Wednesday, August 22, 2018

When your loved ones decide to ride

My nephew has a job he likes, and it's close enough to home that he can ride a bicycle to and from.
So for his upcoing birthday this year, he's asked everyone to chip in on various things to make his commute nicer.
I told him to come over on his way home from work and I'd hand him a bunch of stuff I no longer use that would be perfect for him (we're the same height and close enough to the same size in inseam that a lot of my old bikey stuff fits him).

So tonight, he stopped by on his latest bike, a 29'er that had been abandoned outside my sister's office and which went unclaimed for ninety days.  It's a cheap aluminum mountain bike with a shock fork and front disc brake, and a rear V-brake. After I'd handed him a rain suit, shoe covers, summer and winter gloves and some other small accessories I had extras of, I noticed that his bolt-on rear derailleur had been bolted onto the fender eyelet, rather than into the dropout behind the axle. Besides making the shifting suck, it caused the axle to sit precariously close to the end of the dropout, not an ideal situation.
I insisted on fixing this before he left -- "it'll take five minutes," I said -- and when I was done, I ran the bike through all its gears and he was amazed. "No wonder I only had two working gears!"
(Stock photo below shows what it SHOULD look like.)
Image result for bolt on derailleur

I love it when it's easy to keep my loved ones happy and on their bikes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bad air again today in Portland

Portland friends: If you're planning to go outside today, keep it short. The air quality is sucky due to smoke from wildfires north and south of us (NoCal, Siskiyous, Columbia Gorge and B.C.).

This is expected to dissipate by the end of the week. In the meantime, shorten your trip with transit or take the bus entirely.

If you do go for an extended ride, cover your nose and mouth with a mask or bandana.

Be safe out there -- Love, Auntie Beth

Related image

Saturday, August 18, 2018

E-scooters: is Portland ready for these? I'm not.

If I get smacked by one of these at Sunday Parkways tomorrow I swear I'll toss it in the river.
A running tally of e-scooters and bikes reported as dumped in the Willamette River in Portland, OR
Seriously. I'm riding what may well be my final volunteer mechanic shift at Sunday Parkways tomorrow (after 11 years I'm ready for a break). E-scooters have taken over the city streets and so far, while most people seem to be handling it well, enough jokers are riding these things too fast, the wrong way down the street and often helmetless (illegal but also unenforceable) that it's a matter of when, not if, someone will die.

I wish the City Council or PBOT had figure out how to enforce the rules before letting these things loose on the streets. I've almost been hit twice in the three weeks they've been out there.

I know I'll see E-scooters tomorrow during my Mobile Mechanic shift. They're allowed to be on the route at Sunday Parkways. Let's hope no one g\does anything stupid, because if they do, the City has clearly proven its inability to deal with it.
(below: on the sidewalk without a helmet. Both illegal. Whatever.)

People on electric scooters watch the Hawthorne Bridge go up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

the loneliness of the long-distance rider: or, why I don't play well with others

For almost twenty years, I was a co-owner in a cooperatively-run bicycle shop. We had as few as 8 owners and as many 16 during my tenure. In that time, I learned a lot about how to facilitate meetings, what it means to build consensus, and the importance of checking in with each other before embarking on a new project or making changes to the business that would affect the collective.

I also learned a lot about why cooperatives set up in a socialist style almost always fail past a certain size and/or point in history. Because although we love the idea of cooperation and a collective cause, we've all grown up in a world with a capitalist way of thinking. Past a certain point it's hard for capitalist-minded humans to be altruistic, or to at least think of the others in the group.

Finally, I learned a lot about myself. When my time at the cooperative bike shop came to an end, I recognized that the experience had changed me, too. I was no longer interested in spending half my working life in meetings to process about the work I was doing. I was someone who preferred to just do, to fix, to make, to get things done; and couldn't be bothered with having to check in every time I had a question or an idea. When my time at Citybikes came to an abrupt and unhappy end six years ago, it was in large part because I'd kept trying to invest and believe in the process, and in a group of people with whom I'd done good work over a long period of my life; and in the end they made it clear that they didn't really need me anymore. So I left.

Over the succeeding six years I've grown used to working alone; to owning my mistakes and correcting them myself (or at least learning from them if I couldn't undo the damage); and taking my own risks. Being married, I'm devoted enough to my wife that I happily check in with her before jumping off to my own next adventure, and when we decide it's not prudent I hold off. But as far as working with larger groups in cooperation again, that's not something I'm likely to do going forward. Especially if I don't have to in order to get or keep a job.

So when my synagogue redesigned its cooperative model last year to include still more committees and liasons and chairpeople, I got worried. When my faith community began dropping large hints that the way into community involvement would, going forward, be committee involvement, I watched myself rapidly losing interest. And when they made official the years-long policy of not paying members for services to the synagogue, so that no one would be paid for leading worship or music except the Rabbi, I felt myself completely deflate.

Still, I hung in there. We all need community, right? I know I do. When I came up with an idea for a small, informal gathering that just needed time and space at the shul, I was brought up short with the new reality of the expanded committee system. I was told that from now on, everything would have to be run through that system in order to move forward. Everything would have to be processed in meetings, even my small gathering of folks who would just get together for an hour of Adult Coloring.

And that's when I lost it.

I've been forced to recognize that, after twenty years at a co-op bike shop, I ended up having nothing to show for it besides my pain and my experiences. Now, sixteen years into membership at my shul, I feel that feeling coming on again, and find myself pondering the very real possibility of going on without affiliation at any synagogue, anywhere.

That's not to say I wouldn't have a sense of community. I know lots of people in Portland, and my wife and I have made a nice simple life together here. I don't see that changing. But I do sense that the older I get, the less inclined I am to be patient with process, and with people who love to process. Life is too short for me to just sit around and talk about stuff anymore. I want to just DO, MAKE, LIVE. Don't bother me with another fucking meeting about the meeting we had last week to process the meeting we'd had before that.

If that makes me the lonely long-distance biker, then I guess that's what I am.

When the air quality clears up I'll go for a bike ride and think about what it means to gain clarity.

In the midst of all this noise, I find that I am grateful.
Grateful for the chance to know myself better, to own my shit and to not hate myself for having the quirks and imperfections that I have now.

I mostly ride alone these days on my bike. So it stands to reason that most of my other rides will be less peopled as well. There is loneliness, to be sure, but there is also a great deal of spontaneity and freedom. I've given up enough of the latter two long enough. I'll enjoy them now, and live in a larger circle of friends where the boundaries are more vague and fluid, and I feel freer to simply act.

Happy riding.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

2018 OCBA handbuilt frame show CANCELED: Is too much too much?

The Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association have just announced the cancellation of their 2018 Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show, citing "low levels of interest". You can read about it here:
Predictably, lots of readers had plenty to say about why the bottom appears to have fallen out of the local framebuilding scene. Most mentioned gentrification and Portland's unchecked growth, citing new arrivals who want a cleaner, more pristine kind of lifestyle than "old" Portland provided.

Here is my response:

Portland has grown up. We don’t always like the way our kids turn out but now that they have to pay their own rent we don’t really have any say. (And don’t EVEN think you can move back home, because I’ve gone and turned your bedroom into my bike workspace.)


I worked in the bike industry full-time for almost two decades. During that time, I watched a number of trends come and go. Not ONE of those trends catered to lower-income transportational riders who worked on their own bikes because that’s what their budget allowed. Nearly all of the trends can draw a line of DNA back to racing (including mega-distance randonneuring and high-performance, credit-card touring).

Trickle-down from racing — and its accompanying design, production and marketing — is what has provided a great deal of the financial wherewithal to help grow bicycle innovation. Does it go in a direction I personally like? Not usually. But that trickle-down has long determined what our next bicycles will look and perform like.

Custom bikes are just that: CUSTOM, meant for a specific rider, a one-off. Framebuilders take time to learn their craft and longer still to build up a following. But even with carbon, how much of a following can sustain any framebuilder’s operations? (More baldly put: How many bikes does a person want, need or have the capacity to store?)
Past a certain point, growth becomes dangerously connected to excess and excess unchecked can lead to over-consumption.

One of the reasons I’m relieved to have left the new bike industry is that I’ve always been aware of this relationship and I have had an ambivalent, even difficult time reconciling my sense of ethics with that reality.
I greatly appreciate the devotion to craft expressed by our local framebuilders. And I understand the market forces driving the changes that have led to the cancellation of this year’s show. I wish all of them more success and fulfillment in their chosen line of work. I also hope they have other skillsets in case times get really lean.


I have only a couple more days working at Bikes For Humanity PDX this summer, before the demands of my musical work and the High Holy Days take over my life for several weeks. (We'll talk about what work I might be available for later in the fall.)
I've been glad to fix up old bikes meant for folks on a budget. I've also enjoyed coming up with solutions to mechanical issues on the fly. And the folks I work with are the nicest bunch of people you'd ever want to meet. If you're looking for a grass-roots bicycle nonprofit to give some love to, check out B4H-PDX.

Enjoy some good rides with what's left of the summer. Happy riding!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

BIke hack of the day: caliper brake spring tool

Today's hack: caliper brake springs can be hard to reach for adjustment without the right tool.
Make one by filing down a notch in an old flathead screwdriver.
(Bikes For Humanity PDX volunteers -- we now have one of these in the Skinny Bike Tools drawer.)

Put a flathead screwdriver into a bench vise with the tip about an inch above the vise jaws.
Using a flat file, file a notch into the center of the tip, holding file at a 45-degree angle. Sand the sharp tips lightly (so that if the tool slips you won't cut your hand). 


When you're finished it should look like this:
I made this today at the shop when there was a need for such a tool and the shop didn't have one. However, there were plenty of extra screwdrivers on hand, so with my shop manager's blessing I simply converted one.
It worked beautifully.
Happy hacking!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

potential new bikey hangout: golden pliers

Out and about today on my bike, on errands and scouting out potential hangouts where the atmosphere is undemanding.

Today's exploration took me, on a friend's advice, to a new shop called Golden Pliers.

Steps away from the Interstate MAX line, the shop opened about a month ago, offering a combination of accessories, repairs and a bar serving coffee, alcohol and snacks.

I liked the relaxed, friendly vibe which I felt when I walked in. It helped that seconds after I sat down at the bar, a friend from the bike scene came over to say hi, and we enjoyed some conversation while he finished a beer and I snacked on ice water and peanut butter pretzels.

I walked around the small, cozy space and looked at what they offered. There's a heavy emphasis on bike-packing accessories, including tires, tubes, racks and bottle cages. The single repair stand behind the counter included the excellent clamps from EVT (Efficient Velo Tools), and there was a nice selection of reading material to enjoy with my drink if I wanted.
There were also handmade cycling bags and small items from Makeshifter Canvas Works -- the owner is a partner in the shop -- and I could see the appeal for the younger, fitter bikepacking crowd as well as the urban biking set -- especially the "Snackhole Stem Bag", which I've seen in increasing number on bicycles around town.

Just when I thought I could get away with spending only a couple of bucks on a small bowl of peant pretzels, I turned and saw a stainless steel bottle cage large enough to hold an oversized (3.5" diameter) bottle. I had wanted to convert both of my bikes to hold such a big bottle so I wouldn't have to carry two bottles around town. I gulped a little at the price -- $30! -- but recognized that it was strong and well-made enough that I could expect a number of years from it. So I bit the bullet and bought it. Tonight I affixed the new cage, made by a company called Widefoot, to my All-Rounder, where it fits just fine inside the main triangle.
Now I can dispense with all the smaller bottles and just keep one or two oversized bottles going forward.

I had a nice conversation with the two co-owners, and was invited to taste a sample of some coffee whose roaster was trying to get their product into the shop. It wasn't bad at all.
We all enjoyed the antics of another customer and his toddler son, who grinned like a little imp and flashed those Cheeks Of World Domination -- you know, the kind that, when you see them, you will do anything the child wants you to.
All in all, I spent a lovely 45 minutes there, and would definitely come back when I'm in the neighborhood. It's closer to my home than Velo Cult was, and the vibe is pretty darned nice.
Glad I stopped in.
Happy riding, wherever you go.