Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Girl power

My 13-year-old daughter and I have changed our daily routines this fall. I'm not riding to work, and she's riding most every day, even if it is just a short, one-way trip.

School boundaries changed for this year and she would have had to move to a new middle school unless we got her a zone exemption, which means no bus transportation from our area. Mom leaves early, so I drive Hannah to a nearby neighborhood where she catches the bus each morning. We usually stash her bike in her best friend's garage so she can ride it home in the afternoon.

Now that the streets are icing up, she's talking about wanting studded tires so she won't have to endure walking home while Mom and Dad are still at work.

As we were driving across town one night last week, she told me that kids at school had pronounced her "weird." When I asked why, she explained that they were shocked to hear she was still using a bicycle for transportation weeks after their bikes started collecting dust in garages. I wasn't worried because I could tell the "weird" label had been applied in a fun way, but I asked how it made her feel.

"Kind of strange, I guess," she replied.

"But maybe a little proud, in an odd way?" I asked.

A big grin spread across her face as she said, "Yeah."

That's my girl.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

They're real. And they're spectacular.

I did my first snow ride of the season on Saturday with John and Maura. We rode up the Powerline Pass Trail as far as we could until warm temperatures and light traffic left the trail too soft.

As we got back to the trailhead parking lot, several people stared at our bikes and commented on the size of our Endomorphs. Later, it occurred to me that riding a fat bike is sort of like getting a boob job. Nobody you meet on the trail looks at your face anymore, because they're all checking out your equipment. Fortunately, I enjoy this.

I never understood why anyone would have their yabbos enlarged and then get mad when people look at them. You'd think they'd be glad the investment was being noticed. Besides, it's a cosmetic change that people are supposed to notice. It's not like those things are going improve flotation on soft trail, ya know what I'm sayin'?

Maybe it's just that I'm a guy, but I like the enhanced size and performance I get with Endomorphs.

Go ahead, stare. Say things like, "Wow, those are big."

You can even give 'em a squeeze if ya want.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bike lust

"This is the most fun you can have on a bike, unless someone invents a way to f*&@ it," said a friend of mine during last week's rainy bike polo game in Spenard.

I replied: "What makes you think I haven't?!"

This might be a good time to mention that I was kidding.

Because apparently, someone is out to prove that he can have more fun than those of us who ride with clothes on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kick ass, Mr. Mayor

I never thought I'd have a reason post anything about the mayor of Ogden, Utah. I've always considered the metropolis around Salt Lake City to be a hellhole full of bad beer and too many Mormons (is that redundant?)—just a place to drive through between the airport and Moab.

But when little politician opens a can of whoopass on a bike thief, that's pretty damned cool. When I first read the story, I thought to myself, "I'd like to buy that little dude a beer. Just not in Utah."

Then another thought occurred to me. What kind of butthead would exile something as important as a bicycle to a backyard shed?

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Speedway Boogie

Reading the news is just getting too stressful lately. Take today, for example. I didn't know whether to be more freaked out because Dumbledore is gay, or because Tanya Tucker's ENTIRE STAGE WARDROBE is in the path of a Southern California wildfire!

I decided to calm myself by sitting back and pondering meaningful things like, "Tanya Tucker is still alive?" And bikes. I always think about bikes

Speaking of bikes—and we should, because this really isn't a blog about washed-up singers of agricultural music—there's a cool new stage of evolution brewing in the world of snow bikes. Unless you're reading this on a public-school computer in Kansas, in which case there's a new intelligent design. (Come to think of it, that actually seems to apply, in this case.)

The guys at Speedway Cycles are building up a new machine of their own. They call it the Fatback. It features a titanium frame with plenty of clearance for Endomorphs, and still manages to weigh in at less than 26 pounds as shown above with a carbon fork and some carefully chosen components. This sucker attracted a drooling crowd of bike pervs last Friday evening during a party at the shop.

With a 100 mm bottom-bracket shell and a 165 mm rear hub, they've managed to come up with a bike that not only accommodates a triple up front and a 9-speed in the back with no chain-alignment issues, but it also handles rims at least 80 mm wide (that's 15 mm wider than Surly's Large Marge). They say the rear triangle should be able to handle a 100 mm rim, but they haven't yet gotten their hands on one to test the fit.

Yeah, I said 100 mm wide. I've been hearing for months that such wheels are coming. Large Marges could eventually start to look small, if that's possible.

One of the best features of the Fatback, in my opinion, is the sloping top tube—something I really wish Surly would adopt for the Pugsley. With limited frame options on the Pugs, many of us can't get a perfect fit. When you don't have adequate crotch clearance over the top tube, it's a little unnerving to bail off the saddle and put both feet on soft snow.

The just-built bike shown in these photos will go for $3,500 to $4,000, and they've already sold a few of them. That's not small change, but considering how long the winters last around here, a good snow bike is a solid investment.

I'm cheap, so I'll be sticking with my Pugsley for the foreseeable future, but it's a kick to see what other builders are creating. Between stuff like this and the always cool and attractive FatBikes from Wildfire, winter riding is just going to keep getting more fun. And it's good to see Alaskans pushing the technology forward.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Game time

(Photo by BigLaker)

Rain. Forty-degree weather. A puddle-filled,
asphalt hockey rink behind a middle school in Spenard
on a Friday night. Sounds like a good scene
for scoring a bag of crack, if it weren't for
17 or 18 bike nuts riding around in mad loops
while swinging plastic bats at a Wiffle ball.

(Photo by Rio)

This was zany bike behavior at its best. Skidding tires,
laughter, the grunts of frustration that follow
a swing and a miss as somebody fails to hit a rolling ball
with a skinny round bat carried on a rolling bicycle.
Could there be a better combination of sounds?

Of course there could be, but this ain't a porn site
so we'll stick with bike polo and call it good.

Big thanks to Greg at Speedway Cycles
for the post-game food, beer and winter racing flick
on the showroom TV.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Jolly good carnage

(Photo by Rio)

I say, old chap, I believe I'll give
this polo thing a go.

Beckon my stable boy Nigel
and tell him to groom Pugsley
in preparation for the match.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Speak up

It seems I can't pick up a magazine these days without being bombarded with headlines about my "carbon footprint." Everyone's trying to tell me how to reduce my impact on the environment.

The whole thing is long overdue, in my opinion, but I can't help wondering if it's too little, too late. The world's goin' to hell in a handlebar basket, from what I can tell. Then again, I'm probably just a cynical old fart. Not so cynical that I've given up, though: I haul a load of cardboard, glass, aluminum, plastics and paper to the recycling center every few weeks, and I'll never stop commuting by bike. Some part of me must think there's still a reason to try.

Many of us were riding bikes to work for years before we ever heard of a carbon footprint. We just did it because it felt like the right thing to do, and it was a hell of a lot more fun than stomping on a brake pedal for an hour or two each day.

Now, people in local, state and federal governments are showing a little more interest in alternative forms of transportation. Maybe it's just a public-sector fad, or maybe some of them are serious about making changes. I'll believe it when I see it. Nevertheless, bike commuters should speak up whenever they think someone will listen, and folks in Anchorage municipal government are asking for our input.

The city is preparing to start work on the Anchorage Bicycle Plan, which is the second part of the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan and designed to improve bike routes throughout the city. A couple of public workshops have been scheduled so that bike commuters can tell city staffers where we ride, where we want to ride and where we see problems with bike commuting in Anchorage.

The workshops will be held at the REI store on Northern Lights Boulevard on Oct. 24 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Oct. 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you can't make it during those daytime hours, there will be another session on Tuesday the 23rd from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Title Wave Books.

If you ride to work in Anchorage, make plans to attend one of the sessions. Tell 'em what works, what doesn't, and what you'd like to see in the future.

For more info, check out the website, or e-mail the program coordinator, Lori Schanche.

It's time to speak up, folks.

(Note: Post was updated 10/16 to include workshop at Title Wave, thanks to the comment from Rose.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Time to go

Wednesday's "recovery ride" turned out to be a leg ripper, so Thursday was devoted to a mellow spin on mountain bikes and sampling some trails my brother helped build.

Friday was for family visits and resting the legs so we can do one final spin on the road before heading to the airport on Saturday afternoon.

One final road ride for this vacation, and one final road ride for the season before flying back to the land of snow—which is expected to be falling in Anchorage by the time I wake up Sunday morning. Time to park the road bike on the trainer and dust off the Pugsley.

I'm not sure I'm quite ready for this, but winter, here I come.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Road Goes On Forever

Anyone who thinks the Midwest is a flat wasteland needs to come ride here. Over the past four days, I've ridden 181 miles and climbed 10,596 feet. I've crested hill after hill only to see another hill waiting. Sometimes—just to make things more fun—there has been a second, taller hill waiting so that we could see two climbs directly ahead of us.

OK, so these hills aren't quite the Alps. But they can stack up one after the other like a quad-eating roller coaster from hell. After three or four hours in the saddle, all I want to do is raid my brother's beer fridge and sip a frosty one while I soak my cooked carcass in his hot tub.

Living in Alaska, I tend to forget how extensive the road systems are in the Lower 48, especially in the farm country of the Midwest. Old county and state highways seem to be everywhere, so there is a mind-boggling array of options for road cyclists when they start planning rides. Even though there's an extensive community of cyclists in the area, meeting other riders out on the road is fairly rare because they're scattered over so many miles of pavement.

Even the drivers here deserve some credit. I don't know if it's because they're not sure what to think of the crazy people who wear funny clothes and ride bikes in the middle of nowhere, or they've decided to be nice to cyclists here on the edge of the homeland of the Tour of Missouri, but motorists have been cooperative all week (so far).

Nobody has honked in anger. Nobody has yelled at us. Nobody has thrown anything at us.

To the UPS driver who followed us for half a mile at 20 mph and then gave us a friendly wave when you finally had room to pass, and to the drivers of pickups and cars who patiently waited to crest hills so you could move to the left and give us plenty of room as you passed us on roads without shoulders: Thank you.

I may take a shot now and then at Midwestern ways (I spent the first 18 years of in this part of the country, so I have some baggage) but this place ain't all bad.

It doesn't look flat to me.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

West of Paradise

This week's Tour of Funky Places
to Stop During a Bike Ride continued
today with a 41-mile ride along some
nice rural highways leading
to the town of Dearborn, Missouri.

This area is full of reminders
that I'm not in Alaska anymore.Apparently, Bo and Luke Duke
have fallen on hard times and relocated
to Dearborn in a more economical
version of General Lee.We stopped at a "sports bar"
for a Coke, but they didn't have any.
They said the truck would be coming later
with a fresh supply. Therese settled
for a Sprite, while Matt and I
treated ourselves to biscuits and gravy.

Why not? A small order
cost only two bucks, and the
proprietor looked like a woman
who knew her gravy.Besides, we needed fuel for the ride home.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Just another shitty day in ...

My sister-in-law had to work today,
so my brother and I took off alone
to ride 54 miles of relentlessly
hilly county roads in the countryside
north of Kansas City.

And we arrived in Paradise.Paradise is a quiet place
where you can walk into a store
called Clyde's and buy a Snickers bar
and a bottle of Gatorade. Or if you're
brave, you can have a Philly Cheese Steak
that costs a mere $2.19. (Something tells me
there's a plastic wrapper and
a microwave involved.)

But you can't wear your cleats inside
on the painted wooden floor.
And while you sit outside on a cheap,
plastic chair, maybe a guy will step out
of his pickup and notice you're
drinking Gatorade with no shoes on.
Then he can look at your bike
and ask how your feet can hurt
when they don't even touch the ground.

I recommend giving him a little laugh
and a friendly wave.

It's easier than explaining the cleat thing.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

One in a million

Sunday started with a bang. A 70-mph, blazing-down-the-Kansas-Turnpike bang. It was followed by the sound of my brother saying, "Shit!" as he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw a bike flying through the air after it came loose from his roof rack.

I have to admit feeling a guilty shot of relief when he said it was his.

OK, so I'm goin' to hell. I can live with that.

Through some freakish occurrence of luck and physics, his Cannondale hit the pavement, slid onto the shoulder against a concrete barricade, and suffered only superficial damage while managing to avoid being run over. After a few adjustments and a vow to be more careful when racking his bike in pre-dawn darkness, he was able to ride the Octoginta with no problems.

I think he had his bike-protection mojo working this morning.
Lining up for the mass start.

A Kansas-style aid station, complete
with a John Deere tractor.

My brother riding through the countryside
on his death-defying bicycle. (My sister-in-law,
shown in the group photo at the top of this post,
pulling up from behind as I shot photos
with one hand and steered with the other.)

Mr. Retro and Mr. Can You Hear Me Now? share
a brief encounter at the second aid station.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Getting there

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got

'til its gone

—"Big Yellow Taxi," by Joni Mitchell

I'm in a bad spell for bike commuting. Schedules and obligations at home have been forcing me to drive to work, and that'll be the case for much of this winter.

I really shouldn't complain. My drive to work is only a little over three miles (the fun way—by bike—is longer) and I can get there in less than 10 minutes. But I hate driving to the office. Evening and weekend rides are great, but getting to work on a bike feels like doing the right thing and cheating the system all at the same time.

I was able to ride Tuesday for the first time in two or three weeks, and damn, it felt good.

There I was, pedaling along, dreaming up blog posts that will piss off hockey fans (just kidding, Luke) and cruising through the darkness on damp streets and trails. I watched the sky grow light over the Chugach Range and felt my legs spin easily as my slicks quietly hummed along.

I was feeling so good that I couldn't even get annoyed by this young bull moose that declined my gentle invitation to clear the trail. He was just another reminder of the cool route I ride to work. I snapped a few pics before he decided to slowly push me backward. He stared me down and kept approaching, so I stashed the camera and went a couple of blocks out of my way rather than attempt to ride around him at close range.

After all, it's rutting season, and he was a sexually frustrated yearling hoping to get a little action in a tough market. Big, bad-ass bulls are having all the fun while this poor dude is struggling to grow some stubby antlers—it's the ungulate equivalent of a horny high-school freshman trying to grow a second sideburn to impress that chick that almost made the cheerleading squad.

After I turned around, I detoured through a skateboard park, rounded the corner by a porn shop and cruised up Dimond Boulevard as the noisy parade of headlights and taillights carried all the automotive inmates to another day at work.

Maybe having my bike commutes cut back for a little while is a good way to remind me just how sweet every trip on a bike really is.

Never take your daily ride for granted.

Monday, October 01, 2007

This one time, at goon camp

I was reading "News of the Weird" in a weekly rag while eating lunch one day last week, and I saw an item about a goon from the National Hockey League opening a special camp for aspiring thugs.

Parents who want the best for their young hooligans pay this guy and his brother to teach the little tykes how to assault their opponents just like their toothless heroes do it on TV.

Now, I've never been much of an entrepreneur, but if I were Tonya Harding I'd rent the adjacent sheet of ice and start a class for the figure-skating sisters of all those young hockey players. You know, teach them stuff like triple axels and how to win competitions by getting fat bodyguards to break the knees of better skaters.

There are plenty of parents eager to pay for anything that will give junior an advantage in this hyper-competive world, so why not make a little coin while helping kids pursue their dreams?

Of course, you'll never make a buck off some people. Don't waste your time trying to entice those lazy parents who take the cheap route. They buy their kids mountain bikes and then piss away their weekends riding trails, splashing in streams, eating snacks and having a bunch of pointless fun. These foolish hedonists deprive their children of educational trips to hospitals and deny them the dream of being among the .002 percent of people in their sport who will become rich and famous.

I mean, really. Those bike-riding freaks don't even like to fight! And forget about gettin' them to spit at other kids, or hit them with sticks. They see someone in distress, do they pop 'em upside the head with an elbow? Noooo. They ask them things like, "Got everything ya need?" Sometimes, actually stop and help people do things like changing flats!

They meet new kids on the trail and won't even call them names. They engage in all manner of unnatural behavior, like sharing trail information and going on bike rides together as if they want to be friends.

It's not really the kids' fault. It's those parents who buy them those silly bikes, spend time with them and take them out for post-ride hamburgers. Such people don't care enough to give their kids the benefit of some hand-to-hand combat skills. It's a shame, really.

It's a good thing we have hockey fighting camp, or next thing you know, everybody would be having fun.