Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Verdict

My singlespeed trial is now several months old, and the jury (of me) has returned a verdict.

Last winter, I converted my ’96 Stumpjumper to a singlespeed because its old drivetrain was pretty much worn out and I figured it was a good time to find out what the SS believers were all excited about. And it has been nice having a one-gear in the mix.

So am I a convert? Hell no. My commute is short and pretty flat, so it’s suited to a single gear. And there’s a certain attraction to a bike that requires not even the slightest adjustment for weeks at a time. A little chain lube from now and then, and some air in the tires, and you’re golden.

But my defense of multi-geared bikes remains as strong as it has always been: As soon as hilly terrain comes into the picture, good derailleurs make life better, boys and girls, and they aren’t hard to maintain. There’s nothing so reassuring as dropping into the granny gear when things get steep. Technology can be our friend.

In the end, the SS vs. Gears debate comes down to the old truth that any well-built bike is a good bike. Which one is best depends on how and where you use it. Sticking exclusively with a rigid bike, or a suspended bike, or a geared bike or a singlespeed is just silly.

My singlespeed will stay. It has a future. But only as a commuter and town bike.

When rubber meets dirt, I’ll be twisting the Grip Shifts every time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rose to the occasion

I love the eccentric touches that make each bike an odd or unique extension of its owner. Sometimes it’s a goofy paint job. Or it can be weird accessories or unusual combinations of components.

Kathy, a somewhat recent convert to the fat-tire cult, likes girly touches, such as lots of pink. She had the frame bag on her Fatback custom made so she could have a pink one. Last weekend, she showed up for a ride on her summer trail bike with its front wheel festooned with little pink roses.

I thought that was cool. Because she’s the only person I know who goes to that much trouble to decorate spokes. And because it gave me an excuse to use the word “festooned.” With the week I’ve had, it’s the little thrills that count.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Up and Over

The target. Saturday's early morning view as the ride began.

Like most mountain bikers, I drive to trailheads more often than I pedal to them. So on Saturday, I decided to start my ride from home instead of a parking lot. The added bonus was that our group was riding over Powerline Pass, which meant I could look at the Chugach Range as I pedaled away from my house, and have the satisfaction of knowing I would be riding all the way over the horizon on the east side of town.

Sean and Chris head toward the pass as they
close in on a woman

who wasn't feeling gravity's love.

Think about that. To look at a mountain and know you’re going to ride up and over it—all of it—without driving up through the foothills or to some high-elevation trailhead. Riding across town, aiming uphill, then pedaling until you can drop down the other side and return to sea level somewhere else. No lifts, no cars. Just your legs and a grudge against gravity. Most of us should try it more often.

Sean pushes his singlespeed Karate Monkey
up the final approach to the pass.

It’s a nice way to remember that mountain bikes were made for riding up mountains, despite whatever you may hear from those lazy-ass downhillers.

The reward for a big climb: beauty

There’s no better way to earn your post-ride beer.

Sean heads down the back side.
Down there by the sea, cold beer waits.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Word of the Day

glasshole (noun): person who breaks glass items on
public paths, trails and/or sidewalks.

(I just make up words when it seems we need new ones.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Same as it ever was

A local rider recently posted a forum link to this story on Chris Boardman’s idea of what bicycles will look like someday. But after 20 years riding mountain bikes, I've stopped paying much attention to "concept" bikes and the designers who claim to see the future.

Remember Alex Pong and his radical-but-doomed design for Cannondale 10 or 15 years ago? That bike (shown here) actually got on the cover of a couple of major magazines, and Pong told interviewers that it was on the verge of going into mass production.

Instead, it went nowhere. I think it disappeared like Jimmy Hoffa the day they rolled the prototype through the back door and slipped out of town after Interbike.

There's a good reason the bicycle has gone pretty much unchanged for 100 years, other than a few modifications to accommodate suspension: The fundamental design of a modern bicycle is so simple, functional and strong that it’s damn hard for anyone to improve on it. You might as well try redesigning the opposable thumb.

I understand that someone has to push the boundaries and dream up ideas. That’s where innovation comes from. And I don’t know how bikes will be built in another 20 or 30 years, but I’d be willing to bet most of the changes will be in materials and components.

The bikes themselves? They’ll probably look about like the ones we ride now.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Feelin' the burn

Lower portion of Crescent Lake Trail.

I was doing a rare solo ride on the Kenai Peninsula a couple of weeks ago when I crossed a little stream flowing over Crescent Lake Trail, then chose a bad line and planted the front wheel against a boulder.

I should have immediately unclipped but, as usual, I held for a couple of seconds to the hope of somehow getting over the rock. Predictably, I fell to the left and landed in a bunch of damp vegetation. With my head downhill and my legs still around my bike, I started the awkward process of trying to get up.

The spongy ground gave way when I pushed on it for leverage. The bike wouldn't budge because the pedal and handlebar were tangled in the thick stalks I still wasn't recognizing. Just as I started to wonder how in the hell I was going to get up, the burning started in my left leg and arm. Instantly, not getting up ceased to be an option. Whatever it was going to take, I wanted the hell out of there.

It was that Alaska summer ritual: A nasty encounter with cow parsnip. Call it pushki, hogweed, or whatever else you like, it's the Weed from Hell. It's juices contain a phototoxin that reacts with ultraviolet light and causes painful, blistering sores that can keep flaring up for weeks whenever your skin is exposed to the sun.

I thrashed my way back onto the trail and hurried to the tiny stream, where I splashed my legs and arms with as much fresh water as I could scoop up. Not that it did any good. The juices were already working their way into my skin. For the next few hours, my left leg—which took the brunt of the crash into the weeds—felt like it was plugged into a wall socket. A thorough wash when I got back to camp helped, and a tube of Cortizone cream kept most of the pain at bay for the next few days.

They say that American Indians used to have many uses for cow parsnip. They'd eat it, make dye from the roots, and turn the blooms into a mosquito repellent.

Personally, the only use I have for this crap is to keep a weed-wacker busy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yeah, he accepts tips

"Leonard's Table Dance"
McKinley Trail Cabin, 8/4/09

The ol’ blog’s been a bit neglected of late. I blame it on riding my bike … and not riding my bike. Last week was devoted to a ride to Childs Glacier outside Cordova. It began with beautiful weather and ended with wind, cold rain and a fistful of decongestants. Now the lingering crud—and work obligations—are chewing into my ride plans for this week.

On the upside, my to-do list of rides for this summer is growing short just as summer’s end is starting to creep in around the edges: Anchorage schools open next week, and it’s starting to actually get dark at night. I still need to scratch Lost Lake off the list, and I never made it up to the Valley to sample some trails that my old co-worker Steven keeps telling me about. (Don’t give up on me Steven. Maybe I’ll still pull it off before the snow flies.)

Alaskans know the end of summer is always bittersweet. We hate to see it end, but we’re too damned tired to keep it up. This summer’s end will be especially sweet, and especially exhausting, because we’re only weeks away from the Big Finale: Four days of riding in Moab, and three days in Fruita.

By the end of this vacation, I might need a vacation.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Weekend rides

I'm busy this week, so it's a photo-dump day.

Crescent Lake Trail, solo ride last Friday.
I'm always a sucker for these sections
of trail: thick trees, ferns covering the
ground, and trail so soft with spruce needles
that it's almost as quiet as rolling across carpet.

Devil's Pass Trail, last Saturday.
After months of riding on snow, you've
gotta love stream crossings on warm,
sunny days in the mountains.

Descending Devil's Pass last Saturday.
I've never been big on photographing flowers,
but the fireweed is fantastic this year: rich
color, and patches of blooms all over the mountains.
Some credit the ash from Mount Redoubt's
recent eruption.
As for why, I don't know, and I don't
I just like riding through fields of the stuff
on a mountain bike.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My other ride ...

Knowing that I have a thing for stickers, Greg Matyas recently surprised me with a few when I stopped by Speedway Cycles. My favorite was this one from Handlebar Sandwich.

I thought it would look perfect on my black-and-white Epic, but my wife gave me one of those looks that said, "Uh ... bad idea."

Then my friend Heather came up with a bunch of B.S. about how a sticker like this isn't funny on a guy's bike, but how it would be hilarious on her bike. I'm still not quite sure how she talked me out of it, but I have to admit it does look pretty good on her Santa Cruz Blur.

While H's bike was hanging off the back of her car at a Soggy Bottom checkpoint last Saturday, a woman walked by with her kid, saw the sticker, and said she didn't much care for it.

Unfortunately, we never found out if her son thought it was funny.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Soggy weekend

Jules on the trail.
(Great photo from JQPublic at

Congrats to Jules and Monkee for
strong performances in this weekend's
Soggy Bottom 100, and especially
for Monkee's sub-12-hour finish. I was
proud to crew for both of you.

And congrats to everyone who finished,
or quit with dignity and sanity intact.
And everyone who simply got out alive.