Saturday, December 29, 2012

wonders of ne portland; random riding bits; cycling goals

It was cold and clouds threatened. Still neither of us wanted to spend the day just sitting around. So after errands, we went for a neighborhood ramble in the Fremont neighborhood of NE Portland, on the edge of Irvington. Houses here are older, mostly built between 1910 and 1940 or so, and most have generous front porches (something our poorly-remodeled house lacks) and sit fairly high above the street.

There was something cool around every corner. Today I noticed lots of things having to do with animals, including three or four artsy chicken coops from reclaimed materials (urban chickens are big here) and a couple of random bits that were worth photographing.

This fish head appeared to be made of heavy, closed-cell foam and stood nearly as tall as me. (The downspout gives you an idea of scale). Sweetie and I had no clue as to where it might have come from, or why; but it was easily the highlight of our lovely meander.

Tomorrow and Monday I am hoping to get in some good bike riding to end the year. Tomorrow will probably be the more ambitious of the two days, and I'm strongly considering a ride up to either Rocky Butte or Powell Butte in order to go someplace high and see far away before the calendar year closes out. Monday will probably be a more leisurely ride around the east side. In any event, I know I will crack the 2,300 mile mark this year. I had set a goal of breaking 2,500 but did not train or race enough to assure that. If I can get out both days I may approach 2,400.

I will submit a tally sheet (converted to kilometers) to C-KAP for the year. The way things are going for that organization, this may be the last year I submit anything to them. The guy who's been running the organization and doing all the record-keeping is in his seventies and has been unsuccessful in finding a successor; they also have picked up fewer than a dozen new members this year. Both are signs that C-KAP may have outlived its usefulness. I have earned all the incentives I can earn with C-KAP for the foreseeable future; my incentives nowadays are less tangible but no less satisfying. Still, keeping track of my mileage for personal reasons remains a good idea and I will continue to tally my miles here at home.

Assuming I stay in town all summer, I plan to race the full short-track series in 2013, likely the only racing I will do. There is the vaguest possibility that I may get hired to do a three-week teaching and music gig out of town in June. If that happens, my short-track season will consist of four weeks at most. As I have no other employment lined up for the summer I'd like to get this gig. However, the synagogue in question does not have any budget planned for this summer program and so it's unclear how they would be able to pay me the stipend and expenses I'd need for this trip to be worth my while. I am going to wait until February and then see where things stand. If nothing is clear by then I will assume that I'm spending the whole summer in Portland, and plan my race season accordingly. (I really only need two months of sure employment, as my 2013-14 teaching contract would actually begin in August -- High Holidays begin in early September and time will be needed for rehearsal and planning sessions).

Would I work in a bike shop again? Well, I can't say I'd ever work at Citybikes again -- the dynamics around my sudden departure all but assure that they won't ask me back, and certain conditions prevail there to assure that I won't bother to inquire. Would I work at another shop? Assuming there was a shop willing to hire someone with my somewhat arcane knowledge base -- I can overhaul three speed hubs but don't the first thing about shocks or disc brakes -- then sure, I'd do it for a couple of months on a fill-in basis. I do plan to drop off my resume at a few shops in the area and see what happens. It may be that my skillset is too arcane for a more modern shop, but I'll certainly apply anyway.

I admit that I am nervous about employment in 2013. There is no guarantee of anything with the synagogue past May, and I do not know what else I might be able to do. I may need to schedule some time with the job counselor at JFCS and see what else I can come up with. In the meantime, I am getting ready for my big trip to the Jewish music festival in February and hope that may open some doors for me.

All the best to my readers for great riding in 2013.

Monday, December 24, 2012

friends of slow ride, 12-24-12

friends of slow ride 12-24-12
Originally uploaded by periwinklekog

In anticipation of the vast amounts of food many members of Team Slow would eat on Christmas Eve, a ride was suggested for the morning (sort of like pre-emptive calorie-burning, though we all know it doesn't really work that way).
Several teammates were in, but none offered a route. So I finally suggested the tried-and-true Smith & Bybee Lakes route, with a stop at Kelley Point Park to check out the Convergence (where the Willamette and Columbia Rivers meet up).

This morning, we met at AJ Cafe (corner of N. Albina and Rosa Parks), fueled up and headed out. While I was happy to see three teammates, I was also glad to meet a bunch of new riders I didn't know, all friends and/or sweeties of my teammates. Word had gotten around and we had at least ten people (maybe more but I never did bother to count) at the start.

It was a perfect day for a winter bike ride. 36F when I left the house around 9:15, and as we rode the loop it warmed up to around 43F, with the sun breaking through the fast-moving clouds and warming our backs. Still, I was glad for the wool knickers and the embrocation on my legs as it was pretty darned cold out.

We stopped to enjoy the view at the Convergence, where southbound Canadian geese could be seen flying overhead; and again for coffee in downtown St. Johns (I was so thankful that Anna's was open -- some places were closed today and I had worried that Starbucks would be our only option).

I wound up staying with a few folks for almost an hour, talking and eating (if you stop in at Anna's for coffee, try the Turkey-avocado-whole wheat sandwich -- heavenly). I had eaten a pretty small breakfast so by the time we got to Anna's I was feeling ravenous. The half-sandwich, coffee and rice krispy trteat did the trick, and gave me enough energy to ride briskly home. My legs felt great, and I enjoyed the feeling of the cold air on my cheeks; but when I got home I was ready for a hot shower and something warm to drink.

More photos of the ride can be found here:
(scroll to the end of the set to find them)

As I type this, nearly two hours after arriving home, there are still patches of blue sky outside but they are being swallowed by clouds; more rain is due tonight and tomorrow it will look as though the sun never came out. A lucky dry day, and a lovely ride! Total 24.1 miles.

