Alice rides to work all year in Syracuse, New York: the snowiest city in the USA.
She decided she needed a change, and used cycling to change her life. Watch the video below, and then read our full interview with her.
K. Alice Fox cycles year round, even in the depths of winter. Considering she’s up in Syracuse, the snowiest city in America, it’s quite a feat. She caught our attention with a Facebook post of her fat bike sporting a set of M232s, the lights playing on the surrounding snow. Intrigued by the image and the associated story, we sought an interview with this resilient cyclist.
“Light the way, Goliath” by K. Alice Fox
“I was so excited to have both wheel lights that I braved 17F and blowing lake-effect snow to try them out. My commute includes a one-mile steady grade hill that overlooks a quarry, and I stopped to snap a photo because the lights looked so pretty against the snow and sunrise.”
Photo courtesy K. Alice Fox
What’s the best thing about Syracuse?
The snow!!!! Haha, I’m not sure it’s the BEST thing, but it’s what we do best up here. Every year, we are typically the winner of the Golden Snowball award, and our seasonal average is 124″ (10.3 feet of snow every winter). So, if you like snow, Syracuse is the place to be. Apart from the famous winter weather, we are a sanctuary city and boast many refugees/New Americans from various places. We also have some pretty amazing small, local businesses- bike shops, coffee shops, craft breweries, restaurants and co-ops- that make me proud to be a Syracusan.
Why do you cycle?
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved bikes. I had a Big Wheel that I literally rode into the ground. I can’t think of a single summer day of my childhood that didn’t involve a bicycle. After moving from Maryland to Central New York in 2001, I stopped cycling because I wasn’t used to the harsh climate (cold summers, colder winters). Well, I learned quickly that if you want to thrive– not just survive– in Central New York, you HAVE to have a winter sport because it’s snowing seven months out of the year up here! I decided to revive my love of cycling and bought my first serious road bike in 2007 (Terry Isis Pro named Ruffian). I started commuting to work (7 mile round trip), even on the nicer days in the winter, and quickly became obsessed. Three years and 50 pounds later, I was feeling great and loving the lifestyle. I actually made a movie about my weight loss journey.
When did you get into Fat Bikes and how?
I bought my Surly Pugsley Necromancer (named Goliath) in 2013 during Winter Storm Nemo. Having endured several Central New York winters, I was tired of spinning on my indoor trainer on those bad-weather snowy days (of which there were many) and decided to bite the bullet and ride in the snow. Why not? I had seen one at my local bike shop (Mello Velo, Syracuse NY) and fell in love. I literally rode it home in a snow storm, smiling and laughing the entire way. It felt like being a kid again! That, and the wide tires make handling bad roads a breeze. It’s like having winter tires for your car (which are awesome and a must-have for us Prius drivers). Being outside any time of the year beats being on a stationary trainer in the basement! There’s only so much Netflix you can binge while spinning…
Photo courtesy K. Alice Fox
What do you like about biking in the snow?
There is nothing quite as peaceful as an early morning ride in a gently falling snow. Everything is calm, still, and coated in white. When I leave the house in the morning for work, it’s typically very early so there are few cars. It’s just me and my bike, the sound of the snow falling and crunching under my tires. This effect is made even more beautiful when the sun is just about to come up, and my bike literally glows from all of my lights. I have a super-bright headlight and tail light; and of course, the M232s on both front and rear tires. You should see how magical it looks when those LEDs are bouncing off of a snow bank! Now….this is Syracuse, so there are many mornings when it’s snowing like mad, it’s -30F with the windchill, the wind is blowing so hard I have to keep pedaling or risk moving backwards, and my ski goggles literally freeze to my face. Not a huge fan of those, but I always somehow keep going and order my iced coffee all the same (beverage of choice year-round from my local coffee shop, Cafe Kubal.)
Do you have any cycling goals?
My two current cycling goals are: 1. to ride as much as possible, and 2. to get home safely every day. I’m a Star Trek fan and say a slightly modified Klingon expression every time I leave the house: “Today is a good day to ride!” The “safely” part is where you guys come in. I have never felt as safe on my bike as I have when I installed the M232s on both front and rear tires. Cars slow down. I’ve even had drivers pull over to tell me how awesome they are. So, you guys are definitely helping me with my goal of coming home safely every day!
What are you looking forward to most about springtime?
Not having to clean the road salt off of my bike every time I ride! I’m also looking forward to riding my little road bike more. I literally have the David and Goliath of bikes. Goliath, the huge 50 pound steel bike and “David” (her name is actually Ruffian) is a 15 pound steel road racer 🙂 Talk about polar opposites! On any given day, though, you will see me on the fat bike, mostly because it’s more challenging to ride.
How does your cycling activity change throughout the year?
I commute to work every day of the week (11 miles round trip) and go for longer rides on weekends year-round. What changes throughout the year are the bikes I ride and the amount of clothing I wear. I currently have three: Goliath (fat bike), Ruffian (steel road racer), and Zenyatta (carbon fancy bike). I’m on the fat bike primarily August-May, then the two racy bikes in the summer/early fall. As far as clothing goes, I wear anywhere from one to five layers depending on the weather. You know it’s a cold one when I have three layers of socks alone…Oh, and in the spring, I tend to switch out my kilt for a tutu. I like being visible out there!
Photo courtesy K. Alice Fox
Because we are curious monkeys, what led you to Monkey Lights?
In late 2016, I had an incident on the road that prompted me to up my lighting game. My rear light had failed and I didn’t even know it, and was almost hit from behind. I leave the house quite early in the morning, which in December means I’m riding in complete darkness. I decided from then on that I wasn’t taking ANY risks. I had seen an ad about your lights on a Facebook post and was immediately wowed. I purchased my rear set first and LOVED them. I was totally impressed by how many different patterns there are and how incredibly bright they are! I don’t even use the highest setting and they still dazzle! I decided after a few months that I just had to have a set for my front wheel. Now I’m fully lit from any direction.
You have the M232s, right? Do you have a favorite pattern or do you ride random?
Yep, the M232s on both front and rear. I tend to set both to the same pattern, but sometimes I mix it up. I currently have #41, which I think is my favorite. I also really like #9 and #14.
Pattern #41 Solar Delight
Where do you get your cycling gear– do you have a favorite bike shop?
For cycling gear, I’m a huge fan of Twin Six in Minneapolis. Their designs rock, and I think I now have 17 of their t-shirts and at least a dozen of their jerseys. I also have a tattoo that I took from one of their designs. Surly (also Minneapolis) is another favorite, and I can find their stuff at my local go-to bike shops, Mello Velo and Syracuse Bicycle. As far as the gear I ride in, I tend to find the essentials at my local thrift shop, and I really like military surplus for jackets and such. I recently acquired a leather riding vest from a record/vintage shop in Rochester.
I understand you studied horticulture in school, what inspired you to pursue that field of study?
I started out in Communication Arts (Journalism, Spanish) for undergrad, but had always loved plants and nature in general. I started working at Cornell in 2001 as an admin/web designer in the Plant Pathology Department, and was essentially immersed in plant research. I decided to pursue a master’s degree while working full time, which I completed in 7 years. I decided on horticulture, but really fell in love with science, especially being the greenhouses and playing mad scientist in the lab. I landed a lab tech position with a coevolution lab at Syracuse University, and was working in both a greenhouse and lab which was pretty much heaven. Our funding ran out, though, so I was forced to move on. That’s when I found my current job.
Do you have a favorite garden? Can you describe it?
It’s a toss-up between Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and the Jardin Botanique in Montreal. Both are absolutely stunning. They both have sprawling arboreta which you could spend an entire day walking, as well as indoor conservatories with beautiful themed areas (desert plants, etc).
Now you work at the Fish and Wildlife Disease Lab a SUNY ESF — what’s that like?
Today is actually my two year anniversary in the Fish and Wildlife Disease Genetics Lab at SUNY-ESF. I am the Senior Research Support Specialist and Lab Manager, so I am in charge of my own projects as well as the general running of the lab (supplies, students, etc). Many of my projects involve molecular techniques- DNA extraction, cloning, fingerprinting, sequencing- of various wildlife species and their parasites. I’m also now our main fish facility caretaker, which currently has about 500 zebrafish housed in our aquatic lab. I’m currently training for a Zebrafish Husbandry License, which covers everything from fish care to fish diseases. A typical day for me involves working in our fish lab, running PCR for DNA analysis, helping students with various aspects of their project (training molecular techniques, etc), and data analysis.
What research projects are you working on now?
We typically have at least half a dozen projects running at once. My long term project that I have been working on since I started two years ago is DNA fingerprinting of cottontail rabbits. We are trying to determine where and how many of a particular threatened species of rabbit there are, and we do this through genetic analysis. As of today, I’ve actually completed fingerprinting 1,000 rabbits! Another rabbit-related project I’ve just completed is DNA sequencing of rabbit parasites. This actually involved cloning and then sequencing DNA to determine which parasites each rabbit had, so it was really involved (and really fun). I’m currently working on a fish parasite project with a student, looking parasite transmission in fish without its require host; identifying myxozoan parasites of fish from Vietnam, and DNA testing deer samples for chronic wasting disease. The variety of work is great: it keeps me busy and interested!
What inspires you and motivates you, generally speaking?
What motivates and inspires me most is being told I can’t do something, then not only doing it but totally destroying it. When I started cycling again after putting on a ton of weight, people would routinely pass me in cars and yell terrible insults at me. I didn’t give up. Not only did my “thunder thighs” get me up those hills, they thundered me to a healthier, 50-pounds-lighter, happier me. When people told me that cycling through Syracuse winter was “%$#$% insane,” I did it five years in a row and counting through some pretty awful (typical) winter conditions. So yeah, I guess what inspires/motivates me is not just proving people wrong, but making myself proud by making it as badass a victory as possible. Maybe I’m part Klingon after all!
Do you identify with any particular non-human animal?
When I’m on my bike screaming down a hill at 60mph, it’s hard not to feel like some awesome bird of prey going in for a kill. I’m an avid hawk watcher (we have a family of red-tails on our campus), so I’m gonna go with red-tailed hawk I also identify with foxes for obvious reasons.
A red-tailed hawk– photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just a “thank you” for making such an awesome product! My lights have gotten me through two winters now, never failing. It’s just so nice to be able to turn them on and know they’re going to stay on and keep me visible. Not to mention, they’re super cool and make my bike look even more awesome. 😀 Seriously, though, it can be very dangerous out there on the road, especially near campus (lots of students texting, speeding and driving). The lights get a lot of attention, and I get to meet one of my daily goals: to get home safely.
A collage by K. Alice Fox
Thank you for giving us this inspirational glimpse into your life, Alice! Today is indeed a good day to ride!
Photo courtesy George McCall
For the past four years, George McCall has been poppin’ and sustainin’ wheelies to raise funds for and awareness about childhood cancer. He got in touch with us last month, asking after the Monkey Light Pro to advertise his cause as he wheelies 108 laps (27 miles!) at this year’s Relay For Life in Augusta, Georgia on May 18. We got to talking, and learned about his mission, Wheelies 2FightCancer. Wheelies2FightCancer has raised upwards of $15,000 for the American Cancer Society, and is hoping to bring in $5,400 more this year.
We were impressed by George’s uncommon wheelie prowess and inspired by his fundraising efforts, and wanted to know more. We asked and George answered.
How’d you get so good at doing wheelies?
As best as I can remember (and document), I began riding bicycle wheelies in the spring of 1976; about the time I turned 12 years old. Similar to a cell phone today, back then (especially as a boy) you had to have a bike in order to interact with your friends. We were on our bikes all the time. Of course we always raced each other, and tried to out jump each other, and being able to ride a long wheelie was just another way to enhance your status among your friends.
Riding a wheelie is a great feeling. It’s the best and longest lasting natural high I’ve ever experienced. And the wonderful thing about natural highs is that you never develop a tolerance to them. So, I’ve done a lot of wheelies over the past 42 years, and I guess I couldn’t help getting a little better in the process.
What are some wheelie tips you can offer to aspiring wheelie-ers?
Somewhat surprisingly, it’s not so much about having great balance. It’s about applying just the right amount of power to the pedals. You need to be riding on a smooth surface with at least a small incline. Once you lift the front wheel into the correct position, you maintain that position not by moving your body but by pedaling harder to slightly raise the front wheel and pedaling “less hard” to slightly lower it. This adjustment process is constantly going on. Once you understand this, it just takes a lot of practice to make it work.
Would you call wheelies a trick, or an art form?
My wife is an artist, and she has helped me to better appreciate art. On my website, I describe my wheelies as “serendipitous, temporary public art” because they give people something unusual, interesting, and enjoyable to see. Isn’t this what art is supposed to do?
Can you describe what impact you feel this art has on those who experience it?
I believe I have what is a universally objective (as opposed to personally subjective) definition of what “good’ art is: “Good” art inspires others to want to become artists themselves! My hope is that when people see what I do, and learn why I do it, it will inspire them to express themselves in some constructive way as well. I get the impression I am doing this at least to some small degree because of the comments and shout-outs I receive from a wide variety of people from children to adults.
What inspired you to start Wheelies2FightCancer?
A dear family friend, between the ages of my two boys, battled cancer from age 11 until he died at age 17. I began doing the American Cancer Society Relay for Life with his family during those years. I wanted to do something a little more exciting than walking, however, so one year, I did laps on Poweriser “running stilts”, the next year I did laps on a unicycle, and then in 2013, I started doing laps on the rear wheel of my bike. Wheelies2FightCancer formally came into being in 2015.
How do you get the word out about this work and raise funds?
Mostly by word of mouth, some mailings, a website, and Facebook posts. My overarching marketing strategy is this: I want people to say, “That gray haired old guy is going to do more than 26 miles worth of wheelies to raise money to fight cancer?!? Sure, put me down for $X!”
Do you have any people you work with, or is it a solo mission?
It’s pretty much a one-man operation, but anytime I ask for help, my wife, family, friends, the local bike shops, the American Cancer Society, etc. are more than willing to do what they can.
What impact has Wheelies2Fight Cancer had on your life, and the lives of others, do you think?
Raising money for the American Cancer Society by riding wheelies has been a great “second job” for me. I’m always trying to put on a good show in hopes of securing that next donation. (By the way, my website is set-up such that all contributions go directly to the American Cancer Society; no money passes through my hands.) And of course bicycle riding is great exercise and helps me to stay in shape.
Regarding others, I hope that I will inspire people to exercise and to find ways to give of themselves.
What’s next for Wheelies2Fight Cancer? Can you share with us your goals for the future?
I need help in the public relations arena. My website is clearly amateurish, and I’m a white-belt at best when it comes to Facebook. Next, I’d like to get some long-term supporters. Every year, I write to the companies whose products I use (Giant bicycles, Gatorade, Powerbar, Red Bull, etc.), but I haven’t yet gotten on their radar. Finally, I hope I can keep at it for many years to come. Both my parents are in their 80’s and doing well. I hope I can still pick-up the front wheel when I’m in my 70’s.
What bikes are best to perform wheelies with?
It can be difficult to tell by just looking, but once I get on a bike, I immediately know if it will be easy or hard to ride a wheelie on it. It would be interesting to have a bicycle frame designer measure my bike and me and see if there is some kind of interesting correlation.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add about biking, raising money for charities, or anything else?
One of my pastors gave us a great guideline for living: promote human flourishing. It’s such a simple and manageable way to approach life. Look at the gifts you’ve been given and try to find ways to use them to make the world a little bit better place. I’ve raised more than $15,000 to help people with cancer by doing something as silly as riding a bicycle on one wheel. If I can do that, think what you could do!
If you’d like to donate to Wheelies2FightCancer, click on over to his site. All money collected there goes straight to the American Cancer Society.
We had posted a video on Facebook featuring a tough little Monkey Light undergoing some duress—getting knocked about with a hammer, soaked in water, smashed on the ground—and taking it all like a champ. While the resilience of the light may have impressed some, one commenter wanted more.
Thus it was that the suggestion came about to submerge the poor light in liquid nitrogen. As the prospect of handling LN2, a cryogenic substance with a boiling point of -321 degrees Fahrenheit was less than appealing, we were ready to laugh off the proposition. Enter: David Gibson, Museum Educator at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. A man unafraid. And with access to LN2 and a laboratory. He saw the suggestion and volunteered to give the light a freezing ablution. The gauntlet thrown, we kissed goodbye an M204 and sent it off to Albuquerque to meet an unknown fate.
You’ll have to watch the video to see how the Monkey Light fares. All we gotta say is, we’re proud of the little tyke.
The Burley Flatbed makes it easy to carry cargo on your bike. We've got one here in the shop, and it took less than 5 minutes to install. We currently have it connected to our Karmic Koben S e-bike for delivery runs. Win this trailer and some of our M210s and M232s. Open to residents of the USA only. Scroll down to enter!
Open to US residents over the age of 18 only. For official rules, click here.
The Filmed by Bike film festival is on a mission to inspire people about bikes in a creative way. That’s why they’re headed to SXSW– the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin with a Popup event. To support this cool endeavor, we’ve given them some Monkey Lights to put on a fleet of pedicabs.
In addition to movie screenings and live entertainment, artwork by Austin Bike Zoo will be featured at the Popup, including the Giant Rattlesnake, an 80 foot long slithering contraption that seats 6 people, which the Filmed by Bike team will ride through the streets of Austin.
“Our goal st SXSW is to get people excited about bikes, and to do that in a creative way,” says Ayleen Crotty, Founder of Filmed by Bike and Festival Director. “SXSW is crowded and busy – we offer a respite in the middle of this frenetic environment, and a chance to sink into a realm of creativity.”
The Popup will also be an opportunity for the group to introduce themselves to a wider audience, who may want to bring Filmed by Bike to their towns and cities.
“We specialize in short independent films. Our filmmakers come from from all over the world, offering a glimpse at global bike culture,” Crotty said.
Filmed by Bike is crowdfunding the Popup via Indiegogo. They have almost reached their goal, but could use some more support before the campaign ends on Wednesday, March 7. If you feel compelled, you can donate here.
And if, by chance, you plan to be at SXSW, stop by the Filmed by Bike Popup event for bike movies, free popcorn, bike sculptures from Bike Zoo, live performances and much more.
The Filmed by Bike SXSW Popup
503 E. Cesar Chavez
March 13 + 14
6:00 – 11:00 p.m.
Free and open to all!
Monkey Lights are the best way to stay visible at night, and riding with friends is the best way to ride!
We’re excited to have worked with
Jonathan Jones of 2001 films (@2001films) and New Media Systems on this video. (*Note: It turns out that we tried to work with 2001 Films and New Media Systems on another video in 2019, and they did not deliver on their contract after upfront payment. We do not recommend working with them at all.)
We hope you enjoy the video!
This was our version of Black Friday.. No shopping, just shipping. It’s great to be able to do this by bike.
We thought we’d have some fun with the Karmic Koben S and make the trip over to FedEx by bike instead of by van. We actually had a little trouble getting out of the door because we forgot that the trailer was just a little to big for our doorway. So, we had to back it out and use the roller door instead.
Riding was a breeze with the e-assist. That shipment was off to Europe. Bon Voyage!
We had a lot of fun with our last giveaway, and wanted to come back with an even better one. We've teamed up with Tigr titanium bike locks for this Thanksgiving edition of our giveaway!