Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Weighing In: The Year In Review

The last thing I wrote here in 2010 contained this:

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 2,072
Miles left to goal: 128
Days left: +87 over

Upon moving to Waltham in June 2010 and acquiring Charlie bicycle I had set for myself the goal of riding the "equivalent" distance of a Tour de France by my birthday of that year.  (More on that whole thing here.)  I had never been a cyclist commuter of that distance before, roughly 12 miles each way to and from work, depending on the route I took.  I needed a concrete goal and thus was born the (somewhat arbitrary) distance and time goal.  By December 20th, 2010 I had not yet reached my goal and had gone well beyond my allotted time for said goal.

As I was writing that post it began to snow. And snow. And snow, and snow - if you were in New England last winter you'll know what I'm talking about.

Enter 2011.

I moved to Somerville and things started to change.  I started biking everyday no matter the weather.  I past the next two thousand miles and the next two thousand miles without the struggles and drama that defined my first two thousand with Charlie. Switched to fixed gear despite the nervousness.

But without that struggle, without that ridiculous distance, without the mistakes, the getting lost, things constantly breaking because of my ignorance, the drama and the crushed expectation, without these I would not be who I am now or where I am now.  I might not have cultivated the spirit to take on the weather.  I might not have the ability to laugh at myself when I am splashed with gross puddle water.  I might not know the untold joy of biking these streets.

I could not have done it without all the help and encouragement, thanks everyone!

We've gone six thousand miles.  We've helped others learn how to bike and the joy of biking here.  We've found some folks who love bikes too!

Here's to ten thousand miles!  Here's to another year of adventure!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This space is not yours

When you're pedaling down the road you are constantly pelted with the feeling, or the sneaking suspicion, that - this space is not yours.  I pay the same taxes to maintain these roads as the car people, I am as bound by the rules of the road as the car people;  I have as much legal right to this street as they do, but the point is made amply clear by many people on the roads, this space is not yours.

When you use cloud computing or external services for your personal situation and use (things like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, even this Blogspot), you're borrowing it from another, on their terms.  So still, this space is not yours.

At work, everything belongs to the company (so unless you own the company), this space is not yours.

Renting a dwelling place or for your place of business?  This place is borrowed too.

Ever take out a loan for anything (car, house, education)?  Then what you make is not yours either.

Why did and do people Occupy?  Because increasingly, for more people, in more walks of life since anyone alive can remember, it has come to pass that this space (digital, real estate, financial, etc) is not yours.  The decisions are not yours.  Why Occupy versus some other methodology?  Solidarity.  Community.  Trying to find hope.  Trying to make a point with limited resources.  Trying not to get brushed off as an inconvenient truth.

We were promised a space, a place, to pursue life, liberty and happiness in the Declaration of Independence (which of course is not a legally binding document) by the people who fought against not having the space or decision-making power of their own.  And what have we done with it?  We have created those same iron shackles (because, let's face it, debt these days- personal and national- is just that) ourselves.

Whatever Occupy means or meant or will come to mean in the history of this nation, the world or humankind, that I do not know.  What I do know is that at this time of the year, where regardless of one's faith inclinations or lack thereof, you can't escape the unified call of "peace on earth and good will toward men", to be found anywhere and everywhere it seems.  

Peace on earth and good will toward humankind (not using older gender biased language) doesn't start from anywhere but our own behavior. When we place the highest value on human life and make decisions accordingly, when we strive to empower the individuals in our lives things grow and change.  When we are honest about and make the effort to effect our own inner transformation (call it human revolution!), we begin to move in the direction of this call.

It shouldn't be just one time of year.  It should be every day in every way.  On New Year's Day the year feels fresh and new, ripe with possibility, our hearts cry: Anything can happen!  Anything is possible!  Let's make every day New Year's Day.  Nothing will change unless we start thinking outside the box!  Instead of pushing the intent of this space is not yours what if we understood we all depend on each other for our very existence and acted with the honor and kindness appropriately accorded to these profound bonds?

Happy Holidays from Jessie and Charlie the Buddhist bicycle!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Hat tip to Oscar's human Ryan, who saw me delighting in the general sentiment and awesomeness of this piece of clothing.  (And here I am wearing it.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Overdue books.  Laundry that piles up in the corner.  Clothes you've been meaning to donate.  Purchases you made and meant to return but it's past the return date now.  Boxes left over from when you moved in that you haven't looked in since you packed them.

We all do this, sometimes things linger and we don't have the time, or don't want to deal with them.  Sometimes we used to want them and we don't know how it came to be, but we don't want them now.

Or maybe we just outgrew it, existentially or, perhaps literally.

In Japan (and other places), part of the New Year's tradition is to completely clean the house and everything in it, to refresh, to start anew.  I think it's a great idea, and Charlie does too as he rolls along with that new bottom bracket that had been needing to be cleaned, refreshed, and ultimately replaced.

But it's more than just cleaning house on the outside.  We perhaps ought to take a good look on the inside too, and see what needs work there as well.  Perhaps there's some change that's long overdue.

Have been pedaling around singing this song a lot:

We talk about world peace at this time of year, even though many of us are the most stressed.  We engage in New Year's resolutions, (exercise and diet!) it's all part of that same cleaning house philosophy.  Buddhism teaches the truest, most lasting, and most empowering change comes from within.  "So if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make the change."  Every day can be New Year's Day, we have that kind of capacity within us.  Why wait for December 31st to get going? Why not start today? because chances are some change is long overdue.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Character Flaws

Charlie doesn't talk much, except when his brakes squeal once and awhile. He's got a few character flaws, if you will - most of those are parts that have needed to be replaced.  His most enduring quirk is his front brake cable.  When the weather changes sometimes the right pad has been known to seek an unending embrace with the wheel rim and only relinquish with considerable force.  This cable keeps needing to be adjusted, with such increasing frequency that it may be time to replace those brake calipers at last.

People have character flaws too.  I myself am described as quirky by those who know me best.  But with people, unlike bicycles - whose parts can be replaced when they're flawed, such a thing is not the case.  When part of a person is quirky or flawed or not yet completely developed, you don't just get to switch out that part for a new one, for an upgrade, or the better brand name.  People are made out of more than that.

Perhaps I talk too much?  Perhaps I eat too slowly?  Perhaps I take too long to get to the point?  I know my flaws.  Perhaps I can't stand the sound of someone cracking their knuckles.  Perhaps I answer the question, how are you? - literally and not just with a socially constructed reply.  I know my quirks.  But there are still plenty of things I don't know.  This journey, this life, this exploration of all things that make a person who they are - is never ending, never over.  And that's part of what makes life great.

The Bill of Rights tells me my government has promised that it shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.  But what about the people that we spend our daily lives with? Have they made this promise? No they haven't.  So it's up to us to find the balance.

If we all listened half so well as Charlie, listening - we might see that some people are struggling so hard, with every fiber of their being, that their words today - be they excessive, awkward, clumsy, or few - are just the transition to the next step in their growth.  We might see that they really are doing the best they can today (everyday). True and lasting change comes from within, comes from internal volition. So rather than say shut up and do your job because they're not changing and growing on our schedule; rather than supplying what we think they lack because they just don't get it fast enough; what if we listened?  What if we listened and left space for people to be who they are and grow into who they will be?  Made space for that internally motivated change to ripen.  One might look calm and confident on the surface, but it just might be that they're fighting with the core of their very being, all while keenly aware of their faults, flaws, and quirks - trying to grow and change and do more with the parts they started off with than one would have thought possible.

My bicycle is more than just the sum of his parts.  More than steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber and alloys.  To me he is joy on wheels.  People are more than our flaws and quirks. One definition of humanism states that it is an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.  Humanism reminds us that we're more than the sum of our a parts, but still- never perfect - and as such always able to grow.  And sometimes, most of the time perhaps, people need to grow - and maybe they need help growing (that's why Buddhism exists in the first place).  The people in our daily lives may not have promised us freedom of speech, so it's up to us to find the balance.  When to speak up for ourselves.  When to listen.  But always to keep in mind we each need to grow. Sometimes that might mean saying, look - I'm doing my best today, maybe it doesn't live up to your expectations but I'm growing, I'm moving - let me say my piece so I can grow.  But the start is listening.

Charlie's a good listener, he's a great listener actually, for almost six thousand miles he's been listening.  What about the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bottom Bracket

Charlie went in to get a tune-up yesterday, turned out he needed a new bottom bracket.  The old one was a loose bearing and so after many miles was filled with dirt, crud, lost souls, and losing lottery tickets.  Apparently a loose bearing bottom bracket is like a sewer grate, it collects everything and anything.  It was also missing a few bearings... THAT's what that feeling of slow, plucky was....

So much to learn!  New bottom bracket is in, and lighter than the old one.  Tune-up is done.  The shop once again amazed me, half off on parts and labor!  (How do they stay in business being this awesome?)

Charlie is ready to take on the weather!  If the time comes when we have to replace the headset then just about every bearing containing part will have been replaced on this bicycle.....

Monday, November 21, 2011

For my friend

No suffering can defeat you
Your circumstances do not define you
for you are originally endowed
as a Buddha
your life is as young as the universe
your capacity as boundless
your existence, as grand in space and time
you shine with the light and hope of a sky full of stars

and we all love you

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Put Down the Ducky"

Somehow Sesame Street is just as relevant in my "old" age....

The message is simple, put down the ducky if you want to play the saxophone (and in case you're asking that does not mean I am thinking of taking up the saxophone).  The ducky is Ernie's comfort zone.  Did you ever have a favorite blanket ("blankie") growing up?  Nothing better than a portable comfort zone that was always near at hand, or even could be worn as a cape!  Ernie wants to play the saxophone very much. But he can't.  Why?  Because he's got the ducky.  The saxophone could be equivalent to anything we could want to do, that's right before our eyes - but just out of reach.  

Ernie exerts a lot of effort on behalf of that duck.  And the duck, quite frankly, doesn't do much.  He quacks and all, and that's all good and well suited for the tub but by taking up Ernie's time, effort, and rather ineffective Muppet hands, the duck leaves little room in Ernie's life for much else.  No time to take up Ernie's dreams.  It's not until Ernie gathers up the courage to put down the duck that he can even begin to embark on his goal.

What's your duck?  What's your comfort zone?  We can spend so much time and effort trying to keep our comfort zone intact that there's no room for anything else.  Not much time, not much space, not much of us left.  Did you outgrow your comfort zone?  Are you still carrying it around (like a certain duck)?  The duck might not weigh that much, you might not notice - not until your dream is there, staring you in the face, and you finally realize you cannot reach out and grab it because there's a duck in your hands (i.e., you've given it all, to and for the comfort zone and there's nothing left for the dream).

Chances are the duck had a greater purpose at some point, or has a place and time that suit it well, like the tub.  But to exert the effort to take that duck everywhere is effort wasted.  But down the ducky.  Pick up the saxophone, it'll still be there when you're done.

Nichiren wrote in a letter entitled, "The Three Obstacles and the Four Devils",

"There is definitely something extraordinary in the ebb and flow of the tide, the rising and setting of the moon, and the way in which summer, autumn, winter, and spring give way to each other. Something uncommon also occurs when an ordinary person attains Buddhahood. At such a time, the three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat."

Putting down the duck takes a lot of courage and effort, but when you do it everything opens up- like the daily occurrences that resound with such wonder and beauty mentioned in the passage.  That act of defying the status quo, of reaching for the saxophone- being brave enough to lay aside the duck, walking the fearless way forward no matter obstacles and challenges (known figuratively as the 3 obstacles and the 4 devils) one may encounter, that's one way of describing Buddhahood.  

Put down the duck, grab that saxophone.  Or as I'd like to say, pedal the road less traveled by (hat tip Mr. Frost, of course!).

We're closing in on 6 thousand miles, pedaling the dream?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No apologies necessary

"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn." -Gloria Steinem

I read this article from the Huffington Post, and I read this essay by my sister.  And as I am given to apologizing for things quite frequently, even when it has nothing to do with any direct action I have or have not taken, often when it has nothing to do with me at all,  the first article gave me a lot to think about.  What if we unlearned to apologize for who and what we are?  (Apology in the face of wrongdoing is absolutely necessary, what I'm talking about here is something altogether different.)

I often find myself apologizing for my appearance as I ride a bicycle here and there, in any weather, at all times of night or day to any variety of functions and places.  The truth is that when I'm on that bicycle I do not feel the need to apologize for who I am in any way.  I am a girl on a bike and that's it, that's all it needs to be, it's that free.  I do this because I love it, every moment of it- even when the wind is howling and cold, even in the rain or the blistering sun - and I won't apologize for it.  This spirit is part of what makes me, me.  

What if we could just be.  Human.  We didn't have to apologize for having free will or wanting or living or being who we are.  What if just human was enough, what if it didn't have to be inherently lacking or incomplete.  What if who we are, who you are, who I am - was enough?  In fact, what if it was more than enough, what if it was the very basis of a beautiful life?  When I hear John Lennon's "Imagine", that is what I hear - an anthem to sing out what just being human, and that being enough - could be.

In a letter to the wife of Omosu, one of his followers (usually referred to as "New Year's Gosho"), Nichiren Daishonin writes: 

"First of all, as to the question of where exactly hell and the Buddha exist, one sutra states that hell exists underground, and another sutra says that the Buddha is in the west. Closer examination, however, reveals that both exist in our five-foot body. This must be true because hell is in the heart of a person who inwardly despises his father and disregards his mother. It is like the lotus seed, which contains both blossom and fruit. In the same way, the Buddha dwells within our hearts. For example, flint has the potential to produce fire, and gems have intrinsic value. We ordinary people can see neither our own eyelashes, which are so close, nor the heavens in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that the Buddha exists in our own hearts. You may question how it is that the Buddha can reside within us when our bodies, originating from our parents’ sperm and blood, are the source of the three poisons and the seat of carnal desires. But repeated consideration assures us of the truth of this matter. The pure lotus flower blooms out of the muddy pond, the fragrant sandalwood grows from the soil, the graceful cherry blossoms come forth from trees, the beautiful Yang Kuei-fei was born of a woman of low station, and the moon rises from behind the mountains to shed light on them. Misfortune comes from one’s mouth and ruins one, but fortune comes from one’s heart and makes one worthy of respect." (WND, 1137)

Perhaps we don't need hell below us, perhaps all we need above us is indeed- just that, only sky.  If heaven and hell exist inside our hearts we can mete as much exultation or desperate pain as an entire heavenly host or army of demons.  

If I am just me, I am all these things and more.  If I just am, if I awaken to the true nature of my life -containing both fundamental enlightenment and fundamental darkness - and if at each and every chance I get to make a choice I strive choose to honor and empower life - if I choose to embrace humanity - than I do not need an external authority, I do not need to apologize for being me, for being human.  In fact being human could be, extraordinary after all....?  Lead a life of boundless joy?

So while I pedal the streets of this city I will grin and know I am living what could be the most incredible existence.... Charlie and I are a bit feisty, a little bit sassy this way - it takes a certain something to come back from being left in a dumpster.

Some other food for thought, maybe more on this later(?):

"It is rare to be born a human being. The number of those endowed with human life is as small as the amount of earth one can place on a fingernail. Life as a human being is hard to sustain— as hard as it is for the dew to remain on the grass. But it is better to live a single day with honor than to live to 120 and die in disgrace. Live so that all the people of Kamakura will say in your praise that Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo is diligent in the service of his lord, in the service of Buddhism, and in his concern for other people. More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all. From the time you read this letter on, strive to accumulate the treasures of the heart!" (WND, 851)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Crosswalk Part 2 (read as: Suicidal Pedestrians)

Maybe it's the change in the weather, or something in the air, but today saw an influx of suicidal pedestrians.

On the ride to work today I witnessed 3 different people, 1 in Somerville and 2 in Cambridge, literally run - throwing themselves - into oncoming traffic, dodging cars like in the movies! (While the Do Not Walk sign was flashing, of course...)

And why did they do this, you ask?  Was it to save a runaway baby stroller?  A small child in danger?  A little old lady?  Reunite with a lost love?


It was to catch a bus.

Apparently these days buses are worth dying for....

....that's just wrong if you ask me.

But maybe I'm missing something....

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I pushed myself to the limit each day, working and struggling so hard that, sometimes, I wanted to cry out in agony.  But I carried on with that unbending will to win day after day and created a string of solid victories.  Those hardships became the greatest assets of my life.  Mahatma Gandhi said, 'Human nature shows itself at its best in moments of trial.'  This is an ageless truth! -Daisaku Ikeda

My friend Mint posted this quote today, she is one of the people I picture when I hear the word resilient, and also brilliant... she writes this:

and also has a lot to do with this:

This exhibit was at MIT last spring (I'm overjoyed to have been able to participate!) and is coming to Harvard this fall, in November- stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


This is a short one; please use a crosswalk. Please do not walk out from in between cars and expect me to see you. Please do not just step into the street without looking, assuming that everyone will stop and the world will pause because you stepped there.  Please don't stop in the middle of the street to text someone, especially when you're jaywalking.

A lot of people have a lot of things to say about bicycles and the people who ride them.  We may each be many things, but as pedestrians you might want to consider (and this is something that I consider every day, as I am a pedestrian every day - not just a cyclist), that some bicycles and cyclists may make you want to scream, but in general we are slower and less deadly than cars.  If a car, or a bus hits you, it's over.  A crosswalk isn't just for convenience, it's a place for these big ol' steel (or aluminum) beasties to expect you.  Please honor your life, and the lives of those around you, be they on two wheels or four (or more, or less for that matter); please commit to that act that so many of us heard on Sesame Street as kids,

Look both ways before you cross the street, cross at a crosswalk.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Track stand

This is a track stand:

(photo from Wikipedia)
It means more or less that the cranks are horizontal, the front wheel is turned, and you are at a standstill; thusly you do not need to place your foot back into the ground.  Good for visibility, for stop signs, for awkward stopping moments, and also "just to look badass".  

Charlie has been a fixie for two weeks, and I still can't do one of these, but every day I count the moments when it would be handy to know how.  So we'll keep rolling....

We've gone about 200 miles so far as fixed and a bit more than 5,300 miles since Charlie and I have been together. 

What we need now is a track stand tutorial....

Take my Breath Away (or sort of)

So what I'm talking about here is not this song by Berlin from the 1986 film Top Gun...

What I'm talking about is a little bit of this:

Running my very first 10k (Tuft's Health Plan Women's 10k) in record heat (for October), well over 80 degrees Fahrenheit... so it - quite literally - took my breath away.  Oh, I ran so very slowly, but finished I did, in 1:13:45.  Obviously I'm not someone for epic pro sports or anything, but I am someone who does what I say I will, and do my best no matter what obstacles come my way, be it hot weather or flat tires.  (Charlie was jealous he didn't get to do this too.)

Speaking of flat tires, I realized after the race that Charlie's back tire was a bit squishy.  Turns out (this we figured out the next morning), that there was a puncture right through the tire and the tube.  Pretty much a textbook situation for a patch kit, which I don't yet have.  What I did have was a spare tire and tube, ready to go.  Again what I didn't have was the right sized wrench for the job.  (When we lived in Waltham, I used our upstairs landlord, Jeremy's tools for things, as he and his wife Cindy are avid cyclists.  I haven't had to take the back wheel off by myself since then (Gasp!) and so, no wrench.)  So I filled up the tire as it leaked air, grabbed the extra tire, and set off toward Cambridge.  We made it before the wheel had gone to flat.  And Charlie and I waited outside the shop.

It was then that Manager Bud, Charlie's previous owner (personal savior (i.e. rescued him from the dumpster)) walked by and said jokingly that we shouldn't be stalking the shop and "what have you done this time?"... waiting for them to open of course.  They let Charlie and I into the shop and did what I lacked the tools to do.  All before the shop was open.  Thank you Cambridge Bicycle! (once again) And so as someone who has almost always had a job in which customer service was a part, to be the recipient of such excellent care, another sort of breath taking experience.  (If only all such customer service interactions could be so pleasant!)


Thanks be to:

-Courtney for telling me about her grand goal and letting me tag along, here is her documentation:

-Oscar's human, also known as Ryan, for waiting for me at the finish line, Gatorade in hand, even though he hates the heat.

- my sister, Abbie, for driving me around so that I could be lazy before the race.

-and to so many other folks for being awesome and supportive even if we all did doubt, just a bit, if my knee would last... well it did!  Here's to changing the status quo.....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bicycle Race

This song is called "Bicycle Race (I want to ride my bicycle)" (1978) and it is by the genius front man of Queen, Freddie Mercury.  It has a lot more going on than just the catchy "I want to ride my bicycle"* - but for today my cry is just that; I want to ride my bicycle because the sun finally came out and it's a breezy fall day.  And that would be so much more appealing than sorting through and identifying thousands of recovered files from our crashed network server...

*The video for this song caused quite a scandal back in the day, it was banned in many countries because it featured 65 nude models on bicycles in Wimbledon Stadium.  The other song on the original single LP was "Fat Bottomed Girls".  (And yes that's the one they used on Glee last season...)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thoughts on a fixed gear...

Charlie has been a fixie for a week....
.....incoherent thoughts on a fixed gear:

I hurt everywhere
and it's glorious.

Pedaling to stop was unnerving at first
now it's fun.

I hurt everywhere,
did I mention that?
Apparently I'm a lazy old bum who relied on coasting too much
(I will not let that be a metaphor for my life, eh?)

Apparently my equitation
(well that's what you call your position in horseback riding
what do you call it in cycling?)
was less than elegant
now as I await my muscles getting stronger
I am a clumsy lump
riding toward an idea
fumbling toward a better
(yes I sound like that Radiohead song)

Charlie is now the most exquisite dance partner
a pivot on
contact patches
with just a thought

Charlie is faster now
rocking the 42/16 gear ratio
(Oscar said that one time, hey! where'd you go?)
he passes the other bicycles
the silent blue ninja
except for the bell
please don't walk out in front of us!

More mindful of pedals going round
of the ground
of stopping
of what it really takes
to get from here to there
how far vegetables will get you
how a hundred miles in a week
means something
when you've pedaled every "step" of the way

Still trying to figure out a track stand

Friday, September 30, 2011

Charlie's sending you a postcard

Hello My name is Charlie and I am a blue bicycle.  I'd like to send you this postcard from my trip:

My human, Jessie, who normally writes this thing, had a birthday last week.  I'd just like to say my birthday is June 2nd, and I'm a gemini. My human is a libra - we get along pretty well.  Jessie finally got me a new wheel like she said she would, but a little later than she said she would, but all in all I'm pretty fit as a fiddle now.

So for her human-type birthday, rather than getting new parts like I did, we went on an adventure.  We went with my new pal Oscar and his human Ryan.  Now Oscar is green and tall.  He is named after this Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, who - I hear - is grumpy and mean, but then I don't watch much tv so that's just hearsay really.... but he really is a very nice bicycle - kind of a bit of a misnomer if you ask me.  He is taller than me and he is also a single speed.  I think he has some track bike in his heritage....

So we took a train, this large, loud thing that humans ride on rails, away from Boston to a place called Manchester-by-the-Sea. There were boats there. And then we went adventuring...

We stopped to get ice cream....

Oscar got pumpkin flavored.  Oscar really likes pumpkins.  I got the non-dairy lemon kind, because my human and I run on vegetables.  Even though it's Oscar who is green like vegetables.  

Anyway, we went up and over hills, and by the sea and through some town called Gloucester, past big houses and small houses.  There were other bicycles too! 

We went all the way to Rockport.  There are a lot of rocks there.  Sometimes humans lack subtlety.  It was scenic and touristy and the sun came out.  That way I don't have to worry about rust so much.

We saw the ocean!  

The humans took many pictures of us because we are just so pretty.  And the sunset was pretty too.

Then we took the train home to Somerville.  We were a little tired from all those hills, it's tough having just one gear sometimes.

I'll send you another postcard next time!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Birthday adventures....

View from Gloucester Harbor on my birthday, last Saturday.... fun bicycle adventures!  Will actually write about this once I get the better pictures and not just the smartphone pictures up and ready to go....


In the BBC show Doctor Who, in the revamp that began in 2005- the Doctor does through a somewhat difficult regeneration at the start of the episode The Christmas Invasion.  It makes him essentially sit out most of the episode, but once he comes to- the glorious words of Russel T. Davies come rolling off the tongue of David Tennant in a great performance of a stream of introspection:

Sycorax Leader: [shouts] I demand to know who you are!
The Doctor: [shouts, imitating him] I don't know!
The Doctor: See, there's the thing. I'm the Doctor, but beyond that, I - I just don't know. I literally do not know who I am. It's all untested. Am I funny? Am I sarcastic? Sexy?
[he winks at Rose]
The Doctor: Am I an old misery? Life and soul? Right-handed? Left-handed? A gambler? A fighter? A coward? A traitor, a liar, a nervous wreck? I mean, judging by the evidence, I've certainly got a gob.

You see, every time the Doctor regenerates he changes his physical form but he is the same "man" with the same memories, but his personality needs a little breaking in every time.... and in this scene he's so new, he's untested, he doesn't quite know who he is yet...

...and Charlie has recently had his own regeneration.  There's a little change up in here:

He has a shiny new rear wheel, that's true. He has a new chain, that is also true.  But what's really new and exciting for Charlie is the flipflop hub (by Orion) on this new rear wheel.  Fixed gear on one side.  Freewheel on the other.  Right now, as in the picture, he's set up fixed gear. (But he could go freewheel with a quick flip of the wheel!)

Charlie has regenerated as a fixie.  And we don't know exactly what sort of man that will make him- yet.  He also has rear caliper brakes by Shimano now instead of the ol' coaster brake*. Thank you Cambridge Bicycle for once again being awesome, and also for doing this all in one day so I didn't have to be without Charlie any longer than necessary.

Riding the fixed gear situation feels like learning to ride all over again.  Riding is physically challenging now, I'm actually tired/sore!  Getting stronger!  Running a 42/16 gearing situation at the moment, but I'm only just understanding what that means.  Pedaling constantly is taking a little getting used to.  Picking up the toe clips (pedal baskets) whilst pedaling is awkward. (Charlie says, "You wanna coast, bwahahaha no more coasting for you, you lazy old bum!")  Pedaling to stop is fun, even that is a workout.  It's making me more mindful of my posture.  I could go on and on... stay tuned while I write about trying to figure out how to do a track stand!

*Whatever happened to the coaster brake and the old wheel?
The old wheel decided that more than 3,500 thousand miles was long enough for that hub.  And goodness did I get the money's worth out of that hub. (But wait! you say, Charlie has gone more than five thousand miles!  Yes, but remember last November when the hub was replaced, so less the 5 thousand, but still from the spare parts pile...) The symptoms: As I would pedal the resistance would be normal, then all of a sudden it would drop to nothing, feeling almost as if I had downshifted to a lower gear, but there is no other gear, not on a single speed.  Then the resistance would increase, then return to normal.  It made pedaling erratic at best and kept hurting my knees.  The rear hub overhaul from a couple of weeks ago did temporarily relieve the symptoms but after this weekend's bicycling excursions on Cape Anne (more on that to come) it returned with a vengeance.    So rather than play the-let's-fiddle-with-each-part-of-the-hub's-innards-until-we-figure-out-what-it-is, it was time for a new wheel before winter.

Monday, September 19, 2011

To fall down at your door


This song is called "I'm Gonna Be (500 miles)", and it's by The Proclaimers, it first appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Benny and June (1993).  The man in the song would walk and walk to show his devotion to his love.  He would prove himself in the effort, and push beyond limitations to collapse in the doorway of his destination, giving it his all.... it's a noble sort of image.

Charlie has been this sort of bicycle.  He keeps going and going (even when things break).  Not bad for a bike rescued from a dumpster, eh?

Well Charlie has now outdone The Proclaimers and exceeded five thousand miles.

Here's to ten thousand!  Keep rolling young man!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Buttercups and Caramel

Charlie has had a rear hub overhaul and now he's rolling as smooth as butter...
...thanks once again Cambridge Bicycle!

We approach the 5,000 mile mark, should be passing it on Saturday!  More to come...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Butch Cassidy

and the Sundance Bicycle?  What goes through the mind of a person who spends too much time thinking about bicycles...

In the classic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with the ever wonderful Paul Newman and Robert Redford, there is, besides shoot outs and daredevil horseback riding, a bicycle scene.  Most of the attention it gets derives from Catherine Ross as Etta Place being perched on the handlebars of the bicycle... but that is not my reason for writing this.

There are a number of people who are very dear to me who love to point out historical inaccuracies in films. And so I endeavored to discover how accurate is this bicycle?  And so a casual observer deduction follows...

As near as a I can figure from the literature, this film is supposed to take place in the late 1890s. So should this bicycle have a fixed cog (as most all early, rear-drive train bicycles did)?  When watching as Paul Newman does his own bicycle stunts! One would of course notice this bicycle has a freewheel (he doesn't have to pedal constantly).  When were freewheels invented?  As best as I can ascertain, the early 1890s.  How quickly did the freewheel spread to the Americas?  Quite quickly (according to some vague statements on Wikipedia and not very thorough sources)... and backward pedal brakes followed shortly after.  (Caliper brakes came years later.)  The bicycle in the film has the proper sort of geometry for the time, to my amateur eye.  It has no handlebar brakes.  Even the saddle looks like the nightmarish contraptions that passed for a saddle back in the day.  As far as I can tell, set design person and prop master: job well done!

Where did this post come from??  The seed of an idea: There was a well known screen writer doing an event at my place of employment this week.  He asked me on one of the rainy mornings earlier this week what made me laugh or smile that day?  I told him about riding my bicycle in the pouring rain in my father's old blue raincoat and feeling, in general, like a blue whale due to all the gear (and of course, Charlie is blue too).  And laughing at myself.  He said that would make an excellent scene in a film, and then proceeded to regale me with a tale of an interview he did with Paul Newman, specifically about this scene.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Room for Improvement

Dear Mr. Tractor Trailer Truck Driver,

While I understand very well that your esteemed colleagues and yourself drive long hours to the farthest reaches of the country at ungodly hours in even the worst weather, under a deadline, and that most of us would not have access to almost all of the things we take for granted every day without you; really no matter where you are in this fine country, and as far as I know, everywhere else- a red light means stop.  And while I understand that I am, on this bicycle or not, always much smaller than you, that does not change the fact that the red light still means stop.  You probably spend more hours on the road than most, I would imagine you would know this very well.

Now we cyclists, as diverse a bunch as we are, get a bad wrap as folks to run lights, stop signs; cut off pedestrians, cars, kitties crossing the street, well- you get the idea...  Anyway even though my bicycle has no engine and only two wheels to your eighteen- as far as the law is concerned I have just as much right to the roads as you do.  And just as much responsibility to obey traffic laws.

This morning when I came to the Boston end of the Mass Ave Bridge to the light with Beacon Street and the light was red, I stopped.  You did not elect to make that decision.  Several seconds after I stopped, on the stop line too! mind you... Here you come and slow down enough to stop, but do you stop? No...  first you bump into me with your front right wheel casing and then begin your right turn, and due to the lovely turn radius of a trailer then hit me with your trailer as you turn.  Perhaps I now come off as daft or insane?  Yes, it is legal to make a right on red in Massachusetts, don't get me wrong; but into oncoming traffic, cutting of cars that have the right of way? Really?  I did get off my bicycle and got out of your way and I wonder if you heard me yell: "Thanks for stopping at the red light!" at the top of my lungs, probably not considering the rain...

Today you have done your profession a disservice.  Growing up with a father who was a mechanic, he worked almost exclusively on big rigs, in my youth I always had an awe of big rig drivers.  As a job in high school I worked at a car garage.  These same guys were some of the most considerate folks who came in. Having been aided by truckers when in stranded automobiles my esteem was not diminished.  But today when you almost took my life my consideration vanished.

My point is that I should not have to wonder if I'm going to be run off the road or run over when I act under my legal obligation to stop at a red light.  Really it's not that complicated.

So the next time you see a bicycle start through a light a little early, it may not be some lazy jerkface- maybe it's a person with a burning desire to live, trying to preserve their own existence.

These worlds do not have to be at odds.  They do not have to be mutually exclusive.  My father worked on big rigs, but he also built bicycles and rode them with great enthusiasm.  He may not be alive now to comment for himself, but treading on another human being this way is never okay.

Signed the feisty girl on the blue bicycle who likes vegetables and takes on buses daily, and now tractor trailer trucks... apparently

Friday, September 2, 2011

Charlie's Summer Vacation

Charlie would like to share some pictures various humans have taken on various adventures this summer, some feature other friendly bicycles:

This is from a trip to visit Mint in Charlestown. I, and this is Charlie by the way, had never been to Charlestown before, but I got to go past the USS Constitution, Old Ironsides! I'd like to go on a boat soon...

This is Betsy. She is my cousin. Well, she's my human, Jessie's cousin Watson's bicycle. She has a beautiful Raleigh mixte frame. I'm not sure how old she is, and you never ask a lady her age.

Sometimes we go to visit her by the coffeeshop in Inman Square when Watson is there. Here we are!

We also spent a lot of time with Jenny this summer. She did not know how to ride a bike so we spent time with her and Victor, Victor Junior, Victor the 2nd, (all from Cambridge Bicycle's rental fleet)- learning how to ride!

Jenny is a prodigy and was riding under her own power in about 2 and a half hours on the first day. Other training adventures included Memorial Drive on a Sunday when they close it to cars, Bicycles win!! And these are from our Minuteman Bikeway trip, all the way to Arlington Center! Not bad for your third time on a bike Ms. Jenny!

Here are some photos from that trip:
Here we are in Arlington Center! Time for humans to get iced tea!

This is Jenny and Victor by Spy Pond, we all went bird watching. Also it is very important to watch out for small humans, children I think they are called, they do not keep consistent vectors or trajectories....
And here is Jessie, hoisting me into the air. I'm still not quite sure why humans do this with us but it sure is fun! Wheeeee!

And this is a car that I'm friends with. I don't have a lot of friends that are cars but sometimes I meet this one places. It belongs to Jessie's boss, Jennifer.

Looking forward to more adventures!


The countdown is on, this was bound to happen eventually and now it approaches- we are nigh onto 5,000 miles!

On this day last year I was in the scramble to complete a goal of:

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 851
Miles left to goal: 1,349
Days left: 23

Now I'm clocking in at ~4,849 miles since Charlie and I have been together, meaning we've gone about four thousand miles in the past 365 some odd days. (I haven't calculated a standard deviation and my calculations are based on Googlemapping where I ride every week (not sure what their margin for error is), perhaps I should get one of these? )

Looking back: Those first months as a bicycle commuter were tough ones. Not only in the physical aspect but also in how much I had to learn about bicycles, what to pay attention to, what tools to carry, etc. I still have so much to learn, but it is a rather exciting thought, indeed.

The present: Charlie's back wheel started to wobble a bit, but rather than waiting until the popcorn sound returned we stopped by the shop. And once again they were wonderful (thank you! thank you!), coaster break was tightened, headset needed a little help in that department too, and we're off!

Looking forward: It'll be time for another tune-up soon (it's been that many miles already?!), before winter. The front tyre is looking like it may need to be retired. I've pulled hunks of glass out of that Gatorskin enough times now (hurray for kevlar!) that it's starting to show... And we will be revisiting the flip flop hub situation... more to come with that in time.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Strictness of Cause and Effect

Cause and effect are very strict, when you dislike something, even if you thought you didn't show it, it's there. When you like something, even if you think you show no partiality, it's there as well. You make a cause either way and the consequences show up in some form or another along the way. Sometimes they're great, like when your bicycle shop is good to you for being a good customer. Sometimes it's bad, and you don't like what you have to face. So then what?

Face the facts and deal with it.

The only problem is (well maybe not the only problem) is sometimes we don't know what the facts are. Sometimes we only have a vague intuition of a tenuous situation because the parties involved "stand upon the edge of a knife" (Thanks Galadriel...although I do believe Celeborn says this in the book, Tolkein's genius), as it were, and we're all tiptoeing through a field of broken glass in the dark. Far off glimpses of light shed a twinkle, then its out and you don't know where to step, where to turn, how to proceed.

That's where dialogue comes in. Some people will tell you exactly what they think without prompting, sometimes that's great, sometimes not so great. Some people expect you to know, or see something that may be immediately apparent to them but perhaps not to you. It is so obvious why would they need to state it? So they do not speak, not until it is too late, when they can't stand it anymore, then the edge of the knife is quite painful indeed.

These scenarios happen at work, in families, in relationships, you name a relationship - it can happen there.

So what to do? What's this dialogue thing anyway? By having open communication you can learn, you can deal, things can be addressed - even if it isn't news everyone wants to hear. Some people are patient, some inpatient, some tolerant, some not- and on and on - dialogue allows us to bridge those differences so that we do not have to suffer for our differences. And instead can use them to foster a new kind of solution.

A new way forward.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. -Henry David Thoreau, Walden 1854

So Charlie and I are going to the woods. Charlie is not exactly a mountain bike, he is a road bike, and he is not exactly set up for where we're going, but we're going to learn how versatile we both can be. Can you pedal up mountain roads on a single speed? We'll see... This is not a tour or anything, just a side dish what is generally a rather stationary camping trip.

Charlie's going to see pretty sights:

He will be far from the concrete of home, onward to the next adventure!

(P.S. maybe he'll take a photo at a scenic vista or two?)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tighten Up the Slack

"The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit. "
-Morihei Ueshiba

Or in this case tighten up the saddle...

Charlie's got one of the Brooks classic saddles, the B17. The inestimable, brilliant, guru-of-all-things-cycling, late Sheldon Brown tells us that one shan't tighten one's Brooks saddle or peril shall come to thee, and a ruined saddle too. But, after approximately 4,289 miles in this saddle things are looking a little saggy in that department.

Having been, prior to this bicycle and this saddle, someone who always had some sort of vinyl or plasticy sort of seat - the Brooks was a big change. And for the better. If you want an exhaustive listing of the benefits of a leather saddle, read Mr. Brown's article. Or if you're an equestrian you already know the answer.

Just riding the bicycle contributes to a person in all those ways Ueshiba-sensei mentions above (although he was a martial artist but maybe he rode a bicycle at some point?); but the riding of the bicycle does the opposite to the bicycle. So Charlie's going in for tightening of saddle, chain, and brakes to name a few.

Keep on rolling...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Minimalist; Fully Loaded

After hearing a car commercial for a fully loaded (V-8, turbo-charged, can talk to facebook, navigate, tell you pi to the four thousandth decimal place, do calculus whilst at a stop light, leather seats, speakers galore!, render you so spoiled you don't have to even think! its drives itself! and it gets 31 miles per gallon on the highway! can you believe it! (there are plenty of cars that do better than that with city driving, not to mention highway....)) vehicle I thought, with what is Charlie fully loaded?

Fully loaded with 2 wheels, 2 pedals, one saddle, one gear, and a girl who pedals! This bicycle is so efficient it runs on vegetables! you never have to fill it up at the gas station, it goes until the girl can't pedal anymore! Minimalist, fully loaded.

Well Charlie has other features, such as his bell with a pterodactyl on it (with which we attempt to communicate with pedestrians), sparkly blue handlebar grips, a lovely Brooks saddle (B17), vintage (and not matching) Campagnolo basket (toe-clip) pedals, vintage Motob├ęcane crankset (probably from the bottom of a spare parts pile), Shimano front caliper breaks, coaster break in the rear, aluminum wheels (front is quick release), Gatorskin tyres. He has some blinky lights as well, and race blades (think fenders with commitment issues) by Planet Bike. I am Charlie's engine and I am powered by vegetables.

There was an ingenious chart showing the relative fuel economies from bicycles to airplanes which I will endeavor to find, the maker converts energy units across the board, and bicycles end up being the most efficient form, now to find that clever chart....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Old roads, memory lane....

Charlie and I took the old road home on Sunday. We came back from my sister's home in Waltham along memory lane, my old commute route from Waltham. It was glorious in the sun and the miles went by like a dream of summer in winter.

Its a steady downhill grade as you go east (nothing you really notice unless you spent half the winter biking west home to that then slight-uphill-the-whole-way, with a north/west wind bearing down on you at more than 20mph when its only 17 degrees outside (or sometimes 14) and your eyes are about ready to fall out of your head from having the tears freeze dried away and by the time you get home they ache and blinking feels like sandpaper, even though you have eye protection....). It felt so easy, the last times I rode this route were in the deep cold and this felt like all my dreams from that time come true.

I still remembered each hole in the road, found some new ones, was delighted by some repairs that had occurred. I bike about a hundred miles a week even now so I took the miles in stride. We stopped off along Memorial Drive to see the nice people with the bike fix cart to use their floor pump (Farina's in Watertown Square doesn't have a floor pump you can use, what's the deal with that?) to top off the pressure I couldn't get much higher with my hand pump that I always have with me....

Sometimes the things that seemed so hard before aren't anymore b/c you've changed. Its only been a little over a year but life is so different and so much the better.

and on the 18th this blog had its one year anniversary!:)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Happy Birthday Charlie!

We've spend 1 year and ~3,772 miles together.

For his birthday Charlie got a new front wheel (aluminum, quick release, and hand built (not by me, I don't have those kinds of ninja skills yet)) and a new chain.

Keep on rolling young man....

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hold that thought...

Please be warned the bicycle has been personified in this post:

Charlie's birthday is on Thursday...
...but he's having hip replacement instead, as it were- rather than the previous goal. I am under the impression that I was much more intelligent (as in knew more facts about things) when I was 17, because back then I would have known about the virtues of aluminum versus steel.

Anyway, Charlie is getting a new front wheel of aluminum with a sealed hub to replace the current steel one. Steel wheel says, "Damn you to hell, high pressure tires!" and has decided anytime the pressure in the tube is higher than 60psi that the tube will then explode. This happened when Charlie was parked outside one day some weeks ago, which I didn't dwell on much b.c I truly had been an imbecile and overinflated my tire that morning.

But on Friday, in the middle of Comm Ave: BOOM! sounds like a gunshot, the tube explodes, I run on the rim for a few feet and tube has exploded the tire right off the rim.... This is the second explosion, so I don't just change the flat out myself, this is going to take knowledge and experience. We go to the shop and we learn things. Learn things as in, steel wheel says "no thanks" at the least to high pressure tires, and in my case a resounding, "HELLS NO!". Aluminum wheel is ordered and we wait in anticipation. (Aluminum wheel also says, "Yes, I don't mind the rain, I will stop properly with these delightful caliper breaks you have.", whereas steel have always said, "Rain, means we don't stop, no how, no sir, not for anymore, even if this means you have to die or be injured." So we're really looking forward to aluminum.) In the meantime had another tube pop on Sunday too, not to mention the bearings on the front wheel are loose, so it feels like the entire front of the bicycle is running on pudding ...

And we're getting a new chain for good measure...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Charlie's band?

So my friend Jenny took this with her iPhone, she thought it looked like we'd make a good band, with Charlie as the mascot. Its funny how much we all have adopted my bicycle as a mascot and refer to it (him?) by name....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy birthday?

Next week will be Charlie's first birthday! Well, his first birthday with me, he is a mysterious gentleman with a dark past (read as: he was rescued from a dumpster) and so we really don't know his true age...

Birthdays seems to be a time of weighing in as it were, so in the past year Charlie has gone 3,687 miles, powered by yours truly. (About 1600 of those have been in 2011.)

For his birthday we're going to the land of the flip-flop hub. One side fixed, one side free. And for folks with opinions, no this does not mean Charlie will have multiple personality disorder or be the bicycle equivalent of transgender-Why describe it in those terms? Because cyclists are strange folks and you mention gears or lack thereof or a fixed cog and you're going to get a strong opinion about any of them or all of them....and so it seems a fitting comparison due to the passion these seemingly simple things bring out in their humans...

here we go....

Friday, March 11, 2011

Too many directions...

Sometimes busy is too busy.
The only place where the world makes sense is where the tires meet the road,
riding down these busy streets-
yes, even in the wind driven rain,
and even in the cold, heart beating furiously.
I don't have to know, and honestly don't know, the answers
to all the whys and hows, but I
know that you keep pedaling, no matter what.
Eventually you reach
your destination
and the sun comes out.
But this place is mine
and I don't expect that it will
matter as much outside of
me as it does in my heart,
but it is
joy incarnate
joy on wheels

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

There is no room for pretense on a bicycle,
there is just me and the road,
the wind and the sun,
or sometimes the stars,
here I cannot be other than what I am.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New digs, new route

New apartment means finding a new route to work. This morning's route ~5.7 miles, about 35 minutes...almost exactly half the old distance, but with a lot more stops. Its still faster than the T and the bus though!

New miles for 2011: 5.7 miles

if we continued adding on to the previous year end total from 2010:
Goal: 2,200 miles
Miles ridden to date: 2,077.7
Miles left to goal: 122.3
the totals won't add up as impressively as they did with the old commute, unless I make the journey farther afield... there be dragons?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Home is where the bike is...

Charlie has been suffering from cabin fever, he's been stuck in the basement for almost an entire month because of all this snow. I haven't gotten him a bicycle plow yet so he's not exactly equipped for the blizzard ride...

Anyway as of sometime tomorrow Charlie will no longer be a resident of the city of Waltham (as delightfully post-apocalyptic as it may be...) he will instead be another snazzy cycle resident of Somerville. He's very excited about the move because no longer will he be a freak in the night in a town that doesn't know what the hell a bicycle is- he will be, at last, amongst his own kind, his people. Although I think the part of him that's a show-off will miss the notoriety. The commute will only be half the length it was before, but I've promised him that he'll still get to strut his stuff. (Can bicycles strut?)

Well next time will be broadcasting from a new we go!
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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License