Sunday, May 31, 2009

Billbicycles for Health Care!

Bicycles as Billboards, perfect!

Look what I spotted at the Mothers' March for Health Care. This "billbicycle" (variation of billboard) was pedaled by Sheila Hoffman and Spencer Beard. They were among the 3500+ folks who marched, rolled, and got pushed for Health Care reform in 2009!

It was a righteous march in Seattle that couldn't have been more timely. The battle for a public option is where the action is and Sheila and Spencer capture the tension. The health insurers are afraid to compete against the public option because they are all about providing profit disguised as insurance instead of providing health care. Suddenly they don't like competition. Hmmm.

Sheila and Spencer have their own site that is very cool. Among other endeavors, they started a tandem club, sold their house for a smaller footprint, have cyclotoured far and wide, and have fascinating individual profiles. Do check them out.

Fiona and Stella (l. to r.) are counting on us. We better get Health Care right! Papa Stefan is getting them wheeled good and early.

The Seattle Police were either on their bicycles or motorcycles. I was the designated "police liaison" for the march organizers, and I had contemplated being on my bicycle, but I figured it might hinder my ability to be a part of the crowd. What I found was that for the police is gives them the combination of mobility and integration. Next time.
I enjoyed working with the Seattle (Mounted) Police. It was a calm and celebratory though militant march and there were no major issues. Thanks, officers.

But what got my beat really going was the band at Westlake Mall, the march destination. Check out Big World Breaks. They did a sweet cover of Stevie Wonder's Living for the City, and I really dig their Beep Beep. I was trying to figure out how to describe them when I found this on their MySpace: Original and re-mixed Breakbeats, Soul, International Funk, Hip-Hop, Afro-Latin, Afro-Carribean, Reggae, Afro-Brazilian, Dancehall, Roots Rock, Reggaeton, Afro-Beat. A percussion heavy collection of intesity, groove and spirit ... and ya don’t stop!!!

I say: Yeah!

Ya Don't Stop Ya Curiosity


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Swing Wide, Sweet Chariot!

Here is my ride report from my very first brevet, the Tahuya Hills 200k. It is renowned for its hills. I rode it without any idea what I was getting myself into; it was sponsored by the Seattle International Randonneurs, my (now) home club. Hint: RUSA is the national organization for randonneuring, Randonneurs USA.

Swing Wide, Sweet Chariot!

Out of the pasture
And into the lane,
A small herd of horses
Toward our peloton came.

Eight horses galloping,
They wheeled into our way,
Is this randonneuring?
But it’s my first brevet!!

Nostrils flaring,
Eyes glaring,
It’s just the first turn,
And already quite daring!

I’d figured on dogs,
(We had them too!)
But unbridled horses…
I hadn’t a clue.

They swung wide to miss us,
“Good horsies”, I said,
That’s just what you say
When you’re glad you’re not dead!

As quickly as that
They’re behind us, and I
Am randonneuring again,
To the Hills…Oh My!

They’d declared at departure:
“There are plenty of hills,
Eight thousand feet climbing”,
My blood took a chill.

Uphill and then down,
Seems more of the up,
Anderson Hill…One-Mile Hill,
So darn much up!

The route was well laid,
Controls: organized;
I got into my rhythm,
Perhaps I’d win my prize?

I finished in time,
“Where’s my medal?” I asked.
“See RUSA” they told me,
“You’ve completed your task.”

But this one’s not past,
It’ll stay with me till
Sweet Chariot carries me home,
Up that biggest of hills.

For I’ll remember that look
Till my dying day,
In the lead horse’s eye,
“Let them live,” it did say.

Swing wide, Sweet Chariot,
So I can cycle lots more,
Randonneuring’s exhilarating,
To enjoy: endure!

Keep it rhymin'


Friday, May 29, 2009

Cyclists: You Have a Right to Vacation!

French fought for more vacation...and won a cycling movement!

About seventy-five years ago in France a movement emerged in reaction to the Great Depression, the object of which was the establishment of the 40 hour work week and 15 paid vacation days per year. I know this because I read every word that Jan Heine writes about cycling, cyclotouring, randonneuring, bicycles, and France. He has the complete story in the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly. If you want more try Wikipedia; the interaction between opposition to the rise of Hitler and the role of sport and leisure is fascinating.

The movement, called the Popular Front, was also about generating general progress on the conditions and wages of workers and the masses of the unemployed. This meant that French laborers had more time to spend at leisure. They began to explore their country, and thus a new boom in cyclotouring was born. Today, we are very much the beneficiaries of this boom of interest in everything cycling. And we owe this in large part to the leftist parties and unions of France that formed the foundation of the Popular Front.

Americans: less time with family, friends…and cycling

Here in America, we’ve traveled a different path. Our real wages have failed to keep up with the cost of consumption, our health care costs have risen dramatically, and we work more and harder than ever. While the productivity of American workers has increased, we don’t seem to get any material or time benefit. I heard one expert refer to the extra month per year that the average American now works as the month of “Workuary”.

Opportunity Now in Congress

Fortunately for us a new American movement is on the rise, and a bill was just introduced by Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) last week that would ultimately guarantee two weeks of vacation for most American workers. The movement is spearheaded by my friend and fellow Seattleite, John de Graaf. John is Executive Director of Take Back Your Time, an organization dedicated to ending the U.S. and Canadian epidemic of overwork.

Who else supports the idea of more free time? Well, trade groups like travel agents understand what's at stake, and naturally support the notion. See Shouldn’t the bicycle, cyclotouring, and everything-associated-with-bicycling industries get on board too? It takes time to cycle, especially for slower cyclists like me! John, can you insert a slow-cyclist amendment so we doddlers get an extra week of vacation?

Remember what it means to just live

But it’s about more than cycling. For peace of mind, for just remembering what it means to live, we need more time. It could be you work for a company that is generous with time off, or are a union member so that you have won time off from a not-as-generous employer. Great. But for cycling to grow and be true to its pedestrian roots (yes, I get the irony of the pun), it can’t be for those of means and time only. Our mission, like the French of the 1930’s, ought to be to expand the right to time off from work to as many cyclists and would-be cyclists as possible.

The young in particular get little time off. Those who switch jobs, voluntarily or not, often start back at the beginning. If you have children, wouldn’t it be great if they had plenty of time to still hang with the folks as they enter the work world? Time off is family-friendly.

Vacation as Stimulus

Studies prove that workers who get time off are more productive. If more workers get vacation, employment will grow to cover the time lost to vacation. Health Care costs are reduced when workers get vacations, and of course burnout is reduced. Fundamentally, it is good for business.

Beginning, not the End

I don’t imagine we’ll win the legislation this summer given Health Care reform and other pressing issues, but I wouldn’t dismiss it either. Polling indicates 69% of Americans are supportive of paid time off with the largest portion supporting three weeks off (huh, just like those French cyclists won).

Let's take back our cycle!

Follow the link, email your congressmember, and talk it up with fellow cyclists. If you are in the bicycling industry, your letters of support mean a great deal. And for you bloggers, just think of the posts we could compose: even longer diatribes like this one. Oops. OK, we could find more pictures to post, yes, that's it!

Take time to stay curious!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Site to Report Hazards & Injuries

Got a "favorite" worst road hazard?
Been injured while cycling?
The Cascade Bicycle Club has launched a new website that tracks bicycle crash sites and locations hazardous to cyclists according to a comprehensive story in the Seattle Times today. The best part is that the site is available to and tracks hazards and crashsites around the country.
The new site is called bikewise.
In Seattle alone, two cyclists have been killed this year in collisions with vehicles.
And just this weekend, another fatal accident occurred when a woman testing a battery-assisted bicycle was killed when she went over the handlebars in an accident. She struck her head in the "freak accident" and was not wearing a helmet. The Seattle Times also reported on this story.
Our sympathies go out to all the families and friends of those killed and seriously injured while cycling.
It's also clear we must be vigilant, take advantage of all our tools--helmets, reflective clothing and gear, perhaps wider tires--and we must spread the word of new tools like the Bikewise website.
Keep it safe,

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Energy efficient rimless bicycle wheel with Sputnik hub?


I've always wanted to build a wheel, so I decided to remove the spokes from my flip-flop wheel that utilized a sew-up rim I've decided to abandon. As you can see from the photo, the outcome that our friend Kian is holding looks like Sputnik. He and his sister were laughingly incredulous that it had once even been a bicycle wheel!

I attempted to remove the fixed gear and single speed cogs before I launched in, but couldn't budge them. In my eagerness, I plunged forward with them intact only to discover I had a worse mess. I can't easily slip the spokes through the hub to remove them as the cogs are in the way. I can jam them through but likely ruining the threads in the process. Even if that worked, it would be trouble trying to thread new spokes through. And, after unscrewing the nipples, it is even more difficult to remove the cogs as there is no tire/rim on which to get some purchase.

