The Argument for Recklessness

07.30.2010 | 8:18 am

A few weeks ago, Chuck Ibis was in town as part of the Ibis Demo World Tour. It seemed like a good time for us to finally get together and do something we had talked about for — literally — years: go on a mountain bike ride together.

Yeah, considering that I’ve been friends with Chuck for years and years (Ibis has been a huge supporter of Team Fatty’s fight against cancer) and have been an Ibis junkie pretty much since I’ve started riding (I’ve owned a Steel Mojo, a Bow-Ti, a Ti Mojo, a Silk Ti, and a Silk Carbon), it’s strange that we’ve never gotten together for a ride ’til now.

OK, maybe it’s not all that strange, but that’s the conceit I’m kicking off with, so let me have it, OK? Sheesh.

And when people visit here, looking to see what my backyard riding is like, I always — whether they want to go road or mountain — take them up American Fork Canyon. For one thing, it’s genuinely one of my backyard mountain bike rides.

For the other thing, it generally makes people incredibly jealous of where I live.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Ricky M and I met the Ibis guys up at the Timpooneke trailhead, the Ibis guys driving a van that looked just as suited for covert surveillance as for holding a whole buncha high-end bikes:

(Kirk Telaneus on the left, Chuck on the right)

Both Ricky and I have been riding hardtails — usually rigid SS — lately, so Chuck and Kirk said we needed to switch things up: Mojo SLs for both of us — plush full suspension and gears galore.

Here’s Ricky supervising as Chuck sets up Ricky’s bike.


Hey, it’s not every day you get a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer to be your own personal mechanic.

I should note at this point that if you ever consider converting your Fat Cyclist jersey into a sleeveless, you may want to consult Ricky on how to do it so that it looks like your bibshorts look like a bra strap. Nice look, Ricky.

Oh, and here’s Chuck, setting his shock pressure to 10,000psi.


The Hills are Alive

There’s nothing quite as lovely as being acclimated to riding at 7000 – 8000 feet and then taking a Californian out for a ride. It does wonders for your ego. Kirk and Chuck didn’t have any difficulty hanging with Ricky and me, but they did call attention to the fact that they were feeling it a lot more than when they rode at home.

And also, they expressed appreciation for the fact that AF Canyon is just an incredible place to go riding:

(Chuck, wondering how in the world the Matterhorn got relocated to Utah)

(Kirk and Chuck, doing synchronized posing. Look for it in the 2012 games in London.)

(Chuck and me, showing off the Mojo SL and some beautiful scenery. Yes, he’s really that much taller than me.)

Different is Good

I’m convinced that the best way to appreciate the capability of a full suspension bike is to ride a fully rigid bike for a couple years, then hop onto aforementioned full suspension bike.

Because Ricky and I were just grinning and laughing as we bombed the downhill portions of the ride. Just letting the bike go, hitting stuff you’d normally avoid. Letting the suspension do the work.

After flying down Joy in what felt like record time, I turned to Ricky and said, “You know, I am not having any trouble at all picturing a Mojo in my stable.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Ricky replied.

Which is undeniable proof of two things:

  1. The Ibis Mojo is a terrific mountain bike, and riding one makes you want one.
  2. I will never ever be satisfied with the number of bikes I own.


As the ride went on, Ricky and I were more and more confident on our Mojos, taking more aggressive lines and letting the suspension do its job.

We were, perhaps, getting a little reckless. But we didn’t crash. Not even once.

And then, finally, we got to the final downhill. For this one, I knew I should take it more cautiously, because the trail is full of loose rocks, mixed in with plenty of embedded ones. And you never know which rocks are going to slide out of your way, and which are going to stay put.

I picked my way carefully and cautiously. Not exactly mincing, but not aggressive.

So of course I crashed. Good and hard. Taking most of it on my right knee. Here’s my bloodied up knee, artfully framed by the Mojo…erm…frame:


Not Ironic

As I rode — all the wind out of my sails now — back toward the trailhead, I thought about it: how ironic that I’d be just fine when riding aggressively, but crash once I got cautious.

And then I reconsidered. Maybe — probably — it wasn’t ironic at all. In fact, it was probably downright causal. Sure, I’ve had crashes when riding hard, but I have a suspicion that I’ve had just as many — maybe more — when riding overcautiously.

And I can’t even count how many times I’ve had a second crash during a ride because I’d become hypertentative following my first crash.

The problem, for me, is that this lesson is only easy for me to learn — and I’ve learned it several times — in my head. I know that riding tentatively just makes you more likely to crash, but when I’m nervous of a trail, I just can’t seem to convince my body to stay loose. Nor can I seem to convince my hands to stay off the brakes.

Which explains why I have scars on top of scars on top of scars on my knees, I guess.

PS: I still want a Mojo.

PPS: If you’re a Utah local and you’d like to try a Mojo SL, Mojo HD, Tranny or a Hakkal├╝gi out, Chuck and Kirk are going to be in Park City this Sunday, with a whole buncha bikes for your demo-ing pleasure. See below (click the image for larger version) for details of where and when.



The Fat Cyclist Explains: Carbon Fiber

07.28.2010 | 6:32 am

A Note from Fatty: I’m pleased to announce a new series, wherein I explain difficult cycling techniques and technologies in clear, simple English. Except for when it makes better sense for me to explain in French, in which case I will of course explain in English anyways, because I don’t know French.

If you have a cycling-related question you would like explained, simply email me. Due to the volume of email I receive, however, I cannot respond to all questions individually. In fact, I to hardly any of it.

OK, the truth is I haven’t checked that email address in months. But I will soon. I promise.

And now, on with the explainification!

What is Carbon Fiber and How Does It Work?

I recently received an email which I had slightly less-recently sent to myself. This email went as follows:

Hi Fatty,

First, let me begin by saying that I’m a big fan of your blog. I don’t know how you come up with your insightful, witty, and down-to-earth cycling commentary on a near-daily basis. The only person I’m aware of who writes more about cycling than you is Lennard Zinn. Oh, and Bike Snob NYC writes more than you, too. So that’s two people who write more cycling-related stuff than you. And they’re both better than you, too. No offense.

Anyway, the reason I thought I’d email you is to ask a question that’s been bugging me lately. It seems that more and more biking stuff is made from carbon fiber. Frames, cranks, handlebars, seat posts, brake levers, stems, bottle cages. Practically everything.

I understand why they’re doing this: carbon fiber is light, it’s strong, and it can be made into practically any shape. Fine, I get that.

But what the heck is carbon fiber? I mean, I know what the two words are, kind of. “Carbon” is what pretty much everything in the universe is made of, and “fiber” is a thread of some sort or another, and if you eat enough of it, you poop on a regular basis. Excellent.

But when you put those two words together — “carbon fiber” — somehow you’ve suddenly got this outrageously strong stuff that’s really light that you can make into any shape?

It sounds like dark magick to me, Fatty.

Please help me understand what this stuff is and how it works, so I can explain it to other people without giving you credit.

Best Regards,


PS: Please also explain how CDs work.

Duane, you’ve asked an interesting question, and a timely one at that, since I am currently in the process of revising the Wikipedia entry on carbon fiber for accuracy and completeness. And also, quite frankly, for interestingness, because the current entry is so dull that I simply have not been able to bring myself to read it.

Here, in plain and understandable English, is my explanation of what carbon fiber is, how it can be shaped into practically anything, and why it is is so light and strong.

What is Carbon Fiber?

Carbon is the most plentiful element on Earth. Except hydrogen, I think. And oxygen too, maybe. And probably nitrogen, or was it helium? But after that, carbon for sure.

My point is that there’s a lot of carbon.

But what does carbon look like? Well, coal is pretty much pure carbon. So there you go. Carbon is black and flaky, and it’s pretty heavy. And if you drop it it shatters into a bunch of pieces.

“But Fatty,” I hear you say, “Heavy and rock-shaped and flaky and brittle aren’t the kind of properties I generally associate with carbon fiber bikes at all! Or at least not for the past couple years!”

And that’s because carbon is only like that (heavy, brittle, and coal-colored) before you turn it into fibers. Now a “fiber,” as you know, is really nothing more than a thread. And threads are flexible (not brittle) and light (not heavy) and don’t shatter when you drop them on the sidewalk.

So you definitely want to make your carbon fiber-y if you’re going to make a bike out of it.

