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Monday, June 29th
Trains & Bikes in UK
In the UK the government is taking decided measures better to integrate cycling and rail travel. To quote:
Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, will today launch a £5m fund to provide 10 terminals with better cycle facilities for commuters, including more storage space and specialist stores. The scheme will attempt to emulate the Netherlands, where cycling accounts for about a third of all trips to and from stations, compared with just 2% in the UK. "I want to see every major station also serve as a cycling hub, as is the case in Holland," said Adonis. "Cycling in Holland is not in the genes, it's in the facilities that are available."
The marvelously-named Lord Adonis was spurred to action after seeing what the Dutch have done to encourage cycling.

Now if we could only inspire a similar lever of commitment and good sense in the US! Of course, we'd need trains first....

Read the full article at the Guardian: Stations in £5m Drive to Get Rail Passengers onto Bikes.

Richard Risemberg on Mon, 29 Jun 2009 21:23:04 -0800 [link]  

Friday, June 26th
Another Small Step
A while ago, I worried that Larchmont Boulevard, an increasingly popular destination for bicyclists of all sorts, from fixie punx to Hancock Park matrons, would end up bereft of bike parking now that the city is exchanging the old free-standing parking meters for pay stations. I wrote to our local council member, urging him to consider the new bike racks that several companies have come out with, which slip over the stanchions of decommissioned meters. Seattle was one of the first cities to employ these.

Parking Meter RetrofitThe council member's office answered me that they were in fact already "studying" that idea, and assured me that there would still be plenty of bike parking on the boulevard.

This filled me with despair, as "study" is often an administrative euphemism for "ignore." But, as you can see from my Crappy Cellphone Picture, my pessimism was misplaced: a couple dozen of the former parking meters have, in fact, been retrofitted as bike racks! And damned nice ones, too, very easy to lock two bikes onto. I tried one, of course, even thought there was an older inverted-U rack unoccupied nearby. Much easier to get my Evolution Mini around rack, wheel, and downtube than on a standard rack.

The city has been pretty profligate with the meters on Larchmont, and there's space for more. Let's hope they go crazy with meter retrofits. After all, this one block accommodates cars with diagonal parking its full length on both sides, plus a surface lot, plus a parking structure, plus two private lots for banks, plus employee parking behind stores. How many people would drive there if there were no auto parking spaces?

The new racks, being easier to lock to, should draw even more cyclists to Larchmont than already go there. That's gonna be good!

Richard Risemberg on Fri, 26 Jun 2009 08:50:06 -0800 [link]  

Tuesday, June 23rd
The Pot Calling the Kettle Frivolous
We had the odd experience on my favorite bicycle forum last night of one of our members referring to bicycling as "frivolous," apparently because it is pleasurable. The presumed corollary was that cars aren't somehow "frivolous," even though the majority of car trips in the US don't involve carrying bulky objects and cover less than two miles.

So, I got my rant generator going, and it emitted the following:
Driving is frivolous, [especially] if it is used to cover distances of less than say ten miles, where it is unnecessary, there being a means to cover the same distance in nearly the same time with a far lesser use of resources. This could be bicycling or transit.

Bicycling is frivolous for distances of less than a mile, for the same reasons. (And yeah, I walk within my one-mile radius.)

Mobility itself is frivolous if there be the resources you are seeking near at hand.

One big discussion in urban planning circles now is the distinction between "mobility" and "access," and the need to destroy the perception that access is dependent on mobility, which concept has been hammered into us by years of suburban sprawl and a very expensive subsidization of automobility (driving being a heavier drain on the public purse, per mile driven, than fare-supported transit and certainly than bicycling).

You can get the passenger throughput of an eight lane highway with fewer than two lanes if you depend on cycling; you can get 35 lanes of throughput in the space of three lanes with heavy rail--or no lanes, it the heavy rail is underground--but with greater use of energy than bicycling.

The figures, from Worldwatch Institute:

Energy used per passenger-mile (calories):
Auto: 1,860
Bus: 920
Rail: 885
Foot: 100
Bicycle: 35

Of course foot and bike calories come from food, which has less embedded energy (energy used to produce and deliver it) than the oil that fuels cars, buses, and diesel trains. (Electric trains using stationary generation are more efficient; I don't know which propulsion system figures in Worldwatch's numbers.) So the spread, if the the embedded energy of the energy used per mile is added, should be even greater.

According to a Texas DOT study, no road generates more than half its construction and maintenance costs alone in user taxes, and most far less--some returning only 16% of just road costs over a forty-year use life. (And there are many other costs associated with rampant road use--policing, attending to accidents, building feeder roads, along with the loss of property tax income in urban areas, as the roads replace homes, businesses, and services.)

So us frivolous cyclists are subsidizing the far more frivolous lifestyle choices of motorists--with our hard-earned tax dollars. I myself would rather those taxes went towards narrow bike highways, that didn't take up so much of what could be wildland, farmland, squares, schools, and libraries, or tax-paying commercial and residential property, and that would last nearly forever under the light impact of our little vehicles.
For a good analysis by an Actual Philosopher that examines the underpinnings of automobility's essential frivolousness, I strongly recommend you read André Gorz's short essay, The Social ideology of the Motorcar.

Richard Risemberg on Tue, 23 Jun 2009 08:37:57 -0800 [link]  

A Bag of Dirt
Dirt Bag
Click image to enlarge
Sunday we rode to Lala's Argentine Grill on Melrose to meet my daddy for a Father's Day lunch--and yes, you can get fine vegetarian food at an Argentine restaurant!

We were ambling home through the residential flats south of Hollywood when Gina remembered that she need to buy a bag of potting soil for the various vegetables she's planted in pots on our balcony and around the flowerbeds in the front of the building.

It does no good for me to explain that there's plenty of dirt there already, as it is apparently the "wrong kind" of dirt. (I've grown vegetables left and right in that same dirt, when I lived in a house nearby, but experience never trumps female intuition, I suppose....)

So we detoured to Mordigan's Nursery and picked up a bag of commercial dirt, which just for fun I draped over Trevor's rack like some mighty nimrod's vanquished prey....

So Trevor had to work on his day off after all, poor laddie.

Richard Risemberg on Tue, 23 Jun 2009 08:02:50 -0800 [link]  

Sunday, June 21st
Roadside Manners
Had time for but a short ride today, so I rambled down Jefferson to the beach and thence, of course, to the Bridge at Playa del Rey. The tide was high, the sky clear, the water a hard and lively blue, and plenty of folks were out on bikes in all manner of colorful outfits and every sort of bike, from the generic full-carbon Red Sports Car Analog through fixies and on to recumbents and cruisers. Everyone seemed pretty relaxed and happy.

But, as Monty Python says, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

Sure enough, soon there appeared a fellow curiously attired in what seemed to be a skin-tight armor comprising overlapping scales of the logos of exploitive corporations--no doubt amulets designed to confer the strength and domination of overweening authority on the bearer. He was riding portentously upon a rolling billboard constructed almost entirely of petroleum byproducts; he was tall and thin, with the bitter primness of a disillusioned and vindictive Jesuit; and he was trailing two cute little Asian lassies who fulfilled the roles of timid Acolytes.

Judging from other mystic symbols they bore, I suspected them to be of the Order of Absolute Lycrism, a sect I have seen in action before. The surly whippet and his pups stopped in front of where I lazed against the parapet of The Bridge. And he began to Instruct them.

Though I have been putting on big miles for some forty years, I learned much about what I myself was doing wrong all that time, just by listening attentively.

I learned, for example, that it is a Venial Sin to unclip your left foot when you stop; you must ever and only unclip the right foot, either because the left ("sinister", in Latin) foot belongs to the Devil, or because you will inevitably suffer a chainring tattoo. Also, you apparently cannot turn your bike around by picking it up and shuffling in an awkward semicircle if your right foot is clipped in.

I glanced hastily down at my right leg--for I have unclipped the Proper Way only two or three times in my life, when the Luck of the Fixed Wheel put my left pedal up at the limit line--but I was relieved to find no Mark of the Beast there. But there is no doubt such a fate awaits me: one of the acolytes described how she once received a chainring tattoo on her face while lifting her bike onto a "car rack" (whatever that is), no doubt because she had unclipped sinfully and the Devil had just been a bit slow on the uptake.

I learned also that the proper way to wait astride a bike when it is stopped is not, as I had erroneously thought all these decades, merely to stand up and let the bike lean on one of your legs. No; apparently the Proper Way is to sit with your butt-crack on the top-tube--even though, with contemporary sloping top tubes, this puts you into the posture of a spawning frog.

I admit I wondered if this wasn't a perversion that had crept into the lonely and impotent life of a Priest of Lycrism--a very strict sect, after all--but I dismissed that thought as a Temptation to the Sin of Doubt, planted by Satan himself. I resolved to practice this pose henceforth, no matter how much it hurt or how much ignorant mockery it might draw from other road users.

At least I did until the Priest uttered a statement that shattered my new-found and no doubt delicate faith.

One of the Acolytes was very very small (I overheard her mention that she rode a 41cm. frame), and she confessed having trouble reaching the brake levers when in the hooks. This apparently is a Sin, for the Priest immediately prescribed a rite of painful contortions, involving splayed elbows and radically twisted wrists, to enable her to caress the Holy Brifters properly.

In my pathetic ignorance, I interrupted to let them know that nearly every component maker offers compact brake levers for people with small hands.

The Priest turned upon me with a snarl, and said, "Hey, we're not trying to sell brake levers here!"

I immediately looked around me, but saw no shelves or counters that a mercenary Satan might have suddenly caused to materialize.

Sad to say, it was thus the Priest himself who sowed doubt in my soul. I thought to myself, "Hm, do you fit the rider to the bike, or fit the bike to the rider?"

That was all it took. I fell into a morass of casuistry, and within seconds I found myself deep in Sin. Indeed, I actually thought to myself, in regards to that noble Priest, that he was "full of shit."

i was saved only by a couple of Angels named Bob and Ted, who stopped by to admire my Bottecchia and talk about happy sensible matters for a while--sweet miles we had ridden in the hills or by the beach, and the love of bikes.

When I looked up next, the Priest and his Acolytes had disappeared!

Since it was obviously the presence of Angels that had driven him away, I realized I had been wrong, and that he had been the Devil in disguise.

I felt sorry for the trusting Acolytes, and could only hope that they too would be saved by Angels in good time.

The ride home was made all the sweeter by my narrow escape.

Richard Risemberg on Sun, 21 Jun 2009 10:46:12 -0800 [link]  

Friday, June 19th
Marathon Manners
Last November, I was finally able to afford a pair of Schwalbe Marathon tires, renowned as sturdy and capable skins for city riding and mixed-surface touring. And I've been loving them: although they actually have flatted more than the Panaracer Paselas I used before (twice in 3,000 miles, as opposed to once in 4,000), they feel much more comfortable on our rough LA streets, and they grip both wet and dry pavement much better. They've also worked well on unpaved roads the few times I have ridden them off the tarmac.

But a couple of weeks ago I noticed severe cracking on the sidewalls of the rear tire--severe enough that I was worried. (I've been riding bicycles for over forty-five years, and used to ride and repair motorcycles as well, so I've dealt with tires a lot.) The front had some small cracks, but the rear bore cracks that extended one-third of the way around the tire!

I took some photos and emailed a note to Schwalbe USA by way of Bill Laine at Wallingford, where I'd bought the tires. Bill is a great guy, and his store is one of my "go to" online shops. He forwarded my message to Schwalbe, who emailed me a form to fill out. We went back and forth a bit, with Schwalbe claiming that the cracks were only "cosmetic," and that anyway they had been caused by underinflation.

This pissed me off, as the cracks were both long and deep, and I have had old tires, such as came with used bikes I've bought, suddenly bulge out because of sidewall cracking and subsequent thread damage. Also, I never underinflate my tires: I run them between 80 and 90 psi, and Schwalbe's recommendation on the sidewall lists a range of from 55 to 100 psi. And the front, which I run about 5 psi less, was much less badly cracked--within the comfort range for me.

So we went back and forth some more, and Schwalbe finally wrote that the cracking did not affect the tire's functionality, but that "Regardless, we still offer replacements as a company courtesy so a tire will be coming your way." And then referred me to a post of the late, great Sheldon Brown's about tire cracking...where he wrote of cracks on the tread, not on the sidewall.

I found this pretty off-putting, but took the tire anyway, and mounted it this afternoon. I am hoping that it was a one-time issue with the batch of tires the original came from, or that perhaps, as Marathons aren't well-known in the US, that it was a stale-dated tire, and not representative of the line--which has, after all, a stellar reputation.

The clock starts today on the replacement tire. We'll see what a summer of harsh sun and hot roads do to it. I hope it works out, because I surely do love the way these tires perform--but I can't afford to throw them away half-worn.

Maybe some fixie punk out there will want the old one for skidding....

See update: seven months later....

Richard Risemberg on Fri, 19 Jun 2009 16:33:27 -0800 [link]  

Monday, June 15th
All Dressed Up
All Dressed Up
Click image for larger view
Last Saturday, my friend Rook invited me and Gina to shabbat services at Temple Emanuel, where she would receive her Hebrew name and finalize her conversion to Judaism.

I'm not one to stand on ceremony, but since it was a friend, we went; and since it was an Official Big Deal, we dressed up. And since Rook is a retired pro bike racer who still rides a lot--lives carfree in fact--it was only proper to ride our bikes there. (Though if it had been a more conservative congregation it would have been much more proper to walk.)

Gina rode the Milk Runner and wore a conservative pinstriped skirt suit (but said her eyes were tired so wouldn't let me photograph her, dammit! She looked great!) I rode Trevor Wong, the big orange bike, and dressed as you see me in the Crappy Cellphone Picture (complete with too much junk in my pocket).

Socks courtesy of Bicycle Fixation, of course, and knickers a one-off that Gina had made for me, surreptitiously, at my own factory, as a Solstice gift. Same design as our Classic Wools, with a different fabric.

Just thought you vélocouture types out there would appreciate this. It isn't too often you can catch Yer Editor wearing a tie!

Richard Risemberg on Mon, 15 Jun 2009 10:37:05 -0800 [link]  

Sunday, June 14th
No Junk Miles
Today is Sunday, a day for gratuitous riding for me: riding for the hell of it, because pedaling feels good and I like to watch the world go by. I followed probably the most capricious route ever today (possibly because I wasn't too hungry so didn't have a culinary destination already chosen...).

First I wandered along a maze of quiet side streets that I use to get to my mother's old folks' home without having to put up with the noise, smells, and hurry of the motorheads. That's not really an issue on the weekend, but the houses and gardens, slight hills and lazy turns, are much more pleasant than the fairly banal commercial districts that dominate the area between home and Home...downtown or Hollywood this ain't!

After a half hour with my ancestress, I left and, on a whim, decided to follow Palms Boulevard till it ended. Palms begins at a puzzling five, or perhaps seven, way intersection where it manages to cross Roberston twice--or seem to--in the space of a block...I think. You get the picture...and if you do, you're ahead of me. However, after over forty years on the road in LA, I now manage to get through there without ending up someplace shabby and strange, with two suns in the sky and large footprints in the muddy alleys....

The other end of Palms winds through pleasant little neighborhoods where it looks as though no one lives--what I call "neutron-bomb suburbs," except that they have been absorbed into the city--and debouches into the gangland side of Venice Beach, where however the neutron-bomb effect still held.

Once I got to the more-beachy side of Venice, pedestrians, cyclists, dog-walkers, and other manner of indigenous species began to show up, and the sidewalk cafés were crowded for brunch. Although I still wasn't hungry, I cruised north on Main Street, enumerating restaurants for future exploitation, till i got to Santa Monica, went two blocks right to the beach, and began a slow ramble down the boardwalk.

Yes, in express violation of the "no bikes" rule there--but with the "no peds" bike path full of waddling tourists, I had little choice, and the incoherent parade of tourists, street vendors, con men, buskers, and bums is always exhilarating.

The street people of Venice may be addled--some by accident of birth, many more by the cornucopia of intoxicants openly available there--but they live within a gritty reality that winnows out the unresourceful and dull-witted. They know they constitute a sort of open-air zoo in the tourists' minds, and are wiling to play their parts in a drama that is both desperately real and highly scripted at once. (The ones that don't enjoy that in some way don't stay in Venice; there are easier places to be dirt-poor, though they may lack the vivid community of the boardwalk.)

From there I wound my way to Lincoln Boulevard, which I followed through Westchester (the city) to Westchester (the street), which in turn led me to Pershing, which runs along between the western edge of the airport and the El Segundo Dunes. A quick right at the sewage treatment plant (which smelled a bit riper than usual today), and I was back to the bike path to head north again, for a stop at the Bridge, a chat with some fellow riders, and a fast spin home along Ballona Creek.

Some fast miles, some slow miles, lots of stop-and-go miles, but no "junk miles" whatsoever. Every turn of the pedals brought me contentment, and sometimes joy.

The heart's as much metaphor as meat, and does more than just push blood around, after all.

Richard Risemberg on Sun, 14 Jun 2009 14:49:13 -0800 [link]  

Thursday, June 11th
Barrels of fun
Friend and mad rider Tarik Saleh of New Mexico recently felt compelled to upgrade his rainwater-retention system with a couple of fancy barrels that Los Alamos County provides its residents at a reasonable price--and he decided to fetch them the right bike!

Check out this shot of his Xtracycle, ready to take the load up the road:

Click on the photo to read Tarik's own telling of the tale, with an on-the-road photo included, and more desert doings up in the techno-wilds of Los Alamos. (Tarik actually is a rocket scientist....)

Richard Risemberg on Thu, 11 Jun 2009 08:10:25 -0800 [link]  

Tuesday, June 9th
The Buster's Run
A couple of nice things happened whilst I was riding the trusty old Bottecchia fixie to Buster's in South Pasadena for my weekly meeting with the Mighty Chuck Schmidt.

First off--as now seems to happen almost every day--as I rode away from home, I saw more cyclists than motorists along the 4th Street bike route. It was just past rush hour on a cool, cloudy day with a threat of rain. (Well, for me a promise of rain, but there was barely even a sprinkle in the end.)

Then, as I took a rather wandering route through Lincoln Heights, I spied a bakfiets lumbering across Pasadena Avenue, with a toddler in the box and immense bright orange panniers on the back. I knew it had to be my friend Josef from Flying Pigeon LA, which is just around the corner there--and so it proved to be.

I hailed him, and it turned out we were going the same way (along Marmion Way at least as far as 52nd), so I slowed to the pace of a man pedaling a laden bakfiets up a steady grade, and we chatted for twenty minutes as we rode. Sure, a rabid roadie would have called those "junk miles," but they were the best miles I rode all day--and it was a good riding day!

Those miles graced me with a camaraderie that is ever denied to the car-thralls, and added a spice to the day that the faster miles, pleasurable though they were in themselves, definitely lacked.

Richard Risemberg on Tue, 09 Jun 2009 16:36:02 -0800 [link]  

Sunday, June 7th
Sunday Cruisin'
Rode Chuck Schmidt's Velo-Retro Ride today, including riding to and from the Rose bowl meetup area with no help from Metro trains, so a nice 65 miles or so, on a day that varied between cool dense gray clouds and limpid blue sky as I crisscrossed LA.

1956_Columbian (113k image)Waiting at the Rose Bowl when I arrived was this 1956 Columbian cruiser, all original except for crankset, seatpost, and headlamp (all of which are fortunately not visible in this Crappy Cellphone Picture).

The owner didn't go on the ride, perhaps having misunderstood that when Chuck's announcement calls for "vintage lugged steel" bikes, he mean vintage lugged steel racing bikes--though anyone can ride anything they like if they can keep up with our generally modest pace for twenty-five miles. There were modern race bikes along today, as well as an aluminum hybrid, and all went well. The fellow should have ridden along for a while; he would have had fun.

Rode most of the way home with John Vu, taking a detour that got us lost in a part of San Marino that makes Beverly Hills look like East St. Louis. Big, manorial houses, some complete with vine-covered stone walls; imposing gates; and big bright green lawns that make one cringe in this year of continuing drought. Pretty in a superficial way, though. England in California, courtesy of a network of aqueducts arrogating other people's water...a well-known story. Nobody thinks of it in relation to their own lawn, of course.

Now home, and ready for some of Gina's Mighty Fine Cooking. A good day on the bike, totally gratuitous, with not a chore to be done en route!

Richard Risemberg on Sun, 07 Jun 2009 17:11:14 -0800 [link]  

Saturday, June 6th
Another Summerless Year?
While I personally enjoy cool, cloudy days with scattered showers, I don't think it's a good sign that the weather is so erratic and out-of-synch as it has been lately. Last year there wasn't much of a summer here--a blazing hot week or two, but mostly cooler weather.

Now, the rain I wrote of earlier has continued--pleasant riding for me, but absolutely wrong for this part of the world, this time of the year. I'm torn between enjoying it personally and understanding that it may signify the acceleration of Global Warming effects that recent meteorological surveys have indicated.

Meanwhile, governments do little, and the same pinstriped pirates who brought you Worldwide Recession continue by and large to argue against taking any steps that might reduce their profits, however necessary they may be to ensure the continuation of a world inhabitable by something other than roaches....

One can cry, one can shout, one can cower in despair...but the most powerful thing one can do is simply to start living "lightly on the earth" one's own self....

That's right, don't wait for "them" to fix the mess. Each one of us can fix our own personal corner of the world, and when enough of us have done so, it won't matter what the suits do in their hyperinsulated little meeting rooms.

Don't buy too much, and choose what you do buy with an eye towards its longevity. Eat less meat, which requires twenty to forty times as much land to feed you as plant food eaten directly does.

Live in cities, where each person uses less land, less energy, and fewer resources than rural or suburban dwellers do.

Find your pleasure in community at the coffeehouse, on the square, in the bus or train, on Critical Mass, where you can talk with all manner of folks directly, no editors involved, and learn what's really going on at street level.

And stay out of those land-hogging, air-fouling, isolation chambers known as "cars" as much as you can. More than you now think you can.

Yeah, it's too far to walk. But you're reading this, and you know it's not too far to ride.

The bicycle uses less energy to get you around than even walking does! And it keeps you in touch with your world, your fellows, yourself.

Ride your bike. You love it anyway. (But get some fenders for those rainy days to come!)

Richard Risemberg on Sat, 06 Jun 2009 16:46:34 -0800 [link]  

Wednesday, June 3rd
Singing in the Rain....
To the rest of the northern hemisphere, a bit of rain is no big deal, but in Los Angeles, in June, it is a rare delight.

I had to ride to the Westside today on an errand, and on the way back the low, smooth gray sky began dropping a sparse rain--big but widely spaced drops that tasted sweet but didn't really wet me...evaporating as I rode.

This is one of my favorite riding weathers, cool enough for perfect comfort but not wet enough to require the rain cape. Once in a while a soft flicker brightened the clouds, and a mutter of thunder followed, but the rain only barely wet the streets. LA smelled good for a change, and the even light brought out all the details of leaf and wall, near and far.

I had a number of stops to make, and a lot of ground to cover, and I enjoyed every mile of what could have been a routine morning, as none of my destinations was new to me today.

The fenders kept the road crud off me, and my James Black Hat kept my head cozy and my glasses (mostly) dry. I may not actually have been singing in the rain, but I was certainly humming a happy tune or two. It was a most enjoyable outing, all in all.

Richard Risemberg on Wed, 03 Jun 2009 17:50:42 -0800 [link]  

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