Many—if not most— of my riding buddies are men and some think #sockgate is funny and say we should lighten up or “get a sense of humor”. I do stand up comedy in my spare time. My sense of humor is intact and pretty broad… and frankly, a bit crass at times. I’ve been a tomboy my entire life, mixing it up with rowdy boys and dirt baggers. And I’m realizing how so much of the bike industry—nay, THE WORLD— is full of men who just don’t want to grow up. That’s the only possible explanation for the continued imBROsition of such childish antics in a professional milieu.
Riding bikes has been a top priority in my life. When I moved to Bend, Oregon in 2011 friends assumed I was moving because I fell in love. I had fallen in love…with the trail access! Bend offers hundreds of miles of twisty singletrack right out the back door. There was no guy in the picture, my bike made me do it! I’ve also taken jobs in the industry—chosen passion over profit—when I could have worked in another industry entirely for much more money.
Most of the women who work in the bike industry tend to do so for the same reasons so many men do: because we love bikes. We love riding. And we love sharing our love of bikes with others.
When we are systematically and routinely depreciated because of our gender, it hurts in too many ways to list. We can’t just “lighten up” or “get over it” because this isn’t an isolated instance. It’s never an isolated instance, anymore. This treatment is endemic in the bike industry.
So many men I spoke with about the sexist double standards women face in the bike industry don’t “get it”. They don’t have to. That’s the benefit of male privilege. What disturbs me more is they don’t CARE to. At least not until they have daughters, or a woman they love and respect faces this sort of bullshit and they realize not caring is the root of the problem.
I’m not a militant feminist, or a man hater, or any of the other things I’m likely to be called by posting this piece. Jules’ and Fullers’ pieces paint the picture better than I am. If you want to understand why women don’t find things like sockgate funny, read their stories. I don’t have a solution to bridging the gender gap, but I do believe greater empathy and knowledge will be a good start.
I’ve been a cyclist for over 25 years and a dedicated mountain biker for the past 8 years. I have ridden trails all over the Western US. And I have never poached a trail that was closed to bikes. Not ever. Until today.
People who know me can’t believe I’ve never poached a trail. I’ve been an outspoken advocate for bike access on trails since I started riding dirt. I’m also a noisy upstart, an outspoken firebrand, and I rail against the machine. With a name like The Ümabomber (the nickname comes from the Marzocchi Bomber suspension fork), it’s easy to see why people would expect me to ride rogue.
But I’m also possessed of some weird conscience that feels horribly guilty when I go against the rules. In part, it’s that I don’t want my actions to negatively impact the work others, like the Northwest Trail Alliance, are doing to try to gain access to more urban trails. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
But there’s a problem with that problem.
The problem is The Problem is manufactured. The problem is a matter of perception. Mountain bikers (and cyclists in general) are perceived as threats and/or nuisances to most non-bike riding humans in the United States. People—especially anti-progressive people—love to hate what they don’t understand; gays, people of other nationalities, other belief systems, other social classes, bike riders.
As soon as we throw a leg over a bike to ride, we are perceived as less human. On the trail, we are perceived as earth-raping, nature killing monsters. On the roads we are perceived as obstacles to other people’s enjoyment of reality—or their escape from it. At best we are perceived as being in the way, a nuisance. At worst, we become targets for impotent and misplaced anger and rage. Read the comments section of any newspaper any time a cyclist is murdered by an inattentive driver. It’s a horrifying display of the absolute worst of humanity, and for many cyclists, it’s a big reason why they turn to off-road cycling for fitness and recreation.
After the recent Portland Parks & Recreation decision to ban bikes from a trail system where bikes had not been identified as threats to the preservation of a large city park, it was clear that railing against the machine would no longer be enough. It was time to ride.
So, today I took my bike to the trails in one of the largest public parks in the country, on singletrack that is closed to anyone except hikers, their (illegally) off-leash dogs, and uber-fit long distance runners.
I also took about 65 friends with me. My deflowering was public: the loss of my poaching virginity made the evening news. Even more poignant, the trail is named Wild Cherry.
Together, we pushed our bikes up one patch of singletrack. We were courteous. We made way for people to pass. We said hello. We didn’t descend upon them—wheeled hellions —screaming blood curdling death cries, snatching up their soft, furry canines in our talons to rip to shreds and feed to our young. We didn’t hate.
I can’t say we met the same courtesy in everyone we encountered. And don’t look now, but according to the comments left on the news reports of our ride, there are many, many people who feel they can and should run us over with their cars and trucks and murder us in cold blood…simply because they hate us. You’d think we were pedophiles instead of people who ride bikes; that’s how much hate vitriol America has in their hearts for us.
As rides go, it was anti-climatic. Short and bittersweet. The purpose of the ride was to show our numbers and to take the trails with the same unapologetic ownership the other user groups take for granted. As we headed out for the trail, I climbed up on a garbage can and delivered our message:
Dear Portland: We’re here. Our numbers are growing. We are not terrorists. We are people who ride bikes. We live here. We work, and pay taxes, and volunteer in our communities. We vote. We do more trail work and volunteer more than you do. And we build better, more sustainable and environmentally beneficial trails. You need to stop treating us like we are some kind of criminal class. We are going to ride. Get used to it.
As Vernon Felton mentioned in his recent article, Portland does not deserve to be awarded any kudos for being “bike-friendly”. Portland is bike-friendly if you are a commuter, sort of. Certainly, Portland does not deserve the League of American Bicyclist’s award of Platinum Status for Bike-Friendly Cities when she systematically and repeatedly refuses to accommodate and actively discriminates against an entire user group.
I propose a new designation: Prohibition Status.
In the 20s, prohibition supporters were referred to as Drys and anti-prohibition adherents were called Wets. Here in Portland, as mountain bikers, we are under siege by a new breed of “dry crusaders”, anti-progressive NIMBYs who reject reason and logic and refuse to share what isn’t even theirs to give. (Incidentally, on this day—April 7th—in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step toward ending Prohibition by allowing people to buy and sell beer.)
So while I applaud my local trail advocacy groups for their letter writing campaigns and ongoing conversations with city policy makers (and especially for filing suit against the city) I think my days of playing nicey-nice with the Drys are over. I simply refuse to be part of The problem any longer. I refuse to play into the expectations forced upon me by other, more entitled user groups, these new prohibitionists.
See, I’ve had my trail poaching cherry popped. Amanda Fritz made me do it. And now there’s no going back. I’m going to ride more…dirty and wet.
Then in early March, as if on cue, Portland Parks and Rec took another dump on area cyclists by banning bikes in one of the few public areas where bikes had been allowed on trails.
This is not the first time the City has yanked the rug out from under advocates, planners and builders who dedicated extensive resources over the past couple of years. Numerous MTB advocates have attempted to work with the city in good faith, to try to craft a solution to include more trail access for bikes in Portland.
What really stinks about this latest maneuver was how and why the City turned tail. I’m not going to detail the particulars about this betrayal of public trust; suffice it to say city Commissioners rather arbitrarily and capriciously decided to cut off a mountain bikers (which had not been identified as a threat to the areas conservation goals), while simultaneously taking no measures to address actual threats that had been clearly identified by an advisory committee. In other words, Portland hates mountain bikes.
On March 16th, a ride was scheduled to protest the River View decision and the city’s abandonment of public process. Organized by local rider and racer, and fellow bloggerati, Charlie Sponsel, The River View Protest Ride drew over 300 riders. Ironically, the ride happened on city streets, circling the River View area as heavy rains in the days before the ride rendered the trails vulnerable. To demonstrate mountain bikers’ commitment to good trail stewardship, the decision was made to stay off the trails, and take to the streets.
The protest drew attention from dozens of media outlets—both national and local—who covered the event, and within days the city was shifting in its seat, made uncomfortable from all the heat. Pressure from International Mountain Bicycling Association, People for Bikes, and League of American Bicyclists, in the form of a letter sent to Mayor Charlie Hales and all four city commissioners. Portland’s status as a “Platinum Status Bike-Friendly City”—as anointed by the League of American Bicyclists—is in jeopardy, as hundreds of cyclists of all stripes insist Portland no longer deserves the title. As Vernon Felton points out in his article which begs a redefinition of what a Platinum Status Bike-Friendly City is, Portland really never deserved the title in the first place with these policies and attitudes. (And have you been on Williams Avenue since the city turned it from a perfectly functional and useable bikeway into a clusterfuck of a rat maze death trap for both cars, bikes and pedestrians alike?)
Other municipalities across the country have been able to accommodate similar user groups, with minimal or no user conflicts. Yet Portland’s elected and appointed officials have—for far too long—catered to certain well-funded, elitist NIMBYs who have negative and inaccurate perceptions of who mountain bikers are and what they’re about.
Fair and equal access to public lands is all Portland mountain bikers are asking for. Scratch that—we aren’t asking anymore. We’re demanding. We live here. We pay taxes. We volunteer in our communities. And we vote. But what the City of Portland needs to recognize more than anything these days is we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
River View was the tipping point for Portland area mountain bikers. It’s just the beginning. Both IMBA and NWTA encourage riders to keep up the letter-writing campaigns, and I support that call to action. But I also suspect this is Portland’s reaction to such efforts:
By all means, keep writing those letters. And as soon as you’ve mailed them off, get on your bikes and ride. Because we need to be visible. We need to make a big noise. And we need to keep the heat on the city for as long as it takes to effect significant change.
Next week we take the battle to Forest Park. One of the largest city parks in the country, Forest Park offers 70 miles of trails spread out over 5,000 acres—yet a mere 1/3 of a mile of the available singletrack open to mountain bikers. And what happened at River View happened with Forest Park time and again over the past several years.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 good. Guess 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.
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.”
—LAO TZU, TAO TE CHING
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.
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.
Like riding bikes but hate feeling stiff, achy and in pain from it? BikeYoga was developed for people who ride bikes. It is a system of easy movements and stretches to help "tune-up" your body for greater comfort and ease—on and off the bike.
The Lumberyard is Oregon's only indoor bike park, offering year-round riding fun and skill building opportunities for adults (and kids, duh) of all ages. Just passing through? Check it out!