Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nine Mornings to California: Morning 2

Morning 2: (Sunday, May 3) Cleveland, Ohio

As a cyclist, Cleveland never disappoints me.

After waking at sunup at Clifford House B&B in Ohio City, I rode over to the flats to see if, by chance, the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op - which may still have some of my artwork on display there - was open. It wasn’t, but the bridge that had been under construction for my last two visits to Cleveland, had been finished.

After a great breakfast at Clifford House I decided to ride again while my wife went off to do some sketching. I rode around aimlessly and eventually found a spot I had ridden to the first time I had come to Cleveland.

Cleveland has its decay, but it feels like it is getting harder to find each time I visit. 

As I closed in on 10:00am, I began to feel a bit down since I knew I not only wouldn’t ride in Cleveland again for a while, but that I was missing what would have been my eleventh Five Boro Bike Tour - which was going on this very day at that very moment. 

I passed West Side Market and turned right past Nano Brew (which does burgers a whole lot better than In-N-Out, incidentally) and nearly collided with a huge mass of people who were standing in the street with bicycles. 

There was a lot of buzz and happy chatter among the individuals and families who were gathered. I asked a fellow rider what was going on, and she gave me a brief rundown of the ride: it was a ‘Bike Awareness Ride’ organized by Bike Cleveland and it had a four mile and a ten mile route. It was to start at 10:00. 

I looked at my watch. It was 9:59. I had one minute to fill out the registration form.

And I did.

I only got to do about twenty minutes of the ride, but I did have a chance to feel the cycling energy that only Cleveland has and ride with a fun group of eclectic strangers. It made me grin from ear to ear and made up not going to the Five Boro Bike Tour. 

Thanks, Cleveland. We’ll meet again.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Nine Mornings to California: Morning 1

Whenever possible, I #choosethebike when getting around. But since my wife and I couldn’t use bicycles to travel from Stamford, Connecticut to Redwood City, California in ten days, we took our Honda Element. I brought a bike, she brought a sketchbook. Here’s what we did: for context, this adventure began two days after I gave away the Bikeducken and one day after we sold our Stamford house. After I started the engine in Connecticut for the last time, I stuck a Yoda action figure on the dashboard for morale.  

Morning 1: (Saturday, May 2) Cherry Hill, New Jersey 

Getting here was the shortest leg of the trip but the most emotional. We had just said goodbye to my parents, signed the closing documents related to the home we had lived in for almost ten years, and headed off to my wife’s parent’s house in New Jersey to spend the night. Spending the night in New Jersey means biking off for coffee in the morning.

From the point of view of a cyclist, Cherry Hill is a collection of busy roads crisscrossing a grid of strip malls. I can assume the town is very old and was built before left turn technology was available. I refer of course to the ‘all turns’ lane that forces drivers who want to turn left to loop right. Like most other ideas connected to improving The Flow, it may have seemed like a good one until cars outgrew the place. The design is just plain hostile, or at best unwelcoming, if you’re a cyclist.

I had set a promise to myself to ride a minimum of five miles a day every day I was driving. I brought only one of my bikes - the mountain bike I had built myself - and had to remove it from the interior Honda Element bike rack I made and attach the seat and front wheel each time I wanted to take a ride (the car was crammed full with stuff we didn't want the movers to put in storage).

With the seat set high (no off roading to be done in Cherry Hill) and the sun just coming up, I set off in search of an independent coffee shop. And Cherry Hill delivered in the only way Cherry Hill can. 

This abandoned shell was found between Dunkin’ Donuts two and three (and it was at the third one - not four miles from where I started - I gave up on looking and settled for What A Marketing Person Says America Runs On. It made me miss Lorca and realize that the more car centric a city, the less friendly it is to independent businesses. At least I had a chance to stretch my legs. I returned to the house and put the bike away, where we visited with her parents a few more hours before setting off to Cleveland - a city I am always excited to bike in and is really the anti-Cherry Hill in terms of design.

The drive from Cherry Hill to that was endlessly long but worth it.  Upon arrival my wife and I ate an excellent dinner at Bar Cento (she sketched it) and then we walked to W. 25th Street to the new Mitchell’s Ice Cream. I reasoned I could work off the treat the next morning - and since I knew it would be my last time biking in Cleveland for a while I wanted to make the ride on Morning 2 count. 

Click here for Morning 2

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Last Days of Bikeducken (And, by Association, Living in Connecticut)

    First photo of 2015: Sunrise on West Beach in Stamford, January 1, 2015

When you collect - well, not really collect but accumulate - bicycles, you don’t really do so thinking you’re going to have to eventually move them. Suddenly presented with that reality in late 2014 when my wife and I realized we were, indeed, moving from Connecticut to California, I began to look at my collection through an anxious lens.

Over a period of nearly five months I sold, scrapped or gave away bikes, parts and other things I didn’t think I’d need in California. It took a long time mostly because I was busy doing freelance work, fixing up the house and getting it ready for a sale, and flying back and forth to California trying to bond with the place (riding through the area, especially in the Willow Glen ride planned by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, has helped).

Over time I gathered what I thought I absolutely needed and put myself in a mental place to give up the rest. Bike related stuff that never would have deemed non-essential under any other circumstances went to either the Trafigura Work & Learn Center in Stamford or the BikePort Co-op in Bridgeport. Since we had to make the amount of stuff we needed placed in storage fall under a certain threshold (and fairly certain whatever residence we’d end up with in Silicon Valley would be smaller than what we had in Stamford anyhow) I made other, previously unthinkable choices.

Like throwing away the Bikeducken.

The Bikeducken. It began as one discarded Diamondback and ended up as the DiamondSchwinn because I wanted to see if I could cut a bike in half and weld it back together. Later, when I finally found a children’s BMX bike that had a five-speed cassette in the back I created the two-part DIYBIKING.COM Salutes the Cargo Bike feature. By the time I was done eight bikes - all throwaways - had been used to make it. I had to splice two chains of different makes together to make it work - and when pedaling I’d hear the clattering of the chain passing through the derailleur change pitch. 

The bike was used to carry an entire 4 x 8 sheet of plywood six miles from Rings End Hardware in Darien to build the one sheet workbench.

It carried anything I wanted it to, and in the last days of living in Stamford it was essential for bringing stuff to Goodwill - including a trail-a-bike. 

While closing in on Christmas 2014 I made a run to the Domus Work & Learn Business Center that topped all others before it. If Hollywood wanted to do a reboot of The Grapes of Wrath with bikes this has that covered. 

The Bikeducken was even featured on a web site called this past September. I wondered why anyone would write anything about it, but I took their publicity. I also got a lot of amusement by reading the comments section of the story: one commenter even said: “that’s not welding; more like trying to glue it with spatters of metal” which didn’t make me upset because it was not only an accurate description of the amateur welding technique I had at the time, but it was funny.

As useful and unique as the bike was, I didn’t think it had any value to anyone other than me. Save for the kickstand, bell and derailleur cable the bike was built from what people in Connecticut threw away. With few exceptions, they loaded a slightly-distressed bike into their car, drove it to the Katrina Mygatt Recycling center on Magee Avenue, and dropped it into or around the Metal Only bin without giving it another thought. 

I decided the Bikeducken should return to the scrapheap from whence it came. Even though I thought it might help with closing my relationship with Connecticut I wasn’t going to feel sentimental about it. I decided I’d buy or build another cargo bike when I got settled in California and that was that. 

I removed the rear deck to make it easier to carry up and down the basement stairs (During half of March and the start of April I had to remove all personal belongings every time a realtor came calling) and the countdown to its last ride began. 

As coldhearted as this all sounds, I saw a practical reason for this as well: All but one of my remaining bikes - The City Bike, the Recumbent, The Dahon Matrix, The Mystery of South Norwalk - were being packed up in a moving truck. In fact: I watched it happen.

The mountain bike I built (in fact, the project that led to this site in the first place) won the coveted spot of being the bike that was to come with us for the cross-country drive to California, and it needed to be packed up and ready to travel too. Having a throwaway bike on hand would actually be useful since it could be used right up until the very end. However, as a promise I made to my cycling brothers and sisters in The Constitution State, I reattached a sign (with an updated date) to the frame. 

When I wasn’t biking around Stamford I was biking around Silicon Valley on my Bike Friday, which had been in California since February. As Bike to Work Day closed in on the West Coast, I attached signs I had procured from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

As stressed out as I was with everything going on, I could at least sleep at night (no matter which time zone that would be in) knowing I was doing what I could to get the word out on Bike to Work Day

In addition to promoting Bike to Work Day 2015, the Bikeducken did some irrefutably useful things, such as taking my cable boxes and to the UPS store on High Ridge so I could mail them back to the most incompetent cable company that ever walked the earth. 

It was the last frontier for those cable boxes, I gotta say. 

When my last week in Stamford arrived, I welcomed four guys into my house. I only knew them by their first names and watched them carry everything I owned out of my house and place into a truck  - at one point while the song ‘Love Train’ was playing on an iPod. 

Try to get that image out of your head.

In between their visits, I went to my last yoga class at Exhale - which was even nicer because talented Stamford artist Holly Danger was among my classmates - and sipped my last hot cappuccino at Lorca

I also bought some of my favorite cookies - alfajores - for the cross country drive (and enjoyed them all the way through Iowa). The morning I was at Lorca, I treated the Bikeducken to a good parking spot and was reminded of how much cheaper it is to build a place to park many bicycles instead of a place to park one car (the following week, Stamford Mayor David Martin announced a new bike parking pilot program featuring bike hitches welded by a Stamford city worker I never had a chance to meet and thank).

And somewhere in the middle of all this, Jon from Rippowam Labs (where I taught the class on how to fix up your bike for spring), who had heard I was throwing away the Bikeducken, asked if he could have it. I was baffled at why he wanted it but decided not to argue. The night before I left Stamford he stopped in to pick it up. 

Jump ahead a couple weeks: I’m looking at the great Bike to Work Week features written by Elizabeth Kim at the Stamford Advocate and I see Jon holding a familiar-looking bike. 

It gave me a real smile, and it made me thankful I had put enough value on that strange, wonderful cargo bike to not throw it in the trash. It could go there another day, but maybe, just maybe, that picture in the Stamford Advocate inspired one other person to think one or more of the following:

Maybe I should give away that old bike to Domus or BikePort Co-op instead of throwing it in the trash. 

I have a bike and I can ride it safely. I’ll ride it. 

Rippowam Labs sounds really cool. I should check out their class schedule.

I should bike to Lorca, eat some cookies, and take a class at Exhale Stamford to cancel those cookies out - or at least make me think I did. 

I should bike more and drive less. 

Whether or not any Stamford motorists thought those things or not by seeing the Bikeducken or reading this site, they are going to be thinking those things anyway. After all, there are a lot more cyclists on the roads and a lot more coming. Hope they keep an eye out for them and notice how much faster they’re moving and how much more fun they’re having than they are. 

So farewell, Bikeducken and farewell New England. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

    Last photo I took in Stamford before moving: May 1, 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hi, Silicon Valley: Bike to Work Day is Tomorrow!

I’m still getting over internal combustion engine-lag (I had to turn my watch back an hour every couple of days during last week's cross-country drive to get to Silicon Valley from Connecticut - a trip I’ll write about later) but I wanted to give you a reminder that tomorrow - May 14th - is Bike to Work Day in Silicon Valley. 

And you're going to do it. 

I once told Elizabeth Kim - the reporter at the Stamford Advocate who is writing excellent Bike to Work stories all this week - that half of what a city needs for cyclists is infrastructure and the other half is acceptance. (For reference: Delhi and Gurgaon, India has a ton of acceptance - a road user is a road user - but no infrastructure, Cleveland, Ohio has a great and growing amount of both and Greenwich, Connecticut has just about none of either).

When I moved out here, I wanted to find out how much of both Silicon Valley has. And you know what? You’ve got a lot going for you: nicer weather, flatter terrain, a superior bikes on trains policy, no Massachusetts or New York drivers around - the list goes on. That also means your list of excuses for not biking to work is even shorter than most folks in Connecticut. So remember those Thirteen Words: If you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it. 

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition is doing a lot of work to bring a great Bike to Work Day tomorrow, so be assured that if you #choosethebike you won’t be alone. They’ve got Energizer Stations (which is what it sounds like) all over the place - check their map to find one near your route. They’ve got tips on how to ride safely to work and are even having a Bike Away From Work Bash from 6 - 8pm at the Roosevelt Community Center in San Jose.  They’re also inviting you to share your photos to their Twitter and Instagram accounts (@BikeSV and @BikeSiliconValley, respectively). Also use #BTWD and #BikeMonth to talk about both. 

So give bike commuting a try: as I wrote before you’ll save money, make friends and change yourself - and your neighborhood - for the better. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Nine Reasons to Take Part in Bike to Work Week

It’s Bike to Work Week 2015. If you’re in Silicon Valley, check out what’s going on with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition or the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. If you’re in Stamford, Connecticut, befriend People Friendly Stamford on Facebook and read the Stamford Advocate’s Elizabeth Kim’s coverage of Bike to Work Week. If you’re anywhere in between, check with your local bike shop, bike club or bike organization and plan to bike to work this week yourself. 

If you’re already doing those things, talk to your car-driving brothers and sisters and remind them of the following reasons to #choosethebike and participate in Bike to Work Week 2015. 

9. Energy to run a car is expensive. 

Wherever you live in the U.S. (but especially California, where gas is expensive) it costs a lot per mile to use your car. If gas is $3.39 per gallon and your car gets 25 miles to the gallon, you spend almost $0.14 per mile to drive your car.  Even for short trips, that adds up: last year I pointed out that one simple, four mile round trip bike ride saves more than enough to buy a cookie at my favorite coffee shop in Stamford. 

8. Burning calories cycling reduces the guilt you’ll feel eating said cookie. 

Other than the strength training your right foot gets as it moves back and forth from the accelerator to the brake in traffic, you don’t burn a whole lot of calories when driving. When I lived in rural New Hampshire - where I would drive everywhere - I weighed about thirty pounds more than I do now. 

Bicycling changed my waistline for the better and it improved my eating habits. For instance, I’m quite fond of donuts, and I made a deal with myself years ago that I’d only indulge when I would ride a bike to a donut source. The deal stuck, and after a while I wouldn’t crave donuts that much to begin with and would just pedal on by the donut source. Your results may vary, but consider burning calories and not gasoline when going to work. 

7. You are not limited by the slow-moving car in front of you. 

I don’t care how many cylinders your truck has, whether you drive a muscle car or if you do your daily commute in a Tesla. Your car only has as much horsepower and as much top speed as the car in front of you. It’s something manufacturers hide as well as possible - filming commercials of their cars on sweeping, beautiful rides in strangely desolate areas with the familiar disclaimer - professional driver on a closed course - in tiny letters on the bottom of the screen.

But we aren’t professional drivers on a closed course. We’re Amateur Drivers on a Crowded Course (I'll write a book with that title since it sounds catchy) and no matter where you drive, you are hemmed in by the motor vehicles around you. 

6. On a bike, you control the terms of your commute. 

This is a companion to the last one: we’ve all tricked ourselves into believing we control our rolling glass and metal enclosures we use to get to work but we really don’t. If someone is tailgating you, you drive faster. If someone is driving slow in front of you, you drive slower. If every parking spot in front of your favorite coffee shop is full, you don’t stop. 

Biking doesn’t just provide exercise, but it allows you to not have your day defined by what others are doing. You can ride to work as fast or as slow as you want. You can take different routes. You can stop anywhere along the way. I could rest my case right there. 

5. Every day you don’t drive your car is another day you don’t have to pay a mechanic hundreds of dollars to find and eliminate a mysterious noise.

I have a well-documented personal experience with this one. In addition to the running costs, cars are complex things that cost a lot of money to fix - especially if you’re not entirely sure what’s wrong with it other than it is making a sound it isn’t supposed to make. Each day your car is at rest is another day between you and an expensive bill from a mechanic. In other words: if you love your car, drive it less. It - and your wallet - will thank you. 

4. Every day you don’t drive your car is another day between you and the next car wash. 

One of the things that struck me biking around Silicon Valley was the number of car washes there are - and how many featured water running from the driveways into the roads. It seems normal for a car wash but the state is also in a drought, and everyone is being asked to cut back on the water they use. 

I’m not going to let the car culture off the hook for aiding and abetting the conditions that created the drought in the first place (greenhouse gases, suburbs and their lawns, etc.) but let’s focus on a simple thing: if you’re not using your car, you’re not exposing it to dirt. Biking to work - in addition to being more healthy and more fun - is a tool to deal with the drought since you’ll be washing your car less. 

3. It’s easier to communicate with people.

A decade and a half into the 21st century we have no shortage of ways to communicate with each other - I’m sure fifteen new apps that promise as much were funded this morning while I wrote this. But cars are stuck in the early 20th century because the only communications tool each has is…a horn. 

To the credit of my fellow human beings: we’ve figured out ways to stretch the little trumpet-shaped button on the steering wheel in ways not intended by the manufacturer. Push it gently but sharply and the person in front of you who took more than four seconds to react to the light changing to green has a gentle reminder to move. This is followed by a sharp, long burst at the following light when the person has displayed this reprehensible behavior a second time. 

We also have the two-short-toots technique, usually reserved for seeing someone we know traveling in the opposite direction. This is followed by waving from the enclosed motor vehicle as it passes by - and a look of indignation or confusion from the person driving the car in front of you. 

One day in Stamford I was biking west on Broad Street and was turning right onto Bedford Street. On the corner next to the Ferguson Library I recognized Congressman Jim Himes. Since I was on a bike I waved and shouted “Hey, Congressman!” He recognized me and waved back, so I pulled into a space between two parked cars and we talked for a couple of minutes. More recently, the head of makerspace Rippowam Labs recognized me, called my name, and I stopped my bike to talk with him a while. 

Think of the conversations you could have had with the last person you addressed with a friendly ‘toot toot’ as you drove by. Think of the friendships and relationships - to say nothing of the spontaneous invites for coffee or treats - that could have moved forward if you were on a bike instead. Instead of being in a capsule with a horn as a voice, you can be on a bike with your own voice and your own smile to send your greeting.

2. Bikes are easier to park.

We spend way, way too much time looking for a place to put our motor vehicles when we aren’t using them. Do we have a place in front of the restaurant? No, let’s try the next block. Okay, there’s one. Wait, it’s a loading zone. Okay, how about this. Perfect. A little narrow. Get out on my side, okay? When do they enforce the meter? Should we put a few quarters in just in case? Wait, it’s credit card only? 

And so on.

Cities and businesses need to create and maintain bike parking that is safe, visible and accessible (and cyclists should thank cities and reward businesses that do this) but it is always going to be easier to find a place to stash a bicycle that takes up maybe five square feet than a car that takes up over 100.

1. Biking is more fun.

This is everything on this list added together and more. If you want to sit in a car and watch the traffic light in front of you go from red to green and back again before you have a chance to drive through it, you’re free to select that option. But if you #choosethebike, you’ll have a lot more fun. That's all there is to it. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

On Silicon Valley Gives Day, Find Good Karma in San Jose

    Cyclists on a recent ride organized by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition riding to Willow Glen (April 2015)

Note: my cross-country drive to California continues - as I expected I sighed at the sight of every eastbound Thule bike rack possibly bound for The 2015 Five Boro Bike Tour as I drove west - and am writing this preface this using hotel wi-fi in Illinois. My mission is to ride the one bike I brought with me a minimum of five miles in every new state we travel in (except Indiana - I may come back someday when they stop being mean to people based on who they want to spend the rest of their lives biking with) and just having fun in the tried-and-true American bicycling cities like Cleveland. Will write more later, but first…

If you ever move to a new city it’s important to bike around it. I knew this when I moved to Stamford in 2004 from a small town in rural New Hampshire. I quickly realized how pointless it was to drive anywhere and found that on a bike I could explore places faster and without any blind spots. Also, in a stressful move like the one I’m doing now, exercise of any kind helps and the bike & Caltrain combo makes it easy to #choosethebike when I want to explore a neighborhood.

So one day I was riding my Bike Friday a little ways from the San Jose Diridon station, still trying desperately to bond with California and get my head around the idea of moving there permanently when I just happened to look over to my left and noticed a tan warehouse-looking building off in the distance. 

I had found Good Karma Bikes, which is located at 345 Sunol Street. If you’re like me, when you walk in you get the immediate feeling you’ve come to the right place even if you weren’t looking for it to begin with.  

I liked donating time, bikes, parts, tools or some combination of the four to organizations under Eastern Standard Time, and during my final days in Stamford I began to miss them terribly: The Trifigura Work & Learn Business Center at Domus in Stamford, The BikePort Co-Op in Bridgeport, The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op in Cleveland, and, of course, Bike Rodeo & Tour de Red Hook - which is taking place this year at Red Hook High School on May 16th. 

Good Karma Bikes, as I quickly learned, has those values. It was founded in 2009 when the founder saw a homeless person fixing a bike and decided to help. Since then they’ve made over 30,000 repairs and boast a cool statistic: for every bike repaired with a fee, 1.6 bikes are fixed for free. 

It’s also a secondhand bike shop, which means people can get access to bikes, parts and tools they may not otherwise be able to afford. And if you’re fortunate enough not to need those services yourself, it’s easy to give them to those who do need it: You can donate anything you want but it’s just $50 to give a bike to someone, $250 to sponsor a mechanic and $1,500 to sponsor a workstation - one that will be pressed into service for around 400 repairs a year of homeless, underemployed and veteran’s bicycles (it’s also a classroom workstation and the sponsor can use it free when Good Karma Bikes is open).  

The place reminded me a lot of The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op - especially the main room of secondhand bikes. 

Since we’re in May, which is National Bike Month - and closing in on Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day - this is a fine time to do the following: 

As you ride your bike, think about how well it is working. Think about the people who you’ve paid money to fix it or the great tools you can afford so you can fix it yourself. Think about the transportation alternatives that are available to you and then realize that there a lot of people out there who aren’t as lucky and need help getting bikes on the road (and people whose livelihood depends on it). If we can't ride our bikes we pull out a $300 smartphone and rant on Twitter. If other folks can't ride their bikes they are financially devastated. 
Anytime is a good time to donate to a worthy organization, but May 5 is Silicon Valley Gives Day. I know this only because I was sitting in the Red Rock coffee shop in Mountain View a couple weeks ago, wondering which laptop-wielding person sitting around me was going to create the next Facebook, when I looked up at the big dry-erase calendar on the wall (I didn't take a picture of that, but at GKB I took one of this).

So before you set off on your bike to go to work please do a little something to make sure people not as fortunate as you can do that very same thing. The link to the Good Karma Bikes donation page is here, and on May 5 I’ll be pausing somewhere between Omaha and Cheyenne to make a donation myself. Share the link and use the hashtag #svgives2015. Make a donation. Spread the word. Help somebody out. Make Silicon Valley even better.  Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris