Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Feel The Need For Speed!

I've often thought that getting a speeding ticket on a bicycle would almost be worth it, just for the bragging rights.  In fact, I once tried my best to get one...

I can't remember who I was riding with, that day, but it was probably Charles.  We came into Parker, from the south, on the way to the bike shop, and turned off of Parker Road onto Pikes Peak Drive.  At Main Street, we were waiting to turn left, to go to the coffee shop, when I saw a Parker policeman aiming a radar speed gun our way.  So, I took off and sprinted as hard as I could for the 40 yards to the coffee shop.

A few minutes later, the cop walked in.  It was Officer Phil, one of the Parker Bike Cops.

"You gonna give me a ticket?" I asked him, as he walked up.

"Well, I could.  I had you at 19 miles per hour, and the limit is 15, there," he said, with a grin.

"Do it, and I'll hang the ticket on the wall," I said.

"Damn.  Don't have my ticket book with me."

Phil was one of the cool cops, in town, and I had known him, casually for quite a while.  I looked around at the people within earshot, and a few of them looked flabbergasted that some scruffy bike trash guy was talking to a policeman in that manner.

Phil and I became fairly buddy-buddy after I bought the coffee shop, and I still bump into him, today.  I'll have to ask him if he ever did ticket a cyclist for speeding.


Monday, May 30, 2011

The Customer Is Not Quite Always Right

The guy and his wife were not pleasant to deal with.  They were buying four bikes, one for each of them, two for the kids, plus accessories, and seemed to think I should give them the shop.  They tried to talk me down on the price, every time I showed them something, and the wife was particularly aggressive about it.

I told her that I was giving them everything I could, without harming the bottom line of the shop.  It was a fairly sizable purchase, and I was working the pricing accordingly.

"You could give us another hundred dollars off, and I'd give you twenty-five for yourself.  Nobody would know," she said.  (No, I'm not making this up!)

I hope she understood the look I gave her, and the tone of my voice.

"I would know," I told her, and continued ringing stuff up.

When all was said and done, I gave them the total for their entire purchase.  Hubby pulled out his credit card.

"Give me three percent off and I'll pay cash," he said, dangling the card between his thumb and forefinger.  "You'll end up with the same amount.  You just won't pay the credit card company."

I snatched the card from his hand and swiped it.

"I'd rather pay the credit card processing fee than give you anything else," I said, staring right into his eye.

He blinked first.

I generally loved dealing with customers, even the difficult ones.  But, I was ready to throw these clowns out, by this point, and I didn't care if he signed the slip, or demanded a refund and left.

As it was, he and his wife loaded up their stuff and left.  We never saw them, again, and I can't say that we missed them.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Inspiration On a Slow Simmer

When I was 19 or 20, I worked the summer on an earth-fill dam construction job, part of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.  My daddy worked for the Corps of Engineers, so I worked construction jobs in the summer, when my friends were working at Rexall Drug, or at the country club.

One day, I lucked out and got assigned to be the flagman at the road crossing, where the earth movers were bringing fill dirt across the highway.  It was not a glamorous job, but it beat hell out my usual job pushing dirt with a shovel.

Just before lunch time, I was surprised to see a bicycle coming down the road.  Tishomingo County, Mississippi was not a place that you expected to see an adult on a bicycle, particularly 25 miles from the nearest town.

It so happened that I had a machine coming toward the crossing, so I flagged the cyclist to a halt.  I walked over to him, and struck up a conversation as the earth mover rumbled toward us.  There wasn't a car within sight, in either direction, so I figured I could pass the time of day, for a while.

I was pretty impressed to find that the guy on the bike had left Natchez, a few days earlier, and was following the natchez Trace toward Nashville.  The route was not complete, at that time, on the Parkway, and he had been forced to detour around one of the gaps in the Trace.  So, he ended up at my crossing, that day.

After a few minutes, the way was clear, and I sent him on his way.  But, he stayed in my mind, that day, and for years after.  Even though it was not a normal, accepted thing, in the culture around me, his trip had caught my imagination.

Now, 30 years later, I have yet to do a multi-day self-supported bike tour.  But, that day will come.  In the meantime, I've made a few journeys of my own through the past couple of decades.

And, I thank that unidentified Mississippi bike tourist, in 1980, who helped set the bike pot to simmering.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Only Race I Ever Won

The first time I ever raced the Pike's Peak Bicycle Hillclimb, I won it.  I didn't win the overall race, but I was first in my class, along with Bill Turner.

Bill and I lined up at the Start Line on his Specialized mountain bike tandem, and rode the race together.  As usual, I was stoker to Bill's captain.  As we wended our way to the top of the mountain, we were happy to see that we did as well climbing together as we did on the cross-country races.

As we approached the finish line, there was about a 40 yard straight stretch leading to the tape.  Both of us decided to sprint for it and, as we stood up to jam, the drive chain on the tandem snapped.

"Crap!  Are we going to be disqualified for walking across the line?"  Bill asked me.

"Stay on your saddle and we won't have to worry about it," I said, as I jumped off of the bike. 

I grabbed the rear of my saddle with my left hand, and my handlebar with the right, and started pushing as fast as I could as Bill steered.  Just before we got to the finish line, I jumped on the bike and we coasted across.  The crowd was cheering, and the timekeeper gave us a thumb's up.

Later, I was very proud to get a "gold" medal for being the first (and only) tandem in the race!


Friday, May 27, 2011

Cowboy Stunts

It seemed simple enough, in my 8-year-old mind:  I would ride down the hill in the front yard, and reach up with both hands as I went under the low-hanging limb.  I'd grab the limb, swing up and let the bike (my horse, in this cowboy fantasy) go  on without me.  Then, I'd drop to the ground, draw my six-gun, and shoot the bad guys.

So, down the hill I rode.  I stood on the pedals, grabbed the limb, and then...Well, then, everything went pear-shaped.  I swung up, parallel to the ground as the bike continued along its merry way.  Then, I lost my grip on the limb and fell, still horizontal, and landed flat on my back.

Anyone who has ever fallen like that knows what happened, next.  I had the breath knocked completely out of me, and I could not breathe in.  I flopped around on the ground for a while, until I could finally draw a breath.

Then, I went and picked up my bike.  I had learned a valuable lesson in physics, as well as entertaining my sister to no end.  But, I didn't get any smarter. 

