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 (http://slow-rpm.blogspot.com/) 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: http://www.rondswan.com/products.php

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 (http://www.bikecraftpdx.com/). 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 (http://annabannanascafe.com/) 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 Bikely.com), 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 (http://www.ridethecity.com/portland). 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 (http://www.crankpdx.com) 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 (http://www.trailheadcoffeeroasters.com/), 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.