Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Past Is Never Past

Picture of me riding the 1999 Paris-Brest-Paris courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine

A while back my friend Jon finally retired the section of the Mile43 webserver where I used to host a bunch of my old web pages. I have all that old stuff archived locally but I haven't gotten around to finding someplace else to host those pages. Every once in a while, I'll get an email from somebody whose gotten a 404 Not Found error while looking for or some other old page of mine. Eventually, I'll get around to revising and reposting the archives, but since I have a big backlog of new things I'm working on, revisiting the old stuff is definitely a back-burner project. And, thanks to the Internet WayBack Machine, I have a place to point people who are looking for copies of the old things.

The Internet WayBack Machine is one of the lesser-known treasures of the web. Hardworking geeks have been trolling the net since 1996, sweeping up all kinds of stuff and preserving our digital past. These folks are thorough, they've even managed to capture my old stuff. For example:

is a copy of my old index page.

The next time you get a 404 error, copy the address and punch it into the wayback machine at:

As Faulkner observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joseph Frost is a winner!

Thanks so much to everyone who pledged some money towards fighting cancer with Team Fatty. As I promised, this morning I tallied up the pledges and for each $5 pledged, the pledger was giving a ticket in the virtual hat. Using a random number generator I found on the interweb, I randomly picked the winner.

That lucky person is Joseph Frost of Madison Wisconsin. Congrats Joe. And thanks again to everybody who pledged.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Last Chance to win the TarpTent

OK Gang, it's the day before Christmas and your last chance to Fight Cancer and be entered in the drawing for a TarpTent. Remember the money goes to a great cause and if you don't enter, you can't win. Thanks,


Monday, December 22, 2008


The softest thing on earth
overtakes the hardest thing on earth.
The non-existent overtakes even that
which has no interstices.
From this one recognizes the value of non-action.

-- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, verse 43

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Cyclist's Christmas Story

(Yeah, this is an old one but I get asked about it every year, so I pulled it out of the archives. I took this photo tonight of my neighbor's window, but I wrote this story back in 1999, just after Shep passed on.)

A Cyclist's Christmas Story

Copyright © 1999 by Kent Peterson

Dedicated to the memory of Jean Parker Shepherd 1921-1999

It's been years now, but I'll never forget that Christmas...

The days had grown short, the snow had begun to fall and my friends and I were all gathered around old man Petersen's bike shop in the center of town. Flick had his eyes on a Raleigh Pro with a full Campy gruppo and my kid brother's heart was set on Redline BMX bike but I knew there was only one bike for me.

It hung from a pair of hooks above the window, gleaming with elegance and old world sophistication. Hand built by a man who was already an old legend when Coppi first won the Giro, the simple frame would not be cluttered with deraillers or an excessive amount of cable. No, this was a pure bicycle, the holy grail of human powered vehicles -- a fixed gear road bike.

Not a track bike, we didn't have a track in my town, but a champion's road training bike. One tiny front brake that gleamed like a jewel. A single chain ring and a single cog joined by the absolute minimum amount of chain into a mechanism as precise as a Swiss watch. The bike was the very embodiment of craftsmanship put into the service of speed and athletic excellence. It was a bicycle that had no business being in my small town, but there it was, calling to me.

Each day on the way home from school I stop by that window, longing to see the object of my mania, fearing that someday it would be gone, sold to someone less than worthy to appreciate it for what it was -- the perfect bicycle.

But each day I'd hold my breath as I'd round the corner by Petersen's shop and each day I'd see the bike and let my breath out slowly in something that was half a whistle and half a prayer. I'd carefully calculated the rate of my accumulation of allowance and the cost of the bike and determined that the odds were I would die of old age before I'd ever be riding that bike down the streets of my town.

But Christmas was coming and I'd been good so maybe there was a chance. I'd have to approach it just right, however.

My mother, knowing nothing of the subtlety and timing involved, caught me off guard.

"So Ralphie, what do you want for Christmas?"

I was young, I was impetuous, I was certain. Before I could stop myself I blurted out, "I want an Italian-built, Columbus-tubed fixed gear bike!"