If you are celebrating Christmas, have a joyous time!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

tried and liked/didn't like in 2012 -- part two: activities/ride

The truth was that I didn't really do much riding that was goal-oriented in 2012. With the career transition taking several months and ending as strangely as it did, I really wasn't thinking much about racing at all. That said, I did enjoy a few bike-rlated activities this year:

1. I raced a whopping three times this summer, the final three races in the Portland Short-Track Series ( in July. While I was terribly out-of-shape and finished dead last every time, I enjoyed myself and the camaraderie of my teammates, and if my scheduled allows I do plan to race at least a little in summer 2013.

2. Commuting was largely uneventful this year. I admit that I am slightly surprised to have logged as many miles as I have -- I'm on pace to crack 2,300 miles and possibly a little more in the remaining 2 1/2 weeks of the year -- because I did opt to go multi-modal (combination of bike and transit) quite a lot. I also got less and less excited about cargo-biking as the days turned colder and wetter this fall. I do find the Surly useful for hauling my guitar, but I find that I don't enjoy managing the balance of a loaded cargo bike as much and I am thinking quite a lot about selling the Surly and going back to towing a trailer. I have dealt with fatigue from poor sleep cycles (most likely related to stress about the career transition) and simply haven't felt like riding as far this year.

3. Recreational (non-racing) riding was spotty but enjoyable. I enjoyed a few longer (20-plus mile) rides during the spring and summer, and my most recent ride exceeding that distance was a pleasant one with friends on Thanksgiving morning. I am learning that I tnd to be in slightly better voice when I don't try to ride every day in cold, wet weather. Since I now make some of my living by singing three times a week, I've had to choose to ride less. I try to make up for it in weeks when there is no school, so I expect to try and squeeze in some longer rides during winter break next week.

While it's important to never say never, I expect that rides in excess of around 40 miles are going to rarer and rarer as time goes by. I take too long to recover from populaires to feel seriously tempted to try anymore anytime soon; and certainly I need to pace my cold-weather rides to protect my voice.

My "Old Faithful" loop (Smith & Bybee Lakes, Kelley Point Park) was a godsend this year, as I made sure to ride it at least once in each of the seasons and enjoy the changes in color and waterfowl activity. I also enjoyed a couple of trips out to east county along the Springwater Corridor in the spring and summer. Most of my longer rides this year were along old, familiar routes but the riding was no less enjoyable for it.

4. Extra-curricular riding: The Coffeeneuring Challenge. This fall, pal Michael turned me onto a series that has grown in popularity among the rando crowd: Coffeeneuring.
(Details can be found here:
I entered the friendly, easygoing contest mostly as an excuse to get out on my bike as the weather turned colder and wetter. The coffee was a nice extra perk (sorry for the pun), and in the end I was successful, qualifying the minimum number of rides in the 6 weeks window of time.


For my efforts, I will receive a couple of small, cute commemorative prices: Those who made Honorable Mention will receive the small button at top. Those who completed the Challenge will receive the larger button at bottom, plus the adorable pewter coffee cup pin. It's a fun, silly little thing; but it got me out on my bike more so it achieved a good result in the end. Plus, I now know another bicycle enthusiast in the DC area. Good all around.

May your rides in 2013 be safe and fun!

Monday, December 10, 2012

tried and liked/didn't like, 2012 edition -- part one: products

The longer I've been in the bicycle industry, the shorter this list has become.

When you're new to the industry, the shop discount and pro deals are like having keys to the candy store, and you tend to go a little crazy. After nearly 18 years in the industry before finally retiring from it, I can tell you that the lustre wore off some time ago. I simply don't buy as much stuff these days; and everything I use regularly has had to earn its place in my stash of gear.

Category One: products

1. Rivendell ShinShields ( -- These, like last year's Rivendell Splats (, were affordable enough for me to take a chance on in spite of their goofy look. When they arrived,  had to wait for a reasonably rainy day to give them a true test. In order to simulate the conditions suggested by Rivendell's stock photos I used them with the Splats and a J & G Cyclewear rain cape (

--They work pretty well at keeping your lower legs dry in a normal rainfall.
--They look goofy -- supremely goofy, even goofier than the Splats.
--When used with the Splats there can be a gap at the ankle that lets water in. This may be more the Splats' fault but it's there, and occasionally annoying.
--It's another piece of apparel to figure out how to live with efficiently as a commuter -- instead of rainpants and a jacket, I would have to pack and stow Splats, Shinshields and Rainlegs (which I use often on merely drizzly days -- with a rain jacket -- or skip the Rainlegs and jacket and use the cape.
--The clincher was that, on my skinny legs, they barely fit. I was able to cinch them sungly enough with only about 1/4" to 1/2" of useful velcro overlap around my fully-clothed legs. That pretty much killed it for me, and since then they've been relegated to the bottom of the gear bag. I will probably sell them to someone with bigger, more muscular legs.
Bottom line: Maybe useful for others, but not so much for me. I'll sell them to someone else.

2. PDW Radbot 1000 taillight (™-1000). When building up the Sekai as a rough-stuff town/touring/rando bike, I wanted a bright taillight that would be visible from very far away, and that offered a blinky option other than the typical "radpifire seizure-inducing speed" found on nearly every rear taillight today. It also had to fit on the seat stay because I wouldn't be using a full rear rack on this bike.

--A large and truly useful red reflector panel for daytime use.
--A very bright LED light that can be seen from several blocks away.
--Blinky options that include not only "rapidfire" but also a much slower, fade-in-and-out mode that is far less annoying to drivers and cyclists behind me -- and therefore less dangerous. (Tons of newer studies are showing that rapidly blinking taillights actually cause vehicle operators behind to fixate on the blinking light -- to the distraction of all else on the road.)
--The PDW Radbot, made in the same factory is the Planet Bike lights, fits on the same brackets -- which made swapping in the Radbot for my old Planet Bike Superflash very easy. It can also be mounted on a rear rack using the additional brcket supplied (again, identical to the Planet Bike bracket so if you've already got this on your rear rack, just swap lights).
--The Radbot is a bit bigger than the Super flash, but still fits on the seatstay with sufficient clearance of the rear wheel. (In the USA, mount it on the left seatstay.)
--It takes AAA-sized batteries, which come in rechargeable models. (Yay!)
--Good waterproofing gasket around all sides of the light.
--None that I can see, but I've only been using this light for a couple of months.
Bottom line: For anyone who prefers a battery-powered light, this one is a solid win all around.

