03 January 2022

04 January 1997

I wrote the post reproduced below for our 20th wedding anniversary, 04 January 2017. A lot has happened in the five years that have transpired since then, too much to mention here for certain. Suffice to say, we're still together, still in love with one another, still trying to figure it all out, one day at a time.

I wanted to republish what I wrote back in 2017 today, on the eve of our 25th wedding anniversary, because this one seems to me to be an even more significant milestone than was our 20th, for lots of reasons, and not just because it's a bigger number.

In another post I wrote in 2017, I said,
"My (wedding band) tattoo has aged and changed over the years. Sure. It's weather-worn now, gotten bumped, been bruised, and seen cuts, has bled, and been scarred in the course of the last 20 years.

So has our marriage been.

Just like my tattoo, our marriage has survived. Changed. But it is intact. The bruising and scarring, laughter and elation, and long stretches of simple, mundane, day-to-day living-in-partnership with someone who's company you enjoy most of the time, are all just parts of our narrative now, the course of time and the turning of events that have conspired to make us us. Older, most definitely, wiser, indeed, and yet here we find ourselves on our 20th anniversary still together and none the worse, despite the wear.

My tattoo doesn't need to be touched up.

Neither does our marriage.

I love what we have become.

I like us the way we are."
I stand by those words, they are all the more true today, some five years and nearly half our lifetimes later.


I love you, LisaCoe! I hope we get to do at least 25 more together, and then some.



Scheduled to begin at 2:00, our wedding ceremony nevertheless began at 1:53 in the afternoon on January 4, 1997. The church was at capacity at that point, and there was no one else trying to get in, so we decided to get started a little early.

Twenty-four minutes later, at 2:17 PM, we were done.

We had no attendants, no guest list, no decorations, and no formal reception; Jason played piano at the top of the service, Gerv played his guitar at the end.  A few random friends and relatives took pictures and sent them to us afterward.  I wore my well-used concert choir tux and Lisa wore a lovely dress she found on sale at a small boutique in town.

Dozens, maybe hundreds of our favorite folks showed up for our mid-winter wedding on a beautiful cold-blue Saturday afternoon, honoring us with their presence. Some brought gifts.  Some brought cookies.  Some didn't bring anything except themselves.  We didn't really care, we just wanted them to show up, and we were so glad when they did.

I gave the pastor a check for $80.00 so that he would have the heat in the church turned on that morning.  Other than that, and the giant flat-sheet carrot cake that I surreptitiously purchased for $45.00 from Brandy's with Lisa and John written in frosting on its top, we spent nothing else on our nuptials, even the ring I gave Lisa was a gift from my mom.

For our wedding ceremony, in lieu of candles and soloists and staid processions up and down the aisle, we wrote our own vows, kept them secret from one another until that day, and then said them aloud to one another for the very first time during the ceremony.

My wife's vows were lovely.  Amazing, really.  And the crowd who had assembled to watch us wed that day laughed and cried along with her.  She's always been a natural on stage.  Our wedding day was no different.

As to my vows, well, all I can say is: I meant every word of them back then. And I still do today.

We watch our vows together almost every year on our anniversary, thanks to my mom's oldest friend, Valerie, who videotaped them for us that afternoon without being asked.  I transferred the tape to YouTube a year or two ago. If you like, you can watch it below.  Lisa's vows start at 10:45 and mine begin at 17:00.

I've included a transcript of my vows below the video, too.  Just for the record, I guess, filed here forevermore as one more piece of my life's archival footage.




"I am glad you're here, Lisa!

My vows have changed some since I started writing them.  I guess that's to be expected.  I tell my [students] frequently that nothing you write should ever be finished, and I guess, sometimes, I practice what I preach.

"I decided that the best way to relay all of this to you is to tell you a bit about how these vows finally came together.

"Initially, I thought I'd find a rather clever analogy to frame my vows in. As you know I like how a good analogy helps me feel like I'm a little closer to understanding something. So, of course, my first idea was to frame my vows to you around something that I know pretty well: bikes.

