Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween! Be Safe and Be Seen!

Just wanted to take a moment to wish a Happy Halloween to my cycling brothers and sisters around the globe. 

I’m probably going to hand out candy tonight (though I wish my budget allowed for minitools or, better still, Blaze Laserlights) as a chance to meet some of my new California neighbors. No matter what you go as, no matter what you do, be safe and be seen.

And once again: if you live in the Bay Area please sign up to volunteer and help Good Karma Bikes move. The big move is a week from today, your help is needed, and you'll still need to work off those fun-size Kit-Kats you'll eat tonight. Visit and sign up for a shift to help. Cyclists you don’t even know (and/or haven’t met yet) will be grateful (and I will be, too). Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Good Karma Bikes having a Big Sale (and Still Needs Volunteers!)

Just wanted to give folks in San Jose and the Bay Area a reminder that Good Karma Bikes needs volunteers to help them move so please visit to sign up for a shift. They’re taking down workstations this Sunday and have a lot of other things to do leading up to the big move day on November 7th.

Also if you’re looking for a bike now take advantage of their moving sale beginning Saturday (Halloween): all bikes over $175 are 30% off, kids bikes start at $5, As-is bikes starting at $10, Mountain bike tires $5 and all used clothing is $2. Also they have a lot of good stuff on Craigslist right now. 

So please volunteer for a shift and buy a bike for yourself or someone your life. Remember: every mile you ride a bike is another mile-long buffer between yourself and your next big auto repair bill. See you at Good Karma Bikes, and as always thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Video from DIYBIKING.COM: About Those Self-Driving Cars

DIYBIKING.COM has produced a new video about self-driving cars and those scare scenarios floating around lately with titles like “Will Google Kill The Fat Man?”

Here’s a new perspective. Thanks for watching and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Can the Mythbusters Help Explain Fixies?

I’ve drawn a blank on fixed gear bikes

I’ve ridden one I’ve made myself for about a month and am still not feeling the indescribable something that appears to come with what I still think is the acid washed jeans of the cycling world. 

I’ve also struck out completely with my #WhyAFixie hashtag. I should have known better. Until recently (as in, a few minutes ago over breakfast) I wasn’t following known fixed gear lovers on Twitter and thus have never been part of any back-and-forth discussion about them. So asking my followers #WhyAFixie is like tweeting to the Amish asking why they use telephones.*

Now I did not completely rely on Twitter for research. While at Good Karma Bikes (which still needs volunteers for the move, by the way) I engaged with a fixie user/Area Cyclist. He told me he hates the sound a freewheel makes when coasting and likes “being all stealthy” and wants people - I believe this is how he put it - to only know he’s coming by the smell of his cologne. 

That was the best reason to ride a fixie I could find. 

In fact, the quiet of the drivetrain was the first thing I noticed and it is indeed a check in an otherwise lonely list of Fixie Pros. 

Another fixed gear bike user told me that he enjoys riding a fixie because he wants to feel like he is “one with the bike.” I have no idea what he's talking about. Using only my legs to stop the bike at speed I’ve felt more like I’m “one with the pavement” or, worse still, “one with the emergency room.” But maybe I’m just not using it enough and haven't acquired enough skills. Or my clothes just aren’t vintage enough. 

There have been moments of enjoyment with the fixie - and most of the time it comes from long stretches of roads with little traffic and sparse intersections to deal with. Provided I wouldn’t do something stupid like hammer the pedals as hard as I could until I became tired (being tired on a fixie moving close to 30 miles an hour isn’t ideal), I felt good about what I was riding. 

    The Cycling Carrot mural at 1st. Street Market in San Jose, California. Hashtag: #cyclingcarrot

There was also a moment biking back from Good Karma Bikes on Monterrey Boulevard when I was waiting at a red light. Another cyclist on a fixed gear stopped beside me and we exchanged smiles as only cyclists do. Then an unshaven pedestrian with tattered pants and clutching a bible excitedly pointed at our bikes and said “Fixies! I used to have one. A Cannonade but it got took from me. I don’t buy no more.”

So there’s a brotherhood/sisterhood of fixies. Like the mutants in X-Men. 

