Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Top 10 Ways to Bike Uphill without a Helmet while Breaching the Gender Gap

Tandem Nuts
So a few of us were debating what makes a good sensationalist headline in the bicycling blogosphere, and the title of this post seemed just about perfect. Sure, it's missing a couple of  things. I considered adding "...while cycling vehicularly on a low-trail bike dressed in Rapha and listening to an audio book of Grant Petersen's the Shoes Ruse." But in the end I decided less was more and went with the shorter version.  

And as posts rarely live up to the promise of the titles that lure us to them, I will remain true to this tradition of disappointment by informing you that I will, unfortunately, not be traveling to California at the end of this month. It has nothing to do with my preparedness for the ride and I hope to take part in a different AdventureCORPS event in the future; the organisers have been very understanding. Stuff happens and - well, that's all really. I will practice my top 10 ways to bike uphill closer to home for the time being.

One reason sensationalist titles are on my mind lately, is that I've been getting more emails than usual with requests to host "guest posts" from various marketing entities, or to write such posts for other websites, or to embed commission-generating links into my content. I think these people find me because my titles are somehow "SEO'ed" without my realising it or doing it intentionally - a thought that for some reason depresses me. It also makes me extremely self-conscious about providing links to products, businesses, online stores, etc. in my posts, be they sponsors or not. Does it create the (false) impression that I am getting commission from those links? Or do I indeed derive some indirect benefit from it, such as showing the businesses I link to that I can drive traffic to their sites and thus encouraging them to sponsor me? Once I start thinking this way, the whole bike blogging racket starts to feel like one giant minefield and then I need to snap out of it before I can write anything unselfconsciously again.  

A little while back a reporter contacted me for an interview and I declined. She responded by demanding that I prove that I am "real" and not a marketing hoax. I was offended and kind of shaken, though in the reporter's defense this was around the time of the "Amina, Gay Girl in Damascus" scandal and the idea of hoax identities was popular. I sent her a polite email with the contact information of a local reporter who had met me in person, and that was the end of it. But it left a bad taste in my mouth, as did meeting some industry people at Interbike later who confessed they'd thought it was my husband and not me who actually wrote the blog while I merely posed for pictures. Ouch?

I am starting to ramble and free-associate, but I guess the common thread for me here is the theme of absurdity. The absurdity of using catchy titles to get people to read bland content, the absurdity of making plans and announcing them, and the absurdity of this blog. I hope my readers not take any of it too seriously. Instead, let's go ride our bikes... regardless of gender, stance on helmet use and approach to elevation.

62 comments:

  1. Step back, take a deep breath, and regain perspective. However, SINCE you mention it, co-habitant stories have been in short supply lately and we are at the time of year when he transforms from "John Reed" into "The Great Gatsby."

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    1. I know, he has been shy lately. Plus I get jealous with all the ladies (and gentlemen apparently?) ogling him in his cute outfits!

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  2. What's worse, someone assuming your husband writes your blog, or that they're not ashamed to say so?

    I suppose the silver lining is that if you post about that, it will surely attract a lot of traffic.

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  3. As someone actually in marketing...let me just confirm that the current trend in marketing and advertising is to find any and all "authentic" voices and turn them into mouthpieces for companies. That doesn't mean that you can't link when it's relevant or write a guest post. But know that deep down, this is the ultimate goal.

    I hope you don't get too spooked about SEO or how they find you etc though. You're being noticed because you're interesting, are developing a following, and do seem to have an authentic voice. I'd hate to see you back away from those things just because the borg wants to absorb you.

    As is often the case, your instincts are likely to be trusted. If it feels natural to link to something, do it. If something creeps you out, don't. If you can find a way to benefit personally without compromising speaking honestly and unselfconciously, great! You deserve it. If not, oh well. Hopefully the joy of writing is enough payback for you to continue.

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  4. Things fall apart, even the best of plans. You recognize the absurdity of your blog, but you take the leap and post almost everyday. And I read it almost everyday. I like the title of this post by the way.

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    1. a code word I use sometimes to protect the Co-Habitant's identity

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  6. The idea that a reporter thought you might be a marketing hoax does make me somewhat optimistic about the increasing importance of transportation cycling in US culture. But truly, that is ridiculous.

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  7. Sorry to hear you will not be going to California for the ride, but relieved that I will not have to be envious at the same time. Of course I was looking forward to reading about your experiences, albeit with envy.

