Indianapolis’ Handbuilt Bicycles

Well, actually we all know the bikes weren’t specifically from Indianapolis, but rather all across the continent… no, wait. De Rosa was there, I know because I got a hat from their booth. That’s an Italian company, right? Beautiful bikes no doubt, but last I checked Italy was a part of the European Union, across the Atlantic, i.e. not a part of North America. No matter, I’m just a wrench in Louisville, Kentucky. Who, if for lack of any other reason to be glad of where I now live, am very happy to have been geographically close enough to visit NAHBS again. Last year in Portland was rad, this year in Indy was even more so!

I’m posting this nearly a full twenty-four hours since I was in Indiana, but I’ve been celebrating my birthday all day, so I’ve been “preoccupied”. The show was really a good time. I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to, but that wasn’t Don Walker’s fault or anyone else’s but my own. My own and all the other lunatics for bicycle polo that is. Our polo escapade was daunted a few times before we could actually take mallet to ball and as such, much show gawking was interrupted. Before the polo though, I certainly got much ogling in, a decently filled bag o’ schwag, and a really lousy lunch consumed. All was super good though!

I’m not sure what my favorite bike was, out of sympathy it was probably the one caging the cute bunny, with this Peacock Groove bike a good second—although I’m not sure it will last long enough. On the whole, I was surprised to see a smaller cargo contingent this year as compared to last. There were not was many sherpa-embarrassing cargo bikes as I was expecting. That being said, there were seemingly at least two porteur racks and potentially a rear rack in everyone’s booth though.

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Cambio Corsa dropouts sans derailleur
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Super Record 11-speed

The one thing that I noticed I kept being drawn to were the components. The fact that there existed such a polarity of components in the same room was really exciting! I was eager to lay eyes on the 11-speed Campy and was right in my assumption that the new Dura-Ace Di2 electric group would be available for fondling. And fondle I did, it was a pretty awesome stationary test ride—very cool, but in my opinion, very unnecessary, playing polo on the first-of-its-kind production polo bike was far cooler. Not to get distracted though, it was also really cool seeing a component manufacturer that I was wholly unfamiliar with: Sampson, keeping up with the 10-speed Jones’s, on a very nice looking Sadilah. I obviously have an appreciation for the old gear still though, and seeing the beautiful Naked bike with a vintage accent like it did was doubly valued.

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Time to get Naked—nice branding, and nice Campy lock-out lever.

I like NAHBS because of its near intimacy with the craftsmanship and artisanship of the bicycle. This is only my second year, and I enjoyed it because again, it felt almost like a local community center event. I hope it never grows so big and disconnected that it no longer feels intimate.

Ending the night watching the Macaframa video was like icing on the cake. Cool people all around, watching some crazy bastards bombing brakeless hills and some intense technical tricks on the screen was a good way to end a trip up to Indianapolis.

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The Macaframa banner at the Big Car Studio

This Town Already has Bike Boxes

When I’m riding around, casually or commuting, I envision possible solutions to the traffic issues we all face as cyclists, many of which seem abundant here in Louisville. Sometimes I like to envision intersections like this:

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Frankfort Avenue

A lot of the intersections I’ve noticed in this town have a really nice space located between where the cars are supposed to stop at red lights and where the pedestrian’s crosswalk is. It’s presumed this area is a buffer zone provided to keep cars from stopping in the crosswalk. This area would make for a great “bike box”! And these “buffer zones” can be found at many of the city’s intersections; they’re just sitting there, ready for painting—I think blue might be nice.

Basically, it would b a place for cyclists to have a safe zone to wait for a green light at intersections; and to help prevent them from getting struck by right turning motorists. The one I’m seeing on Main Street and Brook is great because of the bike lane that leads into it. (Generally speaking, the bike lanes in Louisville are appreciated; they’d be more so—and used more perhaps—if they were safer and more respected; just a note).

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Main St @ Brook

Bike boxes are a pretty nice street feature that I first encountered in Vancouver B.C., but really witnessed their implementation on the streets of Portland, OR (here and here) and Seattle, WA (here and here).

Time Warp

I’ve been so preoccupied with work lately I’ve recently experienced a weird sensation of displacement.

We’ve been riding around Louisville a lot—everywhere we go actually. Some of our routes have become rather rote, in a way. But one day, as I’m heading out to the Kroger (or what I commonly, and incorrectly, call QFC) and cross under a freeway overpass, crossing the next intersection I look to my right, and then to my left and proceed through. When I checked to my left something caught my eye: the freeway entrance ramp stating “South I-65 Nashville”. Totally common around here, but it caught my eye nonetheless, making me remark to myself, “Where the hell am I that I’m close to Nashville?”

Louisville, dumbass! Not only was it a sensation of displacement, it also reminded me how “out of the loop” we are about cars and how “regular” people get around. These freeways with their entrance and exit ramps and directional signs, they’re so out of our realm that I hardly take notice of them. Kind of interesting I think how unimportant things like that become when you remove them from your life; things like pumping gas, searching for parking, and many others I’m sure.

Mechanical Thoughts

(This post existed as a draft up until 9/3/2019, originally drafted 11/12/08)

I’ve been a professional bicycle mechanic for a few years now. “Where do I want to take it?” is a question that I ask myself frequently. Why did I get into it in the first place? This I know the answer to: Because I was hating the alternative. That being a corporate desk-jockey working for insulting wages doing tasks that utterly lacked pleasure or satisfaction. So now I’m a mechanic, and love it.

“Why do I enjoy it, why is being a mechanic pleasurable?” Because it’s fun. Getting your hands dirty—using both your muscles and your brain. Helping people out who are in need. Keeping these people on the road; helping them remain self-sufficient in their chosen means of transport. It’s also an interesting subject, seeing the evolution of components and technology (or rather notice how not much has actually changed). It’s a field that comprises a lot of my skills and takes from a lot of my previous experience; and this in itself is satisfying. Most of the time, the environment is filled with like-minded people which can be rewarding in its security.

“What is the future of it for me?” This is the one that I cannot readily answer. I think I do a good job of being a mechanic, however doubt enters my work space at times. More accurately diminished self-confidence rather than in abilities. Sometimes these doubts are inspired from a customer’s knowledge seemingly besting mine. That sense of competitive defensiveness always brings questions of doubt. I am confident I can repair just about any machine that crosses my stand, so it’s really just the thought of “knowledge” not being readily in my hand. And really this is just a factor of the sporadic lack of confidence in vocalizing that knowledge. The occasional inability to spew details and precise specs on specific bikes or components. Is this a commonly felt notion? Is my “bicycle personality”, hampering my mechanical experience? My personality being that of a cyclist who prefers simplicity and longevity—this relating to the fact that I don’t “jump on” enough varied bikes, components, doohickies and/or widgets? I like my few bikes simple and functional. Maybe I’m boring that way, I like to think of it as mostly utilitarian—to me that’s part of the bicycle’s beauty.

While I’m surrounded by the bikes and parts and all other such accoutrements of the bicycle mechanic, I sometimes feel stumped by the people who, from my perspective, are desk-jockeys who are likely learning data online as opposed to doing their white-collar tasks. (Admittedly, that judgement is just a knee-jerk reaction, and I don’t really mean it). Some other times, even in these surroundings, doubt creeps into my mind. “Am I merely a mediocre mechanic?” or perhaps, “Is this a mediocre profession?” I honestly don’t think so when I step away from these thoughts and really focus on my abilities. I do honestly think this is a great profession (certainly not in economic ways of course—it certainly is not as lucrative as I’d like; more on that below), it enables me to be around typically interesting people, it provides a great deal of satisfaction and that sense of accomplishment. But in some ways it seems like a finite profession. Definitely finite in it’s cap on income, but will it also be finite in it’s satisfaction and level of accomplishment. Factors I was keenly aware of when I began; factors I accepted. But. What’s next? 

Can one make a career as a bicycle mechanic? In Louisville, KY? Anywhere? At the moment I’m not making as much money as I was while in Seattle (that is understandable in a way I know, but…). The statement, “You don’t get rich in the bicycle industry” is often heard in the shop I’m in now. It’s stated in a way that implies someone asked for a raise of executive proportions. Getting rich was never my intention. Being paid equitably for time and effort, positive attitude and out-going ambition is all that is asked really. It’s probably just a factor of working for a small business owner, a factor of working for someone else—and that’s not something easily adjusted. Right? So in a way, that’s a finite direction to take the profession.  

What’s next? Owning my own shop? Perhaps. I often thought it’d be a good idea. Maybe start building my own frames? Extremely appealing. I’ve always wanted to get back into mechanical/industrial design, re-hone my dusty CAD skills. Travel to Europe and wrench there for a while? Revive the magazine and get Cranked back in print and back on the shelves? Hmmmm, not so sure. Seek corporate levels and get a “bicycle” industry desk job? Rather not, but the previous three all feel like viable options, just gotta start the planning process again. Can I do all three? Eventually, own my own shop, where I can fabricate my own frames, but only after a few years of cycling and wrenching in France and Italy. Sounds good to me. Someone send me a large sum check! What preparations are needed at this early stage of the game? There’s a lot to figure out, a lot to get busy on.

Tyee in Jamaica

You know who is doing something cool. One young man, whom just the other day I heard referred to as shop intern, Sam. He’s currently involved with something really great. His school, Tyee Middle School, is doing some very humanitarian and educational things for the youth in Jamaica. Some of the specifics for this can be read about here: tyeelovesjamaica.org. Evidently this is the second of a five year project of Tyee building and bringing computers for a specific school in Jamaica. This Negril school is underprivileged and underfunded by the government. Sam’s teacher, Mr. Burke has made a deal with the government in Jamaica at the end of the project, they will finally build a new school building. Progress on last year’s project can be read at their blog, Project Jamaica: Tyee Class Project.

Sam himself is concentrating on developing some type of bicycle cooperative repair shop while he’s down there for the next couple of weeks. According to him his “main goal for this trip is to spread the love of biking and to offer an alternative to cars.” This indeed is a great and important ideal to share with an impoverished population. As such Wright Bros donated a slew of parts, tools, and consumables for Sam’s effort. Sam has created a blog that should detail his progress down there: jamaicabikeproject.blogspot.com; be sure to check it out.

Sam is also a bit of a competitor in the cycling scene. From what I’ve heard he’s been tearing up some of the standings in the juniors cyclocross circuit. Keep an eye and ear out for this enterprising young man.