Saturday, May 31, 2008


My daughter has learned to love mountain biking and she turns 14 on Monday, so we’ve been shopping for a new bike over the past 10 days or so. She ended up choosing a Specialized Rockhopper, which we happily brought home today.

We spent part of the afternoon converting it to presta tubes, setting up her tool bag for the season, installing a bike computer and bottle cage, and washing her old bike in preparation for sale. Bringing home a new bike is always fun. Unfortunately, shopping for one can be frustrating.

Too many bike shops across the country are plagued with shitty sales staffs. I often hear new riders complain of feeling intimidated by arrogant shop employees who speak in condescending tones and treat customers like morons. It’s a legitimate complaint. I see that kind of thing happen all the time.

We checked out bikes at six stores in Anchorage, and I was annoyed by the time I walked out of two of them (REI and the new Bicycle Shop on Dimond). Some people might think two out of six ain’t bad. I think two out of six means that 33.3 percent of the stores we visited employ at least one arrogant prick.

When anyone is shopping for a product and asking questions, sales people should tactfully assess the customer’s level of knowledge and respond accordingly—and respectfully—whether they’re selling microwave ovens, cars, bikes, or toasters.

I’ve bought many bikes over the years but I don’t do it every day, so I’m genuinely interested in what a shop employee can tell me about the new models, or how a bike fits. But I want opinions, not edicts, and I want to be heard when I express my thoughts on what I’m looking for.

I’m always interested in new information from people who spend 40 hours a week around bikes. On the other hand, I’ve considered myself a “serious” rider for 20 years and I can build a good bike from a bare frame and a pile of parts, and have a good time doing it, so I don't want to be treated like an idiot. Nobody else does, either. Regardless of their experience level.

The worst part of this problem isn’t how it turns away business from individual shops. I couldn't care less if a jackass employee hurts the owner's bottom line. The worst part is that some people who would like to try bicycling end up walking out of shops and going home, and they decide that they were right all along—the whole bike thing is too foreign, too much of a clique. They end up never discovering how much fun it is to good hooked on riding a bike.

And that’s a damned tragedy, in my opinion.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Phresh phinger photo

Huber gets in on the action.

(This is the thanks I get for taking

the trouble to ride with one hand
while trying to capture a warm-and-fuzzy,
family friendly moment.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Seeds of change

Everybody’s been talking lately about the bleary news we face every day. Bush’s debacle in Iraq, the tanking economy, the soaring cost of fuel, yadda, yadda, yadda. But there’s good news to be found, if you know where to look. And a good place to start is any news story that opens with a photo of a cute bike commuter wearing a hoodie and killer shorts.

This is a photo of Janaki Purushe, who owns a car but has discovered the joys of riding to work and running errands on her bike. She’s not alone.

On Monday, the federal Department of Transportation announced that its figures from March showed the steepest decrease in driving ever recorded. And the government's been tracking such things since 1942.

OK, so it was only a 4.3-percent drop from a year earlier. It’s a start. And it translates into 11 billion fewer miles driven by American motorists.

Even here in Alaska—where the full-size truck and SUV are king—people are changing their ways. A guy interviewed in the local newspaper a few days ago said he would continue making his long drives to the Kenai Peninsula for weekend recreation this summer, but that he’ll be riding his bike to work so that he can save on gas money.

Again, it’s a start. So, good for him.

Even if he doesn’t look as good as Janaki in a pair of shorts.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday ride

It's hard to tell if Rick smiling
because the ride is fun,

or if he's laughing at akdeluxe.

Check out the blurring action.
It almost makes him look fast, eh?

At this moment, somewhere, akdeluxe
is still adjusting something on a bike.

Spring is finally here,
and it's a beautiful thing.

Time to turn off the laptop,
and go for another ride.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What, he couldn't make two trips?

"I want it. But I can only take a haunch.
I got only a small knife and a bicycle."

—Response to an Anchorage Craigslist ad
offering the free body of a moose

that died in someone's yard

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Last Sunday, I spent hours standing in the middle of a road, constantly pointing east as I told one rider after another to stay in the left lane for the upcoming portion of the bike leg in the Gold Nugget Triathlon. Like most volunteers, I also spent a lot of time playing cheerleader to passing riders as they came by again after their turnaround.

