Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Worst case scenario...Part 3...The lake

For parts one and two, look here and here.

Ten minutes of climbing after the penultimate stop, with snowflakes alighting around me like tangible benevolence from above, the terrain levels out. We've arrived in an alpine basin at over nine thousand feet above sea level. I roll up to a stop near the rest of the group. 'There's Hyalite peak' states one of us. I shut my lights off, it's pitch black, then my eyes adjust to the indirect starlight mostly obscured by clouds. There, outlined against the sky I see the sharp outline of Hyalite Peak, it's not the most majestic mountain in the world, but I'm still standing at its base in the middle of the night. We marvel for a time, but all of us are feeling anxious about getting back down to the trail head, it's been a tough night, and we've got a wicked, gnarly, decent through a dark snow filled night.

Heading back down the trail is mixture of fun and extreme anxiety, the switchbacks at the top are some of the steepest I know of. To my left is a sharp drop, and under my tires is a trail basically carved out of scree. I'm wet, cold, tired. Carving through each switchback, I giggle with glee. The immediacy of threading through never-ending rock gardens never dulls. I had started this ride with five weeks off from real riding, now I was relying on instinct alone as my skills had lost a step or two to say the least. The trail is loose and every move feels like a chance to tumble. Onward through the darkness surrounded by my personal LED produced halo, I advance cautiously, and recklessly, dichotomy is the theme on this night, maybe also the theme for my life at this point. Speed is a relative quantity on a mountain bike, on a night ride every single thing you come across is immediate, and you must react with presence of mind honed from years of experience. If you've never done a night ride, you should.

We finally make it back to the car. Twelve miles are behind me...and now after well over a month, I know I've got some real rides in my near future. The dark, snowy, wet, cold, rocky, technical ride was perfect. Everything went wrong, and that was exactly what I needed to greet every single ride that has come since without a hint of hesitation. I faced it all, if it had been less tasking, I would have gained far less.

The worst case scenario was the only thing that could have brought me back.

Share your practical cycling knowlege

Cyclists, in my experience, have a much greater sense of community than most other groups. Every cyclist I know has multiple stories about helping, being helped by, or good interactions with, another human just because both were on bikes. Now, the guys at the Practical Pedal want to make that sense of community viral. is a new website out there where practical cyclists can share knowledge and community with each other. Check it out. Share what you know, meet some new people in a different city. Ride some new places.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yet again...

I have nothing to do with this...I just really like Xtracycles

I also have nothing to do with this...see above...

According to the guys at Surly, stop action Big Dummy builds are the new black. Personally? I'd say Xtracycles are the new automobile, just one that won't destroy the planet. The word automobile means 'something capable of moving on its own'. A bike won't move on its own. Neither will a car, you fill it with petroleum by-product for that. A person is automobile, and a person on a bike is far more automobile than a person without a bike. Logic follows. I win.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

There's a new fixie in town.

Winter'll be here eventually, and last year it lasted until May. I like my load bike an all, but some times I just want to ride fixed. Now, my Xtracycle isn't the only bike I can run studded tires on.

Here are a bunch more pictures


Monday, September 8, 2008

Worst case scenario...Part 2

If you give a schitt about continuity, read Part 1 here.

After roughly an hour of climbing, the light gets beyond sketchy and one member of my crew suggests that it's time to get the artificial light running. There are a few machinations and some MacGyver-type stuff to get one person's light functioning fully, but ultimately we're all suited up for phase two, in the dark. The sprinkle is turning to rain. It's not heavy, but it's an element. The trail isn't mucky to the point of being impassable, but everything is slippery, everything has an added layer of complexity. This ride is as much about skill as physical endurance. I'm beyond my anaerobic threshold at this point.

The ride continues. By this point, I have faced two of my three worst fears on this ride. One, I've tweaked my shoulder twice when my rear wheel slipped on a wet root across the trail, and while it hurt, it wasn't the sick pain I associate with actual injury. Two, I'm not going to win any races any time soon, but I'm keeping up, on a ridiculous trail, in the rain, in the dark, on a single speed. Number three? Well there's a night-time decent coming up...

The ride continues, over rocks and roots, creek crossings, log bridges, just past the half-way point there are steady patches of snow on the trail, and the sprinkling rain has become sleet, and it's turning into snow. I'm hurting, and I'm laughing, this is one of the best rides I've ever been on. Somehow, it wouldn't be as good if it were run-of-the-mill. It wouldn't be as fun if it were easy. We mountain bike to face adversity, greater adversity makes every aspect of riding better. I'm far more sharply attuned to this ride. My mind is quiet, and focused. I'm in the moment. Not many earthly endeavors give me that.

Past the gnarly switchbacks, over deepening snow patches, close to the top, I come upon the leading member of our ride. He's waiting, and he's got a smile on his face. I un-clip and hop off my bike. There's now a light snow falling on us, and it's pitch black. We're almost at nine thousand feet of elevation. Even in the dark, I can see the snowflakes nearly glowing in the dark, it's ethereal.

'This is a magic ride'. I get a laugh of agreement, "Exactly, that's exactly how I would describe it" is the disembodied reply. At this point, we're nearly to the lake. It's cold, wet, becoming untenable, but we've nearly bagged the climb, no one's stopping. Of course, there is still the decent, and my feet are completely hands are getting there...the precipitation is only continuing. But my group is strong, and we're feeding off of each others' enthusiasm. An easy ride wouldn't have evoked this response. Facing adversity made it better. The weather had turned against us, when we hoped it wouldn't, and that turned out to be the element that made it better, not worse. Of course...we do still have to get down. The lake's not far now...

Stay tuned for Part 3...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sometimes, the worst case scenario is also perfect...Part 1

I haven't been riding off road in over a month, courtesy of a should injury in July. I had been thinking in the last week though, that it's about time to get back to it. I started considering the options, there's Sourdough (easy enough that I see people pushing baby strollers there), South Cottonwood (easy, but actually a dirt trail), and a few others. Mostly I'm procrastinating, cuz I'm scared like that.

Yesterday morning, while checking my email, I see a proposal by a friend of mine to do a little night ride. To be clear, this person is an absolute badass, and no ride that she would engage in would be exactly easy (more like intensely arduous), and the trail she's proposing to ride is technical, parts of it are nothing but loose rock fields, and it's getting late in the season to go up above 9000 feet, and she wants to do it as a night initial reaction went something like this 'huh, ...nope'.

Then I started thinking 'I'll just throw my gear and my bike on the Xtracycle and take everything to work with me...just in case'. Now the true vacillation begins. 'I'm not doing this'. I haven't ridden in well over a month, so I've got my gear spread out all over the place, both of my trail bikes are in pieces, the bike I had to settle on would be a single speed, 'I'm not doing this'. But eventually I arrived at work, Single Speed in tow, one freeloader bulging with the requisite clothing and lights for a chilly night ride. I send my friend an email. Where does she want to meet?

We get to the Hyalite creek trailhead, elevation ~7000 ft, at about 7:00pm (this time of year, dark thirty is about 8:45 and we've got a tough climb to Hyalite lake, which is around 9000 ft). Everyone gears up, everyone I'm with is an experienced rider, and I'm more than a little nervous about how this is going to go, but I'm also back in my element, it felt great. People who have done this ride will tell you that it isn't exactly a tune-up type ride. It's gnarly, full of rock gardens, creek crossings, and at times it's steep, and we were going to do half the climb and all of the decent in the dark. I was right to be nervous. We headed up the trail at a moderate pace. Within a quarter mile the trail gets rough, full of rocky little ascents and roots. Everyone spins out a bit on the roots, because it had rained pretty heavily earlier in the day. Everything is greasy with fresh mud. Then it starts to sprinkle...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A subtle difference...

My Xtracycle started its life as a medium-to-low-end Trek road bike. I picked it up whist working in my first shop. This dude comes in and wants to trade in a one-year-old bike, which 'we' were only gonna give him a hundred bucks for, but 'I' gave him two hundred, and he was happy. I then bequeathed it to my dad because he said at some point that he wanted to do a century, and I thought it'd be better than his mountain bike for that little adventure. Well one century turned into anther, and another, etc. and several years later, when he picked up a custom built Bianchi (full campy, beautiful), he gave me the Trek back. It was, to say the least, beat to crap. It was effectively a single-speed, as its shifters had pretty much seized, and the rear hub made a flat out frightening sound over fifteen miles an hour.

I used it for a couple years as a commuter, but eventually I discovered fixed gears and the sad, tired little trek road bike was relegated to a set of back-corner ceiling hooks in my garage. Here it would sit, forgotten, ignored, utterly broken down. Unbeknownst to me at the time, lurking deep in that seemingly broken little bike's soul, was something more amazing than the R and D department at Waterloo could have ever dreamed of.

I first saw an Xtracycle on campus a few years ago, and instantly wanted one. When I found myself in a position that I could afford one, I just got it without really knowing what I was going to build it up with. I had just joined a community bike co-op and I felt pretty confident that I'd be able to find a frame to build up my new load bike. Then, hanging in the far reaches of the garage, I saw my broken-down, neglected little Trek 1200, a serviceable bike, if badly in need of a complete rebuild. 'Hmmm...a load bike built on a roadbike chassis could be fast and nimble' thought I. So, that's what I went with. Immediately, I made the decision to lean for disk brakes, going with Avid Road disk brakes (a fortuitous decision). It was a decent bike, fast and capable.

But the drop bars weren't the greatest for getting up to speed, especially with a load, so I opted for a mary bar, and since I had gone with the road disk brakes I was able to use an old set of servo wave XTR shifter/brake lever pods, which are amazing!

The second iteration of my Xtracycle was just like the first. Only much more stable, better handling, and far faster from a dead stop.

Then, early this summer, the true potential of my resurrected little road bike was realized. DNA called me in July, and asked if I wanted to go on a little bike/backpacking/car camping trip. We would ride from town, twenty miles into the mountains south of Bozeman, camp, live large, and ride home happy and without using drop of petrol. 'Hmm...' thought I, 'I'll need to put some cross tires on the Xtracycle'. Now, that was a good idea, as far as initial ideas go, but my second thought was even better. 'I wonder if I can sneak a mountain bike tire into that cyclocross fork'? So I grabbed a mountain bike wheelset, and voila, since I had disk brakes, I found that I could switch between mountain and road tire/wheel combos with absolute impunity, making my once forlorn, broken-down, roadbike, an almost infinitely capable load-hauling bike. Road or off road, it became clear that this bike would do everything I asked it to do, and probably things I'm not capable of conceiving of.

Post camping trip, I left the knobby set up on my Xtracycle, and I've been riding it that way ever since. As fast and nimble as the road set-up is, I love the rugged do-it-allness of the mountin bike wheelset and tires. With winter fast approaching here in the Rockies, I've decided to leave it that way. The 26 inch wheels handle well, and it's still fast and capable, and it will now quite easily accommodate a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires, with full fenders.

So here's the latest iteration of my favorite bike. It probably won't be the last, but that's the thing about an Xtracycle, it does what you want it to do, and things you maybe didn't think possible.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Just cause it's stupid doesn't make it wrong

Ok, I know, I know. Stuff like this is basically BS and a blatant attempt by a not-so-clever ad campaign to capitalize on an energy and financial crisis that is strangling average Americans. Much like Trek's One World Two Wheels campaign (which I myself have vaunted.) ClifBAR is pushing cycling as a way to make money. They're a business, that's what businesses do. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm just as cynical about peoples' motivation as the next guy, but there is one relevant detail to keep in mind. This is one more voice trying to get more people on bikes and less people driving cars. Is it soulless? I kind of doubt it. It's certainly not all that hip, but if you want soulless go here, here, or here, and get on the waiting list for a hybrid SUV (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) and pat yourself on the back for doing something (nothing) to better the world around you.

Na, I'll take Trek, and Clif, and whoever else is marketing bikes instead of the inefficient alternative. Sure there are going to be things about this that irritate those of us who have been cycle commuting since way before suburban white kids rediscovered fixed gears or gas was four dollars a gallon. I'll agree that it's cynical, and I'll still smile when I see a fifty year old guy riding his mid eighties mountain bike, with a rear touring rack mounted on it, out of the grocery store parking lot, past a line of (still) gas guzzling 'hybrid' SUVs.