Archive for the 'Bikes!' Category

Riding through the Collapse of Civilization

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

I was alone, navigating my hard tail along the legendary Porcupine Rim Trail just east of Moab, when I began to think about the end of the world. I imagined traversing the rough landscape in an unfortunate, yet realistically speaking, not-to-distant future—a reality engulfed in desperation, aesthetic uncertainty, and a renewed sense of ingenuity. It was a reality certainly not characterized by automobiles, which had surely become obsolete almost immediately upon the collapse of civilization.

Unless we figure out a way for cars to run on loving kindness, it should be clear that they will not see us through the pending endgame of civilization. Given that bicycles were around before the automobile, it is not a stretch to say they will be around long after. If we can’t drive our way through the apocalypse, perhaps we can ride through it. Of all the different bicycles out there these days, the question of which bicycle will stand the test of end-times after the industrial production of parts ceases, seeing us through to a brighter, more resource responsible future, is above all, a fun question to explore.

But lets be real; someday, all of this will come crashing down. Never before have we faced, all at once, so many different scenarios upon which the demise of industrial civilization may play out. Imagining living through such a collapse, as many of us do from time to time, it is clear that our transition to a sane and truly sustainable world will be neither voluntary, nor easy. There has been quite a bit written about a “bug-out pack,” a pre-organized backpack full of apocalypse-ready survival gear that one might need if they have to leave suddenly. But when the car dies, and it will, what sort of bike will you ride out into this uncertain future?

Before we attempt to answer this question, as we build a better world, we must ask ourselves the ultimately more important question, can bicycles ever be truly be sustainable in the first place? I’m talking true sustainability here, not corporate “sustainability™.” A real-world understanding of sustainability, yet one that is often unarticulated, is based on the incredibly quaint notion of “forever.” And given the metals, the oil-based rubbers, the precise tools and machinery needed to build and maintain bicycles, not to mention the infrastructure it takes to facilitate all this, bicycles as they presently stand probably aren’t sustainable.

The good news, however, is that there are likely more high quality bicycle frames in existence today than there are people. Tires can be produced with actual rubber that does in fact grow on trees – or in them, rather. The millions of automobiles left to rust in the increasingly hot sun will be a treasure trove of spare parts, grease and oil. And there are plenty of tools out there to keep folks rolling for a long time to come.

Before I got too ahead of myself in preparing for end-times (or new beginnings…depending upon your perspective), I headed over to Revolution Bicycles to try their new coffee and talk apocalypse bikes. It was clear that many of the mechanics there had already though of this.

When I asked bike mechanic and co-manager Adam Cornette what his ideal apocalypse bike would look like, he had an answer for me immediately. “A rigid steel frame single-speed mountain bike with 26-inch wheels.”

“Twnenty-six-inch wheels?” I asked him of the standard mountain bike size wheel. I told him that when I imagined my perfect bike it would look more like a single-speed cyclo-cross bike, which has skinnier yet much taller wheels that are suitable for paved and off-road riding.

“You shouldn’t be riding anything too specific,” he said. “Twenty-six-inch wheels are the most common. When looking at any aspect of your bike after production of parts stops, everything should be as serviceable and replaceable as possible.”

“In a lot of ways,” Mr. Cornette elaborated, “this is exactly the mindset folks go though in bike touring. I mean, apocalypse or not, the question can be, what can you fix in a small auto shop in Bolivia?”

In terms of suspension, I didn’t even have to ask, as I saw the mechanic behind him overhauling a fork behind Cornette as we spoke. He poured out at least 100 milliliters of used oil out of the fork and into a tub. And here I thought bikes would never need an oil change. It takes up to two liters of oil to do a complete overhaul of your forks. A rigid fork would certainly be the way to go.

Mechanic and bicycle shop barista Jon Benson got an idea from someone in town who actually built their ideal apocalypse bike. “Surly makes a wide fork; he used that and actually built the bike with two rear wheels.”

“Why would you want to do that?” I asked, sipping an iced latte from a martini glass.

“If you have two rear wheels, that means you have two rear cassettes; one to replace the other when it wears out. You can make your gears last longer that way.”

Before I spoke to Mr. Benson, the consensus was that an apocalypse bike would be a single-speed. “Eventually, that would have to be the case.” CJ Constantopoulos, owner of Revolution Bicycles, piped in next to us. “But cables will last for a while, as long as you keep them lubed.”

It was then that I realized that, the ideal apocalypse bike would be one that evolved as existing parts became less and less available. CJ is a big fan of his Surly Big Dummy, fitted with a three-speed internal hub. “The internal gears are ideal because of how low maintenance they are.” The Big Dummy frame includes the built-in “xtracycle,” allowing the bike to carry up to 200 pounds of cargo, a feature that would no doubt be crucial in a post apocalypse world.

I finished my coffee and rolled on over to BiciMundo to talk to Elson Miles, who operates a bike shop out of his house. Mr. Miles, as most folks know, is sort of the grandfather of bicycles in Flagstaff. Walking into his bike yard, you’d think the world had already ended. Walkways lined with frames of all varieties, some complete bikes, some not; spare chain rings and wheels hung on the back fence, large tubs here and there, full of used forks, seats, handlebars, and other miscellaneous parts.

“All you have to do is look at third-world countries to see the future,” he said, commenting on a style of bike known as the “Africa bike.” Kona currently produces a version of this bike and actually donates them to communities in need. World Bicycle Relief (worldbicyclerelief.org) is an organization that “provide(s) access to independence and livelihood through The Power of Bicycles” and has distributed over 75,000 of these bikes throughout Africa. These bikes are sturdy city cruisers with steel belted tires, making them virtually puncture resistant, coater brakes, and internal three-speed hubs. They are also work bikes, usually accompanied by heavy-duty racks on the front and the back.

“But low-tech will be what survives,” said Miles. “No doubt tires can be made out of anything rubber…I don’t know,” he said looking around, “like maybe a garden hose or something. And when your brakes fail, you can always use the back of your shoe in an emergency,” he said smiling, demonstrating on some old cruiser. “We used to call that one the ‘Skuffy Skidmore Memorial Brake.’”

Back on the Porcupine Rim Trail, many folks I passed were having trouble: a bent disc brake rotor, a broken derailleur, a snapped chain, and another broken derailleur. If any of these folks were going to ride through the pending crash of civilization, they’d likely have to get rid of those gears, and eventually those brakes too.

Make yr own studded snow tires! yesssss!

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Last year, I made my own studded bicycle tires to keep me rolling through the snow and ice. I laughed the first time I had them on, doing figure eights atop a sheet of ice in the ally behind the Orpheum. I remember really ripping through turns on the way home, testing my luck, actually trying to slip. Though the Wine Loft fostered this sense of confidence more than the quality of my own arts and crafts, I was duly impressed.

Like riding with a trailer for the first time, studded tires clearly opened new doors. While a trailer obviously allows cyclists to do more, the studded tires mean more days on the saddle. All winter long, people asked me about the tires.

Sure, many of the fine bicycle establishments in town sell studded bicycle tires of all shapes and varieties. I know Revolution Bicycles can’t even keep them in stock. And for those cyclists who can afford the $60 (and up) per tire, those not turned on by creating their own solutions, and particularly those not attracted to arts and crafts, maybe buying these tires is a damn good option.

It is safe to assume, however, that folks who are crazy enough to want to ride their bike in the snow and ice throughout the winter probably ride their bike a lot already. And if that’s the case, there is a good chance that they have some old or spare tires and punctured tubes laying around somewhere at home. If truth follows my logic, there are a lot of folks out there who can make their own studded tires for under 10 bucks.

Here is what you’ll need.

1. Two old tubes, two old tires (it’s okay if they have punctures).
2. One new tube
3. Two boxes of 3/8” to 1/4” inch sheet metal screws
4. Industrial grade silicone epoxy
5. A attitude somewhere between Martha Stewart, MacGyver, and Penny Rimbaud

Step 1
On the outside of each tire, mark each rubber tread knob you wish to be studded. This is really just to make sure you have enough screws to do the kind of job you want. Remember that you really just need the studs there when you’re breaking and turning, so don’t over do it. I used 100 screws for each tire and spread them out along the outer parts of the tire.

Step 2
From the inside, drill sheet metal screws into each tread knob you marked. By pinching with your thumb and index finger on the outside and inside of the tire, you can ensure you’re drilling in the right place. If you don’t screw directly into your mark, it’s not a big deal. (Why sheet metal screws? Last year, I used sheet metal screws on one tire and wood screws on the other. The woodscrews rusted and wore down far quicker than the sheet metal ones. Some will recommend concrete screws, though strong, they are too heavy, too expensive, and often too big).

As you are doing this, make sure that the screws don’t stick out too much. This means that you will not necessarily screw them in all the way from the inside. Depending on the kind of clearance you have, this is simply to avoid the screws scraping up the inside of your frame when you put the wheel back on.

Step 3
After you have all your screws in the way you want them, take your epoxy and dot the heads of each screw. And feel free to coat around the threaded part of the screw if they are not screwed in all the way.

Step 4
Before the epoxy dries completely, take an old tube and slice it open, long ways, all the way around. Line the inside of your tire with the old tube. The tube will be unnecessarily wide for this job, so feel free to trim it a bit. You can also use more of the epoxy to get the tube to stick to the inside of your tire. This “liner” tube is to provide another layer of protection against the possibility of a screw head puncturing your new tube.

Step 5
Insert a new tube and slap the tire on your wheel. This might require gloves, as you will not be used to doing this with sharp screws poking your hands. If you find that the screws are nicking the inside of your frame, you can simply file them down with a heavy duty file.

If you can perform this modification with an extra set of wheels, it will be much easier for you to simply swap wheels rather than change the tire every time the weather gets bad. You can ride with these wheels on all season, but just know that when the pavement is dry, studded tires will slow you down significantly.

Doing things like making your own studded snow tires helps to foster a mindset whereby cyclists question the weather less and question themselves more. Slowly but surely winter cyclists will stop looking at the sky and wondering if today it might be a better idea to ride the bus or drive. Instead the real question becomes, what can I do to stay on the bike?

That’s Not Why I Ride a Bike…

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

We watched our cars sit in the driveway. My small silver one hardly recognizable under mounds of snow and ice; the antenna poking through like a periscope under winter’s blanket. And, when winter gave way to spring, we noticed that Joe’s green one was literally becoming part of the local eco-system, with bees living in the tailpipe, and something growing out of the wheel well. His battery had been dead for at least two years at that point. I killed my battery early that winter when I lost my phone charger and needed to use the juice from the car.

It had been years since either of us drove a car regularly. After all, living in Flagstaff, we recognize that we are privileged enough to live in a city where the air is clean, and nearly everything we need to live can be found within a 5-mile radius. Fed up with dropping over $100 every month for insurance and even more to keep it registered, not to mention the costs of oil changes and the occasional part replaced, just to let it sit in the driveway, I eventually sold my silver one. Joe cleared out the cobwebs and gave his green one away.

We ride our bikes year-round in Flagstaff, and have seen many winters come and go from the view behind our handlebars. When I meet someone that hasn’t taken the time to relate to this kind of lifestyle, I’m always confronted with the same questions. In no particular order, here are my answers: two words—bike trailer. There are shuttles, buses, and trains that will take you anywhere you want. Primarily long underwear, waterproof pant covers, a good pair of gloves, and a facemask. It helps to know that during the windy season, the wind blows hardest during the afternoon. A good tarp. Your body warms up quickly, and you’d be surprised to feel how badass you actually are. Studded snow tires (you can even make them yourself). No, I don’t wear spandex. I avoid riding on Milton if I can. Snot washes right off…

I’ve read many articles over the years that make various arguments to people about why they should ride a bike, however, none of the typical reasons keep me in the saddle.

Indeed, while typical benefits to riding, like feeling healthy and not trashing the environment, might get people to get on a bike, it doesn’t keep them there. Generally speaking, people don’t like to exercise. People like to play volleyball, go on hikes, and ride bikes, but exercising? No thanks. As soon as it is exercise, the bike becomes something folks feel like they should do, rather than want to do. By thinking of a bike as exercise, there is a built in guilt factor that develops, having people say, for example, “oh, I know, I should ride my bike more.” The beauty of commuting everywhere by bike is you never have to think about getting exercise, instead you’re just getting to work, or going to the grocery. Indeed, it is the exercise component that is built into the bike, not the guilt.

And I think most people know that the ride-a-bike-to-save-the-world ploy is largely bullsh*t. As writer and independent scholar Kirkpatrick Sale wrote a few years back when “going green” became such a fashion statement, rather than a political one, “The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can’t solve them. Take our crazy energy consumption. For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption – residential, by private car, and so on – is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”

Ride a bike because it is healthy, and empowering. Ride a bike because it doesn’t require destructive infrastructure, foreign resources, labor, and wars. Ride because being on one means you are never stuck in traffic and cops don’t really pay attention to you.

Sale continues, “I mean, sure, go ahead and live a responsible environmental life; recycle, compost, ride a push-bike; but do it because it is the right, moral thing to do–not because it’s going to save the planet.”

Never in these articles do I see reflections explaining the reasons why I ride. I ride because it makes me feel more honest, more alive, and more, well, human. But it’s more than that. When the weather is at it’s worst; when I’m pedaling with everything I’ve got against biting Northern Arizona winds, battling the sting of freezing rain—eyes squinting, centered on the road ahead—I do not get jealous of drivers, cozy and dry, atop heated seats. Instead, through an intimate connection with my own mobility, I’m in my own world, reflecting on thousands upon thousands of years of human experience.

I think of a long history shaped around disease, famine, and imperial violence as well as times of great abundance. The rhythm of the crank becomes a drum and the trance is my tap into the collective unconscious of my ancestors. It is here that I contemplate the weight of millennia, of migration, of exodus, where the reality of their resilience feels more like memory than a sense of unity.

I remember navigating thrashing waters with wind-burned faces, fleeing violence under cover of dark over vast prairies, negotiating the sharp rock of deep canyons; images of calloused hands carrying babies across rivers, setting out in the desert with only a vague notion of where the next water source would be. I remember being fully exposed for great lengths of time to every natural element imaginable.

And I know that the same wind moves through me; that when my heart beats ferociously, it is their blood flowing through my veins.

So, yeah, I have no problem riding to Safeway for food; in fact, when motorists who are angry, yelling, honking, and crashing into each other but still look at me like I’m the one from another planet, I actually feel quite privileged to be able to get around town so efficiently on my own steam.

Granted, not everyone can commute everywhere by bicycle. Not only are regular cyclists privileged to live in a city like Flagstaff, but we’re able bodied, don’t have children, and we don’t have jobs that require us to haul items like large tools. The truth is, many people, especially college-aged students, share many of these privileges but still choose to sit idle in traffic and drive, even when they know many destinations can be reached quicker by bicycle.

I do not blame folks who do not ride because they’re scared of cars. However, while automobiles kill a little over 700 cyclists a year, and an average of one or two per year in Flagstaff, it doesn’t compare to between 30 and 40 thousand people who are killed by automobiles every year. Whether you drive, or walk, or ride, the fear of a careless automobile slamming into us is a fear we all share.

When you ride a bike, being passed by cars going 40 or 50 miles an hour, the violence that surrounds every detail of car culture becomes fully illuminated. “People aren’t connected to their own violence,” says Joe. “When nuts hit the bolts, we’re all trying to stay out of the way of cars.” While some victims of violence are fetishized, such as the 9/11 victims, we readily accept deaths when they are victims of more systemic forms of violence, such as those killed by environmental racism, preventable diseases, or car culture. Joe answered, “if they invented a car that ran on, I don’t know, flowers, I’d still ride a bike because of the violent, face-paced, “get out of my way” attitude that car culture promotes. Plus it’s way more fun. We’ve accepted the costs of this mode of transportation.”

Like any meaningful societal change, recognizing violent, oppressive systems can only, and appropriately be answered by creating workable alternatives. And the bike was not only invented before the automobile, but it will be around for much longer. Through car culture’s disconnection with violence, the driver is also elevated beyond a human scale.

A driver might cringe when the automobile that they’re controlling runs over a rabbit or a raccoon, but after a few years on a bike, I find my heart skipping a beat when I narrowly miss lizards or spiders. Joe confirms this growing pedal-powered journey away from destructive systems. “When I go to the grocery store, more and more I think, why am I not growing my own food?”

Pedaling for Big Mountain, Where Resistance is Self-Defense

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

I count 35 sheep, which means one is missing from the herd. I quickly retrace the tracks in the fresh snow that fell the day we arrived, pausing to scan the snowy landscape. Squinting through sagebrush, veering from one juniper to another, zigzagging through narrow washes and frozen ponds and beyond to where it all culminates to a thick dark green line on the horizon. It is here, at the intersection of green trees and pink sky that I pause to listen.

There is a dark cloud billowing from the easternmost edge of Black Mesa. Today, like every day I’ve been here, Peabody Coal Company is blasting. I cannot hear the explosions, but as I stand in hoof tracks, the plume in the distance reminds me of why I’m here and with whom my solidarity lays.

In 1974 the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 93-531, which required the forced relocation of more than 14,000 Diné and hundreds of Hopi families from the lands they have occupied and honored for more than a thousand years. In fact, there is evidence that native people occupied this particular mesa for 7,000 years.

(more…)

BiciMundo: Add More Slack to the Universe by Resurrecting Your Bike

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

You don’t know how it got there, but it’s been leaning against the back of your fence for years now. The grass has grown over the sun-worn tires, up and around the spokes. It is most likely missing a key piece: a seat, handlebars, or perhaps a front wheel. You picked it up on Craigslist or from a garage sale, hoping to fix it up when you got the chance. Your neighbor moved away; she asked you keep it safe and you never heard from her again. Last year, you spotted it leaning against a neighbor’s trashcan; a single-speed, built from a late seventies road bike. Now it just sits in the yard and you barely notice it any more.

In my case, the bicycle was there when I moved in. Having withstood the weight of several winters’ worth of snow and many monsoon storms, it is now a strange habitat for spiders and hornets. Someone that used to live in my house had apparently salvaged it from a dumpster. It’s a late eighties road bike. The wheels don’t match; there is no seat or seat post. The red paint is chipped, exposing a layer of green paint, and under that, a thick layer of purple, though much of the paint is gone completely. Sometimes, I’d peer at it and think about how slick it would look if I took the time and energy to fix it up.

If you’ve lived in Flagstaff for a couple years, chances are you have a bike like this laying around. Summer is well under way and it’s time to bring that bike back from the dead.

While I have found the many bike shops in town are very helpful, I knew of only one guy who could offer me some honest, affordable guidance. I took it down to BiciMundo, the shop that Elson Miles runs out of his home south of the tracks, on 222. E. Brannen Ave., which is a block east of San Francisco St.

Elson is somewhat of a bicycle legend in Flagstaff, the grandfather of peddle-power in the pines. Elson moved to Flagstaff in 1970 with little else to his name than a backpack. He moved here when there were no bike shops, no bike lanes, and virtually no bike culture. Since then, he has watched Flagstaff’s now-thriving bicycle culture blossom. Elson is one of the central people we have to thank for this.

Elson’s yard is a tribute to all the ways in which the ‘ol velocipede has evolved. Frames, forks, and partially assembled bikes of all varieties, conditions, and generations appear to be strewn all over the yard. Upon closer inspection, it is actually organized chaos: a junkyard and a goldmine. Toward the back, outside of his work shed, wheels are hung on the fence, positioned by type, along with chain rings and vintage bash guards of all varieties.

As I wait my turn, Elson is explaining a repair bill for a tune-up. In his small workshop, he looks especially tall. He has a weathered face, a grizzled beard and he has an unobtrusive calmness about him that is very reassuring. He is usually wearing a baseball hat and a mechanic’s work-apron that says “Ryan” for some reason. The misnamed apron is actually a good way to describe his ethos as a bicycle mechanic. It’s used, but does the trick.

Some customer’s bikes, waiting to be picked up, catch my eye. A Surly Cross-Check sitting next to rusted out cruiser, and a Kona Unit beside a children’s low-rider, adjacent to several virtually unidentifiable classic road bikes and cruisers. There are bikes for sale as well. Brand new single speed road bikes and used refurbished bikes of all sizes and types are lined up beside a full box of used bicycle seats.

Elson knew what kind of frame I had right away. “It’s a late eighties Raleigh Technium, a nice frame.” He went on to explain that the frame was a combination of aluminum bonded to steel. When I got home I did some research and read that the first and fifth of the serial numbers put together is the date in which the frame was built—in my case, 1988.

There were two pretty quirky things that Raleigh tried out with this bike. With the aide of computer aided drafting, they developed oval shaped chain rings for the crank, which I still don’t really understand. They also put small holes in top tube, which funneled the cables through the inside of the frame. “Ohh, hidden cables,” Elson jeers sarcastically toward the 1988 road bike manufacturer’s mindset. “How cool, how sexy; it’s actually not a good idea. It can create kinks in the cable that you can’t see, which can be a problem for shifting.” Elson suggested that we plug the holes with silicone caulk, and run the cables on the outside of the frame.

I brought the bike home and completely disassembled it. This was actually a lot of fun. In a matter of an hour, I had a shinny metallic pile of what Elson calls “bicycle jewelry.”

People assume that because I ride the hell out of my bike, that I know everything about fixing and maintaining bikes. I don’t. But I have been increasingly interested in learning. I brought my newly-painted, partially assembled bike back over to Elson’s shop and asked him to help me put it back together. “I was hoping to be able to watch you, and ask questions so I can learn to do this myself,” I said.

Elson peered over the top of his glasses. “Oh, you’re one of those…” he smiled and told me about a kid that was just in the shop who had the same idea regarding the installation of his new disc brakes.

I explain to him that the frame is too small for me, but I wanted to fix it up for a friend. “We’ll make it fit her,” he said, and he helped me find a shorter handlebar stem out of his catalogue. Once I found one suitable enough, he scribbled the part number on a notebook, its pages smudged with black grease. “Let me just type this up into my computer.”

I dropped in Bicimundo for a couple of days a week, over the span of a month or so. During this time, I not only learned a great deal about assembling a bicycle from the bottom up, but as we worked, I also got an interesting perspective on the evolution of Flagstaff’s bicycle culture the role that Elson played.

“I got here just as the bicycle boom was hitting around 1970 and ’71. There were no bicycle-specific shops just an auto-repair shop and Higly’s Sporting Goods.” After repairing bicycles at the sporting goods store, Elson opened, Cosmic Cycles, and ran it from the late 70’s until the early 90’s. I asked him about the evolution of the mountain bike. Though California takes all the credit for the invention of the mountain bike, I learned that there was a lot of experimentation going on across the country simultaneously. Bike shops in Tucson and Elson’s shop in Flagstaff were no different. He walked me to the side of his house were he had an old Schwinn Varsity road frame.

“We would take these old Varsity’s and open the back of it with a vice to accommodate a larger wheel. Then we’d remove the front fork and replace it with one from a beach cruiser.”
I scratched my head. “And you sold these bikes?”
“Oh yeah, this was Flagstaff’s first mountain bike.”

Elson went on to tell me a story of him and a few friends who held Flagstaff’s first mountain bike race on Snowbowl Road before it was paved. “It was a very unofficial race, but the newspaper—then called Flagstaff News—even covered it. As we’re talking about this, Elson is teaching me how to replace a missing spoke. As he trues the rear wheel on a machine that allows him to see and adjust any part of the wheel that is out of place, his rough hands delicately making minor adjustments, he continues.

“We walked these strange creations up the road, smoked a doobie, and raced to the bottom. It was funny because I was not much of a racer, but I did win that race. And it was all over the paper the next day, ‘Bomber Bikers Buzz the Bowl.’ We were hysterical.”

As we worked, Elson was frequently interrupted by customers and friends. Much of the time, customers were also friends; they stayed in the shop for hours, talking about life, love, and the pursuit of bringing the two together by riding and maintaining bikes. It is obvious that Elson’s shop is a strong asset to the community.

A couple Mexican boys from the neighborhood came in and wanted some advice. It was obvious the boys were shocked to see that Elson spoke Spanish.
“Que Pasa,” one of them smiled inquisitively.
“Bien, bien,” Elson responded, “Cómo puedo ayudarle con su bicicleta?” Much to their delight, in his own language, the boy was able to explain the problem he was having with his bike. When I asked Elson if he is fluent, he responded, “well, it’s not perfect, but I get by okay.”

When I was screwing on a new chain ring to the crank, a guy walked in from Absolute Bikes asking to borrow a crank extractor for European bike whose parts had gone the way of the dinosaurs. Elson had just what he was looking for.

As Elson measured out my new chain, I asked him how he knew when it was tight enough. “Well, you just have to feel it. It shouldn’t be too tight or it will put strain on your derailleur and it won’t shift properly. It’s like that mock-church from Texas, the reverend Bob started the Church of the SubGenius and they’re central belief is that there needs to be more slack in the universe.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but wrote it down anyway. After a quick Internet search, I found out that the Church of the SubGenius is a religious group that satirizes religion and conspiracy theories. The central tenant is the pursuit of “slack,” which generally stands for a sense of freedom, independence and original thinking that stems from spontaneity, absurdity, satire, and a strong detest for authority.

As I test road the “new” bike, I thought more about this business of slack. I’m not sure I can think of a better euphemism for the mindset of a cyclist navigating through traffic on a bike rescued from a dumpster. Driver’s think we’re a pretty bizarre bunch. Sometimes we are, and that’s a good thing. If the universe needs more slack, at least we’re doing our part.