Bike Father, Bike Son

Words and photos by Ben Popper

Three miles from the end of the road, the rain cloud that we’d been skirting for the last 15 miles finally caught up with us. It opened up as we wove along Carbon River past the ranger station, blasting the sheet of water off the windshield with the wipers set to Mach 1. For the first time in the last 90 minutes, my son was silent in the back seat. At 5-and-a-half, I wondered if he had yet gained the emotional ability to be pensive. Truth be told, the confident front I was putting up to hide the butterflies in my stomach probably wasn’t fooling even him.

Mom is away and the boys are going to play. He and I were headed straight from school on a Friday afternoon to the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park for a quick overnight in the backcountry. Though Carbon River Road has been closed to vehicle traffic since it washed out in spots back in 2006, it’s still passable by four-wheel drive, or bike—its five-mile stretch leading to the marvelously appointed, and now remote, Ipsut Creek campground.


It seemed like an easy-enough introduction for him to the wonderful world of bikepacking, and we were both eagerly awaiting sleeping outside for the first time this season. The rain let up a little, and I turn back to him. “We should be there in a minute or two, are you ready?” To which I got an enthusiastic response: “Yeah Dad, I am ready to go bikepacking!”

When we first brought home an Adams Trail-A-Bike, I noticed almost immediately that the hand-me-down had enough random holes in the rear dropouts that I could probably get a rack onto it. A family bike-camping trip was being hatched right there and then. I found a rear rack for a 24-inch bike at our local bike co-op, and have been ready for the adventure ever since. All winter I had been eyeing the waiting rig in the corner of our basement, and when the day finally arrived, I attached my Rock Lobster gravel bike and loaded it down with two full panniers, a bear-proof barrel and a 45-pound kid.

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The rain started letting up. Struggling around the gate like an 18-wheeler in a Walmart parking lot, we were on our way into the backcountry with, save for our car, an empty parking lot behind us. We were going to have it all to ourselves.

If there were any moments along the way when I began to get discouraged because I couldn’t ride a soft, rocky, uphill section, my spirit would instantly be lifted by the giggles of my boy. He thought it was hilarious that I was off the bike, grunting and pushing while he got to pedal. He would even clamber off and help push, because, apparently, pushing your bike is a necessary part of bikepacking, and I was giving him the full experience.


It only took about 100 feet for me to start sweating through my rain gear, and another mile to get a little tired. But as soon as I’d start wishing for the campground to be just around the next bend, I’d hear a yell from behind, letting me know that he was shifting into a better gear to help more as if he could tell I was feigning. A flurry of pedaling would ensue from behind, and—like a black-and-gold ’73 T-Top Firebird—my underweighted front tire would lift off the ground. We happily swerved, wheelied and bounced up the river valley, keeping a keen eye out for bears.

I had been watching the weather forecast for the weekend degrade for days, but we had been granted a window and made it to the campground without it raining. Even better, we were able to set up the tent and get most of dinner in before the next set of showers rolled through. We climbed into the tent, and I settled in for trying to contain a little boy after a long car ride and not a whole lot of rumpus time. Expecting this, I came prepared. I got him into dry, warm clothes, and surprised him with a little Lego set he didn’t see coming. It brightened his mood and gave us a light, compact and fun in-tent activity.


As the last blocks clicked together, the rhythmic patter of rain slowly fell silent, and we left the tent to make a short pajama-clad exploration of Carbon River. The sun slowly sank below the ceiling of clouds on some far, unseen horizon, bathing a perpendicular valley in a blaze-orange sunset. A bear could have appeared in the river bottom riding atop a moose juggling live salmon, and we would still have been more surprised by the sunset on this rainy evening deep in the mountains.

The rain really started in earnest at about 1 in the morning. After that, I didn’t sleep much, trying to plan our exit strategy the best I could. I knew the hardest part was going to be getting out of the tent to retrieve the bear barrel, but after that I could cook from the relative shelter of our vestibule.

I awoke the sleeping boy after his oatmeal and hot cocoa were already cooked and cooling. Keep him warm was my mantra. The hot chocolate, a two-prong approach, warmed the belly and put a little extra oomph in his step. After hours of restless worrying, the transition from bag to bike went swimmingly, and we were cruising downhill in no time. It would have been rad to stay and explore the river and trails some more, but it seemed foolish to tempt the rain any further, and we had a violin recital to get to.


Three miles into the five rainy miles back to the car, I was a little apprehensive on what his outlook would be. This could turn him off forever. I try not to push things on him, lest he never want to do them again. The proof was to be in the pudding.

I had taken my hood down so I could hear all the chatter from him as we rode. He had gotten silent again for a bit, and I called back to make sure I wasn’t spraying him. He replied, “No Dad, I just think we made the right decision by camping and not staying home.” An hour later in the car, when asked by his Mom on the phone what his favorite part of the trip was, he enthusiastically responded, “Riding through the rain this morning on the way back to the car!”

This had been an amazing time with my son in the backcountry, our first father-and-son-only camping trip. I will remember it fondly, forever.

This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times 46. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get fresh content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday! 



Una Pizza Bike Show packed them in again

Una Pizza Handmade Bike Show-15

Photo: Maurice Tierney

The third Una Pizza Bike Show was held on a pleasant Sunday afternoon December 14, when 250 or so bike and pizza lovers gathered in the small industrial space in the South of Market Area in San Francisco.

The reason? A casual gathering of some of the world’s best bicycle frame and parts makers, in the adopted city where Una Pizza Napoletana owner Anthony Mangieri has called home since 2010 after relocating his pizzeria from the East Village in New York City. Soulcraft Bicycle owner Sean Walling works with Mangieri to organize the event, the third since March 2011. Mangieri is the one-man pizza maker, staying busy in the center of his workspace while all around him his servers and assistants are hustling to keep everyone smiling and well fed.

“I mostly enjoy seeing the place busy and people all talking, laughing and eating,” Mangieri said. “Folks enjoying the handmade work of the builders, you know? Also, it’s a good chance for many of us to reconnect and catch up.”

Gallery: Badges and Bicycles

Photos: David Klayton

Mangieri’s expectations for the event are simple.

“First, that the pizza comes out well and I feel mostly good about the pizza,” he said.

“Second, that all the builders feel at home and welcomed, and that Sean feels that it is worth it for him and fun. I feel a large connection with the builders for many reasons, including—as Bruce Gordon says—”people who actually make their own shit.” It’s hard to make a living as an American artisan, be it bikes or pizza if you do everything basically by yourself.”

Several attending frame builders agreed with Mangieri.

“Good food is always a draw and the people,” Santa Rosa framebuilder Jeremy Sycip said. “It’s a great group of people to hang out with and help each other promote our bikes.”

Rock Lobster’s Paul Sadoff was talking with customers, friends and fellow builders throughout the day.

Read our report from the 2012 Bike + Pizza Show.

“The best part of the show is being able to hang out with framebuilder friends who I don’t get to see often enough,” the Santa Cruz builder said. “Also, it’s great to see the master of ceremonies, Anthony. He’s a class individual and knows what it is like to always be in pursuit of higher standards in your personal craft. I also like the pizza ! In terms of promotion I’m sure that it does not hurt to be at the show but it is not my biggest reason for being there. I like the whole idea of a show that does not involve hotels, trophies or convention centers with bad air.” Fellow Santa Cruz builder John Caletti chimed in.

Gallery: People

Photos: Maurice Tierney

“It’s fun to see the other builders and friends, hang out and catch up,” Caletti added. “It’s great to see the appreciation, enthusiasm and support for unique, quality, custom, handmade bikes. The pizza is delicious and SF is a fun spot.”

Some makers, like Steve Rex and Blue Collar’s Robert Ives, came from as far away as Sacramento. Others, like Paul Components owner Paul Price, came from Chico.

“The pizza and vibe are great,” Price said. “The venue is tight but that just makes it better. There is a lot of love there, for bikes and friends alike.”

Walling also conceived a Meet Your Maker ride series, rounding up the same friends and fellow makers on organized group rides open to the public all around the Bay Area. The intent is to provide another casual environment for builders, customers and potential customers to share saddle time and get acquainted. I asked a few builders if Meet Your Maker or the Una Pizza Bike Show has it led to a spike in sales.

“I’m not really sure if the event or the MYM rides has really affected my business just yet,” Sycip explained. “But it’s a way to get my bikes seen and just like most trade shows, it takes a little while for the name to get out there. So I think the more events like this and rides we do, the better for the brand and more people become aware of hand made bikes and the people who make them.” Price agreed.

“It’s really hard to quantify but I know it’s a positive,” he added. “I like to meet new customers, or potential customers. I love bikes and it’s always fun to see the different builds, what people do with our products, and of course we get to ride together which was a stroke of genius. Sean Walling deserves a lot more credit than he gets for getting the thing of the ground and being the unofficial official non-paid secretary, janitor, and fireman.” Caletti added his two cents.

“It’s hard to say if these events impact my sales, but I’ve got some new friends, better camaraderie with other builders and a few more people out there are familiar with me, my bikes and what I do,” he explained.

“I’ve enjoyed the great rides with my peers and customers, and potential customers,” Retrotec’s Curtis Inglis said. “It’s nice to get out on bikes with all your peers and really have time to chat and get to know people better. I’ve known some of the other builders for over 20 years and we’re just now really getting a chance to hang out due to these types of events.”

There’s also been some discussion about a NorCal builders show in Sonoma County. I asked Walling to elaborate.

“We’ve been talking about this for years,” he said. “As we all get older and more crotchety, fewer of us have the time, energy, or desire to travel to shows like we used to.  So if things fall into place maybe we’ll get it together for a show this summer.”


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