Monday, November 25, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

New music web site

If you've been following my music exploits, you know that I've raised money to record an album of my original music. I'm happy to report that the album has been recorded and is in post-production as I type this. I anticipate a release date in early January 2014.

Meanwhile, I invite you to check out my new web site, which includes samples of mixed, but not-yet-mastered, songs from the album, over at Read a little about the music, listen, check out the calendar and if you like what you hear please use the contact form to let me know.

It's quite cold and dry here in Portland this week, with highs in the upper 40s and lows below freezing. With enough layers, riding is not unpleasant, at least for short distances. But now that I make my living with my voice I am forced to make choices about my riding that will certainly reduce the miles, especially during the winter months. So I have sadly bowed out of Cranksgiving tomorrow, giving up my spot to a teammate and choosing instead to help out indoors at the venue. It's like that now. I am sad to have to make the choice but also philosophical about it.  
As long as I can still ride anywhere at all I'll be happy about it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

tried and liked/didn't like in 2013

It's time to consider what worked and what didn't in this year of bicycle riding.
Feel free to respond in the comments below with links to your own lists.

Tried and Liked: 

1. Mileage tracking. This worked when I felt like it, or when it seemed like a good idea to record my miles just to see how many I averaged in a week. When I tracked my miles I tended to ride a little more, and a little more often. I took a break from this during the summer, and that's why it appears on both lists. See below.

2. Swrve urban cycling pants. To be fair, I'd already had a pair of these that I got last fall -- but I got them at Goodwill and had to take them in with needle and thread to get them to fit right so those don't really count. Then, this year when I was feeling a little flush, I scored a few pairs either new or used on ebay, on purpose, so that counts. Swrve make slacks and jeans that are specifically cut to be comfortable on the bike as well as off it. And they look nice enough for me to wear at my teaching job. The really nice ones are almost nice enough for me tow ear at synagogue services, which is saying something about just how nice these pants are. They downside is that if buy them directly from Swrve you need to wait for older colors and cut to go on sale or you'll end up paying well over $100 a pair. The 97% cotton/3% lycra blend in their Cotton Regular Fit Trousers wears quite well. I also ended up getting a pair each of their Cordura jeans and their Lightweight Regular WWR (Water & Wind Repellent) trousers and both are doing a great job of Not Being Blue jeans and being Comfortable On The Bike. Yes, a hundred bucks is a lot of mony to spend on a pair of pants; but on a pair of pants I wear almost every darned day, it turns out to be a good value if they last several years.

If I still had a little extra money to spend I'd spring for a pair of their middleweight WWR trousers for commuting in Portland's cold and wet winters. Even at $125, I'm easy enough on most clothing that they'd last long enough to eventually justify the price.

3. Chrome Bamboo fabric t-shirt. Not currently offered during the wnter months, but popular enough that Chrome will probably (hopefully!) bring it back in the spring. Basic black, hangs very nicely and looks slightly nicer than a regular cotton t-shirt. I have two of these and have gotten away with wearing them in my classroom on warmer days. In crew and v-neck styles. Ideally, find a friend who works for Chrome and get it through them, because at $60 retail it's a bit steep. I haven't tried it, but Swrve makes a bamboo t-shirt at half the price of Chrome's, and it comes in more colors besides basic black. It's also still available.

4. Local Handmade Shoe Covers. These are available at Citybikes Annex in Portland. They're locally made in Portland of lighter-weight waxed cotton with a rubberized material covering the bottom of the toes, and they wrap around the entire shoe and go up to the top of your ankle. They do a surprisingly good job of keeping your shoes dry, they fit over street shoes (and even some lightweight hiking boots) and they come in sizes to fit most feet. Mine are nearly a year old and they work very well -- better than the Rivendell Splats that I'd gotten the year before. As with all such shoe covers, they're really not meant to be walked around in at length, so remove them when you get to your destination to save wear and tear.

5. Kucharik merino wool cycling cap. These used to fit my head sort of funny and wrong -- then, shortly before I left Citybikes, the latest Kucharik order had come into the shop and I tried on one of the new wool caps. I bought one in mid-September of 2012 and put it back for when the weather turned really cold (by which time I'd left the bike industry). The cut and fit are greatly improved and the caps hold their shape well through regular use. If you machine wash, be sure to wash gentle cycle and drip dry. They also fit pretty well under a variety of "urban" or "city" style helmets. They're soft, non-scratchy and come in a wide variety of colors. I wear this one, in Team Slow's orange and black, daily now that weather has finally turned cold enough.

6. Planet Bike Blaze Micro 2-Watt headlight. Now in a smaller package than previous years. It takes up less room on my handlebar, and still puts out a bright enough beam that I can direct it slightly downward and actually see where I'm going. My rechargeable batteries work well in this.

Tried and Didn't Like:

1. Mileage Tracking. When I struggled with some personal stuff in the middle of the summer, stuff that included some radical changes in my cycling patterns which were directly connected to a radical change in careers, I left off tracking my mileage for nearly two months. I was sad, frustrated, scared that all these radical shifts in my life would make me fall flat on my face -- and I just didn't feel motivated to think much about riding beyond the bare minimum needed to get me from place to place. For a little while, at least, it was a good idea to take the pressure off by not tracking my mileage. Of course, when I found my head again in the fall and decided to go back and try and estimate the miles I hadn't tracked, it got a little messy. Still, taking a break was just something I had to do.

2. Carradice Bike Bureau. I got one of these late last year, after my Tried-and-Liked report went out; and I used it a fair number of times to haul my laptop back and forth to work. I liked having the laptop at work; it made lesson-planning and parent emailing handier. But I didn't care for lugging the heavy laptp back and forth in the rain in a pannier that was so large it made my bike feel lopsided when loaded. I got a smaller device a few months ago and that has made the Bike Bureau almost unnecessary. I'm hanging onto it for now, but I may end up selling it before too long. It's just more bag than I need.

3. Generator hub lights. I had installed a generator hub on my All-Rounder a couple of years ago, a used model that had been pulled from one of the discontinued Citybikes rental fleet. While I found the reliability useful, the extra weight and my inability to afford the best generator lights money could buy rendered the hub superfluous over time. The hub worked with cheaper lights, but also burned them out at an alarming rate; I went through THREE Bush-Muller Secu-lite Plus taillights in about 14 months' time. After I burned through the last one, I decided I was done, and went back to rechargeable battery lights. I sold the wheel, along with the still-working front light, and reinstalled the original front wheel (which I'd saved all this time just in case). My bike lost several pounds as a result, and my smaller lights handle rechargeable batteries quite easily. If I was a serious rando rider and could afford the super-bright fancy generator systems available now I could justify the extra weight and cost; but as a simple urban commuter I just can't make that commitment, and I find I don't really miss the generator.

4. Sadly, the Portland Design Works FenderBot taillight has proven to be something of a disappointment. I had bought the regular RadBot 500 taillight for my Sekai Quasi-Rando -- it fits on the same rack bracket as Planet Bike lights do -- and figured I couldn't go wrong with a version that would bolt directly to my rear fender for the All-Rounder. However, the difference in the brightness, the shape of the light beam and the blink patterns between the former and the latter make the FenderBot sort of substandard by comparison. I will be looking at a way to attach a bracket to the rear rack of the All-Rounder so I can get another Radbot 500 for that bike.

5. Surly Big Dummy. This was the hardest one to write about. I started using a longtail cargo bike about seven years ago, to haul tools and bikes to 'cross races and to carry my guitar to gigs. As my cargo needs changed and I got older, I found I was occasionally having balance issues when the bike was fully loaded (though nowhere near the recommended capacity). I ignored it and upgraded from an Xtracycle add-on and mountain bike to a Surly Big Dummy. I liked the added stiffness of the Big Dummy's frame, and kept riding. This past year, I found that it was getting harder for me to balance heavy loads on only two wheels. After three rides to or from gigs in the last six months where I laid the bike down because of balance issues I finally asked my doctor what was happening. She suggested that we all begin to experience changes in how we deal with balance as we age; it was not surprising that I had begun to feel less steady under these conditions now I've begun my fifties. My doctor reminded me that most women my age are not towing the heavy loads I am by bicycle and that I am still ahead of the curve as regards my daily physical activity levels. She suggested I try something that would give me more points of contact on the ground -- like towing a trailer or perhaps switching to an adult trike. I switched to hauling everything in a trailer and the change in stability and security was immediate. So I am selling my Big Dummy. I hope to find a buyer for the whole bike soon; if not, I'll probably dismantle it and sell of individual parts.

The very best thing about bicycle riding in 2013: Showing a car-dependent suburban community a glimpse of the bicycle life. In June of this year, I spent three weeks teaching at a large synagogue in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. Overland Park is a sprawling suburb with a "big box" store on almost every corner, and only one road with a bike lane that I could see. My night blindness meant I could not rent a car, so I would have to make do with a bicycle and trailer.
As part of the contract, arrangements were made for me to stay in a private home near the synagogue and to borrow a bicycle and trailer from congregants so that I could tow my guitar and music supplies back and forth each day. For special events or field trips located farther away, I would be car-shuttled by someone from the synagogue, or on the bus with the students. Each morning and evening of the summer program, I could be seen hauling my guitar along Nall Avenue, a decidedly suburban road with no bike lanes -- but with unusually wide sidewalks that saw very few pedestrians other than a handful of early morning joggers. As part of my thanks for having a bike to borrow, I did a little tune-up on the bike before returning it, replacing the brake pads and seatpost and truing up the wheels a little. By the end of my time teaching there I had made my impression, and some of the students had taken to calling me The Bicycle Lady.

There is a possibility that the synagogue will invite me back again in June 2014. If they do I may make arrangements to ship a larger bicycle that fits me better, to save my knees and encourage me to ride more and farther on my days off. If it happens, I will once again have the pleasure of watching peoples' reaction as they realize that I am not towing a child in the trailer. Bringing the bicycle life to communities that aren't used to considering it gives me a sweet little rush. I hope to have other opportunities to do it elsewhere as my new career continues to grow [hopefully].

Happy riding.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SSH! Riding a bicycle is good for you

Today, I felt really tired and thought about taking the bus to teaching tonight. But in the end, I pulled out the trailer, loaded up the guitar and set out. It turned out to be the right decision. The weather is cool and sunny, and by tonight it will get downright crisp. No rain is forecast, and I'm locking the guitar up at school so my load going home will be light. And bynthentime I was about halfway to school, I noticed that my mood had elevated a little and my pedal stroke was smooth as ever, even after three very hard-working days in a recording studio.
Riding a bike is good for you, but don't let that be the main reason you ride. Mostly it's just a really nice way to get places. So enjoy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

back to the bike

Three days off my bicycle really sucks.
However, I had a good reason. I spent those three days in a studio recording my album. The studio is clear across town from where I live and I had too many instruments to cart back and forth and I needed to save my voice from the cold mornings we've had; so in the end I decided to go all diva and just stay off my bike.
Done now.
Tomorrow I can ride my bike again. Thank God.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Back to reality: presenting Team Cheap-Ass

There has been a lot of buzz of late in Portland's cycling scene. Over the last few years, several custom frame builders have scaled back their truly custom efforts in order to design frames that are slightly less custom, more affordable and have a shorter turnaround time. Two custom frame builders recently joined forces to create a brand that would allow them to work together and have time to race, be with their families, and still pay the bills. A slew of small companies have sprung up, offering everything from designer vinyl bags to cordura handlebar boxy bags, from custom built wheels to an entire line of lights, bells, fenders and other accessories (that last company is making all this stuff in Taiwan, mind you, and merely branding it with our fair city's name). In short, bicycling has become so accessorized and hip and, well, commodified, that now if your bike wasn't made by hand by a guy wearing Carhartts and mutton-chop sideburns and who didn't charge you at least three grand for the frame set, well, dude, who are you anyway?

For the last year-plus, my "roadie"-looking bicycle has been a sort of Frankenbike, one I bought for a song on Craigslist, took home in a trailer, stripped down to the frame and rebuilt with a motley assortment of mostly used and some new parts.
It has become the most comfortable, best-fitting road touring bike I've ever owned. Yeah, it looks like a freak show under me because of the late 80's goofball ATB geometry, and because in order to find a frame with short enough reach I had to find one with a top tub that comes maybe up to mid-thigh when I stand over it. But so what if my bike doesn't look so perfect when I'm riding it? My form isn't so perfect, either, and I still manage to ride this thing all over town.

This has lately gotten me thinking: what if someone started a club where the requirements for membership were:

A. You had to know how to build and repair your own bicycle;
B. You had to ride a bike at club rides or races that you had built up from parts; and
C. The original bicycle couldn't have cost you more than, say, fifty bucks. Twenty-five if you started with a frame set.
D. If folks really felt a need for matching kit, it could consist of a tee-shirt or maybe a hoodie. You want padded shorts or a jersey? You're on your own, try Goodwill.
The club could be called Team Cheap-Ass. And I'd sign up with my beautiful, cheap, fully functional Frankenbike.

Not to diss or piss on the truly organized and well-funded teams and clubs in our fair city, or on the businesses who contribute their fair share to promote bicycling here. The beauty of living in bicycle-mad Portland is that we can all ride our bikes and do our thing. Celebrating the truly broke and resourceful among us would just be another way of doing that, while at the same time perhaps lowering the bar for organized participation in this thing that far too many call "Portland's Bicycle Scene".

Obviously, this post is written with my tongue partly in my cheek. But if you're interested in seeing how many folks out there just might meet the criterial, or you just want to go somewhere where you can bike-watch AND people-watch at the same time, consider the Bicycle Fashion Show being held a week from tomorrow at Velo Cult at 2 pm. I guarantee there'll be at least a few beloved cheap-ass bicycles there, including mine.
Happy riding!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

laff-o-the-week: more ebay silliness

Today on eBay: some poor guy thinks he's sitting on a gold mine:

If you clicked on the link, you read that right.
Yes, really.
Buy-It-Now price is a hundred bucks.
And if you don't like blue, he's got two more of these in green, priced similarly.

Grant Peterson may indeed be getting ready to do a soft retirement. Emails to the Rivendellegentsia are now signed by somebody named "Dave" (huh?).
New arrivals at the web store seem to be focused on an ever-smaller customer base of Boomer Dudes With Disposable Income.
(Um, seriously: a four-hundred dollar cycling rain jacket?)
And a lot of Rivendell stuff -- gear, parts and catalogs -- have been tossed up on eBay in the last couple of years.
Whether the bloom is off the cult of personality is up to the individual. But last I heard Grant is still upright and breathing.
This is not angsty-dead-guy-soup-can art.
It's a freaking plastic water bottle.
From a company owned by a guy who is still very much alive.
So yeah, I'm gonna ridicule a water bottle with an opening bid of $100.
Because it's just plain silly.

Hilariously enough, the seller is located in my fair city.
I have one of these things sitting in my shed. If you want it, message me privately. I'm sure we can do a whole lot better than a hundred bucks. In fact, if you want it I'll GIVE it to you (local pickup only), just because I'm feeling a little silly myself.

The commodification of bicycling nostalgia is really getting to me.
Time to go outside.

UPDATE, 11-6-13: The buyer has lowered the price on two of his bottles to $72.00, the third is now $54, and all show up as being discounted (meaning that the original asking price is there with a line through it.)