Thursday, August 30, 2012

Premium Rush: A Bike Rider's Review

A new movie, Premium Rush, casts Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a Manhattan bike messenger, gives him a MacGuffin that a bad guy wants and hijinks ensue. I'm a sucker for any movie that has bikes in it, so today Christine and I went to the theater and watched Premium Rush.

I'll try to keep this review spoiler-free, so I'm not going to give a play by play of the plot. There actually is a plot but it mostly serves to drive about an hour's worth of really good bike chase sequences. Both Christine and I really liked the movie. We lived for years in White Plains, NY and got into Manhattan often and NYC in this movie feels like the real thing. I know a lot of bike messengers, I've ridden fixies for years and I've even raced in some alley cats and I can honestly say that the folks who made this movie got the biking right.

Fixies don't coast and unlike in some movies (Quicksilver, I'm looking at you!) in Premium Rush they never coast. Car doors pop open, traffic sucks, there's a lot of skidding. There's a lot of very quick maneuvering. There's a bunch of really good camera work. One neat film technique slows everything down and shows the character Wilee (like the Coyote) thinking through the various lines through crowded traffic. These thought experiments play out in crashes until he finds the line that just makes it through.

You should understand that this is movie where the scruffy fixie-riding bike messenger is the hero. The really bad guy drives a car. The cops are not the guys there to help you. In the scale from good to bad, fixies are better than gears, steel is better than carbon. Lycra is used as an insult. (However Christine noted that it's a movie so of course the female messenger is wearing lycra!) But at least the sorta-ex girlfriend of the hero actually does some damn good riding in this movie.

While it would've been nice if the female characters had a bit more to do in the film and you would think that they could have come up with at least one cop who wasn't corrupt or inept, the movie manages to slam along nicely. The characters actually talk and think like bike folk. Real messengers and riders (folks like Austin Horse and Danny MacAskill) worked as extras and stunt doubles on the film but you never think "oh that's a double," you're too busy being amazed.

Premium Rush is good summer fun. It'll get your heart pumping. I enjoyed it and so did Christine.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

10 Good Books on Bicycles

One of the things I like about writing on this blog is the fact that I have full editorial control. All the typos, run on sentences and fuzzy thinking? All mine! If I want to post a picture of my cat, I do it. Want to tell a rambling story that has little to do with bikes? I'm there.

But it can also be nice to write something for other folks. I get to work with someone who edits my work and says helpful things like "you know this doesn't quite work" or "what the hell is this?" By the way, this reminds me of a joke:

How many copy editors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Do you mean install or have sex in? Please clarify.

Where was I? Oh yeah, rambling. That's where editors are nice. They cut out that crap. Editors are also nice when they work for organizations that have budgets and those organizations can actually do things like pay a writer for his words. That happened to me recently when Outside Online contacted me to come up with a list of 10 Good Books on Bicycles. I sent them a list and wrote some words, we did a little back and forth and the result is pretty good. And they're sending me a nice little check.

They made one teensy change in the title of the piece, one word that I differ with. I know my blog readers are smart. I think you'll catch the difference. I stand by my list, every book on it is very, very good. But there may be some better books out there. I'm sure someone else would come up with a different list.

Here's a link to the article:


I hope everybody out there is having a good day.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kent Nerburn: Road Angels

I believe in serendipity. This belief of mine, that good things can and do come upon one unexpectedly, is an optimism born of experience. I am a fellow who finds duct tape in the middle of nowhere at the moment when it is most urgently needed. While I still endeavor to be cynical and cautious, and my upbringing and independent nature will always prevent me from counting on the kindness of circumstance, I cannot ascribe evil intent to the universe or the vast majority of my fellow human beings. I've seen too many good things in the world and had far more than any good cynic's share of fine interactions. As Bob Dylan wrote in a wildly different context, "I can't help it if I'm lucky."

I have learned over the years that just as water will flow past a full cup, fortune finds no gaps to fill in a life too precisely planned. And thus I wander, at least a bit every day, with vague intention and no clear destination. Not knowing what I'll find, I tend to find things. Very often they are wonderful things.

Which leads me to Kent Nerburn, or more precisely, his books. A few years ago, with no particular plan or urgent need, I strolled by a shelf in my local library and glimpsed, out of the corner of my eye, my own name. My first name, that is Kent, which is not a common name. I do not know if the Steves and Marys of the world stop when they see or hear their own names, perhaps it is too common an occurrence for them to bother with, or perhaps they are less egotistical than I, but I seldom see the name Kent in print and so the name Kent Nerburn called to me from the shelf and that is how I found a book called Neither Wolf nor Dog. It is one of the best books I've ever read. This story is not about that book.

