Monday, August 14, 2017

one-off Torah ark (crosspost from

I love the mystery of ritual as much as anyone else. I think that, given the choice between reading aloud from a Torah scroll or from a bound book, I'd rather read from the scroll. But as an Off-The-Grid specialist, I don't have access to a kosher scroll, either (and in fact, some rabbis are not super-thrilled with my dedication to facilitating Off-The-Grid celebrations for unaffiliated Jewish families, but that's another blog post).
This summer, the unaffiliated family of a B'nei Mitzvah student offered to purchase a non-kosher scroll, printed on heavy paper and glued to wooden poles so that their child would have a scroll to read from -- and then, in exchange for a few of the lessons, to give me the scroll to keep for use with future students.
I was deeply moved by this offer and accepted it humbly.
Then, I set about making a proper ark for my scroll. Because even a non-kosher scroll deserves to have a place of honor. The story is still kosher, right?

So here's what I came up with. it's made from assorted car and bicycle license plates, an abandoned wooden planter box, hinges and other hardware that came from my shed or from a local house parts recycler, and some paint that was left over from my time at the bike shop. It took some figuring out, and some modifying when I realized too late that the box wouldn't quite fit the scroll (I too one end apart, rebuilt it and added a "roof" made from a license plate). But in the end, it makes a fine, and a wonderfully whimsical, "SO Portland" home for my little Torah scroll. I couldn't have asked for it to turn out any better. And I am grateful to the family whose bright idea inspired me to make it.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

why don't more people learn to fix their stuff?

One of the beautiful things about getting everywhere by bicycle is that the technology is so elegantly simple that most minor repairs -- flat fixes, brake and derailleur adjustments -- can be done at roadside in minutes.
It's very satisfying to be able to fix a flat, hop back on and resume riding.
And if you were to pay a shop to fix a flat, they'd charge you between 8 and 12 bucks for parts and labor.
So why don't more people learn to deal with the small stuff themselves?

We've arrived at a point in the history of consumerism where more people would rather pay someone else to fix their stuff than to learn how to fix it themselves.
Now, I don't think it's wise to try and fix everything yourself, especially if you're inexperienced; I tend not to attempt to deal with my home's wiring, for example.
But so many of the things we own can be repaired at home for far less money than we'd spend to pay someone else to do it.
Bicycles are perfect example of this.

Once upon a time, lots of people were quite willing to fix their own stuff. Because fifty, sixty years ago, more of us had to. We didn't live near a repair shop or we simply didn't have the money to pay someone else. And thrift was considered a far greater virtue than it is today.

The problem with not fixing your stuff is that if you don't learn how to fix it, you don't fully own it.
People used to own their cars more, back when pulling the dashboard and rewiring the ignition switch was easier. Hell, I learned how to hotwire a car when I was seventeen. It wasn't hard once someone showed you how the system worked.
Today, most car dashboards have computers underneath. And hardly anyone works on their newer cars at home because of those computers.

Thankfully, most bicycles have yet to become so computerized. And older bikes abound, on craigslist and at yard sales. So why not learn how to do the basic stuff at home?
Fixing your own flat will save you $8-12.
Adjusting your own gears or brakes will save you $10-15.
And wiping down your bike's drivetrain every 2 weeks (once a month in the summer) and applying a light coating of oil when the chain runs dry will save you a lot of money on replacement parts, because you won't have to replace them quite as often if you do simple maintenance like this.

Depending on where you live, many bike shops offer basic maintenance classes. Some offer open wrenching nights where you can come in a rent their tools for cheap and work on your bike under the helpful eye of a shop mechanic. And if your local shop doesn't offer this, there are lots of good books and Youtube tutorials to help you get started. Here's a few:

Everybody's Bike Book by Tom Cuthbertson. One of the oldest and still one of the best for basic things like flat fixes, brake adjustments and the like.
The Park Tool Big Book of Bicycle Repair. Available at shops or on eBay. Covers the newer stuff including V-brakes and disc brakes, if you're so inclined. Lots of helpful photos along with concise instructions.
Park Tool and hundreds of others have posted videos on how to do all sorts of bike repairs.
Here's a basic idea of how to fix a flat, by the folks at Park Tool.

If you live in the city, you don't need to bring along more than a small pump, spare inner tube, patch kit and whatever tools you need to remove wheels and/or make very minor adjustments on brakes or gears. The whole thing will fit in a small pouch you can strap onto the underside of your saddle (and easily remove when you go indoors, to avoid theft).

 My basic repair kit, wrapped in a cloth roll and small enough to fit in a pocket of my saddlebag.

Below: Homemade patch kit, including homemade patches (from recycled inner tube squares and tin foil), levers and sandpaper, and tube of glue (sold separately at shops). It all fits in a repurposed cough drop tin.
Yes, your hands will get dirty. And you can wash them with soap and water. Really, it's not a big deal.
Own your stuff. Fix your stuff. And save some money.

Happy riding!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

refugee bike update: august 2017

Now that my music crowdfunder is complete and I am recovering from a throat infection, I'm beginning to tackle the few bikes that were waiting for me since I got home from kansas a month ago.
This one was a donation from the fellas at Velo Cult. Originally a city bike with 120mm spacing in back and a Nexus-8 rear hub, When I got it it was running on replacement wheels of different sizes and nothing worked.
After a lots of modifications, including converting the bike to a 1 x 7 (and spreading the frame to take a 135-spaced rear hub), the bike is now ridable. The integrated headset is a mess and if I open it up and it falls totally apart I'm stuck with a bike I cannot afford to deal with. For the time being, I've decided to go with a slightly-too-tight adjustment to get rid of most of the front brake judder, pour in some Phil's and hope it will be okay for now.

I really cannot stand integrated headsets for basic city bikes. They're a dumb idea. Perhaps the previous owner thought so, too and that's why this became a donor bike for my project. Anyway, it's safe to ride at this point and that means someone gets a bike who didn't have one before.

I am sometimes forced to make compromises like that.

Right now in the stand I have a very tall Peugeot road bike from the 1970s, with original Simplex shifters and derailleurs that work astonishingly fine. I left them on, swapped in some upright handlebars and added a rear rack. I need to go to Bike Farm tomorrow and find a cheap used seatpost to fit the frame and a cheap used front tire, and it's basically all done.

After that, I have two other bikes, both rusty mountain bikes from the late 80s/early 90s. One is so rusty that I may need to strip and rattle-can it -- and I don't know if I want to take the time to do that with all my music commitments coming up in late summer/early fall -- but my other option is to strip the parts for another frame. Gonna sit on this one awhile, I think.
The other bike isn't quite as rusty and needs a few replacement parts, and I will probably try to whip that one into shape when the Peugeot is done.

This week we're expecting a serious heat wave in Portland, with temps today through Friday eaching into the 100s. Sweetie and I will be doing whatever we can in the early morning hours before its gets too hot; and later we'll seek out a city water fountain or a cheap movie with air conditioning. My riding will be minimal, if I do any at all. Not a safe time to ride a bike if you have issues with extreme heat, as I do.

Hopefully it's cooler where you are -- happy riding!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

jumping the shark: off-season coffeeneurring ride

Yesterday, I felt weel enough and thought I had gotten over the worst of my sinus/throat infection that I decided to go for a little ride across town. I stopped off at the urgent care to get a prescription, then rode over to Rivelo and chatted with John for a little while. By the time I left Rivelo I was surprised to find I wasn't feeling so great, and I had to catch the MAX light rail most of the way home.
Today I am stuck at home, coughing up stuff and my throat mostly on fire, drinking enough water and tea to make my back teeth float. But I still had a pretty nice ride, and was glad to have done it before the heat wave that's due to arrive tomorrow and last all week.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Ride report: sunday parkways 10th anniversary: NE Portland

Yesterday, I pulled on my t-shirt and ID badge and took part in my tenth season of Portland Sunday Parkways, as a Roving Mechanic.
Here's my first Parkways, back in 2008:

Back in the day, I hauled a fair amount of tools and parts in a cargo bike, before there were fully-equipped bike repair stations at every park and a couple of the loops were almost ten miles long. These days, I don't need to carry quite so much, or use a cargo bike; though I still insist on packing a good assortment of tools, some spare tub es and a floor pump.

It was a nice day for a ride. The morning shift meant cooling breezes and lighter traffic during the first hour or so, allowing me to take my time and enjoy the scenery. I had three repairs during my 2.5 hour shift, including two flat fixes and a fit adjustment. Easy stuff, but it allowed me to get folks back on their bikes quickly and that's what counts. I LOVE doing these rides every summer.

Scenes from this year's 10th anniversary edition of Parkways Northeast:

(Yes, a Block Party. Courtesy of PBOT.)

(Cargo bike and trailer, bringin the party to where you are.)

(Keeping the customer satisfied. Nice young man riding a slightly too-large bike. I adjusted the saddle and tilted the bars down towards him a little so he could enjoy his very first Parkways. I ran into him and his family a few times along the route after that and they were having a grand time. Reminder to self - pack a small adjustable wrench next time so you don't have to resort to using a cone wrench on a 14mm bolt.)

It was so fun, I've signed up to do the next one on August 20th (Outer NE).
Sunday Parkways needs thousands of volunteers every summer to help make it happen!
Volunteers get a free t-shirt, water and snacks, and a fun time!
Sign up and join me!Happy riding!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday extra: Kansas bike no more

After hemming and hawing, and having difficulty finding a buyer in the Overland park area, I had to decide quickly whether to donate the Kansas bike, or ship it back to Portland.
This summer marked my last Incredible June where I would stay for nearly a whole month.
Next year, assuming the camp happens again, I've told my employers that I would only be available for a day of staff week and the two weeks of camp. I simply cannot be away from home a whole month anymore.

So in the end, I decided to ship the bike home. I figured that if it rode well enough after a light tuneup, then the seatpost height would make it fairly adjustable for a range of rider sizes and give us a guest bike to keep on hand. Tuning it up meant lubing the bearings, truing the wheel that got bumped in shipping, and adding a more permanent front fender cobbled together from parts (thanks, Bike Farm!).

The gearing is a little high for Portland's hills but I'm not going to invest too heavily in changing it before next spring. For now, it rides just fine. And now it's the Guest Bike.

 Zip-ties make bicycle add-ons easy and secure enough for city riding. The fender came from Bike Farm; the stay was pulled from a found metal fender that fits nothing. I may add a mudflap later.
This canvas saddle pouch came from a swap meet several years ago. It had been badly worn by tire rub on a saddle that was too close to the rear wheel. I patched the hole with a tire patch, conditioned the leather trim and let it be. Works fine.

The cockpit (below) includes a Misfit Psycles upright handlebar that works great with the bike's original stem. Very comfortable riding position. And of course, no city bike is complete without a way to carry coffee.

I HAD to swap in some better pedals; the ones I'd ridden on for the past four trips were already in bad shape and were wearing out. So I found these lovelies and decided they'd be a nice upgrade.

Add to that a Carradice "Overlander" pannier and a Bike Bucket on the other side, and now it's a totally fine, practical, comfortable bike for getting around the city, and just down-at-heel enough to be less attractive to a thief.

It's getting harder to find older mountain bikes to set up this way. Even cheaper brands found at big-box stores, like Motiv and Sherpa, now sell on eBay and Craigslist for between $75 and $150, USED. So this entry-level bike is actually something of a find.
Let's hope that things improve as folks decide that bikes are simply bikes, and not (shudder) investments. Ugh.
Cheers --

Finally, officially home: ride report

Yesterday I finally found the energy to take a little bike ride. While hills still take my breath away (combination of fatigue and less riding) it felt good to get out and spin my cranks. And it felt good to finally feel like I was truly home. (Ahhhh.)

Photos from a meander through NE Portland:
Left: A dietary suggestion, courtesy of the local mom-n-pop store.
Stamina. Cracks me up.
I mean, I like an occasional corn dog, but I don't depend on it for anything nutritional.

Transit in Portland is some of the best in the country.
And a relief to come home to after a month in Johnson County, Kansas -- which has basically NO real public transit at all. (Don't ask me why, unless you want to go deep into a discussion about racism in transportation planning...)

 Below: Newspaper box sticker art. Sadly, both are true.
Left: After depositing a check at my Credit Union, a stop at one of my favorite bikey hangouts. Non-profit bike repair space with VERY friendly staff! If you're in Portland, support the Bike Farm with donations of usable bicycles and parts, or a store purchase, or an annual membership that lets you use their workbenches and tools to fix your bike. I LOVE the Bike Farm!

Below: last stop -- Community Supported Everything's Free Closet. This was a good day to find free clothes, not so much for households and bike parts.
I am planning a day at home today to putter and get back into fixing up bikes for refugees.
If there's time I may take in another ride later on.
And if you're in Portland and have an old adult-sized bike you no longer need, let me know. I can always use more bikes for my project.
Thanks, and happy riding!