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.