Friday, March 14, 2008

My bicycle history

Date: March 13 and 14
Mileage: 22.5 and 31.5
March mileage: 102.5
Temperature: 37 and 35

I dragged out my road bike today - first ride of the year. With an inch of new snow on the ground and temperatures in the mid-30s, it was a risky move. But after taking Pugsley to a few nearby trails yesterday and finding nothing but slush and mud, even a potentially icy road seemed more appealing.

As I hoisted the bicycle out of the basement and up two flights of stairs, I couldn't believe how light it felt. The reality of my road bike is it weighs about 25 or 26 pounds; it is unforgivably heavy for a road bike. But after five months on my fat bikes, it felt like a featherweight. I clipped into my pedals - so strange to feel so trapped. I coasted down the road, hitting 10 mph without even pedaling. When I finally fired my war-worn muscles into the effort, I shot up to 16 mph, 17, 18 ... By the time I crested the hill out of Douglas, spinning hard but well below a dead sprint, I moved beyond 20 mph - speeds my Pugsley rarely sees even on a solid downhill. I can understand why people get so fired up about road biking. It's a good workout, and it's so darn easy.

But today as I pedaled along and thought about the reality of trying to use my road bike for anything serious - say, a 400-mile highway race - it became more and more apparent that I'm not completely happy with my set-up. I'm not surprised. I've had this bike since 2004, and it's been amazingly versatile and reliable for what it is. But it is what it is - a four-year-old, $599 retail, flat-bar "light touring" Ibex Corrida. And I fear I may have outgrown it.

Yesterday an anonymous commenter, probably one of my former roommates in Salt Lake City (Curt?) pointed out how far I've come since my bicycle beginnings, in 2002, when my cycling outings consisted of "tenuously pedaling along through the Avenues, periodically falling over for lack of any sustained biking ability." It's completely true. Six years ago this spring, Geoff and I decided we wanted to prepare for a two-week bicycle tour of Southern Utah. I had only ridden a bicycle a handful of times in the past decade. I borrowed Geoff's rigid mountain bike, which he admitted was probably worth about $20. I had to have him show me how to shift the gears and work the brakes. I had to have him expain to me what the gear shifting accomplished. I felt so wobbly and uncertain on his bike that I would occasionally tip over, on city streets, for no reason. If one of the tires went flat, I would walk to the nearest phone for a rescue call or appeal to passing cyclists to bail me out. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday throughout the summer of 2002, I would head out after work to try and gain more cycling experience ahead of our fall bike tour. I refused to let my roommates call it training. I called it "practicing."

As we neared our planned tour, I decided it was time to buy my own bicycle. I purchased from eBay a 2002 Ibex Corrida and paid $300. I considered that a fortune. After the bike came in the mail, I somehow managed to put it together myself, with the exception of somehow getting the derailleur caught in the spokes. Ibex sent me a new derailleur. I went on to put nearly 8,000 miles on that bike, including a 3,200-mile tour across America, before I traded up for a newer model of the same bike in 2004. I realized that since 2002, I have purchased a new bicycle every year. The progression fits in nicely with my growth as a cyclist:

2003: Geoff talks me into purchasing a mountain bike, so I grudgingly peruse eBay and pay $250 for a Trek 6500. The first ride we do is a winter ride on the singletrack of Stansbury Island - steep, exposed and covered in patches of ice. The ride hardens my convictions that I do, in fact, hate mountain biking. This bike would have remained mostly unused throughout my ownership of it had I not dragged it up to Alaska during my road trip in summer 2003, where I rode it to transport myself around towns and train for my upcoming cross-country bicycle tour.

2004: Through my first blog, Ibex catches wind of my big bike trip and my potential to write semi-decent ad copy. The company offers to upgrade my now-well-worn Corrida in exchange for updating their Web site. I spend 60 to 70 hours on the project, and in the end have to revise and rewrite most of it. But a 2004 Ibex Corrida shows up at my door as promised. My friends tease me for getting a "free" bike. The first ride I take it on is the Salt Lake Century.

2005: My $250 Trek 6500 is by now falling apart, but I'm still convinced I'm not a mountain biker. Still, Geoff has strong powers of purchasing persuasion and finds a great eBay deal for me on a women's specific Gary Fisher Sugar. "You'll ride so much better with full suspension," he tells me. I grudgingly shell out $800 for the bike, which I find completely ridiculous. The nearly new bike spends most of the summer sitting in my Idaho Falls apartment. It doesn't start to see any serious mileage until I move up to Homer, Alaska, and inexplicably latch on to the idea of snow biking. And yes, I do find poetic justice in the fact I spent my whole life in the mountain-biking mecca of Utah and never caught on until I moved to Alaska, where, were it not for snow biking and the Kenai Peninsula, mountain biking would essentially not exist.

2006: It becomes more obvious to me that Gary Fisher did not intend the Sugar to be used as a snow bike, and I set out to build a faux fat bike with a used Raleigh mountain bike frame, a pair of SnowCat rims, 2.7" Timberwolf tires with the tread shaved off and a bunch of random eBay parts. I call it "Snaux Bike" and ride it aggressively all season, culminating in the Susitna 100 that shredded my right knee. I sour a bit to the bike after that - not that my injury was the bike's fault, but all that time off did enlighten me to the fact that bike was not enough for everything I wanted to do.

2007: I finally accept my destiny and set out to build a fat bike, which began with an impulse purchase of built wheels and tires in July. I spend almost as much for said wheels ($430) as I did for my first two bicycles combined. I no longer consider this ridiculous. I go on to mull several frame options before purchasing a Surly Pugsley frame and fork and moving on from there, mostly with old Snaux Bike scraps and a few online bargain parts to complete a fairly low-end but perfectly functional (and, in my opinion now, completely bomber) Pugsley.

2008: The best part of this timeline is it further justifies my need to get a new bike this year as well ... but only one. As much as I'd love a new road bike, I feel like a more immediate need is to retire my poor Sugar and pick up a new bomb-proof steel 29er, possibly a Karate Monkey just like Geoff's. Time will tell.


  1. get a Karate Monkey and two pairs of wheels--one with knobbies and one with slicks...

  2. Jill thanks for the timeline. I am anxious to get my first real mountain bike for when we move to Juneau. But had no idea where to start. Obviously a huge $2500 bike would be a dream, but as a teacher than ain't happening. Just like you did we all have to start somewhere.

  3. Since this is the only way to get ahold of you, I have no choice but to post this here... :-)

    It's true you write well, in fact, I copied and pasted your updates on your race and made a little book that I read to my wife and kids. But this isn't my reason for trying to get ahold of you.

    I own a marketing firm and I am in need of someone to write copy for me. I don't write so good, errr, I mean, so well. If you're interested, which I hope you are, drop me an email.

    Tony > tonyreidsma - at -

  4. Jill-
    You forgot to mention the sweet aqua and white 10-speed Huffy you got for probably your 10th birthday... and was later passed down to me. I still have yet to own my very own bike. I think dad finally threw that thing away last year. You can't forget your roots!
    xoxo Sara

  5. surly = good!

    you'll love the monkey


  6. IMHO - Don't go with a steel frame with as much slush and muck you are riding in. I am not sure if there is enough frame saver on earth to spray in there to keep it from rusting. Perhaps if you filled the frame with frame saver...but then there is a weight issue and continuous questions from riding buddies. "Hey what's that sloshing noise?"

  7. Jill, you should email Tim Jackson at Masi's not like I know the guy or anything but I think he would know a good marketing opportunity (you) if he saw one:-)

  8. Have you ever notices how MTB's have way neater names than road bikes Jill?


  9. The Salsa Dos Niner is not steel, but it is a great priced, good-lookin' 29'er.

    If you're into those beach cruisers.

  10. If the Sugar Frame is the right size, I might buy it for my wife! Shipping to VT might be costly, but knowing it was from someone famous would more than make up for it! If you write to me with the year and size I can look up the geometry and check it out. Maybe we could trade frames if you want a VERY light aluminum hard tail: an aluminum Klein, medium...



    dreamwalkn101 at yahoo

  11. From reading your blog, it sounds like you know everything there is to know about cycling in Alaska! We are hoping you might have a contact who would be able to help us...

    We are a family of four who will be leaving in June to ride our bikes from Deadhorse to Tierra del Fuego. However, we are having a hard time figuring out how to get our bikes up to Deadhorse.

    We would like to ship them on Alaska Air, but that's not an option because the only planes out of Boise are too small to accomodate the bikes.

    That leaves DHL or FedEx. We've tried to talk to them and ask if it's possible, but they won't even talk with us unless we have an address in Deadhorse to ship them to, and we don't know anybody there.

    Do you happen to have any contacts in Deadhorse who might be willing to simply receive our bikes from the shipping company? We would pick them up as soon as we got there (we will be driving our van).

    You can read about us and our journey at

    Thanks for whatever help you can give us!

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel

  12. gary fisher ferrous 29er...rock solid, big fun.

  13. this is for Nancy Sathre-Vogel:
    if you are going to anchorage or fairbanks first, then ship to there however you wish (DHL?), then use a local carrier (lynden transport, northern air cargo) to ship it to deadhorse. some shipping companies will do the transfer in anchorage or fairbanks for you, see if you can send it DHL to anchorage and then have it transferred and sent via northern air cargo to deadhore, they will hold it for you until you pick it up. anyway, at least call northern air cargo and lyden transport, they are on the web. also, oil companies won't let you get to the arctic ocean, if you can believe that.

  14. Sara - I'm bummed Dad got rid of that thing. I spent five hours trying to wrench it to a somewhat rideable bike in May. I guess I wasn't all that successful :-)

    Eco Mommie ... I'm pretty much the opposite of a bike snob. I'm all about going cheap and going strong. Even six years after starting I'm still riding beginning bikes, but I'm happy.

    Brokemba ... Shh ... don't tell Pugsley that!

    Bluenoser ... I agree Karate Monkey is one of the coolest names ever.

    Dreamwalkin ... I'm actually not positive what year Sugar is. 2003 or 2004. If you're serious, I'll be in touch. Shipping via USPS is never too bad. I'm putting in a new bottom bracket and fixing the rear hub. But I was thinking about selling it on eBay rather than through my blog. I mean, I think it's in pretty good shape. But everyone on this site knows exactly what it's been through.

    Congrats! Sounds like an amazing trip. The last commenter gave good advice. I was going to say to try sending it to the Deadhorse zip code via USPS general delivery. They will hold for up to 10 days, and generally small post offices are willing to hold packages longer if you call ahead. I have no idea how long it would take to get there, though. Could be as little or two or as much as six weeks, which could complicate the whole 10-day cutoff.

    When I was in Deadhorse, we took a BP-guided tour to the Arctic Ocean. We had to shell out $40 and sit in a cold bus listening to BP propaganda, but we were able to walk out onto the sea, still frozen in June. It was so cool! I recommend it.

  15. As a 29er rider for almost 5 years I'd advise against a Karate Monkey. Heavy w/ poor geometry. If you have the money the GF Ferrous is where it's at. If not you can pick up a Rig (can go single or geared) or a Cobia for about the same price as a Karate Monkey. Much lighter w/ superior frame material (ZR9000 aluminum)and race proven Genesis geometry. Just my opinion.

    Never been a blogger but yours has me checkin' in every week. Hope the spring and summer riding treats you well.

  16. You should be careful, at this rate shelling out $3k for an SRM power meter won't seem ridiculous. I think I'm pretty much at that point after 6 years of road racing...

    I love your blog.

    From sunny California,
    Max Jenkins

  17. Monkeys are swell frames, but ultimately a bike you will likely outgrow if you continue using a bike for transportation. Bite the bullet (or sell your car) and get something like the silk road:

    I know it seems like a lot of moolah, but if you build it up with mid range components (that you can later upgrde) you could ride it around the world until you're too old to pedal.

  18. I find that my Karate Monkey does well in snow to about 5 or 6 inches until bog down. I'm running 175 mm cranks that make it feel like a tractorlike. Though I think
    the albatross bars help as well. I also use some Kenda Klaws around 25 or 30 psi.

    Have fun!

  19. Wow! That's great that I have dream to own a Used Mountain Bikesand to ride near Alaska. The climate is good their and I can purchase used mountain bike at very low price compared to new one.


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