Monday, March 31, 2008

'Bent outta shape

I know someone who is selling her road bike, partially because physical problems are making it too uncomfortable to ride. Her story isn’t mine to tell, so I won’t go into any details, but her situation reminded me of a question brought up in a cycling magazine a few years ago.

The magazine asked readers what they would do if faced with a physical ailment, such as a back or neck injury, that required them to ride a recumbent or give up cycling entirely.

For me, this was easier than the time they asked readers which they would choose if they were forced give up either cycling or sex. I scared myself a little when I realized I was thinking it over.

I think recumbents are ugly, and they seem to be ridden by the same people who use arcane computer-operating systems and name ferrets after Lord of the Rings characters. I can’t really picture a bunch of recumbent riders standing around and talking trash over post-ride beers.

But when it comes right down to it, those rolling deck chairs still have two wheels, two pedals and a chain, and they let you move around under your own power in fresh air, which is the best part of riding anyway. So, if the day ever comes when I have to start buying high-rise stems and soft saddles to stay on a conventional bike, that’s what I’ll do.

If faced with no other choice, I’ll sit back in a recumbent and pedal on down the road.

I just hope I can figure out how to attach one of those little helmet-mount mirrors to the bag over my head.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Zip it good

I think zip ties and duct tape may be the ultimate tool combination. One or the other will often get the job done, but combine them, and you can really kick a little ass. Whatever situation you're in, if you can't accomplish at least a temporary repair with both of them, you're probably in big trouble.

I've used zip ties to attach all sorts of things to my bikes, but I really love the utilitarian beauty of mounting a pair of fenders to my commuter bike with a bunch of sticky tape and plastic.

That's part of the beauty of old bikes: You don't have to care what they look like, so you can rig up whatever works. (Yeah, yeah. I know some of you take this approach even with new bikes, but I prefer to maintain at least a modicum of aesthetic appeal for a few years, especially on an expensive bike.)

My old Stumpjumper was my last big purchase before leaving New Mexico for Alaska back in 1996. It's down to being my commuter these days, but I still love the old thing. The M2 frame is bomb-proof. It has survived more crashes than I can count, not to mention a roof-rack collision with the entrance to my garage. Other than the frame, the only original part left of this bike is the stem. Everything else has been replaced at least two or three times, and after going through a couple of Rock Shox forks, I took it rigid with a Surly Instigator fork that has no seals to blow out when I'm riding to work at -15F.

In '96, the Stumpjumper M2 was an off-the-shelf XC race bike with no braze-ons, so mounting full-coverage fenders requires a bit of ingenuity. I wrap some black duct tape around the parts of the frame where I need to attach fender supports, then zip-tie on the metal supports. The tape helps keep the ties from slipping, and protects the frame from nasty scratches.

The supports that come off the back of the fender don't reach any part of the frame when the fender is pushed out far enough to make room for studded tires, so I zip 'em to the middle of another pair of supports and then tape 'em up like a nerd's broken glasses so they can't slip downward.

Badda bing badda boom, I've got a commuter that looks funky, practical, cool and dry all at the same time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cameras on the trail

This image of my friend Adam shooting pictures last weekend got me thinking about how digital cameras have evolved into one of the most popular items carried on mountain bike rides. I’d rank mine right behind water, food, repair tool, pump and spare tube.

It didn’t used to be this way. Ten years ago, virtually none of my riding partners carried cameras, and I did so only occasionally. Good SLRs were (and still are) so heavy that carrying them was a pain in the ass, and so expensive that the idea of destroying one in a crash was worse than the thought of getting hurt. Point-and-shoot film cameras weren’t much lighter, and the quality of images they produced could be pretty marginal.

Today I carry a camera about the same size as a deck of cards. Its 2GB memory card isn’t much bigger than a corn flake, but holds something like 600 or 700 high-resolution images. I bought the whole damn setup for $200, which is less than I used to pay for enough film, processing and printing to get 600 snapshots.

Although it doesn’t allow me the full manual control of a digital SLR, my digital point-and-shoot gives me an amazing number of microchip-assisted frills that no film camera ever could. And it’s so light that I can attach it to the chest strap of a Camelbak and forget it’s there.

And maybe best of all, it’s cheap enough that if I smash it to pieces in a crash, I'll be a little bummed out, but I won’t lose any sleep over it. Every year, these little cameras get better and cheaper.

I wish we could say the same thing about suspension systems.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alaska Slickrock

One of my brothers has been e-mailing me pictures from his family's spring-break mountain biking trip. It'll be awhile before I ride any real dirt singletrack, and I've been feeling envious. So today I took a little trip to Moab without bothering to get on a plane.The mud flats change from week to week. Every time I ride them this time of year, I tell myself it's the last time for the season.
Then I go back. And the conditions are different every time.Last week's ice mushrooms have mostly melted away, leaving big sections of exposed mud. Other sections are covered with a thin layer of ice that looks treacherous for anything but studded tires.But with mild temperatures—and high salt levels in the tidal-zone ice—the ice is now shallow and soft. It's just waiting for Endomorphs to mash in into the thawing mud for good traction.In other areas, the mud is covered with an inch or two of water, but firm enough for easy cruising. This is the kind of stuff Pugsleys eat for lunch. I've been riding the coast off and on for several years, and today's conditions were among the weirdest (and funnest) I've ever seen.

Any day now, this area will be impassable and I'll stop raving about it on the blog every week. Until then, I'm gonna keep lovin' it.

This shit is fun.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A member of the cult needs help

I've never met Fred Bull, but he used to live and race in Anchorage, and some local riders are putting out the word that he needs help. At the age of 28, he has a rare type of brain cancer that has already required three surgeries.

With a baby on the way and big bills mounting, he needs financial help to cover medical bills, so some of his old friends are planning a fundraiser in Girdwood. Click on the poster for all the details.

Tax deductible donations can be sent to Cascade Christian Assembly Church, 925 Pine St., Leavenworth, WA 98826. Write the checks out to the church, but include Fred Bull's name on the bottom of the check.

Check out his blog for additional information.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Anchorage's coastal mud flats in March are what Pugsleys were made for. I tried this ride on my studded bike one night last week and thought it sucked. I was kicking myself for not taking the fat bike instead. So on Sunday, I went back with Jeff, with both of us on Pugsleys.

The spring conditions are ideal for fat tires. The still-frozen mud is just beginning to melt, and most of it is covered with a thin crust of ice and snow. There's a firm base, but enough surface resistance to make Endomorphs shine.

Occasional fields of what I've decided to call ice mushrooms shattered like wine glasses, with the fragments immediately mashing into the silty mud to provide decent traction.

We had lots of sun, reasonably warm temps and no rules. We just pointed the bikes wherever we wanted to go: through tidal guts, over ice plates, up and down the coast.

It was four fine hours of spring riding and one of the two best rides I've ever had in the Coastal Wildlife Refuge. A couple more weeks, and it'll all be gone for another season.

If you've got a fat bike, go get it while it's good.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Westchester Crit

It appeared to be done for the season
a week or so ago, but the not-quite-famous
Frigid Bits Burn Barrel came out for an encore
Saturday night at Westchester Lagoon.

Now it is officially done for the season.

We did a casual, 10-lap race on the
lagoon's freshly hot-mopped skating course.

Then we scarfed down dead critters, courtesy of Manny.

My cool daughter joined us,
winning first, second and third place
in the women's division.

DaveIT—one of four riders
in the very first Frigid Bits race, and
a regular throughout the first season—
returned after a long absence
and raced on the beer hauler
he built with a salvaged Dumpster frame.

A little more than 24 hours after
flying back from Nome following his
19-day victory in the Iditarod Trail Invitational,
Pete B. (left) stopped by
for some well-deserved calories.

He also got to say hi to his
fellow soon-to-be-expatriate Alaskan,
The Grillmeister (right).

The Anchorage bike scene
is gonna miss those guys.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring: When good trails go bad

Spurred by the nice evening sunlight that came with last weekend's changing of the clocks, I decided to take one more stab at a ride on the coastal flats tonight. I should have stabbed that route with a fork, 'cause it's pretty much done.

Spring is a hard time to be a bike rider in Alaska. Everything is either iced over, slushy, or covered in water—and most rides offer a combination of all three. It's hard to figure out which devours more of your time: bike maintenance, or washing your grunge-covered clothes.

A final trip down to the deteriorating ice of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge is becoming a spring rite for me. Catch it when it's good and hard, and it's a hoot to ride. Get there after it fades, and you don't know whether to mourn the demise of a good winter ride, or celebrate the fact that summer rides are now at least a still-dim light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Oh, well. Could be worse. I'm pretty sure I had a better evening than Eliot Spitzer.

For everyone in Anchorage, remember that Friday means it's time for Sage Cohen's slide show about her six-month bike trip across Asia. Get to the BP Energy Center by 7 p.m., throw a decent donation into the Singletrack Advocates fish bowl, and then sit back and enjoy the show.

Go ahead, rest your legs. You'll need 'em to ride all the new singletrack we're going to build.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


My wife and I were living in an apartment years ago when a new couple moved in next door. After a few days, she noticed a mountain bike hanging on the upstairs balcony and mentioned it to me. She thought maybe the new guy could become one of my riding partners.

“Nah,” I told her. “I saw that bike.”

After she threw me one of those looks that said “nice attitude, jackass,” I explained that it was obvious the guy wasn’t serious about mountain biking, and I had no interest in spending an afternoon waiting for him to carry broken parts back to a trailhead

Yes, boys and girls, even I—a caring, sensitive and supportive guy—have been accused of being a bike snob.

As hard as it may be to believe, I could be a little guilty of the charge. But even I have limits.

One of my co-workers is shopping for her first new road bike, and has asked several times for my opinion on various models and brands. As I always do in such situations, I’ve encouraged her to buy as much bike as she can afford, and to feel confident that she’ll get a solid machine if she buys from a good shop and sticks with mainstream manufacturers such as Specialized, Trek, Giant, Orbea, etc.

But she has another friend who is telling her that he would never ride such inferior bicycles, and that she should double her bike-buying budget to $5,000 or more so she can buy some blinged-out boutique brand.

Now that’s a snob.

For most people fairly new to cycling, simply spending two or three grand on a bike is intimidating enough. The last thing they need is some arrogant dude with too much disposable income trying to impose his egomaniacal hang-ups on them.

If you can afford to spend big bucks on a top-end bike, good for you. Hell, if I were rich, I’d have a garage full state-of-the-art machines. But keep in mind, most of us live in the real world, where $2,400 will buy my co-worker a beautiful road bike that is mind-blowingly fun to ride.

I say shut up and let her enjoy it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A wake for winter

The 2007/08 Frigid Bits series
came to an end Saturday night with
a final race/ride on the lower Hillside,
followed by the last tailgater of the season.
It was a long, fun winter full of good rides;
some under the Frigid Bits umbrella,
and others that were just fun. The early season got off to a slow start
but we rode anyway, even though
the trails were nothing but ice.

The Grillmeister's face-melting lights
nearly burned a hole in the ice on Goose Lake.

The beer was cold (hell, it got colder
as we drank it) and the company
was good ... except for that drunk vagrant
who showed up and tried to swan-dive
into the burn barrel.

As it turns out, fires in trash cans
are magnets for homeless people
and mountain bikers, which doesn't
make it any easier to tell them apart.

The Frosty Bottom lived up
to its name.

Post-race parties kicked ass.
Once, somebody even had the crazy idea
that we could drink beer indoors.


Speaking of kicking ass,
Thirstywork did a lot of that.

Pretty much every time he got on a bike.

Grillmeister and Mesotony
shared a pair underwear.

Denizens of the Mad-Zoo Valley
visited as part of a
cultural-exchange program ...

... and found that Anchorage
bike culture isn't much different
than a Wasilla trailer park,
except our vehicles cost more.

Rio, the whole damned thing
was your fault.

Thank you.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Dollars for singletrack

If you love biking—and especially if you're willing to give a few bucks to help the cause of biking—make plans to come out next Friday night for a great slide show and a wonderful cause.

Sage Cohen will be sharing the experience of her six-month bike odyssey across Central Asia, and the admission price is whatever you can afford to give. All the proceeds will help Singletrack Advocates build a new network of singletrack on the lower Hillside, a series of trails we'll all be able to enjoy for years to come.

For details, read through the recent posts on the Singletrack Advocates website. The money's coming in, the design is firming up and trails are on the verge of becoming a reality, but we still need your help.

If you can't make it to the slide show, give what you can anyway.

After all, it's for singletrack. What better investment could there be?

You can make a donation directly to Singletrack Advocates at the door, or through the PayPal button on the STA website.

