Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bad air again today in Portland

Portland friends: If you're planning to go outside today, keep it short. The air quality is sucky due to smoke from wildfires north and south of us (NoCal, Siskiyous, Columbia Gorge and B.C.).

This is expected to dissipate by the end of the week. In the meantime, shorten your trip with transit or take the bus entirely.

If you do go for an extended ride, cover your nose and mouth with a mask or bandana.

Be safe out there -- Love, Auntie Beth

Related image

Saturday, August 18, 2018

E-scooters: is Portland ready for these? I'm not.

If I get smacked by one of these at Sunday Parkways tomorrow I swear I'll toss it in the river.

A running tally of e-scooters and bikes reported as dumped in the Willamette River in Portland, OR
Seriously. I'm riding what may well be my final volunteer mechanic shift at Sunday Parkways tomorrow (after 11 years I'm ready for a break). E-scooters have taken over the city streets and so far, while most people seem to be handling it well, enough jokers are riding these things too fast, the wrong way down the street and often helmetless (illegal but also unenforceable) that it's a matter of when, not if, someone will die.

I wish the City Council or PBOT had figure out how to enforce the rules before letting these things loose on the streets. I've almost been hit twice in the three weeks they've been out there.

I know I'll see E-scooters tomorrow during my Mobile Mechanic shift. They're allowed to be on the route at Sunday Parkways. Let's hope no one g\does anything stupid, because if they do, the City has clearly proven its inability to deal with it.
(below: on the sidewalk without a helmet. Both illegal. Whatever.)

People on electric scooters watch the Hawthorne Bridge go up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

the loneliness of the long-distance rider: or, why I don't play well with others

For almost twenty years, I was a co-owner in a cooperatively-run bicycle shop. We had as few as 8 owners and as many 16 during my tenure. In that time, I learned a lot about how to facilitate meetings, what it means to build consensus, and the importance of checking in with each other before embarking on a new project or making changes to the business that would affect the collective.

I also learned a lot about why cooperatives set up in a socialist style almost always fail past a certain size and/or point in history. Because although we love the idea of cooperation and a collective cause, we've all grown up in a world with a capitalist way of thinking. Past a certain point it's hard for capitalist-minded humans to be altruistic, or to at least think of the others in the group.

Finally, I learned a lot about myself. When my time at the cooperative bike shop came to an end, I recognized that the experience had changed me, too. I was no longer interested in spending half my working life in meetings to process about the work I was doing. I was someone who preferred to just do, to fix, to make, to get things done; and couldn't be bothered with having to check in every time I had a question or an idea. When my time at Citybikes came to an abrupt and unhappy end six years ago, it was in large part because I'd kept trying to invest and believe in the process, and in a group of people with whom I'd done good work over a long period of my life; and in the end they made it clear that they didn't really need me anymore. So I left.

Over the succeeding six years I've grown used to working alone; to owning my mistakes and correcting them myself (or at least learning from them if I couldn't undo the damage); and taking my own risks. Being married, I'm devoted enough to my wife that I happily check in with her before jumping off to my own next adventure, and when we decide it's not prudent I hold off. But as far as working with larger groups in cooperation again, that's not something I'm likely to do going forward. Especially if I don't have to in order to get or keep a job.

So when my synagogue redesigned its cooperative model last year to include still more committees and liasons and chairpeople, I got worried. When my faith community began dropping large hints that the way into community involvement would, going forward, be committee involvement, I watched myself rapidly losing interest. And when they made official the years-long policy of not paying members for services to the synagogue, so that no one would be paid for leading worship or music except the Rabbi, I felt myself completely deflate.

Still, I hung in there. We all need community, right? I know I do. When I came up with an idea for a small, informal gathering that just needed time and space at the shul, I was brought up short with the new reality of the expanded committee system. I was told that from now on, everything would have to be run through that system in order to move forward. Everything would have to be processed in meetings, even my small gathering of folks who would just get together for an hour of Adult Coloring.

And that's when I lost it.

I've been forced to recognize that, after twenty years at a co-op bike shop, I ended up having nothing to show for it besides my pain and my experiences. Now, sixteen years into membership at my shul, I feel that feeling coming on again, and find myself pondering the very real possibility of going on without affiliation at any synagogue, anywhere.

That's not to say I wouldn't have a sense of community. I know lots of people in Portland, and my wife and I have made a nice simple life together here. I don't see that changing. But I do sense that the older I get, the less inclined I am to be patient with process, and with people who love to process. Life is too short for me to just sit around and talk about stuff anymore. I want to just DO, MAKE, LIVE. Don't bother me with another fucking meeting about the meeting we had last week to process the meeting we'd had before that.

If that makes me the lonely long-distance biker, then I guess that's what I am.

When the air quality clears up I'll go for a bike ride and think about what it means to gain clarity.

In the midst of all this noise, I find that I am grateful.
Grateful for the chance to know myself better, to own my shit and to not hate myself for having the quirks and imperfections that I have now.

I mostly ride alone these days on my bike. So it stands to reason that most of my other rides will be less peopled as well. There is loneliness, to be sure, but there is also a great deal of spontaneity and freedom. I've given up enough of the latter two long enough. I'll enjoy them now, and live in a larger circle of friends where the boundaries are more vague and fluid, and I feel freer to simply act.

Happy riding.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

2018 OCBA handbuilt frame show CANCELED: Is too much too much?

The Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association have just announced the cancellation of their 2018 Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show, citing "low levels of interest". You can read about it here: https://bikeportland.org/2018/08/06/low-levels-of-interest-leads-to-cancellation-of-oregon-handmade-bicycle-show-286862
Predictably, lots of Bikeportland.org readers had plenty to say about why the bottom appears to have fallen out of the local framebuilding scene. Most mentioned gentrification and Portland's unchecked growth, citing new arrivals who want a cleaner, more pristine kind of lifestyle than "old" Portland provided.

Here is my response:

Portland has grown up. We don’t always like the way our kids turn out but now that they have to pay their own rent we don’t really have any say. (And don’t EVEN think you can move back home, because I’ve gone and turned your bedroom into my bike workspace.)


I worked in the bike industry full-time for almost two decades. During that time, I watched a number of trends come and go. Not ONE of those trends catered to lower-income transportational riders who worked on their own bikes because that’s what their budget allowed. Nearly all of the trends can draw a line of DNA back to racing (including mega-distance randonneuring and high-performance, credit-card touring).

Trickle-down from racing — and its accompanying design, production and marketing — is what has provided a great deal of the financial wherewithal to help grow bicycle innovation. Does it go in a direction I personally like? Not usually. But that trickle-down has long determined what our next bicycles will look and perform like.

Custom bikes are just that: CUSTOM, meant for a specific rider, a one-off. Framebuilders take time to learn their craft and longer still to build up a following. But even with carbon, how much of a following can sustain any framebuilder’s operations? (More baldly put: How many bikes does a person want, need or have the capacity to store?)
Past a certain point, growth becomes dangerously connected to excess and excess unchecked can lead to over-consumption.

One of the reasons I’m relieved to have left the new bike industry is that I’ve always been aware of this relationship and I have had an ambivalent, even difficult time reconciling my sense of ethics with that reality.
I greatly appreciate the devotion to craft expressed by our local framebuilders. And I understand the market forces driving the changes that have led to the cancellation of this year’s show. I wish all of them more success and fulfillment in their chosen line of work. I also hope they have other skillsets in case times get really lean.


I have only a couple more days working at Bikes For Humanity PDX this summer, before the demands of my musical work and the High Holy Days take over my life for several weeks. (We'll talk about what work I might be available for later in the fall.)
I've been glad to fix up old bikes meant for folks on a budget. I've also enjoyed coming up with solutions to mechanical issues on the fly. And the folks I work with are the nicest bunch of people you'd ever want to meet. If you're looking for a grass-roots bicycle nonprofit to give some love to, check out B4H-PDX.

Enjoy some good rides with what's left of the summer. Happy riding!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

BIke hack of the day: caliper brake spring tool

Today's hack: caliper brake springs can be hard to reach for adjustment without the right tool.
Make one by filing down a notch in an old flathead screwdriver.
(Bikes For Humanity PDX volunteers -- we now have one of these in the Skinny Bike Tools drawer.)

Put a flathead screwdriver into a bench vise with the tip about an inch above the vise jaws.
Using a flat file, file a notch into the center of the tip, holding file at a 45-degree angle. Sand the sharp tips lightly (so that if the tool slips you won't cut your hand). 


When you're finished it should look like this:
I made this today at the shop when there was a need for such a tool and the shop didn't have one. However, there were plenty of extra screwdrivers on hand, so with my shop manager's blessing I simply converted one.
It worked beautifully.
Happy hacking!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

potential new bikey hangout: golden pliers

Out and about today on my bike, on errands and scouting out potential hangouts where the atmosphere is undemanding.

Today's exploration took me, on a friend's advice, to a new shop called Golden Pliers.

Steps away from the Interstate MAX line, the shop opened about a month ago, offering a combination of accessories, repairs and a bar serving coffee, alcohol and snacks.

I liked the relaxed, friendly vibe which I felt when I walked in. It helped that seconds after I sat down at the bar, a friend from the bike scene came over to say hi, and we enjoyed some conversation while he finished a beer and I snacked on ice water and peanut butter pretzels.

I walked around the small, cozy space and looked at what they offered. There's a heavy emphasis on bike-packing accessories, including tires, tubes, racks and bottle cages. The single repair stand behind the counter included the excellent clamps from EVT (Efficient Velo Tools), and there was a nice selection of reading material to enjoy with my drink if I wanted.
There were also handmade cycling bags and small items from Makeshifter Canvas Works -- the owner is a partner in the shop -- and I could see the appeal for the younger, fitter bikepacking crowd as well as the urban biking set -- especially the "Snackhole Stem Bag", which I've seen in increasing number on bicycles around town.

Just when I thought I could get away with spending only a couple of bucks on a small bowl of peant pretzels, I turned and saw a stainless steel bottle cage large enough to hold an oversized (3.5" diameter) bottle. I had wanted to convert both of my bikes to hold such a big bottle so I wouldn't have to carry two bottles around town. I gulped a little at the price -- $30! -- but recognized that it was strong and well-made enough that I could expect a number of years from it. So I bit the bullet and bought it. Tonight I affixed the new cage, made by a company called Widefoot, to my All-Rounder, where it fits just fine inside the main triangle.
Now I can dispense with all the smaller bottles and just keep one or two oversized bottles going forward.

I had a nice conversation with the two co-owners, and was invited to taste a sample of some coffee whose roaster was trying to get their product into the shop. It wasn't bad at all.
We all enjoyed the antics of another customer and his toddler son, who grinned like a little imp and flashed those Cheeks Of World Domination -- you know, the kind that, when you see them, you will do anything the child wants you to.
All in all, I spent a lovely 45 minutes there, and would definitely come back when I'm in the neighborhood. It's closer to my home than Velo Cult was, and the vibe is pretty darned nice.
Glad I stopped in.
Happy riding, wherever you go.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

bike hacks: how to fix loose headset cups

At the shop today, I was handed a classic mid-80s Trek road bike that needed an overhaul.
It was a very nice old bike, with all original components. But it had seen better days.
The original wheels with their Matrix rims would have to be cut up and rebuilt, a project for another time; we swapped in another set of used wheels that would work just fine.

Then, I looked at the headset. The cups were both loose enough that I could remove them with my fingers. Not good.
I pulled everything apart, cleaned all the pieces and determined that, if properly re-installed with fresh grease it would be just fine.
So I went to work on fixing the loose cups.

1. Remove the cups from the head tube and clean out everything inside the head tube. Examine the inside of the head tube carefully to make sure nothing is cracked, sticking out or otherwise impeding the turning of the fork's steer tube.
Note how smooth the top of the inside looks. There's really nothing there for the cup to gain any purchase on. When the bike was new, this wasn't a problem, as the parts had close tolerances and fit together tightly; but many miles of riding have loosened things a bit, and sometimes the cups will get wobbly.
Ignoring this situation until it's really annoying will cause damage to the frame and fork. Don't wait!

You COULD fix this with a strong two-part epoxy, and I'll admit that I've done it that way once or twice in my early days of wrenching. But epoxy has two strikes against it: it's messy and hard to clean up, both during and after application; and it has nasty chemicals in it that are not good for you or the for the earth. So skip the epoxy and just use tools.

2. Take a chisel and a hammer. Working your way around the inside of the head tube of the frame, carefully aim the corner of the chisel's edge into the metal of the inside wall, and tap with the hammer. Be careful not to hammer too hard or you can risk damaging the headtube's edge. Take your time; a couple of lighter taps each time should do it. What you want to do is deliberately gouge out tiny metal "teeth" into the head tube, thereby making the inside diameter of the head tube a tiny bit smaller so the tolerance between it and the headset cup will be tight again. You don't need to go crazy with this; every 1/4" or so of tiny gouges all the way around should be sufficient.
When you're finished, you should be able to re-install the headset cup. Shop mechanics will be able to do this with a headset press (if both cups are loose, do the same thing on the other end of the head tube, and then install both cups together with the headset press.)
If you're at home, but you can still put your frame in a bike stand, there's another way to do this: Get a section of 2 x 4 (at least a foot long). Wrap it in a shop towel, position the cup on top of the head tube and position the wrapped 2 x 4 on top of the cup, making sure all edges of the cup are in contact with the wood. Take a hammer and carefully pound on the wood until the cup settles into the frame. Check your work periodically to make sure the cup isn't being ovalized, or going in so crookedly you'll need to punch it out and start again.

If all goes well, you should be able to install the cup with no "daylight" showing between the cup and the frame. (On older frames, the edge will already have been faced at the factory. I hope. If not, you have to decide whether it's worth it to pay a shop to do this -- most home mechanics don't have cutting tools. The ugly truth -- I am usually content to live with less than a millimeter of "daylight" if the cup is fully seated all the way around. Most casual home mechanics don't keep cutting tools at home, as they're very expensive and almost never needed for most simpler repairs.)

If you've done everything right, it should look something like this. You'll note that I installed one cup at a time, because the nonprofit where I'm working this summer doesn't have a headset press.
I made do with a 2 x 4 and a hammer, and it worked fine. Obviously, if the parts are very lightweight/higher quality, they will not stand up to this rough-and-ready sort of mechanistry, and you'll have to use a proper headset press, or pay a shop mechanic to do it for you.)

I repeated this process for the bottom cup. Then I added clean bearings and fresh grease, installed the fork and voila! Good as new.

(NOTE: Gouging out the inside of the head tube will only work on steel frames with external headset cups. I suppose it could work on select older aluminum frames, but I've never tried it and wouldn't advise it. And of course, never on carbon!)

Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

disc brakes are mostly overkill

No automatic alt text available.
I admit it. I have not jumped on the disc brake bandwagon. Disc brakes are expensive, add an awful lot of weight to a bike, and are easily damaged and fussy as hell to readjust. And frankly, they're overkill for all but the wettest and/or downhill conditions -- or when someone is riding too fast to properly control their bike.
In short, they're a boondoggle by the bicycle industry to sell us more stuff we don't actually need.
(Insert Grumpy Cat face here.)

So a couple months ago, when these decals showed up at a local bike shop, I jumped on the last two and immediately affixed them to my cargo hauling BStone, which has old-school cantilever brakes.
Which work just fine, even under load.
I'm sure I've just sunk my chance of ever working in a full-service modern bike shop again.
I can live with that.

Coming soon: recycling everything in the name of sustainability (aka cheapskate repairs that are totally safe and good).
Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

today's hack: brake substitution

Working at a grassroots nonprofit, I don't usually have the option of going to a warehouse shelf and pulling the exact replacement parts I need. This hybrid came in with a broken canti boss in the fork. Being a budget-level variety, the boss couldn't be unscrewed from the fork blade. So our only option was to replace the fork. Unfortunately, there was nothing on hand with a long enough steer tube (to fit the frame) that would also fit a 700c hybrid wheel.

So that's when I suggested we keep the original fork and convert it to a dual-pivot sidepull brake.

It was fairly simple. Saw off what was left of the mangled boss; saw off the other boss, still intact; file the surface flat; touch up with some nail polish and then mount the sidepull brake, which should clear the boss platforms easily.  

If this were a for-profit bike shop, I'd never even be able to suggest this repair. Cosmetically it wuld fall far short of most shops' standards. If the cosmetics didn't stop a service manager, the potential for liability would.
To which I'd say: WHAT liability? The brake worked just fine, and stopped the bike quite well on its test rides.
This fallback on cosmetics and liability concerns is, of course, driven by a bicycle industry that is all about planned obsolesence in the name of Selling More Stuff.

We have enough stuff in the world as it is. We shouldn't be in such a rush to make more, in the name of profits or even to support more workers. (Let's teach people how to reuse and repair things first, yes?)

And this is yet another reason I'm happy not to be a wage-slave in a for-profit bike shop these days.
Happy riding.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sunday, July 15, 2018

nostalgia night at portland short-track

Tomorrow night (7/16) I'll be pulling on my Team Slow t-shirt and cap, throwing a stiff, creaky leg over Stompy and heading down to PIR for Portland Racing's "Getting the Band Back Together" night.
Series promoter Kris Schamp isinviting all STXC alumni to come back and celebrate the 14th season of the series. They'll be given discounts of they want to race; or they can enjoy a fun-for-all "hot lap" before the real racing begins. (Having ridden my last short-track race in 2013 before hanging it up, I'll be opting for the hot lap and skipping the real racing, but I'll stick around to enjoy the evening.)

If you're around, come on down to PIR at 5:45pm. The hot lap starts a little before 6. Stick around to watch some pretty awesome local racing. Bring a box dinner (no alcohol, please) and hang out.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

lock that bike! lock it like you mean it!

Last week, I tuned up a friend's bike. She's having a great time on it now.
But she asked what lock she should use to keep it secure.

So I decided to build a blog post around that topic.

First, skip the woven steel cable. Don't waste your time using this as a primary lock, anywhere. I can cut through one of those in a few seconds with simple bike shop cable cutters, or with a bolt cutter available at any Harbor Freight store for under twenty bucks.

A U-lock is what you're looking for.
Skip the cheapo brands and go straight to either Abus or Kryptonite. Today's versions use flat/rectangular keys and cannot be popped with a Bic pen.

Note: Be prepared to spend upwards of $50-70 for a good U-lock. That may sound like a lot of money but it's still a lot cheaper than having to buy a new bike.

Here's a few to start with:

1. Kryptonite Evolution series Standard U-lock. I have one of these that's several years old and still going strong. It's ideal for fatter-tired city bikes with fenders, or any bike where you need a standard-length shackle to secure it to a rack.

2. Kruptonite Evolution-7 Mini (comes with cable). I use one of these on my other bike, which has smaller tires and wheels that are closer to the frame. With care, I can run it through my front wheel and frame to a "staple" rack.
The lock comes in a pack with a cable, which I use as a secondary lock anytime I feel I'm in a riskier, higher-theft area. Simply loop the cable through itself around your front wheel and frame, then bring the free end back to the U-lock, which goes around your real wheel and frame to the bike rack.

3.  Kryptonite NY Lock. I had one of these back in the day when I went to grad school and lived in Center City Philadelphia. Coming from Portland, OR I felt I needed to up my game a bit. And while I was glad to have the extra protection this lock provided, its weight  was enough to convince me to sell it when it was time to leave Philly and go home to much smaller PDX. Still, if you live in an especially big, bad city where bike theft is crazy-high, this could be the lock to get. Comes in standard and mini sizes. Weighs a freaking TON.
KRYPTONITE|New York Lock4. Abus U-mini U-lock. Similarly constructed and priced to the Kryptonite Evolution Mini, this is a good, solid lock for city and campus use. Combine it with a cable for more protection.

ABUS U-Mini U-Lock: Yellow

5. Abus Granit 640 U-lock. For use in higher-risk areas. It's heavier and costlier, closer in strength and weight to the NY Lock above. With a retail price over $100, get this if you're riding a very fancy or hard-to replace bike that you can't bear to lose. 

6. TiGr mini Titanium lock. In the Other Lock department, I've started to see these pop up on bikes around Portland. This mini version costs around a hundred bucks and weighs less than a pound. I have yet to hear of one being successfully broken by a would-be thief. The mounting bracket is sort of funky and requires a lot of space on a bicycle frame, so it may not be ideal for smaller-sized bikes; but with its light weight you could easily carry it in a backpack or pannier.

It's not enough to buy a great lock. You also need to use it properly.

A U-lock should ideally go through the rear wheel and frame to the rack, especially if you only have the one lock. (If you have a cable, use that to secure the front wheel, running the end to the U-lock.)
If you're locking a bike on campus, park it near other bikes in a well-lit, public area.
Remove all accessories that arean't bolted onto the bike -- tools, pump, lights, pannier.
If you don't want to hassle with all that every time you lock up, consider carrying less stuff on your urban rides. Bring a patch kit, a mini-pump and a mini-tool. If you need anything more than that in the city, you're not far from a bike shop or public transit. (And if your city's transit doesn't allow bikes on board, then you have something to work on there.)

If you are able to store your bike in a garage, lock it up inside the garage, to something solid and very heavy if possible. Serious bike thieves can and do break into garages where they know bicycles are stored, and sometimes they do it forcefully (a truck plowed through a garage door in Portland earlier this summer, allowing thieves to steal six bikes from a family). If you can hang your bikes up from the ceiling, that will make it take long to steal and could attract attention from neighbors.
If you live in an apartment building, store your bike in your apartment. If your manager requires you to lock up in a shared basement, lock your bike to the gas meter. And if you aren't able to store a bike inside the building, consider looking for another apartment to live in.

Even if you live in a single-family house, you should still lock your bikes inside the house, and away from big windows that allow thieves to see them easily. Serious bike thieves will case a place for days or even weeks, to establish an occupant's routine and determine when the best time is to break in.
You may not be able to prevent bicycle theft, but at the very least you should make it as hard as you can. If our bike looks more securely locked than other bikes nearby, the thief will choose an easier target somewhere else.

Register your bikes with local law enforcement, or with an online service like Project 529.
If you have renter's or homeowner's insurance, make sure you keep photos and serial numbers on file to share with your insurance agent in case of theft.

And above all, remember that a couple of minutes is all it takes for someone to see an opportunity and act on it. So LOCK YOUR BIKE EVERY TIME. Period. No excuses. Your bike will thank you for it.

Happy riding.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Refugee Bikes are back in [non]-business

Before I left for Kansas I had announced that, due to falling off of donations and my heading out of town for a month, I'd be closing down my Refugee Bikes operation.

Then I came home to Portlanders surrounding the local ICE detention center;
reports of Federal agents infiltrating the #OccupyICE camp illegally to get dirt on protestors, lawyers and journalists;
and three offers of donor bikes and some parts.

So for the time being, I'm back in [non]-business.
Since I'm not really up for protesting these days, I figure fixing bikes is something I can do to help out.
I am home all summer, preparing for High Holy Days and working with private students and riding my bike.
So if you have adult-sized bicycles that need a new home, let me know.
Contact me at

And thanks!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

six junes in kansas

Six summers ago, I spent a month living in the basement of the mother of my employer.
It was my first year working at a Jewish day camp in Kansas, and this homestay arrangement gave me privacy, a place to decompress after a long day herding other people's kids, and a nice riding distance from the camp venue.
That first June, the synagogue arranged to borrow a bicycle and trailer for me to use, to tow my guitar and books back and forth. The very first morning of Staff Week, I saw the darkening sky and big drops of rain, and pulled out my rain jacket. Judy, my host, demanded to know where I thought I was going in this weather. "It's only rain," I replied breezily. "I ride in it all the time in Portland."

(below: the loaner bike and trailer in 2013, after I'd replaced the seatpost and fixed the brakes.)

Just then, we saw the entire sky light up an eerie white, and fingers of lightning reached down to the ground. Judy counted the seconds -- one for each mile -- and when the thunder boomed shortly after she surmised that the lightning had struck only four miles away.

"You're not going anywhere in this weather, except in my car," She ordered me. "Unload the trailer and I'll go put on my shoes." And with that, she drove me to the synagogue, where she informed her daughter (the camp director) that her house guest was some kind of nut with a death wish.
Judy, a smart and highly opinionated lady who was recently retired from her day job and was volunteering with the local Jewish historical archive, then had to explain to me why riding in the rain in the Midwest was a bad idea. I nodded and and promised not to attempt it again.

We got along just fine after that.
The following Saturday, after I came home from Shabbat services, I rode to the store to restock for the week's coming sack lunches. By the time I rode home again, the clouds had turned an odd shade of almost yellow and the air was sticky with humidity. I went home, put my groceries away and took a nap. Two hours later, I was awakened by the loudest clap of thunder I'd ever heard. I sat bolt upright in bed, listened, and when I heard wind and heavy rain, I went upstairs, where Judy was waiting for me. She'd set out two glasses of iced tea at the kitchen table, with two chairs facing outward and the shades open. "You can see the storms best from this side of the house," she smiled. For the next half hour we sat in near silence together, watching the thunderstorm come and go.
It's my favorite memory of her.

That June, while I was there, the loaner bike had some mechanical issues, so I rode it to the nearest bike shop I could fine (some five miles away), bought some oil, a multi-wrench and new brake pads, and repaired the bike in the garage. When I was done, I left the wrench in a little plastic toolbox in the garage, in case I needed a tool again during my stay.

But there were hints of difficulties to come. A door left unlocked, a forgotten pot on the burner which  boiled the water completely away until the bottom was blackened and smoking. I caught those, and a few other near mishaps that told me something was wrong. Before I went home, I shared my concerns with her daughter, who thanked me for the information and told me they'd suspected something for awhile. Now that a stranger noticed, it was time to see the doctor.

The next time I talked to the camp director a couple of months later, she told me that her mother had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Over the next three summers, I'd visit each June and make sure I could see Judy, even briefly. Each year, she got smaller and more frail. By my fourth summer, she could no longer remember who I was. Last year, I was advised that Judy would only be seeing family, and I understood.

When camp ended in June of 2017, I let it be known that I would come and work the whole camp session for just one more year, and after 2018 they'd need to find someone else. I was tired; my Crohn's and other issues had taken a toll and I no longer had the same energy I'd enjoyed when I started working at the camp. I shipped my bike home and anticipated staying somewhere a little farther away from the camp because of changes in available homestay options.

This year, Judy finally moved out of her house and into a Memory Care facility in the next town over. The camp director had been promoted to education director for the entire synagogue, and this year her responsibility was to pick me up each morning and bring me to camp. This morning, on the way to camp, we stopped at her mother's house. I was surprised how much of it I remembered, even after a fresh coat of paint and some changes to the window dressings.

In the garage, I found the plastic toolbox. And inside, I found the dumbbell wrench I'd bought and then left there. The box, now mostly empty except for that wrench, the four worn brake pads I'd replaced and some bent nails, was in a pile of things bound for the dump. So I quietly took back the wrench, pocketed it and tonight I tucked it into my suitcase.

I'm not sure why, exactly. I don't actually need it at home. But it felt like another piece of the final lap of this journey, my final year at a camp that might not survive after this year due to bigger transitions beyond my control or understanding.
(After all, I don't live here. I'm always Just Visiting.)

I'll bring it home along with the pannier and spare pedals I left here last year, and eventually they'll find their way to a refugee bike or to the B4H nonprofit shop. (There's nothing like that here in the pristine suburbs of Kansas City, or I'd leave them here.) This morning, I also tossed all my extra guitar instruction sheets and old camp lesson plans into the recycling bin.
It feels as if part of me wants to leave no trace when I go. Or another part of me is taking a series of little Last Looks Backward. I don't know which.

It's been a wonderful experience, and it's time for someone else to take over. I head home Monday, with no regrets and a heart filled with gratitude.

Monday, June 18, 2018

new: 20 days of not biking

So this is my final year teaching at the day camp in the Kansas City area.
I gave my employer notice at the end of camp last year saying I was probably good for one more year of this, and then they needed to find and train my successor.
My employer didn't believe me (or thought he could talk me out of it), until he tripped over my Kansas Bike, boxed and ready to ship back to Portland.

When I came this time, I told him ahead of time I would not be riding to and from every day this year. Because of my health issues, my fatigue and the intense heat and humidity (tomorrow will be the first day the high is below 90F since I arrived), I knew that if I tried to ride every day I'd wipe myself out; and with many changes in the community I was serving, housing near the synagogue could not be guaranteed.

So here I am, not riding.
Even with a year's notice, my employer did not arrange housing for me until the day before I arrived, and, in a case of poor planning on his part, I was foisted off on two different hosts for a week each.
They've been lovely about it, and it's all okay -- my second host is especially nice, and has a ct for me to make googly-eyes at each morning and evening. (It's all fine, even if it feels like my visit this year may have been an afterthought to my employer. After six years it makes sense that on some level I might become taken a little for granted, and I'm a grownup so I can deal with it.)

And while I know my decision was the right one, and so far none of my hosts has minded picking me up or bringing me home, the fact is that not riding has been hard. I miss it, even for short distances; and being without a bike serves to remind me even more intensely how barren a wasteland the suburbs can be. This is especially true in Johnson County, KS, where voters refuse to allow KCMO transit to cross State Line Road for fear of bringing The Wrong Element (read: people of color) into their pristine, Stepfordian suburb.

I will miss the people here. They are lovely, sweet people and some have become cherished friends. But I will not, for one moment, miss the suburban landscape with its gated communities and oversized houses and manicured lawns that are maintained by someone other than the homeowner.
I will be very glad to return home a week from today, to our crappy little bungalow and my Sweetie's loving embrace. And the next day, I'll ride my bike again.

(Old photo, circa 2006: me on the Kogswell prototype behind the Citybikes Annex. Damn, that periwinkle was a pretty color.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

Off-Season Coffeeneuring: let's talk gear

Let's discuss coffeeneuring gear for a moment.
Below: my standard setup includes a Klean Kanteen vacuum insulated cup with a sip-thru lid, held securely in a Profile bottle cage on the seat tube.

Really, any double-walled stainless steel thermal cup will keep your coffee hot (or iced coffee cold) for a lot longer than the cafe's paper cup will. If you don't finish it there you can take it to go.

Or you can make some at home (summertime Pro Tip: freeze cooled-off leftover coffee in an ice cube tray for iced coffee; when it melts you won't water down the taste) and take it with you.

Either way, it means paper and plastic cups out of the landfill. Bonus: some shops will take a nickel or dime off the cost if you provide your own cup!

For step-through frames, Velo Orange offers a sturdy metal bracket so you can mount the cage on the handlebar.

I'm on a mission to make single-use cups unfashionable. Feel free to join me!

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But wait -- there's more.

So there's this guy who made a semi-career out of testing and reporting on every possible coffee cup, grinder and press, and then he put all the results of his copious research online.

If you really want to geek out, check out the outdated but still very informative and entertaining Bicycle Coffee Systems page: http://www.nordicgroup.us/bikecoff/Manage

And if that piques your interest, check out the sub-page about grinding and brewing coffee:: http://nordicgroup.us/bikecoff/brewgrind.htmlManage

Obviously, Some of the items on these pages are no longer available for sale, but might be found used in thrift shops or on craigslist. Other items have since come into the market since this site was last updated (in 2013), so consider this a starting point for researching your own system for bicycling with coffee.

Pro tip: Many small camp stoves and thermal cups ARE to be found used at thrift shops -- or even in free boxes if those abound where you live. (I scored a thermal water bottle today from a free box near my house.) So if you're like me and you want to support the re-use economy, keep your eyes peeled!

Friday, June 1, 2018

mountain biking comes to the city: gateway green

Starting next week, I'll be working (musically) every single weekend through June 24. So tomorrow, I'm taking a Saturday off to enjoy some bikey fun. I'll be at the Gateway Green Mountain Bike Festival, a celebration of the first completed phase of trails at Gateway Green. I'll take Stompy out and do some careful test-riding on the singletrack (I have work to do next week!) and say hi to the bikey peeps.

If you're in Portland, come on out to Gateway Green tomorrow between 10am and 3pm. Trimet makes it easy: Take MAX to Gateway Transit Center and ride the bike path north about a mile. The entrance to the park is on your right.

(Although Oregon has no helmet law for those 16 and over, it's a good idea to wear one out there in the dirt. Plus there will be a bunch of kids out there and, well, set a good example and all that stuff, right?)

It's going to be nice, so bring sunscreen and shades. See you there!


Friday, May 25, 2018

the week in bikeyness

It's been a bikey time here at Rancho Beth.
Even as I now prepare for what will likely be my last year of that month-long teaching residency in Kansas, my mind is filled with thoughts about the shape of the planet, and the shape of my Self. I want to stay connected to the things that matter, like living lightly and leaving a smaller footprint. My muisic career has too often NOT been about that, and I've longed to find a better balance between that and the things that really espouse my environmental values.

Last week, I begin working half-shifts at Bikes For Humanity PDX, a non-profit enterprise based in Southeast Portland (basically, across town from where I live).
They'd placed a job listing with bikeportland.org and, being short of money and having no gigs lined up for July or August, I answered it.
They called me in for a lovely interview, and offered me a part-time seasonal position as a mechanic -- paying me slightly more per hour than my final wage at Citybikes six years ago. Happily, they understand that this is a second job and they are quite willing to work around both my music gigs and my Shabbat observance.

They're lovely folks, especially my boss Andrew, the Program manager.
Here are some shots from the last couple weeks of turning a wrench regularly again.

(below: don't laugh. After some lube and adjusting, it still works just fine. In a non-profit shop you don't fix what's not broken.)

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 (below: a combination of over-tightening, riding it hard and probably leaving it out in the rain. Both cranks looked like this, and don't ask me about that bottom bracket. Tragic.)

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 My boss' bike, a vintage Bianchi city roadster complete with -- OMG! -- that chain guard!

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 So sexy. The very definition of bike porn.

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 B4HPDX is a donation-based non-profit that gathers bikes, refurbishes them and send them out into the world through sales, earn-a-bike programs for adults, and grants to clients of social service agencies. In addition to their Portland shop, they run a seasonal satellite location in downtown Gresham and repair booths at every Sunday Parkways. Nice buncha folks. And they really like having a pro mechanic on hand to crank out refurbished bikes for their programs. I've been averaging two a day in a 3.5-hour shift. It feels good to be useful.

And now the truth: There is no way I could do this work full-time anymore. My hands could not take 10-hour days at a repair stand, four or five days a week. So while I'm glad to be making a little money doing something I know how to do, I also know that it's not a forever thing. I'm glad to do it part-time. I'm promised more shifts when I come back in July, and perhaps I'll wrench for them into early September until about a week before High Holy Days. After that, I hope to have more music work again to get me through the winter.
But for now, it's a really nice thing all around.

Portland peeps!
If you have bikes and parts to spare, why not drop them off this summer at B4HPDX?
I'm suspending my refugee bike efforts for the summer, because I haven't gotten many bikes and, well, I need to earn a living. 
I'm inviting folks to donate to B4H
They'll do good stuff with your donations.
Thanks, and happy riding!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

back in the saddle, at least a little bit

I was offered a very part-time job cranking out donated bikes for resale at Bikes For Humanity PDX, a small non-profit that empowers low-income people through fixing and riding bicycles. It's part-time and seasonal, and mostly I'd be coming in off-hours to overhaul/tune up used bikes. Occasionally I'd also help teach volunteers how to do simple repairs.
it's a little money in my pocket, which I sorely need in the absence of any music gigs in July or August. And it's a way to keep my hand in it without having to deal with the high pressure of wrenching in a full-service shop.

Today was my first day. I felt welcomed and appreciated and it was lovely.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

the case for schrader valves

Let's just say that, for the time being, cars have won here in America. Gas stations dot the landscape; the truck transport lobby leans hard on state legislatures and often wins; freeways expand and on and on. This may change in the future when we actually, really run out of fossil fuels; but for now, this is how it is, okay?

Which leads me to when it makes sense to fight, and when it makes sense to adapt.

Let's start small.

Presta valves (L) are found exclusively on higher-end bicycle tires.
Schrader valves (R) are found on automotive tires and on many lower-end bicycle tires.

(Brooks valves? Move to Europe. Nothing to see here.)

Schrader valves can be filled with a floor pump, a frame pump or the air pump at the gas station.

Presta valves can be filled with a floor pump or a frame pump.

If you get a flat on the road and you're near a gas station, you can use their pump only if you have the requisite valve adapter.

This effectively turns your Presta valve into a Schrader valve so you can fill it with air at the gas station.

These little brass or alloy adapters are small and easy to lose.
Thankfully, they're made by the zillions.

You've heard that the nice thing, the kind thing, to do is to carry a spare tune in your bag so you can hand it to a cyclist in need out on the road. That's something lots of regular bicyclists do, and it is a nice thing. But because of racing trickle-down in marketing and everything else, nine times out of ten that spare tube the well-meaning rider hands you is going to be a skinny, Presta-valved tube -- which is useless if you don't have that little adapter.

And then there's the whole hole thing.
You know, when you want to change out a tube and your rim is drilled for Schrader but all you have a presta tube? Relax. there's an adapter for that, too.
In fact, there are several ways to adapt that big fat Schrader hole for your presta tube. All of them require more little bits that can be easily lost and which are made in the zillions of millions.

I keep a little supply of these bits on hand in my home workshop, so that when someone brings in a wheel that is perfectly good but the presta valve has wiggled so much it now has an unrepairable hole at the base, I can swap in an adapter along with the new tube. (Because front and rear valves can then match. It's a small thing, but it's nice to do.)

With Schrader valves, there's the valve, and a tool to take it apart so you can replace it's internal workings. The springs wear out, or the tiny pin-head wears down.
This is what you need for that.

One tool. And replacement cores, which you can still find on the internet because chances are your local [US] bike shop hasn't carried them in decades.

Although the Schrader valve is simple to use and to maintain, no one can be bothered to fix it anymore. It's easier to just toss it and swap in a whole new tube.
Easier, but not necessarily cheaper.

A broken valve core is made of metal and can be recycled. A tube that is beyond repair cannot be. (You know that, right? You know that tires and tubes can only be burned in some remote developing country where the smoke can't possibly come back to haunt us and it's their problem now, whatever. You know that, right?)

This is why I keep a supply of Schrader valve cores and that simple little tool on hand.

Because if the valve is the culprit, I can fix it without having to replace the whole tube.
The fact is, Schrader valves last longer and I don't have to replace that valve core all that often; whereas Presta valves can fail if you look at them funny and you have to carry around those little adapters for every situation.

Okay, I'm getting a little silly, but really doesn't it make sense to simplify things where you can?
That's why all of my bikes use Schrader valve tubes exclusively. Because they are, in fact, a little more sustainable. And I'll take my sustainability where I can find it these days.
Rubber side down, and happy riding!