The Leveler

Bike snobs get schooled by the Ape Man of Pasadena

Is this guy of our earth?

The LevelerRemember when everyone got together for a group ride and the total value of all the bikes was about $100? Then a couple guys got new bikes, a couple of them put on shocks, and then the next thing you know we were all bitchin'.

That's right, bitchin'.

I could tell we were bitchin' because every time someone rode by on a bike that was less expensive or not as "trick," we heckled them and talked about what cheeseballs they were and how they had no idea what the #&$@ they were doing.

But we were bitchin'.

Your behavior changes when you realize that you're bitchin'. Instead of being greeted with, "Hey, you gotta see this great trail I found," it's "Hey, I gotta show you my new nuovotanium, thermo-carbon over-wrapped bonded thing." I'm not quite as bitchin' now, but I still encounter bitchin' things on a regular basis. And whenever my gray matter goes swimming in technomania, I flash back to a simpler time and the legend of the Ape Man of Pasadena.

The Leveler.

If you've ever canceled a ride because your bike isn't good enough or just fretted about your lack of bitchin' things, you should learn the legend as well. It all happened in 1987, but I still remember it like it was yesterday...

"Hey! Look down there!" My riding partner and club co-founder Lance Davis was pointing to a small speck far below. "I thought for sure we would be the only ones up here." Here being about 3,000 feet above Pasadena, California. Back then we didn't see that many mountain bikers in that part of the San Gabriels even on the weekends, so on that weekday we were certain we would have the trails all to ourselves. Besides, we thought we were pretty tough and had the expensive bikes necessary for this kind of stuff. Or at least that's what the guy at the shop told us. Then there was the grueling climb that we had endured, a rock strewn fire road that rambles up into the San Gabriel Mountains. Hot and dusty, steep and relentless, the way up had been a slow and agonizing process. Yep, we were sure we were the only humans macho enough and jobless enough to tame those mountains on a weekday.

We were wrong.

Not that the hills were easy. Even though we felt we were in good shape, we would mash out a couple hundred yards, stop to catch our breath and gulp some water, then slowly motor on. The heat was brutal and streams of sweat burned in our eyes. I lost count on how many blood samples the local insect population had taken. Occasionally Lance would raise his head and mutter, "why are we doing this?" My reply would always be and still is, the same: "Because we can." He would nod his head in acknowledgment and we would grind away, inching closer to the top with every strained revolution of the pedals.

After a couple hours of inching, we arrived at the top--a cause for celebration. We were high fiving each other and reveling in our sense of accomplishment and the smug feeling of superiority it had given us. We were admiring our equipment and feeling really good about the big bucks we had both spent on these mighty fine off road machines. We commented on how the guy at the shop was right: You could never do this ride on anything less than a real mountain bike.

It was just too tough.

We had watered up, fired up and begun to mount up when Lance spied the lone figure ascending towards us at a snails pace. Since he was going up the same way we planned to go down, we decided to wait for him so the road would be clear. As we watched the rider get closer and closer, it was apparent the bike that this gentleman was riding was way too small for him. What brand of machine he was piloting to conquer these hills, we couldn't tell. We couldn't even see the bike until he rounded the last bend and came into full view.

And once we saw it, we couldn't believe it.

He was about twenty years old, sporting long hair, combat boots, some torn Levi's and a big ass grin. OK, in '87 a lot of people dressed like that, but how many were riding a girls Stingray with ape-hanger handlebars, a banana seat, and a sissy bar? Just for fun--or maybe to rub our noses in it--the little bike also had spokie dokies. Well, the wild man rode up and began looking at us just like we were looking at him. We were thinking he looked funny and he was definitely laughing at our shiny black shorts. He had no water or food and didn't seem concerned about it at all. In fact he looked like he was having the time of his life.

Just like us.

He stopped long enough for me to snap his picture and after I did he turned his machine around and proceeded to haul-ass down the fire road, jumping everything in sight. Kicking it up and shredding it out. Was this guy of our earth? Before we followed the lunatic, we both looked at each other in amazement. With our egos crushed, reality-check delivered, and "level" adjusted downward, off we went.

I don't know where the Leveler is now. For all I know, he became bitchin' or gave up mountain biking all together. It really doesn't matter, because the legend lives on. And like Santa Claus or even the Grinch, the Leveler must be told, must be passed on from mountain biker to mountain biker.

If nothing else remember his message: Ride what you have, when you can.

As long as you're out there, nothing else matters.


Bike Magazine - August 1995