The next day, I tried the same thing, again.  Only, this time, I was grabbing a rope hanging from the tree, rather than a limb.  It was another lesson in physics.  And ropeburn.

Man, I was a dumb little kid!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The World War 1 Flying Ace

When I was 10 or 11, I had a toy sub-machine gun that I really liked.  It was modeled loosely after the 45ACP Thompson "Tommy Gun".  It was molded plastic, of course, with a front pistol grip and drum magazine.  When the trigger was pulled, it actuated some kind of spinner mechanism in the drum which made the "machine gun sound".

Acketyackackacketyack...you know what those toy guns sound like.

With the front pistol grip, I found I could hook the gun to the handlebar on my bike, and steer with it and the other hand.  Suddenly, big red was a Sopwith Camel, and I was flying over France, in search of Germans to shoot down.

And, I was an Ace.  I must have sent 250 krauts to their screaming, flaming deaths with my forward-mounted machine gun.  I spent hours dog-fighting over the French countryside.

Of course, from outside of my head, I must have looked pretty loony to the neighbors as I rode in circles and figure-eights, shooting my machine gun and making airplane sounds.

But, that was the beauty of the bicycle, when I was a kid.  Sure, it was a good tool to get you from Point A to Point B, but it was also an airplane, and a spaceship, and a horse, and a drag-racing funny car and a motorcycle and a rowboat...

Bikes were magical in their ability to take me not only across town, but into another world altogether.  Sometimes, we lose track of that kind of thing, as we grow up.  But, it's magic worth remembering.

The next time you ride your bike, make some airplane sounds and imagine wings stretching to either side of you.  The flight of fancy...It's the cheapest flight you'll find, nowadays. 

No TSA patdown required.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Record Keeping

When I first started riding bikes, again, in my late 20s, I kept detailed records of my rides.  I didn't just note down time and mileage, I wrote ride descriptions and weather conditions, etc., in my little pocket journal.  At the end of the year, I tallied up total mileage, road mileage, mountain bike mileage, and roller mileage, along with hours involved in each type of riding.

As time went by, I lost my passion for record keeping.  I entered less and less information in my journal, and found that I would occasionally forget to enter a ride altogether.  Eventually, I just stopped keeping up with that kind of stuff, altogether.

Recently, I was moving books around on the bookshelf, and I found my first little pocket journal with my bicycling exploits entered into it.  I was pretty amused at some of the distances (Did I really consider 4.5 miles a bike ride?), and it was funny to see bicycling through my newbie eyes.  Everything was a challenge, and everything was new.

No wonder I kept records of it all.  It all seemed so strange and exciting!

Now, I occasionally feel that I am fighting against the mundane aspects of riding.  I renewed my passion for pedaling, a few years ago, by riding fixed-gear almost exclusively.  It gave me new skills and techniques to learn and work on.

Then, I started the daily bike commute...reverted to rigid mountain bikes...started riding 29er mountain bikes...dabbled with monstercross bikes...and I keep a blog (and write these stories) in place of all the bookkeeping.

One of the wonderful things about cycling is that, if it starts to seem old-hat, there is always another facet on the jewel which will glint in the sun, if you look at it from another angle.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

First Ride Blues

It's funny how often something will get broken or damaged on the first ride you take with it.  You may recall that I destroyed the rear wheel of the the first set I ever built on the first ride I took on them, for instance.

A few years later, in 1997,  I had just gotten a new DiamondBack V-Link Pro.  It was a great bike, my favorite full-suspension rig that I've ever owned.  It had Shimano  XT V-Brakes, as much suspension travel as my first motorcyle, and the aluminum frame was polished to a high luster.

I installed gray handlebar grips, because I thought that they accented the polished frame.  Then, I found that QBP , the largest bike parts wholesaler in the U.S., had gray Selle Italia Flite saddles in stock. So, I ordered one in, hoping that it would arrive in our next parts shipment, before the guys and I headed to Moab for a 3-day weekend.

The day before we were to leave town, the QBP order came in.  I dug through the box, and there it was;  my gray Flite!  I bolted it onto the seatpost, and put the bike in the back of my truck.

The next day, we drove to Moab, and got into town around lunch time.  After a quick bite, we all suited up and headed out on the SlickRock Trail.  The weather was good, I was feeling strong, and I had a brand-new full-suspension bike to take up the bumps.  All was good.

Problem was, I ended up having one of those days when I just couldn't ride for anything.  I shifted to the wrong gear for climbs.  I bobbled on the slow technical stuff and had to put my foot down more often than the mother of 4-year-old twins.  It was just not happening for me.

The kicker was, about three-quarters of the way around the trail, I was riding along the edge of a drop which was about 12 feet high, when I let the front wheel slip.  In order to avoid falling all the way down to the next flat spot, I had to abandon ship and grab the rock. 

My bike took the fall, sliding all the way down the near-vertical abrasive sandstone wall on the corner of my brand-new seat and the end of my brand-new grip.  The grip only lost a few chunks of rubber, but the seat...

The leather and the foam padding were removed, down to the plastic seat base, over an area about the size of a Kennedy half-dollar.  It was basically ruined.  Forty dollars, at my cost, down the drain.

Still, I ended up using that seat on two or three different bikes, over the course of the next 10 years.  QBP never had the gray Flites in stock, again, and it was the most comfortable seat I owned.  So, I rode some really nice bikes, with a really beat-up seat, for quite a while.

A beat up seat which didn't even make it through its first ride.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Just Going Along With the Crowd

I came off of the Porcupine Rim Trail, and onto the highway, just as a pack of roadies went by.  I was heading back to to town, in order to get the truck and come back for the others.  So, I sprinted up to the back of the paceline and enjoyed the draft.

As the first rider fell back, to let the next guy take his pull, he saw me hanging on the wheel of the guy in front of me.  I figured he would fall in behind me, and I would eventually work my way to the front and take a pull, myself.  It was the least I could do to pay them back for pulling me along at 22 miles per hour.

Instead, the rider fell in beside the rider in front of me.  That rider stood and put on a little burst of speed, and our former leader fell in between us.  I was still hanging on the back of the pack.

One by one, the riders in the paceline fell back, and pulled the same move.  All the while, the group accelerated.  We had sped up to about 25 mph by the time the parking lot came into view.  I could see my truck, and I was about to pull off and stop, when the current leader of the pack looked over his shoulder to check and see where I was.  It was obvious that these guys really didn't like to have a dirty mountain biker hanging with them.

So, I did the only right thing:  I stood up and sprinted as hard as I could, to the front of the pack.  At that point, the seven roadies all stood and sprinted for all they were worth.  I hit the brakes, and pulled off at my truck. 

I was pretty spent from the effort of that last sprint, but it was worth it to watch those other guys defend their "honor" like that.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Church of Making-Do

A while ago, Dave asked me to build him some wheels.  He wanted this hub, those rims, and black spokes.  So, I gathered everything up, and started to work.

To get the correct length black spokes, I had to go to my favorite shop and have them custom-cut the correct length.  I got a couple of extra spokes, just in case there was a problem.

Thing was, there were three problems.  Three of the spokes had bad threads, and I had only gotten two extras.  It was Saturday night.  I was one spoke away from being done.  And, the shop was closed until Tuesday.

So, I dug out a regular, silver spoke, and finished up the wheel build.  Then, I took my Testor's paint pen, and carefully painted the silver spoke black.  I told Dave what I had done, and told him I would replace the painted spoke with an actual black spoke, when I could.

I guess that was a couple of years ago, and that painted spoke is still in the rim.  I had coffee with Dave, this morning, and he reminded me of this story.

But, as he put it, "You still can't tell which spoke is painted..."

MacGyver wins!


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dumpster Bikes

I admit that I keep that I keep my eyes open when I pass dumpsters.  While I am not a full-on Dumpster-Diver, I won't pass up the occasional discarded treasure;  particularly when it has two wheels attached.

Four times, in the past 20 years or so, I have hit the jackpot.  The first treasure recovered was a French bike, a Gitane, leaned up against the dumpster at the apartment complex Val and I lived in when we first moved to Colorado.  It was all there, but it had steel wheels.  Still, it provided a trove of replacement parts for other French bikes which came along later.

The second dumpster bike I found was a 16" Bridgestone MB-3 mountain bike, which was missing its front wheel.  Someone had put it in the construction dumpster outside the King Soopers (Kroger) grocery store, when they were remodeling.  Luckily, I had a matched set of wheels from an MB-3 hanging around the house, so I reshod the bike and sold it for a bit of profit.

Not too long after that, I was shopping a yard sale in one of the alleyways of the neighborhood to my west.  I looked down the alley and saw a handlebar poking up from the open dumpster.  I walked down and pulled out a crappy bike (I don't even remember the brand), with a really cool set of tourist handlebars on it.  I rolled it to the truck and threw it in the bed, then went back to the yard sale.  Come to find out, the yard-saler had thrown the bike away, that morning.

"I would have given you five bucks for it," I told him.  I hope that taught him a lesson about discarding useful things (but I doubt it).

The last dumpster bike which came my way, I found in the University of Denver neighborhood, which is unusual.  So many people in that neighborhood ride that you never expect to see bikes at yard sales, even, much less in a dumpster.  Most people either keep riding their old bikes, or pass them along to friends.

The bike I found was a 1980 Schwinn Cruiser 5, the classic cantilever-framed cruiser with the wide bars and balloon tires.  This model also had a 5-speed derailleur/freewheel mounted on a drum-brake hub.  I bought a front drum-brake hub and built a new front wheel for it, installed a retro-style parallel-leg springer fork and reproduction red Firestone bike tires, and hung it up in the shop building.

I sold it to one of the guys who works at Kaladi, a couple of weeks ago.  I never rode it, and actually built it more as an art project than anything else.  It would have been a killer platform for one of those 50cc motor kits...


Friday, May 20, 2011

Adventures In Color

I have painted a pretty good number of bikes, over the past few years.  When I had "GrinderBikes" rolling, selling fixed-gear conversions over the internet, I offered a choice of existing paint, powdercoating, or the good-ol' rattlecan paintjob.

A surprising number of people chose the rattlecan option, despite knowing all of the problems associated with spray paint.  Spray paint is notoriously fragile, due to the high solvent content it needs in order to spray evenly.  All of that solvent also makes it prone to orange-peel.  But, for many of the people to whom I sold bikes, it was the best way to go, if they wanted a personalized bike, because it was more affordable than powdercoat.

I actually got pretty good at it, but not as good as my friend Don Fox.  When Don rattlecans a bike, it looks like it just came from the custom automotive paint shop.  Of course, Don was a custom automotive body man and painter, very active in the local hot-rod and drag-racing scene, back in the 50s, 60s and 70s here in Denver.

Now, Don rides a bike or walks everywhere he goes.  At 78 years old, he's not real fast, but he is tenacious. 

(One day, I would like to write a book about Don.  He is a treasure trove of local gear-head history.)

The first bike I ever painted was Brad's Trek 400 singlespeed conversion.  He and I pulled the braze-ons off of the frame, and prepped it for paint in the unheated garage of the duplex I rented on Sherman Street.  The temperature was in the 20s, but we just had to go ahead and spray it.

So, we got my hair dryer out, and heated the tubes of the bike up, then sprayed the paint onto the warm tubes.  Then, once we had it covered, we stood there and blow-dried the paintjob until it was dry to the touch.

It suffered from a bit of orange peel.  But, for the conditions under which we painted it, it came out pretty nice.

My favorite paint job I ever did on a bike, though, was on my Specialized RockHopper 700c fixed gear conversion that I called "The Ghetto Bike".  The original yellow paint on that bike was pitted, scratched, faded and just generally dingy.  So, I painted over it with two full cans of International Orange spray paint.

I held the can too close, on purpose, and laid the paint on as thickly as I possibly could.  When it ran or dripped, I wiped it with a paper towel, and re-sprayed that spot.  I was attempting to fill the chips and scratches with the new paint, and have enough thickness to smooth out the finish.

Oddly enough, doing everything wrong, I ended up with a paint job that got more compliments than any other bike I've painted, before or since.

I sold that bike, somewhat later, and I still miss it.  I have another of those old tig-welded RockHopper frames out in the shop building.  And, it has terrible paint on it....


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tick Tock

I am, just like any other bike mechanic, prone to practical jokes.  We all have removed each other's cranks and reinstalled them at 90 degrees, turned someone's bars around while they weren't looking, etc.

Possibly the meanest thing I ever did though, was to build an unexplained click into Scott's wheels.

Scott had ordered in some Hugi hubs and Mavic rims to build up a lightweight wheelset.  In order to make it as light as possible, he also got titanium spokes.  They were all the rage, that year, despite being somewhat flexy and hard to tension.

Scott asked me to build the wheels up, for him, and I did (even though I didn't want to).  The ti spokes were, as I said, hard to get evenly tensioned, and each wheel took way longer than it should have.  I mentioned this to Scott, as I was tensioning the  first wheel, and he basically told me to quit my bellyaching and hurry up with his wheels.

Well, he was the boss.

So, on each wheel, I dropped a spoke nipple into the hollow rim.  They had single eyelets, in order to make them lighter, so the hollow inside was accessible from the spoke hole on the tube side of the rim.

I then got the wheels built, and tensioned, mounted the tubes and tires and installed them onto Scott's bike.  By this time, it was past quitting time, and Scott had gone home.  So, I took them for a little test ride in the parking lot.

Sure enough, if you were riding along, the wheels were dead silent.  But, at a walking pace (or hill-climb pace on a lot of trails), the loose nipples inside the rims would slide back and forth between two spokes, hitting the spoke nipples inside each rim.


It was not loud, but just loud enough to hear it.  They only moved twice per revolution of the wheel, so it was hard to pinpoint where the noise was coming from.

The next day, Scott took the bike for a test ride.  As he walked it back into the shop, I saw him listening intently to the bike.  He would take a couple of steps, then cock his ear toward the bike.

He never did ask me what was making the noise, even though he would comment on it, occasionally as he rode slowly up the trail, or walked across the parking lot.

About 10 years later, I finally told him what I had done.  I figured that enough time had passed that he would find the prank amusing. 

Plus, I no longer worked for him, and he couldn't fire me!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Your Left, Sir Knight

I read "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" when I was about 10 or 12 years old, and I feel like I should read it again.  If you are not familiar with it, I am not surprised.  Written by Mark Twain, it was published in 1879 under his real name, Samuel L. Clemens.  It was not his most popular novel.

"Yankee" involved a 19th century engineer  (Hank) being magically transported in time and space back to Arthur's Camelot, where he then proceeds to introduce modern technology and culture to midieval England.  Eventually, he turns against all of the knights of England, and battles with them in an apocalyptic landscape of death and destruction.  (Walls of dead bodies decaying in the heat, as Hank and his cohorts are trapped in their stronghold by them...)

It is not a real happy book, and I have forgotten many of the details of the story in the intervening 40 years, or so, since I read it.  But, the one thing I remember distinctly is that Hank introduces the bicycle to ancient England.  At one point, a group of knights in armor rides into battle...aboard bikes!

That image has stuck in my mind for four decades.  The idea of midieval knights, in full armor, pedaling bicycles into battle just flipped a switch in my young mind.

That may be one reason I find such romance in riding a bike.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Kevin was a mountain bike racer I would see at the occasional race, back in the 90s.  He and I both competed in the Sport class, and we often ended up side-by-side at the start line.  After a while, we would watch for each other, and chat a bit as we waited for the starting gun.

There were a few things I found remarkable about Kevin:  He was about 13 or 14 years older than I.  He rode his bike to races, from his home in Evergreen.  He always finished well ahead of me.  And, he smoked cigarettes constantly, when he wasn't actually in a race!

For a few years, in the mid-90s, there was a bicycle hill-climb up the toll road on Pike's Peak.  It started at the parking lot for the defunct ski area, and ended on top of the mountain, at 14,200+ feet elevation.  I loved doing the race, simply because we got to ride our bikes back down the road, to the parking lot, after it was over.  (The toll road is normally closed to bicycles.)

The last year that the race was on, I ran into Kevin at the Start Line.  He had ridden 80-some-odd miles from his house to the parking lot, then spent the night in a tent...at 58 years old.  As we talked, he smoked one last cigarette before the race.

Then, the gun went off, and the race was on. 

I have to admit that I was never under the impression that I was a fast climber.  But, I was still a bit awed by how fast Kevin pulled away from me.  I settled into my rhythm, and ground my way slowly up the hill.  I passed people.  People passed me.  I even took a bit of effort to enjoy the view that had inspired the lyrics to "America the Beautiful".

When I finally got to the top, I crossed the Finish Line, and staggered over to the side, dropped my bike, and looked for a place to sit and cheer for the people who were finishing after me. (Yes, there were a few.)

I saw Kevin sitting on a rock, smoking another cigarette.

"Been here long?"  I asked.

"About 10 minutes," he said, glancing at his watch, and blowing a smoke ring.

At that point, I was seriously considering taking up smoking.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Today's Story Makes Me Sad and Angry

I apologize that today's story is not one from my personal repertoire.  It is a story of current events.

As I was getting ready for work, this morning, I had the Channel 9 news on, as usual.  Just before I left, there was a short mention of Breaking News:  A cyclist had been struck by a hit-and-run driver, about 3 miles west of where I cross under I-70.  Reports from the scene sounded grim.

That was on my mind as I rode to work.  I was hoping for the best, but not expecting it.  I couldn't help but feel a bit of survivor's guilt over the fact that I came out of my recent hit-and-run relatively unhurt.

I checked Yahoo News, when I got home, and the story was about as bad as it gets.  The cyclist, named David (I won't quote his last name, out of respect of his family's privacy) had died at the scene.  There were no witnesses, and a passerby had discovered him lying in the road.

David was 50 years old, my age, and I have to imagine that he rode to work for the same reasons I do.  His wife, who works in the same office, had driven the car to work, but David chose to ride the bike. 

I pray that his wife does not blame herself for not insisting that he ride with her.  She holds no blame, in this.  That all falls to the loser scum who ran a fellow human being down and didn't even have the decency to call an ambulance, much less stick around and face the consequences of his/her actions.

Please be careful out there.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

It Reflected Well On Him

Charles decided, one year, that he needed an expert-level BMX bike.  None of the models we carried in the shop were of the quality he wanted, so he began contacting our vendors to see what he could get on a pro deal.  Eventually, he found what he was looking for, and ordered it in.

A week, or so, later, Charles' bike arrived in the UPS shipment.  Unfortunately, it was Charles' day off, and he wasn't there to take possession of it.  So, the rest of the guys and I decided to build it up for him.  That way, it would be waiting for him when he got to work the next day.

Once it was built, we all took turns riding it around the shop. It was an impressive bike; lightweight, agile-feeling...an actual BMX race bike.

I don't remember, now, whose idea it was, but we decided that we needed to install the reflectors which came with the bike.  Then, we decided that we needed to install every other reflector that we could find.

Before it was over, the entire bike was covered in reflectors.  They lined the frame, spanned the handlebars, and hung from the seat.  Each wheel had enough reflectors on the spokes that they looked like some kind of mutant disc wheels.

We set the bike out on the sales floor, with a name tag attached, so that Charles would see it when he came in, the next day. 

I think that Charles was glad to see the bike, and grateful that we had built it up, for him.  I'm not sure he appreciated having to spend 45 minutes removing reflector mounts before he could test-ride it, though.


Saturday, May 14, 2011


One day, when I was 15, I was riding my Suzuki TS-100 at The Trails.  I was hitting the jumps, and cutting doughnuts...practicing wheelies, etc.  It was one of those "nothing much to do" days, and I was just dinking around for fun.

Eventually, three kids I vaguely recognized, from school, came riding up on their bikes.  They were all on StingRay-style bikes, and they were doing the same things on them that I was doing on the motorbike.

There was one jump, at The Trails, that was about 5 feet high at its crest, and fairly steep-sided.  I had just jumped over it, when the three kids rode up.  I killed the motor and gabbed with them, a bit.  One of them asked me how far I could jump, over that particular dirt ramp.

I told him that I wasn't sure, but that there was one good way to find out.  I started the motor, rode up the trail to where it intersected the next track, then turned around and gunned it toward the jump. 

I hit the jump at a good clip, and flew pretty high into the air.  As I said, the jump had fairly steep sides, so it was more of a "big air" ramp than a distance ramp.  I landed with the rear wheel about 15 feet past the bottom of the ramp, and slid to a halt.

We marked my landing by laying a stick on the trail.  Then, the three cyclists went up the trail to see if they could beat my distance.  I stayed on the side of the trail, sitting on my Suzuki, as the judge in the distance contest.

The first kid hit the ramp a little tentatively, and didn't really even get off the ground.  This caused much hilarity among his friends.

The second rider hit the jump with a little more authority, and flew past the run-out of the jump.  But, he was still well short of my mark.

The third kid was riding an old Huffy, or RoadMaster, or some such cheaper bike which had been painted yellow with brushed-on house paint.  I recognized him as being one of the kids from the government-subsidized housing project which lay on the other side of The Trails from my neighborhood.  He was a nice enough kid, but always seemed painfully shy.  In fact, until this day, I don't think I had ever even heard him speak.

He seemed determined to beat his friends' distances, whether or not he could beat my engine-assisted jump.  He took off, pedaling frantically, as he tried to gain as much speed as possible.  He hit the jump, got airborne, and flew almost as high as I had on my motorcycle.

That motorcycle, a 1974 TS-100 had about four inches of suspension travel, front and rear.  While that sounds ridiculously short, even compared to full-suspension mountain bikes, today, it was four inches more than the shy kid's old bike had.

He landed hard on the rear wheel.  We heard a snap, and the kid lost his grip on the bars and he and the bike tumbled down the trail.  I was afraid that he was hurt, but he jumped right up and ran to his bike.

"Oh, man!  Oh, Man!  My dad's gonna kill me!!!!"

The snap we had heard was the non-drive side chainstay on his bike.  It had broken, just in front of the dropout (where they always break, it seems).  The shy kid was almost crying.

"Well, hey man, it's an old bike.  I'm sure he'll understand,"  I offered up.

"Ohnoohnoohnoohno...," he kept repeating.

Finally, the three bike riders headed home.  Two of them rode slowly, as the shy kid pushed his broken bike.

I headed home, too.  I didn't think too much about it, except as an amusing story.

It was years later that it occurred to me just how serious that had been to the shy kid.  He was riding an old, brush-painted bike because that was all he had.  More than likely, the bike had been through a number of older siblings, before he had gotten it.  His family wasn't going to take him down to Weatern Auto and buy him a new bike.

He probably just had to do without.

It never even occurred to me that some people had it worse than I did, and that I was so lucky to have all the toys I had.  Once it did, I was pretty ashamed of myself.

That is one major reason why I have built and given away a number of bikes through the years, to kids who just couldn't afford a new ride.  I've sold many bikes for less than what it cost me to build them, because the people buying them just didn't have that much money.

I try to redeem myself, but I still feel ashamed that I was so indifferent to the plight of the shy kid.


Friday, May 13, 2011

I Could Have Been "The Father of Mountain Biking"

Gary Fisher has let it be known that he considers himself the "father of mountain biking", because he was the first of the Marin County crew to put derailleurs and multiple gears on his clunker bike.  The ability to gear down did make a huge difference, but he wasn't the first to do so.

In 1973,for instance,  I was riding the trails on a geared bike, in Savannah, Tennessee.  The bike in question was my sister's Sears Free Spirit 10-speed, with 27x1-1/8" tires, rather than a 1930s Schwinn with Stronglight touring components.  But,  I was "mountain biking" at least a couple of years before GF.

Of course, I totally destroyed the bike, riding off-road.  But, that's beside the point.

Still, "Jon Grinder, the Father of Mountain Biking", has a certain ring to it. 

Fisher's first company, with his partner Charlie Kelley, was called "MountainBikes".  The term was co-opted by the industry, and became a generic word for the type of bike.  So, if I had followed the same path as Gary, we might all be riding "hill grinder" bikes, instead of mountain bikes.

Just something to think about.  If the physicists are right, with the whole "String Theory" thing, then there might well be a universe where that is the way it turned out.

Trippy, man...!



(Note:  This is the story for May 12.  Blogger was down for 24 hours.  I wrote this, yesterday, but was only able to post it today.)

When I started mountain biking, there were no modern-style mountain bike suspension forks available.  The RockShox was a few years away from hitting the market, and the Manitou was being developed in a garage, basically.  So, there were no suspension-equipped bikes available, at that time.

Yet, the sport was booming.  People raced cross-country and downhill on the same bike, on the same day.  Most frames had eyelets for racks, and the sport of off-road bikepacking was getting started (what some people refer to as "Adventure Touring", now).  Oddly, even in those pre-suspension days, mountain bikes were a lot of fun.

Then, the suspension revolution began.  Aftermarket sales of RockShox, Manitou and Marzocchi forks went stratospheric for a short time.  The only reason that the aftermarket sales dropped off was that, after a few brief years, almost every mountain bike in the stores came from the factory with a suspension fork.  Speeds went up, on the trails, because the equipment helped even mediocre riders, such as myself, go faster with no increase in skill.  The crashes started being more common, and more serious, too, due to this.

Brake technology had to advance to keep pace with the new, higher, speeds.  V-brakes hit the market in 1997, and revolutionized the art of deceleration.  Disc brakes became more and common until, today, most mountain bikes come equipped with discs, or at least have the mounts on the frame and fork so that they cam be upgraded.

This is all very good for the people who want to go fast.  I was one of those people, for years, and I went through a lot of bikes, forks, brakes, scabs and broken bones during that time in my life.

These past few years, however, I have wearied of the high-speed, and of the high-tech which makes it both possible and, to a degree, necessary.  I started riding fixed-gear off-road because I found those rides, as slow as they were, to be very fulfilling.  Riding with finesse, and trying to get the timing right to be able to climb over obstacles on a bike on which the cranks are constantly spinning took me back to the early days, when every ride was a learning experience, and an adventure.  But, I still had suspension on my "real" bike, and still rode in that mode quite often.

When I designed the frame for my titanium bike, I reverted to the dimensions and form which were common in the "old days".  It is designed around a rigid fork, 29-inch wheels (to roll over obstacles better than the smaller wheels), disc brakes and drop bars.  It is, essentially, a 29er-wheeled Bridgestone XO-1.  Vintage mountain bikes are coming into vogue, in some circles, and similar bikes are being built up for "Gravel Grinder" races, like the Trans Iowa race, in increasing numbers.

Hard-core mountain bikers, racers and free-riders are still rocking the long travel suspension.  But, I am done with $1000.00 suspension forks and plastic frames.  Give me a good steel or ti frame, and a rigid fork, and I am happy.

I don't have to worry about worn seals, fork pumps, spring rates, etc.  I just get on, and ride, and I suspect that, 50 years from now, someone will still be riding this ti frame with its steel fork.

They may not ride as fast as someone on a new nano-carbon, full suspension 40-speed rig (or whatever they have then), but they will ride.

I hope...


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

They Don't Make 'Em Like That, Anymore

I was sitting outside Kaladi Brothers, on Sunday, with Keith and Rita, enjoying the springtime weather, when Rita commented on my t-shirt.

"I like that design," she said, pointing at the Salsa Cycles Pepperman logo on the front.

"Thanks.  I got this shirt for free, 18 years ago!" I replied, doing the math in my head.

In the olden days, before the small bike manufacturers and parts suppliers all got bought up by large corporations, the bike industry was an interesting little subculture of American business.  Many times, when you called a supplier to order something, the owner (and CEO/president/shipping clerk/head bottle washer) would answer the phone.  Often, your order would arrive with a Snickers bar, or a batch of stickers, or a locally-brewed beer from whatever town in which the company was located, in the box.

So it was that, one day in the Summer of 1993, I found myself talking to Ross Schafer, the originator of the Salsa brand.  After ordering whatever parts it was I needed (I think it was quick-release skewers for my bike, along with some stock for the shop), I mentioned that I liked the Pepperman logo.

A few days later, our order arrived and, inside it, was my Pepperman t-shirt, with a short handwritten note from Ross thanking me for my business.

I'm still wearing that t-shirt.  It's faded, and the iron-on transfer is a little crackly, but the seams are holding up and there are no holes in the fabric.  And, every time I wear it, I am reminded of Ross, and Bob Seals, and all the other guys I once "knew" through telephone conversations and little notes in the order boxes.

They don't make 'em like that, anymore...t-shirts or company presidents.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Dark and Stormy Night

There is a nice thunderstorm in action, over my house, right now.  That reminds me of another thunderstorm;  one that caught me out on the bike.

I was on the way home from work, and a storm was brewing.  I had on my rain jacket and neoprene booties, in case it rained, but I wasn't wearing my safety glasses.  I often do wear lab glasses when riding in rain or snow, because my prescription lenses are too small to protect my eyes from the raindrops.

This particular day, though, I had forgotten to change out of my regular glasses.  As it started raining, I figured I might as well just keep my head and pedal on.  I hate stopping, when I don't have to, especially in the rain.

I ride in a mountain bike helmet when I commute, despite the Bike Snob's opinion on that.  In the Fall and Spring, I use the visor to shield my eyes from the sun, and it helps keep precipitation out of my face.  I figured I could hide under it, in the rain, and keep the water out of my eyes.

Then, the hail started falling.  It was small, and relatively soft hail;  the kind they call "Graupel".  I just kept riding.  Small hail, like that, is no real problem.  It's no problem until one of the little hailstones nails you right in the eye, which is precisely what happened.

The hailstone managed to make it past the edge of my visor, and go between my glasses and my brow, then hit the top of my eyeball.  Thankfully, it hit the part of my eye covered by the lid, at the time.  Otherwise, it might have actually injured me.  As it was, it hurt like hell.

I stopped, at that point, and put on the stupid safety glasses.  I'm a slow learner, but I do learn.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Time Flies

It was 18 years ago that I went on the 5-day, 4-night guided camping trip around the White Rim Trail, outside of Moab.  So much has happened in my life, since then, that I sometimes feel like a completely different person than the young guy who pedaled his M2 for 110 miles, offroad, that week.

But, it was such a remarkable trip, for me, that some moments stand out in my memory as if they happenedd only yesterday.

One such moment occurred after we had made camp, on the 2nd day out.  The tents were set up, dinner was over, and the sun was still up.  A few of us decided to stroll about 50 yards away, and take in the canyon view from the cliff on the other side of the trail.

Clouds were gathering, and a storm had been threatening since early afternoon, so we all took our rain shells and caps, just in case.

Sure enough, five minutes after we all had sat down on the cliff's edge, to gab and just chill for a while, the clouds opened up and rain began to fall.  A couple of people retreated to the shelter of their tents.

That was their loss.

