Saturday, December 30, 2023

Photo dump: PDX Coffee Outside 12-30-2023

Last #pdxcoffeeoutside of the year included a white elephant gift exchange.
Coffee Outside happens in many cities. The ideal is to bring all the gear to brew your own cup of coffee outside and enjoy it.
Most do this, but I haven't yet dialed in how I'd like to brew outdoors, so I make mine at home and bring it along in the thermos. My goal in the coming year is to dial in outdoor brewing on a consistent basis.

Great turnout at one of my favorite parks.
I came home with a Park Tool pizza cutter, which I may regift to friends who actually make pizza at home. I had a nice ride in drizzle, and had a great time hanging out with old and new friends.

May your rides in the new year be rewarding and sweet.
Happy riding.

Friday, December 29, 2023

I don’t need a nonprofit to ride my bicycle for me.

For over fifty years, there’s been a New Year’s Day ride every January first in Portland.
(Photo: downtown Portland, January 2017; those are tights under my knickers — BRR)

I’ve participated in a number of them, and enjoyed them a lot. Most of the rides I participated in began at Waterfront Park, took a pleasant loop around Eastside Portland, and ended at Laurelhurst Park where we’d enjoy hot cider and cookies while ogling each other’s bikes and catching up with old friends we hadn’t seen in awhile. When the weather wasn’t horrible or icy, I looked forward to starting my year this way.

For most of my rides, the host was the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Portland’s grassroots bike advocacy and education organization, a group I was a longtime member and supporter of. 

When the BTA folded, as nonprofits sometimes do, the organization was reconstituted into another nonprofit and renamed the Street Trust. The emphasis became all about lobbying and rubbing shoulders with elected officials in Salem (Oregon’s capital), bicycle advocacy was watered down and combined with walking and public transit advocacy, and the education component was set aside almost completely. It became a very different organization, and not nearly as grassroots as before. So I opted not to become a member. I’ve never regretted my decision. (Photo: New Year’s Day, 2011)

I guess after that I felt I could just do my own ride on New Year’s and not trouble myself with Street Trust. And that’s what I’ve done most of the time, until I got sick in 2021. 

This year, Street Trust is hosting another NYD ride. This time, they’re requiring RSVP in advance and asking adults 18+ to pony up — get this — $40 each for admission and a year’s membership in the organization.

While they say no one will be turned away for lack of funds, there’s no provision for that on the RSVP form, so you have to tell them directly when you show up (and presumably, there’s no goodies for you at the end of the ride).


This is the same thing I struggle with in other circles in my life: if you want to participate it will cost you. If you can’t afford it, you have to say so out loud (likely in front of other people) and deal with whatever embarrassment and stigma may come from that.

I don’t need this sort of crap in my life anymore. 
I’m more unemployed than employed these days, and haven’t got forty bucks to spend on cookies and hot cider for an organization I’m not stoked about. I also no longer have the patience to deal with stigma, mine or anyone’s perception thereof. So I’ll have my own New Year’s ride and bring my own coffee and ts to enjoy along the way.
(Photo: on the Kogswell, Jan 2006)

May all your rides in 2024 be joyful ones.
Happy riding.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Ride Report: Bike Happy Hour

BikePortland has been hosting a Bike Happy Hour since August, and the crowds have continued to show up every Wednesday evening. So I decided to try and get to one this afternoon and see what it was about.

What it’s about is friendly folks riding their bikes to a pub, hanging out and enjoying the vibe together.

And it’s happening every Wednesday from 3 to 6pm at Gorges Brewing in southeast Portland.

Riding in the city is something I haven't done much of in the last year. I went multi-modal both ways. Even though I was still a little post-Long Covid wobbly, I gloried in the beautiful blue of dusk, the quietness of residential side streets, and the crisp winter air.

(Photo: me with BikePortland founder and head writer Jonathan Maus. SO a nice to see him in real life again after all this time.)

I had a really nice time meeting new people, chatting up old friends and admiring all the love bike porn parked outside the pub.

On the way to the bus stop, I rode down Ankeny and saw that the old Citybikes Annex building was empty, the doors and windows freshly boarded up and a “For Sale” sign hung prominently out front.

I left Citybikes just over a decade ago, under a rather dark cloud (not mine). Things kept going downhill from there after I left. Owners left, the co-op shrank and eventually the Annex location was closed and the beautiful mural painted over.
The most recent dust-up, where three of the four remaining co-owners decided to close down the business and divide the proceeds four ways without regard for the contributions of the dozens of former owners who’d grown and run the business since 1990. I was too sick with Long Covid at the time and chose not to get involved. 
It appears the former owners lost their fight and the annex building is up for sale, for $1.4 million.

I rode to MLK and caught a bus that would take me back to my part of town. Even if I’d had a working headlight, which I didn’t, I wasn’t comfortable riding that far in the dark.
But I loved the darkening blue sky of dusk.

It felt so good to be in the world again. 
I MUST do this more.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Save the old stuff and fix it up: vintage rack redo

The saddlebag on my Peugeot hangs a tad low, and a few times, small items have slipped through the gap between the bag and the flap. So I went about looking for a rear saddlebag rack.

I found this one online, for thirty bucks including shipping.

As you can see, it came with a lot of surface rust and some old black paint. After mulling it over for a couple of weeks, I decided I would get it sandblasted and powder coated professionally, an expensive choice but one that ensure a thorough job and longer life.

After asking for suggestions and calling around, I took it to Portland Powder Coating. They were one of the few shops that were willing to work with so small an item and, if I was willing to wait a little longer, they would wait and toss it in at the end of a larger paint run to save me some money.

They also had a few choices of color that would get it at least close to the finish on my front rack.

I picked it up today, it looked good, though the clamps were too small and too corroded to save. I’ll get some new, rubber-coated clamps in the right size made of stainless steel, and use those to install it.

When I got it home, I held up the pieces next to my front rack to see how close the color matched.
They nailed it.

I’ll pick up the clamps next week and put it all together. It’s not a big rack, but it will be perfect for lifting my saddlebag just enough to keep things from spilling out of it. And it’s nice to save something old by fixing it up and making it nice again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

It’s done for now. (Bagmatching)

I found a nice little canvas bag to mount on the front rack.

I needed it to be small because of the rack’s size and configuration (resting on the canti bosses, it can’t carry a lot of weight). So I found a used Zimbale front rack bag for less than half of new, bought it and repainted it to match the rear bag.

I used watered-down acrylic paint that I mixed and shook up in a jar, and a little sponge paint applicator.

Since the rear bag is faded and looks used, if I got a little paint on the leather trim and only did one coat, it would be close enough in shade that sun and time would fade it a little more and I’d be fine. I managed to use some warm water to wipe off most the fresh paint that got on the leather trim, adding a more used look to it. I’m pleased with how it turned out.

The bag is not a perfect fit. The rack is slightly wider and I had to use the carry strap as the rear loop around the back. It’s secure and I don’t think I’ll worry about tightening up or sewing on a bucket or anything. Plus, I can’t see anyone really wanting to steal so small a bag unless they try to remove the rack as well, and that would take tools and time.

I really like having a small bag up front. It completes the look of the bike in a very nice way, and it’s just big enough to hold a sack lunch, a small bottle of juice and maybe a scarf. 

The bigger stuff can go in or on the rear bag.

It has gotten very cold here n Portland, with overnight lows just below freezing. I’m not super-inclined to go for a ride today, but rain and 2mer temps are coming and I might try to enjoy a short ride this weekend.

There’s still a few more things to do on this bike, like swapping in smaller chainrings and getting my rear saddlebag rack back from the powder coasters, but those are minor and don’t do a lot to add to the overall look of the bike. So for all intents and purposes it’s basically done.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Cheap parts from China vs. expensive parts from somewhere else. Go ahead, judge me.

In retrofitting the Peugeot, I’ve had to make some decisions about where to source replacement parts.

Some parts, like the Suntour thumb shifters and freewheel, were easy enough to source locally on the used market or from my existing stash, at minimal cost. Some pars, like the handlebar and the Brooks saddle, were sourced at discounted prices on eBay or Facebook Marketplace. 

Still others pose a bit of an ethical and/or environmental quandary.

I’m re-gearing the bike to a lower/easier range of gears for the hilly landscape of Eastside Portland. I started with swapping in a larger freewheel, but that wasn’t going to be enough. Photo below shows the drivetrain after I swapped in the bigger freewheel, a Suntour 14-30.

Look at the size of the middle and big rings there, 42 and 52. (Does any casual cyclist push a 52 anymore?)

My plan is to swap in a 38 for the middle ring, and replace the 52 outer ring with a chain guard of roughly 42t, similar to what I have on the All Rounder. This will give me a more comfortable gear range to ride around town and give my creaky knees a break.

The challenge comes when trying to source an alloy chainguard ring. I basically have two choices:

One is the Rivendell chainguard, which is made in Taiwan, I think. It retails for $46. Very shiny and comes with an attractive, weight-saving cutout design. I sprang for one of these on my All-Rounder and it’s perfect in every way.

Then, I found a much simpler alloy chainguard through Aliexpress, which is an electronic retail storefront for the juggernaut Chinese wholesale clearinghouse Alibaba. The chainguard is not nearly as pretty, but it’s alloy and will get the job done just as handily. It retails for $21, $17 for the ring and $4 postage from their US-based warehouse.

The quandary in this case, since Alibaba is shipping from a US warehouse, is ethical: do I want to buy the Rivendell part and support a small business her in the US, or do I want to be economical and buy the Chinese-made part, which supports a factory halfway around the world with questionable workers rights and environmental practices?

If I were Rivendell’s typical customer, a middle-aged guy with a fair amount of disposable income, I’d easily and happily opt for the Rivendell part. And I did, four years ago when I bought the only chainguard I could find online (from RBW).

Given a less-costly option this time around, I chose the Chinese part. 


Because I’m NOT Rivendell’s typical customer.

I’m a middle-aged, under-employed woman who has limited pocket change and wants to ride.
So while it would be nice to support a small US business, when your prices are kind of high and your budget isn’t, you go for the bargain in order to complete the job and get back on your bike.

I used to worry a lot more about this sort of thing when I worked full-time and could afford the most costly ethical choice. and there are a lot of different responses to this. But the fact is that the Rivendellian aesthetic has been with us for thirty years (more, if you count GP’s time at Bridgestone), and there are many thousands of riders who love the aesthetic but can’t afford it. This is why Carradice has inspired Zimbale, Brooks has inspired Cardiff and Nitto has launched a thousand copies vis-a-vis Wald, Sunlite and Soma. 

Manufacturers and sellers have been getting us to ape the rich since the beginning of the Industrial Age, at least. Rivendell’s aesthetic simply pushed the envelope farther forward. 
(It did a lot worse than that when GP got on the 650b wagon, which I think sold many more tires in that size than Jan Heine and his elite speed-freak club. But I digress.)

So I’m one of the proles who like some of the good ideas from GP but can’t pay for the first edition.

And while I could make consumer choices with the rest of the world in mind, my individual choices, sadly, won’t roll back climate change or improve the workers’ lot in China. Only huge, industrial-scale choices can do that. I wish it was otherwise, but not even writing to my Congressional Representatives will increase the heft of my influence. Fifty years of tilting at the windmill that is the US Congress has taught me that.

Sue me. At least I do my own labor.

Happy riding.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Finding my groove: A history of bicycle setups, in photos.

Personal preferences in bicycle setups run deep. Once you find a setup that really works, you tend to replicate it with each new bike (unless you’re setting up a very specific purpose-driven affair, like a time-trial bike).

Here’s a photographic rundown of my preferred bicycle setup. What’s missing is a photo of the very first bike I set up myself, my “apprentice” bike from when I worked at Q’s Bike Shop in Waldport. I loved that bike, but it got wrecked in a collision with a truck door a few years after I built it up, and after that I transitioned to turning mountain bikes into city bikes.

Peugeot Orient Express, round one. Built up in the early 2000s while I worked at Citybikes. I loved the frame and bought it from the shop. Even though it was too big for me, I made it work for several years until forced to switch to a smaller frame. Still one of my favorite builds, with a Brooks B67 saddle and WALD 8095 “touring” bar.

Also missing is a photo of the 70s Gitane road bike I rebuilt with upright bars, as a stand-in for the Rivendell LongLow I had on order. I rode that bike for the year I waited, and left it with a former roommate who’s bike had been stolen when the LongLow frame set arrived. It was light and fast, and fun to ride.

Then the Rivendell LongLow arrived in September 2000. I bought this frame set with money from the settlement from the collision that destroyed my “apprentice” bike, and built it up from the frame. It went through a couple of drop-bar interactions before I rebuilt it with another WALD 8095 bar. I was happier, and rode it that way for several years. It was a beautiful bike and I loved the looks I got from folks who knew what they were looking at.

In 2006, I was invited by Matthew Grimm of Kogswell Cycles to be one of five test-builders for a new frame design of his. Called the Porteur, it was envisioned as a bike that, depending on the fork selected and the build, could work as a randonner, a front-load “porteur” delivery bike, or a full-on, loaded touring bike. I was given a frame set and fork in my size, and instructed to build it up with my choice of parts and write up a detailed report on the process and the test riding afterwards. I enjoyed the process, was honored to be the only woman on the test-build list (he needed a tester under 5’10”!) and learned a lot from the experience. It took 650b wheels, a wheel size I wasn’t prepared to live with long term and saw no need to support; at my height, there wasn’t enough of a difference in ride quality between 650b and 559 (normal MTB 26” wheel size) to matter. After trying it out in various configurations and submitting my reports, I eventually sold the finished bike to a fellow randonneur rider. She passed away a number of years ago and I have no idea where that bike is today. (Sadly, Kogswell faced a number of financial and technical issues and closed down some time in the 2010’s.)

In 2007, I obtained a Rivendell All-Rounder frame set from a rider who no longer used it. Built the same year as my LongLow, it accepted 26”/559 MTB wheels and had plenty of room for fenders. the All-Rounder was the precursor to the Rivendell Atlantis, the frame I’d really wanted in 1999 when I went frame shopping. But the Atlantis was still in testing and the All-Rounder was no longer being made so I’d chosen the LongLow. At the time I’d gone around and around with Grant [Peterson] about the frame geometry, and was assured he’d honor my wishes. When the frame arrived I built it up and spent a long time swapping parts in and out for a good fit. Finally, I assumed that it was as good as it could be, and I lived with it.
When thenAll-Rounder arrived and I built it up, the perfect fit that had been so elusive on the LongLow was achieved with my first choice of stem and bar. After finishing the All-Rounder and riding it a little while, I measured the LongLow — something I should’ve done when it first arrived, admittedly — and discovered that Grant had changed the geometry to fit his ideas anyway. I’d been riding a bike with a top tube that was three cm too long for me. No wonder I couldn’t get a perfect fit!

I tore down the LongLow and sold it on eBay, with no regrets. I’m still riding the All-Rounder, and it still fits me perfectly. I occasionally still dream of owning a Toyo-era Atlantis, but that ship sailed long ago. So I get to be very happy with what I have.

While the all-Rounder was running drops, I bought a Bridgestone MB4 from a guy in trade for a Thomson seatpost. He’d set it up for racing, and I tore it down and rebuilt is a heavy-hauler (I had no trailer at the time). I’m especially proud of the homemade cargo rack I built from scrap parts; I once used it to bring home a bedroom nightstand I found at curbside. When I put uprights on the All-Rounder, the MB4 became redundant, so I sold it to a college student.

At the same time I was fiddling with the Bridgestone, I had a recurring gig in Kansas every June for six years. I was gone for a month at a time, and needed a bike and trailer to ride between my homestay and the synagogue I was hired by. For my second summer, I built up an abandoned bike and shipped it to the synagogue, where it lived for six summers while I came and went. At the end of my final summer session, I let the rabbi know it would be my last, and I boxed up the bike to ship it home. It eventually was tuned up and donated as part of my little Refugee Bikes Project.

1988 Peugeot Orient Express. I missed my old ‘86 Peugeot and I’d spent the better part of a decade looking for one in my size. I couldn’t find an ‘86 in my size with its beautiful, medieval-looking fork crown for under five hundred dollars. But I lucked out with this ‘88 model in very nice shape. It had been overhauled by a home mechanic who was fixing up old bikes to help make ends meet. Bike prices in 2023 are much lower than they were in 2019 so I was able to buy this bike for $120, ready to ride.

Of course, I swapped in some parts, including new upright handlebar, Nitto stem and a beautiful Suntour freewheel. Still to be done is changing the big and middle chainrings, which can wait. I added fenders and a rack and dolled it up a little. It rides great, and feels solid. And when I go to overhaul the All-Rounder in the spring, this will be a more-than-adequate “absolute replacement” bike.

Do I plan anymore really significant builds in the future? I’d never say never, but it’s not likely.
I’m down to two geared bikes and a singlespeed, and they all bring me pleasure when I can ride them.
I also have a Burley Travoy trailer that I’ve used fewer than ten times since I bought it in 2020, but chalk that up to Covid. I have hopes that I may yet use it now and then. (If I don’t use it much by the end of summer 2024, it’s likely I’m not meant to use a trailer anymore and I’ll likely sell it.)

I’m pleased to have found my groove with all these builds, and happy to own comfortable bikes that fit me so well.

Happy riding.

(Below: riding the old Peugeot during the snowstorm of 2008, when I was made of sterner stuff and willing to commute to the shop five miles away. In the snow. Both ways. I love those days and sometimes miss them.)

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Cold weather gear, 2023, Portland Oregon edition.

I live in the temperate climate of western Oregon. That means cool, rainy weather for six to eight months a year (and yes, climate change is evolving all that, but in fits and starts). My bikes wear fenders year-round, and I tend to wear layers when I ride in anything colder than about 55F.

Most of what I use is pretty tried and true over decades. I do ride less often in really cold and really wet weather than I used to, and since I no longer commute regularly to a day job my rides tend to be for pleasure more often and I don’t need to bundle up the way I used to.

I don’t wear special cycling clothes, just regular clothes with a sweater and rain gear. Here are my tried-trues for this time of year in Portland.

Middle layers. When it gets cold enough to require warmer middle layers I go with wool. It’s easy to care for (about every fifth or sixth wearing, machine wash gentle cycle, lay flat on the top of the drying rack and air dry) and if cared for properly it will last. I have a few favorite pieces that I’ve used for a long time.

Rivendell Wooly Warm Sweater and Vest. The sweater is a heavy one, ideal for cold but dry days. The vest is an early edition version that is versatile enough to layer over a shirt, over a wool jersey and/or under a shell. Both have a scratchy feel and need a shirt underneath them.

Wool caps made by Randi Jo Fabrications. Soft, comfy and they come in sizes! Also, if you have an old wool shirt you don’t wear anymore, you can send it to Randi Jo and have her turn it into a lovely cap. I’ve done this with a couple of shirts and the resulting caps are beautiful. She also makes caps for Rivendell, and I have one of those as well for its slightly broader brim.

These are even easier to care for than wool sweaters.
They’ll get wet in the rain, so when you arrive at your destination just hang it up to air dry.
When it starts to feel funky — I can’t smell so I can’t help you there — wash gentle cycle with gentle detergent (lots of folks like Kookabura Wool Wash) and air dry.

Wool or wool-blend neck gaiter. I had one by Smartwool that I’d bought through the Campmor catalog almost thirty years ago, when the catalog was still printed on paper. It lasted a shockingly long time with occasional hand mending. Two years ago I finally had to consign it to my sewing basket. I replaced it with one by Chrome that so far is soft and comfortable.  Lots of companies offer these things, and if you feel ambitious you can even make your own out of very fine merino yarn.

Along with your head, your hands will benefit from wool.
Here in rainy Portland, any glove that’s breathable will let moisture in. Any glove that isn’t breathable will allow your hands to soak in their own seat. In the end, you just have to decide where you want that moisture to come from.

I prefer breathable gloves that will stay relatively warm when wet, so I mostly use rag wool gloves with grippy dots on the palms. Yes, my hands get wet in them. But they stay pretty warm until I reach my destination, and then all I have to do is hang them over the vent to dry while I enjoy my hot beverage.  These are easily found on the cheap at hardware stores, so buy a couple of pairs and switch off.

Outerwear. On dry days, a heavy sweater will suffice. But if rain is at all in the forecast, add a waterproof shell. As with the gloves, breathable fabrics will eventually leak through, usually at the seams. Truly waterproof fabrics will not breathe and you will sweat prodigiously. 
For thirty years I’ve relied upon Burley rain jackets. They fit me well, they can be repaired, and I wash them gentle cycle once a year in a waterproofing detergent from Kwikwax and hang dry. The sad thing about Burley is that stopped making rainwear over twenty years ago. The good news is that you can still find used Burley products online at places like eBay or Poshmark.

Burley rain jackets can sometimes be altered as well. When I gained weight, I expanded my jacket with gussets made from similar fabric I found at recycling-repurposing shops (a good one here in Portland is ReClaim It!). It looks funky, but I don’t care. The yellow strips make me more visible and I’m fine with that. Note: if you use needle and thread, you can use Seam Seal to seal the holes made by the needle, or cover the backside with outdoor cloth repair tape.

Don’t forget your feet! A number of companies make all sorts of shoe covers for rainy weather. Most that are cycling-specific fit cycling shoes, but not street shoes like sneakers or oxfords. Rivendell offers something called Splats, made from waxed cotton material similar to what they use for their canvas saddlebags. It covers the top of the shoe and comes in sizes. I have a set of these and they do work, though a hard rain can peek into the space between your pants and the top of the Splats. 

When I don’t use my Splats, I wear waterproof shoes. My favorites are the Storm series from Chrome Industries; the 415 Storm boot is durable and sturdy while being comfortable.

Finally, pants or no pants? I wore Burley rain pants for many years. They were repairable, sturdy and came in sizes. Then I got too big for their regular pants and their fancy pants were very expensive and very complicated to use. Then I discovered Rainlegs, a half-pant solution very similar to chaps. They were affordable, easy to use, and fine in all but the worst downpours. They come in Black, grey and day-glo. They dry quickly, and then roll up into a neat little bundle that fits in a pocket or saddlebag.

At this point, because I don’t ride for primary transportation as much as I used to, I feel pretty well-equipped. (If you live in a snowier climate you probably know what to wear where you are, and you’re made of sterner stuff for riding in the snow.)

Remember that reflective tape can be used to add visibility to almost anything you wear, and use lights at night according to the laws where you live.

Happy riding!