That's a real, live, mountain lion's mouth, sorry if it scares you, but it's kind of a luxury to be able to complain of fear of a digital image of a mountain lion's mouth, and the rareness of being able to see the ferrociousness potential up close. A better use of technology than, say, well...lots of other things.
My high-school buddy Dave Garcelon sent me that picture, and this one of the same lion:
Dave is now commander-in-chief of the Institute of Wildlife Studies, and sometimes has to trap mountain lions. He recently trapped one while wearing his Riv-shirt. Then he lets them go. Between now and Feb 22, if you donate to IWS and send proof to email@example.com, we'll give you that much in RIV credit. So basically, you help save animals, you do a screenshot of your thanks or receipt, showing the amount...Jenny collects them, tells us what you gave by the end of the month, and we'll create a credit for you in that amount.
Note to Blahg rookies:
This blag, morose to say, is part of my cathartic mental-health maintenance/insanity prevention program. It's venting of stuff, and is always a mix of things I'm thinking about constantly, things I'm reacting to in the moment, things I've been thinking about lately and now this is my chance to sort them out for myself publicly, and things I've been stewing about or wondering about, things that affect business or the way I think about business or bikes, and things other people call to my attention. I try to including riding pictures and bike pictures, behind-ye-olde-scenes, and stuff about the future. I usually get technical for a bit. Also, I say "ye olde _______" a lot, mainly because I've thought it was hokey even when I was eight years old, and I'm trying to get it out of my system. If I get "racial," I post it between pencils---either actual pencil images, or if I'm lazy, I'll do it like this:
Jackie Robinson, or voter suppression in the south, or how come Isaac Woodard's name isn't famous, or what's going on down there in the Tesla factory
That's because in the past I've gotten mean responses to anything that suggests that perhaps maybe Black people have not gotten a fair shake.
I'll try to keep this one light-weight. Breezy, fun, flippant, no controversy to speak of, probably a rare one with few to no Pencils.
Olympics. I've got to say I wasn't surprised to see a German woman win the luge. NOT a shocker. I liked that the Netherland-Dutch-Holland woman who won a short track event also won the same one in four previous Olympics, also not a shocker. When you live in the flatlands, you emphasize speed, whether on ice or pavement or garvelle. Then she said she was gonna retire and marry her girlfriend and have kids. THAT is a sign of progress, at least. Can you imagine that twenty years ago? OK, how about forty?
I wonder if there'll be any Black competitors in, like, the bobsled.
I think the events with voluntary flips and spins and costumery, and the ones scored by style and form judges, and sometimes have music and "the choreography thing" as part of the event and not time or distance or accuracy... should be in a Snow 'n' Ice Gymnastics 'n' Dancing Championship instead of the Olympics. Although, you know, I'm happy for Nathan Chen. Way to go, Nate!
You don't get to be an Olympian by athleticism alone. I imagine it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and the time and support to train and travel.
It's all modified war games, isn't it? Originally, the twelve Olympic events were based on skills used to smite foes. Although I'm against smiting foes, I like the idea of sticking to that, but it's too late to go back. So instead, I think, make all team events be a mix of countries and genders and body types.
I'm always happy for the winners and sad for everybody else. That's the drag of competition. Like the Japanese half-piper guy who--according to the expert commentator--had the best run ever of all time by far, and the U.S. judge was way off in his score and was about to keep him out of the gold, until he repeated that run and this time, to the relief of the guy-- Ayumu Hirano -- and probably the U.S. judge too, well, he still got the gold. But as good as it is for all the winners, it's still weird how a judge can sneeze or blink too long and screw up a score and change a life. It's too intense....for me.
I'm really liking my unpadded, undyed, ecologically vegetable-tanned G.O.A.T. gloves with the 85 percent organic cotton backs. I can even type with them on. Bikewise, they're the closest to no gloves as I've ever worn, but I wonder whether I'm risk-compensating, knowing that if I do a Superman Skid I'll be protected.
Related to skids and slides, let me tell you an autobiographical baseball story from like 1964/1965. In those days there were no baseball camps for rich kids, and I wasn't one of them, anyway. (I remember asking my mom why our house was so small (800 sq ft). It was the same as the other houses in the
whites only subdivision-type neighborhood.
but a few miles away some friends had houses twice as big. Her answer was, "Our land is more expensive.")
So if you were INTO baseball and all of its fine points, you read books written by guys like Willie Mays and Maury Wills, always "with" a co-author. I'm more of a Roberto Clemente and Tony Gwynn fan now (The CLEM was influenced by Clemente...at one point CLEMENTE was the plan, but then I remembered the Honus Wagner fiasco that led to the A. Homer Hilsen being the A. Homer Hilsen.)
Willie Mays said when you slide feet first, you don't want to wreck your hands, so clench some dirt in them, something about having a clenched fist with some dirt making you instinctively keep your hands high in the air where your fingers can't get jammed. He didn't say this next part, but as you slide with high hands, you could accidentally release the dirt into the second-baseman's face. It might even be automatic/nomic.
There are all kinds of slides. If the ball gets there first, let's say to second base on a steal attempt, you do a hook slide, with your body and right leg toward the outfield, and your left foot as far away from the gloved ball as you can. If you headed to third base and you know there's going to be a throw--from the catcher or an outfielder, you do a pull-up slide, with your left leg folded back so you're like sliding on top of it, shin-down. This way, if the ball gets past the tagger, you can spring up fast and take off for third. If you and the ball are getting there at about the same time, you do a cleats-up-high slide, which sacrifices your chance of touching the base as early as possible (because your leading foot is two or three feet in the air). For a cleats-up slide, you fold your left leg in tight, just in front of your crotch, so it acts as a kind of fulcrom to lean back from, so your leading leg automatically shoots up high. This kind of slide scares the second-baseman, because he doesn't want a face full of cleats, so he gets out of the way and misses the tag.
None of my coaches ever taught me that stuff, so I learned the slides from books and practice, but I don't think there are baseball-technicality books for 4th-thru-6th graders anymore. Maybe YouTube takes care of that, but it's NOT the same. The longterm effects are different when there's a private learning moment between you and the book. This is related to bike gloves and crashing, but I haven't pieced together exactly how.
--------------Goat Gloves Below----------
Do what you want and I know that'll be, it's all fine, but as a matter of ffact, even when I wore gloves all the time, I closed the back flaps only during competitions, to cut the wind more. I should have just cut the flaps off, like I'm about to now...now that it occurs to me. If you're one of the geniuses who've bought an ax from us, here's how you do it without imprecise swinging. You just fold the flap o'er the edge, hold it there in place with the middle finger of your ax-head-holding hand, and do this:
The only drawback, minor, is that now I can't velcro the gloves together when they're lying idle. That's a small price to pay for stick-it-to-the-man / ax-rogue-crazy non-conformity. You can do it with scissors too, but if you do it with an ax, that's the right technique.
Goat and Love: Goat-facts ffrom the internet:
Proud Texans love to dine on goat, and the trend is quickly spreading north as well.
Goat is the fastest growing segment of the worldwide livestock industry.
Every day, more people are trying this delicious meat and falling in love.
If you give a cow and a goat the same amount of feed, you get more milk from the goat. That's stunning!
The idea that goats eat garbage is a myth—if you do see a goat chewing on a can, he's likely just trying to get at the sweet tasting glue that holds the label onto the can.
You need about an acre to support a cow, but you can put anywhere from 10 to 15 goats on an acre of land.
I've always LIKED goats, but like many of you, I know less about them than I like to admit. I'm no "goat-savant." But give me an acre of land and three HUNDRED goats and a shepherd and a few of those Australian Shepherd-type dogs, and I guarantee I could get 300 to fit on that acre.
Photo of the 1919 Tour de France. Before derailers, sometimes, maybe all the time, the rear wheel had a cog on each side, and you changed gears by flipping ye olde wheele around.
Tour Trivia: The starting gun for the 1914 Big Ol' Race Around France was fired on the same day Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that killed Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination is sometimes blamed on starting WWI, even though it was coming regardless. One of Ferdinand's favorite pastimes was shooting emus and kangaroos. He had to go to Australia to do that, but that's what he was into.
Here's an early sample of the Chuck H. Gallop will take fenders with tires up to 42mm, but like, if you max it out with a 45 and still want fenders, this is your option. Those German industrial designers are no crew to underestimate, but my god, they are obsessed to the gills with plastic cleverness. Antonio, Sergio, James, and Will have all used SKS clip-on fenders when, you know, they seemed to make sense. When mud will pack regular fenders, these win (avoid mud). When there's no room for regular fenders, or when you don't feel like hassling with them, that's OK, these win. So we gonna carry them soon.
The seat post attachment is disturbingly clever, too. and it's adjustable.
HOBSON-ZINGO is raging back to its pre-pandemic fervor. And you thought it was dead? Or you've never heard of it? It is the least well-known line of bicycle tools in the world, so no shame in that.
The whale thing is because there's no plastic.
They're made by Taiwan’s best bike tool maker, who also makes car tools, and — let’s make this clear—knows how to make cutting tools that hold an edge, allen wrenches resist rounding out, tools that function as intended and keep on lasting. Tools your heirs may fight over.
They’re made with as little plastic as possible, and so far, none. The maker took a month to wrap his head around that, but the enviro point finally hit home. What this means is that if you really think you need a padded handle here or there—for a master-link tool you’ll use five times a year at most and already has handles that can’t cut cheddar cheese— then wrap it with bar tape and twine it off. Or do that or just to personalize it, but don’t think you’re improving it. A Hobson-Zingo is usable and ready for action right out of the Sergio-packed box.
Ironically and surprisingly to us and probably to you, some of the first-batch tools came packaged in plastic. It’s not as much plastic as you’ll take home from any shopping extravaganza, but it’s more than our goal of zero, and we’ll fix that going forward. Now having mentioned that, we'll remove them from the plastic and hope you don't remember this. It's not much, but still: MMofJ.
Also, there’s a little more chrome than we’d like to see. What are we gonna do? Reject them and piss off the maker and kill the program, depriving the world of Hobson-Zingo: Bike Tools For Ecologically Minded Amateur Mechanics on a Budget Who Still Require Ultra-Quality? Or make a check list for next time around? The latter, of course.
The tools selection will grow. For now:
CHAIN TOOL, traditional style.
It drives pins in and our of chains, to separate and re-connect. Even in an age of master-links, this comes in handy, and is essential for any home-mechanic. You need your staples. This one works great, and we’ll have replaceable drive-pins, which you’ll never need.
CASSETTE REMOVER (“CHAIN-WHIP”)
This keeps the cassette from rotating backwards as you use another tool to loosen the lockring, which is what you have to do to change cassettes. A bike shop standard for hundreds of years. Tricky to use the first time, easy as pie once you see how it works.
This without a lockring tool will do you no good. There’s no Hobson-Zingo cassette lockring tool yet, but we’re praying for one. Park and others make ‘em.
Harry, a bank VP during the week and a key Saturday guy here on…Saturday, cut 500 brake cables (at 1.6mm, thicker than the 1.2mm derailer cables), and the cutting jaws seem unaffected. What’s your home-alternative: Side cutters? They’ll work OK for five cuts, and smash the cables after that. These keep the cables round as you cut, and the jaws have the clamping power of a nut-cracking Amazonian parrot.
The value of this tool is easiest to appreciate only after experiencing the frustration of trying to do undo a Master-Link by finger-squeezing the links together. After extended use and fouling up the chain with lube and grit, that is at best unpleasant and at worst almost impossible. If time is worth a dime to you and you aren’t in love with frustration, get this tool.
This seats the lower cone onto the shoulder of the fork crown. Every shop in the world has one. This one seems made to last a lifetime of shop use, and after a lifetime of home use, will still have 99 percent of its useful life remaining. Between jobs it makes an even more durable candlestick holder. One side fits candles about 1.1-inch in diameter; the other, 1.59-inches. A create type can shave or wrap most candles to fit.
TRADITIONAL BOTTOM BRACKET TOOLS
For the Tange cup-and-cone bottom bracket we so proudly sell. The ‘set’ includes a pin tool for the adjustable cup, a hook tool for the lockring, and a wrench for the fixed cup on the other side. No problem. We sell them separately, in case you already have one or two of the others.
SPLINED CARTRIDGE BOTTOM BRACKET TOOL
Most bottom brackets are sealed and installed and removed with this splined tool, which fits into the splines of the BB unit to allow gripping as you tighten and loosen. Use this tool with an adjustable (Crescent) wrench, and Bob’s your uncle.
CHAINRING NUT TOOL
When you’re putting on new chainrings, it’s extremely helpful to be able to turn (tighten) the chainring bolt without simultaneously turning the nut it threads into. This tool holds the nut. Sometimes you can get by without it, sometimes you can use the corner of a flat-blade screwdriver to hold the nut. But this tool is made for it, works great, and is cheap.
Fifty chain-links pushed out, and it's still working fine. The pusher piece is a little wobbly, but that's how it goes with chain tools. We'll have replacements for your children.
More than 500 1.6mm brake cable snips with the surgeon/sturgeon quality Hobson-Zingo cable cutters, and salivating for 500 more. On a complete bike assembly you need to cut four cable--two 1.6mm brake cables and two 1.2mm derailer cables. I've never heard of any cable cutters needing sharpening, so I feel confident in saying that you can expect your great grandchildred to inherit your Hobson-Zingo cable cutters.
A lot of bike shops use Swiss Felco (brand) cable cutters, with red plastic over the handles. Felco is world famous for its pruning shears and garden equipment. The Felco cable cutters cost about $72, maybe a bit cheaper on Amazon. I'm pretty sure a dozen people reading this now will go get 'em. You'd be better off with Hobson-Zingos. Do you really think that Felco cutters are made with some exclusive Swiss patented steel alloy? Be the budget-conscioius genius, get the Zingo.
Kirk Pacenti has a new lug poster:
The lug illustrator is George Retseck, the guy who, among many other things, illustrated the Bstone catalogs of 1992-3-4. The poster design is by Greg Galvan, a key member of the three-person team who stylized those catalogs.
We are a business. Many businesses donate to causes. We've averaged $10K a year even in years when we've lost $40,000. Last year we did well and got more creative in how we raised money for the causes (more on that below), and I have always tried to be open book about stuff.
Three BLAHGS ago I mentioned that we managed to give away $49,000 or so to assorted good causes, not all of which were official, tax-deductible bona fide charities; and I said I'd name them. It actually came to $54,000. Can I just name a few that come to mind? We try to pick charities that are underfunded and really worthy, tho not super well-known. It makes us feel like the money we send matters.
Ella Baker Center, in Oakland, CA. $3,500. They help prisoners get fair treatment. You may not LIKE the fact that some of them did something against the law and got caught in the first place, but some of these guys and women are in prison for 20 years to life for marijuana "convictions," or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they're given much harsher sentences than some white people get for much worse stuff. Anyway, they're "a favorite" charity.
Grocery Guy: We raised (with your help) and gave him $15K so he could put money down on a house and start the old generational wealth thing going. If your dad or grandad was white and fought in WWII and you or your parents inherited money along the way, it may be related to the cheap good homes and government-backed 1-percent loans they were able to get that weren't available to Black people.
Oglala Lakota Children's Justice Center. $10,000. Remember at least hearing about Custer's Last Stand. aka Battle of LIttle Bighorn? And then the massacre at Wounded Knee? And then maybe the more recent standoff and killings at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota? Well, the Pine Ridge Reservation is the poorest of the poor Reservations, and has the highest rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, and child sexual abuse. The OLCJC addresses the latter. They have less than a full handful of people there aiding recovery and working on prevention, and are super underfunded. Half of the $10,000 was money raised from Appaloosa sales. Appaloosas are the breed of horse most associated with Indigenous people, so that was the connection.
The Australian Platypus Conservancy. Sales of Platypus bicycles helped raise most of the $9,000 we gave to them. Ten years ago the Platypus wasn't endangered, but it is now—way to go, humans. The Conservancy works hard full-time getting rid of water traps that kill them, bad people who shoot them, and pollution. The Platypus is arguably the most amazing animal of all time, and it lives in one tiny, localized region of Australia and Tazmania. It's not a person, but it needs help, and the money we send them makes a noticeable splash.
California Coalition for Women Prisoners. $3,000. Women have an especially hard time in prison—prison guards and all—and many women are serving life terms for finally killing their abusive partners. That ain't right. That's self-defense, and a disproportionate number women serving life sentence for self-defense are Black women. They had lousy lawyers and got bad advice in the first place. It's horrible, so we give half of the retail price of a THOUSAND brand helmet to this group. The helmets cost us half of the selling price, so we make nothing on them. If you're gonna get a Thousand brand helmet, that's a good reason to get it from us. We stock ONE color in the standard model. We can order any Thousand helmet model or color, but no returns if we special order one and it doesn't fit OK? Just consider it a donation to the Guild of Women Prisoners.
Isabel Galan, $2,550. Single mom of three, lost her job in pandemic, after rent she has like $200 month for food. We found out about her late in the year and try to send her $500 to $1,000 per month, depending on how we're doing. That's sick, we should send her $1,500---but at what point does money start having the opposite effect, or dependent in a bad way? Who know's? So for better or worse, I pick dollar amount that fits the day and we send a check. This is probably all wrong, maybe an expert will write to me and tell me why.
About a dozen other assorted below-the-radar charities and GoFundme. All thoroughly researched, many for poor women, several bike co-op things for inner city kids, stuff like that.
All button sales, half the selling price of a Thousand helmet, and $100 from every bike or frame we sell goes to charities. This is the big one. Our bikes are underpriced as they are. We know that, and if you know our bikes and know the market, you'll know that too. Even WITH the tacked-on $100. So we feel good about that, and it's a way we can offset, at least in our heads, some-not-all of the unavoidable earth damage any business creates.
I bring this up once in a while: When you ride a Clem or Gus or Susie or Atlantis or AnyOtherRivendell on a trail, you will get comments intended as compliments for doing it the hard way, which is INSANE. These bikes + fattish tires with lowish pressure + decent (not even "good") technique + the kind of judgement you excercise every day crossing the street or driving a car...plus enough sense to walk what you can't ride (too risky or too hard) will get you over anything, always, no exceptions. I'm not saying ride a fixed gear skinny-tire bike on big rocks. At that point, it's just weird, like...why? But a longish wheelbase fatty with the right gears and good brakes (and they don't even have to be THAT good) will work anywhere in the world that a bike is even barely appropriate.
The typical mountain bike on Mount Tamalpais, the "birthplace" of the modern mountain bike, the mountain that from 1975 thru about 1980 turned fat-tire paperboy bikes into real good mountain bikes---now the typical mountain bike has front and rear shocks and a carbon frame, and one in four is electric.
Our Hillibikes are soooo suitable for ALL of the terrain on Mt. Tam, Mount Diablo (nearer to us), and every other park or open space we ride. I've never seen a trail that I'd feel more comfortable on than I do on the Clem I ride. Here are some pix from the past two weeks, various spots.
Also Mt. Tam. (shot at 1/15th second)
Dan bails out on a rootey descent that I didn't even get this far on....on Mount Diablo.
Also Mount Diablo. I'm in a "1/30th of a second shutter speed over roots" phase.
When a bike's not right, you walk or haul it; you don't look for new technology that lets you ride faster over rougher terrain, but doesn't save you when you fall.
When you ride too low pressure OR you hit a sharp edge and get a pinch flat, don't "swear to go tubeless." Flats are easy to fix. THis one, about seven minutes. I shot like eight photos of Jeff fixing it. One more:
We're going to get a floor pump. A Hobson-Zingo. Four months.
Everybody who rides in traffic ought to bite ye olde bullete and get one of these Yield Sign triangles, a true American classic nerdy ultra-effective bicycle accessory and collision preventer. I figure mine has saved my life about 55 times (and counting) by now. Also see the reflective tape taped onto my Thousand (brand) helmet. I have well-founded scientistic skepticism about a helmet's effectiveness—knowing as I do a handful of people who've smacked their heads and died while wearing one—and this is a point I am not going to argue—but I totally dig how they outperform bare heads or hats when it comes to holding reflective tape. Plus, I like the gumball shape of it. Thousand helmets are the only ones I can stand. I'm not saying you should feel the same, I'm just saying they're the only helmets I'm aware of that aren't trying to look fast or macho. When you buy one from us, we give half the selling price (all of our gross profit) to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
This from a night ride. Riding buddy Dan is a former pro photographer who now shoots with an iPhone and tries to help me with my deficiencies. I think he's burned out on the camera geekery and fussiness, but I'm all into it, as are many of us here. Lately I've been shooting as much as possible at 1/30th of a second, to get the right amount of blur.
With film this look is easy. Shoot at 1/30th of a second with the right exposure, and if in doubt, overexpose it a stop or even two, and don't worry about camera shake, and just compose it halfwaly decently, and that's it. Pan if you want (1/30th works well for that, too).
You probably will outgrow it, but you'll never regret owning or shooting it. For film, get HP-5 or Tri-X film and you're all set
All good and easy. Not ultra cheap, you'll like the results.
OK, no more of that, just do what you want to.
What's in a name?
Attention all Friends of Brits and at least one actual Brit:
Let's not just turn the page. Let's help Mr. Snowball. Let's raise at least a month's rent for him, and maybe double it, even. Let's do it with credits and PeaceWheel T-shirts. For every PeaceWheel T you buy, we'll donate the entire selling price to Mr. Snowball. For every PeaceWheel button you buy, same thing. Essentially, then, we're sharing the cost, and if we don't raise the British equivalent of $1,200, we'll use ye old nonexistent slush fund to fill in the gap.
Then we're gonna need a fellow British citizen to find a way to get the money to him. (FLASH: Paypal can do it, and we have received some information as to how to find Mr. Snowball.) Is a British nationalist something other than a British citizen? You don't even have to be that, but it'll help to at least live in England and be resourceful enough—slightly Sherlock Holmes-like — to find a way to get it to him. Only honest people need apply.
Yes, of course his name and his lack of heat struck me. It struck you, too. And were it not for that, I probably would have just read the story (NYT Feb 5) and turned the page. Mr. Snowball has a struggling upholstery business. He's 61. No doubt there are needier cases than his, but he's suffering enough to make the NYT story, and that's enough to get us to help, right?
And the buttons. Any of the buttons on that link.
Another Vincent Snowball coming right up. This should not give you pause. It's a different guy. Maybe his son who moved here from England.
"...lodged in the Logan County Jail" is an interesting use of "lodged."
Both Vincent Snowballs are having rough lives, and (to my way of thinking) neither is responsible for his situation and both deserve a certain amount of sympathy. The second one—we don't know what led him down that path, but something did. He didn't just come to a fork in the road and say, "#@$! it, I'm taking this nasty one, I don't care." But let's raise a bit of moolah for the older English one with the floundering upholstery business and the high heating bills. Buy those Peace-Wheel T shirts and buttons.
RoadUno. A Single-Speeder for 2023. The first four samples, before paint:
Might delete the pump peg. We're more into the "make your own" kind.
We worked on the dropout slot angle, to minimize the brake pad/rim shift as the wheel moves forward and back. If that means nothing to you, it's OK, but it's a big deal, and we won't know if we got it right until we get these bikes and try. It's really close. As a ONE-speed, it won't make any difference, but if you want to make it a two or a four—violating the spirit and all, but we know you're gonna wanna do dat--then we've got to get it really close. But--like, make no mistake, etc--we're calling it a one-speed frame.
There's a 51. 54. 57. 61. Maybe a 48/650B, too. They're designed for upright bars, tires to 50mm, and all-around utility riding on pavement, which is what the eyelets and rack mounts are for. The finals might be lugged. They'll have a groovy crowned and nicely curved Rivendell fork. It's not going to be a down and dirty one-speed in any case, but we don't want it to be only for rich people. We are aware that carbon bikes with electronic shifting that'll likely be justifiably off the road in five years can cost $9,000.
We believe this bike will have a useful and safe life of maybe nine times that, and will never be more than a new part (tire, a chain, cog, chainring, brake pads, and at most a wheelset) away from near new functionality. But we're also trying to make it special and like gorgeous, so that when everybody reading (or writing) this is dead and personal hovercrafts are the standard way to get around, the RoadUno will still make sense and work...and in the meantime, we don't want it to be too far out of reach. We don't make budget bikes, not because we're snobs or philosophically opposed to them, but because we just can't. We don't have the power and clout. Every bike we do is a struggle, sometimes in stupidity, like maybe the RoadUno, but always with good intent. They're all bikes WE here at Rivendell want, personally.
We're not selling the samples, at least not yet, and we're not making a list of names. We need to ride these ourselves, maybe change something, and in any case, we'll use them to sell or pre-sell production models. Local riders come by, wanna ride the groovy new RoadUno prototypes, and might want to get one.
One more story here. Timely and paralleling "our sport" and tons of others. I hope you're not burnt out already. This is fascinating...to me.
CUSHY TRAINING TOOLS MAKE PURISTS CHAFE
By Jonathan Branch, New York Times, Feb 10, 2022
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — In the Olympic-level snowboarding and freestyle skiing world, there is an innocuous-sounding compound word that almost always evokes a visceral reaction — a deep sigh, a shaking of the head, a knowing nod.
Nothing has revolutionized the halfpipe, slopestyle and big air competitions quite like giant airbags. And nothing has so divided devotees of the events, who see airbags either as useful training tools or a misguided shortcut to success, even cheating.
“Airbags have become like the performance-enhancing drug for freestyle skiing and snowboarding over the past couple of years,” said Charles Beckinsale, director of Stomping Grounds Projects, a leading builder of slopestyle courses and halfpipes around the world.
The quiet influence of airbags is likely to be on display at the Beijing Games. Their rising use — ensuring a soft landing until the trick is deemed ready to attempt on the far more dangerous landing surfaces of ice and snow — has ratcheted up skill levels.
Young athletes from China and Japan train far more on artificial slopes with pillowy landings than they do on snow. Other countries are adding airbags, many of them shaped to mimic the contour of a slope, to keep up with the trends in training tools for their national programs.
The result: Tricks are getting harder and more dangerous — more twists and more spins, with more athletes able to do them.
“You can practice over and over again until you have your trick dialed — without the heavy risk of a hard landing,” Bagjump, an airbag pioneer based in Austria, touts on its website.
But lots of people in snowboarding and freeskiing, especially veteran athletes, question whether the proliferation of airbags runs counter to the soul of their sports. They see trick progression as a deliberate, almost monastic pursuit, using the mastery of one maneuver to open up the next, in logical, semi-safe order. Managing danger and fear is part of the skill s
“Now people can just fling themselves, and maybe they can’t even do a good backside 1080, but they can do a backside triple cork 1620 because they got to skip that step with no consequence,” said Mark McMorris, 28, who is one of the leading snowboarders of the past decade and is competing in his third Olympics.
“It’s a little bit of cheating your way to the top,” he added.
But those who choose to train without airbags are at risk of being left behind.
“Even our skiers who first were like, ‘Eh, airbag, it’s not my thing,’ are now like, ‘OK, I need to do this,’” the U.S. Olympic freeskiing coach Dave Euler said.
From Hollywood to the Hills
In the months before the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, the snowboarder Shaun White, the 2006 Olympic champion in the halfpipe, practiced in a private halfpipe with a foam pit at the end. It was deemed a competitive advantage, and White went on to win gold again.
But giant airbags, long the hidden secret of Hollywood stunts, were already moving to the snow. Demand rose when the Olympics added slopestyle to the roster of events in 2014, and big air in 2018.
Now every leading snowboarder and freeskier has access to airbags throughout the year because of companies like BagJump and Progression Airbags, which is based in Canada.
(Click this link to see them in action)
Most differentiate between flat bags (enormous mattress-shaped bags with inflated bumpers to keep athletes from sliding off the sides) and landing bags (contoured to the landing slopes, to give a truer sense of landing on a snowy course or the near-vertical wall of a halfpipe).
Landing bags can be 200 feet long and nearly 100 feet wide, and athletes can land on their feet and ride away.
“It’s kind of like a big Slip ‘N Slide,” Euler said. “And it’s really taken the progression of all skiing to the next level.”
The “vert” bags now used in halfpipes have helped top athletes practice triple corks — three corkscrew rotations — which are likely to be the must-have tricks for men who want to win a gold medal this week at the Beijing Games.
Most countries with competitive Olympic snowboard and freeskiing programs have at least one airbag for training. The United States has one in Park City, Utah, but it was battered in a windstorm last year, leaving the Americans scrambling for places to train in the off-season.
“Freestyle snowboarding and skiing being Olympic sports means there are budgets for this type of facility,” said Hannes Rasinger, managing director for BagJump. “The travel restrictions during Covid have definitely promoted this development because it showed how important it is to have facilities within your own borders.”
Japan has been a leader of airbag use for more than a decade. A dozen or more terrain parks around the country use airbags of all sizes. Parents bring their children, sometimes for days at a time, and let them hurl themselves into airbags again and again. It is a wintertime echo of skateboarding culture in Japan.
“I started snowboarding because of skateboarding, with my friends,” said Lee Ponzio, an Australian who helps coach Japan’s Olympic snowboarding team. “Just going out and doing it, and nothing to do with parents. It’s not about being a sport. But these kids in Japan, they grew up kind of to compete.”
And now they are winning medals. At the Olympic Games last summer in Tokyo, Japan dominated the skateboarding competition. In Beijing, it has a reasonable shot at sweeping the podium in the men’s halfpipe competition.
China, which is likely to win multiple medals, too, has also embraced airbags. Indoor ski resorts are sprouting up in many cities, some with training centers filled with airbags. China intends for the Beijing Games to propel millions into winter sports.
“I’ve seen pictures and videos of these places in Japan and China that are just like airbag cities,” the American freeskier Nick Goepper, a two-time Olympic medalist in slopestyle who will compete in Beijing, said.
China’s snowboarding and freestyle skiing teams did not compete much in international competitions the past couple of years because of the pandemic, and emerged this winter as powerhouses in several events.
“There’s a lot of gymnast-style athletes that are coming into snowboarding,” Beckinsale said. “Not necessarily great snowboarders, but they ride airbags and come out of nowhere with great aerial awareness and lots of tricks. That’s kind of the direction it’s going. And China’s booming right now.”
Some who excel in big air, judged on just one jump, might struggle in slopestyle, which requires a broader skill set and an active imagination. Slopestyle includes a series of rails and several jumps that vary in size and shape.
“A lot of judges say they can see it, particularly between tricks on a slopestyle course, how well a rider controls their board,” Ponzio said. “I had one just tell me at the last event: ‘That kid can’t ride. He’s amazing, but he can’t ride a snowboard.’”
Injury is a constant threat.
Attitudes about airbags tend to reflect a generational divide. Like McMorris, Jamie Anderson, 31, a two-time gold medalist from the United States, prefers building her tricks methodically on snow.
“I don’t like doing airbags, so everything takes a bit longer,” she said. “But I hope to learn my tricks with a lot of power and a good foundation, so when I do have them, I’ll have them for a long time.”
But younger athletes are used to using airbags or willing to adapt to them.
“In moderation, an airbag can be super beneficial,” said the American snowboarder Maddie Mastro, 21, a gold medal hopeful in the halfpipe along with Chloe Kim, among others. “You might as well try a new trick into it three times and then see how that goes. And then go from there and work more on snow.”
Goepper, 27, falls between the old guard and the new generation. He said airbags are a selling point for parents looking to put their children into camps and onto club teams. But there is deep-rooted nostalgia for learning tricks on makeshift jumps with friends, unscripted and unsupervised.
“You just have to find a nice balance between the rawness of experiencing that fear firsthand, and trying not to remove it completely,” he said.
A lot of top freeskiers and snowboarders, he said, get so comfortable flopping into airbags that they struggle to make the transition to the snow, with its hard landings and real consequences. That, he said, is what makes competitions like the Olympics so intriguing.
“No matter what kind of magical training tools start to appear, you need to be able to conjure up the confidence to drop in when it’s snowing sideways and super windy and it’s your last run or it’s the biggest event of the year or whatever,” Goepper said. “No amount of airbags and training facilities are going to prepare you for what it takes to be the ultimate competitor, and not just the ultimate trick master.”
It's like, you use the latest technology and become dependent on it to the point where if you don't have it, surprise— you're screwed. It's not just snow-sports, either. The same could be said about lots of sensible safety devices, but at some point on, it goes from good to iffy to possibly bad. It's worth considering, is all. I'm not saying, join me in hating inflat-a-cushions. But you know--when they play a role in hyper-pumping skills that encourage the hapless athletes to take those new razor skills to the uncushioned world in pursuit of sponsorships or fame or followers or Olympic medals, then it's not all positive+positive, right?
Bringing it back to bikes, a fully suspended ultra-cush bike that enables you to shred ye olde steep boulderfieds...is not your friend. At some point, the bike should say, whoa, brother, wth are you doing, and why?
All for now.