Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thanks, Sarah

WHEREAS, more Alaskans per capita bike to work than the nation as a whole, according to U.S. Census figures, and that Alaska ranks 12th in the proportion of adults who bike to work.

WHEREAS, the bicycle is a viable and environmentally-sound form of transportation, as well as an excellent form of recreation and physical activity.

WHEREAS, many Alaskans will experience the joys of bicycling this summer through educational programs, commuting events, trail work days, helmet promotions, recreational bike rides, and other bicycling events.

WHEREAS, the bicycle offers a clean, quiet, affordable, and healthy alternative to automobile commuting.

WHEREAS, the national nonprofit League of American Bicyclists has declared the month of May as National Bike Month for each of the last 52 years, and has done so again in 2008.

WHEREAS, during the month of May, bicycle clubs, schools, parks and recreation departments, police departments, hospitals, businesses, and civic groups throughout Alaska will be promoting bicycling as a wholesome transportation and leisure activity, as well as an environmentally friendly alternative to the automobile.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sarah Palin, Governor of the state of Alaska, do hereby proclaim May 2008 as:

Bike Month

May 10-16, 2008 as:

Bike Week

and May 16, 2008, as:

Bike to Work and School Day

in Alaska, and encourage all Alaskans to use the bicycle for transportation during the month of May, to recognize the importance of bicycle safety, and to be more aware of cyclists on our streets and highways.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Who loves ya, baby?

I seem to inspire this kind of behavior without even trying. It's like I have a gift. Or a camera.

I get The Finger a lot. It's often because I'm pointing a camera at someone while he or she rides a bicycle. My friends sometimes appear to grow tired of having their pictures taken. Don't these people realize I have a blog to fill?

You'd think they'd consider my needs. But noooooo. A few little clicks of the camera, and sproiiiiiing, the ol' Finger pops up like a jack-in-the-box. Except in the case of John, who sometimes chooses to keep it on the down low. But high or low, The Finger is The Finger no matter how you slice or dice it.

Come to think of it, it happens more often when I’m riding with one of these two, and usually after we’ve climbed a hill or three. Hmm. Maybe there’s a pattern there.

I’m not sure how to solve this problem on road rides, but maybe singletrack can help: This summer, I’ll set up for pictures in the hairy, technical sections where both hands have to stay on the bar.

Can’t hurt to try, anyway. At least if I keep getting The Finger, it might be in the middle of a really cool crash shot.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Please, make it STOP!

The view on Potter Valley Road less than 48 hours ago.

The view from my driveway 20 minutes ago.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Patty's Potter Valley

On Wednesday evening, I grabbed my camera and headed down to Potter Valley Road to watch members of the bike club race up that beast. It's only 1.9 miles from top to bottom, but the road climbs 660 vertical feet over that distance.

I ride it often this time of year in an effort to lose winter flab and get back in shape, so I thought it might be fun to see what it looks like when fast riders climb. (In case you were wondering, it looks a lot better when they do it.)

There were all sorts of riders climbing at a variety of speeds, but the real contenders looked the part. They were lean, well-muscled, decked out in team kits and shaved legs, and riding beautiful bikes. But I didn't know until the next morning—when I read race coverage in the Daily News—that I left too early and missed my chance to shoot photos of the coolest and toughest rider on the hill: a 58-year-old woman who finished last.

Four years ago, Patty Ginsburg was trying to survive lung cancer. The treatments that saved her left a lot of damage, and doctors told the former marathon runner that her lungs would never been the same again. Now she rides to push herself, and to see how much she can do.

Wednesday night, she was pedaling the first road bike she has owned in 30 years, and beat her personal goal of 25 minutes when she finished in 23:19. She was dead last, and very much alive.

It's funny how we always think we're supposed to watch the rider at the front of a race.

It's a shame when we miss the best part because we don't know we should be watching the rider at the back.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No, thanks

It’s charity-ride season. This is the only time of year when Alaska has these big, organized recreational rides. Unfortunately, they all come with the obligation to solicit donations.

I’m all for giving to good causes. Multiple sclerosis, heart disease, whatever. Those problems need to be solved. Cancer? That crap killed my father, and I know I might get it one day. Spending money on research to cure it is a good thing.

I just don’t like asking people for money. Never have. Especially when doing so looks like I’m asking them to donate so that I can go for a bike ride. It makes me feel like someone else is paying my entry fee, and that feels wrong.

