Monday, December 22, 2008

Old School

Two and a half years ago I dropped into Balanced Rock Bikes in Monument, CO to see an old friend. Tim Watkins was one of two people who shaped my love of cycling as a young'un, and I didn't realize it but that day he was about to reconnect me with my former passion. Let me go back a little further. Growing up, I was always on bike. Everyday. In Middle and High School I commuted 15 miles every morning, rode the trails every afternoon and spent all my after dark hours in my shop (my father was kind enough to let me take over half the garage.) Encouraged to race by my other cycling mentor, Tom Allen, I started racing when I was 14 and raced straight through my Junior Year of High School. Tim saw potential and when Cannondale started their Team Headshok in 1996, he did what he could to pull some strings and get me a bike (I was too young to get on the team.) I raced through the summer of my junior year, suffering as pack fodder in the Junior Expert Category.

That fall semester I graduate High School early, discovered beer and grass and put cycling on the backburner. I headed to college in Durango and was promptly kicked out (no grass in the dorms.) This turn of events sent me into a tailspin, forcing the sale of my truck. I started commuting by bike to my 6am job as a busser at a breakfast joint. I also started training again and the summer of 2000 was spent chasing the Mountain States Cup in the Senior Sport Category. I won several races and the series that year and made plans to upgrade, racing the Fall Classic, Road Apple Rally in Farmington. It was at this race, on the smooth rollers of the 25+ mile course that I saw my first 29er in action. Intrigued, I followed this racer for miles, barely able to keep up as he flowed through the course.

That fall, however, I made another discovery. Music. I started playing in a band and stopped riding my bike, getting back into, then back out of serious riding on and off for the next 4 years before moving to Nashville. In Nashville I dabbled in riding, but it took the interference of Tim to re-inspire my dormant love of riding fast. That day two and a half years ago, I saw Tim's Custom Rabbit Ti 29er SS in his shop. He must have seem the look in my eye. He insisted I take it for a couple of days, ride it wherever and return it before I left town. This was the turning point.

My father lives within 1000 paved feet of the trail network I learned to ride in. I headed straight for these trails and was shocked by how natural it felt to ride them, with only one gear and big wheels. The bike was perfect. It seemed to exaggerate and enhance all of the best parts of riding. With no gears to select, I was free to connect more completely with the experience of riding. The bike was silent, I was seeing more wildlife than I remembered. Tom had always trained me to focus on flow and momentum, two things that are second nature to SS 29er riders. It was like I was a kid again, 12 years old, discovering mountain biking for the first time. Everything changed.

It would be two years before I would finally be able to afford my own SS 29er. This last 6 months of riding has been some of the most rewarding of my life. I now have two single speed bikes and don't anticipate ever riding anything but SS's (except maybe a geared Big Dummy). Saturday night, after a great day skiing, we dropped into Balanced Rock right before closing to drop off our rental gear. Tim was slammed with renters, but he still took time to talk us up, find out how the day was and insist that if I had time, I take the Rabbit for a ride. We pulled the pedals, moved the seat and brake levers, threw it in the car and yesterday after church with my dad, I went out for a cold, epic ride on those same trails. It was perfect.

Rabbit stopped making bikes a few years ago, but this is still the best bike I've ever had the pleasure of riding. The dual top-tube/seatstay design is as functional as it is elegant. I took some pictures of it leaned against my other "borrowed" rig for the week, a Blue Toyota Matrix.

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