Dirt Rag Magazine

Vintage: 1994 Fat Chance Shock-A-Billy

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Words and photos: Jeff Archer

By 1994 it was becoming evident that full suspension was here to stay. Most major manufacturers had full-suspension bikes on the market, and the smaller makers were trying to keep up, with quite a few different designs coming out and varying degrees of success. Additionally, many suspension-fork makers were releasing second-generation designs based on feedback gleaned from the first round of forks. Rather than building their own, most bike makers would buy a suspension fork and bolt it to their frame. It was possible to use a rear-suspension design from an outside company as well.

Fat Chance chose to exercise all those options on this Shock-A-Billy by using an AMP rear end and an Action Tec front-suspension design with Fat Chance-built legs. Since the Action Tec linkage was housed under the head tube, it required a specific frame design. Fat Chance customized this bike by using its own Big One Inch-style fork blades. This bike was a prototype to see if this was a direction Fat wanted to take.

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According to Chris Chance, “I was really excited about the Action Tec fork with the BOI lowers, but it seemed like it would have been too pricy to sell many of them.”

Since this is a one-of-a-kind bike, it obviously wasn’t a design they chose for production. Components, though, are typical for the era, with parts from Avid, Ringlé, Sampson and Answer to complement the Shimano XTR drivetrain. This bike frame was restored to the original Team Violet (pastel-purple base coat with sunrise-red pearl topcoat) by Rody at Groovy Cycleworks.

This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology, which is housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at mombat.org.



Blast from the Past: Dirt Rag’s 2005 Interview with Theodore Stroll


Editor’s note: In 2005, Philip Keyes interviewed Theodore Stroll for an article on the legal issues surrounding Wilderness access that ran in Dirt Rag Issue #112. Stroll is the author of the law review article: “Congress’s Intent in Banning Mechanical Transport in the Wilderness Act of 1964.” Theodore J. Stroll; Penn State Environmental Law Review (Volume 12, Autumn 2004, Number 3: 459-484).

Last year Stroll and others started the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC) to lobby Congress to allow mountain biking in Wilderness, and this interview foretells of that development and where Stroll’s thinking lies. We are currently working on a story to help you understand this issue by talking to the STC, IMBA and other involved partners. Look for a comprehensive overview in the next few days.

What’s the significance of your study?

Probably the most significant finding is what Congress meant when they referred to “no other form of mechanical transport” in the Wilderness Act. It’s ambiguous because they don’t mean just the mechanical transport of humans; so even a fishing reel is technically implicated by the statute. But when you go into the legislative history, which nobody has ever done before, you find that all Congress meant in the original language was no “mechanical transport or delivery of persons or supplies.” Both House and Senate used that language originally and what they’re really talking about is large, load-bearing conveyances that would either carry humans or cargo, and this is what the prohibition on mechanical transport means. It means no horse carts, no wagons, no trailers, no tankers—things that, though they’re not motorized, probably were propelled behind a motorized vehicle or mule train and would impact the landscape.

Based on your study’s finding, do you think that bikes should be allowed in current Wilderness areas or should only be accommodated in future Wilderness?

I think it’s essential that bikes be allowed in current Wilderness because that was Congress’s intent. Congress intended that human-powered transport should be allowed in Wilderness unless it required some major infrastructure, like a dock or an airstrip. Basically, Congress’s view in 1964 when they passed the Wilderness Act was that if you can buy it at REI, you can use it in Wilderness. There is no reason in law or in policy to keep bikes out of current Wilderness, and I really hope that the mountain bike community will not just push for access into future Wilderness but access to current Wilderness as well.

What do you recommend as the strategy to change the current statutes banning bikes from Wilderness?

This is complicated. If you sue the Forest Service or the National Park Service you’re probably going to lose because under a recent federal court opinion, as long as the agency interpretations are not arbitrary, capricious or manifestly contrary to the statute, the courts are going to uphold them. The “no mechanical transport” prohibition is ambiguous, so the agencies can at least make a colorable argument that they have correctly interpreted the Wilderness Act to mean “no mountain bikes.”

It’s not a correct legal argument, but it is not an absurd argument either. Therefore, if you just go to court and sue the agency, the courts are going say that maybe the agency is wrong but their position is not frivolous, so we’re not going to require them to change the regulation.

The best strategy would be to cooperatively approach the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and persuade them through my law review article that they have simply misunderstood the Wilderness Act, and they themselves should re-write the regulations.

In the case of the Forest Service, their original 1966 regulation permits mountain biking in National Forest Wilderness and this is the correct interpretation of the Act. All they have to do is get rid of their incorrect 1977 regulation and enforce the one they have on the books from 1966.

Probably the most foolish thing would be for some mountain biker to simply get on a Wilderness trail and get himself arrested by a forest or park ranger and then go to a federal judge and wave my law review article in his face.

What is your strongest evidence that Congress approved of human-powered recreation?

The congressional record for the Wilderness Act is extensive; they debated the Wilderness Act for years (since the 1950s) before it eventually passed. During all of this, nobody had any problem with healthy, unobtrusive, human-powered transport in Wilderness. People thought that Wilderness was meant for physical fitness or rugged outdoor experiences, for hard earned individual efforts. They didn’t talk about bicycling specifically since rugged mountain biking simply wasn’t around then, but when you look at what they did talk about (mountain climbing, skiing and the like), [it’s clear that] they intended for Wilderness to be used for solitary, self-powered experience, and this is probably the most compelling evidence.

The author the House version of the Wilderness bill and one or two of the principle Senate sponsors of the Wilderness Act were very invested in the idea of fitness, and they even mention their regret of the loss of the traditional bike ride to school by young people. Though mountain biking was not even on the horizon in 1964, the fact is that some of the main backers of the Wilderness Act were very concerned with physical fitness issues and keeping Americans fit. They quoted John F. Kennedy about it, and they even mention the loss of bicycling as an example of the decline of physical fitness that they were concerned about when they were putting forth versions of the Wilderness Act. Later, the 1980 Rattlesnake Wilderness Act specifically authorized and approved of bicycling in the Rattlesnake Wilderness.

Have you thought of approaching the federal agencies to ask them to allow mountain biking in Wilderness?

The more my research showed there was a strong legal argument to reconsider the regulations, the more intent I became on submitting a petition to the Forest Service asking it to reconsider its 1977 no-bikes-in-Wilderness rule. I approached a couple of organizations with the idea, namely Access4Bikes and, of course, IMBA. I also considered submitting it under my own name, without any organizational backing. IMBA looked at early drafts and decided to create a Wilderness committee to consider the petition idea. I joined that committee and discussed my ideas with its other members. I also discussed the petition idea with Access4Bikes board members. Eventually, however, I decided to write a law review article before petitioning any federal agency in order to gauge reaction in the legal community and among the interested public. I told Access4Bikes and IMBA of my new approach. How the legal arguments will be presented formally to the federal agencies is up in the air. Maybe IMBA will do it, maybe another organization will do it, or maybe I’ll do it myself.

Keep reading

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 26 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.



Blast from the Past: Dirt Rag’s Interbike ‘Dirtier Daily’

With hundreds of exhibitors at the Interbike trade show vying to attract attention, it’s no easy chore getting noticed. Back in 2000 and 2001 Dirt Rag managed to create a buzz by publishing a zine titled the “Dirtier Daily” that we distributed on the show floor.

Each evening, after the show closed, our staff and friends gathered poolside at the Vagabond Inn (R.I.P.) on the Vegas strip to scribble, rant, joke, cut and paste. More than few beers were consumed along the way. Eventually, a late-night run to Kinkos yielded a fresh stack of copies. The next morning we hit the show floor and distributed our four-page chronicle of the best and the worst of the Interbike experience.

The images below are scans of the actual Dirtier Daily issues. To see them larger, click the magnifying glass in the lower right hand corner.


Blast From the Past: Libra — 2009 Literature Contest Winner


Editor’s note: Libra, written by Kevin MacGregor Scott, won the 2009 Dirt Rag literature contest and first appeared in Issue #145, published in October 2009. Original illustrations by John Hinderliter.

I returned to my hometown a year from the date the last letter came from my brother Frank. The dispatches arrived in three week intervals and then they just stopped. Which came as no surprise. Frank’s fate had been sealed since his entrance into and subsequent passionate affair with the wildness that surrounded our small town.

I notified the appropriate administrative people at school that my brother had died. I left out that he’d been on the run from various government agencies or that he’d been found at the bottom of a frozen crevasse up in the Northwest Territories forty kilometers from the nearest dirt road. Then I drove from northern California to McCall, Idaho, with his letters running through my head.


what truths are they professing to the collegiate herds in california brother? have things worked out to your expectations? well. i sincerely hope they have. spring is arrived. melt and mud. i’m leaving out. i’ve cut things to the quick and can do no more. they’re coming. they know what i’ve done. i suspect you do too. you never told anyone? of course you didn’t.

the bike is ready. the gear assembled. the direction known. the very last thing is this letter.

you’ve been nothing if not solid, jack. ever reliable. i need for you to be in grande cache alberta on or around september fifteenth. that gives me over a hundred suns to sink between then and now. think not of the inconvenience to yourself as i’m doing you a favor by way of creating a minor adventure. which you undoubtedly need. do what you have to. but be there. bring your bike.


I stepped out of the car into a McCall frozen solid and compressed beneath a cast-iron inversion layer. I’d gone west-coast soft. I could hear Frank laughing while I stood shivering in my puffy pink skin, a lumpish desk-driving version of the hardened-off kid I’d been. He’d always been the measure I’d held myself to and most often fallen short of. Which is ironic, because by accepted societal measures I have achieved much more. Yet with every hoop passed through I hear Frank ask, “At what cost, Jack?”

Before I’d been consumed by college, by cranking out lofty chains of words and passing through the hoops of the Prescribed Plan for Social and Economic Advancement, Frank and I had reveled in the great expanse of wildness waiting just outside of town. The Reynolds boys pedaled creaking relics through McCall until inner tubes herniated through tread. Our sorties expanded outward until we broached the tailings of the Frank Church Wilderness that met our small piece of civilization at its edge. Once we found it we’d like to have never come out.

When I think of Frank the vision is always of the boy beaming like light embodied through the dappled shade of a spring forest sharp with the turpentine smell of heated Ponderosa. The first dust of the season whorling off our tires. The instant numbing of snowmelt crossings. He saw the gradual shift of my focus towards higher learning as pure folly.

“What are you, some parlor trick dog? Going off to the big school…paying others to form opinions in your head? They’ll only fill you with what suits their needs best. Educate yourself, Jack. Look around.”

A diminutive and dysfunctional town full of Dickensian characters. Like our father. Sooty Reynolds. Town chimney sweep. Smoke and ash followed him as if perennially returning from the pyre for his hopes and aspirations. His early attempts and failures were set-up enough for him to live through his two sons. He was consumed with our trajectory toward high-paying, respectable careers. We had a hard time believing we were sprung from his loins. The possibility that he might further us toward becoming men of higher standing than his own self-image was the one thing that allowed him to continue reaming stovepipes and scraping flues. He introduced us as his prodigies.

“Jack’s going to write the Great American Novel. Frank’ll star in it.”

Frank and I shot looks at each other. My visible disgust with Sooty masked the conscious awareness that I lacked that star thing Frank had. The strange magnetism. The absolute confidence in rightness and action. He didn’t care about pleasing Sooty. Or me. He wanted only to be far outside of the strapped-down, inhumane, capital-driven world, exploring the outlying mountains aboard his bike.

“The bike is a perfect travel medium,” said Frank. “Quick. Nimble. Quiet. Doesn’t need to be fed. Doesn’t spook. Runs on naught but food.” If he was a prodigy at all you were most apt to know it when you watched him put a bike through its paces.

College arrived suddenly. Frightfully. We parted without handshake or hug. The meaningless words spoken merely a rotten scrim of ice over a widening chasm in ideology and faiths. While I went to jumping, Frank continued the maturation of our early manna into a mad consecration.

The next communiqué came from Ronan, Montana. A generic postcard in a plain envelope sent from Farnsworth T. Giggler:

watched an evening electrical storm far over the eastern horizon sear the rim of the earth from north to south. the divine undeniable in such beauty and force. I’ve waited too long. these places won’t last long enough for people to understand the direct action needed to save them or what will be lost. bike and I are however in perfect symbiosis. steel muscle heart sinew lung and bone, the spirits fuse driven by these wild places I’ve striven to keep intact. stealing…poisoning…squeezing dollars from it must extract an equivalent toll from our collective soul. I love it so much, jack. there’s no room for self-indulgence out here. blah blah blah. I am grown vain.

five flat tires so far. one broke spoke. up and down goes the trail. first person i’ve seen in a week hiking below yesterday. he sensed me…stopped. fearful. an interloper. passing through unaware of his brotherhood with all this. disconnected…as are most. I sat still until he passed. don’t want to talk to anyone but you. you should be here.


this town is mad. the people are mean and drunk. they seem sick. a sick culture. supplies and back into the womb of the mountains.

Frank’s calling arrived with our bearing witness to an event in the mountains north of town. We were seventeen and eighteen then. Accomplished riders. Brothers beating on each other with bikes instead of fists. We heard the metal clank of machinery and the whine of two-stroke engines while climbing a steep backcountry scree trail. At the apex we lay in the browning grass with hearts pounding and watched men systematically knock down the mountain opposite the valley between us. Raw skid trails, where logs were yarded and loaded onto idling trucks, ran down the ravaged natural ravines. Spent diesel came on the air. High on the hill small figures laid down tree upon tree with a rending crack of old wood tearing at the bole.

Frank watched silently. His jaw set and eyes pale in the midday sun. I began to whisper but he waved me down as a sharp report came across. Then another as the men took to chasing something large and black pell-mell down the mountain. The thing stumbled and rolled. A man stopped and held his arms out in a triangle and another report came across the valley. The bear, my mind accepted that it was a bear, took off running again until the ground ran out beneath its feet and it cartwheeled off the mountain and into the sky, gyrating clumsily as it plummeted until it disappeared from sight forever. The men queued up small and primal on the rock shelf and stared downward. The wind soughed mournfully, but its plaint was voided by the smoking yarder blowing its horn long and hard at which the men slunk back to their positions on the hillside and resumed cutting it down.

We rode home mute that day. The strangely detached viewing of the self-destructive angles of man affected me greatly. But in Frank some sort of internal scale that had been teetering for some time suddenly buried itself against the stops.

After this he began to immerse himself in these fantastic rides deep into the Frank Church. He’d be gone for two days. Three days. A week. Returning ragged and skinny and quiet. But with a haunting in his eyes. It was then that Sooty gave up on him as an object movable by no one but Frank.

When I left for school Frank moved out of the house and took up in a spartan cabin twelve miles out of town. Not long after, the front page of the Idaho Statesman ran a bullet that read:


The pictures showed smoking hulks of machinery. A charred Peterbilt log-hauler that looked like it took a bomb. News of the event ran electric through the state. “E.L.F.” people said. “Radical goddamn tree-huggers” they grumbled. “Californians.” A strange chord rang in me.


Life carried on, however. Sooty continued sloughing out chimneys. I took exams and carefully planned my future. And I wondered about Frank.

When the school year ended and the college town performed its annual emptying, I drove home to McCall and rode out to see him. Outside his cabin several out-of-state cars were parked. When I walked in the front door I found Frank surrounded by several serious looking men I didn’t know. All went silent.

“So the prodigal returns,” shouted Frank, breaking the tension. “I’d completely forgotten my brother and I are going for a ride today. I’ll catch up with you guys later.” Frank put his hand on my shoulder and shuttled me quickly out.

His cabin resided near the old trail up to Pearl Lake and we rode it slowly. Frank avoided the obvious questions I was about to ask by asking me about California. I spoke about college life. Girls. Beer. Bongheads. We climbed through large stands of tamarack and spruce. The warming earth exhaled sweetly. We stopped and picked morels growing out of the singletrack. At the lake we stripped and waded out until the mud bottom fell away and we floated pale and small beneath the immense swath of Idaho blue. Small cutthroats dimpled the surface by the hundreds.

“Who are those people, Frank?”

“Friends. Business associates.”

“What business is that?”

He smiled faintly. “Protection. Subversion. Shifting of dominant paradigms.”

“Protection of what?”

“What do you think?” He said, turning on me. “There are but a few things worth protecting. What’s the most sacred and precious thing on earth?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well you should, goddamnit Jack. Look around.” He made an all-encompassing gesture with his arms while maintaining an incredulous look. He sunk beneath the surface and stayed down for a long time. That strange chord rang in me again. When he came up he was halfway across the lake.

“This is all we’ve got, Jack. They’ll ruin it if we let them. Extract every last dollar from it until it’s just a pile of lifeless rock. Pull your head out of your ass.”


charged by a sow grizzly large as a draft horse. thought it was over. seen mountain goats. mule deer. marmots. moose. cold clear star sprent nights. the aurora undulating and streaking in colours unimaginable. utter and complete isolation. pedaled through a valley of quivering aspen bound by peaks and shot through with newborn water. caught jeweled trout with maps of forgotten worlds etched in obsidian over their depthless backs. they flash like daggers at the bottom of a rivulet you could step across. dry lightning touched a ridgetop snag and it burned all night like a sentinel of the almighty. dug a fulgurite long as my arm the next morning from its root. nothing weighs on me but the unavoidable townships. I could stay up here forever. don’t even know what day it is. I know my fight is over. I pass the torch to you…


I read it three times and put it in the box in my desk drawer with the other letters. Two term papers in two neat piles stared at me. They suddenly seemed affected. Irrelevant.

In my third year of college I read about the wrenching of three logging outfits in Oregon. An equipment yard and three field operations torched over a weekend. The reporter mentioned bicycles being used to reconnoiter and commit the remote crimes synchronously. Violence against property they called it. I marveled at the semantics.


Not long after, Sooty called. Frank had disappeared from town. “Left out without word one,” he said. “What do you make of a son like that?”

More incidents occurred at random. Governmental agencies stepped up efforts. No one person or group owned the acts. The media labeled the events and perpetrators with clever titles. Ecotage. Eco-terror. Eco-terrorists. And finally, domestic terrorists.

The last event before Frank’s first letter arrived was the burning of seven multi-million-dollar starter castles being built along the banks of the Upper Salmon River. No one was hurt, or ever had been, but the massive structures were turned to ash on their foundations.

Darian McDiggler of Spillimacheen, Alberta, wrote:

crossed the border hidden in the international spine. no customs. no lines. no laws but those natural to human beings. hardest riding yet. took a nasty crash. came to in the cold dark. sutured a spectacular knee wound closed by firelight. no matter. the mountains are even more grand here. I stay within them much as I can. venturing out and seeing the ruination…clearcuts…mines…oil derricks in the distance with their proboscises sucking the earth’s marrow. shortsightedness drives me mad. a revolution of the mind, jack. that’s truly what’s needed. but how?

lonely pedaling today. I’m just tooo damn small. the pen just may be mightier, brother. might be that the novel sooty proclaimed you’d write may be the way. I don’t know. I’m teetering over an abyss. I often think of the falling bear.

grande cache coming up. the trail grown thin or none at all. weather changing on the minute. snow, snain, hail, rain, sun. fingers grown notably skinnier. surprised myself…my reflection in a pool of water. grande cache. see you there.


The date came quickly. One day I looked at the calendar and realized I was due in Grande Cache in two days. Through maddening means of transport I arrived on the fifteenth. No Frank. I rode into the timbered hills knowing it was impossible folly. I asked around in town. Spent a week meandering. Nothing. I gave my bike to a ten-year old kid who heeled me the entire time I was there. Then I went home.

A few ideas came. Frank was hurt. Frank was dead. I was an unwitting pawn in one of Frank’s secretive plans. I decided the best thing was to go home and wait. When I arrived, a G-man in a suit was waiting with all sorts of imperious questions about Frank. Haven’t heard from him. No one has. Piss off.

The final letter arrived two months after I’d returned.

heard you came brother. with your bike. the kid is adventuring around town on it just as we used to. rode with him a while.

had to pull stitches from my knee and cut away some infection and re-stitch. great fun. better now, but laid in the mountains for a week unable to move for all the will in the world. in this time of stillness i came to terms with myself. probably best I missed you. you’re the only person who might’ve talked me out of it. I know I cannot endure one day where they’ll put me should I return. and you know I’ll never turn their way.

I meant to give you something. maybe it’ll find it’s way into your hands yet. I’m riding northward. this is all I want and all I’m built for anymore.

funny. I first rode for escapism…I rode off anger and discontent. i rode for zero impact. now I ride simply for the love of it. the indescribable joy of moving myself across this rare earth. a fitting and proper mindset for an ending.

I think of you with every other pedalstroke brother


The coroner pulled the sheet back on my brother’s mummified mortal shell. I nodded. I escorted Sooty back out to my car. Frank should have been left where he’d fallen rather than having been dragged out by a couple of ice climbers with a travois. Sooty stared at the floorboards.

“What you think he was doin’ way up there?”

“I don’t know, Dad.”

“You think he was the terrorist that did them things?”

“No. I do not.”


I teach literature at the college where I did my postgrad. I was deep into a pile of essays when the knock came.

“Are you Jack Reynolds?”


“Do I look familiar?”

“I see so many students…”

“You gave me your bike. Nine years ago. In Alberta.”


He lifted a tattered journal from his backpack and set it on my desk. “Your brother gave me this to give to you.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“He said I could read it if I kept it to myself.”

“How was it?”

“I think your brother was a great man.”

“He was.”

“Well.” He looked around my confined office briefly. Uncomfortably. “I’d better be off.”

“Where’re you going?”

“I’m riding back up before winter sets in.”


“Yep.” He leaned forward and shook my hand. “Thanks.”

“Thank you.”

I sat and stared at Frank’s journal for a while then opened it and it was warm in my hand. Like a torch handle.

Keep reading

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 26 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.


Blast From the Past: Reader Submitted Tattoo Gallery

Editor’s note: In Issue #137, Jonathan Logan of Rochester, New York, wrote in and asked if we could publish a section of reader’s tattoos. We challenged our readers show us the ink. The response was impressive, and in Dirt Rag Issue #139 we ran a two-page spread that included the reader-submitted photos proudly displayed below.

Canvas: Dan Webb. Artist: Noska from Southside Tattoo.

Canvas: Dan Webb. Artist: Noska from Southside Tattoo.


Classic B.C. cartoon character Thor. Canvas: Matthew Heneghan, Artist: Downtown Charlie Brown of Tattoo U.

Classic B.C. cartoon character Thor. Canvas: Matthew Heneghan, Artist: Downtown Charlie Brown of Tattoo U.


Canvas: Darryl Clark. Artist: Don Sellers.

Canvas: Darryl Clark. Artist: Don Sellers.


Canvas: Kevin Bookman. Dirt Rag Issue #137 original art: Dan Lawlis.

Canvas: Kevin Bookman. Dirt Rag Issue #137 original art: Dan Lawlis.


Canvas: Edward Zupnik. Artists: Anina Goins (illustration) and Melissa (tattoo).

Canvas: Edward Zupnik. Artists: Anina Goins (illustration) and Melissa (tattoo).


Dirt Rag Issue #134 original art by Melissa Dehner. Canvas: Jody Monjot. Artist: Knuckles, a.k.a. Joe from highstreettattoo.com.

Dirt Rag Issue #134 original art by Melissa Dehner. Canvas: Jody Monjot. Artist: Knuckles, a.k.a. Joe from highstreettattoo.com.


Canvas: Jamie Price. Artist: Rob in Brierley Hill, U.K.

Canvas: Jamie Price. Artist: Rob in Brierley Hill, U.K.


For his kids: Geoffrey, Katie, Anthony. Canvas: Geoff Calderone. Artist: Paradise Tattoo.

For his kids: Geoffrey, Katie, Anthony. Canvas: Geoff Calderone. Artist: Paradise Tattoo.



Sa YosHoba means "I am lost" in Choctaw. Canvas: Chuck Wickham. Artist: Sean Gilhuly from Outside the Box.

Sa YosHoba means “I am lost” in Choctaw. Canvas: Chuck Wickham. Artist: Sean Gilhuly from Outside the Box.


Enjoy The Ride. Canvas: Damon Hamilton. Artist: Joel at Bambu Tattoo.

Enjoy The Ride. Canvas: Damon Hamilton. Artist: Joel at Bambu Tattoo.

 Keep reading

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 26 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.


A brief history of the Dirt Rag cover logo


The cover of Issue #1 featured the catchy name “Dirt Rag,” a liberal use of clip art and the immortal slogan “It’s A Big World—Ride on it!” But no official logo.



By Issue #2 we’d adopted the above logo that featured a unique, scrawling font (created by Steve Chaszeyka of wizardairbrushgraphics.com).



In October 1989 we introduced die-cut stickers with the original logo—in a dazzling yellow/red color combination that would become Dirt Rag’s de facto “team colors,” adorning the initial run of team jerseys that went out to staff, contributors and close associates.



Speaking of colors, Issue #28 sported our first-ever color cover, but it wasn’t until DR #29 that we took a paintbrush to the logo. Despite the switch to color covers, the logo remained mostly a black-and-white affair for the next several years.



Sometimes we made exceptions to the “standard” logo treatment. For instance, when the cover artist incorporated a stylized logo into their original work. The above cover from DR #32—created by then Art Director Mark Tierney—is one such example.


During his tenure as Art Director, Mark created a new logo that featured a white “DIRT” inside a black box, stacked above a lower case “rag” that had a marbled texture to it. The new logo dropped on the cover of DR #56. Occasionally the “rag” was lightened, or even colorized, as the cover art dictated—but the stacked logo remained essentially unchanged for the next several years.


Jeff Guerrero was Art Director when we switched to a horizontal logo on DR #84. The new design featured a white “DIRT” inside a black box, and black “RAG” inside a white box. Both the letters and the boxes had “wavy” edges. The letter “R” in “DIRT” incorporated an art icon, and the R-art usually changed from issue to issue. The horizontal treatment allowed more room for the tag line “The Mountain Bike Forum,” which we introduced on the cover of DR #80.


The horizontal logo was modified for DR #111. The black box around the “DIRT” was eliminated, which allowed more of the cover art to show through.


Current Art Director Matt Kasprzyk modified the horizontal logo for DR #160 when he sharpened up the wavy edges on the letters and borders. By this time we’d already stopped using the R-art (the final issue with the R-art was DR #156).


On the cover of DR #167 Matt reversed the white/black portions, creating a black “DIRT” and a white “RAG” (with the word RAG inside a black box). Since DR #167 the black “DIRT” logo has been the predominant version, with the white “DIRT” version appearing occasionally, when aesthetics dictated the switch.


One notable exception: We added a splash of silver ink to the cover of Issue #176 to commemorate our 25th anniversary. Clink!

Keep reading

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 26 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.



Blast From the Past: Recomm Endo (Worthy Recordings)


Editor’s note: In the Readings section of Issue # 38, published in August 1994, Mark Tierney curated the following selection of music reviews under the headline: “Recomm Endo (Worthy Recordings).” While there was no long-range plan at the time, Mark’s idea would eventually morph into our semi-regular music/movie/book/etc. review column now known as Recommendo.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention — “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”

This may be old hat for many people, but I seem to be one of those sheltered folks that has discovered genius only after genius has died. If you think Miles Davis invented jazz-rock fusion, Frank Zappa may or may not have done it first. Funny and weird, like life is.

Mazzy Star — “So Tonight That I Might See”

Spare and spacey psychedelia; often dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, cops form Velvets and Doors in some places, Zeppelin in others, covers love (“Five String Serenade”), has pretty, languid vocals by Hope Sandoval and stands up to repeated listenings.

“Dazed and Confused” soundtrack

This one may as well be on K-tel records and air ads during mid-afternoon “Baretta” reruns. I originally listened to this music not as an active and practicing degenerate but as apprentice. Everyone’s got their own version of this mid-seventies classic rock soundtrack; mine includes Slade’s “Gudbuy T’ Jane,” “Radar Love” by Golden Earring and “Sweet Jane” from the “Rock and Roll Animal” album (Lou Reed). What’s yours include? Best twelve songs wins a prize or something. Must be over 30 [Make that 50, now that we’ve advanced the calendar 20 years. —Ed.] to enter.

Space Grace — “Secret Response”

Trio intensity not for the faint of heart — fierce improvisation, free of time or tonal center — bass, drums and assorted wind instruments (tenor sax, bass clarinet and others played by Peter Brotzmann). Screams like hell boiling over.

Cell — “Living Room”

Guitar music dipping into an old trick bag and pulling out Stones riffs, surf drumming and Neil Young leads — and screening them through a nineties sensibility with the resulting mutation being new and good heavy rock and roll.

Ass Ponys — “Grim”

Country twisted tales featuring strange and beautiful characters who murder one another, fall in love, mourn, become obese, carve names in their legs, have children with fur, etc. etc. etc. It’s good. I like it.

Squid — “Squid!”

Spastic punk funk with trumpet and bone — kinda herky jerky with macho guitar as played by some mountain bikers.

Hole — “Live Through This”

Beautiful and timeless pop tunes of the highest order. Unbelievable — Courtney Love is the new Carole King, the new Cole Porter.

More Blast from the Past

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 26 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here .


Blast From the Past: Reader Rants Revisited


Editor’s note: This vintage trio of reader letters reminds us that mountain bikers were adept at ranting long before the Internet made it all too easy to blow off some steam. Here’s some favorites we found in the archives.

Rear suspension sucks!

One thing in your last issue annoyed me. It was your claim that rear suspension was a positive thing in the evolution of mountain bikes. Rear suspension sucks! It’s heavy and ugly. It also takes the fun and challenge out of mountain biking. You should have to rely on skill not technology to get down the mountain. If suspension is what you want, buy a motorcycle. Suspension goes against what mountain biking stands for. Go back to the original frame and test yourself, NOT THE BIKE. But I must admit, I have not ridden a rear suspension bike, but as someone who loves mountain biking I must say something against making it into a war of technology not skill.

—Simeon Bayles

DR #11, February 1991

Werds to ponder

respect preserve question feather 2 or 1 finger top soil green hardpan focus in groove hill don’t skid chatter off-line loud tool bag fred. say it isn’t so bugs kill trees green trucks start fires for the dept. and mr. wilson sends in the dow chemical retardants and all the troops get mo money. i pay taxes too mtn. biking is not a crime u green shirt berkley dropout gun toten facist. a horse is a mule of coarse of coarse. mr. upgrade says put your bike on a diet stx sucks use bert’s mid cage bla bla bla. titanium metal matrix molded carbon tomacium-bendumovernite. how bout the promoter at the grumblemaster classic. 20k in his pocket. the winner got grief for poaching a cola and figletts and was rewarded with a 20 dollar bill and 6 hour drive home.

—ex-pro bobby disengaged

DR #40, October 1994

Free what?

I have had it with this FREERIDE freakin’ stupidity! This must be the marketing ploy of the decade! So you are supposed to be stupid enough to run out and buy another bike just to be able to ride how most people have been for the past 10 or 15 years?! I think that there are several terms that one of the execs must have confused it with:

FREELOAD: When you can’t get enough money and are too lazy to get new people into biking—so you sponge off the people who have already coughed up a lung for your product.

FREELANCE: When you get too big to write about the sport that encouraged you in the first place—so you hire someone who hasn’t a clue to promote your product.

FREEDOM: The big cheese who has enough of your dough to eat caviar and drink Dom Perignon in Austria—so he can tell you how you should just be an ordinary guy and enjoy riding.

FREEZER BURN: The food you had to eat because you spent another gazillion dollars on a bike that did the same thing as your last one.

FREETOWN: The capital of Sierra Leone in West Africa—the exec only discovered by spilling his latte on the copy of Wall Street Journal that was only on his coffee table to impress friends.

FREE-FOR-ALL: The scenario that ensues following a new word that justifies the mainstream biking press’ existence.

FREEDOM-OF-CHOICE: Name of a great Devo tune that should inspire us all.

Look, I’m over 30, balding, fat, exercise all too little and eat and drink too much, play with this stupid computer and have no real social life—BUT EVEN I CAN SPOT THIS SCAM! Free ride, Free Bird—it all has been overplayed before—just enjoy.

—Tim Williamson

DR #62, November 1997

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Blast From the Past: Mock Cover Outtakes

I come from a long line of pack rats. Nothing gets thrown away, and family attics look like scenes from “American Pickers.” This genetic predisposition, combined with my long tenure at Dirt Rag, landed me the role of de-facto staff archivist and historian.

Each week, I rummage through the magazine’s archives in search of “Blast From the Past” blog fodder. With 25+ years of material to choose from, there’s no shortage of great, “old-time” stories to post on our website.

Sometimes, however, I stumble across rare, dusty treasures that never made it into print. That’s what happened this week. I found three magazine cover mock-ups from 2002 that didn’t make the cut. These denizens of the digital attic spoke to me—begging for their moment in the spotlight. How could I refuse?


Clay Crymes (whose cover art appears on Dirt Rag Issue #123 and #133) contributed the artwork for the above mock-up. Over the years, Crymes also created spec art for multiple Dirt Rag feature stories.


Brent Muir is a prolific artist whose work regularly appeared in Dirt Rag over an 11-year span. This “race issue” mock-up is typical of his bold, colorful style.


The final mock cover is somewhat of a mystery—our archives have no record of the artist.  If you recognize this work, please drop a comment below, so that we can give credit where credit is due.

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Blast From the Past: Singletrack Hounds


Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag #111, published in November 2004. Words by Karen Brooks. Photos by Brad Quartuccio.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know the joys of gliding through the woods, the satisfaction of making it up that hill, and the release of elevating your heart rate. It makes sense, then, that humankind’s best friend can also enjoy and benefit from mountain bike excursions. If you have a canine companion you’d like to introduce to the sport, or if you’re thinking about getting a dog to join you, here is some basic advice to get you started.

My dog? Really?

My dog Ivan accompanies me on almost all of my mountain bike rides. The most common question I get from folks is, “He just follows along with you?” Yes, that part was easy. Dogs are instinctively pack animals and don’t want to be separated from their pack mates, especially in a quasi-hunting or herding situation, which a ride can be. The quirks of certain individuals aside, most dogs, seeing their beloved master traveling more quickly than usual, won’t want to go anywhere else but in the same direction. They get excited by the speed and by the scents on the trail; for a dog, a singletrack path is very obvious, not just by its visual cues, but by the olfactory traces of all the other people and animals who have traveled on it. Of course they want to see what’s at the end.

Most dogs, like their owners, don’t get enough exercise and spend far too much time being sedentary indoors. Not only does obesity cause as many health problems in dogs as it does in people, the mental benefits of biking extend to our four-legged friends as well. A well-exercised dog is a good dog, much more likely to pay attention to commands and spend time alone without resorting to destructive behavior. People who meet Ivan often remark how calm and obedient he is—the reason is that, most likely, he’s already run between five and eight miles that day.

57 Varieties

Every breed has certain common characteristics of temperament and build that make it more or less suited for mountain biking, and even the suitability of mixed-breed “mutts” can be predicted with a good guess as to their lineage. Don’t be fooled by pet-shop propaganda: purebred dogs are not necessarily superior to mixed breeds, and in fact, some purebred dogs are more susceptible to inherited health conditions. You can find information on a breed’s characteristics on the American Kennel Club’s website as well as other general dog information sites, and in many books on individual breeds.


For mountain biking, the temperamental characteristics you want are high energy and stamina, willingness to follow commands and not too much of a “roaming” tendency. The physical type that does well is a lean, long-legged dog. Very small dogs will obviously have a hard time keeping up because of their shorter legs, although there are exceptions in dogs with such high energy levels that their size doesn’t hinder them.

One riding buddy, Hammer, has a Miniature Pinscher, only about a foot tall, that can easily run with him for 10 miles or more, or happily stow away in his messenger bag. Large (100 pounds and up), stout and heavily muscled dogs—again with exceptions—often don’t have the speed or stamina necessary for anything but short rides. Hunting breeds work well, since they generally are bred to spend long days searching for various kinds of game, taking their cues from the hunter. This translates well to biking; I’m convinced that a big part of why Ivan loves it so much is because we’re covering more ground and coming up on the forest creatures faster than we would walking or running.

The first dog I ever biked with was a Cocker Spaniel; with no prodding, she loved to just put her nose down to the trail and run as fast as possible, occasionally making side trips to flush out birds or squirrels in the underbrush. Herding dogs also are typically highly energetic and intelligent; their herding instinct, however, sometimes translates to nipping at heels and barking to try to keep everyone together.

Medical Clearance

Your vet is the first person to consult if you’d like to try bringing your dog along on rides, since Fido can’t tell you directly if he’s got heart problems or other reasons he should be left at home. One of the most serious reasons is hip dysplasia, a genetic defect in which a dog’s hip joints are not formed correctly, causing arthritis and pain. It occurs more frequently in some breeds than in others, but also in mixed breeds, and no dog is guaranteed to be free of it. If your dog is afflicted, too much sustained running can exacerbate the symptoms; although there’s a fine balance as far as exercise is concerned, because strong hip and leg muscles help to stabilize the joint and preserve range of motion. Your vet may okay short rides if the degree of the problem is not too severe.

If you’ve got a new puppy in your house who’d love to ride, be careful with the amount and intensity. No dog before a year of age should run continuously for too long, or do it too often—your vet can give you some guidelines for your particular type of dog. Too much high-impact exercise can interfere with normal joint development. I took Ivan out with a bike at nine weeks old, but only rode for about 50 yards total; over the course of his first year I gradually increased the amount, but never made him run at full speed for more than 100-200 yards.

We often went to a local ski resort, where some trails are so technical that traveling at walking pace is difficult, and there are a lot of small lakes and reservoirs where Ivan could take breaks to swim (which is an excellent low-impact exercise). Avoid going too fast on fire roads or smooth trails, and follow your dog’s cues—the more you pay attention to signs he needs a rest break, such as whining or laying down suddenly, the more he’ll feel confident in giving you those signs.

For an adult dog, the same rules apply as for a human starting a new sport: take it easy at first, and gradually build up in intensity. Again, Lassie can’t tell you if she’s too out of shape for the ride, and some dogs won’t give any cues before they literally run themselves to death if they’re trying to keep up with you. The pads on her paws also need to be toughened gradually. You can purchase booties to protect her pads, which are especially good on gravel or sharp rocks.

Sit, Stay and All That

You don’t want Fifi running off into the woods and not coming back or knocking down little kids in the local park, so obedience training is necessary before you think about biking with your dog. For simple commands, “Come” is the most important, and commands like “Heel,” “Stay” and “Leave it” are also helpful.

There are many excellent training books to be found that can help you, or even better, there is probably a club or kennel near you that holds regular obedience classes for dogs of all ages. Classes work great in that they not only teach you how to teach your dog, but they get her used to paying attention solely to you in a distracting situation. It’s very important to make sure you have control of your dog both on and off leash; biking is best done with the dog off-leash, so that one of you doesn’t yank the other into danger.

Once you’ve established a good training relationship with your dog you can start to get him used to the bike. A dog’s reaction to seeing you on the bike can range from total indifference to barking and jumping wildly, so it’s best to start slowly. For your first trip, walk with the bike for a while, then choose somewhere secluded, flat and non-technical to try riding for a short distance (100 yards or so), to see how your dog reacts.

Getting Spot to follow you will most likely not be a problem, but keeping him out of the way of your wheels will be. When your dog gets in front of you while you’re moving, yell something like “No” in a forceful voice, and even slam on the brakes to make that scratching sound with the tires if possible—this gets the dog’s attention and lets him know he’s not supposed to be there.

When he moves out of the way, praise him and give him a favorite treat (conveniently located in an accessible pocket). This is the most important safety lesson for both of you, so spend some time to get it right—ideally only 5–10 minutes once a day, or as often as you can manage, so Fluffy doesn’t get bored and start to think of biking like you did of, say, seventh grade study hall.

Another biking friend used a leash at slow speed to pull her dog Emma out of the way while giving a command like “Move” or “Get over.” With large-sized adult dogs, and very good bike handling skills, you can even bump your dog gently if she gets in the way. This is obviously an advanced maneuver on your part—you don’t want to run over a paw or otherwise injure your dog—but it will give her an idea of what could happen if the wheel had more force behind it. The ability to get out of the way should extend to other bikers, too; have your dog come to you or heel anytime a biker passes, even when you’re just walking, so she gets in the habit.

Shaping other behaviors happens in much the same way: give a verbal warning for the wrong behavior, and give praise and/or treats for the right stuff. A dog’s attention span is pretty limited, so both warning and reward should be nearly instantaneous, so that he knows exactly what it is he’s doing right or wrong. Ivan as a pup had a problem with dominance; when biking, this meant he insisted on being in the lead and would resort to jumping up, barking and even snapping at me to get there (with no UCI judges in sight).

In addition to other training tricks used at home to address this, when he started his illegal passing maneuvers on the trail, I’d stop and shout “No,” then continue riding until he did it again, which resulted in stopping and shouting over and over, until he realized that this peloton wasn’t going anywhere unless he minded his own business.


It’s convenient to teach Rex to drink from a bottle, and to carry an extra one with you for him. Puppies take to a bottle instinctively, as it’s a lot like suckling; adult dogs may be reluctant at first, but when they get thirsty, they’ll figure it out. Just be careful not to squirt the dog and create an aversion to bottles. I have also taught Ivan “Left” and “Right” as commands, so that he can be told which way to go at intersections. This was actually relatively easy—I just said “Left” or “Right” anytime we made a turn, and also did the same thing walking on the street, so that after a while he knew which was which.

The Group Situation

Once you have your dog trained well and she’s able to ride with you with no problems, you can take her along when riding with friends. As well trained as you may think your dog is, however, don’t try this with anyone but one or two regular riding buddies at first, and ask ahead of time if they’re comfortable riding with a dog in tow.

Avoid surprises—riders you don’t know may turn out to be afraid of dogs, or still learning skills and not confident enough with the distraction; your dog may be fine with one person, but freak out with three on bikes. Don’t attempt to bring your dog on a ride with more than 10 people, as there’ll be enough chaos going on without her, and the chances of you being able to personally ask everyone if they’re cool with Frisky running along diminish greatly.

But Where Can We Go?

This could be the toughest challenge in bringing your beloved friend with you mountain biking; the chances of finding somewhere that also allows dogs off-leash is pretty slim. Ivan and I are fortunate to live near a city park where neither off-leash dogs nor mountain bikes are technically allowed except in certain areas, but both are accepted.

There are some things to keep in mind to help minimize conflicts and problems: If your riding spot is somewhat crowded, leash your dog and walk anytime you may come up on people picnicking, walking with babies, etc.—even if you have total control over your dog, not everyone you encounter will be confident in that. For more remote areas, consider a bell for your dog’s collar, so that she doesn’t inadvertently surprise any big, aggressive forest residents. And of course pay attention to hunting seasons in your area, and avoid areas where hunting is allowed, for your own safety as well as your dog’s.

Learning to mountain bike with your dog can be a challenge, but the effort is worth it. Riding the trails alone is an enlightening experience, but sharing it with someone you love, human or canine, elevates it even further.

Keep reading

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.



Blast From the Past: How to Have a Retro Ride


Editor’s note: This story by Karl Rosengarth first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #76, published in December 1999.

It’s all about fun. I ride my mountain bike in search of maximum smiles per hour, and I’m not shy about spreading this philosophy. Occasionally, my riding crew loses their perspective, and I feel like I’m riding with aliens from planet Grimace. On those days, an abundance of hill sprints, one-upmanship and “heart rate targeting” trigger the alarm on my bullshit detector.

If your group rides start to display these same symptoms, don’t worry—there is a cure.

The Retro Ride is your ticket to good health and more smiles per hour. The trick is to pitch the Retro Ride as a “theme ride,” so your pals don’t suspect that you’re feeding them the big chill pill.

All good theme rides require a few “rules.” I picked my retro rules based on my earliest mountain biking experiences, but feel free to modify the rules to suit your needs: Bikes must have a rigid fork, rigid frame and conventional pedals (flat or with toe clips). The following are forbidden: cycling computers, waterpacks, synthetic cycling jerseys, cycling-specific shoes, energy bars, techno-babble and whining.

Pretty simple, no?

Simple like a fox! Get Johnny Racer on his original Ross Mt. Whitney talking about his back-in-the-day escapades, and he’ll slow down to a recreational pace so mellow that you could comb your hair in his pearly whites.

With dusted-off steed in various states of neglect, breakdowns are guaranteed. This is good, as it interjects rest stops. Serious mechanicals are even better—they provide an opportunity for group bonding, as the team cooperates on MacGyvering a solution.

Finally some sage advice to would-be Retro Ride leaders. Pack an ample supply of cookies and M&M’s to bust out during the stops—this increases the group’s smileage. Pick a non-technical route, for two reasons. Reason one: 35 pound bikes. Reason two: If you advertise the ride in your club’s newsletter, you will probably get a bunch of beginners who just bought unsuspended bikes that “qualify” as retro. Embrace these unspoiled newbies with open arms. Water bottles go empty quickly, so pick a route with potable water. Herd the group to the nearest pizza joint for post-ride festivities, making it a well-rounded day. Buying the first round makes it easier to convince some racer-head to lead the next Retro Ride.

If you’re smiling right now, you get the picture.

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Blast From the Past: The Zapata Espinoza Interview


Editor’s note: “Zap” Espinoza is a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer who got his start with Hi-Torque Publications’ Mountain Bike Action magazine in 1987. He moved on to Mountain Bike magazine in 1993, where he filled the editor’s chair until taking the reigns as Trek’s mountain bike brand manager in 2004. In 2006 Zap returned to Hi-Torque, where he has since filled various roles within the company’s motorsports and cycling publications. This interview first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #99, published in April 2003. While some of the material is dated, there’s no denying that Zap’s candid take on the wild world of mountain biking is still as insightful and entertaining as ever. Interview by Michael Browne. Illustration by David Biber.

When the concept to interview Zapata Espinoza of Mountain Bike magazine came up at a Dirt Rag staff meeting, we compiled pages of questions before even figuring out if one of mountain biking’s long-standing journalists would be into such an idea. So when the email from Zap came back, “Are you kidding? As one of the most shamelessly self-promoting editors in the biz, I’d love to,” the question wasn’t, should we actually do it; the question was, how do we narrow down our questions? We didn’t.

While many of our past interviews have profiled interesting personalities, I think you’ll find this one most revealing of an interviewee’s true character. Chalk it up to great questions and a guy who just wants a forum for his views. I think he found the right place.

Dirt Rag: For our readers who might not know you, who are you?

Zap Espinoza: What? Start off with an insult? Oh my God.

DR: Hey man, there are some loyal Dirt Raggers out there.

ZE: Uh…Zap. Um…Mountain Bike magazine. Been at it since ’87 and I got bigger ear holes, far bigger than Mighty Moe will ever have. Him and his little [expletive deleted] starter kit he’s got there.

DR: So how’d you get introduced to mountain biking?

ZE: The very first mountain bike that I saw was a Mountain Goat when I was at UC Santa Cruz. I was in the cycling club and it was all road stuff in (I’m going to date myself) 1982. I went to the bike shop and there was this rad looking mountain bike with a camouflage paint job and it was just crazy. I didn’t really think about it or understand it all that much, but that was the first one I ever saw.

I actually professionally started in 1987 at Mountain Bike Action to get the job at Motorcross Action. I just started doing it even though I didn’t really want to do it. But growing up, Motorcross Action was my Bible and so that’s what I was all about.

Then in the summer of ’87, I went to Mammoth for the Swatch mountain bike race with Todd Smith, who was supposed to become the editor of Mountain Bike Action. So we went up to Mammoth and I fell in love with Ned Overend and Lisa Muhich and the sport of mountain biking and Todd came home hating it more than ever. So I came back and told Jody Weisel, “I want the job. Will you please teach me?” So from August of ’87, I’ve just been dedicated to it. That’s why I’ve remained more in love with racing and Ned Overend than most sane individuals. I’m a big advocate of racing, maybe because it came to me at Mammoth instead of at some willowy park in a big meadow. So, that’s all there too, but the seeds got planted at Mammoth in ’87.

DR: So there’s some secret love affair we need to know about?

ZE: Competition, brother. I love being competitive. That’s what spoiled the relationships with all the other magazine editors over the years. I just love competition and it’s not about just sitting around and drinking beer, about doing that old [expletive deleted] “my flip-flops are older than yours” routine or anything else.

The love affair with Ned? Any sane individual would know that you can’t help but be mesmerized by that guy. The same with Lisa too, just two fabulous people. They were champions, they were so competitive and yet, they were the most humble people in the world. There’s no pretense about Ned, never ever ever, and the same with Lisa. I guess I was just so awe struck—these two riders of such magnitude and so wonderful to be with and outgoing. But the love affair’s just with competition. I support it whether it’s the sport class kids or the Red Bull Rampage. It’s all good, as long as you beat somebody.

Oh wait, except trials.

DR: What do you have against the trials guys?

ZE: Well, they’re like the singlespeeders. They’re just generally… there was this one guy back in the day who was balling me out making me think trials was going to be the next big thing. Blah, blah, blah, my son deserves more than this, blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, dude, it’s [expletive deleted] trials. It’s a sideshow. Hans Rey, whatever. Andy Grayson, whatever. But it’s hard, whatever. It’s just not my cup of tea. Like I said, it’s like the singlespeed guys. They just think that there’s more to it than there really is.

My standing joke for years has been always making fun of the trials guys. It’s just useful fodder for saying mean things.

DR: Are you into the whole freeriding thing?

ZE: I don’t buy it… Of the many things I continue to be uptight about in life… I think all this crap about freeriding… anyone who was back in Moab in 1987 with toe straps and Lycra shorts, it was just as much about freeriding then as it is these days with some knucklehead wearing baggy shorts with twelve inches of travel.

There are plenty of people in the cycling industry as it tries to define itself over and over again, to the degree that the word “mountain bike” has almost become a dirty word ‘cause it’s not specific or niche enough. So when you say “are you into the freeriding thing?,” I think the ride I did last week with Ned was freeriding.

I guess extreme riding is what that is to me. But like everything else, it’s going to have its day in the sun and then next thing you know, everyone’s going to say, “remember when we used to watch those silly freeride videos? What a waste of time.”

I was just back in Pennsylvania putting the new issue down, and we were picking photos and stuff, and I did the story on Frischkeneicht and put a bitchin’ picture of him on the table of contents. And there he is with a freakin’ flat bar and Lycra shorts and three inches of travel. And to me, it just warms my heart because everything that Frischkeneicht is all about is just so [expletive deleted] right on.

All these numbskulls that just walk around sayin’ “Oh, the cross country racing isn’t about the lifestyle.” They’ve got their heads up their asses. ‘Cause on any given day, whether it’s Megan Long or Tomas Frischkeneicht, they’ve got just as much lifestyle as any dozen beer-drinkin’, baggy short wearin’ freeriders.

DR: So this was a current picture of Tomas?

ZE: No, it’s about three years old, ‘cause he’s on a Ritchey. There’s a story inside the magazine. But why would anyone care about Frishy? He’s not in the videos, he’s not doing the big huckin’. But Frishy, like Thomas Jefferson stands for democracy, Frishy stands for things that are far more pervasive than anything in freeriding right now. There are things that every mountain biker and every cyclist can draw on from Frischkeneicht and his legacy, just by being as unfashionable as what he represents is.

I’m just defensive now because I have to listen to companies telling me that, “Oh, well, that kinda stuff doesn’t represent the lifestyle that we want to try and get involved in.” What? Are they out of their [expletive deleted] minds? How can Frischkeneicht not represent the lifestyle of cycling? He’s a cyclocross champion, an Olympic rider, World Champion. He’s been racing mountain bikes for twelve or fourteen years. It’s just the bias that comes from the people who fall into it for the fashion of the times, and for me personally, I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon by wearing [expletive deleted] Oakley baggy shorts, no matter how stupid they are. Not just Oakley, but all baggy shorts.

Ya know, Matt wears baggies here, and Bill wears them every once in a while, but to me, it’s not about the bandwagon mentality. That’s not what mountain biking’s about either.

DR: So are you saying that not much has changed for you since you’ve gotten into it?

ZE: Oh, huge changes. Technology, far and away, is the biggest change. And the sport’s changed. I’ve had to deal with Back-In-The-Day knuckleheads like Dondo, who just bitches and moans, “Oh, it’s not like it was back in the day.” Weeping and moaning that it wasn’t like it was back when he was drinking beer at Mt. Snow. Blah, blah, blah… I have as many Back-In-The-Dayisms as anybody and I relish those days. And I don’t wear baggy shorts, but in no way does that mean that I don’t either recognize or embrace the change, because that’s what has made it as good as it is today. It’s not that it’s better or worse today, it’s just different.

You can either embrace that and get along with it, or sit back and look like some knucklehead who can’t fit in—like Dondo and his ilk. In the magazine world, it’s not our place to format this whole Back In The Day routine where you’re unable to bring your readers around to where they can experience all the new things out there. I think that’s irresponsible, unless the title of your magazine is Back In The Day Cycling or We Refuse to Evolve Mountain Biking.

All these concepts about who has more soul, it’s all a bunch of [expletive deleted] crap. And the idea that somehow something that was before yesterday or before last year is somehow better or has more soul than something that’s out there now, it’s entirely ethnocentric and just so prejudice, that really raises my hair, what little I have left.

DR: You’ve talked a lot about the positive impacts of technology on the scene, but what other positive changes have happened?

ZE: I mean, between now and back in the day, every time any one person has discovered mountain biking and gone out and had a good time, whether they’re in the sport now or not, that’s a positive change. There’s an awful lot of people who’ve discovered mountain biking in the last ten years, and they may not be doing it now in the same numbers. But [expletive deleted] it, the mountain bike brought a sense of liberation and adventure [to people] who may never have enjoyed that or experienced it. And that’s all good. Nothing but good. If, let’s say, 80 million people found mountain biking and 40 million left to do something else, but if 20 million of those just use the mountain bike as something to do, something to be healthy with, we still win. It’s still a positive thing.

There’s all that weeping and moaning about people who say it went too commercial and blah, blah, blah… that’s just a bunch of baloney as well. To weep and moan is to deny the natural evolution of modern civilization. Like back when GT took the first big truck to the races, that just comes about, and then it’s gone. It’s just like Enron. It’s all part of the ebb and flow of life. But the way you asked the question, it’s like you had a sense of doubt. I’m not quite sure what you mean. I wonder if you doubt anything good ever came of anything.

DR: I was listening to the positive changes you listed, and you focused on the positive impact of technology. I was curious what else was out there, for you, aside from the positive impact of technology. But you answered the question. I’m curious; do you still have that old Mountain Goat?

ZE: No. It’s a shame, but I do have the Yeti that John Parker gave me as wedding present that John Tomac rode in 1990. The one he rode in 1990 is the one with drop bars, and besides my daughter, that’s my prize possession.

The technology’s been there, and the adventure’s been there. It’s brought things like Dirt Rag, which is one of the best things about the sport. That’s the real deal.

I guess you can say it’s provided more people the opportunity to be outdoors, outside of their living rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms and shopping malls. It makes the world a better place.

DR: Is that one of the reasons you voted for Moe and Elaine for the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame instead of your co-worker?

ZE: [pause] Oh, Koeppel you mean? I find his humor has had a great impact on me personally and I think so many magazine editors, yours truly included, were suffering from delusions of self-importance. Koeppel came out and said let’s celebrate donuts and singletrack and have a good time. Koeppel woke me up. When I was at MBA, there was a fierce fight for editorial and Koeppel was just this frumpy little Jew who just didn’t care about any of that, who was willing to just look in the mirror and laugh. And that’s what he taught me—the ability to not take everything so seriously.

I don’t know Moe or Elaine that well, but in terms of what the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame represents, what Maurice and Elaine have done with Dirt Rag is far and away more worthy of a Hall of Fame nomination than anything Dan’s done. And that’s hard for me to say.

But Dirt Rag, I mean I had this little punk rock ‘zine that I did back in college, you know, Xerox and staples. So I guess I still have a soft spot in my head for what Dirt Rag once was and what it’s become and what it still is. Plenty of times, I’ve been singled out and called the corporate lackey, and blah, blah, blah, ‘cause I work for Rodale and we’re big and we have a marketing budget and we… whatever. But Dirt Rag has stayed true to what they wanted to be from the beginning and you’ve been determined and different and doing it your own way. At the end of the day, it’s so important when you’re in a society where, again, you’ve got this bandwagon mentality of everything. The history of Dirt Rag covers—ya know, for me forget The New Yorker—Dirt Rag covers are where it’s happening. It’s definite museum fodder, to have a collection of Dirt Rag covers. It’s just representative of the magazine. That was a real easy choice to me.

DR: We appreciate the compliments, but you stole my question. I was going to ask what you thought the best and worst things about Dirt Rag were, but you’ve already voiced your disdain for the beer-drinking, sandal-wearing society. Did you ever get a chance to look at the noogie picture?

ZE: What was that?

DR: We ran it about a year ago. I thought you had seen it.

ZE: What was it?

DR: It was Maurice giving you a noogie on the streets of San Francisco.

ZE: [laughs] I apologize for not being able to recall it. But hey, any press is good press, right?


The infamous noogie photo (thanks to some Photoshop magic).

DR: So you’re a self-trained journalist?

ZE: Yeah. Politics major in school. That’s definitely one of my major shortcomings, I’ve always said I’m far and away much worse of a journalist than plenty of other editors out there. I’m not half as good as an actual bicycle rider as half the riders out there. I’m nowhere nearly as mechanically inclined as some of the other editors out there, and so going into it each day I realize all these things and I say OK, all I can do is [expletive deleted] work harder than any of those other bastards out there. I think that personally, the longevity of my job is testimony to my ability to do that. There were editors back in the day who wouldn’t travel on the weekends because that was cutting into their personal time, and I was like “Are you out of your [expletive deleted] minds?” How can you take this job and not travel on the weekends? That’s when it all happens. Whether it’s a race or a Saturday night stayover. That was something I learned from Jody back in the day. His whole thing was to outwork everyone. And that’s all I’ve been fit to do.

DR: Where’d you gain your work ethic?

ZE: My grandfather. He just passed away last year at 99 years old. He was an old school steel worker, went to night classes to be an engineer in the ‘20s. His sense of self and his sense of accomplishment were tied into his ability to work hard and do his job. My grandfather was my hero and I can’t say I was ever able to be as well mannered as he was or as understanding as he was, but he was a good Mexican Catholic. A Republican, God forbid. We used to work construction together and he sort of taught me the stuff back then, in terms of his philosophy on life.

You’re defined by your work ethic. Back in the day, to make up for my own deficiencies, compared to what other editors had, I could never build a frame or be as smart as Cunningham, but I was just [expletive deleted] determined to outwork that guy.

And so again, a lot of guys have come and gone, and I can’t say that I’m still here cause of my sparkling personality, that’s for sure.

DR: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment in the mountain bike world?

ZE: Still being here, for one. For the fifteen years I’ve been in this… a lesson I learned from Jody, I take a lot of personal time out of it, but I don’t complain and I do it. Chasing down stories to provide readers with something they can ogle. As a corollary to that, to be an advocate for the bike industry. Joe Murray called me a cheerleader for the industry, and it’s like you’re damn [expletive deleted] right I am. The damn industry pays my bills and put my kid through college. Absolutely. I’ll wear that crown any day.

‘Cause it’s just so fashionable, the nattering nabobs of negativity, to quote William Sapphire, who just think it’s so cool to do that whole routine of being down on NORBA, it’s just pathetic. The knobs who wouldn’t even go to the races, from the comforts of their freeride sofas, slamming NORBA and cross country racing. I don’t know.

DR: Sounds like you don’t like those guys.

ZE: No, just don’t complain about the NORBA Nationals if you don’t go there. Like the last story I did on Mt. Snow, it was called something like “Freaks in the Woods” and I go there and I walk the course and I ride the course, and I fill those pages with those knucklehead freaks. They’re riding their bikes. It just pisses me off to hear Joe Murray bitching about the races when he comes down from his lofty wooded house in Arizona to do a NORBA National to bitch about stuff he has no idea about. His blanket denial that you can’t go to the races and have a good time. There are thousands of people there that are having a good time. But to me, it’s a great distinction if I’m a cheerleader for the industry.

‘Cause bicycles can deliver people with a sense of freedom and adventure that you can’t get anywhere else. I was never a track geek or a road geek. There’s that bias as well. The whole road geek background that I never cut my teeth on. I have pictures of me right now, jumping Schwinn Stingrays back in 1969, and it’s that life-affirming joy of riding your bicycle through a puddle or falling down and scraping your knee. Every great thing that’s ever been said about bicycles from Albert Einstein to Joe Breeze, it’s all true. They’re environmentally friendly, wonderful, personally liberating vehicles that make them worth being a cheerleader for. And I know the industry works hard, but though there’s knuckleheads galore, everyone from John Burke to Dave Turner works their asses off to make bicycles better. And the end result is a better experience and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And in the same way that I do my best to make a magazine that will entertain and inform people… my version is different from Moe’s, neither one is right or wrong, but it’s just a different take on the best way to do it. And it doesn’t mean that any of it is above criticism, I could be just as critical of any issue of Dirt Rag as I am my own magazine, ‘cause we all make judgment calls. And that’s part of it too.

Cycling is just such an incredible, diverse sport, with so many different experiences. All it takes is a willingness to throw your leg over and start pedaling, eh?

DR: Do you have any goals yet to be attained?

ZE: [20 second pause] Maybe. I’ve just led such a blessed life. From day one, in the bicycle front as well. I’ve sat on the podium for downhill races, I’ve finished off Canada’s NORBA cross country races, I’ve been freeriding around Lake Garda and gotten drunk with Ned over in Italy. I’ve had dinner at Valentino Campagnolo’s favorite restaurant. I’ve ridden in Hawaii. I’ve met incredible people, and even coming home last night at the airport, some people recognized me. It would just be foolish for me to think of anything I haven’t already done. I actually feel guilty. So I think the one thing is for my daughter to have the safest, happiest life in the world. That’s job number one. It’s all been good so far. So many great rides from Sun Valley to Japan. It would be too greedy to have anything more than what I’ve already received.

Oh wait, I know. My goal would be to be the editor of Dirt Rag.

DR: You’d have to get through me first.

ZE: Oh wait, publisher. I want [expletive deleted] Moe’s job. Ah! What a [expletive deleted] goal. How come I can’t have a life like that?

DR: What are you listening to these days?

ZE: A little bit of everything these days. I just got a CD burner so I’m burning all sorts of stuff. It’s Ozzie right now, but the bottom line is that it all comes back to the Clash. How could it not? And whether it’s Aretha Franklin or the B52’s singing it, it’s all about Joe Strummer and the “Clampdown.” You gotta listen to the “Clampdown.” And at the worst of moments when you gotta buckle down, the “Clampdown” will come across the screen and I’m right back at it.

DR: What would you be doing if you weren’t in the bike industry?

ZE: I don’t know. Something that inspired me was back in 1984 standing outside the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in Sunset Strip and Stiff Little Fingers was playing there, but we were just hanging out, not to go inside or anything, and I was standing on the north side corner. You know how Sunset Strip is out on the corner of Westwood and beyond, all things decadent. And this [expletive deleted] convertible drives up on the corner and me and Big Ed, this smarmy [expletive deleted] white chick with her [expletive deleted] smarmy white friends, they’re looking at all the punk rock and they look at me with their attitudes and say “Well yeah, what are you going to be when you grow up?” And the way she said it, with her accusations by way of the way we looked by standing out there and not sitting in some restaurant with linen tablecloths, that somehow we had no chance of ever becoming anything.

That woman, wherever she is, has inspired me to be something and raise my daughter to be the greatest kid in the world, all to prove that [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] wrong. How they could just sit there and automatically assume that we’d never become anything. And to her point, if it weren’t for the bicycle, then she’d be right. She’d be able to say that we’d be a bunch of nothings. I got my degree in politics and sociology and still felt clueless, helpless and talentless, ya know, other than having a big hole in my ear, I couldn’t account for anything. The one thing I’d really like to have done is to be a teacher. This day and age, you have to pass tests to become a teacher. So I think I’m shot for that. And that’s why I think I work as hard as I do now, cause I’m like Richard Gere in “An Officer and A Gentleman” doing pushups in my office. Cause I got nowhere else to [expletive deleted] go! I can’t see myself doing anything other than this. I have no talent other than this.

DR: Why do people love to hate you?

ZE: Maybe because I do things based upon the fact that I don’t mind being hated and I don’t mind being made fun of. I don’t mind people saying mean things about me. I wouldn’t say I invite them to. I have an opinion and I’m not shy about sharing it. And it’s gotten me into trouble at the end of the day, but like the trials guys, I’ll get a letter from some dad, “My son practices trials three hours a day” blah, blah, blah… whatever.

So it’s true. We print the letters every month. Plenty of people hate me, and plenty of people love me. I never meant to be divisive, but it’s about getting the blood going. I think that’s good: to get people thinking rather than to make them like you. I’ve always tried to be honest. I suffer from that. I speak my mind too much when it comes to that.

I’m honest when I review a bike. You’d like to think that companies cherish that, but if you’re too honest, the next thing you know, they’re pulling ads. And it’s depressing, what’s the message they send? They don’t want us to be honest.

DR: How many times has that happened?

ZE: Through the ages, quite a bit. We started doing more comparison testing last year, and the bike industry thinks it’s so precious sometimes. Every other consumer magazine out there, whether it’s cars or microwaves, they do comparison testing. That’s what consumers do. These companies cry, “Ohh… we ended up losing… waaahh…” First of all, it’s not about the loser. But if people are looking at two thousand dollar suspension bikes, we should test them. These people in the industry, I’m sure that whenever they go to buy their [expletive deleted] Explorers or their Mr. Coffee coffee pots or DVD players, I’m sure they love it. If it comes back to haunt them in their own back yard, they don’t talk to us again. It’s just depressing.

Our job is to be critical. The same people who pull their ads, wouldn’t they be mad if they read a food review and then spent a thousand dollars on dinner and it sucked? That’s what we do! Yeah, we’re not always right, but it’s our opinion. We have experience, and although we’re still biased, we’re trying to give the consumer some sense… it’s like Specialized and their new Epic. They just went through the roof over that test. And we see one in Bike and they’re glossing over stuff that’s not being honest with the reader.

DR: What happened with that test?

ZE: We didn’t think it was the Holy Grail. The bike, as a race bike, it’s too heavy and too expensive compared to other good race bikes. The Epic test in Bike, they just bought into it. You know what? You could get this bike that weighs less and costs even less money. That’s valuable information to the consumer. Instead of saying it’s the best… these guys at Specialized are saying “those guys at Bike are great!” blah, blah, blah…

Just ‘cause they chose not to get into some specifics that might have painted a different picture of the review. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m sure they see the same thing with us.

Sometimes we don’t get it right, and I’ll always be the first to apologize. Sometimes it’s hard to try to be honest and accurate and get hammered for it.

DR: Does knowing the reaction you might get from certain people prohibit you from doing what you do?

ZE: At the end of the day, we just don’t deal with certain people anymore. If there’s a history to never being able to do anything right, why even bother? Some people can take it on the chin better than others. We’re more than happy to entertain the dialogue of whether we’ve done something right or wrong.

We try to be as responsible as we can. The idea is to be fair. The idea is also to be accurate. I think that’s what the consumer is looking for.

DR: So what’s your personal bike?

ZE: It’s the most politically correct answer I’ve had since day one. I don’t have a personal bike. It’s a waste if I’m riding a bike I already know. So there’s a stable of bikes and mountain bikes, but I’m always riding different bikes. The only one I call my own is John Tomac’s 1990 Yeti with drop bars. But right now, there’s a LeMond Ti bike that’s bitchin’ and we’re still big on the Blur. What else… I always make a point of riding test bikes.

DR: I’m out of questions. Anything else you want to tell the Dirt Rag readers?

ZE: Just keep riding your bikes. Make fun of each other, make fun of yourselves. Just keep riding your bike and have a good time. And give Moe a hard time.

DR: I try.

ZE: Big old Hall of Fame knucklehead that he is.

Keep reading

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.



Blast From the Past: Tallbiking


Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #120, published in April 2006. Words by James Flynn. Photography by Ian Merritt.

Let me tell you about the time I made my tallbike. Shortly after I moved to Chicago, my friend Mike showed up to my place to sit on the stoop. He rolled up on “8-Bit,” a jet-black tallbike with neon green grips and a bright blue seat.

A tallbike is, roughly speaking, a double-decker. You weld one frame on top of another, the wheels on the bottom frame—the pedals, seat and handlebars on the top frame. Connect the two with a chain and you’ve got something sweet to show off to the neighbors, who usually yell, “How did you get up there?”

The answer is, of course, “Practice!”

I had never seen anything like Mike’s bike. I went wild and told him that instead of just sitting around drinking beers, he should teach me to the ride the thing. Or, you know, we could do both.

So Mike gave me step-by-step instructions on how to ride the tallbike [see below]. It took me several tries to get it right, but once I did, I was hooked. I immediately asked Mike when, where and how I could make my own.

Saturday. Woke up at 8 a.m. and rode three blocks to The Dive, which used to be one of those fantastic neighborhood bars that seem to pepper every corner in certain parts of Chicago. Old-timers drinking Old Style, TV always on The Game, jukebox full of Seger and Springsteen and a rotating cast of regulars so regular that the bartenders know what everyone wants before they even order it.

Then the owner died and some young crusty punks moved in. In short time it turned into a flophouse for freakbikers. The bar became an entertaining/workshop area, and the kitchen served as a kitchen/garage with parts strewn about and at least 50 bikes—tallbikes, choppers, cargo bikes, pixies, fixies. Very few unmodified bikes, so I felt out of place with my purple Gary Fisher.

My aforementioned friend Mike met me there, and we hooked up with Al and his girlfriend Erika, one of The Dive’s residents. We waited for some unreliables for about a half hour, then tired of it. Rode south. Erika and I talked about her summer—she had spent a good portion of it hoboing about on trains. Her latest adventure took her to Louisiana. She spent countless hours cooped up in a boxcar, unable to sleep because of the constant noise and lack of room to spread out.

We took a detour to borrow a welding mask, then arrived at Bubbly Dynamics in the Bridgeport neighborhood, near the White Sox stadium. Like The Dive, Bubbly Dynamics serves as one of the main spaces of the Rat Patrol, Chicago’s most high-profile freakbike club. This all sounds well thought out and official when written on paper, but in reality, it’s rather catch-as-catch-can. In this case, Bubbly is owned by fellow freakbiker Jon Edel, who decided some years ago to buy an old factory and restore it using green building practices and eventually lease it out to artists and other workers needing space. When he bought the place, there were still bums and crackheads squatting there, as well as serious electrical problems and various other concerns. So Edel offered the Rat Patrol use of the basement for storage and equipment for “build-days” in exchange for occasional help hauling trash to dumpsters or fixing up the place.

Our gang of four showed up and went to the basement. As we descended the stairs, I saw on the left a small room with bike frames stacked about four feet high and at least twenty feet long. Across from that stack was a stack of wheels the same height, but much shorter. Throughout the rest of the adjacent, larger room were little piles and stacks of various other bike parts: pedals, seats and handlebars. There were various workspaces spread around, including a table with a grinder and another for the Sawzall.

The most interesting part, in my mind, was the numerous half-finished bikes tucked in nooks all over the room. One was Al’s work-in-progress, a rickshaw with the cart/chair in front, so that he would be pushing patrons instead of pulling. Another was Mike’s “starbike,” a modification of the tallbike with several frames stacked into a rough pentagram. There was also a chopper with a tiny pixie wheel attached to a twenty-foot fork—the full length of plumbing pipe. This one wasn’t so much a work-in-progress as much as it was a lost cause.

With some guidance from the others, I got started. The first and probably most important part was choosing the frames. I went over to the stack of frames and wrestled out two good ones. I used an old woman’s Jacques Anquetil mixte as the bottom frame and a shitty blue boy’s Huffy 10-speed for the top. There are several important points here, including making sure the bottom frame is heavier than the top, as well as making sure the tubes of the two frames line up, since you’ll be placing plumbing pipe in the head tube of the bottom frame to weld it to the top frame.

Took a break. In the meantime, several more folks came by: a lady helping Jon Edel, who brought chips and homemade cookies shaped like bikes and rats; a professional photographer, looking to do a stint with the Rat Patrol; and Johnny Payphone, the club’s most passionate and visible member. Johnny showed up, put some Beastie Boys on the stereo and started shooting the shit and helping others with their projects.

I got back to work. I’ve never welded before, so Johnny started me out attaching my plumber’s pipe from head tube to head tube. He did it awhile, then had me try. Johnny seemed okay with my lack of skill and wandered away to let me finish. I felt proud, like I was doing well, like I had hit a rite of passage. It wasn’t until after I saw all the bubbles on the welds that I realized Johnny leaving me to my own devices wasn’t a vote of confidence in my skills—instead, it was because someone had brought a case of beer and he was obviously thirsty.

No matter. Next step was to break out the chain tool and make an extra long chain to run from the chainring on the top frame to the back wheel of the bottom frame. This was a lot of trial and error, which turned out to be mostly error considering I’ve since had problems with the chain slipping off its teeth because of slack. Also, I probably should have put on a derailleur, but I was trying to be punk rock with my first freakbike, so I didn’t bother.

And then a front brake. This is a disputed element of tallbiking. It’s very similar to the messenger/fixie community and the debate between those who do and do not include a brake on their fixies. Many tallbikers, aware that they are being dangerous enough by biking some eight feet in the air, decide to up the ante by forgoing the brake. Instead, they either take a foot off one pedal and stomp on the back tire to slow down, or they simply try to always be in motion by timing lights and what-not, hopping off the bike when they want to stop. I’m not that hardcore, so I stripped some brakes off an old bike and attached them to mine.

Finishing touches: seat, handlebars (I tried beautiful gold BMX bars to no avail), flair. It was getting late and the cookies and beer were long gone, so we went out to the front of the old factory and test-rode our new creations. Erika had made an all-red tallbike. Another biker, Ben, had finished a chopper with a fork that could flip so that it became a weird, reverse, freakbike version of a penny-farthing.


Rode back seven miles north from Bridgeport to my neighborhood and had my first tallbike fall. It happened at Milwaukee, North and Damen—one of Chicago’s busiest intersections. I hesitated at a light, got flustered and the bike toppled. Snickers from pedestrians. I got up and winced as Mike asked what every freakbiker asks when there’s an accident: “Is the bike OK?”

I laughed, nodded and rode home. Like with anytime you start doing something new or getting into a new scene, since I made my tallbike, I’ve started seeing them everywhere: in ads for New Belgium’s Tour de Fat, in pictures of Amsterdam’s bike scene (where the World Tallbike Jousting Championship takes place) and the most egregious example—in a pretentious Coke commercial.

The commercial follows the travels of four “regular” teens who decide that they are going to thwart the media’s perception of adolescents. So they go on the road, have an “extreme” time, meet people and Come Of Age. Part of this is meeting some folks making tallbikes.

That’s fine. I won’t lie that I was initially angry that tallbikes were in a commercial, since it seems that every sort of counterculture gets exploited to make dollars and to show The Kids that product X is hip or extreme.

But I’ve softened somewhat in my stance against mass tallbiking, and here’s why: because if it takes tallbiking or freakbiking to make people realize that biking is Fun and Cool and Worth Your Time, and if that makes more people ride bikes, then the job is done.

Learning to Ride a Tallbike

Learning to ride a tallbike is a bit of a tricky thing and will require some trial and error.


  • Start on the left side of the bike with your hands stabilized above you on the handlebars and your right foot planted on the lowest bar of the bottom frame. Give several pushes with your left foot until you are cruising along comfortably.
  • At this point, lift up your left leg, straightening your body out. Here’s the trickiest part: Lean your body weight to the right a bit so that the bike is actually tilted slightly away from you as you scooter along with both feet off the ground.
  • When you’ve gained your balance this way, place your left leg behind your right leg and place your left foot on the left pedal (it helps if you make sure the left pedal is in the 6 o’clock position when you start—that way you won’t be searching for your pedal with your foot).
  • Then loop your right leg through the space between your left leg and the seat and swing it around the back of the seat and onto the right pedal. Sit down, start riding away and enjoy the view.

Keep reading

We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.


Blast From the Past: The Boyfriend


Editor’s note: This “Last Chance for Gas” story by Amy Szczepanik first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #116, published in August 2005. Art by Olivia Edith.

My athletic life is divided into two eras: before him and after him. Before him, I was an all-around athlete participating in mainly team sports: basketball, softball and volleyball. After him, it was an all out obsession with anything adventuresome: rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking.

Before him I knew nothing of tubes, Shimano components, titanium frames, the famed yellow jersey or hairless male legs. After him, I was sucked into the cult of daily coverage of the Tour, argyle cycling socks, grease stains on my legs and 20-plus mile rides. He was a collegiate mountain bike champ and I was the girlfriend. What’s it like to date a cyclist? It changes your life.

I’ll never forget the day he walked into my volleyball game wearing cycling shoes and bright yellow spandex from head to toe. His helmet was in his hand and he had a goofy grin on his face. I slunk into the corner, trying to cope with my embarrassment. I couldn’t escape it. “Look at that guy!” my teammates nastily whispered. “That’s my boyfriend,” I hesitantly admitted. He had ridden 40 miles to watch my game.

He invited me to a college mountain bike race, a grueling 35-mile, off-road track full of drops and berms and rocks. People exited the woods hauling their bikes behind them—a busted tube, a bent frame or a jacked-up chain slowing down synchronized rhythms of the race. There was blood gushing from thorn-scraped skin. There were wipeouts, the kind of mid-air spills off a dirt ramp where the body contorts and the face twists and writhes into a science-fiction-esque agony. But the guys wiped the dust and sweat out of their eyes, picked themselves up and pushed on toward the goal. They were animals, driven by the innate fire and determination to cross that finish line. It was more beautiful than the full moon that shone in the sky during the cyclist’s and my first kiss.

Then there was our first mountain ride together. We went on some easy off-road trails. I learned how to hop over logs, to pedal fast and furiously through the leafy terrain. I learned how to effectively shoot “snot rockets,” to praise God for the invention of the Camelbak, and to defy my fears. We carried our bikes over a narrow steel beam, 20 feet in the air. I had never done anything so risky.

And there was our first road ride together—a 30-mile trek from his house to mine. It was hell. I didn’t think I would make it. But somehow I managed to make my way up that huge, mile-long hill, pedaling frantically in my lowest gear. I felt dowdy in my basketball shorts and XL t-shirt, juxtaposed to his sleek, shining spandex, but I had accomplished the same thing. We made it up that hill and through that ride together. It was the greatest sense of achievement I had known.

As time passed, I got used to the spandex, the bibs, the jerseys. I got used to the taste of GU and Gatorade. I got used to the constant bicycle lingo, the assortment of odd tools and the never-ending trips to the bike shop to scope out that Gary Fisher Sugar 3+ in all its shining glory. Before long, I wasn’t just used to it. It fueled me. His passion for the bike had passed the stage of something I put up with. It was no longer the thing I tagged along with to be the “good, cool girlfriend.” It had passed the step of a shared interest. It was something all mine. He had inspired in me a yearning to ride and press farther than my calves and quads thought possible. It was no longer about him. It was about the bike, the ride, the thrill. It was a high, an addiction, a great accomplishment. It was about personal success.

What’s it like to date a cyclist? It’s an unexpected trip, an odd adjustment to a far-out culture. It’s getting used to your boyfriend having better shaved legs than you. But it inspires you to live your life to the fullest, to pursue your most adventuresome dreams.

What’s it like to be a cyclist? It’s like dating one, but better. Because it’s not about him and his bike. It’s about you and yours. It’s about getting to the innermost of your being and realizing that the passion for the ride, the sheer enjoyment, is yours alone to enjoy.

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We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.


Blast From the Past: The Knife Sharpener


Editor’s note: This story by Jason Hyatt first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #108, published in July 2004.

This photo shows one of two brothers who run a pedal-powered blade sharpening business in Rome, Italy. According to my mother-in-law, they visit a certain part of the city each week and have done so for many years.

I watched as the gentleman pedaled by, then stopped and propped the bike onto the numerous built-in stands. Then he flipped the heavy sharpening stone up into position and switched the drivetrain from the rear wheel to the stone. The local butchers and chefs brought out all of their knives for sharpening. Then the man pedaled and moved the blades across the spinning stone. The top bottle provides water for lubricating the sharpening wheel and the front rack holds a variety of supplies and snacks.

Once done, he collected his fee, reverted his machine to bicycle mode and pedaled on while calling out the advertisement for his services.

He noticed me taking a picture and smiled. I think he likes his job. My mother-in-law uses their services to sharpen her kitchen knives weekly, but was unsure how much longer they would be around due to their age and the increased vehicle congestion in the city.

If any readers are interested in a pedal-powered career and learning Italian, go to Rome, find these men and learn the trade! Perhaps this would work in your hometown.

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We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.


Blast From the Past: A slot machine made from bike parts


Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #131, published in October 2007.

By Steinar Smith, with photos courtesy of the author.

There was a New Mexico Off Road Series (NMORS) race down in Silver City called the Signal Peak Challenge on Aug. 19. When Barin Beard of Mimbres Man (a Silver City native) came up to visit from Venezuela and told me about this year’s theme—James Bond 007 Casino Royale—my mind was racing with ideas. He and I sat and talked about possibilities.

Once I began construction, I feared the task too big. Barin gave me a pep talk in an email and I cranked on. Five full eight-hour days later of working on the games, I had finished. I thought I was sunk when I had trouble finding a 10x1mm all-thread rod in this land of American standards to be used for the through-axle for the slot machine, but it just made me work a bit harder on my measurements by squeezing three bike axles tied together end to end and fitting it into a box with conventional hub cones.


I did a bit of creative wheel dishing to make the wheels relatively centered. The hub bearings on each were adjusted with proper resistance (packed with oil on one, to thick grease with seals left in on the other) to allow the wheels to slow in order: three, two, one. (You really don’t want to mess with your bike mechanic buddies, for we have ways of retribution.) There are 36 images fixed around the strip of aluminum attached to the rim. They were created to fit by using Adobe InDesign—with it, I was able to set the image height to exactly 1.97916667 inches, which was what I needed to fit the rim and aluminum strip diameter.

On the roulette wheel, I almost opted out by using a stock 32-hole rim: two spaces to be used for the 0 and 00 leaving 30 spaces to be divided evenly for red and black spaces. But, when acting like Romans, make it right or don’t make it at all, I told myself. So I took a BMX rim and re-drilled 38 holes at 9.473684211 degrees each to the best of my abilities.

For the hub I used a 36-hole ATB hub that had a bigger flange so I could drill out an extra hole between each existing one on the top flange and made custom radial spokes (the two extra spokes had to be epoxied into place). The two games were made from mostly recycled bike parts with the exception of the new aero Rolf road rims used on the roulette—but honestly, what is one to do with a 20-hole/goofy drill pattern rim?

Some parts came from Two Wheel Drive bike shop in Albuquerque, some from the local shop High Mesa Bikes and Gear in Gallup. Since the games were played in Silver City, it makes this project truly a state-wide effort.


The good guys at Gila Hike and Bike, Jack Brennan and Michael Sauber, have been running some really fun races over the years. I’ll never forget the year when it was “The Pirates of the Gila” theme and everyone was running around under the fabricated pirate ship with eye patches and toy daggers stating: “Aye, mate!” This year was no exception.

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We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.



Blast From the Past: Machine Soul


Editor’s note: Machine Soul first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #21, published in February 1992. Words by John Gurklis. Dirt Rag #21 cover art by Mark Tierney.

This is defined as the ethereal component of the machine, in this context a bike. Machine soul is acquired as the rider’s mental energy becomes infused into the frame members of the bike. It is for this reason that many transportation devices such as ships, trains and planes obtain names. Although most people do not name their bike, if enough time is spent on it, the bike becomes an extension of their selves with the purpose of riding the person over the earth. Components other than the frame usually do not contain this machine soul as they can be replaced and the bike remains the same. It is only the frame, the heart of the bike, that the machine soul can reside in, usually in between the electron clouds that surround the lattice of atoms in a metal bike and in the resin of carbon fiber frames.

Machine soul can be felt when one gets a good feel from riding, and it can urge one to pull wheelies, bunny hop, jump curbs or ruts and ride hard. Machine soul is what allows the rider to get used to the bike and can effect a kind of loyalty. When one rides another’s bike the machine soul detests this and causes the borrowing rider to crash which makes the owner upset. Machine soul has punished the owner for his or her infidelity.

Machine soul only leaves the bike when the frame is destroyed or cracked to the point of being unrideable. The soul leaks out at the crack and floats up into the air to machine heaven, unless it is re-welded or bonded to patch the leak. Without its soul the dead bike becomes a hunk of metal like stair railing or lawn chair frames.

With this analysis of bike machine soul it is now clear as to why bikes have personality and why they are special.

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We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.



Blast From the Past: Pain

Editor’s note: The poem “Pain” by Philip Walter—with art by Jim Harris—originally appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #121, published in May 2006.



I’m racing down
through unknown track
and, I’ll admit,
a bit too fast.
The air is dry,
the soil loose.
Naught on my mind
but rocks and roots.

When suddenly
the turn gets sharper
than it had appeared
from further up.
I try my best
to use the brake,
but the inside line
secured my fate.

I’ve overshot
my tire plowing
attempting to avoid the trees.
But unseen hands lurk in the shadows,
reaching out for tread and feet;
and suddenly I’m on the ground,
quaking as I look about:
I’ve broken nothing, bike nor self,
(lacerations do not count.)

I try to stand,
I’m feeling sick;
still high on adrenaline.
I sit back down, I drink the water,
my limbs stop trembling
my mind goes clear
And the pain comes rushing in.

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We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.


Blast From The Past: The Textbook Faceplant


Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #8, published in April 1990.

Words and drawings by Mark Tierney

One of the most notorious of mountain biking maneuvers is a feat referred to as the faceplant. This action is one in which a bicycle rider is thrown forward over his or her handlebars, often being the result of over-zealous front brake usage in combination with a steep descent and/or the front wheel striking low-lying stationary obstacles such as roots or other riders lying prone in the path of travel. The term faceplant refers to the face-forward propulsion of the rider and the eventual firm application of said rider’s face to the ground.

Imagine, if you will, dangling head first from a second story window with your hands tied behind your back. That feeling is the same sort of anxiety that causes many a rider to dismount when faced with those root-filled down grades. Visions of catapulting physiognomy first into the rough and the concluding sudden stop are enough to strike fear in the pit of the most trail-ready stomachs.

Because of its mug-rearranging potential, as well as man’s inherent fear of falling, the faceplant has gotten a bum rap. This sublime maneuver is actually one that can be performed with an unadorned kind of grace. When carried out to perfection, we have what is called a “textbook faceplant.”


The textbook faceplant is not something that can be learned, but only executed through the graciousness of chance. It may take ten good plants before you achieve that one good plant that will deserve a solid clap on the back from your riding buddies. By using the three guidelines that follow you will be able to judge whether or not you have successfully performed the elusive “textbook faceplant.”

1) When your front wheel ceases moving (for whatever reason) momentum must carry your person straight over the handlebars. Your head and torso must travel between the bicycle’s hand grips.

2) The face must hit first. (The hands may hit the ground at the same time, but not sooner than the face.) Acceptable areas of facial contact are anywhere forward of the ears, below the hairline or above the chin.

3) Forward momentum must carry your bicycle over your backside, only to strike you in the back of the head, neck or shoulders, further driving your face into the ground.

Relax, don’t worry. Or think about the pain. A textbook faceplant will come when you least expect it. Just hope that there is someone there to witness it. Someone with Band-aids or an needle and thread or an ice cold T-bone steak. Happy planting!


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We’ve published a lot of stuff in 25 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.



A brief history of the Dirt Rag Office Dogs


Canine co-habitation has long been a part of the casual atmosphere that prevails at Dirt Rag headquarters. From rides to relaxation, they are a constant companion. Some are gone, some are still with us, but they all warm our heart – and our toes under our desk.

With the assistance of the respective poochies’ partners, I offer this tribute to the four-legged denizens of Dirt Rag, past and present.


Speck – Elaine and Maurice Tierney

The original Dirt Rag office dog, Speck ruled as queen of HQ for a number of years, starting in the mid-90s. Elaine and Maurice’s Border Collie and Brittany Spaniel mix had a bubbly, warm personality that turned hearts into melted butter.

The only thing Speck loved more than mountain biking was being petted. Former Art Director Mark Tierney dubbed her “Schnoz” for her habit of sneaking up to your desk, sticking her nose on your lap, looking at you with sugary brown eyes, and not leaving until you gave her a proper back scratching.

Maurice remembers Speck’s day in court, “The neighbors took us to court, claiming that Speck had trespassed on their property. ‘They took twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows, and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.’ Apparently the evidence impressed the magistrate, and we ended up paying a couple hundred dollar fine.”

We miss you, Schnozzy, rest in peace.


Sparky – Chris Cosby

Back in the day, Sparky and former Ad Guy Chris Cosby were inseparable, “Sparky came into my life when my girlfriend heard about a black lab that had been passed down through a family. She was relegated to living in a garage while they looked for a new owner. This was January, and we couldn’t stand the thought of her on that cold concrete floor—but we already had two cats and an American bulldog. We took her in, and although there were the inevitable turf wars, and infrequent growls and meows, she became a part of the pack. Sparky would run trails with me while I rode, slept under my desk at work (great foot warmer!) and was my soul mate for seven years.”

I’ll never forget the Christmas that I bought five pounds of dark chocolate covered espresso beans, with the plan to divvy them up into little gift packets for friends and family. I stashed them in my bottom desk drawer, and headed out with the rest of the staff for our annual Christmas dinner and drinks. We left Sparky behind to guard the office.

Apparently, I didn’t close my desk drawer all the way. When we returned later that night, I found all five pounds of coffee beans strewn on the office floor, deposited into several piles, after passing rapidly through Sparky’s digestive tract.

Chrispy had the cleanup honors. R.I.P., Sparky.


Ivan The Red – Karen Brooks

Karen’s Vizsla companion Ivan didn’t often visit DRHQ—mostly because Karen rode her bike to work just about every day. But when Ivan did show up, he was the best athlete in the house.

Karen summoned up the strength to pen a tribute to her recently departed friend, “Ivan was the best mountain biking dog, ever. I told him that after every ride. (His daughter and sidekick Viva didn’t mind; she agreed.) There were few things he loved more than rounding up a pack of humans to lead through the forest, charging down the trail at top speed, leaping over log and stream. He’d pause to point at deer or make quick sideways dashes to tree squirrels, but if anyone else tried to stop for too long, The Chief Pest would bark until everyone was moving again.

“”Hope those deer in heaven can run fast.”


Roman – Shannon Mominee

Roman is another well-conditioned athlete, and a very handsome Weimaraner specimen.

Shannon is his proud papa, “My wife picked him from a litter of ten when he was two days old, and I thought of his name while cycling through Portugal. Roman is by far the coolest canine on Earth, and makes us laugh all day, from the moment we wake. He’s silly, yet has stature and enjoys being under a blanket, which my wife loves. He’s the perfect trail dog for hiking and biking, which I love. Roman listens, doesn’t need a leash, has the neighbors trained to treat him because he’s so damn handsome—and if you look into his eyes you know he’s intelligent.”


Heinz – Frank Wuerthele

Heinz was a young, feral dog living in the woods near Seven Springs resort in southwestern Pennsylvania when Frank Wuerthele gradually lured him closer and closer with hand-rolled bread balls. Eventually, Heinz got close enough to let Frank pet him, and from that moment the two formed a lifelong bond.

Heinz was a hard-core mountain biking dog, athletic and fit. Frank, a former bicycle industry road rep, took Heinz with whenever he called on clients, including Snowshoe Resort in West Virginia.

Franks explains the story behind the photo shown above, “Back when I was a road rep, I thought ‘man, wouldn’t it be cool if Heinz rode the chair lift with me.’ So everyday, after reinforcing the big three commands (stay, come, heel) on our daily training hikes, I introduced the command: ‘hop up.’ Hop up onto the couch in the beginning. And then, one glorious day at Snowshoe, and with the world’s nicest (craziest?) liftie’s blessing, Heinz hopped up onto a moving chair lift chair and onto my lap. We were swept off the ground and up high into the air.

“At that very moment you witnessed Heinz at his happiest. His joy was so apparent. The rush of the air currents, and the smells that they brought. You could sense his temptation to leap when he saw a bear, deer or groundhog grazing far below. Being right there, with all that going on, lounging on his best friend’s lap.

“Being part of a pack.


“Heinz is Free.

“Boo-hoo. Blubber, blubber. Sob, sob.”

We miss you Heinz.


Royal Zero the Zombie Killer – Matt Kasprzyk

Zero can usually be found in Matt’s office, at the foot of his master—no doubt guarding him against whatever dangers lurk, zombies or otherwise.

According to Matt, “Royal Zero the Zombie Killer is the official AKC name of our 28 pound, four-year-old Shiba Inu. Zero joined our family in 2009, after we visited Royal Kennels in Cincinnati, Ohio, to ‘meet’ some Shibas… We weren’t able to leave without him.

“Since then, Zero has been a large part of our adventures. He loves the outdoors and is happiest chasing a bike or ball. He’s aloof, independent and cat-like at times; but he’s also very loyal, intelligent and ready for action every time I grab my helmet.

“Although he’s fairly small and officially classified as a Spitz, he has the demeanor of a large dog and has strong alpha tendencies. He hates puppies, but he’s calm and gentle with kids, and loves anyone who says ‘hello’ to him.”


Toby – Josh Patterson

From the moment I met Toby, I could tell from the sparkle in his eyes that he loves life and makes the most of every moment.

Toby now resides in Colorado with former Editor Josh Patterson, “Toby is a Border Collie/English Pointer mix. The pointer dilutes a bit of the collie neuroticism, and both breeds are excellent runners and very attentive to their people.

“While working as editor of Dirt Rag, Toby frequently accompanied me to the office, where he alerted the staff to the arrival of the UPS and FedEx drivers, chewed on things underneath my desk, and accompanied me on many a mountain bike ride.

“Before Toby was my riding buddy he was a rescue pup. I must admit I had ulterior motives for picking him up from the shelter. Toby was a thinly veiled ploy used to lure a girl I had been dating into matrimony. Nobody can say no to a puppy.

“That was four years ago. Toby is no longer a puppy. The girl stuck around. So I guess my plan succeeded. [Insert evil laugh here.]”


Bandit – Trina and Stephen Haynes

This loveable little guy is the new kid at DRHQ. He’s a cute as a button.

Trina told me, “Bandit is a relatively new addition to our household as well as the Dirt Rag office pack. We took this adorable Lab/Pit Bull mix in after he was abandoned in a park with no I.D.

“High spirited (to put it mildly), good with our kids, and willing to lay still for belly rubs, Bandit’s cuteness often overshadows the chore of walking, training and cleaning up after him. Not to mention the 6 a.m. wake up calls.

“Still, that is but a pittance for the love that is given in return from this loveable laddie. We plan to continue his training and incorporate more trail hiking this year with the aim of riding on trails with him next year.”

What about you?

Have a favorite pooch (or other pet!) that loves to ride? Post a pic in the comments below!


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