Monday, November 30, 2009

Giving Thanks.

Having fallen afoul of dread routine rides that are a result of complications brought on by modern life, I was thoroughly worked up about hitting the legendary Marin Turkey Day ride in the company of a handful of good friends, and a few thousand other like-minded riders.

The day before, I meticulously prepped my bike and got my gear ready in anticipation of heading out the door at sparrow-fart. That night I actually didn’t sleep all that well, mostly because of gastric perambulations caused by some seriously undercooked beans, but also because I was genuinely excited about finally doing this ride.

The first year I tried to join the fray the rain conspired against us and the mountain was pretty much closed off as much of the Pine Mountain Loop would have been impassable, so I went off on a downgraded version on trails that had better drainage. Next time I tried I got sick as a dog a few days before. Then there was one more attempt that never got off the ground for reasons that I can’t even remember.

So it was that I met up with Chris and D and once we were fully caffeinated we headed out to meet our good friend John and M at Fairfax. Even though it was 7:30 the lot by the Java Hut was already teeming with bikers getting ready and rolling towards the mountain. We threw our frigid bodies onto our bikes and made way towards the trail that leads past the golf course and up to Four Corners, and after a good 15 minute climb to warm up we were steaming and started shedding a few layers.

The day couldn’t have been better – it was sunny and only some high clouds conspired to keep temps down enough to make it a brisk affair every time we gathered speed on descents. Idle chat and jolly banter rang out as we made our way and soon we were at the dreaded Baby Head section. And here’s where it started getting much more interesting.

Firstly, it’s a lung-busting technical climb that is relentless in its dispensation of misery. Secondly, it is a notorious newbie trap – lose forward momentum and it’s a long walk up to the top. And thirdly, I could not for the life of me figure out why I kept smelling exhaust – until we cleared the first rise and saw a Marin sheriff on an ATV pulling a trailer up the hill, scattering bikers as he chugged up the hill.

My first thought was that there was an injured rider somewhere, but the pace the rider was maintaining was bucolic at best and soon it became painfully apparent that this was part and parcel of the new approach towards “managing” mountain bikers – by intimidation. When we tried to pass the rider, he’d speed up, on long ascents he would slow down. And all the time we were inhaling fumes – just what we wanted to do on our mountain bikes. I finally passed him at the bottom of the last climb and even though it sounded like he was about to roll over me I pipped him at the top of Smoker’s Knoll, on which nary a smoker was partaking as it looked like half of the Marin sheriff’s force was just hanging around, scowling at the riders who scowled back.

After a quick snack during which we saw a few legendary riders like Charlie Kelly and local racers like Rachel Lloyd, John pointed out the approaching monster SUV that was coming up the hill and said “We’d better get rolling – this guy HATES mountain bikers…”
Even though my bike was off the side of the road I quickly dashed over to get it as he appeared to be heading straight toward it. Next to me was a lovely Ventana tandem bike, which unfortunately fell foul of the law.

I was the first to start rolling down the steep descent into the canyon below, and it wasn’t long before Chris caught up to me and John and called out ”Typical! He rolled OVER the tandem!” When we bunched up at the bottom we got the 411 from M, who even tried to stop the “sheriff” from rolling over the bike, but he didn’t stop and destroyed the rear wheel of the tandem and ruined the day for its two owners. The scene started getting ugly immediately and several riders were calling out insults and “explaining” how much a new wheel costs for a tandem. And I’m sure on that day a lot of riders were not only polarized but hopefully energized into action, because this was truly beyond the pale.

So what did we do to deserve this? Are we torch-bearing anarchists? Serial killers? Thieves, murderers and rapists? A look around at the crowd revealed a cross-section of riders – from die-hard racers to weekend warriors. Rawboned teenagers and AARP candidates. Riders on 1980’s vintage iron to the latest in carbon fiber trickery. Men, women, boys and girls – all trying to have a good time, but when we’re singled out as scofflaws and harassed simply because we’re trying to enjoy some recreation, it’s enough to make a grown man sigh.

I lost count, but on that day I counted about 10 SUVs, 6 or 8 ATVs, and well over 2 dozen law enforcement officials – enforcing what exactly? On a holiday. On our tax-dollar. At triple overtime. At a time when the state is fiscally and morally bankrupt and our parks are on the ropes. Great – makes me feel all warm and fuzzy – how about you?

So the rest of the ride was great, but tainted with the sour taste left by that one moment. Along the way we passed several more SUVs and officers out in the middle of bloody nowhere, ensuring that we all felt “protected” – yeah, so long as our bikes aren’t in the path of one of their vehicles. At the top of Repack, Access for Bikes (A4B) was collecting signatures and trying to get people involved – no doubt they had a banner day, considering the warmth we felt from the Marin sheriffs.

If there’s a moral to this story it’s that we ALL need to get more involved in all manner of activities – from continuing to work towards greater trail access, to doing trail maintenance, policing ourselves and in general becoming more politically active – and savvy. If not, intimidation tactics like this will continue to strip from our hands that which is rightfully ours. So if you’re feeling grateful for being able to ride today, consider this a call to get involved – so that we all may continue to ride tomorrow.

M. Bearns

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

A posse of us from the Pegasus family got up at Oh-My-God-O-Clock on Thursday in order to make it out to Fairfax. We did so because we signed up do the Thanksgiving Day Ride. It's a fantastic gathering of the cycling tribes that's existed for over 20 years now.

JuAs we unloaded our bikes in the parking lot you could see jerseys from dozens of cycling teams and clubs, counties, and even states. The rigs are even more interesting to look at, as many people bring out their old hardware to show off on this special day and gathering. I almost brought out my WTB Phoenix, and I even contemplated bringing out my Potts-built Bon Tempe since I'm riding with broken ribs right now. In the end I brought along five inches of supple travel provided by Santa Cruz, Fox, and WTB.

Chris, Darin, Mel, Michael and I, had a blast on this ride. There was a bit of an unwelcoming supplied to us by the Marin County Sheriff's Department, but that's a sign of the times here in Marin County, arguably the birthplace of mountain biking. To me it feels like the last stand before the county realizes that there are more of us riders paying taxes than the average Joe. I don't want to taint the day's fun with too much politics, so I'll stop here. We had a great time, and I look forward to more of the PBW family taking rides out here in Marin where I call it home.

Best wishes and Happy Holidays to all of you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Something in the air.

There’s something about the fall that always triggers a potent urge in me to get back into mountain biking in a big way. I like it when there’s a nip in the air—and the significant reduction of sweat this brings—but mostly it’s because it’s the harbinger of winter and the end of another long and dusty summer.

Last Sunday I dug myself out of bed later than I would have liked but still escaped unnoticed as my family slept on. I had gathered up my gear the night before and so was able to avoid the dread hunting and gathering the morning of the ride which always adds way more time than it should. Besides, it sure makes it easier to get out the door with everything accounted for, even in a pre-caffeinated state.

I hit the trail down by Shell Ridge in Walnut Creek and pointed my bike towards
Wall Point – always a good ride when I feel the need to be humbled by the vertical element. The shadows cast by the pale rising sun lay long on the powdery ground – the deep dust scoured smooth by the big winds the day before showed only animal tracks and a few tenacious tire treads. Gathering speed I felt the cold air as it cut through my jersey and arm warmers and wondered if I had brought enough gear. My knees were happy enough in knickers, but the rest of me shivered for just a little while before I started pedaling. It didn’t take long to feel just right.

Not many people were out yet, but the acorn woodpeckers were in full song as I threaded my way up the trail. A coyote crossed ahead of me and paused – balefully staring at me with its bright yellow eyes and only moved on when I was less than 5 yards away.

It wasn’t long before I was fully warmed up and at the foot of Wall Point when a long string of riders came bombing down the trail. After a while the last of the stragglers finally hove into view – all goggle-eyed and covered in a fine layer of dust after obviously having sampled Diablo’s mineral wealth further up the hill. The funky plaid shorts and red converse sneakers were a nice touch, but the dangling laces were just waiting to facilitate another encounter with the ground, but before I could say anything he was gone – skittering over the sandstone as he struggled to stay upright on the razor-thin edge of control.

This brought back a memory of my first attempt on this trail back in ’96 when I was a rank Diablo newbie, and although I had more common sense than to wear laced sneakers I didn’t have enough sense to know that this was not a beginner-friendly trail. I pulled it off in segments and came to know why it’s called it Wall Point. Now when I ride past the places where I stopped to gasp like a dying fish as my heart tried to jump out of my throat, I think back to those early days it always makes me smile.

There’s something about climbing that always makes me pensive. Usually because I’m typically off the back when riding with friends – and of course when I ride alone I've got nothing but time. I’ve learned to not hate climbing, and not because I’ve gotten any better over the years as I still go uphill as fast as Sisyphus rolling his rock, but because it gives me time to think and clears my mind. I’ve gotten some rather good thinking done while cranking up merciless hills all around the Bay Area.

Once up at the top of Wall Point on this my first official ride of fall, I thought back to the many times I’d been here before – at this very time of year – and how lucky we all are to have beauty of such grand scale available in our back yards for our enjoyment. The last of the dust-infused yellow Manzanita flowers and sage released their scent as the sun rose higher. The air was exceptionally clear, definitely one of those days where you can see forever which stirred in me a deep urge to keep riding. I clicked back in, looked up and said Namaste to the universe for the joy that riding a bicycle brings and started turning the pedals again. Life is good.

M. Bearns

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Keepin' it Green

When we first took over our new space it was all about demolition and removal. Thick, toxic carpeting lay on the floor - and drop-ceiling panels crowded head room. As soon as we got all of the old and useless detritus from the previous occupants out, what greeted us was beautiful open space that inspired all manner of ideas. Above all - we wanted to make sure we re-used and re-cycled as much "old" stuff as possible (easy on the budget and easy on the planet!)

The rough concrete floor was the first serious upgrade we took on, and rather than lay down vinyl tiles glued on with hazardous materials we polished the floor to obtain a very contemporary look that is extremely easy to keep up.

Next up was our service counter which would provide not only the visual anchor for customers coming into the store, it was also envisioned as a gathering place, so we created a counter next to our lounge area and used old but beautiful exotic hardwood sourced from a friend to build the main face.

When we got to decorating the new store we used old fence rails to frame the windows - again sourced from another friend who has a spread on the mountain, and whenever possible chose to use the most environmentally friendly materials throughout the store.

Lastly, we already had quite a lot of slatwall from our previous store, and inherited several more panels when we took over the new space. In addition, we sourced several used floor stands from local shops and very cool retro lighting fixtures to hang above the lounge area. We're not done with decorating yet, but we'll definitely stay true to our goal of re-using and re-cycling as much as possible.