"I actually worked on this idea for a long time.  But in the end I decided that it was a little on the predictable side, for someone who knows me so well, so I decided to go in a different direction. But the main point of it was, that even as someone who doesn't know a tenth of all that there is to know about bikes,  I have developed, what some people might call a fondness for them. This is, in ways, similar, though by no means as intense as the way I feel about you.

"You see, I'll never know all that there is to know about you. You're far too intricate and wonderful for me to ever presume that. And, as you continue to grow and change, you will, of course, become somewhat different from the person that you are today. However, none of that will ever change the way that I feel about you. I will not stop loving you. The you that I know today, I love.  The you that I will know through many tomorrows, I will love just as well, if not moreso.  Nothing will change that.  Not a lack of cash.  Not a prolonged illness. Not an argument. Not senility. Nothing.

"So, once I'd thrown out my bike analogy, I began to search for some other device that I could use as a framework for my vows. And, of course, music came to mind. For a long time, I looked for a song that had some tugging set of emotional lyrics in it that I could sing to you during this ceremony... well, I am not going to sing.

"You see, through all my searching, I kept hearing just one song playing through my head, over and over again. A song that I've never heard anybody sing during a wedding ceremony, but a song that for me expresses deep sentiment.  My grandmother taught it to my mom, and my mom taught it to me.  It implies that you are the joy of my life.  That you heal me.  That the depth of my love for you cannot be plumbed. And please, stay with me for a lifetime.

"However, I decided it was a bit on the silly side, so I decided not to use it as the framework I was looking for. But the words to the song go like this:

You are my sunshine,
my only sunshine.
You make me happy
when skies are gray.
You'll never know dear
how much I love you.
Please don't take
my sunshine away.

"One day, not too long ago, I got to thinking about all the things that I believe in.  I started jotting down some things that I believe in and I began to think that this was the much sought-after framework for my vows that I was looking for.  I could talk about the things that I believe in, and eventually find some clever segue that would allow me to talk about you and me and all the things I believe about our future together.

"Well, after rereading some of my ideas several weeks later, I decided that some of the stuff that I'd written wasn't very meaningful for a wedding ceremony.  However, some of the other stuff I wrote about you and me was really nice. Stuff like:
  • I believe we will always be steadfast in our commitment to one another. 
  • I believe that patience, gentleness, and truthfulness will never fall out of fashion where we're concerned. 
  • I believe that you are now, and will continue to become, the most interesting, sincere, humorous, intelligent, and exciting friend that I will ever have, and I will strive to always be likewise to you. 
  • I believe that you possess genuine wisdom and that I will never be misguided by seeking out your loving counsel first and above all others. 
  • And finally, I believe that I was never loved in this way, nor did I ever love like this, until I met you.
"Regretfully, I never found the clever segue for this device, so I had to throw it out along with the others.

"I finally found the answer in the Bible.  Specifically on page 1337 of my Ryrie Study Bible, in a footnote. Actually, I'd found this answer years ago. However, in my effort to communicate my vows to you today, I came back to it not too long ago, and its message literally jumped off the page. In fact, I liked this concept so much that I had it indelibly etched on my finger, for the rest of my life, in lieu of a ring, and as a constant reminder to me, and the rest of the world at large, of my commitment to you.

"As you already know, these Hebrew letters spell out the word Hesed. The word means lovingkindness. Interestingly, this one rather unusual compound word occurs about 250 times in the Old Testament and it's used to imply all sorts of things about loyal, steadfast faithful love.  According to folks who understand Hebrew way better than I do, this word lovingkindness "stresses the idea of the way that those who are involved in a love relationship truly belong together." The word connotes all sorts of things that marriage partners should be able to provide for one another, things like deliverance, empowerment, enlightenment, guidance, forgiveness, communion, hope, praise, and preservation.

"That's some word.

"With all those wonderful things implied and understood, this then is, very simply, my final vow to you today. It's from Hosea, chapter 2, verses 19 and 20, where I first encountered the deeper sense of this word in a footnote. With only the slightest paraphrasing, it goes like this:

I marry you for all time.
I marry you in righteousness
and in fairness,
in lovingkindness
and in compassion.
I marry you in faithfulness."




We never had the money to arrange to take a honeymoon.

Instead, the day after we wed, we rather aimlessly drove to Painted Desert National Park, mostly because we felt like we should go somewhere and do something away from home that day.

It began to snow as we drew near the park and, by the time we'd paid our entry fee and driven to the first overlook, there was nothing to see. Everything was covered in snow.  I took one quick picture of my beautiful new wife, and then we turned around and drove home, stopping to eat an early dinner at Holbrook, Arizona's, finest (and only) Italian restaurant, Mesa Italiana, cloth napkins and all.

It snowed hard the whole drive back.  And it continued to snow for the next several days. By the time the storm was over, there was nearly 5 feet of snow on the ground.

School was closed for a whole week.  We claimed it as our honeymoon and spent it at home.

Snowed-in, just the two of us.


26 November 2021

Let's ride a singlespeed!

"When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run."
- Henry David Thoreau


I recently converted my Surly Pugsley "fatbike" from an eight-speed to a singlespeed.  After a thousand or so very rode-hard miles in the past 8 years (and having been put away wet more often than not), the original drivetrain components had become seriously clapped-out.  Rather than replace them (at great expense), I decided to just remove them. Best part of this decision: stripping off the no-longer-necessary gears, shifters, cables, and derailleurs shed almost four pounds. Today, the Pugs, and her one 34x22 gear, is revitalized as a bike that is (as it truthfully always has been) an unmitigated hoot to ride!  In a way, it almost feels as though this was how she was meant to have been set-up all along.

I've been riding singlepeed bikes in the forests of northern Arizona for almost 30 years. Not counting a Surly Steamroller fixie, an old Ibis Trials Comp, and an even older Schwinn Typhoon, the newly reconfigured Pugs counts as the fourth legit singlespeed mountain bike in my garage. I dig riding one-speed bikes. Always have. Speaking honestly from experience, I can tell you: geared bikes are lots of fun. Singlespeeds, however, are truly enlightening (pun intended).

Despite her radical weight loss and new svelter aspect, my oldest friend, Derrill, who's never understood singlespeeding and has often vocally railed against it, again wondered why when I told him of my Pugsley's recent transformation? "Why not just ride around in one gear without shifting? I just don't get it." 

Nevertheless, I think he does.  

Derrill's 1950 Willys CJ3A
You see, Derrill's owned a 1950 Willys Jeep for many years. He and his dad meticulously restored it back when we were in high school in the 1980s.  To this day, when he can find the time, Derrill still likes to take his old flathead four-banger out wheeling on long days all over eastern and central Arizona, often in very remote places, bumping along at no more than 4 miles per hour over rocks and logs in his bone-jarring, slow moving, doorless, roofless antique Army truck.

That's because Derrill, at the core of his being, understands something that Henry Thoreau and every true-believer singlespeed rider I've ever met also knows in their heart-of-hearts. And that is: regardless of your means for achieving it, there's something really good for your soul about doing something simple, something analog, something slow, something uncommonly, better yet, unnecessarily difficult. 
34x22=damn near perfect

Inside many of our brains, there's a hard-to-articulate compulsion to undertake a thing that has had most, if not all, of its creature comforts and modern advantages stripped away. A thing that requires you, the operator, the driver, the rider, to muster a great effort, to seek and find a sort of oneness with, or a focus on a particular moment in time as you actively traverse a landscape, endure a set of adverse conditions, without any of the technological aides or advantages others might commonly require.  To be reminded, at the end of the day, after a good ride: I can do hard things.  

There is something satisfying about developing a skillset, a proficiency, an ability that is otherwise nontransferable, in any practical sense, to your survival in the real world.  Let's be honest: in a world where bikes with gears exist, riding a singlespeed bicycle in the woods is kinda stupid.  At the same time, it's also very rewarding to be able to say you did it, that you conquered that arduous task, that you struggled productively to be able to take in the view at a spot not everyone gets to enjoy and that you arrived at that place the hard way, that you did something which reminded you that, at least for today, you're alive and your heart is racing and you feel vital and alert and attenuated, at one, albeit sometimes all-too fleetingly, with the world around you.

Introducing: the Pugs SS
The older I get, the more I am compelled to contemplate and appreciate these moments.  I think that's because, as I find myself aging, I'm beginning to better understand that there will surely come a time when decrepitude will catch up with me and I won't be able to do such things any longer.  Moreover, as I've watched in recent years several of those who have been dear to me pass away, I have become more aware of the inevitable fact that there will come a moment in time for me when, quite simply, I will cease to Be, and that opportunities for me to be reminded so vividly of being alive will end. 

Like Thoreau said, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Was Thoreau a singlespeeder?  I believe he was, if not in actual practice most assuredly he was, nevertheless, in his soul.

I often tell the people that I encounter out in the woods, if they ask me about the singlespeed bike I'm riding, why do you do it, and what is it for, that, "I never learned to play a musical instrument with any proficiency.  And I never learned to fluently speak another language.  But, over the course of my lifetime, I did learn to ride just this one gear really well, and it has always taken me everywhere I needed to go. To me, that has made all the difference."

When it comes answering folks more specific questions about why I'm riding the Pugs SS way out in the snowy forest come winter, I like to add, "Low tire pressure, and a sort of stupidity that's never deterred by your rational brain's entreaties to turn the-f around, both help a lot, too."

---

Check out the post post-punk sounds of Sit, Stand, or Push, a song about using all three of the gears on your singlespeed by FLG-local band, Thee Deores.


---

Finally, I present to you my real singlespeeder bona fides, all the one-speed mountain bikes in my quiver:

Coconino (SS)

Chester MuTinyman (SS)

Rock Lobster (SS)

Surly Pugs (SS)


13 October 2021

Let's ride with a dropper-post!

Sure, 2021 is more than a little bit late-to-the-game to be writing an article advocating for the use of dropper-posts on mountain bikes. But I ride on a regular basis with a few old doods, militant Luddites all, who have yet to upgrade their bikes to a seat-post that drops with the pull of a trigger. I've been trying to convert them for years, at every opportunity singing the praises of dropper-posts loud and clear, to no avail. This blog post is all I've got left, my last-ditch effort to try and get them to see the light.



I got my first dropper-post as stock-spec on my Specialized Fuse Expert when I bought it new back in 2017. 

Hite-Rite & Rock Lobster
both ca. 1985
Actually, no. That's not an entirely accurate statement. See, I've had a Breeze & Angell Hite-Rite on my Rock Lobster singlespeed for years. The Hite-Rite is undisputedly the world's original dropper-post and it's actually very effective and efficient. But, it's also super tough to operate on-the-fly. Unlike contemporary dropper-posts, which can be moved up or down with the flick of a trigger, a stop-and-dismount is required of all but the most practiced riders in order to move the saddle up or down using a Hite-Rite. As a result, the Hite-Rite on my Rock Lobster was installed as period-correct bling, mostly for show (the frame, fabricated in 1985, even has a specific braze-on on the back of the seat tube intended for it), and, for the first fifteen-plus years that I owned it, I used it on rare occasions, only to move my seat down at the top the most ridiculously steep/sustained descents (and sometimes not even then), otherwise it mostly stayed-put and looked pretty.

Old school
ca. 1993
So I can admit, when I started riding my new Fuse I was actually a bit perplexed as to the real functionality of the dropper-post. As a bona fide old-schooler, having ridden, as I was saying, most of my rides over the course of some 30 years with a stiff-posted seat forever glued to my ass, or wedged between my thighs, or pushed up into my belly or ribcage, depending on the contours of the trail. For decades I held firmly to the belief that a fixed, immoveable seatpost actually made me a more skillful rider, that it was an essential point-of-contact which had to remain forever in its place, that to stop to reduce one's seat height was nothing short of admitting to one's innate dweebishness. In my mind I really did believe that all this was crucial to my ability to shred my bike like the "pro" I have so often imagined myself to be.

And then, shortly after buying my Fuse, I went on a few rides with Joe.  Joe, you see, is a legit pro, and has even, a couple times, been a NORBA National Champion, and he is a Skunk for sundry secretive bike-related enterprises, and is also a real live Mountain Bike Hall Of Fame (Class of 1988) inductee. To this day he still practically lives on a bike as his fulltime job. Safe to say: he knows how to ride, in the sense that it's like watching someone make pitch-perfect music to watch him ride.

And what I saw as I watched Joe ride was at first surprising to me. Turns out, Joe used his dropper a lot, and not just when he was descending, but also when he was cornering. In fact, he used his dropper a lot a lot, as in dozens and dozens of times in a given ride, in almost every fast corner and on even the slightest declines. I watched as he lowered his natural center much closer to the ground and used this new position on the bike to make quicker microadjustments to the terrain than he would have been able to on a traditional stiff posted bike. And he was able to tip his bike well up onto the side-knobs when cornering, too, literally putting him on rails in the corners, which was a thing of beauty to behold, indeed. Riding behind Joe was the epiphany I needed to figure out what I could aspire to when it came to incorporating my new-school dropper-post into my riding.

New school
ca. 2020
And I am here to tell you, several years and many thousands of miles on, that it has changed my life, and especially my riding, all for the better a gajillion times over. Another old friend once told me, long before I ever rode with a dropper, "They're even more essential an advancement in how we're able to ride than clipless pedals were." And, while I didn't want to believe him at the time, I am more than compelled to admit now that he was right. 

Nothing (other than perhaps the flat-freedness of tubelessness) has made my riding funner, faster, or has improved my ability to navigate my bike more capably (and safely) over all types of terrain than riding with a dropper-post has.

I've since come to develop quite a dependency on riding with dropper-post, and now find that riding without one has become quite challenging. So, I've recently upgraded my Coconino singlespeed with a KS eTen dropper-post (a decent post, albeit with limited travel, from one of only a few manufacturers who make a 27.2mm diameter post). I've considered installing droppers on the Pugsley and the Chester, too, but for the time-being, I've reverted both of these bikes back to levered seatpost quick-releases, rather than bolted clamps, while I mull things over. 

And, for the record, I'm also using the Hite-Rite on my Rock Lobster a whole lot more these days, too, despite the fact that I still have to stop-and-dismount each time I use it.



05 July 2021

Archival footage: Curriculum vitae [UPDATED]

Some things in life are bad.
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble, give a whistle.
And this'll help things turn out for the best...
Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life
Monty Python - The Life Of Brian

Select images to enlarge
I was never crazy about my job as a school principal.  It feels a bit silly now to admit that I only took it on because our out-going principal and the then-district superintendent asked me to, but that's the god's-honest truth about how I ended up doing it.  I never aspired to be a school leader and I struggled every day, for seven long years, to try as best as I could to graciously manage, keep safe, and empower our staff and students.  Despite my best intentions, each of my many missteps were all too glaringly public, and any meager successes I may have wrought from the endless stream of contention that always seemed to be waiting at my office door, were far too few in number.  

In the final months of what was to become my last year in the role, when a midcareer faculty member on one of our hiring committees responded to the question asked of her by an earnest young interviewee, "Why do you love working here?" with the shoulder-shrugging reply, "I'm sorry, you should skip me. I've got nothing," I knew my time as a school leader had to be done. My disappointment now complete, I sent a 3:00 AM email to our new superintendent that night asking to be relieved of my administrative duties, and to be allowed to return to the classroom for the remainder of my career.

During my time as a principal, whenever I found myself "chewing on life's gristle," rather than grumble (or whistle), I instead worked secretly on a couple of personal projects that helped salve my broken spirit: the first, a letter of resignation that I was never able to honestly give to our faculty (though I did send it to them via email as "a gag" one April Fools Day morning); and, second, what follows below: my professional curriculum vitae, or "the course of my life" for the seven interminable years I spent in the principal's office, styled intentionally as study guide, such as one might purchase and pore over to prepare for an important test like the SAT or GRE. It's not much to show, at the end of the day (or moreover a career), but it really is all that I've got as proof of my time spent leading one smallish, too-often dyspeptic elementary school, as best as I could for as many years as I could do it and only until I just couldn't do it anymore.

Needless to say, after happily accepting a 40% reduction in pay, it was with nothing but  great relief and almost giddy anticipation that I returned to the classroom to teach again, for what would be the final two years of my career (COVID actually foreshortened my last term by about two months).  I ultimately concluded my time in public ed as a fifth grade teacher in July 2020 after something like 28 years (1 as a sub, 7 as a principal, and 20 as a teacher).  For whatever it's worth, I never actually considered applying for another school administrator job, but I did find encouragement working on my CV whenever I was feeling melancholy.

It's reproduced here (select page images to enlarge) for the first, last, and only time, merely as an historical record of what was and, perhaps, I suppose, had it not been for the shoulder-shrugging and constant stream of contention, what might have been.

Update: September 2021

While helping out as a volunteer* over at my wife's school recently, I bumped into Bob, one of the assistant superintendents in our local school district. We've known one another for many years and worked well together during my time in the principal's office. I've always liked Bob. More than that, I've always trusted him, and have long felt the district's well-being was his top priority, that I could believe whatever he was telling me. On a more personal level, I've always felt that he had my back in times of trouble or contention, which is a great thing to be able to say about one of your bosses.

"Hey, how'd you like to come back and work a couple days a week? " he asked me, smiling. 

"Are you kidding, Bob?  I'm living the retired-guy dream. All play and no work!"

"I know you are! But I'm not kidding. We're short-handed everywhere these days. Right now we really need someone to help out at the bus barn, doing student discipline. The director is doing what he can to stay on top of the big concerns, but otherwise no one's doing discipline for the buses right now. You would be great at it."

And so, as they say, long story short: I got all my sh!t together: certs, background checks, work history, etc., filled out an online application packet like a newb, and got myself all signed up as a bona fide sub-administrator.

And here I am, working again. Every day, actually, not the "couple days" a week Bob forecasted during his sales pitch.  Can't have safe buses just two days a week.  It's a five-day-a-week effort for sure. But I really don't mind. Each day it usually only takes me a few hours to work through the stack of hand-written disciplinary referrals the drivers leave for me. And when I'm done, I'm done: zero homework. And they're paying me well. And most folks seem appreciative of the work I'm doing (I get my ass chewed, usually by an angry parent, at least once a week, which really isn't a big deal. After seven years as a school admin, the once delicate skin that covers my ass is all scar tissue and callous now). And, honestly, I kinda like the feeling of having a bit of a plan for part of my day, but one that's flexible enough to allow me to do whatever else I want with the rest if my day on either end of my shift. And it's nice to be back working with my friends in the school district again, too. I'm still very much a true-believer in public ed, afterall.
 
So, it's a pretty good gig. Not sure how long it will last. Technically, it's an interim role and I'm just subbing-in 'til it's filled. In fact, the district still has it posted for hire, on the off chance you're interested.

But I'm not stupid. This isn't my first rodeo, as they say. The last time I took on an interim role in our district, I did that job for seven years.

---

* Since my retirement, I have also been volunteering several days a week with Sunsounds (reading The Prescott Courier and the Arizona Capital Times) and seasonally with Arizona Snowbowl as a member of the Courtesy Patrol. 

27 May 2021

Just about a bike: Matt Chester MuTinyman singlespeed

Select images to enlarge
Near as I can figure, Matt Chester, a resident of Leadville, Colorado, began fabricating and selling bicycles made from titanium tubing out of his home workshop sometime early in 1999. Per his now-mothballed website, he only built bikes from Ti, focused his work exclusively on singlespeed bicycles, and tried very hard (though not always successfully) to convince all of his customers to get their bikes built with 29" (700c) wheels.  He refused to install disc-brake tabs, entirely shunned eccentric bottom bracket shells, yet nonetheless eagerly charged people for repairs to other manufacturer's broken or damaged titanium frames.  

Also, near as I can figure, sometime around 2003, Matt Chester, now a resident of Salida, Colorado, had moved his operation down-valley to the south and was building his bikes in a friend's garage.  It would seem that, around this time, Chester began to carry-out a kind of haphazard, perhaps even initially unintentional, deceptive scheme amongst his customer base, apparently taking new orders along with hefty deposits, purchasing tubing and supplies for older as-yet undelivered orders with the new-customer money, and hoping everyone, including his friend (a mutual friend of both of ours, as a matter of fact) who was leasing him shop space in his garage, would remain none the wiser (he did not; he got wise).  As with most such schemes, Chester's seems to have eventually come apart, as he most likely fell further and further behind in fulfilling his orders. It appears he was at times years behind, failing to deliver to those who had put down $1000, $2000 or more, anything but empty promises of "Soon," proffered only after persistent pestering and almost always via email.

Finally, near as I can figure, by 2006, Chester's operation was likely failing in earnest, possibly due to the recurrent concussive traumatic brain injuries he occasionally complained of which rendered him unfit or unable to work, or possibly because he met a girl who lived in Canada and he chose to refocus his life-goals around being with her instead of making bikes, or possibly because he became fixated on the fact that, as a Canadian, she offered him a way out, beyond the reach of his increasingly disappointed and often angry customers and creditors.  Regardless of his motivations, and with little forewarning, he announced mid-2006, on his now defunct Livejournal blog, that he was officially going to stop framebuilding, presumably with a number of orders still unfulfilled and deposits unreturned.

In the end, near as I can figure, at some point prior to 2010, it seems he and his wife/girlfriend had moved to a small town near Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  A handful of customers, some of whom had ordered their bikes as far back as 2002, report that a few of their bikes were finally delivered via international shipment through Canada/USA customs in early 2011.

No one knows how much real cash money Chester absconded with, if any.  No one really knows how many of his frames went undelivered. Other than Chester himself, no one knows much about the actual whys and wherefores of his apparent inability to honor his commitments to his customers.

All anyone really knows is that, while he was productively making bikes, Chester made some (comparatively) very affordable, very fun-to-ride bikes out of a difficult to conjoin, quite highly sought after, genuinely exotic material.



And now, a decade or two later...

We also know that, of the bikes that were delivered to customers by Chester between 1999 and 2011, many of the frames eventually failed.

Thus it has gone with mine, a 2003 Matt Chester MuTinyman 29" singlespeed, serial number #whothehellknows 1.

It busted.

I bought my Chester singlespeed some five years ago from the person who was its original owner. In fact, he's another mutual friend of mine and the guy in Salida who was renting Matt Chester shop space in his garage.

Small world, huh.

Chester now
My friend, the guy who originally arranged with Chester to have the bike built for himself is, to put it mildly (and especially in comparison to myself), something of, shall we say, a man of means. So, once the frame-build was finished, he had the bike shipped down the road a few short miles to where it could be assembled by the good folks at Absolute Bikes in Salida, Colorado, with what, in my world, I can only describe as "quite a bit of (classic 2003-era) bling," silver Chris King hubs and a black King headset, Stans ZTR hoops, Fox F29 80mm fork, Hayes Oro hydraulic front disc brake, black/silver Pauls rear v-brake lever, Avid Black Ops Research rear v-brake, XT M760 175mm cranks, 36t Blackspire ring... it's a sweet now-vintage build and I've done little over the years to alter its stance.

Chester then
I did replace the Thudbuster post with a lovely Ti unit that I had in my parts bin, and the too-narrow Answer Monkeylite carbon bars and too-short 50mm Salsa stem with a much wider (725mm) sexy blue anno SpankSpoon unit (matches the top caps on the Fox fork), along with a gorgeous 80mm silver Thomson stem.  And I also took off the fugly  carbon Shimano brake booster and replaced it with a one-of-a-kind brushed tubular steel Vulture Cycles brake booster (handmade for me in Oregon by Wade in the 1990s on IRD Rod Moses' jig, I'll have you know).  It looks a hell of a lot better on the Chester than that ol' Shimano horseshoe ever did. Works just as well, too. Possibly better.




After owning the bike for more than a dozen years, my friend listed it quite unexpectely on Facebook one evening several years ago now (at a time when I was still a part of that compromised clusterfuck of a website) for a very fair price, along with a couple other bikes that he said he wasn't riding very often any more.  I  contacted him as soon as I saw the ad, and gave him every penny he was asking for it without any negotiation. I think we both felt we were getting a good honest deal. That's always nice.

Anyway, after about four years of pretty legit riding by me all over our local shield volcano, the bike's seatpost seemed to get super creaky as I was headed out for a shred one morning.  I stopped to apply a tiny bit of lube to the post and noticed, as I was preparing to slicken things up, that there was a tiny crack visible in the weld on at the top-tube/seat-tube junction.  On further inspection, I noticed there were also cracks on both the seat-stay welds... and beneath the top-tube/seat-tube joint... and at the head-tube/top-tube... and who knows where else. I made myself stop looking and gingerly rode home, back the way I'd come. I've broken bikes before, but never so catastrophically. There was no question, the frame was cooked. End of story. I was sad to see her go.

She had been a real hoot to ride.



Then, one afternoon not long after that, I flipped the story of my broken titanium Chester past Kyle, the general manager of Absolute Bikes in Flagstaff and, as I would soon come to learn, a skilled fabricator of various alloys of metal looking to try his otherwise experienced hand for the first time at the intricate art of welding titanium.

"I'm set up and ready to work with titanium," he told me after listening sympathetically to my tale of woe. "Haven't actually done it yet. All I need is a guinea pig. You pay for the materials and I'll do the labor for free if you'll let me practice my techinque on your Chester."



Deal.  I mean, the bike was going to be wall art otherwise, so what was there to lose?  Thus, a few hundred dollars in Ti tubes and rods, a number of months of patiently waiting, and voila! 

The bitch is back!

She's got a brand new carefully mitered and affixed top-tube 2, and a super sexy collar-gusset at the top of her seat-tube now. And, to my eye, a whole bunch of damn solid looking, albeit raw and unpolished, Ti welds 3 in all the places where she needed them, which, as noted above, was several.

Do I think it's going to break again?  Oh, yeah.  Based on what I saw, how the frame failed in so many places simultaneously, it seems inevitable.  If you look carefully, Kyle also ran a tracer bead down another short crack he found in the downtube near the headtube. And then there's the bottom bracket shell joints, where so many of the stresses of riding are concentrated in one area, those welds are key to a bike's survival. And I'm pretty certain Chester probably didn't spend any more time building-in frame integrity there than he did anywhere else.  So yeah, I think it's going to break again.  When?  Who knows.  How?  Hopefully slowly and with a lot of warning and not in a way that kills me. 

I'm thinking we're gonna stick to mostly XC-style riding from now on.

Won't bother me a bit, because regardless of where I'm riding, or how, it's great that I get to shred my resurrected zombie-Chester singlespeed again!

'Cause she is still a hoot to ride!



Footnotes

1. Oddly, Chester never put serial numbers on his bikes.

2.
 Based on what little I know of frame building, and the way this frame cracked so catastrophically in so many places, seemingly all at once, I've come to suspect that Chester could probably have been a lot more precise about how he cut and mitered his frame tubes prior to assembly.

3.
Chester's tube-joinery has always looked a little too smooth to me, like it was finish-filed, akin to what a frame-builder often does to complete a fillet-brazed frame.


References

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey