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February 14, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
PooBah might not be the best cyclist in Columbia. He might not be the most well-known. But based on his website, with its prolific posts about the cycling community, he might be the most talkative. COMO CYCO, short for the Columbia Missouri Cycling Cooperative, consists of blog posts, news and advice for cyclists. The site is gaining momentum, but it started as an experiment that almost ended before it began.
Derek Fox is the man behind PooBah. He first fell in love with bike racing in 1989 when he attended the Little 500 bike race at Indiana University after watching Breaking Away, a film featuring the race, the night before at the student union.
“It (Breaking Away) is about growing up, being scared and coming to terms with the struggle between being yourself and inventing who you want to be,” he writes.
Being terrified and feeling like an outsider are two of the reasons PooBah decided to anonymously start the blog. Contributor Michelle Windmoeller acknowledges this fear. “It (cycling) can be really intimidating,” she says, “and if you don’t know people and you go and join a group, it’s hard to get involved.”
The blog started as an experiment to bring together cycling tribes divided by interest. Commuters ride bikes to school or work. Roadies have high-end bikes and equipment and cycle up to 20 hours a week.
There are also mountain bikers and triathletes, who the roadies make fun of by calling them “tri-geeks.” PooBah describes bike polo as the “antithesis”of the roadies. Instead of shaved legs and spandex, they are known for being heavily tattooed. Then there’s cyclocross, which is a mix of mountain and road biking.
Because PooBah wasn’t originally a member of a tribe, he wanted to use a pen name. He chose “PooBah” as a nod to The Flintstones, a show he enjoyed as a kid. In the classic cartoon, the PooBah is the leader of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, Lodge No. 26, of which Fred Flintstone was a member.
His blog ran for three years before taking its current form as a cycling website, which attracts cyclists seeking entertainment and advice. Windmoeller is a League Cycling Instructor, and she has written a seven-part series that ensures cyclists know their rights on the road. Contributors also write about national and international cycling issues.
Lance Armstrong’s doping confession has been a hot topic lately, and PooBah has a lot to say about the issue. “I am, in a word, riveted by this story,” he writes. “This is the pro-cycling equivalent of a fire-eating, bearded lady being shot out of a cannon on the back of a lion.”
PooBah’s signature snarky comments and self-deprecation are what make his site memorable. In response to a complaint about slow cyclists, he writes: “It’s probably my slow ass that you are waiting on every week. I happen to think I’ve got a nice ass, so I’d suggest you learn to like it too.”
Local bike shop employees agree that the site is funny, but the lack of contributors is a problem. Sarah Ashman from Walt’s Bike Shop thinks cyclists are unaware that the site is interactive. Nate Smith from Tryathletics wonders if the site is old news.
The site did not accomplish his goal of bringing together tribes, but PooBah says it informs cyclists and noncyclists about Columbia’s rich biking community and promotes a healthy and active lifestyle.
His original goal, however, is still on his mind. Now with much smoother legs, PooBah has come a long way from being an outsider labeled a Sasquatch for his hairy hamstrings. His passion keeps him going even though he might not always finish first.
“To this day, when I finish dead last in a race, I think back on how badly I wanted to try this sport out while watching the Little 500,” he writes on his blog. “And even though I’m a Cat 4 bottom feeder, I can’t help but get excited to feel part of it.”