Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wool: It's What's For Winter

It was 25 degrees here in the Fahrenheit-loving town of Issaquah yesterday morning (that's -4 for you Celsius people) and while that isn't cold by Minnesota standards, it's cold enough to make a cyclist appreciate things like tires with good traction, hot coffee and warm clothes. Especially warm clothes.

Despite all the developments in clever technical fabrics, wool is still a key material in my wardrobe. Even in warm weather, my favorite jerseys are short-sleeve merino wool but in the winter time I'm usually wearing a long sleeve merino wool base layer with a heavier wool jersey or a thrift-store wool sweater on top of that. The wool isn't really windproof but a thin nylon wind or rain jacket layered over the wool keeps me cozy in a wide range of conditions.

Wool layers are also key to comfortable feet and hands. When I buy shoes I always get a size that can handle a double layer of socks. I've found that two thin wool socks or a thin sock and a thicker one are more comfortable than a single sock. I don't get blisters with the double sock system and on long rides I can swap the inner and the outer socks on the long stretches between laundry stops.

My long-fingered gloves are always wool, either Swiss military surplus wool glove liners or an old pair of Swobo gloves. Depending on conditions I may layer these with conventional padded cycling gloves, nylon over-mitts or GloGlov reflective gloves. Wool is warm even when wet and if my gloves do get soaked, I can quickly wring them out and continue on. Every heavier, integrated glove I've tried eventually soaks with water, becomes cold and then takes forever to dry.

Some wool proponents will tell you that it doesn't stink. In my experience, this isn't quite true. Some synthetic fabrics seem to harbor bacteria and develop an over-powering toxic stench and while it's true that wool doesn't exhibit this noxious property, it's not 100% odor free. The scent of damp wool is distinctive and earthy, what my wife calls the "wet sheep smell." It's not a bad smell and Christine hasn't kicked me out of the house yet. In fact, when I return from my long rides I'll often find that she's taken one of my wool jerseys out of the laundry and settled it next to her on my side of the bed. "I sleep better that way," she explains, "It's cozy."

Wool is cozy. Like hot coffee or a warm bowl of soup, wool is comfort against the cold.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Quitting is Easy

If you read through the results from randonneuring or other long distance cycling events, you will sometimes see the letters DNF listed next to a name instead of a finishing time. DNF stands for Did Not Finish. Patrick Gray is collecting DNF stories for an article he's writing for the SIR newsletter and most randonneurs have at least one DNF story. I've never actually quit a randonneuring event, but I did quit one cycling event once, Redmond Cycling Club's S2S.

S2S is a bicycle race, a time trial from Seattle to Spokane along Highway 2. The distance is 284 miles and each year in late June or early July a few people meet up in the early morning hours and race into the darkness from Seattle, out past the farms near Snohomish and Monroe, up into the Cascade mountains, heading toward the rising sun, climbing up and over the 4061' Stevens Pass, down through the rumbling confines of the Tumwater Canyon, through the faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, into the blasting heat and wind of the Wenatchee River Valley and then down into the Columbia Gorge. Here the road turns north and the cyclists follow, cutting east again, up at the hot and steep Orondo Grade. Most pause at the oasis of a town called Waterville before heading out into the relentlessly rolling dry farmland and into the desolation that is the Moses Coulee, Sulfur Canyon and the Grand Coulee. Coulee City is another place to pause before hammering home the final 92 miles. This is a race that few enter and fewer finish. It is not the kind of race you should enter for the wrong reason. It's the kind of race where you race against the course, the conditions and the clock. It's the kind of race that even if you race it for a stupid reason, you will be sure to learn something.

Back in 2000 a fellow named Kent Peterson raced S2S on a fixed gear and established a fixed gear course record. Such a thing is easy to do when no one else has thought to do such a thing. In 2003, I got the stupid idea in my head that I could beat Kent Peterson, at least I could beat the 2000 version of Kent Peterson. After all, I reasoned, I'm now a few years more experienced. By definition anything he could do, I could do.

The race starts in the wee hours of the morning and among my fellow riders I see my friend Will Roberts. Will is British, so riding fixed to him comes as naturally as dining on eels and mash. This is good, I'll not just be competing against myself, Will is here to make it interesting.

It's a cool morning and we spin into the darkness. In fact it's really too cool of a morning. For some reason, I'm just not hitting my stride. Normally, I settle quickly into a rhythm, not fast or slow but just something that seems right. The mechanical actions of riding just drop away and it's all an automatic thing, like breathing. Rain, cold, heat, hills or whatever are just part of the ride. I'm aware of all these things, but they don't bother me. Today, for some reason, isn't like that.

First, I'm too cold. Then I think I'm too slow. Then I'm pushing too hard. The climb up Steven's Pass feels steeper than it should. Maybe one of my brakes is dragging? I stop and check. My brakes are not dragging. Maybe one of my tires is low? It isn't. I remount my bike and climb up the pass.

