Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bike Shops of Oakland part 2

Click pic for satellite view of storm front
So the time of winter storms is upon us, which gives us the choice of staying inside, wishing we could ride, and going through withdrawals, or just going out and riding, "damn the torpedoes!" as it were. Today I chose the latter, and I did pay for it as I did get dumped upon intermittently, but I think you will agree that it was worth it, as I bagged another little known bike shop today, Bike Rollup, tip of the helmet to Savanna for this bit of bike lore.

Your soggy blogger taking shelter at the Crab Cove lavatory

Despite the rain and wind, which downright encouraged the Crab Cove kite surfers, I pressed on into Oakland via Fruitvale, made a right on E. 12th, and rode the few blocks south until just past High St. where I found this place, Bike Rollup, which is located in the Vulcan work/live space building. Luckily it was open for business, and the industrial space within the roll up door was full of bikes and parts, and two employees, one of which is:

Two Wheel Tony

I took advantage of the free chat offered on the back of their business card and gave Tony my Flashblog introduction, showed him the website, and then talked bikes. He admired my Miyata then showed me his sweet '82 Cannondale road bike in a shade of purple I've not seen before.
Bike Rollup specializes in fixing and restoring used bikes, my kind of place. I was shown the "before" or incoming beaters and then the "after" restored rides on the floor. Tony was proud of his work on one sunburst orange cruiser where he removed a heavy coat of rust to reveal the glorious paint beneath. Tony also taught me the proper term for those sick scraper bikes made from BMX frames mounting 700c wheels. They're called "donks". That one word made my day.
Tony is also a bicycle themed artist, and showed me his nicely done hand drawn renderings of chicks on bikes. This must be the art gallery portion of the shop.

All kinds of bikes ready to move for Festivus.

Go to their website and you will see they have a generous education discount for both students and teachers. I gathered they are passionate about giving back to the community. The vibe here is authentic bike love, semi-industrial, open and airy. They also host something called a "bike joust" now and then, something I would like to witness but not participate in. If you at all consider yourself part of the local bike culture or just a witness thereof, do make the time to stop by Bike Rollup.

My Bike Shops of Oakland project is picking up steam as I get turned onto more people, things, and places to check out. Its like the proverbial rolling snowball. Oakland as it turns out has a great wealth of bike commerce and culture, enough to keep a blogger like me cruising back and forth all over town for some time to come.

Bay Area Bikes
Bay Area Bikes' main store on 2424 Webster St.

Now I take you to Bay Area Bikes' main store on Webster, right in the old auto row area. As opposed to its Jack London Square counterpart, this is a large store with a unique feature: the wrenching area is in a loft on the second floor. I assume all bike must be lugged up the stairs cyclocross style. Extra workout!

The midweek day I visited was quiet, and I was greeted by Dale who works the floor. I explained the Flashblog thing I was up to, and he was agreeable. Soon, one of the owners came out, Glenda, and she graciously gave up some time to chat with me. She said the other owner Clay would be very sorry he missed me. So, I will go back to meet him for sure. The vibe in here is mellow, a great spectrum of bikes, perhaps more than at other shops. Workman bikes, a Big Dummy, a Raleigh steel lugged road bike, Giant types, and many others at good discount prices I might add.

Dale and Glenda

You too can ride like BikeSnobNYC with your very own Big Dummy

Small bike...big milk crates...very cool!

This intriguing organic creation rolled in while I was taking photos. Note its massive tubes compared to the noodley oldschool Flashcycle next to it

The brand name is Stalk, like the plant part

So, upon close inspection of the bamboo bike, I struck up a conversation with its owner and builder, Lars Jacobsen. Lars is one third of the Stalk frame building team, home based here in Oakland. He revealed that the lug material is dyed sisal reinforced with carbon, and the frame is polyurethane coated. He built this himself, and I half to admit a burning desire to emulate him and do one myself. Check out his website. It is Flashblog's stated goal to investigate this organic frame trend, and Lars shall be my conduit.

So via this blog, my friend JFR recommended BAB at Jack London, where I met Savanna, who told me about their other shop which is good scoop in itself, but once there, I encounter Lars, who may open the door to a magical mystery tour of the frame building subculture. Awesome!

Bike Station, Fruitvale BART

As the non-named storefront outside implies, Bike Station Fruitvale is a bike service and free parking service located at Fruitvale BART plaza, and run under the auspices of our very own Alameda bicycle philanthropist Gene Oh, of Alameda Bicycles. Gene also runs the Bike Station Berkeley and Embarcadero in SF, both also located at or inside of the transit stations. Fruitvale is a personal favorite of mine as the parking service is invaluable to the non-automotive transit alternatives. Ride your bike to the station, park it, ride BART to your destination, repeat, then ride home. It really is awesome and does more to encourage biking than just about any other service I know of. Nobody would bike to the BART and leave their bike locked outside. Just one look at the bike rack outside tells a ghastly tale of disemboweled bikes, only their locked frames remain to rust in the elements.
As well, BSF can do repairs or tune ups on your bike as you toil away in your cubicle in SF, so a fresh bike awaits you upon return. That's something to look forward to.

So that's if for this segment. Still to come, even more bike shops in Oakland, including a brand new shop in a neighborhood you would never suspect, only mentioned by a very few in the know. The few that shall soon be swelled by you, the Flashblog readers. Stayed tuned and check back soon.

Ride on my friends,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I See Dead People

I finally made it to see the controversial Body World exhibit, now showing at the Tech Museum in San Jose. I remember the first time I saw an image of Body World, and how blown away I was by creator Gunter Von Hagen's vision of...of...of....what? Von Hagen, a pathologist, created methods by which formerly living organisms can be "plastinated". His organisms of choice are expired specimens of Homo Erectus, but he also works with lesser Kingdoms as well, often combining the two, such as a horse with rider---that one was three years in the making.

