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
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.
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.
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.
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 with neck tattoos and vaping, semi-retired baristas are the ruling class. The DIY renaissance is alive and well in Portland.
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 trendy, 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. Because as much as I like to poke fun at her—so much low-hanging fruit—Portland is a gem of an urban environment in many ways.
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, she’s cradled in some of Mother Nature’s finest geography. 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.
See, Portland has about a whopping six 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 LA.
Not to flog an analogy to death, but for a city which is regarded nationally as a gateway to the rugged Pacific Northwest, this is 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because AIR HOCKEY.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.project529.com, 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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
Last week I attended the cycling industry season kick off known as the Sea Otter Classic, and am at this very moment penning a riveting accounting of that event. I can absolutely guarantee 100% said report will not utilize the word “epic” except to describe the sunburn I received on my sub-suprasternal notch area also known as my chestal region. I cannot guarantee the phrase Sea Otter won’t be replaced with “Seat Odder”, which is how my voice-to-text memo on my so-called smart phone translates.
However, we interrupt our regular non-epic event review to bring you this fresh video dispatch from our friends at Swobo and Bicycle Times, featuring the illustrious (and I mean that in more ways that one) Stevil Kinevil.
Kudos to Swobo and Bicycle Times for producing this fantastic look into the mind of the man behind the madness that is All Hail the Black Market.
I now return to my regular write-up of Sea Otter 2014, featuring numerous other industry legends, luminaries and myths. Back later…
After a long week of bad news on top of bad news, a long weekend of good news in the form of bikes rides and beer is in order. To kick off my weekend mission of awesome-making, I stopped by Portlandia’s sweetest wheel builder for a little bike industry career counseling sugar. Jude’s off to Japan for a few weeks in celebration of her long-overdue honeymoon, but when she gets back we’re going for an (also overdue) bike ride to talk shop. Thanks, Jude and should you find your hovercraft inundated with eels, remember this phrase: Watashi no hobākurafuto wa unagi de ippai desu.
I also received an incredibly rad note from a fan I never knew I had. Sure, I can look at site stats and see how many people are reading this page. I run engagement analytics and get detailed data which tells me where people refer from or to and how much time they spend on the page (or don’t). But I don’t assume the people reading my drivel care about it. So when I received a very passionate note of encouragement, I was surprised, to say the least.
Keep writing! Women need you to represent them… to convince them to stop accepting the treatment they’re accustomed, to create their own industry, their own market, their own products, etc… You’re the voice of women’s mountain biking! You need to be writing more! Don’t quit!
I don’t see myself as the voice of women’s anything, personally. I just write and ride, right? But still… Thanks, Brandon.
I also got called out by a friend who’s pretty amazeballs on the bike and as a human being. He said I needed to “quit being such a pansy” (that’s a direct quote) and OWN my baller MTB skills. All too frequently I default to a self-deprecating dismissal of my dirt riding prowess, deeming myself unworthy as I measure myself against dudes who’ve been racing and riding for decades longer than I have, and find myself coming up short. No more. I’m calling bullshit on myself. Thanks, Brian.
And finally, I received an official invitation to join the Zero F*cks Given Club, by another very strong, very impervious woman who also happens to be an incredible Athletic Trainer who gets wounded athletes back in the game, fast. Ali reminded me to always be unapologetically myself: sassy, feisty, passionate, assertive. As if I had a choice. Thanks, Ali.
To kick off what I suspect will be a weekend of much awesome-making, I met a new client today to talk business over a beer. We met at the fabulous Green Dragon in Portlandia, where the arrival of spring was officially confirmed with the arrival of Double Mountain’s Clusterf*ck Single Hop IPA. In my book, Single Hop and Dry Hopped IPAs are the nectar of ales and Clusterf*ck is the nectar of nectars. It takes cojones to name your beer with an F-bomb, which is a perfect reminder of one of Doctor Suess’ most valuable lesson to us all:
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
Here’s to great beer, good friends, and better advice. Now go be yourself this weekend and make awesome happen.
The cool thing about being a freelance content creator is getting to work on some cool projects with some cool people. One of my most fun collaborations over the past couple years has been with pro mountain biker, Ross Schnell. Ross hired me to design a couple of websites, and produce and edit his sponsorship media portfolios.
Most recently I edited this GoPro video taken during Ross’ 2012 Megavalanche qualifier. It’s a bit rough in spots, but you get the idea that this is one über technical, rough ride. By the way, for the non-German speakers in the house, the word schnell means fast in German, which probably explains how Ross came in third fastest out of 2200 riders.
