Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Planet Bike Blaze 2 Watt LED Headlight

It's no secret that I use and like the stuff made by Planet Bike. Use the search function on this blog and you'll find me saying various nice things about various Planet Bike products. I was getting ready to write a review of the light I've been commuting with for the past month, the 2 Watt version of the Blaze, but when I checked Amazon a couple of other folks already said pretty much all the nice things I was going to say about this light. So click the link above and read the reviews there and then come back and I'll add a little bit.

OK, it's a nice light. It uses 2 AA cells and it works great with NiMH rechargeable batteries. It works fine for commuting but if I was going to ride all night on a brevet, I'd take some spare batteries just to be safe. I have good night vision and run it on the low setting most of the time and on low it'll run all night. The light uses the same mount as its 1-Watt and 1/2-Watt siblings as well as the Beamer 3 and Beamer 5 lights, something I find handy because I have several bikes and swap various Planet Bike lights between them.

The 2-Watt Blaze project fairly tight cone of light with a bit of spill and as to be expected, on the low setting on the 2-Watt Blaze seems to be just about as bright as the high setting of the 1-Watt Blaze. LEDs seem to run more efficiently at lower power so the 2-Watt on low makes better use of the batteries than running the 1-Watt on high. Plus, it is nice to have the higher beam available for quick, dark descents.

In cold, wet weather I've noticed some condensation inside the lens of the light, but it hasn't caused any problems.

Finally, I prefer the sleek, Darth Vader black of the 2-Watt Blaze to the i-Mac white of the 1-Watt model.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, December 28, 2009

Vashon Island Cycling Tree Huggers

"It's a bike in a tree? No, I'm not going. You and your hippie friends are just going to totally hug it." My son Eric declined my offer to join in the fun of cycling on Vashon Island on the day after Christmas but his dismissal did give a focus to the day. My hippie friends and I would be sure we totally hugged the Bike Tree.

I've written previously about the Vashon Bike Tree and those wishing to follow in our icy tire tracks can find the directions here. On this particular Boxing Day I leave the house before dawn, note that the temperature is a couple of degrees below freezing as I bomb down the Factoria Hill and spin the rear tire on frost a couple of times on the steepish hill right before the turn onto the floating bridge connecting Mercer Island to Seattle. On the Seattle side of the lake I meet up with Mark and Mark (Vande Kamp and Canizaro) and we roll through the tunnel and down the trail. The sun is rising as we roll along Alaska Way, a road we all agree is one of the crappiest commonly cycled roads in Seattle. But traffic is light and it's a good day to ride.

In west Seattle the Genessee hill is white with frost and our tires can't get traction. We walk the steep block, remount our steeds and head to Fauntleroy ferry terminal.

The Marks and I board the ferry and settle in for the trip to Vashon. Liam Moriarty and his brother Tom make the ferry with seconds to spare. Tom moved to Seattle a couple of weeks ago from Kansas and this is his first trip to Vashon Island. Kansas is flat, Vashon is not.

When the ferry docks in Vashon, we meet up with Brad Hawkins and Jon Muellner. Brad had taken the ferry up from Tacoma, where he'd been spending time with family, while Jon had driven down from his home in Port Townsend and come across on the Southworth ferry. A ferry worker warns us about the icy roads, but Brad, who'd just come across the island including the infamous Burma road assures us that "it's not too bad." Some people might hesitate before taking routing advice from a man whose helmet looks like a fistful of M&Ms and bears the proud label "NUTCASE" but those are the people who lack a certain sense of adventure.

While people of extreme sense are still at home asleep and people of moderate sense would stick to the relatively clear Vashon Highway and take the most direct route to the bike tree, my hippie friends and I follow Brad down and up and up and down the many cardiac spikes that comprise Burma Road. Burma Road must have originally been mapped by a drunken Sherpa and in these modern times the road continues to exist mostly because it serves as such a convenient hazing ritual for those cyclists who have recently moved to the Pacific Northwest from Kansas. The only thing more exciting than riding Burma road is riding it on a frosty morning, a fact we are reminded of at every frosty blind turn.

Remarkably, as these words and photos attest, we all lived to laugh about this and tell the tale. We rejoin the main road, find the famous, hidden bike tree and hug the heck out of it. Then it's back into the fog and frost and hills. We roll and chat and separate and regroup. We roll onto Maury Island and snack at the lighthouse. Liam's rattly rack and fender doesn't seem to bother him but they are driving me crazy so I donate two unused M5 bolts from my second set of bottle bosses to the cause of silence and security.

After the huge climb away from the park, the Fellowship of the Chainring splits into two groups with Liam and Tom deciding to take the more direct route north, while the rest of us follow Brad south, to the southern ferry terminal. Tom is now convinced, beyond any doubt, that he is "not in Kansas anymore!"

Brad catches his ferry to Tacoma and the Marks, Jon and I work our way back north. In the town of Vashon Jon spots a sign on Perry's Vashon Burgers "Come in -N- eat or we'll both starve." It's the kind of logic you don't argue with, so we stop -N- eat. It's wonderful.

We catch up with Liam and Tom at the ferry terminal. They also stopped to eat.

It was a wonderful day on the bike, 36 miles of hilly riding on the island with another 56 miles of riding in the there and back again part. And we totally hugged the heck out of that tree.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, December 21, 2009

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

As I write this some of my friends are out there riding their bicycles through the shortest night of the year. My wife persuasively argued that I get plenty of night riding on my commute and in the words of Brother Ray, "the night time is the right time to be with the one you love." But there is something special about night riding, something known to randonneurs and all-year, all-weather cycle commuters. Even though this time I chose to be home, to sleep and to write while others ride, I've been out there enough to know something of the draw of the darkness, the wonder of a world feared by many and loved by some.

Things easily taken for granted in the world of light, things like being warm and being able to see, are not free gifts in the night world. The night world is still the frontier, animals lurk in the darkness and may skitter across your path and what lies just beyond your headlight beam could be smooth pavement or a pothole. That edge, the limit of your vision and experience, draws you forward. You can not conquer the night, but you find, with practice, that you can explore it and you may find that you love to explore it.

The legendary randonneur Jack Eason, taught me the single most valuable thing I've ever learned about riding at night. Years ago, riding with Jack on a dark night in the Canadian Rockies, he noted, "you're looking where the light is pointed, don't do that. Look beyond, into the darkness. You'll see what's in the light anyway." Jack was right, he'd learned to navigate a blacked-out London in England's finest hours. And thanks to his lesson, I've had many fine hours on darkened roads, looking not at the light, but at the darkness.

In 1999 I rode Paris-Brest-Paris, alongside several hundred other Americans and thousands of folks from Europe and the rest of the world. In that time, before high-efficiency LED lights and commonly available quality generator hubs, rigging a bike light that would run all night was something of an art form. The American lights tended to be more powerful and we home-brewed battery packs with lots of cells and sent them ahead in drop bags. The French, in general, opted for dimmer solutions and at the time I joked that I expected to see some French fellow with two fireflies in a jar strapped to the front of his bike. But the French riders made it through the night and I think the difference is faith and experience. As a novice randonneur I was putting my faith in electrons and photons and was intent on doing my best to make the night into day. The French, instead, made peace with the night.

In the world of randonneuring the 400K brevet is the distance where most folks have to ride at night. On a couple of 400K rides, I've been riding next to someone who confesses as the sun is setting that they have "never ridden at night before." I always find this amazing. You don't get to the point where you attempt the 400K distance without some training and given the fact that (unless you live at an extremely northern or southern location) it gets dark every night of the year. Those nights are opportunities.

Now I know some folks, perhaps most folks, think it must be more dangerous to ride at night, but I've thought about this and considered the data and I think that while there certainly are some risks, there are other factors that can help to balance out those risks. At the end of the day, so to speak, we make our best choices. I ride at night and I actually think I may be safer riding at night than I am riding in daylight.

There is less traffic at night. It is like riding in a less populated world. Fewer drivers on the road translates into fewer chances for collision.

But what about those stats that show more accidents at night? David Smith's analysis of a couple of years of accident data shows that yes, unlit cyclists do die. But lights and reflective gear do a lot to make a cyclist visible. In the photo at the top of this post, I'm the guy whose helmet and sash are glowing in the reflected light. Over the years I've tried to enlighten folks (pun intended!) about the virtues of lights and reflective gear. This post is part of that continuing effort.

But there are drunk drivers at night, people say. Well, yes there are. And there are distracted drivers during the day. I do try to avoid the bar scene but some times, especially on brevets, you will encounter a drunk. My friend Jon, lit-up and well-reflected, had a memorable encounter with a gentleman lit-up in the other sense, on a brevet a few years ago. The fellow drove slowly past Jon, pulled his truck over and flagged Jon down. "What youse guys are doing, it's really dangerous man. I mean, I drink and drive. I shouldn't, but I do. But you guys, you shouldn't be here, 'cause it's dangerous. But youse guys, I can see you from a long ways off. So you're doing something really dangerous, but your doing it in pretty good way. But you should know guys like me are here."

Night is a time when we as riders stand out. In the bright light of day, even our bright clothes can blend into the busy background. At night, we stand out. One dark, rainy night I was stopped at a light (yeah, I do things like that, call me a rebel) and a lady in a SUV pulls up along side me. She rolls down her window and says "you're very well-lit, thank you." 'Thanks for not running me over," I reply. I never quite know what to say in those situations.

The night time is the right time to be with the one you love. But sometimes, by circumstance or choice, we ride at night. With some lights, some reflective gear and some practice, it can be wonderful.

Ride safe out there and keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cold Snap Cycling

At the point where water turns to ice, many cyclist turn sedentary. Sure, hearty souls who live in places like Minnesota or Alaska persevere in temps well below zero, but when you live in a more temperate climate you can make the very sensible case that if you wait for a couple of days, things will warm up so why not take it easy? And those slick roads, packed with SUVs and harried Christmas shoppers probably are not the safest places for a cyclist to be. This is why people buy rollers, indoor trainers or gym memberships. Or why they stay inside, packing on an extra layer of fat for the winter.

The high temperature today might reach the freezing point of water and Mike, Mark and I are riding. We are going where most of my "fun" rides go these days, east and up on trails and car-free, gated gravel roads. I'm the instigator of this action, the guy who sent the email referring to this as a "freeze your butt ride." I sent the email to 72 people. A vast majority of the recipients have good excuses or what is sometimes referred to as "common sense." Mike, Mark and I all have the things you need if you might be lacking in common sense. Things like warm clothes, studded bike tires and restless natures.

I have a Thermos Mug of coffee hanging from a carabiner on my Camelbak. The Camelbak is frozen but the coffee is still warm. I'm wearing multiple layers of wool, fleece and nylon and when I breathe out the moisture condenses in a cloud that quickly vanishes into the dry air. It has not snowed here, but the cold pulls the moisture from the air and deposits it in frost patches on the ground. Still water freezes, but the creek before us is tumbling swiftly and it's wider than I'd recalled. In August, the last time I was here, I'd splashed across it, hopping from rock to rock.

The rocks are slick now, many coated with a dangerous sheen of ice. Mike has the longest legs and the best rock-hopping judgment. He gets across and we pass the bikes to him. Mark and I have shorter legs and more cautious natures. Mark also as super-slick cleats on the soles of his shoes. After much debate of rock-to-rock paths and the addition of a handy board Mark found in the woods, we make it across. I manage to have my right foot slip off one rock and wind up wringing the damp out of one set of wool socks.

The day is bright and cold and while we are headed up Rattlesnake Ridge, we still are not quite sure where these old roads lead. The studded tires perform brilliantly and I'm thrilled with the way my new-old bike is riding. I don't have studded tires that fit my 29er Flight and when this 1985 Mongoose ATB Pro came into Bike Works last week and our Recycling & Reuse Coordinator priced it a $50 as-is, I knew I was getting another bike. After replacing the cables, housing, dry-rotted tires, and uncomfortable saddle, the bike was ready to roll. A couple of hours with some Chromax polish and the bike shone like a jewel.

We ride up, then down, then up some more. Then up a bunch more and we come the world's most uninformative road sign, two weather-blasted wooden arrows, one pointed where we've been, one pointing the other way. Years of wind and rain have erased any fragment of useful information. Mark's GPS tells us we are up in somewhere very blank. My map, brilliantly left back in Issaquah, tells us nothing. The time of day, the lowering sun and Mike all wisely counsel us to go back the way we came.

The descent is quick and cold. Studded tires rumble on the gravel but go silent when they grab the ice. Back at the creek, we cross using my method, using the bikes as a crutch and a third leg as we hop from rock to rock. We'd noted on our first crossing and now investigate the oddest thing, Maglights in the water. Fishing around with a stick, we retrieve not one, not two, but three different Maglights from the depths of the creek. How they got there, we have no idea. Actually we have a couple of ideas. One involves some four-wheeler, stuck and dropping lights and swearing. My more fanciful theory involves there being some upstream vein of Maglights and that we could make our fortunes by staking a claim to the mining rights for this patch of land. I'm sure we'll never know the true story of how the lights came to be in the creek, but I can tell you that these are tough lights. Two out of the three lit right up when we pulled them from the creek and I bet the third one just needs new batteries.

Mark flies past me on the post-creek descent, uttering what I momentarily suspect will be his last words, "oh shit, no brakes!!!" I guess dunking sub-freezing aluminum rims into an icy creek is a good way to coat them with ice. My old-school Cunningham-designed brakes are still working great and eventually friction reasserts itself and Mark manages to somehow get his Bianchi under control. The three of us pause to chip the worst of the ice off our machines and then continue down toward the world of men.

We roll down the freeway and the frontage road between Preston and Highpoint. The sun is setting as we roll down the gravel road by Tradition Lake and the trail underneath the power lines. Our lights pick out the rocks along the trail behind the high school and the beams glint and glisten in the frost.

In the cold, if you stop, you tend to freeze in place. But if you move, and keep moving, you find the damnedest things. Things like Maglights in a creek, things like sign posts that tell you nothing. Things that you don't understand.

There are odd things on the trail, weird things. Like the fortune cookie fortune we saw this morning, "Your mind will make your body rich."

We can't understand or explain everything.

It's better to be moving. I don't know why, but I know that it is.

Keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Planet Bike Spok Lights

Spok lights are not designed to help you see the road, they are designed to let other road users see you. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something you should be aware of. I don't use Spok lights as my only lights, but I've bought a few sets of them and I find them very useful.

They are the lights you put on the bike you don't want to burden with lights.

They are the inexpensive spare lights you have in case your main light goes out.

They are the lights you give to your friend when you realize he's riding after dark and his bike has no lights.

They are the stocking stuffer gift you give your cycling pal because even though she has a bunch of lights already, these are handy and cute.

They are the lights you buy because you like the fact that Planet Bike sends 25% of their profits to bike advocacy groups and creates ads that talk about their products instead of spending bucks on some hip and sexy advertising campaign that doesn't seem to have much to do with bikes at all.

They are the lights you put on your lightest helmet and it still remains your lightest helmet.

In short, I like these little lights. Now if I only knew for certain how to pronounce the name of them. I think the name is pronounced like the thin metal rods connecting my bike's hubs to the rims, but I suppose the name could be pronounced like that of a certain logical Vulcan.

BTW the batteries seem to last a pretty long time and the Spok lights use the same CR2032 battery that is used in my Cateye Cycle Computer. CR2032 cells can be found in lots of places these days but they are small enough that buying a batch online is worthwhile.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Post-Thanksgiving Ride to Calligan Lake

It is a tradition of mine to avoid the malls on the day after Thanksgiving. This year Jimmy Livengood and I ride mostly on trails and gravel roads to Calligan Lake.


The day is clear in Issaquah, but misty in the mountains, so Jimmy has to take my word that the Weyerhauser clear-cuts open great vistas that allow the eye to roam all the way to Seattle. We climb slowly and lunch beside the quiet shores of Lake Calligan. Aside from a couple of hunters scouting in the four wheel drives and wondering why they're not seeing any game (hint: elk have ears and trucks are loud), we are the only humans here.

This trip gives me my first chance to really study Jimmy's Traitor Cycle, a fine and noble beast. Fat tires (which perhaps could be a bit fatter given the roughness of the roads), fenders and a nifty gushing oil well paint job make for a fine looking bike. Jimmy's cargo solution, a broken, re-purposed rear rack grafted to the front with a "bag, radio, cotton duck" from the army surplus store gives the bike classic porteur look and function without the hand-crafted price tag.

A swift and steep descent, past white, foaming streams that pick smoother lines than we do makes us appreciate the virtues of disk brakes and warm gloves. Jimmy pinch flats his front tire on the trail and a second slow leak in his rear tire gives me an excuse for a coffee stop in Snoqualmie. Here in this small town, at the foot of the mountains, people are strapping trees to the roofs of their SUVs. It's impossible to keep songs out of your head, "it's comin' on Christmas, they're cuttin' down trees..." We don't skate away on the rivers here, it's too warm and the water is too swift to freeze. We follow the road that follows the river down to Fall City.

It's dark enough that we turn on the lights for the climb up and over the plateau. The evening skies are clear in Issaquah and at home Christine confirms that it's been lovely here all day. It is lovely in the mountains too, in a greener, grayer way.

It's the time to give thanks, for family and friends. For warmth on cold days, for coffee shops, green trails and the time to ride.

Keep 'em rolling,


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Do You Need Padded Shorts?

Scott Adams not only creates shoot-coffee-out-your-nose-funny cartoons, he makes more than his fair share of good points. The cartoon above, which I first read years ago, no longer adorns my cube wall because I managed to leave the world of work cubes behind. But this message from Scott stuck in my head, where it has whorled around with other stuff, like Lao Tzu's advice: "To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day."

Years ago, when I was a kid, I rode my bike. As I upped my mileage and rode on hot, sweaty days, I learned that cotton jeans and cotton briefs had seams that bunched up and rubbed in uncomfortable places. I learned good things, useful things, about leather seats and dorky pants and chamois and Bag Balm. I rode lots of miles, long miles and if you'd asked I'd give you advice on how many pairs of cycling shorts you should bring for riding Paris-Brest-Paris (bring a couple, of slightly different styles, with the chamois seams in different spots.)

On really long rides, rides where I'd be out for days or weeks, I devised my wear one, wash one strategy. Each night I'd swap shorts and the dirty pair would be washed out and hung in a mesh bag from some spot on my bike. The next day's riding would usually dry the shorts. Usually, but not always. Chamois tend to hold onto water and on the hottest of days, salt from sweat and chamois seams would rub and well, that's what the Bag Balm was for.

Now when I'm talking about chamois here, it's not real chamois these days. It's a synthetic pad and if you hang out with cyclists you'll here all kinds of talk about which brand of shorts has the best pad and everybody has their favorites. Like saddles, it comes down to shape and different people are different. But here's something I've noticed, something I got to thinking about, something I added to that memory of an old Dilbert cartoon and the teachings of Lao Tzu: higher mileage folks tended to like shorts with a thinner pad. 


Now I figured out a few years ago that WTB saddles work really well for me. They are a good shape for my butt and for me, they have just the right amount of padding. I also like having pockets, so I tend to wear thin nylon cargo shorts or pants over my lycra shorts. But the chamois pad would tend to get hot and sweaty and on one long ride a while back the idea came to me to cut out the pad. The thinnest pad is no pad. So at camp that night I used the scissors of my Swiss Army knife to cut the pad from my cycling shorts. 

It worked.

For me.

Your mileage and butt may vary.

The next day I cut the pad from my second pair of shorts.

All my undershorts are padless these days.

My wife and kids will tell you that I still wear dorky pants. Cargo shorts or pants are dorky and most of mine are the nylon kind with legs that zip off to let them be either shorts or pants. They're dorky, but useful.

But the padded, dorky shorts? For me, they're more useful without the pad.

Keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We Didn't Get To Rattlesnake Ridge

Today Joe "that's rando" Platzner, Michael "the Guth" Guthrie, and Matt "I bought a boat and damn near forgot how to ride a bike" Newlin learn that while Kent "the Mountain Turtle" Peterson can usually manage to navigate his way back home from the wilderness, getting to the chunk of intended wilderness is not a sure thing. I completely zone out once we hit the freeway shoulder and instead of turning off at the Hwy 18 exit for our intended climb up Rattlesnake Ridge, I drag my buddies east for an extra eleven miles of climbing along the freeway shoulder. Fortunately my friends are good natured and there are lots of mountains and trails around here. Eventually we hook right near Olallie State Park, scramble up to the Iron Horse Trail and enjoy a well-deserved downhill run to Rattlesnake Lake. We're on the wrong side of the ridge now, the side that can only be hiked and not ridden up so we riff a new plan, one that involves the trail back to North Bend. 

We are having oddly good luck today. The promised rain somehow doesn't come and the bakery in North Bend that is supposed to be closed on Mondays is open on this Monday. We pause for coffee and pastry and conversation is constant whether we are stopped or rolling. The last miles back to Issaquah, from Tradition Lake along the power line and then the trail behind the high school explain better than my words ever could why I've wound up living where I live.

We'll get to Rattlesnake Ridge next time, or the time after that. Today we roll a bit over fifty miles, some of it on roaring roads but the bulk of it in the quieter, rougher, greener places.

Joe's take on the day can be read on his blog.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Help From My Friends

OK blog readers, let me say this straight up front: I'm hitting you up for money in this post. Actually, I'm explaining how I manage to fund my adventures and you might find that interesting but they'll be some "here's how you can help" begging going on lower down on the screen and I thought I should let you know that up front, so you can surf away now if that's not your thing.

I've been called a lot of things over the years, but the term "Financial Genius" has never been applied to me. I've always been one of those fellows who chooses the interesting option over the lucrative one, consistently choosing the small jobs with fun little problems that still leave me time for a life, over the bigger jobs with fascinating problems that somehow manage to suck up every minute of the day. I still get sucked into the big jobs now and then, or into jobs that expand into things that really manage to cut into my day, but I have a caution that some would call laziness that makes me zig when the big money is on the path that zags. And I'm more than OK with that, although I know it baffles my kids.

Years ago a large Redmond-based software company was nice enough to fly me out to the Pacific Northwest and spend all day tossing software and other problems at me. As long as I was in the neighborhood, I also interviewed at a tiny company called Manley & Associates in a town called Issaquah, a place where my friend Camille worked. They needed somebody to help them write games for a Super-Nintendo. "I've never even seen a Super-Nintendo," I told them. "That's OK," Ivan Manley assured me, "Pretty much nobody has seen these yet." The folks in Redmond were real smart and it seemed like they worked all the time. The folks at Manley were really smart too and they only worked 14 hours per day instead of 20. Some of the Manley folks would go mountain biking after work.

Ivan Manley went to the thrift store the day I started at Manley, to pick up a used desk and a chair for me.

A few years later, Manley had grown to about 50 people and somehow I'd gotten sucked into being Director of Development and I wasn't writing any code. Electronic Arts bought the whole company and while I could've zagged into EA, I zigged into a little company doing educational software in Seattle. It was the least I could do to atone for my part in making a new generation of joystick potatoes.

My winding software path took me a variety of places, including a stint I describe as being "as easy as finding sand at the beach". I managed a QA team tasked with writing test cases and finding bugs in the software produced by a large Redmond-based software company. "Let me get this straight," I said in that interview, "We don't fix the bugs, we just find 'em." "Yep," was the reply. "Sign me up," I said.

We managed to not work every minute of the day, but we could have and never run out of bugs. Software, like all art, is never finished, but it does have ship dates. Someone very wise noted that "Shipping is the one feature that your product must have."

Like the original Star Trek, that gig was a five year mission. Other crews are still at work on similar missions in numerous remakes and reboots but I've been content to zig into the bike world and these days I'm mostly solving hardware problems. I make a very modest living (my old software pals are astounded at how modest a living!) but the important thing is that I have time to do cool stuff.

Time and money are often inversely proportional. If you are making the big bucks, you don't have time to do cool things, but it often takes a good chunk of money to do something cool. Here's what Jill Homer, the current women's record holder of the Tour Divide, wrote about the financial aspect of that race:

"For anyone considering entering this race in the future, this is my biggest piece of advice: Get a good credit card. Pretend that you have a million dollars. Pretend money has no value. Buy yourself exactly what you think you need. Take care of yourself first and worry about your financial situation later. This race is hard enough without trying to do it on a tight budget."

Good advice there, advice that's been making me think of returning to the software world, at least for a six month testing gig to pile up some bucks. But this is advice that ultimately I know I will not follow. I have to zig, even though the money is in zagging.

I live frugally and I don't go in debt to the credit card companies. Between Christine's job and mine, we make just enough to keep a small roof over our heads and a decent bit of food on the table. I manage to fund my adventures with a lot of help from my friends.

Here's how my adventure budget works. I tell stories and I give them away. Yeah, some of my works see print in the pages of things like Dirt Rag, but I'll let Cory Doctorow explain the state of professional writing (in his case Science Fiction, but what he says is pretty much universal):

"The compensation for writers is pretty thin on the ground. Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback's original science fiction magazine, paid a couple cents a word. Today, science fiction magazines pay...a couple cents a word. The sums involved are so minuscule, they're not even insulting: they're *quaint* and *historical*, like the WHISKEY 5 CENTS sign over the bar at a pioneer village. Some writers do make it big, but they're *rounding errors* as compared to the total population of sf writers earning some of their living at the trade. Almost all of us could be making more money elsewhere (though we may dream of earning a stephenkingload of money, and of course, no one would play the lotto if there were no winners). The primary incentive for writing has to be artistic satisfaction, egoboo, and a desire for posterity. Ebooks get you that. Ebooks become a part of the corpus of human knowledge because they get indexed by search engines and replicated by the hundreds, thousands or millions. They can be googled."

So, while Dirt Rag pays me for "The Way of the Mountain Turtle" it turns out I actually make more from giving away the story. Believe it or not, people do click on that little donate button. Not everybody, not most. But some of you do, probably because you like something I wrote and want me to write more things like that.

Kevin Kelly explains the concept of 1000 True Fans at: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

I don't aspire to having 1000 True Fans but I've somehow stumbled onto a way of making my interests fund my adventures. As a character in Cory Doctorow's latest novel, Makers, notes, "When you do cool stuff, you end up making money." By the way, if you want to read Makers (and I totally recommend it!), Cory is giving the ebook version of it away at:


You can buy it in good old-fashioned book form at your local bookstore or, if you wish, clicking on any of the Makers links in this post will let you order it from Amazon.

Amazon links are one of the many ways readers like you support my adventures and my writing. I always try to be very straight-up about this. When you click on an Amazon link here and then buy anything on Amazon within the next 24 hours, I get a commission. It doesn't cost you any more but Amazon does pay me. The rate is usually about 6%. And that money counts up.

Let me tell you a story. (Hey, if you've stuck with this post this long, you're probably used to my rambling stories. Thanks for sticking around.)

Back in issue #122 of Dirt Rag, I reviewed Redline's 925. This involved Redline sending me the bike, my riding it for a couple of months, a week or so of my actually writing the review and all the back and forth emails of the edit and so forth. Fun stuff, but time consuming. You can read the review here:


I got paid what Dirt Rag pays writers, which wound up being something like $100 as I recall.

Around the same time, I'd started this blog and I got a helmet light, a Princeton Tec EOS. I spent about 20 minutes writing this review:


The review was the first thing I did that had one of those Amazon Associates links in it.

Some of you bought the light. Some of you might have followed that link and bought other things, but I know some of you bought the light. I get reports from Amazon. I don't see who buys what, but Amazon tells me what sells. And that EOS sells. And sells. And sells.

In the four years since that post went up, 103 people have bought an EOS from Amazon after following a link from my blog. Six percent of the price of an EOS is a couple of bucks. A couple of bucks times 103 is twice what I took home from the 925 review.

Hmm. I'm not getting rich off this, but little things add up. There really is something to the long tail of the Internet.

So I write this blog. I don't think you come here for the reviews, I think you come here for the stories and I try to tell a straight story. I review things I use and mostly things I like (with a few notable exceptions). I try to keep the ads to a minimum but I do link to stuff when I talk about it and I do run this kind of the same way Public Radio works (give stuff away most of the time and beg now and then).

It's a model that works for Public Radio and it works for me. My son said to me once "$75 is a lot of money for a mug with Carl Kasell's picture on it" but we all know the money isn't for the mug, it's for what's behind it. I took a page from Public Radio and created a Cafe Press Store with t-shirts, caps, a messenger bag and a mug. Proceeds from the store go to fund my adventures.

And I want to make it clear that my adventures are not some noble cause. I've raised money for good causes like fighting cancer or helping Dave Nice after his bike was stolen, but I'm not one of these people who rides for a cause. I have adventures because I like having adventures. If you support me, do it because you feel you're getting value from what you read here.

I really didn't mean for this to be a begging thing. What I really wanted to say is "Thanks." Thanks for all the amazing support. Hundreds of people helped me ride the GDR in 2005 and that support continues in all kinds of ways. Robert updated my Mountain Turtle logo for free and Kurt used the logo to make a bunch of "Hasten Slowly" buttons. My pal Joe set the whole deal in motion and delivered me a big stash of these cool buttons. Click on the picture at the top of this blog post to get a closer look at the buttons. I'm using them as thank-you tokens. 

Thanks for your continued support and for putting up with this rambling note. Back to ride reports and stories from the road and trail now. If you've made it this far and want a cool button, send your snail-mail address to me at kentsbike (at) gmail (dot) com. Or if you're one of the folks I cross paths with in the real world, ask me if I've got a button for you tucked into a pocket of my pack. I try to carry a few with me.

Keep 'em rolling,


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Excuses to Ride

Mike and meet up at Sandy's Espresso in the town of Carnation. It's a wet and windy Monday and I've been thinking about excuses. Excuses are interesting things, they are the way we structure our arguments to make it seem as if we are rational creatures, that we've weighed our options and made the logical choice. I'm sure there are people who actually work that way but when I honestly look at myself, I mostly use logic to rationalize a decision, not to make a rational decision. 

I am, at times (like this one!) an instigator. I'm the guy who sends email saying things like this:

to: [undisclosed receipients] 

date: Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 7:48 AM

subject: Wet Monday Coffee etc mixed surface ride 11/16/09 

Hey Folks,

So my pal [redacted] and I are planning a ride for Monday. Yeah, it's probably going to be wet, so we're meeting up at Sandy's Espresso in Carnation at 10:00 AM. I'll be leaving my place in beautiful downtown Issaquah at about 8:30 AM so anybody who wants to meet there and ride up to Carnation via trails, etc is welcome to do that. Or meet us at 10:00 at Sandy's. We'll hang out some at Sandy's and then head out (probably via trails) towards someplace. Probably up around Snoqualmie & North Bend.

Yeah, this is all vague and damp. At least one food/coffee stop after Sandy's will be in the mix. Fat tires recommended.

If you think you're in for this, let me know. If you want to forward this out to any like-minded folk, feel free or drag 'em along.

Kent Peterson
Bike Works
3709 S. Ferdinand St.
Seattle WA 98118
hours: 12-6 Tues - Fri, 11-6 Sat, 11-5 Sun, Closed Mondays
206-725-9408 x3

By sending an email such as this, I'm on the hook. I've crafted an excuse to ride. I have to ride because I set the damn sequence in motion. Looking at the forecast for today, I knew it would be windy and wet and too damn easy to stay home if I didn't have an excuse. I'm counting on my friends.

I usually send these emails to the many and the few respond. The Monday thing is a major filter, weeding out the more conventionally employed and responsible who number among my friends. Some are silent, some send regrets and first round excuses with varying degrees of detail.

[Redacted] and I had hatched the vague plan that brought me here this morning but somehow a busted truck removed him from the day's activities. Various others had responded with notes containing words like "I'll try to make it" and "70% sure I'm there" but only pal Mike had listened to Yoda ("do or do not, there is no try") and said "Yea, count me in."

And now, at 10:00 AM on this wet and windy Monday, it's Mike and me. Mike buys my coffee and scone and we talk of his latest score, a $100 classic StumpJumper. We wait a bit for others we're mostly sure won't show and then head out.

We ride on trails I know that are new to Mike up to Snoqualmie and North Bend. Mike will tell you and I'll confirm that it was wonderful riding but if you were looking for a half-empty glass or a reason not to ride, I'm sure you would find it. Mike's fenders were half-done, half adequate and half-assed while mine are not fenders at all. The worst of the spray is kept off my butt (but not my back) by the coroplast trunk that a couple of my pals have dubbed "the cheese wedge."

Mike asks me about my total lack of front fender and I find myself telling him not of damp days or the clay that wedges solid into any fender that might try the epic mud of the Great Divide. What I tell him about instead is the scene in that great epic of dust and light, Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence extinguishes matches by letting them burn down to his fingertips. His men try to emulate this, but burn their fingers. "How do you do it without getting burned?" one soldier finally asks him. "Oh," Lawrence replies, "I get burned, I just don't care."

We ride with some care, care that had us bring jackets and enough layers for some degree of comfort. Hot soup at Twedes, layers of wool and nylon, and the heat of motion are enough but perhaps the best excuse for riding in the wind and rain is that it's the only way to find out what you need and what you want enough to take with you, for riding in the wind and rain.

I'm home at 4:00 PM, thinking not of what more I need to carry, but what else can be safely removed. The trails are out there, every day. I'm working on my next excuse to ride.

Keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Logic Doesn't Sell Newspapers

The good folks at Bike Hugger pointed me to this wonderful example of nonsense in the field of headline writing by Tweeting:

Suspect headline of the day: Children prefer homework to bikes wazzat? http://bit.ly/lxQQ7

Following the link leads to this story in The Daily Telegraph headlined

Children prefer homework to bikes, new statistics show

Kinda makes you want to read the article, eh? And I'm pretty sure that's the point. Because neither the article itself, nor the study it cites, show anything that backs up the claim in the headline. The article does state that cycling was the only activity to become less popular in a survey of child activities but that it is more popular than riding a skateboarding, rollerblading, riding a scooter, or doing a craft or art activity. And kids spend more time doing homework, reading and surfing the internet than they do riding bikes.

Now problem is the use of the word "prefer" in the headline. I think I spend more time changing the litter in my cat's litter box than I do eating dark chocolate. Do I prefer scooping crap to eating dark chocolate? No, I do not. I spend more time on the cat litter project because it's something than needs to be done. Like homework. 

Headlines sell newspapers. I'm sure the writer of the headline knows the meaning of the word "prefer" and prefers to get more readers with a snappy headline instead of a truthful one. Heck, it worked on Bike Hugger and me. I probably would've glossed over the article if it had a mundane title.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Help Val Fight Cancer

Damn! I just found out today that my pal Val is battling cancer. Cancer sucks and Val is an awesome guy. Readers of this blog might recall Val from this post back in July but pretty much every bike person in the Seattle area has a great Val story to tell.

Some more details of how we can help Val out with his medical bills are at:


I just shot some bucks into the Paypal account (thanks for setting this up Aaron!) and I'm getting the word out here and on Twitter. If you can help out with any amount by buying a raffle ticket or sending some money via Paypal, please do.

Live strong, Val. You've got a lot of people pulling for you.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Kids, Books and Bikes

Years ago, in the period after I burned out on the software business the first time and before my friend Kevin lured me back in with the phone equivalent of Herman Mankiewicz's famous telegram to Ben Hecht - "Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots", Christine and I managed a used bookstore in Duluth, Minnesota. It was wonderful, dusty work that ultimately proved to be incompatible with Christine's lungs and one of the few jobs where it was possible to make even less than I do currently in the non-profit bike world. But books, like bicycles, are wonderful things that kids take to when given the right encouragement and context. Our kids have grown up with both bikes and books.

Christine and I have written and spoken elsewhere about raising carfree kids and today I'm going to write a bit about a few books, old and new, that showcase the simple wonder of riding a bike.

One book that my mom read to me and that Christine read to the boys, is H. A Rey's classic Curious George Rides a Bike. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it's a wonderful tale of a somewhat irresponsible monkey who fails to deliver the newspapers he's supposed to. Of course, bad things happen to him (he wrecks his bike) but his skill at trick riding allows him to persevere and everything works out in the end. Hmm, OK, maybe that's not a great lesson (being cute and tricky helps you get along in the world!) but it is a classic book and you can tell George is having fun. I recall as a kid it not only got me interested in cycling, it turned me on to origami as well (George made the papers into origami boats instead of delivering them.)

The next book, His Finest Hour by David Neuhaus, is a wonderful "Tortoise and the Hare" story featuring Ralph, the fellow with all the latest whiz-bang stuff and Dudley with his old balloon-tired bike. The delightfully droll delivery and illustrations lovingly list all the gear Ralph brings to the race countered with the simple sentence "Dudley brought his bike." A great little book.

Super Grandpa by David M. Schwartz is a the true tale of 66-year old Gustaf Hakansson who, in 1951, was told by the officials of the Tour of Sweden that he was too old to compete. Hakansson did not take no for an answer and rode 600 miles to the start of the race and then unofficially rode and came in first on the 1000 mile course. This is one of those books that really is a great story for all ages of readers.

It seems that every generation decries "kids these days" with their loud music and funny hair, but I get to work with kids every day at Bike Works and I'm here to tell you that the kids are alright. Every Earn-A-Bike class we can offer fills up. Kids still want to learn and still get a thrill from getting places under their own power.

A couple of days ago I got an email from my son Peter (the little tyke you see in the pictures here is now in his twenties, doing his post-grad work in Ice Physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks). The email starts out "Hey Old Man". Both our kids feel like they've grown up in an extended version of a Jean Shepherd story and always refer to me as "the old man." Peter goes on to describe how a friend of his is commuting and crashing on "a very old bike shaped object from Walmart with a completely shot to hell drive train that should never be subjected to everyday use by anyone." He wants me to keep an eye open at Bike Works for a suitable bike for his friend. The supply of decent bikes in Fairbanks is poor, so Peter and his pals have pooled some money and when Peter is back down here for Christmas, he's hoping to get a used bike that he'll take north with him on the plane.

As I said before, the kids are alright.

Keep 'em rolling,


Friday, November 06, 2009

My Three Coaches

I often say that I don't train, I practice, but I've been thinking lately (mostly on long, wet, dark rides in the rain) that I guess I do train in my own way. I mostly don't think of myself as an athlete but when I ride brevets, race from San Francisco to Portland, ride to Minnesota or race the Great Divide, people tell me that these are athletic feats and ask me all kinds of questions about training and diet and coaches.

It seems to me that whatever abilities that I have when it comes to riding a bicycle for long distance have been honed over the years by three coaches. In this long-overdue blog post, I'll introduce you to them.

The coach whose been with me the longest is Coach No-Car. I've been with Coach No-Car since 1987. A lot of folks, when they learn about Coach No-Car think he's some kind of harsh task master, and while he is the coach that gets me out there when My Free Will Just Ain't Willin', he's also the coach who has taught me the most. Coach No-Car taught me how to dress for all conditions, how to ride in the rain and the dark, and generally get around safely in a world filled with big fast-moving, death boxes.

My favorite coach is probably Coach Long-Commute. Coach Long-Commute reminds me every day how fortunate I am to live and ride in this lovely part of the world. My daily three hour tour is the result of some smart choices I've made and even on the dampest days, the trip is interesting. Today, for example, the sky in Issaquah was the color of a funeral and the rain was pretty much a vertical river. But by the time I'd cleared the eastern slope of Cougar Mountain, I could see a patch of blue sky over Seattle and by now my jacket is damn near dry. Coach Long-Commute is gives me the mileage base on which I build my other adventures. Thirty-seven miles per day, five days per week adds up to thousands of miles in a year but more importantly, it makes 100 mile days basically easy. If I can ride 37 miles and work a full day, of course I can ride a century or more on my days off.

Coach One-Gear is the crazy old man of my coaching team. Coach One-Gear is a philosopher, something akin to a Zen Master. Coach One-Gear is the voice in my head saying "you don't need to downshift" when a hill looms up ahead and then I crest something like Irving street in Seattle I think that Henri Desgrange was right, it is better to triumph by the strength of my muscles than the artifice of a derailleur. Of course, I'm more Tao than Zen and now things run behind and now they run ahead, so sometimes I'm single speeding and sometimes I'm fixing. I've even been known to shift now and then but the bikes I stick with, the ones that see me through the best adventures seem all to loose their shifty bits somewhere along the way. It is not, as I explained once to my friend Brad, that I hate the gears, it's that they make me soft. Coach One-Gear keeps me honest and keeps me spinning down the trail.