After all, this is a bicycling blog so consider this image
(click photos for enhanced anatomical details)

Upon entering the exhibit, you are directed amongst angular black paneled partitions featuring modern art ceramic body shapes, then you notice the ambient space music in the background, but mostly you notice that the nervous excitement of the patrons lining up to get in has been replaced with a reverent silence, or if not silence, then hushed respectful tones. There is a collective unspoken agreement among everyone present that results in a church-like atmosphere in which everyone speaks in muted tones. What is going on here? I don't know, I'm not Dr. Freud. But some people don't seem to get it; two young women in purple medical school garb giggled and laughed, touched the figure and dared each other to smell it up close. Please people, I mean, really.

Von Hagen's work, as you might guess, has elicited controversy. There is the question of desecration of the dead, is it or isn't it? Religion thus comes into play. In some sense is Von Hagen playing God? It is up to the individual to decide, but my guess is that those attending these exhibits have already made up their minds. The plastinations have been set by Von Hagen in artistic poses ranging from the sublime to the bizarre, to the downright ghastly. Many of these bodies have had their tissues flayed in creative ways, with the skin, muscles and other viscera flying off the bones as if blown by an invisible tornado. It's an unsettling effect, and I found it mostly distracting, but it is a means to reveal the underlying layers of vessels, nerves, organs and other undefinable things. Even more unsettling is the technique of slicing the bodies into vertical sections and then pulling the sections away at angles. This is very strange when done to the head, and heads are a very popular item in Herr Hagen's world.

Von Hagen's artistic anatomical poses usually depict the body in exercise or sports; dancers are well represented in this exhibit, but having done that ad infinitum, he has pushed the artistic envelope with his latest "cycles of life" concept (a very different exhibit not on display here) which chronicles the cycle of life from birth to death. In this exhibit theme, infants are on display along with a pair of cadavers which are depicted in the throes of (one would hope in a great leap of faith) consensual sex. I kid you not, images of this Banned in Berlin exhibit are easily revealed by a popular search engine. The whole point of Body Worlds is to reveal all the inner workings of the body, various diseases, poor lifestyle choices and the like in an effort to break through preconceptions and present a New Truth. These are not people having sex, these are plastinated formerly flesh forms posed in erotic representations. The utter lack of soul on display only serves to help us get in touch with our own soul more succinctly. It was banned as blasphemous in Europe but I would have liked to have seen it.

Interestingly, security is tight concerning photography---photography is banned and taking a photo will get you booted out. I asked a Tech Associate why this was and he offered a weak explanation about respecting the dead, that they didn't sign up, or didn't sign releases to have their pictures taken. (but they did for eternal coitus with strangers?) I'm sure this is more about selling their book of Body World Images at the Body World Gift Shop everyone must pass through on the way out. So these two images here are courtesy of our friends at Google. (and now a word from this blog's sponsor...)

Google---we know everything. About you. Trust Google.

A similar, but slightly different dancing couple can be found at the Tech Museum.

So what did I get out of this? Actually, quite a lot. There is a ton of useful health information to be had here about smoking, eating choices, and heart disease. Smoker's black lungs are exposed in all their gory. Plaque encrusted arteries are displayed. A whole photodocumentary on ethnic vs. typical American eating habits speaks volumes. There are incredible displays that are almost unbelievable, such as a human head composed of nothing but thousands of blood red vessels. But mostly what I got from this is what a magnificent machine my body is. Only when you can see the innermost workings displayed in all their incomprehensible intricacies can you appreciate how seemless and effortlessly the whole body works to accomplish what we ask of it. It makes me want to treat my body as a temple, to examine each bite of food I put into it, to treat it as best I can to make it last as long as possible in highest working order.

"To enjoy life fully treat your body like a finely tuned instrument".
"Treat your body with respect, it's the only place you have to live".

Truly, one of the most amazing exhibitions I have ever seen. I highly recommend you see this once.

Lastly, on the lighter subject of Deadheading, as it were, the Grateful Dead once made an album called "Infrared Roses". (smooth segue) If you've ever wondered, as I have, what Flash's heat signature looks like, wonder no more:

Flash's overheated brain belies his overall cool

That's it for now and as always,
Ride On my friends


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Project 510: Oakland Bike Shops

Your investigative reporter in action uncovering the secrets of "Oaktown"
(click on images for Flashemehscopic large views)

Welcome. I've been riding around Oakland quite a bit this summer. I have a weekly meeting in the northerly, upscale Rockridge part of town which is perfect motivation to get on my bike and explore to and from said district, and I've found many interesting things and enjoyed many a pleasant ride through this media-maligned urban fur ball of a town. Its a nice place to visit during daylight hours, and really, the worst parts have nothing in them to attract me anyway so I won't be going there.

My last post started a self-motivated inquiry into bike shops of Oakland, my goal being to visit each shop personally until all the shops are known to, well, myself, and now to you, the Flashblog reader. It goes without saying that each shop has its own personality. That personality starts at the curb....curb appeal, as it were, and then the interior ambiance, and not least, the friendliness of the staff. A defining tenet of my project is, of course, to visit each shop via bicycle and act as an Ambassador of Alameda, our moated, bridged island of right thinking Americana, which, without the moat and bridges, might have been just another piece of Oakland. I am not saying which shop I think is "best", for that is subjective, and besides, I'm not qualified to say who is best because I don't even use shops all that much as I do most of my own wrenching and use a lot of recycled parts. So consider this a guide, and I encourage you to visit these places and make up your own mind. So without further adieu, here are six shops for your edification.

Manifesto on 40th Ave.
Minimalist storefront dresses a minimalist sized shop, it's small and narrow. Relatively less bikes but of high quality. Emphasis on fixed gears. Highest award for themed store window displays, the Halloween display was, ahem, killer. I need to go back here to meet the staff which seemed helpful to the other patrons, as I was just "looking around" that day.
Marty from TeamAlameda, after reading the blog, had this to say about Manifesto's owners:
"Great blog post, as usual, Flash.
The Manifesto shop is owned by a couple we know - Pamela used to work with the wife, and we attended their wedding. The wedding was a great bicycling oriented affair, with guests asked to arrive by bike at the site, the Camron-Stanford House at Lake Merritt. After the ceremony, the bride, groom, and guests all paraded (on bikes, of course) over to Jack London Square for drinks. After drinks, we all rode to the Children's Art Museum across from Cost Plus, where the reception was held - food was catered by a taco truck. It was an AWESOME wedding.")
The Manifesto web site is

Tip Top, 48th and Telegraph.
Larger than Manifesto, but shares the same minimalist storefront thinking, I missed this shop on the first pass, only the bikes out front gave it away on the second pass. Inside is a different story, more bikes, and most interesting is the out in the open mechanic's work area adjoining the display room. Usually the tool jockeys are sequestered in the rear, out of sight, but not here, I went right up to them and started a conversation. Tip Top is the only shop I know of that takes old tubes and tires for recycling. YES! Pleasant staff, if I lived around here I would definitely use this shop. Did I mention they be HELLA OAKLAND?

Pioneer Bicycles, Rio Vista off of Piedmont Ave.
From the outside, this shop has an ancient hardware store vibe to it. The extensive jail bars window treatment speaks volumes, and this is a nice part of town. Inside, there exists an array of new and old bikes and a sense that time has stood still here, or at least time exists at a different speed. This is my kind of shop, with loads of stuff everywhere, bikes all over the place, and Creedence playing on the radio. The shop owner and sole employee is Edmond, a nice guy who has run the shop for around 15 years if I recall correctly. This place is definitely a find and I will return here for sure to dig up more stories in the near future.

Edmund, the boss of Pioneer Bikes, in his element.

Montano Velo, Piedmont Ave.
This is the shop to go to for eye candy, yes sir. My favorites are the Pegorettis, then the Pinarellos, then the old 50's antique road bike hanging in the middle of the store. This shop appears to have all the palmares for high end road bike geeks and track guys, but they also sell low end Bianchis and work on ordinary bikes. I've purchased a bottom bracket and tasteful Arundel stainless bottle holders for my Lemond here. The feng shui here is unsurpassed---it is a bit like Tip Top in that the mechanics are out in the open and accessible, and there is even a sidewalk couch to sit on. Note the vending machine for power foods out front. Flash's highest rating for ambiance.

CycloSports, Grand Ave.
The most visually under-the-radar shop of the legit shops, this place is almost subterannean. Note it is below street level in a non-descript building, and the tree out front hides the name of the place. Lots of quality bikes, I've stopped here for small purchases, notably tire patches which they sell by the piece. Nice vibe here and if I recall, some "open air" wrenching going on the floor as well. Another shop that I need to stop in for an extended chat with the staff.

Wheels Of Justice, Montclair
WOJ easily takes the Best Name for local bike shops as the literal meaning is cool enough, but the double meaning is that the owner is named...Justice. And a really nice guy he is too. This shop recently moved south a few doors down to the corner where the feng shui is improved.
WOJ is the only shop half way into the hills, so for many mechanical issues that arise while cycling the hills, this shop is the go to place for repairs or parts.

Bay Area Bikes, rental store Jack London Square

On the advice of my French Canadian amigo Jean-Francois, I stopped by Bay Area Bikes today in Jack London Square. This shop takes the prize for closest to the water, as it is on the edge of the estuary. I had passed by here before but always found the shop closed, as it is mostly a weekend operation this time of year. But today it was open for business, so I wheeled on in an met the helpful and friendly Savanna working the rental desk, for BABs at this location is primarily a bike rental outlet. I came in at a quiet time so I was able to talk with her at length about the shop, blogging, and other bike shops/ events in Oaktown.

Savanna at Bay Area Bikes

Turns out she is a fountain of information, and I was scribbling down all the info she was throwing out. The bikes here are all rentals---by the hour, day, or longer. There are some lubes, tools, and other things available here, along with seasonal Xmas tree decorations---bike cogs on clips. Nice. Savanna enlightened me to the second Bay Area Bikes location on Webster st. at Broadway in Oakland, a mysteriously rumored new shop by the lake, and even more places to Flash over to. More on these soon.

Hank and Frank, Rockridge near Berkeley, through a moist camera lens

From their website: Hank & Frank Bicycles was established over 80 years ago! We have held onto some of the best mechanics in the bay area. Our mechanics represent over 70 years of combined experience with the ability to repair all brands and styles of bikes.

Hey, thanks for reading, and check back here as I update the page with even more Oaktown shops. As always,
Ride On, my friends.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Shop With No Name

(click for large view)

The hard boundaries of my personal bike world were instantly expanded recently in the process of doing a good deed for a local church, a deed which took me into a heretofore unexplored region of West Oakland. West Oakland is a legendary land not unlike the Wild West of old, complete with outlaws, gunfights, and goings on we right-thinking Alamedans dare not even ponder. We do not venture far from the safe haven there that is the BART station, and then quickly to our bikes and cars by day, and hyper-alert by night, but night in these parts is to be avoided if at all possible.

So I found myself driving a pickup truck west on 7th St., and I passed the establishment in the photo above, which that day, was sporting a lineup of welded art type bikes on the sidewalk. One in particular, a BMX kid's bike with a large metal frame box way out front of the handlebars, and a front wheel further beyond the box, was... just weirdly conceptual. And well made. The essential thing that struck me was that here was a bike shop in the Badlands, a bike shop with no name, just an old bike screwed vertically to the side of the building serving to announce its presence. I had to check this place out.

After unloading the pickup, I secured its steering wheel with the Club, and dared to walk the block back to the place with the art bikes. As I approached, my excitement grew...just what had I discovered here? After scanning the sidewalk bikes, I walked through the door into some kind of bicycle Purgatory.

This place was cave-like, colors muted by overpowering shades of gray, with bikes hanging from the ceiling, stacked against walls, laying on the floor. Three guys were holding forth inside, a skinny, bearded hipster with white framed glasses behind the counter, another guy behind him wire brushing a freewheel, hardened grease falling onto the floor, and another slightly grizzled guy attempting to patch a tube. There was little apparent order to this operation, but the randomness of the thing was intoxicating to me. Then, a really cool thing happened.

