Monday, February 18, 2019

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

In the midst of some February blahs, there's nothing like a light hearted bicycle scene from a 50 year old western to brighten spirits.

This song and scene from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid always picks me up.
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

Keep smiling. Keep riding. See you out there.

Raindrops are falling on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothing seems to fit
Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling

So I just did me some talking to the sun
And I said I didn't like the way he got things done
Sleeping on the job
Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep fallin'

But there's one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me
Won't defeat me, it won't be long
'Till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining
Because I'm

Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining
Because I'm free
Nothing's worrying me
It won't be long 'till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining
Because I'm free 'cause nothing's worrying me

Burt Bacharach and Hal David (1969)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Single Speed, It Is

It's a subtle thing. The pull to simplicity. To just get out there. To just be.

And it always seems to lead me to a bicycle. The most simple one. A rigid single speed.

I have commuted single speed or fixed since the mid 90's, raced cyclocross single speed beginning in the late 90's, and mountain biked exclusively rigid single speed from 2003-2018. Single speed speaks to me.

Even for gravel, at first. Throughout 2013, my first season riding gravel events, I rode my Torelli cyclocross single speed all over, including the Gold Rush, Odin's Revenge and Gravel Worlds. I loved gravel events, but not so much the cyclocross bike's quick handling or single speed. I searched for a more capable bike for those long rough road rides.

Eventually, I landed on the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike for a go anywhere geared road bike. But I hedged. A significant part of my purchasing decision was Mike Varley's perceptive design detail of old school semi-horizontal dropouts, which allowed an easy in-the-field conversion to single speed. Of course, that also left open the possibility of a more permanent single speed.

Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross set up for all day single speeding on most any road. 

After four memorable seasons riding gravel geared, I somehow entered the single speed class in the 2018 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. I still don't know what prompted that, other than just to see if I still could. A Single Speed Gold Rush.

With that taste of gravel single speed still lingering, Mark Stevenson (aka Guitar Ted) and Dave Roll (aka N.Y. Roll) announced the C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship, a self-supported, self-navigated, no frills 100+ mile gravel race. It's just you, your fellow riders and whatever you discover out there on an unknown, unmarked course. With the C.O.G. 100 featuring just about everything I love about grass roots gravel, I had to find a way to make it there. Keeping It Real - The C.O.G. 100.

Once cleared by work and home for another Grinnell road trip, I spent a quiet winter afternoon converting the Black Mountain to a single speed complying with the C.O.G. 100 requirements of one chain ring, one cog, no front derailleur, no shifters, no shift cables, and no cassette/freewheel.

One chain ring + one chain guard = same bolts from the removed double chain ring setup.

I first removed the front derailleur, rear derailleur and shift cables. I then removed the Salsa Cowbell handlebars, complete with its shifters, and simply installed slightly wider Salsa CowChipper handlebars with brake levers only. Easy-peasy.

The one chain ring rule required removing two chain rings and installing just one. Lacking the niceties of shorter bolts to make this work, I found in my shrinking parts bin an old Salsa chain ring with 42 shark teeth. A few minutes with a hacksaw turned that unusable chain ring into a shade tree mechanic chain guard. Problem solved.

Old cassette spacers align the cog with the chain ring and help secure it to the dropout.

The one cog rule required removing the cassette and installing just one cog. My simple solution for a single speed rear wheel was to use my existing wheel with a BMX single speed cog aligned with the front chain ring and held in place with spacers extracted from old cassettes. Another shade tree mechanic fix.

Not much left. Shorten the chain to an appropriate length, tighten the chain to an appropriate tension by sliding the rear wheel back and up the semi-horizontal dropout and secure it all with a stout quick release. That's it.

Chain tension adjusted by sliding the rear axle along the semi-horizontal dropout. No brake adjustment necessary.

This set up will not get onto the cover of Single Speed Today. But, yes, it works well. I have ridden and raced many years on trails and cyclocross courses on similar setups.

Now, it's time for the C.O.G. 100.

Addendum 1.  This post describes what I did, but not how. For a post describing how to convert a bike to single speed in the field, as in during an event, go to this post. Field Conversion to Single Speed. The only additional steps for the C.O.G. 100 are to remove some extra stuff (the derailleurs, shifters, shift cables, cassette and a front chain ring) and install a single rear cog.

Addendum 2.  The chain tension must be loose enough to operate, but not so loose as to slip off. The operational tolerance here is not high. If your frame lacks a semi-horizontal dropout, you most likely will have to maintain chain tension another way, such as an eccentric bottom bracket, an eccentric rear hub, or a chain tensioner like a rear derailleur or a Surly Singulator. Sheldon Brown - Single Speed Conversion.

Addendum 3.  Of course, a primo set up includes a single speed specific rear wheel with a single speed freewheel held with a bolt on skewer. I've built several wheels like this over the years and still have one for my commuter bike (Surly hub, WTB rim, White Industries ENO freewheel). I would do this on the Black Mountain if I were committed to running single speed for more than an event or two.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Fear Not

I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune, Frank Herbert (1965).


Fear to imagine.
Fear to believe.

Fear to begin.

Fear to succeed.

Fear to fail.

Fear to be.


I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune, Frank Herbert (1965).

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hidden in Plain Sight

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone is 640.6 miles. Adding additional miles may be a tough sell, but this is special. And it's right there alongside the route, hidden in plain sight.

The Northern Prairie Loop follows public roads crossing primarily private land. Although the gravel and dirt roads enter isolated, winding threads of trees and water when crossing an occasional draw, it's almost all wide open prairie. In the midst of this ocean of grass, just 14 miles from the start/finish at the North Dakota border, lies a little known treasure. The North Cave Hills Unit of Custer Gallatin National Forest is a collection of small hills that erupt from the surrounding prairie, creating an oasis of trees and rock. Once up and back into these hills, it looks and feels like you're in the middle of the Black Hills.

North Cave Hills Unit of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, en route to the Picnic Spring Campground.
Atop one of these forested plateaus lies Picnic Spring Campground, a primitive U.S. Forest Service camp ground. No reservations. No fees. No water. No services at all. Just a dirt road leading to eight secluded campsites each offering a picnic table, a fire grate and an outhouse down the way. It's one sweet spot to camp.

A great start to the Black Hills BackBone is to camp at Picnic Spring and then ride or shuttle the 14 miles of dirt and gravel roads to the start. On our 2017 Black Hills BackBone ride, we car camped at Picnic Spring for a memorable night beside the fire and under the stars, before shuttling to the North Dakota border early the next morning. If I ride the BackBone again, I'd love to do the same.

Chillin' at Picnic Spring Campground on the eve of our 2017 Black Hllls BackBone.
Dave Litzen, Craig Groseth, Rob Sorge & Shaun Arritola. (photo by Corinne Sorge).
Picnic Spring also would be a great place to start a DoubleBackBone, as long as one is committed to arranging the 3 hour shuttle back to Rapid City after the finish. A DoubleBackBone ride with less shuttle time starts in Spearfish with a clockwise loop through Camp Crook up to the North Dakota border, before returning to Spearfish. At almost 300 miles, this Northern Prairie loop could be ridden continuously or with stealth napping along the route. Alternatively, for a delightful evening in a forested oasis, one could invest in the short spur to this little known, little used camp ground. If I were to bike pack the DoubleBackBone solo or in a small group, I'm thinking that I'd start it that way, before heading south for that big Southern Loop.

No matter the journey, an evening at Picnic Spring is worth the trip.

Monday, January 21, 2019

No Dead Miles

I don't believe in "dead" miles. I feel alive on every mile I ride.

This time of year triggers an avalanche of quick fix training programs guaranteed IN JUST 10 DAYS! to GAIN SPEED!, LOSE WEIGHT! and SLAY DRAGONS! A prominent admonition this year seems to focus on the concept of avoiding "dead" miles, i.e., pedaling miles that are too easy for aerobic or strength training, but too hard for base building or recovery. In general, this concept advocates a high percentage of miles be very easy and a low percentage of miles be off-the-charts hard. Everything in between has no beneficial training effect and are "dead" miles to be avoided at all cost.

Maybe this resonates with those having the goal of optimizing every riding moment for optimal training effect. If your paycheck or your ego depends on your relative placing in races, then perhaps you should ride only boringly slow or lung-burstingly fast. If there's no margin for error, maybe every riding moment must contribute to a specific training benefit. I don't know. I'll leave that to the professionals.

Just riding along on some favorite M-Hill trails in the heart of Rapid City.
(photo by Chani Groseth,
I'm just not buying it for me. Not any more. Those in-between miles are fun. And more fun leads to more riding and better conditioning, even if it's not optimal. I don't care if I'm not as fast or as strong as I theoretically could be through optimal training. I ride a lot because I have a lot of fun riding. My weekends often are filled pedaling through remote country on those fun, in between miles. None feel "dead" to me.

I understand that a structured plan with high intensity workouts produces results. By following a variety of such plans over the years, I have experienced the speed and endurance gains from high intensity training. However, these days I choose not to rigorously structure my riding to specific training. I just ride.

That does not mean my week is without structure. For base building and recovery, I commute every day by bike, year around, which is about 25-30 minutes each way or almost 5 hours a week. That quietly adds up to about 2,500 miles a year. I don't feel compelled to add more base building/recovery rides during the limited ride times on nights and weekends.

For high intensity training, I now run. In late 2017, I started running again after a very long hiatus. For the past 68 weeks, I have run three times a week, with increasingly harder and longer efforts. By now, I'm at Tuesday early morning short intervals (4x3min, 3 miles total), Thursday early morning threshold (1x20min, 3 miles total) and Sunday morning trails (1 hour up and around M-Hill). The key for me is consistent effort over time. I am gradually getting lighter and faster, both running and riding, as a direct result of incorporating these short runs into my week. They also free up the rest of my nights and weekends to find someplace fun to ride.

So, I bike commute for base building/recovery, run for training and ride nights/weekends for fun.

No "dead" miles for me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sometimes, More is More

The Black Hills BackBone. Go big. Go remote. Go for it.

More? The Black Hills DoubleBackBone.

Really? An even longer route? What prompted that? The DoubleBackBone is simply the result of my way of problem solving. 

Spanning the height of the State of South Dakota on 310 miles of back country gravel and dirt roads, the Black Hills BackBone showcases the remote ruggedness of Western South Dakota. It also creates a host of challenges for the adventurous cyclist. One not to overlook is just getting to the start at NoWhere, North Dakota and from the finish at NothingThere, Nebraska. From Rapid City, it's a three hour drive one way to the start and two hours one way from the finish.

How to eliminate those long shuttle drives? Make the route into a loop and start where convenient.

Imagine, if you will, riding along the original Black Hills BackBone route to the stop sign finish at the Nebraska border. Celebrate the moment, but then head west onto Dakota Line Road to access the Wild, Wild Western reaches of the Black Hills. A serpentine network of barely used gravel and dirt roads wind generally north for a return up O'Neil Pass, before dropping onto the Northern Prairie to the North Dakota border.

Now, that's one big, bad ride. Over 640 miles, all told.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Go bigger. Go more remote. Go for more.

Out there. Somewhere. On the Black Hills DoubleBackBone.
Sometimes, more is more. More rolling prairie patrolled by herds of cattle, buffalo, pronghorn and elk. More obscure canyons scoured by flash floods. More twisty ridge lines climbing to soaring views. More hills stuffed with pine and aspen. More dirt near-roads connecting with secondary Forest Service gravel. And even more remote than the easterly side of the loop, which is a bit hard to believe until you're out there. Get you some of that!

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone, like the original BackBone, is just a route that I think is fun and challenging, however one chooses to experience it. Solo or group. One continuous ride, a series of days or in sections over time. Self-supported, shuttled or fully supported. Maybe some combination or even all of the above.

For cue sheets for the entire Black Hills DoubleBackBone route, follow this link. DoubleBackBone Cue Sheets. For some ideas on how to approach the 640 mile route, go to this post. DoubleBackBone Daydreams. For pictures and other details along the route, go the posts in early 2018, including NothingThere, NE to EdgemontEdgemont to Jewell CaveJewell Cave to O'Neil PassO'Neil Pass to Camp Crook Road (part 1)O'Neil Pass to Camp Crook Road (part 2)Camp Crook Road to NoWhere, ND.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Go bigger. Go more remote. Go for more.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

No. We'll Ride the C.O.G. 100.

To prepare for this scene in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Paul Newman reportedly tried to convince a friend to enter a single speed only gravel race in Iowa in March on an 111 mile course devised by the dastardly mind of Guitar Ted. Sometimes, you just have to go for it.

Here's to those who willingly jumped into the C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship!

See you in March!

Now 50 years old, the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is probably a bit obscure to many. Here's a link to this cliff jumping scene. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid - Jump. This movie is worth watching just for the bicycle scene (yes, in a western!).

Here's also a link to my earlier post about the C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship. Keeping It Real - The C.O.G. 100.