I would like to assume readers of this site are familiar with the name Koichi Yamaguchi. If not, let me offer a quick intro. Yamaguchi began his career as the master builder for 3 Rensho in Japan during the early 1980’s. Most of his frames went between the legs of professional Keirin riders. They had to be light, durable, and fast! Keirin frames have to withstand the trials and tribulations of track racing. If one were to break, the builder would lose their NJS license and that would mean the end of the company.
If you’ve followed the reporting for the last three years on this Cyclocross Pilgrimage to the Motherland, you will have read plenty of tales of struggling, suffering, and the general beat downs of European race life. I’m not here to make excuses or polish turds. I’m here to tell it to you like it is. To keep it real. Thus I’ve written more than 30 articles bringing you along for my weekly whoopings in all their self-deprecating glory because that’s the truth. That’s the reality. That’s the story.
And now, dearest readers, I finally have a happy tale to tell. Though it feels an odd one to write, and I cringe at potentially walking the fine line of self-aggrandizing douche. But I try to consider the context. This is the first time in over 30 deadlines that I’ve managed a meaningful achievement. This too is just part of the ride. The reality. The story. And it’s the kind I might not get to write again for another three years, or for that matter, ever again…
Los Angeles’ Golden Saddle Cyclery is a hive for unique bicycles. From classic Miyatas to vintage MTBs and even work from framebuilders, if you hang out enough, you’ll see all kinds of bikes roll through. Blake’s Gretlein Cycles is a perfect example of some of the stunning beauties that roll through the shop.
At 7am the alarm went off (feel free to cue up the “waves” ringtone on your iPhone to set the mood). We were in our cushy-ish hotel in Naryn city after having a couple of days off to rest. This is ALWAYS when it is hardest to pry yourself from the grips of city comforts. Knowing that we had more than a week between towns of any significance on the horizon only added to the challenge of getting moving.
As it goes in the pleasant winter months in Los Angeles, we get a lot of cycling tourists, rolling through town like a tumblin’ tumbleweed. Last week, my friends Brad and Rhys were in town, soaking up the sun and riding all the dirt roads LA county has to offer. Rhys was riding on this Pioneer Valley ‘cross bike and I had to document this noble steed.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
Like my four-year-old son said the other day: “You can’t survive death.”
Somehow this made me think of this race. It’s all about surviving in the end. But it’s mostly about being alive, to the fullest.
The outdoors can mean many different things to people. For those into bikes, especially mountain biking, the woods are a place to send and shred. We trade leads and follows, lines and trails. We might not admit it, but for a lot of us riding is a form of therapy. Instead of therapists invoices we sink our cash into new bikes and wheels for the same mental result, and a lot more sweat. Those of us who enjoy unrestricted access to outdoors might be unaware that not everyone experiences that same ease of access. As a result, the benefits one gets from riding through through the woods or in the mountains with friends are not evenly felt by all.
The WTF Bikexplorers Summit – part skill share, part retreat – is a forum for WTF folks that aims to change that imbalance. This year, the second annual summit (the first one was in Montana) featured a pre-summit camp out and ride from the Chris King Farm outside of Portland, OR to the summit in Vernonia.
Nesting projects. While some families go crazy building out and decorating a “nursery”, we mostly tried to figure out how to continue our bike lifestyle once our baby arrived. When Stephanie was pregnant, we fawned over Larry vs. Harry’s Bullitt, tried out the very-Euro Riese and Müller Packster, and bought into the front load aesthetic right away.
But, long term practicality was never too far away, considering the astronomical cost of an electrified front-loader. As it turns out, our friend Adam, whose Bullitt we borrowed for a couple months in 2018, let us know that his daughter was in fact outgrowing the bike’s kid canopy at only 4 years of age. Not only was her helmet hitting the top of the enclosure, but she was losing interest in riding in the “trailer” on the front of the bike.
High costs mixed with the prospect of the bike possibly lasting only three years before its primary cargo turned on it meant we were wary of dropping into an electric box bike. When the opportunity came along to review the first Surly Big Easy to make its way into Canada, we were very, very stoked. The dream of a car-lite lifestyle was alive!
I immediately swept out and scored an older Yepp seat with the requisite (and obsolete) adapter off the local buy and sell, and we got scheming on how to adapt to the longtail lifestyle.
I’ve been a fan of Cjell Moné‘s bikes for some time, from seeing his custom TDR bike on the wall at Adventure Cycling HQ to him writing about brazing alongside masters for his production run of frames. Until recently, I had only thrown my legs over Kirsten’s personal frame at infamous Brush Mountain Lodge waiting out snow on the TDR. Cjell and I have quite a disparity in size thus making his personal bikes out of the question. A few weeks ago, Cjell let me know that Nate from Blue Dog Bikes in Tucson was purchasing his “demo” bike that was my size and that I should take it for a spin. I jumped at the chance, I was always too self-conscious to ask an operation as small as his to put together a bike solely for me to rip and review. But since someone else already had the bike and was nice enough to let me rip it for a few days, shred I will.
… aka Rocky and Bullwinkle
Rocky and I didn’t really know exactly what we were getting into when we showed up at an LA Tourist Race last year, but that’s how most Rocky and Bullwinkle adventures start off anyway. They always end up saving the world, so why should this be any different?
The LA Tourist race is this race—well, kinda a race, well, no yeah, it is totally a race for those who want a shot at snagging the coveted jersey that represents a combination of fitness, mental agility, and conviction—that is put on out of love and love alone by Mike from Golden Saddle Cyclery (GSC). For the rest of us, it’s an unpredictable situation to get yourself into some laughably challenging terrain. And that’s what makes it fun. It isn’t just a bike race though, it’s unsanctioned, it offered coffee and bike snacks – spoiler alert there was an aid station – it’s a free bike race that welcomes and gathers the people, and it doesn’t have a set route. Like a fixie alleycat for the mountain people. This lack of an established course is where the mental agility comes into play. So, layered on top of the “bike race” strategy that needs to be employed [for the racers at least] is this create-your-own-map puzzle that spans from the city to the peaks punctuating the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains, and these peaks tend to always be on gravel roads.
Hanford Cycles calls Philadelphia their home and as home town heros, at this year’s Philly Bike Expo, they brought a subtle and subdued fendered road bike, when compared their ornate and attention-grabbing classic randonneur bike from last year’s show. Simon of Hanford Cycles worked for Bilenky for 14 years, before leaving to launch his own enterprise, Hanford Cycles. As you can see from the lugwork on this and all of Simon’s bikes, it appears to be working out for him just fine.
The details on this long distance road bike are stunning! It’s equipped with a SON hub for a generator lamp eventually, fenders, cantilever brakes for extra clearance around the fenders, and a geometry tuned for the long road ahead.
Paul de Valera does it all, he’s the mechanic, manager, buyer, PR, HR, ride leader, ride organizer, social media expert, designer, illustrator, coaster brake extraordinaire at Atomic Cycles. Paul doesn’t have a cell phone, still uses a yahoo email address, and hand draws every single one of his flyers. While this may be fine for a shop that puts on a handful of events a year, but Paul’s ride calendar is ridiculous. Atomic Cycles host a weekly BMX Cruiser ride, two Coaster Brake Race Series a year, vintage mountain bike rides, downhill racing on children’s bikes, a few long gravel rides, a winter and summer solstice ride across the Santa Monica Mountains, a SoCal Single Speed Mountain Bike Championship, a ride where everyone dresses like ninjas in the middle of the night and spends most the ride in fear of someone jumping out and attacking them, a BMX Sidehack Race, the S.C.U.M.B.A.G Mountain Bike Weekend, a Turkey Day Ride, and a SanFernando Valley to DTLA ride. Try to say that 10 times fast!
The Salton Sea first appeared to me back in 2016, a couple of days into the Stagecoach 400 bike packing trip with the Borrachos. It appeared to me then as it appeared on this passage, an out of place body of water in the desert landscape, planar and mirage inducing. It could have been the heat exhaustion the first time I saw it, but the sea seemed to bend the horizon. We only saw it in the distance at that time, as our Stagecoach route took us up and away into Anza Borrego. This time around though, we’d pedal straight for it.
“You’re sleeping in a tent out there? Aren’t you worried about them?” a girl from Kyrgyzstan’s capital city who was enjoying a weekend trip to the local favorite Song-Kul lake asked us. I thought to myself wondering what she might be referring to. After a moment she realized our confusion and clarified… “The Wolves”.
Mert Lawwil had already been a legendary motorcycle racer for years and was building and selling Harley Davidson flat-track racing frames with Terry Knight when they got the idea to weld up a batch of BMX bicycle frames. But Don Koski of the Cove Bicycle Shop in Tiburon, California (hangout spot of mountain biking progenitors, The Larkspur Canyon Gang), convinced them to make a production run of “mountain bikes” in batches of 50 at a time instead. Mert and Terry had to label and sell these bikes as “cruisers” because most other bicycle shops didn’t understand or want to sell “mountain bikes”…yet.
The Kosciuszko Alpine Classic is just a name I came up with for a ride I did with my two good mates, Ben and James. We had organised a week off work in late October to go and spend some time in the Australian Alps. The route would see us riding primarily through the Kosciuszko National Park, taking in the wild brumby infested Long Plain, then going up and over the highest rideable trail in Australia, and also along some of the newest and flowiest single track built in the region. It was going to be classic!
Remember last week’s story about the Coaster Brake Challenge? Well, this was the bike that Kyle from Golden Saddle built up post-haste for the last race of the year. At the time, he wanted to save up for something special but with a race rapidly approaching, he had to go quick and easy…
My friend Rebecca Gates once told me, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” She quickly admitted that this piece of wisdom came from tennis legend Arthur Ashe. Since then it has been at the top of my mind. There is power in this expression “Start where you are” eliminates steps to action. “Use what you have” wrests back agency– doing this engages oneself in action while giving oneself to taking action, or “do what you can.”
Action, especially towards a greater good, is the most salient way to combat the various tentacles of existential dread, whether they are cancer, capitalism, or climate change. No matter where we turn, dread appears. Unavoidable but not unconquerable, we succumb only through inaction. Taking the first step towards action can be difficult, especially in our culture, which seems to perpetually discovering new heights of apathy. The world and our culture can feel like an incredibly heavyweight.