NEO-based comic strip wins international following

Yehuda Moon was riding his bicycle on a secluded road in a snowstorm when someone he'd seen before pulled alongside, shouted, "Remember me?" and ran him into a ditch.

Months earlier, Yehuda and the same motorist had a confrontation over where bicycles belong. The driver yelled "Sidewalk!" Yehuda — a commuter, advocate and shopkeeper — responded by reaching in his open window, taking the car's keys and tossing them away.

"Sidewalk!" he yelled back.

Months later, the motorist's retaliatory assault landed Yehuda in a snowdrift. That was December 7. Then a plow came along and buried the cyclist and rider. He dug his way out a week later, one arm bleeding, either from the initial crash or from being scraped by the plow. He wandered — dazed and apparently in circles — for five days until, while digging a snow cave to stay warm, he dug up his bike. Things were beginning to look up.

Yehuda Moon is a comic-strip character, drawn by Shaker Heights resident Rick Smith. His strip, Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery (yehudamoon.com), unfolds multiple storylines in three or four panels per day. It revels in details of bicycle culture that resonate with the two-wheeled cognoscenti in a way that has won him fans from around the world.

"I haven't heard from anyone in Uzbekistan yet," says Smith in what sounds like a joke or at least hyperbole. But ISP reports show the truth of his next statement: "I've heard from people just about everywhere in the world where they've seen bicycles." Readers are concentrated in English-speaking countries, but no less than 89 nations are represented. He gets more than 10,000 unique visitors every week, with storylines exploring nuances of personality that distinguish commuters and other utilitarian cyclists from racers who ride for sport. As context, Smith has built a world in which market competitiveness between shops and the cyclist's battle for space on the streets are significant plot factors.

It's startling to learn that Smith has never been a bicycle mechanic. He did hang around Shaker Cycle, before the shop moved to Tremont. "It was your classic LBS," he says, using shorthand for local bicycle shop.

Yehuda Moon — a name he invented in high school, which stuck simply because he thought it was funny — is a bicycle mechanic who works at the fictitious Kickstand Cyclery. His character embodies the tweedy and idealistic side of bicycle culture: cycling for transportation and the joy of the ride. He appreciates the traditional ways; for him, bicycle technology reached its peak in the '70s. He probably wouldn't trust carbon fiber. He's an advocate of sharing the road. He's put white "ghost bikes" around the neighborhood to raise awareness of cyclists killed in collisions with cars. He's also placed "share a bike" bikes around town for people to use whenever they need a bike to get somewhere. He's not above taking traffic management into his own hands by painting his own bike lanes. With his beard and stature, he bears a striking resemblance to his creator.

Yehuda's partner at the Kickstand is Joe, a dedicated sport cyclist who loves speed and high-performance gear. He wears Lycra, checks his watch and crouches low over his handlebars. He loves new equipment and technical innovation not just for the way they help his ride, but also because they sell. Smith — who is no more a racer than he is a bicycle mechanic — says Joe is an amalgam of what he's learned through racers he knows and by reading about sport cyclists.

Other recurring characters include Sister Sprocket, a pipe-smoking, fixie-riding young woman from the nearby Shaker community who may or may not have the hots for Yehuda. She also may or may not be in league with a competing bike shop in their quest for an alloy called "unobtanium." Then there's Thistle, an African-American woman whose organizational skills won her a job at the Kickstand. Her business savvy helps Joe and Yehuda compete with the chain store that has opened across the street (with graphic and other similarities to a major real-world chain). Smith says he sees spikes in readership when Thistle has a role in the plotline.

That's an example of what Smith thinks makes the strip successful: For all its bike-geek glory, it's about much more than bikes and bike riders. "It's about small businesses competing with large, corporate chains," he says. "It's about capable, independent women. It's about taking the good with the bad."

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