Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Overcoming Homerphobia

Hannah on the Beach

After pulling into Homer last Friday evening, my daughter and I headed to Bishops Beach, where tiki torches were illuminating a snowy obstacle course with stunts made of plywood over huge pieces of driftwood. Darkness was falling, and the bonfire was soon surrounded by my favorite kind of bike riders – the kind that wear fleece and Carhartts, and talk about beer instead of training plans.

Thanks to Hannah, who talked me into this escapade, we were at the first Big Fat Bike Festival, and local riders were thanking us for making the four-and-a-half-hour trip from Anchorage. They were pleased with the response from out-of-towners. At least 40 people had registered for an event put together by a town where, according to one local, snow biking is exploding: She told us there are about fifteen fat bikes in Homer this winter!

Grassroots bike events are the best kind, and this was definitely grassroots. Fun and simple, but well organized.

Fat-bikers on the move

On Saturday morning, 40 bikes and riders were hauled to Anchor Point, where we started a rolling fat-bike party along a 16-mile beach route back to Homer. With sand and saltwater, it was bike abuse for a good cause – fun.

There were fat bikes with panniers and homemade fenders, and riders wearing Xtra-Tufs and backpacks. We rode on the beach at low tide, over and through fields of boulders, and past otters, sea lions and bald eagles. Best of all, nobody was in a hurry. Not anyone within sight of me, anyway. People were just riding because it was a damn good time.

Bumper sticker of the year. (An unofficial
contribution by Carl from Seward.)

Congrats to the Homer Cycling Club for a successful event. Saturday night’s dinner and prize raffles were a hoot, too.

The Big Fat Bike Festival will be on my winter schedule again.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Homerward Bound

Damn, those Homer fat-bikers know how to show people a good time. Thank you to everyone in the Homer Cycling Club for the hard work required to put together the first Big Fat Bike Festival, and to Mother Nature for providing good weather for a four-hour beach ride from Anchor Point back to town.

I'm catching up on bike repairs and dirty laundry, but I'm sure there's another post coming once I get some rest and think through the weekend. But the short version is simple: This was the first-ever BFBF, but it won't be my last.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vocabulary Expansion

Meateor crater: Impression left on the Earth’s surface
by the impact of a terrestrial biological mass,
usually of the mammalian variety
and often traveling at great velocity prior to contact.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A long way to go

Leonardo on Paper Plate.

I was watching sunlight on the Kenai mountains yesterday, and thinking about the massive amount of snow in the high country. That’s when it hit me that we might not be riding over passes until July. Hell, I’ve walked across big snow patches on Resurrection and Devil’s passes as late as Fourth of July weekend, and that was after winters milder than this one.

It’s been a big snow year in Southcentral Alaska. Anchorage averages 63 inches per winter, and we’re over 100 inches so far this season. That’ll mean wet, sloppy conditions for road biking this spring. And unless we get a couple of months of freakishly warm, dry weather, we can pretty much forget an early taste of riding Anchorage dirt on Memorial Day weekend. We’ll be lucky if the Hillside trails are dry enough for the traditional June 1 opening.

Right now, singletrack conditions might be the best we’ll see for the next four months. March is usually the greatest snow-bike riding of the year, and we’re primed for a great month as long as Mother Nature doesn’t hit us with a bunch of nasty, late-winter storms.

I plan to savor the conditions while I can, because the snow trails will be fading in a few weeks, and we’re still a hell of a long way from summer singletrack.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Respect your elders

There were a bunch of impressive performances from Alaska mountain bikers this weekend, but I’m going to mention my favorites first. This is my blog, and I can see the headlights of 50 coming at me through the tunnel of life, so forgive me for being most impressed by my friends who have already rounded that corner.

Janice Tower—second place in the women’s solo divi
sion at 24 Hours in Old Pueblo. And that was no age-division ranking. She slayed the entire field except for one other rider. We all expect this kind of thing from Janice because she has a long record of doing it. But it blows me away how she keeps doing it. I was at her 50th birthday party what, four months ago? She’s still faster than most of us have ever been, and will be for a long time.

Mark Davis—eighth place in the men’s solo division of 24 Hours in Old Pueblo. I know he’s fast becaus
e he can rip my legs off on a recreational ride, but I don’t usually even think of Mark as a racer because he doesn’t enter that many events. But when he does, he really moves. And he’s got an extra year on Janice. Finishing in the top 10 in Tucson? Badass.

Mike Morganson—just finished his, what, 15th Susitna 100? Some day, that race should start presenting an annual tenacity award, and it should have Mike’s face on it.

And congratulations to the rest of the Backcountry Bicycles team that went to Tucson for 24 Hours in Old Pueblo this year. In addition to Janice and Mark’s great races, Tony Berberich claimed fourth place in the men’s solo division, and Pete Basinger took seventh in the men’s singlespeed race. Backcountry’s women’s relay team placed fourth, and the Backcountry riders earned a special mention at the awards ceremony for their impressive trail etiquette.

Congratulations, all of you. Have a good sleep.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tool in a tube

Nothing attracts attention like a brightly lit rear end.

I don’t care much Alaskans love duct tape. This stuff is 10 times better. Epoxy mix has been a standard item on my workbench for years. You can fix damn near anything with this stuff.

I always scoff when someone suggests using “super glue,” which is useless. I’ve tried it dozens of times when trying to fix broken toys, plastic bike parts, ceramic mug handles and all other stuff to which the manufacturers claim it will stick.

It’s like some cruel joke to make you hold a freshly glued thingamabob in place until you think it’s safe to let go, only to watch it stick to the sweat on your fingers instead of the thing to which you were attaching it.

Super glue is shit. But epoxy is The Shit. Especially the easy-to-use version that comes in twin tubes that work like a syringe. You pull off the cap, squeeze out two same-size globs of goo (one the glue, one the hardener), mix ’em, and then slather it on and stick two things together. Within a few hours, they’ll be permanent partners. Especially if you prepared the surfaces properly.

My latest epoxy project was born when I dropped my old quick-release Topeak trunk rack onto a concrete floor and destroyed the integrated reflector. I had a NiteRider Trailfazer light that I found on a trail a couple of years ago, so I knew they were meant to be together.

The first epoxy job was sloppy and careless, but it still worked fine for a couple of weeks until my daughter borrowed the rack and knocked the light around while loading her bike into her car. It fell off, but I recognized my mistake.

To make sure the new repair held permanently, I drilled a few tiny holes at odd angles in the connecting surfaces to give the epoxy some anchor points, then mixed up a new batch, slapped on a generous amount and pressed the light to the rack firmly to force the gooey stuff into all the nooks and crannies. By morning, the rack was ready for the ride to work. If that sucker ever comes off, it’ll be in pieces.

I love repairs like this. I
dramatically improved the rear visibility of my bike while recycling a good (and free) light that was otherwise useless because I didn’t have the original mount, and the whole thing took less than 10 minutes.

When you have a tube of epoxy sittin’ around, it’s almost worth breaking stuff just so you can fix it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What it's all about

The best days on a bike aren’t about speed. They’re about the ride, the scenery, the freedom and the people. So today, I went riding with one of my favorite people—my daughter, Hannah. And I told her to ride whatever speed she liked.

She hasn’t logged a ton of miles lately, so when she said she was up for riding the 50K route in the Winter City 30K/50K RandonnĂ©e, I wasn’t sure she’d have that kind of distance in her legs. We made contingency plans for bail-out points. I offered shortcuts, because we weren’t bothering to have our cards signed at controls anyway. We were just out to ride.

She declined the shortcuts, stuck to the course, and held her pace all the way to the finish with nearly two hours to spare before the time cutoff. She made me proud. Some kids could have finished faster, but none of them showed up. And I doubt that the average 17-year-old would have finished at all. Besides, it ain’t about the speed. It’s about the ride.
And I got to ride all day with Hannah, which is a damn good way to spend a Sunday.

Big thanks to Kevin and Alaska Randonneurs, who put on this event as a fundraiser for Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, and to all the volunteers, especially the folks at Point Woronzof with their steaming baked potatoes and hot chocolate.

And thanks to Bicycles & Icicles reader Soren, who inspired this post three years ago, and then introduced himself and bought me a post-ride beer at the Peanut Farm this afternoon. It was good to hear that Soren recently treated himself to a Salsa Mukluk so he no longer has to commute on that studded singlespeed.

Nobody cares that you singlespeed, Soren. But we do care that you found the beauty of fatness. Welcome to the corpulent club.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Increase your odds

The recent theft of The Old Bag’s beloved Long Haul Trucker has kept bike theft on my mind over the past couple of days. Everyone wants to maximize their chances of recovering a pinched bike, so I’m going to share a couple of tricks that I’ve learned from others. The likelihood of ever finding your stolen bike is slim, but there are a couple of quick—and free—things you can do that might improve the odds slightly.

Because your bike could someday be taken to a shop for repairs, it should be identifiable in a way that isn’t obvious. Remember that the cretin who took it might actually be smart enough to remove distinctive features like an unusual saddle, stickers, or odd-looking bar tape.

With a regular Sharpie, you can deliver a secret message to any mechanic who removes the fork from the frame. This is most convenient to do when building a bike or replacing a headset. On the part of the steerer tube that resides in the head tube of your frame, use a Sharpie to write your name and phone number under a message that says something like, “This bike might be stolen. Please call …” You can accomplish the same thing with a sticker printed from a home label maker, which is what I did on the fork shown in today’s photo. (Don’t forget to remove this message if you ever sell the bike.)

Another quick method is to remove the faceplate from your stem, and then tuck a written note with your name and phone number inside the stem’s hollow body. A business card works great. This location might be less likely to attract a mechanic’s attention, but it has the advantage if being more accessible to bike owners who aren’t comfortable removing a fork. It also offers quick access if you’re ever lucky enough to find your bike and need a fast way to prove to a cop that it’s yours.

I once read about a guy who confronted the thief who had his bike, and refused to let him leave with it before police arrived. When an officer asked the owner if he was carrying a receipt to prove ownership, he said no, but explained that with his hex wrench and 60 seconds, he could show that his business card was hidden in the stem. The cop was convinced, and the thief was shit outta luck.

The best preventive measure, of course, is to buy a damn good bike lock and use it properly. Don’t kid yourself. Once a bike is stolen, it’s probably gone forever.
But some bike-theft stories have happy endings.

Do everything you can to increase the chances of recovering your bike. That way, at least you won’t be haunted by thoughts of what you should have done.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Big Fat Fun & A Stolen Bike Alert

During a good summer, I rack up a lot of miles driving down to the Kenai Peninsula for great trail rides. But in winter, I rarely leave Anchorage unless I’m on a jet leaving the state. By February, I usually start itching for a weekend road trip, and the Homer Cycling Club is providing a great excuse.

I just registered for the Big Fat Bike Festival that will be held down at the end of the road later this month. There’ll be rides, an art show, demos, an obstacle course and—if I know anything about mountain bikers—a few beers will be consumed around the bonfire.

Happily, I was nudged into this idea by my teenage daughter, who thinks the whole thing sounds like a hoot. (Well, except for the beer-drinking part.)

I’m looking forward to resuming the ritual of loading my 4Runner with bikes, clothes and snacks, and rolling out of town for the sole purpose of bike fun. By the time we reach the end of February, Alaska riders on the cusp of the best fat-biking month of the year. March brings more sunlight, better temperatures and some of the best trail conditions of the year. The Big Fat Bike Festival should be a great way to kick it off.

Riding fat bikes beside the ocean, enjoying some beautiful scenery, meeting new people and hanging out with my daughter. Doesn’t get much better than that.

I hate to wrap this up on a sad note, but if you happen to be among the Bicycles & Icicles readers who live in the Twin Cities region, please watch for a Long Haul Trucker that was stolen from my friend and fellow blogger The Old Bag on Sunday afternoon during a run to the grocery store in St. Louis Park. It’s fairly distinctive with a black frame, blue rims and blue bar tape. The full description is right here.

Like all of us, TOB loves her bikes. Those of us who know how much it stings to lose a sweet ride to some thieving scumbag can understand how she feels right now.

I know it’s a long shot, but wouldn’t it be sweet if someone in Minnesota spotted this bike and it found its way home?

Keep your eyes peeled, folks. Please.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

"BB" stands for Black and Beautiful*

I generally believe that if bike equipment is working well, the rider shouldn’t be consciously aware of it. You should be able to enjoy the flow of a trail with your mind free of mechanical distractions.

That’s why I love Avid’s BB7 brakes. I can forget they exist. But I like these mechanical disc brakes so much that I often remember to appreciate them as I squeeze the levers. I even bought a pair to replace the hydraulic brakes on my Specialized Epic, prompting an outburst of laughter from a mechanic at the shop where my daughter works. I was undeterred. These little buggers are awesome.

These brakes are everything a good bike part should be: Inexpensive, reliable as hell, a breeze to install, easy to maintain, and nearly perfect at doing the job they were designed to do. From what I can tell, they’re on more fat bikes in Alaska than any other brake because they work well through brutal winters, and they’re on a hell of a lot of summer trail bikes, too.

I’m told that BB7s aren’t a great choice for downhilling, but I don’t care because I think downhilling is lazy and silly, so I don’t do it. And I don’t huck off anything because that’s a good way to break expensive stuff. Like bones.

But I still manage to ride XC descents at fairly high speed, and I’ve never found a cross-country ride that these brakes can’t handle. I can modulate my braking to scrub off a little speed before a turn, or grab fistfuls of brake to stop quickly if shit gets real.

Best of all, there’s no futzing around with bleeding lines or spilling messy fluids, and if someone unloading bikes at a trailhead accidentally squeezes a brake lever when the front wheel is out of the fork, there’s no need to waste precious ride time digging out a tool to open up the pads.
These brakes work, and they’re simple. Simplicity is a beautiful thing. It’s part of what riding a bike is all about.

*Yeah, I know it really stands for ball bearing, but this ain't Mountain Bike Action, OK?