Friday, February 27, 2009

Cycling simian

Rare photograph of a boreal bike monkee
in its natural habitat.

mon*kee (noun): medium-size primate that typically
found in or among trees. The subspecies
boreal bike monkee has been known to thrive
in captivity if housed with a suitable mate, stimulated
with wheeled playthings and fed a diet heavy
on fermented grains. Nocturnal activity is common.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

“I didn’t know it was about to turn!”

This is Julie. Julie writes a blog and climbs frozen waterfalls. She’s the demon who pulled me and Huber into last summer’s Soggy Bottom Sufferfest, and the saint who lives with the Bike Monkee.

She’s also a great person to ride bikes with because she’s cheerful even when things turn to suckage, and after hearing me grumble about missing a photo recently, she actually offered to go back and re-ride the same section of trail. I was so shocked that I declined her offer. I immediately regretted doing so, because I missed a good shot and the opportunity to encourage such offers in the future.

But I fear she’s learning bad habits from my less well-behaved friends, i.e. the finger flippers. As we I rode The Hive tonight, she couldn't flip me The Bird because she was too busy steering the Snow Ho, but she mugged it up with a tongue wag. Fortunately, such aberrant behavior was discouraged when she turned her attention back to the trail and realized that she was entering a tight, downhill switchback, prompting her make a quick adjustment before uttering the title of this post. I hope such a close call will motivate her to be a more disciplined model in the future.

Focus, Julie. Focus.

It’s all about my needs. What, you didn't know that?

Sunday, February 22, 2009


All of a sudden I’m overcome by a feelin’ of brief mortality
Cause I’m gettin’ on in the world,
comin’ up on forty-one years

Forty-one stony gray steps towards the grave
You know, the box awaits its grisly load
—The Rev. D. Wayne Love, “Woke Up This Morning”

Photo by Maura S.

The lyrics to that great song from Alabama 3’s brilliant Exile on Coldharbour Lane album rolled through my head for a minute or two on Saturday as I completed my 46th stony gray step. Not because I was feeling especially mortal, but because I have a tangential thought process that seems to dredge up my favorite songs at odd times.

A bike ride on your birthday is a nice way to not think about the box and its grisly load. Bright sunshine; trails that are firming up as the temperatures drop; three hours to ride and fun people to do it with ... that’s a damn good combination any day of the year.

So just like Rev. DeWayne as he cued up Pithecanthropus Erectus on his CD player, I pushed that remote button to sublimity and listened to the sweet, sculptural rhythms of fat tires on snowy singletrack.

And I made it to the top of that hill without a dab.

But I still got flipped off.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Travel, unplugged

A few weeks ago, I read a New York Times story about the pros and cons of airlines beginning to offer in-flight Internet access. One of the downsides, the reporter pointed out, is that business travelers will soon lose one of their favorite excuses for not reading e-mail: “Sorry, I was on a plane” will no longer satisfy someone who wants to know why you didn’t reply to a message before the end of the work day.

That all made sense, but what troubled me was that the article said commercial flights have been one of the last places on Earth where a person could escape cell phone calls and e-mail messages.

Really? A pressurized aluminum tube that hurtles through the air at 500 mph is one of the last places on Earth to avoid electronic communication? It’s a pretty sad statement if people believe that. Sure, maybe it’s the best you can do on a weekday while wearing a tie around your neck, but there are plenty of better places to enjoy some peace and quiet. Mountain bikers are luckier than New York Times reporters, because we already know that.

I hope no one ever figures out how equip a bike with some doodad that provides global Internet access.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Paging Ted Kaczynski

The friend of a friend recently brought this knife to a gunfight—aka the VaMoose 25—and found himself walking back to the parking lot before the ride on snowmachine trails really even started. It was completely the wrong bike for the conditions. Still, it was fun to see a such a relic.

For you youngsters, or people who have come to this sport in the past 16 or 17 years, what you’re seeing is a Stumpjumper Comp, circa 1989. And I’m pretty sure you’re looking at a whole pile of original parts. Early TIG-welded steel; toe clips; threaded headset; cantilever brakes; a metal frame pump; and, best of all ... Biopace chainrings. Seriously. They’re shark-toothed as shit, but still in action (sort of).

The guy who owns this thing seemed to still love it. Loyalty is a beautiful thing, But so is modern bike technology. I think this guy owes himself an upgrade.

Maybe after he buys a color TV and switches from vinyl to CDs ...

Friday, February 13, 2009

The revolution will not be motorized

I took a brief tour of the new downtown museum expansion the other day, and the architect said there will be bike racks and showers for employees. Those features are among several elements of the project that should improve the museum’s chances of getting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification as a “green” building. I hope they help, and I’m happy to see project managers making an effort to accommodate bike commuters.

But while driving home, I wondered how many workers hear of the rare employers that offer such amenities, and then make the excuse that they can’t ride to work because their companies don’t offer showers or locker rooms. Let’s face it, Americans are masters at rationalizing laziness.

Since graduating from college 22 years ago, I’ve worked for five different companies, and only one provided exercise and shower facilities. That probably makes me lucky—I’d be willing to bet that the average working American has never had an employer provide any equipment or facilities to accommodate healthy lifestyles.

That’s no excuse for not riding to work.

And if you’re trying to use it as an excuse, you’re part of the problem.

Most companies aren’t proactive or imaginative enough to invest in long-term investments to encourage bike commuting where none exists. They look at a building full of people and see one or two bike commuters—if any—and wonder why they should spend money on a “nonexistent” issue.

American workers—including those who call themselves bicyclists but continue driving to work—need to suck it up and start a movement, one bike at a time. No more using excuses like, “Oh, I have to dress nice for my job,” or “what about my hair?” Toughen up, buttercup. Adapt a little bit, like the rest of us have done for years. And encourage others to do the same. It’s not that hard.

Tired of being ignored when you ask your employer for help? That’s because you’re numerically insignificant when the bean counters measure things like lower annual insurance claims and the reduced cost of providing employee parking.

You’re going to continue being rejected when groups of three or four people ask for new bike racks, indoor bike parking or showers.

You need a group of 20, or 40, or 60.

Get busy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Far-flung Fingers

From Cold Bay, Alaska.

Usually, I require a bike
in these photos, but anyone
who lives in Cold Bay
deserves a break.
(Thanks, Amber, and all you loons in Cold Bay.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A post about nothing

Foraker and Denali from Willow Swamp, 2/8/09

I've been spending my free time riding
instead of blogging.

But I'll come up with something soon. Probably.

The end.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Images from the VaMoose 25

At some point, I might have more to say
about the VaMoose event.
Tonight, I'm just tired.

Willow Swamp

Shelly. Somewhere out there.

Maura on the trail.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


One of the greatest things about the sport of mountain biking is how it got started: a bunch of people using old bikes to bomb down a mountain, just for fun. On the earliest competitive days, they might have done it for the beer, or the bag of weed, that awaited the first guy to reach the bottom of the hill.

It was simple, pure and unspoiled. It still is, when it’s done right. But mountain bikes—and mountain biking—have come a long way in three decades. People have made boatloads of money from the sport; it has been a medal event in the Olympics; and the bikes look nothing like those early pre-war Schwinns that first rolled down Mount Tam. Hell, when I stood at sales counter as the shop guy handed me the manuals for my full-suspension bike, my wife looked aghast and said, “I didn’t get that many manuals with my car!” So much for simplicity.

Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded of how it all started and what the soul of the sport was—and still is, in my opinion. That’s why I recently watched Klunkerz after Billy Savage, the producer and director, asked me if I wanted to have a look at his labor-of-love film about the rise and evolution of mountain biking. It’s full of old 8 mm footage of guys like Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher and recent interviews with them, their friends, and other Marin County bike crews—such as the Morrow Dirt Club and Larkspur Canyon Gang, two groups whose contributions to early mountain biking are commonly overlooked—as they tell the stories in their own words.

Klunkerz is the best documentary I’ve ever seen on the birth of mountain biking. So much has been made over the years of guys like Fisher, Breeze and Tom Ritchey (and the debate over which of them “invented” the mountain bike) that it’s good to see a comprehensive account of the other key people who were part of the Marin County scene. Not to mention how much fun it is to watch those guys blasting down Mount Tam at warp speed, with minimal safety gear, on ancient bikes with bad brakes.

If you get your hands on a copy of this DVD—and I recommend clicking over to and ordering one—make a point of watching the bonus features on the disc, especially the short piece on John Finley Scott. Never heard of him? Most people haven’t, but he was traveling on his own homemade mountain bike 20 years before those guys in Marin, and later helped bankroll the first efforts to manufacture mountain bikes.

Do yourself a favor and check out this film.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Afternoon delight

One of the oldest debates in bicycling is the issue of waving or saying hello when you meet oncoming riders, and whether it’s rude to brush someone off. I usually acknowledge other riders if they’re looking my way but, most of the time, I don’t take it personally if they stare ahead like a lobotomized goat.

However, there are certain times when it’s piss-poor form to give me the silent treatment. Like when I voluntarily give up the sweet spot in the middle of the trail, and take my fat bike into the soft powder so you can keep your skinny tires on the firm crown. As I churn through a few inches of new snow and say “how ya doin?’” it wouldn’t freakin’ kill ya to give me a nod, say “hi,” “thanks,” or even a simple grunt, if you happen to be miles into the House of Pain.

So that dumbass I met on my way home last night had better be ready to return my act of kindness, because the next time we meet, I’m holding my line. If he wants to play chicken he should bring his A game, because the Pugsley is Large and In Charge. That dude's goin’ down.

Speaking of going down, one of the new curiosities along my commuting route is a couple of people who seem to be meeting for morning and afternoon trysts near my office. Every day, there they are—their cars squeezed together in the darkest corner of a small parking lot, his vehicle temporarily abandoned, her engine running (and I’m not just talking about her SUV with the conveniently tinted windows if ya get my drift) to keep them toasty warm in the steamy glow of their love.

But seriously people, a parking lot? Every day? Often twice? Could you make it any more obvious that this is Lust on the Lam, and there’s probably a wife and/or husband who aren’t supposed to know?

Hey, I like to live and let live, but this is a tough economy and a guy can’t pass up a promising business opportunity. So all I need now is someone who's wondering why the ol’ ball and chain has been leaving early and coming home late on a regular basis for the past couple of weeks.

Sound like anyone you know?

Do they need to know where this promiscuous pair have made their little automotive love nest?

Well, I need a new set of 29er wheels for the Pugsley.

You do the math.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Warm, steamy fun on a frosty night

Fat bikes 'n' beer, a great combination

Saturday’s Frigid Bits ride was a lesson in optimism. After weeks of crappy conditions brought on by our mid-January thaw, winter returned on Friday with several inches of new snow. It was easy to think the trails would squirrelly with all that new powder.

But the beauty of a snowy Friday followed by a sunny Saturday is that tons of people got out and pack the trails for us. The temps were cold, the trails were firm, and the Frigid Bits Burn Barrel was glowing hot when we got back to the parking lot. The ride was fat-bike heaven, but still pretty good, even for the riders on skinnies.

The good ol’ Grill Meister was with us while he’s back in town for the Susitna 100, and there were several new faces in the crowd. A few of the regulars who couldn’t make the ride still managed to show up and look homeless with the rest of us as we stood around the barrel drinking beer until the bitter end. All was right with the world. OK, I guess not, but at least all was right with our tiny slice of it.

If you're a local rider, don’t let fresh snow glue you to the couch the next time it falls right before a Frigid Bits ride. Chances are, the trails will be fine (if not, you can sit on the back and let the fat bikes pave the way) and even if the trail conditions are rough, a hard ride and some beers by the fire are always better than a night in front of the tube.