Sunday, May 31, 2015

achieving un-racerdom: bridgestone conversion

As my readers know, I dabbled in racing for several years and enjoyed it. However, the rising costs and time demands involved with the sport -- not to mention my decided lack of meaningful improvement -- made it inevitable that it would come to an end at some point.
That point came for me, after several fits and starts, this [ast winter, when it was clear that there simply was no room in my life for racing anymore -- and that I found I was really okay with that.
I'd had a good run. And I still have friends who race and I enjoy watching them and cheering them on. But I don't really miss the effort myself.

 So I've been sitting on this Bridgestone mountain bike that had been retro-fitted with racing parts, and I decided this spring it was finally time to sell it, or turn it into something else.

I stripped off the racy bits and sold them off to help finance a rebuild as a more sensible commuting bike. It's a work in progress, and I probably won't get it all done before I leave for my teaching residency; but if I get it most of the way there before I go then it will be a simple matter to finish it off when I return. My goal is to have, essentially, a "replacement" bike to ride while I do a full teardown and overhaul on the All-Rounder. The All-Rounder needs its wheels rebuilt and all the bearings overhauled and/or replaced, which will have to be done in pieces with my work schedule. So I've got a plan, and got this far on the BStone conversion today:

 I've swapped in a Wald #8095 Touring bar (that was salvaged from my niece's bike -- I had to buff the rust off it but it works fine and will be comfortably upright). Kept the stem, seatpost and headset. Everything else got stripped off and sold.

I got some very affordable Vuelta cranks with steel chainrings -- they should keep me awhile while I rebuild the All-Rounder -- and UpCycles sells a good, basic Tange bottom bracket for $20 that should definitely last a couple thousand miles at least.
The WTB saddle will go, to be replaced by either my Brooks saddle (from the A-R) or an old Avocet Touring WII that I recently found.  I also plan to install some old Blackburn front and rear racks on it, which are aged beautifully but still have plenty of life left in them.

 The cool part: I am using Shimano Altus derailleurs and cantilevers, and Suntour brake levers and thumb shifters set on friction mode. It's what I had on hand, and the shifting works fine.
Though to work with the frame I have, I will need to install a narrower tire so the front derailleur can have its full range of motion unimpeded. (Right now it still has the small block tires I used at short-track; I'll be swapping in some Rubena 1.5 Flash tires tomorrow, which should do the trick.)

The bike is grey and will be sort of sombered out with grey and black components and accessories -- I plan to install some grey fenders I have sitting around -- but I'm okay with the blse, quasi-stealth look. If it means my bike won't get noticed right away that's fine by me. I get lots of stares at my All-Rounder, even with all the paint nicks and dents. It will be nice not to attract so much attention.

I'll try and get enough done tomorrow morning to make it rideable, and if possible do a shakedown cruise to watch my friends race at PIR tomorrow evening.

aping the rich: biting the hand that informs us?

Disclaimer #1: I own a Rivendell bicycle. I ride the crap out of it nearly every day. It came to me through rather unlikely means and if I'd had to pay full price for it today I'd be riding a thirty-year-old mountain bike instead. Because in my universe, unlikely means translates to limited means.

I love lugged steel bikes.

I love riding in regular, everyday clothing.

And I love the "Un-Racer" aesthetic and made-in-usa philosophy espoused by the nice folks at Rivendell Bicycle Works.

But I can't handle their prices. I can't justify paying $125 for a shirt. Or $120 for a scarf. Sorry. I just don't earn that kind of money. And if I did, I doubt I'd still be able to justify a $120 scarf.
My mother's ghost would swat me on the head with a rolled up newspaper if I paid $120 for a scarf.
I suspect that a fair number of my readers are similarly situated.
So I've taken a good long look at Rivendell's offerings and I've come up with a list of similar items available elsewhere for a fraction of what Rivendell's products cost.
Some of what RBW offers is quite affordable, like Wald baskets and patch kits and coin purses. But those things can be found locally for less money and no shipping. I'm talking about the "cool" stuff -- the shirts and sweaters and other items staunchly made in the USA, cost-be-damned-and-GP-GP-wears-it-so-I-will-too.

Yeah, there is more than a little of that "anti-cool" coolness factor in RBW's marketing and those of us who pay attention are fully aware of it. It's not different than the studied approach to marketing used by companies like Rapha or Dromarti, even if the target market is different.

I'm not doing this to hurt Rivendell's sales, and in fact I doubt my suggestions here would actually make a dent in their bottom line; their target market can well afford to keep shopping at Rivendell and will continue to do so. But many of the things Rivendell sells DO make a lot of sense for many of us who call ourselves "Un-Racers" -- and it only seems sensible that those of us on a tight budget will go looking for cheaper alternatives to those items.

Disclaimer # 2: I have long had an ambivalent relationship with retail, a result of my nearly twenty years working full-time in the bicycle industry. If I scan back to look at the big picture, the big picture is depressing. Because I recognized early on that I could do nothing to stop it. Still, I need stuff. We all need stuff. And after a lifetime of conditioning to appreciate nice things, good things, things that work well and last awhile, I have arrived at a place where I've stopped fighting my conditioning. Because, well... see ** below.

Disclaimer # 3: Most of the items listed here are made in China or someplace similar. It's fine to go tilting at windmills when you earn enough to do so -- and I don't want to get into that argument here, because it's beyond the parameters of a discussion of bicycling gear and clothing. If this list offends you, then by all means shop at RBW -- or, conversely, go dumpster diving and Free-boxing, as I do from time to time. Whichever option will help to assuage your guilt at being a living, breathing human being in an economy that depends on consuming in order to remain afloat, do it!

** The punch line is:
I consume, you consume, we all consume.
Eventually we all fart, too.
It can't be helped.

Even being mindful of what and how we consume will take us only so far. I have lived long enough to know that voluntarily lowering my standard of living to the same level as that of a Chinese factory worker will do nothing to liberate him, and will in turn make me a burden on my community, which solves nothing. Better to use whatever resources I have to spread around the love a little. If shopping on the cheap gives me more money at the end of the day to spread around, I can live with that compromise.


That was quite a lot of disclaiming. Sorry, but I just felt like I needed to head off all the likely arguments at the pass before I could get down to my list.

Here's the list. I'll leave it to you to figure out which if RBW's items I'm suggesting alternatives to.

1. Moleskin shirt. These are thick, sturdy, wonderful shirts suitable for riding, gardening, working and just plain living. If you're just dying to have a "real" moleskin shirt, discount outfitter Cabela's offers this alternative:

If that's still too much money for you, fair enough. I'm not in the habit of spending thirty bucks on a shirt, either. All you need to do is remember that Moleskin is basically just chamois on steroids. Chamois is a perfectly fine material and works as well as Moleskin though it's not quite as sturdy. It's also not as expensive. Lots of discount stores sell Chamois shirts. And, this being the beginning of summer, it's a perfect time to look for a used chamois shirt at your favorite thrift shop.

2. Handkerchiefs. Or bandannas. Or whatever you call them. Yup, definitely very handy; I keep one in every saddlebag and shoulder bag I use regularly. I also don't pay $3.00 for them, because I can find them for less than a buck apiece at thrift shops, dollar stores and army surplus stores. (Portland bonus: If you volunteer for at least three events during the Sunday Parkways season you'll be given a very nice cotton hankie with a bicycle route map of the city imprinted on it.)
And let's be real for a moment here, okay? No one I know cares about the thread count of something you're going to use as a potholder on an overnight campout. It's good to tout luxury in select items, but a snot-rag probably isn't one of them. At least not in the circles I travel in.

3. Wool socks. Look on eBay and you will find wool socks in all heights for far less than the $18.00 a pair RBW gets. (I'm sure those are some very nice socks, by the way; but eighteen bucks equals about twenty homemade burritos and, well, I just can't go there.) I recently scored a three-pack of new wool-blend ankle socks, perfect for spring and summer, for the same price. That's six bucks a pair. And that's about the most I'm willing to pay for wool socks.  And honestly, wool-blend is good enough.

4. Cycling caps. I like my cotton cycling caps. They fit nicely under my helmet, provide just enough shade for my eyes and reduce the likelihood of "helmet hair" when my ride ends at a coffee shop and there's some expectation of looking "civilized". All props to RBW when they occasionally offer one of their models at great discount; I have an oddly colored RBW (yeah, okay, pale lemon yellow doesn't really go with dull olive) cap I got there for something like $7 (it has since gone up to $10). Other caps I have found used at Goodwill or used sporting goods shops; I take them home and wash them and they're fine. No cooties or anything.

Disclaimer # 4: I did splurge last year and spring for a TSBC wool cycling cap. I traded a CD for it and we both ended up happy.

5. Wool sweaters and vests. I admit that I own a RBW vest. It's going on 12 years old now, and my mother-in-law got it for me as a birthday present. it's getting rather hole-y and a little stretched out, and I will wear it till it falls off me. It fits well and keeps me warm on cool-weather rides. But it's not my only wool vest. I have a few others that I scored at Goodwill, fpr prices ranging anywhere from four to ten bucks. I wear them a lot, too. I'm a vest girl.
Sweaters are sort of the same, except that I've never paid more than about $15 for any sweater I own.

6. Seersucker shirts. I totally owe props to RBW for this. I had never considered wearing seersucker before RBW started touting them. Then I wore one on a long summer ride and was hooked. They really are more comfy than a jersey and I love them. I find mine at thrift shops -- best time to look is in the early fall when seasonal stuff goes on sale. Mostly short-sleeved but I have lucked out now and then with long-sleeved versions at Goodwill and yard sales.

You'll notice that I hit up the thrift shops and dollar stores a fair amount. In my fair city there's also a growing occurrence of "Free" boxes popping up on residential streets, and some of these yield good results; don't be afraid to touch someone else's stuff! If it had cooties, the hazmat squad would've already sealed up the house -- hell, the whole block -- in a gigantic white plastic bag. Chances are if it made its way to a "Free" box it's just no longer wanted. If it looks like a keeper, take it home and wash it and stop being squeamish already.

(If you decide you'll scavenge regularly and you still freak out about cooties, keep a pair of nitrile gloves in your bag. Just in case.)

Recycling -- which is what thrift shopping is really about -- is not a bad compromise, either. And in the spirit of Un-Racing, I think it actually fits in nicely with RBW's philosophy. So does living a life in which you can wear your clothes until they actually wear out, but that's another blog post for another time.

Happy bargain-hunting, and above all, happy riding!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

there's no place like home, there's no place like home

Next week, I will click my heels three times, show the TSA officials my ID, and board a plane bound for the Midwest. I am about to head off for my third summer as a teacher-in-residence at a large synagogue in Overland Park, KS -- a place that has become, in some respects, my second home. The community is warm and friendly, the clergy and educational staff are inspiring and wonderful to work with, and I've made some lovely friends there as a result of repeated visits.
And from my very first visit there in summer 2013, I have used a bicycle a trailer to tow my guitar back and forth between my homestay and the synagogue. Being night-blind, I can't rent a car; and I wanted my ground transpo bo be as sustainable (and affordable) as possible, so I negotiated the use of a bicycle and trailer as part of my contract.
This choice has been an object of bemusement, conversation and curiosity among my friends in OP. The kids there began calling me the Bicycle Lady. And people came to know who I was by the sight of me puttering along the super-wide sidewalks, riding a loaner bike and towing a loaner trailer. When the bike is parked at the synagogue, folks see it and know, "Beth's back!" Because I'm the only grownup they know who rides a bike to temple regularly. Such is the status of the commuter bicycle in Overland Park, Kansas.

I built up the Kansas Bike in the fall of 2013. It had been abandoned at the large synagogue in Portland where I used to work. After holding onto it for three months, my principal asked me to make it go away. So I took it home and gave it a nominal tune-up (it had a bent derailleur hanger and some other issues), and rode it occasionally around Portland. Then, in fall of last year, I was hired for a five-week residency at the synagogue in Kansas; and I asked if I could ship a bike one-way to live there, as the loaner bikes they'd procured for my shorter visits had all been too small. If I was going to be there for over a month I wanted a bike that would fit me. They said, sure, send it to us. So I boxed it up, shipped it to the synagogue, and reassembled it when I arrived. The original deal was that, if it looked like they weren't ever going to ask me back, we could donate the bike to the local non-profit; or, if it looked like I'd return for future visits, we could store the bike somewhere out of the way. It has lived in the rabbi's garage ever since.

The bicycle-trailer arrangement, Summer 2013.  The trailer was loaned to me by one of the camp families. I've used it on every subsequent visit. The Magna bike, loaned by a congregant, was way too small for me; so I took it to the local bike shp and bought a taller seatpost and some new brake pads for it. I tuned it up before returning it to her at the end of my residency. She never rode it again and last summer she ended up donating it to Revolve KC, the non-profit bike shop in Kansas City.

The Kansas bike. Originally a cheap mountain bike; I retro-fitted it with upright handlebars, friction thumb shifters and flat pedals.

Fall 2014. The official Kansas Bike, shipped for my five-week residency, has worked beautifully. While I was there last fall I took it on a 35-mile charity ride the rabbi's wife signed me up for and other than some hand numbness towards the end I was totally fine. The trailer is now on some kind of permanent loan, as the family's youngest child has outgrown it. It lives at the temple full-time, stored flat in a closet between my visits.

Next week, I'm off to reunite with my Kansas Bike (which is, appropriately Jayhawk Blue. I did not plan this, it just happened.) Not sure I'll have time to do any ambitious riding like I did last fall, but I know I'll enjoy getting around under my own power and raising a few eyebrows along the way.
Happy riding, wherever your bicycle takes you!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Dental floss: best thread ever for repairing canvas bicycle bags.

Monday, May 25, 2015

there's a new kid in town: rivelo

After a morning spent working on music for my upcoming teaching residency, I needed a bike ride. So I rode across town and over to the new boutique, Rivelo. It's basically an independent Rivendell dealership being opened by John Bennett, who use to work at Rivendell HQ in Walnut Creek.

He was happy to see me, and gifted me with a patch ("for being one of the first ten people to visit the shop," he cheerfully explained). We talked for a little while, I gawked and shopped a little bit (those Kwikoin change purses make awesome cases for spare guitar picks and I wanted one for my travel case), and took some photos.

It's small, cute, and super niche-y. John is stocking Rivendell bikes (The Hillborne and the gorgeous new Cheviot), various Rivendell accessories and clothing, and a few things John likes that you won't find at Rivendell HQ, like Bob Dylan albums on vinyl. (Yes, really.) They're having a soft opening, which means you should check the web site and call ahead to make sure someone's there. The Grand Opening party will be on June 20, and rumor has it Grant Peterson will show. (I'll be on the road so John promised to tell Grant hi for me.)


Bob Dylan Records. A whole bunch of them. Because in Portland, a new shop needs a quirk. And John is crazy about Dylan. One quirk, served without pretense.

OMG. The new Rivendell Cheviot. A mixte for everyone. Simply drop-dead gorgeous. If money and space were no object I would totally buy one of these.

It was nice to get in and see the place before my trip. I'll stop back by for sure.
More pix of my visit at

Saturday, May 9, 2015

sunday parkways returns!

If you're in Portland and want to have more fun than a typical, stuffy Mother's Day brunch will provide, come on down to Sunday Parkways East. The City of Portland will close a seven-mile loop to motorized traffic and give free passage to human-powered transportation. The loop passes several city parks, each offering fun activities and food carts. Parkways runs from 11am till 4 pm.

There are still volunteer slots available -- the City needs hundreds of volunteers to make Parkways safe, fun and successful. Check the web page for details, or show up tomorrow morning at 10 am to help out at an intersection along the route.

Sunday Parkways was started in 2008, inspired by Bogota, Columbia's Ciclovia which closed miles of city streets to motor traffic and became a world-famous event. Since then, hundreds of cities in dozens of countries around the world have created similar events on a monthly or weekly basis during the summer months. (Bogota's Ciclovia event still runs every Sunday and on state holidays year-round.)

(Below: Sunday Parkways North, back in 2009. I've volunteered at Parkways every year since its inception as a Rolling Wrench, and I'll be doing it again this year at least once, maybe twice. See you on the street!)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

ride report: outer east portland

I invited Slug Velo alumni and their friends who get the concept to join me for a mellow, slug-paced bike ride. Not wanting to be totally responsible, I advised that this would be a leaderless ride, and that if found a route and decided we didn't like it, we'd veer and go somewhere else.

Four riders on recumbents met me downtown at the Starbucks on 4th. We perused the three Portland By Bike maps I'd downloaded and selected the one that would take us out the Springwater Corridor path. The day began cloudy and cool, cool enough that I needed all the layers I'd brought; but by the time we'd gotten out to around SE 47th I had removed my wool sweater and did the rest of the ride in shirtsleeves. We meandered along the Springwater path, talking with whomever we fell in alongside, then switching up the order and chatting with someone else. We followed the route -- Springwater South to Springwater East, all the way to 126th. While much of outer eastside Portland remains a little down-at-heel, with large grass fields dotted by the occasional single-wide mobile home or home-based machine shop or what-have-you, housing scarcity closer in had forced increased development in Lents and beyond, with rowhouses springing up along paved streets that were once little more than gravel roads. We stopped to check out one property for sale that would surely sell for over half a million dollars -- in an area where the smallest older houses went for no more than around $45,000 a decade ago. Gentrification has reared its expensive head in outer east Portland.

We chose to loop back along 130th, and then zig-zagged through residential neighborhoods on streets marked as "Neighborhood Greenways" -- the new name for Bike Boulevards, apparently. Here and there, I could see evidence of a racial diversity that had not existed here twenty years ago, but which has now become the norm as more families of color are forced out of inner NE Portland by development and ridiculously high rents (a one-bedroom apartment in the Sabin neighborhood -- if you can find one that hasn't been torn down in favor of freestanding houses and duplexes -- now averages around $1,200/month; a studio goes for close to $1,000. That's absurd in a town with no living wage policy). I wondered silently how long we'd be able to live where we do now, and what we'd do if a spike in property taxes or some other radical change forced us out of our little house. It's possible such a change would force us out of Portland altogether. It's become a little San Francisco here, and it makes me sad and a little worried.

We rode along tree-lined streets and past parks filled with soccer-playing kids until we came to the I-205 bike path, which took us north all the way to Burnside. From there, we cruised along Burnside down to the  Hollywood district and Grant Park, where we turned and headed north again to Tillamook. I enjoyed the sight of the first roses opening up -- we had a warm winter, so I suspect that most of the city's roses will be in full bloom just in time for Rose Festival -- and crows swooping and cawing at us from overhead as we rode through their "turf". The clouds had burned off and the day had warmed up considerably. It was smooth sailing down Tillamook to N. Williams Avenue, where my friends peeled off to head to an event at the Widmer pub while I continued north on Williams to get home.

A side-note: I wore regular clothes for this ride. A t-shirt, an oxford shirt and a thin wool sweater, plus swrve knickers and Chrome sneakers (non-SPD). My only concession to bikey-gear was to wear Andiamos underneath my knickers. I normally just wear plain old undies when I ride around town, but on longer rides a little padding is not a bad idea.

At the end of the ride, I note that my feet do not hurt and other than a little tweakiness in my right knee I feel fine. In short, I discover that I don't need stiff-soled cycling shoes and that, in fact, sneakers are actually more comfortable. Especially when I ride with flat pedals, which I do almost all the time now. I imagine that when I get home I will probably get rid of the last of my truly bikey attire -- shorts, jerseys, shoes -- because today I realize I don't need any of it to enjoy riding my bike.
(But I think I'll keep the Andiamos. They DO come in handy.)

I rode a lot more than I'd intended to; but that was made a little easier by riding with other folks. Total was a little more than 30 miles and now I'm headed for a well-deserved nap.