Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Blocked Arterial

Today I experienced one of the fairly frequent hazards of utility cycling in a country where two-wheeled traffic is more of a curiosity or a nuisance than a standard practice.

As I trundled along 13th Street near the Railway Station, I suddenly came upon a dump truck parked on the sidewalk/parking strip and in the bike lane. Cones were neatly deployed--as scripture says "righteousness was fulfilled."

However, the fact was that the crew enjoying their lunch had set up a difficult and sudden obstacle course requiring I get into traffic in a place where vehicles are usually barreling along at a good clip. There was no way I could get on the sidewalk. So, I waited in the bike lane until a pause in the traffic and then made my way around the crew's temporary HQ.

I don't begrudge workers the space needed to do their work. What I do think is appropriate would be a sign well in advance advising cyclists take another route (15th street?), or at least that bicycles would be on the roadway. I believe that is the usual practice. As it was, cars and bikes alike came upon the closed bike lane very quickly. It was a rather dangerous situation on a major traffic artery.

This location has been the site of a number of problems caused by maintenance and construction over the years. The end of the current Greyhound depot/parking construction program will make some difference, but most of my difficulties here have been with city maintenance crews who are in a tight space but fail to give adequate notice to cyclists about the lane being closed.

This is yet another example of why many people who might try utility cycling don't do it: it is simply too dangerous. A separate cycle track would be much better than making cars and bikes share a right of way. Bike lanes are often, to my mind, testimony to our society's lack of vision about how to support and encourage active transportation. For many people (especially parents with children), bikes will remain toys or sports equipment until cars and bikes are separated. The risks (and the noise) are just too high.

I generally use this section of 13th on Sunday mornings as I make may way to church; I'll have to re-commit to avoiding this area during other times, even if it does shave off a few minutes compared to other routes. No sense in having it shave of my head, as well.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Vivat, Gualterus (Walter)!

The whole (English) Enchilada, now well into its me.

A few weeks ago I was able to perform the necessary surgery (in what, I assure you, was the most jury-rigged of repair shops) to revive my 1963 Raleigh Sports—named Walter—and put it back on the road.

This involved the changing of a cotter. I happened to have a spare Raleigh cotter from the right period and was blessed to be able to improvise the cotter press using a c-clamp and a curious oversized nut I’ve been keeping around for years (now I know why, I guess). After some dicey moments, the cotter popped out of the crank arm and I was able to put the new (old) one in its place. Walter’s original stem and handlebars were also pretty damaged, so I swapped out the identical parts from a parts bike I have on hand and, hey presto, I was ready to go.

Well, it was a pretty slow "hey presto"…but it did eventually get going.

I've always admired the classic Raleigh chainring. The cottered cranks? Not so much.

I purchased this bike from its original owner in about 1977. It was one of a his & hers pair…now I wish I had purchased both of them (though at the time that would have seemed crazy). It was pretty beat up when I purchased it, and I put quite a few miles on it until about 1980 or so, when I got my Peugeot UO-9. That bike ended up demonstrating that my back requires an upright position when biking.

While I was proving this to myself, Walter hung from the ceiling in the garage over at our coastal cabin, roughly until 1993. Amazingly, when I took it down to see how decayed it was, I found only a little additional surface rust, most of which came off with steel wool. Though the Brooks saddle wasn’t in the best of condition, everything else (especially the Sturmey-Archer 3 Speed Hub) worked. Even the tire tubes held air. From 1993 until 2007 this was my daily-use bicycle while I served as the priest in a small town in Northwest Oregon. I went to church, parish and community meetings, bible studies, and pastoral calls on this quite often. Along with my straw hat, it was my “signature” around town.

The "S" on the decal wore off years ago; so it has been a "PORTS" for as long as I can remember.

While there, I had the cotters replaced at the local cyclery. They put modern, non-Raleigh cotters in, one of which failed immediately (this is the problem with the standard cotter…they aren’t the right shape for Raleighs, which, of course, used a proprietary shape and taper).

Eventually, the left crank had such an amount of “flop” to it that it was unusable. It was this problem, along with the nearly nonexistent brakes in the rain, that made me decide to look into a new bike. That put me on the odyssey leading first to my Gazelle Dutch bike and then (when that one and my knees didn’t get along), to my new Raleigh Classic Roadster (the bike I use most). But, all the while, I wanted to get Walter back up and running, at least for leisure cycling.