NOTE: There is a fender-mounted version of the Radbot (™) that is not exactly the same. I will probably try one in 2013 so come back for a review next December.

3. Carradice Bike Bureau ( This is not a new product by any means -- Carradice has been making it for years and Citybikes (my former shop and still the only place on the US West coast where you can buy Carradice) has offered it almost from the start -- when Carradice has actually filled orders for it. When the cosmic arm of the universe began nudging me towards shrinking my role at Citybikes and I began preparing for a more loaded teaching schedule, I realized I'd need a larger pannier to carry binders and textbooks in. The shop had a couple of these in stock and I used my sizable shop credit and worker discount to buy one.

--Waxed cotton fabric is typical Carradice, heavy in weight and very tough.
--The attachment hardware is easy to install and can easily be adjusted to fit your specific rack.
--The bag mounts at an angle on the rack to help the rider avoid heel strike.
--It comes with a padded fabric laptop sleeve that is removable.
--It is huge. My single Bureau holds two oversized metal binders and several smaller textbooks (when the laptop sleeve is removed). In fact, it's big enough that if you're temped to overstuff it, you'd be better off using another (smaller) pannier on the other side to help balance the load.
--The shoulder strap is very strong and wide, and snaps on and off easily.
--There is a secondary flap that can cover the mounting hardware when you carry the bag on your shoulder (making it more comfortable to use as a briefcase), and under which the should strap can be stowed while riding. Velcro holds it in place in either position.
--The leather straps of the flap utilize both traditional metal buckles for length adjustment, and plastic cam-buckles for quick opening and closing; the plastic is lightweight and cheap and the system is needlessly redundant. At some point I will probably customize the straps to do away with the plastic buckles and just use the metal ones.
--The laptop sleeve ismade of a lighter weight material, not waterproof and would not stand alone well in Oregon's rainy climate. If utilized it takes up a lot of room in the bag and neccessitates the need for a second pannier. As I anticipate a laptop purchase in the coming months, I will use the Bike Bureau on the left and one of my older Kendal Panniers ( on the right to help balance the load.
--The bag offers no internal organizer/divider pockets. This is a relatively minor quibble, but one that required me to buy a small pouch to carry pencils, pens and small items inside the bag.
--The plastic reinforcement panel and feet on the bottom of the bag are flimsy; three months after purchase one of the feet has already broken off and there is a small crack forming in the panel. I figure that when the entire panel wears out I'll probably just remove it.
--They are hard to find in the USA. Carradice is notorious for filling only some or none of a shop's inventory orders, and that's espcially true with the larger bags. When you have five guys sharing four sewing machines in a picturesque British town, production tends to be smaller and slower. (Anyone considering bringing Carradice into their shop as a product line, you've been warned.)
Bottom line: in spite of all my nitpicking, this is a great office pannier, and I am glad I purchased one.

4. Giro Reverb helmet ( I bought one of these early last spring when my old helmet finally crapped out (helmets do wear out with daily use and they need to be checked regularly -- replace when the styrofoam liner begins to show lots of dents and/or small cracks, and/or if your helmet is more than five or six years old).

--Very light weight; one of the lightest commuter helmets I've tried.
--The simple design purposely hearkens back to Giro's "Hammerhead" helmets of the 1990's with it's simple, bold color schemes and clean lines.
--Easy to customize fit -- each size comes with an adjustable band that offers three different options within a size range. Helmets come in S, M, L and XL sizes.
--Cotton visor snaps in or out easily; I prefer to wear a cotton cycling cap under my helmet so I removed mine in seconds.
--Refreshingly different from the typical, racer-emulating "angry insect" look prevalent in bike helmets today.
--In a recent test by Consumer Reports, the Reverb received lackluster scores ( While not an abysmal "failure" (that was reserved for models from the hipper and more expensive Bern and Nutcase helmets), it placed lowest on the list of helmets that were considered "safe". Because I know that testing conditions seldom, if ever, reflect real-life conditions -- you can't really test helmets on living people without risking death, after all -- I take such result with a grain of salt.
Bottom line: For $60 retail, it's not a bad helmet. Discounted pricing and seasonal sales (as low as $40 retail in some places) can make it a good deal.

Category Two, tomorrow: Bicycle Activities

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

random bits, week of 11/26/12

Mostly photos of my travels around town, and a report on the buildup of the new bike.

This week, with no class on Sunday because of the Thanksgiving holiday, I enjoyed a trip over to Velo Cult and spent a delightful two hours -- luxury! --  doing nothing but hanging out with bike pals who wandered in. I also got to make new friends:

Anyone who takes issue with pit bulls should remember two things: dogs are a reflection of how messed up or healthy their owners are; and if trained carefully and loved fully, any dog can be raised to be a total sweetie. Like this one.

I fell in love with him exactly five seconds after we were introduced. He seemed pretty happy with me, too. Meeting him was a highlight of my Sunday visit to Velo Cult.

Today, I went out again, on another dry day before the rains are due to come tomorrow. After meeting with a student, I rode over to Crank to pick up the alloy seatpost for the Sekai. Hanging out for a little bit in Crank's roomy, airy space, I admired the vintage wheel truing stand on display.

I've enjoyed hanging out in bike shops more since I stopped working full-time in one. Go figure.

I installed the seatpost there -- it wasn't an involved part swap -- and when I rode away I instantly noticed the difference in the overall quality of the fit. Installing a seatpost with an intergrated clamp allowed me to move the saddle back another half a centimeter, which opened up the cockpit and allowed me to sit perfectly centered on the back half of the saddle.

Since the earlier photos of the Sekai were taken, I've added a second bottle cage -- a vintage TA, clamped to the downtube's underside -- and a first-generation Acorn "hobo"-styled handlebar bag, which gives me all the carrying capacity I need to use this bike on most school days if I feel like it. The All-Rounder is due for a drivetrain revamp -- new freewheel and chain -- so getting the Sekai set up gives me time to deal with All-Rounder without having to resort to the cargo bike as my primary transport.

Speaking of the cargo bike, the jury is still out on how useful it remains to me. I appreciate the capacity and the fact that it's all one bike; but when loaded to the top end of its useful capacity the bike becomes wobbly and less fun to ride. I recogniae that some of this is less about the bike and more about my own comfort with balancing big loads -- a comfort level that seems to be decreasing somewhat. I am considering the possibility of selling this bike and getting a trailer that folds flat, like a Burley D'Lite. Folded flat, the Burley trailer would take up less room in storeage than the Surly does, and I am beginning to pay more attention to the ratio between the number of times I use a thing and the amount of space it takes up while not in use.

When I decided to cancel my order for the Sidecar -- the concerns about the additional weight on a bike without e-assist along with the added cost were factors in that decision -- the Surly became open to reconsideration on many fronts. Stay tuned, as I may end up selling this frameset and putting the usable parts onto another regular frame. I'll reeavaluate in the spring.

In a recent swap, Slow RPM ( and I have agreed to a little swap of legbands and other bike ephemera. My packge got sent off after the Thanksgiving holiday delay, while his arrived in the mail on Saturday. I now own a lovely pair of Ron D. Swan legbands, made in Australia from recycled products. Mister RPM was a sailor for many years and therefore saw fit to send me a pair in maritime red and green. On my maiden voyage with these beauties, I of course wore them on the correct sides.

They are very sturdily made, with heavy-duty thread and tough vinyl material that promises to last a long while.

Ron Swan makes other cool bikey things like safety sashes and vests, top-tube pads, laptop sleeves, panniers and even a chic little musette. You can see them all here:

Be prepared for a little sticker shock -- the exchange rate as well as the cost to ship from Down Under will set you back more than a few bucks on most items (a single pannier costs $200).

Finally, while at Velo Cult, I ran into friend and Slow Teammate Tomas, who is a professional artist and who is making a coloring book of his bicycle designs to sell at next weekend's Bike Craft ( Here's an example of Tomas' work:

He's already made this available to folks to print and color so I don't feel I'm hurting his sales. However, there's a ton more cool stuff in the new book, which will go on sale at Bike Craft this weekend. Go and buy a copy for the child in your life, and buy another for yourself so you can color together.

I'm heading out again tonight on my bike to hang with friends. Really digging this Sekai now that it fits better. Forecast calls for some rain overnight, hopefully, after I get home.
If you're riding after dark, make sure you've got front and rear lights and the appropriate reflective stuff, and please be careful out there.
Happy riding!

Friday, November 23, 2012

product review and update: chrome kursk cycling sneaker

Three years ago, when I was still working as the lead buyer at Citybikes, the Chrome Bags rep wanted to see if we might expand our shop's Chrome offerings to include their shoes. He offered to sell me a pair to try out. When I told him I didn't really have the money for product testing, he then offered to give me a pair free of charge if I would wear them daily for two months and write up a short review. I agreed, and soon had a pair of Chrome Kursk shoes in basic black.

I wore them daily as asked. In less than six weeks' time, the side trim began to wear and then tear away from the shoe's sole. I contacted the rep and asked about this. Horrified, he asked me to send these shoes back to Chrome and they would send me a new pair. I complied, they complied -- and within two months, the trim began to wear away again. This time, I didn't bother calling the rep. Instead, I read the online reviews because now the shoes were being sold in stores all over the country. Most of the reviews were written by much younger customers who apparently had less of an issue with the short lifespan of the rubber trim. They acknowledged it but felt that since the shoes were "relatively cheap" at $70 retail, they didn't really have much to squabble about. In general these younger consumers loved the shoes and raved about them.

I was struck by the fact that younger customers didn't think that seventy bucks was a lot of money.

By now my shoes had broken in nicely and in fact were quite comfortable. I kept them. As the opportunity arose, I bought a second and third pair of the same model, and held them back for later use. This was in keeping with my mother's advice: "if you find something that fits well, buy it in every color they make, because they will soon stop making it." In all cases I did not pay anything close to full retail, and I think that was what made the purchases seem reasonable.

Here's the first pair of shoes. They've worn out quite a bit more since this photo was taken last April.

That pair of basic black Kursks is showing some real age; in November 2012, the soles are worn bald, the rubber trim on the sides has all but dissappeared, and the cordura uppers are beginning to fray at the edges. Still, in the summer months they're the most comfortable shoe I own and when it's not pouring outside I wear them a lot. I've since begun wearing another pair in olive green for teaching, and a third pair in monochrome black for "dressier" occasions (like Shabbat services or dinner out). The olive green pair has begun to show wear at the rubber trim; this time I've nipped it in the bud by super-gluing the trim back into place before it could tear off completely.

So here's my review:

a. The trim on the sides has a shockingly short lifespan, often beginning to wear and tear away from the shoe within weeks of purchase (assuming near-daily wear). The shoes look sharp when new, but when the wear and tear begins they really being to look a little down-at-heel (no pun intended).
b. You have to wear pretty thin socks with these shoes for a comfortable fit. Thicker wool socks, which I tend to favor in the winter, take up too much room in the shoe and cause too tight a fit.
c. The color selection has diminished over time. The Kursk once came in multiple colors, but this year Chrome has elected to make the shoe only in Black, Monochrome black, and gray.

a. The Kursk is comfortable almost immediately out of the box.
b. The insole is stronger and thicker than in most shoes, and is removable so you can air it out after a long wearing in bad weather.
c. The cordura upper is more durable than the cotton upper found in similar styled Converse sneakers; and does not fade in sunlight the way cotton does. (It also looks more stylish than cotton.)
d. The shoes run narrow.  If you have very wide feet, consider another shoe altogether.

Solutions and fixes:
a. Thinner wool socks will fit, and keep my feet reasonably warm and dry in colder weather. Chrome makes a very nice wool sock that comes in black, gray or olive. Smartwool socks also work well in these shoes.
b. For those seeking a wider color palette, some older stock Kursks in colors (navy, pink, brown and olive) can still be found at discounted prices online, through Amazon, eBay and elsewhere.
c. When shopping for Kursks, know that these shoes tend to run a bit large. I wear womens' 9.5 in most sneakers, but take a 9.0 (equivalent: mens' 7.5) in the Kursk.

Overall: I think $70 retail is still a bit steep for a pair of shoes, especially if I have to repair them with super glue within three to four months of purchase, and espcially if they're made in China (as these are). I recognize that younger consumers have a different relationship with money and may find that $70 retail is perfectly reasonable in this day and age. If they can and want to pay full pop, let them; I will contiune to seek out discounted shoes through other sources. I have four pairs of Kursks now, in different colors and various stages of wear. That should see me through the next few years.

Final verdict: The Kursk is a decent shoe at a somewhat overinflated price. Buy it on discount.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge, 11/22/12: Find something open on Thanksgiving morning

I like to go for a long bike ride on Thanksgiving morning, ahead of the large turkey dinner that my sister likes to serve in the early afternoon. This year, two friends came along which made the ride feel faster and shorter -- and more fun.

We began at the Paul Bunyan statue in Kenton. I pulled up to find that Edna and Barbara had already arrived a few mintues ahead of me. We took off almost immediately; it was cold and we wanted to get moving.

We made our way to the Columbia Slough path and admired the faint traces of mist still clinging to the water in the Columbia Slough, where two mallards paddled along in the murky water, higher up the banks since the heavy rains from the weekend.

Riding past Smith & Bybee Lakes, we admired the leaves still hanging on the trees (rather late in the fall, but the cool, wet summer meant that everything was cycling later this year). Passing Bybee Lake on N. Marine Drive, we watched in wonder as a snowy egret took flight above the water and flew away out of sight.

The loop through the industrial zone was quiet and relatively free of other traffic. Riding with two recumbent riders meant we were all reasonably well-matched; on the climbs I passed Barbara (Edna was behind us), and on the drops they both barreled past me with ease. We took N. Burrage into the back side of downtown St. Johns and stopped at Anna Bannana's ( for coffee and Rice Krispy bars. While past the deadline for this year's official Coffeeneuring Challenge (which ended on the 18th -- and I'd already submitted my ride list anyway), I liked the idea so much that I will continue to enjoy informal coffeeneuring rides through the winter.

Anna's was hopping, as everyone else had the same idea we did: find a coffee shop that's open on Thanksgiving (and preferably, one that isn't part of a Large National Chain Based In Seattle). We were successful.

St. Johns has added bike amenities over the last several years, including this nice, roomy bike corral near Anna's. Last time I parked here was two years ago when Robert joined me on a brisk, cold New Year's Day ride through North Portland. Back then, someone had knit-bombed all the bike racks. SO Portland.)

 We made our way out of downtown St. Johns and over to N. Willamette Boulevard, which we took back to near the start.

Along the way, Edna led us into the campus of University of Portland to show us a little lookout at the back corner of the campus. From here we could see all of industrial Nrtoh/Northwest Portland and, off in the distance, Mt. Hood with a little cloud cap perched on top.

By the time we'd taken pictures and checked our watches, it was time to head home so we could get ready for our respective Thanksgiving gatherings. We rode to where Willamette intersects with N. Rosa Parks, and said our goodbyes. Edna and Barbara were off to Peninsula Park, and I wound my way home along Ainsworth.

Total distance: 22.7 miles.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

on user-friendly technology

A teammate who is temporarily laid up from a racing injury has posted to our team list that, as a winter project of sorts, she'd like to compile a list of routes for some of our favorite rides in the area. She has asked us to share our favorite rides with her, and has kindly provided a place to post the routes online. One can either insert a link to an online mapping service (such as, or they can add a formatted cue sheet.

While I appreciate the gesture, I probably can't help her out.

When I go for long rides, I take water, a sack lunch (if I know I'll be out all day), and a Portland bike map -- the old-fashioned, fold-out paper kind. If I get "lost", I'll consult the map, get re-oriented and find my way again. When, on rare occasions, I want to figure out a route in advance, I often use a site called Ride The City ( When I enter the starting and ending locations, the program allows me to choose between a "normal" route, a "safer" route and the "safest" route. It then lays out a route and provides directions which I can cut and paste into an RTF document and, with a lot of manipulation, alter to make it printable and readable. The process, especially transferring the directions to an RTF file, is still time-consuming. As I've grown more proficient with it I've gotten it down to about twenty to thirty minutes to find, re-format and print a route. But when given a choice between printing out a cue sheet and simply taking along a map, nine times out of ten I will choose the latter. It saves time, even if I take a wrong turn and get temporarily "lost".

I maintain a stubborn belief that technology needs to be user-friendly and affordable, or I simply won't use it.
Technology that requires me to upgrade my computer every year and my computer knowledge every week is not, in my thinking, user-friendly. I have neither the time nor the patience to learn entire new ways of thinking technologically, and I certainly don't have the money to buy another computer. It holds little allure for me, and frankly even less incentive.

Hell, when I built up my most recent project, I installed a totally mechanical Huret Multito cyclometer on the fork. No batteries, no shorting out in the rain, and an acceptably rough estimate of mileage (it was made for a 26" x 1 3/8" wheel, not for a smaller 26" mountain bike wheel; so it's off by perhaps a few inches per mile. My rides are never long enough in distance for that discrepancy to become a serious issue). When the rubber band drive belt breaks, I replace it with another from my stash of Huret drive belts.

I found both the cyclometer and the extra drive belts for pennies on the dollar on craigslist and ebay.

This is an example of user-friendly technology. It doesn't require that I learn a whole new language, or even a whole new way ot learning and thinking. It honors my visual/kinesthetic learning style and makes clear and obvious sense to me.

And I guess that's why, when my friend is well enough to ride again, I will probably just take her out for a nice bike ride and some coffee; and not worry about creating a cue sheet.

Friday, November 16, 2012

the art of the useful hack: fenders

fender fix
Originally uploaded by periwinklekog

I went to Crank bikes ( on Tuesday to see if I could find some extra hardware to correct the front fender position so the bike wouldn't look like such an amateur effort. The fellas at Crank not only let me look through their box of fender bits, one of them offered to drill out a hole big enough to fit my existing ahrdware, and loaned me the extra wrench I needed so I could install it myself at their front counter. The end result made the bike look much better.

I've enjoyed riding this bike during what has been a cold, dry week in Portland. One thing I've noticed is that, since I haven't ridden a drop-bar bike in many months, it has taken me a few minutes to find my groove on this bike each morning. Once I'm accustomed to riding in drops again, my body just seems to find its rhythm and my legs spin the cranks effortlessly in a pleasant way.

The bike still looks a little goofy -- and based on my sizing and geometric needs there's no way around that -- but even the guys at Crank conceded that I had done everything right in making the bike fit me. "It's such a Portland bike," one of them enthused as we looked at it together. "It's got everything you need and nothing extra."

I've since added two more vital things: a second water bottle cage (under the downtube, about the only place another bottle will fit on this compact frame) and a Huret Multito cyclometer. I had thought about installing an electronic computer but decided that, since I already had the spare Huret and I wanted to be able to start tracking mileage on this bike right away, I'd spring for the mechanical option. Besides, in this rainy climate it's nice not to have to worry about the thing shorting out.

I'll enjoy another morning on the bike, a trip to and from temple to do some musical work today and then right home again, before the rainy front comes in this afternoon. Come Monday, I'll be taking an extended spin, rain or shine. Yum.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Portland-area Riv/Bstone/bikelovestyle Thanksgiving morning ride

Portland-Area Riv/BStone/bikelovestyle enthusiasts: I'm throwing a Thanksgiving morning Turkey Anticipation Ride. Bring a friend. Rivs and BStones, or any other beautiful bike you love to ride (please make sure your bike is equipped with fenders, this is Portland).

Thanksgiving morning, leaves from the Paul Bunyan statue in Kenton at 9am sharp. (So show up by 8:45 or so.) Easy (average pace 11-12 mph) jaunt along Columbia Slough, through Smith & Bybee Lakes area and around Kelley Point, loop back through historic St. Johns and end at Peninsula park in NE Portland. Assuming a coffee shop will be open in St. Johns, we can stop for coffee if there's consensus. Estimated distance, about 18-20 miles.

Ride your bike early in the day, before you commit to the tryptophan stupor!

About the only thing that will cancel this ride is a snowstrom, or jawbreaker-sized hailstones.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

sekai tourer, part three: ta-daaaah!

I sometimes get obsessed with a new bike build...

Yesterday afternoon, on a sudden whim, I called up a bunch of bike shops and found that none have used fenders right now. Of course not; it's November. Idiot! So I had to cough up the bigger bucks for a basic set of fenders. I went to the shop that had the lowest price, got the fenders and some extra used hardware, and picked up a cool set of pantleg straps to send to pal SlowRPM (if he will ever email me with a sail-mail address -- hint-hint). Went home, installed the fenders, Nitto shortie rack and Carradice Nelson saddlebag, and the Zefal pump that had formerly graced the Longlow, and voila! It finally looked more like a reasonable bike.

 Today I'm meeting a student this morning for a lesson. After that I plan to ride the Sekai around town and listen to what it has to tell me (I already know the brakes will need adjustment, or possible replacement; but if I can run these original brakes I really want to). I may swing by Crank and see if they have a couple small bits to help me lower the front fender a bit. I also need to score a 25.0 laprade seatpost so I can get a finer angle adjustment on the saddle.

The real pisser about needing to source odd used parts is that I could probably find them at Citybikes, where I used to work. That's the shop in eastside Portland (really, in all of Portland) known for being able to come with all manner of odd used parts, and it's the shop where I learned my installation problem-solving skills. Shops that sell only new stuff almost never have what I need, and frankly some of their problem-solving skills leave a little to be desired. (Why make something old work when it's better to buy new? I hear this a lot from the new shops and it infuriates me. Don't these people ever think about sustainability?)

But the truth is that buying anything from Citybikes right now just isn't comfortable for me. I don't know how long I will feel like that, but for now I prefer to solve my technical problems without accessing their huge store of used and archaic bits.

It does feel a little like shooting myself in the toe, but at least I can listen to my gut and be honest with what I hear there.

Today's weather is mostly cloudy and cool, with highs in the 50s and only a few showers. A good day to take the new bike and put it through some easy paces around town. Once I get everything finally dialed in, I'll look forward to a very nice longer ride on Thanksgiving morning.

Monday, November 12, 2012

sekai tourer, part two

I'm nearly done dialing in this bike. I will want to go back and shorten the brake housing a bit once I dial in the stem height I want, and it needs fenders, mini-rack, saddlebag and lights; but otherwise it's darned close.


I may head out this afternoon in search of fenders; I'm leaning towards 700c hybrid fenders, which I can certainly make work with these narrower tires (I don't plan to run knobbies with this bike).

I have a first-generation Nitto mini-rack that will support a large saddlebag beautifully. My other choice is to run a full-sized rear rack and have the option of using panniers, but I sort of want an unencumbered road-esque bike for longer rides. (The likelihood of my doing a really big tour is pretty low anymore, anyway)

It's conceivable this thing could have fenders by tonight and be completely ready to roll tomorrow morning. Whoot!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

project: 1980's sekai atb-cum-roughstuff-tourer

Last month I rode across town in a downpour to buy a bike advertised on craigslist. The goal was to find another small mountain bike frame that I could build up as a small-wheeled, roughstuff sort of tourer/roadie. I brought it home in the trailer.


The bike needed work, and quite a few replacement parts, including new wheels and most of the drive train. Thankfully, I was able to use the original derailleurs. I used quite a few leftover parts from the Blue Rivvy, including the bottom bracket, pedals and cranks.

But when I went to swap in my stem and drop bars, the height was too short. Then I realized that both of my Rvendell frames had additional stack height built into the head tube -- something that most mass-produced frames don't have.

So today I swapped in a new fork, one of those cheap chrome replacements found at any bike shop. I didn't remove any of the steer tube. Instead, I built it up with about two inches of stack washers and the original headset -- and while it looks goofy it works fine. (It turned out to be a good thing I'd replaced the fork, because one of the canti bosses was bent and showing a hairline crack at its base!)

 Looking at the photos again, the bike does look a little goofy. I suppose that can't be helped; I'm trying to make a cheap bike fit me with drop bars and I don't want to go back to 700c at this point. So I will live with a frame whose top tube sits a little too low to look "good", and has a headtube extension that's made from a longer steer tube and tons of stack washers. Whatever. It's safe, and it will work fine. Plus, the benefit of a small frame is that any issues of too long a reach have been solved. (I suppose if I stuck a front rack and boxy bag up front it wouldn't look so odd.)

I like the feel of 26" (559 erd) wheels, and now every bike in my stable has them. I have a ton of affordable tire choices, they handle poorly-maintained streets well and they can climb like nobody's business. Plus, I like the look of a mountain bike that's been city-fied.

For now, all that remains is to hook up the derailleurs and take it out for a test-ride. Ultimately, if it works out I'll fit it with fenders and a saddlebag, and I'll have an affordable drop-bar bike for unencumbered riding on the weekends.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012, # 8: Cafe Eleven (NE Rosa Parks Way)

Although I've now submitted my "official" list of coffee stops for the 2012 Coffeeneuring Challenge, the challenge doesn't officially end until November 11. So I'm giving myself time to enjoy a few more stops along the way. Because I've already submitted my list, I don't have to follow the minimum distance and non-work-day rules as hard and fast anymore, which makes it easier for me since I've gone to a changeable part-time work schedule.

Today's stop: Cafe Eleven (435 NE Rosa Parks Way, 1 block east of MLK at the edge of the Piedmont neighborhood), which is just under a mile from my place but was on the way home from my teaching gig this afternoon. They serve Trailhead coffee (, which is locally roasted and quite delicious. I didn't have time to sit for long, so I got it in my thermal mug and checked out the scenery while I sipped. Cafe Eleven was established in an old house at the edge of a residential zone. It went by some other name last year and this year they changed their name (which may mean they changed hands too; Portland restaurants and cafes are notoriously short-lived).

Total ridden: 11.3 miles.
I'll try to get in one more coffee stop before the challenge ends next Sunday evening.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

in which i remember that i'm still a little sad

Tuesday night I came home from my day of soggy, rainy cargo-biking; took a shower, had dinner and watched the news with Sweetie -- and spent a good part of the evening feeling unsettled and increasingly anxious. And for about an hour I couldn't put my finger on exactly why.

So I talked with Sweetie about what I was feeling. And in the course of talking, it came out in a rush.

I missed being a bicycle mechanic.

I didn't miss all the non-mechanical things that were part of my work at Citybikes -- the head games, passive-aggressive behavior and interpersonal politics; the co-worker who regularly came to work late, hung over and bragging about how much he'd had to drink the night before; the other co-worker who regularly scheduled days off in advance without bothering to arrange for a substitute mechanic; and above all, the endless and increasingly unproductive meetings populated by fewer and fewer workers.

What I missed was handling wrenches and help customers to get back on the road. I missed the heft of a really fine box wrench in my hand; the tactile knowledge of mechanics' feel, developed over eighteen years of turning wrenches; the sound of a pump head leaving the tire valve with a decisive, short phsst! when correct pressure had been reached; and the odd ability to dribble a bicycle wheel on its inflated tire across the floor even though I couldn't do the same with a basketball.

I walked over to a bag in the entryway of our house, and dug around in the bottom of the bag until I found the thing I'd tossed in there back on September 24. I dug it out, brought it back to the sofa, unfolded it in my lap -- and burst into tears.

It was my shop apron.

Made of heavy cotton canvas, now stained from chemicals and greasy with oil, small hand tools still clunking around in the pockets where I'd left them. I remembered grabbing my apron off the hook in back and, in one continuous motion, stuffing it angrily into my bag as one of the last things I'd done before I walked out the door of Citybikes for good. I felt the grease that had been worked into the heavy fabric, and remembered how stiff the apron had felt when it was new; would I ever work enough to get rid of the stiffness? I did. It took about ten years.

So tonight, I sat in my living room and looked at the greasy, work-worn apron in my lap, held it close to me, and cried. Not for hours or anything, just for a little while. I cried in recognition of the fact that, while I had planned to gently and gradually phase myself out of the bicycle industry, my exit from Citybikes had been sudden, harsh and unplanned. It had robbed me of the happy ending I'd wanted, and had broken a piece of my heart. I'd been so busy trying to mostly move forward that, until I'd made some time the other day to putter at home and work on a bike, I hadn't really give much thought to the reality of no longer being a professional bike mechanic.

I feel better now, much calmer. But still sad. My apron sits folded up on my desk, within reach.
Occasionally as I type, I reach out and touch it, feeling the heavy fabric under my fingertips and savoring the odd, sweet familiarity of bearing grease and chain oil that have worn into the fibers.
Tomorrow I will empty its pockets, wash it, and hang it on the hook in the shed.
Then I will go back to writing my lesson plans.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 7: Velo Cult, NE 42nd & Tillamook

Today was mostly a day off -- now that I am tutoring Hebrew students privately I don't always have two full days "off" each week, so I have to squeeze these things in when I can. Thankfully, my Hebrew student met with me early in the day so I could ride around afterwards and get my errands done.

I set out on a balmy, wet day (highs in the mid-60s, steady rain most of the day) clad in full rain regalia and prepared to get soaked. The fall colors were still in evidence in many places, making everything gold and orange and really beautiful; so I didn't mind.

First up: a trip to Crank Bike Shop ( to pick up a frame I'd arranged to have shipped there. (I scored this frame just before I'd found the Sekai a couple of weeks back, and it finally arrived over the weekend.) Crank runs a hot pot with coffee but I wouldn't consider it a full-on coffee stop. Still, I enjoyed unwrapping my cool, new frame (a 1986 StumpJumper that I may build into a singlespeed -- but let me finish the Sekai first!), hefting Justin's new cyclocross wheel (weighed something like 12 ounces -- stupid light) and chatting with the fellas.

I continued on through Northeast, riding up to NE 39th and crossing over the freeway into the Hollywood District for another planned stop at Velo Cult (1969 NE 42nd Avenue -- This is a bike shop AND a community cultural space which hosts films, presidential debates, and live music on a very cool drop-down stage made from a miniature castle door.

As I am playing a show here next week (, I thought it would be a good idea to come by and scope things out -- check out where I want to put seating, set up a space to sell CDs, etc.

The store is really pretty unassuming from the street, except for a couple of bikes on display in the heavily-barred windows. But inside it is delightfully comfortable for a bike shop. A long table made from recycled bowling lanes dominates the room, with benches for folks to sit at while they eat and drink and sometimes wait for their bikes to be repaired.

Velo Cult does not serve food (they'd need a license for that and they're unlikely to be approved in the same room inhabited by rubber and oil), but you can bring your own. They do offer a great selection of microbrews on tap, wine and bottled pop, and even a rootbeer tap for the kids.

The shop is almost cavernous, with lots of open space and a high ceiling -- big enough that, on a quiet day, I can bring my cargo bike into the shop and park it alongside the large communal table.

I hung my wet togs up to partially dry and had lunch, read magazines, and checked my email on my semi-ancient-style mobile phone. I am surprised that I can check my mail and even my Facebook messages on a phone this old-style, but I can.

I can also take medicore pictures that are good enough for documentation purposes.

While I ate and drank and relaxed, a mechanic was at work on a customer's bike.  He kindly stopped what he was doing to wash his hands and brew me a cup of coffee.

I also picked up a couple of inner tubes for my Sekai project. It felt weird to buy tubes and pay full pop at a bike shop, after being able to buy stuff at cost-plus-ten for so many years. But it's okay. My work-life has moved on, and this is part of the new trip.

The Ethiopian coffee was so tasty that it did not need milk or sugar, a rarity for someone used to adding a little of both.  I will order it again.
Finally, when it was time to go home and do some lesson-planning for my classes, I suited up -- my rain gear was only damp now -- said my goodbyes, and took a long, scenic route towards home in a light, steady, almost pleasant rain.

Total distance: 12.8 miles.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 6: Starbucks, NE Ainsworth & MLK

I had spent the morning off puttering on a bike project and lost track of time. So between that and carving out time to rehearse for an upcoming gig ( I had to really dash to squeeze in a Coffee trip.
I decided to try again for the Starbucks at NE Ainsworth and MLK.  ( Turns out that last week my cyclometer's battery had fizzled and my mileage was off by half a mile. So in fact, the Starbucks is at least a mile from home. Barely.

Mister Guitar Dude hangs out in front of this Starbucks all day long, alternating between strumming his Stratocaster copy and thumbing a worn Bible. He glowered at me while I locked up my bike. (He often does that, too. I have learned not to attempt to disarm him by saying hello.)

I raced home with time to spare for the afternoon's rehearsal. Total mileage: 2.2 miles.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 5: Peet's, NE 15th & Broadway

Once again I am compelled to edit the rules of this quirky contest to suit the unconventional trajectory of my life.
Sometimes I work as much as six days a week, part time each day. This just became one of those weeks. As a result, I had to combine a coffee run with a work-related meeting at a central location.
So I chose Peet's Coffee at NE 15th & Broadway (, where I had an excellent cup of hot, fresh Major Dickason's Blend and a raspberry scone while I and a colleague hammered out a lesson plan for an upcoming school-wide event.

I locked up to a crochet-bombed bike rack -- these (and knit-bombed signposts and water fountains) have become the rage in Portland and they pop up all over town:


After my meeting, I took a scenic route home through the Irvington and Sabin neighborhoods, soaking up the fall sunshne and occasionally stopping to admire foliage and history:


The ring is from the horse-and-buggy days of Portland. These were sunk into curbs over 100 years ago so folks could tie up their horses. A few hundred can still be found all over the inner eastside and in downtown; removal of one is subject to a stiff fine (upwards of $500!) for "tampering with a historical landmark".

Along the way, I passed several historically African-American churches, some of which have been standing since the early 1900's. Many have become empty as inner-eastside neighborhoods become gentrified and housing is rendered much more costly; many African-American families have moved further east into mid-[Multnomah] County and even as far east as Gresham, where housing is more affordable.
This historic church on NE Rodney Street is now for sale.


I finally got home in time for some rehearsal and lesson-planning, before heading off to my teaching job this afternoon. Total mileage for ride: 7.4 miles.