Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday extra: Kansas bike no more

After hemming and hawing, and having difficulty finding a buyer in the Overland park area, I had to decide quickly whether to donate the Kansas bike, or ship it back to Portland.
This summer marked my last Incredible June where I would stay for nearly a whole month.
Next year, assuming the camp happens again, I've told my employers that I would only be available for a day of staff week and the two weeks of camp. I simply cannot be away from home a whole month anymore.

So in the end, I decided to ship the bike home. I figured that if it rode well enough after a light tuneup, then the seatpost height would make it fairly adjustable for a range of rider sizes and give us a guest bike to keep on hand. Tuning it up meant lubing the bearings, truing the wheel that got bumped in shipping, and adding a more permanent front fender cobbled together from parts (thanks, Bike Farm!).

The gearing is a little high for Portland's hills but I'm not going to invest too heavily in changing it before next spring. For now, it rides just fine. And now it's the Guest Bike.

 Zip-ties make bicycle add-ons easy and secure enough for city riding. The fender came from Bike Farm; the stay was pulled from a found metal fender that fits nothing. I may add a mudflap later.
This canvas saddle pouch came from a swap meet several years ago. It had been badly worn by tire rub on a saddle that was too close to the rear wheel. I patched the hole with a tire patch, conditioned the leather trim and let it be. Works fine.

The cockpit (below) includes a Misfit Psycles upright handlebar that works great with the bike's original stem. Very comfortable riding position. And of course, no city bike is complete without a way to carry coffee.

I HAD to swap in some better pedals; the ones I'd ridden on for the past four trips were already in bad shape and were wearing out. So I found these lovelies and decided they'd be a nice upgrade.

Add to that a Carradice "Overlander" pannier and a Bike Bucket on the other side, and now it's a totally fine, practical, comfortable bike for getting around the city, and just down-at-heel enough to be less attractive to a thief.

It's getting harder to find older mountain bikes to set up this way. Even cheaper brands found at big-box stores, like Motiv and Sherpa, now sell on eBay and Craigslist for between $75 and $150, USED. So this entry-level bike is actually something of a find.
Let's hope that things improve as folks decide that bikes are simply bikes, and not (shudder) investments. Ugh.
Cheers --

Finally, officially home: ride report

Yesterday I finally found the energy to take a little bike ride. While hills still take my breath away (combination of fatigue and less riding) it felt good to get out and spin my cranks. And it felt good to finally feel like I was truly home. (Ahhhh.)

Photos from a meander through NE Portland:
Left: A dietary suggestion, courtesy of the local mom-n-pop store.
Stamina. Cracks me up.
I mean, I like an occasional corn dog, but I don't depend on it for anything nutritional.

Transit in Portland is some of the best in the country.
And a relief to come home to after a month in Johnson County, Kansas -- which has basically NO real public transit at all. (Don't ask me why, unless you want to go deep into a discussion about racism in transportation planning...)

 Below: Newspaper box sticker art. Sadly, both are true.
Left: After depositing a check at my Credit Union, a stop at one of my favorite bikey hangouts. Non-profit bike repair space with VERY friendly staff! If you're in Portland, support the Bike Farm with donations of usable bicycles and parts, or a store purchase, or an annual membership that lets you use their workbenches and tools to fix your bike. I LOVE the Bike Farm!

Below: last stop -- Community Supported Everything's Free Closet. This was a good day to find free clothes, not so much for households and bike parts.
I am planning a day at home today to putter and get back into fixing up bikes for refugees.
If there's time I may take in another ride later on.
And if you're in Portland and have an old adult-sized bike you no longer need, let me know. I can always use more bikes for my project.
Thanks, and happy riding!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

it's good to be home again

Back in my beautiful city after nearly a month away.

I have continued to struggle with Crohn's-related fatigue, depression and digestion issues.
The steroid I was put in to get me through my month-long residency basically kept me from falling apart; but the effect has been less restorative and more like simply being propped up so I can continue to merely function, the difference between a proper operation and a swath of duct tape.

Today, with the weather finally cooled down. I am opting for a morning at home, followed by a short ride in the afternoon.
Truthfully, I have not enjoyed riding very much since the effectiveness of the last biologic wore off several weeks ago. Even looking at a bike on the hottest days of my kansas stay made me feel weary. Still, I rode as often as I could -- the distance between homestay and work wasn't very far, only a mile each way -- and when the fatigue was too much and/or I needed to save my energy, I happily accepted rides to the drugstore and grocery.

This is not the body that, only six years ago, raced a season of cyclocross and finished strong.
This is not the body that, five years ago, could still ride ten miles round trip with a nine-hour wrenching shift on my feet in between.
And while it would be easy for an outside to suggest that it's entirely my fauly for switching to a less physically-demanding career, many factors suggest that perhaps there were signs that my body pointed the way to that choice anyway. That there were subtle signs of slowing down, from aging and from Crohn's disease, that would have led me here today anyway, no matter how hard I had fought to keep my life where and how it was then. In the end, I'd still be here one way or another.

I miss the body that could do those things. I miss the camaraderie that came with that level of physical health and activity. I miss the vitality that came with physical exertion.
Yesterday, I mowed the lawn with our push-mower. It was overdue and had to be done.
When I was finished nearly forty minutes later (twice as long as it used to take me), I was dripping with sweat and exhausted. I had to sit in a chair in front of the living room fan for half an hour just to feel like I wasn't going to pass out.
The day before that, I had to take a bus errand, a short distance I could have easily covered by bicycle last fall. Taking the bus to and from wiped me out, and I had to take a nap when I got home.
This is what living with Crohn's feels like these days.

The blue bike I'd had with me in Kansas for the last three years arrived in Portland Thursday.
After hemming and hawing, I finally decided to bring it home again. I also told my Kansas employer that if they wanted me to return for camp next year, I could only give them the last day of Staff Week and the two weeks of camp -- the additional week-plus was out, along with all the Shabbat services I was asked to help lead. They could pay me less, of course; but I simply could not be away from home for a whole month anymore, especially while doctors were still trying to figure out what medical course to take. The rabbi didn't believe me until he tripped over the bike box in the temple office, all packed and waiting for FedEx to pick up.

I don't know what I'll do with it. I just knew that I wanted to bring it home again with me.

It is tiring and sad to ponder my low energy these days. Emotional and mental energy still requires physical effort. Depression intersected with Crohn's and perimenopause simply adds to the challenge, which is why I really want to feel like riding again. Riding helps with depression, but I need physical energy to do it. I hope that I'll have enough energy for a pleasant spin around the neighborhood.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

the bigness of it all: why I can't hack the suburbs

This is my fifth June in Overland Park, Kansas.
My fifth summer of teaching and making music and sharing laughter and smailes and learning with sweet kids. I look forward to the start of camp on Monday, ad I know that once everyone gets into the groove, the two weeks will go by quickly.
Meanwhile, I have a free day to myself. A free day in which to laze around in the morning and then ride my bike in the afternoon.
Here in Overland Park, the relentlessly pristine suburban landscape, with its tan big-box stores and manicured lawns and comfortable families are getting me down. It's shocking to see how many people have bought into this way of life, and how many still cling to it.

Because cars are king here, I must ride my bike on the sidewalk nearly all the time. There is one bike lane, which goes a short distance past the house where I'm staying. Drivers are generally pretty polite to me, especially when I'm towing the trailer (presumably, they think there's a child inside). But the landscape of sameness and sterility, the utter lack of a potholed vacant lot anywhere, feels sad.

Add to this mix the fact that my health is not what it used to be in previous visits -- I am tired all the time now, and find myself marshaling my energy carefully to save it for what I need to do the most.
I am already anticipating cancelling at least one dinner date this week because I can feel the hammer of fatigue hovering above my head and I know if I don't come home right after camp to rest, I'll pay for it the next day. The fatigue, the feeling of waking up never fully rested, has added to my slight melancholy about my visit, and melancholy already fueled by missing my Sweetie and mourning the loss of a beloved cat who died a week after I left. Sweetie and I have already agreed that this will be my last full month away from home for work. If the synagogue wants me back next year, it will have to be for only a couple of weeks at most. I just can't be gone that long anymore without it taking a toll on me, and on us.

That I know this even before camp starts tells me it's the right decision.

Today, I have to make myself scarce for a few hours, because my hosts are having a showing -- they're trying to sell this demi-mansion and everything has to be empty, unlived-in and pristine -- so after I hide all my stuff in closets and put the fancy sheets and blankets back on my bed and wipe down the kitchen counters so it looks like no water has ever splashed on them, I'll pack up my laptop and staff paper and headphones and ride to the nearest coffee shop so I can work on music in an air-conditioned environment. On the way back, I'll stop in at the temple to make sure everything is ready for camp tomorrow.

It's a strange landscape for me. I know my way around by now, where the grocery stores and coffee shops and the drugstore are, but it still feels foreign, and I still feel very much like a tourist here.
About the only place I feel a sense of welcome and homelikeness is at the temple itself.

But work can't be home. It mustn't be. I'm glad I know that.
It makes for better days, and more enjoyable rides, while I'm here.
Happy riding.

Monday, June 5, 2017

beloved blue bike: kansas, part five

My fifth visit to Overland Park, Kansas means pulling out the blue bike I shipped there a few years ago. It has lived in the rabbi's garage, awaiting my return every summer so I can ride it daily for about a month. Then, at the end of my teaching residency, it's returned to the back of the garage to collect dust while the tires go flat for another winter.

It felt good to pull it out and dust it off again this week. The brake pads, which I'd replaced last year, are fine. The chain is filthy but so far it's working, so I may just apply a little oil and leave it for now.
The rabbi is trying to sell this large house. Now that his kids are grown and he's only a few years from retirement, he doesn't need the space -- or the headache of living in a fancy gated community.
When his house sells, my bike will need a new storage space (and, assuming I'm invited back next year, I will need a new homestay situation next year). So far, his house has been on the market over five months and it hasn't had many bites. So, while his smaller house is being remodeled, he's living in the big house again and may even take it off the market while he's here.
In any case, if it's still his next summer I'll be surprised.

But I digress.

The bike worked just fine. I was reminded of the smaller rear cogs and how I have to rely on the largest two cogs to get up basically any incline -- especially after I hook up the trailer.

The trailer, loaned to me by a camper's family during my first year here, is now on permanent loan to the temple for whenever I visit. The camper in question has long since aged out of the program, and her younger siblings are much too big to ride in the trailer; so it just lives at the temple when I'm not using it. I expect I will store the bike at the temple, too, when my residency is finished for the year.

There will come a time when money, my energy level and/or a change of rabbi will determine that I no longer spend every June in Kansas. When that time comes, I can either leave the bike with Revolve KC, the bicycle non-profit; or I can box it up and take it home.

It's not a super-fancy bike; a department store-level mountain bike that's been city-fied on the cheap can be found anywhere in Portland and most other bike-friendly cities. (Its annual reappearance in the suburbs of Kansas City remains a novelty, even now) But I've grown quite fond of it. It fits me better than any of the bikes my hosts have managed to loan me (my primary reason for shipping it here to begin with); and it's comfortable and sturdy and cheap enough to survive the awful humidity of midwestern summers without much fuss. An occasional drop of lube, topping off the tires every couple of weeks, and it's good to go. If I did decide to donate it, I might swap in some cheaper handlebars, or I might not.

In spite of the oppressive heat -- today's high was 93F, with humidity above 40% -- I enjoyed riding to and from the temple today for the beginning of staff week. Turning the cranks after a few days of inactivity felt lovely, and I didn't even mind getting off and walking it up the short, steep incline to the rabbi's house after work.

Biking to and from the temple each day during my residency has become a hallmark of my annual visits.  When returning campers see the bike and trailer locked up outside, they know I'm back and it's all good.

So I'm here, and the bike is here, and it's time for bed. I've got another busy day tomorrow.

(Below: evidence of my return, June 2017. Taken at the temple.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Incredible June, Version 5: Kansas

Tomorrow I head out to Overland Park, Kansas (near Kansas City) for my fifth year of the summer teaching residency I never expected to last this long.

Likely the only biking I'll do is towing the guitar back and forth between my homestay and the synagogue where I'll teach. The blue Kansas bike is still there, and the trailer is now on permanent loan to the synagogue for whenever I visit.

It will be warm and humid, and they won't let me ride in the rain.
But it will still be lovely, and if I have a free evening Ill take advantage of the area's car-free paths to explore the area in and along Indian Creek in Johnson County.

It's summer, and I'm ready.
I'll send periodic reports of anything interesting.
Happy riding!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

the overseas thing, again

I spent almost twenty years working in the bicycle industry as a mechanic, inventory manager and shop co-owner.
In that time, I watched as our little shop went from being exclusively a used bikes dealer and repair shop to being an almost entirely new bike dealer.
The reasons for that are many, but mostly have to do with the internet and the cheap cost of goods made in China.

The internet made it possible for folks to acquire information about their old bikes, discover that many were, in fact, "vintage" and there fetched a higher price than a shop was willing to pay out. And with the advent of craigslist and eBay, the used bike retail market pretty much dried up in bike-friendly cities like Portland, because of the private market to be found online.

China, well.. China.
Yeah. Chinese factories, far from the prying eyes of all but the most diligent manufacturing company heads and paying pennies in labor costs, have been able to manufacture decent bikes and parts at a fraction of the cost of doing so in North America and Europe. Chinese parts have become the industry standard, while US- and EU-made parts have become "high zoot" and far more expensive than their Chinese-made counterparts.

Sure, some of that can be blamed on China's treatment of workers and the massive scale of their manufacturing. But some of it can also be blamed on a sense of guilt-induced cache that is added to the already higher price of US/EU-made goods. Yes, workers in the US and EU earn far more -- and their cost of living is higher. However, it would be interesting to stop and ask ourselves -- how much of our desire for goods made in the US and EU comes from needing to feel better about our buying power as expressed through our choices?

Guess what?
The more I watch the bicycle industry evolve, the more I become convinced that the average consumer actually holds very little power in this structure.
We spend according to our means -- or, more likely, according to the level of risk we're willing to take before the credit card bill comes in the mail next month.
If we ignored the efforts of Madison Avenue, THEN we'd have some real power. But too many of us (myself included, from time to time) are too easily manipulated by advertising; by the rules of the workplace which dictate that you have to look successful in order to somehow become successful; and by bicycle manufacturers dangling racer dreams in front of us that few of us can ever hope to catch.

But things are changing. And it's partly because of the internet, and China.
People are deciding that they want to live more within their means. They're cutting up their credit cards and learning to live on less money. They shop only when they actually need something, and learn how to maintain what they already own. And that includes bicycles.

Thanks to the internet, there are thousands of bicycle repair tutorials a keystroke away.
Thanks to China, when you need replacement parts, you can buy them yourself, online, for far less than you'd pay in a local shop.

And bike shop owners can do one of two things:

They can howl about how unfair it is. Those are the ones who will likely fold before too long.

Or they can adapt. Multi-purpose your space: serve coffee and lunch for the customer to eat while they wait for a simple repair. Teach repair classes for the simpler stuff and make more room on the board for the complex things that only trained mechanics should mess with.
Adapting also means running a leaner, smarter business. Because consumers WON'T stop buying on the cheap until they CAN'T anymore -- either because of trade restrictions and embargoes, or because of Peak Oil, or whatever else comes down the pike.

Some of us know that such a time might come in our lifetime. So we keep our skills handy and stock up on parts we've gleaned from other people's throwaways.
We repair derailleur springs and overhaul freewheels.
(Freewheels? Nobody rides those things anymore!  Well, actually, they do. I do, and they work just fine.)

I am sitting on a secret stash of highly un-glamorous -- even somewhat rusty -- but perfectly functional bike parts and I pull from that stash to repair bikes that come my way.
I value department store bikes -- as long as they're whole and they can still roll, I can tune them up and make them rideable and safe. And that is perfectly and totally fine.

In the end, the bike-boom ship has sailed (it sailed in late 2008, and the number of people still pining for that time shocks me). We will never again see lots and lots of legitimate retail bike stores selling only used product and still operating at a profit. That will become the realm of the non-profit, charity organization which doesn't have to worry about doing more than breaking even and hanging on until the next grant cycle comes. Anyone else dealing in used bikes will be doing it out of their house, on a scale so small the IRS will shrug and leave them alone, because it's just not worth their time and manpower to go after the home mechanics of the world.

And things will stumble along as they are for a little while yet.
Meanwhile, I think I'll go ride my bike.