Some of the ride is better. The descent through the Tumwater canyon is always beautiful. It's warm on the east side of the mountains but things soon move from warm to hot. Somehow the climb up Orondo Grade is easier than I'd remembered it and when I reach Waterville I'm not really too far off schedule. But something is seriously wrong.

I have a mechanism in my brain that works like an internal jukebox. While some would say I wasted too much of my youth listening to rock and roll and blues, I'd say that I was conditioning my brain. And the singer Meatloaf has noted that "a wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age." I don't need an iPod, I've got an iBrain filled with decades of songs and when I feel like I'm starting to drag, I can call up something with the right rhythm to keep those pedals turning and the bike rolling on down the road.

As I roll out of Waterville, I mentally punch up some Springsteen. The Boss has never let me down and this is the time for a little "Born to Run" or maybe "No Retreat, No Surrender". But that's not what comes up on the play list. Oh no. Here, on a hot road in eastern Washington I hear the mournful strum of a guitar and these haunting words -- "I ain't nothin' but tired, I'm just tired and bored with myself..."

Damn! I try to force my mental play list forward but the malfunction is serious. Upbeat songs won't play and what does come up is all small repeating fragments of depression. Tom Petty opines that "it just seems so useless to have to work so hard and nothing ever seems to come from it."

The sun is beating down as I climb out of Sulfur Canyon. It's easily 100 degrees now and for some reason America has stopped by on a Horse with No Name to tell me that "the heat is hot." Thanks a lot guys, I think I could've figured that out on my own.

As I roll into Coulee City I convince myself that I should quit. Will is somewhere out ahead and my younger self is out there as well. It's very hot. I've convinced myself I'm burning up in the sun. More importantly, this thought is rolling through my head: I've never quit. I always say I'm out here to experience new things. Well, this is a race I've done before, but I've never quit one before. I should quit. I feel like hell and it's stupid to be out here. I'm tired of being that guys who people look at and say "yeah, he's crazy. He never stops..."

Well, I ain't nothin' but tired, I'm just tired and bored with myself...

I'm hoping to find some way to quit in Coulee City but there really isn't anything there. I stop at a park and refill my water bottles and down the road I stop at a gas station and buy a Snickers ice cream bar. The cold ice cream doesn't really do much to revive my spirit but as I eye the pay phone I realize I don't even know who I'd call. My internal iPod kicks out a line of poetry "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun" Will is the Englishman, so I know what that makes me. I guess I'll have to ride this damn thing in.

A few miles east of Coulee City my pal Duane drives by in a jeep. Duane is the closest thing S2S has to a race director and today he's been riding his bike for a bit in the Waterville area and also driving along the course to check on riders. He waves as he goes by and I wave back.

If he'd driven on, I really think I would've ridden on. I was not feeling better but I was feeling more resigned to my stupidity. But Duane pulls the jeep over to the side of the road and as I roll up beside him he asks "are you OK?"

I look at him with a look that makes it certain that he won't question me on this and I reply "I'm OK now, 'cause I'm done."

Duane's bike is on the rear rack of the jeep and we load my bike next to it. It isn't dramatic or emotional or really anything at all. It is just over and that's what it needs to be right now.

As we drive down the hot road toward Spokane, Duane fills me in on the other riders. More are behind me than I'd thought but the fast folks are up ahead. We pass some of them as we head to Spokane but the really fast people are already done. We yell out encouraging things to those still doing battle with the road.

We don't see Will on the road and I figure this means that he'd set the new record. But when I see him at the motel, he tells me the story.

"Too bloody hot! My legs were cramping and I just couldn't spin those damn pedals anymore. I flagged down some guys in a truck and they took me here."

We tell ourselves that we did the right thing and at this moment, we still believe it. And I think I really did have to quit to learn this one very simple thing.

Quitting is easy. It's incredibly easy. If you are honest with yourself, you'll see that yes, you feel like hell. Yes, it's really hot and yes, this is really stupid. Whover said failure is not an option was a liar. Failure is always an option and it's often an attactive option.

It's the next day and the next and all the days after that when the second part of the truth sets in. The part that I was really out there to learn.

Quitting is easy, but being a quitter is hard.

I could have kept going. I should have kept going. I could still turn those pedals even when the song in my head was telling me that the heat was hot and that I was nothing but tired. I could have lied and said I was fine when Duane asked if I was OK.

Of course, I wasn't OK. But I should have gone on, not to win but to finish. That would have been a victory. But I was beaten because I forgot who I was. I raced against myself but I didn't measure up. I told myself that I was being honest and being smart. The truth of the matter, the truth I needed to learn, was that I don't race against people. I'm not who I am because I win, I'm who I am because I ride. And when I stop riding, that is when I'm not being my honest self. My honest self would lie even when I know I'm lying, say I'm OK when I know I'm not and then ride down the road to the only place that can turn the lie of the moment into the truth it has to be in the end.

