A Wish Fulfilled

Ever since beginning to do mountain bike trail work and seeing the effect of a heavy storm on trails I’d wanted to see this first hand. Today I saw this, and no longer wish to. JD Harvey and I were part-way through the more remote parts of some single track at Stony Creek when a hail storm arrived. Trees fell around us, an inch or two of 1-2cm hail fell in minutes, and we had to ride rough single track near-blinded to get out. This makes for a good story, but something that I do not wish to repeat.

Today’s weather was quite excellent, and after plans with Joy and Mark there was a bit of time, so I decided to go for a first-ride-of-the-season at Stony Creek on the El Mariachi Ti with the CroMoto Grande rigid fork. Not long after beginning the 6/12 Hour route I ran into JD riding his new fatbike, so he and I began riding together. After completing one lap we decided to start another, planning to part ways at the Swamp Cutout of the Roller Coaster so he could ride home to Rochester and me to the car. Not long after starting it seemed to be getting dark quickly, but we pressed on as we normally would have been out of the trails within fifteen minutes. Just before reaching the end of the Saturday/Sunday Reroute, within the span of 30 seconds a bit of rain spat, then the wind kicked up and hail began.

Unlike my usual experiences with hail and thunderstorms — where it lasts for a few moments before changing to torrential rain — this didn’t let up.

As we made our way to the climb to the Rest Area I called for us to stop and walk up the hill to save time, something which seemed to be over in a flash. Descending from the Rest Area to the Swamp Cutout was a haze as riding instinct took over. Whenever I’d look up from the trail I’d see branches and whole trees falling in what appeared to be a fog of painful ice. I fell briefly when rounding a small drop/corner (same places as here, five years earlier) due to my wheels rolling out from under me on the ball bearing-like ice, but save for interrupting our escape this was uneventful. Once getting down to the Swamp Cutout we found that the entire forest was covered in 1-2″ deep balls of quickly melting hail.

The usual route back to the parking lot, straight from marker 29 to 2 was blocked with an immense tree, so we turned back, detoured along the single track by marker 3. Between that point and the parking lot we had to climb over at least three more trees, and make a last-minute duck to avoid the neck-height wire which had fallen across the trail. I’m very fortunate this wasn’t a live power line, as I saw it just in time to duck, glancing my helmet off of it.

Once back at the car I quickly packed my bike inside, put JD’s on the rack, then got us both in the car with the heat turned on high. The photo above (and this one) were taken near the exit of the West Branch parking, as the hail began to melt. The river-like washes through the hail were exactly that: places where water was flowing down the pavement channeled through the ice. While packing the car this was flowing over my feet, something which I paid no mind as I was just happy to be out of the woods.

While this was quite an adventure, the worst storm I’ve been caught in, a good experience, a fulfilled wish, and something for good stories, I do not want to repeat it. We both were very fortunate that we didn’t get caught up in any of the falling trees, didn’t crash in a serious way, nor encounter any other catastrophe. Simply having wet/dirty bikes, some welts (I’ve got a large one on each forearm and a sore finger), and a story to tell show just how fortunate nature was with us. This shouldn’t be pushed a second time.

High Volume Tire for Rigid Fork


With Dually rims acquired I started looking around for parts to build up a high volume front wheel for the El Mariachi Ti when it is sporting its new rigid fork. Within a few days of poking around on eBay I had everything needed, some nice spokes, a Shimano XT hub (same as on the OE El Mariachi Ti wheels), and some generic (but nice) blue nipples.

On Wednesday evening I laced the wheel, and thinking everything had gone great I tensioned it on Thursday night, finding myself very happy with how it came out. Tension was very even, it was true to within 0.5mm, and dished to less than that. All was good until I started looking it over and found that I’d made a very amateurish mistake, something I haven’t done on any of the other wheels I’ve built: I put the valve stem hole in the wrong spot: photo.

If I’d made this mistake on a normal rim I could have easily shuffled the spokes one hole over and all would be good. Not so on the Dually with its offset drilling. This required me to completely unlace and rebuild the wheel to get it right. This morning I found myself awake particularly early (a combination of Danielle’s alarm and my consuming too much caffeine the day before), so I headed down to the basement and relaced the wheel before going to work.

This evening I tensioned it, fit the tire, and set it up as tubeless. During tubeless setup I was a bit concerned that I didn’t have tape wide enough to cover the spoke holes, but as this photo shows, Velocity’s 24mm Velotape is more than wide enough to cover the spoke holes. All went good, and now I’m looking forward to dry trails so I can try the wheel. I may also try it in the suspension fork, as it fits very nicely: photo.

The assembled wheel came out to be 1821g with tire and lockring, but without rotor. This is heavy, but it was expected, as the Dually is 215g heavier than the Arch EX normally used on the front of the bike. Being rotating weight this is likely to be noticeable, even with the ~400g saving of the rigid fork. Measuring 63mm wide (7mm more than the 2.25″ tire on the Arch EX) I’m expecting the extra volume to make it worthwhile. If not, it was a fun experiment and the wheel can likely be sold for what I’ve put into it. Total cost was $137.16, not counting the tire which I’ve had sitting on the shelf since late 2012. (I believe the tire was around $40 via Chainlove.)

Here’s the build specifics:

Rim:  Velocity Dually 29″ (45mm wide)

Tire: Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.4″ (Old Tread Pattern, Tubeless Ready)

Spokes: Ritchey-branded DT Swiss Competition 2.0 (296mm)

Nipples: Generic Blue-anodized Aluminum

Hub: Shimano HB-M788 (15mm TA, Centerlock)

Rim Tape: Velocity Velotape (24mm wide)

Valve Stem: Stan’s NoTubes 35mm

Spoke Tension: ~120 kgF on the higher side.

2006 Honda Civic EX Valve Cover Gasket Replacement

Some time in mid-2013 I noticed that my car’s engine was getting a bit oily, with all of it appearing from just below the valve cover. This meant was time for a new valve cover gasket. While I’m not much of a car guy, I figured this should be a relatively easy DIY repair, and it was. By following both Chilton directions (thanks, MeL!) and some of this YouTube Video I had no issue with this repair. Following a test drive last night and today’s trip to work no new oil is visible on the engine, and it seems to be running properly. Out of pocket cost was $31.25 (for the gasket set and some RTV silicone), and I suspect I saved $100 – $200 in labor costs while learning something.

With new tires fitted yesterday, there’s only one active issue left with my car: a rattling/resonating when load is applied to a cold engine when the RPMs are low. I suspect it’s a tensioner or pump that’s sticking a bit. Hopefully within the next couple of days I’ll get some time to diagnose this one as well.

Velocity Dually and 2.4″ Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Velocity was at yesterday’s Detroit Bike City expo selling blemish / second rims, and I was lucky enough to pick up a pair of Dually 29″ rims for $60; an incredibly good price. While I’d previously discounted the idea of making a special / wide front rim for the rigid fork of the El Mariachi Ti, with the acquisition of this rim I think I will.

By fitting one of the new 2.4″ Schwalbe Racing Ralphs (old tread pattern) that I’ve had sitting around home I found what should be a great setup for the rigid fork. Set up tubeless it should feel especially nice. Hub-wise I think I’ll go with the same Shimano HB-M788 that I use with the original wheel build, some Sapiem or DT Swiss (depending on what I can find) spokes, and either silver brass or blue alloy (to match the rear wheel) nipples.

After fitting the tire for the test fit I let it sit for a while and measured it. For the Dually with a Racing Ralph 2.4″ it measured at 61.32mm, whereas the original Arch EX and Racing Ralph 2.25″ measures at 55.77mm. The Salsa Semi and Racing Ralph 2.4″ on the steel El Mariachi measures 58.47mm. Thus, this wider rim doesn’t seem to notably increase the width of the tire, but hopefully the additional volume will offer just the right amount of cushion to go with the rigid fork.

And hopefully I can do it on the cheap.

172.5mm Cranks and a Third Bottle Cage

This evening I fitted the Salsa Vaya with some eBay-special 172.5mm cranks. These are the same model (Apex) as came on the bike, but 2.5mm longer, which I hope will make me more comfortable on the bike. I also fitted a third bottle cage, which I hope to use this weekend. I’ve been invited to a century ride on Hines Drive, a popular road riding location on the west side of Detroit. If all goes as I hope — which includes weather cooperating — I intend to use this bike to do a wholly self supported road century on Sunday.

A Project Unfinished

Thirteen years ago, back when I moved into my apartment, I started building what was to be a solid oak mission style queen size bed. I got a fair ways into the project, finishing the posts and horizontal pieces for the head and foot boards, but I never went any further because mid-way through the project I bought the condo where Danielle and I now live. Most of my time was directed into fixing the place up, and then after that I found different hobbies; from beer brewing to electronics, traveling to cycling.

Finishing this bed is one of those projects I’ve kept meaning to do, but at this point Danielle and I are looking to purchase a king size mattress, which wouldn’t fit into this bed, rendering it somewhat useless. This is something I never got around to finishing, and found myself at the point where it was time to abandon it.

Last week I offered the wood to my dad as a project that he could finish up and today he picked it up. I’m really glad to that he wants to work on it, and thus I hope it’ll serve as an enjoyable project and end up as something my parents can use.

2014 Fat Bike Shreadfest at Hanson Hills

With the growing popularity in fatbiking, the Hanson Hills Recreation Area in Grayling decided to groom the ski trails for biking and host a fatbike race called the Fat Bike Shredfest (PDF flier mirror). I’d normally consider driving to Grayling (about three hours each way) a bit much just for riding my bike, but the weather was looking nice and this photo from Jorden Wakeley made the trails look tempting, so after talking it over with Danielle on Thursday I packed the car and headed out to the race.

This ended up being a super-fun time, with the race course being 4.5 miles (and about 250′ of climbing) per lap, with three laps for the Sport category. Despite starting out in last place (a usual thing for me, I don’t take off very fast) I ended up finishing second (of six – results). This even netted me a nifty aluminum trophy made by 4mile Welding, a fabricator out of Grayling. The trophy was a nice surprise, as in Sport and Beginner classes trophies were only intended for first place winners, but as no one entered the Beginner class its award was used for the second-place Sport racer: me.

The race course conditions were simply incredible: amazingly nice ski equipment-groomed trail eight or ten feet wide. It was smooth, grippy, fast, and just simply fun. Being in the rolling hills around Grayling it was also incredibly beautiful. I don’t normally get to see snow covered hills stretching off into the distance, so this was quite excellent (photo). Except for a couple occasional patches of ice (none of which caused substantial problems) it was almost like riding on a freshly graded dirt road without the gravel.

After the race I had a bit of the provided chili and beer, changed into a dry jersey and base layer, talked to people for a bit, then headed back out for another ride. I tried to cover all of the groomed trails which weren’t included in the race route, and except for one small connector I believe I succeeded. This ride was much slower paced, and just… wonderful. After the social, near-vomiting, fast-paced excitement of the race it was exactly what I needed. During the times I stopped I was amazed at just how comfortable I felt being out there in the woods, a couple of miles from my car, alone. It just felt… right.

The drive to Hanson Hills was slightly shorter than heading to Ray’s, and the money raised is to go towards establishing a full-time fatbike route at Hanson Hills next year. The race fee was a slightly-high $50, but I’m willing to pay that to help kickstart more professionally groomed fatbike routes. If next year there’s a place where I can go to get in 3+ solid hours of outdoor riding on beautiful offroad surfaces like this that’s only about three hours away, I’ll do it. I hope this happens.

I’m really glad I went.

The Strava postings of today’s rides can be found here: the race, the ride.

Here’s some photos from the race (all taken by Justin Andre): 1 · 2 · 3 · 4

Here are the photos that I took while poking around post-race: 1 · 2 · 3 · 4

Fat Head’s Trail Head Pale Ale


This past Tuesday I headed down to Ray’s in Cleveland for some mountain biking. As per usual this was a fun time, and afterward we went out to one of the local breweries for food. Having to drive back home I only had one beer (a nice IPA), and brought back this growler of Trail Head Pale Ale from Fat Head’s Brewery and Saloon (Beeradvocate).

I have a strong, visceral dislike for this company’s logo and branding, but they make some tasty beer and food. The served portions on the food are a bit ridiculous (one appetizer is easily enough for five people and the sandwiches — Headwiches — are good for two), but it’s very worth stopping at. It also happens to be just off of a highway on the way back to Michigan which is a nice plus.

First Ride of the Year from Home

It’s pretty common for me to start from home for bike rides, and in previous years I’d done a number of winter rides which set out from home, over to River Bends or so, and back. With the abnormally heavy snow falls of 2013/2014 my first from-home ride didn’t take place until today, March 2nd.

For today’s ride I left home with River Bends as my destination. The Rochester Bike Shop team was having a get together / training event at the park, so I figured I’d swing by and say hello. The route up to the park was so difficult that the normally 3-4 mile route took me nearly 50 minutes (moving time) as I dealt with impassible sidewalks, ice, and three inches of freshly fallen snow. After arriving at the park I rode one pass through the entrance trail, but as my tires were at path-riding pressure I had a hard time. I could have dropped pressures to something more appropriate for riding trails, but I didn’t want to pump them back up later. So, after a bit of talking I left the park and headed back home.

For the route home I conjured up my best residential street memories from back when I was first exploring the area, and I found a route which only required me to walk one spot, a frustrating piece of sidewalk along Shelby which was mostly icy footprints and plow piles covered in a gentle blanket of snow (photo). Riding along the deceptively named Powers Court (map – it’s the only Van Dyke to Shelby through-road in the neighborhood and decidedly not a court) I happened across some deep icy ruts, one of which (photo) put me on my side. Like most winter falls it was uneventful, but likely amusing to anyone watching.

The closer I got to home the more the residential streets and sidewalks had thawed, and it wasn’t long until I was riding through swaths of icy, grey slush. This left a giant pile of muck on the downtube of the bike. Unfortunately the largest chunk (about two fists in size) fell off just before I grabbed this photo. A few watering cans of hot tap water rinsed it all off, and an hour in front of the fan had it looking shiny and clean again.

Strava data for this ride can be found here, but the result is 1:46:11 moving time, about 30 minutes stopped (when talking at River Bends and at traffic crossings), and only 12.34 miles. I’m really looking forward to longer rides once the weather is nice again. Hopefully this year will be at least as successful as last in that regard.

Nexus 5 Protection Efforts

After soundly breaking my Nexus 4 (it’s now listed for auction on eBay for parts) I ended up purchasing a Google Nexus 5 as a replacement. On the recommendation of my friend Laurence (and after lots of research) I chose to add a case and screen protector in efforts to keep it from breaking when I drop it. With the Nexus 4 I’d used a neoprene pouch when carrying it in my pocket, but this had the flaw of leaving the phone exposed around the times when I’m using it, which is how I broke it.

The protection chosen is a cheap ($9.89 via Amazon) Diztronic thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) case that covers five sides of the phone and a Skinomi TechSkin screen protector ($9.95 via Amazon). The screen protector seems a bit expensive, but Laurence has found it to provide a great deal of protection, so I’m giving it a go. Hopefully this will keep the phone looking and functioning nicely for a few years.

For a few years I’ve been using Pelican plastic cases to keep my phones safe when biking. A Pelican 1015 kept the Nexus One safe and dry and a Pelican 1020 took care of the Nexus 4. The Nexus 5 is larger than both of these and won’t fit in either case that I have, so I’m hoping that the more traditional cycling protection of a thick plastic bag, coupled with the case and screen protector, and stashed a bit more deeply into my pack, will keep everything intact. The lack of plastic box should make the phone more audible when ringing, something that Danielle will surely like when she tries to call me.

While it’s only been a few hours since application, thus far I’m happy with the screen protector and case. The case fits snugly, doesn’t interfere with connectors, and the buttons are easily usable through it. One small scuff from my finger nail is visible when the screen is off, but turned on it’s invisible. It also is sufficiently slick in use to not have the traditional dragging-a-finger-on-plastic-wrap feeling that other screen protectors suffer from. I’m quite sure that more of these small scuffs will appear with daily use. This case also has the upside of keeping the camera’s lens or screen from resting on whatever surface the phone is set down on, hopefully keeping them nice for longer.

Now to hope I don’t break this one…