Saturday, August 29, 2009


Japan is a fascinating place. I spent a week and a half there at the end of July. It was my second trip and was much more enjoyable than the first time. If you've never been to Japan, expect to be incredibly confused and disoriented the first time you go. On this second go-round I was able to fall back on much that I'd learned and observed last year. I could relax and take in more of the culture.

One of the things I find interesting, even shocking at times, is the Japanese affinity for American English slogans. I might not be able to read signs or advertisements while I'm there, but cruising the streets I would constantly spot t-shirts, posters, etc. with English phrases. Some were borderline offensive. I thought that funny in a way considering the conservative demeanor and lack of flamboyance exhibited by most Japanese. But when you realize most passersby can't read the phrases, it's bizarrely humorous to a native English speaker. Even if some Japanese folks can read the words, many of these phrases are so obscured with slang and profanity that it would be difficult to make a direct translation.

Here are a few fun sightings from Japan:

Tommy Lee Jones is BOSS. At least he's the posterchild for BOSS beverages. Kinda reminded me of Bill Murray from Lost in Translation. Similar wrinkled crusty old guy persona.

This is a crappy photo of a poster in the Kaze messenger headquarters in Kyoto. Who knew drunk cyclists had their own tarot?

I saw this gem in a respectable tea shop in Nagoya. Just a place where friends meet for a quiet beverage and some chit-chat. This poster was displayed front and center behind the counter.

Okay, I was once told by a friend that Japan is the land where they perfected the plastic fake food used in restaurant display windows to give you an idea what a dish looks like. I chose this one thinking the white squigglies beneath the tiny shrimp were noodles. Look closer. The noodles have eyes. Yes, I ate it. And it was, like all the food I've eaten in Japan, damn good.
I'm off to Germany for Eurobike. Be well, friends.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wow: Bike Parents Challenged Part II

My last post has elicited many responses. I appreciate them all. My longtime friend and lost-soul-brother-at-birth, Brother Houts, just emailed me a link to a most disturbing story extracted from reports of an incident in Asheville, NC involving someone who chose to use a gun to show his disapproval of a parent hauling his kid aboard a bike.

"You're endangering your child, so I'm going to attempt to kill you." That's sound logic.

The moral of the story, I guess it could always be worse.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meddling with Pedaling

Quite often April and I are approached by friends, acquaintances and occasionally strangers who are impressed with what we do to integrate cycling into our family's lifestyle. The truth is we're copying a trend set by others across the country and around the world. We are far from original or ingenious. We supply some gumption and will power, but otherwise there are countless people who've actually developed concepts and designed products that make it possible. We're far from radical. We own a car and April uses it plenty to shuttle kids around during the week. Even though I am able to commute daily by bike, we try to offset the family's regular car reliance by keeping it parked as much as possible on weekends and days off.

I sometimes think about detractors, the people who aren't fans, don't agree and like to make sure someone hears them. You know the types -- they're quick to condemn an action as irresponsible or dangerous based on a narrow subset of rigid criteria programmed into the collective psyche of the status quo. We all suffer from judgmental tendencies. I firmly believe it's human nature to bolster status and shore up ego by criticizing, evaluating, judging, then labeling good/bad, right/wrong. As far as cycling goes, there are enough people who think and actually go so far as to decry the simple act of solo bike commuting on roads as foolish and flagrantly fatalistic. If one chooses to pull young children along on such 'irresponsible forays' the likelihood for negative criticism increases greatly. It only stands to reason.

Quite remarkably, we hadn't experienced any overtly negative feedback until yesterday. Unexpectedly, it came in the form of a safety lecture (replete with citings of supportive interweb research) from none other than some friends of April's. The background info is innocent enough. They dropped their daughter off in the morning for a play date. April wanted to visit the farmer's market to pick up some food for the week -- a normal weekend activity. The market is only three-quarters of a mile away along quiet roads. Since we had an extra kid with us, I surmised we could carry two on the back of the Dummy and one in the kid seat on April's bike. That would make it a quick, efficient trip.

Our young visitor had never ridden a Big Dummy, but Sylvia is a pro by this point. Her enthusiasm was beneficial -- there wasn't the slightest hesitation from her friend. We had an extra kid helmet, so we buckled lids on everyone and slowly rolled away from the garage. Our new passenger wasn't freaked out in the least; she was already telling Sylvia that next time she wanted to sit in front and hold on to the handlebars. A few minutes later we rolled up and parked the bikes on the curb outside the market. The kids were beaming. I get excited when kids have fun on a bike ride. It's just how I'm wired.

We did our browsing, got a snack and eventually met up with our guest's dad to make the hand off. In hindsight I knew it was coming -- a seemingly benign question at first: "How did you get everyone down here?" April immediately piped up that we'd brought the two bigger girls on the Big Dummy. "What's a Big Dummy?" It's a cargo bike. "Does it have a box enclosure?" No, it has a flat deck and handlebars. "So ... the kids aren't strapped in?" No. All right, enough Minnesota passive-aggressive questioning; I could see through it like worn out lycra shorts. We were ready to leave anyway, so we walked over to the bikes and showed him.

He tried to act interested in the concept but it was all too obvious he was mortified. I could see it unfolding in his body language, but I like to watch people squirm if they can't muster the chutzpah to say how they actually feel. April accentuated the fact we'd properly fitted his daughter with a helmet and ridden extra slow to be sure she was comfortable. We talked about how Sylvia rides the bike all the time and how I've even carted the whole family around on it. It's stable, safe and easily hauls a lot of weight.

Sadly, I realized that in his eyes my lowly cargo bike was missing a few things to pass muster as a "safe vehicle" for transporting a child -- namely a roll cage and CPSC-certified kid harnesses -- go a little further and add anti-lock brakes, a metal skin and an internal combustion engine. Both April and I had a hunch the case was far from closed as we bid them farewell. Sure enough April got a call from the girl's mom later that night.

I want to offer a caveat upfront: At play is a divergence of parenting styles. While I may have some strong opinions, I am not in the business of saying one is better than the other. However, it is clear some other people make it their business to do so.

I will state a fact: Our style seems to be working rather well. We have vibrant, healthy kids whom we have never injured in anyway while cycling, camping, canoeing, hiking or doing any of the stuff we love to do outdoors (and started doing with them practically from birth). Instead, we are beginning to notice our kids are well-adjusted to weather, bugs and the elements. They play outside four seasons of the year. They are both quite adventurous as well. Far from reckless though, they are connecting the dots between the physical laws of cause and effect in terms they can grasp. We don't hand them forks to shove into light sockets, but we don't bemoan the opportunities they take to leap off an object without first bending legs to land the jump. They learn -- it's a rather linear process. Neither of them would get the slightest lecture on physics if I attempted to deliver one, but they can learn tons in the experiential classroom of playgrounds, backyards and forests.

Now, I say all of this not as a self-indulgent digression. I say it because the comments from our parental counterparts warrant it. The mom on the other line could simply have said, "We'd prefer you not take our daughter out on bike rides." Churlish perhaps, considering we are a family of skilled cyclists who have a positive track record of safe family cycling. But at least that would have been to the point and would have asserted a personal choice. Fair enough. I believe in honoring friends' wishes.

However, they chose to surpass that and launch into the realm of condemning our actions and choices as substandard and unsafe. Here are a few paraphrases: "I think you'll find you guys are pretty far out in your choices" was one comment. We started riding with our kids in a Burley trailer way too young, according to their sources. And, "Research shows that kids shouldn't ride on those 'things' until they're thirteen." Wow, really? I plan on kicking my kids off the Big Dummy well before that age. They can pedal their own bikes.

I can be rather self righteous at times. Especially when it comes to topics like people taking steps toward deconstructing the culture of the automobile. April will tell you I all too easily slide out the soap box and climb aboard. But I genuinely try to follow the philosophy of 'live and let live.' As such, I generally have a disdain for self righteousness united with proselytizing. If you don't like what I do but it ain't hurting you, then why are you blowing wind at me?

I don't really know these particular friends but I've weathered secondhand comments from them that have occasionally chafed me -- offhand, judgmental comments concerning everything from kids' diets to car seats and lead paint. Add "unsafe cycling" to the list and a critical mass was achieved. I was reminded of another bit of practical wisdom I try to live by: If you don't know someone, have never really had a conversation with them, forged a friendship or had a glimpse of what makes them tick, then chances are your misplaced criticisms are not well-balanced, nor are they welcome.

Is this simply a personal rant or can it have some relevance to others reading? It can have some relevance. If you think you'd like to have kids or are a new parent, let me share a lesson I've been slow to learn, but one I believe is a timeless maxim of parenting: If you choose to have kids, be forewarned there's a chartered bus load of people waiting in line to offer comments on everything you're doing wrong. Sometimes those comments might hold water; if so, act on them. Some people just like to stick their noses in odd places, so most of the time it's fine to smile and nod and say 'Thank you ... buh-bye." A few occasions may actually warrant a stern reminder that someone is out of line and might want to politely fuck off.

Furthermore, I like to expose such off-base comments as attempts to vilify cycling. Cycling has been condemned, implicitly and explicitly, by many for countless reasons but one that is cited wide and far is a blanket indictment: Cycling is not safe. Hooey. Do you really know safe? Are we talking absolute safety -- a mythical state that government agencies strive toward, one where nothing bad happens to anyone and stat counters remain at 0? Do some people really hold the belief that even if you're living the most mind-numbingly bland existence, practicing all the agency-endorsed safety tips you can print out on a daily checklist, that nothing bad will happen to you?

By the way, if you'd care to condemn biking have you bothered to check any stats for automobile deaths lately? Can I find safe at the end of the "Toward Zero Deaths" corridors I see posted along Minnesota's highways?

I won't sit back and be told that transporting my family by bike is unsafe or irresponsible. Beyond practical evidence, I'll argue safety is an illusion, like comfort and security. I see great merit in learning to develop a proper relationship with similar conditionalities, not make oneself a slave by attempting to construct them as concrete states of being. Mostly though I'm disconcerted by this: Everytime someone bashes cycling as dangerous or risky, worried people everywhere (which is the majority of our society, especially parents it seems) are shaking their heads and agreeing, thereby further narrowing any portal of expanded vision, quietly massacring another chance to see solutions, possibilities and sustainable ways of doing things differently.

I don't admire scared people. I simply don't see the world in the same way. I believe skill and resourcefulness are more powerful than flimsy insurance policies and empty precautions. I don't carry sanitizing gel to the playground, but I pack a first aid kit on my bike and I know how to use it. We let our kids occasionally eat candy and potato chips. But we don't let them play with lead paint chips. We don't cloister our kids at home because we believe the benefit of interaction with other humans and the value of seeing their parents in a wide array of social situations will make them adaptable and resilient. We trust the mores of our friends and caregivers and regard their lessons as valuable additions to the sets of guidelines we are working to instill within the girls.

Do we make mistakes, exercise poor judgment or occasionally just screw some things up? Hell yeah. But raising our kids in, on and around bikes is one thing I will never apologize for.

My heart genuinely aches when I imagine children held back, not allowed to experience a gateway to the lifelong joys of self-reliance, resourcefulness and practicality that is cycling.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


What an awesome weekend. Perhaps it was the perfect weekend. I am not one to brag on weekends usually, but I feel compelled to recap what made this the ideal end to and start of a new week.

First I'll backtrack to Thursday. My friend Sara was in town. We rode around. There a few simple pleasures better than just riding around -- the rare moments when one has nowhere to be and no time required to get there. I have too little time to just get on my bike and ride around, so I welcomed an excuse to do just that.

We made the rounds and ended up at Shockspital. I got to peruse B Rose's new digs. Business was hopping. It was good to see.

We cruised Cedar Lake, hit a little urban singletrack, stopped for a beer, then picked up some food and headed home to grill dinner and see the rest of the family.

Sylvia set up an impromptu bike repair service in the backyard while Sara pushed Willa around. Sylvia can dream up all sorts of games and she's very good a roping grown-ups into playing along. She's even convinced Dad to occasionally play Candyland.

Super Bridge Club happened Saturday. It was super indeed and major thanks to Brother Nick and friends for pulling it off. Conceived as a celebration of the recreational opportunities provided by the myriad bridges we have around the city, the route took us on many paths and trails I've never seen. That's what I love about these rides -- I always learn new places to go on a bike that are off the usual paved trails and lanes. Oh yeah, I suppose drinking beer with friends is kind of fun too.

Some of the heavy hitters made a trip into town just for the event. Chewey Moffit frames the Grain Belt sign nicely just after the start of the ride.

Andy is double-fisting it. He's so pumped he's got two drinks in one hand. Okay, no white Russians -- rather these were baby formula.

After all, Garnet had to have something to feed Max on the curb in front of Lee's. Mpls cycling: Classy to the core.

As a father myself, I have no problem indulging the baby photos. Props to Andy and Garnet for towing the Burley to the first stop. Max was having a blast.

I simply call this one 'kids and sunglasses.' If you're a parent you know all too well your shades, cheap or spendy, stand no chance when you're holding a kid.

Our group crossed the bridge at 394 and Penn. I ride this a few nights per week and always enjoy pedaling home facing traffic at rush hour. I smile as I whiz by the drivers stuck in stop and go traffic trying deperately to merge onto 94 into the city.

Dominating the Midtown. At this point our ride was 64 thirsty riders strong. And had only verifiably pissed off one trail user.

Aww, aren't they a happy pair? We were all happy since by the time we made it to the Bryant Ave ped bridge, Nick showed up with a huge cooler of sandwiches and beer. Brian was packing ice cream sandwiches and push-ups on dry ice. I have to admit the mood was more festive than Zito's towel.

We rode on and on through Minnehaha Falls park and across to the east bank. The sun soon faded about the time eyesight was beginning to dim anyway. We waited out a shower beneath a bridge or two. Somewhere along the way we derbied and a wheel got broke. Wet, tired and happy, a number of us reconvened at Town Hall where it all began some 9 or 10 hours earlier. Then we went our separate ways for some much needed downtime.

Sunday felt like it came a little too early. I'd been exhausted from a busy week anyway, so I enjoyed sleeping in courtesy of April. Sylvia's friend Lilia came over for a few hours. We all piled onto the bikes and rolled down to the farmer's market just before it closed for the day.

The kids split a cheddar brat. When they're still babies, watching kids eat and make a mess of half chewed food can be a frustrating test of patience. However, Sylvia is now at the age where she can keep the food contained and manage to flat put down some chow when she's hungry. By the look on that face, she was hungry.

While April browsed for produce I watched the girls and managed to get a couple more cute photos. Another lazy rain shower came and went. The chaotic throngs at the market, awash in more cultures than you can count, seemed united in a celebration of food and good old-fashioned barter and commerce.

Yep, folks, it was a fine end to a splendid weekend.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Bike I Couldn't Bear to Own

A little over a year ago a friend asked me if I still had my Surly Steamroller. Yes, I did still have it. The color was the old metallic charcoal gray, no longer available, and he wanted that color. "Will you sell it to me?" he asked. I thought about it for a while. I wasn't riding it much at all so I agreed. I reasoned I could easily get another frame down the road. Besides, he only wanted the frame and fork; I could keep all my favorite Campy parts, King headset, etc.

My Steamroller replaced a beloved 80s Shogun fixed gear conversion. It started life a kind of coral color but had bleached to a nice semi-metallic pink. I rode that bike everywhere and I loved it. It was my first fixed gear. It was sensible since it was a 27" bike to begin with and that extra clearance left tons of space for fenders and a rear rack. The ride was cushy. It just fit and it cost me next to nothing.

The pain in my back was nothing compared to the pain in my heart when I crumpled the frame one night by running it into a fencepost on the darkened greenway. I still have the frame in the basement. I'm sentimental like that. The Steamroller frame came along like clockwork though. The day after I mangled my Shogun a deal literally fell into my lap. I was stoked and perhaps a bit overzealous. I built it too nice -- the result was a bike I didn't want to subject to daily riding. What a shame when that happens.

After selling it last year, I didn't miss the Steamroller all winter. But when spring came I saved my bike cash and bought a replacement frame in cream. All the parts were ready to go on including pink headset and pink wheels. I decided to fiddle with the choice of bars and built it up just enough for a couple of test rides:

Man it looked nice. It looked classy too. But the joy soon wore off. It looked too nice. Again. Not because of the parts spec -- I had already decided I was going to ride it as a commuter, not mothball it like some kind of cafe bike -- but because of the bling. Color matching on bikes is as old as the velocipede, but in the past few years the urban fixed crowd has tainted that once innocent fascination. As long as anodized bits and colored rims adorn a fixed gear anyway.

I rode the bike to work and back once. As I wheeled it to the basement that evening, my heart fractured a bit for a second time in this whole saga of the pink Shogun. I came to terms with two hard facts: 1) The Steamroller, no matter how fashionably accoutered, could not replace that beloved bike; 2) There was no way I could ride this bike in public. The implied guilt of association was more than I could bear. ("My god, what if someone thinks I'm one of them?")

Things come around. It wasn't hard to find a co-worker who was looking for a Steamroller frame. Another had a relative who needed a wheelset and was not disinclined to, but actively seeking, the bling. All's well, I suppose.

But I still miss my $25 pink Shogun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Monday

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Have a great week.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Blind Eye

[An entry begun in June ... ]

I've been thinking a lot lately but not writing. I've been doing a lot of other stuff, too. Some of it I might bore you with at a later time.

I'm fascinated with the idea that we humans "find ourselves in situations." I indulge this thought pattern all too often myself. When, in reality, I firmly believe we create our situations. We must own them free-and-clear; lock, stock and barrel. We also create the polarized viewpoints that some situations are good and some are bad. It's all in perception. That's a simplistic way to put it that can be incredibly intricate, but enlightening when approached with an open mind.

At least that is the way I see it, most of the time.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I'll keep on thinking.


We got into an argument with our neighbor last night. It was a really freakish series of events precipitated by overhearing evidence of the all-too-real possibility that she was beating her kid. Someone else on our street called the police before we could. By the time we made it out to the front porch the neighbor's roommate/relative had talked the cops away. We questioned what was going on and the source of the crying. He played it down, said it was just the mother getting the kid to bed. We knew what we'd heard and pressed it further. He smuggly said we should mind our own business, in much more colorful terms. I wanted badly to march over and get in his face but I swallowed my anger.

Convinced we'd called the cops on her, the mother was on our porch within a few minutes -- pounding on our door at 11pm. I can't begin to repeat what she said for I can't even remember it all now -- but little of it was cognizant and none of it was civil. It had the tone of a well rehearsed litany. In fact I'll indulge it no further except to say April very tactfully endured, for several days afterward, being called a 'stupid white bitch' from our neighbor's second story window while she played with the kids in our backyard. When I arrived home one evening I noticed egg residue on the garage wall with a conspicuous trajectory not coincidentally traced in the precise direction of the neighbor's back porch.


I wrote the first part of this essay over a week ago. While I wondered today whether to write about this or how it could possibly tie into what I had already written, it hit me -- what a horrible situation these people have created. My mind struggles with the myriad of back stories (which I admittedly can't understand) that brought these people to their current place. But I will begrudge no sweeping socioeconomic excuses -- our neighbors have created their situation.

Yet, I could not extract myself from culpability and that was the second epiphany on the rocky, angered road of understanding -- too many, too often turn a blind eye. It's easy to turn up the stereo, drink another beer, close the windows and turn on the A/C to convince someone "that's just not my business." However, if we acknowledge a lack of community and greater alienation from one another within our culture, I will posit one of the principal reasons for that is a lack of gumption from neighbors to step out of their houses and get involved. For me, getting involved often means calling someone's shit, crying foul, reminding others that people are watching.


I wrote all of that two months ago. Shortly afterward we learned the four-plex next door was in foreclosure. Needless to say we were ecstatic. Our problem neighbors are forced to move. At last!

Some nights it seems they've moved out, but they're still here. Gas and water shut off, they're still here making as much noise, spewing as much repetitive music and abusive profanity as before into the common air for all to hear. I want them gone. I want them gone so badly. But I only want them gone as much as I desire one other thing at the moment -- understanding. I want to know how, and why? I think I know how one can shout such things night after night toward one another, but why does one think it's okay to blare music and shout arguments at a volume that rattles one's whole building and disturbs the neighborhood?

I'm dangerously conservative in my viewpoint at the moment. Conservative in a Reaganistic way and I'm none too proud of that. Our neighbors don't have jobs. This fact is confirmed. They are sitting on their porch day after day, getting drunk and stoned, on someone else's dime. That's where the mindfuck occurred for me: They're blasting a stereo that keeps me up all night -- but I payed for it; They're erupting into alcohol-fueled disputes multiple times a week -- but I bought their booze.

I should say we -- we bought these things for them, because obviously our system is providing all they think they need. Never mind their kids sometimes come over to play and often beg for our dinner leftovers. The parents have all think they need -- the kids can fend for themselves, right?

I've vastly oversimplified this point, so I'll dig no further. I've needed to let off some steam regarding the neighbors. However, while I consider myself a political liberal and even a socialist at times, I am at odds with the notion of idiot compassion. Flinging money and good intentions at problems will not cure them. Perhaps more of us have to walk out of our comfortable homes and traipse the gutters to re-assess issues with the folks who are involved. In all honesty, I'm not so sure I'm up for that challenge.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sins of the Father

I've been thinking a bit lately about all the things that have gone on in recent history that I have not posted. Not like I need to, I guess. It never ceases to amaze me, however, how many friends "keep up" with me through the blog. Have you lost my phone number or email address? You can come over some time, y'know.

In January I went to the UK. In March I was in Germany and the Netherlands for a week. The Fruita Fat Tire Fest happened in April. I glossed over our family bike camping trip Memorial Day weekend. I barely covered Willa's March birthday and Sylvia's May. I took a stellar work trip to BC in June. And last month I just cut a new notch (to loosen my belt) to commemorate my 36th year. Thanks to those who came to our party. Even those who fed me malt liquor and Jack Daniels. May ye have learnt yer lesson.

I'll provide only one shot from that shindig:

No, Don did not give me the Jack Daniels (right hand) or malt liquor (left hand). Notice he's drinking water. Wise man.

An old (and older) friend from Tennessee once told me, while I was young and yet untraveled, "Wherever you go, once people learn you're from Tennessee, they'll say, 'Let's drink some Jack!'" I despise Jack and always will. But please don't dare me to drink anything because I'll take the dare -- even if I have to crawl home dragging my bike. A party in my own backyard simply meant I had less distance to stumble.

I've lived in Minnesota now for seven and one half years. It blows me away to think that. Most of you reading my blog knew nothing of me before, in my past life. Tennessee is far from here, mentally and geographically. When I loaded all I thought I'd need into the back of my Toyota pickup and temporarily said goodbye to my wife at the time, I had no idea what I was venturing into. I came with an open heart. For the most part that openness has served me well. I'd visited Mpls twice before and had swiftly fallen in love with the city. That love for this place has served me very well indeed.

Here, I have been blessed with many, many new friends. Some new friends have come and gone in fact. Has it been that long? I'm beginning to tell seasons by feel, by the cadence of the chanting bugs. And it was a bit eerie when, last week, it occurred to me that summer has reached its peak and will soon be over. We have about 7 weeks to get our ducks in a row and finish all those painting projects and such before it's time to reach for long sleeves. It has been a cool summer in fact; leaving work some nights I've thought a long sleeve jersey might be just right. But I push away such frivolous thoughts, convincing my body that in a few short months I will yearn for this cool warmth again.

I returned from 9 days in Japan last Friday. On the flight home, NWA showed a film entitled New in Town. I'm not promoting the movie, it was cheesy as all hell. Set predominantly in New Ulm, it centers around a Florida-based food corporation exec who has to venture off to the hinterland in winter to revamp a plant and (naturally) falls in love in the process. Of course knows not what to expect and the writers saw fit to play up every stereotype available regarding wacky MN behaviors and mannerisms. Stuck on a ten-and-a-half-hour flight, missing home and watching cutaway scenes from downtown Mpls pulled at my heart strings a bit though. This place is home. Some of my friends talk and act a bit like characters from that movie. Wow, life chucks change at us whether we recognize it or not.

I don't go to concerts much, can't afford the hot restaurants, don't see much art or take advantage of the hundreds of festivals happening here. But, damn, I'm lucky to live in a place I love.