Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Between Storms.

A ride, perchance. A 10 mile climb into the green and blue (and a bit of white hanging on). Riding bikes rocks.

Epic, in repose, welcoming spring.

Eric The Red in foreground, San Gabriels in background.

My failed attempt at a Jeff Kerkove shot. How does he do that and ride so fast?

So you Midwest guys feel better, we ride in snow too.

Hard to see in this pic, but the gravel is littered with tiny chunks of smoothed ice, like little diamonds. The oak tree above was dropping ice crystals off of it like acorns. Very cool and odd to see, since it would only last a few more hours.

Eric on frozen ground.

The Tehachapis, newly crowned.

Spring is waiting, barely containing itself. I'm ready.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Plague, most likely....

...since I cannot be sure how to spell Bothchu...ahhh...Botulism...I will vote for the plague. Black (bean) Near-Death. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, dragged down by a bad bean of the re-fried kind. Oh, the horror of it all.

Tuesday eve was a good night, pretty much...SS ride, great shrimp tacos with cilantro dressing and garnishes...yum. But I wanted more on the plate, so I popped open a can of refried pintos, veggie version, to go along. Big mistake.

3 hrs later I think I am pregnant, the way my big, old stomach looks and then other symptoms arise...all of them bad. I am the only one ill, so I figure it was not the shrimp which the whole family ate (thank God for that mercy). 4 hours of total food poisoning symptoms later, I was a wreck. I was dehydrating so fast and losing electrolytes that I was cramping up just laying there in between 'sessions'. I tied my feet together so I would not turn inside out when vomiting. No kidding. I know I saw the soles of my feet at least once. Scared me. I figured this could be a trip to the hospital, but it laid down by 01:00 AM and I was able to sleep. It has been 3.5 days now and I still feel a bit off my feed. If it would stop raining, I would go out and spin around a bit and test my legs.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day, so I will head out then. In the meantime, it will be awhile before I feel like eating a bean burrito again. Now I know history tells us that it was fleas that carried the plague across Europe in the middle ages, but I have to wonder if there was not a bean involved somewhere. Perhaps a cover up here...likely a historical revisionist conspiracy to protect the Burrito Farmers CoOp of America.

So I went to the internet in search of truth. A bit of research showed this picture, plainly displaying an opened and carelessly discarded container of doom, laying next to a victim of it's foul curse. A bit of photo chop-ing reveals the truth. Ahhh...modern technology. Beware of the bean. You have been warned.

Proof is there if you look for it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Failure to Yield

Last night I crashed, something that does not happen very often. It was not a big crash, but it was a crash nonetheless. The thing was, I had help. Now I am perfectly capable of arranging a nice crash all by myself. But this one had support in the making.

I was on the local singletrack, coming into a fast and straight section that is maybe 15-20MPH. I could see a rider heading my way, pedaling in the middle of the trail. The trail here is wide enough to squeeze two bikes by, passing like ships in the night, if you each give a little. In fact, I had pulled completely off the trail earlier in a narrower section of this route to let two descending riders go by.

But as I approached this guy, he just stayed in the I was on the brakes, on the brakes, thinking any minute that he will be moving over a few inches, but oh no. Not this guy. So, at the last minute I dove left and headed into the big deal, plenty of room off the trail, except for the fact that, hidden in the new grass, was a tiny, hardened clay berm that my front tire skidded along like a curbstone, not able to climb over. If I would have seen it, I could have just blipped the front wheel over the edge and passed, but now it was too late.

I skidded along for 3 or 4 feet, then crossed the bars over and tumbled into the grass. A last minute tuck and roll had kept me from anything but a sore wrist and back (so far, anyway). Before I even could sit up, James comes in and crashes in the same way in the same spot, landing nearly on top of me and the Tall Boy. Total train wreck. Oh the humanity!

James and I. I am on the left in green.

Guess where the now stopped 'uphill' rider was? Yep, still in the middle of the trail.


So he asks us, "Are you guys OK?". Yeah, I thought, but I would have been better if you had just moved over 6" so I could pass.

On he went, perhaps looking for the next victim. I don't know what to think. Clueless, stubborn? Sticking to his 'I am the uphill rider and I have the right of way' IMBA tattoo? I dunno. If so, the idea of the uphill rider's right of way was for the purpose of steep grades of trail where getting started again was an issue if you stopped. That did not apply here.

Oh well. I could have slowed way down to a few MPH and crept by. I should have done that, not knowing how this guy was going to react. Lots of things could have happened. One of them was a bit of give and take on both our parts to share a narrow section of trail for a second or two and that did NOT happen.

