Friday, January 30, 2009

Personal Rides: Fat Chance





The year was 1986, a big year for me, the year I married my lovely wife Lori. As a wedding present, she said I should buy a new mountain bike. How’s that for lovely? Didn’t take any arm twisting to accept that offer.

After much magazine reading, bike shop poking around, and serious internal debate (hey, we’re talking bikes here) – it was down to two choices. Fat Chance or Cannondale. Cannondale at that time, at least the model I was interested in, sported a 26” front wheel and 24” rear wheel – with of course, an aluminum frame. The Fat City Cycles, Fat Chance model, was steel with normal dual 26” wheels.

After test riding both – the Cannondale was a customers bike from a shop in Pompton Plains, New Jersey (the name escapes me) - and a bike mechanics personal Fat Chance from Ridgewood Cycle (that would be Ridgewood, New Jersey) - the Fat Chance won and money was put down. $899 for a complete bike.

My Fat soon arrived in red and yellow. Plasma welded frame, powder coated finish, Shimano Deore XT, Araya RM20 rims, Magura motorcycle levers, Specialized Ground Control tires, 6 speed freewheel. 27 pounds of trick mountain bike goodness. The Fat frame was also sealed – no welding vent holes. When it was spanking new and not yet dirty, you could lower the saddle and it would slowly rise back up from the air pressure in the frame. I’ve never had a bike do that, then or now. The tolerances for the seat tube must have been perfect. Once the seat post was dirty, that party trick was over.

Compared against the Miyata Ridge Runner I was riding, the Fat felt lighter and more nimble due to the smaller frame and tighter geometry. It was stiffer and more race like. I rode this bike a lot – a ton actually. Off road, 3 – 5 times a week for years. I later had a second set of wheels with slicks for street use. I rode this Fat everywhere – to work, in the woods, started racing and entering observed trials events, it worked everywhere (For old racing shots, check out the previous Old School Mountain Bike Racing post).

At the time we were living in Parsippany, New Jersey – not exactly the Yukon. I still put together a series of street/dirt loops from our apartment that utilized Troy Hills Park, powerline and other unmarked trails, and a small park in East Hanover. I’d also ride over to Tourne Park in Denville for a longer loop. Mix that in with occasional trips to Allamuchy and other wooded areas. When I moved to Washington State in 1988, the bike still had New Jersey dirt on it. The Fat then introduced me to trails in my new state - such as St. Edward State Park, Tiger Mountain, Redmond Watershed and other areas.

Through all this use, the frame and fork held up great. Other parts were replaced as worn out – buckets of brake pads, chains, freewheels and chain rings. The wheels were replaced with another set of Sansin hubs with Araya RM20 rims. After a stick jammed into the rear derailleur, exploding it in half, I upgraded to index shifting. The cool but heavy Magura shorty brake levers were swapped for lighter Dia-comp levers. SR pedals with toe clips replaced the round Suntour units. I added a Hite-Rite for quick saddle height changes on the fly. A longer Ritchey stem replaced the stock Specialized. All standard stuff for mountain biking in the ‘80s.

This was my only mountain bike from 1986 to 1991, a solid 5 year run of off-road and other fun. In ‘91 I bought a Bridgestone MB-Zip and semi-retired the Fat. It still was dragged out for the occasional cruise or loaned out for rides. A few newbies purchased their own bikes after a few hours on the Fat. A perfect way to ease into retirement, by infecting other people with the mountain bike bug.

I still own this bike, it hangs in the corner of the garage – dusty, but full of memories. It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden it. I doubt I’ll ever sell it. It’s a piece of mountain bike history – mine and mountain biking itself. Fat City Cycles developed into one of the coolest bike companies ever – combining amazing bikes, great names and quirky advertising. Models such as the original Kicker, Fat Chance, Wicked Fat Chance, Team Yo Eddy, Buck Shaver, Monster Fat and others. I was a big fan of Fat City Cycles and hated to see them disappear. I also own a Yo Eddy that I’ll detail in another post – and named this blog after.

Pictures posted are of my Fat Chance, circa 1990 or so. Included is the spec sheet sent to me from Fat City in ‘86. I also have other various FAT memorabilia buried at home that I’ll post as I unearth it.

Fat City Cycles continues to live via select mountain bike freaks everywhere.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Son - The Bike Racer







As mentioned in a previous post, My Son - The Cyclist, I described in mind numbing detail how my son Ian has progressed as a rider. I also mentioned that he started racing a bit and would detail in a later post. Well, this is that post. I'll humor myself that someone actually reads this blog and they've been patiently staring at their monitor waiting for an update. I also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Members Only jackets will make a come back.

Okay - after a few kiddie races at some local 'cross and crits - 8 year old Ian wants to do some "real" races. He really liked longer rides, didn't have super technical skills or knew how to jump - so I ruled out BMX. Most of the junior class racing appeared to start around 10 years of age, and we also watched these kids race at some 'cross races. Ian wasn't old enough for that quite yet. I then find the Seatac Shuffle mountain bike race - and they have a class for kids 10 and under. I email the folks and find out the kids do one lap of the real course and I can ride behind him during the race. Perfect-O. On top of that, kids race free. What a country.

Race day rolls around we head down to Seatac Park - or whatever its officially called. It's located at the end of a runway of Seatac airport. You could bounce rocks off the belly of planes if you had a strong enough arm. Ian is excited and nervous about the race. The race mechanic, that be me, decided to install new brake pads the day before. I tell Ian the brakes are a little grabby, but they'll wear in. As we're warming up and checking the course out, Ian crashes twice due to the much stronger front brake - once with a slide out, another time with a full endo - his first ever. Yikes. I feel stupid for swapping the pads out, concerned about him getting hurt, and he's upset and now worried about using the brakes. All this about 5 minutes before the start of the race. I loosened the front brake enough to be impossible to lock up and ask Ian if he still wants to race. Yes - he does.

The kids line up - all 8 of them - and away they go for the 1 lap race (about 4 miles). Riding behind them was a blast and a front row seat to the action. I moved up behind Ian to keep him in sight and to offer encouragement. He's about mid pack and doing okay. We didn't pre-ride the entire lap, so didn't know exactly what was ahead. On a short, steep downhill, Ian knifes the front wheel in and flips down the hill - with the bike bouncing behind him and landing on his back - ouch. A collective gasp from some spectators adds to the effect. I jump off my bike and run down the hill - pull his bike off him and ask if he's okay. He seems to be and takes off - to cheers from the crowd. When I catch back up to him about 30 seconds later, he's not doing well - upset and having trouble catching his breath. We stop for a bit to calm down. I remind him this is all for fun and you don't have to do this - no problem. As we talk, the kids behind all pass us.

After a few minutes, he's better - but said he's embarrassed to come in last and wants to quit. I explain sometimes just finishing a race is an accomplishment, but we can skip this and that's okay. Bike racing is not easy. As a dad, I wanted this to be a positive experience and didn't force anything. I said we can ride back to the car - the shortest way - or stay on the course and just treat it as a fun ride. He decides to ride the course and after a few minutes is cranking again. I pour on the encouragement and try to keep the fun side up.

Then I flat my rear wheel - crap. I tried running and keeping up with him - no way. He waits for me at one point and I could see he's dying to take off. I ask what he wants to do - wait or go. He instantly says go and I tell him just follow the course - you'll do fine. Boom, he's gone. I pull off a record time tube swap and hammer off like a lunatic after him.

Near the end of the course, through the trees, I could hear the race announcer call his name as he crossed the finish line. We head back to the car and he's upset again. What are you upset about? The brakes? No. Crashing? No. Racing itself? No. He was upset about coming in last. In his ever innocent 8 year old mind, he was convinced he was going to win this race. After some consoling and letting him know he did great - asked him what he wanted to do right now. Go for a ride. We wound up riding the course again in-between races and he rode like his usual self - and faster then the actual race. A much more positive way to end the day and a real world learning experience as well.

At home a few days later, I check online for the race results and show Ian his name. The Seatac Shuffle was race # 1 in the 7 race Indie Series. I also checked the previous year results and discovered so few kids race the 10 and under class, by just entering every race - you could potentially win the series overall. So Ian's last place finish, 8th place, still scored him series points. I could almost see the little light bulb appear above his head. He then wanted to do the entire race series. I told him we'll give it a shot.

Race # 2 was the Whidbey Island Mudder, located on Whidbey Island (what a concept). We made this race a family affair with mom and sister attending as well - that would be Lori and Amy. Nice ferry ride over to the island, complete with a whale sighting. Arrived early enough to be stress free and parked right at the start line - perfect family base camp. Pre rode part of the course and it looked great. Eight kids once again in Ian's class and away we go.

This race was an actual race for Ian. While in 5th place, he caught the kid in 4th place for a nice battle. They eventually caught up to the kid in 3rd place. During the race, I once again rode behind Ian and watched everything from a front row seat. I also encouraged all the kids, not just Ian alone. I passed the 4th place kid's dad along side the trail and yelled out how great they were doing. They all crossed the line almost together. So Ian scored a 5th place finish, but was very close to doing as well as 3rd place. He was psyched and really had a good time. A very different experience from the first race. All positive and fun.

My daughter Amy, then 4 years old, did the kiddie race on her Pink Specialized bike - with training wheels. On the way home, we stopped for lunch in Langley and goofed around by the water. Another ferry ride home and the day was done. An all around great family experience.

We elected to skip the Leavenworth event, race # 3 of the series. I heard it was a pretty technical course with lots of climbing. By coincidence, I ran into Matt, the kid who organized the Whidbey race (I'm now old enough to legally call anyone in their 20s a kid) on the Burke-Gilman Trail riding to work. He confirmed it was a tough course, especially for an 8 year old. Ian was disappointed, but I wanted to keep this as safe and fun as possible.

We also skipped race # 4 in Winthrop, mostly to avoid the expense and hassle of a multi-day trip. Winthrop is out there in eastern Washington. Maybe another time.

Race # 5 in Bellingham was on our agenda. Another family affair with all in attendance. Another stress free early arrival, checked the course out a bit and Ian was ready to roll. The kids were supposed to do a shorter version of the adult course, but for whatever reason - they elected to have them run the real deal. The decision was made right on the start line. I heard someone ask, "What about the drop offs?" "Uhh, we'll have people posted there". Yikes.

A lot more kids at this race, 15 in Ian's class alone. Very cool. A run to your bike LeMans type start - with Ian losing his bike in the confusion - and we're off. I follow him once again for this race and can tell he's not really digging it today. It's hot, there's quite a bit of pushing up hills, and some tricky technical downhill sections. A great course, but a little tough for an 8 year old - I think. I see one young girl riding while crying. Ouch. I coach Ian on and he grinds it out, complaining a bit at times, but finishes. He pulls a 12th place out of the deal. At the end I ask him if he enjoyed the race. He said it was okay. In my eyes, he did a great job. We're still talking about 8 year kids here and mountain bike racing is not easy for any age. It's fun, but its tough.

As a side note. Dear old dad - that be me - raced 45+ Sport class as well. My first race in 15 years or so. I'm there to have fun with Ian and ride with him, but the schedule at this event allowed me to race as well. The first lap was a reminder how much racing hurts. On the second lap, I crashed heavily into a log, landing on my thigh - direct impact. I suffered through lap 3, then DNF'd. Wound up getting officially hurt with x-rays the next day, nasty swelling and bruising and 3 weeks off the bike. Nothing broken - but felt like it. I couldn't even walk correctly for about 2 weeks. The most painful injury I've ever had. Loads-O-Fun. Still, until I bailed, it was great to race again.

Race # 6 in Roslyn - we skipped due to some family scheduling conflicts. My daughter Amy had a dance recital that weekend, filling up parts of Saturday and Sunday. You can guess how exited Ian was to skip the race for a dance recital. Hey, all is fair. It was Amy's weekend to be the center of attention and another life lesson for Ian.

Race # 7, The White River Revival, the final event in Greenwater - near Mount Rainier. Full family affair for this event as well, including kiddie race for Amy. Only 7 kids signed up for Ian's class. Awesome course - the real deal - long climbs, singletrack, stream crossings - big fun. Ian did great on one long doubletrack climb - passed some kids, as well as two adults racing in another class. Great job. Kids passed on the climb, passed Ian on the downhill singletrack sections - not Ian's strong point and some of those kids are pretty quick. Not a problem to me. At (by now) 9 years old, its all about fun and not getting hurt.

Ian scored a 6th place for this race and had a great time. We had a total blast on this course and Ian still talks about it today - his favorite course of the series by far. Mine also.

Since this was the final race of the series, the overall winners were announced. By being Mr. Consistent, Ian pulled off a 3rd place overall for the series. Even got to raise his arms on the (log) podium - just like the Tour. He was very excited to nab 3rd place and only missed 2nd place by one point! Really nice way to end the series for him.

After the race we drove up to the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier and hiked around for two hours. A very full day and a reminder how cool it is to live in the Pacific Northwest.

Overall, the Indie Series was awesome and we'll hit some events in 2009. I am amazed at the low amount of kids that race mountain bikes. There's a few hundred adults at each race and just a few kids. You would think a ton of kids would be into this - not the case. It does get my wheels turning to somehow get more kids involved with this great sport. I have a few ideas. We'll see if my daughter Amy expresses any further interest in racing. I may need a team bus soon.

After being away from mountain bike racing for 15 years, I was expecting it to be a super serious scene with zillion dollar bikes and attitudes. Not the case. Sure - there are some super fast guys and girls, but mountain bike racing still remains a grass roots scene with supportive people all around. For 2009 Indie Series info, check out: www.indieseries.com

See you out there.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Vacation Day






Vacation day, mental health day, PTO - whatever you call it - today was one of those days. Being family guy with limited free time, I try to grab one of these occasionally to squeeze in a ride and usually meet some friends for lunch. It seems a lot easier to do this while the family is locked into their usual weekday routine, and I don't detract from the usual weekend family time.

The plan was to ride out to Redmond to meet two old friends, Kevin Rupp and Brian Stan, for lunch at El Toreador - my favorite mexican restaurant. It's a nice ride from the house, most of it on the Sammamish River Trail that cuts through Woodinville and Redmond. It's a great trail that runs along the Sammamish Slough, past some open areas, golf courses, a huge sod farm, and other remnants of a less populated Seattle area. It ends at Marymoor Park in Redmond - complete with a velodrome. Yeah - we have some really decent riding here.

When I left the house, it was 32 degrees and sunny. Cold, but beautiful outside. After riding the heavier steel commute bike over the last few weeks - complete with fenders, lights and heavy battery - my carbon Ibis felt incredibly light and smooth. Add in the missing messenger bag that usually hangs off my back and I felt like I lost 50 pounds.

After a fun lunch, complete with chicken tacos and jokes among pals, headed back home - with a quick stop to poke around Sammamish Valley Cycle. I also stopped to take a few pictures, then made it home in time to meet my son walking home from school.

Outside for a few hours on a beautiful day, share good food with friends, cruise 28 miles on the bike, then some family time in the afternoon.

Not a bad day at all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bush Out. Obama In.



Bush out. Obama in.
Secrecy out. Openness in.
Torture out. Diplomacy in.
Racism out. Diversity in.
Fear out. Hope in.
Status quo out. Change in.

This new prez has a ton of expectations and hopes falling on his shoulders. I hope he can pull it off. He can't pull it off alone, but seems to have the personality to pull people together.

I'm looking forward to see how it all develops. I think there will be major steps in the right direction. At least I hope so. There's that word again - hope.

It's the end of world as we know it and I feel fine.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Icy Fog-O-Fun


I rode to work today - the least I could do after washing my bike over the weekend. Good excuse to break out of my winter riding slump, plus - you never know - Lance could call needing assistance with his comeback. I need to be ready at all times.

Official Dan O thermometer read 34 degrees when I left. Cold, but not bad. That's what I thought anyway and left dressed for the occasion. Seeing sheets of frost on the road made me think my thermometer was off a few degrees. The Burke-Gilman trail was a mixture of iced pea soup fog and sections of frost covered trail - punctuated by flashes of blinding low horizon sunlight. A good all around combo.

I was not dressed correctly for the occasion, didn't realize this was a frozen formal affair, and promptly froze my ass off. Hours later, my fingertips still don't feel normal. I typed this post with my face.

I'll repeat the process on the way home later, except in the dark for added amusement. I'm not complaining however, it's still all fun. Well - sort of.

We cyclists are sick that way.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Son - The Cyclist








My 9 year old son Ian scored his first two wheeler at 4 years old - a Trek Jet with training wheels. He pedaled around our cul-de-sac (that's fancy talk for dead end) like most 4 year olds. At 5 years old, the training wheels came off and he was riding around a bit more. By age 6, he seemed to have a genuine interest in riding and I'd take him around the block or on the Burke-Gilman Trail to ride with me. He handled rides of 5 miles or so without a problem and enjoyed it. I didn't push any of this and made sure it was all fun. He also tried a kiddie race at the Redmond Derby Days crit. By this time he was watching the Tour de France coverage with me and was interested in the racing.

For his 7th birthday, we picked out a Giant MTX 125 mini-mountain bike. That's right - a Giant mini-mountain bike - get it? It had 20" wheels, 7 speeds and a suspension fork that sort of worked. It was a bit of tank, like most kids bikes, but not too bad. I debated between the Giant and a Redline race BMX bike that was much lighter - but thought the single speed BMX bike would limit its use. Ian instantly knew how to use the gears and dual hand brakes. I was impressed. Rides up and down the cul-del-sac were a lot quicker now and we started venturing on longer rides together.

By this point, 10+ mile rides on the Burke-Gilman were the norm. We also started exploring the local trails at St Edward State Park and he really dug that. Sounds sappy, but I'd get a little teary eyed following him through the woods. He'd get out of the saddle for climbs, helmet bobbing back and forth - just like a real rider. I'd yell out occasional encouragement and instruction. "Okay, shift down now before the hill". "Slow down a bit for the downhill". "Nice job!". Fun stuff. We also hit the gravel I-90 trail a few times, complete with 2 mile train tunnel. He entered a few more kiddie races at local 'cross and crit races. Kiddie races included kids on training wheels and up to kids 9 years old or so on bigger bikes. Ian didn't win any of the races, but finished towards the front and thought all of the races were too short. He wanted more.

Ian is fairly tall for his age and the limited gearing on the mini-mountain bike was holding him back a bit. So when he was 8 years old, Christmas included a new Specialized Hardrock FS - a nice kids hardtail mountain bike. 24" inch wheels, RST suspension fork, triple crankset - the real deal. A very exciting Christmas morning that I'm sure he'll remember. This bike really expanded his riding abilities. He was riding much faster, cleaning hills that he couldn't before, and taking on tricker technical sections in the woods. Took him no time to figure out the additional shifting capabilities with the triple set up.

At 9 years old, he rides fast enough in the woods to be a nice cruise for me. If I'm pulling my daughter Amy in the Burley trailer on the Burke-Gilman, I have trouble keeping up with him at times. If I give him a choice on what he wants to do on a Saturday, the answer is usually go for a ride. He reads all my bike magazines when they arrive, knows all the pro team riders and watches the Tour coverage with me - all of it. He really wants a road bike. Maybe this summer.

I of course encourage him, but don't push it at all. We occasionally do mountain bike group rides with the local mountain bike club (www.evergreenmtb.org) - and he keeps up fairly well. I can tell he also gets a kick out of riding with the adults, since he becomes the minor celebrity.

His racing has increased also - he competed in the Indie Series mountain bike race series last year - in the 10 and under class. A great experience I'll detail in a later posting. For race info, check out www.indieseries.com.

My wife jokes that I now have a little riding buddy. I can't think of anyone I'd rather ride with.

Road Grit-O-Joy


After a few weeks of snow and heavy rain here in the Seattle area, we're back to normal - in the 40s and wet - although the past few days have been cold and dry. I'm still in my holiday/winter slump and have only ridden one or two days a week. This is my usual routine and I don't swing into riding a lot until February or March. Then I crank it up to commuting 3 - 5 days a week, 34 mile round trip each day, plus some weekend riding with my son Ian.

With the recent weather and lack of riding, I haven't cleaned my commute bike in months - rare for me. I usually keep all my bikes pretty clean and ready to roll. The drive train is completely filthy, stuff crammed under the fenders should be examined by the EPA, and the crud attached to the underside of the frame looks like it could support life. To get back at me, I had to fix a flat the one day I rode to work last week. My hands were black with road filth when done. Sweet.


There's something super nasty about wet road grit - the way it dries into a black sludge, or works into your shorts riding in the rain without fenders. It's almost like toxic waste - or maybe even it is. I'll gladly splash around in the mud on my mountain bike. At least that seems to be composed of real dirt. Road grit however, is something all its own.

I'll attempt to clean my bike tomorrow.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fixie Fun


Received email from an old bike pal in New Jersey – Don Harrower. He used to race Cat 4 in the ‘80s, then had back surgery and couldn’t ride a normal bike for years - then became the hard core recumbent commuter. Ironically, to a Honda car dealership, where he’s been a mechanic for decades.

Over the years his back has healed enough to take the old race bike out occasionally, though kayaking is his main gig now.

We used to ride dirt motorcycles together in the '70s, then bicycles later in the '80s.

Anyway - the email....

"Speaking of cars and bikes, I had a freaky car accident back in October. We were driving in NYC near the West Side Highway, going through a green light when a cyclist blasts into my left front fender landing on my windshield. He said he didn’t notice the red light on his street. He was very lucky, didn’t get hurt or do any damage to his fixed gear road bike. I don’t know how those guys can ride fixed gear bikes in city traffic, but you see them all the time. He did smash my windshield , but I was glad he was okay."

Nice. Nothing like having a little fun with the Fixie Hipsters.

I'm all for people getting on bikes - any kind of bike. However, I always thought riding a fixed gear in traffic is a little loopy - especially with no brakes. I see quite a few Fixes in the Seattle area. Don't get me wrong, some of the bikes are damn cool. Adding a front brake won't make it any less cool - really.

Everybody ride safe out there.

Personal Rides: Raleigh Competition




I picked this bike up in 1984 or 1985, probably 1985 – will have to wait for the carbon dating test on my brain to be sure. At the time, I was riding my mountain bike a fair amount and wanted a road bike. One of my bike shop pals, Dave Cohen, offered to sell me his slightly used Raleigh Competition frame with a few additional parts tossed into the deal – old Campagnolo crankset and shifters, Weinmann brakes and levers, and a beater set of wheels with Campy hubs and rims that I no longer remember.

The frame was an early ‘80s Japanese Raleigh, lugged with Reynolds 531 tubing. Smell the steel. I grabbed parts from various sources, including Bike Nashbar and Performance. This was before the Internet and mail order was sort of new for the bike industry. This was also before indexed shifting and you could run any sort of shifter and derailleur combo and it worked fine – and 6 speeds was plenty. I added Suntour Cyclone derailleurs and pedals, Selle Italia Turbo saddle (in suede!), cables and whatever else was missing - and had myself a nice road bike.

Later, I replaced the flexy Campagnolo crank for a Suntour Cyclone crank, and the beater wheelset for a new pre-built wheelset with Suntour Cyclone hubs and Mavic rims. This bike had a great ride with the classic steel feel, slightly flexible, but smooth. Being the standard design for the time with plenty of clearance, could also run fatter tires for more comfort. One of my riding loops had a short section of dirt road and this bike felt great on it.

I bought a cycling book by Greg LeMond during this era and changed my position, as per Greg’s set up – using a string and bob to set saddle set back and saddle height as per leg length. Wound up raising my saddle at least an inch and farther back on the rails. It felt perfect and I still use this position 20+ years later. I also picked up my first pair of racing shoes at Cyclesport in Park Ridge, New Jersey - complete with cleats for toe strap pedals. I still have the shoes in a box at home, as well as the Cyclesport cycling cap the sales guy threw in for free. Oh yeah - and the Greg LeMond book.

This bike introduced me to longer distance rides at a much faster clip then the mountain bike. That feeling of speed you only get on a nice road bike - skinny tires singing on the pavement, hands on the brake hoods, elbows bent, scenery buzzing by as you - the motor - power the whole experience.

A few rides on this bike stand out in my memory. One where I left the house for a quick ride – dressed only in bike shorts - no shirt, no water, no food and no money. The “quick ride” turned out to be a 40+ mile ride during the hot, humid New Jersey summer. Even so, when I returned home, I felt fantastic and was psyched that I rode from Mount Arlington to Hackettstown and back. At that time, 40 miles seemed far and nothing felt better then doing it under your own power. I still have that feeling now on rides and maybe that contributes to why I never get tired of riding.

The other riding memory from that era involved a ride with a flat and a long walk. I was about 15 miles from the house and flatted – no big deal, except my spare tube was toast and my patch kit glue was dried up. I somehow got the patch to stick for a few minutes at a time, stopping to pump the tire up to rideable pressure a few times. Eventually it was useless, so I started to walk home.

After a few miles, walking in my fancy new racing shoes became torture – so I continued home in my socks. Probably walked about 5 miles total, enough to make sure I had everything needed to fix a flat the next time. Before the flat, I also had some BMX kids chase me, yelling “Hey, Racer Dude”. I put my head down and took off, thinking it would be pretty lame if they caught me.

They didn’t catch me.

I rode this bike from 1985 to 1991, then sold it to a co-worker pal after I replaced it with a Bridgestone RB-1. Paul Bartley, who bought the bike off me, still rides it today. This is one bike I wish I hung on to – would be a cool, old school classic now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Old School Mountain Bike Racing







Family and I took a trip back to the homeland last summer – a strange land known as New Jersey – a curious mixture of rural areas, toxic drenched zones, toll booths, wise-ass attitudes, traffic, good pizza, organized crime and Lyme Disease ticks. It’s better then Disneyland and only three times as expensive. Some parts are run down urban areas, other parts can match Vermont for natural beauty.

While we were there, visited some old friends, Kevin and Beth McGatha. They occupy a nice spread in a rural area of the state – complete with hundreds of acres of state woods at their disposal. Being old riding pals, they dragged out some photos during our visit, including the ones posted above – which I’ve never seen – and they later sent me.

This was old school mountain bike racing, circa 1987, in Wawayanda State Park, New Jersey. That’s right, Wawayanda – sounds like a fictional camp in some cheesy ‘80s movie. It’s actually a great riding area, like many in New Jersey. That’s right – hard to believe.

Racing back then was a pretty informal affair, with less crowds then today – or I should say less then the XC heyday of the ‘90s. Doesn’t everyone freeride now and have 9 inches of suspension travel? At least that’s what the bike mags have you believe.

In the ‘80s, most events had a XC race in the morning and a Observed Trials competition in the afternoon. This was cool, ‘cause I could suck at two events for the price of one.

Most people hung around for the trials and competed on the same bike they raced earlier. There were also some trials specialists mixed in there as well, on trials specific bikes. It all made for a fun day with fellow mountain bike cult members.

Pictures are of a much younger me, on my then very cool ‘86 Fat Chance. Dig the matching Vetta hard shell helmet – only used for racing.

Side note: In case you don’t know, Observed Trials events require you to ride through “sections”, without putting your feet down. Each “dab” of the foot gets you a point. Low score wins. It’s based on a motorcycle sport – Google it. Good trials riders, on motorcycles or bikes, can do things that don’t seem possible.

This concludes our little history test. Yes – it will be on the final.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Random Crash Stories. Episode # 1


If you spend any amount of time on two wheels and hang around with the two wheel crowd - you'll eventually witness some crashes and sample some dirt or pavement yourself. Sometimes its funny, other times downright scary. It's all part of the two wheel deal. You can embrace it, pretend it will never happen, or sell your bikes and take up bowling.

Since bad things are supposed to happen in threes - here's the first three crashes that spin out of my head. Sort of like a pinwheel of pain. Enjoy.

Crash # 1.

Timeframe, early 1990s. I'm cruising on the Burke-Gilman Trail and notice a guy up ahead, playing around with his toe strap (remember those?) - head down, not paying attention.

He drifts off the trail into the drainage ditch and bushes that run alongside the trail. Does a perfect endo into the ditch. Well, actually half an endo, since he lands upside down - head and shoulders awkwardly compressed into the dirt, feet still in the clips, some branches through the wheels - holding everything perfectly upside down.

I stop my bike and walk over, assess the situation for a second - then pop one of toe straps, which releases the entire kinetic human sculpture crashing to the ground. We drag his bike out of the ditch and check for damage - human and mechanical. The dude's glasses put a nice gash on his nose, with blood running down his face. He doesn't say a word - just seems embarrassed and pissed off. He pedals away without saying anything, looking a little like Bernard Hinault in the 1985 Tour.

It's beautiful the way bikes bring people together.


Crash # 2.

Same time frame - early '90s. This time I'm driving my car up Simonds Road, a local steep hill. I notice a cyclist heading down in the opposite direction. As he comes into view, appears to be a DUI type guy, sporting a department store 10 speed - complete with drop bars spun over for maximum upright mobility. Moving at a nice clip, he hits the curbing of the shoulder and goes down hard - sliding to a stop on his knees, sitting up. I'd give it at least a 7.5 for style and execution.

I stopped the car and yell out the window to see if he's okay. Dude completely ignores me, gets up and collects his bike - straightens out the twisted handlebars and continues down the hill, looking pissed off and embarrassed.

I sense a trend here.


Crash # 3.

Burke-Gilman Trail once again, but just a few months ago. I'm cruising to work one morning, following - okay, drafting - some older guy on a clapped out commuter bike. He's moving along quite nicely and helping me get to work refreshed and on time. Thanks.

As we approach one of the street crossings near Sand Point Way, I pull back and to the left as my usual practice - to give some safety room. No cars in sight, so we cross at a fast pace - commuter guy stands to accelerate back up to warp speed, then suddenly slams into the ground sideways - really hard. I pass the bouncing body on the left - then stop and run back.

Guy is already up on his feet. I asked what the hell did he hit. Nothing. Crank arm snapped at the pedal hole, causing the pedal to break off. Wow. I ask if he's okay - not hurt at all - and where he's headed. Ballard. Uh, not today. Says he has a cell phone, will get picked up - no problem.

I continue to work, thinking maybe I should check the pedals on all my bikes. Maybe just snug 'em down a bit.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Personal Rides: Miyata Ridge Runner





In the early ‘80s, I worked at Whippany Cycle, a bike shop located in Northern New Jersey. Even though I spent plenty of time as a kid riding around on Sting-Ray copies and department store “10 Speeds”, during my era at the bike shop I actually never owned a bike. Strange but true. I did borrow one occasionally for rides, but had nothing I called my own. Between attending community college, dating my girlfriend (and later wife) Lori, keeping my collection of ratty Fiats running, as well as my ‘73 Yamaha RD350 – there was no motivation or extra money to spring for a new bike. Sure, there were bikes hanging in the shop I lusted after – they would have to wait.

In 1984 the wait ended. Having a dirt motorcycle background, I really wanted a mountain bike. We carried Miyata at the time and I had my eye on the top of the line Ridge Runner model. I just scored my first job in computer operations and the pay increase over a bike shop wage was like hitting the lottery. I pulled in with my new Volkswagen GTI, popped for the Miyata Ridge Runner, plus a Miyata 110 road bike for Lori. All that with sick days and benefits included. What a concept. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast working at the shop – but having some extra was dough was a really nice change of pace.

This was the Cro-Magnon era of mountain bikes and the Miyata was a prime example. No suspension, SunTour Mountech derailleurs, 6 speed freewheel, friction shifting, bull moose handlebars, round bear trap pedals and bolt on hubs. I loved the thing. I rode it a fair amount for two years - on the road, exploring nearby woods, playing Observed Trials rider and just general cruising around. Besides cutting the handlebars down a bit and changing the grips, it remained stock and felt great.

At the time, mountain bikes were fairly rare. I remember riding it to watch the Tour of Nutley, a local crit race that I used to check out. People were asking me questions and one guy photographed it leaning against a wall. Another time I was cruising through Branch Brook Park in Newark, when some messenger looking dude rode by and asked me how many gears it had. When I replied 18, he just shook his head and cruised past. Anytime I ran into someone in the woods, hiking or on a dirt bike - they were amazed you could ride the same trails on a bicycle. This was years before land access hassles hit the scene.

This was also before helmets or specific mountain bike clothes. All I needed was a pair of OP shorts, sneakers and tube socks. Winter kit was jeans and hiking boots. Didn’t even use toe straps yet – that was for road bikes.

Near my house in Morris County, hit the woods in Mount Arlington and nearby Allamuchy. Trails I used to ride on with dirt motorcycles, replaced by human power. I never looked back. Hot humid summer rides, changing leaves in the fall, snow rides in the winter. Lori and I also rode the NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour on our Miyatas. Good memories.

I sold the Ridge Runner in 1986 after picking up a new Fat Chance. My old bike shop pal, John Passacantando bought it off me. He later gave it to his dad and from what I hear, still rides it today. As an interesting side note, John later went on to run Greenpeace USA – not bad for a bike mechanic from New Jersey.

Even though I already dug bikes, this Miyata really launched me into being a full on bike nut.

Thanks Miyata.

Positively False?



While visiting the library last week – picked up the book ‘Positively False’ by Floyd Landis. While roaming the aisles, also found the 2006 Tour DVD by World Cycling Productions, turning the week into something of a Floyd Landis tribute – or investigation – depending on your take on things.

Unless you live in a cave or know nothing about cycling, Floyd Landis won the 2006 Tour de France, only to have the title stripped away after testing positive for synthetic testosterone. He’s since fought tooth and nail to regain the title and clear his name – unsuccessfully. After many hearings, lots of lawyers, and a ton of money, his battle with the WADA has failed. His two year ban from racing, justified or not, has ended, and Floyd will race in 2009 for the OUCH/Maxxis team.

Before diving into the book, my son Ian and I watched the Tour DVD – all four hours of it (we’re loopy). We also watched the original coverage in 2006. Seeing Stage 16, where Floyd bonks and loses the Yellow Jersey - followed by the infamous Stage 17 and his heroic break away that set the stage to reclaim the Yellow Jersey – was great. Stage 17 was the stage where he allegedly doped and was brought down. If that did not occur, Floyd’s comeback on the stage would have been Tour history – for all the right reasons.

The book was interesting, especially reading about Floyd’s Mennonite background and his eventual decision to leave to pursue a pro mountain bike career. His stories about not getting along on Team Postal and Lance Armstrong were interesting as well. Of course, he goes into detail about the 2006 Tour and his battle to clear his name. The book is worth reading, even without the doping aspect. Looking into what pro racers do to train, miles ridden, comeback from injury – such as his broken hip – is amazing.

Did he take testosterone? Who knows. I personally don’t think he did it. From his side of the story, battling a false allegation against the forces that be, seems to be impossible. From the time the book was written, he still had hope and was plowing full steam to clear his name. You need piles of money and time to defend yourself against something this. With his background, you would think if guilty, he would have confessed and taken his lumps – not go through what he has to clear his name. Why suffer through that time and expense? Floyd and his team also posted everything out on the Internet, much to the dislike of the WADA. If the WADA was confident of their case, they should welcomed the openness, not fought it.

Where I waver on the story is the Greg LeMond incident. It was in the press at the time, where Greg and Floyd communicated and Greg supposedly asked Floyd to tell the truth – that he doped. During the conversation, Greg admitted he was abused as a kid and holding the secret nearly killed him – as if Floyd holds this secret – no good will come out of it. Greg was then called to one of Floyd’s hearings as some sort of character witness. Before Greg’s testimony, someone on Floyd’s defense team called LeMond pretending to be the person that abused Greg, hoping to rattle him – or who knows what. Insane and incredibly stupid. It also put a huge negative impact on the Floyd team. It just added another bizarre soap opera twist to the story. Floyd explained what happened, but that whole aspect of the story put it over the top for me. Still, I don’t think Floyd doped.

When the book was released, Floyd did a book tour to promote the book and tell his story. I found out – the day after – he had been in Lake Forest Park, five minutes from my house. I would have checked that out for sure. Seeing and meeting someone for real can sway your opinion for sure. As Floyd was getting famous, I always got a kick out of his interviews. He came across as funny and sometimes goofy. Very different from the usual road racer. I’m not really one for celebrity worship or being star struck, but meeting Floyd for real would be cool.

In any case, this is all old history by now. It will be interesting to see how Floyd rides in 2009. Now that Lance is back, possibly seeing those two go head to head again, should make for fun year to be a pro cycling fan.

Don’t waste too much time watching the pros however – get out there yourself. That’s what really counts.