Category: Articles

Based on a recommendation from one of our readers (thanks, Mindy!), I just completed reading Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life by J. Harry Wray (Boulder, Colo: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).

Pedal Power

I posted a passage that really resonated with me in a previous article…great food for thought.

This book is a socio-political overview of the many advocacy groups, politicians and assorted bike-friendly clubs throughout the United States who are making real differences in terms of supporting the creation and maintenance of bicycle infrastructure, championing cyclists’ rights to the roads and fostering a growing bicycle culture here. The author is a professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago and is known for taking his students on bicycle rides throughout the city to instill in them a sense of “how politics, economics and the environment combine to affect culture and be affected by it” (Pedal Power: “About the Author”).

Wray begins by discussing the perceptional differences between motorists and bicycle users…how bicyclists tend to be more aware of their surroundings and thus more likely to notice changes and problems (and addressing them when discovered). Using a bicycle as transportation in any city fosters a sense of community — and encourages the use of undiscovered and underappreciated public spaces that are completely foreign to motorists who spend most of their traveling time in their air-conditioned “private bubbles”, insulated from the world around them. Much of that will come as no shock to those of you who are regular commuters; we tend to “see” our surroundings differently because we are out in it every day, sometimes off the beaten path and in places most motorists will never travel.

Wray talks about the needed cultural shift in our society in order to make bicycling seen as a more sensible transportation choice in American cities. With our growing interest in leaving consumer-based, wasteful lifestyles behind, many Americans are starting to wake up to a more “European Dream, with its emphasis on inclusivity, diversity, quality of life, sustainability, deep play, universal human rights and the rights of nature, and peace” (p. 78). The bicycle, suggests Wray,

“…is caught up in this culture storm. In some ways the dominant culture seeks to domesticate the bike by turning it into one more variant of commodity fetishism, but most of those in the bike movement see it differently. A decision to ride a bike is a very individualistic decision in our culture. But the bike deepens one’s sense of connection to others. It is also a statement about limits and sustainability. As it assimilates the bike, the culture also accomodates to it. Cultural change is necessary in order for the bike to be widely adopted as a transportation alternative. At the same time, however, increased use of the bike stimulates cultural change.”

The author then spends some time talking about the Mecca of bicycle-friendly cities: Amsterdam. He discusses how cycling became such a dominant transportation choice there (and it wasn’t always the case there…it is a fairly recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things). He talks about what changes were made and how they were supported there to make bicycling such an incredible force.

Then, he spends a few chapters covering some of the well-known bicycle advocacy groups, both on the national level (League of American Bicyclists and the Thunderhead Alliance) and regional or city-based groups (Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, Bike Portland, and others). He also introduces the reader to a variety of national, state and local-level politicians who are making real changes in how bicycles are treated during transportation planning and implementation — all the heavy hitters such as Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Anne Paulsen of Massachusetts, and Mayor Jerry Abramson of Louisville, Kentucky (yes, Louisville…they’ve got it going on down there!), among others.

This is an incredibly enjoyable and powerful book; it is never dry or overwhelmingly academic as I first feared…and is one that I feel should be required reading for newly-elected politicians entering office. In order for bicycling to thrive as a real transportation alternative in American cities, we need more bike-riding politicians on our sides — working from the inside to help create more bike-friendly communities. The book also suggests that the many smaller advocacy groups could possibly be better served by joining forces with each other and massing their muscle to get things done. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about how the bicycle is slowly changing the way Americans live their lives.

This book may or may not be available at your local public library — I had to borrow it through inter-library loan (thanks, Nova Southeastern University Libraries!), but had just enough pull with our book selectors at my library to order a copy for our collection. Power to the people!

I just posted a quick recap of today’s “Le Burrito Ride”, hosted by our local Chipotle Restaurant and the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club, over on our sister site,


Full coverage of the event is over on our friend Alan Snel’s blog — Bicycle Stories and Other Misadventures on the Road of Life. You should check it out!

About my jersey: to celebrate Bianchi’s 100 year anniversary, they produced a bunch of commemorative jerseys and other team gear back in 1985…calling the collection “Centenario 1985”. I got this jersey in 1987 from my then-girlfriend’s mom as a graduation present for high school. Coincidentally, my girlfriend’s last name was “Celestini”, which means “little Celeste” in Italian — how fitting is THAT?

I’m currently reading Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life by J. Harry Wray (thanks, Mindy, for the recommendation and stay tuned for a full review in the coming days). I came across a passage that I wanted to share with you:

“…despite the bike’s minority — possibly even fringe — status in our society, several things favor bike advocates. First, groups pushing for more bike-friendly policies are widely dispersed geographically, giving the potential to influence an array of congressmen. Second, they are well organized, as substantial effort goes into organizing and expanding local groups and connecting them. Third, by federal standards, they are not asking for much. Bicycling is so efficient that it does not take huge outlays to increase bike friendliness.

This leads to a fourth advantage: the absence of significant opposition. The kinds of changes bike advocates push for are so tiny that they mostly pass beneath the radar of the auto industry, for example. A bike lane here, bike racks there, kids riding bikes to school — such small things do not rouse the ire of potential opponents. Bike advocates hope that the cumulative effect of these changes will someday lead to significant reductions in auto usage, but each change in itself seems not to matter very much. Finally — and this advantage should not be discounted — is the transparent rightness of the cause. There are other just causes against which advocates must compete for limited dollars, and power can extort support for unrighteous causes, but the collective and individual advantages of biking are such that it is difficult to imagine a legislator opposing increased support for biking based on the merits. The other side of this coin, but equally important, is that a legislator rarely gets into trouble supporting bike growth. This is an important bargaining chip for biking interests.”

I’m convinced the author is correct — after all, this book is exhaustively researched and compiled and so far makes a great argument for the bicycle’s blooming importance in American transportation. So, if these advantages are there for bike advocates, why does it seem like we’re fighting an uphill battle? Sure, plenty of cities are getting it right — Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Davis, Louisville, NYC, etc., but so many others are behind the times. What could we, as bicycle users and armchair advocates, do to help spur these processes along? Discuss! I’ d love to hear your thoughts on this topic…

Today’s commuter profile comes from Marsha Ungchusri, known as “Princess Hungry” to legions of fixed-gear fans for her great product reviews and fantastic sense of humor over at Fixed Gear Gallery. Here’s a bit about her in her own words:

pink dress

How long have you been a bike commuter?

About two and a half years. I got back on the bike three years ago to do a charity bike ride from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK to raise money for cancer research through Texas 4000 for Cancer ( My perception of distance and what my body was capable of doing encouraged the idea of cycling to commute when I came back to Austin.

Why did you start riding your bike to work and how long is your commute?

I started consistently cycling to work when I graduated from college and began teaching at a middle school 6 miles from home. Before, I use to just putz around campus by bike, but since joining the ‘grown-up’ world, I’ve done all I could to stay a kid at heart. My students got a kick out of seeing me ride by their bus stop in the mornings and I would always get waves and “HEY MISS U!!!!? (My last name is really long and unpronounceable by the general public). It was definitely a workout since the ride there was uphill and I had to haul graded papers, lunch, change of clothes, etc. daily. I started leaving my ‘teacher shoes’ at work to lighten the load a bit.

My commute to work is now a downhill 3-mile cruise through downtown where I currently work at a local bike shop in town. While Jack and Adam’s is not a commuter shop per se (we mostly sell road and triathlon bicycles), most of the employees ride to work (anywhere from 3-20 miles round trip). Since there is no shower at the store we usually hose off in the back and give the customers at the Jack in the Box across the street a show. Unfortunately, we recently put up a fence in the back so no more shows.


What do you do for a living and in what city do you bike commute?

I am the Queen Bee @ Jack & Adam’s Bicycles in Austin, TX. I run the sales floor and make sure people are taken care of. I use to teach 6th grade science at Mendez Middle School.

Right now I also intern at The Butler Bros. Firm where I get to play on Illustrator and participate in ad branding.

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

Do you mean what kind of bikes I don’t have? Ha.

Right now I currently have 4.5 bikes in my quiver. I race on a Level 3 custom Lynskey titanium bike. My previous race bike was the Trek 1500 I rode to Alaska in 2005 that is now my geared commuter bike. I also have a KHS Flite 100 fixed (48-18) for toodling around town and my most recent build, an 80’s Univega MTB xtracycle single speed conversion with pink grips (Thanks Lee). I also had a Fuji Palisade fixed conversion (my first!) that was a beautiful light cream color with sky blue logos and Michelin tires to match. It also had little red bullhorns. I lent it to a friend and it pretty much belongs to him now, but your first conversion is always close to your heart, eh?


I’ve been eyeing this beautiful Biondi frame from Spain that is hanging at a shop here in town. I am torn between building it up as a geared bike or as my ‘nice’ going out fixed. I would also like to get a cross bike at some point and go play in the dirt.

So many decisions!

another KHS fan

Any funny or interesting commuting story that you may want to share?

It was 7am and I had just turned off my street onto the main street into town and a guy on a Bianchi Brava flies by and slows down. He waits for me to catch up and blurts out, “OMG YOU’RE PRINCESSHUNGRY! YOU WRITE ALL THOSE REVIEWS FOR FIXED GEAR GALLERY!!?

Mind you, it’s early in the morning and my coffee has not kicked in yet. I don’t normally respond to anything loud very well that early.

We stop at the light and I mumble something like “Yep, that’s me…? When the light turned green I dropped him. Poor guy.

What do people (coworkers, friends) say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?

