Sunday, March 30, 2014

the bicycle scene as circular firing squad: just another morning in pdx

This weekend began with reports of a terrible collision between a bicycle and a car:

The bicycle rider cut the corner to avoid a traffic light at a busy intersection, and in the process he slammed into a car when coming out the other side of the corner. Police reports state that the rider was traveling very fast (whatever that actually means on a bicycle) and not wearing a helmet. He suffered life-threatening injuries but is expected to survive. The driver of the car remained at the scene and is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Over at BikePortland's report, comments run the gamut from accusing the bicyclist of reckless behavior to accusing the car culture for existing in the first place. 

What troubles me are the multiple divisions that appear in the comments section:
--between fast bicyclists and slow ones;
--between those who ride with a helmet and those who ride without;
--between those who continue to berate the entire auto-centric landscape of society and those who have decided life is too short to tilt at impossible windmills.

Basically, the bicycle "community" is showing itsself to be less a community and more a circular firing squad, with each faction accusing other factions of not being enough like the right faction. we see this behavior all the time in radical and fundamentalist movements. I should not be surprised to
sese it in the bike scene as well; after all, an adult who eschews car ownership and chooses to ride a
a bike everywhere is still a radical in American society, even in liberal communities where their
friends may look on with admiration. Underneath the admiration there is still, often, a senses that the
adult bike rider is someone who hasn't yet finished growing up.

I feel less of this sting than I used to, but I perceive that it's often still an undertone in the conversation.
As I get older, and slower, and less energetic due to aging and a short list of ailemnts that amplify with time, I find I'm torn between the bicycle warriors who decry car culture; and those who are
reaching the conclusion that we've already lost the argument and have only to live out our days with
as much grace and calm as we can until nature (or, heaven forbid, a car) causes us to fall off the bicycle for good.

I go back and forth. Some days I am still the bicycle warrior and other days I just want to ride to the store and ride  home again. The wavering is probably normal, but it does. make it hard some days for me to
know how to proceed. Mostly, I find myself growing more weary of the arguments within the bicycle scene, which only serve to divide people at the expense of a cohesive, more thoughtful response to the ravages of a hundred years of automobile dependence. I also find too many younger bicycle enthusiasts have taken an almost nihilistic turn of thinking, as the planet they've inherited from my 
generation seems to have fallen farther and farther down a rabbit hole of no return. If we really are going to hell in a handbasket, why shout it from the rooftops? What good does that serve if we are, as 
many of this younger generation insist, too late? Why not instead continue to fight the good fight -- 
whatever that is for each of us -- and support each other in our efforts to make a positive difference?

In June I will travel once again to the Kansas City area, to serve a large Jewish congregation for a
month as their artist-in-residence. As I did last year, I will enjoy homestay hospitality in a private
residence not too far from the synagogue, and I will ride a bicycle and tow my guitar back and for in
a borrowed trailer. (Last year, the loaner bicycle they procured for me was so small for me that even riding it with a taller seatpost installed, it was still too short; my knees hurt for a month after I got home. This year they've agreed to pay the shipping cost for me to bring along a bike in my size, which is still far cheaper than renting a car for me.)
My first presence in their very car-centric landscape had worried several people, but when they saw that I managed quite well without a car, thanks much, they were surprised and impressed. and best of all, though I  cannot prove this, perhaps my little visits may have some long-lasting effect on the kids I teach there, who remember me as the wacky, guitar-playing bicycle lady from Portland and who are looking forward to seeing me again. I'm looking forward to it, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

product review: zefal hpx frame pump

Riding around in the city, I seldom have mechanicals. My bikes are kept in good running order through a combination of annual tuneups, the occasional bearing overhaul, and a large dose of good luck. But when I do have a problem, I can usually turn to a small toolkit that I keep with me.
This afternoon, I ran over a tiny piece of glass that embedded itself in my front tire and went deeper into the rubber with every turn of the wheel. When I came out from having a long cup of coffee at World Cup near the synagogue where I teach, the front tire was almost totally flat. I walked it over the synagogue so I could duck under the side entry and fix it out of the rain.

Fixing the flat was no big deal, except that the bead fits on the rim pretty tightly and so getting it on and off was a bit of a wrestle. Once the hole was patched I pumped it up with my favorite frame pump, the Zefal HPX.

The HPX is the only frame pump that doesn't convert to a quasi-floor pump and still inflates the tire up to full pressure. The handle turns to two different settings: rigid, to be used when pumping up the tire, and springy, to make it esier to mount the pump on the frame when you're done. The HPX comes in four different lengths, to fit inside most frames. The most popular places to mount the pump are inside the main triangle, either along the seat tube or under the top tube. Another place some like to mount the pump is along the non-drive side seat stay.

Photos below show the pump in its various guises/eras, and mounting possibilities.

Zefal pumps, top to bottom:
HP (pre-HPX), ca. 1970's

Zefal pumps can be disassembled and parts replaced, making them among the longest-lasting pumps out there. NOTE: some parts are getting harder to find and not all dealers carry the brand. If you find a source for small parts, buy extras, especially the rubber gasket that fits inside the pump head and the larger plunger gasket that fits inside the barrel.

Above: Top tube mount. Often the frame will have a small nub or point brazed on to accommodate the hole in the end of the pump, for a more secure fit. But you should still use a velcro strap to keep it in place. Jandd makes an especially nice one just for the purpose, with a padded panel to place between the pump body and the bicycle frame:

Below -- Seat tube mount:

      Below -- Seat stay mount. Custom builders will braze on a tip by request, but you can also use a clamp-on tip as shown below:                                                    

In all cases, I strongly recommend you use a pump strap with any frame pump that does not include a clip for the water bottle eyelets. 
Prices range from $38 to $45 US at your local bike shop. And although there are times when having a floor pump would be more convenient, I never regret having one of these along. I keep one on each of my bikes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

god bless bikesnob nyc

There is so much that could be said about the 2014 edition of Oregon Manifest, the bicycle design challenge. The new rules and format have rendered it very little "Oregon" and a whole lotta MAN-fest (check out who's on the design teams).

But really, BikeSnobNYC said nearly everything that could be said about OM 2014 in just the opening lines of his blog homage to the event.  Read it here -- 

Frankly, theere is a lot to be disappointed by in the new version of this event. But there is also a lot to learn about the real state of the bicycle industry as well. As someone observed over at BikePortland, the fact that Fuji will manufacture a short run of the winning design says a lot about what the bicycle industry thinks of anyone who can't afford more than a couple hundred bucks for a bicycle: not much. I fully expect the Fuji-manufactured design to cost at least a couple of thousand bucks -- as if the norm is now. that anyone [of worth and consideration in the free marketplace, at any rate] ought to be able to spring for that without batting an eye.

I'm interested in helping brainstorm a totally alternative, even guerrilla, sort of event -- where regular citizens show off their useful hacks to solve everyday cycling challenges (such as sewing toeclip covers to keep feet drier in the rain, for example; or sewing little ear triangles to fit in the straps of one's helmet and keep ears warmer in cold weather). A friend wants to have an event that showcases all the local builders who got left out of the new format. I met with him this morning over coffee to discuss our ideas. I am not sure they would go together, at least not without a whole lot of planning and organization. But I was willing to talk.

In the end, I must admit that I DO sort of want to ignore and/or thumb my nose at what OM -- and too much of the bicycle industry -- have become. There is lots of posturing about how the independent designer or builder is held in high esteem, but in the end bike companies can't make huge profits unless they sell something in the tens of thousands of units.

It may be that my friend and I hold separate events, with mine being the. easiest, lowest-to-the-ground sort of thing possible. I have a lot on my plate in my new line of work and don't even know if I will have the wherewithal to organize something at all. But it's worth kicking around, especially if there are others who want to show off their problem solving skills and crafts in ways that don't rely upon the behemoth bicycle industry so much.

Anyone who wants to steal this idea, feel free to do so with my blessing.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

product review: esbit cookset

Esbit, the company that brought you the solid fuel folding emergency cookstove, has some much nicer stuff out there. Their whole product line can be seen at and includes stoves, fuel tablets, cookware and lightweight, folding camp utensils.

I recently got the Esbit Cookset (product # CS 585 HA), which can be found online for around $35 to 40. It includes a cylidrical stove that holds one of the Esbit hexamine tablets, and a pot with lid that fits nicely on top of the stove and stays on steadily thanks to grooves in the pot.

I've used Hexamine tablets before, in the rectangular folding stove that Esbit has made for many decades and which was standard issue emergency gear for several European armies. This cylindrical stove is several steps nicer, because the windscreen goes most of the way around (except where you insert the fuel tablet) and because when not in use the stove nests inside the pot, which then slips into a mesh bag for storage.

Hexamine tablets are easy to use. Simply place on the stove surface and light with a match.

There are some health concerns and cautions to be aware of when using Hexamine tablets:
Because of their chemical composition you MUST use them outdoors in a well-ventilated area; and you should cook your food in a closed container, such as a pot with a lid. Also, the smokeless, concentrated flame of the tablet burns VERY hot so keep your fingers away from the flame once lit.

As a survival tool designed for occasional use they're totally fine. I even use mine when taking a Sub-24-Hour-Overnight bike trip, with no ill effects.

I was pleased with the stove's packability, weight and performance, and it will replace the old Swedish Army issue folding model I've used for decades.

Monday, March 17, 2014

bummer: stolen trailer in portland

A few days after selling my cargo bike, the trailer I had transitioned to depending upon was stolen.
I am bummed because I put a LOT of work into refurbishing this trailer and making it good, including upgraded wheels and hitch.
I am a little worried because whoever took it had to come all the way up to the back side of our property and go behind a shed to steal it.
If you're in Portland and see this trailer, please either steal it back or contact me and tell me when and where you saw it last. THANK YOU!

Photo can be found here:

Friday, March 14, 2014

sold: surly big dummy

You'll like how this turns out.

Fella answers my craigslist ad, says he can come over today with the cash.
He hands me the cash and takes the bike for a test ride around the neighborhood. I tell him, take your time, I've got your money and I'm not going anywhere.
He comes back fifteen minutes later and a big smile on his face.
"I'll take it," he says.
Then he tells me that he's been saving up for a cargo bike so he can ultimately replace his car.
One. Less. Car. Driver.

Happy riding everyone.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

just riding

Today, the sun came out.

Unfortunately, I had an eye exam in the morning that left my eyes dilated and horribly light-sensitive until nearly 3 pm. So any riding today was going to have to be short and local.

First, I downgraded the shifters on the Surly Big Dummy to make it a little easier to sell. Then, I grabbed the Kansas bike and enjoyed a leisurely roll around the neighborhood. It was only maybe four miles, but they were very pleasant, sunny miles and when I got home I felt better for having ridden at all. There is something to Grant Peterson's simple idea that miles don't count as much as getting out and riding, even a little bit. On sunny days, he's especially right.

Just ride your bike, period.

Looking ahead to Spring Break, I have not one but TWO Sundays off from Hebrew school. Luxury! I am considering a longer ride, the first of the year, out to Gresham for brunch and then back again along the Springwater Corridor path. The other possibility is taking the mountain bike up to Leif Erickson road and just pootling around on the gravel a bit. We'll see. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and the sun will come out at least a little. I am seriously OVER winter 2013-14 in Portland.

Friday, March 7, 2014

spring cleaning, part one: bags and bike

I'm clearing out some bike stuff. It's spring.

All local pick-up in Portland, OR only. 

(NOTE: If you are willing to pay a fair chunk I will ship the first two items in the USA only. They are big and will require good-sized boxes to ship and in that case I will accept Paypal ONLY.)

Last item: you must come to me, and have CASH in hand in order to test-ride it.

Chrome Backpack, $65:

Carradice Bike Bureau, $90:

Surly Big Dummy, 18" size complete build-up w/Xtracycle accessories, $1400 PRICE REDUCED! Now $1300: 


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Product review: Carradice Camper Longflap saddlebag

I have used Carradice saddlebags for years. I got my first one in 1997, from Rivendell Bicycle Works. Back then, Rivendell was selling Carradice saddlebags before any other US bicycle retailer was carrying them. Rivendell s responsible for bringing transverse saddlebags back into bicycling vogue some thirty years after they began to fade from popularity. I loved the tough, stiff feel of the new waxed canvas and the thick leather straps. My first bag, a Lowsaddle Longflap, came in a non-stock, dark forest green, the result of a supply snafu at Carradice when they temporarily ran out of black canvas. Rivendell agreed to take bags in the off color, then pre-sold the lot at a slightly discounted price while they were still on the water.

Here are two shots of the Lowsaddle. The first was taken about seven or eight years ago. The second was taken about two years ago, and shows a repair I made to a frayed corner with some waxed dental floss. As you can see, the color has faded considerably, yet the bag is still plenty tough.

The smallest of my Carradice bags -- though by no means the smallest that Carradice make -- I don't use it as much as I used to. The fact is that, as I've gotten older, I like to carry less on my back then I used to. I've never been a huge fan of panniers (though I have a set and do use them on occasion), because they seem more cumbersome to have to take off and put on every time I stop somewhere. A transverse saddlebag is buckled onto the bike and can be as secured as one wants. In all the years I've commuted I've never had a saddlebag stolen off my bicycle, though I am considering upgrading to a quick-release attachment so I can take a saddlebag off the bike more easily.

I switched to a Nelson Longflap several years ago, so that I could carry more stuff on the bike. It is a few inches bigger all around than the Lowsaddle, and I can squeeze a small shoulder bag in there if I need to. But lately it hasn't been quite large enough for everything I want and need to carry to and from work, unless I'm willing to carry some of it on my back. And anymore, I am often not in the mood.

Enter the Camper Longflap, the largest transverse saddlebag Carradice make. It's enormous. If you ride a smaller bike you will need a rear rack or bag support, because otherwise this thing will sag all over your rear wheel. Recognizing that the strange geometry of my Sekai would offer a near-perfect place for the bag to inhabit, I swung a fabulous trade deal that snagged me a brand-new bag labeled as a factory second -- I cannot, for the life of me, find the flaw -- and tonight I mounted it and filled it with everything I knew I would need for class. It carried everything and I did not have to wear any of it on my back. Best of all, it will be pretty much all the bag I need for my summer overnight camping trips. It could end up being the best saddlebag ever.

 Pictures here show the bag in size relation to the bike -- note the added width and depth! Each of the side pockets can hold a standard water bottle. This thing is cavernous.

The best thing about this bag is that it fills a very specific hole, on a very specific bike, in my portage needs. I wish Carradice had stuck with the old red-on-black embroidered label -- it's classier and cooler than the leather patch. Other changes, though, are definitely improvements, particularly the leather patch inside the top, where the straps run through from the saddle lopps to the inside around the wooden dowel. Adding some reinforcement here will keep the strap holes from fraying and expanding so quickly. It also keeps the wooden dowel from wearing through the top corners of the bag, as was the case with my Lowsaddle (see above).

Overall, this could become my go-to bag, and may prove to be such a good choice that I eventually upgrade my other bike to a bag of the same size. Good stuff.