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Book Review: the Immortal Class March 31, 2008

Posted by concreteguy in attitude, bikes.
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Probably because I read all day at work, when I get home I don’t feel like reading. Thus, I rarely seem to finish a book anymore. I’m not a big fiction fan, and lately I’ve found a lot of non-fiction to also be non-interesting.

Such was not the case with Travis Hugh Culley’s 2001 book The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power.

A few weeks ago I became interested in the world of bike messengers. After watching a few videos on youtube, and checking out some related websites, the whole thing just became kind of fascinating. If you’ve ever seen what these guys do in city traffic you’ll understand. I did some searching, and discovered Culley’s book. A quick library request, and it was mine to read.

This book is many things. It is a record of Culley’s early days as a messenger — a record of his progress as he scratched out a living in Chicago. It describes the many hardships that these working-people endure as they play their part in the city’s commercial system. Culley reviews the history of urban planning of Chicago, the role of the bicycle in that plan, and the effects of car culture upon the city. We learn of Culley’s introduction to bike activism and Critical Mass. Culley describes his boyhood friendship with a neighborhood outsider, and the lessons he learned from this unlikely mentor.

…all good stuff…all interesting and well-written…

…but I found learning about the culture of bike messengers to be the most interesting part of this work. The reader learns the culture as Culley does — from beginner to seasoned vet — from the day Travis answers a want-ad while on his last financial legs to his eventual (but not permanent) exit from the business. We learn about the close-knit culture of messengers, the support system they employ, the frantic pace at which they work, the physical danger they face, the “alley cat” races they participate in,  and the diversity of people employed in the industry (from struggling artists working to support their art to people with no goal but to keep riding).

I should also mention that the book is exciting. Culley’s descriptions of flying around Chicago are quite vivid, and really convey the rush of being constantly “in the moment”  in order to avoid disaster while doing his work.

I’ll be purchasing a copy of this for my own little collection at home. Great read.

Some random bike stuff… March 28, 2008

Posted by concreteguy in bikes.
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A quick entry.

Been riding a lot. Long rides on the mountain bike. Well, about 25 miles. That is long for me. The Specialized Nimbus city tires make it much easier to crank out the miles on. Bike and components are still going strong after 12 years. Thinking about going to the narrower and higher pressure Specialized Fatboy tires. Also considering trying to find a rigid fork. Anything to shave some weight off the bike.

Enjoying long recreational rides on the Townie 21. Rad bike. The Cannondale panniers are rad for going to the grocery store. Sweet ride, looks punk as hell, and you can look around while you are riding. Still loving the black Townie.

Just finished reading The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power, by Travis Hugh Culley. Fascinating book and a great read. A more detailed review coming up soon. Normally I’d say check it out from the library, but its a good book, so support Travis buy purchasing it.

Researching road bikes. Gonna get one eventually. I’m interested in the whole fixed gear thing, but not sure I’ve got the time to really put into it. Still, I may set one up if the frame and parts present themselves.

Rode a Road Bike March 21, 2008

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Today I went to the local bike shop to rent a road bike. I’ve never actually ridden a good road bike for any length of time. Of the last 20 years it has been a mountain bike or more recently my Townie 21. I wanted to see what a modern road bike felt like.

The bike they brought out was a 58cm Trek Pilot 2.1. Nice bike. I’m sure this was was not the 2008 model, but it road real nice. Very fast and light compared to my mountain bike. I guess that goes without saying. This bike retails for over $1500, which I understand isn’t a lot for a road bike, but it is a lot in my experience. Carbon fork. Just a nice bike.I rode my usual ride, and it went pretty well. Covered the distance in much better time. So clearly the road bike may have something to offer me.

I did not like the saddle. I’m used to a “male anatomy” Specialized saddle that is pretty cushy. I’m not crazy about the idea of “getting used to” a saddle that is pretty obviously not great for your nether regions. Yes, I’m am not a cycle jock. I’m also not interested in impotence. So if and when I get a road bike it will have a less aggro but more anatomically friendly saddle.

This particular bike has a fairly upright posture for a road bike, which I liked. The 58c frame seemed to fit me pretty well. Very stable, good handling. Maybe a bit big for my fantasy life as a NYC bike messenger, but fantasy does not equal reality. I will not be dodging busses, pedistrians, cars, or skitching cabs.

In my week of vacation, doing tons of bike trail cycling, Townie trips to Starbucks and the grocery store, and tons of yardwork, I’ve gone from 202 pounds to 197. The ultimate goal is 180, with an intermediate goal of 190.

A good ride, and an observation. March 17, 2008

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Went for a good ride today with a buddy. Down to and around the lake and back — 24 miles. He on his very cool and classic Specialized steel frame road bike, and me on my old Giant mountain bike with Specialized “Nimbus” city tires. A nice, leisurely ride. A little over 2 hours. I used to do this ride years ago much faster, but its nice to ride with a friend, talk, and just enjoy being out.

So as we were riding around the lake, a guy on a road bike passed us and yelled at me “Raise your saddle!”

Weird. I mean, I have the saddle set at a comfortable height for a pleasant ride, not for total maximum efficiency. I’ve been riding a long time — it isn’t like I’m new to cycling.

Anyway, I thought that was a strange thing to yell at someone as you pass them. If he’d seen me on my Townie he probably would have freaked out. So my point is that there is, in part of the cycling world, a certain “jockism” that stinks of douche-baggery. A snobishness of sorts. I’ve met some really nice people riding bikes, but also some major league assholes.

Now, this guy may have meant well, but seriously, was he correcting everyone at the lake? It isn’t like my saddle was set THAT low.

Anyway, it was a good ride.

Test Commute March 16, 2008

Posted by concreteguy in bikes.
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So today I finally tested the route I’m going to use for bike commuting to work. It actually worked really well. Only a couple of rough spots where traffic is really bad, but I found some options there. A lot of the run is on dedicated bike path, which is cool. Took 42 minute on the Townie 21 — 7.5 miles.

So as a round trip it is a good ride. Good exercise. Added a rack to the back of the bike, as well as 2 Cannondale saddle bags.

I’m on vacation this coming week, but the next week I’m going to give this a try on Tuesday.

Steel Bikes? March 8, 2008

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Rode over to my local bike shop today to browse the inventory and ask some questions about road bikes. I’ve not owned a bike with drop bars since my old Huffy Santa Fe 10-speed, so I’m thinking about renting one soon to see what size bike I might like, how it feels, if I like it, etc.Anyway, the guy at the shop was helpful, but boy, there aren’t many steel frames out there.

My online research has led me to believe that in a bike with drop bars, a cyclocross bike might be good for commuting since they are somewhat tough, and a touring bike might also be good with the longer wheelbase for stability and more upright position. I discovered Surly a couple of weeks ago. All steel. There’s also at least one Bianchi cyclocross bike that a friend of mine uses for everything. Real cool. It is also steel.

But man, nearly everything out there is aluminum. What’s the deal?(that’s a rhetorical question. I haven’t actually been completely oblivious to the cycling world for the last 20 years). I know it is light, but CrMo isn’t super heavy, and it seems like it is pretty durable.At any rate, I’ll probably rent a bike with drop bars, but so far I haven’t seen anything to convince me that my old Giant mountain bike, with some fenders and maybe a second wheel set wouldn’t completely meet my needs for moderately long rides and commuting, and the new Townie also for commuting and leisure riding.

The Real Bicycle Commuters March 6, 2008

Posted by concreteguy in bikes.
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Here in the North Dallas area, you see two groups of people riding bikes to work.

Group 1: People who are into cycling, and perhaps committed to sustainable living, who ride their bikes to work because they choose to do so. Which is cool. But really, most of these people have cars. These folks usually have a nice commuter bike.

Group 2: Latino guys who are probably blue collar workers/laborers/whatever, who ride their bikes because that is their only transportation. These guys usually ride pretty inexpensive bikes, and I imagine a lot of them might prefer a car. But they are on bikes, going to work, riding to the train station, or whatever.

This morning on the way to work (in my car), I noticed a  young hispanic guy on a bike about to cross the street. Based on his clothing, I’d say he was on his way to work.  As he crossed and was approaching the grassy median between sides of the road, he gracefully swung one leg over the bike, coasted up to the curb of the median, balanced on one foot on one side of the bike, and easily came to rest up in the narrow grassy space, waiting for the oncoming cars to pass.

Something about this move really made an impression on me. It was so practical. It was the kind of move a real bike commuter in a pretty bike-unfriendly environment would adopt. There are no bike lanes here, it was rush hour, and this guy was making it work. It was not a move that I would imagine any book or website on bike commuting to recommend. And while perhaps not the safest way to cross the street, it was totally practical and efficient. Finally, his execution of the move was so casual and perfect, it just really drilled in the point that this was his mode of transportation.

I’ve never seen much mention of the use of bikes by latino workers in the bike literature. In some ways these people are sort of the invisible members of our society. But local planners should be aware of these folks when dealing with bike commuting, since they are productive members of society.

More green living March 3, 2008

Posted by concreteguy in sustainability.
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So as another part of our push toward more sustainable living, we decided to try to grow some veggies in our back yard. In more rural areas it is common for people to grow some of their own food, but it seems unusual in the suburbs. But you know, we have yards. Why not make at least part of the yard productive, rather than just spending money to keep the grass green.

So we found this book called Square Foot Gardening. The idea is to grow things in small raised beds, using a particular mix of soils (which means you aren’t dependent on whatever weird soil you have in your yard). Doing it in small raised gardens makes the whole thing more managable and more efficient as far as water consumtion, etc.

This weekend I built the first small 4 x 4 box and put down the garden fabric to keep weeds out. We picked up the soil components, but had to order one bag, which I’ll explain later.

We are starting some plants, from seeds, inside in these little grow boxes. Each box has a number of compartments for soil and seeds, and you cover it with a lid, making a little green house. Amazingly, after only one day a plant is already coming up. Amazing to me, anyway, as I’ve never had much luck growing anything but lawn grass.

I’m tracking how much money we put into the garden, and then I’m going to see how long it takes to make that money back with edible food. It seems like it could take a while, but then again vegitables are expensive now, so it might pay off fast.

Rides March 3, 2008

Posted by concreteguy in bikes.
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2 rides this weekend on the the Townie.Saturday – 9.3 miles around the White Rock Lake.Sunday – 10.7 miles on bike trails in Richardson. 

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