By Lou Melini – Alex Strickland is editor-in-chief of Adventure Cyclist, published by the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). Adventure Cyclist is the best bicycle travel magazine that is published in a print edition in my humble opinion. ACA, based in Missoula, Montana, the leading bicycle travel organization in the U.S., began by starting the Bikecentennial cross country tour (the organization also had the same name then) in 1976 and by creating maps and tours.
Cycling West: Alex, it was great to meet you in person last summer after years of exchanging emails. Tell my readers a little about you.
Alex Strickland: I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee — not exactly a cycling hotbed (well, not in the nineties, anyway) — and when I was in middle school a friend’s neighbor was a sponsored mountain bike racer for KHS and this just seemed … amazing. A few of us bought hand-me-downs from him and started riding and racing a little. There was a great local race called the Tour de Wolf and Gary Fisher and Tinker Juarez would always compete and sign autographs and all. It was just the perfect time to bridge being a kid who rode bikes around town to being a “cyclist.” That played a role in moving west to Missoula, Montana for college with its solid journalism school and abundant singletrack. Eventually, after working for competing newspapers in Montana, my wife got into grad school in Salt Lake and we made the move to Utah where I worked for a small PR agency (SOAR Communications) that represented the Sea Otter Classic and Interbike, among other cycling industry clients. It was amazing to land in the cycling industry and combine recreation with occupation. We helped out with the launch of NICA in Utah and it was amazing to think of how different those kids’ experience was vs. the dumb luck that pointed me toward mountain biking. Like the T-shirts say, “I wish they’d had this when I was a kid.” Though we loved Utah, an opportunity came up with Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula to work on their member magazine Adventure Cyclist, which pulled us back to Montana.
CW: Can you review a little about your position with Adventure Cycling Association? The ACA is about bike travel but what can someone riding to work learn from your magazine and the ACA?
A.S.: I’m the editor-in-chief of Adventure Cycling’s member magazine, Adventure Cyclist. We publish nine times per year for our 52,000 members, which makes us one of the largest cycling mags in the country. We’re definitely focused on bike travel, whether that’s an overnight in Connecticut or a months-long epic in Kazakhstan. Of course, not everyone can take months off (including magazine editors…), and we know that other types of riding like commuting are a natural gateway to bike travel. Plus, the venn diagram of what makes a good touring bike and a good commuting bike is nearly a circle. Rack mounts, bigger tires, fenders, comfortable riding position, an eye toward safety? These are all features that appeal to everyone from half-mile commuters to million-mile travelers.
CW: Tell me a little about why you commute?
A.S.: Full disclosure: when people are impressed by the fact that I commute year-round in Western Montana, I have to admit that I live less than a mile from the office. So while -10° is cold, it’s not cold for long! Plus, I can ride home for lunch. Just having an excuse to be outside a few times a day regardless of weather is a pretty great mood-booster, and since we’re often reviewing bikes for Adventure Cyclist, it’s a chance to spend a little extra seat time on different rigs and a reason to take a circuitous route to the office.
CW: I know you mostly worked from home during your time in Salt Lake City, but you did get a chance to ride to various establishments to shop, eat, etc. How does riding in Missoula compare to Salt Lake City?
A.S.: Downtown Salt Lake is way better. No offense to Missoula, but we’ve got a mash-up of crumbling infrastructure and retrofits that aren’t quite right. Missoula has an amazing (and growing!) riverfront trail system that now links us to Hamilton, Montana, 50 miles to the south. That’s an incredible asset, but chances are your commute in Missoula relies on some surface streets, which aren’t great. Salt Lake has such an benefit in the super-wide streets that allow for things like the separated lanes on 300 South or just a little more elbow room in the lanes on streets like 800 S (I was lucky to live near Liberty Park).
CW: Would you say that in general Missoula is a bike crazy town, thus explaining the large number of bike commuters in town?
A.S.: There were some great T-shirts printed by the long-gone (but justly famous) Braxton Bike Shop that said, “Missoula, Montana: The Bicycle Town,” and that’s about right. There’s a real culture of cycling and bike commuting here, even if the infrastructure hasn’t quite kept up. No one bats an eye at people with ski goggles, puffy coats, and studded tires leaning into the wind during a January blizzard on the way to work.
CW: I used to have one of those t-shirts. I purchased it from (sadly gone) Sam Braxton. He was tremendously helpful during my first cross-country ride in 1975. Missoula has a decent climate, but on average it is colder than Salt Lake City. What are some of your cold weather gear that you recommend? Are the roads fairly well maintained for commuting? Do you have winter specific and summer specific tires?
A.S.: I finally broke down and bought studded tires this winter, but I was a little more skittish than usual coming off a broken collarbone last fall. You can usually slip and slide on regular rubber, but I can’t deny that the studs are nice. I swear by Bar Mitts for warm hands (and the ability to wear thin gloves for better feel at the controls) and a merino Buff for a little face protection when the windchill really plummets. Missoula is not known for its incredible road maintenance, so having good lights and riding with some authority is helpful when you’re forced farther into the travel lanes than you might prefer.
CW: I have read all of your bike reviews in Adventure Cyclist magazine. What is your current commuting bike? What would you like to have as your current commuting bike?
A.S.: My do-it-all bike is a Soma Wolverine, which I’ve had for a few years. I did some commuting this winter on a Salsa Mukluk fat bike too, which is not fast, but was pretty fun. I really like the Wolverine for commuting and general “all-road” riding, plus a bit of touring. I run 40-47mm tires depending on the season and leave fenders on most of the year. It’s set up as a 1×10, though I keep a double crankset and front derailleur in the parts bin for steeper touring trips. The de-icer in Missoula absolutely eats drivetrain components, so the most important piece of winter commuting gear I have is probably one of those little pump garden sprayers that I fill with hot water and rinse the bike once or twice a week to prolong the inevitable.
Of course, one way to solve that is with a belt drive. I did spend a little time this winter on a belt-driven, Pinion gearbox bike from Priority Cycles. My wife’s commuter has a belt and an 8-speed Shimano Alfine hub. I’ve long seen the advantages of a more sealed system for commuting (or more). The Alfine line is pretty affordable and great for commuting, but not up to loaded touring. A Rohloff hub has more range and is incredibly robust, but costs more than many bikes. The Pinion has some advantages, such as moving the weight of an internally geared system to the bottom bracket area instead of the rear axle, but because of its shape can’t be retrofitted on an existing bike. Still, that Priority left an impression and could easily pull double duty as a commuter and touring bike. As gearboxes become more common, it’s an intriguing option for a lot of different riding styles.
CW: I am always amazed by the number of commuter bikes I have seen during the several visits to the ACA headquarters. What amenities does the ACA provide for employees?
A.S.: There is some peer pressure to commute by bike! I would say in spring, summer, and fall, it’s 85 or 90 percent and in winter it drops down to 25 percent or so. Though many people just swap their bikes for snow boots and walk. We’ve got a great secure courtyard here at the office for bike parking and enough covered spots for most people to get under a roof in the rain. We’ve got work stands and tools for quick fixes and showers for those who are working harder or getting in bigger rides on the way in or during lunch.
CW: The Adventure Cycling Association has a number of mapped routes that run through Missoula or are close to Missoula. (TransAmerica, Great Divide, Northern Tier, Great Parks North) Is there a fairly active touring group in Missoula that goes out on overnighters or short tours?
A.S.: Weeknight overnights are definitely an occupational hazard. There’s a great local group called Pedal Missoula that gets out a lot, as well as a less formal group led by our magazine staff writer that practices “burritopacking,” which is exactly what you think it is! Plus, we see about 1,200 cyclists at Adventure Cycling headquarters every summer who stop in during their ride on one of our routes.
CW: Alex, I wish to thank you for taking time off from your May issue to do the commuter column. I think the readers of Cycling West learned quite a bit from the column. If you are in Salt Lake City, I would be happy to go for a ride on our bike friendly streets that you seem to miss, though you have the bike trail to Hamilton that is awesome to ride.
For more information on Adventure Cycling, visit adventurecycling.org.
If you have a suggestion for a commuter profile, especially from Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, Western Colorado, or Northern Arizona, have a commuter question, or other comments, please send it to [email protected]