Starting an Evolution

Hows this for inspiration:
The Community Cycling Center here in Portland Oregon, has a "Create a Commuter" program that provides low-income adults with fully-outfitted commuter bicycles and five hours of training on safe bicycle commuting. The program is the first of its kind in the nation, and it represents an extraordinary level of cooperation between state and local governments and non-profit social service agencies. Each year they they are able to provide bikes and training to 375 people, out of the 800+ who apply.

The program participants receive their bicycles free of charge. Over 60% use their bikes to commute to work and run errands, nearly 50% use their bikes every day, 30% use the bikes five or more trips per week, 50 weeks per year, and considering that the expected life of the bicycles is three years, the cost per trip is $0.39. Cost per trip includes people with special needs and the necessary additions to their bikes (such as handlebar modification or extra strong wheels).

For most people, the daily commute to work amounts to little more than the jangle of a key chain, monotony, and morning radio. But for 11 percent of the residents of Oregon --up to 25 percent of those in some neighborhoods-- the commute cannot be taken so easily for granted. Those residents can not afford to own an automobile and find themselves dependent on the schedules, routes, and sluggish pace of public transport - or worse, having to walk long distances to get to and from work.

Recipients of the program receive high quality, fully refurbished commuter bicycles that are outfitted with front and rear lights, a lock, a helmet, a pump, fenders, a rear rack and rack container, tool and patch kits, maps, and raingear. Recipients are prepared with everything they need to be a 24 hour a day, year 'round, all weather bicycle commuters. When they receive their bikes, recipients also attend a five hour workshop designed to teach them the fundamentals of urban bicycle commuting, including rules of the road and riding safety, and basic training in bike maintenance and emergency roadside repair.

Similarly, The Bicycle Alliance of Washington
has launched a Bike Buddy program, designed to create bike commuters by linking new riders with more experienced commuters; and the good folks at Hiawatha Cyclery have followed suit with a volunteer program to match new cyclist with mentors in the Minneapolis area

Now, just imagine if these programs got started nation wide . .

thoughts on racks and 'extreme utility cycling'

I have been swamped with school and single parenting and all that life stuff, and have not had as much time to bike or blog as I would like. Wanted to thank Darren and others who have sent emails or comments, there is a lovely cycling community out there in cyber space.

It has been pointed out to me that getting panniers mounted over my front wheel will make the steering and over-all handling of my bike -um- interesting, perhaps challenging. Having ridden a 50 year old beach cruiser outfitted with a mamother messanger-style basket. I have no doubt that this is true --and I am greatful for the folks who meantioned this, had I never had the experience with the cruiser I would be in for a rude awakening indeed!

But if I have learned nothing else over the past year or so, I have learned this: life aint perfect, and rarely goes as we would want it to. If I could ride a slightly larger bike (leg extentions, perhaps?) I might be able to shoe-horn a rear rack into place under the arm of the Adem's Trail-A-Bike that the boy and I so dealy covet, but so far we have not found one that fits and still alows the Trail-A-Bike to function properly.

It is probably worth meantioning here that, for about three times what I spent on the Trail-A-Bike, I could have gotten a similar item from Burly that has a built in rear rack for panniers. Having never used that item I cant speak to whether it is as wounderful as my Adam's, which I highly recomend, storage issues notwithstanding.

So thanks to everyone for your thoughtful insight, and if anyone has recomendations for a rear rack that coordinates with a Trail-A-Bike, lemme know :)
Relatedly, I just _had_ to share this link to photos of "extreme utility cycling" by the most excelent photographer Shawna S


Our First "Century"!

OK, it's not as though I rode it all in one sitting or whatever, and yet I am ridiculously proud of the fact that I have clocked my first century! Almost exactly a month ago I was in the worker-owned bike collective buying my beautiful and amazing Montana, because I knew the 50 year old beach cruiser I had previously been tootling around on was not going to take me where I wanted to go: to a new level of commitment to simple, sustainable living! Since then The Boy and I have braved the wettest January in 36 years and the coldest February in years, gone to the movies, grocery shopping and school by bike, we have done the Spring Water Corridor and an 18 mile benefit ride (that was all in one sitting! eeek). And along the way we have figured out that life is just plane better on two wheels, which is good, because after reading this article on the awesome blog spot The MinusCar Project I may never set foot inside a car ever again as long as I live


