Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unicorn Safari

After the little firestorm stirred up last week by my rant about a traffic roundabout on my commuting route—and the attention it got from a link on the Anchorage Daily News site—friends are starting to ask if it’s still safe to ride with me. I think my new rapper name should be Notorious T.

To anyone offended by the language or comments in that post, I offer a sincere and heartfelt “Boofuckinghoo.” The bike riders who regularly read this blog understood where I was coming from. The bike haters who posted comments such as “How can a bike be a vehicle if it doesn't have a motor?” well, they’ll probably never get it.

But to all who posted online comments of support—Jules, Jordy, Fish, Heather, Rose, Monkee and all the others—thank you. I was already scheduled to flee civilization, such as it is, for a couple of nights in the woods, but it was great to return home and catch up on comments (especially the intelligent and positive ones) on various sites.

Unfortunately, rain and strong winds meant my bike never rolled an inch during the camping trip, but that’s OK. I’ll be back down south in a few days to bag a couple of rides, support Monkee and Jules in their solo assaults on the Soggy Bottom 100, and to drink a beer or three down at the Seaview Bar.

Rainbows and unicorns, baby. It’s all rainbows and unicorns.

Remembering Bobby Johnson

The Dutch Harbor Fisherman newspaper has a nice story by Van Williams about Bobby Johnson, the rider who died in the Fireweed 100.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's all relative

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."
—Albert Einstein

"Well, unless you're really good at track stands."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fat Bike

The long-awaited Fat Bike documentary from Carl Battreall is done, and will soon be available for downloading. In the mean time, check out the trailer to get a taste.

It's gonna be fun.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Deadly efficient

I start most days thinking that the engineers behind the C Street/O’Malley roundabout deserve a beating. Maybe two.

And before all the pro-roundabout people spout off, yeah, I’ve heard how wonderful they are in Europe, blah, blah, blah. They work great—for cars. But every morning I ride through this thing, and every morning I mutter evil things under my breath as I sigh with relief after crossing the eastbound lane.

I’ve talked to several road designers in recent years, and they’ve all said they strive to accommodate non-motorized transportation. But I’ve never met one who was a bike commuter, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never met one who wasn’t full of shit when talking to bicyclists. They design these things to move cars and trucks efficiently, and that’s all.

There are two ways to pass through a roundabout on a bike. First, you can merge with cars and pass through on the street. Not a bad option if you can sustain the speed. On my 36x16 singlespeed commuter, it seems marginally safer to use the second option (intended by the traffic engineers), which is to ride on the adjacent sidewalk and cross roads like a pedestrian—especially since this roundabout gets a lot of large trucks bouncing across the truck apron and spilling rocks.

Of course, traffic engineers—when they weren’t in the bathroom jerking off to Car and Driver magazine—decided roundabouts should route cyclists and pedestrians away from intersections, virtually blinding us to all approaching cars because they’re behind us as we set up to make a hard left across traffic after we’ve lost all momentum. Northbound riders crossing O’Malley have it worse, because a grove of trees makes it extra difficult to look over your right shoulder and see motorists dropping downhill on C Street (which was on your left until two seconds ago) and zooming into the chute that will carry them east—the same chute you have to cross.

Focus one second too long on those cars turning east at high speed, and you can miss other eastbound vehicles coming all the way through the roundabout from other angles. It’s a good way to get mashed into the grill of a sedan, as I almost did (again) this morning. I consider it extremely dangerous, and I practice the crossing every day.

This October, a new Target store is opening several hundred yards north of this intersection. Other big development along C Street is coming in the next few years. Motor vehicle traffic will be increasing. More kids from South Anchorage will start riding to the new stores for game cartridges, fast food, and whatever else comes along.

I’ll make my prediction now: Sometime in the next few years, a bicyclist is going to be maimed or killed while riding north along C Street and trying to cross the eastbound lane of O’Malley Road.

I don’t care how many traffic engineers tell me that roundabouts are safer for cyclists. This one is a disaster waiting to happen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Satellite-free, and happy

My interest in GPS gizmos has come to an end. When I received this Garmin unit as a gift two or three years ago, it was a fun gadget. It put cool lines on a Google Earth map to show where I'd been. When I added a road bike to the mix, it allowed me to use one computer on two bikes, saving me some money in the process.

But that was about it. One advantage of Alaska's limited trail system is that a basic map does the job just fine. The Garmin was just a too-complicated way of tracking speed and mileage: Its battery always had to be charged, and every time I turned it on I had to wait a couple of minutes for it to start communicating with satellites.

Recently, the damned thing started turning itself off during rides. A firmware update helped, but only a little. It was still unreliable, and other Garmin owners told me they were experiencing the same problem.

So before today's trail ride, I pulled an old Cateye bike computer out of the pile of crap on my workbench, where it had been buried for two seasons during my flirtation with the high-tech toy. I mounted it on the bike, took it for a ride, and it performed flawlessly for five hours.

No muss, no fuss. Reliable as hell. I don't even have to turn it on—it wakes up when the wheel rolls. I'd already put a wireless Cateye on my road bike 10 days ago, and I love it.

Somewhere around here, I've got a box full of computer cables and other miscellaneous electronic junk. Soon as I find it, I'm throwing the Garmin in there, too.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

From twisted minds ...

come twisted events, and twisted posters promoting them. Thus, Bicycles & Icicles proudly presents the work of bizarro mountain biker (and my former teammate in the 24 Hours of Kincaid) Rob G.

