21 Ambassadors

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Ambassador |amˈbasədər; -ˌdôr|
Noun:
An accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country : the French ambassador to Portugal.
• a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity: he is a good ambassador for the industry.

On the first of August the 21 Ambassadors were born. This is a team like no other, unless of course your city, municipality, local bike shop, uncle, cousin, friend from high school, neighbor down the hall, guy you knew, girl you knew, or some asshole who owes you money, has already created a commuter bike team, in which case on August 1st a team like another was born. Why, you may find yourself asking, does the world need another bike team? The world is full of bike teams; it’s brimming over with them, there is no room and yet there are always more, more, more. When do we say enough is enough? For that question I cannot hazard an answer, but I will say that for this new team I have a reason. It’s a good reason, and in this contemporary world of ME that’s all that matters.


You may or may not know that I work in a bike shop, 21st Avenue Bicycles, and if you have been lucky enough to enter our magical little retail realm, you probably noticed the distinct lack of high end racing equipment and accessories. True, all the employees are prime specimens of physical fitness, blessed with the competitive acumen of mountain goats in high mating season. Looking around the place you wonder, “where are all the cream bits, the flash, the gold, the choice cuts?” The shop is not completely lacking, poised in hi-viz areas are select high-end bits of gleam. Chris King headsets and bottom brackets are always in stock as is a rotating cast of titanium railed saddles and folding tires, but overall I would say that we don’t choose to tread water in the deep end of the bicycle technology pool. Not that our talented and very attractive mechanics aren’t up to the task—we have the skills and tools to do just about anything—nor are we bizarre mechanical luddites and curmudgeons opposed to futuristic flights of fancy. No, the lack of high-end gear boils down to the basic economic principle of supply and demand. Our goal at 21st Avenue Bicycles is to supply what is in demand.


We are the last intermediaries of supply, the final reach of production, from strip mining to cold forging; our bike shop is a terminal frontier, the Hadrian’s Wall of commerce, ground zero. We are the first to be impacted by trend, fancy, and consumer whimsy. The super majority of our customers are not interested in shopping for the industry’s precious pieces. These denizens who pass through our doors on a daily basis are commuters and urban riders, individuals without cars and those who choose not to drive them—people who ride their bikes through the rain, sleet, and hail. Our customers brave the fierce world while they leave their bicycles locked to cold steel poles, left subject to the starved, jaundiced eyes of the city’s bike thieves. The last thing these road warriors need is a flashy racing thoroughbred that requires constant mechanical attention and ever-vigilant protection. Their goal is a simple one: to get from point to point. Done.

Over the last couple of years, 21st Avenue has been lucky to help sponsor two badass race teams, Team Velo Dirt and Team Trusty Switchblade. The members of these teams are out there in the wide world mixing it up with the rest of you knuckle draggers. It’s true that most of the gals and guys on these two teams spend a significant amount of time just getting around on their bikes, but when it comes to spending their hard-earned dough at the shop, it’s fair to say that most items purchased have a high degree of bling. Not that there is anything wrong with bling, it just isn’t what the average 21st customer is after. I like the idea of sponsoring teams: they go out into the community and mix it up. Sponsoring a team for the common bike shop is much less about gaining a moving billboard and more about supporting the people who support you.


I developed the 21 Ambassadors as a way for bike shops and bicycle commuters to develop the same types of relationships that bicycle race teams enjoy. While racers train and race in their team kits, the 21 Ambassadors ride to work with their Ambassadors tool rolls. While racers show up to races hoping to best the field, commuters show up in bike lanes ready to assist a stranded fellow cyclist. One person commented that the Ambassador project is “exactly like a race team except couched in an altruistic endeavour.” And though this particular comment was couched in a negative rant against the virtue of the project, his assessment is spot on.


Onward you 21 Ambassadors, to the wet gray streets of Portland and beyond, equipped with the tools and knowledge to help your fellow rider amidst the rushing chaos of the callous streets, onward and Godspeed on your altruistic endeavour.

 

VTT

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Why do I take so much joy from mountain biking? I spend days looking forward to short hours on my bike, and huge blocks of time watching other people ride their bikes on video. Whole paychecks have gone towards bike parts and whole weekends have disappeared to seemingly fruitless adventures. I have to start plotting the different options of recompense I will present to my lovely and tireless wife to make up for my frequent Sunday absences. Despite all the trouble and money—not to mention the constant and nagging injuries—when it comes to free time, mountain biking is in rare company in terms of quality, and if the Oregon weather is sunny and bright then there is nothing I would rather be doing. True, many people have obsessions like mine, industries have been built on these leisure activities, industries for the industries, and it is for this reason—the existence of an endless amount of options—that I am interested in exactly why I am so fascinated with mountain biking.

There are certainly things that I don’t care for in mountain biking. Among the distasteful aspects of the game, climbing ranks high. I am not a huge fan of pedaling up hills on my bike. Doubtless this sentiment is sacrilege to the majority of Embrocation’s readership, yet an inner guiding light that cannot be extinguished compels me to be honest in my admissions. Yes, there is a certain satisfaction that is derived from being able to pedal up hills quickly on a well-equipped road bike; and I grant that a good hard climb can turn into a euphoric high, but on a big tire mountain bike, plodding along at a snail’s pace, no thanks.

Then there is location. Through war and commerce, mankind has developed an extensive and comprehensive road system. As road riders we count this is as a blessing, with myriad different options all starting right at our front door. Unless you live in one of the few sacred locations (Whistler, Asheville, Bend, maybe Switzerland), mountain biking takes some planning and strategy. Who is going to drive? Where do we rendezvous? How am I going to clean the caked mud off my body before I get back into my pal’s car, before I get back into my car? When going to ride your bike the last thing you want to do is to spend hours in a car before and after. We have all experienced the frantic leg straightening back seat hustle that immediately follows a post ride hamstring cramp.


Cost to the environment is yet another problem, and I choose to believe that I am earning mountain bike credits by riding my bike to work everyday, or by eating locally grown organics that don’t rank high on my personals favorites list; the dark leafy roughage of kale or the gummy muck of squash come to mind. The points tally is not stringent but it is observed and that is enough to assuage my first world guilt, as far as driving to go mountain biking is concerned. Is this the ranting of a spoiled bourgeoisie? Yes, sure, so what? I am going to venture that if you are reading this then you can relate.

Enough with this negative business. Definition through subtraction only leaves vacuous ambiguity into which anyone can dump their own meaning. Allow me to attempt a more precise accounting of the specific principles of my enthusiasm. Following a thorough investigation I believe that I have distilled the essential points of off road bliss.

Mountain biking gives the rider a feeling of weightlessness or a sense of parity with gravity. This can be felt so many different ways: deeply compressed in a corner, skipping through a rock section, rattling through tough braking bumps, or floating along a wide open section of trail, those moments are infused with the sense that the law of gravity has been relaxed or augmented, that it is functioning along a continuum rather than being a physical constant. This is so amazing because no matter how positive you are, no matter how triumphant and successful, gravity is always holding you down and there are moments while riding that this fades out and morphs, that the paradigm shifts and gravity releases its infinite grasp for a split second, or at least we can trick ourselves into believing that it does.


This sensation is not unique to mountain biking and can be experienced in similar ways in other sports, like skiing and snow boarding, skateboarding, kayaking, BMX, motocross, surfing, etc. These sports are variations on a theme; they allow our little animal brains to believe we are toying with the grand rule of gravity and that gravity is, however briefly, at our disposal.

Descending on a mountain bike takes critical focus, and as my friend James pointed out, in this wonderful digital age where everything and everyone is selling and buying distractions, finding an activity like mountain biking which requires an all hands on deck mental focus is a wonderful reprieve. Descending on a mountain bike is a concentrated break from the entropy of thought. We briefly find ourselves without the time to muse on relationships, work, or bills. Any lapse of focus from the trail ahead will quickly lead to another opportunity to pick yourself up off the ground. What we are talking about is a negation of immediate self-awareness; this is a distraction that works, blocking out any and everything leaving simply moment after moment after moment.

Mountain biking isn’t unique in its ability to be able to do this, and most people have a way of putting themselves into this position of conscious unconsciousness. When we get here our mind occupies, however briefly, the space of fight or flight; tapping into this primal base releases something that rarely surfaces in our daily lives. I have been mountain biking long enough that I can reasonably expect to recreate these moments; through experience I am able to conjure this feeling, I bank on it. What I have been doing is self perpetuating, and the more I do it the more I become enamored with honing that feeling, and through concentration I am released from everything else.

 

Injuries and Other Things

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We are all getting older. Minute-by-minute, day-by-day, time keeps adding seconds to the clock that is at the same time counting down. It has been a rocky road since I turned 30 last fall: a slightly separated shoulder, the blasted cold of winter, and just as things seemed ready to kick off, I planted my knee into the cold, sharp, angular menacing plastic that is the rapid fire shifter lever on my mountain bike; the soft tendon shroud over my patella is now securely under the aching spell of winter’s cold breath. It is true that I can go running, and that on warm days the aching disappears. And while I can remove myself from the situation in such a way as to be able to look back over the past weeks and note the progress towards a once more healthy joint, I have no choice but to recognize that those weeks will not be returned to me. Countless hours of base miles have been lost to this, which would otherwise be such a minor offense; an innocuous tap, struck in such a sinister manner to a place most vulnerable, so as to render the best laid plans for never-ending upgrade to rest. My spring 2011 efforts have been doused, the shifter and the knee a discovered handicap much like Achilles’ heel, or Smaug’s missing scale.

Note also that Smaug sleeps constantly, and is a dragon. As a dragon that can take what ever he wants and eat whatever he wants, what is the use of the gold billions he has stored? If he wants lamb my guess is that he just strafes a flock for some instant BBQ, and he is probably not interested in spending money on trinkets at the lake peoples’ Saturday farmers market. So the reason for gold has to be pure uncut spite, and for that I appreciate Smaug, and I appreciate his spiteful purity. Like Smaug, I too have no use for the lake peoples’ Saturday market; I have an entire closet filled with tie died headscarves and bamboo wind chimes.
I did however help put on a fun little spring time Super D race series called the Sandy Ridge Spring Brake and as JD would say, more to come. For now suffice it to say there was a far bit schralping.

And…

I can’t get enough of this music. I love the stuff, I have been listening to a few things recently that I believe work really well with bike riding, or sitting, or drawing, or napping. Check them below, and if you are into any of it, go buy the album or at least by the song.

Here goes:
This is Electrelane, out of the UK on Too Pure, this jam just titillates:

The song “Marathon” from the band Tennis on the Fat Possum label has sweet doo-wop hooks that will leave you breaking laws while trying to hit repeat:

The band Crocodiles, also on Fat Possum, put shoegaze in a nitro powered dragster and ran it head on into the house that Suicide built:

King Kahn and the BBQ, are garage rock heroes who have been on all the good ones, and do you know why? Because they are fucking amazing, that’s why:

Damn it there are so many things I want to share with you, like this chap Ty Segall, FAAAAAAAAAAAAAHK. Mind melter am I right? If this person ever plays with in 100 miles of you ride your bike there and leave changed:

Another amazing little piece I have had on repeat is Wild Nothing. Good God Good:

Do you need a little more electronic in your ears? This Breakbot remix by Colorblaster has been the closing song at the shop more than any other this past year:

There are certainly moments when getting heavy is required, and lately I have been falling back on Wooden Shjips to help me along. Psych mind drill, and I love it:

Speaking of wearing out the wax, this little number is giving my turntable fits. Yuck is on tour. Go see them. GO:

I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, but instead I am going to leave you with this little piece of hysteria and bid you adieu
The Oh Sees:

 

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