Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Searching for Flagstaff's Bike Culture

I spent an embarrassingly long time in the world of higher education. My first degree was in studio art as a ceramics major. If anyone had told me when I started art school that I would end up in clay I would have thought he or she was crazy. Those people in ceramics were so dirty. They were always covered in dust. Eventually, my BFA advisor told me I had to have at least one ceramics course. I reluctantly enrolled and went to my first class in the nether regions of the art building afraid of what might come and what might get on my clothes.

The TA placed a soft ball of clay the size of my fist in front of each of us and instructed us on the first ceramic object I had made since kindergarten, a pinch pot. No sooner had I began shaping the cool, malleable clay did I fall utterly and hopelessly in love. Dirt? What dirt? Why, they provided us with a full sized locker each; I’d simply bring a change of clothes! Soon, I never wanted to leave the clay studio. I became the most devoted ceramics student in all of Athens, Ga. I changed my major; I stopped worrying about dirt and getting dirty. Occasionally, people in my psychology classes pointed out that I had mud in my hair. Well, of course I do you fool! I am a ceramics major!

I am reminded of all of this because I noticed this afternoon as I wandered around downtown Flag with Bob and my camera that most of the bikes I saw locked to various streetlamp poles, benches, and bike racks were covered with a thick coat of dirt and mud, not unlike the clay “slurry” that used to coat everything in the ceramics studio on Jackson Street so many years ago. My reaction to the mud covered bikes (all mountain bikes, I will admit, thus appropriately covered in mud) was shock and horror. Why would anyone let his or her bike become so unsightly?

But this, I remembered, is Flagstaff, not Copenhagen or Boston or New York, and style is different here. Bikes in Flagstaff habitually interact passionately with our great outdoors. The mud after a snow melt or mid-summer monsoon is what attracts people to move here or for visitors to return again and again. Thick coats of dust from the dry, rocky trail serve as visual proof of a life devoted to adventure and fun.

The allure of the mud covered mountain bike and the thrill of flying across a twisting, single track path is understandable and I used to enjoy it myself until some years ago, riding alone on a steep rocky trail in Louisville’s Cherokee Park I found myself sailing over my handle bars, greeting the ground, and feeling the impact of my bike on top of me. Despite the fact that I was wearing a helmet, my subsequent thoughts about riding those trails always revolved around a closed head injury. I took up running soon after.

So today, I continued on my quest to define Flagstaff mountain cycle chic. As it was perhaps our first really warm and beautiful day of the spring, we saw dozens of people astride their bikes. I intentionally avoided the muddy bikes in order to avoid traumatic memories of my near death experience. Not much in the way of high fashion but I did manage to capture some regular people, wearing regular clothes, going about their business on two wheels.
Life Update

Planner Guy and I celebrate our 2nd anniversary on April 28! We decided to plan a long weekend in Portland, Oregon. We're looking forward to experiencing Portland's growing bike commuting culture and exploring the very distinctive neighborhoods and sight-seeing aboard the city's light rail system. The Planner Guy will no doubt be in Planner Guy heaven snapping away at features of the streetscape (benches, bike racks, litter recepticals, public art) he finds noteworthy. I plan to have my laptop with me and update sheridesabike.com daily. I'm excited and ready to be inspired. I invite any Portland readers to share suggestions on what we should see and do while we're visiting. We plan to rent bikes for at least part of our stay and need some destination ideas.


floppy foot said...

I stumbled across your blog and amazingly my husband and I were married on April 29th and will be celebrating our 14th this year.....and we live in Gresham (a suburb of Portland). Too weird. As a cyclist of any sort I would recommend going to see the stack of Zoobomber bikes near Powell Books which is on Burnside in downtown Portland. If you google Zoo bombers you will find all sorts of things. The bike culture in PDX is soooo strong. These guys ride a huge array of kids bikes down hills of all sizes. Another area to see a lot of cyclists would be Southeast PDX near Hawthorne street and Northeast on Alberta street. People ride bikes everywhere here. There is a nice downtown ride to do along the Eastbank Esplanade that makes a loop along the waterfront. It travels on both sides of the Willamette river and crosses two of our many bridges. I think it is about a 10 mile ride to do the whole loop. http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?action=ViewPark&PropertyID=105
If you like beer, Portland is a good place for that as well. A good bike and beer combination would be the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub near Hawthorne. www.luckylab.com
I could go on and on but these are a few suggestions. I hope you guys enjoy your visit.

She Rides a Bike said...

Floppy Foot: I am sure there is a story to go with your monaker. Anyway, congratulations on your upcoming anniversary. I am so excited about visiting Powells, the Hawthorne District, riding the urban trails, and of course a drink or two at the Lucky Labrador. Thanks for your suggestions.

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