Fatigue Limit – 9

Gabriel Chrisman demonstrates coasting on his custom-built safety.

In winter, rains made many tight turns muddy, and horse hooves left bumpy depressions. The summer months had their own difficulties. Logging wagons and stagecoaches churned the road into a fine powder. We  fishtailed down, gripping our metal steeds with all our strength. But this was late spring. Thanks to dry weather during the past week, Page Mill showed itself at its finest — hard-packed dirt ideal for speeding. Travelers gave us an uncomplimentary nickname — scorchers. And scorch we would down to the valley.

Carl took the lead, demonstrating his unconventional technique. He placed his feet on pegs attached to the fork, similar to a practice perfected by the highwheelers on tricky descents. With legs out front, they avoided tumbling head-first in a crash. Cranks always turned on our direct-gear bikes. Several years later some smart engineer came up with the coaster hub. Putting feet up was the only way to let the bike go as fast as possible. The position resembled a mantis attacking its prey. Many riders emulated Carl, having learned how to descend fast thanks to his methods. I was not a true believer, planting my feet on the pedals and spinning like crazy. On these occasions, Carl always yelled in a mocking voice as he flew by, “Spin to win!”

However, I did subscribe to keeping back on the saddle to minimize weight on the front wheel. On a dirt road with poor traction, the rear wheel stabilized with extra pressure and the lighter front end had less chance of catching a rut.

Carl used his front spoon brake as little as possible, which threatened to lock up. We were cheap too. Spoon brakes increased tire wear on steep descents.

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