Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Body bags

A benefit of Anchorage’s typical weather is that the daily newspaper is delivered in a plastic bag every day, not just when the forecast calls for rain. That’s a lot of plastic going to the landfill every year, but it’s also a lot of plastic that thrifty people can use in secondary ways. Dog owners, for example, carry pocketfuls of bags for cleaning up poop. Fortunately, I’m not into the idea of walking around on chilly mornings and picking up smelly piles of steamy dog doo.

But I love these things for protecting my cold-sensitive digits from the wind. In the spring and fall, when I’m riding without over boots, I’ll pull a bag over each set of toes before I put on my shoes. On frosty days when I expect to ride my mountain bike through creeks, I’ll pull a bag over each foot to keep it dry inside my wet Sidis.

This spring, I discovered a new use for newspaper bags when I grew tired of cold hands and dry skin on my knuckles after switching to lighter gloves. I cut off the bottom section of a bag, snip five openings in the plastic, and shove my hand in—viola, fully functional, cheap-ass glove liners. These little babies make a pair of light, full-fingered cycling gloves far more comfortable when temps are in the 40s. If I don’t rip them off too fast at the end of a ride, I can usually get a couple of rides out of each pair.

Best of all, when I wear the plastic liners after taking off my gloves for a snack, it makes Huber extra-embarrassed to be seen with me. What the hell does he expect from a guy who stands around a burn barrel drinking beer in the winter?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


H celebrates the return of spring road riding,
or what passes for it here.

Saturday was the first time this season that I used a car to get to the start of a road-bike ride. That's an event that's always marked by a few little reminders of how important it is to have a pre-ride routine that helps you be sure you have everything you need before you drive away from the house. Food, water, tools, whatever.

Helmets are nice, too, especially when riding with H, the queen of traumatic brain injury prevention. Or Kathy, who remembers all too well that she was teased on the blog last month after riding without a brain bucket. So mea culpa, I blew it and showed up without a lid.

It's funny how naked it feels to ride without a helmet. It seems like every rider you meet is looking and you and thinking to himself, "Freakin' idiot."

Or maybe that was just Heather ...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The rides you need

It hasn't been an easy week at work. Definitely more stress than usual—the kind that goes home with you at the end of the day. The kind you need to escape, sooner or later.

A couple of evenings out on the road bike have cleared my head and helped me get things in perspective. They've reminded me that, sometimes, a ride is more than just a ride, and can save your sanity. Especially on those nights when it would be easy to bail.

We've all seen those great bumper stickers such as, "Friends don't let friends vote Republican," or "Friends don't let friends drink white zinfandel."

Maybe there should be one that says, "Friends don't let friends skip rides."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The next step

Greg Matyas has unveiled his latest Fatback at Sea Otter. I got to check out this titanium frame in the back room of his shop a couple of weeks ago, and it looked like possibly the coolest and most interesting fat bike yet.

It's a bit spendy for those of us in the budget-minded Pugsley crowd, but if money were no object for a winter bike, I'd be putting in an order for one of these new Fatbacks.

This another step in the evolution of fat bikes, and a reminder of how much fun it is to have a front-row seat for all the action. Alaska may be far from the rest of the country, but it's the leader in fat-bike design, and seems to have the most riders figuring how what they can do on these bikes.

Even if we do look like a bunch of homeless people with expensive rides.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Can’t tax this

This train wreck of an economy is startin’ to get on my nerves. I mean, seriously, it’s an unmitigated disaster. It seems like anyone who hasn't been laid off has taken a pay cut, and the oil companies haven’t even started the annual legalized gang-rape of inflated summer gas prices, so money's gonna even tighter as soon as they remember everybody’s about to take a vacation. Oops, sorry, we're supposed to call it a staycation.

Just to make things even more fun, I just sent the IRS a check fat enough that it could have covered a truly sweet new bike, if Uncle Scam hadn’t taken it. (And if I didn’t have two more pressing—and dull—projects in the wings.)

Depressing news is hard to escape. Check out the line on this mountain bike rag that recently showed up in my mailbox: Bikes you can buy with your severance check.

Actually, there are plenty of dumber ways to blow the last paycheck you'll see for a while. At least the bike can carry you away from the world's bullshit—for a few hours at a time, anyway.

Last winter, I wrote on this blog about a guy who laughed at me for referring to one of my bikes a good “investment.” Well, when I compare the value of that bike and my 401k a year ago to the value of both investments today, there's no doubt about which one has paid the biggest return.

Who's laughin' now?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring, slowly

Every spring, the Big Weekend of Bike Work rolls around. That’s when I start getting ready for rides on pavement—and the more distant goal of dirt. Last Saturday, I put new tires on the road bike, and got everything lubed and adjusted. I worked on the rear shock of my trail bike, and cleaned up the drivetrain that was rode hard and put away wet last fall.

But I didn’t touch my commuter. The studded tires stayed on.

That was partially due to experience—I’ve been fooled plenty of times by “spring” conditions, and paid the price—and partially due to the fact I suffer a serious butt-pucker affliction when I hit morning glare ice without good studs. So I’m a wimp. Whatever. I hate pain.

A few other local riders swapped out their winter tires last week, and were thrilled to shed the weight and noise of studs, but until I ride at least one morning without any ice to contend with, my Nokians aren’t retiring for the off season.

I felt good about that decision when the flakes started to fall shortly after my family finished dinner with friends Sunday afternoon. I felt even better when I woke up to a couple of inches of snow that was still coming down this morning.

I’m as guilty as anyone of saying things like, “Man, I can’t wait to get out on the road bike.” But that’s just a figure of speech. I’m eager to get out on the road bike, but I can wait.

Especially if it means I get to stay upright.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Harry Belafonte knew

After one of my recent posts, a comment was left to ask why so many of the pictures on this blog are of the women I ride with, instead of the men.

One reason is that the women tend to share my riding style. I’m happy to ride a steady pace, occasionally wait for the riders behind me, and chat a lot along the way. With most guys I ride with, there’s a much more businesslike approach—mount up, ride fast, cover lots of ground. So, when I ride in a mixed group, I tend to get more opportunities to shoot photos of the women while the guys (usually their husbands and boyfriends) hammer away up front.

I like the fact that most of my group rides include a mixture of men and women. Women are good for mountain biking, partially because they remind men not to take everything so damned seriously.

A few summers back, I was down on the Kenai Peninsula for a ride with two other guys. We were doing a loop from Primrose, down the highway to the Lost Lake trailhead, then up over the mountains back to the car. To knock off the 15 miles of pavement at the start, we verbally agreed to form a pace line and save energy. I don’t think any of us had spent much time riding together, but I was pretty sure they were both faster than me, so I just tried to hang with ’em. And I suffered.

A little while later as we stood at the trailhead, gulping water and trying to catch our breath before starting what was supposed to be the hard part of the ride, one of the other guys looked around and said, “What the fuck was that?”

I looked at him and replied, “You mean you guys don’t always ride that fast?” The ensuing conversation revealed that each guy thought the other two were pushing the pace during their turns at the front. So everyone shared the blame—even me, the least-fit guy in the group.

That’s when one guy uttered some of the wisest words in the history of mountain biking: “That’s why you should always bring a woman.” He went on to explain his reasoning. Women, he said, are never afraid to tell the guys to pull their heads out of their asses and slow the hell down.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the fastest and toughest riders I've ever known were women. It’s not about ability. It’s about mindset.

I’ve ridden with plenty of groups in which it was the women who put me in the House of Pain but, more often than not, we men can count on the female riders to relax, savor the fun, and save us from our own stupidity.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Stick it

I guess most people outgrow a fascination with stickers, but I never did. I still love the things, especially if they’re free. And with my addiction, bike-related stickers are always the best. Product logos, shop names, smart-ass phrases, they’re all good.

When my daughter’s new Crank Bros. pedals arrived yesterday with two free stickers in the box, the selfish kid in me was momentarily tempted to snatch one for myself. Fortunately, the bike-junkie dad in me—the part that likes spreading seeds for an obsession—knew that a kid who was already excited about her first clipless pedals would like the freebies even more than I would. I handed them over, and soon found myself voluntarily raiding my personal sticker stash and watching her decorate a new school binder with a mountain-bike theme.

Within a few minutes a standard, boring binder had become a display of velo coolness that was way better than any rock-band logos or vinyl expressions of teenage angst.

Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but seeing an IMBA sticker on a high-school kid’s notebook gives me hope.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


One of the great things about a trail ride is that even if you’re lacking motivation, you’ll rarely regret it if you push yourself off your ass and get out on your bike. Another great thing is that you never know when something truly incredible is going to happen.

Sunday wasn’t looking good. My wrist and thumb were aching from some mysterious injury. Minor muscle spasms were threatening to wreck my back if they got worse. I didn’t know of anyone headed out for a ride, and the trails were melting fast. Fortunately, Heather—yes, the one who’s always flipping me off—was ready for a ride while The Huber recovered from a day of that funny game in which people chase a little black disc all over a big sheet of ice.

It was a gloriously beautiful, sunny day. And then, as we rolled down Speedway singletrack, a big lynx calmly walked across the trail, right in front of me. This is a rare and thrilling thing.

I stopped to alert Heather as she rolled up from behind.

Then two more lynx (or lynxes, if you prefer) stepped out of the forest and onto the trail, following the first one through an area with plenty of snowshoe hare tracks dotting the snow. In the 13 years I’ve lived in Alaska, I’d seen a total of two lynx, and one of those was just a furry rump diving into the brush. Now I had three of them just a few yards away.

And then a fourth one stepped into view. It turned left and walked 10 or 15 feet on the trail right in front of us, then stepped off and followed its friends. We ditched our bikes and moved forward on foot, managing to get a couple of brief sightings as the foursome walked through spruce trees, making their way southward.

I don’t know what the odds are for for something like this, but I’d put them in the “damn unlikely” category. When she learned of this encounter, my friend Bev replied that during 31 years in Alaska, she’d never managed to spot a single lynx. And I’ve never heard of anyone seeing two or more at one time. I never even bothered to pull out my camera, because I thought each lynx I saw was going to be the last.

My wrist still hurts. The ride probably didn’t do it any good, but there's always ibuprofen.

It was worth the pain. Because I could have skipped that ride. And, chances are, I’ll spend the rest of my life in Alaska and never see something like that again.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A spring evening on the Hillside

I've got nothin' tonight
but some pictures and advice.

The Hillside trails will soon melt away.
Go put some miles on those fat bikes
while you still can.