The idea was to rebuild the wheel using a 650B rim so I'll get a more forgiving commuter bicycle, especially through the industrial zone and over rough railroad tracks. Also, the idea was to learn to build a wheel. Too bad I needed a lesson in unbuilding a wheel too.

So, off to the LBS where they can get a good laugh!

After that, hopefully less embarrassing updates on wheelbuilding coming soon.

Keep it Curious!


Monday, May 25, 2009

BWIWAB & Memorial Day

Is BWIWAB the next new bicycle ride with an acronym serving for the name (ala RAMROD, STP, RSVP, RAGBRAI*)? Nope, and if you’re looking for the bicycling aspect of this post scroll down to the end, because Memorial Day is the immediate focus.

BWIWAB is my wife’s shorthand for when I get winding up to tell a story about my bricklaying days. I start with: “Back When I Was A Bricklayer…” Tired of hearing that prelude, she came up with the idea that I should just shorten it by first announcing “BWIWAB” as if it were one word, and then she could presumably figure out what zone she wants to go to while I prepare to tell my tale. I’ll try to shorten this one.

BWIWAB…I apprenticed with Larry Tinajera. I also laid brick with his dad, Alex, and when Larry and I complained about the cold while laying bricks in Colorado he’d tell us about when he was a soldier in Korea. “Now that was cold,” he’d say. "This ain’t nothing. And, we never ever got warm."

I was thinking about Alex when my wife, Pramila, and I went to see Gran Torino this weekend starring Clint Eastwood and several unknown-to-us Hmong actors. The Korean War was fiercely fought and brutal for all, and if you want to see a mostly very well made film (it is not a war movie), go see Gran Torino. A good one for this Memorial Day weekend.

My earliest memories of Memorial Day go back to the parades in Monroeville, PA. Our uncle was a “fireman” so we always looked for him on the firetruck and he’d throw us extra candy. The parade ended at the Cross Roads Cemetery just below the Old Stone Church (c. 1834) where I was baptized. The idea was that everyone would put flags on the graves of all the buried veterans. My dad was buried there and was indeed a veteran of WWII though he died long after the war. It was always a curious holiday cocktail: parade, firetrucks, death, candy, honor, 21 gun salute, hamburgers, day off from school, flags, beginning of summer, acutely missing those now gone, picnicking, graveyard.

And it’s not just soldiers who die. Where is the Memorial Day for all the civilian casualties and refugees (Hmong people as but one example)? We don't even collaterally memorialize them?

But don’t get me wrong. I honor those who have fought even as I deplore the wars. I am a real believer in collective action. I believe that we are better and have the capacity to make the world better when we act collectively. Whether I agree with the war or no, I therefore honor anyone who offers up themselves to the consequences of the collective decision. A very generous act.

I guess my problem with Memorial Day is that today it feels as if it is immersed in a societal attitude akin to what BWIAB is to me: a throwback. It’s as if it is a Holiday marking a time when things were supposedly different and that nobody really wants to hear about any more. But soldiers still kill and get killed.

If you’ve got Memorial Day off and you go cycling, maybe you could ponder while riding. Riding is always a good time to ponder, and if you’re so moved please comment here about your thoughts this Memorial Day. Do you remember somebody? Does pondering wartime death urge you to speak out? We’d love to hear how you memorialize.

Or, go see Gran Torino.

Keep it peaceful,


*Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day, Seattle to Portland, Ride from Seattle to Vancouver (BC) and Party, Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Celebrating the Bicycle is Fun, Fun, Fun! (YouTube)

Not yet having enough fun this Memorial Day weekend? Stay tuned. I've got a treat for you.

How about tall bikes, tiny bikes, cyclotouring bikes, cyclo-sewing bikes, recumbent bikes, high wheeled bikes, big-eyed wonder, broad smiles, and a bouncy soundtrack? And everybody looks so fit and fashionable.

In Jan Heine's latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly he reviews this YouTube video that charms:

Jan says the narration is Czech, and it is from the 1930's and 1940's Europe. This is the vital and exhilarating European life we seldom get a sense of when we think of Europe during those years.


Keep it fun,


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Think you carry a heavy load?

Visiting my wife's and stepson's native India last December, we were surrounded by working cyclists.

Sometimes pushing is the only way to go. Why is pushing one's bicycle such an anathema for some ?

What would he think of our randonneuring?

Was/Is there an Indian equivalent of the Porteurs' Race in France? Who would have won if the Indian working cyclists had challenged the French Porteurs?

Not much need for a heavy chain and lock!

Keep it best you can,

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cheep Cheep...Ribbet...Croak!

The heart of randonneuring is the brevet. The essential brevets are the 200k (124 miles) with a 13 hours and 30 minute time limit, 300k (186 miles) in 20 hours, 400k (248 miles) in 27 hours, and 600k (372) in 40 hours.

So far I've completed two 200k brevets and one 300k brevet. Ride reports are a way to share our experiences. Here's mine from my most recent brevet:

Tri-Cities, WA 300k Brevet Ride Report
Sponsored by the Oregon Randonneurs
May 2, 2009

Cheep Cheep…Ribbit…Croak!

The weather forecasters gave us a 50% chance of rain, and they got it right. It rained about 50% of the time, or maybe 50% of the time that it rained, it rained really hard. In any event, the frogs were happy, and so was I.

It was my first 300k, and I was feeling pretty darn good at our start in Richland, WA. Even on the first climb, from Waitsburg to Walla Walla, WA I wasn’t put off by the metallic mint green Volkswagen Beetle pulling up right beside me. The passenger window rolled down and the driver peered out at me and asked with a grin: “Pretty long and steep, eh?” I simply took it as the Walla Walla translation of the French exhortation “Bon Courage!” because the roads were great, and the country was beautiful. Also, the route and logistics were smooth. Thanks Paul Whitney and Cathy Smith for your care and attention to detail.

My riding partner that day, John Vincent, and I chugged along from Walla Walla right into Milton-Freewater, OR, home to lots of happy frogs. Frogs are the town mascots, so outside the dentist’s office there is a goofy frog statue about the size of an old cigar store Indian. He’s holding a giant tooth. The Seven-Eleven has one, and he is holding…a Slurpee, of course. If there were a bicycle shop, that frog would be holding what? Fenders on a rainy day I hope! But alas, no froggie-fronted bicycle shop in Milton-Freewater.

It got tough as we headed up and out of Milton-Freewater skirting the foothills of the Blue Mountains. The course took us past the turnoff to Tollgate Pass—a road I’ve traveled often. The pastoral view from the road up to the pass is truly stunning, but John and I stayed on course and fought the boring (uninteresting) and boring (into our brains) headwinds instead. John posted our top speed at 7mph, and it was challenging bordering on dispiriting for lots of slogging miles until we dropped into Pendleton, OR.

The Pendleton Albertson’s grocery store was a randonneurs’ oasis. As we wheeled up, there was a barefooted rando drying his socks in the waning sunlight while others carbed up. All were happy the rain had passed--except that it hadn’t. The Umatilla River Canyon awaited, and I was eager to check it out, so after sloshing down our own carbs we saddled up.

Though sprinkles were in the air, the kind of rain we’d been through so far was holding off. The “Jackal was marrying the Crow” as we entered the canyon. My wife says that, which means in her home country of India that the sun shines brightly even as the rain comes down. About as likely as the Jackal marrying the crow! This usually precedes a clearing up, and so it did. We inhaled the soft, rich, canyon-in-the-evening fragrances: sage, wet grasses, the river, a skunk(!), and a familiar but unidentifiable pungent smell from cultivated fields. All fresh and damp. The canyon enchanted us.

And then the happy froggies that don’t hang out at storefronts started in: Cheep Cheep. Tree frogs? Cheep Cheep. We cycled past a huge white Pelican tucked into a bend of the Umatilla River. He was as surprised as us. Just then we all heard the train whistle of a downstream-headed freight train. By the time it caught up with us the train was fairly throwing itself down the canyon. I couldn’t help but pick up my pace as the roar and rattle pulled me with it till it was way down the canyon and out of our hearing.

In the aftermath of all that noise the Ribbits began. Here a Ribbit, there a Ribbit. Everywhere. As we came toward the very end of the canyon we discussed when to put our night gear on. John called his randonneuring, reflective sash his bandolier. It reminded me of the School Bus Patrol sash I had in elementary school when I was--Ahem!--Captain of the Bus Patrol. OK, at ease!

I at first thought he’d called it his "randolier", till I understood. I was thinking about how cute "randolier" was when I heard the first croak. Deep and resonant and drawn out: Crooaak! At that, swallows took their turns on the canyon’s evening breezes and we glided out of the canyon, onward to our moment of truth: Hermiston, OR.

In Hermiston it rained and blew and darkened so hard and so fast that we felt seriously endangered. Through my rain-obscured glasses I saw John pointing toward the Shari’s Restaurant, and we ducked in. Motel was murmured. Abandon was mulled. These were serious considerations over coffee. Patrons and wait staff marveled at our 185 mile journey as if we were superhuman. In that rain, they’d ask?

But that rain let up, and we pressed on. Other than commuting for a few minutes in the dark, I had never ridden for a sustained time in the real darkness before. Despite some heretofore-not-as-obvious nighttime equipment issues, I liked it. Most of our night riding was up a 12 mile long hill/plateau so we didn’t move fast, but I savored the lack of traffic—fewer than five cars the whole time—and the sense of peace. The rain once and for all let up, and knowing I’d likely complete my first 300k made for a satisfying nighttime end-of-brevet winding down.

The final descent back into Richland though was too fast in the dark for me. Downright scary. It was a big adrenalin exclamation point to a dramatic ride. We wheeled in to Cathy at the final control and as I bid goodnight/good morning to John at 1:30 am (19 ½ hours after we began) I knew three things: preparing for the 400k brevet was now embedded in my brain, nighttime riding can be lovely, and happy frogs make the world feel healthy and at peace. Ribbit.

Keep it cheepin'


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Paris, Here I come!

This is a an actual face from the finish line in Paris in August of 2007. In 2011, that'll be me!

There. I've just publicly committed myself to enter and finish the 2011 Paris Brest Paris Randonnée. Hot Diggity Dog Diggity!!

Paris Brest Paris (PBP) is a randonneuring event. Randonneuring is a form of long distance cycling with events or "brevets" ranging between 200 - 1200 kilometers or about 100 - 750 miles.

This is an actual butt from the finish line in Paris in August of 2007. Of course in 2011, this could also be me. Actually, I prefer lying on my right side when in the fetal position. Really, just ask my wife!

Here's Wikipedia's description of the Paris Brest Paris event:

"Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) was originally a 1200km bicycle race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris. It is the oldest bicycling event still regularly run. Since 1951 it has not been a race but a challenge ride with upper and lower time limits. There is a 90-hour limit and the clock runs continuously. Many riders sleep as little as possible, sometimes catching a few minutes beside the road before continuing."

So this blog is about my discovering what it means to be a new randonneur and exploring that unfolding journey with you know who. When I first learned of randonneuring just after the 2007 PBP (it is conducted every four years), I immediately knew in my soul that I had to try.

Just so you know, I'm no super-cyclist. Prior to this decision I'd never even ridden a century, let alone the 760 miles that is the equivalent of a 1200k event. But my curiosity got the best of me. "Killed the cat" does come to mind here.

I could try blaming Jan Heine, for he is surely partly responsible. I became obsessed with his grainy black & white photos of the exploits of long distance cyclists of the 30's, 40's and 50's who achieved so much with far less technology. Jan Heine is the editor of Bicycle Quarterly. In the remote chance you haven't heard of Jan or seen his work--like maybe you were stuck in the same time warp as Nero from Star Trek --you really should check him out.

Secretly and truly, the lure of randonneuring and PBP for me has a lot to do with commitment to a challenge and exploring the unknowns that emerge. What I savor is being on the cusp of looking into a new world knowing I'll discover so many new wonders I can't yet imagine (I usually fall in). And a year and a half later I have confirmed what I suspected: the mysteries revealed are worth the effort. Commitment (or falling in) does that.

Here is my favorite commitment quote:

"Until you are committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, ineffectiveness. It is true: the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. All sorts of things begin to happen to help you that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from that decision, raising in your favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which you couldn't have dreamt would come your way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets, which bears repeating: 'Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute. What you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.' "- W.H. Murray, Scottish Mountaineer

It's that magic this Curious Randonneur seeks. And in this blog I will try to reveal the magic underneath the commitment, and my curiosity will be my tool.

My two chief inspirations:

  1. My wife, who not only abides my obsessions--for she is the first--but who also encourages me even as she is unsure where the path leads.

  2. My sister, Nancy, whose own journaling led me to believe maybe I could do it! Find her at:

Keep it curious,