Thursday, December 24, 2009

Riding with The Man

Today's shop ride was almost entirely Endomorph bikes. Uncle Rhino was the exception, and since he is a strange mutant who never complains and just churns along, it wasn't noticeable. However, the ride did include the current super star of winter riding, Jeff Oatley. While normally this would have included an ass kicking for all of us, Oatley took it easy on us. By easy I mean that he had already been out for a four hour ride, just eaten a turkey sandwich and was riding without a brake. All that effectively handicapped him down to our level and made the ride quite comfortable, if not entertaining.

I apparently need to learn the trail system better. I was actually out front at one point and then immediately moved to the back when I missed a turn. Luckily Christapoleon was close enough that I heard him yelling "LEFT!!!" over the blare of my iPood. I spent the last half of the ride sucking Uncle Rhino's wheel. Oatley missed one of the last turns and when I stopped to chat with him I stole his bike (I did leave him mine). I got to ride the out trail on a real race bike, which only almost killed me once (No Brakes!). Back at the shop I mooned him. It was completely appropriate at the time since we were having a discussion on the relative merits of bibs. Oatley doesn't believe in them since they make relieving yourself on the trail difficult. I explained that I can get out of them to drop trau easily, and of course had to demonstrate. I am not sure it convinced him enough that he'll be switching to bibs, but hey, I had to.

Have a good holiday weekend and stay safe.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Birth


I bring you a just born picture, Tubasti not yet dry, steer tube uncut, and cables unstretched. Tomorrow the doctor will give it a once over and bless it, until then it just sit in the dining room, shiny and new.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Bike Sex

After my previous post, Coffee Joe asked the astute question, "Do you get to choose the sex of your bike?". I think have to say, the answer is no. My own thinking on the matter pretty much proved to me that I am a sexist pig, but I digress. My downhill bike I consider to be masculine. It is huge, beefy and heavy. It is designed to withstand horrible abuse and rough terrain and still perform like a champ. None of these are qualities I consider feminine. My Seven on the other hand, I have always seen as feminine. It's winter form (fully rigid with SnowCats) is designed to be efficient, graceful, light, and beautiful. I would say that most bikes designed to be light and efficient would strike me as feminine, and anything designed to withstand abuse I'd qualify as masculine. I am generalizing and there are bikes that fall between the lines (five inch travel cross country trail bikes, for instance) but basically that's my feeling.

The hotly debated result of this was today that all road (racing) bikes are female. At least that's my opinion. Zombie Jeff disagreed, which of course he's entitled to do, but he's still wrong. If it weighs in under eighteen pounds and is rolling tires with a c after it and not an in., it is a girl. Sorry. Jeff of course strongly agreed with my downhill bike assessment. His own seven inch plush machine is all pink, and we both know that's because it is just a comfortable with himself kind of guy, pretty much like Jeff.

I am mostly done with my newest friend, but I still am not sure yet what it's going to be. I suppose I'll know by the time I cut the excess from the steer tube. At least I hope so. The idea of cutting without knowing is kind of scary.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gestation

If you've ever built your own bike, you'll find it is a bit like a pregnancy prior to birth. There is some scrambling around trying to get your parts together. You spend time thinking about what it will be like when it grows up. And ultimately you realize that you can get it started in the right direction, but at some point it takes on a life of its own.

I think a second bike build is probably close to a second pregnancy. You are a little more relaxed, you can wait for it. I don’t want to get the bike together so much as I want to worry about the details and ask myself questions there are no answers to. Will I love it as much as I love my current bike? Will it be as good? Are these new Formula R1s so awesome that I’ll have to buy an additional pair to update my old Formulas on my old bike? (disclosure: I love Formula and they seem to like me back, but as of yet, they aren’t paying me or sending me free stuff to try out) All of these questions will be answered sometime in the near future, but I can’t help ponder them now a bit.

What I can do is continue to wish that the bike world will start to revolve around me and companies will call me and ask me what I need. Which I guess is sort of like wishing you were Lance Armstrong. Huh.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More on BikeJoring

Now that the base of snow we have is pretty well packed down, it’s time to get the dogs back in shape. Not that they are doing that bad, I am pretty convinced Harley could spend six months on the couch eating bacon and still out run me on the bike. Bubbie, however is a different story. Ganging them together (as in the above picture) results in Harley going full out and at some point dragging Quinn and me along. He seems to do better getting dragged by her, because he at least makes the effort to stay with her even if he isn’t going to pull.

This weekend however, I decided to take Joe for a ride on the slough since he just recently got his 29er together and I wanted him to explore additional options to getting his butt handed to him on the mushing trail shop rides by Pugsley wielding trail shredding bastards (I love you guys!). It should be noted that I am currently attempting to join their ranks. However, I am still “not there” yet and I was content to ride my very nice fat tire, but not that fat, bike. To keep things fair, I gave my “good” dog to Joe. She is much smarter about snow machines, a more consistent puller, and all around awesome except for her fear of ice crossings. Since Joe was rocking his studs, I figured this wouldn’t be a problem. It wasn’t, in fact the ride consisted of no problems (which makes the story kind of not entertaining). The only thing interesting was that unstrapped to Harley, Quinn decided at the turn around point that he was done pulling. There are many possible reasons for this, he could have been tired and out of shape, he may be smart enough to know that we were halfway and reasonably concluded that it should be my turn to pull him back (sadly our harness and line setup precluded this as an option, or I might have tried it), or perhaps in the blistering 30 degree weather he had simply overheated. Whatever the case, he trotted contentedly along beside me for the whole way back. I had to take up the slack in the line so it didn’t end up wrapped around my crankset. In the end I think Joe got a nice recovery ride (after we were all demolished on Friday’s shop ride) and into to BikeJoring, Harley got a workout, Quinn, got as much exercise as he was willing to handle, and I got a bit of a ride in as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This has not been the kindest early winter.

Starting winter cycling is not the easiest task. There are gear selections to get straight, bike prep to do, and a whole new set of riding skills to learn. All of this is made easier when the weather cooperates. By cooperate, I mean gradually gets colder over a longer period of time. This way, adjustments can be made easily and lessons can be learned. When it is only five degrees colder than yesterday, and your footwear stops being warm, it is much less of a problem than when it is twenty-five degrees colder than yesterday and your footwear setup isn’t working. Careful experimentation is key when you are learning what works for keeping you not cold while cycling. Through several years of riding, I can wake up, look at the current temperature, the projected temperature for the evening (when I’ll be riding home) and be able to put together the appropriate attire for the day. That skill took a while to develop. Even if you have a go to guru available, they’ll only be able to tell you what works for them, not what will work for you. Simon used to wear Tevas and wool socks all winter, while this seemed to work great for him, thinking about it causes my toes to ache in angry warning.

In addition to widely fluctuating temperatures, we have had a lot of early snowfall this year. Alaska DOT in Fairbanks has been good for the most part, but there have been several mornings when an unprepped bike would basically have been just another item to carry while walking.

I have in my mind that every year we probably lose several riders from the year before who simply bought a car or decided that winter riding just wasn’t for them. We gain about as many from people that decide that it’s time to try it and see what happens. I also have an idea that somewhere every year a long time great finally retires the bike and decides to sit by the fire for the winter watching reruns of a TV show that was popular three decades ago. If you are a new winter rider this year and you are still riding, congratulations. Last year would have been an easier year to start winter cycling. You have been baptized in ice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Let there be Winter.

I was Outside last week to see my mom retire and visit with family. I left on Monday and the first snow of the year that had a chance to stick was coming down nicely. It apparently snowed heavily (for Fairbanks) while I was gone, because we have a good three or four inches floating around firmly declaring that the ground shall not be seen for several months. This morning's commute was at a brisk -8°F and the unplowed bike path was stark reminder that unused snow bike handling skills don't come back as easily as one would like, or that alternately pedestrians are a mixed curse. While foot traffic will pack a trail down, it also tends to leave it severely uneven and capable of rattling the bearings from your bottom bracket. All this means that after a questionable summer and a drawn out fall, things are finally back to normal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Send me stuff (please)

Apparently the FTC has decided that Americans are stupid and can’t do research for themselves. Accordingly, they are passing new rules regarding the disclosure of connections between bloggers and companies. In that spirit, I’d like to disclose that I have never received any sort of monetary compensation from any company whose products I have reviewed, although Bike magazine once sent me a free tee shirt. I chose to not review the shirt because it failed miserably is several key categories I consider when shirt testing. The shirt is cotton, which is a strike against almost any upper body clothing item in my opinion. I am proud to say that I don't own a single item of winter cycling gear made from cotton. Additionally I will say that if you have an item of clothing made from cotton, it is not winter cycling gear. Bike's shirt also failed miserably in stain resistance and is now home to strange marks that resulted from carrying chunks of wood into my house. While I know this, anyone else looking at me sees a shirt with weird brown streaks on it. In what I consider the most important category, “Does it make me look cool?”, it also failed. It is white, with large black letters that spell out Bike (and a couple brown streaks). Unless I am actually holding a bike, the coolness effect seems nonexistent. It should be noted, however, that only one shirt I have owned in the last three years has not failed in this category. It was a shirt which said “Bike Ninja” and was red, pretty much making it the sweetest shirt ever. Sadly it now has a hole, and so didn’t stand up in the longevity department.


This got me thinking what the perfect shirt would be. I am thinking it would be made of high quality wool. While there are plenty of great materials out there, I know wool is the best. It would also be long sleeved, since occasionally one has the need to cover their forearms. It would also have a collar, since some employers (one of mine in particular) will demand that employees present themselves in a collared shirt. Additionally it would be red, because red is the best ever. So if you have a shirt company out there and want to make me the best shirt ever, feel free. Just send me one (or several if possible), but no money, and I will immediately begin testing it for review. I am sure the review would be favorable.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Where does the time go?

August rolled by as the horrible answer to the prayers we had muttered silently in July. That's what happens when you get what you ask for. Like making a deal with the devil, after all the smoke and heat of July, the Fairbanks breathed a collective sigh of relief as the rains began in August. Then we tried not to curse as the rain continued through the rest of the month. August was almost as bad a month for riding as July was. You just needed a rain jacket and lots of degreaser instead of a respirator. September was rushed to say the least. The weather was great, 60s during the day and 40s at night. The trails were great and if you weren't worried about getting shot by folks out to fill the freezer with moose for the winter, there was some fantastic riding to be had.


Every year I wait for morning temperatures to drop down into the low thirties, and when it finally happens, the rigid fork goes on the commuter. This year, my timing couldn't have been better. I spent last Sunday afternoon swapping forks on both my wife's and my bike. Monday morning saw a commute filled with huge fat flakes of snow that had me wishing I had remembered a set of goggles. Tuesday of the same week, the skies were clear and the temperatures colder. Winter, I felt, had finally arrived.


When you trail ride in the winter in Fairbanks, you start to get excited this time of year. Noyes Slough, the original path of the Chena River some hundreds of years ago, is now mostly a brown streak of sludgy mud and stagnant water. If I was into kayaking, it might be cool that it was so close to my house. As it is, it is a great place for my dogs to swim, provided I have a hose to remove the muck from them afterwards. Considering the beaver dam, loads of water fowl and slow moving water, I wouldn’t swim in it for a brand new bike. Every year, usually right around Halloween, it becomes useful to me. Noyes Slough might be my favorite place to ride. Light snow machine traffic keeps the snow packed enough to be rideable almost all the time. It is right in town, but sometimes, you’d never know it. You are just as likely to encounter no one as you are a group of people getting drunk around a bon fire.


Of course I realize that my mind is probably romanticizing a bit. But what can I expect? It’s someplace I haven’t been able to ride for a good five months now. My mind has turned it into the best trail ever in its absence. Just like when May finally rolls around I’ll remember the Ester trails ten times better that they really are. I know this and I still can’t wait for the end of the month.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rhyming and Riding

Ride, ride, ride your bike
Pedal in the smoke,
Breath, inhale, breath, inhale
Pray that you don’t choke

Ride, ride, ride your bike
Circled by the fire,
If you breathe, don’t forget
Conditions here are dire


This has by far been the worst summer of the decade plus time I have lived in Fairbanks. While I am used to a week or so of smokiness, usually culminating in a single day (or sometimes hour) high point of visibility limits of less than a mile, this year has been dragged out. We have had one month plus of smoke. It has varied from lightly smoky (after a nice rain) to heavily smoky on days where there is no wind or the wind is blowing in from the fires. At this point, Fairbanks is surrounded by a “Ring of Fire” (as quoted from our local daily rag), no matter how the wind blows, we get smoke. I have definitely seen less cycling going on that earlier in the summer, when you could breathe without coating your lungs and sinuses.


However, as a hardcore wintercyclist, I have always realized that the answer is more gear. The more in this case is a respirator. Yes, it is dorky looking. The offset of that is that they are extremely cheap ($30 or so) and highly effective. I can’t maintain a sustained sprint with one on (I can’t draw in the necessary air), but I can maintain a highly aerobic pace. Like any other addict a cyclist will do what is necessary to keep indulging their habit.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Quite frankly the conditions outside are abominable. It is hot and normally that’s something I can deal with. However, the acrid stench of smoke and the dry burning feeling that starts to coat my throat when I breathe outside right now are not. So for a bit, I’ll be riding with a respirator. A dense smoke advisory has been issued and below a picture from the Arctic Web cam. The scene doesn’t look that bad, but please take note that you can’t see any of the buildings past the initial two across the river. Trust me; it is like visibility in a fog, only it hurts to breathe.








All that being said I am feeling a bit lazy, so I'll leave you with a couple of quotes.

"The more you can disconnect from mechanical and gravitational forces, the more you cease seeing trails as problems to be solved, and the more you will transcend the forces of gravity and mechanics. When you finally disconnect, the trail will look different. There will be no obstacles. You'll see it like a canvas or a piece of paper on which you can express yourself." - Bob Roll

"Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride." - John F. Kennedy

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mother Nature can wreak havoc on our favorite trails, down trees and impassable bogs in the spring are just the beginning. If trails are poorly constructed, they can be wiped completely off the map; leaving areas that are less traversable than before trail construction. IMBA travels the country giving lectures and teaching classes on building sustainable, low maintenance trails. Then again occasionally Mother’s touch can make a trail twice as interesting while nearly destroying it.

Sunday was again finally shuttle day. It’s been awhile (sadly) since Snarksy and I went and shuttled Alder Shoots and the Secret Trail. Because there was some climbing involved on the Secret Trail, we decided to use hardtail 29’ers, although that also could have been because it was early enough in the season that my weak arms may not have been able to even lift my downhill sled. Today was finally about busting out some big travel, diesel dropped badassery. I drove the first run and when everyone started arriving among the tailings, I could tell something was different. The first half of the trail is the same this year, lots of rock gardens with a ridiculously steep loose gravel grade leading down to the halfway mark. The bottom half is now completely different. What was once a long rolling downhill speed way on fire road and double track is now technical.

While there was the occasional washout previously (I think there were two), they were shallow (maybe six inches deep), and contained to one side of the trail or other. Big travel bikes allowed you to sleep through the bottom half of the trail; now they allow you to not die when you miss your line around or over (the only option in a few places) the now two foot drop-offs and washouts completely littering the trail. Seriously I just missed the first big one (I was following some flipping teenage BMX kid who I had no business going as fast as) and nailed the second one. Hitting a washout that is eighteen inches deep and three feet wide and littered with nice sharp rocks is one of those awesome puckering moments that we all hope to live through, preferably without shedding blood. In my case, the money spent on my bike more than made up for my near complete lack of skill. Thanks so much Kona.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Evolution

We love our bikes for many reasons, and on my ride to work this morning I was contemplating one of the more shallow reasons I love mine. It is made up of lots of little shiny expensive parts. The fact that I got to pick and choose from all the parts out there and come up with a configuration that is uniquely mine gives me little jolts of joy whenever I get around to thinking about it. The fact that I assembled the thing with parts from more than a dozen different companies and it still works together in unison is an amazing feat of modern engineering. The high end bicycle industry is an amazing mix of standards that allow this level of customization and interoperability coupled with a desire to innovate and constantly produce a new level of performance. I was thinking about the restrictions that have been on motor racing for years and wondering if it has stifled innovation. The same styles of rules are slowly being incorporated into road racing, time trial, cyclocross and track.

While that theoretically may make the sport more entertaining (it is the athlete who is winning the race, and not the technology they are piloting), I am not sure it is actually good for the sport. I doubt few people have bought a vehicle with the idea that at some point it won a race. Mainly because mainstream racing vehicles are so unlike what you can purchase, you know there isn’t even really a comparison. With a bicycle, on the other hand, you can pretty much put together and race whatever your favorite rider is palping, if not buy it direct from whomever is sponsoring them. It may be a bit expensive, but it’s very possible, and more to the point, many riders do it. We all like to make fun of the guy with the team kit and completely tricked out bike that’s being ridden like a beach cruiser. It happens enough that we have all seen it. When was the last time you saw someone in your town with a decked out “stock” car? Probably never. Not only because it wouldn’t be legal, but also because there wouldn’t be anywhere for them to open it up.

Mountain biking and racing is still evolving at a pretty high rate of speed. The leaps made in suspension even in recent years are astounding. It might not be long before do everything bikes that actually climb like a hardtail and descend like a downhill rig will be fully realized. And unlike the mainstream road scene, where weight limits have pushed the majority or R&D away from ultra-light, mountain bike parts can continue to get lighter so long as they remain strong (although they certainly won’t also be cheap).

I hope that the regulations they put on road racing don’t get any worse, and I certainly hope they leave the loose restrictions in place for mountain where they are. I’d like to see bicycles continue to evolve at the pace they are currently rocketing along at. I can’t even imagine what I’ll be riding in a decade.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Racing Ralphs Rock

One thing I have been meaning to get around to is a review of the new tires that I purchased before my trip. My LBS brought in some Schwalbe Racing Ralphs last winter as an additional 29'er winter trail option. I have been rolling some WTB WeirWolf LTs for most of two winters now and have been very happy with them. They are a great winter trail tire, lots of volume, and even do fairly well on ice due to their small knob design. During the summer I have been running WTB ExiWolfs, which are a bit narrower, but also a bit heavier. They have seemed fine, but I really didn't have anything to compare them to except my winter tires, which run on a wholly different wheelset that makes comparison pretty much impossible.

I picked up a set of the Ralphs and ran them on a couple of short rides before I left for my trip and started being really impressed. The weight difference was noticeable and they seemed to roll better than the ExiWolfs while on pavement. My trip afforded me a chance to test them on some real trails and in commuting style situations (riding to and from trailheads). While the Ralphs are what some people would consider ludicrously expensive ($80 a tire at my LBS), I have to say I think they are well worth it. You couldn't ask for a better high volume, lightweight tire. These things have ridiculous traction and still manage to roll well, which is no small task. The fact that they are lighter than almost anything out there and still 2.4" wide completely finishes the package. I recommend them to anyone out there wanting a lightweight trail tire than rolls well off-trail.

Several of the reviews I read complained that the Ralphs had delicate sidewalls and were prone to shredding. The singletrack I rode during my trip was littered with roots, but also had several sections with exposed rock heads, or the occasional short section with a forced roll through baby heads. I could hear sidewall dragging on stone during several of these and I cringed and waited for the explosion each time; of course, it never came. After the first two rides like that I stopped worrying, and continued to not have problems (at least with my tires). I went back and read the reviews that were complaining and came to the conclusion that some people are trying to use these as downhill or all mountain tires because they are wide. They are not a downhill race tire and Schwalbe doesn't advertise them as such, they are a cross country race tire, and a damn good one.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Marquette



I haven't been everyplace in the state, but I'll unofficially declare Marquette as the cycling capital of Michigan. Despite having a population roughly half the size of Fairbanks, Marquette supports twice as many bike shops. Signage for local races hangs prominently everywhere. In addition to the standard cross country races Marquette has a downhill series and even a cyclocross series. I was impressed to say the least. Being that we were only in town for a day, I didn't get a chance to ride any of their substantial trails. Or, what I really drooled over, use the lift service they have at their local mountain. I stopped in at the one of the LBS (Quick Stop Bike Shop) to satisfy my deep seated need to be near bicycles. I picked them simply because they were a Kona dealer, and I wasn't disappointed. They had very few of the entry level bikes I am used to seeing in shops and instead sported an aggressive lineup of trail bikes. I even caught a glimpse of a freshly built Stab that one of the shop guys was getting ready for the summer shuttle season.

I spent the rest of the day moping and thinking about what I would need to do to move to Marquette. Then I got to thinking seriously and wondering: What is it creating such a kick ass scene here? There are probably a lot of complex factors here, but I think I need to start figuring out what they are.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The tour continues, explosions abound.

Another ride today and I decided to take the lower single track at Fumee. It is shorter than it's northern cousin, but shares many of the same characteristics. A little bit rooty, some decent climbing, and occasional rocks that all flow together well because of good construction. I have to back up here and talk a little bit about the ride I took when I first got here with my wife. She had mentioned a slow leak when we were putting her bike together, but I didn't really pay attention and it bit me in the ass in the middle of the trail. Although I had a spare tube and tools, the CO2 inflator I had either never worked or got broke at some point, because the ping that should engage the valve on a schrader style tube was totally gone. I don't have any bikes with schrader valves, so it's possible it never worked. At any rate we were stuck in the middle of a great trail with only one working bike and no way to reair a tire. I ended up time trialing back to the Mortl's (the LBS) and purchasing another pump and a presta tube for good measure. By the time I got back she was just walking out of Fumee. We fixed her flat and spun home.


Two days later on a ride to the same area, I could see what looked like a lump in my front wheel. It preyed upon my OCD all the way home where I finally checked and found that, sure enough, a section of my wheel was in serious need of truing. Today was extra special. Partway up a switchback climb, my chain exploded. Anyone that has ridden a bit knows that occasionally it happens. What wasn't normal was that when I stepped back to pick up my chain, there was still a section of it on the ground. My chain snapped in two places, which isn't at all normal and required undue diligence with a chain tool to fix.

Normally that would be the end of mechanical mishaps for the day, but I continued to get my Trogdor on. Once back to town, I was rolling up a steep curb when my seatpost clamp exploded. Although it didn't actually break, it did send the nose of my saddle searching skyward and forced me to stand the rest of the way home, because although I had a multitool, I didn't have the will left to straighten it out before getting back to the house.
The day's saving graces were the fact that the singletrack was just as good as the rest I have been riding and that when I stopped at the LBS to get a new chain on the way back through town, I got much better service than the last two times I had been in there. It was an actual mechanic that helped me and it gives me hope for the place yet. Tomorrow I am heading up to Marquette, which although smaller than Fairbanks, sports something like twice as many bike shops, including one that purportedly specializes in downhill rigs. There must be serious trailage up there to support that kind of gear. Maybe someone rents?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Banger on tour. Holy singletrack Batman!

So I am on vacation in the UP. I brought a bike, of course, because if it is worth going, it is worth bringing a bike. A big thank you goes out to Alaska Air, who through extreme kindness or lack of attention flew my bike for free. I arrived to a stable of bikes that were in generally good condition, but needed a little love. I had a bit of fun turning wrenches and getting my bike assembled. My wife shipped her bike here from Portland. She's been commuting on it for three years and it was in severe need of some love. I later found out I didn't give it quite enough. Our ride was ended three quarters of the way through the trail by a slow leak. While this would normally be an easily remedied problem, the fact that my pump decided to be a presta only affair meant I had to ride back to town and the shop for a new pump.

Of note is the fact that I am not totally impressed with the local shop. They are adequate, for sure, but they haven't gone above and beyond to make me feel warm and fuzzy. Or maybe I am just pissed because when I went in to purchase tubes, CO2 (you can't get it here on a plane), and other odds and ends, they saw fit to charge me a buck for a quick release spring (my wife lost one of hers somewhere during her bike's horrific life in Oregon). Generally I'd throw that kind of thing in at my shop, but hey, maybe he saw through my smile and figured me out for the jackhole I am.

When I was here several winters ago, I rode out at the Fumee Lake natural area. They had some ski / snowmachine / four-wheeler trails that were fairly close to the house and through some nice wooded areas. The park has advertised singletrack, so I decided to check it out. Holy Crap. It is excellent. Beautiful carved singletrack through untouched woods. The trail was totally unoccupied save for a few deer that hustled off when the saw us coming. The trail was an excellent mix of fast swoopy sections and technical climbs and switchbacks. There are also constructed tepees over the trail in several sections, which add a bit of character. I'll be eagerly exploring the area now since if there is one trail like this, it is likely there are many more. We don't have anything of the sort in Fairbanks, so I might as well take advantage while I can.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I admit it; I was wrong.

I have not ever been on the Boreal Forest trail in the summer. Whilest we appropriated it this winter for trail use, it is touted as a nature foot path in the summer, which just doesn't do anything for me. I assumed that it would be a horrible bog anyways, and posted as such during the winter. *Please see title here*

The boardwalk construction is superb. Whoever planned it out made sure that there wouldn't be any boggy parts to walk through. You are surrounded by a mosquito infested swamp the entire time, for sure, but at no point will there be occasion to mucker your footwear (or tires in this case). While the the trail is only twelve inches wide or so in the winter, mother nature provides a three foot layer of snow as a buffer for those with limited handling skills. In the summer the drops are the same three to five feet, but of course there are wild roses, logs and bogs instead, making the idea of crashing entirely unpleasant. The boardwalk is a beautiful three feet wide at the narrowest, making the whole loop a fast, safe, flowy bit of riding. Carrying speed through the ride is important, because the difference between five miles per hour and ten is the option of mosquitoes landing on you or harmlessly bouncing off. Whenever possible I prefer to use my chest as a windshield.

Monday, May 25, 2009

This weekend I mixed it up.

Alright, so Friday and Saturday I worked, and didn't do anything. Sunday I started to do laundry, but decided it would be better to call the Snarski and go do some trail riding. We met at the Golden Eagle and shuttled Alder Shoots. While normally this is one of my favorite rides, it proved to be scarier than hell. When I called Snarski I stipulated that we should use hardtail 29ers for the ride. Let me tell you, when you are used to riding a trail with eight inches of travel front and back, three inch wide tires and a nice slack headtube angle, nothing else will do. Don't get me wrong, I still hard fun, but I walked several sections, including the bottom of the initial rock garden. We we got done, we decided that one trail wasn't enough and that in the spirit of spring we should try the much talked about Secret Trail.

Snarski obtained his knowledge of Secret Trail through continual harassment of some kid who drew him a map over the course of several days. I think the process took a bit because anyone under the age of twenty needs reminders to get things done, and partially because it took him that long to remember where the hell the trail was. Although the trail head is nicely tucked away, you'll know when you get there, largely because of the laminated sign nailed to a tree that says "Secret Trail". The sign at the bottom of the trail is a much nicer wood carved job that makes me wonder if someone decided that carrying a large wood sign to the top of the trail would be just too much trouble. At any rate the trail is excellent. It is a little rooty, with just enough choke points that it hasn't been torn up by ATVs. Some of the choke points are especially sneaky in that they immediately follow one another. Although I haven't done a large bit of singletrack riding, I'd say it is probably the nicest bit of trail I have been on yet. It is the kind of trail you could cream with a five inch full suspension cross country bike and completely slay with a six inch travel all mountain bike. Which reminds me, I need to get one of those, or both.

So today I decided I would take a road ride. I haven't done an actual road ride in like two years so I was a bit nervous. I was happy when I finished. When I walked in the door I realized I had actually done the loop in what was probably my fastest time ever. Pretty incredible considering how out of shape I feel. I had a realization then, riding rode gives me a feeling of satisfaction when I am done. More so when I have a hard ride and less so when I drag butt the whole way. Mountain riding is different, I can lag a whole ride out feeling hung over, but if I clean a hard line nicely I get immediate gratification. If I have a really good mountain ride, I feel awesome the whole time, not like I am suffering and trying to accomplish something. I think I prefer having my speed limited by the trail and my skills rather than my aerobic fitness level. Which is funny, because I'll still probably ride road this year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I meant to do that.

In interesting and only vaguely related bicycle news, there is a community in Germany that has banned cars. You can read the full article here. It sounds like a great idea. It is a new community, so everyone knows what they are getting into. It will be interesting to see if there is any follow up to what is happening in the community in a few years.

The moments in life when you almost die are hopefully rare, but often you look back on them fondly. Last night was awesome because not only do I have a story to tell, but I am uninjured. We headed out to the pump track last night for some evening fun and to check out the new single track they are cutting out in Goldstream. I’ll talk about the single track in a later post. Mostly because our pump track ride was so eventful.

Our winter rabbit came out, which I give him major credit for because he is used to going mach ten everywhere with his impressive spinning abilities. Needless to say, first time pump track riding was not his thing. He made all the mistakes people pumping for the first time make, but by the end, he was getting it. To his credit he was also learning on a full size mountain bike, which isn’t ideal on the rather small track. A stark contrast to that was our new flatland BMX kid. He was basically shredding the course to start, but seemed unused to riding with any amount of speed and was completely hampered by his total lack of brakes. I believe his best comment of the night was, “I’ve only cracked myself in the nuts once.” For me that would have been one time to many.

The best comment of the night came from our super star Reese. He’s that horrible kid that is good at whatever he does. He destroys cross country skiers all winter and kills the road scene all summer. Sadly he also has superior skills on a mountain or dirt jump bike. If he wasn’t such a nice guy, I am sure someone would have killed him by now, or at least started a website dedicated to hating him. I was complaining at him last night because he kept switching directions and was making it difficult for me to decide where to go when I dropped in. His comment back at me was a jaunty “I ride wherever I want!” In a true karmic event this was followed five seconds later by the dull thud of bodied smacking into each other. I looked over to see him and Snarsky laid out. Since everyone was ok, I immediately started harassing him about it.

My near death experience came much later. I packed up my stuff, shed my gear and helmet and was preparing to leave when someone pointed out that someone had done the work to add a dirt jump to the lower parking lot. Since the pump track is about eight feet higher than the lot next to it where the store is, this made for a beautiful roll in to the table top someone had installed. I borrowed a bike (I was too lazy to get mine out of the back of my truck) and hit the jump.

I made the following realizations at speed after I landed.
“Reese’s bike has no brakes.”
“Reese’s bike has one brake, which has a much short lever and is positioned much more inboard than mine.”
“I hope Reese’s brake works well because there is now a large trailer directly in front of me.”
“Reese’s bike does have a good brake and if I don’t crash from the rear wheel being locked up and sliding all over the fricken place, I may not hit the trailer.”
“I am going to go get my bike now.”

Despite these sudden bursts of insight, I didn’t retrieve my helmet and other protective items when I went back to get my bike. So two jumps later when I almost crashed hard (I am getting a bit old for this kind of thing), I would really have had no one to blame but myself. The jump wasn’t lipped as nicely as it could have been, probably from being rallied on a daily basis, so I wasn’t getting the air I wanted without some work. On one of my last takeoffs my timing was horrible. I had way too much speed and pulled up way too late. I was almost fully airborne and basically yanked my front end straight up. I landed in a manual at speed. Although it was kind of cool, my manual/wheelie balance basically sucks and I knew there was no way my front end was going back down. I bailed off my pedals and landing sprinting. Because I don’t actually know how to crash well off a jump, I of course held onto my bike’s handlebars. Somehow I managed to keep everything together and not simply sketch out into a pile of flesh and aluminum. I ended up walking with my bike popped up on its back wheel in front of me. Super Star’s sudden exclamations and yelling let me know it must have looked cool. Sadly all I got out of it was I should definitely be wearing a helmet and my failed attempt at big air had ended in some bizarre trick I wouldn’t be able to replicate without months of practice and lots of luck. Sure, I meant to do that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Technical Single Track in Fairbanks?

