Monday, August 30, 2010

New Beginnings

It's that time of year again.  The new school year starts and I'm thinking about my students, my bicycling goals, commuting, training for a half marathon, and this year, the philosophy class I'm taking.  All good things after an invigorating and fun summer.

Like every year I will be asking my students to think about their goals for the school year so it seems only fair that I do the same.  A few of my goals range from getting my students on the path to becoming good citizens of world, hitting (at least) 1500 miles bike commuting, breaking a 2 hour mark on my second half-marathon, and continuing to work on a book about living ethically in a modern and compromising world.  That's one of the reasons I'm taking that philosophy class on ethics.  So, here's to a great new year, not getting too mired in the political battles that will no doubt get ugly this fall, and riding, riding, riding!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Night Pick Me Up - Tom Waits

I've been watching a lot of "The Wire" lately and I can't seem to get this song out of my head.  That's not a bad thing since the show kicks ass and Mr. Waits is, well, he kicks ass too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

For the Love of a Good Bike

One of my favorite pieces of writing regarding bicycles, and one I've clearly taken to heart, is this article written by Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works.  Originally published in a 1996 Bicycle Guide Magazine series of articles about bicycle ride quality, the article printed below captures that extra something special about owning and riding a bicycle that is as much performance tool as it is a work of art.   You can see this philosophy has guided many of my own choices as to what is in my bicycle "stable" and I'm all the better for it.   It's also a nice reminder that in an age of throwaway junk, it can be more rewarding to have less stuff and save for high quality things that will last a lifetime and bring you pleasure whenever you use them.

My wife passed along this quote to me recently when we were purging some junk from the basement:

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful"

I'm lucky to have bicycles that are both.  Enjoy the article:

What if you can get just as much performance out of a $375
frame as a $1000 or $2000 one? Does that mean a fine,
handmade work of art you can ride is a waste of money?
Actually, a bicycle is less of a "waste," because it is much
less inanimate than the kind of art you hang on the wall . It's
more like a violin or a fly rod-you work with it, it responds
to every move you make, even letting you know when
you're doing something klutzy . And like any fine instru-
ment, it inspires great performances and makes even your
worst performances (or your most dreary rides) more bear-
able because it's there beneath you, looking beautiful.
I think it all comes down to what you want your bicycle
to be . If your bike is merely a tool and you're after the
most performance per dollar, then go for the mass-pro-
duced, TIG-welded, chrome-moly entry-level racing
frame equipped with Shimano 105 STI, because year after
year that's the value leader, no question about it .
But listen : If you've owned a few bikes by now and aver-
age just two and a half hours of riding per week during the
next 10 years, you'll spend the equivalent of 54 24-hour days
riding your bike. You're a bicycle person, so what's wrong
with indulging yourself in something that's as beautiful and
well made as possible? What's wrong with supporting the ef-
fort of builders who have dedicated their lives to beautifying
the bicycle? The art of the frame needs patrons just as much
as any other art does, and if not you, then who?
We've all heard people say, "I'd be afraid to ride a bike
that expensive-what if it got scratched?" All bicycles that
are ridden properly get scratched; that's inevitable . But
scratches, worn-off paint, amateurish touch-up jobs, even
minor dents where they don't matter are just personalized
badges of good, hard use. Fine bicycles age well, grow in
sentimental value and maintain respectable resale value;
cheap ones just get old and wind up in yard sales.
Judge a frame partly by the commitment that went into it,
rather than by how much faster it'll make you go . You'll
know when it's time to buy your dream bike, and when that
time comes, get a bike built with more than just perfor-
mance and value in mind .
-Grant Petersen

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Morning Music - Eels

The new tour has started and will make its way to the west coast this fall.  Here's one of my favorite Eels tracks performed live from the first leg of the tour.  Love the slide guitar from "The Chet!"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Let's Get Lost! Is the Google Bike Map App a Good Thing?

There's a good review of the Google Bike Maps app that surfaced a few months ago by the NY Times in today's paper.   For all its glitches it is still a pretty amazing development for tech savvy cyclists out there.  I used it several times on a bike tour from earlier this summer and when I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago.  Ultimately, the best judge of bicycle routes are going to be the local riders that use them.  That means the more users out there that provide feedback to Google the better.   I can't help but wonder if one day we'll lose the sense of traveling an uncharted path, getting lost, and finding our way again.  It's one of the joys of riding a bicycle after all.  Excerpt:
The beta version for bicyclists is just a few months old, but it is already reshaping how bike enthusiasts travel. Spanning more than 200 cities nationwide — and with plans to roll out bicycle routes internationally — Google Maps relies on a mash-up of data, from publicly available sources like bike maps to user-generated information. It joins a host of other bike-mapping Web sites, from Bikely, which lets people share routes in cities around the world, to Ride the City, a geowiki (or self-editing map) app, available in 10 cities (including New York, Boston, San Francisco and Toronto) that allows users to edit their routes as they ride, to MapMyRide, which is geared more toward fitness training and logging workouts.

Sunday Morning Music - The National

"We're half awake in a Fake Empire," indeed.   Their new album is worth picking up as well.

A good live version:

Monday, August 09, 2010

The End is Nigh! Cycling is Taking Over the World!

Apparently bicycling scares the bejesus out of Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate, Dan Maes.  More cycling leads to the United Nations making inroads into taking over our country.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes is warning voters that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's policies, particularly his efforts to boost bike riding, are "converting Denver into a United Nations community."
"This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed," Maes told about 50 supporters who showed up at a campaign rally last week in Centennial.
Maes said in a later interview that he once thought the mayor's efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. Now he realizes "that's exactly the attitude they want you to have."
"This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms," Maes said.
 Another good example of someone who feels Americans are entitled to do what ever they want.  That's the problem with that whole "pursuit of happiness" phrase.  It's often interpreted as "I can do whatever I want because I 'm pursuing my happiness."  In response:

George Merritt, a spokesman for the Hickenlooper gubernatorial campaign, said the group's goal is "to bring cities from all over the world together to share best practices and help create the kinds of communities people want to live and do business in. John Hickenlooper believes collaboration leads to smart decisions."
Hickenlooper has often touted bicycling as an environmentally friendly and healthy way for people to commute to work and has said he hopes more people will do so.
Maes, at the rally July 26, took aim at Denver's bike-sharing program, which he said was promoted by a group that puts the environment above citizens' rights...
Maes said ICLEI is affiliated with the United Nations and is "signing up mayors across the country, and these mayors are signing on to this U.N. agreement to have their cities abide by this dream philosophy."
When it comes down to it, I'm going to throw my support behind the U.N.  It seems to me their philosophies are just fine.  Ever check out their Universal Declaration of Human Rights?  Worth a read.  Although it is probably in need of revamping to include the rights of the LGBT communities.

Read the full article here

Denver's Red Bike Share Program.  Apparently that means "Red Scare."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

What's wrong with Hot August Nights and a few random car culture thoughts.

Like many people I was pretty surprised a few weeks ago when rumors began circulating about Hot August Nights perhaps “phasing out” of Reno and heading to California. It made me think about the importance of the event in relation to Reno's identity and economy. I pretty much have a mixed reaction to the whole situation. The plus side is clearly the dollars to the local economy but the downsides...there are so many.

Recently a friend of mine, a lover of all things auto, made the claim that cars are “rolling works of art.” You know this kind of mentality. We all have a friend that can rattle off the make and models of odd cars when they see them rolling down the street or in a film. It drove home just how pervasive car culture is in our society. But more than that, the “rolling works of art” statement has continued to bounce around in my head over the last few weeks. Are cars really works of art?

At most they are engineering marvels. I don't deny some of the design artistry that has gone into cars over the years. However, I suspect that many people have found the evolution of the auto over the last few decades, from a design perspective, a bit alarming. I remember a few decades ago being able to pick out a Datsun from a Subaru from a Honda, or a Chevy, Ford, or Chrysler, without batting an eye. It's not as if I was all that interested in cars during my youth. But there were things about the designs that marked them as a distinctive work of each company. Now I feel like if you took a mid-sized 4 door sedan from all of the auto companies, painted them the same color, and eliminated the logos and lettering, lined them up, few people would be able to pick out a Nissan from a Toyota, etc.

It's sort of the same way that houses have evolved over the years. Check out the new suburbs and it's obvious how little distinction can be found between houses when there are only three models with a limited amount of options and only one exterior color is allowed. Nothing I'm saying here is too surprising if you pay attention to the culture we live in and have unfortunately come to see as normal.

Ultimately this all missing the point anyway. The real problem I have with cars or car culture is much larger and more systemic, and perhaps cancerous in nature to our entire planet. But it's also the proverbial frog in boiling water conundrum in that we often don't realize just how ridiculous our car culture has become. Simply put, we have engineered our whole culture to cater to an absurd piece of transportation technology. Why absurd? The basic energy equation for transporting oneself via walking or biking vs. automobiles reads something (roughly) like this: Bikes (40 calories of energy to move one mile) vs. Cars (well over 1000 calories to move one mile). This is a conservative estimate.

More than that, our entire transportation infrastructure is built on the premise that we should be able to hop in cars at any time and drive to the doors of our residences, to the doors of our jobs and businesses, with minimal walking. We have designed a transportation device that weighs 2/3/4 thousand pounds, with hundreds of horsepower under the hood, in order to transport a single human and their briefcase all generally less than 200 pounds (although increasingly we're looking at a higher number).

The domino effect from this basic premise is staggering. In order to “balance” this basic equation we have a street infrastructure that gives supremacy to the space needed to accommodate these transportation nightmares, we have an energy system that leaves people struggling to make ends meet any time the gas prices jump even moderately because they have to drive their cars to get to work, and an environmental wake of destruction plus a population of out of shape and overweight citizens. Don't get me started on how the car culture we embrace has been molded over the last 60 years or the way driving has become a subsidized activity in this country. seems I write a post like this every year around the time of Hot August Nights and yet really only scratch the surface of what is wrong with a society hell bent on worshipping the car no matter what havoc it causes to our neighborhoods, cities, and planet.

On another note, it's nice to see so much play being given to “complete streets” in the media as the city pushes to make our neighborhoods more liveable. “Complete Streets” flies somewhat in the face of this notion that the car is supreme so perhaps it is one small (very small) victory rejecting this car culture world view. Hats off to DowntownMakeover for a nice post on the ongoing project and the benefits of bike commuting.

As for me, this Hot August Nights, I will be enjoying some of the cool early morning Reno summer weather to ride my bike before the cars start cruising, checking out the cool events being put on for Hot August BIKES by the Reno Bike Project, and holing up in the evenings with some good movies from Netflix.