Bicycle Diaries: July 2006

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A big ego-boost!


I got my first positive review at The Cycling Dude by Kiril, The Mad Macedonian. His site is [d]edicated to the proposition that bike riding is good for you and fun. An ordinary road cyclist spreads the word and the word is BICYCLE! It's been ranked America's #1 BikeBlog Since January 2003. It's no big surprise since it's packed with tons of links and other pertinent information on pretty much everything that has to do with bikes.

What a freakin' ego boost. Yesterday Kiril posted this to his blog, highlighting his favorite Bicycle Diaries posts:
Welcoming a new BikeBlogger, from the Wilds of Chicago!

Bicycle Diaries is an interesting mix of things.

Books, Bicycles, and Isaiah Berlin.

Quite the combination for a new Blog, but that's what was born in May, in Chicago. ;-D

This Blogger's Bike Posts are why I've added him to the Blogroll, though he has education, politics, and culture on his mind as well.

If this is an indication of the type of BikeBlogging to come then this is a worthy addition to the Community. ;-D
For those of you who have read my archives of posts on Critical Mass, and thus know what I think of the movement, here is are 2 interesting, welll thought out, essays, on Critical Mass in Chicago, that offers the perspective of someone obviously not of the extremist, Anarchist, wing of the movement.
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, %)

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July critical mass and the square wheelmen

Dave and I as well as two new buddies, John and Peter, rode in Critical Mass Friday evening. Some estimated that 1500 massers gathered in the 90+ degree heat. Like the last two masses, the route took us down to the southside, ending at the 32nd Street Beach. The spectators, including a majority of motorists, were surprisingly enthusiastic about the metal herd rolling through their neighborhoods. Even the police were incredibly helpful sending out patrol cars as well as police bikes and 4-wheelers to block traffic for us.

This month's theme was nautical. The folks to the left showed up on a huge bike done up as Neptune's chariot. For the most part, folks in all of the neighborhoods treated us as if the circus had come to town.

In Pilsen, a bunch of kids openned up a fire hydrant to splash us as we rolled past. In Chinatown, several elderly men sprayed us with his garden hose.

This was defintely the best mass I've ever been on. The southside has all these hidden treasures like the Guernika mural in a railroad underpass. Also, the joy of the moment was infectious. Whoops of celebration were frequently punctuated by "Happy Friday!" called out to pedestrians and motorists alike. They often replied with "Happy Friday!" as well...

All this got me thinking about starting a new bike group, The Square Wheelman. Actually, Dave and I have been discussing it for the last couple of months as we tooled around with our beaterbikes. Some might think that wheelmen is a tad sexist. But it harkens back to the golden age of biking. In the last years of the 19th Century, both men and women organized local groups to advocate for better roads. They called themselves wheelmen and wheelwomen. Today, the wheelmen, consisting of men and women, collect and preserve antique bikes from the 19th Century. Our group will celebrate the beaterbikes from the mid-2oth Century. Square refers to the fact that we're based up here in Lincoln Square as well as the reality that our 20something hipster days are well behind us.

One of our mottos is More Beaters, More Barrels. Tooling up and riding beaterbikes is the ultimate act of conservation. We're decidedly NOT anti-car. If we ever have a bike accident that requries medical treatment, we want to go to the hospital in an ambulance. Unlike new bikes - not that there's anything wrong with them - the only petroleum they use is 3-in-1 oil and the occasional tire or tube replacement. So our idea is that the more beaters that are out there, the more oil there is for cars.

Our other motto, That Which Rolls, comes from the Absurdist poet, Alfred Jarry who I've posted about before. He always refered to himself in the third-person and to his great love for bikes in the abstract. I think biking for him wasn't a fetishized way of life. Rather, it was a practical means to several inter-related ends: thrift, convenience, independence, as well as physical and mental well-being.

And so it is with The Square Wheelmen!

[note: Don Sorsa took the 2nd and 3rd Chicago Critical Mass photos. To see all of his mass photos go here]

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Back to bikes ... some helpful hints on security

Bike stolen?
Check here

By Kathryn Masteron

In Chicago's RedEye, July 25 2006
Chicagoan Howard Kaplan was tired of feeling helpless every time he read postings on bike-related e-mail lists about stolen bicycles.

The postings didn't provide the kind of information that could help get the bike back or prevent it from happening to anyone else, Kaplan said. So in January 2005, he started an online site to track stolen bikes in the city.

The Chicago Stolen Bike Registry includes detailed descriptions of stolen bikes, serial numbers and police report numbers and specifics about how stolen bikes had been locked. Kaplan hopes people use the information to confirm whether a bike they believe might be stolen actually was, or to identify if used bikes listed on Craigslist or eBay are stolen.

"I just wanted to give people something they could do if they lost their bike or saw one they thought might be stolen," said Kaplan, an occupational therapist.

When a new listing comes in, Kaplan sends an e-mail to bike listserv subscribers alerting people to the registry. And reading the registry has an added benefit, Kaplan believes—reading the theft reports can teach people through example how to avoid a theft of their own.
This is a useful article. The folks who make Krytonite locks just published the results of a national survey on bike security. Chicago is the third worst city in America for theft.

And two brothers in NYC recently made a short documentary, How to Steal a Bike in NYC. I highly recommend you follow the embedded link to see it.

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Two new facts of war

The war in Lebanon and Israel reminds me of my experiences in Bosnia-Hezegovina in the mid 90s. Two facts became particularly apparent to me during the war there. For the forseeable future wars would be fought in cities. Dubrovnik, pictured to the left, was levelled at least three times as Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (Muslims) fought for control. Not that this should have been very surprising. By the 90s, 50% of the world's population was living in cities.

The second fact was that civilians would suffer much more than soldiers in war. In the first 3 decades of the 2oth Century, soldiers typically accounted for 80% of the war-related deaths and casualties. But by the 90s, civilians were the ones who accounted for 80% of the war-related deaths and casualties. Now with the civilians in Beirut, pictured to the right, it is more like 95%.

And don't even get me started about civilian suffering in other cities like Baghdad, Grozny, Guernika, Kuwait City, Nanjing, New York, and Seoul.

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Lebanon & Israel ... a little too close to home

Back in December I had the honor to work with 17 young people from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. That's us to the left. They had gathered together in Bilbao (Basque Country), Spain to be Intercultural/ Interreligious Interns for the 1st International Congress on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue. The congress was organized by Pax Romana and UNESCO Etxea. Ayelet (to the left of me in the photo) is from Israel. Negin (to my right) is from Iran. Needless to say, the discussions were intense but constructive.

Last week, Ayelet wrote the rest of us to offer her impressions of the new war in the Middle East. She and two others who responded have given me permission to post what they wrote. The rock she refers to is her metaphor for working to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict one small step at a time.

Dear friends,
Hope you are all doing well, each one wherever you are, in your studies, works, traveling (Mathieu I wonder how do you find so much time to travel?)…

Here things are quite tense, as I believe you all read and hear about. My and many Israelis' routine was suddenly shocked by Hezbollah attacks.

It's funny to think that only 10 days ago my roommate had spent the weekend with her friends in Tzfat, a historic city located in the north of Israel, where in the last days had been attacked by dozens of missiles, leaving many dead and even more injured.

If I would tell anyone that this all would happen 2 weeks ago, I am sure nobody would believe me. Suddenly, Israel woke up into a new reality. We are in war! A reality, which started with the kidnapping of 3 soldiers and killing of 4 more and continued with bombs being thrown over all the cities - wherever their missiles can reach. Since this war started, more than 1500 rockets have landed inside Israel, and unfortunately I think there are many more on their plan..

It's not the first time Hezbollah attacked the north of Israel but it's the first time they throw missiles all over, without any limitation or "red lines". Every city within the radius of their missiles is attacked. It includes also one of Israel's central and biggest cities of Israel - Haifa.

Haifa is not only one of the most important for Israel's industry, but also, I am not sure you all remember about what Nava told us about, is also where it is located the temple of the Bahi, where young Bahi spend one year or more doing volunteering work.

And, Haifa is also where my little sister studies. After 4 missiles landed in the city killing 8 people, I succeeded in convincing her yesterday to get out of Haifa. I just couldn't cope anymore with the situation of trying desperately to reach her every time a missile landed in Haifa.

I can't describe the feeling between the moments I hear about the missile till I hear her voice on the phone. Sometimes it gets terribly long since Israel's cell phone network use to crash (from overloading I think) every time an attack occurs.

Thanks God she is now back in Jerusalem, the university closed, all the tests were cancelled and she agreed to come back. She told me that it will be over soon and it would take her a lot of time to travel back home… I wish I could be that optimistic.

These days I feel very bad, I wish there was something I could do to help.. If I could do something that would bring the kidnapped soldiers back, ensure to their families that they are coming back and alive... If I could do something, anything, to stop this stupid guy who decided to start this so unnecessary and unjustified war!

I remember our congress, less than one year ago, so many words and speeches of the way towards peace. Nowadays, more than ever, I wonder where is that first rock? Where is any rock I can move?!

I feel that the only rock in my reach now is pray. Pray and hope that it will all be over soon. That there are more people moving more rocks.. And that no more people will get injured or killed…

Dear friends, I would like to ask you to pray too. Pray that we will be able soon to live in peace. With Lebanon, Syria, Palestinians and all our Arab neighbors. I hope the mountain doesn't get too high…
Take care all. Yours, Ayelet

Dear Ayelet, dear friends...
First of all thank you for remembering us in those difficult moments. The experience of the Congress made of us this strong net of friendship and communication and I´m (we are) really worried about you and situation in Near East.

All our prayers are with your people. With all the innocents involved in this crazy and horrible thing, I’m not able to blame anyone. I’m just asking for Peace in that area and all over the world but, as all of we know, every war have economic or strategic interests behind and civil population is suffering this horror.

Just with the info of the media Israel seems like the stronger nation attacking the weak. Plenty deceases, no light, no water in the occupied territories...more moderns weapons…but guilty are those who don’t mind of lives and only think of power; Not Palestinians, not people from Lebanon, not people from Israel that only want peaceful coexistence. That’s a fact and we know it.

And the rock we have to move is against those crazy politicians, crazy militaries that use missiles to keep the Peace!!!

First is to have information, then we have to pressure on our leaders; Europe seems to be asleep but must do something.
Keep in touch please, take care and have our warmest prayers. Ainhoa

Dear Ayelet, dear all,
That it’s hard to be in the conditions in which you are at the moment. I understand your pain and your embarrassment. You ask us to pray for the end of this war that one could have avoided. You are right. We are making it, of course. Ainhoa also said something about the European countries silence. It is a track not to disregard. The problem as she told it, it’s at the political actors’ level. These are not the restful Israeli citizens who neither began that war nor of restful Palestinian citizens who took in hostages some Israeli soldiers. It’s an armed group. If the Hezbollah throws the missiles that kill restful Israeli citizens, these are not people as us that should be blamed. I’d have liked to really hear the voice or to have the viewpoint of Negin. In fact in that war in this part of the world, our group counts two people who meet in the camps opposed because of their cultures. It’s exactly the wealth of the Bilbao group.

As you probably know, in Democratic Republic of Congo we have a similar problem. The political actors often accuse Rwanda of sending soldiers in Congo in order to attack our country. These political actors want to drag everyone in this stupid conflict. This is how a Rwandan friend based Brazzaville which name is Egide and that Budi and Paul know, had to come to Kinshasa in order to get his visa at the Great Britain embassy.
But the DRC embassy in Brazzaville didn't grant him of entry visa in Kinshasa. Merely stupid!

We are going on in preparing the elections that will take place in DRC on July 30. We wish that the climate is pacified but the political actors don't want so. I’d also like to ask you to pray for us and than you (the European friends) make an advocacy in favor of the Congolese people in your countries that have some interests real or inferred in DRC.

Otherwise, I had a lot of pain in reading either Ayelet’s e-mail or Ainhoa’s reply because July 20 it’s my birthday. It was very hard for. Curiously, it’s also the birthday of an office colleague. We decided to celebrate it together on Saturday, July 22! I’d like to invite you but how can I do for? Who is interested to celebrate it in Kinshasa with me? That’s a pity! Pole sana!
Truly yours

[note: all photos taken by Rakel Bravo]

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One with the hub

Or Dave's Final Installment
on How He Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sturmey-Archer 3speed Hub

Okay, two weekends back I tackled the Sturmey Archer internal 3-speed hub. It was the last hurdle to total bike repair freedom. These babies were an engineering marvel and are low maintenance and perfect for urban bikers.

Many mechanics won’t touch ‘em because they explode with pieces flying when taken out of the hub, including 4 springs so small and fine that one can’t find ‘em easily (finer than a hair). This entry is about my journey into the hub. Patented in 1936, the Sturmey Archer AW was a staple in bikes for the next 30 years. Mine was dated 1962 on my Schwinn Traveler.

I did a websearch on Sturmey Archer and came up with a few sites describing them and manuals on repair. I don’t know a pawl from an indicator chain, so text descriptions didn’t really help except when I had a list of the parts and an exploded diagram.

Secondly, I knew that 50-odd pieces would go flying once I took it apart. A golden alley-found snow saucer was perfect for wheel hub surgery. I also put down a bedsheet on my deck floor so I could find various bearings, springs, pawls, and other technical sounding things.

Yep, it exploded. I shot for simple take apart, clean with WD40 and lightly oil (3 in 1 oil works best) after reassembled. I had a box for all the parts and did an inventory against a parts list as I took it apart.

The pawl springs were the trickiest until I found a document showing how to hold the pawl and spring. For reassembly, I did it on a pillowcase on my dining room table, (better light, and steady surface). I cleaned the grime from each part and greased the axle bearing cups. Do each part in stages and move slowly.

Patience is all it takes…that and a steady hand when reassembling. I ended up getting a spare hub (for parts from - $3). I stopped for many breaks and managed to get it all back together, put on the tire and tube, 3-1 oil (a few drops are all you need) within a few hours. No wonder the mechanics don’t want to take this one. It’s a timesink, but now I know better how to fix something that transcends many bike repair shops abilities. Okay, it’s a headrush.

Why put myself thru this mess? I probably should have put this at the beginning. The Sturmey-Archer 3-speed only need oiling occasionally, and has the easiest shifting in urban settings. You can shift while waiting at a light rather than more modern derailleurs which require constant pedaling to shift. Beaterbikers like the SA hub because it’s low-maintenance, self-sustaining, long-lasting, and simple to use. Surgery is a one in 20 year event, but it sure is nice to simplify my understanding of the hub.

[note: photo of the Guadalupe Virgin bike provided by Timothé]

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Mea culpa %(

I've been in Oregon ... Illinois ... over the last three days working with 40 Turkish and Greek high schoolers from Cyprus. You know: the place where the US Navy is dumping 20,000 American refugees from the new war between Lebanon and Israel. We were working on peace issues at the NIU Laredo Taft Field Campus. More on that later. I'm taking a nap...

And in the meantime, a Chicago designer’s signage shows the benefits of bicycling over driving By Laurie Manfra from on 17 April 2006.
A stretch of bike path leads through the verdant winding roads of Central Park then dumps you smack in the treacherous hustle of Midtown to fend for yourself. When it comes to creating bike-friendly routes, New York is clearly behind the curve despite recently being named the country’s third best biking city (with more than one million people) by Bicycling magazine. Chicago, on the other hand, has been working to implement the Bike 2015 Plan, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s third such initiative in the last decade and a half to promote safe and convenient cycling in the city.

Resident environmental designer
Kimberly Viviano is taking advantage of that progressive agenda. “I was really impressed by the new bike station he commissioned for Millennium Park. It offers so much and made me realize that the mayor and I share similar goals,” she says. After meeting with several city agencies—including the Department of the Environment, the Department of Transportation, the Transit Authority, and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation—Viviano is in talks with the city to install her signage comparing the personal and environmental benefits of bicycling to the pitfalls of driving (an exact installation date and location has yet to be set). Vinyl banners hung on lampposts in high-visibility areas where cars and bikes typically share the road—around the Loop, in the business district, and along the Magnificent Mile—will quantify differences between the two modes of transportation with compelling statistics, such as the cost of owning and maintaining a car ($9,964 per year) versus a bike ($68 per year).

Viviano’s signage was originally part of a proposal for a larger urban communication system titled “People Powered”—a runner-up in the 2005 Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition—which aimed to increase awareness of cyclists around the city and encourage more people to commute by bike. In addition to the signage, “People Powered” called for transparent billboards to frame cyclists, albeit briefly, along Lakeshore Drive so that gridlocked drivers might look on enviously at the self-propelled commuters breezing by them. She also proposed stenciling incentive messages such as “Independence from Fossil Fuels” on existing bike paths.

But the city’s reservations about installing more signs on Lakeshore Drive meant Viviano needed to modify her proposal. “It took a lot of tenacity,” she says. “I really had to keep forging ahead and adapting my proposal to their constraints, which were mostly monetary.” Viviano believes that the program she developed with the city’s input could serve as a role model for other cities. “Any public awareness campaign that is implemented by a city government is very powerful because it is backed by a reputable authority,” says Noah Budnick, projects director at the New York bicycle advocacy program
Transportation Alternatives. “Putting dollars into a campaign like this helps others take the message seriously.” Perhaps before long New York agencies will take it seriously too.

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As safe as taking a shower with...

Safety Tips for Urban Bikers
Rules of The Urban Road

is a way of life in which you are in control of your direction and let the roll take you there, where you propel yourself, where you map out geography by ease, flow, and stress levels, where you shrink your ecological footprint, enlarge your world, and build patience, surety, and confidence. Urban beaterbiking is a fairly single sport, where you set your own pace and direction and basically meditate.

I've heard folks tell me that they are scared to ride bikes in the city. Too much traffic, scared of cars, not seen by anybody, being yelled at by passing cars and pedestrians. I respect those things and also know that car drivers feel the same about urban driving.

Everybody has heard the statistics about bathroom accidents are more prevalent than airplane fatalities. I put down a bathmat in my tub. That's all I need for safety. Of course, in a bathroom, ya don't have to worry about the other guy as much as on a bike. I believe that urban biking can be safe for you and other travelers.

As a regular traveler (and unapologetic list maker), here’s Dave’s List of Safety Tips for Urban Bikers.
1. Wear a friggin' helmet. Shave your head if you worry about helmet hair. One bike accident will cure anyone of helmet-phobia, trust me.
2. Consider the car. Big bus and truck drivers are more careful drivers than SUVs (don't know their own bulkiness) or small cars (Napoleon complexes).
3. Be visible at all times. Make sure drivers see you in all ways, especially at intersections. Believe that nobody sees you and drive defensively.
4. Be more aware at intersections (most accidents happen there). Step up lateral, fore and aft observations when approaching. Don't cheat the lights. Don't hesitate and confuse drivers.
5. In complicated situations, get off the bike and walk it to a safer location. At the very least, figure your path out before you take the plunge
6. Improvise when presented with difficult biking ground (back alleys, one block over, sidewalk if less than a block, etc.)
7. Defer to the sprayed-on spandex speed demon....they're more likely to get in an accident than you. Speed kills and they are only saving minutes on a trip and increasing danger.
8. Watch the head of the driver and the wheels of the car.
9. Watch the road for glass and gravel. Any debris is likely to accumulate where car tires miss...stuff that can puncture a tire.
10. Be within a mile of a bus or train, unless you want to carry your bike 5 miles due to a flat tire.
11. Be polite whenever possible. You are modelling good biking citizenship. Cutting off cars, speeding through intersections, yelling at drivers and banging on sides gets you bruised and hoarse.
12. Don't do diagnostics or repairs on your bike while riding on a busy street. If you attention is occupied, you will swerve.
13. Take an ID, a phone and an emergency number to call. I recommend taping it on the outside of the phone or creating an entry for ICE (In Case of Emergency). I actually created one named !ICE, so it's at the beginning of my address book.
14. And lastly, aim for peaceful coexistence rather than contentious road entitlements.
And I have come up with some Rules of the Road for Urban Bikers that I think may apply to beater biking:
1. Wear the right clothes. Anything comfortable for you, a helmet, and gloves. If you worry about helmet-hair, I strongly suggest a stationary bike. Gloves? Try falling off the bike and you understand why.
2. Arrive at your destination more relaxed than you left. That means avoiding stressful situations, take breaks, and enjoy the journey as a form of therapy.
3. Be connected to your surroundings. Take in the sights, smells, and sounds. Only a fool uses a cellphone or has earplugged music on a bike.
4. Stress is contagious, so avoid stressful people. I mean the nervous driver, the screaming fratboy, or the spandex-sprayed Lance-Armstrong wannabe; they may look good on a bike, but that doesn’t mean that they can cheat lights, cut you off, or yell at cars. I refer to those folks as “frayends.” If I find myself pissed off at the behavior of these toxic folks, I get off my bike and away under a shady tree, take 10 deep breathes to the tune of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
5. Take a self-check regularly. Is something sore? Are you thirsty? Are you out of breath? Is the bike making noises. Simply stop and take care of it. Being an iron-man is not the point of beater biking.
6. Speed kills, steady heals. Don’t go fast, stop at the lights, and know that you’ll get there eventually and easily rather than frazzled.
7. Have a good map. Many times the road conditions or your mood require changing the route mid trip. Experimenting takes away the boredom and keeps the beater biking experience fresh.
8. Civility and smiles win the day. Give your face a break, it takes fewer muscles to smile, and it reminds people that they are confronting a beater biker, not a bike. I wave cars through, let the whales [CTA buses] pass me by, and work for peaceful coexistence rather than Darwinian survival. Have a stock phrase to use against road-ragers: like “Have a Great Day!” It confuses the hell outta the other guy when you are smiling and wishing them well….nothing like a good mindsnap to shake ‘em up.
[note: all bicycle safety pictures can be found at Bicycle Blunders, a serious bike advocacy site maintained by Fred Oswald in Ohio. We highly recommend you take a look]

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A guest post featuring...


When my $300 hybrid bike was stolen two years ago, I changed the way I value things. I realized that I was wasting money to avoid knowledge by paying a mechanic to keep up my main source of transportation. In the first year alone, I had it in the shop twice, once to replace a crank and once to repair a skipping derailleur. The manuals that came with my expensive bike counseled having a trained mechanic work on it... a fat lot of good for a DIY-type guy like me.

What may appear to be a massive rationalization, I decided to embrace voluntary simplicity, be my own mechanic, and reacquaint myself with all things bicycle. First, I decided what I wanted in a bike; something simple, reliable, and easily-repaired. I wanted the replacement parts to be cheap and easy to repair them myself with a minimum of tools. In other words, I wanted a beaterbike.

A beaterbike is a reliable set of wheels that you use as a way to get from A to B. This is an inexpensive bike that is comfortable to you. It is no fashion statement to ride, though perhaps the lack of a fashion statement is a statement in itself! It doesn't have to be shiny or have 150 speeds. I aim for homely-but-reliable, because:
1. It's less likely to be stolen.
2. Since it cost less than $100, I won't be crushed if it is stolen
3. As I modify it to my own size and tastes, I learn more about it.
4. The more simple the bike, the less that can go wrong.
5. If I can trust it, I can focus my energy on deeper thoughts and preoccupations, like biking rather than bike repairing.
I hear a lot of people say they want a beaterbike just to ride around. Often they have one, but it doesn’t work right or it has a flat tire. What I hear is that they don’t want to spend more than $50 for a bike….the equivalent of a couple of meals or a tank of gas. I also hear that they want low maintenance bikes (like today’s cars), where they can just hop on and ride.

Chicago being the former home of Schwinn Bicycle, I latched onto the idea of buying Schwinns. I bought a 1974 Suburban touring bike for $10 at a garage sale (and a $38 lock). Between that and my 1962 Traveler, I've managed to begin my beater biker lifestyle.

I visited a local bike cooperative and found replacement parts for my old Schwinns and began to adapt the bikes to my body. Specifically, I bought more comfortable seats, replaced the touring handlebars with more mountain bike straight bars (I have stiff wrists with a touch of carpal tunnel from 20+ years on a computer), racks and panniers for carrying stuff, and thicker tires with denser rubber to prevent punctures. I raised the handlebars for a more upright posture (easier on the back) and bought lights, bells, and reflectors for higher visibility.

Being a knowledge manager, having access to information is important to me, so I began collecting a series of links on bike repair. Sometimes, I was impressed with online exploded drawings and technical schematics (such as the set I found for the Sturmey-Archer hub), and in other cases, the net went little further than basic bike maintenance.

In the early 70s, I bought a book on repair and taught myself how to tear down my 1973 skyblue Schwinn Continental and rebuild it. Tim Cuthbertson's Anybody's Bike Book was perfect for a 13-year old looking to do-it-himself. The book is out of print, but you can still get it used online. This book is the unofficial bible of bike repair; especially for older bikes.

Bike repair doesn't take electricity (other than for good lighting). Overall, hand tools, lubricant, a good air pump, and rags are all you need to keep a bike in running order. Everything on your bike is replaceable or serviceable. Grinding, squeaking, stiffness, looseness, wobblies, and screeching can all be lubricated, calibrated, cleaned, tightened or, generally, fixed by you.

Why make it a mystery other than to perpetuate a profession?

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On Katyushas and SCUDS - Part II

During the Iraqi SCUD attacks on Israel in January 1991, I was living in Jerusalem. I had gone there to do Ph.D. research on the Jews coming to Israel from the Soviet Union. A few weeks before I had met an American rabbinical student who was going to Hebrew Union College. Benny was staying in the HUC house just outside the walls of Old Jerusalem. Many folks from Tel Aviv and Haifa had de-camped to Jerusalem on the assumption that Saddam Hussein wouldn't attack the third holiest site in Islam. So Benny invited me to stay in his room.

Over the two weeks when SCUDs were falling we stayed mostly in his room with our trusty gasmasks hanging from our shoulders in small cardboard boxes. Alerts for possible attacks were broadcast on the Silent Radio Station. Everyone was supposed to leave their radios set to this government station which only broadcast alerts. The rest of the time, there was only static.

As it became clear that Jerusalem wasn't being targeted, the bored and the claustraphobic started to come out of their plastic-wrapped rooms. Some folks would watch the night attacks on Tel Aviv or Haifa from their roofs. We did this twice. Ever since I've never watch 4th of July fireworks in the same way.

Other folks, mostly Sephardic taxi drivers, hung out in the streets waiting for fares that rarely came. From time to time they would look up to the sky and flip it the bird, yelling in Arabic, "Hey Saddam! You son-of-a-bitch! Come and get us! We'll fuck you up!"

One night Benny and I were so bored with the whole business we decided to go to a Chinese restaraunt popular with the HUC students. Five of us crammed into the tiny establishment run by an old Viet Namese refugee couple. While we were waiting for our kosher dishes, the Silent Radio Station crackled to life. Immediately we asked the owners where their sealed room was. The husband looked at us, shrugged and pointed to the kitchen. Putting on our gasmasks, we trooped into the small kitchen.

Now the thing you have to understand about these sealed rooms is that the doors an any windows has to be completely covered in plastic sheeting. This sealed room had no windows but the two doors at either end had no plastic. And the one leading in from the dinning room was a swinging door!

But even more surreal was the fact that as the five of us stood there, the owners and their two daughters calmly went about their business preparing wantons without a gasmask in sight. I guess, having survived the Communist take-over of Viet Nam and refugee camps in Thailand, these boat people weren't all that concerned with Saddam's crappy attacks.

After twenty minutes the all-clear sounded. We took off our gasmasks and simply went back to the table to finish our meals.

This is what I remember as I watch the rocket attacks on northern Israel. The big difference this summer is that Hezbollah has more reliable, albeit smaller, rockets supplied by both Syria and Iran. These may not be as accurate as SCUDs but the high population density in northern Israel means Hezbollah is more likely to hit something important. And it lives in the neighborhood no farther from northern Israel than Chicagoans live from Gary, IN.

Think about that whatever your opinion might be regarding the causes of all this.

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On Katyushas and SCUDS

Today's post has nothing whatsoever to do with bikes but the memories sparked by the growing crisis in the Middle East. This morning I woke up to the news that Hezbollah has widened its katyusha attacks. Missiles have rained down on more cities in northern Israel including Tiberias on the shores of the Galilee.

I was in Israel in January 1991 when Saddam Hussein, responding to allied air bombardments on Iraq, launched SCUDs against Tel Aviv and Haifa. Although these modified Soviet missiles were wildly inaccurate, they brought daily life in Israel to a standstill because of fears that they might be carrying chemical or biological warheads.

The Israeli government issued everyone with gasmasks which we were told to keep with us at all times. We were also urged to seal off at least one room with plastic sheeting ...

... more later.

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L.A.'s Invisible Riders

I found this fantastic article Dan Koeppel on yesterday. It first appeared in Bicycling magazine in 2005 and then in the Utne Reader July/August 2006 issue. Even though it's much longer than my usual post it's well worth reading.
Francisco Orellano wakes before sunrise. His mornings, sometimes for weeks on end, are nearly always the same. He carries his bike from his apartment to the street. Then he pedals into the dawn. He passes among other riders, who sit upright and silent, moving almost nothing but their legs, which revolve not in spinning cadences but in slow-motion circles. The riders roll forward, determined, toward some unseen destination.

Francisco looks elegant on his bike. His grey hair and moustache are neat; his striped, button-down shirt is pressed. He is proud of his appearance.

He travels the wide boulevards that lead to the shipping terminals at Long Beach, California. He passes unopened supermarkets, unilluminated car lots. Occasionally he pedals through the glow from an all-night filling station. Sometimes, as he rides, he thinks about El Salvador, where he walked to his jobs. But mostly, as he rides, he wonders whether he'll work today.

Francisco rides to Harbor Park, a green patch amidst the factories and warehouses that cover most of the area. The park is popular with bird-watchers -- there's a marshy lake there -- and workers on lunch hour from a nearby hospital. Francisco pedals up to a small trailer and locks his bike to a tree; a dozen other bikes are also chained up. The owners of those bikes, all men, all speaking Spanish, give their names to an attendant, are handed a ticket and wait to be called for work.

Contractors and home owners, who need people to sweep away brush or paint houses or perform other labors, arrive in pickup trucks. Ticket numbers are pulled from a hat, and the bike owners trundle into the trucks, lucky to have been selected for a day that pays $8 an hour, cash. Not every man works every day. Francisco waits calmly. He chats with a few friends. With his dignified appearance, he wouldn't be out of place if the park had chess tables and he were a retiree spending his golden years at leisure. Instead, he wonders: Will I be chosen? Is today one of those days that adds up to something?

Or will I vanish?

On this June morning, the temperature rises into the 90s by 10. Francisco begins to consider his options. If he doesn't get work here, he can pedal to a few other sites, a Home Depot or one of several street corners where day laborers for hire congregate. If that fails, he'll ride home, only to reappear the next day.

Francisco reads the Bible every night, because it costs nothing. "I try to earn $200 every week," he explains, which barely covers food and rent while leaving him a tiny extra amount he can send back to El Salvador, where his wife and children are -- though he quickly adds that his kids are no longer kids.

"They're grown," he says, and reaches into his wallet. I think he's going to show me a family picture, but he pulls out his green card. I'm surprised to learn that he's 68 years old; he looks younger. He tells me that he arrived from his war-torn Central American homeland 18 years ago, and received political-refugee status in 1989.

Since then, Francisco tells me, he's cleared hundreds of backyards, seen the inside of countless remodeled kitchens. He's read through the New Testament a dozen times and pedaled tens of thousands of miles on his bike. He's wired thousands of dollars back to his family.

