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.  


  1. Thanks for the shout-out at the end! I agree that the bike racks need to be functional. The skyline rack looks the most functional to me. How about a sculpture of giant letters made of pipes that read "THIS IS A BIKE RACK". One bike could be locked to each letter. Just brainstorming.

  2. Yeah, sort of like the CCAD sign downtown that says "ART". Is it art if it's words to explain that it's art?