Friday, May 21, 2010


Here's the deal:

I've had to walk a fine line for a long time, because I co-own a bike-based business, about my feelings on bicycle advocacy and the efforts to chip away at car culture and car-centric infrastructure. Last year I had a bit of a crisis of confidence in my local bike advocacy organization, a group I'd supported for years with my time and money; and it got bad enough that I sat down recently with a fellow at their office to discuss my feelings about politics and bicycle transportation. The discussion ended with his hope that I would eventually return to the organization and resume my paid membership. I made no promises other than to go home and think about it very, very hard.

Here's where I stand with myself these days.

Basically, I've had to spend a lot of time acting as though I am a "mature" adult, one who recognizes -- and acccepts -- the very slow pace of change. I've had to spend a lot of time and energy pretending that I am always willing to take the measured response, to consider the "politic" thing to do.

Looking "mature" benefits me socially and professionally. Unfortunately, it doesn't do a damned thing for my sense of truth, or for my soul.

Because when push comes to shove, in my heart of hearts I am impatient as hell. I want the car culture to fall down tomorrow, and I no longer care who knows it. I want the end of single-occupant vehicles, and the end of suburbs that force us to drive 30 or 40 miles to get to a job. I want the end of plastic food produced in a factories thousands of miles away rather than grown in local community gardens and on nearby farms; and an end to clothing made in China by poverty-wage workers and shipped overseas, instead of sewn by us at the kitchen table. I want the end of over-programmed childrens' schedules that force us to schlep the kids all over hither and yon, and jobs that require so much of our time away from our homes, gardens and families that we no longer have time to live as deliberately as our great-grandparents did.

It is time, past time, to live deliberately again.

Expanding this vision, I recognize that so much of how we live -- what we eat, the clothes we wear, how we educate our children and make a living for ourselves and our families -- depends on a car-centric infrastructure. If it all falls down, the way we live will change radically. There will be a time of difficult and even painful adjustment, and not all of us will survive the transition. But -- and this is the thing -- we will ALL have to learn to live on less, much less, sooner or later. If not today or tomorrow, then in the next year, or five years, or ten. Anyone in denial of this is simply refusing to see how things will go. And if I sound more and more like "one of those crackpot Peak Oil folks", well, maybe it's because I recognize that they're at least partly right. And I am willing to consider the possibility of my early demise as a byproduct of the radical change that our society will have to undergo when things run out, when resources grow more scarce and a global marketplace is no longer so easy or cheap tp prop up.

So today I can say that I am pretty much running out of patience for the mature, measured, politic response, especially when it comes to dismantling the car-centric infrstraucture that has ruled the roost for nearly a century. The politic approach is far too slow, far too safe and careful, and tries too hard to avoid pissing off the people in power. I no longer have the patience to worry about pissing off the people in power. As far as I'm concerned, they can take their suits and their precious on-street parking and, in the parlance of my ancestors, go pound sand.

The problem with having radical vision -- with being able to see very, very far into a future that you want so badly -- is that the farther you can see, the less patience you have for the process of getting there. That's the price I pay for having this radical vision. So if I sound at times like an impatient teenager, that's why. And that's why I probably won't renew my membership in my local bike advocacy organization anytime soon. It's not them, it's me. I just can't slow down my vision enough to be content with what I see as total-bullshit, snail's-pace advocacy. I'll leave that grind to the politicos who have the patience for it, and who can take heart in the tiny victories that are some small positive gain but, frankly, not nearly enough.

I'll just keep riding my bicycle, trying my best to live more deliberately, and hoping that someone else will take notice and begin to grow their own radical vision of a better future.

Monday, May 17, 2010

monetize your blog?

Since moving my blog to this place, I've been invited to consider "monetizing" it; that is, to somehow earn money by adding links to commercial sites (such as Amazon and Ebay) and getting money -- we're talking cents, probably -- everytime someone clicks on these links from my blog.
Sweetie says I could actually make a little money doing this. "Lots of people read your blog, after all."

But would they then click on an icon for a commercial site? Not necessarily.

More importantly, would I -- someone who has a troubled relationship with retail to begin with -- want to encourage more conspicuous consumption by adding such links to my formerly non-commercial site?

I'd like to hear from readers who've "monetized" their blogs. How has it worked for you?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

slow is the new fast

I rode Sunday Parkways today, the first of five that will be held in Portland this year. I volunteered as a Roving Mechanic, although it was mostly just riding around; I wound up fixing exactly three bikes during my three-hour shift.

So mostly I just I rode my bike. Slowly. And because I took my time, I got to see more. More people, more cats, more flowers, more swirling clouds and raindrops and sunbreaks. By riding slowly, I saw more of everything. Sometimes I liked what I saw enough to stop and look at it longer, or maybe take a picture.

Riding slow is sort of a new way to ride fast. Because life goes faster than any of us care to admit. So by slowing ourselves down, all we're doing is seeing more of what's around us, what's always been there for us to notice.

Today was a good day to ride slowly.

sunday parkways ne 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

tech talk: the first signs of 650b squirming

At my previous blog (which I will no longer link to because now LJ won't let you shut off the ad prematurely), I discussed the development, the redevelopment and the future of the 650b wheel size. When I wrote that article, the interest in 650b was approaching the height of its niche popularity. I dismissed it as a cool idea, but unnecessary (and worse, unsustainable) idea. I predicted that the big players in the bike industry would probably never get on board with it, forever relegating the wheel size to the realm of custom framebuilders and affluent bike aficianados with money to spare.

That was over two years ago, well after I'd had ample opportunity to try the wheel size myself (on a prototype Kogswell frame I was invited to build up and test in 2006). I liked the ride quality well enough, and was experienced enough to notice the subtle differences between 650b and other wheel sizes, but because of the customer base our shop serves I felt that 650b woould never really catch on where I work. And so far I've been right. Other than one co-worker and one customer who each built up a 650b bike and a handful of customers who've requested wheel builds and spare tires in the size, 650b has made less than a bonafide splash in our shop. The industry has taken notice -- there are now several 650b touring and off-road treads to choose from thanks to the work of enthusiasts and designers like Kirk Piacenti and Jan Heine. But so far, only one production bike manufacturer has introduced a 650b bike and that was a mountain bike to boot; it remains unclear whether they'll continue production of this model in 2011. Add to all this the lack of interest on the part of biggest players like Giant and Trek, and you have a wheel size that is doomed to stay small and very niche.

Anything that stays small and niche in the bike industry needs a lot of money from a small number of enthusiasts to stay afloat. And I have always maintained that there probably aren't enough enthusiasts with money to keep 650b viable for more than several good years at most.
(I found a little evidence of what can happen without enough customer support here. Apparently, Kogswell is no longer producing 650b frames at all. And since Kogswell was one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of 650b, this is significant.)

Today on the Rivendell Owners' Bunch email list, I saw the first squirmings from the choir of true believers. And I was not at all surprised. But Mom raised me to be polite, so next time a friend rolls up on his 650b I will be kind and hold my tongue in his presence.

Besides, I've still got to go and clean off the mess of last Sunday's caked mud from Stompy -- my 26"-wheeled, singlespeed mountain bike.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

racing again (or, does your bike talk to you too?)

My return to "racing form", or some weak facsimile thereof, has been hampered by a series of physical and emotional stresses including, but not limited to: stress, work (see: stress), spring allergies, lack of consistent sleep (see: stress), a nasty Crohn's flare-up that sneaked up on me sometime in late February and didn't become readily apparent until early April, all of which contributed to a lack of follow-through on things like yoga (three days a week) and crunches (every other day). My "training plan" wasn't much to look at on paper, but there it was, and there it went down the tubes with every wheeze from the inhaler and every flarby message from my gut.

In short, I wasn't really all that psyched to give racing another go this year, because when I looked at the calendar and saw that it was late April, I realized that my plans had gone to crap and I was nowhere near being anything that resembled, "in shape".

That said, I have been riding my city bike daily, although the fatigue issues have compelled me to toss the bike on transit most days and make my commutes multi-modal. Then, in late April, I managed to pull off a metric century that, based on my lack of fitness, I had no business attemtping in the first place. Having achieved that, I finally returned my attention to the summer's racing, which for me starts in June. I announced to Sweetie last week that sometime this weekend I needed some time with Stompy, my singlespeed mountain bike.

It's important to remember that for me, "racing form" may simply mean I am able to finish every race I enter. Even in my second year of racing and my first racing with the singlespeeds, that's not a bad goal for someone living in my body. But still, it would be nice to be able to get stronger. Did I start too late? Can I ever hope to establish a training plan that doesn't get totally train-wrecked by work, stress, and the challenges of living (and aging) with Crohn's?

And -- bigger question -- in the end, does it matter?

If all I ever succeed in doing is going out and finishing every race I start, even if I never do better than Dead Effing Last, isn't that still more than most people do? Most people my age would never have taken up something like bike racing at this point in life, and here I am planning to do it again. Either I'm in denial, or crazy, or both. Or, more likely, I'm adjusting my mindset to accept where I am in the process and say, "hell, finishing in any placing will be fine as long as I finish". I won't win any prizes, and I won't care.

Tomorrow morning, while Sweetie meets a friend at the farmers' market, I'm taking Stompy out to do a little pre-season recon at PIR. I'll see what I have in my legs (and my gut), and I'll see what I can hope to improve upon before late June.

When I went to put the lawn chair away after my little nap, Stompy talked to me. She knows I'm taking her out tomorrow and she's happy. I spent a little time reinflating the tires, wiping off the dried mud-flecks left over from February, and thinking of what part of the course at PIR I'd like to ride.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

should journalists be neutral?

In discussions with friends over the last several months, the topic of journlistic neutrality has come up more than once.

When I studied journalism in school, I was taught that to be a real journalist means to maintain neutrality in one's writing. Gather all the facts and disseminate them in clear, compelling language that will make the reader think hard about the story. If you need to include opinions, they should be the opinions of subjects interviewed for the story -- not the opinions of the reporter.

Today the rules of journalism seem to have changed, in large part because, in the electronic age, anyone can write an article and post it online. Today we have bloggers and wikipedians who write and submit articles to the ether that is the Worldwide Web -- without editing for content, accuracy or even correct grammar and spelling. While the Web has opened up the pathways of written communication and in that way helped to democratize it more, it may have sacrificed a devotion to accuracy that previously existed in "reporting".

For an example, consider the excellent blog BikePortland, the work-in-continual-progress of Jonathan Maus and a host of contributing writers. They are to be commended for the work they've done in raising bicycle awareness across Portland and the rest of the country, and they've provided a well-organized forum where bicyclists (and those who love or despise them) can hash out the issues pertaining to sustainable transportation, racing and other bike-related topics. In addition they also provide links to stolen bike listings and a calendar of bike-centric events. Overall, the blog is an excellent resource for the bicycling community. But is it a "news source" in the most traditional sense?

Maus has said more than once in the pages of his blog that he sees himself as straddling a line between journalist and activist, and sometimes finds this to be a precarious position. I've even suggested to him that, based on what I was taught about journalism, perhaps it might serve him better to emphasize the activist side of himself and step back from the title of journalist. He disagreed with me, responding that is possible to be both.

In other light bedtime reading, the reporting in such august publications as New Yorker magazine and The Nation also show evidence of sometimes not-so-thinly-veiled bias in reporting on certain topics (though, in the case of New Yorker, the topics most open to slant continue to be fashion, literature and the performing arts, where reporting often becomes, more properly, reviewing -- an altogether different journalistic skillset). Based on these and other examples of "news sources" that are becoming more opinionated in their reporting, it would seem that journalism and advocacy are on their way to becoming pretty much the same thing.

But is that appropriate?

When articles indicate a bias, a slant towards one or another viewpoint, is that journalism? I was taught that it isn't. But perhaps the whole understanding of what constitutes journalism is changing, and perhaps a steadfast commitment to utter neutrality is no longer considered a worthy goal. Maybe it's not even possible anymore, especially since the freedom of blogging has given rise to millions of blogs, some of which actually self-identify as "news sources".

I need more time to think about this and perhaps my views on it will evolve. What do YOU think about the evolution of journalism? Should we expect at least a resonable attempt at neutrality? Is such a goal even possible anymore?