Friday, June 8, 2012

Mission: Accomplished

It's safe to say that once you get to a point where your idols are younger than you are, you are apt to stop writing them fan mail and stalking them from your computer. Having said that however, I've come so close so many times to crossing paths with the one and only Gary Fisher, that I can't help but to keep an ear to the ground and still hope for the chance to meet him. I bought my first Fisher bike in 1994 when I was living in Oregon. That was when I started mountain biking with my mountain bike instead of just commuting as I had been doing with my old mountain bike. I loved that bike and was enthralled with the legend behind the mountain bike itself as well as the man who's credited with its' invention. Gary Fisher and his pals tore up a motorcycle, a ten-speed, and a cruiser and pretty soon...viola...the mountain bike was born. If you've ever heard Gary talk about cycling it doesn't take but a moment to realize 'this is a man passionate about this subject.' I think anyone who's a protegee in their field probably sounds like that. The kind of people who when 'thier' subject is brought up, you just stand back and listen to them go. I love being around that type of person. Even if they're talking about tires, you can't help but pick up on, and be inspired by that energy.
Back in 2005, I was at the Wheel & Sprocket bike expo buying a newer version of my old '94 HKEK  (Hoo-Koo-E-Koo is the Native name for the mountain range where Gary and company first rode  their mountain bikes). When I was checking out with my new bike, the clerk laughed and said, "You should have been here yesterday. Gary Fisher was here signing bikes." So close.... The next few years he was at the show, but for 'members only' type functions.
Fast forward to two riding seasons ago when I met and got to ride with former Elite Pro team Trek/Fisher rider Jesse Lalonde. He was pals with the guy known as 'the fish' and talked about Gary's fondness of Wisconsin. Especially the liberal Madison area. He assured me the next time the Fish came to town, he's give me a call. There were a couple close calls, but over the course of the next year, it still hadn't happened. I had even gone as far as finding a great print on ebay that I had acquired and put aside specifically for Gary to sign. Last spring I was unemployed and signed up to work at the Wheel & Sprocket bike expo as a salesman. That was the same year that the Trek and the Gary Fisher brands merged so the Fisher bikes were now just a line of Trek bikes. So it came as no surprise when there was no Gary sighting at the show. I did have a great time working the expo anyway and decided to do it again this spring. So on Easter weekend I spread myself very thin and hauled ass to Milwaukee to work for five hours every evening after putting in an eight-hour day at my regular job. I was only able to work three out of the five days, but if was still fun and I've gotten pretty good and matching up bikes and people. On Friday evening, I was finishing up a sale when a voice from the lecture area caught my attention. Only one person could sound that excited to be talking about dirt. The Fish was in the house! I stood outside the little tent for a while and listened to him talk. I was mere feet from the man himself. I had no camera, no paper, and I certainly didn't have my ebay print. When his talk was over, I stood in line with a half dozen or so riding disciples who truly understood we were in the presence of greatness. I talked for a few moments, trying not to gush. He is an amazing man to talk to. I jokingly told him about our 'close calls' as well as my beloved print that was some 60 miles away sitting on my desk. He laughed and said, "Don't sweat it. I'm here tomorrow, too." The next morning, I left even earlier than usual so I could stop and buy a new Sharpie. I had carefully packed my poster and an old Fisher Bikes catalog for him to sign. I went through my shift selling my bikes but never straying too far from the seminar tent. I heard when he started to speak and kept one eye on the time as I glided through more sales. When I heard clapping from the tent I waited for a few minutes to let the masses say hello. When I got to the tent it was completely empty. And I mean completely. Gary was gone! I asked the security guy by the door where the hell Gary went. He responded that Gary had a plane to catch and couldn't stick around. I started to panic. There was no way I could get this close and not see him again. I scanned the enormous hall for the Fish. He was a hundred yards away. Almost to the doors outside. I grabbed my mementos and ran through the expo hall. I caught up with him as he was saying good-bye to the Trek reps. He said he only had a moment, but took the pen from me willingly. He commented on the rare poster I had found and said I'd like the new version of it (if I could find it). We shook hands one more time and he was gone. Off to catch a flight back to the Bay area where he calls home. The next day was Easter and I'm sure he was eager to get back. I carefully rolled the poster back up and carefully slid it back into my backpack under the table of the DNR's booth. I retrieved my clipboard from where I had dumped it and returned to the sales floor. I had more bikes to sell. But for today, my mission was accomplished. I had met the one they call the Fish.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Single-Speed Lifestyle

Since Zooey (our two-year-old Blue Heeler) came into my life, cycling has really taken a back seat to walking and hiking. But as the spring has been warming up, I've been getting back in the saddle to speak. I started riding to work as soon as the thermometer started to reach the 50s on a consistent basis. Recently I've been riding more often than driving. That, I am pretty proud of. I knew if cycling to work was going to become a routine for me, I was going to have to keep it simple. No special high maintenance outfits or gear. I'd ride to work in my work clothes and carry only my lunch, wallet, lock and iPod. To keep in the spirit of  'keeping it simple', I chose to ride my Organic Bikes Dylan. A single-speed who's frame is made from recycled aluminum and bamboo. Yes, I ride a wooden bike to work. I haven't ridden a single-speed since I was learning how to ride a bike some forty years ago. I was actually a little reluctant to embrace this emerging fad. It took bikes all these years to evolve into this machines/works-of-art that they are now: 30-speeds, carbon fiber, disc brakes, full suspension..... Why continue to develop all these upgrades when the masses are returning to their roots? It wasn't a fad I was in a hurry to embrace. The Dylan sort of fell into my lap. The concept of an organic bike was what drew me in. Choosing a single-speed just seemed the natural choice of model if you're going to ride a bamboo bicycle. It's been several weeks of consistently riding to work and I'm still feeling for a groove. Riding a bike with only one gear is a lesson in life. There is no hurrying on a single-speed. These is no down-shifting to make a hill easier. There is no speeding up or slowing down your natural cadence. Just as in life, its not you that sets the pace. In this case, its the bike. That is something that takes a measure of acceptance to get used to. I have a computer on all my bikes. Putting one on this bike is either going to teach me to relax or drive me insane! I know my cadence wants to push the pedals to the tune of about 15mph. Going down a hill with the wind at my back, the Dylan will barely push 13pmh!  Little by little, I'm accepting what we can and can't do together, Dylan and I. I know we have to leave by a certain time because there is no such thing as rushing a single-speed's commute. I know I have to bring a water bottle or my pant leg will get snagged on the empty bamboo water bottle cage. I know when I leave work, getting up that long winding hill out of the parking lot is going to make my heart pound even before the access road meets up with Erie avenue and continues uphill for another block. All in all, I feel me as a commuter is growing. I've accepted certain aspects of cycling I took for granted before. Riding a single-speed is freeing in that is allows you so few choices. There's only one way of getting from point A to point B: Dylan's way. And get there, you will. And if I embrace this method of transit, I stand to arrive at point B a more zen rider than those burdening themselves with all the choices of options on their more elaborate machines. Don't get me wrong; there's a time and place for a multitude of gears and long-travel shocks, but 'on the way to work' is not one of them. Today on my way home I started pondering a single-speed mountain bike. Without having to worry about the lame conditions of our roadways, I could achieve a whole new level of zen.