Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mumm's in your eye

Who here has ever sampled aged Champagne?

Sounds like an OXY(dized) MORON, huh?

Well listen up you Urban Gleaners....
Two years ago, in a neighborhood dumpster, I found some seemingly nice bottles of booze…the kind you put aside for a special occasion.

They'd been forgotten by the original (and presumed dead, judging from the contents of the good in the rubbish tip) owner.

….Evidence that life is indeed too short!

Having dessert first–and perhaps even Champagne for breakfast in ones’ later years wouldn’t be completely off the mark…

I dug around and found some 1970s port, this single Champagne from Reims (no date on it) and a few reds. None had shattered.

All were hot from laying in the summer sun, and had to be sped home to the Taj Mahovel Recovery Room (the crawl space under the house where we hide in the 100-degree days that will become more numerous in the coming decade).

Since then, I enjoyed each from that trove, save one.

Until now I was too scared to try it.
I ‘d never heard of ‘antique’ Champagne, and like your average person, understood that super-young was the only way to have it. Crispy, light, dry with very little fruit discernible.

Turns out that the stuff can age, as long as it's lying on its side (”on the lees”) in a carefully controlled environment, away from light and vibration.
While Champagne makers have an economic interest in selling more wine by convincing us it’s best consumed within the year, much Champagne improves with some [cork] aging.

Jancis Robinson notes that some Champagnes can become significantly more complex with aging on the cork–”if properly stored”.

I imagined the jolt inflicted on the stiff-upper-lipped Mumm’s, hurled over the dumpster’s edge and coming to rest atop sofa-cushions, baling wire, wood chips, shoe boxes, golf clubs, plastic flowers, dishware, shoes and other junk.
That bottle was meant for me, and intended to be enjoyed despite its sketchy background.

For the slimmest of reasons I decided to open it up today: as a budget tribute to the great and ever so humble, complex and intense Sheldon Brown.

Ian (”evolnollidge”) and I did our Sheldon Ride earlier in the afternoon, though we attracted no other ‘Sheldonysians”.
Four year old Kai braved the rude winds in the ten mile Get To The Start Of The Ride portion, and entertained himself in the back seat of dad’s Dutch bike by doing a reasonable imitation of our prattle. I presume he was a trouper in the (headwinds both directions) ten miles home.

I like to think Sheldon would have appreciated the toasty maderized (doesn't mean ruint) notes in the bottle I literally broke into.

A crumbling broken cork meant no dramatic pop; the color was amber with superfine bubbles racing in thin lines up the glass. A candy aroma hovered over the surface and I realized I was going to be amazed with my ‘find’.
So this is “maderization”? Is a Maillard reaction likely to improve what’s left during the years on the cork? Or am I just trying to type words here than might then brand themselves into my mind, since I'm pretending to know what they mean?
I gotta learn how to do links...

For once Charlie didn’t make a face after one tiny sip. I can offer no greater accolade from a non-drinker for whom everything one imbibes and ingests must have a Nutrititve Purpose.

Burnt bread, raisins and even some brandy flavor dwelled in the ruddy liquor.

It was a revelation….complex and rewarding.

Heaven knows the price was right…here’s Mumm’s in your eye, Sheldon!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fear is the Mind Killer

I love Baja Mexico. I've spent more than 12 months there spread over a few trips. It's a beautiful part of the world with spectacular scenery, generous people and lots of open space. I find that I spend a lot of time just looking around and drinking in the scenery. I've sea kayaked, beach camped, ridden dual sport motorcycles, eaten way too many tacos and imbibed countless beers in Baja. I've also done some bike touring.

On the surface a bike tour down the Baja is not a good idea. The only "real" road is a narrow highway with a single lane in each direction. When working on this road the highway crews just pile more asphalt on the old stuff which means you often have a 2"-5" vertical drop off from the paved portion to the steep narrow dirt shoulder. Then consider all the traffic for this part of Mexico speeds down this road at way over 100kph. To make things even worse lots of the traffic consists of folks in RVs who seem barely able to control their rigs as well as all the tractor trailer trucks hauling supplies to this remote part of the world. Oh yeah I forgot about the crazy mountain roads with loads of blind corners and heinous cliffs that would mean sure death to any bike tourist foolish enough to ride them.

Is it really that bad? Well I have friends in San Diego who have spent more than a decade in Baja and they made it sound even more insane than I did in the paragraph above. In fact they pretty much assured me that I'd either die or turn back soon after I started. Before I rode my bike in Baja I had been there on a motorcycle and in my 4x4 pickup several times. I had to agree the roads were not ideal and traffic was crazy.

So why even bother? Well I truly love Baja like no place else on Earth so the thought of getting to experience a new side to this old friend was very attractive to me. Secondly I had seen folks on bike tours during my vehicular visits, not many, but the ones I did see were looking quite alive - smiling even. What finally pushed me over the edge was meeting a 55 year old Swiss lady at a beach camp near Puerto Escondido [a location which will have some significance later in my story]. She was in the middle of a 5 month bike tour. I stopped my truck and got out to talk to her. I was amazed she was touring by herself in Mexico and she was 55! She laughed at me remarking what was the big deal - it's just riding a bike - nothing to stress about.

So there I was rolling down Hwy 1 in Baja. Having a laugh with my tour partner [BTW - she writes a mean bike touring story and takes some kick ass photos]. It quickly became apparent that at bike speeds you didn't encounter traffic that often and most of the time traffic coming from the rear had the whole oncoming lane free to pass us. Not only were Mexican drivers polite and courteous, they were genuinely excited to see us. When I saw a long line of trucks coming towards us in a convoy I got ready to wave back non-stop until they passed. Frankly, coming from a car-centric culture, it was awesome...=-) We did have the very odd driver, often in an RV, who wasn't as considerate, but with the judicious use of our rear view mirrors this was never a problem. One of my favourite memories is a truck diver who stayed behind us for ages in first gear as we climbed a mountain - simply because it wasn't safe to pass. No honking, no yelling, no problemo. I honestly can't say it enough - the people in Baja are wonderful.

After a week of smiles, miles and too many tacos we found ourselves at that beach camp near Puerto Escondido where I had met the nice Swiss lady. I smiled inside with the memory of that encounter and the profound power we have to inspire each other. I ran into some old friends RV camping on the beach so we took a couple rest days off the bike. Between hikes and more taco/beer sessions we chatted with the beach campers - all Americans or Canadians. To our horror we heard one terrible bike/car story after another. Muggings, killings, name it. Some of them recent - such as the story of a couple touring down the main highway. The husband was a bit in front of his wife when a car cut her off and robbed her. They stole important documents, cameras and money - plus they destroyed her front wheel....=-( Everyone urged us to end the trip and get home safely. To say we were bummed is an understatement.

Regardless we decided to ignore everyone and started off down the highway. We had an awful day. People weren't as friendly, drivers were aggressive, the riding was harder - all in all in was a bad day. As we rolled up to our crappy hotel and tried to get some food I remarked to my tour partner that maybe nothing had actually changed since our previously positive touring experiences - except our attitudes and expectations after "beach gloom and doom". She concurred and we tapped our beer bottles together promising to start the next day with the same easy going vibe we had shared before our break.

Well the amazing thing was the next day [and the rest of the tour] was back to smiles and laughs all the way to Cabo. The whole bad day had been in our heads - residual negativity from our RV friends. I'm not suggesting nothing bad ever happens in Baja, but in over 12 months of travel there I've never been attacked, robbed, insulted, cheated, etc... In fact the reverse is true. I've been over whelmed by random acts of kindness from Mexicans and Gringos alike.

Later in our trip, as we were preparing to leave La Paz on a final push to Cabo, we ran into a friendly American ex-pat who wanted to know where we were headed. When we told him we were taking the mountain road around the East Cape and into Cabo he warned us it was suicide. Too many trucks, deadly mountain roads, banditos and corrupt police. We didn't bother arguing we just smiled and replied - " would be sure probably can't even get there by bike....thanks for the warning we'll take the bus!" The ride through the mountains to Cabo turned out to be some of the most fun riding of the trip!