Once upon a time, I thought it felt phony to cheer for a passing stranger in an amateur event, but when I started doing an occasional race or mass public ride, I learned how beneficial a few words from a stranger could be.

When I first started getting seriously into cycling years ago, I rode my first (and only) charity ride: the 50-mile course in El Tour de Tucson. Fairly late in the ride, I found myself alone while bridging to new group. Pedaling down a two-lane highway through the desert on the outskirts of town, I came across a pickup parked on the shoulder. Three or four people were partying in the bed of the truck—lawn chairs, cooler, the whole bit—as they waited for a friend or relative to pass by. When they saw me coming, they erupted into cheering and yelling that continued as I rolled by and waved to say thanks. I felt re-energized for miles.

Last year, I again found myself alone and suffering, riding through the middle of nowhere in a cold rain, deep into a century race and far, far behind the real racers who were probably already eating hot food and changing into dry clothes. Then I came across a man solemnly standing by the road, soaked to the bone, playing bagpipes. It was beautiful.

He could have gone home after the bulk of riders had passed. He could have been warm and dry, and sipping a well-earned martini. Instead, he was out there playing for every last suffering fool who was death-marching up that hill. I think he had the wisdom and compassion to know that we needed his music far more than the leaders ever would.

It felt good to pay a little back by encouraging Gold Nugget riders last weekend, and to get tired but happy smiles in return.

I only wish I knew how to play bagpipes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Disaster narrowly averted

I spent Friday on a bike ride with my daughter’s eighth-grade class. I’ve done bike trips with large groups of kids a couple of times in the past, and it’s always an amusing spectacle.

Kids showed up on everything from shiny new full-suspension Stumpjumpers to department-store crap bikes, to drastically too-small bikes they probably got for their birthdays at least three growth spurts ago.

Any ride with 100 adolescents feels like several hours spent on the brink of disaster. Their bike skills range from very competent to completely clueless. Many drift spontaneously from left to right; they occasionally ram into each other; they hang accessories such as jackets and purses from their handlebars, daring the dangling sleeves and straps to wrap into the front spokes and cause a crash.

As a parent volunteer, you never quite know what your job will entail, other than general wrangling of wild young homo sapiens. Tire repair? Carrying stuff for an overloaded kid? It can vary as the day wears on.

As we left the Coastal Trail and approached the downtown Delaney Park Strip—where we were going to pause for a brief scavenger hunt before moving on—the teacher in charge sent several adults ahead so that we could station ourselves at neighborhood intersections and safely direct groups of kids through them.

I moved out front and climbed a hill on N Street, setting up to cover the final street crossing. Half a block from the Park Strip, I glanced down at what appeared to be a copy of Rolling Stone in the street. Then I did a quick 180 after remembering that Rolling Stone doesn’t publish full-page shots of nekkid chicks floating on their backs in swimming pools while wearing nothing but fishnet stockings.

Yeah. There was a big ol’ porn mag laying wide open in the street with 100 kids—about half of them 14-year-old boys—bearing down on that final block like a horde of swerving, yelling, hormone-crazed teenagers.

I stopped and glanced at the magazine inches from my feet. I looked back down the street, where the kids were about to come into view as they crested a hill. I looked back down at the woman floating in the pool. I forgot about the kids for a few moments.

I mean, wow. This woman was floating on her back and had a couple of parts that were in no danger of submersion, ya know what I’m sayin’?

Then I collected myself and pictured a scene that would probably look something like the results of throwing a live goat into a tank of hungry sharks. I imagined the pileup that would occur as boys launched into a feeding frenzy to claim the porn. I imagined girls crashing to the pavement in bloody heaps as they ran over the boys’ carelessly discarded bikes. (Proudly, I wasn’t worried about my daughter, because she was outriding the boys and would be safely ahead of any carnage.)

I glanced back toward the hill. No kids yet. I grabbed the mag, discreetly rolled it up and stuck it between the slats of a nearby fence until all the kids rolled by, then I crossed the street and shoved the scandalous publication deep into a park trash barrel.

