Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sometimes the Hard Way Is the Easy Way

There's a line in there somewhere
So, I ride mountain bikes.  And this blog is ostensibly about the riding of such bikes.  Let's proceed to talk bikes, shall we?

Sometimes I learn things about riding mountain bikes.  These things make me a better rider.  They are often learned the hard way - sometimes at the cost of some skin. 
As one friend said: "You're bleeding, so you must be having fun." 
Socks by All Hail the Black Market
But some of the things I learn have broader application to other parts of my life. For instance, one of the things that I have learned is that sometimes the best path is over the largest obstacle. 

To illustrate, consider the picture below:
Boulder Ridge Trail at Oak Mountain Alabama
The trail is somewhere between the orange marker and the fence.  Can you find it?

My friend Lee shows how it's done.
Navigating that trail is one of the most important skills in mountain biking.  The process of picking your way through is referred to as finding the right "line." 

I love riding behind talented riders, so I can see which lines they choose.  This week, I got to follow Lee, Bryan, and for brief moments, BA (until he dropped the hammer).  Often, they came up with lines that I hadn't seen when I looked down the trail.

It's also fun to watch beginners try and pick a line, but for other reasons.  It's as entertaining as sitting at the boat ramp, watching folks try to back their boat trailers into the water. I expect that's what my friends think while watching me.

For beginners, choosing a line can be daunting or downright impossible.  This is partly because they lack the technical skills to handle the various trail features and partly because they lack the experience of picking lines over and over.

This was true of me as a beginner too.  I often had trouble picking the path that would take me down the trail with the most speed and the least effort.  When I started, my approach was to balk at big obstacles and find a line that avoided the roots, rocks, or logs. But this approach left me slow and often resulted in a crash anyway. 

Pick a line, any line
But, one day at Alum Creek Phase One, I had an epiphany.  There's this short but steep downhill section.  And on the right is a sort of staircase made of roots.  Straight ahead is a very tall root stretching across the middle of the trail.  And on the left is the tree causing all those roots.

I always opted for the right, preferring to pick my way down the rooty staircase, costing me speed and sending me off on a bad line.  But it seemed safer.

Until one day when I took on the tall root in the middle.  It was challenging to me, because, not only was the root tall, but immediately after the root was a steep downhill drop.  But I rode it anyway.  And I found that it was faster, safer, and more enjoyable to hop the root in the middle.  It was a game-changer.

My line.  I should have ridden the rocks on the right - next time, I will
I have since learned that such obstacles are not to be avoided, but are what make the trail fun.  You can jump them, pump off them, and use them to fly down the trail.  Or, at least, you can roll off of them and continue on your way.

Jason gets it done
So, what's the life lesson?  It's that sometimes the toughest looking line with the biggest obstacles is actually the best choice.  

Ready for the transition?  Here we go. 

The City of Columbus and the Columbus Art Commission have solicited new, artistic designs for bike racks to be placed around Columbus.

The City has selected a few designs and put them up for public vote.  The choices include:

Visionary by ALTernative
Glasses are good for stretching your legs, but won't hold many bikes.

Sunflower by G. Holland
You will need a ladder to do "the hipster high lock" on the top sunflower.

Follow the Bouncing Ball by M. Hayes
Love the artwork, but would you think you should lock your bike to it?  I'm voting for this one at Whetstone anyway.

Pin by C. Black
The punk rock choice.

The Sightseer by W. Kull
 A reminder that Columbus has a boring skyline.

Yeah, I know, I'm a jerk with no artistic ability and I have no business criticizing the work of these artists and designers.  And, actually, I do like the idea of more public art.  

But let me offer a suggestion from a person who uses bike racks regularly.  Please choose one of the entries that looks like you could actually lock a bike to it.  And preferably one that will accommodate more than two bikes.  (That leaves roughly two of the submissions). 

Now, you know that I like bikes and I like art.  I even like art about bicycles.  But this is one of those cases where function has to dictate form.  And I'm pretty sure you can't fit a u-lock anywhere on those eyeglasses. 

Thank you for your consideration.

There are more submissions too.  You can vote for your favorite by reviewing the designs and then clicking here.  You must vote by May 6, so hurry up.

People don't seem to have trouble finding a place to lock their bikes.  A sign post works just fine.
But here's the deeper dilemma.  The lack of artistic bike racks isn't the reason why people don't ride their bikes for errands or work more often.  They don't ride bikes because they are scared.  Scared of traffic, scared of being run over.  Fancy bike racks won't fix that. 

Sharrows are a step in the right direction, but a very small step.  Photo by Columbus Underground
Now, I appreciate the City's efforts to make Columbus bike-friendly.  I believe that the City administrators believe in the benefits of biking for the Columbus and its residents.  I am grateful for their efforts.

Still, if you really want to get people on their bikes, we need serious infrastructure, not fancy racks.  How about dedicated bike lanes like other cities have?  How about more serious consequences for drivers who are at fault in injuring cyclists?

So, that's the full-circle on today's post.  It may be a hard obstacle for the City to provide serious bicycling infrastructure, but it's actually the easy way to get people on their bikes. 

Your beer pairing:
Fat Head's Trailhead.

This beer hits everything I like.  It's a clean citrus IPA.  And a portion of the proceeds go to fund Cleveland Metroparks.  And it's an Ohio beer.  Cleveland, but still Ohio. 

I ordered one of these at the bar with my new friend James this week.  It was so good, that I stuck with it for a second and maybe a third.  Also, go read James' blog  - it's entertaining and he actually talks about mountain bikes (unlike me).

Go be brave.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I Have a Secret

Not that kind of secret
Actually, I have lots of secrets.  Do you have any secrets?  Anything that you hide from those people who surround you every day?  Most everybody's hiding something.  I bet you are too.  A secret is based in fear.  If the secret gets out, it might hurt you professionally, personally, or socially.

I trust you.  So, here's my secret: 

I am a runner.

Running (slowly)
"Well, that's not so bad," you might say.  "Yes, it's true you wear shorty-shorts and pay money to run on city streets with other 'athletes.'  I mean, embarrassing, yes.  But not a secret."

Well, the whole truth is that I'm not just a runner, I'm a trail runner. 

Don't judge me
"Well, that's not so bad either," you might say.  "Just because you buy fancy shoes, wear shorty-shorts and drive longer than you run, just so you can do a sub-optimal run in the woods."

Yes, but you don't understand.  A lot of my friends are mad at trail runners.

Let me explain.  See, there's this trail in central Ohio called Alum Creek Phase One (or "P1").  It's a six-mile or so loop located in Alum Creek State Park.  It's rooty and doesn't have much elevation change, but we love it anyway.

Everybody learned to ride at P1.  In a lot of ways, it's like a family member.  Many of us can tell you each bend and tree on the trail.  We earned our scars and scabs there.  it has been a part of the central Ohio mountain bike scene for over 20 years.  In fact, P1 sees a lot of bicycle traffic.

Stats from COMBO

In 2013, there were over 9,600 laps of P1 ridden, for over 53,000 miles. 

And, you may not know it, but this trail is maintained by volunteers.  That's right.  Although the trail is on state land, the state does not maintain the trail  But it needs constant attention. 

Who doesn't love COMBO
In fact, last year, COMBO volunteers spent 541 hours working on P1.  It's a big investment for a trail that doesn't even see the most use.  But hey, it's a part of our family history. 

So that's why my trail running is a secret. 

This fall, there was a trail race out at P1.  It was a running race, not a mountain bike race.  But the trail was wet and the race really should have been cancelled.  the results were predictable, but lamentable.

The trail is like five feet wide here.  It should be 18 inches.
Like the surface of the moon.
This damage caused quite a stir.  It even made the paper.  P1 is still all beat up.  The runners are trying to make things right.  They have donated money and work.  But, still, it's no wonder that the mountain bikers are pissed.  It's like you beat up their little brother at the playground and they are coming to find you.  

But it's getting better.  And mountain bikers know that trail runners are our friends and can be our best allies.  We just need all trail users to be smart and aware. 

I think runners and mountain bikers need to join forces and fight the real enemy, horses. 

The enemy.  Photo by bato93
I mean, seriously.  Have you ever ridden through a fresh field apple?  Also, what kind of luxury pet is a horse?  I can barely afford to feed my cat.

Just kidding!  Seriously, I don't want to get on the bad side of the horse lobby.  They are no joke! 

But also, no horses on P1, please. 

There has even been talk about closing P1.  It's debatable (to some) whether it's worth the continued effort to keep this battered trail running.  It's kind of like Rocky IV - it's pretty damned beat up, but it keeps punching. 

I will fight to keep P1 alive and kicking.  You want to help fix P1 too?  Next trail work day is Saturday, May 3.  Or come Sunday, May 18th.  Just show up at the trail at 8:30-ish.  No experience?  Can you operate a shovel?  Then you're qualified.  Just show up. 

Anyway, that's my secret.  Please keep it to yourself.

I may not post this weekend, because I'm on vacation.  Look for more post next week.

Your beer pairing:
Spaten Munchen

(1) The name means "shovel" in German.
(2) the slogan is "Taste the Flavor of Munich" (ew).
(3) Germans!
(4) Horses!

Be brave

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Different Kind of Easter Egg Hunt

A deviled egg
I'm a terrible parent.  It's Easter weekend and most families are out doing egg hunts.  Of course, not everyone finds what they're looking for.

But I took my family on a different kind of egg hunt. 

At 7:00, I roused the teenagers and we headed out to clean up the Olentangy trail.  My good friend shaved his tongue, wiped the sleep out of his eyes and joined us too.

But don't feel too bad for my kids.  This cleanup had all the trappings of a traditional Easter gathering.

Lots of our friends showed up from MetroParks: and Auntie FLOW came, and Uncle Sierra too.  There was breakfast and then we headed out.

We had out own Easter baskets.

And many of our friends showed up for the hunt too.

Some of the goodies were really well hidden.

But the kids still managed to find stuffed animals

No, we are not taking that home.
And they found plenty of sports equipment to play with.

Officially licensed merchandise
Easter goodies
Titleist Easter eggs
America's pastime
 Overall, I think my kids made a pretty good haul.  They even found clothing

And seasonally-appropriate decorations

I didn't say which season.
Of course, our biggest haul was bottles and cans.  My son, upon finding his first 40-ounce beer bottle asked "Seriously, who drinks a liter of beer anyway"? 

As a parent, a number of responses ran through my head.  Should I explain the addiction issues among many of the homeless who live on the trail?  Or should I explain about the teenagers who come here at dark sometimes to try their first drinks?  Should I admit that, in my younger days, I was known to have drunk a 40-ounce or two?

Fortunately, my friend saved me from this dilemma by providing and answer to my son - "Germans!" - he shouted.  We all laughed and kept on moving.  Germans indeed.

The biggest haul from my team came from an abandoned homeless camp.  We steered clear of existing camps.  People get touchy when you invade their space (whether it's theirs or not).  But, we cleaned up a large area that had been long abandoned.  We found dirty, rotten bedding, food wrappers, clothes, razors, toothbrushes, and bottles galore.  In the end, I'm pretty sure my team won:

 We couldn't get it all.  We ran out of time and trashbags.

Then we went home and followed the Great American Tradition of purchasing, boiling, and coloring more eggs than any of us will want to eat.  I feel gassy already.

Since this is ostensiby a bike blog, I would like to point put that I saw many features out by the river that I want to ride over with my mountain bike.  Including this:

And I would like to ride over those roots with this bike:

Salsa Buzzsaw.  Image from Bike Rumor

That's right.  A full suspension fatbike.  The Buzzsaw is to my bike as Bigfoot is to a Ford Ranger.

Your beer pairing:
There are a whole lot of possibilities for your beer pairing today.  I think we saw bottles of every kind of beer during our egg hunt.  But, in the end, the answer presented itself:

It's my size, but we're not taking it home.
That's right, we found a genuine Yuengling Lager shirt.  So, there you go.  Your beer recommendation provided by your guest recommender, the Olentangy Trail. 

It wasn't long ago that Yuengling first came to Columbus.  I was happy to see it come.  It's a solid offering at a reasonable price.  What could be more American?

Go forth and be brave, I love you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mullets, Bikes, and Art

Thumbs up

First of all, further to my last post, Travis Freeman was hit in my neighborhood in March.  He's in recovery - throw him a couple bucks to help with his medical bills.  Seriously, what's $10 to you?  That's like one artisanal hot dog with kimchi slaw.  Just eat a plain weenie instead.

There's good news too - the City is going to expend some effort to improve the safety of Columbus roads for cyclists and pedestrians.  You can help guide the City's efforts by participating in this survey.
The survey closes by April 23, so hurry up!  I picked "c" for all my answers.  It's an old scantron trick.
Biking Mike (Coleman) Photo by Consider Biking
So there's Biking Mike.  Apparently a fan of the bikes.  By the way, I'm digging his bike clothes.  Looks like road bike shoes and gloves, with a track suit, over a shirt and tie.  A mountain bike helmet tops it off.  But I'm good with that.  I admire someone who wears what they like.  But the wrinkle that gets me is the tie with the bike shoes.*  It's the bicycling equivalent of a mullet: business on the top and party on the bottom. 

* Full disclosure, I have rocked the cycle mullet (tie and bike shoes) myself.  But only mountain bike shoes, never road shoes.  And never white shoes before labor day.  I mean seriously, I'm not a monster.

And a lot of cyclists like the actual mullet, so it's a natural.

Every kid I grew up with.  Photo By Daniel M. Hendrickson
Bradley Wiggins, Tour de France Winner, olympic Gold Medalist, Mullet enthusiast. Photo by
Tomac had hella mullet
Hell, there was even a bike named the mullet.
Anyway, talking about mullets, do you like art?  I do.  That's why I was unsatisfied with the previous header for this blog. 

Fortunately, Stevil of All Hail the black Market is artistically gifted and was willing to help.  The header above is cut from his original image:

The Town #36

Besides art, AHTBM is all about bikes, punk rock, and occasionally tennis balls.  Stevil is also the purveyor of my favorite socks

and bike stickers.

Go check AHTBM out.  I'll wait . . .

. . . Welcome back.  Where were we?  Oh right, art.

Do you like art?  I do.  Do you like bikes?  Me too.  Perhaps you will like art about bikes.  I don't know for sure though.  Only you know that for sure.

There will be a bicycle poster art show in Columbus, hosted by various bike shops and bike-friendly places.

Image from Wild Goose Creative
According to the website, It kicks off Saturday, May 3 at Wild Goose creative.  Then, the show will move around:

July - Baer Wheels
August - Cafe Brioso 

I am a fan of all of the aforementioned establishments.  So go there and see the art.  Support local artists and businesses.  And for fuck's sake, ride your bike there.  If you can't ride your bike to your local bike shop to view local bike art, well, I might just roshambo you.  

Also, the city of Columbus is hosting the most bureaucratic bike art contest ever.

I guarantee the winner will be a COGO bike with cow spots.
I mean, the contest is good, but the prize? A messenger bag, burritos and a COGO membership?  And what are the "surprises"?  A couple swift kicks in the balls? 

Anyway, at least the Seagull bag is choice.  I'm going to enter just for that.  Here's my submission:
Yeah, I'm pretty sure those burritos are in the bag.

Your beer pairing:
Four Strings Brass Knuckle

A really nice local IPA.  As far as beers go, this is just my cup of tea.  Perfect for sunny Spring weather.  And the owner's name is Dan.  And he plays bass, so I promise he had a mullet at some point. 

Go be brave!