Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Fat Tire Revolution - Part 2

pour a cup of coffee and enjoy: My shiny new Univega Alpina Pro with it's 2.125 inch width tires, bear trap pedals that would shred your shins to pieces with one poorly executed bunny-hop. Big foamy grips, WIDE bars. A crazy seat post that would allow the saddle to slide fore and aft with it's own QR. I loved it but actually didn't know quite what to do with it...trail ride, yes, because that's what I've seen in photo's but what trails ? What is this thing actually capable of ? The possibilities were endless and there were no rules, no white socks and black shorts, this sport was not governed by some bureaucracy somewhere. Cut off jeans and T-shirts seemed perfectly appropriate, a pair of Nike Lava Dome hiking shoes to protect the feet. The only items left over from road riding was a set of crochet half finger gloves and my Brancale helmet which would have been worthless in a bad crash. ( could explain a lot of things ) Growing up in "rural" Connecticut the easy choice were dirt road loops around the reservoirs and we were lucky enough to have access out our backyard onto power company land. There were a multitude of trails underneath the powerlines crisscrossing all over town. There were no resources to check where the good riding trails were, every single trail was legal, no precedent had been set and boundaries needed to be pushed and then pushed a little more.

The confidence level grew exponentially, turns out the bike was far more capable than my skills. I found that I could ride down ridiculously steep slopes laden with deadfall and mud, climb up root covered slimy rocks. The bike was surefooted and a massive amount of fun, I was completely in love with floating along through a dense green tunnel, the sound of big fat knobbies rolling across dirt and the idea that we may have been the first ones down a trail on bicycles. Hikers ( at first )were far more astonished and intrigued when approached on a bike. Most couldn't fathom the possibility that a bike could navigate through some of this terrain. When you discover something this fun, it absolutely must be shared so I managed to convince my adventuresome, ski fanatic, wild Polish friend that he needed a ride. He picked up a Diamondback and became hooked immediately.
We would spend hours pouring over maps and finding out what trails might be worth exploring.
Branford Supply Ponds was our first real destination location, a huge plot of land filled with serpentine trails that seemed tailor made for bikes, fast and flowing with an occasional techy section to navigate through. Stan spent just about every winter weekend up in Vermont skiing with his family and developed a fierce passion for the place. He made the suggestion that we take the bikes to the North Country, the home of real mountains in the Northeast. We piled our bikes into the back of his Chevy Chevette and got on I-91 headed North. We landed at Killington Ski area 3 hours later, right smack dab in the middle of Vermont, got out our 15mm spanners and bolted the wheels back into the frame. By trial and error we found and connected service roads that lead to the top of the mountain. The descents were amazing, we'd pick some random ski trail that would connect back up with a service road but the down was so worth the long toil upwards. We were giggling like little schoolgirls by the time we reached bottom again, not to mention hands were cramped and numb from squeezing sub-par canti's for an hour or so. This became a bit of a habit for us one summer, every available weekend we'd make the trek North to check out and check off the biggies, Mt Snow, Stowe, Stratton, Mount Greylock in Mass. We even got in the renowned Mt Washington before bikes were outlawed on the autoroad with exception of the annual hillclimb affair. Coming down the road was an experience I hope I never forget.

Our most outlandish scheme was to ride the length of the Quinipiac Trail, a North-South route through Connecticut that started at Long Island Sound and finished at the Massachusetts border. We had it all plotted out and would ride the trail in pieces. To scope out one of the most Northerly sections we drove two cars up and left one high and backtracked to the trailhead. At the time I had a raging case of poison ivy and was covered head to toe in Calamine lotion. We fueled up at a Friendlys restaurant and left the trailhead at 2pm expecting about a 2-3 hour jaunt. We had no compass and no map, some water and perhaps a banana, I doubt either of us had a watch on. The trail was very decent, well used but a bit slow going with lot's of super steep hike-a-bike sections. The trail was easy to follow as trees were marked with a blue blaze every few hundred yards. By dusk we were falling way behind schedule and suddenly found ourselves on top of a ridgeline that had experienced a massive wind event. Tree's were laying every which way so not only were we clambering over deadfall but the trail markers were gone and it was losing daylight quickly. By dark we were thoroughly lost the trail was obliterated and couldn't be found. After "discussing" options we figured the best route out was to get off the ridge, out of the woods and find a road. Coming off the ridge was tricky, we emptied out into a soggy cornfield and tracked our way out to a dirt road which thankfully met pavement quickly. After a few more hours of getting our bearings we stumbled into our car. It was 9PM, a full seven hours later. All I could recall was exhaustion, bliss, and a full bag of chocolate chip cookies in the car that was gone in an instant.

Thanks for reading, in Part 3 the racing bug bites again

Sunday, June 7, 2009


The ride was pretty much destroyed after Paris-Roubaix day so full teardown was in order. For the most part anything that moved, rotated, shifted, etc was replaced as well as some new tape and hoods. We are still a full season away but the bike is ready.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Fat Tire Revolution ( Part 1 )

Recently I visited the website of First Flight Bicycles in North Carolina, They have what I believe to be the most comprehensive in-depth information chronicling the history of the mountain bike. Scrolling through pictures had me thinking back to how I was hooked into the fray. I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands of stories like this one, but here's mine for your reading amusement:

Somehow, I missed the boat on being raised on BMX bikes, missed out on the jumping, skidding, berms, wheelies, etc. My path was a decidedly geekier route, I was obsessed with road riding. Could have something to do with the movie Breaking Away, however by the time that film was released I was well into my obsession with all things skinny and shiny. The film just added a massive fuel dump on the fire. It wasn't just me, my group of friends growing up in Jr High School were all on board with this program. Every Saturday morning we'd meet up at Guy and Susans D'Aniello's shop, Amity Bicycles in Woodbridge CT. for a weekly time trial series. We would throw everything we had at a rolling 10-something mile course, come through the line red-faced,sputtering and on the verge of tossing breakfast. Guy and Susan started this shop in their home, it was a ridiculously small amount of floor space but they catered to the serious road enthusiast, it was a fertile environment for young roadie wannabees. For such a small shop it was well stocked with encouragement, advice, enthusiasm, and of course the requisite amount of gear to lust over. The bike I chose to launch my career was a maroon Zebrakenko, a now defunct Japanese import with a decent level of mostly Suntour components. Slowly but surely each part would be replaced with Suntour Superbe Pro...because it was well ?...Pro! It was far less expensive than anything that Campy had to offer, I don't recall looking at any Shimano parts but the Superbe Pro group was meticulously finished, very lightweight and functioned beautifully. I swapped out the saddle for the Italian made Concor, started to become fashion conscience and wrapped the bars with multiple colored layers of Benotto cello tape, Alfredo Binda leather toe clip straps wound through Christophe stainless clips, every single detail was obsessed over. While I never entered a road race I stuck rigidly to the time trial regimen and also partook in a century which at that time was a pretty big deal for a 15 year old kid. During the years leading into the beginning of high school (early eighties) our posse size was dwindling, cars and girls were entering the periphery, distractions for some...not for me. I had lost the beloved Zebrakenko in a theft and acquired a used Colnago Mexico. I was riding an absurd amount but very much losing interest in racing, I had stripped the Colnago of decals and started becoming interested in more exploratory/adventure type riding. The seed planted was a bike tour that my cousin and I struck out on a trip to Cape Cod and the Islands a few years earlier, staying at Youth Hostels and packing all our belongings in panniers made by an upstart company in Connecticut called Cannondale. Then the lightening bolt hit, the bike magazines I was reading were publishing ads for bikes that looked like nothing I had ever seen before. They were equipped for what I had wanted to ride. Big fat knobby tires, "Bullmoose bars", cantilever brakes, big wide platform pedals without clips and straps! "very interesting".. In 83 I took a ride on the Colnago down to a ski shop to take a look a some sweet pair of Lange boots that I couldn't afford. When I exited the store the Colnago was gone. Despite my parents best efforts encouraging me to ride with a lock on board, it was out of the question, " too heavy...doesn't fit in the jersey pocket" etc. Once the funds were available from the loss of the bike, I was driven direct to Branford Bikes and purchased a Univega Alpina Pro mountain bike.

Thanks for reading part one of the infinate part series on why the mountain bike is the best invention of our lifetime- Shotty

More To Come

Although my last final exam was taken some 20 odd years ago, there's something hardwired in me to start slacking immediately around graduation time....alas this blog has been left in the corner underneath a pile of dirty laundry and been forgotten. Fear not..I will start posting again shortly, I've been short on time and creativity lately but have been enjoying some longish days in the saddle which gives me time to think about writing...or riding..stay tuned for some fat tire nostalgia.