SxSW – what’s a beerdrinker to do?

N and I are heading down to Austin shortly to catch the SxSW interactive conference and spend some time with her sister who moved there from somewhere I didn’t want to visit about 6 months ago. So I think I can find my way around a conference. But what about the city? Any tips…beer, BBQ, texmex, or whatnot. Cheers.

PS. Just saw the Tron Legacy preview and it looks pretty awesome.

How not to get shot by the police

okay, police violence sucks. It’s a drag that unarmed people get shot. Lately, I’ve been putting together some tips I’ve picked from my years of experience not getting shot at by the police in an effort to help people avoid the short barrel of the law.

First, you can take a preemptive strike and keep the police away in general. Try to avoid situations in which housemates and loved ones feel the need to call the police in regards to you. Sometimes it’s easiest to just go to bed and apologize in the morning.

Now, it might happen that you can’t avoid the police. Like you were speeding or made a bad lane change. In that case, it’s easy to avoid getting shot at. Stay in the car. In the seat that you have been in the whole time. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Listen to the instructions. They’ve been trained to make them simple. Things like “step out of the car” and “don’t reach for the glovebox” are good ones to act on. Slowly (we will return to this).

A really good way that I’ve learned to not get shot is to not hold a gun. You may even be able to make it through life (the long version) without owning a gun. They’re rentable, and in many places they are not actually requisite for safety. However, I appreciate your preparedness for survival after the fall. I think that it is completely possible to not get shot by the police and still own a gun. All you need to do is follow one simple rule: only get the gun out if you intend to use it. Mardi Gras parties and community theater do not count as legitimate uses.

Keep in mind that once you’ve been tagged as “having a gun” you’re going to have a tough time shaking that rep. So leave it in the shoebox away from the kids. Guns are scary to a lot of people when they pop-up in unusual situations like “watching Jeopardy”.

So, let’s say you haven’t been able to avoid the police paying you a visit. Whether it’s your house or a bank robbery, the same principles apply. First, when you’re caught you’re caught. At this point, the cops are not on your doorstep to make a judgment. They’re there to diffuse a situation. Don’t try to sweet talk out of it, and yelling isn’t going to help. Be easy to work with. Move slowly. Steady, following instructions. If they say get down, they don’t mean dance. Keep your hands visible. To the police. Avoid sudden movements like running, reaching for things, turning. And if you have a weapon, let them know with words.

You need to keep in mind that the police really don’t know what you’re thinking. When their guns are drawn, it’s because they think they may need to use them to protect themselves or innocent bystanders. At that time, it’s your job to not give them a reason.

Tomorrow’s a new day. You can sort it out then.

I’m not copaphile. They’d better have a damn good reason for pulling that trigger. I’m not happy to see cruisers on the street in general. But if someone’s incapable of following these simple steps and a tragedy occurs, it’s pretty tough for me to point a finger.

up again

2010 hit like an angry bull in a brillo tornado. Well, not that bad, but it’s been pretty freakin’ nonstop. Work’s been crazy. Picked up some tech reading on the side. Been finishing the basement. A few ski trips. Daily-ish gym trips, yoga, and cycling. Lots of brewing. Sorry I haven’t been sharing. I’ve been somewhat holed up in many ways.

Anyways, I apologize. It’s not you, it’s me. But I hope to be visiting more often again. Remember the good times we’ve had?

Barrel Projects

Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some outstanding homebrewers on some barrel projects. Basically, we get 10 or so people to each brew a batch(es) of a particular beer, then we get together to siphon it into a bourbon barrel. The beer then ages over a month to many months, changing in character and gaining oak and bourbon flavors.

So far I’ve reaped the benefits of a baltic porter and an imperial IPA. The porter was outstanding, creamy and rich. The IPA was good. It came out with a deep citrus bite that opened to a summery floral taste.

I got to same the Oud Bruin last night, it’s been aging for 8 months or so, and has begun souring nicely. Basically, each contributor brewed a strong brown ale of their choice with little regard for consistency. When we transferred to the barrel, wild yeast and bacteria were added with the intention of souring the beer. Last night it was smooth and delicious at about halfway. It has a bizarre white layer of rot floating on top of it. This is by design for this beer. The barrel we used had already turned, souring beers that were not intended for that.

Last night we filled a barrel with an imperial alt, it’ll probably be pulled in a month or two after picking up the oak from a freshly charred barrel.

Currently, I’m looking for about 5 gallons to go into a dubbel barrel very soon. If you are interested, drop me a line via email or in the comments, and I’ll send you a recipe. cheers!

Happy New Year!

It’s a new year and I have a lot of resolutions on my mind, and I’m working through what I want to really focus on. But two really stick in my mind as relevant and important. The first is to continue on the path that I set out on mid-year last year, cultivating relationships and habits that really help me move forward. The second is to make and drink more of my own beer, and specialty beers, and to spend less time drinking commodity beers, even from the great microbreweries.

These are the adventures that I will be sharing over the course of this new year in this space, I hope that you will join me!

cheers,
rick

Visiting Portland Guide: Crawl #1

Jeff at Beervana poses a question: what five beers are a connoisseur’s must-haves visiting Portland. I might have to tackle that, but really, Jeff is really on top of that in his post. I suggested a different route, a road trip around Mt. Hood. But I also threw in a crawl that I think is really worth sharing with your Portland visitors.

Begin at Rontom’s. If it’s nice out, enjoy the patio. If not, squeeze in and grab a pint. Next, move on to B-side, for a quick pint. Then, The Farm for dinner if you’re hungry. Eat light, because Noble Rot has great snacks too. Work off the meal with a light stroll up to Union Jack’s. You’ll need a few bucks for cover to this strip club. Then head up to Doug Fir and Voodoo Donuts to see how the hipper half live. Maybe there’ll be a great show downstairs. Finally, cruise up to Sandy Hut where they’ll be happy to pour you something potent while you wait for a cab.

madman brewing

wow…current inventory in the basement: 10 gallons imperial alt (carboys), 10 gallons dubbel (carboys), 5 gallons IPA (carboy), brown, IPA, porter (cornies). The 10-gallon batches are destined to go into barrels for aging.

Brewing for the impatient: The process

The process of turning raw ingredients into delicious beer is an extremely complicated one. It involves chemistry, biology, physics, and magic, plus a potentially infinite budget for copper, stainless, and rubber whizbangs. I have only scratched the surface of the possibilities. That is by design.

Alchemy thanks to Princeton.  I owe a beer.

So, completely neglecting the science involved, and getting to the sequence of events that need to take place to make beer, here is the brewing process in a nutshell.

  1. Extract sugars from grains, producing wort.
  2. Boil wort, adding ingredients at appropriate times
  3. cool wort and transfer to fermenter
  4. add (pitch) yeast
  5. let yeast work magic
  6. transfer beer to delivery vessel

That’s it. Extract, boil, cool, wait, drink. You can say “Every boy can wear dresses” to help you remember. In upcoming articles, I’ll go into some details around what happens in these phases, and how to git’er done.

Brewing for the Impatient: your mash tun

I cannot believe how long it took me to build my mash tun. In then end I think I was a bit intimidated, partly because I didn’t really understand what a mash tun was. Whenever I set down to research it, I’d end up on some long-winded analysis of manifold efficiency and sparge mechanics. What I’ve since learned is that a mash tun is a container that keeps water and grain at a stable temperature. That’s it.

To build an effective mash tun, you need to consider only a few simple things:

  1. Stable temperature
  2. extract water from mash tun (aka spigot/valve)
  3. filter grain from water
  4. capacity

Don’t get me wrong, you can derive path lengths, surface to volume, gravity and pump feeds, and whatever else you feel like. Later. But if you want to git’er done today, that’s the meat of it.

Here’s a look at the mash tun I built. You can probably do it simpler, since I managed to lose the spigot fittings. In fact, a conversation with Michel Brown inspired much of this, and his suggestion was to take a simple rectangular ice chest and fix a piece of steel wool in front of the spigot as a filter. That’s not what I did, but it sounds like a solidly impatient way to go.

I started with a typical 10-gallon orange round igloo-style cooler. I removed the spigot and lost the pieces after two moves.

Here’s a photo of the pieces I used:

From Brewing

The parts are all 1/2″. The tubing is a piece of braided stainless steel 40″ washer tubing with the rubber piece removed. I used a hacksaw to cut the ends off and then pushed the braided steel over the rubber hose (rather than pulling) while holding the hose with needle nose pliers. Note that many of the washing machine hoses are actually a polymer, and I’m not entirely sure if it matters a bunch. They look almost identical, though the polymers appeared to have two thicker threads per braid whereas steel had four.

And here’s how they fit together:

From Brewing

The washer indicates where the cooler wall goes. The parts are all 1/2″. I used two o-rings per side and compressed the heck out of them to get a good seal.

From Brewing

The final pieces screwed into the T-joint and I collared the braid onto them.

When everything is assembled, test it. Fill it with water and let it sit for 45 mniutes. Then do it again with hot (170 deg F) water. Close it up and let it sit. There should be no leakage.

PS. Why no equipment list? Invariably something is unavailable or hard to find, and that always mucks up the works for me. But you can find detailed instructions here or here.

Specialty beer prices

Like Jeff, I recently followed a thread at the OBC about the price of beer. It was surprisingly heated, considering that nobody was forcing people to drink specialty beers, and these are people who spend a lot of time making beers of their own and promoting the craft. Jeff’s article is very thoughtful and reasonable (as usual) , and we both draw similar conclusions.

