Lights on the mountain: Another Tuesday night ride @ ASD

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By Scoop Skupien

I’m a loner. So while I love to ride my mountain bike, I don’t like to ride with groups.

And for me, a group is anything more than one person.

So the whole “Let’s go for a ride” thing always makes me wonder if the dudes inviting me out for a ride are getting divorced and I’m going to be doing some heavy listening.

But all that fell to the wayside as the line of lights in front of me sliced down Elk Mountain Road through the darkness on a recent ASD shop ride. It was pretty cool.

There were only five of us, so it wasn’t a huge group. From the rear, the best place to ride, we looked like a flexible train speeding down the mountain. And even though I was the only one on a mountain bike with fat tires, my clever instincts and amazing skills kept me right in the pocket.

Or more than likely it was my bike.

#OranjKrush

Like anything I write about that’s non-work related, at some point, I start talking about my bike. But that’s because it’s not just a bike.

You see, it’s OranjKrush. It’s a bike that stops traffic.

In fact, a cop once pulled me over on Haywood Avenue, apparently because I passed a few stopped cars on their right-hand side, which is way better than the left, if you ask me. After talking to me about OranjKrush for about five minutes, he let me off with a warning.

It all went down basically right out front of ASD.

I pointed and told the cop, “You can buy one right there. Best decision you’ll ever make.”

He just smiled and got back into his squad car. Some people might call it a cruiser. Others might even say a paddy wagon.

Whatever you call it, I bet it’s not so much fun to ride in that it has its own hashtag.

And, after all, having fun is what life is all about. Run away from anyone – or any group – who tells you differently.

Or, better yet, ride away. All by yourself.

Tuesday night rides @ ASD

By Scoop Skupien

There are precious few activities that compare with the feeling of riding a bike.

As the landscape rushes past, everything else disappears – bills, unfinished tasks at work, relationship issues. Poof! All gone.

Nonbelievers think bike enthusiasts don’t see the world around us, but they’re wrong. Extremely wrong. While riding, we savor each second in this dimension more than they do their entire lifetimes.

But hey, you know, that’s just like, uh, my opinion, man.

THE BEST TIME TO RIDE IS RIGHT NOW

It’s cold outside – well, not really, I used to live in Chicago, where right now, people can’t feel their faces.

But it is a little colder here. And every day, it gets dark 45 seconds after I finish lunch. So maybe we all need a little help throwing our legs over our bikes.

That’s why ASD is instituting Tuesday night rides at 6:00 p.m. All levels are welcome as we explore the Asheville area – a little asphalt and a little dirt.

You know, surf and turf.

Don’t let winter get you down. Don’t let it stop you. Join us for some spinnage around the AVL.

Meet us at 717 Haywood every Tuesday at 7. Bring a light or two. And a flask, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But most importantly, as Freddie Mercury said, “Get on your bikes and ride!”

ASD's one-year anniversary party was a hoot!

By Scoop Skupien

As a writer, I’m a man of words. But sometimes, I have to eat those words.

This is one of those times.

When I stopped by Asheville Street and Dirt a few months ago, Michael was excited to tell me about the shop’s one-year anniversary party, which was also going to be a customer appreciation day that would include beer, hot dogs, and Pivot demo bikes.

The venue? Kolo Bike Park.

I wondered why they were doing that when there are sweet trails all over the place around here. Going to a bike park seemed a little… tame.

Boy was I wrong.

YOLO @ Kolo

Kolo is amazing. There are flow trails, all sorts of features that help you build your skills, a pump track, an awesome wooden berm that spits you out at top speed, and dirt jumps. Ah yes, a little airtime.

I was impressed with the design of the park. Building trails around a golf course is a brilliant idea. I mean, how else are mountain bike riders and golfers ever going to interact with each other?

And dirt bike riders? Forget it. Different planets altogether.

But we were there to ride mountain bikes, not walk around looking for a little ball in the weeds all day. Specifically, we were there to ride Pivot bikes.

And apparently, the ASD crew is crazy for Pivot. We blew the record for demo bikes away. The old record was 60. Pivot had to bring 90 to Kolo that day!

I was there for one bike in particular: The Mach 429SL Carbon.

Take me down to Carbon City

Holy cow.

I’d never ridden a completely carbon bike before. Off my first jump, I could barely see the ground. I was scared I was going to smack into someone riding the zip line. Amazing.

Don’t get me wrong when I admit this, because I love my Transition Smuggler to death.

But maybe, just maybe, I was wrong when I said, “This is the last bike I’ll ever need.”

That’s a discussion with my wife I’ll need to be better prepared for. You see, a completely carbon bike is a little pricey. Even though my wife is the person who taught me that the cliché is true – you get what you pay for.

And what about that whole cost-per-ride thing? I mean, I ride almost every day. A new bike will pay for itself in no time!

Think about the return on investment. I mean, if my numbers are right, we’re losing money by not investing in this critical resource.

Maybe I’ll start mowing lawns on the side to help pay for a new rig. Although, I already mow the neighbor’s lawn for free. So maybe I need to work on my business plan first.

Regardless, ASD’s one-year anniversary was a hoot. Everyone I talked to and rode with had a great time.

And for the record, I love Kolo. So I ate my words about a bike park being tame. But unlike a certain owner of ASD, at least I didn't eat dirt.

Congrats to the team and keep on ridin’!

Why “crazy” mountain bikers rule the world

By Scoop Skupien

I hooked left onto Green's Lick Trail and started cranking downhill. This was the moment I’d been waiting for during the last 30 minutes of climbing. Sure, the trail has a burly/gnarly factor of 9.5, so you need to be vigilant, but it’s a nice downhill that lasts forever.

Kind of.

Unfortunately, it was much shorter for me on this fateful day. Because one minute later, blasting through a boulder field, I heard a sound we’re all familiar with. A great slamming, if you will. A rock about the size of a brick flipped up and smashed against my bike. It was the type of sound that lets you know there will be repercussions.

In a big way.

The next sound made my heart sink. It was as if every librarian on the eastern seaboard had gathered their combined shushing power for one moment of glory. Perhaps an attempt to set the shushing world record.

Or announcing a flat.

All by myself

A second later, my rear tire was completely flat. Me being me, I was alone, I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, and I was far from a trailhead.

Actually, I was about eight miles from home. You see, I ride to Bent Creek from my home in West Asheville, so… yeah. I had a lot of things going for me.

But don’t cry for me, Argentina. I love solo biking, so I do it completely prepared.

Or so I thought.

Within a few minutes of my flat, around 3:45 p.m., a guy rode by. He’s a true mountain biker, so he stopped and asked me if I was OK or needed anything.

“All good,” I said. “Just a flat. I’ll be out of here in three minutes. Thanks.”

I’ll be out of here in three minutes.

What an idiot. It was like I was daring the universe to mess with me.

The unstated code

With that, my friend took off down the trail. A good mountain biker, he lived by our unstated code: Stop and help each other. But when someone gives a thumbs up, you go on your way.

As we all know, mountain biking can be a dangerous sport. And the more you love it, the more dangerous it gets. Therefore, when we see a comrade in need of help, we should always ask if they are OK or if they need anything.

It’s just the right thing to do.

Anyway, as my fellow mountain biking enthusiast rode away, I took off my backpack, opened my emergency bag, and pulled out my spare tube. But as I did, a bad feeling washed over me.

Oh no. No. No. No.

I was on a new bike now. It’s an unbelievable bike. A bike I love.

What kind of bike is it? It’s a Transition Smuggler, but that’s not the point.

To borrow a phrase from a good friend of mine, it’s a bike they will pry from my cold, dead fingers.

But that no longer mattered.

What did matter was the fact that I hadn’t updated my emergency bag since my wife bought me this fantastic bike as a Christmas present. And that meant I was holding a 29-inch inner tube with a Schrader valve. My new rims only accommodate Presta valves, which are much smaller.

The Schrader valve didn’t fit. It doesn’t fit. It never will fit.

Trust me, I checked. Multiple times. Like, muuultiple.

And I’m like the world’s most challenged person in terms of… well, anything that doesn’t deal with the written word, really. Presta, Schrader, Presta, Schrader, Presta, Schrader. I don’t know. At this point I was begging air to go in and stay in.

I might have said something like: “Air! Go in! Stay in!”

You never know.

So many issues

I was having other issues. I know you’re busy and have your own challenges, but you never know what you can learn, right?

Here they are, in order of importance, though the closer I got to 5:00, the more important No. 3 became:

  • I might have to push my bike to a bike shop three miles away
  • Hopefully, that bike shop would be open
  • Cocktail hour was swiftly approaching

It was too late to yell to my friend. He was long gone.

I’ve taken to laughing maniacally in these sort of situations lately. In my 30s and early 40s, the expletives I would have emitted would have echoed off the mountains for weeks. But that doesn’t help. Never does.

Especially since my issue was a direct result of prolonging a trip to the bike shop. You know, I really think I was waiting for something like this to happen before I took my bike into Asheville Street and Dirt to go tubeless.

Speaking of strategic decisions, I was thinking about filing the hole a little bigger, figuring it shouldn’t affect the strength of my rim. But, miracle of miracles, at 4:11 p.m., two more riders came by.

For once in my life, I actually had some money on me. I asked the guy who gave me his spare inner tube if I could give him anything.

“Pay it forward,” he said.

Issues, cont.

Off they went. But of course, my issues weren’t over.

I was still in crazy town. The valve on the inner tube my friend gave me was bent. Can you believe it?

It gets better. My pump failed. I’m not kidding. It was amazing. And I was sure my bike was upside-down in poison ivy.

But at this point, it’s almost a letdown if I don’t end up with poison ivy all over me, run into a bear, or a hunter shoots me in a nonlethal way, right? Sorry to let you down…

I managed to fill my tire about halfway when more riders came by and let me borrow a pump. I was quickly back in business.

But you know what? Throughout my little episode, I noticed something. About 10 bikers stopped. Wanna know who didn’t? Two hikers and a runner. In fact, they barely even responded when I said hello.

So say what you want about crazy people flying down the trails on their mountain bikes. Those crazy people are the nicest, friendliest, helpful crazy people on this crazy planet.

In fact, we rule.

 

Making a difference in the community: The Adaptive Cycling Group

By Scoop Skupien

“I’m gonna run you over!” Savannah warned me.

She said that more than once, although she did so with a giant smile on her face. Maybe her excitement was because she was cranking a downhill, or maybe it was the thrill of riding her bike with friends in a park next to a river on a sunny day, but no matter how pumped she was, I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to run me over.

After all, I could see that her mother had a firm grip on her bike’s guide bar. I just kept on cheering for her and the rest of the kids who might have been riding a bike in a park for the first time in their lives.

It was a really cool thing to see. But I wasn’t the only one cheering. There was a lot of hooting and hollering. Which is what riding bikes is all about, right?

What is the Adaptive Cycling Group?
“My vision for this program is to give children and families an organized group that is fun, inclusive, and social – and most importantly, helps get everyone outdoors together on bikes,” said Jason Mehler, the program’s founder.

“We’re blessed with a wonderful cycling community in the Asheville area and I feel like this group broadens that community,” said Mehler. “Riding a bike is the greatest feeling in the world. And sharing that with people with disabilities is a wonderful thing to experience.”

And let’s not forget the key to it all: The helmet.

On hand to ensure safety, Vickie Killough of SafeKids was there to make sure every rider had a helmet. As a kid from the 70s who only saw people wear helmets after an injury, it was inspiring to see Safe Kids’ proactive commitment to safety.

“When I was a kid,” I said to Vickie, “you only wore a helmet after something bad happened, not before.”

She laughed and agreed.

Beyond helmets: Maintenance
My favorite moment was when a mother showed up and was apologetic for being late. Her daughter’s bike was in need of repair, but her mom thought she showed up too late for that kind of thing. Meanwhile, her daughter wanted to join the group of riders spinning around the park.

Luckily, Asheville Street and Dirt’s own mechanic-extraordinaire Gabe Bradly was on the scene. He had her bike up and running in no time.

Sound like fun? The Adaptive Cycling Group meets at the east end of Carrier Park (near the dog park) for the next three Sundays from 2:00 p.m. until 3:30 p.m.

Whether you’re a child, parent, or volunteer, we hope to see you there. And don't worry, no one is going to run you over!

Fear and loving in Pisgah

By Scoop Skupien

Pisgah. Speaking those six letters, correctly, here in Western North Carolina will always generate a response from mountain bikers – joy, awe, even jealousy. It’s a beautiful place, but a gnarly one.

Before we get there, a quick lesson in pronunciation, so you don’t end up like me when I was researching my move from Chicago to Asheville a few years ago. My first full day here, I circled the town of Brevard while just out of reach, Pisgah’s endless green mountains, rolling like waves in every direction, beckoned me to explore them.

But there I was, stuck in my car, wasting precious time asking locals where the town of Brevard was, which no one could figure out. Problem was, I was pronouncing it with the emphasis on “Brev,” while the correct way is to emphasize “ard.” 

I was a hiker back then. Maybe that was the problem.

Finally, I asked a wonderful, older gentleman who was working outside in the fall sunshine. He took off his cap, looked at me quizzically, and then smiled.

“Son,” he said. “Do you mean Brevard? Cuz you’re smack dab in the middle of it!”

Wherever you go, there you are. Apparently, pronouncing it correctly makes a huge difference. 

Getting there is simple, being there is fun

Next, I needed to figure out how to say Pisgah. Sorry to report, but you pronounce the “s” like a “z.” Say the word fizz and you’re on the right track. Speaking of the right track, all I had to do to reach my destination was drive straight forward two miles.

Pisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres and is where good mountain bikers go to ride when they die. With more than 245 biking trails including mile-high peaks, tons of creek crossings, and a lush forest with rhododendron tunnels that fully engulf you, Pisgah is awe inspiring. I love it.

Even though it scares the crap out of me. 

Three years after my first attempt to find the little Shangri-La that is Pisgah, I’m now a resident of Asheville. More importantly, I’m addicted to mountain biking.

So recently, I took advantage of how close I live to Pisgah. After a 15-minute drive, I parked at Bent Creek Gap, just off the Blue Ridge Highway, on a beautiful, sunny day in the mid-80s. 

I headed down the fire road to the Spencer Ridge trailhead. Now, I could’ve started my loop by heading down Bad Fork – a name that tells you everything you need to know – but it’s a hiking-only trail. It’s a burly two-mile trail with a series of drops that might leave hardtail riders with sore wrists for weeks. …So I’ve heard. 

I would never ride on a trail that is clearly marked as off-limits for bikes. I’m not that type of guy, so I would never do it. Never.

Ever. 

Maybe a few times. But now that I’m riding a sweet ride with full suspension, I don’t have to worry about my wrists or wonder if I’m pushing my bike too hard. Odds are, I’m not. 

But I digress. And I want to make it clear that this blog post in no way signifies that I admit to what I just admitted. Now that we’ve taken care of the legal issues, let’s move on.

Once on the Spencer Gap trail, the single track turns into what is really more half-track. Coupled with the steep drop-off to my left, the narrowness made for some fun times when I hit the seriously rocky sections. Gnarly sections, if you will. 

It’s crazy. Massive tree roots slither through the trail like giant petrified snakes from a science fiction film while the mountain drops off perilously on your left. It’s something you need to experience and enjoy for yourself. 

Once out of there and into a flowy section, I continued carving my way down the heavily forested mountainside until I came to Trace Ridge. 

“You’re going the wrong way,” said some riders taking a snack break. 

I flashed past them without time to look at them or respond and disappeared into the rhodos like a baseball player in the movie Field of Dreams. Except, this isn’t Iowa. Not by a longshot.

Bring your friends!

Last summer I brought my brother-in-law to this area of Pisgah. He promptly flipped his handlebars four times – a move I now call the “Full Ricky.” I thought about that as I hit a section where a rock that looks like a diving board that launches you into a pool filled with dirt and boulders. 

I dismounted, cursed my lack of confidence, and vowed to return and conquer this section. Now that I know how to pronounce everything, there’s nothing to stop me.

Especially now that I’ve made the quantum leap to a full-suspension bike. A bike I love. The bike I want to be buried with, a very long time from now, while wearing my Pisgah riding jersey. 

Until then, I’ll see you out there.