the ümabomber



MTB Rx: Ride Goofy

Posted by on 8:35 am in Ask Üma, Cycling, MTB | 1 comment

Dear Umabomber:

I read your story about being struck by a car while riding and how that changed you from a hard core roadie to a mountain biker not because of a fear of traffic, but because mountain biking hurts less (I’m paraphrasing). I find your story very resonant. Last year I crashed out in a criterium and damaged my lumbar spine (soft tissue damage to the ligaments and tendons in my right hip) and I haven’t been able to resume road cycling the way I have enjoyed for the past 15 years. Unlike you, I’ve been a mountain biker most of my life, but it was second to road riding and racing. My weekends used to be characterized by 60-100 mile road ride or race on one day, and a mountain bike ride with a regular group of guys on the other. Now, I can only do short road rides before my back starts seizing up and I definitely can’t race. I can ride my MTB all day, though. What gives? Why does one form of cycling cause pain and the other—the supposedly ‘harder’ kind—doesn’t? Any suggestions for how to get back to doing road rides longer than 40 miles? I look forward to your response.

—Crashed Out in Cali

Dear Crash:

I’m sorry to hear about your ongoing struggle to find your way back to what you love. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said mountain biking hurts less. I mean, I’ve fallen down plenty over the past few years…enough to know that there is plenty of hurt mountain biking. And yet, just the act of pedaling hurts more on the road bike more than it does on the mountain bike—particularly after a significant trauma.

You have a leg up on me because you already mountain bike. I have a theory as to why MTB is easier on the body than road riding—at least for certain conditions and injuries.

If you visualize what your skeletal bones are doing when you are riding your road bike, most of the time you are seated in a fixed position, with your femurs moving up and down repeatedly about 4000 times an hour, give or take, depending on cadence. This femoral movement tracks more or less in a straight line. Remember basic anatomy: the muscles that lift your knee up on the upstroke actually attach to your lower back, and pushing down on the pedals involves not just quads but also the gluteal muscles. So from an kinesthetic viewpoint if we’re talking about the movement of the femurs, we’re also talking about hips and lower back.

With road riding, rarely do you get out of the saddle unless you’re sprinting, climbing, or working on specific out-of-saddle drills. Maybe now and then you might stand up just to stretch out the legs, but it’s very natural for many people to just sit and spin. A road racer is more likely to be out of their saddle than a recreational rider—for sudden accelerations— but on the whole, most roadies’ sit bones are firmly planted on their saddle more concretely and longer than their mountain biking counterparts.

sandy ridge ride trail

Even the mellowest mountain biking is much more dynamic. The rider is constantly shifting weight—forward and back, and side to side, to navigate terrain that requires a different form of bike handling. These tiny balancing movements challenge your core on a low level and necessarily engage core muscles more. Mountain biking tends to rely not just on leg strength, but is more of a whole body engagement.

In both forms of riding, the repetitive stresses of pedaling for hours pull on the major joints of the hips and spine; if core strength is lacking, imbalances and overuse can end up placing stressing nerves or compressing lumbar disks, either of which may cause pain.

My first recommendation is to do some focused core work to to to strengthen and stabilize your lower lack and lower abdominals. Planks, sit ups, crunches, and TRX-type workouts work well for this. You should also make sure you’re pedaling in circles, still. Sometimes, after injury, our pedal stroke takes a hit and we favor our good side, creating even more imbalance. Spend some time revisiting pedal stroke drills to be sure you’re not pedaling squares with one leg or both.

You also might have to reexamine your bike fit on your road bike—what used to be perfect might not work any longer. I had several professional bike fits done after my accident, all using different methods to arrive at “the ideal fit” for my situation, but the absolute best fit was one done by Bill Larson over at Cyclepath in Portland. Bill uses the Retul method to measure imbalances in pedal stroke efficiency (and it’s a super cool, nerdy, data-driven method). After making a few adjustments here and there, I hit the trail and was a much happier camper. In fact, the fit felt so good I set up the rest of my bikes to match—including my road bike—and was able to extend my time on the road bike significantly.

There’s a therapeutic section in the BikeYoga book which focuses on addressing many of these issues you mention. More physical therapy than stereotypical “yoga”, this sequence works on three levels: by strengthening core muscles and lateral hip stabilizers, loosening hips and lower back muscles, and relieving stress from upper back and shoulders. It takes about 15 minutes to do all the movements and poses in the therapeutic sequence. I’d recommend giving it a try—daily—after a ride, or as a stand alone therapy on days you don’t ride. I sometimes do it as quick morning “wake up” routine while the coffee’s brewing.

There’s also a few “trailside stretches” that can be performed to relieve stress during a ride, at a rest stop. These aren’t deep stretches, just a few simple movements to help release accumulated tension in key areas—hips, low back and neck and shoulders. On anything longer than 50 miles I must stop and do a bit of stretching. I just need a minute or three and then I’m good to go another 20. Maybe these sort of structured breaks on the road bike will help you as well.

Often, I end this column with the pithy advice to RIDE MORE. In your case, I’d say SPIN MORE (mash less) to reduce strain on back muscles and do some focused training to strengthen your core.

One last consideration for someone like yourself with asymmetrical soft tissue damage: As mountain bikers we tend to ride with our dominant foot forward, putting uneven strain on the pelvis and lumbar spine. Practice switching your dominant foot back when coasting or descending. Off the bike, do more lunges with your non-dominant foot forward. These simple tweaks will help balance out the innate imbalances that start to add up over time for almost all riders, not just those of us who’ve had a bad crash.

In the martial arts classic, The Book of Five Rings, master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi offers up some sound advice that benefits mountain bikers as well. In talking about balanced efforts, Musashi suggests the samurai should be “neither right nor left footed”. Remember this on your next few trail rides and practice switching foot position to balance yourself out. It feels weird and awkward, but it’s essential to correct muskuloskeletal imbalances on the bike.

In other words, RIDE GOOFY.




Send me your burning questions about bikes, business, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them squeal. Send me an email using this secure and anonymous email form, here.

The Bullshit of Wisdom

Posted by on 1:31 pm in BikeYoga, Cycling, Essay, MTB, Singlespeeding, Ümabomber | 3 comments

Once upon a time, in a zip code not too far away, in a bizarro alternate reality, there was a version of the Ümabomber who dropped badass spiritual wisdom on people for work. Part social psychology studier, part boot camp ass kicker, and part stand-up comedy act, I donned my wizard robes (actually, brightly colored stretchy pants) and gave inspiring and humorous lectures and lessons full of insights gleaned from many trips around the solar system. I also kicked major butt in the workout department.

I attracted kindred spirits: graduates from the School of Hard Knocks. Underdogs. And really, really smart people who wanted nothing to do with wispy feel-good new ageisms. As a yoga teacher, I was nurturing in a tough love way, grounded, serious, but playful as well. I held people’s feet to the fire. Yoga—at least the way I understood it—and had learned it from master teachers was a tool for self-knowledge. Sure, there were the physical benefits—strong core, flexible limbs—but the real benefit for me was more psychological than anything else. On the whole it is a practice of self-mastery.

As soon as yoga became mainstream, it jumped the shark. It was no longer a discipline, now it was A LIFESTYLE, complete with overpriced, proper apparel, extreme dietary restrictions, and smug, self-righteous pop culture vocabulary. And Lord Shiva help you if you didn’t selfie your handstands all over Instagram.

The shark jumping just happened to occur right around that time that a movie called “The Secret” came out. Coincidence? Methinks not.


As soon as The Secret started circulating, there was a massive shift in the entire culture of yoga. For years I had been teaching at a very high level—I don’t mean trick poses. I mean life-changing, mind-blowing paradigm shift shit. I was renowned for my direct, no-nonsense, assertive style. It wasn’t for everyone. It was physically and mentally challenging. If you wanted someone to stroke your hair and hold your hand and tell you fluffy feel-good affirmations, I wasn’t the teacher for you. But if you wanted someone who would hold the space for you to get really real with yourself in a grounded, supportive way, and get some great physical therapy at the same time, The Ümabomber was your girl.

Once the shark was jumped I was expected to speak in weird, passive language using soft, feathery words. Words like juicy, blossom, shine. These words were to be delivered in hushed tones, breathy whispers with extremely dramatic sibilance. I was to be more “suggestive” instead of directive. And rather than educating people by dropping knowledge bombs them I was now supposed to just make them feel good. I was—in fact—not just supposed to TASTE the rainbow, I was supposed to BE the rainbow.

anger in our thighs

The next yoga teacher I hear say something idiotic like “we store anger in our thighs” is going to get slapped upside her head. And then I’ll just shrug and say “you must have manifested my anger…namaste!” via Buzzfeed.

What I mean is, it was now required to BE POSITIVE at all times and in all ways.

Dog just died? BE POSITIVE! Boyfriend dumped you? BE positive! Cancer diagnosis? BE POSITIVE! Filing bankruptcy? Be POSITIVE! Lost your job? Be positive! Cancer diagnosis, job loss, bankruptcy, and dead dog all in the same week? Be SUPER posi! And my what crappy karma you have! You should chant OM to your chakras to realign them, try this juice fast I’m starving myself with and for fuck sake SMILE.

This surge in positive thinking using the Law of Attraction looks very bright on the outside, but there’s a dark underbelly to it all. Denying others—or even ourselves— the right to feel sad, lonely, unhappy or scared isn’t enlightened, or generous, or kind—all qualities the practice of yoga is supposed to engender. In fact, denying others’ feelings and insisting on bright, positive energy all the time is one of the worst kinds of self-righteousness, steeped in delusion and arrogance.

I’m not alone in my assessment. While I’ve been agonizing over whether or not to publish this article, I received an email from Mark Manson, entitled “The Staggering Bullshit of The Secret”.

Manson cites multiple studies that debunk the whole “Law of Attraction” theory and explain why it seems to work.

“This is kind of my theory for why this strain of thought has persisted across generations; it’s a psychological pyramid scheme of sorts. You take one person who decides to ignore reality in favor of feeling good all the time. This sort of self-absorption then turns off anybody who is content and rational, and instead attracts the most desperate and gullible. This person, delusionally positive to the brim, then ironically attracts and surrounds themselves with other delusionally positive followers. Years later, one of these delusionally positive followers then decides to “manifest” their dreams by spreading the law of attraction further to other desperate well-wishers. The chain of positivity carries on this way through the generations, where each author, blogger or seminar leader who speaks ardently of manifesting one’s purpose, or believing oneself to happiness and bliss, or listening to The Universe, generates a new population of delusionally positive followers who then go on and do the same thing all over again.”

What Manson describes is exactly what I observed in the field of yoga. It began to feel like some kind of weird, feel-good self-help cult, than the disciplined, reality-based practice I had learned many years ago. The insistence on pathological positive thinking began to make me feel like I was part of some fundamentalist religion than a tool for self-discovery.

Sure, sure…there are many great teachers of yoga who are true the original intent, purpose, and practice of yoga. I’ve trained with some of the best. But for myself, yoga—the thing I once credited with saving my life—was now a straightjacket of conformity, neurosis and ruin. And yeah, I was angry…I had practiced my own version of this delusional thinking; I spent my life savings filling in the meager income I received as a yoga teacher so I could keep doing what I loved. I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to what I needed, I was focusing on what felt goodGuess what? It didn’t work.

After teaching for 15 years, setting down the torch I’d carried was akin to a divorce or worse. It was an excruciating process that took years to complete. Ironically, one of yoga’s central teachings is about not identifying with concepts and ideas, but I’ll admit it—I was deeply attached to my identity to being a yoga teacher, a guide, and a healer. Over the years I’d taught thousands of students, helped them become kinder, more loving, stronger versions of themselves, while I became the most stressed-out, broke, neurotic person in the yoga studio.

a little push the umabomber

I felt as though I was attending my own funeral in some ways, day after day—a sort of morbid Groundhog Day. Worst of all were the feelings of isolation, fear and loneliness that came when my former peers sat in judgment of me. Granted most of my critics were exactly the uber posi-tribe Manson points out, above. They insisted I just needed to change my attitude, ask the universe, BE POSITIVE, and The Universe would provide…namaste.

Instead, I quit.

It was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. It forced me to get serious about my writing work, which I had a great deal of insecurity and fear around. It forced me to take chances, to risk real growth and change. And it forced me to reclaim yoga as the word I use to describe my own relationship with life.

Many of my former peers and probably not a few students would read this and label me a hater, and they’d be right. I hate ignorance and willful disregard of common sense. But I have never advocated building an altar to pain and suffering (unlike certain schools of yoga). Still, I would rather have the richness of experience that comes with allowing myself my pain—as well as my pleasure—than to reject anything but a sort of false happiness.

“My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail. My teachings are older than the world. How can you grasp their meaning? If you want to know me, look inside your heart.”

From the ashes, the Phoenix. The Ümabomber is nothing if not scrappy and resilient. I am still purpose driven. Still realism based. And still passionate that survival is not enough. Existence is not enough. We are here to live meaningful, happy lives. Those lives must contain sorrow, nervousness, pain and other “dark” emotions. Without them life has no depth, no resilience, and no growth. Even the most esoteric spiritual traditions nod toward the “wisdom” of the natural world; contrasting energies are the pulse of reality. That’s not woowoo magic. That’s science, baby.

I am still a “believer” in yoga. Or—it would be more accurate to say I’m a fan of yoga. I don’t really believe anything I can’t experience directly. But real yoga doesn’t require belief. It requires doing. It requires honesty. And it requires broad-mindedness not empty-headedness.


People constantly ask me if I still “do yoga” now that I don’t teach much. I tell them I do, but it’s not what you think of as yoga.

The open road and singletrack trail are my yoga. Learning to dirt jump at the pump track—this is my yoga. Writing every damn day in a variety of mediums and forms—both for money and for love—is my yoga. I still teach yoga, but the medium is different. This blog is my teaching platform. I’ll come out of retirement now and then to show bikers how to fix their janky hips and strengthen their core. I’ve even got another BikeYoga book coming out soon. And like Lao Tzu, my teaching is easy to understand and easy to put into practice…

Life is short. Don’t count the moments, make the moments count. 

I know that those who worship in Church of Bike don’t need preachin’.  We need more saddle time. More time spinning circles outside. More getting up to go down. More brappin’ and less yappin’.

In other words if riding your bike is the place you feel most alive, RIDE MORE.

Don’t wanna pick up what I’m throwing down? Try this bullshit…and SMILE.




Need some knowledge dropped on you? Email The Ümabomber your burning questions about bikes, business, boys, girls, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them give up their secrets.

Race Your Strengths, Train Your Weaknesses

Posted by on 9:46 am in Cycling, Essay, MTB, Ümabomber | 0 comments

Back when I was still a hard-core roadie, our team met every Saturday at a café for a “base miles” group ride. About 20 of us—men and women—would arrive early for a fancy cappuccino and hang out for a bit before heading out for 4-5 hour long ride. No matter the weather—rain, sleet, snow, snain—nothing kept us from riding together. I was preparing for the coming early season races and had my goal set to go to Nationals that summer. My winter “off-season” training consisted of about 3 rides a week, a day of skiing, a couple days of indoor rock climbing, and a daily yoga practice. I’d never been more fit, and coming out of that winter riding with the team I was strong, fast, light. I went to bed early, arose early, and drank beer and ate desserts only on weekends.

My coach disapproved. “Why are you doing these long rides in winter?” my coach asked, disapprovingly.”You’re not training for endurance races. Just maintain your base this winter, then start with intervals in early Spring. These long rides just make for more recovery. It’s wasted energy. Junk miles. You should stick to the training plan.”

I ignored my coaches advice and came out the next spring stronger and leaner than ever. I prided myself on only doing one ride indoors that winter. All my training rides—about 3-4 per week—had been done outside.

This year I’m coming back after a pretty wretched 2014. Injury and illness robbed me of much of my season last year, several key races and packed on about 12 pounds I don’t need. Pushing extra weight around is a game changer in terms of regaining fitness.I’m also dealing with a lung affliction that makes riding outside in the cold challenging if not dangerous. In fact, I’ve never had to work harder to get “in shape” coming out of the holidays. The solution isn’t as simple as it would seem: more calories out than in and riding smart, not necessarily more.

Since I can’t really get out there for rides during the week, I’ve begun doing training sessions at The Lumberyard, an indoor bike park in Portland. There, I can get a great workout in that targets core, glutes and quads—like going to the gym and working on leg presses and squats—but much more fun.

Some (many) of my riding buddies tell me pumping laps at the Lumberyard is a waste of time. Junk miles. They tell me I should be out doing night rides on real trails or even doing road rides for training. But riding at the Lumberyard not only affords me a great workout, it also provides opportunity to work on skills. And hey…junk miles was a fantastic strategy in the past, despite what my coach said.

Where my coach my have been wrong about junk miles’ impact on my racing fitness, she was right about one thing. It’s relevant for just about any sport at any level. It’s s training strategy reduced to its simplest terms.

Race your strengths, train your weaknesses.

Anyone who’s ever ridden with me knows I ride with a lot of heart. I love to go fast. I’m less excited about taking chances. It’s been an issue, particularly after last year’s injury. My heart? Well… that part’s just fine. I’ll race on heart, this year, as I have every year previously.

As for those weaknesses? Junk miles.



Send me your burning questions about bikes, business, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them squeal. Send me an email using this secure and anonymous email form, here.

