When Bikes Want to Stay Home

04.17.2006 | 5:25 pm

Most people don’t know this, but bikes have personalities. And as everyone knows, an important part of having a personality is having moods. Usually, most bikes are in the mood to go out for a ride, which works out great, considering they’re bikes and all.

Once in a while, though, your bike wants to stay home. It can let you know that it would just rather hang out in the garage or on the rack by doing one or more of the following:

  • Having a mysterious flat tire.  You know there was air in the tire when you rode yesterday, but now it’s flat. So now what are you going to do?
  • Just put more air in the tire? That’s asking for trouble; the tire will probably go flat during the ride.
  • Try to fix the flat? The problem is, with a flat like this, the culprit (tiny thorn or shard of glass, probably) is going to be so small that you won’t find it, and then you’ll get another flat during the ride.
  • Stay home and abandon the ride? Yep.
  • I am aware that I have just created a nested bullet list. I feel I should apologize.
  • Convincing your helmet / bike shoes / glasses / lube or other essential bike component to hide. Your bike knows it’s difficult for it to hide itself, but it knows that if it is able to persuade enough of your ride-related stuff to disappear, there’s a good chance you’ll lose your bike riding window of opportunity.
  • Changing the weather. Not many people know this, but bikes control the weather. Usually, they just leave it alone, when forced, but they’ll make it rain, or be unbearably hot, or — if they really don’t want to go out — bring on the rain, followed by freezing temperatures. Black ice, anyone?
  • Suddenly looking unappealing. If your bike really doesn’t want to go out, it will make itself look frumpy, essentially trying to get you to take a different bike out. “Don’t ride me,” it’s saying. “Wouldn’t you rather go out on the fixie, anyway?” The danger in doing this, bikes know, is that if they do it often, they run the risk of being sold or — worse — garaged forever.
  • Discombobulation

    Of course, if you really want to go out riding, you’re going to ignore your bike’s petulance and head out anyway.

    And that’s when the bike’s really going to make your life miserable.

    I shall provide examples.

    A few weeks ago, a friend and I met to go mountain biking. He showed up twenty minutes late, frustrated and out of breath. His tires had both been flat, and the kevlar bead on his tires had been surly beyond all reason about going back on the rim. Finally, though, after bullying his tires into compliance, he was ready to go.

    Except his helmet had vanished.

    But he came anyway.

    After riding for about five minutes, his chain dropped to the inside of the cassette, jamming between the cassette and the hub. Chain suck. Bad.

    We spent about five minutes coaxing the chain free. I recommended he stay off the granny gear, and we continued on.

    Or rather, I should say we continued on for about twenty feet, after which his bike got chainsuck again, the likes of which I had never previously seen. Working together for twenty minutes, we were still unable to ever get the chain out.

    I believed, at that moment, that the chain and hub had become bonded at the atomic level. Fused.

    Eventually, we broke the chain, and — by doing a tug-of-war between the bike and chain, managed to separate the two.

    And by then, I needed to get home.


    Mr. Jones Does Not Admit Defeat

    Last week, back in Utah, I saw another bike that was not in the mood to go out. Riding with a group of about six of us (including A-List Fat Cyclist Commenter BotchedExperiment, about whom I will talk tomorrow), Kenny was out front, as usual. Even though he was riding technical, steep singletrack on his singlespeed.

    And then his left crank fell off.

    No warning, no cause. It just fell off. Plop.

    Of course, everyone in the group was very sympathetic and offered our support, mostly in the form of witty remarks about what a great upgrade those expensive new carbon cranks were turning out to be.

    Kenny went to work, trying to figure out why the crank fell off, and how to put it back on.

    No dice.

    Kenny started coming up with more imaginative fixes, including:

    • Hitting the (carbon fiber!) cranks with a rock.
    • Wrapping tape around the crank bolt, then pounding the crank arm over it, hoping the jamming effect would make the crank stay on.
    • Doing the same as above, but with grass. No, I’m not kidding.
    • Just putting the crank in his jersey pocket and finishing the ride one-legged.

    Here’s the thing. Kenny could have easily bailed at a number of different places. But he didn’t. Kenny was not even willing to consider letting that bike get the best of him.

    Kenny even tried to put a positive spin on it: “It’s kind of fun! It makes the ride totally different!”

    Uh-huh. Anything you say, Mr. Jones.

    Still, he did finish the ride — in fact, there was general concern for a little while that Kenny might finish first even with just one crank.

    Sure, Kenny suffered. But in the end, his bike learned a valuable lesson: Next time it wants to stay home, it’s going to need to come up with something a little more debilitating.


    Me and My Shadow

    04.11.2006 | 7:31 pm

    The sun came out today, which is a big deal in Seattle in April. Of course, I reacted in much the way you would expect: I got out the fixie and went for a ride.
    One of the things I like about where I live is the wealth of beautiful road rides I can do right from my front door. I love to just start riding without any particular idea of what the ride will be, and then making up the ride on a turn-by-turn basis.
    Yesterday, I wound up going out to Carnation via Tolt hill, then taking Union Hill road until it joined up with East Lake Sammamish Parkway, up Thompson Hill, and then through a number of residential areas. I guess I was in a meandering mood.
    Today’s route was much simpler — Highway 202 to Snoqualmie Falls and back: a one-turn ride.
    As I rode back from the waterfall (forgot to take a picture of the falls, even though I’ve got a new phone with a pretty decent little camera built in), I settled into the drops and made up a little game for myself: I would ride the entire way home without touching the brake. That’s easy except for the first mile, which is a twisty, steep descent. I kept my speed in check, though — it’s not really hard to keep a fixie from going fast downhill, it’s just tricky to slow down once you’ve got a full head of steam.
    After that, I just had several miles of spinning on the rolling road, the sun at my back.
    Which gave me a chance to observe my shadow. Here is what I noticed.
    Pros of My Shadow
    • My shadow seems to have enormous quads. Almost comical, but not quite. As I rode, I positioned my legs in numerous ways to see if those quads are enormous only from certain angles, but no: my shadow’s quads are enormous from any angle
    • My shadow’s helmet seems to fit his head quite nicely. No matter what helmet I’m wearing, it always feels kind of bulky, but my shadow’s helmet looked nice and svelte.

    Cons of My Shadow

    • My shadow seems to have atrocious love handles. Really, he needs to go on a diet.
    • My shadow turns a very slow cadence. I’m willing to cut him some slack, though, because his bike is a fixie and he’s turning a big gear.
    • My shadow is rather short and thick in general. I’d say he’s built more like a wrestler than a cyclist. I’m glad that’s not true of me.

    It occured to me after my ride: staring at and evaluating my shadow for fifteen minutes is almost exactly as vain as staring in the mirror for the same period of time.

    I’m sure no other cyclists ever stare at their shadows, right?


    Help Me.

    04.10.2006 | 8:28 pm

    As far as blogs go, Fat Cyclist is not a bad deal. It doesn’t cost much to subscribe, you don’t incur an insurance penalty for reading it, and if you comment from time to time, there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll get some free stuff. And the writing, while mediocre, is at least consistently mediocre. It’s not like you come here expecting brilliance and actual writing talent, like you do over at Bob’s Top 5. No, just basic-cable-level humor and baseless assertions, served up reasonably often.
    Not a bad bargain, really.
    So I figure you owe me.
    Here’s what I want: an answer to a question that has plagued me since I began biking:
    Why does my right arm and hand go numb whenever I ride for more than an hour?
    I don’t even notice it happening ’til it’s already happened. Just suddenly, my right arm and hand aches dully, much as if I had been laying on it in my sleep. I take my hand off the handlebar, alternate squeezing it into a fist and straightening it out a few times, and then maybe rotating the arm around a few times. My arm and hand go all tingly, and I continue on.
    It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t hurt (much), it doesn’t affect my riding. It’s just odd.
    Here are some additional data points I have, which may help or hinder you in your diagnosis:
    • It’s always my right arm and hand. Never my left.
    • It happens on all my bikes — mountain and road.
    • I am an American citizen.
    • My right arm is the one that has been dislocated several times.
    • I have a zigzag scar (it’s very Harry Potter-ish, except it’s not on my forehead, alas) on the palm side of my right wrist where I had a ganglion cyst removed (it came back almost immediately — most useless surgery ever).
    • I have what I am told is a remarkably annoying habit of popping all my knuckles and many parts of me most people aren’t even aware can be popped (my sternum, for example). But that’s not exactly unique to my right side, is it?
    • I am right handed. Really, really right handed. Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and be startled to find I have a left hand. That’s how rarely I use it. Except when I type. My right hand and left are pretty equal partners when I type. Except I always use my right thumb to hit the space bar. You know, I’ve never noticed it before, but my left thumb does absolutely nothing when I type. Ever. It just sits there, poking into the air. I don’t even know why I keep the stupid thing around.
    • I also just noticed that when I think about what my fingers are doing as I type that I suddenly become a very awkward typist.

