Sunday, July 27, 2008

Phantoms, Part 4

My grey Trek 830 went from first love to rusted beater in the span of four years: accessorized, stripped, cared for, neglected, covered in stickers, abandoned in Dad’s garage, abused, left in the rain, and taken to college because it was finally too ugly to steal. In 1991, when my affections were finally stolen away by a big, tennis-ball yellow Trek 6000 with its six extra gears, ultralight aluminum tubing, stop-right-now brakes, and (finally) quick-release wheels, I stripped my first love bare, painted it black, swapped out the teal stem because it didn’t match the new paint, reassembled it with some help from the shop, and sold it cheap to my then-girlfriend’s father. He rode it a few times and hung it in his garage, too polite to admit it didn’t connect for him like his old Schwinn three-speed. I don’t doubt it’s still there, hanging from the rafters. I’ve considered calling, perhaps offering to buy back his piece of my cycling past, but I can’t figure out a polite way to say, “This is your former future-son-in-law... I know I’m no longer in love with your daughter, but that bike...”

A true bike nut remembers them all fondly. Each bike sticks in the mind like an old friendship I’ve grudgingly outgrown. The orange-and-red banana-seat Murray. The chrome Huffy BMX bike. The royal blue Murray mountain bike knockoff. Dad’s brown Free Spirit ten speed. The sky-blue hand-me-down Schwinn Continental from my cousin Dale. My blue Schwinn World Sport. The grey 830. The yellow 6000. Schwinn 974 racing bike. Cannondale M400 mountain bike. Cannondale T700 touring bike. Specialized Epic racing bike. Schwinn DeLuxe Twinn Tandem. Nishiki Citysport cruiser. GT Slipstream hybrid cruiser. And finally, my current friends, the Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike and Schwinn Paramount road bike. I learned to ride a bike twenty years ago. Seventeen bikes in twenty years. And I remember them all, because every one helped me live out a fantasy of who I wanted to be. At seven, I carried the absolute conviction that my banana-seat Murray looked just like a California Highway Patrol motorcycle. As I cruised the long gravel driveway of my parents’ farm, twisting the plastic grip like a throttle, I was Jon from my favorite TV show, “CHiPs.” I chased down the car thieves, rescued children from burning buses, wrote out speeding tickets. On my bike, I was the hero. It sounds funny to me now, but even today, when I shift into the big chainring on my road bike, somewhere in my mind I see Greg LeMond tucked low, methodically reeling in Laurent Fignon to take the 1989 Tour de France. Different bike, different fantasy, but I’m still trying on identities, wanting to be more than simply me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Do You Respond?

Good Morning! Hey There!
Good Morning! (quietly) hello
Good Morning! Mornin'

It was a great Wednesday. Friendly cyclists responded to my Good Morning! with their own greetings. Every single one had some sort of reply.

That was a rare day. Friday was typical. Two of nine riders encountered on my way to work responded to my hellos. It's a shtick I have, greeting bicycle riders.

Good Morning
Hey There

It's not like there are so many of us. My commute doesn't cross one of the bridges into downtown Portland. Those routes have hundreds of cyclists passing through each hour. Just a few miles east of the cycling crowd a reverse commute rider like me will encounter only a handful of cyclists each day. To almost all of them I call out a greeting. A few reply.

Would you? Do you?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Its the little things

I just returned from a short trip to france and the streetside bike scoping is outrageously fun. The nice part is the sheer volume of 50's-70's era production city bikes with nice details that make looking at the bikes more fun than looking at, say, thousands of schwinn varsities.

I can't get over the number of stamped dropout seventies city bikes that had details like these headlight reliefs in the front rack:

So so so so good.
Lots more french street bike pics:
in dijon
in paris

Friday, July 11, 2008

what is 'bike culture"? (part two in an occasional series)

While I was out of town on vacation this week, there was an incident between a bicycle rider and a car driver in southeast Portland. It got ugly and nasty. Alcohol was involved. So, apparently, was a lack of good judgment on the part of several individuals at the scene. Since I don't know the full story, I suggest you check out the details at the Oregonian newspaper:

and perhaps also at the website Bike Portland:

I have taken some time to read these articles and a host of comments that were typed in response to each, and I am struck by one thing. Many of the comments made by folks who identified themselves as being staunchly "pro-bike" referred to the "bicycle community". Until tonight I used to think along those lines myself, without question or deeper thought. But tonight, I remembered a comment my friend made a couple of weeks ago. In a brilliant flash of serious forward thinking, my friend Ian said that he looked forward to a time when Portland -- and other US cities -- would be so bike-friendly that the very idea of a bicycle culture would be redundant. "It'd be like Amsterdam", he said, and they don't really have a 'bike culture'. All they have is a town that was designed so that a whole bunch of people could ride bicycles as transportation. And that's it. That's all."

What great event, what momentous agent of change will be required for enough bicycle riders and pedestrians to rise up in anger at the sheer stupidity, wastefulness and unfairness of our present oil-fueled, freeway-ribboned, car-centric landscape and say, enough is enough? What will be the tipping point that leads us to an age where we no longer identify ourselves as a "bicycle community", where lots of people just ride bikes because it's the easiest and cheapest way to get somewhere?

The thing is, there are times and places in the here and now where many bicycle riders feel a need to identify themselves as being part of a "bicycle community". There are lots of places where it is simply scary to ride a bike for transportation, and simply moving to another, supposedly safer city is not an option. So people naturally band together. Portland is an insane, ridiculous example of a town with so much Bicycle Culture (capitalized and on display in bright neon in every bike shop and bike planning bureau office window!) that it's crazy. People move to Portland and tell me that they did it "for the bike culture, for the bike community". And that's great. Welcome to Portland! (I hope you can afford the rent here.) Go and enjoy the bike polo, the Sprockettes bike-ballet shows and the bike-art installations, the Multnomah County Bike Fair and everything else. I know that lots of people -- especially older adults -- don't feel welcome at those events, which are staffed and organized primarily by the under-thirty set and take place on city streets where most inexperienced riders don't feel safe riding a bicycle. Then whose bicycle community is it?

Or what happens if the most extreme car drivers, already angry at having to share the road with anyone else (whatever vehicle they're operating, frankly) and getting frustrated with the rising cost of gasm see an adult pass them on a bike looking calm, mellow, even happy? Might we see some road rage incidents based simply on drivers' growing anger at The Way Things Might Become? How might a "bicycle community" respond?

Finally, what about the very poor, who have ridden cheap bikes for years because that is all they can afford? What about the homeless man who is dirty, who smells bad and acts worse and tows a shopping cart behind a cobbled-together Magna mountain bike that's five sizes too small for him? Would the hip, self-proclaimed "bicycle community", the raison d'etre for many in Portland, accept him? Would they accept him as warmly as they accept me on my nice bike, with my helmet and the whole aura of One Who Is Employed And Housed And Otherwise Normal? Would they? Honestly? REALLY?

Where's the place in our highly-touted "bike culture" for those who don't see themselves as being part of one?

And what about those in the landscape who cannot ride, either because they are infirm or too old, or because they simply prefer to walk or take the bus? Almost everybody walks somewhere, sometime. And the busses are packed with folks of many different stripes now that gas is over four bucks a gallon. Is there a self-proclaimed "bus community"? Is there a self-proclaimed "pedestrian community?" Do we see "bus culture" or "pedestrian culture"? Not really. The very idea seems almost silly.

Lately I find that the very term "bicycle community" has as much potential to divide as it does to unite, and I find myself wondering about whether it's a label I would like to continue to use. I have no easy answers as yet, but perhaps my friend was onto something.