Sunday, August 23, 2015

does improving streets really make a difference? perhaps not.

Over at BikePortland, there's a little debate about the value of repaving streets:

BikePortland's writers/editors seem in favor of it all around. However, the comments reveal an interesting divide, between those who want smooth streets at any price, and those who think that purposefully leaving some funk-and-chunk in Portland's roadways is actually a good idea.

I admit I share the latter viewpoint.

My bikes all have 26"/559 wheels. I no longer work a 9-to-5 job, so if I need to go somewhere I can leave as early as I like, take as long as I need and get there "on time", all without worrying about a few potholes in the road.

A regular commenter at BikePortland takes the argument even further. 9watts (who I HAVE to meet in person someday) suggests that our desire for convenience and comfort is taking us too far down a bad path:

"Cars are big, lumbering, fragile beasts that require wide roads, frequent gas stations, repair shops, a worldwide parts infrastructure, diagnostic computers, and gobs of money to keep running. Bikes, in principle and often in actuality, are light, cheap, simple, robust devices that need none of that.
Smooth asphalt has become a symbol, an entitlement, a metric of both local wealth and municipal priorities, and of the state’s ability to deliver the goods, an ideological litmus test of government. The choice between a smooth and a bumpy road is an easy one.

Just like high heeled shoes, some types of bikes have been designed around the assumption that smooth asphalt will be found everywhere. Similarly, the suit and tie became standardized as standard office wear the world over because air conditioning made it possible to wear climatically inappropriate clothing for eight or nine hours a day, year round. Fossil fuels enabled us to build infrastructure, buildings, and adopt habits that, we can now see, are tightly coupled. The fragility of these arrangements only appears when we discover that we can no longer, for reasons of money or physical limits, continue down these paths.

Smooth asphalt is fun, and I dodge the potholes as automatically as the next person, but one of these days this stance is going to seem outdated. Didn’t the head of Iowa’s DOT recently concede that the state could no longer afford to maintain their inventory of paved roads? That the time had come to put some of them back into gravel?"

In short, if we stop improving every pothole that comes along and compel people to alter their transportation choices as a result, is that a bad thing? Maybe not entirely.

Friday, August 7, 2015

on politics and living the smaller life (there IS bike content here)

The Election Distraction Season has begun.

Last night, many of my friends who had cable were glued to their TV sets, watching the first televised Republican debate.

There is so much wrong with this:

1. The debate was scheduled fifteen months before the election. That the powers-that-be need to distract us so far out from Election Day cannot be good.

2. TV time costs money. First rule of retail is that you've gotta spend money to make money. So televised debates are just another shade of retail. I did retail for decades. Any reminder that national politics is just another shade of retail -- with all its advertising, brand protection and product placement -- is basically what's wrong with electoral politics in this country.

3. The United States is too big to be governed effectively by one-dimensional cartoon characters. A country this large needs intelligent, educated, thoughtful people who aren't afraid of nuance and complexity to roll up their sleeves and get down to work. And more importantly, our country needs its citizens to be just as educated and thoughtful. But our mass media discourages that, and so do all the corporate interests with their hands in the political pie. The last thing those interests want is an informed electorate! And, for me at least, that explains the decades of dumbing-down and under-funding of public education. A shallow electorate equals a less-educated, more malleable workforce. Even if they want to question the dominant paradigm, they won't be in a position to do much to change it at the national level.

Here are my solutions to living in a messy, angry, too-big country filled with inequality, mass manipulation and political malaise. They won't fix the world entire, they may not work for everyone else, but they will help me stay sane and live a halfway decent life:

1. Live simply. Live on as little money as possible. Create a life where you can wear your clothes till they wear out; grow at least some of your own food and eat lower on the food chain if possible.
Barter and/or work for cash under the table. Scavenge, dumpster-dive, organize the things you need and learn to love cinder-block book shelves. Borrow books from the library; bring your own containers to the store and shop only when you actually need something. Learn to wean yourself from shopping-as-recreation!

2. Move closer to everything that matters -- work, school, friends and family -- and avoid driving your car when possible. If you can go car-free, do it! Walk, bike, take public transit everywhere.

3. Develop a career where you can be your own boss, or work collaboratively with others in a non-hierarchical system. Use the extra hours you don't need to live on to spend more time with family and friends, to volunteer in the community, to contemplate deep things that matter, to play, to create art and music, to dream. These things are not a waste of time! They are a loving, wise USE of the limited time we've been given on this earth.

4. Take the time to get to know your neighbors. Share recipies, tools, extra tomatoes from the garden, maybe even pet care or child care if you grow comfortable enough with that. Throw a block party together. Celebrate what's beautiful about your neighborhood and build a community of goodwill where you live. Throw a bike ride or a picnic at the local park and invite your neighbors. Create and nurture community.

5. Stop living with a suitcase behind the door, both literally and figuratively.
Life is here and now. LIVE it here and now.

6. Live locally first! Go to a neighborhood association meeting. Volunteer at a neighborhood clean-up day. Attend a town council meeting and learn how local government works. If you want to get involved in politics, do it at the local level first. That's where your vote and involvement has the greatest and most immediate impact.

7. Learn how to fix your own stuff -- a washing machine, a flat tire, a toilet. Knowing how to fix your stuff gives you greater ownership of it, and greater control over your life. 

8. The philosopher and activist Ivan Illich taught that life lived at a speed faster than a horse-drawn carriage, or a bicycle -- roughly, between 10 and 12 miles an hour -- is a life that drains people of their time and energy. So slow down. Ride your bike. Walk. Really notice your surroundings and the people around you, and learn from them. Sometimes the most radical thing you can do is to slow down, or even sit still for a little while.

I'm not suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand! Far from it. We live in a larger world. But we don't really have tons of power or influence to change the world entire. All we can do is pick a piece of it that matters most to us and direct our energy and goodwill there. Stop beating yourself up because you can't save the world, or change the national political mess. Instead, use your powers to create the most good where you can. For me, that's in my community.  There are many ways to define community. Figure out your definition, and go with it.

Life is short. Savor it.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

ride anyway.

This morning, I woke up feeling groggy. I sat up and immediately felt dizzy.
Which was annoying, because I had signed up to work a volunteer shift as a roving mechanic for Sunday Parkways. I did not want or need to be dizzy.
So I took a shower, dressed, ate some breakfast and felt the waves of dizziness come and go. I convinced myself that, once I started riding, being outside in the cool morning air would help clear the dizziness away. I would ride anyway and things would get better.
And, by and large, they mostly did. I enjoyed a slow loop around the Parkways NE route, and was surprised to be asked for help only once my entire shift. Still, it was cool and cloudy and very pleasant to ride around, and occasionally bump into friends along the route. I brought a camera but in the end opted not to take photos. It felt better when I was on the bike and moving, so I did that for a couple of hours, enjoying riding down narrow, tree-lined residential streets I might not otherwise explore but for the route.And mostly the dizziness was kept at bay and I had a lovely ride.
But the dizziness has a connection to my cycles of peri-menopause and to my depression. So it was no surprise that, along with the dizziness, I also felt emotionally a little out of sorts all day. And physically, quite tired -- even though I'd gotten a decent night's sleep last night.
So I bailed about half an hour early from my shift, ate some lunch and went home, where I went straight to bed and slept hard for a couple of hours.
When I awoke, I felt groggy and out of sorts physically and emotionally. I knew that it would be useless for me to try and get any musical work done, so I just sort of sat around and did very little. I was not feeling panicky -- that's been a good outcome of the treatment I've been seeking for depression -- but I was highly aware that my emotions were not in a great place. I could feel the downward slope of my mood as it happened. By dinner time, I was ready for another nap. But I styaed up, ate a little something, and chatted with a friend electronically for awhile.
Now, at the end of my day, I can feel the dizziness returning, and I know that if I go to bed now I will probably sleep through the night.

This isn't something where I feel like I need to call the doctor and ask for treatment to block or bury these symptoms. I've come to understand that it's all of a piece, peri-menopause and depression and all the related chemical changes that I experience with hormonal shifts. It's not something to try and avoid. It's something that just happens. And really, there isn't a whole lot else to do but be aware of it when it does, and hope that I'm in a good place to allow myself to sit with it until it passes. Today, I was in a good place. I was able to ride my bicycle for a few hours, and then I was able to come home and rest. So although it was not my most productive day, it wasn't a total loss, either.
I got to ride my bicycle.
And I got to come home to my Sweetie.
And now I'm ready for bed.
Hopefully things will be a little easier tomorrow.
That I am able to entertain hope is a good thing.
Plus, I get to ride my bicycle again.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Could not knowing lead to not caring? Maybe. Maybe not.

In today's VeloNews coverage of the Tour de France, now just a week away from its finish in Paris, VN Editor John Bradley writes an interesting, if somewhat depressing, analysis of his love affair with bicycle racing in the wake of nearly two decades of doping scandals. Is it possible, he asks, to love a sport that probably cannot be truly clean? Is it enough to love the sport because it leaders are trying to clean it up? When a rider performs unbelievably, consistently well, we now suspect that performance-enhancing drugs may play a role. Bradley suggests that, given racing's more recent history, it's impossible not to be suspicious. But the truth, he guesses, is that we'll never really know if someone at the elite level of racing is doping or not.

I think there's something beautiful about the sport of bicycle racing. The speed, the technique, the strange and storied groupthink that passes for etiquette in the peloton and which occurs in no other sport (when a opposing player falls down in football, you don't wait for him to get back up, you run over or around him. And if you're his teammate, you don't stop and help him to his feet again. You run over or around him, too, and finish the play).  Perhaps that odd sense of "gentlemanliness" has contributed to the tension around doping and testing and how much we can take a racer's word for it when he says he's racing clean.

But how, then, to explain the recent hacking into a team's performance records to look for proof against their star rider? How to justify that same rider getting splashed in the face with a cup of urine from an angry fan? Neither is justifiable, but both are understandable, especially for fans of a certain age and older. If you cheered on Greg LeMond in the 80's, you'll take a different view of doping than someone who was a kid when the Festina or Puerto scandals erupted. The younger fans grew up watching racing under a different set of social mores. People cheat. Sometimes they get caught, sometimes they don't. That's racing, because that's life. In short, younger fans of racing seem to accept the rules of life more readily than someone in my generation might. Because if you're over 45, you remember a time when cheating was actually a real scandal, a source of shame.

Today, it's not such a big deal. Today's fans accept an ambiguity that I still have a hard time wrapping my head around, in sports and in life. I grew up thinking that if you worked hard and played by the rules you might get ahead. That's simply not true anymore. The difference is that young adults today grew up with that mindset, while I had it shoved down my throat in a series of rude awakenings between 1981 and, oh, 1998.

So forgive me if I don't follow the Tour more closely.

I still love bicycle racing, the form, the beauty, the suffering (yes, in racing, even the suffering is beautiful, and I can say that as both a spectator and a former racer). But the politics and the drugs and the ever-growing mountains of money involved -- all of which are tacitly supported by the sport's international governing body, the sponsors and race promoters who stand to profit -- turn me off. It is nearly impossible for me to watch a racer in the Tour and NOT wonder what he's using to enhance his performance. Mere mortals cannot ride for 20 kilometers up a 12 % grade without going into cardiac arrest. The only way a racer becomes so invincible is to take drugs. Younger fans may read this, and shrug, and not really care. But I can't NOT care. Because once upon a time, the sport was beautiful. Today it's as sullied and corrupt and lacking in integrity as damned near everything else in the world. And I can't help but feel sad about it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

on overhauls

I am in the process of overhauling the All-Rounder.

Overhauling a bike basically maneas that, in addition to thoroughly cleaning every inch of the bike -- frame, rims, components -- and lubing and adjuting the brakes and gears, and replacing parts that are worn (like the brake pads or chain), you also open up any bearing surfaces (headset, hubs, bottom bracket) and service the bearings.
If the bearings are loose-ball, this means taking everything apart, replacing the bearings if they're starting to look at all pitted or worn, and cleaning and re-greasing everything before reassembling it. 
If the bearings are sealed, then it may mean either replacing them with new sealed bearings or, if they are of a certain brand and vintage, sending the part back to the manufacturer for this service. In the case of Phil Wood, their first-generation hubs require that you send them back for servicing. Newer Phil hubs can be serviced by your local shop (or by you, if you have the tools).

Overhauling loose ball bearings is a dirty job. Some shops won't bother doing it anymore, especially loose-ball bottom brackets. They'll strongly urge you to replace that loose-ball BB with a cartridge model. Cartridge models, even cheap ones, have gotten better; and one should last you at least eight to ten thousand miles if you don't totally abuse your bicycle. I don't mind overhauling loose bearings, simply because I know how and don't mind the grease and filth. So I set about overhauling the A-R.

(Below: replacing loose ball bearings in a headset -- NOT mine, an old photo from work)

After I built up the Bridgestone as a city bike, I felt far less urgency about getting the A-R overhauled, and so I've taken my time. One night I did the headset and cleaned up the front half of the frame. The Ultegra headset that came with this frame almost eight years ago (and which I overhauled right around that time) showed traces of bright red grease at the edges of the dirty gray grease, a good sign of both the seals and the quality of the grease. I pulled it apart, cleaned it thoroughly and examined the cups and bearings. Other than one tiny gouge in the metal at the edge of the bottom cup, everything still looked fine. I added fresh grease and reassembled it.

Another afternoon I did the drive-train, removing and cleaning it, and hanging the parts up to dry in the sun. I've been using up the El-Duke degreaser, which I purchased in a gallon jug when the guy was still trying to make it a going concern on a larger scale.  I'm down to about a third of what I started out with, and since then the guy has turned his business into a very small-scale cottage affair, selling small batches only through Rivendell Bicycle Works. Still, the stuff is amazing because it's plant-based, biodegradable and so safe you don't need to wear gloves when you clean parts with it. Some soaking time and a bit of elbow grease will remove most grit and grime from even the filthies metal components.

While the drive train parts were drying I cleaned up and examined the rear wheel. I built these wheels when I got the frameset, ordering hubs from Phil Wood on my shop discount and selecting some good, basic Sun CR-18 rims to lace them into. Since then I've replaced the rear rim once already. Examining it, I took a close look at the ridges caused by the brakes pads (and occasionally, by grit caught in the brake pads). I decided the rims still had enough life in them to get me through at least the rest of this year. I'll rebuild the rear wheel before the spring.

Tonight, I examined the original parts closely. The chainrings are worn down enough that they're starting to curve offset, like cartoon ocean waves. I'd been sitting on a Sugino crankset with triple chainrings for several years, and decided to go ahead and use it on the A-R. But I'll need to get a bottom bracket cartridge with a shorter spindle.

(Below: Chainline is sort of catty-whumpus/crooked, twisting the chain at extreme angles. It can and should be better.)

(Below: Innermost chainring too far out from chainstay. Should be no more than 3-5mm.)

I'll have to scout around for the next spindle size shorter, and that should fix the issue. It will also let me remove the spacers I put behind the freewheel, which only helped the problem a little bit (but not enough). Tomorrow on my errands I'll see what I can find.

I hope to have the A-R rebuilt and ready to ride before the end of next week. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the Bridgestone as a city bike, and will probably ride it next weekend at Sunday Parkways-NE.
It's summer, and I no longer work in a shop, and that means I have the time to actually give my own bike some loving care. It's a welcome change. While I am very glad to know how to do all my own work, I am also glad I don't have to do it forty to fifty hours a week anymore. That said, I am still glad to be of help for friends and family, just as a way to keep my hand in it. I still love the machinery and always will.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

for you a rose in portland grows

Wednesday evening neighborhood spin around Peninsula Park Rose Garden.

I've been enjoying the BStone since swapping in a seatpost with some setback and installing my old Brooks Flyer (originally from my cargo bike). The riding position is just about perfect now. And since swapping flat pedals on my Rivvy a couple months back I can honestly say I'm considering letting go of toeclips altogether. Even in the rain (I can always use a shoe cover).

Overlook area, near sunset.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Since I stopped tracking miles, I enjoy riding more

That's pretty much it.

I felt a little fidgety the first day or so, and then I stopped caring.
Just like that, three things happened:
1. I enjoyed my rides more.
2. I think i'm riding a little slower and that is totally okay.
3. I am preparing to toss a bunch of cyclometers up on CL to sell.

The refurbished Bridgestone has been amazing to ride. I did get a seatpost with a little setback and I think that will really dial things in; but otherwise it's all there. Loving it.
Tonight I'm towing my guitar to a rehearsal with the trailer. And though it will be blazing hot, with highs today near 100F, I don't care. The key to riding slower and enjoying it is to leave the house a little earlier. So simple. So pleasant.

Wherever your rides take you this weekend, have fun getting there!