Archive for April, 2008

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

This is a post that I wrote back on November 7, 2007 shortly after attending two public talks by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Last week, I had the opportunity (and pleasure) of attending two public talks given by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama (one talk in Ottawa and another in Toronto). I was struck by his warmheartedness and the fullness of his laugh. The following paragraphs describe my interpretation of the various messages presented by His Holiness.

From the time we are born, the affection given to us by our mothers is critical for our development, both physical and mental. There is scientific evidence that links brain development with affection in our early years. Physical affection helps kids grow up healthy. Our bodies respond to affection with a stronger immune system.

Providing affection towards others leads to personal happiness. A corollary to that is self-centered attitudes cause loneliness. Affection also leads to trust, and trust leads to genuine friendship. From the opposite perspective, a lack of affection leads to fear and distrust. In addition, anger, fear, and hatred weakens the immune system and shortens your life. Our physical well being is linked to our emotions.

A healthy, happy community begins with healthy happy individuals. World peace begins with inner peace. Individual affection leads to world peace.

In our global world, we need to realize that destruction of our neighbour is actually destruction of ourselves. The concept of war is out-dated (obsolete), since it leads to self-destruction. The division of we versus they (us versus them) leads to war.

Conflicts should be solved through dialogue. We should be teaching our children how to dialogue effectively. We should send our kids to spend time living in other countries. This helps them to develop an appreciative understanding of other cultures as well as true friendships. Appreciative understanding helps dialogue and true friendships lead to peace.

A concrete path to world peace is to start by merging the armed forces of the world. As countries sign-on to a unified world-army, there would be no one left to fight. This would lead to dis-armament. The unified world-army would be available to all member-states in the even to natural disasters.

All religions should be respected, including the non-believers. Religions can be categorized as either theistic or causational. That is, religions either believe in a supreme being (gods) or they believe in causal relationships (karma). The best religion for a person is the one that is associated to their culture and family. This is because they are most familiar with it, and as a result they can develop a deeper understanding of it. As for the non-believers, they can choose ;).

First rides on a ‘bent

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Over the last two weeks I’ve been riding a short wheel-base recumbent bicycle, lent to us from the Bicycle Man while we wait for our new bikes to arrive. I’ve discovered that riding a ‘bent provides a different perspective than riding a regular bike.

On my initial outings, I rode mostly on bicycle paths. I was not yet comfortable riding on the roads with traffic. The path was shared with pedestrians. The bike did not have a bell, so I found myself often speaking “I’ll be passing on your left”. When I did this, one of two things happened. The person either: turned around to look at me and said hello while getting out of the way; or they completely ignored me. I found myself torn between enjoying the interactions associated with not having a bell and concern that I’d run into someone because they ignored my warning.

After the first week, I gave into the concern and installed a bell. I now find that when I ring the bell people turn around and look at me. They usually smile and some even say hello. People coming the other direction almost always stare, say hello, or say “nice bike”.

When people stare, I’ve gotten into the habit of saying “good morning” or “good afternoon”. They are a little bit surprised, but often they return the greeting with a smile.

Today, I was riding on much busier streets. I found that I was often making eye contact with the drivers. That didn’t happen nearly as frequently or as easily on my road bike. I find that occasionally a driver will give me the right of way (when I don’t have it). I suspect that is because they want to see how one rides a recumbent. I don’t recall this ever happening on a regular bike. I’m a little worried that this may pose a safety problem, as I was taught that it was dangerous not to take the right of way when you had it.

So far, my initial impressions of ‘bent riding is that it is more social. You are in a position that makes it easy for you to look people in the eye, which often results in a hello or good morning/afternoon. The greeting may be brief, but it is much friendlier than the silent passing that usually occurs when you speed past on a regular bike.

Buying a bicycle as a spiritual journey

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I pedal quickly, practicing my spinning. The road has a gentle decline and the trees are a dingy orange-brown, typical of the early spring after the snow is gone but before the green buds begin to take over the landscape. I remind myself to take a deep breath, smell the fresh air, and experience the moment. It was early in day one of our three day trip to southern New York State to test ride and hopefully purchase bicycle for our Grand Adventure.

I had been rather anxious and stressed lately. I had not been sleeping well; my dreams filled with worry over all that still needs to be done before we can depart on our trip. A few days ago, a friend inquired about when my car would be for sale. That is when it began to really sink in. We are actually going to do this trip! Adding to the need to sell my car, I was at the end of a six-month contract. Once that finished, I would be working full-time at packing up the house and preparing for the trip.

A big area of concern for me was the lack of a decision regarding bicycles. At the best of times, I do not handle uncertainty well. That may be one of my greatest challenges on this trip, the uncertainty that is necessarily part of a long bicycle journey. Regarding bicycles, we liked the idea of riding on recumbents, but were not certain it was the right approach. We decided to make a pilgrimage to the BicycleMan in Alfred Station New York to try different types of recumbents and see if they were right.


Encounter World Religions

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

April 11 & 12, 2008

On the weekend of April 11th, 2008, Scott and I attended a workshop offered by the Encounter World Religions Centre hosted by the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa and the Ottawa congregation of the Community of Christ. The presenter, JW Windland, is the founder of the centre. If you ever get a chance to attend a workshop by JW, I highly recommend attending. I am envious of the University students who find themselves in his classroom for an entire semester. He is a dynamic speaker and an extraordinary story teller. I found myself captivated throughout the lecture portion of the workshop – even on Friday night!

The workshop began with a 2-hour presentation outlining the symbols and quotations from 28 world religions. What I didn’t know about the Christian faiths really surprised me. I was more familiar with the religions that originated in India (India Religions) than the variety of Christian faiths that are common within the communities in which I have lived.

It was particularly interesting to hear the presentation of my own faith, Unitarian Universalism. I realized that the information presented was more of a historical perspective of the faith – that is, where it originated from – rather than a current perspective. The presented history of the origins of Unitarian Universalism was accurate from a global perspective, but the history seems to be missing some key influences.

Unitarianism is based on the belief in one God, in contrast to the trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Universalism is based on the belief of universal salvation, that is, everyone goes to heaven. The two faith communities joined together to form Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalism in Canada (and the United States) is heavily influenced by a variety of other faiths including Humanism and Pagan faiths. Some Unitarian Universalists consider themselves Christians, but many do not. A presentation of Unitarian Universalism that implies that it is a Christian faith does not feel authentic to me.

Seeing the presentation of my own faith allowed me to put the presentation of other faiths into perspective. The information was historically accurate, but I kept in mind that it did not necessary provide an accurate view of the faith communities today.

Saturday morning began with a 3-hour presentation. The religions of the world were classified into three categories based upon their origins:

  • Middle-Eastern religions: these include Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • India religions: these include Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.
  • Balanced religions: these include native and aboriginal beliefs, paganism, and Wicca.

Within each classification, certain questions were answered that outline typically how followers of the different faiths think. The classifications are generalizations; therefore, they make broad assumptions that do not necessarily apply within specific instances.

The presentation began with the faiths that we were most familiar with – those of the Middle-Eastern religions. Middle-Eastern religions have the concept of god as a single all-powerful being (God, Allah, and Yahweh). To be a follower, you must be accepted into the faith community through some form of ritual or rituals. For example, Christians have baptism and Muslims make a declaration of their faith. You are not considered to be part of the religion until you have been accepted by an authority of that faith (clergy or congregation). Middle-Eastern faiths also have spiritual practices that involve the community. For example, for Muslims; praying together is considered more beneficial than praying alone.

India religions do not have the same concept of God; rather they have a concept of god within each person. To be a follower, you simply declare yourself to be of that faith. The focus is on the individual and the spiritual practice is individually focused. There are still group spiritual practices; however, the path to “enlightenment” is an individual journey, so there is no requirement or preference for group practice.

I was generally familiar with a few Middle-Eastern and India religions, but did not have any familiarity with the balanced faiths. As a result, I do not feel that I was able to grasp the general concepts well. From my limited understanding, balanced faiths look to the universe as a whole as god. Spiritual practices are about re-balancing things that for one reason or another have become out of balance. I think there is a paradigm shift between the Middle-Eastern or India religions and the balanced religions that I do not quite understand yet.

The presentations brought up the idea of being “culturally” influenced by a specific faith. For example, in North America, we are “culturally Christian”. The laws and morals in our society are highly influenced by Christian faiths. In Ontario, they still read the Lords Prayer at the opening of provincial parliament! In Arab nations and the most of the Middle East the societies are “culturally Muslim”. I am intrigued to discover what this really means, and I hope that our travels through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Malaysia will help me discover that.

Perhaps the biggest learning for me was the awareness that I was interpreting things through a Christian (and more specifically Catholic) lens. This perspective was preventing me from being truly open to other faiths. In Catholicism, you cannot participate in certain rituals until you have been accepted by an authority of the church and participated in the associated initiation ritual. For example, you cannot participate in communion until you have attended the appropriate catechism (church school) and participated in the First Communion ceremony. This means that aspects of the faith are only available to those that have been indoctrinated. I used this lens when entering any place of worship. I felt like an interloper – an outsider – and was very uncomfortable with the idea of participating in rituals. The Saturday session made me realize that I was viewing the world faiths through the Catholic lens, and once I removed that lens, I felt like a fog was lifted. I was suddenly able to see and “encounter” the other faiths without the barriers that I didn’t realize I had.

Saturday afternoon involved four “encounters” with world religions:

  • A talk by a Cree woman (Canadian aboriginal).
  • A visit to a Taiwanese Buddhist temple.
  • A visit to an Islamic Mosque.
  • A visit to a Sikh Gurdwara.

I’ll share my reflections on the various encounters in separate posts.

Troubleshooting slow Internet

Friday, April 11th, 2008

This is completely unrelated to cycling or travel, but I thought I’d post it anyway, since I couldn’t find anything on the ‘net describing this problem in detail. (more…)

And the winner is …

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

After lots of analysis we’ve decided the HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte is the best bike for our needs. Peter worked hard to not influence our decision, but in the end he did tell us he agreed with us given our plans.

The HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte won for us because:

  • It fit Becky better (seat fit well and she could reach the handlebars easily).
  • It has low-rider racks available direct from the manufacturer (you can retrofit a lower rack on the Oracle Omega, but that is a work-around).
  • HP Velotechnik has a proven reputation doing the type of long-distance riding we intend on doing (the Oracle Omega is probably fine too, but is relatively new to the market).

Scott still feels a bit guilty about not supporting a Canadian company, since he was happy with both. The Gte fit Becky much better though, and it is far easier to carry spares for only one set of components.

So, the order is in. We ordered two mostly identical bikes, each with a bunch of upgrades:

  • Rolhoff hubs
  • Avid mechanical Disc brakes
  • Upgraded shocks (DT-SWISS XM180 rear and MEKS SASO Carbon AC front)
  • Marathon Plus 47mm tires
  • Airflow seat cushion (we tried both, and the Airflow is much nicer)
  • rear and lowrider racks, mudguards
  • Becky also got the shorter 152mm cranks

Here are some photos of our longer test ride (40 km). Scott is carrying 30lb of bricks and water bottles in the panniers to get a feeling for how the bike performed when loaded. These are Peter’s demo bikes. Scott’s bike will look similar (orange) and Becky’s will be yellow (RAL 1018).

What bicycle? Propulsion

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Our other major debate was Shimano XT groupo vs Rohloff Speedhub for the gear train. In one corner we had Keith (go with a derailleur!), Bryan in the other corner (the Rohloff is really nice, and virtually maintenance free!), and Peter somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t quite that black and white, with Keith enthusing over the engineering of the Rohloff, and Bryan pointing out that if something goes wrong with the Rohloff, it will likely be hard to fix.

I had been hoping to be able to see a Rohloff hub in action (and maybe even ride a bike with one), but even at BicycleMan they’re pretty rare. They’re much more common in Europe, but in North America everyone uses derailleurs instead of hub gears. Peter mentioned that some of that is related to different import duties for hub gears vs. derailleurs in Europe. In any case, the Rohloff is very expensive here (a 35% premium on an already expensive bike by my calculations), but it does provide a much better-encased shifting system, and has proven to be very reliable for many people on long tours. That said, the Shimano XT system is very good, and extremely refined. I expect if we go the XT route we’ll spend more time maintaining the geartrain, where the Rohloff is very low maintenance. However, if something does go wrong with the Rohloff, very little is user serviceable, and what we could service is very different from a normal geartrain. We’ll need to do some work learning to adjust the cables on the Rohloff before I’m comfortable, but I need to improve my bicycle maintenance skills in any case.

Another option is the SRAM Dual Drive 24-speed (this is the base configuration on the StreetMachine).  For extremely long distance touring, I think this has the downsides of both a hub and derailleur. It is difficult to service and get parts for the hub, and the cassette and derailleur are exposed to mud and dirt, requiring more frequent cleaning and maintenance.

What bicycle? Analysis and more analysis

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Friday was dreary, wet and intermittently rainy, so we didn’t end up test driving any bikes. We did spend many hours at the BicycleMan shop though, looking at options and discussing. Since it was a grey, dreary day we pretty much had the shop to ourselves, and were able to take a lot of Peter’s time as well as some from Keith Gregory, the service manager. I didn’t realize until later that Keith is also a national cyclocross champion. Obviously, I should have paid more attention to the jerseys on the wall.

Along with extensive conversations with Peter, Bryan Ball (managing editor of ‘BentRider Online) happened to be in the shop, so we picked his brain for several hours too. It was very helpful talking to all of you, thanks guys!

Our final contenders for our trip were the HP Velotechnik StreetMachine Gte (Bryan’s review here), and the Oracle Omega City and Tour (Bryan’s review here).

StreetMachine and Omega Tour

We rode the StreetMachine and both Omegas on Thursday, and I liked them all, but Becky had trouble getting either Omega set up for her. The biggest issue for her was reaching down to the handle bars. This is partly because the under-seat steering bar under the frame makes it a longer reach to the handlebars. This can be partially corrected by adjusting the handlebars higher (as shown in the first picture here), but it wasn’t enough to make Becky comfortable on the Omega City on Saturday.

When the handle bars were moved up to the highest position, she could reach, but it was a stretch, which meant it wasn’t a natural position. Even a short ride led to fatigue in her arms. Winner: StreetMachine

She also found the headrest very uncomfortable with a helmet on, and it is not removable. Peter recommended cutting it off with a hacksaw, but didn’t want us to do that to his demo bike (I wonder why?). The StreetMachine has a removeable headrest as an extra-cost option. Winner: StreetMachine

The shorter wheel base of the Omega City results in the seat being slightly higher than the Omega Tour, so the Tour might have been a better choice. Unfortunately, the chain length on the Omega Tour was set up for someone my height or a bit taller (6’0″) and when we brought the boom in to allow Becky (5’6″) to reach the pedals, the chain was too long to allow her to shift. HP Velo provides a front boom quickadjust with quick-release levers and chain length compensation for this sort of demo environment – Oracle may want to consider something similar. Winner: StreetMachine

The other missing bit on the Omega is a second pannier rack below the seat. There may be an aftermarket rack option for under-seat panniers, although it requires some adaptation. Winner: StreetMachine

Becky also found the seat on the StreetMachine fit her better than the Oracle seat. We tweaked the seat adjustment a bit, but couldn’t make it as comfortable for her. Maybe with some more tweaking we could have fixed it though. With the StreetMachine, the seat needed adjustment too, and when we got it right, Becky felt her power increased significantly as she could push off the rigid seat with more of her core body strength. Winner: StreetMachine

Both of us found the Oracle Omegas rode very well, handling potholes and gravel well. We took all the bikes through potholes, gravel roads and washboard, and they handled the conditions with aplomb. Winner: Tie

The Omega is also designed and built in Canada, and is much less expensive than the StreetMachine in the configuration we’re building (close to $1000 cheaper). Winner: Omega


Overall, I found the Omega Tour very comparable to the StreetMachine, and would seriously consider it. (I spent very little time on the Omega City). Becky had problems getting either to fit her well, but I’d recommend anyone interested in a StreetMachine (or an Optima Dragon or Lynxx) to seriously look at the Oracle Omega City or Tour. It is well worth doing an A-B comparison.

Update 2008-04-27:

I just discovered that Anna Lee Husband, owner of Oracle Cycleworks, has started blogging as well, and she put a post up a few weeks ago responding to our experiences here. I’d encourage folks reading our experiences to check out her post, and talk to Oracle (which we have not done):

I want to buy a bicycle …

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

by Queen

Change the word “ride” to “buy” and you’ll have the song that has been going through my head for the last day and a half.

We have this grand plan of riding our bikes around the world, but we haven’t yet identified what “our bikes” will be. We each currently have mountain bikes and touring bikes, but we are not certain that either are ideal for the trip.

Unfortunately, I find that my road bike causes stiffness and pain in my upper back. I also fine that my wrists and hands can get very unhappy. We read about recumbents as an option, but hadn’t really tried them … until today.

We have ventured to Alfred Station, New York to visit Peter Stull – the Bicycle Man. Peter’s shop is in an old building that was purchased for $5,000 in 1979. It doesn’t have running water, but it does have electricity, composting toilets, and a lot of recumbent bicycles (14 different brands and around 100 bikes in stock). I did notice a few regular road bikes and mountain bikes hung from the ceiling too, but his shop definitely focuses on recumbents.

One thing about recumbents is that they are all different. This meant that you need to test drive quite a few to determine which suit you best. It has been quite the alphabet soup trying to sort through the taxonomy. USS vs. OSS, SWB, LWB, CWLB… Fortunately Peter has a nice glossary on his website, which we studied before arriving. Recumbents aren’t just different from regular bikes – they’re very different from one another too!

The bikes we rode today included a variety of features such as:

  • Under-seat, under-bar steering. (USS)
  • Under-seat, over-bar steering. (USS)
  • Over-seat steering. (OSS)
  • Big back tires with small front tires (26″ or 700c with 20″ front).
  • Big front and back tires (26″ or 700c).
  • Small front and back tires (20″).
  • Short wheel-base. (SWB)
  • Compact Long wheel-base. (CLWB)
  • Long wheel-base. (LWB)

Today, Titus (one of the guys working at the BicycleMan store) helped us try out:

Note, I may not have the classifications 100% right. I’m not clear on short wheel base versus compact long wheel base. Here are a few action shots …

Scott on an Oracle Omega Tour

Scott on an Oracle Omega Tour.

Becky on a Linear

Becky on a Linear

Scott on a Linear

Scott on a Linear.

Becky on a RANS Stratus.

Becky on a RANS Stratus LE.

Becky on a RANS Rocket.

Becky on a RANS Rocket.

Becky on an HP Velo

Becky on an HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte.

Scott on the HP Velo.

Scott on the HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte.

Accepting the kindness of strangers

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

I woke up this morning and was trying to visualize how we would camp during our shakedown cruise around Lake Ontario in June, and I couldn’t quite see it. It will be difficult (not to mention expensive) to find campgrounds every time we want to stop, since we’re planning on riding about 80 km per day. The idea of going up to people’s doors and asking to camp in their backyard seems like an imposition, and finding a place to camp where we’re invisible seems tricky even in Canada, let alone in the US.

I am inspired by Kevin Kelly’s 2007 Christmas Essay about willingness to accept generosity, although it will certainly require effort to reach out past my shyness and ask.

One might even call the art of accepting generosity a type of compassion. The compassion of being kinded. One year I rode my bicycle across America, from San Francisco to New Jersey. I started out camping in state parks, but past the Rockies, parks became so scarce I switched to camping on people’s lawns. I worked up a routine. As darkness fell, I began scouting the homes I passed for a likely candidate: neat house, big lawn in the back, easy access for my bike. When I selected the lucky home, I parked my bag-loaded bike in front of the door and rang the bell. “Hello,” I’d say. “I’m riding my bike across America. I’d like to pitch my tent tonight where I have permission and where someone knows where I am. I’ve just eaten dinner, and I’ll be gone first thing in the morning. Would you mind if I put up my tent in your backyard?”

I was never turned away, not once. And there was always more. It was impossible for most folks to sit in their couch and watch TV while a guy who was riding his bicycle across America was camped in their backyard. What if he was famous? So I was usually invited into their home for desert and an interview. My job in this moment was clear: I was to relate my adventure. I was to help them enjoy a thrill they secretly desired, but would never do. My account would make an impossible dream seem real and possible, and thus part of them. Through me and my retelling of what happened so far, they would get to vicariously ride a bicycle across America. In exchange I would get a place to camp and a dish of ice cream. It was a sweet deal that benefited both of us. The weird thing is that I was, and still am, not sure whether I would have done what they did and let me sleep in the backyard. The “me” on the bicycle had a wild tangled beard, had not showered for weeks, and appeared destitute (my whole transcontinental trip cost me $500). I am not sure I would invite a casual tourist I met to take over my apartment, and cook for him. I definitely would not hand him the keys to my own car, as a hotel clerk in Dalarna, Sweden, did one mid-summer day when I asked her how I could reach the painter Carl Larsson’s house 150 miles away away.

The other option is to stealth camp, which requires finding a quiet corner of wilderness (or abandoned area). This will require a fair bit of bravery the first few times I expect. I try to remind myself that it’s all about opening myself to the experience.

On a more practical note, I found a great article on erecting a tent in the rain which clarified my thoughts about that. I’ve always done the “spread out the the fly first” approach, but never with the elegance of the author’s approach. I’ll try it with our Mountain Hardwear Viperine 3 and see how it works. Since the poles anchor to the tent with clips and not sleeves, we should be able to do it.