Tuesday, March 29, 2016

12 Stations of Cross

In Nomine Patris

This past Friday on Good Friday. Four of us got together for a little improv theater/art camp on two wheels. It is weird how sometimes art and theater just happen almost by accident. New England is weird. We get lots of weird holidays off. No disrespect but it is what it is. So when I saw the kids had Good Friday off from school and I knew a few of my friends likely had work off I sent out an email inviting people on an Unholy CX ride. That was it really. Certainly what unfolded was never discussed. I still don't know how it happened to be honest. What did happen was pure genius. I like to think it was inspired by Thom in a way. He and I have been talking a bit about social media and cycling and how its really a performance. Again, its hard to find the proper term for it. Performing art is really the best descriptive. What we do on twitter and instagram is for entertainment. A type of art. Johnny Utah has been the embodiment of this for as long as I have known him. Its why he is so fun to be around. It takes this whole "cycling is deadly serious" idea and smashes it to pieces. And that attitude in cycling deserves to be smashed to pieces over and over again until all that is left is radness. And fun.

He shoulders His Burden
Good Friday turned out to be an aptly nasty day. 40 degrees and raining. At times pouring rain. The weather gods lied about it warming up as the day went on. A few of us paid dearly for it. The crew ended up being Michele, Ed, Utah and myself. A great crew by any measure. While we were getting the bikes ready to roll the concept of doing the 12 Stations of Cross came up. Michele took the idea and ran with it. She took over my social media for the day and became equal parts art director/photographer for the ride/performance. Ed and Utah were 100% all in. Ed came up with some awesome photo staging. And Utah played the role of Cross Jesus. A roll he has played before. He bounces between Johnny Utah and Cross Jesus pretty fluidly during CX season. It become a running dialogue on our rides and at CX races. It was a big part of what inspired this performance.

He falls for the first time
The ride itself was hilarious. Again pouring rain, cold. Nasty wet roots and rocks. All of us laughing our asses off. No one complaining. Even poor Ed who was underdressed and frankly looked like he was getting hypothermia at times was pure Ed. Strong as hell. Funny. Up for anything. He is one the greatest guys to ride with I know. Or hang out with for that matter. Michele was definitely the genius behind this. She is a great photographer. Each photo was perfect.

He meets His Mother
The ride part was one I have been wanting to share with them for a while. Doing it within the context of the 12 Stations of the Cross made it that much more fun. We would talk about the next Station and I would be like "oh yeah, the cemetery stairs would be perfect!" and we would ride to the spot and set up and shoot and move on. For a ride that involved more photos than miles we moved pretty quickly. We only had one flat. One. Zero crashes. Zero mechanicals. Zero breakdowns. Everyone was in such good moods. I like friends who smile in the face of adversity. It is the only way.

Simon shoulders His Burden
The most challenging photo was probably "He meets the Women of Jerusalem" I knew the perfect spot. The Starbucks in Midfield of course. But Midfield is sort of a nice town. Not like douchey Wellesley or Dover. The people are actually really nice who live there. But its a nice suburb. So when four strangers roll in soaked to the bone with maniacal grins on their faces people sort of move away. We got the shot. And hung out for hot coffee and snacks. We stole some newspapers and stuffed them up our shirts to stave off the hypothermia.

Veronica wipes His Face
Rolling back we were already thinking of the last couple of Stations. He is stripped of his garments was pretty hilarious. Utah was 100% game. It was actually a challenge getting him to keep his clothes ON. Thankfully Michele kept it pro and just shot from the chest up. It is one of the more beautiful photos of the whole set.

He fall for the second time

He falls for the second time was like a flash back to the time Aumiller crashed off a wood bridge in Cutler and called me from the marsh. How I ever found him is beyond me. So glad I took that call. The trolls certainly would have feasted on his bones if we didn't find him and drag him to safety.

He meets the women of Jerusalem 
The whole ride became a meditative one in which we spent the day as friends in the woods and just having a blast. When we finally got home we pretty much ate all the food in the house. My wife and kids were troopers about the whole thing. This isn't their first rodeo as they say. They are used to dirty, bleeding bikers showing up at the house and eating everything in sight like a wolf pack.

He falls for the third time
I feel lucky my kids are exposed to adults like my friends who never stop being rad. They see that life isn't just about the system. Its about living it to the fullest. Art matters. The outdoors matter. Being rad matters.

He is stripped of His Garments

One of the more entertaining aspects of the whole day was all the funny texts and messages we all received during the ride. Most were of the "you are all going to burn in Hell" variety. Most were like "this is the best thing ever!" It fueled us on I won't lie. For me social media is just a conversation. A way to engage your friends in ways you just can't do when everyone is living their lives and busy.

He is nailed to the Cross
HUGE thanks to Michele, Ed and Utah! What a fantastic day. To say we are ready for the Ronde is an understatement. Being out all day in nasty weather and moving like sharks builds character. And is what is required of any rider who loves these types of rides. Live rad my friends.

He dies

Monday, March 14, 2016


Ok life isn't just about bikes. Life is bigger that that. This here blog and all my social media is basically a diary. A hot wide open mess of my life. Syd the kid is a HUGE part of my life. I will spare you the details but let's say there is no doubt we wanted a second child. It was not easy. Lots of heartbreak. But we got our Syd the kid. A miniature version of my wife Pam. We moved to Boston when Pam was six months pregnant with Syd. Our Dr out west thought we were insane. We were like dude? Chill. Boston. I hear they have really good Drs. It worked out. Syd came into our lives and changed everything. Syd the kid fell in love with ice hockey watching the Sochi Olympics. She had watched the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011. I am a big hockey and Bruins fan. I grew up with Hockey. I have a HUGE hockey family. Not your Ivy league hockey family. A blue collar grinding hockey family. But when I moved to Norcal that part of me was put in a box. Sure I followed it. Took on the Sharks as my team away from my hometown team.  But it wasn't a big part of our lives. Until the Sochi games.

That changed everything. Syd was 10. She told me she wanted to play hockey. Your kids ask for lots of things. It is like white noise. You tune it out. Then the low hum becomes a loud siren and you pay attention. Syd's friend Mina was a goalie. I emailed Mina's mom. She sent me a great email. Again, I played hockey. I know what is required. I hate to use the words "its too late" with anything in life as you only have one life. And you are talking about a 10 year old. But. Hockey in the Northeast and in a town like Needham is no joke. I went through that meat grinder. I broke bones. I got hurt. A lot. Was a tiny defenseman. But played with a dude who was a brute. He ended up being drafted by the Hartford Whalers. Went to the Olympics. Left high school his junior year. Yeah hockey is no joke. So when she said "I want to play hockey" It was equal parts pride and equal parts PTSD nightmare. But if there is one thing living through that gives you is perspective. Lots has changed. We live in a much more nurturing world. That world does not exist at the rink perse but the tools we have learned outside can be applied.

So I got busy. I found beginning hockey camps. I found skating lessons. I found a great league. The one I played in. Walking into St Sebs after being so far removed was surreal. But I played the game. Syd is a beast. She is tougher than any other human being I know. Our (and I know some parents cringe at that but it is what hockey is about) journey hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. The hockey itself was fine. She struggled but she kept grinding. Not starting to skate let alone play hockey until age 10 when most kids start skating at 3 or 4 and playing hockey at 6 is a HUGE disadvantage. But she battled. But we had a pretty huge set back the first summer. She was at Babson doing her beginner to hockey program when she looked funny. Her instructor started skating her off the ice. I knew something was wrong. A parent knows. I ran to the boards and to the door. She collapsed at the blue line. I ran out onto the ice. She looked at me and said she couldn't feel her legs. I picked her up and carried her off the ice. For bonus points my mom was there. Yeah. Awesome. I got her a gatorade. Then got her to the ER. She was fine. Just dehydration. But it set in motion a crazy year. Sending her back on the ice after that I felt equal parts horror and pride. Keep grinding. It is what hockey is about. You think those PROs are tough just because they are paid well? No. It starts early. Hockey players do not quit. Ever.

So we somehow survive that. She does great in a developmental team full of boys. She has one other girl on her team. Its half ice. No one keeps score. Other than the kids. She loves it. We get to the tryouts for the U12 girls team. The week before during practice she trips on a puck and crumbles on the ice. I am 100% sure she just broke her collar bone. Back to the ER. No break "just" a separation. We are talking about a 10 year old girl. Again. Kid doesn't blink. Talking to the ER Dr about books. IVs in. Doesn't flinch. We get home. Tryout is in a week. Her coach tells me she doesn't stand a chance of making the team. The girls director welcomes me with open arms. Don't worry she will do great. Instantly I see the difference between a girls team and a coed team. The girls are all business. They support each other in the line. If someone doesn't get the drill they explain it to the next girl. No punching. No tripping. Syd's first drill is against an older girl. Coach dumps the puck in a corner. Go get it. Syd goes in fast. Goes for the other girls body. Other girl is way faster and slides out. Syd goes full speed into the boards with her separated shoulder. Doesn't flinch. Survives the tryout. Makes the team.

