Friday, April 29, 2016

VP pedal - UPDATE

So in previous posts I complained about the VP-001's "hump" which made for a less-comfortable platform on which to put one's foot.
They must have heard me.
VP has now come out with the "Aim" platform pedal, which gets rid of the hump and offers something more concave in the middle.
At a list price of $60 a pair, I'm not ready to commit, but it's worth noting anyway.
I'm too happy with the Zerays to make a change for now.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pedal update: Zeray platform pedals

A few months back I was in Rivelo admiring the new Clems. I noticed that the bikes had been spec'd with a very nice plastic platform pedal with metal grip pins. I asked John [Bennet, the proprietor] if he knew where I might find the pedals separately for sale. He didn't, so I began searching.

I couldn't find the exact pedal, but I came pretty darned close, and what I found may be a winner.

Earth Zeray pedals (made in China -- I know, sorry) model ZP-221 platform pedals are constructed from a rubbery plastic, with stout metal grip pins that appear to be replaceable (they thread in and take very tiny wrench flats). The low-profile design means I can put these on a bike and lower the saddle -- which will be welcome on my Bridgestone, where the higher-profile pedals force to raise my saddle to a height that's uncomfortable with a foot down at the light. The sealed bearings feel great and are what I would expect to find on a pedal costing far more than this. They retail online for anywhere between $30 and 35 a pair. (I purchased mine on eBay for less.)

A few photos taken with my extremely bad camera:

They do come in black, but the eBay seller was out and asked if he could substitue grey. Since my feet will be on them, it's no big deal. If you like fixie straps, these will take them easily. One downer is that they don't come with reflectors and there's no way to attach them, so if it really hangs you up you might add some reflective tape. It's a very minor quibble for what seems to be a really good pedal for the money.

Since none of my usual local outlets carry this pedal, I felt no guilt in buying online:

The pedal comes in several colors, including black, white and grey. Weight weenies will appreciate that even with the sealed bearings and other fine points, they weight noticeably less than similar models made of alloy (I'm immediately thinking of my Redline pedals, which may end up on another bike if I like these enough. I think I will).

Happy riding!

UPDATE: I installed the pedals, lowered the saddle and took a short spin on the Bridgestone.  Fabulous! A darned-near perfect pedal. Similar in design and intent to the VP-001 pedals (reviewed in December 2015), but without the annoying "hump" in the center, this pedal is every bit as smooth as the VP, but more comfortable for my foot. Granted, the hard plasti-rubber compound will get dirty in seconds after installation (unless you choose black); but that's not a big deal for me. Excellent pedal.

Friday, April 15, 2016

the work of our hands: welcoming the stranger

As many of you know, before I made the Flying Leap Of Faith into the life of a musician and teacher, I was a bicycle mechanic and bike shop owner for almost twenty years.
As we prepare for Pesach (Passover), the Feast of Freedom, my local synagogue community is involved in a project I want to tell you about.
Havurah Shalom is partnering with Catholic Charities of Portland to provide household items and assistance with cultural navigation (more on that later) for refugees who have recent been resettled in Portland, from place like Somalia, Nicaragua, and other places where civil war, famine and sectarian violence have made it unsafe to work, play, raise a family or educate one's children. Once these families are vetted by the US State Department and granted asylum, social service agencies like Catholic Charities help them obtain affordable housing and jobs. Havurah Shalom is gathering household items (kitchen supplies, furniture, etc.) to furnish these apartments for families who have arrived here with little more than what they're wearing. Several of us will also be training as Cultural Navigators, helping our new fellow Portlanders learn their way around town, how to use public transit and how to utilize local job-search resources, etc. While we're doing this, we're also building relationships with these folks as they settle into their lives here in town.
While Portland's public transit is quite good, among the best in the country, bus far may still be expensive for new arrivals until they've found employment. So on a whim, I began asking friends at shul to donate old bicycles they no longer need, and I've been tuning them up and passing them along to be distributed to newly-arrived families.
Each bike has been equipped with lights, a lock, a small repair kit and a Portland bicycle map.
I've repaired five bicycles so far, and have another ten or so in the queue.
It's been a lot of fun to gather up these old bikes, some of which were outgrown, and others which were destined for a landfill because they'd gone unclaimed in an apartment basement for over two years, and turn them into useful transportation again. It's nice to keep my hands knowledgeable, to keep the muscle memory going, about the niceties of bicycle "mechanistry", as a fellow mechanic friend calls it. And it feels great to use something that comes so easily to me to make it possible for someone eles to get around town cheaply and easily.
I am planning to train as a cultural navigator, to help the new arrivals find their way around town on the transit system (because I've used Trimet for over forty years and I know the east side surface street grid like the back of my hand). I expect I'll learn at least as much as I may teach. I hope so.
The Passover Haggadah reminds us that when our ancestors left Egypt, a number of non-Israelites left with them. We were told that, as fellow sojourners, they were to be welcomed as part of our community.
And so it continues down to the present day.
Even now, our tradition reminds us that we must protect the widow and the orphan, and to welcome the stranger in our midst, so he or she won't be a stranger anymore.
I would love to hear from you what sorts of things you keep in mind as you welcome the strangers in your midst. Please feel free to leave me a comment below!
May you and yours have a sweet spring, and if you celebrate it, a joyous Pesach.
(Below: in my previous life as a shop mechanic, volunteering at a local bike event, 2008)

Monday, April 11, 2016

on civility, choice and bicycle riding

A post over at has brought out the worst in commenting I've seen in awhile.

Here's the opening paragraph:

"An interaction between road users on North Williams Avenue during rush-hour last night turned ugly when a woman driving a car physically threatened a woman who was cycling by swerving her car into the bike lane and then chasing her into a nearby restaurant."

You can read the rest of the article here.

And after reading over 250 comments, I felt sickened by what people had to say. So I tried to post my own. But for some reason, Bikeportland wouldn't allow me to post it. So I'm posting it here instead.


I need to take a break from Bikeportland, and especially from its commentership, for awhile.

I cannot read any more comments about how we must all take self-defense classes and become political activists and engage in truth-and-reconciliation projects and learn to ride faster and carry mace and affix cameras to our handlebars and keep our U-locks at the ready in our dominant hand -- just to safely ride a bicycle in this town.

I'm sorry. I can't fit the mold. I just want to ride my [expletive deleted] bicycle. And I am tired of so many folks suggesting that just riding my bicycle is no longer good enough.

For every bike activist whose spirit animal seems to be a tiger, there are dozens and even hundreds of us who more closely -- and silently -- identify with the opossum.

We ride residential streets, select quieter routes that may take us longer to traverse but which also mean less stress and worry about aggressive car drivers and excessive truck freight traffic.
We try to live within biking distance of the place we need to go -- work, school, the grocery store -- and if we can't afford to then we rely on a combination of bicycle and public transit because owning a car is too expensive if we still want to be able to make rent each month.

Some of us find ways to stay under the radar so we can still afford to live here. Some of us see the writing on the wall and are already making plans to leave because we can only get down so far under the radar before we're sleeping on a park bench

I cannot read any more comments from people who have choices and who insist that other bicycle riders make similar choices -- about how and where to live, and how to "defend" one's rights as a bicycle rider.

Like some people take a break from Facebook and Twitter from time to time, I need a break from all the self-righteous commenters who insist that their way is the only way. I'm utterly exhausted by what I'm reading here.
Please try to be nice to each other, because in the end civility may be all that's still worth saving in our lovely city.
Rubber side down kids, and happy riding.

Friday, April 1, 2016

rivendell appaloosa: a bike behind its time

Yesterday, on a particularly sunny day, I felt a return of some of the energy I'd lost over the winter while the Crohn's was acting up. So I decided to tempt fate with a cross-town bike ride.
Among my stops was a short visit to Rivelo, to check out the new Joe Appaloosa bikes that had recently arrived.

There they were, lined up along one wall and looking remarkably similar in design and build to one of the many "citified" mountain bikes I've built up and ridden over the years.
Larger sizes get a double top tube (it's a Grant thing, some folks like it and some folks think it's weird overkill) and 700c wheels; smaller sizes get 26" (erd 559!) wheels and a single top tube.

Upon closer inspection, this bike has a lot going for it, including a beautifully brazed lugged steel frame, a sensible selection of parts for the build and a comfortable sitting position that almost anyone who likes their bikes with upright bars will enjoy.

The retail on a complete bike is $2,600.

Before you freak out, remember that's for a complete bike, with decent components hung on a hand-brazed steel frameset that would cost that much alone from some builders (and more from others). This is a bike for folks who've ridden awhile, who know that this setup will fit their approach to riding and who would prefer to spend a little more to get a bike that will last a very long time. This frameset will last long enough that you'll be replacing parts many times and the frame will still be going strong even after a good decade or two of daily rides.

Sexy, sexy fork crown.

I love fork crowns. This is one of the most beautiful I've seen in a long time.
If you want this fork crown, you gotta get this bike. It looks and feels like the way bikes used to be when more of us knew how to set up our own bikes and converted mountain bikes to something very similar to this. It's sort of a bike behind its time. But so good that it's ahead of its time, and may swing the pendulum back to what makes sense. rather than what sells more racing bikes.

Nice graphics, as always, from the folks at RBW.
I sort of don't get the "Joe" thing, it could've been just "Appaloosa" and would've been perfectly lovely. But it's all good.

For those who still fret at the price of this bike, there's another bike that's similarly set up, using a more affordable build and a selection of cheaper-but-still-nice parts. The Clem Smith, Jr. is a very nice-looking and complete bike for $1,900. It's sort of like getting a Surly Long-Haul Trucker complete build, but with more comfortable handlebars and more sensible 1" quill stem. And oh, yeah, that's still a pretty lovely fork crown right there.

I actually am a real fan of this bike. If I needed a bike and had the money I would probably get the Clem. I might even beg, borrow and swap for the money to get this bike if I was bikeless. Smart, attractive, sensible, and for what GOOD bikes cost today, actually sort of a bargain.

(Brooks saddle shown NOT included at this price. Be real.)
Thing is,  I already have two bikes that are pretty damned awesome, set up similarly but not exactly alike; with perfectly good working parts and a comfortable position. So I'm set. As Rivelo owner John Bennett said, "Two bikes is really all most people need."

I concur.

Happy riding!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

the arms race, continued: 12-speed cassettes

It's official: We now have 12-speed cassettes.

Thanks to SRAM, the purveyors of racer-wannabe culture and the folks who insist on curating your next riding experience, There is now a 12 x 1 drivetrain for mountain bikes.

Apparently, the folks at SRAM decided that managing two derailleurs has simply gotten too complicated. What's more, they've decided that climbing hills has gotten too hard, which is the only reason I can come up with for the existence of a 10-50 cassette paired with a 36t chainring. I could climb up and over a telephone booth with that gearing. (If I could still find a telephone booth, that is.)
Then, to get the most for their trouble they've priced it out of this world. The cassette alone retails for over $400.

Yeah, sit with that a minute.

Four hundred dollars. For a cassette.

From the photos, it looks like a very pretty cassette, but I'm not putting it in my ear lobe.

To justify that price, I'd have to hang it on a $5,000 frame. And of course someone's gonna have to come up with another exclusive chain tool like Campy did for its 11-speed chains. Because unless you spread the rear dropouts farther apart (Q-factor? What's that?), that chain is going to be pretty damned narrow and thin-walled and you BET it'll need a special tool of its own.


(Below) See this? It's what we used to do before cassettes came along.

Once upon a time, freewheels were all we had on bikes. They could be taken apart, overhauled, the bearings cleaned and re-greased; and worn cogs removed and replaced as needed. Suntour, Regina and other makers used to sell individual cogs for just this purpose. And as long as you could repair a freewheel, you could buy just the parts you needed and keep it going a lot longer.
Of course, that sort of frugality is bad for a company's bottom line.
AND -- American riders got bigger and heavier, which is part of why cassettes became such a good idea: cassette hubs are stronger because the weight is on the hub instead of just the axle.
AND -- racers wanted more gear selection because they didn't want to have to think about gear combinations, they just wanted to shift and keep on shifting ad infinitum.

So eventually freewheels gave way to cassettes, and today you can't find a decent freewheel easily.

If you're like me you scavenge for old freewheels wherever you can. Then you take them home, clean and re-grease them and put them away with a thin coating of light oil on them. And if you're lucky, you acquire enough to see you out. Which is what I've basically done.

Because honestly, this 12-speed thing is a crock, just another smokescreen designed to fool you into thinking your old parts aren't good enough anymore while lining the pockets of bicycle manufacturers who live and die by selling to pretend-racers because real racers alone won't keep their operations propped up and chugging along. This stopped being about real quality a long time ago. And it has stopped being about real innovation too. Bicycles with chain-based drive trains are a mature technology. Everything achievable now is mostly baby-steps that don't really mean anything in the real world. Real innovation would entail coming up with ways to make bike parts last longer and the industry as a whole become more sustainable. But I don't see that happening anytime soon. And it's a shame. Because it's just one more nail in the coffin of the false notion that the bike industry could possibly ever be "green". It's still a lie and it's a lie that's growing all the time.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. And seriously, recycling should be the lowest priority in that triad. Start by using things until they really wear out, then turning them into something else that can be used for another purpose. Then recycle the materials, and if possible buy new components made from that melted-down metal. It's not rocket science anymore. The bike industry has known how to do this for a long time and mostly refuses to. It's time to wake up and stop making throw-away technology.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

errandonnee 2016:11 & 12 -- coffee, drugs and a chance of extreme rain

I didn't ride yesterday, because I was working and had to dress nice (I was leading Shabbat services).
So today, when I heard that heavy rain would be followed by a major windstorm, I had two choices:

a. Ignore the dire warnings, because Portland weather forecasters habitually lose their collective minds over the slightest suggestion of danger. (Don't believe me? Come back next winter and see how they practically salivate at the mention of freezing rain on the valley floor. These people need to get a hobby. Or move back to Arizona.)

b. Consider that if the storm was real and would arrive by noon as advised, I had a window of time in which to run my last two errands before the deadline.

The rain was pouring. The wind was beginning to pick up. I opted to go out. Because I admit I also enjoy an occasional whiff of "danger" on my rides.

To make proper loop of it, I rode to the farthest point first: My local drugstore, where I had prescriptions to pick up. Because this is Portland, my drugstore allows bicyclists to use the drive-thru window.

While waiting for the window to open (I got there at three minutes to ten), I admired my rainwear choices: Thrown hastily over my sweats and sweater, I added knee-high rain boots, Rainlegs (demi-pants that are easy on, easy off, and ideal for quick trips) and my Burley rain jacket (twenty years old and still repelling water. Take that, Showers Pass; and damn you for stealing Burley's Touring jacket design and making it worse.)

After a lovely and very soggy ride through my neighborhood, I looped back to Ps & Qs for a quick cuppa joe. Hot, fresh, tasty -- and not nearly as foofily-priced as, ahem, that other coffee shop on Dekum. Because if there's anything I have learned from all this Coffeeneuring and Errandonneeing it's that $3.50 for a tall cup of house coffee is ridiculous. Especially when combined with surly wait-staff. Service at Ps & Qs can sometimes be slow (they tend to under-staff) but always cheerful and friendly.
Evidence of water. (Lousy picture but I am positively dripping as I snap this reflective selfie.)

Last shot: Another gorgeous tree in bloom as I head home. Spring is here, even if it's cold and wet. (Well, that's usually how spring is here. After forty-plus years I generally don't mind.)
Total distance: 3.6 miles
File under: Personal care, Coffee
Total distance ridden in 12 days: 38.6 miles
(**As I have no cyclometer on my bike, all distances checked with Portland Bike Map.)

What I learned:

1. Baskets. Totally. Rock. I don't know why I waited so long to put them back on my bikes. Add a small waterproof bag and you're all set for shopping, camping, what-have-you. (WALD makes a decent basket bag for those of you not living in the Pacific NW.)

2. I counted miles for the purposes of this little event, but really, I no longer care about how many miles I ride. It's about how much enjoy them simply by going outside and riding my bicycle.

3. Coffee is mostly what makes the world -- and commerce -- go around.

The wind is getting stronger and a little gustier as I type this, and in the southwest there is definitely a big, black cloudy front that I can see from my living room window. Oh yeah, this'll be fun.
Happy riding!