Monday, February 28, 2011

Dishing the Dirt

In May of 1993, Scott sent me to Moab to go on a five day, four night mountain biking trip around the White Rim Trail.  He was old friends with Chuck and Judy Nichols, owners of an adventure tour company, and he had arranged with them for me to go.  He said it was so that I would be better able to sell mountain bikes and talk up the adventure.

Free trip?  I'm in!

Now, the funny thing about a five day trip through the Utah desert, on a mountain bike, is the fact that you never get to bathe.  There are no magical watering holes, like you always see in the movies, so that the coeds can all go skinny dipping as the axe-wielding maniac stalks them and kills the ones who dare to have sex.  Nor is there room in the support vehicle to carry any more water than what is necessary for hydration, cooking, and cleaning pans.

So, five days of sweating on the bike, with dust blowing all around, and sleeping in sandy-floored tents later, the "desert showers" (baby wipes) that a rider has been using all week seem to lose their efficacy.

I got home after the trip, and immediately got into the (real) shower.  You know the old saw about "It says shampoo, rinse and repeat.  But, how many times do I repeat?"  Well I can tell you the answer to that:

Keep repeating until the rinse water coming out of your hair is no longer the red color of Utah slickrock.

Then, once more.

x

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Slimed

We sold a lot of bottles of green Slime flat- protection at the bike shop.  The area around Parker is rife with goat-head thorns, so we commonly loaded the tubes of new bikes with the sticky, fibrous, hole-plugging liquid.

Occasionally, when one airs up a bike tire, the bead of the tire will fail to seat in the rim.  When this happens, the tire will pop off of the rim and the tube will expand like the bubble gum from a 10 year-old's lips.   And, like a bubblegum bubble, it will pop.  If you have pumped the flat-protection in, you get Slimed.

Once, Hans was airing up a tire, newly Slime-filled, when the tire popped off the rim.  Unfortunately, he didn't see it happen, and continued airing the tire up with the air hose.  The tube was apparently more robust than most, and the unconfined bubble grew to the size of a basketball.

"Hans!" I yelled.

"Wha...?" he turned and saw the distended tube just as it blew. 

It was the most epic Sliming I ever saw.  Hans' hair was slicked back as if he had combed green BrylCreme through it, and his shirt was soaked.  The black ceiling tiles (yeah, they were actually black, oddly enough) above Hans had a halo of green flecks, surrounding a blank spot which, in a cartoon, would have been Hans-shaped.  As it was, you could definitely tell something had blocked the spray.


Five years later, when I last worked there, Destinations Cyclery still had Slime on the ceiling.  And Hans still didn't think it was funny.

x

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wheeling Down the Highway

As usual, Bill was driving like the devil, himself, was chasing us as we went north on I-25.  We were headed to a mountain bike club ride in Poudre Canyon, in Bill's Honda, with is bike, mine and another on the roof rack.   The front wheels were all clamped into wheel carriers alongside the frames.

Suddenly, Bill looked into the mirror and yelped in surprise.  His front wheel had come loose from the carrier and ejected from the roof.  It was now rolling along in heavy traffic, on its own, behind us.

Bill hit the brakes, and the wheel passed us, on the right.  Bill accelerated, and followed along behind the wheel as it continued along the Interstate at 70 miles per hour.  As the wheel slowed, Bill paced it, hoping to keep the cars behind us from running over it, when it finally fell over.  We were busily trying to figure how to best recover it, if at all, when it finally stopped rolling.

And roll, it did, for what seemed like miles, never deviating form its straight line..  Eventually, as it slowed, the wheel started easing to the right.  Slower and slower, more and more to the right until, amazingly, it rolled up against the Jersey Barrier on the edge of the road, and stopped, leaning up against the concrete.

Bill pulled over, stopped, then gunned the car back out into traffic as I grabbed his wheel.

It was another one of those things that made me wish I had brought the video camera.

x

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Problem With the Bicycle Industry

Not too long after I started working in a bicycle shop, I realized that I didn't appreciate one of the predominant aspects of the bicycle business.  It seemed a bit too oriented toward the racer, and not enough toward the actual customer.

As I said to Scott, if the automobile industry ran like the bike industry, you would only be able to buy Rusty Wallace's NASCAR racer at the local Ford dealer.

This was well illustrated at a Shimano product clinic, when Shimano was introducing the "Rapid Rise" rear derailleurs.  Rapid Rise rear derailleurs are now referred to as "low-normal", which refers to the fact that the spring in the derailleur pulls the cage toward the large cog (low gear) if the cable breaks, which is opposite of the historical norm.

To me, this is not a good thing for riding in muddy conditions.  In many instances, on a muddy trail, the wet soil  between the derailleur cages and between the cogs makes it difficult to get the bike to shift to low gear.  In that instance, with a standard (high-normal) derailleur, you can force the shift to a lower gear by pushing harder on the shift lever.  For most of us, being able to get in low gear is very important.

On a bike with a low-normal rear derailleur, the spring in the derailleur may not be able to overcome the added resistance.

I mentioned this to the Shimano rep, during the course of the clinic.  He replied, "When we tested the derailleur with racers, they knocked off an average of 9 seconds from a 3-mile race lap."

"Ninety-nine point nine percent of out customers will never race," I said.  "How does this help them?"

The room was silent, waiting for an answer.

"Racers knocked nine seconds off of a 3-mile lap!" the rep repeated, as if this over-ruled my question.

"Oh, well...yeah..uh-huh.." heard from around the room.  Apparently, if you just keep repeating the company line, it makes the company line good.

Personally, I will never use one of those derailleurs.  And, for the most part, the market seems to agree with me.  While low-normal rear derailleurs might be of some advantage to an elite racer on a groomed race course, it has no advantage, that I can see, to a normal rider.  And, it might actually be a disadvantage.

Yet, Shimano still continues to try to make it the standard.  

Racing, as a platform for development, has its place.

Racing, as an end-all, be-all definition of the market?  Not so much.

This is my opinion, and yours may vary.  Probably depends on whether or not race performance is important to you.

x

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Schadenfreude

The kid in the old Jetta gave me a sneer as he gunned his car past me, a bit too close for comfort.  Then, he whipped his car back into my lane hard enough that his tires squealed.  Obviously, he didn't approve of a bicyclist being in the left lane of Cherry Street.

