Thursday, August 30, 2012


Yesterday, I worked my last shift as a co-owner at Citybikes Workers' Cooperative.
Not unlike a certain British monarch who gave up his throne in favor of love, I have abdicated my burden of reponsibility in favor of doing work that is spritually and emotionally challenging, fulfilling and rewarding, in an atmopshere of mutual care and guarded optimism that feels very far away from the paranoia and cynicism I encounter in too many corners of the bicycle industry.

Since I have already shared my reasons for giving up ownership and my thoughts about the cooperative in general with the folks that needed to know, I won't go into nitpicky detail here. The truth is that I've learned a lot from my nearly two deaceds in the bicycle industry, and I value those lessons -- and the friendships I've made -- very much.

But what I will say is this:

1. The bicycle industry continues to pay low wages that few people can live on without help from a spouse making more money. The average worker with a minimum of three years' shop experience spends 8 to 10 hours per shift on the service or sales floor and brings in an average gross wage of somewhere between $12 and 15 an hour. In most cases, there are no health benefits. It is almost impossible to earn enough money to buy health insurance or save for retirement; most bike mechanics make enough to pay their bills and enjoy a movie and a beer now and then.

Most bike shop employees enjoy a generous discount on parts and in many cases they can receive in-store credit towards parts purchases. That's good as far as it goes. If you spend more than a couple of years in the bike industry it does not go far. I have yet to figure out an ethical, legal way to parlay my parts discount into enough money to cover the cost of an annual visit to the dentist and I have all the bicycles and parts I will need for quite some time to come; so my parts credit remains largely intact.

2. Unless you know the right people and are willing to sacrifice personal and family time to work your ass off to get ahead, there are relatively few opportunities for growth and advancement beyond the sales or service departments of most bicycle shops. This is especially true if you are a woman, even one with mechanical aptitude and experience. Even after a decade of open discussion about the gender gap in the bicycle industry -- especially for women aspiring to become mechanics -- it remains huge and little is being done to address it in a meaningful way.

3. The bicycle industry remains shockingly ageist in its regard for the over-50 crowd.

While most shop owners say they value the knowledge and expertise of more mature workers, relatively few find ways to keep them on staff once their physical syamina begins to falter. I'm not talking about 80-somethings, I'm talking about 50-somethings for whom those 9- and 10-hour days become too difficult to manage regularly. In the bicycle industry, once your sales numbers fall or your mechanica output slows, most shops will find ways to encourage you to leave. Thankfully, that hasn't been the case at Citybikes -- in fact, Citybikes continues to seek innovative ways to keep more experienced workers around -- but in the end most small shops cannot afford to pay someone to turn a wrench when his/her body begins to slow down and efficiency begins to suffer.

3a. Too many shops continue to relegate the aging Baby Boomer market to the sidelines in favor of continuing to promote the trickle-down from racing that the industry is notorious for nowadays. Racing bikes cost more money up front, don't last as long and require more frequent service because if the tight tolerances of their delicate componentry -- meaning more money for the shop that knows how to ride that wave. A shop selling a $400 commuter bike to a grandmother who wants to ride to the store and her part-time job won't make nearly as much money. That's not prejudice, it's math.

4. The older I've gotten, the less interested I've become in lycra. I admit that there are still days I look at the image of the lycra-clad roadie a little wistfully -- but the emotion is no longer strong enough to make me want to go out and get a road bike and ape the pro peloton anymore. My middle-aged belly and my penchant for flat pedals pretty much cancels out any longing that may remain. So now that I've become a plainclothes cyclist, I find I shop for bike-related stuff far less often, so I spend less time in bike shops as a consumer. Considering my ongoing ambivalence about capitalism and retail in general, this is probably a positive development. I hope it will translate into more time to enjoy riding for its own sake.

I am fortunate that I am able to transition into work that is physically less demanding, mentally and emotionally stumulating and meaningful, and still allows me to live a bicycle-centric life. I know that my fellow teachers and many of my students respect me for my commitment to living without a car and I am hopeful that eventually I'll see a couple of bike racks outside the place where I teach.

(Funny side note: a student who recently learned that I do not own a car asked me if I live off the grid. Obviously, I still have a lot to teach about my bike-centric choices...)

The leap is not without risk. In fact, my income will probably remain the same and could even fall a little as a result of giving up my Citybikes ownership and the guarantee of hours that goes with it. But what I will gain in other aspects outweights the scariness of the risk involved. I will plunge in, work hard, pay attention to everything around me and see what happens.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying these last few days of summer. Even as I rehearse music and meet with students and plan my lessons and schedule fall class trips and all the rest, there is still a little bit of time left to get outside and ride my bike in the middle of a weekday, and that feels precious to me right now.

So off I go.
Last night there was a sunset.
This morning I awoke to a sunrise, hopped on my bike and started pedaling.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

victor vincente of america: 8/19/12

Victor Vincente of America, one of the most iconic characters in American Bicycle history, will appaer at Velo Cult on Sunday evening, 8/19/12 at 7 pm.

Velo Cult is at 1969 NE 42nd Ave. in the Hollywood neighborhood. Beverages will be served; you are welcome to bring in your own dinner.

I am planning to attend and hear this man's remarkable stories of his years as a bike racer and promoter, writer and artist.

For any bicyclist of a certain age, this could be the event of the summer. Join me!

Friday, August 17, 2012

a wet tee-shirt contest where everyone wins

I decided I would not let yesterday's insane heat keep me from my appointed errands, including trips to the synagogue for some lesson-planning and classroom organization; the shop which sponsors our race team; a warehouse where I was due to pick up an order for work; and lunch. I packed two water bottles for the day: one from which I would drink, covered with a VAP MaxChill sleeve (; and one from which I would douse myself as needed during the day's riding.

Upon leaving the house, rode until I got uncomfortably hot (about halfway to my first stop). Then I pulled over, took out the spare water bottle and proceeded to pour some of it directly on my shirt: shoulders, sleeves, back of the neck (aahhh!) and down the front. Mildly shocked at first and then pleasantly chilled, I rode on.

By the time I got downtown, I'd ridden the shirt almost dry, and the temperature had risen to 85 F.
Along the way I refilled this waterbottle each time

By the time I finally got home in the late afternoon, the thermometer had hit an even 100 F and I had refilled and used the dousing bottle four or five times, staying comfortably cool while riding in the heat.
Still, I was ready for a trip to the air-conditioned movie theatre that Sweetie had promised me that evening -- where we watched "The Most Excellent Marigold Hotel", a story about British pensioners living in a positively sweltering India.

The temperature had dropped to about 82 F by the time we went to bed last night.
Today's high is expected to be a repeat of yesterday's 100 degrees F.
After today, temperatures will drop abck to Oregon's more normal -- and reasonable -- 80 degrees.

If you go out today, remember to hydrate early and often -- inside and out.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

aaaand it's gone.

I put the LongLow frameset up for sale on ebay:

...and sold it to a fellow here in the Pacific Northwest. Shipped it out Thursday from work, and as promised, I included the notebook of correspondence that led up to the ordering and delivery of the frameset.

I did not make quite as much as I'd hoped I might, but I chalked that up to the amount of "beausage" and the fact that most Rivendell enthusiasts still prefer to start with a much more pristine frameset. I was not terribly disappointed, and the frame will get built up and ridden by someone whom, presumably, it will fit better.

I'm down to three bikes in my stable, which feels good. If I could get away with two I'd do it, but I'm anticipating taking delivery next month of my Xtracycle Sidecar attachment and hopefully that will take care of my cargo needs for good.

Stay tuned. I'll post photos when the Sidecar kit arrives.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

it was inevitable

In a recent Velo News article, amateur bike racer David Anthony admits to using performance-enhancing drugs in order to gain a competitive edge:

He says he agreed to grant the interview and tell his story in order to dissuade others from doping.

I wish I could be more inspired by this act of honesty, but really, all I can do is shrug my shoulders.

I am a bicycle racer.
More correctly, I am an amateur bicycle racer.
Most correctly, I am a terrible, truly awful amateur bicycle racer.

I cannot afford a gym membership or a trainer. I ride daily for transportation and am also a cargo-bike enthusiast, both of which are great for LSD (Long, Slow Distance) mileage but lousy for developing speed. I suffer from Crohn's disease and allergy-induced asthma. And I am almost fifty years old.

When I am able to scrape up the time and the bucks to enter a short-track race at my local venue, I do so knowing full well that, if I am able to finish a bike race, I will likely have to pull off at least once in my thirty-minute race to take a huff from my inhaler. I will finish in last place. I do every time.

I could race in the Beginner category -- which I did in my first season -- and I could stay there as long as I please, since racers my age are not required to "cat up". But after one season in Beginner Women and two seasons in Womens' Singlespeed, I had to switch to a geared bike -- and decided to race my age group. I did so with my eyes wide open, knowing that the other women in my category would finish far ahead of me every simgle time. I race in my age group because I'm racing with better riders who challenge me to be better -- if not at getting faster. then at least at getting stronger and sharper about my bike-handling and spatial awareness on the course. And on the rare night that I actually get credit for completing the same number of laps as the woman who finishes just ahead of me, I am exultant. It means that I somehow kept up. It doesn't happen often.

I don't get faster as my season progresses. Ever. I probably never will, as long as the resources of money and time that I can devote to racing are so limited. Even if I had the resources, my age and my body would still work against me. And I don't care. I race anyway, knowing the outcome before I stomp on the pedal at the starting line.

I race because I love the thrill of racing. I love lining up and testing myself, against the other women, and against a short-track course that changes every week and requires me to to adapt quickly. I love riding so hard that I am aware of nothing except the pounding of my heart in my chest.

I understand David Anthony's excitement and love of racing, the rush of adrenaline and the pure joy of nailing a tough corner at top speeds. So I guess I understand why he might consider looking at ways to improve his performance.

Except I don't understand it. I don't understand why an amatuer who began racing in his early 40s would even try to compare himself with trained, pampered pros and imagine himself at their level someday. Could anyone be so intoxicated with his own fantasy that he would resort to doping at the amateur level? In Anthony's case, the answer is: apparently, yes.

My local organization, OBRA (, goes to great lengths to remind all of us grownups of the importance of setting a good example for the kids racing in the Junior classes. As a teacher, I already carry this ethos with me. So to see someone like David Anthony work as hard at learning the science of doping as he's worked at the science of cycling, go through the stresses and struggles he descibes, and only then decide to come clean -- well, it just doesn't do a whole lot to impress me. It reads like another sad story of some guy who couldn't handle the reality of his aging process and decided to try and put it off for as long as he could.

We are all getting older. In a society that constantly sends messages that aging is bad and something to be avoided for as long as possible, there will be many more David Anthonys in the world, many more middle-aged amateur athletes who simply cannot accept the reality of aging -- because they've been conditioned to fear it. While I am disappointed, I cannot say I'm at all surprised.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

cool old bikes in the shop, part ten: moped?

Today this lovely number came into the shop and we were all flabbergasted.

The motor is gone, though we're pretty sure it was gas-powered. Even without the motor the thing weighs a ton. Tim was getting ready to put it out back in the "free" zone (it was left at the shop for free and we sure didn't want it) when Ryan grabbed it and said he had designs on it.

Yeah. Whatever. I predict it will eventually find its way to the "free" zone, after anyone who thinks they might somehow fix it up realizes what a time-suck it would be to even try.

Amazing, all the same.