Joy ride, vertical edition: Raleigh Eva

by Jessie Kwak

It’s been a lot of years since I rode a mountain bike, but a few weeks ago one came in the mail.

Now, my husband’s a bike rep, so we get to act as foster parents to a lot of sample bikes – but this particular beauty is mine. For now.

Raleigh Eva 26.5 hardtail

Raleigh Eva 26.5 hardtail

I’ve been calling her Evita Bonita, on account of the girly paint job. She’s pretty, for sure, and has been a fantastic playmate over the last few weeks. I hardly feel like I’m qualified to write a mountain bike review (“The shocks skoosh appropriately, and the tires roll over things well?”), but I can say the Eva seems really stable, pleasantly aggressive, and up for any challenge I’m able to put her through.

The tires are 27.5″/650b, which is new for me. My last mountain bike was a 26″, and Evita seems way faster and more able to tackle roots and such. The hardtail was fine for me, although when we did a really rooty, rocky ride in Klamath Falls (read on, friends), I did get jostled around a lot.


I’ve been having a blast. Rob and I have taken several road trips to visit shops and hit the trails – I wrote up some of the most fun ones here.

Nisqually-Mashel (Eatonville)
Alsea Falls (Corvallis)
Brown Mountain (Klamath Falls)

Nisqually-Mashel State Park, Eatonville, WA

We’ve been to Nisqually-Mashel before for a mountain bike race (the Ronde Ohop), but neither of us rode – so when we found ourselves out near Eatonville, we knew just where to go.

We stopped in at Eatonville Outdoor to get a map of the area, and to talk to the owner about the trails. He printed us out a map, marked out a good route for us, and away we went.

To get to the trails, head out on Hwy 7 from Eatonville, and then turn south on Mashel Prairie Road.

There’s not much in the way of signage, but you’ll find a big clearing under some power lines where you can park. There might be a horse trailer there – the trails were mostly cut by horse riders, and can get a bit chewed up by them.

The route we followed on the Eatonville Outdoor map was horse-hoof free, for the most part. Some was single track, some was overgrown gravel roads. It was a great reintroduction to the mountain bike for me – a bit technical, a bit of a climb, mostly mellow, and lots of great wide places to pick up your speed going downhill.

Once we’d ridden the route, we decided to explore a couple side trails – all of which turned out to be really shitty. One was so chewed up by horse hooves that we had to walk our bikes most of the time, and several started out great, but then became so overgrown we could barely find the trail.

"Where the hell were we?" – on exiting an unmarked trail.

“Where the hell were we?” – on exiting an unmarked trail.

(If you come across one of those, just turn around. Don’t forge on like us. It doesn’t get better. We promise.)

Bushwhacking here isn’t the most fun, on account of the stinging nettles and blackberry brambles, and Rob had some sort of terrible reaction when he rubbed his eye after we were done. But stick to the regular trails and you’ll have a ton of fun.

Alsea Falls, Corvallis, OR

This trail just opened a few weeks ago (June 2014), and Rob had heard it was awesome. It’s just southwest of Corvallis, out some of that gorgeous forested wilderness/small town/farmland vibe that Oregon’s got going on all through the coastal range.

There’s an established recreational area around the falls (which are apparently quite pretty, though we didn’t go check them out), so a smartphone map should get you there. To get to the mountain biking trails, turn south on Fall Creek Access Road, and after a few hundred yards you’ll come to a parking area with great signage.

(There’s great signage throughout the trail system, and you’ll find several copies of the map posted around.)

We snapped a photo of the map, then headed out the trail. While we were getting ready, a youth corps crew that had been out working on the trail came by, and recommended Highballer as being super rad.

It was.

It’s a long climb up a fire road to get to the trailhead (about 3 miles, with an elevation gain of about 1000 feet), but going down makes the climb worth it. It’s really well groomed and super flowy, with high berms and steeply banked curves.

I totally didn’t do it justice, but I had a blast.