Two seconds after I got passed, I turned left at the intersection, and took the sidewalk on the south side of the bridge over Cherry Creek.  This was my habit, when I took this route home.  It allowed me to cross the creek, then cross Cherry Creek Drive and cross over to Dexter Street, without having to turn left onto Cherry Creek Drive at a busy intersection.

As I rode across the bridge, the kid in the Jetta gunned it toward the intersection.  The light turned red, and he ran it to make the left turn...just as another guy, going straight in the other direction, also ran it.  They met under the red light, each of them going about 35 miles per hour with a rather loud crash.

Metal buckled, glass shattered, and airbags deployed.

And I  just kept riding, trying hard to not find pleasure in the misfortune of others.

x

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Service

As time went by, and I had been at Destinations Cylery for a couple of years, word got around that we were willing to tackle some things that other shops might not want to deal with.  I would tune up department store bikes, fix the crazy mechanical mis-steps that bike owners made at home and go the extra mile to get someone on a bike that they were happy and safe on.

One day, a family came in, and told us that they had been referred by their neighbor, a regular customer of mine.  He had told them that I might be able to help their middle daughter with a problem.

This little girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, was a regular little girl in most ways.  She had been riding a single-speed bike with a coaster brake, her whole life, but was ready to graduate to a "real" bike.  Her friends had bikes with multiple gears and hand brakes, and she wanted a bike like theirs, so that she could ride with them.  Mom and Dad wanted her to be able to ride more with them, as well, so a new bike was in order.

Her left hand, though, was problematic.  She had a birth defect which had left her with a shriveled, clenched hand, little more than a claw.  She could use it to semi-grasp the grip and steer, but there was no way for her to use a hand brake or a shifter.

I sent the family off with a sales guy, to pick out a mountain bike (in 1995, 90% of our sales were mtbs, regardless of where the people planned to ride), while I checked into the parts catalogs.  I had an idea how to make the bike work, but I had to make sure that the parts were available.  After a couple of calls, confirming availability and ordering the parts, I outlined the plan to everyone.

It sounded good, in theory, and  I was pretty confident that it would work.  But I did point out to them that we would have to get it all together and make sure everything meshed.  Everyone was happy with the experimental aspect of the build, so the girl's name was put on the bike, and the family went home to wait for my call.

A few days later, the parts came in, and I set to work trying to get everything together and synched up.  Fortunately, it all worked like a charm, and I was able to call the family in to get the new bike, that evening.

Dia Compe had, at that time, a cantilever brake lever designed for use on tandems.  This lever had the capacity to pull two brake cables, usually hooked to a drum brake and a cantilever combination on the rear of a tandem.  In the days before bicycle disc brakes, this was a necessary upgrade for tandems which were ridden down mountain passes.

I installed that lever on the right side, and attached both the front and rear brakes to it.  It took me a while to find a good balance, so that both brakes worked in conjunction with each other, but once I did it worked great.

I also installed a rear Grip-Shift shifter, and a friction thumb shifter on that side of the handlebar.  The thumb shifter took care of the front derailleur.  When I was through, all of the controls for the bike were accessed by the right hand.

We didn't charge any extra for the modifications.  The parts we took off of the bike, we counted as trade for the parts we ordered in.  And I did the assembly on my day off, so we charged no labor.

It might not have been the best business model, doing that much work for free, but the look on that little girl's face, and the hug I got after she test-rode it, were priceless.

x

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The White Bike

When I lived in Ohio, I rode with a couple of guys, Ron and Eric, pretty often.  Ron was the husband of one of Valerie's work friends, and Eric was a work friend of mine.

I had bought a book called "Life In The Slow Lane", which was a guide to back-roads bike rides in Central Ohio.  These rides took you to interesting historical sites, or over cool bridges, or through odd little towns.  The book gave you not only the route, but also the background of what you were seeing.

Ron rode a steel TREK and Eric rode an aluminum TREK, which was painted in an eye-searing fluorescent yellow.  This was in the late 80s, you know...

Anyway, we were riding, one day, when I started kidding Eric about the color of his bike.  I was cracking wise about going blind as if I was looking at the sun, being safe if it got dark because his bike would light the way, etc.

Ron, though, was being uncharacteristically quiet, his eyes hidden by the sunglasses he always wore on the bike.  Finally, as we had a snack at a rest stop, Ron asked me what I was going on about.

"Well, look at that thing," I said, pointing at Eric's bike.

:So?" he said, "It's a white bike.  What's the big deal?"

"Man, are you color blind?" Eric asked.  "My bike is far from white!"

"What are you talking about?  I'm looking right at it!"  Ron was getting a bit steamed.  I think that he thought Eric and I were scamming him, for some reason.

"Ron," I interrupted.  "Are your glasses polarized?"

"Yeah."

"Take 'em off and look at Eric's bike."

The look on his face when he saw the color on that frame was priceless.  Apparently, Ron had never seen Eric's bike when he wasn't wearing his sunglasses.

Eric and I took turns looking at his bike through Ron's lenses.  The bike did look bone white through the polarizing lenses. 

Strange.

x

Monday, February 21, 2011

Magic Bikes

I've owned a lot of bikes, through the years.  But, I have found that some suit me more than others, regardless of cost or design.

Case in point, the bikes I refer to as "Magic Bikes", late 1980s Specialized RockHoppers converted to 700c wheels. I have converted about a half dozen of these bikes to 700c, and I find that they ride better than any purpose-built cyclocross bike or fixed gear bike (I've built both out of these) that I have ever owned. 

For some reason, I seem to go faster, with less effort, on these bikes than anything else.  And, they feel really natural under me.

Why, then, do I not just ride these bikes and get rid of everything else?  Well, I'm not real sure, to tell you the truth.  Maybe it's just a desire for variety?

When I designed the titanium Funk bike, I used a vintage RockHopper frame as my baseline, and gave it the clearance for modern 29x2.3 tires.  (Tire clearance is the one failing of the older frames, with 700c wheels.)  So, my mountain bike/all-rounder is basically a reproduction Magic Bike...

