Friday, September 16, 2011

Single Speed #11 - Darkness

I looked ahead and all I could see was darkness, mostly black but with blues and purples, hiding a swamp and a highway, which I needed to thread myself between to get to the next moment. I could not turn away from the darkness, knowing that soon I would have to jump into a bigger void, a move that would take me far away from Davis, my home of five years.

Last night I found myself in Sacramento at 12:45. The buses back to Davis had stopped running, and Xing (my Miyata 912, outfitted with road rims and aerobars) and I were stuck looking at the Capitol Building without a plan. I had left too late, my friends had dogs and their boyfriends over and I wanted to return home, but it meant something foolish - a night ride 16 miles accross the causeway with no bikelight.

I began without ceremony, even stopping at a gas station with the option to purchase a cheap flashlight, but the meaning of the event started to pull me. I wanted the darkness. I wanted to feel unsafe. I have never broken a bone, I had never taken drugs, I have never gone bungie jumping - these things lacked punishment. These things lacked a cursing period of methodical self awareness. This bike ride would cleanse me, would force to re-evaluate Davis and Sacramento on one of my last days, and would burn into my memory forever.

So I rode. It's normally 16 miles and 75 minutes. This trip took 2 hours. The moon was lit, but the moving vehicles (train included) made it impossible to see consistently and helped as little as possible. As soon as the iris would open a passing train would reduce my visibility, which would reduce my speed, which hardly mattered since I found myself praying that I would not run over a large branch or dead animal, something I couldn't hope to see anyways. And this happened for the entire length of the causeway, darkness upon darkness. Despite constantly being aware and watching the glimmers of the road and railing I could see ahead, I continued threading myself as I thought about it all.

I thought about the number of times I was lucky. The number of times I was greedy. The number of times I was where I shouldn't have been, the times I used the darkness. I used to love riding my bicycle at night, and now it was excruiating. I got away with everything. Almost everything.

My mind drifted to times I could have just made it right by giving something up. I hoarded. Bikes, Music, People. If I was willing to either be completely giving or completely available, I could have had the world. Instead, I spent years apologizing for disregarding the Tragedy of the Commons. I poisoned the well of friendship early with selfish decision after selfish decision, and had finally restored much of it, right before I was set to leave.

I hated leaving Riverside, I baked myself in pre-nostaglia. I never knew failure in Riverside. Everything I applied for, asked for, wanted, I got in Riverside. Except Xing. And that bitterness stayed with me for much too long.

Davis taught me about failure: academic failure, personal failure, community failure. I was still in a darkness, one that had plenty of neon lights in it. I rebounded, but lost alot as well. I found Amy, who I mistreated for too long. She pulled me out the darkness. I became an adult, I became employable, and contributed to the communities I had long leeched.

Now I'm going to Bakersfield. I've agonized over this like nothing in my life. College decisions were easy, Riverside was close to home and was free, Davis had the domes and a new life. I've always taken the path of least resistence. Bakersfield? Nothing was certain. It is darkness, complete darkness. And it's what I'm riding into now.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Single Speed #9 - Bikestore Blues (June)

Normally if you need a bike store there is only one place in most towns that can help you out. Davis lacks quite a few things, but one thing it has in quantity is bicycle stores, a specific one that fits the consumer, which is you. There are numerous places you can go to learn about each store, and I would suggest the DavisWiki for an intense breakdown, but to take a step away from my usual style, which is to mock, judge, and deride consumer behavior, for this article I will behave as an investigative columnist for once.

Bicycle retailers in Davis are not about pushing product. They are about catering to a cliente niche. Even myself, as a very small time bicycle salesman cater to a very specific niche: my clients are an even mix of hippie, cheap, hipster, and lazy. The shops all know their audience and hope you frequent their shop through out your time in Davis.
Which niche do you belong to? It might be easier to pick out which niche you don't belong to. There's one shop that does it's best to let you know you are not worthy, and that shop is called Wheelworks. Located on x and x, this shop has never made me feel welcome, and I know bicycles inside and out. They sell premium racing bicycles to a very specific group of people, professional and amateur cyclists, and don't need to waste effort on being kind because hospitality is not going to make a difference when someone drops $8,000 on a bicycle (This was my initial take on wheelworks. Several ministers were quick t defend wheelworks, saying that they've got super rare parts there and that their staff is by far the most knowledgeable.

Hmm. Where else don't you belong. My mother wasn't one of those people that told me to say something nice rather than tell the truth. That being said, you don't have to take my word about the Davis Bicycle Exchange, the wiki has numerous reports of shady situations you can read about. Next!
I'll admit to being a bit unfamiliar with the freewheeler. Talking to other ministers, many of them like the freewheeler, and many are quick to point them out as the friendliest staff in Davis. They are owned entirely by one family and support their product lines very well. They might not have all the parts you need, but in terms of buying one bike and having it supported through your time in Davis, Freewheeler was highly recommended.
Blissworks and Apex are two shops that I know come by Bike Forth to get parts. They recommend us when it's appropriate and when they can install a part that we have, we see it as mutualism. In fact, we go out of our way to recommend a shop when it fits one of our patrons (that's what we call them, instead of customers).
Apex is a cycleshop specializing in fixed gear bicycles and high quality bikes for the hip kid. Blissworks sticks out for location and novelty primarily, being new and in the Pole Line world and not the downtown grid. Bliss and Aaron (of Apex) are both nice people as well. All the other shops suffer a bit from their owners and their nuances. Apex supports local bike products, such as Foothold gear, (Which is making custom panniers for me right now!)
B and L... Where to begin? I've heard some negative things, but I tend to enjoy my experiences here. I buy quite a few parts from here, which is saying something because I am Asian, and I could easily purchase them cheaper online. The employees are doing the best they can, they've taken the role of dealing with a consumer base of beginners, which is a challenging line between informing and exploiting. I've made great friends in the store, most recently I learned my favorite employee and friend Roy is moving on the City and beginning married life.
They routinely dealt with the most difficult of requests, as you can imagine me making in my construction of obscure and nice bicycles. They also send people to us, which is cool. I'm not a big fan of the owner, she seems to approach everyone as an annoying task to get off a list, but hey, owning a small business in a town with a Target in it can only be so fun.
The owner of Ken's bike and ski is a touch of the same flavor with a bit of religious flava built it. I would say I buy the one third of things I need there, as I have costumers with some performance demands (and grab a lionshare's of their cardboard from their pile behind the shop for path mulching and composting). Some of my friends don't shop their because their owner gave money to the Yes on prop 8 thing, and I feel that. It must be doubly hard to own a small business and support religion in a town with a Target and a farmer's market in it. Does the money to God, China, or Monsanto?
There's of course our facility. We are not a bike store. The Bike Collective would give you a bicycle for free, if money was an issue. We are into donations, we are into volunteers. We don't hurt local businesses, because we have our niche, which is ____. Honestly someone who started out on a bike that we gave them will eventually make it into one of these bike stores, and we like it that way. We all need each other if we want people to start using their cars less.

Single Speed #8 - Leave Everything Behind (May)

“The two best days in a man’s life is the day he buys a bus and the day he sells his bus.” I learned this line from an old friend, a crafty conman who somehow even after telling me this, convinced me to take care of the 1968 junker while he chased a yoga teacher to New York. Despite better judgement, I agreed to help him, and the bus became a 40,000 pound relic of the destructive, unsustainable lifestyle I lived at the time.

I was 2 years into my Master’s program, I was much more into parties and live music, and peddling bikes than school. My ego was larger than life. I remember booking 7000-watt DJs with a smirk, and having hundreds of dollars on hand for Craigslist purchasing at all times. I have never been a drug user, but it was around me all the time in north Davis suburb-parties: front rooms with lasers, back rooms with all sorts of pills and powders. I was writing a thesis at the time, and my midnight bike commutes, writing, beer, and sleep merged into a monotonous cycle, only broken up by events and shows: endless work punctuated with more work.

I came to resent everything about my life. Parties were simply nights where my expensive things were borrowed. Days were spent locking up too many bikes, and remembering who had borrowed what. Weekends were spent covered with motor oil. My cluttered, emotional void of a life began to eat at me, and when the opportunity came to travel to Guatemala to work as an engineer, and I agreed to go and it took all my energy to churn out a draft of my thesis out before my flight in July 2009.

So I found myself in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. I had gone from 35 bicycles and a bus to 1 bike and riding lots of buses. Bus rides were endless and daily I was surrounded with people who were carrying all that they owned: some traditional clothes, rope baskets and plastic bags, and maybe a chicken/child in their lap. The fare that I paid for the bus or for a beer was an amount they earned a day. I came to recognize that my parents worked their whole life to move out of global poverty and I was insulting them and myself by wasting my life partying.

Guatemalan engineering taught me one more thing. While visiting people who had nothing, living in cinder-block houses, they would tell me they were in love and that, not any amount of stuff, was what carried them through.

I immediately came back to a world that made no sense: littered with iPhones, sport utility vehicles, and Pabst . I realized there was only one option: leave everything behind. My life went on craigslist in 2010: kegs, guitars, speakerboxes, 20 or so bicycles, and at least 3 computers. It all went, often for a fraction of it’s worth, and each time something left, I remembered how I lived just fine without it. That giant bus was returned to its owner. My life changed again in 2011 when I finished my thesis and found my current job. I had finally broke free and gotten my life on track in the middle of the recession.

A month ago, I heard that old roommate enter my house as a weekday party was dying down. Whenever he’s back in town, he comes around to linger, borrow, and be a college kid for one more day. I hid in my room and heard the same old jokes and requests through my door. Just his very presence weighed on me more than the bus ever did: another situation determined to drag me where I can’t afford to be anymore. People are the worst kind of dead weight, because they will keep coming back if you let them.

I’m excited to attend my sister’s graduation this June, and skipping my own, but having moved on from high school and college twice, I know that the people that I will continue to value and include in my life from this UC Davis experience after I leave it are a number probably smaller than 10. Many of you are so close, graduation is almost around the corner. As you move out of your apartments and your dorms and get rid of the furniture you don’t need, remember to leave those people that hold you back out the curb as well.

Single Speed #7 - Junk in the trunk (May)

I am not a bicycle cougar - I like to ride bikes that are my age, not twenty years younger. While this terrible metaphor is extended let me go farther to say that I don’t mind a little junk in the trunk... so long as it’s junk on a trailer - attached to and rolling on a bicycle. Bicycle trailers get a terrible rap, only new mothers and homeless people seem to use them, but they are great ways to save money, burn calories instead of gas, and are an flexible tool for a creative environmentalist.

Whenever I decide to move something massive “carlessly” across Davis, I get onlookers expressing every emotion from disbelief, disgust, and inspiration. I must admit coming to Davis five years ago, I was just as uncomfortable with the bulk transport that happens on bike. Over time, I’ve joined in, moving through downtown with a variety of different laundry hampers, long loaves of french bread, and recently, a 12 person bike rack.

I decided to do some addition by subtraction between my old and new home. Several bicycle racks were donated by TAPS tothe Davis Bicycle Collective, and we had no place for them afer our movement downtown. These old things were taking up space at the Domes and to help with Save the Domes effort, the ministers recently sent a bevy of bike trailers and a few trucks over to clean up.

Trucks did a lot of the work, but I was committed to eschew gasoline for this grueling and dangerous task. I borrowed two bicycle carts, tied down the bike rack between them, and set sail. The transfer required almost a surreal amount of initial momenta, but once we were rolling, I got cheers from ARC bikers and looks of delirium from Davis pedestrians. It’s amazing how wheels, legs, and a good plan can move something that’s big (12’, 200 lbs) with relative ease and without petroleum distillate.

Most of our daily trips aren’t this well planned, and often people run into a time crunch: a party, a deadline, and some need to get a good from point A to point B, and suddenly their bike becomes insufficient and their car steps in. No one that lives in my house has that excuse. We have a house-owned trailerbike and tandem, two bikes that anyone in our house can use for transporting people and goods. When the loads are small, my housemates are much more efficient than I am, they get by just fine with using bicycle racks or baskets on their personal bikes.

I may actually be more into bike storage than biking. My fellow ministers often joke about my need to put 2-3 bags on each bike I own. My approach is quirky, as always. I’m into “pre-vintage”. I’ll leave new bikes and bags to you cougars out there - my bikes have thirty year old hot pink fanny-packs. Storage personalization is key for bikers - everyone has their own way. The polo ministers are quick to accept band-aids and alcohol directly from my mounted first aid kit. The techy ministers use of the plastic bucket pannier is tacky but utilitarian. The fixie ministers obtain expensive hipster purses and call them shoulder bags. The mountaineer ministers don’t even have bicycle storage they just hold their things with their teeth. The salaried cyclotourers in Davis just buy proper Ortlieb panniers (based on an old French word for bread basket), which made in Germany, and made from stitching Euros together into Chinese finger traps.

Not me. Just fanny packs and other 80’s bike tech. A friend and I have been jokingly planning “The Polyester Ride”, which is a sarcastic answer to “the Tweed Ride”, an SF parade where everyone wears clothing from the 20’s and rides 20’s crappy deathtrap bikes. My reasoning: if you want to celebrate bicycle’s actual golden age, you should be riding on the steel classics of the late 80s and early 90s. And of course, dress like my heroes: MJ, Depeche Mode, and the Smashing Pumpkins.

In general, very little about transporting goods, shopping, and hauling with your bike is sexy or stylish. It’s point A to point B. It’s also a design solution, and for non-traditional engineer like myself, it’s a bit of fun, and something to boast about later. (There are limits... I had to use my van to move some couches recently, but soon I plan to remaking a broken row bike as a chariot for these...) To milk the cliche as far as it goes, it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. And the junk in the trunk you took on that journey.

Single Speed #6 - 15 miles, one way (May)

I am by no means a healthy individual. Living in Davis, a town that has a billion sports going on and a Walmart-sized meathouse called the ARC, one can feel outclassed physically on the daily. That being said, I just pledged to do 300 miles for “May is Bike Month”. I know that number can sound daunting if you recently dusted off a bike at home or get a little asthmatic biking across campus, but it’s not that much. I have never before this month, committed to any form of rigorous exercise, and usually eat at least one meal a day made entirely from fructose corn syrup, carbonation, and xantham gum. Yet, bike commuting as my primary form of exercise works for me. The hour or so a day that I am on my bike is my favorite time of the day.

I’ve always despised running on a track and I hate non-team sports. I love competition and I hate purposeless movement. With bike-commuting, I’ve found an opportunity to exercise in a very busy day dominated by work, non-profit meetings, school, and the 2-3 hobbies I can barely maintain. Between the money I’m not spending on parking and the time spent outside battling my beer belly, life is good. I’m starting to get into skipping the bus, which has been getting packed ever since gas started climbing. When it’s $6 dollars this summer, I think we’ll start dealing with the unthinkable: bike-jams downtown!

I know you have questions. How long does it take you to bike from Davis to Sacramento? [1:15]. How far is it? [title of this article]. How many times a day do I take this ride [3-5 afternoons/week]. I love easy questions. Truthfully, it’s not that far or ridiculous, and if my nearly-obese body mass index (28.2) can pull it off, I think 150 bike miles a month is a reasonable goal for everyone, not just the spandex wearing, captain of the high-school-team students of UC Davis. You should commit to some “May is Bike Month” action!

Athletic culture scares most normal, slightly pudgy students. I get your need to eat healthy, the strict diets of tuna and powdered protein, and the daily reps and runs. Pro bicyclists have this world too, they continually get new bikes and new spandex and this stuff called bag-balm, which is as gross as it sounds, but the lack of these things shouldn’t not hold you back from getting healthy. Weird plastic stuff is not needed if you want to exercise more, I bike everyday in my dress slacks and discount Ethnies from high school. What you need to do is tell yourself you can make it.

Commuting the best way, in my opinion, to force yourself to make it. There is the simple incentive of being late if you don’t. And while Sacramento may seem a stretch right now for you budding cyclistas, commuting to class in Davis is a simple start. If you do that already, bike to places on the weekend and bike to places that are far are the next steps. Go shopping at the other Nugget, or the other Safeway, or really into shopping at a big box, bike to Target or Costco in Woodland. It will make you appreciate how hard those Chinese workers slave away to get you things so cheap. Once you do that, you should take weekend rides to Winters (PUTAH CREEK CAFE) or to Sacramento (SECOND SATURDAY) and not feel guilty about pounding down an ice cream covered waffle in either place.

But wait, I’m not done. I still have some room to criticize you, you ARC drivers. What I don’t get is why there is a giant parking lot for you, (save for sudexo employees and those desk-zombies over at student housing), and why people drive, park, and then go to the ARC and come back to their car to make it smell like sweat stain. It’s a gym. It’s for people who run in circles and take bikes that don’t go anywhere. I don’t understand you! I’m not sure if there’s a group of people I dislike more, which is unfair.

I’m attacking you because you are an easy group to pick on. Truth be told, I should leave you ARC types alone. At least you do exercise. You find a way to exercise in a country that is designed for people to sit in small boxes all day long. That’s not something that is a 800 word topic, but perhaps more along the lines of a series of long books about the United Sprawl of America.

Single Speed #5 - 7 stages of grief (April)

Bad things happen to good bikers. Two bike thefts occurring my front door in one week was the fuel behind my craigslist bender, which eventually to me becoming a cyclist for life. Valerie, my Raleigh, and McCorkle's loaner BMX were taken from me during the finals week – and the frustration and grief made me swear to never be bike-less again. Since then I've bought, fixed, and re-sold over 200 bicycles to Davis, and commonly my customers have had recent bike extraction.
When your bike is stolen, there is a myriad of emotions that must be withstood. It’s not a quick process, and getting a replacement bike will never replace the memories and modifications you and your bicycle made together. People with a stolen bike often resort to car use, walking, or other coping strategies. This can only exacerbate the feeling of lost freedom. For some, that void is never filled. I have compiled this list of grief stages mostly to humor myself, but also for healing:
(1) Shock and denial. This period is marked with numbed disbelief. It is generally brief but may last for weeks. You might see yourself walking in bicycle lanes as if you still had a bicycle. You might be standing out near the bike rack locking up nothing, out of habit. “Not my bike, you’ll mutter. It could never happen to me.” Well, it did. You shouldn’t have bought nice wheels. You know your friends told you to stop locking the bike to itself or the front wheel. You simply wish your bike would come back, you wouldn’t even punish whoever decided to return it.
(2) Pain and guilt. Here come guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do. It’s your fault, you’ll say. I've had no less than six bikes stolen in Davis and as a bad Catholic I feel the karmatic weight of each moment. Gladys, my Giant Sedona was stolen during a party in which I was flirting with a bike customer (not my girlfriend).
(3) Anger and bargaining. Frustration gives way to anger, release of bottled up emotion. You think about stealing bikes in retaliation. You’ll promise to never come to campus at night, or to never hang out with your friends in that shady part of town, and you’ll hold to it... for a while. When I realized my big red cruiser was missing, I began cursing that this these were moments like these that made bright eager young people into libertarians.
(4) Depression and reflection. Just when your friends may think you should be moving on, memories of those paint scratches, flat tires, and amazing trips will resurface. You'll picture yourself moving as you once did, unlike now on your loaner with it’s too high/low/uncomfortable seat that's slowly turning to the right.
(5) The upward turn. As you start to realign to life without your favorite cruiser/fixie/roadie/BMX/clunker, you begin to see yourself with another bike. You are open to trying new styles. You ditch your rebound bike and begin shopping. Part of you wants to get a bike in the same color and style... but then you think about racered, jetblack, carbon or steel. The options are endless.
(6) Improbable Reunion. This is where the person/bike metaphor fails for a moment. With stolen bikes, and in Davis, there is the off-chance your bike turns up again. Don’t believe me? With the exception of the Karim’s/DBE theft ring, quite a bit of bikecrime happens in town by people you know. Recently, my friend had his personalized carbon bicycle stolen from him and it turned up on Ebay. The seller apologized and drove my friend right to the house where he bought it, and my friend discovered his thief was a Davis townie everyone knew. As someone who is super invested in Davis community and goes to great efforts to buy bikes from their owner’s and restore landfill bikes (at a much lower profit margin), this act seems as vile as stealing organs. I was really disappointed to learn who it was, and it made me re-evaluate a lot of my friendships in town.

(7) Acceptance and hope. This might not happen in Davis. Maybe once you move to some normal city, the healing probably really begins. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of biking and life. Until you are a victim of identity theft or something.

Single Speed #4 - Polite Pastimes. (April)

If L.A. and S.F. are the main battle ground for bike/car war, Davis is where bicycles politely agree to disagree but never get in a fight. Davis is a place that’s too kind to cyclists to encourage aggressive events such as bike polo, underground racing, or critical masses. The main activites of leisure in Davis are drinking way too much, peeing on cars, and stealing bikes (I know, I live downtown and put up with a billion of you bros this weekend. My housemate was watching a crew of boys walk away from downtown and look at our bike rack and say, “man, we would go a lot faster if we had some of those”. Thankfully she was there to stop them before they got too creative, but the fact remains that young irresponsible males need a channel for this sort of negative energy.)

If you want to do bicycle events, you’ve got to set them up on your own, and while playing you have to dodge the rice rocket kids and monster truck dudes and the people that drive to the ARC to workout. Bicycle polo, underground racing, and critical masses are all important and vibrant cycling events in big cities. In Davis, where cycling is important but maybe not as difficult, community events such as these are a little less emphasized but just as vital.

Bicycle polo is a game that takes on the world’s most dangerous, awkward, and fun games and makes it accessible. Professional sports emerged from aristocracy, and Polo is the pinnacle of such sport: a hockey liked game played with horses, elephants and now, bicycles. I love polo. I’m sort of the fat kid you pick last in junior high when it comes to sports. I’m not going to score the clutch winning goal or beat everyone in a race, but I will put all my energy into it. The trash-talking is endless, as is the bicycle repair. At Friday’s game at West Manor park, a group of us got together to test out new mallets. Four of us are ministers from the bike church, a good group if you want your bicycle repaired in time for the second chukkar. The other four players today aren’t as trained in the art of repairs, but make for it in talent and bravado: I would never run my bicycle into harms way with quite the same fervor. Polo is not just about speed nor is it purely skill. Luck plays a huge role, as well as your ability to maneuver the fairly constant game of chicken that’s being played with various sections of your bicycle, anothers’ bicycle, the fence of the roller hockey rink, and the buckets we use for goals. So... that’s equal parts speed, skill, luck, and chicken. It is the true do it yourself game, we’ve put together our bike polo bikes, we’ve built our mallets, we make up rules as we go.\We tap out of the ring when we set our feet down, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to balance your feet on your bike and the guard rail, and hit it backwards through your bike at your friend. There are constant hits on your stick, bikes threatening to hit your bike, and a ball rolling millimeters away from the reach of your club what seems like every time. It’s an amazing game and I want to get more people playing.

If group sport isn’t your cup of tea, Davis is a town that is built for bicycle racing. It’s almost criminal that there aren’t a ton of underground racing events. Unfortunately for the UC Davis Police Department, the emptied campus serves as a perfect site for a quick unsanctioned race: there is seldom traffic from cars or people, and the common awareness of the campus makes for simple checkpoints. I’ve helped organize a few derbies and races, but the racing in davis is all painfully covered with lycra and carbon fiber. Davis could be the fast and the furious for bikes every weekend if we wanted to.

I’m almost done but here’s a parting image. I recently got off a bus with my bike in Los Angeles, and I realized I was looking at the L.A. critical mass. I saw 400 bicycles, all wearing crazy cool getups, neon lights, and making life hell for a bunch of people who were driving less than 1 mile to get to a super market. I know where don’t live right at the front of the conflict, but the least we can do here in Davis is stop being polite to people who waste gasoline.