The Moto Ides of March

•March 16, 2015 • 1 Comment

Post Ride at Lyle the Day After Pi Day - 3.14.15March 14  (Pi day!!) and 15th (Julius Seizure Day!) marked a long-awaited road trip down to Santa Cruz. Bicycling in Santa Cruz easily rivals our riding here in Marin–both road and offroad–and for 25 hours this past weekend I was part of a group of riders who have known each other and ridden, raced, loved and lived to be that ultimate expression of biker fluency: a superb example of a  60-year old human.

Marshall Livingston, the padre of pedalheads of Point Reyes, took Tom Killion, Jeremy Fisher-Smith and me down south for a pre ride feast of salmon, a swank slumber party, and a ride the following day. We were guests of Billy Menchine and Alicia Stanton, who have hosted three decades of bicycle banquets.  “Hut Thanksgiving” was my not-to-be missed first Saturday of December, in the years when I put on a very humble benefit for Women’s Crisis Support in Nisene Marks Forest.

Jeremy and Tom spent their formative years down there, and know the roads well. I was raring to do a group ride with the fast old guys and not have to look at maps. According to Livingston, there are only about four swift saurian riders in his West Marin town, whereas Santa Cruz easily has twenty or more. I think maybe I am one of a few Undroppable dame-o-saurs.

Others joined us Saturday morning: Jeff Traugott, guitar builder, Greg Foy, a pro colleague I hadn’t seen in about 30 years, Bob Landry, a builder (practically all these men are the kind that build their own homes), Peter Vizzusi and Paul Schraub.  I took names.  If I don’t immediately scribble down their contact info, I can’t have that wild 60th b.d. party up on Tam I’m planning in rainy, stormy (we hope) first week o’ December 2015.

I need my ‘cohort’ (and a few kids, too) to pedal up unassisted to dine together for TWO days and nights….

We’ll see if I can pull that off.

IMG_7995Alicia Stanton, Billy’s life partner and breezy chef de cuisine, rolled out a whole salmon and a small bushel of  young yellow potatoes and even younger asparagus, and a merry dozen traded stories (as always with bikers, Road Rage Tales often pepper the usually more high-minded discussions of stuff like how great Procol Harum is.

I turned in early on the 9 foot couch, preferring it to the four huge beds on offer for my traveling companions.

Next morning we rode down the hill and collected our first cases of waving people, fist-shakers and random Hard To Interpret Motorist Behavior.  Made many breakfasts: eggs, rice porridge, toast, and as Billy’s in-town house was disheveled by  hungry (and in my case, rude)  guests, a small peloton formed in the back yard. It was evident that this was going to be more than a ride–it seems there were several folks besides me that hadn’t seen one another in over a decade.

Roll out was maybe 10:30, and destination #1 was Granite Hill Road and the celebrated Zayante descent. I have to call Zayante the ‘repack’ of roadies. Billy might fill me in on the specifics sometime. Suffice to say I stayed down in the drops and clung to the right edge of a bumpyish road with a few hairpins and even one car coming the opposite way. As fourth or fifth in line, there was no danger of damaging someone’s hood, but I still wonder if there’s a connection between the rambunctious descending style of the talented riders in this town and the highly demonstrative few  pick-up truck drivers  who either gun their engine or  bellow “single file” from the driver window.

I ‘d like to include Billy’s words here, and will, when I have permission to…about the early “moto” years of Santa Cruz fat tire history.
As it was, at one of the gathering points a tally was made to see what the average age was in our group, and it was 59.6 yrs, IF you threw out David M. who at 37 threw off the hoped-for high number.

Truly, we’d all pedaled an aggregate million miles, and lived to tell the tale.

Can’t write more–i’m off to Strada Rossa, with Philip Williamson, the graphic designer of note.  This event’s put on by David the Cyclotourist whose photos I avidly follow on Flickr. We’d been pen pals for a few years, finally I get to meet him.
And see Jim Harlow, my old racing friend from Team Ross.

Offhand Manor Minor Mods

•January 27, 2015 • 3 Comments

Now and then* Charlie will be confronted with small failures, disappointments and glitches caused largely by Things That Were Made Cheaply and Thoughtlessly.

A consummate machinist and tool-user and maker, he will not put up with these impediments for more than a minute or two. I hear the sequence in the shop: “squeak -squeak -squeak-saw-noise saw-noise, lathe humming, thing being popped out of a vise” etc.

And then he’ll come in the house with a broad smile,  brandishing a Cleverbacon Solution To The Problem. Usually for no money, a bit of time and a lot of personal energy directed at using what’s at hand, not going to the local hardware store. A bit of sustainability thinking, and a lot of smug Hoarder’s Revenge.

A week ago our toilet acted up, and when he pulled the old rubber plunger from the closet (actually he needed me to locate it because that closet is very Fibber MGee)  to massage the cloggage into submission, the thing wouldn’t work because the rubber was like wood. Antique. Rubber does that in a polluted environment, just hardens up and won’t conform the way it is supposed to.
I hopped on the bike with a wave of the hand, calling “I’m GOING TO THE HARDWARE STORE” to avert any objections. WHen I go to Fairfax Hoardware as a small time-saving service to Charlie,  I inevitably come home with The Wrong Size, The Wrong Formula, The Wrong Something.  It is the fate of us lesser beings, acolytes and camp followers , not being Engineers and all).

I was told I should get a strange accordion-thing that looked like a see-through single shock fork boot, made purely of plastic. It’s tough to think it would last long, and was so stiff it, too was non-conforming)…..the salesman said it was better because it forced more water through. I got the old fashioned rubber kind,  too– just in case.

But when I got home,  I found the solution curing in the sun.

Charlie’d replaced the wooden handle with a length of copper pipe, and put a knurled fitting for a hose at one end, and turned the tired plunger into a  rubber funnel that shot water at high pressure into the toilet. Our  plumber, Mike Schultz, turned us onto a fine product called “Through the Roof” which sealed the joint down around the rubber bulb…

In the end, I took the inferior pair of new plungers back (two trips are the norm around here, as I solve problem after problem the conventional way, and then solve the new problem of an unneccessary purchase).  This is all so easy, gliding around a half mile here, a half mile there times two, three, sometimes much more.

With our savings we can now splurge on another year of Jan Heine’s  fine  Bicycle Quarterly.IMG_7814improved toilet plunger improved toilet plunger2


Old, shitty, rusty and bent. What we usually have to put up with. Worst of all, too short!


The Real Deal Push-Pins for people who are easily disapPOINTed.

Then, a few days later, when he was trying to pin the cardboard in the habitat to keep sun out of his face, the worthless push pin he’d hoarded, a 5/8 ” hard-to-find longer than usual, bent as it went into the wooden roof.

Editor’s error : it was a Chinese imitation of a desirable American-made (and of course no longer produced) metal push pin he’d hoarded, and it was made of soft steel, not hardened, and the pin head was too small, etc.
Into the shop, and a couple hours later, out came the kind of custom push-pin, made with sharpened music wire which apparently has lots of great properties, namely unlikely to bend and deform, and nicely knurled handle with a rubber grip. Several lengths… behold. Note the shop motto. Make that the Life Motto. IMG_7858

*make that daily

Rapha party on Charlie Cunningham’s 66th birthday

•November 10, 2014 • 4 Comments

CC baby braceletChris DiStefano told me last week that their company  (Rapha) was welcoming a new manager at the San Francisco club/coffeehouse. The manager’s name is…Charlie Cunningham. A very familiar, friendly name.  Not Charles. Charlie. Charlie Cleverbacon.

When DiStefano told me the date–August 23rd–I chirped: that’s  MY Charlie’s birthday! Maybe he can have the 1948 era baby bracelet that Carol Cunningham lovingly saved all those years (i’d have kept it but we have a bit of a clutter issue here at Taj Mahovel).

Naturally i had to come welcome the  2.0 version of Charlie Cunningham and rode blithely into the teeth of the most densely packed Sausalito/Golden Gate Bridge tourist scrum i’d ever experienced. “This is good for me” I told myself, carefully steering around the towers needed to avoid another scrum of backward-walking, camera clicking tourists. I knew nobody in Fairfax that would actually ride 23 miles to a a posh pedalhead party, just for the food. I figured I might catch a ride back if there WERE a Marinite that’s in the Rapha inner circle.

Pulled into the Union street store, with its fantastic sawed-in-half Citroen delivery truck which now operates as a parklet.  The first person to greet me in the door was Jen Nordhem, a minx that worked miracles to quash my exuberance during the 2 monthlong 42-below commercial we were both part of….An unhappy child, she orchestrated all of the  (very few) miserable days  on that memorable tour. Weighing in at about a hundred pounds, she throws about three hundred pounds of unpleasant psychic baggage around. Drunk and disorderly was how she presented herself throughout the tour, especially at the boozy ‘parties’ hosted by the sponsor, Bacardi (they were just pretending to be the ‘cool’ folks that dreamed up 42 Below). Fights, broken phones, scary stuff for this Old Bat, who somehow missed all the dangerous parties in high school and college.

She wondered why I refused to give her a hug at the door of the Rapha shop.

“Did you forget the night you wouldn’t let me into my own bed cause you’d invited  your boyfriend over?” I reminded her.
“I prefer to remember the good things”.