Rob kept trying to take a photo of me going high up on the rim of one of these berms, but you can’t take a photo of something that just isn’t happening.

Rob kept trying to take a photo of me going high up on the rim of one of these berms, but you can’t take a photo of something that just isn’t happening.

Once you make your way down Highballer, you connect in with Springboard, a more mellow trail that I really loved.

There are other trails out there, and more are planned. The terrain is hard-packed clay, which got a bit slippery since it had just rained, but there aren’t many roots and rocks, so it’s easy to flow.

The scenery is amazing, too. As you descend the terrain and vegetation changes subtly, and the trail cut through it changes from dusky brown, to rust red, to chalky pale.

Brown Mountain, Klamath Falls, OR

I’d never been to Klamath Falls before this trip, though I’d been warned by my uncle it was desolate and bare, “sort of like Yakima is.” Desolation’s never bothered me, and I kind of think Yakima is pretty, so I was excited to check out a new corner of my new state.

Outside Klamath Falls, it’s certainly desolate. Enormous, perfectly flat valleys are ringed by sawtoothed ridges. They’re filled with farmland and these incredibly vast, serene lakes that reflect back the blue sky.

The scene reminded me of the Peruvian Altiplano, particularly the windswept plateau around Lake Titicaca, fringed with pine trees instead of eucalyptus.

Downtown Klamath Falls looks like it’s seen more interesting days, but the pizza at Old Town is good, and there’s a great bike shop (Hutch’s Bicycles).

One of the guys at Hutch’s, Zach, took us out to the trails at Brown Mountain. His wife Lilian had just been cleared to ride after recovering from surgery, and the third woman in our group, Debby, had put 100 miles on her road bike yesterday. I was promised a mellow ride.

It was not.

The trails around Klamath Falls are all rocky and rooty, according to Zach and Lilian – and this one was no exception. It was all technical turns through sawed-up logs while avoiding pyramid-shaped rocks and fat twigs that leapt into your spokes.

I had fun – and Rob had lots of fun – but I was exhausted at the end of our 15 miles. My poor endurance, combined with the jostling I’d taken on the hardtail and my beginner’s mountain bike handling skills meant that I walked a lot. Particularly near the end, when I was too mentally and physically tired to navigate the rock gardens, and finally gave up trying to ride through them altogether.

Like Alsea Falls, I really look forward to when I have the technical skills and endurance to really enjoy these kinds of trails.


Disclaimer: my husband works for the company that owns Raleigh, Lapierre, and Redline – hence the shiny new bike I got to muddy up and write about.


The maiden voyage of the Sparkle Kraken, preceded by a manifesto which you may skip if you like.

by Jessie Kwak

Sorry for the radio silence around here – I stepped back from blogging for a bit in part because I was forgetting just what Bicitoro was to me.


Sparkle Kraken closeup | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

As I dive further into a freelance writing career steeped in content marketing, lead generation, and returns on investments, I found myself thinking so much about My Audience and My Message and Engagement that I waffled on what to write here.

What does My Audience want to read? What will get the Most Shares?

(“The maiden voyage of the Sparkle Kraken, preceded by a manifesto which you may skip if you like” is not the most shareable title for a blog post, is it?)

Stupid shit, really, because what I was forgetting is that Bicitoro is a blog wherein I write whatever I feel like writing, and you can read it or not. I hope that I do provide helpful tips and tricks, I hope that I inspire people to reuse things rather than throwing them out, and I hope that you folks do find my musings entertaining and maybe even thought-provoking – but in the end Bicitoro is just a project of fun for me.

Really it’s a place for me to gush endlessly about the gorgeous bike ride I just took, or provide vague, rambling instructions about projects I just completed. I’m not trying to achieve pop star blogger status. I’m not trying to build an army of bike crafters. I’m just sewing things and riding on things, and typing words about it here.

So now I, Jessie Kwak, do solemnly swear to keep Bicitoro a sacred space for personal enjoyment, wonder, and community.

Back to the fun.

The Maiden Voyage of the Sparkle Kraken

It’s alive!!!

Sparkle Kraken | Bicitoro bikes and crafts

I’ve been dabbling with this thing for months and months, and this Saturday I finally got to ride the Sparkle Pony Kraken in the flesh. We’ve been slowly collecting parts and putting them on whenever we had a few minutes.

This is the first bike I’ve ever built up (mostly) myself – under the watchful instruction of my mechanic/husband. Rob is an insanely patient and thoughtful teacher – a talent I’ve always admired in him. Despite making my living as a writer, I can’t explain things verbally to save my life.

Sparkle Kraken in stand | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

Rob, on the other hand, has the perfect mnemonic device to help you remember which direction to tighten your bottom bracket. He’ll demo wrapping your handlebar tape, then take it all off and make you do it yourself.

Me: Meh, who cares that I wrapped the handlebar tape over the hoods? No one will notice it.

Rob: I’ll notice it. Start over, grasshopper.

Sparkle Kraken powder coating | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

The powder coating process left some ragged edges, which I filed down with sandpaper before pressing in the headset.

And what a headset! Rob picked it up at the Seattle Bike Swap in the spring, and graciously donated it to the Sparkle Kraken project. It’s from First Bicycle Components.

Sparkle Kraken headset | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

Based on the heavy steel mixte frame (underneath all that paint Kraken’s a Torker Interurban Mixte), both Rob and I were expecting this to be a fairly slow bike. I was thinking Sparkle Kraken would be a novelty bike that I’d take out on short, easy rides to the bar, or to meet up with friends.

But to my surprise, it turns out that Sparkle Kraken is fast, aggressive, and an amazing joy to ride. The steel frame is really plush, and I like the mixte shape quite a bit. The Torker Interurban Mixte only comes in a 44cm frame, but we spec’d it out so it fits me just as well as la Konita.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s got a killer wheelset and Shimano Ultegra. Oh, the perks of marrying a bike rep.

Sparkle Kraken in the wild | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

It’s so gorgeous!

And it’s a predator – if it sees another cyclist ahead of us, it just wants to stomp them. Go fast, go fast, go fast, it whispers.

And I do.


Bikes in Space!

by Jessie Kwak

I just got an email from Elly Blue that Bikes in Space: Volume 2 is due to arrive on her doorstep any day now. I can’t wait to see it in print – there will be so many fantastic stories!

If you didn’t grab your copy during the Kickstarter campaign, you can pick one up at the link above. I’ll also be doing a giveaway at some point, so keep your eyes peeled here.

Elly gave me the go-ahead to post my stories (from this volume and the last one) online, so if you’re too excited to wait for your print copy, you can get your feminist sci-fi with bicycles fix early.

I’ve got these hosted on my, um…. I’ll just call it my personal website. You know. My MyName.com site. The one that tries to capture all the threads of all the things I do with my days.

Here be the links.


Bikes to New Sarjun

When Gretchen Storm takes a teaching position on a remote colony planet, she thinks she’s going to change the world. But when her a shipment of bicycles for her “Bikes to New Sarjun” charity project get caught up in Customs, she’s dragged into a nasty underworld full of fearsome mob bosses, undercover stings, and Creatures that may or not be aliens.

Originally published in Bikes in Space: Volume 2.

.epub (Pay-what-you-will Download)
.mobi ($0.99 on Amazon Kindle)
Or read it online.


The Bicycle Hunter

The Bicycle Hunter

Far before she imprinted her first bicycle, the young bicycle hunter was taught to hunt and kill her people’s enemy. But when she’s captured by a group of rebels, she learns that the enemy may not be who she’s been taught.

Originally published as “To See the Stars from the Other Side,” in Bikes in Space: Volume 1.

.epub (Pay-what-you-will Download)
.mobi ($0.99 on Amazon Kindle)
Or read it online.


Everybody wants you to win their bike stuff

by Jessie Kwak

It turns out everyone, including me, wants to give you cool bike shit right now.

Must be spring, right?

