24 November 2023

Archival footage: My Week of Riding Dangerously [UPDATED]

The following essay was posted to both the Rigid/Hardtail and the 50+ Years Old forums at mtbr.com on 24 November 2023.

Turned 57 a couple weeks ago. Means I've been riding mountain bikes for close to 40 years now. 

As happens to some of us, I ended up hanging on to many of my old bikes, and have acquired and restored a couple other vintage rigs over the years, too.  Several of my older bikes are still intact and quite rideable.  The rest have essentially become organ donors or wall-art, so in a sense still "around" if only in spirit.
Quite literally hanging on (the ceiling) to several old bikes
Had an idea pop into my head the other day, as a kind of 57th birthday commemoration, that I'd ride (as-in really ride, on singletrack trails, out in the woods, just like I used to back-in-the-day) some of my oldest bikes over the course of a few days in the vicinity of my birthday and try to hit as close to an aggregate 57 miles as I could in the process. Rounding upward by just a few tenths, I pretty much nailed it at the end of Day 4 of what I've decided to call: My Week of Riding Dangerously

It was brutal. It was amazing. Effort was expended. Flow was elusive. Skin was lost. Blood was shed.

Flats: 0
Broken body/bike parts: 0
Dabs, portages, mulligans: lost count

I've no regrets. 

My Week of Riding Dangerously was everything I wanted/needed it to be: a fully analog, thoroughly tactile, uninsulated reminder of so many of the aesthetics and sensations that initially drew me into the sport in the first place so many years ago.  

If you've still got an old bike or two hanging around in your garage, I encourage you to dust it off, pump up the tires, and take if for a legit spin on your local XC trails... Just one old dood's opinion, but I think it's good for our aging souls to reminisce, and to reflect on how far things have come in the decades that have passed since we first got started riding bikes on trails.  

I'll leave you with a few terribly obvious observations from My Week of Riding Dangerously:
  • Disc brakes are so much better than cantis... but cantis worked back then, and they still do today.
  • Dropper posts are essential to effective and responsive bike handling... but ride an old bike around for a bit and you'll quickly recall how steep and quick you can still ride without ever lowering your saddle.
  • Suspension forks, tubeless tires, wide bars, short stems, beefy rims, and slack geometry definitely enhance bike handling in innumerable positive ways... but the truth of the matter is, you can still have a great nostalgic time shredding around on rigid, narrow, long, and steep sh!t, too.  You're just not going to be able to do it as fast or effectively as you're accustomed to.  And in my book, to on occasion be reminded of how far you've come, and how much things have changed (mostly for the better), isn't really a bad thing,
Below are some sexy iPhone portrait-mode pictures of the bikes and the distances/elevations I rode during My Week of Riding Dangerously.

1994 Breezer Lightning -- 12 miles -- 1000 feet elev.

1991 Ibis Mountain Trials -- 13 miles -- 1100 feet elev.

1992 Retrotec -- 16 miles -- 1800 feet elev.

1985 Rock Lobster -- 16 miles -- 1300 feet elev.

UPDATE: 25 November 2023
Thought this response to my original post in MTBR's Rigid/Hardtail forum, along with my reply, merited inclusion here.
I make a rule that every new bike purchase must be followed by selling a bike.
Thanks for confirming this is a good policy.
I guess I could see your point... if we were talking about shoes, or T-shirts, or even skis... there are lots of things that we own which were at one point cool or fashionable or top-tier-tech that tend to lose their luster or efficacy over time. That kind of stuff is consumable, it wears out and becomes just so much trash.

But there are other things, like old bikes and cars and tractors, which, while no longer top-tier by any means, are nonetheless, if they've been well-maintained or carefully restored, still perfectly viable, even dare-I-say pleasurable, as modes of transport if you're willing to shift your mental space into a more nostalgic mode whenever you intend to enjoy them.

I'm really, really glad I've kept my old bikes.