A Buddhist friend of mine once told me - " don't live in the world...the world lives in you..." I try and remember that I have a huge influence in how I experience my life. I don't let fear get me down any more.

- The Lazy Randonneur

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Phantoms, Part 2

1988. My father and I pause outside the door of Mr. K’s Bicycles and Billiards, our first stop in the search for my first mountain bike. Dozens of “Authorized Dealer” decals radiate out in a confetti blast from their point of origin near the Business Hours sign: Cannondale clothing, Finish Line Authorized Service Center, Oakley eyewear, Brunswick pool tables, Trek bicycles, Park tools, Specialized bicycles, GT BMX... I can hardly find enough glass in the door to see inside. When my father pushes it open, there is no bell or buzzer to announce our entrance. A strip of rubber-backed red carpet runs from the door to the counter at the back of the store. On the left stand two new pool tables, fields of untouched green felt broken only by cardboard pyramids touting “Marble Base” and “Financing Available.” Locked glass cases of cues line the left wall like weapons on display. On the right, three rows of new bicycles sit in formation, a fourth rank hanging from hooks in the ceiling. The front windows on both sides are lined with bikes. Nylon saddle bags, plastic water bottles, and shining Lycra shorts fill the gaps in the pegboard walls.

“Here’s what Dale got.” Dad leads me over to a pearl-white Trek 830 mountain bike with teal decals, the exact same bike my cousin bought just two weeks ago. “I love the paint. Not just white. See how it catches light, like a shell?”

Roland, the owner (Mr. K himself) comes out of the workshop, wiping the grease from his hands onto his denim apron. “Afternoon, Gordy. What can I do for you fellas?”

“My son is looking at mountain bikes.” So true. I am looking at them all, awed by the thick rubber tires and shining frames in symmetrical rows. The bikes form an impenetrable line of toughness, of attitude. If internal combustion engines had never been invented, this is what the outside of a biker bar would look like.

“Thinking about that 830?”

I nod, thinking about it a lot, even though the paycheck burning out of my pocket - the first of my working life - won’t cover half of the $350 asking price.

“Did you see the one in the window? The grey one?” He leads me back across the border to the front of the store. At the end of a gleaming row of identical Specialized Rockhoppers sits a lone Trek 830, dark grey, with the same teal decals and a painted-to-match teal stem. “This is last year’s model. Brand new, never ridden. A leftover. It’s on sale, fifty bucks cheaper than the ‘88 for just about the same bike. Looks to be your size, even.”

“We have a trade in,” Dad announces, calling Roland back and giving me time and space to think. My father’s haggling is a warm murmur on the periphery. I’m too busy falling in love to notice. This grey leftover is different, the last of its breed. I decide, without hesitation, that I don’t want Dale’s bike. I want Jason’s bike.

Like any good salesperson, Roland wasn’t telling me the whole truth. After five years of on-again, off-again work in bicycle sales and repair, I now know the differences between 1987 and 1988 beyond paint jobs. The frames were the same, but the ‘87 had lousy brakes, fewer speeds, and oval chainrings designed (in theory) to increase the rider’s power, a theory which has since gone the way of the flat-earth hypothesis. The wheels bolted on instead of using the more convenient quick-release levers, a difference I would come to appreciate with each knuckle-skinning slipped wrench. Color-matched stems were a cycling fashion trend that came and went in the span of two model years, right before neon paint jobs took over. Side-by-side, despite sharing a model number, they were two completely different bikes. Roland was dumping, getting rid of old stock with a customer who didn’t know any better. Having done the same thing, I’m in no position to question the ethics of the sale.

What Roland saw, and what any good bicycle salesperson comes to recognize, is the connection. That’s why I still respect him, despite what my after-the-fact mechanical knowledge tells me. When someone makes a real, visceral link between their identity and a bike, you can talk quick releases and skinned knuckles all day, but it won’t matter. They may not understand the link consciously -- I can only verbalize mine with a decade of hindsight -- but when they feel it, the sale closes. Something about one specific bike meshes with the person they want to be in a way that the other bikes simply cannot. Try to convince a ten-year-old to ride a blue bike when she has her mind set on a red one and you’ll see just what I mean. Kids just haven’t learned how to justify their paint-job instincts with technical specifications yet.

With my decade of hindsight, I know what connection I made at sixteen, what I needed. My old ten-speed was slender, perched on delicate tires, designed for long, meditative journeys down empty county roads. It didn’t fit under an overweight, insecure teenager looking to test his limits, his identity. I was tired of those long, boring rolls through the country watching my father’s back wheel. When a territorial farm dog made its sprint for the property line, teeth bared, aiming for our spinning calves, Dad reached for his Dazer -- an electronic dog repellent which looked like a garage door opener but emitted an ultrasonic squeal dogs couldn’t tolerate. I sprinted, daring the beast to give chase, standing on my pedals, laughing as teeth snapped shut inches from my leg. Dad lagged behind, giving the tired animal a half-hearted Daze once it gave up on me. When we challenged Moonlight Bay Hill, a quarter mile stretch that shot defiantly out of the Illinois plain, Dad shifted to his lowest gear and fought his way up, one painful pedal stroke at a time. I raced past him to the crest, turned back, rode down to where he labored, and raced up again. My young legs could do three laps before he made it to the top. He probably hated me, but he always graciously bought two Cokes at the McDonald’s up the road to celebrate our defeat of the worst hill in the county.

Jason Nunemaker
Des Moines, IA

More on unions and personal transportation

Once you start thinking about a topic, you often see it pop up more and more often around you. For example, I rarely noticed cyclists until I became one, then I started seeing them everywhere -- on the streets, in movies, in ads, etc.

In a recent post here on Veloquent, I wrote about my life as a union organizer and the intersection of that work with cycling. I also mentioned that I thought it was cool to strike a blow for environmental justice at the same time as I'm working toward economic justice. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not ascribing any huge impact to my decision, but I've come to believe that most successful change starts out locally anyway.

Today, writer and labor commentator Jonathan Tasini wrote a piece on "Clean Air and Labor Rights" that talks about a combined campaign for air quality and unionization at the Port of Los Angeles. While this campaign will still end up with drivers, not cyclists, it's an important step in the labor/environmental alliance.

This morning, I watched a short film called Matamoros: The Human Face of Globalization, which was on this month's DVD from Iron Weed Films, a wonderful progressive film club that I just joined. The documentary showed scenes from the maquilladora zone in Mexico, where hundreds of U.S. companies produce goods with cheap labor and little or no environmental standards. One of the chief products? Car parts.

Yesterday, I rode my bike to a union rally at Albany's Channel 13, where the workers have been without a contract for 6 months. One of my coworkers asked my if I used the bike for work. I said yes, and he decided right there on the spot to start taking the bus for his Albany shop visits. "Most of my members take the bus to work, and there's no reason I shouldn't do the same thing," he said. It serves two purposes -- he'll see many of his members on the commute, and he'll also be using one less car for that part of his job. He also mentioned getting a bike, and I'll certainly encourage that.

All of this to say that I think there's a real space for creative work where labor rights and transportation choices meet. My experience in Rochester was that the majority of cyclists were urban poor, and that seems to be holding true here in Albany. Many of those folks are among the workers we'll be trying to organize in the coming years. It's also the case that many of our members get to work without a car because they don't have -- or can't afford -- their own car. Why not do something to convert some of these folks into cyclists?

It seems to me that the more people start to broaden their view of economic justice -- for example, connecting petroleum use with environmental and economic exploitation -- the more we'll be creating a real labor movement in this country. Given that most of the newly organized workers these days are immigrants from countries where bicycles are more common than they are here in the U.S., my guess is that introducing personal transportation as a topic will be fairly easy.

Is this the answer to all our problems? No. But in a world where transportation is a large piece of the race to the bottom that American and multinational companies are engaged in, it's time for a real conversation about how to make smart choices for the good of our brothers and sisters around the world.

Pain is temporary...

...but so is pleasure.

Ever since I heard the LA quote, "Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever." it has been the mantra that gets me to dig deep and push through my athletic goals. It reminds me how relative time really is, and how as much as I think I'm hurting at any given moment, I'll soon be looking back on it from the other side, and wondering, "Could I have gone harder/faster/farther?" With that thought in mind, I push through the pain of the moment to find my inner potential, and never quit.

So if we understand the impermanence of pain, why do some of us struggle so with applying the same concept to pleasure? Oh, get your minds out of the gutter (there's not enough room for all of us in there!)... I'm speaking of the pleasure of the pallet! For one week, I abstained from my guilty pleasure of vanilla lattes and scones, and I FELT GREAT! Then came bike expo, with it's long hours, and high energy expenditure... we all fell off the health wagon at expo. But apparently the wagon took off at lightening speed because try as I might, I can't find it to GET BACK ON!

I know it's that damn hypothalamus! And if you're a fan of the Set Point Theory, you'll agree. I am currently at my lowest adult weight, but still carrying 23% (+/-) body fat. That's quite a few useless pounds that I'll be carrying over 140.6 miles. Improving body composition is one of the easiest (easy for who??) ways to improve VO2max, and hence, race performance. But if your body is happy where it's at, who are you to argue?

These are the kinds of things I contemplate on long runs or rides. Not long swims... on long swims I'm too busy trying not to loose count of my laps! Ha!

Another thing I've wondered about lately is self-imposed stress, and how people from all walks of life seem to do it, just in different ways. This idea started rolling around in my head when I started running downtown, passing by countless homeless on the streets of Seattle. I started wondering what they must think of me running by, with my matching technical outfit, $100 running shoes, ipod, etc. How ridiculous & indulgent I must seem to them, as I put myself through this rigorous training while they struggle to survive another day. I know that beneath the surface crap we're really not all that different. Bear with me here...

Any Matrix fans out there? Of course. Remember when Agent Smith tells Morpheus how the first matrix program gave everyone a perfect life with no struggle? And that it was a failure because the population rejected it? Well, I am not homeless (at least not today), so I train for Ironman.

I should have majored in philosophy. Did I tell you about the time I wrote a paper that won the class "think off" in Philosophy class? No? Well, another time...

Reprinted from No Try

Monday, March 24, 2008

bike love: feels like flying

This bike, a mid-70's Centurion, was my primary bicycle for several years. It was light and fast, and it's what I first learned the art of bicycle mechanistry on. My boss and teacher, Quinn (z'l)*, bought it with me at a yard sale somewhere along the Alsea River, took it back to his tiny bike shop in Waldport, Oregon, and together we tore it apart. He showed me how to clean and re-lube each component. We stored the freshly-cleaned parts on a shelf, and then he handed me the frame and fork and told me to strip the paint. By hand. "I know the guys down at the True Value," he growled, "and I've told them to tell me if you buy any chemicals from them. No chemicals!"
He handed me a bag of steel wool and an enveloped of emery paper and told me to have it stripped within the week. That meant every morning before my shift at the coffeehouse, and every evening after my shift at Quinn's shop, where I was working under the table and learning how to fix bikes. I stripped off the paint and watched in wonder and fascination as the brazing began to show underneath, all silvery-brass lines and gleaming as I sanded with finer and finer grades to get rid of the streaks. I brought the frame back with broken fingernails and scabbed knuckles and nervously presented it to Quinn, who turned it around and over several times and finally nodded his approval.

We put the stripped frame upside-down on a broom handle and stuck the handle into the repair stand. Quinn taped the threads and head badge with masking tape, carefully cutting away the excess around the headbadge with an exacto knife. He brought out a case of spray paint, handed me goggles and a can of primer and told me to start painting. While I carefully applied the first coat of primer, Quinn began pulling out box after box from his truck -- he'd gone all over town and borrowed some cheap suntan lamps, six of them. When each coat of paint was done, we'd set up the tanning lamps around the frame and turn them on on the lowest setting. By the next morning, the paint would be baked on. We did a coat of primer and three fine coats of dark royal blue this way. After the final coat, I asked Quinn to wait before applying the final coat of clear. I pulled out a white paint pen, and Quinn watched in surprise and then admiration as I carefully applied pinstriping to the lugs around the head tube, seat clamp and bottom bracket. After the final coat of clear gloss went on, Quinn and I assembled the bike using most of the old parts I'd cleaned and re-lubed, plus a few new replacement parts and a new set of upright handlebars. The maiden voyage out to Bayshore Spit and back, an eight-mile loop with celebratory picnic lunch, was a revelation. After four years on an old, heavy mountain bike, riding the Centurion felt like flying. I never forgot that feeling.

I rode that bike daily, and brought it back to Portland in 1995 when I came home to help care for my mother. Even after getting a job at Citybikes, when I could have had my pick of any cooler, fancier used bike in the place, I stood faithfully by my Centurion. In May of 1997, I was doored by a very large pickup truck. I got a concussion that left me sort of stupid for several days. My hand was seriously injured and my Centurion was damaged. After the surgery and the casting, while still on medical leave, my sister and I brought the bike to Citybikes, where I watched two of my co-workers attempt to straighten the frame. Cracks began to appear in the head tube lugs, and we all knew the bike was totaled. I went outside, sat down on the curb, and to my surprise I put my head in my arms and began to cry softly. Finally, one of my co-workers came over, and tried to comfort me: "look, it was the lady's fault, right? So you can get another frame with the settlement check, maybe something way nicer than this old Centurion."

I sighed. He couldn't get it and I couldn't explain it to him. We put the bike in my sister's truck and she drove me home. I carefully removed the head badge as a keepsake, hung the dead frame on a wall in the basement and thought about what to do next. A year of physical therapy and a second surgery followed, and I rode my roommate's bike perhaps five out of the next eleven months. I did a lot of walking and bus-hopping over that fall and winter.

In time I did heal, and in July of 1998 a settlement check arrived. It was fairly large, taking into account the severity of my injuries and nearly five months of time-loss. After considering my options, I decided to buy myself a custom bike frame. For someone on my budget it was a big step. I'd never ordered anything custom-to-fit-me in my life. Wanting to get it right, I even sent them my old frame, with the note: "I like the way this bike felt. Please imagine what it would've looked like un-bent and try to replicate the feel of this frame if you can. I will ride it with upright handlebars and a comfortable saddle." Several conversations back and forth helped to finalize my vision and the framebuilder's suggestions into a cohesive whole. After a year of waiting and riding a dirt-cheap, ill-fitting replacement bike in the meantime, I took delivery on The Rivvy in August of 1999.

I rode it as an upright citybike for several years. I tried it with drops for a couple of years but found I didn't like it. When another frame came my way that felt much better with drops, I immediately put uprights back on The Rivvy and now pick daily between the two bikes. Both bikes are pressed into regular service as commuters, load-carriers, trailer-towers. When I feel loose and stretched out and want to push myself to go longer or faster, I ride the drop-bar bike. When I just want to feel like I'm flying, I ride the upright bike.

In the right frame of mind, riding an upright bicycle IS like flying. Imagine a cockpit that looks like a sort of wingspan:

... and maybe you get the idea. Spindly and gangly, sort of like the paper-and-glue planes of the early years. Flying seems either foolhardy or glorious, depending on the results. And riding a road bike with upright bars can feel like that. It's not exactly the feeling I had with the Centurion, but it's close enough to make me happy.

It's sunny out this morning, and I feel like flying. I'm gonna ride The Rivvy to work.

*(z'l: abbreviation for the Hebrew term zichronah livrachah, translated as "of blessed memory"; to honor the name of a loved one who has passed on. Michael Patrick Quinlan was a gently misanthropic, dope-smoking hippie and bike shop wizard who taught me much and died much too young, and to whose memory I lovingly dedicate this post.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008


In a moment, like the flick of a switch, the landscape has been transformed. Only two weeks ago, even in Texas, we had a half foot of snow on the ground. Today, we gasp in the midst of a wildflower explosion.

The harsh, biting wind screaming across the thousand-shades-of-brown has given way to sunlight, warm breezes, and the scent of freshly mowed grass.

With bare skin exposed, the commute home was supercharged by solar powered optimism and a 20 mph tailwind.

Good news, my northern friends, Spring is coming. It just passed by Texas on its way to your town.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The rules of bike touring

Day three: Sept. 16, 2002

It's amazing how quickly the daily occurrences on a bike tour become routine.

