Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Jerry and the Shopping Cart Folks

There was some lady and some dude pushing a shopping cart down the C&O Canal towpath. The path is all dirt and rocks. They looked to be about mid-50s and miserable. Their mission was not what they'd predicted. They had camping gear, or what I assume was supposed to be camping gear, and they were full of complaints. I was resting on top of a picnic table, and I could hear the rattle of the cart approaching from a mile away. I was disappointed that I couldn't overhear more of their conversation. I wasn't able to piece much together from the gripes.

When you travel by bicycle, you are invited to experience a reality which is altered. I would argue that it is a better reality, and one far more truthful and interesting than the one that most of us are raised to accept. From what I was able to gather, the couple with the shopping cart had cooked up a mission, gone on TV to harp about something they wanted to prove, and had only that day realized how much it sucks to push a shopping cart on a dirt and gravel path. As it turned out, we ended up camping at the same place, but I didn't ask any questions. The tension between them was obvious, and I concluded that they might want a break from talking about the shopping cart. I was riding with my good friend Jonas for the week, and as luck would have it, we encountered somebody else who was more than willing to talk.

I arrived at the camping spot slightly before Jonas. The day had been a scorcher, and as the sun faded lower in the sky, I picked my way along some small paths to swim and rinse off in the Potomac. As I returned to camp feeling refreshed, I could hear the smug assertions of a stranger, and I knew that Jonas would not mind having some help talking to this guy. We forgot his name, but we refer to him as Jerry. As you make his acquaintance, many questions are raised, but they all ultimately lead to exhaustion and shrugs.

One moment Jerry would seem to be passably rational, and the next moment he would share a blatant fabrication, which for the sake of social expedience, we were forced to pretend to believe. Jerry was also a conspiracy theorist. None of this should have been a surprise when considering his method of travel. I've met this same personality type many times before, but usually there is far more drinking involved, and hallucinogens would not be out of the question. We all share a planet, but not a reality. I am comfortable with this, because I recognize my own perception of reality as somewhat off center. But I have always maintained what could be thought of as a hotline which puts me in touch with various versions of commonly accepted realities, and allows me to communicate comfortably with most sorts of folks. Probably. This has made me feel like a phony without a true and authentic self, but as I've gotten older I've found increasing peace with the universe. I have been lucky to find other humans with an essence that I can connect with. Finding deeper connection is fleeting and rare. I have a lot more to say about this, but that isn't the story I'm telling right now.

Jerry had a huge canvas pack, and he was headed west. He was walking the whole way, and sleeping wherever he ended up as the sun was setting. He had a high opinion of himself. He handed out wisdom and advice from a throne woven of delusions. He was keeping a low profile, because he believed that the government was turning Walmarts into concentration camps for the homeless, and he seemed to believe there was a lot of killing going on. This didn't seem to dampen his spirits, or turn him overly paranoid. Jerry just kept on walking. I saw the bottom of his foot, and it looked like it had been filleted with a knife.

Jerry once had a million dollars, and he gave it all away. That claim was really the frosting on the cake. He said that, and he had about forty pounds of lighters and knives. Jonas offered him some hard gourmet cheese, and he accepted it with learned and appropriate social grace. I didn't dislike Jerry, but after an hour, enough was enough. He is a perfect example of a type of person who I find fascinating, because I can't piece together the variables that make him tick. As dim became dusk, Jerry retired with his pack to sleep closer to the shopping cart couple. Jonas and I set up tents on higher ground. We both had all of the skin on our feet, and our wheels were attached to bicycles, and because of that, we were kings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Volunteering at the Bicycle Co-Op in Austin

Bicycle co-ops are places full of parts bins. There are enough parts to keep the Right Bicycle going for life. If you are running 8 speed cassettes, friction shifters, and long-wear tires, this is your place. If you have a steel frame, platform pedals, and flat handlebars, you are especially in luck. Bins and milk crates overflow with every conceivable part that you will need to keep the Right Bicycle running. Sometimes the co-ops are reasonably well organized. There will be a drawer for cup-and-cone bottom bracket spindles. Checked and trued wheels will be hanging above your head. It is beautiful when it isn't totally overwhelming. During open shop times the straightforward can give way to surreal.

I like to help people fix bicycles. I enjoy it enough to do it for free sometimes. I have volunteered at a few different co-ops, but it doesn't happen often. I am considering increasing the amount that I'm willing to help. I was in Austin without any pressing matters on my schedule, so I decided to show up at the Yellow Bike Project to see if I could assist. I showed up for two shifts that week, and it was better than anything else I was doing.

I told them I was a mechanic, but since nobody personally knew me, and insane people barge into bicycle co-ops as a matter of course, I was asked to sort tires. I know this is considered by some to be an unskilled task of drudgery, but I could also see vast opportunity for improvements. There was a huge pile to be sorted, and the storage area was already overflowing with every common size. I got to work. There wasn't enough space for everything, so the first objective was to figure out what was unquestionably trash. I put those in a pile for recycling. I started conservatively, so as not to offend anybody, but soon enough it became clear that they would trust my judgement. Cool. A lot of those tires had no business on any bicycle ever again. Simple fact. The tire racks had more tires that did not pass the "should ever be used" test, so the worst offenders were tossed. Tires don't stay in nice rows like books on a shelf. When people take one down, then try to put it back, knobs and friction push the other tires all over the place. After a few hundred rounds of this, there are tires pushed and folded everywhere. I fixed it. For each section, I wrapped my arms through all of the tires, placed them all on the ground, and then replaced them in neat rows to get messed up again. Some of the tires still had tubes in them. Nope - used tubes go over there. In about 40 minutes, I had those tires looking good. Not excellent - but it was an improvement to be proud of. Then I was promoted (by wandering away from the tires) to helping a guy who was there to fix a bicycle.

Some guy in a Yeti hat (coolers, not bikes) was trying to get an old Fuji to roll. This is what happens every day at a bicycle co-op. Ostensibly this is the whole point, but all projects are not created equal, and in spite of conventional logic, some bicycles should be taken to a shop. What looks like a reasonable frame, and appears to be an easy project, often has its tentacles far deeper in a pit of madness than even seems possible at first glance. Parts have already been disassembled, for unclear purposes, and the smallest seemingly insignificant parts have been misplaced, and thus must be replaced from drawers and buckets of similar, but not exactly identical parts, hoarded in the bins and drawers of the co-op. Let's get to work. He needed cones, spacers, and bearings for a rear freewheel hub. I couldn't give it a spin, but it appeared that the wheel was otherwise in good shape. I dunno man... at a bicycle shop, it would be new wheel time. At a co-op, the trend is to mend and make do. In theory, I wholeheartedly support this. But after about 15 minutes, I was ready to roll that wheel under a train.

Stupid Fuji. I didn't like it much anymore. If it was mine, no problem. But in this scenario, I wouldn't have minded watching it go right under a train. Rather than digging in a five gallon bucket of variously-threaded cones and guesswork, using a donor hub would be the expedient move - find the same hub in a huge bin of hubs, and transfer the axle, cones, bearings, and spacers to the hub built into the wheel of the Fuji. It was a Sunshine freewheel hub. There should be a million of them. The bins of hubs contained every conceivable minor hub variation, none of them the exact same thing.

About helping: I should note that it is generally the policy of a co-op to take a "hands off" approach to helping with tools. It is up to the customer(?) to handle all of the tools, and perform all of the repairs using only verbal instruction and miming from the facilitator (me.) However, in practice, that is a difficult rule to adhere to. Sometimes there are fine adjustments to be made. This rule does not factor in people with absolutely no concept of finesse, be it mechanically or as a matter of personality. I was ready to move this project along. Marginal improvements were made over the course of an hour. We fooled around endlessly on a bicycle that still left without a front brake. It was important to get the bicycle to roll, and I suppose stopping it could be figured out on the road. I assume that the bicycle will forever remain in the form of a comprehensive punch list of glaring safety concerns, rendered in steel and tape. I made him promise to address the brake issue, and then I washed my hands with Gojo. I used the remaining time to make chit-chat with a girl in a coonskin cap.

I returned to Open Shop Hours two days later, and had a far more rewarding experience. In order to maximize my usefulness, I decided to get a bicycle ready to sell, so Yellow Bike could make some money. The co-op doesn't exactly strike me as a cash cow, which of course is not the point, but I reasoned that selling a bicycle never hurts, and everybody can use some money for something. I put one of the partially completed project bicycles in a stand, and got to work on tuning it up in a swift and efficient manner. After about ten minutes I got sidetracked by an eleven-year-old with a hub issue at a nearby stand. I spent the following two and a half hours showing him how to fix bicycles. That turned out to be way more fun. If volunteering at a co-op was like that every time, I'd spend a lot more time helping out.

This kid was smart: he didn't have experience fixing bicycles, but he understood all new concepts instantly. He had natural tool intelligence, and was able to visualize basic hands-on physics better than lots of adults I've met. He was curious. Every step of the way, he was eager to learn. He was there with his mom so he could learn how to repair something mechanical. He would be excited to see how anything goes together. Bicycles just happen to be easy to get your hands on. He builds model airplanes at home. So mom took him to Open Shop and they each picked a bicycle to work on. This kid's bicycle was a perfect platform for learning. Every single thing on it needed a little bit of adjustment and help.

I showed him how to fix many things, and some of the repairs might be of practical use for his own bike. We started with overhauling a cassette hub, which is a weird place to begin, since I was later surprised to learn that he had not yet repaired a flat tire. (We did that too.) Truing a wheel is considered a little bit advanced, but I explained everything I knew, and he was able to true the front wheel with the only guidance being my confirmation that he was doing everything exactly correct. We stuck to the "hands off" tool rule, and he did everything himself. A few times, I had to step in to demonstrate the best way to get leverage, but then I undid that step so he could do all the work himself. He nailed the bearing adjustment on the cassette hub, and trued wheels in a stand and on the bicycle itself. I was impressed, and I let him know it. It was cool that I didn't have to dumb anything down. I could speak to him like a peer.

When it was time to clean up the shop, his mom thanked me for spending so much time with her kid, and said she hoped it didn't stop me from what I was working on. Ha! I told her I was having fun, and it was exactly what I was there for. Then I said goodbye to my friend, who I assume will master life by the age of fifteen.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Group Ride to Buda Texas on the Hoopty Bicycle

Group ride. I woke up at 7:30am. The sun had begun its process of illumination, but had not yet begun to warm the earth. I pushed my pile of blankets behind me. Up and over, as I move to a sitting position. I turned over on all fours, and craftily maneuvered my tri-fold mattress into its stacked daytime position. I slipped on my shoes in case of glass or fire ants, slid open the side door of Hotel Sienna, and breathed in the fresh Texas air on a spectacular clear morning.

The goal today was to join a group of cyclists on a ride to a small town to the south. I found the ride on the Bike Austin site, gauged by the description that I could keep the pace, and set my alarm to see. Mornings don't come naturally to me, but as I seek improvements to my life, I would like to consider them more. I broke two eggs into last night's quinoa and lentils, and by the time it was cooked I was fully awake. After breakfast, I unlocked my bicycle. I rode to the path along the Colorado River, stopping at a jobsite porta-john, because I live in a van.

I arrived twenty minutes early, because I can't stand running late to anything, and sitting on the ground bothers me not at all. As I sat outside a large bicycle shop on the sidewalk, I had ample time to watch the dumbness of leaf blowers pushing dust and people waiting in idling cars on a clear day with wonderful weather. I wondered which of these people with an idling Lexus was going to be on the ride. I felt actually relieved that it was none. As the departure time grew near, I saw two people on the opposite side of the parking lot with a clipboard, so I approached. I put on a mask of friendly confidence, and introduced myself with a smile. It was one guy with a road bicycle, and the ride leader was on a recumbent. And then... my bicycle. It looks a lot like a homeless guy bike. If you aren't a bicycle mechanic - and nobody ever is - you cannot detect that there is a rationale to the madness of my machine. It looks like a 40 pound behemoth from a sporting goods store circa the late 90's, with a milk crate not exactly adding credibility. (It is exactly that, but much more.)

"Have you been on a Bike Austin ride before?"

I had been on a different ride the week before, but that ride hadn't been much of a challenge.

"We require everybody to wear a helmet on our rides."

I pointed to the helmet in my crate.

"You have to wear it on your head."

I mimed placing a helmet on my head with one hand. "It's that easy" I said. "I got it."

The guy talking was on a good and reliable but not-flashy Trek road bicycle that was about ten years old. The leader of the ride was on a recumbent. I estimated that although we had never ridden together, and thus they likely assumed that I was going to either hold them up, or fail to hold on, I was probably on the correct ride pace-wise, and a recumbent usually signals that nobody is taking themselves too seriously. A fourth bicycle arrived, and it was clearly much more expensive, and the rider was closer to my age, within five years or so. We had the requisite safety talk, and we were off.

The route began with a long moderate climb. I had ridden the same section of road the day before, and many times last year. It gets a little bit steep, but nothing outrageous, and you can spin right up. The recumbent was going very slow, because... well, it is a recumbent, and the ride leader already foreshadowed that this was in the works. I didn't want to pass and fly ahead in the first mile of the ride, so I was relieved when the guy on the Trek passed and went ahead. I did not want to go off the front at all for the first half of the ride, because I didn't want anyone to think that I thought I was some hotshot, and pulling ahead early would trigger a necessary process of assassination all the way to Buda. On the other hand, I don't like to pretend that I can't climb hills at a faster pace, because doing so takes more energy, and it is also boring. The Trek guy picked a good pace, so I pulled up beside, and we introduced ourselves more properly as we spun up the hill toward south Austin.

On the handful of group rides I participated in while I was in Austin, I never mentioned that I was a bicycle mechanic, and I never mentioned that I had ridden this same exact bicycle coast to coast in 2011. I didn't mention any bicycle touring, or give any smug credentials. I didn't want my new acquaintances to think that I thought I was cool (even though I am), so I decided that I would only bring up those topics if specifically asked, which I never was, because people don't care what you are up to, they only want to talk about themselves. That's ok. Me too. Thus, I blog.

The ride was great. Buda was about 16 miles away, and we rode at a swift pace that made me work to keep up. I sweated and spun in the highest gear to stay with the road bicycles. They pulled ahead on flats, but never gained much distance. I was always able to close the gap whenever the road pointed up. Nobody proved to be the overall fastest, and the recumbent caught up whenever we stopped. On a long hill, I was passed by the expensive bicycle, but it was sapping his strength to do it, so I kept my pace the same. We went over some steep rollers closer to Buda. The road bicycles had gained some distance, so I stood on the pedals and flew up behind the expensive bicycle as he was suffering his way up a climb. I didn't pass, I just geared down and sat there, pretending to be casual as my heart rate shot up. That's what we do. We get our bicycles in a group, and we test each other's limits against our own. On a good ride, we are well matched, and everybody burns some energy and has fun. This was a good ride, and I got some sun.

We got to the rest point in Buda for convenience store refreshments, and the others voiced that they were impressed that I kept up. You're damn right, I thought. Everybody was in high spirits. We all felt good about the workout, and the wind direction was favoring an easy return.

Another thing that's great about my bicycle? If I keep up with the group, I am an absolute beast. If I don't, then I have an excuse.

The ride back to Austin maintained a fast pace for the entire distance. We'd all properly met each other now, so the return leg was that much more fun. For the first part of a ride you tend to keep some power in reserve, but as the destination comes into view, there is no longer a reason to hold back.

Riding bicycles is fun. Group riding can inspire you to push your limits. No need to be macho - there are always faster cyclists than you. The key is to find an enjoyable pace, and share the benefits of cycling with peers. Bicycles can unite you with community. From the point where you don't know which end of the helmet goes forward, to the point where you are standing on the pedals with sweat pouring off your chin - there are others at your pace who want to ride bikes. I recommend finding them. My group went out for tacos after the ride. I felt satisfied on at least a few levels.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pedalling an 80ft Snake with Bike Zoo in Austin TX

If you love bicycles and live your life with an open heart, opportunity will present itself. Sometimes opportunity comes in the form of an 80-foot-long pedal-powered bicycle snake. I stood near some picnic tables in Austin Texas, under the I-35, in a park beside the pedestrian path that circles Lady Bird Lake. Downtown. I was standing alone, about twenty paces from the reefer and beer. I wanted to be social, but it had been less than a week since I decided to stop drinking. I wanted to ride back to my van and hide under my blankets, but I knew that my severe momentary anxiety would melt away once we began to ride. Then there was a welcome distraction. Bicycle Snake to the rescue!

Slowly... a huge rolling sculpture, illuminated by rope lights, curled and slithered to a stop about ten feet from where I stood. I counted six bicycle seats including the captain. The welded structure had pivot points along the length of the frame, allowing it an impressively tight turning radius. The ribs of the snake were made from long strips of corrugated plastic, with a twist midway to add structure and make the curved sides of the snake more realistic. The ends of the corrugated plastic ribs were attached to long sections of bungee rope running the length of the snake. The head of the snake was created by stretching white knit fabric over a frame of bent tubing in the shape of the head of a snake. The eyes of the snake were made from green lens covers from a traffic signal. I didn't know this until later, but the head is also hinged to reveal fangs made from two cow horns. The length of the snake is supported on heavy duty pneumatic wheels and axles like you would find on an industrial hand truck or cart. Each of the five seats behind the captain has a set of pedals which drive a coaster brake hub, which in turn drives the axle. So each snake-driver inputs propulsion power and stopping power independently, and this is communicated verbally when it isn't plainly obvious what to do. The captain yells "Pedal Harder!" "Coasting!" or "Braking!" It is a simple elegant system. Only the captain can steer.

I walked up to one of the snake-drivers once the snake was in park, and he had exited through the ribs. "Nothing to see here" I shrugged, "just a huge light-up pedal-powered snake... business as usual." I was trying to strike up any sort of conversation. I was already far outside my comfort zone just standing there, and I was desperate for positive human interaction of any sort. Before the snake arrived, I was feeling my brain melt down my neck into my stomach and wondering if you could vomit from feeling alone in the world. I was here for the eventual healing power of bicycles, and an incredible and whimsical Bicycle Snake rolled right up beside me, so I thought the right move would be to listen to the universe and say hello. Turns out everybody on the snake was socially awkward, most of all the builder and captain of the snake himself, though if you skip ahead 24 hours, I grew to like him very much. I was in no mental position to radiate positive social vibes, and I wasn't quite sure how to break the ice with the snake-drivers, but I was given a brochure, and I overheard the snake-captain telling somebody that if they emailed him, they could help propel the snake in the upcoming days.

Shortly after this, the social ride began, and my anxiety melted away instantly as I maneuvered in a peloton of goofballs in a swift ride all over Austin. Bicycles are medicine. Bicycling makes your body produce its own natural medicine, and I do not know where I would be in life without bicycles. Probably hiking. Like a fool.

After the ride, I returned to Hotel Sienna, my minivan, and emailed the captain of the snake. The next morning, I received a reply requesting that I text during daylight hours. I complied with this request, and hit paydirt: the Bicycle Snake would be rolling out from a private residence to the north at 6 p.m.

I bicycled early to the start. It began to dawn on me that I had vastly overestimated the demand for pedaling a giant snake. I assumed there would be a waiting list, and even thought there might be a fee of $20 or so for the opportunity to help pilot this incredible work of sculpture. No. They need people to volunteer, sometimes they pay people, and if you think it's easy, think again. I have pedicabbed, and I am no stranger to the loaded touring bicycle, and let me tell you - pedaling an 80 foot steel snake is hard work. I had no idea of the route or plan. I estimated an hour or two of teamwork at an effort somewhat comparable to an out-of-tune beach cruiser. I prepared by eating an avocado and planning to work up a bit of an appetite before dinner. The reality was closer to four hours, with the difficulty sometimes approaching dragging a sled of bricks over a hill. I had an enormous amount of fun for the first two hours. The remaining two hours were a steady decline until I felt like my ghost was leaving my corpse. If you are planning to pedal a sculpture any time soon, bring a Clif Bar at least.

We cruised away from the residential location, and I was immediately having the time of my life. I was in the second to last seat in a giant snake, and I felt like I was part of a team of heroes.

The purpose of the snake ride was to increase awareness that the snake exists, and maybe somehow leverage that public awareness into creating opportunities to make money with the snake. Festivals? Rent out the snake? The profit side of the equation was not exactly ironed out, but it was clear that the first step was to ride the snake in public. As an attention-getting device, I defy anybody to conceive of something more effective than the snake. As far as clear message delivery, put simply, there was none. Thousands of people took photos and video of the snake as we pedaled it around downtown Austin. It was during the SXSW music festival, and the streets and sidewalks were overflowing with attendees who were in the mood to party and get down. There was not a single cellphone camera not trained on the snake. The public seemed extremely aware that a pedal powered snake existed, but as a promotional device the snake did not offer much. Nobody knew to hashtag something, and aside from silliness and whimsy, there was no clear point being broadcast. Sometimes people would shout "What is it???" and in response, the person in front of me would shout "Bike Zoo!" The captain and creator is a talented builder and pilot, but his comfort with promotion, he will freely admit, is not his greatest strength.

After about three hours I wanted to drive that snake off a bridge. My energy had evaporated, my blood sugar was low, and my knee was acting up because I didn't respect proper seat height from the outset. I was bonking out inside a snake while slithering and circling down Congress Ave. I had the Strava app recording our track, mostly because I have a goal to ride at least 100 miles per week. I looked at my phone, and saw that we had been pushing that fucking snake for twenty miles. I was jealous of the pilot, because unlike the rest of us, his chain was driving a three speed hub gear. I thought about killing him. Not really. I just needed tacos - a lot of them and immediately.

Eventually we parked the snake, and even though I could hardly stand up straight, I was mostly still happy to have survived the experience. Our pilot was in high spirits. Everybody loves the Bicycle Snake! Also, he had been shifting that goddamn 3 speed hub the whole time. [Recommendation for snake improvement: smaller chainrings.]

Activities like pedaling the snake are the primary reason I remain excited to be alive. There are infinite possibilities in life. If you live with an open heart and mind, and try to stay above the bullshit and distractions, you might find yourself pedaling a giant snake amidst a sea of cheering revelers with cameras flashing like the paparazzi.

I got back on my own bicycle, which now felt as light as a styrofoam takeout container, and rode directly to the nearest taco truck, where I ordered a survival soda and a plate full of tacos.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Riding Goals: 100 miles per week is good.

I want to ride bicycles more. I want to pack up some camping gear, ride a loaded bicycle, and sleep on a piece of dirt near some trees. That is my exact goal for the spring, summer, and fall of 2018. The best way to prepare physically is to ride a bicycle. The only way to prepare mentally is to remember that you can't.

To prepare for upcoming bicycle trips, I have set a goal of riding 100 miles per week. It's a nice round number. Not too challenging, which could lead to giving up, and not too easy, because the goal is to get back into shape. The goal is to get ready enough for loaded touring that minor injury doesn't get in the way of maximum enjoyment. Bicycle trips are infinitely more enjoyable when your legs feel ready for anything. I'm not quite there, but I have been there, and I'm making a return.

A hundred miles. It can be 15 miles a day, or 20 miles with two rest days. If you miss a few days, you can catch up with a 50 mile ride on Sunday. Obviously, I can ride more - 100mi is set as the minimum. I keep track on the Strava app, because it tracks your weekly mileage, and that minimizes the amount of thinking and remembering required of me. I open the app before a ride, hit record, and put my phone in a pocket inside the milk crate on my bicycle. (I no longer use my front pocket, because my sweaty leg dialed my former weed dealer about fifty times one weekend in 2016, and she kindly requested that I get my shit together.)

Sun visor car organizer velcro'd inside crate.

Motivation is a real issue with a lot of us humans. I feel especially challenged in this regard. My friend Ian once defined ADHD in gloriously simple terms: "You don't wanna do that shit you don't wanna do." Shrug. Exactly. That is the battleground I fight on every single day. In order to tip the odds in my favor, I use a multiple-pronged attack:

  1. Don't make basic tasks any more complicated than absolutely necessary.
  2. Take a Modafinil pill on days when you need to do a task.
  3. Make goals measurable and reachable by breaking them down into parts.
I have found that I am more likely to reach goals when the progress is easy to track. I have discovered that spreadsheets work well, because I like to see small numbers slowly become larger. Setting a goal to ride 5,000 miles in a year is daunting. 100 miles per week is reasonable, and I am more likely to stay on track. I know how it feels to blast up hills confidently on a loaded touring bicycle, and I am looking forward to feeling that way again. An average of fifteen miles per day does not seem overwhelming. Fifteen miles per day is a small price to pay when the reward is feeling like a total badass who is impervious to disaster.

I need future goals, or I will never take present action. I am not the type of person who goes out for an aimless ride without any Particular Purpose. Some people are, but I am not. Once I start pedaling and I get warmed up, bicycling is fun. I love bicycles! Thus, I need to manufacture a fake Particular Purpose to trick myself into riding. Any errand within easy range is a reason to get on my bicycle without question. Post office? Groceries? Friends house? Those are Particular Purposes. And now my weekly goal of 100 miles gives me a Particular Purpose to ride today, even though the temperature is 42 degrees, and I haven't seen the sun for almost 48 hours.

I visited my friend Lael when I was driving east from California to Texas. She was coaching at a gravel camp, which is where people ride bicycles for up to a hundred miles per day on gravel roads in Arizona, while eating really good food. Lael is also doing things like bicycling up a mountain with 6700ft of climbing in only 30 miles. Every day for a week. For fun. We sat on a patio drinking coffee as the sun went down. She had a beaming smile. She told me about her upcoming plans, all of them involve bicycles, and she radiated excitement. I love bicycles too! But I felt like I was hiding some secret damage. I had let alcohol turn me into an addled and insecure creampuff version of my better self. I didn't want to, but I allowed it to happen. I'm not ready to climb that mountain, but I can surely ride fifteen miles today.

And here I go...

Friday, March 23, 2018

Selling Out, or Stepping Up? Bicycle Parts Lust Examined

Big things are happening at Chris Harne headquarters, and by that I mean minor things, and by headquarters, I technically mean the back bedroom at my parents' house where I am currently residing as a 35-year-old human male.

That is correct. I bought a really expensive bicycle hub, and then I took a photo of it in hopes that people would click the little heart.

I have been winning for many years with an impressive ratio of Bicycle Passion to Frugal Bicycle Spending. Like Sia, I love cheap thrills. I've had weak moments where I've allowed lusty curiosity to sneak a muddy paw into my wallet, but usually I am able to backpedal to my Hoopty and sell my indiscretions for a small profit. Is that what is happening here? Quite possibly so.

I have been an enthusiastic bicycle advocate since childhood, and a curious student of all aspects of bicycle mechanics and design since the early 2000s. I arrived at the fundamental conclusion that it does not cost a lot of money to enjoy bicycles. This bears repeating: a bicycle is a tool that anybody can gain access to, which can improve and empower a life, while costing nearly zero dollars. Have you ever been to a bicycle co-op? They are run by heroes.

An understanding of routine maintenance can keep the Right Bicycle going for life. When you find your Right Bicycle, you have found the key to improving your poof of an existence as we hurdle though space on a tiny rock. I have been proving my Right Bicycle theory since 2007, when I began using the bicycle that I affectionately call my "Hoopty" as my go-to bicycle.
..... An aside: It was Drew of Engin Cycles who referred to my bicycle as a hoopty, as in "is that your hoopty with the stuffed animal on it?" His tone wasn't fully derogatory, but he does have a tendency to shit talk a lot of bicycles, and be abrasively opinionated in general. In any case, I adopted the name somewhat later. (Drew maintains a fascinating Instagram, and despite our vastly different personalities, I have huge respect for his work.) Before it was my "Hoopty" it was referred to as "Tall Cool" - a name coined by Lael, a fantastic human in all regards, who meant it in an endearing, respectful, and humorous way. Tall Cool was the name of the at-that-time stem in the J&B Importers catalog. Maybe I'll make an effort to start calling my bicycle Tall Cool again, in spite of the fact that the namesake stem was swapped out ages ago.....
In 2011 when I rode a three-month tour, I purposely eschewed fancy equipment to prove that it doesn't require expensive gear to travel by bicycle. I proved it. Actually, much poorer people, with a much better capacity for shrugging off difficulties, have proven the point before. The major difference is that my trip was unhindered by equipment failure of any sort, and aside from two flats that I patched, I cruised all the way across the country with relative aplomb. To be a bicycle mechanic on a bicycle tour is a beautiful thing. To be familiar with a bit of routine maintenance gets you 95% of the way there - but if you can help others with their bicycles as well, they will often reward you with pie.

I bought a Chris King hub a few days ago. It cost more than most people are willing to pay for an entire bicycle. It will not bring peace or fulfillment or meaning to my life. It will not make my bicycle faster. There are three reasons I decided to buy it anyway:

  1. I like the design
  2. I have wanted one forever
  3. It is pretty

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I'm bicycling. I feel happy. I feel healthy.

I'm back in Pennsylvania again. On my way east from California I stopped drinking again. Alcohol has been doing much more harm than good, so as a person who is even aware of the concept of logic and critical thinking, it was an obvious decision. That does not mean that it was easy to implement the change - it never is. Alcohol is a serious mind-altering poison, which works absolute wonders for ignoring a myriad of life's difficulties. It is a miracle bandage. It's a shame that it also destroys your mind and body if you overuse it. For me, the negatives began to far outweigh the positives, but I continued to drink an absolutely unhealthy and unsustainable amount every day. It happens. Logical conclusions do not make a change for you - they are simply bits of information, and it is up to the flawed human to do the heavy lifting.

After my course correction, I spent two weeks in Austin to recover and transition to a lifestyle more befitting of a person who gives a shit about being alive. My emotions were erratic in the beginning, but impulse control was made easier by the level of disgust I felt about the depth I had allowed myself to settle to.

I got my head screwed on straight again, and I started riding my bicycle. I had the right medicine all along, and it was a joy to roll in a meandering carefree manner all around Austin. I parked my Sienna in my favorite spot near downtown Austin, and I didn't move it one inch for the two weeks I spent in town. I used my bicycle for all errands, exploration, and every social opportunity I could find. 

I used the Bike Austin website and Meetup dot com to find group rides to participate in. I showed up to group rides in street clothes with a 40lb bicycle featuring a milk crate on the rack. The road bicycle folks were kind, though incredulous, but after a climb or two they got the picture. I didn't go on any "A" rides, but I proved the capability of my equipment on a few "no drop" rides to people who had overspent in search of a shortcut to speed and stamina. Then we'd all go out for either coffee or tacos.

(yes, I am on Instagram)
I was happy for the social opportunity of riding bicycles. I didn't fit the demographic of the others on any of the rides, but all of us had at least one thing in common - we wanted to ride bicycles together. That was enough.