Monday, December 06, 2010

I had an itch and didn't scratch it.

I sat with the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center Long Beach group on Saturday morning, and it was good. The reason it was good, besides the sangha aspect, is mainly that once or twice I had really intense itches develop, and I noticed them developing, and didn't scratch them, and then I noticed that they had gone away.

This isn't the same thing as being intensely irritated or angry at something and noticing that irritation or anger, and not lashing out and saying something hurtful or rude or reactionary or counterproductive, and frankly, that's something I'd like to get better at. I'd like to notice my anger and not become anger, not become angry. I think that's something that may become easier as time goes on. I feel optimistic about it because here, a few steps down the path of my journey, I noticed an itch, and didn't become itchy, and didn't scratch it, and experienced what I knew -- whether you scratch the itch or not, it will eventually go away.

This reminds me of a story I read but cannot locate now, that goes like this:

A monk set about raising a huge sum of money for a temple or something, and started by begging for money, and a nobleman came by, and the monk explained how he needed a huge amount of gold, and explained why, and the nobleman refused, and the monk followed him, and reiterated how he needed this huge sum, and begged, and the nobleman refused, and the monk kept following him and begging, reiterating how he needed this huge amount of money, until the nobleman finally grew so irritated he threw a single penny at the monk. The monk became excited and exultant and joyful and happily bowed low and thanked the nobleman, who became confused. he asked the monk why he was so happy when he needed this huge sum, and had only gotten a single penny, and begrudgingly at that. The monk replied that he had been despairing of being able to raise such a huge sum, but now he had seen that he was able to raise even a single penny, he knew that in time, he'd surely be able to raise the whole sum and achieve his goal.

So it is with itches. Physical itches can be overcome? Why, so can emotional and mental itches of irritation, anger, distraction. I just have to keep sitting, and eventually, I will acheive it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Since I can't Smoke, I Sit.

I quit smoking just over 16 years ago. When I smoked, I was a smoker. I identified as a smoker, and I enjoyed smoking. I smoked at least two packs a day. I smoked while showering. I smoked while riding my bike. I loved it. At the time I quit, I had a little baby daughter, and the reason I stopped smoking was besides smoking over two packs a day, I would also be drinking ten cups of coffee or so a day, and my heart was doing things like skipping beats. And it was making me lightheaded and faint. And I was afraid of fainting while driving my daughter to daycare, so I quit. I had the help of nicotine patches, and it worked. I didn't quit because it would kill me, or that the second-hand smoke would injure, or anything like that, although I knew these things to be true. For me, it was the prospect of fainting and killing my daughter in a car crash that motivated me to put down my beloved Zippo lighter and my cigarettes and pipes and quit.

One thing that I didn't realize at the time, but which I have realized many times since, is that when I smoked, I wasn't just smoking. When I was at work, at least, when I smoked, I did other things at the same time. I practiced deep breathing and relaxation. I contemplated. I enjoyed the weather outside (I remember smoking in Denver once, outside in 0F weather, bright blue sky, snowcovered ground. If not for smoking, I'd be inside the building, working.) I met new people and shared with them free of expectation of judgment-- when you are a smoker and someone asks for a light or a cigarette, you tend to give without question, having been in that position of need yourself at some time.

Anyway. It's not really smoking as an intrinsic thing that let me do things like deep breathing, and notice the weather, and meet new people and be generous to them, and allow them to be generous towards me. But it made doing all these things easier.

Since I started doing zazen in my tentative, rank amateur way, I have had some moments where it reminded me of when I smoked-- all the ancillary things that I had as side-benefits. I take time to breathe and tend to breathe more deeply when just sitting. I find myself a tiny bit more aware of what's happening around me, as the sounds of the world, the light, the smells, reach me more clearly when I sit. And I find myself more awake to other people and being compassionate when I sit.

I also notice all my negative anger and resentments and counterproductive procrastination issues, but I already wrote about that. Today is a positive post. In a way, my anger and resentments and negative emotions and behaviors have become clear enough to me, and are affecting me now like my fainting was affecting me 16 years ago. Then, I put down the cigarettes, and now I started sitting. I hope it works. I need something like nicotine patches of zazen to keep me sitting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mindfulness can be a Pain

I think it's a universal phenomenon after someone starts any sort of new practice-- things start out breezy and wonderful, and then they get difficult.

When someone becomes a Born-Again Christian, for instance, it's an act of faith, but then it's immediately followed by a lot of Works -- living life differently and starting a bunch of new behaviors, and stopping old behaviors. It's common that new believers have all sorts of difficulties manifest themselves. Christians explain this by talking about the Devil not paying any mind to you when you are doomed to Hell, but when you rebuke the Devil and accept Jesus, then you are in Play, and the Devil is going to fight you. It's viewed as a good thing, because again, Satan wouldn't be paying you any mind and making your life difficult and tempting you if you hadn't thrown off his yoke and taken on the yoke of Christ instead.

When I practiced SGI/Nichiren Buddhism, they used a metaphor of turning on a faucet for the first time in a long time -- there's going to be a bunch of old junk in the pipes, and you turn the faucet on, and all this old junk comes out of the faucet. It's a natural result of turning on the faucet, and so rather than getting upset, you should be happy. It's proof things are starting to flow through the pipe. Right now, it's gross and smelly, but the cool and clean water you want is coming down the pipes. Just be patient.

Anyway. I seem to have a bunch of junk in my pipes or something. I have been tired after a full night's sleep, being more ADD than usual, and feeling more stressed than usual, and finding myself in funks for no good reason. I think it's partially because being Mindful more often means more noticing of how I am distracted or engaged in negative thinking. Then I'll distract myself from this noticing and then catch myself doing this. Etc. And there's a lot of negative emotions that come up for no reason. Noticing there's no reason is a good thing, but still. It's all stuff that makes it more challenging to be mindful enough to sit. I still need to develop a routine to practice every day, because my ADD-tendency makes me avoid this sort of discomfort rather than just sit with it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

It's a good day.

It's Monday.

This weekend was really nice -- my daughter was down and it's always good to have her around, and we met her boyfriend, and we went to an Argentine night fundraiser at The Infinite, and danced the Tango. And yesterday we saw Lana's cousin and her husband and daughter, who is on that cusp between baby and toddler, and how can you go wrong playing with a baby?

It was raining when I woke up, but a fine mist of a rain-- tiny, tiny drops, like it was sprayed from an atomizer, all side-lit by the sun rising in the cloud free East. It was pretty and pleasant to walk through when I took Baby out.

My coworker has been out for months after surgery and has been working from home, and today she came in to the office, and is starting to work here again. This is a big deal, since most days I'm alone, and I have a hard time working alone for too many days at a time. We work together online and over the phone, but being together in person is a much different experience. So that's good.

And we went for an early lunch, which worked out well, since I hadn't eaten breakfast. And my boss paid. Which is awesome. :)

So it's a good beginning to the week. And tonight is Zazen at The Infinite. Just as having my coworker back in the same place as me is a powerful thing, it's easier practicing Zazen with other people in the same place. It works this way for me with things like marathons... when I walk alone, I feel I am at my limit when I am walking a pace that's one or two minutes slower than my marathon pace. When I am doing a marathon, I end up going faster. This is even true in marathons like Catalina, where there were stretches after 15 miles or so when I was the only person in sight on long stretches... just doing something with 800 other people made my pace much faster. Likewise, I've found when I am sitting at home, it is a lot harder to sit for 15 minutes alone than it is to sit for 25 or 30 minutes with the group. There's such motivation that comes from the energy of the group, and also, not wanting to come off as horrible at sitting still in the eyes of other people. I am competitive in weird ways, so I am motivated to sit still and keep my back straighter much more in the group. It's very silly, but there it is.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Work Practice.

Having an ADD Brainstyle makes it challenging for me to do tedious clerical things. And part of my job involves doing tedious clerical things.

Starting to do Zazen over the past four weeks has made me a little bit more aware during the time I am not sitting, and I notice my getting distracted a bit more easily. But it's really hard to get my mind back on my work when there's no mind required as much as doggedly sitting there and comparing the contents of one Excel cell with the contents of another Excel cell and copying things from one sheet to another, all the while wishing I knew enough about macros and VBA programming to somehow automate the process.

I have read suggestions of just committing 15 minutes to projects you are procrastinating about, or which you hate... just commit to 15 minutes, and then, if you want, you can stop and go on to something else. Just give it 15 minutes. And since I have been sitting at home for a modest 15 minutes at a time, I decided to use the same timer, and slap the experiment with a 'Workzen' label, and just do the same thing I'd do with work as I did when sitting down. Do the work, while focusing on my breathing and staying present. It works. And after 15 minutes, I get up, walk around, then sit down, and try another 15 minutes. It makes it more fun.

Except that here I am blogging about how much it works, instead of actually doing it. This is a problem I have found myself having about the big picture of taking baby steps in doing a Zen practice. Rather than being content to practice, I have to read about it, find out more about the lineage associated with the people I am sitting with and want to learn from, discover controversies, etc. Hopefully this excitability will calm down and I can just practice more and do study when I should be studying.

Off to do 15 minutes of work practice.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

DST will soon be over. Thank goodness.

It has been so hard for me to get up in the mornings and get to sleep at night. I am looking forward to Sunday, when we set our clocks back and regain that precious hour stolen from us last Spring.

It feels like this eagerness for DST to be gone is coming from the bones and sinews of my body as much as from my mind. My body is feeling out of alignment with the world, and needs to snap back into alignment, and perhaps going back to standard time will accomplish that.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Zazen and the Cricket

Today I went to the Saturday zazen for the first time. There were twenty of so people, and it was good, aside from me forgetting to turn off my cellphone and having it go off, full volume, with the old-fashioned-phone ring, about a minute into the first sitting session. That was pretty mortifying. So I had to turn that off, and sit back down and calm down...

Each of times we started zazen, we'd be quiet for a couple minutes, and then a cricket in the room would start chirping and keep it up for a few minutes. It was as if it had been waiting for the silence. Perhaps it associated the silence with safety. Or perhaps it knew that only in the silence could its chirping be heard by other crickets. And now I think about it, perhaps it was there the whole time, but I couldn't hear it when everyone was settling down.

If it had started chirping 15 minutes into zazen, I'd be seeing it as a reminder to be present, pulling us back to the present, or that guy with the stick giving us a whack. But as it was, chirping within a minute or two of us starting to sit, I just saw it as a cricket chirping.

I am sure there's a deep meaning in the cricket speaking in the silence. But I don't know what it is.

After zazen, the leader of our group today, Chigen, talked about a koan from the Book of Equanimity, Case 20, where Master Jizo met Hogan, and asked Hogan where was going, and Hogan said he was on pilgrimage aimlessly. Jizo asked him why he was on pilgrimage, and Hogan said I don't know. Jizo said not knowing is most intimate, and Hogan experienced some awakening. Chigen talked about the importance of not knowing, being open to not knowing, and the practice of being there with your discomfort in not knowing. And we had a good discussion about it.

So there was a cricket today, and it chirped, and I don't know why this feels worthy of me retelling, but there you go. There is intimacy in not knowing. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Circles and Cycles

I forget I have this blog. Then I remember.

The biggest thing since the last time I posted anything is that Lana and I are Expecting. We are basically on the cusp of the Second Trimester. Lana is dealing with all the physical and emotional changes admirably, and the biggest day-to-day issue is her nausea, which we are hoping will subside now she's in the 2nd trimester, and changing dietary urges. Many things she usually loves to eat just don't taste good any more, and so we are trying new things, preparing things differently, that sort of thing. Our baby-to-be is about the size of half-a-banana. Which is just as well, because Lana has been eating plenty of those, plain and in shakes.

For me, it's an interesting time, because Marian is now 17, a senior in high school, and living with her mom most of the time. When she graduates in June, we'll be there with a one-month old, and there will be pictures of Marian with her cap and gown and diploma, holding her newborn sister or brother. I am not sure which part makes me tear up more -- our newborn child part, or my precious Marian being a high school graduate and going off to make a life for herself.

So we are having a very 21st Century wedding next August, complete with a baby that will be three months old. One of the things that I have to do for the wedding is arrange the Officiant aspect. This has been a stumbling block for me, because I am a religious and spiritual person, but I can never seem to get straight WHICH religuous tradition, or blend of traditions. So having to choose something, and soon, has put me in a mindset of questioning and pondering. I have been floating around rather aimlessly, not doing Jewish practices, not doing much of anything.

Thankfully, Chrissy Cox of The Infinite happened to send me an event invite on Facebook for Zen Meditation a few weeks ago. I have loved the idea of the Infinite and wanted to take a class there, but nothing was any good. Hoops? Yoga? Belly Dance? Um, no. But Zen Meditation? Zazen? You just sit? Oh, I can totally do that. And I got the invite on a stressful Monday, and something deep inside reached up and embraced this thing, and I went that night. What was even better was the fact that I got in a shouting and cursing exchange with a driver who was honking at me for daring to take the lane on Pine, as I rode to The Infinite. Then there was the three-car fender-bender that happened outside The Infinite during the second period of Zazen. All this conflict and collision and anger. And all there was for me to do was sit.

I used to practice the SGI/Nichiren Shoshu form of Buddhism, and a lot of it really resonated with me, and I internalized a lot of it, even though that particular practice was definitely not for me. But I kept interested in Buddhism, and loved the work of Thich Nhat Hanh that I read, Peace is Every Step and The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. Developing a practice of Mindfulness, of using things like phones ringing and red lights to bring oneself back to the present... this stuff is very powerful for me. It is simple, and very difficult, but even doing it a bit here and there has palpable benefits.

The practice of Zazen is similar. It really works for me in groups. I have NEVER been around other people and been quiet and still for such long periods before. It is hard to do -- one evening I got panicky and stressed about not knowing how much longer we would have to sit, and it was really neat that I was able to sit there and breathe, and do something that Thich Nhat Hanh suggested when you have emotions you experience as negative come into your awareness.I recognized the anxiety and called to it "hello, old friend! I remember you" and I welcomed it into me and held it and soothed it. I didn't judge it as inappropriate and declare it unwelcome. I just held it as I sat there, and I marveled that I was actually sitting still, not moving, while I had a freakout, and that by embracing my feeling, I was no longer experiencing it the same way. Part of me was still anxious and eager to move, and part of me was observing, and consoling my anxious part.

Anyway. It's an ongoing thing. I try to practice alone every couple days and just sit for 15 minutes, and sometimes it seems to help, and sometimes it's all I can do to sit there. But I keep coming back to it, and it feels good.

The group that teaches the classes at The Infinite is from the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center, which is affiliated with the Soto Zen lineage. For some reason, I feel drawn to this group and Soto Zen, so I am planning to learn more and practice more with them and see what happens.

And to bring it back to the wedding, I'm thinking maybe we could have a Zen officiant. Not sure. We'll see. But I have to make up my mind pretty soon. :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bike Ride to Shakti Shala Yoga Festival

The point of my posting this flyer, which I made, isn't the upcoming bike ride. It's the flyer itself. This is the second flyer I've made using a fun combination of doing things by hand, and then scanning into the Mac and then color it in my old free version of Corel Draw that came with the Wacom tablet I got years ago.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Leaving aside the thematic and lyrical threads that go from song to song, one of the things that makes me listen to this recording over and over are what to me HAVE to be conscious musical references to other artists' songs. Win Butler said it was like a mix of Depeche Mode and Neil Young, but I am hearing a lot of other artists here...

Reviewers have noted a big early 80s influence here, but on tracks like "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), there's a piano opening like "Come On Eileen", the feel of Regine's singing is very Debbie Harry, then there's the synthesizer bit that's very much like something out of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and an ending that echoes the end of Gabriel's "On The Air."

"Month of May" has a sound that's pure Bowie -- it starts out like a Heathen-style song, where Bowie revisted his Ziggy style of writing and playing, and ends up with a total Outside/Earthling vibe. This is perhaps the song where I've found the most listeners and reviewers posting similar observations to mine.

One song where it seems to be just me, at least just me writing anything, is "Deep Blue." This is a pure Kinks song in feel, which makes sense because its subject ties in so well with so many Kinks songs that idealize a bygone England that is irretrievably gone.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Friday, March 19, 2010

lastreetsblog fun-- delighting in being quoted, because I am superficial.

I have, in the past couple weeks, begun to comment on This is partly because there is no and I am lazy. Why not basically appropriate the for my own nefarious lb uses? And there are lots of Long Beach people on there, anyway. It's not like Long Beach isn't part of the LA scene.

Today, I was criticising a poster who talked about how dangerous the streets were, and expressed my amusement at how so many bike advocates are invested in the idea that the streets are inherently unsafe for bikes. People like this advocate for infrastructure, but I said:

“At some point, protected bike lanes end, sharrows end, bike lane paint ends. And people have to ride on the street. The horrible, bonecrushing, bloody streets of certain death.”

Which Damien, the editor of, immediately put up in the 'word on the street section.' And he immediately appropriated it in HIS comment he posted to the thread, saying "... were literally getting killed out there, on the horrible, bone crushing, bloody streets of certain death and our elected leaders and government bureaucracy only seems to care when a big stink is made."

Anyway. Perhaps the streets of LA ARE "horrible, bone crushing, bloody streets of certain death." I have only ridden on them at night, in the rain, and that one time I rode to my dad's around LAX. Perhaps I don't know the truth about the deadly streets of LA.

I do, after all, live and ride in the LBC.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Testing Google Maps Bicycle Directions

I have spent a few minutes testing Google Maps directions for bicycles. What it's doing in my area seems to be the following.

1) Whenever possible, use a separated bike path
2) When that's not possible, use a bike lane
3) When that's not possible, use a street

which results in directions that pretty much follow the way I tend to do things for really big trips that are primarily N/S -- for those trips, it routes me up the San Gabriel or LA River bike paths, and this is what I'd do. I am not afraid of riding on the street, but the LA and SG River trails are like bike freeways. You can ride on them full-speed for as long as you can handle with hardly any traffic. Why ride in the street and deal with traffic when you don't have to?

But E/W gets more interesting. For instance, if I do directions from my mom's place in Huntington Beach to my home, it is exactly how I'd do it (Garfield to Seapoint to PCH to 2nd) until it gets to Belmont Shore. Then, seeing that there's a segregated bike path along the beach, it sends me down that way, rather than up a perfectly quiet street like 1st or 2nd. That adds real distance to my trip where it really makes little sense.

It would be helpful if it let you decide how agressive it should be on choosing separated paths vs bike lanes vs surface streets, so people could get maps more geared towards their preference and comfort level.

That being said, this is a new tool, and it works pretty well already. As they get feedback and tune things up, it should prove to be a really useful tool.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Why Portland rocks, in a somewhat large nutshell:

I went to Powell's City of Books and went to the Cycling section. They had several copies of Forester's Effective Cycling, one used. They had several copies of Mapes' Pedaling Revolution. They had several copies of tons of books about bicycle repair and about commuting by bike, all the various bike sports figures, bike touring memoirs, etc. And they had copies of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac.

I am old-fashioned. I could have gotten these books from Powell's online. Or from anyone online, really. But I was stubborn. I went all over Long Beach trying to find Forester and Mapes. I went to places in LA, Phoenix. Whereever I happened to be. Nope. Now, Santa Cruz was close. There were tons of bike books at Logos, but not Forester or Mapes.

The fact that Powell's has these books says, first, that Powell's is awesome. But also it reflects that there is a real cycling culture in Portland, with numerous people reading books about cycling.

I could have figured this out by the racks outside of Powell's, made to look like various famous books involving bicycling, and crammed full with various pretty bikes, but that would have been lazy.

Anyway, so now I have my Mapes and Forester books, and can go back to Long Beach happy.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Advocacy Irritations and being 'full of sh*t'

The Long Beach Cyclists Book Group is currently reading chapters from Cycling and Society (2007), by Paul Rosen, Peter Cox, and David Horton. One of the chapters we haven't reviewed yet is Chapter 4, "Hell is Other Cyclists." This cute riff on Sartre's "L'enfer, c'est les autres" has been on my mind recently, as I become more knowledgeable about bike advocacy and more irritated by some of its practitioners.

I will write more about this later, as I can't figure out exactly how to write about it now, beyond saying that damn, advocacy people can drive me up a wall...


The funny thing is I wrote this BEFORE Umberto Brayj told me I was full of 'sh*t' for saying something he didn't agree with in an lastreetsblog comment.

And the disheartening thing is that first, I hadn't posted to lastreetsblog before, that I can think of. And second, that Umberto, or whatever his name is, started the Bike Kitchen and Flying Pigeon store in Lincoln Heights.

The worst thing is that I seriously had been fantasizing about getting a Flying Pigeon from his store. At this point, I doubt I'll set foot in his store, let alone buy anything from the guy.

And this perfectly illustrates my point about Hell is Other Cyclists. In this case, a pretty famous guy in the LA scene, who has done a LOT of good and is doing a lot of good, but this is the way he chooses to respond to someone he doesn't agree with, someone he has never met. Not cool. Not encouraging.

Perhaps I am just ignorant and full of 'sh*t.' But I think we can be advocates for cycling in general, and our positions in particular, without calling each other names when we disagree.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ortolan and Being There

This is a comment I made at The Path Less Pedaled... In D is for Displacement, Russ was talking about how he and Laura are pursuing their dream of riding the country, yet often, while actually spending the day pedalling, they aren't really present in the moment and with the aching and fatigue, but have displaced their thinking into other places... they aren't really present in their dream riding. And I remembered a This American Life piece where one of the conclusions was that we were not really capable of being present in the moment all the time...

This reminds me of the Ortolan story on This American Life (it’s on episode 343) where writer Michael Paterniti describes eating Ortolan (where you eat the entire bird, which has been drowned in cognac, while holding a napkin over your head).

This is from his written account in Esquire:

“Here’s what I taste: Yes, quidbits of meat and organs; the succulent, tiny strands of flesh between the ribs and tail. I put inside myself the last flowered bit of air and Armagnac in its lungs, the body of rainwater and berries. In there, too, is the ocean and Africa and the dip and plunge in a high wind. And the heart that bursts between my teeth. It takes time. I’m forced to chew and chew again and again, for what seems like three days. And what happens after chewing for this long–as the mouth full of taste buds and glands does its work—is that I fall into a trance. I don’t taste anything anymore, cease to exist as anything but taste itself.
And that’s where I want to stay–but then can’t because the sweetness of the bird is turning slightly bitter and the bones have announced themselves. When I think about forcing them down my throat, a wave of nausea passes through me. And that’s when, with great difficulty, I swallow everything.”
On the This American Life segment, he talks about how hard it is to eat regular meals after this (my transcription):

Michael Paterniti: it takes a lot of energy and concentration when you really taste a meal. it takes concentration, and silence…

Ira Glass: it’s almost as if you are saying if we were really awake to what the world was giving us in a given meal, it would be hard to eat the meal every single time.

Paterniti: Yeah, I think we would, I feel we would age really quickly.

Glass: But you’re saying that we have to deaden ourselves in order to live.

Paterniti: I think we do; I don’t think we make enough time to eat, and if we haven’t made enough time to eat, then it’s better not to taste what we are eating. It’s easier.
So yeah. I think it’s just part of our biology that, in order to be totally present at any one time, we have to be totally displaced, mostly NOT there, most of the rest of the time.

Focus on Riding, not Bicycle

This is basically my response to this piece on the Bike Portland blog... Bernadette posted a link on the Long Beach Cyclists page...

My personal goal is to help usher in the day when Long Beach is truly the most bike-friendly city in the USA and folks in Portland read the blog for inspiration. And one area where I hope we can take a different path is with what I think is a misplaced focus — where the focus is on the bicycle itself, rather than on the things you can do on ANY bicycle.

Portland seems to have stalled at around 10 % ‘bike mode share.’ I’ve seen Portland folks speculate that there’s a certain percentage of residents who look at cycling as a legitimate mode of transport, and that percentage is apparently around 10%. Right now, the Portland bloggers speculate, pretty much all the folks who WANT to cycle ARE cycling. If Portland wants to get their percentages significantly higher, they have to do things that will convince people to take another look at cycling and give it a try.

One way to ensure that this DOESN’T happen is to make people think that they need to spend thousands of dollars on their bicycles. While Marion’s article references others who found affordable solutions, when SHE elects to spend $700, it sends a strong signal — this is the optimal solution, and refurbishing a used bike or modifying a more affordable bike are less optimal solutions.

Now, I GET that yes, $700 is a GOOD DEAL for a bike that’s fully equipped, and that will last and last, and that will be passed down to the younger kids, and still have resale value at the end. But most Americans won’t spend that much on their OWN bike, let alone their kid’s bike.

And the other issue is the crazy idea that you NEED a bike with tons of features to ride around town. Marion wants a rack, fenders, hub generator, and lots of other features so her kid can get around the city. But while there are cool reasons why all these features are good for city riding, NONE of them is required. By spending too much effort and energy finding the perfect bike for city commuting, you necessarily send the message that city commuting is a specialized activity requiring specialized equipment that you can’t just attempt on any old bike. That’s not the way to significant bike mode share.

I think we need to be careful to de-emphasize the differences between different kinds of bikes in favor of embracing ANY bike as a perfectly good tool to do most tasks. Just get your bike, whichever kind it is, however much you spent on it, and get on it, and ride! Whichever city’s citizens take that message to heart is the city that gets a truly significant percentage of its commuters on bikes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Crane Suzu Bicycle Bell

I had to get one. I really did.

I had gotten an Incredibell for the loaner bike from my sister, but that one was made for a handlebar with a smaller circumfrence. When I got my new-to-me bike, I discovered that the Incredibell's bracket was too small to fit on my bike's Nitto handlebars. So I simply had to get a new bell.

Had to? Sure. It's the law. Seriously.

Signaling Device Required (10.48.080) No person shall operate a bicycle upon a sidewalk unless it is equipped with a bell, horn or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with, nor shall any person use upon a bicycle, any siren or whistle. (Ord. C-6322 § 2, 1986).

Now, I don't ride on the sidewalk, except that I'm not sure what counts... for instance... the bike path that goes from Belmont Shore downtown along the beach... is that sidewalk? I think it technically may count as sidewalk, and so there you go. Or what about the LA River and San Gabriel Valley River trails? Sidewalk? Or not? Whatever. The law gives me an excuse.

So I got a Crane Suzu brass bell. My bike is mostly black, chrome/silver/lime green. The brass doesn't fit the color scheme. But it shouldn't. It is a gorgeous bell, and the tone is so perfect, and such sustain. It's awesome.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Practical Cycling -- Bike-Friendly Supermarkets

One of the obstacles to more people cycling is really simple -- there aren't places to secure your bike. The city of Long Beach has installed hundreds of bike racks all over the city, and it open to putting up more where there's an identified need from businesses or cyclists. But this only works where a bike rack or two on the street does the trick, which is usually when we're dealing with smaller storefront businesses.

But the biggest non-work-commute trips that people make in their cars, the one that is usually well less than 2 miles each way, the one that could easily be made by bike, aren't trips to cafes and vintage clothing stores and other little storefronts served by bike racks the city can put out. The biggest trips are grocery store visits. And grocery store parking isn't a need that's best met by the city putting up racks on the sidewalk -- the grocery store is usually situated far away from the street. Bike parking needs to be in the form of racks or something similar that are close to the front doors of the supermarket. And the supermarket has to put them up and maintain them.

I am doing a survey of supermarkets in my area of Long Beach, looking for bike parking. Does the supermarket have racks? How many spaces? Does that seem to meet the need during busy hours? The idea is to get a feel for what the average supermarket is doing, first, and then to encourage supermarkets to put down more bike parking.

So far, I've seen some interesting things. Most supermarkets have racks, but often the racks are placed off to the dark, poorly lit side of the storefront, far from the doors. This is important because if the area isn't well-lit, people wont' feel as safe parking there leaving their bike there. And some supermarkets with no racks seem oblivious to how many people bike to the store.

The Superior market on Long Beach Blvd and 10th has no racks, but when I went there a couple nights ago, around 6pm, I counted 6 bikes parked there... they were secured to the shopping cart corral, because that was the only secure piece of thick metal available. The supermarket had recognized this was happening, because they had posted a sign outside in English in the corral area, saying no bike parking. But they hadn't figured out that they needed to provide a bike rack.

And the Ralphs at 4th, which I go to at least weekly via bike, HAS racks, but only space for four bikes. One of the spaces is unusable because the metal is bent together, so it prevents getting bike tires in. And during busy hours after work, there are more than 4 bikes at a time parked there. Plus, the rack is by the door the market closes when it's late. So if you visit Ralphs late at night, you are securing your bike on the side of the store that isn't getting as much foot traffic and is darker... it doesn't feel as safe as the other side. In fact, I've seen people just park their bikes without securing them by the door that IS used at night, rather than secure them by the locked door side.

And Trader Joes at 2nd and PCH - no bike racks. I can't believe it, and I must be wrong and need to go slowly through the whole area and see if I missed them, but I tend to avoid TJs now when on bike and actually go to Whole Foods across the street, because, although they are too expensive and irritating, they HAVE A PLACE TO LOCK BIKES.

Anyway. It's a silly, small thing, in a way, but it's really interesting, and I hope to get info that I can then use to get supermarkets to think of cyclists and do things to accomodate them.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Road Rage Driver sentencing

Story in the LA Times about the sentencing of the doctor who slammed his brakes in front of those cyclists last year.

You can read the whole bunch if you want, but the comments that bothered me the most are those from people who relate their being inconvenienced, basically, by cyclists. The law is that people are supposed to share the road, but many people seem to think that they have a right to drive the speed limit or greater at all times, and that a cyclist in front of them making them slow down is inconsiderate at best, and violating the law at worst. There are calls for cyclists to stay in the bike lanes (which is getting to be like a ghetto) when the streets don't have bike lanes to begin with. So the writers are implicitly saying cyclists don't have the right to be on the streets without bike lanes.

Anyway. I think all the anger and frustration with cyclists isn't really anything to do with cyclists at all. I think it has to do with people being impatient because they overschedule themselves and are always running behind, and thus sensitive to every single perceived obstacle to their progress. So this is the comment I submitted:
  • Some of the most offensive comments on here are from people who THINK they are being reasonable. Several people recount their own stories of being forced to [gasp] slow down [shudder] because of bicyclists in front of them.

    You know, it isn't your personal road, people. You have to share it. You may have conveniently forgotten, but you have had to slow down for other cars many times each week. You have had to slow down for pedestrians. And yes, you have had to slow down for cyclists. And yet you come here and seriously argue that because you have been delayed due to cyclists, that somehow this is a mitigating factor that somehow excuses attempted murder.

    The real problem here is not the cyclist. The real problem is all of you who feel indignant that you are being impeded by cyclists and slow drivers and pedestrians.

    Why don't get your damn schedule in order, and leave with enough time to make it to your destination without speeding and rushing around? That way you won't be driven into paroxysms of rage when you find yourself unable to drive as recklessly as you are accustomed.
    If you can't manage that, then get a driver, take the bus, or [gasp] get on a bike. Just do something so that you don't have such idiotic anger at the prospect of having to share the road.
    Posted by: Yoshiyahu Jan 8, 2010 3:22:29 PM

It's something I am very aware of, now that I don't drive. Sometimes the train is late. But I never stress, because there's no way my work or my family is going to be mad at me for the train being late. It's out of my hands. But when I was driving to work, there was always the feeling that I could make good time, or take shortcuts, or so something to cut the commute time, and all my hard work in being a sneaky and speedy driver could be ruined if I was stuck behind a cyclist. Not that I've ever been stuck behind a cyclist on my freeway commutes, but yeah. I am probably adding years to my life expectancy by taking the train and shedding all the stress from driving and feeling rushed.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Bicycling Questions

As I cycle about more, and encounter more bike culture stuff, and think about things more from a cycling perspective, I have questions. Some aren't easily answered. Such as:

1) What's a good way to carry home your drycleaning via your bicycle?

2) Are Ghost Bikes a good idea? Do they do more good than harm?

I can opine on 2. It's the sort of question where I can see both sides. But 1? I have no clue. And I have drycleaning I need to pickup. I can walk it home, but that seems almost as much a copout as driving it home. Driving is easiest. I have the rear hook and hand-hold thingies to put freshly pressed clothes on. Walking is ok, except the wire hangers cut into the hands after a while (it's not that long of a walk, really, but shhh). I want to learn how to carry home drycleaning on a bike, but it's not something my opinion-oriented mind can resolve. Anything practical seems beyond my abilities.