Friday, December 13, 2013

Growing the Garden

Maintaining an effective career in today's world of off-road cycling might benefit from an understanding of what it takes to keep a bountiful garden.  I know virtually nothing about horticulture.  That said, I've ascertained the concept of "hortus kuklos" [eng. Garden + Wheel] or "horticycling", which borrows from the concept of crop rotation and polyculture, and is thus "the practice of [riding/participating in] a series of dissimilar/different types of [bikes/events/terrain] [within a given period of time] in sequential [or random] order. " 
Furthermore..."Horticycling gives various benefits to the [rider]. A traditional element of horticycling is the replenishment of [stoke/motivation/fun] through the use of [different forms of riding] in sequence, [for example], with [trail riding, xc racing, enduro, downhill, cyclocross, beer drinking, dirt jumping, street, flatland, vert, trials...], and other [forms of riding]. horticycling also mitigates the build-up of [cultural myopia] that often occurs when one [form of riding] is continuously [repeated without variation], and can also improve [happiness] and [skill] by alternating [long travel/big-wheeled] and [short travel/small-wheeled] [bikes]."  

But seriously, call it whatever you point is, there's a lot of stuff to do out there as a professional mountain biker, and in order to keep up, there's no such thing as a garden-variety off-road cycling career.  

As of this mid-December, I've cultivated my way into my 29th year of living, my 17th year of racing bikes, my 4th (and 5th) year riding for the Kona Bicycle Company (new two-year contract!),  and, at present, my fallow period.  The last 12 months have seen plenty of flourishing and sprouting, with (luckily) minimal wilting and withering.  Through this latest season of adventures far and wide, competing in many different kinds of events, aboard many types of bicycles, I've wondered to myself, 'how does one stay relevant in this time of unprecedented variety in off-road cycling culture?'  With as many types of bikes to ride, as many types of events to compete in, as many places to experience, how does one implement their own system of "horticycling"...or whatever they like to call it?  How does one keep an off-road cycling career "fertile"?  And I mean career in the professional sense as a "paid occupation".  Relevance = investment = opportunity = growth = career.  After all, depending on the other types of yield one is seeking (fame, acceptance, sense of purpose, straight-out passion...), the pastime can stay fertile forever, and you can do it without any concern for being relevant...just happy!

The answer is easy.  To stay relevant, first win and be deemed the best.  Next: don't be a jerk, be the coolest; tell a good story; be an ambassador; motivate more people to ride [and purchase] bikes. In the end, be happy, healthy and strong!  

Always achieving the first item means you might get away with doing relatively less of the succeeding items.  But if you can't always achieve the first item, then perhaps having enough variety in your repertoire makes it possible to achieve all the other things, especially the last one.       

Looking [way] back, I've always maintained lots of variety in my approach to cycling.  I didn't always have a garage full of bikes, nor a sponsor to invest in me, but I did grow up riding an airplane trike!  

Once I realized there were all these things to do...and the list keeps growing...XC, CX, STXC, DH, eliminator, super D, enduro, freeride, dirtjump, trials, flatland, street, road, crits, clunkers, fatbikes...trail-building, adventure journalism, movie making, speedometers, heart rate monitors, power meters...races, hard rides, easy rides, night rides, teaching people how to they all complement one another...I realized I was apt to enjoy any of them, but not just one...skills favored some disciplines, sure, but the variety was a big reason why I developed a love for cycling in the first place...all the ways in which to do it, to express myself and test myself.  It's still hard to pick favorites.  There will always be somewhere cooler to ride.    

Every year I feel like I draw upon that attraction to variety, even if I'm heavily focused on training for a single discipline.  For me the variety is always in reach, whether I need it or not, and it can always recharge me.  Having the many provides me the balance to focus on the one.    

"The one" for me has classically been cross country racing...        

But paradoxically, the same variety which has provided for so much of my growth as a XC racer has also posed a dilemma when it comes to maintaining a XC career that is relevant and sustainable to both rider and sponsor alike.  It's not news, XC racing isn't the standalone game it used to be.  Other fancy plants have been growing in the garden for a long time.  The irony is that there are still so many ways to be relevant today, but those islands of relevance have fragmented into many different disciplines, some with opposition to the others, resulting in a scarcity of relevance for some.     

What I'm getting at is that it's hard to be just an XC racer anymore.  Unless you are currently (or immanently) the Super Boss Champion of the World in any discipline, or, if you had good timing in acquiring real-estate on the island of Super Bosses in the past, then your next best strategy is to either become a Super Boss very soon, or embrace the fact that there is a lot more to having a relevant career than just being [or not being] a Super Boss.  I think this is especially true for anyone with aspirations in XC racing.  

The struggle for survival is different depending on the discipline, like in the gravity world, for example, where it's as if the social currency is experiencing a rapid inflation, and the price to attain or maintain relevance continues to soar to life-threatening heights.  At least in XC the price you pay is still how fast you get to the finish line.  But the purchasing power of either gravity or XC currency has fallen.  In the former, it's progressing so fast that you need to produce more and more tricks and videos and stories than ever before.  In the latter, it doesn't really progress, so it just holds less value unless you are simply winning everything.  When once upon a time a single big achievement on a day that mattered would have put you on the island of Super Bosses for a few seasons...a big win at Nationals, a winning run at Rampage, or chronicling an adventure to an untapped realm of the planet in those things might earn you relevance for a few weeks, months?  The seeds that once sowed success are still as potent as it just seems like it takes more of them to keep a garden growing, and that they ought to grow faster and go bigger forever...unless you're #1 right now, then you can sit tight...but not for long!

At the end of the day, it's a struggle for survival that's fun as hell, that lets you see amazing parts of the world with lots of good people to share it with.  I'm happy about my situation, thankful for my health, family, friends and sponsors, and excited about what's in store for the 2014 season and beyond.  In the meantime I'll be thinking about my approach to gardening.     

Photo Credit: John Gibson


Thanks for reading


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Meet the Family

We're all in the business of bikes.  Designing them, building them, selling them, racing them...

On any given day, it's 5AM and Brent Van Eps is up and ready for another day of making things happen at the Montrose Bike Shop in Montrose, CA.

On any given Fall weekend, Dorothy Wong is also (probably) up at 5AM getting ready to put on another round of the SoCalCross Prestige Series.

And at any given bike race, Barry Wicks is the Icon and I'm the Other Guy.

This last weekend in particular, the Icon and the Other Guy went on an ambassadorial race trip to experience the people and events behind this particular piece of the cycling scene in Southern California.

In three well-spent days, we got to know the people behind a great bike shop and better understand what it is that gives a Kona bicycle its value.  It's the people along the way, from start to finish, from concept to design to testing to showroom floor to trail.  From the people who make them AND the people who sell them.  At Montrose Bike Shop (MBS), it's Brent Van Eps (manager), J.L. (owner), and mechanics and operators Lisa Mycroft, Will Katzman, and Dillen Maurer.  They opened up their doors to us, shared good food and beer, and took us on a bike ride along the roads and trails in their back yard.  Brent even lent us his spare couch  for the weekend, and after getting to know the crew, we headed out to the race course on Sunday to meet the community and try to deliver a good show in the MBS installment of the SoCalCross Prestige Series - Turkey Trot Cross!    

Located off Honolulu Ave., MBS has become a strong outpost for Kona Bicycles

Brent (far right) and the crew invited Barry and I on the weekly Saturday morning group ride, a real "Kona-style" road/dirt medley - everyone welcome, road bikes, 'cross bikes, mountain bikes...

A punchy little route through the hills around Montrose and Glendale

Some of the SoCal riders might be afraid of temps dipping below 70 deg, but they aren't afraid to take the skinny tires on less-beaten paths

Montrose shop master Will Katzman let it all hang out on the rock garden section at the bottom of the unorthodox road bike descent...

He'd have definitely cleaned it if he were on a Kona...

MBS is a proud Kona dealer and specs a full line-up from touring and road to mountain and 'cross

They're pretty good at ping pong, too.  Barry Wicks v. MBS and Dave

Kids make us feel like heroes, and it's cool to think that we might be able to impart the same feeling in them, even just for a little bit, at things like "Kiddie 'Cross".  Here, Barry accepting a high-five after being schooled by this kid on his 20".

at the clinic we taught dismounts, remounts, and wheelies...

even the dogs race 'cross in SoCal

time to deliver...

Thanks to everyone who we met along the way who made this trip such a fun reminder of what it means to be a part of the cycling world, and the Kona family in particular.

Friday, November 8, 2013


After reading the article in Dirt Magazine about Chris Mandell and the new Process line-up from Kona Bikes, I came across the following quote from David Attenborough, and found it quite poignant.  The context is Mr. Attenborough's discussion about the Olduvai stone chipping tool, and the relationship between between Homo sapiens and the tools they create.

"This object sits at the base of a process which has become almost obsessive among human beings.  It is something created from a natural substance for a particular purpose, and in a particular way, with a notion in the maker's mind of what he needed it for.  Is it more complex than was needed to actually serve the function which he used it for?  I think you could almost say it is.  Did he really need to do one, two, three, four, five chips on one side and three on the other?  Could he have got away with two? I think he might have done so.  I think the man or woman who held this made it just for that particular job and perhaps got some satisfaction from knowing that it was going to do it very effectively, very economically and very neatly.  In time, you would say he'd done it beautifully, but maybe not yet.  It was the start of a journey." - David Attenborough, A History of the World

It's cool to think about the bicycle this way - not simply as tool comprised of metal and carbon tubes and rubber, but a greater-than-the-sum-of-its parts combination of function, creativity, and artistry.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Harvest

Autumn is a time of work. In the Old World (or parts of today's world that operate with greater dependency on rain and sun than on iPhones and internet), Autumn is synonymous with the harvest.

I spend far too much time with iPhones and internet to do any harvesting in the classical sense, but in the spirit of the season, I've reflected on the regular work I put in to gather my bounty.  So, there's the local organic fruit and vegetable stand down the street...

A week during the harvest season involves:

The home office(s):
Fueling and researching for Office A:

Analyzing and preparing for Office B:

Traveling to Office B:

 Sitting around in Office B:

Chair for Office B:

...meanwhile, Chair(s) for Office A:

...meanwhile, working hard in Office B:

 ...later, cleaning up and checking back in to Office A (this time away from home):

 ...the next few days...performing diligently in Office A:

...Temporarily enjoying the view from Office A:

Checking up on my performance back in Office B:

...then finally...go home and take a break from both Offices, play in back yard with Sarah to ensure happiness and ability to maintain focus and enjoyment when back at Offices:

...and the harvest continues...

Next time, a review of the season's bounty.