09 August 2012

Care Packages: Mailing a Folding Bike to a Military APO with USPS!

My mom is a member of the Air Force Nurse Corps. She was recently deployed on short notice to an undisclosed location, where she will be stationed for six to nine months. It's the Military, so who really knows, right?

Once she had arrived and settled at her undisclosed location, Mom quickly realized that she wanted a bike for getting around the base.  While she could purchase a larger men's frame bike from her small base exchange, she doesn't feel comfortable mounting and dismounting with a high horizontal top tube. The base exchange could not order her the step-through women's model of the same bike due to some import restrictions. These same restrictions also prevented her from purchasing a bike online and having it shipped directly to her APO address. Plus there are other restrictions specific to certain APO zip codes, so most retailers won't (can't?) do it.

But I can mail her care packages! And what better treat to receive than a bike? Mom thought a folding bike would be well sized to her stature and small living quarters, so I found the best deal I could on a single speed folder, which at the time was this Dahon Boardwalk from Performance. It was on sale and I saved roughly the cost of having it delivered to my house. The local Performance store may have had one in stock, but I also wanted the box and the packing materials. These folding bikes are shipped with some plastic covers for the hinges that were nice to have considering the distance this box would ultimately be traveling.

The bike arrived at my house in a matter of days. I removed the bike from the box, taking pictures of how it was packed so that I could repack it easily later. I adjusted the front brake and took it for a test ride to assess the bike mechanically. A bike shop should do this for you if you want to keep the warranty valid.

I then went to my local bike shop and assembled a basic tool and accessory kit for Mom's new bike: spare tube, patch kit, hand pump, lock, head light, multitool, tire levers and chain lube. I threw in a handful of cable ties and some clean rags, too. I reinforced the box and repacked the bike with the accessories. I biked it to the Post Office on my Xtracycle. Bike, bike, bike.

This is where the folding part becomes important. The box is oversized by USPS standards, but still much smaller than a standard bike box. USPS limits the length+girth measurement of a parcel to no more than 108 inches. This box measured 106 inches.  The postal employee said, "Phew! Sir, this is your lucky day!!"  He added that there is a HUGE surcharge for boxes over 108 inches, but the USPS website indicates that they just won't ship parcels that size.

Sending a folding bike with 20" wheels (or even 16" wheels) becomes critical if you are trying to do this on a budget, or at all. The total cost for the bike, accessories, and Priority APO shipping was about $500. Mom was more than willing to pay this price for the convenience of having her own reliable transportation.

Mom is now happily bike commuting to work at the hospital and running errands around the base, which apparently is far better than walking or taking the shuttle bus.

Have you needed to ship a bike to your deployed service member? How did it go? I'm hoping that this will help someone in a similar situation. Mom says one of her co-workers rode her folder and already plans on getting one, too!

03 August 2012

Roald Dahl Rode Bikes

I'm currently reading 'Boy' by Roald Dahl, a collection of memories and stories from his childhood. I couldn't help but smile at this particular passage, one of only two memories that Dahl had of his few years at Llandaff Cathedral preparatory school. If only we could all be so ambitious at the age of eight.

02 August 2012

Bike Jump The Fourth: A Stunt for a Cause

Tacoma's fourth annual Bike Jump is happening this Saturday, August 4th. It's a benefit of sorts for 2nd Cycle, Tacoma's community bicycle center in the Hilltop neighborhood. Buy a shirt, buy a poster, watch the shenanigans, and support a great cause. Here are the details, lifted from the 2nd Cycle facebook event invitation:

(poster art by Noah Struthers)

Bike Jump the forth will commence at 9ish pm at the alley of 6th and I. Be there be rectangular.  
In collaboration with Second Cycle, Galen Turner will perform an act of life defining awesomeness by jumping a 24 inch cruiser bmx bike through 90,000 volts of rare stimulated gasses and 200 feet of neon. 
Like a Tibetan monk making a sand painting only for it to be blown away, this to is a statement of impermanence and a celebration of futility and the acceptance of it all. We shall thrive. We will not fail. This day. Today. August the fourth 9 pm.  
This is a benefit for second cycle so please bring some cash to buy some bike jump posters and merch. Shit cost money.

01 August 2012

Crunch by Leslie Connor: A Review

My second grader has moved up to the Juvenile Lit section of the library, which is where I found Crunch by Leslie Connor. At 330 pages, this chapter book looked daunting to my daughter, but I needed to know the story behind the bikey dust jacket.

Within a few quick chapters I was hooked into the plot. Fueled by a nation-wide fuel shortage, or crunch, the five Marriss kids are forced to run the family homestead and bicycle repair business during the summer while their parents are stranded out of town indefinitely. These are troubled times filled with shortages of everything. A plentiful garden, along with goat milk and chicken eggs from their family farm, provide a key food supply for the children and their neighbors. The children also quickly take advantage of the nearby highway as it transforms into a giant multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians.

The cause of the oil shortage is masked behind the veil of politics, but themes of overconsumption, oil dependence, and self-reliance are clearly presented. There are hints at the fact that bicycles and shoes are not the simple savior to our car culture problem. During a family dinner of homemade clam chowder shared with friends and strangers, the narrator notes, "We were consumed with consuming."  Even the bike industry is plagued by the oil shortage, as deliveries of parts are delayed and costs begin to skyrocket. This car-less future is still a world complicated by the necessity of at least some oil.

The importance of art, neighborliness, sharing, creativity, and hard work all play important roles in the story, providing sound advice on how we all should live together. However, with fourteen year-old Dewey as the narrator, questions about the order of the past and the unknown chaos of the future are literally left open-ended on the page for both him and the reader to answer.

For parents like me who carry their children around town by bicycle, Crunch reads like a childrens text book focused on explaining why we ride.  The plot is driven by children learning to take on the responsibilities of adults while still making childlike mistakes. These kids are learning about cultural change while actively taking part in the shifting paradigm (pun very much intended.) Crunch is a child's view on one possible future for America: a future without oil. It's a future that readers of any age will enjoy exploring and pondering.

You can find Crunch, by Leslie Connor, in both hardcover and eBook versions at the Tacoma Public Library.