Upcycling Downhilling

I have a few friends that partake in marginally bad ideas (as evidenced above).  The Power Wheels phase isn’t the first time we’ve upcycled some downhill steeds, padded up, and ignored Consumer Product Safety Commission Stickers.

That would have been the scuttle of scooters from SRU. These scooters were not of the Razor death trap variety (we do have a moderate understanding of physics), rather the 12″ (and maybe one 16″) mag-wheeled, fast rolling, marginally braked flashbacks to probably somewhere in the 90’s or so.  Since they were fairly safe (other than the brakes that were more yields), we usually raced them under the cloak of darkness.  Often for donut runs.

Sadly, as much fun as they were, it became increasingly difficult to find enough people to form a gang and cruise downtown.  People grew up, got jobs, moved away, and got into grown up stuff.

The next phase would be the snowbike/ snow scooter phase.  These are still in the arsenal and poised to make a comeback.  They were built from junk kid’s bikes and dysfunctional scooters from the first wave of shenanigans.  While they’re fun, fun shouldn’t be limited to the snowy season.

Which brings us to the Power Wheels.  When the batteries go bad and the kids grow out of them, we give them a second life.  The first step is to pull the motors.  The second step is to beef up the chassis with metal bits, 2x4s, or whatever else is stiffer than the plastic designed for 60 lbs or less.  Seats often need modified as does the steering.  When it’s all said and done, they’re marginally safe:

Marginally safe is sometimes a fun place to be- as long as you have a good chiropractor.

Who knows what the next phase will be.  I do know I’m glad technology has evolved enough since this first started that we can shoot and edit video easily.  Someday I may be too old for this.  Maybe.

 

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In Spite of the Weather

Daywear.  Eveningwear.  Swimwear.  They’re all blurring together at this point.

After yet another edition of The Daily Hydraulic Beatdown– this one well over an hour ahead of schedule I came to a couple of conclusions:

1. We’re out of places to put the rain.  The front yards of the fancy houses on the boulevard now all have in ground swimming pools.  The mall parking lot is looking at installing “No Fishing” signs.  The usual riding shortcuts are suitable for canoeing.

2. The valiant attempts to store water of my shoes, uni saddle, and chamois really didn’t work out so well for the remaining 7 miles to the house.  They’re now spending some quality time in front of the dehumidifier.

With all that being said, there’s no real beef here.  Sure, it’s a bit annoying that offroad trails are unrideable (still- there’s always The Wheel Mill), but it could be far worse.  We could be under drought status as some parts of the country are.

All this talk of weather brings to mind one of my favorite bands, songs,videos, and well timed rain storms from back in early 90’s:

A Tale of Two Bikes and More Friends

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Thanks to Chas at SAYLÉ, two of my bikes ready for action again.  It’s good to have friends.  It’s better to have friends with bearing pullers and bearing presses.  Some may not have bearing issues with their bikes much, but I seem to ride a whole lot and tend to be too stupid to shift.  Going up a hill on a singlespeed (or fixed gear) transmits a lot of force through the drivetrain- rear hub and bottom bracket included.  Those bearings bear the brunt of my poor decisions and stubborn refusal to walk up hills, but fortunately aren’t too difficult to replace (with the proper tools.)

When we were pressing new bearings into the wheel pictured above, I realized that the friends of these parts extended a lot further back.  The wheel was hand-built by Jarrod, now of City Cycle Supply, somewhere around 11 years ago.  It’s been on the Cross Check- the chosen bike for misadventures for well over a decade (and almost always run as a fixed gear.)  That bike came from Speedgoat, founded by Chris, now of Asylum.  Actually Asylum was a house brand of Speedgoat, but when things went unfortunate the brand went into hibernation.  Then, like a good Phoenix, it came back with the Meuse.

Which leads us to the red rings on the eccentric bottom bracket cups in the picture.  I picked up a Meuse when they first became available on Crowd Supply.  It’s made me rethink my aversion to carbon.  Of course, I wouldn’t have tried it unless I knew I could trust it.  When a friend who is more obsessive than yourself signs off on it (thanks Chris), you’re in good hands.  What drew me to the Meuse as well as the design was the fact that it could be run as a bike without shifty bits. My Meuse is sometimes a fixed gear and sometimes a singlespeed because singlespeed cross bikes are a ton of fun and really !@#@!! fast.

