Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pugsley presence

Date: Jan. 11
Mileage: 48.8
January mileage: 286.6
Hours: 5:00
Temperature upon departure: 26
Precipitation: .58"

When I first attached enough parts to my Pugsley to enable its mobility beyond my back yard, I thought for sure the sight of my obese clown bike would garner a lot of attention. I thought people would be stopping me on the streets ("Excuse me, but I think your bike's wheels are about to explode ...") Surprisingly, the early reactions to Pugsley were few and far between (and most of them involved some variation of "does that thing have studs?") I became comfortable with the idea that Pugsley did not in fact look all that strange to the indiscriminate eye, and relished in my cycling anonymity.

For some reason, that all changed recently. Suddenly, I've become this crazy bike lady that people recognize and feel compelled to question. If I ride out to the lake on a semi-nice day, I almost have to put on an extra base layer so I can stay warm during all the time I'm stopped, talking to people about my bike. Fat bikes are common in Anchorage, but not so much in Juneau. Slednecks like to give me incredulous looks. Hikers seem most concerned with the weight behind Pugsley's obvious girth. Nordic skiers, especially on the lake, usually ask the omnipresent stud question (which sometimes I feel compelled to answer with "I don't know. Do those skis have studs?") Skate skiers like to chase me, ambling as I am at 10 mph, but I still can usually stay ahead.

The only meetings where silence largely remains are the rare occasions in which I pass or am passed by other cyclists. Most are commuters, many on their own Frankenbike creations, and I think they in general respect the notion that if it has two wheels and moves forward, there's no reason to question its credentials. But even that changed yesteday.

I was returning from my second long ride of the weekend (well, five hours. I was satisfied), when a bicycle commuter merged onto the bike lane in front of me. Conditions were similar to the day before: a sheet of glare ice left over from earlier rain, covered in an inch or so of stirred-up snow. He had these skinny, skinny tires that appeared from the faint glare of my headlight to have studs, but it was hard to know for sure. We split off the bike lane near Fred Meyer and I forged ahead on the road shoulder. It was in even worse shape than the bike path, with churned up, sandy snow strewn in uneven piles. About a half mile later, he passed me again.

"Nice bike," he said. "What's the deal with those tires?"

"They're good in snow," I answered.

"Huh," he said. He didn't sound convinced. "Looks a little too big."

"Yeah. They're big."

"Are the tires studded?"


He shook his head. "That's not very safe."

I just raised my eyebrows. Not safe? Said the guy on the 1-inch roadie tires as he tried to plow through uneven sandy snow. Now, I know those skinny tires are better at slicing down to the pavement. But what happens that one time that they don't? Sounds like a wash-out waiting to happen if you ask me.

"It's mainly for trail riding," I said. "But the wide tires don't do too bad on ice."

"Well," he said, "you should think about getting some studded tires if you're going to ride on the road."

With that he started to pass me, and I let him go. I didn't really want to chase him after putting 14 hours of riding/pushing on my legs that weekend, and justified the decision by telling myself I didn't stand a chance against skinny tires on the stupid road, anyway. And with that, our snow bike argument ended like so many Polaris/Yamaha discussions do: Each of us convinced of our vehicle's superiority.

I spent several miles yesterday pedaling alongside Geoff as he ran with his 30-pound sled. He has a pretty good post up about the sled's inner workings. I'm pretty sure Geoff has put more time and effort into building his sled than we did with my Pugsley. It's funny that he, as a winter runner, has to deal with nearly as much equipment as I do as a winter cyclist.

Also yesterday, I caught another glimpse of Romeo the wolf. He was making advances on a golden retriever that seemed downright terrified of him, and cowered behind its two skiing owners as they gawked at the big black interloper. The wolf didn't seem to want to have anything to do with the people, so he kept a good distance. But he did make several friendly-seeming gestures: bowing down in the snow with his tail up in the air, and rolling on his side. Still the dog cowered, and eventually Romeo slinked away to the shelter of the moraine. I couldn't help but feel my heart fall at Romeo's rejection by the golden retriever. It really does seem that Romeo is just a lonely wolf. That he's become half-domesticated in his search for a family is the true tragedy.


  1. Jill,

    This story about Romeo the wolf trying to make friends made me cry. I am sure my dog Niko would play with him!


  2. Your story of the skinny-tired jackass is yet another example of the grating irritation associated with the word "should".

  3. I tried studded tires one season in Squarebanks, both narrow and WIDE. Didn't matter on the ice, you could slide and fall just as quickly with studs. But on trails... studded tires are useless. Wide tires at low pressure seemed to me to just as good on the ice as studded. I also tried chains (yes, they do make em): useless on ice, ok on hardpack, and dismal on trails!

    It's much more about your riding ability on the ice than about having false confidence by sanctimoniously having studded tires.

    I'll bet that guy would probably try to give a pro rider advice on how to ride Paris-Roubaix!

  4. I agree with Jill. I hope and pray that Romeo will fare well and eventually find a family or companion. Thanks again for your wonderful writing and photos.
    I also feel for the commuter with the skinny tires. On second thought, maybe not.

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  5. I feel for the commuter, since it's obvious his arrogance will sonn have him flat on his ass. Never underestimate your enemy, especially ii it's shiny and thin. Much luck with the continued training. Steve

  6. I constantly find the opposite when it comes to the recognition of the Pugsley as an oddity. Just today I passed two snowmobile riders at a trail junction. As I go by one yells out to the other, "Look at those huge snow tires". Later I passed an old bearded guy walking a dog. After I had already passed by and he had gotten a good look at the bike he yelled out to me, "Nice bike!". And one other woman walking along the trail commented on my fat tires (I hope she was referring to the bike tires). I've never ridden a bicycle that has gotten as many comments as the Pugsley. I'm surprised to hear you don't get that many comments.

  7. That section about the wolf is beautiful. Maybe you could teach him to eat over opinionated roadies.

  8. If you are a skier, and you are not too familiar with snow mountain biking, asking about studs is actually a fairly normal question. Snow cars have studs...I don't see why that question is so offensive? Why the hatred of skiers? If it's because of the lack of permission to ride on nordic trails...well, nordic skiers probably started the areas, put in the sweat equity to make 'em good and pay a chunk of change for the grooming. Seems like they might have the right to say who uses 'em, since they pay for 'em, both with work and with $$$.

  9. Um ... I didn't mean to single out skiers. I get asked the question about studs by a lot of people. A lot of people. Hikers ... dog walkers ... people in cars. The reason it's started to annoy me is because people usually ask it in a way as to imply I'm an idiot for riding without studs. Sometimes they come right out and say it.

    Do I really come off as someone who hates skiers? If so, I'm sorry. I have every respect for skiers. I admit I'm not fond of the activity myself, but I still think the joy of skiing may reach me in time. I never ride on groomed Nordic trails. Sometimes I wish I could when conditions are really soft or slushy elsewhere, but I don't because I respect the rules. There are only two groomed trails in Juneau anyway. One of them is on private property and Nordic skiers pay an annual fee to use the area, so that is off limits for sure. The other is a very short loop (about 2 kms) at a public campground. I would probably never bother to ride there anyway because there are so many great hiking trails nearby. So I'm not exactly sure where in my blog I come off as being pissed I can't ride at the Nordic areas. Maybe you could enlighten me.


    It's OK - it's your blog. I don't have to read it. You've never said anything about riding on trails so far as I remember. I agree with you on 99% of what you write...just this one sticking point we disagree on. That's OK - I love Abbey but there are some things I'd definitely take him to task about...litter on the side of the highway with beer cans for starters. Readers don't have to agree 100% with everything you write to still be inspired by you.

    Hope you don't mind a little ribbing on my site. All in good fun

  11. Oh yes, the Nordic Nazi.

    I did take some heat for that one. I probably deserved it. I still think that guy was an assclown. Ask the two avid skier friends that I was with (and that day, I was a skier myself), and I assure you they would agree with me. But I admit that I did, in that post, direct some of what offended me about one person toward skiers as a general group. That was wrong. I'm not a bigot, so I shouldn't rant like one. There's also the issue that I still had a little lingering hostility from my experience in Homer, where the ski club basically monopolized every trail in the area. It was a paradise if you were a skier. But there were no ungroomed tracks left where a person could hike or ride a bike on trails in the winter. That's definitely not the case here in Juneau.

  12. Has there been any effort to relocate Romeo or introduce him to another pack (I assume that would be very difficult because he is a male)? I live in Chicago and don’t know much about that stuff so sorry if I sound naive. It makes me sad to think that humans had a part in Romeo's current situation. errrr! Anyways, thank you for the story and I’m glad that NPR did the segment.



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