Moving Forward

Part of the mise-en-scène of the Mission Beach-Pacific Beach boardwalk, Slomo confounds and delights San Diego visitors and locals alike. The New York Times Op-Doc Slomo tells his story (may be password protected – check here if so).

It gets really interesting for bicycle riding around 8:45.

Stoke may not be measurable, or a measurable “outcome” that so many of us have to produce at work these days, but I know it when I feel it. That’s why I ride my bike more than any other reason. I’m with Slomo, but I have a family to feed, clothe, and house at this point in my life. So I ride when I can.

I also see my passage about riding and writing from a year ago just a few posts below this one. As some may know, I took an administrative job at my university almost two years ago, and it sure has put a dent in my stoke. I embraced the notion of the “flâneur” as soon as I learned about it in graduate school. As a graduate student living in a great New England town and in close proximity to New York City, the notion of walking through the city, passively observing the unfolding drama around me was very attractive. The more I rode by bike when I moved back to California, I enjoyed flânerie awheel – taking in the city and the country with abandon. Working as a professor, the autonomy and time-shifting that comes with the job allowed for mid-week rides to cafes and even little jaunts along the coast or into the mountains when time allowed.

These days, I work normal hours and often into the evening, even traveling for conferences and representing my university at meetings. So, I’ve lost opportunities for feel like a flâneur, which requires time, and I hustle more than preferred.

Seems Slomo has it figured out. Of course, spinning ones’ mid-life wheels as a highly-paid doctor makes it easier to “do what you want” later in life. But there are models for building simplicity and stoke into everyday, regardless of what life asks at a particular moment. My friend John P. is someone I admire for his stubborn simplicity. Its a good lesson to take. A little bike ride, moving forward, is an easy cure against “being an asshole.”

Ride Yer Bike to Work in San Diego

Here’s a short video illustrating my usual argument for riding a bike around San Diego rather than driving: its better.

Most people don’t seem to understand how it could be better to ride. Most of the time, it is. The reasons as to why its better are myriad. But mental and physical health seem the most glaring to me.

Every time I drive to work, I arrive bummed out. True, the news that carbon dioxide just hit 400 parts per million in our atmosphere (last time we had that was 6 million years ago) really weighs on me and I feel helpless in our global march toward catastrophe (literally!). When I drive to work – goodness – I really get depressed.

When I ride, I arrive to work with energy and some delight in gliding through a beautiful city. Its easier to forget that we’re permanently altering the climate! I encounter people, say hi, make small talk, maybe even learn something. The rhythm of movement fosters creativity in my thinking.

I only wish the bicycle rider in this little video was on a more sensible bike. But I’ll take what I can get.

Riding and Writing

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Thoughts from the Home Office: 

Remember Web 2.0? Seemed at the turn of the century that the Internet was moving from a readerly activity to a writerly activity, as user groups matured and blogs, podcasts, and photo sharing made us all authors. Then social media came along, and pretty much stole the thunder of Web 2.0. Rather than writing, people post. Not all is lost – current social media forms are darn fun and deep. But young people generally don’t write on the Internet anymore. I hope more do. 

Regarding this blog, I’ve clearly been lax. I’d like to ride more, and I’d like to write more. I remember when blogs first caught mainstream attention, besides first thinking that they were an experiment in navel gazing (that tide washed over long ago), I recall lots of apologies in blogging about infrequent posting. Blogging is about what the writer wants to write in terms of content and frequency, so apologies are never necessary. But I do know this blog gets a lot of hits – 33K in 11 posts last year. That may not be a lot in the larger scope of things, but its enough for me to maybe start sharing more.

So, here’s to more posts. And more riding. And more photos. Hope this goes better than my 2013 New Year’s Resolution described below, which has yet to pan out.

2013: The Trails Beacon

I’ve liked riding dirt on road bikes for a while: blame Grant.  I’ve done it with lots of people and enjoyed coming upon a group of riders on full suspension MTBs and kinda smugly shrugging that we rode on the same trails.  While “gravel biking” garners chache by the mainstream industry, living in Southern California, a bona-fide mountain bike sure is fun over the rocky, technical trails.

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I’ve long admired the Moots YBB for its craft and simplicity – the “soft tail” harkened back to my rigid MTB days in college.  So, when I found one on the local Craigslist in the summer, I dove in.  This one came with a Rohloff, Hope brakes, Moots post and stem, Chris King headset and front hub, and some nice tires for a complete bike.  More bling than I was looking for, but I’ll take it.

The problem is that I’ve taken it out 4 times since then, as work has intensified with new responsibilities.  90% of my riding this fall was the commute to and from work.  So, for the new year, I’d like to get this bike out more.  And get regular fitness riding in.  We’ll see how it goes.

The P/R is Dead. Long Live the P/R!

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The Kogswell P/R. Remember this modestly-priced, TIG-welded, made in Taiwan frameset with new-fangled “low trail” geometry and painted-to-match fenders from 2006? When I first came across photos of Adam A’s build, my dreams for a European-style utility bicycle seemed to come true. Little did I know that the P/R would set off a flurry of low-trail madness. Together with Rivendell’s early efforts, the P/R also helped solidify, if in a niche way, the return of 650B to the United States. I suppose the P/R defined the current steel-bike zeitgeist, albeit in a flawed way.

From Bicycle Quarterly

From Bicycle Quarterly

Matt G. of Kogswell was really ambitious. He was able to bring quite a few products to market for budget-minded fans of steel bikes – from frames to brakes to hubs. The original custard-color P/R seemed to be a damned good idea – a creative way to return to an old, largely forgotten design of the French Porteur. From what I understand, Jan Heine was a consultant on the design. The three fork options (50mm, 40mm, and 30mm of trail) helped define offset and trail figures and subsequent load carrying for a wider range of customers than could be served by the small cadre of custom builders doing classic French design. The tubing was strong – I remember hearing it was the same as a Surly Long Hall Trucker. The horizontal dropouts allowed for fixed gear or an internally-geared hub to be used, along with derailleurs. People set up their G1s mostly as porteurs and with all kinds of gearing set-ups. The powdercoat color was sharp – understated, vintage-inspired, and looked good with both silver and black parts. The color-matching steel fenders evoked the aesthetic of utilitarian British 3-speeds that provided basic transportation to the masses in the UK after the war. The upslope on the top tube wasn’t dramatic (although I would have liked a level top tube), keeping the lines fairly classic. The original P/R still turns heads and evokes questions when I ride my “G1″ around town. I think its the fenders.

Elegant simplicity: 'Duke's Kogger

Elegant simplicity: ‘Duke’s Kogger

Then Kogswell opened up the design. Smart people contributed. The “G2″ was skinny-tubed with black powder. The second generation P/R brought in folks’ desire for an lighter bike that could be more “R” (randonneuse) than “P” (porteur). It was still classic looking, but I fear that design-by-committee lost the focus of the original project. It became all-things-to-all-people-who-didn’t-want-to-spend-a-lot-of-money. I was one of them. I picked up a used G1 and set it up as an inexpensive transportation-oriented porteur that I could lock up overnight in the city with aplomb. But as I followed the development of Kogswell, it became difficult to keep track of G2 and then G3, and the 700c models, 26″ models, rack prototypes, and then flaws in design, and finally liquidation of the remaining stock. I picked up my wife’s black P/R for a couple hundred dollars. I don’t know what version it was. Matthew moved on.

Anthony at Longleaf planned to carry on the P/R project but I read recently that he won’t be able to pursue it further. There’s likely no one reason the P/R is no more. But some of the design-by-committee chaos may be to blame, as I saw repeated with Rawland. The original Sogn – a mid-trail all-rounder designed by and for Kirk Pacenti’s 650B tires was just a blissful, tough trail bike. Then it moved again to skinny-tubed, low trail, huge clearances, etc. It may be perfect for some folks, and I totally respect that – but I see Rawland trying to be too many things for too many people. So we have older models dropped, new initiatives sketched out with lots of discussion… and what I see as a lack of focus. Innovation is good, but original, consistent vision and reliable products are good too. I won’t pretend to know how hard it is and the guts it takes to do a start-up frame business. I’m just writing as a rider and observer, so take it with the ignorance it arrives from.

Back to the P/R: I still like the original idea and I’ll bet there’s a good market for a porteur-centric frameset. Velo Orange has the Polyvalent – but I don’t follow V-O stuff so I can’t speak to that frame’s qualities. Better photos and less chrome on the builds would help me with that one, though. Soma’s forthcoming randonneuse may work as a good porter, too. My Pelican does the job wonderfully, but your close to the realm of custom/small batch offerings and that’s a different discussion. But the idea of a simple, relatively inexpensive porter as either a mixte or a level top tube’d frame set with color matching fenders and horizontal dropouts for city-utility riding remains a winner in my mind. City-Utility. Maybe it could be called the C/U.

Second City Bike


For nearly twenty years, I’ve made San Francisco my second city. In 1993, I began dating the woman who I now call my wife, who’s father lived on Potrero Hill in the city and mother lived in the East Bay. For nearly twenty years I’ve traveled north from San Diego frequently, exploring the neighborhoods and cities – and more recently making friends and discovering the beauty of the area by bike.

Among those friends are the folks at Box Dog Bikes. They design and sell the Pelican, a refined all-rounder made for the kind of urban utility, mixed terrain, and distance riding that the varied terrain of the San Francisco Bay Area allows. The bike got a great review in Bicycle Quarterly, and I’m sure many folks are familiar with the particular qualities of the design.

For much of the last year when I visited, I would spy a 58cm 700c model from a previous batch that was hopscotching around the shop – it sat for a time above the merchandise; it was in the glass below the counter for a while; and the last time I went in, the frameset hung with newer Pelicans above the workshop. I asked Gabe if the 58 was still around. It was.

My nearly 2-year old commute is 10 miles each way, and my stout Kogswell, built for 5-mile utility rides, was no longer fun. My Protovelo always begs my legs to slow down and enjoy the ride. The commute offers me precious time for exercise, so I wanted to ride to work in a spirited fashion – I wanted something akin to my Ebisu, but built with a porteur rack, which I find the most useful for carrying clothes, sundries, a computer, and/or books. I wanted to be able to do a 30-mile loop on the way home and count it toward “training” for brevet season. I wanted the Pelican. And I got it.

Built up with Gabe’s Bicycle Quarterly bike as inspiration, the Pelican has served as a daily commuter for the last 2 months. I’ve also taken it out on longer rides with a rando bag attached to the rack. On flats, the Pelican rolls as straight as an arrow with a front load – or without. On climbs, it feels lively – and on descents, it tracks more predictably than any bike I’ve ridden. Fendered, light, durable, and equipped with a Shimergo 8-speed drivetrain, I feel like I can go from commute to 300K without any hesitation. It’s a fantastic bike. Paired with the Pass & Stow rack, the complete bike is all about San Francisco design. I’m in the club!

A Million Little Nannies

Looking smart: helmet-less in Paris.

Over the last few days, the “helmet debate” hit a new peak with a well-articulated essay in the Sunday Review by Elizabeth Rosenthal, who used her experience on the Parisian Velíb to argue against helmet hegemony. Note that her argument was not against helmet use – but against requiring helmets for bike share programs in order to increase participation, and ultimately, modal share in cities. I couldn’t agree more.

Let it flow.

In so many ways, my bike education arrives from conversations with Grant Petersen. Nobody has made the helmet argument better than him. It’s a subtle, smart argument about safety. I almost always wear a helmet, as my 10-mile commute is not facilitated by infrastructure, and I ride it relatively fast, as I treat it as “training” for fitness (I have little other time to devote to exercise these days). Its what Jan Heine calls an “American” commute – different from the short urban jaunts that characterize European city riding. But when I ride short urban jaunts, I don’t wear a helmet. Re-read Grant’s post, or his chapter in the brilliant Just Ride to find out why. Riding without a helmet means that being on a bike is normal and safe – which it is. Just like I don’t wear a helmet getting into the bathtub, working in the garage, or driving a car, I choose not to wear one sometimes when I’m on my bicycle. One should note that all of those activities are much more risky for head injuries than bike riding.

But what Rosenthal’s story does is move beyond personal safety and point to cycling advocacy. She’s writing about the success of bike share programs, and ultimately to how we grow bike modal share, thus creating more livable cities for all who inhabit and pass through them. In the spirit of the flåneur, we should do everything we can as riders and advocates to bring the aesthetic joy of riding to the forefront of the urban experience and advocacy efforts. Moving happily beyond the helmet hang-up here in the United States is an important step in embracing the everyday joy of moving through space astride a bike. That’s why I especially enjoyed the Here and Now coverage of Rosenthal’s view: the tone of the story is so charming and affirmative, that it puts all the nattering helmet nabobs in the place they belong – the crying room.

So, regarding these million little nannies that wag their finger and say you’re an idiot for not wearing a styrofoam hat, their frame echoes through a smaller and smaller chamber. I can’t surmise what compels people to tell others what they should do, based on nothing but unsubstantiated, but deeply held beliefs about safety? As a new parent, I experienced the same thing – everybody had an opinion about how I was wrapping my daughter, burping her, feeding her, keeping her warm. Lots of dads experience this, but I was left wondering: what gets into peoples’ minds where they feel they have the authority to tell strangers what’s best for them?

Everyday people are changing cities by walking and biking. Now, we take authority over what it means to ride a bike. Its normal, fun, safe, and for everybody. Its like walking. Its a blast. Defeating the “safety” police for normal city riding is one important victory in creating a more livable urban experience.