Thursday, May 3, 2012

Every One Has a Story: My bikes tell mine.

I love bikes.  There are times I try to figure out why; they cause me to sweat, bleed, curse, and hurt.  The best explanation is that they make me feel timeless.  When ever I walk into a bike shop I feel the same as I did in 1992.  When I get on a bike and ride I feel the same as I did in 1998 (mentally, physically not so much).  My life is very different than I ever dreamed, however, there has been one constant:  Bikes.  I have done things that some would not dare and that others wish they could. I have lived an amazing life and I have scars (both visible and invisible) to prove it. I would not trade those scars for anything in the world. If I were to pass tomorrow I would be more than satisfied with the life I lived. By the way, I don't plan on passing tomorrow, there are many to many more scars left to get!

I love bikes and each of them have a story and have helped me heal some of the invisible scars. Here are their stories (and mine).

Salsa Las Cruces: aka Old Faithful



Over the years I outgrew my GT triple triangle mountain bike and stopped riding it. I had shopped for several years and couldn't afford the bikes I wanted. Then came a combat tour in Iraq. It was an opportunity to make a little extra money and a bike would be a great we to decompress from a stressful year.

I spent precious down time waiting to access the Internet so I could shop for the bike I wanted and could now afford. I wanted something I could ride just about anywhere and decided a cyclocross bike would be the best combination of speed, comfort, and utility. I fell in love with the Salsa Las Cruces' color. Every one needs an orange bike just like everyone needs a bike called Old Faithful.

Emily found a bike shop in Fairbanks, AK and ordered it so it would there when I got home in August of that year. Only I didn't get home in August. I got home 4 months later for a total of 16 months. Two days from going home we were extended and sent to Baghdad.


This was a dark (mainly because I did the night shift) and scary (I think I can say that now) time in my life. I had led an infantry platoon for a year and now I had four more months! While the Las Cruces hang in a bike shop half way around the world I discovered what true stress and sacrifice is.  Then I lost a squad leader to a sniper in a Baghdad slum. Most of those experiences and emotions I will never share publicly. However, Old Faithful has shared every one of those emotions. Over thousands of miles we have shared pain, sorrow, laughter, and a few tears have fallen on that orange painted aluminum.  To this day, this has been the most maintenance free bike I have.  It is definitely my favorite ride.

Salsa El Mariachi: aka the Red Headed Stepchild




I have always loved the outdoors and I have amazing memories of mountain biking in Montana with the crew from the Morning Light. Like so many young people, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. So I mountain biked and all but lived at my friend Dan's house, his parents even set an extra plate for me at the table. Dan and I were far from great but rain, snow, or shine we rode.

I missed mountain biking and had abandon the purple GT in all of its purple anodized glory. I was looking at low maintenance hard tails with decent front suspension and as usual the price got in the way. At the time 29ers were common but only produced by a select group of manufacturers. The trend was to have a steel rigid 29er which saved a ton of money. 

It was a rough time in the Army and there was a lot of attrition. I was considering getting out when Uncle Sugar offered a retention bonus. I figured that if taking the money meant another year over there, I might as well get that El Mariachi.

I liked the options that Salsa advertised. It had a sweet stem painted to match the frame which allowed me to relive the glory days of purple anodizing. It had a 1x9 setup which met my goal of keeping it simple. It boasted a Bushnell eccentric bottom bracket so it could easily be set up as a single speed. Above all it had Salsa's beautiful detailing and amazing red paint that sparkled even in low light.

So why the "Red Headed Stepchild" (I will call it the RHS and no offense to anyone who may have red hair)?  This bike has been the least favorite and has caused nothing but frustration.  By far the least favored.  I ordered it and it arrived after a  grueling 36 hour Army induced ordeal.  Sleep deprived I drove to the bike shop to get it.  There it sat in it's beautiful red glory.  I took it home and adjusted the seat height (not checking the bolts that the bike shop should have tightened to hold the seat on) and went for a ride.  It turns out that no one at the shop turned a wrench on that thing.  The seat popped off, the eccentric bottom bracket shifted to the left and right causing the chain line to shift and in turn the chain jumped from gear to gear.  The cables wore through the red paint to the steel on the first ride.  The seat post would not clamp in place and I would have to raise it every half hour as the steel frame cut grooves in the post (I later learned about carbon paste which creates enough friction to keep it in place).  The tires were ridiculous, they were the widest 29er tire on the market and there was little to no clearance for mud which tore up the paint.  Then there was the recall on the beautiful matching red stem and just like purple anodizing, it was gone too.  So after countless trips to the bike shop for them to adjust this and that and find out that it was something else the bike fell out of my favor.  It is nice to ride but the EBB has always given me fits. 

I have now converted it to a single speed and I despise the EBB (something that Salsa has moved away from on subsequent models).  Maybe the bike was a mistake like taking the bonus.  But whatever, I have the bike and a job!


The Basso Lotto:  aka The Mistress.




This story begins a few years ago in a nice community called Mosul, Iraq.  During the course of a year I was patrolling this city, I was hit by four road side bombs.  This did not include the many rocks that hit me in the head (and fortunate for us no one was injured in Baghdad by the friendly guys dropping cinder blocks from an eight story building).  A friend of mine who was retiring recommended that I get this documented and get some testing done for mTBI.  "It will make it easier down the road." he said.  This turned into numerous trips to Portsmouth Naval Hospital and I don't think it made it easier.

This involved a long drive with lousy traffic (four times).  One day I noticed a small bike shop in Portsmouth and having some time I stepped in.  Nothing unusual, it was a bike shop like so many others.  Except a thing of beauty.  A 1994 Italian Lugged steel bike.  Just so happens it was my size.  It had never be ridden!  Fortunately for me most people don't have gorilla genes like the Irish Tsunami have.  It was perfect the guy never put pedals on it.  Outfit with a classic Campagnolo Chorus 16 speed components and white handle bar tape (which always looks hot until the first time it is used).  Never ridden!  It would be mine, it had to.  I will spare you more details and refer you to the following blog post.  The bottom line is that I had to wait a month or two to save and pay cash (Household 6 rules) and I was worried the whole time that some other tall guy who wanted a 16 year old bike would randomly walk and buy it.

She became mine, and I love her.  Though the 16 speeds are geared for racing and not for a great slow beast like me.  The last century I rode with it I cussed at the limited number of options.  Amazing bike with a pretty good story.

By the way, I have a hard head and apparently bombs and rocks made no difference to my average intelligence.

Giant Anthem X 29er:  aka the bike of freedom



I have never been overly interested in full suspension.  Mainly because I didn't understand it.  I always thought it was about cushioning the blow of rocks and roots.  Why would I want to spend a bunch of money on a complex bike when the point was to have the challenge of rocks and roots?  If I wanted a cushion I would sit on the couch!  I have since learned that it is not about cushioning the impact, rather, it is about keeping the tires in contact with the ground.  This means traction, which means control at higher speeds.

I volunteered to for a free trip to Iraq.  A couple of weeks before I was to depart, I still didn't have orders.  Then one day there were orders....to Islamabad, Pakistan.  I am still trying to figure this one out, it really shouldn't have happened, but it did.  Because of some "administrative" errors, I was unable to go on a mid-tour leave and ended up spending 350 consecutive days there.  It was a great experience, one I love, have fond memories of, and will always cherish.

It was also very stressful.  Not the same kind of stress that I had in Iraq.  I had my frustration, and trust me, after 350 days in Islamabad while watching friends come and go got to me.  It had it's scary times too.  Much like the the Salsa Las Cruces I was going to use this as an opportunity to get the bike I wanted.  I spoke to a friend at my preferred bike shop and told him I wanted a Felt.  He told me that I didn't want a Felt, that I wanted the soon to be released Anthem X 29er.

So I committed.  A lot, considering it wasn't even on the market yet and I hadn't had a test ride.  Again, the Anthem X 29er sat on the show room floor for some time before I was able to ride it.  I will never do this bike justice and it has made me a better rider.  I feel as though I have a ton of control, allowing me to step outside my comfort zone, which is an important place to be.  Admittedly, I wreck more on this bike than any other, but it is because I am testing my limits.

Every time I ride it, I get the same feeling I felt when I landed on American soil after 350 days of "administrative" error.  The feeling of the wind through my "hair."  FREEDOM!

Surly Ogre:  I haven't had it long enough to give it an aka.

  

So far I like it.  It feels right.  It represents the desire I have to get out and explore the world.  To experience life and be able to overcome any obstacles in the way.

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