Friday, January 28, 2011


As I prepare to transition from the Buyer's desk back to a mechanic's bench next fall, I recognize that, after almost four years away from daily use, my wrenching skills have not only been slightly asleep -- they're also a tad out of date. While I've been wrestling with catalogs and building relationships with wholesale reps, the bikes coming into the shop have evolved slightly. We see fewer British three-speeds and more modern lightweights with aluminum and carbon fiber bits.

So here's my to-do list over the next several months:

1. I bought myself an affordable torque wrench and am acquainting myself with how it works. Torque wrenches are absolutely required for modern lightweights. Gone are the days when mechanics could simply develop "feel" for how tight was tight enough on a bolt or nut [before stripping the threads]. Today's nuts and bolts come with their Newton meter measurements inscribed on them, which makes using the torque wrench a relatively straightforward thing. Still, it's good to practice and get a feel for this new way of wrenching.

(Those familiar with my skepticism about carbon-fiber will wonder why I've begun to care about working on it. The truth is that carbon fiber parts are showing up on ever more-affordable bicycles; and eventually they will become more commonplace for even the most entry-level of road cyclists. So whether I "believe" in carbon-fiber or not, it's a more commonplace reality now and it's important for me to wrap my head around it more thoroughly. Longtime readers should be assured that I still feel a healthy skepticism about the value of carbon-fiber parts on a non-racing, transportational bike, but as a front-line shop rat I will always have little to no influence over bike manufacturers in this regard. Bike manufacturers don't always take their cue from the real world when designing new bicycles.)

2. Today's nicer bikes are all coming with external bottom brackets and hollow-spindle crank sets. I've gained some experience with these on my own since choosing to install such a system on Stompy -- this upgrade alone [from square-taper bottom bracket and cranks] reduced Stompy's weight by well over two full pounds! -- but it never hurts to find opportunities to see the subtle differences between various makes and models. Plus, it's another chance to play with my new torque wrench.

3. Disc brakes are showing up on more bikes than I care to count. Like it or not they are the new reality for a lot of riders, and that means another new technology for me to learn more about. None of my bikes, of course, has disc brakes; but opportunities to satisfy my curiosity about The New Technology abound.

In a recent move, I've negotiated a trade with some very friendly mechanics at another, much newer shop that specializes in higher-end bikes: They will teach me about disc brakes and I will teach them how to overhaul old British three-speeds. They just got one in the shop as a winter overhaul, and have no idea how to get inside the rear hub. So next week, I'm going to bring my 4th edition of the Sutherland's manual and walk them through the process. The following week or two later, when another disc brake job comes in their shop, they will walk me through bleeding and re-setting hydraulic disc brakes. It should be very interesting.

Over coffee yesterday with a friend who worked in the bike industry until recently, we talked about changes in the industry and whether or not we felt we had a future in a rapidly-changing technological landscape. My friend, having been somewhat burned by his most recent bike shop employer and having logged nearly 15 years in bike shops, wasn't sure he wanted to focus on finding another job in the bike industry right away. I, on the other hand, knew that I would want to continue in the bike industry, and that my desire to return to wrenching again was fueled in large part by a curiosity about what's appeared on the horizon since the last time I wrenched daily. I admitted to my friend that some of that curiosity was natural, and the rest was something I'd worked to cultivate -- nurturing a larger sense of openness and receptivity about me as I venture into areas of the bicycle scene that formerly felt closed to me (like racing, for instance -- who would ever have guessed that I'd squeeze myself into a Lycra suit and kill myself on a short-track course at this point in my life?). I reminded my friend that many years earlier, when he'd gone on a meditation thing where he spent an hour a morning meditating, he told me the importance of maintaining what he called "Beginner's Mind". I was applying that same approach to bicycles and hoped it would expand my knowledge.

I'm no longer the six-year-old who opened the back of her mother's Big Ben alarm clock with a screwdriver to see how it worked -- and proceeded to quietly and systematically remove and examine every single piece of the clock before realizing I could not put it all back together again -- but that six-year-old guides and encourages my curiosity today. I hope she will always accompany me on my bicycle adventures because she makes the trip more interesting -- and fun.

Friday, January 21, 2011

self-lighting: generator systems

Since I work at a shop that's known for espousing these lighting systems, one would wonder why I haven't used generators until now. I did use a generator on my bike in high school and college, but it was a side-mount "bottle" generator -- lower-quality, prone to shorting out in the Oregon rain and having what I always felt was excessive drag on the wheel. So when the thing finally died in my freshman year of college, I ripped it from the bike, installed battery-powered lights and called it done. In recent years I'd switched to rechargeable batteries but still wondered about the generator option. With my decision to hand off the buyer's reins and return to wrenching next fall I've begun to gather tools and knowledge in various area where I feel my know-how is lacking. So I pestered co-worker Nate into teaching an internal class on generator systems, and in advance of the class I installed one of the generator wheels from a recently de-commissioned rental bike.

There are fits and starts and unexplainable moments where the headlight stops working, but overall the result has been pretty good. Since this is a learning tool for me, I will struggle and putter and fidget with the system until it feels dialed in. Last night the headlight went out without warning, for nearly a mile, and then just as suddenly turned back on. I have no idea why. I will do some reading over the weekend and see what I come up with. The headlight I originally chose may have to be replaced with a more compatible model.

One issue that came up was how exposed my taillight would be, affixed to the rear fender too far from the rack to be sheltered. I decided a bashguard was in order, and made one from a broken Master "cuff" lock bracket. It's not nearly as funky-looking as I'd feared, and looks like it will do the trick.



It's been nice to putter on my bike again, and I plan to make time for this on a weekly basis before stepping into the mechanic's role next fall.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


(Thanks to the nice fellas at Portland Design Works for turning me onto this one. Too adorable.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

on urban development and bicycle transportation

This just in:

On the one hand, I suppose a new brewpub in the neighborhood might be nice. On the other hand it's happening in a part of town that has seen wildfire-fast development, and where rising home values and property taxes have been pushing out longtime residents who once moved into NE Portland because they couldn't afford to live anywhere else.

One of the byproducts of urban development in inner North and Northeast Portland has been the change in the relative age and color of the demographic landscape.

Forty and fifty years ago, black families bought homes here in inner N/NE Portland because they weren't being shown properties in any other part of town, or because they couldn't get home loans for properties anywhere else. This was part of a gentlemens' agreement among local realtors who engaged in a variation of the practice known as "redlining". Black families were clustered together into three or four zip codes because it was easier to then sell properties elsewhere to white families without the attendant worry that a black family might move into those other neighborhoods -- and thereby bring everyone's property values down. Another form of redlining happened when black families would opt to rent housing in cheaper neighborhoods because they couldn't buy a house anywhere. That it was institutional racism didn't seem to upset the housing industry -- or state and local government -- at the time.

At the height of this part of the urban development cycle, Portland's black families, while still constituting a small minority in an otherwise pretty white town, built a community complete with restaurants, small shops and churches. While the encroaching gang epidemic and meth wars that began in the 1990's took a toll on the black community, those things didn't wipe the community out.

The largest demographic change in this part of Portland has come in the last five or six years, as the growth of new business in this part of town has skyrocketed, and the number of new people moving to Portland from out of state has also mushroomed. As a result, many of the homes in inner NE Portland that were formerly inhabited by black families are now being bought up by young urban professionals -- mostly white -- who are fixing up these old homes and putting down new roots.

My question is: where did all the former residents of N/NE Portland go?
Many were pushed out by rising home values and property taxes. Elderly residents moved out when they became too old to care for their homes, or when the rent got too high (lots of single-family houses in N/NE Portland were longtime rental properties before being fixed up and sold). Many families with children moved away when Jefferson High School -- Oregon's only majority black high school -- became threatened with closure several years ago, and the lack of the school board's support for Jefferson and the cluster of feeder schools in the surrounding neighborhood became glaringly apparent.

Lots of people who left inner NE Portland moved farther east, into Parkrose and other neighborhoods in mid-Multnomah County, where rents were (and are) still more affordable. Some left Portland altogether, moving to other cities where housing was affordable and there was a hope of finding work. (Portland still has over 10% unemployment, in case anyone's forgotten.)

