Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Any Bike, Anywhere goes to Shanghai

Rough Rider Jeff "Jaguar" Martin gets the opportunity to ride all over the planet, thanks to his job as a Fedex pilot, where he flies the MD-11. Recently he flew to China and joined a guided mountain bike ride near Shanghai. Was he with a group of totally hard-core mountain bike junkies on the latest hi-tech cycling weaponry? Nope. But the spirit of "any bike, anywhere" runs strong through the Jaguar, so he joined up with a group of strangers on a rental bike and headed on out for a day of adventure in a truly foreign setting. Being among the stronger riders in the group gave him the chance to get ahead, shoot video, and offer encouragement. What would you expect from a Furnace Creek 508 finisher, Ironman finisher, and regular volunteer at epic sporting events around California? Thanks for sharing your adventure, Jaguar!

Here's Jeff's plane:
Here's Jeff waving from the cockpit:
Here's Jeff "in the office":
Here's Jeff's video of mountain biking in China (our first video post!), direct from his Youtube channel:

For info on Bohdisattva, the outfit with which Jeff rode in China, click here.

Click here for Jeff's 2000 Furnace Creek 508 report, with tons of photos and more.

Click the Comments button below and tell us about the most "far and away" place you've ever cycled!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mt. Baldy: Where Cycling and Snowshoeing Met

In 2001 I became the Regional Brevet Administrator for Randonneurs USA (RUSA), organizing long-distance road cycling events which stressed self-sufficiency over routes of specific distances, namely 200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km. As my turf was Southern California, it was my intention to showcase the best that our region has to offer the long-distance cyclist. Since the Los Angeles area is a basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, and because long-distance cycling requires "getting out of town," the routes I created would necessarily escape metropolis by ascending into higher, quieter ground.

The 200km route I created includes one of the very best 50-mile mountain loops anywhere in the country: the Glendora - Glendora Mountain Road - Mt. Baldy - Upland - Glendora loop that I first did at age 14, the day after buying my first "real" bike. Later I used this same route as my primary training grounds for the Race Across America, Iditasport, and Ironman, among others. It's always been a sentimental favorite, too, and I still go ride that loop once or twice a year, even though my parents retired and moved from Glendora to Solvang back in 1996. It’s a pilgrimage for me and one that I looked forward to sharing with the cyclists of SoCal. (I still do.)

And as for all those other miles in the 200km, they would be a really neat tour of the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Valley: Pasadena, Altadena, San Marino, Arcadia, Monrovia, Azusa, and Glendora, among others. Sure, other than the Mt. Baldy loop, it' was "urban riding," but the route traveled through really nice areas, quiet roads, easy to rolling terrain, and not too many lights or stop signs.

In the weeks leading up to our February 17, 2001 200km brevet, all eyes were on the weather. It was raining pretty consistently, as well as snowing at the higher elevations through which we'd be traveling on our way up to Mt. Baldy. But our ride day dawned free of falling water and with semi-clear skies. It would be our lucky day (and an unusual adventure)!

Forty-two riders departed during the one hour window between 6 and 7 am; mass starts are a memory of my early days of cycling, it seems. Since I was busy helping my Ride Director, Scott Scheff, I rolled out with the stragglers. Our point of departure, and finish line, would be the newly rededicated Hansen Dam Recreation Area in Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley. Just nearby was La Tuna Canyon, a wonderful, building-free and quiet country road that connects "the Valley" to the San Gabriel Valley. Eight miles later we spilled into that other Valley and wound our way through beautiful neighbourhoods and past the world-famous Rose Bowl. Then it was a beeline through the aforementioned Foothill communities, always keeping the majestic and white-dusted San Gabriel Mountains immediately to our left.

Eventually Mt. Baldy (AKA Mt. San Antonio, her legal name) drew us like a magnet, two-thirds of her 10,000-foot body clothed in a thick skirt of bright white snow.
The climbing began in earnest not long after the first controle (that's French for checkpoint, where the riders had to get their "brevet card" stamped to prove that they had passed by) in Azusa. From Glendora's 1000 foot elevation, we would climb up and down several times to over 4,500 feet before dropping into Mt. Baldy Village at 4,000 feet.

Our route was simple: climb infamous Glendora Mountain Road ("where I became a man," I like to say), then stay right at the fork and continue on Glendora Ridge Road to the Village.
A few miles out of the first controle I realized that I had forgotten both of my water bottles. But luck was with me: we had encountered a group ride of the SCOR Cycling Club and there were several Furnace Creek 508 veterans in the group. We were having a little reunion and one of them, Jerry Wildermuth, gave me a fresh bottle of water (in a 508 bottle, no less).

