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Episode Seven – Elly Blue

15 Jul

Woah! We’ve made it to the last in a series of independent mechanics interviews of Portland, Oregon. This one isn’t of a mechanic per se, but of a bicycle activist who does a lot for PDX in terms of cycling. From her website on feminist nonfiction about cycling:

I’ve been writing about bicycle transportation since 2006, and my work has appeared in Grist, Bitch, BikePortland, Momentum, Reclaim, and elsewhere. I co-founded PDX by Bike, a business that helps people find their way around Portland by bicycle, and a nonprofit business alliance called the Portland Society. My first book, Everyday Bicycling, came out in December, 2012. My next full-length book, Bikenomics: How Bicycling Will Save the Economy, [more here] comes out in February 2013. 

Read on to find out more about Elly Blue and her participation in, and thoughts around, Portland’s ever-growing cycle scene:

How did you get into bikes/cycling? Would this count as your Portland background, too?

I was lucky enough to be in Portland and on the alert for what I wanted to do with my life just as the bike scene was starting to blow up. I’d already been riding a bike for transportation, but my heart was in walking and I was increasingly obsessed with transit. Bikes, bike events, and learning about all things bike took over my life before I quite realized what was happening. It was heady to be in the midst of all the changes and creativity going on.

What I do now: I write quite a bit, mostly about bikes, and at the moment mostly for enviro weblog Grist.org. I also publish a feminist bike blog and zine, both called Taking the Lane which is a great creative outlet. I can sort of scrape by enough with writing to still have some energy to put into other projects, like my new business, PDX by Bike and the Portland Society.

What do you do that’s bike related (and/or activist)? Do you see much crossover in Portland between bikes and activism? Would you say you have a political outlook?

Being able to ride a bike has been transformative in my life and in my community. In my work as a writer, I take this as a baseline assumption and then try to push the boundaries of the discourse about transportation and community life as far as I can. I am lucky to work with some amazing editors and publications who hand me a megaphone to say that we should remove freeways from cities and that cars contribute to poverty and inequality. It’s amazing how many people feel free to make these ideas their own, once I’ve put them out there. You know what’s also amazing? The most controversial things I say are more along the lines of “sexism exists.”

So that’s half my working life, getting to write these out-there things that are actually pretty common sensical, particularly from an economic perspective. The other half is PDX by Bike, a business my friend Meghan Sinnott and I are launching to help people visiting Portland enjoy the city by bicycle, whatever that means to them. I don’t think of it as activism, but I do hope it helps more people get on bikes and love it.

Regarding what you do, could you speak more about the Portland Society?

This is one of my favorite projects right now. It’s a nonprofit business alliance for women who are into bicycling. We have two events a month, a morning meeting focused on professional development, and an evening happy hour focused on networking. We’re a year old, have over 40 members, have started a scholarship fund, and from what I can tell and what I’ve experienced myself it’s provided people with a lot of useful skills, ideas, and contacts, as well as a more nebulous but maybe even more important sense of empowerment. I get this high at the morning meetings when everyone goes around the room introducing themselves and talking about what they do. We’ve been surrounded by all these amazing women all along, but many of us tend to get drowned out in the male-dominated bike industry and business community.

Have you seen more involvement of women and acceptance by men in the bike world…more sectors than others (say bike rides vs bike shops)? Are there many ‘biketivists’ in Portland and is it male dominated? Has there been a strong feminist critique of the ‘scene’ made?

There are a lot of amazing, active women in all parts of Portland’s bike scene. In some sectors, like advocacy, gender doesn’t seem to be as big an issue as in others, like mountain biking. Bike shops seem to be starting to open up a little — there’s at least a dialogue about gender, even if some of the ways it’s approached are clumsy. The sports side of things is going to thaw for women a lot more slowly than the advocacy side. On a cynical day, I’d say the parts with the real money are the most closed.

6wheelsgood

photo credit to sara stout

How much bike-related stuff that you do is enmeshed with Portland’s bike infrastructure? 

The infrastructure makes a huge difference. It’s not everything, but when it feels like you have a real place on the road, even if it’s something as tenuous as a bike lane, it makes for a much better riding experience and encourages a lot more people to get out there. We’ve been lucky in Portland because people working for the city have put down a lot of paint letting us all know that the roads are for bikes, too. But it’s also not that much. We’ve spent, over twenty years, less on bike infrastructure than we’ve spent just on preliminary studies for a new freeway widening project that may never be built, or at least I hope it isn’t.

How do you get funding for your projects?

There always seems to be money for bike stuff — or at least, there’s always someone happy to donate beer to bike events, and that’s easily convertible into money. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. One group I used to be heavily involved with, Shift, consistently raises more money than it knows how to spend by screenprinting second-hand t-shirts for their events and selling them for $5 each. I love that because the screenprinting process brings a lot of volunteers together to learn a new skill and do something concrete — those are the best parties.

What are you trying to engender through your work? And is this mainly for women?

I want to empower people.

I also read an article partially written off of an interview someone made about you, called ‘Advocacy, Women and Cycling, and the Shortcomings of Portland.’ The article reminded me of a workshop done earlier this year on young women and cycling (which brought up ideas of femininity, fashion, body image). What are your thoughts on this?

Ha. That’s a really good question. I disagree with proponents of “cycle chic” who think that in order for women to want to bike we have to know that we can look hot while doing it. Unfortunately, there’s some truth in that, but bicycling can also give us an opportunity to buck the absurd double standard for the way women are supposed to present ourselves. If bicycling were to become truly mainstream, then the mainstream will have become a new and unrecognizable reality in which natural hair, lack of make up, the occasional grease stain, and even, oh horrors, sweat, were totally normal.

That workshop and others (like one about how we get funding) was part of a weekend gathering of diy and grassroots bike groups in the UK. Have you  heard of, or been to, similar gatherings in the US?

There’s a huge network of community bike projects similar to 56a in the U.S.. They have an active wiki, a national conference called Bike Bike, and smaller regional conferences. Many of them have a strong feminist component.

I would love to be more involved in this some day — it’s one of the most hopeful things going on out there.

Thanks Elly!

Elly can be found on twitter @ellyblue

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Episode Six – Tom Daly of WTF Bikes

20 Feb

Well Tuned, Fast Bikes – that’s Tom Daly’s goal for WTF Bikes.

But besides a well-repaired bike, have you ever wondered what it’s like opening your own bikeshop while at the same time trying not to be a shitty, elitist mechanic and be as open and inclusive as possible? Well, look no further than WTF!

Going since 2009, third-generation mechanic Tom takes us through the ropes of how he started his one-man operation (with the ups and downs, including getting burgled – twice!), what the ideal bike shop is, hosting the female of colour fest/feminism/female mechs, ‘cycling culture’ and the growth of cycling in Portland, road use, and fav PDX bike rides.

I took this interview in summer of 2011 for our independent bike mechanic features, so it’s a bit dated. Happily enough though his shop is business is stellar – in fact, they have a new address at 3117 SE Milwaukee Ave, Portland OR 97202.

WTF FBOOK  

WTF WEBSITE

Love of the bike: “The feeling of self-propelled motion, and the feeling of freedom that goes along with self-propelled motion…I’m sort of a self-proficiency nerd and the fact that there’s very little on a bicycle that can cause you to not be able to get home on said bicycle really appeals to me.”

“I would really like to retire to the woods somewhere and spend the rest of my life making fires, killing my own food, and riding mountain bikes.”

Don’t be a hack and don’t be a dick: “My primary mission is to be accessible. Is to be accessible, and friendly and that anyone can walk in my door and ask me a question and not feel like I’m going to laugh at them or treat them badly, or savagely correct them for using the wrong terms for the myriad of bogglingly non-standard part terms on bicycles!”

Bike culture: “I think that for people of colour, for hispanic people, non-native English speakers and people who speak English as a second language it’s makes it difficult, because there’s no cohesion there for people who just wanna get on a bike and ride to work. I feel like on some level the I think that culture does make it inaccessible.”

Mountain biking: “The easiest way to be accepted in no matter where you go in the United States is to be a mountain biker. On a mountain bike, you can walk [or bike] on to any parking lot full of pickup trucks, you can go anywhere and, ‘Hey man! That’s a nice bike! Hey dude, that’s a nice, aww…take that down any sweet jumps?’ Mountain bikes and BMX bikes – a great equaliser.”

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Episode Five – US Bike Mechs: Black Star Bags and Double Darn Caps

14 May

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This session of independent bike mechanic interviews features Dave Stoops of Black Star Bags and Misia Pitkin of Double Darn Caps. L interviewed them under the same roof (which they share) on Hawthorne Blvd in Portland while sipping on a six-pack of beer on a hot summer afternoon.  They both run small businesses based around the cyclists’ needs, i.e. the Propa’ hat and the Perfect Messenger Bag. In these interviews they talk about how they came about creating their businesses, being and staying local, the challenges and perks of being independent, and what makes their products special! Besides the shop, both have been vendors at the Portland Bike Craft and Etsy.

Dave talks about processes: the process behind put a bag together and putting a bag business together, and being a part of the Portland independent cycling community. By the way, Black Star Bag ship to the UK!

“I’ve always been a building, or a creator I guess…So I have an eye for how things are constructed. I understand processes really well, so I can kind of take it apart with my mind, but I never really took apart any bags. After being a courier for years, I sort of knew what I liked about bags…but yeah, I was able to take those basic shapes and a lot of trial and error. My first bag was yeah, not a very good bag at all!”

“I’ve always contributed to alleycats and bike races, you know, and I got a lot of my personal coming of age in that community. And so it’s really nice to give back to that community.”

“Having hundreds and hundreds of bags out there, I think that just having those options of local instead of largely distributed is better.”

Misia got into Double Darn by putting her long held passion for sewing and her love of cycling together, “growing from a hobby into a business.”

“I started making bike caps for him [Misia’s husband] and actually tracing the shape of his head.”

“freedom of schedule”

Episode Four – US Bike Mechs: Rejuiced Bikes

16 Feb

Hello,

After working on bikes during a busy, and mild, winter season we are finally back!! It’s been a good winter: from being featured on the bike show, we received a donation of an awning that now keeps us and our outside tools dry from the rain! We also got some new lights for working outside, and had a workshop weekend of skill sharing our knowledge of internal hubs, disc brakes, etc over lots of tea and yummy meals together.

——-
This interview of independent bike mechanics features Johnnie Olivan of Rejuiced Bikes in Portland, OR! WOAH! In a nutshell, Johnnie recycles old bikes and bike parts and welds them together (hear about welding and Schwinn’s at 13:50) to create a bicycle with a (more) utilitarian function and keep the aesthetics at the same time; such as rain collecting, recycling, or aiding the handicapped. So rad! And so DIY!

“And there’s people since that are making old bike railers out of old bike parts. I mean, it’s happening, you know. And I’m not the first I think, but I just definitely know that people around me are doing exactly what I’m doing. And maybe they’re not doing the exact same thing but it’s so freakin’ cool to build something and ride it around town and have it serve a function.”

“When we were travelling [in Spain and Holland] it was all about, you know, tuning our bikes up and…I don’t really know. I just always went to the bike because when you go somewhere, when you move somewhere, it’s always like ‘I gotta get a license in this state,’ ya know, ‘I gotta get this in this state,’ and what’s easier than just getting on your bike?

The 2nd interview is me following Johnnie around as he shows me the different bikes.


 

Pics below include bikes that collect water (H2O flow), school bike, bike rescue bike (now a farmer’s market bike with a foldable umbrella), media quadricycle, waste bike (Trashy Trike)

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Episode Three: US Bike Mechs – The Bike Farm

16 Nov

“The bicycle doesn’t have to be a mysterious machine.”

Hello and welcome to episode 3 of independent bike mechanic interviews. The focus is now on the vibrant cycling city of Portland (damn straight!: around 6 percent of it’s citizens commute by bicycle – the highest in the US), where L interviewed five different groups/people involved in cycling culture.

First off is the Bike Farm, a “non-profit, volunteer-run bicycle maintenance collective .” It should be noted that The Bike Farm isn’t the only independent, collectively run, branded-awesome bikespace in town. There are others like the Community Cycling Center, Bicycle Repair Collective, North Portland Bike Works, Citybikes, etc…, but due to time constraints and the huge explosion of bike-related businesses in Portland since L last visited two years ago, the Bike Farm gets dibs! Also, the Bike Farm gets the first go because the atmosphere, organisational structure, and politics seemed a lot like 56a:

“We’re a resource for tools and parts where people can come and work on their own bikes and the volunteers, to the extent that some of us have some mechanical experience are here to point you in the right direction, to identify what needs to be done, and figure out how to do it.”

L also fronts some questions regarding gender and sexism in the bikeworld.

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More reading:

The concept of a “bike kitchen
An article about The Bike Farm, from bikeportland.org.

The Bike Farm is located at 305 NE Wygant, Portland OR 97211. Thanks Shannon and Russ for your time!

Episode Two: US Bikes Mechs – Gary Main

4 Oct

Hellohello. This is the second installment of our interviews on independent bike projects. On her recent travels in the United States, L met Gary Main of Big Rapids, MI. He happens to own the last remaining bike shop in town! This was quite a contrast to London (3% of people working in central London commute by bike), and also to Portland (5.8% commute by bicycle), where she later visited: “Less people ride bicycles in the United States than in almost every country throughout Asia and Europe, with the exception of England, with whom the United States is tied (along with Australia).”

 

Netherlands 27%, 18% Denmark, ~10% Germany, Finland, and Sweden. In Tokyo, Japan, “it is estimated that more people ride bicycles to local train and subway stations each day — as part of their work commute — than there are bike commuters in the entire United States.” (Zack Furness, One Less Car, 4)

In Portland the bike business is booming, but in small town America local businesses including bike shops, are suffering not only from the recession but also from the big name/big box shops like Walmart that sell lower quality bicycles for cheap (see quoted passage below on the bicycle industry). L speaks to Gary on these issues, “corn-gas society,” as well as how Gary is keepin’ it real in MI.

“It would take an awful lot of education and some simple modifications of people’s driving skills, then there would be a lot of people riding bikes, just like in Europe. Yaknow, I mean I get people coming in here all the time, I say: ‘Why don’t you ride your bike to work?’ ‘Oh! It’s two miles!’ ‘Wait…10,000 ft. And you wanna buy a car, pay exorbitant insurance, pour gas like mad into this car by yourself, and drive four miles a day. 20,000ft. Instead of getting on it and riding a bike, and improving your health and maybe living longer. You cannot legislate morality. You cannot create common sense. There’s no cure for stupid.”

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“There are a number of mitigating circumstances leading to the demise of the U.S. bicycle manufacturing aside from international competition, including mismanagement, corporate greed, and the failure of certain bicycle companies to adapt to particular trends…Rather, we are meant to see the company’s missed opportunities, lack of innovation, and brand deterioration as the hallmarks of its failure, as opposed to seeing the entire bicycle industry as a symbol of everything wrong with globalisation and the corporate race to the bottom…

Huffy Bicycle Corporation, then largest in the United States [July 1998], closed down its Celina, Ohio factory and fired the entire staff of nearly a thousand workers despite high overall sales that year (previous years were financially tumultuous)…Huffy went on to close plants in Mississippi and Missouri in 1999, firing 1,800 workers who were already paid $2.50 less per hour than Celina’s $10.50 wage. The company moved a number of these jobs to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where workers earned less than $4 per hour, before closing operations in 2001 in order to centralise manifacturing operations in a Chinese factory where workers earned 25 to 41 cents per hour while logging sixty-six to seventy hours per week (up to nineteen hours per shift).

Including Huffy, five corporations (Dorel, Dynacraft, Huffy, Rand, and Kent) and their subsidiaries now comprise roughly 80 percent of the U.S. bicycle market, while the other 20 percent of bicycle are largely produced by three additional corporations (Giant, Merida, and Ideal) that similarly operate via a network of supply chains and outsourced labour that is difficult to accurately map out. Consequently, it is incredibly hard to find out where most bikes are made, never mind gaining access to clear information about the actual labour conditions and environmental practices connected to specific bicycle factories ” (Furness, 214).

Episode One: London Indy Bike Mechs – Jon of Old Street Bikes

17 Aug

This is the first installment of our interview project on independent bike projects. L of the bikespace has been interviewing some of London’s independent bike mechanics, and different independent bike spaces/people/projects during her summer travels in the US of A.

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Jon of Old Street Bikes (formerly known as Ganesha Cycles) talks about his racing past, working solo, constructing a bicycle, philosophy of riding and fixing a bike, changes in London, recommended rides and bike shops/mechanics, and he shows us some of his sweet refurbished bikes — check out the rim with the floating sprocket! His business is mainly out of his house in Whitechapel where he has up to 100 bikes! He also sells bikes at bike jumbles and the like around London.

“Really, I try and put bikes back to how they were when built. So I try and keep my original parts, and if I can I’ll improve them. So maybe I’ve got a ’30’s bike, maybe I’ll improve it by taking off the rod brakes and putting on a ’50’s drum brake. So a certain bike which would have been updated in the ’50’s, it’s a better bike than it was. That’s what I try and do; I try and either improve bikes or put them back.”

 

Jon can be contacted at 07five7218zero815 and operates out of 34 Mount Terrace E1 2BB.