Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Albert Hofmann

The Times today reports that Albert Hofmann, the “father of LSD,” “died Tuesday at his hilltop home near Basel, Switzerland.”

Godspeed Dr. H., and may your hope that one day your “problem child” be treated by modern society in the way that that primitive societies treat psychoactive sacred plants—ingested with care and spiritual intent—come to fruition.

I’ve read Dr. Hofmann’s book, LSD: My Problem Child, and I found it a thoughtful, clear-headed, and somewhat ambivalent reminiscence of his experience as the person who discovered the most powerful “mind-manifesting” drug of the 20th century. It’s a shame that the good doctor’s approach to use of LSD—essentially he advocated its use under controlled conditions of respect for the substance and the person ingesting it—didn’t become the dominant model.

If so, we might be able these days, to take a three-day retreat to some sort of spiritual center in the woods or by the ocean for the opportunity to gaze inward via the unique effects of synthesized extract of the ergot fungus and, as Dr. Hofmann put it, become “aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant kingdom.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to experience Dr. Hofmann’s creation first-hand, and indeed, I may share the attitude he expressed in a 2006 interview that having known LSD, one doesn’t need it anymore, but I can’t help feeling there is still something to learn from his discovery, and I’m still enough of a hippie to believe that if we could just get George Bush and his cronies to turn on, the world would be a way better place.

The enduring image for me, as a cyclist, is of Dr. Hofmann on “bicycle day,” April 19, 1943, riding home after experimentally ingesting 250 micrograms of LSD, overwhelmed by visions of radiant nature and feelings of bliss.

I get that all the time on two wheels, LSD or not.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Something to Live For

I had to get to school a little earlier than usual today to be on a panel discussion for UW grad students about the exotic world of community college teaching, so I took the bus, and having nothing else to read, picked up the latest book—in unproofed galley form—by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro, Something to Live For: Finding Your Way in the Second Half of Life.

And you know what? It’s pretty good; I liked it a lot.

In a slim volume, just over 150 pages, the authors propose a not entirely original thesis: that satisfaction in later life is to be found through a healthy balance between the urge to, as E.B. White put it, “save and savor the world,” exemplified by a wholehearted and authentic willingness to put yourself into all that you do.

But they do so with such a lack of preachiness and with so many simple and often rather lovely stories from their own lives and the shared experiences of friends, family, and colleagues, that you can’t help being drawn into the story and carried along as if a participant on the African safari that functions as a centerpiece to the narrative.

Admittedly, I’m a bit biased, but I found myself getting a little bit choked up at times by some of the more poignant reminiscences and I laughed inwardly if not altogether out loud at a few of the more amusing anecdotes, notably one in which Dave finds himself unable to get down from a massive rock he’s climbed hoping to find some real African adventure and getting much more than he bargained for in the process.

Also, the story that in some ways the entire book builds towards, a somewhat rambling tale of cross-cultural communion between the safari group and a band of Hadza tribesmen led by a 94 year-old leprechaun named Kampala; doing the hokey-pokey and putting your whole self in, that’s what it’s all about.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ou Sommes Nous?

Jen, Mimi, and I are going to France for a few weeks this summer—our big holiday gift to ourselves and, if the dollar keeps dropping against the Euro, in all likelihood the last chance any of us will ever have to sample the delights of Gallic architecture and culture.
At first, we were hoping to stay with friends, but as soon as we started writing and letting them know we were on our way, none have written back.

Then, for a bit, we were looking into a house swap, but all the French people who want to come to Seattle want to come in August when their country is on vacation, and strange as it may seem, we’re not particularly interested in being in France when all the Francais are gone, so that’s off the table.

Later, for a couple weeks, we were looking into renting an apartment short-term, but it looks like prices are almost comparable with hotels and as long as we’re going to be on vacation, it’s nice to have somebody else to make the bed; and besides, staying in a hotel will give us more opportunities to relate to the locales, whereas if we’re in our own apartment, it’s entirely likely we’ll cocoon and watch videos, just like at home.

So, I’ve been poking around the internet looking for possible accommodations; it’s remarkable to me how sophisticated the whole system has become—a far cry from reading “Let’s Go” and sending letters like we did 20 years ago, and of course, it’s also shocking how expensive rooms are going to be.

When Jen and I lived there in 1988, I thought that someday we’d come back and we’d have plent of money to stay wherever we’d like; eat at all the fancy restaurants, and take taxis everywhere. Ironically, even though we’re way better of today than then, it looks pretty much like we’ll be in the same centime-pinching mode as always.

Vive La France.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


For some years, I was the coach of a softball team at a software company I worked at; we were called the Joysticks, and got written up in the Santa Fe paper as probably the worst team ever in that league—deservedly so: it took us to the 8th game of the season not to get “mercy-ruled,” and in one game we played, the opposing team batted around three times in the first inning, finishing their half of the frame ahead,, 22-0.

Then, I played on the Philosophy Department team at the UW; all the requisite jokes are appropriate: we used to wonder what it really meant to win and, one time, a philosopher who argued that a priori knowledge—that is, knowledge that comes to us without the aid of sensory impressions—had us winning a game that we actually lost by four runs. His point was that you didn’t really need to keep score; you just had to introspect as to which was the better team and determine the winner.

So, I’m used to being on softball teams that suck; consequently, it was great fun today to be a part of the Bill’s Off-Broadway sponsored team, the Chuggers and Sluggers, because even though we got swept in a doubleheader by the Victory Lounge, we remained competitive throughout.

I pitched and didn’t walk a single batter in either game which, as far as I’m concerned, is mainly what it’s all about as a slowpitch softball hurler; I was a complete bust at the plate, though, going something like 0 for 5 with a couple walks and reaching once on an error.

So be it, though; pitchers aren’t supposed to be good hitters. All I ask is that sometime in the next couple months that I manage to drop a line drive over short and figure out how to stretch a single into a double.

Most importantly, nobody got hurt and all the beer got drunk.

Go Chuggers and Sluggers!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Booze Cruise

I went out with my colleagues after work yesterday for a glass of beer which eventually became four and also a shot of Jamieson’s; then, I had to quickly extract myself from the conversation and ride home as fast as I could about 15 miles to pick up the kid from my neighbors who had retrieved her from school, fed her dinner, and watched over her until my return home.

All the booze in my system made my feeble attempts to spin the Tournesol’s cranks relatively painless; but by the same token, the alcohol coursing through my system made me even slower than usual. I found myself grimacing and grunting out loud a lot, exhorting myself in vain to go faster.

Eventually, I just gave up and decided to proceed with due alacrity but without killing myself, a strategy that got me home in plenty of time not to be taking undue advantage of my neighbors’ generosity, but certainly far later than it would have had I not sampled the whiskey.

It is not, all things considered, an entirely unusual experience for me to be riding a bike while I’m inebriated; usually, however, it’s not still light out when I’m doing so, and even more typically, I’m not in any rush to arrive anywhere; that makes drunken riding kind of fun.

Last night, by contrast, I kept thinking of those old photos of Tour de France riders sharing glasses of wine before starting their hill climbs; however, whereas their level of consumption was probably calibrated just so to assuage the pain of scaling Mt. Ventoux or wherever without compromising their riding abilities, I erred, last evening, heavily on the side of pain relief, much to the detriment of any momentum I might have been able to achieve.

Still, I appreciated the adventure and was glad that my new bike is so predictably stable; even though I was practically falling down the whole time, I never fell over.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


According to Wikipedia, “Godwin's Law…formulated by Mike Godwin in 1990…states: ‘As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.’”

In his recently released cinematic diatribe, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein demonstrates that Godwin’s Law also applies to documentary films, as about halfway through, Stein implies that the target of his polemic, members of the “scientific establishment” who support Darwinian theory, have—at least—an intellectual kinship with Nazi eugenicists, if not, when all is said and done, essentially the same attitude about the value of humans as Hitler himself.

I made the mistake of paying to see the movie rather than sneaking in at the multiplex as others have advised, but since I assigned it for students in my philosophy of religion class to see, I guess it’s just as well I entered it on the up-and-up.

The film had its moments—notably when end credits began to roll—and if it’s really true, as Stein argues, that serious scientists are being unjustly censored by their colleagues, then he has a point, but in any case, to me, his whole schtick is undermined by the following two glaring gaffes.

First, he commits the very same error in reasoning that David Hume pointed out way back in 1750 or so in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: that it’s a mistake to infer anything about any sort of designer of nature from nature itself; just as (I say) we can’t really imagine what the Eameses were like from looking at their ottoman, we can’t conclude anything about God from looking at DNA.

Second, he makes the silly suggestion popularized by Dostoevsky that “without God, anything is permissible.” But that’s true only if things are made impermissible by hellfire and brimstone; if, on the other hand, things are made right or wrong by reference to the here and now, then we can make ethical judgments about all sorts of things—maybe even cheesy documentaries—without God’s help.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

I sort of remember the first Earth Day back in 1970; seems to me that my 6th grade class spent a few hours in the afternoon picking up trash in the neighborhood. That was enough to save the planet back in those days; now a kid’s got to invent a hybrid automobile that runs on plastic gimcracks and pet feces to make any kind of dent against environmental destruction.

Back then, the idea of saving the planet seemed sort of quaint, at least in retrospect; in Pittsburgh, where I grew up, efforts to clean up the air, polluted by the effluvia from the dying days of the Pennsylvania steel industry’s golden age, actually worked: by the time I was in high school, you could no longer really smell the rotten-egg stench of burnt sulfur in the spring breeze. You still got amazing sunsets from the magnesium and other chemicals in the air, but the days of really awful air pollution were over.

Problems like that seemed solvable, though; all they had to do was put scrubbers on the smokestacks of the steel mills; that, combined with the closing of all the biggest factories in the region as they headed off to China or wherever, led to huge improvements in the quality of air and water in my old hometown. Nowadays, though, there’s nowhere for the polluters to go; the whole planet is Pittsburgh, if you will, and those sulfur-laden sunsets are all but unavoidable.

It’s ironic, of course, and I’m sure many others have noted this, that there’s just one day a year for the Earth; these days, even Halloween gets the whole weekend and Black History, which everyone realizes is horribly marginalized, has to make due with a mere month.

We used to complain to our parents that there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but not Kid’s Day; they would respond that “every day is Kid’s Day!”

Why not for the earth, too?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

420 Day 08

Because I’m a traditionalist—at least about traditions I like—I rose early this Sunday, April 20th, visited my downstairs vaporium, and got out on my new bicycle before 8:00 to ride a big loop of Seattle’s edges: along Madison Park to the Arboretum, then up through the U-District and across Wallingford to Ballard, over the locks, and around the bike path in Discovery Park before skirting Magnolia and Myrtle Edwards Park, arriving at Pike Place Market just as crowds were showing up; getting tulips from my favorite flower vendor and French pastries and a baguette at Le Panier, then riding home to beat the snow showers for petite dejeuner with Mimi and Jen—exactly the sort of homage to sensuality and appealing visuals appropriate for this special day.

And it occurred to me that one of the things I really like about cycling is that you’re never alone (you’ve always got your bike), but you don’t ever have to stay (all you’ve got to do at any time is just hop on and ride.)

But I also couldn’t help thinking how lucky I am to be able to experience such a lovely morning; most people have lives that are far more serious, I think, than me. I try to console myself with the notion that I do make some effort to give back and I attempt to reign in my greediness when I can, but if that’s not enough, then my only response is to throw myself on the mercy of the court, so be it.

I’m not sure I saw anyone else out marking the day as I did; at one point, though I observed a couple guys enjoying their donuts and coffee with unusual relish, and a group of five hikers near Fort Lawton seemed to be finding the morning light especially smile-inducing, but it’s hard to say given the tint of the rose-colored glasses I donned before leaving my basement workshop with this morning’s traditional lift.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bike Cleaning Day

I’m not really that anal about the cleanliness of my bikes—not like I am about my desk, for instance, which I like to buff with Windex at least twice weekly (in fact, I just stopped writing for a moment to do so right now)—but I do appreciate a clean drive train and I prefer not to go too long with filthy wheels and brake pads, not merely for aesthetic reasons, but also because of how it makes the rims wear out faster, so today, after what seems like an endless number of consecutive days riding in rain, rain showers, sleet, hail, and mist, I spent a few happy hours cleaning and doing minor tune-ups to every one of my bikes except the tandem, and it was only a couple weeks ago that I did the same for that one.

Now I feel all proud of myself and everything and wish it would stop spitting rain so I could go out riding without messing up any of my good work; but of course, that’s lame; the whole reason I cleaned the bikes up was so I could take them out and to prevent myself from doing so just because they’ll get dirty again is like not wanting to live because you’re afraid you’re someday going to die.

Or something like that.

It does strike me odd, when I think about it, that right after I’ve cleaned something, I’m reluctant to get it messed up again. You’d think that with all that new room for spots and blotches, I’d be more willing to take my tidy shit out into the world.

But it’s pretty uniform: when I put on a fresh pair of jeans, right from the dryer, that last thing I want to do in them is work on my bike; strange, since that’s way they probably got so yucky in the first place.

I therefore resist this strangeness—out I go into the wet, clean bike be damned.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Just A Little Bit Off

The inimitable Jen Dixon has been known to say that “timing is everything.” I myself am not quite so sure, but it’s definitely many things, as yesterday, for example, I just seemed to be slightly out-of-synch in all that I did, even though, in the end, it all turned out fine, if just a little bit off.

So, case in point: when I came upon Surlykat on the University Bridge fussing with a flat tire, instead of just donating a tube to her and proceeding on my way, I probably should have hung out, patched her tube and kept it for myself; that way, spending a few more minutes near the U-District, I might have avoided the drenching cloudburst that hit Belltown ten or fifteen minutes later and I also would have had a spare—if patched—tube to carry along with me.

Or,another: instead of cutting out from the Woodland Park park shelter where riders were firing up barbecues and grilling things, I should have split directly from the QFC earlier; that way, I might have made it to Ballard in time to see my friend Matt play bass in his band Gravy and the Biscuit Rollers rather than just get to witness him dragging his amp to his car after the show.

Or even earlier in the day: in the Medical Ethics class, I probably should have begun with a couple of case studies instead of going directly into the theoretical stuff; that way, students would have had a better idea of why the issue we were taking on was supposed to be of critical interest to health professionals and patients.

Nevertheless, there were a number of times where everything seemed right with the world and I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else; all of those, as I think back on it now, though, were after I stopped for a safety meeting on my ride home, while pedaling with delight on the new Tournesol.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Words and Pictures

Allegedly, a picture is worth 1000 words, so the three photos of the Tournesol I’m posting here ought to cover almost ten of my blog postings.

I guess that seems about right, but it probably depends on what the pictures are and what the words are.

For instance, Shakespeare’s words compared to a snapshot I’ve taken, would probably come out no worse than even. Certainly the word “perchance” as in “perchance to dream” has got to count for more than that photo I took of my index finger in front of the Space Needle the other day, doesn’t it?

And no doubt there are pictures that are worth way more than merely 1000 of their scribbled counterparts, right? Some of Van Gogh’s pictures run upwards of 50 million bucks, don’t they? Seems to me that would buy a lot of talking.

And I think I heard this week that some guy paid like a million and a half dollars for a film of Marilyn Monroe performing fellatio on an unidentified male; granted, those were moving pictures, but still, if you paid me $1.5 million, I’d be happy to give you as many words as you could stomach.

Anyway, the photos of the bike look great; they were done by Steve Hampsten’s photographer, Michael Matisse, and to me they are definitely artistic enough to do the shutterbug’s namesake artist proud. (Granted I’m biased because I’ve ridden the bike, but suffice it to say that it rides even better than it looks.)

There’s a saying that I read all the time on the internet when people are bragging about some experience or another they had: “pix or it didn’t happen.”

As for me, I don’t really buy that; for me, it’s enough to have a written account; there’s something that makes it even more real for me when it’s in text. And that’s especially true when I’m writing about things in my own life and especially in 327 words.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Belief Panel

Yesterday the student activities group at Cascadia put together a public panel discussion featuring representatives of a number of theological (or non-theological) beliefs; there was a Muslim, a Christian, a Wiccan, someone who practices Ananda (an Anandan?), a Shaman, and me, representing Godless secular humanism.

Each of us gave an overview of our position, then we fielded questions like, “Does your belief system believe that war is ever justified?” or “How does your belief system contribute to racial harmony?” or “What does your belief system do to encourage others to follow it?”

As one guy put it, I was sort of the “cat at the dog show,” but I thought the whole thing went pretty well. It was strange to be a representative of the view that there is no all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly-good Creator of the universe for a number of reasons, the main one, I think, being that unlike the other participants, who belong to some (at least loosely) organized club, I don’t typically get together with other folks who don’t believe in God and have meetings about it. Also, unlike the others, I don’t exactly feel like I belong to something; this is just a belief I currently have that might, if evidence becomes available to me, I might change. So it was a bit like trying to be a representative of I dunno, maybe that water boils at 212 degrees farenheit.

My favorite moment of the event was in response the question about what we do to encourage others to adopt our view; each of my fellow panel members talked about how their organizations actively or openly invite others to join; the Christian panelists encouraged audience members to visit her church, the Shaman woman talked about workshops people could attend; the Ananda fellow showed off his full-color brochure. I just sat there, until the moderator said, “And Mr. Shapiro, what about you?”

“I got nothin’ to sell,” I responded, to gales of laughter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two Places At Once

I just got a nice email from the Dead Babies letting me know that my little film, Bike Love, (Pump It Up), got accepted to the Dead Baby Bikes Presents Film Festival on May 1, 2008.

All right!

But dang!

I’m supposed to be in Spokane, at the Doubletree Hotel, for the Pacific Northwest Higher Education Teaching and Learning Conference that day, putting me in something of a quandary that could be solved quite easily if only I could figure how to be in two places at the same time.

This desire is one that I find myself having fairly regularly; and typically it involves a balancing act between professional responsibilities and personal preferences, as in this case. Which takes precedence: my obligation as a community college instructor to engage in professional development activities that can presumably make me a better teacher and colleague, or my wishes, as a neophyte filmmaker and longtime dipsomaniac, to indulge my tastes for movies and distilled spirits while carousing with friend and fellow cyclists in an event that promises to be totally wild?


Perhaps the solution here will be to do a little of both, a strategy that I have often employed with some success. Unfortunately, this means I often don’t manage to utterly commit to either professional expertise or out-and-out debauchery; on the other hand, it does allow me to keep a foot in both doors, even if that means I occasionally get my toe crunched as one or the other slams shut.

In one of the Harry Potter books, IIRC, Hermione has some kind of device that allows her to mess with time somehow so she can take twice as many classes as her fellow students. That would probably be ideal in this case; then I could get to Spokane, see the conference, and still return to Seattle in time to cheer for all the movies in the show; since that device is unavailable, though, maybe Horizon Air.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Filmed by Bike Day Two

Theoretically, the weather could have been better, but probably not in reality: high seventies, low eighties, even, bright sun, just a little breeze off the Willamette River as Mimi and me on the tandem, and Jen on the XO-1 rolled around Portland, stopping here and there for a coffee or a beer, or at one point later in the day for Belgian frites, on an absolutely idyllic Saturday in the Rose City, enjoying ourselves immensely and even getting bask a bit in feelings of artistic satisfaction as we, as a family, got to watch our little film on the big screen during a second showing of the Pump It Up program of Filmed by Bike, this one, as an all-ages event, markedly different than the rowdy drunken festivities of the previous evening.

Best of all, in some ways, Mimi and I have begun to plan next year’s entry, for which I’m committed to trying to do something perhaps as long, but no longer than two whole minutes, and we’re both leaning towards an animated bicycle version of the story of the tortoise and the hare, where the former will be played by a fat-tired cruiser bike that drinks beer, and the latter, a racy road cycle that favors shots of whiskey, or something like that. Mostly, it’s just fun at this point, to play filmmaker with the kid and come up with dialogue and storyboards, even if we don’t carry the project through to completion.

And we capped off the days festivities with a delicious dinner of small plates at this restaurant attached to the Ace Hotel called Clyde Common, followed by a short bike ride back to the hotel and then lollygagging in the pool, which we had all to our selves, for about two hours, before finally turning in, late but not so late that I’m not up at 7:30, writing this, not wanting to sleep any longer than necessary in this charming toy city.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Filmed By Bike Day One

Last night, at Filmed by Bike, the annual celebration in Portland of bikes and movies, I got to have an authentic filmmaker experience—actually a couple of them.

First, while waiting to get in line for the 9:00 show, in which, among a number of other more ambitious and certainly more professional efforts, was Mimi and my little 40-second stop-frame animated film, “Bike Love,” I walked next door to the Clinton theater to get a beer and while I was standing in line for my Pale Ale, this rather squirrelly-looking guy sitting in a chair looked up at me and said, “Hey, can I interest you in some free blow?”

Certainly, this is what happens to real-live Hollywood filmmakers and why they go from making charming human-interest stories for their first efforts to churning out big-budget action thrillers subsequently.

I declined, of course, cocaine not being my drug of choice at all, although I did thank the fellow profusely for his largesse, wondering, at the time whether or not he was a shill set there by the fabulous Ayleen Crotty, organizer of Filmed by Bike, who seemed to have every other eventuality taken care of.

My second filmmaker moment came a bit later, as I waited in the special white ticket line for fellows moviemakers and jury members for the show. I got to be among the first group of people allowed into the theater, while the hoi polloi had to wait and although this did some damage to my egalitarian sensibilities, it was nice to get in and get a seat early.

The program was wonderful—my favorites were a short animation called “Flat,” a charming illustrated poem called “Wherever You Stand,” and the thrilling “Unicycle Bastards Kick Zombie Ass,” which played to universal acclaim.

I was worried that our little film wouldn’t stand up, but it looked great on the big screen and people even cheered for it, no doubt in part, because it was so short.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dalai Lama

It was funny to see the sedate gray-haired people with glasses getting nervous and pushy as they jockeyed for seats at the Hec Ed Pavillion when the public address announcer, in his best “are you ready to ruuummmble” voice proclaimed that the program would begin in five minutes; folks were clearly making an attempt to be compassionate, but the tension over seeing the 13th incarnation of the Dalai Lama in the flesh was palpable.

But, with a plethora of “excuse me’s” and “pardons,” the boiled wool and Volvo set was seated and after one more grand “Welcome!” from the PA, there he was, Tenzin Gyatso, looking just like himself, red-robed, bowing to his fellow panel members and the audience amidst sustained applause.

He wore a Madonna-style mini-mike and smiled a lot, sitting cross-legged on the one red armchair among the other gray ones, upon which sat a quintet of neuroscientists and psychologists, there to talk about the “seeds of compassion,” that is, how children can be raised up to be kind, caring, and empathic human beings.

It all felt a little bit too much like a Tony Robbins seminar at times, at least as the first few panelists were introduced with “specially made” videos featuring on-camera interviews about their research.

But the Dalai Lama himself was incandescent and funny; my favorite part was when he asked one of the researchers whether fear can conceivably be a motivator to learning, reminiscing about one of his teacher’s “holy whip,” and how it inspired him to pay more attention to his studies.

All in all, the event, for me, featured a few too much discussion by Jewish scientists (all the panelists were examples of Cousin Seth’s observation that in New York, all the Jews are Jews, and in the West, all the Jews are Buddhists), and not nearly enough by Buddhist holy men, but still, it was cool to be in his holy presence, and I’m glad I went.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

First Round Trip

After this, I’ll shut up about it, but I’ve just got to write one more first impression of the new bike, this one based on yesterday’s initial round-trip ride from home to school and back, first leg in the morning, last leg at night.


I’m going to have to get in much better shape or else the Tournesol is going to be the death of me; I can’t ride it slow enough not to get my heart rate up; with every turn of the cranks, it wants to go faster and faster, and I inevitably find myself huffing and puffing and trying to catch my breath as I try to keep up with the pace at which the bike wants to run.

A couple things really stand out: The Tournesol is remarkably stable; descending, I feel positively glued to the road. Usually, going down Martin Luther King from Union to Madison, I want to coast; on the Saluki, for instance, I can easily get up to over thirty miles and hour—plenty fast, typically—without pedaling. Yesterday, though, on the Sunflower Bike, I shifted into my highest gear and mashed the pedals all the way down the hill; I’ll bet I hit 40 MPH if not more; and still the bike tracked downhill without the slightest shudder.

And then climbing: on my ride out to Bothell, which is mostly flat, there are a few short, steepish uphills; my typical approach to them is to downshift to my granny ring and spin slowly until I crest the rise, my tongue just beginning to loll sideways in my mouth. On yesterday’s ride, though, I remained on the middle ring, in one of the smaller cogs, and practically flew to the tops, standing and pumping the last little bit, tongue between my teeth, breathing hard.

No doubt, as I get more used to the bike, I’ll start slowing down, but right now, it’s the Tournesol that’s taking me for a spin.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


This is the time of the year when I get kind of pissy about bike riders on the Burke-Gilman trail.

As the weather improves and more and more cyclists crawl out from under their winter rocks to begin appearing in larger and larger flocks of colorful spandex and lycra, I tend to feel a certain sense of ownership about “my” bike path, the one that I braved all winter long, through rain and snow and gloom of night while all those plastic-clad fair-weather riders stayed in their cars and SUVs.

I try not to be outwardly snotty, and I really do believe that any bike rider is a good bike rider, but inwardly, I’m all smug and self-satisfied and can’t hardly fail to harbor some feelings of resentment that anyone who wasn’t out on the trail when it was glassed with ice and sleet was coming at you sideways doesn’t really deserve to be there. I find myself wishing that I didn’t have to look out for that pair of young men, one on his carbon-fiber Trek, the other coming at me fast on his shiny new Cannondale. “Why can’t it be like it was in late December?” I ask myself, “when the only thing I had to keep an eye on for on the trail was fallen branches?”

Last night, though, I kind of got my wish and frankly, I wasn’t all that delighted about it. I left school about 8:00 in a light drizzle, but which was at least enough, fortunately, to compel me to gear up in the full rainsuit, booties and all, because by the time I got to Kenmore, it was pouring.

Consequently, I didn’t see a single other bike on the trail until I got near the U; and by then, the rain had completely stopped.

I removed my sodden gear, stuffed it in my pack, and smiled happily to the many other cyclists I passed from then on.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I failed last night to defend my title in the modified division of the Office Chair Downhill 2008, in part, at least, because I failed to notice that the race was starting.

As I stood at the top of the hill cheering the stock chair riders in their final heat, it didn’t occur to me that the several modified numbers—including a striking shopping-cart mounted recliner with a paper-maché cow-catcher on front—taking off after them were actually joining in for the final run, and that this was my one chance for repeated glory on the Fairview hill.

Alas, it was not to be, and probably just as well because the winning contraption was way faster and far more stable than this year’s model on my part, The Assburner II, a swiveling Ikea desk chair mounted with bungie cords to Mimi’s skateboard. Unlike its predecessor, the A2 did not feature a particularly low center-of-gravity (rocket scientists refer to this as “CG”) and almost threw me into a full face plant when, during my post-race consolation ride down the course, its wheels hit a pavement seam and lurched to a halt, upending seat and rider and sending one of the chair’s casters off into oblivion.

Nevertheless, the race itself was a winner, as more that a dozen committed furniture surfers braved the damp, chilly evening to compete in this year’s running of the plastic wheels. I’m not sure who finally won, but a couple riders, notably a guy named Matt and another going by Slim showed superb form (and major cojones) in taking first or second in at least one of the heats.

The booze nurse was their, shivering in her crisp white outfit, administering shots of Jagermeister to fallen—and upright—competitors, and an awards ceremony with, I think, a cruiser bike for the champion—capped the festivities.

Me, I hit 13 Coins, to drown my sorrows in bourbon, a project at which, in contrast to my racing, I succeeded admirably.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sunflower Bike

I picked the Tournesol up from Steve Hampsten’s shop this afternoon and rode it home as an extended test ride before final tweaking and wrapping and shellacing of the bars.

Two words: “like buttah!”

And four more, “I am not worthy.”

It’s arguably the handsomest bike I’ve ever seen and without a doubt, the finest riding rig I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. It tracks like a dream, rides no-handed magically; climbing, it’s a mountain goat, descending, I feel like I’m going slow it’s so stable.

On my commute home from Hampsten, I actually broke a sweat, something I rarely do on two wheels; the bike just wants to run, though, and far be it from me to hold it back.

I envision all sorts of rides in the future—daily commutes, weekend rambles, maybe an extended tour or at least an S24O in the near future.

The component mix seems just right—it’s includes some really nice names: Chris, Paul—and the TA cranks complement the vintage look of the bike just so.

There’s this Youtube video making the rounds called the Cyclists Special; it features a rail trip by British cyclists in the 1950s; with its Nigel Smythe bag on its custom Dan Boxer mini rear rack, the Tournesol looks like it would fit right in with their classic rigs—only my bike is so much more stunning, while still being beautifully understated.

I can tell already I’m going to have a long and storied relationship with this bike; insofar as an inanimate object can teach a person, I may have much to learn from this two-wheeler.

I’ve already had a lesson in patience in waiting for it; seeing it has offered me insight into aesthetic appreciation; riding has already taught me something about joy.

And get this: locking it up in my shed, I dropped the lock and chipped the beautiful Tournesol decal on the downtube; if that’s not a lesson in letting go of perfection, what is?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

New Bike

I could have the new Tournesol by this weekend, and I’m pretty excited about it. Having put in my order fifteen years ago—the amount of time needed to vet it by both the Hampsten brothers and to have it submitted for approval by ancient Hindu sages courtesy of the company’s spiritual director, Douglas Brooks—I’m understandably impatient, but as I want to make sure everything’s just right and fitted with precisely the parts I want, I consider the wait well worth it.

Naturally, I’m going with some pretty special components, including ShelBroCo Powerwheels, the Nanodrive Quarter-Twenty for road bikes, and I’m even having it outfitted with the geomagnetic booster, which I’m pretty thrilled about given that much of my daily commute is mostly in a northerly direction.

I’ve looked into getting a RealMan saddle, but they’re all out of the granite versions, so instead, I’m gonna install Brooks’ brand-new Pork SuperSwift, which uses a single piece of dried bacon over titanium rails to achieve the ultimate marriage of comfort, weight savings, and rich, smoky flavor.

Thanks to a special deal in the wake of today’s announcement of Shimano and Campagnolo merging into a single company—Campagmano—I’m privileged to be the first person in the US who’ll get to use their new Fibroptico fiber-optic cables for my derailers and brakes. Now, I’ll be able to “shift and slow and the speed of light!” Pretty rad, no?

Tires were a big question, but informed by the recent Jan Heine article in Bicycle Quarterly, which ranked every model of the new 649.5Q size by rolling resistance through both honey and molasses cooled to exactly 7 degrees centigrade, it’s clear that the choice has to be Michelin’s proprietary Pufferwiggle, whose casings are actually made from the skin of the Michelin man himself.

Which leaves just one last thing: for durability and comfort, Grant Peterson is installing a Riv All-Rounder inside the Tournesol frame; and as soon as that’s done, I’ll be on the road.