Saturday, December 20, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

diy cheapskate bikes - it's a thing

In a fit of rebellious pique, I went ahead and created a new Flickr group.

For everyone who loves the aesthetic of bikes like Rivendell, Alex Singer, Pereira and the like, but who could never afford one in a zillion years -- or whose sensibility is offended by the cost of such bikes -- DIY Cheapskate Bikes is for you.

Have you found a bike on the super-cheap and applied component and design choices to it, to make a cheap bike that rides like a dream without burning a hole in your wallet? Share it with the group here:

The guidelines are simple and all spelled out at the group.

I was inspired to create the group by a fellow on FB who found a super-cheap department-store mountain bike and who turned it into a smooth-riding  roadie country bike with some thoughtful -- and affordable -- parts upgrades. He reports the bike rides beautifully, like no other road bike he's ever tried.  That, and my own efforts to build up an affordable light touring bike that fit me without requiring contortions of either body or wallet, led me to wonder what else people have come up with in this vein.

So check it out, and if you have done this sort of thing, follow the guidelines and share some photos of your DIY solutions. Think of it as something bikey to do when the weather turns really, truly foul.

Happy riding.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

on practicing contentment

Contentment is something one generally needs to practice in this world.

Let's face it. Unless you live in a yet-to-develop country and sleep on a dirt floor and cook your just-killed food over an outdoor fire, you are being tempted by modern life all the time.
So am I.
I admit it.

We are taught every day to want more stuff. It's not accidental. It's what keeps the wheel of commerce spinning and props up our consumer-based economy.

Today, over on eBay, there's an auction for a vintage mountain bike that I would really like to own. In fact, it would be a replacement for a frame I once had, and sold because it was too big for me.

Here's the bike I once had, a retro-fitted Peugeot Orient Express from the mid-80's:

It was a great bike. But its 21" frame was just too large for me to ride comfortably, even with raised-up handlebars. In the end, I stripped off the useable parts and sold the frame to Citybikes. A couple years later, I was shocked to see the same frame, rebuilt and being ridden by a new owner, and hanging on a hook at the end of a light-rail car. I felt that pang of longing as I looked at the rebuilt bike.

Today's offering on eBay:

This one is, according to the seller, completely original. It has not been ridden terribly much, and he's selling it for a reasonable price.

If money were no object I'd be all over it. It's the bike I've missed, and the frame is the right [smaller] size for me.

However, we don't exactly have money to burn these days and I need to plan carefully. So I decided to take a different tack.

Today, I'm going to be grateful for the bikes I do have, and I will ride one of them later on, and I will practice the art of contentment. How do I do that? Well, I have no real training in this, but here's what I figured out. I can ficus on some simple facts and hopefully they will help me remember my blessings.

I live in a warm, dry house with two cats and my Sweetie.
I enjoy reasonably good health.
I get to do meaningful work -- I could stand to do a little more, but that's okay.
We have enough money each month that our bills are paid and there's food in the cupboard.
We don't have tons more than that, but we have that and that is a lot right there.
And best of all, we have family and friends and a community of good people to be part of.
So on the whole, life is pretty damned good these days.
And I already have a bike to ride, a nice one that fits me comfortably.
So life is actually very good today. Maybe even stellar.

I will let this bike go. Someone else will buy it and hopefully enjoy it.
And I will ride my bike and practice contentment.
I won't even apologize that this post does nothing to help the economy.
I'm not sorry about that at all.
It's raining and about 50F, and not a bad day to take a little spin. So I'm going to go do that.

Happy riding, wherever you are.

Monday, December 8, 2014

i love it when people get me

I submitted a resume for a staff educator position at a summer camp back east.
What was nice was that they found me through a Jewish music network, and reached out to me asking for a resume. They liked what they saw, and today i had a skype interview with one of their staff.

Best moment: "We like your car-free lifestyle. We could totally set you up with a loaner bicycle for the summer to ride around the campus; and the nearest town is only five miles away so you could go there on your days off, too."

I love it when people get me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

winter biking begins

Yesterday, i rode for the first time in over a week. It was slow, cold going and in the end I shortened my trip with the help of transit. I was tird, vulnteble and feeling tossed around by a cold east wind that grew stronger as the afternoon turned to evening. I had an accupincture appointment in the evening that really helped move things throu, but left me feeling deeted enough to toss my bike on the bus for all but the last mile home. A hot bath and an early bedtime were in order.

This morning, I awoke feeling better-rested. I had appointments downtown and went multi-modal, riding across the Broadway Bridge in low, bright winter sunshine. It was warmer today than yesterday, and I was surprised to feel energy in my legs after the draining evening I'd had. I enjoyed feeling lighter and more energetic, and part of things on the street again as other riders passed me.

I didn't mind being passed. I no longer worry about such things when I ride. I am slower than I used to be, and I was never really very fast anyway. It's all good. I was just happy to be out on my bike today, and it felt good. As the winter goes on it won't always be so light and easy. But today it was, and I'm glad.

Friday, November 28, 2014

i miss biking

I have spent is entire Thanksgiving week at my in-laws' home in Northern California, visiting with my partner's family. Her parents are elderly; her older brother has spent the week in bed with a cold he caught on his second day here (they got here two days earlier than we did); and their 5th-grrader daightter has been by turns bored, surly, demanding and lonely for peer company (she is an only child of older parents, and my partner and I are childless). There have been walks into town each day, a Thanksgiving meal shared with everyone, and a trip on Thanksgiving morning to deliver meals to the homebound in the community (done by car, of course; there were over twen meals to deliver).

