Tuesday, March 30, 2010


They’re here, they’re real, and they’re spectacular. Surely destined to become the must-have fat-bike accessory for next season, the custom Bicycles & Icicles frame stickers have finally arrived, giving winter bikers a new way to figuratively thumb their nose (or flip the bird) at bike-hating Nordic ski snobs.

I slapped a couple on the Pugsley tonight before heading out on what was likely my final fat bike ride of the season. The afternoon sun is turning the trails into mush. The turns on Speedway are getting so rutted that even Endomorphs can barely hold on.

We’re entering the Dark Zone—that dreaded period between good snow trails and the dry dirt that won’t be available for another two months. I’d say we’ve entered road bike season, but that’s still a couple of weeks away for anyone who doesn’t want to go out for a ride and return home covered in wet road grime from all the snowmelt flowing in the streets.

This is also the period when the blog tends to slow down, because trainer rides and brooding impatience aren’t very inspiring. This time of year, all a person can do is put his head down and try to get through it.

And maybe put some shiny new stickers on the fatty.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Connect the Dots

Once upon a time, I hated this trail. Or maybe it was just one night.

Two or three winters back, a group of us turned on to Blue Dot in total darkness, only a few days after a snowstorm. Manny’s Hell Ride, I like to call it. To this day, there’s a statement from Oscar the Grouch that elicits chuckles from many, but is fully understood only by the handful of riders who were there that night: “It was a great ride, until it started to suck ass.”

That trail was six inches wide with 18-inch walls of powder on both sides. You couldn’t turn the pedals without hooking a foot in the snow. Oscar’s light was dying. My patience was fading. And Tony’s GPS, unfortunately, was working. He assured us we were almost at the end—repeatedly—because each time he said it, it felt like we were turning in some new direction.

These days, Blue Dot is one of my favorites. Especially in winter, when it’s buffed out and every twist and turn only adds to the fun. And in a winter like the one that is ending, it is heavenly on a fat bike.

In a couple of months, we’ll be wrestling with its gnarly, exposed roots, slipping on the water-soaked boards of its crumbling bridge, and donating blood to its hordes of mosquitoes—none of which will be as fun as its snowy singletrack.

Trails like this make me look forward to winter.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Issue #148

Steve R. and me on Speedway last spring.

Congrats to local rider Randy Armstrong, who managed to get the above photo published in Issue #148 of Dirt Rag magazine despite me being in it. And thanks to my brother Matt, who tipped me off about the pic being in the new issue. It'll likely be a few weeks before we see it on newsstands here in Alaska.

Randy routinely shoots some of the best local mountain biking images, so it's nice to have one of his photos seen by a wider audience. And it's always a treat to have Alaska represented in DR's "The Rider's Eye" section.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring slop

Spring in most of Anchorage is not a pretty time. The commuting conditions are the worst of the year (we hope), and every piece of litter and neglected dog turd pops out of the melting snow like some sort of hellish weed. The streets and bike paths deteriorate into a mix of afternoon slush and slop that turns into glare ice and gnarly, icy ruts by morning.

Over the past couple of weeks, I entered my usual springtime funk and lost most of my desire to ride my bike to work each day. Fortunately, inspiration returned this week, and I owe it all to that guy I saw last Saturday—the guy riding through slush with all the wrong clothing and a marginally suitable bike. He reminded me to suck it up and get back in the game.

The street riding may be a mess, but the fat-bike riding is still sweet. The trails are firm, the evening temps are warm, and there’s plenty of sunlight. It’s a good combination when the studded bike is dirty from commuting, and the Pugsley is still getting trail action.

But I’m startin’ to get ideas when I look at my road bike ...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Off the charts

I was about to post a picture from today's ride with the non-news that I had nothing to write about. then I saw this amazing photo. It doesn't look like much. In fact, it's a pretty crappy photograph all the way around.

Except that it's a web-cam picture of Mike Curiak in Nome. 21 days, 4 hours and 31 minutes after he started riding the Iditarod Trail on a fat bike, fully self-supported. His policy was to carry all his food and fuel, accept no outside assistance, and never set foot inside a building.

And he made it.

That means this photo will probably be the most amazing bike-related image you see this week.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gettin' there

We're finally on the cusp of spring, folks. It ain't really here yet, but we can see it on the horizon. The snow from our last storm is getting packed, and the warm daytime temperatures are combining with cold night air to put just enough ice on the trails that if a clown like me doesn't pay attention, there might be a smackdown.

This is also the time of year when every fat-bike ride takes on a little extra meaning, because it's hard to know how many we have left. For now, I'd say we're good until at least the end of this month. Then it's up to Mother Nature.

Speaking of fat-bike rides, good luck to The Bike Monkee, Jules, Janice, and anyone else heading north for this weekend's White Mountains 100. Safe travels, everybody.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In memory of the fallen

Found on Speedway singletrack, Sunday afternoon

The Hillside has something in common with the moon this week: impact craters. The only difference is that the local craters aren't round. They're shaped like bikes. And bodies.

It seems to be taking a little longer than usual to get last week's powder packed down into fast singletrack, but the snow beside many trails bears the proof that fat-bikers are trying.

It can be frustrating to ride trails after a snowstorm. But just remember, the landings are a lot softer than they'll be three months from now.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

March on

This should be declared the official Month of Delusion in Alaska, because March is the time of year when otherwise rational people start believing in meteorological fantasies.

As snow flurries fell from the gray sky on Monday, and powder snakes blew across streets, at least three people I know were staring out windows and feeling exasperated. They’ve had enough of winter.

Then we woke up this morning to blowing snow, drifts in our driveways and a “winter weather advisory.” And the only surprising thing about it was that so many people were surprised.

A big snowstorm in March is as normal as darkness in December. Just because some people want spring to come doesn’t mean winter isn’t alive and kicking. After May 1, you can call a snowstorm a surprise—though even then it might be a stretch—but in March, a person has to just accept the fact that winter won't be over for several more weeks.

I used to fall victim to cabin fever this time of year. I, too, would go temporarily insane and start to believe that spring might come early. Now, I look forward to March all year. The average temperatures are a bit milder, the sun is out longer each day, the trails are usually in the best shape of the season, and the bears and mosquitoes haven’t shown up yet.

The cure for cabin fever is simple: Get your ass outside. Especially if you own a fat bike, because if don't enjoy the riding in March, you might as well be a roadie.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Good vs. great

It has long been a standard part of mountain biking to pedal up to the trailhead at the end of the day and say to your partners, "Thanks. That was a great ride."

And we always mean it, but it's really a throwaway line because, more often than not, we don't give a moment's thought to the question of where a good ride ends and a great one begins. The line between good and great can be vague, and the deciding factors are varied.

One good sign is when you expected to ride trails for a couple of hours, but ended up riding for four—not because you got lost or suffered a mechanical, but because it was a beautiful day, you had the right partners and nobody was under pressure to be anywhere else. Another good sign is when the ride ends and you're spent, but happy. Happy because you just had a blast, but also because you're glad to be done.

It's also a good sign when there's not a crumb of food left anywhere on your bike, and when you start driving home and try to get a drink, you find that you can't pull another drop from the tube because your last sip on the trail drained the final fraction of an ounce from your Camelbak.

Great rides rock. Long live great rides.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Built to last

A guy I know—who isn’t a rider—forwarded this video to me and a couple of other mountain-biker friends, and asked, “What are these guys thinking?”

I couldn’t come up with much of a reply. Because while there’s a shit-ton of bold riding on display, there isn’t much evidence that these guys are doing a lot of thinking. Not the long-term kind, anyway.

We’ve all played the game of comparing wounds and scars over a couple of post-ride beers, but most of us strive to limit injuries to the category of cuts, scrapes and bruises. (OK, maybe a concussion here and there, but I’m trying to quit.) When guys in their teens and 20s rack up long lists of the bones they’ve broken, they’re really making an inventory of the orthopedic nightmare that awaits them later in life.

Ever meet a 50-year-old who fractured multiple bones and wrecked both knees in his 20s? It ain’t pretty. If you don't believe me, do a few Google searches and read about all the retired NFL players who are permanently disabled. A lot of freeriders are going to end up in the same boat, and by middle age, their mountain-biking days will be behind him. And that’s a shame because, if you do it right, bicycling is a sport most people can do well into old age.

Like anyone else, I get a kick out of watching videos of young dudes hucking off cliffs and landing huge jumps, but I cringe a bit when I think about little kids seeing such footage and thinking they’d like to be like those guys when they grow up.

I got my inspiration 18 years ago, on the only day I ever rode up a ski lift just to ride my bike back down. “Lift-served” riding was a new idea, and far from polished, so when my buddy and I reached the top of Sandia Peak, we had to wait a few minutes for our bikes to join us.

As we waited, a guy who must have been 68 or 70 years old jump off the chairlift wearing a T-shirt and denim shorts. When his bike arrived, he got a huge, shit-eatin’ grin on his face, then spryly jumped on and steered it down the hill.

When I grow up, I want to be that guy.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Wet 'n' wild

Contributions to the venerable Bicycles & Icicles Finger Gallery have come from many places, but this one boldly goes where no one has gone before: under water. Gina spends a lot of time submerged because she’s one of those odd people who thinks bikes are fun to use in triathlons. When she sent this shot, she asked if it counted even though she’s not wearing cycling clothes.

Of course it counts. It counts because A) I’m a liberal guy who doesn’t discriminate (well, not openly anyway) against people who swim and run, and B) she’s flipping me the bird under water, which just doesn’t happen every day.

This isn’t Gina’s first appearance in the Famous Finger Gallery. She was part of the international incident last September when a gaggle of Brits, Welsh, Italians and Frenchmen were hijacked into flashing their phalanges.

I’m proud that Gina was able to take it to a new depth. Because, after all, that’s really what this blog is all about.