Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Gifts of Distance and Darkness

Of all the gifts I've received over the years, among my most treasured are a couple of lessons I learned from the many kind people in the randonneuring community, especially my friends in the Seattle International Randonneurs. The first lesson is simply this: Any Distance is Biking Distance. All the rules, paperwork, time limits and shiny medals are mechanisms to bring riders together so they can learn this simple lesson from one another. While the main lesson is a simple one, the details of pacing, equipment, nutrition, lore, history and so on are things learned slowly and repeatedly. The details get tested on the road, in every ride and brevet.

Randonneurs have been described as "riders who enjoy riding so much they don't want to stop" and as the distances get longer, randonneurs outride the daylight. If you do a Google search or ask around you will find plenty of opinions that riding a bicycle at night is incredibly dangerous. In fact, there are thousands of bicycles sold with stickers boldly stating "DO NOT RIDE AT NIGHT." And people will tell you "There are drunks on the road!" and "You can't see where you're going!" and the always persuasive "It's just crazy to ride at night!"

Despite the persistent rumor, randonneurs aren't crazy. (Maybe some are, but you don't HAVE to be crazy to be a randonneur.) Because randonneurs ride at night, they know things about riding at night. They know what lights work and how to see where they are going. They know that unfortunately some people do drink and drive and they can also tell you when the bars close and what the traffic patterns are. They can also tell you what mini-marts are open in Stanwood, Washington at 3:00 AM.

And they'll tell you this: It is beautiful at night. It is a quieter, more tranquil, less-populated world. You will see more animals and fewer people. There are far fewer cars on the road. I honestly believe that with good lights and reflective gear, a rider on a bicycle is at a lower risk riding at night than during the busy hours of the day. My rando pals recently rode a couple of overnight Solstice Rides (one on the weekend and one on the true solstice). People can ride their bikes in the darkness and not only survive, but thrive.

These days I'm mostly working on the weekends when the randos ride and I've got more than enough control cards and rando pins in my collection. The medals are just metal, but the lessons learned on darkened roads and the 4:00 AM conversations with my friends are priceless treasures.

You don't have to be a randonneur to ride at night. I just got back from a short, lovely bicycle ride around my neighborhood. The streets were quiet and mostly empty. The few cars I encountered were going the speed limit and their drivers did not seem stressed or distracted by a cluttered, noisy and busy world. I did not feel endangered or threatened or fearful. I felt relaxed and happy. My rando friends showed me this world, a gift we are given every night of the year.

Happy Holidays, everyone. We're given gifts every day and night and the best gifts are those that remind us of how very much we have.

Keep 'em rolling, day and night.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Everything You Need To Know About Locking Up Your Bike

A great way to learn something is by trial and error but in the case of learning good bike locking technique, a bit of research and learning from other people's errors is the prudent and cost-effective strategy. Fortunately, KarlOnSea has collected a bunch of bad examples and load of good tips into a wonderfully compelling blog called Lock Your Bike.

The most important thing about locking your bike is to actually do it every time it is out of your sight. All the time. Even if you are just running into a store for a minute. I know this from bitter personal experience because I had a bike stolen in under a minute and the worst part was that it wasn't even mine! Back when I was the shop manager at Bike Works, I had just tuned a customer's bike and took it for a quick spin to check the shifting. I had worked through lunch, so I stopped at the corner market and dashed in to grab a bag of Cheetos (I am not a nutritional role model). The bike was stolen in the minute it was out of my sight. The good news was that the customer was semi-understanding of the fact that I was an idiot and said customer didn't have a strong emotional attachment to this particular bike. It was also fortunate that this wasn't a particularly expensive bike. I was able to give the customer a slightly better replacement bike from the stock in Bike Works vast warehouse of used bikes. And, as they say, I learned a valuable lesson.


Despite Karl's wonderful cartoon below (click to embiggen it), do not count on higher powers to keep your bike safe.

As many sad photos on Karl's blog illustrate, do not trust your bike to a cheap cable lock. A U-lock plus a cable provide pretty good security if you use the Sheldon Brown Locking Method. BTW, from reading Karl's blog I found out that what we colonials call a U-lock, the Brits call a D-lock. Karl also documents the importance of locking all of your bike.

Karl's site is just packed with gems. He recounts the story I often tell in describing the virtue of making sure your bike looks worse and is better locked than some other nearby bike.

I had a lot of fun and learned some good techniques by reading Karl's blog. More great examples of what to do and not do can be found in this video where Hal Ruzal grades the various locking jobs of bikes in NYC.

Hal Grades Your Bike Locking from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

When you're on your bike, keep it rolling. When you're off your bike, keep it locked up.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Michelin Wire: A Tire's Tiny Foe

Image from

The pneumatic bicycle tire is one of humankind's great clever inventions but there are perils in this world ready to deflate our inflated egos and puncture our pneumatic joy. Ironically, one tiny, sharp and stealthy foe is born from the death of other tires. It is called the Michelin Wire.

You may have seen the carcasses by the roadside, the blown bits of some truck tire, looking like flattened alligators. Monsieur Michelin invented the steel-belted radial tire that the world adopted but nothing lasts forever and some will always push their equipment far past the point of prudence. Thus the roadside is littered with black bits, carcasses that even carrion crows refuse to feast upon.