This whole obsession with riding bikes could all just be a bunch of crazy talk.  That’s why I’m glad I have a bunch of friends who support pedal powered crazy.  And have the tools to keep me from walking.

Thanks guys.

What’s on My Mind

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It’s not a #throwbackthursday, but this was a post I started some time ago from the mobile.  I had it mostly written and then a bug in the app smashed the bytes into tiny bits and it never saw the light of day.

August 10th, 2014 I got sick.  I had not been feeling 100% when the day started, and as the race progressed I could sense something wasn’t right.  No big deal, some rest and things would be fine.  But they weren’t.  I was really run down and had some sinus weirdness kick in.  It’ll get better soon, I thought.  In the grand scheme of the age of the universe, it would.  In the measurement of days, weeks, and even up to months it didn’t.

By mid-September I thought it would be good to seek some medical attention.  I went to a non-critical emergency care place and was given a round of antibiotics.  Still nothing.  Crazy phlegm and exhaustion still prevailed.  I saw my doctor in October.  He scheduled a Pulmonary Function Test and said he suspected Asthma.  Being that I could still ride a bike or unicycle for dozens of miles at a time I had my suspicions, but I’m not a doctor.  So I waited 3 weeks for the Pulmonary Function Test appointment.  During the test I hit the wheezing point with the phlegm fun, but the magic spray that was supposed to help if I had Asthma didn’t.

So I called the doctor again, and this time it was recommended I see a specialist.  It took them a month and a half to just get me on the schedule to schedule an appointment.  By this time I was stable.  I had settled in to that my nose was just going to perpetually run and I was going to get comfortable feeling as though I had been thrown under the bus.

I finally got in to see the specialist and he (surprise) couldn’t find anything wrong.  He did prescribe a nasal spray and said I’d get a card in the mail to schedule a follow up appointment.  It never came.  Nevermind.

Sometime in late January/ early February I was using the neti-pot (a daily ritual to keep my sinuses clear and keep me off of allergy meds) when the bizarre happened.  As the saline solution ran out of my nose I saw a yellow blob fall.  Hmm, that looks odd.  So I poked it.  And then I took a closer look.  And then I pulled it.  And then I took a picture.  It’s at the top of the post.  I have no idea how yellow elastic ended up in my sinuses (the dime didn’t fall out of my nose, it’s for referencing size).  I don’t know of anything that exists in my world that matches it.  Right around that time, my phlegm problem subsided and I started to feel less run down as well.

It could be just coincidence, but even at that it’s still a fun story.

Sheep go to Heaven?

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Sometimes stories are about how everything comes together. Other times, it’s how it all falls apart. Hopefully there’s still room in the middle.

Disclaimer: There’s going to be reference to religion throughout this post. Above all else, I do NOT want this to devolve into hate or name calling. If you want to load your gun to take shots at a side, you may be able to find some ammo here, sure. But, that is DEFINITELY not my intent. We have enough soundbytes and tweets floating around the interwebs at this point to keep the war against people’s beliefs going for longer than I’ll live. So- if you’re going to skim or take things out of context, you might want to stop reading and go click on some top 10 reasons why you’re right or “They” are wrong. That’s fine. Honestly. If you want to see what a goat thinks (it’s in the web address along with “surly” and “speed”, and “wordpress” at this point too), you’re welcome to read on. After all it is 2015, the Year of the Goat.

Also, if after reading the whole thing, you’d like to discuss my observations and experiences further, I’d welcome the discussion. However, I’d prefer to do it face to face. We could involve coffee, but I’ll let you know now that Decaf is against my religion. I like to think Hate is too.

