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  • Xtracycle reinvents its own with EdgeRunner, and some backstory

    Starting today, we're thrilled to begin accepting orders for the first small production run of Xtracycle's new EdgeRunner longtail cargo bikes, due to arrive at Clever Cycles in early January. These, along with their whole 2013 product lineup, are the most exciting things we've seen in years at Interbike, the bike industry trade show in September. I'll tell you why below, but a test ride is worth more than a million words. We have a demo EdgeRunner; ride on over to try it!

    EdgeRunner is Xtracycle's boldest entry into the category they virtually invented over a decade ago with their FreeRadical hitchless trailer. Unlike the company's previous conversion kits and Radish package, EdgeRunner is a one-piece frame, offering a much stiffer, stronger, more refined ride. Alluringly designed in light resilient chromoly by multiple-NAHBS-winner (and world bicycle speed record holder!) Sam Whittingham, EdgeRunner's foremost technical improvement over otherwise similar longtails is a 20" rear wheel, which lowers the center of gravity of the load, and is stronger too. The smaller wheel also allows its axle to be further rearward than other longtails having the same overall length. The handling improvements of a load borne lower and more completely between the axles is hard to overstate. Finally, the smaller wheel produces more torque when electrified: EdgeRunner will come in an electric assist version!

    Alongside the new flagship complete bike, Xtracycle is also introducing completely new accessories called the Hooptie (which is a railing/monkey bar assembly to help passengers feel more secure), Stirrups (for little feet), UTube/RunningBoards (which provide foot support for even a second passenger in the aft position), and the SideCar (which is a sidecar, 250lbs capacity, crazy inexpensive). The bags and other key accessories have been made both better and cheaper too, so we'll be able to offer complete Xtracycles at unprecedented low prices in 2013. How about a complete folding Xtracycle for $999, the Cargo Joe? Next Summer, Xtracycle will introduce new longtail conversion kits called Leap 26 and Leap 29, cheaper, stiffer, and more broadly compatible than its original FreeRadical kits.
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    Taken together, this thunderclap of new design work probably exceeds all previous Xtracycle development since 1998, when the company formed. Xtracycle has re-invented its own. So what happened? Well, as all this new work began, inventor and CEO Ross Evans got re-invented as a father! Carrying kids has always been one of many applications for an Xtracycle, but never before has the company shown such a tight focus on meeting the needs of families. We've practically raised our kids on the back of our Xtracycles, and we've set up hundreds of families with such setups over the years. As parents, Xtracycle's product line has never been more closely aligned with our core values, experience and vision for bicycles as everyday urban family transport.

    Xtracycle and Clever Cycles: the backstory

    Xtracycle's products have had an incalculable positive influence in our lives. Clever Cycles would not exist if not for this influence. I (Todd) have told the story in fragments over the seven years this site has existed, but never all at once. That whole tale is too long, but a summary will explain why we're so proud to lead Xtracycle's renewed charge into Portland.

    I bought what I'm pretty sure was the very first Xtracycle product sold in our then-home San Francisco, in early 2001. AUT_3612_2 I was a little skeptical about converting a nice bike into a franken-hauler with a new product that had yet to prove its bold promises, so I bought a $60 MTB to convert. I sold my cargo trailer 2 weeks later: it couldn't carry passengers. Soon I began to regret having underestimated the goodness of the Xtracycle FreeRadical by joining it to a crummy MTB, so I got a nicer one. I hauled groceries, and construction and brewing supplies on it, and my wife and mom and dad (not all at once), all over San Francisco, or at least the routes that wouldn't destroy my knees and grunting reserves. I think I was the first person to attach passenger handlebars to my seatpost on an Xtracycle.

    Everywhere we went, every 20th person would act as if struck by some soft lightning, either staring gape-mouthed, or shouting out to us in amazement that such things existed. I began to feel like a reluctant revolutionary, riding a magical unicorn of a bike. Why didn't every biking household have one? We'd never owned a car, but this completely cemented our belief that we'd never feel the need, at least as long as we lived in a city. We became pregnant: we were going to raise our kid car-free, and Xtracycles were going to be key.

    how we rolled in 2003, san francisco And then the bike got stolen. I was secretly happy to be able to convert a third bike as a replacement, because I was becoming obsessed with the handling differences across bikes elongated this way. The third one rode best yet: an old Specialized Stumpjumper Comp, Tange Prestige tubing, hot pink. When our boy was old enough to sit up, we put him in a Bobike Mini seat up front, and it was like falling in love all over again. (To this day, my favorite part of working at Clever Cycles is being able to witness toddlers' first rides on their parents' bikes.)

    We visited Amsterdam, neither the first nor the last time. Wandering around town before dawn, jet lagged, I watched the city wake up and get on their bikes. Glorious bikes! Every block had several of the new Bakfiets.nl Cargobikes parked out front in the rain, and there were even longtails! I came across a large kindergarten at opening time, just as many dozens of families converged on it on their bikes with 1, 2, 3 or more children aboard or alongside, some asleep, their breath steaming in December's late dawn air, fit happy moms and dads in their normal stylish clothes, doing their normal thing. Not a single car or bus to break the sound of laughter, bells, cheery greetings and leave-takings. Time stopped. It was so beautiful, so humane. When time started flowing again, I cried. Reluctant or not, I knew somehow I was going to help this become normal in my own country.

    The remainder of that trip, I analyzed how the bikes differed from Xtracycles, imagining a mutually beneficial harmonization of standards. Returning home, now reviewing my bikey life through Amsterdam goggles, I became sharply aware of how many more barriers there were to the magical unicorn Xtracycle becoming normal, at least in San Francisco. Apart from the fact that this city has the highest car density of any in America, the terrain made using the bike's amazing cargo capacity somewhat forbidding even to very strong riders. I was fit enough to do brevets, and had a 18-mile daily commute with hills and headwinds, but still I arrived many places pouring sweat, even in the city's cool climate. My knees hurt. I was tired, tired in a way childless people can't really know. I began to research electric assist systems.

    IMG_129I bought a crank-drive electric bike, hacked the gearing extra wide, and turned it into what I think was the first assisted Xtracycle, in 2003. We charged it from our solar array. It was kind of thrilling that it worked at all, but I can't say it worked well. It was nowhere near stiff enough to handle the whole-family loads its motor would help it move up steep hills. Still, I rode it several thousand fast fun miles before its drivetrain failed expensively in under a year, and I didn't bother to fix it.

    IMG_577 IMG_758.JPG I wanted to replace it with the ultimate (or at least the first) one-piece Xtracycle, with allowance for an assist system equal to any terrain. I got to noodling, literally making a model in perciatelli, tubular pasta. This project resulted in Xtravois, still in service 9 years later. I'm proud that my original "stretch mixte" profile has become dominant among the many longtails to have emerged in the years following from artisanal builders as well as companies Surly, Kona, Yuba, Madsen, Rans, Sun, and even Trek. But where was Xtracycle, the progenitor and rightful chief commercial beneficiary of this concept? The child was gestating, keeping its powder dry: BOOM.

    We had built seven Xtracycles in three sweet years when I got laid off from my tech job. Our suddenly crushing San Francisco mortgage catapulted us to a new home in Portland, already more bike and family friendly. And much flatter, and wetter, about 8 miles on a side just like Amsterdam. We were unsure exactly how we'd make a living, except that it would involve Xtracycles, assisted when necessary. Months later, this site began, presenting our once-and-future assist product for Xtracycles, Stokemonkey. A year later, on a warm afternoon installing the second Xtracycle of our friends the Mullins, Dean Mullin proposed "let's open a bike shop!"

    In less than a year from opening, Clever Cycles was selling more Xtracycles than any other shop, a position only recently ceded to others in hotter growth markets. Xtracycles are thick on the ground in Portland now, no longer magical unicorns. We couldn't be more proud.

    We've never let up in beating the Xtracycle drum, even as the range of family solutions we offer has broadened dramatically, still guided by timeless moments of vision in Amsterdam. Even before we opened, we were pleased to beta test the first commercial one-piece longtail, Surly's Big Dummy, and we sell those to this day. Just last year, we designed our own successor to the original Xtravois, featuring a 20" rear wheel. We're happy to be off the hook to manufacture this bike, because now Xtracycle has made it nearly redundant, much lighter, prettier, and less expensively than we could. Everything that rises must converge!

    With the arrival of EdgeRunner, it feels like a large circle is closing to begin again. "Edge runner" refers to the growth habit of certain mycelia, fungal bodies who run rapidly and hidden along the edges of plant life, plant death, and soil. Edge runners' function is to catalyze new growth by reclaiming nutrients from complex dead matter, even the sometimes toxic wastes of human industry. They break down the old into the new, enabling generational change. The name EdgeRunner, apart from being a middle name of proud father Ross Evans' beautiful boy, befits Xtracycle's original hitchless trailer concept most plainly, recycling MTBs for practical use, inspiring, firing up the imaginations of thousands of people like us to reclaim our cities from car dependence. The present complete bicycle, not being converted from old, runs ahead in a broader course prepared by the first generation, reaching out toward families for whom cargo bikes are no longer mainly emblems of sacrifice, craftiness, and revolt, but more of practical aspiration, refinement, beauty: fresh culture.

    Once again, we have a demo model available for test rides. There is no substitute for test riding; we gave up trying to describe how bikes handle, fit, climb etc, over email or the phone years ago. But we think they nailed this one. It's the smaller of the 2 available frame sizes, non-electric version. We have a Hooptie, SideCar, and prototype of the new X2 bag for your trial as well. Cost is $1999 for the bike, with complete deck/bag packages starting at $149. A 50% deposit secures your claim to a bike from our small first shipment, due early January.
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  • Xtravois 2.0, our Oregon Manifest bike

    Have you read this article before? Jump to the Postscript describing event day.

    The bike Quixote Cycles and we are entering in the Oregon Manifest Constructor’s Challenge is a 20″-wheeled Xtracycle-standard longtail with a step-through, one-size-fits-most frame, and a large frame-fixed front rack incorporating a stand. It features also very clean Stokemonkey electric assist integration, including optimal battery stowage. What follows is a super geeky breakdown of the design, its background and rationale.

    A travois (trah-voy) is an A-shaped arrangement of poles, loaded near the crossbar with stuff, to be dragged along the ground by human or animal. It works better than a wheeled cart when traversing very rugged, brushy, or snowy terrain. A similar arrangement of straight twin-lateral tubes occurs in a mixte-style bicycle, where it permits a rider to step through the frame in a manner that enhances lateral rigidity with an isosceles triangle from head tube to rear axle.

    Our Constructor’s Challenge bike is a major revision of the travois-inspired elongated mixte I designed in 2003 called Xtravois. This was the first unified-frame rendition of Xtracycle‘s seminal hitchless trailer concept, a class of bikes now known generically as longtails, with variants now having appeared from numerous artisanal builders as well as companies Surly, Kona, Yuba, Madsen, Rans, Sun, and even Trek. Xtravois was the fifth Xtracycle owned by my household in just two years, and eight years later it is still in weekly, sometimes daily service. I’ve never stopped noodling improvements.

    Goals with the original bike were to improve upon the variable handling, stiffness, strength and aesthetics of Xtracycle’s retrofit extension approach, as well as to serve as a development platform for our patented Stokemonkey electric assist product, designed to let people living in the hilliest places take full advantage of these bikes’ cargo and passenger capacity. Goals with the present revision were to apply insights gained over a decade of personal longtail use and in having sold thousands of utility bikes at Clever Cycles since 2007. In addition to the minimum Constructor’s Challenge required feature set of lights, lock, fenders, stand, and cargo capacity, our feature list includes items often lacking or ill-executed in other longtail designs:

    1. A true step-through cross frame design, important for ease of use when wearing a skirt or passengers are seated in the rear, that at the same time improves upon the strength and rigidity of typical diamond frames.

      Cross frames, of which mixtes are a type, pre-date cyclocross, and deserve wider revival for utility bikes. In purest form (such as in Pedersens), they are composed entirely of straight, round tubes joined solely at their ends into triangles, with each member in clean compression or tension. Our use of 20″ wheels in an elongated format allows this approach to achieve a distinctive rigor and clarity, obviating the bent or shaped tubes, gussets, or other “remedial” complexities that larger wheel clearance, wheelbase constraints, or cosmetic fancy might compel. It’s probably the most rigid longtail we’ve ever ridden, and that’s beautiful.

      Our bike takes structural cues from the Locomotief unisex cross frame, produced in Amsterdam between 1936 and 1955 (still in use!), and also from the magnificent contemporary Filiduo (another view).

      Jonathan Reed‘s expert fillet brazing skills found ideal application here, far outside the norms of any available weld-friendly butted tubeset. With fillets able to build up the joints, relatively thin-wall chromium molybdenum steel tubing was used throughout.

    2. A sophisticated one-size-fits-most scheme, because utility bikes are frequently shared by a few household or business members. Universal sizing also enhances resale, production and distribution economics.

      This consists of a tall quill stem and the “Adaptive Seat Tube” embodied in Henry Cutler’s WorkCycles Fr8 line of transport bikes. Note that the very slack seat tube does not meet the bottom bracket, but instead the down tube some inches ahead. This results in the cockpit length varying greatly with saddle height, and the virtual seat tube angle varying the same way it would in a series of separate frame sizes, becoming steeper as the saddle is lowered. A rider of 5’1″ feels as comfortable as one of 6’6″.

    3. Moderately upright seating appropriate to the urban environments in which utility bikes are most viable, where comfort and the ability to see and be seen above car-top level trump the aerodynamic and “full body workout” rationale for bent-over postures.

      This means not just handlebars that are closer and higher than on bikes built for speed or distance, but a relaxed seat tube angle (below 70 degrees). Bringing the pelvis rearward restores some of the butt-muscle deployment that the uprightness compromises, and makes it easy to put a stabilizing foot down at stops without needing to lean the loaded bike. We find, perhaps counterintuitively, that matching heavy cargo with the high-power ergonomics characteristic of sport bikes (mainly seat tube angles in the 70s) results in a comparatively harsh riding experience: faster, yes, but still feeling all too slow and difficult, as if underscoring the gravity of the load. A lower-intensity, gentler, safer game of momentum management tends to win in miles per year what it may lose in miles per hour, with electric assist options becoming attractive as grades, loads, distances and speed requirements escalate.

    4. Flexible, balanced cargo distribution options — a good place to carry large heavy articles when the rear deck is occupied by one or more passengers, or simply full.

      In addition to the open-source Xtracycle-standard rear rack, deck and sling arrangement, this bike incorporates a massive frame-fixed front rack. Heavy loads on frame-fixed racks do not upset steering as with fork-fixed racks, but they require a large height difference between the platform and the handlebars to avoid interference; providing this clearance is another reason behind our choice of 20″ wheels.

      There are practical and psychological benefits to having a front loading option. When hauling your TV to the dump, for instance, loading it in the rear to one side will result in an awkwardly asymmetrical balance, while lashing it to the rear deck makes it harder to watch for narrow load clearances, unwanted shifting, and plasma leakage. The front rack is a sociable place for a large neurotic dog, too.

    5. A robust, extremely stable stand that can easily be deployed and retracted while straddling the fully loaded bike. Integral to the front rack, our double-point center stand is nearly 2′ wide and out of the way of cargo and drivetrain alike. A hasp allows the stand to be locked in deployment, rendering the bike incapable of being rolled or ridden, as a soft security mode.

      This feature is adopted from historical cycle truck designs as well as the aforementioned Fr8 series of transport bikes.

    6. Low center of gravity with low-trail steering, and rear-offset wheel for secure handling with the heaviest loads.

      The strong, 20″ wheels improve handling by accommodating a lower center of gravity of both the bike and its cargo. This makes the loaded bike easier to lean into turns, and also to right again. Not only can the racks be positioned nearer the ground while still clearing the wheels, the rear wheel is offset aft in the Xtracycle-standard rack subframe relative to the centered 26″-wheel norm, allowing more of the cargo to sit forward of the rear axle, minimizing the shimmy that afflicts some longtails. Moreover, the rear-offset wheel results in a shorter cantilevered support arm to the rear rack bridge, obviating the truss structures found in other longtails. Finally, a small front wheel accommodates a shorter, stiffer fork for most positive braking response.

      Low-trail steering refers to the lack of any tendency for the front wheel to “flop” to one side, chopper-style, pulling into turns or diving away from handlers while being walked. It results in handling that is less reactive to subtle weight shifts and imbalances, and moreso to direct steering input; this is complementary to the relaxed seat tube angle that leaves the hands unweighted for light, precise steering control. Low-trail steering is particularly critical for large loads borne on the front rack, as in addition to the rider’s weight (borne disproportionately on the front due to the long rear end) these loads provide leverage for the flop of higher-trail steering. Gone are the wobbly false starts, forced foot-downs, and low-speed instability characteristic of so many other cargo bikes. Our trail is below 30mm.

    7. Ready accommodation of Stokemonkey or other electric assist systems, with discreet large battery stowage neither impinging upon cargo capacity nor upsetting handling.

      While Stokemonkey was conceived as a retrofit kit, it is most elegant to incorporate its mount into the frame design. Sam Whittingham of Naked Bicycles found the sweet spot with a longtail its owner calls The Big Bum, and we’ve followed his lead placing Stokemonkey between the chainstays, low and out of the way.

      Yet another benefit of a 20″ wheel offset rearward in the Xtracycle rack frame is that it leaves a void between the racks in front of the wheel that’s ideal for battery stowage: low, centered, protected, and not competing for space with payload.

      Stokemonkey can be removed completely from the bike in a matter of minutes, as it replaces no otherwise critical components the way hub motors do. But should a hub motor prove desirable, the 20″ wheel format will help coax maximum torque out of it, as naturally cargo applications require.

    8. Little is more better. In addition to the rationale for 20″ wheels cited above is their inherently superior strength to weight ratio. The importance of strong wheels to a utility bike is readily understood, but the importance of lighter wheels sunk in while riding a 16″-wheeled bike with a camping load nearly to San Francisco last summer: they make the load feel lighter. Particularly when climbing, not having to accelerate large diameter, touring-tough tires with every pedal stroke made a huge difference to my knee pain problems. Our choice of supple, smooth, 2.35″ fat tires, together with the long wheelbase and unweighted-hands ergonomics, eliminates the harshness on poor surfaces that little wheels might produce in other circumstances.

    9. Components selected for effectiveness and minimal maintenance stored out of doors year-round, as oversize, heavier bikes for urban use frequently must be.

      • NuVinci N360 infinitely variable gearhub. 360% stepless gear range, shiftable under load, while pedaling or not. Expected 20,000-mile no-maintenance service interval. Chain tension is managed with an eccentric bottom bracket, permitting the use of disc-brake-friendly vertical dropouts aft.
      • Shimano IM-80 drum brakes, extra-potent in 20″ wheels, weather sealed, squeal-free and do not require regular pad inspection, adjustment, and replacement like most disc brakes.
      • B+M LED hub dynamo lighting, wired fore and aft. Twin headlamps fork mounted below the front rack give the bike a certain emotional something car designers have long exploited: a face. The efficiency and longevity of LED lamps means there’s no reason not to run them by day, too, for extra conspicuity.

    What’s this? A 40-year-old 20″-wheeled longtail with step-through frame, upright seating, fenders and a kickstand, still in family duty! From when Schwinn meant Chicago, awesome:

    Postscript Oregon Manifest: what an exhausting, emotional day!

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    Our rider Diana and her adorable daughter Violet got off to a good start, loaded up with 60lbs of water for 50 miles of hills. Diana is a strong rider and proud of it, so she didn’t use the electric assist until hitting the steeps of the West hills, too steep to pedal with such a load, no matter how low the gearing. And that’s when the battery cut out. O no! She pushed the heavy bike and its very heavy load of very aggravatingly dead battery and more up, up, up in the hot sun. Began jettisoning water to other riders, as there was no electric-enabled boasting to do.

    IMG_1646Diana completed the course in good time in spite of our apparent best efforts to sandbag her with an oversize load and faulty battery. As sorry as I am to have forced Diana to prove just how very badass and tough she is, I’m deeply awed and humbled at how resoundingly she did, smiling, gracefully, though red-faced and clearly at an extremity. I’m perversely happy to settle for this outcome: a demonstration of amazing human power over technological perfidy. As Diana quotes Gramsci, “pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will.” We didn’t cheat after all. We said we would bring a gun to this knife fight. She was it.

    There was no helping the battery on the course. IMG_1571 It came DOA from near Seattle the day before the event after a 7-cycle bench testing/conditioning regimen and UPS screwups. The manufacturer drove down to fix it, which we did until after midnight on my dining room table. Pronounced fixed, I rode it up Tabor in the middle of the night and called it good at 2:30am, hours before we needed to hand off the bikes. Little did we understand that the fix wasn’t good, an apparent self-discharging condition that meant it was dead by the time the event started. High-end batteries are fickle, treacherous creatures, people! This is one reason we stopped selling them for Stokemonkey long ago, referring customers to specialists. Even the best specialists aren’t always 100% reliable, though this case is anomalously bad. Some will seize on this episode as evidence of the folly of assist, but the correct inference is that there’s no substitute for shaking down your gear hard before entering a competition. Our particular assist works beautifully, even on this course with a passenger and camping load, except for those rare times it doesn’t work at all.

    Battery woes aside, the bike handled the loads live and dead beautifully at all speeds and on all surfaces. All required systems worked. Everybody’s who’s ridden the bike, likes it. Diana loves it. The bike did not rank in the winnings. The bikes that did, while absolutely meritorious in their own ways, confirm my earlier stated belief that there is a deep disconnect between the stated goals of the event and the evaluation criteria. At the end of the day, I don’t believe that true, deep innovation in bicycles and more “seamless integration” of critical features is a significant step toward bicycles being used in daily life by more people. And the bikes that won? Didn’t go far in those directions either. To maintain otherwise reveals a thin grasp of bicycle history. The winning bicycles may represent the future of bicycling, but that’s because they are so firmly rooted in bicycling’s past, too.

    Another entry that did not win, that I admire deeply is Ira Ryan’s very restrained, meticulous, classic red bike. He apparently didn’t even try to play to the evaluation criteria, instead calling the bluff, holding firm to the truth that really… can you seriously say there’s anything major lacking in what we have long already had? Ira’s bike, especially ridden by speedy Ira, says “get real.” Apologies if I’m putting words in Ira’s mouth; we haven’t spoken.

    I left the event by rolling out the bike, strapping my folding utility bike in the back, and heading into the still night of the industrial district. My mind raced with joy and regret mixed, spanked pride, gratitude for all the souls whose passions flowed together in acts of generosity and artifacts of beauty today (you are the man, Ross Evans… a list of people who helped would be too long, but I can’t not mention Ross). And damn if the bike didn’t ride well!

    I rode fast, feeling spent and wanting home. Shortly I came across Dave and Katie with their children Jasper and Kestrel, both under 2. Katie was changing one of them on her highly customized Yuba Mundo longtail bike. I love these guys, car-free parents by conviction. Dave rode his Brompton. I rode with them, slower.

    Kestrel began to cry in the wood carrier her father built, her dark eyes searching the dark sky as her mother pedaled her along the kinked trace of paint, signage, sidewalks and ramps that are the bike route. The baby’s crying obviated a bell to alert the people under the bridges and sometimes in the way of our passage. A more universal language of priority. A baby’s cries usually create stress, but now I delighted in this powerful soothing reconnection to the real, and in the measured easy pace of our big bikes. Along the river bank, as Dave and I talked dynamo lighting and Katie’s hips gently swayed Kestrel’s cries softer, and then silent, I felt my own stresses fall utterly away.

    It has been a great pleasure working with Jonathan Reed on this bike. His mix of modesty, expertise, wit, passion and patient diligence is rare and wonderful.

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  • Car sharing: the barely hidden bikey agenda

    Bikeportland.org reported Monday that bill 3149 has passed the Oregon house and looks likely to pass in the senate. “The bill would allow a car owner to rent out their car to friends or neighbors through a car-sharing service without fear of increased insurance rates or loss of policy.” This isn’t just neighbors tossing the truck keys over the fence for the occasional brick haul in exchange for beer or flowers. This is peer to peer car-sharing companies being able soon to roll out smart booking, billing, access and security systems for the 92% of cars that nobody happens to be actually using right now, as long as their owners are interested in letting them out. For money. Why wouldn’t they be?

    Need a car? Pull out your internet device in a couple of years, and instead of Zipcar’s 1-2 choices today, maybe you’ll get 10 choices within a 5-minute walk or 1-minute bike hop. All classes of vehicle. Different rates and availability periods. Veggie-diesel schoolbus? Minivan? Convertible? Hypothetically insured electric-assist cargo bike? Select. Walk. Drive. There will come a time, or tipping point, when all but a few exceptional households realize that owning a car in cities like Portland, developed before they became “necessary,” is simply a waste. Or at least owning without sharing, when the opportunity costs of not doing so, together with fuel well north of $5/gallon, will be compelling. And then there will be 20 choices.

    And then perhaps, finally, the 20th-century automotive bubble will pop. Look down any neighborhood street in Portland. What I see are linear parking lots, public-subsidized storage facilities for idle private cars — massive overcapacity — whose ownership and operation represents an ongoing massive extraction of local wealth. With available motor vehicles in oversupply city-wide, their numbers will drop dramatically to meet something closer to real demand as bike numbers continue to climb. (This assumes the value of owning a car is entirely utilitarian, and that people are rational, which isn’t the case. But really, among young people, are cars cool? Time’s on our side, and accelerating.) In North American cities where company-owned car sharing has been implemented, every shared car has already been shown to replace 6-23 unshared ones.

    Falling and being pushed

    Now, if car owners are letting their vehicles out, deriving income, should the city still permit them to be stored free in the public right of way, while simultaneously subsidizing yet more parking through mandatory spots in building codes? Recover the high cost of free parking! Or perhaps it could swing both ways in the form of a city incentive to share vehicles: shouldn’t only shared vehicles be permitted to park free? Maybe 2-3 free spots per 10 households: remember 92% are idle now. After all, the local economy stands to benefit by driving cars off the streets altogether even more than from parking fees, by hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Not just streets: deny permits to tear up curbs, transect sidewalks, lawns and gardens to install driveways and garages where it hasn’t already happened on historical preservation grounds.

    However it rolls, a huge reduction in the number of cars in the city will restore its neighborhood streets to something like their designed, mostly pre-1920s character. Healthful, quiet, safe, social. More people, fewer machines: streets as public space for child’s play, walking, biking, and the local efficient movement of freight from burgeoning rail and crumbling highway terminals. Moving a couple kids or sacks of groceries in 2-ton motorcages that can do 120mph? Not so much!

    If it’s not a moot point by then, the question of where to put separate bicycle infrastructure becomes less vexing: it’s already there, where the cars used to be! Make the bike boulevard network of neighborhood streets effectively car-free or “local access only” by making them one-way for cars, with the direction changing every block. You’re exempt if you have sirens or some other urgent exceptional need.

    Portland will feel like Sunday Parkways 24-7-365, except with most everybody actually going someplace, and without the abnormal police presence making it feel like an illegal dream. In 2030, revive Sunday Parkways as an iro-nostalgic festival where motorists are encouraged to drive around at giddy lethal speeds up to 25mph in a predefined circuit of child-free streets, with heavy bicycle police escort, ending in the giant weedy parking lots at the edge of the Urban Growth Boundary, where lifestyle motorists and collectors store their excess vehicular tonnage at lower than the urban rate. Next to the recycling yards.

    With far fewer cars than households, what will happen if suddenly for some reason everybody needs to drive at once? The interstate highway system, after all, was conceived and promoted alongside personal bomb shelters as a response to the threat of nuclear attack from the communists. “The great dangers are jam-ups and bottlenecks.” The H-bombs would be bad enough, but who wants to get nuked while fleeing at anything less than 90mph? I stopped living in that century in about 1979; some are slower to let it go. We’ll all manage.

    Car sharing in my life

    My household has never owned a car — never saw how that wouldn’t result in less bike riding? — but my driver’s license hasn’t lapsed in the 30 years since I first got one. Martina my wife and Clever partner has never actually driven at all. While bikes were plenty for us in the first 15 years of our togetherness in Frankfurt, Annapolis, Boston, Brooklyn, and San Francisco, when we got pregnant 9 years ago, we signed up for San Francisco’s then-new City Carshare, “just in case” this car-free thing turned out to be as exotic-in-a-bad-way as most of our peers seemed to think. We used it for the first time not on the way to the hospital to give birth, but taking our baby home nearly a week later, when the hospital refused to release our own child to us without us presenting an approved car seat. He escaped with his foreskin, but not without incantations of danger and safety in mandatory induction to the national religion that kills more children than anything else. Seven years later, these guys did it right.

    We’ve used a shared car in conjunction with a Brompton folding bike 3-4 times a year ever since, and sometimes a traditional rental for longer trips out of town. Always a luxury, never a necessity. Our boy has traveled by bike hundreds of times farther by bike — on our bikes — than any other mode save air. He could patch a flat before he could fasten a seat belt. He knows that we can use a car any time we want, but that we choose bikes. Thanks to car sharing, he knows there’s no point in owning one.

    By never owning a car, by AAA cost estimates, we’ve saved a cumulative $240,000 or so since learning to drive. Priceless are the intangible benefits of eschewing habitual car use. But still, that’s a lot of bikes, with plenty left over to help us climb out of our $40K liberal arts student loan debts, and even buy a house, and then some. And so, we quit our day jobs and opened a bike shop that doesn’t carry sporting goods or car racks, to share the good news that bikes are enough in the city, even for families, almost always. For everything else, there’s car sharing.

    Our business partners Dean and Rachel, with 4 children, own 1 car because Zipcar doesn’t have nearby choices that seat 6 with restraints, and even our biggest bikes aren’t quite up to the task of transporting them all together comfortably in any season, anywhere in town or beyond. O, they’ve tried! Their car sits mostly idle. They’ve already signed up to share it as soon as a local sharing service gets rolling.

  • Down the Pacific coast by Brompton

    Now that it’s icy in Portland, I suppose it’s time to reminisce on August. I spent the best two weeks of my life thus far riding my trusty Brompton folding bike, lightly modified, about 700 miles down the Pacific coast this summer, nearly to San Francisco. 10000002751000000250I rode alone, carrying full camping gear. I even did the extra-tough and remote Lost Coast segment. Yes, on 16″ wheels that many observers suppose are good for little more than scooting along the sidewalk to and from transit stops. Or maybe if you have a boat or something. The fact is, Bromptons are amazingly versatile, appealing to hardened bike geeks like me, as well as to … well, all kinds of people.

    I came back from the trip feeling transformed, reborn even, and determined to write about it, but the reasons I had such an amazing time are so deeply personal that I’m shy of expressing too much publicly, as if this were (still) my over-sharing hippy personal blog. The first four days were great, but after the fifth day, perma-grin set in, punctuated only by a few moments daily of happy tears. I touched the wire that powers everything. I’ve had to assure some people with whom I’ve shared details that I was not on drugs, and I’ve choked up a few times in the telling. That kind of good.
    Not a 1970s album cover

    I’ll spare you the woo-woo parts (mostly). I think even the bare externalities of the ride are worth documenting: what I rode, what I took, highlights of the route, etc. It worked too well not to share!

    The bike and its enhancements

    I rode my 2008 Brompton M6L. In Brompton-speak, that means the popular “M” type handlebar, 6 speeds, and no rear rack. This is, incidentally, by far the most common Brompton configuration we sell.

    1000000242 1000000321 1000000320 The M-type handlebars permit use of the large Touring Pannier, alias T-bag, which fixes to the frame (not the fork!) above the front wheel. This single bag was nearly large enough to hold all my stuff. Bearing big loads low in front damps the otherwise fluffy front-end feel of Bromptons (<30mm trail, for steering geeks). It feels more and more stolid as your load grows. It’s also a timesaver to have one’s stuff centered easily in a single large compartment, in hand’s reach even underway. Big load tip: pass the bag’s top strap behind the steering column for no wobbles. The M-type bars also accept clamp-on grips with bar end extensions for more hand positions from upright to aero. I used, and heartily recommend Ergon GC3s. Unlike the “P” type bars touted for touring, these support the wrists-in grip I require. All these months later I still haven’t taken them off, even though I don’t need the extra hand positions for in-town riding, and they impede a complete fold unless loosened and rotated first.

    I upgraded from the original 6-speed gearing to the current 302% Brompton Wide Range (BWR) type. Until just last year, getting adequately low and wide-range gearing on a Brompton ideal for hilly unsupported touring was an expensive and fiddly proposition, sometimes entailing irreversible frame modifications. Now it’s easy, and I expect that more and more stories like mine will appear as other bike tourists do the new math. I replaced the stock 50T crank with a Sugino XD having 44 and 36T rings, making my ride a 12-speed having about a 24-85″ gear range. As I shifted among front rings (manually!) probably less than a dozen times the whole trip, even this modification wasn’t strictly necessary.

    No rear rack! The T-bag was nearly big enough. I carried the surplus — my entire shelter and sleeping arrangement and a few tools — in an old waxed canvas Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap transverse saddlebag. I used guy lines between the outer bag loops and the rear fender roller to prevent the bag from swaying. Benefits of this approach versus a rear rack and bag system are that the bike can be parked and even completely folded without removing the load, and that the load is isolated by the bike’s simple rear suspension, just like the rider, for smoother carriage and maybe even a little less rolling resistance.(Please note that Brompton does not endorse carrying big loads in a saddlebag like this, especially if the rider is anywhere near the maximum weight or height, or the saddle is positioned far rearward, as the resulting extra leverage can lead to very bad things happening.)

    I have a hub dynamo powering front and rear LED lights. I ran with them on even in the day, most of the way, as the front is bright enough to be seen a mile away in daylight, LEDs won’t likely burn out in my lifetime, and drag is not noticeable. What’s more, I used a Biologic Reecharge to keep my iPhone charged from the dynamo. The phone did semi-constant duty as iPod, still and video camera, GPS, and internet device, providing invaluable information countless times. I tweeted several times a day to stay in touch, even video panda tweets. There can be no loneliness in the shimmering maw of the twitterverse! I also made a phone call or two. It worked well, though I could discharge the device faster than the hub could recharge it if I used no discipline with the internet features in the many weak-signal areas.

    I used MKS Lambda platform pedals fitted with the “Ezy” quick-release system so the bike still folds as small as with the stock folding pedal. No straps or cleats: just pedals and boots, and I survived! I also rode with a new Brooks B17 saddle and no sort of padded or specially lined pants: zero butt pain. I know, I was doing it all wrong!

    10000002331000000292I had no notable mechanical problems. One normal flat, which I patched. One tire wore through in a long panic skid to avoid a cattle guard: replaced it; little wheels mean little spares! Bearing cones went loose at one point affecting shifting: easy fix; my bad for letting it happen. Everything else: flawless.

    The number one question asked along the way was “why are you riding that?” as if obviously it were a poor choice. Even I suspected in advance that there would be times I’d regret this choice, in defiance of so much conventional wisdom. I admit also that I enjoy doing things differently for its own sake, but the plain truth is that I made better time with this setup, in greater comfort, than I did almost exactly 10 years prior on this route riding a lavishly appointed custom touring bike. I was in better shape then, too. I will tour this way again without hesitation. The diminutive unlikeliness of the bike helps remind you that touring isn’t about the equipment: you yourself are flying!

    It is true that little wheels don’t handle poor surfaces as well as larger. More caution than usual is required to negotiate potholes and the like. Loose gravel at speed is sketchy on almost any bike, and it’s a small wonder I never crashed on any of it. On certain very steep, very long and twisty descents, braking friction caused the little rims to overheat. The big upside of little wheels, apart from letting you take your folded bike almost anywhere, and being out of the way of a big front central frame-fixed bag, is that they are quite light and very strong. Even running tough 37mm tires, they accelerate snappily like race wheels, especially welcome when climbing with a load. I think the small inertia of the wheels helped spare my knees the pain that has been part of longer rides all my life.

    Ultimately, I chose the Brompton from a stable including two excellent but long-idle “real” touring bikes because I ride it several times a week year round. I know it best; trust it most. I can tell the difference between its normal occasional squeaks and rattles, and real problems. I’ve never ridden a bike for long that I didn’t develop an irrational attachment to, but ever since this ride, I’ve wanted to feed my Brommie buckets of apples.

    The route

    1000000207The Pacific Coast Bicycle Route is well-signed and documented in books and maps. I followed the route for the most part. I’ve ridden this way before. I like novelty and exploration generally, so considered a new route, but inner exploration was higher on my list this time, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful course than this. It follows US 101 most of the way into California, which is much more pleasant than it sounds, with a broad shoulder in most parts, absolutely spectacular views, and lots of bike-friendly camping choices along the way. I spent only two nights in the same campgrounds as when I rode this way before, for instance. Prevailing winds are from the north in fair weather. What’s more, riding north to south means that climbs tend to be on the more heavily shaded north slopes of the hills.

    Parts of the route have narrow shoulders, and there can be a lot of RV and logging traffic. A rear view mirror is essential. Paradoxically, perhaps, I found that listening to music made riding with highway traffic more relaxing. Without music, the wind and constant motor buzz makes it hard to filter the noise from signal of threat: it’s exhausting. With music, you come to rely more on your mirror to scan behind on the highway’s usually long sightlines. Close comers get through the music in plenty of time anyway. Humans make ugly noises and beautiful sounds. Nobody can hear you singing. I sang a lot, digging deep into the music, rediscovering it, with no worries about batteries thanks to the dynamo.
    IMG_0055

    IMG_0026Getting to the route from Portland, I took MAX light rail to Hillsboro, and rode over the coast range at Carlton, camping just past the summit the first night. The real summit, not the many false ones. The next morning is a downhill delight along the peaceful Nestucca river. The first day’s climbing can be a shock, but know that it’s the toughest within several days’ ride, and you’ll be stronger by the time you find worse.

    What were your favorite parts? Tell us stories.

    My favorite parts involved an episode of clairvoyance, vivid wakeful visions of luminous trees and translucent flowing asphalt, out-of-body awareness, a phantom gatekeeper in an overwhelming confluence of hints and almost trite symbolic elements indicating that I had died, recurrence of a beautiful lucid dream, accompaniment by and death of a smiling dragonfly whose body I bore to the beach below Mt. Tamalpais, sharply focused rolling meditative states, feats of effortless strength. It changed me. I’m still learning how, but it’s all good.

    Most of this out-there stuff had already transpired before I reached the Lost Coast, the last three days of my ride. Deemed an alternate of the official route, I took a non-official variant of it. I had never been here before. This is the part of California that the coastal highway engineers gave up on, as just too ruggedly treacherous to traverse. What roads there are are very poor. It’s “lost” because civilization routed around it. No phone service; not much in the way of any other services either. Drink from streams. Bears and territorial clandestine cannabis growers. Brutally steep grades, and a southern exit through the 30 miles of loose rutted clay, rocks, roots and powdery dirt of Usal Road, often impassable in the wet season. I was feeling pretty invincible when I decided to go in there. I wanted to test my limits. The three days I spent inside were the tour within the tour, the inner sanctum, the secret garden.

    1000000259In Ferndale, the last town before entering the Lost Coast, a roadie in pink kit rode up alongside and asked where I was heading. I told him, and his eyes popped. He shook his head, and he said declarrogatively “you really want to do that.” I told him I expected to hike a lot. “Yes, you will.” After lunching on a truly outstanding local grass-fed hamburger before the final turn, I thanked the cook. He said “Thanks, I hope you come back!” … “You mean, alive?” I didn’t know it then, but lunchtime was already too late to be leaving.

    The steeps come immediately out of Ferndale. Cursing your mother affectionately, “give me strength,” and pushing the bike, I swapped the helmet for a wet hankie around my neck and floppy hat. I admired immediately the deep peaceful silence of the place, and left the music off. The ecotrope mixes elements from much further south and north: southern slopes like Mt. Diablo east of San Francisco; north like the Siuslaw five days north. From the top of the first ridge, you can see the curvature of the earth on the shining sea. I entered an almost dreamlike state as the day reclined, lulled into trance by the profound quiet, beauty, light, heat, and exertion.

    Coming to the bottom of a valley, a scrawny black feral dog appeared at the side of the road with a little black boar as an unlikely pal, tusks visible. They positioned themselves on either side of the road and prepared to rush me, advancing slowly, heads low. Without plan, hesitation, or understanding why, I began yelling at them wildly in bad Spanish as I charged into their gap. “¡Pobrecitos! ¿Que pasó? ¿Donde es su mamá?” They froze, then shrunk back as I kept yelling, standing on the pedals in a sprint past. Crazy gringo kung fu bluff!

    IMG_0142IMG_0143Not far beyond a few vacant ranch buildings optimistically called Capetown, a jeep passed me late in the afternoon. It stopped a quarter mile ahead, then reversed down a couple switchbacks to me. She asked if I was OK. “Best day of my life, thanks! But, um, I could use some water. I’m nearly out.” She didn’t have more than a few sips of juice, and she assured me that I wouldn’t be refilling from any stream in August before Petrolia, many more steep miles distant. She offered a ride. I hesitated, because I was invincible, right? No water. I accepted. Bike folded neatly in the crowded back seat. Brompton +1.

    As she drove at crazy speed over the miles, I saw where I would have run dry, where I would have become desperate, where darkness would fall, where I’d pitch a miserable dry camp, and how much farther still I’d need to go in the morning to find water. Already flush with gratitude for the day, my thanks spilled over for what would not be, for her kindness. If she wasn’t saving my life, it was close enough. Thank you cool jeep lady!

    Note: when entering the Lost Coast from the north, leave Ferndale early, carrying all the water you need for a full day of hard effort.

    That night, well-watered, I strung my hammock on the driftwood at Mattole beach under a moonless clear sky. I marveled at the closeness of the milky way, the profusion of shooting stars, and I saw the zodiacal light.

    At sunrise, I walked a mandala-esque labyrinth of stones on the beach sipping tea as the mists burned off. Among other things I noted how jeep lady, who could have been my daughter, had so gently punctured my prideful reluctance to receive help, and how this same pride, the equivalent inverse of shame, diminishes me in other ways.
    1000000261

    IMG_024310000002741000000277After a second breakfast of honey-sweet blackberries while talking to friendly cows about presence in the moment, exalting in the breadth of the moment, I made my way to the sleepy little store at Honeydew. There was no melon, but some well-tattooed and pierced locals were handing puppies out of a box on the porch. I asked the storekeeper about my map, whether being 15 years old it was still accurate. She laughed and said “nothing ever happens here.” I asked whether she thought I could make it over Wilder Ridge Road to a campground near the base of Usal Road before nightfall, or take the easier exit east to rejoin 101. She asked how I was feeling. “If I die today, I will be grateful for everything.” “Oh, that’s nice. Take Wilder Ridge.”

    It was 90F on the shaded porch at the store. Soon, pushing up an unshaded slope, I was overtaken by a massive semi truck hauling a bulldozer, grinding away in first gear. Minutes later I heard a huge racket of metal on metal, and I beheld the spectacle of the bulldozer, having been unloaded, pushing the semi up an even steeper dirt section of the road. I drank 4.5 liters of water in less than 20 miles, when crusty and stinging with salt, no pee, I refilled from the stream at Ettersburg. In the Lost Coast, it seems any building larger than a house qualifies for a place name.

    Coming down, the road was so twisty, and the surface so poor that it was seldom safe to let gravity have its way. There was no space between riding too fast and riding the brakes too hard. The 16″ rims can’t absorb as much heat in braking as larger ones. They fade and make horrible noises with a burning smell, threatening to blow the tires off. Slow pushing uphill, slow walking downhill. Growing impatient, at one point I saw what looked like about 200 yards of clear pavement, and I let fly. I had accelerated rapidly to about 40mph, when I spied a cattle guard in my path, with a twist right after it. The bars were spaced at least 8 inches apart — the radius of my wheels. Hit slow and I’d crash right there; hit fast and I’d crash on the twist beyond. So I braked in a panic, thrusting body back, but still locking up the rear wheel into a long, long skid. I stopped about a foot before the guard, heart pounding. The tire had worn down to the kevlar casing, fraying it. I replaced it and carried on, pushing when in doubt.

    Late in the day, the road turned uphill yet again to the ridge above Shelter Cove. Alternately spinning and walking up, very tired, I deliberated whether to hitch a ride from a passing vehicle. About a third of them left a pungent waft of marijuana in their wake. I reached the top before making up my mind. Downhill again, and hurrying against the light, the wheels yet again began to overheat as I braked my way through the twists. Here I remembered a story about how riders in the Alps would cool their rims. I stopped and peed on their tiny angry hotness. TSSSCCHHHHHHSSSSSsssssssss TSSSCCHHSSSsssss TSSCCHHSSssssssss! I ran dry, laughing, before the sizzling stopped. That felt pretty badass. Water was too precious to pour on the bike, so I walked it down a ways.

    Arriving finally in Nadelos camp at dusk beside a burbling creek, I ate and bathed in an ecstatic transport of exhaustion. This day was the hardest physical trial I had ever enjoyed, probably ever endured. Settling into my hammock, just then a nearby campsite opened up the monster truck doors, turned on the high beams and fog lights, and cranked up the AC/DC! They had a vuvuzela, too. I thought it was a joke, soon to be concluded, but no. Imperturbable, I drifted off moments later to the sweet strains of Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap, with drunk karaoke and horn blast accompaniment. I didn’t stir for eleven hours, not even waking to pee.

    100000029110000002941000000296The final day I left the Lost Coast via Usal Road. Between camp and the beginning of Usal was a few miles of buttery smooth new asphalt, downhill, narrow and twisty yet well banked almost like a luge run, so I took it fast and let out some whoo-hoos. It got even better right at the foot of Usal, where the very friendly community of Whale Gulch was holding their annual volunteer fire department bake sale, with hot coffee and homemade super yummy baked goods, local forest and orchard fruit salad, and unlimited free face-licking from black labs in pickup beds. So much for roughing it!

    With a large net elevation loss, I found Usal Road itself far less challenging than I had been worked up to expect. In fact, this long off-road leg made probably the most fun day of all. The soft irregular surface meant that speed was easier to control than on pavement. I got very, very good at hopping off the bike very, very quickly as the wheels dodged out from under me: the step-over frame and low center of gravity make it an easy flick. I’ve never done proper mountain biking; this felt like a good crash course. It was thickly forested most of the way, so cool and very quiet, with stunning views above the low ocean clouds where the tree cover broke.

    I ended that day at Fort Bragg, arriving after 10 by generator light. Within two days’ ride of my intended destination of San Francisco, my old home, I panicked. I wasn’t ready for the ride to end so soon. I was having the time of my life, high as a kite on nothing but love, beauty, endorphins. A broad sunny meadow had opened up in the forest of my soul, and I couldn't leave. I might have been certifiably manic, crazy in the best possible way.

    Freezing in my hammock in the middle of the night, I emailed a feeble bid to the homefront to extend the ride to Las Vegas, where I needed to be in two weeks anyway for the bike trade show (the Sierra Nevada! Death Valley! I could do it! Show those bike trade people the only way to fly!). When that fell flat in the morning, instantly I lost all motivation to continue. After the Lost Coast, there could be only anticlimax. I desperately needed some time off the bike to process my experience before rejoining my routine. I called my best man, who came to fetch me in her earthmobile to her home in Napa, and I spent the next fews days there boiling down the sap I’d collected, screwing my head back on normal. Thanks, J!

    Returning home, I rode to Oakland airport from a Berkeley friend’s home (thanks, M!), checked my bag, gate-checked the folded bike, and rode home from PDX airport as on many past journeys. No special box, case, extra fees, or taxi required.
    1000000298 1000000326 Gate checked

    Camping gear

    IMG_0106Having modest carrying capacity is a good thing. Otherwise you bring too much. I brought just enough, leaving a little extra space free for food and a bear vault (mandatory in the Lost Coast) purchased along the way.

    The niftiest element of my camping kit was the hammock, which replaced a tent and pad, with its underlayment and poles. I used a Hennessy Hammock, the “Deep Jungle Asym” model, with bottom insulation. It’s amazingly compact and light, and I found it far more comfortable than any tent and pad I’ve used. You lay on the diagonal for a nearly straight back, or even on your side, with no pressure points. I packed the sleeping bag inside the hammock in its “snakeskin” sleeves, no separate stuffing. Between this shortcut and only two large centered bags to deal with, I could make and break camp in under five minutes. I was prepared to use the hammock even in absence of well-spaced trees, using the seat pillar of the bike and broad 15″ steel ground stakes for tension and support, but never needed to.

    1000000198My one big gear regret was packing too light a sleeping bag. I had room for my too-warm down bag, but erred on the side of too cold. Overnight lows were regularly in the 40s. My bag was rated for “survival” into the 30s, but for “comfort” down to only 52F, and I question that rating, at least for a hammock. I couldn’t make up the difference wearing all my wool to sleep. I spent two nights in motels instead of camping in part because the forecast said I’d be shivering in the hours before dawn. Grant Petersen kindly spotted me a vapor barrier liner along the way, and this helped a good deal, but not as much as I’d have liked. O-dark-thirty one morning I made a hot water bottle with trembling hands to ward off a deeper chill.

    My cooking capacity was limited to heating water in my two 40oz stainless Klean Kanteens, using a tiny Esbit stove. Thus I avoided needing separate cooking and water stowage vessels. This worked beautifully; you can dump in soupy gruely fixings, and scour them clean by shaking closed with gravel or sand and soapy water.

    For bathing, laundry, and general cleanup, I used pine tar soap. Simple and good. I packed several handkerchiefs as washcloths, towels, rags, sweat mops, and nose blowers. No-towel bathing tip: use a credit card or similar as a squeegee on your skin before finishing with a hankie.

    1000000319 An Oregon-made Archival Clothing waxed canvas Flap Musette served admirably as man-purse, holding small high-value items, snacks and toiletries. Strapped to the outside of my front bag underway, it kept its contents dry even after a whole day of rain riding.

    I brought at least a dozen small other articles under this heading, but nothing else unusual, and I don’t intend to get that tedious.

    Clothing

    1000000317Wool, of course! 3 light Merino tops (2 long, 1 short sleeve), 2 pair of sheer Merino boxers and thick socks, 1 pair of long Merino underwear, 2 pair of worsted wool trousers: one our own Stealth Pantaloons, and one Bicycle Fixation knickers.

    I prefer long sleeves and full length pants because I don’t like sunscreen. Makes me break out and seems to attract grime. Even pushing the bike up steeps above 90F in high sun, full coverage lightweight black wool top and bottom kept me as comfortable as anything could have! I think the extra solar radiation absorbed by the black enhances evaporative cooling? Bedouins seem to understand this.

    Light wool will dry overnight, or mostly. I washed the trousers only once, more to help appearances than actual stink or discomfort. There were white bands of sweat salt encrusting them. As mentioned above, no “bicycle pants.” The crotch seams of the wool I wore aren’t bulky, and pads seem to me only to trap heat and moisture and press junk up into your junk.

    These are the same clothes I wear every day, inside and out, to work, to restaurants, to stack wood. And have for years. All that varies is the number of layers year round. Wool clothing is expensive, you say?

    Also waxed leather Blundstone boots, flip-flops for camp, a Tyvek rain shell/windbreaker, and Rainmates chaps. I rode all day one day in chilly rain, wearing most of my layers, and while I ended up quite wet, I stayed toasty.

    A floppy hat. Did I mention handkerchiefs?

    Food, supplements, habits and health

    1000000214IMG_01001000000219Severe knee pain has troubled all my longer rides, all my life. That which does not destroy me makes my knees hurt like a mofo. This time it happened too, but far, far milder than in the past, down to a 3 from 8 on a 1-10 scale where 10 is passing out. So determined was I to avoid this pain that I tried several preventive measures all at once. Unfortunately, this scattershot approach means I don’t know which things did the trick. One or more of the following worked for me:

    • Fish oil capsules (omega 3 fatty acids play a modulating role in inflammatory response)
    • Chia seed (richest plant source of omega 3 fatty acids. A big help in staying fresh, as the fibrous gel matrix draws fluid and fuel deep into your gut for sustained release; water is the first joint lubricant! Lots of antioxidants. I ate chia gruel for most breakfasts and mixed it in canteens for a bubble-tea-like drink. Can you say magnificent well-formed stools?)
    • Matcha (powdered green tea. Yet more antioxidants — also just a quick and easy way to get a caffeine pickup, hot or cold. Mixes with chia and Emergen-C or whole milk in canteen…)
    • Lots of oily fish, canned, jerky, and fresh, as well as elk and buffalo jerky. In general I ate lots of high-quality fat (=no fry oil), protein, and fiber, and not so much sugar and other carbohydrates. Certainly some sweets and starch, but nothing resembling “carbo-loading.” The chia is said to lower the glycemic index of foods consumed with it. Absolutely I was sometimes very tired, but never felt the classic “bonk” of “not enough sugar!” Overall, energy levels were fantastic. Losing weight wasn’t a goal, but I lost over a pound a day. Somehow I’ve kept it off, too!
    • Aleve (naproxen sodium). One morning, one night. After I ran out, I didn’t miss it. But it helped with the first couple days of soreness.
    • MRM Joint Synergy supplement and lotion. Contains a dozen ingredients said to support joint health and repel tigers. Clearly, it helps! Cold mornings, when the pain comes creeping in, it rubs the lotion on its skin or else it dissociates again.
    • No alcohol. Dehydrates a body! Lowers sleep quality. And I’m sure my liver had better things to do at night.
    • “Wrong” pedaling when climbing. Look at your knee with your foot on the pedal in the normal ball-over-spindle position. Move the pedal to the point of peak knee bend. Now move your foot forward at least an inch on the pedal, maybe all the way to the instep. Much less knee bend, even after you drop the saddle a tiny bit to avoid overextension at the opposite point. You can see also that the whole power stroke this way will put the peak stresses at different places than with other foot positions. Distribute the stresses over more area — move your feet around on the pedals! Now, you might quibble that this technique means you don’t use your calf muscles effectively. But that’s just another way of saying you spare your Achilles tendon stress, too. It’s my experience that my bigger muscles can pick up any calf-slack just fine. This is an endurance game, not a sprint. Max power isn’t as important as injury avoidance.
    • Don’t be afraid to push the bike. Take a break! Some grades are just so steep and long, and sometimes you’re so tired, that spinning up however slowly can reduce you to far less dignified a state than pushing. Pushing works a whole different set of muscles and joint stress points, and it’s easier than normal walking since you can rest your upper body heavily on the bike. You’ll get back in the saddle soon enough with new energy.

    Preparation

    Training, schmaining! Obviously I thought a bit about logistics, and I’ve toured in years past along much the same route, using some of the same equipment. But as far as getting my body in shape, I did nothing more than a single 75-mile shakedown ride about three weeks in advance. It left my muscles sore (good), and my cartilage screaming (bad), so I embarked on the dietary and supplement regimen described above.

    Most days I ride barely 5 miles. My commute is too short. Portland is, after all, only 8 miles on a side. Only a few days a year typically do I ride more than 20 miles. But this ride, pulling a camping load 50-80 miles every day with significant climbs… I felt great, really great almost every day! The secret? If there is one, it’s that riding even a little bit almost every day, over years, seems to mold one’s being appropriately to ride a lot, even long distances. Confidence and joy in dealing with, say, a flat on your commute, or kids and groceries on your bike, or rush hour traffic, translates directly to confidence and joy in schlepping camping gear on a clown bike hundreds of miles down the interstate, over mountain ranges, into the wilderness.

    I’m not athletic — never was. I don’t “exercise,” ever, but I do exercise the birthright of my legs, not abdicating to motors to get me, my kid, and my stuff around town. I’m 44. I “just did it.” And YOU! CAN! TOO! in your one and only life.
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    Have you read this far? You might enjoy also my 2011 account of a tour out Idaho way, Bromptoneering the Blue and Wallowa Mountains, in which I made some modest gear improvements.

  • 4 November 2008

    There are fireworks, shouts of joy, and strangers embracing in the streets of Portland tonight.
    first family in portland

  • Vote

    Do it. If there are lines, stay in them. Assume nothing. Own this.

  • Rest in peace, Sheldon

    Sheldon Brown died last night of a heart attack. He was 63.

    I can’t think of anybody so generous with his knowledge in any subject. I doubt a month has gone by in the last dozen years that I haven’t learned something useful from Sheldon, either from his site or via email or even the phone. I also bought quite a few hard-to-find parts from his shop, Harris Cyclery. Most bikey people I know hold him in similar esteem: the man gave and gave and gave, with unflagging enthusiasm, humility, and goofy geek humor; he was a real mensch.

    I finally met him at Interbike last year. I waited in a small huddle of people waiting to shake his hand, and thank him. I waited 40 minutes at least. I told him what we were doing with Clever Cycles. Surely this lover of internal gearing, Brooks saddles, and general steely goodness of the sort common to older English and most Dutch bikes would like to hear, but he began to look alarmed. All wonderful stuff, he agreed, but his experience had been that Americans associate utility bikes with yard-sale/stolen/dumpster-dive prices. Surely few were buying these gravity-enhanced bikes that cost more than $1000! I was happy to contradict him, and felt renewed gratitude to be living in Portland where, indeed, enough people “get it” for a shop like ours to do well. I wish he could see us now and later.

    This was the second Interbike he needed an assisted wheelchair to get around. An uncommon form of multiple sclerosis made bicycling impossible for him in his latest years, but he bore even this cruel irony with dignity and grace.

  • Grandma got bak

    My grandmother was born in 1915, five years after our house was built here in Portland. This weekend, she paid us a visit from her home in Virginia. She’s mentally sharp but frail and severely arthritic, with a history of falls. Naturally, the first thing I could think of is “how are we going to get her on a bike to show her around town?” I feared that getting in and out of the bakfiets might be too challenging, or the position uncomfortable, so I made arrangements a preceding day to borrow a neighborhood friend’s antique Indonesian pedal rickshaw. My test ride of said conveyance — one high fixed gear, piggish handling and a single crude brake — was not too encouraging.

    Not knowing whether she’d be game or able to take any sort of bike ride home from the airport, with her luggage, we picked her up with the Flexcar parked two blocks from our home. She emerged from the gate area in a wheelchair. Further discouragement.

    But the next morning, against the protests of my wife, grandma and I hatched a plan to line the bak with pillows and a fleece or two, and try. I offered to lift her 110-lb form in and out, but she wanted to swing a leg in herself and work from there. She insisted she was perfectly comfortable. So I called to Martina and Carl to mount up the tandem Brompton, and off we went.

    P1010792.JPG I pointed out to her the iron rings embedded in the curbs, meant for tying up horses, a historical feature preserved by code from the time Portland was developed, when bicycles were the fastest things in the streets. I pointed out the many corner stores, converted for residential use in decades past, that today would not conform to code for lack of parking. We rode by the neighborhood potter and hatter, and by homes with chickens, and food gardens. We rang the bell a lot and waved; many people were too stunned to wave back. Others cheered. Another white-haired lady called out “Am I next?”

    Grandma remarked that all the street corners seemed so sharp, and the streets narrow, unlike the speed-engineered sprawling places she has lived much of her life. This reminded her of her girlhood in suburban Chicago. Was she nostalgic, or bemused? Had there been no progress in her life? She was surprised that places like this exist today, or are being reclaimed. My mother, too, on an earlier visit, said she was surprised that Portland’s east side bungalow and arts-and-crafts neighborhoods “hadn’t been razed in the 80s.” No wonder I boycotted the 80s.

    We rode through Sunnyside schoolyard full of playing children, and then swung over to Belmont to see the on-street bicycle parking. Then through 33rd and Yamhill, with the huge sunflower/mandala painted by neighbors in the street to reclaim it as public space.

    We rolled down Salmon. “This is our high-stress commute; how do you like it?” She chuckled nearly continually. We stopped at the shop. “This isn’t like other bicycle shops!” she kept exclaiming. (“It’s like an art gallery!” is another common reaction). She bought a stylish cap.

    P1010793.JPGWe proceeded onto Madison, mixing it up with busses and trucks on the right and left of the bike lane. And then we crossed the Hawthorne bridge. I told her that there are nearly 15,000 daily bicycle crossings of the Willamette now, close to 20% of all vehicles on the Hawthorne. This seemed to be the highlight of the trip for her. She craned her neck to take in the broad blue Willamette view, the dramatic downtown cliffs of glass, metal and stone. She removed her shoes and stuck her feet off the front of the bak to feel the wind in her toes. “I feel like a teenager again!” We peeled off down the defunct Harbor Drive freeway onramp, whose weathered ruin feels to me like a prop from Planet of the Apes, the automotive century, the prime of my grandma’s life. The riverfront was teeming with people enjoying the clear warmth of the day. There’s a large circular fountain shooting arcs of water from the periphery into the center. We rode right through it under the arches of water, catching only a bit of refreshing spray, to the cheers of onlookers.

    We returned via Ladd’s Addition and Clinton Streets, stopping a few times to chat with friends. Back near home, she said she was up for more so on we rode to the top of Mt. Tabor. I pointed out downtown in the distance, and she seemed impressed that we had come so far, so fast, so easily.

    We also went out to dinner this way, parking on the sidewalk right in front of the restaurant door, and returning after dark. When it came time for her to fly home, she asked if we’d be riding the bakfiets to the airport, and seemed disappointed that I hadn’t left the extra half hour necessary to do that.

    I believe that for us in America, and for my son especially, the balance of our lives will resemble a return to some of the logistic conditions of my grandma’s girlhood, or to those of modern Europe or developed Asia. We will live and work in neighborhoods, within a radius of only a dozen miles or so, or else be farmers, or hermits, or professional itinerants, or otherwise exceptional. It will be a recovery rather than a regression, sometimes painful like any forfeiture of investment, but ultimately joyful for those who wake soonest from various American Dreams involving dependence on cars.

    This used to be real estate
    Now it’s only fields and trees

    Where, where is the town

    Now, it’s nothing but flowers

    The highways and cars
    Were sacrificed for agriculture

    I thought that we’d start over

    But I guess I was wrong

    Once there were parking lots
    Now it’s a peaceful oasis

    you got it, you got it

    This was a Pizza Hut
    Now it’s all covered with daisies

    you got it, you got it

    I miss the honky tonks,
    Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens

    you got it, you got it

    And as things fell apart
    Nobody paid much attention

    you got it, you got it

    Nothing but flowers
    David Byrne rides too

  • Cleverchimp is now Clever Cycles

    Cleverchimp LLC is now Clever Cycles LLC. The latter company has absorbed the former. The formalities are complete; we’re opening a bike shop here in Portland. We’re now a two-family business instead of one. Or rather, we’re now two families very busy opening a new business. Before long this site will look quite different. Stokemonkey will continue to be developed and supported; the Cleverchimp name will likely shift from being a company name to a brand name of products that Clever Cycles develops.

    Dean and Rachel Mullin live a ten-minute ride away from us. They have four children, three dogs, a cat and a dozen chickens. They’re down to one car now that sits idle mostly. Like us, they’re an all-bicycle, all-the-time kind of family. After working through the usual succession of typical solo bikes to trailers, tag-alongs, tandems, and sprawling mutant permutations thereof, they acquired a ZEM, and found it rather heavy. Their search for an assist motor put them on the Stokemonkey/Xtracycle path. They bought two. Rachel had meanwhile identified the Bakfiets as a missing piece of the puzzle between the too big, 300-lb ZEM and sometimes too small or light Xtracycles for big family transport. A few weeks after we spent a warm afternoon on a slightly tricky Stokemonkey installation, Dean proposed “Let’s open a bike shop!” It turns out he was serious.

    I had always imagined Cleverchimp diversifying away from just assist kits into a bike shop, but not so fast. Not fast at all. Dean’s a lot more decisive than I am. All four of us complement each other pretty well. We all want our children to see and understand what we do for a living, to understand that turning 16, or 21, or 42 doesn’t mean you need, or need aspire to a car (if it will even be an option in 2020, 2025, or 2045), and to build a business they can someday run, if they choose.

    We’re doing something that’s either unprecedented, or whose previous attempts to do in this era, in this country, have failed in silent obscurity. We’re selling bicycles designed squarely to replace car trips, or render cars entirely spurious within town, even for larger households, as a matter of pleasurable, enlightened self-interest instead of frugal compulsion, hairshirt eco-guilt, or body-sculpting fantasy. Exclusively. Bikes you can haul your sweetie to the movies with, that he can haul you back home on, and that you’ll both haul your kids to the grocery on. There’ll also be folding bikes for their ability to permeate the smallest interstices of your mobile life, be it under the table at a posh restaurant, through the aisles of local shops, between the seats of a train, or in the trunk of a shared car or cab. Soon there’ll be more hub gearing, generator lighting, center stands, mudflaps, bells, and steely plain-clothes cargo goodness than under maybe any other roof on this continent. I’ll save details for future posts, but longtime readers of this blog should have a pretty good idea. We live it. Actually, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’re always learning.

    We assure ourselves often that “if it can work anywhere in this country, it can work in Portland.” We can’t go anywhere without being halfway mobbed by interest in our rides, and nobody in town sells this stuff. Whether or not it works as a business, we won’t regret introducing vital new material strains of bike culture to Portland. We hope to help restore Portland’s streets to the child’s play and slow conviviality they were designed for, to return the advantage to city businesses without parking lots who sell bulkier stuff than haircuts, to revive the enchantments of place and distance within our city by opening the eyes, ears, nostrils and lungs of those who traverse it, to take back family vegetable gardens and fruit trees from retrofit driveways and garages, to reclaim our bodies for the complete locomotive functions they are evolved to serve, and to proclaim, daily, that free and dignified people of all ages and stations in life needn’t strap themselves into cages weighing tons to go places, carry things, live long, and prosper.

    Our shop will open during the month of May June (drat contractors!) at 1516 SE 9th Avenue, right off Hawthorne, across from the Lucky Labrador brewpub. A grand opening will follow us getting up and running more completely.

  • What Brown brought

    Big Dummy

    That’s son hoisting Big Dummy prototype, almost as excited as I was. What is it about handling a bare frame that’s so nice? The lightness? It’s always more astonishing with Xtracyclical frames like this.

    I’m in a hurry to build it up. I’m likely to migrate over all the parts from the original “Super Monkey” I blogged last August. That is, unless you live nearby and want to swoop in and make an offer to take said Super Monkey in the next few days. I don’t have room for more bikes. Life is so hard.

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