Tuesday, March 31, 2009

See SPOT run

There’s been a lot of grumbling and debate about the use of satellite tracking devices in this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational. A few racers carried SPOT units, and they caused all sorts of heartburn for race organizers who had to deal with conflicting signals sent by struggling competitors, and phone calls from families who were worried about what they were seeing on their computer screens.

Bill and Kathi Merchant, who organize the race each year, have decided to ban such devices from next year’s event, and everyone seems to have an opinion on whether that’s appropriate. Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what the rules will be next year, because I have no intention of ever entering that 350-mile, sadomasochistic sufferfest.

But I doubt it’s possible to truly ban such popular and easily transportable technology from the trail. Sure, you can make it illegal and DQ anyone caught using it, but you can’t keep SPOT units out of a wilderness race anymore than you can keep cell phones out of movie theaters.

A rule against them would prevent attention whores from publicizing their data feeds for friends and “fans” on Internet sites, but you’d still be fighting an uphill battle against wives and husbands who shove GPS tracking devices at their loved ones and say, “If you’re going to do that crazy race, you’re taking this!” Next thing you know, those things are going to be hidden in backpacks and frame bags regardless of the rules.

Racers who carry the devices covertly might not send “OK” signals every couple of hours, but you can bet that when the shit hits the fan and they need help, they’ll happily accept a DQ from the race if they can pull a gadget out of their frame bag and push a button that launches a rescue. And who could blame them? (As long as they really are in trouble, that is.)

It’s hard to stop the forward creep of technology. Hell, it’s already changed the Invitational. If you doubt that, just look at some old pictures and compare the bikes ridden in the early days of the race with today’s titanium frames, 100mm rims, and carbon-fiber components.

In the long run, I suspect organizers of events like the Invitational will have to write rules that are less about if tracking devices can be used, and more about how they can be used.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Prematurely gray

What a difference a day—and a big-ass explosion—make. With fresh snow on the ground, the trails were in perfect condition for a ride with Jules and Maura on Saturday. The trails were clean, fresh and smooth. Everything a fat-bike owner could hope for at the end of March.

Saturday's trails were as clean as a Mormon's language,
but as fun as free pass to Porn World.

But then Mount Redoubt erupted again, and this time the wind was blowing our way. By the time I finished my post-ride shower, the neighborhood looked foggy and my white, snow-covered yard was turning gray as a fine ash fell. As eruptions continued, my hopes for another ride on Sunday faded.

My wife tagged our back deck with graffiti Saturday night.
This is why I don't let her have spray paint.

Fortunately, the wind shifted and Redoubt took a break. By Sunday afternoon, the air quality was good and so were the trails, which were largely abandoned. The grit ruined conditions for skiers, but seemed to improve traction for bike riders. There were only a few signs of fresh tire tracks, so most people seemed to be laying low. Too bad for them.

I knew it. My ash looks big.

I cruised solo and did a bit of walking when my singletrack explorations didn't work out the way I'd planned. But I saw some pockets of FNBP that I usually miss, and found an oddity or two.

A charming fixer-upper, if you can still get a mortgage
and never want a date.

At this rate, I don't mind clinging to winter a bit longer. Not that I have a choice. Because tonight's forecast calls for snow.

And this week's forecast calls for more Pugsley.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Goodbye, winter

I rode the Hillside with a couple of friends
Wednesday night, and trail conditions
are fading fast as the days get warmer.

Unless we get another cold snap,
winter riding is on its
last legs. It's time to brave
a few weeks of sloppy commutes
until the road bikes come out.

In honor of spring, I'm posting a couple
of photos from last weekend—my little way
of rolling up the carpet on another
winter and another Frigid Bits season.

Jules runs Rio's fattie through Spenard.

Snuffin' the burn barrel one last time.

Thanks to everyone who shared a beer
around the glowing barrel this winter.

I'm proud to stand around looking homeless
with each and every one of you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nobody cares

I rolled up to a traffic light on my way home tonight, and spent a couple of moments chatting with a lean, somewhat-older guy about the warm weather and the slushy spring conditions. Actually, I was the one who mentioned the slop—he was smiling and happy to be riding on a 40-degree afternoon instead of a 5-degree morning.

As the light turned green and he rolled out onto Dimond Boulevard, I noticed the sticker on his dirt-covered rear fender: "Nobody Cares That You Singlespeed."

That sticker had me smiling for about a mile. I've never cared for the haughty attitude that seems to be common among SS riders, and this guy—with his skinny-studded cross bike, orange safety vest and mirrored ski goggles—clearly didn't have time for anyone's silly pretensions.

I thought about asking him to pull over so I could shoot a quick picture of his sticker, but I couldn't. By the time I crossed Dimond, he had already opened a gap on me.

Couldn't have been too hard. I was on a singlespeed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Same as it ever was

The coveted Lingerie Jaune is headed to off-season storage

The 2008/09 Frigid Bits season ended where it began last Halloween, only this time no one was dressed as a brownie-starved human tampon, and we didn’t use the scavenger-hunt format that sent us all crashing into a gay bar one night in October.

Saturday night’s burn barrel fiesta was just as much fun as the first, especially after our lost rider showed up. We might have gone looking for her if someone had bothered to notice she was missing before the beer was opened. (It’s not that we don’t care, Kathy. It’s just that we have so much confidence in your survival and route-finding skills. And we really like beer.)

It’s time for the annual thanks to Rio for making the whole thing happen. If he didn’t round us up once in a while to ride bikes and drink beer, we’d all be left to ... well, ride bikes and drink beer, but without a pile of people to do it with, and without our glowing shrine.

This season’s history.

How long until next winter?

Gangsta Monkee
(You're right, Rio. It's shocking.)

Jules, the Fatback spokesmodel.

The Chick Who Rips is a chick with an attitude.

Kathy. She's alive! ALIVE!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can I Still Pledge Delta?

The next time someone give you a hard time for going out on a winter ride at the expense of some trivial responsibility you’ve shoved to the back burner, just tell them you’re doing research for a class.

It's not such a crazy idea, because if you happened to be a student at the Kuskokwim campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, you would now be eligible to register for RECR 193, Winter Cycling. It’s a survey course put together by Martin Leonard III, who teaches at UAF when he’s not out riding his snow bike.

Course Description
RECR 193 is a survey of winter bicycling in Alaska. Topics covered include: Alaskan Winter Cycling Roots & History; Performance & Off-season Training; Bike Design, Performance & Construction; Expedition Readiness and Wheel Building. Practicum will include in-region day-rides and bike-building opportunities for all students. Upon completion, students will have a better understanding of the new levels of fitness and the safe enjoyment of the out-of-doors that this growing winter sport can provide.

Course Goals

* Exposure to some of the unique bicycling history in Alaska

* Understand the roots of Snow Biking and the Development of 'Fat Bikes' in Alaska
* Develop a broader knowledge base regarding ultralight camping and self-propelled travel
* Understand critical design and construction components for winter bicycles

* Develop basic mechanic skills and confidence through hands-on bike shop experience

* Review off-season training tools and performance

* Recognize and practice safe wilderness travel etiquette

Sounds like a hell of a lot more fun than trigonometry.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Another Speedway shot from EndoRando, this time of me,
with Steve R. close behind.

Today's ride was everything a great mountain-bike ride should be: I started alone, then found and rode fun trails I hadn't even known existed; I ran into several friends and shared various parts of the ride with them until we all peeled off to go our separate ways; and then I pedaled, exhausted, back to my car.

It doesn't get any better than that. Unless you count the perfect, sunny weather; a good pre-ride meal and trail snacks that kept my energy level high; and having no time constraints because my wife and daughter were busy without me. I went out to ride two hours, but stayed for three and a half because I was having too much fun to stop.

March riding is always the best of the winter season, and some of the best of the entire year.

But today, it was freakin' sublime.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Miles o' smiles

"Happy, happy
Put it in the ground
Where the flowers grow"
"Shiny Happy People," REM

I shot this photo of my friend Kathy riding Queen Bee Loop last night. When I got home and moved it from the camera into my laptop, I thought two things: First, she'd look hotter in a helmet, and second, it's really fun to look at people who have smiles on their faces while they're riding bikes.

Not that I get much experience with that, given the bird-flippin' fetish that most of my friends' indulge on a regular basis. But sometimes, I manage to capture them in moments of happiness instead of fits of frustration. So, to end the week on a uplifting note, I decided to sift through a few photos from the past month and pay tribute to the Happy People:


The Monkee




Go ride a bike this weekend. It'll make you smile.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I had to borrow a copy of this photo by my friend EndoRando, because it's sharper and sunnier than anything I've shot on Speedway recently. The late winter conditions are so good right now, it would be crazy to not ride, especially if you have the advantage of a fat bike when the trails turn soft on warm days.

One of the great things about winter riding is the metamorphosis that trails undergo when snow falls. Roots and rocks disappear, angles and lines change, traction comes and goes. Having access to the same trails in summer and winter is like getting a two-for-one deal.

Some trails are more fun to ride in winter, especially those with summertime mudholes, barely passable creeks and swamps that turn into pure, white sweetness during the darker months. Hell, there are trails I ride all winter than I rarely even see from June through September.

Now that there's some light stretching into the evening, warmer weather won't be far behind. And when it comes, the winter trails will dissolve into a horrendous goo that'll leave mountain bikers in the purgatory of springtime for six weeks or so.

Get some. While it's still good.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Early risers

This is not what a can of bear spray should look like at the end of a ride. Muddy, yes, but it shouldn't be covered in snow. I'm probably in a very small minority of people already packing (spicy) heat on the Hillside, but with two bears spotted roaming the area a week or so ago, it seems silly to leave this stuff among all the debris on my workbench.

The bears have probably already crawled back in their dens and dozed off for a few more weeks after figuring out that snacks are still few and far between, but who knows?

I don't really mind the early risers, as long as they keep to themselves. I see them as harbingers of spring. If the seasons stay on track, we're only five or six weeks away from the first road-bike ride of the year.

Time to start thinking about new tires.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Fatties on film

Carl hard at work.

Carl, the man behind IndieAK films, has been schleppin' his camera through all kinds of weather this season while working on an upcoming documentary on winter riding in Alaska. He's capturing the fun, hard work, joy and misery of turning the cranks through darkness, snow and sub-zero cold so that the zaniness can be shared with the world. I'm confident the final product will be very cool.

In the meantime, he threw together a quick little film on the recent Susitna 100 that captures many elements of that event, and whets the appetites of Anchorage riders eager to see Fat Bike (working title) when it's finished. Trust me, this is worth 3 minutes of your day.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Artifact documented during a scientific
(post-ride) examination of the Long Branch Saloon.

Early humans used pieces of coal to decorate the walls of caves in which they slept, cooked and raised their offspring. Their drawings documented hunts, harvests, and migrations.

Modern humans not so far removed from their cave-dwelling ancestors use ink-filled pens to decorate the walls of rooms where they urinate. These primitive illustrations typically represent a fascination with genitalia, or present allegations of homoerotic exploits by heterosexual members of the same tribe.

On occasion, these displays of social interaction in the form of sophomoric teasing reveal unintended ironies. Unbeknownst to the primitive artist, maybe his drinking buddy Steve really does like guys; perhaps your mother really does like to ... well, nevermind.

And maybe J.R. would ride his way to a better future on a Stingray instead of a Harley.

Let’s hope so. Evolution is a beautiful thing.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Powder Pugs

Nearly 8 inches of snow fell in Anchorage on Saturday. And we weren't alone. Friends around the country were posting Facebook updates mentioning snow. News sites were full of stories about snow in the southern states, and a storm bearing down on New York City.

The funny thing is, most of the comments were in the form of complaints, and the news stories were somewhat alarmist. It was like snow is a bad thing. And that ain't necessarily so.

I guess we're just lucky in Alaska. The snow was dry, fluffy powder—perfect for fat tires. And then the sun came out.

So, if you're reading viewing these photos while stranded in an airport, or after a hellish drive home from work on a road littered with fender-benders ... well, sorry.

(Not really)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Honk (loudly) if you love singletrack

The second round of the Far North Bicentennial Park Trails Improvement Plan will be unveiled Monday night at 6:20 p.m. at the Campbell Creek Science Center. Every mountain biker in Anchorage should be there, particularly if you want to see Phase II of the Singletrack Advocates project on the Hillside to be completed.

Unless mountain bikers show up and speak up, our right to build trails in FNBP could disappear. No joke.

For more information, read this. Then attend the meeting.