Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Un-stealing bikes: the Karma's Crank project

Sure are a lot of bikes getting stolen in this town. Sure would be nice to pump a few bikes in to replace the ones being sucked out from under people who need them.

A while back I got a couple armfuls of bike stuff from the Clown House when Dingo the Clown was forced to liquidate the Boneyard. I've used some of it for projects and profiteering, but I've pledged the rest for what Dingo intended; Getting bikes to people who need them for transpo.

What if I built up a good but ugly bike and combo-locked it somewhere, then told people who need a free bike where to find it? (First finder is the keeper.) What if they used it as long as they needed to, then passed it on to someone else in need? Meanwhile, maybe I could build and release more such bikes.

To start this off, I need a little help.

The first Karma's Crank bike will be a mountain bike set up for the street. I'm still short a few parts, though. I need:
  • brake levers
  • pedals
  • 26.4 seatpost
  • a 1 1/8" fork that has a threaded steer tube of about 6 3/4"
  • fenders would be nice, too
Ideal parts would be mechanically sound but ordinary or obsolete, and scratched up or otherwise uglified so thieves won't bother. I'm talking stuff that you might not even bother taking to a swap meet. If you can donate any of the above—or if you have other such parts you want to get rid of—let me know and I'll pick them up.

If your bike got ripped off and you desperately need transpo, email me and tell me your story. Don't bother BSing, 'cause 1) the bike won't be any prize pig, and 2)I work as an editor, so I know crap when I hear it. Tell me how tall you are so I can make sure you'll fit. When I'm ready, i'll post the bike's location here and then email the lock combo to everyone who qualified.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Balsam for the bus-bound

My bike was stolen yesterday! Sad! I've only been bike commuting for about a year so I am trying to look at it as an opportunity to get an exciting new bike and learn a bit in the process. Unfortunately, I'm pretty darn poor, and I don't have any fix-up bike techie skills. Dropping $100 for a new bike, even though I know it's worth it, sounds pretty painful right now.

My dream? That I can find a place that will teach me to build my own bike, and will either have super super cheap parts or give parts in exchange for my volunteer labor—kinda like free geek, only bikes. Do any such programs exist? And if not—well, how would you recommend I go about my new-bike agenda? Any advice would be appreciated.

I am relegated to utter reliance on TriMet until I find a solution.

—Seeing (sigh) where it takes me

So sorry for your loss. The good news: There are a couple of non-profit community bike shops that operate almost like your dream. They're both in the north, in the Mississippi/Albina/Alberta area, not far from Yellow Line MAX.

The staff at North Portland Bikeworks seems really unpretentious and dedicated to serve. The Community Cycling Center is older and also good, but doesn't have the same indie vibe.

There are some places to pick up parts or partial bikes or even whole bikes at accessible prices, right here in the SE (not that far from Free Geek). The Recyclery is for-profit, but they have some reasonable used frames and parts. City Bikes is also for-profit, but they have a really great room full of used parts at low prices.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Swap meet, anyone?

"Portland's premier mountain bike club" is having a swap meeet soon. Could be a good place to pick up some commute-worthy rolling stock. Someone at work has an old, pre-29er Fisher Excalibur that was retired greyhound-style by a mountain-bike racer. It's light, it's got a cushy ride with those fat tires, and it can take fenders and everything. Besides, the swap meet is for road stuff too.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

To coast or not to coast?

What's the deal with fixed-gear bikes? All the cool kids ride them, but I'm not sure I want to lay out my cash for a bike that won't let me coast. Is it safe? Is it fun? Should I do it?

—Wanda B.

You're right; the Most Important Thing with fixed-gear bikes is, course, that you can't coast. When you go downhill, your legs will flail. If you don't have hand brakes, you'll use every strand of connective tissue in your legs to resist the pedals and control your speed.

The Wise Old Bike Guy is at a disadvantage here. Fixies weren't in favor (in northern Cali) back in my day; now that they are, I'm pulling my toddler in a trailer and conserving my rickety knees. Thus, although I've worked on a few, I don't have much experience riding them.

However, I can tell you this: Ride what makes sense for the riding you do, not what the fashionistas dictate. If you live up on Mt. Scott and work on Hawthorne, make with the derailleur gears and handbrakes unless you're really ready for adventure.

On the other hand: Fixies typically are inherently light and low-maintenance, great for improving your fitness quickly, and may even stick better on wet roads. (A driven wheel grips better, like in the Subaru (?) commercials.) They look elegant and classic, and they boost their riders' self-esteem by implying skill and daring.

If you do decide a fixie is in your future, don't skimp; plan on spending at least a few hundred bucks. Fixies are simpler than geared bikes, but that means there's less redundance for safety; the task of keeping body and soul together—in an emergency wheel-lock skid to avoid an SUV turning left across the bike lane, for instance—will fall to just a few 1.375" x 24 TPI threads that connect the cog to the rear hub. Make sure they're good ones.

That is, don't skimp on the rear hub, cog, and lockring. (For Christophe's sake, use a real fixed-gear hub with a lockring; don't cobble something together and "secure" it with Loctite or spot welds.) If you go with Japanese stuff (Suzue, etc.), make sure it has the NJS logo. This ensures the part has been certified to meet the stringent standards of Keirin, which is professional, government-regulated greyhound racing by humans for other humans to bet on. Beyond Japan, Campagnolo, Miche and Surly have good reputations. Use a big cog—18-tooth or so—so the chain will engage lots of teeth concurrently and won't slip.

As a fixie newbie, use a rim brake on at least one wheel; that will give you a bailout option while you learn to do downhills. Choose an easy gear combination, such as 40 or 42-tooth front to go with your 18 rear, so you won't strain so much on the uphills.

And oh yeah, don't forget a messenger bag in whatever brand the cool kids are using now. Does Prada make one yet?