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Wednesday, March 28th
Thinking Outside the Big Box
Stacy Mitchell, of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, recently published a superb short analysis of the environemntal problems posed by Wal*Mart and other big-box stores, and how all the greenwash in the world won't mitigate the devastation they impose not only on the planet but on our human societies. A quote referring to Wal*Mart's recent "greening" initiatives notes:
Wal-Mart's initiatives have just enough meat to have distracted much of the environmental movement, along with most journalists and many ordinary people, from the fundamental fact that, as a system of distributing goods to people, big-box retailing is as intrinsically unsustainable as clear-cut logging is as a method of harvesting trees.

Here's the key issue. Wal-Mart's carbon estimate omits a massive source of CO2 that is inherent to its operations and amounts to more than all of its other greenhouse-gas emissions combined: the CO2 produced by customers driving to its stores.

The dramatic growth of big-box retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot, over the last 15 years has been mirrored by an equally dramatic rise in how many miles we travel running errands. Between 1990 and 2001 (the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Transportation has data), the number of miles that the average American household drove each year for shopping grew by more than 40 percent.

It's not that we are going to the store more often, but rather that each trip is an average of about two miles longer. The general trend toward suburbanization is only partly to blame: shopping-related driving grew three times as fast as driving for all other purposes. The culprit is big-box retail. These companies have displaced tens of thousands of neighborhood and downtown businesses and consolidated the necessities of life into massive stores that aggregate car-borne shoppers from large areas.
To read the entire article, go to Grist.

Big-boxes destroy not only watersheds but communities, pollute not only air but hearts, and isolate us us all in cars on broad bleak roads--which leaves us little to do for satisfaction but keep on buying, buying, buying, until we die.

Keep this in mind as you ride through your city, and support the merchants who support real life--your corner grocer, your mid-block hardware store, your indy coffee house, your backstreet bike shop...places where you're more than just an entry in a ledger book.

The revolution will be localized.

Richard Risemberg on Wed, 28 Mar 2007 22:05:02 -0800 [link]  

Sunday, March 25th
Paris to Become "City of Bicycles"
From the Washington Post:
Paris is for lovers -- lovers of food and art and wine, lovers of the romantic sort and, starting this summer, lovers of bicycles.

On July 15, the day after Bastille Day, Parisians will wake up to discover thousands of low-cost rental bikes at hundreds of high-tech bicycle stations scattered throughout the city, an ambitious program to cut traffic, reduce pollution, improve parking and enhance the city's image as a greener, quieter, more relaxed place.
To read the full article, go to City of Bicycles

Richard Risemberg on Sun, 25 Mar 2007 08:14:42 -0800 [link]  

Saturday, March 24th
Flying Bicycles
Okay, it's about taking your bike on a commercial aircraft. The International Bicycle Fund is all hot over some significant price increases in bicycles-as-luggage charges, and has issued a press release:
While some of the airlines are talking green, they are simultaneous working to undermine green choices by their customers!

In the dark of winter, the airlines have effectively increased cost of a trans-Atlantic ticket for a bicyclist by as much as $300. If the base ticket price is $900 that is over a 30% increase in the cost of travel.

Prior to January of 2007 most airlines let bicycles on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights fly free, in lieu of one piece of baggage (as long as they were within the two-bag limit and underweight limit of 30kg). Early in 2007, most of the world’s airlines seem to have entered into collusion and simultaneously changed their baggage regulations for bicycles. By February of 2007 the regulations, for most airlines, call for all bicycles being charged on these flights. The charges range from $80 to $160 each way -- $160 to $320 roundtrip!

It is not a weight issues because many of their lean bicycling customers plus their bikes are going to weigh less than many of their other customers without any bags. It is not a size issue because today’s modern airplanes can, and have, easily accommodated bicycles. And, if is a bottom line issue, the airlines are delusional, because there aren’t enough bikes flying to make a visible difference in there revenue.

The work around for the bicyclists is not as easy as renting a bike at their destinations. There are very few rental bikes available in the world that are suitable for serious environmentally-friendly, multi-day, long distance, bike touring.

For more information on flying with a bicycle see

I understand that sometimes if you want to get to a particular place, it is simplest to fly, especially for those of us who work regular jobs, which don't come with much vacation time these days. But air is possibly the most environmentally-devastating way to travel, so I'd suggest that if it is possible, go there by train.

For overseas trips there's little choice, but boat travel will probably make a comeback as fuel prices continue to climb, and global warming effects become more in-your-face. But explore the possibilities. Trains can be wonderful (though in the western US they seem never to run on time), and there are still passenger freighters that will take you across the ocean in a more adventuresome way than any flying cigar tube can.

And door-to-door bike touring rocks, if you've got the time!

Richard Risemberg on Sat, 24 Mar 2007 08:51:49 -0800 [link]  

Sunday, March 18th
Support the Bicycle Transportation Act
Word is the Bicycle Commuter Benefits Act of 2006 is before Congress for a vote right now. The League of American Bicyclists ahs set up a webpage for quick an deasy sending of an email message to your represnetative & senators--all you need to know is where you live in the US. The act would include bicycles in language that permits (not requires) employers to offer subsidies for commuting to their employees. These subsidies, which offer tax advantages to both sides, may currently be offered only to drivers and transit users, leaving out the most efficient vehicle ever invented, the bicycle. Write to your Representatives and Senators today and tell them to support H.R. 807 and S. 2635, using the link below:

Support H.R.807

Richard Risemberg on Sun, 18 Mar 2007 08:38:45 -0800 [link]  

Tuesday, March 13th
Bicycle Fixation Knickers Spotted in Wild!
419229858_6db89be378 (175k image)Patrick Barber, one of the early adopters of our Classic Wool Knickers, sent in this picture showing what he called the "perfect outfit" for dressy velocipedal occasions. He and his wife Holly McGuire were on their way to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's annual Alice B. Toeclips awards gala, and looking sharp they were!

Patrick and Holly live car-free, getting quite a bit of help from Jim Gregory's bicycle trailers, which Patrick and Jim have both written up for Bicycle Fixation; click on their names for the articles. Patrick's has lots of pictures of these superb utility trailers in action.

Patrick has started a Flickr group called "Velocouture," so any of you who have dressy bicycling outfits, whether they include our knickers or not (but how could they not?) might want to link up your contributions.

You can see Patrick posing in classic wool here, or if you want to browse all of Holly and Patrick's wonderful photos of sharp clothing, sweet bikes, pottery, chickens, punk clubs, and more, just click here.

They also have a graphic design business in Portland, Oregon, McGuire Barber Design. And they raise chickens.

Richard Risemberg on Tue, 13 Mar 2007 20:50:54 -0800 [link]  

Detrain into the L.A. Night.
"The comfort of San Jose ended on Sunday at 11:30am when we boarded the Coast Starlight. Four hours after our scheduled arrival, we un-boxed our rigs and mounted up for home. From the train station, at 2am, Rick and I rode in the balmy 65 degree night, dodging the meandering homeless and night-shifters, braving endless pot holes and street crevasses, gliding by the 'bad boys' on the blocks. The moon hung in the sky--a blind eye."

"Later that day we rode a few miles to one of our favorite little corners (Heliotrope and Melrose) which has Bicycle Kitchen, Orange 20 Bicycles, and 'Scoops,' the coolest little ice cream shop. The street is gritty, the neighbors, dicy. 'Yo! S'up?' The weather 80+. Our hood."

-- I couldn't think of a better way to conclude the account of our trip than this, an excerpt from my letter to a friend. -Gina

Gina Morey on Tue, 13 Mar 2007 20:28:41 -0800 [link]  

Monday, March 5th
No Way to Run a Railroad
Alas, poor Amtrak! I know it well....

Last night Gina and I hit the streets of downtown Los Angeles at 1:30am. Precisely we rolled out onto Alameda Street , between the jail and Skid Row, on our bikes, half an hour before the bars closed, letting out a burst of drunken drivers. And why did we indulge in this peculiar fancy? Because the Coast Starlight pulled into the station a full four hours late.

And why did the showcase train of Amtrak's western routes pull in so late?

Because Amtrak cannot afford to build its own tracks, and must rent them from a grudging Union Pacific railroad, which makes far more money running its freights past the Starlight while the latter idles on a lost siding somewhere in the dark of America than it gets from the track rental.

There's a profound and irrational antipathy to rail travel in Washington, expressed in regular diatribes, mostly by hardshell conservatives, against the $500 million or so subsidy the government dribbles out to Amtrak every year.

That the same government doles out $60 billion to subsidize cars and trucks, and some $30 billion to subsidize airlines, doesn't seem to bother these champions of free enterprise. That, in this era of global warming, rail is the most environmentally gentle of all motorized transport modes by far is of no apparent consequence. That encouraging development of a competent passenger rail network would reduce pollution, minimize sprawl, and waste far less land than our bloated and inefficient highway system is something they don't want to hear.

So the US sufferes a third-world quality rail system that must make the Japanese, the French, the Germans, and other civilized nations laugh out loud.

But it just makes me want to cry.

Richard Risemberg on Mon, 05 Mar 2007 20:31:23 -0800 [link]  

Friday, March 2nd
The Way in San Jose
We spent yesterday riding around San Jose and environs, looking in particular for an experience different from our daily grind of heavy street traffic in LA. San Jose has its share of that, no mistake; but being on a sort of working vacation we could opt out of it, and so, on the advice of local contacts, we headed towards Los Gatos, a little city on the southern end of San Jose, via the Los Gatos Creek Trail, a grade-separated multi-use path that follows a creek up to a reservoir.

I'm generally no fan of MUPs, which often take you nowhere slowly, but we were in fact going nowhere, and we get plenty of hard riding in at home. And Los Gatos was reputed to be a desireable destination itself, a pleasant little town with decent food. We never got off the path in Los Gatos itself, but the trail itself was a delight--as you can see in the photo Gina took of me as we rode.

Los Gatos Creek TrailI don't know whether Los Gatos Creek was ever encased in concrete, as has been most of the Los Angeles River, but at present only the uppermost reaches are fully lined; the lower reaches are soft-bottom streambed, lush with shrubs, trees, vines, and flowers, rich with birdlife, squirrels, and the occasional hunting housecat (necessary so that the creek can live up to its name, after all.)

The path is easy to find and easy to follow, with plenty of access points, not just at the numerous parks along the way but in commercial and residential areas as well. Even the frequent proximity of a freeway for about one-third of its length was not bothersome, as the trees masked much of the sound. The path is not only a delight to the soul and the senses, but serves as a genuinely useful transportation corridor. Unlike the riverside paths in LA, it almost never dips down to stream level, which would make it useless on a rainy day.

And it was a rainy day. We rode through drizzle, rain, cold, and wind that day, but with fenders on the bikes and rain gear in the bags had no inconvenience from the weather. The weather changed every ten minutes or so, so for the heaviest showers we just stopped under a tree till they passed, and rode on through light rain without resorting to our capes. The trail climbs to a reservoir at the very end, but as the path--at that point gravel--parallels a noisy highway, we instead turned westward to visit Saratoga, where we had been assured we'd find decent food.

That we did, though we also found the bicycle "infrastructure" insipid. Where San Jose has an extensive network of bike lanes that are clearly marked, well out of the door zone, and go to places one might actually go to, the bike lanes in Saratoga are a sloppy stripe painted about 16 inches to the left of a drainage channel, and filled with pebbles, pine cones, small branches, and other debris.

I'm no fan of bike lanes, but they do express a bicyclist's firmly-established right to the road, and give comfort to those who are not fully confident about riding in traffic.

San Jose's bike lanes are useful; Saratoga's are not. And San Jose is full of people bicycling, even during dreary wet weather. Even discounting that more bicyclists would be in town because of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. We met plenty of locals who struck up conversations with us after noticing Vivian the Nickel-Plated Miyata, or my Bottecchia fixie.

In fact everyone we've met here has been supportive of bicycling, and were often bicyclists themselves, even though many had not heard of the show.

San Jose seems to know the way. Good light rail system too!

Just needs more nice restaurants.

Richard Risemberg on Fri, 02 Mar 2007 16:54:28 -0800 [link]  

Thursday, March 1st
Training Your Bike
Sorry I haven't posted for so long, but I was busy shipping the many backorders of knickers and getting ready to go to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in San Jose, Which we now have done, having arrived by Amtrak after a spectacular ride up the California coast.

This particular route passes through a great deal of country that has been either ranchland or military reservation for hundreds of years, and so the rolling oak-dotted hills, populated by horses, cows, deer, and hawks, look much as the Spaniards left them long ago, and the hard blue sea that breaks in the sweeping coves, the bright immortal sea, gleams with a Homeric intensity in the roadless solitudes.

Our biggest apprehension was having to box & check the bicycles for the trip, but Amtrak provides custom bike boxes that require only that remove the pedals and loosen and turn the handlebars to fit them in. The baggage heandlers were gentle (they handle a lot of bikes), and, while I would have preferred a roll-on-roll-off protocol, as Amtrak has on its shorter-distance trains, the boxes appeared on cue at the San Jose station, and ten minutes later we were on the road.

And now we've had a night's sleep and hope to explore a local road or two before getting down to business and meeting friends whose hearts, but not whose faces, we have come to know over the years thanks to the internet.

More later!

Richard Risemberg on Thu, 01 Mar 2007 07:45:56 -0800 [link]  

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