Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

Happy Whatever the Hell You're Into,
and may the imaginary friend
of your choice bestow blessings
or a lot of free shit upon you.

The blog will be taking a holiday hiatus
for the next week or so because, let's face it,
we all have better things to do, don't we?

There may or may not be any new posts
between now and New Year's Eve.
Check back about then, though,
for my end-of-the-year slideshow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bright spot in the darkness

Every winter, people call me crazy for riding to work. Every winter, I tell them it’s easier than it looks. I try to dispel the myth that winter cyclists are nuts.

But the reputation may have certain benefits. Recently, as temperatures and our allotment of daylight both fell, I’ve sensed a change in my gasoline-addicted commuting brethren.

I’ve always found most Anchorage motorists to be fairly considerate of bicyclists, but they’re never more generous than on frigid, dark mornings in the depths of winter. About two weeks ago, I started noticing more drivers yielding the right of way. Those behind me will often slow down and wait for me to ride away before they make right turns. As I cross the roads feeding into a large roundabout near my house, drivers are stopping to let me cross in front of them while the motorists behind them wait.

Maybe it’s out of pity because they think I can’t afford a car. Maybe it’s out of fear that I might slip on ice and go under their wheels. Hell, in some cases it could even be a little bit of respect because they see someone refuses to be stopped by a little cold weather.

Bike commuters don’t get many perks in this motorized world. So when a new one comes along—however temporary it may be—it doesn’t really matter whether it comes from pity, fear, or respect. I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

End of the Dream

My review of Bicycle Dreams was featured on the movie’s Facebook page yesterday, bringing a bunch of new visitors to Bicycles & Icicles. If you missed my review, here’s the summary: See this movie about the Race Across America.

Sadly, that great movie popped back into my life last week when I read about the death of Jure Robic, the Slovenian soldier and five-time RAAM winner who was prominently featured in Stephen Auerbach’s documentary. One of the more memorable scenes involved Robic arguing with his crew as they tried to talk him back onto his bike when he wanted to quit. In the depths of extreme sleep deprivation, he had lost his ability to conjure a mental image of his wife and child, and he suspected his crew of leading him in circles, because he hadn’t seen another RAAM racer in days. (He was leading, so there was no one to see.)

The RAAM requires obsession, and Robic had it. Like other winners, he racked up tens of thousands of miles per year. And at the age of 45, he was barely eking out a living. After aging out of the Slovenian Army’s sports unit, he struggled to cover living expenses, race fees and travel costs. According to Outside magazine, Robic trained for this year’s RAAM despite not knowing until five weeks before the race if he’d have enough money to compete.

Robic was hit by a car in September while descending a mountain road near his home in Slovenia. By all accounts, he was—off the bike, anyway—a genuinely kind human being. His death is tragic.

But I can’t comprehend what makes a person set aside so many other parts of life to excel at a nearly invisible sport that costs more than it pays. Some people would attribute it to a drive to be the best at something. I question whether it’s worth it.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m too hooked on one sport, hobby, or whatever you want to call a bicycling addiction. Like most of us, however, I have other interests, however secondary they may be. I have a pretty normal life.

I could never be the athlete Robic was. And I’m happy about that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter fat

Five hours, 37 minutes.

That’s how much daylight we had today. It was one minute, 53 seconds less than yesterday. And it was more than we’ll have tomorrow.

This is the hardest time of year for many people in Alaska. Shadows are long at mid-day and, if you have a day job, your morning and afternoon commutes are both done in darkness.

Everyone has a different way of coping with the lack of sun. Some sit in front of SAD lights; some turn to the warm glow of a bottle; the lucky ones buy plane tickets to the tropics; others cook themselves in tanning salons until they look like overgrown Oompa Loompas.

Fortunately, I’ve never been all that adversely affected by the lack of light. I rather enjoy it, as a matter of fact. It makes those long days in March that much sweeter. And pedaling through a forest illuminated only by battery-powered LEDs is fun as hell. A night of riding always helps me carry some sanity through the next day.

Some people think the dim light of winter is depressing. I think it’s photogenic. Strangely enough, I’m considered pretty cynical on many matters, but I’m an optimist when it comes to winter. I skip the SAD lights and tanning salons. A bunch of friends on fat bikes is the best antidepressant I've found so far.

But, just to be on the safe side, I have some of those tickets to the tropics.

I’m not crazy.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Don't try this at home, kids. (Photo by Tony A.)

There always seems to be that two- or three-second decision period as I approach an obstacle. Can I make it? What's the penalty if I blow it? Too often, I've found myself being overly cautious and missing my chance to pull off the move.

Too bad I didn't do that Sunday afternoon while riding on the coastal flats in South Anchorage. I knew there was a chance the tidal cut wasn't yet frozen, but temps have been pretty cold lately and, besides, I knew it wasn't very wide, and probably not very deep. And I knew that if things did go bad, I wasn't too far from home. So I went for it.

And that sucker was a super-thick, saltwater margarita.

All I could do as my bike went down was reach and scramble for the other side, which is a bit difficult when you put your foot down and it sinks to up to your knee with no sign of touching bottom. I scooted gracelessly out the other side, and my stranded Pugsley gave everyone in the group a good laugh while Tony snapped this photo.

Times like this are why we buy good gear. My Neos overboots kept my feet dry, and I gained a little more respect for my already beloved BB7 brakes from Avid. My front wheel came out of the slop covered in ice, with the front brake encased in the stuff—and it worked just fine all the way home. That's some good stuff.

But I'll take my next margarita on the rocks, not blended.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A License to Have Fun

In response to pressure from cyclists who want access to Middle Fork Trail, Chugach State Park is issuing special-use permits this winter, allowing riders of fat bikes to use some areas traditionally closed to bikes.

Some people are excited about this, and others are offended by the idea that bike riders need a permit to use a public, snow-covered trail where they will have zero permanent impact. Some feel that the fat-tire stipulation is discriminatory. I understand their frustration, but I’m taking the position that this is progress.

For years, park maps have identified Middle Fork as a “No Bicycles” trail. And with good reason. During summer, it’s a hellish quagmire that’s unsuitable for anything but mosquitoes. I know this firsthand, because I accidentally ended up there one evening seven or eight years ago during a solo ride on a weeknight. At one point, I sank up to the middle of my quads in thick, gooey mud. I could see myself being stuck there for hours as insects drained me of blood. By the time I escaped, I was limping, hungry and caked in slimy filth. I got home hours later than planned.

But Alaska trails change in winter. They freeze hard and get buried under snow. Middle Fork is a multi-use route and there’s no reason to ban snow bikes from it, other than tradition. But with no accommodation for bikes in the park’s old master plan, land managers are at least taking steps to ease bikes into acceptance, despite the whining of other trail users who don’t want to share.

Some day, hopefully, there will be no need for permit to ride trails in Chugach State Park. But for now, a free permit allows fat-bikers to use trails they otherwise couldn’t, and the permit system allows managers to gauge how many cyclists want such access.

I say vote with your feet, Anchorage riders. Scoot on down to the Potter headquarters of CSP and pick up a permit, then go ride Middle Fork on a fat bike this winter. Comply with the rules. Show park managers that they can have a better experience dealing with mountain bikers than they have with all the bike-hating whiners.

It’s a minor inconvenience to get a permit. And yeah, being told you need a permit to ride your bike sucks. But being told you can’t ride your bike sucks a lot more.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Burn Barrel Boogie

Rum and cooked animals and bullshit by the ton,
That party lasted way too long and I had too much fun.
—Jimmy Buffett, "Bank of Bad Habits"

Double moons over the burn barrel.
(Names withheld to protect the not-even-remotely-innocent.)

Long holiday weekends are never long enough.
Thanks to the Frigid Bits crowd for giving me
a healthy dose of sanity-restoring entertainment.

"Say hello to my little friend."
Kat rides Blue Dot.

Let's see how long it lasts.
Because returning to reality
is going to suck.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let the holiday music begin

A column of fat bikes rolled through the woods
on Thanksgiving Day
as big flakes fell from the sky
and wet snow covered the ground.

Wet rotors howled and squealed
like the flutes and clarinets
in a seventh-grade band
on the first day of school.

Even ugly music
can be a wonderful sound.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Special" Olympics

I would have helped Heather in this situation
on Blue Dot last Saturday. Really.
But Julie's words echoed in my head,
and I was afraid I might get punched.
Besides, I had pictures to take.

That ice looks fairly thick,
and the water isn't deep this time of year.

I knew she'd recover gracefully. It was
like watching a fine gymnast nail the dismount.

Now it's up to you, the judges,
to score her performance.
Does she deserve a spot on the medal stand
for her routine on the uneven parallel bars
of the Blue Dot bridge?

I'd say it was a 9.4.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winter's Waiting Room

Winter was off to such a nice start.

The fat biking was sweet for days until last weekend’s warm weather hit. Next thing I knew, the trails were turning to slush, and my route to work went from packed snow to ice that forced me to park the Pugsley and break out the studs.

The whole mess makes me envy Daniel, who sent today’s Fabulous Finger Photo from Joe’s Ridge in Fruita. If I’ve gotta have my stomach come up in my throat during a scary moment, I’d rather have it happen on Joe’s than on a wicked-slick patch of hard-as-concrete glare ice during my morning commute.

Besides, a ride at the Bookcliffs ends at a cold beer. A morning commute just ends at work.

Oh, well. Winter will return. And snow will renew the trails (I hope) even if there isn’t any in the forecast for the next week. It’s fat-bike season, dammit.

By the way, there are still “No Waxing Required” frame stickers available, so if you’re a winter rider who feels like blowing a raspberry at Anchorage’s bike-hating ski snobs, hit me up for a freebie when you see me around town.

Then you can proudly let your freak flag fly.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Don't piss her off

Blue Dot, Summer 2008

I don't understand why my pictures from Blue Dot always cause my friend Jeff over at Bike Carson to question my sense of chivalry. When I first posted this picture of Maura and Heather crossing the treacherous Blue Dot bridge over Campbell Creek a couple of years ago, he posted a comment that suggested I might consider a good photo to be of more importance than my friends' safety.

Blue Dot, Yesterday Afternoon

And after I Facebooked this new picture of Julie crossing the same bridge on Saturday, he posted a similar comment under it. But Jeff lives in Nevada, so there's something he doesn't know about the people I ride with.

To be fair, Heather routinely gives me shit about things like shooting pictures when I could be offering her a hand. But the truth is, she just looks for any excuse to give me shit. So when she started in again Saturday night, and I was laughing about similar comments left on my blog, Julie chimed in with the following observation:

"These people don't realize that you ride with women who would hit you if you offered us help."

Keep that in mind the next time you see me use a photo in which a woman looks like she might need assistance.

I don't ride with wimpy chicks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Show me the money

Sometimes, bike news comes along and gives me hope. I try to not let it go to my head, because the next story I read will likely be about some drunk, text-messaging dumbass in a monster truck who ran over a cyclist and didn't get charged with anything.

But I occasionally like to savor glimmers of optimism, if only for a few moments. The folks at Paramount Cycles yesterday posted a Facebook link to this story at the Huffington Post about the increasing number of people taking vacations on bikes. More people are taking trips for events like RAGBRAI, or spending their free time (and money) on commercial tours.

Best of all, cities and states are starting to recognize the economic impact of cycling. That leads to more investment to lure bike riders and provide for their needs. The state of Wisconsin reports that out-of-state visitors traveling there to ride bikes generated half a billion dollars in economic activity.

And that's Wisconsin.

It's enough to make a person think that maybe—just maybe—a day will come when we'll be seen not as Lycra-wearing goofballs, but as the economic force we actually are. You don't think we're an economic force? Look at all the bike-rack-equipped cars in the parking lots of hotels, stores and restaurants in places like Moab, Crested Butte and Fruita, or any other well-known bike destination. Ask a member of the chamber of commerce in one of those towns what he thinks of bike riders, he'll probably say one thing: Cha-ching!

Speaking of traveling bike riders, today's Fabulous Finger Photo comes from my friend Debbie, who recently took her snow bike and rode off into the sunset on a beach down south. I guess this was her way of saying goodbye.

Sort of reminds me of the departing gesture of a girlfriend I once knew.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Mr. Johnson's The Man

In a crowd of mountain bikers, everyone has an opinion about everything related to bikes. The guy I always listen to is Mr. Johnson.

Let’s say you’re choosing a new bike, and you’re wondering if it’s too large. Mr. Johnson won’t steer you wrong. If he says you want more top-tube clearance, he knows what he’s talking about. Get a smaller frame.

Or maybe Mr. Johnson tells you that your saddle needs to be adjusted. Maybe the nose is too high. Again, Mr. Johnson is always right. And he’s a sensitive guy. You don’t want to hurt Mr. Johnson, so make him happy and adjust that flippin’ saddle. You’ll be glad you did it, and so will Mr. Johnson.

So when Mr. Johnson told me the other day that it was time to shorten the steerer tube on my Pugsley’s fork, I trusted him. I know his only bike-related interest is enjoying many more happy rides together, and he’s trying to take care of me.

I cut the steerer a bit back when I first built the Pugs, but I left it fairly long to allow later adjustments. Then, procrastination set in. But when I was pulling myself off the ground after a minor crash the other day, Mr. Johnson said, “Dude, seriously! Chop that shit already!”

I thought about it, and decided that a few minutes of work in the garage was the least I could do for a guy like Mr. Johnson. Because—and I’m not at all embarrassed to say this—I love Mr. Johnson.

The next time he sees that steerer tube, I really hope Mr. Johnson will feel good about the changes I've made.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Digital Divas

Holy friggin' flip-offs, boys and girls, business is booming in the Fabulous Finger Gallery! With three great new photos in my inbox, I figured it's time for an All-finger Day here at Bicycles & Icicles. Before we begin, let's pause for a moment of silence in recognition of the woman who helped start it all nearly three years ago ... my good friend Heather.

Heather's so proud of her role in this fine use of the Internet that I think she lists it on her resume, as well she should. And with that formality behind us, let's get to the goodies:

Today's first shot comes from Miner's Rock in Lake Leatherwood, Arkansas, courtesy of my brother Matt and his Midwestern crew during their recent trip into the Ozarks. Their rides included places like Slaughter Pen Hollow. In other words, you might not want to ask too many questions.

And next we have the first of two pics from the White Rim Trail. This one's courtesy of Mountain Bike Anchorage author Rose Austin, who recently completed her usual fall tour of great riding destinations in the Southwest. Welcome back to the land of ice, Rose.

And last today—but far from least—we have the pleasure of a whole bevy of mountain-biking babes lettin' the birds fly during their White Rim ride. It's Anchorage's own Dirt Divas on tour. Divas, a desert sunset and Fat Tire ale ... damn good combination, if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Well, it's a start

Jules cruises down icy Rover's Run on Sunday
while wearing a jacket she thoughtfully
coordinated with the colors on my new blog format.

Get the fat bikes out. It took until November 1, but there’s finally some snow on the ground. It’s wet crud mixed with rain but it’s here, it’s white and it’s covering the icy ruts and tire tracks that made Rover’s so dicey on Sunday.

The first snowfall of the season always snarls the morning car commute, but I’m lucky enough to be on vacation this week, so I slept late, ate a big breakfast and hit the Hillside on my Pugsley today. I got so many first tracks that I had trouble finding the trail a few times, and ended up taking wrong turns and riding sections I hadn’t expected—and that was part of the fun.

The sun even came out, but that’s not necessarily a good thing this early in the season. With temps in the mid-30s, it didn’t take long for the “rain shower” to start as snowmelt dripped off trees.

With more snow in the forecast, let’s hope the temperatures drop and help the trails set up.

Let the fat tires roll.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cross-dressing scavengers

Fabulous Fingers from the costume finalists.

When you’re walking out of a gay bar to get back on your bike, and a large lesbian laughs and says, “You’ve got balls!” you know you’re having a hell of a Saturday night.

It’s also a sign that another Frigid Bits season is under way, and this year kicked off with the usual Halloween scavenger-hunt ride. Not that there’s anything “usual” about it, especially when the costume theme is drag, and you get sent to Mad Myrna’s for a drink. I was glad to leave after one round, because I was starting to notice some impressive cleavage and I wasn’t sure all of it was on women.

Speaking of partial nudity, there was less of it around the post-ride fire this year, but not by a long shot. The guy who flashed the most skin with a corset and fishnet stockings scored the grand prize of a set of mountain bike wheels. And it was well-deserved, considering the temperature was below freezing.

Best of all, the soon-to-be-famous Frigid Bits Burn Barrel was glowing hot, and the post-ride beer was good and cold. It’s always good to see the winter biking crowd reunited around the shrine.

Keep the firewood ready, and let winter begin.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Just in time

Fat bikes and ice. Powerline Valley.

Sometimes, a good day comes along just when you need it. After a long spell of taking it easy while some stitches healed, I finally hit some dirt with friends. A fun ride, sunshine, and a tasty meal with cold beer at Midnight Sun afterward.

The memory just might be enough to keep me sane during the next few days of airports and conference rooms.

It's always good to remember there's a bike waiting at the end. Because I just wanna ride my bike and not be hassled by The Man.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Freakin' you baby

OK, maybe zip ties and duct tape aren't necessarily the best way to permanently attach accessories to a bicycle, but they usually work pretty damn well. Especially if you take the preventive measure of periodically replacing the zip ties before they become brittle from dry rot.

I don't always do that.

That's why I felt a little resistance and heard a buzzing sound coming from my rear wheel about a block and a half from my house this morning. My old Stumpjumper lacks fender mounts, so mine is, well ... let's just say "creatively" attached to the frame. A zip tie had gone tits-up on me, and I wasn't carrying a spare, so it was time to turn around and head back to the garage.

Times like this are when I love being the only person who services my bikes. There's nothing like building and caring for your own machine, because it means you know all its eccentricities and the funky shit you did to set it up. Well, that's if you did any funky shit to set it up. I don't cut corners on the road bike that does high-speed descents, or the mountain bike that carries me into the middle of nowhere, but my commuter is another matter.

The old Stumpy used to see some action. It's been on singletrack in multiple states from New Mexico to Alaska, but its current form is pure function. It's urban, ugly and utilitarian. I think it's fun to have at least one bike I don't have to be picky about. I can keep repairs quick and cheap, and still end up with a pretty reliable bike. And a simple one.

This morning, I rode back to the garage carefully to avoid destroying anything, then did some quick surgery with a zip tie, crescent wrench and wire cutters, and was rolling out the door about two minutes later. I couldn't have done that if someone else had rigged up my fenders, because I wouldn't have immediately understood where the fender mount had to be positioned, or why the fender was out of alignment after the new zip tie was installed, and how I could adjust the alignment with a wrench in just a few seconds.

That bike's a goofy lookin' freak, but it's my goofy lookin' freak.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Famous Fingers

Leave it to Janice to soften my pain of being stuck in Anchorage during freeze-up. Instead of flying south to ride in the desert like I did last October, I've been sitting at home with a mouthful of stitches and waiting for the first snowflakes of the year while friends jet off to Arizona, Colorado and Utah for some prime autumn riding.

But then Janice bags a damn fine addition to the Finger Gallery while riding with Selene Yeager—Bicycling magazine's "Fit Chick" columnist—during a coaching conference in Colorado Springs. Damn strong work, Queen Bee. And thanks to Selene for the celebrity flip-off.

I also want to offer big congratulations to Anchorage's hometown girl Petra Davis, a freshman racing for Montana State University-Bozeman, who placed seventh in today's Division 2 cross country event at the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Truckee, Calif.

It's nice to see her carry her streak of badassery into her college racing career. Nice job, Petra.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lost bet

When I scheduled oral surgery for last Wednesday, I was betting on two things this weekend: 1) cold, and 2) rain falling sideways. It's early October, for shit's sake. It seemed like a decent gamble. I lost.

So while sun filled a brilliant blue sky on a perfect autumn weekend, I tramped around my house with a mouthful of stitches, eating soft food, watching movies and scanning Facebook for pictures of all the fun other people were having. I can't really complain, I guess. Everybody's got to miss a great weekend now and then. I'll make up for it later.

In the mean time, I got two new Fabulous Finger Fotos this weekend:

The first is from from my roadie friend, Angela.
She gets points for the hands-free, double-finger approach.

The second is from the Bike Monkee, who had fun
trashing himself up in the high country
while I was riding the recliner.
(I also see he's rockin' a sweet new
carbon handlebar that I don't recognize.)

Here's to hoping the trails are frozen and firm next weekend, when the doctor's "don't break a sweat" orders will be expired.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Nothin' but a Hound, dawg

I’ve been bike shopping online for the past few days. Correction: I’ve been bike ogling online for the past few days, because that’s the closest thing to shopping I can afford right now.

Since a trip to New Zealand two years ago, I’ve been trying to figure how avoid being stuck without a bike on nonbiking vacations with my family, or short work-related trips. Everybody wins when I get to ride because, after a few days without pedaling, I get a tad difficult to live with. But hauling a big-ass bike crate isn’t always practical—especially when riding days will be rare, or cargo space is limited in a rental car.

Friends have encouraged me to preserve my dignity and manhood by getting a real bike with S&S couplers; something like a Surly Travelers Check. Folders, they say, are just too nerdy, and don’t handle as well as full-size bikes. I would agree, if not for the wonderful attraction of something that folds into a really small package.

I love the idea of a bike that will fit into a car trunk with a couple of suitcases, or be carried through a hotel lobby without attracting unwanted attention from The Man.

And therein lies my attraction to the Smooth Hound from Dahon. It's portable as hell, yet it actually has a frame that looks like a real bike, instead of just a single tube leading to the headset. It has a mustache bar and a Brooks saddle. In other words, it’s a geek bike with some style.

It’s no replacement for a full-on road or mountain bike, but when faced with the option of an evening of hotel-room cable TV, or a two-hour cruise through a strange city, I’d prefer to try being a bike geek with a little style.

Monday, October 04, 2010

In a New York State of mind

How could anyone have expected the words "New York" and "middle fingers" to appear in the same sentence? OK, pretty much everybody expected that.

But thanks, anyway, to the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association for today's addition to the Fabulous Finger Gallery, and a fine display of universal sign language from upstate New York.

SMBA kicks ass.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Digital Carnage

Recently, I’ve noticed more friends sharing ah-inspiring pictures from their mountain bike rides. And I do mean ah-inspiring. As in, “Ah, shit! Why did I have to see that?”

My friend Carrie in Wyoming recently got on Facebook and posted this picture of her boyfriend’s fresh stitches, and you can thank me for not posting the photo of the cut before it was sewn up. Seriously. It may not look that big, but I think you could have screamed into that deep crevasse and heard an echo. I mean, you could have dropped shit in there and lost it.

He went riding again the next weekend and did a faceplant, fracturing his orbital socket. Carrie got good pics of that, too, which bolstered my respect for her in a way that I found a little disturbing.

Earlier this summer, one of my nephews posted photos of a buddy’s forearm, which got slashed open so wide that it looked like the Grand Canyon of Gore. I couldn’t stand to look at it. So I went back to it several times and averted my eyes. When I showed the picture to my wife and one of her fellow nurses, they curiously moved their faces closer to the screen and calmly said, “Yup. That looks like bone all right.”

Not that many years ago, you could go on a group ride and there wouldn’t be a camera in anyone’s pack. Today, you get three or more riders and it’s likely that at least one will be carrying a digital point-and-shoot. (If I’m in the group, you can pretty much count on it.)

On the upside, you’ll sometimes end up with a photo that makes you look good. On the downside, your crashes—and the resulting carnage—might be shared with the world. Or at least your little social-network sliver of it.

Ride carefully. Try to keep your insides from showing.

But if they do make an appearance, could you turn toward the good light and hold still? This will take only a second ...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mr. Skin

Every bike commuter knows the usual suspects along the daily route to work: the “racers” who don’t want to be passed; the people who insist on being halfway through each intersection before the light actually turns green; the people who ride for a week or two at the beginning of each summer and then are never seen again. There’s a variety of bike-commuter stereotypes.

Today, I pay tribute to Mr. Skin.

No, not that Mr. Skin. (In case you missed the movie "Knocked Up," that link is NSFW.) I’m talking about those guys—and it’s pretty much always the male riders—who seem to think a bicycle can’t be ridden without exposed arms and legs. They’re the guys you see cruising to and from work looking underdressed after most of us have started wearing jackets, tights, ear warmers and full-fingered gloves.

When I’m wearing wool socks and have my jacket zipped up, and I’m cursing myself for having left my arm warmers at home, I have a hard time believing the guy in shorts and a T-shirt isn’t freezing his ass off.

Can these guys not afford decent clothing? Are they suffering from the same arrested development that makes high-school kids refuse to wear coats in 5-degree weather? Do these riders have some natural resistance to cold?

Not bloody likely. At 40 degrees, if you’re riding 15 mph, the wind chill makes it feel like 32 degrees. That’s the freezing point of water and, if I recall the details from biology class, water makes up some really freakin’ huge portion of the human body. That means 32 degrees feels cold on exposed skin.

But keep up the tough image, Mr. Skin. Keep flexin’ those exposed muscles as you pedal through the falling leaves in the autumn air. The rest of us will pretend not to see the goosebumps.

But I'm still gonna laugh a little after riding by going the other direction.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Autumnal Sunshine

"I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as
autumnal sunshine by staying in the house."
—Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Hangover

Isn't it strange how some of the hardest rides are the ones we remember as being some of the best? When Leonard and I got back to the car Wednesday evening more than eight hours after we left it, we had run out of tubes, patches and water, and the sky was growing dark.

Most everything—including my legs—was depleted. My back ached and my knees were sore. We needed a hot meal, and we were still facing a 125-mile drive back to Anchorage. Home felt far away. My office, where I needed to be in 12 hours, felt much too near.

Tonight, there’s a small pile of filthy clothes in my garage floor, right next to the Camelbak full of food wrappers and miscellaneous trash. Cleaning it up will, as usual, be simultaneously disgusting and fun. The aftermath of a good ride is like that of a good party. You might use a long stick to pick up a malodorous pair of pants, but you’ll smile at the memory of what happened to them.

Sometimes, it’s tempting to swear I’ll never return to a trail that ripped my legs off and beat me over the head with them, but that’s like crawling out of bed on Sunday morning and vowing to never drink again.

A few days later, the bottle will be opened again. That stuff just tastes too damn good.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Best of Fall

Clear, sun-filled skies in the middle of September mean it’s time for a ride along the shore of Eklutna Lake. It’s a 26-mile roundtrip with about 30 feet of almost-a-little-technical terrain, and not a single hard climb.

But it’s a ideal spot for an mellow cruise in beautiful country just outside Anchorage, even if you happen to be riding with people who seem to take just a little too much pleasure in flipping you off every chance they get.

The forecast looks good for the second straight week.

Play hooky.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Golden Rule

I try to not let irritating things stick in my craw and drive me nuts. Really, I do. But sometimes, jackassery haunts me.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in several conversations about riders in this year’s Soggy Bottom 100 who tossed their energy-gel wrappers on the trail. Not on a closed course with a cleanup crew, but in a freakin’ national forest.

There’s never a good reason for throwing your trash on the ground while passing over a trail on public land. Only a dick would do such a thing. So if the offending rider or riders—I’m really hoping it wasn’t more than one or two—happens to be reading this blog, yeah dude, I’m callin’ you a dick. Very specifically you. You make mountain bikers look bad.

Some riders take themselves way too seriously. I mean really, what did you think, you were in some sort of major event with a staff of people who would come along behind you and pick up your shit?

It ain’t the Tour de France. It’s a grassroots event on beautiful public land, against other local riders. I don’t care what kind of bike you ride, what kind of kit you wear, how elite you think you are, or whether you pay some coach to make you a few seconds faster so that you can occasionally beat the same friends you race every stinking week. Tossing your wrappers on the trail is a shitty and childish thing to do.

In the future, try to follow The Golden Rule: Don’t be a dick.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunshine and Glassholes

At last. After weeks—OK, months—of cloudy weather, a high-pressure system has finally parked its fat ass over Southcentral Alaska. That means the skies are nearly cloudless. Even the temperatures are unusually warm for September.

It also means that everyone's scrambling for some fun in the sun, so every convertible has its top down, every patch of grass seems to have people relaxing on it, and bike junkies are rushing to squeeze in their final rides of the year in shorts and fingerless gloves.

I spent four hours riding today, then gulped down some food and took a quick shower so I could head back outside with my daughter. There's just no gettin' enough of this stuff when you know that freezing rain is only a few weeks away.

Unfortunately, I've noticed that the glassholes have been busy the past couple of weeks. Today's pic is from my friend Amber, who had yesterday's road ride interrupted by a debris field of broken glass.

I'd like to take every drunk dumbass who breaks bottles on bike paths, strip 'em naked and make them roll around in that shit until the pavement is shiny and red.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Stuff that works

I don’t usually “review” gear on this blog, but I've been in one of those spells when solid products have really impressed me.

For my commuter tires, I’ve actually been impressed for about three summers now. I can't find it on the manufacturer's website, so I assume the Bontrager Satellite Plus is out of production, and that sucks the big one because these tires are The Shit.

Seriously, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a flat with these suckers, but if I have, I can’t remember when it was. That’s amazing for a commuter tire that rolls over glass, sharp rocks and other roadside debris just about every damned day. This is as close to bombproof as any tire I’ve ever seen.

Last spring, I spruced up my mountain bike with several new parts/components, and then spent the summer smiling every time I rode it. Here’s the stuff that kept me happy despite a summer of mediocre weather ...

Race Face Deus crankset: I picked up the 2009 model at a huge savings last winter, and my only regret is that I didn’t install it before last fall’s trip to Moab and Fruita. I spent that week listening to a creaky bottom bracket, but since installing the new components, the bike has been running as smooth as butter.

WTB Weirwolf tires: I’ve run WTB tires in the past, but had been loyal to Specialized Roll-X Pros for about five years. The Weirwolf is just as easy to put on and take off the rim, but it sheds mud like an oiled-up stripper, and corners like a dream. I haven’t leaned into turns like this in years.

Ergon GX1 grips: The most comfortable grips I’ve ever used. I bought the full-size model, then hack-sawed it down to match the width of my hand and provide easy access to my Gripshifts. Perfect match.

Avid BB7 brakes: You’ll never get three or more mountain bikers to agree on the “best” anything, but the BB7 comes close, at least in the category of mechanical disc brakes. It might be the most beloved brake among Alaska riders who love it for its simplicity and year-round reliability. It installs and sets up easier than anything out there, and works flawlessly under terrible conditions. I’ve run this brake on my Pugsley for about four years, and I don’t know why I didn’t switch to it on my Specialized Epic much earlier.

My six-year-old Shimano hydraulics always dealt me fits when I tried to eliminate rotor rub, and hydraulics always present the risk of having to space out the pads if you accidentally squeeze the brake lever when a wheel is off the bike. I installed BB7s in July, and have loved them every time I’ve grabbed the levers. They give me all the stopping power and modulation I need, with none of the hassles of hydraulics. My only complaint is that newer models of the Speed Dial 7 levers look and feel pretty cheesy. Fortunately, I had an earlier model of the same levers on my commuter, so I moved them to the Epic and put the new levers on the V-brake-equipped beater bike.

The latest upgrade to my Epic is a new wheelset built with Hadley hubs and Industry Nine rims. I’m still getting used to them, but the wheels feel sweet and I’m told the hubs are super easy to overhaul, so next summer will be the real test.

And that’s just one more little thought to carry me through the coming winter.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Waggin' 'em in Wyoming

Today's addition to the Phabulous Phinger Gallery comes from my brother Matt, left, and Tim Kelly, aka the Frigid Bits Grill Meister. They met up for a ride a few days ago in Curt Gowdy State Park outside, Laramie, Wyoming.

Yeah, that's right. There's really is a state park named after the famous sportscaster. And it has some damn nice singletrack. I sampled a little of it last July, and hope to ride some more next time I'm in that area.

Thanks to Matt and Tim for keeping the finger drive alive.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Only in Anchorage

Where else could a bike trail end before it starts?

(Brought to you by the traffic engineers
who gave us the C Street roundabout.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Give it a rest

Last week, The New York Times published a story about people depriving their brains of downtime by filling every spare moment with e-mails, phone calls and electronic games.

The story cited a University of Michigan study that found people learn better after a walk in nature than they do after walking through an urban environment. The Times story suggested a radical idea for a woman who was interviewed while multitasking with her iPod, iPhone and a a high-def TV as she exercised at the gym: Perhaps, the story suggested, her head would be clearer if she went for a run outside, without all the gadgets.

Downtime allows the brain to process experiences and turn them into long-term memories, according an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco. When your brain is constantly stimulated, the learning process is disrupted. He might has well have said, “mountain biking makes you smarter.”

What baffles me is why we still need to be told things that so obviously fit under the category of “No shit, Sherlock.” Why do we seem to forget that simply playing outside is more relaxing than staring at a screen?

It doesn’t matter if a person likes to ski, hike, run or—like you and me—take solace in the meditative benefits of singletrack. You’re better off if you unplug for a few hours and get out in the woods.

I think that’s one of the reasons I like to take it slow and enjoy the ride. Pedaling fast is fine, but half the fun of a mountain bike ride is swapping tales at the trailhead or during water breaks along way. What’s the rush? All the bullshit of daily life will still be waiting when the ride ends.

You can even hurry home and blog about it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Three on three

Cruising down the South Fork Rim Trail late Tuesday evening, Jules, the Bike Monkee and I were making a lot of noise while trying to avoid a bear encounter.

Still, I can’t say it came as a huge surprise to have one anyway. As bear turf goes, that’s a pretty busy neighborhood.

I rounded a corner and saw the Monkee pulling himself off the ground up at the next curve, then backing up slowly as he held his arms out, trying to look as large as possible.

“Bear?” I asked quickly as I stopped my bike.

“Yeah, “ he said, still looking around the corner. “Three.”

I pulled a canister of pepper spray from the bottle cage on my bike, and took a few steps toward him, which was enough to give me a view around the vegetation next to the bike he had ditched while avoiding a near-collision and the resulting bear charge. The view was a tad unnerving—a few feet from his bike stood a couple of one- or two-year-old cubs and the ass end of a brown bear sow that was starting to move her offspring into the woods. They crunched through the brush to our right for a couple of minutes as we considered how to retrieve Monkee’s bike and get the hell out of there.

That was the second time in about five weeks that I’ve been close enough to a grizzly to pull out the spray and take off the safety clip.

I often think that Alaska mountain bikers are relaxed enough to ride here only because we convince ourselves there isn’t a bear around the next corner.

But sometimes, there is.

And that’s when a can of Counter Assault is worth its weight in gold.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Going (mostly) car-free

Most parents dread the day a child turns 16 and gets a driver’s license. We fear for their safety, and shudder at the thought of car insurance premiums that double—or worse—overnight. For many families, a new driver in the house also means there will be an extra car in the driveway.

Not at my house.

My daughter recently started her junior year of high school as a licensed driver. Because her schedule includes a mix of online courses, a night class at a local college, and two classes at her local school, the only realistic option is for her to drive each day.

A few months ago, my wife started trolling craigslist for used vehicles, but buying another reliable car is outside my financial comfort zone at the moment. I’m among those American workers who managed to keep my job, but lost annual pay raises, my company’s 401(k) match, and a significant portion of my old salary. My pay stubs look about like they did when my daughter was 10.

Fortunately, I have a sturdy commuter bike with fenders for wet weather, and I own studded bike tires for icy days, and a fat bike for snowy ones. So, instead of paying interest on a used-car loan, I’m handing over the keys to my 4Runner each morning, and giving up the option of driving to work. And I’m kind of looking forward to doing this for the foreseeable future.

I’ve always told my kids that it’s easy to love bike commuting when you choose to do it. Pedaling into freezing rain is more tolerable if you know you didn’t have to. But there’s also something nice about cutting options and stepping to a higher level of commitment.

Besides, she leaves some cool mix CDs in the car stereo.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Drive to Work Day

This morning I faced my twice-yearly car commute from South Anchorage to Midtown during the morning “rush hour.” That’s another way of saying I had a dental appointment.

Traffic on the Seward Highway was lighter than usual—so light that I arrived a few minutes early and managed to read a few pages of a Vonnegut novel before going inside.

The whole thing reminded me of how smoothly automobile traffic can flow when fewer cars are on the road. And it inspired a daydream of a wonderful alternative to Bike to Work Day, Critical Mass rides and other forms of pro-bicycle activism:

Wouldn’t it be nice if so many people rode bikes to work that we’d have to choose one day a year when we would all drive just to clog the roads and remind society of how ugly the world would be without bike commuters?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gettin' the job done

I’ve long believed that wet weather is just part of living in Alaska, and that whining about it is for the weak. Therefore, dear reader, you are hereby on notice that nothing in this post is to be misconstrued as whining, but Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, this is getting ridiculous.

When consecutive days of rain hit the 28-day mark, we broke a record that had stood for 59 years.

And that was last Saturday. It’s still raining.

If it weren’t for my weather-tortured commuter bike and it’s full-coverage fenders, I’d be batshit crazy by now. The trails are a muddy mess, and road biking isn’t all that attractive in rainy weather, but you can always get out for some kind of ride if you have a bike that’s equipped for slop.

Here’s to the townie, the commuter, the Frankenbike, the beater, the whatever-you-want-to-call-it bike that suffers the shit and never lets you down.

You can have a garage full of all the high-zoot carbon and titanium rides you want. None of them are more respectable than the grungy workhorse that gets you to work in the kind of weather that tends to keep the expensive toys inside.

Fancy bikes are a ton of fun, but in times like these, it’s the old, reliable ones that keep us sane.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Saving Sarah

Sarah has spent this summer as an intern in the office where I work. She has also spent it as a bike commuter, riding from downtown to South Anchorage every day on an old Trek mountain bike that wasn’t getting much action in my garage.

After feeling her strength build all summer as she racked up miles, she sampled a little trail in my neighborhood, then wanted more. So, some friends and I took her up Powerline Valley last night. I saw it as a fun way to show her another little piece of Alaska while baiting her into the cult.

She splashed through a bit of water, smiled a lot, and pronounced the downhill section “warped,” but a seriously good time. I even overheard her telling Maura that she was starting to like mountain biking more than running.

I love getting people into mountain biking, but it’s especially rewarding to convert runners.

The way I see it, saving a person from running is like saving a person from the church.

Could there be any higher calling than that?