The shop lies in the shadow of the BART overhead tracks, and in this late afternoon, the sun was lighting the shop interior through plastic covered clear story windows. A dark yellowish light penetrated the gray shop area, unnoticed, until a BART train came rumbling by, and as it did, its form blocked the sun, casting a shadow on the building. The whole shop went almost black save one dim lightbulb hanging from a wire. Splinters of yellow light, the sun beaming between the BART cars, created a strobe effect on the windows. I have to tell you, it was surreal. David Lynch himself could not have thought of this cool noir effect, I was awed by it. Then the train passed and the yellowish light returned. THAT was performance art of the best kind, the kind that just happens when alternate realities collide.

I talked with the patch repair guy and it was his welded together workman BMX bike on the street. He claimed to be more of a fabricator than a mechanic. He was fixing the rear wheel of a fetching young lass, who's Schwinn Varsity's rear tire had seen too many miles, I mean, it was threadbare. He got her rolling again for 5 bucks. This is what these guys do...take discarded or recycled bike, cobble them together into rideable machines, sell them cheap. Do cheap repairs for the neighborhood. Make some food money. Some beer money. Trying to get by somehow. They are working, trying to move mostly crap bikes to people who can afford nothing better. They are under-the-radar Greens, providing alternative transportation without any government subsidies.

Upon departing, I noticed a sizable hipster (for lack of a better word) population in this part of town. My previous misconception was that it is all ghetto, all 'hood down here. Its more about struggling, disenfranchised, or starving artist types. My eyes have been opened.

What I do for my hobby, in my home workshop, is nothing different than what these guys are doing on 7th st. I came to the realization that I admire them because I've often thought about running a funky bike shop, but I always end up concluding there is no way that would ever work unless I won the lottery.

These guys didn't let that scenario stop them. So here's a toast to the urban underground bike shop, the outpost of East Bay bicycle civilization, the nihilist's counterpoint to commercial bike culture.
May they live long and prosper.

Ride On, My Friends.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rethinking the Whole Dutch Bike Thing

Faster than a Dutch bike

Ok, I admit, my previous two posts read a little mushy, a little gushy, a little self congratulatory. That was the process of finding an authentic Dutch bike and then wrenching the Kaptein up to running condition speaking. I like the process, I do. The end result of living with it is a bit harsher. It is a rather blunt tool for the job.

After that last post, I set out to ride to Rockridge, the most outermost, northerly part of Oakland. I filled the tires to their max pressure of 70 psi to gain max efficiency. I put my items in the bag on the rear rack (I had removed the wire basket, it looked better on my Entropy bike) , filled the water bottle and set off. Not a block had passed under the rubber when I noticed the thump thump coming from the back end. I've felt this before when a tire starts de-laminating. I stopped and a quick look confirmed that the tube was about to burst out the sidewall. The aged, dried out tire had failed under pressure. Damn! This meant the dreaded rear tire change. I returned home and exchanged bikes, and rode my Miyata out to my meeting and back. Always a nice ride, there is that magic quality in my purple and yellow steed.

I ordered some Continental puncture resistant tires online and when they arrived I braced myself for the rear tire change. This particular process is a challenge, trust me. First remove the two halves of the chainguard, pry the chain out of each half. Disconnect the shift mechanism. Disconnect the rear brake cable and drum arm frame attachment. Remove the stay adjusters from both sides. Remove the axle nuts and catch the chainguard support when it falls off. Thats the easy part. Remove old tire, put new tire on. Put wheel back into stays, making sure brake support arm is in correct alignment. Make sure all washers are in correct positions. Stay lock keys must exit the rear of the stays, if they are put on backwards, the wheel must come off. Adjust the brakes. Adjust the shifting. Reinstall the chainguard, and align. The whole process takes at least an hour, and aligning the wheel after everything is completely together is difficult---two nuts on the stay adjuster bolts have to be tightened separately before the axle bolts are tightened. But I did it more quickly this second time around, and I was happy with the results, and was ready to ride. Ah, the feeling of new tires is happy times. By the way, I took the liberty of installing stop flat liners so I would not have to do this again for years. I hope they work.

The following week, I set out again for Rockridge, by way of Alameda Point first. The first thing that is most apparent when riding this bike is how slow it is. Its heavy. Almost 50 pounds with the U lock. It is smooth, and it cruises the flats nicely. However, when I got to Oakland and started the very gradual uphill to Rockridge, things got quite slower, and frankly, it was not fun.

My body, brain and kinesthetic pathways are set to road bikes, which are quick, light and nimble, with multiple gears to contend with the mildest slope to the gnarliest grades. My Miyata makes short, pleasant work of a 9 mile ride to Rockridge. On the Kaptein, it feels like a major expedition. The slightest uphill is felt and the gears are not right---low is too low and medium is too high, so an efficient cadence is hard to find. Then there are real hills to contend with. For instance, when I got to the block long, but major hump of a hill at the end of Grand Ave., I had to dismount and push the bike to the top, and even that was some work. What ignominy, I've never had to do that before on this hill. The feeling I had was of discontent, disgruntled that this bike is inefficient for what I want to do and where I want to go. Too heavy, too slow, too much work. Add to that the total pain in the butt which is changing a rear tire, or just fixing a rear flat, and the whole romance of the Dutch city bike looses its luster.

I've been told that Holland is flat. My town of Alameda is flat as well. The Kaptein is a fine bike for Alameda and Holland, or for short trips of just a few miles. Longer trips or trips that involve the pavement rising up ahead quickly reveal the shortcomings of this design and the heavy component mix. So, I am not sure what role the Dutch bike will play in my stable of rides. I may just keep it around as an unusual collectible. For the Miyata has shown its superiority in all ways save for getting my trousers caught in the chain. A small price to pay for speed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

S.S. Dolphin---Fitting Out

I've begun to think of my Dutch Dolphin as a ship...a ship in which I am the Kaptein---Master and Commander. As such, she deserves to be fitted out for duty...duty, which, in this case, is as my unhurried urban commuter. I see voyaging her to distant lands like Berkeley and back, but not much further than that, for she is now tipping the scales at an even 50 lbs with a full water bottle ballast. I must say that on a trip to downtown Oakland today, she performed smoothly with no problems whatsoever. I'm getting used to the gestalt of this ride which is, in a nutshell, getting her up to cruise speed (12mph or so) and holding her there in 2nd gear. The weight carries the bike along on the flats and the gear ratio to keep her rolling is light and spinny at the pedals. It works well and seems effortless. This is by design...I can appreciate that now. On the contrary, going up the slightest incline is felt, and major inclines feel as if the anchor was dropped behind, dragging through the cold mud of the ocean floor.

One of the most pleasant aspects of this bike is that no special wardrobe is required other than my helmet. I get on it in my regular clothes. I don't even have to cuff my right leg. Ah... the freedom to just go! I'm lovin' it.

So let me show you the recent additions I've made to increase the usability of the bike:

Here she is with the recent fitments:
1. Mesenger sprung saddle
2. Bulldog U lock and hanger
3. Water bottle and cage
4. Flash Industries rear basket
5. Inner tube wrap of rear rack
I made the basket from recycled/repurposed dog kennel wire. The flat sheet of wire measured about 3' x 2'. I designed a fold-up box, cut and bent the wire to shape. Note the handy torch-bent hooks on the back of the basket. The basket will easily hold two supermarket bags. I left the rusted oxidation as this speaks of entropy. I also re-purposed some inner tubes by cutting them in half lengthwise, then wrapping the tube around the top rack tubes to protect them from the rusty basket wires. The basket is attached using 4 zip ties. Easy!

Here's the business end of the Mesenger saddle, which is one of my all time best dumpster dive finds. Note the sturdy dual springs. The saddle body is metal, covered in some kind of vinyl. It's heavy, but very comfortable. The bag holds a small adjustable wrench, two metal tire irons, a tube and patch kit. If the rear flats I intend to pull the tube off while still on the bike and patch it as it is too difficult and involved to pull the rear wheel. Trust me on this. That's how they do it over in the old world, so I've been told.

Lastly, this bike does not have bottle cage mounts, so I wrapped a piece of black leather around the downtube, and mantled two automotive hose clamps to the cage. I flame-distressed the clamps with a propane torch to change their color from chrome to burnished metal. I like this treatment and it goes further towards the sub-vibe suggested by the basket. The massive 2.8 lb U lock nicely fills the huge void that is the frame triangle, and suggests nothing less than a piece of ordnance.

Handlebars, arm and shoulder form a circle that subtly highlights the rider’s position. We also test Dolphin behind the scenes with the most current technology. The steel frame absorbs major bumps in the road effectively and small vibrations are transformed into the humming of your balloon tires. You will feel like sauntering to an opera premiere – even if it's only on the way to work." (edited Retrovelo marketing hype)

Another similar in-production bike from the UK, the Pashley

Roadster Sovereign
A whale amongst minnows. This imposing bicycle provides an unsurpassed ride due to it's 28 inch wheels and regal riding position.

The Roadster Sovereign features a traditional lugged frame and five speed hub gears with full chaincase, gold-lined mudguards, steel rear carrier with fold down wheel stand, hub driven dynamo headlamp, LED rear light, frame fit lock, leather sprung saddle and coatguards


Price: $1595

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Dutch Treat---- The Kaptein Dolphin

(click photos for large view)

I've finally found an authentic Dutch city bike. Where did I get it? Ebay? Craigslist perhaps? Nope. Found it at a second hand shop in Oakland, sitting atop an old desk, its handlebars twisted, tires flat, a layer of dirt graying its colors. But I knew what it was and bought in on the spot. Oh Joy! Like finding treasure.

After transporting it home to the Flashco workshop, I discovered it would need more than just cleaning. Two rear spokes were broken, the shifter would not shift, the lumpy old road racer saddle would have to be replaced, and the tires needed inspection. To my surprise, the Victory Supreme tires and tubes held air. (these would soon de-laminate) After an hour long search mission in the dark recesses of Stone's Cycle shop I found matching heavy duty spokes and installed those. I purchased new shift housing and cable which was all that was needed to fix the 3 speed shifter. I adjusted the drum brakes, greased the chain, set the dynamo clearance and fixed the loose wire to the front headlight. Ready to roll!

Front drum brake and metal fender, halogen light, 700x 38 tires

Interesting Dolphin graphics, pink and gold over the dark metallic green paint. Note the pinstriped rear fender

Front fork details include brazed on dynamo hanger. Reflective stripe on the tires is a nice safety touch.

The business end of the bike. Lots going on back here. Integrated 3 speed drum brake hub, totally enclosed chain guard, fender attachments and other bits make removal and re installation of the rear wheel feel as easy as pulling the transmission in a '92 Volvo.

Here's the cockpit with the twist shifter and a classic bell. Note the stem and handlebars are one piece, the bars cannot be adjusted for angle, but the stem is super long for height.

The view cars see. Heavy duty painted rack with bungee eyelets, and Basta light. The light is only 2 LEDs, rather puny by today's standards, the rest of the housing is just reflectors.

So how does it ride? Like a Bentley, I'm guessing, having never ridden in a Bentley. Smooth, stately, composed. It gets to the speed it wants to go and we go that speed. Which is very civilized, not too slow, but not fast either. 2nd gear is just a tad too low for the flats, but 3rd is noticeably too high. The drum brakes are smooth and effective, but not powerful, but then they don't need to be at these low speeds.

This bike is unlike any other bike I've had. It feels grown up and utterly sensible. It is solid and well made, the parts are all high quality, it is an all weather, day or night machine. It might be 20 years old or 100 years old, for this is truly a timeless design enjoyed by generations of cyclists. I feel very lucky to have it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Adventuring 101

Old Tunnel Road from Sibley Ridge

Impossible to Ride!

Today's experimental outing on wheels came about as a result of a spontaneous route change undertaken by Brian and myself two weeks ago. We were traversing Piedmont, that street through the Berkeley Frat houses, when quite suddenly I called for a halt followed by a left turn up the hill. A hill with a street named Panoramic. It's called Panoramic for the simple reason, as with most streets that rise up at extreme angles, amazing views open up when you round a corner and everything falls away under you.

That day we had clawed our way up to the top, where the pavement turns to dirt and continues on over hill and dale. It is really unrelentingly steep to get up to this point, and we could not really go much further because we were on our road bikes, and our skinny smooth tires were just not cutting it in the dirt. I made a note to self to return here with my mountain bike and press on regardless, all the way across what seemed to be a valley to Grizzly Peak, far off in the distance.

So today was that day. I prepped my Rockhopper for dirt duty, as these days it is pulling exchange student commuter duty for the most part. I put on my road saddle, SPD pedals, tightened the headset, lubed the chain, strapped on a pump and tool bag, and BARTed out to Ashby st. in Berkeley. I slowly climbed through the town and up Panoramic. Its a long grind. I thought it would be easier on a mountain bike because of the low gearing, but the extra 12 lbs + weight over the road bike seemed to negate the gears for the most part. I was able to ride up where I had to walk my road bike two weeks ago, but it was slow going. But then, on an expeditionary jaunt like this, speed is not the point.

I made my way to the point on the fire trail where Brian and I had had to turn back. This point is punctuated by a very steep grade, which I tried to pedal up but soon realized I would have to walk it, pushing the bike. This is harder than it sounds, the bike gets very heavy and my feet barely got traction on this slope. (Another reason I use mountain bike cycling shoes rather than road style). Flushed, I finally surmounted the hill and found a descent on the other side...sawtooth ridges...OH NO! Up then down then up again. The second grade seemed just as steep as the first, but even longer. I pushed the bike up again, breathing hard and sweating in the sun, my calves starting to get a crampy feeling. Ok, now for some more downhill, then a section I could actually ride as it was merely ordinarily steep. Then a four way crossroads in the middle of nowhere. I wondered where the other ways went, but pushed on straight towards Grizzly Peak, which I could not see from this point, then turned a corner to see the Mother of All MoFos. (2nd photo above)

I mean, this dirt road went straight up, it was a field of sharp jagged rocks, with loose sand in between. I tried to push the bike and just got to a point it would not go up anymore, It felt like a ton of bricks, so I dropped the bike and just tried to hike up, and I could barely do that, I mean, this is a wicked steep pitch, my shoes not getting traction and sliding backwards. What kind of fire truck could even drive on this road anyway?

So, I had the queasy feeling of being defeated. Doesn't happen like this very often. I had pushed deep in and now I had to pay the price for that. I didn't relish going back the way I came, because of all the reverse course pushing of the bike I anticipated. So I coasted back to the crossroads and investigated the south direction, which was down, down, down into some Eucalyptus trees and darkness. The other way went north somewhere. I knew that I was on the hill north of Claremont Canyon, so that meant Claremont Ave. was to the south of me. Good chance the decending fireroad would take me there, so I chose that and dove down into it.

It was really steep so I was massively applying the brakes. The rear wheel was losing traction and skidding every two seconds or so. Then something caught me off balance and the rear wheel was in the air, I was hanging over the front wheel and the view was like looking over a cliff edge. Before I could grasp the implications, the rear wheel returned to earth. And then the entire bike skidded sideways.

My left foot was already out of the pedal before I started the descent, and as the bike went sideways I put it down like a kickstand and as it gained purchase, the bike hopped up with me on it, then down again as we slid further, then my foot stuck earth again, and the bike lifted again, and so on at least six times. Like a pogo stick we bounced down the hill. I really thought I was going down hard on this ungraceful maneuver, I mean really, I've never been in this position before and so I was just hanging on, but I felt in the moment that I could control it so kept cool, and then the bike stopped its gyrations and stopped. I remounted, and gingerly continued on down to Claremont. I emerged at that first big hairpin turn about 2/3 of the way to the top. I was happy to see familiar terrain.

I climbed to the top then plunged down the other side, Fishranch Road. It didn't feel like I was going that fast for some reason, but I was keeping in touch with the cars ahead of me. At the Caldecott building, I veered right up Old Tunnel Road in Sibley Park. Here is a sweet section of road I found two weeks ago, which has only recently been opened as regional parklands.

Yes, the old ORIGINAL Tunnel Road is now open for riding! And it is as awesome as it is short, for near the top of the hill it, like Panoramic, turns to dirt road. Another reason I brought the mountain bike.

I feel like this area is my new private playground. There are very few hikers out here, no other cyclists to be seen, its just wide open area. Dry and desert like, windblown and sunbaked, it is a compelling area to explore. Old old Tunnel road is in good shape, pretty smooth, a few weeds poking through cracks here and there, but amazingly intact. The dirt road it turns into is hard packed with some gravel, but easy to ride. There are numerous side trails going off to who knows where, grist for future explorations.

I rode mostly uphill over to the backside of Roundtop, the dormant volcano that is the crown jewel of Sibley Park. I stopped for lunch at the labyrinth, a Hippie era art work down in an old abandoned quarry. Its a desolate feeling place. After a climb out of there, the trail turns into a rocky field not unlike Eldridge Trail on Mt. Tam, and soon enough, I was in the very familiar Sibley rest stop off Skyline Blvd. My legs were shot, my glutes were aching, my lower back smarting, but the smile on my face said that it was all worth while.

After a short rest I descended the hill via some upper Montclair side streets, the mountain bike really shines as it feels like a mini motorcycle on twisty fast descents, and I was having a great time making it last as long as possible.

I was back home about 4 hours after setting out. I guess I only made about 25 miles, but man, what a 25 miles! Super steep ascents, super technical descents, moments of grave doubt, moments of elation, whole new areas bagged and a thorough workout had. So there you have it, a story about how I do it and why I do it, but after the ride, when I am standing in the shower, I reflect on it and am amazed that I did that---that I was able to do that--- on a bicycle, the most awesomely efficient machine ever invented.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bikes Come, Bikes Go

Sometime back I came across a garage sale in the Glenview District of Oakland, and spied a mountain bike for sale for $45. A small Gary Fisher mountain bike, it had few miles on had been owned by a girl who went off to college. I thought Flashette might like this, so I bought it, but she didn't feel the fit. It sat in the garage for a while, then Max rode it to school his senior year (after his Nishiki road bike was stolen there) and it gave trouble free service. Then it sat some more. I am now quite pleased to report that it is currently serving who-knows what-duty up at Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock desert, being ridden by Lazlo, a long time friend of Max's, and also currently living in Olympia Washington. I couldn't make it to Burning Man this year (or any other year yet) but it is deeply satisfying to know that one of my bikes is up there...freewheeling the sands of surreal 21st century life. Oh, the tales it could tell.

Recently I spied a red road bike leaning against some recycling bins by Encinal High school. I stopped to look at it- an ancient Bridgestone, complete, but in poor shape, the frame just huge, the ugly factor amplified by it's pink electrical tape handlebar wrap. The elderly Asian man who owned it asked me to take it and he threw in a parts box of miscellaneous bike parts. This bike has been sitting in my garage since then, and I was going to either strip it for parts or sell it dirt cheap, when a member of Cathy's church called us to ask if we could supply her son with a bike, his was recently stolen, and he needed to get to work. He wanted a durable faster ride. I said sure, I have something. Surprisingly, the son was almost my age, he didn't mind the fugly bar tape, he was very happy to get it, and he mounted up and rode off into the sunset. So be it! Glad that worked out.

Last winter Team Alameda member Ron Arth called me up to offer me a beachcruiser bike for our exchange student girls to ride. I still have that and it is being put to good use by my current exchange student Joe, from Guangzhou China. Our other host son, Lorenz from Germany, is digging my Specialized Rockhopper, and he completed a 20 mile hill ride on it last weekend.

I ride my Miyata road bike to work everyday. I reset the odometer after my heart tuneup, symbolic of starting over, and I now have 657 miles on it. Riding to and from Bay Farm island. Nothing else. 11 miles every day. Its a workout coming back in the afternoon into the incessant fog blown headwinds, no even worse, it can be excruciating. Not unlike being waterboarded. Ok, maybe not that bad. But it can be really bad. I've found that stuffing paper in my ears helps a lot to mute the howling wind in my ears. I'm convinced from doing this day after day that the sound of wind whipping my ears is the worst mental obstacle to overcome, it saps my strength and morale. But it didn't kill me, so I must be stronger.

And still there are more bikes: the Army bike with its new fat slicks sits in the garage awaiting a ride to the produce stand. I also ride the AMF Huffy cruiser bike, rusty and grungy, but surprisingly capable and almost theft proof. Almost. Last but not least is my Lemond, still rocking the ultra low hill gears, still riding like the trusty steed it is. It is very good at what it does, which is extreme grade riding. Oh yeah, Cathy has two bikes as well.

So... lots of bikes in and around the house. A bike for every reason, a bike for every season, a bike fore every guest from every country. Living the bike life, hardly using the car, building my carbon credits and lowering my carbon footprint. Bikes....what amazing machines! I love 'em.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The New is Old Again

I'm stoked that I finally figured out a way (reverse engineering at its finest) to put the old iconic Flashblog header on the new blog. It was pointed out to me that there is no link back to the original blog, so I installed that over on the right side under the ads that are going to make me rich, rich, rich. So please click on one of those so I can make one eighth of a cent---my best guesstimate, because, like, the checks are not rolling in from Google.

I got to bed late last night, having spent a gustatory day in Santa Rosa with our friend Gaylyn, who treated us to gourmet dining after a lazy day at the Russian River. I bagged the 7am start time today for the Team ride. Come to think of it, I bagged the 9am Team ride as well. Just wasn't ready yet, and besides, the sun doesn't come out until 10. Is this Flash's new banker's hours? Perhaps for the time being. It works. It works well.

As is the case on these solo rides, I had no firm destination in mind, other than Tunnel Road, because Tunnel has the most cyclists on it per mile, therefore the most potential for Flashblog fodder. However, it was in Montclair that the synergy started to hum. The sun was out, it was warming up, and as I passed Peet's and glanced over to see if anyone I knew was out front, a cyclist pulled away into the street and was soon alongside me, and glancing over, I saw it was Mike, a regular at Peet's. He's a young guy from Berkeley, rides a fixie or an Orbea, and is often sipping a java at Peet's. I guess today he wanted some company because we rode together all the way to Sibley, and along the way we picked up a guy in the yellow jersey, and a guy in a red jersey, and we had our own little gruppetto, although the other two just tagged along and didn't speak. Mike seemed to be cruising effortlessly in his Rock Racing outfit, while I had to reality check my heartrate because I knew I was over my recommended max. pulse of 120 (shaking head) prescribed by my Kaiser specialists. Considerably more than that, but I felt fine, and that is what I needed to go that pace, which I can't say was fast, but indeed faster than my usual, and fast enough to stay in visual contact with a faster group of six that passed us. Riding with Mike made my reference points all hazy, and I was, just riding.

I pulled into Sibley and noticed eight women standing in a circle chatting, and immediately got a hit off their jerseys which boldly stated "Girls with Alti-2-ude". I told them how cool I thought that name was and one of them suavely mentioned they thought of it after a long drinking session. I proclaimed them all aspiring Death Riders, then asked them where they were going, and they said the Pinehurst loop, so I rode with them. We went the long way, Skyline to Redwood. down and up the back of Pinehurst, then they turned toward Moraga for their homes in Walnut Creek, while I made my way back up Pinehurst. They were good, C pace, good form and group skills, yeah, and good climbers. All of them prime TA material. Perhaps in the adjacent parallel universe they are. So I did my ambassador thing and invited them to this blog, so maybe we will see them in the future.
I took a favorite Flashcut down to Montclair, pulled in for a coffee, black, and listened to the bluegrass duo at Peet's. The sun was warming, the vibe was mellow and a sense of an electrical pulse surged subliminally along the meridians of my body. I felt nostalgic for the moment even though I was living in it. There's the Oneness. Right there. That's why I cycle.

Ride on my friends.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

2010 Pink Lady Sighting

My group had the great serendipitous luck of encountering Alison Stone, aka The Pink Lady at the intersection of Snake and Skyline. From left to right: Gary, Rob, Flash, Flashette, Alison, Dorothy and Z Rider. It is always a good omen to encounter TPL, and this bodes well for the rest of my cycling year---better than a fortune cookie! (Check out the Flashblog archives for some Pink Lady blogs I wrote a year or two ago)
I'd like to thank photographer Sweeps for taking the picture and making it look like 1967- instant gravitas!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My 4th Incarnation

My house smells like the pungent, smoky aroma of the Dalai Lama. Or maybe I should say, if I ever meet the Dalai Lama, I think this is what he would smell like. The music I am listening to is “Reise, Reise” by Rammstein, the seminal German sturm und drang metal band. Somewhere in the house, most likely in the incense room downstairs, is my 19 year old college student entertaining our new 16 year old exchange student Zhoa, from China, and soon enough there will be another student, Lorenze, and he IS from Germany. “Weeeee’re all living in Amerika, its Vunderbar!” is the next song up by the Germans, and it’s all too appropriate. This conflux of EurAsian smells and sounds is where I am at right now. “Weeeee’re all living in Amerika, Coca Cola, Wonderbra”. It’s a brave new world around here, the last year and a half kind of feeling like the force-blended French/German/Swedish/Italian/Chinese cultural mishmash depicted in Bladerunner. (Yes, I’m the Replicant element with my new high tech nano heart parts.) A large part of the angst is the undermining of not only the national economy, but my own personal economies, economies of new realities, grappling with quests unknown, economies of white-knuckled sailing around rocky, storm blown shoals. But at the same time, the ball and chain around my ankles has been loosed and I find myself sometimes effected not unlike a prisoner paroled after a long stretch in the can, standing outside the front gate of the prison, small suitcase in hand, just wondering what in the hell he is going to do now. No way is that freedom.

The heady mixture of German rock and Tibetan incense is not unlike where I am at with my cycling of late. I have the urge to go hard, tempered with the desire to slow down and meditate on all that transpires around me. I can go hard but I have been strongly advised not to. I have bent the rules lately, I have let the horses run the hillsides. I essentially have a new turbo pump and it works wonderfully, it wants me to put the pedal down. I love my heart more than the family dog, I absolutely admire what it has done for me, and I want to go easy on it. I want to take it out, gently massage it, and lay it down on a satiny pillow to rest peacefully. But at the same time, it has its own desires that make it difficult to tame. It remembers. It feeds on adrenaline and wants to taste the wind, it snarls and drools and chases cars. So like a blind man groping for stairs in a subway station, I try to find the place between the untamed ride and the lotus position.

There is a place that is between training and not-training, in which I mount my bike with no purpose or destination in mind other than to ride, and I let whatever happens unfold. I guess you could call it working out. Not training. Especially not compulsive, self-flagellating type of training of which I am guilty of in the past, and as well, encouraging others to do the same. Working out, in my mind, is done for its own sake, whereas training is done for some higher purpose, to meet some sort of goal or personal achievement, to attain a benchmark, to push the boundaries ever further out. I’ve done that and I’ve met my goals, crossed big events off my bucket list, which is so ironic as how my biggest bucket list event last year might have put me six feet under. Now it’s time to just workout.

It has taken me a long time to figure out that a good workout results in a feeling of potency. Potency is the feeling of being able to physically do what you want to do without undue suffering involved. Potency is a heady thing, to experience it is to literally be full of yourself to feel potential, optimism, self-assuredness. Potency also means ending the workout feeling energized instead of exhausted, ready to take on the rest of the day instead of having to crash horizontal on the nearest soft thing. So I have found the optimal workout ride for me to be 2-3 hours of pedal time. I can do this two days in a row and feel good. I really don’t need to do more than this anymore. My opponent will probably say that I’m saying this because I can’t do more anymore. The Big training for the Big Events thing. He can think what he wants to think.

Five years ago, after a ride up Mt. Diablo with my cycling buddy from the ‘80s, he startled me by saying that he thought any fitness beyond what you need is vanity fitness. I really had a hard time with this…I mean, how do you define “need”? I almost wrote a whole Flashblog about it, but I couldn’t because… I wanted to refute it but in the black cellar of my mind, locked away in a box was a voice saying “yeah, he’s right”. At the time I couldn’t accept that. I thought you can’t have enough fitness, you can’t ever be as good as you can be unless you keep training hard. Wait…maybe he was talking about bodybuilders? I didn’t get it. Now I do. His idea of vanity fitness is what I’ve come to see as compulsive training or, what some people are now calling exercise addiction. If you spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about all things cycling or how great you could be if only you could spend a few more hours training then you are probably in this place.

Having said that, I frequently call upon my past exploits and achievements performed in my Third Incarnation, to inform my current riding. I know what I can do and what I can’t do, because I’ve already done it. That’s a firm foundation of mental strength to draw upon. But then I've just described a conundrum, because you have to do the hard training to achieve your highest goal, to know exactly what you are capable of. Maybe what I am trying to describe is an evolution, a philosophy of riding. There are phases and incarnations for each of us, I see myself in my fourth.

It’s liberating to let go of forever wanting achieve More. To finally let go of personal records and bests, to let go of the compulsion to ride ever further and longer. I’m almost to the point of riding without a computer. Just needing to get over stats completely. It took a near heart attack for me to get this needed perspective. I could have died training over the winter for…. I don’t know what…most likely something I’ve already done before just to say I did it again. To think of all the things I might have missed.

That’s the current zeitgeist here in Flashland. Thanks for reading.