Friday, March 29, 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
-Alexander Pope

Temporary rivers found in almost every field

I do believe the entire Midwest was hoping for the winter to break.  All of this energy, focused on one thing, may have done the trick.  For the first day, in over a month, we hit our "average" high.  49 degrees never felt so damn good.  My booties, winter mitts and amphi tights were shed--replaced with light weight tights, thin gloves and just a synthetic long sleeve on top.  No hat, no ear band.  I could actually feel the sun on my skin.  The arrival of spring has never been more welcomed.

A few of my friends and I biked to go see this great grey owl
With this change of seasons comes a change in me.  A stirring, or giddiness if you will.  My youth has bubbled up, not unlike the ground water flowing everywhere right now, and I want to play.  Everything seems more pleasurable--music, food and yes, biking.  I can only hope this excitement for life has taken hold of you as well.  Until I find myself indoors again writing, enjoy some spring scenes from Wisconsin.

Mother Nature's bike rack

Sunday, March 24, 2013


"You need not wrestle for your good.  Your good flows to you most easily when you are relaxed, open and trusting."
-Alan Cohen

Passage of spring.  My friend, Donna, with the "kids"

It's March 24th.  I'm sitting here in Madison, Wisconsin, gazing out the window, and watching more white stuff fall from the sky.  We all joke here, that around March Madness we should expect snow to fly.  The only problem is that hardly any of the snow has melted from the previous month, so there are piles of it remaining as far as the eye can see.  We are, what it feels like, stuck in a permanent winter--a Doctor Zhivago scene if you will.

A few weeks ago, when I allowed the memories of last year's warmth to kiss my brain, I became quite sad.  I was tired of layering up--a process that eats away at valuable biking time.  I was tired of only seeing grey and white.  I was tired of not feeling the sun's rays grace my skin--except for my nose and eyelids.  I mourned for, what appeared to be, a loss of spring.  

Me and the birthday girl

I won't say I'm pleased with what I'm seeing out my window this morning, however, I will say, I'm no longer angry or sad about it either.  There comes a point when fighting takes too much energy and one must either wither away or settle in for the long haul.  The funny thing about this is that so often, when I choose to relax a bit, things begin to change...and often for the good.  Looking at the extended forecast, spring may actually visit us soon.  The snow will melt, if given enough time, and my glow-in-the-dark white skin will someday have cycling tan lines again.

During this "letting go" process, a few beautiful things have happened.  First, I got to celebrate one of my closest friend's birthday with a wonderful group of people.  She was determined not to let this weather hiccup stop the festivities.  Second, I've toughened up mentally and have gotten out on some medium length road rides in cold temperatures--something I've shied away from in the past.  My favorite so far, now being an annual ride out to a friend's farm, to see their two week old baby goats.  Nothing in the world can make me soften more quickly than being around animals.  I have no clue why they have such a strong power over me...I just know I turn into a giggling child whenever they are near.

So today, while I wait patiently for the mercury to creep up, and the sun to break through the clouds, I will focus on those magical little moments and hope more come soon.

Bowling alleys are a great place to become a kid again!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Winter of Discontent

Now is the winter of our discontent,
made glorious summer by this sun of York
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried

Taken from a ride this Saturday
These are Shakespeare's opening lines from Richard III.  Often mistaken for being depressing, the lines actually refer to a turning of the tide--a light at the end of the tunnel if you will.

The phrase "winter of discontent" has two strongholds on me at this moment.  First, as I write this post, I am supposed to be biking/eating/drinking in Majorca, Spain.  It was, however, not meant to be.  I won't go into the ridiculous details, except to say American Airlines is now on my shitlist.  But I digress.  The winter of 1838-1839 found Fredric Chopin and his lover George Sand living in Valldemossa, Majorca--nearby the town I would have been staying--in the Carthusian monastery.  They called their time spent there the "winter of discontent" due to not connecting with the locals and the damp, cold weather.  George Sand went on to write A Winter in Majorca afterwards.  I, however, was hoping to find contentedness in Majorca as well as a much needed reprieve from a never ending Wisconsin winter (the high temperatures this week will be in the twenties--twenty degrees below normal).

The other stronghold goes back to the Shakespeare verse.  Coming back from the airport, with my head hanging low and my pilot light extinguished, I found myself completely defeated.  The nasty grip of depression settled right into my body, mind and soul with no signs of loosening--not unlike the cold, dreary days in Madison right now.  Only one other time in my life did I feel this low.

After "checking out" for several days, my loving friends decided enough was enough.  A rope was thrust into my hands, and pulling me from the pit resumed.  Although I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel at the time, I did realize how lucky I was/am.  I have to thank Martha for her ideas and excursion to the River Alliance film festival where I got to see this fantastic short film, Nathan for great beer mixed with Archer and dub step, Stephen for his calm presence and a kick-ass cycling video which inspired me to get out and ride and Michael for just understanding as well as a hug.  So it is my friends that made the verse ring true.

This was taken last year on St.Patricks day...notice the difference?

Trying to extinguish thoughts of Spain, yesterday found me on my first road ride of the season--aside from commuting and urban spinning.  I'll be honest, the weather was crap.  32 degrees, windy and cloudy with a few flurries.  Last year I already had cyclist tan lines by this time.  I didn't want to ride but two looming gravel events this spring forced me to get out.  As I approached a large hill at the half way point, I was treated to a heard of roughly twenty-five deer crossing my path.  Shortly after, a flock of sand hill cranes flew above me.  My feet were numb, I was already stiff and tired, however, a smile graced my face.  There is a reason for everything.  And for now, I am keeping my eyes pried open in hopes to see the reasons I am here...and not there.

Me and Martha heading out on an urban ride--notice our green bikes for St. Patricks day!

Nearing the end of my first road ride of the season on my "new" gravel steed

“And now that we have returned to the desultory life of the plain, let us endeavor to import a little of that mountain grandeur into it. We will remember within what walls we lie, and understand that this level life too has its summit, and why from the mountain-top the deepest valleys have a tinge of blue; that there is elevation in every hour, as no part of the earth is so low that the heavens may not be seen from, and we have only to stand on the summit of our hour to command an uninterrupted horizon.” 

-Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I'm not there...or here

Dear reader, I am currently finding myself shackled in a state of limbo due to a string of recent events.  Food no longer tastes good, my attention span is too short to read books and for only the second time in my life, two wheels will not bring me solace.  It is for that reason, I will be taking an undetermined break from blogging.  My hope is that this too shall pass.  Until then, thank you for your patience!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Stray Cat Strut

The Sasha in green
Photo by Travis Youman

Travis Youman
A year and a half ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Travis Youman.  I was at the Brink lounge in Madison for a Madison Bike Winter planning meeting and this guy sits next to me and proceeds to complement my "Dean Martin" style Nutcase helmet.  Being the first guy to ever complement me on my accessories, I had to chuckle.  I quickly noticed his "British flag" Nutcase helmet.  And that was that.  We've been friends ever since.

Travis and Shannon with their Christmas lights
If you live in Madison, you've seen either Travis, or his wife Shannon--even if you haven't realized it.  Their  Stray Cat Sashas are lit up with Christmas lights and wherever they go, clapping, cheers and whistles follow.  Travis has this thing for lighting.  He's borderline obsessed with bike lights and other accessories.  This isn't a bad thing.  If you need lights, he's the person to hit up.  If you need a classic, clean, affordable,  single speed commuter--he's your man for that too!  What he does, he does well.  One bike.  Two color choices.  One speed.  One low price.

Where in a previous post I talked about Nick Ginster from Fyxation knowing the Taiwanese market, Travis knows the Chinese market like the back of his hand.  I have no clue how he comes up with all the information he has.  It's not my place to know.  I'm just smart enough to go to him for answers.  Looking for answers?  Check out his blog!

Travis is not just your average "bike geek".  He's also an amazing advocate for urban riders.  He's at many of the city meetings, plays a role in Madison Bike Winter and volunteers at several of the city and Wisconsin Bike Fed events.  His motto is "May Use Full Lane" and is trying to get the city to put these signs up on more streets.  As a bike fed board member, I am so happy we have people like Travis working for the daily commuters.  I am happier still, I get to call him a friend.

Travis working Ride the Drive 2012

Our steeds for RW24 2012--Aaron's Sasha is on the right

Aaron Crandall coming in from his RW24 lap on his Sasha while Dan Hobson heads out

You know the drill.  I ask people questions.  Travis couldn't outrun me so here it goes...

1) What's in your stable right now?

Whoa, talk about an open-ended question.  My current stable:
Sasha (gray), bone-stock (freewheel) except for 25mm tires instead of the 23mm that comes on it.
Sasha (green), fixed, no rear brake with an FSA Metropolis handlebar.
2008 Trek Madone road bike
2007 Iron Horse MkIII (you'll have to pry this out of my cold dead hands before I give it up)
Prototype Stray Cat CX bike (sorta)
Custom 2005 IH Chimpira freeride hardtail (overkill for Madison, haven't ridden it in a while)
Iron Horse Sunday downhill bike (it lives with my parents back East where there are more places to ride it)
1999 Marin Treviso (replaced by the Madone, but can't bear to get rid of it)
~12lb Reynolds 853 brakeless fixie that was the impetus for Stray Cat Bicycles

2) What is one of your fondest bike memories?

The "Pick me up at the border" ride: ~90 miles from Madison to the Illinois border and back, starting at midnight and ending up back at the capitol square about 8 hours (and ~5 beers) later.  It combined everything I love about bikes, utility, fun, friends, beer and the ability to see the world like you've never seen it before.

*I had the pleasure of doing PMUATB with Travis--one of the best birthdays I can remember!

Travis (farthest to the right), Nathan Vergin and one of the
ride organizers at the end of Pick Me Up At The Border

3) How long have you been involved in the bicycle industry and how did it all start?
If you believe it, it all started on a North East bike forum.  I was working a corporate job I hated, but spending all of my time (and money) figuring out parts for my own bikes, and those of friends.  I posted something prescient about exchange rates and how certain parts were going to be getting more expensive over the next year, and it was picked up by another member who was a Product Manager for Iron Horse at the time.  They were expanding rapidly at the time, and apparently I sounded smart enough to warrant an interview.  I started as an Assistant PM, but they were growing so within a few years I had my own categories, including Tommaso road bikes, Iron Horse road bikes and bicycles under the Columbia Sportswear brand. 

4) You always seem to keep up with changes in the bike industry--especially with accessories--where do you see the industry going in five years?
I see the "industry" desperately trying to break out of it's niche status as an activity to become a more common form of transportation.  Up till now bicycle development, and the marketing dollars that go with it, has been focused on the activity of cycling - road biking, mtn biking, cycling for exercise (hybrid, comfort bikes, cruisers) and so on.  Using a bicycle as transportation is probably the fastest growing aspect of cycling, whether it's cargo bikes like the Big Dummy, lightweight single speeds or full-on Dutch bikes.  All are growing based on what people's needs are, and you're starting to see more resources devoted to both the development and marketing these bikes.

That goes doubly so for accessories and clothing, as manufacturers are realizing that not everyone wants to go out in full Lycra with more logos than a race car.  People need clothing that's both technical (not cotton, breathes well, stretches in all the right places, etc) *and* "normal looking".  If you're riding less than ~5 miles you don't need technical clothing at all.  If you're riding 20+ miles, you're probably going to be wearing full-on road cycling gear.  Everything in between is a crapshoot based on what the weather is like, what type a person you are, if you break a sweat just watching someone else ride a bike, and so on.  This goes for all aspects of "utilitarian cycling" whether it's clothes, lights, footwear, bags and especially helmets.  The most popular helmet in this category is actually Nutcase helmets, who took a relatively boring (and hot) skateboard helmet and started putting fashionable graphics and colors on it. 

The biggest impediments to this are the bicycle UNfriendly parts of the country.  I grew up in an area of the country (Westchester, NY) where it was impossible to ride a bike on the roads.  The topography and infrastructure (roads cut into the side of rolling hills with no shoulder, no bike lanes, and no sidewalks) made it suicidal to try to get anywhere by bicycle.  Later I lived on Long Island where it was almost as bad.  The topography was better (flat), but it was overcrowded with cars doing 10-15mph over the speed limit and no space left for dedicated bike lanes.  It was such an unfriendly environment that even though it was a bicycle company, I was one of the only people to (occasionally) ride to work. 

5) You are heavily involved in bicycle advocacy, what changes do you feel need to be made to get more people out riding?

Infrastructure.  Period.  I'll ride in the center of the right lane (as per WI state's DOT recommendations) on a 4-lane road like Monona Drive while traffic is going by, but very few "non-hardcore cyclists" will do it.  Bike lanes are good, but there are so many more great projects coming out of the planning boards these days.  The segregated bike lanes are a vast improvement, as are attempts to separate pedestrians (3mph) from cyclists (15mph) from motor vehicle traffic (30mph).  Bicycle "superhighways" are building on all that we know about successful bike paths (flat, separated from traffic and pedestrians, few intersections, and connect where people come from and where they're going) and taking it to the next level by combining all of that into a real bicycle network.  All of this helps people that wouldn't ordinarily use a bike for transportation to do so.

Second is normalcy.  If you see one person out braving the elements to ride somewhere, you assume he or she's just crazy.  If you pass 2 dozen people out riding on your commute, 10 bikes parked outside the local restaurant you're going to, and 1/4 of the people at your office commuting by bike, suddenly it becomes "normal" and people are more likely to give it a try.  Every time people see you out riding, it's another step towards reaching that point for them.

6) Which cities do you feel have "nailed it" for the bike community and why?
Honestly?  None.  Smaller cities like Madison, Boulder and Portland were able to take advantage of their spacious layout to put in bicycle infrastructure, but it was all low-hanging fruit.  They never prioritized bikes, only worked to include them in the overall planning.  Adding bike lanes when you're resurfacing a road is a relatively (politically) safe and innocuous idea.  Recently larger cities such as New York and Chicago seem to be taking the initiative, making the hard choices and doing things such as reducing lanes, eliminating parking or installing segregated bicycle lanes (cycle tracks).  London's Boris Johnson just put out a 30+ page document detailing exactly the outcomes that he wants to achieve, and what he's willing to do to make it happen.  These larger cities started at a worse point, but they're putting forward the idea that bicycle planning actually might have priority over cars.  Whether that continues to fruition is yet to be seen.

7) What's next for you?
Not sure.  We're looking at a few options, including the possibility of a physical "shop" where we only sell our bicycles.  When we formulated the business plan (3 years ago) we anticipated the majority of our sales being internet sales.  Today the truth is we're selling *far* more bicycles locally, and it's allowed us to build up a local presence before trying to branch out.  We still don't think that the traditional LBS model is the way to go; the markup from the factory to the end user is far higher than in other categories such as electronics, even higher-margin brands like Apple.  Having a small storefront or retail location would enable us to get our bikes in front of far more people here in Madison, and still avoid built-in costs like shipping, additional warehousing, and various profit margins built in.

That's one of the great things about being a small company, plans can change at any moment (and often do).

Sadly, or not so sadly, this is one of my favorite t-shirts--and it's from Stray Cat Bicycles!
Photo by Travis Youman

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


With another snowstorm hitting Wisconsin, I'll just say "I'm really ready for Spring".  Yep.  That's all I've got.