Category: Cycling

Life lessons from the seat of a mountain bike

P1010985Nick and I spent 4 days in the Methow last weekend exploring the trails on two wheels with our friends Dale, Ed and Jennifer. I’m not a natural mountain biker by any means. It’s a sport I have to work at … *really* work at … to avoid being a total klutz. Even after all that effort, I still have loads of room for improvement.

Some of the best life lessons come from doing the hard stuff, though. Here are some of the things mountain biking is teaching me:

17. Ups are followed by downs.

16. Sometimes the best way past an obstacle is straight through it.

15. Boldness pays.

14. The hardest parts are also the loneliest.

P101097913. There’s fresh horse poop on the trail ahead.

12. Balance is first among the virtues; momentum is second.

11. Success requires confidence, but cockiness invites failure.

10. Some people are lucky at some times; nobody gets lucky every time.

9. It’s all about the being and the going, not the having and the arriving.

P10109848. It’s tempting to focus on the immediate problem to the exclusion of the big picture.

7. The thing that nails you is the one you don’t see coming.

6. It’s worth stopping for a breather to see where you are.

P10109765. Thousands of tiny decisions shape the ride.

4. Fun starts when you push your limits.

3. You can get hurt, heal, and try again.

2. Practice makes you better.

1. No quitting allowed.

Cutthroat Pass

Bombing down Cutthroat Pass

They said:

“It’s absolutely my favorite trail.”

“It’s like two rides in one!”

“Go early to avoid the hikers, mostly so you can bomb down the trail with wild abandon and not worry about running into anyone.”

“It’s got a bit of everything – rivers, big alpine bowls, gorgeous views. I think it’s the kind of trail that people from Colorado would love.”

“If you could only ride one trail in the Methow, you should ride this one.”

So we rode it. And it was awesome!

Nick & Carry’s Definitive Guide to Buying a Bike

for sale 1

Road racers. Loaded tourers. Recumbents. Hardtails. Dualies. Hybrids. Cross bikes. Sport tourers. Commuters. Cruisers. Comfort bikes. Tandems. With such a dizzying array to choose from, it’s a small miracle anyone leaves a bike shop with the right bicycle for them.

Chances are you’re reading this because you started looking for a bike and wondering if Model X made by Brand Y is a “good bike.” The answer to that is more complicated than a simple yes or no. To help you knowledgeably pick a bike, Nick and I offer you following tips to help demystify the process of buying a bike.

Before You Leave Home

Grab a pencil, paper and some brutal honesty. Now make two lists. The first is an inventory of your current status as a cyclist or, for first-timers, your fitness level: how competitive you are, how much time you spend riding (or working out) each week, your highest achievements on a bike. The second is your ultimate vision of yourself as a cyclist. Do you plan to do triathlons? Clean up on the local racing circuit? Do bike tours? Commute by bike? Ride off road? All of these pursuits have a feature or two that you might want in a bike. If you’ll be commuting or touring, for example, you’ll want a bike with “braze-ons” to attach fenders and possibly a rack. A sales person at the bike shop can narrow your bike choices if they know more about your intended use.

Fit Is Everything

I can’t emphasize enough how important a properly fitted bicycle is. This will minimize discomfort and possibility for injury in the long run and maximize your enjoyment of the time spent in the saddle. In addition to what size bike you should be riding, figure out the proper seat height, reach to the handlebars, handlebar height relative to your saddle, etc. If you’re not sure what is ideal for you, consider getting a professional bike fit. Once you have these measurements, you will be able to look for used bikes knowledgeably and/or customize the fit of whatever bike you do get. A note regarding saddles: don’t get too hung up if the one on the bike you’re riding doesn’t feel right. You’ll likely end up replacing it (and every other saddle on every other bike you buy in the future) with “your” saddle…the one that’s just right for your butt.

Light. Strong. Cheap. Pick two.

How important is weight? How important is durability? What’s your budget? These three things are interrelated. Generally, the more you’re willing to spend the lighter your bike will be because it will be made with lighter material(s) and equipped with higher end components. Some might argue that these higher end components last longer too. Depending on your tolerance for replacing vs. fixing, you might consider Campagnolo parts over Shimano parts. Nick and I run Campy exclusively. It’s more expensive initially, but when something breaks, we spend $10 on an internal part and fix it, rather than spending $300+ to replace the entire part like you’d have to do with Shimano. All of these decisions come down to how much you’re willing to spend initially.

The Invisible Component – the Bike Shop.

The shop you buy from will probably be the one you take your bike to when you want it fixed. Element Cycles, for example, offers free tuneups for a year with the sale of their bikes. Whoever you buy from, you want to like the people, be able to get to the shop easily, and feel confident that you can get your bike worked on without waiting too long. Some shops have a 3-week waiting list for maintenance. No good if you want to use it the next weekend for an event.

Time for the Test Ride

No amount of bike buying advice from anyone – not me, not the shop sales rep, not your friends – can replace personal experience on the bike. You’re about to spend $1200 or more (yes, that much) on a single purchase, so take some time to ride a few bikes – at least one bike made out of aluminum, one out of steel, one out of carbon, and one out of titanium. You’ll get a feel for how each bike material feels and which one suits you the best. (With the exception of my mountain bike, every bike in our house is made of steel. We love how it feels. Others love the squish of titanium or the zip of aluminum.) Get your hands on a Campy shifter, a Shimano shifter, and a SRAM shifter. The size and shape alone may have you convinced you like one over the other.

Don’t be shy about taking bikes for a long test ride either. Use the first 10 minutes to get acquainted with the bike.  If the handlebar feels too high or the suspension too springy, ask for a fix. And make sure you know how to use the components. If you’re used to Shimano, say, ask for a SRAM tutorial. Then take it out for 30 minutes or so and put it through all the paces. Brake hard, brake slow, corner at different angles and speeds, descend, and climb.

Call Your Friends
Once you’ve done all of this, then and only then, should you seek the advice of your friends. We’re all well-meaning, but we only know what is right for us. Once you have some knowledge under your belt, you can take our advice with a grain of salt. Until then, buyer beware!

Good luck and happy cycling!

for sale 2

Photos by Richard Masoner and Dylan Pech, used with permission


Portland 3-day bike tour

Instead of heading to the mountains last weekend, Nick and I took off for a three-day, car-free adventure in Portland. We started with croissants and espresso – the breakfast of champions – before riding to Seattle to catch a train to Portland. We were super fortunate to stay overnight on Friday with two amazing women we connected with through and their sweet cat Thursday. They took us to see the fireworks and enjoyed pizza and salad with us for dinner.

On Saturday we headed out to LL “Stubb” Stuart State Park to camp out. The ride was only 40 miles, but we rolled in exhausted thanks to the heat. We felt much better after cool showers and even had enough energy to go to a ranger talk about skulls and fur! We poked around the fire pit with some other families before heading to bed.

I slept super soundly and woke 45 minutes later than we wanted to the next morning.

We jetted out of the park around 8:30 a.m., riding 3/4 of a mile down dirt paths to get back to the paved bike trail. The initial 10 miles of the ride was downhill and we completed it about half the time that we did the day before. The rest of the ride was a rolly-poly adventure through the blueberry and wheat fields that lie to the west of Portland. One huge, final climb at the end made way for a ripping descent into town. We finished with lunch at the Bridgeport Brewery before heading back to the train for the ride home.

Fun on the JWT – the final day

[This is the third installment in our three-day bike adventure on the John Wayne Trail. Day 1 and two are here and here, if you missed them.]

Monday morning came early. We didn’t set an alarm, but as soon as our eyes opened, we hustled out of bed, wolfed down our instant oatmeal and tea/coffee, and packed up the tent. Temperatures were supposed to top 90 degrees again today and we wanted to get most of our final day of riding done before lunch, if possible.

The John Wayne Trail is interrupted in Ellensburg by the town itself. To pick it up on the east side of town, we had to thread our way on city streets back to the fair grounds. Once there, we picked up the trail, which was actually more like an overflow parking lot for horse trailers going to the rodeo. We threaded our way through horse poop, sticky mud patches, potholes, and other obstacles hoping the trail would improve as we got out of town.

Once we were on the trail proper again, it was much like yesterday – deep gravel with two strips of barely rideable dirt down each side of the trail. And it was still straight.


 This is Washington’s cow country and each of the animals greeted us as we rode past.


I’d like to spin you a yarn about how fantastic it was to sail through desert sage lands to the mighty Columbia, but it was not to be. Not too far east of Ellensburg, we realized it had taken us an hour to cover a paltry 4 miles. What?! Why?

In a word – sand.

Horse hooves had pounded and pulverized the rail trail until it was nothing more than a strip of soft, soul-sucking hell. As we pedaled, our tires plowed four-inch trenches. We had to stop every ¼ mile or so to muster the courage to keep moving forward.

This is the point in the trip where the devil and the angel on our shoulders start arguing:

See that road over there? It parallels the trail. You could take it for just a few miles. It would feel so good!

No! You came here to ride. the. John. Wayne. Trail. not ride some of the John Wayne Trail. HTFU and endure your adventure already!

(I’ll leave you to decide which was the devil and which was the angel.)

We soldiered bravely on for another mile or so until we reached a turning point – a mandatory detour.


I can’t lie. I was absolutely thrilled that we would have to ride on the road for a bit. Just look at that smile!


Not too many miles later, we discovered the reason for the detour. The final railroad trestle over I-90 had no deck! We’ve been known to carry our bike around construction sites and go places we’ve been warned not to go. In retrospect, the detour seemed like a pretty good idea.



The final leg of our journey was another 15-17 miles of trail and then a few miles on road to get back to our car, which was parked behind the gas station in Vantage. After a short snack break, we headed back to the trail only to discover that we’d have to be very careful on this next section. We’d be travelling through army territory!


We wondered which speed limit applied to us and whether we would actually encounter any tactical vehicles.


Sadly, once we were back on the trail, we found it to be in just as bad a shape as the previous section. We stared, disappointed, down the long stretch of sand. In the distance a woman, walking her dog, approached us. We rode up and down a 100′ or so of trail, and waited for her arrival.

“So, do you know anything about the condition of the trail between here and the Columbia? Is it all sandy like this?” I asked.

“Well, I only went about a mile, but my husband says its pretty chewed up by horses at this time of year. It’s better riding in spring when the winter rains have packed it all down,” She responded.

We sat on our top tubes for a few minutes digesting our disappointment at not wanting to finish the trail with that much suck. We looked at a map. We sighed. In the end we struck a compromise: We’ll ride the old Vantage highway back into town today and come back to finish this section of the trail in the spring.

And let me tell you … it was awesome! Smooth blacktop, beautiful scenery, lots and lots of downhill, oh yeah!






The final verdict on the trip? All-in-all it was pretty good – scenic, informative, and just hard enough to make me look like a genuine Rapha Continental model at the end of photo shoot.


Dave Derrig liked this post