Spotter’s Guide To Issue 5, 2021 of Bicycling, With Gallery And Notes

Call it luck, call it work, call it an odious combination of Little League parenting, Great Santini behavior, and Machiavellian manipulation — but if you look at pages 65 and 66 of this month’s Bicycling magazine, you’ll find photos (and some words!) from my son, making his print debut for Hearst/Rodale at the precocious age of just-turned-twelve.

It, ah, took some doing.

For the past four or five years, I’ve been sporadically contributing buyers’ guides on cycling-related topics to Bicycling and Popular Mechanics. It’s not exactly hard-hitting stuff, but I’d like to think that it steers people towards slightly better decisions than they would make otherwise, especially when it comes to BMX and dirt-jump product choices. Late last year, my editor at Bicycling told me they wanted to do some reviews on kids’ bikes. Would my son have any interest in helping out?

John was in no way charmed by this idea. He didn’t particularly want the money, since all of his personal desires are either met immediately (some bike part, a few bucks’ worth of “skins” in Call Of Duty) or deferred indefinitely (a single-seat helicopter, with some kind of gun attached). He also pointed out that there are “millions of kids who are better on their bikes than I am.”

“Millions,” I asked. “Like who, exactly.”

“At least one million. Like the two kids in Utah who jumped that one jump I didn’t want to do.”

“Two fifteen-year-olds, wearing jerseys for the bike shop down the street from the jumps, who barely hucked over something you didn’t feel like doing with a torn ligament in your arm after a twelve-day trip. Got it. Anybody else.”

Jackson Goldstone.”

“Alright, that’s three teenagers, and you’re eleven. Do you happen to have the other 999,997 names so we can see if they want to do the review instead of you?” Eventually he came around to the idea, on one condition: that I obtain a new Gate Nine jersey for him so he could wear it during the test and “rep” Nick Pearson’s last team before his death. To keep his stress at a manageable level, I thought we would start with a bike that he knows relatively well, like his Trailcraft Maxwell 26.

I called Trailcraft to see about getting a loan for this year’s model. “You’ll get two pages in Bicycling,” I said. The value of exposure like that is probably five or six figures; Bicycling has 1.6 million readers and stands virtually alone in the field. Automakers will break their necks to get two pages in Road & Track, which has about a quarter of the audience and is fading fast. If you told Ford that they could have two pages in a car magazine, they’d see no issue with spending fifty grand on it. Chevrolet told me they didn’t care if I crashed the ZR1 I tested for R&T three years ago. I was totally, completely free to crash it. That’s how much Chevrolet thought the exposure was worth.

What a surprise, therefore, to find that Trailcraft did not give a shit about this. Brett, the owner, had the Oatmeal opinion of it. Not interested in the slightest. And why should he be? The company is sold out of $4,000 kids’ bikes until… well, nobody knows, the online store at their website is actually just selling future slots for bikes, not bikes themselves. The Maxwell 26 currently tops out at $5,599. For a twelve-year-old. And they’re sold out at that price. They could charge more. They could just keep raising the price of the thing until… what, the country runs out of rich parents from California? It’s like choking someone during sex; if you have enough strength and position, there is no limit to what you can do. You have absolute power.

(For the record, every time someone has asked me to choke her during sex, the only feelings I have experienced from it have been something like this: “Oh God, why is she doing this… why did she request this… I think I’m choking too hard, or is it not hard enough? Please let this be over soon… I just want to stop and go home.” Every thought that is supposed to go through the mind of the chokee during the process, in fact, goes through the mind of me, the would-be choker. Hate it. I have absolutely zero desire to use my considerable size and strength advantage in any kind of romantic context, which is probably why my last few emotionally significant relationships were with women who averaged out to be just over five foot ten. The idea is to even the odds a bit. Or maybe I was just influenced as a kid by this not-safe-for-work scene from Alien.)

(Maybe this wasn’t the best metaphor to use in a story about my kid riding a bicycle.)

(That’s a great scene, though.)

(Anyway.)

Anyway. Having promised a Trailcraft review to Bicycling, I decided we would just use the 2020-build Trailcraft we had, rather than the 2021-build Trailcraft we wanted. This was fine, since John had plenty of hard-earned impressions and opinions about the thing. But we’d need some photography. The vast majority of bike-mag child photography looks exactly like this:

I wanted something a bit more dynamic. Specifically, I wanted to use the infamous “Slim Shady” jump trail here in central Ohio, focusing on the 24-foot final gap jump. This is something my son can do, no sweat, but he can only do it a few times before he runs out of strength to do it clean. So I’d need someone who could get dynamic, razor-sharp images with almost no practice.

Did I mention that it’s very dark at Slim Shady, thank to 100% tree coverage?

The photographer I selected was Hagerty stalwart Cameron Neveu, who has been honing his craft shooting circle-track racing for a few years now. We walked the mile-and-a-half into the woods with a small selection of gear. “Oh, it’s dark back here,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s part of the problem.” He and John took a few minutes to walk up and down the trail, looking for potential angles. I was almost immediately apparent that they in no way needed my help, so I went down to the final jump and waited while they set up various shots. After a few runs at some features up the hill, they met me at the bottom.

As Cameron set up next to that last gap, a few older riders showed up. One of them was my pal and fellow USABMX Vet Pro Javier Larrea, who had agreed to serve as a stunt double to let Cameron get the angles and exposures right before John took a maximum of five runs. He brought a couple of visiting South American BMX pros with them. They watched Javier hit the jump with no problem, then they saw John take a successful test run at it. I could read their thoughts: Looks pretty easy, even a kid is doing it. In photographs, it really doesn’t look like that much of a gap, even. It’s only when the construction equipment is down there and the front-end-loader fits inside said gap with room to spare that you get a sense of it. How hard could it be?

You’ll want to turn the volume down if you watch this video of their first attempt.

That’s a broken bike, and a broken collarbone.

“So… this is a little harder than it looks,” Cameron noted. John was genuinely upset that the Argentinian fellow had been hurt, and after we made arrangements to get the injured rider off the hill, I thought that we might have call it a day for the photoshoot. I needn’t have worried; John went back up the hill and cleared it with five feet to space. He took three more runs without incident while Cameron snapped away, then we went over to the “Jurassic” jump, which is out in the open but isn’t nearly as dramatic as the Slim Shady run.

I was impressed by how well John worked with a photographer, how patient he was, and how well he hit his marks during the actual riding. Certainly he is more consistent than I am, or indeed ever was. When the photos came back, they were even better than I’d hoped. Then all we had to do was wait.

It’s been two weeks since the magazine came out, and I think John’s already forgotten about it. Which is fine. My goal was a little longer-term, a little more ambitious, than just getting my kid on a newsstand. I think my parents were reasonably fond of me growing up, if more than a little disappointed, but they raised me in a manner that was more proscriptive than anything else. Keep your head down. Be quiet. Stop talking so loud. Tie your shoes. Get a reasonable job. Stop daydreaming all the time. As a consequence, I never believed I was capable of much. My attempts to break out of worker-bee mode — starting a little “zine” when I was a pre-teen, owning a mail-order bike shop in college, building a web-hosting company in my late twenties — were always met with a fair amount of derision at home.

I wasted fifteen years, maybe more, doing work for which I was profoundly, hilariously unsuited. I should have spent that time dreaming, planning, building, traveling. Like I do now. For most intents and purposes, my life started when I was twenty-eight years old and opened up my Web co-op. Everything before that was a waste of time. Maybe that’s why I’m so frequently immature about so many things now; because I scrubbed pans and cleaned dumpsters and cooked Wendy’s burgers and wrote automotive credit deals back when all my friends were riding their bikes and having fun.

My son shouldn’t have to deal with any of that. He should grow up truly believing that he can succeed at any improbable goal that earns his full attention, whether it is winning a UCI downhill race or building a Fortune 500 company. At the age of twelve he’s already won plenty of races on both two and four wheels. He’s ridden stuff that 99 out of 100 adult cyclists can’t contemplate doing. He’s played bass with most of the Dave Matthews Band, met LeMans winners, had shirts made by a tailor, dropped in on downhill lines with Red Bull factory riders. And now he’s been in the biggest cycling magazine of all. Anything is possible. I opened some doors for him, but he never failed to walk through.

Hearst paid me four hundred bucks for the article. Half of that went to Cameron for travel expenses. John gave $100 to a GoFundMe for an Army infantry veteran whose wife died delivering their NICU-bound premature daughter. (It wasn’t a random choice; one of the fellow’s squad mates gave John a nice airsoft M4 a few months back, and this was his way of showing gratitude.) The last Benjamin I spent at UrbanAir in Denver, Colorado, watching John jump on trampolines and play with his cousins, the way a carefree twelve-year-old is supposed to do. All thoughts of print deadlines and specific landing marks erased.

Naturally, he managed to get hurt, doing a backflip over some kind of moving obstacle. That, too, is part of being a kid. I’d like him to be a kid for longer than I ever was. On the way home, Spotify meandered us towards a particular Steve Earle song; although I’ve never lived in West Virginia, and I have never done anything more strenuous for a living than clean up construction sites, it resonated with me.

I was young on this mountain
But now I am old
And I knew every holler,
Every cool swimmin’ hole
‘Til one night I lay down
Woke up to find
That my childhood was over
I went down in the mine

Photography by Cameron Neveu

42 Replies to “Spotter’s Guide To Issue 5, 2021 of Bicycling, With Gallery And Notes”

  1. PaulyG

    Wonderful shots! John is lucky to have such an involved father.

    I was so blessed to have involved and creative parents. It gave me confidence, a work ethic and plenty of lifelong hobbies and activities.

    There may be points when he won’t like you very much but keep pushing forward. He will look back on his youth with a smile just as I do with my memories of many decades ago.

    PaulyG

    Reply
  2. Rick

    Jack,
    You could write a full length essay on dumpster diving and I’m sure it would be great! Love what you’re doing at Haggerty (Jason’s videos are cinematic works of art). Keep on putting out awesome stuff!
    Rick

    Reply
  3. PaulyG

    BTW, I am not much of a mtn biker but I do plenty of gravel racing. I met the founders of SmartWool last week in Steamboat Springs Colorado. They sold that company several years ago and started a new company, Point6. Lots of their stuff is made here in America. Bought some of their socks and can report they are very nice.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Good deal — I’ve been wearing the USA-made FitSoks but I like the look of the Point6 stuff.

      Reply
    • Disinterested-Observer

      I have been looking for a way to shoehorn this in and this is probably as good an opportunity as I am going to get. On or about April 22 I was listing to NPR when the episode of How I Built This featuring American Giant (for the second time) was played:

      https://www.npr.org/2021/04/20/989218035/how-i-built-resilience-bayard-winthrop-of-american-giant

      During the episode the host, Brandeis and Cambridge grad and San Francisco resident (really?!?) Guy Raz, goes out of his way to emphatically state that he does not give a shit about working class white and black Americans in North Carolina. One can presume that he hopes they are all replaced by imported labour that is even cheaper. However he does believe in “buying local” to shorten the supply chain and thus reduce the gravest danger facing the world today, yes I am talking about Global Warming Climate Change. One can only hope that Bayard Winthrop (really?!? That is his fucking name?) was just playing to the audience with his response.

      Reply
      • Jack Baruth Post author

        Ol’ Bayard is a pretty smart fellow. He sells $129 hoodies in a world of $19 hoodies. I own six of them, my wife has four of them. So I suspect he always knows exactly what people want to hear.

        Reply
      • John C.

        Strange how when top people with names like Bayard Winthrop are replaced in the top schools by people who call themselves names like Guy Raz the whole character and goals change. It would be such a disappointment to Justice Brandeis, who swore there would be no conflict or worries of dual loyalty.

        Reply
        • Disinterested-Observer

          Bayard is sort of OK in my book as. like the My Pillow guy he is actually employing Americans. However that name makes me think of nothing so much as an absentee landlord murdering Irish peasants in 1845.

          Reply
  4. Harry

    Congratulations!

    Not to be a “topper”, but I got my twelve year old daughter to come out of her room this week.

    Reply
    • Disinterested-Observer

      When my wife and I had our second boy we just sent up a prayer. Thank G-d, the flying spaghetti monster, whatever, that we didn’t have a girl. Not because we are misogynist we just knew that between puberty and the dangers that girls face a couple of sullen and/or risk taking boys would be so much easier. When my cousin told her dad they were having a boy and that was going to be the last one he exclaimed “Oh no! You have to have one of each so you can get the full horror!”

      Reply
  5. gbk

    That’s two Steve Earle references in two weeks. His current tour is almost over but for anyone who has an interest it’s well worth catching.

    Reply
  6. -Nate

    Wow, those are fantastic pictures .

    Weren’t those crappy jobs (pulling tits, shoveling shit and the endless clogged toilets) supposed to teach us something like…..?character? . I dunno, they certainly didn’t pay very well .

    I briefly had a lady friend who’s idea of good sex was for me to bite her nipples are hard as I could when she came ~ I like a freak as much as the next guy but I was always afraid of drawing blood .

    Ew .

    -Nate

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      The writer Delicious Tacos said “I was sixteen and my mom made me get a job. Again. Learn the value of work. She was right, it’s a lesson I retain decades later: the value of work is less than fucking zero, a negative eating away at your soul and your life. So, thanks.”

      Reply
      • -Nate

        Oddly enough my strong work ethic allowed me to carve out a decent life for my then family and now just me .

        Different views of the same things I think .

        Certainly if one wants more and is able to be rewarded for your efforts that’s the way to go .

        -Nate

        Reply
      • Disinterested-Observer

        One hears the phrase “goods and services” often enough that most people don’t really think about what it means or what the obverse would be. In a labour economics course the professor casually pointed out that the term “bad,” included jobs, from the employee’s perspective. It is something you get paid to do as opposed to something you pay for. It was was a mild revelation for me.

        Reply
    • hank chinaski

      The line between arousal and disgust is often narrower than one would think. The impulse to avert one’s gaze as that particular abyss stares back into you is….protective.

      Re. Sigourney…see also ‘A Year of Living Dangerously’. Much more feminine, but that manjaw….

      Re. clones: I’ve almost given up attempting to engage #2, who has taken to huffing high octane 16yo estrogen and who can blame him. Perhaps he’ll come back around after the inevitable first train wreck.

      Reply
  7. stingray65

    Fantastic pictures and a great story, but the one thing I can’t figure out is the bike request. California, the land of million dollar shacks, endless parades of 6 figure luxury and exotic cars, endless parades of 6 figure plastic fantastic real live Barbie dolls on their way to multi-million dollar sexual harassment/divorce settlements, $5 per gallon gasoline, 13% state income tax rates, 8.5% sales tax, and sold out $6K bikes for 12 years olds? Who the heck can afford to buy this stuff – I’m told there aren’t that many privileged Hollywood and Silicon valley billionaires? On the other hand, I see people in Walmart buying steaks with food stamps wearing $250 sneakers and brand name designer wardrobes, and hundreds of dollars in hair, nails, and tattoos taking their full cart out to late model $50K+ German SUVs and fancy pickups, so perhaps it isn’t just billionaires buying their kids expensive bikes. Funny, I thought we were in the middle of a Covid-crisis where everyone was out of work and businesses were locked up – especially in California.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I’m not saying it was intended to work this way, but the Covid economy has been the greatest upward wealth transfer in years. Blue collar people are out of work. They use covid bucks to buy stuff that’s mostly made overseas since China never shut their factories down. The ownership class skims their take off the top and keeps “working” via Zoom.

      Reply
    • Eric L.

      🤘

      Nuts. I was just browsing Trailcraft’s website last week, trying to figure out how to justify buying one of the tiny ones for my 3-year-old. We have a hole in the lineup: Strider balance bike straight to a 20+” rigid Cannondale with full 10-speed GX drivetrain… And now you’re telling me I should have just bought it last month, before leaving California? Californians get the best of everything, sigh, and the rest of the states just get the leftovers.

      Now, please talk me out of buying an I9 101 hub for my son’s dying 24″ no-name alloy wheel, stingray.

      Reply
      • Jack Baruth Post author

        Regarding Trailcraft bikes for the little ones, I think Cleary does just as good of a job on those. It’s not until you get into 24″ wheels that there is a real speed and usability gap between the two brands.

        Reply
  8. Crancast

    Thought before hitting the jump … this is a version of legacies at the Ivy’s. I kid, though. Congrats.

    After the jump, I have little idea what skill set, personal attribute makes the difference. For team sports players, I can point those out rather easily. In my own riding of unmaintained rail road grades, balance and adjusting to unseen surprises would top the list, but surely anyone at/near Johns level would have those qualities. Is it simply the greater willingness to put yourself in harms way?

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      You’re absolutely correct: no random twelve-year-old just makes it into a magazine. Like I said, I opened the door, but he had to walk through it.

      The best riders have:

      * perfect balance, both static (riding on flat ground) and dynamic (adjusting the bike in mid-air or at speed on loose surface)
      * some kind of mechanism that allows them to match their effort, mid-air angle, and desired touchdown to the jump before them. It’s common for John to ride up to a 20-foot jump he’s never seen before and land six inches after the second peak. I have no idea how this happens. I usually land short or long, often by quite a bit, until I really know the jump.
      * an eye for the right line through a section.
      * fearlessness. This is where my kid differs from the average Instagram “young shredder”; he doesn’t take any risks. He won’t jump something until he is certain he can do it. In that respect he’s a lot more Lauda or Prost than Hunt or Senna. I’ve never seen him attempt something he thought wasn’t going to work out. And if he crashes on it, he won’t re-attempt. Most 12-year-old prodigies will cheerfully crash again and again to get something right.

      Reply
      • Keith

        One mantra that most successful weightlifters adhere to is to not take a lot of failed attempts. It runs totally counter to the training concept of consistently making lots of sub maximal attempts in order to build proper motor patterns.

        Performing lots of failed attempts may risk ingraining the movement patterns inherent in the failed attempt.

        We certainly admire the grittiness of failing and being able to come back and make it. Or even failing and going up anyways. But those scenarios shouldn’t be a part of your regular routine.

        Reply
      • Crancast

        ‘some kind of mechanism that allows them to match their effort, mid-air angle, and desired touchdown to the jump before them. It’s common for John to ride up to a 20-foot jump he’s never seen before and land six inches after the second peak. I have no idea how this happens. I usually land short or long, often by quite a bit, until I really know the jump.’

        I was missing #2 on your list. Higher level intuition with reflex like action/body control. The visual helped, high pointing a ball while contorting your body and taking body blow might be a team sports equivalent. Have a much better appreciation, thanks for the explanation.

        Reply
  9. rpn453

    Damn; the poor guy was already a dead sailor before he even got to the jump. Must have been too focused on the big one and didn’t even realize the roller was significant.

    Nice photos. At 12, I’d have been quite proud to show those off to my friends.

    Reply
  10. John

    Hey Mr. Baruth how does “Danger Girl” like her Yamaha R3? I know this isn’t related to anything, but there’s one for sale near me for a hair under 4k. If I get it it’ll be my first bike. I’m hoping to spend a little more money and get something that’ll be reliable and fuel injected.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      She hasn’t done much riding this past year; work and racing have eaten her time. But she and I both like and respect the scrappy little twin.

      Reply
  11. trollson

    What vehicle do you think is the perfect bike carrier? I see a lot of broyotas with dakine pads, but I want to carry a couple of mountain bikes without advertising.

    So far I’m thinking either a truck with a camper or an SUV. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I use a “Demon” pad which is a little less high-profile, advertising wise:

      https://amzn.to/3BsKHGj

      Once my son is old enough to sit in the front seat of a truck, I can see being very satisfied with an extended-cab pickup with 6.5″ foot bed. Right now we need the crew cab to keep him in the back.

      Full-sized MTBs won’t fit in anything smaller than an open truck bed or a Sprinter van. If you need to keep the bike inside, you’re limited to the vans, which are tiresome to drive and expensive to operate.

      The appeal of a Tacoma crew cab is that you can run it for 200,000 miles and sell it for half what you paid… but a full-sized domestic will match it for fuel economy and surpass it in every other metric known to man, from interior space to over-the-road noise level.

      On most long trips we take four bikes with us — two enduros and two DJs — but for the trips where we just take two bikes, I use my MKT with a Hollywood rack. That is the quietest, most comfortable, and easiest-to-park option we have available. If we take the DH bikes, we are limited to the truck because the Session 9.9 is too big for a bike rack, even a Thule tray rack, it’s the size of a 250cc dirtbike.

      Reply
      • trollson

        Yeah, I thought about vans but they don’t seem as capable as trucks these days. I’m not down with the euro van trend, I think the old Econoline/Chevy versions were better.

        My concern with having bikes out in the open is theft, so maybe a long-bed pickup with a camper, but that isn’t any less unwieldy than a cargo van I suppose.

        You can strap a bike rack to almost any car, but you still can’t really park it out of sight.

        Perhaps a truck-based work van is what I’m after.

        Reply
  12. trollson

    Two specific theft scenarios:

    1) Bike is grabbed from the truck bed at a stoplight or in traffic.
    2) Bike is grabbed from truck bed or rack during a quick stop for food/beer/gas.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I use a Kryptonite cable lock through the metal bed loops and the frame triangles to address that.

      Forthrightly speaking, it takes at least 30 seconds to get an enduro out of a truck bed even if you know exactly where it’s tied down, let alone if it’s locked.

      Reply
      • trollson

        I will never own a cable lock. I’ve personally seen how easy a set of garden shears goes through one of those.

        Possible optimal solution: some sort of sturdy bike rack bolted inside the truck bed, chain through the rear triangle, and all of this potentially inside a camper shell.

        I live in progressive paradise, so I have to take appropriate measures.

        Currently the bike gets transported discreetly inside an SUV, but that’s obviously limiting.

        Reply
        • Jack Baruth Post author

          That’s fair. I’ve left my Session outside too many times to count, even overnight. Perks of living where the planes just fly over.

          Reply

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