On Writing & Riding: A Few Spokes Shy of a Wheel

This week begins a new series of posts called “On Writing & Riding,” and is titled after Stephen King’s book “On Writing.”

On Writing & Riding features some of my favorite blogs about bicycling, and the upcoming interviews discuss various parts of the blogging and writing process, particularly as they relate to bike riding. 

Starting us off is John, who many of us in the #BikeDC community know better as Rootchopper! (exclamation mark optional). In this post, John shares some of his thoughts and observations about makes his blog, A Few Spokes Shy of a Wheel, go

John with his recumbent, Big Nellie. Photo by Charmaine Ruppolt
John with his recumbent, Big Nellie. Photo by Charmaine Ruppolt

1. If you were sending out a tweet summarizing your blog, what would it say?

I ride my bikes, mostly in DC. Come along for the ride. See sunrises, bald eagles, & monuments. And meet the wonderful people of #bikedc.

2. What prompted you to start your blog and why did you choose to write about bicycling?

Many years ago I posted some tour journals on Crazyguyonabike.com. The first one is called “A Fistful of Advil”.

I stopped touring but liked the writing process. Around the same time, I was exchanging emails about my bike commutes with my friend Charmaine who also used to bike commute from near my house to DC. We met on the 50 States Ride, by the way. She has a blog. She liked my tales and urged me to put them into a blog for others to read. And so I did.

3. How did you come up with your blog’s name?

It’s a play on a book title, A Few Bricks Shy of a Load. I think it was about the Pittsburgh Steelers. I hope it conveys that I try not to take my bicycling too seriously.

I would have used Meditations from the Breakdown Lane but someone beat me to it. It’s a book about ultramarathoning.

4. Who are you writing for? Do you have a particular audience in mind?

Me. Really. I love to write. I especially like when I write in circles. I start with an idea and the writing process takes me through some stories that lead me back to the start.

I like to think of my audience the way the sportscaster Jim McKay used to. He was broadcasting all kinds of weird events for Wide World of Sports and wondered, “How do I explain his caber toss to an American audience?” So he imagined the camera was his wife.

I imagine a friend is sitting across from me and we’re having coffee: You wouldn’t believe what I saw on my ride to work today. Two bald eagles in the Belle Haven nest. The sunlight was shining off their white heads. It made them look like they were lit from within.

Riding to work along the river sure beats being stuck in a traffic jam on the interstate.

Ride a Bike
Ride a Bike

5. What aspects of bicycling do you enjoy writing about?

A long time ago I ran marathons. I used to tell people that they are like being in a movie. There’s a cast and a plot and the strangest things happen along the way.

That’s what bicycling is to me. It’s the kids and old ladies selling cookies on the side of the road during Bike Virginia. It’s riding the 50 States Ride five or six times over the past decade and seeing a city blossom before my eyes. It’s seeing the people of Anacostia in their Sunday best going to the churches along MLK Jr. Boulevard.

And don’t get me started on the cast of characters that I ride with. What an amazing diverse and interesting group of people. (I hear that a few of them even have their own blogs!)

6. What are your favorite parts of being a blogger?

I get a real kick when I blog about an event and my readership spikes, probably from others in the event.

I also enjoy blogging about a ride that other bloggers are on. There’s a Roshamon aspect to it. Everyone’s perspective is different. To mangle metaphors a bit, we did the same ride but we each saw a different movie.

7. Was there anything about maintaining a blog that surprised you?

At my job I write reports that are heavy on economics and public policy. For my entire career, I have hated formal writing. It’s boring to write and read.

So one day at work I decided to write a short piece in the style of my blog. Everybody loved it. So I wrote another and another. I’ve written nine so far. They were originally intended for internal readers but, with some editing, some of them will be posted on the agency’s website soon. Of course, these pieces for work have an boring title, but I’ll take what I can get.

8. Do you have any favorite posts? What are they?

My favorite posts are probably the ones I wrote about the woes of Mrs. Rootchopper. First she had this thing called a thunderclap headache. Then she was run over by an SUV. Not that either event was something I liked!

I read the blog posts a year later and they knocked me out. I was angry and worried sick for her. And it came through in the writing. Funny, how none of them has a thing to do with cycling.

In terms of biking posts, I’d say my favorites are about the people that I really have grown to like a lot. Ironically, I actually started bicycling partly to get some time to myself.

Over the past ten years, I’ve met some wonderful people through bicycling. There’s an old saying, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” My experience is “Get a bike.”

Photo by Alex Baca
Get a bike and volunteer for WABA! Photo by Alex Baca

9. What tips do you have for someone who wants to start a blog?

There are some great writing tips on Crazyguyonabike.com. The gist of them is don’t dwell on the details of where you went.

Tell us what you saw, what you felt, what you heard. What moved you emotionally. Tell us about that silly thing your riding partner said that came back to haunt you or that little kid who saw you roll by and said with eyes as big as tennis balls, “Wow, cool bike!” Incidentally, your writing from Chasing Mailboxes nails it. And I love the barn pictures, too. (Editor’s note: Why thank you!)

Also, be mindful of the privacy of the people you write about. When your soft spoken riding partner turns into a cussing sailor, keep it to yourself. No mommy wants her kids to read that she called that ninja (i.e., a person dressed in black walking on a trail in the dark) a [expletive deleted].

On a related note, some people like to keep a firewall between their personal and professional lives. Usually you can sense this. So be respectful. If you have any doubt, ask them first if they mind being identified.

Last, you should give credit for any pictures or other material you include in your blog that was created by someone else.

10. What did I forget to ask you?

  • How did you get so good looking?
  • Where did you get those fashionable bike clothes?
  • Are minikeg abs a thing?


  1. I know I’m biased, but I really think this is a great post in so many ways– I love the “meta” aspect about what goes on behind the blog posts. (Like VH1: Behind the Music!) Excellent work, you two!


  2. Another wonderful idea well executed by MG! I’ve added the Few Spokes Shy blog to my regular list now. MG you really are the ‘hub’ of DC bicycling, at least our little corner!


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