Sunday, May 22, 2016

Riv-style cheapskate alert: Shoe covers!

Rivendell's Splats are one of their nicest offerings: a shoe covering that works on any style of shoe and comes in three different sizes for a good fit. The waxed cotton means they're not completely perfect in a driving Portland rain, but for most applications they're pretty good.
That said, before Rivendell ever made their Splats, people were making their own homemade creations from whatever bags they could find.

Here's my favorite pattern, which requires a sewing machine and some old nylon soft-side briefcases (usually handed out at conferences or found super-cheap at Goodwill).

A photo of the finished item may or may not entice you.
I think the price difference definitely will.
The instructions are pretty clear and useful, and the end result is smart.
When my Splats wear out, I may just make a pair of these.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

riv-style cheapskate alert: long-sleeved seersucker shirts

In my quest to adopt those suggestions from the folks at Rivendell Bicycle Works that I agree with, but without spending a fortune in the process, I sometimes find very affordable alternatives that get the job done.

Here's another one.

Ron Chereskin seersucker shirts are now available for sale on eBay. The styles are older, with long cuffs and longer collar tips (remove the plastic stiffeners, they're pointless and they'll fall out when you wash them anyway), but they are all-cotton and seersucker and they DO keep you cooler on warm weather rides.

Rivendell was selling seersucker shirts, made in the USA, once upon a time.
They're nice shirts. I have one, an early prototype I got before they went up to almost a hundred bucks each. The shirt is maybe eight or nine years old now and has held up pretty well. But if I had to pay a hundred bucks for one today, simply couldn't do it. Still, I could attest to seersucker's ability to keep me cool on a hot day, so I began looking for more affordable alternatives.

I found these. Made in India from 100% cotton and sold under the name Ron Chereskin, they sell new on eBay for -- sit down -- $6.99 each.
They're funky-looking, with 1970s styling -- long cuffs and big collars -- but they are really
comfortable and I'm happy with mine.
NOTE: they run small. If you normally wear a Medium in men's casual shirts, order a Large here,
because they will shrink almost a full size when you wash them.

Find them here:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

pedalpalooza: it's never too early to plan your bike fun

Portland's monthlong celebration of bicycles, Pedalpalooza, begins June 9 this year. I will be away for a good chunk of it, but since the festival has been extended to early July, I will be able to participate in some bike fun this summer.

I decided to take it upon myself to organize -- if a bunch ofmiddle-aged bicycle iconoclasts can actually BE "organized" -- the annual Riverndell/Bridgestone lovers' ride. This ride, celebrating lugged steel bikes, and Grant Peterson's contributions to bicycling, has gone by several names, including Riv lovers' ride, the Grant Peterson ride, and more. But this year, I've decided to re-christen it the UNracer Ride, in honor of the real reason Grant and others of his ilk are in this bicycle thing.
For a certain subset of us, it's really about riding your bike and enjoying it. UNracing means riding a bike that offers a comfortable position; wearing comfortable clothes; and eschewing the whole racer vibe of lycra, clipless shoes and a bent-over riding position in favor of riding slower, mellower, and decidedly UNcompetitively.

In short, it's UNracing. Which is pretty much the only riding I do nowadays.

So the ride formerly known as the Riv lovers' ride, or the Grant Peterson ride, is now the UNracer ride. This year, it will happen on Wednesday evening June 29. If you're in Portland and want to celebrate lugged steel, fat pedals, mellow clothes and a mellower riding attitude, we're meeting at 6:30 pm at Peninsula Park. We admire each others' bikes and take a decidedly mellow ride that will end up somewhere. Bring money for food and drink at the end.

The rest of the action-packed Pedalpalooza calendar can be found here.

Summertime in Oregon is glorious! Pump up your tires, oil your chain and go for a ride!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

recycling isn't good for the economy, but that's not the point

Every summer I look forward to volunteering at Portland's Sunday Parkways, a series of monthly events where a section of streets are closed to motorized traffic for several hours and pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, stilt-walkers and other human-powered travelers are invited to take over the streets. Each month, a route is created in a different quadrant of Portland's east side. (Parkways rides have been attempted twice on the west side, but the hills, lack of sidewalks and bike infrastructure and lack of a grid-style network of streets has made it almost impossible to manage safely, so this year all the events are east of the Willamette River.)