The sun shines down and the wind blows and the rains come. With time the rubber bits crumble and rot away but the tiny threads, the stiff and stubbly wires, remain. Broken bits void of will or malice but drawn by something not entirely unlike magnetism or gravity toward the rubber treads rolling beneath the unsuspecting cyclist.

I know them far too well, these Michelin Wires. They strike most often on the darkest nights, when the rain is falling, when rider and machine are united in a common desire to be home or at the very least be in a clean, dry, and well-lighted place. But rider and machine are still far from home and comfort, they are out in the damp, unsuspecting.

The attacker is so small it is impossible to notice, impossible to avoid. It is subtle, slow and certain. At first the machine seems just ever so slightly sluggish and the rider persists. A bit further on the rear tire (for it's always the rear) is definitely going soft and suspicion grows in the rider's mind. The puncture is subtle, but in the time it takes a human mind to go through denial and bargaining, at least half the air is lost.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find the breach of pneumatic integrity within the skin of the rain-slicked tire. Fingers probe the inner surface, hoping for sharp pain to reveal the slow assassin. The rider tempts the tiny serpent to bite again, knowing brief certain pain is preferable to slow and relentless doom.

Luck may give the rider that certainty or prudence may have led the rider to carry not only a spare tube but a spare folding tire as well (Michelin Wires are a common cause for prudence among the most experienced randonneurs). If the rider is not so fortunate or prudent, the damp rain and the long ride with many pauses to re-inflate a slowly leaking tire will give ample time for reflection.

In the clear light of a dry, well-lit place, the tiny source of sadness may be located, extracted, examined and perhaps even photographed.
Image taken in my dry, well-lit kitchen

One can curse the Michelin Wires or perhaps take their existence as a reminder that small things can and do matter. The Dalai Lama said it best, "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wrong About Being Wrong About Weight

Over the past week, the bike-related portion of the internet has bloomed with references to a study in the BMJ which "proves" that a lightweight carbon bike is no faster than an old steel bike for commuting. Now as someone who has logged far more miles on steel bikes than carbon ones, and who is often heard to grumble "you don't need that" in reference to some latest, greatest bit of techno-gee-whizzery, you might think I'd be one of the many joining in the chorus of voices chanting "nah-nah you weight weenies are so damn wrong!" That's not what I'm going say.

What I am going to say is this. The people who think weight doesn't matter are wrong. And the people who think weight is the only thing that matters are wrong. And when you get down to the heart of it, none of us really believes either of those extremes either. The truth lies somewhere between.

Now this study, done by a doctor and published in a medical journal proves one thing really well: People will take one very limited study (sample size of one!) and if it confirms their notions of how they think things are (or should be) they'll point to it as "scientific proof". It's not.

I walk to work these days. The trip is four blocks over flat terrain. I could randomly flip a coin to decide if I'm going to wear sandals, running shoes or hiking boots for my commute. Let's say I track my commute times for six months and they turn out to be exactly the same. From this do we conclude that I'm an idiot for having three different kinds of footwear? Or do we conclude that people who buy sandals are idiots? Or do we conclude that, yes, I really do have too much time on my hands?

Over the years I actually have bike commuted various distances (depending on my jobs my bike commute has been as short as a mile each way to 20 miles each way) and I have found that weight of my commuting bike is one of the least important factors to commute times. On my commutes I've found many factors that matter more than weight. Timing at stoplights, traffic, wind & other weather all have a much greater impact than dropping a couple of pounds off the weight of my bike frame. But in other circumstances, a difference in weight can be an appreciable difference.

Weight isn't trivial. Ounces add up to pounds and when the road goes up you notice those pounds. Ask any experienced bike tourist if weight matters or not. If they've been on the road for a while, the odds are they've sent some things home. And it's not just about speed, sometimes it's about comfort. I'm sure many a tourist has packed panniers and trailer with all the comforts of home only to realized when climbing some mountain pass that those comforts aren't making them very comfortable at all.

It comes down to figuring out how much weight matters to you, in your circumstance. I remember being in my first real road race, more than thirty years ago. It was a hundred-plus mile road race and as we neared the end, I saw one of the fast guys, the guy who tended to win everything, pour the water out of his bottle. "Lightening up for the sprint," my buddy told me. The rest of the peleton took this as a cue and we all started tossing full bottles and Silca pumps into the ditch. I swear I saw the color of at least a few jersies shift to red as the hammer dropped and the sprint ripped the pack to pieces. Weight mattered a hell of a lot in those few seconds.

For commuting and your commute, maybe weight isn't what you need to worry about. Analytic Cycling is a good site for those of us who like to play with numbers to see how various factors relate to bicycle riding. Weight matters a bit and so do lots of other things. At the end of the day we all get where we're going.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Balancing Act

Riding a bicycle is so simple a child can do it, but there is an initial skill that must be mastered, the act of balancing on two wheels. While we can try to explain the mechanism, ultimately each person who learns to ride has to learn by doing. There is a combination of forward speed, of leaning left and right, of guiding the bike under the direction which it seems to be's all too complicated to calculate and impossible to do until the moment when we wobble to the place we need to be and, knowing we can't stay there, wobble just a bit further and then, somehow, we are not falling, we are flying. Flying on two wheels, balanced above the ground, rolling over a world where our fear has been replaced by wonder.

For many of us, that moment is a clear memory, something that defines not just what we do but who we are. We are not just a person with a bike or a person on a bike. We bond with our machines and we call ourselves cyclists or bikers or something like that. As years go by many put away their bicycles once they learn to drive, but some of us persist. We band together. We form clubs. We wave at each other. Sometimes we dress alike.

But the thing I think we should remember is the thing that's often to easy to forget. We are not all alike and we are not all different. We instinctively object when we're lumped in a group we don't feel we've joined, or a group that does seem to represent us.

I've been stopped at a light, seen a cyclist blast past through the red light and then I get lectured by the driver next to me, "You cyclists have no respect for the law." "Yep," I reply, "that guy doesn't. But you'll notice I'm stopped here. There are jerks using every mode of transport and there are folks like you and me, stopping at lights and still managing to get to work on time. You have a nice day, OK?" At that moment I'm relating much more to my fellow commuter in his car than the fellow on the bike.

There are certainly people for whom riding a bike is a political act or an expression of their philosophy but there are probably as many reasons for riding as there are riders. My son Peter explained it to me this way, "I don't ride my bike because I'm a damn hippie like you, Dad. I ride because I'm fiscally conservative."

I live in what is called a blue state these days but last I checked it's actually green and grey on the west side of the mountains, with more blue skies and brown earth in the eastern parts. The politics of the place are similarly diverse. As near as I can tell I'm more liberal than some of my friends and more conservative than others. As Willie Nelson says, "there is no normal, there's only you and me." But I think some folks make a mistake when they say that those folks who ride a bike must be blue or green or even pinko.

My friend Eric posted his analysis of the turmoil within the Cascade Bicycle Club, contrasting a top-down model with a grassroots model. I think it's a good observation but I found myself taking issue with a follow-up comment that stated:
“I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty, that most of us in the cycling community are pretty much anti-corporate business (greed) and pro-homegrown, grassroots organizations.”
My response was as follows:
That depends a lot on how you define the cycling community. I know many lefty, arnacho, dumpster diving cyclists and I know cyclists who are CEOs. I know democratic cyclists, libertarian cyclists, republican cyclists, vegan cyclists, carnivorous cyclists. I know cyclists who have fixies they built from scrap & I know cyclists with $12,000 carbon bikes. I know cyclists in the armed forces, cyclists who work for non-profits, cyclists who give to Greenpeace and cyclists who work for Weyerhauser. George W. Bush rides a bike, as does Barack Obama.

Starbucks is a major sponsor of Bike to Work day and has an entire room with a workbench dedicated to bike commuters. And they are a corporation that does all kinds of corporation-y things.

There are some very political cyclists across the spectrum of political opinion and a whole lot of people whose riding has nothing to do with their politics.

So I guess I’m not as certain as you that “the cycling community” has an encompassing anti-corporate, pro-grass roots vibe.

There is a great scene in one of Joe Kurmaski's books where he's helped not by the person whose bumper-sticker he happens to agree with but by someone whose politics is pretty far from his own.

Over at Commute by Bike Tom Bowden wrote a great article called How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative. Now you don't need WikiLeaks to uncover evidence that I may be a bit to the left of Tom in my politics but that didn't keep me from nodding my head in agreement as I read his article. Biking isn't red or blue and it isn't even necessarily green.

We learned to ride our bikes by learning to balance. I've rolled down many roads. Sometimes I turn left, sometimes right. It's a wonderful balancing act and there are lots of ways to keep 'em rolling.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

6 Books in a Backpack: Episode 1

It was raining when I get up this morning and I might have chosen to be lazy and hang around at home if I hadn't previously set myself up for action. But I had so I load six books in a backpack and set off on my little red bike in the rain.

The source of this motion and the source of several more trips I have planned over the next few weeks are the result of a thought I had a few weeks ago, a thought that found expression in the following email.

From: Kent Peterson
To: bcc
Date: Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 6:51 PM
Subject: 6 Books in a Backpack

OK, this is going out blind CC to a mess of folks. Some of you I see often, some I haven't seen in years. I hope if you are getting this you at least go "Oh yeah, Kent, I remember that guy..."

Anyhow, I'm always looking for excuses to get out, ride my bike someplace, chat with folks, think about things. I had this random thought today about how I have a lot of books that are good, on all kinds of subjects, that I probably won't read again. Maybe I should get rid of them, then I'd have a bit more room to get more stuff and...then I had the thought. Here goes.

I take 6 books. Not 6 junky books but 6 books that I like. That I'd recommend to a friend. Six books that I'd be happy to keep actually. I put 'em in a backpack and go off somewhere to meet up with a friend. Probably a coffee shop. Heck, let's have the friend pick the spot.

The friend and I show up at the meeting place. We each have a pack with 6 books. We show what we brought. We chat about books. We chat about old times. We have a nice beverage. Maybe we swap a book, or two, or six or none. No big deal. The rule is this, however: You can't bring home more books than you left home with. You can come home with the same books or different books but not more books.

Got it?


You're the friend. This can happen any time. Propose a time & place. Don't worry if it's too far or too inconvenient. If it doesn't work, I'll tell you. These days I'm working Fri, Sat, Sun & Monday but things change and schedules can flex. But if you've got some time on a Tue, Wed or Thursday, think about a meet-up.

BTW this can be one of my weird excuses for travel. Portland folks, I'm thinking of you.

Also, please steal this idea and clone it around to your friends. But anytime you feel like tossing 6 books in a backpack and going someplace, let me know.

I hope everyone is having a lovely time.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

PS, if this is of zero interest to you please ignore it!

As it turns out, I got quite a few responses. Tomorrow I'll meet up with my friend Lexi in Seattle, but today is episode one of 6 Books in a Backpack and I'm meeting up with my pal Joe at the Starbucks in Lakemont.

This particular Starbucks is most of the way up Cougar Mountain and I'm on a bike with little wheels and 3 gears. Even though the trip from my house in only maybe 6 miles, that last mile up the mountain makes me feel like I've gotten a workout. I'm damp enough that the warm coffee is very welcome.

Joe rolls up on his Brompton and confesses the same thought I'd had, "If we hadn't set this up in advance, I probably wouldn't have gone out." Part one of the plan is successful, it spurred us both into action. We talk of many things: of bikes, advocacy, randonneuring, jobs we've had in the past, college courses, riding at night & raingear. Eventually, we talk of books.

I'd grabbed six books with Joe in mind and he'd cheated a bit, he had seven plus he had a book I'd loaned him months ago that he was returning. Despite this slight breach of the rules, we wind up swapping nearly everything.

We give quick summaries of the books we've brought. My side of the conversation goes something like this:

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest -- "Steampunk alternate history. Zombies in Seattle. Poison Gas. Airships. Kick Ass Heroine."

Spook Country by William Gibson -- "Gibson's follow up to 'Pattern Recognition' (the borrowed book Joe was returning). Some of the same characters. Great fun."

The Lost City of Z by David Grann -- "Story of Percy Fawcett, last of the old school explorers who vanished into the Amazon Jungle in the 1920s. Since then dozens of people have died going into the jungle trying to find out what happened to him. This book was written by a not-at-all-outdoorsy New York writer who winds up obsessed with the mystery and ultimately goes to the Amazon himself. Since he got the book written, you know he survives but it's a hell of a page-turner."

A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols -- "Another true adventure. 1968, the first solo round-the-world sailing race. 9 guys start, one makes it back. Awesome stories."

Drop City by T. C. Boyle -- "Novel set in the early 70s. California hippies run into trouble with their commune and move the whole operation to wild Alaska when one of them inherits a chunk of land from his uncle. Great cross-cultural utopia vs reality stuff."

The Signal by Ron Carlson -- "Like a Hemingway novel without the macho crap. Guy goes camping with his ex-wife after totally screwing up their marriage. Great writing, hell of a story."

Remarkably, Joe hasn't read any of the books I've brought and he wants them all.

We go through his books. Aside from returning Gibson's Pattern Recognition, Joe has three books he doesn't need to describe, since I've already read them. But we both agree that they'd be good books to go into my future trade pile so I take Woody Allen's Getting Even, Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes, and Timothy Egan's The Good Rain.

Since he's brought one extra book, I pass on the volume by P. G. Wodehouse. I enjoy Wodehouse's stuff immensely, but I read his works as Project Gutenberg files on my Kindle or MiniDroid.

Joe totally sells me on John McPhee's The Founding Fish. Joe confesses, "I'd never even heard of the shad until I read this book and McPhee makes them fascinating." I've read other books by McPhee, so I know what Joe means. I'm looking forward to digging into this one.

I admit I'm a bit nervous in taking on Ken Follett's massive World Without End. Joe tells me it's set in the 14th century and it's the sequel to another huge Follet novel set in the 12th century. "But you don't need to read 'em in order and it's really, really good. It totally moves along and you'll learn a lot." It's books of this size and scope that made me basically give up watching TV. I found that when I gave up watching every damn episode of Law & Order, I suddenly had the time to read thousand page novels. That seems like a better use of my time.

Joe's final selection is Nice Work by David Lodge. "Laugh out loud funny," he assures me. "Really, I was reading it on a plane and laughing. People kept looking at me. It was embarrassing."

So Joe has six different books and I have six different books. We load the books into our packs and head out to the bikes. It's stopped raining.

I've never been to Joe's place and he doesn't live far away, so I go over to check out his bikes. Joe is a guy with a proper set of priorities. His cars stay outside. His garage looks like this:

That brings episode one of 6 Books in a Backpack to a close. I have more trips like this planned and I hope the idea spreads. If you're anywhere near my part of the world and want to swap some books, drop me a note (kentsbike at gmail dot com). If you want to do something like this with your pals, please do so.

Keep 'em rolling & keep reading,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I am the engine

In the title scenario of his book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, David Eagleman describes a hypothetical afterlife in which "you relive all your experience, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.” In this afterlife you spend 30 years asleep, 15 months looking for lost items and so forth. Eagleman's thought experiments are not really about death, instead they provide a lens in which to examine our lives. As I viewed my own life through this particular lens, I saw vast blocks of time spent riding bicycles, working on bicycles, thinking about bicycles and writing about bicycles. And I smiled.

Now I'm sure there are other people (Tom & Ray come to mind) who have filled their lives with cars the way I have filled mine with bicycles, but the automobile never captured my attention and life the way the bicycle has. While it is never possible for the mind to fully explain what the heart knows to be true, I still find time to wonder and speculate as to why two wheels suit me so much better than four.

The engine is a big part of the answer. On a bicycle, I am the engine. The bicycle amplifies my effort by a factor of about four. Energy that would let me walk about three miles in an hour send me twelve miles down the road on my bike. This seems to be a good pace for me and miles ridden build me up to ride more miles. The bicycle is honest in the way it rewards effort.

The automobile, on the other hand, seems to be intent on selling me things I don't need to buy: horses under the hood, refined dinosaurs out the tailpipe, an urgency in going from here to there. And when you get there we'll have a parking place close by the door because this is America, dammit, and heaven forbid you'd have to walk too far...

No, thanks. I'll walk or ride. When it's raining a jacket still makes more sense to me than a big steel box with big roaring motor.

Perhaps I don't think big enough and don't understand simple things like four is bigger than two and more is better than less. But it seems to me that I go far enough and fast enough to get where I'm going. I like the feeling of my effort being made into motion.

I am the engine. That, plus a bicycle, is enough for me.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Cascade Bike Club Distributing Free Bike Lights!

Cascade Bicycle Club will be distributing FREE bike lights to folks riding in Seattle on Thursday December 9th between 4 and 6pm. Bike safe, get lights!

Thanks to Seattle Department of Transportation's Bike Smart program, Cascade will light up December by giving away 420 bike light sets, first come, first served. Come find them at one of the following locations (look for the Cascade banners) to get your free light:

Burke-Gilman Trail between University Way and Brooklyn Ave in the U-District.

Entrance to the Elliott Bay Trail at Broad Street and Alaskan Way.

Jose Rizal Bridge at 12th Ave and Sturgus Ave (start of the I-90 trail)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My Dahon Curve D3

I'm writing yet again about my Dahon Curve D3, a bike I've owned for over 3 years. My wife and friends will tell you that bikes come and go in my life, so any bike that's stuck around this long must have something going for it. And the Dahon does. It's fun, compact, useful, red, and it has got a lot of good memories of wonderful trips associated with its tough little frame.

I got my Dahon in September of 2007. At the time the list price on a Curve D3 was $395 and Eric as Folding Bikes West sold me this 2006 D3 for a bit less than that. It turned out to be a wonderful deal for me and good deal for Eric, since two of my friends went on to buy their Curves from Eric after having a chance to ride mine. My friend Dave not only bought a Curve, but later went on to buy a Brompton from Eric as well. Dave has let my wife borrow his Curve for a couple of trips we've taken (one to Roslyn WA and the other to Lopez Island) and while Dave, like virtually all Brompton owners, raves about his machine, he has so far refused to sell me his Dahon Curve. I think that says something about the quality of this little machine.

My own Dahon Curve seems to have Brompton-proofed me. While a Brompton is even more compact (the Brompton basically folds in thirds while the Dahon folds in half), my Dahon folds quickly into a package that I can wrap in an IKEA bag and pop on a bus or train or hide under a table. And while Bromptons do have a well-deserved world-class reputation for quality, my Dahon has been the most trouble-free bike I've ever owned. The only real problem I've had with the machine was a busted plastic latch on the clever pump that is built into the seatpost. I fixed mine by gluing a small metal screw in place of the latch and the folks at Dahon have since redesigned the post-pump to address the issue.

While I like my zippy little bike enough to have written a poem about it, I have naturally made a few modifications to the bike over the years

The bike came stock with comfy Schwalbe Big Apple tires but when I finally wore them out I replaced them with even tougher Schwalbe Marathons. Since I ride in all kinds of weather including the rain and the dark, I replaced the stock brake pads with salmon KoolStop brake pads and added some reflective tape to the frame.

I also splurged and replaced the stock plastic pedals with some very nice metal MKS folding pedals.

While the stock Dahon saddle is pretty comfy, all my bikes tend to wind up with WTB saddles. My Curve is no exception.
My bikes also all tend to end up with Ergon grips and my pal Jason gave me a nice Ergons that he'd custom modified (by chopping off part of the right grip) to work with the Dahon's single twist shifter.

I also added a little bell to the bike and like all my bikes, I've got a bunch of lights on it.

While I use the Curve for travel, it's such a fun little bike to ride that it's the bike I ride most often on errands and when I'm just going out to noodle around. Ironically, this little bike is the bike that winds up hauling the most cargo. I have a little folding nylon bag and if I zip out to the grocery store or pick up a book some place, I've found I can carry what I need balanced on the rear rack, in my backpack or in a bag hanging from the front handlebars.

I can't stress enough how fun and zippy a bike with little wheels feels. My other main bike is my Octocog and it has massive 29" wheels that roll over darn near everything. While I love the big wheels on the trails and the wide open road, in an urban, stop-and-go setting, the Dahon with its 16 inch wheels snaps into motion as soon as the light turns green and it is extremely nimble in traffic.

While I find a small 3 speed like the Curve to be fine (I'm 5'6" tall and have decent power in my legs) other folks might be happier on a bike with a bigger frame and/or a greater selection of gear ratios. Dahon makes a wide range of bikes for a wide range of riders.

When I got my Curve, at the time I thought it seemed like a good deal. It turns out I was wrong about that. It turned out to be a great deal. A great deal of fun in shiny red package.

BTW, I have no financial stake in Dahon, but they did publish my poem in one of their catalogs and sent me some schwag.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Trek Belleville: This Is Not A Review

I work at a great little bike shop here in Issaquah called the Bicycle Center. Bicycle Center is a Trek bicycle dealer, so I get to build up, test ride, and work on a whole lot of Trek bikes. We also work on other bikes and over the years I've worked in a range of shops where I've worked on and sold a wide variety of bikes. But I'm certainly not an unbiased reviewer and this is not an unbiased review. Got it? Good!

The Trek Belleville is not a bike for racing around, it's a bike for getting around. The Belleville is a product of Trek's Eco Design effort and I've seen enough behind-the-scenes stuff to know that this isn't just some token corporate green-washing PR thing. For example, when the Bellevilles or any of the other Eco series bikes come into the shop, they are packed not with the industry-standard foam & zip-ties but with string and reusable bags to protect the parts and lots of recycled cardboard. And that's the stuff the customer pretty much never sees. Which, I guess, is why I'm telling you this now. It's a cool facet of these bikes.

By the way, if you need a box to ship a bike somewhere, check your local bike shop. Any shop that deals in new bikes will probably have boxes and packing material they'll be happy to give away. And if your local shop is a Trek dealer, try to get an Eco series box & packing stuff. It's really nice.

The Belleville comes with fenders, racks, chain guard, a kickstand and generator lights. This is not the norm for bikes in the US market, where light weight tends to be a major selling point, shops make money selling accessories and a lot of customers enjoy making choices of what accessories they get. The Belleville is what it is. And what it is, with all that stuff on it and a steel frame, is heavy. Not insanely heavy, but it's sure no Madone!

While the go fast crowd won't have any interest in the Belleville, I also know that the retro & utility bike purists will find nits to pick about this bike. Some will bemoan the lack of a lugged frame, some will wish for a different rake on the front fork, some will complain that the 3-speed hub has too few gears. My main complaints with the bike involve the lack of adjust-ability in the handlebars, the kind-of-weird-looking recycling-friendly seat and the unusual curve of the top-tube on the men's model. But no one bike is perfect for everyone and I think it's wonderful that Trek makes a bike like the Belleville.

With an MSRP of $659.99, I think the Belleville is a very good value for somebody looking for a complete city bike. Here are links to a couple of real reviews of the bike:

Car Free Philly: Original Review & Update

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Better to Light a Single Candle

The old proverb advises that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. That's the spirit behind programs like Get Lit and while I've been involved in various organized versions of Get Lit, I also like doing my bit as an individual, one on one. I'm a sucker for a deal on a batch of lights cheap enough that even a poor bike mechanic can afford to give away. Forty lights shipped to my house for about what I'd pay for a single light is a good deal in my book. Yeah, they're cheap and one of them was DOA and I'm not quite sure what I'll do with the blue and green ones (turn signals on my fingers maybe?) but they are light and I'll pack some in my bags to give away to unlit riders and walkers.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Riding in the Ice & Snow

It snowed last night in the Puget Sound area and everybody freaked out. If you don't have any place you need to go, the smart thing to do when the weather turns bad is to hunker down and stay put. Even if you have perfect control, perfect traction and perfect reflexes, there are a lot of folks out there piloting big metal boxes of momentum down slippery streets and things get real messy, real fast. We closed up the bike shop early and I walked the four blocks to home like I always do.

This morning, however, it's like a holiday. The schools and a bunch of businesses are closed, a lot of folks are out on foot most of those driving seem to be driving quite cautiously. The sky is blue, the sun is bright and the air is cold. Snow is everywhere.

My bike is the one I've built up for days like this, a low-ratio fixed gear with big platform pedals and carbide-studded tires. The tires crunch wonderfully through the snow and the studs grab solidly on the ice. At the bridge over the creek I see a pair of ducks with their down puffed up against the cold.

I puff up my own warm layer, pause to take another picture and see my breath crystallize in the in the blue light of the morning. I roll on toward the grocery store, to the other errands, to the rest of the day.

It's a good day to ride.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Broken Rim Mystery

It was a dark and stormy night...

Really, it was. It was a Monday evening in November. The wind was whipping the orange and yellow leaves off the trees and the wind was howling up the valley. The lights in the shop had flickered ominously several times, but it so far the power was still holding and the phones were still working. It was the kind of night where I'm glad that my current commute is only four blocks long.

One service we don't offer at our bike shop is on the road pick up, but when the call came in the fellow on the other end of the line sounded so soaked, stranded and stuck I told him I'd see what we could do. As luck would have it Chris, one of our off-duty mechanics, lives not far from where this guy was broken down and Chris happened to be home, happened to answer the phone when I called him and happened to have a truck big enough to bring man and bike back into Issaquah on this particular dark and stormy night.

What stranded man and bike wasn't a routine puncture, it was a rim blowout. I've written previously about rim blowouts, but they are usually caused by the rim being thinned by braking. In this case, the rim failed at the rim wear indicator but this bike uses disk rather than rim brakes, so the rim should not be subject to any wear at the rim. The bike's owner tells me that this is the second rim failure he's had on this bike in the year or so that he's owned it. Rather than having his recumbent shop replace the rim again with the same thing, he's opting to have us rebuild the wheel with what we all hope will be a stronger rim. The new rim has no wear indicator, and stronger construction. Since the new rim has a different E.R.D., we're replacing all the spokes as well.

The mystery of why this bike is blowing out rims is still a mystery. I have theory, but I'm posting this story and a couple of photos here in the hopes that folks might say "oh, I've seen this before" or "I bet this is what's going on."

The bike is a Rans Cruz semi-recumbent and it has a Bionix electric rear wheel. The design of the bike puts a lot of weight on the back of the bike. The wheel weighs about 16 lbs and the battery (which the customer took with him and I didn't get a chance to weigh) rides on a rack right above the rear wheel. Most of the rider's weight is carried by the rear wheel and the electric motor puts out a lot of torque.

My best working theory (which is really just a wild-ass guess) is that the combined weight and torque is placing a greater stresses on the rim than what an unassisted rider would generate on a conventional bike. Unsprung weight over the rear wheel means that every bump transfers more pressure via the tire bead to the rim. The wear indicator on the existing rim not only serves no positive function on a bike with disk brakes, the groove of the wear indicator actually creates a stress riser in the rim. Over time, the combined stresses lead to a blowout.

So like a Stephen King mystery that I bothered me a lot when I read it but I still sticks in my head, I have a problem and a theory but no certain solution. We've got a rim and spokes on order and we'll lace 'em up, advise running a bit lower pressure in the tire and hope for the best. I guess that's how life goes. We never get all the answers but we get interesting questions.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, November 14, 2010

As if you live in the early days of a better nation

When I was a kid, I biked to school. These days, lots of people will tell you that kids don't bike to school because it's too dangerous. While it is true that these are dangerous days, giving in to fear doesn't make things safer. Parents driving their kids to school instead of letting them walk, bike or take the bus puts even more cars on the road. It may be that the greatest risk to a child is being struck by the vehicle of well-intentioned parent dropping their child off at school.

I have to add that "may be" qualifier to this post because I've been unable to find hard data to back up an oft-used quote (I've used it myself) that "Fifty percent of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by vehicles driven by parents of other students." Here is a link to a 2004 article containing that quote, but while it's a good sound-bite, there is no link to data. The people at PolitiFact are are better at digging than I am and they came up empty. The 50% stat may in fact be true or the real number could be higher or lower, but I'm going to stop using that line when I talk to people about safety and cycling. I'll still champion the position that we're safer with fewer cars around schools but I'll manage to work towards that goal without a nifty quote that I can't back up.

While we like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, choosing the wisest course of action based on logic and data, we have big blind spots in our thought processes. The phenomena of illusory superiority (sometimes called the Lake Wobegon Effect) causes us to discount the dangers we add to a situation and amplify the perceived dangers that we think of as "out of our control". A child on a bus is much safer than a child in their parents car (OK, I've got a link for this one!) but because we have this tendency to think of ourselves as above average, we're certainly not adding to the problem by driving to school or work or whatever.

But we are. I read the comments that come into this blog and I try to think about them. I sure don't have all the answers and when somebody disagrees with me, I try to look at their point. Sometimes I wind up changing my view. Sometimes I wind up changing my approach. Sometimes I wind up restating my position or asking for a clarification. Recently, in a comment to a post of mine titled "Life'll Kill Ya" a commenter who owns a company that makes bikes in Portland Oregon "a Platinum-level bike friendly community" concluded his thought-filled comment with the words "if I had my way, I would force my employees to drive cars for their own safety and my peace of mind."

I disagree with that commenter, but I understand his viewpoint. I certainly disagree with his idea of "forcing" people to behave in accordance with his view of risk. I also have to wonder if he "had his way" would that in any way make the streets of Portland safer or better for his employees? I certainly believe his concern is genuine, but I also believe that our actions build our world.

It's natural and good to be concerned for others, our friends, our employees, our kids, but with we can easily over-fear and often we fear the wrong things. I'm not certain of enough my own assessments of risk and reward to compel anyone to do anything my way. But I ride my bike and I'll continue to suggest that riding bikes is a good way to make the world a better place in which to live.

My favorite Glasgow pedestrian, Alasdair Gray, is fond of saying, "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." The kids in Oak Cliff are doing just that with bicycles and root beer floats. I think that's something worth doing.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Barb Chamberlain: Bikes Will Save the World

The format of an Ignite presentation is short and simple. Participants are given five minutes to speak on a subject accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced. In the presentation above, Spokane's Barb Chamberlain fills her five minutes with humor and positive energy to show why she knows that bikes can save the world (or at least make it a better place).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rumble Strips Can Be Done Right!

Rumble strips are those milled lines at the edge of the road designed to alert a drowsy or inattentive driver that they are drifting off the road. It's a safety mechanism designed to save lives. Unfortunately, in many locations when rumble strips are placed on the road they effectively make it impossible to safely cycle along the shoulder of the road. In my tour of Washington State a few years ago I'd often see rumble strips that looked like this:

I've seen worse examples, where the rumble strip covers every inch of the width of the shoulder. But things don't have to be this way.

Rumble strips can be built into a road in a way that lets them serve their warning function and keeps the almost the entire width of the shoulder usable for cyclists. Here is a photo from a section of SR-507, also in Washington State:

The rumble strips on SR-507 are built into the fog and center lines, effectively leaving the full width of the shoulder available to the cyclist. In addition, every dozen feet or so there are gaps in the rumble strips enabling cyclists to move from the shoulder to the traffic lane. Much of the time on a country road like this, the shoulder is the best place to ride, but a cyclist might have to merge into the traffic lane to get ready to make a left turn or to avoid some debris and it's good to see a road design that recognizes the legitimate needs of non-motorized road users.

