Sunday, December 29, 2013

Urban off-road bicycling: pdx

My mountain bike, an old Bridgestone MB-4, has been hanging on a hook since my last short-track race in July 2012. That's right, my short-tack bike has not been ridden in a year and a half. In fact, it still has the dust from that last race, a fine film of motocross powder that can barely been seen on the frame and rims. When I go to grab my city bike, sitting to one side, I sometimes have looked at my mountain bike and winced in shame and guilt.

But a plan is hatching in my brain, a plan that would allow me to ride off-road, have a good time doing it, and not have to depend on rides out of the city.

What if I look for off-road opportunities within Portland's city limits? Between the many side streets in Portland's eastside neighborhoods marked with "Roadway Not Improved" signs, the tiny skills park at one end of New Columbia, and Leif Erickson drive up in Forest Park, there really is no excuse for me to avoid off-road riding if I carve out regular time for it. And becuse it's all small stuff, short "courses" that aren't so technical as to be dangerous, I can use them simply to keep my off-road skills from contentedly packing up and flying to Reno.

I have another week of vacation, and the weather forecast calls for showers and temps in the high 40s during the day. I have some time this week to check out a couple of possibilities and hopefully establish some regular rides that I can pull out of my pocket when I need to go a shred a tiny bit. Will I race again? I don't know. It looks like I'll be invited back to Kansas again in June (the contract is being prepared and I should see it in January), so if I do race it will only be a few short-track races. But really, I find I'm less interested in racing and more interested in Just Riding for fun. I can't predict what kind of riding I'll be doing next summer, but I know that on Thursday morning this week, I'll be
taking a spin on a mountain bike with pumped-up tires and a freshly-oiled chain and seeing what kind of skills I've managed to hang onto after a year-plus of sticking to pavement.

(Special thanks to Joshua Bryant for suggesting a good route up to Forest Park.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

winter rides are sometimes the best rides

Winter rides at the end of the year are often some of the best rides I have.  

A few days ago, I had some time to ride and the weather had warmed up considerably from the cold snap of the last couple of weeks. So I headed out for an afternoon spin. Not knowing where I wanted to go, I headed south for a little while, puttering around the neighborhood, and then turned east. I knew I wanted to try and ride up Rocky Butte at least once, and I had not been there since late last winter. I also had not ridden as much or as hard this year, and I could feel it in my legs. So when I found myself at the base of the hill there was really only one thing to do: go up.

It was harder than I thought, and easier. Harder because I did have to stop and walk my bike a couple of times. Easier because once I got into a groove, I managed to stay on the bike and keep pedaling. I was rewarded at the top with spectacular views, and a brief encounter with an enormous hawk.

This morning, I enjoyed another cold-weather ride, this time with more sun, in and around a great deal of inner N/NE Portland. This was my annual Christmas Morning Ride, a tradition I've maintained since Jr. high school when I realized that I could ride like an idiot on streets that were virtually deserted, and there'd be no one around to stop me. (Well, one year a policemen pulled me over after watching me weave back and forth across four empty lanes on East Burnside in Gresham, Oregon; I was sixteen and he wanted to know why I wasn't home opening Christmas gifts. Once I explained my rationale -- and that I was Jewish -- he let me off with a warning and told me to get my butt home before I froze to death -- it was below freezing that morning.)

As in years past, I enjoyed a mellow ride on nearly-empty streets, hard winter sunshine and dry weather, with a high of around 40F. Home how, and basking in the afterglow of a cold winter ride. May all your rides in 2014 be as satisfying and enjoyable as these.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

laugh-o-the-week: saddle covers

Today on eBay, this priceless Carradice Saddle cover:

When I worked at Citybikes, we sold these things for about twenty bucks each. When we could get them. carradice was notorious for filling only parts of large orders to shops. We'd order fifteen saddlebags, ten Bike Bureaus and  dozen saddle covers, and nine months later we might receive a third of the order. So I get the whole scarcity thing.

But this saddle cover is selling on eBay right now for NINETY bucks. Seriously?

I have my old Carradice Saddle cover. I've repaired it twice with new stitching and proofing wax rubbed into the stitches. Now almost ten years old, it's still going strong, though now I need to play it safe and run a thin plastic bag underneath it during the rainy season. I understand how desirable good gear can be. But when it finally gives up the ghost, I have lots of more affordable -- and easier to find -- options right here in town, including  very stout shower cap I can pick up at Fred Meyer for around three bucks.

Just sayin'.

Happy shopping, kids!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

destination d-i-y: kid-to-cargo trailer conversion

Welcome to another installment of "destination D-I-Y".

Today, I present my new-old cargo trailer.

I bought this in summer of 2012, before I quit working at Citybikes, from a former co-worker who was moving out of town. I paid $15 for it, and at the time it came with 20" wheels, ripped and moldy fabric panels (eew!) and no trailer hitch. I took it home and began collecting parts to make it better. Subsequent upgrades were obtained either for free or for trade, with the exception of the Burley "classic" trailer hitch which ran me $12 used on craigslist and one of the 24" wheels which cost another $20. So if I just count actual money spent I'm into this thing for under $50 total.

Best part: the webbing. I got all of it for free by scavenging it at local construction sites. Parr Lumber wraps their lumber piles in the stuff, and after the wood gets used the webbing gets tossed by the contractor -- unless someone snags it first. The metal cam buckles that often come with the straps are handy and they do work -- just cinch them down tight once you've got everything where you want it to be. In the event that I had to tie real knots I secured those with zip-ties and covered a few of those messy knots with some downspout-sealing gasket-tape (stretches and stays in place, available at Harbor Freight for super-cheap).

The result? A trailer that's perfect for towing my guitar and amp to gigs, as well as fetching groceries and other large items around town. And it's a much more stable ride than a two-wheeled cargo bike.
It looks funky and junky and it creaks a little under load, but I like it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Kansas bike is going to Kansas!

Earlier in the fall, I brought home an abandoned bike with a bent frame and fixed it up.
I decided to keep it in case there was an opportunity for me to travel with a bike next year.
Today the opportunity was verbally confirmed, and during the negotiation it s clarified that my employer will pay for the cost of shipping the bike ahead. so it really will be the Kansas Bike.
It's mostly ready to go -- it's tuned up and rides decently. It just needs a few more things to make it my rolling home-away-from-home for the three and a half weeks I'll be there in the summer. So over the next few months I'll be looking for super-cheap used accessories, including a rear fender and some cheap grocery panniers. 

I'm pleased, both at the prospect of the gig and at the prospect of having a bike that fits me while I'm there. I'll have to research some longer rides for my days off there.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

can it ever be too cold to ride?

In my case, I'd have to say the answer these days is, Yes.
Yes, it can be too cold to ride. Even when you dress for it, as I have done: laters of thin wool and wind-resistant riding pants, sweaters and a wind-proof shell, all extremities covered with hat and gloves and neckwarmer, shoes covered with an extra pair of old wool socks, my bicycle's toeclips with wind-covers installed for the winter. Yes, I am doing everything right. And it is still too cold ride some days.

For the last few weeks, Portland has been in the grip of some of the coldest temperatures we've ever seen in late November and early December in a long time. Lows have been in the teens. Highs have often been below freezing.
(My friends in the Midwestern US can go ahead and chuckle now. I know you deal with this stuff all the time; we'll compare notes when you guys start seeing 45 inches of rain a year, okay? It's all good.)

I missed some of it by being in Mendocino (along California's beautiful northern coastline) for Thanksgiving. There, we walked around in shirtsleeves along the rugged, windswept headlands. The high was near 70 some days! I definitely got some Vitamin D during that trip and, in spite of not having a bike to ride, I came home physically refreshed from walking outside every day.

Since returning home, I have resorted to multi-modal transportation most days. However, the last few days have just been Too Damned Cold for me to ride in, and when I've had to venture out I've taken the bus or gotten a ride in someone's car.
When does it get too cold to ride a bike? When I do so and the next morning my knees creak painfully from having been out in sub-freezing temps, that's when. I stubbornly rode errands last Thursday, to Portland State and then all the way up into NW Portland to deal with the album art and then to teach. By the time my class got out at 6 pm, the temp had dropped down to 21F and my knees let me know they were not up for a long ride over the Broadway Bridge. I hopped MAX over the river and all the way up to Overlook before riding the rest of the way home.

I love riding my bike, don't get me wrong. It is still the loveliest way to get from place to place. But when the thermometer tells me it's below 20F, well, that is just too cold for my knees. I still look younger than my age (I always have, since I was a kid, only now it's a source of amusement rater than frustration), but I can tell you that my joints really are fifty years old and riding when it's this cold out only confirms it.

Today it's going to reach a relatively balmy 32 degrees. Yessss! I'm going to ride over to Velo Cult and see what's happening. The sun may even peek out from behind the cloud cover now that the snow has melted. I'll be sure to leave before dark.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How many water bottles do we need, really?

Lots of water bottles are out there in the world.
Not only in the bicycle industry, but, well, everywhere.

These will be handed out at a convention later this week. And millions -- not thousands, but millions more -- will be given away at events, contests, fundraisers and all sorts of gatherings in just the next few months around the world. Every single bottle will eventually be lost, tossed, given away and/or re-gifted somewhere. I'd be willing to bet money that more than half of these bottles -- and I'd guess there are hundreds of them in this room -- will eventually end up in a box headed to Goodwill or to a landfill within a year of being received by the event's participants.

Thinking back to my post about the very expensive "vintage" Rivendell Bottles being offered on eBay, I can't help but ponder just how silly this seems to me -- and how terribly wasteful.
I have a handful of plastic water bootlegs left over from my hers in the bicycle industry. The newest is about a year and a half old.

When I reach for a water bottle, nine times out of ten it's a stainless steel number by Klean Kanteen. (Other companies make such bottles, and all seem fine, though be sure the plastic cap is BPA-free before you buy one). Washable and very durable -- one of my bottles survived a fall down a ravine in Grand Canyon National Park last summer -- they are simply the best way I've found to carry water with me anywhere I go. The tops usually come with a loop so you can hook them on a bag or belt and then you're less likely to lose the bottle. And as long as you empty them beforehand, they are allowed to be brought aboard an airplane (where the flight attendant will cheerfully let you refill it with water).

So why are so many plastic bottles continuing to be made and offered everywhere in the developed world? The truth is, we don't need them. There are a zillion other things people could get at gatherings that would be far more useful and meaningful than Yet Another Plastic Water Bottle. Think about that next time to participate in a bicycle event and you're offered one. When it happens to me, I politely refuse, and when I get home I write a letter to the event organizers asking them to reconsider why they offer in their goody bags next time.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

when it stops being funny: specialized-as-bully

A few years ago, an enterprising young woman opened her own custom wheelbuilding business. Called Epic Wheelworks, it was very successful, growing slowly and steadily as more Portland bicycle enthusiasts began to order custom wheels from the small business. Then, the Specialized Bicycle Company stepped in, and forced Jude to change the name of her business or face an expensive lawsuit for trademark infringement. Apparently, they had bought the rights to all uses of the word, "epic". Anyone who dared to use the word anywhere, even in a sentence in a book report, could get sued by Mike Sinyard and his thugs. Owner Jude Kirstein decided not to risk her small business against the 900-pound gorilla that is Specialized, and caved, changing her company's name to Sugar. By all accounts she is doing well, and not only because she's good at what she does, but probably in some small part because the David-and Goliath story of her brush with Specialized earned the sympathy of Portlanders who generally have a strong independent streak and love to stick it to the man whenever possible.

Well, it's happening again. This time, a small bicycle shop near Calgary, Alberta is being forced to change its name. This time, the shop was named for a region in France through which an epic -- oops! -- bicycle race is run each year. The owner of Cafe Roubaix Bicycles is being told by Specialized that if he doesn't change the shop's name immediately, he'll be sued. Specialized is on slightly shakier ground this time, even with their cadre of high-priced attack dogs lawyers; Fuji has a bicycle model called Roubaix and so far there is no report of the two bicycle manufacturers duking it out with each other in court. Apparently Specialized prefers to spend less money going after smaller fish in its efforts to Protect The Brand.

Here's what I think: If you want to support this small business owner, call him up and ask to buy one of his shop's t-shirts with the name Roubaix on it (the artwork is very nice, by the way). If enough of us were to suddenly be seen wearing these, Specialized would have to sue each and every single one of us, a PR faus-pax that even they would not be stupid enough to commit. Or would they?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

laughable unreality part five: rapha handlebar tape

 Saw this on eBay yesterday and laughed out loud:

Starting bid is $75.00. A close-up reveals that this is no ordinary handlebar tape:

In fact, it looks almost exactly like, well, tennis raquet grip tape...

... which is also available on eBay for a starting price of about $5.00 a roll.

It seems Rapha is putting their name on anything these days. When I see it on insoles, I'll know they've really arrived.

Okay, everyone back to work.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

made by hand

In 1996, A co-worker and I took the train to Eugene, Oregon for the grand opening of a new warehouse and manufacturing facility for Burley Design Cooperative. Burley was still a co-op in those days; its one hundred worker-owners handled every aspect of manufacturing and management of the business.

During the tour of the new facility, Roger and I were shown the wheel-building department, a large corner of the building given over entirely to rims, spokes and hubs and the systems needed to build and true them. What we saw there blew our minds: after initial, loose lacing by three workers seated at a large round counter, each wheel was then placed on a conveyor belt which led it to a large machine that proceeded to tension and true each wheel using computerized arms with spoke wrenches on the ends. I had recently learned how to build wheels from scratch at Citybikes, where I was still something of an apprentice mechanic at the time. Seeing these machines do what I had understood as a human-based craft. I looked on the scene with equal parts fascination, awe and horror. Turning to Roger, I asked, "why did you just spend two days teaching me how to build a wheel?"

Roger told me not to worry. He believed that many customers would still pay more for a human-made "craft-built" custom wheel. And years later, I can tell you that he was right.

The fact is, machine-built wheels DO save time, and at the lower end of the scale, they also save money. But a wheel that is strong enough to carry a large rider and/or a heavy load stays true longer, and is more durable, than a cheap machine-built wheel. Over the next fifteen years I would watch -- and eventually educate -- a steady stream of overweight American recreational riders, who would whine when told that their thirty-dollar wheel simply wasn't strong enough to support their weight; sigh, and then hand over the hundred dollars or more that it would cost to build them a much stronger custom wheel.

The other fac of life is that, while most shops still sell factory-built wheels -- and many of these now use higher-end parts -- when the wheels arrive at the shop someone still has to spot-check and true them before they can be put out for sale. In otherwords, the final test of a wheel's quality is still up to a skilled human mechanic. Think about that the next time you hear how machine-made products are not only cheaper, but better, than human-made products. That's not always the case.

So when I recently saw this being offered up on eBay, I was surprised, and then amused.

This is exactly what the wheel machines at Burley looked like. And here was someone who was shutting down their manufacturing business, selling off these now-older machines.
Meanwhile, I still know how to build wheels from scratch. Forgive me if I'm feeling a little smug right now, but once again human-based skill reigns supreme.

Go to your local bike shop today and hug your mechanics. Or at least bring them a treat.