The nuances of "normal" life - day after day staring at a computer for eight hours a day, driving home, making dinner, reading the paper, and going to bed - suddenly seem distant and strange. Peddling along a crumbling highway in the hot September sun - this seems normal.

As soon as routine begins to kick in, general truths come into view. On my recreational rides, hills were always an ominous presence, something to be avoided if possible. Here, in southwestern Colorado, they're just part of life. The foothills of the San Juan mountains roll away in the distance as far as I can see, gently caressing the San Miguel River Basin in a symbiotic wave, and in making my way over them, I learned that the general effort on a hill is always in your favor.

See, since most longer rides, regardless of distance, start and end at about the same elevation, the general truth of "what goes up must comes down" applies. Say you go up a five-mile long hill at maximum effort, moving at 5 mph. You reach the top, and start barreling down at 40 mph, tears streaming down your cheeks, smile stretched across your face - needless to say, you are exerting no effort. Though your average speed is only 9 mph, generally less than the flatland average, total energy exerted is only 50 percent per mile, also less than the flatland average, which hovers around 75. A steady stream of hills and drops allows you much needed rests wihtout stopping, plus it breaks up themonotany. So yes, I believe in the long run, hills are an advantage.

Here are a few other "rules" of bike touring that I have found along the way:

- The amount of room a vehicle leaves you while passing on the highway is inversely related to its size: small sedans will give you an entire lane while 18-wheelers are content to edge you into the shoulder as they blow by at 60 mph. Oncoming traffic is almost never a factor in this case.

- Do not collect the loose bolts on the road. What starts as a quaint souvenir quickly becomes a 20 pound zip lock bag filling up your rear pannier.

- Foods that do not require refrigeration: mustard, cheese, produce, fruit, and mayonnaise.

- Foods that do require refrigeration: BUTTER! (I learned this at the expense of a perfectly good cotton T-shirt)

- I don't care what anyone tells you, but chocolate is THE perfect bicycling/ backpacking food. It's tasty, it's compact, and at 150 calories per ounce, with a few pounds and a jar of multivitamins, you could head out into the wilderness for a month. In theory.

- Padded biking shorts are a necessity. I was once a scoffer myself, but a few 70 mile rides in nylon cargo pants have shown me the error of my ways.

- Bicycling jerseys, on the other hand, are a waste of money. Unless you are trying to shave two tenths of a second off each mile of a 3,000 mile trip, don't bother with head-to-toe skin tight clothing. Unless, of course, you bought the bicycle jersey because it is made of non-cotton material. Anything non-cotton is good. Cotton = wet and cold for an entire day.

- It doesn't matter how thick your tires are, your bike will always jackknife if you hit the breaks on a patch of ice. This rule applies to cars as well.

- The best campsites are nearly always the ones you just happen upon after walking your bike through the mud for half a mile.

- Do not burn dry cowpies. While a good rule of thumb for surviving a cold night in an area that's short on timber, this does not make for a pleasant campfire experience.

- The morning hours just before sunrise are really the best time for bicycling. Traffic is sparse, the lighting is good, and it really works up an appetite for a big breakfast. However, crawling out of a warm sleeping bag before the sun comes up is damn near impossible.

- When staying at a motel, avoid getting a room on the upper deck; 80 pound bikes do not go up stairs.

- Before leaving on the trip, print out some "business cards," detailing your point of departure, destination, average speed, average mileage per day, and the phrase, "Yes, I do get tired." This is a quick and easy way to answer all questions you are likely to hear a million times.

- And, finally, the unknown is the reason for putting one pedal in front of the other. Never fear it.

Phantoms, Part 1

Prequel/Preamble/Author's Note
First, many thanks to Kent Peterson for inviting me to this little party. It's quite an honor to be sharing electrons with some of the 'net writer-riders who first made me think that my dual passions for words and wheels might not be mutually exclusive.

I'll spare everyone the "get to know me" initial post and get straight to what I hope will be the good stuff. "Phantoms" was an essay I wrote in a previous life as an aspiring MFA student. It's quite massive, so out of respect for the reader and the rest of the Veloquencia, I'll feed it out in blog-sized morsels. I just noticed that the first one's out of season, as Iowa is just now creaking toward Spring rather than the impending Fall that inspired the original piece, but I hope you'll bear with me in spite of the disconnect. And, like most bike addicts, none of the rides mentioned are still in my stable. "Hello, my name is Jason, and I have a bike problem..."

Bike season just ended. Although I dutifully commute to and from work on two wheels well into the Fall, when daylight savings time runs out I give up. “Too dangerous,” I justify to myself. “Pitch black when I get off at 6:00, isolated country roads, weather getting colder, asthma kicking in.” My road bike now serves a six-month sentence indoors, bolted to a trainer in front of the TV for winter workouts. I can’t stand to look at it. A classic Schwinn Paramount, Italian steel tubes hand-brazed into long, traditional road racing lines, painted in thick coats of pearl white, hung with Campagnolo parts. Decades of racing tradition, rendered in steel, aluminum, and rubber. The bike wants to be on a road, diving through corners, attacking hills, rolling for long hours on endless pavement. It seems offended, immobilized on living-room carpet, propped up and secured like nothing more than a hamster’s exercise wheel.

“At least I’m using you,” I want to say, trying to appease my guilt. “And you get to stay in the apartment.” In the garage, my mountain bike isn’t so lucky. It hangs from an angular black storage stand, abandoned until the spring thaw, waiting impatiently. It is big, loud, modern, ignoring the history of its older, more refined cousin in the living room. Its brash blue paint bears the scars of past crashes, caked with the dirt of the just-ended season. Even on the hooks, five feet off the concrete floor, the bike wants to run things over, deep knobbed tires longing to bite fresh soil. I built it from the ground up, matching each part to my own preferences, choosing everything from the extra-durable wheels to my favorite saddle. A small plastic Chuckie Finster (the redheaded toddler of “Rugrats” fame) dangles from the handlebars for luck, features frozen in his trademark apprehension, splattered with months of mud. The bike’s shifters and brakes are now three seasons out of vogue, but I prefer these designs to their more cutting-edge equivalents, resisting the siren song of “new and improved.” In another two seasons, these parts will be old enough to be called “retro,” and both my bikes will have slid into cycling history, relics of another time. In cycling, obsolescence can be quick and cruel.

When I throw my leg over these bicycles, cleats on my shoes click into retention mechanisms on the pedals. The handlebars rest naturally where my arms fall. The grips show wear in the spots where my gloves rest. After years of bearing my weight, the saddles have shaped themselves to my contours. These three parts - pedals, handlebars, and saddle - are called contact points, the three places where the rider’s body touches the bike. After years of connection - the sound of my cleats snapping in, the shape of my palms pressed into the grips, the relief outline of my pelvic bones on the saddle - these bikes can no longer be entirely separated from their rider. Without their reassuring familiarity under my body, a part my identity seems absent. They are part of their owner, my attempt to define and redefine myself. When I hunker down on my road bike into a low aerodynamic crouch, hammering along an empty country road, I can momentarily forget that even in peak condition, I am thirty pounds heavier and ten miles per hour slower than the professional racing legends I pretend to be. And when I crest a hill on my mountain bike, slicing between trees, my tires sliding through corners and banging over logs, sometimes I forget that I am afraid of crashing.

Jason Nunemaker
Des Moines, IA

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What It's Like

I will not hesitate to credit Kent’s, “Frost and Moonlight” post (when originally published on his blog) as inspiration for this story from December 2007. Nor will I hesitate to credit that same work for inspiring many magic hours of cycling in darkness. Thanks, Kent.

Janet was surprised to learn that I took no photos during my early morning ride.

"Most of it was too dark", I replied without elaboration.

The truth is that there were several things about the ride that made an impression. A mental image, if you will. I thought that some readers of this blog might not have experienced an early morning, start-in-the-dark, chilly, bicycle ride through a rural area. If you can use your imagination for a minute, I'll tell you what it's like.

Leaving my lover all nestled under cover is like a lingering goodbye. It needs to happen, duty calls, you've really got to go, but you don't really want to leave her behind.

Rolling along in the pre-dawn darkness is both spectacular and eerie. To borrow a phrase from a Charlie Daniels Band song, the stars are like "diamonds on black velvet, stretching from horizon to horizon." The silence and limited vision are like walking into your dark house after being away. You know that it is unlikely that some stranger has broken in and come inside, but there is always that slight chance that he did and he's hiding in that dark corner.

The post-warm-up rhythm of climbing, descending, rounding corners, and adjusting pace to match terrain and wind conditions is like performing easy familiar work. It doesn't require thinking. The automatic motion of completing every climb and reaching the next curve in the road, provides a slow-burning sense of satisfaction like a job skillfully done.

On a clear day, the orange glow on the eastern horizon is like a visual trumpet fanfare signaling the imminent arrivial of some important dignitary.

The solitude is like owning the moment and owning everything you can see. With no one sight, it is like God personally hands you, and only you, this time and His creation to enjoy as His gift. You roll by every farm, every pasture, every creek, and every tree and admire them as if you went out to survey and admire the extent of your own vast empire.

Climbing a road that rises up to resist you is like having a tiny army to stoke the fire that burns in your legs. They provide all the power needed to meet the challenge and conquer all who dare to stand in your way.

When the just-before-sunrise temperatures reach their minimum and fog appears in low areas, it is like God signaled his servants, in an instant, to spread a thin blanket over the pasture. It can sleep a little longer.

Returning home as the sun leaps into the sky and light spills across the valley is like a celebration. It is a joyful homecoming, a reunion with a lover, and a hopeful expectation for what the day has yet to bring.

It's kinda like that.

Only better.

The Bedrock Store

Day 2 of a 600-mile bicycle tour in the Four Corners area of Colorado and Utah, Sept. 15, 2002.

By Jill Homer

An exhilarating descent down sharp switchbacks drops us in Colorado, land of extremes. As Geoff and I spin through the Dolores River Valley, our bikes drift into the middle of the road. No car has passed by in half an hour.

We're about nine miles from Bedrock, Colo., only the second town we'd pass through in over 50 miles. Geoff tells me to keep my eye out for a store, as ice cream has become our main motivation on this trip. Sandstone walls box in an sprawling agricultural oasis, still green and glowing from heavy rainstorms the week before.

Bedrock, on the other hand, looks dirty and worn. Those rainstorms that drenched the fertile fields west of here drained into the Dolores in a rush of saturated water. Bedrock, sitting just of the river banks, took the brunt of the drainage. Streets, tree trunks, and foundations are caked in red silt. Everything else in town appears beaten - 1970s-era trailers, vehicles on blocks, boarded windows, crumbling cabins all occupying a four-block radius that just happened to make it on the Rand McNally map.

"There's not a store here," I say, feeling that disappointed pang in my stomach. There's not another town for 21 miles, and we won't pass it today.

And we're just about to blow on by when I catch, out of the corner of my eye, a sign on one of those deteriorating buildings: "Bedrock Store, est. 1891." And in the clouded window is another one: "Open."

As we pull up to the door a scraggly mutt limps up to me, but doesn't seem to care one way or the other if I'm there. The person I assume is owner, a large graying man draped in dirt-caked denim, stands on the porch chatting with a mousy middle-aged woman and a teenage boy. A sign on the door reads "Help stop cattle theft," and I wonder how - and more importantly, in this day and age, why - someone would steal an entire cow.

The cashier doesn't even look up as we walk inside. A man sitting in a chair in the middle of the small single-room market continues making comments about his newspaper to the cashier. The plywood floor creaks under his work boots - again, dirt caked - as he stands up to get more coffee. We don't even exist to them.

Neatly stacked on dusty wooden shelves is, Geoff tells me, any and every kind of food we could ever want to buy. Cans of spaghetti sauce. Black beans. Macaroni and cheese. Kipper snacks. White bread. The brand already chosen for us. Selection means nothing here. If you want ketchup, you get Heinz. Period.

But here, that makes sense. I settle on grapefruit juice, an ice cream sandwich (the generic kind that come in packages of six for a dollar) and a giant russet potato, chosen from a produce section that contained potatoes, onions, carrots and iceberg lettuce - the hardiest, longest-lasting vegetables known to man. Geoff buys chips and Gatorade, and we sit on the balcony to eat. The mutt shuffles around the gravel parking lot. The cars that pass by keep on going, onto Naturita, only a half hour drive away.

In the early 1970s, The Flinstones established Bedrock as the origin of all human civilization. In geology, bedrock is a description for foundation, the first layer of earth. Bedrock is solid, planted, unmoving. Entire formations grow and then deteriorate around it, but Bedrock stays where it is.

Bike touring is such that life starts to move backwards. Technology gives way to the tried and true. Convenience loses importance in the face of survival. The hectic rush to get things done returns to a lingering meander without a destination. On that path, you'll always end up back where you started. And from there on out there's only the retrospective and rose-colored landscape of history ahead.

Before we leave, I make a stop at the outhouse - the perfect stereotype: all wood, a little moon cut out of the swinging door, the toilet just side-by-side holes with no seats, and no toilet paper for miles. This, by far, is my favorite bathroom of the trip. I could stop at a thousand truck stops that I'll never remember, eat a thousand different kinds of ice cream sandwiches and not recall how any of them tasted, but Bedrock, Colo. is burned in my brain - a permanent foundation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rock (Me) Hard Place

Last summer, I became a bike commuter. I'm an organizer for the labor union UNITE HERE during the day, and I host a jazz podcast by night. I was covering the Rochester International Jazz Festival last summer. Parking ain't great for the festival, so I decided to do it by bike. That was so much fun that I just kept pedaling through the summer and into the fall, when I was transferred from Rochester to Albany.

Let's take it as read that very, very few people who do what I do for a living do it without a car. For front-line organizers (which I am not these days), that's almost unthinkable, because so much of the work involves visiting people's homes. Except in the most densely packed urban areas, doing that work without a car is just too slow. In fact, cars are so much a part of the job that our union provides them to us. As the organizing director for upstate New York, I was able to bike a fair amount and resorted to the car when necessary.

Now, though, I'm doing a different kind of organizing, mostly focused on strengthening our existing union shops among Albany's hotels, restaurants and cafeterias. Most of my hotels and other shops are packed into a very small downtown area. I live about 2 miles outside downtown. It's eminently bikeable.

But I still have a company car.

When I was transferred here, I was living 40 miles away in Saratoga Springs, and that -- combined with a wider turf to cover -- made the car a necessity. Since then, my area of responsibility has been changed to be almost exclusive to downtown Albany. I can see some of my shops from the house I'm renting, for Pete's sake!

But I still have a company car.

Last week, though, I decided that the company car would be just as wonderful parked in the driveway as it is on the road. I got back on the Xtracycle and did my first day of bike commuting since November 2007. (You can read about it here.) It was a blast! I'm still figuring out how to dress nicely (which I now am required to do) while keeping to the cycling lifestyle. My "commute" is less of a commute than a route or circuit. I travel at various times to different hotels and then return to my home office. So I have to wear my snazzy clothes while biking, because I have nowhere to change when I arrive at my destination. Thus far, it hasn't been much of a problem, and I'm looking forward to the warm weather, when I can combine my bowtie with my bike helmet for that true wanker look.

As it turns, out, I'm not really caught between a rock and a hard place after all. I can do my job effectively and efficiently while not only striking a blow for workers but also for their environment. And, unlike most union organizers, I can probably do it while getting healthier, not fatter and closer to a heart attack.

Is this a bold new chapter in the Labor Cycling movement? Stay tuned!

Jason Crane is a union organizer, jazz broadcaster and action dad. He is the founder of and, and also host and producer of The Jazz Session.

Size does matter...

I've got a lot of bikes. I'm not going to tell you how many, but it is somewhere between "a lot" and "that's crazy!" I take pride in the bikes I own as they are all very good at specific bicycling missions. I've got a European lowracer recumbent that can cruise at high speeds for long distances with all the comforts of a lazy-boy recliner. I've got a touring bike that can tackle the most rugged remote roads on the planet and beg for more. These are the sorts of bikes that other cyclists really dig and are the bikes that visitors to my apartment [A.K.A. bike storage space] are drawn to. Frankly these are the bikes I daydream about when I'm not riding. I picture myself zooming along through the mountains on my lowracer on my way to completing a brevet or perhaps on a multi-month long bike tour through Mexico and Central America on my touring bike.

So what bike do I ride the most* ? Surprisingly none of my "serious" bikes. It is my 16" wheeled folding bike - a Bike Friday Tikit - that sees the most action. Honestly I don't day dream about my Tikit. It isn't sexy and it is so small it is often ignored in the back of a closet when people are looking at my other bikes. Yet time and time again it is the bike I find myself riding. I use it for errands, to get to work, to meet friends for coffee, for fun rides, etc... I pretty much use it for everything except those specialist bike missions that my other bikes were designed to excel at. Although I like to think of myself as a brevet riding bicycle tourist the fact is most of my riding is pretty mundane - renting a DVD, buying a few groceries, grabbing a bite to eat or commuting to work.

The Tikit's small size makes it easy to get out of my apartment without dominating the whole elevator. Once on the road its quick handling makes it a nimble ride to get around the many obstacles that are the urban landscape in the centre of my city. Once at a destination I don't worry about locking up my bike. I just take it in with me. I can take it on public transit during rush hour when full size bikes are banned. I can also easily throw it into a car if I am meeting up with a friend who is driving or carpooling with a co-worker.

Although it looks small Bike Friday makes the Tikit in 3 sizes so my little bike fits me the about the same as my 58cm road bike. The small wheels and upright posture are not going to win me any races on the open road, but in town the fast acceleration and nimble handling more than make up for any other performance losses.

I knew something interesting was going on when two of my friends who are not bicycling obsessed got so excited about the Tikit they bought their own folding bikes and a co-worker's brother is about to pull the trigger on a folder. It just goes to show you - good things do come in small packages...=-)

In the interest of giving credit where credit is due I need to thank Kent Peterson for turning me on to the possibilities of the folder world and Alex Wetmore for posting lots of great information about the Tikit.

* most being defined by # of trips not total distance.

Calling me down to their watery graves

This post first appeared on moscaline 4/1/2006

One of the nicest things about riding in Knoxville is the third creek greenway. A twisty strip of asphalt wending its way through a riparian zone, an urban oasis sandwiched between railroad tracks, old neighborhoods and crumbling industry. A healthy dose of hobo singletrack leaves and joins the paved path at frequent intervals. While I am generally no fan of cycling on mixed use paths, this one is special.

Particularly pleasant is riding the path at night. There usually is just enough ambient light to guide your way as the path morphs into a shimmery silver strip through the forest. However, it can be slightly disquieting. As you crest a small hill and drop into the low spots on the trail next to the creek that gives the path its name, the temperature drops noticeably. Then you hear it: the call of the peepers. From the swamp on either side a cacophony of calls emits, growing to a deafening crescendo.

As you ride along the peepers on either side grow quiet as you pass until you are enveloped in a rolling enclosure of brief silence between frog cries. But woe be the traveler who stops on their way. At first you are in a temporary silence between the far off peeps, but slowly the nearby frogs, sensing your stillness, begin to call out to you. Impelling you to follow them into their stagnant inches of dank swamp. The call is irresistible to some and many a weary nomad has been called to their watery grave by the siren cry of the peepers.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My definition of bicycle touring

Hi. Jill here. I keep that Up in Alaska blog that seems to have gained me a reputation as a crazy snow biker. Fair enough. But here on Veloquent I hope to contribute essays about the love of cycling. I started out in the sport as a tourist, still learning the dynamics of pedaling and shifting even as I dragged 40 pounds of gear and a flat-bar hybrid across the driest, most remote regions of Utah. I wrote a bunch of essays following the trip on a Web site that has long since been sucked into the black hole of cyber space, so I'd like to post a few of them here. The first one was written Sept. 14, 2002: An account of the first day of my first bike trip.

"My definition of bicycle touring"

That annoying little voice inside my head tells me to crank it. My wheels are spinning, barely. Sweat drips through my helmet and streaks of red dust stick to my arms.

You never realize it when you're driving, but the only way out of Moab, Utah is up, a nearly-continuous climb. As Geoff and I lumber up the shoulder of Highway 91, I fix my gaze on distant buildings scattered near towering vermillion cliffs. They take forever to reach me.

Before this trip, it's hard to remember what exactly I thought bike touring was. Lingering views, sprawling vistas, maybe a little work. I sure didn't imagine burnout on the first day. When daylight will allow us to go no further, we pull over and park a mere 50 yards from the road.

And thus ends the first day of my very first bike tour, Moab to Moab via the San Juan mountain range and 600 miles of the most remote highway the lower 48 has to offer. It was supposed to be a simple day ... 30 miles from the Colorado River valley to the base of the La Salle mountains. In front of me now is an expanse of sagebrush-dotted range cut off only by the horizon, deep orange and shimmering in the September sunset.

We kick cowpies from a small clearing and set up our tent just as the landscape descends into shades of purple. As a lay in the spiny grass watching erratic bats chase bugs visible only to them, I regret not getting in shape before the trip. Every muscle, every bone in my body is melting into the warm soil and I doubt my ability to get up, even to go to bed. The camp site, hidden behind a barb wire fence in a cluster of pinion pines, feels stark and uninviting on private property, a grazing range. We should have made it at least 10 miles further tonight, but night snuck up on us. The next 500 miles feel like an eternity away.

Geoff, most likely just as worn out and tired, musters up the energy to lean toward me.

"Isn't it amazing?" he says. "We just biked here."

While working as a journalist during the 2002 Winter Olympics, I only heard mirror responses from everyone I talked to ? "the experience of a lifetime," "a once-in-a-lifetime experience," "a lifetime of experiences in one." The Olympics were a splash of snow in a colorful racing whirl. The world blinked, and they were gone.

Bicycle touring is anything and everything but a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is tamarisk dancing incessantly on the layered shores of the San Juan river. It is a flapping tent standing against a lightning storm on the open plateau. It is a tiny roadside grocery store in a town that by car would be nothing more than a blur. It is wildlife in the form of flattened fur on a roadside and literature in the form of faded
billboards. It is slow and lumbering, discarded bolts rusting on the highway. It is adrenaline-inducing at 35 mph and agony-inducing at 5. Itis hills that will stop your heart and views that will stump your soul. It is pinnacles and peaks and houses and streams and desert and forest and road, open road, endless roads, but it is not, I am convinced, not a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It, simply, is life.

One that I should keep on living.


Not being a linguist, I honestly don’t have a clue about the origin of the word “sensational”. However, it seems a perfectly appropriate word to blend the ideas of “sense” and “satiate”. In other words, according to my opinion, something that totally satiates the senses could be called sensational. Of course, this fabrication of word history is pure fiction on my part. As long as we’re making stuff up, however, it also seems that a word combination like that could have come from a cyclist.

Unlike so many pursuits of our spectator-dominated lifestyles, cycling is a participant activity. It is something we DO and it tickles the senses it ways motor vehicles and other spectator-based entertainment can not. Cycling is a sensual experience. During most rides, doesn’t cycling touch each of our senses?

For example, imagine the cold, dark, rainy, morning ride. We feel the brisk air on the tips of our nose, fingers, and toes. Rain water intercepted by helmet or glasses, drips down, still cold, to our tongue. Our eyes dart from side to side, scanning the shadows for looming danger. In the dark, our ears are especially alert. We listen carefully through hissing tires rolling across wet pavement and through shallow puddles for cars approaching from behind. With each revolution of cranks, we breathe in rhythm the scent of fresh, rain-cleansed air.

The experience might be totally delightful, like those times on quiet, empty roads when you cross a bridge and hear the sound of the creek flow below. Or it might be one in which there is more than enough of one type of sense-tickling going on. Whether it’s too cold, too noisy, or like early spring in rural Texas, too many squashed skunks on the road. There is no question that cycling fills the senses.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why are you riding your bicycle?

I wrote this a long time ago when I still did triathlons. If I wrote it today, it would be about a bike ride, but the point I was trying to make then is one I still try to remember when I find myself watching my bike computer, thinking faster is better.

I did a workout last Sunday for no reason. It was a brick -- I rode about ten miles to Discovery park, ran two trail loops that made a little more than an eight mile run, and rode back home. I’m not training for a future race. I didn’t do it hard enough to test myself or push my limits. I certainly didn’t set any personal records with it. I wasn’t really trying to lose weight or improve my health. I did it alone, so it wasn’t a social event. It was a workout without any of those reasons, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be.

What was special about Sunday? Both nothing and everything. It was a crisp fall day without a cloud in the sky. Traffic was light. My legs were a little stale from my ride the day before, but mostly that just made a good reason not to push hard. Discovery park is always beautiful, with a mix of forest, sand bluff, and Puget Sound beach. Halfway through the first loop a bald eagle flew overhead. Later, along the beach I watched as dozens of small sailboats raced on the Sound, with the sun making their sails shine brilliantly white. It was a good day to be alive and moving, but the difference I’m trying to point out isn’t about the outside, it’s about the inside. Sunday was special because I was out there riding and running simply because I wanted to be out there.

Am I really being completely honest here? Are all the reasons I listed earlier completely irrelevant to me? In reality, many of them are relevant, at least indirectly. I like staying thin and feeling healthy. I may choose to run or ride in a race sometime in the next few months and will depend on workouts like Sundays in order to complete and enjoy it. I’m sure that I could think of other things that I get from working out, and they are all important. Still, I don’t want them to be the reasons I get up off the couch and put on my gear. I enjoy myself less when my workouts are a means to those ends. The best workouts are the ones that I recognize to be an end in themselves.

I used to go hiking sometimes with a friend whose life was completely entertwined with climbing, hiking, and skiing. He would call me up on the phone and say, "Hey, do you want to go play tomorrow?" I used to think of it as just a quirky phrasing and shrugged it off. Now, I think he was using the language intentionally and truthfully. We were going to go play. My best workouts -- the ones that are an end in themselves -- the ones like Sundays brick -- are the times when I simply go out and play.


There are quite a few words above, and they are primarily my attempt to articulate an interpretation of the story below. Maybe it means something different to you. Maybe it will mean something different to me in the future. Whatever it means, I don’t think its as trivial as it first appears.

(Copied from an unattributed posting on the net)

A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, "Why are you riding your bicycles?"

The first student replied, "The bicycle is carrying the sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!" The teacher praised the first student, "You are a smart boy! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over like I do."

The second student replied, "I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!" The teacher commended the second student, "Your eyes are open, and you see the world."

The third student replied, "When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo." The teacher gave praise to the third student, "Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel."

The fourth student replied, "Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings." The teacher was pleased, and said to the fourth student, "You are riding on the golden path of non-harming."

The fifth student replied, "I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle." The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said,"I am your student!"

The Fun-Time Continuum

I recently did a very simple, very unscientific survey over at Kent's Bike Blog. I asked my readers to answer the questions Why Do You Commute By Bicycle? or Why Don't You Commute By Bicycle? I got a lot of very good responses to those questions and a couple of big themes became apparent as I read through people's answers.

The number one reason listed by folks who do commute is Fun. The number one reason listed by folks who don't commute is Time. Fun and Time. I thought about this. Fun and Time. I thought about this a lot. I thought about this on my three hours of daily bike commuting. Fun and Time. Fun Time. Funtime. Naturally, I thought of Debbie Harry.

I don't think of Debbie Harry as much these days as I did back in 1977 when I was an 18 year old bundle of testosterone and she was the most beautiful punk in the world, an ex-offender in a too-small CAMP FUNTIME t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Debbie's pictures were on my walls and her records were on my turntable (remember those?), her voice asking me to tell her of my dreaming. Dreaming was free.

Now you could say I wasted a chunk of my youth listening to Debbie but as Meatloaf pointed out to me a few year later, "a wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age." Back then, and to this day, I don't view the time I've spent listening to Debbie's voice as wasted. It's time I enjoy. It's fun. It's funtime.

I think we all spend our lives within this fun-time continuum. As adults we do responsible stuff, things that aren't always fun for us, because we think about more than just ourselves. But when we're making a better life for our kids or saving for our retirement or going to the boring city council meeting to talk about the crosswalks downtown it's still part of that fun continuum. It is the part of the continuum about avoiding the not-fun. Being old and broke is not fun, being a kid who never sees their parents is not fun, living in a city where you can't safely cross the street is not fun. So we do the real work, the sometimes not-so-fun work to avoid what Swobo calls "the bummer life."

Now because we all are just as unique and special as our moms always told us we were, we each have our own paths in the world and our own little ways of balancing the fun and avoiding the bummer life. A good example of this can be found in bicycle tires. Bicycle tires, as you know, are not just physical objects, they are actual embodiments of our personal locomotive philosophies. They are, literally, where the rubber meets the road.

My friend Jan and I have divergent tire philosophies. I can't stand the tires he rides and I know he hates the tires I ride. And yet we're still friends because we each can appreciate the other's rationale in tire selection. Even if we don't agree with it.

I hate flat tires. I like to get on my bike and go and go and go. I do not like changing flats in the rain. I do not like being late and I budget buffers of time into my schedule just in case I do have a flat. But, and I hesitate to write this lest I rouse the vengeful god of punctures, these days I rarely flat. That is because I ride tires with names like Armadillo or Marathon. My tires perhaps add five minutes to each commute but I love to ride and I hate flats. My tires are worth it to me.

Jan values a lively ride. His tires are lighter and faster. Not fragile, he does not ride the lightest or the fastest tire, he picks his tires with care. But he will deal with a flat now and then. More often than I do certainly but not that frequently. And from a math perspective, Jan is wiser than me. Let's say that if his commute was the same length as mine he'd save ten minutes a day. Say he commutes twenty days per month and flats once a month. He's saved 200 minutes and maybe spends fifteen minutes changing the flat. Actually he's faster on the tire change, he's had more practice. Clearly Jan is making better use of his time. And he loves the ride of those tires.

But here's the thing. I hate flats more. I hate them enough that I love my Armadillos and my Marathons. Jan's favorite tires find no favor in my house. Flats are more of a bummer for me. I'm a commuter, not a racer. I'm doing what I can to avoid the bummer life.

Driving is another thing I just completely avoid. I never liked driving and I like to ride. This made my choice really simple and I quit driving over twenty years ago. People are amazed when they find out my 36 miles of commuting means I'm on my bike 3 hours a day. "Yeah," I say, "I get to ride my bike three hours a day. How cool is that?" Nobody ever says "Oh, I had to hike for a couple of hours on Tiger Mountain" or "I had to go to that Springsteen concert" if those are things they enjoy. Springsteen claims he found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car. I don't claim that I've found the key, but I'm having fun looking for it at twelve miles per hour, perched on the seat of a bicycle, rolling around on very tough tires.

Freddie Mercury perhaps sang it best:

I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like


Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just Because I Could, Doesn't Mean I Will...

Assumptions are funny things. For instance, sometimes, okay-most of the time, I will stop at an intersection, look... and if it's clear, but still the red light glows big-n-strong, I'll go. I always feel a little guilty about it.

I wonder to myself, "Suppose you're giving cyclists a further bad rep?". Or... "Maybe some little kid watched you do that, and now they will think it's alright to do the same and maybe, just maybe, they'll get hit/hurt -or worse?". Even occasionally... "Maybe you're helping, in some smallish way, to keep the hate directed at cyclers for being off-the-grid, non-law abiding freaks who only eat granola [or space-aged Gu simula-foods], stink of patchouli & B.O. and only ever vote the Green Party?".

So tonight, on tonight's ride, I tried something a touch different...

Every intersection I came to with a stop sign or a traffic light, I stopped. Man, it took some time too. Should say, "Added some time to the ride".

I'm talking E V E R Y intersection: after dark, no signs of ANY car lights, certain streets didn't have any streetlamps... but still I stopped. Still stopped like some Grandma making a midnight run for her Knitting Journal Monthly magazine that she forgot earlier today at the supermarket.

It felt odd. Excessive. Weird. Made me feel like a Brown-Noser. A Narc. Made me feel like this girl I knew in the 2nd grade who would tell on any classmate she saw picking their nose and chewing up/on the net gain of the aforementioned finger-plunge.

Near the end of my 18.76 mile ride tonight, exhausted from all the stop/starting, wondering if I'd just shot through a not-very-old [until tonight] set of KoolStop Salmon brake pads, I came to a complete stop at the intersection of 39th Ave. & Lake St. here in Minneapolis... right beside an also stopped Buick Electra. The light had just turned red. One car passed thru the opposing intersection as we waited, and that was just after our light turned red. I waited, the car next to me waited. I waited, the car next to me waited. Finally, as I was watching the opposing traffic light go from green to yellow-mercifully, I heard the whine of an electric window. This older woman leaned halfway across the passenger seat of her car and said to me, "Hey mister... what the hell is your problem? I have to wait at these fuckers... you don't. Jesus, you're an idiot!". And with that, her window went up as our light went to green, and she sped away... leaving me in a fairly large cloud of oily blue smoke.

That girl by the way, the one I knew back in 2nd grade, yeah that one...

...did I mention I would spend my days at recess watching her go over behind the big oak tree in the eastern most edge of our playground and pile-drive her nostrils endlessly?

-Scott Cutshall Large Fella on a Bike

how many bikes?

I have often been asked by friends who don't ride much, "How many bikes do you own?"

I currently own three: a mountain bike and road bike that have both been repurposed into upright city bikes, and a road bike with drop bars. I also own a couple of trailers and am in the process of deciding which one to keep and which to move along.

I like all of my bikes, for various reasons. Mostly I like the two I use most of all because they fit me and are comfortable and fun to ride. The ATB I like because it was cheap to put together and it's tough and sturdy. With the lowest stand-over height of the three, it also serves as a loaner for out-of-town company. But mostly I just like to ride -- for fun, for transportation, just because it feels good to pedal my bike.

My occasional-riding friends think that three bikes is, while not extreme, perhaps more than any one person needs to own. And they're probably right. But because I work in the bike industry, these same friends cut me a LOT of slack. They figure I know what I'm doing, so of course I ought to own three bikes instead of just one.

When my bike-enthusiast pals ask me "how many bikes do you own?", they are shocked when I tell them I have three bikes.

"ONLY three?" they ask, astonished.

If I raced, I suppose I would probably require a bike for whatever kind of racing I did, whether cross, crit or road racing.
But I don't race and in fact, only dabbled in it briefly. Like I said, I just like to ride. I rather like the fact that at least two of my bikes could, in a pinch, serve almost equally well for those day-long rides I mentioned earlier. I just happen to prefer the bike with the drop handlebars for anything over, say, 20 miles. But really, I don't have to be so picky. I just ride.

Most of my bikey buddies own a minimum of five or six bikes. Each is special, no doubt. If they race, certain bikes are probably more necessary for the job. But not all of my bikey pals race, and some don't even commute by bike every day. Yet, they're convinced that they "need" their five, six, or fifteen bikes. "You never know," one friend said to me when I asked him to explain his collection of over twenty bikes, only a dozen of which were actually in rideable condition at the time.
"I never know what?" I asked.
"Well," he shrugged, his voice growing softer and trailing off, "well, um, ah, you know..."
I never did figure out what he was talking about. But when I see this same guy on a different bike each week and he's wearing the same happy expression on his face, I figure it's better to let him be. Because if our house had a full-sized garage instead of a tiny shed, who knows how many bikes I'd think I just HAD to have? Space limitations are actually good for me that way.

Roger, the fellow who founded Citybikes (the cooperative shop where I am one of 12 co-owners), recently "retired"; essentially, he asked not be written into the schedule ever again but is happy to remain very occasionally on-call. Roger owns in excess of 50 bikes, in various stages of repair or disrepair. When I was first hired at Citybikes in 1995 he had nearly 70 bikes, and I used to chide him about it: "Roger, you got seventy bikes and ONE butt. When ya gonna ride 'em all?" We'd both laugh out loud and then get back to work. He recently told me he plans to spend more of his free time at home fixing up and selling off most of these bikes, accumulated over 30 years of working in the bicycle industry. Roger has three or four bikes that he actually rides, and only two that he rides most of the time. Having recently moved to a smaller house, I guess he's ready to own fewer bikes. Space limitations are helpful, like I said.

Many of the customers who come into my shop own just one bike, and they're glad to have it at all, even if it's heavy and rusty and old. It's a bike, it works, and it gets them where they're going. I try to keep those folks in mind when I am tempted by a shiny new bike. Just that thought is usually more than enough to remind me I have all the bikes I need, and then some. In the end, I am reminded to just be grateful, and to just go out and ride my bike.

Beth Hamon is an owner and member of Citybikes Workers' Cooperative in Portland. She has lived without a car of her own since 1990 (though she will grudgingly take her turn behind the wheel of her partner's car on very long trips). Beth is also a musician who composes music and plays several instruments. Her personal blog can be found at

Frost and Moonlight

Note: this essay first appeared on Kent's Bike Blog on February 1st, 2007.

What can I tell you about today? I can tell you that I leave a warm home, a warm bed and step into pre-dawn world that is black and silver. The light from a low full moon shines on a million minute reflections, fog that has frozen into frost. I do not think of myself as a thing separate from my bicycle, my tires crunch with carbide certainty and I roll on dark familiar streets. I know these shadows, I know these street lights. My LEDs, my cat's eyes, cast their own mimicries of moonlight. Bits of gravel crunch up in my fenders, light crystals swirl and eddy in the breezes from each passing car.

Most of my fellow travelers are more confined, comforted in mobile rooms where they squint at a world moving quickly in their headlight beams. Perhaps their radios are telling them the news, their coffee cups urging them toward wakefulness.

I am looking beyond my lights, a trick that has become a habit. A wise man taught me that to see in the dark, you must look in the dark. He learned this in London, in the war, and taught me this on a still and peaceful night, much like this one, many years later and several years ago.

But this night is becoming dawn, the sky holding not only moonlight but the promise of an eastern glow. But for these last moments, it is still the cold light, the silver and the gray. Bits of black resolve in the sky, a murder of crows crossing from the foothills, to the island, to the city. Like me, they are commuters, their daily trek a ritual that is never quite routine.

Sometimes the moon is full and the night is clear and I get to see that each patch of frost is more precious than all the diamonds DeBeers wishes everyone would buy. Sometimes I remember to marvel as I glide with my wheels rolling on concrete that floats on water as I watch a seagull drift without effort six feet to my starboard. I roll on miracles of ingenuity, bridges and tunnels and I come so close to flying with some bits of metal and rubber and air imprisoned in Dunlop's amazing donuts.

The moon that set behind the city, behind the Olympic mountains in the morning rose again this evening. The warmth of the day is leaving as I leave for home and the light again is getting low. The city streets are familiar, the rhythm of red and green and four-way stops, the tide of traffic, the workday workers working their ways away.

I meet my friend Matt at a traffic light and we chat and ride our way up the hill. Convivial conversation and chance meetings are benefits of a life awheel and we quickly bring each other up to speed on schemes for future adventures. At the bridge Matt heads north and I head east.

The day never warmed much above freezing and fog frost still lies in the shadowed places. The moon is vast and white and too photogenic for me to photograph. It is the moon that would make Basho compose poetry, make Lon Chaney into a beast and make sane men wonder if lunatics know something that the rest of us only suspect.

I roll through air that is cold enough to make every sound clear. There is a tick in my right pedal, keys clink in my pocket, my bell rings itself on the rough pavement of the Bellevue Slough. The freeway drones like our entire planet has tinnitus and I wonder if it is good or bad that I can manage to tune all this out almost all the time.

As I climb the edge of Cougar Mountain, a poetic name left over from a wilder time, the moonlight and the frost are all I see. It is a night without darkness, the moonlight is everywhere.

If I were standing I suppose it would be cold, but I am rolling and layered in wool and nylon and I know just how fast to go to be warm enough.

My home lies in a moonlit valley and it is time now to be home, with a cup of hot tea. And maybe a grease gun. There is a tick in my right pedal.


Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA