Friday, May 15, 2009

Bike to work!

This is Bike to Work Week. May is Bike to Work month.

I'm gradually increasing the frequency at which I go to work and home by bike. It's fun, and it makes me feel so good.

Yesterday, it was raining, but it wasn't cold, and it wasn't raining heavily, so I was perfectly comfortable.

Today, the weather is lovely.

I feel myself getting stronger. I hardly ever shift to a lower gear to climb the hills. And there are some steep climbs on my route. It's ten miles each way. It's mostly uphill to work.

Here are some really good tips for commuting by bike.

Yesterday at work, a guy who works down the hall, made a comment about my riding into work. I didn't know him, but we had a pleasant conversation. I'm encouraging him to do it soon, and he said it sounds nice. We work at the top of a very large hill, so the uphill portion is intimidating to him, understandably. But it's gotten easier for me, and it will for anyone.

I can really feel it in my tush after I pedal really hard up a hill. I know this is because I'm building muscle, so I'm glad.

I resumed commuting by bike last year, when I was working at Seton Hall University. It's only 1.5 miles from home, so it was a very easy, quick ride. I did it because it was fun but also because it took less time than driving. With driving, I had to park somewhere. I was able to lean my bike up against my desk, so riding was a clear winner. Even though I didn't push myself on that very short ride, I gained five pounds of muscle in that period. My waist didn't get bigger, and my thighs did, which is how I know it's muscle.

If you have any questions or concerns holding you back from cycling to work, please let me know. I can help. I was a bicycle mechanic when I was young, and I'm good at giving tips. Don't think of me as sophisticated. I can help people at all levels.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bike to Work Week

Did you know that it's Bike to Work Week? I encourage you to ride your bike to work. Or at least think about it. It might be hard, but it might not be. If you have reason to hesitate, let me know. I may be able to give you some tips that would allay your fears.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My year in Cambridge

Some memories come back to me.

I worked as the sole mechanic at Bicycle Workshop in Cambridge back in 1979. Then when spring of 1980 rolled in, I gained two cow-orkers. I loved working there. The customers were so varied. Some were serious recreational cyclists. Some were college students. Some were professors. Some rode bikes because it was the most practical.

I used to ride through the streets of Cambridge and see bikes locked to parking meters and say, "I fixed that bike!"

I remember one woman who wore dresses, makeup, pearls, and high heels but only got around by bike. I think she was a professor's wife. She had an old English three-speed with heavy baskets bolted on. She stood up while pedaling. Quite an anomaly! And fun!

I also had a customer who was large-framed, tall man who kept breaking spokes and just about everything on his old three-speed. He refused to believe that his mass had anything to do with it. He was convinced he was unlucky. But he was a good customer anyway.

John S Allen, famous writer of bicycle matters, was an occasional customer of mine. He taught many things to me, such as the history of Sturmey Archer hubs.

Others taught me, such as the fellow who phased into the shop as I phased out. He had just acquired a degree in mechanical engineering.

Being in Cambridge, you were not considered weird if you were part of bicycle culture!

I also used to ride alone through Harvard Square on those warm summer nights. There were really good street performers there, far better than anything you'd see in Boston.

I saw the cute couples walking, holding hands everywhere, and I longed to have a girlfriend of my own. I had no idea how to court women, so I had my bicycles to keep me happy. I was only 19/20 years old at the time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My name is Tom, and I'm a bike mechanics addict

"Hi, Tom!"

About five years ago, my daughter's bike disappeared. She swears she brought it to the basement, though I have my doubts. We called the police when we noticed it was missing. The officer came and took our report, but he was skeptical. He said he had never heard of bike theft from a house's basement. Anyway, he did take the report. He said we should come to the bike auction later that year. If my daughter's bike showed up, we could have it back at no cost.

So I showed up at the auction. Daughter's bike wasn't there, but plenty of worthy bikes were, so I figured I'd buy one. Most of them needed major repairs, but that's no big deal for me. In my senior year in high school, I started working as a bike mechanic. I continued to make a living at it in summers through college. I dropped out of college for a few years and worked full time as a mechanic. So I have the skills required.

I ended up leaving the auction with THREE bicycles, because the value was irresistible. For two bikes, I paid $45 each. They needed major repairs, but, as I said, no big deal. For the third, I paid only $22. It was ugly. But guess what -- it needed no repairs whatsoever.

Thus started my addiction. Now it's a hobby.

As a birthday present to me, about three years ago, my wife rearranged the entire basement and cleared out one room to devote as a bike shop. I've been stocking it with bike tools. I've been to several auctions. I pick up bikes at garage sales. When people are giving away old bikes, I take them if I want them.

I've given bikes to friends, my nephew, one to my wife, one to the daughter whose bike disappeared and about four to my other daughter who is, from time to time, interested in learning about bike repair.

This past Friday, I gave one away to a neighbor who is recovering from a low point in her life. She was addicted to drugs and alcohol and was in in-patient treatment for a while. She lost custody of her teenage son. As luck has it, her sister has the boy, so things are going well for everyone involved. She now has a job and is living the straight and narrow path. She mentioned she doesn't have a car, so I fixed up a very trashed auction bike and gave it to her.

Saturday morning was one of the six days of the year my town allows us to drop off bulky items at the recycling center. There were about 20 bikes there, near the metal recycling area. I picked up an ancient Schwinn Varsity in excellent condition. My friend who was there helping me said, "Put the bicycle down, Tom. You don't need another bicycle, Tom." Yeah, but it's my house, so I took it home. Not sure what I'll do with it. They're nice to work on but horrible to ride.

So I gave away one bike this past weekend and also picked up another one, leaving me with 16 bikes, if I'm counting right.

Do I need help?

fun weekend

My weekend was a blast.

I've been in some serious therapy lately, and one of the things I'm learning is to take time to do what I want rather than what others want me to do. I told Carol I planned to play bike mechanic on Saturday, and I did that for several hours.

So here's the basic outline of my weekend. I rode my bike to work Friday, and I rode it to the Maplewood train station after work. Rather than locking the bike up there and taking the train to NYC and the subway to couples therapy with Carol, I took the bike on the train and pedaled up to our appointment. Riding in NYC traffic is a blast. Stuff happens really fast, because it's crowded and busy. It takes a lot of skill and nerves of steel, because you have to be out in traffic. They have bike lanes, but they're a joke.

After the appointment, I was willing to ride back to Penn Station with Carol on the subway, but she didn't mind meeting me there, so she took the subway, and I pedaled back down. We met at a deli in the station and grabbed a quick bite. Then we jumped on the train back to Maplewood.

We got home and headed out again. We have a friend named Mary, who isn't really a close friend, but we like her. Mary was throwing a 49th birthday party for Meg who has become a local celebrity for her various recoveries. Meg mentioned a few weeks ago that she doesn't have a car, so I built (or really rebuilt) a bike for her, from a trashed police auction bike. I rode it to Mary's house. We arrived late, about 10pm, but there were tons of people we know from town there. Everyone thought it was such a nice thing of me to give Meg a bike, though I didn't really think it was so unusual. It's what I do. Some people called me a mensch.

Saturday, as I said, I played bike mechanic. Most of it was actually planning and shopping. I met my friend Peter at the bike shop. I bought some things for myself. Nick the manager was, as usual, warm and helpful. The folks there are the best.

Peter and I rode from the bike shop back to my house. I live up a hill, and we took the steepest street back up. We went about as fast as we could, and I was pedaling so hard I was grunting loudly on each pedal stroke. I push myself harder when I'm with other riders.

We're doing a big project by converting Peter's bike from multi-geared to fixed-gear. We did some measurements and then ordered some things for his bike and some for me.

In the evening, Carol and I went to Roberta's birthday party in NYC. Roberta is the wife of Carol's old college friend Rick. Roberta turned 50. Carol's circle college friends is a wonderful crew. Another in the bunch is Roz, who has been with her partner Laurie for something like 30 years. We talked about life being gay, since Julia recently came out as gay. They were happy for Julia to be comfortable enough with us, since it all went so well. The party was great fun. There was lots of singing. Roberta's 18 year old son is in a barbershop quartet, and they sang four numbers for the entire party. They were really excellent. Their singing teacher was there, and I congratulated him on such fine work.

We drove Roz and Laurie and Mel home. Mel is another in the crew. I put one of my recent favorite songs on the stereo, My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay, by Bo Burnham. I call this guy's style "Pansy Rap." Watch this video! I think it's hilarious, and so did Roz and Laurie and Mel.

Sunday, Julia had lunch with her mother for Mothers Day, so Carol and I went into NYC again to visit my mother. We brought a rose and a pre-cooked meal which we bought at Eden Gourmet, our local, excellent gourmet supermarket. We had a pleasant time. I also did some things around the house for her and Harry, like change lightbulbs, show my mother how to use her new email gadget, put felt pads on the dining chairs, move around some lamps.

Julia said she had an unusually nice time with her mother. She said she decided to try to be pleasant, and it paid off. Debi said she noticed it and appreciated it.

We went to our Harmonium rehearsal as usual, and it went very well. Our concerts will be on May 30 and 31 at 7:30pm at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, NJ. We really like the program this time, more than usual, so I am looking forward to it.