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Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Mindset

Finish the hill.
Greg LeMond, American Cyclist

Like all but the very shortest of sporting events, an endurance bicycle race cannot be won at the start. There are too many variables, over too much time. As a race lengthens, the variables increase in number, complexity and unpredictability. Preparation and experience certainly help to successfully finish a long race, but the right mindset from the start is the most powerful tool in your kit.

On the other hand, the wrong mindset can lose an endurance bicycle race before the start. I know it, because I have done it. So, how to create, develop and maintain a successful mindset to finish? There is no single, right answer. You must get out there and learn how for yourself.

One thing is certain. No matter how prepared or experienced you are at the start, or how great you feel during the race, you will go through a rough patch. Something will go south. Emotional, intellectual, physical, mechanical, maybe more than one thing, maybe everything. It won't last forever. Find a way to stay positive and keep moving.

That mountain looks a long way away. Or, that's a lot of great country to ride through to get to that mountain. 

As I consider events for next year that may be a bit of a reach, I find inspiration in the thoughts of endurance cyclists who struggled through difficulties and broke through their perceived limitations. A common thread is positivity: focusing on the positive present, visualizing a positive future, or recalling the positive past. Remember the positive reasons for undertaking such experiences in the first place. Here is a short collection of thoughts from some folks who have the mindset to successfully finish.

"There is no room for negative thoughts. When Jay is on the bike, it's only positive thoughts. For Jay, it approaches a near-Zen mind state. He teaches that a negative thought must become so foreign it's as if you have an inability to even process it. Instead, focus on how you can succeed and be thankful for your ability to ride your bike."

Tom Puzak, GearJunkie contributing editor interviewing legendary cyclist Jay Petervary

"But gravel racing is not always about fitness and who is fastest. It's about decision making, mental toughness and being humble enough to let go of your expectations and embrace the struggle and adventure of the day. A day spent with like minded people who enjoy that kind of experience is a day well spent."

Sarah Cooper, endurance cyclist, Odin's Revenge Champion, Spotted Horse Ultra Race Director

Positive focus on what you can see.

"But, even as uncomfortable as it is, becoming better acquainted with myself is one of the reasons I seek out difficult cycling challenges. They afford me the opportunity to stress myself while working to stay positive, to stay patient, and to keep problem solving and moving forward."

Nick Legan, endurance cyclist, author of "Gravel Cycling"

"Adversity:  Your proving ground. There is no greater opportunity in life than to be presented an enormous obstacle and a chance to overcome it. Embrace adversity and find calm within the chaos to grow. Discomfort is common on the path and an indication you're headed in the right direction."

Todd Poquette, 906 Adventure Team, HAMR & Marji Gesick 100 Race Director

"Just because you feel bad now, does not mean you will feel bad later. A short stop to drink, eat and stretch can do wonders. On a hot day like this past Saturday, a long break to fully re-hydrate can renew the body and spirit, and can enable you to go on. The most enjoyable part of these long rides is the evening, as the temperature subsides and the winds calm. If you can get to the early evening, all will be good."

OldGravelGuy blog, 2013 Gravel Worlds

"He hath need of his wits who wanders wide."
Odin, somewhere out there at the 2016 Odin's Revenge.

"Try something crazy hard every once in a while, just to see where you stand. The Almanzo is the mirror that shows who you are, not who you tell people you are."

Paul Krumrich, endurance cyclist, GearJunkie contributing editor

"The demons live within us all and to willingly push ourselves into something that invites them to open doors most would keep locked forever is a peculiar thing. I've met my demons, I've embraced their company, and I've had them turn and exit through the door I unlocked. It's a good feeling to see them leave, but it's also a good feeling to understand what they've brought to the fold and what to do with it. It's during those confrontations that I've forgotten I was even on a bike despite the gravel rushing under my wheels. It is during these moments that we begin to truly understand who we are."

Tim Ek, long time sponsored endurance cyclist

"I need to get more fundamental than that. I need to realize that this thing -- that I have done obsessively for 44 of the 48 years I've been lucky enough to be above ground and breathing, this thing that has given me most of the most memorable moments in my life, that has taken me to most of my favorite places, desert and arctic, peak and valley, and brought me back home again -- is not a right, not a given, not to be taken for granted.

The simple act of experiencing the world from the saddle of a bike is, like the most important people in our lives, a privilege. It could, can, and might be taken away at a moment's notice. Happens to other people all the time. Could happen to me tomorrow. Maybe today. Time for me to flip the conundrum on its head and stop taking this thing for granted. Time to get inspired again."

Mike Curiak, endurance cycling pioneer

With no electronic communications out here, other voices may be heard.

"Cyclocross Magazine:  You mentioned 'growth of people.' What do you mean by that in terms of gravel riding?

Guitar Ted: I suppose it would make more sense to spell out what I mean. The thing here is that, in my opinion, our culture, our world as we have it now, is far too inundated with information, time-chewing, soulless relationships and vapid consumerism that when you extricate yourself from all of that and get away in the country, it can have the effect of making an imprint on your spirit and soul. You can experience a sort of growth from that or maybe you won't. I'll leave that up to the individual, but that's what I am talking about here."

Mark Stevenson, Trans Iowa Race Director, grandfather of today's gravel scene

"Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself."

Candy Hersch, my much older sister who always works in the last word, quoting a coffee house chalk board

Monday, December 3, 2018

Head for the Hills! It's the Mother Lode!

The Black Hills Mother Lode is a 210 mile gravel road race out of the college town of Spearfish, South Dakota. Organized by the folks behind the popular Dakota Five-O and 28-Below bicycle races, the Mother Lode is the big sister to the 110 mile Gold Rush and the 70 mile Gold Dust running the same day. Put the three together and it's a weekend gravel festival for everyone, featuring live music, a catered picnic at the finish line park, a high energy awards ceremony and tables filled with door prizes.

Over the years, I've ridden and enjoyed each distance. Chose one based on your conditioning and ambition and you're bound to have a good time. For 2019, I plan to return for another run at the Mother Lode.

