Viking E-Bikes, Vol. 3: The Good & The Bad

eprodigy-bikeI confess, thanks to holiday interruptions, snow, and general laziness, it’s been several weeks of not riding my Viking E-Bike.

(As the title of this post suggests, this is the third installment in my continuing series on my experiences with this loaner electric assist bicycle.)

BUT…this week I’ve been back in the saddle, despite freezing temperatures, and I have some Goods & Bads to report:

The Good

  • There’s simply no way, at least in my current state of fitness, that I’d be able to do my 5-mile each way commute without the power assist.
  • I am still getting a workout, since I’m only using just enough power assist to make the hills manageable. And, with research suggesting that riders of e-bikes, on average, may get as much exercise as riders of conventional bikes — because they ride more often and for longer distances — I’m excited about getting in better shape!
  • The upright riding position of the eProdigy Jasper is incredibly comfortable! After riding a hybrid bike with mountain bike geometry for 20+ years, I can’t believe I went so long just tolerating how uncomfortable and fatiguing the hunched over riding position was.
  • The suspension — Suntour front fork combined with seat post suspension — does a nice job of smoothing out the ride, especially welcome as some of the road shoulder along my commute route is bumpy and pothole-ridden.
  • The factory installed front headlight provides excellent visibility; critical given that the time of year has me riding to and from work in the dark. That it’s powered by the bike motor’s battery and there’s no need to change AAs or AAAs or whatever all the time is a big plus.
  • Though I haven’t braved the rain yet (forecast says this ends on my commute home this Friday), I can already tell that the full front and rear fenders will be great to have. Additionally, this bike has unusual side fenders that I’ve never seen before, two plastic panels on either side of the rear wheel, and I’ll be interested to see how they contribute to rain protection.
  • The throttle is a nice feature. With the bike as ridiculously heavy as it is (see below), if you’re at a stop, in traffic, it can be a lifesaver, to get you off the line and out of the way of cars, trucks, and buses, especially on hills.

The Bad

  • As mentioned in my last Viking E-Bikes post, the eProdigy Jasper is WAY, WAY too heavy for my taste. Pushing the thing around is ridiculously clumsy and laborious, riding it on the flats feels like the brakes are engaged, it feels like I’m riding a motorcycle, or at least a scooter. It gives the bike, despite the motor, an incredibly sluggish feeling, but worse, from a safety perspective, it feels like it would be very difficult to maneuver in a crisis moment that demands a quick, agile, response.
  • No factory installed rear light seems odd, given the front light is included. (Luckily the Viking E-Bikes program outfitted their bikes with well-made third party rear lights.)
  • The experience of shifting gears and adjusting the power assist level feels like it’s not engineered well. While I’ve not ridden other electric bikes, I HAVE read a lot of reviews, and smooth shifting and level adjusting is a primary desire, and while the eProdigy Jasper got good marks for this when it was reviewed, I find the process choppy and annoying. This could possibly be the fault of the shop — where these bikes are tuned up quarterly — not having adjusted the gears correctly.
  • Several other shop-related and no fault of the manufacturer problems: 1. The rear wheel is WAY out of true and wobbly, not fun or safe on icy roads or in the rain, and so the bike is headed back to shop today for this and the other issues; 2. The brakes are spongy, and are either not adjusted correctly or the pads need replacing; 3. There is a clicking sound coming from the front wheel, could be a loose spoke; 4. The chain guard is broken and the chain is rubbing on it when in the lowest gears.
  • The LCD display is annoying and I don’t like it. Unlike many e-bike riders who LOVE all technology (some bikes come with an app with which you can communicate with the bike using your smartphone), when I’m on a bicycle I don’t want the IT in my face. For the duration of my ride I do not need to know the time, the temperature, the speed at which I’m traveling, the number of miles I’ve ridden, etc. The battery level is useful, but redundant, since there is a battery level indicator on the battery itself, and one learns very quickly just how much they can ride between charges. Finally, the display on my bike obviously needs recalibrating, as the time and speedometer are incorrect, and I just can’t be bothered to figure out how to do that.
  • It would be great if the bike came with something to help you hold things on the rear rack. Oh, it can accommodate panniers, but sometimes you just want to go for a spin without all the luggage. A simple built-in bungee device, like I’ve seen on other rear racks would be very functional.

The Somewhere In Between

  • The step-through frame takes some getting used to: my conditioning as a male has me stupidly feeling emasculated, but I can’t shake it. Hopefully that will fade. Also, I just simply forget and swing my leg up and over for no good reason.

So, there it is, the initial assessment.

I’ll be generating more observations over the next 10 weeks I’ll be riding, and I’ll include in my last post in this series an updated Goods & Bads list, comparing the before and after.

Until next time…!

 

Viking E-Bikes, Vol. 2: Kicking It Off With A Bang!

viking-e-bike-displaySo, this cool thing happened!

I wrote last week that I’d signed up for the Viking E-Bikes program at the university where I work, I initially was supposed to get my 10-week loaner e-bike at the beginning of January, but one of the Fall Quarter riders turned their bike in early, so I got it yesterday!

And not only did I get the bike sooner than I expected, I got one helluva ride on it sooner than I expected.

I’ll explain.

I knew I would be picking the bike up on campus during the day, but I needed to get to campus for work in the morning, and so I drove my car with the bike rack attached, thinking I’ll just take it home and ride it in the morning.

Well, 5pm arrives, I ride the bike to my car, prep the bike rack, I go to lift the bike onto the rack, but I’m reminded instantly that the bike weighs 52 lbs, and with it’s odd geometry…

eprodigy-bike

…it wouldn’t fit on the bike rack even if I could hold it up long enough to secure it.

So, I pop the hatch of my Subaru Forester, lay the back seats down flat, and after risking a hernia and/or herniated disc, I gave up trying to fit the bike on or inside the car.

By now it’s 5:15, it’s dark out, I was supposed to meet someone somewhere about a mile away at 5:15, I call, they are ok pushing that to 5:30, but then I’m supposed to meet someone else, somewhere else, an additional 2 miles away at 6pm, and then finally I needed to go 5 more miles to my home.

I was not mentally prepared for this at all. Despite years as a hardcore bicycle commuter — rain, shine, light, dark, cold, hot — I suddenly needed to ride this e-bicycle, that was totally alien to me, in the dark, cold night, for a total of 7 miles.

Luckily, it wasn’t raining (unusual this time of year in Bellingham), and I did have with me sufficient cold-weather clothing, including gloves, and a headband to cover my ears under the helmet.

So, how did it go?

While I already don’t like a few things about the eProdigy Jasper, the overall experience was…

…exhilarating!

To be able to cover that much ground on a spur of the moment, including several sizeable hills, to make it on time to my appointments and then safely home without feeling like I’d run a marathon, to struggle for a little bit with feeling like I was cheating, using a motor like that, but to then let go of that struggle as I noticed that I was totally getting exercise, pedaling the whole time, using the minimal power assist levels as much as possible … all of that added up to a really fun time!

This morning, as I prepared to ride to work and then pedaled off, leaving the car behind, I felt that familiar, awesome feeling that had sustained me as a bicycle commuter for so many years, that I was doing my part, however small it seemed in the big picture, to reduce my carbon footprint and help usher in the era of transportation based on renewable energy.

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be blogging semi-regularly about my e-bike experience from now through March, so stay tuned for Volume 3 of my Viking E-Bikes series!

 

Viking E-Bikes: Putting The “Bicycle” Back In Fish & Bicycles!

Viking-E-Bike-logo-2gjswx5-200x200When I first started writing Fish & Bicycles, back in 2009, I’d already been employed by Western Washington University (WWU, Western) for nine years, and I was a devoted bicycle commuter.

Rain, shine, even snow…it was a point of great environmentalist pride, as well as the absolute best way to squeeze exercise into a ridiculously busy schedule.

But sadly, over the past two years of my now 17-year tenure at WWU, due to a combination of having moved much further away from campus, some injuries and health issues, and simply a loss of mojo for getting out on a bicycle in Bellingham’s famously wet weather, I gradually stopped my daily bike commute.

Enter, Western’s Viking E-Bike program!

I’ve been considering purchasing an electric pedal-assist bicycle for some time, thinking that the power assistance, only as needed, for the several hills along my 5-mile commute route, would be just the thing to get me back in the saddle, but with price tags ranging from $1,000-$4,000 or more, it was no easy decision.

So, when I learned about the Viking E-Bike program, when I learned that I could apply to have a loaner electric bicycle for an entire 10-week academic quarter, I jumped at the chance, applied, and was just accepted!

I had my orientation this week, in preparation for the start of my 10 weeks near the beginning of January, and I can already tell that this will be an incredible opportunity to evaluate an e-bike, learn how to use one, learn what features I like and don’t like on the eProdigy Jasper bicycle that I’ll be riding (which will guide my eventual purchase of some bike by some to-be-determined manufacturer), and whether or not the power assistance will be enough to get me back to a daily cycling commute.

Given that it’s wintertime, it will be one helluva test, and new rain gear is already on my holiday gift wish list.

I’ll be blogging about my experiences here, so keep an eye out for “Viking E-Bikes” in my post titles!

The Slow Beer Movement

My Post-Election Trumpism-Opposition Begins: Taking It To The Streets

So, in my last post I dusted off Fish & Bicycles and declared my intention to resist the impulse to despair over the barely believable, gulp, election of Donald Trump, and rather, to get to work on being part of a solution.

After an initial round of research, I identified several local social justice groups, as well as a chapter of Our Revolution, the organization that the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign morphed into, and I’ll be looking into these further and attending meetings soon.

But, my first offline action, this past Friday, was to attend a protest loosely organized around a demonstration that has been taking place on the same street corner here in Bellingham, Washington, save a few gaps here and there, since 1966, the longest running event of its kind in the U.S.

This weekly peace vigil, held every Friday, was the most natural place to find an organized group of people guaranteed to be equally shaken by the election and opposed to the agenda of the man elected. But, rather than the usual relative handful of protesters on just one street corner at Cornwall & Magnolia, as seen in the photo included in this post, this week all four street corners were packed.

fullsizerender7I’d made my own “Love Trumps Hate” sign, and when I arrived I took my place at the street’s edge, where passing cars and my fellow protesters across the street could see me, and with the very first smile from these lovely people and honks from supportive vehicles zooming by, I felt better than I had, by far, since election day.

The signs held by those assembled ran the gamut: peace/anti-war, environmental, reproductive rights, pleas for black, brown, LGBTQ lives, etc. While I had been wondering how or if we could ever really come together and stay together, there we were, with good intentions and shared purpose, a mutual desire to keep hope alive, hope for a more peaceful world in the face of an unimaginable national nightmare.

And yet, standing there with my sign in hand, I experienced some conflicting thoughts and feelings.

As I looked around at the staunch peace vigil veterans who have shown up weekly for years, not just when there’s a headline-grabbing crisis, I felt humbled, ashamed even, inadequate, for not having done much more than preach peace and love casually to friends and family, to write about it on my blog occasionally, a protest here and there, volunteering as a Bernie Sanders delegate, but only at the County Convention, and all those stupid online petitions.

But then, I observed a group, young and old, singing We Shall Overcome, and every single derisive stereotype of hippies and 1960s/70s counterculture came to mind, along with thoughts of how it all seemed for naught, as we have slid so dramatically backward as a country. We shall overcome, my ass!

But then…the music reached my heart, and cynicism and skepticism melted away, and I joined my voice with theirs.

The next song, the hauntingly beautiful Singing For Our Lives, by Holly Near, with the refrain, “We are a gentle, angry people”, sealed the deal.

I was right where I belonged and past inadequacies no longer mattered.

Only action remains important.

 

Like Bringing A Knife To A Gunfight vs. Like Bringing A Gun To A Dog Park

no-guns-allowed-bloody

Like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

–Origin unknown

You know that old saying, used frequently as a metaphor for entering into a situation inadequately equipped or prepared?

Well, consider this example of the opposite scenario:

So, this past weekend, my wife and I and our dog Zuki were at the dog park at nearby Lake Padden, nestled amongst gorgeous frost-covered trees at the south end of the lake, the dogs were playfully sniffing and chasing each other around, it was so peaceful…

… and then I saw the gun …

… in a holster on the hip of a guy dressed all in black, with a U.S. flag patch on one of the upper sleeves of his jacket, the owner of a Great Dane twice the size of all the other dogs in the park …

… and I instantly felt flooded by a wave of nausea and fear …

… and my brain tried to make sense of the cognitive dissonance.

I tried to imagine just how awful it must be to live in so much fear that you feel you have to bring a gun to a dog park.

But, then I thought of the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S., and how some people think that there would be fewer mass shootings if more people were armed, because, they say, there would be more of a chance of someone being at the scene who could shoot and kill the shooter before he kills or before he kills many, even though there’s no evidence that this is true.

And then I thought, even if this guy was somehow motivated by a warped, misguided sense of civic duty, a desire to protect others, nevertheless, his mere presence and the deadly weapon he carried literally terrorized me, AND he’s allowed, by law, to do so, in my otherwise great home state of Washington, without a license or permit.

And finally, I realized that the other people in the U.S. who are legally allowed to carry guns are police, and the only reason I don’t feel terrorized by their presence is because I’m a white male.

Fear and guns.

Is this really the land of the free?

…all in the name of freedom
Freedom is not domination
I believe
Freedom’s got to come from within
Yes it does
Not with the gun
Freedom’s the ability to feel love for everyone

Mason Jennings

The War On (Dominant) White Culture

Anti-White-Racism-530px1As I mentioned last week, and the week before, there was an incident at my place of employment, Western Washington University (WWU, Western) that has stirred up racial tensions, an incident that made national news, an incident not all that dissimilar to the national news coming from Yale University and the University of Missouri and other institutions of higher education.

Consequently, I’ve been having a LOT of discussions on this topic with people — co-workers, friends, family, casual acquaintances — and while I might share a considerable amount of perspective, opinion, values, beliefs, etc. with these people on a wide variety of topics, some comments coming from them diverged sharply from how I see things, and they helped me zero in on what I see as a key element in the current racial conflict dynamic.

One friend said:

I don’t see an Anglo Christian culture surviving in the USA in the 21st century. It already is in the past.

We are all human but keep in mind humans are clannish, and that’s why all groups tend to take sides on race and religion. People will consciously or subconsciously fight to preserve their clan. Our human nature guarantees it.

In June 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that white people will be outnumbered in this country by all non-white people combined by 2043.

This fact terrifies a lot of white people. My friend says its human nature, I disagree, but that’s a whole other Pandora’s Box that I don’t have time to open now.

We used to take pride in our Statue of Liberty, and the message inscribed upon it:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Now? Not so much. Not if it means that white people will be outnumbered!

Of course, most white people will not come right out and say that America was founded by whites and therefore it is a white culture, with an inherent right to remain the dominant culture in the country.

But, some people will.

At my alma mater, Rutgers University, a White Student Union Facebook page has recently been set up by some students with anonymous Facebook accounts, something that has happened at 30+ other universities across the country.

What’s SO telling in the article is the statement from the anonymous students who set up the page, which can easily be divided into reasonable statements and paranoid delusional statements.

I’ve put the reasonable part in bold:

“Everyday our culture is taken from us under names such as ‘diversity’ or ‘privilege,'” they said in an email.”… We wish to provide an intellectual environment from which white students and allies may learn about their rich and beautiful culture, history and society. This too is slowly being taken from us.”

Listen…

NO ONE IS TAKING WHITE CULTURE AWAY FROM WHITE PEOPLE.

White people are totally free to hold onto and celebrate their culture.

However, white people have no constitutional or moral right to be the dominant culture, to force their culture on non-white people or demand that non-whites assimilate and adopt white culture.

The only way to remain the dominant culture is through asserting superiority, or some kind of privilege to remain dominant, without regard for the majority, by doing so aggressively and oppressively — think South Africa, where whites were only 20% of the population and yet owned 80% of the land and an even greater percentage of wealth, and resorted to Apartheid to keep it that way.

There is no War on White Culture, but…

…white people do need to let go of being the dominant culture.

White people are totally free to hold onto and celebrate their culture, like, let’s say, the men dancing in this video.