Wednesday, August 23, 2017

refugee bike update - august 2017

As of today, I've got four completed bikes that will be picked up this afternoon for handoff to Catholic Charities, where they will be distributed to newly arrived refugee families needing affordable transportation.

Just finished this one today:

I scored this back in May at the neighborhood cleanup drop-off site, after gently arguing with an entire family of scrap metal haulers (kids as young as six were helping out and I suspect that's how the family paid its bills). The head of the household told me, "we got dibs on basically every bike someone leaves here."

I verified this with the Neighborhood Association coordinator, who went over to the man and told him she had promised no such thing, and if I wanted to take home one or two bikes to fix up for charity, where was the harm in that?

The man did not appear to be embarrassed at all, simply annoyed that he'd have to share.

I took this bike and two more. One was so badly rusted inside, with a frozen stem and seatpost, that I decided to strip off everything useable for other bikes. The other two bikes, a tall Peugeot road bike and this old Giant, tuned up into decent, rideable bikes. (Note: I cover all finished bikes with random stickers and/or reflective tape to hide the brand names and hopefully reduce the risk of theft by people who know something about bikes.)

I'm especially pleased with this one. It was a bit of a mess, covered with rust and requiring replacement wheels, seat and handlebars. (The wheels came from the stripped-down bike).
I also swapped out the GripShift because, well, I just detest them unless they are basically new.
I decided to toss on a pair of stem shifters -- friction, of course -- that would work just fine and leave space on the handlebar for a bell and a handlebar bag. Everything else loosened up pretty nicely once I applied lube and let it soak in for a couple of days.
This bike would have ended up getting hauled to a metal recycling depot and dismantled, with anything non-metal bits going to the landfill. I was glad to save this bike and make it rideable again.
Is it cost-effective for a shop? Nope.
But it's just fine for me to do as a hobby, on my own time. Plus, it gives me a chance to keep my hand in things and do some bike-related problem-solving.

I am taking a short break from wrenching from now through the end of September, for the Jewish High Holy Days. I'll resume wrenching in early October.
Happy riding.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ride report: Sunday Parkways Outer Northeast

Portland Sunday Parkways rolled out a new route in Outer NE yesterday.
I signed on as a mobile mechanic.
I did nor repair a single bicycle.
Instead, I spent two and a half hours being a mobile traffic cop.
Because of the eclipse, many regular volunteers weren't available. Which meant that many intersections along the route simply couldn't be staffed.
I found out later that there was almost NO Police presence along the route, either, because of budget constraints. Every high-traffic intersection was staffed by one or two professional flaggers in safety vests. In a couple of cases, volunteers helped control traffic flow at these intersections as well.

So I spent a lot of time helping motorists get in or out of the neighborhood, escorting their slowed cars across the route. And while most were patient, one was aggressive and threatening, even charging three of us on our bikes when he sped down the closed street toward us. Thankfully, there were three of us so we were able to block the car while one snapped a photo of his license plate.
Eventually we were able to divert the car off the course, but it was the scariest moment, and the hardest day I've ever had in ten years of volunteering at Parkways.

Hopefully PBOT will learn from this and have a plan for dealing with this kind of volunteer shortage in the future.

I will say that all the other volunteers I saw along the route were glad to be there, and so was every walker and bike rider. That gives me hope for the future of this nice residential route.
Next month -- Parkways Sellwood/SE on Sept. 24th. Be nice to each other and travel safely.

Monday, August 14, 2017

one-off Torah ark (crosspost from

I love the mystery of ritual as much as anyone else. I think that, given the choice between reading aloud from a Torah scroll or from a bound book, I'd rather read from the scroll. But as an Off-The-Grid specialist, I don't have access to a kosher scroll, either (and in fact, some rabbis are not super-thrilled with my dedication to facilitating Off-The-Grid celebrations for unaffiliated Jewish families, but that's another blog post).
This summer, the unaffiliated family of a B'nei Mitzvah student offered to purchase a non-kosher scroll, printed on heavy paper and glued to wooden poles so that their child would have a scroll to read from -- and then, in exchange for a few of the lessons, to give me the scroll to keep for use with future students.
I was deeply moved by this offer and accepted it humbly.
Then, I set about making a proper ark for my scroll. Because even a non-kosher scroll deserves to have a place of honor. The story is still kosher, right?

So here's what I came up with. it's made from assorted car and bicycle license plates, an abandoned wooden planter box, hinges and other hardware that came from my shed or from a local house parts recycler, and some paint that was left over from my time at the bike shop. It took some figuring out, and some modifying when I realized too late that the box wouldn't quite fit the scroll (I too one end apart, rebuilt it and added a "roof" made from a license plate). But in the end, it makes a fine, and a wonderfully whimsical, "SO Portland" home for my little Torah scroll. I couldn't have asked for it to turn out any better. And I am grateful to the family whose bright idea inspired me to make it.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

why don't more people learn to fix their stuff?

One of the beautiful things about getting everywhere by bicycle is that the technology is so elegantly simple that most minor repairs -- flat fixes, brake and derailleur adjustments -- can be done at roadside in minutes.
It's very satisfying to be able to fix a flat, hop back on and resume riding.
And if you were to pay a shop to fix a flat, they'd charge you between 8 and 12 bucks for parts and labor.
So why don't more people learn to deal with the small stuff themselves?

We've arrived at a point in the history of consumerism where more people would rather pay someone else to fix their stuff than to learn how to fix it themselves.
Now, I don't think it's wise to try and fix everything yourself, especially if you're inexperienced; I tend not to attempt to deal with my home's wiring, for example.
But so many of the things we own can be repaired at home for far less money than we'd spend to pay someone else to do it.
Bicycles are perfect example of this.

Once upon a time, lots of people were quite willing to fix their own stuff. Because fifty, sixty years ago, more of us had to. We didn't live near a repair shop or we simply didn't have the money to pay someone else. And thrift was considered a far greater virtue than it is today.

The problem with not fixing your stuff is that if you don't learn how to fix it, you don't fully own it.
People used to own their cars more, back when pulling the dashboard and rewiring the ignition switch was easier. Hell, I learned how to hotwire a car when I was seventeen. It wasn't hard once someone showed you how the system worked.
Today, most car dashboards have computers underneath. And hardly anyone works on their newer cars at home because of those computers.

Thankfully, most bicycles have yet to become so computerized. And older bikes abound, on craigslist and at yard sales. So why not learn how to do the basic stuff at home?
Fixing your own flat will save you $8-12.
Adjusting your own gears or brakes will save you $10-15.
And wiping down your bike's drivetrain every 2 weeks (once a month in the summer) and applying a light coating of oil when the chain runs dry will save you a lot of money on replacement parts, because you won't have to replace them quite as often if you do simple maintenance like this.

Depending on where you live, many bike shops offer basic maintenance classes. Some offer open wrenching nights where you can come in a rent their tools for cheap and work on your bike under the helpful eye of a shop mechanic. And if your local shop doesn't offer this, there are lots of good books and Youtube tutorials to help you get started. Here's a few:

Everybody's Bike Book by Tom Cuthbertson. One of the oldest and still one of the best for basic things like flat fixes, brake adjustments and the like.
The Park Tool Big Book of Bicycle Repair. Available at shops or on eBay. Covers the newer stuff including V-brakes and disc brakes, if you're so inclined. Lots of helpful photos along with concise instructions.
Park Tool and hundreds of others have posted videos on how to do all sorts of bike repairs.
Here's a basic idea of how to fix a flat, by the folks at Park Tool.

If you live in the city, you don't need to bring along more than a small pump, spare inner tube, patch kit and whatever tools you need to remove wheels and/or make very minor adjustments on brakes or gears. The whole thing will fit in a small pouch you can strap onto the underside of your saddle (and easily remove when you go indoors, to avoid theft).

 My basic repair kit, wrapped in a cloth roll and small enough to fit in a pocket of my saddlebag.

Below: Homemade patch kit, including homemade patches (from recycled inner tube squares and tin foil), levers and sandpaper, and tube of glue (sold separately at shops). It all fits in a repurposed cough drop tin.
Yes, your hands will get dirty. And you can wash them with soap and water. Really, it's not a big deal.
Own your stuff. Fix your stuff. And save some money.

Happy riding!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

refugee bike update: august 2017

Now that my music crowdfunder is complete and I am recovering from a throat infection, I'm beginning to tackle the few bikes that were waiting for me since I got home from kansas a month ago.
This one was a donation from the fellas at Velo Cult. Originally a city bike with 120mm spacing in back and a Nexus-8 rear hub, When I got it it was running on replacement wheels of different sizes and nothing worked.
After a lots of modifications, including converting the bike to a 1 x 7 (and spreading the frame to take a 135-spaced rear hub), the bike is now ridable. The integrated headset is a mess and if I open it up and it falls totally apart I'm stuck with a bike I cannot afford to deal with. For the time being, I've decided to go with a slightly-too-tight adjustment to get rid of most of the front brake judder, pour in some Phil's and hope it will be okay for now.

I really cannot stand integrated headsets for basic city bikes. They're a dumb idea. Perhaps the previous owner thought so, too and that's why this became a donor bike for my project. Anyway, it's safe to ride at this point and that means someone gets a bike who didn't have one before.

I am sometimes forced to make compromises like that.

Right now in the stand I have a very tall Peugeot road bike from the 1970s, with original Simplex shifters and derailleurs that work astonishingly fine. I left them on, swapped in some upright handlebars and added a rear rack. I need to go to Bike Farm tomorrow and find a cheap used seatpost to fit the frame and a cheap used front tire, and it's basically all done.

After that, I have two other bikes, both rusty mountain bikes from the late 80s/early 90s. One is so rusty that I may need to strip and rattle-can it -- and I don't know if I want to take the time to do that with all my music commitments coming up in late summer/early fall -- but my other option is to strip the parts for another frame. Gonna sit on this one awhile, I think.
The other bike isn't quite as rusty and needs a few replacement parts, and I will probably try to whip that one into shape when the Peugeot is done.

This week we're expecting a serious heat wave in Portland, with temps today through Friday eaching into the 100s. Sweetie and I will be doing whatever we can in the early morning hours before its gets too hot; and later we'll seek out a city water fountain or a cheap movie with air conditioning. My riding will be minimal, if I do any at all. Not a safe time to ride a bike if you have issues with extreme heat, as I do.

Hopefully it's cooler where you are -- happy riding!