Wednesday, December 13, 2017

there's a special place for bike thieves - but is it hell? should it be?

A few days ago, someone broke the three locks that secured donated bicycles and a janky cargo trailer I was preparing to tune up for Catholic Charities refugee resettlement program. They left the two cruisers, and took the two mountain bikes and the trailerfrom where they'd been locked up beside my house. Of course, being diligent thieves they also took the broken locks (likely to avoid leaving fingerprints).

Since the bikes were donations and I'm not officially a non-profit organization, I haven't called the police. The best I can do in this situation is get some more locks and collect more donation bikes to replace what got pinched.

I've had friends tell me to store the bikes indoors. Where? Our little house has no basement or garage.
I've had friends tell me to get heavier locks. I'm working on that.
And I've had lots of people tell me the thieves suck.
Well, maybe they do.
And maybe they're even more desperate than the folks I'm trying to help.

The existence of bicycle "chop shops" along the Springwater Corridor and in other homeless encampments is well-documented. Some brave souls have actually stolen their bikes back, at considerable personal risk (because the homeless men who steal and guard those bikes are armed with guns, knives and other weapons which they will use to keep their loot).

I'm not brave enough to do that.

Years ago, when I had a customer's stolen bike in the workstand at the shop, The too-short-for-the-bike fellow who was waiting for me to fix the flat realized that I had realized the bike was stolen. In a split second he leapt over the counter, punched me to the floor, took the bike out of the workstand and took off. Of course, he was never caught. And of course, while I staunched the flow of blood from my bruised nose, the police who responded advised me to never try and save anyone's bike again. "It's just a bike," one of the officers gently advised me. "Your life is worth far more than that, regardless of your intentions."

That was almost twenty years ago. I have not stepped between a thief and a bike since. It's a personal decision for each of us, based on one's experiences and strengths. My strengths are not in direct physical force, and I know it.

Still, the loss of the two bikes, and the trailer (which I'd already repaired to make it usable), were annoying and frustrating.

Four years ago, I had my own trailer stolen from my home. It was a repaired and converted kids trailer, strung with nylon webbing from a lumber yard and used to haul cargo. It cost me maybe forty bucks for the trailer, replacement wheels and the work and small parts I'd put into it.
Six weeks after it was stolen, I spotted it at a homeless encampment that clearly looked like a bicycle chop shop. The man who was unloading it glowered at me menacingly as I stared at my trailer. it was clear that he would not give it up without a fight.

I rode on.


Today, I have a folding trailer that can be stored flat, and indoors. I also own fewer bicycles, sticking to just two that I alternate depending on my needs that day. They're both stored indoors under lock and key. When I'm out on errands, the bike is locked with a heavy-duty U-lock AND a cable. I don't like having to carry such a heavy lock, but this is the world we live in and that's that.

There's an old saying: There's a special place in hell for bicycle thieves.

And yet, I wonder how true that is in today's world where so many more people are living one paycheck away from homelessness, from desperation, from starvation, from death. (Yes, people have died from being homeless here in Portland, often due to exposure to the elements and starvation and/or the illnesses that accompany those things.)

And I keep coming back to the idea that perhaps each of us has the personal ethics we can afford to have.

If I have to steal in order to survive, I'm not likely to sit up at night worrying about my soul. I'll be too busy worrying about how to get warm, dry and fed.
And so I can't be TOO angry at whomever stole the bikes and trailer. Because it's highly likely they were desperate, homeless and hungry enough to steal; and perhaps addled enough by illness or addiction to be unable to find work.

Their numbers are rising.
And it is very hard for me NOT to wonder if one day I might join them on the sidewalk, simply because I'm already living hand-to-mouth and one day I'll get too old to work and the world will get too cruel to care about anyone like me.

So while bike theft is frustrating -- and if my personal bike were stolen, I'd be angry and sad -- the fact is that right now, I can find another bike more easily and legitimately than someone who is forced to steal one.

So I can't be too hard on bike thieves who live under tarps in the thickets out on the Springwater.

And to my friends who've offered advice, thanks. I'll sort it out as best I can, and eventually get back to helping newly arrived Portlanders find their way around town a little more affordably by bike.

If you really feel bad about this whole scenario, please make a donation of money or time to organizations in your town that work on creating stable housing for the poor, refugee resettlement, or advocacy for the homeless. Seriously. Do it today.

Happy riding.















(Photo: homeless encampment along the Springwater Corridor-South, December 2015.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

off-season coffeeneuring -- travels with a pluviophile*


Last week I really struggled with a depressive period, where I felt like crap and didn't want to go outside. A couple of days, just getting out of my PJ's was hard. Then, somehow, the fog lifted and a couple of days ago I went outside and it was okay.
So I did it again today, combining errands and coffee.

I rode a mile to a bus stop, went multi-modal (every Trimet bus has a rack on front that holds two bikes) and got off at Lloyd Center to drop a package in the post office's mail slot. Then, I decided to ride over to the Rose Quarter, where the wind picked up and I decided to toss my bike on the MAX train. (I have a gig coming up next weekend and need to take care of my voice -- meaning I can't always ride in the cold and wet whenever I feel like it. On those days I'm glad there's public transit.)

I got off and rode over to Rivelo to say hi to John, and to deliver several pairs of socks for him to hand off to the local homeless shelter. He had a deal where if you brought socks you could have a free bandana. So take him up on it before Christmas, Portland friends -- the bandanas make nice gifts and are 100% cotton. We chatted for awhile.

 At Rivelo there's currently a suitcase filled with these cool blue bags. They're Sackville handlebar bags, hobo-style but a little slimmer and more streamlined than the old-style hobo bags Riv used to offer.
And these, done up in a very pretty blue waxed canvas, are selling so cheaply right now that if you need one, go get one. Because the price is stupid-low, and John needs the space for other stuff, and while I normally don't like to tell people to go out and consume, these are actually good and if you need a handlebar bag this will do you for YEARS. And the price is stupid-low. I'm not posting it here because John is lonely and could use the company, so go visit and say hello and maybe buy a bag. He's got about seven or eight left, so grab one soon.
(If it's any help, if I wasn't totally broke I'd buy one for myself.)

 And if you do go visit John, Be sure to bring a pair or three of clean socks without and holes or rips (pro tip: You can find them in packs of six really cheap at Goodwill.) He'll also take knit caps and gloves if you have them. They all go to people who need help staying warmer this winter.
After my visit with John, I rode back over to the MAX station, hopped the train and took it back into town, where I filled my thermal mug with some late-afternoon half-caff and enjoyed it while I watched the rain come down. In spite of the chill, I felt good being out and riding around. I'll try and do it again this week if weather allows before I head out of town for my gig.

If weather permits tomorrow, I'll visit with a friend over tea and then stop by the CCC for Scrap Sunday, to see if there's anything useful for my ongoing refugee bikes project.
And if you're in Portland and you'd like to help out, you can do one or both of the following:

1. if you've got bicycle parts, locks and lights and/or adult-sized bicycles you'd like to move along, I can use them to provide affordable transportation for our newest Portlanders. (Yes, we ride bikes here even in the winter, as long as it's not icy.)
Just let me know and we'll figure out the hand-off.

2. The bikes I repair are delivered to Catholic Charities, which then distributes them to newly-arrived refugees who will use them to find work or go to English classes and job-training. If you don't have a bicycle to give, but you'd like to help out, Catholic Charities can always use financial donations to make their work possible. I can vouch for their work with refugees and assure you that they do good stuff to help people get settled in Oregon and move forward with their lives in safety and peace.

Thanks, and happy riding.
(*pluviophile - lover of the rain)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

bicycle stool (or, recycle all the things)

Last week, a friend from my shul brought me two old road bikes as donations for the refugee bicycle project. One of the bikes was fine and would be great after a tune-up; the other had been in a crash and the frame and fork were damaged beyond repair.
I assured my friend that I'd scavenge whatever useful parts I could and recycle the rest.

After removing all the parts -- including the bottom bracket and headset, which are both still fully functional -- I decided to make the frame into something I could use in my shop. Years ago, in my early months at Citybikes, I'd made a work stool from a damaged bike frame. It was a great height for working alongside a bicycle in a tight space and I liked having it. When it was stolen, I never got around to replacing it.

But now that I work at a home workshop, I thought it would be a good time to make another.
So I grabbed my hacksaw and removed the front triangle of the frame, sawing off the downtube and top tube about an inch and a half from the seat tube (which I eft attached to form the rear triangle).
I set the front end aside. Then I spread the dropouts as far apart as I could without breaking the old steel tubing, to form a tripod.
Since I'm bigger than I was when I made the first seat some twenty yers ago, I decided to add another "leg" in the back to stabilize the seat more.

I used a damaged mountain bike handlebar, flattening one end to fit over the cable stop bracket at the seatpost clamp and sawing off the other end to the correct length. I used hose clamps to attach the handlebar to the frame after I'd affixed the flattened end to the seat clamp bracket. The bottom end got capped with a stout handlebar plug.
Hose clamps worked well -- if you choose this addition, be sure not to overtighten them. You can cover the hose clamps with thick tape if you're concerned about the sharp edges.
Once that was done, I plugged the two open holes and added a wide saddle and accessories. The bell is just for fun, and the bottle cage was rescued from the front half of the frame to be used to hold my beer.

I may look around for an even wider saddle, but this was in the junk pile and for now it'll work.

I really like the addition of the fourth "leg" as it stabilizes the stool so I can put more of my weight on it. It's a good height for truing wheels on the bike, detailing brakes and such. And it's small enough that I can hang it on a hook and lock it inside the shop when I don't need it.

As it happened, the front end of the frame is being claimed by an artist friend, who will turn it into door handles for a large cabinet in her studio.

So in the end, almost none of it will end up in the landfill. I couldn't be happier.






Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2017 - #7: Ps & Qs; riding through depression and wrap-up

This year's challenge was actually pretty hard for me to complete.
Not because of the distance -- riding two miles is not a big deal in and of itself -- but because I am really struggling with some health issues this fall that include a Crohn's flare-up and depression that's amplified by the change into the dark, wet days of late fall.

On top of this, I've also had to hustle for gigs, which haven't been coming this year; and the release of my latest CD, which I hope will kickstart the process of getting more gigs.

So riding my bike to get coffee just hasn't been especially prominent on my radar just now.

Still, I went out today to finish it all up.
It wasn't grandly ambitious, and I rode all of two and a half miles.
I was exhausted from last night's CD release show, and a bottle of hard cider which, in hindsight, I probably should've skipped, and the change to Standard time didn't give me any additional sleep because my cat kept me up half the night.
So the fact that I went out at all is probably a little amazing.
But I did. I rode over to Ps and Qs Market, bought some pretty darned good coffee, rode around the neighborhood, including a loop around the back side of Woodlawn park, sat and watched the leaves fall and a few birds flying overhead while I drank my coffee, and finally rode home. Along the way I saw some beautiful color, which helped me enjoy the ride a little more.

Let's dispell something about all this: depression doesn't always look like I'm sad.

Last night I celebrated the release of my third CD of original music and I played a house concert and sold some CDs and folks had a good time (and mostly, so did I). Underneath it all, I really just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep, even as I played my heart out and did a fair job of it.
That's depression.
I'm not always visibly sad when I'm struggling with it. I am often really tired, fatigued (remember, this can also intersect with the fatigue of Crohn's, so it's not clear-cut which is which and there's really nothing to be done about that lack of clarity). I remember what it was like to be full of energy and want to get outside on my bike or outside and doing other things. When I'm in a flare-up AND depressed, I don't want to do much of anything but sleep becasue I'm so f#cking exhausted.

One thing -- last night, when talking about the origins of one of my songs, I was able to be honest and also talk about having depression, without any sense of shame or stigma. Because it's medical. It's not something I created. It just is. And I'm glad I was able to get that out there.
When I'm in the throes of a depressive episode, going outside to ride my bike is really, really hard.
But I did it, and I'm done for now.
In my world, mileage doesn't count. Riding does.
So I'm going with that.
Thanks, and good riding to you!


Evidence photo, at Ps & Q's.
This was after I'd already ridden a couple of miles and had sipped some really good coffee.


Below: Drama. I love it when the sky gets like this and really shows up the gold and orange of the leaves before they fall.

P's & Q's also does really nice things with eggs.
Stop in on a Sunday for brunch.
Or just pick up a few staples on ther way home.
(This is where I go for my chocolate milk.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

tough week, continued

Hey, so if you read my last post, you know that I live with depression, and it was on grand display.

I also live with Crohn's.
Crohn's and depression intersect, and in fact people with Crohn's are twice as likely to also have clinical depression as the general population. Considering that Crohn's is an auto-immune disease, this comes as no surprise to me, at least intellectually.
Emotionally, I've spent a lifetime in denial of just how bad things can get.
But things are getting harder.

I haven't felt like riding as much or as long over the past several months.
Over the last month or so, I've begun to lose my appetite.
I struggle with physical and emotional fatigue far more often.
And today, I will be scheduling appointments with my GI doc for more tests. He strongly suspects that in addition to the Crohn's, I've likely developed C Diff as well (an infection that commonly happens in folks with compromised auto-immune systems). I am experiencing symptoms that point clearly to that diagnosis.

C Diff is difficult to treat, and can mask symptoms of Crohn's, making that harder to treat as well.
It also means that my immune system is even more compromised than previously thought.
I may have to limit my travel and take strong, potentially harmful antibiotics to treat it.
The more complex my Crohn's becomes, the harder and more costly it becomes to treat, and the more I and my doctors will have to fight with insurance companies to get the treatments covered. because I am basically unemployed right now and have no job prospects on the horizon, other than whatever I can do as a freelancer. And right now, that's pretty thin.
In short, things could get harder. And I am scared, exhausted and depressed.

So maybe I won't finish the Coffeeneuring Challenge, on time or at all.
Maybe I won't care.
Maybe the whole bike repair thing for refugee resettlement takes a back seat for awhile.
And maybe I don't know what comes next.

I may choose to share more here. If you find it too depressing and choose to take a break, that's cool.
Maybe I'll get back to the bike stuff before too long, maybe not. Sorry.
Things are looking pretty damned dark right now.

Monday, October 30, 2017

America is what it is, and I am who I am.

This is a break from the bicycle stuff to comment on The World.
Today, special counsel Robert Mueller filed indictments against folks connected with the possibility that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to rig our last presidential election.
(Don't get me started on how I think prior elections were also rigged in their own special ways.)

Now, there are loud murmurs that Trump may fire Mueller and pardon the man Mueller indicted.
If this happens, it's not revolutionary. In fact, it's only radical because it will be so blantant an abuse of power that no one can look away. People are already wringing their hands at the prospect of a "Constitutional crisis" and talking about "nationwide action" (meaning, protests). to "speak up" about the injustice of it all.


I admit that I am dubious about all of this.

I'm dubious because, as cathartic as a rally/protest might be in this situation, we may be too late for such an action to be actually effective.
Not "meaningful," but EFFECTIVE.

 
Consider:
--Unions have already been neutered in most states with "right to work" laws and lawsuits.
--Fewer and fewer jobs are full time and/or offer meaningful protections against worker abuse, and many workers are being replaced by automation;
--Corporations are legally people (yeah, I know) and the time for the repeal of that legal reality is not now or in the near future;
--A true "General Strike" will no longer be cohesive, cooperative or widespread enough to have a real impact. Too many people cannot afford to walk out on their jobs and/or cannot get childcare to attend a protest. Too many people are elderly, un-ambulatory and/or otherwise unable to attend. Thanks to rampany development and gentrification in cities, too few buildings are left to squat in should participants in general striking lose their jobs and their homes. Assuming that hundreds of thousands could actually be mobilized to make such an action EFFECTIVE (rather than merely meaningful), there would be widespread violence, either from troops sent in by the President or by independent armed militias who see the opportunity to flex their heavily-armed muscles -- while law enforcement mostly look the other way.

We have already watched the protests get bigger, and louder, and more violent.
And nothing has happened, except that the people with power and money are circling their wagons in tighter and tighter circles.

When the first school shootings began happening years ago, and no one in a position of power screamed or pushed through legislation demanding stricter gun laws, that was when we decided it didn't matter anymore. America -- a violent country with violent beginnings and a pervasive, hyper-masculine collective psyche that has wounded generations of sensitive children and encourage bullies for most of its history, is about to have a constitutional crisis. And other than the few hundred thousands who will march in protest, waving their signs and screaming their protest chants and wearing last winterr's pussy hats, 


Most of the country will stay home and yawn.

They will yawn from exhaustion, because they have to work two or three jobs just to stay housed. Because they're single parents or grandparents raising children, and they have no support and few or no resources. Because they are too stressed from surviving to stay caught up with the news cycle or even to read and understand our nation's constitution. because after generations of growing "anti intellectualism" -- which really boils down to hating anyone who has more than a high school diploma because you never got father than yourself, let's be honest -- the people who are actually using their educations and intellect to try and make things better are OUTNUMBERED by the folks who are too poor and sick and under-educated to find the energy and strength needed to engage in this fight.

As a country we are being overwhelmed by an inertia brought on by the widening gap between rich and poor, the death of the middle class (not nearly as slow as some would have us believe, if you know your economic history at all) and the consolidation of the world's wealth into a handful of dynastic cells. For the time being, the deck is stacked against the common working person. I will suggest that it was stacked since long before I was even born, and that the ability to make real change through mass action was already pretty much lost by the time I was in high school. Sorry, I was born too late and grew up too isolated to participate in that grandly romanticized struggle called The Sixties. I came of age with Reagan's election in 1980. Throughout my twenties I was told that "greed is good" and that fashion mattered more than substance because no one was paying attention substance anyway.
As a member of the high school class of 1981, I was never going to be an idealist about politics or the supposed power of my vote. 

I am shocked by the number of television shows today that recalls the halcyon days of the 1980s.
Seriously? Is anyone actually nostalgic for that decade? Good Lord. I'm sure as hell not.


******


As someone who lost their idealism long ago, I am dubious about the effectiveness of a protest action anymore. It is highly possible that real change will take generations and that I will not have a thing to say about it except on a micro-level, teaching kids or otherwise quietly influencing one heart at a time. I've got nothing else. Because I'm a fifty-something chickenshit with physical and mental health issues and so far have not found a cause that I'm actually willing to really and truly die for. Blame it on my birthyear, blame it on my rootless, isolationist parents and my highly mobile childhood, blame it on depression or auto-immune disease or any number of things. 

But all I can do is all I can do, and dying for a cause is not part of the equation. 
Because I was never raised to believe any cause might actually be worth such a sacrifice.
So it's no stretch from there to my views about rampant nationalism, flag-waving and all the rest.


So what's left? Other than going underground, living quietly and below the radar, and reveling in the small daily miracles, and being kind whenever possible, well -- I honestly don't know.
Other than doing those quiet things, I have no other answers, except to suspect that I am standing on a point in our collective timeline where the pendulum isn't swinging in my favor, and won't again for a long time. I can't be an idealist anymore. I can't pretend that bicycles will helps ave the world in our lifetime. And I can't imagine a world in which we all actually wake up and realize that we need to live kinder, gentler and simpler (and maybe have fewer kids) in order for everyone to have what they need to live a merely decent life.
I don't buy in. I don't believe. In the end, we will all die someday and the older I get, where, when and why matters less and less.

If this totally bums you out, feel free to detach, unfollow, whatever.
This is who I am, this is how I move through the world, and going forward I'll be looking for those smaller miracles, if only to keep from going crazy.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2017 - #6: The Cult of Personality

Today I rode all the way from home across town to Rivelo, the Portland outlet for Rivendell Bicycles. I was tired and very underslept -- I didn't wake up till around 9:30 -- but I really needed the ride. The chemical roller coaster of perimenopause, monthly cycles and depression intersected to make me feel emotional flat and awful this morning, and I knew that if I didn't ride I'd be that way all day.

Sometimes dealing with depression is a massive fight. You do the work (through counseling) to build tools to deal with ie, even to recognize when a dip in mood is coming on; but in the end sometimes you really have to force yourself to deal with it. This morning's ride started out like that.
Being basically broke from yesterday's rather expensive coffee stop, I brewed coffee at home and took it with me in my thermal cup.

It was beautiful morning, perhaps one of the last this year when I'd enjoy riding in knickers or shorts (cold, wet weather is due by next weekend). I started to feel better the longer I kept riding. By the time I'd gotten to the Esplanade, I was actually enjoying riding.  Cruising along the part of the path that runs at river level, I saw sailboats tied up at the boat ramp, people fishing off the sides (though I'm not sure I'd want to eat anything I caught in the Willamette), and folks jogging, walking, cycling and soaking up the sunshine.

At the top of the ramp, I stopped to catch my breath and admire the view up and down the river.
Since I was by now at least four miles from home, I also enjoyed my coffee, which was delicious.
 (Left: evidence of good coffee and improved mood)














After my coffee, I continued southward along the Esplanade, cruising around the back side of OMSI (fun place, take the whole family) and past the transit center at the east end of Tillkum Crossing.

I arrived at Rivelo in time to get a parking spot at one of three small bike racks. The parking lot, I knew, would fill up with bikes as we got closer to the start of the actual program, a special visit from Grant Peterson (founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works). Grant founded the business over twenty years ago, and Rivendell's influence in the bicycle industry now cannot be denied. Thanks to Grant's penchant for comfortable bikes with clearances for wider tires and cargo capacity; the aging Baby Boomer generation (who lost interest in sitting like a racer as they got older and stiffer); and a renewed interest in riding for fun and transportation, Rivendell has given birth, if you will, to a dozen other bike companies that are all imitating the Rivendell aesthetic.

Take a look at the bikes parked in the lot by the end of the program. Most have upright handlebars, wider tires, fenders (it IS Oregon) and baskets and/or saddlebags -- things you would never see on racing bikes. And they're all built around steel frames.



























The talk itself was okay. Grant was his usual curmudgeonly self, though his tone has grown a little gentler than since the last time I saw him (at Interbike seven years ago). He was also refreshingly consistent in his views on bicycle design, the industry and peoples' buying tastes. He has grown a little tired of the cult of personality that has sprung up around RBW -- but he also knows that that cult is a big part of what helps to sell his bikes. He said that as long as he enjoys the work he'll keep working.
Still, I may have been one of the few there who was less interested in Grant than in all the folks who would come to such an event -- and the bikes they rode to get there.

Andy brought pregame snacks, in the form of freshly cooked bites of elk. Due to recent oral surgery I could only manage a small taste. but it was delicious.

Before the program began, I enjoyed greetings the few folks I already knew and admiring the bicycles as they rolled in.

One thing that Grant has done is to open the market for quality bikes to include much taller riders than the mass market ever had interest in.
Are you 6'7"?  Maybe order your next bike from Rivendell. Seriously. They'll have it dialed.
At the end of the program, I didn't stay long. I was beginning to feel a little moody from sitting for two hours of Q and A, and I needed to get home. I knew another ride would help, but I was also tired and had a bit of a toothache, so I rode over to the light rail station and hopped a train across town and over the river to shorten my ride home.

One of the questions kept recurring during the Q and A, though people tried politely to skirt it, was talk of a -- gulp -- succession plan for Rivendell Bicycle Works. Grant is in his early 60s, his children are basically grown and neither has any interest in taking over the business), and the cost of living in the Bay Area (where RBW is based) makes it hard to pay high enough wages to avoid staff turnover.
Grant is frustrated by the realities and there are rumors that he has been looking for another city to relocate the company to in case things in Walnut Creek get utterly ridiculous. It will be interesting to see how things progress.

In the meantime, it was a lovely day for a ride. and I will try to get a better night's sleep tonight.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2017 - #5: Death and coffee

"Shomrim needed," read the heading of the email in my inbox yesterday morning.
I checked my calendar and saw that I was available, so I signed up for a shift.
Whenever a Jew is prepared for traditional burial, there is usually a time lag between the body being washed, dressed and sealed in the plain wooden coffin and the time the body is taken to the cemetery for burial.
That's where the Shomrim (guardians) come in.
Jewish law dictates that, from the moment of death until the time of burial, a dead person cannot be left unattended, even for a minute. So during the lag time, people take turns sitting in the room with the sealed casket, reading Psalms and otherwise sitting quietly and respectfully.

It's an awe-filled thing, a humbling thing -- and not to be entered into lightly.
Whilw anyone above Bar/Bat Mitzvah age (13) can serve as a Shomer (guardian), most rabbis I've tlked with recommend that, if possible, the Shomrim be college-age or older. Because of the immediacy of the need -- a Jew has to buried within three days of death unless special circumstances prevent it -- most of the Shomrim in a given community are retirees or people with unconventional work schedules.

I left the house about 90 minutes before my scheduled shift. It was a gorgeous morning, with a breeze and bright sunlight. I thoroughly enjoyed my 8-mile ride across town.
I arrived at the funeral home -- located in a very large and beautiful Victorian house on the National Registry -- and locked up my bike in back, in the carport where the hearse often waits.


Sitting in the same room as a corpse, even one in a sealed wooden casket -- will do a lot to your head. And heart.
After reading the Psalms traditionally said at this time (yeah, there are rules for that), I chanted quietly and finally sat in silence. Do this long enough and your mind will eventually turn to your own mortality -- not in a scary way at all. I treasure this responsibility because it's a way for me to be of use in my community and at the same time to spend some quiet, thoughtful time pondering what really matters in life.
That's the beauty of serving as a Shomer: you're taking part in Jewish rituals around death and burial, but you really have some time to get clear on life.

I ended up sitting with the meitah (corpse) for 45 minutes past my assigned time, because the hearse was late in coming, and I could not leave.
Finally, I called the office downstairs to ask about sending someone else up to sit so I could go.
"Can you hang on another ten minutes?" the man asked. "They're on their way."
I said I could. Fifteen minutes later, a young man and woman, both clad in black, came in to take the casket outside to the waiting hearse. I went to the restroom, washed my hands (which you do after being in the presence of a corpse) and left.

Outside, the sunlight seemed brighter, and the turning leaves more vivid in their oranges and golds. The breeze felt cool against my cheek and every turn of the cranks felt glorious. Riding after Shomrim duty is a great way to process my emotions and, as I like to say, "return to density".


Riding down Hawthrone, I was astounded at how much gentrification had happened in the form of new construction and renovation.

This is an apartment where I lived some twenty-two years ago, around the time I began working at Citybikes. Nine months after I moved in, everyone in the building was given thirty days to vacate; the building was being converted into condos, with walls between adjoining studios being knocked down. We were all shocked and incensed. It was the beginning of gentrification in eastside Portland, and we had no idea at the time how rampant and widespread it would become. We only knew that a lot of us couldn't afford anything else in the area that was available, and a lot of us in the building would end up moving to cheaper rentals in North and Northeast Portland (where today, you can't rent anything under $1300 a month -- and that's a studio apartment in 2017).
About a third of the tenanbts were people of color and several were parents of young children.

I was so angry that I hung a sign in my window saying, "GENTRIFICATION IS ETHNIC CLEANSING WITHOUT THE BULLETS." My neighbors loved it, the manager not so much. Two days later a note was slid under my door by the new owners, ordering me to take down the sign.
I scribbled on the back: "--or what? You're already evicting me." -- and left the sign up until the day before I moved out. Today, I did not see one person of color on Hawthorne, anywhere.
Just sayin'.
I rode all the way down Hawthorne Boulevard until I found a coffee shop I hadn't tried before.
I came to Coava Coffee on SE Grand. From the outside it looks pretty unassuming. Inside, it looks, well -- sort of unassuming but in a too-big, too-studied, faux-industrial sort of way.

Seriously, the place had been a garage or a machine shop in a previous life, evidenced by leftover machinery converted into seating and counter spaces.
The front counter was enormous, and had no seating along it. Just a counter, with a row of coffee-making racks and filters off to one side.
The whole room felt over-large, too spacious to be a coffeehouse. And the exposed wood ceiling, which made the room very echo-y, would also make it really loyud if it ever did get crowded.
Saddest of all was the most beautiful drill press, converted into a table that was being used as a laptop workstation.

I would've loved to try my hand at that press. Seriously.

The coffee was actually quite good. Pour-over (which, as near as I can tell,  means THEY grind the beans and load the filter, and THEY pour the water, all while you watch. Perhaps that's why their coffee starts at $3.00 a cup.)
The honey cake was moist but unexciting. And this combo brought my most expensive coffeeneuring ride to a whopping $6.25. YeeOUCH!

Total miles: I don't know. Ten, maybe. I shortened my ride home with a ride on the Streetcar.
Whatever. I stopped tracking my miles a few years ago, and mileage really doesn't mean much to me anymore. My rides are shorter, and much slower, and far more enjoyable as a result.
So now I just ride.
Because you know what?
Life is short.

Happy riding, wherever you go this weekend.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

shop time: life before cartridge bottom brackets

Today I wrapped up a refugee bike and started in on another one.
This one had a decent frame and entry-level components. When I checked the cranks and bottom bracket, I was horrified at the amount of play in what looked like a cartridge bottom bracket.
After some effort to get the crankarms off, I finally got the bottom bracket out. As it turned out, it was NOT a standard cartridge, but some odd combination of loose-ball-and-spindle that I'd never seen before.
First, there was a drive-side cup that came out by itself. (Shown at lower left in photo).

Outside it looked like a cartridge. Inside it was only a cup with what was left of a retainer bearing unit. It came out in pieces.

Next, I had to go after the non-drive-side cup, which also looked like part of a cartridge BB.
Getting it out took a little longer because it had been hammered and malformed

It was tough to get out but I finally coaxed it out. When I did, there remained a metal tube inside the bottom bracket shell of the frame.

The tube was threaded and straight at one end, and rounded at the other. From the rounded end, another damaged retainer bearing, this one with smaller diameter bearings than the usual 1/4".

I had never seen anything like this before. Based on the damage done, I hope I'll never see one again. It's sort of a wacky design.























If I wanted to re-use the spindle I'd have to use it with all new cups and bearings.
So I pulled out a NOS bottom bracket set. I set aside the 9-ball retainer bearing and went to a jar of recycled loose bearings that I'd sorted and cleaned at Citybikes years ago. Anything that wasn't pitted got saved. Loose bearings work better and smoother than retainer bearings, and they also last longer between overhauls.)

It's pretty simple, actually, to install a traditional loose-ball bottom bracket. The technology is simple, and the frame is threaded to take the cups easily with some grease.

Clean the threads in the frame, grease the inside of each cup and load it up with eleven bearings, install the drive-side (non-adjustable) cup first; then check to see which end of the spindle you want on the drive side (note: it isn't always obvious, insert it and check by placing the drive-side crank on the spindle. Don't tighten it down; but know you'll lose about 3-4mm when you do tighten it down and go from there.) the spindle, then the non-drive-side (adjustable) cup and lockring.
(When I did this, it became clear that the spindle of the original BB wasn't going to work with the new cups, so I had to root around in my parts bins until I found a slightly longer spindle that would work. I cleaned off the original spindle and tossed in the bin. The cups, such as they were, were too damaged to re-use so they went into the recycling bucket.)

Adjust for the sweet spot between less rolling resistance and too much play (it does exist, and when you've installed a bunch of these it doesn't take long to find and adjust to it).
Then re-install your cranks, check for play and fine-tune your adjustment, and voila! Done.
Side view of left cup with crank reinstalled. Inner cup is turned and then held in place against counter-turning of outer lockring to fine-tune.
Bottom bracket with new cups and reinstalled crankset. (see the spindle? in between the crankarm and the bottom bracket cup. In old-style BB's those are also replaceable, and come in multiple sizes to work with BB cups of different wall thicknesses and BB shells of different lengths (68 or 73 mm).

I LOVE fixing up old bikes and using old technology when it's called for. In this case, sure, it would've been easy enough to simply put in a cartridge bottom bracket if I wanted to. But these are donated bikes and I am paying out-of-pocket to bring them back to life, so I'd rather re-use older parts that work just as well when I can. This is why I've spent the last 20-plus years cleaning and saving old bike parts. It saves me money when I can simply resurrect a loose-ball bottom bracket using old parts I've been sitting on for a decade or more.

The other nice thing about loose-ball BB's is that you can get several overhauls out of them (figure once every one to two years depending on how often and where you ride) before you have to replace too many parts. When the cartridge bottom bracket bites it, you have to throw the whole thing in the recycling bucket and start again. Re-using is ALWAYS better than recycling, in terms of carbon footprint and the energy required to clean, melt down and re-form the metal.

The sad part of this is that almost no one in a shop is willing to overhaul an old-style bottom bracket anymore. They take longer, and it's faster (and frankly, far more profitable) to simply stick in a cartridge BB. Most younger mechanics don't even bother learning how to adjust a loose-ball bottom bracket anymore; they just replace it with a cartridge. And that's too bad. Because an awful lot of older bicycles are still out there with loose-ball bottom brackets that could simply be adjusted and/or overhauled, instead of chucked before they wear out.

It's worth considering if you ever encounter an older bike and want to fix it up.  
Repair and reuse first.

Happy wrenching!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2017 #4: Western Bike Works

This morning I rode into town for Shabbat services at my shul. It was sweet and contemplative and just what I needed.
 Afterwards, I rode a short distance to Western Bike Works, where I would enjoy pour-over coffee and dry off a bit.
I was very surprised and disappointed to discover that the coffee bar had been removed, replaced by expanded repair check-in parking and a single tall cafe table with chairs (for folks to wait at during short repairs).



The guys were very friendly and one even invited me to take off my wet things and dry out a bit. "Help yourself to some drip coffee," he said, motioning towards the single hot-pot near the counter. "No charge."
So I did just that. A copy of the latest Portland Mercury was on the table, and I had my coffee, an energy bar from my bag and a little glance through Willamette Week's snarkier stunt-double while I observed my surroundings.

My bike felt out of place amidst the brand-new carbon-fiber and disc brakes all over the place.
Meanwhile, a repair stand and tools where  community bulletin board used to be indicated a new spirit in the place.

Considering that all of the tools were (a) still hanging there and (b) pretty darned clean, the more bicycle astute among their visitors would have figured out the vibe pretty quickly without the sign.














Still, it was good to be able to dry off a bit before suiting up again for the ride home. And for drip, the coffee wasn't terrible -- as long as you skipped the CoffeeMate.  And it was free, which saved me money and allowed me to enjoy myself without breaking the prohibition against spending money on Shabbat. (Seriously, though, I make better coffee at home.)                        


Sadly, I'm going to have to rate this one a fail, both for the removal of the perfectly nice little cafe and for the vibe that seems to have moved into the space.
By the time I rode from the non-cafe into downtown I was soaked again. The rain had not subsided all morning. And I was beginning to feel some fatigue creep on me from way inside (the way it does when I've expended myself and the Crohn's is rearing its head a bit.
So I tossed my bicycle on the bus and let Trimet do the driving.
(Below: Holladay Park, through the glass.)







 Total, around seven miles when all was saidand done. And now, naptime

Friday, October 20, 2017

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2017 #3: Kenton Cycle Repair

So right now, I am super-broke, which means I am taking coffee I made at home, sticking it in a thermal cup, and riding somewhere else to drink it.
To try for a stop on my theme-with-a-theme, I chose to ride into Kenton and say hi to my friends at Kenton Cycle Repair.

It was a lovely, damp afternoon and frankly, I've been fighting the deepening mood swings that come with Seasonal Affective Disorder (yes, it's a thing, and it's real, and I can tell in minutes when it comes on). Depression can be helped by physical activity. But sometimes it's hard to get started, or even get out of the house.
So I gritted my teeth and headed out. About a mile and a half in, I didn't mind the drizzle or the breeze anymore. I stopped along the way to take a photo or two and the sun peeked out for a little bit. By the time I made it to Kenton neighborhood, some 3 miles away, I felt noticeably better.

The newly-adjusted BStone, with improved handlebar and position.
LOVE the Surly Open Bar I scored for a song. (Yeah, I'm good at that. No, it's not for sale. The old handlebar is for sale if anyone wants it. CrMO. $40 shipped or $25 local pickup.)
 
Evidence of coffee in bike shop.
Nossa Familia French roast, in Klean Kanteen mug.
This is the good stuff, trust me.
Better photo of the gang, from left:  Josie, Ashley, Rich and David.
If you live in North Portland -- or even if you don't, it's worth the ride -- stop in for some bike love. Nice people who know what they're doing and love ALL kinds of bicycles and bike riders.

Super-cool skull jar.
You know you love it.
Admit it.
Come on.



Everything was great -- even the pouring rain I left just in time to get soaked by, until I made my way to the Kenton MAX station. (The Paul Bunyan statue has been restored, repaired and repainted, and looks very nice.)
While I waited for the next light rail train under a glass canopy, I suddenly felt an intense, burning pain on the inside of my thigh just above my knee. I pulled up my pant leg, but saw nothing. I stood there a little longer and the pain continued to really, really hurt. I pulled up my pant leg again and as I did, a bee (or yellow jacket? Not sure -- it wasn't at all fuzzy and the black and yellow were very bright and vivid) fell out from under my pant leg. As it lay there on the ground, I grimaced, realized what had happened, and stomped the little bugger flat. (Yeah, I know, hive collapse and all that. Sue me. My leg hurt.)
By the time I got home, a tiny dark red pinpoint was visible, and right now, over an hour later, it still stings like hell. I checked closely and found no evidence of a left-behind stinger (phew!). But a fair amount of venom got in there and it's sore. I can breathe and I feel otherwise okay so I'm sure it's all fine.
I probably rode around 6 miles total. I feel better. And it's raining again. Because this is Portland.
Happy riding!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2017- #2: Water Avenue Coffee

I thought it would be nice to collect a few Portlanders who were all taking on the Challenge in one place so I suggested it to a friend, and suddenly there was a Facebook event.
He suggested Water Avenue Coffee as a nice, centrally-located location. I suggested we make it a suit-yourself ride (find your own way there, drink lots of coffee with friends, find your own way home).

So that's what happened.

On the way, I took the route through inner eastside Portland that I used to take to Citybikes Annex when I worked there. I had heard a rumor that the colorful mural, which had be created while I was still a co-owner there (and a small piece of which graces my second album), was totally gone, the entire building painted over with marine gray and the pack lot fenced in.
I stopped and admired the trees that I used to watch turn every fall, every day for so many years. When you watch a landscape evolve over time it becomes part of you in a way.
Even though I didn't take this route regularly (or very often) anymore, I still liked to watch these trees change color.
Due to the lack of rain this summer, the colors have come a little late this year, but most of the trees are still vivid red and orange.


I pulled up to the building formerly known as The Annex and stared. It was as if it had never been a bike shop. Even the cobbwork bench and plexiglass awning, held up with old bicycle frames, had been pulled off the wall out front and was totally gone.

I rode on, taking Stark over to SE Wall Avenue and riding along the bike lane, now lined in many places with so many clusters of tents that they were becoming ubiquitous -- just as the whole homeless population in Portland was becoming.  At one point, I noticed that a homeless encampment had utilized an old bike team awning that I had seen a year or two before at a cyclocross race. Wow.

Inner eastside was still mostly industrial, with truck depots and warehouses, though signs of the coming gentrification were appearing here and there (I believe some re-zoning and some soil cleanup is in order before we'll see hi-rise condos in this part of town).
Still, there are hints that those who will be tossed aside by gentrification won't go quietly.

















I finally pulled up to Water Avenue Coffee, where my friends were waiting, and where we were eventually joined by a few more folks who'd seen the event posted on Facebook. It's a nice place, though if you have nut allergies you'll want to have an entree instead; most of the baked goods are vegan and utilize walnuts or pecans to boost the protein.
We had a lovely, lazy time over cups of coffee, and when Katie ordered too much of a good thing she gladly shared it with the rest of us. (I will definitely go back for the open-faced almond button-and-sliced-banana sandwich).

 

When it was all over, we went our separate ways. I headed over to Rivelo (not exactly around the corner but it's close enough that it took me five minutes to ride there, plus it was nice to visit with John).
On the way home, Another glorious burst of fall color, a large tree near my house that, in spite of having been trimmed clear of the telephone lines, was still majestic.