Monday, June 18, 2018

new: 20 days of not biking

So this is my final year teaching at the day camp in the Kansas City area.
I gave my employer notice at the end of camp last year saying I was probably good for one more year of this, and then they needed to find and train my successor.
My employer didn't believe me (or thought he could talk me out of it), until he tripped over my Kansas Bike, boxed and ready to ship back to Portland.

When I came this time, I told him ahead of time I would not be riding to and from every day this year. Because of my health issues, my fatigue and the intense heat and humidity (tomorrow will be the first day the high is below 90F since I arrived), I knew that if I tried to ride every day I'd wipe myself out; and with many changes in the community I was serving, housing near the synagogue could not be guaranteed.

So here I am, not riding.
Even with a year's notice, my employer did not arrange housing for me until the day before I arrived, and, in a case of poor planning on his part, I was foisted off on two different hosts for a week each.
They've been lovely about it, and it's all okay -- my second host is especially nice, and has a ct for me to make googly-eyes at each morning and evening. (It's all fine, even if it feels like my visit this year may have been an afterthought to my employer. After six years it makes sense that on some level I might become taken a little for granted, and I'm a grownup so I can deal with it.)

And while I know my decision was the right one, and so far none of my hosts has minded picking me up or bringing me home, the fact is that not riding has been hard. I miss it, even for short distances; and being without a bike serves to remind me even more intensely how barren a wasteland the suburbs can be. This is especially true in Johnson County, KS, where voters refuse to allow KCMO transit to cross State Line Road for fear of bringing The Wrong Element (read: people of color) into their pristine, Stepfordian suburb.

I will miss the people here. They are lovely, sweet people and some have become cherished friends. But I will not, for one moment, miss the suburban landscape with its gated communities and oversized houses and manicured lawns that are maintained by someone other than the homeowner.
I will be very glad to return home a week from today, to our crappy little bungalow and my Sweetie's loving embrace. And the next day, I'll ride my bike again.

(Old photo, circa 2006: me on the Kogswell prototype behind the Citybikes Annex. Damn, that periwinkle was a pretty color.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

Off-Season Coffeeneuring: let's talk gear

Let's discuss coffeeneuring gear for a moment.
Below: my standard setup includes a Klean Kanteen vacuum insulated cup with a sip-thru lid, held securely in a Profile bottle cage on the seat tube.

Really, any double-walled stainless steel thermal cup will keep your coffee hot (or iced coffee cold) for a lot longer than the cafe's paper cup will. If you don't finish it there you can take it to go.

Or you can make some at home (summertime Pro Tip: freeze cooled-off leftover coffee in an ice cube tray for iced coffee; when it melts you won't water down the taste) and take it with you.

Either way, it means paper and plastic cups out of the landfill. Bonus: some shops will take a nickel or dime off the cost if you provide your own cup!

For step-through frames, Velo Orange offers a sturdy metal bracket so you can mount the cage on the handlebar.

I'm on a mission to make single-use cups unfashionable. Feel free to join me!

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But wait -- there's more.

So there's this guy who made a semi-career out of testing and reporting on every possible coffee cup, grinder and press, and then he put all the results of his copious research online.

If you really want to geek out, check out the outdated but still very informative and entertaining Bicycle Coffee Systems page:

And if that piques your interest, check out the sub-page about grinding and brewing coffee::

Obviously, Some of the items on these pages are no longer available for sale, but might be found used in thrift shops or on craigslist. Other items have since come into the market since this site was last updated (in 2013), so consider this a starting point for researching your own system for bicycling with coffee.

Pro tip: Many small camp stoves and thermal cups ARE to be found used at thrift shops -- or even in free boxes if those abound where you live. (I scored a thermal water bottle today from a free box near my house.) So if you're like me and you want to support the re-use economy, keep your eyes peeled!

Friday, June 1, 2018

mountain biking comes to the city: gateway green

Starting next week, I'll be working (musically) every single weekend through June 24. So tomorrow, I'm taking a Saturday off to enjoy some bikey fun. I'll be at the Gateway Green Mountain Bike Festival, a celebration of the first completed phase of trails at Gateway Green. I'll take Stompy out and do some careful test-riding on the singletrack (I have work to do next week!) and say hi to the bikey peeps.

If you're in Portland, come on out to Gateway Green tomorrow between 10am and 3pm. Trimet makes it easy: Take MAX to Gateway Transit Center and ride the bike path north about a mile. The entrance to the park is on your right.

(Although Oregon has no helmet law for those 16 and over, it's a good idea to wear one out there in the dirt. Plus there will be a bunch of kids out there and, well, set a good example and all that stuff, right?)

It's going to be nice, so bring sunscreen and shades. See you there!

Friday, May 25, 2018

the week in bikeyness

It's been a bikey time here at Rancho Beth.
Even as I now prepare for what will likely be my last year of that month-long teaching residency in Kansas, my mind is filled with thoughts about the shape of the planet, and the shape of my Self. I want to stay connected to the things that matter, like living lightly and leaving a smaller footprint. My muisic career has too often NOT been about that, and I've longed to find a better balance between that and the things that really espouse my environmental values.

Last week, I begin working half-shifts at Bikes For Humanity PDX, a non-profit enterprise based in Southeast Portland (basically, across town from where I live).
They'd placed a job listing with and, being short of money and having no gigs lined up for July or August, I answered it.
They called me in for a lovely interview, and offered me a part-time seasonal position as a mechanic -- paying me slightly more per hour than my final wage at Citybikes six years ago. Happily, they understand that this is a second job and they are quite willing to work around both my music gigs and my Shabbat observance.

They're lovely folks, especially my boss Andrew, the Program manager.
Here are some shots from the last couple weeks of turning a wrench regularly again.

(below: don't laugh. After some lube and adjusting, it still works just fine. In a non-profit shop you don't fix what's not broken.)

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 (below: a combination of over-tightening, riding it hard and probably leaving it out in the rain. Both cranks looked like this, and don't ask me about that bottom bracket. Tragic.)

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 My boss' bike, a vintage Bianchi city roadster complete with -- OMG! -- that chain guard!

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 So sexy. The very definition of bike porn.

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 B4HPDX is a donation-based non-profit that gathers bikes, refurbishes them and send them out into the world through sales, earn-a-bike programs for adults, and grants to clients of social service agencies. In addition to their Portland shop, they run a seasonal satellite location in downtown Gresham and repair booths at every Sunday Parkways. Nice buncha folks. And they really like having a pro mechanic on hand to crank out refurbished bikes for their programs. I've been averaging two a day in a 3.5-hour shift. It feels good to be useful.

And now the truth: There is no way I could do this work full-time anymore. My hands could not take 10-hour days at a repair stand, four or five days a week. So while I'm glad to be making a little money doing something I know how to do, I also know that it's not a forever thing. I'm glad to do it part-time. I'm promised more shifts when I come back in July, and perhaps I'll wrench for them into early September until about a week before High Holy Days. After that, I hope to have more music work again to get me through the winter.
But for now, it's a really nice thing all around.

Portland peeps!
If you have bikes and parts to spare, why not drop them off this summer at B4HPDX?
I'm suspending my refugee bike efforts for the summer, because I haven't gotten many bikes and, well, I need to earn a living. 
I'm inviting folks to donate to B4H
They'll do good stuff with your donations.
Thanks, and happy riding!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

back in the saddle, at least a little bit

I was offered a very part-time job cranking out donated bikes for resale at Bikes For Humanity PDX, a small non-profit that empowers low-income people through fixing and riding bicycles. It's part-time and seasonal, and mostly I'd be coming in off-hours to overhaul/tune up used bikes. Occasionally I'd also help teach volunteers how to do simple repairs.
it's a little money in my pocket, which I sorely need in the absence of any music gigs in July or August. And it's a way to keep my hand in it without having to deal with the high pressure of wrenching in a full-service shop.

Today was my first day. I felt welcomed and appreciated and it was lovely.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

the case for schrader valves

Let's just say that, for the time being, cars have won here in America. Gas stations dot the landscape; the truck transport lobby leans hard on state legislatures and often wins; freeways expand and on and on. This may change in the future when we actually, really run out of fossil fuels; but for now, this is how it is, okay?

Which leads me to when it makes sense to fight, and when it makes sense to adapt.

Let's start small.

Presta valves (L) are found exclusively on higher-end bicycle tires.
Schrader valves (R) are found on automotive tires and on many lower-end bicycle tires.

(Brooks valves? Move to Europe. Nothing to see here.)

Schrader valves can be filled with a floor pump, a frame pump or the air pump at the gas station.

Presta valves can be filled with a floor pump or a frame pump.

If you get a flat on the road and you're near a gas station, you can use their pump only if you have the requisite valve adapter.

This effectively turns your Presta valve into a Schrader valve so you can fill it with air at the gas station.

These little brass or alloy adapters are small and easy to lose.
Thankfully, they're made by the zillions.

You've heard that the nice thing, the kind thing, to do is to carry a spare tune in your bag so you can hand it to a cyclist in need out on the road. That's something lots of regular bicyclists do, and it is a nice thing. But because of racing trickle-down in marketing and everything else, nine times out of ten that spare tube the well-meaning rider hands you is going to be a skinny, Presta-valved tube -- which is useless if you don't have that little adapter.

And then there's the whole hole thing.
You know, when you want to change out a tube and your rim is drilled for Schrader but all you have a presta tube? Relax. there's an adapter for that, too.
In fact, there are several ways to adapt that big fat Schrader hole for your presta tube. All of them require more little bits that can be easily lost and which are made in the zillions of millions.

I keep a little supply of these bits on hand in my home workshop, so that when someone brings in a wheel that is perfectly good but the presta valve has wiggled so much it now has an unrepairable hole at the base, I can swap in an adapter along with the new tube. (Because front and rear valves can then match. It's a small thing, but it's nice to do.)

With Schrader valves, there's the valve, and a tool to take it apart so you can replace it's internal workings. The springs wear out, or the tiny pin-head wears down.
This is what you need for that.

One tool. And replacement cores, which you can still find on the internet because chances are your local [US] bike shop hasn't carried them in decades.

Although the Schrader valve is simple to use and to maintain, no one can be bothered to fix it anymore. It's easier to just toss it and swap in a whole new tube.
Easier, but not necessarily cheaper.

A broken valve core is made of metal and can be recycled. A tube that is beyond repair cannot be. (You know that, right? You know that tires and tubes can only be burned in some remote developing country where the smoke can't possibly come back to haunt us and it's their problem now, whatever. You know that, right?)

This is why I keep a supply of Schrader valve cores and that simple little tool on hand.

Because if the valve is the culprit, I can fix it without having to replace the whole tube.
The fact is, Schrader valves last longer and I don't have to replace that valve core all that often; whereas Presta valves can fail if you look at them funny and you have to carry around those little adapters for every situation.

Okay, I'm getting a little silly, but really doesn't it make sense to simplify things where you can?
That's why all of my bikes use Schrader valve tubes exclusively. Because they are, in fact, a little more sustainable. And I'll take my sustainability where I can find it these days.
Rubber side down, and happy riding!