Yeah, yeah, I know that’s not what charity rides are supposed to be about, but let’s be honest: How many bicyclists do you know who spend any other part of the year raising hundreds—or thousands—of dollars just because they care? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

With a pile of T-shirts and the promise of a few aid stations, charities turn thousands of people into surrogate fund-raisers. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I just don’t care to play. And I'm not all that thrilled with the appearance of so much "research" money paying for overhead expenses such as shirts, advertising, event insurance, silly promotions, yadda yadda yadda.

No offense to anyone who likes doing these events. If they make you happy, good for you. But wouldn’t it be a lot easier skip weeks of hustling donations, and just grab some food and water, and ride 100 miles with a few friends? If you shove a couple of $20 bills in a jersey pocket, the world is full of 24-hour aid stations.

And when you get back home, you can mail a check to the charity of your choice.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Roll out the skinny tires

The road bikes are finally hitting the pavement. They were all over town this weekend. The last time mine touched the ground was when I rode it across my brother’s driveway in Kansas City after a week of riding last October. I took it off the trainer Friday night and then spent the weekend reminding myself how fat I got this winter.

After a 27-miler with Ken and Heather on Saturday, I did a solo ride up Potter Valley Road on Sunday. And I didn’t let myself time the climb. Some things are best left unknown this early in the season.

The great thing about cycling is that progress comes quickly. A few more rides and I might start feeling good again.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? The best thing about cycling is that it’s fun even when you suck.

I was about a quarter of the way up Potter Valley when I allowed myself to think, “Hey, this doesn’t hurt that bad.” Then a guy on a Cervelo cruised up beside me, said, “How ya doin?” and left me eating dust as he shot up the hill.

I reeled him in and beat him to the top, of course. (Good thing he stopped to chat with his friends at the halfway point.)

It was a beautiful ride: The sun was shining, the air was a warm 50 degrees, my heart didn’t explode out of my chest, and I got the first hill climb of the season out of the way.

They all get easier from here ... right?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is it just me, or ... ?

During a week of riding in Fruita a few years ago, my brother and I ate breakfast six feet away from a restaurant table full of old farmers in denim overalls and the caps they got from fertilizer and tractor companies. They were drinking coffee and telling stories like they always had before Troy Rarick opened a bike shop and got his buddies to help him build a world-class trail network.

A little more than a mile away, the front desk at our hotel contained a small sign telling guests that there was a bike-washing station available. All we had to do was ask, and we’d be given old washcloths and towels to help get the job done. When my brother asked if the hotel had any scrubbing brushes, the clerk said no, then eagerly asked us to tell her what kind we needed so that she could go buy some. The hotel’s management had clearly figured out that mountain bikers were good for business.

Ever since witnessing the juxtaposition of Fruita’s agricultural past and it’s mountain-bike-tourism present, I’ve been fascinated by how this sport can improve a community’s economy. And I’ve always hoped more towns would see the light.

IMBA and Shimano are now trying to help that happen with a brochure on the economic benefits of our sport. You can download it free from IMBA’s “Resources” page and read all the cool facts, like:

  • Mountain bikers now outnumber golfers in the United States.
  • In direct expenditures alone, mountain biking pumps $26 billion into the U.S. economy every year—that’s 1.5 times as much as NASA’s discretionary budget.
  • The voting strength of American mountain bikers is more than 1 1/3 the voting strength of Americans 65 and older.
  • The annual value of Moab’s mountain bike trails is estimated at $8.4 million to $8.7 million.

The list goes on and on. It can make a person wonder why mountain bikers have to fight to get new trails built, and old ones opened to bikes.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for municipal, county and state governments to start planning and paying for trails that would bring them economic benefits?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Around the bend, and back again

Lately, newspaper mentioned cheap airfare.
I've got to fly to Saint Somewhere.

I'm close to bodily harm. ...

This morning I shot six holes in my freezer.
I think I've got cabin fever.
omebody sound the alarm.
—"Boat Drinks", by Jimmy Buffett

April 15. Is there any day more loathed by the average American? Yesterday I had to mail Uncle Sam a check that could have paid for a couple of really nice new bikes. Instead, Dubya gets to piss my money down a bottomless hole.

But I'm not bitter because it's April 15.

I'm bitter because it's April 15 and it's snowing. Again.

Mother Nature—that bitch—has pushed the "pause" button on my bike life. I'm spinning on the trainer while working my way through the latest cheesy remake of King Kong (hey, I'm desperate and, besides, I'll try almost any flick that has Jack Black in it), and reading bike forums online.

One of the things I've noticed about Alaska-specific bike forums is that people from other states like to post questions and pick the brains of people who ride in a lot of cold, snowy weather—and I mean a lot of cold, snowy weather. Like the kind that lasts until April Freaking 15th. But I digress.

Anyway, these people want tips on clothing, footwear, studded tires, cold-weather lubes, etc. This time of year, those who are planning to visit this summer want advice on where to ride and which shops to use. And that's all fine. Happy to help.

But occasionally, we get questions like, "Dude, I'm comin' up to AK this summer! Any downhill/freeride parks up there?"

I always want to respond, "Dude! No! Thank god!"

I don't, of course. Not because doing so would be rude, but because I'm an athiest and it would be sort of hypocritical to thank a god. I'm also a middle-aged guy who has no business using words like "Dude!"

My point? Yeah, I have one, damn it, but I'm taking my time. Why not? It's snowing! What else have I got to do? My point is ... shit, what was it?

Oh, yeah. My point is that I don't understand the whole downhill/freeride thing. See a few years back, a bunch of guys (screw what Gary Fisher says, it was a bunch of guys) figured out how to build these wonderful, multi-geared bikes that would go up and down all sorts of fun terrain. And it was fun.

I think mountain biking is about sweat, dirt, pretty scenery, tight singletrack, quiet forests, shootin' the shit with your friends, covering lots of ground and seeing lots of country without having to blister your feet during days of beer-free backpacking.

Downhillers seem to think mountain biking is about obese bikes, body armor, unnatural trail features, scarred hillsides and rides on chairlifts. I don't see the appeal.

I once tried an afternoon of riding at a ski area when they first opened their chairlifts to mountain bikers, and it made me feel lazy. It felt wrong. The only real exercise I got was squeezing the brake levers to avoid killing the newbies in Nikes and cotton T-shirts who thought it was OK to stop and chat in the middle of the trail on high-speed corners.

I guess it's a good thing that downhillers are on bikes instead of motorcycles but, except for the noise, it's sometimes hard to see much difference at first glance.

Maybe I'll be less cranky when the snow finally stops.

But I doubt it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Road trip

Damn. I hate it when a perfectly good photographic opportunity is ruined by the absence of a bicycle. I mean, seriously, wouldn't this shot have made a great banner for the blog if only it had a fat bike rolling through the foreground?

Oh, well. I guess Denali is lookin' pretty good in the late evening sun anyway.

My wife and I needed a change of scenery this weekend, so we loaded up our daughter and some gear, and headed for Talkeetna. What is there to do in Talkeetna in April? Damn little, unless you're a mountain guide gearing up for the clients that will arrive soon. For us, that was the point: nothing to do. We walked around the mostly empty streets, ate some food, bought some used books, slept in a quiet cabin and looked at the scenery.

During one of our walks, we followed a snowmachine trail for a little while. That reminded me of how being a winter biker does strange things to a person. For one, it makes you constantly assess the surface of any snow you happen to be walking on, because you're always curious about how well it would support a bike.

My wife understands this. Or she tries to, anyway. As we were walking along a wide, hard-packed area that was a virtual snowmachine highway leading out of town, she said, "You should bring your Pugsley up here."

Damn straight.

Talkeetna is already on my list of spring weekend trips over the next couple of years. All I need is a big breakfast at The Roadhouse, and a sunny day to ride through the country with a view of the mountain.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Read my blog, or I’ll shoot this dog

My younger brother sent me an e-mail a week or so ago telling me I was “famous” in the north Kansas City bike scene. A rider there had picked up the new Dirt Rag and saw my Pugsley photo in “The Rider’s Eye,” recognized the last name and then posted a copy on their local forum. Now everyone there knows I'm Matt's bro. Yeah, baby! Fame!

I finally found a copy on the newsstand in Anchorage, so I read it today at lunchtime and was annoyed by a couple of letters to the editor. It seems someone is always whining about some picture in a magazine.

In bike mags, it’s usually along the lines of, “You showed someone riding without a helmet!” or “That picture of a woman in shorts is degrading to women.”

The newest whiners complained about this recent subscription ad: “Subscribe, or we shoot the dog.” This is a joke, folks. It’s funny. And not just because I like seeing canines portrayed as hostages (and I do). It’s funny because of its history. It has comedic roots. It pays homage to what came before it.

I was 10 years old and doing menial jobs in my father’s drugstore when National Lampoon published the historic cover showing a dog with a gun to its head, and text telling readers to buy the magazine or the dog would get killed. This was a parody. Nobody at the Lampoon intended to cap Rover, and they didn’t expect anyone with half a brain to think they would. (And they were irreverent enough that they didn’t really want their magazine to be read by anyone too stupid to understand.)