I don’t know if this deserves more explanation… ok it does… to save on hotel bills, the 42 below people put two women in each bed, four women per room. In our quartet, Jen was the petulant ruler, dictating to me the terms of  our shared quarters–i.e. whether it was acceptable to walk  about the room naked (it wasn’t).

So anyway, on a 3o degree night in Austin Nevada, I stood around out of doors for a few hours, not wanting to wake anyone up in the hotel because Jen had pushed me out of the room.
Only a couple weeks earlier, I orchestrated a little favor. I’d advocated for her to take a day off from the ride, got a driver for us, and accompanied her to her  very first road race in Champaign Illinois. Coached her, lent her some kit, I forget what, and cheered for her as she rode around getting dropped, but at least  she experienced a real criterium. I remember my Very First Race, and how Darryl Skrabak ‘orchestrated’ it for me.
You see, a true bike novice needs some sort of Old Hand to sheperd them thru the registration, the bike check and even the petty stuff like Where To Put Your Non Racing Clothes.

In Belgium, mom and dad do it for the (male) rider. Here, it’s catch as catch can, since many parents don’t understand a kids wish to race a …bicycle?!

Yah, it’s hard to forget an evening of hypothermia , but I do sort of remember working hard to help her race.
If I had my cold night out BEFORE the race weekend, you can be sure I’d have let her figure out how to do the race, get there, etc. on her own.
From Nevada on, I just kept clear of her royal awfulness.

Anyway, the party was a blast, Jen pretended she didn’t hear what I told her, and I rode home (got in 40 miles, easy) in the beautiful summer night, to my beloved Charlie 1.o.


Just discovered that “Lurksmarvelous” (i think it’s Corey’s non-de-plume) has a LOT of that 42 Below adventure uploaded to You tube.

I just spent an hour catching up on other moments of the 2 month ride I’d forgotten about.




Davis hosts a party for the pedalocracy

•November 9, 2014 • 2 Comments

helmet hairAutumn in Davis is always colorful, exuberant, and bicycle-intense. Thousands of new students on campus figuring out how to get around the campus on two wheels (not all are adept, but most become graceful members of the gliding parade in the downtown streets.

For me, it’s an annual visit to the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame that re-establishes my ties to the #1 bicycle city in the country. Six years ago, I took a train, but this time I pedaled to the bus, and met up with Peter Rich, father of West Coast road racing in the modern area.

As I write this, I’m listening to my hero Dervla Murphy in a 2 hr program (interspersed with music and news from Radio Scotland). She’s the writer/cycler whose books continue to blow my mind upon re-reading….I visited her 3 years ago (blog is somewhere around here). She has just uttered a central truth: that the consumer culture and modern lifestyle is killing the planet and not slowly.

But I was going to just surprise my 300 readers (or is it 30?) with a note about hanging out with mountaineer and fat tire champion Sara Ballantyne and three time Olympian cyclist Inga Thompson. This year, the Hall puts two women in–a first. I’ve dreamed of, and demanded, an all-women induction year. Please let this still be possible, eh?

I met Sara in Crested Butte–when I was the unbeaten champ–and when I couldn’t keep up with her on a long ride out in the aspens, I suggested she race me later that summer and be the first to beat me. She was busy that weekend, but certainly rolled into mountain biking with successes piling up for the next 12 years.

Inga I met before I became a mountain biker—when I was a hopeful roadie, and she was a really raw, gifted college runner in 1984, the first Olympic year that permitted women to ride astride bicycles (before that, we had some track and field, gymnastics and synchronized swimming). I was not quite the future Olympian I’d dreamed I’d be, but about ten years after a pretty fun romp in mountain biking, I undertook a stage race in Idaho and got to really know Inga, and visited her at her horse ranch in Halfway, Oregon.

Both of them look as fit as ever, though Inga claims she’s not been on a bike in 20 years.  Before the ceremony we three rode with a pack of locals to the nearest town, Winters, 13 miles away.  It was windy, and one little pack surge shelled me,   while up ahead Sara herded Inga into the dirt along the walnut orchards.
“She converted me into a mountain biker!” said Inga, as she gave her brief, touching tribute to a high school running coach who taught her about maintaining a joyful attitude in the middle of arduous competition.

Sara spoke of her gratitude to always have been in the right place at the right time–the ground floor of the fat tire boom, for example, and also shared stories about her bagging the Eiger with husband Chris Haaland while at a race in the Crans Montana, Switzerland.

I schmoozed with Brooks, Inga’s big brother, and Lee, her little brother (separated by at least 14 years) and was flabbergasted at how supportive her family is…Their mother was also on hand, a gracious woman in pearls, happily witnessing her kid up there in one of mom’s sequined gowns from the 1960s. Very cool.


great shot

I look up to Downieville!

•June 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

beginning down trailDownieville’s a big kid now–truly a Dusty Nation Bicycle Resort. It reminded me of mid-80’s Crested Butte, which hadn’t yet drunk the Koolaid of large-scale tourist hotel development.

In about 1992, Charlie and I rode up the big long trail,–by the name of  Lavezzola Creek trail –back when there were precisely fifty people who’d even put bicycle knobs on those trails.  Took us two and a half hours. Now it’s a 45 minute, 20 dollar bus ride, thanks to years of local and regional collaborations which resulted in  Yuba Expeditions, the celebrated not-for-profit bike shop/outfitters.

More than two decades later, fate plopped me smack dab in the middle of a women’s mountain bike camp earlier this month.  I was a guest professor at Shine Riders women’s downhill camp.  Considering that Lindsay had ruptured her spleen ( she’d been thinking about the six million details of the upcoming weekend, while riding the rocks around her property around Folsom), it’s a miracle  the camp went live, complete with the usual high-caliber clientele (every woman of the four had advanced degrees. One in law, one in vet medicine, one in genomics, and one in public accounting–i was the odd woman out with a piffling “Bachelorette” in French).

Needless to say, conversations ranged across topics from global health and the environment to the relative merits of flat pedals vs. ‘entrapment’ lock-in pedals.
When you put seven women across the age and ability and acumen spectrum, great things happen in the interstitial hours that follow the 3 or 4 hour downhill rip. This camp did not disappoint. Even the meals–beautifully crafted by Tristan of Fox tech and his aid-de-camp “the silent partner”.

The menu included  healthy dishes like  chickpea quinoa salad that was heavenly, farro,  staggeringly delicious custom-charcuterie sausage with nettle greens by El Salchichero’s founder and bicycle R&D tester Chris LaVeque. It would have been tough to top that opening culinary gambit, but the following morning’s bacon again wowed this mostly omnivorous tribe of eager riders. I found myself cramming six pieces into a sandwich to stave off my usual noon  mid-ride hunger pangs. No sense in getting “HANGRY” just cause my worthless sports bar ran out of calories.
For me, real food’s the only way to go, and i teach it in my Instant Finesse classes. Why ingest faux food unless forced to by Poor Planning or Inability to get to Santa Cruz farmers market for El Salchichero products?
Does this sound like a blatant product placement? I sure hope so. I brought home seven cooked pieces of said bacon which I’m using up in increasingly tiny amounts, (see Xeno’s paradox or this David Pratt piece with mention of Madam Blavatsky, one of my heros) to make it last.
Chris, did you send in that scary broken pedal to Crank Brothers?

Chickpea surprise El Sachichero handmade Nettle sausage farroSo, back to the weekend.

We had great shuttles, great learnin, great gab, and even a few great ‘biffs’ (lame way to call a crash, to lighten impact on worried parents, spouses) which will no doubt go down in herstory.

For my personal herstory, it’s the apres-bike connecting that lingers more than the trail surface features. At 49 wines, francophone Will Clark and I exchanged lively ‘shoulder French’ conversation, and learned that one of the campers, scientist Melissa Cline, had spent a year and a half at the Institute Pasteur a decade ago finishing (if I remember correctly) her PhD.



No Obvious Label

•February 25, 2014 • 2 Comments

Mudlife crisis "obvious brand"

In the 7 years since i began blogging, WordPress has added advertisements (so now I pay to keep them off) and changed the difficulty index.

But I read this funny sentence in NYT about some fashion show, and realized that this could be my motto. No Obvious Label.

I’ve never felt comfortable being a billboard for certain things:

Car companies (now and then I’d accidentally ‘work’ for a car company, like when I was paid by Safe Routes To School. For about 20 or so classes I conducted with my SRS colleagues, I had to pop a CD into the computer that ostensibly touted bicycle safety, but all the while, the Honda robot did its “media impressions” magic to all the 2nd-4th graders that were our captive audience.

Naturally I didn’t last. I’m perhaps too critical of such things: IMBA flogs Subaru automobiles. All the race teams  of note had car company affiliations back in the 90s and 2000s.


Bouquet of rodents for Post-Phelantine’s Day

•February 17, 2014 • 1 Comment

Bouquet of rodents for Post-Phelantine's Day
Mochi LaTrine’s three massive tumors were expertly excised by Dr. Noah Stroe of Animal Farm Pet Hospital on Mission St. San Francisco.
THANK YOU Dr. STroe!!!
The little collar needed some fashion assistance–it’s usually just an opaque doughnut of soft plasic with velcro closure…it needed some perking up…
Nothing a little lace won’t fix.
She doesn’t wear it now–since she’s smart enough not to chew out her numerous stainless steel staples…