When I was a small boy growing up in a little town in northern Minnesota, I remember going to the visiting library bookmobile and checking out a book called Curious George Rides a Bike. George gets in trouble in that book by taking the papers he’s supposed to deliver and folding them into boats. I remember being fascinated not only by the bicycle, but by the paper folding. The next week I checked out books on origami from that same bookmobile. Decades have passed since that spring day in Minnesota, but I still recall it clearly. I still love bicycles and things that fold. I also remember that when George crashed and broke his bike’s front wheel, he kept going by riding home on one wheel. That’s not a bad lesson for a little kid to learn.
In 1999 I bought a used Bike Friday New World Tourist at the Seattle Bike Swap. It was green and clever and beautiful and it could fold into a suitcase for easy travel. That same year I began riding with a local group of long distance riders, the Seattle International Randonneurs. Mark Thomas, one of the randonneurs, commented that “that small bike seems to go pretty fast.”
Later that same year after riding a few brevets with the randonneurs, I went east to visit my wife’s family. Of course the Bike Friday came along on the journey.
I got to ride up to Walden Pond, walk on the paths Thoreau trod and see the replica of his cabin. I also met some east coast randonneurs, one of whom convinced me that I should ride Paris-Brest-Paris. In August of that year my Bike Friday and I rode PBP.
In 2001 my Bike Friday and I again flew across the pond and we rode London-Edinburgh-London. In the midst of that ride, after thousands of cumulative kilometers, the Friday’s riser stem cracked as I was climbing one of north England’s many steep hills. In fairness to Green Gear (the folks who make Bike Fridays), the riser stem was my own modification, a piece I’d adapted to make the bike fit me better. Like Curious George, I was able to solve my problem in the field and ride on. I can’t ride a wheelie or go no-handed very far but I can modify and invert a stem riser by the side of the road using a Leatherman tool and a set of folding Allen keys.
In 2003 I was no longer finding middle management in the software field to be interesting or challenging. My friend Mark Thomas noted that if I could get used to much lower wages, I could work as a bike mechanic in his shop, Sammamish Valley Cycle in Redmond. I’ve been working in interesting bike jobs ever since.
In 2005 I became the Commuting Program Director for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. While I got to do some good work there with various terrific people, I found the one thing I missed in my time there was the mechanical work on bikes.
In 2008 I accepted the position of Shop Manager at Bike Works, a Seattle non-profit whose main mission is empowering kids by teaching them bike repair. The shop is the retail side of the operation and all the monies generated go into Bike Works service programs.
In 2010 the shop four blocks from my home, the Bicycle Center of Issaquah, expanded and a lead mechanic position opened up. I have been working at the Bicycle Center ever since.
In 2013 my friend Davey Oil from Bike Works joined forces with his friend Tyler Gillies to open G&O Family Cycles in Seattle. Since the spring of 2014 I’ve been working there one day per week on top of my full time work at the Bicycle Center. There are multiple reasons for this. First off, Davey, Tyler and Donald (another Bike Works alumnus) are great, fun people to work with. Second, their shop is booming and they really can use the help. Third, the work is fascinating. I get to work on a wide range of cargo bikes, folding bikes and e-assist bikes. Every week a new, interesting problem rolls in the door. Finally, given the skyrocketing cost of living in the Seattle area, I can use the money.
While my wife and I love living in the Pacific Northwest, we are not sure how much longer we can afford to live in the Seattle area. Our kids are now grown and living on their own so we could move without having to disrupt anyone’s schooling. Over the past several years we’ve contemplated moving to somewhere that would provide a good quality of life, decent employment opportunities and a more moderate cost of living. Last fall, on the way down to California for our son Peter’s wedding, our train passed through Eugene. While I had come through Eugene briefly a couple of times in the past, this was Christine’s first exposure to the city. “It looks nice,” she commented. “Yeah,” I agreed. “It’s our kind of place, bike-friendly, not too big, green...You know, Bike Fridays are made here.”
And so Eugene has been on the short list of places we’ve been half dreaming and half planning about. Last week on the Bike Portland site I saw the job opening at Green Gear. I read it aloud to Christine, and we both knew that I’d be applying for work there.
The application process was thorough and fascinating. A big part of the text portion involved writing a brief essay on "how your life has prepared you for employment at Bike Friday and how you see Bike Friday fitting into your life." The letter I sent them was basically the story I just recounted in this blog post.
After a very good phone interview, I took the train down to Eugene and met with many smart, hard-working dedicated people who love bicycles. I spent an entire day at factory learning about various aspects of production, service and support. I got to try my hand at sand blasting and brazing. I was extensively tested on my mechanical, problem solving and communication skills. I was challenged, excited and thrilled by the scope of the whole operation and very impressed by the kind, intelligent folks I met there. Their commitment to the customer and to creating a high quality bike is evident in everything they do. And everyone I met there was very kind.
Alan Sholtz, the cofounder of Bike Friday, opened his home to me. I slept on a bed in the room where all the Bike Friday bags are sewn. For the duration of my stay in Eugene they made sure I was well fed. They also made certain I had some time to explore Eugene and gave me full use of a loaner Bike Friday for the duration of my stay.
Yesterday morning I climbed Skinner Butte and looked out over Eugene, Oregon. It's a beautiful city.
I'd spent the morning wandering getting to know the city of Eugene. It's green and very bike and walkable. It has fine bookstores, flowing water, good places to eat. It's a fine place to live and work.
I took the train and bus back to Issaquah yesterday afternoon. The job offer was waiting in my email when I arrived back in the Seattle area.
Christine and I will miss so many of the fine people and places we've come to love over the past several decades we've spent in Issaquah, but we're thrilled to be starting a new chapter. Starting around the first of July, Christine, Inkling and I will be residents of Eugene, Oregon and I'll be working as part of the service team at Bike Friday.
This is a huge move for us, but one that feels so very right. The important thing in life is to have adventures. This is the start of a new one.
Keep 'em rolling,