Some bike musings

Back in 2011 I decided to invest in a decent bike, and got myself a Trek FX 7.2. This is a hybrid or fitness style bike that has flat handlebars, a 3x front chainring, and decent but basic components. In the past 8 years I’ve put almost 3,700 miles on that bike. I’ve been increasing the yearly total a lot over the past couple years, and it started to get me thinking about if it’s time to invest in something new.

IMG_0249.JPGI did purchase a used fat bike this winter, but that’s a very specific purpose, and I don’t use it as a daily rider most of the time. What I’m considering is if it’s time to move up to something more akin to a road or gravel bike. I know that a little bit of what holds back my power output is the general design of a hybrid bike. They’re meant to be all-purpose, which means that they don’t excel at any single use. For the most part that works when I’m doing general riding around to breweries, or running errands, but for any longer rides that get upwards of 30 miles, I feel like I could be doing better.

My friend Abe asked why I don’t just modify my hybrid into something else, but there are a few key things that I want to change that would just be too cost prohibitive on this bike. Also, at the end of the day, my Trek FX 7.2 is a $600 bicycle, and trying to ask it to be something more, just doesn’t seem fair given it’s price point. So what am I looking for? A few key things.

  1. I’d like to move over to a drop bar style bike, that puts my hands in a better position for longer rides. It’s more natural for your hands to sit in the relaxed position on a drop bar handle than typical flat bar style.
  2. Moving over to a 2x chainring and drive set seems like something that would fit my riding style better. I tend to hang out in one gear on the front all the time anyway. In fact, my fat bike has only 1 chainring, and I can still manage to climb most hills with it just fine. A 2x would give be some chainring sizes that might be better for power transfer, especially over longer distances.
  3. Curiosity about a different style of geometry, and it can affect my riding. I need to do more research into frame geometry, but I know that moving from a hybrid to a road or gravel is going to give me a different riding experience.
  4. A upgraded experience. Most gravel bikes start in the $1,200-1,500 price range, which is a big step up from where I’m at, and often includes nice disc brakes.

I did do some test riding a few weeks ago at one bike shop, and started getting a feel for what the different bikes ride like, but I wanted to put the question out to the internet at large.

What’s your go-to bike style? Why did you choose it? Did you move away from one style to another? What else should I be thinking about in all of this?

Quick Review: Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus Rear Trunk Bag

A couple of years ago I decided to get a rack on my Trek FX7.2 to enable me to carry more stuff when using my bike for commuting or running errands. Since my bike is a Trek, I got a Bontrager rack. However, to save a few dollars I ended up getting some semi-decent bike panniers from Banjo Bros. to tie me over until I figured out what I really wanted.

This past April, there was a sale going on at Freewheel Bike on the Bontrager trunk bags. My friend Chuck has an Interchange bag and loves it. So I decided to head over to the store and check out the selection and see if I found something I liked. I did some examinations of the three different models, and as soon as I showed my wife the features on the Deluxe, she insisted I invest in the higher end model. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier.

DSC09244The Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus rear trunk bag is the top of their Interchange line. The Interchange series simply means that it hooks into a Bontrager rack easily and quickly, without any velcro straps. The front of the bag hooks into the front metal loop on the rack and then it clips into place on the rear. It’s a super simple system, and it’s solid and foolproof.

The main compartment is around 10L of capacity, and I use it to store all the essential bike gear, such as tire levers, CO2 canisters, and a spare tube. The beauty though, of this model, is the expanding side panniers that allow you to increase your total storage to a full 36L. You unzip the side pockets, and they expand into a full pannier on each side that velcro’s to your frame at the bottom. It’s quick and easy to expand, as well as simple to pack away again.

DSC09247I used this rack for a shopping trip this past Sunday and the expanding capacity was perfect. I used a single pannier for my laptop on the way down to the co-op and coffee shop, but then once I finished shopping I extended the other pannier and loaded it down with groceries. I also had a fair amount of space left over in the main trunk that I could use as well. It was the perfect amount of space for a small grocery shopping trip. If I hadn’t had my laptop with me, I could have even fit more into my bags, but as luck would have it, I didn’t need the additional space.

DSC09246-2My bike was pretty weighed down by the time I started heading back home, but the bag stayed put, and I never noticed any type of rattling as I rode. As I rode I also encountered another wonderful feature of this bag… a rain cover. I came across a short sprinkle on my journey, but all I had to do with pause quickly and pull out the hidden rain cover that is stored under the lid. It doesn’t cover the side bags, but the main trunk stayed nice and dry.

Despite the expense, I can’t say enough good things about this bag. I love not needing the full panniers for most casual rides, but love the flexibility to expand my storage when I need it. I’d recommend keeping your eye out for a sale to ease the sticker shock, but even at full price, it’s a great piece of gear that I hope to use for a long, long time.

Quick Review: Be Brave, Be Strong

I was introduced to Jill Homer’s adventures through the podcast Ten Junk Miles. One day, Scott, the host of TJM, posted a link to a sale on Jill’s books at Amazon. I decided to jump on it and pick up four of her works. My wife recently read her book that documented Tim Hewitt’s multiple Iditarod 1000 races, and she enjoyed it. I decided to try something different and read Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide. This book documents her bike ride from Banff in Canada, all the way down the Great Divide Trail to Mexico, in the Tour Divide race.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book is Jill’s voice. She’s an excellent writer, and she tells the story in a compelling and engaging manner. Her descriptions are visual, but not flowery, which makes the pages flow by. I also liked how Jill weaved in the story of her relationships throughout the story. The story of her love life was intertwined with her journey, and if she had simply glossed over it, the book would have been much less interesting.

The story is told with great detail, highlighting every single day of the journey. When I finished reading, I felt like I could actually go on part of the trail myself, and have some semblance of where I was. Although, towards the middle of the book, I started to tire of the daily log of each day’s journey, I feel like the story would have been less impactful without it. If she had simply glossed over and combined multiple days, that were mostly uneventful, it would have disrupted the flow and rhythm of the story. Instead, we get to share in that experience of routine, and even boredom, that Jill documents.

Jill doesn’t sugar coat her struggles either. As she reaches her lowest points she doesn’t shy away from bitching about how much she wanted to quit. She’s open about her tears and doubts at every step of the way. You feel like you’re connecting with a real person, not some elite athlete who never seems like they struggle. It makes the journey relatable, despite the fact that it’s probably out of reach of most of us.

I’m glad that I was introduced to Jill’s work, and am looking forward to reading about her next adventure.

Some fat bike adventuring

My wife has a side gig as a section leader in a church choir up in Anoka, and sometimes when she’s doing a solo, I’ll go up there to listen to her. Today I decided to make an adventure out of it by riding my fat bike the ~12 miles to get there. Normally, this is a nice easy route that passes through Coon Rapids Dam park, on some beautiful paved paths. However, it’s February in Minnesota, do that means snow.

img_4068Things went really well right from the start when I discovered that the trail that I use to get out of the neighborhood has a nice solid packing down. I was able to ride the entire trail section without issue before dumping out on to roads. The next part of the trip takes me on a bunch of streets until I get back onto a bike path that leads under Highway 610 and into Coon Rapids Dam park. However, this section of the trail was NOT plowed at all.

img_4070There was a small rut that I tried to ride, but after fishtailing off into the deep snow on the side, I decided it was better to just hike-a-bike and walk until the cleared section began again. This section was slow and painful, having to climb over snowbanks at certain points. I really wish they’d clear this section as it’s a really nice area and it would be awesome to ride through in the winter.

I might have been able to make a lot more progress in this section if I had stopped and lowered my tire pressure. I was running at 6psi, and if I had dropped down to 3-4 it may have helped me plow through. However, at the end of this section I was going to be on cleared bike path again, before dumping on to roads. I didn’t want to spend 4-5 miles on flat asphalt running at 3psi, as that would make things a lot harder than I wanted it to be. So, hiking the bike ended up being the better option.

Once I got through this area I ended up dumped onto some groomed cross country trail This wasn’t where I wanted to be, but there were no other paths. I very carefully threaded myself in-between the classic ruts and got out of that as soon as I could. Once I was back on pavement I was able to pick it back up again and keep moving. I found one other groomed trail on the other side of the park that was about two car widths wide, with classic track on one side. The other side was covered in footprints so I decided to just bike through this instead of getting back on roads right away. Probably not the choice I should have made, but I don’t think I did any damage to the trail.

After this is was a lot of bike paths and city streets. That city of Coon Rapids made an attempt at clearing the bike path along Coon Rapids Blvd. but it was still pretty blown over with snow. It was in this section that I really learned what it was like to have a fat bike. I was able to handle a few inches of snow just fine until I felt like I was ready to battle traffic on the shoulder of the road.

Overall, it was a mostly uneventful ride. I learned a lot about riding in winter, and I’m slowly dialing in my gear. I got some Bar Mitts, and holy crap those things are nice. I can’t imagine riding in winter without them ever again. I still need to work on my footwear. I think for days like today just a solid winter, insulated, boot will work fine. I’ll need something more for sub-artic temps, but a 20 degree day like today is just fine. My core has been staying warm, and I have a nice pair of Marmot windproof pants that keep my legs comfortable (with a layer underneath).

img_4069One area of improvement though is that I need to figure out a better fitting helmet. The one I have keeps me safe, but it rides way too high on my head. This isn’t just a winter problem either. My head is shaped in such a way that it doesn’t ride right even in the summer. I’ll need to do some experimenting.

The ride today was tough, and my heart-rate stayed in the 140’s which is high for biking. There was a lot of challenging terrain to navigate, but I had an awesome time doing it. Once church was done my wife needed to get her run in, so I headed back out again and did a 6 mile run. Needless to say I’m completely wasted as I type this. It’s time for some beer and relaxing before tackling some house things that need to get done tonight.

I’m loving learning to bike in the winter. It feels freeing and I’m excited to do more of it!

2018 Biking Year In Review

Although not quite as big as my running year, 2018 saw me biking a lot more than I ever have in the past. I’ve really come to love the idea of two wheeled transport, and wish that my job was close enough for me to actually do it as a commuting option. I did commute a couple times this year, but not nearly as much as I would like to. My wife and I also didn’t get out quite as much as I had hoped together, but I did get her a new bike seat, so hopefully that will help encourage some additional adventures next year.

IMG_2248.JPGAt the beginning of the year I picked up some studded tires for my hybrid bike, and gave a little bit of winter riding a try. I only got out a couple of times, but it was a lot of fun, and showed me that you can actually do this year round. Once the snow cleared I was able to start getting out a bit more regularly.

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PC: Michael Tangen

One of the most consistent times that I ride is on Wednesday nights with our Beer & Bikes crew. My friend Michael started this years ago and it’s been a great way to keep consistently riding each week. Our little group grew a bit this year and we’ve added a few new regulars. It’s been fun getting to know more people through the biking community, as it’s still a group that I’m not quite as connected to.

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PC: Abe McEtheron

I also managed some nice weekend rides, including a trip down to Saint Paul to cheer on the Twin Cities Marathon. I had a ton of fun on this ride and might make it a tradition. I also did my third annual Fall Fifty+Five ride. This is a 50 mile bike ride that include stops at 5 different breweries. This year we had a ton of people join us, and from the sounds of it almost everyone had a great time.

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PC: Michael Tangen

One of the other joys of biking this year is learning more and more about how to maintain and fix bikes. I spent a lot of time learning about how to tune up my ride and even make some slightly more in-depth repairs, such as shifters and disc brakes. I then got to practice my skills with the wonderful organization Free Bikes 4 Kidz. They take donated bikes and fix them up to give away to kids who don’t have bikes. It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I’m super happy that our Beer & Bikes group did this activity again this year.

DSC08967Finally, this fall I took the plunge and purchased a fat bike. I’ve only managed a handful of rides so far this winter, but simply knowing that I have the option is awesome. Plus, I feel like I’m much more likely to connect with the adventure/off-road biking community than the typical road bikers. Similar to how I’m more of a trail runner than road runner. Maybe it has to do with the beer and beards?

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 12.09.07 PMAt the end of it all I had a new high mileage year of 735 miles, which is not too shabby for someone who also ran 1602 miles throughout the year. I’m hoping to break 1000 next year with my ability to get on wheels in the winter time now. The biggest challenge I’m currently facing is trying to sell my old bike rack so that I can buy one that will fit my fat tire bike. Hopefully, I’ll have that squared away soon.

Cheers to all my fellow beer loving bikers, and can’t wait to do more rides in 2019!