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.

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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.

Spin Cycle

Didn’t that look fun? It’s a throwback to when we weren’t in a deep freeze.

Today I was reminded that I’m not a huge fan of automobiles in adverse weather. The dog and I helicoptered the ’98 Jetta when we hit some black ice on the way to a shop day at . All this fun happened after we were already running late due to monkey business with a clogged sink drain.

In the grand scheme of things, no worries. I hopefully snaked the clog and the car is able to be driven home. We’ll live to ride another day.

Speaking of which, we’re in winter mode around here. The good news means we’re at most Friday nights. The last 2 have been a blast. Here’s the video to prove it:

The blogging’s been a bit slim. Social media has been too. It’s all good. I’m not dead yet.

Roll Your Own

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I have a relatively short commute by choice. I like to pedal it- sometimes by unicycle, sometimes by bike. The commute is in town and less than a mile long. Depending on the route I take the number of stop signs and width of the usable roads vary. The usual route to work has 4.

So on today’s commute in I observed:

1. A car that pulled into the opposing traffic lane to pass me on the left when after I had signaled and I was indeed turning left- AT A STOP SIGN. To catch me in the 1 block interval between the first and second STOP sign on today’s commute, they most likely ran the sign before the one I was turning at.

2. At the next STOP sign (3rd on the route), a black SUV rolled it over 5 mph.

3. At the 4th Stop sign, not wanting to be left out, a bus rolled the STOP sign. Yep, a bus.

All in less than 4 minutes time.

Axl wasn’t always known for his good judgement, but maybe he did possess some in 1989 after all:

Kids, Don’t TryThis at Home

I saw the door of the late 90s/ early 2000s Chevy sedan open and the driver get in. I heard the engine turn over, but didn’t think a whole lot of it as I knew I would be past him before he could pull out.

So I rolled on by.

And he followed.

I was cruising along on the Karate Monkey at a pretty good clip. I was checking intersections to make sure they were safe.

I got to a major intersection and put the brakes on. After stopping at the sign and then continuing straight, I heard the familiar- “Hey!”

As a cyclist, I’ve heard the familiar “Hey!” Many times before. It’s usually followed by a lecture on how I’m not supposed to be on the road.

So I took the lane and ignored the warning. It was followed by another “Hey” and the car pulling into the other lane and riding up beside me.

Oh my, this usually where it gets ugly.

“That was a 20 mile per hour wheelie! 20 miles per hour! That was $&@!ing awesome!”

I definitely wasn’t expecting that response.

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Sha la la la la la la.

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“She works at Liberty Travel- She’s got a heart made of… gravel?…” Fountains of Wayne, Denise

Go pedal. Now. That’s the message. If you want to skip all of the rest of this, that’s fine. The moral of the story is at the beginning of this paragraph. If you want a bit of background as to one of the reasons why I follow that ethos, read on.

This pic was taken today. It’s on one of my favorite loops that leaves from my doorstep. Leaving from my doorstep and taking a few hours to outrun some demons means a lot to me. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I drive to get a good ride in. That’s cool, but I’d rather just ride and skip the drive part altogether. If I can pedal from and to the house I don’t waste any extra travel time. That leaves me more time to ride. I like love to ride.

On today’s ride I revisited a loop I’d done once before. It’s 27.5mi or so long and includes 21 or so miles of pavement. The rest is comprised of No Winter Maintenance roads, and even less accessible roads than that. In those areas of the ride I find it difficult for F150 drivers who can’t read STOP on a sign to give me the run down. When they’re using an exit ramp, not so much.

The steed of choice today was The Great Gonzo. Not all of my human powered vehicles (HPVs) have names. I don’t g out of my way to name inanimate objects, but sometimes there’s a reason to. The Hunter geared 36″ unicycle has a myriad of reasons. This uni belonged to a dear friend before it moved in with me. Dan used in in Ride the Lobster in 2008 when we were members of the Surly Speed Goats. He commissioned The Great Gonzo. After riding it for a while though, he determined that a geared unicycle isn’t his thing. For a long time I wasn’t sure it was my thing either. A geared hub complicates a unicycle on many levels. It often costs 2x or more the price of a high end unicycle for the hub itself. It adds complexity and a maintenance schedule. It makes riding a unicycle so much harder than without one.

It also opens up whole new worlds.

If you want to go really freaking fast on one wheel, this is the best gig going. That’s not entirely why I’m fond of The Great Gonzo though. I do like to go fast, BUT I realized a few years ago that I like to go a Med Express or FastER Care level of fast. For those not familiar with those places, they’re emergency care places that are a level shy of visiting the Emergency Room. They’re good for somewhere around the level of stitches. Broken bones are for the ER. I’ve had stitches several times. They caused me to miss some pool time, but rarely caused me to miss much riding. I’m not saying I’m a fan of getting them, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re tolerable.

I am fond of The Great Gonzo (if you don’t know who this is yet, Google the Muppets) because the overdrive of 1.5:1 in second gear allows me to have a really, really, really versatile unicycle. Unicycles without gears are limited by their wheel size and crank length. A 36″ wheel may sound ginormous, but when it comes down to covering ground it’s about equivalent to putting a normal bike in the middle chainring up front and several cogs in from the biggest in back. Comfortable for smelling the roses, but not so good if you’re in a hurry.

To compensate for a limited wheelsize, (ungeared) unis often use shorter cranks to make smaller circles. It’s a good plan, and it can help a rider achieve some good speeds, but the tradeoff is that hills are harder and the torque is less. Smaller circles with the legs are good for speed, but not so good for control in sketchy situations.

The second gear overdrive of a geared hub changes things.

I like 100mm cranks on my ungeared unicycle when I’m in a hurry. The downside rears its ugly head when I can’t climb the 15%+ grade 2 blocks from my house at the start of the ride and I have to take a detour of several blocks (or walk, but walking on a ride?- no thanks). I discovered with the geared unicycle I can run 150mm cranks and climb up the beast 2 blocks over, then shift into overdrive and cruise several mph faster than I can on the ungeared uni.

I’ve really grown to like the 150s for that reason. I also like them because they do slow me down a bit. I know a fair number of go fast people who prefer shorter cranks (137mm typically) on their geared 36″uni so that they can, well, go fast, and spin smaller circles when they’re in the 1:1 mode the hub offers.

I totally respect that thinking. For me though I prefer the slightly longer cranks because I get a first gear that allows me to get lost enough that F-150s can’t change the color of my chamois to brown. First gear allows me to climb almost any hill within reason and then keep the speed in check when I shift to a FastER Care level on the other side. Sure, I could go faster with shorter cranks in second gear. My Jedi skills just may not be there yet.

Or I may just be a chicken. I did see a feral one on a gravel road through Moraine a few rides ago. That may be a story for another time. Or not.