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!