Early miles at the 2015 Mother Lode, about to turn onto Sand Creek Road to enter the Black Hills.
Jason Thorman, Craig Groseth, Luke Meduna (photo by Randy Ericksen)

What to expect on the Mother Lode course? Gear up for long, steady climbs measured in miles. For the most part, the roads are hard packed, lightly graveled U.S. Forest Service "primary" roads with relatively long sight lines, low traffic and uncomplicated navigation. The country is rolling forested hills and meadows with little development of any kind, other than some logging operations and an occasional campground. After climbing the 70 miles up O'Neil Pass, the following 100 miles are particularly remote, with cell coverage sporadic at best. Carry everything you need between the four check points, including water, food, repair supplies and foul weather gear.

Of all the things to bring to the Mother Lode, pack a bottomless bottle of optimism and a flask of your best judgment. In the words of Odin's Revenge, "He hath need of his wits who wanders wide."

Boles Canyon Road not long after crossing O'Neil Pass at the 2015 Mother Lode.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)

For more event details, start at for maps, gpx files and cue sheets of all three courses, as well as a photo gallery and other essential information. There's plenty to prepare you to get out there and have fun.

For my first account race reports and related observations of the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder races, go to the following posts on the Black Hills BackBone blog. Back in 2013, I managed to finish the inaugural Gold Rush on my single speed cyclocross bike with 32 mm knobbies, a couple of water bottles and a few gels. A Taste of Gravel. That was a rough introduction to gravel, but two years later I returned for the inaugural Mother Lode. 2015 Mother Lode. After riding the Mother Lode in 2016 (Cooked at the Mother Lode), the Gold Dust in 2017 (A Friendly Little Ride) and the Gold Rush in 2018 (A Single Speed Gold Rush), it seems right to return for another Mother Lode in 2019.

Heading for the Hills! For another Mother Lode!

Already cooking at 5:00 am in the 81 degree start of the 2016 Mother Lode.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Keeping It Real - The C.O.G. 100

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
Mark Twain

There's much angst in the virtual air about the commercialization of gravel races and the inevitable burst of the gravel bubble. The gravel darling of the mainstream cycling media, Dirty Kanza, continues to get more expensive, more exclusive and even more corporate with its recent sale to a big event production company. Many other gravel events also are morphing into conventional bicycle races, with professional riders, team tactics, expanding levels of support, little to no self-navigation, substantial entry fees and prizing, national media coverage and more enforcement of more rules due to racers cheating. Sound familiar?

Not to worry. What sparked and nurtured the gravel scene was not marketing and selling big production events. When all the big hype gravel stuff withers, folks will still get together to ride gravel for fun, challenge and competition at local rides and grass roots races.

New gravel races still pop up all over, many of which are small, low-key events operating on a shoestring budget by a dreamer and some volunteers. The grandfather of gravel, Guitar Ted, notes that such "under the radar" events continue to fill the calendar. The Message. Out here in the sticks of western South Dakota, engineer/beermeister Lucas Haan exemplifies the can-do gravel attitude by starting a spring gravel series that doubled in size twice in its first year, then doubled again to over 100 riders in its second. A Gravel Community Builds. That's where it's at.

Now, from the birthplace of today's gravel scene, none other than Guitar Ted recently announced a new gravel race out of Iowa that should warm the hearts of grass roots gravelleurs everywhere:  The C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship.  C.O.G. 100.

Drawing deeply from its Trans Iowa roots, the C.O.G. 100 squarely plunks ownership of the experience on the individual rider. Guitar Ted clearly and repeatedly pronounces that YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU and re-inforces that philosophy into the very structure of the event:
  • Self-navigated with cue sheets delivered at the start (no course markings, no GPS for navigation). 
  • Self-supported (no aid stations, no crew, no stores on the route). 
  • No outside support of any kind (specifically noting no outside "encouragement/cheering"). 
  • No race organizer retrieval (arrange transportation if quitting). 
  • No sanctioning, no prizing, no schwag (the experience is the reward).
That crusty curmudgeon Guitar Ted refuses to allow anyone to simply buy an experience served up on a silver platter. Instead, he provides written directions and you ride. It's just you, your fellow riders and whatever you discover out there on an unknown course. Oh, and single speed only. All in all, it's a genuine Guitar Ted Production.

The C.O.G. 100 reads like a Christmas wish list of everything I'd love in a gravel race. I wish I could be there.

Registration opens January 2, 2019 and is limited to 75. Expect it to fill fast.

On the volunteers ride at Trans Iowa v14, a flat stretch of rideable B-road somewhere around Grinnell, Iowa.
On the C.O.G. 100, I'd expect very few flat stretches. Very, very few. Maybe none. Likely none. OK, none.

Monday, November 12, 2018


"Doc, ya oughta be in bed. What the hell are ya doin' this for anyway?" (Turkey Creek Jack Johnson)
"Wyatt Earp is my friend."  (Doc Holliday)
"Hell, I got lots of friends."  (Turkey Creek Jack Johnson)
"I don't."  (Doc Holliday)
Tombstone (1993). Video Link.

Twenty-some years ago, a thoughtful person in my Bible study group asked a challenging question. Outside your family, do you have a friend who you know would immediately come to help if you called at 3:00 o'clock in the morning? Many responded affirmatively, some by experience but most by trust in their friendships. Others, however, were not so sure.

After wrestling with that for a bit, the follow-up question was more penetrating. Under similar circumstances, would anyone call you? That is, are you the friend that another would call, knowing that you would answer and come help? The group grew more pensive.

Every so often, I remember that discussion and the resulting conversations with friends. It always reminds me to appreciate my friends, of all kinds, and prompts me to work to build stronger friendships. Admittedly, those intentional efforts over the years have been infrequent and haphazard, at best.

That leads me to a few friends who have been on my mind lately. I'm especially blessed to have some special friends who helped me finally achieve a multi-year goal of riding the entire length of the 310 mile Black Hills BackBone. Each of them answered my call and ventured far outside their comfort zone to join me. College roommate Rob Sorge rearranged his schedule to drive across the country to share our latest adventure together, totally trusting my route planning and bike selection for him. College classmate Dave Litzen doesn't ride much long distance, but bought a new bike just to join this crazy cross-state weekend ride, and then had the moxie and ability to finish it. Former colleague Shaun Arritola simply quipped, "I'm in!" in response to my vague suggestion of a ride, instantly transforming a nutty idea into reality. To top it off, all three enlisted family to crew, who made it work. Together, we created a special weekend that I cherish.

Yes, that ride was a year and a half ago. But whenever I think of the Black Hills BackBone, I think of those friends who recognized what it meant to me and did what it took to make it happen. Thank you Robbie and Corinne, Dave and Lori, Shaun and Jonis!

Here's a link to a post summarizing our 2017 Black Hills BackBone ride. Three Days of BackBone. And here's our finish line photo.

When you're riding so fast that it's hard to hear each other.   😎
Approaching the South Dakota - Nebraska border at the end of the 2017 Black Hills BackBone.
Rob Sorge, Dave Litzen, Shaun Arritola and Craig Groseth (photo by Corinne Sorge)

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Challenge, Not Compete

Competition is the American way. In every way. In everything.

Competition is you against someone else.

Compete to make the team against everyone else trying out. Then compete against your teammates for playing time and roles.

Compete to get accepted in the school against everyone else applying. Then compete against your classmates for grades and class rank.

Compete to get the job against everyone else qualified. Then compete against your co-workers for bonuses and promotions.

Competition always measures your performance against the performance of others. It can drive one to achieve beyond actual and perceived limitations. At its best, it can draw out the best from within.

However, if comparative performance is the sole matrix for measuring success, personal growth of a competitor is inherently limited.

As every adult amateur endurance athlete knows, the size and quality of a competitive field varies widely by event and directly impacts relative placing. That is, unless the field is very large and consistently representative of your category, your relative placing within the field often depends less on your achievement and more on merely the number and quality of others showing up.

But your friends and family, and practically everyone else, just want to know how you placed relative to the field, which is easy to quantify and express. With a simple number, everyone believes they know how you did and how accomplished you are. You may even believe it yourself. Sometimes, it may even be true.

Dead No-Fooling Last Place at the inaugural Gold Rush Mother Lode gravel race in 2015.
19 hours 58 minutes to cover 210 miles of Black Hills gravel with over 12,000 feet of elevation gain.
I left it all on the course. That was my best on that day. I was ecstatic, even though no one finished after me.

Of course, a far better measure of your result is how you placed relative to your potential for that event on that day, based on your preparation, training and effort. Such a result is completely independent of the size and quality of the competitive field. It's also harder to quantify and much harder to express to others. But it's more real.

Years ago, I committed to refrain from patting myself on the back for finishing high in a small, relatively slow field or from beating myself up for finishing low in a large, relatively fast field. That is, I committed to set my goals and expectations based on my potential for that event on that day, without regard to relative placing. That's easy to say and not so easy to do.

I still love to compete and still love to train to be able to compete. I still check everyone's race results, not just mine. But I must remind myself that I compete for my goals and expectations, not relative placing. Then I know that another's great performance or deep disappointment does not change whatever I did.

So, if competition always measures your performance against the performance of another, then maybe I no longer compete, after all. But if not competing, what am I doing?

Challenging, not competing.

Challenging myself to strive, to improve, to achieve. That's it.

Challenge, not compete.

Greg Gleason and Walter Zitz crossing the finish line at Trans Iowa v.12.
Competition pushed them to perform their best and nearly break the 24 hour barrier at the 340-ish mile gravel race.
The challenge brought the two together for a memorable experience and example of pushing each other to the limit.
(photo by Wally Kilburg)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Big Goal

The "A" race. The premier event. The epic destination.

For endurance athletes, the end of the calendar year triggers dreams of the big goal for next year. What could it be? Is it even possible? How? To make it so, what must be? What must not be? The questions and analyses percolate for hours, days, weeks, even months. And that's just identifying it. Then the real work begins. Gotta plan. Gotta organize. Gotta train. Gotta turn everything around to focus on the big goal.

I've spent most of my adult life with such a mindset, resulting in many memorable races, events and destinations over the years. There's much to be said for setting a big goal and working to achieve it. I'm a big fan of big goals.

The big goal dominates all thought, like Pikes Peak looming over the Colorado landscape.
Back in 1989, my big goal was the Pikes Peak Marathon.
Undue emphasis on results, however, inevitably leads to a letdown afterward. That is, after achieving the big goal, what then? Typically, I respond by identifying the next big goal and fixing it on the horizon. Start the process over again. Then again. And again. The process becomes a lifestyle, all dependent on setting and achieving the next big goal.

It's all good. Until there is no next big goal. Or identifying the next big goal is elusive. What then?

In July of 2017, I finally completed a bicycle ride covering the 310 miles of the Black Hills BackBone, a North-to-South remote road crossing of the State of South Dakota. Admittedly, the ride was different from that originally conceived, but I celebrated achieving a major, multi-year goal. Three Days of BackBone.

Then I drifted.

Months passed. Fitness plunged. Weight soared. In October of 2017, the changing season eventually triggered a nagging feeling that I needed a big goal to kick start stuff. But identifying it was more than elusive. For some reason, I could not even begin to consider one.

A simple journey with no big goal in sight.
To clear my mind one day, I went on a long bike ride. Somewhere along that remote dirt road, I recognized what has been a mainstay for the past 10+ years - my daily bike commute. Every day I ride to work, unless a family commitment prevents it. It's what I do, regardless of weather, mood, physical ailments, or any thing else. It's just part of my day. There is no big goal.

Well, maybe it's that simple. Maybe I don't need the next big goal, after all. Maybe I should just add something small to my daily routine. Make it part of my day. Like my bike commute.

But what? What's missing? Running. I don't run any more, since all but abandoning it over 15 years ago. Thousands of hours spinning circles over the years must have physically changed something. Running now is awkward and uncomfortable, rather than natural and smooth. This will be difficult to start, let alone maintain, especially without a big goal.

Then, one morning I just started. It was short (less than a mile), slow (barely above walking speed) and painful (ice and ibuprofen afterwards). Too sore to run the next day, I ran again the day after that. To allow some recovery, I decided to run just three mornings a week, making the third run on my favorite M-Hill trails. Time passed, but progress was almost imperceptible. I repeatedly reminded myself that speed and distance mattered not. Just keep at it.

Now, over a year later, I am still running three early mornings a week. Speed, distance and difficulty have increased some, but not a lot. Maybe that's the next step, or maybe not. I just love getting back out there running. A part of me awoke from a long slumber.

I didn't set or achieve the next big goal in 2018. It's much bigger than that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Gravel Community Builds

The Black Hills of South Dakota are a forested island of imposing granite and shale, surrounded by rolling seas of prairie. Throughout these lands wind remote roads, trails and paths of every description, beckoning the adventurous cyclist. With so many ride options and such variety, the relatively small cycling community naturally scatters and often feels smaller than it is.

How then to draw together this small, diverse assortment of cyclists? A start is the Black Hills Gravel Series. By organizing these rides, Lucas Haan tapped into a wide spread yearning throughout the Black Hills for a low-key, regular gathering for area cyclists of all kinds to share their passion. Every other week in April and May, folks could simply show up at a fun start/finish restaurant, sign a waiver, receive a set of cue sheets, ride a unique, remote rough road ride into the amazing Black Hills, and then hang out for lunch. What a wonderful addition to the local cycling scene.

Lucas Haan addressing the gathering collection of cyclists at the 2018 Black Hills Gravel Series - Hill City.

This all started slowly in the spring of 2017, with a core group of maybe 10-15 cyclists riding the first several rides. By the sixth and final ride that year, however, the word was out and that number had more than doubled, twice. These rides were a boat load of fun and the atmosphere was friendly and lively. For months thereafter, informal groups continued to regularly ride area gravel and dirt roads. A gravel cycling community took root. A Six Course Feast.

When Lucas announced the 2018 Black Hill Gravel Series, folks jumped at the opportunity. Despite a series of crazy spring snow days and some re-scheduling, over 100 cyclists rode the first ride out of Sturgis. About that many rode the second ride out of Spearfish, as well as the third ride out of Hill City.  The fourth and final ride out of Custer drew a smaller group, as persistently nasty weather brought 30-something degree rain and sloppy roads. In any event, around these parts, that's a lot of cyclists in one place. And they were out there having fun. A Gourmet Meal Discovered.

Lucas Haan checking on the riders out on the course at the 2018 Black Hills Gravel Series - Hill City.

Where did these riders all come from? Well, apparently from all across the cycling spectrum. For 2018, Lucas added a 10 mile "Starter" route to each ride, which drew beginners that added up to about 15% of all riders. For many of these riders, a 10 mile ride on unknown dirt roads into the forest was a very big step. At the other end, the 50 mile "Scenic" ride totaled about 35% of all riders. Many of these were seasoned gravel grinders building base or adding speed for bigger events later in the season. What about the remaining 50%, who enjoyed the 25 mile "Social" ride? I'm thinking a bunch of those social riders added the 2.5 hour average ride time to the 9:30 start to reach a noon finish for a first call for a round of micro-brews. Just saying that a lot of folks enjoyed these rides and the get-togethers afterwards.

In any event, the growth of these rides was not fueled by local racers chasing trophies or enthusiasts chasing the latest trend. And it certainly was not fueled by big production starts, finishes, celebrities or prizes. For the bulk of the riders out there, the Black Hills Gravel Series was a nice spring challenge with like-minded folks in a low key, social environment. It was fun.

I can't wait to ride whatever Lucas dreams up for next spring. And I hope to see even more of you out there in 2019.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Iowa Wind and Rock - The Gravel Family Steps Up

The King is dead! Long live the King!

In 2005, Mark Stevenson and Jeff Kerkove cooked up a mind bending endurance bicycle race called Trans Iowa, sparking a grass roots movement that continues to change the face of cycling. A Gravel Pilgrimage. After the completion of Trans Iowa v14 earlier this year, Mark announced the end of this pioneering event, leaving in its wake hundreds of gravel events of all kinds all over. And just ask a Trans Iowa veteran about their experience. What a legacy.  Trans Iowa v14 - The Last Lap.

Mark Stevenson (orange cap on the left) with final instructions and well wishes to racers at the start of Trans Iowa v14.
But wait. No Trans Iowa? That's a big crater on the endurance cycling landscape.

Sarah Cooper, Dennis Grelk and Steve Fuller recognized the significance of this loss to the cycling community and stepped up to do something about it. Highly accomplished endurance cyclists all, they banded together to create Iowa Wind and Rock, a new event crafted in the spirit of Trans Iowa.

Here is part of their announcement from their website.

"For 14 years, Trans Iowa, one of the most difficult gravel races in the U.S., took place in Iowa at the end of April. It was difficult not only because of the terrain, but also due to notoriously fickle Iowa weather, and the challenges it required riders to overcome just to make it to the starting line. The end of Trans Iowa in 2018 meant that a unique chapter of gravel racing history closed. As Iowans, Trans Iowa finishers, and people who enjoy stretching personal boundaries, we didn't want to see this unique opportunity for people to challenge themselves disappear. Iowa Wind and Rock is NOT, nor will it ever be Trans Iowa. However, we want to provide people a similar challenge - A free, 340ish mile, cue sheet navigated, late spring, Iowa event that allows entrants to challenge themselves, expand their boundaries, and allow them to see what they are capable of." Iowa Wind and Rock.

Whoa. Slow down. This is worth noting. These folks would not have to do this and certainly would not have to do it this way. Sarah, Dennis and Steve each have raced successfully at high levels over many years. They could easily leave this alone or trade their panache for cash. That's not happening here.

Iowa Wind and Rock represents an enormous commitment of time, effort and money from Sarah, Dennis and Steve, as well as from their families and friends. Nonetheless, they decided to create this event, in the spirit of Trans Iowa and with Mark Stevenson's blessing, to offer the cycling community a similar boundary-expanding experience. And they offered it for free. Guitar Ted on Iowa Wind and Rock.

Wow. Awesome. This is the Gravel Family. In action. Doing what needs to be done. And doing it right.

Thank you, Sarah, Dennis and Steve.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Staying Out of Rome

It's a great time to be an endurance cyclist, with freedom to choose among hundreds of events of all kinds all over the country throughout the calendar year. Freedom. The quantity, quality and even the very nature of events that exist truly depend on you, the cyclist, for attendance and support. Choose wisely, so as to support that which you actually support and not support that which you do not.

Pell Duvall and Scott Redd fording the water crossing in the 2014 Almanzo Royal gravel bike race.
Yes, I took this picture during the event, while I waited for everyone to safely cross.
Here's a recent incident highlighting the stark difference between a USAC sanctioned cycling event and a non-sanctioned event. LoToYa, a 206 mile USAC sanctioned endurance road event marketed as "road race" to categorized, licensed racers and a "cyclosportive ride" to others out for a challenge, disqualified three finishers, at least one of whom was a cyclosportive rider. Two were disqualified for "Selfie at finish line" and one for the "Obscene gesture" of flipping off the finish line itself. Selfie-Disqualified. Cue social media outbursts from all sides.

In the USAC world of sanctioned, licensed road racing, the thick rule book apparently includes a ban against using a cell phone during a race. With large packs of racers often fighting for each position, such a rule makes sense. Applying that rule to a cyclosportive rider documenting the accomplishment of finishing such a ride, with no one else in sight other than his riding buddy, does not. But it's the USAC's world. They set and enforce their rules. Live with it, or leave it.

Start of the 2018 Trans Iowa. In addition to starting in the dark, a finisher of Trans Iowa rode all day, through the night and into the next morning. In contrast, the LoToYa Race Guide says, "Riding after dark is unsafe and creates an intolerable risk." Both race directors have earned the right to create and manage their event their way. You choose what to support.
My take-away is simple.

If you enjoy competing in USAC sanctioned races and rides, know their rules, follow their rules and have fun. You're supporting their rules, their officiating and these outcomes by paying to attend events with USAC sanctioning. If that's your thing, go for it.

On the other hand, if you enjoy challenging yourself in endurance cycling events without the bureaucrats' rule book, instead look to non-sanctioned events, know each event's rules (probably not very many), follow those rules and have fun. And be sure to share all your pictures with everyone.

There's plenty of opportunity for everyone.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Jones 29 Plus LWB - The Build

Last week, I posted some observations from riding a Jones 29 Plus LWB over the past four months on my favorite single track in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In response to several inquiries, I have listed the build specs for this bike, along with a few notes on the selection and build process.

Now that's a meaty bike ready to take on the Centennial Trail, and any Bulldog along the way.
My basic design criteria for the Jones 29 Plus LWB was to build an every day, every trail mountain bike to confidently and comfortably ride single track on everything from short local jaunts to multi-day expeditions. In concept, I envisioned a trail companion to my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross that handles all roads. More specifically, I wanted a mountain bike to cruise around with friends, hack around some local races, explore remote back trails in the Black Hills, bike pack on trails overnight and longer, and maybe someday take on the Tour Divide and the Trans America Trail. Yeah, that's a tall order, but this bike is designed to handle it.

Once mentally committed to the Jones 29 Plus LWB, I started the process of selecting components to build it up myself, as I had done for my past several bikes. Upon realizing the extent of truly unconventional things about this bike, however, I decided against buying just the frame set. Rather, I decided to draw from the deep well of knowledge of the man himself, Jeff Jones.

Surveying the scene above Coon Hollow on the Storm Mountain trails.
For Jeff to build up your Jones bike, he asks to talk with you to get everything just right. My two hour conversation with Jeff was amazing. He first sought to learn my riding history, preferences and aspirations. With that basis, he launched into a detailed discussion, analysis and recommendation first on the style, size and material of the frame set and then for every component. Every single one.

The experience of going through this process with Jeff was remarkable. No detail was too small. Jeff covered everything, after comprehensively expressing every pro and every con. For the most part, I followed his recommendations. For example, he eventually talked me out of the new Paul Components Klamper disc brakes, citing too little improvement at too great a cost. In the end, the rest of the build ultimately looks much like I envisioned beforehand. Here it is.

After the build, Jeff Jones sent me this photo, which looks practically catalogue ready. Yes, that's my bike.

Frame Set 
Frame - Jones Steel 29 Plus LWB, Medium (black)
Fork - Jones Steel Truss (black)
Headset - Jones Sealed Cartridge Bearing H-Set (black)
Seat Post - Thomson Elite Zero-Offset (black)
Seat Post Clamp - Paul Quick Release (black)

Rear Wheel  (hand built)
Hub - Shimano XT Boost with CL Adaptor (black)
Rim - WTB Scraper i45 29er (black)
Rim Tape - tubeless tape
Spokes - DT Swiss Competition (black)
Nipples - DT Brass (silver)
Thru-Axle - Jones TA bolt
Tire - Vee Tire Bulldozer 29x3.25
Tube - WTB Tubeless valves, Stan's Sealant

Front Wheel  (hand built)
Hub - Jones 150-F (black)
Rim - WTB Scraper i45 29er (black)
Rim Tape - tubeless tape
Spokes - DT Swiss Competition (black)
Nipples - DT Brass (silver)
Thru-Axle - Jones TA bolt
Tire - Vee Tire Bulldozer 29x3.25
Tube - WTB Tubeless valves, Stan's Sealant

Stem - Thomson X4, 70x10 (black)
Spacers - Aluminum, 50 mm (black)
Handle Bar - Jones Butted Aluminum Loop H-Bar 710 (black)
Grips - Jones Kraton H-Grips for 710 mm H-Bar (black)
Tape - Jones B-Tape, rear crossbar (black)

Front Brake - Avid BB7 200 mm Rotor
Rear Brake - Avid BB7 180 mm Rotor
Brake Levers - Avid Speed Dial 7
Brake Cables - Jagwire Stainless Slick
Cable Housing - Jagwire Ripcord, compressionless (black)

Crankset - Shimano M-8000 170 mm, Boost, 34/24
Bottom Bracket - Shimano MT-800
Cassette - Shimano XT 11 Speed, 11-42
Front Derailleur - Shimano XT Down Swing, top pull
Rear Derailleur - Shimano XT Shadow+ SGS
Shift Levers - Shimano XT Rapid Fire, 11 Speed
Chain - Shimano 11 Speed
Cable & Housing - Shimano SP-51
Chain Stay Protector - Jones
Pedals - Time ATAC MX-4

Frame Pack - Revelate Designs for Medium Jones 29 Plus LWB (black)
Handle Bar Pack - Jones H-Bar Pack (black)
Truss Fork Packs - Revelate Designs for Jones Truss Fork (black)
Spare Derailleur Hanger - Jones DMD Hanger for Thru-Axle
Saddle - WTB Speed Comp (black)
Extra - Jones Tumbler (stainless steel)

Bike Build
Build, tune, test ride, tune, test, check, clean, pack for shipping

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jones 29 Plus LWB - What It Is

The Jones 29 Plus LWB is an odd looking bike from any perspective.

What is it?

It's a mountain bike. It's a surprising, thought-provoking, fun mountain bike.

The Jones Plus 29 LWB in its single track element along the Centennial Trail
above Pactola Reservoir in the central Black Hills of South Dakota.
For the past four months, I have regularly ridden a Jones 29 Plus LWB on a variety of local, familiar single track trails. Despite its exceptionally long wheelbase, slack geometry, tall and wide tires, and upright body position, it rides like a mountain bike. A really fun mountain bike.

The Jones makes a big first impression. As in, that's a really big bike. But hop on it and the thought vanishes, immediately replaced with another, more concerning one. That's an odd body position on a bike. Very odd. One sits very upright, with hands very high, very far back and very wide. Picture Miss Gulch riding her bicycle during the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz. That's a mountain bike?

Oh, yeah.

Most common question - What's with that fork?
Next most - Is that a suspension fork?
Jeff Jones has been designing and building his unique Jones mountain bikes for many years now, with significant press coverage and reviews over time. In late 2014, Jeff announced the Jones 29 Plus in an extended, explanatory blog post, with subsequent videos explaining and demonstrating his designs. Bike geeks will love the innovative thinking and tinkering behind it all. New Jones 29 PlusJeff Jones Videos.

I'll leave the technical discussion to Jeff, who has developed his designs over years of creative thought, analysis and experimentation. Besides, with so many variables off the norm, it's difficult for me to isolate cause and effect of any one in particular. Somehow, it all works together marvelously.

Up and around Storm Mountain on classic Black Hills single track.
I will share some of my observations, starting with traction. Even on the steepest, loosest and roughest pitches I've attempted in years, I still haven't spun out a rear or washed out a front. Maybe it's the 3.25 inch rubber. Maybe it's the low gears on the 2x11 drivetrain. I think maybe it's the spot-on centered body position over an exceptionally long wheel base. In any event, there's no need to slide forward to the saddle nose or lean over the handle bars to weight the front. Just stay seated, or stand straight up, and the bike stays planted both front and rear. Straight up the loose, rough stuff.

Ditto for steep, loose and rough descents. I've yet to slide off the back of the saddle to move weight back and I'm riding harder and harder stuff every week. Admittedly, I'll never be much of a technical trail descender, no matter the bike, but this Jones is making more descents possible and more fun.

Let's go to cornering. One would think that a bike with 19 inch chain stays and a 48 inch wheel base would turn like an aircraft carrier. One would be wrong. Even at slow speeds, the handling is very intuitive, once I stop trying to analyze everything. When those 29+ tires spin up to faster speeds, it grips and rips through turns. Regardless of speed, I'm learning to think less and just let it go.

Comfort. The very upright body position and swept handle bars create a Barca Lounger ride, with essentially no body weight pushed forward. With several 3-4 hour rough single track rides so far, I have yet to experience what I would consider "normal" hand, wrist or arm fatigue. The upper body simply controls the bike, without supporting much, if any, other body weight. I can see this bike being very comfortable for all-day and into the night rides, day after day, on all kinds of trails.

Just cruising on the Centennial Trail.
I'm having a blast riding the Jones 29 Plus LWB on all my favorite local trails.

I can't wait to take it out for the primary reason I chose it.

Bike packing.

Friday, July 13, 2018


Riding a bicycle on remote gravel roads is freedom. Freedom from fast, heavy, annoyed traffic. Freedom from distracted drivers. Freedom from convention. Freedom from "The Rules." Freedom to challenge, not merely compete. Freedom to just ride. Just Enjoy the Show.

Freedom to just ride.
Riding a bicycle in a gravel race also is freedom. Foremost for me is the freedom to choose amongst a veritable smorgasbord of experiences. That also means freedom to choose not to support events, as well.

The wonderful variety of gravel events results from race directors themselves having freedom to put together races their way, with relatively few barriers to entry and without a template mandated by others. More specifically, gravel race directors have not been confined by the dictates of a centralized governing body or by the "Shalt Haves" and "Shalt Nots" of elitists posing as self-annointed arbiters of all things gravel. Even with today's groupthink push to conform and accommodate, race directors still can create an event of their own design, implement and adapt their own rules to guide the event toward that vision, and live with the consequences of their decisions. Riders then choose to ride, or not. That's freedom.

Having options between many, very different types of experiences is a great thing. Out here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a local rider named Lucas Haan dreamt up a crazy cool series of gravel races, each with a unique course and an unexpected twist. How about a rock infested, quad busting mile and a half spur up to an abandoned look out tower near the end of a fifty mile, 5,000 foot elevation gain gravel/dirt road race? Who does that? A Six Course Feast. Such gems are possible when race directors are free to create their own events.

With so many choices, preferences develop. Like everyone else, I certainly have my preferences and naturally are drawn to them. Almost three years ago, I even described aspects of gravel events that I liked best. Components of a Special Gravel Race. Whatever the preferences, however, it's one thing to turn toward your "likes" and away from your "dislikes." It's quite another thing to work to impose your preferences on another, or worse, on everyone. That's the essence of elitism. Try this instead. If an event doesn't suit you, leave that event to those who enjoy it and move to something else.

Here's a confession I'm reluctant to express as it may be misconstrued. Dirty Kanza is not for me, even though it's a highly publicized, influential and popular part of the gravel scene. Stay with me, here. Dirty Kanza is great for gravel cycling. I love that Dirty Kanza exists, that many swarm to it and that I rode it once. My experience was memorable, but overall the event is just not for me. That's OK. I don't knock Dirty Kanza or try to change it. They run their event as they see fit. They've earned that right and respect. I applaud those who work to make the experience available, cheer on those who ride it and simply commit my time and energy elsewhere.

In the words of William Wallace, " F R E E D O M ! ! "

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Best Coach I Ever Had

The sub-title above references "the people and rides to make it happen." One such person that has made many things happen for me is my Dad. To limit this post to athletics, he was the best coach I ever had.

Clifford Gerhardt Groseth
I played team sports for many years, with many good coaches. Starting from high school, I played American Legion baseball, played high school basketball in a state championship game and some college basketball at South Dakota School of Mines, and played high school football on back-to-back, undefeated state championship teams under the legendary Max Hawk, in honor of whom the South Dakota High School Coaches Association actually named an annual award. Good coaches, indeed.

However, regardless of the coach at those levels, I loved the camaraderie of team sports and especially loved the achievement of collective improvement. Winning often followed, but not always. In the end, getting better together was always fun. All this was a direct result of my Dad coaching me in all sports until eighth grade. He was the best coach I ever had.

Clifford Gerhardt Groseth grew up on a family farm originally homesteaded in 1874 near Centerville, South Dakota by his great-grandfather, a hardy Norwegian immigrant. After starring in four sports in high school, Dad played some semi-pro baseball, played football for South Dakota State and even made the basketball team at South Dakota State. After college, he taught high school science in Freeman, South Dakota, where he also coached the varsity football, basketball and track teams. With a growing family, Dad entered the business world as a manager with the International Harvester Company and played competitive men's fast pitch softball. As a pre-schooler, I loved the atmosphere of a ball park under the lights of a hot summer night and eagerly anticipated the end of his games to sprint around the bases.

Dad was my first coach in football, basketball and baseball, and basically my only coach until eighth grade. He focused on fundamentals, which included not merely individual skills, but a thorough understanding of the game. By middle school, we had more sophisticated offenses and defenses, in all three sports, than I had later in high school or even in college. He expected each player to know what everyone else was doing at all times and to support every teammate. No one was left behind or left out. As a result, every team he coached played much better than the sum of its individual parts.

More importantly, Dad coached every kid how to play the game right. He treated everyone the same and gave everyone opportunities to succeed. He encouraged, without badgering. However, if you acted inappropriately, you were on the bench, probably for the rest of the game. If you missed practice, for whatever reason, you did not start the next game. His players respected their teammates, the opposing team, the officials, and the game. If I did not fully appreciate his influence at the time, I did when I experienced the behavior of other coaches and teams during high school and college.

He was the best coach I ever had.

Thank you, Dad.

High scoring Cliff Groseth for Centerville High School in 1951-1952.

Coach Cliff Groseth with his 1958-1959 Freeman High School Flyers boys basketball team.

Precision Optical Little League Baseball team, Sioux City, Iowa 1971.
Half the kids on that team lived on the same block, and the other half lived within a block or two.
There was no recruiting at that time and place. You were on the team with all your neighborhood kids.

Groseth International Little League Baseball team, Yankton, South Dakota 1974.
By then, Dad owned an International Harvester farm & truck dealership, sponsored the team and coached it.
Two of his sons played (Craig, Cyler) and the youngest was the bat boy (Christopher).
This was just one of his championship teams and was the last time my Dad was my coach.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Single Speed Gold Rush

Great. I got that "excited/scared" feeling. Like 98% excited, 2% scared. Or maybe it's more - it could be 2 - it could be 98% scared, 2% excited. But that's what makes it so intense. It's so - confused. I can't really figure it out. 
Oscar Choi. Armageddon (1998).

Nothing like having a legendary professional capture the moment at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.
Thanks, Randy! (photo by Randy Ericksen)
It's a mixed up mess of racing thoughts and swinging emotions when staring into the face of the start of something that stretches beyond one's preparation, ability or ambition. Whether school, work, athletics, kids, family, friends or whatever, it just goes round and round:

You're not ready. You know how to do this.

It's too much. Break it down.

You can't do this. You've done harder.

You should take it easy. And then what?

This is nuts. You got this.

No, really, this is nuts. Too late, it's started. Now I'm going to finish.

No! Go!

Gold Rush Race Directors Kristi and Perry Jewett, photo bombed by the irrepressible Jay Petervary.
At the early morning start of the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder, I lean over the top tube of my Black Mountain Cycles monster cross bike, for some reason set up single speed, while the reality of this race sinks in. 110 miles. Over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. So many variables. So much uncertainty. But one thing I know. I can't shift to an easier gear. Not ever. Pedal the one gear, or walk.

What was I thinking? I haven't ridden single speed on a long gravel race since 2013. This is nuts.

Friendly voices, some familiar and some new, break through the internal clutter and redirect my thoughts. Hey! Hi! At the start of such an endeavor, it's always great fun to reconnect with friends and to reach out to friends you're just meeting. This morning, it's downright therapeutic. By the start of the race, I'm ready to enjoy whatever the day brings. Just ride.

Old school Roddy Dowell from Missouri at the start, about to learn them young-uns a lesson!
My mind now may be ready but my bike is not. On the first little downhill, hitting the first little bump, I launch a stream of gels and bars out of an unzipped bag all over the road. By the time I collect the scattered pieces, the "neutral rollout" has long disappeared from view. That's a bit deflating. Though I've been dead no-foolin' last in the past, it's been at the end of a long, grueling race after much of the field dropped out. Now, I'm last before the racing has officially started.

So, this is what the day is bringing. OK. Well, I know enough to take my medicine and settle into a manageable pace. It's going to be a 10-12 hour day, mostly spent climbing nearly 70 miles up to O'Neil Pass and then shorter, but much steeper pitches up to Cement Ridge Lookout. The weather is perfect in the mid-sixties, with little wind and clear skies. The roads are hard packed and dry. I know the route well. It doesn't take much imagination to see that this can be a good day. Let it be one.

The long, lonely day of an event volunteer taking pictures of passing riders.
I believe this is renowned photographer and artist Les Heiserman.
After a few early rollers, the race turns south onto Sand Creek Road for miles and miles of gradual uphill through a shaded valley along a mountain stream. This idyllic remote road creates a sweet beginning to the long climb up to O'Neil Pass. At just a tad under 3 hours, I pull into the water stop at mile 36, where the 70 mile and 110 mile courses diverge. I enjoy the drinks and chocolate chip cookies offered by the energetic volunteers. For me, it's a solid start.

A couple of steeper pitches on Moskee Road reward with a welcomed descent before turning south again, now onto Grand Canyon Road. The meat of the climb starts now. Ahead lies almost 20 miles uphill without a break. Almost all the way to the O'Neil Pass Checkpoint. Well, alrighty then.

Gold Rush Gravel Grinder winding its way along Moskee Road. (photo by Les Heiserman)
Finding a rhythm on the steady, gradual grade, I feel strong.  It's a long climb for everyone and I occasionally pass another. The late morning heat can really build on this climb, particularly as it steepens at about mile 60 and the sparse shade all but disappears. But not today. Today, the temperatures stay moderate and, while warming up, the climb does not overcook. Nutrition and hydration are spot on, the legs feel good, and the one gear still feels right. I hit the 70 mile O'Neil Pass Checkpoint at just over 6 hours. That's a strong climb for me.

I check in at the Trail's Head Lodge, a supporter of the Gold Rush since its beginning. Off to the side in a dimly lit dining room quietly sit a couple of racers nursing cold drinks and a couple others nibbling at hamburgers. All that sounds good, but I'm not all that thirsty or hungry. I'm normal tired, for such a time, but ready to roll after filling a couple of water bottles.

Instead, I decide to support the Lodge by at least buying a Snickers bar and sit down for a minute to enjoy it. Almost immediately the other racers strike up a conversation, which not surprisingly is both engaging and encouraging. The burger monsters are Kurt Letellier and Dusty Oedenkoven of Pierre, taking a well deserved break and sorting out a plan to get to the finish line. They're strong, and determined, and they'll make it. I just love the gravel clan.

Calamity Jane and Potato Johnny energizing all at the Potato Station Check Point atop Cement Ridge.
Potatoes, potato chips, Hammer Nutrition products, water. Maybe a shot of moonshine.
But mostly, it's Calamity Jane and Potato Johnny! Thanks for brightening the day!
Eventually, I roll out for the 40 mile return to Spearfish, starting with a nasty little pitch to pop over a ridge and then a long descent on lumpy Rifle Pit Road. But the climbing isn't over until Calamity Jane and Potato Johnny say it's over. That means powering up another steep to the top of Cement Ridge Lookout Tower for the Check Point 2, aka The Potato Station. It's hard. It's hot. It's worth it.

Now it's downhill on School House Gulch Road, then the touristy Roughlock Falls Road and finally paved Spearfish Canyon Highway. I'm spun out on much of these last 20+ miles, so I casually coast and contemplate the day.

Heading home, on the long descent of Roughlock Falls Road, ready to flip the final page of cue sheets.
It's good. Everything about the day. It's all good. Well, except this gentle downhill, when I cannot go faster than 20 mph on this suddenly too easy gear. That's not all that good. But it's better than standing to grind 6 mph uphill. So, I guess it is good, after all.

I finally finish right at 10 hours, which translates to just over 11 miles/hour total time and almost 12.5 miles/hour riding time. That's a strong ride for me on a single speed on this course, and almost an hour and a half faster than I rode in 2013. It also gets me to the party at the park in time for the buffet and awards ceremony. It's a good day.

Why a single speed Gold Rush? Gotta do it, every now and then.

Stopping to smell the flowers before dropping off Cement Ridge.
Single Speed Geek Addendum
One of the many variables in preparing for such an event is choosing a gear. I kept the analysis simple by sticking to what's worked for me over the years. It goes like this. 42x16 for fixed/single speed commuting in town. 42x18 for cyclocross. 42x20 for long, hilly gravel.

At the inaugural Gold Rush in 2013, I pushed that cyclocross 42x18 gear and paid dearly. Afterward, I switched to a 42x20 to finish the hot and hilly 2013 Gravel Worlds and to finish second place (out of four single speeders) at the 2013 Odin's Revenge. Since then, I've ridden gravel geared. For a simple single speed conversion for this year's Gold Rush, I left on a compact double crankset and set up a 34x16 single speed, which is essentially the same gear ratio as a 42x20. That worked great for me.