I have not ridden a bicycle since last Saturday. And I am heere until Sunday. This will be an entire week off the bike. Amd I really don't like it one bit. Not riding has made me bored, listless, and a little grumpy. I cannot wait to get home and pull out a bicycle on Monday morning.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ebay laugh-of-the-month: Ross headbadge

Surfing the interwebs today, I found this:

Someone on ebay is selling this headbadge right now for a price of $22.00.

Realize that the three-speed bike it was originally attached to was sold new at a hardware store and probably sold for under a hundred bucks back in the day.

Makes me ponder the wisdom of decorating my shed with all the headbadges I saved from all the dead frames I'd dismantled over the years.

Okay. Done pondering. We now return you to your scheduled bicycle obsession.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

race report: Gateway Green Community CX

Gateway green Community CX was a demonstration event designed to showcase what might be possible as Gateway Green is developed into a bike-friendly city park. Friends of Gateway Green are raising money to help pay the costs of the first phase of development. They got permission from the city to hold this event only about a month ago, and scrambled to get everything in place: course design, volunteers, sponsors, and a raffle.

All told, for a grass-roots cyclocross event, it was a lot of fun. Sparse attendance was probably mostly due to both the short notice for the event and the fact that it was pretty cold today (lows in the upper 20s, high around 40F). Muddy ruts made during the course design phase yesterday had frozen solid overnight, and did not thaw completely until the last race of the day. Due to current space limitations at the undeveloped greenspace, the course itself was rather short for a 'cross course -- they're usually around 2 miles long, and I'm not sure this one was even a full mile long. But what it lacked in length was more than made up for in some of the challenges: the long run-up was even longer and taller than the legendary run-up at barton park; and there was no gravel on which to gain a foothold. The entire length was slick, semi-frozen grass punctuated by thorns and brambles that had not been pulled from the course. Follwing that was a switchback that led to a slightly off-camber downhill that was slick with peanut-butter type mud; the key here was simply to watch your speed, let go of the brakes and coast down. This turned out to be the most fun part of the course for me.

The final part of the course, was a series of small berms, short-track style, through some trees and increasingly steeper and harder to ascend; the last berm required a lot of speed or you simply would not get up it all the way -- and if you didn't make it all the way up you could easily fall backwards and down the berm again, which I did twice.

I raced at noon, which was pretty ideal in terms of temperature and mud; most women completed 10 or more laps. I was on pace to finish 6 but had to stop halfway through my race for an urgent call from mother nature, which meant giving up a lap in the process. Because this was an unsanctioned, demonstration event, my re-entry into the race was no problem. If this had been an OBRA-sanctioned, competitive event and i had baled like that, I would've been listed as DNF and not allowed to hop back on the course to finish. I was glad for the unsanctioned component; it took a lot of pressure off and let me simply enjoy myself and the thrill of riding in the mud again, something I realized I'd missed.

It was nice to reconnect with old teammates and friends who were glad to see me back on my race bike. Still, My cough all the way home reinforced why I had felt it necessary to walk away from racing cyclocross. I am home now, drinking hot tea and hoping the itch in my throat will stop after a good night's sleep. I'm not scheduled to sing anywhere professionally for a little while, but I do need to take care of my voice.

I took some photos when I wasn't racing myself, mostly Singlespeed with a few shots from Mens' B and C:

All in all, a lovely, fun day. Taking nothing away from OBRA, of course; but sometimes the pressure to race and ignore one's physical issues makes it hard for me to enjoy the sport. Given the chance to do more unsanctioned races, I would absolutely sign up.

Friday, November 14, 2014

hype of the week: top secret drum corps

In honor of my first cyclocross [sort of] race in three years, I'm tossing up a really great Hype video.

Top Secret Drum Corps, from Switzerland, fuses the best of American drum corps-style drumming and Swiss-style military drumming into a beautiful variation on this beautiful artform. Watch and be blown away.

Racing starts at 10:30; Womens B/C race begins at noon sharp at Gateway Green on Saturday. If you're in town and want to come ring a cowbell, this wouldn't be a bad place to do it. See ya.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

my first cyclocross race in three years, this weekend

Okay, it's official: I AM RACING my first cyclocross race since Nov. 2011. Womens' B/C race is at 12:00 noon.
 Hoping to see some Team Slow teammates out there! (Also hoping that I will remember how mount and dismount in the mud...!)
Thankfully, this is a demonstration event and no OBRA points will be scored. 
So if I really suck it's okay.
Forecast: rain, high of 46F. PERFECT 'cross weather. Go Slow!
Gateway Green Community Cross
Saturday, November 15 at 9:00am
Gateway Green (accessible .25 miles north of the Gateway/NE 99th Ave TC MAX Station via the I-205 Multi Use Path)

Monday, November 10, 2014

commuting report: phoenix/scottsdale, az

I just returned last night from a four-day weekend working in Phoenix, Arizona. I was there to provide musical leadership and education for a large synagogue in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Per my contract, the synagogue paid for my transportation costs, and arranged for me to have homestay hospitality near the synagogue that included a loaner bicycle.

In the best of all possible worlds, I would make this arrangement in every city I visit. It worked beautifully in Kansas this past summer and  again in this fall. And it works pretty well in Phoenix, at least from November through April when the heat is not so extreme. (I was in Phoenix in August and riding a bicycle in 110-degree heat was simply inadvisable.)

My loaner bike was a Giant Sedona hybrid with a sit-up-and-beg position. The bike was a little small for me, and the saddle could not be moved any further rearward, which definitely caused a bit of a strain on my knees. But the ride was only 6 miles round trip, so I lived with it.

I enjoyed mostly quiet streets on my short trips back and forth. Most of my route included bike lanes. A few short stretches were narrow and had no bike lane; instead the pavement there was marked with big sharrows and this sign helped to make things even clearer: 

The weather was warm and sunny. Lows of 60F quickly gave way to afternoon highs in the mid-80s -- not unbearable and actually sort of pleasant on a short-term basis. I enjoyed the hugely different flora and fauna of the desert Southwest, a place I will visit again at least several times this academic year.

While I was in Phoenix I met Joe Berman, owner of Sunday Cycles and also a member of the synagogue. He knows a couple of bike folks in Portland, and we had a nice talk at the end of religious school on Sunday before I had to catch my flight home. He offered to loan me a better-fitting bike for my next visit, and suggested that if possible I should try and come in a day early to enjoy some longer rides. He was delighted with my tallit (prayer shawl) made of recycled bike musette bags, and I gave him the link to look at my ritual Judaica made from old bike parts.

I know I would not want to live here year-round, if only because the summer months would positively kill me. But as far as places to visit and ride go, Phoenix shows a lot of promise for the next several months. I'm looking forward to returning in December.

Back home in Portland, we're looking at a cold snap this week. Tomorrow the temps will drop by more than ten degrees into the low 40sF, and rain is due. I will don my woolies this afternoon and enjoy a ride in a climate that feels, well, more familiar for this time of year.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

ride report: smith & bybee lakes loop

I've taken this loop many times in the last seven years, too many to count. But it remains one of my favorite longer rides and I try to get out there at least a few times a year, to see the seasons change through the landscape and to enjoy a ride relatively free of traffic and signals.

I am slower now than I used to be, the result of no longer prioritizing racing and "training" in my life. But I still enjoy these longer rides when time and energy are on my side.

Temp: low 50s, occasional light drizzle, slight breeze.
Wardrobe: thin wool tights with knickers over them, wool socks; wool jersey, arm warmers and light jacket over that; thin wool cap under my helmet; ragg wool fingerless gloves. I carried some raingear with me but never took it out.

I stopped along the way to admire the scenery and take some photos. The Columbia Slough was pretty and I saw a LOT of waterfowl, including hundreds of geese and a few great blue herons along the banks. I enjoyed maintaining a moderate pace and found that I had more than enough energy to handle the uphill climb to the top of the Marine Drive bridge over the slough. I did note some discomfort at the beginning of my ride and again when i set out after my lunch stop in St. Johns; but reasoned that sometimes its really okay to feel some discomfort from the elements. Being out in the elements is part of bicycling, so why not accept it? I warmed up enough after a mile or two that the damp and cold didn't bother me again.

Random thoughts drifted in and out of my mind, including the recognition that nearly all of these rides are done alone. My friends who love to ride like to go faster and farther than I do, and I'd hold
them back even if they were too nice to say so. My partner has ridden this route with me exactly once, early in our marriage when she was far more active than she is now. I doubt I will get her to ride it again. She is not nearly as active as I am and it seems like that will be the way it is for the long haul. So I ride alone, to enjoy the scenery and look for birds and feel the cool air on my cheeks, and to revel in movement.

One thing I noticed is that my "quasi-rando" bike, while still very heavy, fits me really well and makes riding with drops enjoyable. Would I like a lighter bike? Sure, but not enough to pay a ton of money for it. I preefer the feel of a steel frameset, and for the time being I'm fine with paying a considerable weight penalty for the sake of comfort and fit. The Sekai, with its low-slung, compact geometry, took the drop bars pretty well and allowed me to have a drop-bar bike with very short reach. It also allowed me to have that drop-bar bike and still run 26" (559 ERD) wheels, thus avoiding having to store a second wheel and tire size at home. perhaps one day I'll be able to ny up for a lighter frameset that gives me the same compact fit. For the time being, I'll be content to ride e sekai and just try not to overload it with too much stuff. If I want to do any bike-camping it will be on the upright Rivvy.

On the way back from St. Johns it began to drizzle pretty steadily. By the time I got home it had become a light rain. I didn't bother to stop and pull out my raingear; I wasn't far from home and figured I'd enjoy the hot shower more when my ride ended. I was right. Home now and feeling deliciously relaxed and ready for a restful evening. A lovely 22 mile loop.

Here are a few photos. More can be found at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

i am not my job: a reminder

Staying at a friend's vacation house in Central Oregon for a mid-week getaway, I finally had time to slow down after all my summer and fall travels for work.

Slowing down was exactly what I didn't want.

Slowing down was exactly what I needed.

The space and time to breathe and to be still in a green, beautiful place invited me to consider all that had happened since mid-May, which in turn invited all the doubts and demons related to my career change to come pouring in. I had a sleepless night of tossing and turning and my head was filled with what my Sweetie calls "Cosmic Thoughts".  This morning, I got up and knew I needed to get outside and. move around, even just a little. So when Sweetie told me we needed a few things at the little market to make the evening's barley-mushroom soup recipe, I volunteed to hop on one of the loaner bikes and ride over.

It was just what I needed. 

I went into the garage where a row of bright orange cruiser bikes was parked along one wall, selected one that looked tall enough (I have long legs and arms), adjusted the saddle height, and took
off. The gearing seemed a little high, until I remembered that cruiser bikes offer more pedaling resistance in order to encourage sit-down, mellow peedaling. Still, I pushed it a little to get my momentm up and move some of my anxiety out of the way. It was only a three-mile round trip, but the pace and the bracing cold -- it was in the mid 40s when I left the house -- helped immensely to
blow out the jittery nerves and improve my mood. Riding along also served to remind me that, in spite of all the unknowns related to my work over the last year and a half, I am not my career. I am fully human, with blood and bones and skin and cold air whooshing through my lungs and whispering past my ears, and my pounding heart and pumping legs all reminding me of my difficult, sweet vulnerability. Sometimes that vulnerability is what I need, if only to remind myseslf to lighten up and give myself a break now and then.

There is a lot more to me than just what i do for a living. Sometimes all it takes to remind me of that is a very simple bicycle ride.

Monday, October 13, 2014

when bicycles and torah intersect: my teaching on yom kippur afternoon

A few days from now I will head home to Portland, to that bastion of bike-friendliness where I can ride almost anywhere I like and when I get tired I can toss my bike on public transit.
Lately there have been lots of people complaining about the state of "alternate" (read: NON-car-dependent) transportation in my lovely city.
While I'm sure that many of their complaints are perfectly valid, I would invite them to do what I've done -- come and spend five weeks in Overland Park, Kansas, with nothing but a bicycle and trailer to get around and an occasional ride from a car-centric pal when the lightning and thunder come out. Do that, and THEN tell me the transportation picture in Portland sucks.

Because when you compare it to other cities it's actually not bad at all.

Of course, it could be better -- there's always room for improvement -- but the kind of better I envision is when every major US city has decent public transit in ALL quadrants and no quadrant can shut out the busses or light rail to keep undesirable folks out of their sterile suburb. Because that scenario plays out in so many suburbs across the country it's pathetic.

Thirty years ago, I spent a semester off from college living with my mother in the metro Atlanta area. I had recently gotten my drivers' license. My mother worked in downtown Atlanta. I had gotten a job at a print shop not far from her house. So every morning, I had to get up and drive my mom to the park-n-ride nine miles away, over the county line, where the closest MARTA bus stopped to pick up passengers. MARTA wasn't allowed to operate in Gwinnett County, because that county's residents didn't want black people coming up from dirty, rundown College Park to look for jobs or to shop in their fair, very white county.

In 2014, there are still US cities that operate with the same mindset: If we don't let the bus system in, then Only People Like Us will live, work and shop here. Sadly, this scenario is playing out in Johnson County, Kansas, just over the state line from Kansas City, Missouri. I am told that people move here mostly for the quality of family life and the excellent public schools, and that is certainly a factor. Johnson County public schools are some of the best in the nation. They are also, demographically speaking, some of the whitest, a fact that no one likes to talk about out loud.

But I digress.

I recognize that, as a visitor very much from the Outside, I must step lightly and speak gently. But I also recognize that, with repeated visits to this place, and more of these lovely people asking if I might ever move here so I can serve their synagogue community full-time, I have an opportunity to share a different perspective. And when I am asked to teach the lesson around the Torah reading on Yom Kippur afternoon, using a combination of discussion and music, I realize I've been handed a gift. I have to unwrap it very carefully.

The Torah portion we read on Yom Kippur afternoon is Leviticus Chapter 19 -- commonly called The Holiness Code. In it there are all kinds of instructions on what constitutes holy behavior. I focus on one important point: "Do not hate your kin in your heart." I ask the people assembled in the sanctuary, Who is your kin? And when they begin to offer the predictably correct answers -- the homeless, the stranger, the orphan -- I stop them, and ask, Do you really mean that? If a homeless person who hadn't bathed in a week approached you at an ATM and asked for help, would you take him home and let him use your shower to clean up? Would you make him a meal? Or would you simply try and get away as quickly as possible? People began to squirm, but not uncomfortably; at this point the vibe was like getting caught passing a note to your friend in class. Everyone was in on it and no one would get sent to the principal's office.

I went further, talking about the fact that my home state of Oregon may seem all hip and cool, but in fact has had a pretty shameful history of racism that once included sundown laws (some of which remained on the books until the 1930s) and redlining agreements between realtors. People looked surprised. They were interested to see where I was going with this.

Where I went with it was to talk about the source of hatred.

What is the root emotion at the heart of hatred? I asked. Immediately, someone answered, Fear.
Absolutely right, I told them. And fear left unexamined can lead to mistrust -- which, in turn, can lead to hatred. 

Then, I went for the jugular.

I talked about my experiences as bicycle rider in Overland Park, a place that was to be my home for five weeks (including the High Holy Days). I spoke of what it was like to be unable to rent a car (due to night-blindness) and to depend on a bicycle and trailer to haul my guitar back and forth to temple each day. On my days off, I said, it would be nice to be able to venture farther afield, and maybe even explore downtown Kansas City. People nodded in agreement; they may live in the suburbs, but they still think downtown Kansas City is a cool place to show off to visitors.

So where are the buses? I asked. In my five visits to Overland Park I'd seen exactly one bus stop sign and no buses -- and had just learned on this visit that the one bus stop sign I'd seen was being taken down and the bus route eliminated for lack of use. Because in Overland Park, everyone drives a car and wants to keep it that way. Overland Park does not want public transit because that would mean Kansas Citians would pour across State Line Road to shop and work in pristine Overland Park. And while Overland Park is almost exclusively white, Kansas City has a very large black population and pockets of high unemployment.

I didn't say anything about race or racism at this point in my teaching. I didn't have to. I'm pretty sure folks got the message even though I limited the labeling to Missourians and Kansans. I urged them to consider the source of their fear and entertain the possibility that some fears may be, well, unfounded. And then I taught them the song Gesher Tzar M'od ("The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to let fear rule").

I am sure that even if I never hear about peoples' reactions to my teaching, the rabbi who hired me could get an earful from his congregants after I go home. We'll see. Anyway, I stand by what I did and make no apologies for it. If I got one person in the room to examine his or her fear around transportation and that leads somewhere positive, then I am happy. Change is slow and incremental. I'd like to think I made as much or more of an impression by my stubborn insistence on riding in the rain (when there was no lightning, anyway) as I did when I asked why there are no buses here.

Tomorrow I will take the loaner trailer back to the temple, and Thursday I'll drop off the Kansas bike at the rabbi's; he will store it for me and then hand it off to the music director, for her to use until my next visit. And I'm fairly certain that somewhere down the road there will be a next visit, because the community and I have developed a sweet relationship over the course of the last year and a half.
On Friday, I get to go home to my Sweetie and our kitties and my bicycle and our lovely city, whose transportation troubles seem paltry compared to where I've been lately.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

a little giggle

Perusing the craigslist ads back home, just to see what's what, I came across this delightfully absurd listing:


The seller is apparently serious.
And I cannot stop giggling at the wackniess of it all.
Somebody please buy this. Please.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

greetings from overland park

I arrived in Overland Park, KS on Monday afternoon. After lunch, I was dropped at the synagogue, where I'd shipped my bicycle (the Kansas Bike, see previous posts on is topic for photos). The bike box had come through mostly not too worse for the wear, though the axles burst clean through their beefed-up cardboard siding (admittedly, I did a pretty quick hack job of boxing this thing). The hard plastic covering I'd improvised for the rear derailleur had done its job and the rear derailleur and its hanger came through intact and working fine.

It took me about half an hour to unbox, re-accessorize and test-ride the bike and dispose of the garbage and reecycleables. Then I hooked it up to the loaner trailer, the very same one I've used on every previous visit here (thank you, kind K Family!), and rode to my homestay, a nice two-mile ride away. The couple who are my hosts this time are around my age, and find themselves very suddenly empty nesters as they have just sent their twin daughters off to college (double your tuition, double your fun, right?).

The back-forth rides between home and temple have been pleasant so far. Of course, this being Overland Park, I mostly have to ride on the expansively wide sidewalks -- in fact, a friendly policeman urged me to for my own safety and pleasure. I do take the lane once I turn off the main road and onto slightly quieter residential streets, except during the hour or so window they call "rush hour" here. By and large car drivers here are friendly, and often back up to allow me to ride the ramps from one sidewalk to the other at intersections. I have encountered exactly ONE rude river so far, not a bad track record for so car-centric and community. The other night, towing my guitar home from a late rehearsal, I spotted my first Other Bicycle Rider, a guy clad in lycra and a reflective vest on his road bike, apparently out for an evening training ride (the roads do quiet down a lot after dark here so it makes some sense).

Nicest of all, besides the gentle reminders from friends to "be careful out there" -- these people have never ridden bikes in a big city -- is the news that the city council of Overland Park will begin adding in bicycle amenities in order to boost walking and bicycling among residents, and especially among schoolkids. Their plan is to add amenities like bike lanes and shared-use paths as roads go through their constant cycle of repair and paving, so that over the next several to ten years there will become noticable changes for bike riders here:

As you can imagine, assuming I am invited back in the future, it will get nicer and nicer to ride a bicycle here. It's the most positive thing about bicycling I've seen in all my visits here, and a step in a very good direction.

Next weekend I've been signed up to join a friend on a charity ride called Tour de BBQ, a fundraiser for children's cancer research and patient services in the Kansas City area. I asked to do the shortest route, 15-20 miles, so I could take my time and conserve my energy for the real reason I came here -- to sing a whole lot of music. Still, it will be nice to take a longer ride and I look forward to it.
Cheers, and happy riding!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

repair and return: a video

Today, a few days before I head to Kansas for my first out-of-town High Holy Days pulpit as a cantorial soloist, I had a bad case of the jitters. I've prepared, of course -- had a productive practice session today, even -- but I am feeling at loose ends, not connected here or there or anywhere really. So I went for a little bike ride. Within a few blocks of home it became a scavenging mission, and when I was done I'd added three wheels to my collection of found parts. One front wheel was trashed, save for the skewer, which became the skewer for the other front wheel which was actually okay. The one rear wheel in the bunch was semi-taco'ed, with obvious bends in the rim. I figured I'd try and make it at least ridable if not near-perfect again. I set about, first loosening the spokes a bit, then whacking the rim against my stool in the worst-bent spots, then readjusting the spoke tension until the wheel was true enough and tensioned consistently enough to be ridable again. In a week where I felt unsure of the work ahead and my ability to do right by it, I needed to step back for a little while into tasks I knew I was fully capable of, if only to remind myself that I can learn, and grow, and do some good in the world.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two holiest days of the Jewish year, give Jews an opportunity to get clear of past mistakes and to think about how to let go of old behaviors and thought patterns that no longer serve us well. Like a bicycle wheel, a person is prone to damage, to regular dings and dents from traveling under load and over many miles. A wheel can be trued again, made straight so it can be ridden again. The wheel isn't ever as good as new; molecules change their position in the metal's composition as dents and bumps affect the rim. But the wheel can be repaired and made serviceable for many more miles.

Maybe it's like that for the human heart. Life will hit us all, hard sometimes; and we will be changed by those jolts and bumps along the way. Our molecules will change position slightly as we grow and age. Skin loses elasticity; hair turns gray, wrinkles line the corners of our mouths and eyes. And our hearts bear the marks of a life lived, embracing both pain and joy as we travel down the road. Some believe that the heart can be made good as new through repentance, through returning and making amends where we have missed the mark. Others believe that a broken, contrite heart is holier than one that has not yet been broken. Whatever the case, I am old enough that I find I need this time of year, to take stock, make repairs in my life choices and relationships with those around me, and to begin again, straightened (perfectly ridable, though far from perfect) and ready to move forward towards whatever lessons this next year may bring.

If you inhabit the always interesting intersection between Judaism and bikes, I wish you and yours a Shanah Tovah.  May you be inscribed for a sweet year.
For the rest, enjoy the beauty of this autumn and safe, happy riding always!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

off again, on again: kansas bike redux

Originally I had thought that I would ship a bike for the last trip to Kansas in June. But the rabbi didn't want to pay the shipping and worked instead to find me a loaner. It worked okay, and I was prepared to ask to borrow it again; but the owner needs it to commute during the fall (it has uprights and a fender and I guess that's preferable for her). She offered to loan me her cyclocross bike, but she's a fair bit taller than me and I knew that the reach to the drops would be too long. So finally, I am shipping the blue bike. It will live in Kansas. If the synagogue is happy with my work and wants to keep bringing me back every year, then I will ask about leaving this bike in the care of the synagogue or the rabbi to store. If not, I will leave it there and ask the rabbi to drop it off at the local bike non-profit as a donation.

If my travels continue to grow in frequency I may have to look into a folding bike.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

bicycle culture, activism, and class shifting

The excellent writer Elly Blue has written a thoughtful post about the change in bicycle activism:

In it, she laments the demise of grass-roots activism in Portland's bike scene. I invite you to read it and ponder your own experiences with "bicycle activism" where you live.

I have lived in Portland since 1975, having moved here with my family when I was twelve years old. I beacme a dedicated bicycle commuter that same year, when riding the school bus became not only onerous but dangerous; bullies would pound the crap out of me in the back of the bus and after three broken pairs of glasses my family and I had had enough. I started riding to school in all but the worst winter weather, and for the most part I have never looked back. Not even forty years later.
So on some level I was a bicycle "acitivist" from an early age. Because, seriously, how many other teens would eschew car ownership and the hallowed drivers' license until the age of twenty-four?

But the older I get, and the farther removed I am from working in the bicycle industry, the less my life has become About The Bicycle, and the more the bicycle has simply become another part of my life.
Perhaps some of it is aging, and some of it is that racing got too expensive and physically demanding, and commuting daily to the same place is no longer a part of my everyday life. Whatever the reasons, I ride my bicycle most days but now it's just something I do on my way to somewhere.

That doesn't mean I don't still enjoy it, that I don't still prefer it to driving a car.

Today is my eleventh wedding anniversary. Sweetie, who is not much of a bicycle rider but who does like to ride with me sometimes, suggested we ride to a cafe for brunch, and then to a park afterwards. It was delightful. The bicycle was not the event; it simply got us to the event and then home again. And that was all I needed or wanted it to be.

I agree with Elly that the recession hit bicycle activism hard, but I would go a lot further and say that the recession hit many facets of modern culture and society hard and we may never recover from that. Instead, we may change as the world is changing, to the point where bicycle activism will look like something so different to our great-grandchildren that we would not recognize it. And maybe that is okay. At any rate, I suspect such change is inevitable. And so I keep riding.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

urban off-roading: alleyways of N/NE portland

I've been trying to get as much riding in as I can because I will be traveling so much this year.
Some days it has felt almost obligatory, other days it has started out that way and turned out to be pleasant.
Today I wanted to take my mountain bike and find some gravel. I'd missed racing short-track and cross and wanted to have a little taste of the thrill without the pressure (or expense) of competition. The problem is that I can't just toss my bike in the back of a truck and head up to Sandy Ridge; I live in the city without a car.
In the past my go-to option had mostly been to ride down to PIR (Portland International Raceway) and ride around in the cottonwood stand that makes up one half of the course during the Portland Racing Short-Track Series. The series had ended in late July (while I was away), so the BMX dirt track would be locked up and inaccessible; but the stand of trees was wide open and accessible.
Or so I thought.

I rode down to PIR, a five-mile ride from my house, fully expecting easy access through the un-manned entry gate. Except that it wasn't un-manned. There was an armed security guard stopping people and making them sign a waiver; then I was directed to the ticket booth, where I was told that to ride my bicycle on the grounds I would have to pay a fee of ten dollars. I said no thanks, turned around and rode back up the hill. Along the way I looked for a few alleyways where I might find some gravel to play around in, but after riding down three of four of these I was feeling sweaty and dismayed and sort of deflated. So in the end I just made my way home.

Some pix from my ride:

1. Urban off-road panda. There are lots of these little alleyways and side-streets, many with signs reading "Roadway Not Improved", like waving a red flag in front of all the mountain bikers in the city. Some of them are deadly dull during these dry summer months, but they will become a little more challenging and exciting in the rainy season.

A decidedly, um, Hitchcockian vibe on N Bryant:

An example of gravel grinding in the city. Urban alleyway near I-5:

And sometimes people give stuff away by leaving it at the curb. What this is, I have no idea:

I know I will want to do some more urban off-roading before the summer gets away from me completely. I may have to try again next weekend.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

new collection from bicycle pal rick risemberg: check it out!

My bicycle buddy Rick Risemberg, who dares to live the bicycle life down in El Lay, and who is the purveyor of the fine web amalgamation Bicycle Fixation, has compiled a nice collection of his essays. The writings, on everything from bicycles and human-scale infrastructure to sustainable communities and New Urbanism, can be found online:  

in nearly all ereader formats (including iPads) at:

And for Kindle only at:

Rick is a fine, insightful writer with something real to say about where we've been, where we're headed and how we might get there. 
I will try to read it in little bits and pieces while I prep for High Holy Days. If I have time I will post questions and thoughts based on my readings here.
Check it out! Download your copy and then let's discuss. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

i ride my bike because, well, i just have to.

I travel for my work now. And I don't just travel -- I travel with a guitar and sheet music and dress clothes. Which means that bringing along a folding bike is not terribly practical, at least for now.
In cities where I have a prolonged stay -- for a residency -- I can arrange for a loaner bicycle and trailer. My recurring gig in the Kansas City area has this actually written into my contract.
For cities where I fly in and out in a day or three, it's harder. I have a gig in the Phoenix area that will average roughly once a month during the school year, and have already been warned that the venue is in a suburb that is decidedly sprawled and bicycle-UNfriendly. So bicycling is sort of out anyway.

I just spent two weeks on the road, partly for work and partly for vacation. Flew in from one city and flew back to another city on the West Coast. Ended the trip by driving all the way home to Portland from the Bay Area. My last night on the road was mostly sleepless, fraught with anxieites about my work, my life, aging, menopause and a future without retirement. I got maybe three hours of sleep, and poor sleep at that. Still, I helped with the long drive home, unpacked and then tossed in a few loads of laundry upon arrival.

We got back early enough in the afternoon that I decided to take a bicycle ride around the neighborhood. I had really missed riding during this trip, even though I'd gotten in a couple of nice walks (including one hike up to the top of Indian Rock in Berkeley, which was great). It wasn't enough, and it wasn't the same at all. Basking in the heat of the late afternoon -- temps were in the mid-80s -- I picked up books at the library, did some grocery shopping, grabbed a big bag of recycled grounds from Starbucks for our compost bin, and made a mental note of where the best free box offerings were this weekend so I could return in the morning with the trailer.

And tonight I am truly tired and ready for sleep.

I can feel the difference that my little eight-mile ride has made. My head is more relaxed, far less anxious and more planted in the present -- the present week, anyway. Riding definitely makes a real, healthful difference for me, even though I no longer "train" or race and even though I am slow as molasses. So tomorrow, I will ride again.


In other bicycle news:

Tomorrow is the annual Bridge Pedal, one of the largest bicycle events of its kind in the country. An estimated 15,000 or more people will take to Portland's bridges and their connecting streets and cars will be blocked for a few hours in the morning. I rode the first five bridge Pedals, beginning in 1996, as a volunteer ride-along mechanic. It was fun at first, but as the crowds grew each year it got more and more stupid. My last volunteer ride ended when a little boy of no more than six couldn't hold his line and plowed broadside into my bicycle, hard enough to knock me down. The rest of his family, two parents and four more kids all under the age of ten, followed suit, making for a very nasty pileup.
I walked away with scraped shins, a gouged knee and a badly bent chainring, with the father's angry shouts echoing in my ear. He yelled at me for not staying out of his child's way. I shot back, "your kid's too young to ride his own bike in a crowd of ten thousand people and he belongs in a trailer or on a tandem till he can hold his f**king line!" -- in earshot of one of the organizers. I was taken aside and reminded that these people had paid to ride and that we needed to treat them like valued customers. Nothing about my damaged bike or my visible and still bleeding injuries. My bike was no longer rideable and I excused myself to walk it down off the bridge and to the nearest bus stop.

After that I decided Bridge Pedal no longer really needed my help. Or my money. I have never paid to ride in a Bridge Pedal and never will. This year the going rate for the middling eight-bridge ride is a cool $35 and it's $40 to ride all ten bridges within the city limits. Whatever. I'll go for a ride tomorrow, but I'm not paying for the privilege to do it.

A series of articles over at BikePortland discussed the idea of bicyclists paying their way for road usage -- through bicycle insurance, registration, sales taxes and even toll paths.
To these ideas and their proponents I say: Screw them all.
I ride because it's free. I ride because I can. I ride because, even though it probably doesn't make a real difference as far as congestion on our nation's car-centric roads is concerned, it's the one way in which I can thumb my nose/raise my middle finger at the status quo. Highly aware of the new struggle I have with questions of sustainability and carbon footprint thanks to the all the flying I must now do -- and it IS a real struggle, a crisis of conscience on my part -- I know that every time I can choose the bicycle I am making a difference in some way, no matter how small. Plus, it feels good.

So I ride.

Tomorrow it's supposed to be in the mid 90s. I will probably go out early and take the Columbia Slough route, then end up over at Velo Cult for the undemanding atmosphere. I'm giving myself a day before I dive back into the preparations for High Holy Days and beyond.

If you are doing the bridge Pedal tomorrow, ride safely and enjoy the view from the Fremont Bridge. If you want to ride but can't bring yourself to pay for it, remember that there is an equally awesome view from the St. Johns Bridge, which you can ride any damned day of the week for free. Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

hype of the week returns: an occasional series

For those longer-time followers who've missed Hype-Of-The-Week, it's back, at least occasionally.

Longer-time readers know of my connection to drum corps and pageantry arts education. I spent thirty years coaching high school marching bands, drum and bugle corps and color guards, and loved every minute of it. I don't do it anymore because it doesn't pay and a gal's gotta eat; plus my life has taken off in new directions lately. But I still love the artform.

In honor of new adventures, here's a blast from the past: 1983 Phantom Regiment: 1812 Overture.
One of my all-time favorite shows, and just the amount of hype I need as I prepare for the next great musical/professional adventure. I dare you to watch this and NOT smile, at least a little. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

DRT/Cargo Bike Fest, and more griping about Brooks

I had signed up to volunteer at the Disaster Releif Trials and Cargo Bike Fest again. I signed up about a week and a half before the event and successfully registered at the event web site, but no one got back to me. I finally got ahold of someone through the event's Facebook page, where I was told that (a) things were crazy; (b), the FB page wasn't being checked regularly and so was not a good way to reach organizers; and (c) I probably wasn't needed though if I showed up they could very likely put me to work somewhere because, as they'd said already, things were crazy.

So I rode across town (leaving the trailer home because, well, a bike towing a trailer is not a cargo bike per se, and by selling my Surly I had effectively given up membership in the cargo bike subculture). When I got to the venue, things were, well, sort of crazy. However, the event organizers at the main tent checked a list, told me they had nothing for me to do, and told me to just enjoy myself.

Not having anything to do and feeling like my communication had sort of fallen off the page a little left me feeling disappointed. I spent a couple of hours watching the comings and goings, talking with a few folks I knew and eating the lunch I'd brought along. After things got underway, I pootled around a few more minutes and eventually left the event.

On my way home, I stopped in at a bike store to see what the state of things in the bike industry looked like. My bike was met with approving nods and murmured compliments, but if I hadn't been riding the All-Rounder I suspect I would have been somewhat invisible to most of the staff. I looked around, realized that I didn't need or want anything at all, and was about to leave when I spied this Brooks-branded multi-tool on the wall. With all the features of most other multi-tools on the market, it was priced at $70, almost twice as much as Topeak's comparable model, and more than twice as much as the same thing from Crank Brothers (right). 

I frowned, left and rode over to the bicycle non-profit on my way home. My chain was showing some considerable wear (I DO ride almost 2,500 miles most years) and needed replacing. I had shopped at the funky little non-profit before and found the prices quite agreeable and friendly, a real boon to lower-income riders. Today, I found a new-in-damaged-packaging chain (probably donated by a regular retail shop) for six bucks. But when I asked about a pair of badly scraped and dented platform pedals, they wanted eight bucks for those. I just bought the chain, and wondered how long it would take before prices at the little non-profit would stop being unfriendly altogether. I admit that my sense of pricing is skewed -- I'm a picker and I'm used to finding stuff for free or buying stuff cheap and fixing it up. But it seems that if I have to dig through a bin of filthy, mismatched, unmarked parts and then watch as some earnest young punk sizes me up and down before naming a price that seems a tad high, well, that can only mean a couple of things:

1. I'm old enough to look establishment and middle class to the young-uns; and
2. It is time for me to let more of the bicycle thing go as I continue to grow in new directions. Even if those directions mean I ride less.

At that point, I felt hot, tired and a little disgusted, and rode home.  I felt sort of out of the loop from the bicycle scene, and my feeling was punctuated by the number of younger, faster riders who passed me along the way.  When I got home, I took a nap. Tonight I am preparing for a bike parts yard sale I've advertised on the OBRA list. I'm going to work on my bike tomorrow and while I do I'll lay out a bunch of bike parts and sell them cheap, for cash. It's time I pared way, way down to make room for Whatever Comes Next.

Feeling hot, tired, and a little burned out and out of sorts as I recognize that my social focus has shifted since leaving the bicycle industry. The fact is that I don't really hang with these people anymore, and today only served to shine a little spotlight on that fact. I am in the process of evolving my life, and evolving my sense of community is part of the package.

Happy riding. Have a lovely week.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

ebay knock-off of the week: brooks - not

(Number eight in an occasional series)

This week on eBay, another shining example of bike industry impli-fakery:

Seems cool, especially at just $31.99, until you look at similar offerings from Brooks:

This one retails for around 220 Euros, or roughly $300.

And if you want something fancier, this one's a cool 330 Euros, or $450 US:

The issue is not that the cheapie is being passed off as a Brooks bag -- it's not. The issue is a new twist on what my high school economics teacher called, "aping the rich". This happens whenever something "cool" that only rich people can afford becomes so desirable by "the masses" (i.e., the rest of us who are not rich) that manufacturers realize they can make a crap ton of money by selling cheap imitations to keep the masses happy (at least until the next cool thing comes along). Do I think anything so insidious is actually happening on purpose in the world of bicycle accessories?

Well, yeah. I do.

Because I worked in the industry for nearly twenty years and got to see the ugly underbelly where this stuff is dreamed up. In fact, I played my small part in helping the manufacturers dream it up when I spent four years as an inventory buyer for a shop and helped push the cheaper stuff to our customers.

I don't have a problem with stuff, only with how its marketed and made and how they keep lying to us to get us to buy more before we really need it. And that's why this stuff on eBay -- like fake Rapha jerseys, sneakers made to look like old-school cycling shoes, and more -- simultaneously amuses and annoys me. Because it's mostly just stupid, and a waste.

Time to go for a ride.