Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Riding to Honor My Dad

By John M. Gruber

Last week was Thanksgiving. Naturally I reflected on what I have to be thankful for and this year my thankful thoughts drifted toward memories of my dad. My dad passed away just over a year ago after a three year struggle with ALS. One of the many things I am thankful for related to my dad is that he instilled in me a love for cycling. I have memories of him helping me pick out my first mountain bike and my family dropping him off in the middle of nowhere with his bike so he could ride back in to town as he trained for his triathlons. Some more recent memories are our early morning rides on our local bike trail and the hope we would continue these together during his retirement.
Once my father was diagnosed, I knew I had to participate in a charity bike ride to raise money to fight ALS. The first ride I discovered in my search was the Death Ride Tour. The Death Ride happens in the mountains of Colorado. The ride usually takes place the first weekend of June and encompasses a loop starting in Silverton, then to Telluride, continuing on to Durango and then returning to Silverton. The total mileage is approximately 235 miles and total climbs are 16,000 feet over multiple mountain passes.

Being primarily a mountain biker and recreational road rider, I was going to need a new bike to participate in the ride. The bike I put together for the ride is very special. It started with the last bike my dad rode, a Trek Madone that he spent his last years riding. My dream was to ride his bike, but unfortunately my dad was a bit taller than I was, so my vision turned to using as many of the parts from his bike on a frame. Researching both custom and factory options, the Soma Fog Cutter rose to the top. My local bike shop, Spoke n Sport, in Sioux Falls, SD assisted me with the build, transferring the parts and helping me to ensure the bike was ready. 

The handlebars, crankset, shifters and derailleurs were all parts from my dad’s bike. It was surreal riding in the mountains of Colorado knowing my dad’s hands changed gears with these shifters and turned the pedals with these cranks. Unlike some years, the weather conditions were great and the ride was breath taking in both the views and physical exertion. The Fog Cutter handled everything with ease, from washboards leading up to stop signs, riding in a pace line with some serious “roadies” to descending out of the mountain passes with speeds reaching 50mph. When the bike disappears beneath you it makes the ride so enjoyable and over the course of the ride, this happened. Each morning, I woke up and had a smile on my face knowing my time in the saddle was going to be great.I continue to be thankful, I was able to raise over $1600 for the ALS Therapy Development Institute and honor my father by doing something he loved.Instagram: @johnmgruber

Monday, August 19, 2019

Soma Wolverine V4 A-Type Reviewed by The Path Less Pedaled!

If you have been curious about the Wolverine, especially the A-Type which has a significant design changes over the previous generations. you should check out The Path Less Pedaled's YouTube video.

We tried hard to equip the frame with the parts we thought he would appreciate. See if we got close.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Decompressing and Reflection After Months of Letting the Road Lead the Journey

Bill Heimann is a veteran tourer and retired bike shop owner. Every time he goes out he sends back a few paragraphs via e-mails to his friends and family whenever he reaches a new town and has some rest time. No public Instagram. No Facebook journal either (even though he participates on Facebook cycling groups.).
This most recent tour was to pedal from Athens, Greece to Norkapp, Norway with no clearly defined route. That is how he likes to do things. This was a particularly tough and significant adventure: learning how to ride big mountain hills agains, failing to finish a climb with 15% grades and having to go back down and find an alternate route, and turning 75 along the way.

This is his final entry of the tour written from the comforts of home after returning to Ashland, Oregon.

This morning I got up and made coffee.  Standing in the center of the front window of the humble abode enjoying the steaming cup, I viewed a doe, a fawn and a buck, an unusual site to see such a family.  But the viewing from my favorite morning place was also unusual for me.  It has been over 3 months since I last stood in this place.  A very good 3 ½ month journey has ended and another chapter has begun.

All my journeys have chosen their own paths and their own times.  I seem to have little say in the matter.  When I found myself in the very small Greek village with a broken bike I had no desire to return to the island of Evia, but the trip had its own idea of where I was to go.  After the repair and a stop in a cell phone store to talk with island born young man, I spent another, almost 2 weeks on the island.

My original trip plan was to try to find a way to cycle to Norkapp in Norway but the road would not have that plan.  Brussels and the Tour de France became the destination.  A wonderful hostess in Brussels, a friend in Prague, a meeting with a family from Tanzania at the Tour, all combined to show me the end of this journey.

As I sit here at my home computer talking with you, flashes of this journey come into my vision. The first days with John visiting an old touring friend in Phoenix, cycling to Bisbee, AZ through the Sonora desert and camping on Lake Pleasant for a farewell to John and the US. 
The first days of cycling, out of Athens in heavy traffic and up the steep hills to find a campground that had burned down in their version of the fires of our west, comes to my eyes.  The long, yet short ride to Thessaloniki that I thought would mark the end of Greece but again the road had other ideas.  A night with a wine producer added another day to my stay in the country before the final crossing into North Macedonia and the bringing of a new country to my tires.   
The meeting of a missionary family in the Skopje, the capital, a food tour and enjoying the old bazaar, where my hotel was located added 3 days to my stay in Macedonia.  Then Serbia, a country I had heard a lot of negative about, most of which turned out to be untrue.  The wonderful mountains with their great climbs, the friendly people and good food left me with a whole new picture of what is Serbia.

An unplanned short stay in Croatia, because I followed the river the wrong way did not give me enough time to really appreciate what I was finding to be amazing people.  Leaving the town of Mitrovica, I followed the Ibar NW instead of NE, forcing me to turn north into Hungary much earlier than planned, producing another example of the road leading the journey.

Budapest, Hungary brought the beginning of the end.  Now I was headed to Brussels and the Tour. 
Next, Munich instead of Passau due to a train mix up.  I wonderful mix up as I met a Spaniard living in Munich, Mixx.  How more appropriate could that have been.  We spent 2 great days together enjoying Munich and its beer gardens.  It is always great when what appears to be a problem shows itself to be a wonderful opportunity. 

Then to Karlsruhe, Germany, the home of a long ago friend I could not find, and back to cycling.  Up the Rhine River to the Saar and then along the Mosselle River and into Luxemburg, trying to be in Brussels by the 5th of July.  Good riding along the rivers with paved bikeways, no climbs or motor vehicles. Soon the bikeways became a little boring, just pedaling along though the little changing scenery – not really why I tour but great for making time.  One hundred kilometer plus days are easy.  I finally pedaled off the rivers into Luxemburg, back into the mountains and their ever changing views. 
My hostess in Brussels and I had been talking using What’s App and she suggested that I find my way to Wiltx, Luxemburg and pick up a ravel (pronounced havel) a rails to trails facility and follow it to Bastogne. Then another ravel to Libramont-Chevigny, Belgium to catch a train to Brussels as my time had run out.  No matter how tight my schedule is, I try not to miss the opportunities of meeting the locals and learning about their lives. So, extra delays always appear on my agenda. 

Marilyn is a great hostess.  She met me at the Brussels train station and we cycled to her narrow 5 story, 100 year old downtown home.  From then on we toured Brussels, watched the Wimbledon finals, ate good meals, worked on her 8 bikes, her son’s commuter and enjoyed each other’s company. 

The Tour de France was exciting and fun.  We walked around the Fan Zone buying once in a life time items, seeing the riders, talking with the sponsors and soaking up the atmosphere on Friday.  Then on Saturday during the Grand Depart I stood on the starting line.  While seeing the wonderful backs of all the taller folks in front of me I watched the start on the big screen in the Royal Plaz.  Sunday brought the Team Time Trial, with a great viewing place within touchable distance of the teams as they flashed by.  It also gave me the opportunity to meet a wonderful family from Tanzania there for the race.  The son is studying architecture in China, the daughter is studying in a Brussels high school and the mother and father work and live in Tanzania.   It was fun sharing with them how the race worked and learning about their very unusual lives.

Oh, you are talking to an international bike mechanic.  I went to visit a friend in Prague, leaving Marilyn with some instructions on getting parts for her son’s bike.  While in Prague she texted me asking what had to be done with the parts.  After a couple of texts back and forth we got the problem solved.  Think about that process, an American bike mechanic in Prague working on a bike in Brussels.

The trip to Prague was very nice.  To meet an old traveling friend, share a wonderful city with a food tour and learn about the culture while staying with a local, how much more can I say?

The road brought me to all I have seen and experienced on this journey.  Over many years letting it decide and direct my travels has always been my way.  I say that like I have a choice, I do not.  I hope the road continues to guide me the rest of my life and maybe beyond. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Handlebar Shape Database is a Very Helpful Tool

Chip Marten's labor of love, WhatBars.com  is a database of currently made handlebars showing specs like rise, sweep, and drop and overhead views, so you can overlay our Clarence Bar and Osprey Bar to see their subtle differences. Database includes mainstream brands like Bontrager and Zipp as well as bars from custom frame builders like Ahearne and Sklar.

Be sure to check it out next time you are considering renovating your cockpit.
And consider donating to keep the project going.

More Bar News:
We will be adding a 46/52cm (XXL) size to our problem solving Condor 2 Handlebar.
Available October 2019

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Experiencing the Geographical Majesty and Hospitality of Nepal

Born and raised in the Sonoran Desert of Tucson, Arizona Elliot Dumont loves traveling by bike. His trips include the Arizona Trail, Continental Divide, Colorado Trail, Mongolia, Nepal, and Baja among many others. Cycling has always been a staple in his life,  since since middle school and it is where he finds himself to be the most comfortable. For this trip Elliot wanted to take a different turn and focus on not just on riding, but explore the cultural aspects of our changing world and using a bicycle for a vehicle of connection with the people and the landscape. I love my Soma Juice 29er and feel it was the best choice for any international trip.

Words and Photos: Elliot Dumont, Roadrunner Bicycles

Flying into Katmandu I was struck with the thought that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. These were really big mountains. And these weren’t even the big ones. The mountains that surround the Kathmandu valley rise sharply as does the rest of the country. Nepal is about the size of Tennessee with its lowest point being about 1000 feet above sea level and then the land literally skyrockets upward to the height of Everest at 30,000 feet. My plan to ride back roads from Kathmandu to the Annapurna circuit, then around the circuit and find a bus back to Kathmandu alone and self supported suddenly seemed figuratively and literally much more daunting than I had thought.The airport was full of adventure-seeking tourists and business people as well as local Nepali. Outside the street was full of hired drivers with signs with a lot of yelling in Nepali for taxi cabs. The dust from the dirt road rose as cars passed by in the thick humid air. The heat of the sun was penetrating. The monsoons were nearing a close and though rainstorms were frequent, the sun had dried the roads. The ever growing population and traffic made the air quality in Kathmandu pretty poor. Traveling through the streets packed with people, the life of the city ebbed and flowed around the narrow streets and along the stalls selling tea, dahl baht, all sorts of steamed and fried goods, clothing, tailor services, kitchen equipment, and motorcycle shops.I pulled into the hotel unloaded my bike box, checked into my room, dropped off my luggage and quickly assembled my Soma Juice 29er. It was my vehicle of choice for this adventure. A sturdy frame that was a great ride when I rode across Mongolia. It had the dependable handling and comfortable feel I wanted knowing I would be navigating some pretty gnarly descents and spending very long days in the saddle. A few days prepping in Kathmandu and I was off.

The monsoons had dumped their last bits of rain as I had made my final preparations to leave Kathmandu and the roads were not dry yet. I left the city behind as I climbed into the clouds along the main road that headed north. The road turned to dirt and soon mud. The sedimentary rock that comprises most of the lower Himalaya create a soupy mud like mixture when wet that is great for farming but poor for roads and draining. The roads when wet can be nearly a foot deep of mud and nearly impassible if only by a large truck or tractor. Somehow buses and all sorts of other vehicles find their way along these windy and dangerous mountain roads. I was glad I was on a larger tired 29er bike that could torque through the mud better than a gravel or touring bike.
The hillsides in Nepal are an impressive feat. The people in Nepal have found a way to eek out a living on the steepest terrain. The climbs meandered for miles gaining thousands of feet of elevation before plummeting in a similar fashion down into the next river valley. These large geographic barriers have led to Nepal being an incredibly diverse place with over 100 ethnic groups and nearly as many languages. Due to the rain and the steepness of the terrain, it took me an extra day and a few diversions to get to the start of the circuit. One delay led me to stay at a family’s house. It was getting dark and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the town I wanted to. The sun was setting. I had asked about the location of campsites as I passed through a town earlier. I was instructed to just go to a tea house. I had no idea what a tea house in the countryside looked like. I found this family sitting on their front porch. I pulled over. Put my hands by my head as if I was mimicking sleeping and said, “Tsea?” (Tea) and pointed to their house. They paused for a second and then waved me over. That evening we chatted as they made dinner. Their grandson was staying with them and he translated for us. They let me stay the night with them and in the morning we ate breakfast together. I paid them what I thought was a fair price and they agreed. It was an amazing experience to be able to connect with total strangers and be in awe of their hospitality. 

Entering the circuit I was struck by how different the towns were from those in more rural areas. The abundance of hotels and amenities like wifi and western food was reminiscent of home and a sign of how these towns had transitioned to a tourist economy. The road along the circuit was in fairly good shape although landslides were an ever present danger. During the monsoons, the landslide danger grows exponentially with one villager telling me about a village across the valley that was nearly wiped out from a large landslide. The road would sometimes be covered by a landslide and I had to choose between picking my way across the steep debris field carefully or backtrack and ride/carry my bike along the trekking path. Moving further up the circuit, the mountains of the Annapurna range came into view. They were impossible to look at without craning ones neck upwards. They were huge.
The religious mix of Nepal is spread between 80% Hindu, 10-15% Buddhist and the remaining 5% split between ethnic religions and Christianity. These religions are commonly split up along altitude. Ethnic groups that inhabit higher elevations are more likely to be Buddhist and those lower down especially along the border with India are Hindu. It was evident as I climbed along the circuit to witness the change in morning rituals and through conversations with people. The route climbed up to Thorong La pass at around 18,000 feet. Definitely the hardest hike a bike I have ever done. Leaving before daylight, I had strapped my bike and all of my gear to my back, around 80 lbs all together. I slowly made my way through the darkness. The stars were out and the faint moonlight illuminated the distance snow covered peaks. The temperature was pretty chilly, my CamelBak I had rested on my chest pack was starting to freeze over. The sun came out and that warmed the air a bit, but the wind picked up and sucked any warmth away. Due to the weight of my pack and the altitude, I could not walk far or fast. It was slow going. I would take ten to fifteen steps then rest on my hiking poles. After 5 hours and 2,500 feet of ascending, I reached the summit. It was delightful. The descent was amazing and it burned through a pair of brake pads. It descends some ridiculous amount of feet in a very short distance. There has been nothing like it I have ever ridden.

"The descent was amazing and it burned through a pair of brake pads."

I descended into the lower Mustang region. Upper Mustang, further up the river valley, is the most remote area of Nepal. It has been deemed by the government, in the name of cultural preservation, a protected area that requires a guide and a steep entrance fee to be able to explore that area. I descended through the holy area of Muktinath and further down the valley towards the rain forest below towards Pokhara. The dry arid desert slowly turned to pine forests and then dense jungle. I was blown away by how the descents kept going and going. When I thought I had descended all that I could I would come a vista and see yet thousands more feet I would descend to the next town. I ended the biking portion of the trip in Pokhara before spending a day before taking a bus back to the bustling and chaotic streets of Kathmandu.
It was an incredible and rich experience. I was fortunate enough to speak to many different types of people from all different walks of Nepali life. I found out just how little I knew about Nepal. In the day and age of adventure and the freedom by which we throw that word around little attention is paid to the people, places, and history where these adventures take place. I would like to thank Soma Fabrications for their support and help to get me along this journey and empowering me to be able to research and write a book about this adventurous place and its people. Thank you also to Stan’s No Tubes, Thompson Components, and all of the people that contributed to my Kickstarter. Thank you to my family and my girlfriend for their love and support. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Show Us That Baby Blue!

A somewhat atypical build to show you how the new Smoothie in Baja Blue builds up:
  • Mostly shiney silver components. Most folks will use black bits which looks just fine too.
  • New Albion 46-34t crank set for more useable gearing for mere mortals
  • Soma Supple Vitesse 700x28c tires, decent tire clearance especially with these newer Shimano 105 calipers
  • With the matching steel fork though the matching carbon has been slightly more popular.
  • Colored spacers: We don't usually mess around with colored spacers, but they work well here.

Offering CrMo steel or Carbon Fork options. Who loves you so much to offer TWO fork options?

A couple of 5mm red spacers to echo the red stripes on the downtube and seat tube panels.
Thank you Pedal Revolution for helping with the build.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Purple Reigns: Soma Rush Build

Build Details:
Rush, Matte Purple, 59cm
Crankset: IRD Defiant 46t
Pedals: MKS Sylvan Track, Soma cages/straps
Chain: Izumi
Cog: Soma: 18t
Hubs: Suzue ProMax, 32h
Tires: Soma Shikoro 700x28c
Rims: Araya SA730
Bars: Nitto B802, cut to 560mm
Stem: Soma Sutro
Seatpost: Soma
Saddle: Soma Hishou
Brakes: Dia-Compe BRS-100
Cable Housing: Yokozuna Italian Vintage Housing

This was a special build for an upcoming review.
Bike build by Pedal Revolution, SF.
Wheel build by Hands On Wheels, SF

Thursday, January 24, 2019

New Colorways for Rush and Smoothie Frames in 2019

Available to order now! Soma Rush in Matte Purple

Graphics are not removable, but they aren't loud.
Removable graphics look bad on matte finished frames

Our Smoothie Road frame gets a classic baby blue that you may not think of as classic. But it has been
used on custom hardtails to Look carbon road frames. We call it Baja Blue.

Our Smoothie still keeps the traditional component standards (like EC34 headsets )that go so well with
slender steel tubes