Monday, December 31, 2007

David Brinton's cycling drawings

When I was a regular contributor to VeloNews, I was fortunate to share my page with the cartoons of David Brinton aka Brintoni, so known because of his Italophile tastes. Brintoni is a great guy and a lifetime bike rider. If he never put pen to paper, he'd be a real friend and ride buddy, a simpatico soul.

But he does put pen to paper, and when he does...

We shared a page 18 or 20 times a year. We never, no kidding, discussed my pieces before he made his drawings. He unerringly found the pulse-beat in the piece (that's as melodramatic as I intend to get, I promise) and drew that beat - the epicenter of the piece.

I'm sure many readers opened the magazine at the back to read my piece - after a lingering, wide-eyed look at the Brintoni cartoon. At least I hope they read the piece...

Here's a link to Brintoni's personal web site. Feast your eyes on the work of my friend and pagemate for years, the wonderful David Brinton:

Sunday, December 30, 2007

As you'll note...

I just received a comment by Geoffrey to my Be My Guest post. As I've said before, I'm proud of the comments my posts generate. For years in print magazines, I would provoke readers to write to editors only when I failed to show proper respect for iconic items or brands.

I got mail if I had the gall to urinate in print on a sacred cow, Harley-Davidson, Campagnolo or anything from the '70s, serviceable or useless. Bicycle guys were worse about this than motorcycle guys. I never heard from women readers about gear, only true-believer guys.

It was as if I were Salman Rushdie and my readers were devout Muslims. If I wrote that any cheap Euro bicycle part from the bellbottom era was less than Leica-like, I got death threats.

It was as if none of my readers understood that reasonable folks can disagree.

No one believed that after having been riding then and observing the Golden Age, the 1970s, I might have developed opinions on bikes and parts and cultures, opinions that editors pay me to express in 1,000-word chunks, monthly for twenty-odd years.

Ah, but when I write about bicycles or motorcycles in traffic, I get amazing, literate letters from thoughtful men and women. Even when I walk where the "we're all in this traffic thing together" ice is cracking around my feet, no one calls me crazy or misguided. I get great mail.

I believe that many of the readers of my blog (certainly those who care more about our place on the transportation food chain than the tensile strength of their drive chains) actually ride their bikes, both motorcycles and bicycles.

I thank them for that and for the wonderful comments. Especially, this morning, Geoffrey.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Be My Guest

I just finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X (with Alex Haley) in which Malcolm X, even after he has softened a bit in his assessment of all whites as devils, limits participation in activist meetings to black people.

The presence of white people, even the most supportive white people with the most sincere, best intentions, changes the dynamic of the meeting.

In Malcolm X's view, the change is counter-productive.

In Boise some years ago, I was a spectator at the immensely popular downtown criterium stage of the Women's Challenge, a multi-day stage race for women. At that time the Challenge was the biggest sporting event in Idaho. Variously sponsored by Ore-Ida, PowerBar and Hewlett-Packard, it was a terrific event, one of the few cycling events exclusively showcasing women.

Mothers in big-and-small-town Idaho would bring their daughters to watch the races and to see women shoulder-to-shoulder on the various podiums.

Look, Ashley, women heroes.

Behind me in the criterium crowd I saw three women, one of whom wore a sweatshirt from a college I'd attended. I turned and asked her if she'd gone to school there or just found the shirt, as the bumper sticker would have it. She did not respond.

Surprised and mistaken in my feeling that she must've not heard me, I asked again. One of her friends told me that the women I'd addressed had not in truth gone to that school but had been given the shirt. I chatted with the responsive woman.

After a couple of minutes, the first one, the sweatshirt-wearing one, responded to a question I'd asked.

I realized in a flash that she didn't choose to speak with men, and maybe to avoid any contact with men that she could. I learned later that there was (and perhaps is) a women's commune near Boise; perhaps the three women lived there.

I didn't resent the first woman's attitude, nor did I want to soften it or try to "reason" with her. I could see that, just as Malcolm X suggested, the presence of the "other" changes the dynamic in ways that I cannot perceive, and ways that may seem unpleasant or counterproductive.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I have the same feelings about people who drive cars, especially those who drive without a second thought, who ignore the alternatives, who drive as if they are the only people on the planet, the parking lot or the street, the only human beings who matter, anywhere. I'd just as soon not be around them.

Malcolm X knew he could not live without encountering white people. And the lesbian in Boise knew she couldn't avoid every contact with males. Given a choice, however, both would opt to limit contact with the oppressive "other." The "other" who was never going to get it.

Me too.

Tamar says that if we drove cars, we'd become impatient and callous - distressingly like people who tailgate and block the crosswalk and drive 30mph in parking lots.

Seductive as easy access to a car seems, especially in sub-freezing Rocky Mountain wintertime, we cannot tolerate thinking that we'd ever behave the way they do.

We don't want to be like them and we don't much want to be around them.

I reserve a particularly virulent distaste for folks who want to be thought of as cyclists or motorcyclists but who drive everywhere, even to places to ride, before unloading their immaculate mounts and posing as riders.

I lived for decades without realizing that there were people who'd just as soon not be around me for one reason or another. Perhaps you are a regular driver like most of your neighbors and did not sense the reaction of others of your neighbors, notably those who walk or ride.

If you feel offended by the attitudes of people who question your awareness and your other-directedness, please do as I do. Avoid contact with those people. Aware as you are now of my feelings about your driving, you are free to avoid contact with me. More than just free. You are encouraged...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ain't no cure for the wintertime blues

A series of winter snows has turned Denver into a holiday postcard scene - at least from our ninth floor window. Riding, powered or pedal, is for the very brave.