The classic rear wheel of an old Raleigh 3 Speed, courtesy Sturmey-Archer.

The old Sports design was slightly more aggressive than Raleigh’s traditional roadsters, with a more efficient geometry generating a bit more speed. The Sports remained quite comfortable to ride, though, finding a good balance between styles for the average cyclist. The three speeds allowed for a wider variety of terrain, and the sturdy steel frame was reasonably light. I still very much appreciate this bike’s gearing, though not everyone agrees with me on this.

After having had a derailleur bike, I came to conclude I liked the ease of operation of an internal hub gearing system better, especially in town. With Walter, just a few drops of oil in the hub a couple times a year seems to be enough to keep things shifting incredibly smoothly. I wonder if the Shimano Nexus 3 Speed system on my newer Raleigh (named Hugo) will prove as durable.

The rather sober down tube decal of this period Raleigh looks nice...but the paint is far less attractive in real life.

Walter was my third bike, but cycling has always been in my life.

When I was very young, mom would put me in a special infant bike seat on the back of her single-speed blue bike (these are some of my earliest memories) and take me along to go on errands or some light grocery shopping. I loved it. Mom took some flak from a few people who then (as some do now) thought it was too dangerous to be putting a young child on a bike. She would have none of it. With dad often needing the one car they could afford at the time and with our town being quite flat, she wasn’t going to be marooned at home out of fear or other peoples’ opinions. I still credit her with planting in me the desire to cycle as a regular part of life.

My father also biked to work often at one point, using a green 3-speed with the handlebars dropped  (just today I saw a bike in a cyclery’s storage shed that is almost exactly like the one he had all those years ago). As with so many things, what you see growing up can have a major effect on you throughout life…for good or ill. I learned that cycling was enjoyable and practical.

The green 3-speed in the middle of the photograph is essentially identical to the one my dad rode  in the mid-late 1960s. I just saw this bike today while out and about and thinking about this post.

My first bike was a solid rubber tire affair my parents purchased from Montgomery Ward. It was kind of them, but I didn’t like that bike. It's true...I didn’t have to worry about flats. However, the solid tires not only made for a bumpy ride but (oddly) much more difficult steering.

This picture I found online is of a bike precisely like my Typhoon, circa 1972

My second bike was a used Schwinn Typhoon with balloon tires (I guess I was making a statement based on experience) and large metal rear baskets. This was the bike that taught me to love cycling. In addition to my own explorations and visiting friends, mom would sometimes send me to the store with a list, some cash or (later) a signed check made out to the store for me to fill in the total amount (that was another era, obviously). I could get two full grocery bags in those baskets. I guess these were my first utility cycling experiences.

The white fender tip, though rather beat up, still gets one's attention; glad to see Raleigh has brought this back in some of its new "heritage" models.

Eventually I wanted something larger, faster, and more adult…thus the purchase from a friend’s father of the already old-fashioned Raleigh Sports. I popped the baskets on the back and continued my travels, though by now I extended them pretty much all over town—the city library and the classical record section there being my favorite destination. This was the bike that accompanied me through my early and mid-teens, and confirmed in me the belief that bicycles are one of the few entirely good pieces of technology.

The heron decal is badly abraded, but the old bicycle still bears the marks of classic Nottingham style...

As I entered my later teens, I began to think about longer distance cycling and ended up trying the touring bike style so popular then. The research and work I put into raising the cash for this was significant…but the result was a dawning awareness that my back wasn’t like other peoples’ backs: I never liked the crouched position required by drop handlebars. I also learned that I really am just a utility cyclist, not a sporting, racing, or touring type.

When I returned from seminary in New York City and wanted to resume cycling as a parish priest, Walter seemed the obvious choice: solid, practical, upright, and English (I am, after all, an Anglican priest).  Thus, the renewal of my relationship with this fine, albeit antiquated, form of bicycle technology.

The basket is not beautiful or original...but oh, so practical. I've brought Holy Communion to many folks this way...

The brakes don’t work well (and never will), making this a fair-weather bike for me; yet, it will always remain the bike that brought me into adulthood and the upright cycling mindset this blog is about. I'm grateful to have it still...and to enjoy these waning warm and dry days wheeling about on it.

On to more adventures (but not in the rain) on my trusty "steel steed" from England,
made about the same time I was!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Ode to the Daily Ride

After arriving home recently from my usual commute between home and my church office, I snapped a picture of my bike in its  accustomed place, snugly situated in our 1920s garage between the car and the wall. It is a homely picture of ordinariness in life.

I was thinking how different my relationship to cycling is from many who see their bike through the lens of an occasional leisure activity or weekend sports equipment. This is not to say those other approaches are wrong, of course; there are many who probably combine them in one life. For me, however, the bicycle is primarily a utility device, a bit along the lines of an appliance. It is an eminently and brilliantly practical tool for living…on both the physical and spiritual planes.

My bicycles (yes, I have two…more on that later) are really one of three modes of transport I employ each week, along with autos and walking. Much of my walking is for enjoyment and health, and some of by biking is for recreation…but almost all my driving is of necessity (we take a few “Sunday drives” to the country, but they are rare).

Cycling combines practical transport with a very real aesthetic of direct encounter with nature, neighborhoods, people, and the wider community. It also puts my physical self into the mix in a way driving cannot.

Over the last year I have been driving a good deal more than I would like. This is the result of my vocation. Being a priest, I visit many people, going to where they live. At this point in my life and ministry, many of the older people I serve live at some distance from the downtown core of Salem, and this means auto travel. In fact, I have been driving enough that I finally had to purchase a new car… my 1969 VW was shot. This was a difficult decision, but practicality and faithfulness eventually dictated it.

Yet, I miss cycling a very great deal when I am confined to the car. This is not how I feel about driving when I am doing a great deal of cycling to and from the office or visiting parishioners, visiting the hospital, or attending meetings/meals in the main part of town. Outside of very inclement weather, the bike remains a joyful form of transport helping me shed some of the stress or anxiety of modern life as I make my way through the city. The car does not have this capacity or effect for me.

The daily cycle of life is quite central to my work as a priest. From the beginning of the day, opened with prayer, amidst the various steps and encounters along the way, to the day’s end (with more time set aside for reflection, study, prayer, thanksgiving), the rhythm of physical and spiritual encounter (as opposed to escape) is at the heart of my life and being. Cycling aids this; walking certainly does, as well; driving does not.

I can pray as I drive, of course…but the physical participation in cycling, like the physical work of kneeling, bowing, standing, &c. in prayer, helps bring the eternal to the daily in a way no amount of time behind the steering wheel ever can. I thank heaven for our daily bread…and my daily cycle, when I can have it.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Upright Cycling in October

October is one of my favorite months. There are years when it seems still part of summer; others when winter is already twisting its fingers around the nights and mornings. Crisp, clear October skies seem particularly able to hold images against them in etched precision. No other month in Western Oregon experiences such an amount of change in temperature or precipitation. October is a month of alteration and energy.

When cycling around Salem this time of year, I am doubly glad I am on my particular kind of bicycle. First of all, it has me in the upright position. I can see around me pretty clearly, and I can notice things that would just wiz by if I were in the lunging/hunching posture that many bikes encourage.

Second, my bike is not built for speed. Between the frame design, its weight, and the gearing, this is not a fast ride. I’m glad for that, especially now. Hugo (as I’ve named him) is a constant encouragement to take time to smell the roses—or other things—along the way. This is of value through the year, but probably in October above all.

Upright cycling requires patience, but even more it benefits from curiosity. Most transportation today is based on the proposition that a person wants to get from A to B in as short a time as possible. I’ll admit, this is generally true for me in my car. But on my bike, I’m quite aware that I’m no speed demon; the focus is on the journey as well as getting there. I like the fact that my bike encourages real enjoyment of this experience, not just more isolation and efficiency.

With October’s weather and changing foliage, a cyclist has a particular engagement with nature. In addition to the sights, there are sounds (leaves crunching or slurping under the wheels), smells (spicy scents of oak leaves, earthy ones of various fungus), and (increasingly) the feel of rain-slicked roads and the crinkly-swooshy sounds of rain gear long stored away in the closet but now packed or worn for the journey.

Below are a few mementos from October Upright Cycling, with the author’s encouragement for you—wherever you are—to take time when possible and soak up the places in which you ride…

Beautiful Street

October transforms very ordinary places into amazing showcases of color. The combination of natural variety and human efforts to plant that variety throughout town is highlighted once again. Trees and bushes one passes with barely a thought in the summer are revealed to be extraordinary horticultural fireworks for a brief few weeks; passing by these displays of leafy chromatic pyrotechnics on my bike is my own version of a New England Autumnal Tour.

Overhead beauty

As I trundle along on my bike at its less-than-rapid pace I have time and opportunity to take in the leafy views overhead. Sometimes this is an exercise in shadow, and at others it is a riotous canopy of boughs all competing for light, forming a long arboreal tunnel. Riding underneath these displays is akin to climbing into a Monet painting.

Autumn’s complex message

Fall is a season of fruitfulness and beauty, but it also heralds winter. As I pedal through town, what was once lovely and variegated becomes bleak and dank as the season wears on. This sequence becomes much more personal as I bike through it, partaking of the feel, the smell of fall transitioning into winter. A year ago I was in the hospital, preparing for surgery on a disease that had been growing for some years inside me but was unknown to me; the busy hum of life was suddenly rendered a completely different landscape in the blink of an eye. We are so fragile; life is changeable in this sublunary world. I think about these things as I make my way through town as the seasons change.

I also pass buildings that tell their own, complex stories. One of them is the former Children’s Unit at the State Hospital. A friend of mine began her career at the State Hospital with a stint in this building, and has told me things so sad I wince just recalling the conversation. This building was closed many years ago, but is now being prepared for demolition. I ride by and wonder at what sorrows took place there, what efforts were made to do something for such wounded humans, or what wrongs may have been perpetrated here. There are so many mysteries and unanswered questions in our lives. It is a regular reminder to pray for those whose pain is hidden from view, but whose sufferings are the most acute.

The Familiar Revealed

Another pleasure October provides is the sudden illumination of the hidden beauty in the familiar. As I rounded the church grounds a few days back, I came upon this tree, tucked next to what we call the “funeral doors” at our church. This was formerly a main entrance, but an addition in the 1990s changed it into a service entrance and the place where the hearse draws up to the building for funerals. Much of the year it eludes my attention.

This tree puts on a spectacular yellow-and-green display for a short while in October, and I took some time to enjoy it as I swept the walkway and summer’s spider webs by the entrance door.

Death is nothing to be afraid of; mortality is the way of this world; there is so much more to life than avoiding death. Just being here by this tree reaffirms all that.


October’s light has a certain clarity and slant combining summer’s intensity with an autumnal crispness of shadow. Add to that the changing colors of street trees, and you have a fleeting but special season. I took this picture as I was picking up something from a local stationery store. The energy and activity going on are frozen into a momentary image. It reminds me (for some reason) of something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Maybe it is that bright yellow square of urban advertising in the middle. As a cyclist, I enjoy the ability to be an observer as well as a participant in the flow of life. I almost never take this point of view when driving.

Aural Cycling

Since I was a kid I’ve always loved the crunch of dry, fallen leaves under my bike tires. I enjoy watching the breeze, like a wave on the beach moving sea foam, lift a multitude of leaves from their temporary resting place and deposit them with a clatter somewhere else. The aural dimension of biking can be one of its more delicate gifts.

At its best, cycling is a very interactive experience and helps to erase some of the distance between modern, technological Homo sapiens and the natural world that produces us. It also brings out the kid in me—something driving doesn’t.

A year after my experience of cancer, surgery, and the beginning of recuperation, I give thanks for the blessing of healing, care, and support. I also give thanks for the simple miracle of being out on my slow, upright bike—taking in the world through the seasons, and especially for October cycling.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Getting Better in Salem

And you thought I had packed it in! Well, no, not really. Just taking an extended break from posting here. With autumn, my attention has turned back to thinking about cycling and especially utility cycling in Salem. For anyone still reading, I’d like to share some about two major (for this town) improvements/concessions to bicycles as a valuable and valued part of the transport scene.

1. The Buffered Bike Lanes Downtown

No solution to the problem of mixing cars with bicycles seems perfect, but the new, wide, buffered lanes on Church and High Streets have been a significant improvement for this cyclist. The "bite" out of the road so far seems not to have cramped the traffic flow too much, and the relationship between cyclists and parked cars has improved. 

It is generally much easier to see a car back out of a diagonal space in time to stop or take evasive action than it is when cars are parallel-parked along the curb. There are a number of stretches along these streets with diagonal parking, and the bike lane-parking interface in those portions is much better. This alone is a big deal. 

The little bit of space provided by the buffering strips actually makes for a great deal more security from through traffic, as well. I was a bit skeptical about this until I tried it; but, it really does work. When I am in my car, I can see plainly that the buffering creates an added measure of seriousness about the bike lane as a real part of the road-scape. The buffered space on the right helps to lessen the likelihood of being "doored" by parallel-parked cars (a major concern).

My only question is what the “proper” (or perhaps I should say “best”) procedure to follow would be when trying to turn left from Church Street on to, say, Court Street. Right now, I’m actually timing it so that I exploit a gap in the traffic and move from the bike lane on the right to the far left lane in preparation for the turn…otherwise, I would have to wait through a stoplight cycle in order to cross Church Street from the corner of Court and Church. Not the end of the world, but rather inefficient. Someone may want to tell me where to go…if that isn’t too great a temptation. [Be nice, now.]

It was interesting to travel along High Street from State on down towards Ferry in the new lane. The old arrangement—if one were going straight through the intersection at High and Ferry—meant getting into the center lane of traffic (not something most folks would want to do) and then swerving towards the right, letting cars pass you once out of the intersection. Now we must first check to see if anyone is going to turn into us from the auto lane (that is one new feature to be careful of) and then, magically, the cyclist finds her or himself on the right of a lane of parallel-parked cars. I first met this arrangement in Portland years ago and thought it utterly bizarre. But, I must admit, as a cyclist I rather like it. This feels quite “buffered!” It still requires some caution (being “doored” by someone getting out of a car is small but real possibility), but it is much improved from the old situation.

When the SAIF building work is completed, it will allow a nice transition from High Street over to Church and then across Mission and up into the west side of Bush Park (one hopes). So, gradually, an effective north-south connection between downtown and the Bush Park/McKinley neighborhoods is being built for utility cyclists (as opposed to high-risk folks taking the major streets). This is something for which to be thankful.

The matter of how these lanes will eventually be made truly effective by a safe crossing of Commercial/Liberty on Union Street is still a big question for me. Breakfast on Bikes may have covered this, and perhaps I’ll look at older posts there, but until this particular (and likely expensive) link in the chain is completed we will have mostly a potential cycling breakthrough in cross-town/south Salem bike routes. But…let’s not get too negative. These lanes are a good next step.

2. The Bush Park-Winter Street Bike Interchange at Mission

This is one of those things I thought about so many times over the years…and suddenly, it happened! Well—it probably wasn’t so sudden to the people involved in planning or building it, but it was for me. This solves one of the more obvious kinks in the cycle route on the east side of Bush Park and points south. Now, it will be much easier to move from Winter Street to the park’s interior. The quality of the job is very nice and it is all so logical. Quite a change from a few years ago, when bikes couldn’t even actuate the stoplight, let alone get up into the park without some pretty fancy turning skills or nearly running over people in the crosswalk!

I would suggest two things for future improvements in the Bush Park connection to Winter Street and Church Street, however. The first would be a wider path from the parking lot at Winter up into the park itself. This path is quite narrow and puts cyclists and pedestrians in some conflict…as well as cyclists going in opposite directions. As this becomes a better cycle route, that latter issue will likely heat up. This may require some way to slow bikers down as they get ready to emerge into the parking lot, as motorists in the parking lot will probably be more interested in finding a parking place than looking for cyclists shooting across to their new access point on Winter.

At Church Street, I am continuing to ask the Powers that Be to consider restoring some form of the old carriageway up from Mission Street into the main portion of the park. The walk from Mission Street to Bush House was never meant for bikes—though it gets a fair amount of use by them. I note that sprinklers went in the lawn where the carriageway sits under the turf, and wonder if that squelches the potential for this much-needed improvement forever? I hope not. Church Street is a natural—and safe—place to cross Mission. It is currently a bit of a pinch-point in the bike route, but perhaps some thought could be given to a not-too-expensive way to relieve this problem.

* * *

It is clear to me that Salem isn’t likely to become a great commuter cycling center anytime soon. We aren’t going to be “Netherlands West.” But, these two developments are helpful and positive steps for those of us who want to use our bikes not as toys or sporting equipment but practical machines for transport. I want to register my own thanks for the efforts and expenditure involved. Gradually, some of the key routes I take through town are getting safer and better. Thanks!