Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Everyone who went car-free forty years ago was an early prepper

It's been awhile since I got heavy, but here goes.

As my brain has scrambled to keep up with the various bits of flotsam flying across my screen each day, including stock market fluctuations, regime change in the White House, the national/global employment picture, the multitudes of millions who have contracted COVID and the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been taken by it, I came across this piece today on a friend's feed.

After finding my way around the Times' paywall, I was able to read the piece, and I encourage you to read it too.

Read it when you have time to really take it in,  and ponder each new thought you encounter. Because it's very heavy stuff and worth your time.

It also sort of sweeps aside most of the rest of what I mentioned above.

Because at the end of the day, we will find ourselves divided into two groups:

-- Those who understood the science long ago and began to process it back then so we could handle the truth of our current time; and
-- Those who haven't given this much thought until recently (or now), and who are either losing their shit or deep in denial.

We'll find ourselves sectioned off in other ways, but this is the one I'm looking at tonight.

Those of us who, in our youth (some of us as young as ten or eleven), recognized that nothing lasts forever, and the only way toi help it last a little longer is to scale down and scale back our collective standard of living. I was pondering the necessity of living a Smaller Life back in high school, though I could never discuss it with anyone else back then. I am pretty sure that this precognitive pondering influenced my decision to avoid slaving away for a car. (Watching my father work 60+ hours a week at a job he didn't love also influenced me; why work so long and hard that you end the week without time or energy to enjoy your life, your family and friends?)

So I started riding my bike to and from school in fifth grade, and never looked back. Whenever we moved to another town where we lived close enough to my school, I'd skip the bus and ride my bike. In college, I patched my jeans and wore them without shame or irony; I scavenged the hubcaps and license plates I'd find at roadside and flip them to dealers for a few bucks, which I used to find more stuff to flip at a profit. The world has long been filled with peoples' castoffs.

Today, after reading the above opinion piece, I was at first deeply sad and depressed. I had to go into a video meeting and find a way to get excited about a gig, when in the moments after reading that article, a gig was the last thing on my mind.

But over the course of the day, I was able to find my bearings again. I sat in my studio, played a little music and sat with my thoughts, until I was able to understand that my shock was simply another reminder of my mortality, only painted on the global canvas.

As much as we ache and long for a return to "normal," I know it will not be a full return, we won't get all the way back there again, ever. Our twentieth century penchant for comfort and ease has all but assured us that our children and grandchildren will know a lowered standard of living, even when -- or if -- we are able to knock back the devastating effects of COVID.

I didn't know these possibilities, of course, when I rose at 5 each morning to ride my bike up and over the hill to my high school in the late 1970's. I only knew that I liked going places under my own power and I liked helping the environment; and I loved the way I felt when I rode my bicycle, strong and independent and free. It was a feeling so wonderful that I didn't really care about owning a car. The day after flunking my first driving test at seventeen, I was fine, over the embarrassment and ready to move on without a car in my life. After three years of car ownership in my twenties, I hated it and sold the car for scrap, and bought myself a nice mountain bike with street tires. That was 1990 and I haven't owned a car since (though I dio keep my license current for emergencies and to help share the driving when we visit Sweetie's family out of state).

But here's the real truth: All of us who gave up car ownership in favor of a smaller footprint and stayed that way have ended up preparing for this time in other ways. Many of us learned to work on our own bikes and other things around the house; we learned how to grow some vegetables (in our yard, or in pots), put up food for the winter and how to mend our clothing. These are small things, but in today's world where so many people don't know how to do these things, our knowledge of these home skills has helped us to be slightly better prepared for the very difficult times that are coming.

And they are coming. The weather extremes will grow more extreme, the divides between haves and have-nots -- and the liberals and conservatives -- will only grow wider. Anyone in the big middle will be at risk of danger from those on the extremes of the safety/comfort continuum. Anyone at the bottom of the heap will either die, or claw their way higher to live another day, or week.

But if we try to grasp at the vestiges of the old normal, we do so at our peril. It's highly probable that we're already too late and the effects of climate change cannot be reversed now, only slowed.
So what is left for us?