You could ride a motorcycle or scooter, but only on busy, wide streets. Those streets have been plowed, but they're icy and snow-packed at the curbs. And even in the traffic lanes they're far from free of snow compressed by car tires. Spooky even on a dual-purpose bike, I'd say.

The side streets, especially those that run east-west, are nearly impassible on two wheels. It's scary even to walk on the sidewalks. Each walk will provide one or two frightening incidents.

I see a few bicyclists, one or two people who appear to have no choice but to ride, and a few who are clearly die-hard cycle commuters, with rechargeable headlights and expensive bikes.

I expect the committed cyclists to be riding mountain bikes with wide tire footprints, but some of them to my amazement are on skinny-tired road bikes. And they don't appear to be "hanging about," tiptoeing along. They're moving.

Maybe it's just the same where you live. Tamar and I are not old winter hands, I guess, so it's a new challenge for us after six years in the desert - does that sound biblical, or what?

I'm talking about this because I want to explain the long spaces between posts here in my blog.

I don't understand this phenomenon fully, but it seems to me that in the winter, when some of the things I enjoy doing become practical impossibilities, part of my brain either shuts off - or occupies itself in fretting about the things I cannot do. Have I said that clearly?

It isn't that I lack mental activity. I've read several books and watched a DVD movie or two. Tamar and I have walked and taken buses and helped feed some elderly folks on Christmas morning. I've done stuff...but I haven't had impulses to write blog posts or columns about, well, one thing or another. I gotta say: I think it happens every year.

Maybe it even happened in Tucson, where you could no-way use a series of snowfalls as an excuse. You couldn't even use even one snowfall as an excuse. Hey, it didn't even rain.

What happens to me doesn't feel like depression, or what I've heard described as depression. I just can't get going somehow. And I don't find myself at the computer doing whatever it is I do: complaining about drivers or the snobbishness of self-involved hipsters on fixies.

Luckily, one of the places where my work appears, the Bicycle Paper (Pac NW), publishes one winter edition, not an issue a month. So I get a little break just when I need it.

I suppose I'm asking you to give me a similar little break. If you come to my blog and there's nothing new here, please don't stop checking my site. To tell you the truth, writing this little post about my wintertime blues has brightened my morning.

Maybe I'm on the path to productivity again. Thanks for being here...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What's happening with your Honda?

Almost two years ago I bought a 1990 Honda GB500, the bike you see in the rear-view photo on this page. I found it online, flew to Los Angeles, paid the man and rode the bike home to Tucson.

Not powerful by today’s standards, it was powerful enough to ride around SE Arizona or for the occasional solo trip elsewhere in the west. It would cruise at 65-75mph and climb long freeway grades in top (fifth) gear.

In November,’06, Tamar and I moved to mile-high Denver. The good riding lies to the west – at higher altitude yet. My Honda makes 35 horsepower at sea level, and gradually less as the air thins with increases in elevation.

If Tamar and I were to ride into the Rockies two-up on the Honda, we’d be asking a lot from those 35 horses. Especially on long mountain grades at 8,000 or 9,000ft, we’d be cruising at less than the limit.

I mentioned my reluctance to take two-up trips on the Honda to my friend Jim Widner in Bisbee, Arizona. He said that if I feel like it’s time to replace the Honda, he’d love to own it. I’ve always admired it, he said.

So… I’m preparing the Honda for its new owner and I’ll be buying a replacement, as yet unselected as to make or model.

If you get along without a car or pickup and you live in the mountain states, moving your motorcycle any distance in the winter is difficult. Riding it over the inevitable passes is scary and uncomfortable.

Renting an appropriate vehicle to haul it – one-way – is super hard. Even renting a motorcycle trailer isn’t easy, nor is renting a reasonably sized vehicle equipped to tow the trailer. Shipping the motorcycle is easy if a bit expensive, and shippers don’t want to carry unattached extra pieces.

So if you have a racing stand, a spare seat, a spare stock muffler and a few extra parts, you have to pack those things in a heavy, bulky box and ship them via UPS - not cheap either.

I suppose if you’re shipping a Bimota or a custom Harley, these charges seem insignificant. But if the bike you’re selling isn’t worth a ton of money, the shipping cost is a sizeable percentage of the bike’s price.

Changing motorcycles even without shipping hassles is an emotional rollercoaster for me. Always has been. In truth I’ve loved nearly every motorcycle I’ve owned, but I’m always sure I won’t like the next one as much as the last. I haven’t mellowed in this regard, unfortunately.

While I lived in Tucson, I owned two successive bikes that I didn’t love. I enjoyed riding the first one, a BMW, but despite a reputation for reliability it failed catastrophically more than once, ruining my ownership experience.

The Kawasaki I bought to replace it never earned my affection; it was perfectly dependable but its incurable controllability faults spoiled it for me.

I was afraid for a year or so that I’d lost my taste for motorcycling – after four decades. But I nerved myself up and traded the second disappointing bike for a different Kawasaki, the green bike behind me in the “cane” photo.

That was a terrific bike all around. Broke my heart when it was wrecked by an illegally left-turning motorist. I’d have bought another just like it but insurance proved to be brutally expensive: A grand a year – for an old guy with no tickets and no at-fault accidents.

