Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Resolution: Move My Money

Yesterday, I visited a nearby branch of Chase, where my old WAMU checking account now lives. I deposited my paycheck in person at the teller and then checked my balance. The funds, my funds, were not reflected in my account balance. When I asked the kind bank rep who says hello to everyone who walks in what's going on, her brightly lit eyes faded a bit and the word "Oh" barely escaped from her quickly pursing lips. "The funds were being held by Chase for 24 hours."

Large banks like Chase spend money creating the veneer of local and friendly places to bank. A smiling person greets you when you walk in. But their policies are anything but. It used to be that a hold was placed on funds for a specific reason. Chase places holds on all non-cash deposits so that they, not you, can have 24 hours to use your money any way they wish. Perhaps the money from my paycheck was used yesterday to lobby Congress to limit financial reforms, or to pay a large bonus to an executive. When you multiply millions of paychecks, you can see that with this one policy, Chase is able to leverage their customer's money in a very powerful way.

It was in this visit to a gleaming new Chase branch that I realized by my choice of financial institution, I was contributing to the pushback against financial regulation reform. By simply switching my bank to a small, local institution, I could prevent my money from being used against me.

It turns out I'm not the only person coming to this conclusion. Hopefully, you'll decide to move your money like I did. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Compost in the Round

A few years ago, I picked up a couple metal drums for free on Craigslist. They carried high quality olive oil from Italy to Spago in Beverly Hills. I thought I would turn them into rain barrels. Time went by and they sat behind the garage rusting in silence. These drums deserved more, and one day wandering around Instructables, I came across this design for a rolling drum composter.

Compost Tumbler - More DIY How To Projects

After a few hours of cutting, drilling and screwing, I had a large composter that tucks into a quiet corner of the yard, slowly creating rich soil from our kitchen scraps and yard waste! Sweet!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wasted Infrastructure? Northeast Valley Animal Care Center

The Northeast Valley Animal Care Center is a beautiful facility. It's mission style architecture recalls an earlier time in this valley's history, before strip malls and liquor stores. I drive by this building all the time, and wondered why the native vegetation that was obviously carefully selected and planted on the site was becoming overgrown and downright ugly. It turns out the shelter is closed to the public. People do some sort of work in there, I think. From what I could find out online, it seems to be a staging depot for Project Flying Chihuahuas, and even got national press for their efforts. I wonder if the city is being well served by a $10 million dollar mission style building that for all I can tell is used to deport mexican dogs to the east coast. When will this animal shelter be opened to the public, Councilman Alarcon? Maybe you could at least mow the lawn in the meantime...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Myopia strikes AAA's Westways Magazine

Dear Westways,

My family has been members of AAA for over 48 years. We drive cars, and not only that, we occasionally find ourselves identifiable as pedestrians and bicyclists. It was with great interest that I picked up the latest issue of Westways and read Peter Bohr's article, Sharing The Road. In it, I found many puzzling, disturbing and incorrect statements:

1. The illustration accompanying the article features a cyclist holding a phone with one hand heading straight toward a crosswalk filled with pedestrians, apparently walking against a red light. What message is this illustration trying to convey?

2. What evidence does the author have that "cyclists often ride on the wrong side of the road"? LACBC's recent bicycle count in Los Angeles shows a very low incidence of this activity.

3. Cyclists often proceed at a red light because the light only changes in the presence of an automobile. This is legal.

4. Sharrows are a good start, but dedicated bicycle lanes are a better solution for all. Does AAA support more dedicated bike lanes if it means losing lanes for automobiles?

5. A critical safety tip for bicyclists is to TAKE THE LANE. It is allowed in many circumstances, such as approaching an intersection, which reduces the chances of being right hooked or not seen by drivers turning left.

6. Riding single file is not a law! All vehicles, including cars should move to the right if they are moving less than the speed of traffic. There are many exceptions and Westways should make AAA members aware of them.

7. The author writes that drivers should give 3 feet of distance when passing cyclists, if possible. That's a very dangerous bit of advice. Instead, drivers should give AT LEAST 3 feet distance to cyclists when overtaking. If they are unable to, they should wait and pass when it is safe.

Let's be real, distracted and drunk drivers are the main cause of injury and death on the roads. Road rage is also an overlooked problem. Take the story of a doctor who was recently convicted of intentionally harming cyclists in Los Angeles. This much publicized crime would have been an excellent addition to the article. Why was it not included?

Westways could better serve it's readers with an unbiased analysis of the reasons that roads are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, in addition to drivers. AAA could be doing a better job educating their members and advocating for safer roads for all users. Safety should be the paramount goal. After all, every AAA member is also a pedestrian and a potential bicyclist. My father, now in his 80s, rides his bike many times a week. It's his personal fountain of youth. I ride my bicycle as often as I can, both for recreation and to run errands around Los Angeles. I mention this to reinforce the idea that AAA members are not just behind the wheel, and they deserve more than that single perspective in Westways.


The Engaged Observer

P.S. I am the guy riding in the illustration. What you don't see is that I am aware of all roadway users around me and making the safest decision I can, with full understanding of the laws governing the operation of vehicles on public roads. It's in my best interest to strive for zero incidents while I ride my bicycle, and I know it better than anyone else.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Got Bike? L.A.'s cup floweth over with local, independent bike shops

(Project Ride, Ojai, CA)

Don't fret if you didn't find an '83 peugeot road bike under your tree yesterday. In L.A., there's many opportunities to get two wheels between your legs. Whether you're looking for a customized anodized singlespeed (LA Brakeless) or a more practical multigeared approach to riding (Athena Cycles), there is a shop/owner with the expertise and merchandise to supply your every whim. Here's just a short list, by no means comprehensive, of locally owned and operated independent bike shops in Los Angeles. It came to me courtesy of the Los Angeles Critical Mass twitter feed:

Athena Cycles Studio City
Atomic Cycles Lake Balboa (read the quote on their website)
Bike Factory Sherman Oaks
Cycleworld Northridge
Echo Park Cycles Echo Park
El Maestro Downtown
Flying Pigeon Highland Park
LA Brakeless Mar Vista
Orange 20 Hel-Mel
Safety Cycle Hollywood

Take time to identify what's important for YOU. Where will you be riding most often? What are the road conditions of your favorite routes? Do you want versatility to do other things with your bike, touring, farmers market shopping, stylin' in echo park, riding dirt trails in the Santa Monica Mountains?

Always beware, you get what you pay for, whether buying online (ebay, Bikesdirect, Craigslist) or Big Chain Bike Shops or Locally Owned Bike Shops. The key is to inform yourself. Personally, I hate craigslist. It quickly becomes a full time job trying to get a decent bike there. Deals do come up, but they sell quick. If you have the patience and endurance, you can get a great used bike on Craigslist.

My advice is to make use of the city's bike co-ops, which arguably provide the most affordable, educational and fun way to get exactly the bike you want. An added bonus is that you'll learn how to repair and maintain a bike, invaluable knowledge when you need it most!

Bicycle Kitchen Hel-Mel
Bikerowave Mar Vista
Bike Oven Cypress Park
Valley Bikery Chatsworth

Build it yourself, for little money, and ride it everywhere. After a while, you'll know what you like and dislike, you may crash a few times or even get the bike stolen. Eventually, you'll be ready to get something more substantial, and hopefully you'll spend your money wisely.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Grinch of the Year poll includes LADOT's rising star

In a last minute surge of unpopularity, LADOT's Bicycle Coordinator Michele Mowery has earned herself a spot in the running to become L.A. Metblog's Grinch of the Year. It's been a tumultous month for Mowery, who saw her star take off following her comments at a recent City Council meeting:

BILL ROSENDAHL: Alta Planning is reportedly one of the finest consulting groups in the world for bike planning. How is it that the City of Los Angeles kicked off the Draft Bike Plan process with Alta but did not incorporate the robust Bike Plan process that Portland used/is using to develop their own Bike Plan? For example in Portland Alta maintained eleven working groups, and they used community bike rides to engage and survey.

MICHELLE MOWERY: With all due respect the City of Portland is 450,000 people. It’s a homogeneous community that is very white, and very progressive with respect to transportation. They have a trolley system that works very well, as well as their transit overall. We are a very diverse, disjointed city of 4 million people. They are 30 years ahead of us in the development of their, well, they’re not quite 30, they’re more like 20 years ahead of us in the development of their bikeway. So we’re a step behind Portland in what we’re trying to do. Granted, several of us would like to see a lot of changes in the city happen very quickly, but again we have a very diverse city with a lot of needs.

quote from Westside Bikeside

Ouch! Whatever Mowery intended to say, it sure sounded like she thinks L.A.'s diversity is a hindrance to a robust bike plan process. The anger and outrage came quick for Mowery, resulting in calls for her termination and more recently, a fake twitter account has been tweeting the thoughts of one Michelle Meowery, complete with cat ears and whiskers. While some view this as a childish response from the rascally wing of the L.A. cycling community, I believe it represents much more.

Due to her inarticulate response to a single question, Mowery catapulted herself into a figurehead position. She now embodies the City and LADOT's attitude of disinterest and outright disregard for the needs of cyclists in Los Angeles. She is the machine incarnate and the cyber rotten vegetables are coming fast and furious. I am sure Michelle Mowery is a nice enough person, who may be genuinely interested in promoting cycling in Los Angeles. But this is not about her. This is about a city bureaucracy, that time and again, drags its feet and fails to deliver meaningful and lasting improvements for cyclists. Whether she deserves it or not, Mowery is now the face of that bureaucracy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dear Mayor, This bike plan sucks!

SF gets Cyclovia events in 2010 and so far all Los Angeles cyclists get is a boot to the ass out of Griffith Park and a bullshit bike plan that promises nothing and proposes less lanes than previous plans, because we're not white enough?. The mayor (who admits Los Angeles needs to do more to encourage cycling) needs to hear from L.A. cyclists that this is not acceptable. Thankfully, the Los Angeles Bike Coalition makes it easy to send an email to the mayor outlining why the bike plan is in need of improvement. Some additional points you can bring up include:

L.A. deserves a cyclovia of our own

Given it's blatent disregard for cycling, the LADOT is not the agency to head Los Angeles' Bike Plan. Case in Point: They actually brag about installing bicycle friendly sewer grates. Gosh, I'm soo lucky to ride in L.A.!

Michelle Mowery needs to go, and an actual L.A. cyclist should replace her

Police should protect cyclists, and thus need education and ongoing (re)training. Police bias against cyclists is an ongoing problem in Los Angeles.

Push for adoption of the Cyclists Bill of Rights

Push for adoption of the Cyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance

Push for continuing the 2010 LA Bike Tour on the morning of the Marathon as is TRADITION in Los Angeles.

Click the link below and ride safe!

A history lesson on your feet: Pro Keds Bobbito Royal Flash

Shoes perform many functions. They cover feet, protecting them from the elements, while adding grip and traction. In addition, shoes communicate cultural messages of status, wealth, education and clan. A 40,000 year old invention, shoes have evolved in shape, material and ergonomics, yet are still essentially unchanged from their humble origins.

That is, until now.

In early 2009, Bobbito GarcĂ­a, famed New York sneaker historian and DJ, collaborated with Keds to bring humanity a shoe that distills 40,000 years of shoe technology into a styled, comfortable object, more talisman than footwear. The example you see above, in the Nugget Gold colorway, features luxe-suede lateral and vamp, contrasted by white accents of diagonal lines, heel and midsole. Adding to the rune-like quality of the shoe, cryptic messages are inscribed throughout, referencing the history of the man and the sneaker cult he embodies.

Donning a pair of Add On Royal Flash Mids, one feels as if your feet are enshrouded in the excitement, energy and passion of pickup games played on the basketball courts of Spanish Harlem 30 years ago. In the video below the Bobbito explains his transition to manhood was the day he got his first pair of Pro Keds, an experience he describes as becoming "true deal, true article." I cannot say it any better myself. While I don't share the cultural experiences of Bobbito, I do feel a kinship and solidarity with the vision he espouses of manhood, maturity and positivity that comes with wisdom and experience.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Affordable Carbon: Bottecchia CF-66Pro

For months I obsessed over a new bicycle, laying on the couch with my broken thumb in a cast, my 'beater' imprisoned in the garage, bent up and bloodied by my fall from grace. Craigslist promises unfullfilled by flake sellers and elusive size and condition requirements. I visited local bike shops, admiring the top brand flagship all that models that promised featherweight flickability, mountain crushing ascents and shock absorption technology derived from stealth bombers, with a price to match!

Those reasons and more led me one afternoon to press the "buy it now" button on an eBay listing for a "no name" bike sold by someone in Texas. I wasn't sure what I was actually buying, for the bike wasn't sold locally, and I had never seen or touched one personally. Bottecchia is a famed name in bicycling lore, but Wikipedia assured me that the name is perhaps the only thing it has in common with it's supposed ancestors:
Bottecchia USA assembles bicycles of Columbus aluminum and carbon frames manufactured in Taiwan. It is related to the long-time Italian bicycle manufacturer, Bottecchia, by an agreement to distribute bicycles in the USA under the Bottecchia USA name. The bicycles are sold by an eBay merchant in Houston, Texas.
Wow, why on earth was I buying a bike I never saw and never rode? How would a $1,200 all carbon bike actually perform and hold up over time? Was I being fooled into buying something too good to be true?

The answers are still being revealed, but after a couple hundred miles, I can happily report that I am the proud owner of a carbon bicycle made in Taiwan and decorated with stickers that read Bottecchia Sprint CF 66Pro. The bike is an exercise in compromise. For $1,200, you get an all carbon bike that's much heavier than the top brands that sell for 2-3 times as much. You also get excellent components, including Shimano Ultegra derailleurs front and rear, Cane Creek Dual Pivot brakes and Vuelta XRP Wheels with Aero Spokes.

Now I have to stop right there and confess I am not an expert in the latest cycling technology. There are certainly people out there that will say my bike is rubbish through and through, and that I wasted my money. I will tell you that every bike mechanic I've shown my bike to marvels at the price I paid, and each one says the same thing: " The components alone are worth $1,200."

As for the ride, simply put it's a dream. Coming from a 1980's steel Schwinn, this bike feels like a fast moving cloud hovering hither and tither, carrying me along for the ride. The transfer of energy is unlike anything I've ever experienced. I am sure that I am getting a taste of what a $3,000 bike feels like, and that's just fine with me. For now, this is a leap forward in ride comfort and speed, and I'm stoked with everything the bike is and is not. At a touch over 20 pounds, it weighs about the same as my friend's steel single speed, but it's a versatile, quick and capable road bike that can climb, descend and take me anywhere FAST.

You would think that customer service would be non-existent. Not so! After putting the bike together (using assembly instructions that are beyond basic and not at all specific to the actual bike), I discovered a frayed derailleur cable. After a couple emails and a few days, an envelope arrived from Texas with a replacement cable.

Time will tell how this bike holds up, but for now, it continues to bring a smile to my face, and beckons me daily to be ridden.

Essential Accessories: Bell, Computer & Light

Never ride alone. Homie got my back.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Poetry of Los Angeles

Last week, Heather and I attended a mixer hosted by the Academy of American Poets. Our gracious host was Geneva Overholser, director of USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. She warmly greeted us in her "new-york-esque" flat in the heart of a renewed and revitalized downtown L.A. We had no clue what kind of a treat we were in for. In addition to learning about what an important mission the Academy is pursuing throughout the country, we got to hear Dana Goodyear read poems about Los Angeles, my native land. She read a poem by Bertolt Brecht that felt as fresh and relevant today as it was in the 1940s. Dana also read a couple of her own poems, including one exploring the psychics that ply their trade in L.A. She then revealed her investigations into the psychic industry in Los Angeles, apparently run by two feuding families of Roma.

It was a magical experience spending a couple hours meeting incredibly interesting artists, writers, advocates, musicians, and of course poets, contributing to the cultural fabric of L.A. in so many ways. And the setting could not have been more inspiring, overlooking a downtown core that is rapidly turning into a vibrant and exciting place to live, work and be inspired within.

One more nugget: The academy recently published an innovative book of poetry that encourages you to tear out poems to share with friends, coworkers and relatives. Poem in Your Pocket: 200 Poems to Read and Carry.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shimano M086 MTB Bike Show Reviewed

A few weeks ago, I was riding from Hollywood to Santa Monica to meet Meg and Heather for a yoga class with Anaswara.* On my feet were 9 year old bike shoes that I had long since outgrew, but persisted in using because they worked fine...that is until my right foot started to feel numb. I instantly realized that my general cheapery and laziness had once again caught up with me. Off to Helens in Westwood I went with the goal of buying a quality shoe at a reasonable price. After passing on the SIDI Dominators that were out of my budget, I gladly settled on this pair of Shimano SH-M086 Mountain Sport Off-Road Shoes.

After a hundred miles of riding, I can report that the shoes strike a nice balance of stiffness to transfer your power to the wheels and comfort to keep your feet happy. The SPD clips work with my road and mountain bikes. The shoes are surprisingly easy to walk in, even on dirt slopes. What else can I say, the shoe does everything you expect it to. Sweet!

*For now, all I'll say about Anaswara is that her class is transformative and transcendental...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Neither Critical Nor Massive, SMCM went on anyway!

Stardate 109012.05

Michael and I rode hard to get to the start of SMCM on time, only to find we were 20 minutes early. Seeing only a handful of riders hanging out, we grabbed some cheeseburgers and made our way back to the starting point. Still, only 10 ridaz were present for tonight's SMCM. (Where was the party tonight?) Our paltry group was neither critical nor massive, yet we managed to lift our spirits with a gently ride around Venice and the Marina, riding along the beach bike path, and then went to Abbot Kinney to check out First Friday. Then everyone split up and called it a night. Good people and good times, now we just need 50X more people!

Door to door, I rode 35 miles last night. My friends and family will say they're impressed, but I'll need double that distance now that I'm seriously thinking about doing the AIDS/LifeCycle this summer. I've only attempted one other multiday long distance ride, and my knee gave out 3 days in. This time, I'll train first and hopefully not experience malfunctions. If you're interested in doing the ride, check out the ALC Holiday Party happening tomorrow in L.A.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cyclists! Be heard by LA City Council Dec. 9!

Straight from the LACBC:

Cyclists! It is important that you come to Wednesday's LA City Council Transportation Committee meeting!

Here is the announcement sent by Councilmember Rosendahl's office:

Rosendahl To Host Bicycle Town Hall at Upcoming Transportation Committee Meeting

When: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Where: Los Angeles City Hall
200 N. Spring Street, Room 1010
Los Angeles , CA 90012

Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl invites
the public to attend an upcoming meeting of the Transportation Committee that will focus its agenda exclusively on cycling issues.

Items on the agenda will include:
● An update from the Planning Department and DOT on outreach efforts relative to the Draft Bicycle Master Plan
● Report from LAPD on bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists
● The Sharrows pilot program
● A bicycle sharing program for the City of Los Angeles
● Bicyclist anti-harassment ordinance
● Revisions to the Zoning Code that would increase and refine bicycle parking requirements for new development

The public is encouraged to attend and participate in the discussion of these important issues. Please join in the conversation and help us shape a cycling friendly future for the City of Los Angeles.