But the people now living in Inner N/NE Portland, the ones who've bought up all those houses and developed all those businesses and grown all those bike amenities in the last five years, don't seem to be giving a ton of thought to the way urban development can change a neighborhood. Or maybe they are and we just don't think the same way. I don't know.

I'm not a sociologist, so I can't speak about demographic studies or anything else that's terribly scientific. But I wonder if, in the process of making Portland more bike-friendly, we are also in the process of alienating communities of color from a vision of safe, walkable and bikeable streets. Some communities of color see car ownership as a desireable goal. In many larger cities with urban blight and limited bus service in the poorest neighborhoods, riding a bike is something that only children and very poor adults do. To be an adult on a bicycle in those places is an embarrassing thing.

Now I wonder if the whole idea of transportational bicycling is being turned on its ear in Portland, to be seen by communities of color as something done only by Young White Hipsters With Money, also known as The People Who Moved Here And Made The Neighborhood Too Expensive For Everyone Else.

Ten years ago, hardly any of us had ever seen a Bakfiets -- one of those beautiful, long-body cargo bikes with the big wooden boxes in front that allow you to transport groceries, your dog or your children. Today, there are a few hundred of these cargo bikes all over inner eastside Portland, as more young families are able to move here and fashion lives that allow them to live within biking distance of almsot everything they need: schools, shops, doctors' offices and parks. Nearly every person I've see riding a Bakfiets (which costs about $3000, by the way) is white and looks to be under about age 50. I find it hard to believe they all grew up here and I assume that most of them came from somewhere else within the last decade or less. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong about this hunch but I don't think I am.

There is a large and growing gap here, based partly on race, partly on mobility and partly on socio-economic class; and I am wondering what, if anything, can be done to close it. How do we make bicycling truly accessible to everyone so that everyone can come to understand the benefits of transportational, practical bicycling?

In light of the rampant development happening in formerly poorest parts of Portland, I honestly do not know the answer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

riding for its own sake

Yesterday, after yoga class with Sweetie, I needed a longer ride. I hadn't ridden my favorite Smith & Bybee Lakes loop in almost a year, and the weather forecast called for highs in the 50's and light showers. Perfect weather.

I enjoyed a lovely, medium-paced ride on the Rivvy (the one converted to drops). At first it felt weird riding a 700c-wheeled bike again, and the handlebars felt sort of far away -- now that I've been riding the more compact, smaller-wheeled All-Rounder every day as my regular bike the Rivvy felt enormous -- but five miles into the ride I was used to it again and it felt fine.

The path along the Columbia Slough looked degraded, even chewed up in spots, and I was glad for having wider (32mm) tires) to handle the loose chunks and occasional potholes.

columbia slough bike/ped path

The sky was dramatic, all swirling clouds that moved fast overhead, with a breeze that gave a passing Cooper's hawk enough uplift to soar without moving a feather.



There were momentary drizzles mixed in with the breeze and since it was warm out it actually felt fine. Above the pathway at Smith & Bybee Lakes park, a parked string of railroad cars collected more rust.


I continued on along North Marine Drive, enjoying chevrons of winter geese and starlings in the sky interspersed with random seagulls here and there. It must've been raining harder at the coast. I skipped the little loop in and out of Kelley Point Park -- I had somewhere to be later and was already running a little behind with my photography stops -- but the feel of the mist on my cheeks and the purr of tires on wet pavement moved me forward as much as my spinning legs.

Finally, after looping around and riding past all the truck depots and plants (and sadly noticing where a couple of new depots had been built on formerly empty stretches of grassland) and pushing myself up the rise of the bridge over the north fork of the Columbia Slough, I could see the tall green spires of the St. Johns Bridge.

st. johns bridge

And ten minutes later, I was parking my bike in downtown St. Johns to order some lunch.
The remaining miles home were quiet and mellow. I finished my ride of 21 miles in a gentle but now steady drizzle. I noted the sky turning darker gray and birds flying away in search of shelter. I rolled up to my door and beat the heaviest of the rain by about twenty minutes, always a satisfying occurrence when it happens. This morning I awoke to the delicious feeling of a body made tired -- a good tired -- by a the first longer ride of the year.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

lifelong bicyclist

(Thanks to Eco Velo for turning me onto this story.)

It's worth the five minutes or so to watch. Quietly powerful and inspiring.

This is why I ride. Because there's no lovelier way to go somewhere. And I want to ride as long as I can, just like Maren Pedersen.

A few thoughts:

a. I don't recall my parents getting any grief from neighbors for letting me ride my bike everywhere when I was a kid. Even when my mom sent me to James Five & Dime with a note giving me permission to pick up her cigarettes and beer (a simpler time, indeed) and I had to cross the busy intersection of Bustleton and Templeton in northeast Philadelphia, it was no big deal. I just did it. Later on, as a fifth grader in Concord, California, my mom followed behind me in the family car while I showed her the route I would take to ride to my new school. I used turn signals and looked over my shoulder before moving into the left-hand lane to turn. Route approved, I was sent off the following morning with a sack lunch in my backpack, riding the two miles each way as if it were no big deal.

b. I understand Dr. Pedersen's sense of hesitation when she began riding again after her crash. When I got the "door prize" (knocked off my bike by a suddenly-opening truck door in the bike lane) in 1997, I suffered a concussion and severely broken hand. I was off my bike for almost three months after the surgery. When I began riding again, my right hand couldn't grip the handlebar as fully -- it still can't, even today -- and I was terrified of riding next to parked cars for over a year. Still, I kept at it and today I'm ok.

c. I know that my already poor night vision continues to grow progressively worse as I age. There are now nights when riding home in the dark is really scary; and on rainy nights I sometimes have to bag the ride and toss my bike on the bus to get home. There will come a day when I simply cannot ride after dark anymore, and I worry about what that will do to my mobility. It's not too unlike Dr. Pedersen's concerns about aging and what the elderly feel like when their freedom of mobility is sharply curtailed. It's something we all have to deal with eventually. Like Dr. Pedersen, I hope that my almost-daily bike riding will forestall that inevitability for a much longer time.

After yoga this morning, I'm going for a ride. (Yes, in the rain.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

sometimes it's just hard, that's all

There are days when the juxtaposition of rich and poor, with shrinking numbers of folks in the middle, is just too much for me to bear.

When, in one week, I read of three new high-end bikes being produced in Portland and the cheapest one retails for $5,000, and the majority of responders to the online articles wonder what the problem is; and in this same week I ride past someone sleeping in a doorway with his shitty Magna mountain bike chained to the gas meter a few feet away (and I stop and leave my half-eaten sandwich for him because maybe he hasn't eaten in awhile and when he wakes up he might be hungry -- but really, how much good will a half a peanut butter sandwich be if he's still hungry for a few days after?); and then tonight I note the odd sense of semi-relief that comes when I deposit my check at the bank (because I can pay my bills this month), it sometimes becomes way too much.

I cannot simply shrug and say that there will always be poor people among us, like so many do.
That is unacceptable to me, as unacceptable as the wars our government fights. Poverty and war are flip sides of the same coin: They exist because, on some level, someone could not get rich without someone else ending poor or dead. War and poverty have reduced human relations on this planet to some sick quid-pro-quo equation that I cannot just rationalize away in order to forget about it. I am never successful at forgetting for very long, and during weeks like this one, remembering can sometimes be my undoing.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

why rapha wants your love

I've been wrestling with Rapha for some time.

Rapha designs and sells some of the loveliest garments and accessories in the bicycle industry, bike togs with a whiff of Saville Row and New School Cool that fit mostly sleek, wiry-muscled bodies with a measure of money and leisure time that sets them apart from The Rest Of Us; and this vibe is just subtle enough to make people want to buy the stuff.

I want to admire Rapha more, I do; their marketing technique and timing are certainly to be admired, even envied, by those working in bicycle retail. But the combination of the high price point, the cut and fit of their garments and the vaguest whiff of classist exclusionism just stops me in my tracks. Perhaps their sense of studied, barely-concealed elitism is part of the appeal; everyone wants (or learns to want) the things they feel excluded from for one reason or another.

Examples of this sort of marketing abound:

--Cars were marketed in the same way, back when Henry Ford realized that mass production of cars would bring the price down just far enough to make cars available to a larger critical mass of middle class customers, thereby ensuring enough demand to grow and support his business without suddenly cheapening it by making cars available to the lowest-class laborers at the same time (that would come later).
--Nike's $150 Air Jordans and Cross-Trainers back in the 1980's gave a lot of people pause, just long enough for many to break open their piggy banks and sell off household goods to come up with the bread to buy the shoes. (In a sordid sidebar, urban teens began shooting each other for the shoes, but I digress.)
--Paul Frank (not Smith! thanks to an observant reader for the fix), the graphic, um, artist (sorry, his coloring-book zoo animals are not to my taste) whose stuff has appeared on everything from bike chainguards to sweaters to umbrellas to lunchboxes, has enabled hundreds of manufacturers to sell their products for a considerably higher price just by having those animals and his signature slapped on them.
--Today we see this same blend of hype, coolness and subtle hints at old class divisions with an added touch of misplaced nostalgia, as "Tweed Rides" are popping up across North America, offering participants the chance to pretend, for a couple of hours, that we live in a simpler time; wear your tweedy jackets, knickers and tea-length skirts, hop on that vintage, lugged-steel bicycle and come ride through history with us as we enjoy a slow-paced afternoon on quiet backstreets or country roads.
It's a lovely idea, if you can find a quiet enough street or road to complete the illusion. And on the surface it's probably a lot of fun. But the subtle messages of cool, of hype, of classism, still lurk beneath the surface, and I just can't stop paying attention enough to suspend my suspicion and join in the fun.

The higher price of certain consumer goods is half of their allure.

I first learned the term "aping the rich" in a high school economics class some thirty years ago. Mr. Tatum (who, if still with us, would be in his 80's by now) cautioned us against this phenomenon, saying that half the time people buy stuff because someone else has it already and we want to be seen as being Cool Like Them. At its basest level, he explained to us, Cool Like Them often -- usually! -- means Rich Like Them. Manufacturers and advertisers know this, and use that desire to figure out how to push our buttons to make us want the cool things, or at least cheaper knock-offs of the same. If we're spending our hard-earned, limited money on these nice things then we have less of it to do work of real significance with -- like getting a college education or taking vocational courses that will help us in our adult lives; or using those resources to help the less fortunate, because a rising tide lifts more (if not all) boats. And while Mr. Tatum wouldn't go as far as to suggest a conspiracy between the government, multinational corporations and Madison Avenue, I and a few of my classmates connected those dots in class discussions as we wondered aloud what would happen if many more of us ignored the hype, shopped more judiciously and saved our resources in order to effect real social change.

For the children of mostly working-class parents in Gresham, Oregon, the message fell on mostly-deaf ears. It was 1980 and we were heading into a boom-time, the glorious Reagan years, a time of increasing personal wealth and personal cool.
The message was actually heard by a much smaller percentage of kids, kids who were too smart, too skinny or too fat, too thoughtful; kids who were already chafing at the socio-economic mores being impressed upon them -- but in 1980 that percentage was far too small to be powerful enough later on to effect the kinds of change we thought about.

The former group wanted nicer, better lives than their parents had; they wanted out of the trailer parks and tired little bungalows that lined Gresham's streets in those days, and anything that would help them be seen as somehow better than all that was a potential ticket out of there, into a world of nicer homes, nicer cars and good jobs, with weekends off and as much fun as could be crammed into them.
The latter group, the tiny minority of geeks, nerds and other "weird" kids also wanted out of Gresham; but had a sneaking suspicion that it would be by their own strength, wit and cunning that they would escape, not because they managed to blend in chameleon-like with a socio-economic group to which they already didn't really belong.
As a part of the latter group, and after several years of trying unsuccessfully to fit in, I was already planning my escape. Mr. Tatum's message was simply another tool in my box of useful information, and something I never forgot.

A couple of years ago, a reader of my blog at its previous address read a posting about Rapha there and sent me a Rapha winter cap, a gift, to show me that Rapha wasn't all bad. It was a nice cap, warm and soft, and it served me well on those cold winter days. But early this fall, when I found myself with a choice between another free cap that fit my head better and the Rapha cap, I knew I'd get more money for the Rapha cap if I sold it -- simply because it said "Rapha" on it! -- and so sold it locally for enough money to pay my natural gas bill that month. I used the allure of the Rapha name to make myself a few extra bucks, guilt-free, off of someone else's hypnosis.
Okay, that sounds really, really harsh and even judgmental. Fair enough. But I've worked in the bike industry long enough to see just how insidious the marketing of Cool can be, and just how many people out there are willing to dive in and buy the hype, no questions asked. So no, I don't feel guilty. Because it's too late for guilt. I figure a lot of these folks had their chance to dig deeper, to ask the harder questions about how and why we are influenced to buy things, and they simply didn't ask. Of if they did, they didn't believe the answers.

If someone today were to offer me free Rapha goodies, I expect I would turn them down. Because I have enough tools in my box. And one of the best tools I've acquired is the knowledge of how to create my own Cool, without any help from Saville Row or Madison Avenue.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

the challenge of rest

Early Wednesday morning, I walked out to the end of the paved path in front of the house, and slipped on an icy patch on the top step above the sidewalk. I landed with a hard "thud!" on the corner of the step, on the part of my backside just above and to the left of my tailbone. My guitar in its padded gig bag, which I was wearing on my back, helped to break my fall a bit, but it still hurt like hell. I yelled "Ow! Ow! Ooowwww!" over and over, and as it echoed up and down our street, my neighbor Nat came running across the street in shirtsleeves with a worried look on his face. At the same time, Sweetie had run from the house. They helped me up while I saw rainbows of pain flash before my eyes. After thanking Nat, Sweetie turned and led me into the house.

After a very painful first hour of crying and sniffling while I walked around in sweatpants, slammed some Tylenol and pondered staying home, I felt calmer, and decided that if I was going to be in pain wherever I was, I may as well go to the shop and try and do something productive.

I have spent the last three full days off my bike. Each day has brought a noticeable lessening of the pain (and a corresponding expansion of the bruise, which has evolved from a dark blue to a deep purple patch on my backside), but the first two full days of the pain were so intense that, even with a hot Epsom salt soak and a couple of shorter work days, I have avoided the gym, my bike and anything else requiring excessive movement.

Today I'm suffering intensely from the hereditary condition known in my family as shpilkes -- restlessness, an inability to sit still -- and although the temperature has plummeted again and there is a fine white frost on the grass and the rooftops in our neighborhood, I have frankly grown tired of resting.

In our on-the-go culture, with its 24/7 commerce and communications and studies showing that Americans are suffering from a lack of good sleep each night, restlessness seems an entrenched part of the American condition. Even Shabbat, the Jewish corrective to this constant motion, the one day a week on which Jews are commanded to cease work, and the most traditionally observant of us even refrain from using computers, radio and TV, is a hard sell. Unless you live in New York, Los Angeles or one of the other large, urban centers of American Jewish life, being a Jew in a world where everything is open on Saturdays can make it tough to observe Shabbat along traditional guidelines. I count myself fortunate to have been able to work out an agreement with my cooperative where I never work on Saturdays; I know this would not be possible for me at almost any other bike shop in Portland (a town not known for being a particularly "Jewish" place).

Still, it is hard to make myself stop and rest, even when I'm hurt. How much of this is a component of the culture in which I live, and how much is inherited from a father whose sphilkes kept him up at nights and compelled him to go for long drives at 2 am to calm his racing mind, I don't know. But past a certain point, rest just makes me crazy. My bike, hanging in the hallway, is calling to me. And since snow is called for later in the week, I'd better go get some quality time in with my bike today.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

things look different here: metro's new president is a real bootstrap kinda guy

(Thanks to Jonathan Maus of for bringing this to my attention.)

This week, lots of newly elected officials took their oaths of office and settled into their new seats in municipal, regional, state and federal government offices across the country. Here in Cascadia, The new president of the Metro Council (one of the first regional governments in the country, with an emphasis on land-use planning and management) is one Tom Hughes, former mayor of Hillsboro, Oregon and a strong supporter of business growth.

Much of the gist of his opening address can be found here:

For those with short-attention span this morning, I'd highlight just two things:

“We are the descendents of pioneers. We can grab ourselves by our bootstraps and make this region a better and more prosperous place,” Hughes said. “I believe that, I think you believe that and that’s the message we’re going to deliver to one and all as we go forward.”

Really? Mr. Hughes, with this unfortunate remark, really displayed some serious ignorance. We should all remember that not all of us are the descendants of pioneers. Some of us are descended from indentured servants or slaves. Some of us are descended from people who didn't worship the same God, or worship God in the same way as the majority group. In all of these cases, we're talking about people who didn't get a lot of shoe leather to work with in the first place. Any of them who managed to succeed anyway were often the subject of scorn and derision even after they pulled themselves up by whatever means were available to them.

The history of Oregon -- and of Portland in particular -- is a history of laws passed and/or gentlemens' agreements made over drinks and behind closed doors to help ensure that the children of slaves and servants would have a tough time making Oregon their home. Anyone who knows the history of redlining in Northeast Portland, or who is living in a neighborhood where little government aid trickles in and the homes and schools are ratty and crumbling, knows what I'm talking about.

Mr. Hughes goes on to insist that the CRC -- the Columbia River Crossing project which aroused so much anger with its original 12-lane design -- is a MUST:

“The CRC has to move forward, and we have to show progress in that this year if we’re going to hope to have, anywhere in the foreseeable future, an end to that gridlock that is rapidly causing our opportunities in Rivergate and the Port of Portland to disappear,” Hughes said.

When you talk about opportunities in this context, you are not talking about a good balance between growth and public safety, between growth and livability, between growth and sustainability. You are pretty much just talking about growth, and whatever cost is paid on an individual or collective human scale is of little consequence.

Don't believe me? Watch what happens if the CRC behemoth is approved and built. Within a year or two of its completion, every one of those ten to twelve lanes will be jammed full of cars and nothing will have been done to address the new gridlock -- and sprawl -- that will surely result. Kids will have a harder time walking or biking to school safely in the neighborhoods closest to a 12-lane bridge. The elderly will have a harder time safely accessing services within reasonable distance of their homes, and as a result they will lose their independence and freedom of movement sooner than before.

If you build a 12-lane bridge you will have to expand and enlarge the freeways that feed it, and I suspect that this has been the unspoken part of the plan all along. Expanded freeways -- and the growth in consumerism-based commerce that they will bring about -- will do nothing to improve the true, long-term quality of life in our city or our region. But those expanded freeways are coming and those of us who care about sustainability will be pretty much powerless to stop it. We are witnessing the beginning of a sea-change as regards transportation, infrastructure planning and growth; and we should all be prepared to see some of Portland's "smart growth" policies slow to a halt, at least for awhile. The pendulum swings both ways, after all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"tried & liked": the obligatory annual review of bike stuff

Taking a cue from fellow blogger Jason I decided to compile my annual "tried and liked" list of bike stuff for 2010. Problem was, there wasn't a whole lot of new stuff that was worth trying in the first place. That said, here's a fumbling, stumbling and doubtless incomplete list:

1. MUSA "Splats" from Rivendell Bicycle Works. A waxed cotton canvas shoe cover designed for folks who ride with flat pedals, this is a shoe cover that actually works pretty well. Is it watertight and impermeable? No. Designed in California by Californians, this shoe cover just covers your shoe and not much more. It's not a bootie, so it doesn't cover your ankles and won't keep water from running off your rainpants into your socks. That said, it works more than well enough for all but the most downpouring commutes, and I use it almost anytime I'm riding a flat-pedaled bike in the rain.

Like many clothing items from Rivendell it is klunky-looking and tries a little too hard to be charmingly rumpled in an Orvis/Filson/Duluth Bag sort of way that it doesn't quite achieve. Still, it does work well enough for the sub-$30 price tag that I would recommend it to friends.

2. BMX flat pedals are winding up on more and more of my bikes, and before 2011 is over every bike may make the transition away from toe clips and straps for good. Any flat pedal that uses traction pins (ideally the replaceable kind) is great for commuting, touring, even racing (yes, I've raced on BMX pedals since I started up in 2009, with no regrets). Pedaling "free", as some like to call it, allows your ankle to wobble and rotate elliptically (as many do) instead of being forced into a position that is inflexible and which could cause more harm than good. Flat pedals are what we all rode when we were kids, and as far as I know I've never heard of an injury caused by using them. (The number of injuries caused by improper use of clipless pedals, OTOH, could fill a book.)

3. Upright handlebars. These are now on every bike in the stable except the original Rivvy. And there's a reason for this: they're comfortable. Uprights aren't a new thing for me, but realizing that they may become my only option on a bicycle is. The original Rivvy's top tube has grown longer for me as my spine has compressed and I've grown shorter in the torso [with age]. As a result, I fear that NO drop handle bar will work for me on this bike anymore. I am trying one more stem option; if that doesn't work I will have to consider either moustache bars, uprights, or moving this frame along to someone who will fit it better. I could keep this bike and ride it in discomfort, if only to reconnect with my Breaking Away road bike fantasies.

(I admit I have these fantasies. Many riders do. Mine are a direct result of having seen this movie when it was released in 1979 and I was a high school sophomore. Went home from the movie theater, broke open the piggybank, mowed a bunch of lawns, picked strawberries at Ouchida Farms, babysat dozens of the neighbors' evil spawn and saved up all summer for upgraded alloy wheels, new brake pads, cloth bar tape, and some of those uber-cool crocheted cycling gloves. I stopped dreaming of getting a drivers' license and never looked back. For all of that, Breaking Away is, for me, the best cycling movie of all time.)

Such fantasies are, for many bicyclists, part of what influences us to keep riding drop bars long after they make sense for our particular bodies. Lots of folks can ride drops forever, and that's great; but the truth is that past a certain point in our lives, some of us really can't anymore. And that's okay. Because in the end it is all about being comfortable. If you cannot be comfortable on your bike you won't ride it. That would be tragic. So rather than live in an uncomfortable state of denial I am opting to try and make my bike more comfortable. If I can't, I'll probably have to find a new home for it.

As a result of the conclusions I've come to, I find that there are relatively few new and exciting things I tried this year. Like Jason, much of what I rely on is tried-and-true, the stuff that's been around for a long time because it has always worked reliably. So perhaps this will be my last "Tried-and-Liked" listing for some time. It seems I may become destined to shop less and ride more, not a bad thing at all.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

finding the groove: the gym thing, part 2

So it's been a few weeks since joining the gym and beginning to learn how to work out. A few resistance sessions, a couple of yoga classes (and we won't discuss the spin class anymore, but yeah I did one of those and tweaked my knee but good).

Tonight it was a lovely yoga class. By candlelight. Nice, long stretches to work out the kinks and help strengthen the core (ouch! my core sucks), with lots of focus on breathing. Because we were in near-darkness the instructor did a good job of softly describing each position and offering suggestions for making it more or less intense, as desired. By the end of the hour I felt like I'd really done something and my head was in a calmer place. I'll be using some of these stretches at home in the coming week and will definitely go back to this class again.

The resistance thing is still a work in progress. I'm uncertain of proper positioning on some of the equipment; on a couple of pieces the weight required is simply too much for a tweaked shoulder that is really taking its time to heal (and riding to and from in the last week of extreme cold -- lows in the 20s, which is quite cold for us -- probably isn't helping either). Then there's the abs exercises. The Activetrax program suggests four different sets and I'm so far good for maybe two of them. No worries. I am going at a pace that doesn't do me harm but still lets me push myself a little. Will I get stronger? I hope so, but it will take some time. Check back with me in a couple of months.

Stress reduction is one of my goals, and today I definitely needed to alleviate some stress. I announced at work today that I wanted to transition back to working with the public, to be a salesperson and a mechanic again; and that another owner in the co-op would need to assume the Buyer's role by next November. So far, people are not thrilled. (I tried to give this position up a year ago, and no one wanted the job; ergo, I was asked -- okay, begged by some -- to stay on another year at least. Well, it's been another year and I am frying. So today I made it clear that 2011 needed to be my last year as the Buyer, for quite awhile. We'll see what happens.)

Tonight after yoga and a brisk ride home through the freezing night air I am finally relaxing more. Time for tea. And maybe a footrub. (Yessss!)