Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Cuban in Hawaii

Even Fidel is flipping me off these days.
I think Bicycles & Icicles will be on hiatus
for a few days. Aloha.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Festive Fingers

Deb and the twins wish you a Merry Christmas.
(The dogs do, too.)

It's a tradition this time of year to send cards with family pictures on them, so what better way to create an official Bicycles & Icicles holiday card than to use a flip-off photo from a member of the dysfunctional family that makes up the regular readership of this blog?

As another year winds down, I'd like to say thanks to everyone who shared a fun ride, contributed to the Fabulous Finger Gallery, or killed time reading this silliness every week.

Whatever you're into this weekend, have a good holiday and safe travels. Especially when you're on two wheels.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Blowin' in the wind

Sam chucks wood under the watchful eye of Queen Bee
during a ride across Blue Dot last Saturday.

Alaska has gone a little crazy this winter. And not just that Sarah-Palin-loony kind of crazy. More like Lindsay-Lohan-on-a-bender insane. She covers herself with white powder and invites everyone to roll around on it until she goes apeshit and starts trashing the room.

Rain, chinook winds, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s like a bad case of PMS mixed with cheap whiskey and a short fuse. Over the weekend, Glen Alps recorded a top wind speed of 104 mph. Every side street and parking lot in Anchorage is a hellish slab of ice that’s unsafe for everyone without studs in their tires or spikes in their shoes. And there’s another storm on the way that could push gusts to 90 mph on Tuesday.

And, just to add insult to injury, it’s December and we still have to be alert for a garbage-munching bear that refuses to hibernate.

Fortunately, I haven’t heard of any bear sightings for a few days, local trails have recovered from the meteorological disaster of two weeks ago, and the state’s most recent meltdown didn’t ruin our riding conditions. Saturday was awesome, Sunday was soft but still fun, and Monday was reportedly bomber again. Go get some while the gettin’ is good.

And carry a saw if you can, because when a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, it still blocks singletrack.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dollars down the drain

Alaska snow removal: Plow. Bury. Repeat.

About a dozen years ago, morning commuters in Fairbanks noticed a crew of workers clearing a parking lot with snowblowers. That afternoon, they saw the same workers blowing the same snow to the other side of the same parking lot. This went on for a couple of days while outraged drivers — who didn’t know the parking lot had been rented by a snowblower manufacturer to test its product — were calling City Hall to complain because they thought municipal workers were wasting taxpayer dollars.

Maybe those motorists paid attention because the scene involved a parking lot for cars. Something was going on, because the same basic thing happens in Anchorage all winter, every year, and nobody seems to give a damn. I’m talking about sidewalks and bike paths that city crews clean, and that state crews then bury under snow thrown from adjacent roads. Over and over. Every damned year.

And yes, I find it annoying because I’m a bike commuter, but it goes beyond that. It’s a terrible waste in terms of labor and fuel costs, because the sidewalks and bike paths that do actually get plowed (rather than completely ignored) end up being cleared twice. Eventually.

In the meantime, people who walk, bike, take the bus, etc., are lucky to find clear routes for a couple of hours before they have to spend days post-holing through a moonscape of ice and snow debris that was thrown atop their travel routes and bus stops. At least I can get off my bike one or twice every block, and grumble as I push through 75-yard stretches of snow sludge. I feel worse when I see people running their wheelchairs at the side of a lane of traffic, or people with canes trying to get home with bags of groceries when they can barely reach a bus-stop bench.

The cause of this problem is simple: The city of Anchorage and the state of Alaska are incapable of coordinating their snowplow schedules to work efficiently.

When this kind of government waste is more visible and affects more people, it sparks outrage. But when it’s in the dark margins beyond the side windows of most peoples’ automotive cocoons, they don’t seem to notice.

Maybe when somebody in a wheelchair gets run down on a dark December day as they roll down an icy street full of cars, we’ll finally be able to get our mayor and our governor — who are both tax-hating, cost-cutting conservatives — to appoint a couple of managers to work together and end this insanity.

But I’m not counting on it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Guilty pleasures

Lucas Brunelle might be one of the biggest jackasses you’ll ever see on a road bike (and that’s a huge statement) but damn, does he make some amazing videos. As far as I’m concerned, his Drag Race NYC contains some of the coolest urban racing footage ever caught on a digital memory card. That shit makes me want to jump on a bike and go fast.

His new DVD, Lucas Brunelle: Line of Sight, is undoubtedly just as much fun to watch. Maybe more. But his videos raise troubling questions. In a new interview with Bicycling magazine (yeah, I’m getting a lot of blog mileage out of it -- it’s the first issue I’ve really read in recent months) Brunelle makes it clear he’s not interested in diplomacy. The magazine’s editors asked on Twitter last week if Brunelle is ruining cycling’s image “or just trying to save us?”

In short, Brunelle is a guy who owns a successful company and has the freedom to travel around the world and shoot hair-raising footage of alleycat races. His skills are amazing, but his selfishness appears to be off the charts. He and his buddies terrorize pedestrians and motorists, and they ignore every traffic rule in the book. Whatever your stand on the responsibilities of one’s personal risk-taking, there’s no question they subject strangers to the trauma of being hit by a bike, or having to live with the experience of fatally striking a bicyclist with a car.

Motorists who encounter his crew undoubtedly come away from the experience shaken and pissed off at bicyclists. As someone who tries to set a decent – but far from perfect – example, I find that disturbing. Brunelle wouldn’t care.

In his magazine interview, he lays it out this way: “Fuck bike advocacy. It's the cars that make shit fun. Without cars, we couldn't do skitches off SUVs. We couldn't get bruised and cut up; we couldn't commiserate. I love traffic. It's an evil river, sure, but I love the city streets.”

Brunelle might be the kind of guy I’d like to meet over a beer. But I don’t know if I’d want to stay for a second round.

Maybe that’s why it pisses me off to really enjoy watching his insane videos.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Can't touch the Snatchsquatch

Over the past few days, I’ve read 25 comments on my post about naming bikes. I have found, through my unscientific survey, that women tend to name their bikes more often than men do. But that’s not all.

My good friend Julie calls her bikes names like “piece of shit” and “bastard child,” but that’s mainly when she’s working on them.

Sierra, over in Whitehorse, gives her bikes names like Snatchsquatch, Dick Van Byke and Contessa Von Awesome.

I’m still not sure about the merits of naming bicycles, but I’ve learned one thing: Women are a lot better at it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Naming your baby

I was eating some pasta and flipping through the new issue of Bicycling magazine today when I came across a fun feature on things to love about cycling. They nailed quite a few, like the sound of everyone’s derailleurs shifting when the pack crests a hill, the satisfaction of getting down in the drops and grinding through a headwind, and learning to appreciate the beauty of frame scratches and paint wear.

But there was one thing to which I couldn’t relate: naming a bicycle. I’ve never been interested in doing that.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my bikes. I get attached to them. Probably too much. I’ve ridden some for years past the point at which I would have benefited from switching to newer technology. But at the end of the day, they’re machines. Fascinating, beautiful machines that are engineering marvels, but still just machines. I don’t assign animate qualities to them, and the idea of naming them seems rather silly.

After all, they come with names that I use to refer to them around the house or with friends. Epic. Fatback. Trucker. Road bike. (OK, that last one is a bit dull, but TCR C1 is just too much of a mouthful.) Giving them new names seems unnecessary.

Is this a gender-based thing? Most people I know who have named their bikes are women. Maybe the men do it, but are shy about admitting it.

So I’m asking those of you who read this blog: Do you name your bikes, and why or why not? I’m truly curious. So leave a comment if you have a spare minute, and identify yourself as male or female, if you don’t mind.

Naming bikes, yes or no?


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Attitude adjustment

Alaskans have a saying: There is no bad weather, only bad gear. There’s a lot of truth in that.

But a bad attitude can be worse than sketchy weather. Knowing that the forecast looked grim and our sweet winter trails were about to get nuked, I forced myself out for a ride Saturday afternoon. Rain was falling as I drove to the trailhead, and roads were already getting wicked slick. I thought about turning around and heading home before things got worse.

Moose Meadow, Saturday afternoon.

When I reached the parking lot, I stuck my arm out of the window to test the rain-to-sleet ratio. My legs were tired from a week of commuting, and I knew I was looking for an excuse to bail out and go home. The rain seemed to be turning to sleet, so I grumpily pulled out my Fatback, strapped on a helmet and decided to ride for 10 or 15 minutes just to check the conditions.

Despite the shitty-looking weather, riding conditions were awesome. I pedaled slow and easy because of my tired legs, but I hit favorite trails like Thread the Needle and Brown Bear, enjoying the flow and watching most of the precipitation bounce off the sleeves of my jacket.

It was one of those rides that leave me wondering why I ever considered not getting out. Two hours after I started, I got back to my car with a wet jacket, an ice-covered bike and a smile on my face.

I drove home slowly on ice-covered streets, and then spent Saturday night and all day Sunday watching Mother Nature wreak havoc on what had been a really nice Alaska winter. Warm rain and hurricane-force winds kicked the crap out of Anchorage. Who knows how many trees have fallen across the trails, or how much overflow has ruined stream crossings that only recently hardened up?

I damn near didn’t ride Saturday. Now that I don’t know when conditions will improve, I’m really glad I did.