Wednesday, April 30, 2014

thirty days of biking: done. but what for, exactly?

Today ends the little experiment: could I ride every day for thirty days in a row? The answer is, no. Passover simply made that impossible. (For those of you who don't observe this holiday, just know that it involves cleaning and cooking to such an extent that one does not leave the house until it's done, and by then your guests have arrived for the seder. I'm letting myself off the hook for this one.)

But twenty-nine out of thirty ain't bad. Considering that some of those days were pretty awful weather-wise, with cold, driving rain and a couple of thunderstorms thrown in for fun, I'll call it good.


I read an article in the latest issue of Harper's last night that really saddened me and sort of depressed me for awhile. It was all about the fact that, as the life span of the earth goes, there have been five Great Extinctions, mass extinctions of many species as the earth's conditions changed radically in a relatively short period of time (by short, we've usually been talking about a hundred thousand years or so, though there may be evidence that at least one great mass extinction was brought about by a massive asteroid which wiped everything out much faster than that). Now, in a new book called The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, author Elizabeth Kolbert lays out the science that shows that we are, in her understanding, headed for a sixth extinction that will -- not just likely, but definitely -- mean the end of the human race. The difference is that this sixth extinction will happen in a much shorter span of time, largely because of the Industrial Revolution and all the micro-industrial revolutions that have followed over the last 250 years, accompanied by unchecked rampant consumption of natural resources and unregulated population booms. A geologist at UC Berkeley suggests that, unless radical political and economic steps are taken immediately -- and that seems highly doubtful -- The sixth extinction could happen by sometime around 2400 CE.

Reading that last night and realizing that's only 300 years away saddened me beyond words. Obviously, I shouldn't read Harper's at bedtime. But even in broad daylight this suggestion haunts me, and makes me doubt everything about my existence, about everyone's existence. What are we HERE for? Moreover, what ARE we for?

It makes my long-held beliefs about bicycles being part of the solution ring hollow. It is highly likely that we've gone too far and that one day in the not-so-distant future we will all be extinct. And there will not be enough of us making good, caring choices now to prevent it.

On the other hand, considering our mortality on such an overwhelming scale does serve another purpose: it reminds me that we are not so much greater than the other species of the earth. It puts humans squarely back in the food chain. Such an overwhelming, final sense of mortality writes us back into the grand calendar of all natural history, which is probably where we belong anyway.

That's not to say that my riding a bicycle will, or won't, matter and more or less today than it did yesterday. It simply puts my decision to live car-free or car-lite in another perspective.

"In the long run," the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote, "we are all dead." And he was right. But in the short run, we can still make life sweeter, healthier, fairer for everyone and just plain better while we're still here. Maybe we ARE living in a sort of perma-now, in a cosmic sense; and the bicycle helps to slow me down enough for me to inhabit that time and space a little more easily. Maybe it's appropriate that we will one day be extinct. That fact doesn't erase the reality of our human condition now, or even tomorrow. And it doesn't make my bicycle-riding pointless. because in the shorter term, we can still make life better.

So tonight I will ride my bicycle into town and teach the next generation. And if I'm lucky I'll go home having learned something, too. Because we still have time. And maybe, God or the Universe willing, all the time we have will be all the time we need.

Happy riding.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Today I worked for four hours at a local bike shop, an audition for the owner to gauge my mechanical skills. The upshot is that if he liked me and he had some hours available, he would hire me to work part time for him when I return from my Kansas gig.

First up, a tour of his tiny shop space. During the "tour" we talked about various things, parts and industry standards and how, very soon, Shimano will only be available to shops through a couple of US distributors. 

Second up, unbox and build up a brand new commuter bike. Sram 1 x 9 drive train; basic (though not sucky) wheels and disc brakes. The owner knew I hadn't worked much on disc systems so he was glad to give me a lesson. Unfortunately, he said, I was being taught on some pretty crappy brakes, 
Tektro's Novela model. 

An example of them can be seen here:

They were a little fussy and the rotors were slightly bent right out of the box. Tolerances were not very close and the brakes seemed, well, almost crude in their feel and adjustability. I was told this was normal for so entry-level a unit. That this is the best you can hope for on a bicycle that retails for just over $600 was really sad. Maybe that's considered a "cheap" bike nowadays, but $600 is still a big chunk of change for a lot of people.

Third up, a simple job consisting of rear wheel and tire swap and a mini-tune, which is basically what we used to call a Safety Check with a little love added on. I wiped the bike down when I was done, which apparently is more than some shops do for even a full tune-up.

The owner seemed happy with my work and will let me know how many hours he can pffer when I get back into town. He wished he could bring me on sooner, but understands that he can't.
It was nice to turn a wrench again.

Friday, April 25, 2014

thirty days of biking: week four highlights

So I have to make an admission: I was not able to ride thirty straight days in a row. The fact is that, due to obligations around the Passover holiday, there was not any time for me to get a bicycle ride in, even a ceremonial one, early in the holiday.  So I will not have biked for thirty days when it's all over. That said, twenty-nine of out thirty isn't bad, especially in car-centric America.

Not sure whether the car or its truck needed more help. N. Killingsworth St.

N. Mississippi Avenue, testing the Kansas bike again. I'll probably take another couple of rides on it before I box it up for shipping (to, well, Kansas).

Seen in a shop window on N. Mississippi. Honestly. Pretty sure I'd find this only in Portland.

And yes, someone actually tried to saw through a city-installed bicycle rack.

Benson Bubbler, downtown. These were a gift to the city from noted timber baron and philanthropist Simon Benson. The high school where I coached marching band for years is named for him -- Benson Polytecnic High School is the only one of the city's original high schools not named for a US president.

I will post a few final shots from the final half-week of riding, April 27 through 30, next week. Cheers and happy riding!

Monday, April 21, 2014

letting go: the Riven-thrill is gone

I became a "lifetime subscriber" to the Rivendell Reader back in 1998.
The Rivendell Reader in those days was. smart, quirky and gave readers credit for having some intelligence. It was also heavy on articles and light on advertising [for its own products].
Along the way and through the years, the Reader became more expensive and time-intensive to create every quarter. At the same time, Rivendell found itself struggling to keep up with demand for some of its products and struggling to remain competitive with a slew of copycat companies who offered some of the same quirky, manly "country bike chic" at lower prices.

I've remained pretty faithful to Rivendell over the years, because I appreciate their stubborn refusal to carry products made. in China and because I continue to admire their founder's commitment to bicycles for non-racers.

But the times have changed, and so have I. I no longer care so much where my bicycle parts are made because most of what I need -- tires, tubes and acceesories -- IS made in China. I cannot do anything about that which will make a real difference in the long run. The fact is, in order to eschew Chinese-made bicycle products, I have to spend a lot more than I can afford to. Rivendell recognized this awhile back, and in order to stay in business and be located in an expensive East Bay suburb, they had to cater to an ever higher-end clientele. In the process, more and more riders like me got sort of left behind. On a smaller side-note, their advertising and product lines seem more and more geared to promoting a rough-and-ready -- and very male -- image that I find I am less and less interested in supporting with my money and time. I am a woman -- a rather androgynous one, admittedly, but still a woman. I would prefer to simply ride my bicycle and not worry so much about whatever image I project (or help any company to promote).

It's been fun and I have no regrets. And now I'm ready to move on.

I am sitting on a small pile of Rivendellia and related items that I will be finding new homes for over the next few weeks. The fact is that I don't really need any of it anymore, and I'd rather see it go to someone who will love it and appreciate it more. Stuff like jerseys, MUSA shirts and woolen slipper socks, an unused RBW water bottle, and various printed materials that I am finally ready to let go of. I still ride a Rivendell bicycle, but honestly if it got stolen (heaven forbid) I would replace it with someing far cheaper and equally durable. Because I've moved past the time in my life when brand names and their reputations really matter quite so much. Stay tuned and check out eBay now and then in the next few days or weeks. and above all, Happy Riding.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

thirty days of biking: week three highlights

Highlights of the third week of 30 Days Of Biking: Springtime in Portland.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

thirty days of biking: week two highlights

A few highlights from the second week of my pledge to ride daily for thirty days:

1. I thrilled to the sound of geese flying low overhead as I crossed the Broadway Bridge this past Sunday to go to my teaching job. It was a brilliant morning that grew sunnier and warmer with every mile.

The view when I arrived at work:

2. Bike Boulevards are the new "Bike Routes". Basically, the City of Portland has decided (in its infinite wisdom?) that painting sharrows on the streets and adding cute little toppers to street signs helps to make it clearer that This Is A Street Where Bike Riders Should Go In Droves. Or something like that. It has certainly helped in some places, like NE Going Street. In other places it's not yet clear if this re-branding has made much of a difference in bicyclist safety.

3. The Portland Loo saved me more than once this past week, when I made it downtown and had to rush to find a restroom quickly. On a Sunday morning. When almost nothing was open yet. Mostly I can manage the symptoms of Crohn's disease; but when I can't I am so glad to find a Portland Loo. This is a public bathroom structure made of steel and large enough to wheel your bicycle inside while you take care of business. There are two that are on my route to work and they come in handy (except when someone is sleeping in one, which has happened occasionally).

Next week: a report on how to fuel up for long rides while living with the dietary restrictions of Passover. (Hint -- Matzoh Roca is an amazing source of quick carbs.)

Happy riding!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

for sale: bridgestone mb-4 with some serious upgrades

Selling my short-track bike. Retro-fitted in 2012 and raced ONCE, then hung up indoors. In excellent condition, and I'll toss in a brand-new set of never-mounted Panaracer small-block tires that are perfect for short-track. Please tell your friends!

Monday, April 7, 2014

thirty days of biking: day seven

A lovely morning that started out cool and got warm quickly! Sunny and bright, with a high of 70F!

Met a friend to catch up over at the library; then looped around the neighborhood before heading back to the house to do some yard work and hang out with Sweetie in the sun. Headed out again in the afternoon to meet students. A beautiful day, and the ride home in the cool, delicious evening air was heavenly.

Bike Polo House, NE Portland. Note the polo mallets used to repair the missing posts.

Foreclosures have slowed down but are still a real problem in inner eastside Portland. A number of homes have these signs in their yards, urging neighbors who are struggling with their banks to stay and fight.

Sweetie uses this library all the time for her work as a freelance writer/researcher. She and the librarians get along swimmingly; every now and then she bakes them cookies.

April gets busier for me now, with preparations for Passover around the corner and planning for the remainder of the school year consuming more of my time and energy. So for the remainder of this glorious month of daily rides, I will save up the best photos of the week's rides and post them each Friday morning. Happy riding!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

thirty days of biking: day six

After riding into town this morning to teach and heading home again, I did some pre-Pesach cleaning and then relaxed for a little while with Sweetie before heading out for another ride, this on a recreational affair with a group calling themselves Womens' Bike Swarm. I'd gotten an invite on my Facebook feed to join this ride, which would begin at a city park and end at a local pub. The group's stated purpose: to encourage more women to ride bicycles in Portland, and to consider the reasons women remain underrepresented in the city's cycling share. I rode across town all the way to Colonel Sommers Park, arrives on the dot at the appointed time, and waited for half an hour, taking an occasional loop around the park to see if there was a group of women with their bicycles. Nothing. I kept riding around every five to ten minutes or so, and found nothing other then small groups of park-users and folks tending community garden plots in the late afternoon sunshine. I tried reaching the group via Facebook, but my [not-smart] flip-phone wouldn't let me send messages via FB.
Finally, around 6 pm, I gave up and made my way home. I had a ride, just not the ride I'd hoped for. I decided to leave a note on the FB page for the event sharing my experience. Honestly, while I would like to find a group of women to ride with from time to time, I think I'd prefer a group that had its act a little more together, and one whose leaders did not assume that everyone in the universe can afford smartphone technology.

Still, it was nice to ride this afternoon. The sun came out and warmed things up considerably, allowing me to ride in shirtsleeves at a leisurely pace that I could manage after a long morning of teaching and having already ridden eight miles. By the time I got home I had ridden over twenty miles on the day, the most I generally ride at one time anymore. Dinner and a glass of cider helped calm my indignation, and tonight I can feel glad for having had a nice ride in the sunshine. I also recognize that perhaps I need to look at a different demographic for female riding friends who like slow rides. The older I get, the less patience I find that I have for the Spontaneity Generation.

..:: sigh::..

Saturday, April 5, 2014

thirty days of biking: day five

Sometimes you just have to go get stuff. First, an egg pickup from our friend whose urban chicken condo is in full production right now (so local, so organic, happy chickens, no guilt). Then, it was off to the lumber yard to get a couple bags of wood pellets. I would've waited till Monday if we weren't so close to being out; I prefer not having to go to stores on Saturday. But our supply wouldn't have lasted the cats two days, and it was a nice ride all the same.

The guys at the lumber yard are totally fine about letting me roll right into the warehouse where the bags of pellets are stacked up, though they do insist on loading my trailer for me. The "new" trailer date from the late 90's and is rated to carry up to 100 lbs. I probably could have managed another 40 lb. bag; but storage space at home dictated that I stop at two bags.

The ride home was short and sweet. Today's weather: high of 55F, with light showers on and off throughout the day. Starting Monday it's supposed to warm up quite a lot -- into the 70s!

stolen trailer: update

UPDATE: An email from one of my bicycle buddies has just informed me that my "old" (stolen) trailer had been spotted at a "very rough-looking" homeless encampment in east Multnomah County, some fifteen miles from where I live. It was piled high with camping gear and other stuff, and beng towed by a big, tall guy who looked like he might be mentally altered in some way (unable to hold a straight line while he pedaled, menacing-looking expression).
Lesson: Poverty is real, and it sucks, and it drives some people to desperate acts. Whoever stole my trailer was desperate enough to think he needed it more than I did. I am blessed with employment that enabled me to save up and buy another used trailer to fix up and use, and one that folds so I can lock it up inside at night.
That's life in this world today. In cities across America, distinctions of "have" and "have not" are being reduced to a much more base level than before. I'm not a "have" because I am healthy enough to be able to rely on a bicycle trailer to haul with I need, but because I have a job that allowed me to buy a trailer instead of stealing one.

Friday, April 4, 2014

thirty days of biking: day four

Another trip into town to teach the little ones. Gorgeous spring morning, with big spots of blue sky puncuated by swirling clouds.

Parking at the preschool (parked next to a Pre-K teacher's Davidson). On days when there aren't so many people inside, no one minds if we park here. On more crowded days when all grades are in session, I lock up outside.

When we first moved into our house a decade ago there were two tulips growing here. Over the years bulbs have divided. This year, for the first time, we have SIX beautiful tulips in fiery red-and-yellow. They greeted me with a burst of color as I rode up the driveway.
It's spring! Yay!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

thirty days of biking: day three

Between errands, teaching and a stop at my favorite espresso bar, my day was complete -- and a little tiring. I began by picking up the lawn mower from our local sharpener, in my new [to me] trailer. The shop is nearer to our house since gentrification forced the business farther north; but you couldn't tell they'd moved recently. I won't give the name or location in case OSHA decides to do a spot-check.

After comng home, unloading and storing the trailer and mower, I relaxed for a little while until it was time to go into town and teach. After a rambunctious (but fun) class with my fifth graders, I opted to go multi-modal so I could catch light-rail up the big hill to Overlook before pedaling the rest of the way home.

Had to restock coffee before they closed at 4! Nossa Familia Espresso Bar, NW 13th and Johnson

Theodoro's Italian Roast. Medium-Dark, with hints of chocolate. Fresh-ground to suit while you wait. Get some.

Old Town Station, across the street from Sisters of the Road Cafe.

the art of the useful hack

I got another trailer, a very old Burley 2-seater whose fabric is beginning to flake its waterproofing and that's missing the rain fly. But I needed a trailer to replace the one that got stolen ( so this is what I found. Plus, it folds up so I can lock it inside more securely at night. Now begins the work of improving it to suit my purposes.

Part one: restoring the screw-stop on the hitch.

The old-style hitch (now called "Classic" by Burley) comes with a button at the top of the tightening bolt to keep the screw from coming off. This one was missing it's button, so I looked around for something I could fashion as a replacement. A little beeswax (I still have most of the dixie cup-ful I bought fifteen years ago from Rivendell), an old Trick Top valve cap, a little manipulating (which consisted of stuffing warmed beeswax into the larger hole of the valve cap to make up the difference in diameter), and voila! This may not be a permanent soultion -- ultimately I may want to use epoxy if the beeswax melts in the summer -- but it works for now.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

thirty days of biking: day two

Much nicer today! I enjoyed a nice, leisurely ride into town to teach. Best parts:

-- low-flying geese swooping under the Broadway Bridge as I cross the river over them;

-- the warmer temperature (compared to the several colder, rainier days previous);

-- the quiet of the side streets on the way home after class, so quiet I could hear my tires purring along the pavement.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

thirty days of biking: day one

Today marks the beginning of the fifth annual celebration called Thirty Days Of Biking.

I have signed the pledge to ride my bike every single day in April, even if it's just a short jaunt around the neighborhood or to the corner store. It's advocacy disguised as fun. If you want to find out more, check it out here:

Today's riding included multiple errands on both sides of the Willamette River, a coffee date with a
friend, and some time at a coffee shop working on a creative project I plan to publish later this month.
The weather today is colder, with highs in the low 50s and showers. I have one more appointment in
downtown later this afterwnoon and then I will head home. I'm tired today, a little underslept, but it's
still nice to be outside and going places under my own power. It's spring and I'm riding my bicycle. Yay!