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.