Calling the Soggy Bottom a 100-mile event is all part of Rio's diabolical plot, because it's at least 12 miles longer than that. It breaks hearts, minds, bodies and souls, and spits the survivors out of the mountains and deposits them at a tiny bar in a tiny town beside the sea. Unfortunately, some of them arrive after the bar has closed for the night. But that's OK, because many can't lift a beer by that point anyway.

Two weeks from today, I'm going down for this year's race, but will likely restrict my involvement to the sane act of providing support for Jules and the Monkee, who are both riding solo.

If they're lucky, they'll punch through the wall and see rainbows and unicorns on the other side.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fireweed Fingers

Huber sneaks a couple in.

Yeah, you've gotta look closely to see 'em.

Monkee's morning after.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fireweed: The Good and the Tragic

Team Muschi Schmerzen had a great day in this year’s Fireweed race. With all four members returning from last year’s race, we actually bothered to read the rules and give strategy some thought, so we shaved about half an hour off our previous time in the mixed four-person relay division of the 200-mile event, and placed 5th among 44 teams.

The weather was good, we had no serious mechanicals, and our driver—my wife, Jacque—always managed to get us to the next exchange on time while dodging sluggish RVs and indecisive team drivers. My cool teammates even staggered their rides to set me up for the final stretch up to Thompson Pass, and the long descent down the other side. If it hadn’t been for that damned headwind, I might have been able to cook up some real downhill speed like Huber did last year.

Spending nearly 10 hours jumping in and out of a car, shuffling a rack full of bikes, and hammering through multiple five- to 10-mile relay legs has a way of creating all sorts of laughs, confusion and general mayhem I’ll remember all year. And that’s a very good thing. So thank you H, Monkee, Huber and Jacque.

Unfortunately, when I checked my voicemail after arriving in Valdez, we learned that the 100-mile race—which had started a few hours after we left Sheep Mountain Lodge—had been marred by a bad crash. Robert Johnson was descending from Eureka Summit when he fell, went under a guardrail and struck his head on a steel post. He was pronounced dead several hours later after a medevac flight to Anchorage.

A friend who rode up on the scene said that several riders went down, so a number of things could have happened. News reports so far have been pretty thin, probably because organizers are referring all media questions to the state troopers, who don’t seem to know much. The rest of us are left to wonder what went wrong. From what I remember, that stretch of the course was among the better sections of pavement, so the troopers’ “no apparent reason” story doesn’t exactly sound like the result of a thorough investigation.

Given that it occurred on an open highway during the state’s highest-profile bike race, the cause should be determined. Hopefully, everyone involved will figure out what happened, and then openly share the information. Because maybe it’s just me, but right now, it feels like race organizers are covering their asses with silence, and troopers sound only marginally interested in why a cyclist died.

I never met Robert Johnson, but I think he deserves better.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One side of ribs, no sauce

Back from the Fireweed and still
sorting out all the events in my mind.

Gotta say one thing about the Alaska boonies, though.
It's a great place to find a 100% natural bike rack.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Where's the fire?

"Where's the fire?" is the wrong question for a cop to ask if you get pulled over for speeding in Anchorage this week. The real question is, "Where isn't there fire?"

Wildfire season is in full swing, and the city's blanketed with smoke so thick we can't see the Chugach Range on the east side of town. The smell of smoke was so strong this afternoon that I half expected to see ash raining down.

And what could be better to do in a cloud of smoke than to hold a bike race and make everyone breathe hard? It's Fireweed time, bitchez. I've got fresh lube on the chain, a bucket of food ready for the team car, and a whole pile of shit I'm sure I'm forgetting to do before heading up to Sheep Mountain for the start.

I just hope I remember to pack the Chamois Butt'r, and that the folks in Valdez ice down the beer.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Calm before the storm

My nephew Ry wheelies down the railroad ramp
in Laramie, while his wife, Gretchen (below),
rides her beer-equipped townie.

After a week in Wyoming and Colorado, where I alternated between bustin’ a helmet and gasping for air at 8,000 feet, I’m home with just enough time to prepare for this weekend’s Fireweed 200 relay to Valdez.

Should be fun. The weather forecast is a good one, and my teammates tell me I’ve been selected to ride the descent down Thompson Pass—not because I’m an especially skilled descender, but because they want no part of rolling down a mountain at more than 50 mph. In other words, I’m considered expendable.

It’s as big an honor as being the FNG made to walk point in a combat zone. Yeah, I’m feelin’ the love.

Keep your eyes open, Charlie. Team Muschi Schmerzen is goin’ on patrol.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Love the (new one) you're with

I was pedaling through downtown Steamboat this morning when I caught this bike out of the corner of my eye. It was stashed in a little side alley, and I recognized it instantly because it’s the same model as my first mountain bike: a 1989 Specialized Hard Rock Comp.

Because this battered old thing has most of its original components, seeing it was nostalgic. Mine had the same ugly colors, the same crappy triple setup (a cheap ripoff of Shimano’s Biopace rings), the same cantilever brakes, threaded headset and quill stem. It didn’t have a replaceable derailleur hanger, and the wheelset weighed a ton.

I took it home and stuck in the spare bedroom of the house we owned at the time. I’d poke my head in and admire the bike I thought was so cool and beautiful. For the time, it was a pretty decent entry-level bike, and riding it was the most fun I’d ever had on two wheels.

As I looked at this bike this morning, I briefly imagined what it would be like to ride on the same technology today.

I couldn't bear the thought.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Volunteer fingers

The Queen Bee just sent this phlip-off photo
taken last month on National Trails Day.

Volunteers hard at work—what could be better?