Poet/bicyclist/photographer Joel Gwadz—better known to his readers as Gwadzilla—blogs about his life as an urban cyclist and avid mountain biker. He snaps photos of cyclists he encounters and writes verses about his daily bicycle commute, weekend trail rides, and occasional mountain-bike races.
The husband and father of two has found an audience among local cyclists, bicycle enthusiasts, and couriers. He calls his blog “an electronic cocktail party,” where, for the past five years, he’s shared information about Washington-area cycling and hoped to inspire people to ride.
Gwadz, a mountain biker at heart, lives in DC’s Mount Pleasant. Every day, he commutes by bike to his job to at 20th and M streets, Northwest, and he tries to squeeze in longer weekend rides outside of the city whenever possible. He races with the DC Mountain Bike Team, a squad of more than a dozen urban mountain bikers.
We caught up with Gwadz recently to find out his likes and dislikes about the local cycling scene. Read on to find out where he likes to ride outside of the city, where he shops for gear, and his biggest cycling pet peeve.
“I enjoy riding the Mount Vernon trail in spring and summer at sunset. The view of the monuments across the Potomac River is beautiful. Racing the Shenandoah Mountain 100—a hundred-mile off-road mountain-bike race—is as much of an experience as the trips to Gambrill State Park in Maryland. I enjoy the technical pleasures of navigating rocky trails and the cardio joy of hammering out three laps at Rosaryville State Park in Prince George’s County. Earlier this month, I was shown a side of Wakefield Park in Fairfax County that I had never seen before. Trails that are often mistaken as a stroll in the park can be experienced on an intense level if you are willing to step it up a notch and refuse to let off the throttle.”
Where you shoot photographs:
“Part of my blog routine is taking pictures—I’m the master of the point-and-shoot. It’s now habit that I travel with my camera when I’m riding to work or walking to lunch. I often shoot as I ride, not having the time to slow, stop, dismount from the bike, and set up the shot. But it can be awkward: At six-foot-four with a graying, Amish-style beard, I’m less than stealthy. I always wonder what people think as they pass when I’m pointing my camera their way. Over the years, I’ve come to know a small percentage of the cyclists, some of whom have become my friends. It’s a process that connects me to the city and the cycling culture.”
Why you race:
“In the world of cycling, I’m sure road cyclists consider me more of a ‘Fred’—a wannabe—than a racer. I ride my bike, yes . . . I try to ride hard, and I like to ride fast. But I don’t train—I try to avoid the ‘T word.’ I like to keep it fun; I guess that’s why I’m a mountain biker and not a road rider. That said, I can get pretty intense when I’m racing my bike, even if my results are not podium-worthy. Sometimes I take myself too seriously. I was once told that I could take the fun out of Wiffle Ball; it took me a decade to decipher that message. For me, riding on dirt is good for the soul. Racing my mountain bike is a good chance to ride as hard as I can for longer than I’d normally do on my own. The competition invigorates me. My heart rate is increasing just thinking about the tension at the start line.”
Number of bikes you own:
“This question should be as easy as counting the wheels and dividing by two, but since I have so many spare wheels, that would give an inaccurate answer. The short answer is I have a few different bicycles for a few different purposes. Seldom are more than two of these bikes in ride-worthy/race-worthy shape at the same time. I have a few mountain bikes, not counting my old 26-inch wheel bikes. (Now I’m strictly a 29er; I have two single-speed 29ers.) Then there are my two cyclocross bikes, one that I commute on and raced on last year and a nicer, more race-worthy cross bike that has been on the stand since a brake post pulled out when I was swapping brakes at the start of cyclocross season last year. That’s about the whole of it. There are some ‘Frankenbikes’—hodgepodge bikes created from spare parts—but those are as much about tinkering as riding.”
Favorite local cycling clubs or teams:
“I’ve been racing for a small team called DC Mountain Bike Team for a good majority of its decade-long existence. Being a member of this team has made me a part of the cycling community. Through racing I’ve been introduced to so many people and so many ideas. I learn about trail responsibility and trail advocacy. I learn about life. As a member of the team, I not only race but I contribute to the cycling community. The members are obligated to contribute a certain number of hours each year to cycling-related causes, like trail maintenance or bicycle-safety courses for city kids. Two years ago, our humble little team hosted a cyclocross race at the Armed Forces Retirement Home here in the District. This year, that race was the largest cyclocross race in the Mid-Atlantic Bicycle Racing Association’s cyclocross series.”
Where you shop for gear:
"I am biased, as I currently my mountain bike team is sponsored by City Bikes. So my answer is . . . support your local bike store. If they treat you wrong, find a shop that treats you right. City Bikes is my local bike shop. I would still take my business there even if they did not hook me up."
Favorite place to ride in the area:
“Because I live in DC, most of my riding is urban and semiurban, but dirt is where I’m most happy. In the city, dirt is not really convenient. This is a concrete jungle surrounded by suburbs upon suburbs.”
Worst bicycle wreck you’ve ever had:
“There was a race at the Michaux State Forest in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, a few years back. If I remember correctly, it was the first race of the season. I was feeling good, real good for that time of the year, and at the sound of the gun I took off and was hammering. Snow started coming down, and I was stoked to be on my bike. I hit maybe the first or second rock in some rocky terrain that sent me over the handlebars. I landed on the index finger of my left hand. I stalled in a handstand on that finger for at least a second, but the weight of my bike and my body were too much for that one little finger. I broke and dislocated it. There was no need for x-rays; I knew what had happened. I let out a rebel yell and got back on the bike. I knew that the guy I had driven up with would be out on the course for the duration of the race, and I was only ten minutes into it. Rather than turn back and head to the parking lot, I continued. In extreme pain and not really being able to break or steer, I hammered pretty hard. At one point, I took a wrong turn down a righteous downhill. I went screaming down—literally screaming—as the shattering of the downhill was no joy to my traumatized hand. At the base of the hill, I had to march back up. Somewhere on the trails, I got a flat. Changing a flat with a broken finger was a chore. Cyclists passed by, some from my class but many from other classes. When I finished, I got back on the bike and pedaled to the finish line. I ended up second for the day in my category and placed first in the Clydesdale class.”
Biggest enemy to the urban cyclist:
“I hate buses. Oh, man, do I hate buses. Buses are pretty high on my list of enemies. Well, buses and taxicabs. These are some of the greatest dangers to the urban cyclist. These professional drivers drive in the most unprofessional ways.”
Places to avoid on a bike:
“MacArthur Boulevard. The cars pass too fast and too close. It seems like some of the cars pass intentionally close. What sort of lesson does this teach? The notion of speed limit seems to be misunderstood. Drivers fail to understand that ‘limit’ equals ‘maximum,’ and this maximum is in reference to the speed that cars should move when they are approaching other cars. Cars should be cruising below this limit when encountering a person not surrounded by crumple-resistant side panels and a variety of air bags.”
Your take on the war between pedestrians and cyclists on multiuse paths:
“The road is where the fast-moving bicycle belongs; the multiuse bike path is no place for pace lines and road training. I cannot help but think that if I were on the bike path with my wife or my children, I wouldn’t want to be passed by a bicycle moving more than 15 or 20 miles per hour. The dangers on the bike path are as great as those on the road. They’re different but just as dangerous.”
Age at which you learned how to ride a bike:
“I don’t know how old I was when I learned to ride a bicycle. There are flashes of memories but no recollection of training wheels. I can remember this golden bike with a banana seat that all the kids on Shelton Woods Court loved to borrow for its wheelie potential. The memory is from Stone Mountain, Georgia, where my family of five lived while I was in kindergarten and first grade. I remember that everyone could do a wheelie on that bike and that I still can’t ride a wheelie now.”
Favorite cycling blogs other than your own:
“I have many favorite blogs—which reminds me that I need to update my links—but my favorites change with my moods and the season. When I’m into mountain-bike racing, I’ll read other mountain-bike-race blogs. Same with cyclocross. There are also blogs that I read for advocacy or inspiration, like Bike Portland. It’s a reflection of a bicycle city. While our own WashCycle is good for what it is, it lacks some of what Bike Portland has and displays that uptight, stick-up-its-ass personality that all of us Washingtonians possess. For some of my favorite blogs in the Mid-Atlantic, I can go to Bikecentric, a bicycle blog co-op.”
Next week in the Blogger Beat, we chat about street art and bizarre signage with Pedestrian Typography blogger Carolyn Sewell. She tells us the word most commonly misspelled on signs, where she goes to see good street art, and what she’d say to Mayor Fenty about his initiative to erase Washington’s graffiti. Check back next Wednesday for her answers!