Friday, March 31, 2017

Missing the Point (Again) On Why Half of Millennials Want to Leave Silicon Valley

Yesterday the Bay Area Council released a troubling study that indicated about half of Millennials want to leave the Bay Area - and overall about 40% of Bay Area residents are thinking about leaving. 

I didn't know what the big deal was. My first year living in Silicon Valley (after leaving Connecticut) I probably thought of leaving nine times a day before breakfast. 

But here's what threw me: the top two reasons people want to leave are the cost of housing...and traffic. 


Those aren't two separate issues. They are the conjoined twins of millennial misery and unless we talk about them as the same thing we won't get anywhere as a people.

Back when Baby Boomers were actually babies, their parents and grandparents were building a world where cars were just awesome things and everybody loved buying them and driving them. Look at some of the ads in 1950s issues of Sunset Magazine and you'll see what I'm talking about. A house and a car weren't a living space and a means to get around. They were goals.

Then the population began growing and plots of land were divided and redivided to make more room. Zoning conspired to keep people living in one space and coercing them to drive to another place in order to work. But luckily the Interstate Highway System was born in the nick of time to give people the means to get to where they are going faster. A byproduct was the highways divided cities into pieces, and the land close to highways was deemed less than desirable to live in.

Seventeen years after crawling into the 21st century, we arrive at the situation we are in today: millennials are broke and are aggressively rejecting the Sunset Magazine advertisements of the 1950s. But right now there is nothing for millennials to really opt into. Because the infrastructure Boomers inherited decades and decades ago is keeping the Boomers wealthy (and Boomers still hold the majority of power in government) they're still trying to sell us on cars and driving - even though cracks are showing in their own enthusiasm for this construct. 

The sales pitch Boomers are using isn't always a slick ad - usually it is more subtle, more powerful, and more insidious. Zoning rules and parking minimums, taken as gospel, means that if you want to build something, it must have 'X' number of parking spots. The 9' x 18' spaces add up, forcing buildings even further apart and taking space that could be used to build housing into storing a car that isn't being used.

As I believe in market forces: a huge reason we have a lack of supply of housing is because the space that could be used for housing is given to cars that aren't in motion.

That's why traffic and housing cannot ever be discussed differently or put in separate radio buttons on a survey. People are driving for one reason only: they know there is a place to put their motor vehicle when they get there. Take away the parking and give other means of travel and people will use it. 

 As I've said before, if we enable car parking, we get car traffic - and when we build things they way they've been built for decades we perplex and annoy those who would like to ride a bike to get around.

This is a real sign not three miles from my home in San Jose. Taken at its word it means I can be penalized for riding my bike through the parking lot to get to the bike rack...that is on the sidewalk just feet from a parking area.

I expect city councils are going to talk about what to do about the issue of people wanting to leave the Bay Area but they have to understand how traffic and housing are symptoms of the same problem - not separate problems on their own. I thank Bay Area Council for doing this study but I hope nobody misreads the data and continues to try and coddle the dying car culture. 

And a quick reminder before I forget: Bay Area Bike to Work Day is coming up on May 11th; so that'll be a good time to think about new ways to get around and use space for better things. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

My Maker Year: Powder Coating

As most of you know by now I bought a tiny cargo bike business in Santa Cruz and am relaunching it in San Jose. While that is a series of posts by itself, the business has enabled me to learn about different construction aspects of bicycles that we take for granted everyday. The first of the biweekly series is on...powder coating. 

Welcome to DIYBIKING.COM's new miniseries: My Maker Year. Brought to you by Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

(turns to Camera B with Jon Stewart-like smile)

Cherry Hill. A middle finger to pedestrians in town form. 

Cherry Hill, New Jersey. 2017

(turns back to Camera A)

While purchasing Box Bike Collective was in its final stages in December I began to wonder how much of the construction aspect I could do on my own - and what actually went into each of the many build steps. One of the steps is powder coating. 

For those of you who don't know: most bicycle frames (good ones) are powder coated, which is the practice of spraying colored powder onto metal. In this process, the metal is positively charged and the gun spraying the powder is negatively charged* so the powder sticks to the metal. You then 'cure' the powder by putting the frame into an oven at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. When it comes out you let it cool and the frame is left with a shiny, durable finish that is stronger than ordinary paint. The two main catches of this is the equipment to do this can be costly and the steel has to be very clean for the powder to stick.

There are professionals around who can do this for you. If you want to do it yourself you can take a take a safety and basic use (SBU) sandblasting/powder coating class at TechShop San Jose and become a member so you can use the equipment by appointment. Lucky for me, I had already taken the SBU during a promotion TechShop was having early last year so I was able to start reserving the equipment as soon as my membership started. 

If you have a bike frame you want to see a different color, your first step is to strip out everything on the frame. Unsure of my skills at powder coating, I decided to first use an expendable frame - much like Darth Vader put Han Solo in carbon freeze just to see if it would work.

This was my frame. I had never heard of the 'Winner' brand before but it seemed like an appropriate name. If you look very closely you can see the question mark I added on the down tube.

The first step to giving your frame a new color is to sandblast it, so you bring it into a little room in TechShop with a cabinet large enough to accommodate a large bike frame. 

This step isn't hard, but it is time consuming. You also have to reach into the cabinet and wipe down as much of the glass shield as you can reach so you can actually see what you're doing.

Then with the fan on, you put hands in the Homer Simpson Nuclear Power Plant Gloves and push down with a foot pedal to make the sand (or 'media' as it is more often called) flow. Point away from the glass and aim the gun an inch or two from your work and press the pedal to make the paint disappear as if by magic. 

Ideally, you move the gun in nice, even rows like you are mowing a tiny lawn but I found I had to reposition my frame so often I kept having to start at a new part of the frame. Also because of my height (coupled with the fact that I took so long and got so little sleep the night before I grew tired of standing) I ended up leaning awkwardly against the cabinet pressing my face on the glass. This left a huge black smudge I didn't notice until I looked into a bathroom mirror later and thought a small tarantula was mating with my nose. 

                        Sandblasting selfies are a thing. #SandblastingSelfie

Sometimes the gun would jam or just not fire as much media as it should. When that happens I did what a TechShop employee told me to do and it worked: I'd put the gun against my finger, pull the trigger for half a second and take my finger away to clear the gun. 

The other lesson I learned was that I should have used an angle grinder to take off the 'Winner' frame label. Also, because the powder coating oven can take a while to preheat I should have turned it on half an hour or more before I was done sandblasting. 

The next step is to clean the frame - and they have a sweet sink to do just that. With soap, water and Simple Green I got the frame clean** and dried it off with towels and an air hose.

Finally it is time to powder coat. The TechShop front desk sells different colors of powder and gives a discount to members. The colors come in small plastic tubs like the kind Talenti gelato comes in with instructions on bake time on top. I chose a bright yellow that had instructions as certain as the sell-by date on milk.

400 degrees for ten minutes.

They also sell silicone corks and silicone tape. These are incredibly important since you have to put the corks and the tape in all openings in the frame you don't want the powder to go. 

After you hang your frame in the powder coat booth (a piece of wire does just fine) be sure a thin gator clamp is attached to the wire or the powder won't stick. Then pour about 1/3 or your powder into the cup and screw it into place. Then you locate a plastic gun that looks like it was stolen from an early Star Trek set, point it at your work, and pull the trigger.

Actually: don't do that! I missed a couple steps here.

As you can see from the photo, the yellow powder is shooting out of the gun with Ghostbuster proton pack-like gusto. It's also shooting out of the canister on the floor, which is far from my 'Winner' bike frame hanging in the booth.

To keep these problems from happening to you, screw the cap on tightly (I sealed mine with some electrical tape I had in my messenger bag) and turn the little dial on the machine so the gun is spraying a gentle miss at or below 5 psi.

If either of these things prove unsuccessful locate the dustpan and broom just outside the painting area.

Once I got a less enthusiastic discharge from the powder gun, I gently ran the yellow mist over the frame. 

Once I had the frame thoroughly yellowized it was time to put it in the oven the size of a large refrigerator, which was by now preheated to 400 degrees. 

This is a critical step, because you have to carry the frame without banging it into anything or the powder will just come off. Pretend it is a nest of peacefully sleeping baby wolverines and you'll do fine. 

It's essential to open the oven door as little as necessary so you don't let heat escape. This is a fact unknown to a passing guy in safety glasses who, seeing me carefully holding my frame in one hand and the door handle with the other, let loose with a "letmehelpyouwiththat" and opened the door with a wide swing - causing the 400 degree to gallop into my face, past my ears, and on to freedom. 

Thank you, Mr. Helpy, Helper!

I quickly hung my work and closed the door. To my dismay, the temperature of the oven had dropped about 60 degrees due to my mystery helper's interference. And it was climbing back up with a painful slowness. 

What did that mean for my cook time? I tried to do math in my head to figure out what the equivalent of 400 degrees was when the oven wasn't quite that hot. Nervously, I let the frame bake for nearly 15 minutes - hoping it would be enough. 

I shut down the oven and removed the frame so I could hang it on the rack to cool. Sure enough, the powder had cured and the silicone plugs had done their job. 

While it cooled, I cleaned up the powder coating room and put the equipment away for the next user. And, with returning the keys to the front desk I was done with powder coating.

Would you like to see the result in all of its glory? 

Here you go!

Beautiful, isn't it? 

I'll be the first to admit it didn't come out perfectly. As it turned out, powder didn't stick much to the area between the chain stays near the bottom bracket and other 'armpit' areas where parts of the frame come together. I also had some unevenness on the top tube - namely the side that was facing away from me while I was spraying. So the lessons there were to make absolutely sure you get everything and that the frame is spotless when you put it in. Also it's advisable to preheat the oven for a slightly higher temperature that you want to account for heat escaping, unhelpful helpers, or both. 

If you give powder coating a shot, keep these lessons in mind if you decide to head to TechShop San Jose (which is actually closed the next couple of weeks since they are moving a few blocks). In the meantime, thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*It may be the other way around. I forget. 

**Not enough to make the powder stick very well in a few spots. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Cartoon of the Week:The Horrors of Making Cars A Few Pennies a Day More Expensive

Last fall I pointed out several ways California (specifically the Bay Area) could get out of the traffic jams it always seems to find itself in.

I woke up this morning to a story from the San Jose Mercury News that the Golden State was considering raising the gas tax, upping the charge of registration fees, and proposing a fee on electric cars. 

In the words of Jerry Seinfeld when he saw Kramer getting ready to go to work in his apartment one day: "How long have I been asleep? What year is this?"

I would personally like to thank Internet Commenters on SJMC Facebook Page for inspiring this cartoon - and I wish California luck into making this happen. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Box Bike: I Liked It So Much...I Bought The Company

Good morning.

I hope everyone in San Jose is still looking for ways to help flood victims - and other less fortunate brothers and sisters. There are at least a few more Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful cleanup events this week so keep an eye out for them.

Also: if you see a Vietnamese refugee-turned-billionaire wearing awesome pants walking around the Bay Area, please thank him.

Now to address the Fat Bike in the room: the reason I haven’t posted on DIYBIKING.COM since mid-December has been because I unexpectedly found myself in one of those “I-liked-it-so-much-I-bought-the-company” situations.

That’s right: I bought Box Bike, a small cargo bike company that was based in Santa Cruz. Not because I have a ton of business acumen but because I love bicycling, am fond of volunteering, and thoroughly enjoy burritos.

Let me back up a second.

More than a year ago, I met Alex Yasbek at the San Jose Cargo Bike Festival and got to know his signature product, the Box Bike. I borrowed it for a week and wrote a review in which I assured California motorists they could use a Box Bike instead of a car for a myriad of different tasks, including (but not limited to) carrying children, transporting an extra-large pizza, racing to wait at a red traffic light, and using the drive-thru at an In-N-Out Burger.

Long before I met Alex, I’ve been guided by the principle of “Leave the Car, Take the Bicycle” and have tried for years to use words (and, on occasion, animated videos) to encourage folks who drive a car when a bike is easier, cheaper, better for the environment and more fun.

But this past autumn, facing a lengthy and unwelcome lull in freelance projects, I began to increasingly feel like my writing was marketing copy in search of a product.

Until one day, during a break of a planning meeting for Cranksgiving San Jose, standing in line with a friend waiting to buy burritos, and I learned from him Box Bike might be for sale.

Jump ahead a few weeks and I’m sitting in Alex’s small workshop in Santa Cruz taking illegible notes as he begins the first of what became a series of invaluable lessons in how he makes the Box Bike: one at a time with help from as many local suppliers as possible. Alex: if you are reading this: that was truly an inspiring time and I will forever be thankful you gave me so much guidance.

              Watching Alex build a Box Bike

Jump ahead a few months and we land on today, which is the professional equivalent of doing three 1,000 piece puzzles simultaneously on a TV tray.  My goal is to make the first Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM ready in early Spring - focusing sales efforts on this traffic-choked wad of the earth’s crust we call Silicon Valley.  Paperwork has been filed, old and dare I say awesome customers have been emailed, suppliers have been contacted, hundreds of pounds of steel have been moved, and that’s not even the one/eighth of it.

Now as you know I have a history of building cargo bikes: from the original Bikeducken to the folding cargo bike I made specifically for life in San Jose. A cargo bike business is a lot more complicated than making Mad Max-looking bikes few would want to be in the same room with, so there’s a lot of learning involved - most of which I’ll share with you. I have never run a business before know...Betsy DeVos.

Anyway: this blog is back up and running and will have regular updates about the Box Bike business (links to get to the site, which still needs a lot of work, appear here and above) but I’ll still have community news and other build & travel posts. I'm also compiling bike-related charities & events (starting in the Bay Area) so alert me when you hear of one.

Also one of the things that came with the Box Bike business is...a Facebook page! I encourage you to like the page - especially if you are an interested in buying a Box Bike and - at least during this writing - don't mind some ambiguity in terms of when they will be available.

     Like Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM on Facebook

So thank you for sticking with DIYBIKING.COM and for taking the time to read this - and for understanding that me buying this small business is moving the DIYBIKING.COM story forward. I also hope you choose to leave the car, take the bicycle whenever you possibly can.  As it has become abundantly clear over the past several weeks of this new administration we are on our own.

There will not be a tax hike on gasoline - but if we use our cars less and ride our bikes more the price of gas falls - and projects like Standing Rock become less attractive.

There will be no new regulations on auto emissions - the ones we have will probably be relaxed - so the reduction of CO2 can only happen a few pounds at a time, one bike trip at a time.

There will be tremendous pressure to allow the automotive status quo to keep waddling forward - but if we make a show when we leave the car/take the bicycle, arrive on time at town hall meetings and make it clear to our local representatives we will not permit anyone to scale back on any of the infrastructure or acceptance bicycle users need to get around.

At the end of the day we are the ones who get to decide we want our air to smell like, what we want our water to taste like, who we want our streets to accommodate, and, perhaps most important, how we want our children to see the world.

Like this?

Or like this?

More than ever, thanks for reading and thanks for riding.



Michael K. Norris
San Jose, California