Friday, April 29, 2011

Chill out and wait

Springtime in Alaska means many things, but you can always count on two: muddy trails, and dickheads who think it’s OK to ride on them.

Overnight temps have only recently started staying above the freezing point. There’s still snow scattered all over the place, and it’s melting. Unfortunately, not everyone understood what the science teacher was talking about when he explained the whole solid/liquid/gas thing.

Here’s a basic primer you can share with any morons you know who are rutting trails weeks before anyone should be riding on them:

Water vapor (gas) in the atmosphere eventually cools and coalesces into droplets (liquid) or, in winter, flakes of snow (solid) and falls to earth. When the liquid form falls as rain, it is absorbed into soil and—if absorbed in sufficient quantities—converts dry soil into a substance commonly referred to as mud, which is quite soft, and even fluid in extreme cases. Mud is especially prone to erosion and changes in the appearance and shape of its surface.

When snow (a solid, remember) falls and accumulates on the ground during winter, it routinely retains its solid form over long periods. As ambient temperatures rise, the snow melts into water (liquid), which is absorbed into the soil with the same results as described above.

To reduce damage and maintenance to areas of soil that have been modified for human use, hereby referred to as “trails,” it is recommended that recreational pursuits that might cause long-term harm to temporarily soft surfaces be postponed until the liquid in the soil evaporates into the surrounding air, thereby returning to gas form and beginning the cycle anew, and leaving the soil in a firm state. In regions above a latitude of 60 degrees N , this generally results in delayed gratification until approximately the beginning of June or, in some fortunate areas, the beginning of May.

During the month of April, you should grow the hell up and keep your selfish ass off the trails until they’re really dry. Until you do, I will keep hoping for a big stick (solid) to get flipped through your spokes, resulting in a crash that causes a flow of blood (liquid) from your sorry ass.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Between a rock and a ...

Trivia question: What do I have in common with Lance Armstrong? Seven Tour de France victories? Nope. Dated Sheryl Crow? Nope. One nut? Nope. Admired by millions? Hell no. Hated by ... nevermind, I'll stop there.

The only thing I have in common with the winningest soon-to-be-(possibly)-indicted cyclist in the history of the world's greatest bike race is being flipped off by people all over the world. Hell, I bet I could even top Armstrong in the category of being flipped off in more countries than I've actually visited.

(Click the pic to see the larger version in all its glory.)

The latest, greatest addition to the World-famous Fabulous Finger Gallery is a stellar showing of disrespectful digits from a whole gaggle of mountaineers who were led into this mess by my friend Harter. That's him on the ground out front, during the crew's rock-climbing trip in Penticton, British Columbia.

Even with some conscientious objectors in the crowd, they managed to get 27 people to let it rip, and that's damn impressive. In fact, I think it's a flippin' record! This is the best mass flip-off since that international incident at Refugio Monte Bianco back in '09.

If you'll excuse me a minute, I think I have something in my eye.

Good job, Harter. And thank you, Bellingham climbers!

(Note: For those of you who are new to the Finger Gallery, don't forget to keep clicking "Older Posts" when you get to the bottom of the screen, because this thing has become a monster.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

We don't get to know why

The word finally came on Friday. The motorist who struck and killed William Curry in Midtown three weeks ago will not face charges.

According to news reports, police interviewed the driver and eyewitnesses who said Curry was riding against traffic in the roadway and steered into the car’s path as he crossed against a red light when the driver was turning right on a green. Whether it was a factor in the collision is unknown, but police said he was also wearing “an iPhone headset,” which is against the law.

Some riders were frustrated, and have questioned the use of Curry’s GPS data in the investigation, saying—correctly—that the margin of error is too great for a GPS to determine whether Curry was on the sidewalk or in the street. The story I read gave no indication of whether police used the GPS data to determine anything more than his direction of travel. It could have been witnesses who convinced police that he was in the roadway.

My initial reaction on Friday was disappointment. When a cyclist dies, I want someone to pay. I want to know the police did a fair and thorough investigation. So I re-read the news story a couple of times. Was the investigation solid? I can’t say for sure. But I see nothing to indicate it wasn’t. It looks like Curry made a fatal mistake.

So why do those of us who commute on bikes often think we’d feel better if we knew a bicyclist died because the motorist did something wrong?

How would it be better if the driver had been drunk, malicious, or sending text messages instead of watching the road? Is that supposed to make us feel better?

Maybe it’s because we want to make sense of tragedy. Maybe we look for martyrs. Maybe a little part of each of us hopes that, if it ever happens to us, it won’t be for no reason.

Maybe we don’t want to think we could make the same mistake.

I’ve made that kind of error. The kind that could have killed me. I’ve found myself in the path of fast-moving cars after I misjudged speed or blew a judgment call because I was in a hurry and thinking about my arrival more than my survival. So far, I’ve always been lucky enough to accelerate fast and find an escape route. Some day, I might not.

If a motorist ever takes me out for the wrong reason, I hope the police nail him. But I’ll never take comfort in knowing a bicyclist died because a car driver made stupid mistakes. Because there’s no comfort in knowing careless, drunk or homicidal motorists are on the road.

It's dangerous enough out there already.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If it's a dream, don't wake me up

Rolling downhill toward an intersection this morning, I made the usual check over my left shoulder to determine if I would need to stop before crossing the automobile exit chute at the upcoming roundabout. There was a small, white sports car coming up fast. Then a weird thing happened.

He slowed down and waited.

He corked traffic for me and held two cars behind him. And he did it early so that I’d know I had plenty of room. With no eastbound cars coming through from the other side, I was good to go as he returned my “thanks” wave.

I still don’t know what’s going on lately, but I like it. I wrote in December about seeing more consideration from drivers, and I expected the phenomenon to evaporate as we gained light and the weather warmed up. Instead, I’m still seeing a surprising number of people behind the wheel who are being nice to me when I’m on a bike.

Don’t get me wrong. We still have our share of bad—even malicious—motorists on Anchorage streets. I routinely get buzzed by drivers too lazy to move a couple of feet to the left. But I feel encouraged to see so many others anticipating my needs and overtly yielding the right of way, or going out of their way to give me extra space.

Do I dare allow myself to believe it could be a sign of growing acceptance? No doubt a few drivers are operating in a heightened state of awareness after the death of a local bike commuter earlier this month. The friendly behavior could still fade as summer approaches.

I can’t help but wonder if some of those friendly drivers work in offices with bike commuters.

Non-biking co-workers have told me that when they hear of a bike rider getting hurt, they think of me, and hope that I’m OK. I think that’s because the more we ride to work, the more we humanize the image of bike commuters.

Maybe for some people, a figure on a bike is becoming a reminder of a person they know and like. The woman they sit next to in the office, or the guy they went to lunch with yesterday. That can buy a cyclist a little extra space, or a little more patience from the person behind the wheel.

Or maybe I've just been on a lucky streak and I'm grasping at a fantasy.

I guess we have to find glimmers of hope wherever we can.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Pedaling home from Friday night’s memorial ride on my trusty, but battered, commuter, a guy followed me briefly after a traffic light, and I almost apologized for the loud clicks coming from my pedal/crank area. Shit, that was annoying. Why do I always forget that the big disadvantage of switching from studs to slicks every spring is that I can suddenly hear all the neglected bike parts?

After squeezing a bunch of grease through the pedal axles, and pulling off the cranks to lube the contact points, I’m hoping Monday’s commute will be quiet. I’ve always believed that a noisy bike indicates a poor upbringing. I may not know which fork to use at a nice restaurant, but I’ll be damned if my chain’s gonna squeak.

Speaking of noise, we’re entering the noise-making season again. My friend Randy took this shot of a black bear with three spring cubs on Rover’s Run three days ago. If you’re managing to get out in the woods during the sloppy spring thaw, remember you’re not alone.

Seagulls and Canada geese have returned, and now the bears are waking up. That can mean only one thing.

Mosquitoes are next.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ride for William Curry

Memorial ride organized by
Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage

An estimated 100 bicyclists pause
for a traffic light while riding
north along C Street.

A memorial "ghost bike" at Tudor Road and C Street,
the intersection where William Curry died.

A tribute at the site,
where William's sister
spoke to the riders.

Let's hope we don't see any more
of these this year.

Thanks to Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage,
the riders, the motorists who offered friendly honks,
and the state trooper who stopped to show support.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Well, my winter riding season ended with a big, fat whimper. I went out Saturday morning to bag one last cruise on some snowy trails, then snapped a chain pin about 20 minutes into the ride. Of course, all my chain tools were on other bikes or my work bench, so I tossed the chain in my frame bag and then walked/coasted back to the car.

