• Visit Portland to check out Brompton folding bikes

    When we opened in 2007, we were Oregon's first Brompton dealer. In a product lineup heavy on very big bikes, the little tiny Brompton seemed an outlier. They fit in some of our bigger bikes' front racks, and on planes, as carry-on luggage. P1010593 We carried Brompton because our personal experience of them going back to 2000 made us believers. It's a good thing we had that personal commitment as a bolster, because for the first few years we didn't turn much of a profit, especially relative to conventional bikes requiring less suspension of disbelief to buy, or even try.

    A small number of early adopters told their friends, who told theirs, and so on. A very healthy number of people who rented Bromptons went on to buy them. Every year the product got even better, especially in 2009 with the rollout of wide-range gearing. Some inspirational Brompton stories appeared.

    And then something happened. In about 2011, the sales curve of Bromptons came to resemble a hockey stick. BOOM! It seemed like one day to the next, Bromptons stopped being something we had to sell with actual salesmanship, testimony and demonstration, and became something customers walked in announcing they had come to buy. We began to struggle to keep stocks up. We still do. Fine problems to have! Bromptons have since become absolutely crucial to the continued growth of our business, a nice validation of the "do what you love; the money will follow" chestnut.

    These days we ship quite a few Bromptons outside Portland. They ship easily and cheaply. While that helps us out especially in the slow months, we miss out on meeting our customers, and you miss out on the level of service that we can provide only in person, wrench in hand, with you riding. It still amazes us how profoundly a few fit adjustments and part swaps can make to the feel of Bromptons. Sure there's only one frame size, but the things adjust in saddle heights over a range of almost 18", with cockpit lengths varying over 11"! When we ship a Brompton without benefit of fitting, we just have to hope customers explore the relevant parts of these ranges on their own.

    Out-of-towners: we invite you to Portland to check out Bromptons (or any bike you're thinking of having us ship). It's is a great place to visit, anytime but especially between May and October. We've partnered with the fantastic RiverPlace Hotel, an easy walk and easier pedal over the Hawthorne Bridge from us, to offer 20% off their best normal rate for your room. Just book online and enter the code "RPC" when making your reservations. Don't rent a car: rent a Brompton while you're here, and if you proceed to buy one we'll comp the cost of the rental, up to a week's worth. Appease your husband's or girlfriend's objections to your bike junket with a romantic dinner or three; we don't have a discount on that lined up, but we can make recommendations.

  • Dutchtub Video

    We hired Russ Roca from PathLessPedaled to make an instructional video so our customers could get the best experience possible when they rent our Dutchtub. He also put together this fun video.

  • Wide Slow Hot Wet Load: rent a Dutchtub

    It's been nine months since BikePortland.org outed our plan to rent Dutchtubs by bike, but we've finally gotten an insurance company to cover our crazy scheme, and the trailer is dialed in. BikePortland.org just finished up the inaugural rental (Valentine's Day!), and ran a story.

    A Dutchtub is a portable wood-fired hot tub for four. Portable enough to deliver by bicycle. Do you see where this is going? Portland's bikey people deal with more than the usual amount of cold water most of the year. So collect it in a big beautiful tub, add 2 wheels and a bicycle hitch, brilliant Dutch design, friends or family, a hot fire, a meal cooked over flame, and it's all good. Slip in and soothe your bones under the stars or spiteful rainy clouds, no chemicals or motors necessary. You can now rent a Dutchtub, reservations being accepted starting 1 March. The rate is $400 for 3 nights, plus a $50 deposit refundable upon clean return. This fee includes the following:

    • The tub, complete with cover, fire coil shield, ash tray, wok, fill and drain hose with fittings and bung, leveling shims, stir paddle, custom bicycle trailer doubling as a hand cart
    • Delivery and pickup by Clever-certified bicycle tubbist* within our delivery area
    • Setup at your site, with instruction, tips for a successful first heating
    • ~60lbs dry wood for 1 heating; additional 60lbs @ $15
    • Approved cleaning products


    The delivery area

    View Clever Cycles Dutchtub rental bicycle delivery area in a larger map

    What you need

    • A firm, level ground surface (no roofs, most decks, balconies) for the tub within 50 feet of a hose-ready water source, unless you can fill the tub by means of your own device. The tub cannot be moved full.
    • The site must be safe for an open wood fire (open to the sky!), with no low-hanging vegetation or other nearby fire hazards. Please consider your neighbors' tolerance for possible smoky drift, party noise, etc.
    • Access to this space must be open from the street to a width of 5'6" (66"). If there is a narrower gate, steps or other impediments, you or a friend capable of lifting about 100 lbs will need to be present at delivery and pickup times to help move the tub safely. There is no way to get a tub through a passage narrower than 34".
    • Our really long waiver, signed by you, indicating that you understand and accept full responsibility for all the hazards that open flames and almost one ton of hot water can present, especially combined with common party behaviors among adults, children, pets, etc. Your responsibility extends to the public if you site the tub in a public place such as a park, street party, cyclocross race, communal water-birth-athon, mass baptism, etc. You're also responsible for any damage to the tub while in your possession. And to clean it when done; we'll return your cleaning deposit upon return of the clean tub.

    Since there is a learning curve getting the tub up to temperature in good time, you can arrange to have the tubbist stay as long as necessary to fill the tub, start and tend the fire, and otherwise assure that your event is care-free. This time will be billed at $75/hr. Depending on source water and ambient temperature, it takes 2-5 hours from strike of the match to get the tub full and hot, with fire tending and stirring required every 20 minutes or so.

    If you want the tub outside the delivery area, you must transport it in a truck with suitable lashing and scratch protection. A tubbist will coordinate pickup and dropoff of the tub, helping you lift it into your truck, load wood and accessories, etc., but will not provide on-site support unless by special arrangement at $75/hr.

    Email or call us to book with your desired dates and address. Program starts 1 March. We'll connect you with an available tubbist to work out details and billing.

    * Tubbists are Clever Cycles staff who take the lane to deliver these expensive oversize items safely by bicycle in Portland. Sorry, our insurance won't cover civilians biking the tubs home. Yet. Tubbists have demonstrated competence in heating the tubs quickly, solving many common beginner problems. Some tubbists can cook. Some look good in bathing suits; others bathe fully clothed.

  • Emily

    Go read about the awesome Finch family at BikePortland.org:

    Photo by Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org
  • Oregon Manifest: our Quixotic collaboration

    This year’s Oregon Manifest Constructor’s Design Challenge, 23-24 September, aims to coax into being “the ultimate modern utility bike” through a design/build competition. With high-caliber design teams joining top bicycle artisans and Levi’s® as a sponsor, the event will bring to widest attention a set of problems and opportunities near our heart.

    We have partnered with Jonathan Reed of Quixote Cycles to create such a bike, now in final stages of finish and testing, and are excited and grateful for the chance to show it in such company. At the same time, we have some misgivings about the format and evaluation criteria of the event, the way they seem likely to influence the results, and the public messages they may send about utility biking. Utility bikes are our life, passion, and livelihood, so naturally we consider any related promotional activity worth criticizing.

    An earlier published version of this post raised some hackles among interested parties as rudely critical in tone coming unhelpfully late in the long process leading to the event, and more seriously flawed in propagating false hearsay, rumor and innuendo, some undead from 2009′s inaugural event, such as that this might be another Rapha-flavored race-with-six-pack pretending to be something else, that child passengers and other large loads might be barred, etc. After reflection and discussion, we, or rather I, (Todd) acknowledge laziness in some of my thinking, immoderation in seeking to entertain, and I apologize sincerely for the bad feelings resulting among people whose goals we share. Keep reading for criticism, always meant constructively but this time better informed in head and heart.

