• Emily

    Go read about the awesome Finch family at

    Photo by Jonathan Maus,
  • The Path Less Pedaled

    Somewhere along the way, sometimes, in our insistent harping on the theme that bicycles here at Clever are normal, practical, daily transportation instead of instruments of frivolous leisure, we may distort the truth that they are both. Sure, they save money and haul stuff and have AC and magnet-powered lights and keep you healthy and connected and all, but they are also the most romantic, aspirational, daydreamy escape vehicles ever, spiritual quest chariots, rolling poetry.

    While we’re all living la vida practica, trapped in a bike shop as the sun begins to show itself more, Russ and Laura are holding up the crazy side of our world, vicariously. You’ve surely heard of them if you “like” our Facebook page or follow our Twitter stream, or are otherwise connected to this here internet: they’re well wired. They are leaving soon on lap 2 of their indefinitely long USA bike touring career, this time on Brompton folding bikes and Amtrak, in a bid to “re-imagine the All-American Road Trip.” We’re proud to help sponsor them.

    Join us Friday, 29 April, 6-8 pm here for a presentation by Russ and Laura about their unfolding adventure.

  • Fiets of Parenthood: how we roll

    After a long, cool, wet Spring, finally the sun came out in all her fierce blazing glory to bless the first inaugural Fiets of Parenthood Pedalpalooza event Saturday, along with everybody else on a bike this weekend in Portland.


    sarah gilbert and boyAll during Pedalpalooza, there are multiple bike events going on at almost all hours, light and dark. Conflicts are inevitable. The problems we have, right? The fact that FoP conflicted with the the established family ride portion of Cirque du Cycling disappointed a few. This was an accidental oversight. But if it wasn’t, FoP would differ from other events in its tight focus on Portland’s growing everyday normality of raising children on bicycles, for all the ordinary, non-freakish tasks of getting from A to B as a family, hauling stuff, without a car. As a shop, as parents and citizens, this cuts close to who we are. That’s why we were especially proud to host this event. Lots of people contributed to the realization of Totcycle’s vision, but everybody knows that our customer Sarah Gilbert did more than anybody else — maybe everybody else combined — to make it happen. Thanks Sarah!

    There are several great Flickr sets up documenting the event. I made a gallery of my favorite shots from three of them:

    This, too, from Team CarFreeDays, in which no children or animals were harmed (do note evidence of training at 1:24):

  • Flow

    I’ve only ever been to Amsterdam in the cold, gray months. Seeing this clip a few days ago of the utter normalcy of biking there made me remember, and smile. The man behind the camera is William Hsu, from My Dutch Bike in San Francisco, there to immerse himself in the supply side. Via Amsterdamize.

  • Who rides a WorkCycles city bike?

    WorkCycles is an Amsterdam company founded by Brooklyn-born Henry Cutler. To date, Henry has exported nearly all of the Dutch bicycles we’ve introduced to Portland, including the conspicuous Bakfiets Cargobike, but also a “Classic” series of city bikes. These are the finest examples of their type, a rarity in North America but the very soul of everyday Dutch biking sensibility. Timelessly beautiful and frankly heavy, what these hard-working tools may lack in miles per hour, they make up in miles per year (MPY) by being so capable, versatile, comfortable, and low maintenance. Miles per lifetime? According to Eric Kamphof, “The average Amsterdammer leaves their bike outside year round, rarely tunes it, and rides it nearly 3000 miles a year. The average age of a bike in Amsterdam is nearly 35 years old.” Meanwhile, WorkCycles city bikes are built and equipped quite a bit better than the average Amsterdammer’s best bike: they are “forever” bikes.

    This is Zuzana on her Oma, our most popular bike in this range. Its exceptionally tall head tube and stem permits mounting of a very large basket on the “Pickup” rack fixed to the frame up front, without the bars colliding with the basket. Zuz reports that she rides her Oma faster, further, and more often than the less substantial Electra Amsterdam “Classic” that first whet her appetite for Dutch-style riding.

    Zuz’s husband Bryan rides an Opa fit with the same front rack and a shorter box of his own construction. Bryan also races cyclocross. Some people suppose that utility bikes have no sporting appeal. We suppose they offer sporting bikers a more regular workout, weaving “training” into daily errands by replacing car trips instead of subtracting from leisure time. Same goes for non-sporting bikers!

    For their two children, Bryan and Zuz rock a Bakfiets.

    This is Cedric Justice: Energy Efficiency & Greenhouse Gas Management Consultant. Cedric rides a 65cm Kruis. At 6’5″ and 300lbs, Cedric has a history of destroying bikes. We’d be lying if we denied he’d deformed even the steel cranks of this bike once! This early 20th-century frame design, exuding steampunk flair, is the strongest and stiffest in this line, ample not only to withstand him but also Victorian picnic lunches and environmental monitoring and analysis equipment on both front and rear racks.

    Cedric rides with an English equestrian helmet over his cerulean locks because, he explains, nothing else goes so well with an Ascot. He enjoys catching up with cars and faster bikes at every single stop on his commute.

    This is Lisa, who with her husband Nathan were among our first Oma & Opa couple customers. Each time they ride off together we remark how badly we wish we had a camera ready: it’s love and elegance on wheels.

    Lisa says all that needs saying:

    My Oma has changed my bike riding for the better. I ride much more often, and in all seasons. I feel safer, even though I no longer wear a helmet. Sitting upright I am more visible to cars. I can carry much more cargo on my Oma than my previous bike, without feeling like I am compromising stability.

    It’s not unusual for motorists or pedestrians to smile at me. I’m never sure if it is wistful envy or curious bemusement. Which reminds me of an incident last summer…

    As I rode up Clinton St. one day a young woman sang out the theme for Miss Crump in The Wizard of Oz, as she speeds towards Dorothy’s house to take Toto. Without too much hesitation I assured her “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.” And we laaaaaaaughed!

    This is Sandra and her daughter Nadia Del Pasqua. Sandra is a doula, postpartum caregiver and personal trainer. So many bikers — new mothers especially — don’t survive the transition from a “commuter” model of biking to the “minivan” model imposed by parenthood. We’re grateful to Sandra for her example.

    She writes:

    Instead of buying a second car, we decided to buy me a bike. I honestly feel like a queen riding the Oma around. Seriously, there are times when I just want to wave to strangers….and I think they feel the same way. People seem to love to see Nadia riding up front.

    I also feel like I’m riding a work of art. The bike is so beautifully made and glides – except when I hit the hills and well then I look really good walking beside it. :)

    We use this bike all the time to do our grocery shopping, get to our doctor appointments and to the gym. I’m excited to see how she does in the winter!

    [Hint: she'll do fine!]

    This is Beth, an actual Grandma (Oma) riding a bike of the same name.

    Beth is 65. She’s been riding her whole life, in recent decades the US norm of mountain bikes and hybrids mongrelized to pass tenuously as city bikes. She stopped by our shop to ask only about a basket, but with a little encouragement she gave an Oma a turn around the block. “Where have you been all my life?!” her face said upon her return. A few days later she hauled it off on the back of her vintage Volvo.

    We’ve seen Beth tooling around the neighborhoods and at the market since, with the same joyous gleam on her face of making up for lost time.

    This just in via Henry’s blog: who else? Paul Steely White, New York City bicycle advocate, rides a Workcycles Opa:

  • Wood heat

    Last Fall we installed a wood stove in our home, and turned off the furnace. Yesterday, we lit it again, and broke out the long merino underwear. Both will remain in more or less steady use through May. Honestly, we missed the pleasures of the stove even in July.

    soapstone wood stoveThis stove, about 500 pounds of handsome soapstone and iron, has completed our acclimation to Portland’s colder three seasons since we moved here from a balmy San Francisco microclimate in 2004.

    Before the stove, in this drafty old house with loads of single-pane on the south, we spent the gray months in a tightwad dilemma of whether to run the thermostat high to hold the chill at bay, or low to feed a faltering conceit of hardy frugality. Even run high, blowing warm air all over the house offered only thin comfort. No more.

    What does this have to do with biking? We can’t really tell where biking stops and the rest of life begins, but this connection to everyday biking feels as natural as that to, say, backyard chickens or slow food or knitting or beards. It’s just another thread of the Portlander good-life conspiracy.

    Riding every day year-round means exposure to extremes: beautiful, bracing, invigorating, enervating, excruciating, sometimes all at the same time. Coming in from even a few miles of cold wet riding — the CSA pickup or Costco run, the soccer practice or swim lesson, the dinner-at-friends, the commute — often means coming in with a chill, or damp from rain and sweat, or both. And for banishing a chill, and drying out clothes, and brightening your insides, nothing beats the gentle, penetrating radiance of a heavy stone stove. hearthThe room we have it in — formerly almost unused — has become a living working hearth, the center of the household, where everybody wants to be. A dutch oven sits atop with soup or stew. Pillows and chairs and board games ring the wool rug in front, while coats and boots and slippers toast in the corner.

    With forced air central heat, we tended to hunker down in the tepid drafts, layering on the wool, and avoiding the shock of opening a door. The uniformity of central thermostatic heating makes it unpleasant to engage and adapt bodily to the reality outside, isolating too completely from the season. In this respect it is akin to cars, whose mass, noise, speed, and enclosure deny their operators real presence in the places they pass through.

    In contrast, using the stove instead of a central furnace builds cold tolerance and hardiness, making outdoor errands afoot or awheel that much less forbidding. With the stove, unless fired full tilt, all the far corners of the house aren’t a whole lot warmer than outside. The bathrooms are often in the 40s; the kitchen not much warmer. The bedrooms: better be under heavy bedding with your love or a sack of marbles heated on the stove. snowpocalypseDuring last winter’s freak Portland “snowpocalypse,” there was often ice glazing the far windows. None of this is miserable, though, because your comings and goings through these cold spaces end back at the stove, where you can be barefoot and sweating if you like. It’s like an open-air hot tub, a sensual delight. This constant exposure to wide temperature swings takes the sting out of Portland’s chill. Within a month of firing it up, in the mornings we’d marvel at how comfortable we felt working in the 50F kitchen in pajamas as the stove came back up to heat.

    Riding your bike, growing and cooking your food, and heating your home with wood alike affirm that daily life processes of moving, eating and dwelling are best embraced actively and deliberately instead of by motor proxy or automated abstraction. laying it inWe laid in our heat in June, seasoned it, and will mete it out mindfully piece by fragrant piece in hundreds of slippered trips to the woodshed over the coming months. Sure it’s romantic, but utterly appropriate, practical, and sufficient, like getting around by bike in Portland.

    While we’re more comfortable than ever, we’re bringing far less total heat into our home than before; the average temperature is way down. Since wood heat, BTU for BTU, is comparable in cost to natural gas currently, this means we save money. Secondarily, the cold kitchen means the refrigerator doesn’t work as hard; our bills for both gas and electricity plummeted last winter. Wood is a local, renewable resource, nearly carbon neutral over a cycle of decades assuming rational management (big assumption, unfortunately). Both the state of Oregon and the US government offer substantial tax breaks for installing high efficiency, EPA-approved biomass heating systems like this.

    Local bikey blogger Jeremy Towsey-French began sharing his similar home heating project near the same time we installed our stove. Clever Cycles partner family the Mullins leapt with us, too; we share wood delivery now. So did local bike messenger Joel Metz: soapstone as well. So did my parents on the east coast: same model as Joel. It’s as if an odorless smoke signal to get wood stoves went up within our circle near and far, without any of us talking about it directly.

  • Bike camping at Stub Stewart State Park with kids

    Last weekend, the first truly great weather of the year here in Portland, we took a bike ride. Yes, a recreational jaunt, not something we often manage. We rode from our door to MAX light rail, took it to the end of the line west, continued through farmland and forest 22 miles to Stub Stewart State Park, stayed there in comfortable cabins, and back the next day. It was delightful. This is something many Portland families can enjoy, so here’s the story.

    My boy and I started preparing only a couple hours before we left. We packed sleeping bags, some extra clothes, tools, food and water in the front basket of our Workcycles Oma. This bike is about 50 pounds of lugged straight-gauge steel, shod with fat tires, built for hauling in comfort instead of speed. We also considered riding a Brompton folding bike with its child seat and awesome touring pannier. These are the two bikes we go about our business around town with more than any other these days. farmland Either way, we wanted to keep things simple, in part to make the point that you don’t need expedition-class, Stokemonkey-equipped cargo bikes like we took on last summer’s adventure just to go camping nearby with your kids.

    I admit that our bike was operating near the limits of its capabilities with heavy, high loads both front and rear. It’s the least stiff of bikes we carry in this class, so irregular surfaces and higher speeds or higher pedaling power would occasionally get it shimmying in a way that required a lot of steering input to hold a line. I’d choose it again, though, because it’s comfortable and fun to watch people’s reactions as I pass on my granny bike with big-ass wicker basket, wooly neo-Mennonite getup, big smile, cheery klang of brass bell, and the boy waving off the back. I might as well be on fire.

    Dean and his two older boys took a tandem with Burley Piccolo attachment:

    I’m a little bit skeptical of how meaningful is the real locomotive assistance provided by most young kids (and sometimes adults!) in arrangements like this. The strongest rider ends up doing far more than their fair share. That little man off the back? Thinks the pedals are foot rests. Dean is strong! My boy had actual footrests, but for all his excited jiggly fidgeting he might as well have been pedaling.

    getting on MAXWe rolled out early in the afternoon to catch MAX downtown. In retrospect, that wasn’t the best place to board, as the train was a bit crowded there in the fareless square and our jumbo bikes wouldn’t fit in the small spaces allocated for bikes on each car. We split up to board at separate doors. We managed with assiduous bike-shifting not to hinder anybody.

    Riding out, I was reminded of the last time I rode this train this way, in 2000, on my way down the coast to then-home San Francisco. I reflected on all that’s changed and stayed the same these nine long years. Same: practical bikes as instruments of bodily, social, civic, economic, and spiritual reclamation, integration. Different: almost everything else.

    Once out in Hillsboro, we relied on the cue sheet. Suburbs faded to farmland soon enough, with its quiet narrow roads and open vistas. And what a day!

    In Banks we stopped to eat and get our bearings. The cue sheet would take us the remainder of the way to our destination via Highway 47, which we preferred to avoid. 5 wheels 5 peopleWe asked at a gas station about the fabled Banks-Vernonia trail parallel to 47, and got directions to the trailhead just a hundred yards away. Attendant said it was rough for a ways but then got better. What it was was abandoned railway, “closed”, overgrown with brambles. But far in the distance it looked like it got better, so over the ties we pushed, maybe half a mile. We wondered whether the attendant was amusing himself at our expense, or had never come this way himself, or deemed any length of the highway unsafe for our passage. I worried about the tires on the thorns. When finally the way improved, there was a short path directly to the highway. Next time we’ll know better. At least the kids got to carry their weight a little ways.

    The trail proper is very nice. Free from the threat of motor traffic, I put in some earbuds and enjoyed the latest David Byrne & Brian Eno [coming to Portland!] collaboration for the 1,234th time approximately, slapping the bars giddily in time as we shuttled along:
    banks vernonia trail

    The last six miles or so were uphill, gentle railroad grade, as we entered forest. Mr. Byrne was crooning something about his neighbor’s car exploding up ahead when on my left Mr. Todd Boulanger appeared astride his Batavus. He had raced ahead of his family to greet us, so we stopped and chatted about our day. Just as we were about to get going again, my front tire began hissing. Fiddling with the valve stem, it seemed to me likely that the tube had failed at this very point, which filled me with dread because while I had brought patches and pump, I neglected foolishly to pack a spare tube. We’d be stuck if the valve had failed. I’d investigate in camp, ideally, before dark. I decided to sprint as long as I had any pressure remaining, not wanting to push too many miles.

    On Dutch bikes like this, the bars are so close that you can’t stand up to get more power. But you can rest your elbows on the hand grips and grasp the bars near the stem to brace your upper body and put your back into turning the pedals. Think Amish triathlete. So we powered our way up as I kept an eye on the bulging sidewalls of the front tire, stopping several times to pump a few more pounds of pressure in, thankful that it would hold air for half a mile at a time at least. Todd B. passed me at one of these top-off stops, offering that he had packed a tube just in case. He also offered to check us in at the camp registration site in case they’d close at five. This set my mind at ease in equal measure as it drove home my stupidity in not being prepared. What if he gave me a tube and then he or a family member had an irreparable tube failure?

    Near the park entrance, the last mile, the way becomes quite steep. I stopped to ask an older fellow on a mountain bike to confirm that the camp was up the hill. Without answering, he flagged down a truck driver of his apparent acquaintance and announced that we needed a lift up the hill. “No, no, we’ll be fine thanks — just wanted to know the way!” “But it’s a LONG way!” he said. “We came from Portland!” I offered half-truthfully. Incomprehension. “Thanks!” I grunted up the hill. Pushed maybe half a mile, half from steepness of grade, half from flatness of tire. A nice cool-down in lovely late afternoon light. We made it.

    The cabins were quite luxurious: electricity, heat, ample insulation against sound and cold, vinyl-clad futons, wood tables and chairs. Not really like camping at all! Separate bathhouse with free hot showers.

    Team Boulanger put us to shame for thematic consistency with sweetly atypical touring bikes (for this continent). Their astonishingly well-socialized older boys, witty and vegetarian, each rode scaled-down versions of my bike. I think Todd B. prepared at least a 5-course dinner on his gas stove with elaborate nesting titanium cookery. I might have seen an apron. There was whiskey late and mimosas in the morning. And French-press coffee. Todd B. even fetched firewood for us after showing us how to operate the cabin keyboxes. (I promptly locked myself out.)
    boulanger camp

    Meanwhile in Camp Schlub, our kids dropped TJ’s wieners into the firepit, incinerated marshmallows, and threatened to put each others eyes out with pointy smoldering sticks. There was much coughing and beating of fly embers. I whittled something that could be useful in case of attack by giant marauding boars, snarling through their cruel sallow tusks, but dangerous in all other cases. Dean brought a Hobo Pie press which, filled with gobs of TJ’s pizza dough, produced excellent panini-esque Hobo goodness. That’s right, Mr. B, grilled panini: think European hot-pocket, only lacking any kind of filling or even salt. Mr. B. sent over some late-harvest estate-bottled Tuscan EVOO to keep them from sticking and turning to charcoal, as well as one of their leftover sauces for dipping.
    hobo pie

    My flat turned out to be the normal kind, a thorn, easily reparable. I was able to relax after fixing that. In the morning, Dean found his rear tire flat, too. Patching that, we chided ourselves for pushing our luck by not packing more contingency supplies.morning light We know better, but it seems running a bike shop has engendered in us an excessively casual approach to these things. Cobbler’s-children-go-barefoot syndrome? That and the iPhone, which can’t yet be used as a wrench, but did spare us from the horrible bother of a paper map. At least Dean packed a first-aid kit!

    The morning light was beautiful. For the first time this year I left off the wool long underwear. The ride home was fast and easy down the long railroad grade. Too fast for Oma, it turns out. The trail is punctuated with many bridges. Many of the bridge transitions are sharp. I hit one at about 10 MPH, and the upward jolt caused my basket to fly open and my camera to tumble down a steep embankment. I had been looking for it for a few anxious minutes when along came none other than Mr. Todd Boulanger, who bounded down the slope and fetched it in no time. My camera now has a photo taken by Todd of the boy and me peering helplessly down at him, expertly composed I might add.

    A few miles on, I swallowed my last shadow of pride and borrowed Todd’s hex keys to adjust the child seat that the jolt had shifted. Thanks man! I owe you.



  • A new sobriety

    Via Copenhagenize — too good not to share! Art by Nick Dewar.

    I’ve long loved the ephemeral art of the period between the first and second world wars, particularly Europe’s constructivist and the United States’ Works Progress Administration related work. With a deepening world economic chasm opening, and President-Elect Obama’s likely stimulus scope beginning to resemble FDR’s, there’s a certain bracing smell on the wind, and artists are beginning to respond as they did before. Notice the palette used in this and the New Yorker cover, below? You can even get an Obamafy plug-in to simplimify the process.

    And of course, the bikes! Sensible city and cargo bikes with dynamo lights and fenders. Like we stock, starting around $400. That’s right folks, load up on all your depression survival supplies right here while stocks last so shiny.

    Pet peeve: the light on the bicycle above is angled too high; dazzling the eyes of oncoming riders more than lighting the way. Most lights of this style have a front piece, or cowl, whose top edge is meant to be further forward than the bottom edge. The seam of this piece with the rest of the lamp, in red above, should generally be vertical or angled downward a bit.

  • Lo, a sign


    Hat tip:

  • Family bike trip: Portland to Breitenbush and back again

    For our vacation, we the Fahrner family rode from our door in Portland up into the Cascade mountains along the Clackamas river, camped one night along the way, then spent four nights at Breitenbush Hot Springs. We rode home in one day. 193 total bike miles, 12,000′ of climbing, with a camping load and our 6-year old son in a child seat. This was an unforgettably wonderful experience for all of us: 4 days of total relaxation at the springs book-ended by 3 days and a night of bike camping.

    breitenbushWe first visited Breitenbush last autumn, taking a Zipcar. The stay was far too short; we resolved to return. Breitenbush Hot Springs is an amazing place, a worker-owned cooperative on a beautiful site in ancient forest. The soaking pools are clothing-optional (mostly none). The food is organic vegetarian, no alcohol or caffeine. It’s off the grid: they generate their own electricity from the river and operate year-round on geothermal heat. They even run their own code-compliant sewage system for 190 people. There is no phone service apart from the office, no cell coverage: forget internet, radio or TV. Beside soaking, eating, and lounging about (I napped a lot), the hiking really can’t be beat, and there are usually new-agey kinds of workshops taking place for those so inclined. That’s not us, but I did indulge my inner hippie by slathering naked self head-to-toe in sulfurous volcanic mud, letting it bake on in the sun, and washing off in the c-c-c-cold swift river. Perfect!

    We approached the idea of riding there tentatively, because though we ride every day, it has been some years since we’ve camped or even put more than 35 miles in a day on bikes as a family, much less nearly 200 heavily laden with lots of climbing mostly in mountain wilderness, beyond all services including cell phone signals. How would our son handle days straight sitting in his seat? But between the waste of parking a shared car at Breitenbush all week, our wanting to get some long-form biking in, and the need for blog fodder, well, we had to try it. Plus, we’ve needed to put in some extended test miles on new production elements of Stokemonkey, our elusive electric assist system specific to longtails, and this sounded like a good challenge.

    It had never been entirely clear to me at what range Stokemonkey would become more burden than help. For utility hops of a few dozen miles or less in steep places like San Francisco or Seattle, it’s a no-brainer, but could we make the charge last this many miles in these mountains, with these loads, and still have Stokemonkey, with its weight and displacement costs, be a net advantage? I’m happy to report that we could. And that son is a champ in the seat for long hours, even offering back rubs. We’ll travel this way again.

    We rode out about 18 miles along the Springwater Trail to join this route near Gresham, shared by Matt Picio at Bikely, complete with excellent cue sheet:

    Clackamas Camping out to Breitenbush (route courtesy Matt Picio)


    cycleanalystI figured out the total miles, then divided by the number of watt-hours we’d be packing in the batteries on each bike to come up with a per-mile power allowance of about 8 watt hours. It takes a lot of discipline not to open the throttle every time you get a little tired, but keeping under the allowance would assure that we’d have enough juice left to help with the tough climbing on the second day as shown in the elevation profile above. In practice, this meant using the assist only uphill and for the odd acceleration from a start, at least on the more climb-intensive outward leg. Coming home we could be more liberal with the assist.

    Though each bike weighed nearly 150 pounds with cargo, 2 large NiMH battery packs each, passenger and all, we maintained an average speed of 11.7 MPH over the 193 miles, working no harder uphill than on the flats. Downhill, that extra weight is all gravy, which allowed us to ride home in a single easy 96-mile day. The bikes handled beautifully with all the weight; they are designed to.

    climbing breakOf course, riding lighter bikes with lesser loads and no motor assistance is entirely feasible, and preferable from a simplicity point of view. It would also be slower and rather grueling on the steeper, longer inclines. For that matter, we could have hiked there and home if we had so much leisure. For us, for this trip, motor assistance made the difference between practical and appealing, and not.

    In all, we used 1642 watt hours of assist each, so 3284 total over 193 miles, or 17 watt hours per mile for the 3 of us together. (Our capacity was half that; we recharged from Breitenbush’s small hydroelectric service.) Now, a single gallon of gasoline packs about 37,500 watt hours. So, if you come up with a car that gets 2,206 MPG with 3 occupants and camping gear in the mountains, you’ll have matched the energy efficiency of our quiet, cool-running, simple little human-electric hybrid system, now patented.

    Packing was a bit stressful. I come from the minimalist school of camping, where you remove the staples from the teabags after discarding the 4 layers of extraneous packaging, and then decide that loose tea would be better yet, and conclude finally that you can do without tea for a few days. I shaved my head to sidestep that whole shampoo and comb quagmire. My wife, on the other hand, thinks nothing of packing a few books, four changes of clothing for five days, giant towels, etc. We compromised, sort of: if it fit on the bikes after the batteries, tools, charger, first-aid, water stowage, and other basics, I was fine with it. We’ll pack less next time. I packed some trash bags so in the worst case we could stash useless items in the woods at a marked spot for retrieval at a later date, including batteries if it came to that.

    The ride up was pleasant after Estacada, if uneventful, and just plain uneventful before that. Having son narrating in his tireless way kept us entertained even passing through the town of Boring, Oregon.
    lower clackamas
    We camped at Riverside Campground, at mile 60-something the first night. This is the site of the last readily potable water along the route. We slept in two Hennessy hammocks, which I’d long been curious about as compact comfortable alternatives to a tent. Need to fine-tune the bottom insulation strategy for the cold dawn hours or colder seasons, but we’re sold. The sound of the rushing river lulled us quickly to deep sleep.


    The second day’s climbing was more intense, or we were sore, or both, but the weather was great and the scenery fantastic. It culminated at mile 18 in a wall of a climb to the pass that we dreaded to imagine hitting without Stokemonkey. The pass came sooner than expected, with a breathtaking view of Mt. Jefferson clad in glacier, and we then bombed down to Breitenbush with some euphoric whoops. I ran out my charge to a splutter along the loose gravel road just a mile or so from our destination.

    parkingWe parked our bikes at the door of our cabin, which led to quite a lot of curious loitering by other visitors to the springs. But we learned quickly to stop telling people that we had biked there with child from Portland because it stopped conversations cold, as either a greener-than-thou affront or just too freaky. “Who drove the support vehicle?” A Dutch family we met there on the last day found out as we were leaving. They were incredulous. I admit that made me proud: Dutch people think we’re hardcore. At the same time, I wish more people understood that biking needn’t be some kind of enviro-martyr stunt, sport, fundraising strategy either personal or institutional, etc.

    carl crosses

    Homeward was mostly downhill, after the initial very sharp climb back up to the pass. The first couple hours after the pass were the nicest riding I’ve enjoyed in many years, with perfect light and warmth and a bike heavy enough to hold its momentum up nearly all the little rises after letting loose up to around 35 MPH on the longer descents. We whistled and sang in gratitude.

    Our mood took a big hit at Austin Hot Springs, which is right alongside the road. We thought we’d lunch there and maybe take a dip where the hot vents mingle with the cold river water. We rolled up to the river’s edge, between trucks, and beheld a sickening spectacle: trash, trash everywhere. Brawndo cans and Doritos bags, used tampons and condoms, excrement-smeared toilet paper, giant bean cans, inflatable water toys, cassette tape fluttering, cigarette butts and beer bottles, some broken. Green trees sawed down and dragged halfway into fire rings. And there in the clear water, some yahoos had submerged a large roll of carpet and weighted it with rocks so bathers could avoid coming in contact with the riverbed. It was a crying Indian moment. Anger and shame drove us back to the road.

    The Breitenbush community states that its primary purpose is to protect the springs and the land around them. Instantly, in view of the fate of Austin, we felt a wave of gratitude for that mission accomplished. I thought of some of the remarks I’d come across about Breitenbush being expensive or exclusive, or a bit precious, and I murmured “well thank god!”

    Clouds rolled in low and it began to rain lightly. For the first hour or so it came down at a rate about equal to evaporation in our wool and peached nylon pants, but after a few more hours we were quite wet, though warm from exertion. My body proved an astonishingly effective rain shield for our son, even in his denim jeans. Beyond cell range, without radio we couldn’t guess whether these showers were going to blow past or compel us to set up a hasty camp. We had no raingear save those trash bags. We changed into dry wool and pressed on, just as the showers luckily subsided for a few more hours, catching us again only 15 miles from home on the Springwater.

    flatBoth bikes acquitted themselves flawlessly, with zero trouble save a flat due to a heavy staple; we patched in place. We rode my 2003 Xtravois longtail, and a 2007 prototype of the Surly Big Dummy longtail. The Surly’s running a Shimano Nexus 8 gearhub with roller brake, the same robust setup as on all the Dutch bikes we sell. Xtravois has a Rohloff gearhub. Schwalbe Big Apple tires on both, 24″ on the Surly. Both bikes have been “dutchified” to produce effective seat tube angles below 70 degrees, with short stems, swept bars, and sprung broad Brooks B67 saddles. I don’t think I’ll ever ride long distance any other way willingly, assisted or not. The only bicycle-specific items of clothing we brought were helmets.

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