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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Letting Go

Last weekend I said goodbye to an old friend, a companion of many miles.  It was bittersweet, as we had, despite our years of shared experiences, grown apart.  I'm referring to my trusted Torelli cyclocross race bike.

Built in 1999 in a small shop in Italy with classic European cyclocross geometry, this lugged steel beauty turned heads everywhere.  Light, quick and nimble, it accelerated and cornered like a Formula 1 race car.  It was much more bike than I was rider, but I loved giving it all I had.

Surviving the initial lap at the 2003 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo on the Torelli, the first lap on an unknown mountain bike course.  Maybe it was naïveté or arrogance to take that bike out on that course, but I think of it as confidence in the bike's capabilities.  It turned out to be our team's fastest individual lap of the entire race.
Almost immediately, I shed the Ultegra drivetrain to convert to singlespeed, the perfect home for both of us.  I loved riding it so much that I mounted 35 mm slicks on a spare wheelset, so I could commute on it regularly.  I even spun it on a lap at a mountain bike race, the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.  But, true to its roots, its strength was cyclocross, which I raced in Colorado and later a little bit in South Dakota when we moved north to the Black Hills.  Boy, was it fast.

The Torelli carried me the length of the 109 mile Mickelson Trail at least once each year since 2006,
including a 218 mile Edgemont-to-Deadwood-to-Edgemont up-and-back ride in 2011.
Over time, I started riding the Torelli longer distances, over rougher roads than my go-fast road bikes could handle.  Then, bit by the gravel bug in 2013, I embarked on a series of long gravel road races, such as the 110 mile Gold Rush, the 170 mile Odin's Revenge and the 150 mile Gravel Worlds.  All that quick handling so fun on a 45 minute cyclocross race was not so endearing on an all day, or longer, gravel road ride.  Yes, one can ride a cyclocross race bike on gravel.  But the geometry, materials and tire clearance of cyclocross bikes are not optimized for such long road rides, so they are not very stable and not very comfortable.

Crossing the finish at the inaugural 110 mile Gold Rush, finishing Third Place Singlespeed (out of 3).
Enter the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike, with its lower bottom bracket, longer chain stays, slacker seat tube and lower trail, all designed around a fatter 35 - 45 mm tire.  It's basically a relaxed geometry road bike designed for near mountain bike sized tires.  All those individual pieces sing in harmony for all day and night comfort on gravel, dirt and rough roads.

The differences between the Torelli and the Black Mountain are stark.  As I rode more and more longer distance, I rode the Torelli less and less until, finally, I wasn't riding it much at all.  On the rare occasion I rode it a few miles to work, it felt twitchy, not responsive, and wandering, not nimble.  I realized that the only time I would really enjoy riding that bike would be at cyclocross races, which I just didn't do much anymore.

My final photo of the Torelli, shortly before leaving for its new home.
So, I reluctantly put the Torelli on the local market, with the thought that I'd keep it unless the right rider showed up.  Well, it only took a couple of hours.  A 20-something year old mountain bike racer who wants to try cyclocross and maybe some short gravel races.  He's a fellow South Dakota School of Mines & Technology grad, whose dad took him to 24 hour mountain bike team relay races when he was younger.  How could I say no to this kid?

He will inject new life into this classic and both will be better for it.  I certainly was.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Alright. Alright. Tubeless.

Tubeless tires in the mountain bike world are well established, with years of widespread use and standardized components.  Not so in the higher pressure world of road bike tires.  But with the once sharp line between mountain and road blurring, that is changing.

My slippery slope to tubeless road tires started with new wheels for my Black Mountain all road bike.  To better enjoy the sumptuous ride of that bike, I went on the hunt for a strong, relatively lighter wheel set capable of handling rough roads at speed in remote country.  I sought the balance between durability, comfort and weight that won't fold on me 40 miles from cell phone coverage.  That led me to rims with a wider profile and higher spoke count.  Enter the upstart H Plus Son Archetype rim:  23 mm wide, available drilled for 32 spokes, and tubeless ready.  Wheel set upgrade done.

Now, for tires.  Possessing a heightened bias toward flat prevention, I ran 40 mm Schwalbe Marathon Racers on those wheels for over a year, piling up over 5,000 miles, with but one flat.  And that came at the very end, when I kept reverting to those over-worn tires after the performance of prospective replacements fell short.  Then, Schwalbe announced an all-in commitment to tubeless technology, including tubeless tires for road and gravel.  Although leery about the ride of a road tire filled with little knobs and lukewarm at best about tubeless, I ordered the 40 mm G-One.

Up close and personal with the 40mm Schwalbe G-One.
Now, with rims and tires designed for tubeless, what to do?  Install tubes, of course.  For 300 mostly gravel and dirt miles in winter conditions, I rode without losing a single psi.  Then, on my first true spring ride, I collected 3 flats, each from goat heads.  That won't do.  Not surrendering to goat heads.

Back to the Marathon Racers again?  No way.  The G-One is a noticeably softer ride, with greater control.  Maybe it's the higher quality casing.  Maybe the omnipresent knobs.  I don't know.  But the improved ride quality of the G-Ones officially retired the Marathon Racers.

But I'm not about to ride tires that drop their pressure load at the first sight of an Imperial goat head. So, I ditch my retro-grouch tubes and convert to tubeless via Stan.

After kicking the tires, and the wheels, at the dusty Badlands and Buffalo Gap Grasslands proving grounds.

Flawless execution.  A shake out 50 miles and then an all out 110 remote miles with no flats and nary a pressure drop.  Off to a flying start.

Just because I love this bike.