Bern Switzerland, where my longtime fathead friends reside

•June 9, 2012 • 1 Comment

25 years ago Pauline McNamara (urwombat, soccer playing, mechanically gifted young thing) picked up and moved to Switzerland.

Her first job was wrenching at Visionen, Butch Gaudy’s seminal cycleshop.  She also raced in the pro women’s category in all the big fat tire races in France and Switzerland, went to University nearby for a masters in Geography, and picked up a Swiss residency permit (nearly impossible for Americans, but Po can Do Stuff Like That, because she Understands How Things Work).

OK; so fast forward a few years….Grundig World Cup brought me to Switz. and I got to see Pauline when she lived in Butch’s fine home up on a Bern hilltop.

Now, even more years later,  she and Monika celebrate 20 years together. Flatcoat Retriever named Ducky joined the family and life is ….snug. I get to bask in the snugocity because I forgot to get back to their place early enough to catch a train with them to the Jura to look at wildflowers. My reason: dinner and intense conversation chez Gaudy and Sabina Krippendorf over on the hill near the Paul Klee museum…dinner in a tiny greenhouse, with ripe tomatoes hanging over our heads, and grilled onions, peppers and chicken to nosh while telling stories. I believe we had a very local Swiss white wine, and a tasty french red.

Instead, I will load up the panniers Oli Busato, the current owner of Visionen, lent me…that should take half the day, and the other half I will ride 55 km to Neuchatel.

(Note: after a long day in the saddle,  l found dozens of  mistakes in my route finding. Rather than using an ordinary, purchasable car map,i am going on the strength of the great signed bike routes…but if you miss one, and dont realize it, you’re screwed, and I tend to keep going in the wrong direction (life metaphor?) rather than turn around and hunt for the red “panneau” (road sign specifically for bike tourists, courtesy of Veloburo Olten) and added about 20 km to my itinerary).

PS I went in search of Diccon Mewes, the Swiss Whisperer (wrote Swisswatching, a guide to the Swiss), and found a fellow who shared the same look (from behind) but who is a professor at the local veterinary institute…I have sworn not to say his name out loud. So instead, I will say that….Jurg Nigg is ANOTHER Swiss I need to meet, and have tea with… another day.

Chez Yakman a Geneve

•June 2, 2012 • 3 Comments

Claude Marthaler is a renowned author, bicycle adventurer and tour guide based in Geneva, Switzerland. I am trzing to tzpe on his machine, which as switched the Z and the Y so my fingers are getting a good workout.

In stark contrast to a man of 52 who has spent seven continuous years in the saddle (a Brooks, of course), I sit cozily in his efficiency appt on rue Vermont, with birds going on strong, and traffic loudly contributing to the soundtrack of this note. He is truly independent, courageous, and organized..I type anxiously (I know I will dump every word of this if I don’t figure out how to save it… ). On a borrowed PC that i pray I won’t destroy.
Out there in town, it is sunny.

I have already followed Claude on a too-big but still rideable mtn bike, through town for a great lunch at the Bains Paquis, then a stroll on the quai to the phare (lighthouse)…past the rainbow of shrieking, colorfully dressed kids (including one naked, crawling on the warm pebbly strand)…a kid’s United Nations. Is this just a dream, to have countries allied peacefully all around the globe, not “making the world safe for democracy (sic), just making the world safer for children everywhere?

A pair of trees sport gorgeous knitted sweaters.. if i can get my camera to behave, I will share.

We went to Peclot 13, the popular bicycle repair cooperative, half the workers were women, and all kinds of people stood near the entrance, waiting for a fix.  We pushed on in and I ogled. Like the Bike Station of Edinburgh, a recognizable vibe–simultaneously “we’re busy” and “available for assistance” that I never find in a traditional macho bike shop. Then onto “Les Enchâinés”, a soulful new store near Peclot 13t, that his friend Valentin opened recently.  The “enchanined” immediately struck me, same as Peclos: found wood stair bannisters, wood floor, 1930’s turntable, and chic green couch plopped right in front of the work stand.

Claude-Yak fetched a couple of gingerbeers and a swiss stout for me…it was my fifth hour off the plane and I hoped it would embolden me to remain awake another couple hours.  A couple of young guys came in to have their bikes worked on, and finally I announced that if we didn’t move, I’d be rooted to the couch all night.
We tooled off in search of cheese (a perpetual quest in any country, but in Switzerland, closer to a pilgrimmage). At his local Migros, Claude bought me chocolate and some nice soft cheese. I circled to the rear of the tiny store and found excellent cilantro (they sell herbs in potting soil, for longtime use),

white Belgian asparagus, and a liter of 2.5% milk in the dumpster.

Which I TOOK.

And we enjoyed at supper, along with a masterful fresh ricotta and veggie salad he conjured up for me.  Over my (formerly fluent, now battered) French and his rapid fire French plus English when he detected confusion in my face…we talked about the various writers we worship. It dawns on me that Claude has already written several books, recits de voyage, he calls them. He placed a musette packed with them by my bed (his, which he gives to the visitor). Also a compendium of Nicolas Bouvier, a Swiss traveller analagous to our Paul Theroux, only discovered after he died, alas. Claude has met him, and a handful of others, such as the guy who lived with the Dalai Lama in the 30s. I told him he needs to visit beloved Dervla this year or next, so he can share some of his tales with her. She’d be all ears, I know it.

Must run. Must try swimming in that turquoise blue Lac de Geneve, where bronzed old women sunbathe unapologetically topless, and furry fat fellows bake nearby, and the kids are all screaming with glee.

Inside Valentin’s exquisite atelier “Les Enchaînes”

Thinking about the Vercors

•May 17, 2012 • 4 Comments

Vercors…land of the great cols. Which is where I’m bound shortly.

For the month of June, I’ll be away, on bike (maybe my Breezer, maybe a  Swiss loaner). Couch surfing, warm showerig, cold-feet travel style: no plan, just go and use everyone’s cell phones to figure out the next move.
A fellow named Will thoughtfully mapped out some of his rides: he’s got hillclimb sickness, and wants to do a hundred in a summer (if I read him right).

And I’ll be able to play-ja-rides ’em, if I can figure out how to download the maps.

Help requested.

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


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