But still, I wasn’t a fixie convert. It wasn’t until I bought a freewheel to put on the other side of the hub (and turned the wheel around so I could use it) that I felt closer to knowing why I wasn’t bonding with my fixie. 

I remembered reading somewhere that a fixed gear bike was somehow more efficient than a normal bike, but after riding 60+ miles in one week with the fixie and then about the same distance the following with the freewheel I began to wonder if that was just complete nonsense. Since fixed gear bikes can’t coast, the rider has no opportunity to rest and, even if the rider actually could rest, the wheel has a lot more work to do moving the chain and the crank set. 

I’m also suspicious - no, absolutely certain - that the loss of weight on a fixed gear bike by removing the derailleurs, shift levers and cables isn’t worth it. We’re talking about a few ounces at the most. Each time I started my fixie from a dead stop I felt more like I was leg pressing the earth than putting myself into motion. I began to yearn for my big cassette on my city bike. Yes, a fixie will be lighter to carry up the stairs of your walkup in Brooklyn but that doesn’t matter if you’re too exhausted to stand.  

So yes, I’m just as mystified with the fixie culture now as I was a month ago, and with all the bike porn/pro-fixie images on social media I know I can’t turn there to answer my questions (The images all seem to say fixies are beautiful. Yes. So is a great white shark but I’m not going to ride one to Whole Foods for hummus and pita). 

We’re going to have to settle the fixie question the old fashioned way: by leaving it to the Mythbusters

Yes, the week we were all celebrating the beloved Back to the Future series was the time we found out the Mythbusters are going off the air next season (life really can give with one hand and take with the other).

 To the fixie's credit: it did get me to Rite Aid fast enough to buy the last collectible copy of USA Today on     October 22, 2015.

So let’s ask them to do bicycle myths. First up: are fixed gear bikes more efficient than freewheel bikes? Think of the cool machines they can make to test this out (and the perfect excuse to rerun the footage of Tory trying to jump the Pee-Wee Herman-ish bike over the wagon again).

Second: Are 29 inch wheels really better off road than 26 inch wheels? Honestly, there could be something to that one. I actually rented a 29r this past summer to ride at Bluff Point State Park in an all-too-brief visit in my former home state and was quite surprised at how well it worked.

Third: Are bicycle commuters really happier than car users? We all know the answer to that one but I would like some more data to wave at motorists who keep the gas tax low/believe the American Dream is about staring at the butt end of a Kia while crawling to work each day.

So there you have it, Jamie (Twitter: @JamieNoTweet) & Adam (Twitter: @donttrythis). Please consider a bicycle myths episode and since I now live in the Bay Area you can feel free to call on me to help you. Seriously: feel that freedom and just have fun thinking about how you’ll test these things. Think about Buster perched on a Brooks saddle with a handlebar mustache glued to his face and a vintage messenger bag with a ‘VEGAN AND PROUD’ button on it. 

And go from there. 

If you don’t do a bicycle myths episode, I’ll get over my disappointment because, for 13 seasons, you’ve been the best show on television. You were the theme of my niece’s 8th birthday party. You were awesome when we saw you live in New York City. You have my respect regardless of whether you help me get to the bottom of this whole fixie thing. And also: if you're free over the next couple of weeks please join me and volunteer to help Good Karma Bikes with their move. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*That was a much better sounding metaphor when it was in my head. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

This Sunday's Cargo Bike Festival & New Uses for Bike Friday's Trailer Kit

‘Cargo Bike’ and ‘Festival’ are three words I never expected to see that close together until a woman handed me a flier for it at Viva CalleSJ a couple of weeks ago. I also didn’t know there was an organization called The Bay Area Cargo Bike Collective but apparently there is. 

The Cargo Bike Festival is this Sunday (the 25th) from 10:00am to 2:00pm. It made me regret I had left my homemade cargo bike - affectionately known as the Bikeducken - behind in Stamford when I moved out of Connecticut (but the head of the maker space Rippowam Labs has given it a good home). 

But carrying stuff with a bike is important. One of the first things I did when unpacking is gather the parts for the bike trailer I made a couple years ago with a Bike Friday trailer frame (as a refresher: Bike Friday makes a brilliant trailer frame intended to tow the suitcase you packed your Bike Friday in when you go to or leave the airport. 

I still haven’t used it for that purpose, but the platform is incredibly useful. In less than two minutes I can convert it from any one mode to the other, such as the bike carrying configuration if I want to move a bike somewhere (made from an old Thule roof rack and at the bottom of the photo above). 

The cargo box configuration - the one I use the most - was made with a plastic tub from IKEA but just about any tub would probably work if you wanted to build your own trailer. I have two; both with reflective tape on the back to stay safe while riding at night. One trailer has ‘DIYBIKING.COM’ printed on it and the other looks like this:

It’s important that you go to the Cargo Bike Festival because it’ll help you learn about cool ways to carry things that haven’t occurred to you yet. And the more things you can carry, the more likely you’ll be to #choosethebike instead of the car when you need to run an errand. For instance, a recent addition to my Bike Friday trailer configuration is a long cargo bed built, as you can see, from a metal shelf unit. I was able to extend the wheelbase with the use of a steel rod.

I’m sure there are going to be more (and better) ideas compared to what I’ve figured out at the Cargo Bike Festival. Hope to see you there and, if you're in the Bay Area, remember to like Good Karma Bikes on Facebook & volunteer to help them move to their new place. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Keep Your Flying Cars: The Last Word on Back to the Future

Please excuse the crudity of this model. I did not have time to build it to scale and to paint it. 

I remember how excited I was when I first saw Back to the Future. I was ten and at a cheap movie theater in Vernon, Connecticut. The car lifting off at the end made my jaw drop. I even tore the wheels off a HO-scale car (to match my HO-scale model train set I had through my teens - some cars survive to this day) and glued them on the sides. If you’ve ever wondered what the unpopular kid who got picked last at school sport events did in his off P.E. hours, you have your answer.

So I love the films, and they influenced me as a maker. And as defined by some extremely talented filmmakers more than a quarter of a century ago I am in the future: October 21, 2015. I came here in a sport utility vehicle that Honda invented. 

I’m also living in Silicon Valley, which meant I was able to take part in the San Jose Bike Party 80s-themed bike train this morning. I brought my 1981 Turner recumbent and wore a Back to the Future T-shirt my sister gave me about twenty years ago that still fits. It was a fun event and it was nice to see the author of Cyclelicious and Janet LaFleur again - as well as check out the fantastic Guadalupe River Trail.

On the way back (it was still morning rush) I occasionally glanced at the glacier of cars trickling onto the highway and thought that if Doc arrived in this future he wouldn’t be able to find a parking space. And to get back home, he’d have to wait until after rush hour to have enough road to get up to 88. 

I also think the real reason he went back for Marty and Jennifer is so he could use the HOV lane but that’s neither here nor there.

    Silicon Valley, August 2045

I suppose the formula some people use when imagining what the future will look like is to take all of the current, hot technologies that we have now and multiply them. That not only explains the embarrassing number of fax machines in use in Back to the Future Part II but also the bumper-to-bumper ‘future’ we’re living in now. The 1939 World’s Fair had a ‘Futurama’ exhibit sponsored by General Motors. The vision was a land where cars were used everywhere for everything and highways were big and beautiful. Houses had two cars in the driveway. And people just ate it up. 

Today there are emotional and practical reasons to reclaim ‘Futurama’ from General Motors. Not only because gas prices will not stay cheap forever, but because the future I’m envisioning is already underway. We have an old generation of adults who are getting older and will thus be unable to drive themselves and we have the millennials who, on their own, are deciding in droves that they don’t want to own a car and would rather use Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, SpeedMoov*, or Zipcar when they need to go somewhere. 

This is why what’s going on in Connecticut - where I used to live till a few months ago - baffles me: they want to widen I-95 border to border. Not only does this mean Connecticut didn’t learn from the $1 billion dollar mistake California made by expanding the 405, but the Nutmeg State's population is getting older (and will eventually be unable to drive) and the young people who aren’t driving much to begin with are leaving the state. Who’s this lane for? 

Maybe I don’t know the complexity of how highways get built but I’ve driven enough of them to know there’s no point in building more. 

Millennials seem to be reaching the same conclusion - much to the dismay of automakers and others. Standard & Poor’s just released a report called “Millennials Are Creating Unsafe Conditions On U.S. Roads.”  The title is apparently based on the weird premise that because millennials don’t drive as much as their elders did and use more efficient cars they don’t contribute as much to pay for infrastructure. All I have to ask is: what infrastructure is this report referring to? The dilapidated subdivision 20 miles from town and 10 from the nearest train station? The crumbling expressway that gutted a neighborhood in The Bronx? The bike-unfriendly road that leads to a collection of gaudy McMansions?

At some point we have to acknowledge that some infrastructure should just be torn down just as much as we have to acknowledge that some infrastructure shouldn’t have been built in the first place. 

This is not to say the suburbs are completely dead: The four horsemen of the suburban anti-apocalypse are bike infrastructure, public transit, self-driving cars and self-sustaining homes that are completely off the grid. That’s my vision for the future. Oh, and also: we won’t closets. We’ll have our clothes 3D printed for us each morning and we’ll be able to recycle them at night. 

Bike share will be worldwide. And if you want to wear a helmet one can be 3D printed for you at the kiosk. We’ll walk more. We’ll be thinner, healthier and happier. 

And, above all else, we’ll actually be as excited about the future as I was when I was ten. I spent a lot of time, particularly in my twenties, beginning any discussion about future predictions with the phrase “If we’re not extinct by then.” No more. I see people bike by me every day. As a volunteer for Good Karma Bikes, I see people shop for bikes and fix bikes at least two days a week. There's reason to be excited. 

Doc Brown said the future hasn’t been written yet so we should make it a good one. Let’s do that. All of us. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*I just made that one up. Funding, please. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#WhyAFixie Update & A Specialized Coat Rack

I got a flat tire on the fixie I made so I changed it. Unfortunately this set off an “Well, as long as I have (part name) off I might as well remove (another part name)" sequence of events I know many of you are familiar with. 

Two hours later I had replaced the frame of the fixie with a left-for-dead red and yellow frame that is a lot uglier than it looks and a crankset I pulled from another trashed Centurion.

And the tire was still flat.

However, this frame is a much better size for me - and noticeably lighter than the gargantuan one - so I’m not done with fixies just yet (and if you do use one please tell me on twitter why using the hashtag #WhyAFixie.)

What I AM done with are two old, steel Specialized frames, part of an old set of handlebars, and six brake levers. Happy to be in a workshop where I can design and weld things in peace, I built this. 

As you know I’ve done one before (that coat rack was seen during Stamford's Parking Day event in 2014) but I wanted to try something different with the legs - not only making the sturdier but putting more weight toward the bottom so it wouldn’t be tippy. In my defense the welds are ugly because I bought the wrong non-flamable gas mixture. 

Yesterday I tweeted the pic and tagged Specialized, which is based just south of San Jose in Morgan Hill. In the tweet I wondered openly if I should give it to them with my resume hanging off it. 

I’m not ruling that out, but as I want my latest creation out of the house soon I’ll disclose what I’ll do (or what I did) with it later this week. In the meantime, bike safely and remember to follow Good Karma Bikes on Facebook since they are going to need some serious volunteer help for their big move coming up. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

DIYBIKING.COM Presents This Week's News (at 1:87th Normal Size)

This was a big week for me: I wrote something that I'm getting paid for (only freelancers know how exciting that can be) welded something and made a pretty drastic change to my fixed gear bike (more on both later).

But this was a week for my miniatures, so, without delay, this summary:  

Good Karma Bikes Has A Move Date & Needs Volunteers

Getting the final move date took so long you’d have thought Ted Cruz was filibustering at San Jose City Hall, but it finally came together: after being forced to change their banners on their ‘visit our new location’ signs, Good Karma Bikes’ finally got their move date. Even I had no idea where the new address was, so I looked it up on my iPhone and began drawing the map on an Expo board. Minutes later, I had the graphic and must give a shout-out to everyone who tweeted, retweeted and otherwise shared the image. 

This move is only 0.3 miles but it’s a good long distance considering how much stuff needs to go. So please volunteer to help them pack (and you may even see me there helping with some boxes).

Stop Trying to Beat the Train 

I would have to guess that Silicon Valley has a higher number of geniuses per capita compared to other places around the country and yet some still can’t understand that you can’t beat the train at a crossing. Amtrak, Caltrain, VTA whatever: it's the house at the casino, peeps.

These accidents are caused both by stupidity and cars just crowding  the roads; there are too many motorists and too few incentives for people to bike to work instead.

When there were four incidents in one day I had to act as only a maturity impaired man with a box of 1:87 scale miniatures can. Happily, this got retweeted quite a bit. 

And not to sound like a character on the television show ‘Silicon Valley’ - but when a car gets hit by a train it can be very inconvenient for me. That may not sound politically correct but because my wife takes public transport to get home and has to coordinate her commute with Marty-McFly-hitting-the-lightning-bolt-at-the-clock-tower-accuracy, I have to be ready to pick her up at whatever VTA or Caltrain station works that day. When there are serious delays I know I’m not the only person affected by this because that is what happens with cars: it is an interconnected system with multiple points of failure and one crash of one vehicle can affect thousands of other travelers: just look at 680 this very morning.

Put another way: it doesn’t make a difference how good the latest Tesla is if it is blocked by Nissan Leaf…or some other car...or blocked by a new car accident. 

Area Woman Complains About Parking at BART 

I have written about ways to solve parking problems for years and within minutes of seeing a My KRON4 news story yesterday morning about this issue I created this graphic (I was in the shop at the time and my miniatures from the Good Karma graphic hadn't been put away yet). 

I just had the pleasure of writing my latest column for Blaze in the UK and for the next one I'm discussing how ridiculously wide a lot of streets in Silicon Valley are (a fact that wasn’t lost on me when I participated in the wonderful Viva Calle SJ event this past Sunday): 

The way a lot of places work goes like this: we build infrastructure for cars, we get cars. A week after the infrastructure is built, complaints arise and new car infrastructure is built. Complains arise again, and…the cycle continues.

But it can’t anymore. The KRON4 story correctly pointed out that adding car spaces isn’t easy and is absolutely not cheap. So how about we get rid of car spaces and add a ton of good bike parking and make it easy for those who can do it safely to ride to the BART station? 

Hopefully people who make decisions will see this question and seriously answer it - and that everyone in the Bay Area like Good Karma Bikes on Facebook and get ready to help them with their big move. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, October 9, 2015

#WhyAFixie: Things to do With a Fixed Gear Bike, Part I

Let me be clear: I did not cut up the fixed gear bike I made and weld it into a tape dispenser. That statement may not be accurate next week, but moving on.

As you know I’ve given fixies and the fixed gear bike culture a gentle ribbing from afar over the years but then I thought: why mock something I don’t understand when I can just take a little time to use a fixie…and possibly find so many more valid reasons to make fun of fixed gear bikes - if not the culture that seems to go with them. 

When I started that first ride (after making sure the rear wheel was on tight) everything  was running quite nicely. I felt as though I was pedaling in just the right rhythm. I enjoyed the quiet since there was no rattle of the chain working through the rear derailleur. With the relative silence I could hear birds singing and wind rustling through the trees. As I picked up a little speed, I felt peaceful.

Then I tried to stop.

Now I don’t mean stop in the red traffic light sense - I tried to stop pedaling. But, being a fixie, my legs kept moving. Yes, you don’t hear that clickclickclickclickclick sound on a freewheel when you’re riding a fixed gear but that comes at a heavy cost. Namely: if you’re riding a fixie and decide you want to coast, you become the intimate partner who has forgotten the safe word facing the wrong end of a whip. 

The thing I made - even at low speeds - just wants to keep going. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voiceover in Premium Rush was right. Not built on a small frame, my fixie feels like a big dog constantly pulling the leash in the direction it wants to go.

And I can only shake my head at the thought of people riding these things without handbrakes - and quite a few do. I was going to made a video of me trying to stop without the brakes but couldn’t find any clothes I’d feel comfortable going viral in. 

I became convinced the beard trend is somehow connected to fixies so riders would have something to cushion their faces in a fall. 