Even among cyclists, there is often discord. Roadies don’t get along with the dirt guys, dirt guys don’t like the BMX kids, BMX kids for the life of them can’t understand what is impressive about a middle aged hipster on a fixed gear road bike with no brakes riding off a curb, etc, etc. I think in areas with larger populations, it is not so much of a problem. Everyone has plenty of like minded people to hang out with and if there is not much mixing between groups, it is ok. In smaller towns (like Fairbanks) this does not work as well. You might only have a few guys that ride any particular style, and we all thrown together because we ride bikes. While larger places may have the Western Metropolis Area Freeride Association as one of the six large thriving bicycle groups in their area, we have Fairbanks Cycle Club, and that’s pretty much it.

FCC puts on both road and cross country races throughout the summer and is responsible for consistently organizing the bigger rides every year that bring out people who don’t normally ride bikes. They do a great job considering the circumstances. The problem is that as you can imagine, the leadership is small and they cater toward their own preferred type of rides. Again, I can’t blame them for this. If I had the energy to get off my duff and organize something, I’d make dang sure it was an event I wanted to participate in. The rub in this case is that most of the riding the FCC crew does is aimed at endurance riders. I went to one of their meetings a few years back and they were lamenting that they were having a hard time attracting younger riders. I understood the problem as most of the younger folks I know who ride don’t do it to sweat, they do it to shred a sweet line or pull a hot trick. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large road and cross country seem to be riding styles that are a flavor acquired with a bit of age (once you realize that broken bones are starting to take longer to mend).

All of this explains why I was pretty excited when FCC brought IMBA up here to do a presentation and a trail building clinic. I could not attend (I had to work) but since the meet and greet presentation was at my shop job, I got to witness the start of the trip. The slide show included plenty of dirt jump parks, technical singletrack, and actual downhill trails. As I watched the presentation I became slightly depressed since it was unlikely that anything of the sort will be built anytime soon. However, according to one of my FCC inside sources, it appears that attitudes inside the FCC may have already changed. I may have just missed it since I was not around. The new trail construction that began during the weekend clinic was aimed at building a sustainable (IMBA’s key buzzword) intermediate level technical trail. It’s slow going of course, apparently there are only a few people who actually understand the concepts of building a sustainable trail (me completely not included), everyone else was there to take direction and dig. However, since the proper permitting and relationships have been started, if the trail gets built right, it will be there for decades instead of years.

Hopefully I’ll be heading out to the site this week some time and check out what’s been laid down so far and what they have planned. If it’s all it’s cracked up to be, maybe I won’t be riding as much as I thought this year. And the fact that I did not buy a new all mountain machine won’t be depressing me nearly as bad.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The first Ester Dome Winter Downhill

The ride that started it all happened three years ago. It wasn't organized; there were just two of us that decided to see what our favorite trail looked like in the winter. Strangely enough there was actually a wedding going on when we arrived. We scoffed at the rows of Subarus lining the road up to the trail head. We made hippie jokes and cracked comments at expense of folks that had gathered and hiked the half mile to the next hill top where the ceremony was taking place. Then as our shuttle was backing down the road, it slid off and got stuck in the snow on the side. We tried in vain for twenty minutes to push or pull the truck out. All was looking lost when the ceremony ended and we were suddenly surrounded by twenty or so wedding goers.

Needless to say, I have never been so happy to see a small army of hippies. We had the truck unstuck in under two minutes. Although they say that people in numbers can move mountains, I do have firsthand knowledge that they can move an F-150 in short time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taking one for the team.

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is again participating in the Heart Walk. I think most of the people who know me in any capacity are up for abusing me in some way if possible. Thus I offered myself as a target for charity in hopes that people would actually donate money to make me uncomfortable in some way. Our department’s initial idea was that people could pay to throw a pie in my face. While probably attractive to some, the idea didn’t sound very sporting to me. I just couldn’t see doing any trash talking if all I was going to do was sit there and get pied. Also, it seemed like it would get old for everyone after I took the first few. I like riding my bike, so our second idea was that I could ride my bike around while people tried to hit me with pies. This idea sounded much better to me. Not only would I be riding a bike, but I’d at least have a sporting chance, thus trash talking would be appropriate. I soon realized that a pie plate hurled like a frisbee would probably do enough damage that it wouldn’t be fun for me if I actually got hit. Someone made the suggestion that people could throw water balloons, and the idea was cemented.

Last week was beautiful, sunny, clear skies and record high temperatures in the 70s. This week has not been. So when we started setting up this morning and it snowed a little, I knew I was in for a real treat. I can’t imagine having more fun. Riding my bike in a circle (my designated area was six parking spaces big) and taunting people while the try to hit you with water balloons is awesome. I recommend it to anyone. I got nailed quite a few times, including once in the melon, by not nearly as many times as I watched and grinned as balloons passed harmlessly close to me, or braked hard and watched a balloon fly past my bars as someone was trying to lead me. All in all we raised several hundred dollars for a good cause and many of my friends got to take some well earned shots at me. Plus riding a bike NASCAR style is much easier than working.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And now for a flashback

Several years ago I was at a softball party and when I tried to leave and give an intoxicated friend a ride home, he insisted on stopping at a bar on the way. I finally decided it would be easier to indulge him than argue with him, and we ended up at the bar. On the way in I pass a full suspension freeride/downhill bike, and it’s a nice one. Ten seconds later as I am choking on the smoke floating in the air I am still wondering about a three grand sled sitting unlocked in a very public area in a not so great area of town in the armpit bar of the neighborhood. We get in line at the bar to get my friend a drink and sure enough I see the beginnings of a scuffle working up to my side. As the situation snaps into a full brawl, I back away from the bar and retreat to the safety of the pool tables. My friend wades into the fight to try to break it up, although I am not sure that actually worked out so well for him. He ended up getting attacked by some guy’s girlfriend as he was trying to drag the guy out of the ruckus. She jumped on his back and clawed at his face.

I am watching all this from the relative safety of the pool area and look over to see a very bored looking guy doing basically the same thing, except that he was holding a cue and I am assuming had just been actually playing billiards of some sort. I gave him a nod and he nods back in the customary “what’s up” manner that we hip young old people use. I think possible we were going to start some sort of conversation when out of the corner of my eye I catch some sort of projectile moving at fairly high speed. The object stuck pool cue guy in the wrist squarely and exploded into several small pieces of glass. It took me half a second to realize I had just seen someone’s overpriced cheap bar beer bottle go grenade on cue guy’s wrist. As inquired as to whether he was alright and he stared at his wrist and in a very calm voice stated, “That really hurt.” That was enough for me, so I ventured just close enough to the fray to grab my friend and start for the door. The rest of my night was uneventful.

The next day was Sunday, which is our normal shuttle run day for the summer. We were at the top of the hill and I was relating the previous night’s event to Zombie Jeff when suddenly one of the many random and unknown to me guys riding with us exclaims, “That was me!” And sure enough, there was cue guy, resplendent in his full face and armor. He showed me his wrist, which although bruised, was unbroken and uncut. This story is great because there are three morals, which I list in order of importance. Mountain bikers are tough, Fairbanks is small, and the bar scene in Fairbanks is generally to be avoided.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring continues to hate on me

This weekend was the annual bike expo at my shop. The expo takes place the last weekend in April every year starting on a Thursday. This year I actually took time off of my main job to be able to help out on the first day of the deal. Seeing how it actually snowed Thursday morning, I am not sure my presence was totally required. In fact the events of that morning also lead me to question the validity of global warming. Selling bikes is hard when there is a ten foot high by hundred foot long pile of snow in your parking lot and more falling out of the sky.

Friday and Saturday were not much better with some wind and slushy rain thrown into the mix. Sunday, during which the shop has abbreviated hours, was of course sunny and beautiful. This meant that as we were closing early and trying to get all the bikes brought in, we were getting hammer but the hundreds of people that all showed up in the last two hours the shop was open. For experienced riders, buying a bike is a bit easier, you know what size you ride and you have a general idea what you want. If you haven’t ridden in years (or ever) showing up ten minutes before the shop closes and expecting to just have the perfect bike handed to you isn’t ideal. Most customers are very understanding of the fact that we are just about to close and have eight or so people trying to put away four hundred or so bikes so we can get home reasonably soon after the shop closes. Some however, are not.

To those people I’d like to say I am sorry. Buying a bike is somewhat similar to buying a car. Only in addition to finding one with all the options you want, you also have to find one that fits your body. To add to that, at my shop, the salesmen aren’t commissioned, so there isn’t any incentive for us to just slap you on a bike and send you out the door. We’d actually like to find out what type of riding you plan to do, what kind of money you are looking to spend and find the bike that is the best for you. That isn’t going to happen in ten minutes. Please feel free to stop by when we have a bit more time together. We’ll both be the happier for it.

On a much more entertaining note, I was reminded that children are easy to label as clinically insane even though it is totally normal for them to live in a complete fantasy world. This dad came in with his son and daughter (ages 8 and 7 maybe? I am horrible with children’s ages). The son hopped on a bike we picked out for him and rode it around for all of a couple minutes before decaling that it would indeed be his. The daughter was a totally different story. She apparently had a rather nasty crash at the end of last summer and wasn’t stoked to ride, especially not on a bike that was probably meant for her to grow into. She was nearly in tears and declaring repeatedly to her father that she just couldn’t do it before turning away in wonderful soap opera drama style. Dad was patiently trying to talk her into at least trying it while her brother was making very serious sounding and less than encouraging observations. Some of which were “I am just not sure she can handle it Dad.” “I don’t think she’s ready.” He really had a good stream of these going before dad finally got her on the bike and got her rolling (with a little seat holding help, which she pointedly insisted on). At that point her brother totally snapped and started running behind her waving his hands in the air like a crazy person and screaming “You’ll never make it out of this parking lot without crashing!! You are going to crash because I am a magician!” I think by this point dad was pretty tired. I however, was doubled over laughing. It may have been the high point of the expo for me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pucker Factor

I finally decided to take my studs off and replace them with a set of ridiculous 28c road tires. I love them because not only does it look silly in my 29er frame, but they roll fast as well. My commute is like 99.9% clear of snow and ice, so it seemed like it was time. That first low rolling resistance ride of the year is refreshing. You seem to float with no effort of your own. It feels like your bike has woken up after a long sleep and is finally deciding to help you out. I was reveling in all this when I suddenly noticed a large section of shiny ice covering the bike path. It took up the whole width of the path and was about three feet deep. I had just enough time to get my feet flat and bring the bike up as straight as possible. Or, in reality, I completely puckered up. I rolled smoothly over the ice without flinching and breathed a deep sigh of relief. I still can't really remember anything else about the rest of the commute.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I guess I am missing something.

This weekend marked my first commute in shorts of the year. Coincidentally it was also my first commute on my P bike of the year. They kind of go hand in hand. Until I get to the professional slopestyle level, I probably won't be good enough to ride my P in jeans. Even then, it may never happen. Riding in pants in the summer in Fairbanks just seems like such a waste. I have my noon time commute to thank for the warm weather. My commute this morning was a slightly chillier 24°F.

What was even more fun was my ride home on Saturday. I passed what at first looked like a bunch of drunks standing outside the Marlin. Closer inspection revealed that nearly all of them had bicycles. This doesn’t mean they weren’t drunk, but did peg them as potential Critical Mass riders in my mind. I flipped around and rode back for another look. A second glance revealed wigs, costumes, a general party atmosphere and several bicycles that on the far end of disrepair. If it wasn’t a Critical Mass ride, it should have been. I must have looked equally bizarre to them in my helmet, padded gloves, riding baggies and highly functional long sleeve shirt. I received several hard stares coinciding with a noticeable drop in noise on the end of the crowd I was closest to. It was the kind of reaction you would expect if you walked into a debutant ball naked. I obviously didn’t look hip enough to receive a verbal invitation to the event, so after a few awkward seconds I turned my bike around (again) and headed for home.

Slightly more entertaining was the rant that I found this morning while trying to briefly determine if the Massers had indeed thawed and were again active in the area. I guess Xerocracy isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Curse you spring!

Breakup is here in all its nastiness. Cigarette butts, trash, gravel, various car fluids and the occasional body litter the streets and trails of Fairbanks. I think we call it breakup because that is kind of what you want to do when you see it. Spring comes to Alaska like morning after an all night bender and you realize that you are not alone, and worse yet, the company you are keeping is not pretty. Mornings are characterized by patches and sheets of ice hiding in innocuous places, during the day these same slick patches become unbelievable slush and goo. Derailleurs that have been content and wonderful all winter quickly become gobbed with who knows what. Bikes become indistinguishable as a layer of grime begins to coat them. Did I mention it is just plain icky?

The upside of all this is that eventually it will recede. Since half of my street is now dry, I managed to throw out my ramp and practice a few hops along with the year’s first wheelie. My brother and mom were up for the weekend and since my brother doesn’t ride, it was fun watching him take the ramp. My P bike seems brand new despite the fact that I rode it at the indoor park a couple of times this winter.

Trail riding is still a ways off (it will be June before the trails are even close to dry), but urban riding is just around the corner. Spring in Alaska may be the worst, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Time for a change, or not.

I stayed up a little bit late last night swapping over to my studded super shredder tires. I like the fact that they are skinny and look ridiculous in a frame designed for 2.5 inch wide rubber on a SnowCat (which is why I sometimes ride 28c road tires as well). I thought it was time since it had been getting up above freezing during the day and back down to around 10°F at night. With that kind of range, commuting has been a little dicey at times. I woke up this morning all stoked to ride fast and confident. Sadly it was -15°F when I woke up this morning. My summer wheels had unwinterized DT Swiss hubs, and though they are super light and roll very nicely, they stop rolling nicely at about 0°F. So I was faced with the choice of swapping my cassette and wheels again and being late to work, or just driving. Some days you just can't win.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

First Timers

Bringing folks out for their first time in a new style of riding is a delicate matter. Winter cycling is no different. Most people tend to overdress for their first ride no matter what you tell them. They also tend to not have all the handling skill and body english that make riding on snow easier. Both of which mean they probably won't be going very fast. And when you have a large group of people who have been riding multiple times a week all winter, there is potential for frustration; unless, of course, you have a really nice guy with you. We have Zombie Jeff.

In addition to being a master mechanic (read trail bike paramedic here), Jeff is also that guy that is willing to wait for a friend who is trying to get the hang of it. I remember my first time out shuttling years ago on a seven inch full suspension freeride bike that I had just bought the week before. All my riding until that point had been road and commuting. I hadn't ever rode dirt before. I tried to get everyone else to go in front of me so I wouldn't hold anyone up as I rode my brakes all the way to the bottom of the hill. Jeff insisted on bring up the rear. I was embarrassed about how slow I was and Jeff was a consummate teacher. I remember him helping me set up my seat angle and offering me simple tips like keeping my weight back. At the end of that first ride I felt excited not only that I hadn't died, but also that I had learned something.

While every group benefits from have a few competitive guys thrown in to keep everyone challenging themselves, the value of having someone that makes sure everyone is having fun too can't be underestimated. So happy birthday Stan, I look forward to future rides.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I get by with a little help....

....from my friends. Lots of people ask me about winter cycling "How do you do it?" Normally I have a couple of quick comments about dressing properly and bicycle preparation. Occasionally, as the case was earlier this week on the trip my wife and I took, I get someone else to do the work. Winter riding is slow; it is just the nature of the beast. However, having someone with fur dragging you along pretty much evens the score back up to summer speeds. Bikejoring is also a good way to injor yourself if you aren't careful. Unless you speak dog fluently (I still have a strong accent and I am told my grammar leaves a lot to be desired) you are bound to have issues with your co-pilot. There are lots of books out there on skijoring, which is vaguely similar, but I don't own any and haven't ever read any either. I am sure that they would be chock full of ideas to make riding with my dogs easier and less chancy, but I kind of enjoy the mystery of not knowing when they will decide to stop in the middle of the trail, causing me to take evasive maneuvers and likely end up in snow off the trail. I also enjoy the completely baffled look they give me as I lay there recovering. It’s something along the lines of "What the heck are you doing? Don't you realize we are in the middle of something here?"
More than anything winter trail riding is the perfect chance to ride with my dogs. My summer riding usually involves being near cars or high speeds and rock gardens, neither of which feel fair or safe for my dogs. It's about the only way I find enjoyable for us to both get a good work out. I know how I feel at the end of a good roll and it's usually pretty obvious that they have had fun too.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"I thought I was going to get sucked off....."

....into the deep stuff." So said the Rabbit as we were driving back to the top of Ester Dome to retrieve my vehicle. The trail today was fantabulous. Packed just hard enough that it was very fast, but with the typical soft fluffy edges that beg you to ride faster, urging you to push yourself because crashing won't hurt. Those soft fluffy edges, however, will drag you into a crash if you venture to near them. And I think it happened to most of us at least once. The big news today was that we had three people who hadn't rolled a winter downhill run yet.
All of us were wondering why we haven't been doing this for years, because it is ludicrously fun. We have shuttled this trail for years in the summer, but none of us are professionals, all of us all well past our teenage years and the rocks, trees and washouts littering the trail demand respect and a high toll for lack of it. They are sleeping beneath a deep soft layer of winter's best right now, so we'll continue to shred with total abandon for another few weeks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fall Down, Go Boom

Sometimes you just can’t win. It was about -17°F when I headed out to work yesterday. Normally when I commute at temperatures this cold I run higher pressures so that I am not pedaling against flexing frozen sidewalls. The disadvantage of this, of course is less traction. So when I hopped my front wheel up onto a curb and realized I was going a bit too fast to get forward and get my back wheel up as well, I knew I was screwed. My rear wheel hit the curb at the wrong angle, went out from under me and down I went.

I crash all the time; I crashed four times between Friday night and Saturday’s rides. Even though all those crashes were at speed, they were all into two feet of powder. My commuting crashes generally carry a midlevel sucktastic factor. They are always on ice, which is hard, but it has the advantage that instead of getting shredded by asphalt or dirt, you generally slide pretty well, so it’s really only the impact you have to worry about. I crash about every two months or so, and have yet to seriously injure myself. I hopped back on my bike and ignoring the shame generally associated with such an event, finished the ride to work.

When I got to work, I suddenly realized I could barely move my neck without getting shooting pains in it. I work with nurses and they noticed pretty quickly and yelled at me until I went to the ED. Several hours and a couple of x-rays later (I’d list the cost too, but I haven’t gotten the bill), the ED doctor was nice enough to confirm I had strained something and I would be fine in a couple days. I constantly tell people at the shop that studs for commuting are cheaper than a visit to the ED. I guess I need to take my own advice. It’s better than the alternative.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Disc Brakes

I was cruising some old bikehacks.com posts the other day (about DIY wheel truing stands) and ran into a ridiculous comment that someone made about disc brakes. I'd take apart the whole thing, but instead I'll just talk about all the things that make disc brakes better than rim brakes.

First and foremost, when you use disc brakes you are not damaging anything on your bike. When you rip down on disc brake lever you are applying an mixture of metals held together with a resin (your brake pad) to a piece of steel (your rotor) that was designed solely for braking. I haven't ever seen a rotor that was worn out, but I'll keep looking. On the other hand, when you clamp down on your rim brakes, you are applying a rubber pad which may or may not be coated with whatever muck you have been riding through to you rim, which is probably made out of aluminum. Sure it is as easy to replace your pads in either system, but I have seen several wheels that needed to be replaced because the rim's braking surface was shot. If you are running expensive wheels, this is nowhere near ideal.

Second, despite what anyone has told you, properly adjusted disc brakes work better. If you need proof of this, look around at what professional cyclists use. Have you ever seen a modern downhill rig built with rim brakes? If it was all just some marketing gimmick, don't you think someone out there would stand up and build a rig with rim brakes? Trust me, someone out there would, if not for the simple fact that disc brakes actually do have more stopping power.

Hydraulic disc brakes are definitely more complex, however, they take one of the major points of failure out of braking, the cable. Cables stretch, they frey and eventually they rust or break. While hydraulic brakes have their own draw backs, I have found that a good set of hydraulic disc brakes are easier to install and properly adjust than a set of high end rim brakes. And barring crash damage to the brake line, they last longer and stay in adjustment better than a set of cable brakes (disc or rim). I have a set of Formula Oro Puros that have been on my bike for three years. I have never bled them, never replaced the pads and they are still going strong. They are by far the best part I feel I have ever bought. The most I ever have to do is a quick adjust when I swap between wheel sets, and that generally only takes a couple minutes. I can't even imagine the hassle I would be dealing with switching between 25mm and 44mm wide rims with rim brakes.

Many people claim that rim brakes are lighter than disc brakes and I have to give them that on average they are right. However, if you are willing to pay for it, there are several companies out there making very light disc brake setups. By contrast, as the rim brake market is shrinking, companies are putting less time and energy into development of lighter rim brakes. Thus, rim brakes are tending to stay the same and disc brakes are getting lighter every year. In fact, I think that if you did the numbers, you'd find that a high end set of lightweight XC style hydraulic disc brakes are about the same weight as a set of Shimano XTR rims brakes. The caveat that many people overlook is that you have to use a heavier rim with a braking surface than you do with discs.

The main drawback of disc brakes is that they are expensive. Many people don't need the extra stopping power that they provide. You average summer commuter or pleasure rider definitely doesn't need them. But for anyone who is looking to do actual technical riding or winter riding, I think they are a must have.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

2nd Annual Ester Dome Winter Downhill

This year's EDWooD went down nicely. We had a third more riders than last year. Eventually I am sure some car company will be calling want to sponsor the ride. If you are reading this now and happened to be a advertising CEO for a major car company, you should contact me as soon as possible for early consideration.

This year was the first time (that I know of) that Pugsleys were used to rock the dome. That being the case, the non-fat tire riders had some complaints. Actually, truth be told, Super Snarsky and I are jerks. When we were standing around the shop Friday, some folks expressed interest and worry at what the trail would be like Saturday. We have had lots of snow in the past couple weeks, and there was something of a chance it would be a horrible pushfest. That being the case, SS and I decided to take it upon ourselves to preride the route (only as a favor to everyone else, we swear!) Friday night. Either that or we wanted an excuse to use the many lumens of power at our disposal, I can't quite remember. SS and I didn't get to the top until about 10pm. It was pretty cold and pretty dang dark, but the lights were out and we proceeded to crash our way down the hill. We crashed because the trail was a jumbling mess of rolling kickers with punch holes and crusty snow between. On 29er SnowCats, it required carrying a lot of speed and using a very light touch when pumping. Unfortunately, I didn't quite figure that out until I was already halfway down the trail. Which meant that most of the first half when I went to compress before an unweight, my front tire augured through the crust and I ended up not unweighting at all. We managed to make it all the way down, however, and not seriously injure ourselves.

Fast forward to Saturday, SS and I got lucky and somehow ended up with a pair of Pugsleys for the ride. As we rolled the first quarter mile, I realized that we had left huge nasty ruts the night before. It didn’t help that the temperature had dropped to something like -20°F overnight and made the ruts very crusty. This didn’t really concern me any, since I was now riding a Pugsley. However, when we stopped for the first time and waited for the folks behind us, Snarsky and I looked at each other and laughed. We stopped as soon as the first rider behind us came around the corner cursing and fighting the ruts with his much narrower wheels. We muttered assurances that it would get better (we hoped) and tried not to laugh and took off again down the hill. When everyone finally collected up at the halfway point, they still did not believe us. SS and I knew it was about to get good again, so we offered more soothing words and headed off again.

The last half of the trail rolls like it was purposely engineered for just this event. During the summer it can get boring because it’s just a long fast rollout. I generally prefer the top during the warmer months because it is much more technical. However, yesterday (and Friday night) it was awesome. Just steep enough that you can carry lots of speed without needing to lay on the brakes and completely littered with rollers, little kickers and rhythm sections. I caught air several times on Friday night with my own bike. With my borrowed steed however, I made special effort and took everything race style sucking up the terrain and keeping the wheels on the snow. The ruts were minimal since we had taken the whole section at speed the night before. Everyone arrived at the bottom in agreement. It is amazing how fast you can go when you know that you have a thick layer of snow all around you to soften any spills you may take. In fact, we’ll probably end up doing it again a couple more times before April gets here and turns the whole thing into a foul mud bog.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bicycle "Rights"

Recently I posted a rant on why I don’t like Critical Mass. It can be found here. It started a civil and interesting enough course of comment with a masser from Chicago that I thought it deserved its own post.