First, we need to get comfortable with death. We may not make it our best friend, but we can do a better job of having it in the room with us while we're living.
We could start by bringing death back into the room. Let the kids go to funerals. Talk with them (in age-appropriate language) about what death is and how it makes us feel to be left behind by someone we loved. Talk with your loved ones about what you want your final days to look like; fill out powers-of-attorney, disposal of remains orders and advance directives and make your wishes clear.

Then, we need to consider how we live and think about ways of scaling it back. This is actually a hard discussion for many people to have, because they don't want to give up their hard-won comfort.

Thankfully, we are in the middle of a national discussion about just how hard-won our comforts have been, based on race, gender, access to education and a host of other factors. While this has been a painful period in our country, it's long overdue and somewhere along the way it might be a good time to consider what we can let go of, personally and collectively for the greater good.

We need to let go of many aspects of the old normal because they're what's killing us now.
What does that mean to you? I'll let you decide.

What does it mean to me?
It means more of what I've already been doing.
Slowly paring down some of my possessions, selling off what I can and saving the money for necessities, considering what my wishes are regarding my death and disposal (I want to be cremated), and pondering what it really means to be human on the downslope of the Anthoprocene Age. Because I believe that's where we are. The sooner we get that, the sooner we can figure out how to live in a time when our species is looking down the barrel at extinction.

Along the way, I'll still swerve back and forth between the heavy stuff and the lighter stuff like bicycles and music; the human psyche isn't designed to stay heavy all the time and there has to be some ebb and flow.
But this truth lives permanently at the back of my mind and heart, and it does have a bearing on my choices going forward.
Hopefully it will mean more bike rides, more drumming and more love along the way.

Rubber side down, kids.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Next project: 1986-7 Peugeot Montreal Express

How many of my bicycle-riding readers are partnered with a spouse who doesn't ride much, or at all? That's my situation. Most of the time it's okay and I live with it. But sometimes I really wish my partner could enjoy riding a bicycle. She's a woman of size, and getting comfortable on a bike saddle has been a challenge -- though she did like the Brooks B-67 I put on her last bike.

A few weeks before our 2003 wedding, I found her a bike -- a beautiful Bridgestone XO-5 in great shape. She rode it now and then during the first years of our marriage, but less frequently as she got older and gained more weight. Today, her bike hangs in the entryway of our little house, and I don't think it's been touched by her in over three years.

I know that weight is a sensitive subject and I try not to bring it up if I don't have to. Hell, I've gained a good twenty pounds since my racing days a decade ago, and my knees sure feel it when I ride my bike up hills today. But seeing the one I love give up riding makes me feel so sad, especially when I see friends whose spouses ride with them.

So I admit that I'm hoping to find a bike that Sweetie can more easily mount and dismount, and that she can enjoy riding without worry. I haven't made this a secret; she knows I'm looking for another bike for her. She knows it will likely have 26" instead of 700c wheels, in order to provide more comfort and a wider variety of tread choices; and that a frame built around the smaller wheels will also have more room for fenders than her old bike does. She also knows I'm looking for a step-through frame because it will be easier to get on and off.

To be honest, I'm also looking down the road to a time when I might also need a step-through frame. And if this one's too tall for Sweetie (because after riding it home, I suspect that it could be), then it will fit me. If that's the case, I may just hang it up for the inevitable.

So today I scored an old mountain bike with a step-through frame.

It's a cool old Peugeot, very similar to the US Express I bought new from Ciclo Bikes (an old bike shop in Portland, and the only Peugeot dealer in town back then) in 1987. The Montreal Express was a step above the US Express, with a triple-ring crank and nicer brakes. (If I recall, the US Express came with steel wheels; the Montreal has ally wheels, which is much better.)

It's possible that this one will be too tall for Sweetie, but the price was right and I may keep it for myself.
Disclaimer: I admit to being partly inspired by Anniebikes, another bike blogger with a thing for old Peugeot bikes.

Here's a couple of "before" pictures.

The basket's in mediocre shape and I'll put it aside for new struts and inclusion on a refugee bike. The cockpit is all original, but the shifters may have to be swapped out for something more functional. The stem definitely has to go and perhaps I'll toss some Wald 8095 bars on for more comfort.

There's plenty of room for fenders, and a better saddle will make this a perfectly fine city bike.

And now, for the BONUS:

When I got the bike home, I set it outside to take some pictures and do a little deeper exmaination. And under the saddle, I felt something odd.
So I looked underneath, and stick in the springs, I found this lovely little surprise:

YES, that's a little key ring from Rema Tip Top patch company. Which is cute, because Rema is German, and the bike is French. Go figure. Still, it's really cool and a nice little extra.

I'm looking forward to putting the bike up in the stand next week and starting in on it.

Rain is coming soon, and with it slightly warmer temperatures. I may try for a ride tomorrow if the rain isn't too heavy.
Happy riding!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Protect that fender-mounted tail light: use a bash guard.

I made another thing today. I like the Spanninga XB** fender-mounted tail light a lot. It's small, more than bright enough to keep you "legal" after dark, easy to install on a fender and quite affordable; but it needs a bash guard to be truly complete.

Unprotected, the light is very vulnerable because of its mostly-plastic construction.
Chrome bash guards to fit this and other tail lights available commercially (for between $5-15), but I wanted to make one from stuff I had.

So I looked around the shed, and found an old Erector set. I'd originally snagged it with the hopes of gifting it to my nephew for his kids, but the set was missing far too many parts to build anything in the accompanying booklet. So I began poking through the box to come up with parts to fashion into a bashguard.
I decided that three shorter pieces, one straight and two curved, would form the foundation of the guard, wrapping around the sides of the light, with a section of stainless steel spoke protecting the top.

I needed to wrap the sides so the guard would fit within the width of the fender, and the piece guarding the top needed not to stand up too far (to catch on anything, like a pantsleg while I swung my leg up and around the back of the bike).

I also needed to utilize the holes in the existing Erector pieces for the light'
s attachment bolt to come through on its way into the fender, to provide more stabilty for the whole unit when assembled.
So I carefully joined the three pieces with the tiny Erector nuts and bolts and some Loctite on the threads, and used needlenose pliers to carefully bend the extended piece into a guard.

Then, I flattened the middle section to reduce the stack height of the pieces that the light's bolt would go through into the fender, so there would be enough threads on the underside for the nut.

When I added the piece of bicycle spoke for the top of the guard, I made loops for the mounting bolt and for the joining bolt in front, and then flattened them both to reduce the stack height on those as well. Because my bench vise has a small "anvil" platform, flattening these pieces with a few well-placed hits from a hammer was pretty easy.

Then, I began putting everything together.

First, I applied the lower loop of the spoke to the connection of the two curved Erector pieces in front, a little like a wrestler's award belt.
Then, I brought the other loop over and behind the light, and looped it onto the fixed bolt, then pushing the fixed bolt through the back of the guard frame and the fender.

Finally, I put some Loctite on the threads, put ion a washer and the nut, and tightened everything down securely.

The end result? A funky, functional bash guard for virtually nothing that took me about twenty minutes to make and install.

I left enough room in front of the light for my fat thumb to push the switch, or to unscrew the front plate to change batteries. Plenty sturdy, looks a little odd but it works.

And the spoke is thin enough that it doesn't really block the light at all.

(**NOTE: The Spanninga XB is hard to find at bike shops. Peter White sells it, but they and Rivendell Bicycle Works both offer other fender-mounted tail lights that are great, and worth checking out. Whatever you choose, make sure there's enough room left on your fender for a bash guard of some kind, too.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Adapting a lackluster design into something useful: Nitto saddlebag QR

So for those of you who've been following along, the Burley Travoy has turned out to be a great choice for downsizing to a smaller trailer. Since posting my review last week, I've since obtained a closeout-priced upper classic bag to complete my set; and I scored a rainfly for an 80L backpack that should fit the trailer just fine.

The one hangup was my desire to keep my Carradice Camper Saddlebag on the back of my A-R for when I'm not towing the trailer (which is most of the time), without having to change the mini-rack that serves as a support for the bag. I went ahead and bit the bullet on a Nitto Saddlebag Grip (R50),  hoping to be able to use it with my Brooks Flyer saddle. The Fluer is the same size and shape on top as the B-17, but it has springs, which makes it great for riding a more upright position.
Sadly, Nitto didn't design their QR to work with coil springs, so I had to create a workaround to make it fit on my saddle.

First, I mounted the QR unit on the horizontal coil springs. This worked, though it required me to add a layer of tape to the spring under the QR clamps. However, the coil spring is narrower than the saddle rails the unit was meant to clamp onto, so when I put the bag onto the QR unit, it made the whole unit rotate downward past level -- not what I wanted.

So, without applying more clamp pressure to the narrower coils, I had to come up with some kind of "stop" to keep the bracket from rotating too far down.

First, I rooted around in my junk drawer, and came up with some old bus tokens. I have a couple from Septa (PHilly) and a bunch from Marta (Atlanta). The Marta tokens are copper, meaning the metakl is softer and easier to shape. (Like most transit systems, Septa and Marta discontinued use of metal tokens decads ago in favor of a plastic fare cards.)

Then, I looked at the configuration of the springs and decided that I needed to somehow attach the coins horizontally on top of the next coil down from where I'd clamped the QR rack.
To make the attachment firm, I'd need to use a zip-tie.
I notched the copper tokens to hold the zip-tie in place.

Once I'd notched the tokens, they could be zip-tied on top of the next coil below the bracket; the idea was that when the bracket began to rotate down under load, the copper tokens would stop the rotation and hopefully not put too much stress on the steel coils.

I'd originally thought of using shellacked cork wedges, but they needed to be thicker than there was space for. So I used copper bus tokens and placed a small patch of soft leather under each to provide some padding between the token and the coil.

Once the zip-tie was trimmed, everything sort of fell into place. Literally.
I think the only change I might still make at this point is to swap in a fatter zip-tie, because these little zip-ties are so skinny that the weight of the bag pushing down the clamp on top could break it. But for now, it's about where I want it to be.

It's not elegant, but I think it will hold.
And frankly, Nitto's design wasn't terribly elegant if it could be used for both kinds of Brooks saddle.
So I'll let it be for now. Next time I want to tow my Travoy trailer, I can just open the Q/R, pull the bag off and either leave it home or bring it along in the Travoy if the load isn't big.

Off-season coffeeneuring - it IS getting a little old

I have to admit that all these solo rides are getting old.

I've tried to keep a good face on it all. When the weather hasn't been unbearable, I've gotten on my bike and ridden short distances, sometimes going multi-modal with public transit.

But the winter has been gray and very wet. By itself, that would be completely workable. I could suit up in my rain gear, ride somewhere, ride somewhere else, and stop along the way to dry off a little and have a cup of coffee or tea before riding home. I could even swing by a bike shop and hang out inside while I chat with mechanics who are my friends.

But COVID makes that nearly impossible.

If I go somewhere by bike, there's nowhere to sit inside out of the rain. Today it was warm enough -- with a high of 58F -- that I didn't completely mind getting lunch to go and finding a table under cover somewhere else to eat it (I sat outside Peet's, finished my lunch and then bought some coffee to go).

Then, because the combination of All The Things had made me fatigued, I caught a bus up the hill and rode to the CCC for a small part (waiting outside in the rain while someone in the shop went and found it for me), and then rode home. When I got home, I was so emotionally exhausted that I had to lie down for a two-hour nap.

It's been like that all fall and winter, since the rainy season began. And some days, not even primping and preening one of my own bikes to improve it has helped a whole lot.
I do love my singlespeed and I'm enjoying riding it; but I am also so fatigued by All The Things that today I tossed it on the bus to shorten my ride.

I miss the days when riding felt effortless and far less lonely.

I hope those days -- at least the less lonely part -- will return soon.
Meanwhile, I'll do what I can to keep plugging along.
Be safe out there and rubber side down.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

I love my Carradice Camper Longflap. And all the patches on it, too.

For seven of the last eight years I've enjoyed participating in the Coffeeneuring Challenge.
Each year, I've shared my ride reports, paid for the cost of the goodies, and earned a lovely patch to applique to my saddlebag or backpack. This year's patch came the other day and I set about moving a couple of patches around to make room for this one on my Carradice saddlebag. (Photo shows my newest Coffeeneuring patch, above one from a few years back.)

Hand-sewing the patches on has gotten harder, as my eyes have had to adjust to wearing reading glasses for close work, and also as patches have become more thickly embroidered, making them much harder to applique by hand.

Since my bag is getting pretty close to full of patches, I think this will be my last application on this particular bag. It looks fine and I don't want to make it looks clumsy with too many patches.

I got my Camper Longflap well over fifteen years ago, when I was still working at Citybikes and could buy it on my shop discount. It has been on my bike pretty much ever since. Over the years I've added patches, pins and even a little talisman of sorts (one half of a tallit-clip that I found in a synagogue parking lot ages ago). The bag has taken age gracefully, fading into a light gray color wherever it wasn't blocked out by a patch; removing and moving a couple of patches around has revealed a couple of darker spots underneath that show just how faded the bag has become over time.

But all that fading has not led to any sun damage to the actual canvas fabric, which remains as stout and as strong as ever. The only giveaway to the bag's wear and tear is that the primary set of leather straps that hold the flap down have begun to crack; at some point one may break. If and when that happens, I'll probably remove the broken strap, and make a new one out of some thick leather and stitch it into place with dental floss (really great, strong thread for this purpose), poke some holes for the buckle and call it good.

Carradice bags have been made since the 1930's, and continue to be made in Nottingham, England by a small team of trained craftspeople. And I still love my Carradice bag. Even when it gets wet outside, things inside the bag remain fairly dry. Repeated application of wax every five or six years helps the canvas retain its waterproof qualities. And the older it gets, the better it looks.

With the recent downsizing to the Burley Travoy trailer, I had to go ahead and purchase a quick-release bracket for the saddlebag, so I can take it off quickly when I want to use the trailer.
After researching multiple options and looking for something used, I ultimately bit the bullet and bought one of the last Nitto quick-release brackets from Rivendell. It should be here soon.
Happy riding!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Road Test: Burley Travoy cargo trailer

 A woman in my congregation is collecting all sorts of supplies -- clothing, food, tents and stuff -- to help a couple of large homeless encampments. I had collected some things through my local Buy Nothing network. With my eyesight restored enough well enough to ride, I decided to load up my new-to-me Travoy, Burley's cargo trailer, and ride across town to deliver the bundles myself.

First, I had to install the hitch.

I tried to make it work with what's already on my All-Rounder, a Nitto saddlebag support rack. I swapped that in, in place of a regular rack because I was carrying everything in a large Carradice saddlebag and no longer use panniers. Unfortunately, the size and location of the saddlebag support meant that the angle wouldn't allow for easy hitching up of the trailer. This trailer has a very specific angle of attachment, and no spring to give any "wiggle" room in the process. I'm sure the folks at Burley Design tried to think this through, but the fact is that if you plan to install the hitch on a rear rack with the bracket available, that bracket depends on your rack being installed at exactly the correct angle or it's not gonna work. (Note to Burley: The desired angle seems easier to attain on taller bikes -- what else is new?)

Ultimately I opted to remove my Carradice saddlebag so I could install the hitch on the seatpoist, where it's designed to fit optimally. Installing it just above the mounting clamp for the Nitto rack, I thought it would be fine. But once again, I was stymied by not having exactly the right angle. This time, with no other option (including raising the hitch on the seatpost because of the springs on my saddle), I had to "nudge" the trailer onto the hitch with some effort, and it did finally slide on.
Still it's not the most ideal situation. Bikes of different heights should be able to handle the trailer with equal ease, and Burley ought to consider a re-design on the hitch to allow for a little wiggle room.

Riding with the Travoy hooked up was easy. It felt balanced and rolled smoothly, even with the tiny 12" wheels which attach with a "push-button" quick release. Burley suggests that if you mount the hitch onto a rear rack, mount it was far forward as possible in order to shrink the space between the trailer and the bike. Mounting the hitch on the seatpost effectively solves this issue, as shown in the photo below.

I liked that I didn't have to swing my leg any higher to get around the trailer than I do to get around my saddle. (I am aware that someday, I won't be able to swing my leg around anything at all, and instead will have to dip the bike to one side in order to get on or off. But that's for later on.)

The Travoy comes with a large tote bag; when the wheels are removed and the trailer is folded up it fits into the tote bag for very easy, compact storage.
Additional accessories for the Travoy are available separately, including upper and lower bags in various styles, hitch adapters for rear racks and side panels to prtect the cargo from water spray when riding in the rain. I bought the trailer used from a previous owner who had seldom used it, and it came with the tote bag. I also bought side panels, spare inner tubes (they come with longer, bent valves for easy access by a pump) and what I'd thought was a used upper bag. It turned out to be a lower bag, and for now I've clicked it into the brackets provided on the trailer. It fits clumsily and I will probably save up for a real upper bag so I can move this bag down.

A couple of issues with the Travoy include:

-- where to mount a rear light? After looking for a logical place, I finally wrapped a silicon-strapped rear light around the uppermost part of the frame. It doesn't aim directly back but it's better than nothing and keeps me barely legal on Portland's streets. I'm going to have to remedy this quickly.

Burley offers a light mount that fits in the hollow part of the frame behind the handle (see photo: it';s just above and behind the twist-handle), that installs like a handlebar plug. I may choose to make one rather than buy it. We'll see.

The bags are designed to fit the trailer's frame very nicely, and clip on to specially-designed brackets on the frame. Sadly, none of the Travoy-specific bags available from Burley are waterproof; Burley offers a rain cover for another $50 if you want it, and this will probably be enough to encourage people in drier parts of the country to consider riding in the occasional rain shower. But for a company founded and still based in Eugene, Oregon it seems that a truly waterproof set of bags, or even one long drybag, should be available for the Travoy. An awful lot of us here in the Pacific Northwest ride year-round, in the rain, and waterproof bags are a must for regular cargo-hauling. After my 8-mile loop, both bags were thoroughly wet outside and the bag I'd clicked in on top was beginning to soak through. I may look for a waterproof alternative if I can find one to fit the trailer.

The Burley Travoy is rated to carry up to 60 pounds; Burley recommends that no more than 20 pounds be carried in the upper bag. So this is definitely an ideal trailer for urban hauling -- groceries, your kid's baseball gear, even a small sapling and yard tools for a tree-planting can all be carried on the Travoy. I know that some folks have tried touring or camping with it, and perhaps it's great for that. But I bought the Travoy -- indeed, had been looking for a used one for over a year -- because I was ready to let go of my full-sized Burley Encore. I don't need a trailer that can carry 100-plus pounds of stuff; If I go to a gig here in  town, I'll take the bus or catch a ride with friends. I bought this 2018 model from someone who'd thought he would use it far more. I bought my trailer and tote bag used, and then purchased the other pieces from the Burley web site (except for the bottom "classic" bag which I bought off craigslist).

The Travoy was updated slightly in 2020 and sells for $299.00 from Burley. The 2020 version includes side/wheel rain guards, but no bags.

The more I think about it, the more I feel inclined to look for a used drybag that will fit on the trailer, and I can easily strap that in place with bungee cords or tiedown straps. The other possibility is that a hard plastic crate of the right shape and size could work for some kinds of hauling. But Burley's upper and lower bags retail for almost $100 each and that seems like too much to spend on bags that aren't truly waterproof.

Still, I'm very happy to have sold my big Burley (to someone who plans to carry their dog in it, which seems sweet), and to make more space for a smaller trailer that should take care of my hauling needs going forward. I look forward to finding reasons to use it again soon.