As we sat there, the rain fell harder.  The water soaked into the surface of the porous sandstone, at first.  Eventually, as the stone's surface saturated, the water began to flow.  We watched the cliff on the other side of the canyon as, first a tiny trickle, then a bigger stream, began to flow over the side.  Then, another...and another.

In the space of five minutes, dozens of waterfalls had formed, and flowed over the cliff's edge into the thirsty canyon, below.

Soon, the rain stopped.  The waterfalls continued to flow until, one by one, they slowed, then stopped.

It was the first time I had ever seen such a thing, and I was astounded by it.  Now, any time I am in Moab and it looks like rain, I head for one of the trails along the cliffs, just to watch the waterfalls form.  It is never less amazing to me than the first time I saw it, in 1991.

Eighteen years later, it still gives me a thrill to just remember it.


Sunday, May 8, 2011


It was a rainy day in Columbus, Ohio, and Val called me to see if I wanted to meet for dinner on the way home from work.  We often would meet at a restaurant and have dinner, like that, before driving out to the house in Pataskala.  It sounded good to me, so we decided to meet at Buffalo Wings and Rings.

As usual, we ended up having some beers with the wings, and a couple of cocktails with the owners, while we were there.  By the time we were done, Valerie had had enough to drink that she didn't think she should drive home.  So, she got in the truck with me, and we planned to drop by the wings place, the next morning, so that she could get her car.

After we got home, and Val was in bed asleep, I decided to ride my mountain bike back to the restaurant and get the car.  That way, we could sleep in a little longer, since we wouldn't have to swing by on our way to work.

I got dressed in my bike shorts, tights, a jersey and rain shell.  The temperature was in the upper 40s or low 50s, and I didn't want to get too chilled. 

I planned on taking the county road, which paralleled the highway almost to Reynoldsburg.  There, I would be forced onto the main road to cross the Interstate.  Then, I would ride city streets to the wing joint and grab the car.

I rode along at a pretty good clip.  The illumination from my bike light was not great, but I knew the road pretty well, since I rode it a few times a month, and I was mainly relying on the light to make me visible to any car driver I might encounter.

About 5 miles into the ride, I was warm and toasty, wet only from the sweat I had produced inside my jacket.  I was feeling pretty good about my clothes when...


I hit a stretch of standing water, about a foot deep and 30 feet across, in a dip.  I almost flew over the bars, but managed to regain control.  So much for staying warm and dry.

I hit two more stretches of standing water before I reached the highway.  One of them was dep enough that it reached my knees, even though I was on my bike.

Luckily, these were not moving water, or I would have been in trouble.  In essence, they were just mega-puddles.

I got to the restaurant, put my bike in the trunk of Val's car, and went inside to tell Chuck that I was picking Val's car up.  He knew I had driven her home, and I didn't want him to worry about it.

I must have looked like a drowned rat, because Chuck made me sit down, and brought ma cup of coffee and a shot of Wild Turkey, to warm me up.  (It's nice to be a regular!)

I eventually got home, and took a shower, before I crawled wearily into bed.

The next morning, Val woke up in a panic.

"We were supposed to get up early and go get my car!" she said.

"Don't worry," I told her, "I'll summon your car with magic,"

I snapped my fingers.

"Ta-daaa!" I said, with a flourish.

"Come on,"  Val said, getting dressed.  "I really need my car!"

"Look in the driveway.  I just made it appear."

I walked her downstairs, and opened the front door, so that she could see her car.

I waited until after breakfast to tell her how it actually got there.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dr. Strangelove - Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love The Tandem

Ever see the movie, "Dr. Strangelove"?  At the end, when Slim Pickens is sitting astraddle the A-Bomb and it finally drops free from the B-52 is one of the most iconic images in the movies.

"Yee-haaaw!" he shouts, as he rides the bomb downward, toward total annihilation.

I often saw that scene in my mind when I would ride as stoker on Bill Turner's tandem.  I got on the back of that purple Specialized, fully expecting to die, but determined to enjoy my trip to Ground Zero.

I remember one time, as we raced the Buffalo Creek course, that we hit the long downhill section, on Lap 2.  I simply closed my eyes and pedaled as hard as I could.  I was laughing, long and hard, as we shredded trail at a speed probably close to double what I would have achieved on a single bike by myself.  Bill is a much better rider than I, and I had learned early on to just trust him and hold on.

"Yee-haaaw!"  I screamed as we descended, worry-free and loving the tandem.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Hot Like a Firecracker

"Hey man, ya wanna bike?  Twenny dollah...twenny dollah not bad for a pretty bike...c'mom man!...fiteen..gimme fitteen...!"

I keep walking.  The streets of Columbus, Ohio are populated with a lot of types in the OSU neighborood.  There are doctors, lawyers, engineers, college students, and family types.  There are also the occasional crackheads trying to sell whatever they've stolen, lately.

The year is 1990.  I'm 29 years old, and just getting into mountain biking in a big way.  I would love to have a brand-new Cannondale SM-1000 with SunTour XC Comp components and a Selle Italia Flite.  But, even at this young age, I know enough about karma that I won't touch a stolen bike.

Guys have been getting mugged for mountain bikes, lately, in the rougher sections of town.  Kids jump out of the alley with a baseball bat and knock the rider off of the bike, then ride away.  Was this bike the spoils of a violent bike pirate attack?  Probably not.  This guy has the look of a scrounger, a turkey vulture circling around the college bars and dorms, looking for a target of opportunity.

"C'mon, man...ten dollah.  Gimme ten dollah...y'know it's worth it!"

I give the guy five dollars, and tell him to take the bike back to where he got it.  "Tell the owner you rescued it from a thief.  He'll give you a reward," I tell him.

In a heart-warming after school special sort of world, the addict would take it back, and everyone would live happily ever after.  But not here.  Not now.

As I walk away, I can hear him behind me.

"Hey man...Hey man, ya wanna bike?  Twenny dollah..."

And the vultures circle, endlessly...


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mix and Match

I am a tinkerer, and always have been.  I was talking to my mom about working on my new motorcycle, a couple of days ago, and she commented on how I always disassembled my toys and mixed the parts up when I put them back together.  Then, they were my toys.

The first time I modified a bike in any significant way (other than removing chainguards and/or fenders), I was 12.  I was knocking around in the back yard, riding my 20" wheel Buzz bike, when Big Red caught my eye.  I don't know why, but I figured I needed to build a chopper out of the two bikes.

So, I got the tools out, and removed the front wheels and forks from the two bikes.  Then, I installed the 26" fork and wheel on the buzz bike.  With the 20" rear wheel, and the ape-hanger bars, the front end was quite impressive.  But, I decided that I was more into the "bobber" look than the ape-hanger scene, so I put the flatter, wide bars from big red on the chopper.

I was riding it up and down the street, imagining I was Dennis Hopper in "Easy Rider", when Daddy got home from work.  He was, to put it mildly, less impressed with my handiwork than I was.  So, under strict orders, I swapped everything back to its original configuration.

Oddly, I've never built a chopper, since.  I'm, thinking that I see a new project looming on the horizon...


Wednesday, May 4, 2011


So, what makes a mountain bike a mountain bike?  What makes a road bike a road bike?  Is there any physical difference?

In the old days, road bikes had 700c wheels (or 27 inch wheels, if they were of a certain age/pricepoint), and mountain bikes had 26 inch wheels.  But, in the days of 29er mountain bikes and 26 inch wheeled Surly Long Haul Truckers, that is no longer an acceptable definition.  (That definition was the death of the Bridgestone XO series, in the early 90s.  With a frame built along the lines of classic road racing bikes, and 26 inch "mountain bike" wheels, the XOs were neither fish nor fowl to the marketplace of the time.)

I made a point, for quite a while, of riding cross bikes on "mountain bike rides".  I joined in with all my friends, who were riding the latest and greatest in suspension technology and huge tires, and rode along on my 700x35c tires, on a totally rigid road frame, with drop bars and cantilever brakes. 

People would say to me, "You need a mountain bike to ride this trail."  To which I would reply, "Then, I guess if I ride this trail, then my bike is a mountain bike, by definition."

Some of them got it.  Some did not.

When I had lived here about a year, a friend from Ohio and his wife came out on business, and stayed with Valerie and me.  John and I went mountain biking, one day, because he was as thrilled with the possibilities as I had been when I first visited.

At that time, I had only two bicycles;  my Specialized M2 StumpJumper and a Schwinn Super Sport road bike from about 1988.  The Schwinn had road bike gearing (52x39 chain rings, and a 13-25 cogset).  I had installed some skinny 700x28c Specialized cyclocross tires on it, because we lived in a house 3 miles from the nearest paved road, and it made the occasional commute easier to have the knobs.

So, when John and I went to Waterton Canyon, and rode up the Colorado Trail and did the Roxborough Loop, I let him ride the M2, and I took the Schwinn. As far as I'm concerned, that bike was a "mountain bike" for that day.  I was riding single track trails in the mountains.  I was on a bike.  Therefore...

Anyway, that's one of the reasons I have a hard time with chauvinism within the bike world.  To me, bikes are bikes.  Some are better for certain uses than others.  But, any bike can be ridden anywhere that any other bike can be ridden.  It might not be as easy to ride, or as fast as another bike might be.  But, it will get you there.

What makes a road bike a road bike, or a mountain bike a mountain bike?



Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Birthday Rides

For years I've made sure to take a ride on my birthday.  To me, like New Year's Day, your birthday signifies the start of a new year (although some poor souls seem to look at it as the end of a year).  So, twice a calendar year, I start off a new year (calendar year, and Jon year) with a bike ride.

When I first started doing the b-day rides, I just made sure that I got a ride in on that day.  I didn't really care how many miles I covered, so long as I rode on that particular day.  On my 32nd birthday, for instance, I only rode 25 miles.  But, that was 25 miles of a 100 mile, five-day/four-night biking and camping trip around the White Rim Trail, outside of Moab.

I was 35 when it occurred to me to make the mileage match my age.  I figured that I had finally gotten old enough that matching my age would produce a significant ride distance.  I have done at least my age for every birthday ride since then.

Now, however, I no longer care if the ride occurs exactly on my birthday.  I work outside of the bike industry, and getting the day off just to go on a ride can be difficult.  So, my 50th birthday ride will occur sometime this weekend.  I rode today, but just about 20 miles to work and back (a detour has made my commute a few miles longer, for the past couple of weeks).

I hope to still do the birthday ride for another 50 years.  I have to admit, though, that I might have to go metric at some point...


Monday, May 2, 2011

Fortune Cookie

For a while, when I was working at the shop in Parker, road bikes would come in from the manufacturers with the bar tape already installed.  Eventually, most of the factories stopped doing this, which was nice.  I had spent a lot of time unwrapping bars and redoing them in an acceptable fashion, so it was nice to just get the bike out and tape it up right, to begin with.

At that time, I would write quotes and sayings ("Perfection is the realm of Allah", for instance) on my own handlebars, with a Sharpie, before I wrapped them.  No one could see the writing, but I knew it was there.  The last year that I worked at that shop, I began to do the same thing to bikes I was building for the sales floor, or for specific customers.  But, I never told anyone.

I've often wondered what reaction the customers (or the mechanics who did the work for some of them) had when the time came to re-wrap the bars on those bikes.

"Cessation of desire is the path to fulfillment" was one of my favorites.

"Spending more money won't make you faster" probably annoyed the guy who got it.  But, he needed to be told...


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Steel Is Real

Back in the early 1970s, when I was a young teen, a lot f beverage cans were still made from steel.  Aluminum cans were rare, as a matter of fact.

We used to cut the tops and bottoms out of Budweiser cans (easily sourced from the local ditch-lines), and duct tape them together to form the barrel of a tennis ball cannon.  The advent of aluminum cans ruined that...

Anyway, Wes and I were riding along, one day, and I spotted a beer can lying on the road ahead of us.  "Watch this," I yelled, as I accelerated toward the can.  I was aiming to run over the center of the can, and squish it flat.

I centered the can perfectly, with the front tire.  Unfortunately, the ends of the can were drawn toward each other, and met at the rim of my wheel.  The can was effectively clamped to the front wheel of the bike.

The wheel rotated around and brought the clamped-on steel can to the rear of the fork crown, where it jammed between the fork and the tire.  It was as if I had grabbed the front brake of a bike as hard as possible, as I rode down the street.

The front tire locked, the rear tire lifted, and the ejector seat button was apparently engaged.  I flew over the bars and crashed to the pavement.  My hands and knees got pretty scraped up, but other than that I was unharmed.  The bike, too was fine.

Beer and bikes...a dangerous combination!