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Sometime in late 2006, we saw a long standing event here in Butler, PA come to an end. It was a free bike giveaway that was part of the Island Community Day in the summer. Annually, 100+ bikes were fixed up and put back into the community. I took part for a few years up to that point as one of the main mechanics. It was great in that it got bikes into the community. It wasn’t so great in that the work was focused among a few people who would fix the bikes, transport them, and distribute them. Some of the free bike recipients were grateful and enjoyed and used the bikes for a long time. Others treated it as we often treat free stuff: the bikes were disposable. A flat? Ditch it in the weeds. Then, the local Police would find the bikes, store them while the owner was sought (they were considered potentially stolen property), and when no owner was found, they would be released back into circulation through the annual bike giveaway.

Circumstances were such that 2006 was the last Community Day. It wasn’t due to lack of bikes, but other factors. They’re not relevant to this story.

People were initially upset that this event came to an end. After all, kids got bikes and this was good, right?

Being that I was spending around 100hrs or so each year volunteering for the project I wasn’t disappointed in seeing it come to an end. The idea was wonderful, free bikes for all. The problem was in the division of labor. There needed to be a bigger buy-in on the recipient’s end.

So in 2007 we started the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective. (OK, I’ll have to confess most of the “we” was me. I did have some definite support however, from Jeff Rapp, the owner of Rapp’s Bicycle Center, who had been the driving force of the Community Day Giveaway for years. Jeff Rapp is an amazingly generous human. I’ll have to tell more of those stories in the future.)

Coincidentally- then again, maybe not (you decide)- that was the year the community bike shop conference (BikeBike!) was held in Pittsburgh- a nice bike ride away.

At BikeBike! I learned a lot about what happens all around the country (and throughout the rest of the world as well) regarding bike shops that are non-profits, or in many cases, pretty much no-profits. While the demographics of the attendees ranged wildly, the love of people and bikes wasn’t. The community of leaders believed (and most likely still do) that the world would be a better place if more people were on bikes. And by more people, that means, anybody who is able to ride regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.

Amen.

By the end of the conference, the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective really had gained an organizational focus. We would welcome everyone. We would help them fix their bike- for free. If they needed a bike, we could help find one that would fit them and they could have it- AFTER they helped us fix it up. We would also welcome them to join the party and learn how to fix bikes themselves. And so the cycle would go.

When we organized, we needed space for the bikes and tools. It was essential that the space be in a downtown location for easy accessibility by people of all socioeconomic statuses. (Note: I’ve always seen bikes as potential class equalizers. They’re a cheap, efficient, and relatively safe form of transportation for pretty much anyone who can walk, unlike automobiles which cost a lot more (as just a starting point). Stick with me here, I’m not going anti-car, I’m voting pro-bike. Big difference.)

I thought a logical choice for a collective to happen would be a church. After all, a church should be a pillar in the community where good things that benefit all people of their community happen. At least that’s what I get out of reading what people wrote a couple of thousand years ago about that guy Jesus. He seemed to be all about loving those around him, even those whom he didn’t approve of their lifestyle. He didn’t necessarily condone their actions, but he didn’t immediately condemn the person either.

So, we operated out of a church for a couple of years. Unfortunately, the church that we started at did not have a lot of extra space. We needed more than they could provide so we moved operations to another church. They gave us this space:

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Thanks to the generosity of individuals making donations (some monetary, but mostly of parts), we were able to function for 4 years out of this location- without taking any money from the church budget. Each summer we were more and more successful, both number wise, and people wise. Our collection of participants included people from many socioeconomic backgrounds and with many different religious beliefs. And we did a lot of good fixing bikes with people. It got to the point where in a 2 hour session we’d typically help 5-10 people with their mechanical needs.

We also had a lot of fun spending time together as well.

Then it all came to a screeching halt when the church decided to tear down the building we were using:

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It wasn’t that it was in disrepair. It was decided that the expense of the utilities was greater than the benefit of the space. So, our bikes and tools were moved to a storage spot in the main building and the house and garage were torn down (see the image at the top of the post).

In 2013 I was told that the church planned on building a shed for Fixed Gear operations. We waited. Then in 2014 I was told to pack up my stuff and get it out of the church. There would be no space. A short time later the church announced a $3.5 million dollar campaign for building projects. I’m not against those projects, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how a group that helped the community at no cost to the church whatsoever (except for the space) was told to leave.

Let me be clear: I am not bitter. I’m not harboring a grudge. If anything, I’m sad.

I do have a core set of beliefs. We all do. Since they’re my beliefs, I would like to think I’m right as well. After all, who wants to believe in something false?

One of my core beliefs is that we’re all citizens of earth (at least at this point) and we NEED to make the world a better place for as many of us as possible. I’ll throw the word love somewhere in there for sure. If that’s too vague, how about the concept of “Let’s be a bit less selfish and think of how our actions impact others and then do what’s best for ALL of us.”

Do the right thing. Do it all the time.

Once we get towards the details of beliefs and religion and such, I differ from a lot of my friends. And I’m totally fine with that. As long as we’re making the world a better place together I don’t really care about some of the points of their faith.

If someone is to have a religious belief system, it should cause them to act in a way that would benefit others- not just those who believe the same thing as they do.

If someone identifies themselves as an Athiest, I’m OK with that too- as long as their actions are working towards the benefit of mankind.

I know some wonderful people who I consider friends that are Athiests, Buddhists, Agnostics, Jewish, Christians, and some other places inbetween. I hope if they read this they still consider me a friend as well. I’m the same person I was before I wrote today, and I’ll be the same person after. Right now, I’m just disclosing some information to tell the story.

Now back to the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective and the church story:

The church, as a whole, never understood what we did. We fixed bikes (typically on Mondays). The we in this instance was much, much more than myself. It was the nice cross section of our local community. Unfortunately, churches have more of a habit of functioning as fraternities or
sororities than they do as parts of a community.

There isn’t inherently anything wrong with taking care of your own and having a brotherhood or sisterhood relationship. Humans need fellowship. We are social creatures.

Churches do a great job of fellowshipping amongst themselves through church services, classes, studies, and groups. They also do quite well with physical and financial resources that support these ends.

For the most part they fall horribly short in getting out into the community. Take a look at the nice buildings, and then check to see what percentage of the time they get used for non-directly religious related purposes. It’s not wrong that they are used for religious purposes, after all, that’s part of an organization being an organization. It’s the percentage of the time that’s the problem.

Lack of human resources isn’t often the issue as well. People spend a lot of time with church-y activities to hang out with others of their same beliefs. Again, nothing wrong with fellowship. However, if you only spend time with people of your own persuasion, you’ll get a false sense of composition of the 7 billion inhabitants of this planet.

When a church does attempt to go beyond its doors, it’s often labelled as a “ministry” or an “outreach”.

Might as well put the Greek letters on your chest and show your true colors. The problem with “ministry” and “outreach” is that it identifies you as part of a group and separate from those around you. You get to “help others less fortunate” rather than live life as part of the community of humans on planet earth. For the most part, they’re cop out words to avoid getting real.

Of course, as with many things, there are exceptions to this, but they are just that- exceptions.

A few months back I was having a conversation with some friends where one mentioned that he had a friend who was an Athiest, yet joined a new church every year for 2 reasons:

1. For fellowship.
2. To see if there really was a church worth joining.

I think churches have tremendous potential. They typically have a great set of resources, both physically and financially. Having resources is good. Using them wisely for the greater good of EVERYONE is excellent.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the resources are far too often consumed in being a church rather than doing good in the community at large.

In spite of being kicked out of a church, the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective will return for 2015. We’re working with a long time friend of the collective on a space. Actually, as soon as we were told to move our stuff out of the church, this person stepped in with a moving truck and storage space while we prep the new space.

I’m sad that the church never understood that we didn’t have to be a “ministry”. We were much more than that.

Bikes are a way of life.

One Lump or Two?

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I had plans to make this a nice end of year post and reflect on how 2014 closed out.

Screw that. Instead I took a ride. A really @#$@#@#!! awesome one at that.

The original plan was a group excursion featuring the inaugural outdoor adventure of Steve and his True Blue New Surly Pugsley (from THICK Bikes). As with most great plans however, we were interrupted by the Bubonic Plague and Steve had to cancel. Kevin had to cancel too. That left myself and Nate to go check and make sure Moraine still had rocks:

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Yep. They were still there. We did a perimeter check (about 8 1/2 mi) and lost a Clif bar and a glove in the process. In the last section (rocks, rocks, and more rocks), Nate decided that one lap was plenty on the day.

But I really wanted that Clif bar back. It was chocolate chip cookie afterall. And I knew where I lost it. It was right after this section:

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I had been climbing over some of the big stuff when I found out that the one gear I had picked for the day wasn’t quite low enough for the motor. Rather than go backwards down the hill, I put my left foot down on a nearby log for traction. Little did I realize that since this entire day was below freezing that said log had the superpower of zero friction. My normally super grippy flat pedal shoes were no match for the logsicle. The next few seconds involved some awkward gymnastics moves ending with a slightly bruised bum and me wearing a Purple Pugsley hat. Since Nate had taken a slightly different route he wasn’t there to take the pic of me laying on the side of the trail with my feet elevated above my head. Fortunately though, this was when the Clif bar fell out of my pocket, so I can give you at least a glimpse of what might have been:

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The whole thing wouldn’t have made you blow coffee through your nose, but after a couple of hours of rocks, rocks, and more rocks in below freezing temperatures it was the best we had.

Nate’s loss of the glove was much less uneventful. That didn’t stop him from wanting the glove back. It was the one that wasn’t taped up.

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So, once we returned to the parking lot after lap 1, I resolved to get the Clif bar and the glove back by taking a second lap.

I can’t say that there weren’t ulterior motives involved. Just last week I picked up a new bike from Sayle Service (thanks Chas!). I only had 2 rides on it before today (The Wheel Mill on Christmas Eve and a quick local stomp on Saturday). It’s a single speed Surly Pugsley www.surlybikes.com. If you’re familiar with the Pugsley, it was one of the first widely available fat bikes. It’s been around a few years (since 2006 or so) and remains relatively unchanged. Since it’s been around, the arms race for fatter and fatter (insert your mama jokes here) has been upped and the 3.8 tires that it comes with are not the latest and greatest attention grabbers the bike industry has to offer. Neither is a singlespeed (or a rigid bike for that matter). Yet, when I saw this sparkly purple steed it made sense- to me.

I’ve been riding rigid single speed mountain bikes for a dozen years or more and found that they work for me. Most of the time the gear of choice is the wrong one if you’re reading a lot of Bicycling articles or buying into an optimal cadence for efficiency theory. You get a chance to pedal super fast, super slow, and occasionally just right. You get to stand and grunt and sit and spin. Sometimes you even get a chance to take a break and hike.

I don’t ride singlespeed rigid bikes to be cool or hip. I ride them because they’re fun (and I’ve had more than my fair share of derailleurs torn off by sticks, and maintaining suspension scares me.)

Make no doubt about it, fat bikes are not the most efficient lightweight bikes either.

But, they too are fun.

A single speed fat bike is even more fun- MAYBE IF YOU’RE NUTS!

My wife tells me I’m nuts on a regular basis.

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Seriously, today was the most fun I’ve ever had at Moraine- on two wheels. The second lap was well worth it. A total of over 17 miles on a below freezing day through rocks, rocks, and more rocks.

Yep. I’m nuts.

We should ride together sometime.

Black Coffee Friday

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I didn’t get up and fight the crowds. However, the timing was perfect as this box of goodness arrived at my door mid-Friday morning. I’ve been ordering green coffee beans from Dean’s Beans for quite a while now. Yeah, I’m not buying them local. But, coffee isn’t exactly a native crop to PA. To top it off, buying green coffee beans isn’t exactly easy either.

So I compromise. I pick up the phone and order them in bulk- typically 25lbs at a time. From a person at a small company that knows their farmers personally. And pays them fairly. And only deals in organic coffee (and chocolate too).

I purchase unroasted beans because they’re shelf stable. Roasted coffee beans are not. So when I order a white dwarf of coffee every 6 months or so, I don’t have to worry about freshness by the time I’m at the end of a 5 lb bag, let alone 25 lbs.

A side benefit of home roasting beans is that not only do you get fresh coffee, but it’s pretty affordable. Right now, without shipping, it runs about $6 a pound for some kick butt coffee. A bonus is that the growers get treated fairly too.

A Black Friday deal for sure.