Monday, July 20, 2020

bicycle-based, local BLM activists! help me help you!

When I was a kid, my not-yet diagnosed Crohn's stunted my growth. In a family of giants I topped out at 5' 7" by my second year of college. And I was pretty scrawny and wiry. My sister, only a year older than me, was six feet tall by the time she was in high school. I dreamed of being as big and strong as she was. I dreamed of being as big as the rugby players and rowers at my college, as strong and agile as the Masters women who mopped the floor with my sorry ass at cyclocross and short-track races.

I have always had such Walter Mitty dreams.

And now, I watch as thousands take to the streets in protest against The Way Things Are, and I wish in my heart of hearts I could join them.

What's stopping me? All the stuff that is part of being in this body, which in turn puts me at serious risk of getting COVID in a crowd, even masked.

(Hey Spoonies -- how many of you are facing the same quandary? How are you dealing with it? How many of you are choosing to take the risks anyway/ How many are finding other ways to make a difference?)

I know it's crazy to see protesting at the barricades as the n'est-plus-ultre of radical activism; but for those of us who've been given ample pause -- by family members and friends, by doctors -- well, DAMN. I'm finding it especially difficult to be Walter Mitty this week.

So, if you personally know someone who's been putting themselves out there each night -- doing first aid, jail/bail support, legal observation or whatever else, and they need bicycle repair or replacement as a result of their activism (read that as broadly as you want), PLEASE send me a PM or email me. It's the only thing I can think of for this broke, radical bike punk to offer that has any use right now.

After you and I talk then we can sort out introductions and I can take it from there. Contact me first.

Thanks, Portland bikey friends!

Friday, July 17, 2020

PORTLAND PEEPS: I need your old dead bikes

So things are evolving here at the Brain Trust.

The refugee resettlement program is officially on hiatus until immigration is re-opened (which doesn't seem likely as long as Trump remains in the White House).

So I am now shifting my focus.

I still need old, dead bikes for parts, for repairs. I am shifting my focus to assisting those on the ground in protesting actions. Some have had their bikes confiscated. Others have lost them in sweeps taking place right now in downtown.
The fact is that, while I am medically unable to protest myself right now, I can still support the efforts of those who are protesting.

So I am shifting my bike repair skills to focus on those protestors and indie journalists who are putting themselves in harm's way to show the world how bad police brutality has gotten here.
I know this may repel some of my readers, those who support a law-and-order approach to public safety that is answering concerns from the 1950's. Fine. I can live with your absence.

I cannot continue to live in such a schizo way, trying to camouflage my politics with spurts of online shopping and voting while I continue to refine ways to support this movement for peace and justice.
So I'm going public.
If you're a Portland indie journalist covering the protests and you need bicycle help, reach out to me.
If you're a protestor whose bike got damaged or taken during a police action, reach out to me. I want to support your work by getting you back on two wheels.

Rubber side down, friends!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

should cost-effectiveness be such a strong consideration?

A bike came in as a donation that had me pretty excited. It was a very tall vintage Peugeot mountain bike, a 21" Montreal Express with a step-though frame. Tall step-through frames are awesome, and I'm sorry that more companies haven't made them.

Sadly, the bike had serious frame issues that required me to strip it of all its parts.
The seat stay had broken loose where it had been brazed to the seat tube, and strangely, the rear brake bridge was missing. It had been sawed off.

So I checked around among my framebuilding contacts to see if any of them would be willing to do a quick and dirty frame repair on the down-low; that is, I didn't care about cosmetics and would not identify the builder. One builder stepped up, presumably because she's leaving town soon for grad school and wouldn't have to worry if word got out. (It won't.)

I was thrilled with the repair and did a quick rattle-can paint job on the parts that had been filed and brazed. After it dried I was ready to rebuild the bike.

In the process of rebuilding this bike, I came across a few small issues that I would have to resolve using what I had on hand. While I do stock spare parts, they mostly come from other donated bikes whose frames were damaged beyond repair. I don't generally buy new tires since they're expensive and I'm on a pretty tight budget these days. So when I noticed that a tire I'd chosen for this bike has a small split in the sidewall but also had a really good tread, I chose to save the tire.

I made a boot by cutting up a bit of inner tube, cutting two patches to size and affixing them to both sides of the sidewall with a little super-glue gel. It worked fine.

Along with this issue, there was also the matter of finding a seatpost binder bolt that would fit the hole. Although Peugeot was a french brand and its older bikes were built to French industrial standards (which didn't work with anything else), some early mountain bikes from Peugeot were marketed to the North American market, and made along Japanese/English standards and accepted a wider variety of components. This was one of those bikes. But it retained an odd-sized seat bolt, which I was lucky to have in my parts box.

In rebuilding a bike from odd parts, one solution can lead to another problem.
My oddball seatpost binder bolt was too fat to accommodate my standard cable stop which would hang from it. So I had to come up with another solution to have a cable stop for the rear brake.

Poking around in my parts boxes, I came across an old style of cable stop that was designed to wrap around a chain stay. I had several of these, so I decided to take one and see if I could use it up above the rear brake.                                                               

My hunch was a lucky one. Carefully using needle-nose pliers to bend the cable stop bands apart and reshape them, I was able to make this work between the rack eyelets.
However, I didn't have a short enough bolt that would allow me to use the eyelet for both the cable stop and to attach a rear rack. So I went with the shortest bolts I could find, and attached the cable stop between the eyelets. If I can come up with a few very short bolts later I can replace these and add a rear rack. If not, I'll install a front basket I have on hand, and call it good.

In considering how to rebuild an old bicycle, Cost seldom comes into it. Most of my bikes are donated or obtained at very low cost, and I'm a hobbyist fixing up bikes at home; so my overhead is almost nonexistent.

For a shop owner who must make a profit on everything sold, cost-effectiveness comes into question on every bike serviced, or built up for sale.
At home, I can strive for as much sustainability as I want, which is why I had no reservation about paying a friend to effect a repair on a broken frame that was in otherwise fine shape. If the cost of the repair had matched or exceeded the value of the bike I would have skipped it, and built up another frame into a bike. But the cost was low enough (a favor from a friend) that I decided I could afford to spend the money.

When I began working in the bicycle industry in 1994, I learned how to service bicycles that had components made entirely of metal -- which themselves could be serviced. Derailleur springs could be replaced. Caliper brakes could be completely dismantled, and center bolts swapped to turn a front brake into a rear one, or to lower a short-reach brake to reach the rim. And while today's high-end parts can still be serviced this way, the majority of components in the middle and entry-level price ranges are meant to be thrown away when they break, replaced with a brand-new component.
It's not sustainable, but in an industry where time is of the essence, it is far more cost-effective, and the default standard in the industry.

This decrease in sustainability is why I would never apply to work in a regular bike shop again, and why I much prefer the wrenching I do now -- fixing old bikes up to be ridden by folks on tight budgets, who won't be as fussy about a bike's age or appearance as long as it's safe and fun to ride.
I don't expect my choice to make a dent in the behemoth that is the bicycle industry, especially right now when bike mechanics are essential workers and bikes are in high demand. But I'm comfortable with my decision, and feel like the kind of wrenching I do these days is more in line with both my ethics and my creative approach to problem solving.

Happy riding!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Morning Zen II

Truing wheels is one of the most calming parts of tuning up a bicycle.
There is something truly beautiful and even hypnotic about the rhythm of a wheel turning around and around in the truing stand. The rhythm is interrupted periodically by the need to stop the rotation, adjust a spoke's tension by turning the nipple this way or that; then the spinning resumes and the adjustment is checked. This start-stop pattern continues until the wheels is true and round again.
Some wheels take only a couple minutes of adjustment, like this one. Others can take longer -- up to a point.
Sooner or later, if the adjustments don't hold or spoke nipples are frozen with rust or corrosion, then you have to decide if the wheel is worth saving -- either by stubbornly wrestling with it, or by cutting the hub out and lacing it into a new rim.
But that decision generally only affects the most expensive wheels with high-zoot components.
Most cheaper wheels, like this one, can be brought back to a reasonable level of trueness and made perfectly ridable again.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Fireworks need to go out of style.

We've been hearing the sound of fireworks for a few nights now. It's always like this in the week leading up to July 4th. And between the additional disruptions caused by police misuse of CS Gas and LRAD (noise bombs) on protestors, the last thing we really need is for full-blown fireworks on every block.
Although most Indian reservations were ordered to stop selling fireworks in Oregon and Washington a few years ago, there are still plenty of unused illegal fireworks in the Portland metro area, and our 15-year-old cat is already showing signs of distress.
Three years ago, the entire western half of the Columbia Gorge was set ablaze by kids playing with fireworks in a fire danger zone.
Add to this stories of dogs literally collapsing from cardiac arrest because of M-80's being shot off, Veterans who suffer PTSD from being triggered by the noise and flash.
I have to admit that, even for extroverts like me, the time has come to put fireworks to rest and find other ways to celebrate. Make music, do skits, have a poetry slam or a cook-off. Turn the stereo speakers to the windows and have a dance party.
Get creative.
We need to stop using fireworks.