Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Redbud Tale: The Ghost of Ken Kifer

“You got passed by a cargo bike!” I called as I sprinted past the young lady in the awesome red jersey.  I grinned hugely and eased off my pace insultingly.  A few seconds later she rocketed past me saying (in a sultry voice): “You got passed by a girl!”

My wife is hysterical that way.  I refrained from taunting my fellow Redbudders whenever I managed to pass someone.  It was a rare occurrence to be certain.  Most of the people who commented on the bike made remarks or asked questions as they passed me.
There were quite a few comments.  One lady read the faded sharpie on the FreeLoader bag “Leadville or Bust” and asked in surprise: “You did that race?”  I said I had.  “On that bike?”  I laughed and said no, on a regular mountain bike.

The decision to ride my longtail cargo bike—my Cannonball X, the Xtracycle xtraordinaire—an English century was dubious from the outset.  I’d ridden the bike dozens of miles.  I’ve ridden my share of centuries and some of them quite difficult.  I’d never ridden the cargo bike so far.  But I wanted to prove that the cargo bike just isn’t for getting groceries just like the mini-van isn’t just for portaging small-sized people to extracurricular activities.  You can actually take them ‘round the world.  Cargo bikes and mini-vans.

At Guanella Pass on a cargo bike
4th of July, 2011
On the ride prior to Tussey no one commented on the elephant in the room, that I’d be pedaling my heavy bike up the notorious hill.  Of course I wasn’t worried, but I figured there would always be plenty of people worried for me.  That’s just one of those universal truths I’ve accepted in life.

There were a few people that offered encouragement with just a dash too much of condescension:

“C’mon, looking good, you can do it!”


“Good job!  You’re looking good!  Don’t give up!”

I had to chuckle to myself.  I was actually waiting for the bike police to chastise me for choosing to ride a cargo bike a hundred miles.  Thankfully no one on the ride felt compelled to correct my judgment.  I was waiting for the:  You can’t ride a bike like that! or Tsk!  You’ll never finish on that thing!  Thankfully I didn't have to answer those types of assertions.

Maybe the fear of crazy rubbing off kept people from speaking their minds.  Maybe people on the Redbud Ride this year are just more enlightened to the possibilities of what a cargo bike can do. 


I was perfectly aware of both the capabilities of the bike and my own abilities to pedal it so far.  The Redbud was my sixth full century ride in a year and my eighth century ride in the past five years.  The Cannonball has been my faithful mode of transportation for the past three years and has carried me thousands of miles with touring loads, groceries, kids, wheelbarrows, garden supplies…well, you get the point.  The bike can do its job, and its job is legion.

Along Upper River Road a gentleman pulled up beside me.  He was a lithe cyclist on a nice Soma set up for touring.  He sported a white beard and glasses.  He could have been the ghost of Ken Kifer with his Alabama drawl.

“I have a Big Dummy, but I’ve never had the urge to ride it a century.  How’s that going for you?”

I chuckled and we ended up chatting for a mile or so, talking cargo bikes, and long rides in general.  He’d ridden the Redbud in 2013 and loved it so much he came back and brought a few friends.

Later on I chatted with another gentleman from Alabama that asked about the differences in a Big Dummy and the Xtracycle.  I have a feeling he was a friend of the ghost of Ken. 

After Tussey we fell in with a couple of guys from Charleston, West Virginia.  One asked all about the practical aspects of an Xtracycle build, again, he was very familiar with the longtail conversion and claimed to have considered getting a FreeRadical himself.  When he mentioned that he’d built two bikes himself I assured him he could convert a donor to an X himself.  The second man and I talked about the differences in riding in Kentucky and his home state of West Virginia.  He said the topography is brutal once you get out of Charleston and it was really nice to be able to do a long ride with so little climbing.

After the wooden bridge at the Rockcastle/Jackson County line a man asked:

“What’s the back part for?”

“Hauling stuff,” I replied with a grin.

“Like camping gear?” he didn’t seem to be visualizing how I would use the Xtracycle.

“Or groceries, or kids, or whatever.”

“What about the flat part?”  He gestured with his palm down.

“Whatever you want to strap to it,”  I added.

“Like a tent or sleeping bag?”  He asked.

“Sure,” I said.

I was asked if I had a cooler.

Quite a few riders asked if I would give them a ride.

I cringed when Jeff and Casey had been out ahead of us and I saw a “Yard Sale Ahead” sign.  I fully expected to see Jeff standing on the side of the gesticulating wildly around an armload of second-hand loot.  He must have been too worn down to care.  No Jeff.

"The" Mike's Big Dummy on Friday night in London
At the lunch stop “The” Mike of Mike’s Hike & Bike had a tool stand set up.  Just as we were getting ready to leave I overheard him telling someone:

“There’s a guy with a blue bike that’s giving rides.”

I pedaled over and said: “Actually, I was just getting ready to give surfing lessons.”

“Let’s go,” Mike said, so with one false start I ended up with a bike shop owner surfing on my Xtracycle in an asphalt parking lot.  I then realized I might break “The” Mike and almost panicked.

“What now?”

“I’m going to jump off,” he replied, and he did.  Hauled on a cargo bike number 46: “The” Mike of Mike’s Hike & Bike.

Hauled on a cargo bike number 47 was a Papa John’s large pepperoni pizza.  We arrived at the oasis of the last rest stop late in the day.  We lazed there for quite awhile.  I wanted pizza, but I didn’t want pizza.  The idea of greasy pepperoni didn’t sit well with me.  When I jokingly mentioned to the biker chick at the table that I would just take a whole pizza she encouraged me to go ahead.  So I did, strapping the cardboard box flat to the deck.  The last stretch into town I had “finish line fever” and I was passing people left and right.  I refrained from calling out: “You just got passed by a pizza!”

And finally, my brilliant idea from last the post was for the next ride, the Preservation Pedal in June, I’m going to create a sign to mount on the rear of the bike that reads:

RIDES: $1.00/mile
TOWS: $5.00/mile

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