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 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.

On Choosing Gloom

IMG_7495

Now, Fish & Bicycles, from its inception, was intended as light fare.

In my very first post, in October 2009, I mentioned how my previous, now-defunct and unlinkable blog, was almost entirely political, which means it almost always featured heavy, often disturbing subjects, and feeling as I did and still do, that there are already plenty of political blogs out there, that the news media in general is dominated by bad news, I was determined to stay focused on things that I really like, including: current local events, snippets of daily life experiences, art, design, music, film, theater, the written word, technology, travel, sustainability, spirituality, fatherhood, etc.

And ever since, when I’m faced with a wave of gloom, like the wave mentioned above, I either struggle mightily to keep my commitment, to find something positive to post, or I find myself paralyzed, unable to post anything (this is my first in over a week), feeling it disingenuous and unauthentic to pretend that the gloom is not there.

And, at that thought, I’m reminded of something I read on the first topic I mentioned above, last week’s racial hate speech and threats incident at Western Washington University (WWU), an incident that has spawned a series of public forums and facilitated listening and discussion sessions.

Of the very first of these sessions, a town hall, the Bellingham Herald wrote:

In response to the question about the hopes for the university, panelist and graduate student Alex Ng advised that these conversations should make people feel uncomfortable.

“As we go forward as an entire community and as individuals, what we’re asking people to do is choose to be uncomfortable, which is kind of crazy, but it’s so important that we do that and we have to have the courage to do that together,” Ng said.

So, here I am, feeling gloomy but still writing, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to be honest, even at the risk of being morose, choosing to be uncomfortable so that denial doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate that which I could choose to deny.

 

It’s Not About The Mascot

vikingWhen I began writing this post Monday, it was a VERY different post.

I’d read the news that some students and a professor at Western Washington University (WWU, Western), my place of employment for the past 15 years, were calling for a change of the university’s mascot, the Vikings, claiming it conflicts with Western’s commitment to diversity.

And so, I was going to write a casual exploration of the topic, reflecting on the fact that the mascot at the junior high school I attended was also the Vikings, half joking about how the current graphic of the Viking, included here, whether or not you believe it a barrier to creating an inclusive community for people of color on campus, is so freaking scary he looks like he very badly wants to pillage my village, rape my women, and impale me on his horns, and then, maybe, I’d lightly touch on the topic of political correctness vs. free speech.

But Tuesday morning, before having any time to complete this post, an email was sent to the entire Western Washington University community by WWU President Bruce Shepard, announcing that classes had been cancelled for the day in response to hate speech on social media, directed at students of color at Western because of their opposition of the mascot.

So, I needed to take a break from writing and regroup, I needed to read the coverage in the media, and I even masochistically subjected myself to reading the reader comments on the article in the Bellingham Herald and on Western’s Facebook Page.

Then, shortly thereafter, I read the news that five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot in Minneapolis.

And what became abundantly clear to me was:

It’s not about the mascot.

It’s about racism.

What kind of country do we live in where this happens?

  • A handful of students of color state publicly that they oppose a university mascot because they feel alienated by it, and they are met with hate speech and threats, AND…
  • This same handful are told, with derision and anger, that they shouldn’t be offended and scared, that they are “cry babies” and “pussies”, and that this is just political correctness run amok, AND…
  • The president of the university is attacked for cancelling classes, which he did because he understands that students of color might be scared, given that racism and violence on college campuses is a national epidemic, and that the whole university needs time to process the awareness that racist threats were made to our students.

In April 2014, President Shepard, in a convocation speech, said:

“ … if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university.”

…and he swiftly came under fire for those comments.

I suspect that many who found fault with what he said then are likely the same people angrily criticizing the opposition to the mascot and the decision to cancel classes.

Racists have a glaringly obvious tell: Even hint about taking away a symbol of white power — a maniacal Viking, or, let’s say, the Confederate flag — and they doth protest too much.

Listen, I’ll take a politically correct overreaction over a racist overreaction any frickin’ day!

Before The Fall

Before The Fall