Monday, April 30, 2012

in which i am vindicated

At last, someone with some money and clout in the bike retail scene is in agreement with me about 650b.

Over two years ago, I shared my experiences in experimentation with 650b, a result of my involvement with helping test the prototype of a 650b porteur style frame. In the end, while I could feel a difference in the ride quality, I stated that the difference was too subtle to be noticed by all but the most geeky and experienced bike riders; and that there aren't enough of them to support an entire industry making room for this new-again wheel size in manufacturing and supply. I also predicted that not all manufacturers would get on board with stcking enough tread variety in this size to make it cost-effective. In short, I'd said at the time, it's novel and interesting; but not significant enough to make lots of room for. And indeed, I noticed when customers, even well-heeled customers with money and space for dozens of bikes in their stables, began to question to sense of making space for 650b in collections that already included two other tires sizes:

With the advent of 650b entering the off-road fray in a bigger way this year, There has been not a little chest-thumping by some pretty big names in the industry, exhorting all of us to get on board and make room for this wheel/tire size. 650b is the future, they bleat long and loudly.

650b may be the wet dream of a handful of Randonneurs who envision making over a few select, soggy Northwest cities in the image of Amsterdam and Paris, but it's not the future. And David Guettler of River City Bicycles explains why, very eloquently:

"Is this really what the bike industry needs at this point in time? In these days of so many shops trying to scrape out a modest profit with so many things like Internet competition, mass sporting goods stores, REI and Performance stores fighting for our customers' dollars, we are supposed to embrace another wheel standard with its tire selections, tubes, wheels, forks -- all to answer a question not one customer (that I've talked to) has ever asked?"   (emphasis mine)

Since introducing 650b tires and rims in our store about 7 years ago, our humble shop -- less than a mile away from David's shop -- has sold perhaps two dozen pairs of tires, and we've built up perhaps a dozen custom wheels in that size. That is not a lot of customer demand in my book.
We've decided not to make a big fuss about 650b because most of our customers can't afford the higher cost of transitioing their lives to that wheel size, and the few that are intersted won't make up the difference for us financially.
River City, a much higher-end shop than Citybikes, isn't doing much with 650b because his customers aren't asking for it.

At what point does it become the job of retailers to push the agenda of the bicycle manufacturing juggernaut down customers' throats?

A tip of the sweaty cotton cycling cap to David Guettler for daring to point out that, when it comes to the 800-pound gorillas shoving 650b down the throats of retailers who can ill afford to make room for the size in their inventories, the emperor is bare-assed naked. Bless you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Since coming to the realization that my relationship with bicycling has had to change, my body has felt creakier. Most mornings, I now wake up with knees and sometimes hands feeling stiff and achy. The barometer has been a little up and down but mostly the days are slowly getting warmer, but mostly I just notice everything more.

Last night after Stompy went away perched atop a friend's car rack, I treated myself to a hot bath with Epsom salts. It was lovely.

This morning, my hands are stiff and sore as I type. My knees ache every time I get up from a seated position, or when I climb stairs. Is the admission of my body's aging process the signal for my body to sudden;y feel older? Or does my body's aging process provide the impetus for my decision to quit racing? It feels like a psychic chicken-and-egg question.

I'm doing all the right things: riding in easier, lower gears; taking Glucosamine fr my joints (been doing this for several years now); and trying to do less with my hands at the bike shop (though the transition now won't really kick in until the fall -- I hope my hands can hang on that long!). And still, my body feels suddenly, radically, noticably creakier and older than it did at this time last year. What the hell is going on?

I've been reading up on electric-assist cargo bikes. I am especially taken with a massive speciment built by Bill Stites:

This baby would easily transport all my gear -- guitar, amp, stool, cables and everything else -- to and from local gigs. I wouldn't need a license or insurance for it (though I would need a larger garage-space to store it in). It fits in the bike lane. I am totally in love with it. But the several-thousand-dollar price tag makes it more expensive than a decent used car. It's a "someday" thing.

Meanwhile, I'm dreaming of really serious, big-ass cargo bikes. And so are my knees.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

goodbye, stompy

After realizing that my singlespeed racing days were over, I knew I had to take one final step and find a new home for Stompy.
I asked my teammates if any of them wanted to buy my Redline singlespeed bike. A couple got back to me; one couldn't afford it anytime soon and the other is way too tall for the thing. So when a racing buddy from another team asked about the bike for her 14-year-old daughter, I agreed to let them come over and take a look.

They came by tonight after work. The teenager in question is fourteen and long-limbed. She's also a few inches shorter than I am. I lowered the saddle to the right height and let her get on. The bike fit her like a glove. I tossed in some tires for both short-track and cyclocross; and the clip-on fenders for her to ride to/from muddy races without making a mess. Her mom and I had a nice chat about how things had gone over the winter and where we were headed in the coming months. She was happy with the bike, her daughter was absolutely thrilled, and everyone went away happy. Even me.

I look forward to seeing this girl race against the other Juniors on a singlespeed and get her rightful props this summer.

Thanks, Stompy. It's been a wonderful ride.

Monday, April 16, 2012

tectonic plates, shifting

This is the main bathroom at the bike shop where I have worked since 1995.

I began working at Citybikes in April of 1995. By November of 1995 I was invited to become an owner in the co-op. I remained an owner, working longer hours and carrying the weight of the co-op on my shoulders, until December 1998 when I gave up my ownership in order to return to college and finish my degree. I remained employed at Citybikes as a non-owner and worked my way through school, then worked full-time until July of 2001, when I boarded a train and headed east for graduate studies.
I returned to Portland in February of 2002, and worked at a non-profit that year. The non-profit unceremoniously laid me off on New Year's Eve 2002. I spent the next six weeks caring for my father, until his death in February 2003.
I was invited to return to Citybikes in March of 2003. I needed the job and felt ready to return to the for-profit bike industry. I returned, and in August of that year I was invited to consider applying for ownership again. There were a few fits and starts in the process -- I was the first owner sho had left ownership and then applied to return -- but I was voted back in as an owner in March of 2004.
In all this time, I have carried the weight of the co-op on my shoulders and worked as hard as I could. Other than nearly two decades of serious life lessons, an admirable set of mechanical skills and some good relationships forged along the way, I have little else to show for my time in the bicycle industry. If there is blame to be placed for this reality, it lies in equal parts at the feet of Citybikes, the bicycle industry, and me.

This year I knew it was time to stop carrying so much of that weight.
Today I am handing in my written notice of intent to resign my ownership share in the co-op.
For good.
I will stop being an owner on September 1.
If the co-op wants me to stick around I will remain as a part-time worker; Citybikes will become my secondary employer and the synagogue where I work as a musician and teacher will become my primary employer. If the co-op does not want me to stick around past September -- a doubtful scenario in light of how understaffed we are these days but stranger things have happened -- I will get a part-time job somewhere else. This is Portland and I am still a bicycle mechanic, after all.

If asked why I'm doing this, all I can say is that it was time, and probably past time, to do so.
I needed to finally step up and give my own tectonic plates a hard shove.
If little earthquakes result along the way, that too is my choice.
I'll live with the earthquakes, and their tiny aftershocks, as I make my way into the new career path of my choosing.
It's a good thing I know how to ride through loose gravel.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

it's done.

Last night, after a long work day in which my knees ached with every trip up and down the stairs and after five months of mornings in which my fingers regularly "popped" into a closed position when first waking up, I recognized that I cannot be a bicycle racer anymore. At the very least, I cannot be a singlespeed racer anymore, and since I love singlespeed so much I seriously doubt I'll want to race any other way.

Without health insurance and the ability to pay for knee replacements, my only recourse is to listen to my body and admit that things have changed. In fact, things were changing well over a year ago, while I was lifting weights and stretching to prepare for the 2011 sason and I felt my knees twinge regularly. My knees have twinged now and then since high school, so I said nothing about it at the time, hoping that continued stretching and strengthening would help. My knees got worse, and hurt more. By my last cyclocross race I suspected that I would have to stop racing, at least singlespeed. In the end, my muscles got stronger but my joints did not, and I was left with the only conclusion I could make. I am getting older. My joints are getting older faster than the rest of me. I am lucky to have had to ability to do demanding things with my body for as long as I have, but in the end I know the time has come to close this chapter and move on.

I told my teammates, and my friends in OBRA that I was done racing. I will put my beloved Stompy up for sale so that it can continue to be ridden and raced. And I will sell off a graet deal of my racing-oriented bike clothing that I don't need anymore.

I am sad, but also relieved. And while getting older is sort of a drag, it's also an amazing process to watch and feel and experience. I may look ten years younger than my real age, but my knees are ten years older than the rest of me, and noting how they've changed and stiffened over the last several years has been at least as fascinating as it has been frustrating.

I am grateful for the ride.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

the personality of the bike helmet

Anyone remember that classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, the one where the truckload of hats crashes and the hats go flying out the back of the truck? The wind whips up and causes some of the hats to land on our Looney Tunes gang -- Bugs, Daffy and Porky, et al -- and they take on personalities dictated by whatever hat they're wearing.

So it is with bicycle helmets. And when I noticed a long, thin crack in my helmet after only a year's use, I knew I had to replace it. The helmet I'd had, like most of its rpedecessors, was a quasi-racy affair with sleek lines, strategically-placed vents and a shark fin sort of thing gong on in back. The shape was never truly flattering but it did make me look a little like a racer.

With all the changes in my life, I decided something much simpler and less pretentious was in order. After considering my options and liking relatively few of them, I finally went for the Giro Reverb. Basically a throw-back to the color schemes of the early 90's Giro helmets, but with an even simpler shape and MUCH better fit.

I chose a sky blue/white color scheme, and removed the visor since I still prefer wearing cotton cycling caps under my helmet (reduces helmet hair significantly), but otherwise it looks like this. And you know what? I love it. My co-workers have told me it's perfect -- one says it's a "total beth helmet", which I take as high priase. (Sweetie thinks it's ugly and goofy looking, but she thinks this way of most bicycle helmets so I know it's not personal.)

Today, I began cleaning out the closet and drawrers of all the lycra I don't wear anymore -- mostly because a lot of it is now too big on me (I've kept off a good deal of the weight I lost last year through weightlifting -- I still don't eat huge portions and I still do ride most days, even if I couldn't afford the gym anymore). Some of it is extras from wehen I was getting into racing and trying to figure out what stuff worked best. And I don't really need any of it anymore.

Look for me this spring and summer in touring shorts, tee-shirts and sweaters, cotton crocheted gloves and flat shoes. And check eBay for some very affordable cycling togs if you need any.

Before too long I will probably take a serious look at thinnig the herd. Not sure which bikes I'll sell yet but figure at least one or maybe two. I am flrting with the idea of going to a smaller herd that uses all the same tire size, for durability and practicality. (Friends in the know are going to predict that I'm leaning towards an all-26" stable and they'd be right.)
Stay tuned, as my decision-making process on this is evolving.

Happy riding! Everything is blooming here -- go out and enjoy!