Rumble strips can be done right. A page at (yes darn near everything has a page on the internet!) has some good information and documents describing how to implement rumble strips in such a way as to enhance the safety of all road users.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bicycle Advocacy: Allies Are More Exasperating Than Enemies.

Last night I left work early and rode into Seattle to hear Mia Birk talk about her wonderful and inspiring book, Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet. I could tell you that Mia is a wonderful speaker (she is) or that her book is a lovely collection of inspiring stories and you should rush out an buy it (it is and you should) or that riding at night in the city is peaceful and liberating and one of the great joys in this world (it is). Since I've just told you those things very briefly, I'll speak now at greater length of controversy, energy, passion and hatred. I'm speaking, of course, of the world of Bicycle Advocacy.

Last night's event was hosted by the Cascade Bicycle Club. Cascade is the largest bike club in the U.S. Cascade members host rides every day and the club does a wide range of things to promote cycling in the Puget Sound area. They work on making trails and streets safer for cyclists, bring great speakers like Mia to our city, lobby for cyclist rights and do a host of other things to make our area a better place to ride.

At the moment a lot of people are very worked up about what the club is doing, what the club should be doing, what certain people are or are not doing and so on. The club Board of Directors and the club's long serving Executive Director, Chuck Ayers, had a dramatic parting a few weeks back which generated a lot of heated discussion, actions and counter-action. I tried to find an unbiased accounting of events to give you some background as to what this is all about, but it's kind of like flipping between FOX News and MSNBC in hopes of finding something "fair and balanced."

This article at Crosscut: Culture clash divides the Cascade Bicycle Club, sums things up pretty well, while my friend Eric over at Tubulocity goes right for the sensational headline with his: Leadership of largest bicycle club in America overthrown in bloodless coup. The Seattle Times take on events is presented in an article titled: Politics, friction reshape influential Cascade Bicycle Club. If you're at all interested in such things I encourage you to follow the links I've posted above and I'm sure if you Google around you'll find some other stories on this topic. And you'll probably shake your head like I did and say "wow, what a mess."

I'm mentioning Cascade's woes because I think they illustrate a truth, something I've discovered in my years of working as a bike advocate in various roles and in various organizations. The truth of the matter is that when you work to promote something you will find that a huge percentage of your energy and time goes not into arguing against your foes, but in discussing technique and focus with your allies. I could list dozens of examples and perhaps if I was getting paid by the word here I would, but I assume that both your attention and my time is finite so I'll stop at a few stories to illustrate my point.

Last night before Mia's talk I saw my friend Brad walking through the bike department of REI. Brad was fired up and he's firmly in the "the board went too far and they are out of touch with the membership and should be recalled" camp. Brad's got a petition and I think if he can get enough signatures he'll show that he's got a point. I also think he's got a right to rabble-rouse. A few minutes later I meet another of my friends, Gary, and Gary clearly stated his view that "your friend Brad is dead effing wrong on this board thing." Gary goes on to express that starting a new board from zero would be a huge effort and you know how hard it is to recruit board members and, well, Gary makes some good points. And that's my point, it's complicated, it's work and it's effort and it's not really making it easier for another cyclist to get to work or making Stone Way any safer. And it's a microcosm of what happens in advocacy groups every day.

When I worked at the Bicycle Alliance of Washington there were countless conversations of the form "I can't believe you are working on X and not Y!" The Alliance had a board member resign when the Alliance backed the county-wide mandatory cycling helmet law. I use a helmet but don't favor helmet laws but that wasn't a personal deal-breaker for my working for and with the Alliance. But friction points abound in the cycling world. Many "vehicular cyclists" argue loudly against bike lanes and paths. People debate the efficacy and value of groups like Critical Mass. Here's an example from the U.K. of one cyclist blasting another's attempt to promote cycling.

In any effort involving more than one person there will be conflicts. It's not at all amazing that a 13,000 member group like Cascade will, it would be astounding if it didn't. What is remarkable is that despite the intensity of views on all sides of this issue, the club still functions. Every day volunteers are out there leading rides. Staff members are still going to work, making things better bit by bit for cyclists in Seattle. Cascade brought Mia Birk here to Seattle to tell us that if we keep at it, bit by bit, things will get better. Even while we put up with the efforts of our friends, who we are sure are misguided. Those friends are just as sure that we're the mistaken ones.

Last year Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (the Puget Sound's big mountain bike club) went through its own drama and still managed to open up Duthie Hill, get a ton of trail work done on Grand Ridge and countless other things. We cannot, should not, put aside our passions, for our passions and our beliefs are what drive us. We'll drive our friends crazy when they realize we don't think exactly like them. And they'll drive us crazy in return. But somehow, we'll muddle through. Maybe someone changes someone else's mind or maybe we just disagree. Maybe we'll go for a bike ride or maybe we'll take a break. I don't have the answers. But I do know that very often my allies are more exasperating than my enemies.

Something unites us, a brother-and-sister-hood of the wheel. We balance and wobble and yell at each other but we love something with many spokes. Wheels hold their shape through tension. We do our best to do the same.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA