Monday, September 28, 2009

Turning out the light

Anchorage had 5 minutes, 39 seconds less daylight today than it did yesterday. The temperature seems to fall a little more each day, too. The weeknight rides I started at 7 o'clock all summer are now starting at 6, and I get back to my car in the twilight after the sun drops below the horizon.

The evening light is beautiful, but there's less and less time to savor it. We're racing the annual slide into darkness ... and losing. I rode the new trail network tonight, knowing it would probably be my last chance to ride it without lights (and/or a snow bike) for months.

I'm looking forward to the night rides of winter—and moving through the woods in a bubble of artificial light—but damn, I hate saying goodbye to sunny evenings.

Summer of 2009, you kicked ass.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Goodbye, training wheels

This has to be one of the coolest things seen at this year's Interbike. Because what could be cooler than a better way to teach kids to ride bikes?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bearly understandable

Biologists recently set up cameras near the community of Eagle River and found conclusive evidence that bears live in the woods. Therefore, it's a bad idea to build a greenbelt trail there, they say, because if you put a trail where bears live, animals and humans might happen to encounter each other. (Although they also said the bears carefully avoided times and places where humans were active.)

Anchorage mountain bikers have been encountering this same argument for months now. People who don't want new trails near the homes they built in bear habitat have suddenly become very "concerned about safety," so they lobby against building trails in bear habitat—especially when it's on the public land that serves as a really sweet extension to their backyards.

The problem is, all open, wooded land around here is bear habitat. Anchorage itself—the largest city in Alaska—is bear habitat. That would seem to limit the options, wouldn't it?

But the thing is, no one appears to be prohibited from building subdivisions or discount stores in bear habitat.

Doesn't it seem a little weird that it's OK to bulldoze bear habitat, but it's not OK to visit it?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flat is where it’s at

The flat handlebar is one of the great victims of mountain biking’s fashion trends. All the swoopy riser bars with big sweep have pushed this venerable component so far to the margins that it’s hard to get one without placing a special order.

I was in Speedway a few months ago and mentioned to Greg that I needed a new bar and had three requirements: carbon fiber, 26 inches wide, and no more than 5 degrees of sweep. The poor guy had to dig deep just to find one in the parts catalog, but he came up with a sweet Salsa Pro Moto that was exactly what I wanted.

Then had a cheap, aluminum flat bar on sale Monday and labeled it as being offered for “retro grouches and flat bar-tenders.” WTF?

I get grouchy when perfectly good gear gets relegated to “retro” without being replaced by something that’s truly better. But that’s OK. I yell at kids to stay off my lawn, and I remember when flat bars replaced riser bars along about 1989-90. My first mountain-biking partner—Cris—rode a Schwinn High Sierra with a bent bar and I thought it looked silly because my newer bike had a flat bar. I’ve used flats ever since, and have never seen any advantage to risers when I tried them on borrowed bikes.

Flat bars are light, functional, have clean lines, and make it easier to set up a lower riding position instead of sitting up and “air braking” all day. Want a slightly higher position for your hands? Put a couple of carbon spacer rings under your stem. That’ll get you to the same place, without all the bends that make it hard to mount lights, computers, etc.

The flat bar rocks. Long live the flat bar.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fall color


Why do I always dread the arrival of fall,
but love it when it gets here?
Most of the biting bugs are gone, and the woods
have never been prettier.


So what if the leaves are already falling
in Alaska while riders in other places are still
enjoying the green of summer? That just
means we get to enjoy it earlier.

It also means it's time to tune up the fat bikes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Morning wood

It’s the little things that make bike commuting so much fun. Slalom turns between goose turds on the trail. Zipping past the shopping carts under the covered entrance to Costco long before the store opens. And all the little things you’d miss if you were in a car.

This morning, I got strange enjoyment from these piles of smoldering wood chips. With cores of rotting wood generating heat, and the outside temperature near 40 degrees, these little babies were steaming out their summits like a couple of stratovolcanoes.

I found this highly entertaining, and shot some pictures as motorists zoomed by without noticing this little display of nature's explosive fury. The photos elicited a slightly less enthusiastic response when I showed them to someone at my office.

I guess you just had to be there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dam it!

This was supposed to be one of my infamous rant posts. I was composing all the poison prose in my mind as I photographed this bandit trail project tonight. It is (or was) an effort to build a berm for a banked ride through a gentle turn on Queen Bee. But in reality, it was just a dam that would have created a mud bog. The unauthorized project understandably has people upset—the people who spent years making this trail a reality.

After I took this photo, I shredded the whole thing. Rolled those four-foot logs into the weeds, chucked the rotten end ramps as far as I could throw them, and kicked away dirt to restore drainage into the downhill channel. Then I moved down the trail a short distance to photograph the next modified corner.

That’s when I heard a rider coming down the hill. And heard him ride by his shredded project and loudly yell “FUCK!” A minute later, we got to have a chat.

It turns out, he was just a young guy with time on his hands, and a desire to “improve” the trail by making it faster and more fun. He didn’t mean to dump on the efforts of others. He didn’t have any idea how much work went into building this new trail network. He didn’t know how unsustainable his work was—rotten logs make a pitiful base for a banked turn. He didn’t realize he was building dams that ruined drainage from professionally designed trails. But that's what he did.

He didn’t know that his hours of work were doomed to be dismantled by volunteers later this month if he doesn’t remove his damaging modifications. He does now.

By the end of the conversation, I had a hard time being mad at the guy. He meant well, but he didn’t have a clue about how to build or properly modify trails.

Most young guys like him don’t read the blogs of old guys like me, so this message may be futile, but if anyone who reads this happens to be the kind of person who wants to do a little freelance trail work, please, don’t.

At least not until you learn what you’re doing. And not until you ask permission.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two ways are better than one

The new Singletrack Advocates trail network is tight, twisty, fun as hell, and allows riders to choose a variety of trail combinations to complete the “Grand Tour” of the network. But not everyone can easily comprehend the trail design, which was intended to use vegetation, sharp turns and uneven terrain to make riders slow down and ride with some skill instead of just balls-to-the-wall speed.

All the low-visibility corners have prompted grumbling from some riders that the trails should be one-way routes for improved safety. The way I see it, one-way trails might cut the risk of collisions, but they would also cut everyone’s options in half.

This situation reminds me of when I once worked for a big company with no limit on employee sick days. A tiny group of people abused this benefit, calling in sick at least once during every two week pay period—in other words, they were screwing The Man out of an extra month every year. When the bosses told everyone to be more careful about the use of sick time, it was the abusers who panicked and demanded to be told exactly how much sick time they were supposed to use.

In a rare moment of brilliant clarity for a corporate drone, The Big Cheese looked at these people in an open meeting and said, “You have the luxury of unlimited sick time. Do you really want me to restrict that to a firm number?”

It’s the same way with trails. Do you really want to sacrifice half of your options and ride only one way? Wouldn’t it be more fun if everyone used their heads and kept riding both ways?

Unfortunately, some mountain bikers are abusers of privilege. It’s just too tempting for them to bomb down trails while barely in control, or with their loose, out-of-control dogs running along. A careless rider and his dog nearly hit me last Wednesday night, and plenty of folks have had similar experiences.

I don’t mind rules, but I hate restrictive laws forced by the inability of people to handle loose ones. So, instead of imposing new rules to solve a simple problem, I offer this easy solution: Let’s all slow down, be safe and keep our two-way options open.

Ride under control. Watch for your fellow riders. Call out to approaching riders, or ring a bell so everyone can keep track of each other. Leave your dog at home, or take him to a wider trail with plenty of room and better sight lines. It’s safer, more respectful of other trail users, and just might save you an expensive vet bill.

And for cryin’ out loud, stop skidding into turns. That just shows bad manners and poor riding skills.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fat Bike, the film

Carl Battreall, right, introduces "Fat Bike" at Chain Reaction.

Carl Battreall’s documentary Fat Bike is finally finished, and a small crowd was lucky enough to see it at a private screening tonight. It is, without a doubt, the finest documentary on Alaska winter mountain biking ever made.

OK, so that's a really short list. That just puts Fat Bike in elite company.

But seriously, it’s a very nicely done piece of work from a talented photographer moving into the realm of video. With Carl’s eye for imagery and sharp editing, and a fine soundtrack from local singer and songwriter Melissa Mitchell, it’s the kind of project I’m proud to see coming out of Alaska.

Fat Bike is already a finalist for the Boston Bike Film Festival coming up next month, and is being submitted to several other festivals across North America, including the International Bike Film Festival. It deserves to do well even if, as Carl said, part of the appeal will be for people to think Alaska winter riders are crazy.

The film, which was held to 26 minutes in length to have a chance on the festival circuit, touches on the history and evolution of fat bikes, and the passion and commitment behind winter riding.

Fat Bike will be available for download from in the next few weeks. Check it out. Trust me, it’ll be affordably priced. And for local riders eager to see it in a crowd, hang in there. A public screening now would disqualify the documentary from the Anchorage International Film Festival in December, so you’ll have to be patient. If it is screened during the festival—and it better be, in my opinion—Carl hopes winter riders will pedal to the screening en masse.

Sounds perfect.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

International Incident

Jeff in Carson City was the first to round up a crowd for The Great Bicycle & Icicle Finger Series, and Anthony from Whitehorse, Yukon, was the first to take it international. But the Anchorage crew riding in Europe this month has raised the bar with a record number of people and nationalities represented.

From Refugio Monte Bianco we have a crowd of 23—count ’em 23—people flyin’ the bird high and proud. Brits, Welsh, Italians, Americans and French. And knowing the French, those guys probably meant it.

The Alaskans are there in the back row, encouraging the global community to personally insult me. Today’s post has a bonus picture of the Anchorage riders in the same area. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about them spending so much of their vacation flipping me off. There’s a disturbing amount of enthusiasm on display here, folks. (By the way, for those keeping track, Sunday's shot was from Mont Blanc.)

Meanwhile, those of us stuck spending Labor Day here at home were left to ride local trails instead of the Swiss Alps, so The Grouch, The Monkee and I spent the holiday afternoon goofing around on the new Singletrack Advocates trail network. And da Monkee seems to be ready for Moab. He was catching air all over the place, and he didn’t even break any bike parts. It was like he knew what he was doin’ or something.

I can’t wait to see him do this shit on the Snow Ho this winter:

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Guess the location, win a prize*

In celebration of Labor Day, we have
a Fresh Fingers Shot from two riders
who put the "hard" in "hardly working."

*Smug satisfaction is a prize, right?

Thursday, September 03, 2009


I’ve noticed an odd behavior among Anchorage cyclists. This comes a shock, I’m sure.

Each spring, everyone’s bouncing off the walls and trying to ride as soon as the outside temperature hits 40 degrees. They’ll risk gravel, flowing snowmelt and icy patches on the road just to get a cycling fix. They’ll drool over every false rumor of a dry trail. They’ll wear ear warmers, neoprene booties and three layers of clothing just to get out there on two wheels in poor conditions. I know, because I’m out there with them.

Then the first week of September arrives. The trails are firm and fast. The roads are the cleanest they’ll be all year. The temperature edges down toward 50—perfectly comfortable in tights and a light jacket—but the second the weather turns cloudy and looks like a few raindrops might fall, huge numbers of riders whither away and disappear into their houses. I know, because I suddenly have the trails mostly to myself on such weeknights.

So 50 degrees in early spring is cause for celebration, and 50 degrees in early fall is too cold?

I look at it this way: In two or three months, it'll be 50 degrees colder than it is right now.

So ride. Now.

Say “Swiss Cheese!”

Thanks to the modern miracle of the iPhone,
the Fabulous Finger Series has returned!
This shot was taken this very morning in Geneva,
where Queen Bee and AKdeluxe are improving
the image of all fine Americans by
flipping the bird in their vacation photos before
launching their mountain-bike assault on the Continent.

Strong work, you guys. Enjoy your rides.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


I’ve always been best at getting things done under a looming deadline. Pressure sharpens my focus. That’s probably why a long list of bike maintenance chores have suddenly seemed important over the past few days. With Moab and Fruita only weeks away, my motivation has spiked.

I spent last Saturday afternoon repacking a rear hub, and installing brake pads and a new rear derailleur—with fresh cable housings, of course—on my trail bike. This came after a week of suddenly experimenting with the pressures and rebound settings on my shocks. I’m also developing a neurotic tendency to stare at the box holding my new front derailleur as I wrestle with the decision of whether to install it now, or stick with the old one that’s working just fine.

Weeklong trips in one of mountain biking’s meccas don’t happen every year, so I always want my bike to fit and work perfectly when I arrive in a place like Moab. That’s one of the reasons I always take my own ride, instead of renting. The weeks of obsessive tweaking as I fine-tune it are just part of the anticipation that makes a biking vacation fun.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I’ll throw on some new brake rotors and maybe a new bottom bracket, because now that I’m running out of time, that clicking sound I’ve ignored all summer is suddenly driving me batshit crazy.