    In no way has your blog ever sounded like it was written by a man. I suppose it is a backhanded kind of compliment, as I will bet those comments were from men. You do write in a somewhat gender-neutral style for the most part, which is so much easier to take, and this is coming from a woman. And who cares if anyone does or doesn't wear a helmet anyway? Really? Do what you want. Love the blog, always look forward to reading it.

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  8. What does it still say about society and gender stereotypes that those people actually thought you were only posing as the blog author, and really serving as the photo model! Sometimes I find the drama "Madmen" astonishing given that the 60s wasn't that long ago, and yet you hear stories like yours in 2012.

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  9. You can't accomplish anything worthwhile without somebody trying to co-opt you into helping them commit a little commerce these days. I hope you're getting what you want from writing this blog the way it is because I would be sad if it turned into a website/catalog of whimsical cycling trifles.

    What little I know about how you conduct your affairs makes me think you've drawn your lines in the sand in about the best places.

    Screw'em...

    Spindizzy

    (feel free to edit the "screw'em)

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  10. Oh, and another thing, anyone who thinks your husband writes the blog wasn't reading during some of the discussions generated by a number of your posts, I'm thinking about some of the more clinical exchanges about female "Squishy bits". Uncommonly frank if also strangely compelling reading. Hard to believe that to be the work of a man.

    Spindizzy

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  11. Absurdity so be it!
    I came across your blog only three months ago; I'm a male rider who has owned the whole spectrum from 'performance' bikes to fixed gear, to a women's 1956 raleigh 3-speed, they have all made me happy for different reasons at different times of my life.
    Your entries include both objective and subjective points of view and the distinction is always clear.
    You just carry on, thanks!

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  12. YIKES

    Having met you (and had you photograph me at an emotional time) I'll be happy to testify that you're completely a real person "Constance" ;)

    I'm sorry life got in the way of going to CA, as it's probably a nice time of year to visit Death Valley. Glad to hear you'll get another chance, and hope you get to visit more of the west, because it's really worth exploring.

    The whole media- industrial complex, especially in the era of aggregators is a weird place. Hope it doesn't discourage you too much, and that you can laugh at the absurdist drama of hit-generating headlines.

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  13. I think your blog works so well because it is honest, I hope you keep it so.

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  14. Oy. You mean all this time, Peppy was *not* writing the blog?

    I feel so..... so used.

    okay, not really,

    CK

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  15. I got a really random e-mail solicitation recently--I mean really random. While it did involve cycling, it had something to do with compiling the best bikes for touring, mountain biking, and cyclocross. I would've thought words like "chic" and "pretty" appeared on my blog as much as "cycle" or "bike," but I guess the marketing intern who contacted me overlooked those bits. I wrote back to him saying that I don't even know what cyclocross is, but if he ever compiles a bunch of chic bikes, I'm his girl.

    Oops, I take it all back. The most random solicitation I've received was for a customizable lingerie website. I really didn't know what to do with that.

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  16. Bummer about the California trip -- we were looking forward to the report! I was just in northern Cali and it's stunning. I still recommend a trip there.

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  17. I read few bike blogs but yours has become one that I do read regularly, not only because it is literate in composition but because it is literate in context -- something often lacking in aficionado literature -- as well as being full of neat information. More than that, your opinions seem studiedly fair and well considered, regardless of whether one might agree or not with any given judgment. So please keep heart and keep writing and leave the worries about absurdity to BSNYC.

    I still haven't figured out what you headline means, but then, I'm still waiting to have the Vaseline around the eyes explained, too.

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  18. Someone thinking you're a fictional character... that really happened? Amazing.

    I have to wonder just what major company would invent you as a marketing scheme and then have "you" write copiously about so many old bikes from long vanished companies... or for that matter why, if your husband was really behind it all, he would spend so much time on the small-frame toe-overlap problem!

    Well, I suppose I've known quite a few people who seem to be reasonably intelligent and rational who have turned out to hold views much more foolish than this so I shouldn't be too surprised.

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  19. Agreed, people take things way too seriously, but of course that phenomenon is not limited to bicycle blogs...

    And as far as the people at Interbike go, I would imagine that they probably haven't read much of your blog. Of course, the anonymity of the internet means anyone can write anything, but having followed your postings for a good while I think it would require an inexplicable amount of effort for anyone to 'ghostwrite' such a consistent first-person blog while pretending to be someone else (and coordinating the project with other bloggers, shops, and companies to boot).

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  20. Sounds like your bumming about not taking your trip out west!! I was waiting to hear all about your adventures out in the desert lands, it will come back around. I really enjoy reading your blog. Glenn in NW

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  21. I discovered your blog shortly after buying a new bike in January. Your informative and encouraging style of writing inspired me to write http://www.kitsmedia.ca/riding-my-lovely-bicycle/ on our blog. As a web developer, I understand your concerns perfectly. But I find the tone of your writing completely non-promotional. I look forward to reading your latest post every night, and every time I go for a ride (when it isn’t horrible and cold and raining up here in Vancouver, Canada), I feel encouraged. Your SEO is excellent but your stories are even better.

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  22. If your lovely spouse has been writing the reviews saddles and how they relate to female problems.... well, he's a heck of an understanding guy!

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  23. Stick to your guns! The best thing about this blog is that every post is not an advertisement but a confession of your experiences and the tools used be they brand name or not.

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  24. Wow, really? People thought your husband wrote the blog? Sexist!! I am always floored by the bikeforums etc where men bemoan the fact that their wives know nothing about bikes, hate bikes, hate that their husbands have ten bikes etc... Or worse, men will ask what bike to buy their wives without specifically asking women on the forums about women specific needs or concerns.
    So I'm not too surprised people would think sexist things...
    Some coworkers of mine are thinking of starting blogs just so they can get sponsors and make money. Even if I were to start a blog, it's the last thing I would think about. I'd be shocked if anybody noticed me! And we're talking pennies right?
    There seems to be a great deal of girls with bike blogs going on, which I am not sure how I feel about. Women should be encouraged to bike and to nerd out on their bikes, but marketers etc shouldn't be encouraging a shallow world of cute dresses and high heeled shoes. The latest issue of Momentum had me cursing at all the sexist ads of women in next to nothing riding bikes in high heels. I've been biking since I was 4 and in my mid 30's now, so I have years of experience biking as a woman. We all know how cold and drafty it can get while biking, even on warm days, so must dress accordingly! Wool year round, yes indeed.
    I always enjoy your blog because you talk about bikes and biking, exploring your skills and expanding your horizons. Not talking solely about which skirt you wore today. Plus you are intelligent, like to research and have sweet bikes! Take it easy, and yes, ride your bike.

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  25. "meeting some industry people at Interbike later who confessed they'd thought it was my husband and not me who actually wrote the blog while I merely posed for pictures. Ouch?"

    I am not suprised.Doing all my bike work myself I know how the guys do not expect you to be able to.

    I guess when you "stick your head out in the public" like you do with a blog you get more than you ask for of attention. I just hope you can manage the preassure and do not give up!
    badmother

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  26. "But it left a bad taste in my mouth, as did meeting some industry people at Interbike later who confessed they'd thought it was my husband and not me who actually wrote the blog while I merely posed for pictures. Ouch?"

    Definitely ouch! Wow, women can't write about bikes? That is harsh.

    I have slightly more sympathy for the reporter, because of the hoax identity thing, but also because of your habit of using italics for all the Brand Names in your blog. It's not standard style for any publication I know, and it draws attention to them in a way that could be seen as a marketing ploy. Usually brands are set in the same typeface as the rest of the text. I just figured it was your stylistic quirk.

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    1. When I was starting this blog, my impression was that it is customary to use italics for names of publications and entities, including commercial entities, as a way of differentiating titles and brand names from proper names. I have also seen this done on other blogs that review products. Now I am not so sure and see it done both ways.

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  27. Reading reviews for various systems needed for work yesterday, I noticed that the majority of them made clear whether or not they were commisioned links. My feelings, if they are say so. My blog has my business name in the title and I link to products on our site. I hope that's open enough? Blogs like yours I would feel grubbily cynical expecting to see "These are not sponsored links" disclaimers. We read it for the honesty and the beautiful pictures. To hear what goes on with a cyclist in a different bit of the world.

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    1. I do have a disclaimer (here) stating that I don't take part in affiliate marketing, that all paid advertisement on the blogs is on the righthand margin under the "Sponsors" heading, and that if links to products appear in the posts they are there for readers' reference and are not monetised. Not sure how many read it though. But I feel that to place this text in a more visible location on the front page would be too aggressive. It's a tricky balance.

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  28. It's unfathomable for many people that what we do is not about maximizing returns, but about following our passion.

    I got a phone call last week from a company who wants to provide generic content for Bicycle Quarterly: "We can write about anything for you." I politely explained that BQ is all about real, unique content you cannot find elsewhere, and which we research ourselves. As if BQ was an empty marketing vessel, struggling to fill the blank pages between advertisements!

    Similarly, I was excited when the Wall Street Journal reviewed our book "The Competition Bicycle," until I realized that they hadn't even read the book. It was just "content" for them.

    I applaud that you are taking the high road and doing what you want to do. I am glad to see advertisers support you without expecting immediate favors from you. I hope this compensates you for the significant time you spend on the blog, without having to sell your soul.

    I remember reading that Pan-Am, the iconic airline, went under because they insisted on flying airplanes, instead of focusing on their profitable real estate subsidiary. I thought: "Good for them. They did what they loved to do, and it was great while it lasted."

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    1. I worked at an adventure sports magazine which was published by Larry Flynt, yes, Larry Flynt, and everybody referred to the non-ad pages as "the editorial hole": It was a hole in the advertising that needed to be filled with articles. We managed to put some great stuff in that "hole"! The ads were OK, too, but not as good as our articles.

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  29. Sheesh!
    All this time I thought it was Peppy who was writing the posts, taking the pictures.

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  30. I keep coming back because the integrity of your blog even if I don't always agree :).

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    1. Not agree??? Sheesh, I didn't think the idea of biking uphill was all that controversial.

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  31. I see your published plans -- be they pace lines, upright centuries, Death Valley days, the blog itself -- as examples of reaches that should but often don't exceed your grasp. I often parse your titles for minutes, as if they were vanity plates with a subtlety too deep for me. You may have only ridden a bike with no hands recently, but sometimes the wild gyrations in subject matter from one day to the next make it seem as if you are writing with no hands.

    I think that I can understand that something that is always whimsical and interesting and sometimes inspiring to me could suddenly turn absurd to you, but I hope that it is a passing thing.

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  32. I think that reporter may have been diving into the philosophical and esoteric with a statement like "prove you are real"... after all, nothing unreal exists

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  33. No comments? I guess I'll be the first.

    I, for one, love your ramblings. I've been cycling for a very long time and you have opened my eyes to a whole different world of cycling from what I was used to. Along with that, very often something you say brings back some long forgotten memory that usually brings a smile to my face. I've also enjoyed surfing your links to manufacturers I've never heard of before and probably never would have discovered on my own.

    I also enjoy the enigma of your cycling experience. Not sure if that's the right term but, on the one hand, you seem to have a wealth of knowledge on many things bicycle from framebuilding methods, geometry and on and on. At other times you come across as a pure beginner. My opinion is that you don't give yourself enough credit.

    As to that other stuff (links, commissions, ESOs) you were talking I would fully trust your judgement in that regard.

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  34. Too bad your plans have changed. As a Californian who has never been to Death Valley, i was really looking forward to reading about your trip.

    BTW, My favorite post written by the co-habitant was, of course, the post about Menstruation and Saddle Discomfort.

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    1. Darn, I forgot to add "menstruation" to the title.

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  35. Since this appears to be a thread where we get introspective and postmodern about blogging. I would like to request that ---for the love of god -- can someone teach Peppy to escape his quotes!

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    1. For the 1000s time, Peppy is a she. A 4 year old female polydactyl Norwegian Forest Cat. You just aren't comfortable with female writers, are you!

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    2. Better a polydactyl than a pterodactyl.

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    3. They're called pterosaurs now.

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  36. Velouria,my friend-I don't take here as absurdity,but I deride enjoyment from your words,they often make me think of things I may normally not,look at other types of riding to try for my own self,and sometimes whisk me away as I feel like a rider along on one of your well described group rides (something I rarely have priviledge to enjoy,riding in a larger group).

    Just because said reporter thought she/he was "just doing a thorough job" as a reporter doe not mean that they were not clueless. Don't worry about other people's thoughts or moronic attitudes,like you said,just enjoy the ride,then write about said enjoyment,that's why I come back time and again,to feel a shared passion for life on two wheels. My friend,you write lovely about a lovely subject,carry on :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  37. I mostly suck at titling my posts appropriately so I've just given up. I typically use a phrase or the title of a song I'm listening to while writing, which is hardly helpful and really doesn't make it easy to search later on. To boot, I don't even use proper tags. So overall, I'm pretty sucktastic. But that longer title you wanted to use...that was fantastic. Wish you'd used it.

    And CA will be here until it sinks into the ocean for our evil communist/gay friendly/whatever-it-is-that's-bothering-everyone-else ways. Or maybe I'll make my way up to Boston one of these years. Would love to meet and chat with you sometime.

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  38. It just occurred to me that if the helmetless uphill cyclist is listening to a Grant Petersen audiobook, s/he must also be wearing headphones. I could live with everything up until that one.

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  39. Would you like to know you are so SEO'd?

    It's because modern search engines aren't stupid and you don't try to play games with them.

    The biggest thing you can do for SEO these days is to have people click through to your site and then spend a long time reading various pages of it.

    Your brilliantly written and unique blog does just that, and that is why you are top of the rankings.

    Will

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  40. A thought on the SEO, I think you mentioned sometime that you had been doing medical research. I think enough time searching for articles in indexed databases sort of rewrites how your brain handles titles (in a good way).
    Too bad you won't be going on your trip, I had looked forward to all the pictures. Hopefully this will free up some time for you to go on another holiday.
    I had a similar situation where I had to cancel a cycling trip to Gran Canaria due to work. Hopefully I'll be going on an even nicer trip to Algarve instead when work slows down a bit.

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    1. It's funny you mention the parallel with research, because among researchers there has been a trend for some time now to give clever and sexy titles to studies. It used to get on my nerves, especially since the studies themselves were super dry and tedious to read!

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  41. In the style guides I work with (mostly Chicago, but occasionally other), italics are reserved for specific categories, usually titles of books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and (sometimes) TV shows, but not other commercial entities. Titles of articles, short stories, episodes, etc. are put in quotation marks. To give a few concrete examples (of various degrees of ludicrousness):

    William Gass's short story "Order of Insects" appears in his collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories.

    I would be surprised if there were any product placement for Coca-Cola in The Empire Strikes Back.

    My wife just bought a Winora Santiago hybrid bicycle. It's not a brand or a model that has been reviewed by Bicycling, Bicycle Times, Cycle, or any other Anglophone cycling publication, so far as I can tell--not even Lovely Bicycle!

    Pedantically yours,
    Brian

    P.S. The Winora Santiago is a real bicycle. It's not bad, though it actually uses a freewheel (Shimano Tourney), not a freehub. The price was right, the shop was friendly, and it's only for a few months' use. Since it's a German brand, it comes prepared with dynamo-powered headlight and taillight.

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  42. Hi! I just want to say that I love your blog. You're honest and have interesting things to say. You've also introduced me to a lot of brands and other bloggers that I wouldn't have seen or read before. And your bikes are always pretty. =)
    Keep it up!

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  43. I am not surprised that someone would think you are fake, or someone else writes your blog or the like for a few reasons:

    1) Ghostwriting is quite common - for example a staggering number of celebrity memoirs are ghostwritten, some quite heavily.

    2) People always doubt the source of something. There are people who think Mark Twain wrote Grant's memoir - I mean, how else could it be so well written?

    3) On the internet, no one has any idea who you are or if you are real. For example, the spate of recent "fake" bloggers.

    4) There are so many male bicycle bloggers, that an aspiring male bicycle writer might be tempted to write a "female" blog, in order to have a better chance of standing out, and the jaded amongst us know this. A decent male writer could easily fake a "female" voice, just as a decent female write could easily fake a "male" voice. Especially with the assistance of some appropriate gender assistance for discussions of squishy bits.

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  44. "...as did meeting some industry people at Interbike later who confessed they'd thought it was my husband and not me who actually wrote the blog while I merely posed for pictures. Ouch?"

    You, and the Bronte sisters. Not much has changed in 150 years, huh? Sigh. But seriously... how stupid would the person who implied that have to be? I'm a bit shocked.

    No one has yet mistaken me for a man, but I do get the occasional solicitation from marketers. I think of it as a compliment, in a sense. But I'm not popular enough to have to deal with it as much as you do, which would probably end up annoying me.

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  45. I guess if I knew who you were or followed your blog I would care.

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    1. You have a strange of showing your lack of caring, friend!

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  46. 1) "some industry people at Interbike later ... confessed they'd thought it was my husband and not me who actually wrote the blog while I merely posed for pictures."
    OMG! I wouldn't believe it, if it weren't coming from you. And they told you this, to your face?

    2) I'm sad to hear you will not be able to make the Death Valley trip. I have no idea how it would have turned out, but it would have been interesting.

    Do you have time to try a local century ride, instead?

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  47. Hello,

    Where did you find your tandem (first picture)?
    Thks in advance.

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    1. The "Tandem Nuts" belong to the Blayleys. Here is their blog.

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