Pretty sure my urge to hang on to, and likewise to ride these old bikes out in the woods once in a while, is triggered by the same part of my brain-stem that salves the old dude's desire to drive around town on Friday night in his sweet 1970 Oldsmobile 442, which it just so happens is exactly like the one he drove in high school... or the the war vet's compulsion to meticulously restore and tractor around the fairgrounds on Labor Day weekend in his old 1928 John Deere, which looks, sounds and smells just like the one he grew up driving on the farm back-home.

19 October 2023

Archival footage: Vintage Chris King Angry Bee swag [UPDATED]

The following essay was originally posted to the Vintage, Retro, Classic forum at mtbr.com on 18 October 2023.

A little history per chrisking.com: Back when hub warranty registration was done my [sic] mailing us a postcard, Akiyoshi Takamura coined an infamous [sic] quote in the comment field of his card; "It rolls good with angry bee sound". This was the birth of the angry bees and so much more.

Aki-the-bear loading up on wild raspberries
before descending Pluto trail
Here in my hometown of Flagstaff, AZ (and likewise among the FLG-diaspora currently residing in Bend, OR) coiner-of-the-phrase "It rolls good with angry bee sound" (which, let's be frank, Chris King Precision Components has taken to-the-bank as it's now ubiquitous marketing theme), @angrybee Akiyoshi Takamura, has become nothing less than a legit folk hero. By no means "infamous," in our estimation Aki has, instead, become well-respected by handmade bike-builders and riders alike. All who have had the pleasure to know and ride with him have found his knowledge and enthusiasm for small-batch mountain bike sh!t to be deeply sincere, knowledgeable, and endearing.

Since I-don't-know-when, Aki has made an annual trip to ride in Flagstaff and, over the years, has purchased a respectable sampling of North American small-builder bikes to take back to shred in the hills and forests around Osaka, Japan. Sadly, COVID-19 made Aki's trip to the USA impossible for the past two seasons. So everyone that knew him was super stoked when word got around late in the spring of 2023 that Aki would be traveling to northern Arizona once again in the summertime.

While he was here this summer I traded him a custom-made "red Pepsi" Cooziecage in exchange for his Kanji-signature on my first-gen "It rolls good with angry bee sound" T-shirt which now proudly hangs in "the place of honor" (on the wall above my workbench) in my garage.

A few more pictures from Aki's recent visit...

UPDATE: 27 October 2023
I picked up this piece of new “angry bee” swag while I was on the Chris King site researching my original post the other day. Installed it on the Chester. Does what it says on the tin, as the saying goes.

09 October 2023

In Beauty

In beauty I ride
With beauty before me I ride
With beauty behind me I ride
With beauty above me I ride
With beauty around me I ride
It has become beauty again

-- adapted from a Navajo prayer

Swell Trail - 09 October 2023

30 September 2023

Let's lurk [UPDATED]

In the course of my life there have been several things that I knew I would love the very first moment I saw them. That list includes:
  • my wife
  • our daughter
  • our home
  • riding singletrack on a mountain bike
  • making sweet dropped-knee Tele-turns
  • paddle-boarding gracefully across a lake
  • and skiing with a lurk

I've written about many of these subjects elsewhere on this blog. But never before about lurking. And if I'm being honest, as with the other things listed above, lurking has pretty much changed my life, entirely for-the-better.

It all started when I watched this video at some point in the fall of 2022. 

The video features a guy named Marshell Thomson testing Bishop Telemark's San Juan Stick during the 2021 season. The moment I saw him shredding the backcountry near Silverton on his Tele-skis, carving big turns with a single, long, two-ended ski-pole called a lurk, I was hooked.

Sadly, by the time I caught the bug, Bishop's website showed that the $275 (plus shipping) San Juan Stick was sold-out(1).

So, for a time, early in the 2022-2023 ski season, I just experimented with bamboo, which I had easy access to as a volunteer with the Courtesy Patrol at Arizona Snowbowl.  I spend a lot of time running bamboo around the mountain anyway, so in the process I just started holding it like Thomson had in his King of the Lurk video, often lashed together as a small bundle with a tele-strap, as I transported it to various projects around the hill.  Despite the 'boo's inherent flexibility, which isn't a desirable quality in a ski-pole of any kind, I could nonetheless tell that skiing Tele with a lurk made a lot of sense, as it equipped me to power my rear foot more and lean back into the hillside to initiate better turns and carve more aggressively and naturally into the ski's turn-radius.

Given that I wasn't going to be able to get my hands on one of Bishop's Sticks, I began searching the Internet for other fabricators of lurks, and likewise preparing to adapt a plan to hack together a lurk of own if my searching proved fruitless.  Which it nearly did. 

Not including an ancient, one-ended, peeled and seasoned natural pine Altai tiak ($44.75 plus shipping), which I didn't find nearly as enticing(2)  because, well, it is not a lurk it's a tiak, I could find only a couple legitimate lurk makers other than Bishop selling their products online: TreePole ($187 plus shipping), and an Etsy shop called MountainSports ($149 plus shipping) owned by a guy named Dennis. 

I've gotta be honest: TreePole's natural peeled pine lurk looked a lot like Altai's tiak, just longer and with two-ends rather than one, which I wasn't too stoked on for nearly $200.  However, I really liked the machined and lathe-turned look of Dennis' MountainSports lurk a lot, and was compelled to purchase it, not only because it was less expensive than the TreePole, but also because it shipped with three different tips plus a set of baskets, a sticker for my beer-fridge, and also featured a machined aluminum decoupler mid-pole, similar to Bishop's design (video).

Dennis at MountainSports makes lurks in three colors and three sizes, 7 feet, 7.5 feet, and 8 feet. I'm six-feet tall and tend to set my traditional adjustable ski poles at about 115-120cm when I'm Tele-skiing in the area. But when it came time to pull the trigger on purchasing a lurk, I wasn't really sure what length to get. Fortunately Bishop has a brief "Lurk Sizing" tab on their San Juan Stick page, which recommends that someone like me should use a 100-inch lurk, which is a bit over 8 feet end-to-end.  In order to be sure I got the right size for me and the kind of Tele-skiing I like to do, I eventually ended up ordering both a 7.5 and an 8 footer from MountainSports, which came to just a few bucks more than one San Juan Stick.

As a 30-year (1993-2023) Tele-skier, I am stoked to give my 100% tried-and-tested five-star recommendation to the lurks I purchased last season from MountainSports.  They're made of poplar wood, so they're not too heavy. They're super stiff.  And they're pretty dang rugged. I've whapped mine on more than a few trees, fallen on top of them a time or two, and basically put both through a season-long series of unforgiving on-the-job trials. They've never failed me.

Skiing with both lurks during my shifts over the course of some 75 days on my local hill during the 2022-2023 season, I can tell you: most days when I'm working with Snowbowl Courtesy Patrol riding my Blizzard Rustler 10s, I like the lighter weight and somewhat faster tip-to-tip operation of my 7.5 foot pole. However, on bigger, deeper days, or whenever I'm on my wider Blizzard Rustler 11s, the 8-foot pole makes tons of sense.

Everyone asks, "What is that thing," when I'm riding up the chair with my lurk. I like to make up a different purpose for it every time... "It's a wizard-staff for casting spells; you shall not pass!" or "I'm training for the summer Olympics in kayaking and my coach wants me to ski with a paddle." or "It's a COVID-distancing stick, please stand back." or "It's a porcupine-prodder for coaxing them back into the woods when they wander out onto the runs." Stuff like that.  People always go, "Ha, right... seriously?" and then I explain what a lurk is and why, especially as a Tele-skier, I like to shred around the mountain with it.

As I said before, Tele-skiing with a lurk puts you in an more advantageous position to use the slope angle and your momentum to engage solid turns, stay in the sweet-spot on both your turning edges through the entire turn, and then initiate confident, precise, fast transitions turn-to-turn as you work your way down the hill.  Once mastered, it really is an amazing sensation, flipping the lurk left and right, like a kayak paddler does with their oar, as you rail the skis' edges around the long-pole's tip.  

Some practice is required to transition your Tele-skiing style from traditional poles to a lurk. And, while it's definitely most ideally suited to open runs and big open terrain (video), it doesn't really matter if you're working it on hard-pack groomers, a few inches of early-morning freshies, or deep, deep pow. You learn pretty quickly to smear it across the fall line on the piste, and rudder it like a canoe paddle in the deeper conditions; it doesn't punch into the snow if you're doing it right, which is why standard ski pole baskets are unnecessary. The ball tip (see image below) is what works best, and the one with the pointed end is particularly nice when polling across the flats becomes necessary.

Even in the trees (video), the lurk is a great snow-tool with few, if any, liabilities, particularly for an experienced Tele-skier who's practiced with it a bit.  In fact, I think it's enhanced my meadow-skipping just as much as it has my on-piste activities. Remember: when you're using the lurk correctly, both in and out of the trees, you're placing it on the hillside behind and beside you, just a bit above your turn (not in front of you and your turn as with standard ski poles), so it doesn't get in the way of sticking to your path in and around the trees.  

Transitioning quickly between left and right fall-line turns in the trees, however, requires the most practice with the lurk and demands that your situational awareness spatial monitoring systems be set to optimal. More than once I've gotten sloppy or inattentive and clipped a tip on a tree or a low hanging limb which, depending on your speed, will cause the lurk to recoil in your hands with little warning. But again, it's not that hard to figure out how to avoid these situations. With a little practice, tree-lurking quickly becomes just another skill to master and put in your Tele-skier's toolbag.

I'm also convinced the lurk helps you reduce Tele-fatigue and conserve energy, too. Because of it's rigidity, you learn to put some of your weight onto it as you're dropping down into your turn. Then, as you're unweighting your body mass toward the bottom of your turn, you can push against the stick to raise your body upward into a more upright position to complete your turn-transition, taking some of the strain out of your legs.  

Using the lurk in this way has helped me extend my days as well as my ability to get down long sustained runs from the top to anywhere on the hill capably and quickly without my legs blowing up. I've got a lot more gas in my tank since switching to lurking full-time. My six-run days have now become 12 to 15 and sometimes 20+ run days, almost always with enough juice leftover to get up and do it all again tomorrow, which for me equals nothing less than stoke-factor: maximum!

Bishop's site echo's my observations, citing the following as "Lurk Benefits" for beginner to expert Tele-skiers: 
  • Creates a strong upper body posture
  • Allows you to lean into the hillside and carve aggressively
  • A solid tool to improve back foot weighting issues or losing balance

Turns out, the aluminum coupler that both MountainSports and Bishop install in the center of their lurk sticks isn't all that useful, at least not to me.  Initially I used it a lot when loading the lift, so that I could shove the decoupled poles beneath my thigh as I've always done with my standard ski poles.  But in fairly short order, after a few days getting used to lurking, I found that this "extra step" really wasn't necessary. 

These days, when loading the chair, I just cradle the lurk inside the elbow of my arm, raise the rearward tip enough that it clears the back of the seat and any footrest apparatus, and seat myself when the carrier comes around as usual.  I hold the lurk between my body and my arm, gripped with one hand, as we travel uphill.  It's easy.

Finally, after thorough experimentation, I've settled on using the thermoplastic ball-shaped tip with the stainless point which Dennis provides with every order. With it installed on both ends of my lurk I'm ready to "pole" to and from the chair when we load/disembark just as well as the skiers with traditional poles, and of course, much better than the one-footed snowboarders.

Update: March 2024

The other day, I bought an almost-new carbon-fiber 3pin.ski lurk from a buddy for, like, a buck-fitty. It's long (102") and light (maybe a couple pounds) and (super) stiff.  

I think it's rad.

Maybe next season I'll sit down a write a review about it... Stay tuned.


1. When this post was first published in late September 2023 Bishop's website indicated there were just 9 San Juan Sticks in-stock at that time prior to the start of the 2023-2024 season.  As far as I can tell, MountainSports lurks are all custom made-to-order, therefore Dennis appears to have a more than abundant supply!

2. I did end up purchasing an Altai tiak, just to try it... And, I was right: it's okay as a snow-tool, but definitely not as intuitive or inspiring as a lurk. A tiak works more like a drag-brake, slowing and controlling the skier's progress down the hill. But it's not a lurk, which is thing for making better and more satisfying turns and transitions. The tiak hangs in my garage alongside my ski quiver and looks interesting, but I rarely if ever use it.

26 August 2023

Archival footage: When did you get slower?

The following essay was originally posted to the Fifty+ Years Old forum at mtbr.com on 25 August 2023.

Am I slower? I really don't know. That's the honest answer.

I mean, I've got almost a dozen years of Strava data that conclusively says: maybe?

How do I really know? And how much do I really care?

Facts are facts: My bikes have all changed for-the-better by several iterations in the aforementioned dozen-year time-period; fires, floods, and new construction have radically changed our local trails, in some cases for-the-better; technology, frame- and tire-design have all changed my riding style and abilities for-the-better a thousand-fold; and sure, inevitably, so has my body changed (tho not always for-the-better) as well as the way that I sometimes feel before, during, and after I ride (again, not always for-the-better)... So, which of these variables am I looking at when trying to determine if I'm slowing down?

I still get the occasional Strava PR, though they're certainly fewer and further between these days... but does the interval between improvements mean I'm getting slower? Maybe? Or perhaps I'm just drawing closer to the top-of-my-game given where current technology and new, better-built trails have gotten me.

I know I'm getting older, and maybe I am slowing down some. But, hand-on-my-heart, having done this mountain-bike thing for 30-plus years, I've never enjoyed riding more than I am right now, in the present moment, at my present age. I know one of these "days" my last ride will ultimately literally be my last. But for now I'm committed to try to "live to ride another day" and to savor each moment of each of today's rides, and push against the unavoidable envelope of entropy as best I am able. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, right?

So slow, fast, or somewhere in-between doesn't really make a lot of sense to me anymore. Sure, I still like to check where I stand in the Strava pecking-order after most rides... and I'll be honest, I'm never the KOM, but when was I ever, really? Nevertheless, in general my times going up and going down are, to my mind, well within the respectable range and nothing to be ashamed of for a hairy-legged 200-pound 56-year-old dood on a hardtail.

But, to tell the truth, despite my somewhat voyeuristic interest in where I stand on the segment-achievements list, my heart-of-hearts simply wants to know after each ride:

Was it Good?
Did it Flow?
Did it get Rad?

25 August 2023

Archival footage: Should I move to Flagstaff?

The following essay was originally posted to the Arizona forum at mtbr.com on 28 June 2023.

I've been "trapped" in this little mountain town since 1991 with no way out, but likewise also with little desire to leave (that's both a pro and a con, I suppose... I'll explain below). It's a good thing I like it here.

What's a pro to living in Flagstaff? That's easy: all the trails (more all the time thx to @rockman and his crew), lakes, ski runs within easy striking distance of town. For me these features are the reasons I find myself so content living here. Also, there's a couple grocery stores, a few places to eat pretty good food, and about 1000 bars. It might sound like I'm speaking hyperbolically, but I most definitely am not. Other pros? Hmmm... there's mostly decent people here. I've know a few assholes, and heard about several others (we're kinda a one-degree-of-separation sort of place). But most of the folks I know are pretty cool. I think it's because almost everyone is here on purpose, so you don't meet too many people who are "this place sucks" except high-school kids who don't know any better.

Cons? It's a bit expensive. My wife and I got lucky and got our toe-hold established in the 1990s when things were a little cheaper, if not perceivably so at the time, they certainly were looking back in comparison to today.

Bureaucratic things move slowly around here, be it the town council, or the local USFS agency, the school board, or the county government... it all just kinda churns around the same drain most of the time. Until disaster strikes... then everyone's pretty good at rallying together.

Turns out we've had some practice in this regard (the striking of disaster), which brings me to "the big con" which is: the simple truth that we're all just here bronc-riding a giant bomb-casing, hoping like hell it doesn't explode and kill us all... and by that, of course, I mean: THE THREAT OF WILDFIRE.

If you're really good at pretending... or super-good at putting all your hope/trust/assurance in any of a half-dozen or so public service agencies that you think might be able to try valiantly to save you and/or personal property, then how-doo! Welcome to Flagstaff, pardner!

If, on the other hand, the prospect of losing all you have (and possibly, let's be honest, everyone you love) to a massive out of control FIRESTORM (or the flooding thereafter) that will probably be started by some tweaker a-hole living in his van "down by the river" (note: we have no river) who believes his right to a high-summer campfire is enshrined in the Second Amendment, then maybe take a beat, think it thru... perhaps a townhouse in Anthem, within easy striking distance of Flag but well out of the burn-zone, is better suited to you.

'Cause here's the hard reality of life in Flagstaff: always knowing, in the back of your brain: it's all gonna burn. We don't like to talk about it. We like to pretend we can do something to mitigate the risk of it (thinning projects, controlled Rx fire, closure orders, let-burn lightning strikes, etc). But the bottom line is, these things don't really work, we're merely "tilting at windmills" trying to look like we know what we're doing, but basically we're just fukt.

Those of us whose roots are set too deep, who have been here so long, most of us can't do much to get out of the path of what's coming... And maybe we just don't want to. I gotta admit, there's the constant draw of all the sweet singletrack out your back door, just begging for a shred, which, I think, causes a lot of us to live rather cavalierly day-to-day perched on the razor's edge of disaster, like the good lord said, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." The riding and the skiing and the paddling really are that good most days. I think we're just kinda hoping it's not coming for us today... maybe even that "the big one" will wait 'til we're gone, aged out of the living process, ya know. But who the hell knows... Nobody does.

Except, truth is, we all know: it's coming, bummer of it is: we just don't know when.

24 August 2023

Archival footage: A MacGyver Story

The following essay was originally posted to the Vintage, Retro, Classic forum at mtbr.com on 13 June 2023.

JRA in a lonesome meadow which runs for a couple quiet foresty miles between two outlying upscale neighborhoods on the north side of town, I determined, as per usual, to take the higher-harder track this afternoon, the one that climbs over a rough basalt bench, rather than the other, which nearly everyone else takes because it's less angular (in all dimensions) and heads more directly and expediently back into town.

Threading the needle, I pushed the front wheel of my 1987 Panasonic Mountain Cat 7500, oh-so gently between two pointy black rocks embedded in the track, both firmly bolted down with the force of eons of volcanic glue, when, despite the confident finesse with which I executed this fine maneuver, the stem slipped, quite unexpectedly, about 15 degrees to the right of center.

No big deal. Hop off, out with the six-mil hex, a bit of righty-tighty and viola! With the last twist of the wrench, the unpainted aluminum top-cap on the ain't-she-sweet 1" quill Salsa roller stem crumbles to a mixture of crappy metal bits and a smattering of what I'm guessing is fully adulterated AL2O3. The bars now swing freely side-to-side...

A tube, a pump, a couple nylon tire levers, and a Cool Tool seat-post quick release are all the tools I've got. The Mountain Cat is my slackcountry commuter rig, afterall. Hasn't been on a long ride in the woods in decades (it's got seatstay breather-hole cancer). But for years it’s gotten me around town via the sidecountry and interstitials so darn well. So, there I am, not so far from home that I can't self-extract on foot, but reluctant to do so because, in some 30 years of riding, I've only ever walked out twice, once for a broken rear triangle (snapped both chainstays on the only FS bike I've ever owned), and once for a broken fork (fully snapped off one leg of a red Ritchey biplane... didn't want to risk snapping off the other, ya know).

A couple minutes looking at the bike, trying to puzzle out where a flat washer with an ID close to the stembolt's OD might be hiding, and I can't think if a thing... 'cept prolly there's a washer behind the crankbolts that would work (can't actually recall), but the Cool Tool QR tool doesn't have a 15mm socket for this purpose like the original Cool Tool does, just a 10.

Clock ticks off another minute or two as I contemplate other options... not. walking. home.

And then it occurs to me: I might could flip the two remaining parts of the top-cap so what remains of the flange will act as a washer to the recessed retainer and see if it'll bind enough without crumbling to steer without slippage sufficient to get my ass home. One foot-pound of tork, twist-check the bars, then another and another half-a-turn 'til it's juuuust tight enough to ride as slow and as straight as I can.

Something like this:

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