Life Without Wheels: Chronicle of a Car-Free Lifestyle
 
Him: (rolls down window, pulls large red van up next to me, says confrontationally) Why are you shaking your head, what did I do!
Me: (calmly) You're talking on your phone, and it's illegal. 
Him: (defensively as he puts cell phone down) Well...I lost my girlfriend, so...(as if this is an excuse for breaking the law)
Me: That's fine, sir. If you need to make a phone call, just pull over off the road. That's all.
Him: (grasping for straws) Well, well, what are you? The political police?
Me: (patiently and restraining from telling him that he knows he's wrong and should just shut up) No, it's not about politics, it's the law and unsafe.
Him: Well, it's not like I hit you (then honk horn and speed off as light turns green)
Me: (talking to air) So the law doesn't apply to you because???? 


Here's the deal: regardless of how good a driver you think you are, the law in the State of California says that you can't hold your phone and talk on it. You must have a hands free device. You also can't text and drive. Period. It doesn't matter who you are or what you're calling for, you are breaking the law. These laws were enacted for a reason: to improve safety for all road users. I don't care how safe you think you are or how good a driver you think you are, turn the fucking phone off. You don't get to decide which stop lights to stop at, do you? No! You have to stop at all stop lights. And you have to turn the damn phone off (or use a hands-free device). 


Studies have shown that talking on the phone while driving is so distracting it is basically the same as being intoxicated while driving. Could you please respect the lives of the people around you and turn the phone off? You don't have to like me or like anyone else on the road, but you can certainly respect my right to live, can't you? So turn the G&#*!!!!$%#@! phone off. 


Thank you. 
 
 
I'm on vacation, which is really a staycation because I was going to blow my brains out if I had to go into work without some extended time off...Since I have no plans, I'm going to try and log 100 miles a day or 500 between now and Saturday. Anyone wanna take bets I can accomplish this?
 
 
Wow, how time flies! When I started this blog I didn't really know anyone else who used their bike as a sole mode of transportation, nor did I even know that there were cycling blogs or commuter blogs out there. Since my first post in October, I've shared stories about doing laundry, stolen bikes, becoming  a superhero, discovering group rides, discovering long distance riding, and learning how to work on my bike, (and how not to work on my bike).
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I started on my beloved Blue Huffy with her functional baskets.

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Bike with sewing maching on top
Then, after she was stolen, upgraded to my first ever road bike, which changed my life.

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After a little over six months on the Death Machine (pictured above), it was time to invest in a bike that fit me and had a few more gears. So I again upgraded to my dearly adored GoFast.

And I saved and scraped together cash to buy my first (used) race bike (picture to come later) on which I plan to go really REALLY fast.

This blog has clearly leaned heavily on cycling. And I must say, "Guilty as charged."

Cycling is addictive. And if you're a nerd like me, not only do you become engrossed in the activity but everything involved in that activity. So, yes, this blog greatly focuses on the life of an urban cyclist. And while I've still got a  LOT to learn (and always will) about bikes, people, community, and life in general, I thought I'd reflect on my experiences over the past eight months, and some specific lessons I've learned.
 
 
So the big secret is I saved up some money and bought a race bike. It should be delivered soon, but in the meantime, it's taunting me from afar via Twitter
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Wow, so much has happened in the past month, and I haven't had much time to blog (otherwise you would have gotten an update by now!). Anyhow, let's turn back the clock and look back to a quieter, simpler time...one day before May 2010 Los Angeles Critical Mass...

GoFast was in a semi-ridable state. All parts attached. Brake cables installed, rear derailleur cable installed. I was still in need of a solution for the front derailleur. To refresh your memory (I can't remember if I even told this story) the shifters I bought were indexed, which, in the end, meant I needed cable barrel adjusters on both the front and rear derailleurs. However, I needed something to clamp the cables and barrel adjusters to the downtube with. A twitter friend (@jhvu) suggested I use the clamp from a downtube derailleur and screwed the cable barrel adjusters onto it. 

So I rode the bike from work to the Bikerowave in Venice/Mar Vista, and got there just as they were opening. An excellent and knowledgeable mechanic named Mike was there, and I explained to him the bike build project, and what was left to be done. I explained to him the solution for the front derailleur, and we set to work digging through downtube shifters for a clamp that would work. And what do you know??? We found one. 

However, since I only had one cable barrel adjuster, we decided to put that on the downtube clamp for the rear derailleur, and the one I had ordered online would be used on the front derailleur once it came in. So I left on 7 gears instead of 21, but all I had to do was install. The clamp was on, all I needed was another cable barrel adjuster (which isn't a common used part to come by). In addition, while there, I re-routed my rear brake cable, trued the rear wheel and installed some new spokes, AND Mike taught me how to use a presta valve. And the total bill? I think it was about $27. Plus my friend @cyclo_astro came by with beer and cupcakes for all. It was a pretty awesome night, when I left the bike was totally ridable, and I had learned a lot. 

I also want to give Mike a HUGE shout out, because not only was he helping me, in my needy state (I was building a bike, for god's sake), and like 10 other people throughout the course of the night, sometimes answering questions from 3 people at once. I'm just saying, a guy that knows that much about bikes...totally hot! 

Below are pictures from my night at the Bikerowave, which I will be visiting again soon to re-true my rear wheel and another secret project I will unveil soon. 


If you click on the first image, it will open the slideshow so you can see the captions on each pic.
Since my visit to the Bikerowave, I have changed the tires to higher quality (yeah those barbie tires last like a day), and I'm changing the color scheme slightly--have decided to go with black bar tape instead of pink. What can I say, it's a continual work in progress.
 
 
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Here's an update on the progress of GoFast. 

First: spent an evening cleaning handlebars bought at Bikerowave swapmeet. Attached integrated shift and brake levers and PINK bar tape. 

bicycle chain installation, bike build, bicycle repair and maintenance
Then I spent an evening screwing in the rear derailleur (it just screws into the frame, ain't that easy!), screwing on the front derailleur, and not installing the chain. (From previous post you know I spent a couple of nights on the chain.) I also attempted to install the brakes I picked up at the Bikerowave swapmeet, but discovered they were recessed and not nutted. So that was a set back. 

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Oh derailleurs and shifters...

After a few days off (mostly due to work schedule) I dove back into the bike assembly by tackling the last major assembly: cables. I picked up the appropriate cable housing for both shift cables and brake cables, and the cables too. I easily attached the cable to the rear brake, but since I hadn't found a front brake yet, left that one off. I thought about pilfering the front brake off the Death Machine, but took the advice of a friend and waited to see if I could get the derailleurs working. 

Well, it turns out that not all shift levers and derailleurs are the same. There is this thing called indexing. Of course I understood the principle of friction shifters, but this indexing thing was new to me. With some guidance from the online cycling community, I discovered that (after many hours trying to adjust the tension on the front derailleur) that I needed a cable stop with tension adjuster and the clamp from downtube shifters to attach it to. I haven't finished this component yet, but hope to tomorrow. However, I moved onto the rear derailleur, and after some adjustments, clicked through the gears while turning the crank arm and will wonders never ceased! It shifted through all the gears. Woohoo!


Following are just some random pics, including the state of my living room. 

 
 
I wish I had taken pictures along the way of the whole chain fiasco. So here we go:

Step 1: Order a pink bicycle chain from a seller on eBay. 
Step 2: Buy chain break tool from Catalina Bicycles on 3rd Street and Catalina.
Step 3: Watch tutorial on how to use a chain break tool on www.BicycleTutor.com. 
Step 4: Completely disregard tutorial as follows:
a) Tutorial says to turn handle of chain break tool until pin comes almost all the way out but not all the way.
b) Drink glass of Diet Pepsi and Bicardi Select Rum
c) Break chain
d) Don't take rear wheel off
e) Spend an hour fighting with rear derailleur, chainring, and chain
f) Get fed up and leave for next day
Step 5: On 2nd day of chain installation, realize that you're an idiot and take freewheel off. 
Step 6: Begin to put chain together, stop paying attention because you're watching Star Trek, and push pin all the way through the other side
Step 7: Smack yourself upside the head
Step 8: Use needle nose pliers to hold pin while hammering pin back into chain link
Step 9: Repeat Steps 6 through 8 three times.
Step 10: Take a deep breath, pay attention, and push pin into chain link slowly and successfully. 

End result:
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I actually ended up taking out a few links after this episode too. So it doesn't quite look this loose anymore.
 
 
I always feel at odds with this “Bicycle Community”. I don’t feel like I fit into it, like I am somehow outside the mold of the particular kind of cyclist the community welcomes into its fold. I’m not an activist, nor do I really want to be. I’m not a hipster on a fixie (yes, I know that’s a stereotype but that is one of the kinds of cyclists in this community). I’m not a “Fred” who owns a $3000 race bike and gets geared up on weekends. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I can call myself a cyclist because I feel so out of place with what the “leaders” of this community cater to.

But here are the facts on me: I don’t own a car; my bike is my transportation. When my other bike was stolen, I could only afford to buy a bike off Craigslist for $140 (and that was a little over budget for me). I don’t make much money, but I’m not poor. I have a master’s degree, and I’m an artist. I don’t own a car because I can’t afford one and because I just don’t want one. I don’t own an expensive race bike, even though I’m training to race. Right now I’m working a second job with long hours (10-12 hour days) on weekends (which I commute to by bike sometimes 40 miles there and back) just so I can afford a beat up, used triathlon TT bike for my races. I’ve ridden a lot of long distance rides—centuries, double centuries, two day “tours”—completely unsupported. I’m also building myself a new commute/tour bike. My current bicycle (which all of the above-mentioned riding occurs on) is a 56cm and I need a 50cm frame. I also wanted more modern shifters, so I decided I could pull together enough used parts and a used frame and just go in for a good shifting system to make a nice bike I can be proud of (no offense to the Death Machine).

The bike build project is where my continual feeling of odd-cyclist-out with what should be my community comes into play this week. With all this background, here is my letter to the Bicycle Kitchen, which describes the recent not so happy experience I had with them.


"Dear Bicycle Kitchen:

First off, let me say that I appreciate the service you provide to the community and the gap you try to fill for education on bicycle repair and maintenance. I first heard about you from a young man in a bicycle shop when I mentioned wanting to know how to work on my bicycle myself (back when I was riding a Huffy mountain bike before it got stolen). The young man said there was this place up in Hel-Mel called the Bicycle Kitchen, and they will teach you how to work on your bike. I thought, “wow, how cool is that?”

I never did make it up there with the Huffy as it was stolen. But as I became more familiar with the cycling community here, I found articles about the Bicycle Kitchen and was really happy there was such a place in my neighborhood. (I live about 1.5 miles south in the northern edge of Koreatown.) However, my joy in the foundation of the Bicycle Kitchen ends with the notion of it, because I’ve twice been denied help there, put off for one reason or another. 

Let me say that I understand the purpose is to teach you how to work on your bike. It’s not a bicycle shop and it’s not a repair shop. I get it. I wasn’t asking for either. 

My first off-putting experience was when I came into the Kitchen during ArtCycle. I explained that I wanted to build a bike from scratch as a learning project, but also to ride, and asked what kind of frames they had. Now, based on everything I read, that’s exactly the kind of project you can do at the Bicycle Kitchen, exactly what it’s there for. But the “cook” there just looked at me and said, “well, we don’t sell frames”. I made it clear, again, that I wasn’t looking to buy a bike, I wanted to build one, myself, I would need some direction, but this wasn’t about “buying”. The cook continued to brush me off, so I left with my friends and went back to ArtCycle. My impression was that they just didn’t want to help me. I was very sad and had to wonder what this “community” was really about if these leaders in the community were going to discourage me for some reason or, dare I say, bias of their own.  

So I embarked upon my bike build myself. I went to swapmeets, garage sales, searched online, and compiled used parts for my project over the course of a few months. Every time I talked to people about my search for parts they would say, “oh, you should visit the Bicycle Kitchen.” I had to shake my head sadly and say I’d already tried that. However, as I began to assemble the bike, in my living room on the floor without a bike stand, I realized I needed an integral part to install my shift and brake cables. Last night, on a group ride, we stopped to show an out-of-town guest the Bicycle Kitchen. I went inside, explained that I was building a bike at home, and needed a cable clamp for the downtube. The cook politely showed me a cable clamp but would not give or sell it to me. He said, “We’re not really a bicycle shop. You can bring it here and work on it.” I explained to him that the bicycle was in pieces, I don’t own a car, and I would have to carry it here, which isn’t really an option, because I’m not walking through Hel-Mel and Koreatown at night, carrying my bicycle (and let me be clear, nighttime is the only time I have to work on this project). It’s absolutely ridiculous that he even expected me to. Hello! There have been muggings, and recently cyclists have been held at gunpoint for their bikes in this area! I’m a 30-year-old woman, and while carrying the bike isn’t the problem, I paid good money for all the parts I had to compile, since the Kitchen wouldn’t help me in the first place. I wasn’t trying to use them as a shop. I had a legitimate need, a legitimate situation, and could’ve used a little help. Regardless of my explanation, I was again refused any help and left very angry that I was being told that the only way I could get help was to do something I deemed dangerous.  

Bicycle Kitchen, I don’t know why you wouldn’t help me. I clearly wasn’t trying to use you as a shop; I was clearly trying to use you for exactly what you have been praised for in so many articles and blogs. It’s not my place to tell you how to change; the Bicycle Kitchen is your organization. But I wanted to bring my experience with you to light because I feel like, for some reason or another, because I’m not a kid on a fixie or because I’m clearly not impoverished (but I don’t make a lot of money), I was denied help. After I explained the danger in carrying my bike at night to the Kitchen for a clamp, I feel the volunteer should’ve been a little more understanding. It’s not like I walked in and said “I need a clamp, how much?”  

Women are an indicator species for cycling, and this community goes on and on about getting women on bikes. But it seems to me that you were very discouraging to this woman. Food for thought, and I hope you will think about it. 

Thank you for listening to this complaint. Good luck in your continued mission to serve the bicycle community.

Sincerely,
Amanda F. Lipsey"

Trust me, I don’t like writing about unhappy experiences in my blog, but this blog is about my life without a car. And this is one of my experiences. I wouldn’t have written about it, except that I really felt like the man who insisted that I carry my bicycle through a bad neighborhood just to get a clamp was so unsympathetic. I have been turning it over in my mind all night. It was all I could think about on my ride to work this morning. I guess I just hope that maybe this community can acknowledge that there is a segment of the community that’s like me. And while we’re small right now, aren’t we the exact segment that you want to build? Except when we come to the table, you treat us poorly. What gives?

Addendum:
In reviewing my post, reading the list of things I have accomplished on my beat up old Schwinn that doesn't fit me, that should be impossible for me to ride comfortably, makes me want to cry. All I want is to build myself a working, sturdy bike that fits me. I'm not asking for much. I wasn't asking Bicycle Kitchen for much. I just don't get it.


 
 
 
Last week and Monday, all the parts I had won or ordered via eBay or online stores arrived. Last night, I attached the Shimano Sora shifters to the handlebars and installed pink grip tape. Tonight I'm hoping to plow my way through the rest of the job...think I might need a few beers to enjoy while doing so. I do have pics of handlebars with shifters and grip tape. Just no time to post them right now.

Here's tonight's to-do list (in no particular order)
1) Pick up chain tool, some missing bolts and screws, cable housing, new brake shoes, and brake cables from 3rd St. Bike Shop
2) Install front & rear derailleurs
3) Install brakes and new brake shoes
4) Install shifter & brake cables
5) Install chain
6) Adjust derailleurs
7) Install pink toe cages
8) Install pink tires
9) Install bicycle seat
10) Install pink water bottle cages
11) Remove rear rack from Death Machine, install on GoFast
12) Remove cyclocomputer from Death Machine, install on GoFast

So yes, I will be working all night on the bike. I will probably fall asleep on the yoga mat next to my bike work station. I don't care. On Wednesday night, I want to take her out for a test spin.