Thirty-five years ago I went on a date with this cute hippie chick I met at school. It was (surprise!) a bicycle date. Within minutes, she had a flat tire. Of course, in those days, neither of us carried a tube or pump. So, in a remarkable act of youthful naiveté, we flagged down a Seattle city bus. Lucky for us, we looked sufficiently pitiful for the driver to allow us onboard.
That is what you call an inauspicious beginning.
I’m still riding with that same hippie chick, lo these many years. Only now, we both know a bit more about how to fix flats. (That’s a good thing, since we’ve had, by my rough estimate, about a thousand of them.) We rode away from our wedding on bicycles. We bought a custom tandem before we bought a car. In perhaps the ultimate expression of our insanity, our daughter logged over a thousand miles in the bicycle trailer before she was one year old (the whole thing was chronicled in an article in “Bicycling Magazine”).
We’ve raced, done triathlons, commuted, and toured in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, Holland, and Switzerland (though I am probably missing a few). We still own that purple handbuilt tandem, and it’s carried us through two double centuries and innumerable breakfast rides. Nowadays, when people see the big bike, they say, “Nice vintage tandem!” I guess that means we’re vintage, too.
She also traveled the world with me in my job as a cycling journalist, and was by my side when Greg LeMond won a stunning world championship in the rain, in France, in 1989. (My daughter learned to walk on that trip!)
It’s been an amazing ride. For work and pleasure, we’ve traveled the world in pursuit of cycling. With apologies to SNL, the bicycle been berry berry good to me.
Of course, we’re a bit less proud of the damage done. I’ve broken at least a dozen bones. She’s broken about half that many, and cracked three helmets. (Thank God for helmets.) In the ultimate romantic expression, we’ve even crashed together. Several times. We’re not proud of this. It just is. Ask anyone who’s been riding that long. Sometimes you fall down. But you get up.
Undoubtedly, things are creakier now. It takes a bit longer to get going in the morning. When I suggest that maybe we should do another double century on the tandem—just to prove our youthfulness—she laughs. I’ve accepted that it’s not going to happen. And maybe it’s for the best. Rides these days are often punctuated with coffee, fatty foods, and a modicum of whining. You do what you have to do.
Despite these myriad obstacles, the whole process still strikes me as a small and certain miracle: You swing a leg over the top tube, push off, and pretty soon your feet are tracing tiny circles in the air. Yes!
In that moment, you’re riding. Come to think of it, we rode today. And you know what? It was as good as it’s ever been. And that’s pretty damn good.
By Geoff Drake
The other day a big truck pulled up to my garage, and my 1969 Triumph went off to a new, unseen owner known only to me by his eBay handle: LOVE_OIL_LEAKS. Or something like that.
All told, in the last year or so, I’ve sold four motorcycles. For the first time in a decade, it’s possible to traverse the entire length of the garage without getting the wind knocked out of me by a handlebar end or stepping in the crankcase excrement of a vintage Triumph or Honda. When it’s time to ride, I no longer have to move motorcycles around like some supersized game of chess. Perhaps best of all, insurance and registration renewal notices no longer arrive with all the annoyance of monthly utility bills.
In their place is a nearly new BMW R1200RT, with all the latest farkles: traction control, Bluetooth, cruise control, heated grips and seats, ABS, GPS and a host of other acronyms designed to impart careless motoring bliss.
It only took about a decade to come to this decision….
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One Person’s Life with a One-cylinder Motorcycle
On a sunny Sunday, my friend Tom rides me to Los Gatos on the back of his KTM 950 Adventure. In my pocket is a fat wad of 30, $100 bills. The plan is to return with two motorcycles. It feels nice to have the cash pressing against my leg, an insistent reminder of good things ahead.
My plan is to buy a used Kawasaki KLR 650, located on the Internet. Lately I have begun to fancy going to the desert with Tom to explore the many hot springs and abandoned mining camps, and perhaps sample a little Patron while the campfire casts a blood-red glow on the dust-covered bikes.
But there are other reasons for the purchase. As a kid I’d spent seemingly endless, joyful hours on a succession of single-cylinder dirt bikes. Now, with the inevitable inertia that pulls us towards the things of our youth, I want to ride off-road again. It seems that those things that tugged at our emotions 40 years ago are, in fact, the same things that tug at us today. This applies to cars, motorcycles, women, and other scarcely suppressed passions. In any case, I needed a dirt bike.
I also have a simple need to broaden the ridable landscape. Here in Northern California we have some of the best paved motorcycle roads in the world—but we may just be exceeding our carrying capacity. I love the turbine smooth growl of my Honda VFR 800, and our Bay Area paved roads. Problem is, so does everyone else. Enter the KLR.
The goal is to re-enter riding at its core, with an elemental, single-cylinder motorcycle. And it has me wondering: what if I were restricted to the big single for every type of riding: touring, commuting, road riding, even two-up. Can one person survive on one bike?
Time to find out.
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By Geoff Drake
Lake Florence is not large, maybe three miles around, and though there is no trail, you could complete the wobbly circle with one half day of steady walking and a strong case of poison oak, the thin line of boils a persistent reminder of your exploits. Don’t ask me how I know this.
It has been almost 25 years since I last visited here, in the summer of 1954, as a towheaded boy of 13. This strikes me as the age when one’s horizon begins to spread beyond the boundary of the one crystalline day you find yourself in at that moment. A flailing jump off the end of the dock in freshly laundered briefs is accompanied, perhaps in mid-air, by the thought of the swimsuit hanging from a nail in your closet, unused for three years, and your mother’s admonitions. The insults you so freely hurled at the girl in the next cabin are now clouded by the mild torment of her breasts, inexplicably enlarged since last summer and now constrained in articles of clothing wholly unfamiliar to you. A stick that you have carefully crafted into a knife takes on a dimension of killing.
Actions begin to have ramifications, and it is at this age when you begin to sense their horror, the effects of all those things you cannot see or guard against.
I came to the lake for five successive summers, three months each time, a span that could inscribe memory like tree rings in the mind of a boy. This could be measured in the precise feel of the weathered grain on a porch Newell post, or the location of the missing cork in the handle of a favorite fishing pole, or in the uprooted flagstone 100 yards down the path to the lake, which required an exuberant leap when taken at speed and with clear water ahead. It could be measured with a scientist’s precision, laying face-down on the end of the dock and peering into the cold blue water, every species known, the aquatic grasses waving back and forth and revealing each one in turn: tadpoles, minnows, large, slow-moving trout confident in their invincibility. A boy could know the world above and below the water equally, and hold them in the same esteem.
There is, in fact, no more precise or photographic memory than that of a boy set free in the woods for a long, hot summer.
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This article was originally published in Rider magazine.
By Geoff Drake
I am a motorcycle commuter, and so carry the emblems of that profession: a somewhat tatty Aerostich suit, which fits neatly over my business clothes; well-worn, waterproof boots; messenger bag with laptop computer; and of course, an unerring eye for disaster.
I am festooned with so much illumination and reflective gear that I can easily be mistaken for the beginning of a presidential motorcade. This includes a reflective band on my helmet, adhesives on the bike front and rear, headlight modulator, and rear flashing LEDs that illuminate during braking. This is capped off by my bright yellow ‘stich suit. I am part man, part Christmas tree.
I arrive at work, do my Superman-in-a-phone booth routine to get rid of the ‘stich, and drag a comb through my hair in a vain attempt to banish helmet hand. My helmet occupies a prominent place on my office shelf—my statement of individuality (or derangement)….
When I was employed in the Silicon Valley, I commuted on my BMW R1100R almost every day from my home on the ocean. While the teeming masses lament this drive as one of the worst in the state, I viewed it as a form of compensation that’s better than stock options. Half this ride is over serpentine roads through the redwoods—the very roads the local knee-puck lads ply on weekend sport rides—and I did it as part of my daily regimen. Unlike my colleagues, I arrived at work wearing a broad, stupid grin that endured well into the morning. In contrast, they arrived at work looking like they’re ready to kick the dog, having spent the last hour banging the steering wheel. Now I have a nicer commute along the ocean to Monterey. But the effects are the same; If I am a peaceable influence in the first meeting of the day, thank the motorcycle.
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What drives social media at the Monterey Bay Aquarium? There are plenty of things—like our animals, exhibits, events, and conservation efforts.
But more than anything else, it’s the power of Aww.
What’s Aww? It’s nothing less than the universal currency of social media. You know: kids under sedation after a dentist visit. Talking dogs. And yes, like it or not, cat videos. All of them, unmistakably, elicit the amazing power of Aww.
At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we’re blessed with an abundance of Aww:
Usually, Aww is just those three simple-but-powerful letters. On Twitter, it’s the hashtag: #Aww. Sometimes, we see the superlative form: Awww. Or, in extreme cases, we’ll garner the ultimate social media accolade: Awwwww.
What nonprofit wouldn’t avail itself of the emotional power at its disposal, whether it’s great art or cute animals? Aww is our palette, our repertoire. We pull the Aww lever almost every day, without shame.
The fact is, Aww is pretty awesome.
What is Aww?
Your organization may differ, but based on our metrics (comments, shares, Likes), these four categories peg the Aww meter every time:
There is Artistry in Aww
Is Aww the end of journalism as we know it? Hardly. Producing Aww-inspiring content is not as easy as posting a cute photo. “The distinction between Web ephemera like baby videos and traditional journalism has all but disappeared,” said a recent article about BuzzFeed founder Ben Smith in the “New York Times.”
More important, words—and hard work—still matter. “’Thirty-three Animals Who Are Disappointed in You’ is a work of literature,” Smith says, referring to hugely popular post, adding that the author “spent like 15 hours finding images of animals that would express the particular palette of human emotion he was going for and wrote really witty captions for them. And that in some ways is harder and more competitive than, say, political reporting.”
As a print journalist, I couldn’t agree more. Who knew that 10 words and a photo could be so impactful? The Aquarium’s social media presence would be nothing without great photos. But the photos would go nowhere without artfully crafted captions. It’s like writing a daily haiku.
Aww is not Awful
Great things are carried along on the power of Aww. In the case of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium, this means ticket sales, donations, and memberships. It also means enlisting people in our mission, which is to inspire conservation of the oceans. It’s all largely impelled by the power of Aww.
Is it wrong to pursue Aww so unashamedly? I doubt many people would accuse us of outright exploitation of Aww. What works for us is analogous to what’s worked for 25 years on the floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium itself—the creative use of iconic animals and exhibits as a means to captivate our audience—and to enable us to communicate our critical conservation message.
Aww does not preclude earnestness, or social good. In our case, it augments it. It is, quite simply, the fuel that grows our followers, our influence—and social good.
Aww creates the opening—the willingness to accept the message. You could say that Aww makes it all possible.
In Paxton, winter relinquished its hard grip on the land slowly, the bony fingers of the season unfurling to reveal the mud beneath. What was uncovered belied the stark beauty of the other seasons—there was only tenacious, axle-deep mud on the narrow roads, and the nakedness of the trees awaiting the mysterious spring messages to begin the process of greening.
This tipping into spring was never linear or predictable, the warm days punctuated with cruelly frequent forays back into winter, the bony fingers extending their grip once again, sometimes for weeks at a time, weighing down upon the land and the people it held tight against the long-awaited spring….
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When you sit down to create social media content, who are you writing for?
I’m writing for Sue. She’s imaginary, of course, but she’s as real to me as my next-door-neighbor. And I think about her every time I create a piece of content for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Facebook page, Google+ page, or Tumblr blog.
Let’s fill in Sue’s biography. She works for a large technology company (or manufacturer, or pharmaceutical company—you pick). Sue gets to work at 8 a.m., and immediately begins churning out an impressive stream of e-mails. After all, she’s a good employee, and is well liked by upper management for her work ethic.
Sue works in a cube, and despite the convex rearview mirror she has affixed to the corner of her monitor, she’s subject to an annoyingly constant stream of eavesdropping colleagues, all of whom are just dying to find her with cat videos on her computer screen instead of an Excel spreadsheet.
But by 10 a.m., Sue’s fidgeting. She needs to be transported—if only briefly—to a place that’s far from the confines of that cubicle.
That’s when I enter her life.
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Adventures, with wife, in the Italian Dolomites
This article was originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.
Last summer, feeling bold, I asked my wife if she might be interested in taking a guided motorcycle tour of the Dolomite mountain range in Italy. I ask questions like this periodically to test the bounds of what is possible—in the same way one might ask for a small, lifetime stipend from Bill Gates, or to be released from a 110 mph speeding ticket. It was a Hail Mary of colossal proportions.
But sometimes, a ludicrous proposal such as this will ricochet around the firmament and actually come back to earth with a soft landing. To my surprise and delight, she said yes.
So in late September we found ourselves packing motorcycle gear and walking around the house practicing sophisticated Italian like vorrei quello (“I want that”). Upon arrival, Meredith is a little dismayed to discover she is the only woman on the trip, and we are the only two-up motorcycle. The other two riders are commercial pilots (read: need for speed), and have ridden bikes all over the world together. They seem friendly enough, but we both notice they seem to be sizing us up, as if they had just been put in the company of a wheezing Ural sidecar outfit piloted by the town baker and his wife. It looks like in this group, we’re destined to be the ball and chain.
Once underway, we consistently bring up the rear. At every intersection, the boys (including our guide) are waiting for us. They tell us the delay is never more than a couple of minutes, but I suspect they are being charitable. When we get underway again, they’re gone like a vapor trail.
But pretty soon, a funny thing begins to happen. As we crest each pass—dizzying, snow-capped peaks all around—I can see the boys up ahead. They are just off their bikes, undoing their helmets. As we round the last bend, they raise their arms in celebration of another summit. After this Sir Edmund Hillary re-enactment occurs a few more times, it occurs to me that it’s us that they are celebrating. Could it be that the dim-witted baker and his wife are showing some surprising alacrity up the alpine roads, after all?
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The summer of 1969 stretched out endlessly, with days spent swimming in the small, unthreatening waves of Long Island Sound, family dinners in the backyard, and stick-and-ball sports played on the sticky macadam of our neighborhood streets. Steamy hot Connecticut evenings were spent with my ear pressed to a transistor radio, memorizing top-40 songs on AM stations out of New York City, the volume turned down to avoid waking my parents in the bedroom next door. Using thick, colored sticks of chalk, we sketched out four-square grids in the streets, which were all named to commemorate World War II generals: Halsey, MacArthur, Nimitz, Arnold, and of course, our own: Marshall Street. Kids gathered like fireflies in the gloaming, eager to vanquish their opponents with the perfect spike. Then, just as quickly, they dispersed, home to their nearly perfect lives…
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