Friday, September 19, 2008

Riding in Bozeman - Part One - Getting There and the Kitchen


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Movin' To Montana Soon:




O.K., I can’t help myself. The first time I ever heard of Montana outside my grade school geography text book was in 1973. I was in sixth grade and hanging out in the basement of my friend Wayne Smith’s house. His older brother was having a party and they were listening to Frank Zappa on a horrible old stereo. Suddenly the calls came out from across the room, “Can I interest you in a pair of Zircon encrusted tweezers?”

I had no idea what they were talking about. Then we all sat down, cranked the volume and listened intently to the lyrics. The opening stanza puts the great schnoz and his genius in focus:



"I might be movin' to Montana soon. Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss"



And so it went, all of us singing along, happily immersed in the glorious weirdness.



Fast forward no less than 35 years. I’m in a car with my friend Torie driving from Michigan to Bozeman. From the rear-view mirror hangs an unusual talisman. If I hadn’t already told you the historical context you might not understand its significance. Dangling there in front of us, from a singular thread of dental floss, are two sparkly and jaunty….tweezers. Our friend Nels gave them to Torie as a going away present. She’s heading to grad school in Montana.



That’s how it starts. Knowing I’m on my way to Bozeman, I drop a message on the fixed gear forum and ask for some local support. Less than 24 hours later John Friedrich (Mr.DNA) pings me back. John welcomes me with an invitation to ride with him when he gets back to town, but also copies several other folks in town. Immediately I get a response from Casey Schenker. Casey’s a grad student at MSU and he invites me to come by the little community bike shop he heads up called the Bozeman Bike Kitchen. http://www.bozemanbikekitchen.org/


"Raisin' it up, waxen it down. In a little white box that I can sell uptown. By myself I wouldn't have no boss, but I'd be raisin' my lonely Dental Floss "






The Bozeman Bike Kitchen:



Casey gives me directions like this. “We're having a work night tomorrow from 6 to 8 pm if you want to stop by and check it out. It's pretty humble, but we've gotten around thirty to forty bikes into the hands of lower income individuals this summer alone. This is approximately where to find us if you want to stop by, I'll be there by about six tomorrow night. It's a little hard to find, because it's basically in a shed behind a hedge, but if you can get into the parking lot of the school district building on the corner of durston and 11th and call me.”

Casey is not exaggerating about the directions. Even with the coordinates in hand, I wander around for a while before looking behind the right hedge. The Kitchen is in a dilapidated shed belonging to the Bozeman School District. It hides behind a couple old houses that now serve as office space. The shed has a low ceiling about six foot tall, which makes it difficult for someone like me to stand up in side. Here's Sam....he's about my height.












Most of the work takes place on the lawn outside. The main efforts of the Kitchen are directed toward refurbishing old bicycles for the use of people in the community who can’t otherwise afford them. In the process volunteers also are called upon to tune up the bikes of just about anyone who manages to find the place.



The evening I choose to stop by there's a work bee with a lot of busy work to do. About twenty yards from the shed is a pile of bikes and wheels that need to be stripped down. Many of these things are destined for the metal recycler. Three or four volunteers busily bang, pound, and pull separating the bikes into tall piles of steel, aluminum, and rubber. Here at the Kitchen everything gets recycled somehow.



Two other volunteers, Sam Haraldson and Catherine Schneider, are standing in the shed. During the day they have "real jobs", Sam as Gear Shop Manager for http://www.backpackinglight.com/ , and Catherine as a freelance graphic designer. Their collective job today however is to organize the parts and tools stored in the shed. Catherine works on all the bike tubes. One by one she fills them with air to check them out. If they hold air, or could be easily patched, she empties them again, folds them up and puts them in boxes with like-sized tubes for use by people wandering in. If the tires are beyond repair they go in another box destined for a craftsman in Whitefish who uses them for products. http://alchemygoods.com/recycling.html



While I sit and chat with Casey on the lawn, a 40ish year old man in a big blue parka and NASCAR hat walks up. He’s got a piece of paper in his hands that he presents to Casey. Casey reads it, smiles, and says in a kind voice: “Charlie…..what happened to the last one we gave you?” Charlie is one of the people that the state sent over. The Kitchen has a deal with the state to provide a working bike to anyone in need. The piece of paper tells Casey it’s OK to give one to him….again. “Got stolen.” Charlie says.



Casey responds chiding him: “Charlie, you gotta get a lock man. The bike is free, but you gotta get a lock.”



Charlie picks a bike from the few that are almost ready for the road. The one he wants isn’t quite ready so Casey says he can take it if he fixes it right here. Casey gives Charlie a 9mm wrench and sends him off.



Casey’s workbench on the lawn is a sight to behold. What first appears to be a narrow table with a truing stand attached turns out to be his mountain bike with an XtraCycle rack. He keeps all his tools in the panniers and manages to make it all look pretty natural.



The Kitchen has several sets of tools each in a separate tool box. The tools are painted a color to match the toolkit. This makes it easier for people to get their tools back to the right toolbox and acts as a small deterrent to theft.





Rubin showed up to help this night too. He admits to not having any experience and was here to learn so that he could someday do his own maintenance on his bike.



While I’m sitting there Casey also offers to help me find a rear brake for my fixie so I can more safely take it on the trails. He points out two huge boxes of brake calipers and tells me to help myself. I spend some time sitting on the lawn among the other volunteers and bike fixers chatting and tinkering.






By the time I wrap it up, there are about ten volunteers wandering the lawn and crouching in the shed. Another five or six people looking for assistance with their bikes - or helping to fix others - sit within shouting distance of Casey.












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He is undoubtedly the hub of this place. The others lie as spokes working on their own, checking back with him frequently to either ask advice on a fix or to proffer their next assignment.


As I head off down the trail, there is a Bozeman Sunset. I pop on the headlight and flasher, grateful to have met these hard working folks and fascinated with the work they do.





"I'm ridin' a small tiny hoss (His name is MIGHTY LITTLE.) He's a good hoss, even though he's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on. Anyway he's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on anyway, any way"




Make sure to see Part Two - The Trail and Polo...

Biking in Bozeman - Part Two - The Trail and Polo



Riding Montana’s Trails Fixed:

My first contact in Bozeman is with John Friedrich, (MR. DNA from the FixedGearGallery Forum.) John answered my query from a vacation in Portland. He says he'll be getting home on Wednesday. He offers to take me on my choice of rides: road, cross, or mountain. I decide I want to hit the trails and he says, "O.K., let’s go to South Cottonwood Canyon." As it turns out I’d already been there a few days before with Torie on a hike. From my memory it seemed doable. I had some concern riding my old Trek touring frame retrofit as a fixie. (Let’s call it my Mighty Little.) The frame was a freebie from my friend Dennis. It sports a 42/18 drivetrain, no suspension, 38mm street tires hugging 700c wheels, bullhorn bars and no rear brake. (I just have little use for brakes these days.) Tuesday morning finds me frantically installing the used brake I picked up at the Bozeman Bike Kitchen.


Bangtail is the bike shop where John works, so I head over there to buy some bits. As it turns out they're great folks. A few minutes after walking into the store they have a workstand set up for me on the deck along with a full-on toolbox. Rob helps me with cabling the brake, and in finding some humor in my insistence on going to Cottonwood Canyon with the fixed gear bike. I assure him that while a bit reckless, I am in fact quite sane. John says he’ll pick me up at International Coffee Roasters near the MSU campus. John welcomes me like an old friend. We each grab a cup of Joe for the road and head out in his car on 19th street towards Cottonwood Canyon.






In the parking lot of the trail, he says a few words of encouragement, throws on his shoes, brags about his sweet little Fat City hard-tail single speed and hops on. The head of the trail is a series of quick and steep switchbacks which John grinds up without a pause. Three seconds later he’s gone. I mean out of sight right now! I hop on the fixie and start my chase. And that’s just how the rest of the afternoon goes. The trail’s beginning is nicely packed single-track cut into a steep incline. I do very well on the straight and flat sections, but the hills are a problem. John just flies up and down those. I bust my ass up the hills and pick my way slowly down the other side. Every once in a while I clear a section to find John patiently waiting for me.


Then he tells me his recollection of the next section while I catch my breath and we repeat the process. In this picture you can almost see the oyegen being sucked in through my teeth as John happily rests waiting for me to recharge.




The trail crosses a river several times. The bridges are simple log sections with a built up railing. These are not made for riding. We carry the bikes over our shoulders on the bridges and John says we can ride through the river, but only on the way back. I mutter something unkind under my breath as I look down at the icy liquid abyss next to us. At one crossing we run into an older couple hiking the trail. John crosses first and they insist that I can ride the bridge. "Uh....sure, no problem, but maybe the next one."


My simple street brakes last about fifteen minutes before the water, mud, (oh yeah there was some of that,) rocks and rushed mechanic makes them all but meaningless. As it turns out this is fortunate. The bar-end levers force me to keep my hands at the farthest extension forward. Not fun on the trail.




The way out is a veritable classroom of trail riding for me. After the first mile the trail turns pretty rocky. Lots of football sized rocks just sticking up here and there. I quickly learn that picking a line to ride is doubly difficult. If I pick a flat line just to get my skinny tires through, then my crank arms and pedals slam against the rocks. When this happens, especially in the downhills, the bike gets jettisoned into the air, and slams back down, BAM, OUCH! So that’s what suspension is for! From my perspective the whole things starts to sound like Big Ben at 12 noon. "Ding! Dong! Bang!, Bam! Scrape!"


One of my gal-pals back in Traverse City - Forest - stitched this ultra hipster top-tube protector for me. It won't be a secret to tell you that the top tube is the least thing I'm trying to protect on this ride. Let's just say my...er... bottom-tube... was grateful for her efforts.




I find myself learning how to pick out a dual path, (one for the wheels – one for the cranks,) but inevitably that too is futile. I find myself laughing out loud now. This is a blast! After getting my ass kicked by John for a few miles, we stop to take a break at a natural opening in the trail that John thankfully refers to as a turnaround.


John sits there, all Buddah-esque and shares a power bar with me. Then I make the mistake of asking him about the trail. His response is laughable. “As far as what we’ve got here, this is one of the less challenging trails…”


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How humiliating! More laugher now. With ego damaged but still intact, I follow John back down the trail towards the car. On the return journey I figure out finally how to skid the back wheel down the hills. This is a blast, except it has me leaning way too far out on the handlebars. Not the position for going downhill, at least not if I’m trying to stay on the bike. Now another lesson. I experiment with a few positions and discover how to skid the rear wheel going downhill without shifting my weight forward. This takes some doing from my skinny legs, but pays off.


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The ride is suddenly softer with my ass hanging out over the rear wheel. The trail goes sharply downhill and takes a sudden twist just before one of the river crossings. About halfway down I realize the rear wheel is not biting anymore, just skidding lightly and bouncing off the rocks now and then. I don’t make the turn and end up in the raspberry bushes, but at least I’m still on my feet. By the time I get back on the trail there are some other riders coming. I wave one of then on, and jump back on the bike towards the river. With the sudden pressure of other riders in eye-shot I buck up a little confidence and start jamming the pedals hard.


Now I’m really having a blast. Zip, zip, zip through nice flowing lines of the trail. It goes well until we get to the long downhill section near the parking lot. It also has those switchbacks. I wave John by and he flies down the hill.





By the time we settle the bikes back onto the back of the car John has a 20 oz. PBR in my hand to celebrate. Good rider with great taste! A few minutes later there’s a small crew of young riders gathering around us. One of them riding a $4000 downhill rig says, “Dudes! Riding single speed with no suspension? That’s awesome!” John nods and kindly corrects the kid, “yup, but he’s riding fixed.”




“No way, that’s just sick! And on a cross frame! Do any endos?” Then a woman rider comments on how “wild” it was watching me go down the hills skidding my rear wheel. Suddenly I’m famous. Well, at least as much fame as someone with a damaged ego can handle.


As I spend more time in Bozeman I will probably force myself to buy a real mountain bike. This is MTB heaven after all. No worries though, I’ll still ride the fixie in the street. I’m so glad I did this ride. I hope that I someday have a chance to pay back the kind of graciousness and camaraderie offered to me by John. It was a splendid first experience riding the trails of Bozeman.



"With a Pair of heavy-duty Zircon-encrusted tweezers in my hand every other wrangler would say I was mighty grand. By myself I wouldn't have no boss, but I'd be raisin' my lonely Dental Floss"









Bozeman’s Bike Polo Scene:




Only moments after getting back from the big ride, Torie and I head downtown to catch up with John’s bike polo crew. Wow! There are about fifteen people already there and playing.


They play standard rules, three man teams, foot-down tap-out, and ten minute games with simple traffic cones as goals. It’s also a sweet court behind school. I’m played out, so when John and Casey urge me to play I bravely decline. I even manage to fend off a trick engagement when John tells me that I just have to take his little KHS polo machine for a spin.


The treat of this event for me is watching one guy play polo on his Surly Big Dummy, (a welded up XtraCycle cargo frame.) His name is Wiley Davis and he's the managing editor for The Practical Pedal http://practicalpedal.com/. Riding that thing looks to be the equivalent of a semi-truck playing with a bunch of VW Bugs. But he does well. Actually his only disadvantage seems to be a long turning radius. The group plays heated rounds, and quickly changes out teams at each break.



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All in all my trip within Bozeman’s bike scene was terrific. For such a small community, they’ve got a lot going on. The downtown Main Street has no less than five bike shops, the trails in town and out are designed and maintained well, and the Bozeman community seems to accept and respect bikes on the road. On top of all the great bike riding, I’d also vouch for the hiking, kayaking, skiing, food and especially the local beer. I’m looking forward to my next trip. When I get there, I’ll hop on my bike enjoying the Montana Sunshine…..





"And then I'd get a cuppa cawfee N' give my foot a push . . . Just me 'n the pygmy pony Over the Dennil Floss Bush. N' then I might just Jump back on An' ride Like a cowboy Into the dawn to Montana. Movin' to Montana soon (Yippy-Ty-O-Ty-Ay) Movin' to Montana soon (Yippy-Ty-O-Ty-Ay) Movin' to Montana soon"




All lyrics by Frank Zappa. Going to Montana Soon.



AND DON'T MISS PART ONE


REFERENCES:

http://www.thebozemanfix.blogspot.com