Month: April 2017

ūüí™Teamwork makes the dream workūüí™

Students finished 3 bikes last Tuesday at Chain Reaction. Check Them Out!

C's Red Motiv D's Black Raleigh
L's White Raleigh

Photo Credit: Andrew Shaw-Kitch via iphone via gmail

These three bikes are super righteous radical movement machines built by students in the Tuesday night Earn-a-bike program. These individuals performed repairs ranging from more or less a standard tune-up on the Red Motiv, to a total overhaul on the Black Raleigh – I believe this bike has been to Burning Man; it was coated in white dust and rusty; now it sparkles and pops with bright red accents – to a build from a largely parted-out frame in the case of the White Raleigh. Looking at each of these bikes makes me think of the unique, kind, patient individuals who put in 4 hours more or less every Tuesday for 8¬†weeks. It makes me feel great. These are happy pictures¬†ūüėä

Even happier still! Last Thursday,¬†2 of those individuals, along with 3 more who haven’t even gotten their bikes yet, came to Chain Reaction just to volunteer with me on working through some of the piles and disorder that accumulates in a place like a free bike program. We didn’t completely eliminate the piles, but we made considerable dents in the mountain of dead bikes, the river of dead wheels, and the unsorted sloppy jungle of tubes. It was the first time I organized a concentrated volunteer effort in this particular venture; previously I would have spent a day like this by myself and gotten less done and had less fun. It was a great day and it carries the lesson I’m trying to learn and demonstrate: Ask for a hand and people will offer it! So far it’s proving trueūü§ě

Straddling the arterial

Getting into bikes–especially in a town like Portland with such an established culture around them–is an exciting combination of learning the language of a subculture and feeling as though you are part of a movement to reshape mainstream culture, and creating a new language around that.

I struggled for a moment whether to start with this abstract thesis statement or to describe my run in with Norm this afternoon. I obviously went with the former to make the run in seem more meaningful.

Anyway, I spotted my fellow member of the Bikes for Humanity board coming to the 33rd and Powell intersection where I already was from the southeast. The light had just turned red, meaning this long light would have Norm and me sharing this space for close to a full minute, him pointed north and myself on the other side of the ODOT-controlled river of flying automotive metal pointed south.

This has happened to me several times, crossing Powell or Division or other major arterials in the city. Bikes can trickle to the front of the line of cars, often granted green-painted bike boxes to hang out in, so a cyclist is much more likely to see a friend or acquaintance on the other side of the light than a driver might. Likely there’s no sense in stopping to chat because either of you would have to wait for the light to cycle all the way back, and what would be the protocol for who would make such a gesture? Everybody’s time is valuable after all.

I thought about texting Norm, but dismissed it. We smiled and waved as we straddled the arterial waiting for the light to change. Another time I shouted across Division with a friend of mine about whether we were going to the same wedding. I made a shivering gesture to comment on the whether. Then the light changed and we smiled and waved, just as Norm and I did today.

I think it has something to do with faith in friendship and movement at the same time and might have something to do with this gif I just made from pics I took at the Ladd’s 500:



Well I’m going, I’m going


Photo credit Josh Roppo via Facebook

That’s a photo of *me*¬†ūüė¨ ¬†at last Saturday’s¬†Second First Annual Ladd’s 500¬†with a lyric from Soul Coughing’s¬†“Circles”. I just wanted to have a photo for my blog post because I think a blog post is improved by a photograph and this is a recent picture of me and it shows me in motion and that’s important and that’s what this blog post is going to be about: the value of staying in motion, of having something to do and doing it.

Give Them Bikes! is a name I thought once while daydreaming in a UBI class in 2014. As of 2017, our main activity is Chain Reaction, an Earn-a-Bike Cooperative housed in the basement of a Central City Concern residential building. We have a staff of two Рmyself and Andrew Рand a meager but growing number of program participants, beneficiaries, and contributors. It is currently the space where I most consistently give to my community, and I am realizing recently how important it has become to me, how much I personally benefit through my work there.

I’m from Pennsylvania and I feel like that makes me an expert on¬†cynical people and I know there is a suspicion¬†of those of us who devote ourselves¬†to projects of charity, that we are inherently dishonest by proposing to¬†serve to others, as we get something out of it – perhaps a paycheck or a smug sense of superiority – and that makes our cause somehow less righteous. I hear¬†those criticisms in the back of my head when explaining my dream public benefit business to a bicycle cynicist I may know or meet or imagine, but I need to get over that. There’s no reason to¬†be embarrassed about the fact that I have actively looked for meaningful work in my life, or that I have had some success in this¬†search and get to do a¬†super cool bikey feel good thing, or that I am someone who needs reasons to live.

All things considered, I’ve had a fairly cozy experience of being a human being, but that hasn’t stopped me from being scattered and crazy, from feeling intense sadness at the knowledge that everyone will die, or just sometimes being a motionless depression slug binge-eating¬†sour brite crawlers in bed through a long, gray winter while I wonder if there’s any value to this life I chose.

I don’t know if I have diagnosable seasonal affective disorder, or what that really means, but I know that it’s easier to feel good being outside when the weather is nice, and the weather was real nice for that super silly bike race on Saturday where the picture above was taken and I got to go as fast as I could¬†and after the race a really nice man named Mike who never met me but read my email on the¬†Shift list¬†lent me a trailer and I was able to accept a large donation that will go a long way towards improving the quality of both the bikes we sell and the bikes we provide for our students. True facts: bikes make the world a better place and better bikes make it more better.

This past Tuesday, I woke up in a bad¬†mood and spent the morning’s ride complaining about how I work too much – more or less 7 days a week in some capacity – and it feels like a drag, but then I got to Chain Reaction and a light fixture that’s been burnt out all year in our humble basement bike shop was finally repaired and in the new light our tool bench shone¬†and it felt better to be there then than it had before and I was pleased find myself again moving from this darkness, back to the light, back to feeling¬†joy at¬†the privilege of serving others, back to the value of activity and community.

Next week will be our 8th class of the season and I expect us to finish 4 bicycles, more or less right on schedule. I love the day when people take bikes home. There are always last minute setbacks and much fretting, human drama, and wringing of hands, and then we get it all sorted out and bikes go out the door and everyone smiles. I have that to look forward to very shortly.

Today I met Tom of¬†Rosewood Bikes,¬†a place I’d been hearing about for a long time but had yet to visit. They’re still on hiatus for renovation – like my forever friends at B4H¬†– but the renovations are well on their way and I feel completely inspired by our visit, by a sense that things are happening, that other people are also working to get bikes to people just because they too¬†think it’s a thing worth doing.

Sometimes, all I see are the obstacles, or I look at a thing that is good and bemoan that it is not better, and when I think about Chain Reaction I tend to think about how much there is to do and how I can’t do it myself, but what I’m realizing or remembering is that I don’t have to. There is a whole community of engaged, hardworking people in this city, and if I stop hiding and just keep myself in motion,¬†we can push this thing forward together, because it’s just good and I’m not the only one who wants to get right with what’s good.¬†‚úĆÔłŹ



Let me give them bikes

I work for Give Them Bikes! because doing so has allowed me to pursue my dreams.

In my dreams I ride bikes, not professionally, never in a hurry, but happily, with joy, and usually with a friend, for that is when riding bikes is the most fun. In my dream last night we abandoned our bikes at the top of a dock, that carefree dismount associated with the front lawns and driveways of suburban kids not worried about bike theft, and we ran down the dock and jumped in the water. We swam to a boat and they invited us aboard. It began to sail away, accidentally arriving in my hometown where by magic our bikes awaited us. We got back on them and I showed you the salt-sprayed road that winds around the outer edge of the peninsula, the scenic boulevard that separates the waves crashing against the rocks to our right from the interior upward sloping land to our left.

Riding bikes is an expression of freedom, this is an accepted and nearly stale trope. Freedom is meaningless in dreams, anyhow. You follow along as your fate unfolds before you, and you coast through feelings of purpose. It is movement and meaning synthesized.

Likewise riding with a friend is something deeper than freedom.¬† It’s where freedom meets collaboration. It holds within it the truth that nobody is free when others do not have bikes. The bicycle community refers to the value of self-sufficiency, and the freedom that a bicycle affords, to use your energy and momentum to go anywhere. This is true and important but just part of the way there.

I am interested in mutual support, where vulnerability and preparation meet. I choose to make myself available to the community and be honest about what I need and what I can provide. Just like riding bikes with friends, there’s an understanding that when one cannot go on for whatever reason, we all stop, check in, and regroup. Give Them Bikes! has let me pursue the dream that we are all friends, and that nobody gets left behind. The real ride won’t begin until everyone who wants to join gets to. Period.