Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jan Heine Interview, Part 1: Personal & Social History

Jan Heine is well known in randonneuring circles. I can absolutely say that it is largely due to his magazine, Bicycle Quarterly, that I am a randonneur, albeit a beginner, today. In addition to the Quarterly, Jan also wrote the text for The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles. The beautiful photography is by Jean-Pierre Praderes. Jan's latest, The Competition Bicycle, also features the photography of Jean-Pierre Praderes. The Seattle Times recently ran a story about Jan that you can find here.

One of the best things Jan does is hold up our elders, those who built randonneuring and bicycling to what it is today. Shouldn't we also acknowledge those who continue that tradition?

In that vein, let's also take a moment (I will post on this in greater depth in the future) to acknowledge all who build our sport. Current and past officers of RUSA. Your local RBA's. The buddy you first rode alongside who pointed you in a certain direction. Controle volunteers. All deserve our appreciation. Dr. Codfish writes extensively in the RUSA Newsletter about the spirit and need for volunteers. He also posted about his experience staffing a controle. Jan is right there in that pack, in each case chronicling our adventure!

I'm grateful that Jan took the time to answer my questions from the perspective of a newbie randonneur. Old hands dive into the nuances, as well they should, but sometimes the basics need further explanation.

There will be three parts to Jan's interview: Personal & Social History; Equipment; and Future of Randonneuring and Bicycling & Advice for Newbie Randonneurs. Today we will feature Personal & Social History. Posts may not appear one after the other depending on what else pops into my posting brain of a more timely nature in the meantime.
To view Jan Heine Interview, Part 2: Equipment, go here. To view Part 3, Future of Randonnuering and Bicycling & Advide for Newbie Randonneurs, go here.

Keep it planing,


Personal & Social History

CurioRando: First, thanks a lot. I’ll skip a complete preamble but I just want you to know you’ve certainly inspired a lot of folks and got people on bicycles doing things they didn’t think they would do, including me, and I’m grateful for that.

Jan Heine: I like to share what I really enjoy doing.

CR: Your start in randonneuring…I know you had a racing career. I don’t know if that influences your randonneuring. How would you describe yourself to people who don’t know you?

JH: When I started riding seriously, I lived in Texas as an exchange student and racing was the obvious venue. There was no randonneuring in the US back then, at least nothing that was popular. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I really enjoyed races that were almost like randonneuring events. There was one called the Columbia Plateau Stage Race: You rode from town to town. In the morning, you put your luggage in a U-Haul van. Then you raced 60, 70 or even 90 miles to another tiny town. After the sprint on the main street, you went to the high school and showered in the gym. The U-Haul van was there and you pitched your tent on the baseball field and spent the rest of the day socializing with the other racers. I just had a wonderful time. To me, winning mattered less than working in a small breakaway and enjoying the teamwork on the bike. So when Randonneuring became popular, it was almost a seamless transition. In racing, I had come to a level where I either had to put in a lot more effort and time to remain competitive as a Category 2 racer, or I had to drop out. And the dropping out became so much easier when randonneuring offered similar challenges and similar camaraderie and similar beautiful rides.

CR: Why start a magazine?

That’s easy! I used to write for other magazines and one by one, they went under. There was the Bicycle Trader and the On the Wheel and so on. I had all these stories, these interviews, I had gone to Europe and talked to people and really had no outlet for it. I was writing a little for the Rivendell Reader, and I decided to start just a newsletter for a few friends, where we could share our research and stories. I was envisioning just 20-25 copies. When I announced this in the Rivendell Reader, I had 150 subscribers before I had put out the first newsletter. That’s when I realized I better do something a little more serious than a simple xeroxed newsletter, and that’s how Bicycle Quarterly was born.

CR: You talk about transport bikes just a little bit and it was enough to really intrigue me. And I have this vision of—and I’m new, so my objective in a brevet today is just to finish—a pack that is going at a clip in a group or a loose group and they arrive somewhere and want to do something together and then go back at a clip to where they started. I’m not sure if I got your concept right or not…?

That’s exactly it…Back in the early days of cycling, bicycles offered a mode of transportation that just didn’t exist otherwise. A train would only take you to the city center so you never got to see the countryside. The first cars were so unreliable, you didn’t take them touring. You were lucky if you got 20 miles out of them. So you could rent horses, but the range of horses is limited. Suddenly, you had the bicycle, which allowed you to go anywhere you wanted. Any road, any path was open to you. Tourism really started with bicycles. The French touring club was called the Touring Club de France. It had hundreds of thousands of members, who were all cyclists. Once you’ve sort of explored around your neck of the woods a bit, you want to go further. And that’s where the transport stages came in. Riders from St. Etienne loved going down to the Mediterranean coast, so they rode really hard and fast, often through the night, sort of like a randonneur brevet, until they got to their destination, and then they spent the whole day or two days just looking around, visiting the sites, looking at churches, and then they headed back. The bikes became almost like the train, taking you there and back. And those were the transport stages.

CR: And do you know, do people organize brevets in a similar fashion today?

JH: Well, basically the brevet is a transport stage because you’re not going to dilly-dally while the clock is ticking. What actually happened…the brevets sort of started with these challenges where someone said, how far can you go in 24 hours and someone wrote in and said: “I went 420 km”, and someone else: “Well, I went 422”, and so on. Randonneurs weren’t really competitive, there weren’t really winners doing the transport stages. They were more just a group of friends enjoying riding together and riding fast, for sure, but not trying to beat the next guy. These riders were challenging themselves to see how far and fast they could go. And that is how randonneuring started.

CR: You also mention the Popular Front and the impact on the French working class and leisure time. And I’m just getting involved in a movement called the National Vacation Summit that is taking place in Seattle August 10 - 12 that is working toward federal legislation to create a minimum two-week holiday for all workers in the U.S. There’s a lot of interesting connections, and I just wanted to have you expand a little more on the popular front.

It was basically France’s answer to the (Great) Depression. The Depression wasn’t as hard in France as in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, but there were still a lot of people out of work, and the inequalities between rich and poor were seen as excessive. So there was an uprising, general strikes, workers taking over factories and so on. A Socialist government, the Popular Front, which united the center-left parties, was elected in 1936. The result of that was that a 40-hour work week and 2-week vacation became mandated in France, so every worker had the right to have weekends off and paid vacations. But people still didn’t have much money because wages were low. You have to imagine that people didn’t have cars. People may have lived only 30 miles from the ocean, but had never seen the sea. If you’re working every day, there is no time to explore even the closest surroundings. Once they got leisure time, people were really eager to explore—the 1930s in Europe also saw a back-to-nature movement, in Germany and everywhere. And so in France, a lot of people took up bicycle touring. They bought bikes, the kid was put in a trailer, some couples bought tandems... They set out to explore, often camping because they couldn’t afford to stay in hotels. That’s how bicycle touring got a huge boost. There were tens of thousands of French couples who took to the roads during the summers of the 1930s.

CR: You’re talked a lot about the social history of cycling, particularly from the 30s to the 50s as you just described. There’s a time before that has really intrigued me, I don’t know what it is, but I’ve just got this hankering. And that’s the time of the high wheelers. Do you know much about the social history of that period?

JH: A little. High wheelers were very expensive because they were all handmade, no mass production. Riding a high-wheeler was very much an aristocratic pursuit for young, well-to-do men who rode the highwheelers similar to horses. A similar stature. You sat very upright on them, very high, you looked down on the other folk, you could impress the young ladies as you rode around the park. It’s interesting because early on, the horse and the bike were seen in parallel. There was a discussion among the cyclotourists whether it was appropriate for gentlemen to lean over the handlebars. When the safety bikes came out, people realized that if you want to go fast, you need to lean over to put out more power, but the question was: is that proper? I think that is just fascinating. In the end, the aristocracy lost interest in the bicycle when the safety bike came out, because suddenly, as a cyclist, you were no taller than a pedestrian. The bikes became more affordable, and the middle classes could buy them, when they were mass-produced. So the aristocracy looked toward cars and even airplanes as their play things, and the bicycle became a much more utilitarian tool.

CR: What do your readers not know about you that they would be surprised to learn?

That is a tough question! There was once a person in the early days who walked into a bike shop, saw my bike leaning against the counter and said, “You must be Jan Heine. I had no idea you were that young!” This was about ten years ago, so yes, I was a little younger. I was 31, which tells you how old I am now. He had thought that since I was writing about old bicycles from the 1950s and things like that, that I must have had a long grey beard. On the other hand, I’m probably right in the middle of where my readership is. There are a lot of young people who are excited not just about history, but about technology, rediscovering old things, learning new things and integrating the bicycle into their lives.

That is why so many people are fascinated by the French cyclotourists from the 1930s to 1950s, because cycling for them was a way of life. It wasn’t like the racers who were only competing. These riders might have a time trial one weekend, perhaps even involving tandems. The next weekend, they went out for a picnic at some beautiful site. During the holidays, they took the train somewhere, then rode across the Alps. Their bike was basically their life. And to me, it was talking to these people, who are now in their 70s, 80s, even 90s—they are such joyful people even today, and their memories sparkle so much, it’s so lovely to see that. And that’s what I enjoy about cycling, the friendships we make. I don’t have much time to spend with my friends except on bike rides. So most of the time when we’re riding, we actually talk. Some people meet in coffeehouses, we meet on our bikes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Sucker for Rural Bucolia

Oregon Randonneurs Alsea 400k, here I come!

Next weekend, August 8, you'll find me in McMinnville, Oregon where I plan to take on my first 400k. I've done one 200k and one 300k this year, but it's not like I've done a whole lot of brevets to prepare, so I'm a little nervous. I've never attempted a 400k.

The Kramer Blog's latest post has an elevation graph for the Alsea 400k that shows 8700 total feet of climbing with much of it in a nearly 3000 ft early climb. If I can get over that first hump, I'll feel confident.

I may have been lured in by the Oregon Randonneurs' Alsea 400k brevet description of "rural bucolia." Makes it sound dreamlike, doesn't it? Rural Bucolia...ahhhh.

DarteDame is planning to accompany me to Oregon as a supporter not a participant, which is kind of her. As you know from her July 26 post, she did her first Century, the Seattle Century! I'm very, very proud of her. She was strong, and her training paid off. A little coda: we learned from Kent Peterson's blog (Kent of Bike Works in Columbia City and more) that some pranksters (or anti-cyclists?) painted confusing signs that directed Seattle Centurions up a steep dead-end hill. Fortunately, there was a small gathering of head-scratching cyclists at the bottom of the hill when we got there, and they directed us to the correct route. Thank you, mystery cyclists. Boo on you, pranksters!

The pranksters had also taken down some of the signs warning motorists ("Hundreds of Bicyclists on the Road") about our ride. I find that less pranky and more irresponsible.

The sign switching though reminded me of a scene from Hogan's Heroes or some such where the goofy Allied troops spin the road sign in French rural bucolia, and it tricks the German tank brigade to go the wrong direction thus saving the day in a key battle. Actually, while visiting Greece in 1999, I read that Greeks did exactly that when they confused NATO convoys heading for Kosovo.

Back to Oregon: I'm excited and nervous which is good because it reminds me how DartreDame was feeling prior to her first Century. We all have our worries. Despite Darte's worries, she pushed on and is now--don't tell anyone I told you this--contemplating what a 200k might be like. Remember, mum's the word!

One of my worries came to an interesting fruition last evening. I was cycling home from work when my freewheel broke. Yep, I pedaled, the freewheel turned, but the wheel wasn't propelled. I could coast down hills, or push along with one leg on the road as I did on the flats, but uphill I was walking my bicycle. So I coasted, pushed with one leg, and walked my bicycle and myself down to Bike Works. Prior to the freewheel breakage, I was riding home "the long way" to take advantage of Seattle's heat wave for some hills-in-the-heat training. Could be hot in rural bucolia.

The good news is this didn't happen during DarteDame's and Vesteinn's first Century ride, and it didn't happen during next week's 400k attempt. It also may explain my chain jumping over the large rear cog and into the spokes breaking the derailleur as it did during my 200k this past March (see my June 6, 2009 post). Right before the freewheel broke, it kept jumping in the same way repeatedly, and it has been doing that now and then. Also, I had a scraping noise I had trouble eliminating by derailleur adjusting. Now, I believe it's because the freewheel was wobbling prior to breaking. Yahoo, I hope! I may have solved a mystery.

And you know what? The freewheel is the only part on the Fuji I hadn't replaced or refurbished. Randonneuring has an uncanny way of seeking vulnerabilities and exploiting them. I like that. Keeps me on my toes!

The pic is of DarteDame and me on the Link Light Rail, taken by Vesteinn. Officials told me that my bike and I counted as five in their passenger counting scheme. Darte was a one. Five minus one equals 4; I'm gonna finish my first 400k. I hope, I hope!

Keep it bucolic,


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Guest Blogger DarteDame Steps Up to the Seattle Century

It was June 16, 2009 when I last posted here and declared publicly that I was going to do the Seattle Century—my first. It seemed like a good first ride, benefiting our local, wonderful, Columbia City bike shop called BikeWorks. (Kent Peterson, famed Seattle cycling personality, had assured CurioRando that it was a good one and he even marked the course.)

It’s hard to believe that it was just five and a half short weeks ago. I said then that the problem with words on a page is that they are permanent—you can’t pretend you didn’t say them because they will just stare up at you from the page. So putting down what seemed like a bit of a wild wish at that point—no training, no previous ride longer than 75 miles and that was almost 3 years ago—was risky at best.

I had five weekends to train, which was slim. Unfortunately, I hadn’t calculated for travel. I had done only a few 25 mile rides during the week after work in the week and a half before I had to leave for Colorado. During the following week, I rode a few times to work—a grand total of about 7 miles roundtrip each time—before I had to leave again for Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, I developed allergies to the cat which triggered my asthma. We got back from Pittsburgh on a Tuesday night, now only two and a half weeks left before the century. Given that conventional wisdom said you shouldn’t do a long ride the weekend before the actual ride, we realized that coming Saturday was the ONLY time we could do a long ride.

The days after our return from Pittsburgh were ridiculously busy with several very public events for me, early starts and late endings each day with a total of four or five hours of sleep. The night before our ride, I had the honor of being on a panel with Gloria Steinem and a number of other wonderful women and an audience of 900 people. It was a wonderful and also tiring event, and it was well past midnight before I finally got to bed. We scrapped the idea of leaving early and decided we would start our training ride around 11 AM the next morning.

The next day dawned hot. We had been joined by our good friend, Vesteinn, who was also doing his first century ride. (What I didn’t know at the time is that he had been biking to and from work about 30 miles each day for the several weeks before we rode together so he was in far better shape than I was.) By 11 AM when we started riding, it was in the high 80s. Our ride started in Redmond and traced some of the very same hills we would do on the century. I was tired from the moment we started and I could tell. We did 65 miles that day and for the last 20 or so miles, there were several times I thought I wouldn’t make it. It didn’t help that Vesteinn, who I thought might be in a similar state to me, had done perfectly well, riding up the hills with little problem. It was just me in the back, slowing everyone down the whole ride. I felt exhausted, wheezy, dehydrated and completely discouraged. I simply could not have gone a mile further. I was spent, completely spent.

I started thinking seriously about whether or not I could do the Century. I got grumpier and grumpier the more I thought about it. My shoulders and back got tense. Any words of encouragement that CurioRando tried to give me were met with sharp stares and perhaps a “you don’t understand” look. A few days after the fateful ride, I started to think about still going for it and just deciding that it would be okay to not finish. Not finish? I’m not really good at being okay with not doing something I’ve set out to do. Maybe, I was beginning to realize, this ride was going to teach me something whether I finished or not, willingly or not.

The weekend before the ride, we went out for another 55 mile ride around Lake Washington. We took it very slow, laughed and joked for a good part of the first half, had competitions to see who could go up the hills the slowest (Vesteinn won). I had decided not to feel guilty about being the slowest, and to measure myself only relative to me. I had hydrated well the week before and had good sleep the whole week. Even though the ride had more elevation than the week before and in less miles, it seemed far easier. When we arrived back at home, CurioRando asked us if we could do another 50. Vesteinn said yes, without hesitation. I stopped, thought and said I thought I could do 25 if there weren’t any hills. And if I could get to 75 on the century day, I hoped adrenalin would carry me through.

In the remaining week, I tried mostly to calm myself down. I was honestly terrified. Terrified that I wouldn’t finish, that I would embarrass myself, that I would be sick, that I would have to walk up hills. It was the hills that worried me the most. The distance didn’t seem so daunting, just the hills. But here we were, registered with purchased t-shirts and jerseys. I switched from thinking that I needed to be okay if I didn’t finish to visualizing myself finishing (CurioRando’s advice). Everyone offered advice and most of it was good. My physical therapist (a superb athlete and runner) asked me what the worst thing that could happen was and when I said, “Not finishing” she shrugged. “Well, that’s not so bad, is it?” And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t. But dammit, I was still going to finish! My son’s piano teacher, also a fine athlete and previously competitive swimmer, told me to get angry any time I started to get discouraged and to just keep pedaling one rotation at a time no matter how bad the hill was. CurioRando plied me with powdered vitamins and minerals and water. My assistant at work made sure my water glass was always filled and my finance manager at work shared her ultra-runner-daughter’s tricks for how to stay hydrated.

The weather was predicted to be unbearably hot, in the 90s. I sat and stewed before it even got hot.

The day before the Century, I was the grumpiest I had been in a long time. I got annoyed for no reason at work and at home. I had to give a speech in front of a few hundred people and couldn’t put myself into it. CurioRando had gone to pick up our numbers and course booklet at pre-registration. We spent the evening getting ready for the ride, with him trying to make me smile without any success. It wasn’t until after dinner when I sat down to look at the booklet that I realized the hills seemed easier than the rides we had been training with, even though the whole course was obviously still significantly longer than anything I had ever done. There was one hill that seemed to be about 1,000 feet of elevation and that scared me. But other than that, it actually seemed manageable. On top of that, the weather forecast for Saturday was far better than it had been, with highs in the upper 80s.

I smiled, even laughed! CurioRando was thrilled to see teeth. We calculated what time we should leave each stop to finish in about 10 hours—we weren’t going for speed, just trying to finish. This kind of analytical exercise helped me see that we should easily be able to do the ride in time. I went to bed more relaxed and ready to say that I had done whatever I could do, now I just needed to ride.

Saturday morning, we were up at 4:15, out of the house by 5 and at the starting point at Magnuson Park by 5:30. We saddled up at 6 and set out in the cool morning air. The sun was just beginning to ride high enough that it cast golden ripples on the lake as we rode by. The first 20 miles were flat, along the Burke-Gilman Trail and we rode mostly in companionable silence, not pushing too much, just getting our bodies warmed up. The stops were spaced about every 12 miles and we skipped through the first one and stopped at the second just before the climbing started.

Novelty Hill and Cherry Hill—both went by quickly, slowly up and then racing down with the satisfaction of having climbed another hill. We landed at the 50 mile mark at Remlinger Farms around 10 AM or so and I realized half the ride was done! I felt good, the beginnings of confidence that perhaps I could actually do this thing. I doused my head with a bottle of water—the heat was starting to rise up—and boldly declared to CurioRando: “I can do this thing.”

“What?” he said, almost not believing his ears.

“I can do this thing,” I repeated firmly.

He planted a giant kiss on me—“that’s my lovey!” he said exuberantly.

The next stretch might have been my favorite of the whole ride, through the Carnation Marsh. Giant trees filtered out sunlight and dappled the road. Swampy green on either side, rustling wind, wheels whirring, companionable riding in twos. We had been joined by another friend, Steve, a strong cyclist who had just completed the STP the weekend before. On the rolling hills, I had a little fun, boxed the guys in and sprinted up the hill, throwing my arm (only one—I would have fallen if I had tried both like the pro-racers!) up in the air for a victory sign. They goodnaturedly complained and then nicely didn’t tease me as I spent the next five minutes recovering,

The next leg was the big hill I had been dreading. We told Vesteinn to go ahead and CurioRando stayed back with me, even though I kept telling him to go ahead. He insisted he was fine staying back with me. As we twisted and turned, I kept preparing myself for more and harder. When we suddenly got to the rest stop and realized the hill was over, I turned to CurioRando and said, “That’s it?” in disbelief. He laughed. “Not so bad, right?” he asked. I nodded. Now I definitely felt I could make it.

Now we were at around 66 miles and the next stop was a good 18 miles or so at the Mercer Lid, which would put us back in familiar territory we had ridden numerous times. If there was a stage that was the hardest, it was that one. I had determined I could make it, finished the stage that seemed the hardest according to the book, and temperatures were at their highest, probably around 87 degrees or so. The stage went on forever. There were plenty of climbs, big and small. And though not one was as big as the one before, there were more of them, and it was hotter and later. My back, hands and seat were starting to hurt. I was tiring and could feel it. When we finally reached Mercer Lid, I gladly sank into a chair, threw another bottle of water over my head and rested for a few minutes—the first real stop beyond a bathroom break and water refill we had taken the whole ride.

But now on the last stretch and on familiar ground. We curved around Lake Washington, up and down through the Arboretum neighborhood and back around to the University. We realized the ride would only be 94 miles as the course was written. A Century that isn’t a Century? We weren’t going to have it! We determined to ride an extra 6 miles so that we could really do a full century and tried to convince some of the riders waiting with us at the light to do the same. They looked at us like we were crazy. And maybe we were—Century crazy!

We did our extra 6 miles and rolled into the finish line, a full Century completed in right around 9 hours, one hour earlier than we had planned to finish. I felt good, all over good, body, mind and spirit good. I was tired, yes, but not exhausted. I wasn’t sure I could have done more hills, I had lots of bruised spots from my seat not sitting quite right, and my left hand had gone weak enough from gripping the handlebars that I couldn’t muster up the strength to push my gear shift levers in. But all in all, I was remarkably good.

I treated myself to a 15-minute heavenly massage and let Kathy work out the knots in my upper traps. We retired to the beer garden, then got silly on endorphins, a few beers and a lot of sun and then went home.

When I woke up this morning, I felt good all over again. I’ve already started researching what other centuries there are, or even when there is a 200 km brevet that I can do. CurioRando is looking at me with a gleam of pride in his eye, but careful not to push because he sees that I am doing all the pushing myself that is necessary.

So, as I finish up this lengthy post, I’m raising a glass to a few things. First, to bicycling, for the freedom and the glory and the adventure that is possible on bike. Second, to our friend Vesteinn, for his companionship and inspiration. This was a bonding experience for sure and I’m already looking to ride with him again. Third, to CurioRando. If it weren’t for his obsession, his belief in me and his companionship, I wouldn’t have done the ride. Truth is, he had far more confidence in me on this one than I did. And his willingness—no, real desire—to ride with me, even though he could have torn ahead made it just so much more fun. He pushed me to push myself—and I am grateful for that. And finally, I’m raising a glass to me. I did it—my first Century.

Boy, do I feel good.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If I were the Bike Czar! Hear the song!

Note: be sure to listen to the song: If I Were the Bike Czar to the tune of If I Were a Rich Man. You'll find the link in green below.

Here's the cyclist-in-chief (actually taken by Brandon of the AP last July just after Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination) leading by example.

President Obama is a cyclist it seems, and we know he's been putting his cabinet together so I got to wondering. He just appointed Gil Kerlikowske as the new Drug Czar. I know Gil--former Seattle Police Chief--so I thought if Gil could be our nation's Drug Czar why couldn't I be appointed by President be the Bike Czar.

Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were the Cycling Czar?

If you want to hear what it would be like if I were the Bike Czar, listen here! Hint: if you minimize the audio player and go back to this page you can read along as you listen.

Follow the Bouncing Ball:

If I were the Bike Czar
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum
All day long I’d biddy biddy bum
If I were the Cycling Czar.
We wouldn’t have to drive cars
Ya da deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum
If I were the biddy biddy Bike
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle Czar.

I’d build a wide highway for bikes by the millions,
Just for (the) cyclists of the town.
Fine smooth lanes, no chip seal, glass or nails
There would be ten long bikeways just going up
And ten even longer going down
And singletracks for cyclists of the trail.

I’d set up shops with tubes and patches and glue
And pumps for folks to use for free
Cycling without flats, the wheels just whirl.
With each loud “ooh” and “mmm” and “ah” and “yeah”
We’d show how the cycle gives us glee
As if to say “We are a cycling world.”

If I were the Bike Czar,
Randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneur
All day long I’d pedal pedal pum
If I were the Cycling Czar
We wouldn’t have to drive cars
Randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneur
If I were the pedal pedal Bike
Pumping, pumping, pedal pumping Czar.

I see my bike, my Fuji, looking like a Bike Czar’s ride,
With a proper leather seat
Randonneuring dream, she’s my heart’s delight
I see her putting on airs and racing for the town signs
Oy, how the other bikes she’d beat
Riding all the brevets day and night.

The most important folk in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them
Like Velocio the Wise
“If you please, CurioRando…”
“Pardon me, CurioRando…”
Seeking cycles to return us to blue skies.
And it won’t make one bit of difference
If they’ve driven all their lives
When you’re Czar they get out of their cars!

If I were Czar we’d have the things that we need
To wash in the office place each day
We’d surely have some soap in the shower stalls.
And we’d slow down global warming with our pedaling
Getting stronger every way,
That would be the sweetest thing of all!

If I were the Bike Czar,
Randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneur
All day long I’d pedal pedal pump
If I were the Cycling Czar
We wouldn’t have to drive cars
Randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneuring, randonneur

Barack, who is our Prez and is our star
Why subsidize what is only just for cars?
Bicycles would really go so far
If I were the Cycling Czar!

Performed by Janak Jayapal Preston and DartreDame. Engineered and produced by Janak. Lyrics by CurioRando in collaboration with Janak and DartreDame. If you enjoyed their performance, please let them know by commenting. They'd be grateful.

Keep your fantasies alive,

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jan Heine Interview Coming! Read All About It!

Yep. The editor of Bicycle Quarterly, Jan Heine, will be here soon, and we'll get his views on randonneuring for newbie randonneurs, equipment, and the social history of cyclotouring and bicycles among other topics. Fascinating interview.

In the meanwhile, here are a few more bicycle-on-the-Link-Light-Rail pics.
Here's the scene from this morning's commute. See my bicycle hanging in the foreground on the left?
Here's a bunch of empty bicycle lockers at the Sodo Station. Interesting that you can see into them. What's the thinking there?

Bike Route alongside the station. Only goes one block the direction I went: South.

The Sodo Station art features a gateway comprised of a beam, a level (on top), a red "carpenter's" pencil vertically on the left, and a square on the top right!

Written on the pencil is: "Made in U.S.A. Union".

Back in my bricklaying days, we called those pencils "Brickie Pencils". Why give the wood butchers credit?

Just kidding! Just a little craft rivalry humor. Got ya!

In the end the joke was on me. I tried to pick up this hammer wondering whether it was left over from some construction project. Nah! This again, including the benches in the background, is at the Sodo Station in the industrial part of town. There are tools on the benches too. They don't move. They are art. Got me!

If you look carefully in the gateway photo, you'll see an arc "scribed" into the pavers by the pencil, much as you'd do to draw a circle with a compass. It all makes my little mason's heart flutter.

Keep it plumb and square,


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Get on Board Cyclists: Link Light Rail Opens!

Waiting for the Train.
Our long awaited Link Light Rail trains opened Saturday to much fanfare and 45,000 trips. We Seattlites were giddy with excitement. All smiles, waves & gawking.

After Datre Dame, our friend Vesteinn and I completed our pre-Century training ride Saturday we hopped on board for our inaugural rides. What fun!

I tried to clip in while my bicycle hung from the hook inside the train car, but other passengers started to shoot worried, confused looks my way.

Seemed to me my bike and I would take up less room!

Vesteinn likes the train!

Me and my bicycle going for a ride...on the train!

"I see that train a comin'"

Sculptures in the Beacon Hill Station 160 feet below street grade. A beautiful station.

If you squint you can see Mt. Rainier. From the high rails just as you head into the Tukwila Station you get a fabulous view of our iconic mountain. Trains reach 56mph on that spot!

Demonstrating the anti-homeless butt-leaners.

Vesteinn and his new best friend.

Dartre Dame is tickled by the train!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bike Valet!

Of course it was Bike Works in Seattle that provided the Bike Valet at an event I attended this evening.

The pic above is of Bike Works volunteer (staffer?), Jayanthi, who locked up and watched your bike for a few dollar donation to Bike Works. All this was for the Community Alliance for Global Justice or CAGJ. I was honored that CAGJ asked me on behalf of my union to give the keynote for this year's Strengthening Local Economies, Everywhere Dinner. Because we represent grocery and food processing workers among others, there is a strong connection between the work of CAGJ and our membership.

The CAGJ website says this about their work: Organizing workshops, guest speakers, film screenings, and study groups, we offer the community information about corporate globalization, its local impacts (including on the food we eat!), and the economic and agricultural alternatives we have as resources for resisting it. We seek to connect folks in the Puget Sound area with their local farms and food producers by organizing farm tours and our annual community gathering, the Strengthening Local Economies Everywhere Fair and Dinner.

Everything about CAGJ is sustainable so bicycles are prominently featured. The flags I believe were all made by volunteers and children.

Check out CAGJ...and Bike Works!

Don't you just love how bicycling fits into a sustainable world? I do!

Keep it sustained,


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Am Willing, Century Training & Ginger Ninjas

Last post I waxed on about Holly Near and her song I Am Willing. Here are the lyrics:

I am open and I am willing
For to be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change

There is hurting in my family
There is sorrow in my town
There is a panic all across the nation
There is wailing the whole world round

May the children see more clearly
May the elders be more wise
May the winds of change caress us
Even though it burns our eyees

Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion
Give me a desert to hold my fears
Give me a sunset to hold my wonder
Give me an ocean to hold my tears

Saturday, Pramila aka Dartre Dame, our friend, Vesteinn, and I did a training ride in preparation for their first century ride coming up soon. It's the Seattle Century, a benefit for Bike Works in Columbia City which is in Seattle.

We can literally coast our bicycles from our house down to Bike Works without pedaling, it's that close. Bike Works is fabulous.

Always a sucker for High Wheelers!

Vesteinn cycled strongly.

Cooling Down!

I never heard of them, but I'm checking out the Ginger Ninjas. They are sponsoring The Pleasant Revolution Bicycle Music Festival Tour 2009. Cool enough.
It is August 22 and features: "500 miles, 50 Bands, Gazillions of Bikes, 15 Venues." Even cooler. It happens in Eugene, OR; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Vancouver, BC. Wow!
They are looking for volunteers, and I like their website, and I dig what I heard of their music. Check them out for yourself.
Holly Near's lines "For to be hopeless would seem so strange, It dishonors those who go before us" are so powerful.
I am holding those lines close.
Keep it honored,


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Randonneuring Women: Where are you?

This is my mother, Hazel. Isn't she beautiful?

Yep, inside and out!

Friday night I went to see Gloria Steinem and others (most notably my wife, Pramila Jayapal aka Dartre Dame when she posts here) at Town Hall in Seattle. Gloria was really great. She takes up little space and always graciously puts others forward. But when she does speak, she's right on. Lovely, especially so today in the age of self aggrandizement.

Holly Near was part of the panel and was good there, but when she sang she really opened up the souls of the audience. Really beautiful. I especially liked her first song, I Am Willing. An unusual song that proves that smart lyrics and a deep message can be wonderfully melodious. No need to pander to popular genre or form.

Here's Holly Near. This photo is from her website. In my photo she looked like an ant she was so small. Here she is in her glory.

The event was called Hedgebrook Presents: A Conversation with Gloria Steinem. Hedgebrook is a rural retreat of 48 acres on Whidbey Island in Washington State "where women writers come from all over the world to write, rejuvenate, and be in community with each other," according to their website. I've been there (during a rare invite-the-men-occasion), and it is a fabulous setting where women writers get an opportunity to go deeper than they are able to at home. Pramila used to be a Hedgebrook board member. Over 700 folks attended the sold out event where Gloria and Holly were revered for good reason.

Pramila, I felt, balanced the discussion by bringing it back from the primarily writing theme to the world of activism and social change, broadening the discussion. Gloria, of course, is all about social change, and I've begun to reflect on her impact on me.

First, my mother was a charter Ms. Magazine subscriber, and I used to read it as a teen. My mum worked to support our family, and as roles were changing my mum was living proof of the change taking place across the country. I must say I've got ambivalence about women and their work. First, of course women should work however they want wherever they want. Problem is women still don't get paid equally; what is it now about 80 cents to every dollar a man earns? Less still for women of color.

My ambivalence comes from the fact that it now takes two wage earners (or multiple jobs for each person) to make ends meet. It's not just choice driving women, it's economics. Women and men alike aren't earning enough, women always less still. Women should work if they want to, but many moms work because there is no other choice (I'm ignoring one of Gloria's admonitions to express rather than persuade. She posits that expression wins people over more truly, so I'll work at stifling my persuasive tendencies). Let me say it this way: I support choice, and it saddens me to see the victory many women worked toward become the double burden of remaining the primary care giver WHILE being a breadwinner too, all due to worsening economic times for all.
And how do we expect moms or dads to work without affordable quality child care?

But my mother worked, cared for us, was and is smart, and stood up for herself and her gender. She got ridiculed for being a Ms. subsciber and much more. I'm sure I don't know the half of it. I'm proud of her, and seeing Gloria Steinem reminded me of my mother's struggles, and for the role modeling she provided. Thanks, Mum!

So, my question, given all this, is: why don't more women--a woman randonneur is called a Randonneuse--participate in randonneuring brevets?

Some do, and I've met them, but not that many. I suppose I could go through the Randonnuers USA (RUSA) membership list and count, but I feel quite confident in guessing it is less than 10%. Don't you see more women than that percentage participate in other bicycling activities? One answer of course is obviously economics again. Randonneuring is resource intensive. And time is a precious resource. Time to train. Time to participate. Also, equipment isn't cheap.

So, I'm not asking rhetorically. I want to know. If you are a randonneuse or wannabe randonneuse, can you enlighten us a little? Why do you think it is that few women randonneur, OR am I wrong? And, finally, what could we men creatures do to open it up?

The picture above is of my favorite woman cyclist: Dartre Dame!

Keep it open to all,


Friday, July 10, 2009

My Randonneuring Bicycle, Part 3: First Tease

My new ride, to be completed in time for the 2010 season, will be built by Pereira Cycles. As a tease, here is a photo album of a previous Pereira Randonneuse. Mine will also be a 650B bicycle.

Keep it anticipated,


UPDATE: For an updated look at the randonneuring bicycle I'm having built up, check out this post.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Riding around the world...on a highwheeler!

  • If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a sucker for high wheelers (and no, it isn't the Bunnies). That's why when I heard about Around the World on a Bicycle, by Thomas Stevens and first published in 1887, I couldn't resist.

    Really, around the world?


    Around the World on a Bicycle was republished by Stackpole Books in 2001 with an introduction by Thomas Pauly, and everything about it is daunting:

  • Going around the world

  • Riding a high wheeler

  • Through undeveloped land over the roughest of trails

  • Amongst people who had never seen a bicycle

  • With essentially no supplies other than a slicker

  • Eating whatever came his way

  • Sleeping outdoors, in mangers, wherever

  • Writing over 1000 pages

  • No Control Stops

  • No Perpetuem!

How to begin describing such a journey? Let's have Stevens speak for himself after a brief setup.

Stevens writes of his Hungarian companion, Igali, whom he fell in with for a spell. Igali had his own bicycle, and was considered the ultimate sporting cyclist of all Hungary at the time. Stevens adjusts to Igali's slower pace by riding ahead and waiting in a comfortable spot for him. There is a little tension around tempo, but it resolves as they ride along and encounter adventures together and learn to appreciate one another more deeply.

My companion is what in England or America would be considered a "character"; he dresses in the thinnest of racing costumes, through which the broiling sun readily penetrates, wears racing-shoes, and a small jockey-cap with an enormous poke, beneath which glints a pair of "specs"; he has rat-trap pedals to his wheel, and winds a long blue girdle several times around his waist, consumes raw eggs, wine, milk, a certain Hungarian mineral water, and otherwise excites the awe and admiration of his sport-admiring countrymen.
On the Slavonian national dance:

Livelier and faster twang the tamboricas, and more and more animated becomes the scene as the dancing, shuffling ring envdeavors to keep pace with it. As the fun progresses into the fast and furious stages the youths' hats have a knack of getting into a jaunty position on the side of their heads, and the wearers' faces assume a reckless, flushed appearance, like men half-intoxicated, while the maidens' bright eyes and beaming faces betoken unutterable happiness; finally the music and the shuffling of feet terminate with a rapid flourish, everybody kisses everybody--save, of course, mere luckless onlookers like Igali and myself--and the Slovian national dance is ended.
On the popularity of the wheel:

Many readers will doubtless be as surprised as I was to learn that at Belgrade, the capital of the little Kingdom of Servia, independent only since the Treaty of Berlin, a bicycle club was organized in January, 1885, and that now, in June of the same year, they have a promising club of thirty members, twelve of whom are riders owning their own wheels.

In addition to cultural misunderstandings, mechanical breakdowns, sickness, attacks, headers, and severe weather, Stevens had to walk much of his journey as he had just one gear. Despite this, it took him 104 days to travel from San Fransisco to Boston, the first cross country cyclist. Eight months later in May of 1885 he left for England returning back to San Fransisco in January of 1887 via France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Slovinia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Azarbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Singapore, China and Japan. Some 13, 500 miles "wheeled" he says.

Stevens can be compelling at times, but also repetitive. I'm probably one fifth of the way through its 1000+ pages, and I start and stop because there is no real drama apart from his various escapades. He's thorough, and I'm learning a great deal, but it ain't a great read.

I can't seem to find attribution for the line drawings, but as you can see they are fabulous.

His feat is remarkable in so many ways, but the detail that gave me heart as I contemplate the Paris Brest Paris in 2011 is that he decided to ride cross country just two years before he embarked. At the point of that decision he hadn't yet ridden a bicycle!

And, the one he rode, a Columbia Bicycle by Pope Bicycle Factory, cost him $110. Consider that a tea set then was $4.75, a sewing machine $13.50, and set of parlor furniture was $17.50 according to the Introduction. Even a 425-pound buggy cost only $44.50, so my custom bicycle isn't looking too bad in comparison.

All together, I'm enjoying my long distance journey with Around the World on a Bicycle, but like his journey: it isn't for the faint of heart.

Keep it high,


Saturday, July 4, 2009

This land is your land. Happy July 4th!

What a land in which we live! Who knows better than the randonneurs who tour it?

The only one I can think of is Woody Guthrie, seen here on YouTube singing his This Land is Your Land love song. He gets us pretty good. Here's my favorite stanza:

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In honor of the 4th, here are a few ride reports--many with fabulous photos--about our land:

Pennsylvania: New Jersey Randonneurs progress and ride reports of the PA 1000k

Alaska: Alaska Randonneurs on the Alaska 600k

Washington State: Rando(m) Adventures on the SIR Spring 600k

Utah: The Utah Randonneur Zion Canyon 200k

Oregon: Oregon Randonneurs Mark Janeba's Covered Bridges pre-ride 2009

Colorado: Colorado Brevets Lyons-Berthoud Populaire

Georgia: Research Trailer Park Audax Atlanta Summer Solstice 300k Brevet
California: San Francisco 300k Brevet
Minnesota: portal to several Minnesota ride reports
Keep it free,

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Prolonged sex, lightning bugs, crick fishing, and...oh yeah, randonneuring

Now that I've got your attention (as you'll soon learn, for males it mostly pays to be bold), I want you to adjust your eyes to the darkness, and imagine a soft, moonless and still summer evening. The come-on is expected, so you wait for it. Nobody moves. You hold your breath an instant...and there it is at last. A male lightning bug flashes his unique-to-his-species light that roughly translates to: "Calling all lightning chicks, I've got your nuptial gift right here! Calling all lightning chicks."

If you hail from a lightning bug part of the country (firefly to some), you know what I mean. Mixed with other pre-pubescent hot summer memories is the distinctive smell of the dank and musty lightning bug you've captured and put in a jar with a knife-pierced lid. It is an unmistakable odor. Every kid from a lightning bug homeplace knows what I'm talking about.

I loved that smell, and I loved our lightning bugs. The best place to find them was down by the crick, underneath the willow tree and amongst the forsythia bush branches. Our crick was, and still is, called Dirty Camp Run.

I know what you're thinking: it's not "crick", it's "creek". Well, I have it on great authority, Patrick McManus, that a "crick" is not only different from a "creek ", it is not a "creek" pronounced differently. Patrick is a fishing writer-humorist, and he knows all about workingclass cricks and how to fish them. Even if you're not a fisher, his post is hilarious.

Now, thanks to the New York Times story yesterday I understand why all those lightning bugs were hanging around the crick flashing every summer eve: to prove their nuptial gifts worthy to the lightning chicks. Science Reporter Carl Zimmer covers the research of Tufts researcher, Dr. Sara Lewis, that is all about the mating of lightning bugs.

Basic lightning bug mating lore:
  • They remain coupled for HOURS. HOURS.
  • They part at dawn; not sure about the whole cigarette thing.
  • The males flash to attract females who lie in the grass waiting for The One.
  • Males' flashes vary according to species.
  • Males deliver a "nuptial gift", a coiled up nourishment package if you will, to the females in addition to sperm.
  • The quality and size of the "nuptial gift" may determine the success of reproduction.
  • Females judge the size and quality of the "nuptial gift" based on the boldness of the flashing.
  • In one of Nature's cruel ironies, one species of lightning bugs predates on the others and favors those with the boldest flashings.
  • Females insist in Cosmo surveys: the bigger the gift, the better.

Enlarge this graph from Lewis' research to see the call & response of lightning bugs. Lovely.

And here is a picture of modern day Dirty Camp Run, our crick, from Bridges and Tunnels of Allegheny County, Pa. It was so named by the Native Americans of our neck of Penn's Woods (Pennsylvania) in great honor of His Majesty's soldiers and the dirty camp the soldiers kept. To the Indians, it was simply the crick that ran by that dirty old, smelly camp the British soldiers lived in: Dirty Camp Run.

Today, it is so channeled up that it floods routinely, hence its relative fame. Pitcairn residents (downstream) blame Monroeville (where I grew up) land use practices, according to the Times Express. I feel for poor old dumped upon Dirty Camp Run and those unlucky residents affected by the flooding.
So how does this all relate to randonneuring? Well, if you go back to my earlier post of June 14, 2009 I talk about transport stages (where randonneurs rush in relative unison) and interest stops (places of interest where randonneurs "tour off their bicycles" to learn about the point of interest) during brevets.
I'm imagining a brevet where randonneurs start about 5pm and cycle a transport stage to a certain lowland area along a crick that is known for its lightning bug habitat. After cycling at high speed for hours, the randonneurs pause for a sex patrol control. One objective could be to count how many different species each randonneur confirms (by the males' distinctive mating flashings, of course). Cycling speed could play a role in that slower randonneurs might have less time to count the species (though lightning bugs do couple for HOURS). Or, the randonneur who finds the male with the shall-we-say "healthiest nuptial gift" could win a Lady's Choice award.
But seriously, I can imagine an enchanting evening brevet where the break or midpoint control could be a special lightning bug infested habitat. Why not?
One reason why not, unfortunately, is the decline of lightning bug habitat. Now Public reports that urban development, pollution, and artificial lights are culprits in the decline. I loved our polluted crick, Dirty Camp Run (though with intense mixed feelings as it was perhaps also responsible for my sister's polio), but the continuing destruction of its habitat is emblematic of our current path.
For the sake of our sexed up lightning bugs, we've got to turn this planet/ship around.
That's another reason I dig randonneuring. As it did when it was conceived, randonneuring pushes the presupposed limits of what one can do on a non-polluting bicycle.
Keep those "nuptial gifts" coming,

Post Script: DatreDame (aka Pramila, my wife) insists that I failed to point out the salient data point from the research, that there is a 20:1 ratio of male lightning bugs to female lightning bugs? What is she trying to tell me?