Thursday, June 26, 2008

GAIT: Cyclists, Walkers, Crimefighters!

My job at Bike Works goes late enough in the day that I'm often not back from Seattle soon enough to attend GAIT events and meetings. But last night, while walking to the market with Christine, I crossed paths with first Jeff Youngstrom and then Bob Miller. Both Jeff and Bob recounted their adventure on the Bridges of Issaquah ride. It's a great tale highlighting how the simple act of getting around by human power can help make the city better. It also is a wonderful example of just how handy an Xtracycle can be. You can read all about it on the Gait blog here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Help needed to load bikes to El Salvador, Saturday June 28th, 2008

My pal Meg Watson from the Village Bicycle Project forwarded me the note below. Meg, Dave and all the others at VPB do wonderful work (check their website for details) and these bike load sessions are always super fun. I'll be taking Saturday off from the shop to help out and if any of you Seattle area folks can come on down, we'd love the help. You can see pictures from previous bike loading parties here and here.

-----Original Message-----
From: Village Bicycle Project []
Sent: Monday, June 16, 2008 9:54 AM
Subject: Collecting and Loading bikes June 28


Help us load nearly 500 bikes for CESTA (the El Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology). Loading is at the Total Reclaim warehouse, in Georgetown, (directions below). We'll start at 9, and finish by 5 PM. Refreshments will be provided.

We are also accepting donations of ADULT and adolescent (24" wheels) sized bikes. Please no children's bikes, we have too many now.

Our new partners in El Salvador have gotten bikes from Bikes Not Bombs in Boston and Bikes for the World in the DC area. Both BNB and B4W send bikes to VBP partners in Ghana. The rising cost of shipping has encouraged us bike collectors and shippers to economize. We will send more to Pacific side receivers, and the East Coast will send more across the Atlantic.

Here is a bit from an interview with CESTA's director, printed in Red Pepper, April 2007 (and accessed today at

"From global climate change to pedal-powered garbage carts, thinking globally and acting locally comes readily to El Salvador's Ricardo Navarro." He recently found himself meeting then-World Bank president,James Wolfensohn, to demand that the bank scale back its investment for fossil fuel exploitation and mining. "The best birthday present President Wolfensohn could give to the world's poor would be to stop bank funding of fossil fuel and mining projects and invest in wind and solar," he said. [more on line]

Hope to see you! Special thanks to all who've helped collect and load more than 1400 bikes already this spring in Seattle, Sammamish and Bellingham.


DIRECTIONS to the loading:

By bike from Beacon Hill, go south on 15th Street and cross the freeway at Albro Pl. then take the first left. You'll be on Corgiat, go about half-mile, the road curves sharply to the right, then you'll see the warehouse, 1915 on the left. If you keep going you'll be on the railroad tracks.

Driving from downtown Seattle, take I-5 south about four miles to Albro Pl. Swift Dr. exit 161. Go straight at the off-ramp traffic light, you'll be on Corgiat, go about half-mile, the road curves sharply to the right, then you'll see the warehouse 1915 on the left. Keep going and you'll be on the railroad tracks.

From Tacoma on I-5 take Albro Pl. Swift Dr. exit 161turn left, cross over the freeway then take the first left you'll be on Corgiat, go about half-mile, the road curves sharply to the right, then you'll see the warehouse 1915 on the left.


Village Bicycle Project is a program of Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute,

The Seattle Century benefits Bike Works and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

On July 27th, 2008, a century ride will happen right in my local stomping grounds. The Seattle Century (or Half-Century if 100 mile rides aren't your thing) will benefit two of my favorite bike groups, Bike Works (my current employer!) and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (my former employer!). It looks like there is going to be good food, a very pretty course and lots of support. I'll be working the 100 mile loop as a roving mechanic. For more information (and to register to either ride or volunteer) visit You can also register for the ride at Bike Works.

The Erickson is for sale

I built-up the Erickson in just the way I thought it should be for a rando/touring bike and rode it around for a while. It really is just about perfect. A couple of dings in the paint and a tiny dent in the top-tube, but very, very sweet.

And not right for me. Too pretty. Too boring. Nothing left to do on it. And that whole "pump painted to match the frame" scene was never anything I aspired to.

I really like a bike that I'm comfortable beating the heck out of. I bike I can fold up and schlep on the bus & train or a bike I can take into the back-country, past the places where the pavement ends. So I'm sticking with my converted MTB Speed Cruiser and my Dahon D3 for my adventures.

On Wednesday the Erickson is going up for sale at Bike Works. I don't need this bike and the shop can use the money.

We're selling it the way it's shown here. This is the breakdown:

$ 450 -- Erickson Touring Bike 52cm c-c seat tube, 54 cm top tube
$ 20 -- Fenders & flaps
$ 24 -- Rear rack
$ 20 -- Cateye Velo 5 computer
$ 20 -- Koolstop salmon brake pads
$ 16 -- SRAM chain
$100 -- 2 Planet Bike 1/2 Watt Blaze headlights, 1 Planet Bike Superflash tail light, 1 Planet Bike Blinky 3 tail light
$ 50 -- Front & Rear bags
$700 (with tax, the total will be $763). If you know anybody who'd like a very sweet bike, have 'em come on down to Bike Works. I don't think the bike will stick around the shop for too long.

Kent Peterson, Shop Manager
Bike Works
3709 S. Ferdinand St.
Seattle WA 98118
hours: 12-6 Tues - Fri, 11-6 Sat, 11-5 Sun, Closed Mondays
206-725-9408 x3

Three Men On Wheels

Years ago, I discovered the books of Jerome K. Jerome while poking around in various used bookstores. His most famous book was published in 1889 as Three Men in a Boat and eleven years later Jerome published a sequel to that novel called Three Men on the Bummel. Both books are travel stories describing the adventures of three friends and both works contain some very funny scenes. Since many English speaking readers aren't familiar with the German term "bummel", the later book was published in the US under the title Three Men on Wheels.

Many of the scenes involving bicycles in Three Men on Wheels still ring true today. Here Jerome and his friend discuss saddles:
"Can you think of any saddle ever advertised that you have _not_ tried?"