Have I mentioned she is 5'6" and 120 and is 11? And is slower than all the other girls? But she is smart. Has so little hockey knowledge. But gets it. And has so little skating experience. We luck into a skating coach who meets us at Babson before school once a week. He is incredible. Works so patiently with her. Hockey is all about skill, experience and heart. Its so different than all other sports. Not just in my opinion but as a statement of fact.  It is the ultimate team game. Lots of sports can be influenced by one great player. Basketball can be dictated by one great player. Look at Jordan. Look what Stephen Curry did for the Warriors. Hockey is all about team work. The individual (unless you are a goalie) is only as good as the team. And even a great goalie can be neutralized by a better team. Its what makes hockey great. Hockey is also very unique in the fact it is a family sport. You have to drive your kid to the rink at 5 or 6 am. You sit in the rink or car and wait. You travel to tournaments. You bond as a family. Hockey itself can become one large family. Its why you don't see NHL players showing up in the police blotter like NFL and NBA players.

But this is about Syd. So you get the idea. It has been an intense journey with lots of hard work. But the reward is immeasurable. Syd looked at me the other day and said "Dad, I get the idea you are training me to be a Samurai not a hockey player." This is in fact a true statement. In Japan there were many paths to enlightenment—Flower arrangement, Brush painting, Archery and Sword fighting. Which way you chose was meaningless. It was the practice that mattered. Hockey has been a life saver for Syd. She has struggled with depression and anxiety. There have been some dark days. But hockey and her teammates have helped her so much. She is literally a different person since she started playing hockey. I am not a sports dad. I am not living out some unfulfilled Glory Days. What I am doing is fighting for my kids soul. She asked me as we were driving home from a tournament if she didn't make a college hockey team would she still go to college. I told her of course. We have a college fund. Who knows what will happen. Hockey and college aren't linked like that. We worry about the present not the future.   You can be what ever you want to be. Right now she wants to be a lawyer. And maybe a novelist. Ideally she is the next James Dashner only a woman obviously.

When I watch Syd play hockey it feels like CX used to feel. It is the same heart pounding rush I used to get while sitting at the line waiting for the whistle to blow. Some of her best games have been the games she has lost. I tell her that every time. She loves hockey. She loves her teammates. I am not saying it will protect her from mean girls or bad things that may happen. But when you roll with a  crew of badass girl hockey players you have a family that has your back. These girls battle for each other. They are friends on and off the ice. The parents are tight. I have zero non-cycling adult friends. This is all new to me too. And I like it. Sitting in a room of coaches and adults drinking bad beer and listening to 80s music I think to myself this is pretty ok. I couldn't be more proud of Syd and what she has accomplished. I wish Hockey season never had to end.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mud Season

Mud season sounds like the most wonderful time of year! Who doesn't LOVE mud???!!! We can get all shred nasty and commit to the rut while channeling our inner Belgian. No actually. Mud season is terrible. Or at least in my opinion it is. Riding on soft, muddy trails when they are in a thaw/freeze mode damages the trails. As does walking, riding a horse or letting packs of dogs run on them but I digress. Regulations vary in the Greater Boston area. NEMBA has done a great job working with the DCR on targeting the most sensitive time to ban usage in certain trail systems. The DCR used to have a ban from January to April 15. NEMBA negotiated a much more reasonable ban that is from March 1st - March 31st. Other areas can be a bit lengthier. The photo above is from Caryl Park. You can see it is March 1-April 30. March is a time of year when ALL trail users should avoid muddy trails. As a cyclist in this area we have to understand we have a responsibility to trail stewardship. We are very lucky to have so much access. And as much as it gets me going when authority figures dictate what I can or can't do they have been meeting us in the middle with this. March means no riding in the Fells or Blue Hills. Be smart and don't ride on soft trails. Ride on gravel or when the ground is frozen. Or ride the road! March is a great time to hit the road after a winter couped up inside.

Ok PSA over. Back to the #CBL! The other title for this post was going to be March: In like a lamb, out like a lion. It is my new mantra. Or hope. Or intention. I am beyond like a lamb right now. I am more like a Panda. Or the Panda of the NECX. I honestly don't remember being this out of shape before. It happens. Life. Getting old. Kids. Blah, blah blah. No excuses. So now its time to dig out. And what better way than a magic unicorn of a bike called RoboZank! This bike is a couple of years in the making. It has evolved from team SSCX bikes. Influences have come from many different people and things. The biggest influencer as always is the actual riding. If you tune into this here bloggity blog you know what I like. Well other than beer and cats. I like riding CXenduro style adventures with friends. Gravel is such an inelegant word for we do. And I think gravel to most means 80% pavement with some lame ass fire road thrown in. We ride our CX bikes on mtn bike trails. Why? Because it is fun. Fun? How is taking away two decades of advancements and risking life and limb on skinny tires fun? We are sick bastards what can I tell you.

So you get it. We wanted to develop a CX bike that could handle technical mountain bike trails. Now before you get all hot and bothered I am not saying we are hucking this thing off rock drop offs in NTF. Or even riding NTF. Ok we ride through NTF to the rail trail. And sometimes bounce around on some of the more fun less murdery trails. A CX bike if it is smartly equipped can handle anything. You just have to be smart or as Colin (or was it Adam) would say you now have a pencil instead of an eraser. So yes you have to revert to that old school style of rigid, v-brake, paying attention, picking your lines and being smooth style of riding. It allows you to put 40, 50 or 60 mile rides together very easily. We have so many cool little parks and trails that weave in and out of different towns. There really is a paradigm shift happening. Sure there are some holdouts…cough Dover cough sucks cough. But most towns are embracing building rail trails, establishing trail easements and creating little footpaths. It has changed how I view riding. When I step out for a "road" ride I am constantly peeking into the woods looking for the next secret stash.

Ok so about the bike. It is a Zanconato. Built by my good friend Mike. Mike is on a whole other level with his building right now. He transitioned from lugged steel (which he still does and quite well!) to TIG Aluminum and steel. I love aluminum. I was a firm believer in steel. Until I rode a Rock Lobster Team TIG. Then everything changed. Aluminum is fantastic. Great ride quality. Durable and light. Mike in a very short time has taken the bikes to that magic level. This sky blue bike is a second generation of the team bike. It is the exact same as the first one. And yet somehow rides like a magic unicorn. Mike says its the same but it is better than the old one. I could tell immediately. I was able to whip it around in a way that I just haven't before. As stated earlier, I am in horrible shape. My first ride I smashed a little KOM in my backyard. It won't stand. But like I said you stomp on the pedals and the bike takes off. I noticed that today on a longer ride. I got tired but the bike didn't. I would accelerate and the bike would just go! I think this is what I like about aluminum bikes done well. They are all business.

Ok I know I am going a bit over the top. This happens when I get one of Mikey's bikes. But let's talk details. Frame as previously mentioned is aluminum. Deda. Fork is ENVE. But the magic is in the details. We went with a bit of a Franken-drivetrain. In our team prototypes we played with different hydro brakes. The shimano are hands down the best. No debate there. Di2 is so nice. It made converting the SSCX into a nice 1x very simple. We spent some time on the 1x and quickly became enamored by it. I prefer it. But there are some limiters. Di2 Ultegra is limited to 11-32. That is a fine range with a double. 50/34 with 11-32 can handle anything. But we wanted a 1x for simplicity. Ben Berden has been using 1x for cross for a while. I saw his hack of the new TRP Hylex and thought how cool that would be. For CX racing a 11-32 is plenty of range. But if you want to do D2R2 or VT Overland you are going to want a 1:1. 40 x 32 would be brutal. At least for me. Sean Rudzinsky and I talked a ton about this whole idea. He always said going with an XTR rear would be the sick set up. And he is right. By using an XTR Di2 rear mech you can go 11-40. With a 40 front ring you have that 1:1 that is needed for long days and lots of elevation.

Yes, the XTR rear mech is crazy expensive. And its in a vulnerable area. But people drop money on carbon wheels like it is no problem. $2,000 on a set of wheels seems crazy to me. I am sure lots of people think a $500 rear derailler is nuts. An XT version is coming. That should make it a bit more reasonable. And the TRPs are much cheaper than the Ultegra Di2 hydros. So do the TRPs work as nice as the Shimano? No. Shimano's are 10. TRP are 8.5. Shimano's are one finger on off braking. They go full stop with one finger. That is impressive. They don't fade and they rarely squeal. TRPs have more lever feel. Sort of like cantis in a way. I like that about them. But once you get past the initial drag its full stop. They squeal a bit when dirty. But do not fade. I really like them. They sort of fit my riding style. And I really prefer the ergonomics of the hoods. The Shimanos would cause me some pain on long rides. I have some wrist issues. The TRP have a nice long hood that allows me to open up my wrist and get into a natural position.

The hack, which I bow down to TRP for, involves a Shimano climbing button. Usually it goes on the tops of the bars to shift will climbing. It is more a switch than a button like on the lever of a Di2. TRP designed a little port into the inside of the brake lever. You cut out the grip and zip tie it in and voila you basically have a Campy style Di2 shifter. I grew up on Campy and love shifting with my thumb. It was probably the single biggest adjustment when I went form Campy to SRAM and then to Shimano. So how does it work. Flawlessly. The XTR Di2 changes across the range with zero effort. Just zip zap and pew pew. I would say the other huge advantage to a CXenduro bike is tubeless tires. Again I was a late adopter to this. Just like the disc brakes. I wanted to see how it would shake out. My friend David Deitch's follies with tubeless were like watching a train wreck. Over and over again. But the technology caught up. There are enough quality tubeless ready tires that you can pick what you want for your riding. There are lots of great tubeless ready wheels and rims. It seems like we have a new tubeless wheel company pop up onto our radar each day! The wheels I have been using are made by November and are basically Stan's Grails with November hubs. It has changed everything.

Being able to run 35 psi on a rocky trail is a game changer. And being able to race and ride the same set of wheels is fantastic. I have been known in the past to ride tubulars in the woods because I was too lazy to change wheels. Now I don't need to worry about it. I am pretty sure I will race tubeless next year in the actual cross season. I don't see what I would go back to tubulars after my experience with these wheels and tires. Speaking of tires. I won't lie I can be a CX Diva. I am very picky. And I tend to notice tiny little things. And sometimes those things get in my head. I have been riding really fat tires all winter. On the fat bike. And on my mtn bike. Transitioning back to skinny tires has been an adjustment! I love the Specialized Terra. Its a 33. Which is a good size. But I miss my 40 Nanos. I am too lazy to swap them out. And I like the faster 33s. But if you have never tried a 40 you really should. So fun in the woods. You still have to pay attention but it really smooths things out. Especially tubeless.

I have had two rides on the bike and it already feels like a bike I have been on for years. Well, in fairness it is. It just happens to be new! Lots of exploring to do. The bike is going to get a lot of action this Spring/Summer. So excited to hit Vermont and get some nice dirt riding in. We will dial in our Southern X route. The BCT has been a huge boon for linking up some rad trails. HUGE thanks to Mike Z for always putting up with full auto ADD and making the magic happen.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


This time last year I was in Aruba drinking Myers rum Pina Coladas and being towed at warp speed behind a speed boat in an inner tube. But alas fine friends you can't always live like Kayne burning through Benjamins like there is no tomorrow. Or a GoFund Me to help bail you out of a 53 million deficit. Poor MC Hammer. Can you imagine if Hammer had GoFund Me? No one. And I mean no one has to go bankrupt nowadays. But I digress. I would be lying if I said we (we being me and my wife) had a plan. Full disclosure my wife is the smartest human being I have ever met. She has a head for business and nails that shine like justice. I am not joking. Aruba was probably the best vacation of my life. Came at the perfect time. IceWorld666 had its steely grips on us. We were transported from Hoth to Paradise. With El Nino and a lack of Marriott points it was prudent to do a staycation this february. So we went full #nerdcation. My kids are amazing. Super smart. Funny. Creative. Badasses. We work hard to stay connected with them. People think the hard part raising kids is 0-5. Hahah that is hilarious.

I have been a stay-at-home dad for 15 years. I don't do this because I can't do anything else or I am a slacker. I do it because I know how important it is for my family. Google business and women and see what articles pop up in the thread. The burden on women in business is staggering. They are expected to work harder than their male counterparts and do more at home and in the family than their male counterparts. So how do they do this? The same way a man would. They need a stay-at-home spouse. In my case it was an easy choice. I love my wife. We have been together since High School. We are soul mates and best friends. I would literally die for her. So when we had our first child 3,000 miles away from family and any support system it was super easy for me to just take the pedal off the metal and commit to raising my daughter and supporting my wife in her career. The #CBL is incredible. I love what I do. All the cliches apply. And I get time to do some cool things during the day. But from day one we have valued certain things raising the kids. It is equal part wolf pack/pirate ship & Project Christmas. We aren't raising these kids to be sheep.

We value in no order: Art, reading, writing, business, strength, nature, kindness loyalty, never giving up, being tough, being soft, animals. And above all we revere being nerds. Stevil sort of got me thinking about a Nerdcation with his #AHTBMnerdoff I wicked dropped the ball on building the actual model car but it brought up so many memories of my childhood and building models. Ok maybe I huffed too much glue but whatevahs. We have been going to museums since they were babies. I would have Syd in a baby bjorn and Zoe at my side in the halls of the MFA. Zoos. Aquariums. Hikes. They both are prolific writers and artists. And they are both great at math and science and language. Who knows where it will end. We tell them they can do anything they set their mind to and work hard for. Pam went to UMASS Boston and has a degree in English and Women's Studies. She is more successful in business than the women I know who went to IVY league schools. I went to RISD and studied Illustration. Which led me to publishing and being an editor. It is hard to tell what trajectory you are on til you get there.

In our house we celebrate all the weirdness in life. We aren't looking to conform we are looking to lead. To inspire. To build up. When it became obvious that Feb vaca was going to be a staycation I got creative. Signed Syd up for a 3-day mini hockey camp. Took the kids to the MFA. We went to Deadpool. Went up to Portland to dog sit my sister in laws dog at the most BALLER house on the ocean. I secretly brought up a Dungeons and Dragons starter kit. Why? Because I wanted to engage my 15 year old. She is a genius. Works her ass off. Has had straight A's since middle school. All Accelerated classes Freshman year of HS. And all A's. And is a total nerd. I knew she would love it. Sometimes its hard to connect with your kids through the different stages of their lives. You have to keep working. Find ways. D&D is awesome. It took a bit to wrap our brains around it but it is perfect for our family. Sure I got smoked by some Goblins cause I went into battle with a half drunk Dwarf but that is how it goes.

Portland, Maine is one of my (and my families) favorite places on earth. Food is amazing. Old port town with so much character. Sometimes I feel like the Griswolds. Shit goes of the rails fast. We came up one year on Thanksgiving and shit hit the literally fan. Full Nor'easter. Power got knocked out. Thanksgiving basically was canceled. But we improvised. Car got towed. Had to basically go full Jason Stratham on some sketchy Russian dudes to get the car back. Had to dispose of a turkey like a mafia hit. But we laugh about it now. I think that is the key to being happy. You have to laugh in the face of shitty stuff. And rewrite the paradigm. I am not saying you can always do this. Shit gets real sometimes. But I swear this family has survived so many things with this attitude.

This Nerdcation was oddly one of my favorite times spent as a family. Didn't touch a bike. At all. Went to two great museums. Binge watched X-Files. Binge watched Gotham. Read some great books. Introduced D&D to the kids. Quality dog time. Hockey. Family. These are the things that matter. Monday its back to the #CBL. Time to make the chimichangas on Monday. Need to get fit by Spring. This freeze/thaw/freeze/thaw has been the weirdest Winter since I have been home. Some sick fat biking. Some great times with the family. I am a damn lucky man.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Primo Fat

I borrowed the title of this post from Matt Roy. Primo means the best. At least in surf culture. "This is a primo surf spot dude…." Back in the early '90s I was lucky to be friends with some people who wanted to bring surf culture to cycling. They were young, creative punks who frankly could give two shits about the conservative, Italianophile, hero worship, road focused, male dominated culture that was at its peak at the time. They lived in Marin County, Oakland, Santa Cruz and SF where surf culture was a big part of the scene. They launched a company called Swobo. It was awesome. It formed how I thought about bike culture. I had always revered surf culture. Which is weird for a kid living in the burbs on the east coast with zero chance of ever surfing. But I learned to windsurf and was always around the water. Mostly on sailboats. I was a lifeguard. Its sort of funny looking back at it. I booked a trip to Maui from the back of a windsurf magazine. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life. My girlfriend (later to be wife) somehow went along with this whole thing and joined me on the trip. 

I literally did not want to leave Maui. It just felt like where I should be. I came home with coral scars and a total addiction to windsurfing. Fast forward to the 1990s and I have sold all my windsurf equipment and am living in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment in SF with my soulmate. We are typical 20-somethings trying to figure out life after college. We had nothing. Zero money. Expensive hobbies were not an option. I worked like 5 jobs. Bartended til 2 am, woke up at 6 am and worked food prep in a diner. Interned with some weird computer guy. Got a unpaid "job" at a strange magazine called "California Bicyclist" That 80,000 art school degree was killing it! It actually was in a weird way. Art school may not have been the smartest career move but it made me who I am. Wide open. So when my barback asked me if I wanted to go surfing I said "sure" Little did I know that would propel me in a whole other direction. Now, I had never surfed in my life. I was a strong swimmer but that was it. He lived out at the outer sunset and had a whole garage full of boards. We would throw the boards in his car and head out to Noriega St.

I eventually figured it out. Not without some close calls. Ocean Beach is no joke. Vicious rip tides. Big heavy waves. Scariest place I have ever been in the water. You would see headless seals on the beach from time to time. But I was lucky to be with a good crew that knew what they were doing. One of the more insane moments surfing was a time we went down to Half Moon Bay and paddled out into what looked like waves that blotted out the horizon. Waves are weird. You are on your stomach paddling so its hard to tell just how big they are til you get out there. On this day I just paddled as hard as I could to get out over the close out waves. My friend Alan was super strong. I was killing myself just to stay close to him. I won't lie I was pretty scared. But with surf you have to commit to it. To survive sometimes you have to just dig deep and paddle as hard as you can til you are out past the impact zone.

We went over huge waves. They seemed the size of buildings. I am sure they were probably only 6 feet or so. But they seemed enormous. I finally get out past the break and sat on my board. I look around and its only me and one other guy. I ask him where everyone went. He doesn't speak English. Pretty sure he was Brazilian. We sort of smile and with shrugs agree we need to get back to the beach. I put my hands in the water to take a few paddles and feel a huge current. I look over my shoulder and realize we have been pulled waaaaaaayyy outside. That is why no one was around. I look in at the beach and it is just white water. Totally closed out. We are basically heading to the Farallons at this point so I say fuck it. I paddle into the current and take the next wave. It is like dropping off a cliff. I sort of make the drop and turn up to ride down the line and the wave just explodes. I get sucked down so far my ears pop. And I don't hit bottom. Which is a bad sign. I get held under for what seems forever. I pop up. I pull my leash to my board and all that is left is a boogie board size piece of the tail. The whole board was snapped in half under the weight of the wave.

 I have time to take a deep breath and boom. Get smashed again. I hug that tail of the board like its my only hope. I come back up. I get sucked down by one more wave. When I pop up the third time I am pretty relaxed. I basically body surf into the next wave and ride the tail of the board all the way into the beach. Alan is waiting for me with the other two pieces of my board. He is freaking out. He was seconds away from calling the Coast Guard. Pretty sure I would have been shark bait by the time any helicopter or boat could have gotten to me. But that day while brutal was a turning point. I got a new board. We surfed almost every day. To this day surfing in my opinion is the greatest "sport" on earth. Nothing compares. Oddly the closest thing that gives me that same feeling is Winter. I have no idea why. I think its because of how intense it can be. Its beautiful and a magical playground. But if you aren't on top of your shit it can kill you.

My good friend and trail ninja supreme sent me a book about surfing. She grew up in Hawaii and we have shared some books and movies about Hawaii. She, rightfully, is very proud of her Hawaii'n heritage. It is an amazing culture. There is a line in the book that both captures my feeling about surfing, winter and mountain biking. William Finnegan writes: "Everything out there was disturbingly interlaced with everything else, Waves were the playing field. They were the goal. They were the object of your deepest desire and adoration. At the same time, they were your adversary, your nemesis, even your mortal enemy. The surf was your refuge, your happy hiding place, but it was a hostile wilderness—a dynamic, indifferent world." I honestly could care less about euro-centric bike culture. What I care about is building a community not unlike a surfing community. And I think we have done just that. I am blown away by what bike culture has become since I have been a part of it. Its scary how deep I have gone into this crazy bike culture. All of my friends are bikers. My greatest moments outside of my family are with all of you weird cyclists.

If, to me, cycling culture has become so closely related to surf culture. Riding a fat bike in my opinion is the closest you can actually come to that feeling on a bike. It is a tiny community of riders. The conditions can change in an instant. You are always looking for that perfect wave or in fat biking terms that perfect run. When the conditions set up right it is magical. But it its tough. There is a reason so many fat bikes show up on Craigslist. It is fucking hard. You have to paddle out through closeout sets and get your ass kicked. Hahaha, see what I did there? You have to hike-a-bike. The snow can be too soft. Too icy. Too chopped up. But when its right it is amazing. And like surfing you need to scout out the spots. You need to be a part of it. One of the coolest parts of this whole symbiotic relationship with the woods is taking the dog into the woods and scoping out the trails. Fat bikers owe a LOT to dog walkers, XC skiers, Snowshoers. New Englanders are tough as nails. You would think no one would go in the woods when its 20 degrees and icy. To me this is the best time to go into the woods. I LOVE Winter. No ticks. No bugs. No poison ivy. No HEAT and humidity. And less crowds. The people in the woods are stoked to see you. People love seeing fat bikes. I know this was a bit of a ramble. My point is there is no reason to fear Winter. Or look at it like some burden of living on the east coast. Embrace it. Experience it. Love it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Under Pressure

With obvious apologies to Bowie fans for the use of the title let me take the red pill and go down the Fat Bike tire rabbit hole. I love fat bikes. You all know that by now. It is probably one of those things that annoy you but you put up with if you are my friend. If you aren't my friend you probably have a fat head of my face that you throw darts at every time I go full auto about fat bikes on social media. I know my ADD is bad. Fat bikes and fat biking for me is sort of like giving a red bull to a 14 year old kid with ADHD. The act of fat biking gives me full lizard brain and I just chill and can totally focus. But outside of the activity I go into total freak out mode thinking of all the possibly ways to make it radder. Or better. Or less un-rad. I think its very similar to cross in this way. I suck at cross. I may suck at fat biking. But I love both pursuits and I love all the little details that go into both. There are lots of similarities between cross and fat bikes. Ok I know you just spit your coffee out all over your Macbook. Before you throw it against the wall indulge me for a moment.

Both have ever evolving standards and riders and engineers are constantly pushing the boundaries of how the bikes are set up. We all know at this point how much cx racers obsess over tire pressure and tire set up. Unless you just embrace the file tread lifestyle…Fat bikes are the same way. I didn't understand this at first. I would pump the tires way up and bounce over and off everything and wonder why I wasn't having any fun. Then I started letting the air out. Its a teeter totter with tubes. Especially if you are riding on dirt and rocks. On snow you really would have to go low to get a flat even with tubes. But on dirt and rocks and mountain bike trails if you go below 8 with tubes you are going to flat. Ask me how I know. And changing a fat tire flat is a royal pain in the ass. Like use up ALL your Co2 chargers and then pull out the mini-pump and pump so much your hands seize up into angry lobster claws.

Ok so after flatting like a boss for a few weeks I decided to throw money and technology at this and go tubeless. All my bikes are tubeless why shouldn't my fat bike be? My mechanic rebuilt my current wheels. He went with 80 mm tubeless Mulefut rims from Sun. I asked if I could get them in purple ano. He obviously laughed at me and said 1989 called and it wants its mullet back. But other than the obvious low pressure no flats reason why go tubeless? A fat bike tube weighs about ten pounds. Ok that is an lie but they are heavy. A Surly tube weighs over a pound. So you take two of those out and there is two pounds. Lighter rims maybe another pound or two. So the conversion saved me about 3 pounds of rolling weight. That is a no-brainer. Was I worried about burping? My mechanic weighs about 200 pounds. He had to stand on the sidewall of the tire to unseat it. Which basically means if I do flat in the woods I am screwed. But that won't happen so why worry?

We went with tubeless ready Van Helgas. Very nice aggressive tires. Like a Nate but on steroids and tubeless ready. For a tire that looks like a motocross tire they also roll surprisingly well. Aka not like a tractor tire which is sort of nice. The conversion was noticeable right away. Not the weight as fat bikes are so heavy you really aren't going to notice 3-4 pounds. On any other bike 3-4 pounds would be a game changer. Not with fat bikes. We are still talking about a 30 pound bike that is built to roll slow over everything. But what is noticeable is the lower pressure. Massive traction. Both on off cambers and tricky climbs. Going from 12 psi to 8 psi makes a HUGE difference with a fat bike. Way less bouncing and way more shredding.

I have used three fat bike tires: Surly Nates, Dillinger 4 with studs and the Van Helgas. Like CX you are rarely going to find a tire that is going to handle all conditions well. They will be great on 90% of what your are riding and then suck at the other 10%. Or you could go the opposite and get a tire that is great at 10% of the riding and then just ok at the other 90%. Along these lines the biggest question to me is whether to use studs or not use studs. If you have ever had a heavy crash on ice this probably isn't even a question. Studs save your ass. Literally. I crashed so hard on Blue Hills on a patch of ice I laid there for about 2 minutes wondering if I had broken my hip. I opened my eyes to see Nable and Utah looking down at me with very concerned faces. I was fine. One of the upsides of being big boned is you have lots of paddling. But I took the Nates off and put studded Dillingers on after that ride.

Here are my thoughts on the three tires I have some experience on. All the tires I have used are 4 inch tires. I have room for 5 inches but haven't gone that route. Mostly because my riding tends to be year round and more woods riding than groomed ski mobile track. I suspect if you ride in heavy snow or on snow mobile trails you would want 5 inch tires for the extra volume. I just like the fat bike to be a bit more nimble. The bike is sort of slow anyway. Putting a 5 inch tire I worry about really slowing things down.

Surly Nate:

I started out on the Nates and love them. They were recommended by a bunch of friends. Great side knobs and aggressive tread. Heavy. And flat prone with tubes at low psi. Well flat prone the way I ride on rocky trails. As stated earlier I ride the fat bike year round and as a mountain bike.

Dillinger Studded:

A life saver. Great traction on ice. If you ride in the woods in winter you will encounter ice. Its like encountering a shark in the ocean. If you see it and the shark isn't hungry you are fine. If you don't see it and the shark is hungry you are fucked. Dillingers are also great tires in general. There one weakness is heavy or fresh powder. They have a pretty low profile tread. Which is awesome on packed stuff and frozen terrain. But gets pretty crazy on powder and slick rocks and roots. Its sort of like a file tread CX tire I guess. You just adjust your riding a tad. It is my go to tire for Winter

Van Helga:

Love this tire. Basically a Nate on steroids. Same great traction as the Nate just lighter. Rolls pretty fast. terrible on ice.

One last thought on fat bike tires and riding. Fat bike tires have a pretty horrible lean angle. I always forget this. A couple of good crashes and I am reminded of what you can and can't do on a fat bike. Most of my bikes I can dive pretty nicely into corners and carve out. On a fat bike if the conditions are right you can do this. But if its wet or loose things can go bad fast. There is so much weight and momentum behind the bike that when it breaks loose it crashes down like an 800-pound gorilla.

I am curious to try the new Bontrager studded tire. It looks like a nice mix of the Van Helga and Dillinger. But not unlike CX tubulars fat bike tires are ridiculously expensive. And are a pain in the ass to swap so its not like you can just swap at will on whim. Love to hear other riders thoughts on what tires they like and how they set up their bikes.