I also began to put pieces together in my head of the times I was a pedestrian in New York City: sometimes, when I’d have a ‘walk’ signal, I’d take a step off the curb only to pause while a brakeless fixie zipped by close enough to make my nosehair rustle. 

Even when riding back and forth to Good Karma Bikes I could feel myself reacting differently at yellow traffic lights. Yes, stopping a fixie is a chore because of its design and starting it back up again isn’t a walk in the park, either - especially if you have a 52 tooth cog in the front and a 16 tooth gear in the back. 

We can come back to that later.

True to my word, I used the fixie for everything the last couple of weeks. Adding my homemade bike trailer I was able to make a Goodwill run and even come back with one of those foldable bookcases (more on what I will do with it later).

I’m still riding the fixie and will finish up this series on fixed gear bikes next week, so if you are a dedicated fixie user and know why please log onto twitter and tweet your reason to #WhyAFixie and I’ll share some of the most entertaining responses next week.

And don’t forget: if you live in the Bay Area and need a bike for Viva CalleSJ this coming Sunday, visit Good Karma Bikes; they are open today (Friday) from 2:00pm to 6:00pm, tomorrow from 10:00am to 5:00pm and on Sunday from 11:00 to 3:00pm. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

DIYBIKING.COM is Now Writing for!

Created for Good Karma Bikes using old reflectors arranged on my garage floor shot with an iPhone using the flash (if you try this and don't use the flash, it looks like a bunch of reflectors arranged on a garage floor).

Here’s something you’re going to like: I’m now writing for Blaze; the U.K. based makers of the innovative Blaze Laserlight. This changes absolutely nothing about DIYBIKING.COM except make my grin wider.

Here’s the link to my first column: ‘The First Six Places to Bike When You Move to a New City.’ Read it. Like it. Share it on social media. Follow the Blaze blog as they have a lot of talented writers working with them (and me). 

Also (and this is for my San Jose/Bay Area readers): I’m still volunteering for Good Karma Bikes in San Jose and doing a push this week to get more likes on Facebook. GKB uses Zuckerburg’s brainchild to ask for volunteers and make announcements - and there’s going to be a lot of both going on in the next few weeks, so please click her to 'like’ Good Karma Bikes on Facebook. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

#VivaCalleSJ is in a Week - Get a Bike for it at Good Karma Bikes

Open Streets event in New York City, Summer 2013

Note: I'm still riding a fixie and am still alive - but that's not why I'm posting today. Don't forget: if you have a fixed gear bike and know why you ride it (that may be a tall order, I know) Tweet the answer on Twitter with the hashtag #WhyAFixie

Viva CalleSJ is a week from today - and if you don’t know what that is I am pleased to report that not all of the knowledge I brought with me when I moved to San Jose from Connecticut a few months back is completely useless.

Viva CalleSJ is an open streets event, which means city streets (six miles of them, in this case) are closed to cars for a period of time and people can walk, bike, do yoga, juggle and just…what’s that word…play

A couple of years ago my wife and I went to one in Manhattan and it was just. Period. Plain. Period. Fun. Period. Just getting out of Grand Central Terminal and not being greeted by a swarm of angry motorists was striking. Laughter instead of car horns. Relaxing instead of rushing. Just beautiful.

Walking down a New York street we've driven or taken a taxi on scores of times before made us think differently about a city and really, for the first time, experience it on our own terms. That’s just one part of what an open street event can do (if you think it has echoes of other ideas that involve reimagining public space like Parking Day you’re right).

New York City. San Jose will soon find out just how fun and exciting six miles of city streets can be when cars are kept away. 

So for those of you who - justifiably so - do not bike on city streets because you think they are dangerous please reconsider for Viva CalleSJ: Inherently, streets are not dangerous - motor vehicles are. 

And they aren’t invited. 

And if you don’t have a bike you should absolutely go get one at Good Karma Bikes which is located (for the next several weeks, anyway) at 345 Sunol St. in San Jose. It’s open today from 11:00 - 3:00pm.  If you already have a bike but need a part, GKB will help you there as well. Have fun today and especially have fun at Viva CalleSJ a week from today. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.