Steps Toward Sustainable Living

Arctic temperatures have descended upon Oregon these past several days, blanketing the garden in frost. Mornings have been in the low 20's, with wind chill figured in that translates to, in my son's words, “freakishly cold”. When I arrived on campus astride my bike this past Friday, even folks who frequently cycle to school where amazed, one friend commenting “your more hard-core than I am!”
I had to go to school Friday, but once home I took Arctic conditions as an opportunity to curl up inside and work on plans for the Spring garden

Our first step toward a more sustainable life was making the switch to bikes, although the value of carbon-free transportation can not be over stated, it is not enough in and of itself. Another important issue is the matter of our food: where it comes from, how it is grown, and how it is packaged. It is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. Those “food miles” add substantially to the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global climate change - which is why food miles matter.

I have heard it argued that food ought to be considered a bike commuting related expense, since it functions as fuel for the cyclist, one article I read recently even suggested that bikes are fossil-fueled because much of the food we eat is trucked in to our stores, sometimes from thousands of miles away.

However, even those who never get off the Barkalounger have to eat and, my own experience has been that there is a correlation between driving and eating non-local food. Certainly there is nothing about driving that prevents one from eating local food --or from gardening-- nor anything about cycling that prevents one from eating imported foods. However, living an ecologically conscience, sustainable life requires getting beyond the obviousmatter of organics and looking at where and how food is grown and packaged

Farmers Markets and CSAs offer fresh local organic produce from family farms, in most cases this food travels less than 50 miles and is not packaged. This is a simple, easy, “no-brainer” way to approach the issues of sustainable agriculture and reducing your food miles. But, being me, I wanted to go further. So my son and I are putting in what I consider to be a massive garden, 200 sq feet, in which we hope to grow most of our fresh veggies. Taking our food millage to zero. This is not our first run at gardening, though most of what we have now are perennials: apple and asian pear trees, raspberry and blueberry bushes, an herb garden.

I started tomatoes and sweet peppers (50 starts each!) this weekend, which we plan to use to make awsome pasta sauce with. There was a time when I used peat pots to start seeds, but have come up with a more sustainable alternative: My son and I cut toilet paper tubes in in half, forming little short stubby tubes, and fill them with organic potting soil, they work just like peat pots, without the environmental degridation.

We'll keep you posted on our progress


A Starling Revelation

Like good mothers every where, I have stuggled for years to get my son, now age 10, to eat his veggies and other healthy foods. With limited success. And then the strangest thing happened: I started cycling, and for a number of reasons related to that started snacking on fresh fruits and whole foods --and so did my son. Not because I nagged him, but (could it be?!) because I was leading by example. Who would have thought!


Biking on a Budget

My son and I swung by the bike collective while running errands yesturday to pick up a couple bells and look into adding panniers to our rig. We are on a very tight budget, so we have been trying to get by with spending as little as possible, but the ride last weekend convinced me of two things: bells are an essential safety device, and we need more cargo capacity, big time. I had to accept that, if we were going to make this experiment work, we needed to have a few key pieces of equipment.

Luckily, the collective where I bought my bike offers a very generous warranty and free labor during the first month after purchase. So I can have my panniers mounted on the front of my bike, bit of a tricky job --especially with my old-school breaks that extend out at right angles over the wheel-- and not have to pay for the labor.

I wonder if some people are reluctant to shift to bikes due to financial concerns, and/or because they arnt sure what they they really need among the huge variety of accessories and equipment out there. Since I have managed on a "starving-student/single-parent budget", I thought I would wade in with my perspective.

So far the bike experiment has cost about $35 (for headlight, drink cages and bells) the rack for the panniers will be another $30. The collective sells these 5 gallon plastic buckets that mount onto the racks for $50 per pair (far cheaper than the pannier bags), but it is a very simple design that I can replicate at home for about $10, bringing my cycling investment to about $75. I have been tracking my millage and am fast approaching my first "century", although cost savings is not my primary goal in riding, I derive great satisfaction knowing that during that same month, my friends who drive have spent an average of $200 operating their cars. And, of course, my investment has been in durable goods, rather than in converting fuel into pollution

Because I use a Trail-A-Bike to bring my son along on trips, a cargo trailer or rear rack is out of the question, but bringing my son also greatly increases my cargo needs (extra layers to keep him comfortable, snacks, his Taekwan-Do uniform, etc). The handlebar mounted basket I have now is just not sufficient, and the messenger bag I carry is maxed out with my textbooks and school supplies, so I am opting for a front rack that will hold a pair of 5 gallon buckets on either side of the front wheel. The buckets will keep their contents clean and dry, prevent crushing of delicate items, and they detach, so I can bring the buckets into stores for shopping, and into the house at night, allowing me to pack for the next morning and avoid forgetting things during our crazy, bleary-eyed morning rush out the door.

They other key to succusful utility cycling, I have discovered, is wearing layers that allow me to adjust to changes in weather conditions and my own internally generated heat. This goes double for my son, when traveling with kids the simple fact is that if they are miserable, your gonna be miserable too. When we tried to make the shift to bikes last fall we were thwarted in large part by the increasingly inclement weather (wettest winter in 36 years), and not being able to carry what we needed. One thing about wearing layers is that, as you peel them off, you need someplace to put them, and when you travel with kids you need places to stow the snacks, sports equipment, uniforms, etc. Different families are going to have different needs, and find different solutions more or less usefull. The trick is to figure out what you need, what obsticles are in your way, and how to solve those issues and meet those needs. Luckily, there are cargo and gear options out there for every possible need.

Budget biking requires a bit of a dance between making due and shooting one's self in the foot, you need a minimum degree of comfort, security and organization, or your gonna quit. That has been my experience, anyway. The good news is that you can spread some of these purchases over time, and fit them into your budget. I have managed to work it out so that I only spend a little here and a little there on bike related expenses, generally less than $30 per month on, which seems to fit with what I have read about national averages:

Per mile traveled, bicycle riding costs the cyclist less than half as much as mass transit and only one-quarter as much as driving — even assuming cyclists must replace their bicycles every three years due to bicycle theft and bad pavement. According to Transportation Alternatives Bicycle Blueprint, motorists can save over $1000 annually by biking to work, [] Biking to work/school and errands even one day a week can allow you to save more than the cost of gearing up!

Helmet -- you only got one head, and your gonna need it later:
Headlight for early morning commute and extra visibility all day:
Gloves, to fend off the wind as you go hurtling through the early morning chill:
Bell/horn to alert drivers that bikes exist:
Cages for drink bottles:
Pannier rack and buckets:

Subverting the Dominant Paradigm: Priceless


Having a Great Time at "Worst Day of The Year Ride"

Well I am happy to report that the "Worst Day of The Year Ride" was spectacular! This annual cycling event takes place during what is frequently the wort time of year to ride in Oregon, and coming as it did this year on the heels of the wettest January in 36 years, there was every reason to predict a muddy and messy ride suited only for the heartiest of souls. Luckily, the weather was clear and delightfully pleasant.

My son joined me on the Trail-A-Bike for the first ever cycling event either of us has ever participated in. The route was an 18 mile loop that took us through most of the neighborhoods in Portland's core, and twice traversed the Willamette river, which cuts through the middle of town. Although a longer ride than either of us is used to, we found it was more of a psychological challenge than a physical one. Looking at that map --and those hills-- was daunting!

My primary cycling focus is utility, "bikes are the cars of the future" as my son likes to say, but I found that this recreational cycling event offered a number of advantages that made it well worth while (and the sore muscles). In addition to helping to get us hooked into the local cycling community, the ride took me through areas of town I had not visited by bike, and would have thought too great a distance, or otherwise challenging, to reach by bike prior to this ride. Just as I have encountered people who could not fathom shopping by bike before seeing me do it, I did not imagine I had the strength and endurance needed to ride “all the way” into Northwest Portland, prior to this ride . The rout also presented us with challenges we had managed to selectively avoid (heavy traffic, seemingly insurmountable hills, etc.) Watching veteran cyclist maneuver helped me make my way along the uneven surface of the Esplanade, over bridges, through heavier and more aggressive traffic conditions than I had previously dared, making me a much more confident and competent rider.

I also got to check out just about every type and brand of cycling equipment and accessory out there. There was even a mom who had a trailer attached to the hub of the Trail-A-Bike, attached to her bike. I didn't know there were trailers that attached to Trail-A-Bikes, let alone moms who could tow two kids up hill! The event was a great opportuniy to see cycling products in use, and talk to the folks using them. Having over-packed by more than a little, bringing all manner of provisions and a change of clothes for every concievable weather condition, I am now convinced of the value of panniers over a handlebar basket and backpack.

More than anything, it offered a great sense of community and comrodory with the cycling community, and showed my son and I that we were capable of far more that we had imagined. The photos above shows us getting ready to go to the event, I hope to have shots of us at the event soon.


A Fine Madness

Well, blame it on the endophines, blame it on Olympic fever, who knows; In any event mysterious forces conspired and I found myself registering for a cycling event, an 18 mile ride --taking place this Sunday.

Although I have been cycling recreationally, off and on, for a couple years, I took most of this past winter off and am ridiculously out of shape. But the event, "The Worst Day of The Year Ride", is a benefit for the Community Cycling Center, a local non-profit that provides year-round, hands-on bicycle programs for low-income youth and adults. So my natural inclination towards being a bleeding heart liberal do-gooder, combined with my love of a good challenge and my penchant for doing things the hard way are coming together in this fit of madness.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, the woman who huffs and puffs her rout to school, and so far has never cycled more than a dozen miles in any given trip is goin for it!
And here the blog plot thickens:

* Can she do it? Will she make it to the finish line?

* Will it end in euphoria or agony?

* Will she die of a coronary?

Tune in for the climactic ending!

Every Day Acts of Rebellion

It hadn't initially occurred to do a blog, I'm not an expert on cycling or sustainable living, or much of anything else. But two things happened in rapid succession to show me the value of sharing our stories.

The first was seeing the film "Go Further", about the Simple Organic Living tour, which made a huge impression on both my son and I, caused us to reevaluate how we were living, and moved us to recommit to utility cycling.

The second happened while coming home from the grocery store last month, we have been running errands by bike, off and on, for months, so by now traveling with my son on the Trail-A-Bike and our Labrador tethered along side has become old hat for us. This particular trip, in fact, felt like a bit of a "wimp out" to me, as we had ridden to a near by, big-box chain grocery store rather than going the few more miles the co-op or farmers market, because neither of us was feeling very ambitious.

So there we were, on our way home, the basket loaded with groceries, our dog tethered at our side, when we noticed a family walking towards us on the sidewalk with their dog. The very narrow bike lane we were on was immediately adjacent to the narrow sidewalk they were walking on, and past experience riding with our dog had illustrated for me the wisdom of pulling over (we were once chased for a dozen blocks by a little dog baring a remarkable resemblance to Toto, gosh I wish we had pulled over immediately and let the dog's human companion gather him up)

This family was totally blown away --I mean flabbergasted-- at what we were doing. This family never could have imagined, before seeing us, that one could shop by bike, let alone do it with kids and a dog in tow. I had spent my whole life marching and protesting and participating in boycotts and writing my Congress man (you think I'm kidding? Ask my mom, I have been trying to save the world since I was a toddler) and, after all that, it may well be that the most radical and subversive act against the dominant paradigm I have ever done is to make the switch to bikes. Every time my son and I head out to his Taekwon-Do lessons, or on errands, every time I peddle to school, I am putting the truth to the lie that cars are necessary. We are saving money, getting healthy and changing the world in our spare time. Pretty cool.


A Friday Full of Firsts

Fridays start early and go long, around here. Our auto assist leaves our street at 8am, which is freakishly early for a couple night owls like my son and I. I discovered today that it also means that I am dropped off in the midst of very aggressive rush hour traffic.
I only began attempting the commute to Portland State by bike this week, and other days my ride over the mountain drops me off about 10:30 am, well after the morning rush hour, and before the Lunch Rush. I missed those days as navigated one of the few bike lanes I have encountered that places the cyclist between two lanes of traffic.
I am still at the point in my --er-- training where not only am I regularly passed by sleek, Lance-Armstong-wannabes, but half expect to have kids on trikes pass me.

After beating my way through rush hour traffic, and surviving another day at PSU, and experiencing my first fall of this bike year, I was leaning toward the notion of skipping what has become my evening excursion along the Spring Water Corridor, but coming over the Hawthorne bridge and looking out across the water, colored by the waning afternoon light, the trail called, and I answered.

My efforts were handsome rewarded: the first buds were just emerging on the willows along the trail, native flowers had begun to bloom and I saw my first humming bird of the year. Flocks of Canadian geese and ducks filled the meadows along the shoreline. It is hard to imagine that such a peaceful and ecologically diverse sanctuary exists and thrives just beyond the asphalt and chaos of the city.

The Springwater Corridor continues for 20 miles, but I do not, I stopped at the 3 mile marker took a moment to take in the beauty of it all, and headed back.


An Auspicious Begining

My son and I have been making the shift away from cars since the first of the year, so yesterday's ride was not the first ride of our little experiment, but it was the first since launching this blog.

It started out one of those mornings where absolutely nothing goes right. In honor of "the first ride of the blog" I had originally hoped to try riding the full 7 miles from my home to Portland State, but my alarm didn't go off, there was no rice milk for the coffee, etc. etc. So I fell back on my version of a 'bike assist': someone who's route to work, in an otherwise empty car, mirrors the first half of my route to school. Not as convenient as a StokeMonkey, but more affordable on my current budget.

It is doubtless a blessing that I didn't have the opportunity to try the full 7 miles (complete with monster hill), I have been working up to it, but --sadley-- I don't think I'm really there yet. I figure theres no harm in riding along with someone who would be driving that route anyway, and the 3 miles I ride from where he drops me off is 3 miles that I'm not driving.

Heading over the Hawthorn Bridge, a mechanic from the collective that I bought my bike from pulled up alongside me "Hey, thats a City Bikes bike!" he greeted cheerfully. It was nice, especially since I have felt more than a little intimidated by the Lance Armstrong-esc cycle pro types that whiz past me , leaving me winded in their dust.

Emerging from my last class of the afternoon I was greeted by blue skies, a welcome surprise after months of monsoons. I couldn't miss the opportunity to hit the Springwater Corridor. I managed 8 miles round trip (it's quite flat along that stretch). Frog songs and hawk sightings on the way out, a beautiful sunset and a starry skyline of city lights on the way back. The "first ride of the blog" got off to a rocky start, but ended in bliss.

In the tradition of Bike Year, The Boy and I are logging our miles for our 'bike year' (beginning 2/06) We are also logging bike related expenses, if I were driving I would be spending money on gas, motor oil, insurance, maintenance, etc. to the tune of $200 each month. Just for fun, lets see how bike expenses compare!

Miles This Bike Year: 16
Bike Expences: $5

Making A World of Difference

I have been a cyclist, in a casual, recreational sense, for years. After my son was born I always had some Pea Pod seat or kid trailer for him, and he and I would go many places by bike, but we also drove in the car on a nearly daily basis. During those years I was also active in the environmental and social justice movements. I marched and protested in town, and sat in threatened trees in the forest. And I still do. But over time, and especially while in the woods, the realization began to dawn on me that the issues were being approached backwards. I was sitting in the forest, but the problem wasn't there, it was in town. It was in the consumption and waist of finite resources. Likewise the oil crisis, the subjugation of workers in sweatshops, at Wal-mart. It all came down to the use --and misuse-- of resources, and the use and misuse of power.

I realized that it was not enough to plant myself in forest and protect it from the effects of supply and demand, what was needed was a change of heart, to plant a forest in humanity's heart. I don't claim to have all the answers, but this I know with certainty: we build up or tare down the world in the choices we make each day. There will always be a time and place for taking a stand. For the woman holding vigil in the tree, for the man standing before the tanks. But it is our lives and our choices that make the difference, for so many reasons, not least of which is that those choices lead to 'consumer demand': when we choose to drive we create demand for oil, steel, plastic, rubber, asphalt, etc. When we choose local organic produce from the Farmers Market or our local CSA, we create demand for sustainable foods. When we shop at multi-national corporations, we support the consolidation of wealth with, and the holding of power by, a few anonymous “corporate entities” accountable to no one.

So, after a great deal of musing on all this, I decided to commit myself to, as Ghandi would say, “being the change I wanted to see in the world”. To living a sustainable and balanced life. I recognize that the transition will take time, but as they say “a wish changes nothing, a decision changes everything”

If the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, my family's fist step is to shift to bikes and buses for transportation. We are also putting in a massive organic vegetable garden and shopping at farmers markets and locally owned co-ops and collectives for what we cant grow or make. We plan to chronicle our journey here, in the hopes of inspiringothers. After all, if someone as lazy, slack, and attached to her creature comforts as I am can get around by bike --with a kid in tow, no less-- and live sustainably, no one els has any excuse!