The cover was funny, it jumped off the newsstand and it got attention. I still remember standing there in Dad’s store, staring at the cover and laughing at the joke. It has been copied by many magazines in the 35 years since it first appeared, and probably every one of them endured complaints, with the possible exception of Texas Monthly, which ran this great cover last year and explained it in an editor’s note at the front of the magazine.

Buy this magazine or Dick Cheney will shoot you in the face? Now that’s funny shit! It’s probably the all-time best knock-off cover inspired by National Lampoon’s original from 1973.

Sadly, not all Dirt Rag readers are as hip as the editors would like them to be. One guy called it “an incredibly insensitive ad.”

The next letter writer went even further, blasting the magazine for ... (read this twice, because it’s really good) ... “threatening to kill an animal over an inconceivably minor financial transaction.”

Who would write that? Ned Flanders?

Dirt Rag’s editors replied with a note saying the joke isn’t funny anymore. Screw that. They should run the ad again in their next issue.

Stand up for humor with an edge, Dirt Rag. Don’t surrender to the same patsies who think Wile E. Coyote turns kids into serial killers.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Rx for cabin fever

Fatis Bikicillin, 500 mg. Take one with food
every 12 to 24 hours as needed
for relief of mental instability.

Refills: No limit.

Warnings: Avoid alcohol when taking this medication.
Use may cause alternating episodes of excitability
and drowsiness. Do not attempt to drive
or operate other machinery while
under the influence of a fat bike.
Treat overdose with ibuprofen.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Having a tough day

I have a general policy of not posting anything on this blog unless it's bike-related. But these pictures are too good to pass up. They're making the rounds via e-mail, and I got them from my friend Amber on Friday.

I don't know when or where they were taken, but the trucks in the photos have Alaska plates. I ran into another friend today who had seen the photos and was told they were taken near the village of Shishmaref.

Before anyone asks if the guy survived, I think it's safe to say he did. Bear maulings make the news in Alaska, and I haven't read of any polar bears hurting anyone recently.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Best-screwed plans

I had this weekend dialed in before it even started: Swap out the studs for slicks on my commuter; swing by the annual bike swap to check out the goods and run into some friends; do a ride up to Midtown this afternoon; and then get the road bike ready for a ride on Sunday.

Those plans were hosed before breakfast. At 8 a.m. it was snowing so hard that when the wind swirled through my cul-de-sac, I could barely see my neighbors’ house across the street.

Later, I drove through the slop to get some cash for the bike swap. The ATM was out of service. I drove to the grocery store and bought a doughnut so I’d have an excuse to use my debit card and get cash back. Finally, I made it to the bike swap ... a week early.

The damn thing is next Saturday.

The weather guys say we could have 11 inches of snow by tomorrow.

Snow in April sucks.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


My friend Dave posted a note on a bike forum today about how he "made" himself ride to work two days in a row this week. He woke up Tuesday hoping it was raining so he wouldn't have to ride, and then had to grumpily force himself out of bed and onto the bike.

You think you know a person, and then they go and reveal something like this.

If he wanted us to think he's nuts, why didn't he just say he owns the entire Michael Jackson catalog on CD, or that he has a computer full of Russian granny porn? Not that he does (as far as I know), but it wouldn't have been any more disturbing.

I don't understand the concept of not wanting to ride to work. Whenever I know I'm going to ride, it's easier to get myself out of bed. And trust me, I'm not a morning person. If you doubt that, just ask my family. They'll tell you how I hate it when someone tries to talk to me in the hour of the day. Hell, last week I got mad at my wife and daughter for talking to each other while I was sitting nearby and trying to eat breakfast and read the news.

Dragging myself out of bed so I can drive to work is hard. Getting up so I can ride to work sucks less. And once I get going, I virtually always enjoy the trip. Having all my gear ready and wishing for an excuse to not ride? Never happens.

But Dave, who owns at least as many bikes as I do, is a closet car guy. It's sad.

Speaking of friends who ride to work (some happily) I used to occasionally share part of my commute with my former co-worker Gina, who asked me to pimp her art show and presentation on this here blog.

OK, she didn't use the word "pimp." I just call 'em like I see 'em. Does she read the blog? Does she ever have a kind word to say about the blog? Noooooooooo. But if you read it, she'd like you to show up, look at her art and hear about her bike trip in Spain and Portugal.

You could do worse on a Friday night, so click on her flier for more info., and go check it out if you're so inclined.

Just be sure to say something like, "I'm sure glad I read about this on Tim's blog, or I would have missed the whole damn deal!"