Sunday, March 31, 2013

pure wrenching. no crap.

Today I took in the first of my Bikelovejones, Ltd. tune-ups. R. brought her bike yesterday evening and I promised I'd have it for her this afternoon (no wrenching on Shabbat, of course; but I got an early start this morning).

The work was straightforward: a basic tune-up with a little extra love on the drive-train and the front wheel. As I worked I listened to music on the NanoPod that Sweetie had given me last year; I finally decided about six months ago that maybe having one of these wasn't such a bad idea, and loaded it with all sorts of music. Today's playlist included a lot of stuff by Natalie Young, a contemporary Jewish composer soon to be based in California; and a little bit of Gordon Lightfoot.
It was lovely to work in the shed, which had been cleaned out of a whole bunch of parts and accessories. These were laying out on plastic sheeting on the lawn in front of the shed. I had posted an ad to the OBRA list that I was selling off a bunch of bike stuff I no longer needed, and so I figured while I worked I'd try and get ride of some stuff. I finished the tune-up in good time and also managed to move about half of what I'd put out for sale before the end of the afternoon.

Working on the bike was pure flow. Although I hadn't been a production mechanic in over six months, I was happy to note that I still possessed my sense of mechanic's feel -- that touch which tells me when I've tightened something enough and when the spokes are tensioned enough. (No, I don't use a torque wrench; I came up in the scene before most bikes had any carbon fiber bits on them, and almost nothing I work on at home today has anything so stupid-light and fancy.)
Adjust the brake, grease the threads of the barrel adjuster, lube the cable inside the housing, buff the brake pads and voila! Happy brake. The drive-train was a filthy mess and the front wheel had a big flat spot in the rim, both of which required more of my time and attention. I took my time, carefully re-tensioning spokes until I'd removed as much of the flat spot as the rim would allow and smoothing out the smaller hops along the way. The cleaned chain hung out back, drying in the sunlight after being scrubbed in citrus solvent. The sense of normalcy I felt at all of this was a balm for my nervousness and anxiety about the last few months.

By the time I was finished the bike was rolling and shifting beautifully, and gleamed like polished silver. Above all, it felt nice to take a break from the intensity of my career transition and forward motion to simply Fix A Bicycle. I suppose I can't ever give up bicycle repair completely, because the balance that I get from doing even a little of it alongside what is now my primary work is too good.

At 3 o'clock, my friend came and collected her bike, I shut down the "yard sale", and I went inside, feeling calmer and more relaxed than I'd been in weeks.

May the Eternal One bless all the works of my hands.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Paris-Roubaix is coming up in early April. It's a race I used to follow devotedly, back when I cared more about pro bike racing. And there is a lot to love about this race if your idea of epic athleticism includes suffering in the cold of a European spring and riding hundreds of miles over cobblestones with 25mm-wide tires.

But with the evidence of an almost entirely drug-riddled peloton and a whole continent of cycling fans who don't really care if their favorite cycling stars are doping to win ("everyone's doing it, so in effect it's still a fairly level playing field. What's the problem?"), I've lost a lot of my interest in professional bicycle racing.

As for amateur racing, I still enjoy it greatly, but I simply don't have time, energy or money to devote to training for it anymore. I still ride a bike almost every day and enjoy it; but these days I am into Pleasant Riding.

Pleasant Riding consists of riding for transportation -- to work, to synagogue services, to friends' homes, to the store and to my local bike shop/watering hole. Rides like that average between five and ten miles most days. Sometimes I still like riding for the scenery and for a chance to stretch my legs over a longer distance. Anymore, a "longer" distance for me is right around 30 miles. Pushing myself too much beyond that no longer holds any allure for me. I feel I have little left to prove -- certainly to myself, anyway -- and so I prove nothing anymore, and enjoy everything about riding more completely.

I have a small stash of lycra cycling clothing -- shorts, a few jerseys -- and a couple pairs of cycling-specific shoes that I seldom wear anymore. So I've been selling these items off one by one, on eBay; and putting the proceeds towards the cycling togs I've come to favor these days. That's mostly things like urban cycling pants by Swrve; Chrome Kursk sneakers (in any discontinued color I can find them in cheaply); button-down shirts and sweater vests, almost entirely from Goodwill; and long-sleeved sweaters and a rain jacket over the lot. I still use cycling-specific rainwear, though this winter I've favored a jacket that looks as good off the bike as on. I sometimes use a messenger shoulder bag or backpack, though more often these days I'm inclined to use a pannier on my rear rack if the load exceeds the capacity of my transverse saddlebag. I like not carrying the load on my shoulder more often than not.

In short, I'm wearing clothing on the bike that I can wear off the bike, and I've managed to evolve my personal style to a point that almost none of what I wear LOOKS like "cycling" clothing at first blush anymore.

I am growing to like this development quite a lot.

While I still enjoy watching my friends race, the truth is that I am probably done with actually racing myself. I gave up cyclocross when I returned to teaching religious school on Sundays (I could've raced on Saturdays, but I didn't want to race on Shabbat and the cold wet weather was getting hard on my knees anyway). My short-track season has been truncated by the out-of-town gig I've accepted in June; and when I get back there will be just four races left in the local short-track series. More and more I expect I won't be spending money on a new team jersey this spring, or on the race fees (at twenty bucks a race, I really need to save that money for other projects that matter far more to me these days -- like recording my album). I'll keep the old jersey, at least for now; it's a nice memory of what I did accomplish and what racing taught me about myself.

I'm not at all sorry I took up bicycle racing. But I'm also not terribly sorry that it will come to an end. I think it's done what it needed to do for me, mentally and physically. So this summer, look for me in the crowd, cheering for the racers and riding home afterwards. Life is good as long as I can ride a bike anywhere.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

bikelovejones bicycle repair, extremely ltd.

In a fit of worry over the more financially challenging aspects of my career transition, my very wise partner made a strange suggestion: Work on bikes, she said. Call our friends and family and offer to tune-up their bikes for the spring, and take appointments so you can fit it in with your teaching and music work. If you do one tune-up a week it will bring some grocery money in and you'll be happier with the balance. When I thought about it, it made a lot of sense. 

So that's what I did. I sent out an email blast to all our family and friends who ride and invited them to make appointments for tune-ups and minor repairs. And to my surprise, the calls came pouring in, so many that now I have two friends wait-listed for slots in April because everything is full up and they really want their bikes worked on before their kids get out of school in May. I've got a few slots in May left but I expect to fill those soon.

I have a small supply of the basics -- brake pads, tubes in a few sizes, cables and housing; and if the bikes need anything more elaborate my friends can go buy the parts at a shop and bring them to me with the bike.

So nearly every Monday and Tuesday from now through late April (except for Pesach, of course), I am a bicycle mechanic again. The party ends in late May, when I must get ready to go outta town for my teaching/music gig. I may take a few more jobs in July but that's far enough away that I'm not planning on it right now. This is not becoming a new sideline, just a temporary fix until I can line up more students and gigs. But for now the balance might do me some good.

Sweetie is the wisest woman I know.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

an appreciation: velo cult

An appreciation of my not-so-new bike haunt:

-- The day after I quit working in the bike industry, I rode over to Velo Cult to talk turkey with Sky about scheduling a benefit show there. He was all over it, no questions asked except: "can your people bring in some chairs? All I've got are these long benches." I assured him it was fine. The show was a success.

-- I began hanging out there occasionally during the early fall. I was still sort of reeling from the sudden career shift, and I guess i needed a place to hang out on my day off that felt, well, familiar. Sky and his crew were friendly and welcoming, period.

--Over time I began making a point of spending at least a couple of hours a week there, usually a combination of getting some lesson-planning done and enjoying the bikey vibe in what had surely become the most welcoming bike shop in town. Sweetie told me she was glad I'd found a bike shop to hang out at.

-- a few weeks ago the shop became a sponsor of my bicycling club. It was low-key, no-pressure and easy for all concerned.

--Today, my worlds merged perfectly. I sat at one of the long tables and typed out the finishing touches on a drash -- a sort of sermon -- that I am scheduled to give on Friday night. When I was done, I had a bottle of cider and talked bikes with a customer and then with one of the crew. And then it was time to go home. Until the next time I hang out at Velo Cult, now my favorite bike shop in Portland. 
Sky and crew -- thanks for moving here. Have a lovely weekend, make sure you go riding ta least a little bit, and I'll see you next week --B


Sunday, March 3, 2013

whither bicycle racing?

Not too long ago I was really stoked about bicycle racing.
It was exciting to watch and still more exciting to participate in.
It provided a safer alternative for me than randonneuring, which took me to beautiful places but whose distances took me too long to recover from.
And it provided me with some great friends who loved to ride as much as I do.

On the professional side of things, bicycle racing has basically gone to hell. The combination of money, doping, politics and willing blindness on the public's part proved far too combustible for me to maintain an interest. Velo News continues to limp along on stories about Lance Armstrong long after he has lost the last shred of his credibility; and the UCI and USA Cycling continue to turn so many blind eyes to racers who doped, got caught, served their suspensions and were quietly allowed to get back in the peloton as if nothing had happened.
So for the most part I've stopped following professional bicycle racing. There's almost nothing there to hold my interest in a sport where everyone is still doping and the governing body doesn't care as long as sponsors get their market share of media time.

On the amateur side of things, I am in limbo rather than in flux.
Last year, before I imagined walking away from the bike industry and could look forward to another summer of Monday nights chasing dust particles around the short-track course at PIR, I was greaing up for the season -- literally, as I was building up a geared bike so I could switch from singlespeed to Masters women. I attended team meetings and tried to train. But things piled up; work got hard, emotionally and physically and y the time the season was upon me I was not ready. I ended up racing three times during an eight-week series.

This year, since walking away from my bike shop job (and all the freebies that accompany that line of work, and the flexible schedule that allowed me to race, and, and), I have been pulled into new directions that have compelled me to look at racing in a new light.

I'm a fifty-year-old woman with asthma, Crohn's disease and no time or money to devote to training in a meaningful way. My mountain bike hangs forlornly on its hook, collecting cobwebs while I hustle for gigs and try to learn as much as I can in the coming weeks and months so I can get more gigs. y signing the contract for the three-week gig in June, I've effectively cut my short-track season in half and the truth is that if I race the entire four weeks when I get home I'll be surprised. There's just too much going on in my life that's demanding my energy and time now for me to have much left over to devote to racing, even for fun. So the strong possibility exists that I may not race at all this summer.

And to my slight surprise, I'm okay with that.