September 28, 2006


With three layers between me and the elements I part the rainy air, leaving nothing but a thin line of raised water and a ghostly balloon of mist behind me in the twilight. Only a dot on suburbia’s landscape, I carve my own tiny bubble of utopia – I might be in Olathe, but in my minds-eye I’m on a secluded rural byway outside Nausthaugen. It’s late September, and my sleeves are long.

Mallard ducks – about seven of them, huddled on the waters surface near the pier of a small wooden bridge that crosses over Indian Creek. I don’t even know exactly where I am, in relation to the world around me – which I’m sure is only ¼ mile away in any direction – here, I am alone with nature. There is a rustling, a breeze, a few raindrops fall. This ½ second slice of time, as loose boards rattle and shake under my tires, seems to last an hour – but it’s come and gone in the blink of an eye as I whisk along the trail towards home. The familiar, but long absent, crunch of fallen leaves underneath rubber – the occasional buzz of a twig flung through my fenders – the scurry of busy squirrels gathering for the months to come. This magical couple of weeks cannot be missed if you ride a bicycle.

This is the BEST time of year to be a rider. Gone are the oppressively hot days of summer, but the real cold weather has yet to arrive. The harsh, burning sunshine of August yields to a comforting blanket of thick stratus and a cozy grayish-blue hue. The final songs of birds in the trees are in perfect concert with flapping nylon vests and the gentle hum of a freshly oiled drive-train. The song of a north wind, not stinging quite yet but definitely awakening, whistling past spokes and cables – maybe pushing you along if you’re lucky – is comforting, cooling, and commanding all at once. Only recently too hot to wear at all, rain jackets finally have a chance to stretch again over wool warmers as the skies let loose and wet the ground and clean the air of summer’s stagnant pollutants. It’s a crispness that I can taste – slicing through the air, a lick of salt from my moustache and the taste of clean rain that chases it. I can’t help but smile. Some find misery here, and hang up the bike – I find my roots, my heritage, my bliss – all on these hard fall days. It’s time to let the beard grow, and pull the socks high.

Gone are the “goals” – well, nearly – but even the one, large goal that’s left is seldom thought of. The training is done, and now all I can do it count the days until I head south for another challenge. I have to remind myself that it’s coming – but I’m so occupied with other things that it hardly seems real. It’s a good attitude to take, considering how I’ve handled things in the past. It’s nothing to panic about – so I refuse to. I can’t wait for it to be here, but I don’t find myself looking for a change of scenery with all that surrounds me on such trivial rides as my commute home. Instead of focusing only on the heat and the misery of fresh blacktop, I now enjoy and look forward to the rides home – the daily grind has become something more than utilitarian. Late spring, and early fall alike – these are the days of the bicyclist.
These are my days – not even traffic can spoil them.

As the season wraps up for some, I look forward to the harsher days to come – the promise of hot drinks and soup at their ends. A fireplace, a wool throw, and a good book about cycling through interior China, perhaps. Tiny icicles tangled in the long hairs of my beard, and bites of cold pastries on a cold morning twenty-miler. AHH! I shudder not from the coming cold, but from the thrill of transition into another gorgeous fall season. Give me a big saddlebag to dig through to find that extra layer. Give me an all-night café to serve up hot griddlecakes and coffee on a freezing morning. Give me a road and a gentle grey sky, and I will ride.

September 20, 2006

Fixed Gear Revelations

It's a sad thing, really -- but I think the sun is setting again on my fixed gear time. Something has changed, and I feel lately that fixed and single speed has lost some of it's luster - at least with ME. After a near-injury, I've hung the Steamroller back in the garage, and have mounted up on the geared bike again. No sooner than I make this change, I get confirmation that is was the right choice.

I'm sitting here, logging in the blog, listening to David Bowie drone out the early verses of "Space Oddity", and I have visions of riding home last night and encountering another rider at 83rd and Mission Road --

ok, don't ask me what I was doing THAT far north on a Tuesday night...

Anyways... this guy was MONEY.

There he was, backwards ball-cap on, jeans, polo-style 3-button shirt, messenger-style bag slung-up close - and a gorgeous, no-name-on-frame blue fixxie - with a noticably huge gear. He was in the left turn lane, coming off of 83rd onto Mission Rd north-bound at about 7:15pm - and while he waited for the light he was performing the most perfectly-still track-stand I've ever witnessed. Even the traffic in the lane next to him took notice with jaw-gaped stares, as he floated above the tarmac without even a visible motion or twitch.

He was a complete ROCK, standing on the pedals, and balancing perfectly.

This happens only a day after I've decided that commuting to work on a fixxie was "killing me". First, a botched skid messes up my left quad a little - which has since healed, but hey - it happened. Downhills were becoming a "chore". Seeing riders like him puts in perspective what kind of rider *I* am. While I was nervously trying to get my own fixxie zen back this week, practicing the nervous track-stands again, hoping the light would stay green so I wouldn't have any stopping "issues", and the like, I see THIS guy on the road.

I can track stand, so long as I don't actively THINK about it.
I can hawk thru traffic with the best of them, I can even skitch - I just don't make a habit of it. But I see riders like this guy occasionally that SO totally fit the fixxie-rider mold, that I feel horribly inadequate. Anyone would!

Everything I lack in fixxie-zen, I suppose I make up for with endurance and climbing ability on geared bikes. A good friend said it best: jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. If I picked fixed-mode and stuck with it, I suppose there are certain things I WOULD pick up: but I float too much; away from gears, and back again. My goals dictate "training". Fixxie for me leans more towards the BOB-ish, touring fixed-gear rider; not the skilled, stripped-down, messenger-style, urban-soldier like this guy at Mission road appeared to be. The Steamroller as it's built-up now, with full fenders and Carradice bag, doesn't quite hold the same kind of fascination as this guy's bike did for me.

Still, the experience made me smile and nod-with-approval more than it made me self-aware and introspective - despite the comments above. Watching him perfectly parked on the pavement like he was, effortlessly propelling himself forward once the light changed - pedalling silently northbound, blinky lite flashing away - it was a gorgeous moment. As I stood opposite him with my foot down, easily rotating the pedals backwards into the optimum position for my next move, in just-the-right-gear to start up again - for a moment I felt like a slacker, envious of his skill.

If we *ALL* could do what he was doing, it wouldn't be NEARLY as cool... and that's why we need people like him: the standouts, the rebels. Me, riding to work with my fancy bag and my fenders and my gears and helmet - it's "safe", it's almost "normal". Fixed gear is a different breed. If there is indeed a picture dictionary out there, THAT GUY needs his picture next to "fixed gear".

THAT is how it's done. The rest of us are just pretenders.
Peace, bro -- if I run into you again, the beers are on me.

September 11, 2006

The 2006 MS-150, in brief

After one last warm-up ride to get the legs REALLY loose this last weekend, I was really ready for the MS-150. K-man, BB and I rode to the Louisburg Cidermill via the new 287th Street route, and I took the fixxie. Riding fixed after a long hiatus, I was a little leary, but all the technique quickly came back and I was able to forget what I was riding. Still, 65 miles or so without coasting was a good enough reminder the next day! So, after a restful week, I was recharged and ready to take on whatever challenges the new MS-150 route had to offer.

Rain, rain - go away!

Well, actually, as weird as it sounds I was actually HOPING for some rain! To, you know, make things interesting. I decided at the last minute to ride the Kogswell, which has since been dubbed "monarch II", after my late Trek 720. BOY, was it the right choice! Sometimes the right bike can make all the difference: the larger tires - but not TOO large at 28mm wide instead of the usual 23mm. The frame-pump: It was amazingly easy to get people back on the road with it, rather than with the scary finite-ness of CO2 inflators, or the arm-jello-ing mini-pumps. The frame itself was a joy to ride and, combined with the tires, made the horrid rural Missouri pavement smooth-out nicely. It was a GREAT ride!

I'm being brief here, mainly because of the weather. I know that sounds weird, but because of the steady rain at the start line, I decided against bringing the camera - so this won't be the usual photo-document that I normally enjoy posting. Sorry about that! Still, the terrain: you simply HAVE to come ride the MS-150 now, if you never have. Some parts of the route were similar to year's past - but the majority was pretty much brand new. After last year's problems, the committee REALLY put their heads together and gave a really good route. Scenic as all get-out; moderate challenges here and there, but not too hilly; it was perfection!

With tire spray fizzing about and rain jackets and ponchos flapping, the first part of the first day was terrific, in a backwards sort of way. LAST year, temperatures had already approached 90º just an hour after the starting gun! This year, by contrast, if never got above 78º anywhere along the route. Things like sunscreen were forgotten thanks to the thick could deck, and even the headwind was met with approval! The best part was the overnight - after libations and good conversation, we retired to cool tents and gentle, soothing breezes that lulled me to the best tent-sleep I've had in YEARS. I was OUT! We rose to a chilly, wet morning that reminded me of waking up in Colorado -- close the tent vents! Put on a warm cap! Save that heat! It was exhilerating getting dressed for day-two's ride! Brrrr!

Day two dawned with storms threatening to the west, but overall clear skies. The team, all recharged, headed out into a terrific day, and a brand new day-two route! Another home-run by the MS-150 route committee! This ride was one for the books! Simply gorgeous scenery, and very, very few cars out. The rest stops were fabulous, and the support was top-notch! Our little team leap-frogged from stop-to-stop, fueling up and winding down the roads up north of Knob Noster... even got a rare fly-over from a B-2 stealth bomber near the AFB! VERY cool - but dangerous, as EVERYONE on the road had their eyes skyward as we rolled along!

It was a good time for all - Atul, K-man, Phil M., Mike T. and me, rolling along the Missouri highways for two days and over 150 miles - simply an awesome time!

Join us next year - seriously! New custom jerseys are in the works!!!