Monday, July 21, 2008


Downieville is a little town in the Sierra's nestling in a valley along the North Fork of The Yuba River. Like most of these little towns it was settled during the gold rush of 1849. You can still come across people panhandling for gold in the river. These days the town is more likely to be populated with mountain bikers than bearded old prospectors. It's the location of the annual world famous Downieville Classic mountain bike race, which consists of two events, a cross country race and a gnarly downhill race where you descend over 5000 feet of heart poundingly steep and technical single track. We went up to ride the downhill course. It's perfectly possible to top 30 mph as you descend, and many of the pro racers go at over 40 mph. We witnessed some of them on a practice ride (the race was the weekend after we were there) and it's amazing the speeds they travel at. I think it helps to be a little crazy to race mountain bikes downhill. The course is a constantly changing roller coaster of a ride, carving dust tracks give way to gut wrenching steep, slick, speedy sections, which suddenly change terrain and the trail cross multiple streams before entering a rock strewn forest where the slightest loss of concentration will be punished. And that's just the first ten minutes. Of the five of us that rode the trail (we did it twice, once each day) three crashed, none seriously...well not very seriously. Some nasty cuts. To add to the excitement, one of my mates who was right in front of me rode right past a brown bear! My eyes were so glued to the trail that despite being twenty feet behind I never saw the bear. However another friend who was a bit behind us was spooked when the bear ran right across the trail on front of him. I'm not sure if I'm glad I missed the bear or sad I never got to see it.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dancing In The Streets

No time for writing so photos it is. This was taken just off Tompkin's Square Park (where I lived 18 years ago). A jazz band was playing on the back of a parked truck and this couple were grooving to the music. A very pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning. More proof of New York's increasing livability. This area although fun to socialise in, was dangerous and decrepit when I lived there. My roommate at the time had his neck slashed with a razor blade in a very nasty mugging. He was incredibly lucky to get a way with only a nasty scar. The EMT people told him if his attacker had been standing a centimeter closer he would have cut his jugular.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Chatting in the East Village

No time to write so some more photos from my trip to NY. This is on the corner of 6th and A in the East Village (the best breakfast place in NY is the 7A on 7th and A). I used to live on 8th and B eighteen years ago, and I always try and take in breakfast at the 7A when I am in town. I was walking around the neighborhood, which has been cleaned up dramatically since I lived there, when I came across a little outdoor stage with a jazz band playing. The couple in the photograph were hanging out nearby.

Single speed bikes like this are the new toy for urban hipsters. Even in hilly San Francisco they are very common. Simple, sleek, light and elegant, almost maintenance free. In relatively flat NY they are the perfect commuter vehicle. Most often the rear gear is fixed, i.e you can't coast, no freewheel. This means the bikes often do not have brakes, or at most a front brake (in this case a rear brake). You slow down by slowing your pedaling. This takes a little time to fully master, but it makes for a very efficient pedaling stroke when you switch back to a freewheel bike. You have to be able to pedal around corners and downhill, when many on freewheel bikes would coast.

Not wearing a helmet seems to be the norm when riding a fixie. Helmets will never make you look cool, but I've witnessed many bike crashes where severe head trauma was avoided by wearing one, and seeing people ride on busy city streets without one makes me cringe.

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