Megavalanche has been on my bucket list since I first started getting into mountain biking. It’s a brutally demanding marathon downhill style mountain bike race across technical terrain through the French Alps, including a section that rolls through the infamous Alpe d’Huez. And while there are plenty of North American rides I have yet to cross off, take a look at the particulars for this mostly downhill ride and you’ll see why Megavalanche is at the top of my wish list.
The race begins on a snow-covered glacier at the summit of the Pic Blanc at just under 11,000 ft and descends to 2300 ft, over 18 miles of singletrack with stunning views of the rugged mountain range. 18 miles may not sound like much for a mountain bike ride, until you consider gravity is pulling you down the mountain the entire way. The fastest pro racer in 2013, Jerome Clementz, crossed the finish line in a mere 38:42. Most of Jerome’s competition took nearly nearly twice as long.
The event spans the course of three days with practice runs and race day events including:
The lifts and trails are open to anyone with a race plate. Riders are encouraged to ride the course as much as possible in order to prepare for the upcoming carnage of race day.
Personally, I would recommend stopping to take in the view here as much as possible, because you won’t have that luxury on race day when you’re pinning it while desperately trying not to crash.
Beginning early in the day, riders are transported by cable car to the start. Heats of between 200-250 riders ride the qualifying course which is a shorter version of the actual race course, with the same types of features. The results of riders’ qualifying runs determine placement at the start on race day.
BOMBER TIP: It is very important to ride as though your life depended on it in your qualifier. This will assure you don’t start the main race from the back of the field, which would require getting around hundreds of angry, flailing, fleshy obstacles who are all likely crashing right in front of you, booby trapping you with their now-horizontal bikes.
The top 50 or so riders from the qualifying heats begin the main race on fresh snow. The following 50 from each qualifier then race in a the next event, the ‘Mega Promo’. Any riders who fall outside these categories are grouped into two additional sets and can start at any time after the mass start races, and record their times via transponder chip, automatically.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking there’s no carnage if you are independently timed. Sounds great, right? Wrong. By now the snow has been mulched into deep slush with 8 inch deep ruts after having been schralped by hundreds of much better riders than you. Because you won’t be able to stay on your saddle for more than 45 seconds, you’ll be running alongside your bike, desperately clutching the bars for dear life. It’s at that moment you will regret not splurging on those super mega awesome ultra light parts to shed a pound or two from your bike because mass equals speed when you are sliding down frozen water. Good luck staying upright.
For the past several years, a little over 2,000 participants have made the start at the summit. The lead group of racers provide the biggest thrill in terms of sheer speed and riding ability. However, the affinity races offer spectators the greatest amusement, as scores of less confident, equipped, skilled or just plain unlucky riders slide, smash, scramble, skid, and sled across the large expanses of snow at the start.
In one of the most entertaining examples of this insanity, Ben Watkins, owner of Alpine Gravity mountain bike tours in Australia captured the “mega carnage” of 2013’s start. Sadly for Ben, his derailleur and shifter were broken when he was crashed into so while he didn’t win the race, he definitely won the internet with his video. From the sound of it, I’d say Ben had himself a pretty good time despite crashing out.
Most of the Megavalanche competitors are from mainland Europe, with few American participants. Unless you’re a sponsored pro rider paid to be there, or independently wealthy, it’s a steep price tag for a bike ride that is likely to break you or your bike into pieces.
Taking into consideration air fare, accommodations, race entry fees and all that downhill bike gear, it’s not likely I’ll be riding the Megavalanche during this lifetime unless I win the lottery. I’m a patient woman, though… I’ve already determined I will be reincarnated in my next life as a young MBX prodigy destined for two-wheeled mega greatness.
N+1. It’s a pithy formula which jokingly points out how many bikes one should possess. Non-cyclists won’t understand the need for having a bike quiver. I know quite a number of people who collect bikes not merely to satisfy some personal fetish, but to preserve the rich history of cycling. Most of the people I know who love riding have multiple bikes for a different reason: N+1 = the right tool for the job.
Minimalists will argue that no one needs more than one bike. That may be true if your entire relationship to cycling is just to get from point A to point B with no concern for how comfortably or quickly you get there or what sort of terrain is involved. But if a large part of how you spend your non-working life is pedaling for recreation or exercise, or you’re a professional (or passionate amateur) competitive cyclist, you’re probably going to want to have multiple bikes.
