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.