I just found out about two contests from Snapguide and Torker bicycles that feature some pretty awesome prizes, and I’m still running a comment contest to give away Cycling Sojourner’s Washington Guidebook.

Feeling lucky?

Win goodies from Walnut Studiolo and Portland Design Works

Contest runs May 7-June 6

Screenshot 2014-04-30 15.33.02

From Walnut Studiolo:

Walnut is teaming up with PDW and Snapguide to do a “bike hacks” promotion.

Snapguide is an app that lets you make “how-tos” easily using photos and videos on your smartphone. We use it to make our installation guides, like this. Snapguide will be offering elaborate prize packages filled with lots of awesome Walnut and PDW goodies to the best “bike hacks” (bicycle-themed how-to guides) added to the site as part of the contest for a couple weeks starting on May 7th. It could be technical, crafty, or anything. For example, how to plan a bike tour, how to make earrings out of bicycle tires, or how to true a wheel. It would be great to see some bike guides out there for women and by women!

You can enter as many times as you want, so get planning! I know there are quite a few crafty folks out there reading my blog, and I’d love to see some great tutorials! You can bet I’ll be joining in the fun.

Enter the contest here.

Win a Torker Interurban

Contest is on now, deadline is May 18

Torker Bicycles* is giving away a ton of stuff in a Pinterest contest, including a Torker Interurban Flat bike** and Betabrand clothes.

The instructions are in the flier below (click to embiggen).


* A disclaimer – my husband works for Seattle Bike Supply, which owns Torker.

**Sparkle Kraken is a Torker Interurban Mixte.

Win a copy of Cycling Sojourner’s Washington guide

Contest is running through May 7

Want a copy of Cycling Sojourner’s Washington guidebook? Go leave a comment here.


Review and giveaway: Cycling Sojourner’s guide to the best multi-day tours in Washington

by Jessie Kwak


UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed. Thanks for all your comments!

I was so excited when I heard that Ellee Thalheimer of Cycling Sojourner was writing a Washington version of her awesome bike touring guide. I’d snagged a copy of the Oregon version, but since I lived in Seattle I’d never gotten a chance to try any of them out.

Well, as the world turns, by the time the Washington book was released, I’d moved to Portland. 🙂

I got my sneaky Oregonian hands on a review copy, though, and let me say it looks fantastic! Keep reading to find out why, and to see how you can win your very own copy.

The book features nine routes throughout Washington State, from an easy overnighter from Seattle to multi-day epics in the Okanogan and Palouse. I was drooling as I read through the descriptions of the John Wayne Trail and a wine tasting loop in Walla Walla.

(I’m quite the fan of wine tasting trips with bikes in.)

This guidebook does a great job of making bike touring seem accessible to riders of all levels and budgets. In the introduction, you’ll find a shoestring guide to bike gear, advice on choosing touring companions, and a nice discussion on how to carry all your stuff. There’s even a handy packing guide at the back.

Many of the trips are contributed by local riders, which means that you can count on a knowledgeable guide to camp sites, lodging, and places to chow down. I loved the attention to tasty restaurants and breweries along the way. Ellee was one of the coauthors of Hop in the Saddle, so you know the woman is a fan of good living.

The maps and cue sheets are top-notch, and the attention to detail in the route descriptions is really superb. All in all, it’s a beautifully-produced book and I can’t wait to go try one of the routes!


As I mentioned above, I’ve got a copy to giveaway to one of you folks. I picked up two through the Kickstarter ages ago, and one of them could be yours!

To win, just leave a comment below. Tell me either: 1) In your opinion, what’s the most beautiful bike ride in Washington State? or 2) Where in Washington do you dream of riding?

The contest will be open through next Wednesday (May 7), and then I’ll pick one comment at random.

Fire away!

If you’re in Seattle tomorrow, you should definitely check out the release party at the Bicycle Alliance of Washington’s headquarters in Pioneer Square. There will be beer, book signings, and all sorts of fun!

Read more about it and order your copy on the Bike Alliance website

Order a copy on Ellee’s website