There are other coaches, of course, like Coach I-Wonder-Where-That-Road-Goes? but Coaches No-Car, Long-Commute and One-Gear are the ones who keep me rolling every day.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Solar Bike Tail Light

Long time readers of this blog know that I spend a lot of my time thinking about and tinkering with bikes and bike stuff. This time of year half my commute is in the dark, so naturally I think about lights. I've had good luck with and like Planet Bike Lights and I run rechargeable batteries in them. While I notice when the headlight is going dim, I tend to ignore tail lights and when I saw the solar bike light on Amazon last week, I thought "what the heck" and ordered it.

Now remember folks, I'm an Amazon Associate. If you buy something through a link on my blog, I get percentage (usually about 6%) of the purchase price credited to my Amazon account. It doesn't cost you any more and it actually it doesn't matter if you buy the exact product I talk about or some other product on Amazon. If you go to their site through a link on my site and buy anything on Amazon in the next 24 hours, I get a percent of the purchase price credited to my account. The amazing thing isn't that, I plug products on my blog, the amazing thing is that I don't just plug products on my blog. I do try to stick to stuff that I find interesting in the hopes that you folks out there at least find it worth the time to stop by. But remember, I'm not a neutral party in this.

Wow, that was dull, I was supposed to be talking about a bike light. Yeah, well when I talk about things some of you folks buy things and then I wind up with this Amazon credit and I have to spend it on something. So I got this tail light. So far it seems cool. Down the road I'll let you know if it holds up to the rigors of the commute and the trail or if it shorts out or anything. I made a shot a video review with my phone (which I use as pretty much everything but a phone, but that's another post). You can see the review here: Solar Tail Light Review.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, October 26, 2009

What Long Distance Cyclists Really Eat

OK folks, I'm going to start with some disclaimers.

Although the various foodstuffs described here have worked well for me and my various high-mileage friends, I am not a nutritional role model. I'm pretty sure that holds true for my pals as well.

Despite all the glowing words I'm about to heap on the makers of Peanut M&Ms, PayDay candy bars and the various fine products made by the people at Reeses, I'm not sponsored by nor do I get any kickbacks from the folks who make those incredibly tasty, high-energy foods. This is not some example of blog-journalistic integrity on my part. This is, in fact, just a damn shame. If anyone reading these words has any pull with the makers of these wonderful products, tell them that Kent's Bike Blog is a great way to connect with hundreds of hungry cyclists and sponsoring me in the 2010 Tour Divide would certainly be a wise use of their marketing dollars.

I researched this article by riding a lot and eating a lot and also soliciting advice from randonneurs, ultra-distance mountain bikers and long distance bike tourists. For purposes of this discussion, Long Distance Riding refers to riding more than one hundred miles per day for days at a time. Most of these trips involve refueling at little gas stations and markets along the route, so much of the advice based around the items stocked in such establishments.

A decade ago, when I was first getting into randonneuring, my friend Mark Thomas explained the his method of fueling for a long ride. In this case, the ride was the Vancouver Island 1000K and Mark wrote:
You really can go and go on a long ride with powder for power. (I used about 12,000 calories worth of Twinlabs Gainers Fuel 2500). All you need are a scientifically chosen collection of supplements to the powder. Mine included a spanish omelette and bacon, bananas, a sausage and pepperoni pizza, ham and cheese sandwiches, chicken and cheese sandwiches, ice cream, mushroom soup, french fries, a salmon and bacon club sandwich, oatmeal, onion rings, grapes, a blueberry scone and other similar nutrients.
Mark is a Super Randonneur (yes, that's a real title) and I take his advice seriously. Mark is a rich source of rando-knowledge and knows many useful things like how many Starbucks DoubleShots can fit in a Zefal Magnum Water Bottle and how many miles those DoubleShots will take you. You don't learn those things from a book, you learn them late at night on the road.

Ken Bonner rides more than anyone I know. I say the odds are good that he rides more than anyone you know, unless you know Henry Berkenbos. Last year, for example, Ken rode 29,124 kilometers. When I asked Ken about what fuels his motor, he didn't tell me about wheat germ and yogurt. He did mention:
As a mental and physical energy booster on hot days, I recommend McDonald’s super-size chocolate milkshakes. Unfortunately, McDonald’s factory-made gourmet rando-food outlets are rarely placed on rando-brevet routes.
Another extremely accomplished randonneur, Jan Heine, offers up a great bit of wisdom when he advises "eat while riding, not stopped. That way there is plenty of time for eating." Jan also confesses that he's fond of "Dark chocolate. When no energy bars taste good anymore, and you happen to be near a half-way decent grocery store... I sometimes even take an 'emergency ration' in my handlebar bag."

When I posed my food question to rando-pal Mark Vande Kamp he responded:
I'm not at the "Great Divide" level but I have one "fake food" and one "real food" thing that each work for me. The fake food is straight maltodextrin. I bought a couple of 50 pound bags and split them up with some other randonneur types. I find the stuff bland enough to get it down almost any time and it is the best anti-bonk remedy I've used. It would be hard to take enough along for a multi-day adventure, but I've found that mixing up a concentrated gel in the blender, carrying that in a "food" bottle, and squirting/mixing that with water in a different bottle provides a steady source of calories in an easy to carry, easy to drink, and easy to digest form.

The real food is black kalamata olives. A small plastic jar of these is so much more tasty than salt capsules and it basically serves the same purpose. Little bits of super-salty, veggie-oil-saturated, tastiness -- what's not to love?
Mark brings up a key point, variety. Years ago, I heard John Stamstad talk at REI and he advised carrying foods with a range of tastes and textures. "Something salty, something sweet. Some crunchy stuff, some smooth stuff. If you have just one thing, you'll get so you can't stand to eat it." John, the man who basically invented ultra-distance mountain biking, also told me that he reads nutritional labels "backwards from the way most people do. I'm looking for the most calories per dollar." John's view of food is nicely described in this quote:
"Stamstad also believes in the restorative though as yet medically unexplained power of Mountain Dew and Krispy Kreme donuts. He argues in defense of Twinkies, Little Debbie snack cakes, and Pop-Tarts, noting that none of them freeze on the trail and all excel in calorie-to-cost benefit. (Little Debbie oatmeal-creme pie: 170 calories, at 11 cents.)" -- Outside Magazine profile of John Stamstad, That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger
Tough guy Moishe Lettvin confesses that "Ramen noodles, raw & straight from the package, have got me past a couple of fairly epic bonks." Elden "Fatty" Nelson probably doesn't strictly fit my "multiple hundred mile plus days" category, but he's raced Leadville at least a dozen times and one of his fuels is so good and so weird I had to include it here. He drinks Campbell's Chicken and Stars Soup cold, straight out of the can! I'd be proud to ride with Fatty any day.

If you are not racing against the clock or other people, you can actually take some time and cook food. Wayne Methner advises:
Buy a garlic and onion, a thing of dried salami and either a thing of couscous or Knorr brand Mexican rice dish... With a JetBoil or, in my case, a Colman Peak One, you saute the onion garlic and salami for about a minute, add the appropriate water and rice or couscous...meal-Dinner is ready in 10 - 15 minutes. Starter breakfast is Bread, avocado/tomato, left over onion and salami. Cost about $15, two people two meals including beer and wine. Ride 50-80 K and have a sit down breakfast...Milkshakes/lattes until you get to your overnight and dinner.
Jon Muellner offers up his favorite:
Mine is rice/beans/tortillas. Soak the beans and rice all day in a water bottle while riding. Pour them in a pan and cook them in camp that night and there you go. Make an extra for the next day.
Back at the convenience store, Jon claims that "nothing beats Coke and JoJos!" Tarik Saleh, like many of the folks who responded to my request for data, cites peanuts as being a great energy source:
My favorite convenience store food on long rides are 2 for a dollar salted nuts. The ones that come in the long plastic bag tubes. Usually one of salted peanuts and one of honey roasted peanuts. Occasionally almonds or others, but the old faithful is the peanuts. For planned mid ride lunch I usually have a peanut/almondbutter-honey and grapenut sandwich. It usually packs best if you make it the night before and the bread is slightly crusty and the nutbutter and honey have saturated the grapenuts and bread. Smear the nut butter on both sides of the bread, pile grapenuts on one side, cover grapenuts in honey, smash sammich together, place in one, or a double plastic bag.

Alas, I have found if I am too far gone on the bonk/effort, this is not a very good meal, but in the middle of a long ride it is great.

That and bananas.
Paul "Dr. Codfish" Johnson advises:

If a convenience store is at hand I find that those sandwiches of indeterminate age in the cold case suit me well for distance riding. You know the ones I mean: White bread, mystery meat, cheese-like food product and another slab of white bread. It’s the right ratio of carbs, fat, and protein for me (if you add the mayo and mustard-like food products). I found to my delight that there is a very similar rocket fuel in France when riding PBP: The Jambon et burre baguette (sometimes referred to as the ‘gagette’. Chew slowly lest you find yourself on the side of the road reaching frantically from the ditch for your water bottle).

If I plan ahead I‘ll put a zip loc baggie of salted nuts (almonds or cashews) and a baggie of dried apricots in my bag. These are usually tasty most anywhere along the time-distance continuum. They travel and keep pretty well.

Somewhere along the way in a multi-day event or with a sustained intensity level, I get a craving for a big glass of really cold milk. Otherwise milk is not on my list.

Back in my energy drink days I found I could make Sustained Energy palatable by adding a heaping tablespoonful of chocolate milk powder and another of Nestle’s malted milk powder. Instant chocolate malt on the go.

I also find that Ensure works well for me in almost any circumstance. Unfortunately you don’t get this in singles at the inconvenience store.

These ‘gummy sport’ bites seem pretty good to me. They give you something to occupy your attention on the long boring straight sections (or night sections) of rides.

That microwaved cup-o-noodles can bring a person back from the brink.

In the area of home brew stomach remedies, I have found that a cold 7-Up can often do wonders at quieting an upset stomach. It’s cheap easy to get and does not cost much.

Joel Metz, bike messenger, randonneur and organizer of the Raid Californie-Oregon makes sense when he says:
I - firmly in the category of "if I finish PBP in 89 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, or less, I'm doing fine!" - live completely by two rules:

1. Eat early, eat often. (also works with drinking)

2. Drink water, eat food.

I generally don't touch any of the fancy-schmancy energy or recovery drinks, or much of anything in bar or goo form. I walk into an establishment that offers food, and get what my stomach says it wants.

If I'm packing in advance, I'm partial to the good ol PBJ; peanut butter/honey/banana sandwiches; dried and fresh fruit of various varieties; baguettes stuffed with a) tomato + avocado, b) brie or c) ham and butter; roasted/salted cashews; chocolate. If I could find a way to pack ice cream, I would. Seriously. I'll eat almost anything I can find along the way, and pretty much do. While I don't quite delve as deeply into the processed convenience store food as some do, I have a hard time passing up corn dogs, and again, if my stomach is demanding a certain item, far be it from me to question its judgment.

I'm "blessed" with a decade and a half of messengering, which means I have a greater than normal capacity to eat and run, or eat while riding. This helps with the whole "eating anything you encounter" thing.

Joel's "Eat what you encounter" philosophy mirrors my own, but a key part of this is having a sense of what you might encounter. I knew, from reading accounts of previous Great Divide racers, that there aren't a lot of Whole Foods Markets and fresh produce along the tiny trails that hug the spine of the Rockies. So for months before the race, I was eating lunches that I got from 7-11s and gas stations. I know what works for me.

Peanut M&Ms. God how I love Peanut M&Ms. Back in 1982, Peanut M&Ms got me across Wyoming. When it's hot, I need salt. Potato chips are good, Fritos are better. A great amount of calories for the weight.

Milk. Chocolate milk, regular milk, I don't care. The more fat the better. I don't carry it with me on the bike but washing a Hershey bar down with a pint of milk puts hundreds of calories into your system pretty darn quickly. And if you've practiced this a lot, like I have, you can do this in about a minute and be back on your bike.

The good folks at Clif will sell you Clif Shots and I know they work great but so do Gummi Bears. Or Gummi Fish. Or any other Gummi Creature.

Peanut Butter Cups. They are really good, but can get melty. Not an issue if you're doing something like the Iditarod or if you eat them fast. PayDay bars travel better in the heat, but lack the chocolatey goodness.

The common thread in all the responses I got and in the experiences we've all recounted is the importance of getting calories in, in finding a food you like that works for you.

As Chris Plesko, current Tour Divide single-speed record-holder wrote:
The Divide sure makes you eat weird food. I'm fond of all sorts of junk.

Reeses big cups and PB Twix are the best. Peanut M&Ms are a staple. Caramellos work awesome for before bed but not while riding. Same with Cheetos.

I also like any sort of little pastry item, lemon cake, cheese danish etc. Muffins work here too.

For savory, I'm fond of cheese sticks and peanuts and Pringles.

Starbucks DoubleShots are a gift to AM wake ups though I once hauled a king size GLASS Frapaccino because that's all there was.

Now I'm sure there is some favored cycling food that hasn't been mentioned here. And there might be one or two nutritionists who will have differing opinions as to what folks should be eating on long rides. That's what the comment section is for. What do you eat before, during and after long miles in the saddle? Let me know and keep on rolling,


photo courtesy of Brad Hawkins.