First Rides: 2017 Raleigh Tamland 1

I’ve been riding a Raleigh Tamland 1 for the last several days and although I typically don’t review bikes I wanted to share my observations on this little beauty because it’s a whole lot of fun to ride and you can still find them around if you’re so inclined.

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2017 Tamland 1 by Raleigh

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We purchased this bike for Jan at Skunk River Cycles in Ames last year.  We paid about $1,100 for it, which was a deep discount from the $1,700 list.  She never really took to it, and so it sat hanging from the living room wall like a Picasso or Monet.   I know, I know.  Some people hang paintings.  We hang bikes.  Anyway, when she got her Surly Bridge Club earlier this year, she did so with the idea that this bike would replace my Kona Rove as a (relatively) light weight gravel bike.

As it turns out, we’ll have to find something else for the wall.  I finally got out on it earlier this week and wow, what a ride.  I love this bike.  It’s fast and responsive and forgiving and moving it forward is pretty much effortless.  The frame is Reynolds 631 chromoly steel.   The fork is carbon.  With the exception of the front crank, the group set is all Shimano 105.  Wheels are made by Weinmann  especially for gravel.  They’re tubeless ready and the bike comes with Clement Strada USH tires…a very nice choice for the road, although I would have preferred something a little larger than 32mm.  I’ll swap them out with Panaracer Gravel Kings  (38 mm, there’s plenty of clearance) before racing.

I’ll also have to swap out that crank.  I’ve read some posts that refer to it as Sunrace, but it’s clearly not.  I don’t know what it is.  It’s no name and cheap and not the kind of thing you want to take out into the wilds unless you’re okay with the idea of walking home.  Ditto the bottom bracket.  We’ll see how it holds up.  I don’t really understand this sort of thinking where manufacturers outfit a bike with relatively pricy components throughout and then go cheap in one area.  I guess they figure most people won’t notice or care.   I wouldn’t if I was using it around town.   For 100 miles of gravel, I care.

This bike is positioned by Raleigh as an adventure bike… a daily commuter that can hold its own on weekend gravel.   I love this segment of the market.  The way I look at it, these are road bikes for the kind of roads you’ll find across most of America these days.  By that, I mean crumbling and full of potholes.  I also like that it’s steel.  With the carbon fork, the weight is comparable to a full aluminum bike but the ride is so much better.

I also like the TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes.  I’ve read some reviews that complain that the bike doesn’t have hydraulic discs, but I wouldn’t want those on this kind of bike.  For one thing, you’re not going to take it down mountain singletrack so you don’t need that kind of stopping power.  For another, you don’t want to have a hydraulic problem 50 miles from home because those are almost always not something you’re going to fix on the side of the road.  The TRP brakes get the job done, are easy to adjust and very reliable.

From my perspective, this is an all around better bike than the Rove.  That’s not an easy thing for me to admit because I love Kona.   It is, though.  It comes with greater tire clearance and the carbon fork makes it cut through the miles like butter.  This bike just feels effortless to pedal.

Raleigh has since come out with the 2018 model and the 2019 is soon to follow, but you can still find this bike around if you’d like one.  Expect to pay somewhere around $1,000 if you can find it in your size.  That’s a real bargain for what you get in return.

Ride on!

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Some Thoughts on Suburban Cycle Paths

I was in Colorado this past weekend and had a chance to sample some of the cycle paths in and around Lone Tree, a suburban enclave south of Denver.  This is a (mostly) brand new community that stretches into the bluffs that separate metro Denver from Castle Rock.   When my wife and I lived near here in the 1980s, I never imagined anything would be built on this treeless, rattlesnake-infested hillside but here it was in all its resplendent glory.

On the surface, it looks and feels amazing.  The homes are big and spectacular with price tags to match…$1 million or so according to Zillow.  There are hills and meandering trails.  It’s a true lifestyle community, the kind so popular with people who want to live the Rocky Mountain High dream.

That said, it just didn’t feel right to me.  I have this theory about bicycle infrastructure.  If it makes passage easy, it’s good.  If it’s superfluous or creates obstacles, it’s not good.   Right out of the gate, I got superfluous in the form of a series of overpasses with cliche phrases etched above.  They were hard to miss.  They felt a bit condescending.

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They should do this on freeway bridges.  Motorists would love it.

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Who knew?

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There were more, but you get the idea.

Next came the obstacles.  The first was the spectacular bridge over Lincoln Avenue.  It was beautiful to look at while at the same time a literal nightmare to cross.  I knew it was going to be trouble right out of the gate because the suspension tower was placed directly in the middle of the path.  You had to work your way around it and there wasn’t a lot of room.  I wondered what it might be like on a nice day with a lot of other cyclists and pedestrians around.   As it was, I had it to myself.  More on that in a minute.

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Lincoln Avenue bridge.

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It might not seem like a big deal, but we don’t place support towers in the middle of highways.  Why do we do it on cycle paths?

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The cover was a nice thought, but obviously ineffective.

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The north ramps posed another challenge.

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The north entrance.  Yikes.

 

The bridge was icy due to the weather.   There’s nothing you can do about that, but there was frozen condensation on the main deck and the cover that was designed (apparently) to keep it dry was an obvious failure.  What’s worse, it would likely delay melting since it prevents sunlight from reaching the deck.  Then there was the north entrance.  It could not have been less welcoming if they’d posted a sign that said “Danger, Keep Out.”

As bad as the bridge was, the box culverts under C-470 and adjacent County Line Road were even worse.  I found myself thinking that there is absolutely no way I’d want a loved one on this stretch of trail.  It was dark and dank and probably dangerous, too.  The lighting was inadequate but it really didn’t matter since most of it wasn’t working.

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This looks like fun.

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What could possibly go wrong here?

Nothing about cycling here was easy.  Route finding was a constant challenge. In spite of a completed trail network with adequate signage, the trails meandered all over the place.  I constantly found myself on spurs that led to streets where I was forced to cycle in the typical on-street gutter lanes so common across most of the rest of America.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know that given a few days I’d figure this out so it wasn’t a huge deal.  Still…

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Signage was good, but I still found it difficult to follow the main trail.

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What would life be without a little time in the gutter?

I realize this probably all sounds pretty negative and I wouldn’t even go here except for the fact that I learned something important while cycling through Lone Tree.   These trails are not about cycling at all.  They are, first and foremost, a marketing prop used by the developer to sell million dollar homes.  They’re not honest and genuine.  They’re not real.  It seems obvious in hindsight.

And that’s a problem because bicycle infrastructure that discourages cycling is worse than no bicycle infrastructure at all.  In spite of the snow, I expected to see a few cyclists out and about on Saturday morning in fitness crazy metro Denver.   I didn’t see a single one.   In fact, I really didn’t see many people at all.  There was a woman walking a dog and a man with an umbrella.  That was it.

Maybe none of this matters to you and if not, that’s great.   These are just the observations of someone who likes to use a bike to get from here to there.  In spite of the fact that this area looked really promising on Google Maps and even from the car windows as we drove up, it’s not really the kind of place I’d like to cycle every day.  Lesson learned.

 

Rides I’d Forgotten

While I was in Omaha last Saturday, I stopped at the Apple store to have them look at my old vintage 2012 MacBook Pro.  The computer unexpectedly died on me shortly after moving to Iowa in 2017.  I figured the hard drive failed.  Because I was busy at the time and had a Windows notebook I could use as a backup, I just let it sit.  Last week I finally decided to do something about it.  Turns out it was a cable, not the hard drive.  Less than an hour and $100 later, I had my computer back.

I knew I had some pictures from old rides on this computer.  I assumed that they were lost but they weren’t.  I’ve spent the last couple of days looking at them and have they ever brought back the memories.  I’m going to back them up.  Won’t get fooled again.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few of of them with you.  They probably won’t mean as much to you as they do to me, but still…  We live in a beautiful world.  I never really understood just how beautiful until I got on my bike and slowed down.  Hope you have a great day and have the opportunity to get out and enjoy yourself!

 

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Indianapolis, 2013.  Part of my motivation to get back on the bike.

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Surfside Beach, SC – 2014.  I rented this fixxie and rode up and down the beach for a couple of hours.

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Someday I’ll come back and ride the whole thing.

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Salsa Mukluk.   Phat Tire Bike Shop, Bentonville Arkansas, 2015.  At the time, I never dreamed I’d one day own a bike like this.  Now I do!

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My first “real” MTB experience.  East Bench, Ogden Utah.

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My old Specialized Hardrock, Council Bluffs Iowa

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Happy Jack Road, Wyoming.  I need to get back out here and explore some more.

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Bike share bikes.  Boise State University, home of…

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…the famous blue turf!

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East side, Pueblo Colorado 2016

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Grand Teton, Wyoming.  It was cloudy and wet when I left Jackson.  

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High above Ogden Utah.  Breathtaking.  Spectacular.

Images of Western Iowa

I recently bought a Karate Monkey frameset from Ponderosa Cyclery in Omaha and drove into the city yesterday to pick it up.  The Karate Monkey might seem like an interesting choice for a guy my age who rides the miles I do, but I bought it because I have it in my mind that I want a single speed mountain bike and you can now run 27.5 x 3″ rubber on the Monkey.  Funny how the more I ride wide tires, the more I want to ride wide tires.  Didn’t see this coming but I’ve learned to roll with things.  It’s gonna be fun.

I don’t really much care for the city these days, but I do like some people who choose to live there.   Vince at Ponderosa is one of these people.  He’s the prototypical local bike shop owner.  He really loves what he does.  It’s not a cliche.  It’s obvious.  I think if more business owners approached their business like true believer local bike shop owners we would be better as a country than we are, but that’s another story for another day.  If you need a bike and live near Omaha, go talk to him.  You’ll be glad you did.

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As for the city itself, let me say this.  Yesterday I visited an urban village and a suburban village, the new kind of mall with the faux main street for people who long for the good old days but don’t have the courage to move to a small town where the good old days can still be had…for a song.   Juxtaposed against each other, I realized there’s not really much difference between the urban and suburban village except that the urban version seems to do a better job of hiding the parking.   Both have bicycle infrastructure.  Neither has bicyclists…not many, anyway.  Go into any business and most are basically selling the same things.   There are coffee shops and brewpubs galore, but no butchers or bakers.  You can only drink so many lattes and craft beers, eh?

So today’s story is about the journey, not the destination.   Truth be told, each time I go into the city I see less and less reason to go into the city.  After two or three hours, the walls start closing in and I have to get gone.   It’s visceral.  It’s real.  Claustrophobia. Where’s my blue sky?  Where’s my open space?  Merle Haggard sang about this.   John Denver, too.  I get to live it.  For Old Man Gravel, the best thing about Omaha is that I have to cross western Iowa to get there.  Western Iowa is almost heaven.

And so I left before dawn with the bike in the back of the minivan.  I drove down to Audubon, parked next to Albert the Bull, marveled at his eyelashes, and then rode the T Bone Trail all the way to Interstate 80 and back.  Then I drove on to Shelby and rode the Rock Island Stone Arch Trail.  What a pleasant surprise!  There were wetlands and a fun metal grate bridge that you could see through.  Sprinkle in a little gravel here and there and I ended up covering a little more than 50 effortless miles.  Here are some pictures.

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I eventually made it to Omaha around noon and took care of the business that brought me there.   I was safely back across the Missouri by 3:00 PM.  I got off the Interstate and slowly worked my way home on two lanes with blue and gold county shields.  I prefer to travel this way now.  I passed through Marne, Brayton, Exira, Coon Rapids and Scranton.  I stopped, got the bike out and rode another ten miles just because I could.  When you choose to travel as I do, speed is not a concern.  I got home at around 8:00 PM just as the sun was going down on another perfect day.

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I keep track of the places I ride and it’s becoming a pretty impressive list.  A map like this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but every one of those pins has a story behind it.  I love rural Iowa and points south and west all the way to the Flint Hills of Kansas.  I’m not done exploring yet…not by a long shot.  Every one of these little towns is unique and different…kind of like diamonds.  I believe we all have a place where we are truly connected to the world.  This is mine, and I am so grateful to have found it and to have the opportunity to call it home.  It’s no small thing.  I can’t think of a better place to be a cyclist.

The Tyranny of Goals

““You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.” ”  -Robert Pirsig

I have struggled to put this post together.  I’m going to talk about some things today that fly in the face of conventional wisdom.  I’m doing this because I think it’s important and maybe it might help somebody…maybe someone you know.  If you think it might, feel free to pass it along.

I recently passed through 50,000 miles since getting back on my bike six years ago.  It was never a goal to go this far.  When I got back on the bike, I had no goals at all.  Fifty thousand miles later, I still don’t have any goals.

A lot of people believe that if you start something without goals that you’ll never get anywhere in life.  My experience has been the exact opposite.   Let’s say you set some goals and then you achieve them.  Then you have to set new goals.  They have to be quantifiable and measurable and challenging.  Let’s say you achieve those new goals.  Then you have to set even more goals.  Eventually you’ll fail.  Eventually we all fail.   Maybe it’s just me, but setting yourself up for failure seems to be the very definition of insanity.

So I went into cycling with my eyes wide open.  I wanted to lose a little weight.  How much?  I didn’t know.  I just started riding with the idea that I’d ride as long as it felt good.  Six years later, it still feels good.  I think the reason it feels good is because I didn’t have any goals.   Everything I’ve ever done that has been goals-based has turned into drudgery.  I don’t do those things any more.

Fifty thousand miles is twice around the world.   You can’t help but see and hear and feel and learn a lot when you cover that much distance.  Mostly I’ve learned that the world is smaller than I used to think it was.  It’s fragile.  It’s precious.   That, in turn, has caused me to look at consumption a little differently.  I consume less.  I live a little more simply.  This is good.

Along the way I’ve seen a lot of natural beauty.  I’ve ridden up on moose and cougar and Bald Eagle, and rattlesnakes and a whole host of other wildlife.  We’re quiet on our bikes and if the wind’s just right you can be on top of these critters before they know you’re there.  It’s really a blessing.

I’ve cycled through big cities and small towns.  The small towns have really surprised me, especially here in the Upper Midwest.  There’s this urban mindset that small towns are full of closed-minded illiterates and that smart, tolerant, good people live in urban enclaves.  Maybe…maybe not.  The breadth and depth of most small towns has surprised and delighted me.  Everyone at Google may look different but they all seem to think the same.  What is diversity if not a willingness to accept people who think differently than we do?

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Rattlesnake.  Now it’s about respect rather than fear.

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Slow roads rule.

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High plains, empty town.   I can’t explain why these places captivate me but they do.

The distance I’ve covered by bicycle has changed my life in ways I never dreamed it would or even could.  I now realize that goals may be fine but they are not the most important thing in life.  Some things are simply too sacred to be marginalized by assigning numbers, targets and check boxes to them.

In what I think was the most inspirational speech of all time, Steve Jobs challenged a group of young graduates at Stanford University to stay hungry and foolish.  He didn’t tell them to have goals.  He told them to be present in life…to believe in themselves and trust that it would all work out.  He told them to live like they were dying, because someday they would.   He told them to love more and worry less.  None of that is quantifiable or measurable, but it’s good advice if you ask me.

So get on your bike.   See where it takes you.  Happy Trails.

Des Moines to Lake View: Filling the Gap

Since moving to Iowa, I’ve had this idea in the back of my head that a bike trail between the state capital in Des Moines and one of the state’s premiere vacation spots, the Iowa Great Lakes in Dickinson County is a no-brainer.  I’ve even gone so far as to map out my preferred route.

Such a trail would take decades to plan and build and that’s if we started right away.  The good news is that we don’t have to wait. The southern half of my proposed trail, the 117 miles from Des Moines to Lake View, is already mostly built.  From the state capital to Jefferson, you’ll follow the path of the Raccoon River Valley Trail.  From Carroll to Lake View, you’ll be on the Sauk Rail Trail.  Both are world class.

And Lake View is a charming town…a destination in its own right.  There’s beautiful Blackhawk Lake, which I believe is the southernmost glacial remnant of the Ice Age in Iowa.  There are inns and swimming beaches and campgrounds and restaurants and shops and benches to sit on and waste the day away.

So it is already a great route. There’s just one missing link…the 25 mile stretch from Jefferson to Swan Lake, south of Carroll.  People who want to cover this portion can still do so.  There are some beautiful, mostly empty back roads that will get you from here to there.  That said, few do.  There’s something about a trail that just makes it seem easier.

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DSM to Lake View:  If you build it, they will come.

Living as I do in Jefferson, I’d like to see this missing trail link filled.  This might seem self-serving at first, but it really isn’t.  Sure, I’d be a regular on any trail to Swan Lake but I already cycle this route. In fact, I’m heading out this way today as soon as I press send.

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East Village, Des Moines.  Your epic journey starts in the city.

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But most of the route is surrounded by nature.

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Raccoon River crossing west of Jefferson.

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There’s something about riding a bike to the apple orchard that is just feels right.

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My favorite current route from Jefferson to Swan Lake.  It’s beautiful here.

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This country store in Breda was a pleasant surprise.

So please don’t think for a minute that this post is about Old Man Gravel.  It’s not.   It’s about our town and our future and the people who might pass through if we make it easy for them to do so.   Jefferson is at the northern end of the Raccoon River Valley Trail, almost exactly halfway between Des Moines and Lake View.  That makes us the natural overnight stop for anyone who wants to take this 230-mile round trip over three or four days. They would eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, and stay in our motels and B&Bs.   We would benefit as a community because communities almost always benefit when they open their doors and especially when they open them to low impact guests like those who tour by bicycle.   I know the impact that the Katy Trail has had on many similar-sized towns in Missouri.  It has made them better…more vibrant…more alive.  We could have that, too.  It’s low hanging fruit…there for the taking. 

Regardless of whether or not the entire link is ever built, I’d like to begin promoting this route.  An obvious (to me, at least) first step would be for the city of Jefferson and Greene County to figure out how to fund and build a side path along the Old Lincoln Highway from Grimmel Road at the Greene Valley Medical Center to just across the Raccoon River at K Avenue west of town.  It’s about 3 miles and although traffic is generally light here, it is consistently fast and the present road has no shoulders.   There are hills in and out of the river valley.   I suspect it’s not comfortable to some recreational riders, particularly families with young children.  With the exception of RAGBRAI last summer, I have never seen another cyclist here…just me.

Such a side path wouldn’t cost much in the grand scheme of things and it could probably be built along existing right of way.  It would make Deal’s Orchard, a popular local destination, more easily accessible by bicycle.   It would also open up one of the area’s most beautiful gravel routes along mostly unpaved roads that meander in and out of the river valley to the town of Scranton.  It could also serve as the first leg of an eventual trail connection to Swan Lake.

I have no idea what it takes to get something like this done.  It’s not my area of expertise.  What I do know is that there is a large and increasing demand for the type of adventure tourism that combines outdoor activity, sightseeing, dining and turns a mundane journey into an epic trek.  We can provide an outlet for that or somebody else can.  I kind of hope it’s us.

Mother Nature’s Rules

“Just one thing is clear to me, there’s always more than what appears to be.  When the light’s just right I swear I see…Man, it’s poetry.”  -Walt Wilkins

Earlier this year, I got it in my head that I wanted to be a gravel racer.  I’d ridden some organized events and gone a lot faster than I thought I would without training and I started wondering how fast I might be able to go if I took my cycling a little more seriously.  I even started looking at gravel racing bikes like Salsa’s Warbird.  The thought was firmly embedded in my mind.  This is what I was going to do.

Bad idea.  As it turned out, I didn’t get faster at all.  In fact, I slowed down.  What was once joy was quickly becoming hard work and drudgery.  I wasn’t frustrated by it as much as I was curious about what was going on.  I didn’t understand, at least not at first.  Now I do.  It was the natural world doing its thing to protect me from myself.

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Mother Nature did this.  It has forced me to change my riding style.  Clever, Mother Nature.

If this makes sense to you, congratulations.  You’re in a very special zone…a place most people never get to experience.  If it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s likely because you haven’t properly calibrated the speed of your life to that of the natural world. Your bike can help you with this if you let it.

Think of it this way.  All day, every day, we received hundreds of messages about how to do more in less time.  These messages are insidious, as they are always presented to us in a manner that makes us think it is good to cram more activities into our days.   It’s not.   The message is usually delivered by people who want us to do more for them.  They get something from it.  What we get is usually heartbreak.  Nature is all about balance, and if we insist on pushing against that, well, nature will find other ways to even the scales.

This didn’t come to me as a bolt of lightning like it would on television or in the movies, but rather in a much more sublime way.  This is always how it is with me.   Without really understanding why, I purchased a Surly Karate Monkey frameset a few weeks back.  The Karate Monkey is a beautiful bike, but it’s about as far from a gravel race bike as you can get.  It’s built for fun, not speed.

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My gravel “racing” rig.  Funny.

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It’s time to Monkey around…

In hindsight, this was a protective move even if I didn’t understand it at the time.  Since then, I’ve stopped worrying about how fast I’m going.  I still plan to ride the gravel races on my calendar for this summer…I just don’t care when I finish.  The end result is that cycling is a lot more fun again.   I feel fresher at the end of my rides.  I’m actually going faster, too.

Poetry.  Indeed.