It's hard to lie when the truth of the moment is as hard and real as a Jeep idling on the side of a sun-baked road. It's a hard thing to do but it's not as hard as being a quitter.

I gave the easy answer of the moment and it felt fine at the time. But as each hour passes I feel worse and worse. I replay the day over and over and I feel worse and worse. I might have been tired of being Kent Peterson, but dammit, I am Kent Peterson.

Will and I both learned our hard lessons and it didn't take us long to get back on our bikes. Six weeks later I raced and won the first (and so far only) Raid Californie-Oregon. In 2004, Will came back to S2S and established the current fixed gear record of 19 hours 22 minutes, eclipsing my old record by 33 minutes.

We all encounter failures and setbacks as we travel our various paths. With luck and persistence those dark moments can be converted into the fuel to keep us going, riding through the darkness to a bright place just a bit further down the road.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cute Kid, Bad Disease, Good Cause

Michael "Mojo" Cosgrove's daughter Dakota has a rare condition called Langerhan’s Cell Histiocytosis. To help raise research money for the Histiocytosis Association of America and to raise awareness of the disease in general, Michael has organized a ride called The Big Fix. If all goes according to plan, about 30 riders will ride fixed gear bikes from Davis, California to Boston, Massachusetts, 3340 miles in 28 days.

Even though I pretty much share Sheldon Brown's view on charity rides, I wish I could ride with these folks. It is a bad disease and a good cause. And it really is my kind of ride. But 2006 will see me spending more of my time focusing on developing bike commuter programs in the Seattle area and spending more time with my family. I can't work in a big ride into my schedule this summer.

But I am supporting them as a virtual rider. I'll be riding at least 3340 fixed gear miles in 2006. Actually, the safe bet is that I'll be doing double or triple that number of miles. My new commute is 18 miles each way and I do have some other rides closer to home planned for 2006. I'll keep track of my fixed miles and periodically post mileage updates here.

Even though pledging money for every mile I ride fixed is kind of like paying me to drink cappuccinos (I really like riding fixed and drinking cappuccinos!) I'm hitting you up for pledges anyway. If you think it's worthwhile to pledge a penny a mile and I ride 6,000 miles that's sixty bucks going to a good cause. My friend Nat is fond of quoting Ghandi, "be the change you want to see in the world." One mile, one penny, one rider at a time we are changing the world.

Thanks for anything you can do. My pledge site is at:


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Crafty Recycling

My collegue Cindy made a bunch of these funky bracelets from old chain plates, aluminum spoke nipples and brake cable. The clever thing is that the chain plates curve the cable around so the bracelet hugs your wrist without the need of any kind of clasp. And, since I share Peter Jon White's opinion that "aluminum nipples are junk", I find this to be a very good use for those shiny colored aluminum spoke nipples. Right now the only place you can get Cindy's bracelets is Sammamish Valley Cycle in Redmond WA and they will probably sell out by Christmas.

Another source of recyled cycling-related items is Resource Revival. While Resource Revival is hardly a huge company, they are a bit bigger than Cindy's one woman show and they have all kinds of things including picture frames, bottle openers, candle holders and even tables all made from bicycle components.

It Doesn't Always Rain

Sometimes in November, after the morning fog burns off, the air is crisp and the sun is warm and the colors are sharp.Crossing over Mercer Island on my way back to Issaquah from Seattle, I just had to stop and take a picture. Of couse, if it was like this all the time then everybody would live here and it really wouldn't be like this. I can't really complain about the rain, but the rare days of November sun are something to be savored, celebrated and remembered.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Thing About Fixed Gears

Fixed gear bicycles have been around for years but recently they've become more popular, so some folks think of them as something new and hip. Now my kids will tell you that I've never been hip but I was riding fixies back before they were cool and I'll probably still be spinning around the streets on a fixie even when hoverboards or Jetson fold-into-a-briefcase cars become the next big thing.

Sheldon Brown has written and collected a whole bunch of info on fixed gear bikes and if you are at all interested in the subject, you should head on over to his fixed gear page.

A lot of fixed enthusiasts go all Zen and mystical when they try to explain what makes riding a fixed gear different. There certainly is a oneness that is explained better by one ride than ten thousand words and like a Zen Koan words can sometimes point the way. But remember as you read my words or Sheldon's, that a pointing finger is not the moon. Find a fixed gear bike and ride one. As Mark Twain said "You will not regret it, if you live."

Here is the main thing about a fixed gear bike: It Doesn't Coast. Yeah, you only have one gear but the big thing is that the bike does not coast. It only goes when you pedal. That makes it very different and it actually makes it very fun.

A fixed gear bike is a creature of momentum. Once in motion, it wants to stay in motion. On a coasting bike your legs bring things up to speed but if your legs can't keep up, no problem. You coast or shift up to a higher gear. On a fixie, you have to keep up and there is no higher gear. What gear you have is what you use.

On a coasting bike, you slow with your brakes. On a fixie, you can slow by pedaling slower. Some young, strong and idealistic riders ride fixies with no brakes other than the fixed wheel and slow only with the strength of their legs. Most folks with a respect for physics and a desire to live opt for at least a front brake. Old, un-cool people like me have both front and rear brakes on their machines. With brakes and a fixed wheel, you can stop a fixed gear bike as fast as anything with multiple gears.

This non-coasting thing is all the differerence. You have to be strong on the climbs and you must spin quickly on the descents. There is no other choice, there is no other way. Well, there is the way of coasting, the way of multiple gears, but that is not the fixed way. You do not try a fixed gear. You ride or ride not. There is no try. If Yoda rode a bicycle, I am sure he would ride a fixed gear.

It is easy to see the lack of the ability to coast and shift gears as burden but riding reveals a more liberating truth. Fixed gear bikes pedal themselves through the dead spot in your pedal stroke. Climbing hills is easier than you thought it would be.

Fixed descents are more frightening than any climb but fear is only a signpost quickly glimpsed and passed as you spin faster than you ever knew you could spin.The bike is less than you thought you needed and you become more than you knew you could be.

Your bike will remind you of the limits of man and machine but by clearly marking out those limits, you will learn where you can push. You will become stronger on the climbs, faster on the descents. Your machine is simple and silent, your legs become strong and fast.

Fixed gear riding is not for everyone. Multiple gears and coasting are things that many people find useful and fun. But a simple, silent bike that only goes when you pedal may be ride of your life.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Cat Eye EL-210 Headlight

Bicycle headlights serve two functions: they help you see where you are going and they help other people see you. That second function, what I call the "be seen" function, is very important but often the manufacturers, consumers and marketeers of bike lights focus all their attention into placing the brightest possible beam the farthest distance down the road or trail. If you are looking for a light that will let you confidently descend a mountain pass at 30 miles per hour at midnight or navigate your favorite section of twisty, rooty singletrack at two AM on a moonless night, the Cat Eye EL-210 is really not the light for you.

The EL-210 is a very nice "be seen" light. The EL-210, like all the lights in Cat Eye's EL line of products, use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of traditional light bulbs. The LEDs in the EL-210 should never burn out and cast a white beam with a slight bluish tint, somewhat reminiscent of bright moonlight. Rather than placing a tight beam far down the road, the EL-210 channels the light from it's five LEDs into a broad puddle of light. Those five LEDs are driven by four AA batteries and Cat Eye claims that a set of alkaline batteries will drive the light for 200 hours in flashing mode and 100 hours in constant mode. The flashing mode is a pretty high frequency flash (at least several times per second) and it's very attention grabbing.

Unlike some of Cat Eye's other lights, the EL-210 ships with a set of batteries in the box so you could buy the light, strap it to your bike and ride right home. The light mount is a quick-release clamp that installs quickly without tools. I've had some past problems with the heavier Cat Eye lights vibrating loose from their clamps, so I advise wrapping a rubber band around the light and clamp just to make things a bit more secure.

I prefer to use rechargeable Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries instead of alkalines in my lights and the NiMH batteries work fine in the EL-210. Even if Cat Eye's battery life estimates are optimistic, I should be able to run the EL-210 for several weeks worth of dark commutes between battery charges.

I've commuted the past couple of nights with an EL-210 on my handlebars. The wide beam is quite nice for much of my familar urban commute and it actually works better than I expected on the dark sections along the Sammamish River Trail. However, I think most riders would want to use the EL-210 in conjunction with a more powerful light for fast riding.

The EL-210 does not have the impressive weather-proof seals found on some Cat Eye lights like the EL-500 and the EL-400 but so far I have not had any problems with water getting into the light.I would caution riders not to mount this light upside-down however as that would probably cause water to seep in and collect in the light. The better sealed lights don't have this limitation.

At about $30, the EL-210 does what it's supposed to do. It's compact, very eye-catching and has great battery life. It's a pretty good light for casual use and it would be a good companion light when paired with another more powerful head or helmet light.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Bicycle Commuting is my Job

I haven't owned a car since 1987 and I bicycle everywhere. Typically when I go to things like job interviews, I'll change out of my biking duds. Like a super hero, I've become a master of the bathroom quick change. A quick cleanup with a baby wipe, a trade of my wool jersey for a button-down shirt, Travelsmith pants over my shorts and bike commuter man looks like mild mannered corporate man.

A few years ago I decided that John Fogerty isn't just a good song writer, he's a pretty decent career counsellor. So I left a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day. And I wound up working as a bike mechanic at Sammamish Valley Cycle. It's a great job at a great place working with great people.

While I have some talent with a wrench, I also really like is riding and writing about people I've met and things I've learned on various roads and trails. Over the years I've had many people tell me that my bike stories have inspired them to get out and ride. I guess my love of bikes and riding comes through in those stories and I get a lot of satisfaction in helping other people find their own joy in riding.

Which brings me to my new job. Starting in December, I'll be working as the Commuting Program Director for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. As I said, Sammamish Cycle is a great place to work, but working at the Bicycle Alliance is going to let me do even more of what I love. I'll be matching up new bike commuters with experienced bike buddies. I'll be mapping out commute routes for people. I'll be working with King County Metro to help people with multi-modal commutes involving bikes and bike lockers and buses. I'll be working with local companies to help them help their employees bike to work. It's another great job with more great people.

The job interview with Bicycle Alliance wasn't your typical interview. My friend Linda Schwartz told me that I wouldn't need to do the super-hero costume change and that I could just roll my bike straight into Bicycle Alliance Headquarters. When Barbara Culp, Bicycle Alliance Executive Director, saw my bike she said "Wow, nice fenders." And then Barbara and Linda proceded to tell me about the job and why they thought I'd be perfect for it. The more we talked, the more we agreed.

As I rode up Capitol Hill and past Seattle University, I saw a bike commuter towing a trailer. In the trailer was a cello. Now a lot of folks might see something like that and think "how odd!" Others might look at it and think "how cool!" I looked at that and thought "there's Brad." I caught up with Brad at the next light and filled him in on my new job. Brad is a musician and music teacher. He's one of my buddies and he's a cycling role model.

Bicyle commuting is my job. In my new job, I'll have a somewhat longer commute. Since I commute by bicycle and I love bicycling, that longer commute is a plus. Another big plus will be the chance to pair folks like Brad up with folks who want to be like Brad.

This will be another interesting ride on another interesting road. I'm looking forward to the trip.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Power Grips

I've ridden many thousands of miles on Power Grips and I find them to be a terrific way to keep my feet on the pedals. But a lot of "serious" cyclists find my pedal choice to be rather odd, so I wind up having the same discussion many times over. This past summer I had this very discussion with Alan Tilling, one of my fellow racers on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. Here is the scene, an excerpt from my forthcoming book The Way of the Mountain Turtle.


June 21st, 2005

The skies are looking nasty when we roll up to the Grasshopper Inn at 7:40 PM. Over dinner, we talk about the ride, equipment, life, and choices. Alan is intrigued that I prefer Power Grips to clipless pedals. It’s a discussion I’ve had with various folks over the years, so my well-rehearsed side of the conversation goes something like this:

You have three places where you interface with the bike: your hands, your butt, and your feet.

Now let’s say you’re going to do something crazy, like ride your bike in the mountains for 2,500 miles, trying to ride at least 100 miles per day. Somebody comes to you and says, “Hey, we’ve got this handlebar system. You clip your hands into this one place and that’s the only place they can be. But science is telling us that this is the best place for your hands.”

You’d probably say, “No thanks.”

And let’s say they have a saddle with his little clip. The clip will lock your butt on the saddle and science says that it’s the best possible place for your butt to be.

You’d probably say, “No thanks.”

Now let’s say they have these pedals . . .

I don’t convince Alan but I didn’t expect that I would. Clipless aficionados like to talk about float, but rotational freedom is only one dimension. One of the things I like with Power Grips is that I can also move my foot in the fore and aft plane as well as rotationally, but the bottom line is that they just work well for me.


By the way, while I was telling Alan this, he was sitting with a large bag of ice on his knees. And when we'd stop to rest, he would scarf down ibuprofin in much the same way that I would swallow M&Ms. Alan is a very tough rider, but he wound up abandoning the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race when various pains and numbness got to be too much for him. I didn't win the race, but I did finish it in a time of 22 days, 3 hours and 9 minutes. And while I did get very, very tired, I didn't take any ibuprofin or other pain medications. I'm not tough, but I do know what works for me. Power Grips are one of those things that work.

And in case you are wondering, Power Grips did sponsor me on the Divide Race by giving me a new set of their grips. But over the years I've bought at least half a dozen pairs with my own hard earned money.

Recycled Mud Flap

One problem with most commercial fenders is that they don't extend down far enough to block all the water getting kicked up by the tires. Of course, if the rigid fender extends too far down, it can catch on things or interfere with loading the bike onto some car roof racks. So a good solution is a flexible mud flap. Here in the Seattle area you'll see many creative mud flap solutions including plastic cut from milk jugs or water bottles, hunks of coroplast or leather, sections of rubber stair tread and all kinds of other creative solutions.

A section of an old bike tire can make a very effective mudflap. The tire beads can be cut and removed with tin snips or some stout scissors. Zip ties running through a couple of small holes drilled in the fender hold the flap in place and the rubber is stiff enough to hold its shape and channel the water away from you and your riding companions.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Motivational Max

My pal Max is tough, cheerful and persuasive.She can take the idea of climbing up and down Seattle's Capitol Hill steps and make it sound like fun. She calls it Panoramic Cross Training, promising lovely views of Lake Union. She says her rando pals can ride to the start and ride home to get more of a workout. Some of us who aren't too bright fall for this.

Even when it's raining in Issaquah.

Even when it's drizzling in Seattle.

Even when it's way too early on a Sunday.

It's about 20 miles from my warm little apartment to the big cold steps of Capitol Hill. I'm fifteen minutes early (no flat tires enroute) but Max is already there. Max is smiling and happy. I don't think I've ever seen Max not smiling and happy when she's outside. Even when it's raining. Even when it's way too early on a Sunday.

Soon Max's brother shows up and then more of Max's friends. Six of us go up and down the stairs. Some go fast, some go slow. Some go up and down six times, some go less. When we all know that we have climbed enough stairs, we go to a warm and dry espresso shop and have coffee and donuts. Max insists on paying since she is the one who dragged us out this morning.

She didn't drag us. She said it would be fun.

She was right.

Even when it's raining.

Even when it's way too early on a Sunday morning.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

There's a Darkness on the Edge of Town

On last night's commute I heard a "thwop" sound and the streetlight above me went dark. The wind was blowing strong from the south and I was riding south toward Issaquah along the East Lake Sammamish Parkway. As I rode onward, it looked like the blackout pretty much encompassed the city of Sammamish but lights shining across the lake reasured me that this wasn't anything wide reaching, like the change postulated in S. M. Stirling's grimly intriguing novel, Dies the Fire.

As I rode into the wind, watching candles flicker to life in the windows of multi-million dollar lake-front homes, I thought about the change, not the apocalyptic quantum change of Stirling's speculation, but the certain change -- the end of cheap oil.

Notice that I didn't say the end of oil, I said the end of cheap oil. People can debate the level of oil reserves, play games with numbers, speculate about all kinds of scenarios but there is only so much oil under the ground.

We've built our world around cheap oil and that cheap oil is going away. And that will be a big change.

Even if you are a hemp-wearing, tipi-living, organic-gardening Bhodisattva living in Shangri-La, the end of cheap oil is going to have a big impact on you. At the very least you'll have a lot of your neighbors suddenly very interested in how you live!

As I rode into Issaquah, I rolled along new pavement shining under the full-powered glow of the McDonalds and Krispy Kreme signs. Cheap oil made that smooth pavement. Cheap oil fertilized the crops that became the food-like substances sold by McDonalds and Krispy Kreme. Cheap oil brings bikes to your bike shop and food to your market. Cheap oil made the case for the laptop I'm typing this on and placed the fiber optic cables that connect this internet of ours.

I don't claim to have a solution and I don't even claim to have any good advise. But there's a darkness on the edge of town and this isn't the time to be smug or point fingers or say "I told you this was coming." It is good to know where your candles and matches are and to think about where they come from.

We live in interesting times. Over the next few years, it will probably get more interesting.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Too Lazy For Gears

Henry David Thoreau advised people to "Simplify, simplify, simplify." About a century later Bob Newhart observed that it would have been simpler if he'd said it only once. Both men made their points. While Thoreau used rhetorically rhythmic repetition, Newhart's dry and droll delivery carried the thought to the logically simple conclusion.

I have friends who are very elegant in their simplicity and they can express simplicity in beautifully simple ways. A Matt Chester frame is a wonderfully useful bit of rideable art. So is a Kogswell Model G.

My bikes also tend toward simplicity but they wind up looking and working the way they do more from a kind of scruffy kind of simple-mindedness than the elegant expression of an ideal. And that seems right to me. I know some people look at my bikes and cringe, but I look at them and smile. My bikes evolve and it's OK if they wind up looking like the punchline to a joke.

Earlier this week I met up with my pals Dusty and Brad at Recycled Cycles in Seattle. Dusty needed a bar-end shifters for a bike his brother is building up and I had a set in my parts pile. And it's always good to find an excuse for a bike ride and to see what we find at Recycled Cycles.

At the shop I found a lightly used single speed chain tensioner. This would let me make Al, my latest adopted bike, into more my kind of ride. A while back I'd removed Al's front derailler and replaced the triple crankset with an old DuraAce double crank. I'd replaced the outer ring on the crank with a chain guard and kept the 42 tooth inner ring. I figured seven gears would be plenty.

But I hadn't shifted Al in weeks. So why in the world was I hauling around that shifter and cable and rear derailler?

So Dustin and I settled on a price. Dustin got a set of old bar-end shifters for $15 and I got to make Al a little simpler. After we left Recycled Cycles, we stopped off at Ti Cycles to chat with my pals Fabien and Brian. When I showed off my new tensioner and told them of my plans Brian had to ask the question "why do you hate the gears?" I tried to explain my logic, how I really found myself not using mutliple gears and hauling around the excess bothered me. "Ah," Fabien said, "I get it. You're too lazy for gears!"


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bogart, Bicycles, Three Drinks and Flat Tires

Back before there was Google there was a reporter who worked for the Chicago Sun-Times named Sydney J. Harris who frequently did columns of "things learned enroute to looking up other things".

Google often reminds me of Harris, pulling up interesting tidbits when I'm looking for something else. In the archives of "Modern Drunkard Magazine" I found this little story about Humphrey Bogart:


After another especially heavy night of drinking he showed up on the set in his pajamas and refused to work. Instead he rode around the lot on a bicycle shouting, "Look, no hands, no hands!" Finally studio head Jack Warner himself had to come out and speak to him.

"Bogie, what the hell are you doing?"
"Riding my bicycle."
"It’s time to go to work."
"I don’t feel like working."
"You don’t, huh?"
"That’s right, I don’t."
"Well," Warner said, "there’s a lot of people in there who feel like working and they get paychecks that are less than what you spend on scotch."

Ever sensitive to the plight of the working man, Bogart sheepishly got off his bike and went to work.


You can read the full text of the article at:


In addition to leading me to a Bogie and bike story of which I'd been unaware, Google did deliver up that which I'd originally been seeking: the exact phrasing of Bogart's "three drinks behind" observation.

"The whole world is three drinks behind," Humphrey Bogart proclaimed in 1950. "If everyone in the world would take three drinks, we would have no trouble. If Stalin, Truman and everybody else in the world had three drinks right now, we’d all loosen up and we wouldn’t need the United Nations."

I'd been thinking about this, not because I share Bogart's view on drink, but because I share his view on time.

It's very easy to get caught up in thinking that if you aren't busy or rushing that you are wasting time. In my experience, the only real way to waste time is to spend it doing something you don't enjoy. We all have those things in our lives that waste our time, the things we don't enjoy but must do anyway. But if you can take some time away from the rigidly scheduled, packed from dawn-to-dusk go-go life, you might want to look at what you like and what you don't. If you like rushing and the thrill of the chase, great. You're living your dream. But if you want to slow down, there's no shame in that. And I don't think you'll lose time. As near as I can tell, you'll still get 24 hours given to you each day. Just like the rest of us.

Years ago I figured out that I don't like driving. And I really don't like sitting in traffic. In 1987, I stopped driving and I stopped sitting in traffic. I go places on my bicycle. I like doing that. Sometimes it takes longer and sometimes it really doesn't. And even when it's raining or dark or cold, I really do like it. I like being a cyclist. I never really liked being a driver.

When I started biking everywhere, I became more punctual. This is a side effect of what I call my "flat tire buffer." Even though I run pretty stout tires on my bikes, I know that punctures are always a possibility so I add fifteen minutes to my time estimates. Since most days I don't have flats, I arrive with time to relax. Maybe I read a book. Maybe I jot some notes. Maybe I watch a squirrel watch me from a tree. Maybe I just watch other people rush by.

Perhaps the world is three drinks behind. Or perhaps its' schedule is fifteen minutes too tight. Thanks to imperfect tires, I've found that I have the time to think about things like that.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Some of those motorcycle guys have pretty cool t-shirts

One of my favorite catalogs is put out by the guys at Aerostich. These guys are motorcyclists, not bicyclists but they've got a real love for riding and their catalog is both funny and literate. And a lot of the motorcycle stuff does work in a bicycle context. They've got compact tents, nifty bags, clever tools and a lot of neat t-shirts. Go to:


and poke around but have them send you a copy of their print catalog. It really has some cool stuff.

And no, I don't get any kickbacks from these guys or have any connection with them other than the fact that they are based out of Duluth, Minnesota and that is the part of the world where I grew up.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Way the World Works (or The Duct Tape Story)

A lot of my riding buddies have already heard this story but I figure I might as well jot it down in the blog. This really happened. It's the story I tell when I'm asked big questions like "what is the meaning of life?" I answer that I don't know what the meaning of life is, but I do know how the world works. And then I tell this story:


Somewhere in Wyoming, 1982.

I'd finished college the week before and having a degree in Philosophy and no real plans, I decided to ride my bicycle from Minnesota to California. Before I left my friend Carl asked where I was heading and I simply replied "West."

"West," Carl sagely noted "is a big place."

On this day West is a very big place. Almost all automobile traffic crossing Wyoming is on the Interstate highways but I am sticking to the smaller roads. I've been keeping track and on this particular day and I've seen more pronghorn antelope than people. Hours pass before I see a car or a pickup truck speed by and I watch each vehicle until it shrinks into the tiny horizon that joins this broad landscape with a wide and infinitely blue sky.

I've been having a series of flat tires this day and the frequency of flats has quickly become a cause for concern. I've used all my spare tubes and am rapidly using up my patches. My map tells me that it is many, many miles to the next town and my only hope of finding a store where I can buy more patches.

I am on an unremarkable section of road when I have my final flat tire. It has to be my final flat, because I am down to my final patch. I pull the bike over, remove the wheel and stare dumbly at the tire. The punctures have been mysterious, with no obvious holes in the the tire or telltale thorns. Looking carefully, I realize that the problem isn't the outside of the tire, it's the rim of the wheel. With the heat and the miles, my cheap rim strips have worked their way into the spoke holes and the sharp edges of the holes are cutting through the tubes. What I need is something to work as a rim strip but I have nothing with me that will do.

I have no good explanation for what happens next. I am miles from the nearest town on a random piece of road with my last tire patch in place on my tube. There was no reason that anyone would have ever stopped on this chunk of road at any time since it's original construction and I would never have stopped here if it wasn't for this flat tire. But as I ponder my predicament I look down at shoulder of the the road and I see a roll of duct tape.

Duct tape.

It is not a full roll but it doesn't need to be. It has no reason to be here but it is here. I pick up the roll.

It is not a full roll but there still is tape on the roll and it's enough tape. I split the tape lengthwise down the center and make two rim strips, one for each wheel. I carefully install my makeshift rim strips in each wheel, replace the tubes and then ride the many miles to the next town where I purchase a new patch kit.

For the rest of this ride and for many rides since, I've tried to understand what happened there on the Wyoming prairie. The logical explanation goes something like this. At some time, someone must have had a breakdown or some other reason for stopping at the spot in the road. After making their repair they forget the roll of duct tape. Sometime later I come along, coincidentally breaking down at the same spot. I find the tape and use it to work myself out of a jam. This scenario makes a kind of sense. It could happen. I lived it, I know it did happen. But I also know a mathematician would assign very slim odds to this very thing happening.

But it happened. My Christian mother would say the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Taoists would say I found the tape because I was on the proper path. And Mick Jagger would say that if you try sometime, you just might find that you get what you need.

I don't know who is right. But I do know that this is how the world works. I have no idea why the world works this way or why it is a bad idea to count on the world working this way. Buy I do know, as certainly as I know anything, that the world works this way.

I plan. I prepare. I travel with tools. But I can not have everything. I can not prepare perfectly. I am never really ready when it is time to go, but I go anyway. I don't know what I'll find on the next road or what will find me. I can live with that uncertainty because I hold this certainty: I'll get what I need.

It will be enough to keep me moving down the road.

But I still travel with tools.

And these days I use Velox rim tape.

It's Election and Fender Season

Tomorrow is election day around here and once again I'll mostly be voting against things: simplistic solutions that wont work, people whose greed is so blatant they can't even mask it for the course of one election cycle and things like that. Of course, there are some causes and people I find that are worth voting for and I'll be supporting those as best I can.

I'm really not a political guy but there is one fringe benefit of politics that I turn to my advantage: coroplast campaign signs. Here in the damp pacific northwest you see these things everywhere this time of year. After the election, candidates are supposed to harvest the old signs in a timely manner, but some always get missed. Those are the ones that I harvest for various projects. They make really great fenders (or mudguards as they say in much of the rest of the world). Ironically a lot of the candidates whose causes and positions I support tend to favor the more eco-friendly paper signs (green party signs make lousy fenders!) but those GOP guys have no problem using lots of oil to make coroplast signs.

So later this week, you can make the roadside a little prettier and maybe make your bike a little uglier. But you'll be dry. And that's a beautiful thing. Here are some links to coroplast projects:


A Coroplast Handlebar Bag

A Coroplast Tailbox

Fenders for a kids bike

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Please allow me to introduce myself

I'm a man of wealth and taste. No, not really. I am a guy who rides his bike anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 miles per year and I sometimes write about bicycles. Sometimes my words appear in the magazine Dirt Rag where they pay me the princely sum of 10 cents per word. So just think about what a bargain you are getting by reading this stuff for free!

In the current issue of Dirt Rag (#117) you can read about my ride last summer racing the length of the Continental Divide on my single speed mountain bike. That article in an excerpt from a longer work, my book in progress called "The Way of the Mountain Turtle."

Back in issue #112, I wrote a preview of the Great Divide Race called "Dreaming of the Divide." One of the many neat things about Dirt Rag is that they archive the contents of back issues on the web, so thanks to the wonder of the internet, you can read that article here.

Also in that issue was a brief bio that is as good an introduction as I can squeeze into a few words. So here it is:

Kent Peterson is a slow learner who worked as a software engineer for too many years until he finally figured out that if he stopped paying three dollars for each cup of coffee, he could afford to have a lot more fun. He developed a taste for cheap coffee and now works as a mechanic at Sammamish Valley Cycle in Redmond, Washington.

When he's not at the shop or spending time with his beautiful and amazingly patient wife, it's a pretty safe bet that he's out riding his bike somewhere. Kent and Christine have two sons, Peter and Eric, and a cat that's useless in a rodent-free environment. Nobody in the family owns an automobile, but everyone (except the cat) has their own titanium spork.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

First Post

OK, let's see how this blogging thing goes. This is going to be about bikes and stuff and in general new stuff will go here. I'll still keep my webpage here:


but the odds are new stuff will wind up on this blog.