    Mandatory OM entry features include:

    • Anti-Theft System
    • Fender System
    • Lighting System
    • Load-Carrying System
    • Freestanding Under Load (while parked) System

    Since almost all of the thousands of bikes we’ve sold since 2007 have met most if not all of these criteria, not as accessories but as integral features, we were intrigued by the emphasis on innovation in the program’s materials. Modern (and old) utility bikes incorporating such features in a high state of refinement are, in fact, quite normal in some parts of the world, increasingly including Portland. It will be some time yet, probably never, before most of the utility patents issued for bicycles in the 1890s come to market. Is it lack of innovation preventing utility bikes from becoming “the transportation mode of the future for millions of Americans who want to live healthier, more sustainable lives, but don’t think of themselves as ‘cyclists’”? We don’t think so.

    Having sold so many utility bikes to just such Americans (and just as importantly, having failed to sell many more), we think the main challenges are not design related as much as psychological and sociological. And to focus on design imperfections only reinforces the real problems: few are ready to acknowledge that the problem is us, in our sense of entitlement to effortless speed, in our alienation from our bodies’ evolved locomotive function and historical living patterns of proximity to daily needs. As Jonathan says, “the big shift we’re after is in the mind of the public, not the design of the vehicle.”

    We think the foremost obstacles to utility bicycles going from thousands to millions, to them replacing the 82% of all car trips in America that are less than 5 miles, are the false beliefs that bicycles can’t, needn’t, shouldn’t carry children and a household’s weekly groceries such distances, because bicycles are a youthful pursuit and American adults — parents especially — need to own cars anyway. And if bikes could or should be up to family duty, they would need somehow to be light enough to offset the weight of the cargo, their riders’ lack of physical conditioning, and to make them easy to lift onto car racks. And finally, useful bicycles need to cost less than bicycles designed to win races, because, well, utility bikes aren’t something grownups who can afford cars aspire to rely upon, right?

    It’s a quixotic challenge, countering such beliefs. Frankly, we don’t think any bicycle design innovation will pierce these and many more plates of interlocking car-cultural armor. Real progress will continue with independent-minded people tilting these windmills with tools already existing (if sometimes hard to find) to live better, defying and dispelling myths of inadequate design.

    Bikes can and will continue to evolve in small ways, tracking industrial design, process and materials development as well as the restless currents of fashion. Occasionally many small steps, most traced already in the past, will occur together and appear to be a leap. Striving for better is grand, but diminishing returns are the norm, and actual regression a too common result. (As when, for example, features are integrated in so design-school cool a way that they are not serviceable independently of more costly structures, nor interchangeable with current and future functional equivalents. Modularity is a more practical design virtue than what the organizers seem to call for with “each design element/feature should meld seamlessly with the entire bike.”)

    This is the same as it ever was since the bicycle’s big-bang Jesus moment in the 1880s when two roughly similar size wheels with pneumatic tires and an indirect pedal drive to the rear wheel came together in a triangulated frame to make what everybody still instantly recognizes as a bike. If it could speak, it would say “I have forgotten more than you will ever know.” Many other OM entrants have voiced similar opinions, describing as arrogant or futile briefs to reinvent the wheel.

    Oregon Manifest’s Field Test for the ultimate utility bike is not one or a series of 5- or 10-mile rides with a household’s typical loads, but a 50-miler at “a brisk pace” with off-road sections and steep grades, carrying… “a small bag of groceries, an oversized postal box, poster tube, and/or a six-pack of beverage containers.” Small stuff, maybe only a six-pack. Only flat-fixing tools may be carried. Time to the finish line may be recorded, but appearances to the contrary it’s not a race: no points for quicker finishes within the cutoff times to each control station. This is to help identify the design that will appeal to non-cyclists as practical transportation for everyday life?

    We think it is misguided to evaluate utility bikes in a test appropriate to sport bikes, such as any brisk, hilly, 50-mile ride with minimal cargo represents.

    Organizers affirm that the Field Test is no race, but an imperfect attempt to simulate the stresses of perhaps a month of normal riding in a torture test. Since riding fast is harder on a bike than riding slow, so much the better for culling weak entries. We acknowledge this rationale, and the honest difficulty of doing better in a single festive day rich in awesome, sweat-kissed, countryside photo opportunities.

    Snark aside, the Hawthorne effect refers to the influence of an act of measurement upon the things being measured. If the test for a bike meant to be ridden only 50 miles a month will be 50 miles in one go, fast and hilly, the kind of bikes offered up for testing will tend to skew toward what the test demands, not real-life use cases. If tests show that it is good to drink 2 glasses of water a day for a month, what about 60 glasses in 4 hours?

    This matters because a bike that is nearly ideal for the most accessible, low-intensity, short distance utility applications will tend strongly to suck for hilly 50-milers, and vice versa: bikes that are great for fast steep extended effort tend … not to be ridden day to day, least of all by the non-cyclists this competition ostensibly aims to innovate toward. There’s some crossover, of course. But we sell some brilliant, popular utility bikes meeting all entry criteria the likes of which would be extremely difficult if not impossible even to complete the OM Field Test while bearing the loads for which they are designed. Thus the test effectively excludes design approaches of great demonstrated utility, favoring instead those of the same old, vastly overplayed sport-oriented priorities. If we’re touchy about this, it’s because every single day we talk to casual or non-cyclists ostensibly interested in a utility bike for daily errands, but who balk at features that would likely make the bike unpleasant or impossible to ride 50 hilly miles.

    Bicycles are frequently superior to motorized transport over urban distances. But over 50 miles, for the vast majority of humanity their relative slowness will always make them vehicles of recreation, duress, or the mix that is sport. Those non-cyclists, what do you think they might make of this challenge? These many people who do not know, and might even be terrified of the truth that they actually can ride a bike 10 or even 50 miles? Will they trace in the smiles and grimaces of the torture test riders hope that any day now, the bike that will integrate seamlessly into their modern lifestyle will be invented? Or will they dis-identify, recoil further from the dramatic spectacle these sweaty riders present? Are we overthinking?

    More troublesome than the distance and terrain for a utility bike is the lack of meaningful cargo. It’s not about a six-pack of beer versus water versus a poster tube, a melon or a dozen eggs: it’s about all of those things being almost nothing. Even the most non-utilitarian triathlon bikes can be fitted with 72-oz aerodynamic hydration systems, or pull well-designed trailers to carry much more.

    Since every bicycle can carry its rider and a little bit of almost anything, every bike is a utility bike to an essentially meaningless extent. As Kierkegaard said “When all are Christians, Christianity eo ipso does not exist.” We feel strongly that meaningful utility in a bicycle is almost entirely linear with cargo capacity, to the extent that it remains otherwise attractive to use in daily life conditions. More isn’t always better, of course, but if there’s a problem in general with bikes in America being not useful enough, it’s that they can’t carry enough, well enough. And the Field Test doesn’t test this seriously.

    We know the test will be fun in the way any athletic event is fun, but fun also in the opportunity to challenge the biases inherent in its conception. We can’t show our bike to best advantage with only the cargo required. Therefore, our Oregon Manifest bike will complete the 50-mile course carrying in addition to the little stuff six twelve-packs plus a little girl, a payload weighing about 5 times what we expect may be the lightest entries. The bike will be heavy, but more to the point, we guess the lightest in relation to its payload of all entries. It will be ridden by the girl’s car-free mother, whose broken thumb is in a cast (may be a splint by Field Test day).

    Her name is Diana Rempe, and she has ridden an early Portland-made Metrofiets cargo bike with her daughter and groceries aboard for years. She, and people like her represent the social innovation and inspirational example that transform not just industries, but societies. She’s the secret weapon. She’ll wear a skirt, sit upright, and she just might cross the finish line early.

    Our strategy? Cheat. Diana is strong, and no stranger to racing, but to reset the tare after shouldering a proper utility bike load, our entry integrates our Stokemonkey electric assist system. To our thinking utility is about pragmatism, about the bike’s ability to bear loads gracefully instead of the athleticism of the rider. Besides, it’s not actually cheating except in the minds of the pure. Our entry remains legally a bicycle, breaking no contest rules. Because it’s not a race.

    The point is certainly not that electric assist is essential to a modern utility bike, nor even often desirable. But neither is the ability to haul big weight over 50 miles with hills alongside people carrying almost nothing on far less substantial machines. We feel compelled by the structure of the event to show a more elaborate solution than we would recommend for most common real-life scenarios, at least in the flattish bike-estuarial calm of inner Southeast Portland. We’re not in the sporting goods industry. We wouldn’t even show up for a spandex knife fight. But if forced into that ring, we’ll bring a gun.

    In spite of all the critical opinions expressed above, we wouldn’t be participating in this event if we weren’t confident that great good can come of it, far broader good than our narrow, biased perspective as Portlanders, parents, sellers and users of utility bikes permits us now to understand. We can’t wait!

    Coming shortly before the event: full disclosure of our design. It has some innovative bits, even, but is mainly a novel conjunction of existing design elements: 5 or 6 old stones bringing down a dozen birds.

  • Not that you would, but that you could...

    From yesterday’s Fiets of Parenthood, 6 kids and one mom on a Bakfiets Cargobike plus Follow-Me Tandem Coupling. Read more about the event at urbanMamas and Bike Noun Verb:

  • 10% of sales for Portland Public Schools

    We’ll be voting YES on the 17 May bond and levy measures in support of Portland Public Schools. Learn more about this important vote to repair and update our historic but pathetically dilapidated, inefficient, increasingly unsafe school buildings. $5M of the proposed bond will be allocated for transportation infrastructure improvements around our schools, including promotion of the Safe Routes to Schools program supporting walk and bike access.

    Yes, it’s a big property tax increase, but we think car-free and car-lite families, unburdened by the rising costs of motoring that send wealth out of state, should step up to protect and improve the crumbling treasures we have in our neighborhoods.

    This is a single vote, but you know what? Portland schools are chronically underfunded. That’s why we’re going beyond this one issue to support our schools in a more direct, comprehensive way.

    Starting today, through the day of the vote 17 May, Clever Cycles will donate 10% of purchases to the Portland Schools Foundation. All you need to do is mention this program at the time of payment, and we’ll set aside 10% of the total for our schools. Yes, you have to mention it so we know you care, and we can assure ourselves that this isn’t actually hurting our business. If the response is good, we’ll repeat this program over and over until our schools can’t get any better and Portland can’t fit any more of the kinds of bikes we offer.

    Portland public schools have some of the highest bicycling and walking rates in the country. Key to this success is the fact that most of Portland’s schools, like its homes, were built before the “American Dream” became synonymous with motor vehicle dependence and sub-urban home ownership. Portland largely resisted the freeway projects and related trends that emptied or impoverished the urban residential cores of so many other cities, destroying the tax base that supported the schools. Largely, but not entirely.

    Portland Public Schools are dramatically underfunded. Contrary to the myth that city life is more crowded than in the past, average household size in Portland is lower than historical norms. The density of children in particular has fallen. Schools are closing, with student bodies being consolidated into fewer and fewer, larger, cheaper-to-run schools further away, creating safety hazards and coarsening the close grain of city life that Portland has struggled over so many decades to maintain.

    We support well-funded neighborhood schools because they are essential to what we love about Portland, its scale and pace, and the sufficiency and dignity of human power in getting around it, whether you’re 8 or 80.

  • 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):

  • 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.

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