Several months ago, I sat down with the Alchemy crew again about building bike #2. A dedicated singlespeed mountain biker, I needed a road bike. Probably with gears. I didn’t know where to begin.
The first bike they built me, a gorgeous stainless steel 29’er single speed, had its very first ride in Afghanistan last fall in a series of rides that happened to coincide with the announcedment that I had been chosen as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Emblazoned on the top tube in bright pink #GIVEASHIT. The tagline we coined for our upcoming partnership with Mountain2Mountain’s domestic program Strength in Numbers. One of my favorite memories of that trip was when a member of the Afghan National Army took it for a spin and discovered the strength of disc brakes. Many memories are made on a bike, even in a warzone. Maybe even moreso in a warzone.
The twist? I met women who bike, as part of the National Afghan Cycling Federation last fall. This is the first time anyone has heard of Afghan women riding bikes. Its still a cultural taboo, and in my own four years of mountain biking throughout areas of Afghanistan, I have never seen a women or girl riding a bike. Till now. Riding heavy steel bikes, often with kickstands, these women are the first to not only ride bikes, but to do so publicly and competitively.
My request of Alchemy was a road bike that I could take over to Afghanistan to ride with the women and start to build camraderie with the team so that we could build longtime support for their development.
This involved not just learning how to ride on skinny tires, but also how to shift. Something I haven’t done in almost a decade. As it turned out, my first experience clipping into road cleats and learning to shift would be on national television on an NBC Nightly News piece. Alchemy was in the midst of NAHBS chaos and hadn’t started my bike, so they lent me one of their shop beauties and arranged for shoes from Fizik and cleats from Shimano. Allen Lim of Skratch Labs generously lent me his own helmet, Rapha jacket, and bibs (yup, his bibs) so that I wouldn’t shame the roadie community wearing my Shredly baggies and dinged up, broken mountain bike helmet. But I wasn’t willing to give up the skull and crossbones knee highs, you can’t take the singlespeeder out of the roadie completely!
So the decision was made to build a ti road bike, complete with gears. Thanks to Alchemy President Matt Simpson, who helped frame our tagline #giveashit, partners were found in the support of Alchemy clients, Michael and Donna Bettin who wanted to help the project and get me on a roadie. They worked with the Alchemy crew and a beautiful example of ti=art was created.
The heavy metal man behind the welds – Alchemy’s musical welder, Jeff
A subtler innvocation of #giveashit was emblazoned under the frame – proving this was all mine.
The finished product was picked up two days before I left for Afghanistan. A thing of beauty.
Sarah Menzies of Let Media and I brainstormed a film project about these amazing women. She, Whitney Conner Clapper of the Side of the Road Sessions, and photographer, Claudia Lopez were joining me to document these women and create a body of work that could rally support for them. Due to our tight timeframe for filming and the crazy logistics and security of filming in a country like Afghanistan, coupled with the lack of funding for getting all the donated equipment and bikes over with us, the Alchemy bike was left behind for this initial intro. Not only was the extra $400 to ship it there and back a real concern, I didn’t think I’d be able to ride with the women as every chance to get them riding needed to be captured on film, and I’d be in the way. The trip and the filming was a roaring success and the time we got to spend with the women, cycling, interviewing, and meeting their families, was an honor.
On the very last day of filming with the girls, however, I got to ride skinny tires in Afghanistan for the first time. Their coach challenged me to a friendly sprint while the girls were taking a break. Grabbing one of the bikes lying on the ground, I jumped on and sprinted after him in my ripped jeans, long tunic, and Dankso clogs. An hour later, Sarah took a break in filming while the team regrouped a few miles down the road for the final shots and I grabbed Coach’s bike and joined them for an easy downhill spin. Surrounded by the faces of the women we’d been filming and brainstorming with for nearly three weeks, I was happier than I’d ever been in Afghanistan. To steal the words of Ru Owen, front woman of Kabul-based rock band, White City, and British journalist, after the last Sound Central rock festival in Kabul, “it may be just a moment, but it makes everything worth it.”
I’ll return with the Alchemy in tow on my next visit – to train with the girls, help with training development (my previous career as a sports trainer coming full circle), and brainstorm next steps in team and coaching development. Its been a hell of a journey and I’m so grateful for the support of a company with soul, that believes in what I’m doing, and helps to support me as an individual. Thank you to the entire team for ‘giving a shit’.