I had about ten riders ahead of me as I reached the halfway mark up the climb to Mt. Baldy, the fork in the road where we were to stay right. I arrived there alone and was shocked to find it gated closed, but no riders waiting there in a confused panic. I thought "if the road is closed, why aren’t they sitting here waiting and wondering?" There was no significant snow on the road, but clearly the road must have been snowed over ahead. But where were the front-runners? As I waited, more riders arrived behind me and stopped. Scott rolled in with the controle van. And soon enough, riders started arriving from the opposite direction, having gone around the gate and continued until they found the road impassable. Although the road report I'd been given had indicated a clear road, it was most assuredly snowed over, I was told. What to do?

I didn't think long. As the rest of our group continued arriving from behind, I instructed everyone to just U-turn and head back for home. Our "lollipop route" would now become a pure out-and-back. This intersection in the road would be controle number 2, instead of up in the Village. Scott signed off time cards while I told everyone "head for home, but when you hit the Rose Bowl, do laps until your bike computers read 117 miles, then finish the course and you'll have 200km behind you." I explained that all the Pasadena area cyclists use the Rose Bowl perimeter as their personal criterium course, so they'd have plenty of company.

Everybody headed back, like cows for the barn. Well, everybody but four of us.

In nineteen years of riding this route, I'd never been turned back, so I wanted to see this "impassable road" for myself. I grabbed my digital camera from the van, mounted my Bridgestone RB-1 road bike, and continued. Debbie, Carmela, and Barclay - riding his HPV - joined me.

Sure enough, about six miles from the Village we found the road covered with snow about a food deep. As a seven-time Iditasport veteran and feeling right at home on my favorite road in the world, it was a simple decision for me to continue. My three comrades put their blind trust in me and went for it, too.

We started walking. And walking. And pushing. And walking more. It was slow going. First our bike shoe-clad feet stayed atop the snow, then they broke through to our ankles, then to our shins, then eventually to our knees. What would have taken 40 minutes on the bike was taking hours. And hours.

But it was adventure! And gloriously beautiful!

Trudging forward, we followed the fresh tracks of rabbit, deer, coyote, mountain lion, and bear (and I'm not kidding about the bear tracks; they were huge!) This was obviously the best thoroughfare around, at least for the native wildlife. Meanwhile, not a human being or a human footprint was to be seen, except for our own.

Between us we rationed two Hammer Gels, two Clif bars, a Balance bar and half a bottle of Sustained Energy. Then we ate snow. It was the only water we could have and we were surrounded by, standing in, and staring at tons of it. One big mouthful was only good for one sip, though. We ate lots of snow.

Ultimately, we pushed our bikes through the snow for more than four hours to cover a mere six miles to get to the Village. But it was worth it, so very worth it.

Now, with soaked socks and frozen, stinging feet and toes, we still had 62 miles to go! Wolfing down the only food available in the Village (Doritos, Peanut M&Ms, and Powerade), it occurred to me that most of the other riders were already finished and headed for their homes! Soon we were racing down the down front side of "our mountain" at over 50 mph, chasing the sunset.

We were quickly running out of daylight and, of course, none of us had brought lights. Who needs lights for 200km of cycling in Sunny SoCal? Fortunately we found a Radio Shack along the way and I spent $80 on strobe lights and flashlights to illuminate ourselves and the now pitch-black road. These lights failed, though, and so we found yet another Radio Shack to replace the lights and get more batteries. Market stops stole more time. It had turned into "the longest day," but we didn’'t care anymore. We just wanted to say "we did it."

Needless to say, we were jubilant, and exhausted, when Scott greeted us at the finish! It had taken every minute of the possible allotted time (13 hours, 29 minutes), but we knew that it was an epic way to start the new year and that this is what ultracycling is all about. Thank goodness I took that digital camera; otherwise nobody would have believed us! (And now those longer brevets will seem like a piece of cake!)

Originally published by Chris Kostman in American Randonneur, Volume 4, Issue 2, May 2001.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty Days and Forty Nights
By Audrey Adler

It was the winter of 1998. Los Angeles.

I had just completed my first series of triathlons the previous summer and eagerly anticipated an off season filled with outdoor training opportunities, sowing the seeds of fitness for the spring season’s new and improved personal best. Winter in LA, you must visualize, meant that a light wind jacket and arm warmers may be necessary for the first hour of an early morning ride! To every outdoor athlete’s chagrin (by the way, in Los Angeles, anyone with two legs and a pair of Air Max is an "athlete") predictions of the terroristic storm El NINO' promised to keep all at bay out of the thrashing angry open waters, off the flooded and avalanched coastal stretches of breathtaking infinite Highway 1, out of the sinuous bowels of the Santa Monica Mountains' single track. Reduced to pumping iron in the acrid arena we call a gym, and lounging around the fireplace darning those not-yet-ready-to-trash cycling socks, I relented to the omnipotent forces of Mother Nature.

As the rains continued mercilessly to inundate our thatched-roofed metropolis, I visited the gym daily to teach my regimen of indoor cycling classes to loud, yet meaningful and inspiring music. At least, I rationalized, I was spinning my legs, virtually recreating and sharing the climbs of the real world roads I knew so intimately. Sitting at the helm of the class on my spinning bike rhetorically repeating the mantra of my mentor and friend CK, "the music is the road," I would stare out of the huge plate glass window at the gray sky, wondering where all of that rain had been stored for five long, dry years. Turning my legs over laboriously against a self imposed mountain, sweating profusely, wondering where I was really going in an existential way, Tina Turner suddenly belted out, "I can't stand the rain".

It was at that moment I believe that it happened.

I experienced my first attack of cardio-pulmonary claustrophobia. I HAD to get out. I needed to feel the dirt in my bronchioles, the tingle of blood pumping through my enlarged veins as I bolt down the side of a mountain, my heart pounding with the rush of fear and fortitude.

I rang up my buddy CK, a seasoned off-roader quite undaunted by less than optimal road conditions. "Let's do an off road ride this weekend." I could not spend another minute indoors. "Meet me at Malibu Creek State Park", he said.

"What if it rains?" I panicked. "Don't worry, Eagle," he reassured me.

Sunday. 7:30 a.m. Malibu Creek State Park. No rain. Naturally. Huge open sun drenched skies filled with trees, streams, bridges, stone pathways, rolling green hills and an occasional house tucked way into the side of a mountain.

Trails abound. The temperature is moderate outside. I am in heaven for sure. We mount our bicycles and begin our epic adventure. A dirt trail leads us through the woods out to a clearing. We stop in our tracks. Ahead, the “trail” was nothing but a water-filled ravine. We continue. Wading blindly through obliterated trails of freezing, frenzied, waist deep murky waters, treacherously weaving each step through the unknown depths of the boulder-strewn river bed, our bikes in tow dangling precariously on our backs hung at the mercy of our stiffening phalanges and searing deltoids, we revert to our origins.

Earth, Dust, Water.

As we emerge up onto the slip and rock of the hillside, legs numb with cold, we mount our bikes and climb through a never-ending potpourri of ankle deep black mud, newly arranged rock beds, wild brush and virgin weeds. The air, scented heavily of that unique musk ensuing a heavy rain seems a comfort. Hours have passed.

My strong, steady legs reassure my body that the still long and difficult journey ahead will be a rewarding one. As we climb endless miles up the mountainside I struggle to relax and gracefully balance my bicycle over the enormous random rock piles which pattern the trail. Momentum. My heart beats thriftily inside my chest, patterning a strong syncopated rhythm to the cadence of my pedals. My lungs generously cycle the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide renewing each muscle with the promise of redemption.

And so it goes. On and on,,,,

I am redeemed.

Photos of the author and CK taken on a much warmer and drier day a few years later, on or near the Whoopdedoo Trail and the Nike Tower above Brentwood in the Santa Monica Mountains

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rough Riding on the Slickrock Trail in Moab and in Canyonlands National Park

In May, 2003 I joined an epic trip organized by Dan Dominy, the adventure video cameraman extraordinaire who shoots the Badwater Ultramarathon and Furnace Creek 508 every year. He's also a Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4 fanatic who organizes an annual trip to the Moab, Utah and Canyonlands National Park area for fantastic off-road cycling, hiking, and exploration. Each trip is supported by Land Cruiser, however nobody is the designated SAG driver. Instead, each trip participant takes a turn driving the Cruiser one day and also contributes and prepares a meal. It's a great way to get out there for little cost and with great camaraderie.

This trip in 2003 was, and still is, easily one of the best and most memorable trips I've ever undertaken. It was visually breath-taking every single day. The cycling was fantastic. The hiking was peaceful and otherworldly. The campsites were spectcular. The natural curiousities were everywhere and innumerable. The pictographs were beyond words. I'd enjoy visiting this area every year. It would never get boring and there would always be new things to see and experience.

I was the only participant that didn't have a mountain bike with suspension. I rode my Rivendell All-Rounder with rigid fork, a 34/48 double crank, Ritchey Z-Max 1.9" knobby tyres, and moustache handlebars. My low gear was a 34x27, which did the trick nicely. The itinerary and basic route is below, with links to further information about this fascinating area. Be sure to check out the full slideshow. A picture tells a thousand words.

- Chris Kostman

To see a full slideshow with 50 images from this trip, click here.

May 11: Poison Spider Mesa Trail and Slickrock Trail, Moab
May 12: Drive to Canyonlands National Park, hike and camp in Horsehoe Canyon; visit The Great Gallery
May 13: Flint Trail Overlook and camp at The Teapot
May 14: Land of Standing Rocks; camp at The Dollhouse
May 15: Ride around The Dollhouse and The Wall; camp at The Dollhouse
May 16: The Wall, Flint Trail, Golden Stairs hike; camp at Maze Overlook
May 17: Maze Overlook, Harvest Scene, hike in the Maze; camp at Maze Overlook
May 18: Maze Overlook, Flint Trail, Hans Flat

Friday, April 11, 2008

Long Live the Scorcher (the bike AND the cyclist)

Above: The ultimate Rough Rider, and a Scorcher, Major Taylor
Above: One of Major Taylor's bikes
Above: a 1993 Ibis Scorcher

A hundred years ago, cyclists weren't sissies like today. With only one gear, no coasting, and not even one brake, not to mention no suspension or paved roads, they rode better than most do today. A few examples: In 1897, John George of Philadelphia rode 32,479 miles and John Noble rode 253 centuries in one year! The Ibis Scorcher takes its name frome the renegade, rules-be-damned cyclists (proto-mountain bikers?) of this era that were scorned by pedestrians and "traditional cyclists" alike. The scorchers, while held in low regard, however, were immortalized in poetry:

I am the scorcher!
Please observe
The curve
That appertains to my spine!
With head ducked low
I go
Over man and beast, and woe
Unto the thing
That fails to scamper when I ting-a-ling!
Let people jaw
And go to law
To try to check my gait,
If that's their game!
I hate
To kill folks
But I will do it, just the same.
I guess
They clear the tracks for me;
Because, you see,
I am the Scorcher, full of zeal,
And just the thing I look like on the wheel.

Ibis Scorcher: More Bike Than You'll Ever Need!
By Chris Kostman

I have to admit I was skeptical as I drove up to Sebastopol to pick up this bike. Was this single speed, fixed gear bike with but one brake just a glorified beach cruiser? Considering the $975 price tag and that I'd once read that "this type of bike is for people who are far hipper than people currently are," I wondered whether this was just some here today, gone tomorrow, trendoid bike for the fredly wanna-be's with cash to burn. But I kept an open mind, remembering that Scot Nicol and the gang at Ibis have never given us a bum steer.

Upon arrival, I was given two choices: a "small, medium, or large" size bike and a color choice of "black, black, or perhaps black." I easily opted for the medium, but agonized over the color, finally choosing black. That decided, it was off to the parking lot for a riding lesson from Wes Williams, the guru behind this bike as well as Ibis' jewel-like titanium stems and "the chopper from hell."

The bike fit much like the clunkers I'd ridden while living and working in Pakistan as an archaeologist at the Indus Valley site of Harappa. But that made sense as those bikes were also based on a turn-of-the-century design. The difference with this bike is that only 100 will be made, by hand, and that it's got a fixed-gear.

Wes and I played follow the leader as he led me in laps around the parking lot, diving in and out of S-curve after S-curve, cutting the apex off of each corner so that the pedals wouldn't hit pavement. Unweighting the back wheel in order to forcibly lock it up and launch into a skid came relatively easily, thankfully, since Wes noted that "my life would depend on it."

Back home, it seemed weird to don a complete set of cycling duds and hit the road on a bike that seemed to lack everything that makes up "a real bike." But a real bike it had to be, I reasoned with myself, as I hit the road with my friend Russ Gelardi, a 48 year old lithographer and charter member of the Marin County Fat Heads. Russ and I noted that that the Ibis-made Crescent Moon handlebars, which form a droopy arc reminiscent of a turn of the century moustache, put me in a position so upright that I could do two very important things: see and be seen. The Scorcher may have a 100 year old design, but its attitude and style are timeless. I felt like a stud riding this retrobike and Russ at least admitted that I didn't look funny.

It's a slow grind up Broadway and Tunnel Approach and into the hills above Berkeley, forcing two riding options. With a single 70 inch gear to use, I'd either have to stand up and hammer, or stay seated, ride at a more normal pace, and turn the cranks over at an excrutiatingly slow rate. I opted for the latter, a climbing style closely akin to doing leg presses, one leg at a time. Counting my revs, Russ noted my cadence was 35 as we headed into the hills. My heartrate cruised along at 160 bpm, high but far below my max of 212, and my legs agreed that I was definitely getting a great muscle workout. I kept repeating the Ibis mantra, "derailleurs are for failures," in my head as the grade got steeper.

Later, descending Redwood Road, I wound the Scorcher out for all it's worth, reeling in a couple of riders. Pegging 35 and my feet going round so fast that I thought I might bounce right off of the bike, Russ and I dusted the other two. Later we'd use an equation to calculate that I'd be spinning at 173 rpms. One thing's for sure: I've never gotten such a workout nor gasped for air like that on a downhill! My heart must have been pegging 190.

Despite my soapboxing, Russ won't ride trails on his skinny tyres, so we split up as I headed into Redwood Park for a little dirt action. I just barely cleaned the first major climb, turning over the pedals at about 20 rpm's, and wishing I had less than 60 traction-robbing pounds of air in the 700X41C Specialized Nimbus tyes. Bombing downhill, some important obervations surfaced, like the fact that a fixed-gear means that I can't coast when going over bumps and that I can't coast when jumping and getting air! This put a new twist on things, to put it mildly! Avoiding contact with boulders, tree stumps, and other deadly objects ain't that easy when your feet are going round like an airborne Carl Lewis doing the long jump!

Still, the prospect of tackling the world with a fixed-gear bike was getting to be more awesome and somehow more appealing, I thought to myself as I wound past hikers, equestrians, and recreational trail bikers. The bike is unusual looking, so most everyone looked at me like I was kinda wierd, reminding me of when I'm off-road on my Ibis Uncle Fester tandem or my Bridgestone road bike.

The next day, those 30 miles felt more like 130 miles at racing intensity! Talk about more bang for your buck, literally. Hooked and humbled, I realized that the Scorcher is just what I need to improve my form, spin, power, leg speed, and talent. And now since that fateful ride, that collision with 100 year old technology, or lack thereof, I won't ride anything else for my daily 10 to 20 miles of "town biking," nor will I miss at least one weekly "real ride" over hill and trail on it. There's just too much to be learned.

Orignally published in Bicycle Guide, November/December 1993.

For info on Major Taylor, visit the Major Taylor Association. Click here.

Read an extensive report on the Scorcher, including interviews with Scot Nicol, Wes Williams, and builder Jay Sexton at the 63xc.com website, a now-defunct site which chronicled the unique sport of fixed gear off-road cycling. Click here.

Get a brand new Scorcher from Wes Williams' Willits Brand Bicycles. Click here (and see below).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's a Good Sign, Don't You Think? - Volume 1

Above: Start of the climb to Zabriskie Point, just off Hwy 190 in Death Valley
Above: On Kitchen Creek, Mt. Laguna, eastern San Diego County: A car-less, epic cycling road!
Above: Sunrise Hwy, Mt. Laguna, in eastern San Diego County
Above: Hwy 79 between Lake Cuyamaca and Julian, CA
Above: PCH end of Coleman Valley Road, Sonoma County, during the 2007 JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes
Top of unpaved Refugio Rd., in the mtns between Santa Ynez and the Santa Barbara coast.
Top of paved Refugio Rd., in the mtns between Santa Ynez and the Santa Barbara coast: faces the sign depicted in the previous shot.
Above: Kitchen Creek, Mt. Laguna, in eastern San Diego County
Above: Townes Pass, Hwy 190, eastbound, start of a 17-mile downhill into Death Valley, during the 2008 CORPScamp Death Valley
Above: Tepusquet Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley, CA
Above: La Posta Road, en route to Thing Valley, in eastern San Diego County
Above: Atop the Bay City Hill, Wisconsin, during the 2007 Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour
En route to some rough-stuffing in Wisconsin during the 2007 Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour
Coleman Valley Road, westbound, Sonoma County, during the 2008 JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes

All Photos ©Chris Kostman