I think my favorite comments/questions are:

“Do you sweat??
“Isn’t it hot out there??
“What do you do when it rains??
“What about groceries??
“You’re crazy?
“What do you mean you haven’t driven your car in 6 months??
“I would do it but it’s too hard/far/no showers at work?

How about bicycling advocacy? Are you active in any local or regional advocacy groups?

Right now I am looking for a local cycling advocacy group to invest my time and resources in, but what I have found has left me rather disappointed. Most cycling groups here are geared towards recreational riding, trail riding, or racing. While I race for AT&T Brain and Spine, there isn’t very much to be had for cycle commuting advocacy. We do have the Streets Smarts Task Force and one of my teammates is the Cycling and Pedestrian manager for the City of Austin, but for a city that is ranked Silver by the League of American Bicyclists, we are definitely lacking. As one of my friends from NYC said after riding around Austin for a week, “You guys talk the talk, but you sure don’t walk the walk?. With people riding bicycles on the sidewalk, up the wrong side of the street, etc. I agree with him wholeheartedly. Sure, we may be better off than say the likes of Houston or Dallas, but in the grand scope of things with cities like Portland, Seattle, Copenhagen… we are eons behind.

I think what this fair city needs is a group that unifies all of the different genres of cyclists we have here in town. What we lack is a common voice and mission to be heard. Instead our voices get lost in the din of big trucks and SUVs and the infrastructure to support a cycling Austin will stay blue prints.

I love this city and I see the potential in it to become car-lite and cycling friendly. With gas prices through the roof (woohoo!) we are at a tipping point that will either shepherd us into a world with more bikes, or we will continue to be wholly dependent on the car.

racing mode
(Photo courtesy of DCM Photography)

Anything else that you want to share with us?

For my internship at the Butler Bros. marketing firm my current project is to create a brand and mission statement for a hypothetical bicycle advocacy group (which may not be so hypothetical once I am through with it). In my head is brewing a campaign called the Cute Commute Campaign that will be a subgroup within what I think I will be branding “bikeAustin?.

More info to come on:

We’d like to thank Marsha for sharing her pictures and information…the marketing campaign sounds like a great idea, and we wish you the best of luck in implementing it!

This week’s coffee review is the Guatemalan Organic Dark Roast

Here are the specs:

Hang with a smooth Guatemalan. Well-rounded and complete. Layers of deep solidarity from a dark roasted chocolate place. A fat favorite all around. Big.

Roast Level: Dark
Acidity: Medium – Low
Body: Heavy
Aroma: Dark chocolate
Flavor Notes: Bitter-sweet chocolate with dark roast smokiness and a slight remainder of citrus.

Farmer Cooperatives: ADIPCO, Apecaform, Nahuala, Rio Azul & Chajulense

Here’s how the beans look. Now I’m no Starbucks Barista but from what I’ve learned over the years, the darker the roast the more visible oil is on the bean. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but these beans are glistening as if they’ve been sunbathing on the beach with baby oil.

Once the beans were grounded, the sweet scent of a fine dark chocolate hits the air. Eventually the whole room smells awesome.

Much like the last reviews we did with Peace Coffee, the French Press has been the standard for the test. Look how rich the coffee looks. You just can’t get that with an automatic drip. Oh and here’s the thing, I TRIED to use my Mr. Coffee Auto Drip machine for this test…you know to be different. But those machines literally murder the flavor and texture of the coffee. It wasn’t until I used the press that the flavors came back to life and greeted my taste buds.
french press

What’s great about using a press is you get a full bodied and richer coffee. Usually if you use a drip machine, the coffee looks more like a shiny dark tea. But the press gives you texture, flavors and that nice little frothy foam..

So here’s how this coffee did…the specs show that this has a bitter sweet chocolate flavor. As I sipped my cup of sweetness…well not really since its a dark roast and it was black…anyhow, the certain flavors do jump out then lounge on your tongue; think of a Dove Dark Chocolate Bar. If you’ve ever had one of those then you’ll understand that this is the exact flavor the Guatemalan provides. It’s smooth, rich…oh wait, I already said that, and overall delicious. Though it’s a dark roast it doesn’t mean that it is super bitter. No, not at all — what happens is when you drink this, you do get the smokey flavor that it has been roasted longer than other beans, but it’s not like it is a kick in the mouth where you feel violated because the “dark roast” is taking advantage of your mouth. No the Guatemalan is very smooth and easy to drink. Acidity level is rated at low to medium, not bad considering darker roasts typically have a higher level. Plus I never experienced any stomach aches or heartburn after drinking it.

From this coffee lover to another, my gift to everyone reading is this review. You really have to give Peace Coffee a try. I’ve been really blown away on their coffees. They’re nice people too! Peace sells the Guatemalan Organic Dark Roast for about $9.99 per pound, and I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!