He said: "It has been an idea of mine that the right saddle is to be found."

I said: "You give up that idea; this is an imperfect world of joy and sorrow mingled. There may be a better land where bicycle saddles are made out of rainbow, stuffed with cloud; in this world the simplest thing is to get used to something hard. There was that saddle you bought in Birmingham; it was divided in the middle, and looked like a pair of kidneys."

He said: "You mean that one constructed on anatomical principles."

"Very likely," I replied. "The box you bought it in had a picture on the cover, representing a sitting skeleton--or rather that part of a skeleton which does sit."

He said: "It was quite correct; it showed you the true position of the--"

I said: "We will not go into details; the picture always seemed to me indelicate."

He said: "Medically speaking, it was right."

"Possibly," I said, "for a man who rode in nothing but his bones. I only know that I tried it myself, and that to a man who wore flesh it was agony. Every time you went over a stone or a rut it nipped you; it was like riding on an irritable lobster. You rode that for a month."

"I thought it only right to give it a fair trial," he answered.

I said: "You gave your family a fair trial also; if you will allow me the use of slang. Your wife told me that never in the whole course of your married life had she known you so bad tempered, so un-Christian like, as you were that month. Then you remember that other saddle, the one with the spring under it."

He said: "You mean 'the Spiral.'"

I said: "I mean the one that jerked you up and down like a Jack-in-the-box; sometimes you came down again in the right place, and sometimes you didn't. I am not referring to these matters merely to recall painful memories, but I want to impress you with the folly of trying experiments
at your time of life."

Here's what Jerome has to say on the subject of "overhauling":

I have had experience of this "overhauling." There was a man at Folkestone; I used to meet him on the Lees. He proposed one evening we should go for a long bicycle ride together on the following day, and I agreed. I got up early, for me; I made an effort, and was pleased with myself. He came half an hour late: I was waiting for him in the garden. It was a lovely day. He said:--

"That's a good-looking machine of yours. How does it run?"

"Oh, like most of them!" I answered; "easily enough in the morning; goes a little stiffly after lunch."

He caught hold of it by the front wheel and the fork and shook it violently.

I said: "Don't do that; you'll hurt it."

I did not see why he should shake it; it had not done anything to him. Besides, if it wanted shaking, I was the proper person to shake it. I felt much as I should had he started whacking my dog.

He said: "This front wheel wobbles."

I said: "It doesn't if you don't wobble it." It didn't wobble, as a matter of fact--nothing worth calling a wobble.

He said: "This is dangerous; have you got a screw-hammer?"

I ought to have been firm, but I thought that perhaps he really did know something about the business. I went to the tool shed to see what I could find. When I came back he was sitting on the ground with the front wheel between his legs. He was playing with it, twiddling it round between his fingers; the remnant of the machine was lying on the gravel path beside him.

He said: "Something has happened to this front wheel of yours."

"It looks like it, doesn't it?" I answered. But he was the sort of man that never understands satire.

He said: "It looks to me as if the bearings were all wrong."

I said: "Don't you trouble about it any more; you will make yourself tired. Let us put it back and get off."

He said: "We may as well see what is the matter with it, now it is out." He talked as though it had dropped out by accident.

Before I could stop him he had unscrewed something somewhere, and out rolled all over the path some dozen or so little balls.

"Catch 'em!" he shouted; "catch 'em! We mustn't lose any of them." He was quite excited about them.

We grovelled round for half an hour, and found sixteen. He said he hoped we had got them all, because, if not, it would make a serious difference to the machine. He said there was nothing you should be more careful about in taking a bicycle to pieces than seeing you did not lose any of the balls. He explained that you ought to count them as you took them out, and see that exactly the same number went back in each place. I promised, if ever I took a bicycle to pieces I would remember his advice.

I put the balls for safety in my hat, and I put my hat upon the doorstep. It was not a sensible thing to do, I admit. As a matter of fact, it was a silly thing to do. I am not as a rule addle-headed; his influence must have affected me.

He then said that while he was about it he would see to the chain for me, and at once began taking off the gear-case. I did try to persuade him from that. I told him what an experienced friend of mine once said to me solemnly:--

"If anything goes wrong with your gear-case, sell the machine and buy a new one; it comes cheaper."

He said: "People talk like that who understand nothing about machines. Nothing is easier than taking off a gear-case."

I had to confess he was right. In less than five minutes he had the gear-case in two pieces, lying on the path, and was grovelling for screws. He said it was always a mystery to him the way screws disappeared.

Thanks to the wonderful work of the people at Project Gutenberg, books such as these, and thousands more, are easily and freely available in electronic form. I get most of my etexts, which I read on my Nokia N800, from Manybooks doesn't just have the Gutenberg books, it also has many books and stories by contempory authors whove chosen to release their works under Creative Commons licensing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How to transport an infant by bike?

Brian Ecker of Portland Oregon emailed me asking about transporting his infant son by bicycle. My wife and I dealt with this issue years ago and our friends Brad and Claire have some good current experience transporting their young son, so I included them in the email discussion. I got the OK's from everybody to quote the discussion verbatim and post it here.

First up, Brian's query:
Hi Kent,

I'm an avid cyclist in Portland who also happens to be a new father of a 6 week old. My wife and I own a car (hybrid) but rarely drive as we live in close-in Portland and have access to most everything.

However, since the arrival of our son, I've noticed that there is really no good way to transport him over longer distances (such as the doctor) without the car. I'd like to ride him around on my bike, but all the bike trailer documentation states that children under the age of one year should not be carried this way.

Do you have any tips for infant transport?

Here's my response:
Hi Brian,

I've cc'd my friend Brad Hawkins on this note. Brad and his wife Claire have a young son that they often transport by bike trailer, so I'm hoping Brad will chime in here with his current relevant experience.

The main thing we did when the kids were young was augment the bike trailer with a carseat that we carried inside the trailer and extra padding within the trailer, making it effectively a huge, full-body helmet. In our case, I made our trailer and it had a roll-cage that completely surrounded the kid.

Did you attend the "Why Carfree cities are safer?" session at the conference? One of the hard things at the conference were that there were too many good things happening simultaneously and it was hard to pick and choose, but this was a really good one. Todd Litman, who I've also cc'd, had some very good data and interesting things to say about what choices really effect the safety of our children.

Thanks for writing and trying to make a better, safer world for our children to grow in.

Brad adds:
Transporting kids is fun. Here are a few things I've learned:

We still use the car seat for our 14 month old because it keeps his back straighter and head supported. It also gives him a better view.

Strap the lateral belt across the whole car seat and you should be good to go.

In the early months, place some foam under the car seat, but beware that this make the car seat much harder to secure in the trailer. We gave up on this notion after a few tries and went with fat, pudgy tires. See below.

We leave the transport arm on the car seat up so that there is a theoretical roll cage within the trailer roll cage.

We started with the car seat base and tied the base in, but the baby was sitting backward and wasn't ready for the bumps. Once we turned him facing forward, everything got much calmer. I don't think bikes can stop fast enough to warrant rear facing a car seat.

I like the transportable car seat too because they often fall asleep and when we get someplace, I can just take the whole thing in without waking the boy.

Keep the trailer in a place where it's easy to roll and go. If you have to carry it up or down stairs, you won't use it as transportation. We rent an extra parking space from a neighbor in our condo and keep our bikes there. We also have mini garage door clickers on our key chains so we can keep rolling all the way in our out.

My wife carries a second lock for her trailer but I haven't found it completely necessary. Just leave a toy in the trailer and everyone will know they are stealing from children. No, gas prices are high enough that I'll start carrying an extra lock too. I'll amend my ways.

Find the fattest tires you can and pump them up just enough that they sag but don't bottom out on the rim when you push down. The trailer only holds 50lbs tops so the tires don't need to be anywhere near hard.

Lubricate the snaps with chain oil so they come on and off easily. The Burley Cub we have places the cover snaps right by the trailer tongue and it's hard to unfasten unless lubricated.

As a precaution, we started with knobby tires to keep the speed down but I'm not sure that was necessary.

We still haven't started with helmets on the bike, but he knows that we wear one, and we incorporate it into play. It's one of his toys around the house. Eventually, "big boys" wear helmets. I hope that works!

Carry a blanket even in the summer. The kid is not getting an workout.

You can string some toys with a bungee cord, but that might be overkill.

Sing a lot to them so they still know you are there. We have little mimicking games going on while riding at the one year age group.

During winter months, if the plastic fogs up, it means they are sleeping. Deeper breaths fog up the inside.

The inside is surprisingly warm. I would reach in to check and find the inside of the trailer toasty and his hands warm even in the thirties.

We glued an agricultural slow moving vehicle sign on the back, tied on two blinkies, and have two orange flags on top.

Have couple of hitches around and one on each bike you might use to pull. Undoing the quick release takes too much time and makes the kid bored. They just want to click and go.

Feel free to take the whole lane. Drivers give the respect when you are packing the kids. Basically, it's no fun getting passed in your lane so don't let the drivers think it might be an option.

Just smile when the tourists start pointing and taking pictures.

I don't run any stop lights or signs anymore. I guess that makes me a dad.

Brad Hawkins

Claire adds:
One more thing (from Claire, the mom!)--we didn't transport the baby in the bike trailer until he was three months old. I think it's ok to use the car for the first few doctor visits while they're still so little, especially if it's a longer trip. The first trips we took were quite short; they've only gotten longer as he has gotten older, but we still try to time them with his naps.

Congratulations Brian by the way!


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Random Pictures and Thoughts from the Towards Carfree Cities Conference

The slideshow above will give you a glimpse of the Towards Carfree Cities Conference that took place in Portland last week. Christine and I had various obligations back home, so we didn't attend the whole thing, but the time we had there was awesome. Here are some totally random thoughts to go with the pictures.

Huge thanks to Elly and all the other organizers and volunteers, Michael and Jennifer for opening their home to us, Greg and Beth for hosting a great party, all the Portland folks for making Portland what it is and everybody who provided all the great content, art, ideas and energy.

When going through the photos, I realized that shots of somebody talking or giving a PowerPoint presentation aren't that interesting.

Shots of the Sprockettes are interesting. Well, interesting to me at least. (Note to self -- see if Christine is willing to add more black and hot-pink lycra and fishnet to her wardrobe.)

You know you have a cool city when it has an art-show in one room and Fat Tire Ale in another, a loud band and the Sprockettes on the sidewalk, parking spaces out front converted to writer's workshops, art studios, and a tall-bike workshop.

Portland has its own bike rush-hours. Bikes and riders are everywhere.

The local bike routes, maps, signs and online bike trip planner make the city very discoverable by bike.

My Dahon rocks. Traveling by bike, bus & train is super easy and super fun with this little bike. I have to factor a bit of extra time into my journeys for demoing the bike to interested folks.

A tipi is the ultimate back yard accessory.

A BikeRacker rack is the ultimate driveway accessory.

Conferences like this one are great sources of ideas and experience.

"Multi-modal" is the big buzz-phrase conference. I'd always used multi-modal to describe a trip like the one Christine and I took to get here, a combination of walking, biking, taking the bus, train and one small bit in my friend Michael Rasmussen's (the cycle commuter not the racer) truck. But I guess when you are at a towards carfree cities conference and want to admit that you still own and use a private car, you refer to yourself as "multi-modal."

Open source software and open data standards are really empowering folks to make some great tools to help folks get around without cars, Smart transit, smart maps, and smart routing tools really do help people get around. Much of the really cool work is being done by geeks on their own time but they need consistent access to data.

Traffic doesn't behave like a fluid, it behaves like a gas. It fills the available space.

More traffic lanes kill more people.

Data can get skewed in interesting ways. Fewer pedestrian fatalities per mile may mean "folks are driving farther to find a pedestrian to run down."

I had this idea at the conference: Ghost bikes may be sending the wrong message. The "a cyclist died here" sends the signal that riding is dangerous. What if we had ghost cars, a death car painted white every spot there is an auto fatality? "Good idea, Kent, but that would be way too many cars." "Yeah, that's the point." Maybe a car with a skull & crossbones stencil.