This story is instead about another book of Mr. Nerburn's, a book I'm reading now called Road Angels. Road Angels called to me from another shelf, a few years after I'd read Neither Wolf nor Dog. I was not looking for Mr. Nerburn or this book, I was randomly wandering past a shelf of some old books in a book store that was new to me. Road Angels found me.

This a book on serendipity, a mediation on roads less traveled by, a wandering journey by someone prone to telling little stories and perhaps to thinking too much. It's wonderful. I'm one hundred pages in and I've been stopping to read passages to Christine. Just when I would say it's not about bicycles and this is a bike blog and I shouldn't burden my readers with something like this, I find this passage where Nerburn finds himself in Seattle near the University of Washington:

Since I'm near the university, I decide to poke around. University neighborhoods are especially dear to my heart. However, they all share one common curse: they're anathema to automobiles. If you live near a university, the best thing you can do is burn your car. Or, at least, that's the decision that was come to by a friend of mine at the University of Minnesota.

He owned an evil Volkswagen bug that defied the efforts of every mechanic to solve a recurring electrical problem. Time after time it would stall for no reason at all, always with no warning and always in the most inconvenient circumstances.

He would have it towed to a mechanic, spend money he didn't have, be assured that the problem was finally fixed, and within a week find himself stranded on another freeway or busy city street with a car that once again refused to start.

He would dutifully call a friend, who would dutifully come over and pull the beast back to his house. Then he would dial up the mechanic, who would shrug his shoulders and offer to try again for more money. My friend would get angry and curse the mechanic, then drag the car to a different shop, and the same process would begin all over. The only thing that changed was the balance in his checkbook, which had been almost nonexistent in the first place.

One winter morning he awoke to find the curbside in front of his apartment peppered with signs announcing that all vehicles had to be removed by eight o'clock so the streets could be plowed. It was already seven forty-five.

The Volkswagen, of course, refused to start.

He cranked and cursed and enlisted the neighbors to try to jump the battery, but nothing worked. After almost inducing coronaries in three out-of-shape passersby who he conscripted to try to push-start the car, he shoved the beast into neutral, pushed it into the middle of the street, and began yelling, "If anyone wants this car, they have fifteen minutes to come and take it." But no one emerged to take him up on his offer. Perhaps it was because he kept referring to the Volkswagen as "the piece of shit that has ruined my life."

At any rate, the fifteen minute deadline came and went with no takers. So he did what any reasonable man would do. He set the car on fire.

By the time I stopped by later in the day, it was only a charred carcass resting by the side of the curb. The firemen had come and put it out, and he, like Peter, had denied any knowledge of its ownership. His wife, who was expecting a child, was ready to divorce him. The kids in the neighborhood were ready to canonize him. But in his own mind, only one thing mattered: he was free. He bought an old black bicycle, too wretched to be stolen, and proceeded to ride it through, one of the snowiest Minnesota winters on record. He was a happy man.

Nerburn continues down the coast, telling small bits from his past, meeting people and the land, finding more stories and more ways people make their way in this world. It's a road well worth a wander.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bike Talk: What to take on a 1200K Randonee?

Iron Rider from Pennsylvania writes:

"In a few days I will start my first 1200K Randonee. What should I take with me?"

First off, congrats on taking on a 1200K. Second, there's very little I can tell you that you didn't already learn in doing the 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometer brevets that lead up to your 1200K, but I won't let that stop me from jotting some thoughts down here. Maybe some tiny bit of what I write will prove useful.

For those readers just tuning into the whole randonneuring scene, a 1200K is a 1200 kilometer bike ride that must be completed on a specified course within set time limits. It's not a race, but it is a timed test of endurance. A good starting point for those wanting to learn about randonneuring is the list of Frequently Asked Questions that my pals in the Seattle International Randonneurs assembled.

Let me start with some of my totally biased opinions on what you should NOT take with you. A lot of folks will disagree with me on these points and they're free to express their opinions in the comments or in their own blog posts. My thoughts on these matters have been formed by riding and observing other riders on Paris-Brest-Paris, Boston-Montreal-Boston, London-Edinburgh-London, the Rocky Mountain 1200, the VanIsle 1200 and various other randonnees.

Drop the Drop Bag Habit

In theory, a drop bag (a small bag of gear sent ahead to one of the check points) will contain some handy bits of gear and will let a rider complete the event faster and more comfortably. In practice I've seen more riders miserable because their gloves are in their drop bags and they "didn't think it'd be this cold, this soon" or wet because "it wasn't supposed to rain until tomorrow." Drop bags are one more logistical problem for controlle workers, one more time sink when you are stopped at a controlle and one great opportunity for sloppy thinking in your ride planning. If you need something, carry it. If you don't don't.

Try NOT to have a supportive spouse or friend meet you at a controlle

 Again the theory goes that the moral support of a good friend or spouse saying "you can do it!" at some point 800 kilometers into a grueling ride can be just the thing to buoy your spirits and get you out on the road. In practice your loving spouse or caring buddy is more likely to say something honest and caring like "gee you look like hell! Are you doing OK?" And of course the odds are that you may feel like hell at that point and if that spouse or buddy has a car or some way for you to get home that doesn't involve riding your damn bicycle...well that's how a lot of rides end in the letters DNF.

The best controlle workers are either good folks you like who lie with conviction "You're doing great!" or grumpy strangers who push you back out on the road before you think you're ready. The biggest mistake new riders make is burning up too much time in the controlles. A good mental trick is to think of yourself as a spy and the controlle workers as inquistive border guards. You want to get in and out as fast as possible.

But What Should You Carry?

All randonneurs and bike tourists are constantly looking for the magic point of "just enough stuff". Vik wrote a great post, mostly about touring, but it certainly applies to randonneuring, titled You're Carrying Too Much Stuff and one of the things you should carry with you is the memory of that article and a healthy skepticism about every bit of your gear. That said, here are some bits, gadgets and do-dads that I tend to carry.

Repair stuff: Of course the pump, spare tube & patch kit. A good multitool. A bit of duct tape wrapped around the seatpost, a few nylon zip ties. A FiberFix spoke.

Food & Water: Always have something to eat and drink with you. It doesn't have to be much, but have something. Different flavors & textures of food are key. Something salty and something sweet. PayDay bars are awesome. Check out What Long Distance Cyclists Really Eat for advice. Chocolate covered Espresso beans can work like rocket fuel.

Clothing: You better have that figured out by now. I've found a Buff to be super handy and my Marmot Driclime windshirt is a super great layer. A really handy thing for sleeping anywhere is earplugs. Use the Buff as a sleep mask.

Lights: Again, something you should have already worked out. I don't care if you have the greatest, brightest generator hub/LED setup ever, carry something with batteries as well. When you're changing a flat on a dark road, trying to read a cue sheet or looking for a roadside sign, a helmet light is well worth the weight. A Petzl e-Lite weighs damn near nothing and a Princeton Tec EOS is bright enough to serve as a bike light. As always for night riding, bring all the required reflective stuff.

Emergency & First Aid stuff: Bandaids & the usual stuff. Bag Balm is awesome. Sunblock. A space blanket. MicroPur tablets.

The most important thing you carry: is what's in your head. Ideally you'll have stories and memories of folks going through tough times, fond thoughts of good times, bits of silly songs to get you through dark nights ("once upon a time there was a randonneur, rode his bicycle both far and near...")

It's a long strange trip. Good luck and Keep on truckin'.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Because I've ridden my bicycle on some longish trips over the years, I get asked sometimes about endurance. I think the most useful words I wrote on the subject are buried at the end of a ride report from a decade ago. I'm reprinting them here:


And the blessings were like poets that we never find time to know, 
But when time stopped I found the place where the poets go.
And they said, "Here have some coffee, it's straight, black and very old," 
And they gave me sticks and rocks and stars and all that I could hold..."

Dar Williams, "The Blessings"


In the days that followed I got to catch up on old times and talk with a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while. I ride into Duluth and see my old friend Denis Sauve at Twin Ports Cyclery. In college I'd raced on the Velo Duluth team and among other things, Denis was the first guy I ever saw who rode a fixed gear bike on the road. I'd checked the phone book and Twin Ports Cyclery was back where I'd remembered it being and when I roll Eddy in the door, Denis looks up from behind the counter and says simply "Haven't seen you in a while. Where have you been?" And I could say it was like I'd never left but that's not quite true. Since I've been gone Denis has gotten grayer and so have I. He had moved the shop to the busier downtown area for a few years but he moved it back to it's west Duluth roots when he'd realized that the increased downtown business wasn't really clearing much over the increased expenses. Denis always had that kind of good sense.

Twenty years ago I'd gotten a set of Blackburn adapters so I could fit a rack onto my racing bike for my trip out west. Before my trip east I'd had to create my own version of these adapters because I couldn't find any of my local bike shops. On a whim, I check the back wall of Denis's shop. Twenty years ago I'd bought the adapters and there were two other sets on the pegboard. Now I look and there are still two sets of adapters on the board. I buy the second set. In twenty years I may have to go back and buy that last set. I also buy some tubes. As Denis tallies up my total, he naturally gives me the club discount. I haven't been here for 20 years but he'd never think of not giving me the discount. I'm one of his riders after all.

My father retired from teaching a few years ago and his friend Bob is also retired. My dad is seventy-seven years old and Bob is sixty-seven. When Bob retired from teaching he bought a small sawmill and almost every day he and my dad go out to the mill and work the logs into lumber. It's hard work. My uncle Clarence and my boys and I went out to see the mill and it's amazing to watch Bob and my dad jockey the big logs into position and run the machinery through it's paces. But you can see it's work they love.

My mom and dad have been married for fifty years. When my mom was born, she had a defect in her heart, a hole between two of the chambers. The doctors told her parents she wouldn't live past the age of fifteen. Her parents didn't tell her this until she was twenty-five and by that time she figured she might as well keep going. She's outlived her doctors by quite a bit.

I think about all of these things when people say to me that my ride was something amazing, that it was some kind of feat of endurance. No, it was just a ride. It's what I do. Now keeping a business going for decades, or staying married for half a century or working a sawmill when you should be retired, that's a feat of endurance. Riding a fixed gear bicycle across half the country in eleven and a half days, that's just a bike ride. Don't ask me about endurance, I don't know that much about it. But I do know some people who do. I'm proud to call them my family and friends.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Bike Talk: How Can I Prevent Finger/Toe Numbness on Long Distance Rides?

Jim (@DCin24 on Twitter) asks:

How can I prevent finger/toe numbness on long rides?

Before I answer Jim's question, a disclaimer. I'm not a doctor and I haven't seen Jim on a bike. There is only so much that some random guy on the internet can do to help you out with bike comfort and fit issues. That said, I do have some experience in doing rides that people tell me count as "long rides" and I'm fit-certified by Trek. I hope Jim and any of you others reading this at least find what I write here worth the time you're going to spend reading it. As always, feel free to add any insight you might have as a comment to this blog.

Having a bike that's the right size matters and any good bike shop should be able to get you on a bike that is the right size. Fit, however, deals with all the aspects of how you as a person interface with the bicycle and getting a good fit requires a lot of attention to human factors such a skeletal dimensions, musculature, flexibility, injury history and so forth. A full, professional fit with a good bike fitter may seem expensive, but many people find it to be time and money well spent. So my first advice is find a good, local fit person. Ask around, a person good at fitting will have a good reputation and happy clients.

But not everybody has a good local fit person and there are some good resources on the internet.  Peter White wrote a pretty good, no BS article on bike fit here:

The reason I'm talking so much about fit instead of diving right into Jim's specific question is that the problems he's asking about concern two of the three contact points on a bike, the hands and the feet. You contact the bike in three spots, your butt, your feet and your hands. You can think of those spots as vertices of a triangle. Often the pain or numbness that manifests on one vertex of the triangle is best addressed by adjusting the dimensions or orientation of the triangle. For example, a change in saddle fore/aft position can have quite an effect on how much pressure is on your hands. Raising or lowering your handlebars or changing your stem length can also have profound effects. When I did the final dial in of my Redline Flight for the Tour Divide, I changed both the stem length and the saddle position.

Now experience has taught me to be cautious of absolutes so I am wary of formulas or mechanisms that say this is the "best" spot for your feet to be on the pedals, and this is the "ideal" saddle height and here is the "exact" reach you should have to your handle bars. Do you want to make sure you're uncomfortable? Lock yourself into one position. Want to be more comfortable? Be willing and able to change things if you need to.

A couple of stories to illustrate my point. Michael Sylvester, one of the fellows who trained me in fitting, tells of a honeymoon tandem tour he took with his wife. She wound up having foot pain (or maybe it was knee pain) with her clipless pedals. Michael's fix? Flat pedals. Was his wife's foot in the "optimal" position for pedaling? Probably not. Was her pain problem solved? Yes it was.

Or take the famous stories of Eddy Merckx fiddling with his saddle height mid-race. A lot of folks take this as a "he's so in tune with his machine, he can tell when the mechanic got a dimension wrong" but I think that's the wrong take away. On any given day, Merckx was willing to tweak his position. Merckx was in tune with his body and what it needed.

I'm a big fan of Ergon grips, flat pedals and saddles and clothing with smooth seams. All these items allow me as a rider to avoid continual pressure on a single point of contact. I can slide around on my saddle, my grips have broad, flat surfaces with a several good places to grip. My feet are not locked into a single spot on the pedal and my knees and feet like it that way. Your mileage may vary. Many, many people ride many, many happy miles with their feet clipped into pedals. I'm just not one of those people these days.

I hope some of this helps.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA