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.