But I wanted to toss in a few more pieces. Beer is experiencing an evolution. Craft brewing is growing beyond the classics. New styles are popping up. Brewers are experimenting. And frankly, beer is getting better.

To produce specialty beers, there are often unique processes involved. These can increase expense in several ways. First, the process itself can be expensive. Equipment of the quality and magnitude required by a brewery can cost a lot, education to apply the techniques can be costly. Second, the experiments leading to the process can be expensive. Third, the time involved is expensive. Additional steps take time. With specialty beers, that can be a lot of time. Barrel aging requires that the beer stay in a location for an extended period of time. This not only takes up space with stock not rotating, but can be a financial burden by extending beyond net-30 by definition.

Then there is the risk. Brewing is a combination of art and science, of chemistry, biology, and physics. In those realms, things get complicated fast as more variables are introduced. Putting beer into a barrel greatly increases the risk of spoilage. Roasting/smoking/whatever grains can introduce off flavors. If a batch goes bad, that can be extremely costly to a brewery. This risk needs to be accounted for in the cost of the beers unless you’d see the producer of your favorites disappear suddenly after a batch goes wrong.

So those are some of the more tangibles contributors to higher cost. Jeff makes an interesting observation regarding scarcity as well. By pricing these beers higher, it makes it possible for a greater number of consumers to enjoy the products, rather than a smaller number of entities rapidly depleting the market. Seems like a supply and demand curve for people who like beer.

In addition, there is the perception of beer. The far more established wine market is a good one to consider. The economics tends to work itself out. Cheap wines are typically mass produced and lack character. There are occasional gems, but those typically climb the scale or are a bit more lucky catches. There are plateaus as you move up the price scale, to inexpensive wines, moderate, expensive, and so on, with each level improving in quality. Typically you’ll find diminishing returns as you climb up in price, so the goal is to find the right wine for you at the time. Now, the same can be applied to beer. The mountain doesn’t climb as high, but the plateaus are there. Keystone, Natural Light, and others form the foundation, supporting Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Corona, Heineken, Fosters, and many others sit here at the sweet spot of the American pallet. On top of that we go to the Bridgeport IPAs, Hefeweizen, Mirror Ponds, Terminal Gravity, and other distributed microbrews. Some of these breweries make craft beers as well, and those being to fill the next tiers, along with Rogue, Dogfish Head, Stone, and many others.

The great thing about the larger microbreweries pushing up the plateaus is that it really opens the door for smaller breweries to do the same. At those price points, breweries like Upright Brewing and Captured by Porches can release their specialty runs without needing to compete at the 6-pack level. So even if Abyss is overpriced, it is a great thing for beer in general. Buy a bottle and share it with some friends. Or just drink it yourself.

Brewing for the Impatient

I’ve been thinking long and hard about writing a series on homebrewing. By no means am I a great homebrewer…in fact I am only beginning to dabble in brewing all-grain beers. However, after surveying the various writings on the internets about the subject, I have found that most have one flaw in common: they go too deep.

To make good (often very good) beer, it doesn’t take a deep understanding of flocculation curves or the dynamics of viscous fluids. It takes a cursory understanding of a number of interrelated phenomena, the ability to execute on simple instructions, some gear, and a lot of water.

This series will not prepare you to enter competitions. It will not even scratch on the esoteric knowledge that is possessed by a number of brewers I admire. It will show you some places where you can cut corners.

If you read this, and it makes your brewing better (or worse) please, let me know. Also, many areas have clubs where homebrewers gather to share their experiences and learn or bitch about stuff. The people are typically friendly (often in a curmudgeonly way), and are happy to help.

cheers
rick

The Dems are blowing it

Okay, I’m pretty frustrated with the more liberal party right now. Tuning in, there are two major themes right now. Health care and Fort Hood. These are both important issues, but I am not liking what I’m hearing.

First, Fort Hood was a tragedy, plain and simple. But the theme that I’m hearing on the (left) radio is almost a defence of of Hasan for the pressures he was under. Laying the onus on the military, that they didn’t listen enough. It’s a military, not a cruise ship. I do not, and cannot know the true motivations of the shooter, whether he snapped, if it was terrorism, or what. But what he did was wrong, extremely wrong, and he is the responsible party in the end. This was premeditated. And it was a tragedy. My heart goes to all those affected.

Second, health care. Now that things are happening (for better or worse) people are bitching about one particular issue. Abortion. And that it may or may not be covered by the health care plan. All I can say is that this is not the time or the place to make a Roe v Wade stand, or whatever bill is up your craw. Abortion as covered in the health plan must defer to other laws as to its treatment. That’s right. Leave it the heck out of the health care bill, at most indicating that it will be covered as a health issue as prescribed by the law. Then if there are laws that block what you see is right, tackle those. But quit screwing up our freaking health care bill, it’s complicated enough already.