I bought a smaller, lower-performance Honda and it worked out great – at Tucson’s 2400ft of elevation. But now…

I had begun preparing the Honda for Riding Season ’08 when I learned that Jim wanted to buy it. I checked the valve clearances and the nuts and bolts all over the bike. Nothing needed attention – it’s a Honda after all.

The chain and sprockets are new. I put a spark plug in it and charged the battery. I’ve replaced the rear tire and will replace the front one next week.

At that point, the bike will be ready for its journey to Jim’s garage. I’ll let you know how we decide to move it from Denver to Bisbee – in mid-winter.

Should motorcyclists wave at scooters?

Here's a link to a piece by Mark Rutledge, a Greenville, NC, Daily Reflector columnist who happens to be a motorcyclist. He's commuting to work even in 30-degree December weather. And he sees that the rest of Greenville's motorcyclists have parked their bikes. But the scooterists...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Portland painted over the memorial stencil?

This link will take you to's piece about two (of three, I think) recent cyclists' deaths in traffic in Portland, Oregon - a city that many of us think of as a, or even the, leader in bicycle-friendliness in This Great Land.

One of the cyclists, a racer who worked at the famous Bike Gallery, was memorialized with a Ghost Bike and a stenciled portrait on a wall near where he was killed. But the stencil is gone...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Great Comment

A reader named gazer has contributed another thoughtful comment to my post Well-behaved Cyclists... I'm proud of the comments on my blog. Thanks, gazer!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Comments for "If We Cave..."

I've been pleased by the comments certain of my posts have elicited. I got one today from Jeff, from Lynchburg, VA, that prompted this reminder. Please check out the comments after my Nov 12th post, "If We Cave." Especially...all of them.

It's truly gratifying to a writer to get such thoughtful, well written comments. But it's a mixed blessing. We're afraid, those of us who are at all insecure, that the comments are more thoughtful and better written than the post. That may be the case here. See if I'm not right...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Well-behaved Cyclists Never Make History

Let's agree that motorists would rather we were not there, cluttering their commutes. They don't care if we're One Less Car.

Let's also agree that motorists are not subtle in expressing their distaste for our presence on their roads. They are not subtle; rather they are dismissive, rude, distracted, tunnel-visioned and occasionally brutally aggressive.

Any disagreement on any of that? I thought not.

If we persist in riding our bikes, we're in their faces. We are legally entitled to our ribbon of road. Even so, drivers perceive us as uppity, assertive misfits whose purpose is to piss them off. We evidently don't know our places. Probably few of us come from good homes.

If we persist (despite their displeasure) in riding our bicycles on the streets of our cities and suburbs, we participate in civil disobedience. No need to block downtown streets at rush hour to be disruptive. We're nuisances in traffic at any time, worse even than other cars.

Our being out there - in disregard of their evident distaste - makes several statements.

We say we know we're within our rights to be here. We know we're not the problem on the roads. Sucks on the roads even when there are no cyclists. Drivers treat us badly anyway. We will persist nonetheless. We will not let drivers scare us away.

Drivers are not our allies. Drivers and cyclists are not in this transportation thing together. Most bike owners are not our allies. Recreational cyclists who drive to rides are not our allies. Racers who never ride for transport are not our allies. Bike "fanciers" are not our allies.

We are all the allies we have. We need every one of us to be visible out there. Perhaps as we ride we'll persuade a driver or two to park a car and join us. I suspect the costs of fuel and repairs will be more effective persuaders.

If we ride and show the driving world that we are not going away, perhaps some drivers will cut us some slack. Maybe. I mean the two percent of them who manage anger and impatience well.

As you read the above paragraph, did you say to yourself: "No way, Maynard, you utopian. You go ahead and ride out there with the cars and make your statements. I'll take the bike path."

Do I think you're a coward? No. Do I regret your non-participation in our take-back-the-bike-lane movement? I do. Do I understand your reluctance to be where you are manifestly unwelcome? You bet.

Do what you can do. Ride the streets or ride the bike path but please leave your car at home whenever you can.

You won't be on the front lines of the movement if you limit your riding to car-free bike paths. But you will not be part of the problem.

Unless you drive, that is.

If you can ride back and forth to work somehow, on the streets or a bike path, even if it's only on long summer days - please do so. If you choose to drive for whatever personal reasons, I'm sure they're good reasons. Damn good reasons.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Desmosedici sold out!

I'd provide a link to Ducati's press release but the three-word title of this post tells the story. The Desmosedici, an ultra-special, single-seat, MotoGP replica totally dedicated to speed, is sold out. Fifteen hundred will be built. All are pre-sold.

Some will be ridden. None will be ridden much. None will be ridden for transport. Many will be stored by guys expecting appreciation. Some will be owned but not ridden by guys who cannot stop themselves from buying cool shit that no one else at Microsoft or Google owns.

I figure, knowing what little I do about the high-end Ducati customer demographic, that none will be owned by guys with fewer than four motorcycles, one or two of which will be Harleys.

One of the Harleys will have never seen a Harley assembly line. Custom. Three years old now, it'll have a thousand miles on it, maybe. It will never have been dirty. It will be the highest-mileage motorcycle in his garage.

A new Ducati Desmosedici, which you cannot buy, is priced (not that it matters) at 60,000 Euros. Each Euro represents a dollar-forty-four American this afternoon, says MSN Money.

One of our political parties looks after guys who've placed deposits on Ducati Desmosedicis. That party tells us earnestly that if we tax those guys, our economy will suffer; job growth will slow; boutique businesses and the artisans who cater to those guys will go bust, and the future of this great nation will at risk. A promise unfulfilled. Scary, huh?

You vote as you see fit. I think those Desmosedici guys can take care of themselves without any help from the likes of me. I don't think they'd want me worrying about them anyway.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Scooters in the NY Times!

Here's a link to a nicely positive article in today's NY Times about motor scooters. The article will not tell you much you don't know but it's fun. The comments, on the other hand, are eye-opening and well worth the time to read - no matter if you're a cyclist, motorcyclist, scooterist or driver. You may want to contribute a comment of your own...

You look fabulous!

Not long ago, I wrote about the trendiness of leather bicycle seats on certain types of bikes, among them urban fixies and road bikes of timeless design.

Readers reminded me more than once about leather's qualities as a seat material. They told me that a rider can expect a leather saddle to adapt to him or her - instead of that rider's trying saddle after saddle to find something workable.

For a week or so, I softened, much faster than a Brooks saddle ever softened. I thought, hey, it's a legit choice of seat. Can't be fashion every time. Be nice. Cut these folks some slack.

But this morning, in 11-degree, snow-and-ice-covered Denver, I saw an ex-track bicycle, still with downsloping stem, that'd evidently been ridden to work. Today. No snow piled up on its Brooks seat.

And no brakes and no lights. Give me a reason, anything I can believe, for the omission (on a bicycle used daily in city traffic) of a taillight and at least one brake. They're not missing by accident - not on a totally self-conscious bike that features not one casually chosen component.

Minimalism - a clean, uncluttered style - is the only explanation that makes sense. The bike is cleaner without a light or a brake. Especially that tacky brake caliper...and lever...and cable. Ugh. And those taillights are plastic. No way.

It's great that the bike is ridden. To my mind though, the bike is ridden despite its slavishness to style, despite sacrifices made so that it looks cool.

I feel sure that the owner made those choices so the bike'd be great to look at - and okay to ride. In daylight. Unless something happens and the rider wants to stop. The bike was built to be looked at and admired, not sat on and ridden.

All the softening I did about Brooks saddles as a legitimate choice undictated by fashion?

I take it back.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tales from the Bike Path

In the eighties, when I worked for Winning Magazine, Bicycle Racing Illustrated, I wrote stories about an ex-racer bike shop owner and the racers and wannabes who hung out at his shop. Vitesse Press in Vermont collected the stories in a book called Tales from the Bike Shop.

Tales is a nostalgic read for old-time riders, a book about a cycling life that's vanished but glows in the memories of many of us. Truly those days are gone. The bike business and cycle sport have evolved away from that little shop and those lovely people. I am further away still.

If a new Vitesse Press appeared and offered to publish a collection of my more recent work, the stories would not focus on bike shops or road racing. They'd be about urban riding, "car wars" and my feelings about today's club riders, GMC-driving enthusiasts of "the new golf."

The stories would be about riding instead of driving, about leaving your car in the garage. It'd be the view from the bike lane, not the back of the paceline on the weekend training ride.

Perhaps the new book would be called Tales from the Bike Path.

Hey, I ride in mountain bike shoes, on those Shimano pedals that are SPD on one side and cage on the other. I've gone to the dork side. No mirror though. Unlike SUV drivers in parking lots, I can still turn my head to look behind me.

In the '70s, '80s and into the '90s in Marin County and Berkeley, California, I rode with racing clubs. I wasn't necessarily racing, but I kept the mindset. We rode in disciplined packs. Many riders, especially in the '90s, were on training programs. They orchestrated their efforts via heartrate monitors and reported to online coaches.

Fifteen years later, I don't know anyone with a heartrate monitor. I may not know many people with working cyclometers. I never hear anyone talking about training. I do hear them talk about riding to work on icy roads at 17-degrees on singlespeed 29ers. Or skinny-tire fixies.

In 1997, I moved from the Bay Area north and east to Chico, California. I could not find a group of riding friends in Chico for one reason or another. Groups were either too fast or too slow. You had to engineer each ride with a series of phone calls, unlike the regular rides in the Bay Area, where you only had to show up.

My Chico riding became solitary. My focus changed. I began to see shifts in the social structure of cycling, changes in the culture as cycle sport drifted into the mainstream. Frames got lighter, but levels of riding skills and camaraderie sank heavily.

I came to see the cycle commuter, the regular rider, as a sort of hero. Despite the obstacles, the weather, the traffic, the seductive automobile, he or she rode the bike. Maybe the bike was not a replica of Lance's Tour winning mount, maybe the clothing was not what Mario Cipollini would have worn, but his/her determination was as steely as either man's.

As I rode my bike around our neighbors in their outsized automobiles and listened to them tell me where I belong in this great, glistening world o' traffic; as I strung together a necklace-of-skulls of frightening experiences awheel; as roadies said hi to me less and less often, as I saw that group rides started in areas with lots of parking because all the cyclists drove to the rides...

As I saw that bike club rides are scary as hell and the bike clubbers are smug and pleased with their abysmal riding skills; as I came to realize that many of the folks who'd been so happy to ride with me in Chico and Tucson and now in Denver loved having me around because they could not fix a flat or replace a dropped chain...

As I continued to have these 32-hole epiphanies, I felt less and less like the old roadie I'd been for 30 years. Without my willing it so, my columns shifted in focus to issues that I'd ignored for most of those years.

I wonder, I thought, what must my old readers think? Have I abandoned Lycra and my Speedplay lollypops and hanging on the wheel like grim death? Will I still follow the Tour on TV? Will I buy a Brooks?

At least one of my readers has gone the same way I have. Thanks for the reassurance, Jason. I hope my work still feels relevant to many riders, including a few of the old roadie guard. Maybe I'll try to get out on the bike... Where's that Timbuk2 bag...?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If we cave...

In an earlier post, called Read This Second, I asked cyclists to resist driving their cars for transportation every time.

Think about riding your bike, I asked, just as if I should have to beg cyclists to ride their bikes. But I do have to beg them to ride if they have to ride around cars. Riding around cars is scary. Driving a car is easy and not nearly so scary.

I got a comment from a fellow named Kurt, from Golden, a famous western Denver suburb, home of the Coors Brewery and the Colorado School of Mines. The town is hip deep in cyclists, mostly recreational riders enjoying the quiet foothills roads.

As one rides toward Denver from Golden, traffic increases; the level of driver intensity and impatience rises. Kurt tells me that he is afraid to commute from Golden to Denver, not an easy daily ride, but one that many riders across America would envy. If not for the traffic.

We are not suffering on our roads because of a concerted effort on the part of motorists to make our riding lives miserable. We are not suffering because all drivers dislike us and wish we'd just disappear from what they think of as their roads.

We are not suffering worse than other road users from driver carelessness and ineptitude. We're just awfully vulnerable, is all.

We're vulnerable and they suck. They may not suck as human beings. That's another matter. They surely suck as operators of motor vehicles. Ask any cop. Ask a trucker. Ask a fireman paramedic. Ask an insurance adjuster. They'll all say the same thing:

Drivers overwhelmingly suck, or enough do so that it's plenty safe to generalize about them.

So, if it's a given that drivers suck, and it's equally a given that we're vulnerable on our bikes, what's to do?

We are traffic legally and morally. We have every right to be there on our minor slice of the roadway. Drivers don't know that, just as they don't know how to signal turns or begin turns from the proper lane. They evidently don't know how to read speed limit signs.

They don't know these things and they don't care. Unless they get caught.

They don't think of driving as a responsibility or privilege, as they've been told oh-so many times. They think of it as how they get to work or the mall. They feel they should be able to drive to work or to the mall at any speed they choose - without interference from school or construction zones, without interference from silly goddamn bicyclists.

If a motorist sees three cyclists on his/her commute, that motorist will write off those cyclists as odd-balls, lost licenses and poor people. As undeserving of respect. Perhaps they deserve a minor scare to remind them whose road it is - whose taxes paid for it.

If that motorist sees thirty cyclists on his/her commute, that ignorant, prideful stance will be harder to support. Maybe one of those cyclists is his/her minister or brother-in-law. Maybe one of those cyclists represented the driver in court or delivered her baby.

Maybe one of those cyclists is a decent human being trying to get to work, a decent person deserving of respect, deserving of the few feet of clearance that the law suggests.

The more of us they see, the more chance that one of us might be okay, might be more than a pain in the ass.

If many of us hang up our bikes and drive because we are afraid of traffic, we will never be granted our rightful place on the road. Drivers will take anything they're given. More.

We have to ride even if we're scared. Nothing will improve for us if we let their cheap terrorist act intimidate us off our bikes. Like Kurt, I've been intimidated off my bike. I quit riding for seven months after a particularly effective scare. I won't quit again.

We won't gain anything if we don't ride. We lose if we drive. We'll be part of the problem on the road, one more car. Maybe seeing us in our cars will convince other cyclists to drive instead of ride.

We have only our fear to overcome. I'm not saying it's easy or that our resolve not to quit will never flag. I'm saying I hope to see you on the road. Wave if you see me. Think what we have in common.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Read This Second

You may notice as you read David Darlington's Bicycling piece via the link below or in an actual copy of the magazine, that the piece is accompanied by ads for automobiles.

You may conclude as you read his piece that automobiles are the natural enemies of us cyclists. If you do decide that they are, welcome aboard.

Just as no one thinks twice before using a car for any trip of any length, no one at Bicycling thought twice before placing car ads next to an article about cyclists killed and maimed by cars - oh, and their careless, inebriated or emotionally distraught drivers.

After all, ads pay for the magazine. The articles are bait to attract readers so they'll see the ads. Car companies pay well for ads and their checks are good. The magazine business, like so many others, makes strange bedfellows. A magazine about cycling depends on ads from car makers.

And why not? Cars are, after all, how we get around in America. Cars are transportation. Bikes are fun.

Many cyclists, club cyclists especially, drive to every ride. They don't like to ride in their own neighborhoods - too many cars. They have never been on a bus or light rail train - with or without their bikes. They have never run an errand on a bike or gone to coffee on a bike, a Sunday NY Times in a bag slung over one shoulder.

They don't have a bag to sling over one shoulder. Whatever for?

If you're a cyclist, and I don't know why you'd be reading this if you're not, please think twice before driving your car. If there's another way, a way that does not put another two-ton projectile on our streets traveling 15-over, please choose that way. You don't always have to drive.

If you do always drive and never consider the options, you're just like your non-riding neighbors. How would you feel if you hit a cyclist? What if your bike was on the roof of your car?

We're supposed to behave as we wish others would, right? Let's start by choosing not to drive every time.


David Darlington's Bicycle Magazine horrorshow piece

David Darlington is a fine writer and a longtime cyclist. He sent me this piece a few months ago, just for my impressions. I was unable to read it, and I told him so. He said it was for Bicycling Magazine but I was skeptical: Would a general interest bike mag print such a pessimistic look at road riding? Bicycling has published his piece. Here's the link. Read at your own risk.,6610,s1-3-12-16637-1,00.html

Thank you, Miller Brewing!

Maybe everyone's seen this but me. You'd think someone who'd seen it would have mentioned it. Anyway, thanks to my friend Brendan Leonard and Bike Denver, here's the best reason to buy Miller beer you could ever imagine:

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Curious Phenomenon

Over the years, more than 20 at this point, I have written hundreds of columns. Most have focused on the cultures of cycling and motorcycling, but many have been about stuff - clothing and parts and equipment. Stuff.

I have written heartfelt, strongly-worded, even angry pieces about how we live as devotees of our sports or hobbies. I thought those pieces would provoke storms of letters to editors or requests for cancelled subscriptions, but those responses have seldom materialized.

I suspect that people don't care so much about behavior. It's a "whatever" kinda thing. Is that amazing, or what?

But if I write about stuff, particularly if the stuff is old and charming or new, expensive and exclusive, I get mail. Stuff is what the world cares about, evidently. Not all stuff; some stuff.

If I write about Japanese or Taiwanese stuff, stuff that keeps this two-wheel world rolling, I get no mail.

No one writes me defending his preference for cheap-but-cheerful items, as they say in England. For things that don't draw oohs and aahs from passersby, but do simply work. I'm sure that folks who own unpretentious stuff are proud of it and its utility. They just don't write letters.

They use that stuff, but they don't identify with it. It doesn't define them.

Ah, but if I write about the one percent of stuff made in Europe or the USA, especially if that stuff is 20 years old, I'm called names for anything critical I may've implied, no matter how obliquely. Cursed for anything but gushing praise - of the stuff or its owners.

Under most of our personal radars, there's a sizable subculture that is obsessed with stuff, with mechanical toys. Obsessed with the places the toys come from, the immortals who made them, the dates of manufacture, the history - the iconic aspects of those toys.

Like stamp collectors who'd never write a letter, many of the obsessives claim to love the sport or activity, but they are in my experience far more engaged when they talk about the gear, the tools, the hardware. The stuff. Their stuff. Maybe they use the stuff; maybe not.

Maybe they ride; maybe not. They are discriminating consumers for sure, riders or not. They're connoisseurs.

Sadly for them there's an even larger subculture of dilettantes, almost all guys, who sense the iconic aspects of certain items somehow, perhaps by scent or the tones of voice of salespeople or the clubby approach of the web presence. Who knows how they do it?

These lucky fellows can easily afford to acquire and display the same image-y, "exclusive" items without having invested the years of diligent study, without earning their credentials.

Imagine how hateful it would for a connoisseur to be mistaken for a dilettante.

Thus there's a race among the true believers for the perfect period detail, for the very saddle that Gimondi rode to win the Tour or the very frame Calvin Rayborn rode at Daytona - to prove one's connoisseurship to the few arbiters of the authenticity of whatever the toy may be.

Whatever this obsession or fixation may be, it isn't about riding. It's about acquiring. The impulse is the same whether it's trophy homes or one-up cars or bikes or you name it.

You can tease a guy about the possibility that his wife is unfaithful and he may laugh along with you. Harmless banter.

But suggest that he never rides his $10,000 bicycle and never rode the six he owned before that one, or that he didn't buy a $75,000 Jesse James custom because it was the handcrafted, flag-flying American option...and you've stepped painfully on his toes.

You can kid around about most things. But criticize a man's toys or his motives for buying them? Fightin' words, dude...

Have you read poems or essays that avoided the use of the letter "e?" Did you notice that in the entire post you've just read that I never used the word "snob?" Not easy, either task...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Baby let me follow you home

Note: This piece ran in slightly shortened form in the Denver Post a couple of months ago. I sent the Post a shortened version of a column-length article intended for cycling magazines.

Wednesday evening. Tamar, Mark and I are walking down one-way Washington Street, headed for coffee at Pablo’s on Sixth. We hear yelling behind us.

Two cars roll by us side by side and stop at the light at 7th.

We hear the driver of the Saturn yelling at the guy in the Camry: You m-----f----r, I’ll follow you home and kill you! He screams it two or three times. No kidding.

We don’t know what the Camry driver did, if he (or she) did anything at all. We just got here.

The light changes. The Camry turns left. The Saturn continues down Washington. We’re frozen on the sidewalk. We don’t often hear murder threats. We’ve just experienced road rage from 10 feet away.

Tamar and I only ride – our bicycles or her scooter or my motorcycle. Mark pedals more than he drives. We like to imagine that most drivers are peaceful folks like us. Not homicidal. We have to imagine that, don’t we?

Next morning, I saw a cop in Wash Park. I told him about the guy threatening to “follow you home and kill you.” He shook his head.

Is it illegal to make threats like that, I asked.

“You bet,” he said. “It’s against the law to cause a disturbance or threaten someone. But don’t get involved. If you can jot down the license number and you could describe the driver, call it in and we’ll be right on it.

“If it happens to you, do NOT drive home. The guy will know where you live. Drive to a public place, a mall or a police station. Most of these guys,” he said, “are satisfied just to yell and gesture. A few try to carry out their threats. No way to tell which guy is which.

“Road rage is out of control in Denver,” he said.

Echoing, I have to add, what a Littleton cop told me only last week. He said that South Santa Fe Drive is the worst street for road rage in Colorado - four or five incidents a day.

