Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Tao of Cycling


I’ve been reading a bit about Taoism lately because December 27 is Ta Chiu, the Taoist festival of peace.  While I’m certainly no expert--my understanding of Taoism is more The Tao of Pooh than Tao Te Ching--I do know a thing or two.  Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy, or religion depending on who you ask, that embraces harmonious living with the natural world.  In a nutshell, it’s the concept that things in their original simplicity, such as an uncarved block of stone, contain their own natural power.  But the power is lost when that simplicity is changed, like when a chisel is taken to the uncarved block. As people, our simplicity is lost when we add arrogance, pride, selfishness and busyness to our lives.

This has got me thinking about cycling (what doesn’t?).  Cycling itself is a very simple, harmonious pastime.  It’s fun, it’s practical, people of all ages can and do enjoy doing it.  But we have complicated the uncarved block that is riding a bicycle by racing them, by making them into beasts of burden, by making them immobile.   

So what is the Taoist approach to riding a bike?  What form of riding is in greatest harmony with nature?  I’m not exactly sure, but there are a few cycling disciplines I know are not Taoist. 

Racing is absolutely not a Taoist thing to do.  If you ever see me, or any other racer, fuss about in preparation for a race you’ll quickly see there is no natural harmony involved.  Nutrition, hydration, lubrication, tire pressure, sunscreen, eyeglass lens color, I could go on and on.  It all has to be just so, calculated and exact.  Otherwise there’s no point in racing.  Somewhere amidst all that chaos the simple act of riding a bicycle is lost.  No, racing is more of a Confucian activity.  Confucius tells a story of a master who would not sit on his mat unless it was straight.  Imagine trying to be that master’s bike mechanic!

Bicycle commuting is not a Taoist thing either.  I know, just last week I said that riding to work is the highest use of a bicycle, and I still believe that; but by assigning the purpose of getting to work to a bicycle ride the bicycle commuter is taking a chisel to the uncarved block.  She’s carving her ride into something utilitarian instead of simply riding for the pleasure of riding.  As a bicycle commuter I also know that there is nothing simple about riding a bicycle in rush hour traffic, or about seeking out streets with the least traffic and the widest shoulders.  A commuter busies himself choosing between the safety of the side roads and the directness of the main thoroughfares.  The only harmony for the bicycle commuter occurs in his mind; the harmony that comes from making one’s way through the melee of a typical morning commute that he did not create and that he has consciously chosen not to participate in.  No, commuting is more of a Zen activity, where the world is a revolving wheel of pain with bitter and oppressive winds and where man’s purpose is to transcend it.  The bitter winds of traffic lights and myopic drivers stand in stark contrast to the windless state that Zen Buddhists call Nirvana and that this bicycle commuter calls the highlight of his day.   

What then is the Taoist form of cycling?  Like I said, I don’t exactly know, and I believe it is different for everybody, but I believe the life of a bicycle tourist is the closest fit to the natural harmony and simplicity that Lao Tzu described. 

The Tao is about allowing nature to fill in the void spaces that are not already filled in.  This is a perfect description of a bicycle tourist’s day.  She doesn’t always know exactly where her ride that day will take her and she doesn’t know what will happen to her on the way.  All she can do is turn the pedals and take things as they come.  Bicycle touring also reinforces the Taoist concept of simplicity.  Tourists don’t encumber themselves with needless or frivolous items that slow them down.  Frugality comes natural to the touring cyclist because if she can’t eat it or use it immediately, she doesn’t buy it. 

On a bicycle tour, nothing is something, and some things are really nothing at all.  In that way, touring is the most childlike form of cycling.  On a tour a cyclist can go wherever he pleases.  He has no deadlines, agendas, or meetings to parcel his day.  When something comes along the road that interests him he can stop and investigate it for as long as he likes.  Or he doesn’t have to stop at all.  And most childlike of all, a bicycle tourist burns enough Calories that he can eat as much of anything he wants.

What do you think?  What form of riding is in greatest harmony with nature?  Tell me what your uncarved block that is a bicycle ride looks like. 

Friday, December 21, 2007

Department store bikes

Some time ago, due to a forgotten piece of equipment, I made a trip to a local bike shop I normally don’t visit.  I don’t go to many bike shops because I’m partial to Racer’s Cycle Service, where I’ve been a regular since the Clinton Administration. 

I like Racer’s shop because it feels right.  When I walk in the front door I’m greeted with the smell of grease, degreaser, Stan’s NoTubes and sometimes smelly dogs.  I like to think that smell is shop’s soul.

There is a shop down the street from my house that has an entirely different smell.  When I open the door there I’m confronted with the smell of new tires, new clothes, and (I suspect) commission-driven sales staff.  I don’t smell any soul at all. 

The local shop where I went to replace my forgotten equipment smelled like degreaser.  The man who helped me was wearing a shop apron, with actual bicycle grease on it.  The repair stands were in plain view, not hidden in the back like at my soulless neighborhood shop.  I could tell I had found a shop with soul. 

Until I walked out the door and saw this sign in the front window. 


I have worked at a bike shop.  I know how much of a hassle working on department store bikes can be.  I mean, they’re not meant to be repaired, their makers’ business models rely upon you buying one of their bikes, putting it in the garage and throwing it out when the tires go flat.  Often it’s cheaper to replace the whole bike than to pay for parts and labor on a repair—especially since they can be so difficult to repair.  So I understand why this shop might feel that working on department store bikes is not worth their time. 

It’s not just this shop either.  Check out this tirade about department store bikes.  He says a cheap bike has recently appeared at his office bike rack. I don’t care where a person buys their bike if they actually ride it to work. 

Same goes for the local bike shop that won’t work on department store bikes.  If the bike needs repair, it means that it’s probably getting ridden—and any bike that actually gets ridden deserves the all the care and service necessary to keep it safe, serviceable and fun.

In 2005 Bicycling Magazine published an article about one group of people that rides department store bikes.  It calls them the invisible riders because they “don’t ride for fun, fitness or camaraderie.  They ride to stay alive, earn money, and support their families.”  It is the best article Bicycling Magazine has ever published.  You can read it here

There are invisible riders everywhere.  The easiest way to spot them, aside from their department store bike, is that they’re likely riding on the wrong side of the road.  They’re riding to some of the most physically demanding, lowest paying, and spiritually demeaning jobs our society has created.  Ask any one of them and I’m sure he’ll tell you that he’d rather be driving a car, but he’ll also tell you that his bike is his ticket to freedom.  He rides to survive, to support himself and his family, and hopefully one day to bring financial security. 

It is the highest use of the bicycle.  And that bicycle deserves to be repaired. 

Monday, December 17, 2007

Maybe you don't care...but you should

Hey Gang, I'm in Rico, Colorado and I just had my third consecutive weekend of riding over snowy trails.  But I'm no dummy.  This time I'm doing it on my cross country skis.  Let me tell you, turning  a corner at 20 mph is much easier (and more fun) on skinny skis than skinny tires.   While I enjoy this winter wonderland, Ryan has still been riding and thinking about stuff.  And you're fortunate that he's willing to share it with all of you loyal Hooptedoodle readers. 

For those of you who don’t pay attention to any of the sports outside cycling the “George Mitchell Report” was released last Thursday.  Contained in the Mitchell Report were the findings of an investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.  The report concluded, among other things, that the “steroid area” began in about 1988 and went until…well…..I’d say last Thursday. Eighty-nine players were named in the report.  Names such as Roger Clemens (of course.), Lenny Dykstra, (really?), and Mo Vaughn (MVP eh?) were on the list along with many others you have heard of and others you haven’t. 

I know, I know.  Many of you think, “Who cares?”   Well, I do.  Looking back many of the players listed do not surprise me at all.  I always doubted that Roger Clemens could be that dominant in his 40’s.  I always thought it was more than   coincidence that Barry Bond’s hat size grew as fast as his single season home run totals.  I am not disappointed that these “larger than life” heroes are tarnished, what bugs me is that no one seems to care.

At first I didn’t either.  That was until a few Sundays ago.   On a warm November day I set up a ‘cross course in my backyard for my three year old son, Matt.  After watching me race all season he wanted to participate himself.  So he and I set up a course complete with barriers (overturned wagon), a run up (over the deck) along with concrete and grass. 


I explained to Matt the rules, or at least the ones he would care about, and off we went.  To my surprise Matt was really into this race.  He would dismount his big wheel to get over the barrier and the run-up and rode his bike with a reckless abandon that I had not seen before.  It was great and we’ve had a few other races since then. 


So why should you care?

As a baseball fan, competitor, and a person who strives to have integrity it makes me furious that everyone wants baseball to “move on”.  I typically don’t pay much attention to sportswriters or care that much about their opinions, but it seems that everyone wants to treat this as some sort of “growing pain” in baseball.  Not me, not anymore.  Baseball owes it to the sport, their fans and the athletes (good and bad) to set an example that this is NOT what they wanted and treat it as such.  They should start by investigating every lead they have.  If they find that a player was using performance enhancing drugs, erase their stats for that period of time, take the championships that their teams have won out of the record books, and if they are still playing give them the proper suspensions.  Last but not least, start a real testing program.  Take a class from professional cycling, at times they make it look like a witch hunt, but at least they are trying.

You see, some day my son will take interest in something other than his parents, and when he does he will look for certain role models in his particular field.  It might be baseball, cycling, science, writing or whatever.  I want him to believe that the accomplishments that the people he chooses to look up to came by hard work and desire, not cheating.  I don’t want him to have to “decide” that if he wants to take (insert profession here) seriously how he should go about “getting ahead”.   And don’t give me that crap about parents should strive to be role models for their kids, and that athletes, aren’t role models, blah, blah, blah...  It’s been a while, but I still remember what it was like to be a teenager; I still looked up to my parents, but I also started to notice everyone else.

So Major League Baseball, there's two out in the bottom of the ninth.  It's time to step up to the plate and make some tough choices. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More race photos

As promised, I’ve got a few more photos from the race on Saturday.  But first I must say that I think everybody should have one bike with baskets.  We find uses for it all the time, like going to the local tubing hill…


Here’s my brother, Darren, learning how a race this short can hurt so much.


A couple of me before my handlebars broke...



and one of me on Racer's bike after my handlebars broke...


One more post-race shot...


Finally, Racer made a video of Me, him and Dan.  It's kind of long, but there are some good shots of us.  I was surprised to see how slow we we're going.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ft. Buenaventura race report


One detail I left out of my race report last week was that I slightly bent my handlebars on one of my four crashes (two warming up, two during the race).  The bend wasn’t too bad; hardly noticeable in fact.  The drops were just slightly bent inward on the right side.  There was only one more race in the cyclocross season so I decided I would replace them after that. 

My handlebars had a different plan.  Saturday’s race course was the sloppiest mud bog I’ve ever willfully ridden my bike through.  Repeatedly.  Someone said it was like riding through creamy peanut butter for 60 minutes.  The mud made it slow and sucked power from my legs. 

There was a log, maybe 10 inches in diameter, across the trail at the south end of the course.  My brother, who did his first ever cyclocross race that morning—and did remarkably  well considering his full suspension 29er mountain bike was undoubtedly the heaviest bike on the course—told me that most racers were dismounting and running over the log but that it was rideable. 

When my group came to the log in the first lap somebody in front dismounted and ran over the log.  That caused a bottleneck so all of us behind had to get off and do the same thing.  The next time around the group had spread out enough that I decided to ride it.  I picked my front wheel up and put it on top of the log.  My momentum carried me forward and, at the exact instant my back wheel hit the log, my front wheel hit the ground.  Also in that exact instant, my handlebars decided that seven and a half years of abuse is all they would take.  They snapped at the right side, right at the stem.  Next thing I knew I was picking myself up out of the mud.


I stood there perplexed for a minute.  I think I was slightly relieved that I wouldn’t have to keep racing in those conditions.  Finally I got back on and rode (yes, I could still ride with my left hand on the bars and my right hand on the stem.  The only tricky part was getting through the mud.) backwards along the course back to the pit area. 

I would have been content to drop out and go home, but Dan, one of my teammates, offered his bike to me.  It was too small but we raised the seat as much as possible and I set out for a lap.   Meanwhile, Dan tracked down Racer’s single speed, which is my size, and had it waiting for me the next time I came through the pit. 

It turns out the single speed was the ideal bike for racing in those conditions—you were right Jon—because there are no derailleurs to get gunked up in the mud.   I rode hard, crashed only once more, never had my chain fall off, and even passed a couple competitors to finish 10th out of 13. 

It’s been a costly season.  I hope I learned a few things, like maybe that when it snows like is has the past two Saturdays to leave the bike at home and bring out the skis.

I should have more photos of the race soon.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Small stuff


Some of you may remember Richard Carlson’s feel-good bestseller from 1997.  Come on, you can admit it if your read it.  I read it.   

I don’t mean to knock Carlson’s premise, but there are times when you really should sweat the small stuff.  I found out Saturday that a cyclocross race is one of those times.

Usually, for example, pulling your front brake is a sweatless way to stop your bike, but when the trails look like this, pulling your front brake is an invitation to get up close and personal with the snow. 


Most of us don’t sweat about treating our bikes as beasts of burden.  But when those roles are reversed, even guys like Ryan work up a sweat.


Keeping my chain on a chain ring is another thing I don’t sweat over—except in cyclocross.  This happened to me three times on Saturday... 


Finally, small things like tripping over your front wheel can really slow you down.  With just three laps to go I worked really hard to reel in two competitors.  I finally caught them at the base of the uphill run.  I moved around both of them on the hill, thanks to my long, gangly legs, but somewhere near the top I lost my focus for long enough to actually step on my front wheel.  I didn’t fall completely over, but I did lose a lot of time untangling my foot from my spokes.  This actually happened twice, and in a race that only lasts an hour, there isn’t time to not sweat over small stuff like that. 


Richard Carlson obviously doesn’t race ‘cross.

P.S.  Here's a little video of one of the races.  There's some good shots of Ryan.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cycling fashion <em>faux pas</em></p>

When the weather is warm no one ever accuses me of being a fashionista.  That's because I am familiar with, but don't always follow, most of cycling’s fashion rules.  But when the temperature drops, my friends and I throw all those rules out the window. 

Take, for instance, these neoprene gloves; they’re only $12 in the hunting section of your local sporting goods store.


Or when it’s too warm for leg warmers on the climb up, but you’re too lazy to take them off because you’ll need them for the ride down, just roll them down to your socks and feel like it’s 1984 all over again.


Then there’s the tan wool socks with black tights look.  Extra warmth on those chilly winter days.


But if that’s not warm enough, no wind is too bitter for the plastic bag sock liner trick.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More fun down on the farm


Saturday was another day of cyclocross fun at Wheeler Farm.  The weather was sunny but cold.  I’ve been fortunate to avoid the muddy cyclocross races this year—but how long can my luck last? 

My goal for this race was to not get left alone.  Last time I fell off the back and rode most of the race alone, and was kind of bored.  I wonder how the guy who finished last felt.  This week I was determined to stick with somebody. That way, even though I stood little chance of winning, at least I would feel like I was competing for something. 

At the start I worked to latch onto a group of two and did my best to sit on their wheels.  Slowly we worked our way up to another rider, Jared, but one of our original three dropped off.  I moved around Jared and the other guy (Kevin, I think), and led the group for about a lap.  Eventually we dropped Kevin. 
Then Jared came around me and gave me a sprinting clinic.  He would open up a four or five second gap on every straight section, then I would slowly reel him in on the twisty and technical sections, only to get gapped again on the straights. 


On the last lap I caught up to him at the final run through the barriers. There were two straight, fast sections to go, and one twisty section in between.  I figured my only chance was to stick with him through the first straight section, sit on his wheel through the twists, then make my move at the start of the final straight section to the finish line. 

My plan worked exactly as I envisioned it, except when went to make my final move.  I shifted up, but my chain hesitated a split second before moving up to the big ring.  When it did, Jared and I both sprinted for the line.  I was gaining fast but I ran out of race course.  He beat me by a wheel.  If I had five more feet of track I would have passed him. 

I was tenth, and a split second out of ninth.  That’s my best finish in the A-group ever, but best of all I felt like I was actually racing. 

Thanks Jared. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thank you sir, may I have another?


While winter inversions and the air pollution that comes
with them have been hanging around Salt Lake City for over a month, winter weather still hasn’t
arrived. While part of me is longing for
some snow so I can break out the skate skis, most of me is still happy to get
out on the local singletrack.

But I’ve noticed something about riding singletrack this
late in the year; when I descend I feel like I’m getting a hundred
lashings. I’m getting whipped across the
face, my arms have red tiger stripes after every ride and my legs are covered
with ugly welts. All from the same tree
branches that have been hanging over the trail all summer.

I have a few possible explanations for this phenomenon. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to getting whipped
when the mercury drops, or maybe it’s because the center of the trails these
days are a little muddy so I’m unconsciously riding on the trail
shoulders. Then again it might be that
the branches have been whipping me all season long but now that they’ve dropped
their leaves there’s nothing to soften the blow. A final theory is that I’m riding
lower-elevation trails now, where the dominant vegetation is scrub oak and
sage, whereas I was riding the high country among the pines and aspens all
I really don’t know what it is, but it’s getting bad enough
to make me consider hanging the mountain bike up until spring. I just wish it would snow so before I do
anything so severe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wheeler cyclocross

I raced at Wheeler Farm on Saturday.  Wheeler is my favorite cyclocross venue, because I used that live in the neighborhood, and it’s where I learned to ride cyclocross. 

Who am I kidding; I still don’t know how to ride cyclocross. 

I proved that in the first lap on Saturday.  I let me right pedal hit the ground on an off-camber section.  I was thrown from the trail and somehow twisted my chain in the process.  It wasn’t so bad that I had to switch bikes or drop out, but it did affect my shifting for the rest of the race. 

The only other remarkable thing about my race was that I almost crashed right in front of the entire crowd.  I was running across some barriers when I stumbled.  My front wheel hit the first barrier and I almost tripped over my bike.  I don’t know how, but I made it over the second barrier on my feet and staggered my back to balance.  I thought I had saved it but when I got back on my bike my chain had fallen off again.  That gave me a chance to listen to the PA announcer, who had been giving the audience a play by play of it all.  It was the only recognition I got during the whole race. 

I don’t have any photos from the race, except these that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.  You can seem me in the back left at 1:04 if you pause it and look close.  Click here to see the photos.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bad air

Last week I got an email seeking my insight from Chris, a [the only?] loyal Hooptedoodle reader.  He had just done his first ride on a single speed 29er and he wanted to know why he had to get off and walk up a few sections that he normally has no problem with.  In fact, he had set a personal record on the same trail only the week before. 

Actually, he had two questions:  First, are all those riders singing the praises of 29ers and single speeds certifiable crack pots?  And second, is he just a wuss?   I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. 

You can read his whole email here:  Download dear_chad.doc.   

The obvious answers to Chris’s questions are that no, he is not a wuss and no, single speeders and 29er riders are not wing nuts.  First of all, he changed too many variables in his experiment.  If he wanted to know how riding a 29er compares to riding a bike with small wheels [For the record, I now refer to 29 inch wheels as ‘standard size wheels’ and 26 inch wheels as ‘small wheels’], then he should have ridden a standard size bike with gears. 

And if he wanted to know how he would do on a single speed he should have ridden one with small wheels like his other mountain bike.   Note to Chris:  Ask your scientist wife to give you a lesson on experiment design. 

The next obvious answer is that there is a technique to riding single speeds, regardless of wheel size, that only comes with practice.  Resting on the go is more difficult than on a geared bike.  Line selection is more crucial because you’ve got to maintain your momentum.  And if you’ve got a rigid fork it adds to your fatigue.  With all that going against them, it’s no wonder why single speeders only do two laps at the local mountain bike races. 

Like I said, those are the obvious answers, but there is a more insidious answer that may explain why Chris had such an embarrassing ride. 

Chris set his personal record on October 22nd.  His single speed 29er experiment occurred the morning of October 31st.  Those of you in Salt Lake Valley might recall that there was a strong inversion over the valley during that week—we’ve got another strong one this week.  An inversion is a meteorological term used to describe a mass of cold air trapped beneath a mass of hot air.  It’s 'inverted' because normally the temperature drops as the altitude increases. 

In much the same way that oil and water don’t mix, the cold air trapped below doesn’t mix with the hot air above it during an inversion.   And since there is no mixing, anything people on the ground put into the air during an inversion doesn’t get diluted.  The result is elevated levels of pollution, hacking coughs, scratchy eyes, asthma attacks, and, just maybe, diminished athletic performance. 

I checked the pollution levels in Salt Lake’s air for the days Chris did his rides, and sure enough, the concentration of PM2.5 on the morning of the 31st was about twice as high on the morning of the 22nd. PM2.5 means particulate matter, basically dust, below 2.5 microns in diameter.    Particles smaller than about 1 micron are small enough to work their way deep into our lungs, where they tend to stick.  It can take a few days for our lungs to clean them out (think phlegm, or what cyclists call lung oysters).  In the meantime, any chemicals on the surface of those dust particles have had plenty of time to be adsorbed into the bloodstream.   

So the good news is that Chris is not a wuss, single speeders are not crazy, and standard size 29 inch wheels are a good thing.  The bad news is that Chris may have damaged his lungs. 

So what’s a cyclist to do?  Driving up the canyon above the inversion exacerbates the pollution problem, so that’s not a good solution.  What I suggest is a quick check of the current ambient air quality conditions on the Utah Division of Air Quality website [click on Trend Charts], where they have up-to-the-hour data for Salt Lake, Davis, Cache, Weber and Utah Counties.  In the wintertime pay attention to the graph on top, PM2.5.  In the summer, the second graph, Ozone, is the one to watch.  In both cases, the 1-hr lines are more representative of current conditions.   

When concentrations are high, you might consider turning the intensity of your workout down a notch or two.  You might also consider bicycle commuting so we won't have these problems in the future. 

Monday, November 5, 2007

Should've stayed in bed

With the season already half over, I went to my first cyclocross race of the year on Saturday.  I got my lunch handed to me. 

I lined up with a group of 17 guys in peak, mid-season form.  I hadn’t raced in two months.  They were riding the latest carbon bikes that cost thousands of dollars.  I was on the same old aluminum bike I had ridden to work just two days earlier—it had fenders on it until Friday afternoon.  I’d bet they’d had a full night’s sleep the night before.  I was out past 1AM watching Hells Belles

I was ready for the race to be over by the second lap.  Clearly I had forgotten how much ‘cross racing can hurt.  I traded positions with two guys for a little while, but I was out of gas before the race was half over.  The top three riders lapped me before I crossed the finish line in what I assumed was last place. 

Well, at least it felt like last place.  I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I looked up the results to see that I had finished in front three riders.  Please don’t spoil it by telling me they had mechanical problems. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Last year my Rip Van Winkle costume placed second in the office Halloween costume contest behind a big guy in a Tooth Fairy costume.  The lesson:  Cross-dressing wins. 

With that in mind, I present to you the winner in this year’s office costume competition…


Little Bo Peep

I decided to ride the chopper today, not because it goes with the costume but because, well, somehow it actually does go with the costume.  Here’s one of me getting some sweet wheelie action.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Friday morning hooky

I met Leif at Red Butte for some late season singletrack
riding Friday morning. Leif has a unique
talent when it comes to cycling.  No matter how hard we’re riding, he can always
carry on a conversation. We could be
bombing down an unusually tight section through the trees, or grinding our
way up a loose gravelly climb, he’ll be
sitting right on my back wheel talking to me about anything that comes to his mind. It doesn’t slow him down either. How he rides like he does and retains his
ability to construct complex and grammatically correct sentences
when his heart rate is above the red line is a marvel to me. But that’s Leif, maybe all the lutefisk he
ate in his Swedish upbringing (in Wyoming!) has something to do with it.

Today he told me about his reticence for taking the GRE, his
early days of racing “way back in the mid-nineties”, and about the time he had
to be hauled off the race course in an ambulance and was chewed out by the emergency room doctor for having pure electrolyte drink running through
his veins. At one point he asked me a
question on a steep, leaf-covered uphill switchback. I tried to answer coherently while
maintaining my pace and getting around the switchback, but I failed. My back wheel slipped and I put my foot down,
something Leif never does because it would interrupt the conversation.

Leif, sitting on my back wheel as usual, had no choice but
to run into me. He didn’t hit me hard,
but it was enough to throw off his balance. I looked back in time to see him fall to the downhill side of
the switchback. There was a wooden
retaining wall below him and he was dangling over the edge. His arms were about six inches above the
ground at the bottom of the wall while his legs and his bike were on the trail at
the top of the wall.  Oh, how I wish I’d brought my camera!

With no camera to take his picture, I did the next best
thing—I helped him up. I grabbed a leg
and an arm and pulled. He was unharmed
and his bike didn’t get a scratch. It
was almost the funniest thing I’ve seen on a bike in a long time. But what was funnier was that Leif kept the
conversation going through the whole incident.

Now that's a gift.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


My rides lately haven’t been filled with much stuff to think
about, so I’ll give you some updates instead.

Two days after I posted about the shoes hanging from the
power lines
I was surprised to see that most of them have been removed. There are still a few pairs hanging here and
there, but the majority of the shoes are gone. I like to believe that someone at the power company read about the shoe
epidemic here and decided to do something about it.  But I still want to know what it all means. 

The Wednesday night bowling league has started up again,
which means my weekly Wednesday night rides haven’t been happening. But I’m sure bowling is going to make me
faster next season, right? If nothing
else, bowling will maintain my competitive edge. For instance, my quest for a 200 game is
finally over. Last night I bowled a 222,
my personal best, and just three pins shy of qualifying for a commemorative
lapel pin courtesy of the USBC (that’s the United States Bowling
Congress for you non-bowlers). Check it out--only one open frame:



Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Urban shoe trees?

Something strange is happening on the west side of Salt Lake City.   I first suspected something was up when I saw a solitary pair of shoes hanging from the power lines near a certain intersection in the Poplar Grove neighborhood.  Now shoes are hanging from the power lines all over the place. 


At first it was just a single pair.  Then a second pair showed up.  Then a third.  Last week I counted twelve pairs on my bike ride home.  Somebody is trying to tell us something.


They are spreading too.  I’m starting to see them at other intersections.  There’s even one pair above a particularly busy intersection I pass through every day.  Have you ever tied the laces of a pair of shoes together and thrown them into the air?  It takes a bit of luck and a lot of athleticism to hook them over a power line.  Considering the number of shoes I’ve seen lately I’m pretty sure we’re not dealing with amateurs.  These people are serious.


At first I thought somebody was trying to start an urban version of the classic western shoe tree.  I’ve been interested in shoe trees ever since Mags and I stumbled upon one on our honeymoon in Oregon.  I tell you, just looking isn’t enough.  You’ve got to throw a pair of shoes into the tree yourself to fully appreciate the singularity of this populist form of art.

Shoe_tree_2Since then we’ve found several other shoe trees in our travels across the west.  One Cottonwood in Nevada has at least 1,000 pairs of shoes adorning its branches.   A Doug-Fir in Washington has shoes hanging 80 feet above the ground.  I hear there’s a shoe tree in Park City, but I haven’t seen it.  I will stumble upon it sooner or later.   

Shoe trees are a little understood, always under-appreciated expression of the American Spirit.  They occupy a lonesome niche in modern Americana.  They have been the purpose behind many otherwise purposeless road trips. Shoe trees come in all sizes and species.  Some are sparsely populated with shoes and others are so heavily laden that branches break with each rain storm.  But they are always miles from nowhere on a back road traveled more by cows than cars. 

I’ve never seen an urban shoe tree.  And shoe trees don’t spread across neighborhoods like the shoes in Poplar Grove are.  So I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. 

Another theory is that shoes hanging from power lines is a sign of gang activity in the area.  But that theory has been scientifically debunked.  Besides, if you were a gang member, would you hang up a sign notifying police where you operate? 

So what is going on here?  Is it a bunch of bored teenagers looking for something to do?  Meddling hipsters trying to drum up material for a cover story in City Weekly?  Fifth grade bullies reigning in terror?  Have you got a better theory? 

I don’t know what is happening here but somebody’s got to find out. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Grandma's home cookin'


I spent Friday afternoon helping my mother clean out the basement of her old house.  It is the house she grew up in, and has housed five generations of my family.  One of the tasks Mom had for me was cleaning out a cupboard full of canned fruit that her mother, my maternal grandmother, had canned. 

The steel lid of the first jar disintegrated at the touch of my finger and I thought this was going to be a messy job.  The fruit inside had morphed into an unidentifiable, desiccated black lump. 

While there was no date on that jar, some of them were dated, and most were in much better condition.  The oldest jar I found contained pear halves canned in 1963.  There were a lot of jars of cherries from 1968, which, from the number of jars, must have been a bountiful year.  What amazed me most was the condition of the jars; most of them were still sealed.  The fruit inside looked pretty good, if maybe just a bit darker than it should be.  There was one jar of tomatoes from 1972 that was bright red and looked like it had been canned yesterday.  I was starting to get hungry. 

Mom thought I was nuts, but I had to inspect every jar before I threw it out.  See, I never knew my grandmother; she died three years before I was born.  To me she had always been just a character in a story or a woman in a black and white photograph.  Now for the first time I was holding something that was a part of her life.  It was something tangible that I could feel.  Something I could heft and know that her hands had once hefted it too.  She was becoming a real person right there in my hands.   

I knew what I had to do.  I had to eat some of Grandma’s home cookin’. 

I found a small jar of black cherry jelly from 1971—four years older than me.  The seal was still tight, the jelly looked fresh.  The lid didn’t have any of the corrosion I had seen on the other jars so I set it aside.  I envisioned myself going on a bike ride with my jersey pocket stuffed with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with Grandma’s jelly.  I thought I would finally have a snack from Grandma’s kitchen. 

Again, my mom thought I was nuts, and when I mentioned the idea to Mags she forbade it.  She says a fresh looking jar could still be contaminated with botulism—or something worse. 

So sadly, I have put the idea on hold.  I still want to have a taste of my grandmother’s life, but not if it’s going to kill me.  I’d like to get to know her, but not that soon.  I wonder if any of you know if there is a way I can get it tested.  Until then, I have set the jar aside to wait.  It’s waited 36 years, I’m sure it can wait a little longer. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The most important ride of the year


This weekend Mags and I are doing our most important ride of the year.  The Josie Johnson Memorial Ride is a sub-20 mile, leisure ride from Sugarhouse Park to Mill Hollow Park.  In years past there have been hundreds of cyclists, most of whom seem incapable of riding with a group, enduring cold, wet weather to honor Josie Johnson and other cyclists killed or injured on Utah roadways.   

It’s short. It’s slow.  It’s chaotic.  There’s a 40% chance of rain.  So why is this ride so important?  The purpose of the ride is to raise awareness of, as well as among, the cycling community.  Cyclists are equally responsible as motorists to know and follow traffic laws.  If cyclists know and obey traffic rules, motorists are more likely to respect our rights on the road.  If motorists see thousands of cyclists out on the streets on Saturday morning, they’re more likely to keep an eye out for us at other times.   

So if you live or ride in the Salt Lake area, you should join Mags and me at 10:30 Saturday morning at Sugarhouse Park.  We’ll be cruising our tandem. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

<p><del>12</del> 9 Hours of Sundance&nbsp; </p>

I raced the 12 Hours of Sundance as a duo with my teammate Aaron on Saturday.  The first 8 hours were great.  The course was just less than seven miles, with 900 feet of climbing per lap.  Clouds loomed low all day, and there was a bit of rain here and there, but the trails were in great shape. Aaron and I were a well-oiled machine; we never lost so much as a second in any of our transitions.   Josh Wolfe and Matt Harding were giving us our stiffest competition, but we took the lead on our fourth or fifth lap and settled into a steady rhythm after that.  One of us would ride a 35 minute lap while the other rested.  Then we would switch.  It was like clockwork. 

On our fourteenth lap the heavens opened and the rain finally made good on the threats it had been making all day.   We were 8 hours into the 12 hour race.  When Aaron met me at the transition area he told me it was slippery and sticky, but when I went out for our fifteenth lap I didn't think it was as bad as he had described it.  This is until I got to one of the service roads that we had to climb.  Both wheels were bound with mud within seconds.  I tried to carry my bike but it weighed about 50 lbs by then.   I pulled some mud away with my hands and pushed my bike up the hill where I could coast down the other side.  But I was losing valuable time. 

About a quarter mile from the lap area the trail turned uphill for about 50 feet.  I foolishly tried to shift to a lower gear (I had been having all sorts of shifting problems in the mud) and my derailleur shifted into the spokes, which sheared the derailleur hanger clean off.   I had to get off and push again to the top of the hill where I stopped and pulled the derailleur and chain out of the spokes so I could coast down the paved road to the end of the lap.  I had to kick at the ground like I was on a skateboard a few times to get across the line.   I was thinking I was lucky to have my brother's bike there as a backup but Aaron met me at the line in his street clothes and without his bike, and told me the race was over and we had won. 


It was a sloppy, sticky good time, but all I won was a silly medal, which when I went up to accept, someone shouted “Give him a derailleur.”  I owe a big thanks to Mags and my mom, and Arthur, who provided support for us.  Maybe I should give them a chunk of my medal. 

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pure hooptedoodle

like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the
guy looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.
. . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some
description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break
loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or
sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I
don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the

    Spoken by Mack
Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck.

There is a
group of us at my office that likes to go on lunchtime rides. We don’t go far, 20 miles or so, but we go
three or four times a week. One of the
guys in the group is named Zane. He’s a
very fit, highly cynical, fifty-something triathelete. He likes to talk politics on our rides, which
used to really annoy me until I figured out that he can’t talk politics at
speeds above 23 mph. I’ve turned it into
a motivator to take long pulls on days I don’t want to hear his political

Sometimes Zane
falls over with no apparent reason. One
time he was bringing up the rear on a brisk ride with a tailwind when we came
to a stop sign. Those of us in front
heard a crash and a thud as we slowed down. We looked back and saw Zane picking himself up off the road. Naturally we circled back to see if he was
OK, to which he nodded in the affirmative, but he didn’t say anything. He just got on his bike and we continued

Last week
Zane fell as he was trying to open a gate through the airport bike path for
us. Most of us can open these gates
without putting a foot down, open it enough to get through and give the guy
behind a chance to make it through too, but Zane just wasn’t in his rhythm that
day. I watched him miss the gate, then
miss his handlebar, then fail at getting out of his pedals. His fall wasn’t terrible, but it must have
hurt a bit. Once again, he didn’t say
anything. He just got back on and
started riding.

I used to
think Zane fell down because of the aerobars on his bike. But seeing him miss the gate showed me
otherwise. Now I think he’s just trying
to give me some hooptedoodle to think about when I ride my bike.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The girl, the moose and the lost keys


Today’s post was supposed to be about how, near the end of our weekly Wednesday night ride last night, Aaron and I had to don our arm warmers for the final downhill.  And about how that was the first time I had done so since sometime in May, and how doing so signified the end of summer and the onset of autumn.  That’s what it was supposed to be about, but that was before we saw the girl pushing her bike downhill, and the moose, and the guy who lost his keys. 

The girl
Our ride had taken us up Millcreek Canyon, down the Ridge Connector trail to Park City’s Mid-Mountain trail, which we rode for a bit before turning around and returning the way we came.  Near the top of the Ridge Connector we came upon a girl pushing her bike—downhill.  And she looked exhausted.

Normally when we see somebody trailside working on their bike we stop to check if we can help.  We’ve fixed flats, adjusted brakes and tuned shifting for countless people on the trail.  One time Leif and I spent an hour reassembling some kid’s rear derailleur.  But last night when we saw the girl pushing her bike downhill toward Park City we figured she knew where she was going.  We wish we had stopped, she wishes we had too. 

The moose
One mile later we came around a bend and came upon a moose and a calf standing right on our trail.  We stopped and considered our options.  A third rider joined us and we decided we weren’t going to get the moose and her calf to move so we walked our bikes up and around them, keeping at least 30 yards away.  The cow watched us the entire way, and took a couple of steps toward us once or twice, but she let us get by. 

The lost keys
Another mile later we came upon another guy going uphill.  He asked us if we had seen his friend, the girl we saw pushing her bike. Aaron and I stopped and told him what we knew, that she was still heading toward Park City, that she looked pretty beat, and about the moose (what’s the correct plural of moose? Meese?).  He (Jared) told us that she (Amber) had missed a turn and in the meantime he had somehow lost his keys.

As we were considering what to do we heard Amber coming down the trail.  She was crying.  No, she was sobbing hysterically.  Jared went to comfort her and Aaron and I decided to skedaddle rather than witness the awkward exchange. 

It all comes together
Then on our way down we realized that Amber and Jared still weren’t out of the woods yet, so to speak. It was dark by then, and they had no lights.  It was getting cold (remember that this post was supposed to be about me putting my arm warmers on?) and they didn’t have keys to their truck.  So Aaron and I turned around and started back up the trail.

When we found Amber she was with three other bikers with lights, but they didn’t know where Jared was.  Amber showed us why she had been crying.  She had tried to walk around the moose like we had, but the cow had charged her and actually kicked her on the back of the leg.


Fortunately Amber was able to get her bike between her and the moose and get away.  I wonder why the moose charged Amber and not us.  Was Amber too close?  Or was it because she was alone and we had numbers?  Or had we exhausted the moose’s patience?

Jared showed up a minute later with a twisted chain that had kept him from riding his bike.  He would have to coast or push his bike all the way down.  The three bikers with lights continued their ride up the trail and the four of us started down with one little light among us.  It was mountain biking by Braille.

Eventually the three bikers with lights returned to light our way and we all made it down safely.  Amber said she still loves mountain biking.  You can read her version of the story here.   

Monday, September 10, 2007

Vive le Velo!


Mags and I recently spent some time in Montreal.  In 1999 Bicycling Magazine rated Montreal as the number one cycling city in North America.  But we didn’t go there for the cycling, we went for the French pastries, the poutine and the feel of a European city just north of our border. 

While we were duly impressed by what we went for, we were truly amazed at the number of bikes we saw.


There were bikes locked to every stationary object. 


There were cyclists on every street.


There were bike paths throughout the entire city.  They even had their own traffic signals. 


There were all kinds of people riding bikes.


We looked at a few thrift stores for bikes we could ride, but quickly discovered that even the junkiest of beater bikes sell for a premium.  A rusty, but functional department store bike would go for about a hundred dollars. 


I even saw a Huffy mountain bike with a $65 price tag.  After seeing that I knew it was time to rent.

We  Americans have a few things we could learn from our neighbors to the north.