Friday, October 03, 2014

Review: Our Own Day Here by Richard Risemberg

Our Own Day Here is a fine collection of essays, thoughts expressed in concise, passionate, quotable prose. This book is clearly the work of someone who takes the time to truly experience a place and taken the time to get to know people. There is a lot of love for city places in these pages and a fair bit of rage directed at a society that often places cars and corporations ahead of people.

While I enjoyed every essay and found food for thought on virtually every page, a few of the essays would perhaps fit better in another book. I loved the recounting of a bike tour and the humorous misadventures with various sailing companions, but I'm not sure these tales added to the work as a whole. Kind of like adding raisins to a chocolate-chip cookie, sometimes not everything should go in one batch!

But the book is well worth its price and your time.The essay on graffiti and songbirds is just terrific and the late night and early morning walks are recounted so well you not only see and hear them, you damn near smell and taste them. Richard Risemberg has looked closely at his city and his words will make you look much closer at yours.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

My Awesome Wednesday Commute

My main job is at The Bicycle Center in Issaquah, four blocks from my house. While I love Issaquah and the luxury of a quick commute, I found I missed the comfortable vibe of Seattle, the bigger city 17 miles west of Issaquah. I missed the bookstores, the tree-lined neighborhoods, the bookstores, the little independent coffee shops... I also missed seeing a lot of the friends I'd made in the years I'd spent working in Seattle.

A few months ago when my friend Davey mentioned that he and his pal Tyler were looking for someone to help out at their shop, G&O Family Cyclery, in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle I said "well, if you can use somebody one day a week, I'm free on Wednesdays." And ever since then I've been heading into Seattle on Wednesdays to help Davey, Tyler and Donald at G&O.

This post isn't about how much fun it is to work at G&O (it is!) or what a cool shop it is (it is!) It isn't even about all the cool cargo bikes and Brompton's that I get to work on at G&O. No, this post is about my awesome Wednesday commute. I could bike back and forth or take the bus the whole way but I tend to optimize my commutes for fun. And my Wednesday commute is just terrific.

I take the Sound Transit 554 bus from just outside my doorstep to downtown Seattle. I have my NYCeWheels KickPed folded up beside me on the bus. In downtown Seattle I could transfer to the Metro 5 bus but instead I unfold my KickPed and scoot from Westlake, through the South Lake Union neighborhood. At my scootering pace of six to seven miles per hour, I'm a bit faster in traffic than the cars, the bus or the South Lake Union Trolley. I scoot north along the lake. The views are awesome.

You don't have to take my word for this. My android phone has developed this odd habit of tagging certain pictures I take, deciding they're "awesome" and then applying some filter it calls "auto awesome" which turns them into, well, awesome little virtual paintings. I don't know how or why my phone decided to do this, it's just something the Google elves have decided to do. But as you can see below, my commute is awesome.

My extra Wednesday work means I get to spend some more time with pals and I have a bit of extra money to spend in coffee shops and used bookstores. And I get 12 miles of really great scooter riding in every Wednesday.

I know I'm a lucky guy. I live and work in a pretty awesome place with some awesome people.

Keep 'em rolling,

Sunday, September 28, 2014

OLAF Scooters on Kickstarter

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of kickscooters. I'm really intrigued by the designs from new company, OLAF Scooters. They are currently raising funds and taking orders via Kickstarter. You can see all the details here:

They have two products, a carry-on/scooter aimed at business travellers and a backpack/scooter aimed at urban folks. The urban platform can either be used with OLAF's own backpack but the open design means that it can work with a wide range of backpacks or other bags.

I am now at the "count all my change and save all my pennies" stage to work up the funds to get my hands on the urban platform. As of this writing, the OLAF folks are over halfway to their goal, so I guess I'm not alone in liking their design.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: The Velocipede Races by Emily June Street

The Velocipede Races is a fast paced tale of a woman born into a repressive society. Emmeline Escot is a twin, a blood-born Serenia. She is expected to be a proper lady, corsetted into the proper shape for her proper role. Emmeline's family, though noble of birth, have fallen on hard times due to her papan's love of gambling and drink. Emmeline's brother, Gabriel, is a talented velocipede racer and his budding career is the family's best hope for a better life. The fall-back plan is to marry Emmeline off to some rich man of some status. But Gabriel does not love to race and Emmeline has little interest in suitors. Her true love, you see, is the velocipede. But it is forbidden...

The Velocipede Races is fine tale and as written by Emily June Street the first person voice of Emmeline tells a thrilling story. It's a rare novel that I can say reminds me of both a Jane Austen novel and the movie Rocky, but The Velocipede Races is both witty and thrilling. Ms. Street's characters and the world they inhabit are believable and fascinating. The racing scenes are written with skill and perfect pacing.

The Velocipede Races deftly combines sport and romance and I enjoyed every turn of the page and pedal as I rolled through this wonderful book. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story, a good fight against long odds and who is thrilled by the freedom that can be found on two wheels.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Clipsplaining Explained

In the years I've been riding bikes I've had the chance to ride all different kinds of pedals. Flat pedals, pedals with toe clips, pedals with Power Grips, and a wide range of clipless pedals (the pedals which, ironically, you clip into via a special cleat that is attached to the bottom of your special shoe). These days all my bikes are equipped with flat pedals and I'm perfectly happy to ride around without having my feet bolted to the pedal. I know about the virtues of clipless and other pedals, but I'm fine riding without them.

Over the years, however, I've had dozens of conversations where some "serious" cyclist has seen the flat pedals on my bicycle and proceeded to spontaneously launch into a sermon intended to enlighten me as to the virtues of clipless pedals. I recently joked that if I had a nickel for every time I've heard such a lecture I could buy a really nice Rivendell. I've dubbed this evangelical pedal preaching "clipsplaining" and my reaction to it is to nod and simply say "these pedals work fine for me."

In my job I get asked about pedals a lot and I can ramble on about the subject with the best of them. I try to give the pros and cons when asked but I don't spontaneously broach the subject and I don't assume that someone who doesn't have clipless pedals on their bike is ignorant of their existence.

Christine tells me that she's never been the victim of a clipsplaining lecture but some of my other friends have told me it happens to them a lot. One of my twitter pals said she switched bike shops after being on the receiving end of clipsplaining condescension.

I'm not sure how common clipsplaining is but if you have a good or bad clipsplaining story, feel free to comment on this post.

And keep 'em rolling, whatever your pedal choice is.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Orp: Light, Loud, and Louder

The Orp is a brilliant 89 gram combination light and horn that is designed to cut through the noise and clutter of the modern traffic-choked city street. The Orp was made for anyone who has ever had their polite but feeble bike bell ignored by cocooned, distracted drivers or been cut off by those who look but do not see.

I first mentioned the Orp back in 2012 when it was a Kickstarter project. In that post I looked at a couple of these super bike horn projects and asked if such things were a Safety Solution or Noise Pollution. Now that the Orp has successfully blown well past its Kickstarter goal and is a genuine product, Tory (the man behind Orp) sent me a couple to review. The Orp comes in several colors. I passed the blue one on to my friends at G and O Family Cyclery for their review and I mounted the orange one on my beloved KickPed to give it a thorough test.

The Orp's electronics are housed in a hard plastic shell surrounded by a colorful silicone skin that also forms the stretchy strap that secures the Orp to your handlebars. The end of the strap loops around a hook at the back  and also covers the USB charging port. It's the dry time of the year here so I haven't yet tested the Orp's weatherproofness, but the Orp folks are based out of Portland and have done a couple of wet winter's worth of testing. I was a bit concerned at the lack of a seal at the front of the Orp (you can see it in the picture) until I realized that the gap is intentional, it lets the loud sound out of the Orp. Behind the sound module, things are tightly sealed.

The Orp has two dazzling 70 Lumen LEDs that can be either off, on or set to strobe quickly or slowly. The Orp's internal Li-Ion battery can fully charge via a standard (included) USB cable in 3 hours.

The Orp's packaging is very nicely done. The box unfolds to be a simple, complete guide to the many functions of the device.

While the Orp strap is somewhat stretchy, if your handlebars are of a smaller diameter (like my scooter's are) you may need to use a rubber shim underneath the Orp to fatten the effective diameter of the bars. The Orp folks thoughtfully include such a shim. You want to make sure the Orp is secure on your bars because you activate the horn by pressing up or down on the tail section of the Orp and if the Orp is too loose it will just rotate on the bars.

Pressing and holding the top switch for 3 seconds wakes or sleeps the Orp. In sleep mode tapping the light button or brushing against the horn tail has no effect. You want to have the Orp asleep when you take it off for charging. You pretty much can't undo the strap without triggering the Orp's horn if it is awake, a feature that I realized is a good theft deterrent. The casual would-be Orp thief will be quite surprised when the light he's attempting to steal yells for help!

As a light, the Orp's beams are diffuse and eye-catching but this is much more a "be-seen" than a "see-by" light. In a city environment at scooter speeds I find it is all the light I need but the Orp is not a light for long rambles on dark country roads. According to the Orp documentation here's what to expect in terms of run time per charge:

Slow Strobe -- 15 hours
Fast Strobe   -- 8 hours
Constant On -- 3 hours
Anti-Dooring Mode -- 4 hours

I'll explain the anti-dooring mode in a minute, but first, let's talk about the horn functions. The Orp has two voices, a 76 dB tone designed to be a friendly "hey!" and a more hostile 96 dB "get the hell out of the way" tone. You can go to

and hear samples of both sounds.

And this brings me to my main problem with the Orp. Both sounds are obnoxious. I find even the friendly sound too grating to use. These sounds are great for grabbing attention, which is their intended purpose, but I can't be the guy blasting pedestrians out of my way with a "Hey, I'm scooting here!" And I do find the Orp too in-your-face for my tastes.

But the Orp is perfectly designed to grab attention. Even if you don't have the lights flashing, triggering the horn (either tone) flashes the lights. That's smart. The tone makes folks look, the lights makes them see. The anti-dooring mode mentioned earlier combines the flashing light with the 96 dB sound in a constant display of obnoxiousness. You probably will not get doored if you use the Orp in this manner. You may, however, get shot.

The Orp is a beautifully integrated light and horn combination. As a be seen bike or scooter light, it's great. And the obnoxiousness of the horn may be a virtue. In extreme situations, like an oblivious dude in a BMW cutting across my lane, I won't hesitate to use it.  Loud and bright is what's needed there. In an ideal world, we'd move swift and silent through our days and nights. The Orp has a loud, obnoxious voice that's hard to ignore. It is a voice for times of danger. I hope such times are rare. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Road To Wellville: Bicycle Smile

The Road to Wellville is a terrific novel by T. C. Boyle. The book is fiction set in the John Harvey Kellogg's  1907 Battle Creek spa and it's a marvellous comedy examining our obsession with health, vigour and right living. The book was made into a movie in 1997 and while the movie has a first-rate cast (Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Kellogg), the movie cuts, changes and dilutes the book. I enjoyed the book about ten times more than I did the movie.

While the book obsesses on food, the movie places a greater obsession on sex. This, of course, is not surprising. I guess the producers figured sex scenes are more interesting than food scenes. And what does this have to do with bicycles? Well, John Harvey Kellogg was a proponent of bicycles and there are some great cycling scenes in the movie. This particular (safe for work) one minute clip is something I don't recall from the book, but it is one of my favorite bits from the movie.


The whole movie can be found free on YouTube and it's probably worth a couple hours of your time. But I got a good solid week of pleasure from reading the novel and I'd say it's well worth seeking out at your local bookstore or Amazon.

Keep 'em rolling,
Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA