It’s snowing lightly, but you don’t feel cold. Excitement and joy are everywhere you look. You’re on the old path that was used to deliver mail between Berlin and Hamburg. With you, two of your crew mates, smiling ear to ear as the mud flies everywhere and the bikes are getting progressively heavier by the sticky earth.
It’s Saturday in early February and winter is still not coming. Instead of temperatures well below freezing the weather is just cold, hoovering around the 2-4 degrees with loads of very grey days and the occasional beautiful sky. To balance a hellish week of 12-14 hours days on the computer, you plan a nice all-roads adventure starting from the central train station in Berlin and ending in the train station in the town of Brandenburg an Der Havel – some 90 km West. Riding West in the morning, in Northern Germany or maybe elsewhere, means that you’re riding against the wind, but since the ride will take you deep in the forest, you’re not too bothered.
As you leave the city and get into the woods, the asphalt turns to nicely dry and packed gravel. The wheels spin as fast here as they did the previous 10km leading to this forest highway. Soon, the so called Reichgravel turns into much rougher and very wild path, if you can call it a path given the amount of fallen trees criss crossing the way. Here you get the first flat tire which just, as the whole crew decide, does not make sense.
The three bikes are prime examples of the new bike segment baring the term Gravel Bikes. The term is silly so you prefer to think about your steed and those of your two mates as all-road bikes. When you finally get out of the mud and into the street, realising that the train you should be taking leaves in less than an hour and the distance to the train station is around 22km, all three bikes ride at 30km/h without a problem on the road. The same is true when you’re deep in the forest riding the forest paths that are somehow identified on the map as “forest roads”. The three bikes have zero problems traversing deep Brandenburg sand and are certainly complaining a lot less than the riders do when the path turns to puddle.
So we establish, these bikes can take on any kind of road. The three bikes are prime examples of how much fun can be had on two wheels. They also represent exactly the three options on the market. One of the bikes is the beautiful Open UP. This carbon bike is loaded with a SRAM 1×11 setup, hydraulic breaks, fairly light components and 2.1 inch WTB Nano tires on 650B DT Swiss rims. The next example is a locally made steel bike, from cicli bonanno, with roughly the same group set, but a more “rando” setup with generator hub, lights and plenty of space for full fenders. This one is also rocking a set of 650B hoops, with WTB Ranger 2.0 rubber. The last bike represents the versatility of titanium and is made by Seven. It was originally setup as 700c with 44mm Compass tires, but recently it has been converted to 650B with Terrene Elwood tires. Ironically, these tires look at beefy as the 2.1 inch WTBs since they are mounted on the very wide Velocity Blunt SS rims. This is also the non-tubeless wheel set which is the only one to get a flat tire, in the middle of the forest, so go figure. This steed is also setup with a full Campagnolo group with a rather traditional 50/34 cranks and 11-32 cassette.
All three steeds perform beautifully. The mud collected can always be washed off and the clothes thrown to the washer. There will be another weekend in 7 days where these road bikes, all rad, all fun, will take you on the next adventure. That’s what they are for.
During the last 10 months or so I sensed a change in my approach to clothes. I could not get my finger on it exactly until I read an article, in GQ Magazin of all places, that described one of my favorite labels: outlier. The article poised that certain segment of the “tech people” were looking at their clothes as a piece of tech more than a piece of fashion or a trend.
It clicked. With all the bikes in a state that’s more or less “done”, I was inevitably pulled into another tech fetish. This time, it’s clothes.
I’ve also been following a two step process that started from minimizing the wardrobe and ended in only buying clothes that I believe will be in the closet for a long time and have specific purpose. This little piece is about the process and its results.
The joy of space
Opening my closet these days is pure joy. The closet is mostly empty with many hangers just sitting there, unused, collecting dust. It makes picking up the outfit in the morning easy, doing laundry a breeze, and feeling a sense of relief. Yes, less cutter is the way to go.
When cleaning up the closet I used a very easy rule and the helping hands and encouragement of my significant other. The rule was easy: did you wear it in the last year? If the answer was no, the item of clothing had to end up in a plastic bag that was later donated to the Red Cross. Given that this rule is going to be explored again next spring, it helps develop a sense of “only buy what you’re really going to wear.” That pair of boots you may wear one day, but did not since 2007, it had to go. That super nice suit that cost a fortune at the time, but was just hanging in the closet since 2008, it ended up in the bag. My only hope was that the Red Cross will provide these items to those who will appreciate them more than I did.
The closet ended up with loads of space and pieces of clothing that had purpose. It stopped being the resting place for old items that were just stored, but not used. A mostly empty closet also meant that someone else was getting newish clothes so everyone wins.
How to Not Buy Too Much
How to dress is a very personal thing. I will never dream of telling anyone how to dress for two simple reasons: I am not qualified in any way, shape, or form, to tell anyone how to dress and, people should dress how they want.
My style has been described by various friends as “monochromatic” and as “techwear”. I only own one pair of jeans, for example, while the rest of my pants are made from various space-age materials. This gets us right back to the GQ article I mentioned above. The article quotes one of my favorite writers, William Gibson, who, as it turns out, also loves the Outlier brand. The interesting bit of thinking in the article, however, is the description of these clothes as futuristic, as something that will fit perfectly in a William Gibson book, and as the last piece of clothing one needs for a time in history that may be described as “the end of the world”.
My interests in these type of clothes came, not surprisingly, from the same drive that got Outlier started: I was looking for pants that will not break when riding my bike to work. Once these were identified, I started looking for pants that will dry quickly in the rain showers we often get in Berlin, pants that will allow me to ride in January and jackets that will keep me warm, but not over-heat. These cycling-oriented clothes had a few additional requirements:
Ironically, it’s very hard to find clothes that will fit the above list well. Loads of companies try to address this market, but dependent on their orientation, they either include way too many labels (I’m looking at you Rapha), look too technical (because you need 15 pockets right?), or are not very well made.
So which companies are worth looking at? Here is a list, by far not complete, of labels that are interesting and are also pragmatic, use more or less muted color palate and have a good online presence. Some labels, such as my home-town based Acronym, are simply too out there which is why they are not listed.
I’m pretty sure that the list will grow with time, but for now, it’s a good starting point. The other good thing about these labels, and I say it tongue in cheek, is that once you buy one of their items of clothes, you will not have money left for more clothes hence, your closet will not get packed again.
The bike is the brain child of a Seattle rider that also runs the Tumblr Bikefukr and was build by Garth L’esperance.
I thought for a long time about the reasons I find this bike so hot. First and foremost, the rider is 6’3” (which is 190.5 cm in a useful measurement) and the bike looks just right. Typically 650B look strange to me when the frame is meant to support a large rider, but this one looks just right. It’s also designed to fit a 2.3 inch tires and yet allow jdg, the rider, to use campagnolo cranks. It’s got disks and seems to be build for front loading which is also exactly how I like my bikes.
The full gallery is here. Something about 650B that makes them super hot.
With the registration to the first three Brevets now completed, it’s time to rejoice and get inspired.
It’s going to be legendary.
The local chapter might still have some open places so if you want to register go ahead. See you on the road.
I absolutely had to laugh out loud when I read Richard Sachs’ hysterical “Framebuilder’s Mind” post today. As someone who obsessed over bar tape wrapping, cable routing and where exactly should the “Chris King” labels be positioned on the headset, I can totally appreciate the good nature of Mr Sachs’ post. I also have two hand-made frames, both of which are amazing and I am sure that both have some imperfections that make absolutely zero effect on my ride. If the wheels turn, take it for a spin.
I really tried to plan my riding for the first 6 months of the year. So when Ralf posted the idea for a three days ride in the state surrounding Berlin – Brandenburg, I marked my calendar, secured a day off, and was excited for weeks before Transbrandenburg arrived. The big Friday arrived, 6 days after the first Brevet of the season. I did a brief test ride in the middle of the week to verify that the Hunter setup was acceptable and concluded that we were set. Was the rider set? As it turns out, the answer should be “not really,” but at the start of the ride, the rider was feeling very confident. We collected the group in a coffee shop close to the central train station between 8 and 9. Other than Ralf, who I met in person during the Brevet, I did not know a single soul. Introductions were made, Ralf repeated his mantra that this is not in any way a race, and we took off. It certainly felt like a race as the ragtag group of cyclocross, mountain bike and Hunter took off to the road. The first 20km were familiar to yours truly so keeping up with the group was relatively easy, but I detected a certain urgency to get somewhere with the rest of the group – the where and why were not completely clear. 22 km from the starting point I managed to log the first technical issue – in a heroic feat I managed to snap my derailleur cable. At this point we were already riding in smaller groups and the dudes behind me were kind enough to stop and help. We rigged the derailleur in such a way that I could continue riding, but the sound of the chain scraping the cage and the thought of three days riding this way made me think twice about proving that I can actually have fun riding this way. As luck would have it, we were still somewhere near Berlin so I googled for bike shop, found one, and headed over there. The group continued. The mechanic at the shop understood the urgency especially when I named the destination for the day. He took 20 minutes to replace my cables, tune the derailleur and soon enough I was on my way. At this point it was 12:00 which meant that I had ridden 22km in 3 hours – not an impressive distance even for a toddler on a pushbike. “The show must go on” I thought to myself as I followed the Garmin map for miles and miles by myself, stuck in a rather negative headspace asking myself why am I even doing this ride. The direction was North-West and was mostly kept to loose gravel roads crossing fields. It was all rather obvious and expected, apart from those instances where I thought “but how would one even know where this thing goes?”. I followed the path and was making great progress. And then I got to a coordinate which showed an alternative. I vaguely remembered that Ralf mentioned that the main road will cross a field that will only be rideable when dry. Well, it was dry so I decided to stick to the main track. The track continued into a field of dirt that was treated by a tractor and had deep grooves. I tried to ride inside one of the grooves, but every time I swayed a little off center my pedals hit the edge of the groove causing me to loose control. This was the first walking path. Some followed. At the end of the field the GPS track indicated that the correct way was to my left. The only small issue with that notion was the distinct lack of any traces of a path. After working with computers for the best part of my life I decided to trust the little Garmin and continued on the edge of the field. The path curved around what appeared to be a dike. I climbed with the bike to the top of the dike, but no traces of any rideable path were seen from there. So I went back down and continued towards a fence that had something resembling a path next to it. The path was a little wet but rideable so I continued. And then the slightly wet earth turned into very wet earth and then some puddles followed and the puddles changed and turned into a swamp. I found myself rather alone, bike axle-deep in water, looking ahead at much deeper water and a huge question mark hanging over my head. One of the nice things about being in the middle of nowhere is the fact that you can scream without bothering anyone. Just getting your frustrations out feels good. So I cursed the whole world and the nice fellow who organized the tour and then decided to backtrack and look for some sanity. 200 meters back, with shoes that made squish-squish sounds, I found a slight trace of a path, took, it and was back on a slightly more dry route. Another unknown distance past and I found myself rolling into a tiny village only to run into Sven and Frank. It turns out that the two had some flat tires and other misfortunes and so were rather behind. We collected our bruised souls, banded together and continued riding, not stopping for anything apart from one snap I got to take, until about 16:00.
We still had ways to go so we stopped briefly in a supermarket for coke, bananas and a warm soup and continued on our way. I remember that the combination of very gray sky, rather cold and wet temperature and a very monotonous scenery were a subject of discussion in which I proclaimed that as a trans-Iowa training course, this is a perfect setup. Just as this conversation peaked we started riding along side a huge lake (Klempowsee) which was exciting, bordered on single trail and had us focusing on not running into trees more than on chatting.
The last part of the ride was exciting as we were trying to beat the darkness. We were pounding the gravel as hard as we could after a long day in he saddle, noting that this was very atypical ride for Ralf to organize since we run into no loose sand sections. We were happy and the thought of the accommodations waiting for us just 3 km ahead helped push harder.
And then, true to form, we hit the notorious Brandenburg sand – this wet, black, loose sea-sand, caused by the massive deforestation that the area experienced in the last century. My rock’n’road tires turned into sand cakes while Sven’s 30mm UCI-legal cyclocross tires just stopped in their tracks.
Even Frank who was riding pretty thick mountain bike tires gave up after a while and we proceeded to push the bikes further until the area cleared, we jumped back on an in 4 minutes we hit the hotel where most of the group, apart from the fellow riding single speed mountain bike, were waiting. We had ridden north of 160km, almost exclusively off-road. We were ready for shower, food and a good night sleep.
The world seems to split between those who love the new No Garmin No Rules campaign and those who are very much addicted to their Garmin. It’s no surprise that Garmin is always trying to innovate and create new devices – this is the way to keep earning money.
Garmin just announced the Garmin 1000. The list of features are well documented in the video link and of course on the DC Rainmaker web site. The main features are more connectivity and more competitively…Maybe we can all agree on a new moto: Yes Garmin, Still no Rules.
For some reason in Germany steel means old school. This project gets two thumbs up from yours truly. Great marriage between old school aesthetics and modern components. The frame is by Vogel (which means bird in German) who is one of those cult figures in the German handmade bike scene.
I have a little obsession with bags. I started collecting Timbuk2 bags in 1994 in London and since them the bag collection just grew. These days I’m looking for bike touring bags for two purposes:
You see, Hunter has an amazing rack system that has already been tested by yours truly and is fantastic. It uses a pair of low-riding Ortlieb panniers and is augmented by a Bailey Work D-Rack, and BikePack Fuel Tank. But what about when I’m not touring, but going on a long ride with the Mudxium? For that, I need a solution to cary some snacks, a camera, maybe a chance of clothes.
There are several small manufacturers that address this market. Other than something like the Arkel Handle Bar bag which might just be sitting too high, there are not too many options.
So far I had nothing but good luck with Revelate. I own both their mountain feed bag which is a great place to keep snacks for those long distance rides. I also own one of their half frame bags which I will use, I promise, very soon. So to round up the collection, I’m going to go with the Revelate Gas Tank and report later.
In October, in the middle of a tour in Northern Spain, I received a set of images from Rob Vandermark of my Mudxium S being built. Since I was about to take possession of the bike a few weeks later, I could not have been more elated.
In the gallery you can see how the clean and precise the Seven team constructs a bike. Something tells me that this was not just for my bike.
All pictures copyright Rob.