Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Dental floss: best thread ever for repairing canvas bicycle bags.

Monday, May 25, 2015

there's a new kid in town: rivelo

After a morning spent working on music for my upcoming teaching residency, I needed a bike ride. So I rode across town and over to the new boutique, Rivelo. It's basically an independent Rivendell dealership being opened by John Bennett, who use to work at Rivendell HQ in Walnut Creek.

He was happy to see me, and gifted me with a patch ("for being one of the first ten people to visit the shop," he cheerfully explained). We talked for a little while, I gawked and shopped a little bit (those Kwikoin change purses make awesome cases for spare guitar picks and I wanted one for my travel case), and took some photos.

It's small, cute, and super niche-y. John is stocking Rivendell bikes (The Hillborne and the gorgeous new Cheviot), various Rivendell accessories and clothing, and a few things John likes that you won't find at Rivendell HQ, like Bob Dylan albums on vinyl. (Yes, really.) They're having a soft opening, which means you should check the web site and call ahead to make sure someone's there. The Grand Opening party will be on June 20, and rumor has it Grant Peterson will show. (I'll be on the road so John promised to tell Grant hi for me.)


Bob Dylan Records. A whole bunch of them. Because in Portland, a new shop needs a quirk. And John is crazy about Dylan. One quirk, served without pretense.

OMG. The new Rivendell Cheviot. A mixte for everyone. Simply drop-dead gorgeous. If money and space were no object I would totally buy one of these.

It was nice to get in and see the place before my trip. I'll stop back by for sure.
More pix of my visit at https://www.flickr.com/photos/bethness/sets/72157653044355950.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

sunday parkways returns!

If you're in Portland and want to have more fun than a typical, stuffy Mother's Day brunch will provide, come on down to Sunday Parkways East. The City of Portland will close a seven-mile loop to motorized traffic and give free passage to human-powered transportation. The loop passes several city parks, each offering fun activities and food carts. Parkways runs from 11am till 4 pm.

There are still volunteer slots available -- the City needs hundreds of volunteers to make Parkways safe, fun and successful. Check the web page for details, or show up tomorrow morning at 10 am to help out at an intersection along the route.

Sunday Parkways was started in 2008, inspired by Bogota, Columbia's Ciclovia which closed miles of city streets to motor traffic and became a world-famous event. Since then, hundreds of cities in dozens of countries around the world have created similar events on a monthly or weekly basis during the summer months. (Bogota's Ciclovia event still runs every Sunday and on state holidays year-round.)

(Below: Sunday Parkways North, back in 2009. I've volunteered at Parkways every year since its inception as a Rolling Wrench, and I'll be doing it again this year at least once, maybe twice. See you on the street!)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

ride report: outer east portland

I invited Slug Velo alumni and their friends who get the concept to join me for a mellow, slug-paced bike ride. Not wanting to be totally responsible, I advised that this would be a leaderless ride, and that if found a route and decided we didn't like it, we'd veer and go somewhere else.

Four riders on recumbents met me downtown at the Starbucks on 4th. We perused the three Portland By Bike maps I'd downloaded and selected the one that would take us out the Springwater Corridor path. The day began cloudy and cool, cool enough that I needed all the layers I'd brought; but by the time we'd gotten out to around SE 47th I had removed my wool sweater and did the rest of the ride in shirtsleeves. We meandered along the Springwater path, talking with whomever we fell in alongside, then switching up the order and chatting with someone else. We followed the route -- Springwater South to Springwater East, all the way to 126th. While much of outer eastside Portland remains a little down-at-heel, with large grass fields dotted by the occasional single-wide mobile home or home-based machine shop or what-have-you, housing scarcity closer in had forced increased development in Lents and beyond, with rowhouses springing up along paved streets that were once little more than gravel roads. We stopped to check out one property for sale that would surely sell for over half a million dollars -- in an area where the smallest older houses went for no more than around $45,000 a decade ago. Gentrification has reared its expensive head in outer east Portland.

We chose to loop back along 130th, and then zig-zagged through residential neighborhoods on streets marked as "Neighborhood Greenways" -- the new name for Bike Boulevards, apparently. Here and there, I could see evidence of a racial diversity that had not existed here twenty years ago, but which has now become the norm as more families of color are forced out of inner NE Portland by development and ridiculously high rents (a one-bedroom apartment in the Sabin neighborhood -- if you can find one that hasn't been torn down in favor of freestanding houses and duplexes -- now averages around $1,200/month; a studio goes for close to $1,000. That's absurd in a town with no living wage policy). I wondered silently how long we'd be able to live where we do now, and what we'd do if a spike in property taxes or some other radical change forced us out of our little house. It's possible such a change would force us out of Portland altogether. It's become a little San Francisco here, and it makes me sad and a little worried.

We rode along tree-lined streets and past parks filled with soccer-playing kids until we came to the I-205 bike path, which took us north all the way to Burnside. From there, we cruised along Burnside down to the  Hollywood district and Grant Park, where we turned and headed north again to Tillamook. I enjoyed the sight of the first roses opening up -- we had a warm winter, so I suspect that most of the city's roses will be in full bloom just in time for Rose Festival -- and crows swooping and cawing at us from overhead as we rode through their "turf". The clouds had burned off and the day had warmed up considerably. It was smooth sailing down Tillamook to N. Williams Avenue, where my friends peeled off to head to an event at the Widmer pub while I continued north on Williams to get home.

A side-note: I wore regular clothes for this ride. A t-shirt, an oxford shirt and a thin wool sweater, plus swrve knickers and Chrome sneakers (non-SPD). My only concession to bikey-gear was to wear Andiamos underneath my knickers. I normally just wear plain old undies when I ride around town, but on longer rides a little padding is not a bad idea.

At the end of the ride, I note that my feet do not hurt and other than a little tweakiness in my right knee I feel fine. In short, I discover that I don't need stiff-soled cycling shoes and that, in fact, sneakers are actually more comfortable. Especially when I ride with flat pedals, which I do almost all the time now. I imagine that when I get home I will probably get rid of the last of my truly bikey attire -- shorts, jerseys, shoes -- because today I realize I don't need any of it to enjoy riding my bike.
(But I think I'll keep the Andiamos. They DO come in handy.)

I rode a lot more than I'd intended to; but that was made a little easier by riding with other folks. Total was a little more than 30 miles and now I'm headed for a well-deserved nap.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

doth they protest too much? on mountain bike trail access in the heart of a city

Over the past several weeks, a controversy has been brewing among mountain bike enthusiasts in Portland. For several years they've been lobbying the Portland City Council and related stakeholders for more and better access to Forest Park, an old-growth forest that sits partly within the city limits and is a popular park with hikers, joggers and nature-lovers; and more recently have been working on continued access for bikes in the River View Nature Area, a popular area for mountain biking in Portland.

About a month ago, the Portland City Council suspended the public process without warning, and summarily ended all discussion on increased mountain bike access to the trails in the River View area. After years of wrangling over trail access in Forest Park and getting nowhere, mountain bike advocates felt screwed, and rightly so; an organization has filed a lawsuit against the City Council saying that they acted in bad faith and possibly broke laws concerning public process.

Meanwhile, mountain bikers didn't take this lying down. Instead, they held a protest ride, illegally riding on trails in Forest Park that had been closed to bicycle access. One woman even boasted about it at her blog. The upshot of this has played out over at Bikeportland.org, where the mountain bike enthusiasts are loudly bleating their case to anyone who will listen -- and a sympathetic Jonathan Maus (Bikeportland's founder/owner/editor) is giving them all the rope they could want with which to hang themselves.

Wait a minute -- did you read me right? Yes.
I think that filing a lawsuit is an appropriate response to being screwed by the City Council.
Poaching trails in the woods is not.
Especially when you poach trails in the rain.
It's been raining for the past few days here in the Rose City, and all that rain translates to a lot of mud; ride a mountain bike over it too many times and you risk degrading the trail and the vegetation on either side of that trail. None of which in and of itself would be a big deal -- except that Forest Park is a protected natural preserve, home to many native species, and with some very specific rules about where and how the public may access this little gem of wilderness on the edge of the city.

Now, let's be clear. I have ridden a mountain bike off-road. The majority of my mountain biking has been at Portland International Raceway, where for several seasons I raced in the Portland Racing Short-Track Series. The series takes place on and around the motocross track at PIR, an area set aside for such activity and cared for under a public-private partnership between Metro and PIR. It's a controlled, contained environment. I've enjoyed myself heartily at those races. But it has not aroused in me a burning desire to go and ride singletrack wherever I can find it. Call me crazy.

Or call me realistic.

The fact is that my life, set up as it is, is not conducive to traveling all over hither and yon to ride singletrack. The closest spot with really excellent singletrack is probably Sandy Ridge, which requires that you toss your bike on a car and drive up there. Living car-free, that option is not a priority for me. In fact, because all my rides begin and end at my front door, I simply am not part of the car-dependent recreational biking set. I'm not trying to be an elitist. This is simply how I've lived for decades. I don't see it changing anytime soon.

Portland has become, in many ways, like a miniature San Francisco; its particular quirkiness has become a bonafide brand, attracting people with means to move here from everywhere else. Developers with hard cash and buying up properties left and right, effectively shutting out longtime residents who find their rents increasing -- or their rentals being demolished in favor of the chic rowhouses now dotting the landscape and making it difficult for young couples with conventional mortgage and loan products to become first-time homeowners. Low- and lower-middle-income Portlanders are being shuttled further east as property values in the central city are rising through the roof. Many in that demographic will eventually be forced to leave Portland altogether -- it's already beginning to happen -- as Portland becomes a city for People With Money.

Homelessness in our city is on the rise. The Springwater Corridor bike-ped path, once the crown jewel of the 40-Mile Loop, is now home to dozens (maybe more) of people reduced to camping along the parts of the path east of Portland. Granted, Portland has long been a town where it's relatively "easy" to be homeless; our mild climate and multitude of services for homeless people make it so. But the reality is that it's hard for me to be a cheerleader for people clamoring for trail access in a nature preserve when other people are living in a thicket year-round. Many of these same people are angry that a number of those same campers are stealing bikes and selling the parts to survive. The self-righteous bicycle enthusiasts, constituting some odd Greek chorus over at Bikeportland.org, regularly demand that everyone adhere to the same set of ethics, regardless of their lot in life.

Would you steal to survive if you had no other options? I might, and I admit it.
I think you have the ethics you can afford to have.

But I digress. Maybe.

In the end, Portland may become too expensive for me and Sweetie to remain in, especially since the likelihood of our transitioning to a more "corporate" work-life balance is pretty damned low. We're freelance creatives who are cobbling it together. At some point, it may become so expensive to live in Portland that the creatives who bring this town much of its vibrancy and quirkiness may all have to leave. This cycle is nothing new, and it will happen again and again under our current economic template. Which makes the passionate clamorings of a handful of recreational mountain bikers for trail access seem, well, sort of pathetic.

How does all of this connect to the mountain biking protestors and their right to due process? I won't argue with anyone's right to protest; it's how this nation came to be. But I wonder at the wisdom of this protest, when there are far more pressing issues affecting many more people than a couple of hundred mountain bike enthusiasts. I wish these same bicyclists would turn their energies and passion to sounding the alarm about real livability issues -- like the chasm between rich and poor, the shrinking of a middle class; and the unchecked growth of Portland's population and, by extension, its automotive traffic -- all of which will lead us down a road to a less liveable and less affordable city. In the face of such a dire bigger picture, it's hard for me to take this trail access protest seriously.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

in praise of cheapness: a few recommendations

My Bicycle Quarterly magazine arrived last week. I have enjoyed reading it a little at a time, light bedtime reading. But the more time passes, the less interested I am in buying the most expensive, cool, efficient or whatever-else bike components. If a part works, I am open to using it on one of my bikes.

I think this goes hand in hand with my penchant for what Grant Peterson calls beausage, shorthand for beauty-through-usage. A component or accessory that ages over time and with regular use takes on a patina of fading, scraping, and honest use that has a certain beauty in it.

A part needn't be fancy or expensive to have the potential for attaining beausage.

My Sekai rough-stuff bike has a mish-mash of parts on it, including a rather low-level Shimano rear derailleur that includes its own hanger (because the frame doesn't have a hanger as part of the dropout -- a hallmark of a cheap frame). The derailleur isn't fancy, and I had to bend it back to realign it when I installed it; but it works, reliably and simply. That derailleur probably sold new for less than ten dollars thirty years ago. Today, you might still find one in a bin at a shop that sell used bikes and parts. Mine works with the friction shifters I installed and I am happy.

I've read lots of articles -- particularly in BQ but elsewhere, too -- about how quality tires make the difference. And so far, the only time that has really borne out for me was the time I test-road a vintage road bike with sewups. Okay, yes, riding on sewups was sort of like sex on satin sheets -- smooth and buttery and some kind of heaven in terms of road feel. But sewups are also notorious for getting flats -- lots of them -- and being a bear to replace on the fly, which is why they fell out of favor with the advent of higher quality clincher tires in the 1990s.

For me, a tire that rides well and is flat resistant is a tire I will use on my bike. My current tire of choice is the Rubena Flash. Made in the Czech Republic, they are marketed as an affordable alternative to Schwalbe's Marathon tire. The Marathon is a great tire for commuting but it's heavy and pricey. The Flash rides perfectly fine for a commuting tire, weighs less than the Marathon and costs a little more than half as much. And I've had a total of ONE flat on the rear tire that's been on my bike for the last year.

I also replaced my rear fender-mounted taillight this spring. The PDW Fenderbot was a huge disappointment, not providing nearly enough light for its $26.00 retail price. After checking around, I swapped in the more affordable -- and considerably brighter -- Pixeo tallight by Spaninga. At around $15 retail, the light comes in either a dynamo version or a battery-powered version. The battery-powered version comes either with an automatic mode (where it will turn off after awhile, which tends to be too soon for my commutes), or a manual on-off switch. I bought the latter (the one at far right in this photo) and have been pleased by its brightness and performance so far.

I have enjoyed stripping dead bike frames for useable parts, some of which end up on my nicer bike (which these days remains the All-Rounder). I love installing old, scraped up parts on nicer frames as a contrarian way of insisting on squeezing all the usefulness from a component. My Sekai has recycled bar tape; my All-Rounder has a fender repaired with a piece of plastic from a saddle hang-tag.

I enjoy looking at bikes that show their age, and the miles ridden. Those bikes tell something about where they and their riders have been and there's a kind of beauty in that I find irresistible.

Wherever your bike takes you this spring, may the miles be filled with delight!

Sunday, March 29, 2015


As I struggle with the ups and downs of my new career as a freelancer, there are times I consider the possibility that I will have to return to the bicycle industry to pick up at least some part-time work to pay the bills. And I suppose that reality has been lurking in the back of my mind all along; how else to explain the fact that I've kept up my technical reading and tried to understand how things like disc brakes and shocks work?

Still, it occurs to me that getting back in may be harder than I thought, in part because of those newer technologies.

When I worked at Citybikes, I almost never touched a disc brake and never opened up a shock fork. It was a shop policy that we wouldn't work on shocks, period (and in fact, we'd try and persuade the customers to "upgrade" to rigid forks on any bike used for transportation). And at the time, we didn't have a ton of bikes with disc brakes.

Well, that is changing.

Today the bicycle industry is slapping discs on anything that moves, including mid-level commuter bikes. And in this one instance, Jan Heine (of Bicycle Quarterly) and I are in total agreement: disc brakes for commuting and touring bikes are pretty much pointless. Yes, thee are exceptions, like fatty bikes in the snow and downhill racing bikes; but most people just don't do that kind of riding in everyday life. (Does anyone remember when everyone went out and bought a mountain bike in the early 90s, only to find five years later that they'd put slicks and fenders on it because they never went off-road? This is kinda like that.)

The downside of this is that Jan and I are in a shrinking minority, as more and more folks are drinking the kool-aid and insisting that they need disc brakes on their daily rides.

There's nothing inherently "wrong" with disc brakes. It's just that they are really unnecessary for city bikes, and in certain conditions they actually lag behind rim brakes in efficiency and modulation. They also weigh a lot more, cost more and are fussier by far to maintain and adjust than cantilever rim brakes. And yet, if I work in a shop today, not only will I need to know how to service all sorts of disc brakes, I will have to talk about them like they're the best thing since striped pajamas.


To my thinking, it's just one more vestige of an industry that depends on people buying new stuff every year in order to remain profitable. Only problem is that, in their quest for profits, too many bike and component manufacturers end up looking ridiculous at best and conspiratorial at worst.

So I am handing out my resume at shops where it's less likely that I will be working exclusively on brand-new bikes. The number of shops in that category is shrinking as more of their owners recognize that there's less money in used bikes (unless you're the Community Cycling Center, which has super-low overhead as a non-profit and has jacked up their prices to match those of Citybikes and Better Cycle). But I digress.

In short, the industry marches ever onward, and at some point I will either stop trying to play catch-up or simply get too old to do that sort of work anymore. Either way, it's a cue for me to march ever onward myself, even if it puts my feet on a different -- and admittedly contrarian -- path.

Happy riding!

(Not a disc brake in the bunch.)