Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love To Bomb
Once upon a time in a New York City far, far away I was a bike messenger. I rode a red and yellow Huffy mountain bike that weighed about 45 pounds. It rode like a Sherman tank. It was not fast, not cool, and definitely not hip. In fact hipness, and more precisely the “hipster” hadn’t been invented yet; no one rode fixed gear bikes with sawed off handlebars back then. There was no scene to it. It was just stupidly risky, fun work that kept one in amazing shape if one managed not to die on the job. I managed not to die.
During my first week on the job my bike was stolen. I had to scramble to replace it to keep the job I’d already fallen in love with. My boyfriend at the time was a dedicated roadie who couldn’t have been more thrilled that crappy bike was gone. He hooked me up with a “proper” road bike, one he wasn’t embarrassed to be seen with me riding. She was a Trek 400 road bike with downtube shifters. She was sleek. Kinda sexy. A lean, mean asphalt-eating speed machine. Drawing inspiration from The Cars’ song Candy-O I called her “Candy”; the album cover art featured a sexy siren sporting glossy red lips and nails.
The next day I rode Candy to work and bunny hopped a metal road plate to avoid a pinch flat. I went sideways as I landed; the tiniest bit of oil on the plate was enough to send me skidding. Bleeding profusely from both forearms, knees and shins, I brushed it off. “Merely a flesh wound”, I told the receptionist at more than one law firm. Truthfully, I was more relieved that my bike remained unharmed.
At the end of the day as I walked into the dispatch office, some smart ass hollered “What happened to you, Crash?” I was embarrassed at my rookie mistake, but also honored: I was a part of the gang now. I had A Nickname. I belonged. As I continued working as a courier, I learned to ride aggressively, decisively— dodging and weaving between traffic like a ninja—and strangely enough I never again crashed riding in New York.
Fast forward many years, through about a dozen more bikes, a few career changes, and the awkward and often painful transformation from hard core speed-freak roadie to singletrack-obsessed mountain biker. I’ve had several more crashes—some involving collisions with large vehicles that “didn’t see me” in the bike lane, several of which have inflicted permanent damage and physical limitation. Still, I consider myself incredibly lucky: the best luck a rider can have is to live to ride another day.
We have a saying in the cycling world. There are two kinds of cyclists: Those who have crashed and those who are going to crash. Crashing is inherent in cycling. It’s part and parcel of the learning curve in mountain biking. It’s just that most people I know got it out of the way before they graduated college, high school, or even before puberty. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.
As my love affair with mountain biking consumed the rest of my life, I began to organize my work, home, and personal life to spend as much time as possible riding singletrack. I thought I could use a new nickname. Something less fatalistic, more awesome. When Kristin “The Butcher” submitted her Hell Ride video entry, I knew I couldn’t just assign a nickname to myself. It needed to be earned through a new rite of passage.
Nicknames and alter egos are useful tools for enlightened living. The Hindus have only a handful of gods and goddesses in their pantheon, but they all have nicknames and alter egos, much like humans do, creating hundreds of variations of different personalities. My own name is a reflection of this, as Üma is the pet name Shiva used for his beloved consort Parvati. Nicknames acknowledge our fluctuations, our impermanence, the fact that we all wear so many identities like masks. I give nicknames to everyone close to me and all my riding buddies. There’s Chainsaw. Super G. Captain Safety. Johnny Danger. Boom-Boom. Man Pants.
My new nickname came very naturally, after finishing a most amazeballs ride in Ashland, OR. I’d been intimidated by Ashland trails for years. Better shredders than I counted it among their favorite “ripping” descents and the Ashland Super D races were much talked about and anticipated every year. The only thing I anticipated was being in over my head and crashing my face off. I still considered myself a sort of mediocre rider. It turned out my fears were unfounded.
If anything, riding Ashland was a sort of proving ground, a graduation of sorts. I was no timid, clumsy, awkward rookie mountain biker any longer. I ripped, carved, shredded and schralped with the best of them, whooping and hollering, pinning and grinning the entire glorious way down. I’ll be the first to admit, my wheezy, asthmatic lungs are a real limitation when it comes to climbing, but get the hell out of my way on the downhill. Seriously. I was made for throwing myself down the stairs, as the saying goes.
Upon finishing our ride, I turned to my riding buddy Kurt, who sports his own nickname with style. He goes by The Angry Singlespeeder, or The ASS, but I like to call him Mister Angry for short. I started apologizing self-deprecatingly for my janky slowness on the 12 mile climb up the dirt road to the trailhead. Angry would hear nothing of it.
“Girl… You have a physical impairment with those lungs, and even so you’re a monster on the bike! You don’t ride like someone who’s been mountain biking for 6 years, you ride like you’ve been riding for 20! I’ve seen you charge power climbs… and you BOMB downhill!”
I laughed, and said in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice “I am The Ümabomber.”
We looked at each other, wide eyed with the certain knowledge that something awesome had just happened. Erupting in laughter, we high-fived and ordered another round of beers, and I knew that whereas my first bike nickname was sort of a curse, this new one was something of a challenge, something to live up to. I’ve worked hard for this nickname, paid many dues, and had earned it, but to keep it I would have to drink my own koolade and live large. Off the bike I’m a feisty, unapologetic, direct and honest firebrand of a woman. I don’t pull punches and tip toe about taking the B lines around the difficult obstacles in life. I’m the Mae West of mountain biking: I can swear, spit and shoot like a cowboy, but I’m also still a classy broad.
Anyone learning to ride a bike could be nicknamed Crash, but there would only ever be one Ümabomber.
And so, as I ride full-tilt boogie ahead into the epicness of a bikecentric future, I think it’s time to pass the baton on the old nickname. This girl, below, seems like a good candidate.
What’s up, Crash?