If Time Was a Jelly Bean

Posted by on 5:11 pm in BikeYoga, Cycling, Essay, Ümabomber | 0 comments

Here at the Ümabomber Intergalactic Headquarters we are so busy making awesome happen that we sometimes miss other awesome things that others are making happen. And sometimes, we become deeply saddened when we hear or see bad, unawesome things happening in the world.

Cancer is not awesome. “End stage” is most definitely not awesome. These words were delivered to a loved just a few weeks ago. I cannot imagine what hearing those words must be like. But I know the meaning of our lives cannot be measured or dictated by others. Medicines and therapies can affect the quality of our lives, but they cannot enliven us. We do that for ourselves. If we are too ill, or too depressed, or too lost, then we let ourselves be carried by others for a time. Being cared for by others? Pretty awesome.

While we are able to, to the extent we are able to, we owe it not just to ourselves to do make awesome happen, we owe it to the world. Because when we get to the end of our days, how we have lived will have made an impact on others.

In other words, it is not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years.

If you’re reading this you’re probably a rider. Or maybe a paddler. Or a climber. Or something along those lines. Awesome—for you—involves sun and wind, sky and earth, movement and breath.

So as we head into a weekend, this little bit of awesome is for you. Yeah… you.

Fat Bikes or Fad Bikes?

Posted by on 8:00 am in Ask Üma, Ümabomber | 1 comment

Dear Umabomber:

I fancy myself an avid cyclist. I enjoy both road and mountain biking. I’ve got 4 bikes right now—a hardtail mountain bike, a full suspension bike, a 10 year old road racing bike that I now use for recreational and fitness rides, and a cross bike I use mostly for commuting. I’ve been thinking about getting a bike to do more comfortable off-road-but-not-quite-single track bike trekking adventures. I’ve been looking into gravel bikes for this purpose, but lately I see more people getting fat bikes and using them in the same way. Which—if either—is better? Should I just modify my cross bike to be able to tour on it? Aren’t gravel grinders just another industry niche product manufacturers are using to sell more specialty bikes? Are fat bikes really just fad bikes?
—Don’t Wanna Fad Away


Dear Don’t:

In a way you’re asking the wrong person, but in a way you’re asking the right person. I’m the wrong person to answer this due to the fact that I have neither fat nor fad bike. I have limited exposure to both gravel and fat bikes, so it’s hard to share from direct experience. I’m the right person to answer your questions because I am weighing those options as well.

Innovation for the sake of innovation is called “marketing” and really doesn’t offer great gains to consumers. But if there are real gains to be had through innovation, I’m all for it. Those gains should be both quantifiable and qualifiable.

Personally, I’m all about the right tool for the job. That being said, I’m also known as something of a pro-level MacGuyverer. Innovation starts when the current resources fail. And I’m a long time proponent of N+1 being the correct number of bikes. But whether something is a fad or not, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass.

The differences between a “gravel bike” and a strait up cross bike arenÆt huge—bigger tire clearance, better stability, slightly more relaxed geometry and a more relaxed riding position—and sometimes it’s not even that. Can you do light touring on a cross bike? Absolutely! You’ll probably need to swap out parts to make it more comfortable for longer distances, but many people do it successfully.

Fat bikes on the other hand, are completely unlike anything else you’ll ride. They are heavier and much slower handling than their skinny counterparts. The extra wide balloon-like tires are perfect for rolling over shifty surfaces like sand or snow, but on firm ground that cushiness becomes horribly inefficient.

For gravel or dirt road touring, my advice is to go with a cross or touring bike with fat, smooth tires. Even a 29er mountain bike with slicks would work fine.

But don’t just take my word for it. I asked the boys at Limberlost—a Portland-based adventure touring outfit—about their preferences to get a second opinion. Here’s what co-owner Gabriel had to say:

Fat bikes are gobs of fun on sand dunes or snowmobile trails but you don’t need that much cushion for exploring dirt roads. Using them for most bikepacking trips is going to be overkill. While it might be FUN overkill, it won’t be efficient and efficiency is definitely a factor in bikepacking. I used my Surly Krampus on the Oregon Outback because it’s what I had. And I put the lightest, narrowest, smoothest tires I could find on it: Schwalbe’s 2.5″ Super Motos.

Coming back to the right-tool-for-the-job ethos, a fat bike is the right bike if you’re touring the Sahara or Gobi deserts or riding around Nome, Alaska in January. Otherwise, go gravel grinder (if you must).

Is it a fad? If it is, it’s one of the most well-adopted, quasi-mainstream fads in the history of the bike industry. According to a recent article in Alaska Dispatch News, the fat bike-to-skier ratio around Anchorage is 10 to 1. And new crops of Fat Bike races continue to pop up all over the country every winter.

A year in Alaska has been on my bucket list of life experiences for many years now. Until I head north for that adventure, I’ve decided I’ll probably get a gravel bike for off-road touring or throw gears and skinny tires on my singlespeed 29er. But you can bet your ass the moment I have a chance to ride and race in snow… I’m getting a fat bike. Fad or not.



Send me your burning questions about bikes, business, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them squeal. Send me an email using this secure and anonymous email form, here.

Free Forest Park Tees For Sale

Posted by on 5:10 pm in Cycling, Feature, Gear Review, MTB, Singlespeeding, Ümabomber | 5 comments

Here at the Ümabomber Intergalactic Headquarters we know we are not the center of the universe, even if we do talk about ourselves pompously in the third person.

We know singletrack access, planning and building takes a village…unless we’re talking about Forest Park, in which case it may take the entire bike-riding population of this and the 3 nearest solar systems. The fight for trail access for mountain biking and off-road access in Forest Park—and other park lands in Portland—is ancient. Keeping up the fight is a difficult battle which requires constant diligence, patience and commitment.

free forest park tee shirt frontfree forest park tee shirt back
Through the years, the Northwest Trail Alliance has remained dedicated and engaged in this battle for more and better trail access for urban riders. That is why I encourage everyone who rides mountain bikes, cross bikes, cruiser bikes or any others bikes in Portland metro to support NWTA.