Littleton PD, he said, has two unmarked (but official-looking) white sedans and a white pickup. Huge panels of flashing lights are hidden behind the windshields and back windows.

One of them will drive at the limit in the right-hand lane. A car will come up behind. The driver will follow dangerously close and then flash his lights in frustration. Eventually he or she passes in anger, 20-over, flipping the bird at the cop. The officer flips on the Vegas Strip lightshow behind his windshield.

Each time the units go out onto South Santa Fe it’s the same.

What’re drivers thinking, I asked the Littleton cop. They’re not, he said. They see straight ahead, not to the sides or behind them. And they’re angry.

Why, I asked the cop in Wash Park. are people so irate?

“Denver’s population,” he said, “has doubled in 20 years. Except for a lane on each side of I-25 the roads are the same.”

Twice the motorized rats in the same old asphalt cage.

People treat people in ways that would’ve been unimaginable just yesterday. We don’t see it in public places so much. We see people in cars acting like spoiled children.

Tamar and I know a young woman who passed her drivers test, got her permit, drove once – and turned in the permit. I’ll pass, she said, I’ll ride my bike.

Fifteen years later, she’s thinking about a moped or tiny motor scooter. No license, no plates. You can park on sidewalks. A hundred mpg. They’re everywhere.

I’d say that woman is on the right path. And you? If you’ve set up your life so you have to drive, I hope your conscience is troubled. It’s the devil’s work.

Please, if you drive, don’t threaten to kill us because we didn’t recognize your ownership of that lane, that street, that parking space. Remember to breathe.

If you walk, use public transit or ride a bicycle or motorbike, Tamar, Mark and I thank you. The world would thank you - if the world cared what is good for it.

The right thing is the right thing, acknowledged or not. It goes around and then it comes around.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


I got to thinking today about tools, and how we make their quality more crucial than it is in our lives. Our bicycles are tools as are our motorcycles. Our cameras and computers. Our ratchets and sockets. Tools. An artist's oils, brushes and stretched canvas are tools.

None of them make us creators of memorable items or images or experiences. They only facilitate; the best tools only get out of the way so we can do the best we know how.

Hemingway wrote on a typewriter. Editing was laborious. No spell-checker. He wrote The Old Man and the Sea. We have Microsoft Word. We write emails and blog posts.

If we have $20,000-worth of Snap-On's finest hand tools, we are equipped to set up the suspension on a racing car so that it works on the day and on the track. Are we able to do that?

If we have a Leica (or equivalent) camera, we are equipped to shoot photos equal to the best photographers on the planet, just as sharp, just as dramatic, just as unforgettable. Lots of us have Leicas; nearly none of us shoot stunning photos.

If I buy George Hincapie's bike, not a replica, his bike, and I spend $1,000 to make sure it fits me in every dimension, will I finish next to George at Paris-Roubaix? If I have a clunky old 7-speed racing bike, and George and I swap bikes on the starting line, will I beat him?

I have a slow motorcycle that handles okay. Casey Stoner has a blindingly fast Ducati that we imagine nearly rides itself. If Casey and I switch bikes on the starting line at Laguna Seca, will I beat him around the track? Will my lap times be reported on the UPI wire?

A good tool, an adequate tool, is all the tool we need.

Beyond adequacy, it's "airs and graces," as I think the expression goes. Beyond adequacy, we're wearing cashmere at the tractor pull, shooting a Purdy shotgun for a canned ham at an autumn turkey shoot, riding Casey Stoner's Ducati while the pit guys time us with a calendar.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beyond the Baby Boomers

Yesterday as I filled out the forms at my new Denver dentist's office, the receptionist told me that my dentist is a motorcyclist. Rides to work, she said.

When I met him, I learned that he's a veteran mountain biker, a racer no less. And that he's had his first motorized bike, an F650 BMW, for about a year.

He's 35, I'd say, a fit-looking dude who could, I suppose, afford to drive his car back and forth. He may have been a bicycle commuter until recently; his high-end mountain bike had been stolen from his garage just a week before we met.

The thief broke a window to get into the garage and left a cheap bike in the alley when he rode the doc's bike away.

This morning, Tamar and I were sitting at an outside table at Pablo's having coffee. A young guy rode up, parked his Ducati Monster and nodded at us as he went in to buy his coffee. When he came out, he sat at the next table and introduced himself as our neighbor, living down the hall from us in our building.

A student at CU Boulder, 23 years old, he too mentioned mountain biking. He told us he's been riding the Ducati, his first bike, for about a year. He loves it, he says, and is thinking about getting further from home than he has in that year. Maybe much further.

Many of us who care about motorcycling are afraid that it will wane in this country with the graying of the generation born after WWII.

These encounters on successive mornings cheered me.

Motorcycling needs guys like my dentist and my neighbor. Both think about motorcycle safety. Neither has a "loud pipes save lives" attitude. Neither resists wearing a helmet. Neither does block-long wheelies in city traffic for a year, then sells his motorcycle and buys a turbocharged import car even louder than his bike was.

Both could afford to drive. Both have found their way to motorcycling, I'm delighted to say.

It's as if I've seen a ray of brilliant Colorado sunlight piercing the gathering clouds. I might, had I taken enough time, have found an even more flowery way to say that. Maybe not though...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sit down; make yourself cancerous...

Boys -

Here's a link to a piece revealing that something emitted from motorcycle engines, situated as they so often are midway between our thighs, may be promoting cancer "down there.",233977.shtml

Was it only a few years ago we learned that bicycle saddles caused erectile problems?

Is there no hope?

Even if we wear helmets and lead BVDs, even if we illuminate ourselves like Times Square after dark, even if we never borrow bikes or ride drunk or try to elude pursuing police on our bikes, we're going to die anyway, probably later this week. Or we'll suffer from embarrassing crotchal aliments for decades before our eventual deaths. It must be true; it's on the 'net.

Ask any headline-seeking researcher. Hey, THEY know...

I'll post again later. I'm on my way to the fertility clinic to drop something off while I still can. Should I ride my bicycle? Or my motorcycle? I believe I'll take the bus... as soon as I check to see if public transportation can cause incontinence in occasional riders.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

What Bob Muzzy Said...

We're lucky in Denver to have miles and miles of lovely, networked, paved, off-street bike paths. They're multi-use paths, really. They often run charmingly alongside a creek or river.

You can ride for miles and/or actually reach or approach most destinations without encountering Mr and Ms Impatient America in their rolling phone booths.

The paths almost always run under intersecting streets; you can pedal along and only hear traffic, not be an unwelcome part of it. Delightful. Well, it's almost delightful.

I say almost, because here and elsewhere most cyclists are primarily motorists. They put on cycling clothing but bring their impatient, self-centered driving habits with them on rides. They, not skaters, dog-walkers, homeless sleeping-baggers or pedestrians, are the spoilers of the bike paths. Dammit.

I believe the bike path speed limit in Denver is 15mph. I'm sure it's only enforced in areas where traffic is thick, and in the parks. I don't like to see cyclists get tickets but I don't know why anyone needs to exceed 15 on busy paths with blind corners - used by cyclists of all levels of ability and carrying lots of distracted foot traffic. Baffles me.

Until I remember that most club cyclists are middle class hobbyists, drivers who never imagine the consequences of their callousness at the wheel. They do not think of other human beings as other human beings. They're impediments is all, goddammit.

We're trying to do a training ride here, people; walk your dog someplace else.

They're club riders and racers-in-their-fantasies, obsessed individuals in multi-logo jerseys riding 17lb bikes. They're monitoring their pulse rates on the bike path as they approach the exit for Cost Plus and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

It's folks in Lycra. They ride like they drive. They pass at improbable, sketchy times. They pass when they can't see ahead. They brush by recreational riders on hybrids as if they were passing a pro trackie on a velodrome. As if some diety guarantees their safety.

They use the bike paths as if they were closed race courses for their personal training.

Here's what's infuriating. Many drive their cars to a parking place near the path so they do not have to pedal where people drive, uncaring people remarkably like themselves.

Their peers in cars make the streets feel scary. So club cyclists favor bike paths where they can ride any way they like and make the paths scary for the rest of us.

Despite the various sponsors named on their outfits they all ride for the same person. Their clothing should reflect their focus, their dedication and their inspiration.

Me. Me. Me.

Oh, what Bob Muzzy said was, the better the rider the slower he goes in town...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Well, yes, I met Evel Knievel...

In '66 and '67 I was parts manager at Honda of San Francisco, on Van Ness Avenue close to the center of the universe. I met lots of celebs, especially motorcycle celebs. It was then that I had lunch with the Harley-Davidson factory racing team and met my hero, Bart Markel.

I can't recall why, but I had lunch (at Zim's, a chain cafe a block away from Honda SF, then on Van Ness between Ellis and O'Farrell) with Evel Knievel, who passed away yesterday.

At that time, and until I met Robin Williams a few years ago, Knievel was the "most unforgettable character" in my experience. As with Williams, you could not forget that you were passing the salt to a household name. Williams is so disarming, so engaged in the conversation, that you get past that in minutes.

Watching Knievel across the table was like watching a fireworks show - surprise after surprise.

I saw an interview on TV last night with Knievel's agent. He described the daredevil's effort to gain access to the fountains at Caesar's Palace in Vegas for his jump there, a struggle to overcome the manager's stubborn resistance.

Knievel's manager said that Knievel had called the casino nine times, each time as a different person, never as himself. He told the manager over and over, call after call, that he'd heard that Evel Knievel was going to be performing one of his death-defying feats at the hotel, and he wanted to know the dates - so he could make travel plans. Eventually the manager caved.

I remembered him telling me how he lined up free motorcycles to ride for his feats - and vehicles to leapfrog over.

Knievel talked, in those days, like a country boy, and was happy, seemed to me, to let you think that he was a simple man - what you saw was what there was. But as you listened, you saw the truth - that he was a Barnum-style promoter, as some of the obits suggest.

He'd come to town, he told me, and he'd call a motorcycle shop or car store. He'd introduce himself as Evel Knievel's attorney, representing the daredevil star in search of a motorcycle to showcase for the upcoming jump. Or he'd call a dealer (or an importer or manufacturer) and claim to be Evel Knievel's agent, and try to promote a bike or a few bikes or seventeen Cadillacs.

"He only uses the best equipment," Knievel's agent or attorney would state.

"Everyone knows that," he'd say. "Who would choose to do the things he does on any bike but the best? Wouldn't you like your equipment, your brand of motorcycle, to be seen by thousands (later millions) as the carefully chosen, trusted brand of Evel Knievel?"

Almost exactly 40 years ago it was, my lunch with the jumper of Cadillacs. I remember his words and his voice, but my most vivid memory is my amazement that this aw-shucks Idaho boy was outfoxing big city slicks. And everyone won, huh?