In the past I've sold the Scorcher, the Ghetto Bike, and a couple of others.  Currently, I have the Vintage-Style Path Bike fixed gear, and I plan to keep it.  And, my buddy Dan just brought me a 1988ish RockHopper frameset, complete with bottom bracket and crank, today.

Magic is in the air!

x

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bruise Watch

I remember how pretty the rocks on the trail looked as I was leaving the saddle.  The limbs on the trees, to either side of me, seemed to wave in slow motion as my feet went up in the air, and I was inverted above the stones at 15 miles per hour.  The bike frame glinted in the sun, dust flew into the air, and the ground, formerly so far away, was suddenly very close.  Very close.

And then...

I opened my eyes and wondered, briefly, just where the hell I was.  And, why did my arm hurt so much?

Slowly, as the fireflies began to fly away (Wait, we don't have fireflies in Colorado!  Did I hit my head?), I began to remember.  I was on a mountain bike ride, at Deer Creek Canyon, by myself.  I had been heading back down from the top, flying low, when I hit a sharp dip in the trail and...ass over tea kettle.

Wow, my arm hurt.  And, where was my dang bike? 

As I slowly got to my feet, I tested my left arm to see if it was broken.  I couldn't feel any displacement in the bones, but the elbow was about the size of a grapefruit and tears came to my eyes every time I tried to move it.  I couldn't see my bike, anywhere, and I was wondering how I was going to get back to my truck.

I finally spotted the bike, downhill from the trail, in the trees.  I made my way down to the bike, and managed to get back up to the trail.  My elbow was throbbing, and my head was swimming as I got on the bike.  I slowly made my way downhill, and walked the technical parts of the trail.

Eventually, I made it back to the truck.  My arm was a little less painful, and I was actually able to bend it slightly without throwing up, so I decided to just go home.  The E.R. nurses would have to wait for another day, to see me.

After I got home, I struggled out of my clothes, and prepared to take a shower.  As I passed by the bathroom mirror, I noticed something in the small of my back.  It was a bruise, in the shape of my watch.  More like an imprint, really, than a bruise:  You could see the shape of the rotating bezel, and the crown of the watch was perfectly outlined.

I had turned the watch to the inside of my wrist, as I rode downhill, because it was banging on the back of my hand as I rode over the bumpy terrain.  Somehow, in the course of the crash, I had managed to land on my arm, which was twisted so that the inside of that wrist hit me in the back.

No wonder my arm hurt!

I didn't mountain bike, alone, for quite a while after that.  Nowadays, if I do, I keep the speed in check.

You might say I watch it...

x

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ten Penny Nail

Nail sizes are kind of odd.  A 10d nail (10 penny) is 3 inches long, and is called a "10 penny" because, at one time, you paid a dime for 100 of them.. Similarly, a 16d nail would cost you 16 cents per hundred.

What does this have to do with bicycles? Very little, actually.

But, one day, on my way to work at Destinations, I ran over a 10 penny nail.  I was riding my DiamondBack Avail cross bike, with 32c knobby tires and a sweet pair of Sun Rim/Shimano Deore DX 700c wheels.  As I ran over the nail, the rear rim suddenly became a lot less sweet.

The nail somehow penetrated not only the tire, but it also pierced the rim, itself.  I had never seen such a thing, and I was a little concerned about how I was going to get work.

I pulled the nail out, and removed the tire and tube.  Luckily, I had a full patch kit with me, and I was able to use some patches to boot the tire and cover the hole in the rim.  When I put the new tube in, and aired the tire up, I was just waiting for it to blow out of the hole in the rim.  But, it held.

So, I rolled on in to the shop, and hung the bike up in my stand to try and patch the rim a little better.  I planned on buying  a new rim, but I needed to get home, that night.

"What the hell happened to your wheel?" Scott asked me.

"Cops shot my tire out, because I wouldn't stop when they tried to pull me over,"  I told him.

One of the mechanics looked up, wide-eyed, and said, "Really?"  I think he actually believed me.

Hey, he was a bike mechanic...not a rocket scientist.

x

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Bicycle Design Is Faulty"

I sold a guy a mountain bike for his kid, one day, back in 1994.  It was a steel-framed bike, with a rigid fork.  (This was before the suspension fork had worked its way down to the inexpensive end of bicycling).

The next day, he brought it back.  The fork was bent backward about 2 inches, and Dad was hopping mad.

"I just bought this, yesterday, and it's already broken," he said, steam coming out of his ears.

"What happened to it?"  I asked.  "What did your son run into?"

"He didn't run into anything," Dad lied.

"Sure he did," I said.  "That's how this happens."

"All he did was ride up onto the curb!"  He was almost shouting, by then.

"So, basically, he just ran straight into the curb, without lifting the wheel, then,"  I countered.  "Did he flip over the bars?  Is he okay?"

"He's fine," Dad said.  "I want you to replace this."

I explained to him that crash damage was not covered under the warranty, but I would be glad to do a "crash replacement", which meant I would buy a new fork for his bike and install it, but only charge him wholesale for the fork and throw in the labor.  That was what we normally did for the hard-luck cases who trashed their bikes right after buying them.  It was not a real unusual situation.

But, that wasn't good enough for this guy.  He wanted a free replacement or, even better, a new bike.

"So,"  I said, "imagine that you go down to the Chevy dealership and buy your son a car.  Then, on the way home from the dealership, he runs into the back of a dump truck and knocks the front end of his car off.  Do you think that the Chevy dealer is going to fix it, for free?"

"Well, this shouldn't have happened.  The design of this fork is faulty!"

I just looked at him, for a moment.

"Do you not realize that this fork design has been in constant use for about 100 years, on hundreds of millions of bikes around the world?  People have circumnavigated the globe, won races, jumped ditches, and just generally done everything that's ever been done a bike while using a fork just like this.  And, just because your son wrecked his bike and bent the fork on it, that means that the standard fork design, which has worked for so many people for so many years is at fault;  not your son."

He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Yes."

At that point, I realized that this was that father, the one who would never hold his son accountable for anything and would probably be blaming the bartender after the kid got a DWI.  And, I pretty much lost all patience at that point.

I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I would do a crash replacement, but that was all I was doing.  If he didn't want to pay for a fork, he could take the bent one home with him.

