Mother’s Day

•May 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

Casey Patterson Kelley, Ramona D’Viola, JP at world’s first mountain bike camp

I was a bit late to Mill Valley today , so I drafted a youngish woman in Sunshine/Cloudburst kit, until she realized she was being cyclostalked by a 58 yr old

on a battered Breezer with  panniers and a box on the rack full of baby tomato plants. She’d blown silently past, and as usual, I clung like a burr to her wheel.

Until she noticed.

A few veers across the (surprisingly un-busy) road and I conceded that some folks need to give permission for a burr to be on their wheel. I’d noticed she was constantly fiddling with her music in the rear right pocket (reminding me of the 2009 Vodka ride, where it was routine to see an arm bend back and do something to the pocket every half hour or so). Her food fell out of the pocket–piece of PB & J sandwich, and a homemade macaroon (I scooped up the baggie without even stopping–it’s one of my skills).  Alas she sped off before I could give her back her snack.

ANYWAY she helped me go from a little late to Right On Time to the Russian Chamber Orchestra Mother’s Day Concert.
Carol (Mother-in-love) Cunningham had a seat for me. As I settled in, she smiled “I bet if I told you 30 years ago you’d be doing this (sitting in a church pew, getting ready to be blown away by classical music), you wouldn’t believe me.”
I thought about 30 years. 1982…the year I met Charlie.

No, I met him in 80, on the Appetite Seminar ride… Ok, so 30 years ago I was just getting into the Marin scene.

But two years after that, I was leading a women’s ride/camp in Point Reyes, with the redoubtable Casey Patterson (nee Kelley).

So I had to call her, but she’s peripatetic, so I reached her brother, Michael (also legendary rider/advocate in his own right; google East Bay Bicycle Coalition). He was out, but his wife Wendy filled me in on how to get ahold of my old pal, who  has moved several times since her Topanga heyday…

No luck getting her, or Ramona D’Viola, the other trail guide on that incredible day. The very first mountain bike camp ever, in the world.

Fourteen women. Two mom-daughter pairs. My life changed forever. Casey inspired me to create WOMBATS. She and I did the first ever cycle skills camp/girls knobby  vaycay ever… Wait til I throw a picture in. Carolyn Donegan sent me a folio…

Dinosaurs roam Davis

•May 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

UC Davis student/teacher Sarah McCullough invited me and Charlie Kelly to give our perspective on the history of mountain biking…So on a rainy Thursday we showed up a few minutes before her cultural studies seminar on Our Favorite Topic (although it might be said that Food Acquisition & Preparation & Ingestion is my other Favorite Topic) .

I’d prepared carefully: First, I got the best bread in town from the newly-opened Good Earth Bakery (the youthful baker made a generous ‘dough-nation’ –three fine loaves of ciabatta, barely singed on the bottom, perfectly wonderful). The donor confided that he had gone to UC Davis and was happy to support my ‘work’.

This blog is dedicated to him, and the doughty students that withstood two very different 45 minute barrages of blarney.

But the prep, the prep! I made a vast platter of rhubarb strawberry slump. Or crumble. Or crisp (depends on your region).

A huge thermos of the finest black tea. Set out the china cups…in short, I gave ‘em the treatment.

The definition of ‘wild’ keeps changing

•April 15, 2012 • 7 Comments

Wild used to mean riding five hours to Tomales and back (80 mi.) , having lunch, then going out a few hours later for a three hour moonlight dirt ramble with Fisher, Koski and the boys. With nothing but a Toklas brownie for dinner.

Thirty years later, wild is  regulary rising to swim an hour (in a pool, a very heated one at that) at 5:30 in the morning, somehow remaining awake until lunch, then riding fifteen exhausting miles in a headwind to Sausalito, where the artist/teacher Craig Coss has promised to show me how to do Easter eggs a la Ukraine….”Pysanky”….he and his wife Michelle used to do them annually in their other city (Seattle) but lost the thread when they moved to Marin.

Weeks ago, I prodded them to show me.  Pysanky is a bit equipment- and technique-intensive.

A heated apartment is intolerably hot after a hilly  ride, so I had to strip, calm down, and borrow Michelle’s dry shirts (I failed to plan for sweaty, clammy clothes). We lit the beeswax candles (look up how toxic ordinary mass-produced candles are, you’ll never want to burn one indoors again) selected a  ‘kistka’ (little brass wax melting pot on a stick, looks like a peace-pipe)  and set to playing with eggs, pencils and patience.

My results were enchantingly naive, allowing me to finish faster than the teacher.

I needed to get going.
“I’ll take you home” said Craig, as his carefully designed egg leapt out of his hands and splatted in the kitchen sink (he decorates them while full–I thought you did it on EMPTY, lightweight eggs, pre-blown out). 

He’d driven me home the last visit. This is kind, but not a habit to encourage, since I still think I’m a wild woman, able to pedal round trips in a single spring day.

Evening was approaching (this was the Thursday after Easter) and there was a bit of ‘spitting’ (I don’t call rain that has big spaces between drops real rain) going on outside their picture window, which gives on the Sausalito waterfront, bay, and Bay Bridge.

“Nah, you’re tired, and I feel pretty jacked after all that squinting and careful wax-drawing–gimme a headlight”

Out came his trusty Niterider, and I was gone in a flash.
They say the flashing light setting saves energy, but I truly wondered if it wasn’t a bit hallucino/seizuregenic, as I observed a half-dozen reflective signs, tail lights of parked cars all jittering back at me as I climbed Horse Hill, where the bike path hews to the scary freeway.

The rain had begun, no more spitting. The asphalt was patent-leather shiny, and all the cars on the other side of the flimsy cyclone fence were surrounded with halos of water, led by twin gold prongs of light.

“Craig was a fool to offer to go out in this” I smugly told myself.

By Corte Madera (on the rain-shadow side of Tamalpais), Larkspur and Ross, I was the only person on the road (no bike paths for much of this bit–they’re under construction). My clothes were re-drenched, and my teeth threatened to chatter. I talked them out of it–forgot to bring my bite guard, thank you Dr Van Peursem!

None of the streets had moving cars on them. Only idiots would attempt to see through this sheeting rain from behind a windshield. My glasses were fogged, so I watched over the tops, rather fuzzily as I carefully rolled home inside my holier-than-thou cloak of biker superiority. I had to run every stop sign because…well, if there are absolutely no cars out, then is it really a crime? Editor’s note: this may not be too clever to relate, since there’s a strong anti-biker sentiment in the mainstream media of late…two peds have been killed by speeding riders in SF.
No one is extemporizing about the two luckless cyclers–father and child–killed while riding (on the sidewalk!) in Concord.

17 year old brat in a SUV of course.


As you reader/riders know, this is just a tragic norm.

Bikers harming others: must be stopped with a bevvy of new, stronger laws.

I feel awful for all these people….I wonder if the teen that killed the little girl in Palo Alto, and didn’t even stop, is out there driving around. She hit the child, kept going, and then went to science class at her high school. Asked her friends if the ding on the car looked incriminating, or over-lookable.      I’ll have to look her up.

It can’t be great to have a death or two under one’s belt–and I wouldn’t be surprised if their well paid attorneys claimed that the remorse would be ‘punishment enough’.  OK, so you know what I think about when I am pedaling home in a driving rainstorm. Nice, soothing massacre scenarios.

My favorite dumpster was a quiet, rain-free haven packed with organic bananas conveniently sistered up by the half dozen, and a bunch of red grapes, and some kind of meat. Veal probably. And organic, grass-fed hamburger from the best non-local (Humboldt) purveyor.
I would be eating in style…but not tonight. Way too pooped.

But I called Craig & Michelle to say I’d arrived.
They had seen some impressive lightning out their window….and were gripped about me getting fried.

“Nah, guys, I’m a pro, remember? I had a blast.”
It was true: I was ‘outdoorphined’ to the hilt.

But my fingers wouldn’t straighten, the clothes had to be wrestled off, and a lake was forming in the kitchen. The bike had her own little lakes, too.

I cleaned, oiled, and rubbed her down, opened up the shoes and took out the insoles.  The hell with a bath.

More about CCPROTO

•March 22, 2012 • 14 Comments

The mountain bike had a beginning, a brief time when it was defined and given birth. The first builders made their frames with steel tubing and used angles and dimensions borrowed from classic paperboy bikes. Factory made mountain bike components didn’t exist. The earliest bikes were completed with parts made for touring and cyclocross bikes, even motorcycles.

I was riding Marin’s single-track trails on my modified skinny tire bike with dropbars and toe clips as mountain bike culture was taking root in Marin County. Occasionally I encountered early mountain bikers on my rides. Their bikes were interesting, but they were too ponderous and heavy for the trail riding I enjoyed.

Everything changed when the Snakebelly tire, the first lightweight fat tire, and the first wide aluminum rim made by Ukai became available.  Now it was possible to build an awesome mountain bike! I started building CCPROTO in 1978, designing every part from the ground up for minimum weight and maximum performance.

It had dropbars and toe clips because I felt they use the human engine more efficiently. I built the frame shorter than convention, with steeper angles for agile handling, and the lower bottom bracket improved stability. The powerful brakes were made specifically to handle the huge traction offered by the new tires. The light fork, with its tubular crown and internally butted blades had excellent shock absorbing qualities. Titanium and magnesium were used in some of the specially made parts.

Before finalizing the bike in 1979, I cut and re-welded the frame tubes several times, adjusting angles and dimensions to perfect its handling. The final version, displayed here, excelled on the mountainous single-track trails in my backyard. In 1980 I took the bike with me to Crested Butte, Colorado and developed friendships with the local riders as we did their favorite epic rides. The visit was capped off with the Pearl Pass Tour. Several of my new friends were so impressed with my bike’s performance that they insisted that I make bikes for them. This launched my bike building business, which extended to 1993, resulting in 178 framesets.

CCPROTO was advanced for its time. Many of its features were adopted in the bikes that followed and its influence can be seen in today’s mountain bike.

                              CCPROTO Specifications

Bike weight   23.5 lbs

Frame material   6061 aluminum tubing

136mm rear drop out spacing for optimal chainline

Unique dropout design for stronger derailler hanger. Slot angle allows wheel retention with minimal quill pressure.


Tubular 4130 crown with butted, thinwall 4130 blades

TIG welded and nickel silvered joints

115mm dropout spacing for extra spoke bracing and shock absorption in wheel


Machined ZK60A magnesium, hollow core with removable cap, pressed and riveted 4130 quill tube


Chainstay mounted for maximum rigidity and precision modulation

Adjustable Toggle Linkage, anodized 7075-T6 aluminum arms


HiE flanges with extra wide spacing and zero spoke dish for wheel durability

Lightweight stainless quills with aluminum nuts

Seatpost       2024-T3 aluminum tubing, magnesium saddle clamp, pump stored inside

Seatpost Clamp      Prototype cam action, anodized 7075-T6 aluminum

Chain Guide     Anodized 7075-T6 aluminum with 6-4 titanium chain tunnel

 Rear Derailleur  Shimano Dura Ace road derailleur for faster, more accurate shifting

Made to work with the wide range freewheel by modifying the mounting pivot and using an external spring.

Freewheel 13-34 five speed Suntour with custom ratios

Pedals: MKS with smooth platform added and modified toeclips for efficient power transfer with easy foot entry and exit. 

Toe Flips  6-4 titanium

Handlebars  Cinelli with modified bend

Airport Art Show coming

•February 25, 2012 • 15 Comments

Bottom bracket of CC's very first bike, built in 1978, ridden and 'mollified' several times, and finally deemed Just Right in 1979

Gentle Riders: if you  happen to be  traveling into or out of San Francisco International Airport  between May 5 and Nov 25, there is an exhibit of seminal mtn. bikes right in the lobby.
I know: who goes to an airport to see art?
Talk about yr captive audience, eh.

Well,  we  will have a couple of bikes in the exhibit, Otto, and Charlie’s own Protoham., which just arrived back home after a 25 year stay at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Crested Butte, CO.

Looking it over, Charlie confided that he’d forgotten just HOW advanced that machine was.  He lovingly built it up (it had been shredded in transit, alas) and polished away the deep gouges in the down tube. As he worked,  I asked him if any of the old school riders (Breeze, Guy, Kelly)  had  test ridden “Proto”, when it was the only alu job around.

“Nope.  It didn’t look like a real mountain bike. It was under their radar.”
The bike remained ‘under radar’ until Noah Gellner, our very own almost-firstborn, created the Cunningham Bikes website.

This was because CC never advertised in the magazine of record (Fat Tire Flyer), and when other magazines came along, they offered to ‘review’ the bikes. IF he would send them one to test ride and keep. Did I already tell you this? I think I did.
I’m agittn C. Nile.

This  letter arrived last week: “SFO Museum is very interested in discussing with you the possibility of borrowing the Charlie Cunningham-designed race bike you rode to consecutive national championships in 1983, 84 and 85. We would like to present this bike as an example of Mr. Cunningham’s visionary design and discuss your pioneering role as both a successful competitor and bicycling advocate. Please be assured that our facilities have state-of-the-art alarm systems and climate control, and that your loaned object will be carefully treated by a professional staff trained to exceed the standards established by the American Association of Museums. Attached are images of the secure galleries intended for this exhibition.”
In a way, it is impressive that he can trust an airport ‘museum’ with his bikes, since in 1989 he was the very unlucky winner of the one-of-these-dozen-machines-is-not-like-the-other sweepstakes.

In 1989, there was a bicycle art show at the domestic United terminal. This was the same year as the seminal show at Bronstein-Quay gallery in San Francisco.
All  twelve hand-builts in the glass display cases were fine examples of framebuilder’s artistry. But in 1989  bicycle design was conservative….or more accurately, ‘derivative’.
Charlie’s bikes have been modern (i.e. rideable) since he built the first one in 1978 , since he wasn’t hewing to the design/shape/frame angles of the revered 1930’s Schwinn Excelsior that everyone else was using as a template.
It took almost two decades (and me winning a few races against all the men) to cause a shift in the fashion. OK, planned obsolescence and disposa-bikes also had a lot to do with the openness to new designs, but I’d like to cling to my tiny thread of cred for inspiring a few people to examine my bicycle frame, when they weren’t challenging my unfeminine riding style.

Oh, dear, climb back down from that platform, darling, it’s unbecoming.

Ah yes. About that sweepstakes.

Charlie’s bike, his personal machine–not an exhibition model–got  stolen from the display. None of the others was ‘honored’ that way…

An unscrupulous United Airlines employee helped him/herself to the (obviously unprotected) bike…It was never to be seen again…In case you ever see an alu bike at a garage sale, just flip the bike upside down.  Look for the serial # 29c.. I bet CC would happily buy it back!

It was unique– even the brakes were custom fabbed, there being no extant roller-cam that was up to his high standards. We sometimes wonder what ever became of it, and some of our friends think we’re crazy to agree to display again. CC  built himself another, and has gotten over that loss.

Clearly I haven’t.
Now about this more pro show: If there is a gathering, I’ll share the details….the beer will have to be Sierra Nevada (they are brewers but also huge bikers), and the nosh will be catered by “Back Door Catering” (motto: Enjoy it if you dare”).  It will be nice to have the full range of bikes so Charlie’s immunity to fashion, and clear devotion to simple functionality will be on display. The geometry says it all.

A prior exhibit

charlie's first mountain bike!

The Good Earth Grand Opening

•February 15, 2012 • 3 Comments

the new store has parking for 20 bicycles

For about five years, the natural food store in town has been busting its seams in the turn of the century market site it had occupied for fifteen years.
The last two years, we’ve watched the tired old Lucky Market (empty about six or seven years) lie fallow, with hundreds of bikers using the parking lot as the jumping off point for rides in town. Then, for the last two years, with an impressive crescendo these last three months, builders, diggers, glaziers swarmed the site. The interior looked so inviting. After six or more years of shuttered windows and empty aisles something new was coming.

Everyone seems to have an investment in the site. Even my neighbors who don’t shop locally will probably poke their nose i, because it looks like a ‘normal store’ as opposed to the soulfood shrine of alternative good eating it had always been.

In the first store, on Bolinas Avenue, there was no room for any size of shopping cart in the aisle, and I imagine plus-size shoppers had to turn sideways like I did because even my messynger bag was too wide a load to pass freely.

Then it moved to the quasi quonset Big Bear market building, and felt huge, for about a month or two. But the front door opened right into the busiest parking lot in Fairfax.

The new new store has no  shop door/automobile interfaces–a massive improvement. And it even has two entrances, which is a first.
My immediate favorite feature is the vertical garden:

Sedum uber alles

Today, a crowd of about five hundred eager souls crowded around to hear  a couple of heartfelt speeches (with nods to Rachel Carson, whose writings inspired the store in the late 1960’s, and the Miwok who occupied the very site thousands of years ago–proof being in their rich middens unearthed during the laying of the pipes).
I saw them cut the ribbon. A cheer went up. It was very 1905.

No newspaper ads touted a sale. No sale prices inside–just about three times the room and three times the selection of impeccable edibles.  I was astonished to see Nairn’s cakes from”Scoatland”.

The crowd was all people smiling.
I nominated this woman with the studded belt and rose bouquet to be Ms. Fairfax.

Outside, people gabbed and hugged.

Even the traffic crawled past, rubbernecking. I got a shot of someone’s bloodhound viewing it all from through the sunroof of a VW bug.

dog at the wheel


I sure love my town.

I’m filling out a job application, gonna work in the kitchen.

Happy Phelantine’s Day

•February 14, 2012 • 1 Comment

Stopped by Leoland for a Valentine drop-off, and bit of  cake & coffee.

Gary and Pat Leo are the archetypical Fairfax pair, married forever, with a garden that strongly resembles Eden.

Right now, there are two dozen greedy songbirds hopping around their milkweed thistle feeders.

The air is perfumed with Daphne odora (wish it could grow over here), and the sky has changed from pink/orange-and-blue striped dawn to the clear pale winter blue we’ve seen a lot of this winter.

The town’s buzzing: our trusty health food store, the Good Earth, which began in a tiny house in 1969, has expanded (for the second time) and the first official day will be  a big fat party...

"Minimum Valentine Requirement" (= MVR, selon SeeKay)


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