We have two areas to look at when we consider “bicycle rights”. One is what privileges (or rights as some people call them) are afforded to us by the laws. The second is what responsibilities fall to us as a result of those privileges.

The first area of privileges afforded to us by the laws is generally very similar to what privileges motorists are afforded. We are allowed use of roadways and expected to follow applicable traffic laws and traffic control devices. Our major drawback is that we must defer the roadway to motorists since they are generally the faster moving form of transportation. In other words, we should try to stay out of their way and the roads are primarily intended for them. The trade off for this is that if we choose, bicyclists may conduct themselves as a pedestrian, using pedestrian byways, routes and areas illegal for motorists to drive. I would say that overall we are pretty equal with motorists in this respect, however, I prefer the flexibility that being a bicyclist provides me. I can ride the shoulder of the road or choose to take walking paths or bicycle paths that motorists are not allowed. This type of flexibility actually reduces my morning commute by a considerable amount.

When we look at the area of responsibilities, we find that our situation is very different from that of motorist. You must pass a test and maintain your license to drive a car. There are all kinds of things that you can do that can result in the loss of your “right” to drive. Your vehicle must be maintained to a certain standard to travel the roadways, you must have working lights, pass emissions tests and register your transportation. In almost all states (I am so not a lawyer) you must have insurance on your vehicle to drive. All of these things mean that motorists are contributing financially to the system. It also makes driving more expensive than riding. That being the case I understand when someone who has passed a test to prove they can drive and know the laws, paid to get a license, paid to register a vehicle and paid to make sure that vehicle carries insurance gets preferential treatment over someone on a bicycle after an accident. I am not saying it is right, just that is understandable; they are looked at to be the responsible party.

It sucks but the last time I got hit by a motorist and provided with fake insurance information, the authorities did very little to investigate. Why? Luckily for me I wasn’t seriously injured, I didn’t have to pay to get my bike fixed. There wasn’t anything for me to recover, so they probably didn’t feel the need to investigate further. If I had been in a vehicle, I am sure several hundred dollars worth of damage (body work and paint!) would have needed to be done and I would have stood significant financial loss had the person hadn’t been found.

So my question to you cyclists out there is this: For those of you that claim to want more privileges are also prepared to deal with the additional responsibilities that will come with them? I am not. I don’t want to register my bicycles. I don’t want to have to pay more money into the pot of funds wasted yearly by unnecessary bureaucracy. I don’t want someone somewhere who doesn’t own a bike to decide for me what the adequate amount of lighting on my downhill rig should be. When you get everything you want and you either get arrested at your next Critical Mass ride because you are riding without a license, or you get ticketed for not wearing your helmet, or even because you failed to yield to a traffic control device, will you feel that you have finally succeeded?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Riding Styles

I think being proficient in several styles of riding is important. From a non-professional's prospective I think it keeps riding fresh year after year. While dedication to a single discipline would probably produce better results; that isn't a concern I have right now. Several riders have operated under such a philosophy (Brian Lopes and Cedric Gracia come to mind), and Kirt Voreis has openly advocated for it. Even specialists at the top of the game (Lance and Floyd) have been known to ride differently during the off season.

The point of all this being that if you really like cycling, but it started to get old after a bit, or it is getting old right now, I humbly suggest you buy a new bike, or, at the very least, try a new style of riding. Make sure it's a totally different bike than what you are riding right now. If your forte is spraying dirt around tight singletrack corners, grab some skinny 700s and give your local asphalt a beatdown. If you are churning out the commuter miles, grab some wide knobbies and hit the trails. If you are an endurance racer, get an urban bike, drop the seat down to the top tube and learn to manual like no other. Or, for one of my friends, if you are tearing up the park everyday and you are burnt, get outside and ride.

Any new style of riding might be just enough to make your specialty fun again. Or, you may even pick up a new favorite. If nothing else you may stop looking at guys in spandex funny (or vice versa at guys in baggies) and realize what it is that makes us all love riding so much.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trogdor

Every mountain biker knows about the Trogdor effect. We've all seen it in action, even if you didn't know it was happening or what it is properly called. You go for a group ride and you are that guy. Your chain keeps skipping around your cassette despite the fact that it was perfect last night when you did your pre-ride tune. You get a flat and CO2 inflator is hosed, or your pump head has junked out and the little plastic piece that actually makes contact with the valve has worn away to the point that it doesn't work anymore. Or you actually crash and don't notice for several hundred yards that you cracked your brake hosing and will now need to nurse you steed back home. When you get to the brake point of your ride you suddenly realize you forgot to stuff your Clif Bar in your pack.

Sometimes the Trogdor factor shows itself in other ways. You try a strange setup with your drivetrain and your cassette actually eats your freehub body. Or you fall over on your bicycle at five miles per hour and when you stand up you find your front wheel has exploded like you just overshot a landing and ate a forty footer. Or you are JRA (just riding along) and your rear derailleur explodes into pieces like it was hit by a very talented sniper.

Some of us have had weeks like that; some of us have had months. All you can really do is pray that next week you’ll get to call someone else Trogdor and point.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

And the winner is....

Big congratulations are in order for Jeff Oatley, who finished first today in the annual Iditarod Trail Invitational. Beyond being a complete freak of nature built for punishing endurance races, Jeff is also a genuinely nice guy who always has time and a good word for other cyclists. He finished the 350 mile race to McGrath in 5 days, 19 hours and 34 minutes. That's incredible considering there were places on the course with waist deep snow.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A tie goes to the cyclist.

Today was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing and the temperature hovered around 15°F. Sadly we received large amounts of snow this week. Earlier in the week we hit a high mark for most snow received in 24 hours (in the last eight years I believe). Last night we probably hit that mark again. That, combined with the pretty strong winds today, let me know that any attempt at a ride was going to turn into a pushfest. Luckily I have good friends to guilt me into such bad ideas.

We made it across the parking lot fine; I believe it was plowed early this morning. That's about were the riding ended for me. I fell or dismounted about four times during the hundred foot section to the trailhead. Everyone (including the three Pugsleys) started pushing. By the time we made it another hundred feet down the trail, I looked like this. Notice the waist deep (actually a couple inches above my waist) snow. Also there is the awesome fact that you can see my helmet vents are plugged with crash snow. As we continued our walk with bikes, I remember hearing "maybe it will be better when we get to the main trail." I distinctly remember thinking that it would, in fact, be worse since it was more exposed to the wind and would likely be drifted over.

When we arrived at the main trail, I got to be right. It also turned me into that horrible guy on a ride. A fell into a string of expletives and declared I was heading back. Jeff shamed me into pushing my bike more, which was great, because I would have missed the funnest non-riding bike adventure I have ever had. The beginning of the main trail runs through a series of gravel pits. Many of the hills are currently monoliths of snow begging to be done something with. So since their was no riding to be had, we decided to climb them. Which meant carrying your bike if you planned to try riding down them. Which is why CD looked like this when he got to the top of the hill.

And why he looked like this headed back up the hill to retrieve his bike after an awesome slow motion crash. Honestly if you ever get the chance to go out with a group of people with bikes in weather like this and find a decent slope, be thankful. Because people crashing horrendously into soft fluffy powder is what it is all about. Paul had the best crash of the day by far. It was a full on, over the handlebars at speed faceplant with no attempt to stop himself whatsoever. Sadly I only got the aftermath of him tumbling down the hill. It's really awesome when you don't have to ask someone if they are alright after a crash because they stand up and start laughing really hard.

After the hill we looked around and realized that we were close enough to the road that it might be easier to try and blaze a trail to it rather than pushing back the way we came. Blazing a trail involved wading through waist deep snow again so our retreat looked something like this.

All in all we were out for an hour and a half or so and probably cover all of two miles. But we had fun. Probably almost as much as we would have had if we could have actually rode.
In other cycling news the people that do this kind of thing seriously are still at it. This years Iditarod Trail Invitational started last week and it looks like the 350 mile version may be finished tomorrow by Fairbank's very own Jeff Oatley.