Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Correct Incentives...


...drive the desired behavior.

I read Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner over the holidays. I received it as a small Christmas gift from my wife and began reading it on Christmas Day. There is something about books that strive to explain human behavior that compels me to read them. Perhaps I uncover a bit of what motivates me in the text. I read The Tipping Point and Culture of Fear over the past few years, and found some common themes in all three of these books.

On a related note; I read the Sunday Globe and immediately gravitated to the article on Smart Growth, Priced out The state's 'smart-growth' plans are supposed to loosen the housing squeeze and give would-be home buyers a fighting chance. Problem is, no one seems to be listening. Smart Growth has intrigued me for quite some time. Why? Because land use regulation (zoning laws) helps drive (pardon the pun)our auto-dependent culture, not to mention the fact that the American Dream of owning a home is tugging at me. The zoning rules created under the tenets of "smart growth", 40R and 40B make an attempt at addressing land development patterns that discourage the construction of walkable communities with mixed-income housing. Here comes "Freakonomics"; our current zoning laws with occasional minimum lot sizes of 1-2 acres encourage construction of large homes. The builder earns a profit, as all good businesses should, while the town collects enough money in property taxes to pay for the education of the children living in those homes. People (or communities) are acting in their own self interest. So it's all about education, right? Check this out...New Schools Better Neighborhoods.

Then this shows up, How We See It: Competitive state still has housing, taxes to contend with. Wow! Do you think the need for reasonable housing drives young, well-educated people from the Commonwealth?

What does this have to do with cycling? Zoning laws that promote sprawl increases our automobile dependency. Therefore, there are more cars on the roads traveling more miles creating more pollution. Can the riding be any better? I suppose cyclists need to act in their own self interest.

I'm not even going to touch oil depletion and national security.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Role of Business..


...is of course about providing a product or service, perhaps both, of value to a customer, client, or patron so as to generate revenue, and profit.

Businesses have many links and impact points in our global society. Actions of apparently small and insignificant meaning have a cascading effect on things that we may or may not know about. A decision to buy a certain brand of frozen chicken at the supermarket transfers money to businesses and enterprises that extend far beyond the local retailer. Millions of these simple transactions add up to billions of dollars circulating the global economy. They have far reaching implications with employee relations (health care, vacation, wages, etc.), taxes, vendor profit and therefore that vendor's internal and external relationships with their suppliers and communities, and on and on. Systems thinking is an interesting way to think about our actions and their impact on individuals and institutions around us. I remember thinking about this when I heard Peter Senge speak at the NESEA Building Energy renewable energy trade show held at Boston University back in March of 2004.

As I continue to observe and ponder what business "is" and how we can make it sustainable and socially responsible, systems thinking strikes me as one of many potential tools to unravel the complex relationships that define "business". Will it help understand companies' relationships with its employees, its vendors, its customers, and its community? How does thinking about our daily interactions with coworkers and customers in a larger context affect the overall health and prosperity of the business, our communities, and the planet?

The underlying imperative is to maintain and strengthen the company's financial sustainability. A company with the best reputation in the community and the highest social performance but a failure financially punches a hole in the very model of "sustainable business".

Saturday, November 05, 2005

70 Degrees on November 5t


I was supposed to meet some riding buddies at 9:00 in Harvard Square, but last night's dinner and small time bar-hopping with another friend in Beacon Hill got me home way past my bedtime. I ended up rolling out solo at around 1:00 PM to enjoy the heat of the day. The fact that there is "the heat of the day" in November in New England is an anomaly, or perhaps an aberration? I'll stick with anomaly.

I had one of my best rides of the year, about 2:15 spent rolling through the vibrant, sometimes flamboyant yellows, oranges, and golds of leaves' death throes. I took the usual escape route from Waverly Square, passing McClean Hospital and following Concord Avenue out to Trapelo Road and then over 128 into Lincoln. I passed the Gropius House, soon after passing another Seven rider on an Odonata, now known as the ID8. I continued past a bare headed rider on an older Bianchi with downtube shifters and met up with route 126, taking a right toward Thoreau's Walden Pond. Yes, he was out in a shack, communing with nature as the first hippie, but he managed to make it into town every now and then and have dinner with Ralph Waldo Emerson. There were many people at the pond, a few intrepid souls were in it. I crossed route 2 and rolled through Concord Center, where the throngs strolling by with ice cream cones reminded me more of July than November.

After confirming that the water fountain in the center of town was turned off - darn - I headed out of town on Lowell street, joining the route of the Boston Road Club's Smackdown ride that will gladly kick your butt Wednesday evenings in the summer. I prepared myself for Strawberry Hill Rd., the first test of a rider's mettle at Smackdown. The road heads up, mildly at first, but with a nice steep pitch at the end that usually reduces me to a slobbering, driveling mess...off the back. Since I can not drop myself, I put the hammer down and pretended I was about to get dropped. I felt pretty darn good, keeping it in the big ring all the way to the steep bit at the end...not bad. Soon after that, I made the hard right and joined up with route 225, heading into Bedford. I managed to pull up to a gent on an older Axiom with a Wound Up fork. We proceeded to chat about his three Sevens, including a Teres and a new Sola. He shared his love for Seven's craftmanship and ride. It was nice to hear someone talk about their bikes with so much passion, bikes that the company I work for built. He was from Holland, and could not wait to take one of the bikes home to show his friends. Bike lust. I continued on the Smackdown route, attacking myself on the Col de Lexington, but not dropping myself, and back through Lexington center on Mass Ave. A right past Wilson Farms, hearing my co-worker Karl yell at me as he passed in his CAR heading in the opposite direction on Pleasant Street and I made it back home. Great ride.

I felt good, even when I was pushing hard in a big gear or making an effort over a hill. I felt as though I could give it a little extra gas, and I would get the burn, but not the burn and "pfft" that normally accompanied any threshold effort lately. I implemented changes in my position as a result of using the Seven Custom Kit and Fit Methodology. I can contribute feeling better to nothing else. As instructed, I lowered my saddle a good two centimeters, incrementally of course, and suddenly feel that I am seated centered on the bike. Over the summer, I was struggling with sitting off to the right as a result of the saddle being too high. I noticed the faint sweat line on the saddle from one's back side that one can see after getting off the bike was just about dead in the center of the saddle. It's all about the fit.

I must still remember to be thankful for the fact that I am able to ride at all.

An acquaintance I met through AltWheels sent me a new website he's involved with, do great stuff. I scanned it briefly, and hope it does well. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Update on the ConferenceBike


If it weren't for the heartstrings pulling me back for the Harvest Fair in Granville, MA, I would have been part of Eric Staller's ConferenceBike Tour making its way across the US. This kinetic creation breaks down many barriers by its mere existence. When Eric helped me get it donated for a weekend by Hammacher-Schlemmer for AltWheels in 2004, I was amazed by how many people immediately broke into smiles and excited chatter when they climbed on.

I've been out on the Alaris. I rode Tuesday morning at 5:40. It's early, but the chill in the air and the lack of traffic make for a poetic calm that is worth the abrupt introduction to the day. I was in bed at 9:30 that night...totally whipped. I'll do it again tomorrow. Forecast, 36 degrees and clear.

Did I catch you with the Harvest Fair link? I was amazed that it was in another blog.

Monday, October 31, 2005

First Cross Race of the Season


I made it to Gloucester to punish myself for not training for cross this year. I could not stay away from racing this event. Despite the advice of my loving wife to register for the C-race, I did the Bs. Reason number one; pride. Reason number 2, the B-race goes off at noon, the C-race at 9:00 AM. That decision haunted me not only for the extra 5 minutes of suffering I endured but also for the snow that started coming down in earnest about 15 minutes before my race started. I pedaled away on the trainer, back to the wind, noticing that my gloves were already soaked. Well, I suppose this will be a test of my fortitude, and it was. My typical early season "I wanna quit" mentality kicked in part way through lap two when I felt like I could barely turn the pedals and nearly passed out...while riding. Maybe the C race was the better option.

Ah, but these are the races that get talked about for years. The pleasant weather ones are generally forgotten, or at least held in slightly less regard. 68th out of 81 finishers (scroll down)...sweet!

The biggest pain in the behind is cleanup; mud all over the place, a bike that shifts like crap, and feet that felt like numb stumps for about four hours.

Tough life. At least I have the opportunity to race for fun.

The next challenge...balancing the work with training...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Born into Brothels


An interesting title to this post? It will come out later.

I decided to head out on the ANT through Waltham, passing Bentley College and continuing on Totten Pond Road. I took a right onto Wyman Street paralleling 128 and stopped to explore a vacant office building adjacent to the on ramp. It may have been on of the Polaroid buildings at one time. I kept on Wyman, heading toward Arlington and came to Trapelo Rd., where I stopped a chatted with two cyclists, one from Colorado, one from California, preparing for the rain and on their way to NYC. I made sure I stopped and chatted to be sure they were "all set". I wouldn't want anyone to think New England cyclists are jerks now would I. One of the gents, named Stephen, is a Rock Shox employee, well "SRAM employee", as he put it. Small world. We talked about the new SRAM road group; had to get some shop talk in there.

I left the GPS duo and took a left onto Trapelo and then a right on Old County, forgetting that it was interrupted in its journey by route 2. I pulled a U turn and headed back to Trapelo, continuing on toward Lincoln. I took another right onto Lexington Street, a road I'd never ridden or driven on, and again ran into route 2. Darn. Another U turn, back toward the Lincoln town offices, but not before I took a detour through the Lincoln Cemetery. I love the sense of stalled time and reverence I feel when pedaling silently amid the memorials of lost family members.

Back near the Lincoln library, I took a right onto Bedford Rd and headed into Lexington. This time crossing route 2 and taking a right onto North Great Rd/route 2A headed back to Lexington. Before passing Minuteman Voc Tech, I took another right onto Mill Street, remembering all the Saturday morning Cycle Loft rides I did when I worked there in 2001. The road was beat up an bumpy then, now it was smooth and silent. The hard left onto Lincoln Street led me back to 2A and onto 2/225 Mass Ave to a bear right onto Pleasant Street passing Wilson Farms on the left. The place was mobbed, with pumpkins the same color as my bike in piles awaiting eager hand and Halloween Hay rides for people of all ages. The police officer directing traffic for the farm motioned me along as I dutifully awaited passage with the queued autos. I bore left onto Watertown Street passing over route 2. The street becomes Winter Street, though I am not sure where, probably at the Belmont town line. Merging onto Concord Street, bearing right onto Mill Street, and left onto Trapelo brought me back to Waverly Sq., where I started the ride after dropping two sold ebay items into the mail. Overall, I felt good, though my right leg below the knee felt less than stellar in some stretches. Getting better.

On to the title of the post.

Any good feelings I had following my ride this morning have been wiped away by watching Born into Brothels, a 2004 documentary about nine children growing up, struggling to make it out of their impoverished lives in the red light district of Calcutta. It is a smack in the face of my jaded western sensibilities, a reminder of our privileged lives living where we do, with access to what we have.

A woman social worker befriends these children, deciding to teach them photography. Through this artistic expression, the children learn and grow, revealing their resilience amid their horrendous conditions. They caught glimpses of the life they were headed for, as sons and daughters of prostitutes, and knew they wanted to get out. At the age of ten, the wisdom in their eyes was unmistakable. I was moved to tears more times than I care to admit, yet I could not hide my feelings of helplessness. I could help if I really wanted to, couldn't I

The imagery is so compelling, real and disturbing that the feelings invoked can not be resisted. Yet even amid the grinding poverty, danger, and depravity, there is hope hidden in the desperate eyes of the children. They see that there is a way out through education, and some of them committed to school, though the battle to remove the children from the families can be tough. The loss of a wage earner needed to support the impoverished family is strong, and relatives are loathe to give it up.

One boy, Avijit, no more than 12, said the following words to sum up the class on photography and what it meant to him, "we are nine bodies and one soul".

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I am a lame blogger

I started this thing to share my profound observations on American culture, along with my experiences getting back into the bike business. So far, it's been spotty as best. I doubt anyone's reading this anyway.

This is so true...

Big Box Mart.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Eight Weeks In


This is becoming fun. I have been working too many hours, and neglecting some of the things that used to occupy my time. I hardly read the newsletters and articles that would consume hours before I joined the Seven Cycles team. My concerns about urban sprawl and land use patterns, while still there, has not been fueled by my normal readings of Planetizen and The Brookings Institute.

I have the feeling that the work I am doing will help the company move forward, help me develop personally and professionally, and lead me to the next stage of my career, whatever that may be.

There is a very strange Steely Dan video on the boob tube featuring monkeys in various 70s costumes. I found the title is Monkey in Your Soul.

Anyway...

I am feeling my scattered time and efforts focusing on the job at hand. After five years of wandering about, trying here, probing there, spending some time in bicycle retail, getting back into the "corporate world" with Beacon Power, and in general flopping about in the ether of this life, I feel like I have landed in a place where my work engages my business background and my passion for cycling and sustainability.

I have been putting in some regular 12 hour days and some weekend days. The pending problem is that I am having difficulty removing myself from some of the work and tending to my physical need for exercise. My 'cross season is on the verge of non-existence as I find myself more focused on my work than I have been in quite some time. It is not just the bike racing that I am worried about. In general I can tell that I have been neglecting my health; eating poorly and not exercising. This is something I need to work on. The good thing is that I can ride to work easily, even when raining. That keeps me on two wheels in some capacity every day.

A good friend sent me this article from the Globe, One Week, Two Wheels. I agree with the author's thoughts on the sounds, smells, and sensations one feels when riding a bike instead of driving a car. I also understood the author's concerns about sharing the road with automobile drivers that may not be as charitable with the strip of asphalt we all share.

I heard a newscaster refer to SUVs as Suddenly Useless Vehicles yesterday. How quickly opinions start to turn when circumstances change.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Wonders of Technology


We just spent about an hour figuring out how to get the wireless network working in our apartment in Waltham. What fun! I just have no friggin' patience for futzing with technology sometimes, though I know that it can aid in "productivity and efficiency"...whatever that is. Technology is a tool, not an end in and of itself. Sometimes that is lost in our consumer driven culture.


There are times when I seriously question the value of the gadgets and gizmos that we have access to. Do they really increase our quality of life? What does a Palm Zire 72 really do for me? I took this snap shot of my computer screen. Is that useful? Maybe I entertained myself and did not know it. It has a cool camera function and helps me carry things that would otherwise be heavier and inconvenient. I suppose that's enough...for now.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Back in Boston - Surviving Interbike












I suppose the term "surviving Interbike" is a little dramatic considering that it is only a trade show. Indeed, with the tragedies that have affected the Gulf Coast over the past few weeks, not to mention the continuing war in Iraq, how can trade show participation be considered surviving?

Whether it is worthy of the term or not, I was in Las Vegas for four days last week. Three of those days were for the most part spent in the small white cubicle shown above or en route to the restrooms and trade show concession stand. Trade show food is always something to look forward to. How much better can it get than three say old hotdogs and soggy sandwiches? Hey! At least I had the chance to get some lunch. Some of the folks I work with were not so lucky.

I met with too many people to keep track of, and quite honestly, I am still a bit off from the time spent in a different time zone. It is a strange sensation to feel like your schedule is not quite circadian, or at least occurring in the same 24 hours that we are used to.

I had very little time to wander the show and ogle the do-dads and gee-gaws that I have been told to expect at Interbike. Having never been there before, I had nothing to compare it to in terms of gadgets and gizmos. From what I heard, this year was no different than any other. I will continue to shovel out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

George Bush Encourages Car pooling?!

What? Perhaps the first shock I received on my trip to Las Vegas was seeing the front page headline of the Financial Times indicating the President Bush was encouraging energy conservation and car pooling. A similar headline appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe's Business section. What a minute. Didn't he just work hard to pass an energy bill that continues to subsidize oil and coal and work on increasing supply instead of reducing demand? What's going on here? Did the bankruptcy filings of two more airlines and the crippling of gasoline production in the gulf coast cause this? What gives? Is this for real?

The story made The Guardian as well

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Interbike Preparation Continues


We are having great September weather here in New England. For the most part I have been enjoying the indoors. Between injury recovery and starting a new job, the rising time has diminished a bit of late. We are making the last dash of preparation for Interbike next week and there is much to accomplish. It is exciting as well as a bit stressful, but I am sure that is part of the equation. We are working hard to bring information to the show that will be of the most interest and use for the retailers we will meet.

I did take the time to go out on an Elium SG yesterday morning for about an hour and 15 minutes. The picture's a little fuzzy as I am still learning how to use the camera feature of the Palm Zire I just bought. The old M505 finally gave up the ghost. I figured taking some time in the morning to burn off some energy would keep me sane as I spent the remainder of the day in the office shuffling through paper and maintaining an adequate caffeine level in my bloodstream. Considering my lack of riding since mid August, I felt pretty good. I even managed to use the SLR saddle on the bike without much ado or pain for that matter.

I did take a few minutes yesterday checking out the The Buscycle. Seems that some local creative types are putting together a 10 person pedal powered "bus" to wander the streets of Boston. I believe it's built on the chassis of a Ford F-150, because it was free. Now that's a good use of a truck frame.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Doored

One of my co-workers was doored today. I have never been doored, but I have read about it and heard some horror stories from friends and acquaintances, nor have I been with someone who was recently doored. The fear was etched on her face as she described the circumstances of the event; hearing and sensing the truck coming up on the left to pass her, and watching the person open the door of the parked car even as they were looking in the side view mirror directly at her as she approached. She had a choice; veer into the path of the approaching vehicle or level her shoulder at the car and attempt to take a glancing blow. She chose the latter, and did not go down, but in some way swiped the car and remained upright. As she described this, her eyes were wide and her voice shaky. She said she felt like she was going to be sick. I felt terrible for her. It reminded me of how tenuous my own riding can be. The times I've let me attention wander as I enjoy my ride to or from work, enjoying the cool air of the morning or the evening. The few times I have let my guard down I have had some close calls, and they scared the hell out of me.

If we are to continue riding in our semi urban environment, we must be attentive, and work to make others aware of cyclists right to the road.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

AltWheels 2005 a Success!

Inaugural Fleet Day links industry professionals interested in alternative fueled vehicles to suppliers













It is Tuesday evening and the dust has settled (for me anyway!) from the Third Annual AltWheels Alternative Transportation Festival. Close to 4000 people passed through the gates of the event this year, with the Larz Anderson Museum of Transportation providing the perfect backdrop for sustainable innovations in human conveyance. I am happy to see the success of this event, the passionate outgrowth of Alison Sander's vision for a transportation network that does not pollute our planet. With Elln Hagney's expert event management assistance, and the team of Janice Halpern and Marty Bauman at Classic Communications getting the word out, I think all the core volunteers made it out alive.

There were nearly 80 exhibitors ranging from grease cars to biodiesel machines to human powered devices (we like to call them bicycles) and hybrids. I did not have as much time to peruse the aisles as I had in the past, and quite frankly felt a bit jaded about the slowly developing market for alternative fueled vehicles. Maybe I need to lighten up?

My time was spent preparing for the panel discussion I moderated Sunday afternoon. The panelists, Craig Della Penna of Northeast Greenway Solutions and co-owner of the Sugar Maple Trailside Inn, Lauren Hefferon of Ciclismo Classico, Jeff Rosenblum of The Livable Streets Alliance, and David Loutzenheiser of Massbike did an outstanding job. Craig's depth of knowledge about rail corridors available for development, Lauren's understanding of cycling's ability to connect people to places, Jeff's passion for connecting cycling transit networks, and Dave's commitment to helping make Massachusetts' streets accessible and safe for cyclists was all appreciated by myself and the people in the audience.

Thank you to all the volunteers, exhibitors, spectators, panelists, and passers-by. Participating in something that so many people dedicated time and effort to for the sake of changing some minds is enough to charge my batteries.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Cyclocross Approacheth

From the speculation of Lance Armstrong's 1999 doping to the regular folk like me that want to go out and have some fun. The Gran Prix of Cyclocross comes again. http://www.velonews.com/pr/prn/articles/8885.0.html

I built up my cross bike, the orange and black Halloween modeled ANT, and now hope I can squeeze some training in before Interbike and make a go at a decent showing in Gloucester at the end of October. My right leg seems to be over whatever it was that afflicted it. It may have been some rare Maine Bar harbor spider bite, or the fact that I climbed Cadillac Mountain twice in the same weekend after having done practically zero climbing all season. OK, it's not the Alps or the Pyrenees, or even the Berkshires, but give me a break. Am I getting older? I will proceed cautiously with it for fear of aggravating it and falling into an injury induced depression the likes of which we have not seen since...

The first thing I need to do is lay off the beer. I have been consuming far too much of it for no good reason.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Funny thing Happened...Lance on drugs and a


Midnight Crit

Check out this article and let me know what you think.

Tour de Farce

Drug use in many sports is the elephant in the room. How about those financial ties between owners, sponsors, patrons, etc.? C'mon! NASCAR? Football? Baseball? Let's be real, just because I ride and race (occasionally) and love getting my ass kicked on hard group rides (though the last one I did was last year) does not mean "my" sport is any different than anyone else's. OK, maybe a bike race burns WAY less fuel and emits fewer pollutants than NASCAR, or even the 50,000 slobbering Patriots fans driving in whatever they drive in to the stadium, but we all still had to log the 2 1/2 hours of windshield time just to get spanked.

I digress, and my analysis is weak... I have been unable to ride hard for the past four weeks and my mind is paying the price.

How can I not have a link for this?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

AltWheels Transportation Festival Sept. 17-19, 2005


Americans are feeling the pinch in the wallet from soaring gas prices, in part due to the devastation unleashed by Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. I expect the renewed urgency toward energy issues will help drive attendance to this weekend's AltWheels Alternative Transportation Festival at The Museum of Transportation in Larz Anderson Park in Brookline, Massachusetts.

This is my third year helping organize the event, though I have not been as involved this year due to the job search that led to my new position here at Seven Cycles. I will be moderating a panel discussion entitled, Greenways, Bikeways, and Rails-to-Trails: Simple, Sensible, Improvements for Traditional Landscapes. This will be the final panel of the weekend, a weekend filled with information on alternative fuels, land use and real estate development, and sustainable landscapes.

Over the weekend I received the Summer 2005 edition of my alma mater's magazine WPI Transformations. Lo and behold what appears on the cover but the headline "Sustainable Energy; Current Choices, Future Technologies". It's about time. Not only is this an area attracting the attention of the masses, but there are research funding decisions to be made. What technical institution can not overlook something technology based that provides an opportunity for government funding? I was reassured as a wide-eyed prospective student that WPI was not a research driven college, that professors were paid to teach and not publish. That may be true, but I am sure the college receives grant money for curriculum development and facility construction,and some research.

Articles in this issue address transportation, wind power, solar energy, and sustainable manufacturing. The major article, The Coming Energy Crisis? highlights a WPI graduate from 1968 and his career in energy and environmental technologies. What's the point? We need to invest in energy efficiency NOW and work on the clean technologies that will power the future.

The venerable New York Times also jumped on the post hurricane fervor over gasoline prices with this article, The New Prize: Alternative Fuels The author spent a good amount of time on ethanol (beware the trade propaganda!), a fuel derived from corn, to the delight of constituents in the Midwest, and already available in limited distribution around the country. This is a follow on to the article that appeared in the August 21 edition of the Times, The Breaking Point. If you want to read it, you will have to pay.

Before I go, I wanted to point out another problem with our transportation infrastructure, one that there may not be an answer for. If there is, it is not an easy one. I read the following passage in the NYTimes (I know, I need some more sources) over the weekend. The article was on the aftermath of Katrina and the failings in our Nation's response.
But the city's plan says that about 100,000 residents "do not have means of personal transportation" to evacuate, and there are few details on how they would be sheltered.
This reminds me that despite the fact that I'm paying close to $40.00 to fill the gas tank in my 1997 Toyota Camry, I can still do it. There are many people that can not.

Friday, September 09, 2005

End of Week Four at Seven Cycles

One month under my belt and many more to go. It has been an exciting transition. I am back in the bike business, a place I should have never left. I joined a small and growing company, where there will be opportunity for learning and growth. I am surrounded by people passionate about their work, and by the objects of so many people's desire. What could be better?

There was some anxiety when entering my new job. Will I like it? Will the people I met during the interview process be as accommodating and pleasant as they were in the interviews? Will I like the physical space? Will I fit? The answers are yes, yes, still adjusting, and starting to. My decision to join Seven Cycles was a good one. The thorough interview process provided me the opportunity to conduct my due diligence, coming to the conclusion that I would like to work there. It just so happens that they felt the same way.

It is another job transition, something that I gloss over as insignificant and easy. In truth, it can be difficult and challenging. There are many factors to manage and embrace, or at least come to terms with. There is a new daily schedule, logistical considerations, company cultural change, individual personalities, systems changes (how do I mail something?), food storage, personal space & time allocations, answering the phone, managing e-mail, notifying business & personal associates of the change, learning a new product line, and on and on. Notice that none of these things include what the duties of the job actually are. What are my performance expectations? What is my role within the company and how do I manage relationships within the company to fulfill my responsibilities? What about our customers and the industry I am switching to?

I am fortunate in that I spent three years in bicycle retail, time that allowed me to familiarize myself with the industry and make some connections. I am not starting from scratch, nor am I a veteran. When I take a step back to think about this transition in these terms, it is somewhat daunting, especially joining a small and well-respected growing company with aggressive goals in the challenging and somewhat chaotic trade show season. Interbike, the marquee industry event for the United States' bicycle industry is just around the corner, and there is much to be done in preparation for it.

In preparation for 2006, we successfully introduced at Eurobike. Our new Diamas was well received. We believe the response at Interbike will be positive as well.

The fact that I have been unable to log some serious bicycle mileage over the past three weeks has not helped my mental state. I have been unable to join my new co-workers on group rides, my solo rides to burn off excess energy are on hold, and my cyclocross training is in limbo. It's all a bit depressing. I should be thankful that I have the opportunity to gripe about this. I am not on the Gulf Coast.

We shall see how I feel in late October.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Paralysis by Analysis

I nearly forgot a dinner appointment with a friend this evening. I am off to it now. Thank god (non-denominational "god") he called before our meeting to ask where we were planning to meet, otherwise I would have been persona non grata. For all my blather about "sustainable this" and "locally produced that", we are meeting at a local chain called Not Your Average Joe's. Guess what? It's average.

I am glad we were able to get together and "rage to each other". I would not say rage in anger, but rage defined as passion. The conversation went as expected. We talked about resource scarcity, energy dependence, third world squalor, and inefficient land use patterns. Upon solving those world problems, we branched off into discussion about people's perception of energy costs, and how his business, Solar-Works, has received a fourfold increase in phone calls inquiring about alternative energy. Granted, the people calling would probably not install photovoltaics on their home, but the fact that they were calling is interesting. We rambled over to biking, and the outdoor industry employees sometimes blissful commitment to the outdoors through the use of equipment and transportation that is in and of itself less than stellar for the planet. I commute on a carbon fiber bike..at least I commute by bike. Ah, the hypocrisy of it all. There was some brief discussion about "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", and the search for Quality, The Good, Virtue, you know, all those concepts that have no absolute answer, though we wish they did. Not much time was spent here as the spiral could have easily deepened into insanity.

Paralysis by analysis anyone?

I found myself a bit emotional as he arrived. I was finishing up a phone call with my grandmother. It was her birthday. As I spoke with her, I began appreciating the value family brings to our lives. I grew up with my grandmother nearby, and once I moved away to the Boston area in 1995, I was further away from family than I had ever been. I am only two hours away by car, but for some people two hours is an insurmountable distance. My wife is in a similar situation, with some family in the mid-west and some here in the northeast. One of my concerns is that as fuel prices increase, the mobility we have enjoyed and taken so easily for granted, will slowly disappear. Families that spread themselves around the country, and in some cases around the world, will struggle to maintain the contact they need. Perhaps there will be a movement back to close knit families, where generations live within walking distance. We shall see.

Transportation costs lead to the inability for families to see each other as they have spread throughout the latter half of the 20th century. I had a conversation with a small business owner in Watertown about the rise in food costs. He was concerned that the rise in petroleum prices would have a serious effect on the way we live in general, not just to his business. If people pay more for energy, they have less to spend on other things. The woman working behind the counter chimed in with her concerns about global warming and environmental degradation. I have to admit, I was quite surprised at their thoughts.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Nine States Unite to Cut Greenhouse Gases

Officials in nine Northeastern states have reached a preliminary agreement to cap and then cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 10% by 2020, a Delaware official said Wednesday. If the agreement is made final, it would be the first of its kind in the United States.

I learned about this topic when I attended the CERES Building Equity, Reducing Risk conference in April of this year while still a member of Beacon Power. The session on theRegional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is listed below. It all started in 2003 with a letter from NY Governor George Pataki to eleven governors from Maine to Maryland. The concept was to join the states together to investigate the implementation of a regional cap-and-trade CO2 emissions trading scheme to reduce CO2 emissions. If the past is any indication of the future, states lead the way when it comes to regulations. With some energy companies lobbying for a national policy on CO2 emissions, to reduce uncertainty and therefore risk as they seek to build new electricity generation assets, this regional effort may be a national public policy trendsetter.
Northeast Regional Climate Action: What Does it mean for Businesses and Investors?
As eight states in the northeast work collaboratively to develop a greenhouse gas cap and trade program, this workshop will explore the implications for businesses and investors. How will the program be implemented? Which companies stand to gain and lose? What will it mean for the region's economy?

Ashok Gupta, Director, Air/Energy Program, Natural Resources Defense Council
Sonia Hamel, Special Assistant, Massachusetts Office for Commonwealth Development
Seth Kaplan, Director, Clean Energy/Climate Change Program, Conservation Law Foundation
Adam Markham, Executive Director, Clean Air-Cool Planet
Robert Teetz, Keyspan
It is appropriate that I started reading Michael Crichton's State of Fear a few weeks ago. I am not much of a fan of these types of books, but the writer's subject matter, climate change/global warming, is of interest to me. Public opinion is affected by information from all media sources, whether they be fiction, non-fiction, or somewhere in between. I would not go as far as saying that Mr. Crichton is completely panning climate change, but it is clear that he intends to cast some doubt on the scientific foundation of "global warming". I am interested to see how the novel plays out

A Week Without Riding


I have been off the bike since the weekend and it's killing me. Part of the health benefits I glean from riding are of the mental variety. When I have not turned the cranks a few hundred times to get my chubby self around, I suffer. I get pessimistic and moody, and generally am not a nice guy to be around. I also tend to have a hankering for beer or wine when I haven't burned off the day's excess energy with a bike ride. My body rebels. I get strange leg cramps when walking down stairs that surface after a few days of inactivity. They are not so much cramps as they are a burning tightening in the quads. No one has ever been able to explain what causes is, so I must assume that it is an allergic reaction to a lack or riding.


Preparing to move this weekend certainly does not help the riding equation. On top of that, I've been nursing some form of a strain on the front of my right foot that has been keeping me off the bike. Man! I am complaining...

With issues like this to clog up the recesses of my brain, how can cycling be such a concern? Because I do not want to end up looking like that.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On the Lighter Side...

Most of my ramblings have been on the serious side, after all, saving the world by riding and selling bikes is not something to be taken lightly. A racing and riding friend of mine sent this along and I got a chuckle out of it.
Porquoi non?

Paris, August 22, 2070 The French newspaper L'Equipe announced today that it had won its lawsuit against the estate of Lance Armstrong and will have his body exhumed to search for evidence of illegal drug use. "This is a major step forward in cleaning up the sport of cycling, and establishing once and for all that Armstrong won seven consecutive General Classification titles in the world's greatest cycling race by cheating," gushed L'Equipe editor Liqui Lepew. Armstrong dominated the once famous Tour de France in the late 20th and early 21st century Editor's note: The race was moved to the U.S. in 2049 after fifteen consecutive years of no Frenchman making their respective teams. It is now called the Tour De USA, but is unofficially known as the Tour De Lance). Newspaper officials plan to reveal their findings at the revered but controversial site known as Virenque's Tomb, where the former French champion climber from Armstrong's time lies in perpetual repose. Most Frenchmen cite the lack of decomposition of Virenque's body since his death in 2054 as a Holy Miracle and clamor for his ascension to Sainthood, but this remains unlikely as evidence indicates that heavy drug use during his professional career left him, as one scientist from England's Cadaver Institute for Medical Studies bluntly said, "basically pickled while he was alive. It's quite remarkable really."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back when I was a child...


Richard Fries' biting editorials entitled "Attack at the Gun" from The Ride Magazine always serve as a kick in the pants when I am feeling particularly lazy. He has a way of addressing an issue related to cycling in a confrontational yet rational way. The latest issue of The Ride includes the column, "Arlington Schools: Making Kids Dumb, Dumpier, and Depressed". Ouch! Are the town mothers and fathers aware of this slander, from another Arlington resident no less? Some of the schools in the town prohibit the use of bicycles as a means of transportation for students. This is a symptom of a culture addicted to fossil fuels and organized children's activities. We learn this as Richard quotes from Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods.

There are compelling points:
1) American children aged six-11 spend ~30 hours/week in front of a TV or computer monitor [what I am doing now].
2) The number of overweight adult Americans increased over 60% between 1991 and 2000 [depending on the measurement you use].
3) Between 1970 and 1990 the radius around their home that children were allowed to roam shrunk by 89%. Instead of a half of a mile, it was less than a 10th of a mile.
The distance children are allowed to explore is important for many reasons, it fosters an independent spirit, sharpens minds, and keeps them moving. With my rural upbringing, perhaps I am idealizing a child's ability and willingness to roam their neighborhoods and its impact on their lives.

The one overarching factor that limited children's spatial range; arterial and residential vehicular traffic. Traffic!? Where is Steve Winwood when we need him?

The youngsters suffering from clogged roads have parents suffering from clogged roads. The term "Rush Hour" can now be called "Rush Days" in some metropolitan areas. Traffic congestion, contributed to by many factors including immigration and population growth, land use patterns, and economic activity, is steadily increasing. The average commute time for working adults increased 14% between 1990 and 2000. Combine this with more automobiles on the road with a collective fuel efficiency LOWER than the mid 80's and we're burning some serious fossil fuel.

Let me get this straight. Our dependence on the automobile yields:
1) Dependence on a resource that is unsustainable, non-renewable and inciting global instability.
2) Poor health
3) Massive spending on infrastructure instead of things like education
4) More time driving and less time with friends and family
Let the protectionists rail and the enviros wail. Will disparate groups see eye-to-eye? With headlines like this China Ups the Ante in Its Bid for Oil, The Sierra Club and ExxonMobil they will be buddies in no time.

It is all about energy.

Monday, August 15, 2005

First Day with Seven Cycles



Today was my first day at Seven Cycles. First Days are always anti-climactic. I built up some expectation that walking into Seven on my first day of work would be some life-altering experience, that the passion I feel for cycling would now be allowed to ooze out of my actions without repression. Yeah.

I am excited, don't get me wrong. Seven has a reputation as an innovator in product design and manufacturing, as well as the way Seven chooses to pursue business relationships with their suppliers and retailers. The reason I decided to accept a position with Seven Cycles was their entrepreneurial business model.

The fact that I love to ride, race, and work on bikes had absolutely nothing to do with my decision. Did I mention the bridge I have for sale?

The following weeks and months will be a study of the integration of a cynical 80-year-old man stuck in the mind and body of a 33-year-old idealist that considers cycling one of the simplest and easiest things we can participate in to save the planet. Oh, and I'd like to make a decent living along the way. How's that sound?

Monday, August 01, 2005

DestiNY Greening?

As a follow on to my post from July 22nd on Wal*mart's efforts to include renewable energy and sustainable design in its McKinney, TX Supercenter, the effort to create a "Green Mega-Mall" in upstate NY merits some attention.

I first learned of Robert Congel's DestiNY project a few years ago as I started reading about real estate development and land use impact on transportation and energy use. Soon after, I visited the Rocky Mountain Institute in Old Snowmass, CO while visiting family in Aspen. I was fortunate enough to receive a tour of their facility by Huston Eubank. I contacted Mr Eubank some months later about the DestiNY project, raising questions about projects of this scale being "sustainable" by definition. After all, one of his co-workers at the time, Joel Swisher, is the co-author of Small is Profitable. He was kind enough to send me a short note with a copy of the design charrette review booklet from the DestiNY planning meetings. His remarks, drawn from experience I someday hope to have, helped me understand the compromises needed to make the incremental changes that lead to a sustainable project. In a nutshell, if we are not at the table (or in the room for that matter) for a project, we have no chance to make an impact.

The concept is fascinating; take a under-utilized and partially contaminated site in Syracuse, NY and build a tourist and business development mega-center that strives to integrate renewable energy from demolition (the bulldozers will run on biodiesel) to construction to use. The vision is grand, and on the scale that appeals to politicians' and developers' desire for legacy creation through economic development. What will happen when it opens? Will it work? Will it be the economic driver for the region? Will people frolic around it as shown in the artists' renderings?

Grist Magazine (carried by Sustainablebusiness.com as well) covered an investor symposium hosted by the Congels back in February. With grounded skepticism, the article offers some good insights into the sky high "market moving" goals of the project. As Thomas Leyden from Powerlight Corporation was quick to point out, "It may be the biggest solar installation and renewables project in the world, but there's no way DestiNY will move markets to that extent within a decade, or even move markets in any substantial way." Leyden pointed out that Germany is adding 600 to 800 MW of solar a year and Japan is in the same ballpark -- meaning that DestiNY is a drop in the bucket in terms of global economies of scale. "Nevertheless," he quickly added, "I applaud Congel's vision, and want to be a part of it."

I have a fundamental problem with large scale projects like this. Is it thorough in its analysis of transportation access, costs, and environmental impact over the long term? What is the life cycle of this structure? How will communities around the development fare? Many of these questions can not be answered definitively, and only the execution of the project will reveal the successes and failures that I am sure will come along with the project.

Bicycle Racer/Urban Planner Wanted to Enforce SAFETEA-LU













John Lieswyn sounds off on one community's choice of automobiles over people.

I am continually amazed at the level of knowledge bicycle folk have about urban planning and land use issue. It makes sense; cyclists spend hour upon hour navigating streets that may or may not be hospitable to our preferred mode of transportation.

Look what was signed over the weekend! The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users.

I found the good news reported in BRAIN about the inclusion of bicycle related project funding in the Bill. Some highlights:

-$612 million for a National Safe Routes to Schools program (new)
-$350 million for recreational trails program, a $20 million per year
-$100 million to non-motorized transportation pilot programs four states
-hundreds of millions of dollars from Transportation Enhancements and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality

“In the last five or six years, about $400 million a year has been spent on bike projects, and almost all of that has been from TE and CMAQ,” [Bikes Belong Executive Director Tim] Blumenthal said. “Each of those will go up between $75 and $100 million a year a piece.”

There is another piece of good news tucked away in the bill, as I read on BikeBiz.com. Earl Blumenauer, (D) Oregon, a bicycling as transportation proponent, managed to get $6.2 million earmarked for a pilot program to help transform short automobile trips to bike trips. The project must measure the energy savings of any programs and report to the Secretary of Transportation within two years. Yes, this is called pork, but is it good pork?

From another perspective, while the bill does provide funding for cycling related projects, spending on traditional road building and automobile-centric projects far outstrips that for cycling and public transportation.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institute, a bastion of unbiased and non-partisan research, puts it this way in the newsletter I received today,
The federal transportation bill awaiting the president's signature represents not a triumph, but a tremendous lost opportunity. Instead of building upon previous reforms, the new $286 billion bill, two years in the making, maintains the status quo while, at the same time, dedicating $24 billion to over 6,000 congressional earmarks [pork!] and special projects.
I find the Brookings reports to be great reading and recommend a tour through the Federal Transportation Reform series. For cyclists and concerned citizens alike, there is much to learn about the challenges facing transportation policies that encourage pedestrian and cycling activity and development.

Back in the Bike Business

I never thought I would return to the bike biz after leaving it in June of 2004 to join the team at Beacon Power. I spent about two and a half years in bicycle retail; the 2002 summer season with the great crew of The Cycle Loft in Burlington, MA, followed by almost two years at Harris Cyclery in W. Newton, MA.

Passion for one's vocation...isn't that what we all strive for? In the end, that's what brought me back. I did not feel the fire burning for renewable energy, despite it's critical importance to the future health of our planet.

The opportunity for me to leap back into the bike industry presented itself unexpectedly. It was clear that my reasons for joining the Beacon Power team were not as well researched and thought out as they should have been. My expectations were not being met. It was also clear to me that my affinity for cycling was not going away. It is appealing, isn't it; surrounded by the things that one is truly passionate about. As with any vocation, it is not all fun and games as we may like to idealize. The same challenges that face businesses in any industry surface in the bike business as well. I suppose there is something to be said for working the extra hours to solve problems and innovate within an industry that one cares about.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reports from Le Tour de France

One of the teammates from the Boston Road Club made it across the Pond to attend a few stages of the Tour de France this year. Check out his photos and commentary here.

A quote from the mighty Kioko,

"I rode up Pla D'Adet where Hincapie won and I have a new respect for the tour riders after doing it. Pla D'Adet is a Hors Category climb which was like the beginning of hill number 5 on the Tuesdays hill ride but stretched out for 6 miles with crazy switchbacks. I had to take 4 breaks going up because it was so steep and I almost threw up."

Climb rating = Barf Worthy

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Cyclocross in July

Cross Nationals in Providence, RI. This will be a blast. I am beside myself with anticipation. As a matter of fact, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body like some enraged serpent of excitement as I contemplated lining up for the start.

I fell in love with cyclocross in 2003, the first season I tried it. The atmosphere around cross races is less intense than road races and crits; The idle chatter that takes place at cross race starts is usually absent at road events. Cross is just as, if not more intense than road events, but there is certainly less of an "edge" in the mood. I like the fusion between mountain bike and road bike racing, as both cultures bring their distinctive feel to the events.

Autumn is a beautiful season in New England; the trees are bursting into their multi-colored displays of oranges, reds, and yellow, and there is a cool nip in the air, reminding us that summer is gone and winter is on the way. The races are short, and easier to view for spectators, making it a place where more friends and family can gather to share in the racers' enthusiasm for the sport. It's nice to take a feed from my wife at a race, it's just another form of support spouses and friends show for one and other. The potential for beautiful races outweigh the potential for the soggy and cold ones that make us question waking up at 5:30AM to make it to the race.

I am not sure what motivated me to buy an old Univega touring frame from Bikes not Bombs in Roxbury for $70.00 with the intention of building a cross bike. I was working at Harris Cyclery at the time; being surrounded by all kinds of bicycles and parts, from NOS Dura-Ace seatposts to Brooks saddles to Miche track hubs, fostered some sort of bicycle construction virus. I just wanted to build bikes that I could ride.

With a classic novice unfamiliarity, and an under-appreciation for the strength of road components, I assumed cross bikes needed to be built like tanks. The frame weighed something like 5 pounds, with beefy Sun CR-18 36 hole rims laced with DT triple butted spokes to LX hubs. The wheels weighed about 5 pounds too! Weight was a non-issue, and it showed. The bike weighed in at about 27 pounds. Heaving that thing onto my shoulder for some of the long run ups made me understand why weight becomes an issue in 'cross.

I spent the entire 2003 cross season racing the C-race, to get familiar with the techniques and bodily demands. I managed a few podium finishes, and enjoyed myself immensely.

I am learning how to post pictures to the blog. I am already thinking about 'cross, I decided to put this one taken by Sheldon Brown at the Gloucester ECV Gran Prix of Cyclocross Race in October of 2004. It was a great weekend of racing at picturesque Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, Massachusetts. I'm pretty tired in this shot...my mouth's hanging open.

Maybe we will see Mr. Lance Armstrong at this year's Cyclocross Nationals in Providence, RI? He mentions the sport as something he may dabble in for fun as he enters retirement. This paragraph appears in today's NYTimes:

"He said he might dabble in triathlons, marathons, cyclocross events, for the pure jock pleasure of them. And he said he would spend time with his three children, who were by his side this weekend, the last of his career."



Racing Cross (my favorite) in Gloucester, MA

Friday, July 22, 2005

Big Box Greening

Wal*Mart is received some positive press from Renewable Energy Access and Solar buzz recently for its adoption of green technologies at a new Supercenter in Texas. RenewableEnergyAccess.com's article, Wal-Mart Deploys Solar, Wind, Sustainable Design appeared July 22nd, while Solarbuzz's article, RWE SCHOTT Solar Lights Up New Experimental Renewable Energy Wal-Mart Solar Panels appeared July 21st. Media outlets from Grist Magazine to The Wall Street Journal have mentioned Wal*Mart's new efforts at social responsibility as most publicity about Wal*mart has been overwhelmingly negative over the past few years.

Wal*Mart's own web page, referring to the McKinney, Texas location as a Wal-Mart Experimental Store, has the typical nuts & berries look to it, with the quasi-handwritten font and natural shades of muted green and earth tones. Isn't it soothing just to look at it?

Let there be no misunderstanding; Wal*Mart's publicity of its adoption of renewable energy technologies is well calculated to help turn its increasingly negative image around. Wal*Mart Watch, a watch dog group scrutinizing Wal*Mart's operations, makes mention of the Wall Street Journal article entitled "Counterpunch -- Wal-Mart Boss's Unlikely Role: Corporate Defender-in-Chief" profiling CEO Lee Scott's PR problems that have afflicted his tenure. With its status as the SUV (another scapegoat, perhaps rightfully so) of the retail world; the one people blame for everything from sweat shop labor in the developing world to suburban sprawl, they need to make some positive PR steps.

So what? The goal of creating sustainable businesses is to get all types of businesses to adopt sustainable measures in their facilities. Progress is step-wise, not made in one fell swoop. Maybe they read Thinking Outside the Big-Box: Report Suggests Smart Growth for Retailer Siting Decisions, realizing it is their shareholder's best interest to start adressing the negative environmental impacts of their stores. Time will tell where this leads.

I will not sit here and sing the praises of Wal*mart's work for the environment. The manufacture of consumer products in countries where labor conditions are far less healthy to feed our need for inexpensive stuff certainly has negative social and environmental implications. I wonder how much energy is consumed to ship these items? What is the impact of energy prices on the long-term financial efficacy of this model?

Misalignment

When it becomes uncomfortable to participate in the activity one enjoys, perhaps it is time to seek help.

I visited a physical therapist yesterday, someone with cycling background, to help me correctly diagnose an imbalance in my posture on the bike. Of course, this imbalance extends to regular walking as well. In short, I feel all messed up. The back of my left knee bothers me on and off, I feel like I'm supporting the majority of my upper body weight on my left arm, and no matter how I nudge myself, I can not seem to find an acceptable place on the saddle. I've been in touch with the professionals through cyclingnews.com as well to help me determine what I have done to myself. It is self-inflicted, as most things are.

The good news is; I confirmed that my pelvis is tweaked, no doubt contributing to the other maladies I am complaining about. It may be from a persistently high saddle, coupled with riding that way for too long. That would lead to the body choosing one side, eventually leading to a lean to one side, therefore strengthening and skewing one side causing my pelvis to face a bit to the right when trying to sit straight...whew!

I've been told many times that the core is immensely important to athletic comfort and performance. Now I am learning first hand how true this really is. The hard part will be maintaining my discipline with the exercises and follow up work to fix the problem. The shim I have under the left pedal is a Band Aid for the real problem of not having symmetrical posture, pedaling action, or strength.

I wonder if I have long legs relative to the rest of my body? Maybe that means the bike I've been riding does not fit me as well as I thought it did when I bought it three years ago. If I knew then what I know now...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Energy Policy Roundtable

I attended the New England Roundtable on Federal Energy Policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute today. I must admit that my business background gets me antsy at policy meetings. I feel like we are not accomplishing anything, that we would be better off out "doing something". The error in this assumption is that regulators and legislators need feedback of all types to understand the market barriers and opportunities that policy could help overcome and develop. The challenges to policy-makers are great, making long term decisions with incomplete data, partisan and self-serving polls and statistics, and lobbyists from left, right and center.

The meeting location, at WPI gave me an excuse to visit my alma mater; I graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 1994. Despite my feeling that my purely technical education failed to provide me with a healthy grasp of the social impacts of design decisions, I still enjoy wandering the alleys and lawns (some of them new) of the campus. There is something about college campuses that I enjoy; a feeling of safety, of quiet potential and of nurturing one's thoughts. It is hard to describe. But I digress.

I am now involved in the working group, "Bringing New RE Technologies to Market". The conversation was interesting as we rambled round the edges of the issue early in the session, feeling around for what we were really doing, and what we could possibly recommend for federal action to spur market acceptance of "new" renewable energy technologies. We discussed briefly what "new" technologies were, though there was nothing drastic about our conclusions. Photovoltaics, wind, biomass, geothermal, waste-to-energy, alternative fuels, hydro, wave power, etc.; the usual players. Where was hydrogen? It's in there somewhere.

The concept suggested by one of the panel participants that interested me the most was tying federal dollars to a renewable energy goals at the state level through block grants. It brings the power of federal money while leaving the decision for action in the hands of the states. This removes the potential resistance from states to federal mandates; preserving states' desire to take care of things (like energy) in a way that fits their regional needs. There would be a check list of sorts, items that the states would be judged upon that would serve to determine how much money a state received from the federal trough. If I am not mistaken, transportation funding is divvied up in a similar way, though in some cases the optional items are more like requirements since the dollar value tied to the desired state policy makes it politically impossible not to implement. We talked about the national security benefits, increase in entrepreneurial activity, economic and job growth, and reduction in the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices promotion of renewable energy technologies could make.

Some of the check boxes we thought about were:

A national security credit for procuring energy domestically, this would have to be tied to efficiency
A state has a RPS
A state has an energy agency
The state has a commercialization incubator for entrepreneurs
Commercial incentives for energy efficiency
Residential program to encourage smaller and more efficient homes.

The last check box came from a challenge to the current energy efficient mortgage programs; people save money on energy, get a lower rate, qualify for a larger mortgage, and buy a bigger house, therefore negating the potential energy saving on a smaller house. It's a perverse subsidy. People buy homes based on square footage, kitchens, bathrooms, schools, etc. There must be another way to encourage energy efficient technology adoption for builders and consumers.

The comparison we made between transportation and energy infrastructure (and funding) is a good one; both have inefficient delivery systems, with energy losses along the way. One delivers electrons over wires and one delivers goods and people over roads and rails. Distributed resources, whether it's energy generation, food production, or manufacturing would increase national security, reduce energy use, and spur the development of robust local living economies. Transmission losses in the utility grid run at about 6% (add generation losses of approximately 65% and the system efficiency is much lower, about 45%), the drive wheels of a car receive about 25% of the energy produced by burning gasoline (approximately 80% drivetrain efficiency and 30% thermal efficiency in the combustion process). Overall industrial efficiency is much less efficient, something like 1-2% from beginning to end. For a striking example, read this excerpt from Natural Capitalism.

The kicker today; I came home and opened the latest issue of Mass High Tech. What greeted me on page 19 but an article entitled Competitive Energy Strategies can Provide Economic Edge, dated July 18-24 by Bob Kinscherf. The highlight of the article is energy providers helping industry leaders remove the volatility in energy prices to increase the state's competitive edge. The author has a vested interest, as he is part of one of the companies that provide these services, but that does not invalidate the point.

What was I most interested to hear? That ACORE has an intern investigating sports marketing opportunities for renewable energy. Sustainable Cycling Team anyone?

It will be interesting to see what we come up with.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Sputtering expletives exited my lips

It's not something I'm very proud of, but for some reason when the guy gave me the horn as I was taking a left on my commute to work, there was no hesitation in releasing Mr. Dirty Birdie. Say "hello" Mr. Birdie! You just made a new friend. What pisses me right off is the fact that there was practically no traffic at the intersection Main Street and North Ave. in Wakefield. It's 6:30 AM; the most activity is at the D&D on the corner, where the morning caffeine fix is delivered with swiftness and skill.

I stopped at the RED light in the left turn lane like a good law-abiding cyclist. No need to rush, we get a green arrow. I was "setting a good example" and do not trust bleary-eyed morning commuters. I've taken this left a hundred times since starting this commute last year, and always take off smoothly and quickly, just like another car in the stream of traffic. Mr. Fatty Pants behind me in his "Cool in the 80's" Van decides that the 2.5 seconds he lost because he couldn't floor it to get to the next red light is a problem. "Toot"...and as I said before, out came Mr. Dirty Birdie. As he passed, after he introduced me to Mr. Birdie's twin, I was literally sputtering as I screamed at him. I think I used the term "fat f%$k" and "a$$hole", etc., etc. I was really lit up with adrenaline. The kicker was that he WAS a fat f&^k. I think his belly rubbed the steering wheel. Talk about a stereotype of Americana that I try to avoid. The enviro-weenie commuter cyclist v. the overweight fossil fuel burner. Isn't self-righteousness a great way to rationalize your behavior.

At the end of it all, I felt a bit foolish for my outburst, yet, in a way it felt deserved, like after a certain number of idiotic auto driver moves, I am allowed a meltdown.

Whatever....

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sustainable MBAs; The Wave of the Future

The recent interview from the June 19th edition of the NYTimes with Jeffrey Garten, retiring dean of the Yale School of Business drew my attention. Mr. Garten believes American business schools are failing in their mission to create innovative thought leaders, that the way business is taught is missing the mark. I remember reading another article earlier in the year with a different retiring dean that echoes these same concerns. Another blogger, pursuing an MBA has some thoughts on this as well.

I agree. I started researching MBA programs over the past year or so, starting with programs listed in Beyond Grey Pinstripes. This site rates MBA programs according to their integration of sustainable business principles in their curricula. Dartmouth, Yale, Michigan, George Washington, York (Canada) are but a few highly ranked in this survey. One program that truly caught my attention, though it is not part of this survey, yet, is that of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. This is a new educational institution, founded on the premise that sustainable business practices would not be an add on to an existing program, but be integrated and intertwined so as to become inseparable from the program. That caught my attention. It appears to combine my passion for sustainability with my whole-hearted belief that business can, indeed must, be engaged in the process of creating environmentally responsible and restorative markets. It is encouraging to see institutions like BGI working to change the way we learn business, maybe even to change what business is.

An article published on May 16, 2005 in GreenBiz backs up my own perceptions about the working world; people are looking for careers and educational opportunities that have a connection with their values. BGI received three times the number of applications as the previous year, while overall MBA applications dropped 30% as reported by BusinessWeek in July of 2004. Granted these statistics are from different years, but it may still reflect an exciting trend.

Large companies like Timberland, BP, Unilever, DuPont, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, American Electric Power, Florida Power & Light, ConocoPhilips, and most recently and publicly GE among others are venturing into the CSR world, looking to add value to their businesses by engaging stakeholder groups. Nike and Gap's efforts are detailed in this recent article from SocialFunds.com.

Imagine the capital available in this list to tackle sustainable development. Where will it go? Is it a trend? Is it green-washing? Will it fall out of favor or will companies that embrace sustainable business practices gain a competitive advantage in an era of resource depletion?

Imagine contributing to a wholesale change in the fundamental relationship between business and society.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Eco-friendly Bicycle Companies


I received the latest issue of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News today, and was pleasantly surprised to see the second article in as many issues about a domestic bicycle industry participant making the commitment to eco-efficient facility design. In the June 15th issue, an article entitled "United Bicycle Institute Chooses Solar Power to Provide Electricity" highlights UBI's commitment to using clean technology to provide power to their facility.

The most recent article appears in the July 1 edition, this time on the front page. The headline reads "Eco-Conscious Companies Opt For Green Digs". This one, set in Ramona, CA highlights Ellsworth Bicycle's effort to adopt green technology in their facility. Not only did they install a photo-voltaic system to help offset their electricity use from the local utility, but the building is also constructed to take advantage of the earth's insulating qualities. The building is built into the ground, reducing their cooling needs, and therefore saving more energy and fossil fuel use.

The article goes on to mention the green manufacturing efforts adopted by Chris King, more well known by the general cycling population for their premium performance headsets and hubs than their efforts to create zero waste in their manufacturing. Quality Bicycle Products, the largest bicycle component distributor in the country, is mentioned for its plans to build a United States Green Building Council LEED Certified Gold $8 million expansion.

It is very encouraging to see these companies committing to these environmental measures. Cycling by it's very nature is an environmentally friendly activity. XtraCycle builds bicycle add-ons that make a regular bike into a load carrying work horse; just add your own leg power! Replacing car trips with bike trips helps reduce our use of fossil fuels and the release of green house gases. We help preserve the air we breathe and the pristine places we like to ride. With manufacturers (I am sure there are many more than I have mentioned here) taking these steps, it is one more reason to love bicycling.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Growing Chinese Infatuation with the Automobile

A story by Howard French in today's NYTimes tells of Shanghai's struggle with the faster than expected adoption of the personal automobile in that city. To read it online, you will need to create a membership account here A City's Traffic Plans Are Snarled by China's Car Culture.

The automobile has so successfully become a symbol of personal freedom, as well as a symbol of one's wealth, that developing economies want them with a fervor that can not be quelled. This demand is aided by some government's willingness to make the large investments in the infrastructure to support the automobile's use.

How many jobs does the purchase of an automobile create? The manufacturing processes for the sundry parts and components that come together to make the auto, the jobs to maintain the infrastructure the auto uses, the service station jobs and various after-market accessory company jobs. What about the jobs disposing of used tires and junked cars? How about the waste side of the equation?

With the increase in mobility, what is the increases purchasing power of the consumer? Since they can travel at their will, do they have access to goods and services that they would otherwise not purchase? Of course, this purchasing power goes along with an increase in disposable income (a term that is quite interesting in itself) that would allow the purchase of a car in the first place.

Do we have a complete picture of the externalized costs of an auto-centric development pattern? Not yet.

Bike Racing

I raced over the weekend at Wells Ave. It was the first time on asphalt since last August and the first race of any kind since cross ended in December last year. As much as I over-analyze recreational competition as unnecessary to my function as a member of humanity, I do enjoy it so. It may have something to do with team work; the social aspect of the activity. Many of my miles are spent alone, riding to work and back. I enjoy the commute, but find that too much time spent alone riding can be a detriment. When I race, there is a coming together of people that share the same passion, that are eager to push themselves out there and put a little risk in their lives, then share the feeling afterward.

There is something primordial in the urge to compete, whether it is in business, in sport, in intellectual pursuits, or in life. The sport/life metaphor, some would call a cliche, has been used and written about for centuries. It is a well-used and well-deserved metaphor. In a culture where many people are not wanting for the basics of survival (at least in the middle class) sport provides the outlet to challenge oneself, create friendships, and grow as an individual.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

More on the London Bombings

In the wake of the rush hour bombing attack in London, there has been a renewed interest in the most efficient form of personal transportation. Bicycle Mania Grips London.

In an article entitled "The Half Life of Anxiety" in today's NYTimes, Dr. Lynn Eden, a senior research scholar at Stanford University's Institute for International Studies comments about the effect on continued and severe terrorist attacks on cities, "
Even if we hypothesize attacks like this for a week, what would happen? They would shut down the subway, let's say, and my guess is that there would be a run on bicycles. There would be a difficult adjustment period, there would be some economic ramifications, but people would learn to function."

Will cities re-evaluate their auto-centric planning and development strategies to incorporate easier access for bicycles? I must assume that lobbyists on the payroll of automotive and fossil fuel interests will play the national security cards well and thoroughly to discourage investment in public transportation. After all, imagine the exorbitant cost and inconvenience securing the public railways would entail. The only answer is to build more roads and encourage the continued reliance on the personal automobile. This will continue the dependence on imported petroleum (90% of surface transportation modes rely on petroleum products), adding to the increased demand from developing economies in the east, hastening the depletion of oil reserves, and the political turmoil that may erupt from such scarcity in supply.

Imagine if policy-makers had the foresight (and the people had the will to listen to such visionaries to invest in the next generation) to check the continued growth of energy dependent development. What would that look like?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Coordinated Bombings in London (transit future)

Flipping on the local news this morning to get my weather check before biking to work was a bad idea. I learned about the bombings in London, nothing more.

I listened to talk radio channel 680 WRKO's hate-filled rhetoric this morning as I showered, just to hear what the right leaning side of the equation would say. It was the typical tough line thought, with a caller referring to the terrorists that were assumed to have planned the attacks as cowards. One reason they are cowards, she said, is because they wear towels on their heads. That's incisive.

They referred to religious zealotry, cultural wars, etc. The root of the problem is global inequality. "It's the economy, stupid."

I can not help but think that the attacks in London's Tube will have a detrimental effect on the future of public transportation in the US and elsewhere. I can easily envision the continued attack on rail systems. Amtrak's funding has been cut, and I can easily see attacks on continued "subsidies" for public transportation launched in the ensuing weeks. The anti-transit lobbies may wait a while for the smoke to clear.

I suppose this means more people will drive. Of course, that could be a bad thing according to the Mobility 2030 study published in mid 2004 by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Imagine; the attack serves to raise doubts in the minds of British citizens about their support of the United States in Iraq. Debates rage, arguments in local pubs escalate, they distance themselves from the US. A few well timed attacks over the next few years weakens the G-8. They retreat to protectionist policies, protecting themselves with trade barriers and political battles.

Is this pessimistic? It could just be one of many predictions that are either wrong or right.