The Bear

For the past couple of years, I’ve ridden the Gravel Metric on Memorial Day weekend. It’s a well-run event put on by an excellent group of people. But this year I was looking for something different–something not in farm country.

Enter the Bear 100. Either 100 miles or 100 kilometers (or 25 miles, if you just want to dip your toes) of Nicolet National Forest roads, jeep track, and ATV trails starting and finishing in Laona, Wisconsin.

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And it doesn’t hurt that we can combine the ride with a visit to the in-laws, who live just a bit west of Rhinelander.

The plan for race/event day was as follows:

  • Get up at 0430, do the morning thing, and drive to Laona from the farm.
  • Ride the ride at a sporty tourist level of effort (it being very nearly the longest ride of the year so far–and certainly the longest gravel ride).
  • Get some lunch, drive back to the farm.
  • Drink beer and eat grilled things.

This turned out to be a perfect plan that went perfectly. I finished the 100k version of the Bear in 4:33, took in some beautiful national forest roads, trees, and water and then proceeded to execute the rest of the plan.

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I’d even brought a growler of Panthro porter from One Barrel Brewing Company for post-race rehydration.

Bike Nerdery

I rode the newly built 650b Troll with a Revelate Tangle (for tools, tubes, and other such things), a Revelate Gas Tank (food), a Mountain Feed Bag (water bottle), and two fork-mounted bottle cages.

2015-05-22 13.38.40-1Not pictured: the cuesheet holder I whipped up with two zip ties, two binder clips, and a plastic bag.

The Troll proved itself to be a fine all-road, all surface rig. It handled well no matter the surface: pavement, gravel forest roads, jeep track, ATV trail–even the long stretch of fresh, uncompacted red granite on the Rat River Trail.

The water system was something of an experiment. Even though it’s reasonably easy to reach and drink from the bottle in the Mountain Feedbag (I’d either swap in the other bottles or refill from them, depending on where I was), it’s still quite a bit easier and more efficient for me to drink from a water bladder that’s stored in the frame bag. I have a full frame bag that fits this bike, so that’s probably what I’ll do in future when riding this bike in longer events.

The Jones Loop handlebars remain favorites, but if I’m going to use them for anything that’s longer than 4-5 hours, I need to wrap the entire bar so that I can more effectively use all of the possible hand positions–though it might just make more sense in the end to use dirt drops (like Salsa Woodchippers) instead.

Oh, and it’s not the best idea in the world to ride 100k on gravel forest roads on a new Brooks B17. It wasn’t disastrous, but the saddle was starting to tenderize me just a bit after about 55 miles.

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New Bike Day: Surly Troll

A couple of years ago, I found myself with a yellow Pugsley frame (in addition to the Pugsley I already had). At some point, I reckoned (incorrectly, as it turns out) that I didn’t want a second Pugsley, so I traded the yellow frame-set with one of the fat-bike fanatics that works at my LBS for a black Surly Troll.

Before I took it home, I had them prep the frame and install a green King headset. And then, like many of my bike projects, it hung in the shop for some time. After a year or so, I even made a half-hearted attempt to sell the frame-set + headset, but didn’t have an serious inquiries. Back on the hook it went.

And then, over the winter, I finally decided to get it together. This is how it turned out.

2015-05-16 12.47.59Even though the Troll is designed for 26-inch wheels, I decided to do something a little different and build it up with 650b wheels.

Now, 650b versions of the Troll aren’t all that uncommon, especially now that there are more good 650b all-road tires and plenty of 650b/27.5 off-road tires. But most of the time, this sort of conversion is done using disc brakes.

But anyone who’s been around here for long will know that I’m not a fan of discs, especially when there’s another option. The Troll has both disc mounts and cantilever posts, so clearly disc brakes weren’t warranted.

And I knew from reading something that Nick Carman wrote on the VO website a while back that it was possible to convert a Surly Long Haul Trucker to 650b using Tektro CR720 cantilevers. I figured the Troll’s axle to post distances would likely be the same.

So that’s what I did. I paired a set of black Tektro CR720s with a set of Velo Orange 650b wheels (handbuilt locally by Earle Wheels).

The front brake pads aligned with no trouble at all, but the rear pads didn’t look like they’d ever line up–until I stepped back and gave the geometry of the rear end a little more consideration. That’s when I realized that while the pads would never line up (there’s not a lot of leeway in this setup) with the wheel all the way forward in the weird Surly horizontal track-ends, it was likely that it would work if I moved the wheel back a centimeter or so.

Some testing proved this to be the case, and I was in business. And just to make sure things stayed where they need to be, I installed a set of Surly Monkey Nutz. Crank bolts also work in a pinch.

As for the rest of the bike, it’s basically a poster-child for many of my current preferences and fetishes: 1×10 drivetrain, Jones bars, Brooks saddle, King headset, lots of Paul bits, and no decals whatsoever.

I’ll add fenders and a front Surly rack after I ride it on the 100k version of the Bear 100 this coming weekend. Until then, it’s either running naked or with some combination of Revelate soft bags (both the Tangle and the framebag from the Pugsley fit fine).

For the full specification, head on over to the Troll’s very own page.

Some Polyvalent Thoughts

Two things occurred to me on the ride to work today:

  1. I’ve been riding the VO Polyvalent for a little over a year. It’s mostly seen commuting and errand-running duty, but there have been several short, relaxed day tours and one S240–and it’s become the go-to bike for the weekly coffee-outside ride.
  2. It’s exactly what I want in a utility bike–almost. To be precise, the very thought that ran through my head was “I want a bike just like this one, only different in a few key ways.”

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The Frame

The biggest problem with the Polyvalent, unfortunately, is the frame itself. While the geometry of the Mk1 Polyvalent is very good, it’s also one of the most flexible frames I’ve ever ridden. This provides a certain amount of comfort, but it also means that a 200-pound sometime-masher like me can easily cause an auto-shift when pedaling hard in the smaller cogs, especially when I get out of the saddle.

The Mk1 Polyvalent frame also lacks certain niceties that VO added in later editions: mid-fork mounts, downtube cable stops, a third set of bottle cage braze-ons, and a rear cantilever stop. At one point or another, I’ve missed–and wished for–each of these things.

Solution: a different frame with the same geometry, a stiffer bottom bracket, more braze-ons, and a few other things I’d require if I was going to switch (vertical dropouts, internal cable routing, etc.). Not immediately likely, but something to keep in mind.

The Drivetrain

I’ve become a big fan of 1x drivetrain configurations. Losing the front derailleur as well as a shifter and a cable saves weight and complication while providing as good or better function (as long as the gearing is well-chosen).

The biggest problem with the current setup isn’t actually the drivetrain itself (though I wouldn’t mind a type-2 derailleur), but with the shifter. While the friction Retroshift mounted to the stem works well in most circumstances (not to mention looking really cool), there are some crucial times–especially when riding in the city–when being able to shift and brake with both hands is very useful. This is especially true when riding a frame that does not necessarily behave well when pedaled in masher-mode.

Solution: I’ll just move the shifter (or another one) to the handlebar. Perhaps I’ll even move into the modern world and indulge in some kind of indexed shifting (as long as it has a friction option).

The Brakes

The VO Grand Cru cantilevers sure are pretty–but they were an absolute bitch to set up and the front brake continues to be a little fiddly, now and again. It also turns out that wide-profile brakes don’t play nice with mounting panniers on the Soma Porteur rack–something that I’d like to be able to do for short tours and heavy-duty errandizing.

Solution: narrow-profile brakes such as Paul Touring Cantis or Paul Mini-Motos for lots of stopping power and no interference with the rack/baggage.

The Racks

The Soma Porteur rack works well for the most part, but it does have a few foibles that make for some minor annoyances. The mounting tangs are very thick and square and very nearly interfere with the front hub QR. And, because the rack mounts to the braze-ons at the axle, instead at mid-fork, it prevents the fork from flexing as it should under load and sometimes transmits impacts through the rest of the front of the frame.

I also sometimes think that a regular front rack (e.g., a Nitto 34F or a Surly Nice Front) with a large platform and a big Wald basket would work better–especially since I’ve become totally enamored with my large Rivendell ShopSack.

I just haven’t gotten around to figuring out what rear rack would be suitable. I want something small, low profile, and little more than a saddle-bag support (I loathe carrying panniers in the rear) but that also allows hard-mounting to the fender.

Solution: A little bit of milling on the mounting tangs of the porteur rack would go a long way. As for the rear, the VO Constructeur seems a decent solution, if a bit more than I want. Other front rack options require other braze-ons and mounting points, so I’ll have to leave that for another time.

All the Rest

The rest of the bike–saddle, cockpit, wheels and tires, pedals, etc.–are all just about where I want them to be.

Heck, that’s a Bear

I’ve come to realize that without a few events–whether they be organized by someone else or by me–that I tend to ride less than I would like. I am an inherently lazy man, it would seem.

I also tend to stick too close to home and ride too much in the same places and on the same routes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in itself. But when there’s too much familiarity and not enough of the unexpected, then there’s no adventure.

And a life without adventure? Not a good thing–especially in the face of the stresses of life and work (of which there seem to be more and more all of the time).

I’ve re-examined the decision not to participate (some might say race) in any new races/events in 2015 (we’d planned on revisiting a couple of non-new races this spring, but that’s since fallen by the wayside). It became pretty clear to me that there are two good ways to make sure I get out of my normal routine once in a while:

  • Occasional racing. Around here, that means gravel races in interesting parts of the Midwest where I can structure a mini-vacation around a long ride in the woods.
  • More bike tours. Day tours, overnights, and perhaps even a couple of week-plus tours, ridden from the back door (or at least to the back door from somewhere else).


To that end, I’ll be riding the 100k version of the Bear 100 over Memorial Day weekend (in combination with a visit to the in-laws). I’ve meant to ride this event since it started, but it happens to fall on the same weekend as the Gravel Metric, which I’ve done the past couple of years instead.

And, we’ll be taking a fall mini-vacation in Duluth and environs, into which I’ll embed the Heck of the North (and perhaps my wife will run the Lightfoot 25k). An active vacation, if you will.

As for more bike tours…I’ll leave that for a subsequent post.

30 Days of Biking–Week Four Plus

Another 30 Days of Biking ends today. I’d intended to ride every day, ride each of my bicycles at least once, and take and post a photo each day.

So how did I do? Well enough, I guess.

  • I rode 29 of the 30 days, with more than 70 distinct rides.
  • I rode four of my many bicycles: Devil, Necro-Pug, Polyvalent, and Soma ES. The Troll and the JYD aren’t yet finished (I know, I know) and the Ox needs a new shifter and its summer tires.
  • I took some photos and posted them, but only sporadically.

So it goes. Nothing to be done, but go for another ride.

The Bear

Due to the shifting landscape of most of my spring and summer plans, I won’t be riding the Gravel Metric this year (but you should, because it’s a great event) and will be going north instead to see the in-laws and suchlike.

It just so happens, however, that I won’t be far from start/finish of the Bear 100. A hundred miles or a hundred kilometers of Nicolet National Forest roads.

Looks worth it to me. Anyone out there that’s ridden the Bear 100 in years past (I’m looking at you, Chris and Dan…) want to give me a second opinion?

With Baggage

Scheming for summer touring (read: looking at maps and videos while I’m at work). Lest you get the idea that I’m not getting anywhere, I give you this:

Looking forward to the full-length feature.