I Am Not Impressed By Your Wooden Bike

02.6.2008 | 10:22 pm

I swear, if one more person emails me a link to that high school kid who built a wooden bike, I am going to lose my mind.

For the lucky ones among you who haven’t yet received this email chain, an online woodworking newsletter has an article about Marco Facciola, a 16-year-old kid who built a bike — even the chain — out of wood.

Here he and his bike are:


And here’s the detail of the drivetrain.


Sure, I can understand why some people would be impressed by a project like this, but I have more exacting standards. So, Marco, here are a few questions I have for  you.

  1. speed1c Where are the derailleurs? I suppose if you’re lazy, single speed was an option, but I think that if I had a bike like that, I’d want to at least set it up as 3 x 8 (though I think we can all agree that a nine speed cassette would be required if you want an A+ in the project). Or maybe — if you’re feeling like just phoning it in — make a nice wooden 14-speed internal-geared hub. Diagram included for your convenience.
  2. Isn’t that bike too heavy? Looking at that bike, I would estimate it weighs at least 30 pounds. It’s going to climb like a pig.
  3. No suspension? I expect a wooden bike is going to have some measure of vertical compliance built in, but if you want to do ledge drops, you’re going to want to build your next wooden bike with wooden suspension. Perhaps you might want to look into some sort of wooden leaf-spring system. Or something.
  4. 26" wheels? Dude, all the best wooden plate wheels are being built as 29-ers now. Get modern.
  5. Is your pedal system acceptable? I suppose some casual riders are OK with a wooden platform system, but next time you might want to build some wooden Speedplays. I’m thinking a nice mahogany-color.
  6. No kickstand? What’s a modern bike without a kickstand?

Stuff I Have Built Bicycles Out Of
I’m sure some of you are thinking, "Well, Fatty, if you’re going to lecture this kid on how he should have made a better wooden bike, you’d better have done something equally impressive.

As it happens, I have.

Here is an abbreviated list of the materials from which I have built bicycles.

  • Money. I once built a bicycle using nothing but US currency. Curiously, that bike still cost less than half as much as the Arantix.
  • Pasta. I was surprised at how easy it was to build a bike using nothing but dry pasta. By wetting the pasta a little bit, it would flex, adhere to itself, and then reharden. Unfortunately, I found the ride quality of the bike problematic. Dry pasta provides a stiff, brittle ride, which is to say, it felt exactly like a GT.
  • Tinker Toys. This was almost too easy. Took like twenty minutes. And the cool thing was, when I got to a water crossing I took the bike apart and made a bridge out of it.
  • Granite: This was the most beautiful bike I ever made, but it climbed terribly. The nice thing is, when I decided to abandon it, I just leaned it against the side of the mountain and walked away. I’m pretty sure it’s still there.
  • Bubble Wrap: I built this bike in answer to the question, "What if a bike protected you when you fall?" The bike was also remarkably light. The biggest problem with this bike, in fact, was that if I turned my back for even a minute, riding buddies would start impulsively popping the bubbles, and then I’d have to walk home.
  • Kryptonite: The only time I ever beat Kenny on a ride, I was riding my Kryptonite bike. You do the math.
  • Duct tape: Taking the statement "You can fix anything with duct tape" to its logical extreme, I figured I could also build anything with duct tape. And it turns out you can. As an interesting side effect, I was constantly being pulled over by other less-fortunate cyclists who needed a piece of my bike to fix their bikes. I never stopped using this bike per se; it just got assimilated into a multitude of other bikes.

I’m certain you’re grateful for my guidance in this matter, Marco. You’re welcome.

PS: Just to be ultra-clear, I’m joking. I’m amazed by Marco’s wooden bike.


7 Tips for Becoming a Roadie

02.5.2008 | 7:31 pm

A Note from Fatty: I’ve got a new article on BikeRadar today. You can read a preview below, or click here to read the full article.

As a mountain biker, you have no doubt noticed an entirely different kind of rider from time to time: the road cyclist. You have probably heard that many pro mountain bikers train on the road, due to the improved power, stamina, and pedaling technique road cycling yields.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how elegant and svelte a good road bike looks, and have thought to yourself: "I wouldn’t mind riding on the road."

Well, good for you.

However, my mountain biking friend, there are seven vital things you should know before you hit the road, so to speak.

1. Your bike is different.
As a mountain biker, you are used to putting your back into it when you need to lift the thing onto a bike rack, over a log, or so forth. My own preferred method is to use the "Clean and Jerk." If you use similar force when lifting a road bike, there’s a good chance you’ll accidentally throw it over a building.

Also, you need to pump the tires up harder. Much harder. No, even harder than that. Generally, in fact, it takes the weight of two or three "roadies" (an endearing term road cyclists like to call themselves) to push down hard enough on a standard floor pump to get the tires to the proper pressure.

How do you know when a road tire is inflated to the proper pressure? The answer is simple: it’s hard enough when one single more stroke of the pump will blow it off the rim. The real art is, naturally, in knowing whether you’ve reached that point.

2. The terrain is different.
When you are mountain biking, you naturally are inclined to look for interesting obstacles to ride over — roots, rocks, fallen logs are all part of the fun. On a road bike, on the other hand, anything but perfectly smooth pavement is a potentially life-threatening danger, and must be avoided at all costs. Further, if you are ahead of another cyclist, you must use elaborate hand gestures to indicate that there is — horrors! — a pebble 75 metres up the road.

3. Words you know have different meanings.
Since roadies and mountain bikers have a common heritage, it’s no surprise that they share some vocabulary. It’s also no surprise that the variance in meaning in some of that vocabulary can get you into trouble.

For example, if a mountain biker says a ride is "technical," you can assume that there is loose shale, several ledge drops, high-penalty (e.g., death) exposure on one side of the trail, or slick, mossy roots twisting along the singletrack. If a roadie calls a ride "technical," on the other hand, it most likely means that there is a roundabout somewhere in the ride.

As a second example, when a mountain biker talks about going on a "group ride," it means that a bunch of friends got together, regrouped at junctures of the ride, talked as they were riding, and probably had a beer or twelve together after the ride. When roadies have a "group ride," on the other hand, riders are expected to ride in a tight formation, paying strict attention to the gap between your front tire and the rear wheel ahead of you. the gap should be no more than four inches. After the obligatory ten minute warmup, it becomes each rider’s dual purpose to drop every other rider, while not being dropped yourself.

4. Beware of triathletes.
As a mountain biker, you’ve always been deeply suspicious of triathletes. As a road cyclist, you will find out you were correct to be so, and you will find out why. Triathletes will try to infiltrate your ranks and join your rides, then demonstrate that they have no idea of how to ride in a group, and very little control of their direction of travel.

Most importantly, though, they wear these short shorts and tank tops that are just plain creepy.

Click here to continue reading 7 Tips for Becoming a Roadie at BikeRadar.com.

PS: I’m tempted to apologize for opening the door to political discussion yesterday — something I’ve carefully avoided ’til recently — especially since I was in an all-day meeting and was unable to monitor and moderate comments. However, I just noticed that I made three times as much from my ads as I usually do (which, by the way, means I’d be able to use my blog income to buy lunch at Chipotle instead of from the Wendy’s dollar menu), so instead, I’m thinking I’ll start doing politically-inclined posts more often!

PPS: Just kidding. About doing more political can-o-worms posts, I mean.

Super Tuesday

02.4.2008 | 7:58 pm


Cancer is the leading killer of Americans under the age of 85. That seems like an issue worth a presidential candidate’s attention.

It’s Super Tuesday. Choose wisely.

Ride Report: Frozen Hog 2008

02.3.2008 | 5:57 pm

The first thing I did when I woke up Saturday morning was check out the window to see if it had been snowing. You see, we’ve been getting boatloads upon bucketloads of snow in Alpine, UT this year, and I had given myself permission to not race the 2008 Frozen Hog if there was more than a couple inches of fresh snow I’d have to plow through. So I was hoping for lots of new snow.

There was no new snow.

So suited up, ate breakfast, stripped back down so I could use the bathroom, suited back up, put all my gear in the truck, stripped back down so I could use the bathroom, and then suited up a third, final time.

All business, I headed to the staging area, and got my racing bib. I decided to register as Sport 40+ and race against other guys my age who were on geared bikes, even though I was on my singlespeed. My bike prep was as thorough as ever: I ran a greasy rag over the chain, and checked how the tires felt. Since I’d be riding on snow, I let practically all the air out; I’d do the race with my tires at about 10psi. I then established myself in my rightful place in the pack: about halfway back.

I had a race to lose.

A Study in Differences
A bunch of friends were also at the race — Kenny, Brad, Bry, Chris, Kris (who was taking care of registration and was kind enough to take my camera an take some pictures during the race), Racer, and Riley, among many others. That’s one of the great things about local races: it’s a good opportunity to meet up with your riding buddies.

Dug, for those of you who wondered, declined to come because he doesn’t like riding in the snow. Rick Sunderlage (not his real name) planned to come until he found out that the prize purse was under $5000.

Kris took some pictures at the starting line. Check out Kenny. He’s got his game face on.


And now, check out me. I have my "What have I gotten myself into?" face on.


Also, it looks like my helmet is in a different strata of the atmosphere than my head.

A Warm Feeling
As you might have surmised, the day started out cold. But I was trying out a new thing to keep my neck and trunk warm: A Warm Front Chest Warmer (full disclosure: Warm Front sent me one of their chest warmers at no charge to write about if I thought it was worth writing about, but they’re not paying me anything). It’s a lightweight fleece rectangle that goes over your chest, with a turtleneck-style collar that fastens with a velcro tab at the back.

It worked just like it should. it kept my trunk and especially neck warm the whole ride. I haven’t tried it on a road ride yet, but I can imagine this would be great for cold road rides, where an extra layer on the chest and neck against the wind would be very nice. And when the ride  turns warm, just pull off the velcro tab and stuff the whole thing into a jersey pocket — no stopping required.

A Great First Lap
I felt really fantastic the first lap of the race. I was chatting with the guy ahead of me (Riley), staying on the trail, and feeling strong. Look how happy I am. And, more importantly, look at how nice the trail looks. Some folks put a lot of work into packing that thing down.


Forget about passing in the singletrack section, though.

As I rode, I was thinking to myself, "This is great! I’m having an excellent time! Why didn’t I want to come out here? I’m going to come out and ride this exact same trail again tomorrow, just for fun!"

And yes, I meant each of those exclamation points.

I was feeling so good, in fact, that partway down I passed Riley — a guy who usually beats me at everything — and then closed on Chris, whom I told my plan:

"I’m going to draft on you for the rest of the race, and then nip you in the sprint at the finish."

Yes, I did actually say that. At which point, Chris pulled over and said, "No you’re not."

So I went ahead, passing a few people in the Sport category, and getting passed by nobody but folks in the Expert category.

I should mention, by the way, that this was probably the most cordial race I have ever been in. With only one uptight exception (an expert rearended me on a downhill corner after I slid out, and let out an exasperated, sarcastic "Nice riding") any expert who wanted by would say stuff like, "Yield for me whenever you get a chance, no rush."

Not a lot of angst in this crowd.

Second Lap: Considerably Less Great
The thing riding on a trail made of recently packed snow — snow that hasn’t had a chance to soften and then re-freeze — is when 60 or so riders do a lap on it, it gets chewed up. Chewed up, let’s say, to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to ride on in a climb, or to do a turn, or even to descend on.

So I did a lot of walking. Everyone did. I guess Riley’s a faster walker than I am — or he was better about choosing when to walk and when to ride — because he passed me back.

After the race, I would describe the snow on the trail as "like powdered sugar, with some creamed cheese mixed in. So, it’s like a creamed-cheese frosting."

Bry, hearing me say that, remarked, "You really do think about everything in terms of food, don’t you?"

Yes. Yes I do.

Anyway, this second lap just sapped me. My left wrist was bothering me from the constant handlebar wrestling. My tights were getting saggy and kept hanging up on the saddle nose anytime I remounted the bike — which was about once every ninety seconds.

And I kept falling down.

2-2-08 Frozen Hog 344

2-2-08 Frozen Hog 345

Now, falls into deep snow don’t hurt at all, but it does take some time to swim your way out. Especially, as you can see in the picture above, if you’re still clipped in to the side of the bike that’s pinning you into four-feet-deep snow, and you have nothing to use as leverage to right yourself..

For those of you who are wondering how I eventually got out, the answer is really quite simple: I didn’t. I’m still there now. Somebody, please come get me.

Eventually, I finished, fourth in my category (all results can be seen in this PDF), which doesn’t sound so bad until you know the first place racer in my category finished 18 minutes ahead of me.

As an interesting note, if I had raced in the singlespeed category, I would have placed 4th in that, too.

I have a picture of me finishing, but the one of Brad finishing is more impressive:


By the way, Kenny took 1st in Expert 40+ (doing most of the second lap on a flat); Brad took 3rd. My friends are fast.

After the Race
After the race, Kenny moped around because while he had won his category, his team would not be taking home the Frozen Hog travelling trophy for the fourth straight year.

"Why didn’t you invite me to be on your team?" I asked.

"Because you’re too fat and slow," Kenny replied.

Thanks, Kenny. You’re a swell guy.

And then we got to the part I’d come to the race for in the first place: giving away the bikes. Here’s me, going on and on and on, while everyone looks on, wishing I’d shut up and draw the winning tickets already.


The local raffle — where you had to be present to win — raised $650 for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and the winner was Dan Hutchings of Salt Lake City.

The second bike was raffled here on this blog, toward raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Together, you all donated $1410, and the winner is Dan V of Seattle, who donated $50 to the LAF for this raffle — the best $50 he’s ever spent, I’m guessing. Here’s what Dan has to say:

I just moved to Seattle from Pittsburgh. I don’t own a mountain
bike or a singlespeed or a 29er, but after reading your blog for a year, I wanted to.  Especially in a bike friendly area like this.  Especially in a rainy but year-round commuter friendly area like this.

But I ended up spending my part of my relocation signing bonus on
silly things like roof repairs, and my bike acquisition plans were being delayed and might have had to rely on black budget tricks.

Like making a strategic donation.

Congrats to both winners! And a big thanks to Rich W and Racers Cycle Service for donating the bikes for the raffles.

A Day Later
Now a day’s past since I raced the Frozen Hog. Was it worth doing? Definitely. Did I have fun? Half the time.

Am I going to ride the course again as soon as possible? Nope, because another 14" of snow has fallen since then.

PS: A big thanks to Racer’s Cycle Service and UtahMountainBiking.com for putting on a terrific event. Everyone knows that I go to Racer’s pretty much exclusively both for bike sales and service, and UtahMountainBiking.com is an excellent resource to Utah-based mountain bikers, with an incredibly deep catalogue of bike trails in Utah.

PPS: UtahMountainBiking.com now has pictures and their own race report posted on their site. Click here to read.

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