A companion site (THE PRACTICAL CYCLIST) is home to
genuinely practical information about using bikes for transportation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

We Ride in a Liminal Space

Here's one that was written a while back inresponse to some posting somewhere. I can't decide whether to call it "The American Pedestrian," or "A Cowboy Without A Horse," or something else. Without being explicit about it, this is the justification for cyclist violating traffic laws, like running stop signs and red lights, and why counter-cultures are important. There is more to say about this last bit though, because staying too long in the liminal space is tantamount to refusing to grow up, or being adolescent, or just naive. Paul Farmer and Susan Sontag, come on down...

We're all about radical acceptance and ruthless pragmatism now. That's the new thinking, and it really is different from the old thinking.


Cars take up so many resources that all the other modes of tranportation get ignored. For peds, it's a bummer. A person walking is virtually defenseless, and really can't get very far, very fast. The American pedestrian is a cowboy without a horse.

A person with a bike, on the other hand, is perfectly scaled to the urban environment. She can get herself where she needs to go, squeeze through tight spots and traffic jambs, sprint out of harm's way, and generally have a good time doing it (and get a decent workout).

Cars are regulated because they kill people on a regular basis. When bikes start doing that, I'll be happy to pay my registration fee and sit for a license. It's nice to inhabit a liminal space. It is the traditional hang-out of the Other, and the locus of freedom in increasingly commodified culture.

And that's why bicycle culture is great.

That's the point: stop whining. Get a bike.

----- End forwarded message -----

Some thoughts I had back in May...

I must have been trying to convince my neighbors that bicycles deserve
more than they are currently allotted in the early 21st century urban
and suburban transportation culture.


So, generally, I don't like to push bikes on people who don't already want or
like them. I'm going to break my own rule here in a moment, and in support of
the creation of additional convenient bicycle parking in collectively
owned space.

First though, I want to say that I am not strictly anti-car. I own a
car, I use
it, I enjoy driving it (sometimes). I think cars a terrificly useful and fun

Now that I have that out of the way, I'd like to talk about other things:
community, health, economic diversity, environmental degradation (including
global warming), and finally, convenience.

Nothing builds community like personal contact between people. It's
easiest on
foot, but walking is sometimes too slow, and has a limited range in general.
It's hard to stop and chat with someone going the other way when
you're driving
a car. Bicycle: just right. Without the glass and steel shell, you
the physical community, rather than watch it go by on the other side of the

No social speech needed here. Exercise is good for you. Walking is good.
According to the CDC, people are healthier in "walkable communities." Biking
is healthy too.

Economic diversity:
Aside from the cost of the car itself, owning a car costs an average of $7000
each year. Plus, the more you use it, the more you pay in gas and
Walking? Free. Riding a bike? Maybe $1000/yr, maybe less. If you can live
without owning a car, you can save a lot of bread. Conversely, if you don't
have a lot of bread, riding a bike is a good option.

Environmental degradation:
The Union of Concerned Scientists, and many other groups, say that a typical
American's car, compared with all other objects or activities, has the largest
environmental impact by a wide margin. They recommend tuning cars regularly,
keeping tires inflated, and shopping with gas mileage in mind. They also
recommend reducing use. Try using an alternative method once a week. Try to
go car free one or two days a week. The statistics for car trips are
nutty. A
huge majority of auto trips are under one mile.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Tornados and Bicycles

A tornado hit Brooklyn, NY, this week. Not something that has hithertonow been a common occurance. Additional circumstancial evidence of global warming. Actually, I'm more worried about ocean acidification. Well, not so much worried as interested in how people will react. The rich will figure out how to keep their lifestyle afloat and poor will suffer disproportionately, same as it ever was. I imagine a continuation of increasing corporate control of global markets and politics. Anyhow, bicycles often come in handy in the aftermath of so-called natural disasters. This was posted by jill on the NYT's website:

"A hellish walk from Greenwood Heights, across and along Gowanus, to downtown Brooklyn. I noticed the bikers [SIC] are especially smug today!"

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Little Cheat

R. E. Load is moving and shaking. Check out their flickr page here.

Bicycle Sizing, Fitting, and Buying, Part I

I got an email yesterday that read:

Dave, I have a friend who wants to buy a bike. He is 5'-11", would a 26" bike be the right size for him? Thanks, DF
This is what I wrote back: DF, This is problematic and confusing. '26"' typically refers to the wheel/tire size used for most mountain bikes and some hybrids bike. Bikes with this size wheel are typically made with a range of frame sizes, which are typically specified in one of two ways: either by the length of the seat-tube, or by a generic SMLXL designation. Someone 5'-11" would typically ride a size "L" bike, or one with a seat tube between 18 and 22 inches. Here is a picture of how to measure the seat tube, but it's more complicated than it looks. Depending on where you take your measurements, results could vary by 6 inches. And even then there are too many variables to count. This type of confusion is all too common. I think it stems from the fact that we Norte Americanos think of bike riding as recreation, and something we did when we were kids. Kids bikes are sized by the wheel/tire size, starting with a so-called 8 or 12 inch wheel, and going up to 24" or 26". Actually, there are more wheel/tire sizes than you can count, and it's a topic of which I'm quite fond. This is a handy resource if you want to know more.
Buying on EBay or Craigslist
Here's the rub. In order to have a good used bike transaction, at least one of the parties has to know something about bikes, and be somewhat honest. It's clear from the size designation you gave me that the seller doesn't know his seat tube from his head tube, to coin a phrase. Since you're asking me, I'll guess that your friend isn't an expert either. The result, as far as I'm concerned, should be "No Sale." Sometimes friends send me craigslist or eBay postings to evaluate for value and fitting. It usually works out pretty well. If you want to get into it, this is the most reasonable article I've found on bicycle fitting, but it's not much help in this case, since the bike and the rider aren't right in front of you. This (Sheldon Brown's article on bike sizing) is also a good site about bike sizing, and all things bike. Bike fitting is like chocolate chip cookies: everyone has their own recipe and they think it is the best, and if you challenge it, then you're challenging the knowledge and expertise of challengee, his mentors and gurus, and all those who came before him, including his grandmother, from whom he got the recipe in the first place. Have a good night. Oh, thanks to Martin for being cool with me using a picture of his bad-a** Armageddon bike (that is, the bike you ride out of town on when the Armageddon comes).

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fwd: Mundo @ Xtracycle

Um, RAD!

----- Forwarded message from ben@xtracycle.com ----- Date: Wed, 01 Aug 2007 19:26:16 -0700 From: Ben Sarrasin - Xtracycle <ben@xtracycle.com> Reply-To: Ben Sarrasin - Xtracycle <ben@xtracycle.com> Subject: Mundo @ Xtracycle To: damosk@monkeyjump.org


The Mundo is going to be available this fall as a complete bike. We are expecting to receive them at the end of October. We forecasting the following MSRP 1-speed $599, 6-speed $649 + shipping (UPS ground $30-45). We are currently collecting preorders, there's quite a lot of demand already. Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks, Ben --------------- Ben Sarrasin ben@xtracycle.com xtracycle cell: 415.823.8074 office: 415.681.1275

----- End forwarded message -----

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Kids Road Bikes

Now here's something you ought to see everyday, but generally don't. Kids on road bikes!
Anderson Custom Bicycles has a nice page on the topic, and clearly has made a few kids' road bikes, using iso 520mm wheels. Mike Flanigan made a few practical kids bikes, under his A.N.T. brand. MG, aka Kogswell, threatens every now and then to design and order a container full of practical 520 bikes. Go G.
A quick search yeilds a few brands, but nothing as nice as Anderson or A.N.T.:
And this page, from folks who cobbled together something from a few old frames. I know a guy in DC (NOVA actually) who did this. His kids may have outgrown the bikes by now, but I think the racing club (NCVC) probably kept them, to pass on down the line. Also for DC area folks, I know Linda Mack's shop, Silver Cycles, in Silver Spring, had a few European youth road bikes, but I can't remember the brand.
If you know of more kids road bikes, send me the deets, you know, 4-1-1.

Don't get your fur stuck in the chain...

Practical? Not so much.

Community Bike Programs

Hooray for a new bike project. Funny about the leadership vacuum, you get sucked right into the center, not that you shouldn't be there. That's terrific. I'll be happy to help in whatever way I can. I'm going to CC David Wilcox on this e-mail, because he is (a) a generally good person, one of the best I know, and (b) more experienced than I in the bike program universe.
(For David W: Hi there. I thought you might be interested, or have thoughts about this. I can't remember to what degree you and Kevin knew each other. Kevin was SEV/CR's spiritually serene IT and More volunteer. He lives in Indianapolis now.)
Lets start with the great bifurcation, and work toward re-unification: Bike Programs, more or less, come in two varieties: (a) those with a mission to work primarily with kids under the age of XX (13?), and (b) those started by activist youth, aged 15 to 30. Both are good.
In general, type (a) focuses on a particular underprivileged neighborhood and has goals more beyond the bike, providing a constructive activity for kids, safety education, social-skills/values/character building ("leadership"), exploration and exposure to diversity (for underprivileged kids, this means visiting "places of abundance"), mechanical skills building, and empowerment. Damn!
Type (b) is primarily interested in providing a resource for an established bicycling community, and maybe growing that community, and maybe recycling. This is often combined with other community projects, such as visual arts or music. The "Bicycle Punk" and "Bicycle Lifestyle" movements, if I can call them that, are examples of Type (b) at work. If they are programed at all, the programs grow organically, and have a collective governance model (something that doesn't work so well with a group of ten-year-olds; think Lord of the Flies).
I wrote the p-graphs below assuming your program is Type (a), then I went back and wrote the above bits. If your program is Type (b), I got nuthin, but I can refer you to some folks. IBF has links to lots of bike programs, Bicas in Tucson looks like a Type (b) program, as does North Portland Bicycle Works. Those are just ones I know about. I'm sure there are tons more. Are some programs both Types (a) and (b)? Certainly. Do (a) and (b) need different things? I think they do. Dave (W)?
Back to Type (a): Do you know about Recycle-A-Bicycle in NYC? Karen Overton was the director for a long time, and has written a couple of book on bike programs, very practical guides, both free, I think:
_Tools For Life_ is a bit dated, but is a guide to starting a program in the model of Recycle-A-Bicycle. Chain Reaction was started by a group of students using this as a manual.
_One Revolution At A Time_ is the more recent publication. It benefited from a lot of practical experience, and I think addresses some of the key problems with the first round of bicycle programs. This book recommends the "Ride Club" as the fundamental basis of a bike program, and is a guide to getting one going, and keeping it going.
The donation/repair/earn-a-bike stuff really ought to follow from bicycle use. Riding bikes, after all, is the point--it's fun, practical, and accessible to young kids. Also, you have to start with the safety and riding skills thing, otherwise you'll never catch up (you're left hold a helmet and they're two blocks away, riding against traffic...). When you have kids interested in the club who don't have bikes, then the repair part grows naturally.One recommendation that came from more than one program-director is to "programatize" tightly. That is, make sure the activities are well defined and structured. You can probably imagine the kind of stuff that is important here--having a beginning, middle, and end; specific goals for participants, and reflection on the experience; a sense of order, camaraderie, and belonging; blah blah blah. Beyond that, it really depends on the particulars of the programs you create.
Definitely find local resources: advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, city programs, local gov. folks (DOT), Safekids groups, local bike industry folks (nearby distributors, manufacturers, retailers), etc. The League of American Bicyclist has links to local and national organizations, and the Thunderhead Alliance is a hub for advocacy folks. Trips for Kids is a national organization with local chapters all over the country. They can help you get things rolling very quickly.
Like I said before, some of these links are on my goofy blog, thepracticalcyclist.blogspot.com.
In fact, I may put this whole message on my goofy blog. Maybe I should remane it "mygoofyblog."
Postscript: I never got around to reunification. Next time perhaps. Also, the photo is shamelessly borrowed from the website of the Community Cycling Center, in Portland, OR.

Bike there, with directions: