Monday, August 14, 2017

one-off Torah ark (crosspost from

I love the mystery of ritual as much as anyone else. I think that, given the choice between reading aloud from a Torah scroll or from a bound book, I'd rather read from the scroll. But as an Off-The-Grid specialist, I don't have access to a kosher scroll, either (and in fact, some rabbis are not super-thrilled with my dedication to facilitating Off-The-Grid celebrations for unaffiliated Jewish families, but that's another blog post).
This summer, the unaffiliated family of a B'nei Mitzvah student offered to purchase a non-kosher scroll, printed on heavy paper and glued to wooden poles so that their child would have a scroll to read from -- and then, in exchange for a few of the lessons, to give me the scroll to keep for use with future students.
I was deeply moved by this offer and accepted it humbly.
Then, I set about making a proper ark for my scroll. Because even a non-kosher scroll deserves to have a place of honor. The story is still kosher, right?

So here's what I came up with. it's made from assorted car and bicycle license plates, an abandoned wooden planter box, hinges and other hardware that came from my shed or from a local house parts recycler, and some paint that was left over from my time at the bike shop. It took some figuring out, and some modifying when I realized too late that the box wouldn't quite fit the scroll (I too one end apart, rebuilt it and added a "roof" made from a license plate). But in the end, it makes a fine, and a wonderfully whimsical, "SO Portland" home for my little Torah scroll. I couldn't have asked for it to turn out any better. And I am grateful to the family whose bright idea inspired me to make it.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

why don't more people learn to fix their stuff?

One of the beautiful things about getting everywhere by bicycle is that the technology is so elegantly simple that most minor repairs -- flat fixes, brake and derailleur adjustments -- can be done at roadside in minutes.
It's very satisfying to be able to fix a flat, hop back on and resume riding.
And if you were to pay a shop to fix a flat, they'd charge you between 8 and 12 bucks for parts and labor.
So why don't more people learn to deal with the small stuff themselves?

We've arrived at a point in the history of consumerism where more people would rather pay someone else to fix their stuff than to learn how to fix it themselves.
Now, I don't think it's wise to try and fix everything yourself, especially if you're inexperienced; I tend not to attempt to deal with my home's wiring, for example.
But so many of the things we own can be repaired at home for far less money than we'd spend to pay someone else to do it.
Bicycles are perfect example of this.

Once upon a time, lots of people were quite willing to fix their own stuff. Because fifty, sixty years ago, more of us had to. We didn't live near a repair shop or we simply didn't have the money to pay someone else. And thrift was considered a far greater virtue than it is today.

The problem with not fixing your stuff is that if you don't learn how to fix it, you don't fully own it.
People used to own their cars more, back when pulling the dashboard and rewiring the ignition switch was easier. Hell, I learned how to hotwire a car when I was seventeen. It wasn't hard once someone showed you how the system worked.
Today, most car dashboards have computers underneath. And hardly anyone works on their newer cars at home because of those computers.

Thankfully, most bicycles have yet to become so computerized. And older bikes abound, on craigslist and at yard sales. So why not learn how to do the basic stuff at home?
Fixing your own flat will save you $8-12.
Adjusting your own gears or brakes will save you $10-15.
And wiping down your bike's drivetrain every 2 weeks (once a month in the summer) and applying a light coating of oil when the chain runs dry will save you a lot of money on replacement parts, because you won't have to replace them quite as often if you do simple maintenance like this.

Depending on where you live, many bike shops offer basic maintenance classes. Some offer open wrenching nights where you can come in a rent their tools for cheap and work on your bike under the helpful eye of a shop mechanic. And if your local shop doesn't offer this, there are lots of good books and Youtube tutorials to help you get started. Here's a few:

Everybody's Bike Book by Tom Cuthbertson. One of the oldest and still one of the best for basic things like flat fixes, brake adjustments and the like.
The Park Tool Big Book of Bicycle Repair. Available at shops or on eBay. Covers the newer stuff including V-brakes and disc brakes, if you're so inclined. Lots of helpful photos along with concise instructions.
Park Tool and hundreds of others have posted videos on how to do all sorts of bike repairs.
Here's a basic idea of how to fix a flat, by the folks at Park Tool.

If you live in the city, you don't need to bring along more than a small pump, spare inner tube, patch kit and whatever tools you need to remove wheels and/or make very minor adjustments on brakes or gears. The whole thing will fit in a small pouch you can strap onto the underside of your saddle (and easily remove when you go indoors, to avoid theft).

 My basic repair kit, wrapped in a cloth roll and small enough to fit in a pocket of my saddlebag.

Below: Homemade patch kit, including homemade patches (from recycled inner tube squares and tin foil), levers and sandpaper, and tube of glue (sold separately at shops). It all fits in a repurposed cough drop tin.
Yes, your hands will get dirty. And you can wash them with soap and water. Really, it's not a big deal.
Own your stuff. Fix your stuff. And save some money.

Happy riding!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

refugee bike update: august 2017

Now that my music crowdfunder is complete and I am recovering from a throat infection, I'm beginning to tackle the few bikes that were waiting for me since I got home from kansas a month ago.
This one was a donation from the fellas at Velo Cult. Originally a city bike with 120mm spacing in back and a Nexus-8 rear hub, When I got it it was running on replacement wheels of different sizes and nothing worked.
After a lots of modifications, including converting the bike to a 1 x 7 (and spreading the frame to take a 135-spaced rear hub), the bike is now ridable. The integrated headset is a mess and if I open it up and it falls totally apart I'm stuck with a bike I cannot afford to deal with. For the time being, I've decided to go with a slightly-too-tight adjustment to get rid of most of the front brake judder, pour in some Phil's and hope it will be okay for now.

I really cannot stand integrated headsets for basic city bikes. They're a dumb idea. Perhaps the previous owner thought so, too and that's why this became a donor bike for my project. Anyway, it's safe to ride at this point and that means someone gets a bike who didn't have one before.

I am sometimes forced to make compromises like that.

Right now in the stand I have a very tall Peugeot road bike from the 1970s, with original Simplex shifters and derailleurs that work astonishingly fine. I left them on, swapped in some upright handlebars and added a rear rack. I need to go to Bike Farm tomorrow and find a cheap used seatpost to fit the frame and a cheap used front tire, and it's basically all done.

After that, I have two other bikes, both rusty mountain bikes from the late 80s/early 90s. One is so rusty that I may need to strip and rattle-can it -- and I don't know if I want to take the time to do that with all my music commitments coming up in late summer/early fall -- but my other option is to strip the parts for another frame. Gonna sit on this one awhile, I think.
The other bike isn't quite as rusty and needs a few replacement parts, and I will probably try to whip that one into shape when the Peugeot is done.

This week we're expecting a serious heat wave in Portland, with temps today through Friday eaching into the 100s. Sweetie and I will be doing whatever we can in the early morning hours before its gets too hot; and later we'll seek out a city water fountain or a cheap movie with air conditioning. My riding will be minimal, if I do any at all. Not a safe time to ride a bike if you have issues with extreme heat, as I do.

Hopefully it's cooler where you are -- happy riding!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

jumping the shark: off-season coffeeneurring ride

Yesterday, I felt weel enough and thought I had gotten over the worst of my sinus/throat infection that I decided to go for a little ride across town. I stopped off at the urgent care to get a prescription, then rode over to Rivelo and chatted with John for a little while. By the time I left Rivelo I was surprised to find I wasn't feeling so great, and I had to catch the MAX light rail most of the way home.
Today I am stuck at home, coughing up stuff and my throat mostly on fire, drinking enough water and tea to make my back teeth float. But I still had a pretty nice ride, and was glad to have done it before the heat wave that's due to arrive tomorrow and last all week.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Ride report: sunday parkways 10th anniversary: NE Portland

Yesterday, I pulled on my t-shirt and ID badge and took part in my tenth season of Portland Sunday Parkways, as a Roving Mechanic.
Here's my first Parkways, back in 2008:

Back in the day, I hauled a fair amount of tools and parts in a cargo bike, before there were fully-equipped bike repair stations at every park and a couple of the loops were almost ten miles long. These days, I don't need to carry quite so much, or use a cargo bike; though I still insist on packing a good assortment of tools, some spare tub es and a floor pump.

It was a nice day for a ride. The morning shift meant cooling breezes and lighter traffic during the first hour or so, allowing me to take my time and enjoy the scenery. I had three repairs during my 2.5 hour shift, including two flat fixes and a fit adjustment. Easy stuff, but it allowed me to get folks back on their bikes quickly and that's what counts. I LOVE doing these rides every summer.

Scenes from this year's 10th anniversary edition of Parkways Northeast:

(Yes, a Block Party. Courtesy of PBOT.)

(Cargo bike and trailer, bringin the party to where you are.)

(Keeping the customer satisfied. Nice young man riding a slightly too-large bike. I adjusted the saddle and tilted the bars down towards him a little so he could enjoy his very first Parkways. I ran into him and his family a few times along the route after that and they were having a grand time. Reminder to self - pack a small adjustable wrench next time so you don't have to resort to using a cone wrench on a 14mm bolt.)

It was so fun, I've signed up to do the next one on August 20th (Outer NE).
Sunday Parkways needs thousands of volunteers every summer to help make it happen!
Volunteers get a free t-shirt, water and snacks, and a fun time!
Sign up and join me!Happy riding!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday extra: Kansas bike no more

After hemming and hawing, and having difficulty finding a buyer in the Overland park area, I had to decide quickly whether to donate the Kansas bike, or ship it back to Portland.
This summer marked my last Incredible June where I would stay for nearly a whole month.
Next year, assuming the camp happens again, I've told my employers that I would only be available for a day of staff week and the two weeks of camp. I simply cannot be away from home a whole month anymore.

So in the end, I decided to ship the bike home. I figured that if it rode well enough after a light tuneup, then the seatpost height would make it fairly adjustable for a range of rider sizes and give us a guest bike to keep on hand. Tuning it up meant lubing the bearings, truing the wheel that got bumped in shipping, and adding a more permanent front fender cobbled together from parts (thanks, Bike Farm!).

The gearing is a little high for Portland's hills but I'm not going to invest too heavily in changing it before next spring. For now, it rides just fine. And now it's the Guest Bike.

 Zip-ties make bicycle add-ons easy and secure enough for city riding. The fender came from Bike Farm; the stay was pulled from a found metal fender that fits nothing. I may add a mudflap later.
This canvas saddle pouch came from a swap meet several years ago. It had been badly worn by tire rub on a saddle that was too close to the rear wheel. I patched the hole with a tire patch, conditioned the leather trim and let it be. Works fine.

The cockpit (below) includes a Misfit Psycles upright handlebar that works great with the bike's original stem. Very comfortable riding position. And of course, no city bike is complete without a way to carry coffee.

I HAD to swap in some better pedals; the ones I'd ridden on for the past four trips were already in bad shape and were wearing out. So I found these lovelies and decided they'd be a nice upgrade.

Add to that a Carradice "Overlander" pannier and a Bike Bucket on the other side, and now it's a totally fine, practical, comfortable bike for getting around the city, and just down-at-heel enough to be less attractive to a thief.

It's getting harder to find older mountain bikes to set up this way. Even cheaper brands found at big-box stores, like Motiv and Sherpa, now sell on eBay and Craigslist for between $75 and $150, USED. So this entry-level bike is actually something of a find.
Let's hope that things improve as folks decide that bikes are simply bikes, and not (shudder) investments. Ugh.
Cheers --

Finally, officially home: ride report

Yesterday I finally found the energy to take a little bike ride. While hills still take my breath away (combination of fatigue and less riding) it felt good to get out and spin my cranks. And it felt good to finally feel like I was truly home. (Ahhhh.)

Photos from a meander through NE Portland:
Left: A dietary suggestion, courtesy of the local mom-n-pop store.
Stamina. Cracks me up.
I mean, I like an occasional corn dog, but I don't depend on it for anything nutritional.

Transit in Portland is some of the best in the country.
And a relief to come home to after a month in Johnson County, Kansas -- which has basically NO real public transit at all. (Don't ask me why, unless you want to go deep into a discussion about racism in transportation planning...)

 Below: Newspaper box sticker art. Sadly, both are true.
Left: After depositing a check at my Credit Union, a stop at one of my favorite bikey hangouts. Non-profit bike repair space with VERY friendly staff! If you're in Portland, support the Bike Farm with donations of usable bicycles and parts, or a store purchase, or an annual membership that lets you use their workbenches and tools to fix your bike. I LOVE the Bike Farm!

Below: last stop -- Community Supported Everything's Free Closet. This was a good day to find free clothes, not so much for households and bike parts.
I am planning a day at home today to putter and get back into fixing up bikes for refugees.
If there's time I may take in another ride later on.
And if you're in Portland and have an old adult-sized bike you no longer need, let me know. I can always use more bikes for my project.
Thanks, and happy riding!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

it's good to be home again

Back in my beautiful city after nearly a month away.

I have continued to struggle with Crohn's-related fatigue, depression and digestion issues.
The steroid I was put in to get me through my month-long residency basically kept me from falling apart; but the effect has been less restorative and more like simply being propped up so I can continue to merely function, the difference between a proper operation and a swath of duct tape.

Today, with the weather finally cooled down. I am opting for a morning at home, followed by a short ride in the afternoon.
Truthfully, I have not enjoyed riding very much since the effectiveness of the last biologic wore off several weeks ago. Even looking at a bike on the hottest days of my kansas stay made me feel weary. Still, I rode as often as I could -- the distance between homestay and work wasn't very far, only a mile each way -- and when the fatigue was too much and/or I needed to save my energy, I happily accepted rides to the drugstore and grocery.

This is not the body that, only six years ago, raced a season of cyclocross and finished strong.
This is not the body that, five years ago, could still ride ten miles round trip with a nine-hour wrenching shift on my feet in between.
And while it would be easy for an outside to suggest that it's entirely my fauly for switching to a less physically-demanding career, many factors suggest that perhaps there were signs that my body pointed the way to that choice anyway. That there were subtle signs of slowing down, from aging and from Crohn's disease, that would have led me here today anyway, no matter how hard I had fought to keep my life where and how it was then. In the end, I'd still be here one way or another.

I miss the body that could do those things. I miss the camaraderie that came with that level of physical health and activity. I miss the vitality that came with physical exertion.
Yesterday, I mowed the lawn with our push-mower. It was overdue and had to be done.
When I was finished nearly forty minutes later (twice as long as it used to take me), I was dripping with sweat and exhausted. I had to sit in a chair in front of the living room fan for half an hour just to feel like I wasn't going to pass out.
The day before that, I had to take a bus errand, a short distance I could have easily covered by bicycle last fall. Taking the bus to and from wiped me out, and I had to take a nap when I got home.
This is what living with Crohn's feels like these days.

The blue bike I'd had with me in Kansas for the last three years arrived in Portland Thursday.
After hemming and hawing, I finally decided to bring it home again. I also told my Kansas employer that if they wanted me to return for camp next year, I could only give them the last day of Staff Week and the two weeks of camp -- the additional week-plus was out, along with all the Shabbat services I was asked to help lead. They could pay me less, of course; but I simply could not be away from home for a whole month anymore, especially while doctors were still trying to figure out what medical course to take. The rabbi didn't believe me until he tripped over the bike box in the temple office, all packed and waiting for FedEx to pick up.

I don't know what I'll do with it. I just knew that I wanted to bring it home again with me.

It is tiring and sad to ponder my low energy these days. Emotional and mental energy still requires physical effort. Depression intersected with Crohn's and perimenopause simply adds to the challenge, which is why I really want to feel like riding again. Riding helps with depression, but I need physical energy to do it. I hope that I'll have enough energy for a pleasant spin around the neighborhood.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

the bigness of it all: why I can't hack the suburbs

This is my fifth June in Overland Park, Kansas.
My fifth summer of teaching and making music and sharing laughter and smailes and learning with sweet kids. I look forward to the start of camp on Monday, ad I know that once everyone gets into the groove, the two weeks will go by quickly.
Meanwhile, I have a free day to myself. A free day in which to laze around in the morning and then ride my bike in the afternoon.
Here in Overland Park, the relentlessly pristine suburban landscape, with its tan big-box stores and manicured lawns and comfortable families are getting me down. It's shocking to see how many people have bought into this way of life, and how many still cling to it.

Because cars are king here, I must ride my bike on the sidewalk nearly all the time. There is one bike lane, which goes a short distance past the house where I'm staying. Drivers are generally pretty polite to me, especially when I'm towing the trailer (presumably, they think there's a child inside). But the landscape of sameness and sterility, the utter lack of a potholed vacant lot anywhere, feels sad.

Add to this mix the fact that my health is not what it used to be in previous visits -- I am tired all the time now, and find myself marshaling my energy carefully to save it for what I need to do the most.
I am already anticipating cancelling at least one dinner date this week because I can feel the hammer of fatigue hovering above my head and I know if I don't come home right after camp to rest, I'll pay for it the next day. The fatigue, the feeling of waking up never fully rested, has added to my slight melancholy about my visit, and melancholy already fueled by missing my Sweetie and mourning the loss of a beloved cat who died a week after I left. Sweetie and I have already agreed that this will be my last full month away from home for work. If the synagogue wants me back next year, it will have to be for only a couple of weeks at most. I just can't be gone that long anymore without it taking a toll on me, and on us.

That I know this even before camp starts tells me it's the right decision.

Today, I have to make myself scarce for a few hours, because my hosts are having a showing -- they're trying to sell this demi-mansion and everything has to be empty, unlived-in and pristine -- so after I hide all my stuff in closets and put the fancy sheets and blankets back on my bed and wipe down the kitchen counters so it looks like no water has ever splashed on them, I'll pack up my laptop and staff paper and headphones and ride to the nearest coffee shop so I can work on music in an air-conditioned environment. On the way back, I'll stop in at the temple to make sure everything is ready for camp tomorrow.

It's a strange landscape for me. I know my way around by now, where the grocery stores and coffee shops and the drugstore are, but it still feels foreign, and I still feel very much like a tourist here.
About the only place I feel a sense of welcome and homelikeness is at the temple itself.

But work can't be home. It mustn't be. I'm glad I know that.
It makes for better days, and more enjoyable rides, while I'm here.
Happy riding.

Monday, June 5, 2017

beloved blue bike: kansas, part five

My fifth visit to Overland Park, Kansas means pulling out the blue bike I shipped there a few years ago. It has lived in the rabbi's garage, awaiting my return every summer so I can ride it daily for about a month. Then, at the end of my teaching residency, it's returned to the back of the garage to collect dust while the tires go flat for another winter.

It felt good to pull it out and dust it off again this week. The brake pads, which I'd replaced last year, are fine. The chain is filthy but so far it's working, so I may just apply a little oil and leave it for now.
The rabbi is trying to sell this large house. Now that his kids are grown and he's only a few years from retirement, he doesn't need the space -- or the headache of living in a fancy gated community.
When his house sells, my bike will need a new storage space (and, assuming I'm invited back next year, I will need a new homestay situation next year). So far, his house has been on the market over five months and it hasn't had many bites. So, while his smaller house is being remodeled, he's living in the big house again and may even take it off the market while he's here.
In any case, if it's still his next summer I'll be surprised.

But I digress.

The bike worked just fine. I was reminded of the smaller rear cogs and how I have to rely on the largest two cogs to get up basically any incline -- especially after I hook up the trailer.

The trailer, loaned to me by a camper's family during my first year here, is now on permanent loan to the temple for whenever I visit. The camper in question has long since aged out of the program, and her younger siblings are much too big to ride in the trailer; so it just lives at the temple when I'm not using it. I expect I will store the bike at the temple, too, when my residency is finished for the year.

There will come a time when money, my energy level and/or a change of rabbi will determine that I no longer spend every June in Kansas. When that time comes, I can either leave the bike with Revolve KC, the bicycle non-profit; or I can box it up and take it home.

It's not a super-fancy bike; a department store-level mountain bike that's been city-fied on the cheap can be found anywhere in Portland and most other bike-friendly cities. (Its annual reappearance in the suburbs of Kansas City remains a novelty, even now) But I've grown quite fond of it. It fits me better than any of the bikes my hosts have managed to loan me (my primary reason for shipping it here to begin with); and it's comfortable and sturdy and cheap enough to survive the awful humidity of midwestern summers without much fuss. An occasional drop of lube, topping off the tires every couple of weeks, and it's good to go. If I did decide to donate it, I might swap in some cheaper handlebars, or I might not.

In spite of the oppressive heat -- today's high was 93F, with humidity above 40% -- I enjoyed riding to and from the temple today for the beginning of staff week. Turning the cranks after a few days of inactivity felt lovely, and I didn't even mind getting off and walking it up the short, steep incline to the rabbi's house after work.

Biking to and from the temple each day during my residency has become a hallmark of my annual visits.  When returning campers see the bike and trailer locked up outside, they know I'm back and it's all good.

So I'm here, and the bike is here, and it's time for bed. I've got another busy day tomorrow.

(Below: evidence of my return, June 2017. Taken at the temple.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Incredible June, Version 5: Kansas

Tomorrow I head out to Overland Park, Kansas (near Kansas City) for my fifth year of the summer teaching residency I never expected to last this long.

Likely the only biking I'll do is towing the guitar back and forth between my homestay and the synagogue where I'll teach. The blue Kansas bike is still there, and the trailer is now on permanent loan to the synagogue for whenever I visit.

It will be warm and humid, and they won't let me ride in the rain.
But it will still be lovely, and if I have a free evening Ill take advantage of the area's car-free paths to explore the area in and along Indian Creek in Johnson County.

It's summer, and I'm ready.
I'll send periodic reports of anything interesting.
Happy riding!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

the overseas thing, again

I spent almost twenty years working in the bicycle industry as a mechanic, inventory manager and shop co-owner.
In that time, I watched as our little shop went from being exclusively a used bikes dealer and repair shop to being an almost entirely new bike dealer.
The reasons for that are many, but mostly have to do with the internet and the cheap cost of goods made in China.

The internet made it possible for folks to acquire information about their old bikes, discover that many were, in fact, "vintage" and there fetched a higher price than a shop was willing to pay out. And with the advent of craigslist and eBay, the used bike retail market pretty much dried up in bike-friendly cities like Portland, because of the private market to be found online.

China, well.. China.
Yeah. Chinese factories, far from the prying eyes of all but the most diligent manufacturing company heads and paying pennies in labor costs, have been able to manufacture decent bikes and parts at a fraction of the cost of doing so in North America and Europe. Chinese parts have become the industry standard, while US- and EU-made parts have become "high zoot" and far more expensive than their Chinese-made counterparts.

Sure, some of that can be blamed on China's treatment of workers and the massive scale of their manufacturing. But some of it can also be blamed on a sense of guilt-induced cache that is added to the already higher price of US/EU-made goods. Yes, workers in the US and EU earn far more -- and their cost of living is higher. However, it would be interesting to stop and ask ourselves -- how much of our desire for goods made in the US and EU comes from needing to feel better about our buying power as expressed through our choices?

Guess what?
The more I watch the bicycle industry evolve, the more I become convinced that the average consumer actually holds very little power in this structure.
We spend according to our means -- or, more likely, according to the level of risk we're willing to take before the credit card bill comes in the mail next month.
If we ignored the efforts of Madison Avenue, THEN we'd have some real power. But too many of us (myself included, from time to time) are too easily manipulated by advertising; by the rules of the workplace which dictate that you have to look successful in order to somehow become successful; and by bicycle manufacturers dangling racer dreams in front of us that few of us can ever hope to catch.

But things are changing. And it's partly because of the internet, and China.
People are deciding that they want to live more within their means. They're cutting up their credit cards and learning to live on less money. They shop only when they actually need something, and learn how to maintain what they already own. And that includes bicycles.

Thanks to the internet, there are thousands of bicycle repair tutorials a keystroke away.
Thanks to China, when you need replacement parts, you can buy them yourself, online, for far less than you'd pay in a local shop.

And bike shop owners can do one of two things:

They can howl about how unfair it is. Those are the ones who will likely fold before too long.

Or they can adapt. Multi-purpose your space: serve coffee and lunch for the customer to eat while they wait for a simple repair. Teach repair classes for the simpler stuff and make more room on the board for the complex things that only trained mechanics should mess with.
Adapting also means running a leaner, smarter business. Because consumers WON'T stop buying on the cheap until they CAN'T anymore -- either because of trade restrictions and embargoes, or because of Peak Oil, or whatever else comes down the pike.

Some of us know that such a time might come in our lifetime. So we keep our skills handy and stock up on parts we've gleaned from other people's throwaways.
We repair derailleur springs and overhaul freewheels.
(Freewheels? Nobody rides those things anymore!  Well, actually, they do. I do, and they work just fine.)

I am sitting on a secret stash of highly un-glamorous -- even somewhat rusty -- but perfectly functional bike parts and I pull from that stash to repair bikes that come my way.
I value department store bikes -- as long as they're whole and they can still roll, I can tune them up and make them rideable and safe. And that is perfectly and totally fine.

In the end, the bike-boom ship has sailed (it sailed in late 2008, and the number of people still pining for that time shocks me). We will never again see lots and lots of legitimate retail bike stores selling only used product and still operating at a profit. That will become the realm of the non-profit, charity organization which doesn't have to worry about doing more than breaking even and hanging on until the next grant cycle comes. Anyone else dealing in used bikes will be doing it out of their house, on a scale so small the IRS will shrug and leave them alone, because it's just not worth their time and manpower to go after the home mechanics of the world.

And things will stumble along as they are for a little while yet.
Meanwhile, I think I'll go ride my bike.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

pedal update

A few months ago I purchased a new set of platform pedals for my All-Rounder. I liked the look of the VP pedals, but they weren't grippy enough for riding in the rain (which happens often here).
I liked the grippyness of the Redline platforms a little better, but they looked klunky and were heavy.
So I bought these.

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Yes, I found them on eBay (sue me, this is the world we live in right now and I'm on a budget).
They come branded with names like Base Camp and Scudgood (yes, really). In some cases, they also come in colors besides black (orange, red, blue -- though sadly, NOT gray).

But at less than $20 bucks for a pair including shipping, I figured I could give them a try and at least they wouldn't totally suck.
Since installing them four months ago, I've been surprised and pleased by them.
They're low-profile like the VP pedals I'd tried; and the pins are long enough to be really grippy -- more than the Redline pedals were. After nearly five hundred miles on them in dry and wet conditions, they're holding up beautifully. I liekd them so much that two months in I bought another pair for my Bridgestone. Since then, I've mostly sold off or given away most of the other platform pedals I'd tried and/or had lying around.

Are they show-bike beautiful? Nope.
Are they reliable and comfortable and light? Definitely.
Good enough to be worth the wait from Hong Kong.

Here's the current eBay listings:



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

camp bike, 2017

Several years ago, when I as still working at the large Reform synagogue here in Portland, a bicycle was abandoned there. My boss took the bike inside and stoed it in the religious school,. hoping that whomever had left it there would come back to reclaim it before too long.

They never came back, so my boss asked me to "make it go away".
This is what it looked like before I did anything. Straight handlebars with bar ends, grip-shift thhat no longer worked,  and a very uncomfortable saddle.

I took the bike home, put it up in the stand and fixed it up. I straightened the bent derailleur hanger (which was probably why the bike was abandoned to begin with -- the rear derailleur had gone into the spokes), trued the wheels, adjusted bearings and swapped out the straight handlebars and grip shift for some swept-back bars and thumb shifters.

When it was all done, I had a perfectly rideable cheap city bike.

I sat on the bike for a few months, until I got hired to return to my Kansas shul as High Holidays Soloist. Knowing that my loaner bikes there had never fit me well, I proposed shipping this bike there and leaving it there for my annual summer visits. When the visits stopped someday -- no gig lasts forever -- I would either box it up and bring it home with me, or I'd donate it to the bike non-profit in Kansas City.

Since fall 2014, the bike has lived in a garage in Overland Park, Kansas, used only when I show up each summer for camp and occasionally as a bike for the senior rabbi's house guests.
This summer I will need to either overhaul or replace the bottom bracket and slap on a new chain. Otherwise, I'm sure it will see me through another June.
I am also aware that changes are coming to the synagogue -- the senior rabbi will retire in three years and the future of the summer program is unclear -- which will require me to think about how I spend my June not too long from now. I certainly won't be doing this gig forever.

But for now, my blue bike is a signal to the children of the synagogue that Beth is back. I can't wait to toss my guitar in the loaner trailer and haul it to staff week in less than a month.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

what's really precious anymore?

Random thoughts today:

1. Just learned that a good friend has been forced out of her synagogue position after 14 years. On paper, it's a money thing; but I know that there are also personality issues at play. She's in her late 50's and thankfully has landed an interim position on the east coast; but it's still worrisome and sad and not ideal for so many reasons.

2. I am watching my country fall apart in so many ways:
-- Trump supporters are prepping for whatever vision of "Doomsday" they've been fantasizing about for the last decade;
-- Trump is, depending on which reports you read, six months or six weeks away from impeachment, which would set off dozens or hundreds of homegrown militia actions around the country;
-- Liberal lefties are lost and flailing and lack a clear, visionary leader as Democrat leaders cling to the little power they have left in order to save their jobs (and retirement packages, and whatever else) in the short run. Because they have no long-term vision they believe in, much less agree on;
-- Portland's latest attempt at peaceful protest turn into a real live riot within an hour of getting underway. Moms and strollers were moved aside in favor of masked punks destroying shop windows, tossing flares into storefronts and (stupid-stupid-stupid) vandalizing police cars. It made for happy TV reporters and a miserable political Left.

3. On the home front, I am struggling to figure out how to survive in both the short-term and the long-term:
-- My Crohn's is getting worse -- bad enough to make working full-time impossible, though not yet bad enough to qualify me for disability.
-- Sweetie is working like a fiend and has almost more paying work than she can handle, at least for now. But her work depends on the public's ability to buy tickets to classical music concerts, which has always felt like a dicey proposition to me.
-- We are barely paying our bills. I am priming the pump by scavenging and flipping items for sale on the black free market, and in today's America where so many of us are forced to improvise to survive, that's about all I'm willing to admit in public.
-- This reality is juxtaposed against the reality of my ongoing work in Jewish education and music, in a landscape where I can assure you that almost NO ONE I know there is living the way I do. They have nice houses, and vacation homes, and retirement funds and all sorts of things my life realities never enabled me to set up. So when I travel to these places and share my gifts, there's always a sense of feeling like I wear a costume that I only take off when I get back home.

The truth is that, while all hell is breaking loose behind closed doors, most of us have no idea what will, or could, happen in the event of some kind of eco-political breakdown. By all public accounts, that sort of thing seems to be just fine with our current President National Puppet, who thinks a major shaking up would do the country good.

So what do we do? We try to stay small and quiet and numb for as long as we can.

Sure, sure, some of my friends -- a very few -- have done their own prepping. They grow their own food, shop as little as possible, deal in cash for as much as possible and do everything they can to stay off the radar -- no magazine subscriptions, no cable; they piggyback on a neighbor's Wifi to avoid having to pay and they scavenge for everything (and live lives that don't require them to dress nice, ever). And perhaps one or two of them own guns and ammo (because when the shit hits the fan, they WILL have to protect themselves and their saved-up materials and food from those who would rather steal than work).

But among the liberal left they are a small minority.

Most of us, even those who own instead of rent, are not nearly that far along in our preparation or our thinking. Either because we don't want to be, or because, in my case at least, I know that all my prepping will amount to nothing. If things really go belly-up, I won't have access to the medicines that keep me functional and alive.
And when the supply line dries up -- either through economic collapse or a total overturn of the Affordable Care Act -- I will die.

Yup. I'm a goner in a Great Shakeup.
I'm fungible. Expendable. Not worth a plug nickel in the end.

Which means that I had better get cozy with the reality of my mortality.
So that probably explains all the nighttime dreams and daytime thinking I've been doing around dying and death -- what it means, how it happens, what it will be like to die -- because I don't see any other possibility for myself.

And that also explains why I no longer dream really big dreams for my future.
Because I'm in my mid-fifties and if I make it to seventy I'll be as pleasantly surprised as anyone.

These days, it's the small things that feel most precious to me:
Sweetie's smile when we wake up in the morning.
The first sip of coffee.
The purr of the cat.
The whirr of the freewheel as I coast down the hill on my bicycle.
The swirling clouds, the fast-moving rainy fronts and the riot of floral colors during an Oregon spring.
The relative silence of sitting on my stoop at 5:30 in the morning, before most of the street has awakened and only the birds are out.
The first sunny day of spring when the mountain is out and glimmering white with snow.
The feel of a wrench in my still-useful hands, as I fix up a bike so someone can use it to find or keep a job, or go to school, or meets friends at a park.
The sound of my voice joining with others in song.
The first chewy, eggy bite of challah on Shabbat.
The songs of crickets and the deep blue of the sky at dusk.
And the sound of my Sweetie's voice, murmuring as she snuggles closer to me so we can both get warm at bedtime.

In a world where I have no control over the big things, the small things become bigger and more important than ever. And I'll cherish them for as long as I am able to.
Because the big things mean nothing, while the small things are pieces of a life full of awe and love.
May today bring you small things to be awed by, or in love with.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

30 days of biking: April 30

April 30. Last day.

An easy ride through N. Portland, then over the Broadway Bridge and into downtown for a cultural event at my synagogue. (I'll ride home afterwards too, stopping along the way to visit friends and check out the river levels at Overlook. I'm told the record rainfall has made some of the old boat tie-poles partially disappear under the water.)
And today ends the #30daysofbiking festival across the country and around the globe. Thanks to the miracle of electronic communication, we meet each other, see glimpses of each other's towns and cities (and bicycles), and make the world a little bit smaller and a lot more friendly. Glad to have participated, logging 31 rides in 30 days and reminding myself that distance doesn't matter nearly as much as getting outside and turning the cranks does.
Thanks to my bicycle, I see the world at a slower pace and through constantly refreshed eyes, like I did this morning.
So continuing to ride every day -- or most days -- isn't so difficult. Especially when I consider the alternatives.

Happy riding!

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

30 days of biking: april 27-29

April 27: Tested out a hitch I'd repaired for a donated trailer, but hauling home a load of pellets from the lumber yard. It worked fine.I took a second ride later in the day to see a student, so two rides on the day.

April 28: Can't share videos directly from FB, so let's just say that I rode around the neighborhood in between rain showers. Video is here if you have FB and want to watch my very amateurish attempts at, ahem, filmmaking:

April 29: Garage sale finds and bicycle infrastraucture.

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One more day of this, and then I can go back to other bike-related posts. It's been fun to see if I could make myself ride every day without making it feel like a massive chore.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

30 days of biking: April 24-26

April 24: Short ride, errands, nothing to see here.

April 25: I slept poorly and awoke feeling out of sorts in a Crohn's-y sort of way; and if I hadn't pre-registered I might have stayed home, but I went. Across town to our Jewish Community Center, to enjoy lunch and hear a lecture I'd looked forward to in weeks. I went multi-modal both ways -- thank goodness for Trimet -- and enjoyed myself. By the time I got home the real fatigue was setting in. Done for the day.    
(Below: en route - Portland Bus Mall; At the JCC; and homeward on MAX Light Rail.)                                               

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April 26: Rain and short sun breaks, taking turns all day. Rode to Kenton to see how the new location for Kenton Cycle Repair was shaping up; stopped for lunch at Cup & Saucer (yeah, I've got a thing for the place) and then rode home. Actually warm enough to wear just a sweatshirt when it wasn't raining. The days are warming up, slowly and surely.
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"It's Spring, and the world is puddle-wonderful..." -- e. e. cummings

Sunday, April 23, 2017

30 days of biking: April 23

Today was supposed to be a lovely day. I had plans to meet a former student across town for breakfast (where we'd discuss, among other things, her summer wedding that she'd asked me to officiate at); and after that I had a host of errands planned that would have me eventually loop back home.
Spring showers with periodic breaks were forecast and I was ready.

When I arrived at the cafe, I felt the sudden and dreaded moment of realizing that Crohn's was going to have its way with me -- and I still had to lock up my bike and get inside to a restroom and fumble with my clothes, and... dammit, the light wasn't working. And the other restroom was in use.
Every Crohnie's nightmare was unfolding and I couldn't stop it.
So I had an accident. In the dark. And I could not see a thing.
Eventually, I heard the other restroom door open and close, and before I could think about what I was doing, I bolted across the hallway and locked myself in the restroom that had a functioning light.
Then, cursing my Crohn's all the while, I spent the next twenty minutes doing emergency laundry in the restroom and reconciling myself to having breakfast in clean-but-wet slacks.

When I came out, I took aside the hostess, explained the situation and apologized profusely.
She was awesome, telling me not to worry about it and that she was sorry about the bathroom light.
Apparently, that light hasn't worked in some time, and there's a little table lamp that was supposed to be turned on before the cafe opened. It hadn't been. She told me not to worry, she'd take care of everything, and showed me to a booth.
I was grateful that she was so cool about it.
I've been to places where the proprietors weren't cool -- one even told me if I couldn't control myself I should never leave the house -- and being shown such kindness really helped my morning considerably.

I spread some newspapers down on my seat, and texted to let my former student know I'd arrived. She texted back that she had totally forgotten our meeting. And she was on the west side of town, too far away to make it here in time, even if I waited for her.
She was very sorry and told me to order whatever I liked, she'd pay me back for it when we met again.
I shrugged.
I ordered.
And then I waited. And waited some more. And watched as people who'd been seated after me were getting their breakfasts served. it was clear to me by then that someone in the kitchen had lost my order.
My waitress noticed, and checked on it, and came back to tell me it was on its way.
Fifteen minutes later -- fully an hour after I'd placed my order -- I was served. it was hot, and tasty, and I was glad I didn't have to be somewhere else by a certain time.

My pants were still quite wet, but the newspaper was helping speed things along. I figured I'd ride them dry by the time I got home. I took my time eating and enjoyed every bite.
When I was ready to leave, the hostess came to my table and said, "I am so sorry about everything. Your breakfast is on me. Please come back anytime, we'd love to see you again."
I assured her I would, and thanked her again.

I went ahead with most of my errands. My pants were dry by the time I got halfway home. And the day wasn't a total loss. Plus, I got to ride. When I got home, I chucked my clothes in the laundry and took a hot shower. Then I settled down with a book and one of the cats. A pretty good afternoon in spite of itself.

Happy Cup Coffee Company provides the coffee for all the Cup & Saucer locations, and it's tasty.
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Reflective Window Selfie on NE Broadway. It mostly didn't do more than drizzle the whole time I was out. Delightful and not too cold.

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Below: How NOT to lock a bike. To be fair, this had probably left outside all night. On SE Grand. Not a great idea all around.                                                    
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Urban funk and grit: a building from another era, and probably not long for the world.
Five years from now I fully expect it to be gone, replaced by still more unaffordable housing.
SE 20th and Stark.
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 You gotta love this stuff while it's still here -- the old ugly buildings, the vacant lots, the potholed alleyways -- because they are survivors of a time when everything was not pristine and sanitized for our protection.  And it's important that we still have things like this in our lives to keep us from becoming totally sterile and too safe. A little funk and dirt never killed anyone.
Happy riding!