Strangely, I didn’t mind that much. It was a nice day for a walk through the woods. Nevertheless, it was an underwhelming way to end the fat-bike season. Damn April.

I’ve never actually tracked it, but I’d be willing to bet that I gain more weight this month than any other time of year. The riding sucks. I usually spend a big part of the month riding only to work and back while waiting for the pavement to become sufficiently dry and (somewhat) clean for decent road biking.

On the bright side, the doldrums give me time to try new things, so I’ve recently started posting on Twitter. I’ve always thought “tweeting” seemed silly but what the hell, I once thought only nerds wrote blogs. (Maybe starting a Twitter account proved me right.)

Anyway, I often come across interesting links or think up wiseass comments that never make their way to this page, so head over to Twitterland and check out @icybikes if you want some more (mostly) bike-related stuff.

It was my friend Anthony’s Twitter feed that alerted me to his nomination of his wife, Sierra, for the Kazlaw Community Mountain Biking Award. Thanks to everyone who voted for her. And if you didn't, click on over and give Sierra some electoral love.

After all, it's not every day you get a chance to vote for someone who won't spend the next four years disappointing you.

William Curry Memorial Ride

Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage is organizing a memorial ride in William Curry's honor.

The ride will begin at at 5:30 p.m. this Friday from Curry's office at Raspberry and C Street, and proceed to the spot where he was struck and killed by a car a Tudor Road and C Street. If you can't reach the starting point by 5:30, you can join the group at Tudor and C at 6 p.m.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Get out the vote

Sierra in action. Photo by Anthony DeLorenzo

When was the last time you had a chance to vote for someone who A) wasn’t the lesser of two evils, and B) wasn’t sure to leave you disappointed four years later? Well, here’s your chance.

My Yukoner friend Anthony has nominated his lovely, badass wife, Sierra, for the BC Bike Race, so I’m asking everyone who reads Bicycles & Icicles to click on over here and cast a vote for Sierra van der Meer to win the Kazlaw Community Mountain Biking Award. If she wins, she'll get free entry in the race. Sierra’s a hardcore mountain biker who gives a lot to the Whitehorse bike community, and she deserves the votes. You can read her profile right here.

You can’t lose with a vote like this, because Sierra won’t raise your taxes and she won’t cut your favorite social program. She’ll just go out and put the hurt on some fellow mountain bikers, then keep helping promote mountain biking in Whitehorse. (Which makes her far more fun and productive than anyone in Washington.)

Damn, it’s good to be thinking about mountain biking again. We’re still six or seven weeks away from dry trails in Anchorage, but it’s good just to know it’s coming. It’s been too long since I stood in a hot shower while drinking a cold beer and watching muddy water flow off my shins and down the drain.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Great SS Experiment

A couple of years ago, curious about all the passion some people exhibit for singlespeeds, I bought a conversion kit and turned my old commuter into a model of simplicity.

My old Stumpjumper was a great mountain bike its day, but after years on singletrack it had slowly evolved into a stripped-down, fully rigid and fender-equipped town bike, so taking it singlespeed seemed like the next step. Every few months, I still conduct a mental inventory of the pros and cons of having only one gear. For quite a while, I kept thinking that as time passed, singlespeeding might grow on me.

Sorry, derailleur haters, but that hasn’t happened. I even tried taking my SS for a trail ride once. And once was enough.

There is only one advantage to going shifter-free: I get to mostly ignore bike maintenance in the sloppy, wet weather of autumn and spring. Other than some occasional chain lube, I don’t do much of anything to my bike.

But here’s the rub: I wasn’t spending much time on maintenance when my commuter bike had derailleurs. All I had to do was occasionally wipe off some gunk, lube the chain and squirt a drop or two of TriFlow in a few key spots. Maybe install some new cables and housing every couple of years.

For a little extra effort, derailleurs allow me to gear down and pedal through three inches of wet, spring snow without abusing my knees at the end of a long day. They allow me to move a little faster when I’m running late. They help me glide up hills when I’m hauling cargo like a lock, cans of Diet Coke and/or a container of lasagna that I plan to eat for lunch.

Singlespeeders love to brag about spending less time on maintenance, but I’d be willing to bet that, over the course of a year, derailleurs save far more time than they cost. Hell, now I have to disassemble the Surly Singleator and reverse its spring tension if I switch from a 16-tooth summer cog to an 18-tooth winter one, not to mention changing chain length every time I mess with the gearing. I never had to do those things with a derailleur.

The old Stumpjumper will remain a singlespeed for now, because my commute is short and fairly flat, leaving me little motivation to blow a few bucks on a new drivetrain. But if I suddenly found myself facing a longer ride to work, one of the first things I’d do is re-install a full range of gears.

Singlespeeding is still silly.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Rider Down

What a tragic way to kick off spring.

William Curry was struck and killed by a car at Tudor and C Street last night. He kept a ride log at Endomondo,
and his friends told reporters that, when he died, Curry was riding his bike to his girlfriend's house after work.

That’s the map of his final ride at the top of this post. He was about three miles from home, and police said he had taken all the right steps to make himself visible while riding at night.

APD Sgt. Glen Daily told KTUU: "He's got reflective clothing, you may be able to see a flashing unit that bicyclists have, he's got a helmet on, proper equipment -- it might just be an unfortunate series of events."

Curry was just 36 years old.

All the details haven’t come out yet, but the result was what we all know—when car meets bicycle, the bicycle loses.

Be careful out there, people. It’s not enough to be visible. You have to make them see you.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Road-bike season is just around the corner, and this year I have decided to try extra hard to avoid getting killed.

Last April, I took a fall that scared everyone who witnessed it. One guy told me that he actually shut his eyes when he thought I was about to get snuffed. I didn't write about it on the blog, because it took awhile to process and I never got around to figuring out how to describe it.

I was on a 100k ride from Anchorage to Girdwood and back, and was used to riding only one other person in the group. (That should always raise a caution flag.) We were on the Seward Highway, also known as the most dangerous highway in Alaska. (That should always raise a caution flag, too.)

One rider was a lot slower than the main group, and I didn’t want her to feel bad for always being off the back, so on the return from Girdwood, I slowed down to ride near her for a while. After a stop that pulled the group back together, I decided to bring up the rear.

We were soon nearing McHugh Creek south of Anchorage when one guy flatted and other riders began pulling to the side of the shoulder to wait. That’s when I made the mistake of passing Miss Slow on her left.

Next thing I knew, she was body-checking me toward the northbound lane of the highway on a sunny Saturday afternoon. When you’re looking at the white line and your brain instantly calculates that the upper half of your body is going to land in the lane of traffic, you have a second or two to think about things.

You think about things like the Seward Highway being the state’s most infamous, and how popular it is with distracted sightseers on sunny days. And you think about how that stretch of the highway has only one lane going each direction and very little room for motorists to swerve around falling cyclists. You also think about the fact your head will soon be directly in the path of tires traveling 60 mph.

That’s not a happy moment.

As soon as I hit the pavement, I knew I needed to get up fast. But there was a woman on my legs, and she was still trying to unclip from her pedals. I couldn’t do anything but wait until she got up or everything went dark.

So I laid there and waited. A couple of other riders soon realized she wasn't moving quickly enough, so they pulled her off me. As I started to get up, I finally did what I'd been afraid to do from the ground—I turned and looked behind me. Two pickups had managed to come to a complete stop to avoid crushing me. (The next time you get pissed off at a bad driver, remember to be grateful for the alert, careful ones.)

We all regrouped for a few minutes as the flat tire was repaired. When we started riding again, I was high on adrenaline and led us into Anchorage with a wide gap. It was several miles before I realized two of my fingers were really hurting. After I pulled off my glove and got a look at my hand, my friend Heather and I split from the group and took a direct route to my house, where we poured some wine and put a bag of ice on my hand. When my wife—a nurse—showed up with pizza, she took one look at my fingers and announced that my wedding ring had to be cut off immediately. Heather’s husband, Ken, did the deed with a pair of wire cutters.

Because it was one of the few times I've had a potentially fatal experience on a bike, I drank more than my share of wine that night. My fingers—which had probably been smashed between my handlebar and the pavement—were swollen for weeks. All this because I failed to recognize that someone in the group was still learning to use clipless pedals.

I like doing things to encourage new riders. We've all been there. And we've all fallen because we were learning to unclip. Being patient and bringing more people into the cult is a good thing. But I think I'll restrict those efforts to singletrack.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for newbies on the road this spring, and I’ll be keeping my distance.