Originally designed a few years ago by NWTA member Dylan VanWeelden, these rad tee-shirts not only look good, they let you wear your heart on your sleeve. Back by popular demand, proceeds support the NWTA’s ongoing work to represent for urban off-road cycling opportunities; the cost is $20 plus $5 shipping and handling.

This is a limited edition design so order now; supplies won’t last long! Shirts are from American Apparel and fit true to size.

FREE FOREST PARK! Can’t stop. Won’t stop.


The Northwest Trail Alliance Mission: To create, enhance, and protect mountain bike riding opportunities: to advocate for trail access; to promote responsible mountain biking; and to build, maintain, and ride sustainable trails.

Get involved. Volunteer. Donate.

Sh*t or Get Off the Squat Pot

Posted by on 9:47 am in Cycling, Essay, MTB, Ümabomber | 1 comment

free forest park
Ahhh, Portlandia. Whenever I am feeling cheeky—which is most of the time—I cannot refer to my hometown by her real name, but instead automatically default to the nickname given her after the IFC hit comedy show starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

Anyone who’s lived here long knows the TV show is really not stranger than fiction—it’s damn near a documentary. I love/hate this about Portland. After all, there is never a dull moment in this city where bearded hipsters and semi-retired baristas are the ruling class, and the DIY renaissance is alive and well.

We are a city of trend setters, too. And what do you get when you combine trendsetting and do-it-yourselfing? You get squat toilets. In fact, after an article about squat toilets appeared in the local tabloid this week, I predict we will see squat toilets popping up at overpriced lumbersexual joints like Old Salt and Beam and Anchor.

All teasing aside, squat toilets truly are “the shit”, to put it coarsely. I first encountered a squat toilet while traveling through the South of France, and while the public commodes were often filthy, they were less worrisome to me than many American public toilets. I mean think about it, ladies. You’ll never have to touch another toilet seat!  In fact, once places start installing squat toilets I may never poop at home again.

What does any of this have to do with bikes? I’ll get there in just a minute, but first I need to wax appreciative of my fair city otherwise I’ll be branded a hater, again. And as much as I like to poke fun at her—so much low-hanging fruit!—Portland is a gem of an urban environment.

st john's bridge bike ride

For one thing, she is gorgeous. Emerald green all spring and summer, with incredible city view, and show-stopper urban and private gardens. With the rugged Oregon Coast to the West and the majestic Columbia Gorge to the north and east, not to mention snow-capped volcanoes providing stunning views year-round. Urban architecture lovers dig on the cities numerous beautiful bridges. And even though Portland has lost her crown to New York as the most bikecentric city in the country, there is still plenty to appreciate here in terms of bicycle infrastructure…except when it comes to mountain biking.

cat six mt hood mural

Mt Hood inspires many a bike rider to hit the road for the epic views—and inspires mural painters, as well.

As it is Portland has about six (6) miles of legal singletrack up her skirts. Pittsburgh, PA has more off-road trails for urban dwellers to get at. So do cities like Boise, Vancouver BC, and Fort Collins. According to Velo Cult shop owner, Sky Boyer, even Los Angeles—Boyer’s childhood stomping grounds—offer hundreds  of miles of singletrack tucked into the canyons around and throughout the city.

For a city which is regarded nationally as a gateway to the rugged Pacific Northwest, this is, well—to flog an analogy to death—crap. And it stinks.

The Northwest Trail Alliance (formerly Portland Urban Mountain Pedalers, or PUMP)is working hard to change that. The all-volunteer advocacy group works tirelessly to advocate for more and better trails within the urban growth boundaries. The very visible work the group does is evident at every trail work party in the region, when hundreds of members show up, shovels in hand, for trail building and maintenance.

What most people don’t see is the very unglamorous, unsexy work the NWTA does, tirelessly attending city planning meetings, talking to council members, department managers and anyone in local government they can reach. Hundreds of hours each year are logged in these bureaucratic activities for which advocates receive little recognition and almost no thanks.

About a year ago I stepped up from my peripheral involvement to offer the group my digital media, communications and marketing expertise. I was able to see more closely the intense commitment and dedication these folks bring to their mission. In 2014 we grew membership to just under 1000 members and rallied record numbers of local mountain bikers to attend important public meetings. Advocacy for any cause is a dirty job, but someone—actually everyone who’s a stakeholder—has got to do it.

This week the NWTA delivered a petition with over 2,500 signatures of local riders, requesting a citywide Off-Road Cycling Master Plan be implemented. Commissioner Fritz herself said this step was necessary before the city could allocate resources to building, upgrading or adding off-road access in Portland city limits.

From those of us over here at the Ümabomber Intergalactic Headquarters, we’d like to just put it a little more succinctly:

Portlandia, when it comes to urban off-road cycling access, it’s time to shit or get off the pot.

How I Didn’t Spend My Summer Vacation

Posted by on 3:02 pm in Cycling, Essay, Feature, MTB, Singlespeeding, Ümabomber | 0 comments

uma looks tired on her bike

Down, but never out, our heroine, the Viking Biking Shield Maiden, lives to ride another day.

A funny thing happened on the way to Singlespeed World Championships in Alaska this summer, but not like funny ha-ha. It involved several days in the hospital, not because I hucked some monster gap jump at The Lumberyard and cased it. I wish it had been something epic, something noteworthy. But no.

I, the Viking Biking Shield Maiden, was taken out of commission by a common house cat.

Granted, this particular cat turned out to be downright venomous—a furry snake for all intents and purposes—and to add insult to injury the little bastard is my furry snake. Named after the jazz musician, Mingus has always been a difficult animal.

the evil furry snake

Mingus amongus.

Part feral, for some reason the little shit imprinted on me as a kitten. His feisty, rough-and-tumble, chip-on-shoulder attitude made him the perfect playmate for my furry BFF—my big handsome mastiff/shepherd/boxer mix—named Monk.

The energy between the two was incredible. A lesser cat would have been clobbered—or slobbered—to death, but not Mingus. The two were inseparable. My ex-husband and I couldn’t say the same and when we parted ways, we couldn’t bring ourselves to split up “the kids”.

IV bags

Dopers suck. More dope, please.

During my stay in the hospital, as I was pumped full of dozens of IV antibiotics, I pondered Mingus’ fate. It’s one thing when the little rat decides to crap on my shoes to let me know he’s unhappy with my absence while I’m working at Sea Otter, but being on the verge of septic shock was quite another.

Mingus is a scrappy, stubborn, obstinate sonofabitch but the bite wasn’t a deliberate assault. See, when other cats enter our yard he becomes incensed, crazed to defend his territory. One morning, around 4am he was looking out the bedroom window and saw the neighbor’s cat stalking past. Somehow my slumbering brain picked up on the tension, and as I moved to push him off the bed away from me, he startled, and reflexively chomped and slashed at me, before running off growling. It was more of a defensive move than willful malice on his part.

cuteness overload

“No, really, doctor… Everything is fine at home. Why do you ask?”

It’s been suggested that my relationship with this cat is kind of like my relationship with my singlespeed: that is to say, abusive. I love it fiercely, and sometimes it loves me back, but sometimes it beats me up, too. But I keep coming back for more. Perhaps it’s no coincidence I gave my sleek and stealthy singlespeed the name of Ninja Cougar. I’m used to cats that like to get rowdy.

ninja cougar

The Ninja Cougar looks sweet, but will tear your legs off, piece by tiny piece.

After reading the Angry Singlespeeder’s accounting of SSWC I’m not sorry I didn’t make it up to Anchorage, though I’m sure sitting in a seedy bar at 3am, drunk on cheap beer and expensive bourbon beats having IVs poked into your limbs and having to be helped to the toilet.

Alaska has been on my bucket list for a bikepacking adventure for a long, long time. I’ll get there, eventually. Team Robot’s Paul “The Legend” LaCava’s accounting of his Alaskan experience really sealed the deal for me. I will, I must, ride Alaska.

LaCava, it turns out, had a similar cat-bite experience. Cat scratch fever and Ted Nugent jokes aside, pasteurella multocida—the bacterium responsible for this potentially life-threatening infection—is no laughing matter.

group ride photo NWTA

NWTA group ride at Siouxon Creek trail in southern Washington, pre-furry snake bite.

Though my best laid SSWC plans were thwarted by felis silvestris catus, I remained undaunted and set a new summer vacation goal for myself: to ride as many local trails as possible, especially the ones I’d not yet sampled. Post-hospitalization anemia tried to put a crimp in that plan as well, but I managed a few noteworthy rides, and found some new favorite trails to explore.

The Ümabomber in her natural habitat, shredding Timberline to Town trail on Mt Hood.

The Ümabomber in her natural habitat, shredding Timberline to Town trail on Mt Hood.

Tomorrow I share my love of shredding and one of these favorite new-to-me trails with a group on Mount Hood.

Organized in part by the Northwest Trail Alliance, whose newsletters I write and design, we’ll be shuttling the Timberline to Town, Crosstown, and Pioneer Bridle trails. We’ll end the ride with lunch, Skeeball and Air Hockey championships at Ratskeller’s in Government Camp.


skeeball at ratskeller's

The NWTA group ride ends here. Bring your A-game.

It’s an unseasonably warm weekend leading us into the autumnal equinox on the 22nd of September. Already the darkening days are getting to me. It’s not the rain that brings me down in winter here, it’s the darkness during the day, as well as the night.

But today… Today is bright and hot. The smell of the neighbor’s BBQ taunts me, making my mouth water, and my stomach growl. Today is the intersection of fresh hop season and hammock time. And tomorrow… Tomorrow we ride.

If you’re in Portland and want to join us, bring your trail bike, a sense of adventure and some cash.

Of yeah, and bring your A-game if you intend to beat me at air hockey. You’ll need it.

MT HOOD GROUP RIDE meets at Universal Cycles, 2202 E Burnside, Sunday, Sept 21, at 8am. Sharp.

Bike Thieves Suck

Posted by on 9:28 am in Cycling, Essay, Feature, MTB, Ümabomber | 0 comments

Santa Cruz bikes hanging on rack at trailhead

Bike thieves suck. Any arguments?

My addiction to speed began when I got a job as a messenger in New York City. I don’t mean the drug speed, I mean velocity. I was 21 and mad as hell at the world. I’d survived a violent youth, stints of teenage homelessness, poverty, and the accompanying self-destructive behaviors that accommodate those formative life experiences. Punk rock expressed that energy perfectly, and I found myself routinely getting trashed in seedy punk bars on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

One night I was assaulted by a stranger, who strangled and beat me unconscious, leaving me for dead. Needless to say, this did nothing to improve my attitude toward life. I became depressed, forlorn, and more nihilistic than Lou Reed in his Velvet Underground days. I needed a healthy outlet by which to sublimate my angst.

I found that outlet as a bike messenger. Racing the clock on the streets of Manhattan, battling busses and taxis and New Jersey drivers set me straight. There was no spare erg to waste on anger or resentment. Being on the rivet demanded total commitment, focus, clarity. I realize now what I didn’t know then…that I was experiencing a sort of zen for the first time in my life. As a bike messenger, I experienced a state of flow, of being absorbed in the moment completely.

mountain bike rider photo

Sea Otter sunshine shred in the hills of Monterey.

I rode that cheap, crappy Huffy mountain bike like my life depended on it, because it did.

When my bike was stolen, the rage returned. I remember clearly returning to the parking meter where I’d locked it and looking bewildered into the empty space where the bike should have been. I howled with anger, spat out expletives like a machine gun laden with Tourette’s bullets, and finished the day’s work on foot for about half the pay I could make on bike.

In other words, it was inconvenient, a total pain in the ass, expensive (to a college student) and seriously pissed me off. Sure, it was a piece of crap bike, but it was worth more than all the psychotherapists in Manhattan combined in terms of the affect it had on me in transforming anger to joy.

That piece of crap bike was replaced by a glossy red Trek 400 racing bike. Suddenly, speed had a name: Candy-O, after The Cars’ first album. I became hyper vigilant about locking my bike. One day my front wheel walked away from my bike. So I learned to remove my front wheel, and grab both wheel rims with the U-lock securing the bike through the seat stays. I still use this technique and (knock wood) I’ve never lost another bike or wheel. But then the saddle and seat post were pinched. Then a frame pump. Over the years I’ve lost lights, saddle bags…even water bottles. Seriously? Some people will steal anything.

Bikes have come and gone through my life since then. How, what, where, and why I ride have all changed. Lately I’m all about mountain biking. All mountain. Enduro. Singlespeed 29er. It’s all good. Put me on a trail and I’m happy. In fact, I’m happy off the trail too, largely because I make damn sure I get enough riding time in, regardless of the width of the tires or diameter of the wheels I’m rolling.

Umabomber as Viking shield maiden

What can I say? I have a thing for Vikings, whose warrior women were known as shield maidens. If you haven’t watched the new series on the History channel, go fix the error of your ways now.

Friends laugh when I say I need to ride or I’m “not right in the head”, but I realized some time ago, riding isn’t an addiction. And it’s no longer about sublimation of darker energies. It’s just necessary. Like water. Food. Shelter. Oxygen. Love. If I could re-do Maslow’s basic human needs chart, I’d be sure to put a bike at the base of the pyramid. And at the apex. And at every level in between the two.

Project 529 bike shop demo

Bike shop demo at Project 529 headquarters.

So when Project 529 invited me to become part of the team working to stomp bike theft, it was a no brainer. I met the group at Sea Otter a few weeks ago when one of the developers approached me, clipboard petition in hand and asked, “Do you think bike thieves suck?”

I practically snatched the pen from Tony’s hand to sign. Because while I’ve grown and changed and become a much less angry, much happier person—thanks to many beloved bicycles through the years—nothing pisses me off like bike thieves do.

Project 529 is a group of cyclists. They’re software people who love bikes. They’re lovers, not haters. But they’re mad as hell that bike theft has gone unchecked so long in this country. So they’re waging war with the weapon they know best—the Internet.

Now I’m inviting you to join me and thousands of kindred bike spirits, coming together to be a part of the solution to bike theft. If you’ve ever had a bike stolen, or known someone who has, or worry that you might, it’s sort of a no-brainer.

Register your bikes using the 529 Garage iPhone app—or online at, in just a few short minutes. In the unfortunate event your bike is stolen, a quick push of a button on your phone alerts thousands of fellow riders, all itching to take kick some bike thief ass and get your bike back to you.

Screen shot of Project 529's iPhone app interface

The Garage 529 app is easy and fun to use, walking you step-by-step through the registration process.

While you’re at it, be sure to sign the Project 529 petition to demand Craigslist and eBay require serial numbers on all bike listings. It may not stop theft completely, but if we present a united front, we can make the estimated $400m annual stolen bike trade a lot less attractive…and less lucrative.

Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what wheel size we ride or whether we’re in lycra or shuttle suits. What matters is we ride.



From Epic Fail to Rad Trail Rail

Posted by on 9:02 am in Cycling, Essay, Gear Review, MTB, Reviews, Ümabomber | 0 comments

Every mountain biker does it at one point or another. We forget something critical to our highly anticipated epic MTB ride and don’t discover our error until we arrive at the trailhead—often after a long drive—open the trunk and feel our heart sinks with the realization…we forgot X. No ride for you. Do not pass go. Do not shred.

This time, it was my turn. As I rolled into the parking lot at Sandy Ridge, the sun was shining, the sky a dreamy, cloudless blue. Birds chirped overhead. Spring was springing. I grinned in anticipation, took the bike off the rack, popped the hatched and peered into the place where my shoes should have been.

My brain frantically went into search mode. Were they in the garage? Where did I leave them? When was the last time I rode?

trailhead sign at Sandy Ridge

Most of the time my helmets, shoes and gloves live in my car. As I’ve been searching for a new house share in Portland where the vacancy rate is a mere 2.5%, I began carrying most of my riding gear in a box. This way, I could easily throw a bike on the roof and hit the trail after work, which is 25 miles from where I currently live. I dream of #vanlife, and while my Subaru Forester isn’t quite large enough to live out of, I like having my stuff handy. I’ll always need a home base, but I love road tripping. I need road trips, but love having a home base. You get the picture.

This time my preparation fell short. I returned the bike to the rack, changed into street clothing again, kicked the seats back in the car and settled in to have a nice nap in the sun. No sense driving back into town during rush hour. It was over an hourlong drive, even without traffic. I facebooked my stupidity, then kicked back, baked into slumber by the warm rays of rare April sun.

The unmistakeable and attractive sound of a DT Swiss freewheel hub buzzed me awake. I sat up, and looked over at the guy parked next to me. He was returning from his ride, splattered with mud, sweaty, disheveled… and looked content as a Cheshire Cat.

“Did you have a good ride?” I called over to him.

Grinning, he responded, “Oh yeah. Hero dirt out there!”

I nodded, grimly. “Sadly, I won’t be able to sample it today.”

“What’s up? Mechanical problems?” he asked as he began stowing his gear in the car.

I laughed. “More like user error. I forgot my shoes.” I felt flush with embarrassment. Hastily, I added “All these years of riding and somehow I’ve never forgotten shoes before!”

“Oh no! That sucks. We all do it…once.”

I eyed his shoes, greedily. He saw my hopefulness and offered them up but he was running Crank Brothers pedals. Not my thing.

The phone rang and I answered. “Tyson! Please tell me you’re on your way to Sandy Ridge and just happen to have an extra pair of size 45 Shimano SPD enabled shoes with you!”

He wasn’t and he didn’t. We chatted for a few minutes as I recounted my epic planning fail. DT Swiss Guy overheard me and walked over with a pair of flats in hand, offering them for my use. My eyes grew wide with excitement, then darkened as I considered the inappropriateness of my footwear. I’d worn a casual dress shoe to work—a sort of Mary Jane clog with a 2.5″ heel. Visions of a painful, bloody demise as the shoes slipped off my feet or the pedals at an critical moment ran through my head.

I waved off the flat pedals, politely declining, chatting a moment longer…until I came to my senses.

“Uhhh… Hey man. Let me call you back. I might just have to give this a go. If you don’t hear from me by tomorrow, it means I was, in fact, a Darwin Award candidate. Send out the search crews.”

Shimano Saints MX80
I replaced my SPDs with the flat pedals, and tested them in the parking lot. The soles were a tacky rubber, not unlike many DH or dirt jump shoes. They’d stay put on the pedals, for the most part, but I was still concerned they’d slip off my feet. The vecro strap across the top of the shoe was mainly for decoration, and completely unreliable.

I wrapped a few layers of electrical tape around my instep, effectively lashing the shoes to my feet, and was ready to roll, albeit nervously.

redneck watch me

I got more than a few odd looks as I rolled out toward the trailhead. Groups of dirt jumper guys out to play on Little Monkey gave me the once over. I looked like a goober wearing my knee high cep compression socks with my baggie capris . I figured the socks would help with recovering from the numerous bruises, gashes and general carnage my unprotected shins were about to face. It was really more of a psychological layer of protection than physical, but goober or not, I was determined to ride, dammit.

I pedaled up the paved road 3.5 miles to the trailhead without incident. It’s not a particularly strenuous climb, but climbing has always been my weakness. I did notice something new riding these flat pedals: I was using more quadriceps to ride, and less hamstring and glute strength. By the time I got to the trailhead my quads were shaking a bit. I sat there for a few minutes, ate a cookie, and contemplated which trails I felt I could safely tackle with my potentially stupid setup.

A trio of riders I’d seen in the parking lot rolled up a few minutes later. Canadians on their way home from a Moab trip, they asked for trail beta and I described the various trails and their features.

“Yeah. Cool. What are you going to ride, eh?”

“I’ll probably take it easy since I’ve never really ridden on flat pedals. Maybe 338 to Two Turntables to lower Hide and Seek, with a Flow Motion loop thrown in there. I think I’ll skip Rock Drop, because…” I pointed at my shoes. They laughed, concerned or possibly impressed. The electrical tape/clog combo turned the dial on the redneck “watch me” factor to 11.

Umabomber rails Two Turntables
“All the trails take you downhill, eventually. Whether you go left or right at a trail junction, you’re always going down,” I assured them and turned to drop in. I imagined them all making the sign of the cross over me as a blessing, praying for my safety.

The trails were perfect. Work crews had labored to do some spring cleanup just the day before. As I pedaled up to the Rock Drop junction, I somehow forgot about my “take it easy” declaration. I found myself airing out small kickers and carving aggressive turns on perfectly bermed, curvy trail. Approaching Two Turntables—a personal favorite of mine—I paused for a moment to savor the view of a snow capped Mt Hood in the distance. A moment later, the 3 Canucks rolled up so I dropped in, shouting over my shoulder, “This is where it gets really good!”

Two Turntables and a Microphone is named after the detritus found on the mountain when they were building the trail. Unlike much of the rest of the Sandy trail system, it features straight side-cut lines, littered with loose scree and baby heads. Only a few switchbacks punctuate the trail, making it a capital-Z carved into the side of the mountain. It’s a mach speed, no brakes sort of run, with small kickers to air out here and there. Big grin terrain for me. I railed it.

I was nervous about the transition from the technical upper trails to the silky smooth, fast flowy lower trails via a boulder staircase which ends in a sharp right onto a bridge crossing. I always clean it, and it’s not a difficult transition, but still I doubted the shoes. Okay, I confess… I doubted myself, not the shoes… the shoes were just a masquerade, an excuse for doubt to rear its ugly head. No time for doubt. It was game time. Time to play through. Time to trust the bike…and the years invested in learning to ride.

Never have I rolled through that transition so fluidly. Time slowed, and I practically floated through the sharp turn onto the bridge, and wheelied out of it. It was one of those perfect zen moments. Perfect presence, precision, awareness…bullet time, for you Matrix fans.

The rest of the ride was a blur. I carved, jumped and manualed down the mountain. Pinning and grinning and panting and pumping, I whooped and hollered, my nervousness about the shoes gone, offset by my comfort at pushing harder into turns with my inside foot free. I remember shouting a robust “YEAH DUDE!” to no one in particular.

I rolled into the parking lot, laughing out loud, wildly satisfied. I sported a huge grin, aware that I’d not only survived unscathed—I had not a single nick, bruise or gash on my shins—but I’d just had one of my best rides ever at Sandy Ridge. Necessity—that mother of invention—had pushed me into a challenge I’d been putting off for years: Flat pedal riding. My brain and body lit up with new insights. I had a new relationship with my bike and with gravity. And my shopping list for bike parts just got a bit longer.

The 3 Whistlers—Brad, Brad, and Kirk—rolled in a few minutes later and offered up a cold beer.

“So, how’d it go, eh? Looks like you survived.”

“That was possibly my best run ever out there on Hide and Seek!” I exclaimed.

I chuckled, shook my head in disbelief and pointed to my MacGuyvered shoes.”Run what ya brung, eh?”


A big shout out to my hero Jason Curnow who hooked me up with the loaner of his bomber Shimano Saint PD-MX80s, thus enabling this dirt junkie to get her fix. If you’re ever rolling through Woodburn, OR, stop in at the Pearl Izumi Factory Store in where Jason’s the store manager and give the dude a hive five for me. Also, score yourself some smokin’ deals on all things lycra for your inner roadie. ;-)