Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Old wounds...

Click the photo for a nice close view of the awesome boots...

I was just recovering my iPhoto picture library after a recent OS meltdown when I came across this photo from 1991.

Me and a few college friends were taking advantage of the new gondola service on Silver Mountain (up in Kellog, in northern Idaho). Ride the gondola up, ride your bike down the various and sundry cat tracks and access roads and trails and stuff.

It was nice enough, I suppose. Unfortunately I don't remember much of the trip. I think this was actually on our first run down that I shredded my knee. About all I remember from the trip is my accident, trip to the hospital, and waiting around down at the base while my pals got in a few more runs. Bastards. And one of them was riding my bike! Bastards! (I think it was Eric. The chain on his bike broke. So I let him borrow my bike. Or maybe it was Doug?? Bastards!!) (Update: It was Eric. And it was the BB spindle that went kablooey, not the chain. I remember now that he spoke with a rather higher-pitched voice for the remainder of the day...)

"Hey dude, my bike's busted. Since you're not using yours, mind if I ride it?"
(Thanks for the photo, Eric!
Cycling "fashion" noted without comment.)

So my front end washed out on a very gravelly, rocky access road. I evidently hit a nice big rock with my knee. I remember doing a tuck-n-roll over one shoulder and coming to a stop sitting up. Then I saw my knee. Yipes! It looked really scary-- I wasn't sure what would happen if I tried standing up. Would my leg bones just pop out through the gaping hole in my knee? So I didn't bother standing up. I remember the rocks poking my butt as I sat there, afraid to even wiggle. (Gosh-- such a wimp! In retrospect I could have coasted the rest of the way down. But I was afraid of all that dirt and dust getting into my... leg hole!) One of our gang, Jayson, rode the rest of the way down to get his truck. Nice guy. (But he became a bastard!!! later with the rest of them as they later continued to ride without me. I didn't even score sympathy from "buff nugs" as I lounged around down at the lodge. I digress...)

So we're all sitting there, my pals very nicely hanging around and keeping me company, pretending that they didn't hate my guts for crashing and raining on their collective parade -- Hey, we all had to pay for the damned gondola ride, we're wasting daylight you clumsy jerk! -- as we wait for Jayson to return with the truck/ambulance/meat wagon.

It seemed like we were there for a loooooog time. We must have been. I remember thinking "Hey, this is an access road, wouldn't it be great if an ATV or motorcycle or jeep or limo full of buff nugs came along and rescued me from all these people who are just pretending to be my friends but I can see it in their eyes-- they want to slit my throat, throw my lifeless body in the bushes, steal my awesome bike and rad rad Axo MTB boots and keep riding. So where is Jason, anyway??"

Unbelieveably, an old coot on 4-wheeled ATV DID show up. I couldn't believe my ears! Saved! Such a nice looking chap with a kindly face and a great big comfy looking rack on the back of his large, capacious ATV. He rolled to a stop and inquired politely about my dreadful looking wound, made some small talk about remoteness of our location and how it would be the perfect sort of spot to slit someone's throat, dump their lifeless body in the bushes and make off with their bike and Axo boots. If one was that sort of person who was so inclined. Then he made some sort of encouraging noises at me, kicked his quad into gear and continued his merry way up the road. Bastard.

The rest of the wait is a blur. I can't really remember anything. After about a year, Jason roared up in his truck. Hurray! I very tenderly dragged myself into the bed of the truck and one of my "friends" thoughtfully threw my bike in after me. The ride down the mountain was a joy as me and my bike slid and rattled around the bed of the truck. With every little bump and rattle, every single sharp and poky part of my bike stuck me right in my shredded knee. Right in there!

I got into the nearest hospital ER where the doctor shot my knee up with novocaine and then disappeared for 45 minutes.

He came back in time for most of the effect of the novocaine to have worn off and began picking gravel out of my knee. Apparently I was "lucky" that nothing penetrated the connective tissue capsule surrounding the joint. (See? I was right to have freaked out just a little bit.) I refused to watch and settled for listening to the "tink, tink, tink" of bits of gravel dropping in a metal tray.

Then came the cleaning. So far so good as I couldn't yet feel too much.

However, about halfway through the suturing (Was it 11 or 14 sutures?) the novocaine had pretty much completely evaporated. Jiminy christmas did that ever hurt. The weirdest part was feeling the suturing filament sliding through my skin. Maybe by "weirdest" I mean "worst".

At one point the noise of my teeth grinding must have distracted the doctor as he paused in his work and fixed me with an annoyed glare. "Are you okay? Do you need more novocaine?"

Lying through my clenched teeth I told him "No thanks." I didn't have any kind of health insurance (I was a poor, dumb college kid at the time) so I was trying to be good and not rack up a huge bill with all sorts of needless extras.

Finally I was whole again, fitted with a brace to immobilize my knee and shoved out the door with a sampler pack of Advil.

Jayson, Travis, Eric (I don't think I've ever seen a photo with Eric where he's actually wearing a shirt), Doug, Yours Truly, Kenny, Trent (Sometimes shirts, sometimes skins.)
Kellog Hospital, 8-31-1991 Thanks to Eric for the photo.

Back to the mountain we went. While I put my grievous wound on display at the lodge patio, casting about for sympathy, my "friends" continued their rollicking good time up on the mountain. Bastards.

But who's got the awesome scar? Who ultimately scored the hot chick? I did.

But I don't have the Awesome Boots anymore.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Criminally poor kids bikes

Last Saturday I volunteered my time at a nearby middle school bike safety fair.

A bunch of people came together to help kids ride safely. It was great. The organizers had done a great job and the event ran like clockwork. The kids watched a video, got fitted for free helmets, and then could ride through an obstacle course under the watchful eyes of the Beaverton bike police.

Me, a couple of other guys and a couple of mechanics from Hillsboro REI were spinning wrenches for a few hours making sure kids' bikes were safe to ride. One of the REI guys, Erin (Aaron?) called it "bike triage" I think.

I took it a step further on one bike and performed emergency battlefield surgery. More on that later, maybe.

One thing that struck me was the astoundingly low quality of components on childrens' bikes. Truly awful stuff! It seems almost criminal that bicycles intended for children should feature such poor-quality components-- the brakes in particular.

I saw brakes that were so loose that the caliper arms would wobble back and forth an inch or more when applied; brake pads that were badly cupped and slipping under the rim (and into the spokes); disconnected brakes; and tangled, twisted, rusted, frayed cables and housing.

The fragility of bicycles was readily apparent. They aren't bullet-proof or maintenance free, yet none of the bikes I saw couldn't have seen more than a squirt of WD-40 in the past few years. To be clear, I'm not criticizing the children or their parents for just simply using the bikes. It just seems like the bikes that are destined to receive the least maintenance are the ones that actually need more care due to their lower-quality components.

I worked on a few bikes that were downright dangerous to ride on. One in particular: the right-side pedal had worked itself loose and destroyed half of the threads. The thing was only held in place by one or two threads and a lot of rust. I don't know what it would have taken to break that tenuous bond. Maybe coming down off of a curb? Hopping on the bike? Maybe just some random pedal stroke?

I kept wondering to myself if the collective genius of the bicycle industry couldn't come up with a few simple components that would be durable, reliable, and very low maintenance. I suppose the real problem would be cost-- anything that would meet those criteria would likely add significantly to the cost of the bike. Plus it seems that most childrens' bikes are "disposable" because by the time they DO fail or become unridable the child has already out-grown it and is ready fo the next size up. I guess this is what Wal-Mart is for.

But this brings me back to something that I feel pretty strongly about:
That a bike that is safe and reliable and that functions properly is more fun to ride and thus the child will be more likely to KEEP riding. When a bike doesn't function properly and, as a result, is difficult to ride, I could see the child becoming disenchanted and opting to have mom or dad ferry them around in the car. At the very lease they lose an avenue for healthy exploration and transportation. (I remember my first bike as a child-- what a sense of freedom! It was like I had been given wings.)

Anyway... I overheard that about 400 kids when through in just a few hours. We breathed new life in to lots and lots of bikes that needed a little TLC and I hope that we helped to keep the kids enjoying their bikes and the freedom of riding. I also hope that we gave them a favorable impression of "bike people".

Ride on, kids.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trials Unicorn chaser...

This is something of a"unicorn chaser" to counter all the doom and gloom of the previous Cannondale posts. Plus, as I was reminded, I know nuzzink, nuzzink! Of business management and it just rends the souls of the...

Oh forget it.

Watch this. It's just amazing. I mean it doesn't even seem real that a human being on a bicycle could do that stuff! It's like magic or something. I would like to have just a tiny fraction of the balance and handling skills (and brass monkeys) of the rider, Danny MacAskill.

Good grief. I can't bunny hop without clipless pedals. The times I've tried it on platform pedals I've almost neutered myself-- oof.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Poor Dorel- "Pained" to cut the soul out of Cannondale

The story just keeps getting better and better.

Mind you, this is not a story about "American jobs" being sent overseas. This is a story about a megacorporation clueless about how to take care of the shiny new toy they just bought. Why not about jobs? Well, I'm a graphic designer by trade with a focus on brand identity. I also like bikes. I have several Cannondale bikes. So this particular "story" is like the perfect storm for me. It's also a bummer.

Another thing: I happen to think that Taiwan hosts some of the best frame builders in the world. So does Portland, Oregon. :)

Anyway-- more claptrap from Dorel (actually the following statement was from the president of Cannondale Sports Group. However-- what other "sports" are there in Cannondale? Cycling, of course.But what else? Curling? Cricket? Polo?). The emphasis is mine:

Dorel Industries executives say it pained them to end U.S. production of Cannondale bicycles, but said the cost of domestic production made the decision "crystal clear" from an economic perspective.


"It was painful to make the decision we took today; the people in Bedford are the soul of Cannondale," Jeff McGuane, president of Cannondale Sports Group's North American division, told VeloNews Thursday. "We've got a bright future for Bedford, for the team that's remaining and hopefully will expand in the future; but right now the economics around frame construction are just crystal clear."

Read the full story here:

The economics might be crystal freakin' clear, but you don't cut the "soul" out of a brand and hope to retain anything. You have no brand. Nothing. A name is all that's left.

I'm going to quote Seth Godin directly here because he puts it so well:

What's a brand?

I think it is the product of two things:

[Prediction of what to expect] times [emotional power of that expectation].

If I encounter a brand and I don't know what it means or does, it has zero power. If I have an expectation of what an organization will do for me, but I don't care about that, no power.

Go read the full text of the article here:

Beginning in 2011 what will "Cannondale" mean? It will be just another name on a line of bikes produced by bike manufacturing juggernaut, Taiwan. It will be like "Scattante" or "Tirenno" or whatever.

"Feel it"?

Zero power. Zero resonance.

Since Cannondale no longer has the "soul" that it once had, since it's just another brand from Dorel, purveyor of all that is bland and boring and "me too" I don't care about it.

Zero power.

So Cannondale is a big nothing right now. Is that what the suits at Dorel want? To start over, fresh and new, to re-invent the Cannondale brand?

I had posted the last entry regarding Dorel's decision to gut Cannondale on the OBRA email list. Someone recently responded that they thought is was no big deal since we live in Portland, Oregon-- the nation hotbed of custom/inependent/small bike fabricators -- and that it would be much better to "buy local".

Sure-- I understand that. Unfortunately that's a bit besides the point. Furthermore I really can't afford to buy a sweet sweet super-custom steel frame from a local builder, no matter how much I'd want to.

My point is that Dorel are a bunch of idiots focused on the bottom line-- not what's important. Marketing isn't about making a fast buck anymore. (It shouldn't ever be, in my opinion.) It's about relationships. People will buy because they believe and care about the company, how it does things, what it stands for. Not because it has the lowest price-- that's just unsustainable.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Farewell Cannondale. So long and thanks for all the rides...

Dorel is busy consolidating its bike biz into "centres of excellence" and will be moving 100 percent of Cannondale's manufacturing oversease to its Taichung, Taiwan facility.

I can't say that I'm really surprised. I was waiting for this bomb to drop ever since Dorel bought up Cannondale. (C'mon, Dorel?! Don't they make training wheels or handlebar streamers or somthing??) To me, when that happened, Cannondale's brand value went into the toilet.

Now it's been completely flushed and is rapidly degrading in the septic tank.

I bought three Cannondale bikes BECAUSE of how they were made. I bought into the story of Cannondale. I loved (still love) my bikes for that. Some years ago Bicycling magazine published a story about Cannondale and we got to see the folks that built, sanded, painted and assembled the bikes. That article reaffirmed my love of Cannondale and their bikes.


Dorel -- I don't care how much money they make every year -- has absolutely NO IDEA how to deal with brand equity. Yeah, Cannondale really shot itself in the foot by making motorcycles under the Cannondale flag and paid dearly for that. I mean that was pretty much the beginning of the end for Cannondale -- a serious blow -- but it didn't change the way they made their bikes.

Goodbye Cannondale. It's been a fun ride.

Go read the full story here:

Support my local bike shop? Maybe.

Here's another rant triggered by a post to the OBRA email list.

The owner of a big Portland bike shop sent in a letter to OBRA members urging the support of local bike shops (and other sponsors) in these tough economic times, because the local bike shops (and sponsors) have been supporting OBRA members and activities (races) for so long.

Here's the message:

Open letter to OBRA members

Having just passed our 14-year anniversary, I have spent some time reflecting on River City Bicycle's position in Portland and the biking community. I'd like to thank all of you for the support that you've shown River City over the last fourteen years. While we are proud of what we've done so far, we would not have been able to give back to the community in the many ways we have if we did not have the support back from the bike community.

One of the things I am proud of is the long-term relationship we have maintained with many biking organizations around Portland. Many of these we started at the early beginnings of the store such as Team Rose City, John Benenati's B.I.K.E. Cyclisme' program, and Emerald Velo, and have since expanded to the Vancouver Specialized/River City team, Sorella Forte', the River City shop team, Hammer Velo, and Rapha Racing. We have also maintained long-term sponsorship with some great OBRA events, the Mt. Tabor race series, Tuesday Night PIR (and now Monday Night), Oregon Mountain Bike race series, Alpenrose track series, and the River City Cross Crusade Cyclocross Series. There are probably some others I'm forgetting at the moment. The total costs of these programs to River City exceed $50,000 annually.

Racing sponsorship is a very tricky proposition for businesses. This should be obvious to any fan of the sport, considering the revolving door of trade teams that come and go at every level. From my perspective, it can be a very difficult expense to justify at times, particularly if one just looks at the numbers or at the direct return on investment. But for River City, what we count on most to justify our continued support of racing sponsorship is the fact that each and every one of you is considered to be the expert on bikes to all of your friends and acquaintances, and that you will suggest to them that River City is, indeed, a good bike shop, and worthy of their business, whether or not we support your specific team or event. We do our best to live up to the recommendations that we get from our good customers, and are constantly improving what we do and how we do it. We have a very high caliber of staff here, true bike shop professionals who take their jobs as seriously as you take yours. As the bike industry gets more technical and complex every year, we are able to maintain a high quality of staff for many years, some almost from our inception. This should be considered an asset to the biking community, as I'm sure most, if not all of you, have had bike problems that have had to be fixed by an expert.

To conclude, I would like to thank you for continuing to support not only River City Bicycles, but also all of the sponsors of Oregon bicycle racing. This is a difficult business environment for everyone and we all need to recognize who we count on for support. So when you are thinking about that next bike related purchase please consider that the internet company or national chain that may offer a perceived lower price is doing so without the service or contribution to OBRA and our local biking community that we all benefit from and enjoy. We all vote with our wallets, and we all decide what is important to us in the long run.

To the road,,

David Guettler

He raises some very good -- and important -- points. However, it is the last bit that bugs me-- choose your LBS over the cheapo internet retailers.

I do support local bike shops and sponsors. I send emails to sponsors thanking them for their support (and free food or whatever). I also BUY their product (if it's good and I can use it.) I shop at every bike shop within range-- I have three that are close to me. I also shop on-line. One thing that I take issue with, however, is the discrepancy in the level of service between a physical shop and an on-line shop.

At just about every physical shop I've patronized, I've had various and sundry problems (overcharged, poorly performed repairs, salespeople who try to sell me something that I do NOT want). Who hasn't, I suppose. The real difference between buying from Mom & Pop Bikes and is in how they handle those problems. Without fail, the online stores have gone out of their way to help me out or fix the problem. At Mom & Pop's the best I've gotten is a grudging accommodation. I've been made to feel like I'm imposing on their time.

It doesn't matter if a local bike shop will "be there" after the sale when an on-line store cannot, if that physical presence just doesn't seem to care or has an elitist attitude.

Maybe this is why Joe Q. Public stays away from bike shops and instead picks up their ride at Wal-Mart or similar. Going to a bike shop is sometimes too much like going to an auto dealership.

The local bike shops have to capitalize on their advantages over a remote on-line retailer. They have to fulfill their promises every day-- without fail. It's not enough to beg and plead and try to get customers to come in simply because your business is "local".

Cyclists are dangerous road hogs...

Here in soggy Portland there's much ado over motorized vehicles and bikes sharing the road.

On the local OBRA email list there's been some hand-wringing lately over how our actions on the road affect motorists' perceptions of cyclists.

I got all fired up and drafted a reply to a recent post. After I was done writing, the need to reply to the email list had subsided-- and I would have probably just pissed off a lot of folks anyway. I think I'll post it here instead. This is my journal. So there.

Here's the post that inspired me to finally respond:

I've thought a lot in the last few years about the 'reputation' cyclists
have, and are getting in this town. As a poor excuse for a bike commuter
I've felt all ranges of self righteousness anywhere from being sick of
getting cut off and solving that by holstering a 45 on my left hip with the
back of my jersey being silkscreen with "I carry a Gun, Here (arrow)", to
just being hyper sensitive and slowing down everywhere expecting everyone to
come out in front of me, cut me off, and change lanes into me all the time.
And then this happened.
Meditating at a full spin northbound from se Stark on the 205 bikelane
crossing the Market intersection. Decide that the little stop sign means
rolling through at 20 since my limited periphery shows no vehicles. Shows
no vehicles including the mother in the bronze ford contour coming from my
left and the Old chevy converging on my right. My reaction time was great,
but didn't due much since my hands were not on the hoods or in the drops.
Her reaction time was great too. At try two of breaking, I was already in
the street seeing how my front wheel was going to be connecting with the
front corner of the contour right in front of my fork and that that was
going to catapult me over her hood, into her windshield, and over her roof.
Somehow, this didn't happen.
My judgment was correct though, my bike and her car did infact stop in a
wonderful spooning position. Her bumper corner, and the crux of my fork and
wheel. But unlike spooning, the gaze at which the driver gave me was much
less than loving. Probably due to the fact that like me, she slammed as
hard on her brakes as possible, but unlike me, her 9 month old toddler was
in the back car seat just trying to hold its head upright. Feeling like a
moron is an understatement.
I backed up so I could let her by, apologizing profusely and unable to get
my shaking legs to clip back in anyway. After she passed, then the chevy
rightfully added insult to lack of injury by saying, when I motioned him on,
"You're already in the middle of the road, I'll wait."
Shaking legs and the taste of my breakfast in my mouth, meditation
shattered, I clip in and peddle along.

I did not give bicyclists a good name that day, accident or not. It's our
responsibility as cyclists to ride lawfully, and safely, for ourselves and

I liked the bit about packing heat. I've certainly felt that militant after some jerk seems to go out of his way to threaten me with his car.

Anyway. Here's my response.

I understand the feeling that we (cyclists) have to prove ourselves on the roads. Bicycles don't own the roads, cars do. That we have to be better, cleaner, and smarter than motorists.

However, it seems that many of you, while you're busy falling on your own swords, are missing the fact that motorists already have a bad reputation. Motorists break the traffic laws everyday either through accident, ignorance, or disdain. They receive the same verbal abuse from others in cars.

By all means, please ride safely and pay attention. Slow down and yield. But don't beat yourselves up because you made a mistake. Motorists make mistakes all the time and the cost and consequences are far far greater.

You only give cyclists a bad rap when you really do ride like a jerk and behave erratically and unpredictably in traffic and display a disregard for other users on the road.

Hm. maybe I will send this to the email list...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Press Release

April 1, 2009
Portland, Oregon

For Immediate Release

Formerly an unattached Privateer, Brian Johnson, who races both off-road and cyclocross, has decided that 2009 "will be the season of more cookies!"

"Over the past couple few seasons I've come to the realization that there aren't enough cookies on my training table and in my jersey pockets. While some folks might think that cookies can be found just about anywhere, this is not true-- especially of gluten-free cookies. Their additional cost and relative scarcity make including them in a training regimen, in any meaningful way, quite difficult. I plan to change that for 2009. To quote that blue furry guy 'Me want cookie!'"

Mr. Johnson has been seriously involved in "middle-of-the-pack" racing since 2006, and will be placing a greater emphasis on mountain bike events for the 2009 season.

"I know that some might look at my results and ask 'Where's the top 30 placing? Are you even in this list... Oh-- here you are. Down here.' but I like to think that I'm doing more that just going 'round and 'round in circles. I'm trying to focus on my message of inclusion... and cookies. You CAN eat your cookies AND have your race, too!"