Looking Forward…

2015 wasn’t the best year for me, on or off the bike, and I’m glad it’s over. But it wasn’t all bad.

You’ll notice the absence of long training rides, long gravel races, too many events, and anything else that requires discipline, application, and preparation. 2015 just wasn’t the year for that.

So what are my plans for 2016?

One the one hand, I’d like to say that I have mileage goals, time-in-the-saddle goals, touring/camping goals, fitness goals, or some other kind of goal.

But honestly, I don’t.

I just want to 2016 to be better than 2015, both on the bike and off. I want to be fitter this time next year than I am now (and not just bike-fit) and I want to have ridden my bike more and enjoyed it more in a years time than I have in the last year.

As such, I have some directions, but nothing in the way of goals. Some of these directions include but are not limited to long, slow road rides, touring, coffee-making, hammock-swinging, fishing, overnights, and riding the fat-bike in the dirt.

Where do you want 2016 to take you?



2015 Powderhorn 24 by the Numbers

Once again, we drove to Minneapolis to ride around in squares for 24 hours. I didn’t take any photos during the race, so here are the numbers.*

Miles: 101
Laps: 20
Beers: 23 (+/- 3)
High temperature: 97F
Low temperature: 76F
Bottles of water: 7 (+/- 2)
Burritos: 3
Cups of coffee: 2
Footlong hotdogs: 1
Ice cream sundaes: 1
Hours of sleep: 2
Times sprayed down with water by spectators: > 25

If some of this seems kinda lame to you, well…I was riding solo on the fat-bike and we left with 3.5 hours of riding time left, drawn by the siren song of more cold beer, hot showers, and air conditioning.

* Many of these numbers are approximate. Sleep deprivation, heat, fatigue and beer will do that.

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.”

2015-04-25 09.15.32

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.

Whither Winter?

I’ve talked about this before, but this winter is turning out to be rather different from last winter–in two ways.

2014-01-26 08.51.40

Not this year. Not yet, anyway.

Last year was cold, snowy, and more snowy. By the end of January, I’d spent almost 40 hours riding the fat-bike in the snow. Much of that time was spent riding on the frozen lakes. This year, we’ve had some snow, but it’s been interspersed with warmer weather, so very little snow pack has developed. Conditions for lake riding have been mostly dismal; there’s plenty of ice, but all too often it’s been bare or semi-bare of snow.

It’s the second difference that’s really hit home with me. I just haven’t felt like riding as much as I did last year. In part, this is due to the less-than-awesome snow conditions and the corresponding increase in sandy pavement, half-frozen brown grass, and bare lake ice–all of which means that the riding is less fun (because riding a fat-bike in fresh snow on the lake is fun) while the bikes get even dirtier.

But I also have to wonder if I’ve finally grown tired of winter after forty-plus years of playing in the snow. My most persistent cycling-related fantasies of late have centered around selling off all but a couple of bikes and moving to a place where the only way to get snow and ice in the winter is to head into the mountains.

Of course, I’ll probably forget about all of that if we get six inches of good snow over the weekend.



When looked out my office window yesterday, sometime around 10am, it looked like this.

2015-01-26 09.55.22

It continued to snow off and on for the rest of the day, before it turned to snain–a delicate combination of snow and misty rain that freezes to everything. Besides making things a bit slippery, it also repeatedly covered my glasses with a thin, opaque covering of ice. Between having to stop to clean my glasses (having forgotten my usual bandana) and riding half-blind while looking over them, I was glad to get home in one piece.

Ice post.

My bike was still covered with ice this morning, so I parked it in a  spot under the colonnade of the building across the street, where its always warm and dry.

The Right Idea

These guys have the right idea.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/113256953 w=900]

And given that I’m faced with the possibility (though still a mere possibility) of owning a car after being car-free for about eight years, I started wondering whether there was anything comparable around here.

It would appear not quite: biodiesel.org lists nothing in Madison (and both the PrairieFire and Great Lakes BioFuels websites seem to be dead).


Surprise Snow

I’m not sure whether the weather forecast got it wrong, or I just didn’t notice when it got it right, but we awoke (thanks to the snow plow hitting the speed hump in front of our house) this morning to fresh snow.

Rode the Devil, stopped on a bridge.

It’s not a lot, but at least everything is white now, instead of a melange of brown, gray, and dirty. And the studded tires are quiet.