By Justin M. Short 

As I write this, I’m waiting for a visit from one of my best friends who I met riding a tricycle in a park in Portland 21 years ago. It’s interesting what draws us together as cyclists. Sometimes it’s the places we ride or the random meet-ups on a favorite trail. A conversation turns into exchanged phone numbers and future adventures. 

Sometimes it’s purpose that draws us together, as in the case of GASUP (Get Around Spokane Using Pedals), the local commuter Facebook page where riders post notices and events, discuss advocacy issues and safe bike routes, and engage in good natured, bike oriented banter. That was how I recognized Out There’s Everyday Cyclist columnist Hank Greer when I began having run-ins with him on the morning commute.  

As with the tricycle, sometimes it’s obscure equipment choices that draw us together. In 2012 my wife pointed out a peculiar quirk that had escaped my notice, though I, too, was a participant in this odd behavior: The knowing nod of approval exchanged between riders of road bikes with flared drop bars. On most road bikes, those little flam-dangles that we call “the drops” extend straight down from the brake hoods. Flared drops, on the other hand, flare outward, offering leverage and stability for riding off the beaten path.  

Self-portrait illustration by Justin Short.
Illustration by Justin Short

These bars were rare until the recent explosion of the gravel bike, most of which come stocked with flared drop bars. I got my own first set on an early 80s Specialized Sequoia, the first ever production touring bike from a major company, that came with Wilderness Trail Bikes’ first ever production flared drop bars. I got that bike from a second hand shop in Santa Cruz, California, in 1998 and rode that thing all over the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains. Although I broke and replaced just about everything on that bike multiple times—except the bars—I still get a warm and fuzzy feeling recalling those adventures.  

About four years ago I was walking dogs by a house I had previously lived in when I happened upon a shirtless ponytailed guy working on an ancient VW diesel pickup with a flared drop bar touring bike loaded on the back. “I’m gonna be friends with that dude,” I said to myself, or perhaps out loud to the dogs. And that was how I met former EDC columnist Justin Skay, whose enormous Chaco flip-flops I am attempting to fill with my own first installment of Out There Outdoors Everyday Cyclist column. Those flared drops on his bike led to numerous rides down roads, up trails, and over mountains in the rain, hail, sleet, snow, and blistering sun.  

There’s something intimate about turning pedals with another human being— from two commuters pass in opposite directions on a dark street at an obscene hour to a “soul train” of good friends sailing down a jump line at Beacon Hill mountain bike park. Or it could be a group of riders sipping a cup of bike-brewed coffee with David Jones, Spokane’s own Coffee Outside meet-up organizer, at some excellent spot along the river. Whatever it is, let’s keep those pedals turning, and let’s keep the rubber side down—unless your name is Grant Breshears, who is seen upside down at the jump park as often as he’s right side up. 

Justin M. Short has recently been drafted to write the Everyday Cyclist column for OTO. Watch his “Lockdown Washington Mountain Bike Race” on YouTube—a Stay Home, Stay Healthy-inspired spoof on the 2020 XWA race.