At least the grass was soft.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

God Bless Newbies.

Newbies. We have all seen them. We have all been them at one time or another. They can be easy to spot.

Often the helmet is a dead give away.

They can be easy to spot in a group.

They are excited, they are fired up, they are stoked...even if they are a bit off course every so often. Yeah, there is the guy that walks into the pro shop and slaps down the Visa, rolling out looking like team Joe Fast, etc. But that illusion only lasts until the newbie begins to pedal...heck maybe even begins to talk. Bubble burst, the truth is out.

There is a local mustering spot for rides by my house and on any given weekend or after work time, there will be cyclists gathering to ride mountain bikes in the nearby hills. Usually they are folks I know, but lately the popularity of the area is getting out and more and more new groups are showing up to test the waters.

There is one group that I have seen that began as two guys and now are six or so. None of them look very experienced. Some are wearing gym sweats and gym shoes, no helmets. The helmets that are worn are kinda crooked and the bikes are low to mid level bike shop or dept. store models. I think one guy looks like he is the veteran of the group and is riding pretty well, even sporting clipless pedals. But regardless of pecking order, they are out there getting it done, having the time of their lives.

There are some great things about newbies. Newbies will always return a wave or a "Good Morning" call. Try and get that from a speedy racer type on Sunday morning....he would have waved but it would have affected his Power Tap hub reading and we can't have THAT!

Being a newbie mtn biker is HARD! I remember my learning curve. I bought what I could afford then, a $250.00 Nishiki with Suntour 6 speed non-indexed shifting. I actually was a pretty good technical rider at the outset, but fitness was another thing altogether. I was in my late 20s, thin and healthy looking. I figured I could do this. Wow. Wrong!

Even stuff that now would be a minor bump on the singlespeed was getting me completely wasted...destroyed...knackered...schooled. Hills were my enemy. Lord it was hard. I would watch my friends disappear over the mountain as my world narrowed down to a tunnel vision, pinpoint of light, basted in sweat and set to a soundtrack of heavy breathing and choice %&#@++* words. Still, I wanted it bad enough to hang in there. Most don't and the newbie rider hangs the bike in the garage where is rusts in peace.

A year or so ago I got an email from a rider that was in my area. He was brand new to mtb stuff and wanted to find out where to ride that was not too hard. I volunteered to show him some local, easy rides and we set a time to meet. I love showing newbies the ropes. I enjoy teaching and helping someone get better at cycling as it can be a huge positive in someone's life as it has been to me.

At the parking lot, I met the guy, a very, very nice young man, married, maybe in his late 20s and very out of shape. Overweight and soft around the edges, he was riding a bike that was made for jumping down flights of stairs or something...urban mtb for sure. It was a burly hardtail thing, maybe 35 lbs of indestructibility with not enough gears and a 50mm stem.

We headed out on a flat paved road to a flattish fireroad. Maybe 3 miles in, he was torched. We flipped around and headed back to the car before ever really getting into the trails. I figured he was another newbie in the process of 'biting the dust' as far as becoming a mtn biker.

I was wrong.

A year later I was at the same parking lot. I saw a guy with a pretty decent bike, loading up after a ride. he looked kinda familiar so I rode over. Turned out to be the same guy that had nearly died out there a year ago. He must have been 30-40 pounds lighter. He had muscles where pudgie-ness had been. He had a very nice bike and decent clothes. He had graduated. He was a mtn biker, by gawd.

He remembered our ride and thanked me for the day we had met, got in his car and drove away. He made it this far and I know it was not easy. Congrats dude.

One less newbie, one more mountain biker. Welcome aboard. Now for those other six guys....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fount of All Wisdom

Yep, that is me all over...a 'wise fount'. I am not sure what a fount is...maybe a fountain with less letters or an Old English way of spelling font. Perhaps I am a wise type set. I dunno.

But in any case, the whole thing is related to my 'duty', if you will, of riding, evaluating, and writing in a hopefully lucid way about new bikes and products that come my way. It seems that I am expected to be a savant of sorts; I ride, I see visions, I dream dreams, I type on a key board and all can make important, monetary decisions based on my chicken scratchings.

Oh my.

So, you may say, "Poor baby, having to ride all this new stuff and all he is expected to do is write some pithy words taken from the Reviewers Book of Phrases": "Light, yet stiff", "stiff, yet compliant", "feels fast", "feels solid", "has a delicate bouquet with a slight oakey aftertaste"...wait...wrong book.

And, it is really neat to ride stuff that I cannot afford, then give it back and move on to the next wunderbike. But there are downsides, too. Often you have to make do with a short test period...maybe even one ride in unfamiliar terrain. The bike set up may be vastly different then what you would do for your bike, the parts like saddles, etc, may suck (or pinch or bite or all three) and even if you have it for longer, you may be bouncing back between two or more bikes, keeping you from really getting used to the ride.

Then, you need to say something intelligent and insightful and you may live or die by those words. The hopes and dreams of some bike builder is hanging there a bit as well, not that my thoughts will make or break, but still, it is something to remember. I may get it wrong. I may fail in front of the internet. I may suck across the vast cloud of the innerweb and THAT is a lot of sucking.

So whaddaya' do? Well, you hope that your 25 years of mountain bike riding is working for you. You know that you ride well enough to see how a bike does what, although Steve Peat is not worried, you have ridden a fairly broad range of bikes/tires/parts and you know what works well for you here and there and finally, you feel pretty good about your ability to put that into words in a diplomatic and honest way so that readers can divine from the electronic tea leaves as to what 'da heck you mean by "would make a good lightweight trailbike for bi-polar riders living above the 40th parallel."

So, dear readers, have pity on this Wise old Fount. I am walking a tightrope of expectations, trying to balance myself with a 29" wheel in each hand while not looking down.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Back many years ago, I co-authored and authored two 'Where To Ride' type guide books for mountain biking in the local forests. In so doing, I rode/pushed/dragged my bike over nearly every reasonable and not so reasonable road and trail on the map. Some of those places I have never been to since!

Very near to my house is a remote canyon with a couple of access points. We used to ride this area all the time as a group but it has been years since I was in there. It seemed like it was about time to reconnect to that old ride spot and see it again. I grabbed Ed the Tall and we loaded up the singlespeeds in anticipation of moderate climbs and muddy sections of trail.

Ed and his Selma.

We headed up the paved Department of Water and Power access road and rode past history, and an infamous history at that. This was the site of one of the worst disasters in California when the St Francis dam failed and swept through the valleys below and to the sea some 50 miles away, killing many in the process. Add in the fact that Ed is a geologist by trade, and it becomes a bit of a lesson in "benches" and "soils" and 3 dollar words that I don't even remember (like in the article below) as Ed gets all techy with the dam and its demise.

From the Web:

The St Francis Dam before the disaster.
"The St. Francis Dam failed catastrophically three minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, only a week after the dam had been filled within inches of the top for the first time. The failure began with the collapse of the eastern abutment, which was caused by a massive paleomegalandslide when an ancient and inactive fault between the Pelona schist and Sespe conglomerate formations reactivated, possibly caused by hydraulic piping. Water rushing along the eastern side caused a rotation in the dam, which allowed water to escape through an opening under the right abutment. When the dam was about half empty, the right abutment failed leaving just the central “tombstone”. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes for the 12.4 billion gallons of water to empty out of the reservoir. The water traveled down the San Francisquito Valley until it joined with the Santa Clarita River and turned towards the ocean, destroying everything in its path. The water had traveled the 52 miles to the Pacific Ocean by approximately 5am, carrying tons of debris, mud, and bodies. Bodies of victims were recovered as far south as the Mexico border. An accurate death toll is not known, but estimates range from 450 to 600 deaths. The disaster was the second worst in California’s history, behind only the 1906 San Francisco fire, and the worst civil engineering failure of the 20th century."

After the dam failure. The remaining section, known as the "Tombstone", was dynamited later on.

The ride up took us right over the dam location. In the two pics below, the first one shows the white rubble of remaining sections of the dam material in its original location and the second shot points to some of the dam debris down stream.

You would never know that these are silent markers of a great tragedy. Soon enough we hit the dirt and mud. To make it worse, there was some heavy construction going on in the area and some BIIIIGG dump trucks were using the same roads we were on. They kept stirring up the deep water sections and mud, making it a challenge to find the 'clean' line, if any path today was clean.

One of the better sections.

Singlespeeds rock. Have I said that before? Everyone should have one. We rode through (and carried around) about 20 mud bogs/puddles/swamps today and never even got stuck shifting problems, nada. Nothing but forward progress. How sweet it is. If I would have been pedaling that Epic with the $$$ XX stuff today, I would have not been nearly as blissful.

I also was trying out some new tires I just got in the mail. The Specialized Purgatory, 2.2 S Works. More on those later, but they were a stellar performer today in the loose and sloppy conditions.

Vassago Jabberwocky and Purgatory tires, all dirtied up for the dance.

Ed is a lot like me in that we don't need a stunning ride to have a good time. Today was a revisit for me, brand new horizons for Ed, muddy, not that zoomy, but all in all it was a great day out for three hours of pedaling mirth and merriment.

And singlespeeds absolutely ruled the day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

IGH means Eye-Guuuhhhh!

No, not really. But it does stand for Internally Geared Hub or some such thing. I am totally ready to embrace the future if it includes a viable, wide range, all safely contained within the hub shell, tough and reasonably light system of shifting.

It is no secret that I am a singlespeed fan and I love the direct chainline and nearly indestructible nature of the beast. I have fooled around with a Rohloff 14 speed hub and I found it to be kinda Machiavellian in the shifter and axle mounts (and stinking heavy!) but I saw the appeal. Now Shimano has let an 11 speed version of the 8 spd Alfine hub out of the bag.

Still heavy compared to a high end der. shifted system, it remains to be proven as being tough enough for MTB use. But, someday this technology will be what we are riding on our bikes. If it is embraced by the off road world it will be refined and refined and then it will be ready for the masses. I think a better mousetrap, it will be.

Sign me up for some cheese, please.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The WALL-E in all men..

Us guys are often misunderstood. I think the nature of men is typically a dark territory, a mystery, especially to women; a black box containing an odd mix of little boys with toys and grown up solitary moods and reactions. Then there is the sex thing. We get pegged as simply being motivated by sex alone. Not so.

Modern society does not help at all. For years now, it has been seeking to emasculate men to nothing more then hairy women driven by testosterone and immaturity while women are told they don't need a man and not to rely on anyone.

"A women needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Feminist slogan

And, some men are self centered jerks. Granted. But most of us are good guys trying to be what we need to be to those we love. And, in that sense all one needs to do to understand the true nature of men is to watch the movie WALL-E.

WALL-E in all his glory.

In many ways we still are, at heart, little boys . We love a good toy and can be focused on a thing like...oh, bike riding for the point of annoyance for the ladies in our lives. But ladies, you need to know this: We can compartmentalize. The sports or hobbies in our lives do not need be a competition for your attention. We need those things in our lives to keep us feeling young and vibrant. And, in turn, if things are in balance, it will make us better men to be around the rest of the time.

Besides the play-time, we go to work. We understand duty. We are wired to provide and support those we love. It does not mean you are weak and unable, it is just what we are called to do from the beginning. We go to work when we don't want to, when it is hard, and when it is boring. It is, in a very practical way, us saying "I love you". Duty, sacrifice, honor, even to the point of death... it is what we do even when all common sense says otherwise and it is unspoken and understood by other men. Band of Brothers.

Unless something is broken inside, we are quite often softies at heart. All that bravado will crumble and cry when the dog dies, even if the tears don't show. That calm resolve you see that seems cold and unfeeling may just be our way of steeling ourselves to deal with what needs to be done.

We are often called by a need to explore and push the limits of ourselves and the world around us. There is some part of us that calls us to the top of Everest; to do the difficult thing. A goal is not just a good idea, it often gives us purpose.


WALL-E is rusty, short, and built like a little tractor. EVE is sleek, smooth, sexy, dangerous and marvelously, mysteriously wonderful. EVE comes to love WALL-E for what he does and is inside and  she sees beyond the rust and bent parts. WALL-E falls in love with EVE at first sight before he even knows what she can do. We are visually motivated and to us, you are curiously magical creatures that we are enraptured by. And when she does fly, it is marvelous. We are Earth bound, rusty, bent and task driven by nature. EVEs are ethereal and different and wonderful and barely touch the ground and, if we are ever truly honest with ourselves, secretly we wonder what rocket ships like you are doing hanging around around with tractors like us.

And when we find our EVE, we want more than sex although that is always there in our minds. Can't help it. But we need a companion. We don't want you walking 2 steps behind us but if you lead it will destroy a part of the best of us.  Sit down or walk beside us and we will go there together.

We are uncurable romantics if you let us be. We may not always do it very well and sometimes we may get it all wrong, but we want to offer our best from what we think is swell. It may be a diamond ring or it may be a Zippo lighter, but we want to share the parts of our lives that we think are special. Be patient with us.

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Genesis 2:18

Thanks WALL-E. You did good. I pray I do the same.

Thursday is Go Time

The first official Ramble Ride is on tap for next Thursday and I am stoked. In a way it is just a ride, but in another it represents creative route planning on territory I have not ridden yet and that is always fun. It is also local and not completely dark territory so I am not concerned of "Here there be dragons" sections of the map. Local enough to be doable on a day off work with no great mysteries but enough new trail to keep it interesting...and it will be a hard ride. Killer combo!

Of course, Ed the Tall is my ride buddy for the journey. Thank God for ride buddies. I have been blessed that way.

Countdown to ramble on!

Meanwhile, it is raining.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SS Leviathan

Now this has me thinkin'.

Julian Death March Redux?

Two years ago I spent some of the worst hours in the saddle I can remember when I entered this event: The Julian Death March

I made some errors in judgment. I ran only 1x9 gearing. Silly me. It was the windiest day in the last millennium for San Diego County. I carried too much stuff. I had less than the required amount of base fitness to pull all that off. That conspired to kick my backside and I fought leg cramps...bad ones...for that last 2 hours of the ride. I barely made the first loop of 35 miles and that was it. I had hoped to do at least the second loop and hit the 50 mile mark.

One loop was enough or I would have needed rescue. Instead of heading back out for more I chose to eat apple pie and lick my wounds.

So now Ed The Tall has registered for the 2010 Julian Death March. It is a veritable gauntlet tossed on the ground in the shadow of my bruised ego. I really do not remember the 2008 course being fun in that it was not a particularly inspiring route. I would ride it if I was a local but I would not drive there to do it otherwise. I could ride the rest of my days and not do that again. It will cost me money to go there. But even if it is or is not a different route this year and even if it is costly and not that much fun, the challenge of it is taunting me.

It kicked my butt and that will not do, no it will not do at all.

I am fitter now then I was then. I have a better bike and I would pack lighter. I am thinking about it again and this time it is a 63 mile loop.

That proves I am no smarter. are killin' me.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Short Links = Hot links???

The era of the 'short link' bike is here in spades. Turner and Pivot have the DW, Niner the CVA, Santa Cruz has VPP, Giant has Maestro and who knows how many others are out there. If you read the marketing spiel and the ravings of many owners you would think that this relagates every other FS design to the dustbin of history. Buggy whips, perhaps, in the age of the auto.

I have dabbled on some of these bikes before and I have been impressed in some ways and not in others. To me, they felt best when seated and pedaling and I tend to like to get out of the saddle and climb. They did seem to hook up real well when climbing rough stuff and they did not require much ProPedal (but some STILL do) . Other than that...? Some designs have been downright ugly looking as well if aesthetics mean anything.

Now, extended ride time on the Tall Boy has been very interesting. VPP II (second generation) is pretty good and I see the appeal. Getting back on the older design of the Epic's FSR should have felt out of date if you believe the marketing hype of many short link bike builders. Forget even thinking about a simple single/high pivot bike. Stone age.

But I will tell ya' that my last bike, a Cannondale Prophet 130mm travel single/high pivot bike pedaled great overall and was very very fun to trail ride on. It could have been stiffer in the back end, and it had the traits of its breed (some which are a plus in my mind), but it was easy to understand and maintain and it was fun to ride.

The FSR is not all that great as an XC bike without the Brain shock, but the Epic with the Mini Brain is freaking fabulous if you care greatly about a fast pedaling bike. The jabs tossed at it as being a poor design covered up with a gimmicky shock smell of sour grapes to me. It works and it works well. Why do you care why it works? It is not perfect either, but it is effective.

Reading the list of claims made by the short link bikes folks as to the bennies of that type of design are pretty amazing. It seems that before this was made that we were all riding FS bikes that sucked and now all the other designs are off the back.


Any FS design is a compromise. Any of them. They will all have plusses and minuses and traits that you may or may not like depending on the values you really want in your ride. For instance the Epic is not as comfy or as good as the Tall Boy for seated pedaling up and over techy trails. The platform of the Brain adds juuust a bit or harshness and if you take that out with tuning it will wallow a bit and squat some. The Tall Boy cannot quite match the tighter and faster feeling pedaling response of the Epic and the Brain feels awesome on the trail at moderate to higher speeds.

So, I care more about how it feels when I stand and pedal hard or sit and spin fast then how it bumps up over logs and broken rocks in the saddle. It is a matter of where I ride and what I value, not that the bike is better than the other overall.

Combine that with the fact that even short link bikes are not the same as far as ride traits from one brand to the next and it even gets harder to make a broad claim of short link superiority. Also, the overall build of the bike is still important. A nifty link system on an otherwise poorly engineered bike is no step forward. It would be interesting to hear from owners that moved from some older design into the bright future. I bet there are some that feel they gave up as much as they gained in some ways.