Tuesday, February 12, 2019

PavePlus: Gravel extended road rides

I hate bicycle touring. No, that is not right I do like bicycle touring I just don't like touring bikes. Heavy. Sluggish. Like driving a dump truck. I have tried over the years to like touring bikes but I just can't. I like road racing bikes. Fast and agile. Twichy. Responsive.

But I like riding on small village roads, through vinyards, and orchards too. A lot of those wonderful roads change to gravel or dirt. Which is not happy time for 700x23 tires.

But since the popularity of gravel racing bikes there is emerging another variation. Fast road bikes with wide tires. Something made for the roads but comfortable to keep going when the road turns to dirt. A bike with a road pedigree. Lightweight and responsive but with clearance for tires that allow you go almost anywhere.

I assembled my dream Paveplus bike this fall. It is a Cinelli Zydeco and it rides great on the road with 700x43 tires. It feels like a road bike should. With a set of bike packing bags it will make the perfect touring bike for me. Credit card touring for sure and using the required ultralight backpacking techniques. The return for the investment in trimming off the classic touring fat, will be enjoying the ride, as well as the where. Climbing the Stelvio without heavy touring racks and slack angles. Why carry 50lbs when you can carry 20lbs.
Passeo Stelvio
Enjoying those little paths that start at the end of the pavement. Ride the Pave Plus. Check out my new website at


Friday, May 12, 2017

Windcheetah Recumbent Trike

An ancient Greek philosopher by the name of Heraclitis claimed that "All things are fire". I never understood that when I was young. But after a few decades under my belt I began to understand that change is constant. You can either learn to adapt or curl up in the corner and sob. I am not saying all change is good nor do I believe that "you can't fight Progress".

One of the difficulties of being passionate about something, like I am with cycling, is that if you lose that thing it can be devastating. As I age and things don't work as well as they did when I was twenty I am looking for ways to adapt.

When I was twenty all I saw and lived were racing bikes. Narrow high pressure tires, 4 inches of seat to handlebar drop and a 53/42 front chainset. The recumbent trike would have looked pretty weird to me in those days. But these days it looks pretty darn good.

The benefits of the recumbent trike are many. First it almost eliminates pain from your arms and hands having to rest on the handlebars. You have a panoramic view of the world without bending your neck. No looking at a patch of asphalt 6ft in front of you all day. You can stop on a hill and start right back up again.

It is so different than riding a bike that it seems closer to kayaking to me. Kayaking is wonderful because you are low, right next to the water. You get to see the world and it's critters up close and quietly.

I am not ready to give up my bikes yet but I got the trike as an insurance policy for that day when I must give them up.

The Windcheetah was designed by Mike Burrows back in the early 1980's. He has always been into Human Power speed racing and needed a way to train in the winter safely. He designed the "speedy" as a recumbent racing machine and just added another wheel to the front to make it more stable in the ice and snow of winter. But the speedy became popular because it is a different kind of cycle that had interest to people beyond speed records.

Mike Burrows went on to design the  record setting Lotus superbike for Chris Boardman and worked for Giant designing the very successful TCR road bike. He sold the company when he went to work for Giant.

Windcheetah is currently owned by Karl Spartenburg and he builds Windcheetahs to order for each customer in England. There are many recumbent trikes on the market now made all over the world but the Windcheetah design has survived the test of time.

It is narrow and fast. A real kick to ride. In fact I may not wait till I can't ride bikes anymore. It's too much fun to wait.


Monday, April 10, 2017

More Millium and more Drillium

I am very sorry to report that Jon Williams died suddenly of a heart-attack while riding his bike. He was a special guy. As talented a fine art woodworker as he was a machinist and a Music lover. He will be missed by the whole bicycle community he was so much a part of.

One of the more popular articles on this blog was the article about Jon Williams of Drillium Revival. Jon's take on 1970's Drillium and Millium is an artform in itself. His ability to bring a unique treatment to new customers is one of his strong points. But I wanted to show some of his new work which takes newer components that are much more modern and yet applies the Millium and Drillium. The results are not retro poured over the top of modern but instead and new take on modern. More on his Flicker Pages.

If you would like a truly personal and unique set of parts for your new bike you owe it to yourself to chat with Jon: drillium@yahoo.com

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sandhill Crane Migration on the Platte River

For 9 million years the Sandhill Cranes have been stopping by the Platte River to rest and refuel on their migration from the warmer southern winter grounds and their summer nesting sites in the north. Did you get that number? 9 million. How long have our ancestors existed on this planet?

They come from wintering grounds coast to coast and all fly into the middle of the country around Kearney, Nebraska. This year about 400,000 were counted at the peak. To be honest I never thought I would visit the plains. I am a west coast guy raised backpacking into the Sierra Mountains.

