Tuesday, September 27, 2011

must. rant. (damn you, brooks.)

Years ago I came into the possession of a small stack of CTC Gazettes. The Gazette was the magazine for the Cyclists' Touring Club, the national organization of cyclotouring and bicycle transportation in Great Britain. Included in the pages were photos of happy cyclotourists, clad in the traditional (for that time period, anyway -- 1960's and 70's) oxford shirts, knickers (I think they called them "plus-twos", not quite as billowy as the golfers' "plus-fours") and jaunty touring jackets. Of course, their bikes were outfitted with the now-famous transverse saddle bags, which enjoyed a renaissance thanks in large part to the efforts of Rivendell Bicycle Works to import them in the early 1990's. The photos in the magazine show happy men and women riding through the bucolic British countryside, and in general having a fine time.

The photos can be seen in real-life form today. My touring bike has a transverse saddlebag, of course -- I've used them for years -- and Tweed Rides all over the English-speaking world have brought back the appearance and pleasures of a simpler time without the guilt of the class system tacked on.

And now, Brooks has seen fit to bring back the cyclists' touring jacket. In keeping with their current penchant for pushing the boutique vibe, the new jacket retails for 1,000 euros. If you're doing the math that's about 870 Pounds, or a cool -- sit down -- $1,360.00. Yup. You read that right. Thirteen hundred bucks for a jacket.

To be fair, at least a little bit, the jacket appears to be made in the UK -- and perhaps that accounts for its high price. But Brooks has lately been having goods produced in China and NOT heavily discounting the retail prices, because they know they can get away with it. There are people out there who want the whiff of privilege and they will pay $900 for a rain cape, and $1300 for a touring jacket. (If they can afford these things, they already enjoy more than a whiff of privilege. Good for them.) I love Brooks saddles and have been riding them for nearly 40 years. The B-17 saddle on my touring bike is ten years old -- I paid about $60 for it back then -- and still going strong. But it is getting harder and harder to feel good about supporting a brand whose goods are getting more costly and whose marketing approach is getting more and more class-oriented. I'm also glad that in a few weeks I will step aside as the lead buyer at my shop, and I won't have to worry about it in quite the same way anymore.
All this marketing of "cool" is bringing me down. I'm really looking forward to picking up my wrenches again.

hype of the week: 2009 vanguard, "simple gifts"

October 2011 finds me returning for my third season of racing 'cross on a singlespeed bike. Appropriately enough, Hype Of The Week returns for the 2011 Cyclocross Season with this amazing footage of the Santa Clara Vanguard at the end of its 2009 DCI World Finals show. Yeah, okay, it's "modern" drum corps, with 3-valved horns (NOT bugles anymore, sorry) and electronics in the pit (God forbid!); but if you really want to have your face ripped off, run it through some decent speakers with the volume up and you'll probably smile in spite of yourself.

I'm sure Copland hadn't planned on this interpretation/instrumentation of his setting of "Simple Gifts", but IMHO it works.

The women race at Alpenrose on Sunday 10/2, at around 2:15 pm. Parking will be a royal pain, so plan to arrive early and watch the A's/Pro's in the race before mine. See you there!

Monday, September 26, 2011

weather forecast: sunday, october 2

Partly Cloudy - High 66°F - Precip 10%

Can you tell I'm looking forward to my first race of the season?

Friday, September 23, 2011

jonesing for mud

Last night after my team meeting, I came home and surfed the web for a few minutes, looking up photos of cyclocross action.
I find myself doing this every fall, and I suppose it's a part of how I get excited for cyclocross season. Here are a few of my favorite shots:

The runup at Barton Park, a race I missed last year but hope to do this year:

Starting field at Alpenrose. Yes, this many people really do turn out to race the Cross Crusade opener, and this was just the Men C's:

The ride-schlep-runup at the south end of the Alpenrose velodrome, which defeated me on all but my last lap last year:

And finally, me and Stompy at the end of my PIR race last year. The heavens opened up five minutes before the start of the womens' race and turned the course beautifully, gloriously muddy:

evidence of my participation

I am only racing five, maybe six times this fall (Five Cross Crusade races, plus maybe Kruger's Kross if I can swing a ride there and back). I am praying for a really rainy fall because the more it rains, the more fun Stompy and I have.

Cyclocross season has already begun with some Saturday races. The Grand Prix Molly Cameron is underway; Blind Date at the Dairy gets going next week, and PsychoCross is underway in the Willamette Valley. But the grandaddy of them all, Cyclocross Crusade, begins October 2nd at Alpenrose Dairy.
See you at the races.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

when sponsors love you

Team Slow held its first team meeting of the fall at Pacific Pie this evening.
When we got there, we found a table waiting Just For Us:

Have I mentioned I love this place?

Best bets:
Sampler plate of assorted mini pasties (little vegetable-filled savory hand-pies)
Wandering Aengus hard cider
Blackberry pie for dessert
OMG Yum!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

time to embrocate!

The rains and cool temperatures of fall finally came out for a teaser yesterday. I rode downtown to catch a Torah study at Temple Beth Israel, clad in knickers and a wool jersey. I could tell it wanted to rain just a little; but wasn't cautious enough to take a rain shell along. I rode home in a light shower, and the wool kept me warm enough as long as I kept moving. I did get a little sniffly, mostly from the change in the barometric pressure; but otherwise I felt fine.

Today I awoke to the sound of a real shower, big drops going ..::splat!::.. against the living room window -- and I smiled.
In a couple of hours I'm heading over to the park for cyclocross practice -- and today it's cool enough that I can finally break out the embrocation.

It doesn't look like much, but it's one of the happiest rituals of my cyclocross season.

Monday, September 12, 2011

whither pedro's?

Pedro's, the Massachussetts-based bicycle tool and lube company known for their commitment to environmentally-friendly products and a handful of excellent proprietary tool designs (in particular the best consumer tire lever in the world), appear to be going under.

Here's what we have so far:

1. No one answers the phone. In fact, in the dozens of times I've tried to call them as the shop buyer in the last six months I've gotten through to an actual human being in real time exactly once.
2. I ordered a Master Mechanic Case for myself, and placed the order through my wholesale distributor because they were compiling a large Pedro's order anyway and it would be easy to tack it on. Only after I contacted Pedro's directly on behalf of my wholesale distributor did they finally send it out -- 18 months after my original order was placed.
3. As far as I know, I have snapped up for our shop what could be the last dozen cases of Pedro's yellow tire levers in the known universe from the only distributor who had any in stock -- and they were listing them on a specials/closeouts flyer. Our shop is scouring the world for a replacement but so far every other make and model we've tried simply doesn't compare.
4. Pedro's is not showing at Interbike this week, either at the Outdoor Demo OR the show proper. This would be their first absence from the show in years. Rumor had it that there would be some kind of "announcement" at the show but if they're not there the silence resulting from their absence would be deafening in and of itself.
5. Over at their Facebook page, they advertised a "Cyclocross Season Kickoff Sale" Sept. 9-10. Originally to be held at their HQ, on the 6th they announced they were moving it to the warehouse. Cash/checks only, no plastic, no mail-order.
6. Using an old team access code, I checked their pro-deal offerings online. They are out of a lot of stuff. As in, most of it.
All these little red flags are making the tiny robot in my head flail its arms, flash its red eyes and bleat, "Danger, Will Robinson..."
It does not look good.

I would guess that either they're done; or they've been bought by a larger company.
If the former, I glad I managed to get my Pedro's tool situation mostly squared away (with a few extras on a handful of regularly-used/abused tools to see me out, plus an upgraded repair stand and the aforementioned tool case).
If the latter, I would guess the new owners will choose to dump the tools (most of which were manufactured in the Lifu factory anyway, including most of the proprietary designs) and re-emerge with a sharply narrowed focus on enviro-friendly lubes and solvents.

I'm bummed. Pedro's had a good thing going with their environmental focus and their excellent consumer accessibility at races and charity events across the country. I'd guess that's done now, and if it is I'll miss them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

i fear we have not learned much

I was in Philadelphia, enrolled in classes at Gratz College, on September 11, 2001. It was a gorgeous morning during the second week of the semester. I walked into the main lobby and was greeted by news, from the school's admissions director, that a plane had just crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, 100 miles away in New York City. She told us to go to class and that she would let us know if she heard anything else. An hour later, our Hebrew class was interrupted and we were gathered into the main lobby of the building, where the president of the college told us what had happened, and instructed us to go home. At the urging of the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia, classes at all Jewish schools and colleges in the city were to be cancelled until further notice. Because the trains had been shut down for security reasons, I got a ride with a classmate. We made it to Temple University when traffic came to a complete standstill; apparently, everything else in Philadelphia was closing for the day too. I thanked my friend, got out of her car and walked the rest of the way back to my apartment near Rittenhouse Square.

Along the way, stores on the crowded streets had turned TV screens to the front windows and turned up the speakers so passersby could watch ongoing news coverage; people were crowded around the windows three and four deep. Busloads of schoolchildren in their new uniforms were being herded onto yellow buses to be taken home. People were rushing to and fro, having all been let out of work early and told to go home for the day. Everyone was hurried but exceedingly polite; every time I bumped into someone on a crowded sidewalk we both smiled a little at each other and murmured "sorry" or "excuse me". I stopped at a phone booth near the Free Library on JFK Boulevard and waited my turn in line so I could briefly call my father in Portland to tell him I was alright. An Episcopal church nearby had opened its massive red doors to anyone who needed a place to pray or just calm down. I ducked in for a few minutes and was grateful for the quiet. I continued on, having what turned out to be my requisite Scary Moment as I walked between the glass and steel towers of Liberty Centre, the financial center of the city. Traders from the Philadephia Stock Exchange were outside, pacing nervously in their two-toned trading floor jackets and puffing away on cigarettes. I tried not to let myself look up as I walked between the two towers but I couldn't help it, and after that my pace quickened nervously, all the way to Bainbridge Street and my apartment building. I got home around 1:30 pm, and listened to NPR for much of the rest of the day. Up to that point I had been numb, not quite understanding what had happened. Then I heard reports of taxi drivers in Damascus, Syria handing out sweets to children to celebrate the attacks. That was when I hung my head and sobbed, the full weight of the day's meaning finally hitting me.

"War" takes many forms.

I was reminded of this again when, several days later, I stood on a crowded street corner in Center City, waiting for a bus to take me to an evening lecture. Classes had resumed at Gratz and at other schools and although people were still in disbelief there was a definite air of slowly, tentatively trying to get on with life. As we waited for our respective buses, I noticed some hard-hatted construction workers on a lunch break nearby. I saw a taxicab slowly turn the corner, being driven by a Sikh who was easily identified through his open window by his brightly colored turban. Either not knowing much about Sikhs, or not caring, two of the construction workers began yelling and jeering at the cab driver, screaming at him to "go home to Saudi Arabia". I watched in horror as one threw a bottle at the side of the cab as it passed. The cab accelerated and sped away. I hid my face in my hands and tried not to let people see me cry. I did not feel strong enough to tell off the construction workers, and I felt ashamed of my fear.

I left the bus stop and walked home, skipping the lecture, and sat on the stoop in front of my apartment building with a piece of cold chicken and a bottle of beer, watching the quiet street in front of me and wondering if we would ever learn how to make peace with ourselves and with each other. I wondered what I was even doing in graduate school -- what a luxury it seemed, all of a sudden! -- and if my choices and actions would ever make a difference in the world around me.

In the ten years since the attacks of September 11, we have seen an outpouring of pain, love and support between neighbors and friends; a heightened emphasis on geopolitically-based fear by our media and politicians; an increase in our military aggression and a chipping away at our individual liberties (specifically, the individual's right to privacy); and for many, a gnawing feeling that even if we have been able to successfully prevent another such attack from happening, we have not made the world a more peaceful place in the passing decade. I fear that as a society, we have not learned very much -- certainly, not enough -- since that day; and I wonder what it would take for us to change from a competitive, war-obsessed culture into a cooperative and peace-seeking one.

As I prepare to begin the New Year of the Soul, less than three weeks from now, I wonder what will be asked of me in the coming months to make things better for those around me. I hope that I will recognize the answer when I hear it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


surly BD

Sometimes, when you publicly state that you're ready to let go of something, just saying it begins a cosmic process by which you make room for other things to come into your life.

This is what happened with me over the spring and summer. I said I was ready to let go of certain aspects of my work at Citybikes (particularly the stress of being the Buyer, which will be passed along to another cooperator this fall), and two weeks after I said it out loud, I got a phone call from a local synagogue where I had formerly taught and led youth services. They were hiring faculty for the fall and my name came up in discussions; would I be interested in coming back to teach and be a youth songleader?

The timing of the offer was almost perfect; I was returning to wrenching in the fall, which would give me the more flexible schedule I needed to make room in my schedule for teaching again. And although the synagogue hadn't been on my radar consciously, when I gave it some thought I realized that going back into the classroom was a good idea on many levels. After discussing it with Sweetie, I accepted the job offer. School starts next week.

Yesterday, I loaded up the cargo bike and took my guitar to the synagogue after my shift at the bike shop so the religious school principal and I could go over some music for High Holidays. Riding over the bridge, feeling the smoothness of the cargo bike (that I'd built up entirely from parts) as it rolled over freshly re-paved streets, and feeling the weight of the guitar on board, I noted the odd juxtaposition of my wacky skillset. I'm a bike mechanic. I'm also a teacher and a musician. And for the next stretch of time at least, I'm going to be all three.

I don't know any other bike mechanics who also serve a faith community in a leadership role of any kind; conversely I don't know anyone serving the Jewish community who also works as a bike mechanic. Various pieces of the universe inhabit me in a very strange and sort of cool overlap. And because of this, I inhabit an odd place in the overlap of the universe, an overlap that allows me to meet a very wide range of varied and very interesting people and do all sorts of things that normally wouldn't go together. It's a really odd overlap, but it's also sort of cool.

I'm looking forward to this fall.