A look of horror crossed my mother's face, "You'll blow your knees out!" She said this with a tone of absolute certainty, like she'd just predicted the sun would rise in the morning.

It was the classic mother fixed gear block. No amount of reasoning known to kiddom could counter that, so I beat a hasty retreat. "Oh yeah, heh heh," I said, "I guess a mountain bike would be fine."

A mountain bike? Good grief, what was I saying? She'll never buy it.

But she wasn't listening, "I don't want you riding around a fixed gear. They're dangerous and you'll blow your knees out."

My old man looked over the edge of the copy of Velo News he was reading, "Fixed gear, eh?" he grunted, "can't coast, you know."

Oh boy, did I know. No shifting, no coasting, no problem! A fixed gear would be the bike that would make me a man, a bike where every climb and descent would be a test of strength and skill. In one instant I would have to be strong and in the next I would have to spin like a caffineated phonograph record and always, always, I would have to be paying attention. It was a bike that would test me and teach me and make me into a cyclist.

Fortunately the conversation drifted onto my kid brother's desire for the Redline, so I was free to concentrate on new schemes to obtain my dream bike.

My next chance came from a most unexpected source, my English teacher Mrs. Brown. "I want you to write a theme," she proclaimed one day. We groaned. "The subject of this theme is 'What I want for Christmas'." Here, I brightened. This was my chance. An eloquently written them on the virtues of fixed gear riding would surely earn me an A. When I proudly showed the A plus theme to my mother, she'd be swayed by my powers of erudite persuasion and have no choice but to buy me the bicycle. Here was a plan that could not fail.

That night, I wrote fervently, like a man possessed. The first sentence came easily and the rest of the words tumbled quickly out of me like blood from a fatal wound. Oh yes, I was constructing a masterpiece!

This is what I wrote:

What I want for Christmas

What I want for Christmas is a fixed gear bicycle with an Italian-built Columbus tube frame. I think a fixed gear bicycle makes a good Christmas present. I don't think a derailler bike makes a very good gift.

Perfect. When Mrs. Brown reads this she'll have to give me an A!

It didn't work out quite the way I'd planned. Mrs. Brown hadn't seemed to realize the importance of my manuscript when I'd handed it to her and now 24 hours later it was judgement day. The papers were passed back and I looked at my grade. There must be some mistake! Here where it should have said A plus, plus, plus there was a big, ugly C. And what's this? She'd written a comment on the paper.

There in her precise, school teacher printing, were the dreaded words: "You'll blow your knees out!"

Oh no, this is horrible.

I was running out of time. I needed a new plan and a new ally.

Santa Clause was my last chance. Sure, I was getting a little old to believe in Santa but when the days dwindle down to a precious few, even the most agnostic of kids realizes that it costs nothing to believe and the upside potential is huge. So, like every year, we trundled down to Lohman's department store and while mom and the old man wandered about the store, my brother and I waited in line with 400 other bet-hedging beggars to have a minute of pleading with the old guy in the red suit.

We were in the line for hours. The store was just about to close when it was my kid brother's turn on Santa's knee. My brother stared at the big man, opened his mouth and began to wail like a new-born fire engine. A surly elf scooped him up and sent him careening down Santa's bobsled run.

Now it was my turn, my chance. "Well, little boy, what should Santa bring you this year?"

I froze. Here was my chance. I was face to face with the big man and I couldn't think of a thing. I sat there, dumbstruck. I tried to make my mouth work, but nothing came out. The surly elf began to drag me away and Santa said "How about a nice gel saddle?" I nodded dumbly and the elf tossed me onto the iced slide.

What was I doing? Somehow I regained the use of my muscles and my voice. I grabbed the edge of the slide, looked up at Santa and declared, "I want an Italian-built, Columbus-tubed fixed gear bike!" I'd done it!

Santa looked down at me with a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle in his throat. As his big, black boot kicked me down the ice slide I heard him say "A fixed gear? You'll blow your knees out!"

Finally the big day arrived. Like every year my brother and I had pooled our resources and gotten the old man a big tin of Brooks Proofide. We got mom got riding gloves which said were just what she needed. She says that every year. My brother did OK, with his big gift being the Redline.

I got the usual assortment of chains, water bottles and a particularly hideous gift from my aunt Cora. Aunt Cora suffers from the belief that I am permanently four years old and a girl. This year the gift was pink helmet cover with rabbit ears and a matching pink jersey with a fluffy cotton tail on the middle pocket. My mom proclaimed it adorable and the old man said I looked like a deranged Easter Bunny and I wouldn't have to wear it.

We'd torn through all the packages and I'd lost all hope when the old man said "Say, what's that behind the desk?"

The box was big and the tag said "To: Ralphie from Santa." As I tore into the box with wild abandon my parents didn't think I could hear them whispering. My mom said, "I thought we'd talked about this..." but the old man waved her concerns aside with a simple "I had one when I was his age."

Surrounded by the torn wrapping paper it was even more beautiful than it'd been in the window of Petersen's. I ran my hands lovingly over the leather saddle and looked at the old man, "Can I...," I began to ask. "Go on," he replied while my mother looked concerned and said "I still say those things are dangerous."

I carefully wheeled it out the door and down the driveway. I clipped my right foot in, started it rolling and hopped on. As I tried to drive my left foot into the clip, I stupidly tried to coast. The bike would have none of that, but I didn't fall over. I just rolled down the street, pedaling one-footed while frantically stabbing at the left pedal with my left foot. Eventually, I got my foot in the left clip.

I turned the corner onto Mountain Park Boulevard and as I did one of the Bumpus's hounds came out of nowhere and gave chase. Our neighbor's the Bumpus's have a hundred and eleventy mean old coon dogs and this was the biggest, meanest hungriest one. He let out a bark and gave chase.

I punched the pedals for all I was worth and flew up the hill. The dog panted, slowed and then gave up. I was doing it, I was winning, I was invincible!

Mountain Park Boulevard gets really steep just before the crest and just as I was reaching the summit, I heard a "pop". Not my tire, my left knee. Oh no, I'd blown my knee out!

With tears in my eyes, I crested the hill. I had no choice but to pedal for all I was worth, frantically keeping up with the wildly spinning cranks as I descended. My knee was throbbing as I wound through the street leading back to home. As I pulled into the driveway, I could see my knee was swollen noticeably and I began to cry again.

My mom came rushing out, "Ralphie, what's wrong?!"

Oh oh, time to think fast. I couldn't tell her I'd blown my knee out.

"I, I hit a patch of ice and crashed on my knee," I lied. Not bad for fiction on a deadline, I thought.

"Those ice patches have been know to kill people!" Mom clucked in a worried tone, "let me take a look at that knee..."

"I'll take care of it, Ralphie," said the old man, stepping in and taking charge. He gave me a look that let me know that while Mom might have bought the story, he was having none of it. We walked, slowly up to the bathroom.

I knew I was in for it now. The old man closed the door and I braced myself for the yelling.

It never came. He took the liniment from the medicine cabinet and said, "your Mom's right about the ice Ralph, but you also have to be careful not to push too hard, too fast. You've got to let the tendons and ligaments develop along with those muscles. That's the way the pro's do it."

And that was it. No yelling, no being grounded from riding. He did mention that since I'd "banged my knee" I should probably take things easy and stick to smaller hills for a while.

And they let me keep the bike in my room. I went to sleep dreaming of riding across the Italian countryside or wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. And when I'd wake, there it was: the greatest Christmas gift I'd ever received or ever would receive.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Bike Works Shop Blog

I just launched a blog for the Bike Works Shop. The new blog will be where I try to convince you to come to my shop and buy stuff so Bike Works can keep doing all the cool things it does. This blog will continue to have tales of adventure, weird bike stuff and shameless pleas for money to fight cancer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Problem of the Icy Commute

Last night the Puget Sound area got hit with sub-freezing temps and a bit of snow, something that doesn't happen too often around here. After listening to the dire forecast, I'd taken the bus to work. Standing around getting cold waiting for the bus, I remembered that I tend to get much colder waiting for a bus than I ever do when I ride places. Christine worries less about me when I'm on the bus and while I mostly have my own tractional issues resolved, I share her concerns about large SUVs slipping around on our shared roadways.

But Sunday is a lighter traffic day and this Sunday was darn close to a zero traffic day, at least at the time I was headed for work. And I have the ultimate ice-riding machine, a fixed gear bicycle equipped with carbide-studded tires. Special Ed is really special when he's shod with studded tires. Sure-footed as a sherpa we roll out of Issaquah, along the southern edge of Cougar Mountain, across the frosted trail over the Bellevue Slough, over the bridge, Mercer Island and the floating bridge.

It's on the west end of the floating bridge where I hit a bit of a problem. It's a sharp turn and a steep climb. I move cautiously through the turn so I don't have much momentum and I'm not really punching the climb. And things look slick as lizard spit here, so I decide to hop off the bike and walk the steep half block.

Big mistake. Special Ed has carbide studs to hold him on the hill, but the second my Keens hit the ice, gravity seems intent on having it's way with me. I think Charlie Chaplin should play me in the silent movie version of this incident. Luckily, I manage to keep a grip on the bike, if not my dignity, and using the bike as an ice axe, I claw my way up the hill. Remounting my bike, I recall Peter White's caution about riding with studded tires "remember, your feet aren't studded!"

The rest of the commute is lovely, but when I get to the shop, the second problem becomes apparent. Most folks have too much sense to come out to the bike shop on a cold, icy day. We do $40 worth of business (and $30 of that was my colleague Donald buying some stuff), before we decide to call it a day.

On the way home, I stop off and buy a pair of these:

Keep 'em rolling,


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fight Cancer, Win a TarpTent

A couple of weeks ago, I joined up with Team Fatty to help fight cancer. I didn't really push things but a few great folks (thanks so much Beth, Donna and Peter!) pledged a few bucks. And thanks to Elden's evangelizing efforts, a bunch of other folks also signed up with Team Fatty to help raise money as well. One of those people, Jill Homer, managed to raise about three grand in the first week! In Jill's words, "Wow!"

Now admittedly Jill takes better pictures than I do, she writes better than I do and she's obviously better looking, but dang she's also one heck of a fund raiser. Ooh and she had a gimmick. She raffled off a camera.

Jill is one of my role models, so I'm taking a page from her play book and I'm raffling off my TarpTent. This is an awesome tent. Henry Shires basically gave me this tent for my 2005 single-speed ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. The tent was great, and even though I managed to lose the tent in Colorado, Trish Stevens found it and returned it to me. The tent is a prototype version of a Virga, very light with a sewn-in floor and full bug netting. The later versions of this tent have more head-room but if you're under six feet and looking for a solo tent, this is an awesome bit of ultralight gear. I'm only getting rid of the tent for these reasons:
  • The tent is too small for when I go camping with my beautiful wife.
  • The tent is actually a bit too luxurious for my ultra-minimal adventures. On those adventures, I take an even more minimal bivy.
  • Henry gifted me with the tent and I feel I should pass that good Karma on to somebody else.
  • It's something of value I can use to help raise money for a great cause.
So here's the deal. Between now and Christmas for every $5 you pledge on my Team Fatty Page here, you'll get a virtual ticket into the TarpTent raffle. So if you pledge $5, you get one chance and if you pledge $50 you get ten chances. On Christmas day, I'll draw a ticket and contact the winner. Now the Livestrong software doesn't send me your email, so if you want to be entered into the contest send an email to me (kentsbike at gmail dot com) so I have your email address. If you just want to pledge and don't care about the tent, that's cool but I want the tent to go to somebody who will use and enjoy it. And Beth, Donna and Peter, I'll put you early birds into the drawing as well if you want.

OK, that's it so far. Go here, pledge and cross your fingers. Your money goes to a great cause and you get a chance to win a great tent.

Thanks and good luck,


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Retro-Direction Perfection?

I never quite know how my various bicycle projects will turn out. Once I'd gotten my retro-direct bicycle past it's initial proof-of-concept phase and into something I'd actually trust for my commute, I hit up against another problem. While the bike worked fine in a mechanical sense, my body didn't seem to like pedaling backwards to climb a hill. When I'd climb out of the saddle, I'd tend to slip into forwards pedaling and the leverage just seemed wrong. I gave myself a few days to adjust, telling myself that I'd spent years pedaling forwards and I tried different front chain rings in an attempt to get the low gear lower.

But the real problem was the bike didn't seem practical. It seemed always geared wrong and while the bike had a fun novelty about it, it really didn't feel like something I'd enjoy riding every day. I was pretty close to writing the bike off as "a good learning experience" when Jacob Slosberg stopped by the shop. Jacob is a former earn-a-bike student who also worked in the Bike Works shop a year or so ago. After hearing my problems with low-gear backwards pedaling, Jacob made this brilliant and simple suggestion:

"Swap the chain around. Make the backpedaling gear the higher one and the forward gear the lower ratio."

Brilliant, simple and the thought had really never occurred to me. Sure that Zoobomb guy had his bike geared as low forward, high backward but the Wikipedia article and most other articles I'd read describe having the lower gear be the one engaged by backpedaling so that's the way I'd set up my bike.

Oh well, it'd be easy to test. I rerouted the chain and went for a ride.

Not since Doc Brown installed a flux capacitor in his old DeLorean has a single hardware change had such a dramatic effect.

The bike went from being interesting to being wonderful. Instead of awkwardly thinking at a light "I'm starting from a dead stop, I'll have to pedal backward", I'd stomp the pedals in a normal, natural manner. As the bike picks up speed and I'd start to think "I wish I had a higher gear" and I'd recall that I do have a higher gear at my disposal. Engaging that gear by pedaling backwards is much easier and automatic when done in a moment of ease instead of a moment of stress. When the terrain resembles that Irish blessing and rises up to meet me, I pedal backwards until the effort seems wrong. And then, effortlessly, I switch to forward pedaling, engaging the lower gear. If the road steepens further, I rise out of the saddle. When I crest the hill, I settle into the saddle and backpedal down the backside. It doesn't feel odd, it feels natural. Those poor saps with their mono-direct bikes, they don't know what they're missing!

The first test ride was only 18 miles but within the first couple of miles I was sold on retro-direct, low-normal, high-reverse gearing. It suddenly made perfect sense, like back in high school when I learned to work an HP calculator. RPN and Forth programming expanded my young nerd mind three decades ago and now an old bike with an oddly routed chain has opened up a similarly expanded route through this wonderful world.

I did tweak one thing on the RetroTrek after that epiphany ride. I swapped the chainring out for something bigger. The RetroTrek now sports a 42 tooth front ring. With the 16 and 22 tooth freewheels, I have a low forward pedaling gear of 49.6 gear inches and a high reverse pedaling gear of 68.25 gear inches. My experience riding fixed gears had lead me to choose about a 70 inch gear for road, while my Monocog mountain biking had shown me a gear around 49 inches is right for me for that application. And now, those two gears (or at least very close approximations) are contained in a single bike. A bike that I pedal backwards sometimes.

A week ago I wrote: "I'm not going to try to convince you that a retro-direct drive bicycle is practical." I was wrong about that. I guess I am trying to convince you. Because I've convinced myself. No, scratch that, the bike's convinced me. Backwards is the new forwards. You heard it here first.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, December 01, 2008

Join Team Fatty To Help Fight Cancer

I'm not much of a joiner, but I've joined Team Fatty to help fight cancer. Although I share Sheldon's view on 'thons (my riding my bike is NOT a sacrifice!), joining Team Fatty was a no-brainer for me. Elden and Susan are wonderful people, cancer sucks and this is something I can help with.

My own fund raising page is here. If you can contribute anything to this good cause, it'll be much appreciated.

Keep 'em rolling,