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L stGears

Reviews and inspiration from the bicycle kingdom
Bill Palladino
Sept Staff Writer - Fixed Gear Gallery

Bicycles and other freewheeling ideas 2008 Blog:

The Fixed Gear Scene in Bozeman
Getting There
O.K., I can’t help myself. The first time I ever heard of Mon- come by the little community bike shop he heads up called
tana outside my grade school geography text book was in the Bozeman Bike Kitchen.
1973. I was in sixth grade and hanging out in the basement of
my friend Wayne Smith’s house. His older brother was hav-
ing a party and they were listening to Frank Zappa on a horri-
ble old stereo. Suddenly the calls came out from across the "Raisin' it up, Waxen it down.
room, “Can I interest you in a pair of Zircon encrusted tweez-
ers?” In a little white box That I can
sell uptown. By myself I
I had no idea what they were talking about. Then we all sat
wouldn’t have no boss, But I'd
down, cranked the volume and listened intently to the lyrics.
The opening stanza puts the great schnoz and his genius in be raisin' my lonely Dental
focus: Floss”

"I might be movin' to Mon-
tana soon. Just to raise me Casey gives me directions like this: “We're having a work
up a crop of Dental Floss" night tomorrow from 6 to 8 pm if you want to stop by and check it
out. It's pretty humble, but we've gotten around thirty to forty
bikes into the hands of lower income individuals this summer
alone. This is approximately where to find us if you want to stop
by, I'll be there by about six tomorrow night. It's a little hard to
And so it went, all of us singing along, hap- find, because it's basically in a shed behind a hedge, but if you can
pily immersed in the glorious weirdness. get into the parking lot of the school district building on the cor-
ner of Durston and 11th and call me.”
Fast forward no less than 35 years. I’m in a
car with my friend Torie driving from Casey is not exaggerating about the
Michigan to Bozeman, MT. From the rear- directions. Even with the coordi-
view mirror hangs an unusual talisman. If I nates in hand, I wander around for
hadn’t already told you the historical con- a while before looking behind the
text you might not understand its sig- right hedge. The Kitchen is in a
nificance. Dangling there in front of dilapidated shed belonging to the
us, from a singular thread of dental Bozeman School District. It hides behind a couple old
floss, are two sparkly and jaunty…. houses that now serve as office space. The shed has a low
tweezers. Our friend Nels gave them ceiling about six foot tall, which makes it difficult for some-
to Torie as a going away present. She’s one like me to stand up in side.
heading to grad school in Montana.
Here's Sam....he's about my height.
That’s how it starts. Knowing I’m on my way to Bozeman, I
drop a message on the fixed gear forum and ask for some lo- Most of the work takes place on
cal support. Less than 24 hours later John Friedrich (Mr.DNA) the lawn outside. The main efforts
pings me back. John welcomes me with an invitation to ride of the Kitchen are directed toward
with him when he gets back to town, but also copies several refurbishing old bicycles for the
other folks in town. Immediately I get a response from Casey use of people in the community
Schenker. Casey’s a grad student at MSU and he invites me to who can’t otherwise afford them. In the process volunteers
also are called upon to tune up the bikes of just about anyone who manages to find the place.

The evening I chose to stop by is a work bee. There’s a lot of busy work to do. About twenty yards from the shed is a
pile of bikes and wheels that need to be stripped down. Many of these things are destined for the metal recycler.
Three or four volunteers busily bang, pound, and pull, separating the bikes into tall piles of steel, aluminum, and
rubber. Here at the Kitchen everything gets recycled somehow.

Two other volunteers, Sam Haraldson and Catherine Schneider, are standing in the shed. During the day they have
"real jobs", Sam as Gear Shop Manager for , and Catherine as a freelance
graphic designer. Their collective
job today however is to
organize the parts and
tools stored in the

shed. Catherine works on all the bike tubes. One by one she fills them with air to
check them out. If they hold air, or could be easily patched, she empties them again, folds
them up and puts them in boxes with like-sized tubes for use by people wandering in. If the tires
are beyond repair they go in another box destined for a craftsman in Whitefish who uses them for prod-

While I sit and chat with Casey on the lawn, a 40ish year old man in a big blue parka and NASCAR hat walks up.
He’s got a piece of paper in his hands that he presents to Casey. Casey reads it, smiles, and says: “Charlie…..what ha
pened to the last one we gave you?” Charlie is one of the people that the state sent over. The Kitchen has a deal with the
state to provide a working bike to anyone in need. The piece of paper tells Casey it’s OK to give one to him….again.
“Got stolen.” Charlie says.

Casey responds chiding him: “Charlie, you gotta get a lock man. The bike is free, but you gotta get a lock.”

Charlie picks a bike from the few that are almost ready for the road. The one he wants isn’t quite ready so Casey says
he can take it if he fixes it right here. Casey gives Charlie a 9mm wrench and sends him off.

Casey’s workbench on the lawn is a sight to behold. What first appears to be a narrow table with a truing stand at-
tached turns out to be his
mountain bike with an
XtraCycle rack. He keeps
all his tools in the panniers
and manages to make it all
look pretty natural.
The Kitchen has several
sets of tools each in a sepa-
rate tool box. The tools are
painted a color to match
the toolkit. (This makes it
easier for people to get
their tools back to the right toolbox and acts as a small deterrent to theft.) Ruben lives in Bozeman and shows up to
help this night too. He admits to not having any experience and is here to learn so that he can someday do mainte-
nance on his bike.

While I’m sitting there Casey also offers to help me find a rear
brake for my fixie so I can more safely take it on the trails to-
morrow. He points out two huge boxes of brake calipers and
tells me to help myself. I spend some time sitting on the lawn
among the other volunteers and bike fixers chatting and tink-

By the time I wrap it up, there are about ten volunteers wan-
dering the lawn and crouching in the shed. Another five or six
people looking for assistance with their bikes - or helping to fix
others - sit within shouting distance of Casey.

He is undoubtedly the hub of this place. The others lie as
spokes working on their own, checking back with him fre-
quently to either ask advice on a fix or to proffer their next assignment.

As I head off down the trail, there is a Bozeman Sunset. I pop on the headlight and flasher, grateful to have met these
hard working folks and fascinated with the work they do.

"I'm ridin' a small tiny hoss (His name is MIGHTY LITTLE.) He's a
good hoss, even though he's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket
on. Anyway he's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on any-
way, any way"

Bangtail is the bike shop where John works, so I head over there to buy some bits to finish off the rear brake. (Yikes,
a rear brake?!) . As it turns out they're great folks. A few minutes after walking into the store they have a work stand
set up for me on the deck along with a full-on toolbox. Rob helps me with cabling the brake, and finds some humor
in my insistence on going to Cottonwood Canyon with the fixed gear bike. I assure him that while a bit reckless, I am
in fact quite sane. John says he’ll pick me up at International Coffee Roasters near the MSU campus. John welcomes
me like an old friend. We each grab a cup of Joe for the road and head out in his car on 19th street towards South
Cottonwood Canyon Trail.

In the parking lot of the trail, he says a few words of encouragement, throws on his shoes, brags about his sweet lit-
tle Fat City hard-tail single speed and hops on. The head of the trail is a series of quick and steep switchbacks which

“The way out is a veritable classroom
of trail riding for me. After the first
mile the trail turns pretty rocky. Lots
of football sized rocks just sticking
up here and there. I quickly learn
that picking a line to ride is doubly
difficult. If I pick a flat line just to
get my skinny tires through, then my
crank arms and pedals slam against
the rocks. When this happens, espe-
cially in the down-hills, the bike gets
jettisoned into the air, and slams
back down, BAM, OUCH! So that’s
what suspension is for! “

John grinds up without a pause. Three seconds later he’s gone. I mean out of sight right now! I hop on the fixie and start
my chase. And that’s just how the rest of the afternoon goes. The trail’s beginning is nicely packed single-track cut into
a steep incline. I do very well on the straight and flat sections, but the hills are a problem. John just flies up and down
those. I bust my ass up the hills and pick my way slowly down the other side. Every once in a while I clear a section to
find John patiently waiting for me.

Then he tells me his recollection of the next section while I catch my breath and we repeat the process. In this picture
you can almost see the oxygen being sucked in through my teeth as John happily rests waiting for me to recharge.

The trail crosses a river several times. The bridges are simple log sections with a built up railing. These are not made for
riding. We carry the bikes over our shoulders on the bridges and John says we can ride through the river, but only on
the way back. I mutter something unkind under my breath as I look down at the icy liquid abyss next to us. At one
crossing we run into an older couple hiking the trail. John crosses first and they insist that I can ride the bridge.
"Uh....sure, no problem, but maybe the next one."

My simple street brakes last about fifteen minutes
before the water, mud, (oh yeah there was some of
that,) rocks and rushed mechanic makes them all
but meaningless. As it turns out this is fortunate.
The bar-end levers force me to keep my hands at
the farthest extension forward. Not fun on the trail.

The way out is a veritable classroom of trail riding
for me. After the first mile the trail turns pretty
rocky. Lots of football sized rocks just sticking up here and there. I quickly learn that picking a line to ride is doubly diffi-
cult. If I pick a flat line just to get my skinny tires through, then my crank arms and pedals slam against the rocks. When
this happens, especially in the downhills, the bike gets jettisoned into the air, and slams back down, BAM, OUCH! So
that’s what suspension is for! From my perspective the whole things starts to sound like Big Ben at 12 noon. "Ding! Dong!
Bang!, Bam! Scrape!"

One of my gal-pals back in Traverse City - Forest - stitched this ultra hipster
top-tube protector for me. It won't be a secret to tell you that the top tube is the
least thing I'm trying to protect on this ride. Let's just say bottom-
tube... was grateful for her efforts.

I find myself learning how to pick out a dual path, (one for the wheels – one
for the cranks,) but inevitably that too is futile. I find myself laughing out loud
now. This is a blast! After getting my ass kicked by John for a few miles, we
stop to take a break at a natural opening in the trail that John thankfully refers
to as a turnaround.

John sits there, all Buddah-esque and shares a power bar with me. Then I make the mistake of asking him about the trail.
His response is laughable. “As far as what we’ve got here, this is one of the less challenging trails…” How humiliating!

More laugher now. With ego damaged but still intact, I follow John
back down the trail towards the car. On the return journey I figure
out finally how to skid the back wheel down the hills. This is a
blast, except it has me leaning way too far out on the handlebars.
Not the position for going downhill, at least not if I’m trying to stay
on the bike. Now another lesson. I experiment with a few positions
and discover how to skid the rear wheel going downhill without
shifting my weight forward. This takes some doing from my skinny
legs, but pays off.

The ride is suddenly softer with my ass hanging out over the rear
wheel. The trail goes sharply downhill and takes a sudden twist just
before one of the river crossings. About halfway down I realize the
rear wheel is not biting anymore, just skidding lightly and bouncing
off the rocks now and then. I don’t make the turn and end up in the
raspberry bushes, but at least I’m still on my feet. By the time I get back on the trail there are some other riders coming. I
wave one of then on, and jump back on the bike towards the river. With the sudden pressure of other riders in eye-shot I
buck up a little confidence and start jamming the pedals hard. Now I’m really having a blast. Zip, zip, zip through nice
flowing lines of the trail. It goes well until we get to the long downhill section near the parking lot. It also has those
switchbacks. I wave John by and he flies down the hill.

By the time we settle the bikes back onto the back of the car John has a 20 oz. PBR in my hand to celebrate. Good rider with
great taste! A few minutes later there’s a small crew of young riders gathering around us. One of them riding a $4000
downhill rig says, “Dudes! Riding single speed with no suspension? That’s awesome!” John nods and kindly corrects the
kid, “yup, but he’s riding fixed.”

“No way, that’s just sick! And on a cross frame! Do any endos?” Then a
woman rider comments on how “wild” it was watching me go down the hills
skidding my rear wheel. Suddenly I’m famous. Well, at least as much fame as
someone with a damaged ego can handle.

As I spend more time
in Bozeman I will
probably force myself
to buy a real mountain
bike. This is MTB
heaven after all. No
worries though, I’ll still
ride the fixie in the
street. I’m so glad I did this ride. I hope that I someday have a chance
to pay back the kind of graciousness and camaraderie offered to me
by John. It was a splendid first experience riding the trails of Boze-

"With a Pair of heavy-duty Zircon-encrusted tweezers in my hand every other wran-
gler would say I was mighty grand. By myself I wouldn't have no boss, but I'd be rai-
sin' my lonely Dental Floss"


Only moments after getting back from the big ride, Torie and I head downtown to catch up with John’s bike polo crew.
Wow! There are about fifteen people already there and playing.

They use the standard rules, three man teams, foot-down tap-out, and ten minute games with simple traffic cones as
goals. It’s also a sweet court behind school. I’m played out, so when John and Casey urge me to play I bravely decline. I
even manage to fend off a trick engagement when John tells me that I just have to take his little KHS polo machine for a

The treat of this event for me is watching one guy play polo on his Surly
Big Dummy, (a welded up XtraCycle cargo frame.) His name is Wiley
Davis and he's the managing editor for The Practical Pedal http:// Riding that thing looks to be the equivalent of a
semi-truck playing with a bunch of VW Bugs. But he does well. Actually
his only disadvantage seems to be a long turning radius. The group plays
heated rounds, and quickly changes out teams at each break.

All in all my trip within Bozeman’s bike scene was terrific. For such a
small community, they’ve got a lot going on. The downtown Main Street
has no less than five bike shops, the trails in town and out are designed
and maintained well, and the Bozeman community seems to accept and
respect bikes on the road. On top of all the great bike riding, I’d also vouch for the hiking, kayaking, skiing, food and
especially the local beer. I’m looking forward to my next trip. When I get there, I’ll hop on my bike enjoying the Mon-
tana Sunshine…..

"And then I'd get a cuppa cawfee N' give my foot a push . . . Just me 'n the pygmy pony
Over the Dennil Floss Bush. N' then I might just Jump back on An' ride Like a cowboy
Into the dawn to Montana. Movin' to Montana soon (Yippy-Ty-O-Ty-Ay) Movin' to Mon-
tana soon (Yippy-Ty-O-Ty-Ay) Movin' to Montana soon"

-All lyrics by Frank Zappa. Going to Montana Soon.


L stGears
Reviews and inspiration from the bicycle kingdom
Bill Palladino
Staff Writer - Fixed Gear Gallery
Bicycles and other freewheeling ideas Email: