Fitness week recap – 10/7/2019

Week Starting 10/7/2019
Running:
 15.6 miles
Biking:
 43.1 miles
Steps: 83,683
 (41.07 miles –  25.47 walking)

Impression: Little bit of a down week this week. We’ve had some crappy weather, but I’ve still tried to get out when I can. A couple notable highlights of the week were my first ever beer mile on Friday night, using hard seltzer. I managed a 13:39 mile with chugging 3 hard seltzers and one mineral water. I got a time penalty in the official results for switching up one of my beverages, but in hindsight, the mineral water was much harder to chug and sat worse in my gut.

I also got the fat bike out for the first time in a while with some friends. We ended up on some singletrack, which is still really new and challenging for me. I need to spend more time working on that type of riding, but lately I’ve been having too much fun on my gravel bike. Despite the challenges it was a fun ride, and we got to help a friend christen his new fat bike.

Trying out bike packing

Last week my friend Mike pinged me and asked what I was doing on Saturday night. He picked up a bike a few months ago and has been hankering to try out bike packing. We’ve gone on camping trips before, so he knew it’s something I was curious to try as well. Neither of us had tried to deal with the logistics of camping and biking, so he thought a quick, local, one-night trip would be a great idea.

As it so happened, I knew of exactly the place we should go. Carver Lake Park is right at the end of the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail, down in Victoria, MN. It’s a trail that I’m very familiar with, as I run my Fall 50 Mile bike ride event on it every year. It’s also a park that is very close to a town, which means we can depend on shops for food, instead of carrying all of it ourselves. Since this was our first outing, we wanted to keep it as simple as possible.

img_0061The Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail is crushed limestone, which although being an unpaved surface, it’s very smooth and easy to ride on. It also drains really well, so our recent weather didn’t cause any major flooding. Now that we had a route in mind, we just needed to pack.

I decided to put everything I could into my trunk bag and panniers. I have a Bontrager trunk bag that folds out on the sides with two panniers, that are pretty large. In fact, I was able to fit everything I needed except for clothes into this. The one awkward part though was the tent, as the poles are 20″ long. I have some other ideas on how to deal with this that I’ll talk about later, but for the time being I just packed it all in the pannier and let it stick out the top. I did also pick up a Salsa Anything Cage to strap my dry bag of clothes to.

Saturday afternoon we parked my car in Hopkins, and hit the dirt. You could certainly tell that we were loaded down. Because I put everything on the back of the bike, there was a certain amount of imbalance to how the bike cruised. I certainly wasn’t able to get going quickly from a stop, and turning wasn’t quite as smooth. Where I really noticed it though was when the bike was stopped, and when I was trying to mount/dismount. The weight on the sides just pulled the bike downward, and there was more than one comical moment of trying to get it to lift back up, which not falling down completely.

The ride out to the park is relatively short, only 90 minutes or so. We got our campsite, and set up our tents, as best as we could given the winds. We had timed it so that we’d miss the rain that was earlier in the day, but ended up with a freak shower for about 10 minutes… right when we were setting up the tents. Thankfully, I managed to keep everything mostly dry, and soon we had our shelters buttoned up.

img_0067We had brought a little bit of cold food with us, which we munched in our tents, and then headed back out on the bikes to Victoria and Enki Brewing. There we got to sit back and relax for a bit with food and beer and enjoy a quiet evening of hanging out. Our other option would have been to make a fire, but with the high winds, simply going in to town was a better option.

The night passed uneventfully, also I never sleep well my first night away from home. I got a fair amount of rest, but soon enough it was time to get up and start packing up for our return trip. We once again headed into Victoria to have breakfast at School of the Wise and then hit the trail.

Sunday was a completely different day from Saturday with bright sunshine and moderate temps. We cruised back to Hopkins faster than the journey out, and were back home by lunch time. All in all, a great little adventure, and one where I learned a lot.

img_0042So what did I learn? Most of all, I learned what I need for bike packing bags. When I had a chance to reevaluate my packing, I realized I could have strapped the tent poles to my down tube (though I need to move my bottle cage). That would have allowed me to put the tent itself fully into the pannier, and close it up. I also realized that I need to distribute weight better, and I want to get a nice cradle setup for my handlebars. That, along with another Salsa Anything Cage, should allow me to balance where I put things.

One option I am also considering is to get a full frame bag that would be big enough to carry the poles along the down tube side of the bag. I would then need to get a bottle holder for up on my handlebars, but that could be a good option for even longer and more extensive trips. Oh, and one final thing I want… a top tube bag for snacks. That might be a purchase sooner rather than later.

Overall, I’m pleased with how the adventure worked. We had plenty of supplies, and were able to sleep comfortably, just as if we had hiked in to a site. The Vaya performed great under load, and got me from point A to point B in relative comfort. I’m thinking of a couple more small trips like this next year, as it’s a different way to experience camping than I’ve done before.

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Fitness week recap – 9/30/2019

Week Starting 9/30/2019
Running:
 30.9 miles
Biking:
 49.1 miles
Steps: 107,545
 (53.5 miles –  22.6 walking)

Impression: This week was back at it. I managed 4 runs over the week, including a 14 mile run in cold rain on Saturday. I’m going to taper things down for a couple weeks through to recover a bit more, so this will probably be my highest mileage week for a couple of weeks.

Biking was bigger than expected this week due to an impromptu bike packing trip with Mike. He pinged me on Thursday night, and we were on the trail Saturday afternoon. It added a nice 35-40 mile boost to my weekly biking totals, and gave me an opportunity to try out bike packing. I’ll post a longer blog about it, but I have a lot of thoughts on what worked, and what didn’t.

Fitness week recap – 9/23/2019

Week Starting 9/23/2019
Running:
 11.4 miles
Biking:
 74.1 miles
Steps: 73,442
 (34.5 miles –  23.1 walking)

Impression: I wasn’t kidding when I said that this blog would get some neglect in September, including my fitness recaps. I’ll post a longer review of my adventures in the coming weeks, but since I was back home starting on the 23rd, I could actually track my fitness correctly again.

This week was minimal running, recovering from 75 miles of running/hiking in the mountains. However, it was also the weekend of my annual 50 mile bike ride. So my biking totals are really high this week, while my running took a back seat. Things are moving back to normal around here so the next few weeks should be pretty on-target.

How to buy a bike… Jamison style

A couple years ago I decided to start looking for a fat bike. It took me almost two full seasons before I pulled the trigger on a used Framed Wolftrax. I was methodical in my analysis and spent hours looking over frame geometry and specs. In the end I decided to settle on a price I was willing to pay, and then based my choices off of that, based on the models I was interested in.

Fast forward a bit and I just bought a new gravel bike to act as my daily driver. This is another purchase that has been about a year in coming. I once again pulled out spreadsheets and calculators to go deep into what makes each bike unique. I also availed myself of sites like bikecalc.com and bikeinsights.com to help me do comparisons, and get into the nitty gritty of gear inches and “speed at cadence”. This is all on top of test riding bikes whenever I got an opportunity. In the end, I test rode around 8 bikes before deciding what to get. More on the bike later, and in my full review, but I wanted to shed some light on the process I went through, as it might help others, or just help my friends understand me more.

I had first heard of gravel bikes through various YouTube channels. At first blush they look like road bikes with bigger tires, but there’s actually a lot more going on. I would actually classify gravel bikes as closer to touring bikes, but with more aggressive geometry and maybe a few less mounting points.

What I was really looking for was something to replace my daily hybrid bike that I had been using for 9 years with something better. It had to both serve my desire to commute by bike more often, and my desire for adventure. The idea of bike packing takes multiple things that I love and puts them together. No longer am I restricted by how far I can hike in a day, but I could actually lay down some serious miles before camping for the night. At least that’s the dream right now.

This led me to start my analysis by looking at the gravel bike market and learn what makes these bikes tick, and how the different brands are approaching the product space. First, I started looking at the basics of frame geometry. There appears to be a couple different directions that manufactures are going. One of them is closer to the road bike world with bikes that are more aggressive in their wheelbase, trail, and chainstay length. These bikes seem targeted at folks who want to go fast… off-road.

I tried a couple different models of these, notably the Trek Checkpoint and the Specialized Diverge. Both feature a fast, aggressive geometry that lends itself to power. When I first tried the Trek Checkpoint I really enjoyed it, as it was a comfortable ride and the feeling of speed was awesome. The Diverge was similar, but due to the lower end model I was testing, I was left with a poor taste in my mouth.

Soon though I got to try some gravel bikes on the other end of the spectrum which were more relaxed and supple, yet had a geometry that was still much, much closer to a road bike than my hybrid. One of the first ones I got to try was the Raleigh Tamland. This was a steel frame bike that was on clearance from 2018 at a local bike shop. It had a nice soft ride, and great components for the price, and after riding it back to back with the Diverge, I knew that it was the style of gravel bike I was looking for.

Sometimes though we have criteria that aren’t based in specs and measurements. As silly as it sounds, I had two decision points that were purely aesthetic. One was that the bike should be from a Midwest manufacturer, preferably from Minnesota (Raleigh is west coast). Secondly, it needs to have a frame color that appeals to me. On both of these counts the Raleigh was mediocre.

Because I was interested in Minnesota bike makers I then moved on to test some Salsa’s. Salsa is a part of the QBP empire which is headquartered in Bloomington, MN. My first exposure to their gravel bikes was when my wife got to test ride the Journeyman. I also took out a Journeyman for a test ride and we both agreed that these were really great. They had a nice feel to them and were off-road and long-haul focused. Additionally, for my wife, they fit really her really well.

After a couple of test rides at a couple different shops my wife decided on the Salsa Journeyman Sora in a lovely bluish-teal color. She found a size that worked well for her, and she was quickly able to identify what she didn’t like about the other bikes she tried in comparison. That left me, the one who originally was the one looking for a new bike, still taking my time and contemplating what I wanted to do.

This is where things get a little silly. Despite enjoying the Journeyman there were a couple things that I didn’t care for. First, I was not the biggest fan of the drivetrain options. The high end model was a 1x SRAM Apex 1, and despite some folks loving these, I just don’t enjoy their double-tap shifters. I’m sure I’d get used to it soon enough, but it was certainly a mark against the bike for me.

The second item that was a problem was the color. The Journeyman color I absolutely loved was the olive green model. However, it only came with a 2×8 Shimano Claris drivetrain and that just did not appeal to me at all. My hybrid was a 3×8 and I wanted something that was markedly different. There was a lighter teal frame that wasn’t bad, but it was the Apex 1 groupset that I wasn’t 100% sold on either.

I decided to sit on things for a bit as there were still a couple more bikes I wanted to check out. Two of them in particular were the Salsa Vaya and the Salsa Warbird. I happened to find both of them in stock, in my size, at a local bike shop and so I headed out one afternoon to give them a try.

When I got to the shop I also tried an All-City Cosmic Stallion, but due to their weird sizing it just didn’t feel right at all. Then I hopped on the Salsa Vaya 105. Immediately I was struck with how nice this bike felt, and how well it fit me. The Vaya is a steel frame bike and comes with a Shimano 105, 2×11 drivetrain. This is exactly the type of drivetrain I’d been looking for. The shifting was smooth, and the 48/32 crankset on the front is a nice balance between the 50/34 road compact double that’s common on gravel bikes, and the more lax 46/30 of the Journeyman.

dsc01587As I took the bike for a spin around the neighborhoods it just felt “right”. The size was good, the geometry was comfortable, and it had just a small bit of aggressiveness that was lacking in my old hybrid. I got back to the bike shop and they had a full carbon Warbird ready for me to try. This bike was way more expensive than I was interested in spending, but I figured this would at least give me a sense of what’s possible.

The Warbird is a really amazing bike. The carbon frame is SO light, and I was climbing hills like they weren’t even there. It did have a SRAM Force 1x groupset, but this was a much nicer component level and I actually didn’t mind the double-tap quite as much in this quality level. I pulled the bike back into the shop and hopped right back on the Vaya for a quick reaction comparison.

As nice as the Warbird was, with it’s light frame and speedy feel, the Vaya just grabbed me. I knew within seconds on my second test of the day that this would be the bike for me. Plus, it had a nice green-teal color frame that really popped. I finished up my test ride and headed home to think about it a bit more. The bike shop I had visited was doing a sale and so I called up my regular shop to see if they’d price match it. They said they certainly would and so the deal was sealed.

I took the bike out for its first long ride last Wednesday on my usual Beer & Bikes casual ride. On the way home I took a route that is similar to my commute home from work and has some substantial hills. When I loaded the ride in to Strava I had clocked 5 PRs, many of them by quite a margin. Not only did I find the bike to be a bit faster, but the challenging stuff was easier and I was able to power through things in ways that I never could on my hybrid.

I’m excited to eventually post a full review once I get a few more miles on the bike. But for now, I’m loving it. I realize that to some, my process might have seemed tedious (I didn’t even mention all the other bikes I tested), or my love of spreadsheets comparing bike dimensions a bit weird. Yet it’s worked for me, and I know that I’m happier with the outcome when I take my time.

Now to decide on more accessories…