Unfortunately, discretion prohibited a more thorough examination of the evidence that might have helped me determine who was responsible for this blatant littering. Such an offense warrants more attention, and I regret that I was unable to look deeply into the case.

Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made. You know, for the children.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Invest in singletrack

As I wrote on this blog a couple of weeks ago, I don’t like asking people for money. But when trails are at stake, I’m willing to make an exception. Singletrack Advocates has planned a trail network that will be professionally designed and built in Far North Bicentennial Park over the next two summers, and more than $200,000 has been raised to get the job done.

The park commission has approved the project, grant agreements are being finalized, crews are being scheduled, and ground-breaking is set for July 15. But because of some unforeseen expenses and the rising cost of diesel fuel, we’ve come up $25,000 short for Phase 1, which is the construction of 8.5 miles of singletrack this year. Unless more money is raised, we might have to shorten this year’s project.

If you haven’t already contributed, and you want to see real singletrack built in Anchorage, please consider donating now. Tell your friends. Ask if your employer has a matching contribution program.

Donations made to Singletrack Advocates through Alaska Trails (our 501(c)3 partner) are tax-deductible. Donations made online directly to Singletrack Advocates are not tax deductible, but you can go to the blog site and click on the "Donate Now" button to give through PayPal.

To make a tax-deductible donation, please write a check payable to Alaska Trails and mail it to: Singletrack Advocates, P.O. Box 240574, Anchorage, AK 99524.

If you're a mountain biker, you know singletrack is a good investment. Help us get it built. Please.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What if ...

“This is the year,” a fellow bike commuter said to me the other day. We were talking about high gas prices inspiring more people to try riding to work, or taking mass transit, and she was expressing her hope that we’ve reached a moment when large numbers of people will see the light.

I’m not convinced, because I’m too jaded from years of seeing a surge of new bike commuters in May, then watching them all disappear by June. But I hope she’s onto something.

With Bike to Work Day coming up tomorrow, the interest in bike commuting is as high as it will be all summer, unless gas jumps to five bucks a gallon. I saw an older guy buying a brand-new commuter last weekend; I’ve been seeing more riders each morning and evening, and the Daily News ran a small feature in this morning’s edition to help new riders prepare for riding tomorrow. (Complete with advice from moi.)

In recent summers, I’ve been trying to follow some advice I read on Patrick O’Grady’s site a few years back. Observing that many non-cyclists are put off by all the gear and unusual clothing that they associate with bike riders, Patrick suggested a way to make bike commuting look more accessible—more “normal,” if you will.

Instead of pulling on Lycra shorts and jerseys covered with flashy graphics and logos, maybe we should be donning hiking shorts, T-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, etc. Rather than looking like a club of athletes or wannabe racers, why not dress like average folks out having fun?

I think he made a good point. The more fun and accessible bike commuting looks from the driver’s seat of a car, the better.

So I still wear my Lycra shorts many days, but I often pull a battered old pair of cargo shorts over them.

It’s not because I’m shy about wearing Lycra.

It’s because I hope that occasionally a motorist will see me riding to work and think, “Hmm. Maybe I should try doing that.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bloody cool accessory

The morning mail at work occasionally brings free samples of silly products from companies hoping for some free publicity. This is how I ended up with a talking George W. Bush doll that I’m saving for a Zozobra-style burning to celebrate the End of a National Nightmare next January.

Last week, I received a package of blood-coagulating bandages* that I’m going to put in the first-aid kit I carry on long, all-day rides in the mountains.

If any of my riding partners get hurt this summer, all they need to do is yell, “MEDIC!” and I’ll run to their aid, valiantly throw myself to the ground beside them, and stuff bandages into their wounds after ripping open the packages with my teeth.

But they have to yell, “MEDIC!” if they want one of my little blood-stopping wonders. Because if they don’t play along, I’m going to get all huffy, ride over their shins, and head on down the trail.

*According to the manufacturer's web site, they're approved for sport, veterinary and ob/gyn use, so I should be covered no matter who I’m riding with!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Leo and The Bird

I'm not sure if he's giving me The Finger,
or if this is just akdeluxe's way of saying,
"Ride steel, or f*&% off!"

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dog Shox

Back in my early mountain-biking days, I routinely spent Sunday mornings with friends riding Trail 100 through the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. One day, as three of us were snaking through some nice singletrack that was being encroached upon by a sprawling subdivision, I heard the barking and yelping of a dog after my friend Mark led into some tight turns around a cluster of manzanita and boulders.

As I rounded a corner behind him, I saw a startled, upper-middle-age woman standing beside the trail and holding a furry little lapdog. I assumed we had surprised her during her morning walk, so I tried to put a positive spin on things by smiling and saying, “hi.”

A few turns later, I found Mark straddling his bike and looking back down the trail as Cris pulled up and stopped beside us.

“I just ran over that fucking dog!” Mark said.

I responded with something intelligent, like, “Huh? Wha …? Are you serious?”

Yeah, he was. He had rounded the corner just as the unleashed dog decided to charge a rolling beast that was 10 times its size, and ended up as a speed bump under both of Mark’s wheels.

Now, if most people ran over a pooch, they'd stop. But Mark made the instantaneous and logical decision that the situation wasn’t his fault and the only thing to be gained by stopping was a potential tirade by the dog’s owner, so he simply said, “Oops, sorry” as he rode by the woman and pedaled on up the trail.

Besides, he might have been groovin’ (at least a little) on the fact he had cleaned a dog without dabbing.

I mean, sure, it was a small dog, but this was in the medieval days of toe clips and fully rigid frames, when indexed thumb-shifters passed for innovative technology. And Mark pulled off the move when the penalty for error would have been an unhappy landing in a pile of prickly pear cactus. The man was in the zone that day.

Call me a heartless bastard if you wish, but every time I remember that incident it brings a smile to my face. It was the best example of riding over a live mammal I ever saw until a co-worker in Anchorage managed to ride a rigid hybrid bike over a kid.

Sometimes, I like to pause and appreciate the technological advancements we’ve seen in mountain bikes over the 18 or 19 years since Mark made a mogul out of Muffin.

And then I gaze off into the distance and imagine what kind of unleashed dogs Mark could run over today with a plush, full-suspension rig.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Fingered again!

The first two Finger Photos are in! Inspired by my recent post about friends who sometimes can't resist flipping the bird when they see my camera, other friends and readers of the blog decided it was only fair that they get to give me The Finger, too. (Hey, they've been reading this thing for a long time, so they've been waiting for a chance like this.)

The Grillmeister exercised a little modesty (and this is a man who rides all over Anchorage wearing Spongebob Squarepants underwear on the outside) by declining to deploy his own fingers. He posed his Joe Bender dude in the snow, when we still had some.

Jeff and the rest of the crew over at Bike Carson took it all the way and gave me The Finger en masse all the way from Nevada. Seriously, click on the pic for a larger version, because it's a thing of beauty. Never before have I been Fingered by so many from so far. It brings a tear to my eye, I'm tellin' ya.

Thanks, guys, and you, too, T.K.

If anyone else wants to flip me off, c'mon and get to it.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The fast fix

I once took an overnight flight to Salt Lake City, then jumped in a rented minivan and got to Moab in time to hit the Slickrock Trail after lunch. Two hours, one broken derailleur and a few patches of skin later, I came to understand that “Slickrock” and “sleep-deprived” is a very dangerous combination.

At the end of the day, I stood in Rim Cyclery minutes before closing time with a new XT rear derailleur in my hand, dreading the prospect of installing it by headlamp, in a campsite, with minimal tools and no work stand. When he realized I planned to carry the derailleur out of the shop in a box, the surprised shop guy said, “You don’t want us to install it for you?”

When I explained that I was in a hurry because my brother and I were planning to ride the next morning, the guy told me I could swing by after breakfast and my bike would be ready. His tone indicated he was surprised that he had to explain this.