But this event is something worth taking a break from your urban insanity and sit quietly in a field and listen to the sound of a 9 million year tradition.

Get started by stopping by the Crane Trust or the Ian Nicholson Audubon Crane  Center at the Rowe Sanctuary.

They are both easily accessed from Interstate 80.
There is no cost to drop by and the volunteers are waiting and ready to help you learn about Cranes. You are welcome to drop a donation in the box if you would like to help support their work. Each operates blinds that allow viewers closer access. There is a small charge and you need to sign up in advance to be sure of getting a spot in the blind. But for me the grandeur of the large groups flying and soaring together is the main attraction.

The Cranes start arriving earlier each year. The peak was in early March but good viewing extends through the end of March. Individual cranes might stay for a month gleaning the fields of insects and left over grains.

At night they fly back in groups to the Platte River for a safe place to sleep. Cranes can't swim so that is why the Platte River is so important. It is known as "being a mile wide and an inch deep".

When they feel ready to move on north they begin to join up with large groups staging to fly on. The groups soar in circles, called "kettling" gaining altitude to find a warm current heading in the right direction. Cranes will return to the same nesting grounds year after year.

So what has all this got to do with cycling? Well the Crane trust has a fleet of Surly Moonlanders and take folks out on Fat Bike excursions. Contact the excursion manger Ben Dumas at 308-384-4633 for more info. Because there is a lot more to see in Nebraska than just Cranes.

Sunday, January 22, 2017



One of the current activities in cycling with a lot of “traction” is bikepacking. I think the earliest forms of bikepacking were practiced by mountain bikers wanting to do overnight trips via single track. They needed to carry their camping gear in a different way than traditional bike tourists. Bike tourists generally carry their gear in bags hung from racks that straddle the front and rear wheels. But the early bikepacking adopters could not ride narrow, tight single track trails with bags hanging off the sides of their bikes. So they developed bags to carry their gear that fit in the gaps of their bike frames and were less likely to snag branches and such along the sides of a trail.

Today, bikepacking has morphed into many things. I think my definition will be that bikepacking is to traditional bike touring what ultralight backpacking is to backpacking. Today, you might see road tourists or gravel road tourist using bikepacking bags as well as single track mountain bikers. It is a simpler, lighter camping setup than the traditional tourist who might “bring the kitchen sink.”

Bikepacking is about shaving off grams and square inches from your camping overhead. So let's look at the spaces on the bike and what we might put into them.

Generally, nothing is placed straddling the front wheel (like the front rack and panniers on a traditional road touring bike) because a mountain bike often has a front shock which moves up and down.

Starting in the front, we have the space traditionally occupied by the handlebar bag stuffed between the sides of dropped road handlebars. But on a mountain bike the handlebars are wide and don't limit the width of a bag. It turns out to be a good place to put the largest of items, which usually is your sleeping bag, pad or tent or maybe all three. Often, a small bag is also attached on the outside to store quick-access items like snacks.

Behind the stem or on the stem or hanging from the inside of the bars are a variety of little bags designed to stuff something small into. Same going back to the seatpost. Behind the seatpost is a long thin seatbag which is often used for clothes.

The center piece of bikepacking storage is the frame bag. The trouble with a frame bag is that the space in the inner triangle of a typical road bike or mountain bike can very greatly in available room and the shape of the bag. Some mountain bikes have rear shocks that protrude into this space. On some bikes the only water bottle cage locations are in this triangle. Some small frames just don't have any available space here at all. So although you can buy most bikepacking bags off-the-shelf many riders get the frame bag, at least, custom made to fit their bike.

One nice thing about the beginning stages of a new thing like bikepacking is that the big boys, i.e. corporations, have not gotten into the game yet. This is a time of innovation when lots of small players are making their bid for success. Unlike more established aspects of bicycling, there are lots of people currently making custom bikepacking bags. It is a wonderful time to get something made by hand, just for you, that is made by a craftsman rather than a big machine in the far east.

I did some research on the web and found a post on the mtbr.com forum for “Bikepacking and Bike Expedition” titled “Bikepacking gear bags - who makes 'em?.” This post turned out to be a permanent list of bikepacking bag makers and their contact information:

I studied the list and went to some makers' websites. I was looking for someone who did custom work and might be open to using fabrics I picked out and would let me suggest some attachment ideas I had.


I chose Rockgeist in North Carolina owned by Greg Hardy. I was lucky. Greg turned out to be responsive to queries, willing to listen to my crazy requests and a consummate craftsman. He produced very high quality bags in a month and was willing to incorporate some of my requests. The cost was no more than production bags. I highly recommend him at www.rockgeist.com.

The first time I looked at a set of bikepacking bags I could not believe anyone could get  enough camping gear in the bags for a weekend let alone a longer trip. But when I switched my thinking from “camping” to “ultralight backpacking” I began to see the light. When I was a kid I went backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains and in Colorado when ever I could. Even though I went “light” my pack often weighed in at 50 lbs. Nearly a half century later I can't carry that kind of weight on my back anymore. So I found out about ultralight backpacking which allowed me to continue to do something I loved at half the weight.

You do have to be willing to change your thinking about what is necessary and certainly do away with the word convenient.  I can't talk about ultralight backpacking techniques anywhere near as well as Mike Clelland of Falcon Guides. I really like his gear tutorials on Youtube.com, like his “Ultralight Tips” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4O_I22rKp0

One nice thing is he talks about many inexpensive solutions for ultralight touring and they are all applicable to bikepacking. There are also some new very high tech solutions from the typical manufacturers.  I use a MSR tent named the carbon reflex which is lighter than a simple tarp with room for three.

Using ultralight backpacking techniques you can indeed design a system for bikepacking that is comfortable and will fit in your bikepacking bags. It will allow you to explore some spectacular, out of the way places on your bike.

Like the Colorado Trail.

Some great resources online are www.bikepacking.com and www.bikepacker.com .

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bike Fit is everything - Carver custom bikes - Gnarvester

Of all the aspects of cycling I have come to conclude that nothing, not frame materials, components, what some racer won some race on, nothing is as important as fit.

I became interested in the cycling activity known as Randoneuring. It is a french word roughly meaning to wander. After World War II in France people often had to search for food outside the big cities. Because there was no fuel for cars they rode bicycles. It was a way to escape the bombed out cities and enjoy the countryside. But it required them to ride long distances. Up to 300 miles a day.

Modern Randoneurs are a hearty bunch who try to duplicate the long rides of the French. I was impressed that reading about what Randoneurs use for equipment is not the who's who of lightweight equipment. They are focused primarily on fit. Every little thing that is an irritant on your 40 mile ride is going to be a big problem on your 200 mile ride. So it is more important to them to have a heavier bike that fits perfectly than a modern plastic rocket.

Modern manufacturers working in carbon and aluminium make even fewer sizes than the age of steel. It was not uncommon to have every size from 50 to 62cm in half sizes during the steel age but now customers are lucky to get a choice of small medium and large. If you happen to land in the exact size of the "average customer" then you might luck out. But many people don't.

There are three places we touch the bike while riding. The handlebars, seat and pedals. Each point of contact can be adjusted to accommodate fit. The stem can be replaced with a shorter or longer offering, fairly inexpensively. The seat can slide back and forth on it's rails and the seatpost can move up and down. The cranks come in varous lengths for a very small change in leg reach.

But when these options are not enough to adapt the small medium or large frame offerings to you a custom frame is in order. There is a surprisingly vibrant steel handmade bike business in the US with many young framebuilders joining the ranks of the skilled craftman and artisan builders. But custom steel frames, although many times are beautiful works of art, are expensive. Most custom steel frames start at $2500 and many more start at $4000 on up. There is also a long wait time, with some popular builders having wait lists for years.

I spent a lifetime trying to get a good fit following the advise of so called experts. After I started to get numb hands quickly after the start of any ride I started to get serious about figuring out what my problem was. I first realised that frame designers have stretched the top tube, or the reach between the seat and handlebars, over the years making typical bikes longer and longer. In doing research  I found that frames made in the 1970's had much shorter top tubes. I  finally bought a number of old steel road frames off Ebay and built them up and rode them until I found my perfect fit. It made a huge difference for me.

I have had the same problem with mountain bikes and now that I know what the right fit is for me I decided to get a mountain bike made to order. I could not afford the price of a custom steel frame so I went searching for an alternative.

I found Davis Carver in Woolwich Maine. Davis has a bike shop and online webstore called bikeman.com. He also developed a relationship with a frame shop in Asia that works in titanium. He offers stock frames for many different purposes from Road to Mountain but also will do custom work. For a simple change in standard geometry, like I needed, he charged a $200 up charge from the standard $1400 cost. He also claimed he could get the frame finished in 8-12 weeks.

I have had a number of custom frames made over the years and never had a frame builder meet their stated delivery time. With some builders it was off by months. Even so the shortest time I have gotten delivery was 6 months. I simply did not believe Carver could deliver in 3 months.

But he did.

I ordered a 29+ frame he calls the Gnarvester. I had him shorten the top tube considerably from stock. It is a beautiful frame with sliding adjustable rear drop-outs, great welding quality and a nice brushed finish. Davis was really responsive to deal with and was a big help. The built-up bike fits great and really feels so much better than my old MTB bikes.

If you find yourself needing a custom fit you might give Davis a call and see what he can do for you.

Carver bikes