Any donations made through our 501(c)3 partner, Alaska Trails, are even tax-deductible. Just write a check payable to Alaska Trails and mail it to:

Alaska Trails
c/o Singletrack Advocates
P.O. Box 240574
Anchorage, AK 99507

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Right or wrong

There’s a guy who has shared part of my commuting route for several years now. I often wave to him or yell “hello” as we pass while riding in opposite directions. I sometimes notice how many things he does wrong.

He sits way too upright, for one thing. As he pedals, his feet point inward at a nearly impossible angle. He rides in too low a gear, so he’s always spinning too fast with his hips bobbing up and down. A few days ago, I saw him rise out of the saddle to sprint a short distance—across smooth, shining glare ice—about 25 yards from a place where he was going to have to hit the brakes anyway. Worst of all, he sometimes avoids snow-covered bike paths by riding on the road shoulder against traffic.

On the other hand, he rides nearly every damned day. Regardless of snow, rain, wind or sub-zero cold. Some mornings as I plow through a few inches of fresh powder on my Pugsley, I marvel at the sinuous tracks he has left in my path as he charged to work with his 2-inch tires, wildly drifting and swerving through the new snow. I’ve watched him do this, and he often appears to be on the verge of a sensational crash. But I’ve never seen him fall.

I don't know how he does it. It's almost as if it hasn't occurred to him that he could fall.

While everyone driving by him is warm and dry, he hammers to work and back home every day looking like he just ate half a case of Ding Dongs and washed 'em down with six cans of Red Bull.

I still think he’s playing Russian Roulette when he rides against traffic—especially on dark, winter days—but maybe he’s not doing so many things wrong, after all. He’s out there riding, having a ball, and doing it day after day.

And, somehow, staying upright.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Drewling in Palmer

I spent half of my Sunday trail ride muttering swear words under my breath.

Usually, that means I’m picking bad lines and riding with about as much grace as that chubby kid in high school who had his glasses taped together and sprayed a lot of spit when he played the trombone. On the Moose Drewl course, however, it mostly meant I was kicking myself for leaving my camera on the workbench in my garage. All that new scenery, all those new riders, and I couldn't get a shot of anything.

Ah, what the hell. I hadn’t ridden in so long, I should consider myself lucky for showing up with a bike and a helmet. Fortunately, The Grillmeister got a few photos showing the nice turnout at the start line. Three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in Palmer, Alaska, and 39 people showed up for a winter bike race. There were fat bikes all over the place. Sweet.

Seventeen people raced the “advanced” course, two raced the beginner loop, and 20 of us “toured” the advanced course, so we were free of the clock. That means that when I finally arrive back at the parking lot and three-quarters of the cars have already left and headed for the bonfire and beer, I don’t have to worry about somebody saying, “Uh, sorry dude, we lost your time because the clock’s batteries froze up a half-hour ago.”

Good job by Mark Gronewald and the Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers, who put on a fun event. It was a good course and a great crowd.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bring it on

Brace yourself for busy bike trails this spring. I read a report this week that said gasoline is averaging $3.15 per gallon, which is near the record price set last May. And this is only February. With oil over $100 per barrel, experts are saying a gallon of gas could cost $4 by summer.

Except for my plans to drive to Canada in June, I'm ready for another season of pedaling by gas stations with a smirk on my face. I can already imagine the scene on the bike trail I ride to work—every time gas prices take a steep jump, the number of bike commuters goes up, if only for a few weeks.

I like seeing the newbies out there. It gives me hope that a few of them might find that they actually like riding a bike to work.

It gives me hope that a few of them might realize that maybe the big-ass SUVs in their driveways weren't such a good idea. That maybe bikes, buses and carpools are viable alternatives.

Hey, I drive, too. I don't like dumping money into my gas tank any more than the next guy. But the way I figure it, it's time to get used to it. Gas ain't gettin' cheaper from here on, folks. The supply's runnin' out, and there's about a billion people in China who can't wait to dump their Flying Pigeons so they can kick the tires and light the fires when they finally "modernize" and buy their first cars.

So bring on the new bike-commuting converts. I want to see them swerving across the trails as they get reacquainted with their long-neglected bikes and try to comprehend a route to work that doesn't involve smelly traffic and idling at red lights. I won't even mind being extra careful so they won't run into me while they're distracted and confused. Better to dodge their bikes than their Ford Excursions.

I often ride bikes for the peace and solitude.

But I'd love to see the bike paths get crowded at rush hour.