The next morning, I walked out of the shop with a belly full of breakfast burrito, and a bike that shifted like a dream all day long. It was a revelation to find a shop that would do a repair without keeping a bike for three days. I had been doing almost all of my own bike maintenance for years (and still am) because I was unwilling to leave my ride in one shop or another for days at a time.

When my brother busted a shifter and shredded a tire in Fruita during a morning ride a couple of years later, a shop mechanic repaired repaired his bike while we grabbed a sandwiches for lunch. We were back on the trail that afternoon.

Three-day waits for routine repairs just ain’t the way things work in places like Moab and Fruita. Those shops there know that customers are burning cash and vacation days to ride, not wait. Bikes have to roll in and out the door like they’re going through an Indy 500 pit stop, so mechanics learn to specialize in fast turnaround times.

I don't mean to bash bike shops—I have friends and relatives who work in them, and they're my all-time favorite stores—but I think it’s a shame that bicyclists everywhere can’t count on fast, in-and-out service that keeps them riding every day. It’s no fun for anyone to drop off a bike and know it’s going to sit in the back room for 72 hours before a 30-minute repair will be done.

Imagine telling the average American whose cable TV service has just gone dark, “Oh, we’ll get someone out there in three or four days.” Most people wouldn’t stand for it. Hell, if there were a big NASCAR race coming up, an enraged Billy Joe might get boozed up on Coors Light and park his Ford pickup in the cable company's lobby at 2 a.m..

I realize that shops in mountain bike towns generally deal with more customers who are pressed for time (and ride high-end bikes in generally good repair), while shops have to deal with things like kids’ bikes, long-neglected bikes, and the sales and tune-up rush that comes with spring. But wouldn’t it be great if you could drop in and get a new bottom bracket the same way you can stop and have your car’s oil changed while you wait?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lighten up and wave

I spent 18 years riding exclusively mountain bikes, so I got really familiar with the often-discussed issue of bike riders who refuse to wave at their fellow cyclists. As mountain bikers, we always wrote them off as “roadie snobs.”

Then I bought a road bike.

Now, I sometimes find myself tossing a friendly wave at mountain bikers, only to get the same aloof, I’m-too-cool-to-wave-back response. So what’s the deal? Are they assuming I’m a roadie snob, so they’re caught off guard? Do I not look as hip or stylish on a bike as I’m supposed to, and therefore I’m beneath contempt? More likely, many of them are probably simply lost in their own thoughts, or they’re pricks who take themselves and the world too seriously.

Except for the high-speed, crotch-rocket crowd, motorcyclists wave at me with at least the same regularity as fellow bicyclists. They seem to be into the whole two-wheel brotherhood thing.

Bicyclists are the only people I’ve ever known who ponder the existentialist dilemma of why we don’t wave at each other. As far as I can tell, if a golfer, fisherman, Frisbee player or dog walker waves at someone who ignores him, he simply mutters “jackass” and forgets about it. But we cyclists debate it, publish magazine stories about it, or write about it on our blogs.

Maybe that’s because we draw social lines between types of cyclists: road, mountain, etc. That’s pretty silly, since we’re all doing basically the same thing.

Dave Moulton
recently wrote on his blog, “I wave to everybody when I am riding; not just people who look like me, other people on any kind of a bike, those walking, running, or on skateboards; even ladies pushing babies in strollers. They are all people like me, out getting some fresh air, and exercise.”

I think that’s a good policy: Be nice, and all that random-act-of-kindness bullshit. I don’t wave at every rider I meet, but I generally try, and I’ll keep doing it.

Hell, I’ll even wave at those free-rider types with their body armor and 45-pound, Kawasaki-wannabe bikes. One of them might even occasionally raise his cigarette into the air and wave back.

That’d be nice.

And on the subject of waving, don't forget to take advantage of the opportunity to wave at me with one finger. After my recent "Fingered" post, George suggested giving me The Finger online, so let 'em rip, folks. The Grillmeister has already provided a bird-flippin' picture and Jeff has said he'll take the challenge.

I'll do a photo collage or something. The most creative shot that contains both a middle finger and a bicycle will get special attention. Who knows? Maybe I'll come up with a prize or something. Just send them to the e-mail address from the link on this page.