Friday, July 7, 2017

I Hate Your Electric Car

A new electric car is coming out today. Apparently it costs $35,000 - which is considered to be priced "for the masses."

I am not one of those masses. I remember when I bought my SUV in 2006 for about $21,000 I hoped technology would move forward to the point where it would be the last gas-powered car I'd own. But I've spent too many subsequent years sitting in traffic watching the light go from red to green and back again before I have a chance to move through. In that span I also began biking a lot more for day-to-day reasons. I also watched ride sharing apps like Lyft and the one by the sexual harassment guy take off. So I'm hoping this now eleven year old SUV is the last car I own, period. 

Yet California is shoving rebates (also known as tax dollars that would be better spent making streets safer for bikers and walkers) my way to convince me that I should have an electric car that I'd feel good about driving. There is even talk about the incentives getting even bigger because, well, they're not working fast enough.

I've said it so many times it doesn't even sound like words anymore: the goal isn't to get people to convert from gas to electric, but from car to not car

The rebates have only done two things: they give California an alibi for environmental protection when it really just encourages the state to stick with an unsustainable model of sprawl and spread-out living. Millennials, as I've written about before, aren't keen on this model and are one three-hour drive to work before packing it in and leaving the Bay Area. 

That doesn't help Silicon Valley. 

The other thing the rebates have done is simply subsidize cars mostly bought by people who don't need the subsidy. A study from UC Berkeley last year looked at over 98,000 rebate checks and found that 83% of the rebate checks were going to households that had $100,000 in income or more - and mostly to white households. 

A quick shout out to Democrats: Two years from now several of you are going to run for president. At least one of you will be from California* but all of you will talk about how it is bad when tax cut benefits mostly go to the rich. 

When you do that you might want to make sure you have a leg to stand on. 

Before some plug-in e-car fanchild reminds me that the new electric car out today costs ONLY $35,000 (before rebates) I need to add that the program looked at hybrids too, and the sticker prices of those start in the $20,000 range - which is still a lot of money for a lot of families. 

But today is still a big day for high-income households wanting to feel good about the "environmental footprint" - but talk of an environmental footprint must go further than the part of the car the exhaust pipe is normally found. 

A Tesla Model 3 takes up just as much space in a parking spot in Palo Alto as any other car. It can block the box at a Redwood City intersection just like a gas powered car. It can circle a parking lot for ten minutes looking for a space just like a gas powered car. The presence of one and tens of thousands of other electric cars (almost always with one passenger) slows down everyone, which makes commutes take longer - if not additionally making the 'better for the environment' argument a wash.

Now that electric car drivers have gotten used to life alone in the HOV lane, they will be reluctant to give that up. Too bad. They have to. It'll happen sooner or later and I'm hoping a California legislator reading this understands that - or at least takes a look at what happened in Jakarta. When they dumped their HOV lanes average speeds for the entire city dropped big time. 

The lesson from this study is that using HOV lanes as a "Good Dog!" biscuit for wealthy Californians who drive alone is a bad idea that needs to end. 24 hour carpool lanes need to begin. 

Now I'm sure if and when the HOV lane sticker nonsense does end, electric cars will still sell. They'll have to, because for now we're stuck in an environment that forces people to live in one place, have a job in another, and offer little other than using a car to get around. And this coercion is having some pretty terrible consequences since more Americans than ever are going into debt to buy cars. According to a recent study by, the average length of a loan is 69.3 months. But guess what! The average size of a loan, as of last month, is $31,000 which means that the swell new electric car is finally in reach.

The person buying this car may end up in debt to get it, trapped by the payments and stuck in a system that is unsustainable and contributing to a poorer quality of life for everyone. But at least they can still feel good about buying that new electric car.

Thanks for reading and thanks for saying no to Car Culture 2.0

* Don't ask me who.

Friday, June 9, 2017

When We Can Hear Portland Out On Its Bike Tax Idea

From my 2009 trip to Portland, Oregon. I haven't been back to Portland since.
Portland, Oregon is considering a tax on bicycles (presently floated as a 3% tax on new bicycles costing over $500) It has been 'on the table' for a while. We should talk about taxes on bikes since we are road users. But the question is: when should Portland - or any city, for that matter -  talk about taxes for bikes? 

When I am not greeted by inane mixed messages when I go out to buy socks, groceries or get a haircut then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When I can ride over or through a highway interchange on an expressway without wondering where they'll chain my ghost bike, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.

When I have seen research that proves driving a car to work instead of riding a bike has extraordinary health and environmental benefits that increase longevity and reduces health care costs, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.* 

                        Homemade cargo bike (folds so I can take it on VTA)

When I don't have to sit motionless at a left turn only traffic light waiting for a car to pull in behind me so it will set off the green light, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.

When you convince me that cyclists haven't, in fact, been riding in an incomplete, patchy and dangerous system of roads that kills hundreds of my cycling brothers and sisters every year, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When you abolish all free parking and get rid of parking minimums that encourage sprawl and discourage cycling, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

    Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM

When the federal government gives me a mileage reimbursement for every mile I ride my bike to scope out suppliers/buy tools for Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM that is equal or greater than the $0.54 per mile I am paid to drive my SUV for business reasons, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When 97% of global warming scientists concur that the best thing for me to do is to drive a gas powered car, a hybrid car, or an electric car instead of biking, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

When states like yours and California stop using my tax dollars to help some stock grant-laden twentysomething buy a $100,000 Tesla he can afford anyway then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.

When cars stop putting up to 17,000 times more wear on a road than my cargo bike does, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea.** 

When you look at your books and somehow discover that building, maintaining, and encouraging car ownership is a smart long term financial and ecological thing to do, then I'll hear you out about your bike tax idea. 

Until these answers are given a bike tax idea will remain the stupidest.


Take this half-asleep, half-baked, full brain-fart off the table where a uncyclist dressed as Darth Vader playing flaming bagpipes can run over it. If not the politicians that leave it on will see my name on the donor list of their opponents before the next election. 

The most obnoxious pro-bike tax politicians can expect to see the donation links of their opponents on the coveted space on the right side of this page - now reserved for Be The Change Yoga - now doing Yoga in St. James Park again - and the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition's August 8 Bike Summit

Do the smart thing, Portland. I hope we can remain friends.

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

    From my 2009 bike trip in Portland, Oregon. I haven't been back since. 

* that does not get discussed nearly, nearly, nearly enough. A lot of municipalities, still paying for ill-advised car-centric roads, is now going to be footing the bill for the unhealthy world they helped create. 

** this doesn't get discussed enough either. Cars put on the wear that causes potholes (and forces roads and parking lots to be as wide and expensive as they are) so if you are a motorist: lobby against the bike tax! Not only will you have more parking spots to choose from when you get to where you are going but fewer road repairs!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What If The Waterslide Kid Had Tied Up Traffic?

Most people are good. But sometimes you are just going to see a horrendous display of humanity made even worse by the everydayness of it. 

I see it several times a week, but it was absolutely turned up to 11 today. What happened was someone climbed up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco and threatened to jump. Here's what NBC Bay Area had to say in a tweet:

The video itself is 20 seconds of traffic moving at a crawl. Nothing you don't see everyday. 

I get it. I've seen traffic reports and traffic reporters work. If you're stuck in traffic for a long time for seemingly no reason you'll want to know why. But the traffic isn't the angle that should be front and center. The question should be who is this person and what can we do to help him? 

But the tragic thing is, we don't. If you are sitting in a car it seems that everything is about you and how best to move you forward. Someone's son/father/daughter/wife is up on a ledge threatening to jump? Dang it! I am late for my Crossfit class and don't have any more podcasts to listen to! Shove this loony over the side so I can get a move on!

If a UFO lands in the Bay Area I expect the headline to look something like this: 

Also an alien has crash-landed in Redwood City blocking the third and fourth lanes on 101. That's a real mess there. 

NBC Bay Area wasn't alone in this traffic-first angle. Man Sitting on Bay Bridge anchorage snarls westbound traffic was KTVU Fox 2's headline (that changed slightly but, as I said a couple weeks ago, they had the picture of the traffic and had the story filed under 'Traffic Stories').

Tomorrow morning we're going to wake up and some of us are going to watch television.  I'm asking everyone reading this to please watch how the context of a story is different when it has an impact on traffic. 

Traffic, which is ONLY caused by too many people driving, is explained away by, among other things, a motorcycle crash on 101, a tractor-trailer rollover on the 87, or construction on highway 85. Red lines on the map signify traffic problems and even though about 80% of Bay Area drivers travel alone and distracted driving is a serious problem NBC Bay Area wants you to join the Bay Area Wazers "to help viewers avoid traffic jams". (Laura Garcia-Cannon: you've said a couple of times after the traffic reports that people should not use their phones while driving and I am appreciative of that.)

So we have to ask ourselves some interesting questions about this car-centric world we live in. What if the waterslide kid had tied up traffic? What if that commuter train crash from years ago didn't have gory footage but instead tied up the commute? Would we be talking about safety issues, interviewing NTSB personnel? Asking why these things aren't better regulated? Car accidents outnumber waterslide issues by the tens of thousands and yet I don't see parents pulling their kids out of driver's ed. 

So please: for those in the media who are reading this please put car accidents on the same footing as the waterslide kid and let's try not to make everything about a more comfortable car commute. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Images of Car Traffic The Go-To Picture to Symbolize Pain, Dysfunction

Note to Editors: Feel free to use this image, copyright free, to accompany any negative headline

Hope my cycling brothers and sisters east of here had a great Bike to Work Day.

I live in Silicon Valley. That means two things: traffic (which is caused ONLY by too many people driving) and that I read The San Jose Mercury News

It's the local newspaper (and if you haven't had the chance to read reporter Ramona Gwargis' live tweets of San Jose City Hall meetings you are truly missing out on some of the finer things the universe has to offer).

I have noticed a few patterns lately - particularly with the headlines I see on the San Jose Mercury News Facebook page: There have been several negative headlines accompanied by a shot of traffic (and not necessarily the ones that are about traffic).

More Bay Area residents say they want to leave. Where do they plan to go?

San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco job markets will cool: forecast

The Bay Area could be in for some nasty gridlock this evening 

Okay the last one is a bit of a no-brainer for use of an image of traffic. But still. 

It doesn't end there. Look at this headline from today: Job losses battered Santa Clara County in April (headline is a bit different on their homepage).

As I wrote not long ago when talking about how the traffic problem and the housing shortage are really symptoms of the same problem instead of separate issues, I got to thinking that the very image of traffic is just such a universally understood symbol of pain, dysfunction and just things-that-are-wrong one could use an image of traffic to accompany any negative news story.

Could be anything. 

Report Indicates Fewer Americans Reading Books

IBM Ending Benefit of Working at Home

That isn't a joke: it is a real headline and a real story. Nice work, IBM! Whatever 'spreadsheet blindness' that led to this decision isn't going to take into account the amount of energy, creativity and time sucked out of people when they drive to work.

Another bad headline:

Yoga Class Is Cancelled

Now on the flipside of this I want you to notice how often images of bicycles are used when the headline (or, as often is the case, an advertisement) wants to convey something positive. I do want a new rule: any company trying to cash in on the greatness of bicycles has to have outstanding bike parking in front. I'm talking to you, Home Depot. I didn't chain my California Cargo Bike to a handicapped parking sign just to walk in and see...

But still: the image of bicycles is positive, and it works with any positive headline - just look:

Kardashian Family Moves to Faraway Country With No Internet Access.

Larry Wilmore Gets New Podcast - Return to Television Inevitable

That's real - and I when I make a list of all the things that went wrong in 2016 The Nightly Show going off the air makes the top ten.

IRS Announces Plan for Mileage Reimbursement For Bicycles

VivaCalleSJ, Scheduled for Sept. 17, Releases Route Information

That last one is real - and pretty awesome. VivaCalleSJ is San Jose's open streets event where streets are closed to cars and you get to rediscover your city without cars. It's a wonderful thing.

So now that we are on the same page see if we can reduce the images of traffic by reducing traffic. Leave the car. Take the bicycle. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bay Area Bike to Work Day is Tomorrow (May 11)

Sorry this reminder is coming so late - I would have posted yesterday but I misplaced my James Comey figurine. Luckily, I found it where I expected.

So now I would like to thank everyone who showed up at the Silicon Valley Bike Festival on Sunday; I was there with the first complete Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM and loved the feedback I got from everyone who got to try it.

The most pressing news right now is Bay Area Bike to Work Day is tomorrow. Remember the thirteen words: if you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it

If you don't have a bike available there is time to go buy one at Good Karma Bikes (which just changed their evening closing hours from 6pm to 7pm, so you have time to pick one up after work. 

Also the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition is having a really cool incentive this year: if you sign their Bike to Work Day Pledge you can enter to win a cycling vacation from Exodus Travels that allows you to bike from Thailand to Vietnam.

I can speak to the transformative power that comes from biking in other countries. It's allows you to look at our current world through the lens of others and also tell great stories.

As of today, including the U.S., I have ridden a bicycle in sixteen. I just added Mexico a couple of weeks ago after a short weekend in San Diego involved biking 20 miles to the Tijuana border and walking my bike through customs - all so I could ride a bike - first bought at a tag sale in New Hampshire for $5 three years ago before being converted into the perfect city bike - for less than a hour in Tijuana.

Biking across a border and marveling at the parking lot/car checkpoint was a treat (I did have my cargo box searched by a fellow at the border crossing, but he mostly wanted to know where to get a bicycle cargo box and how to make one

The other cool part was using Pesos I had brought with me, leftover from a non-biking trip to Mexico I had taken about eight years ago, and buying churros so I'd have something to eat while waiting to cross the border on the way back - made me miss Lorca's churros. 

Anyway: back to Bay Area Bike to Work Day: Please take part in it tomorrow and take the SVBC pledge. Hope to see you on the road tomorrow - and if you DON'T ride: watch for bicycle commuters, do not honk at us, and give 3' of space when you pass. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

The trailer is not for sale, but the new, handmade Box Bike in the photo is. like Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM on Facebook and message me for pricing details (also free delivery anywhere in Santa Clara County, CA).

Saturday, May 6, 2017

See Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM at the Silicon Valley Bikes Festival on Sunday

The 3rd annual Silicon Valley Bikes Festival is coming to History Park in San Jose on Sunday - and not only am I going to be there, but a Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM is coming with me so find my booth

Underneath the booth you should find me, a bike, a table, some of my artwork (both photographs and welded artwork). I'll also have a fun thing like the 2x2 matrix I had for the Cargo Bike Festival last year. 

I will also be taking the time to remind you to like Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook because we're going to be planning the next one - and we're going to make it bigger. I'll explain later (or at the festival, if you have time).

See you Sunday - Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

#MyMakerYear: TIG Welding

                      At a TIG welding class at TechShop San Jose

Welcome to another edition of #MyMakerYear by DIYBIKING.COM. Brought to you by Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

(Turns to Camera B with a Smile)

Cherry Hill. A jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing in town form.

(Turns back to Camera A)

How is your bike joined together?

That depends on where it is made and who made it. In the UK, when I toured Brompton's headquarters, I saw the beauty of brazing (and you'll see it too if you buy a Brompton folding bike). All of my welding that you've seen me do for this site - including the folding cargo bike I made from old bike frames last year - is MIG welded (Janet Lafleur made this video last year on Bike to Work Day).

But when I bought a cargo bike business (which will be seen at the Silicon Valley Bike Festival May 7th) I discovered all of the bikes are TIG welded.

I didn't even know what the 'T' stood for. Here's a handy answer key if you forgot too:



Also, while we are on initials: KGB stands for Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Benopasnosti but it is easier to say "Committee for State Security" in English.

But back to welding.

Modern MIG welding works by attaching a metal clamp to your work and touching it with metal attached to your gun. The metal is fed from a spool of wire in your machine which allows you to weld for very long periods - all with using just one hand if you wish.

TIG welding, as I quickly found out, works differently. You still attach a metal clamp to your work but instead of a gun, you have a special thing that resembles a really fat fountain pen attached to an unwieldy umbilical cord. An electrode made of tungsten* sticks out of it. You put the electrode close to your work without touching it, activate the welder with your foot and use your other hand (which you of course don't need to hold your work in place or do something important) to feed the wire into the arc - and thus join two metals together.

At a TIG welding class at TechShop San Jose 

After I learned this I wondered why anyone would TIG weld when they could MIG. 

But about ten seconds after I learned this, I found out why. I remember putting on my welding mask and watching Alex demonstrate how to build a cargo bike. Instead of smoke and white-hot sparks that can set fire to the papers piled on the surface of your MIG welding instructor's desk** there were almost no sparks and - this part was particularly eerie - very little noise. Just a brief sizzle as the arc started up and then a very bright light (which I learned later, can give you a sunburn if you don't cover all exposed skin).

Also instead of a weld that, as is often the case for me, looks like a semi-smushed metal caterpillar, you can more easily get a weld that looks like this.

Admit it: if this weld was on Tinder, you'd swipe right. 

But I didn't get that result right away. Practice came in two stages: the first was about an hour spent in Alex's workshop in Santa Cruz (thank you, Alex).

At that time I had a small pile of identical steel scraps I could practice with and try to weld together the exact same way so I could focus on technique, amperage and other variables. I also had a tiny piece of whiteboard that I used to write down what I had done so I could take pictures like this:

Welding while sitting down isn't something I did much - if at all - when MIG welding since my shop never had a table large enough to weld on and I was constantly repositioning myself to make sure the sparks or smoke would blast directly into me. But this is where TIG shows a quirk (you pretty much have to be sitting in order to use the foot pedal) and its value: without a ton of smoke and none of the violent sparks associated with MIG you can actually see more of what is happening with your work. You can see the arc melt the steel, you can finesse where the puddle of molten steel goes, you can control the speed you add the filler (since you're doing it with your other hand).

As I practiced I upped or dropped the amperage, used a short electrode, messed around with the amount of argon gas flowing, accidentally touched the tip of the electrode to the work (that is a no-no), dragged the electrode toward me or away from me, and so on. And I kept a record of it with my little whiteboard - always starting with a number at top (as in, the number of times I had welded the same two pieces of metal together).

After my hour at Alex's shop, I took advantage of my membership at TechShop San Jose (which recently reopened after their move) and reserved a TIG welder to continue practice. A box of the steel pieces and my little whiteboard came for the ride.

As you can see, Attempt #28 was a real bust. 

The mini white board technique did help me become more self aware as I worked. At the end of the day, the attitude of the person doing the welding is an important variable that I missed the first couple dozen times. When I flipped up my mask on Attempt #34, I realized I was the problem because I wasn't being patient.

I was clearly overdue for a long bike ride or a yoga class.

I went through it again. And again. And again. Weld, write, adjust, repeat. 

I began thinking of the poor woman from the X-Files episode Monday who tries to change the outcome of a horrible day she is reliving over and over. I could hear the words she desperately said to Mulder: "Until we get it right." 

Until we get it right.

By Attempt #44 I had begun to isolate what things were leading to good results, and I was sticking with them. 

Eventually, I ran out of those little steel pieces. I figured out how to hold the TIG gun and move it more smoothly. And other things too - like being patient. 

I've done more TIG since and have begun making cargo bike frame number three (you can see the first Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM frame - which was welded by Alex - at the Silicon Valley Bike Festival on May 7th).

Before I forget another interesting thing about TIG i
s you can weld stainless steel together. So for practice I welded some old brake rotors. It made a pretty cool candle holder. 

So that's TIG welding. If you want to learn how to do it I recommend the classes TechShop San Jose offers or look for their other locations and just get as much practice as you can until you get it right. Failing that, strong. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*Tungsten is used because it has a ridiculously high melting point of 6,192 Fahrenheit. Also the symbol for tungsten is a W - you can see it go by in the extended opening credits for 'Breaking Bad' when Anna Gunn's name goes by. 

**That really happened at the welding class I took in January 2014 at the Silvermine Art Center in Connecticut. The instructor was really cool about it but kept his papers in his desk from then on.