24 September, 2015

Houston, We Have A Problem...

Ran into a little snag on the 'cross bike. On my first real dirt ride after my fitting, I noticed my saddle was pretty low about 3/4 through. I knew Josh had said he'd had some issues with this, so not surprising. I adjusted back to about the right height, re-tightened and finished my ride. Later I took the measurements from my fitting with FitMI and put it in the right spot. Oh, and since this is MY bike, I put a scratch in the seatpost for reference.

 On the next my next ride, I noticed it slipping again. Re-adjusted and this time put a little brute force on the bolt. Like until I heard a solid creak. And, yes, I know that isn't "tourqued to specifications...". A few miles later, I'm low-riding. Another stop, another adjustment, only this time, the second creak turns to a loud, "SNAP". F@CK!!!! I'm 8-1/2 miles in to a 24 mile ride and at a pretty good distance from my truck. I limp back as directly as possible in a combination of standing and riding on an all-the-way-down seat that fully swivels. Fun.

At first, I'm blaming the non-stock Zipp seatpost. Figuring maybe it's not quite a true 27.2mm size. But after I get home and start doing some research, I find that this problem is a known issue with the Specialized Crux Comp. A wide range of fixes are suggested (including shimming with a cut-out from an aluminum beer can), but most center on the seat clamp. The general consensus is that the Thomson seat clamp is the ticket.

OK, cool, but the Specialized clamp also has an integrated cable hanger for the rear cantilever brake. No problem. I like an engineering challenge. A little more time with The Google and I find the Problem Solvers Cross Cable Hanger. OK, I can put this on the seatpost just above the clamp. Good enough. Oh, wait, the hanger is 1-1/8" ID and the post is 27.2mm. D@mmit! Ah, but there's a shim available. Click. Click. Credit card. Order complete.

As I'm waiting for delivery, I realize that this rig - while functional - is going to look full-on hillbilly. Not acceptable. A little more research leads me to the IRD Long Drop Cable Hanger. Better still I can order locally and have it in a couple of days. Sweet!

On Monday night I finally have all the needed parts. I'm sweating if the cable and housing will be long enough, but I dive in. Installation goes smoothly and the cable and housing just fit. With the clamp properly torqued, seat can't be twisted when tugging (it could before). And, the installation looks nice and clean. Perfect.

Planning the first ride on Saturday; fingers crossed! Somehow I have an odd love for this sort of problem-solving.


Good news! Did a nice 23 miler on gravel today and everything held fast. Didn't slip a millimeter! Kudos to Thomson for a top-notch seat clamp that does it's job. Ride was a blast and felt great! I love that bike.

22 September, 2015

Muskie Mania

I did it - boated my first "real" Muskie - measured 36" fish! On my UP trips with Dad and Capt. Jon Ray in the past two years I've hooked up on some good ones, and boated a "pike in a muskie suit" (as a friend said). I firmly believe attitude was a key part of it. I've embraced Muskie Mania.

Cute little guy from 2014
In the past I think I believed, but honestly I knew so little about what I was doing that I'm not exactly certain what it was that I believed in. Maybe that there were Muskies where I was fishing? Or that Jon had flies they'd chase? I don't really know.

This year was different - the result of some study and effort on my part to learn more about this game of chasing Muskie on the fly. It started with attending "Muskie University" this Spring. Put on by Capt. Brian Meszaros (a top Muskie fly guide on Lake St. Clair, and nationally renowned), this was an excellent day-long seminar on all things Muskie related and exclusively devoted to fly fishing for these toothy beasts. River rat, Chris Willen was there to impart his wisdom on chasing fish in moving water. We started in the classroom for the morning, and then moved to Lake Erie Metropark for some casting and on-water practice. I picked up so much knowledge, including things like how to really figure 8 (and it's importance) and water-loading casts to enable throwing the big flies all day without killing your body.

The second game-changer was reading Robert Tomes excellent book Muskie on the Fly. Though published in 2008 when chasing these toothy critters on the fly was pretty off-the-grid, there is a TON of helpful knowledge in this book. It helped me to better understand the "why" behind the "what" of this chase.

Abel Super 9/10N Muskie Edition
And, I suppose adding a Muskie rig of my own didn't hurt - a Scott Tidal Muskie/Pike Special rod with an Abel Super 9/10N in Muskie graphics mounted below. This rig gave me some great confidence. You can read my review of the rod on the Mangled Fly Blog (you should be reading it anyway because it rocks...). And yes, I know a reel like this one isn't needed for Muskie, but when I saw it -- well let's say I have a fondness for special reels. Throwing this rig was fantastic! And so cool to glance down and see this sweet-looking reel.

What do all these things do? Add confidence. And when chasing an alpha predator like a Muskie, you need that confidence. I rolled into this trip with a little more swagger. A little more heart. and plenty of patience that this next cast would be the one...

Finally, in closing, I can't show you my fish - yet. Muskie are special. Their hideouts are closely guarded. And my guide friends, like Jon, make their living knowing where to find them. So, out of respect and friendship, I agreed that I wouldn't post the shot anywhere until after Jon finishes his season and moves on to steelhead on the waters we all know. Check back in a month or so. You'll see it and the whole story.


21 September, 2015

Black is the New Black

Several years back as Jon Ray and I were trying to find the right hoodie to offer from Mangled Fly, he taught me a valuable lesson. Black absorbs and sunlight to keep you warmer. Seems pretty obvious, but I'd really never considered it before. Since then, black is the new black for me!

Yesterday was a perfect example. Wanted to take a ride, but it was a touch chilly. Of course it wasn't quite cold enough to warrant a thermal jersey. As I'm choosing my kit I remember Jon's words. Ordinarily, I tend to select brighter jerseys for visibility, but I decided it was time to break out the SWEET BikeWorks jersey I picked up in Kona last year.

This shop was pretty amazing - when you're in a place with a lot of disposable income like Kona, you can stock things like a Specialized S-Works Venge (at $10K) or or a Giant Defy Advanced 0 that you might never see in other shops.

Threw on a pair of bibs, this jersey, and arm warmers and headed out for a perfect ride. I was very comfortable the whole time and even able to remove the arm warmers on the route home. The little extra boost warmth from black on a sunny cool day was just right.

A simple reminder of a great outdoor trick - black is the new black!


09 September, 2015

Product Review: SQ Labs 611 Race Saddle

Ahh, the saddle. Perhaps the most overlooked - yet critical - bike component around. Your saddle is the most critical human-bike interface. On my recent Century, I spent over 6-1/2 hours in the saddle. As I commented to one of my riding companions, after that long, even a La-Z-Boy gets uncomfortable. Enter the SQ Labs 611 Race saddle.

Recommended to me by Master Fitter Jessica Bratus, of FitMI! after a failed attempt with another saddle, I've found home. My goal was a saddle that didn't cause pain, numbness or other issues - particularly on rides over 50 miles. And the 611 delivers on this. Even after over a hundred miles, I was feeling surprisingly good.

One of the main factors in male saddle design is relieving soft tissue pressure. That is, not sitting on your junk. Research has consistently proven that prolonged saddle time is a clear factor in unpleasantries like ED. So, if you'd like to hold off on the need for Viagra, best to pay attention. Most companies address this issue with cutouts or relief channels. SQ takes a unique approach to ensuring you're sitting on sit bones, not a more sensitive body part. The rear 1/3 of the saddle is elevated, and combined with a subtle channel down the center.

From the moment I got on the seat, I knew I was headed to the right place. Sure, it needed break-in (or maybe my ass did...), but the basics were THERE. After a couple of 50+ mile rides everything was groovy.

The aesthetics are really pretty cool. It's a unique looking saddle, without the Toucan Sam wildness of the SMP models (perhaps the fugliest saddle I've ever seen...). It looks sleek, elegant, and fast.

The other aspect that's really solid about these saddles is that each model is available in several widths - to fit your sit bone distance. While in the past saddle makers created one-size-fits-all models in only one width, folks like SQ and SMP are recognizing that not everyone needs the same width to be properly aligned on the sit bones. For me the medium-large 14cm model was just right.

Build quality is excellent, especially considering the price point. This is clearly a well-made saddle. And the lack of a cut-out means the shell can be a stronger structural component which should lead to long-term durability. It's also surprisingly light weight at only 235 grams. I think the TiTube alloy rails are a definite contributor to that.

The biggest proof of my satisfaction? When we got to the cyclocross bike fitting, Jessica simply said, "So, the SQ 611 seems to be working for you - let's just do that...". And that's been the right decision from Day One. As an interesting aside, I have noticed there is a bit of break-in for this saddle. I'd ridden so many miles on the road bike with the 611, that it became second nature. When I hopped in the saddle for the first ride on the 'cross bike my ass reminded me that this saddle wasn't broken in yet!

Jessica only recently began offering this line of saddles after discovering that some of the top ultra distance riders were on this unique, seldom-seen German brand. Evidently distribution is a little challenging as the company is pretty new to the U.S. Need a new saddle? Check these guys out, you won't be disappointed!


08 September, 2015

Simple Pleasures

The new-to-me Specialized Crux has helped me re-discover the simple pleasures of an earlier time. Of riding dirt roads just for the sheer thrill of riding. Of not seeing a car for an hour. Of the feeling that there's no place I have to be now. I'm not riding to hit a pace, or complete a road loop and beat a particular time. In short, it's like being a kid on Summer Break all over again.
I picked up a copy of Dirt Road Washtenaw over the Winter. This excellent book has lots of good advice about bikes, gear, techniques, etc. But most importantly it has an AWESOME collection of routes that really take advantage of the prettiest parts of the area. I've ridden the Liberty Loop a couple of times now and just enjoyed myself silly. Now I've got a bunch of others to explore - including the forboding Dirt Hammer route...

Thus far, I'm loving the Crux - it was a great first gravel bike. Sure, I love the idea of a Seven Cycles Evergreen built just for me, but until I hit the lottery, it ain't happening. The Crux is stable, handles great, and is very efficient. It took me a little bit to make the mental transition for the world of Shimano shifters to the SRAM Double Tap system, but I've got it now.

Yesterday I rode most of this route, though cut short by a mechanical failure that forced me to limp back to the truck (more on that in an upcoming post). I just couldn't keep the stupid grin off my face. Dirt roads are pure, simple pleasures. The scenery of Western Washtenaw is really quite stunning. And for some reason, I look up and around more when I'm on gravel -- maybe because I'm not constantly on the lookout for distracted drivers and potential road rage.

As we transition into Fall, I'm really looking forward to moving from more time on the road to more gravel. Who knows, might become a year 'round obsession!