Friday, December 21, 2012

- 20 -


Links and Special Thanks:

Suma CM's art blog (Cogito Ergo Suma) 

Toys for Tots

Stamford Museum & Nature Center

Avon Theatre Stamford

WTNH News 8

Turner Recumbents


Ways to Help:

Sandy Hook School Support Fund
c/o Newtown Savings Bank
39 Main Street
Newtown, CT 06470

Sandy Hook Fundraiser (Saturday, Dec. 22nd 1:00pm - 6:00pm)
Parish Hill Middle/High School
304 Parish Hill Road
Chaplin, Connecticut

Newtown Alumni Fund

American Red Cross

Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims Relief Fund

The Sandy Hook Healing Project
(provides reiki, massage therapy, counseling and other services free of charge; email Ann Glaser at aglaser (@) if you can offer a yoga, meditation, or other class
The Healing Center
3 Simm Lane, Newtown
Hours: Saturday Dec. 22 & Sunday Dec. 23: 10am - 6pm
Monday 9am - 4pm
Tuesday (noon - 4pm)
Wednesday through Dec. 28: 1pm - 8pm
Dec. 29: 10am - 6pm) Funds in honor of Sandy Hook Victims

Gun Buyback Program in Bridgeport, Connecticut:
(guns exchanged for gift cards valued up to $200+ every Friday and Saturday through the end of January 2013)
Bridgeport Police Community Services Division
1395 Sylvan Avenue
Bridgeport, CT

Stamford Advocate: Ways to Help Sandy Hook Victims

#26acts (but you can do at least two more)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Someone Else's Christmas

Let me tell you about my day yesterday.

I did some email early in the morning and headed out on the recumbent for what I hoped would be a peaceful and inspiring bike ride. You see, I long ago finished decorating my house and have already done my shopping for the people who are the easiest to shop for. Unfortunately, now that the Impossible People are left ("When I see something I want I just buy it!") Christmas shopping is coming up on the moment where it stops being fun and starts becoming a nuisance.

The ride was meant to change all that, and part of the reason was I was going to visit some toy stores since Domus, which is the charter school in Stamford that houses the Trafigura Work & Learn Business Center (still enjoying the tools made possible by Stacey!) has its Holiday Mall a week from today. What it does is allow less fortunate parents to pick out toys for their kids - and a volunteer like me will even wrap it if they like. I recommend you learn about and support the Domus Holiday Mall or something similar - Each time I volunteer I get one of those 'Thank-you-for-showing-me-the-true-meaning-of-Christmas' moments. 

I also like visiting independent toy stores on general principles anyway.

The recumbent was in fine form on the nine-mile ride into New Canaan, and my first stop was the New Canaan Toy Store; located just across the street from the railway station. I walked in, and immediately heard the sound of Run DMC's 'Christmas in Hollis' - excellent. 

When shopping for a toy drive, I always try to pick out toys I'd play with, so I bought some Legos and Robotikits kit to allow one to build solar powered toys. They looked cool and would easily fit into the even better bike box

Incidentally, the New Canaan Toy Store has a New Canaan-opoly game (which is what it sounds like). I immediately had two questions upon seeing it: First, is there a Stamford-opoly game? Second, why is Elm Street Books only $90?

Next, I looped around through the municipal lot and stopped at The Toy Chest, which is across the street from one of my favorite coffee places, Connecticut Muffin Company. I had to walk the bike a short distance away to find something to lock it to (If you go, bring a cable lock and not a U-lock, since the former will give you more options for bike parking).

I had already shopped here before to buy gifts for my niece, and what makes this store special - aside from it being one of the last places on the North American continent where one can buy the now-discontinued Buckyballs (the store has a sign indicating you must be over 14 to buy them) - is its great selection of games. I bought Rush Hour from ThinkFun as well as a little paintable toy car kit before leaving the store.

Outside, I checked my phone and noticed a message from my cousin's wife giving me a few ideas as to what to get him. One of the ideas was not only good, but it was something I could do on my ride while I still had room in the even better bike box. I left New Canaan and headed south on 124 into Darien to Espresso Neat, another pillar of coffee shop excellence where I actually bought gifts for a couple of people.

It was there - now close to lunchtime - I opened my phone to look at Facebook. I am used to seeing status updates that make no sense - hovering cats and so forth - but this time there were several status updates that made absolutely no sense to me and looked serious. I scrolled up and down and noticed several of my friends - even some not even in Connecticut - where saying something about a shooting at a school in Newtown - which is in my county and less than an hour's drive from my house. 

For the first time in a while, I pedaled home with lot less vigor than I had when I had started off. At home, my wife and I watched the news like everyone else. Twenty children were never going to see Christmas morning 2012. And like everyone else, we had no words. 

This morning, I looked at the small pile of toys I had bought and thought about the Christmas gifts under trees in Newtown that wouldn't be opened by the child they were intended for. That thought bothered me more than my inability to comfort any of my friends with kids. 

I can't make Christmas better for anyone in Newtown. But I can see what more I can do for other kid's Christmases - and make the day associated more with innocence and happiness for kids too small to understand what happened yesterday. There are a lot of pressing needs right now elsewhere, I know, but for right now, the one thing I know I can do is try to make someone else's Christmas better.

If this is the kind of thing you'd like to do too, please look around for a Toys for Tots donation drop-off location. There is one at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, right in their front entrance.

I learned this last weekend when we went there to see the gingerbread house exhibit - where you can vote on your favorite - and of course, see Bill Probert's Lego exhibit which takes up an entire room. I recommend taking kids there to see it this weekend - walk around it as slowly as you can to take it all in - the snow speeder is encircling the AT-AT walker, by the way - and just savor being there. 

Whether you head up there to see the exhibits and drop off toys or not, I hope your day is merry and bright - and you can do something today to make someone else's Christmas merry and bright too. Eventually, maybe, the happiness and innocence will make it all the way to Newtown. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

The DIYBIKING.COM Essential Guide to Decorating for the Holidays

I closed last year's Christmas post with a shot of this: the DIYBIKING.COM Signature Wreath. Actually, I built it more than four years ago, before there even was a DIYBIKING.COM. I had just gotten into welding and found a bunch of cassettes on closeout at Nashbar. After discovering they were a pain to work with, I tried bolting them together to make a wall hanging. But the bits never came together in a straight line, and I soon found that thirteen cassettes (with a few of the gears removed) could make a circle. 

Like a wreath. 

A spray-painted chain held in place with a couple of clear wire ties completed the look, along with a nondescript red bow and a string of battery powered LED lights (which, by the way, can make a bike look Christmasy and keep you safer riding at night). 

The wreath has hung on the inner door of my house every Christmas since. 

This year, however, I didn't stop there.

A few weeks ago, shortly after returning from Cleveland, I lifted a bike from the Metal Only bin gently but firmly and brought it into my basement. It was a Korean bike and I hadn't heard of the 'Response' brand before.

A few twists and turns of spanners and screwdrivers got the bike in decent working condition, and then I did something nobody should ever do: I inflated the tires to their maximum allowable air pressure. It's okay on a new bike or a bike you're confident in, but for something you took out of a rubbish bin that probably hasn't seen a bike pump since Reagan's first term, it's not advisable. 

So my wife and I are sleeping peacefully that night, and about an hour before sunrise…a gunshot - think Old Man Peabody firing at the spacecraft that destroyed one of his pine trees -  shattered the silence.


"What was that!" 

I barely stirred, knowing exactly what it was. "It was a bike tire. Go back to sleep darling."

A shuffled walk to the basement later, coffee cup in hand, I confirmed a tire had, in fact, exploded approximately twelve hours after filling it with air. With no ability to fix the bike without a replacement tire, I decided to respond to the Response's breach of peace by skipping to what I knew would be the last stage of its life: being cut up and used to weld something new. However, the bike still looked okay, and I knew I wouldn't have time or enough materials this holiday season to weld something new anyway (side note: I am desperately trying to find old steel bike frames from the 1990s or earlier, so if you have any you want taken off your hands, please let me know and I'll happily collect). 

So I found a couple of strings of Christmas lights and, 120 LED's later, the bike was on my front lawn basking in Christmasy glory - it's last official stop before it heads to the Dexter Morgan kill room of workshops sometime in early January. The nice part about this kind of decoration is that it didn't involve me going on a scary ladder to attach lights on anything. This year, as a safety measure, all outdoor holiday decor goes below eye level. 

This year, however, I didn't stop there.

I decorated the house with some of the usual stuff. I'm a 'colored lights' person and my wife is a 'white lights' person. In exchange for conceding on a much underreported area of human differences, I get to hang anything I want on our 'tasteful' white light tree, and I like hanging up things that were toys from my youth, and I highly recommend doing that. 

There's a gun in his hand because, you know, he shot first. There's a Tuskan Raider on the tree too. On the other side so they don't fight. My wife caught me removing Greedo so he'd have better light for this picture and her face fell when I told her I wasn't taking it off permanently. Just for that, I'm adding Chewbacca. 

Circling the tree is a model train. Circling every tree should be a model train. I think it is a sticking point of the Fiscal Cliff negotiations.

Now because I took out a number of gears from the cassettes that went into the wreath, I also have converted some of the smaller gears to ornaments. You can do this too: it's just a metal ring looped with one of those metal ornament hangers, which, if you want to save yourself some time this year, just go ahead and carefully wrap one in the spinning brush of your vacuum cleaner.

Just get it over with.

This year, however, I didn't stop there.

The wreath, as I learned since I posted it on this site last year and on Facebook this year, has a pretty broad fan base. Some have requested that I build one for them or made veiled offers to buy the one I have. I know for sure I'd trade this one-of-a-kind for a Brompton, but in terms of cash offers I'm still not sure what the Buy-It-Now price is. 

Now because of the sheer weight and value of the wreath, it has always hung on the inner door of my home so you can't see it when you're outside. But after years of getting a brochure from the Shippan Point Garden Club about their 'Doors of Shippan' wreath contest, I decided to find a way to give my wreath the attention it deserved. 

There were two problems: the wreath contest rules appeared to be written with wreaths that had been made of tree or plant material in mind (it is sponsored by a garden club, after all). Wreaths with real plant material were encouraged and wreaths with artificial plant material were discouraged. I emailed a member of the garden club asking for a clarification: what about wreaths that were not made of any sort of plant material, real or artificial?

The next morning, I got a response indicating that I could in fact, enter a wreath that was devoid of plant life. Even though my wife was skeptical my wreath would be taken seriously since the contest was not being sponsored by the Shippan Point Garage Club, I decided to enter it in 'Category 5' - My Favorite Things.

The other problem, my wife pointed out, had to do with presentation. The white paint around our front doorway was flaking off and missing several key pieces of white trim.  For a couple of years several artfully applied pieces of white duct tape served as (I thought) an acceptable substitute. You're entering a serious contest and presentation matters, she reminded me. After much grumbling, I visited Home Depot last Sunday afternoon, bought several feet of trim and white paint, climbed on a dreaded scary ladder, and did what needed to be done. 

What was particularly frustrating is that I wrapped up the last of the painting shortly after dark that evening. Because I go to work before dark and come home after, I wouldn't know until the morning of the contest how it would look. I went to work a little on the later side that morning so I could secure the wreath. I put fresh batteries in the string of lights and left for the office, hoping the lights would still be functioning by the time the judges arrived.

I had a full day of work as the judging, which was to begin at 9:00 yesterday morning, took place. As it happened, I had to go to New York that night to meet my wife and a friend of ours for the friend's birthday dinner (that's why I didn't call - sorry, Mom and Dad). We didn't get home from all of this until shortly after ten o'clock last night. As we headed up to the house, I was surprised to see the wreath was still lit - not as bright as it had been this morning, but those were still some good batteries I had put in about fifteen hours earlier. 

Also, there was something hanging on the doorknob. It was too dark to see so I used my phone's camera flash to get a closer look.

So there you have it. It was more than I expected to win as I do suspect my disregard for both living and dead plant material on my wreath may have put it at a disadvantage, but it was something, and I do thank the Shippan Point Garden Club for this award. There was also a laminated tag thanking me for my entry and for taking part in beautifying the neighborhood. I guess they were really right on that score: if not for the contest, I probably wouldn't have spent that nice Sunday afternoon installing and painting the trim - which will make the house look better year round. So whether there is the prospect for a ribbon in your future or not, consider decorations this year that shows the world you are a cyclist, and do what you can to make your neighborhood beautiful. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Return to Cleveland: Part II

(Didn't read Part I? Click here)

Many apologies for the long delay between posts: I have been slowly switching my digital self from that of a PC to that of a Mac. The faint but frequently heard chants of 'one of us…one of us' aside, it's a jarring experience. Switching to Mac after nearly two decades of PC use is like opening the silverware drawer in your kitchen and finding several rows of neatly folded socks there instead. Nothing is where it should be in this strange, new world (a delete key, every photo I have ever taken, and so on) but after much grumbling I have finally located everything I need for this post.

On my second and final full day of riding in Cleveland, it was again cold. Not Hoth-without-the-Tauntauns cold, but cold. Since my tattered but trusted neoprene booties were sitting in a dresser drawer 499 miles away, I was forced to improvise with some black electrical tape. My hope was it would create an effective barrier between my feet and the cold air.

It didn't.

Anyway, my plan was to travel west for the day just to see what was Out There. Since I was already partially familiar with it (due to Blazing Saddle Cycle being located there) I decided to travel down Detroit Avenue.

Before doing so, I decided to roam around the banks of the Cuyahoga River (where the picture of the metal bridge was taken). Several notches of the country's Rust Belt are down there, as well as an unusual bike shop underneath one of the above road bridges. Since I was planning to visit the shop in the early evening, when it would be open, I decided to ride the recumbent there first to make sure I wouldn't have to search for it later in the dark. I also found yet another way to cross the river - which would also be a tremendous help later. 

I left the banks of the river and headed over the Veterans Memorial Bridge, with the recumbent getting several appreciative and/or puzzling stares from motorists and pedestrians. I really did have no other objective other than to see how far I could ride. 

I ignored the cold air as much as I could, but about 12 miles in I decided to stop at the first available non-chain coffee shop I saw (I didn't drive 499 miles to go to Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks). A blue bike rack caught my eye next to the words "Seriously Amazing Coffee." I locked up the bike, stepped inside and quickly smiled: Erie Island Coffee Company, which serves a great cup on E. 4th Street, has just one other location in Rocky River, and by sheer coincidence, I had stopped at it.

This one has a fireplace right in the middle, and after getting coffee and a baked good, I sat in front and warmed up. In Ted Clampett style, I even removed my bike shoes so I could try to get the feeling back in my toes. Nobody was heading for the exits, which told me my feet didn't stink. 

Within a few minutes, an admirer of the recumbent stopped in to say hello and ask about DIYBIKING.COM. When I told him about my mostly aimless westward trajectory, he recommended I take a right turn at my next chance and follow Rt. 2 along Lake Erie. He also recommended that I stop at his wife's business around the corner, which makes, and sells, soap and related products made on the premises. I didn't ask if the proceeds from the sale of these products funded underground boxing matches, but I left Pure Enchantment with some body butter to give my wife all the same. 

I resumed pedaling down Detroit and took a right on Linda Avenue, which brought me to Rt. 2. As promised, it was a flat and even route with a view of the lake, mostly through people's backyards. As a lifelong East Coaster, I find the sight of water stretching off into the horizon to be quite soothing. 

I rode over ten miles on Rt. 2, even leaving Cuyahoga County. Now I recommend this route with an asterisk: if you want to ride as many miles as possible in a single day (century, anyone?) this is probably the road you want to take: few stop signs and stop lights, a decent shoulder/bike lane, little traffic and a mostly billiard-table flat terrain. However, since it is mostly residential there aren't a lot of small businesses to see along the way. Also, I wasn't prepared to ride a century and the cold weather began bullying my toes once more. Besides, this post is about Cleveland. 

I stopped for lunch and to warm up at a Mexican restaurant called Casita del Lago; 25 miles after I had left Cleveland, psyched myself up, and began pedaling back. I thought about smearing the body butter all over my toes to keep them warm, but I didn't. I took a detour hoping to find a tag sale that sold thick socks I could put over my bike shoes, but I failed. Still, the miles flowed out of the recumbent, and I would have stopped once again at Erie Island Coffee to warm up but the sun, which had been hidden behind gray clouds for the previous three days, chose that moment to peer out onto Detroit Avenue. I don't think it made it any warmer, but the psychological effect was enormous. I powered my way over the Veteran's Memorial Bridge, and with the odometer approaching 50 miles, I stopped at Colossal Cupcake to get a treat.

I returned to the room to rest, send and receive a few necessary emails, and prepare the next trip out: I topped off the tires of South Norwalk, charged my Serfas bike light and taped the repaired red blinky I found nearly two years ago on a New Canaan ride to the seat tube. I was going out at night, which isn't the most fun thing to do in a city you live in - much less one you've only visited twice. But the streets outside of my hotel were well lit when I set off to my first of two destinations about 6:00pm.

Armed with the wisdom of the area I had gleaned that morning, I pedaled in the dark down Columbus Road and turned right on Merwin Avenue (just before the bridge), walking South Norwalk on the cobblestones so I could enter the lot and find the entrance to Ohio City Bicycle Co-op. As the web site promised, there was a rack where I could easily lock the bike just behind the invitingly open door.

For this season at least, it is open on Wednesday nights between 5 and 9pm, and I was especially happy I'd be able to visit while it was open. When describing this place, the term 'right up my alley' comes to mind as the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op has a very simple mission: 'helping people use bicycles' but the scale of that mission goes far beyond those four words: in addition to promoting bicycle use in Cleveland, they provide bicycle education and instruction on how to repair bikes. Kids can earn a bike from the program by learning how to fix them, and the organization runs on donations and the sale of refurbished bikes at its shop, which is what I was very excited to see. 

All of the bikes on the floor were once donated to the organization and had been refurbished - with all of them priced competitively and looking like they were ready to hit the road. Now some of the bikes in that room do not exist in the natural cycling world. Some of these bikes exist only in Cleveland.

I swear my cousin and I once built one of those when we were kids by sawing an old Kent in half. 

Another unusual bike in the room that day was this excellent tandem, which at that moment wasn't for sale as it hadn't been repaired yet. I felt like the kid at school who knows the answer to the teacher's question and raises his hand frantically: thanks to my time leafing through my copy of Cyclepedia, I recognized the yellow work of art as a Buddy Bike: the tandem for people of equal size and weight who do not ever need to negotiate traffic.

The Ohio City Co-op has also built several original creations of their own, such as a cargo trailer they made without welding that was specially designed to fit through a common doorway. They also sell a few smaller items built from scrapped bikes to help with fund raising

The whole place seemed to be a scaled-up version of Domus' excellent Trafigura Work & Learn Business Center in Stamford. The workshop area, where some of the classes are run, is a great looking place with the right amount of clutter and organization every effective bike workshop needs.

I was also shown the warehouse area where donated bikes are brought in before they are refurbished. The room, seems bigger than the land my house in Stamford is on, reminded me of the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think I saw an old guy pushing a crate on a squeaky trolley off into the distance.

I thanked the staff for my tour and after buying something small, I soon left. It was great to see an organization with such a long history working so many angles to get people on bikes. I was sorry to learn I'd be gone by the time they did their As-Is Bike Sale and Holiday Open House this December 1st, so if you are in the Cleveland area please visit and support this great organization - and do consider sending me dusty bike frames from the 1970s and earlier in lieu of a Christmas card (you know: raw materials for welding). 

When I left, I crossed the Cuyahoga River through the rusty lift bridge and, pedaling South Norwalk safely but furiously, made it back to famous Ohio City sculpture and the blue container-turned-bike-rack so I could have dinner at Nano Brew.

This place did not open too long ago, and was recommended to me by a few residents I had contacted before my visit. Later on, when speaking to my parents on the phone, I should have spoken more clearly to avoid one of them incredulously asking me "you ate at a biker bar?!" so now that I can type the description, I hope to avoid confusion: It's a bicyclists' bar, right across the street from Joy Machines. In addition to the bike parking outside, there is a workstation inside where one can bring a bike that needs tuning and work on it yourself. From the web site I learned that this workstation has a place to rest a beer while you work on your bike. 

I went inside and found a comfortable spot at the bar. I rarely drink beer. In fact, I rarely drink anything at all that isn't either a) water, or b) water that has been heated and poured through caffeinated brown powder. Knowing I wouldn't fool the bartender by feigning any sort of sophistication, I asked her to recommend a beer for an infrequent drinker, and she steered me straight to The Fixie, which was quite good and light on the alcohol content.

The food menu isn't long, but it is well edited. And I will say this: the hamburgers at Nano Brew are the reason cows were invented. Not only did my burger taste excellent, it did not later feel as though I was digesting a small anvil. I could not believe that there could be a chain hamburger place within fifty miles of the place. Now for the vegetarians among DIYBIKING.COM readers: they have at least one meat-free burger which is probably fine, as well as other meat-free things on the sides menu. 

I ate and drank leisurely at the bar for a little while before I was convinced I was full enough and adequately sober to get back on South Norwalk for the ride back to the hotel. Just down the street from Nano Brew, I could see the West Side Market, which I didn't have a chance to visit this time. The beef from Nano Brew's burgers come from there, which by itself is more than enough reason to visit.  

I decided to put full faith in my bike lights and helmet rearview mirror to get myself safely across the bridge. It was a bit intimidating, but I easily made it and, after passing through the still-under-construction intersection near Progressive Field, I took the long way to the hotel, passing a guy sitting on a folding chair across from Horseshoe Casino playing 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head' on a trumpet. 

The next morning, it was time to go home. But with a late checkout before the long ride back to town, I made a last visit to the E. 4th Street location of Erie Coffee Company before returning with South Norwalk to the bridge, determined to get one decent shot of the sunrise. I snapped a few pictures before heading back to pack and secure both bikes in the car. In typical fashion, the weather that day was going to be the best yet even though I was going to be stuck in a car for more than eight hours. 

Once again, it was a great visit to Cleveland, and I really am sorry I didn't respond to all who sent me a note about what places to go and things to do. I'm convinced the city is to cyclists what Alfa Romeos are to car buffs (known as 'Petrolheads') in Britain: just like you can't consider yourself to be a true Petrolhead until you've owned an Alfa, I don't think you can be a true Bicycle-Equivalent-of-a-Petrolhead without visiting Cleveland. And like Alfas, there are cities that look nicer and have better infrastructure, but they lack a certain indescribable something that gives them soul, and for Cleveland a lot of it has to do with having so many people and organizations - Bike Cleveland and others - working to make the city an even nicer place to ride a bike than it is now.  

Do try to go this weekend so you bike about and support the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, but whenever you do go, do not do everything all at once: you'll find that there will be more than enough reason to visit again. And again. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.