"I haven't seen them in nearly twenty years," Francisco says. "I miss them so much." There's an admonition on his green card, written in letters larger than his birth date, or name, or anything else: "not valid for re-entry."

Francisco can't leave. The family he misses, the family he loves, needs the money he can provide only from this country. Thanks to his bike.

The men who pedal the streets at daybreak with Francisco are invisible in so many ways. Some are here without permission and must hide from the official world. They are not noticed by the cars and buses that roar past, sometimes to tragic effect. They're not even seen by those of us who claim to love cycling. We'll pick out a sleek Italian racing bike from across an intersection, but a dozen day laborers on Huffys dissolve into the streets.

I live near downtown Los Angeles. South and east of me are the city's most densely populated neighborhoods -- not Hollywood and Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, which all of America has heard of -- but Boyle Heights and Pico Rivera, the only places in California where the number of people per square mile approaches that found in New York, Chicago or Mexico City. The millions of Spanish speakers who live in these neighborhoods provide the region's muscle and backbone. The bicycle is the blood of this invisible body of labor, as it is all across the United States in a diverse swath of humanity. In southern and central Indiana, the Invisible Riders are largely from, or descended from, Appalachians. New England seems to spawn its own, generations-old breed of independent knockabouts. Hard-luck families of all racial backgrounds wash down from the northern U.S. into the warm southern states, where the dream is that life will somehow be easier without winter.

You and I have seen the bikes everywhere -- cheap, department-store rigs chained to fences and signposts outside car washes, lumberyards, budget chain restaurants. But we've never seen the riders, not really.

"There are more of them than us," says Aaron Salinger, a public school teacher and bicycle-only commuter who also volunteers as a mechanic for local riders in his Los Angeles neighborhood. The "us" Salinger is talking about is recreational riders, dedicated fitness cyclists, people who commute on two wheels by choice -- the readers of this magazine. For several weeks in June, Salinger and I rode among the unseen. The veil was hard to lift. Many riders were afraid to talk to us; some thought we were immigration officers and pedaled quickly away. Salinger's fluent Spanish helped, and so did our bikes. He was on a lovingly rebuilt vintage Schwinn tourer and I had a titanium racer, which made me feel ludicrous but at least provided a conversation starter. Though almost nobody we met rode recreationally, nearly everyone got some level of pleasure from riding and from bikes. That was something we could share.

Neighborhood after neighborhood revealed surprise after surprise. The Invisible Riders, for instance, log far more hours than most "serious" cyclists. They do so on equipment most of us wouldn't touch and under the most adverse conditions: at the height of rush hour on the busiest thoroughfares. Workers without documentation have no vacation or sick days, so they keep a grueling schedule. One rider told me that last winter, when Los Angeles received a record rainfall, he didn't have a single day off.

Riders like me want to believe we're doing our part for the environment. We want to believe that having the best equipment is an expression of commitment. But I don't know a single rider who commutes more than the people I met for this story, who do it purely out of necessity, and who do so on bikes that, while fashioned to look like high-end mountain bikes, are stripped of so many essential engineering details that we'd consider them unreliable, unsafe and certainly unenjoyable.

For the Invisible Riders, two-wheeled transit has nothing to do with style or making a political statement. The Invisible Riders are overtly saying nothing. But their actions? Nothing could be more political, or politically charged, than the way they live.

From overhead, the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard could be seen as the center of a giant cross. Each street is an axis of tarmac, dividing quadrants of multicolored mortar made up by block after block of low-slung houses and apartments.

Vermont runs north to south. The avenue's upper boundary folds into Griffith Park, the nation's largest big-city recreation area. Heading south, it stretches across every demographic boundary, making a ruler-straight 30-mile run. It passes directly by Harbor Park, where Francisco Orellano looks for work, before changing names and petering out in the peninsular enclave of Palos Verdes. Wilshire Boulevard runs east-west, starting at the Pacific and making an arrow-point through Beverly Hills before ending under the Harbor Freeway, near downtown Los Angeles.

Local recreational riders are intimately familiar with three of the cross's four terminal points. The smoothly paved loops around Griffith Park and Palos Verdes, and the coastline bike path that begins where Wilshire ends, are well stocked with Treks, Litespeeds, Serottas and the other high-end toys of our sport.

You will rarely see such a fine bike at the center point, at this intersection. That doesn't mean fine cyclists are absent.

This is a busy spot. There's a construction site, a gleaming subway station, and bus after bus chugging by, each with its front bike rack nearly filled. At lunchtime on a Wednesday afternoon, riders passed through continually. Though Salinger and I hesitated to guess the ethnicity -- let alone the immigration status -- of the riders rushing by, we were able to peg the bikes being ridden. They were mostly Magnas and Micargis, popular department-store models in faux off-road style. A couple of messengers on fixed-gear rigs blew by, and one rider on a battered yellow Schwinn. But there didn't seem to be anybody riding for fun, or the kind of stylish, derring-do bike commuter whose portrait is usually painted in this magazine. Not a single Breezer, Electra, Kona, Specialized or Bianchi commuter bike was pedaled past us.

It wasn't easy to get people to stop and talk. A heavyset man on a frame branded simply "Alloy" pedaled around us, saying, "I'm late."

"At those kinds of jobs," Salinger pointed out, "there are no second chances."

One place these riders congregate is MacArthur Park, a city recreational facility a few blocks away. A rider resting on the grass there is somebody who hasn't found work yet that day, who might be waiting for a second shift to start, or who just won't go home because the distance, weighed against even the slim chance of getting hired for something, favors staying put. We rode to the park's southwest boundary, picking through a streetside marketplace of fake green card and driver's license merchants, then circled the soccer fields and basketball courts on an asphalt outer ring. Dozens of bikes leaned against trees or lay on the scruffy turf. Some men chatted with each other; others simply rested.

"I don't want to give my name," said a man on a Schwinn Sidewinder. His bike, which retails for $130 at Wal-Mart, had a basket mounted to the front. The basket was filled with empty plastic bottles. "When I don't find work, I try to make a little money by turning in empties," he said. At five bottles for a full basket, and a nickel per bottle, it would take more than 500 round-trips to pay for the Schwinn.

He told us he pedals more than three hours per day, but limited to a miniscule area. No trips to the beach or the foothills. He'd never been farther north than the park we were standing in, or much more than 3 miles in any direction. When I asked why, he got nervous, and the answer was suddenly obvious to me. This is his territory. He couldn't afford to be caught out, to be jailed or sent back across the border.

A few benches down, Hugo Moreno laid his bike on the ground and took a seat. A muscular 27-year-old with a faint moustache and an easy smile, he'd worked since 6 a.m. and wanted to rest before his ride home to Pico Rivera, a community at the heart of immigrant Los Angeles. I asked Moreno if his bike was a good substitute for a car. He looked at me with incredulity. "It's more like a horse," he said.

Moreno's 9-mile commute is tough on gear. He's gone through two bikes a year, spending more than $500 on equipment since his arrival in the U.S. four years ago.

The question I immediately asked -- and almost as immediately felt embarrassed for asking -- was why Moreno didn't simply buy a single $500 bike that would last and be easier to ride. Moreno stared across a world at me. "That much money?" he said. "I can't put that together at one time."

When his last bike failed, Moreno explained, it took three months to save up for a new one, and it was a slippery, nearly impassable slope. "No bike, and I have to take the bus," he said, "and that costs money."

Moreno said he had a very cautious riding style -- not going too fast, not weaving in and out of cars, sometimes pedaling on the sidewalk. He says it's not because he's afraid of being injured, but because whenever he lost a bike he could never be sure he'd be able to get another. The couple of bucks a day spent on mass transit, the $75 or $100 that must be saved for a new purchase -- that's money his family back in Mexico will never get.

"I can't afford to lose that," he said.

Dreaming of a world of smiling cyclists, of more bike paths, with less traffic congestion and coexisting modes of transportation, is easy for riders like us. But on the streets, on a cheap -- yet priceless -- bike, there's little opportunity for idealism. Pragmatism and attention keep you alive. Safety sometimes has little to do with helmets or skillful riding techniques.

"My bike is safer," Francisco Orellano says. What he means is this: Working day-to-day, he's usually paid in cash. When he took the bus, he faced a long and often late-night walk from the stop to his home, with a pocketful of money. One time, "I was robbed," he says. "That won't happen to me on a bike. My bike is safer."

This doesn't mean the usual dangers of the street don't exist. They're worse. Only one of the riders I met wore a helmet, and he did so, he said, because he was afraid of being stopped by police; even a minor encounter with the law can lead to deportation. (I felt absolutely conflicted, because he was under the healthful misconception that helmets are mandatory for adults.)

Many riders pedal up the left lanes, against traffic. The reason, according to a 2004 study by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration, is "significant cultural differences that affect how Hispanics behave as pedestrians and cyclists in the United States." In much of Central America, riding against traffic is the norm, and therefore safe. The report notes other dangers. For instance, signs advising "yield" rely on a word that doesn't translate well, and whose logistical gist can be nonexistent on third-world roads.

Even the most familiar features of our roads become obstacles.

"If you've never seen a crosswalk," says Christine Brittle, a research analyst with The Media Network, a group that helped conduct the federal studies, "how do you know what to do when you get to one?"

On the street, these factors play out in tragic ways. Los Angeles, according to federal and state statistics, is the most dangerous city for cyclists in the country, routinely at or near the top of the list for bicycle-car accidents. In 1999, the last year for which unified statistics were available, 3,878 L.A. riders were injured in collisions with automobiles, with more than 1,000 of those injuries requiring hospitalization.

Most of the riders I met viewed their commute as a battle, but exhibited none of the smug, anti-automotive posturing many committed middle-class bike commuters wear as a badge of honor. Guillermo Diaz, who works at a restaurant near MacArthur Park, was standing near the entrance of a shopping center, waiting for a friend. He lives in a house with seven others, all of whom ride bikes, all on the sidewalk. I thought of cycling advocates who engage in pitched ideological battles over whether it's safer to mix bikes and traffic or to separate them. There's no doubt that a rider with the skills and equipment needed to navigate alongside cars is probably best balanced between efficiency and safety, but I couldn't argue with Diaz that getting off the sidewalk is simply "too dangerous."

The major arteries from South Central into downtown are huge -- sometimes eight lanes wide. Because they pass through some of L.A.'s oldest and poorest neighborhoods, road surfaces are generally crummy. The bridges that cross from East Los Angeles into downtown, spanning the concrete-covered flood-control channels of the Los Angeles River, are narrow and long. Traffic quickly accelerates to freeway velocity -- a nearly impossible situation for any rider, let alone one on a bike with heavy wheels, clunky suspension and less-than-powerful brakes. On the sidewalk, in comparison, the guarantee of safety is nearly absolute.

What would it take for Diaz to use the streets?

He answered instantly, without a hint of irony: "Owning a car."

The store Diaz stood in front of was La Curacao, a department store that outfits most of the Invisible Riders of Los Angeles.

The Olympic Boulevard flagship store, one of six in the city, is just a few blocks from MacArthur Park. When you step inside you're met with a wall of music and light; videos play on a prominently displayed plasma television, and aisles of consumer goods -- from portable massagers to low-priced computers with Spanish AOL installed -- are constantly demo'd by attentive staff.

Customers buy goods here that they can't get anywhere else, because La Curacao offers easier credit than competing retailers. (The average monthly income of a La Curacao cardholder is $1,500, and a social security number isn't required to get credit.) They also shop here because products that are either prohibitively expensive or not available in their home countries can be shipped by the store's export desk. La Curacao also wires money and sells plane tickets.

The store's slogan is "un poco de su pais," or "a little of your country," and with live mariachis and no English-language signage, the store has a distinctively Latino feel. But a complementary catchphrase could be "a whole lot of America." The washing machines, cordless phones, watches, perfumes and Oakley sunglasses are an aspirational on-ramp to the life its customers are struggling to reach. Bicycles are the vehicles needed for the journey. During the holidays, the store stocks so many two-wheeled offerings that it sets them up outside, with more than 100 gleaming rigs stretching across a brick patio decorated with Aztec-inspired friezes. The bikes are like the offerings at Anglo outlets, but with a few custom touches. Curacao's house brand is the Maya Tour, the name a crafty amalgamation of back-home pride and the argot of new-country leisure. Huffy, a trusted label among the Invisible Riders, is also stocked.

Most of us know these bikes aren't a good choice for daily, hard riding, such as commuting. I wondered what the lineup might look like at the bike shops frequented by these commuters -- if they could even afford to patronize real bike shops.

As it turns out, the Los Angeles yellow pages lists many more bike shops in the zip codes that cover South Central and East L.A. than in the wealthier parts of town. But the definition of bike shop is different. Some double as florists, gift shops or even auto-repair outlets; some also sell groceries and hardware. At the Alameda Swap Meet -- a sprawling, indoor/outdoor marketplace that resembles the traditional town-square mercados found throughout Latin America -- Tony and Maria Mata sell bikes and baby carriages in a stall bordered on one side by a tattoo parlor, and on the other by a butcher shop. The primary brand they offer is Micargi. An SM80 with 24-inch wheels and full suspension costs $100, assembled. Another brand is the somehow Lance-inspired Firmstrong. The couple have come up with their own way to compete with Curacao's easy credit terms: They sell bikes mostly on layaway.

"Usually," says Maria, "it takes three or four months for somebody to pay."

Independent shops find it hard to compete with high-volume department stores on price, even though they sell the same bikes. (The shops you and I visit have the same problem, but the issue is mitigated because they sell high-profit offerings you'll never find at a big box store. In the eight bike shops I visited along the Wilshire/Vermont corridor, only one stocked a bike that cost more than $140.)

Inner tubes, at $2 each, make up the bulk of Tony and Maria's sales. Yet even that purchase can spell disaster for their customers. Jesus Galvez, who owns a shop on South Central Avenue, says the typical customer is desperate: "Somebody comes in and says, 'I have three dollars -- can you please make it work!'"

Galvez gestures at the piles of bike parts that crowd his shop so heavily you can barely move through it -- the gran surtido de partes, or "grand assortment of spares," his business card advertises. "You find ways to keep people rolling," he says.

There are cheap ways to get good bikes in Los Angeles. At the Harbor Park labor center, I was told about a mysterious mobile bike dealer named Carlos, who sells older -- and nicer -- steel road bikes. Their origin is indeterminate. A 1980s Trek or Schwinn can cost as little as $20, and though it would ultimately be a faster, more comfortable and durable bike for commuting, it isn't seen as desirable by the Harbor Park buyers.

"A mountain bike is better," said one of the riders I interviewed. "Mas resistente."

Riders who end up on these stolen bikes simply can't afford even an $80 Firmstrong -- very recent immigrants, or those who've lost a more costly bike and can't negotiate the convoluted economics of continuing to work while saving for a new one.

But having even an unwanted better bicycle can have unintentionally transformative effects. Echo Park is a compact recreational area tucked between the Hollywood Freeway and Sunset Boulevard, known for a summertime salsa festival and for pedal boats families can navigate around a tiny lake. While there, I noticed an Invisible Rider on a Trek with clipless pedals and bar-end shifters. Octavio was hesitant to talk, but he was fascinated by the Seven I was riding (which, again, I felt totally embarrassed to be on). He told me he'd bought the Trek for transportation, but then expressed a passion for his bike that was unusual among the Invisibles.

"This is all the car I'll ever need," he said, smiling.

Several times, to Octavio's increasing anxiety, I asked where he'd gotten the Trek. "I bought it from a friend," he said. A few moments later, he told me it was a gift.

The bike's customizations, a Blackburn rack and a Brooks saddle, almost surely signaled that it was once somebody's prized possession. But Octavio had discovered a genuine enthusiasm for riding. I found myself thinking a strange thought: Maybe he deserves this bike. Even if it is stolen. This notion came to me even though I'd had two bikes stolen from me, less than a mile from this spot.

I can't think of a harder cycling life. I saw young men lugging heavy bikes to elevated rail stations, wheeling them into trains and keeping one eye on them as they sat, exhausted from a 12-hour day at a downtown factory, anticipating another 5 miles of riding after exiting at the stop nearest their home. I heard a story about a rider in the relatively calm, upscale suburb of Glendale who was hit by a car as he rode to work -- after traversing the more dangerous streets early in his commute. The accident happened in front of a hospital, but because the rider had no insurance, he was taken by ambulance to the county emergency room 10 miles away.

But the surprise isn't that this cycling life is harder. That's something any of us might have imagined, though we'd have been sketchy on the details. What's surprising is how committed these riders are to the activity of cycling -- even more, it's hard to admit, than those of us who love the sport.

Last year, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition conducted a survey that used a neat trick to partition the city's two-wheeled community. Half the questioning was conducted via the Internet or mail; the other half of the respondents were approached on the street. One notable result: 42 percent of the street respondents said they rode five days a week or more. Only a quarter of the remotely queried cyclists rode that much.

And the riders who pedal so much more accomplish it with far fewer resources: 40 percent of the street respondents earn less than $15,000 annually (65 percent earn below $35,000), and 95 percent of them own just a single bike.

Nearly half of those surveyed by Internet and mail reported earnings of more than $75,000. The household income of subscribers to this magazine is $112,000, and, on average, four bikes are parked in our garages. If you're a typical subscriber, you plan to spend at least $2,000 on your next bike, but a passionate 4 percent of you say you'll spend $6,000 or more.

The answer is simple, and cruel: because Francisco, and the other riders like him, are invisible. And the answer is wrong. The question, in fact, is wrong.

The real question, the one that must be asked first, says Kastle Lund, executive director of the L.A. Bike Coalition, is, "Why do so many of us fail to see these groups as constituencies that even exist, let alone that we need and are duty-bound to serve?"

Francisco is not invisible. These riders, on these streets, in the peril of traffic and smog, have not somehow made themselves hard to see. If I hadn't seen them in 15 years of daily riding in Los Angeles -- and if you haven't seen them in your cities -- it's not because they are transparent.

It's because we are blind.

Aaron Salinger, the bike-riding translator, and I were talking as we sat in MacArthur Park. One of the goals I originally had was to see if these riders could somehow transform into racers, tourists, enthusiasts like us.

Salinger nearly laughed. Kids, he said, have a better understanding of bikes than I do. He told me about what happened when he assigned his second-grade class to draw pictures of people doing things on bikes -- "whatever you imagine," he'd said.

One student drew his father on a superbike, vaulting the border from Mexico. Another drew a comic: Bike riders rob a bank, pedal to evade police, and use the money to open a business.

Evidence of moral weakness? No. Evidence of how powerful the desire to live in the United States, and participate in our prosperity, can be. And of the central role the bicycle plays in that dream.

Ask your friends why they ride. To summit mountains, to swoop along singletrack, to lose weight, to get fit. To see things. To feel free. Francisco Orellano doesn't ride to be seen. He rides to become free.
Dan Koeppel's latest book is To See Every Bird on Earth.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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Mulga Bill's Bicycle

Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?"

"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
I'm good all round at everything as everybody knows,
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight."

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But 'ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver steak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dean Man's Creek.

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it's shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still;
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill."

A.B. Banjo Paterson

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