Friday, May 29, 2009

Hunk o' gunk

“Do you make your bike ugly so no one will want to steal it?”

A woman asked me this question at the bike rack a couple of weeks ago as I was unlocking my commuter. She went on to explain that when she had first noticed my dirty ride—with its fenders secured by mud-splattered zip ties and duct tape—she dismissed the thought that it could be mine, because she knows I’m picky about my bikes.

I couldn’t decide whether to be flattered or insulted. Sure, the old Stumpjumper is looking a bit abused these days, but I’ve always had a soft spot for roughed-up bikes with a utilitarian look. They’re the noblest of the noble. More than just high-zoot toys owned for speed and adventure, hard-ridden townies carry us to work, school, and on important errands like beer runs. Instead of being carried around town on roof racks, these are the bikes that keep cars sitting in driveways.

Besides, there’s something lovely about a machine that looks trashy to the untrained eye but rides like a dream, revealing its beauty only to the cognoscenti.

Many years ago, I met Cosmic Ray when he spoke at an REI store in Arizona. When someone commented on his dirty mountain bike, Ray explained that he believed a mountain bike looked best with a “fine patina” of use. Ray knew what he was talking about.

To paraphrase Gordon Gecko: Grunge is good. Grunge is right. Grunge works.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Till it’s over

The ultimate cycling fantasy is a debatable subject, but it’s hard to beat this scenario: Quit your job, hop a flight to someplace far away, and ride as long as your legs and wallet will take you.

That’s what Neils and Caroline, who live near Cologne, Germany, are doing this summer. They rolled into our little campground on the banks of the Brushkana River last weekend and accepted an invitation set up their tent beside Rio’s van for a couple of nights, giving everyone plenty of time to hang out and get acquainted.

When I asked Neils how long they planned to tour, he explained that they were making their way toward Whitehorse, Yukon. I explained that I wasn’t asking how far, but how long. Like most wage slaves, I think in terms of the vacation days allotted by employers each year. Neils hasn’t had that problem since he and Caroline quit their jobs for the trip.

In fractured English he answered my question with a simple reply: “Until the money’s over.”

That’s what I call a great vacation plan.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fingers for Liberty

The local crew that rides the Smithville Lake trails near Liberty, Missouri, are damned fine citizens. They build and maintain trails, they provide employment opportunities for illiterate sign makers who would otherwise be rendered unemployable by their inability to correctly spell “smokin’,” and they are keeping the Finger Movement alive here at Bicycles and Icicles with 15 participants in the Great Spring Flipoff of 2009. This is a number exceeded only by the entire lineup at the start line of last year's Soggy Bottom 100.

It’s a stunning display, indeed. Fortunately, it was kept somewhat family friendly because the photo was taken shortly before that wee lad in the middle got his kilt high enough to show us his Smokin’ Davey.

Bikes, beers and fingers. It’s a beautiful thing.

Speaking of which, keep an eye on the blog this week for some tales and photos from the Denali Classic. As soon as I get my tired ass back in gear and sort through the memory banks and the memory card, there’s bound to be some shit worth posting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Breaking stuff, breaking out

There are certain sounds you never want to hear on a bike: car horns and screeching tires coming up from behind; the hissing of air; growling dogs; and sudden, loud cracking sounds between your legs.

So I wasn’t a happy guy Tuesday night when a loud bang was immediately followed by the horn of my saddle slamming into my crotch and a sharp piece of seatpost scraping my inner thigh.

Neither is a pleasant sensation. Nor is pulling out the cell phone to call home and ask for a lift when you’re only 15 miles into a 35-mile ride that was feeling really good. I’ve busted a few seatpost bolts on mountain bikes over the years and have spent plenty of time pedaling home without a saddle, and it sucks—so I called for a rescue. Until now, though, I’d never managed to break a seatpost clamp, especially on a road bike.

And this one snapped like a dry stick. I mean, I know I’m a big guy but damn, I’m not that big. Thanks to Jon at Paramount for setting me up with a quick replacement, even though the roadie will be parked for the next few days anyway.

It’s time to break out the mountain bike and head north to kick off a new season with the Denali Classic. A long weekend of campfires, bikes and beer. The blog is always slow this time of year when all my time is spent on the road bike, but if things go well, I’ll be back next week with some new stories and a big batch of photos.

Summer is at hand, folks. Let’s set the knobbies free.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Don't mess with perfection

It ain't as pretty as Meligrosa's ride (below),
but it gets me where I need to go.

Anchorage has been enjoying a spell of freakishly beautiful spring weather. The only crappy day in the past week was—of course—on Bike to Work Day. I took pride in riding in the cold rain, because I keep a filthy, fender-equipped commuter bike in the garage. When the weather turns foul, there’s nothing that keeps you riding like a 13-year-old bike that’s been retired to beater status.

Of course, Friday was also when I made one of my regular visits to Meligrosa’s photo-driven Bikes and the City blog, which always has entertaining photos of bike life in one of the great American cities—San Francisco, birthplace of the Grateful Dead. Whenever Meligrosa uses a close-up shot of her bike, it’s clean enough to make my commuter look like a piece of battered farm equipment.

Now, I know the weather is a bit milder down by The Bay, but this woman must show her bike a lot of love. Meanwhile, my crusty old Stumpjumper—which has reliably carried me over trails from Santa Fe to Moab to Anchorage, and even survived a near-tragic encounter with the top of the entrance to my garage—gets rode hard and put away wet far too frequently. These days, it might get washed a couple of times a year.

I’d like to pull out the bucket and brushes and put a shine back on that pretty blue frame, only ... well, I’m not really superstitious ... but, you know how it always seems to rain the day after you wash your car?

When you’re on a roll with Alaska weather, you don’t screw with it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Happy Bike to Work Day

Call it a social experiment. Call it a statement.
Call it alternative transportation. I don't care.

I just wanna ride my bike
and not be hassled by The Man.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Slow day baiku

A crosswind wobble
at forty miles per hour
keeps a mere mortal humble

(And makes me wish
I could descend like these guys.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cheeseburger in Paradise

I was talking with a neighbor Sunday morning when we agreed that—in terms of sunny days—the Summer of 2009 has already surpassed the Non-summer of 2008.

That we decided this on May 10 is a good indicator of how much last year sucked. We can only hope the recent trend bodes well for the next four months.

Thanks to Saturday’s 82-mile ride from Anchorage to Hope, I already have as much of a biker’s tan as I ever got last summer. There’s nothing as sweet as a blue-sky Saturday spent riding. Cruising along Turnagain Arm with water on our right and mountains on the left. Snow-covered peaks all around, and four riders pacing through headwinds and then enjoying the quiet hum of rubber on pavement in the downwind stretches. And, of course, there was the grind of climbing to the snow on Turnagain Pass.

When Oscar the Grouch saw my mention of the ride on Facebook, he harassed me with the derisive, one-word response of, “Roadie.” I told him I could live with that.

I spent an evening last week getting my Epic ready for the trails. But until they dry out, I’ll be savoring every mile (and all the miles per hour) on the road rocket.

And I wouldn't mind riding back for another cheeseburger at Tito's in Hope.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Get to work

A couple of days ago, I noticed a bicycle in the office of a co-worker who has always driven to work, so I asked what was up. She had dropped her car at the shop that morning and then ridden the rest of the way to work. It was great, she said, because she realized that on a bike, she could smell what was around her. That morning’s ride had inspired her and she was thinking about taking the old bike for a tune-up.

I love hearing about the little epiphanies that are so common among people who ride to work one day and find themselves enjoying the benefits, whether they come in the form of fresh air, reduced stress, or the smells of spring. It’s a great thing to watch and listen to someone who just realized that riding to work is actually fun. (Check out the video.)

This is Bike to Work Month, and next Friday is Bike to Work Day. Companies all over town have dozens—in some cases hundreds—of employees signed up to ride. Most of them probably won’t do again until next year, if at all. Knowing this is a one-time thing for so many participants usually bothers me, and I sometimes find myself resenting the people who ride to work only on one designated day each year.

When that happens, I remind myself that if 95 percent of Bike to Work Day participants never rode to work again, it would still be a worthwhile event, because that would mean that the other five percent decided to keep trying it. That’s progress.

Everyone who knows the fun of riding to work on a regular basis should encourage co-workers to try it. Grab a map and a high-lighter and help someone plan a safe, enjoyable route. Give ’em an old pump if you have a spare that’s collecting dust. Offer them a decent used saddle when they complain that their ass hurts and you see that they’re riding a piece of junk. It’s all about making people believe, and getting them to drink the Kool-Aid.

They don’t have to gulp it.

Sips will do just fine.

(Thanks to Gwadzilla for today's picture, and the video link.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Buying a road bike was one of the greatest things I could ever do for my springtime sanity. I no longer spend six weeks being irritable between the end of winter riding and the end of the spring trail-drying cycle. But there’s a downside to this seasonal distraction: All that time on the road means less time in the garage getting the full-suspension rig ready for summer.

My Epic’s pedals need a rebuild, and the rear suspension hasn’t been properly reassembled since I tore it apart back in January. What’s the rush, ya know? In February and March, the beginning of June looks a long way off. But then early May arrives and those early ride invitations begin; a climbing workout on Arctic Valley Road (not that I really mind missing that kind of pain) or a quick ride on the Crev-Mo trails, which dry out earlier than the terrain in Anchorage.

All of a sudden, I’m missing rides because the bike they require is sitting in its corner, neglected as a red-headed stepchild because I’ve been too lazy to spend an hour or two turning wrenches. It’s pathetic.

Time’s a wastin’. Gotta get to work.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


I've been sleeping on the couch for nearly a week, and I'm not even in trouble with my wife. Actually, it's probably more accurate to say I've been sleeping (sort of) in a chair. That's what a desperate person does when a head cold hits, and sinus drainage makes horizontal rest impossible.

A head cold really isn't anything to whine about, but when it knocks you flat during the first week of irresistibly sexy spring weather, it just seems like an injustice. Seriously, the past few days of warm days and clear, sunny skies have been the meteorological equivalent of Miss April and Miss May combined, and all I've been doing is occasionally limping to work on the commuter bike and then spending my evenings staring out the living-room window and answering text messages with, "No, I'm still too sick to ride."

Even on a perfect Saturday, I was tempted to bag it and just lay low, but my mind needed something I wasn't sure my body could deliver—and that's not something a guy usually likes to say. I hit the road hoping to knock off 20 miles nice and easy, and Huber mercifully let me set the pace as I coughed up crud. A couple of hours later we closed the loop with 33 miles behind us, and I spent the evening feeling better than I had in 10 days.

People always say laughter is the best medicine. That's for civilians. The rest of us know what the best medicine really is.

(OK, we all know that sometimes it's Vicodin, but work with me on this. I'm tryin' to make a point.)