Thursday, October 30, 2008

Goodbye Grillmeister

All four finishers of the first Frigid Bits race—
which was won by the guy who proudly displayed
his pink flamingo trophy. (Nov. 2005)

The end of an era is at hand. It’s time to send Tim “The Grillmeister” Kelly off to a new life in Colorado. Friday night’s scavenger hunt will be his final Frigid Bits event (as an Alaska resident anyway).

The idea of The Grillmeister taking part in his final Frigid Bits is a little hard to comprehend. This guy has been around from the beginning. I didn’t know him for the first season or two, because the only time I could get near him on Goose Lake was when he was lapping me and too busy to chat. I mainly knew him as the fast dude with the goofy cowhide helmet cover.

You can't beat The Grillmeister's meat.

But as the Frigid Bits series evolved and we started hanging around after events to drink beer and cook dead animals, Tim emerged as the guy who was always willing to to schlep his big-ass grill across town, cook everybody’s chow, then stand around in sub-zero weather drinking beer and talking about bikes.

Tim’s a true Bike Guy, in the finest sense. He’s been racing for decades, loves every minute he can get on a bike, still rips the legs off riders half his age, and is happy as hell just hanging out with his fellow bike nerds.

The guy’s got passion:

Who wants a tan?

He built the famous—and probably the world’s only—1,500-watt bicycle headlights, and rode 10 laps on Goose Lake while towing the 50-pound generator it took to power the crazy things.

Real men wear boxers. On the outside.

He won the coveted lingerie jaune in a race last year, and still proudly wears those flippin’ Spongebob boxer shorts all over town. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy to ever walk into the crowded Pioneer Bar and order a beer while wearing his boxer shorts over tights.

At the 2008 Soggy Bottom finish line.

When I met him on the trail during this year’s Soggy Bottom 100, he was miles ahead, speeding north as I slogged my way south toward the checkpoint in Cooper Landing, and Tim damn near took a disastrous header because he was yelling my name and trying to give me a high-speed high five as we passed going opposite directions.

To me, that was a great example of why mountain bikers will always be cooler than roadies—a fast guy at the front can be happy to see and cheer for a friend who’s suffering off the back.

Guys like The Grillmeister make the local bike scene a better place. The Frigid Bits series won’t be the same without him.

It’s gonna be weird to pull into the parking lot on Saturday nights and not see that cowhide helmet cover.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back to the real world

I've been stuck in Southern California
without a bike for a few days, watching
groups of up to 20 riders whir by my hotel
in their club-ride packs. That stung.

I even envied this guy on his Townie.

Now I'm back and itchin'
to get back out on frozen trails.

(Not that my trip was all bad. There's no better place
to be than a SoCal beach when you
crank up "Californication" on an iPod.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Think snow

Speedway Singletrack, Saturday afternoon

With temps in the neighborhood of 20 degrees,
the trails are firm and fun. They're also gettin'
a tad icy, so watch your cornering, folks.

And keep your fingers crossed
for a little more powder. I have a feeling
it's going to be a fun winter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Scene from a ride home

I've been thinking that maybe I should start
assigning pretentious titles and numbers
to my photos, like some artists do with paintings.
You know, lend a little weight to these
silly things I photograph while out riding a bike.

I think I'll call this one ...

Stoplights Suck, No. 1

It's part of a series from my "commute period."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


A vehicle composed of two wheels held in a frame, one behind the other, propelled by pedals and steered with a handlebar attached to the front frame.

Maybe this definition should be printed, and then stapled to the foreheads of people who insist on trying to sell their motorcycles in the "bicycles" category of Craigslist.

Just a thought.

And on the subject of people who just don't get it, a survey in the United Kingdom has found that a majority of women won't ride to work because they're worried about being sweaty when they arrive. A significant number are worried about "helmet hair."

Ladies, please. Get over it.

First of all, if you dress properly and ride at a moderate pace, you don't have to be very sweaty when you get to work. And if you can't keep helmet hair under control, your hairstyle might be too complicated. Simplify. Women who ride to work are hot.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Petra on "Today"

I still see hits on this blog from people around the country searching for an update on Petra Davis. She and Pete Basinger were interviewed on the Today show this morning. They both looked and sounded great, for a couple of Alaska mountain bikers stuck in New York City. (It's sort of hard to imagine Pete surrounded by so much pavement.) Here's a link to the story and video.

Once ya go fat ...

you'll never go back.

Sunday's group ride on fat bikes was my
favorite kind—laid back, with a nice mix
of familiar riders and new faces. The trails
were firm, fast and fun (except for all the
blowdowns that still need some chain-saw work).

It felt good to be back out on
the Pugsley, riding on snow.

I only wish I could have gotten the shot
of Rio pouring creek water from his boot.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fight the ninjas

(Yehuda Moon is always worth a read.)

I was cruising through a thin fog this morning (Is there anything more fun than riding in fog?) when a dark silhouette appeared ahead of me, illuminated by the portable lights at a nearby construction site. It was the dreaded Bike Ninja.

Bike ninjas are those riders who are too cheap or stubborn to use lights, making them more dangerous to everyone—motorists, cyclists, even themselves. On routes with plenty of ambient light sources, they’re little more than an annoyance to other riders, but in really dark areas, they’re a freakin’ menace. Most of us who have spent any time commuting know the shock of seeing another rider suddenly appearing in our headlight beam as we swerve to avoid a head-on collision.

Being a bike ninja is selfish and dangerous, and there's really no excuse for it. For about $12 at a Fred Meyer supermarket, anyone can buy a pair of flashing be-seen lights. Last winter, they were charging $6 for a red, blinkin’ butt light, and the same price for a white light you could tape or zip-tie to a handlebar. And these aren’t the crappy, single-LED things that are often given away as promotional freebies. These thins have multiple LEDs and bright flashing sequences.

If you’ve been running in stealth mode, stop by the store and grab a couple. Please.

They’re far cheaper than medical bills.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lance might not approve

I could never get into the yellow wristband thing. I know the cause was noble, but it felt too much like a fad. Still, I ended up with a few because occasionally a co-worker would buy an extra one for the Office Bike Guy.

So when I rolled up a spare tube the other day and was trying to figure out how to keep it from flopping around in my commuter bag, I happened to remember that there was still a Livestrong bracelet in my desk.

And ya know what? That thing made a freakin’ perfect tube wrap! It was just stretchy enough, and it’s made of fairly thick silicone so it’s not prone to dry rotting like a rubber band. Hell, I could use five or six more of these things just to wrangle the spare tubes on my workbench.

Millions of these things have been sold, but how often do you see anybody wearing one these days? They’re just lying around in glove boxes and junk drawers, waiting for second lives. I say it's time to yank those puppies out of storage and put 'em to work.

Besides, what better way to raise awareness of cancer, recycling and flat tires all at the same time?

Monday, October 13, 2008


Today is a time to celebrate. We have finally entered double digits in the number of days left in the Bush presidency. It’s been a long time coming.

But it’s also a day to remember a lost opportunity. For the first time, we had a president who liked to spend his free time mountain biking . But he didn’t do a damned thing for us. Didn’t lift a finger to further our cause. No funding for new trails. No defense of our rights to access of public lands. Nothin’. A big, fat zero. To be fair, I doubt he knows there are millions of other people who love mountain biking. I mean, he took up the sport after becoming president, and he lives in a high-security bubble. I’m pretty damned sure he’s not going to learn about the rest of us by reading.

I once saw something from IMBA about how we need mountain bikers on municipal committees and in state legislatures, Congress, etc., to give us a louder voice and greater legitimacy in the public eye. To have a mountain biking president should be the ultimate way to advance our cause but, with Bush, it has only inspired frequent jabs from Maureen Dowd at the New York Times, who likes to point out that when this or that major event occurred, the president was "out riding his bike" instead of doing his job.

Considering how he wrecked everything else he touched, we should probably be glad he made no attempt to help mountain bikers. With his record, any effort to help would probably have been a nail in the sport's coffin.

But I’ve often found myself how different things would be today if Dubya hadn’t become our first court-appointed president despite the majority of Americans voting for Al Gore in 2000. Or what if so many voters hadn’t been in a coma four years ago, and we’d elected John Kerry, the guy who rode a custom Serotta Ottrott? Now there was a guy with brains and good taste in bikes.

I wouldn’t expect any president to make bicycling a big priority when it comes to domestic policy, but a little effort to encourage bike commuting, or trail building, or something, would help.

After all the presidents we’ve had who liked golf, jogging, tennis, etc., it would have been nice if the first one to enjoy mountain biking could have enhanced the sport’s image, instead of making it the butt of jokes.

Vote for Obama. And let's send him a bike.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bike people are better

I’ve heard a lot of people say customer service is extinct. It’s often hard to disagree. When I had to deal with the Sears appliance repair people last week, I came close to throwing my phone on the floor and stomping the shit out of it while wishing I could do the same thing to several people I’d spoken with that day.

Fortunately, the bike industry seems to have a lot of cool people who stand behind their products. When my sidewall failed on a three-year-old Nokian Extreme studded tire last spring, I sent photos to the manufacturer and waited for a response like, “Ooooh. Sucks to be you. It’s out of warranty.” But that didn’t happen.

Instead, some dude in Finland asked me for a code number on the tire, and then told me it was still under warranty. He asked for my address, shrink-wrapped a new tire in thick plastic, slapped international shipping labels all over it, and mailed it directly from the factory.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter was inflating the tires on her Rockhopper when the handle assembly on my old Topeak Twister floor pump broke loose and came completely out of the pump. The thing is nine or 10 years old, so I figured it was probably a goner but I really wanted to repair it. I hate throwing stuff in a landfill before it’s time, and somehow it just feels good to keep old stuff working. Besides, I’ve always thought something as simple and serviceable as a floor pump should last damn near forever.

It’s a first-generation digital model, and the old disk assembly that held the O-ring had finally fatigued and snapped off. The head of the disk unit was held in place by a crimp in the bottom of the handle shaft, so it looked like a cheap assembly method that was never designed to be repairable. I momentarily thought about throwing it away, but the idea of trashing the whole pump over a cheap piece of plastic seemed like a waste.

I got on Topeak's website and filed a note with a digital photo of the broken part. After exchanging a couple of messages to nail down the pump model, the Topeak guys mailed me a new, better-built handle assembly with an adapter to make it compatible with the old pump. No haggling, no hassle. I was impressed.

When I installed the new handle a couple of nights ago, everything worked flawlessly, and the pump is probably good for a few more years.

It’s a beautiful thing when someone’s willing to provide quick service and a free part for a product that’s years beyond its warranty period.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Stabilize this

While the folks in Congress were mortgaging our future last week, they stuffed the Big Bailout Bill with all manner of special provisions they called “sweeteners,” as in, “You want my vote, ol' boy, you’re gonna sweeten the pot by attaching my pet project to this here big-ass boondoggle. 'Cause when things go tits-up anyway, all that's gonna matter is how much money I got for my district.”

None of these so-called sweeteners had any business being attached to legislation that was allegedly designed to save us all from an economic meltdown and financial ruin, but the suits did manage to squeeze a few positive things into the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. One of them was “Sec. 211. Transportation fringe benefit to bicycle commuters.”

In a nutshell, this thing provides money that will allow employers to reimburse bike commuters up to $240 per year “for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee during such calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.”

That sounds like a pretty cool thing, but—brace yourself for a shock here—there’s a catch. You can’t just apply to the government and get a check. Your employer would first have to work with the government (and we all know how easy that is) to develop a reimbursement plan. Then the Big Boss Man could pay you, but then he’d have to ask the government to reimburse him.

Which is OK, I guess, if your employer is sufficiently enthusiastic about alternative transportation and willing to wade through some red tape. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. I don’t know about you, but the corporation that owns my office ain’t exactly progressive on things like this, and I just can't see our payroll or HR people being willing to take on extra paperwork.

A few years ago, when we were preparing to move into a new building that was being remodeled for us, we suggested spending a miniscule portion of the overall budget on a couple of showers so that bike commuters and lunchtime runners could enjoy healthy lifestyles and clean up before going to their desks.

I don’t want to say they laughed at us, but from the corporate reaction, you’d think we had asked for free tequila and strippers every Friday afternoon. Hell, I considered it a success when I managed to ensure that an old steel bike rack would stay inside the building after it was left behind by the previous building owners.

There are plenty of employers willing to spend a little effort to help bike commuters. If you work for one, start talking to them about the provision in the bailout bill. Try to get some cash in your pocket.

It’ll be the best use of money tied to this whole mess.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Gettin' ready for snow

Other than a ride that ended with a flat on Friday afternoon as I stood in a mixture of snow and rain trying unsuccessfully to inflate a bad spare tube, I haven't managed to spend any time on a bike this weekend. I was busy hanging out with my man Buckwheat, who doesn't get to Anchorage often.

We ate some good food, had some good laughs, and did a little truck shopping because on the way up here from Skagway, he managed to drive his Toyota Tundra up ass end of a bull moose.

I did, however, manage to get the studded Nokians on the commuter tonight, just in time for a forecast that calls for snow and temperatures in the 20s and low 30s.

That's it, kids. Our three weeks of autumn have come to an end.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

How do they do it?

My view from the bike path
during this morning's ride to work.

Most bike commuters—me included—are always raving about the benefits of riding to work. We act as if there isn’t a downside, but there is: It freakin’ ruins you for the days when you have to drive.

Yesterday morning, my daughter realized at the last minute that something she needed for school was in my wife’s car, which was several miles away in the parking garage of the hospital where she works. Now, I try to be a nice, understanding father. I have a great kid and she rarely causes this kind of disruption. But few things piss me off like an unplanned and unwanted drive from South Anchorage to Midtown at rush hour on a weekday morning.

The problem is, when you’re addicted to fresh air, exercise and bike paths, it’s painful to dive back into the inefficiency of crawling through a stream of brake lights. It’s downright infuriating.

I’ve said for years that I understand road rage. Hell, I understand parking lot rage. I wanted to scream like a maniac and put the gas pedal to the floor just to get out of the clogged maze of the school parking lot after dropping my daughter at the front door. Meanwhile, the lucky kids were rolling up, throwing locks around their bikes and walking inside as dozens of parents idled their cars in a stop-and-go procession toward the street.

What I don’t understand is how car people can sit in their vehicles and get angry at bicyclists riding to work.

Yesterday I sat in my car, looked at people on bikes and felt overcome with envy.