Saturday, July 27, 2013

i seem to have totally lost interest in math

I have let go of tracking my mileage diligently this summer.

Between all the travel, I simply haven't been riding as many miles and I guess it just began to feel pointless to track my mileage if I'm not racing or dong long-distance bicycling, which is pretty clearly where I've ended up. My longest mileage days now hover at around 10 to 12 miles, and there are more days in between where I don't ride at all. Is a new pattern being established? It sure looks that way.

Tomorrow I'm riding Sunday Parkways, Portland's version of a ciclovia where streets are closed for a few hours to motorized traffic and people walk, skate, or ride bicycles along a marked route. I'll be toting tools and a pump and volunteering as a rolling mechanic, something I've done since Parkways' inception five years ago. It's enjoyable and usually pretty easy; last year I think I fixed one flat in a three-hour period.

I've sold off a bunch of bike parts and accessories this year, making space in both the shed and in the back room inside the house (which I am slowly turning into a real music room). I still like having the bikes I have, and three regular bikes to chooose from seems like more than plenty. My mountain bike hangs in a corner, the dust from the last short-track race of 2012 still evident on the frame and rims; I haven't ridden it since then and may end up selling it.

A part of me feels anxious about the fact that I am riding less than I have in a long time this summer. But between the travel and everything else it just hasn't happened. I've been gone a lot, maybe the most traveling I've done in a summer since I coached drum corps nearly 25 years ago. And as I've ridden less, I've seen less point in writing down my miles. When I got back from my June travels and began riding again, it was nice enough; but it was a hassle to try and remember my miles from the month I was away and to try and catch up with the math.

More and more the idea of making sure I ride each day and not worrying about the distance seems to make sense. As for racing, well, it is not happening this year. I have been to one short-track race as a fan this summer and plan to go for the closing night of the local series on Monday. Cyclocross is a distant memory; I rode my last 'cross race in November 2011 before my teaching schedule made Sunday racing impossible. So here I am, in a slow process of paring down my cycling wardrobe and eventually making more space in my house and my life for music.

I'll still ride, of course; I rely on bicycles as my primary form of transportation and will continue to do so for quite some time to come. But things are definitely changing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sidecar update: hated it, sold it, moving on

Sidecar final update: I bought the prototype from a shop; tried it out on both sides of my Surly, and -- well -- HATED it. For the life of me, after watching numerous videos and getting tips from the Xtracycle web site and trying different tightnesses of the stem clamps, and no matter what I did the thing just made my Surly wobbly as hell. Didn't matter if it was loaded or empty, it was completely unwieldy to steer and even after a week of trying to get used to it I still ran into stuff.

Talking to several folks who'd tried sidecars, the responses ran to extremes: they either loved it or hated it and there really wasn't any in-between.
Looks like I was in the I-hate-it camp. So this morning I put it up on craigslist. I got five responses within two hours (of course I did; shops don't carry these much and Xtracycle seems not to always have them on hand), and by dinner time I had sold it for my asking price to the first guy who responded. He was firmly in the I-love-it category, and I wasn't out any money when it was over. 
I'll go back to using the Wideloaders and trying not to overload the bike. Probably the guitar and mic stand and cables will go on one side and the amp on the other side, or something like that.
The other grand ide is to figure out a way to hook up a trailer to the back of the Surly, which will make for a stupid-long vehicle but might be worth a try for those rare,  really big loads.

Monday, July 15, 2013

everything must change

I have learned that the source of my decision to leave the bike shop last fall has himself left the business.  I don't know the details, and don't need to know them; but apparently he resigned while I was out of town last month.  I've also learned, over just the last few days, that several other people have left the business in the last few months, and that things at the shop are, according to a former co-worker who recently left, "very challenging... there are a lot of issues for them to work out."

I feel mixed.

On the one hand, my life is so far removed from the shop, and from the bicycle industry, at this point that I sort of feel nothing. On the other hand, I knew this fellow -- or thought I did -- and worked alongside him for nearly twenty years. I admit that I don't feel a clean, sterile sense of detachment about him or about what compelled me to leave the business when and how I did. Even though I absolutely did the right thing at the time, hearing this news now feels murky and a little sad.
It's impossible to feel pure detachment about a place I spent nearly two decades of my life. I don't know what will happen, but I do know that all things pass eventually.

I hope everyone will be okay and that all the players in this story will find some peace.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

2013 disaster relief trials and cargo bike festival, portland

Yesterday I volunteered at the 2nd Annual Disaster Relief Trials and Cargo Bike Festival, held in Portland OR at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry).

There were, by my highly unscientific count, well over 100 human-powered cargo vehicles in attendance. The majority were two-wheeled cargo bicycles, along with a number of trailers and other specialty vehicles.

I wrote a write-up for the event organizers which will appear, no doubt in highly edited form, over at

I also took a lot of photos, and they can be found here:

Here are a few of the many pictures I took. Enjoy!

Pal Joel's beautiful new Bullit cargo bike with custom, fully-reflective paint. This thing glows in the dark! Joel finished on the podium in the open class of the DRT.

Left to right: long-john, Bakfiets and Christiania BoxBike.

Yes, that is really a skateboard with custom cargo trailer. He participated in the citizen class of the Trials and as far as I know was able to finish the course.

Friday, July 12, 2013

xtracycle sidecar: biting the bullet

Today I finally got to try out the Xtracycle Sidecar attachment, designed to fit onto frame of an Xtracycle kit, a Surly Big Dummy or a Sun Atlas cargo bike.

Clever Cycles had a Sidecar that was essentially a prototype, demo'd last year during the first Disaster Relief Trials. They've had it ever since and while it has attracted some attention, no one has bought it. I asked T (one of the proprietors) if he'd let me try it out and he happily obliged, hooking it up to a Surly Big Dummy on his showroom floor. I rode it around the block several times, both empty and with loads of various weights. When T. stood on the platform it was simply too much weight and I could not keep the bike upright and balance against the load. Then T. put a large box with a dismantled bike on the platform -- that weighed about 40 lbs., a weight that was more manageable (and probably about as much as I would want to carry on one side anyway). With the platform empty the bike feels pretty weight-neutral side to side and rides well. So ultimately I would have to figure out if this would allow me to haul a guitar and amp to gigs and keep things stable; and if the asking price was worth it.

T. and I agreed on a fair price that was significantly lkess than I would pay for one of the current production versions. Tomorrow I will bring my Surly, hook it up and take it home.

Below: photos of the sidecar I'm buying, attached to the shop's Big Dummy. The mode of attachment has not change from this prototype to the current production model -- it's still two bicycle quill stems that fit into the frame. The only thing that has changed is that the production platform is a plastic composite. Frankly, I think I'll like the plywood platform better, even if it does add a little more weight. Figure I'll strap the amp on the inside next to the bike and the guitar on the outside next to the amp (since I will no longer utilize the wideloader or longloader on that side). I may leave the wideloader on the other side. I'll play around with it and see what configuration makes the most sense. But overall I think this will solve my stability issues pretty well.

Friday, July 5, 2013

life, liberty and the happiness of pursuit: a july 4th ride

On Independence Day, Sweetie and I had made plans to take in an evening movie, which gave me some time during the day to enjoy a long, liesurely ride around  the neighborhood. I ended up taking a mellow loop from home along N. Wilamette Boulevard, to the lookout at the University of Portland. From there I rode into downtown St. Johns, had a lunch in a restaurant that time forgot (Pattie's Home Plate; a truly old-school and culinarily scary place that, if it ever closes, will make me sort of sad). Then I rode back home along N. Willamette, enjoying a cooling breeze and the glistening water of the Willamette River far below. Here are a few pictures. More will be posted at Flickr.

Dekum Grand Farm (Urban Farming Collective);

The Lookout at University of Portland;

Pattie's Home Plate Cafe in downtown St. Johns (and yes, the menu includes ads for a local wrestling series); and the beautiful St. Johns Bridge.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

on dreams, usefulness and mobillity: an evolution

On the eve of Independence Day, I am pondering the tricky balance between radical independence and intentional community, and how my evolving ideas about transportation and place figure into it all.

June was an amazing month for me in many ways. I participated in my first extended Jewish camping experience; I got to play my music for a wider audience in another place; and I traveled outside of my town quite a lot more in one month than I do most of the year. In fact, the calendar year 2013 has so far been FULL of travel and it's not over yet. In a month's time I have traveled a distance of more than 5,000 miles (including all the out-and-back trips), traveling by bus and airplane. On the bus, my body moved at an average speed of 60 miles an hour; in the airplane, more like 500 miles an hour. Traveling such great distances in a relatively short time really tires me out, and it's good be home.

Now that I'm home again, I've been slowly getting caught up on things. I mowed the lawn, which was finally dry enough for the push-mower not to get hung up in the tall grass and weeds. I've begun sorting my music and notes for the upcoming school year. I need to prepare to lead music at a Bat Mitzvah this weekend (one I'd been contracted for months ago, because the mom wanted me specifically and wisely made advance arrangements).

Today, while straightening out space in the shed and getting my cargo bike ready for a gig next weekend (Cargo Bike Festival After-Party at Velo Cult, 7/13/13 at 6:00 pm), I came across a small stack of magazines I'd saved for years. Car-Free Times was a publication with multiple news desks around the developed world, including the Czech Republic (home base); Arcata California (well, of course); Germany, France and the UK. The issue I'd saved multiple copies of, from Summer 2001, carries the theme "Hypermobility: Farther, Faster, Bigger, More". Articles inside decry the capitalist trends that have allowed darker forces to ruin the lanscape with roads and oil-dependent vehicles; point out how a lessening of auto-dependence would increase real democracy and human health; and generally suggest that perhaps staying home and not traveling so much is key to shifting the tide towards a more localized, intimate, human-sized economy of scale.

I used to read this stuff and nod my head in full agreement. In the heady early days of my career in the bicycle industry, I worked in a radical, socialist-type shop that was run collectively. (I admit that, back in those same heady days, we were all younger, more energetic, more idealistic and able to live on a lot less money than we are today.)

In 1995 I was deeply influenced -- okay, radicalized -- by Ivan Illich's seminal book, Energy and Equity. In it Illich talks about how the mainstreaming of the automobile has been a natural and political disaster for free people everywhere; and that the growth of auto-dependence over the last century has widened the gap between rich and poor and helped to concentrate large sums of capital in the hands or the wealthy few. The book is short, succinct and powerfully written; and even today I can say that it changed my life. I had already given up automobile ownership five years before; now I saw that there were larger reasons for doing so permanently, and that was when I decided that I would never again own a car of my own. In a compromise to the reality around me, I have kept my drivers' license current, just in case I need to rush someone to a hospital or something. These days I use my license on the average of once every 12 to 18 months, when I help share the driving so we can visit Sweetie's parents in California. But other than that, I simply don't drive a car anymore. And as long as I live in Portland, I find I don't miss it at all.

But now that my work-life has changed -- is continually changing -- and I find I am being asked to travel much more often in this year than ever before, I am being forced to re-think my radical stance on motorized transportation.

In the title article from that magazine, writer John Adams suggests that increasing hypermobility (due to the higher speed of transportation and also of communication) will lead to the following phenomena (I am quoting from his article):

--Society will be more dispersed.
--Society will be more polarized as hypermobility reveals a greater gap between rich and poor.
--The world will be more dangerous for those not in cars.
--Childrens' freedoms will be curtailed by parental fears, and the social catalyst of children playing in the street will disappear.
--People will become fatter and less fit.
--The world will be less culturally varied.
The world will be more anonymous and less convivial.
--Society will be more crime-ridden.
--Society will be less democratic.

Anyone who's been paying attention can see that some of these things have already come about in our modern society; we joke about "first world problems"; but the truth is that the hallmarks of a first-world lifestyle are no joke, for the radical social, political and environmental change they've wreaked upon the rest of the world. And more and more, I wonder just how possible it will be to avoid this change, or even to temper it through choice or by mere example.

In 1995, I was young, relatively healthy and able to live on peanuts. I rented a tiny apartment and rode my bicycle to work every day, working at a job that served people directly, deliberately and locally. My life was simple and clean and very close to the ground, and I loved it for the gentleness and freedom it represented.

In 2013 I am middle-aged, still remarkably relatively healthy, but have begun to feel myself slowing down a bit. I do not have the body I had twenty years ago. Nor are my needs so few, so simple or so affordable anymore.
And now I engage in work that, while still direct and deliberate, has a broader reach, far beyond the boundaries of the town in live in. Now I do things that other communities want to pay me to bring to them. I have a talent and a skillset that others are telling me should be put to use to serve more than just my local community. I am being told, in so many words and gestures, that this work is making a difference and that I should not, as it were, hide my light under a rock. I have been listening to the messages and I have been taking my gifts farther afield.

This year has seen me travel to Florida for a music festival, and to Kansas to teach and lead worship services, and to Arizona to help bring outdoor experiences to life for a group of suburban families. It has all happened in a relatively short time. I moved stuff out of the way, psychically speaking, to make room or other things to come in and to show me what I ought to do next. And now, here I am -- getting ready to head out again in a few short weeks, to share my music again with a community far from home.

It is heady in a new way, every bit as heady as when I read Illich's book and saw what perfect sense he made. But Illich, in his stark, demanding thesis that everyone give up some -- okay, most -- of their hypermobility to make sure everyone could live a more decent, humane life, didn't count on the power of identity and intention to change lives in spiritual ways. And so I find myself at an odd crossroads -- the anti-car radical is staring at herself in the mirror and finds an older, slower woman looking back at her, a woman who no longer wants to deny or delay dreams she has held close for a very long time and who recognizes that she had better act on them while she is still able to. In a selfish sort of way, I am discovering that I cannot be as radical as I used to be if it means completely stuffing my dreams in favor of a larger -- and, sadly, unattainable whole. I find that I am not willing to be radical in that particular way anymore, and perhaps it's time to find other ways to be radical and intentional.

Where do I make the compromises now? Well, some of them are made for me; because of my night-blindness I now have a restriction on my license that means I cannot rent a car anywhere; if my hosts want me to come they will have to work with me to come up with transportation solutions. In Kansas, that meant finding a homestay very near the synagogue, and helping me procure a loaner bicycle and trailer -- something my hosts there were actually happy to do. Although a number of Jewish musical artists have asked for specific accommodations before, I think I may be the first to ask for a loaner bike and trailer so I could haul my gear back and forth during the week, and get my own groceries on the weekends. People talked about it, and starngers on the street pointed fingers and stared when they realized the trailer wasn't towing a child, but a guitar. So in my own way perhaps I've raised some consciousness about what is possible in cities across America. I'd like to think so.

But is that enough? Is it enough to show people what's possible, in small ways that are limited by the circumstances of my visit? The hard answer is that, if I want to keep pursuing this dream, for now it may have to be. Bicycle radicalism is not the primary point of this part of my journey. Just admitting that in writing, out loud, is powerful stuff. And perhaps it's a little scary, because it means that I am adjusting my sense of personal identity in ways I hadn't wanted to consider before. This is what it means to say to yourself, "This is not the hill I want to die on today." This is part of compromise. I still remain committed to living car-free in Portland; but I am also aware that it may not always be possible, especially out in the unknown future. So this summer I will see what is possible in the world of compromise, and how much of my former radical self it's appropriate to keep at my core as I traverse this new landscape, and hopefully continue to grow.