Saturday, November 23, 2013

TODAY: Food Bank Biking

So like I wrote earlier this week: Bike Stamford is meeting today (in about an hour) at Fairway to bring food donations to Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County

I can't go. I'm in Cleveland. 

But even with something called 'lake effect' snow in the forecast, I knew that wouldn't stop me from bringing food to a charity here. Cleveland has done a lot for me and I wanted to do something for it. 

The thing is, no matter where you call home, what you choose to ride or how you choose to ride, you are going to find people who are less fortunate than you. You can take a few minutes today to take a ride to a food bank. 

I'll get to the other reasons I am in town later, but I had every intention of finding a food bank in Cleveland I could take a donation to. Thankfully, while eating breakfast at the hotel this morning, I saw a story on Fox 8 Cleveland about St. Augustine Church. I hastily jotted down the address and went off. So hastily did I set off that I got lost soon after entering Ohio City. At one point, around 8:30 this morning, I spotted a group of about twenty shivering people waiting for a place to open that was going to be giving out free produce at 10:00.

People standing in the cold waiting for food. It kinda makes all Black Friday stakeout stories seem stupid, doesn't it?

But I made it to St. Augustine and dropped off my donation. I am hoping St. Augustine (which is located at 2486 W. 14th St. in Cleveland) and other charities has a lot more people who show up today, preferably by bike, to make a donation. In fact, I hope this can be replicated all across the country, not just here and in Stamford. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

This Saturday: Food Bank Biking

Here's what I want you to do. It's very simple: take your bike to your local grocery store at noon on Saturday, buy food and bring it to the closest food bank. 

Really, I mean it. 

If you live in Stamford, this ride is being organized by Bike Stamford which created that great Friday night ride through downtown last month.  For this ride, which is co-hosted by People Friendly Stamford, cyclists are meeting at  Fairway (which is once again hosting the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot put on by Pacific Swim Bike Run) and riding to the same food bank I did my DIYBIKING.COM Thanksgiving Dinner Challenge at two years ago: The Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County at 461 Glenbrook Road in Stamford. It's a very short ride away. 

I don't know if you've noticed, but there's a big and direct connection between cycling and food. Sometimes we're expected to buy and eat food that is marketed to us, including miniaturized waffles and stuff that looks like what Peter Venkman scraped off the card catalogue in 'Ghostbusters.' In spite of how it looks, some of these things are rather tasty. 

But most of the time, we just crave real food that we make ourselves or cooked by a loved one. If we know a major ride is imminent, we may eat more. When we are done with a big ride, we may order the kind of food at a diner that comes with a free T-shirt to whoever manages to finish it in one sitting. 

So food has done and continues to do a lot for us as cyclists. Let's do something for food by making sure some gets into the hands of people who will love and appreciate it even more than us. 

Thanksgiving is next week. That means watching a parade...

...and eventually eating food. When you sit down at the table, don't you want to quietly think to yourself that you're thankful you are well-fed enough to fill a panniers bag, E.T. basket, bike trailer or cargo bike with food to bring to someone less fortunate?

I do. 

So if you are in Stamford, please meet at Fairway Market at noon on Saturday, November 23rd. Either buy your food there are bring your own, and carry it safely on your person or with your bike.

If you are not in Stamford and reading this, please tell a friend about a ride you are doing from your own grocery store to your own local food bank. Post a picture of your bike at a food bank and post it on Twitter (#foodbankbiking). Let's make this like the Sketchcrawl of cycling events. 

We can't make any given city a better place to bike overnight nor can we protect every cyclist from an accident, but we can put food on someone's table who needs it more than we do. And we can do it on vehicles that don't pollute and do not take up a lot of space in a food bank's parking lot. Let's do this. Spread the word. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Cargo Bike, Ring's End Lumber, and the One-Sheet Workbench

If you remember: when I finished welding my own cargo bike - warmly named Bikeducken - my workshop was a real mess.

The build had all kinds of issues, but one of the things that happened is it made me rethink some of the workbench choices/builds I had made in the past. I have to say there is nothing remotely wrong with the Workstand and Deliver I made after I finished making my first mountain bike. But those builds had something in common: they were long projects which made me realize I work in my shop differently than I think I do. 

The rolling cabinet - which is the core of Workstand and Deliver - is great in that I can move it about the shop. However, when making the Bikeducken, it was in the welding room a lot…even though I wasn't using any of the tools in the cabinet, which only served to take up a lot of space.

There's also a big disadvantage to drawers: you can put things in them. I know that's supposed to be a feature rather than a bug, but I found that over the past couple of years I have filled the drawers with so much it's getting harder to find things. 

Here's what I'm talking about: this is an actual, unedited view of one of the drawers in the rolling cabinet/workstand.

Most of the drawers look like this. You may have drawers that look like this too. Just looking at the picture brings me down: you've got a couple of screwdrivers, at least two chain tools, pipe cleaners (occasionally used to get gunk out of chains) and a jumble of other things which include, but is not limited to, a Ned Lamont pencil that dates back to the U.S. Senate race of 2006. 

So the obvious solution, some might say, would be a tool board. That's fine and good, but I dig mobility. I wanted something that took up a small footprint but had just about every bike-specific tool within arms reach that I could roll anywhere I needed it. 

I got to thinking of the workspace I used some months back when I volunteered at the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op; here's another picture of that one:

Inspired by that design I decided to make something even simpler: a tool cabinet that would take a 16" square of floor space and feature four 16" x 16" tool board tiles placed at right angles. I also needed another plastic Snap-On tool cabinet

For the lumber I needed for my build, I knew there was only one place to go: Ring's End Lumber in Darien. They had proven themselves invaluable to my wife and I when we were renovating our kitchen (I also bought the new basement door there) and each time I've gotten lumber from them I've been happy with it. 

I knew what I needed, and I wanted them to cut it: three 16" x 16" pieces, plus two pieces that were both 5'4" long and 16" wide. All of it would come from one sheet of 4' x 8' plywood.

And I decided to fetch all of this lumber on the Bikeducken.

I packed extra bungees. 

With the tires fully inflated, the Bikeducken handled the six miles to Ring's End like a champ. Inside, at the customer service desk, a helpful gentleman walked me through the choices of wood (I settled on 3/4" thick birch since it was strong but not too expensive) and was able to quickly print out two pieces of paper - the white sheet and the pink sheet - for me to show to other helpful Ring's End personnel at Building Four. 

I unlocked the Bikeducken and walked it to Building Four. 

Inside, I was shown the 4' X 8' sheet of birch. It made a loud noise when they placed it in the saw and I realized I was buying a very heavy piece of wood. 

Now my plan was to leave the pieces behind that weren't part of the build, but I changed my mind when I realized I had a lot more leftovers than I thought. I elected to take them all, and the Ring's End employee offered to carry everything out of the building. 

"Is your car out there?"

"My vehicle is just outside, yes."

I attached the lumber on my own. As I did this, I drew several admiring comments, including a guy who walked up and exclaimed "That is the best work truck I have ever seen!"

With the lumber, the Bikeducken now stretched more than nine feet long, but soon after I took the photo I pedaled to the entrance, showed the guy in the Checkpoint Charlie booth my little slip of paper, and rode off like I did this every day. 

Note to anyone who is even remotely considering this: unlike hauling, say, toilet paper, lumber affects handling. In fact, I had no structural trouble with the bike itself since every weld held, but I believe it wanted to pop a wheelie the whole way back. 

Keeping the speed low, I headed out through downtown Darien which, just like every foot of Rt. 1 in Connecticut, needs bike lanes. 

I was a little worried that the load would come loose, because if it did, the bike would probably rock violently and throw me off. But as you can see the bungee cords and nets did their job, and I was able to roll safely on Rt. 1 all the way into Stamford. The fastest I got was in the low to mid teens. I stayed in the middle chainring (as a side note: since I couldn't see the rear derailleur I had to guess what gear I was in a lot of the time).

The last big climb into the Cove neighborhood of Stamford, I stopped at Pat's Hubba Hubba - an establishment I had never been to before - to buy a milkshake. Not trusting the kickstand at all, I was forced to lean the bike against the building.

I sat outside and drank the milkshake with such speed the cup nearly collapsed on itself. 

As soon as I had disposed of the cup in a trash can, I continued home and made my glorious arrival. Well, I made my arrival. 

I've carried things on bikes before, but never something that involved three trips and sweating to get it all inside. 

With the Bikeducken safely locked up (don't laugh: someone actually had the guts and meanness to steal Emily Finch's bike in Portland) I set to work by separating the two 5'4" x 16" pieces aside from the scrap, and getting the three 16" squares together.

Then I attached 3" casters to one of the pieces. I had actually wanted bigger, heavier ones but it was important that the cabinet not be too tall; that I could roll it anywhere. 

I then put the two 5'4" pieces at right angles. The vertical piece in the photo below is actually sitting on two of the scrap pieces that you can't see so neither of the boards overlap. I then attached several angle braces to make everything fit at a right angle. 

As soon as that was done, I placed two of the black 16" tile squares on the board and marked - with the Ned Lamont pencil - where the edge was. I was basically building it from the top down: 32" of peg board, 3/4" of 16" square work top, 18 1/2" of Snap-On plastic cabinet…followed by one more 3/4" 16" x 16" piece. I wasn't sure what to do with the space left over near the ground at this point.

With the marks made and the two long boards mounted stiffly, I set it on the wheeled board, ducked inside, and attached more angle braces. When that was done, I made it even more rigid by adding the bottom shelf where the Snap-On cabinet would go. Making it level was a pain - partly because I probably shouldn't have attached the wheels first but also my basement floor isn't exactly known to be smooth surface.

Next, I sawed two of the pieces of 16" x 16" board after marking where the edges of the Snap-On cabinet go. I reasoned that on the work 'space' itself I wouldn't need or want a lot of surface area, but I also wanted to make sure I could see all the little drawers. I used a dull handsaw - and realize just now that I should put better wood saws on my Christmas list.

Finished with that bit, I pushed the cabinet over on its back and attached the plastic tool boards. With that done I discovered, by happy chance, a rolling plastic bin from IKEA fit neatly on the bottom shelf. 

The whole thing rolled as it should but I knew I'd have to bolt or place some heavy objects in the bottom. After I coated it with Polyshades from Minwax, it came out better than I thought. 

Yes, this was made on my day off from work yesterday; only a few hours after every piece of wood in this photo (plus a few more I didn't use) came home on a cargo bike I built from discarded frames. 

So I now have a bike tool cabinet that doesn't take up a lot of space, and as long as I position it near where I'm working just about every tool I usually need is within easy reach. And the Snap-On cabinet is already helping me keep all the little things organized, such as my impressive collection of ordinary and novelty valve caps.

I had only been able to locate all of these because yesterday, after I finished the build, I watched 'The Dark Knight' on DVD (and later watched highlights of the San Francisco Batkid on the news) while emptying the cluttered drawers. 

So, in closing: if you want a rolling cabinet that doesn't take up a lot of space, definitely go to Ring's End and ask for three 16" square pieces and two 5'4" x 16" pieces. Before you know it, your workshop will also be on the road to cleanliness and your cargo bike, if you have one, will be on the road to making history. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

When in Philadelphia: Places To Go During & After Philly Bike Expo 2013

I am pleased to report to readers attending Philly Bike Expo 2013 that I am your unofficial Advance Man for the city of Philadelphia - as I have been riding there the past two days.

Now this is the fourth year of Philly Bike Expo, and its first year at the convention center. It begins at 10:00 this morning (Saturday, November 9th) and concludes tomorrow. I know getting a bike on Amtrak isn't as easy as it should be, but if you are within driving, riding or transit distance, you should find a good reason to go. 

This of course begs the question: what else am I going to do when I'm in Philadelphia? Loyal readers, based on the last couple of days of travels on the faithful Dahon Matrix, I have some ideas that aren't just useful for Philly Bike Expo 2013 weekend, but anytime you're in Philadelphia.

The first thing to understand about Philly is that it has some similar traits to  Boston - narrow streets and so forth - but great strides have been made as you'll find bike lanes fairly often - particularly near Penn and Drexel campuses. 

As always, I recommend you follow every rule of the road and wear a helmet - preferably one with a rearview mirror. Cars seem to pass closer here than in other places, possibly because motorists are used to crowded quarters.

When you arrive for lunch or dinner and want Mexican food, the place to go is, hands down, Distrito, which is located at 3945 Chestnut Street.

I ended up there for lunch on Thursday. The pork tacos with pineapple salsa is the kind of food that makes you smile to yourself and say: "This is why I'm not a vegetarian." 

It's also a fun place - an institution of sorts to a lot of University of Pennsylvania students and alumni. Note the Volkswagen Beetle just inside the window that has been converted into a diner booth. Very Pulp Fiction/Jack Rabbit Slims. 

When riding after a great meal like that, you'll try to put your finger on the mood and the vibe of Philadelphia. It's not easy to do. It's definitely not the easiest city to navigate since, like Boston, streets aren't set up in the grid pattern like New York. And unlike London, if you get lost you can't ask for directions from people who have (real) British accents. 

At times, Philadelphia reminded me of that woman from the episode of 'Seinfeld' that Jerry dated who looked beautiful most of the time but not so much in certain light. Here's what I'm talking about. 

See what I mean? Can't you just picture Bruce Springsteen wandering nearby and morosely nearby singing something about the 'streets of Philadelphia?'

However, if you look down and to the left from the exact spot where this picture was taken, you'll see this:

This is the Schuylkill River Trail, which is a hard trail to spell but an easy one to love as it will eventually span about 130 miles. When you're in Philly you should ride it. Just like that, you go from Springsteen's 'Philadelphia' to whistling the theme from 'Rocky.'

Also, If you're lucky enough to ride aimlessly, you'll know when you reach the historic parts of Philadelphia because you'll hear a random person on the street explaining to his or her young child that 'this corner was where Benjamin Franklin threw up on Thomas Jefferson's shoes' (or something) but also you'll face my old nemesis: cobblestones. 

If this part of town is your thing, bring a road bike that has no suspension at your peril. 

Still, the cobblestones are worth it because you get to historic places where you can take pictures of people taking pictures of historic places.

And when riding along the narrow streets, you'll admire the beauty but abhor the stoplights. However, when at a stoplight, it is important to look around and keep your camera ready, because you'll never know what you might see if you look up.

Once you get past the cobblestones and onto 2nd Street North, you'll find two places of distinction (and both will be at the Philly Bike Expo 2013). The first is Trophy Bikes, which regular readers will remember as the bike shop which gave me my first taste of the quality of Brompton folding bikes. However, since my last visit, they have moved and are now located at 712 N. 2nd Street. 

If you don't have a bike, you can easily get to this neighborhood (Northern Liberties), via the Spring Garden Street stop on the Market-Frankford El. 

The nice fellow behind the counter at Trophy Bikes gave me a little tip: not only will Trophy Bikes be at the Philly Bike Expo, but they are sponsoring something to allow a huge number of riders of Surly Bikes to attend Philly Bike Expo on Sunday for free. Please check with Trophy Bikes for more details, but if you want to buy a Surly, their store has the following:

Were Batman to build a green version of the Batpod, this is how he and Alfred would start. The enormous tires are the distinctive feature of the Surly Pugsly, and it is ready for the cobblestones. 

If you prefer a cargo bike, you can always weld one yourself like I did or you can pick up the Surly Big Dummy, which is complete with disc brakes. 

You can also buy a Brompton there...or a $10 Trophy Bikes T-shirt if your budget is tight (like mine is). 

Not far down 2nd street is R.E. Load, which is a custom messenger bag company founded by a couple of bike messengers in 1998.

What makes this place extraordinary is that they make messenger bags - both custom and not - right there. As in, ten feet from where they are sold. That's about as local as it gets. 

As my preference is for the better bike box, I didn't buy a bag, but my wife did. Like Trophy Bikes, you should visit them at Philly Bike Expo and at their shop on N. 2nd street. 

Now if you are on your new Surly, or Brompton, or any other kind of bike for that matter, you can also treat yourself to baked goods at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.

My first morning in Philly, I parted with $1.35 to buy an excellent muffin - it had something to do with walnuts and apples - that was made by a student at the college. That student or student who made said muffin is going to go on to great things.

So that's the extent of my Philadelphia wisdom so far. As I write this, Philly Bike Expo 2013 starts in two hours, and I hope it is a successful one. If you go, enjoy yourself and bring back fun things and good stories about Philly. Pick out your favorite T-shirt from Headline Shirts and say it with me fast: Da Da. Da Da DAH. Da Da DAH Da Da DAH. Da Da. Da Da DAH. Da Da DAH Da Da DAH. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

DIYBIKING.COM Salutes the Cargo Bike: Part II

Okay: so I was supposed to build my own cargo bike to salute superior manufacturers of cargo bikes - Yuba, Bakfiets and Xtracycle, to name a few in non-alphabetical order - but my rollout was plagued with glitches. The goal was still a worthy one: to present cargo bikes as yet another way to get someone to choose the bike: If you are reading this and buy a lot of goods from the grocery store like toilet paper that comes 30 rolls to a pack, a cargo bike might be right for you.  And I was determined to be the guy to prove it. 

But first, back to the build. 

Two things were in short supply: time and steel, and there was little I could do to get more of either one. Normally, I'd pick up bikes at recycling center or pick them up at tag sales, but I hit a drought. Also: since this was the most complicated thing I've ever welded with my newly configured welding room it was hard to keep everything in order.

That's my workbench. Possibly. 

Another problem was settling on a design of the rear deck, and when I had that sorted out I was slapped with steel that just wouldn't stay when I welded it. I almost wished Walter White (from parts of season one) or an equivalent was around to explain what made some steel higher grade than others. 

But thanks to the front fork that I believe hailed from the Fuji Espree and a top tube and seat tube from the ugliest Huffy 10-speed I had ever seen I got the rear deck built. 

Next, I finally came to terms with the fact I did not have enough bike tubes to make the footrests/cargo holds. So I found some thick steel rods that were from a sofa I had thrown away and played around with them until I found a configuration that I thought would work.

It goes without saying that if you're at a tag sale and you find some telescoping speaker stands for $5, you should buy them. They are quite useful to hold things where I needed them to be. 

Unfortunately, once I had everything where I needed them to be I had to take it all away again so I could grind the paint from the frames and do other cutting and scraping. If you ever try something like this, you can keep track of where everything needs to go using a Sagaris Gold Fountain Pen and a Moleskine Pocket Notebook available at Levenger. Or if these things aren't available, there's always paper towels and a Sharpie. 

Once I put everything back, magnets came to the rescue to make sure the first thing I welded (the top tube I had cut off the Diamondback some time ago to make the Diamondschwinn) would go on right. 

I did have two issues welding the old sofa frame bits to the top tube: at first I upped the voltage setting too much and burned a hole right in the tube. To fix it, I welded in my traditional thick and non-pretty style, but I was able to grind off the excess with an angle grinder. 

I lost a weekend recently due to a fun trip to D.C. and parts of Virginia. So when I had a weekday evening to myself in the welding room, I'd just go at it. I lost track of how many different bikes ended up going into this; I think the Bikeducken has six or seven bikes in it: it took two Peugeot's alone just to make the rear triangle. Still, it was nice to build something out of discarded frames (keep giving me old, steel frames, readers!)

One unfortunate mistake - and this makes the bike look even uglier - was that I must have slightly pushed the frame when I walked around it to weld the cargo hold on the other side, because they sure didn't line up when the time came to join them together. 

It was a disappointment, but it was definitely a lesson learn for the next build. A lesson I had learned from a previous build, the Budget Supertrike, was being followed: don't build anything that won't fit out the door. 

When I set the five gallon can of paint on the cargo deck, I heard a creak, and sure enough I found one weld that had broken. I rolled the bike back into the room and welded it back, more slowly and more carefully this time. I then went over just about every weld I had made. I knew the cargo platforms wouldn't have the biggest capacity; I just needed them to hold a lot of toilet paper (eventually, I reasoned, I'd work my way up to charcoal briquets or even a passenger once I was sure the welds would hold). 

That's me sitting on a plank of wood on the rear deck with my feet resting on the top tube/footrest. I found I could put my feet forward and push the pedals, and I thought I could test the rear deck Mr. Bean style by pedaling the bike while sitting on it and steering with a rope fastened to the handlebars. 

Then I came to my senses. 

But after hitting the different welds with a hammer this morning, I decided the bike was ready to make its motion debut…and what better place to do that than at Bike Stamford II, which was this afternoon in the delightful Mill River Park

And to my complete surprise, the Bikeducken worked perfectly. Well, almost. Because I didn't have time to test it after finishing the welds and putting the chain back on, the shifter decided to be extra dodgy. I had to push it with quite a lot of force and even then several seconds would pass before the gears would change. However, that was a technical problem that I could fix later - and it had nothing to do with my welding. 

Like the previous Bike Stamford ride, this was to be laid back spin through the city and we were all reminded to share the road, ride single file whenever possible, and use hand signals (good advice for any city ride) 

I talked with some of the people who were riding in front of or behind me a little, but I admit I spent a lot of time listening to the bike hoping I wouldn't hear a creak of a weld failing. But just as it was when I rode the work-in-progress to work and back, the bike was silent and I was able to enjoy riding through Stamford in autumn.  

When we got back to the meeting point, we spent some time talking and laughing. One of the riders even allowed some of the others to take a test ride on his Brompton - the legendary folding bike which I actually got to see built during my visit to the U.K. factory

I did not try the Brompton as I already knew from this year's Scotland trip how great these little bikes are. I did, however, get to take the Brompton on a ride by attaching it via bungee cords to the Bikeducken and taking a short spin in the park. The welds held but since I was riding very carefully so as not to damage the bike I do not have a picture of this. 

Before long, I needed to return home - but first I had to stop at Target to pick up something. I told the cashier I didn't need a bag and drew a couple of stares as I was holding my helmet in my other hand. 

I pedaled home in triumph. Being able to safely ride a bike I had built on my own is a pretty big step for me. Even though the Bikeducken is far from perfect and isn't even close to what the well-reviewed Xtracycle Edgerunner is in terms of coolness, I was inspired by the greats and had built something that satisfied me and still made me wonder what else I could build.

I made it home and carried in the Cottonelle like a hunter who had just caught a ten-point buck. When I called my parents as I usually do on Sunday, I nearly led with that. 

So the moral of the story is: if you want to bike more but you need something that allows you to bring things from one place to another, whether it is a Brompton, large quantities of groceries, 30 rolls of toilet paper and so on, you should check out a cargo bike. They truly are the SUV for the cycling age. Also, if you are in Stamford, please remember to vote for mayor on Tuesday and, whoever wins, write and call every elected official and remind them that Stamford needs more bike lanes and sharrows if the city has any hope of dealing with congestion problems and making people happier at the same time. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

(Click here to see the Bikeducken carry something a lot heavier than toilet paper)