To do this, you extrude coal through something that’s kind of like a pasta maker, except the pasta is really, really thin. And it’s not extruding a semolina-based dough, it’s using carbon.

And then, once you’ve put the coal through the pasta machine, you boil it for eight minutes. Any longer than that and you’ve got soggy, limp carbon fiber and no amount of pasta sauce and cheese will ever fix it. Believe me, I’ve tried.

[NOTE: Since coal is 99% pure carbon, and coal burns, and most threads burn, be aware that your carbon fiber bike is very, very flammable! And it will give off a thick black smoke when it burns, and the EPA will come and have a very stern conversation with you. Still, the knowledge that your bike burns can be useful in survival situations. But if someone dares you to jump your carbon fiber bike over a bonfire, do NOT take the dare.]

Why Is Carbon Fiber Light?

Now that you understand what carbon fiber is, your next question is, undoubtedly, “Why is it (i.e., carbon fiber, not your question) light?” The answer to this (i.e., carbon fiber, not your question) is really quite simple. Carbon fiber is light because a fiber is nothing more than a thread, and threads are light.

Here’s a way to prove this to yourself and friends.

First, pick up a thread, maybe a foot or so long. See how light it is? Put the thread on your bathroom scale. On most scales, it doesn’t even register. Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

Now, just for fun, put another thread of about the same length on the scale. See? Still doesn’t register, does it? You know why? Because fibers have no weight. Mysterious, I know, but demonstrably true.

The real question is: since fibers are weightless, how come carbon fiber bikes weigh anything at all? My personal theory is that bike manufacturing companies put ball bearings in the downtubes to add weight, putting in slightly fewer ball bearings each model year. This allows them to claim less and less weight (and hence a reason to upgrade) every year.

It’s a lousy trick.

Bicycle manufacturers of the world, I’m putting you on notice. Stop putting ball bearings in the down tubes and give us our weightless bikes now!

Why is Carbon Fiber Strong?

As you know, carbon is the primary element in diamonds, and diamonds are unbelievably strong. Here, try this. Look around you and pick up a handy diamond — the biggest one you can see. Now, try to bend it.

You can’t, can you?

Now, place it between your palms and try to crush it, like you would an orange.

Not easy, is it?

See how strong diamonds are? That’s why carbon fiber bikes are strong.

But there’s even more to why carbon fiber bikes are strong. In fact, the strength of your carbon fiber comes from a number of different factors:

  1. The weave of the carbon fibers. Three-strand braids are extremely strong, but are rarely used. The reason why is quite interesting. Long ago braids were almost exclusively used in factories, but since most guys cannot braid to save their lives, most of the carbon fiber braids were executed by women. A discrimination lawsuit was brought to bear by a man that felt put upon, and that was that. Now the basket pattern is used most often, although some people are working on a new “interlocking pretzel” pattern, which sounds both promising and delicious.
  2. The thickness of the carbon fibers. Thicker is of course stronger, and the best carbon fiber bike would be where each tube is one really thick fiber. But science doesn’t know how to do that yet, and I haven’t told them because they haven’t offered me enough money.
  3. The kind of glue they use to hold the fibers in place. Most manufacturers go with a kind of epoxy, which is fine. Be aware, however, that some of the cheaper manufacturers use straight-up Elmer’s school glue. The best way to tell if your carbon fiber bike is mixed with Elmer’s is to smell it. If it smells like Elmer’s, it probably is. The BEST kind of glue to use, of course, is Super Glue, because that stuff is strong. But hardly anyone ever uses this anymore — even though it’s incredibly strong — due to the fact that factory workers kept gluing their fingers together.

How Is Carbon Fiber Shaped?

The final aspect I’ll cover is how carbon fiber can be formed into practically any shape. Well, first the manufacturing plant mixes some glue up and then they slather it over a layer of the carbon fiber weave, and then they do that same thing again and again — sort of a glue-and-carbon-fiber lasagna — and somehow make it into the shape they want it to be.

Or something like that.

Honestly, I have no idea how. Maybe they pinch it into the shape they want just before the glue hardens. Or maybe it’s magic. It’s a total mystery to me.

Anyway, that’s how carbon fiber works. I’m glad I could explain it to you.

PS: CDs work by using lasers!

I Consider Myself To Be Very Young-Looking

07.27.2010 | 3:47 am

Cycling has a very troubling side-effect: it makes us feel younger than we actually are. This, of course, stems from the fact that if you ride enough, you’ll find that you can go faster and longer than people much, much younger than you.

This is, by the way, my pet theory on why Lance really came out of retirement: he was crushing the Mellow Johnny’s group rides and started thinking, “Hey, I’ve still got it. I haven’t gotten any slower with age.”

And then he discovered, of course, that he has gotten slower with age.

But it’s easy to think you’re not aging when, at age 44, you are completely confident that should you somehow (and I have not worked out how, exactly) meet your 25-year-old self, you could kick said 25-year-old’s butt, and then lecture him on why he needs to start eating healthier and stop watching so much television. Oh, and to treasure his hair while he’s got it.

I’m getting off track again, aren’t I? I’ll get back to the point now. Because I’m really pretty sure I had one.

Oh, there it is.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling very youthful indeed. And so, as my family and I strolled through a local amusement park and saw a stand where a teenage girl would guess your age, weight or birth month (your choice) for $2.00, I stepped right up. An easy way to earn a stuffed animal for one of the twins, I thought.

She looked at me and immediately said, “You’re 45.”

In reality, I am 44, so she was wrong. But the rules of the game state that she has to guess within two years, so I got no prize.

What is much (MUCH) more troubling than that, however, is that she guessed I am a year OLDER than I am, and that was her median guess. Which means that when she looked at me, she figured I was somewhere between 43 and 47.


Of course, this gave The Runner no end of amusement. Also, my kids found it hilarious. Or at least they did until I locked them out of the car and made them walk home.

I’m just kidding about the “made them walk home” part, of course. Really, I made them run.

I considered this a fluke, naturally. I don’t think I REALLY look 45ish. Do I? That teenager was an anomaly. She probably guessed “45″ for every single person that day, and I was the only guess she got right, just because I happened to be the age she had drawn out of a hat.

And then it occurred to me: I can find out. I can ask you, my readers, to help me with a little experiment: Have people you know guess my age, based on looking at a couple of photographs, where I’m intentionally keeping a neutral, natural face, so as to not appear younger or older than I am. Here’s one from the front:

And here’s one from the side:

These are both self-portraits, by the way, taken in my hotel room in lovely San Diego. I would like to point out that it is not easy AT ALL to take a side-view picture of oneself with a phone.

So here’s what I want you to do: show those photos to people who don’t know who I am, and ask them to tell you what my age is. Then report it in the comments, along with the age of the person who is making the guess.

It’ll be like a scientific experiment. But much vainer, somehow, and probably quite a lot more humbling than I would like it to be.

But I’ve just got to know.

Guest Post from My 16-Year-Old Son

07.26.2010 | 7:58 am

A Note from Fatty: I’m traveling for business (because I am a very, very important businessman) and am needed at very important (but not as important as me) places. So I’m turning my blog over to my 16-year-old son, who has been working on an animated short film.

Oh hello there my friends. Do you guys remember me? I made that wheelie game way back when, along with those fat cyclist/bob cartoons (here and here). Now, I think I want to show you all something new that I’ve made!

Well, basically, I’ve decided to make a fun new cartoon series! This time, I’ve dropped the primitive style I’ve used before, and now I’m giving everything I’ve got to make a nice visual feel to the cartoons. Also, I intend to make it an episodic series. With PLOT and SUSPENSE and the like! What fun!

Voice actors include me, my good pal BouncyTEM, and a few of my friends from school. Also, the previously mentioned BouncyTEM is also pretty much the guy I go to for finding sound effects and music and the like. So thanks to him and the others for their help.

Uh, a little on the background. The idea here is to have you learn about the surroundings as the cartoon progresses, but I’ll explain a little bit. Our characters here, Shadow and Nyjole are hanging around in the badlands area that’s pretty near their homes, somewhat bored. It’s a desolate area, which makes things especially surprising when their peaceful, boring evening is disrupted by three obvious troublemakers! Oh, the excitement!

So I’ve got two cartoons finished currently. I kind of want to get working on the next one, but one or two of my voice actors are hard to reach over the summer. I’ll see what I can do, and if all else fails, I’ll just get them to do voices for lots of the next cartoons once school starts, or get new voice actors if I really have to. I work slow, but I deliver!

Part 1

Part 2

Welp, hope these things provide some entertainment. Court will be adjourned indefinitely!

Run the NYC Marathon With Team Fatty, The Runner, and Me

07.22.2010 | 10:17 am

201007220941.jpgUPDATE: Team Fatty NYC is now full! Check out the team — each of which has committed to raise a minimum of $3500 – at our team site!

Hey. Whatcha doing on November 7 this year? You don’t know? No special plans? Oh, well that’s OK. I generally don’t plan that far ahead either. In fact, I generally try to never plan ahead further than lunch (turkey-lettuce-tomato-avacodo on wheat is my current intention, though I reserve the right to be lazy and just reheat last night’s dinner).

But maybe — since you’re not doing anything else that day — you should mark your calendar to come do something with The Runner and me.

And a few other Team Fatty folks (for a total of 12 of us, to be exact).

And — to be honest — with around 40,000 other people.

Something like run The NYC Marathon.

You know, that one marathon that’s huger than pretty much any other marathon in the whole freaking world.

The Bucket List

Until I started running with The Runner, I had never really even heard of the NYC Marathon. But it’s been on The Runner’s Bucket List for a long, long time.

And since reading A Race Like No Other, I can totally see why. This has got to be one of the most amazing spectacles an athlete could ever experience. The start, with fireboats shooting colored water into the air. Running through all five boroughs. Cheering crowds for the entirety of the race.

We’re not going to run this for time; We’re going to run it to get a firsthand perspective of what sounds like one of the most amazing athletic spectacles imaginable.

And we’re going to be fighting cancer while we do it.

You should come do it too.

Run the NYC Marathon, Fight Cancer

LiveStrong has given me twelve slots I can fill for a “Team Fatty” NYC Marathon team. Of course, two of those are taken — The Runner and I are doing this for sure.

201007221004.jpg We’d love to have you come run with us. So much so, in fact, that if you join Team Fatty for the NYC Marathon by Friday, I’m going to give you a Team Fatty Tech T to go along with the LiveStrong shirt and cap you’ll get (not to mention the one-on-one support from LiveStrong staff and the team celebration the night of the marathon). Be sure to email me what size you want.

But you’ve gotta know up front: signing up for Team Fatty to run the NYC marathon with LiveStrong is a very serious commitment. Specifically, you’ve got to promise you’ll raise $3500, half of which you’ve got to raise by October 21. And if you don’t, you’ve got to donate the balance yourself.

But bear in mind: you’re not raising money for a marathon. That’s just the gravy. That $3500 you’re raising is to help in the fight against cancer.

So, yeah. It’s a lot of money. It’s a serious commitment. But it’s going to be an incredible experience, and the cause couldn’t be more important.

Can You Do This?

So the question some of you might be having is: “Can I do a marathon?” The answer is easy: Sure you can. I did one, with hardly any training at all. With the amount of time you have here, you can raise the money and get yourself ready. Honestly.

Now, I’m not saying you’ll be able to run the whole thing. Heck, I don’t expect I’ll run the whole thing. And I don’t even care. I’m just going to take it all in. Sometimes running, sometimes walking. And at the end, I expect I’ll check my finishing time more as an item of curiosity than anything else. At the end of the race, what will matter is that I’ll have been part of two really mind-bogglingly huge things: The NYC Marathon, and the fight against cancer.

I’d love to have you along. For both.

How to Sign Up

To get details on LiveStrong’s involvement in the NYC Marathon, click here. For info on the marathon itself, click here.

Then, when you’ve decided you want to sign up, go to the Application Page. Be sure, when you sign up, that in the 2010/2011 Event Name drop-down field, you select the “Team Fatty, ING NYC Marathon” option.

Got Questions?

Signing up for a big race — and committing to raise a lot of money — is a lot to think about, and maybe you’ve got questions. Well, post them in the comments and I’ll do my best.

I’m looking forward to running with you!

Man, it feels weird to say that.

PS: My guess is that with the very small number of slots Team Fatty gets for this event, they’ll go fast. So if you know you want in, don’t dilly-dally, for crying out loud. Once these slots are gone, they’re gone, and I don’t get any extras.

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