Friday, July 15

Ken Kifer

I have been revisiting Ken Kifer's Bike Pages. The late Ken Kifer amassed a wealth of cycling information on his website before he was tragically struck and killed by a drunk driver.

If I had to pick only one cycling hero and/or inspiration it would have to be Ken. Much of my cycling mindset has developed in the vein of Ken's and as a result of reading through his material. I would not say I am a disciple of Kifer per se, because much of my approach to cycling had been developed long before I discovered the website back in 2007. But much of what he wrote has helped me to refine and confirm my beliefs and tactics related to cycling.

I tried to consume Sheldon Brown's website in the same way, but I just can't seem to do it. I don't agree with a lot of what Brown says and I feel as if he was not as natural a cyclist as Kifer.

Another thing about Ken that I identify strongly with is that he lived mostly in the South, while Brown and others who are prominent in this particular genre of cycling are/were mostly located outside the South. There are factors unique to cycling in the South that people who have never experienced them just cannot understand. "Share the Road" on a Kentucky license plate means a whole lot more than the same phrase on a Colorado plate.

He must be a jogger

But back to Ken...his lifestyle bears some examination. And it's his lifestyle that truly inspires me, not so much his cycling "achievements." Ken lived simply. He shunned motor vehicle dependency and arranged his life in a different manner than the majority of his contemporaries, even other cyclists. In Ken Kifer you see someone who is truly a cyclist, in lifestyle, in deed, in manner and approach to life. He solved his transportation problems with a bike and solved his bike problems with his own abilities, not relying on the easy way out by reverting back to societal norms when it became too onerous to stick with the bike.

His attitude toward cycling was one of simple common sense. Its cheaper to ride a bike, hands down, no matter what your perception is. Driving a car is expensive. There's no reason to question it. Its as clear as the nose on your face.

But while Ken was a cyclist in every way, you get the impression from his written words that he didn't beat everyone around him over the head with his bike. I would imagine as he rode through town on his bike going to and from work, the store, to visit friends and family that other than the fact that he was riding a bicycle and standing out like a sore thumb in Alabama that he was in a strange way unassuming. It's hard to explain what I mean by this, but I just get the gut feeling that while he was somewhat larger than life, the fact that he was riding a bike to and fro was secondary to the journey he was on.

It's notable that Ken lived through the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and into the aughts as a cyclist. His perspective on American cycling was truly comprehensive and unique. I remember as a small child seeing signs for the Bikecentennial in my hometown. I remember hearing stories of Joe Bowen biking cross country. People rode cool (now vintage) ten speeds. The OPEC embargo made people fear rising fuel costs. And then the eighties hit us full in the face. Reagan told us to spend and thrive. Oil flowed like wine. Cycling lost its flavor. But then it had started to come back and has grown in popularity since the time of Ken's untimely death.

If you have the time, explore Ken's written works. His perspective on life and cycling is inspirational and holds true, it's timeless. And while I don't agree with every single thing he wrote, I do think he conveyed wisdom and experience that many today can learn from.

I got sidetracked as I looked up the links for Ken, Joe Bowen (future post) and Bikecentennial (Adventure Cycling Association). The Bikecentennial had to have been pretty awesome. There are days I'm nostalgic for riding in the Southeast. There are days I would love to be able to spend a few months in Kentucky just riding every day. I know its a pipe dream, but despite the cons of riding there I do miss it sometimes.

I will eventually do a cross country ride, whether it be a future vacation or in my family's post-apocalyptic trek back to Kentucky. See, Colorado was a fine move for us in our pre-apocalyptic world. But once things fall apart we want to be with our families in a place where we can sustain ourselves. Colorado is not that place.

Anyway, check out Ken, Bikecentennial and keep your eyes peeled for a piece about Joe Bowen.

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