Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tour De Parks 2013: Wright Park

Arguably one of the most beautiful parks in Tacoma, there's no question that it is one of the most visited. Home to the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory, Wright Park is a 27-acre arboretum with walking and biking trails, sprayground for kids, and a pond that's well populated with ducks.

Because of the park's popularity, it regularly hosts special events throughout the year. Lawn bowling? Bring your bocce balls. Zombie tag? Get ready to survive the apocalypse. During the summer, there's always something happening each week.

Newly acquired Dragon Koi at the conservatory.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Amazon Begins


It was reported today in the Seattle Times that Amazon will be incorporating a two-block cycle track that will run alongside its future office buildings in downtown Seattle. Scheduled for completion in 2015, only time will tell if this is a vision of more to come or just a plan destined to fail.

Or you can scan the reader comments right now and hear from both haters and supporters.

In a nutshell, a cycle track is a bike lane that exists on the sidewalk but separated from pedestrians by a natural barrier. Obviously, wider sidewalks equals less space for motorists. I don't want to regurgitate the arguments either for or against such plans. I will say this: change is the only constant in life.

As creatures of habit, I think we have a long way to go with how we eat, how we communicate with one another, and how we travel. It wasn't so long ago when smoking was a normal part of everyday life. Today, you have to go to designated spaces to light up and still get dirty looks. I predict the same will happen with how we consume food. At some point in the future, you'll have to visit a specialty store to get Twinkies and Doritos.

And just maybe, alternative modes of mass transportation will be the norm and cities everywhere will have the infrastructure to support it. So what's the big deal about a two-block cycle track that only benefits a mere 3.5 percent of commuters?

What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

You've been warned.

Signage at a cross-fit gym next to Defiance Bicycles in North Tacoma.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tour De Parks 2013: Fort Steilacoom Park

As a transplant from California, I miss the mountain bike trails that are abundant in the bay area. Sometimes, the sound of fat tires rolling over gravel is just what I need to soothe away stress. There's also a Zen-like feeling when you focus on technique, assess what's ahead, pick a line, and execute it.

I've had my Poprad for awhile, but shamefully have always kept it on asphalt. Feeling adventurous and needing a change from my road bike and commuter, I set out to find some local trails. A quick online search led me to Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood. I knew that I wasn't going to get the high mountain peak views and singletracks that I grew up riding. But for just 10 miles from my front door, FSP has lots to offer.

Granny gear, where art thou?

At 340 acres, FSP has something for everyone: sports fields, playground, off-leash area for dogs, a beautiful lake. Oh, and a labyrinth of trails for biking and hiking. Some of the trails are best ridden on a proper mountain bike, with or without suspension, but definitely with a granny gear. I had to walk my Poprad to get to the view of Mount Rainier.

Worth it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rising From Ashes

Hope is an amazing ride.
A new documentary, due out in theaters next month, tells the story of the first Rwandan National Cycling Team and their journey to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. If the trailer is any indication of the full feature, then count me in to be first in line to see it.

Remember Jonathan Boyer? First American to compete in the Tour de France, winner of the 1980 Coors Classic and 1985 RAAM. Turns out he has been living in Rwanda since 2007, where he created Team Rwanda Cycling.

Forest Whitaker lends his star power to narrate the 80 minute doc. The featured athletes were just children during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This is their story of how cycling helped them to rise from the ashes of their devastating past.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Art of Cycling: Taliah Lempert

Connie's Bike

Based in New York, Taliah Lempert's work is a mixture of retro road bikes, urban fixies, and custom rides. She paints individual bicycles as the main subject without the distractions of riders and backgrounds. 

"Bicycles are important, beautiful, and worth a close look.
Most bikes I paint are, or have been, used daily for transportation, recreation,
messenger work and/or for racing,
They are worn and customized uniquely,
being at once a specific bike and a collective symbol of empowerment."

Lempert has an extensive gallery which can be viewed at going back as far as 1997. Some of my favorites include bikes from my favorite era of cycling: the 1980s. The painting pictured above (and aptly titled) is the bike that belonged to none other than Connie Carpenter-Phinney, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist at the Los Angeles Games road race.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tour De Parks 2013: Adriana Hess Wetland Park

The Adriana Hess Wetland Park is a nice little gem to visit...if you can find it. Tucked away in Fircrest and less than a mile west of the Fircrest Golf Club (of all places), it's a relaxing spot to sneak away to. There is an Audubon center operated by the Tahoma Audubon Society, but you'll have to catch them during their limited hours during the week.

If you want to take in some nature but don't have the time to go very far, go here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My First Love

The first bike I ever purchased from a shop was the Trek Elance 310. Before my transition from strolling around the neighborhood to more serious riding, I had my share of hand-me-downs and freebies. But the Elance was the beginning of seeing the bike as art.

It was marketed as a recreational sport bike in 1986 and priced in the mid-level range. If you want a lugged steel frame today, you would be hard-pressed to find it "off the rack" at your local shop. Yet, there was a time when bike companies produced them as a standard feature.

The Elance had a lot going for it: steel tubing, braze-ons for downtube shifters, relatively light for its time. (Oh, my. 36-spoke wheels.) And it was aesthetically beautiful. Notice the well-placed bit of white on the headtube that pops out against the gorgeous red frame.

Bikes have come a long way over the past few decades in all aspects of design, functionality, and riding options. But if I were to judge a book by its cover, I still prefer the retro look of the Elance over most anything you see today.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tour De Parks 2013: Titlow Park

Throughout this summer, I will highlight my rides to various parks throughout the Tacoma and neighboring areas.

Titlow Park is just about a mile south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (east-end). My favorite part of this ride is checking out the houses along South Seashore Drive. Only a couple of miles long, the quiet community reminded me of places like Friday Harbor and Monterey Bay. The houses are modest and well-kept. Many of them take advantage of their location with large windows and decks that face the Narrows.

Think I'd like to retire there.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Art of Cycling: Pat Cleary

No other sport compares to the visual spectacle of bicycle racing.

I first saw this painting in a racing magazine back in the '80s. It featured artist Pat Cleary, known for painting local landscapes in his backyard of the Lake District in England. He also happened to have a passion for cycling.

Among Mr. Cleary's works are paintings of the classic races, including Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. But his primary focus has been on the Tour De France. In 2003, Mr. Cleary celebrated the Tour's centenary with four images, each one in honor of a specific era. The likes of Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi, and Bernard Hinault have all been subjects of his paintings.

Most people who don't understand the appeal of bike racing don't see what the true fans see: the energy of the crowds lining the streets for a brief glimpse the riders, the chance to pick-up a souvenir water bottle strewn to the side of the road, or cheering on the peloton merely inches away.

Or in Mr. Cleary's view, a beautifully captured moment, forever eternalized into your memory.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mistaken Identity

I've been putting my Zimbale saddlebag to good use during my daily work commute and weekend errands. At 18 liters (1,098 cu. inches), it has replaced a shoulder bag I've been schlepping around for the longest time. The main compartment is large enough for most of what I need: lunch, water bottle, paperback book, light jacket. The side pockets also come in handy for small essentials like extra tube, mini pump, tire levers. The only advantage a shoulder bag has is the ability to carry paperwork without folding or getting them wrinkled.

But I'm not complaining. I gladly trade doing without paperwork for the freedom from strapping something around my torso. It's also a great excuse to keep my work at work. "Sorry, boss. That report just won't fit into my bag."

The Zimbale bag has also been getting it's share of compliments. However, the few people who have asked me about it have also mistaken it for a Carradice. In fact, I considered purchasing a Carradice as I was shopping around. Ultimately, the Zimbale won out with a lower price tag and similar features compared to the Carradice Nelson Longflap. Additionally, the Zimbale has a wooden dowel across the inside to prevent the bag from drooping. While I haven't owned other large saddlebags, I imagine that the bag could lose its shape when fully loaded.

Because of its long width, I was worried that the bag would swing laterally or sag along the sides that don't have any support from the rear rack. I was very pleased that neither of my concerns came to light. In fact, the bag is strapped in nicely via a pair of leather straps that remind me of toeclip straps during their heyday. I also didn't have any issues with bumping the back of my thighs into the bag, as I had read about with other riders.

Zimbale or Carradice, you can't go wrong with either. And who can tell the difference? Apparently, not even the people in the biking community. Let's face it: neither brand are anywhere close to being mainstream. And isn't that the point? Giant saddlebags are neither "cool" nor aerodynamic. You would be hard-pressed to walk into your local bike shop and find one to purchase. Still, I can't help but think that these types of bags would sell quite well if they were more readily available.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Aggressive On A Bicycle

Stop me if you've heard this one. Comedian Tom Segura has a motorist's perspective on bike commuters. From his 2010 CD Thrilled, he talks briefly about how adults on bicycles are basically assholes. Search for it and have a listen.

Riding a bike as child, most of us naturally moved out of the way when we heard a car coming. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, we developed a sense of entitlement and an aggressive attitude  on how the road should be shared. So now we're caught in this negative cycle (pun intended) of us-vs.-them attitude.

From time-to-time, I'll see the very kind of cyclist that Segura describes in his joke, the ones who yell at motorists, "Hey! You don't fucking see me?! I'm on my bike!" The response, unfortunately, is also similar to the joke, "Yeah, man. Don't you see me? In my car? The thing that will rupture your spleen if I tap you with it?"

Can't we all just get along?

I bring this up as a sort-of follow-up to my review of Grant Peterson's Just Ride. In chapter 18, Peterson writes about being "carefully unpredictable" while commuting in traffic. He suggests utilizing a safety swerve, by which a rider, upon anticipating a motorist approaching from behind, jerks further left into the lane. The thinking is that this sudden move will give the impression that you may be inexperienced and alert the motorist to give you more room.

Bad idea, if ever there was one. I don't know about you, but I don't want to gamble with my safety and count on the odds of a driver to do the decent thing. If anything, the suggested safety swerve may be just the excuse for some aggressive driver or someone's who just had a bad day to take a shot at you. "Officer, there was nothing I could do. He swerved right in front of me!"

So if you're aggressive on a bicycle, considering changing you ways and represent cyclists as a respectable group of people. If you're aggressive in a car, get on a bike once in awhile and get another perspective.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In my opinion...Just Ride

I've been a fan of Rivendell Bike Works for many years. In a time when the bicycling industry continues to be dominated by brand-recognition for the masses, RBW and other small boutique shops are fighting the good fight against how the industry is marketed.

Grant Peterson, founder of RBW, has no doubt touched on a chord with his book, Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide To Riding Your Bike. In just 115 pages (e-reader edition), he attempts to undo everything we've been led to believe about how we ride our bikes. In short, racing wannabe's is bad. Riding for fun is good.

Just read.

Let me pause here for a moment to declare that I love bicycle racing. Like any fan of any sport, I get caught up in the stories of the athletes, the technological advances in equipment, and have a deep appreciation for anyone who rides at 35+ miles per hour sandwiched inside a peloton. As a sport, there is much to admire.

So in this regard, I don't completely agree with Mr. Peterson that racing has been a bad influence. Who hasn't watched a baseball game and fantasized about being on the pitcher's mound in Yankee Stadium? Or wished they could receive a pass from a NFL quarterback? We're all guilty of projecting our athletic dreams into our day-to-day lives and sometimes that's half the fun.

I would encourage anyone to wear the jerseys and ride a racing-style bike if that helps them enjoy the experience. But don't be intimidated or discouraged if you think that's the only way to ride. Admittedly, bicycling can be an expensive hobby/sport, but it doesn't have to be.

And herein lies one of the major points of the book. Why try to keep up with the pros, who are paid to ride and get a new bike whenever they need one? Why buy a bike stand when you can use a tree and some inner tubes? Why spend money on spandex when you can ride with the clothes you already have in your closet?

My favorite chapter, Velosophy, comes at the very end of the book. The section on How to make your family hate riding is the author's sarcastic take on what not to do if you want your loved ones to enjoy bicycling on their terms. This advice is no doubt gleaned from his personal experience with his own family.

Whether you're a racing enthusiast, an unracer, or somewhere in-between, Just Ride should have something to offer you. Buy it, read it, then pass it on to someone who hasn't been immersed in the bicycling culture of the past twenty years. It may just keep them from becoming an elitist bike snob.

Monday, February 25, 2013


My commuter bike is ready. One month after I purchased the frame, picked out all the parts. It's been awhile since I'ver purchased a custom build and I forgot how adventurous the process can be.

Back at the end of January, I bought a SOMA Fabrications Buena Vista mixte frame through a local bike shop. I was pleasantly surprised when the frame and fork arrived in two business days. Unfortunately, that's where the pleasantness ends. Turns out, the distributor for SOMA, The Merry Sales Co., sent the frame with a 650b fork. It should've been 700c. Okay, slight hiccup. Just send back the smaller fork and swap for the bigger one. Except, the only 700c forks Merry Sales had was in a slightly different color.

The Buena Vista I purchased was a 2012 model in Bacardi White, but the 2013 color is Pearl White. I bet you might be thinking, "What's the difference? White is white." To that I say, have you walked into a paint store recently? There is no less than 15 shades of white from names like ice mist to wedding veil. Also, the idea of spending a good chunk of change getting a custom build together with a mis-matched frame and fork didn't sit well with me.

Merry Sales offered to send out a chrome fork. No way. How about a Bacardi White that is slightly blemished? Not a chance. I considered calling the whole thing off and send the frame back for a refund. Or swap the mis-matched 2012 model I got for the 2013 Pearl White. After some consideration, the thought of getting the bike built with minimal delays outweighed the minor color difference.

Ultimately, I was disappointed with SOMA/Merry Sales for not providing the information about the mis-matched frames and forks for its remaining 2012 stock. As of this writing, the SOMA online store still does not have any notes to inform prospective customers about this.


For this build, I was going for a retro look and I wanted to avoid mass-produced companies like Shimano or SRAM. The headset, stem, and crank were to come from Velo Orange out on the east coast. Once again, my local bike shop placed an order during the first week of February. Wouldn't you know it, Velo Orange was in the process of moving right at that time, resulting in shipping delays during their move. The parts finally arrived, almost two-and-a-half weeks later.

This past Saturday, I finally got the call from the shop that the bike was ready. The weather had been cold and wet earlier during the week, but Saturday was clear, calm and even sunny. I couldn't have asked for a better day to going riding during the middle of winter.

The Universe sure has a funny way of balancing things out.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Helmets: To wear or not to wear?

I'll be the first to admit that I don't always wear a helmet. I tend to wear one when I'm out for more than a couple of hours, or I leave it at home if I'm just running errands around the neighborhood.

I know there's a variety of reasons why individuals choose to go one way or the other. There's the usual arguments for comfort, vanity, arrogance, and of course, safety. I'm not here to sway anyone one way or the other. As I said, sometimes I wear one. Sometimes I don't.

Laws and ordinances aside, I'm a proponent for individual responsibility. Whether you wear a helmet or not, spend some time to consider how you came to your decision. Be thoughtful and purposeful with your choice. Above all else, be honest with yourself. When all's said and done, you're ultimately responsible for the choices you make (and don't fool yourself into thinking otherwise).

My current brain bucket.
What I'm considering.

In a matter of weeks, I will start using my bike as part of my long commute to work. For better and for worse, my route will take me through some of the busiest and quietest parts of the city. I have no illusions that safety is guaranteed no matter what I do. I don't like the idea of carrying one more item during the part of my commute when I'm not on my bike. But I like the idea of splitting my head open should I get tapped by an Escalade even less.

I have a lot of people who count on me at work. It's important that I make it there in one piece. This isn't just my ego talking; of course the world will spin madly on without me. But wearing a helmet and riding sensibly will improve my odds of enjoying my ride.

Whatever choice you make, may the odds be ever in your favor.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Here we go.

I've been a "roadie" all my life. What started out as a childhood love for riding evolved into a lust for all things bicycles. I concerned myself with Campy components, frame geometries, friction versus indexing. Maybe devolved is the right word.

Like many before me who left Neverland and grew up, my perspective changed along with my experiences. Somewhere along the way, the fellowship of riding with friends  devolved into speed, competition, and gear. Still fun, but different.

Over the last five years, I haven't ridden my bike the way I did in my youth. For a variety of reasons, I lost my Mojo for cycling, only admiring it from a distance. I often use my long work commute (30+ miles each way) as an excuse for why I haven't been riding. It's dark when I leave the house in the morning and it's dark when I get back. Can you hear the violin music?

Vashon Island, September 2012

it's been much too long. I miss riding. I miss the long climbs. I miss the feeling from coasting downhill. I miss the sound of the wind in my ears. I miss waving hello to fellow riders and getting a wave back.

So this is my plan: Just ride.