The Arcata Bicycle Library is brilliant. Bill Burton tells you everything you need to know to set one of these up in your town here.

The problem with a conference like this is too many cool things happen simultaneously and you'll always have to miss out on something.

Gil Penelosa's "Portland has a long way to go" talk went over great with loads of spontaneous applause sprinkled througout. It was quite a contrast to Andy Clarke's rah-rah speech celebrating Portland and the LAB which seemed to fall pretty flat. The crowd was here to work and get fired up, not pat itself on the back.

Power Point is probably making us dumber. I saw some great Power Point presentations, but a lot of folks with great stuff just talked. And there was a lot of time spent in the "let me set this up" techno-phase. A while back the late Sheldon Brown pointed me to this, which does a great job of illustrating the problem.

The velorution is afoot and awheel. We've got a long way to go, but it's walking and biking distance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Christine and Kent's talk from the Portland Towards Carfree Cities Conference

I literally just got back from the Towards Carfree Cities conference in Portland. Actually, I'm not quite home yet, I'm camped out at Bike Works tonight. In a couple of days I'll post more stuff about the conference, including photos and tales of the Peterson's multimodal adventures in Spokane, Cheney and Portland. But for now, here is the text of the talk Christine and I gave Tuesday morning at the conference. We traded off speaking and in the transcript below what Christine said is in normal text and what I said is in italics. There was a very good crowd at the conference and I think our talk went over well.


Carfree Family Stories -- We're Not Supermen: How Mild Mannered People Demotorize Metropolis

By Christine and Kent Peterson, Issaquah, Washington

About two years ago, a story appeared on the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer under the headline “A family of 4 – but no car.” “The Petersons are a family of four from Issaquah," it begins. "They like to hike, go to the movies, watch American Idol. A regular suburban bunch. Minus the SUV. Minus any car, for that matter. The Petersons don’t drive. They haven’t since 1987. As the rest of the country frets over the highest gas prices in history, the Petersons carry on as usual, biking, walking and riding the bus wherever they need to go.”

When Kent told me that reporter Sonia Krishnan wanted to interview us for this story, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it. “Why is this a story?” I asked. “It’s just our life.” I joked with friends about our 15 minutes of fame, assuming things would quickly blow over. But papers in Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, and all over the country were picking up the story. Months later, Sonia told us she was still getting comments about it. It not only seems to be a story; it’s a story that won’t go away, and here we are, two years later, talking to all of you about our carfree life.

So much of our society is built around the automobile, although a lot of good work is being done to address that and to change that, and you’ll be able to hear about more of that this week. But we didn’t want to wait for the world to change. Instead, we were taking to heart the call to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And for carfree living to be humanly sustainable in our society as it now is, we’ve had to make some very thoughtful choices over the last twenty years about where and how we would live.

We first lived without a car in Duluth, Minnesota, four miles out of town, where weather regularly dealt us heavy snow and subzero temperatures, and we were challenged by the need to transport a baby, groceries, laundry, and furniture over routes never intended to be traversed by pedestrians or cyclists. When we moved to White Plains, New York, we chose to live close to downtown, within walking distance of Kent's job and some essential services. When we moved to Issaquah in 1993 with our two children, Peter and Eric, then ages 7 and 4, we sat down and planned carefully. We figured out that we needed to be within walking distance of a grocery store, good public schools, the local library, the local Episcopal church, the post office, doctors and dentists, and a pharmacy. We needed to be within biking distance of Kent’s work (which he defined as 25 miles each way), and we needed to be on a bus line. We managed to do all this by settling into downtown Issaquah, where we are also within walking distance of our Community Center, some great restaurants, convenient shopping, a fine local theater, and some really wonderful hiking trails.

When we first moved to Issaquah, various well-meaning friends of ours said, "Of course you'll need a car to live there." And most of the of folks who live there do have cars and live in the sprawling burbclaves that have grown up on the plateau or the three low mountains that surround the hundred-year old town core. And every day traffic crawls along Front Street with people "rushing" from some vital point A to get to some other vital point B. And they'll tell you that they are much too busy to walk, even though Christine and I regularly walk to our destinations faster than our auto-burdened neighbors.

I don't want to paint Issaquah as being some car-free Utopia; it's often as choked with the results of poor choices as much of the rest of this planet. But the core of the town is constrained on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by a lake, and that beautiful bit of geographic good fortune is recognized and nurtured by citizens and some of the local business and political leaders. Our mayor is a pedestrian, so she understands the value of things like crosswalks and sidewalks. Our streets are designed to manage run-off to keep the salmon stream clean. I was at a trail opening last fall, a walking/biking trail that actually goes somewhere and connects things, and one of our local councilmen told me how he and Louise McGrody of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington had first mapped the trail out and hacked their way through blackberry thorns years before.

That's how things get done. As individuals we decide what matters and as individuals and groups we act on those beliefs. My neighbor Jeff Youngstrom and his wife got rid of their car a few years ago and now get around everywhere by foot, bike or bus. Seeing Jeff on his XtraCycle reminds people every day that you don't need a car to live in America, but Jeff and some friends also formed a grass-roots group called GAIT, an acronym for Getting Around Issaquah Together. Those of us in GAIT go to city council meetings, vote, brainstorm and coach others in various ways to make Issaquah more amenable to human-scale transportation. GAIT works because it's not just cyclists OR walkers. It's cyclists AND walkers. It's people getting involved in our community, acting locally to make our town a better place.

So as an individual, how do you decide what matters? It's one of those questions that sounds easy but if you really start thinking about it can be surprisingly hard. A starting place might be to think about making that list as we did, even if you have no intention of moving anywhere. Where do you go and what do you do now that is non-negotiable? What's very important? What's nice but not essential? Is there somewhere you go or something you do that you wish you didn't? Your list of what you need and want to be able to access easily and regularly, and what you are willing to go out of your way for, is going to say a lot about what's important to you. It may look a lot different than our list, and that's fine. But in the process of considering these kinds of choices, we can learn a lot about ourselves and what we value, and once we’re clear about that, we can begin to make choices that support our values, instead of simply being caught on a treadmill of 24/7 activity and overwhelming financial obligations, as it seems that so many people today are. For example, if you value spending time together as a family, does it really make sense to live an hour away from work so that 1/12 of your day is spent in traffic? Does it make sense to schedule your kids into and chauffeur them around to so many far-flung activities that your family has no time to eat dinner together at night? The choice to drive and to live the fast-paced, high-powered life that driving enables, is too often a choice to be driven by economic pressures and cultural expectations, rather than being who we are and following our own dreams, or even slowing down long enough to find out what those dreams are.

The life we're living today didn't happen overnight. It's the outcome of years of choices, of taking, literally and figuratively, "roads less traveled," and it's still in process. The thing about choices is that one can lead to others, sometimes taking you in directions you might never have thought possible. If you decide to live without a car, you may decide to move out of the suburbs to somewhere more centrally located. If houses are smaller or more expensive there, you may decide to live in less space. This in turn will mean making choices about which possessions to hold onto and which to let go of, and being really intentional and careful about accumulating more. If you’re not shopping as much, or driving as much, you may find you have money to do other things, like traveling or going back to school. Or you may decide you don’t need to earn as much money, and you can leave an unsatisfying but lucrative job to do something you love that doesn’t pay as well, or cut back on your hours at work to put in a garden, write a book, volunteer at your church or in your community, or do something else that matters to you. You may not want to do any of those things, and again, that's fine. But if you want to do something you’re not doing, or don’t want to do something that you are doing every day, we’d encourage you to think about what your priorities really are and look creatively at your options. It's amazing, sometimes, how one small adventure can change your life.

When I was a little kid, I was jealous of my older sister because she got to go to school. I was only three years old and had to stay home with my mom while Sis got to ride on the bus to school. Like I say, I was a little kid -- what does a three year old know? I thought school was some kind of cool place. I'd watched the bus go and I knew which direction school was, so one day I escaped. I got on my trike and hit the open road. Some busybody neighbor a few blocks down the road saw me, busted me and lugged me back home. But it was too late -- I'd tasted freedom and I liked it.

As the years went by, I figured things out. I figured out that once I'd get my trike going too fast it would tip over in the corners, so I needed something that would lean. Three wheels was one too many for me, and I was lucky to have parents that knew if you try to keep a kid too safe, then he'll never be able to handle a big scary world. So they raced along behind me, pushing me when I needed pushing and letting me fall when I needed to fall, and I learned to get around this world on two wheels. That's a lesson that's taken me quite a few places over the years.

I've learned a bunch of other stuff in the forty-some years since my tricycle days. Somewhere along the line I learned to drive around in automobiles, but I never really took to it so I gave up driving over twenty years ago. This wasn't some big planet-saving move on my part or some sort of profound frugality. I just liked getting around on two wheels and being out in the world instead of being inside a box that goes too fast, looking out a windshield as the world flies by.

My friend Davey once said to me "But deep down, you hate cars, right?" I found myself telling him, “No, I love bicycles.” Like almost everybody else, I've seen the car ads with the professional driver on the closed course, weaving through redwoods or driving along the Pacific Coast. It's always the only car on the road. That looks like fun. But that's not the real world, the world packed with way too many people packed into way too many cars. I don't hate cars; I hate the sprawl we've built for cars, and as Mr. T would say, "I pity the fools" stuck inside those boxes.

Now I know lots of folks have cars because, as they've explained to me, they don't have time to waste cycling everywhere. I'm the same way except I don't have time to waste driving. As near as I can tell, the only way to really waste time is to spend it doing something you don't enjoy. This is why my choice of getting around on my own feet or on a bicycle makes sense for me, and whenever anybody asks me about it, I'm happy to try to explain it to them. And I think that's another key to converting people to a carfree life. People tend to stop listening if the first thing you say to them is "You're doing it wrong." But if they see you out there, enjoying the way you get around in the world, it can make them think. And maybe they'll ask you about it, and maybe they'll act on what you tell them. It's great to have a slogan like "one less car" on your shirt, but it's nothing compared to the thrill of seeing someone who used to drive everywhere become a bike commuter. In Washington, the Bicycle Alliance has a program called Bike Buddy where new bike commuters learn from experienced bike commuters, but any of us anywhere can be buddies to new riders.

And if you're a parent, you have a daily opportunity to pass on the skills and joys of getting around without a car. We often get asked how we managed to live without a car when we had KIDS. Peter is 22 now and Eric is 19, so they both grew up carfree. When they were small, they traveled in bike seats, carriers, strollers, wagons, and even on sleds. Going anywhere was called “having an adventure,” whether we were going to the grocery store, the park, the library, or taking the cat to the vet or going to the zoo, or going on a hike or bike ride. We were delighted as they became more capable of getting around on their own – they were getting heavy! If you think about it, most parents are thrilled when their children learn to walk, often grabbing a camera to take a picture of a baby’s first step. They are usually pleased when their kids learn to ride a bike. But they are terrified when their kids learn to drive. Watching Peter and Eric transition from carrier or bike seat to trail-a-bike to bikes of their own, from stroller to walking holding our hands to walking by themselves, from going to friend’s houses in the neighborhood, to going to school by themselves – first to the elementary school, then the middle school, then the high school – to getting themselves to music lessons and track meets, all around Issaquah and beyond; to taking the bus alone to Seattle to watch the Mariners games or rent a tux for prom, to arranging their own plane trips to visit relatives or go to college, has been a very real outward and visible sign of their incremental growth, responsibility, and independence as persons who know that they can figure out how to get wherever they want to go in life. They know that having a car doesn't make you an adult, and driving one doesn't make you free – those are things that come from inside. They may or may not drive or own cars someday, but they’ll make that choice knowing that they have options, and with awareness of the real costs and benefits of those options.

Our kids are also proof positive that the carfree life transcends political affiliation. Now I’m not sure exactly where we went wrong with those two – you really try to raise your kids right, and then sometimes they still grow up and vote Republican! But they do know how much it would cost them to buy, put gas in, maintain, and insure a car. As Peter once told Kent, “I don’t ride my bike because I’m a damn hippie like you, Dad. I ride my bike because I am a FISCAL CONSERVATIVE.”

If there is one thing I've learned about kids, it's that they may not pay much attention to what you say, but they sure as heck pay attention to what you do. As soon as they learned to walk, they learned about carrying their own stuff. They not only saw mom and dad carrying groceries home from the store in backpacks, they were carrying their stuff in packs as well. When Peter got to the trail-a-bike stage, I had to make sure I'd say "stopping" or "slowing" as we'd come up to an intersection or else he would just keep pedaling for all he was worth. On hills I'd say, "I need your power, son," and it would be like a small motor kicked in. Any parent will tell you that kids have loads of energy. I think raising our kids carfree helped channel that energy in productive ways.

Of course, not everything is smooth. One day Eric decided he'd bicycle to Seattle with a pal of his, but he neglected to tell either Christine or me of his plans. I got the phone call when he had a flat tire miles from home. He'd brought neither a patch kit nor lights for his bike and it was getting late. Christine said something about Eric definitely being my son, and I did have to admit to being a bit proud of his initiative. But I did make sure he knew he had to let one of us know where he was when he headed off on his adventures, and "For gosh sakes, travel with tools!"

I currently work as the shop manager for Bike Works, a non-profit in Seattle whose mission is to "build sustainable communities by educating youth and promoting bicycling." We teach kids bike repair, take them on rides and tours and have programs where kids earn their own bikes while learning the basics of bike mechanics. We also refurbish and sell low-cost bikes, provide bikes to Fare Start graduates, and sponsor an annual kids’ bike swap. Each year we also collect and ship used bikes to Ghana through the Village Bicycle Project.

The kids are amazing. A couple of our shop mechanics started out as earn-a-bike kids, while some other Bike Works grads are working in other shops in the Seattle area. Still others are repairing their brother's or sister's bikes or keeping their own bikes running. If you ever get a chance to see kids helping other kids work on bikes, you'll see how we can build a better world.

I think that another piece of building that better world is taking the time to appreciate and care for the world that we live in – the world that my Book of Common Prayer calls “this fragile earth, our island home.” Yes, I do feel fortunate that our kids have never been carsick, never fought in the back seat, never argued about wearing seatbelts, and never whined “I have to go potty NOW!” 20 miles from the nearest freeway exit. But one of the real advantages of walking with kids around our town, year after year, is being deeply aware – and enabling them to grow up deeply aware -- of this amazing world around us. We've noticed the subtle changes of colors in autumn leaves, the patterns of cracks in ice on a frozen pond, salmon leaping in the creek, a garter snake darting across a sunlit sidewalk, an eagle perched atop the tallest tree on our street, a panoply of fireflies illuminating expanses of grass along the Bronx River Parkway on a summer evening. We’ve stood beneath the spray of sparkling fountains in a circle of bright flowers in summer, and admired Christmas lights in the neighborhood on snowy nights. We’ve discovered small bookstores, shops, and bakeries tucked away on roads less traveled. We’d never see it all if we were zooming by at 60 mph, much less be able to take time to enjoy it, or learn to love it.

Sometimes the kids definitely enjoyed it more than I did. When Eric was about three and we lived in New York, I was walking with him to meet Peter’s school bus in a torrential downpour. A number of us parents were waiting at the bus stop huddled under umbrellas, less than enthused about the weather. Eric, however, gleefully splashed through the puddles in his bright yellow boots. “Look, everybody, it’s raining! The trees are drinking, the grass is drinking, the flowers are growing! I love rain!” We should have known then that he was destined to live in the Seattle area!

Another one of the wonderful things about being out in the world, either afoot or awheel is that you actually get to converse with people. I chat with folks all the time. I cross paths with various folks on my commute. I've given people directions, met a local woman who picks up roadside trash while she's out walking her dog, helped fellow cyclists with flat tires or thrown chains, and had hundreds of stoplight conversations. Somehow walking or cycling seems more civilized and social. We're not cut off from the world by walls and windshields, we're out in the world with other humans.

What we've missed out on are trips to Walmart or Costco to buy industrial-sized quantities of stuff. We're OK with that. We can tell you where to get a good cup of tea in Issaquah or where the good bookstores are, but we'll have a hard time telling you what freeway exit you take to get there. Even though Christine works at Safeway, we shop more often at the local market one block from our house. Getting around via human power tends to reinforce your local connections.

Another benefit of traveling together on foot is that you can really pay attention to each other, and the relaxed pace lends itself to conversations about things that really matter. Over the years I had many opportunities to chat with our kids about school, friendships, books, movies, career choices, politics, religion, drugs, cheating, weapons in school, and all kinds of things as we walked around Issaquah or rode buses to Seattle. Of course, this also means that you may find yourself having conversations in public that you wish the world wasn’t overhearing.

One afternoon I walked down with Eric to the middle school to sign a consent form for Peter to begin his Hepatitis B series of immunizations at the school clinic. We had to wait in line for him to get his shot, and Peter, to pass the time, decided to read the fine print on the form. He looked up at me in horror. “I could get hives from this shot!” he exclaimed. “I could be paralyzed! I could stop breathing! I could DIE!” He was not reassured by the explanation that these extreme side effects hardly ever happen, but medical people want to protect themselves from lawsuits. As we walked home from the clinic down Issaquah’s main street, rush hour traffic crawling along with open windows, he remained preoccupied with his imminent death. I attempted to change the subject as we approached a busy intersection. “Do you have any homework tonight?” I asked. “I’m not going to do my homework!” he announced loudly, and a few heads turned among those waiting to cross the street. “I won’t have time to do my homework, because I am going to be busy writing my will. I want to make sure that Eric doesn’t inherit my Legos. I’m leaving them to Nathan. There is no point in doing homework, because I am going to DIE tonight and it is ALL YOUR FAULT!” At that, more than a few heads turned. I was never so happy to see a light change, allowing us to hurry on across the street, with Eric wailing loudly, “But I want the Lego castle when Peter dies! It would be a perfect home for my Lego pirates!” Now I grant you, if we’d been sealed up in a car, no one would have witnessed this charming little scene. On the other hand, the children of people who drive have plenty of opportunities to embarrass their parents in grocery stores, shopping malls, restaurants, and so forth. In lots of ways, carfree families are just like everybody else.

One of the things we have to do, just like everybody else, is get to work every day. When we first moved to Issaquah, I had a job in Issaquah and my commute was less than a mile. Many days I'd walk that distance rather than bike it. Over the years, I've had various jobs in various locations in the Seattle area and when people learn that my current commute is 37 miles round trip, they shake their heads and say "That's insane. I could never bike that distance." Or they say "Well, you can do that because you are a super athlete."

Well, on the surface, it does seem like a silly way to spend several hours of my day. But here's the thing. I love where I live. And I love my job. And I love my commute. How many people can honestly say they love their commute? Well, this is a carfree conference, so maybe a lot of you!

I get to ride my bike several hours each day. I get to see the sun rise over the Cascades and set over the the Olympics. I get tan in the summer and stay damp and strong in the winter. I've seen raccoons, deer, coyotes, beaver, lizards, snakes, otters, squirrels, thousands of birds and dozens of friends on my daily commutes. Every day is unique and every day I get to ride my bike. Well, almost every day. Christine has this "concerned wife" look that she displays whenever we get an ice storm, and even though I have studded tires for my bike and I can control it, I can't control those SUVs that are slip sliding away. On those rare days I take the bus.

But most days I'm riding, and I don't ride because I'm a super tough guy. Some of you may know me from some other things I've done, some things crazier than my commute. I've ridden lots of 1200 kilometer brevets and back in 2003 I won the Raid Californie-Oregon, a 750-mile alley-cat race from San Francisco to Portland. A few years later I rode my single speed mountain bike the 2,500 miles from Canada to Mexico along the spine of the Rocky Mountains in a bit over 22 days and set a record that still holds today. Some folks look to those rides and cite them as evidence that I'm unusually tough and that's why I can commute long distances. I think they've got that backwards. I don't commute because I'm some kind of a tough guy. Whatever toughness I have (and it's not much, believe me) is a result of my commuting miles.

People who don't ride or walk seem to think our way of getting around must be tiring or draining. The truth is that we need both stress and rest to build strength and stamina. A life of ease, where your only effort is clicking a mouse or pressing a gas pedal, will lead you to a place where every effort is draining, every step a struggle. But walking to the store, riding down the block or up the hill -- these small adventures build on one another. When my friend Scott Cutshall started biking, he had to rest multiple times per block. He weighed 500 lbs then. Today, a couple of years later, I think he's around 230 lbs. Less than half the man he used to be, and he’s pretty happy about that. His motto? "Keep riding, always." Maybe our way of getting around is draining. It drained a few hundred pounds off of Scott!

My daily rides, the rides I love, have taught me some simple truths. Do what you love. Any distance is biking distance if you have the time and enough food to keep going. We all get 24 hours each day. We should spend that time living the life that makes sense to us.

One of the things that made sense to Kent back in 2003 was to leave the software industry to be a full-time bike geek. At the time, Peter was starting college and Eric had some medical issues going on, so it made sense to me to start looking for a job. After nearly 17 years out of the work force, with the local economy in the pits, I didn’t have a lot of options. But I was good at walking to the Issaquah Safeway and shopping for groceries, and when went live that summer, I became a personal shopper. “You get paid to shop?” people ask. Yes, indeed, I do.

I start work at 5:00 am. I wake up at 3:30, and an hour later I’m out the door. I pause on the balcony to look up at the stars, the moon, the clouds, put up my umbrella if it’s raining, and head down the stairs into the early morning darkness. It’s quiet, peaceful. The streetlights cast shadows of trees across the sidewalks and trails as I pass. Occasionally I see someone out jogging or walking a dog, and there are a few lights in apartment windows, but mostly people are still asleep. I cross the Issaquah creek and hear the sounds of its waters singing in the stillness, and pause on the bridge to look and listen. A heron often feeds there, poking beneath the water’s surface for whatever it is that herons eat for breakfast. In the fall I can hear the fish splashing their way upstream toward the salmon hatchery. One fall morning, I wasn’t the only one who was aware of the fish. As I approached the bridge, the large dark lumbering shape of a bear – yes, a BEAR – loomed out of the darkness, moving down toward the water for a salmon feast. That day I backed up and took an alternate route, figuring that I would at least have an interesting excuse for being late to work. But normally, I cross the bridge, and pass through an apartment complex; a car passes slowly, delivering the morning paper. I’m out through an opening in their fence and into the empty school parking lot next to the silent expanse of a baseball field. I hurry through the trees on the school grounds, my human footfalls occasionally startling squirrels, geese, raccoons, or even deer. Out onto the path again, and I’m soon walking through the brightly lit door of the Issaquah Safeway. I love my commute, too, and I appreciate the exercise that it builds into my day. I will admit it’s more fun in clear weather than in a downpour that turns the school parking lot into a lake. That’s what boots and rain jackets and umbrellas are for, and once I arrive, hot chocolate chases away the chills.

One of the guys who's usually there when I get in is John, our Frozen Foods manager. John read the article in the paper about us, and he's one of the people responsible for extending my fifteen minutes of fame into two years at the store. Every time we get a new employee, he has to tell him or her about me and that article and how we don't have a car. He starts work at 1:00 am, so he's halfway through his shift and sitting at the table on a coffee break before I even get started. He'll ask me about the weather, and if I have to admit it's raining, again, he'll mutter, "Boy, walking in the rain, that sucks." I set my umbrella up to dry, hang up my jacket, and ask, in a pleasant, conversational tone, "So, John, how much is a gallon of gas going for these days?" Now this is a subject that gets John going like no other. In the middle of a tirade that I won't repeat verbatim in polite company, I hear something like "$4.22 a gallon! Can you believe it? That’s insane!" I grab my apron and name badge out of my locker. "Gee," I answer, a bit too cheerfully, "that sucks." By this time, other employees are coming up to punch in, and he takes the opportunity to tell one of the newer ones, "Hey, did you know she's famous? She and her husband were on the front page of the P-I -- there was a big story about how they've lived without a car for 20 years! With kids and everything!" She stares at me like I'm from another planet. "Don't listen to him," I tell her, as I'm clocking in. "It's really not a story. It's just our life."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fight Cancer With Fatty

Elden (AKA Fatty) often writes the funniest stuff on the internet. When fate deals Elden and his family some very non-funny stuff, they respond with inspirational honesty and grit and Elden switches gears to simply writing the best stuff on the internet. Susan, Eldenś wife, is fighting a battle against cancer now, but she is not alone. There are many ways we all can help, not just Susan and Fatty, but all the other families facing similar struggles. Fatty has come up with a great way you can help and maybe win a dream bike in the process. Details are here:

Susan, weŕe all pulling for you.


Friday, June 06, 2008

The Samaritan Tube

Bicycle inner tubes are the most common item we sell at the shop, and I wind up spending at least a few minutes each day explaining the difference between Presta and Schraeder valves. I also explain how some deep-section aero rims require a long presta valve. Today a customer asked if there is any disadvantage to using the long valve tubes even if his bike didn't have deep rims. "No real problem. The valve weighs a few grams more but I often carry a long-valved tube as my spare even though my bike has non-aero rims. It comes in handy for Samaritan purposes."

"Samaritan purposes?" the customer asks.

"You know, you might not need it, but you might come across some other cyclist with a flat and he might need a long valve tube."


Sure enough, on the ride home tonight, as I roll across Mercer Island, I see another cyclist pulled over with a flat tire. I give the standard call out of the fellowship of the wheel, "You got what you need?"

"Actually, no," the guy replies, "I was so anxious to get out when the weather cleared that I left home without my spare tube or patch kit."

"No problem," I say, "here's a tube. Do you have what else you need?"

The fellow had a pump, but no tire levers and he confessed that he'd never changed a flat before.

"You're in luck," I say, "I'm the shop manager for Bike Works." I show the guy how to pry the tire off the rim and locate the cause of the flat. I inflate the tube just enough to give it shape, place it in the tire, fit the tire on the rim and inflate the tire. While I'm doing this, I get to know Matt from Medina. He's very grateful that I saved him from a long walk home. I tell him a little bit about Bike Works. Matt says he'll stop by my shop some time and send his friends there. He also insists on giving me $20 for my efforts on his behalf.

I'll use the money to refill my stock of Samaritan tubes.

One More Bike

I really shouldn't test ride the bikes that get dropped off as donations to Bike Works. Dan Boxer pointed out that this one has a little ding in the top tube. I had Kathleen at Free Range come up with a price for it and I'm employee purchasing it.

Suntour Superbe Brakes.

Suntour Barcons.

Shimano Deer Head Deore Derailleurs ("for alpine gearing").

Erickson Touring Frame.

It's pretty freekin' sweet.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Speed Cruiser Manifesto

Schwalbe makes a bike tire called the Speed Cruiser. The name first struck me as being somewhat oxymoronic, like jumbo shrimp, but the more I listened to customers at Bike Works, folks looking to into biking for recreation or transportation, the more I realized they were describing something that really could be called a Speed Cruiser. The bicycle industry in general created the broad categories of road bikes and mountain bikes and then tried to fill in some grey areas with things they call hybrids or comfort bikes. And there are touring and cyclocross bikes and guys like Grant Petersen who've tried out terms like "all-rounder" and "country bike".

The shop I manage, Bike Works, is the retail side of a non-profit group that has this mission statement:

To build sustainable communities by educating youth and promoting bicycling. We teach young people how to fix bikes, reward them with their own set of wheels, and provide affordable bicycle services to the community.

Everything we do is geared toward getting people connected with simple, practical bikes. Because Bike Works is a non-profit, we get lots and lots of bicycles donated to us. Some bikes go to the kid's Earn-A-Bike program, some get shipped to Ghana, and some get refurbished and sold in the shop. Proceeds from the shop sales go to fund the various Bike Works programs.

The bikes we're selling the most of these days are what we've taken to calling Speed Cruisers. The Speed Cruiser is the answer to the customer who is looking to ride around town and doesn't want to be hunched over like a racer but still wants to go reasonably fast.

A typical Speed Cruiser starts out as a ten or twenty year old mountain bike. The bike probably got donated to us because it lacks a suspension fork or disk brakes or something other feature that may be handy for technical off-road riding. Maybe the bike has blown out or gummed up shifters. We go through the bike mechanically, fixing what we can and replacing broken parts with either good used parts from doner bikes or inexpensive reliable new parts. If an indexed shifter is totally busted, we may opt to replace is with something simple and tough like a Falcon Friction Thumb Shifter.

Most of the "Speed" in a Speed Cruiser comes from swapping out the tires. Going from 40 PSI knobby tires to an 80 PSI slick tire is a pretty easy way to make the bike go faster with the same effort. My personal commute bike, an old Specialized M2, picked up a couple of mph when I slapped a set of slicks on it.

The "Cruiser" part of a Speed Cruiser is the result of a handlebar swap. Many of these old mountain bikes have flat bars which were probably fine for mountain biking, but for cruising around in an urban environment a more upright position might be better . As I've gotten older, I've found myself raising my bars up a bit. And that's a common request from shop customers, so we often equip the Speed Cruisers with bars with either a three or five inch rise. We've also set up some bikes with bars that sweep back or stems with additional rise. Of course, the higher handlebars do translate to more air drag, so "cruiser" and "speed" are somewhat in opposition, but every customer finds his or her own "just right" spot in that comfort/speed trade off.

Other modifications may involve selecting a saddle from one of our many parts bins, maybe adding a rack, fenders and lights. Refurbed bikes wind up going out the door at Bike Works in the range of $200 to $400 depending on what all went into the bike in terms of parts and labor. And as fast as we can build them, they fly out the door. We also sell road bikes and old classics and some mountain bikes as mountain bikes, but by far the most popular bikes these days are the Speed Cruisers. At least a couple of times a day someone comes in looking for "I don't know, something I can ride around on. I'm not looking to race or anything, but I don't want anything really slow either. Maybe I'll ride to work or ride around the lake. What do you have like that?"

We've got bikes like that. We call 'em Speed Cruisers.