Category Archives: Flagstaff

Pedaler in Chief

“Bicycles will save the world.”  –Susan Handy, UC Davis Environmental Science & Policy

How poignant this Rush song is today.  It was written in 1985 when greed was being institutionalized in America.  I grew up a confused child in a troubled world.

After high school I worked as a roofer.  I started college.  At 21, I drove an 18 wheeler around America the beautiful, and epic Canada too.  But it was the bicycle–rediscovered at the age of 22 when I realized the car could not save me and was too expensive for me to operate anymore–that changed me.  It was a tool that helped me learn Emerson’s Self-Reliance from the inside by living it.  It’s not easy, and I don’t know where this journey is taking me, but it is a fun ride.


What if our next President charged the country with cycling more?  Make a difference, bike more.  We don’t need everyone to ride, we simply need to support people that are out there cycling right now and encourage people that will.  Especially our youth, and young at heart.

If you’re feeling cynical during this election cycle I recommend cycling more.  It builds us up and connects us to the greater world.  I would also recommend voting.  We have to make our effort and let go of factors beyond our control.  We can only dictate our own effort.  And it works.

2012 was a pivotal moment on my cycling journey when Joe Shannon, Flagstaff Cycling’s Pedaler in Chief, gave me an opportunity to race again, build a team and smooth out my pedal stroke.  We keep growing the movement and spreading the word.  What if the next President of the U.S.A. embraced this new title, Pedaler in Chief, and built a team with all Americans and World Leaders?   Who knows, maybe big money can help more too.  Let’s ask.

Check out Dr. Handy’s research here:
Joe’s team is linked here–
Cycling joins together disciplines:  UC Davis’s Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior

Flagstaff Days

Waterline Road, San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff Arizona

Waterline Road, San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff Arizona

during monsoon come flowers

during monsoon come flowers

the elk are the masters of the woods around Flagstaff

the elk are the masters of the woods around Flagstaff

The San Francisco Peaks towering above Flagstaff are a big draw.  We moved to Flagstaff in 2004 when Mai enrolled at Northern Arizona University.  We spent ten years there.  We were married at the Grand Canyon.  Special place.  I remember our first visit.  Aspen groves and views of the Grand Canyon from Snowbowl Road impressed us, but the forest road around the back side of the Peaks sealed the deal.  Flagstaff is a great place to raise a family on bicycling.

Hart Prairie Road in June, part of my loop around the Peaks route

Hart Prairie Road in June, part of my loop around the Peaks route

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At 7,000 feet above sea level Flagstaff is a healthy and stunningly beautiful environment.  The atmosphere shimmers with perfectly clear, distilled light.  The sun’s press on the skin is intense.  Mountain storms bring deep snows, heavy rains, crackling lightning.  The milkyway swirls in luminous bands across dark night.  The water is cold and clean and the air is delicious.  I met so many people bicycling in Flagstaff.  I met as many people through cycling as I did through working at NAU.  Those communities, work and bike, changed my life.  I met many quiet leaders in Flagstaff, remarkable people, who were not in high positions but lived extraordinary lives.  Real leaders inspire by example through the conduct of their own affairs.

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the road ride out to Wupatki National Monument is outstanding, from the painted desert to the Peaks

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on Mt. Elden, Flagstaff Arizona

The three main road bike rides are hard to beat.  The alpine climb up Snowbowl road is just seven miles out of town by Hwy 180.  I could ride out of town and be up above 9,000’ and home again in about two hours.  I liked that.  The road by Lake Mary is one of the best rides anywhere.  Take it as far as you want to go.  I rode it on my lunch break or after work and every Saturday on the group ride.  The long road north into the painted desert to Wupatki is world class and the slow undulating climb back on the Sunset Crater loop road is relaxing and beautiful.  Rides and races through that cinder marked landscape etched indelible memories.

All summer 2009 336

All summer 2009 273

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The mountain biking in Flagstaff will blow your mind, but winter limits it to six or seven months.  The city is encircled by national forest public lands and you can bike out of town in any direction in literally a few minutes, a few city blocks.  Some of the most accessible riding around.  You get into the woods and realize right away there are probably more elk than people there.

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finding some peace on snowbowl

finding some peace on snowbowl

During the winter months you can ride in Sedona and the Verde Valley.  Or you could go to Phoenix or Tucson and experience shorts weather any month of the year.  There’s no doubt about it, Arizona is a unique amalgamation of unmatched cycling and Flagstaff is about as good of a place to live and raise a family that I can think of.  We are thankful to have spent ten years there.  A secret place yet to be discovered, best revealed pedaling two wheels.

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letter to the editor published

The local newspaper the AZ Daily Sun published a letter I wrote.  Thank you!  We have such a beautiful cross section of citizens riding bicycles and it is important to care for one another and work together to make our roads healthy and safe for all.  We are the fabric of community.

Inspiring Group Rides: Assets to Our Communities

Group rides are the primary medium for the development of cycling skills and forging new friendships around bicycling.  You can visit any good bike town and walk into a bike shop and ask where the group ride meets.  There’s gotta be one.  The benefits group riding returns help towns develop greater bicycle friendliness.  Group rides increase the visibility of bicycling, encourage people to ride, and inspire bicyclists to ride more and accelerate the improvement of bicycling skills.

The Saturday morning show and go ride in Flagstaff has been the staple for my training the last ten years.  When I moved to Flagstaff in August 2004 I bought a full suspension mountain bike from Absolute Bikes.  The public lands that ring town in every direction were so enticing I spent all my time stringing rides together like spokes on a wheel emanating out from Flagstaff exploring as much open country as I could on dirt forest roads and singletrack.  I would spend all day riding carrying a backpack loaded with provisions.  I thought I was in pretty good shape.  But when I showed up for the group ride they applied some checks and balances to my perceptions.  I got dropped like an anchor weight.  The test of fitness and measure against other athletes the group ride fosters is a great way to prepare for competition.

People are social animals so riding with others adds a whole new dimension to what a bike ride can offer.  My favorite aspect of group rides is meeting new people!  That is as exhilarating as the ride!  Outside of work bicycling is one of the best social mixers.  It is like a Saturday morning dance party on a bike.  People of varying skills, backgrounds and abilities mesh and synchronize moving to the elevating rhythm of the wheels turning round and round.  Because it is an inclusive and open invitation, anyone can show and you meet college students, newly arrived families in town, visiting athletes, doctors, lawyers, engineers, hippies, public employees, you name it, it is a relatively complete cross section of the community.  The conversation is very diverse and stimulating, and since our windows are always down, you can pick up streams of words you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to.  It is very inspiring riding side by side with people from diverse backgrounds.  Anyone can ride a bike and just about everyone does.  I’ve met so many interesting people through biking and made long lasting friendships.

The support and sharing elements are what the Flagstaff group ride excels at.  If somebody gets a flat or has a mechanical we’ll try to help and often times there is a sharing of repair tools and labor (or, everyone will smilingly supervise you as you perform the labor).  The other day I saw a rider dressed out in an old Grand Canyon Racing jersey and shorts from the team I was on back around 2006.  I asked him about the uniform and he said Jim gave it to him.  The sharing of resources and assistance to new and enthusiastic riders is customary.  Jim has won so many jerseys over the years he has to make room for the new ones in his closet anyway.

The education and training a group ride delivers is second to none.  If you are training for a race or charity ride or event that involves riding with other people, the group ride is the best place for your to prepare.  You can build skills in a friendly environment and watch the master level cyclists to pick up best practices.  You may be able to download free coaching advice by asking curious questions.  Trying to follow faster wheels when the pace picks up is an excellent way to train.  Just be sure to heed your limits and don’t get in over your head.  If you can’t hang on this week then let your body rest and recover and try it again on the next ride.  You’ll be surprised how riding with other people will make you stronger.

The inspiration may be what draws me the most.  Flagstaff attracts riders from all over and many high level folks come here specifically for the benefits of the altitude since we are at 7,000 feet above sea level.  And the riding courses are world class as well.  You can ride for sixty miles out Lake Mary without encountering a traffic control signal, though you may have to slow down for elk herds bounding across the road.  You can meet and ride shoulder to shoulder with Olympians, pro cyclists, world class triathletes, world class mountain bikers, accomplished riders from other parts of Arizona coming up for diverse training, and local super stars.  The favorite part of it for me is the diverse mix and never knowing who my dance partners will be for any given Saturday!  I love riding with my Flagstaff neighbors who happen to be excellent bicyclists.  They’re superstars to their community, top performers at work, and after they finish the Saturday morning carbon free vacation from their front doorstep, they’ll return to that same doorstep changed having traveled substantially but without having driven  a mile.  They’ll return to the home where they belong reenergized, and  they’ll light up the life of their sons and daughters and spouses, and be recharged for work.  I find the group ride very inspiring, and  owe all my successes since I moved here to the road, the people, and the strength I draw from riding on that magical threshold where things come together, people know you and say just the right things for that day, and somehow little by little you become a better bicyclist, and a happier one.

Mt. Evans race report, aka, community group ride!

Confused looks greeted me at the mailboxes this morning on the Flagstaff community group ride.  Wasn’t I supposed to be racing today at Mt. Evans in Colorado?  Yes, I was.  But why was I here?  First let me sing praises to the Mt. Evans race, and second I’ll tell you why it was good that I was in Flagstaff today.

Mt. Evans is the highest paved road in America, and they run a race up it!  You begin in Idaho Springs, Colorado off of I-70 just west of Denver, and over 26 miles climb through various life zones, past high conifer forests, skirt beautiful alpine lakes, leave the gnarly bristlecone pine trees–the oldest living tree species on earth, some individual trees were alive when Jesus walked the earth–in your wake, go past where trees can’t grow anymore, and summit around 14,200′ with a herd of mountain goats chomping on tundra casually observing all the strange spandex visitors on a fine July morning.  It is an awesome race, the pilgrimage for passionate hill climbers.  The views from the top, oh my!  You should do it at least once.  They also have a citizen’s ride, a non-race, but no matter what event you do it is a guaranteed challenge just to make it to the top.

I’ve done it four times.  The first year as a category 3 (bicyclists enter racing as a category 5 and progress one category by one category, cat 1 being the most “advanced”) I was beaten in a sprint at the finish by an Australian junior rider who took the inside line on the last hairpin curve.  If I had only developed craft in addition to my strength.  But such was my state as a strong Cat 3.  The second time I raced as a category 1 or 2 but did not improve upon the time I had posted as a category 3.  What is all this hard work for I wondered?  I did however get to start the race with Tom Danielson and Scott Moninger that year and be on the wheels of greatness.  I think Moninger did his best time ever at the age of 42.  The third time I finished fourth and posted an improved time.  Yey.  The fourth time, last year, I was just coming off a vacation to Montana so my performance stunk.  But I had an awesome road trip with my hero Drew and received a solid grounding in the school of high altitude racing.  Plus last year the Pikes Peak hill climb was the day after Mt. Evans, and we did that one too.  Back to back 14’ers.  Always fun to do new courses.  Every trip has been worth it.

But this year I simply had too much work to do and need to keep my racing in balance with my other life objectives.  That’s OK because the community group ride in Flagstaff was just spectacular.  The US national champion was with us again fresh off a pro race and more victories and teaching us all how to focus on quality training while riding for camaraderie and good fun with an eye for helping each other learn and grow.  The local community guys were inspirational and uplifting, and super strong.  It doesn’t get any better than today.  All this without driving a mile.  Plus, Jim says I have two more years left.  I’m thinking three.  Mt. Evans, I’ll be back.  In the nearer term the race focus is on the next goal, Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs on August 24th.  That is another incredible hill climb that begins at 9,000′ and goes to the top of America’s Mountain to over 14,000′ in around 12 miles.  It is very steep.  Today was a great day of preparation.  I belong to the best bicycling community in the United States.  Thank you Arizona!


Your Love for Lake Mary Counts

The next two weeks Coconino County is counting bicycle traffic on Lake Mary Road.  The data will be used as part of a grant application for funds to resurface and widen sections of Lake Mary Road and Mormon Lake Road so that they are better accommodating for bicycle traffic.  You’ll see the strips cast across the bike lane just north of Lower Lake Mary.  Make sure you ride over the strip and be counted!

I ran into the county transportation planner, Tim, on my Lake Mary bike ride yesterday while he was placing the counting strips in the bike lane.  Tim has had past success receiving grant funds to resurface and widen Lake Mary Road from Stoneman Lake Road to the junction with Hwy 87 at Clints Wells.  It is a smooth and safe shoulder out that way if you get a chance to do a longer ride and travel further away from town.  With the section from Stoneman Lake north to Lake Mary improved, and the Mormon Lake Road loop improved, the Flagstaff region will be further along the way to providing the facilities deserved by the world class health-minded community that resides here, and will better serve Olympic, professional, and local masters and recreational athletes that currently recognize this as one of the best places to live, train, and vacation to in the nation.  Thank you!

Thinking about Bike Lanes!

Bicycling is sustainability in motion, and bike lanes are designed to encourage people to choose bike riding by making it more comfortable.   There is more to bike lanes than casually meets the eye, however.  All road users benefit from increased mindfulness of how bike lanes impact the interactions of different kinds of transit modes on the shared road.

The most dangerous interpretation of bike lanes is viewing them as separating out bicycles from motor vehicle traffic.  Bicyclists are still part of traffic when a bike lane is present, and the lane doesn’t protect them from a conflict, especially from a distracted, impaired, or emotionally disturbed driver.  Bike lanes sometimes accentuate conflicts stemming from traffic flow at intersections, from adjoining driveways, and can lower visibility.  Motor vehicle drivers can be lulled into thinking they don’t have to be on the lookout for bicyclists as much when bike lanes are present, but safe passing laws and share the road guidelines still fully apply.  It is convenient for motorists to believe that bike lanes segregate out slower moving bicyclists from due considerations from traffic moving in the general travel lanes, but bicyclists still have full access to the general lanes and often times their safety depends on maneuverability and access to general travel lanes.  Thinking that bicyclists are limited to the bike lane would be like thinking multiple passenger vehicles are locked into a “High Occupancy Vehicle” or HOV lane—another type of preferential use lane specified in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)—which would be totally absurd.  Multi passenger vehicles can use any lane depending on their needs, and so can bicyclists when circumstances necessitate.

Bicyclists can’t assume that if they stay in a bike lane it guarantees their safety.  For instance, the bike lanes on San Francisco St. and Beaver St. north of downtown Flagstaff are adjacent to parking zones.  Bicyclists should not ride in the bike lane if it subjects them to the possibility of an opening car door.  These parking spots have high turnover, doors open all the time, and no one looks back until they are ready to climb out of the car!  Around intersections and driveways bicyclists should be extra careful to be visible.  Butler Avenue is a great example of a busy road that includes a bike lane with lots of driveways and intersections where bicyclists and motorists should be on heightened alert for one another’s safety.  Another area of conflict occurs when a right hand turn lane is engineered to the left of a through bicycle lane. This practice was prohibited by the MUTCD in 2003 but Flagstaff still has several of them.  The one I notice all the time is on the university campus where northbound University Drive intersects with West University Drive.  Bikes can go straight but cars have to turn right, as University Drive becomes a dedicated bike, bus and service vehicle route.  Bicycles going straight should not remain in the bike lane, but should merge left into the general lane well before the intersection to prevent conflict.  Here’s a picture of this intersection.  Markings on the road must be coupled with careful thinking and education as well as adaptive, cooperative, real-time interpretive skills to make the road a safe and healthy driving environment.

Bicycle lanes sometimes decrease sight lines for other traffic to see bicycles, and create a wider visual span for drivers to scan.  As a bicyclist, moving left into an open general purpose travel lane increases visibility and can provide a safer berth away from vehicles looking to drive out onto the busy street from intersecting driveways.  Be extra cautious when a vehicle from the opposite direction is turning left across your path.  If you are in a bike lane they may have a harder time seeing you.  Sometimes we scan for car traffic but forget to look for people.   Bicyclists traveling in a bike lane need to watch for adjacent cars traveling in the same direction that want to turn right.  Cars often times pass a bicyclist before wanting to turn right, but did not anticipate the speed of the bicyclist to make the turn without cutting the bicyclist off.  This is referred to as a “right hook” and is common crash type in city driving, and is very dangerous.  Never position yourself as a bicyclist in the danger zone adjacent to a car turning right at an intersection or into a driveway.  If a car passes you then turns the right blinker on, yield and let the car turn right, and forgive them for misjudging and for failing to yield the right of way.  Be adaptive, avoid danger zones, and carry a diplomatic poise.  It is challenging for everyone on busy streets. Be prepared to maneuver for safety, including sharing the bike lane, and leaving the bike lane when a situation calls for it.  Bicyclists can feel comfortable using the general purpose travel lane when it is safer knowing confidently that you are a regular part of traffic and your needs are fully included and respected.

Bike lanes can work against a cooperative atmosphere if they are seen as lessening the requirement for sharing and respect, decreasing the need for good judgment, used to insist upon a rigid territorial mind set, or viewed as a justification for the attitude that faster traffic has priority on roads.  The best way to maximize the benefits of bike lanes for all is to recognize their limitations, use them with caution and active critical thinking, and to be considerate to the different needs of all types of traffic on the roads.  Bike lanes are designed for better including bicyclists in the road environment, not for marginalizing or prohibiting them from being legitimate traffic.  The solidarity all users feel to cooperate to create a safe and healthy environment on our shared roads remains a total commitment and one requiring our complete attention.  A bike lane does not change that.



Where to Ride on Arizona Street Smarts

Check out the League of American Bicyclist’s position on right to the road for bicyclists

The Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety urges bicyclists to prioritize safety when making lane decision choices:

Bicycle lanes are one type of “preferential use lane” described in the MUTCD.  Other examples are HOV lanes and bus lanes.

A special thanks to Justin P. and all the work he did to improve bicycling in Flagstaff