Learning to Ride
I grew up in the 1970s in what is now called Silicon Valley. Cycling (we called it dirt biking back then) was hammered into my very core by all the insane kids on our suburban street. When we arrived around 1975, there was a fairly prolific motocross family living across the street from us. I had never heard of motocross, being only 5 years old, but these new kids looked super rad and I just HAD to be doing what they were doing; riding bikes everywhere and working hard to see who could get to the emergency room first. Motocross (motorized) bikes were not legal in front yards, so BMX was it! We built jumps and ramps, we raced around the block (through people’s yards), built berms, bunny hopped, pitched out, rode wheelies, played scramble (you kids call it “Footdown“), and generally lived out our respective childhoods on our bikes.
(Just for reference – I was the “wimpy” kid in the group. I never wanted to send the long jumps or race with the big kids. I was scared of EVERYTHING).
I spent the next six years or so committing myself to honing my bike skills. Usually all by myself. I saved up and replaced my old school huffy with a Diamond Back Viper. Damn, that ride was SWEET! (My friend had a DB II, and that was sweeter). I rode everywhere every day.
After a few years, my friends continued to grow up and I kept riding. Sure, I was interested in Playboy magazines, movies, and MTV, but I didn’t smoke weed and I really loved to ride. That set me apart from most of my friends. Times were hard at home and being on the bike made me feel free. I could go anywhere and do anything (as long as I was home by dark). I would ride out to Los Gatos and explore the trails, ride to Mountain View and visit my cousins, or just ride to the park where I could practice my balance and my jumps.
Riding my bike gave me independence.
It wasn’t until Middle School that I started to undertake serious distances and to climb some more advanced hills. I learned about Kennedy Road and Shannon Road, and I started riding Hicks Road as often as I could. I don’t think I was ever really fast, but I was a lot faster than I am today! The climbs were soul cleansing and the vistas from the tops of those hills made the hard climbs well worth the effort. My Schwinn 10-speed was my trusty steed. We rode together for many years and over many miles.
I ended up leaving home at 17 (parental disagreements will do that sometimes), and I finished up high school with my Aunt & Uncle in Bisbee, Arizona. I bought my first mountain bike used from a newspaper want-ad just a few months prior, and I was riding it EVERYWHERE! I rode trails in and around San Jose, and blazed new ones in Arizona. A great way to pass the time in the afternoons was to explore the many fire roads in and around Bisbee.
After moving back to San Jose, I had received my high school diploma and was ready to make my way in the world. I didn’t have much guidance in the way of an advanced education, and I needed to eat, so I decided to get a job at my local neighborhood bike shop. I walked in and they hired me on the spot. The pay was meager, and the benefits were nonexistent, but I was wrenching and selling real bikes at a real shop! I learned a lot and rode even more. I got a discount on a new bike (I thought it was the best thing ever), and continued to put the massive miles on it year after year. It was eventually stolen while I was working at a different job in Cupertino. I still miss that old hunk of junk.
Portland – Land of Rain and Bikes
I moved to Portland, Oregon in 1990 where I got another bike shop job. I had an old touring bike that I was riding to work every day. 10 miles each way. I was clearing 100 miles each week just commuting to work. Since we didn’t have any money for fun, I would steal Powerbars from work and ride whenever I had time. Evenings, weekends, or just a half hour between appointments. I’d jump on the bike and get a few miles in whenever I could. I was 20 years old, 170lbs, and full of energy and determination. If I had the knowhow and the resources to race back then, I would have crushed it! Oh well.
In my mid 20s, I was clearing about 10,000 miles per year. I was still riding an old beater with 27″ wheels. As my only form of transportation, I rode this bike to work, around town and to my college classes through sun, rain, and snow. Eventually, I needed to upgrade. Since there weren’t a lot of options for a kid with no budget, I borrowed my friend’s Bridgestone MB5 until he eventually sold it to me for $200. It felt great to have a bike I could take off road again.
Going Back to Cali
I returned to California after attending college. I entered the workforce as a lowly hourly employee and eventually entered my trade as a Designer. For those first years, my income was very, very low.
That Bridgestone stayed alive throughout it all, receiving replaced parts as they died. It got new cranks, a new drivetrain, a new seat, and new wheels (all on a shoestring budget). I was talked into racing in 1994 by a friend and I entered myself into the Sea Otter Classic as a beginner. The race was in its third year and there weren’t many events listed yet. The dual slalom was brand new, and they had a trials course. There was even a new movie premiering at the theater in downtown Monterey called Tread! It starred Hans Rey and Greg Herbold. My Brother and I were racing that year and bought tickets to the premiere. We sat right in front of the two stars! (Kinda freaked me out!)
I raced on these new fangled “clipless pedals” and one of them broke, causing me to crash. I taco’d my front wheel and had to bend it back into a circle over my knee. I completed the race without front brakes because I had to disengage them so they would not rub on the bent rim. I finished 30th in a field of 90!
I raced all over California for more than a decade, never moving beyond Sport level. In retrospect, I think I could have raced pro. I was riding fast, and my skills were improving, but I had no confidence. It was tough to feel legitimate in a sport where the equipment could easily cost me six month’s wages.
As my career progressed in design, video, and 3D animation, I continued to ride. Because I never got my driver’s license, the bike was my primary mode of transportation until I was 26. I wasn’t holding off on driving for any reason other than I honestly felt I didn’t really need a license or a car. I saved thousands over the years and it kept me fit!
Marriage, kids, family, career. Life gets in the way of progress, and sometimes it’s worth it! While I loved pursuing my career advancements and contributing to my family’s development, my riding took the back seat for well over a decade. I was riding occasionally, but it was impossible to place family and career first and still have time to ride. Traveling worldwide was fun, but bringing the bike simply wasn’t an option. As a result of the added stress from work, I started doing two things; running and brewing beer.
I ran for about ten years. I competed in marathons, half marathons, and some triathlons with my Brother and friends. The running kept my cardio out of the toilet, but I never enjoyed it. Running always felt like a chore. Riding the bike was freeing and open, while running felt like moving in the other direction. We traveled all over the USA running Rock N’Roll halfs and celebrating with brewery tours. We drank a lot of beer in a lot of cities.
Since I started drinking at about 35 years old, my love of beer grew (along with my gut) and I learned to appreciate all of the amazing brews that California is famous for. As I started brewing, I was able to dovetail my beer into my riding life. I would bring a few pints along on the Los Gatos Turkey Day Ride, and I named my bar The Spokesman (in fact, that’s where the name of this blog came from!) It’s been a battle ever since to balance my brews and my riding in a way that allows me to enjoy beer while not letting it affect my fitness too much.
The kids are getting older and I am afforded more time to myself. My friends and I have joined the high-end mountain biking scene. The next-level tech has me riding away from my hardtail and I’ll never look back.
The trips are happening. Tahoe, Downieville, Groveland, Ashland, San Diego, and right in our very own Santa Cruz Mountains. We ride hard (for our age) and have bike handling skills that make our older rides look like child’s play. We continue to improve, and there is always a new trail out there to challenge us.
Riding more and improving skills has become an obsession. I get out whenever I can (which still isn’t very often – maybe twice a week) and put as many miles on my bike as I can. The beer weight remains, but my handling skills continue to improve. I am still in the lower half of my riding group, but I can hold my own on a downhill.
In 2018, I was between jobs and I had some time to kill. I decided to plan and undertake a road trip unlike any I had ever attempted. A 7-state, 4500 mile drive around seven western states. I rode, I visited breweries, and I shot photos for three weeks while sleeping in cheap motels and in the back of my 4Runner.
While on that trip, I got my first taste of riding parks. I stopped off in Winter Park, Colorado and spent the day with a fellow rider and road tripper. We talked shop on the lifts and bombed down the mountain together all day long and became friends over beers at Vertical Bistro & Tap afterwards. I regaled him with my riding tales, and he told me about this guy named Seth.
I currently run this blog alongside my day job and I have decided to see where my love of riding and writing can take me. I have many years of video production experience, a powerful computer, and a couple of GoPros. What’s stopping me?
So here I am. With a lot of stories to tell and a fun way to tell them.
Thanks for listening.