As a Mobile Mechanic (and yes, that's my picture from the very first year of Parkways, back in 2008) it's my job to ride the route and provide assistance to bike riders who are having mechanical trouble.
Although Mobile Mechanics are encouraged to stick to flat fixes, and to send the harder stuff to one of the mechanical stations at the parks along the route, I usually carry enough tools to handle flats, brake and derailleur adjustments, broken chains and the occasional broken frame (nothing that hose clamps and duct tape won't fix -- it did happen once and I was able to cobble the bike back together enough so the rider could get home).

Everything I carry (except the pump) fits in a small cloth bag, which fits in my saddlebag or basket.

As part of my preparation for the Parkways season, I raid the rubber waste buckets behind local bike shops every spring, looking for inner tubes that can be patched and given a second life.  Once they're patched, I label them and carry a few in my saddlebag during the parkways event, because it's faster to just stick another tube in than to go through the whole patching process out on the road. And since they cost me nothing, I don't charge for them.

I also take a few extra tubes to cut up and turn into homemade patches: clean the tube so it's free of talcum powder and grease; gently buff one side, cut into squares and apply some cold vulcanizing glue (school-quality rubber cement works in a pinch but is not as long-lasting in very rainy climates) to the buffed side and place the glued side down on tinfoil with space between each patch. Place another sheet of tinfoil over this one, and place a book on top to keep the patches flat as the glue dries overnight.
The next day, cut the tinfoil apart so there's a small border of foil around the edge of each patch.
These patches cost me nothing but some time. (An 8 oz. bottle of patch glue is far cheaper in the long than buying multiple small tubes of the stuff, and will coat dozens and dozens of patches.)
I use a peppermint candy tin to hold a larger patch kit, with two tubes of glue and more patches. (Extra patches get stored in a coffee tin in my workshop; I usually make up a batch of fifty to sixty at a time.)

I was preparing the inner tubes and making some new patches yesterday, and thinking about the nature of such an approach. Anytime I choose to go to the effort of recycling something, of bringing new life to an old object, it takes time and energy. As I sat in the shade outside my little bike shed, I wondered if this was a better use of my time than, say, devoting that time to something that was some how more worthwhile. The thing is, the very world "worthwhile" is an invitation to a slippery slope, a mindset wherein everything has some sort of market value. We take this market mindset to everything we do, it seems: work, play, cleaning and fluffing our nest, studying, fixing -- even relationships (how many times have we asked ourselves "is this person going to be a massive time-suck?" Admit it.).

So what if we turn this idea on its ear, and instead ask ourselves if learning how to be more self-sufficient, how to walk a little more lightly materially, how to slow down the pace of our lives and not make so much of "busy-ness" -- are more sensible hallmarks of a good life?

I sat and prepared the inner tubes and assembled my tool bag, and thought about how much money I hadn't spent in the process. As I packed the repaired tubes in their plastic bag I realized that this market mindset is all about getting us to shop more. Period. In the end, it's not so much about my carbon footprint or how I spend my money, but how I spend my time.

Time, we are often told, is money. But I don't believe that's so.

Governments can print more money whenever they need to.
But no one has yet figured out how to pack more time into a day.
When we spend the time, it's gone and we cannot make more.
So-called "time-saving" devices and methods are, therefore, an illusion. No one is saving time. The clock is ticking, the earth is turning and it won't stop for any of us.
This makes the concept of how I spend my time much more important, even urgent. Because when I die, I may not have spent all my money; but I will have spent my allotment of time.
NO "time-saving" device will change that.
In the end it seems to be all about discernment.
About choosing what I do and what matters in the time I have left in this life.
Once I figured this out, I realized that it was totally right for me to spend time recycling and repairing things, rather than running out and buying them.
Because if I don't need to buy as many things, then I don't have to work as many hours each week for someone else to support buying them.
Plus, repairing something with my hands requires me to slow down, to live at a calmer pace, which helps me to disprove the notion that time is money.
Time is only time.
And if I am mindful of how I spend my time, than all the time I have -- all the time I get -- is likely all the time I will need.
I hope so.

If you're in Portland this weekend, look for me out on the Sunday Parkways route in outer eastside Portland. And wherever you find yourself, happy riding.

Monday, May 2, 2016

bicycling, crohn's and the spoon theory

Yesterday, I loaded up the trailer wiith my guitar, amp, mic stand and other gear, and rode into downtown Portland to play a two-hour solo show at a coffee house. Strangers and friends came and stayed to enjoy live music; a few bought my CD or left money in my tip jar. I was in surprisingly good voice for the entire show, which made me happy.
When it was over, I packed everything up, re-loaded the trailer, and rode home again. It was roughly twelve miles round trip.

For anyone living the bicycle life daily, this would likely not be a huge deal. Even when you add in the extra energy required to perform for two hours, it's still fairly easy (if you know what you're doing).
But that's where most people and I differ.

I have Crohn's disease, an auto-immune disease that affects how my body pulls useful nutrients out of the food I eat and converts them into fuel. It also makes my bowel movements irregular and far more frequent then the norm, and when I am in a flare-up I also get slammed with massive buckets of fatigue and occasionally even severe pain. There is, as yet, no cure; but I am able to function with a combination of medication, dietary restrictions, moderate physical activity and regular periods of rest.

Hauling a trailer full of stuff across town and performing for two hours and then hauling all my stuff home again requires an output of energy that, for someone with an auto-immune illness, can sometimes be hard to call upon. Because some days, it just isn't there. So I have to keep track of my energy and try to plan ahead.

Yesterday was a good day. I had energy enough to do everything mentioned above and enjoy myself in the process. I knew I'd pay for it later. So this morning, I was productive and got stuff done -- and this afternoon I'm staying close to home and giving myself permission to nod off for a half-hour if I need to. I also spent a fair amount of time, well, indisposed. Because that's sometimes a big part of life with Crohn's (or its cousin, Ulcerative Colitis).

Twenty years working in the bike industry was an amazing run for someone like me. But the clock was ticking and there were other things I wanted to do before I got too old, so four years ago I walked away from the bike shop. I have no regrets, even though I miss the steady paycheck. I couldn't have sustained 35 to 50 hours a week on my feet indefinitely, and in hindsight I'm glad I left while I could still choose.

Freelancing is a very hard way to earn a living. When it rains, it pours, meaning that sometimes I have plenty of work; and other times I'm living very close to the ground and struggling to pay bills  because I can't get enough enough work (or can't work enough with my fluctuating energy levels to work full-time for someone else).
But freelancing as a musician and teacher affords me the flexibility that life with Crohn's  disease sometimes demands. There are people with this disease who are far less functional than I am, who are so weakened by the illness that they cannot work at all. I am fortunate in that my case is considered moderate.But I am getting older and the disease is progressing. There may come a day when I cannot travel, or work much at all. The fact that I could ride my bike across town and back yesterday -- that I had a good enough day with enough energy to do that -- resonates as a real gift, a blessing, that I don't take for granted.

Riding a bicycle has helped in some ways, providing enjoyable physical activity that I can moderate as needed. But I still need to be mindful of over-expending of energy sometimes. Which is why I really like the lesson provided by this essay called The Spoon Theory. It explains how energy plays a big role for many who live with auto-immune illnesses. Because May is Crohn's and Colitic Awareness Month, I am sharing this essay with everyone I know so they'll understand why sometimes my body -- and therefore, my schedule and availability to work, play or socialize -- is unpredictable.
Please read the essay and consider if anyone you know is living with an invisible illness.
Some illnesses cannot be seen easily, but that doesn't mean they aren't there and real. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your patience and understanding. I'm gonna go take a nap.
Happy riding!

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America:
Get Your Guts In Gear (GYGIG):