Monday, February 28, 2011

riding in the rain

The challenge of riding in the rain here in Portland is that:

a. The rainy season lasts for several months, usually beginning in October and going through May (or, as happened last year, all the way through June); and
b. For most of the rainy season it's not only wet, but sort of cold (average temps range from 38 to 50 degrees though cold snaps are not uncommon).

Most of us who ride year-round here are prepared with rain gear, fenders, lights and the like. The lucky ones have indoor bike parking at work and also a place to hang their wet things so they have all day to dry out. But we're in the time of year when it is hard to maintain enthusiasm for riding in the rain day in and day out.

Back in October, I am usually exultant at the first weeklong stretch of rain. I feel ready; my bike is ready for the wet weather and my rain gear is generally waterproof enough to get me to work without letting me get soaked. But by February I've lost my enthusiasm and I am ready for Spring to come, with its longer days and hints of sunnier weather.

This has been an odd winter, with some nice stretches of "normal" days (showers, changing to partly cloudy, highs in the high 40's or even warmer) and longer stretches of colder, wetter weather (including a few days of light snowfall). We've just come out of a cold spell that saw lows of around 20 F and highs barely above freezing for a couple of days. Now, the weather has warmed slightly and the next several days promise nothing but a cold, steady rain.

Through it all, I've had to make due with my rain gear. It mostly works pretty well, though rain pants have been a challenge. No matter what make or model I've tried the pants eventually leak at the crotch. With my older Burley Rain Rider pant it took several years before I noticed a leak in the seat; with other brands it has taken one winter season or less. (Other brands tried have included O2, Showers Pass and Endura.)

Readers are invited to suggest makes or models of rain pants that hold up for more than a single season. For an average price of $90 or more for "waterproof" cycling rainpants, I expect them to last longer than that.

Weather for Portland, OR

41°F | 39°F
43°F | 41°F
46°F | 39°F
44°F | 38°F

Friday, February 25, 2011


We have a logo.
A logo, I am told, is the beginning of branding.
This logo will appear on our jerseys and various other team ephemera.

I think it's just about perfect.
I can't wait for our jerseys to arrive later this spring.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

hazon sustainability update

Last week I wondered aloud about Hazon's programs, which tout sustainability but invite participants to travel such great distances that the carbon footprint left behind potentially negates any good effect done by the program itself. Hazon has contacted me to let me know that they are crafting a response and will comment soon.

Meanwhile, I am reminded of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, where we build temporary structures and dwell (or at least eat) in them for eight days. As part of the festival, we shake a bundle of native Israeli species in all directions inside the sukkah (the temporary dwelling). The bundles are made available in bulk orders through thousands of synagogues, which arrange for many of these to be shipped via airplane from Israel to North America. While I understand that this holiday is all about a connection to Israel, the carbon footprint involved in flying thousands of lulavim and etrogim to the US boggles my mind.

Several years ago, as a response to this dilemma, I proposed a solution: why not assemble a bundle of Northwest native plants to take the place of the Israeli species, and use those in your Portland sukkah instead? I have yet to meet a rabbi in person who is comfortable with this idea. Yes, they tell me, I understand your environmental concerns, but this would be a serious violation of what the holiday is about. I can't really support it. And so I have yet to build a sukkah on my property. But one of these days, I will. And I'll assemble a Northwest native lulav to shake in all directions, and call it good. More than good, in fact.

I look forward to Hazon's response soon and will share it here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

expletive deleted, part two

Another day, another customer. This time, a longtime customer who brings in a printout from an online source based right here in our adorable hipster paradise, asks if we can special order the item and then asks if we can match the price.
Online retailer's price for said item is $64.00.
While customer cools his heels out front I research the item in the ordering office.
Our wholesale price determines that we would have to sell the item for $76.00; we can't even come close to price-matching without cutting off several body parts and giving up most of our margin on the item.
I tell the customer we can order the item for him but that we cannot match price. Longtime custoemr shocks me by saying he'll buy the item here, and asks me to special-order it for him. At our price.
I'm pleased, but also more than a little confounded. With the outcome of this sort of interaction growing increasingly hard to predict, how will brick-and-mortar bike shops like ours plan ahead?
Some days I just want to bang my head against the wall.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

ride report: team slow group ride

I had wanted to throw a group ride for my new teammates at Team Slow, so today was the day. I'd warned everyone that this would be a mellower ride, with a pace not to exceed 12-14 mph at any time and a considerably slower pace in the steepest hills. I figured that might keep most of the hammerheads away, especially those preparing for the unbelievable Dalles Mountain 60 in a couple of weeks. So when I pulled up and saw that several stronger riders had gathered for this event, I was a little nervous. Still, everyone was glad to see everyone else and no one raised any objections when I spelled out the guidelines:

--this is a re-group ride at best, so if you need to go faster, go faster.
--if you need to go slower, go slower.
--if you fall behind me, I will slow down and wait up a bit for you.
--we're all meeting at the same place for coffee and bagels, so whoever gets there first try to get us a decent table.
--suggested route was Marine Drive to about 208th, where we'd turn off and climb through some rather sterile suburbs to get to downtown Gresham.

Steven, Theo, Ed, Steph, Klaus, Rob and John joined me on a sunny, bright morning loop down 33rd to Marine Drive, with Ed and Steph on a gorgeous vintage tandem (which they were borrowing from Theo, as it turned out).

Everything was going great. The pace was still a little brisk for me but I managed to hang in there all the way to 97th Avenue. Then, something really strange happened. I fell far enough behind that by the time I'd caught up with everyone else, we were off Marine Drive and heading south on the I-205 Bike Path. By the time I realized it, we were too far off Marine Drive to double back and still have the ride make sense, so I shrugged and suggested we keep going, all the way down the I-205 path to the Springwater Corridor, and go to Gresham that way. Everyone said that sounded like a fine idea, and so we went on.

What I had forgotten, not riding out there much, is that it takes quite awhile to get to all the way down the path to the Springwater this way. And so by the time we got to Gresham, we'd added another ten miles to my intended route. It wasn't fatal, and it turned out to be totally okay; but I know I will probably pay for it tomorrow. (Thank you, lungs and knees! Have I mentioned lately that I love you guys?)

We somehow split into two groups, with the first group arriving about 20-25 minutes ahead of the second group. We all stayed along enough to enjoy bagels, coffee and conversation. At length, we decided it was time to move along; I had to be somewhere in the early evening and would need time to get home and clean up beforehand. After some discussion, we decided to go back along the Springwater (it's been repaved and is oh-so-lovely to ride now!), agreeing to meet up at one of our sponsors, Migration Brewery. I advised everyone that I might need to peel off before then to get home in time. Again, not a problem. Everyone was completely and cheerfully agreeable. I wound up riding the whole way back with Ed and Steph on their borrowed tandem, and we enjoyed lovely conversation and mellow, manageable pace all the way to NE 47th, where I peeled off to head home.

Heading home took slightly longer than I'd planned; the # 75 bus was at least 20 minutes away and I didn't feel like sitting around waiting for it. So I rode all the way back over to Clinton, and down through Ladd's Addition and over to MLK near Hawthorne, where I hopped the # 6 bus to get across town. (I rode the last couple of miles just to unkink my legs a little.)
Total for the ride came to about 44 miles, the longest I've ridden in quite some time.
A truly lovely ride. I'm looking forward to more.

Friday, February 18, 2011

the gym thing: it's getting better. a teeny tiny little bit.

It was cold and very wet today. Sweetie was not feeling well enough to go to the gym with me, but she urged me to go anyway. I almost didn't, but she persisted. So I suited up in my rain gear, and rode a soggy loop from home to the grocery store to the gym, and then home again.

I've been using a program offered by our gym called ActivTrax to help guide my workouts.
Basically, you create an account online, schedule a supervised workout with the trainer and measure your starting level of fitness. He enters the info from this first workout into your account, and then you determine what your fitness goals are (my goal is to get stronger, period; I'm not worrying about my "physique" as much at this point in my life). In the end, you're given a workout based on all this info and every time you finish a workout, you enter your actual results (number of reps, pounds lifted, etc.) into your account. The next time you come to the gym, you request your next workout, which is based on all the previous workouts you've completed.

My new team has no coach, and I can't afford a personal trainer (the gym has one on-site who's available by appointment but at 50 bucks an hour he's way too rich for my blood). The ActivTrax program isn't perfect, but it's highly methodical and allows me to keep track of my progress. The program also requires you to be enough of a self-starter to actually show up and do it regularly, which I try to do twice a week. Alternating with my twice-weekly yoga sessions and my daily bike commuting, I'm not going to set the world on fire come racing season but I'm hopeful that I won't completely collapse before I finish my final lap, either.

One nice thing that I've noticed: today my abs exercises still hurt, still were sort of hard, but I could do them all. And the pain wasn't horrible, just a sort of "ooh, I've worked out" sort of pain. It was okay. And recognizing that was really okay. If all this working out now helps me get my bike over the barriers with just a little less pain and strain next fall, I'll have gotten my money's worth.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

where is the sustainability in this?

Hazon, an organization that promotes sustainable, ethical food and environmental conservation in a Jewish context, hosts several bike ride events each year to raise funds and awareness around environmental causes. In addition to the rides in North America, the grandaddy of them all is a ride held each year in Israel.

Riding your bike to raise money and environmental awareness sounds like a great idea. However, upon further investigation I learned that the majority of the participants in the Hazon Israel ride are actually from the United States and Canada, meaning that they -- and presumably, their bikes, if they want to ride their own -- must travel halfway around the world to participate in the week-long ride. The notion of raising environmental awareness by participating in an event that leaves a massive carbon footprint leaves me scratching my head a bit.
I hope to contact someone at Hazon for a further explanation of this and will report what I learn.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

[expletive deleted] online bike shops

A customer comes in and inquires about a big-ticket item. Our retail on said item is $495. We charge $75.00 labor to assemble and set up said item. Customer informs us that [insert name of online bike warehouse] is selling the same item for $439, and he plans to build it up himself anyway. He wants us to price-match. I gently tell the customer that the warehouse shop can order 50 to 70 units at a time, which is why they can sell the item for so much less. We are unable to price-match, but I point out that the customer will probably pay the difference in shipping and handling anyway, meaning he would not save any money.

Customer tells me the online dealer is offering free shipping with a minimum dollar purchase for the next couple of weeks. I smile and shrug my shoulders; what else can I say to him? It feels like he's baiting me, and I don't really feel like dealing with his line of reasoning just now. I am polite and kind but I cannot give him what he wants. He leaves. He will probably keep looking until he finds a shop who can give him the best price AND is willing to throw in some free or cheaper labor.

It's a cutthroat business these days.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Projects are what keep me on task, focused, moving forward and staying reasonably positive. In a world where so much negativity is happening daily, staying positive is no small trick.

To stay positive, I putter. I go into my shed (aka The Happy Place) and give one of my bikes some tlc, or fix up old bikes that I will eventually give away or resell. Today, I had about an hour to work with between chores and I whipped up a bike from the pile of bastard parts on the floor. It's almost all there, after only an hour. Just needs hooking up with chain and cables/housing, a few test rides to make sure it's all good, and voila! Another bike is ready to take on the world, and I can see the floor again. I will probably sell the bike when it's done; originally I was going to build it up for myself but then the whole Rivendell thing got worked out so now I don't need it. But someone else will, and when I see them riding this bike later in the summer I'll be very happy.

Team Slow is up and running. I have yet to make it to an organized team ride -- the ones that have already been scheduled are averaging over 30 miles, too much for me right now; or they've conflicted with other things I'd scheduled months ago. But soon! Eventually! I will make it to a Team Slow event. Meanwhile, things are getting complicated, as they must whenever a group of people tries to organize themselves into something called a team (we've got sponsors and are preparing a jersey order, which puts us way past the point of being merely a focus group). There are fits and starts along the way, especially as I begin to get to know my teammates better. I do worry just a teeny bit that we will get ahead of ourselves with all the organization and forget to ride a lot, which was the original stated goal. But it's also still early in the year and I think that as we get closer to the spring, things will sort themselves out as folks begin to sign up for races and other events.

It is very curious to stand in this place, where I am part of a bike racing club but am not really a serious, trained athlete. At races, I am surrounded by the hard, sleek bodies of professional and semi-professional racers (and based on some of the blogs I've checked out in the last few months, it appears that almost anyone with decent race results, the ability to write a decent paragraph and bike industry connections can apparently style themselves as a professional racer in this scene), propane heaters, full team kit and matching tents, large trucks hauling tons of gear and some obscenely expensive bikes. And although I've managed to assemble some facsimile of racing vibe, I know damned well that I Am Not One Of Them. Not in the fullest sense, anyway. Which is why I hope and pray that Team Slow will retain its nerdy, cheerful vibe and not get all pro-looking right off the bat. I want farmers' markets rides. I want bike-camping. I want events that include non-cycling spouses a few times a year. I want pom-poms and crazy socks and gales of laughter over beers and sandwiches. I want to compare notes with the three teammates who all used to play in the SCA (can you believe this? Unreal. Scary, too, if any of them remember me from that oddball time in my life). And at the end of the year I want to feel good about whatever I was able to go out and do. I am hopeful.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

in pursuit of new markets

Just in case you thought the bicycle industry was the biggest and most offensive player in the quest to get more unsuspecting suckers to buy more crap, read this:

The thing that gets me is that the Bill Gates Foundation -- you know, the same foundation that wants to cure Malaria and send thousands of disadvantaged kids to college -- yes, THAT foundation -- is all over this like butter on waffles. So totally messed up it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. And the thing is, with so many major, truly major players involved, who do you even complain to?

(Thanks to decidedly NON-corporate food warrior Shorshiyut for the heads-up.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

keep the woolies and galoshes handy

Punxsuwatawney Phil, the "official" groundhog, did not see his shadow outside of Pittsburgh (though he was reportedly looking for a phone so he could call his bookie and lay a bet on the Super Bowl).

Here in Portland, though, the sun is shining and the day promises to be cold and bright. With temperatures hovering at around 29 degrees this morning, I cut to the chase and simply invited my shadow in for breakfast.