    I await your answer. Anxiously. Also, I’m curious whether this happens to anyone else, or if I’m extra-special in this way.


    04.6.2006 | 4:27 pm

    I was in Utah a full 30 hours before I went on a mountain bike ride, so you’ve got to admire my personal restraint and single-minded focus on my new job.


    Preparing for the Ride

    I met Kenny, Bry, and Rick at the parking lot of the Grove Canyon Trail. We all just call it “Grove,” though. Kenny was putting the final touches on my brand new, never-rode-it-before bike: a Fisher Paragon. And by “final touches,” I mean that he had put about fifteen extra reflectors on it.


    By getting a Paragon, I had completed my assimilation into the group. All four of us were riding 29" Paragons. Two yellow (this year’s color), two deep red (last year’s color).

    Sadly, Rick had forgotten his helmet and bike shoes. This would not have happened if Rick would learn and use what I like to call “The Mountain Bike Checklist Ditty.” It goes like this:

    The Mountain Bike Checklist Ditty

    Air pressure, lube and tube

    Don’t forget the CO2

    Water in the bottle too

    Always wear a helmet!


    Shoes and socks and shorts and shirt

    Cell phone in case you get hurt

    MTB, ride on the dirt

    Now you’re set to go!

    copyright 2006 Fat Cyclist Productions. All rights reserved

    OK, I admit: I just made up that ditty. But (I’ll further admit), I’m now rather smitten by it. I think I’ll memorize it and start using it.

    I encourage you to do likewise.


    And Now, Back to the Ride

    Rick borrowed a helmet from Kenny. This helmet was far too small for Rick’s enormous melon, and perched comically atop his noggin. On the plus side, it did make Rick seem much taller.

    For shoes, Rick was out of luck. He wore his street shoes, and did not complain about them even once during the ride. Props to Rick.

    Grove starts out easy. Deceptively so. You start by riding along wide, gently climbing dirt road, chatting and joking with your riding buddies. This goes on for about a mile.

    Then you take a right turn, and everyone stops talking. That’s because suddenly Grove gets brutally steep, and it stays steep for the rest of the ride.

    At first, it’s just steep dirt road, which is not too big a deal. Just scoot forward on the seat, drop down a gear, and pedal.

    Then it turns left into a steep gully and gets technical. Hoo boy. I feared this moment. I’ve cleaned that chute maybe 10% of the times I’ve tried it, and I am not currently in the best shape of my life.

    I cleaned it. No slipping, no problems. Maybe there’s something to this 29" wheel thing.

    Kenny shot on ahead, while I — strategically weaving and blocking the trail — kept Rick and Bry from passing.



    After the first set of climbs, we traditionally regroup at a little fire ring. Everyone was really kind, avoiding looking at my gut, not mentioning how Rick was climbing better in his penny loafers than I was in full MTB kit.

    Then we started again.

    The second half of the climb is even more difficult than the first half. While slightly less steep, it’s absolutely relentless, and it’s almost entirely on loose shale. With serious exposure on the right side. Slip a foot to the right and you’ll be lucky to live. Or unlucky, maybe. Let’s not talk about this anymore, OK? I’m getting queasy.

    We got to the bench — someone built a little park bench way up on this treacherous trail as a monument to a lost outdoorsman; best tribute I’ve ever seen — without hitting any snow. That’s about 2000 feet of climbing in about four miles (purely a guess).


    We couldn’t continue on past the bridge, though; the north side of Grove is always a muddy, snowy mess long after the South side is clean and clear.

    Time to descend.



    I developed a couple theories as I rode down this shale-with-death-inducing-exposure:

    • Descending skills get rusty when not practiced
    • Rick is completely insane. He descended faster — a lot faster — than I did while wearing penny loafers perched on his clipless pedals. Freaky.

    I got to the bottom without any problems, though I’m sure I looked ridiculously tentative. I know I sure felt ridiculously tentative.

    I still beat Bry to the bottom, though.



    My legs hurt.

    My stomach is huge.

    I’m glad to be back.



    04.4.2006 | 2:05 pm

    I’ve always been pretty evenly divided on the road-vs-mountain bike riding issue. When reporters ask me, “Which is better, mountain or road?” I tend to dodge the question with, “Who cares, when they’re both so great?”

    Last Friday, though, I think I answered the question definitively, at least for myself.

    It was a sunny afternoon. I was unemployed, and uninsured. The lack of insurance pretty much made road biking a non-starter; I knew that while I was more likely to get hurt while mountain biking, I was more likely to get seriously injured or killed while road biking.

    So I convinced Bob to skip out early on work; he drove over to my house and then we went mountain biking at Tolt-MacDonald Park in Carnation, WA.

    “We’ll probably get lost,” I told Bob. See, this park is a near-infinite tangle of twisty, rolling NorthWest singletrack, deep in the woods. And those mossy-colored trees—well, they all look a lot alike.

    “That’s fine,” said Bob, nonchalant. When you have orienteering skills like Bob and I have, you come to accept the occasional befuddled stumbleabout as part of the price of mountain biking.


    Log Pile

    Something the NorthWest has in abundance that I have not seen elsewhere on mountain bike trails are logpiles. Logpiles feel odd to ride over because about the time your front wheel rolls over the top log and starts going down, your back wheel is just starting to go up the pile. Then your big chainring high-centers on the pile for a moment, and your rear wheel flops high into the air, giving the exact same feeling you get when you’re about to endo.

    Then, if you keep your head and keep pedaling—against your instincts, because of course your rear wheel is in the air—your chainring grips the wood and pushes you forward. Your rear wheel bumps to the ground, and then you’ve done it: you’ve ridden over a logpile.

    Here I am, just as the chainring bites into the top log. In spite of appearances, please let me assure you that a large tree branch is not protruding from my rump.


    Ride The Length of a Log

    Riding over a logpile is small potatoes when compared to the move that Bob and I tried probably fifteen times each: Ride up and along the length of a mossy, wet log. I’d guess the distance was about twenty feet.

    First, you have to get onto the log, which may be the hardest part of the move. The soft, rotten end of the log makes a decent ramp to the top, but it tapers, forming a notch just before you get to the top that grabs onto your rear tire, slowing you down and throwing you off your line. Here I am, stalled out, my rear wheel deep in the notch.

    Once you’re up top, you’ve got to keep rolling, without slipping off. There’s a groove you can ride in, but it’s narrow and if you hit either edge, it’s hard to recover. Here I am, bailing out.

    And Bob, using a handy tree to get his balance (after which he had to bail out, because he couldn’t restart).

    And me, bailing out, again.



    Move Truism Number 1: Take The Long View

    After who-knows-how-many tries, I remembered something Stuart Talley (a large hairdresser who also happens to have hundreds of biking-related axioms at his beck and call) taught me about technical mountain biking long, long, ago: don’t look at the obstacles, or you’ll hit them. It occurred that I was staring so hard at the little notch at the top of the approach that I’d never know what to do once I got beyond it.

    So the next time I tried riding the log, I looked beyond the notch to the end of the log.

    And I cleaned it, including the wheelie-drop at the end.

    I admit it: I squealed with delight.

    And I regretted that we had stopped taking pictures (in disgust, about fifteen minutes earlier).


    Move Truism Number 2: Once Someone Cleans a Move, the Stakes Increase

    Up until the moment when I cleaned the log, Bob and I could have ridden away from the move, declaring it unrideable. Once I cleaned it, though, the game changed. Bob—a much more technically adept rider than I—could no longer leave until he had cleaned the log.

    He got it on his next try. This is due to a corollary of Truism Number 2: Once you know it can be done, it’s no longer as difficult to do.

    Plus, there’s another corollary, which I don’t care for all that much: If fatty rode it, it can’t be all that difficult.


    If I Had to Choose

    It was after I cleaned the log that it occurred to me: I don’t experience that kind of elation on a road bike. In fact, the kind of enjoyment I get on a road bike is almost completely different from why I like mountain biking. And if I had to choose just one kind of biking, I’d choose mountain biking, because I love that amazing sense of triumph (rare as it is for a schlub like me).

    That said, I’m really glad I don’t have to choose between the two. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine why any cyclist would make that choice.

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