After the obligatory demand to talk to the owner, and after Scott told him exactly the same thing, he left the bike with us and we ordered a fork for it.  Three days later, he came and picked up the repaired bike.

And, defective design and all, he paid for the damn fork.

x

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hopping What, Now?

When I first started mountain biking, I read all of the magazines which were on the market, religiously.  I was living in the flatlands of mid-Ohio, and dreamed of riding in the cool places I saw in the pages of the monthlies:  Utah, California, Colorado...

One of the very basic techniques of mountain biking, as far as I could tell from reading these publications, was "bunny-hopping".  This was the act of levitating your bike off of the ground, and floating over an obstacle on the trail, such as a hole, a rock or a log.

I practiced bunny-hopping my mtb  for hours, every week.  Rather, I spent hours trying to figure out the secret of floating the bike off of the ground.  But, I had very little luck.  I tried to follow the tips that all of the how-to articles gave, but to no avail.

Then, one day as I was riding home from the Post Office, I crossed the railroad tracks at speed.  As I approached the tracks, I pulled up on the brake hoods of my road bike, as I shifted my weight forward and flew over the crossing without impacting the tracks.

Just as I touched down on the pavement, I realized that I was "bunny hopping" the bike, just as I always had when I approached tracks, or a hole in the pavement.  A light bulb went off, in my head, and I realized that I already knew how to perform this mountain-biking trick, without realizing it.

It was then that I realized that there was really no difference in technique between road biking and mountain biking;  it was all about attitude.  From then on, I knew that any technical knowledge that I gained on-road, would benefit me off-road, and vice-versa.

This is why I don't understand why riders who follow one discipline feel superior to other riders, who happen to follow another discipline.  We all ride bikes, after all.

Two wheels, pedal power.  Beneath it all, we are doing the same thing.

x

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Going Clipless

By 1993, two products were revolutionizing the mountain bike scene: suspension forks and clipless pedals.  We spent many hours, around the shop, discussing whether either of these was necessary for the enjoyment of of mountain biking.  My contention then, as well as now, was that you only needed them if you wanted to keep up with someone else who had them.

Both the suspension fork and the clipless pedal were developed for and by racers.  It is the bicycle industry's aim to sell racing parts to everyone who owns a bike, regardless of how the bike is going to be used.

At the time, I was their prime target: a young(ish) male bike shop employee who fancied himself to be a racer.

So it was that I ended up buying my first pair of clipless pedals.  I went with the LOOK Moab, a bright red pedal with cleats and retention similar to the now-ubiquitous Shimano SPD.  The LOOK promised more "float", the ability to have your heel move in and out, a bit, without unclipping.  With bad knees, more float usually means less knee pain.

The day I received them, I stayed after work to mount the pedals on my cranks, and the cleats on the bottom of my shoes.  I got everything put together, climbed on the bike and clipped in.  After I rode around the shop floor a couple of times, I drew to a halt and twisted my heel outward to release my left foot.

But, the shoe did not release from the pedal.  Wobbling along at an almost-stop, I tried to release the other shoe.  No go.  Both feet were stuck in the pedals. 

I had to start riding again, to avoid falling over.  For a moment, I thought I might have to ride circles all night, and wait until someone came to work to help me off the bike.  Then, I realized that I could just ride up next to the counter and stop, while I held myself up on the counter.

That's what I did.  Once stopped, I tried a couple of more times to get my shoes free of the pedals, with no success.  No matter what, I just couldn't get free.  Eventually, I unlaced my shoes and pulled my feet out, leaving the shoes hanging from the pedals.

When I finally got the shoes loose, it was readily apparent what was wrong.  I had not tightened the bolts, which held the cleats to the shoe, enough.  They were turning on the sole of the shoe, rather than actuating the release mechanism of the pedal.

Nowadays, I rarely use clipless pedals.  I ride on flat platform pedals, daily, and reserve the clipless for rough mountain bike rides (they help me keep my feet firmly on the pedals, in the rough stuff).  Every time I ride with clipless, now, it's like the first time, for a few minutes.

But, thankfully, I rarely have to take my shoes off to get off the bike, now.

x

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Breaking On Through

As I climbed up from the east parking lot of Mt. Falcon, my headlight illuminated a wedge of trail in front of me.  To either side, the shapes faded away into the dark.  Behind me, the city lights of Denver and the surrounding area twinkled in the distance, and illuminated the low-lying cloud overhead.

The temperature was cool, at the parking lot, and seemed to be getting cooler as I gained elevation.  At about a quarter of the way up the hill, small flakes of snow began to swirl around me, flying through the beam of my light like moths around a summer lightbulb.

But, summer this was not.  The temperature continued to drop as I climbed, and the snowflakes got larger, wetter, and more numerous.  Above, the clouds seemed to be dropping toward me.

Shortly before the halfway point of the climb, I reached the bottom of the cloud, and entered its cold embrace.  The snowflakes clung to my clothes and, with each exhalation, my breath fogged around me like steam in a sauna.  I was alone, seemingly the only person on Earth, inhabiting my little cone of light.

Eventually, just below the small meadow at the picnic shelter, I climbed up out of the snowy cloud, into a frigid, starlit  night on the mountain-top.  I reached the shelter, and leaned my bike on the fence, then sat on the table, facing the trail up which I had just climbed.

The cloud deck stretched out before me, a calm ocean of vapor stretching as far as I could see to the east.  Islands of light marked the cities below, and the cold, distant constellations wheeled above as I sat, steaming from the effort, drinking water from my CamelBak.

It had been a long, tough day at work, a day which had left my spirits sagging and my outlook grim.  Somehow, I had figured a ride might help.

I'd had no idea how true that would turn out to be.

I got back on the bike, and dove into the billowing ocean, heading for the depths, with a smile on my face.

x

Monday, February 14, 2011

Man's Best Friend

When we lived in Ohio, our house was a 100 year-old farmhouse with a screened-in front porch.  I had my bicycle rollers on that porch, and I would get up at 5:30 and ride in place for an hour before getting ready to go to work.  I suppose I could have commuted to work, by bike, but the 45 mile round trip seemed a bit daunting to me, as a regular thing.  I did it a couple of times, but it was not practical as a daily commute.

I had two dogs, at the time:  Sam was a half-coyote mix, about 35 pounds, and Dave...Dave was 115 pounds of solid muscle molded into the shape of a yellow lab (actually, more white than yellow), with the curiosity of a cat on his first life.

One day, as I was riding on the rollers, sweating and gasping for air, Dave appeared in the open doorway from the house.  He looked at me, and looked at the bike, then started to take a step toward me.

"Go away, Dave!"  I yelled, and he jumped back into the house.

I continued on, riding my heart out, trying to not explode all over the porch.  As I rode, maintaining a cadence over 100 strokes per minute, with my heart rate hanging around 200 bpm.  I wasn't paying as much attention to my surroundings as I should, I suppose.

Dave had slipped back through the door, and was apparently enthralled by the spinning front wheel of the bike.  Trying to get a closer look, I suppose, Dave stuck his nose into the spinning spokes.

I saw him, just as his nose got into the arc of the wheel, and I grabbed the brakes, hard, to stop the wheel before it could hurt him.  As I did, I lost my balance and fell over,  feet still int the toeclips (1989) right on top of Dave.  I yelled, Dave yelped, and the bike crashed against the wall, or the floor, or the rollers...or all three.  I don't know.

Before I actually even got settled to the floor, kind of on the first bounce as it were, Sam (the other dog, you may recall) came rushing up like Lassie, or Rin Tin Tin, there to help his loving master out in a time of need.

Not.

He came running out onto the porch, jumped over Dave... and bit me right on the shoulder.  Then, he barked at me like I was a burglar with a pillowcase full of steak bones.

I suppose Sam thought that I had dive-bombed Dave, on purpose, and he was protecting his buddy.  Either that, or he wanted to be Alpha Dog and he was making his move while I was down.

Either way, when it was all over we were all okay, I maintained Alpha status in the pack, and Dave had lost all interest in spinning bike wheels.  Life went on, as it always does.

Although, I think Sam spent the rest of his life waiting for an encore.

x

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leaving My Mark

Paved driveways are common, nowadays; more common in the suburbs and the city than gravel drives.  This has not always been the case.

In the late sixties, the driveways in our neighborhood, and most of the neighborhoods I ever visited, were gravel.  One day, when I was eight, this changed.  The people at the top of the hill, across Shacklett Drive from the Dead-End, had their driveway paved with asphalt.  The crew showed up one fine summer morning, paved the 12'x30' drive, set out some cones, and left.

Ten minutes after they were gone, I was at the end of that drive, studying the smooth black expanse before me.  The cones were there to keep cars off, I figured.  I, however, was on a bike.  So, I figured the driveway was open territory to me.

I rode a small arc across the end of the drive, and was stunned to see that my tires left indented tracks in the surface.  I just couldn't believe that I had crated that little double-arc (the front wheel and the back wheel rarely follow exactly the same path in a turn).  So, I tried it again.

Same results.

Five or six tries later, it finally occurred to me that the people who owned that driveway probably wouldn't appreciate the tracks on it.  I got off the bike, and tried stomping on the asphalt to erase the bike tracks.  I succeeded in producing a few nice cowboy boot prints.

So, I proceeded to Plan B, and rode home.  I  hoped that if I just pretended nothing had ever happened, that that would be the end of it.  And, it seemed to be.  I never heard anything about it, anyway.

I don't think I ever publicly admitted to making those tracks until now.  I just hope the Statute of Limitations has kicked in, 42 years later...

x

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I Love The Night Life

When I was first working at Campus Cycles, I lived in an apartment at Orchard and Parker Road.  I commuted by bike, most days, and I loved the ride.  I would go through Cherry Creek State Park, then hit the neighborhood streets (and ride right by what is now my house) and stop at Kaladi Brothers for coffee, before continuing on to work.  It was about 14 miles, one way.

I lived in that apartment for about 4 months, after starting work at Campus; December through March.  We closed the shop at 7:00, during the winter, so I rode home in the dark, every night.

Riding through Cherry Creek Park at night was always interesting.  I saw owls, deer, beavers and other wildlife on a regular basis.  One night, though, some wildlife saw me a little more than I was comfortable with.

I had ridden the road through the park, and turned onto the Cherry Creek Bike Trail, which would take me to within a couple of blocks of my apartment complex.  As I turned onto the trail, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.

A coyote was in the tall grass, to my right. 

Usually, when you come upon a coyote, he will run away.  This one, however, was apparently intrigued by me.  Instead of running away, Wile E began running alongside me.  He wasn't chasing me, he just ran along, about 10 feet off my starboard side, looking at me and grinning that wolfy grin that all the canids practice in the mirror when we aren't watching.

Now, I won't pretend that this turn of events didn't make me nervous.  Riding along in the dark, a couple of miles from the nearest human habitation, with a wild carnivore pacing me is not my idea of relaxing.

I kept my eye on the coyote, ready to get off the bike and use it as a shield, if I needed to, and noticed that my heart rate was rapidly approaching about 100% of panic mode.  Eventually, though, rather than attack me, the coyote simply stopped and I rode away from him.

I have to admit that I would rather see a deer or a prairie dog alongside the trail, but I don't think I'll ever forget riding along with a coyote.

At least it wasn't another mountain lion.

x

Friday, February 11, 2011

Failure To Yield

The folks across the street from us, when we lived outside of Nashville, were an older retired couple with a Cocker Spaniel named Carnie, who was the "neighborhood dog".  Carnie spent his days visiting the houses of all the kids in the neighborhood, getting petted and fed and spoiled.  At night, he went home (and I think he slept inside).

At this point, my uncle Ronnie and aunt Debbie were living in the house next door to us, at the bottom of the hill which had provided me with such a thrilling introduction to riding without training wheels.  It was a duplex, and Ronnie and Debbie lived in the side closest to our house.

I don't remember the exact circumstances of why I was in such a hurry to get to their back door, one night, but I think I might have been late for dinner.  We often ate with Ronnie and Debbie, or vice versa.  It's probable that I had been sent up to our house to take a bath before dinner, and I needed to get back so that everyone could eat.  The sun was going down, and I recall a slight chill in the air.  So, it was probably early autumn.

Why ever I was in a hurry, I was in enough of a hurry that, instead of walking down the hill in the back yard, I jumped on the bike and hauled ass for the back door of the duplex.  As I streaked down the grassy slope of our back yard, I planned on hitting the driveway of the duplex and executing an awesome power-slide which would end right at the steps leading up to the back door.

Just as I hit the gravel and stomped down on the pedal to lock the wheel, Carnie came running out of the shadow of the house to greet me.  I hit him broadside, fell down and, as we slid across the driveway,  and I ended up pinning him against the concrete steps with the wheel of the bike.

By the time I could gather my wits, Carnie jumped up and ran off, whimpering.  At that point, the tears started.  I wasn't crying because of the scrapes and bruises (I was used to that kind of stuff, by then), but I was afraid that I had killed Carnie.  Or, just as bad, was the prospect that the little dog was mad at me and wouldn't play with me any more.

At this point, my mother and Debbie came outside to see what all the commotion was.  I tried to get across to them how badly worried I was about Carnie.  I really wanted to go looking for him to make sure he was okay.

I was made to eat, first.  But then, Debbie let me take a slice of balogna with me so I could give it to Carnie, if I found him.

After I had wandered around for 15 minutes, calling Carnie, my mom called me back to the house.

"He's probably inside, for the night," she said.  "You'll see him, tomorrow."

I left the balogna on our front steps, hoping that Carnie would come by, realize it was from me, and forgive me.

The next morning, the slice of lunch meat was gone and, soon enough, Carnie came wandering over for petting and treats.  Whether he got the balognagram, or not, he seemed to have forgiven me.

But, I did notice that he no longer went up to the dead-end and ran alongside as I rode my bike...

x

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ahead of My Time, Or Out of My Mind?

Back in 1994 and 1995, I wrote freelance pieces for Rocky Mountain Sports Magazine.  I wrote race reports, product reviews, ride guides, etc.  I enjoyed it, and it paid pretty well, but the magazine eventually went completely in-house for all of their content.

One article I wrote got a surprising reaction from a reader.  I had an old Peugeot mountain bike, and I decided to convert it to a single-speed.  In the mid-nineties, single-speed mountain bikes were not common, and no major manufacturer offered one.

Retrotec, still owned by Bob Seals, would custom build a single-speed for you, and Bob often showed up at Norba races on a one-cog machine, wearing a Speedo, Chuck Taylors, and little else, with a beer in his water bottle cage.  I got the idea for building my single-speed while I was interviewing Bob, on the phone, about his racing and the CoolTool bike tool which he had invented.

So, I built the Peugeot, taking black and white pictures as I went, then wrote up a basic little how-to article, along with some copy about how much fun it was to ride the bike.  The magazine bought it, and ran it in the next issue which went to print.

I got a phone call from the editor, a couple of weeks later.  "You've got to see this letter to the editor that we got about your article,"  he said.  "It's pretty interesting."

"Okay," I replied.  "Mail it to me and I'll give you a call after I read it."  (Yeah, this was before the internet, and email.  He actually photocopied the letter, put it into a envelope and dropped it into the U.S. Mail.)

When I got the letter, a couple of days later, I was stunned.  The writer, a man from Golden, Colorado, as I recall, was apparently livid about even the concept of a single-speed bike.  He ran the gamut, in his letter, from calling me stupid, to declaring single-speed bikes totally unreasonable.  He ended the letter by saying that if I thought it was a good idea to remove weight from a mountain bike by removing parts, that I should probably lose some weight, myself, by having an arm or a leg amputated!

I wrote a long, scathing reply to the letter...then threw it away and wrote a short, considered reply, which I sent to my editor.  Both letters ran in the next issue, which prompted more letters, the next month.  Don (the editor) was very happy with that.  Letters to the editor reflect the fact that people are paying attention to the content.

I often wonder, as I read the magazines, surf the blogs, watch the videos of single-speed races, and look at the single-speed models available at local bike shops, just how that  poor guy who wrote the letter is handling the onslaught of single-speeders, nowadays.

x

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mileage

There are people I know, or whose blogs I read, who keep really close tallies of their bicycle mileage.  They will tabulate not only how many miles they have ridden in a year, but also how many of those miles were commuting miles, or errand-running miles, or off-road/on-road recreational miles, etc.

I, on the other hand, can usually estimate pretty closely what my total mileage is, but I can only give you a close-to-precise accounting of commuter miles (simply because I know my round-trip mileage and the number of days I've ridden).

It wasn't always that way, however.  At one time, I had a chart on the wall on which I entered off-road, on-road, and even on-rollers miles, as well as elapsed time for each.  I think that almost everyone who gets seriously into biking goes through this phase.  Some grow out of it, others keep detailed records for 50 years.

Back in the late 80s, Val and I went out to Oregon to visit with Joy and Steve.  I took my bike (another couple of stories).

One day, when riding up a particular mountain, I forgot to start my cyclometer so that it would register mileage and time.  I met Joy, Steve and Val at the top, and asked Steve what the mileage was from the point where they had dropped me off.

I spent most of the following evening with my bike propped up on a couch, spinning the front wheel until the computer registered the 11.2 miles I had neglected to clock.  It meant very much to me, at the time, to have every mile ridden registered on my odometer.

Now, I have a lot more miles under my belt, and I have realized something:  It's not the mileage that's meaningful, it's the ride.  The experience is much more important than any numbers attached to it.  Although, I do still like to rack up 100 miles rides, and such  But,  the actual distance is less important than how much fun I had, that day.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Inspiration

Not too long after I got my Spyder bike, my dad and I were out in the driveway when he told me he wanted to ride the bike.  I don't remember if he had just adjusted something, or had fixed a flat, or if he just wanted to ride it.

Daddy was not a small guy.  He stood slightly over six feet tall, and probably weighed about 185, at the time.  To say that he was out of scale with the 20-inch wheeled bike is an understatement.  He pretty much dwarfed it.

He took off down the driveway, turned left onto Shacklett Drive, and rode up the steep hill past the culvert.  I was amazed.  Try as I might, I could not ride up that hill, but Daddy went up it like it was nothing.

I remember thinking to myself that, if I could ride a bike that easily, I would ride all the time.

Now, I pretty much do ride all the time.  I have to give Daddy credit for being one of the inspirations for my love of riding.

We lost Daddy on July 14, 2010.  He's been on my mind, today, because this would have been his 74th birthday, if he was still here.  It makes me feel pretty bad that I forgot to call him on his birthday, last year.

x

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cool Weather

For a while there, one winter, Charles Garcia and I did a sort of commute together, while we were both working at Destinations.  I say "sort of" commute, because it was a training ride for Charles and a commute for me.

Charles would drive from his house to the bike shop, then ride his bike toward my house.  I would ride from my house toward the bike shop.  When we met, Charles would turn around and we'd ride to the coffee shop for a latte, then on to work.

Charles was in his "hard-man" phase, constantly training for cyclocross, doing hill repeats, or sprints, or something.  I, as usual, was just riding my bike.  The portion of the ride where we rode together was good for both of us:  He slowed down a bit and enjoyed the ride, and I rode a bit harder than usual.  So, we both stepped outside our normal zone for a little bit.

One thing that was a constant for both of us, however, is that neither of us would ever want to be the one who didn't show one morning.  If we arranged the ride on Tuesday, then we were both riding, come Hell or high water, on Wednesday morning.  I think each of us thought of it as a bit of a competition, to see who would eventually crack and let rain or cold weather cancel us out.

I really figured I was going to win that particular competition, one cold, clear morning after  I got up, and checked the indoor/outdoor thermometer, as usual, to help me figure out what to wear.

Holy cow!  It was 20 degrees below zero (F) on my front porch, at 7:00 AM!

So, I put on everything I owned, and took off, pretty certain that I would make it to the coffee shop by myself.  I noticed, as I rode, that the bike felt odd.  At that temperature, the grease in the hubs, bottom bracket, and headset is thick, and the cables drag in the housing.  Even the chain felt odd.

I was surprised, but only mildly, to see Charles riding toward me, at the usual place.  We joined up, and Charles said to me, "I didn't really expect to see you, today."

"Yeah, me too," I said.

When we got to the coffee shop, conversation stopped as we walked in.  Both of us had ice in our beards, and on our eyelashes.  The people who had driven in were all agog that we had ridden in the crazy cold temperature.

To tell you the truth, so were we.  It ended up being a nice day for a ride, though.

x

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Missy Shrine

The first year that I went to the bike industry trade show in Las Vegas was , I think, 1995.  While we were walking around, Brad and I ran into Missy Giove,  the infamous Women's Downhill champ who was perhaps best known for racing with the preserved remains of her dead pet Piranha on a chain around her neck.

As we talked, Missy eyed my Diet Coke and asked if she could have a drink of it.

"Sure," I said, as I handed it over.

She sipped from my straw, and handed the drink back to me.  We continued talking and, eventually headed our separate ways.  But, before we split, I got her to pose for some pictures kissing me on the cheek.

We had a young mechanic, Brian, at the shop who virtually worshiped Missy.  I knew it would make him jealous to see the pictures of her bussing me on the cheek.

When we got back to the shop, at the end of the week, I handed out bags of schwag to all of the employees who didn't get to go to the show.  I had gathered up stickers, posters, free samples, etc, all during the show and filled plastic grocery bags up for everyone.

To Brian's bag, I added the straw that Missy had drunk from, and the prints of the pictures of her kissing me.

After he got over being annoyed that Missy's lips had touched the straw, but not him, Brian constructed a little shrine with the photos and the straw, and hung it on the tool rack above his bench in the Service Department.

Missy has fallen from grace, somewhat, in the intervening years.  Recently, she was arrested in connection with a conspiracy to sell about a ton of marijuana.

I prefer to remember her as the pro racer who was willing to kiss a stranger, just to play a joke on a bike mechanic.

x

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Feeding The Birds

One day, as we were making the usual pre-opening shop ride from Destinations over to the original location of Kaladi Brothers Coffee, we were riding on the E-470 Trail on the way to Park Meadows Mall. 

Our usual route from the bike shop to the coffee shop involved hitting this trail, to Yosemite Street, then over to the strip mall behind the Barnes and Noble store on County Line Drive.  There, across from the Old Navy, was the space that Mark had originally been able to lease for Kaladi.

This particular day, I was riding with Carol, Rich and Charles.  We rode, most days, to Kaladi, had coffee and bagels, then rode back to Destinations in order to open the shop for the day.

As we rode along, heading downhill toward a 90 degree turn which would later come to be known as "Katie's Curve", Carol was directly in front of me.  I could see a rabbit running alongside the trail, ahead of us.

Suddenly, the rabbit took a sharp left and ran under the bike, between the front and rear wheels, just as Carol was leaning into the turn.

THUMP!

I was really surprised that Carol didn't crash.  Her bike went a bit sideways, but she recovered control without high-siding.  "Oh my God!" she yelled.

"I hope that bunny's okay!" she said, as I caught up to her.

"It's dead," I said.

"No it's not," she said.  "I saw it run off."

I, too, had seen it.  I saw it tumble into a heap on the side of the trail.  But, Carol wanted it to be okay, so I just shut up.

On the way back to the shop, after breakfast, we passed the spot where she had hit the bunny.

"See?"  she said, pointing to the side of the trail.  "The bunny's not lying there.  It was fine, and ran off."

I  pointed up at a hawk, sitting on the powerline along the trail, and said, "I'm betting that you served him his breakfast, this morning."

She eventually conceded that, even if the bunny had died, the fact that the hawk got an easy meal out of it made it okay.

We called that stretch of the trail "Bunny Hill", from then on.

x

Friday, February 4, 2011

Toby

Toby was a big boxer/bulldog/something else mix who lived in our neighborhood, when I was in junior high.  As a matter of fact, he belonged to my 7th and 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Clarke, and her husband.

Often, Mr. Clarke would take Toby across the street to an open lot and play fetch.  But, instead of throwing a tennis ball, or a stick, Mr. Clarke would throw a regulation football. Toby would catch the football on his mouth, and return it.  He had the biggest mouth I have ever seen on a dog.

One day, I was riding my bicycle down one of the neighborhood streets, when Toby came streaking out of nowhere and started chasing me down the road.  I wasn't scared of him, and actually liked him, but I really didn't want him to catch me, either.  He had chased me, before, and I was never really sure what his intent was, should he catch me.

This particular day, though, he was faster than I was.  I was pedaling furiously, but Toby kept closing on me.  Eventually, he caught me and clamped that huge mouth of his onto my foot...and the pedal of my bike.  It was like having a canine toe strap holding my foot to the pedal.

I was still pedaling, as he was chomping on my foot, and his head was going up and down, around and around, with the pedal stroke as he ran along with me.  He never bit down hard enough to cause any pain, through my shoe, but he was holding firmly on.

Eventually, he tired of the game and let go of my foot.  When he did, I slowed down, and Toby just ran along beside me with his tongue hanging out and a big, goofy dog-grin on his face.

I don't recall him ever chasing me, again, after that.  He went out of the game as a winner.

Good dog, Toby!

x

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Beginning of The End?

When I worked at Destinations, I had a 14 mile trip to work, with a 1500 feet drop from the house to the shop.  So, if I commuted by bike, it would take me about 40 minutes to get to work, and an hour and a half to get home.

One night, as I was leaving the shop, I could see a huge thunderstorm to the south.  It looked like it was probably over Colorado Springs.  I later found out that the storm was, indeed, over Colorado Springs, and that it had spawned several tornadoes.

As it was, I had a strong south wind to face; a headwind which was beating me like a stray dog.

I struggled along, beating against the wind, feeling as though I had to keep pedaling or the wind would blow me backward.  I rode as hard as I could, but I was only able to maintain about 5 or 6 mph against the headwind.  Even as I turned east, the wind was pushing against me to the point that I was wondering if it might not be faster to just get off and walk.

I rode, and rode, and rode...trying to keep some forward momentum, wondering if Valerie was going to show up, looking for me. I felt bad about making her worry.  This was before the day that cell phones were standard issue, and I couldn't call home to let the wife know here I was.

Eventually, I made my way home.  The shop had closed at  7:00 PM, and I rolled into the garage at the house right at 10:15.  I really felt bad about worrying Val.

I walked into the living room, where Val was watching the news, and said, "Sorry I'm late.  The weather, y"know..."

She said to me, "You're late?"

It was right about then that I realized that I might possibly be more invested in our relationship than Valerie was.

x

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stalker

In March of 1993, the first year that I worked at Destinations Cyclery, I bought a Specialized StumpJumper M2, my first bike with a suspension fork.  I traded out the Rockshox-built Future Shock for a Manitiou 2, because I just don't care for air shocks, and built my first pair of custom wheels for it.

Not long after the first, ill-fated, ride on the new wheels, I had rebuilt the rear wheel and wanted to take a good ride on it.  I had a day off, so I headed up to White Ranch Open Space, north of Golden, to climb the big hill.  I knew there was still snow, at the top, but I had heard that the trail was mostly clear and rideable.

I parked at the bottom of Belcher Hill, and started up.  The hill consists of  nine miles of climbing, with 1290 feet of elevation gain (1785 feet of actual climbing, due to some short downs which you have to regain).  It's a pretty brutal climb, but it was one of my favorites at the time.

I no longer go to White Ranch, for mountain biking, due to conflicts with equestrians.  In fact, I don't even know if the trails are still open to bikes.

Anyway, I started up the hill and climbed slowly up the hill.  As I finally passed the upper parking lot, I began to see patches of snow on the trail.  Under the trees, shaded from the sun, the snow was pretty solid.

As I rode, I heard an odd noise.  Skrnk...skrnk...  Thinking that the bike was making a noise, I stopped.  The noise stopped, as well.  I couldn't find anything wrong with the bike, so I contined on.

Again, skrnk...skrnk...skrnk... But, it seemed a little louder.

Again, I stopped.  Only, this time, the noise continued for a couple of seconds after I had stopped.

Odd.

I looked around, but I couldn't see anything moving.  As I started rolling again, I rode through some snow on the trail.  Ssskkkrrrnnnkkk...  The snow was dry, and squeaked as the tires rolled through it, compressing the icy flakes.

It was then that I figured out that I was hearing footsteps in the snow, under the trees.  As I rode along, I started looking around trying to spot something moving.  Eventually, I spotted it..a mountain lion!

Mountain lions usually avoid humans, rather than stalking them, and I figured that he was just traveling along a path coincidentally close to mine.  I continued climbing, and so did the big cat.

After a little while, I noticed that he was angling toward the trail, as he went...angling toward me.

Mountain lions stalk prey by sneaking along in an almost parallel track, until they get close enough to sprint and tackle their prey.  It looked a lot like that's what this one was doing to me.

At that point, it seemed like a really good idea to turn around and go really, really fast downhill toward the car.  That is just what I did, with some alacrity.

That was probably the fastest trip down Belcher Hill that I ever made.

x

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Summertime, When the Livin's Easy

I'm quite tired of cold weather, and that reminds me of hot times in Moab.

For a number of years, Tony C and I made multiple trips to Moab, every season.  We usually made our first trip of the year to the Beehive State in early March, trying to escape the cold weather and leafless trees in Denver.  A couple of trips in the spring, then a couple of trips in the fall were the norm.  For the most part, it's too damn hot to ride in Moab, during the summer.

A few times, though, we ended up in the desert during the month of July.  Usually, we would get up early, before the sun rose, and ride until about 8:00 AM, when the temperature would hit 100F.  We would then go to town and hang out, and get back on the trail around sundown and ride until it was too dark to see (or later, if we had lights with us).

On day, we were out on the Slickrock Trail and, due to a series of unfortunate events (a couple of flats, some small crashes) we ended up being out on the trail until well into the morning.  The little zipper-pull thermometer on my bike bag was showing 105 degrees, when we got back to the parking lot.

On this particular trip, we were camping at Sand Flats.  So, the temperature at our tent was also 105.  We headed down the hill, looking to cool off.  As we drove, both of us were really ready for a shower, but we had nowhere to take one.

We approached the stop sign at the bottom of Sand Flats Road and noticed that the elementary school had its lawn sprinklers going.  Two minutes later, we were stripped down to only our bike shorts, running around in the sprinklers like a couple of kids.

I  don't know that I ever enjoyed a shower as much as I enjoyed that icy-cold spray in the school yard.

We ended up at the city park, just down the road, sleeping on the sheltered picnic tables, in the shade, for a couple of hours.  Then, back to the bikes.

I miss those dirtbag trips.

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