremes that were found on the Trans Am in June, yet came in at a respectable 32oz (922g).
  • Clothing- I was sporting my Team Noah kit made by Borah Teamwear. I have to say that if I had to grade it I would give it a C. It did most of what I needed, but wasn’t perfect by any means. When the temps dipped, I had a hand-picked system that works for me. Some things could’ve been lighter, but I was comfortable with this kit. My base layer shirt was a long sleeve tech fabric by Remington. I had a super packable Camp anorak wind shell that always seems to see more use than I think it will. It has been many thousands of miles with me and is great for mountain descents. When things got cold, I had a synthetic Patagonia puff coat that doubled as an additional sleeping layer when necessary. I wore it a few times on the bike, but only for awhile so I didn’t sweat it out. My last line of defense was an Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket. On my head and/or around my neck I used a UV Buff. I used it at all times on my head to protect from sunburn and pulled it down when needed around my ears. I also had a lightweight sock hat for sleeping in, but really didn’t need it. Hands were covered with Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves when the weather got rough. I also carried Pearl Izumi leg warmers, Giant shoe covers and Swiftwick sun sleeves.
  • Electronics and lighting- For navigation, I had a Garmin Etrex 30x in the cockpit to take the place of the ACA maps I carried last year. I’ll also had my iPhone as back up nav and all round electronic device. I was a bit nervous about going without paper maps, but it worked fine. The dynamo lights were the same B&M lights from last year. On the front was the Lumotec IQ Premium Cyo and on the rear was the Secula Plus. For this year I upgraded from a small Princeton Tech head lamp on my helmet to an Exposure Joystick MK10. This provided me with extra light for fast mountain descents and an in-camp light when used on the low setting. Everything was charged with the SP dynamo and a Sinewave Revolution coupled with a Fuel+ cache battery. I did end up charging the cache battery here and there from an electric outlet when staying in a hotel and a few times while stopped to eat.

Some weigh their setup, some don’t. I know from experience that the important thing is to have a setup you are used to and comfortable with. That being said, I did weigh everything and it totaled out a little shy of 31lbs (14kg). There were things I could have done to trim weight in my setup, but not without spending quite a bit and I just didn’t feel it was necessary. I was confident this setup would do everything I wanted it to do, and it didn’t let me down. The only purchase I made after I left home to add to my kit was a light pair of pajama pants that I cut to shorts. I bought them at a store in Astoria the day before the race and used them when I needed to have something to put on while doing laundry.

What would I change?

If I was to do the race again and had the funds to do so, here are a few things that I might do different. Overall I was happy with my kit, but there is almost always room for improvement.

  • First off, a disk frame bike would be nice. Necessary? Nope, but nice. There were a few times that I was on the brakes hard on descents and would have felt more comfortable on discs.
  • With a change in frame to discs, I would make sure I bought one that was able to run a wider tire. I like my Grand Prix’s, but would love to run the 28mm model. My current bike won’t accept them.
  • Di2 would have been the bee’s knees. I saw other folks with it and was jealous. I have always been a fan of the simpler, reliable route, but the fact is Di2 is both simple and reliable. Plus after a few thousand miles when your hands are numb, Di2 is much, MUCH easier to shift.
  • I am still searching for the right shorts for me. The team kit I rode this year was much closer to what I needed than what I have ridden in the past, but it still had a few issues in durability and the contact area wasn’t a perfect match. Much better than last year, but not perfect. Before I do another long race I will spend some time and money looking for the perfect shorts.
  • You may just want to skip this one. You have been warned!!! 🙂 For those that read this, stick with me here. Cache batteries with dynamos are beastly to figure out. The trick is to find a cache that is “charge through” compatible. That way you can trickle charge the cache at all times with the dynamo while still being able to use the cache to charge other stuff. You say, “why not just charge everything off the dynamo?” Well, that works mostly. Except at night. Or going up a hill. That makes the dynamo power fluctuate and makes it difficult, if not impossible to charge things that require a more steady flow of power. There are a few bike pack lighting guys out there that have systems you can buy, but I am all about figuring things out myself. (That translates to- I am too dumb to buy someone’s wisdom, I feel the need to bash my face against a preverbal brick wall trying to re-invent the wheel. Yeah, yeah, I know.) I thought I had it figured out with the Fuel cache battery, but alas, I was wrong. It was advertised that it was charge though, but didn’t work like that, which is something commonly mis-advertised evidently. I used the cache to charge all my things (which it did fine at) and also to run my Etrex 30x (which it did only ok at). The Etrex isn’t designed to be charged. Instead it uses 2 AA batteries. I ran lithium batteries to keep it light, then supplemented with the cache battery via the data cord. It would run on the cache for exactly 45 minutes, then go to a nag screen warning that it would shut off if I didn’t prompt it to stay on by clicking a button. The fix was I would hit the power button on the side of the cache battery every 44 minutes. I missed it probably 3 or 4 times a day and would look down to a GPS that had shut off. GRRRR!!!! Not the easiest setup to use, but it kept me from replacing AA batteries every day. The Garmin will run 25 hours on 2 AA’s. I only had to switch them out twice in 24 days. Not bad, but I wore myself out pushing that power button! When I race again, I will find a different cache battery that is actually “charge through” compatible or one that won’t shut off.

Final Thoughts

One of the first things that prospective racers ask veterans when they are trying to prepare for one of these races is usually something about gear. I understand that as it is exactly what I did in 2015 when preparing for my rookie race. However, the reality is 100 rookie racers could go out and purchase the exact kit that I used and was happy with, only to be miserable with it all. When racing a route like the Trans Am, you will spend hours upon hours in/on/with your kit. It needs to be what YOU are comfortable with and you will only find that by getting out and figuring it out for yourself. Look at veteran racer’s gear lists as guidelines only.

Now….get out there and ride!