At the height of my amateur racing career I had 9 bikes. I lived in an old apartment building in northwest Portland and had to carry my bikes up and down two flights of stairs. My living room became a bike shop; instead of a flat screen TV and loveseat I had a Park Tools work stand and toolbox to keep me entertained. Each bike was purpose-specific; sport touring, road racing, time trialing, cyclocross race bike, cyclocross pit (and rain) bike, full suspension mountain bike, rigid singlespeed mountain bike, and a track racing bike. The oldest of the bunch was my old commuter bike which I kept sentimentally—a Kona Lava Dome, circa 1994 which saw dirt about three times before I decided I hated mountain biking, put slicks on it and used it to commute in San Francisco.
Looking back, I can admit it was a bit much, but at the time it made sense. I was a late bloomer to racing and I wasn’t as serious about competing as I was passionate about it. I wanted to give myself every advantage available when it was game time. Okay, maybe I was a little bit serious. Some folks call it a mid-life crisis. I prefer to think of it as a mid-life awakening, but I digress.
I’m down to five bikes now, all of which get regular use. And while I don’t NEED a fat bike right now, I could really use one. I play outside to stay fit and healthy and I can neither afford nor wish to ski in crappy wet snow on Mt Hood, but I’d ride my butt off all winter if I had a fat bike. Also, call it a gravel grinder if you must, but I’m pretty sure I need a rugged, disc brake enabled touring bike. Because after I head up to SSWC in Anchorage this summer, I’m planning to meander through the Alaskan back country a bit. The right tool for the job, see?
While I agree N+1 could just be a clever maxim to justify an obsession, I believe it has practical value. For example, in the event of a zombie apocalypse would you want to be limited to having only ONE weapon? Of course not. You’d want to arm yourself to the teeth with whatever you can. Having the right tool for the job in event of a zombie attack depends on the kind of zombies you’re dealing with. For example, are we talking about Z Wars’ rabid, rage-filled flesh eaters who move faster than Usain Bolt going for the gold in the 100meter, or are we talking The Walking Dead’s lumbering zombies lurching about like Betty Ford clinic failures?
NOTE: Brad Pitt does not remove his shirt in the making of World War Z. Save your money.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re dealing with The Walking Dead type of zombie and a Walking Dead type of armory to choose from. Do you go for the authoritative-but-noisy handgun or rifle, the silent-but-deadly crossbow or the sword? Each has advantages and disadvantages. Both the cross bow and gun provide medium to long range defense, but the gun and rifle are loud and attract more zombies. The crossbow offers reusable ammunition and is stealthy quiet, but slow to reload. The sword is swift and silent, but only useful for close range defense.
I prefer the Girl Scout approach: Be prepared.
First off, I hate semi-automatic weaponry so I’d skip the machine gun which makes a lot of noise. Those magazines jam all the time, anyway. I’d start with a Glock 19 in a hip holster because it’s the most common hand gun in use, meaning ammunition would be easier to scavenge. Secondly, I’d want a cross bow because they’re kind of sexy in a romantic era way, plus the reusable arrows appease my inner tree-hugging recycler. Next I’d have a Hattori Hanzo katana slung over one shoulder because hello! How badass is that? Who says you have to sacrifice style in the name of self defense?
To round things out for super close combat, I’d have a small knife tucked into a boot, and a big-ass toothy hunting knife across my chest. Finally, I’d be so ripped from carrying all this hardware around that if I were somehow separated from all my weaponry I’d be able to just punch a zombie in the head and take it out, no problemo.
If I had to choose just one bike to ride, it’s a no brainer. It’s partly an emotional/romantic decision, because there is something transcendent about riding the Ninja Cougar. Funny to think a bike I bought for “winter training” years ago would become my most beloved. Granted, she is a kick ass singlespeed. Her front triangle is painted a stealthy ninja black, but the seat and rear stays are raw titanium. Her DT Swiss 240s make the sweetest, quiet purr on the trail. She’s light, and fast, and nimble, and perfectly balanced, and dammit, I’ll say it…she’s sexy. A singlespeed is also MUCH more quiet than a geared bike, which might be important, given zombies’ attracted to sound. No Chris King hubs here for just that reason. Just sayin’.
Yes, I’m a smitten kitten when it comes to my Ninja Cougar, but there’s also ruthless pragmatism behind my choice; singlespeed mountain bikes are low maintenance, have fewer parts to replace or repair, are more rugged than a skinny-wheeled road bike, and will go just about anywhere.
So the next time someone gives you a hard time about N+1, think zombie survival.