This was the third time in four years that I've done the Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour. The casual slow-as-possible atmosphere and the quirks of old 3-speeds make this ride unique and enjoyable. Adding to my enjoyment this year was my 5-year-old daughter, Elissa, who rode with me on a 1960s Gitane tandem, converted to 3-speed:
My mom was along for part of the 3-speed tour, too:
As you can see, we didn't necessarily stick to the main roads. The 3-speed tour has the potential for some real adventure, as there are some very rustic (and scenic) roads that can be used as alternatives to the busier roads.
And then there are the bikes:
And the locals: Elissa befriended this horse and fed him some grass.
This year's 3-speed tour had an age range of riders spanning 87 years, from Elissa at age 5 to a gentleman from Michigan at age 92. They are the youngest and oldest ever to pedal the 3-speed tour, I believe.
When most of us think about bike-touring, we envision heavy-laden bikes being ridden under arduous conditions, usually in exotic or remote places. In reality, most bicycle touring opportunities do not require us to carry camping gear or a week's worth of food. In the case of the recent Almanzo adventure, I was out for three days with my bike equipped thusly: If you squint and try to ignore the harsh shadows captured by my iPhone camera, you will see that there are three modest bags on my bike: a handlebar bag, a frame bag, and a saddle bag.
The handlebar bag is a boxy, quick-detachable unit from the Minnehaha Bag Company. It comes off the bike in two seconds and converts to a shoulder bag. I use mine for food, camera, phone, keys, money, small cable lock, etc - all the stuff I might want to access quickly while riding or when getting off the bike to go into a store or restaurant. The handlebar bag also has a detachable map case that allows me to read the map or cue sheet from the saddle for quick and easy navigation.
The saddle bag is also from Minnehaha Bag Company (they call it the Medium Saddle Bag), and is easily my favorite all-around saddlebag (even compared to some that cost MUCH more). I use this bag all the time, but when traveling I use it to carry extra clothes and other items that don't require quick access. On the Almanzo trip, I packed two t-shirts, two pairs of socks, two boxer shorts, and a plastic container of extra food. With all this, I still had room to spare.
The frame bag is from Jandd. I have taken to keeping these bags on all of my bikes (some of my bikes have two!). It makes a good place for the Topeak Morph pump of one's choice (I like the Mini-Morph) and a few extra tubes, patch kit, tools, spare nuts and bolts, zip ties, etc. These are the items that I keep with the bike at all times, so it's nice to have them tucked out of the way in the frame pack.
One thing to note about this set-up is that no racks are needed. The bike shown here has all the usual attributes of a touring bike, but there's no reason a light road bike, mountain bike, hybrid, etc, couldn't be adapted as a touring bike with a few modest-sized bags like these. The three bags shown here would retail for less than $200 total. Of course, for most of us, $200 is nothing to sneeze at, but it's pocket change compared to a bike's worth of Tubus and Ortlieb. If you don't plan to camp and can arrange to replenish your on-the-bike food supply every day or so, you can pack these bags with all you need to ride across the country.
It seemed like everybody signed up for the Almanzo 100 this year, and I was one of them. I was so captivated by the whole concept and the devotion/classiness of its organizer, that I arranged to have Hiawatha Cyclery be a sponsor of the event. As if a gravel century in the bluff country isn't challenging enough, The Weasel and I decided that the only sensible thing to do would be to bicycle to and from Rochester for the event (about 105 miles each way). When Almanzo's venue changed to the small town of Spring Valley, some 25-30 miles farther south, we opted to stick with the original plan of riding our bikes to and from the event. We would, we agreed, be foolish not to.
Day 1: In the week leading up to our departure, a fellow named Patrick asked to join the ride to Almanzo. The three of us left the shop at 3:30 Friday morning, and set a brisk pace through the southern suburbs. Just south of Apple Valley (i.e. mile 20 from the shop) it becomes easy to find gravel roads to ride, and we did. Probably 2/3 of the miles we did that day were on gravel roads of varying consistency. We stopped for a delicious breakfast at Ole's Cafe in Northfield. My companions each ate two breakfasts, but I, being known for my small appetite and high level of restraint, ate but one breakfast. Patrick left us at roughly the halfway point, as he was staying in Rochester, not Spring Valley. The Weasel and I continued through a series of alternating left and right turns that had us heading east and south, respectively. The wind out of the west was stiff and unrelenting, and we found ourselves either being pushed along at 25 mph on gravel roads or fighting to hold a line in the crosswind.
We rolled into the parking lot of our hotel in Spring Valley just before 5 PM, with 133 miles on our odometers. We showered and ordered/devoured a pizza, then fell soundly asleep. A few hours later, our roommate for the evening, the distinguished Mr Chippolini, knocked on the door. He announced his desire to get something to eat, and The Weasel and I just happened to be hungry enough to eat yet another meal at the A&W across the street. Then more sleep.
Day 2: At 5:30 AM Saturday, the alarm clock rang, and we arose and readied ourself for the race. But first, breakfast. We found a small diner downtown that had a breakfast special of two eggs, hashbrowns, choice of meat, and toast for $4.75. I don't understand how they can make money with such low prices, but The Weasel and I helped them make it up in volume by eating two breakfasts apiece.
We made our way to the high school, where the race was to start/end. We checked in and received our race packets. We chatted with friends, we dawdled, etc. Finally, the 350-ish(?) racers gathered at the start. I started toward the back of the pack, where I would remain all day.
I pedaled leisurely in the group for the first mile or so, but I quickly decided to start gaining ground on the other riders (at least some of them). My legs were sore from the previous day, but power output wasn't bad, and I started making my way past other riders. I was getting up a good head of steam when another rider cut in front of me, and I had to hit the brakes. Luckily, this coincided with the first stretch of fresh gravel. If I had hit the fresh gravel at speed, I may have had some difficulty staying upright. Soon, the group was getting thinner, and I found myself riding with friends at a comfortable pace. Soon I was rolling fast down a hill on hardpack gravel, when I saw several bikes in the ditch and one or two riders shouting at us to slow down because some riders had crashed here. Again, I slowed down and rode at a more social pace for awhile.
Approaching the 40-mile unofficial refueling stop of Preston, I was making good time as I went into town to fill my water bottles. I would have no more chance to get water, and I sure didn't want to die of thirst out there!
Getting back on the route, I was quickly reunited with friends, one of whom had his wife (aka support crew) waiting for him, along with an overabundance of food. I selflessly decided to help eat some of the extra food. It was a fun break chatting about dogs and bikes and food and what not. Then back on the road, riding again with the same group of friends. As we passed a cemetery, I stopped to chat with some who were having lunch there. Then my companions and I pushed hard to the 64-mile checkpoint, where we would get our cue sheets for the remaining 36 miles.
My legs were feeling better, and I was getting good power out of them, so I opted to not spend much time resting at the checkpoint. I rolled out alone, and would spend the rest of the ride, with few exceptions, riding alone.
As I rolled into the last 15 miles, my energy level was somewhat erratic, but mostly it was good. I was able to pass a half-dozen others in those last few miles, as they were out of steam and I still felt ok. I rolled through the finish line with a time of 9:21. This was more than 4 hours (!) behind the winners, but I didn't think it was too bad by my (admittedly low) standards.
After the race, we regrouped with friends at a pizza joint. I was half asleep as I tried to eat pizza and be social, but so was everybody else. Back to the hotel, and slept hard.
Day 3: After back-to-back centuries, The Weasel and I were not terribly enthusiastic about retracing our route back to Minneapolis. We decided to shorten the distance by riding some 75 miles to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where we could catch a train for home. We were leisurely about sleeping in and eating breakfast, and we made the usual wrong turns and bad decisions, and soon it was looking more like 85 miles and a race against the clock. Also, we had a headwind all day. After pushing pretty hard, and keeping the screwing around to a minimum, we rolled into LaCrosse with about 30 minutes to spare to grab a burrito before we had to be at the train station to box and check our bikes. Funnily enough, while we were eating our burritos, a regular HC customer and friend, who just happened to be staying in a hotel next to the restaurant, swung into the parking lot (on his bike, of course) to check out our distinctive rigs, which he recognized from a distance. We had a fun little chat with him before we got on our way to the train station.
With the seven-mile ride home from the St Paul Amtrak station, we completed a Gentleman's Century for the day, for a grand total of approximately 330 miles. In hindsight, I wish I'd taken more pictures, but we were pushing hard to ride all those miles in three days, so there wasn't a lot of time or energy for photography.
I'd like to thank my traveling and riding companions over the weekend for the good company. And much credit is due the organizer and volunteers of the Almanzo 100. This is a first class event. The fact that there is no charge to participate is amazing, considering the high quality of the race packets and the amount of time that must be involved in putting it all together. I can't say it enough: this is a wonderful event! Thank you!
Wheels of the week: Every Thursday or Friday or Saturday I'm going to be posting a wheel or wheelset that will be offered at a reduced price until it sells, or until I post the next special wheel deal. These wheels are built by me with lots of care and attention to detail and are guaranteed for life to stay true and not break spokes under normal riding conditions (obvious abuse, crashes, and catastrophic "acts of God" fall into the "not-normal riding conditions" category).
This week's special: --Ultegra 6600 hubs (rear takes 9/10-speed cassette), polished silver, 32h front and rear --Velocity Aerohead rims, silver with machined sidewalls, asymmetrical rear for strength --Wheelsmith 14/15g double-butted spokes with Wheelsmith brass spoke nipples, laced 3x front and rear
These are lightweight wheels. It's hard to get handbuilt wheels of this quality any lighter without spending lots more money on boutique hubs.
Normally these wheels would be around $470. Get this set for $420. A great upgrade for a modern road bike that has cheesy factory wheels, or to modernize an older machine.
Wheelbuilding class: I will be leading a wheelbuilding class on Saturday, May 29 June 5, 8am-Noon. The fee of $60 is required to reserve a spot in the class, and will cover instruction and equipment to build one wheel (some people build two wheels). We offer a discount on wheel components for class participants. Please call, email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit the shop to reserve your spot in the class and to discuss the hubs, rims, and spokes that will be appropriate for your bike and budget.
I got together Saturday after work with friends for a couple laps at Salem Hills. One of the guys brought his kids (age 10 and 13). It was fun to watch the youngsters riding the trails and developing their confidence and skill. Salem Hills is a pretty easy trail, so it's perfect for kids and unskilled types like me.
I was tempted to ride one of the really nice Redline 29ers we are selling at HC now, particularly the MonoCog Flight single-speed. But the allure of the Pugstigator was too strong.
I ran into some dudes who didn't understand the fat front tire concept of the Pugstigator. They seemed incredulous when I didn't have a canned answer about the technical benefits of such a rig. Well, I don't know if there are any benefits, but it sure is a fun bike! Later I rode a friend's bike for a short stretch of the course. It was more of a lightweight cross bike. It felt like a feather after riding the tractor-like Pugstigator. I am distrustful of bikes that aren't sufficiently heavy and ponderous.
After returning from Trans-Iowa, where I unfortunately wasn't able to do any bicycling, I got together with HC customer and friend "Chippolini". Chippo wanted to try his new Fargo on some gravel, and I was itching to get in a long ride of any kind. We rolled from HC and within 20 miles, we were on an extensive network of gravel roads just south of Apple Valley.
We rode to Northfield, had a nice lunch, and rode home. I had 85 miles. Chippo completed a generous gentleman's century.
Since we put up our last post about heading to Trans-Iowa, this blog has gone somewhat dormant. Yes, we've been busy with sales and repairs at the shop, but we've also been hitting the roads and trails hereabouts:
First, allow me to show a few pictures from Trans-Iowa:
The starting line.
And they're off!
Since we got up so early (2 am), Kevin needed a sugary, caffeinated soft drink to perk himself up. Fortunately, the Kum & Go had cups in the appropriate size.
Then we manned our post at checkpoint 1, Monroe, Iowa:
Finally the lead group came into view:
The bikes were muddy:
The riders were muddy:
After the checkpoint closed, Kevin and I explored some of the route, where most of the now DQ'ed riders were still grinding through the soft gravel.
While exploring the route, we familiarized ourselves with the nature of Iowa's minimally maintained "B" roads. That story is published elsewhere on the internet.
Hiawatha Cyclery is a small, independent shop in South Minneapolis. The bicycles and accessories we sell are geared toward the style-conscious commuter, tourist, and general bicycle lifestyle type. We also offer a wide variety of repair services, custom wheelbuilding, and highly personalized bicycle builds on various Surly, Rivendell, Redline, and Torker models.