So those points bring me to my overarching problem with the dems. They just can’t seem to get their act together. Really. Let’s find some alignment. It isn’t perfect, you won’t please everyone. One of your jobs isn’t just to represent the people (or too often the money), it is to turn it around and influence the people with what is right. You need to make the hard decisions and sell them back to your constituents. So get it together, get a keel on your ship, and let’s get something done before half of you get fired next year.

2009 retrospective – loss and renewal

It’s been an amazing year. In some ways great, but there were some painful times. It seems that there’s a cycle where every now and then I need to go through some changes. Change is painful, and this was no exception. I didn’t always handle it well, and at points I handled it very badly. I’m not sure that I was built with the emotional fortitude to maintain the stoic coolness I’d need to manage the changes. Que sera.

In many ways I’ve completely realigned my worldview. Soccer no longer has a starring role. With that shift, my relationships both internal and external have changed dramatically. It wasn’t easy, I put a lot of my life into the game, the people, it was a passion, and still is, albeit sidelined. I no longer have the conduit for my emotional, social, and physical energies that I have known for so long. Soccer was my culture, and its people were my people. But as I had to pull myself away, things changed.

At the same time, work was changing. I felt betrayed by my job. Not for any good reason, but because of uncertainty. The changes built on top of each other. Energies otherwise spent spun on impending change that I had no control over. I felt that I was training people to commoditize my job. The world was falling apart, and mine was metamorphosing.

And change is painful. A full-blown depression, what was in my head I felt in my body. It was pretty weird, and tough to shake. And it didn’t feel good. It took a lot of work, facing my demons, sorting out what I wanted, rediscovering myself.

But slowly I emerged from the fog. It was the clarity of a clear day, morning sun lighting the mist in beams through crisp air, the bright haze bringing out the depth of the forest. Renewed purpose, a rediscovery of joy. I think I’m in a better place. But why is it so hard to get here? My friend Cory, a brilliant personality theorist had forewarned me that something like this would happen. There’d be painful changes and I would have difficult discoveries.

I wish that I hadn’t alienated some people who were important to me in the process, but eventually I’ll discover deeper meaning. I don’t think I’m through it yet, but I’m grateful for the change, I guess the pain is part of the learning.

What’s the Matter with V?

I was pretty excited about V. It was bringing back what in my mind was the original miniseries, and a nice bit of sci-fi. But this time with a budget and awesome effects and some hindsight on making a great series. Plus, I wrapped BSG and 4400 up pretty recently and need a new sci-fi serial fix.

I watched the pilot last night, and was a bit disappointed. 4400 was great, and there are some strong ties to that show here, between Joel Gretcsh and Scott Peters they really raised the bar. And after one episode, I just am not hooked. I will give it another go, but I’m not chomping at the bit for more yet.

I’ve heard people criticize and/or laud V for its ‘harsh commentary on Obamamania.’ It definitely made unveiled references to the president and current political situations. Brave. But they came out looking like something from a Sophomore’s script. Just silly. A commentary on universal health care and hope. We all know what the visitors are. They’re also presented as terrorists. I have to “hope” that the Obama references were limited to their uninspiring pilot, that their intention is to borrow from many modern charismatic leaders for the evolution of the V plot.

I suppose that my advice for the V writers is if you want to go political, start by modeling ideologies and create parallels. People will get it, and they’ll point it out for the ones who don’t…or at least the message boards will start lighting up. Get too specific and your point will be watered down, and at some point you’ll have to sacrifice your principles in favor of the fiction, or vice-versa. Symolism and metaphor are powerful tools. Billboards are too, but I’d prefer to see them on the highway (or not at all).

I was not upset by the rate at which the visitors were revealed as sinister. It wasn’t going to surprise anyone, so why put that sort of effort into a surprise? So they needed to spend some time on character development. Unfortunately they wasted too much on demonstrating which stereotype to model each character on. Most annoying was the whiny-teen you’re never around because you’re saving the world archetype of the son. Of course he’s going to be a V ambassador (or was it Hope?). Chad Decker looks to be the Faustian reporter who will sell-out his principles and the human race. I can only hope that he has a fraction of the complexity of Gaius Baltar, but for now it looks like he’s going to be the visitor’s reluctant lapdog, accepting more and more power, until he grows a pair and starts to help the resistance on the sly.

The product placement in V was pretty robust. It felt like there was almost as much as in 24. iPhones and cars and more. Lots of stuff for us to buy. Maybe it’s a visitor plot.

A two-hour pilot would’ve been a wise move. If you’re creating an epic, it helps to build empathy and plot. But if it’s a teen drama don’t worry about it.

I will watch the next episode, and probably the rest until the break. And then I’ll decide if V will continue to visit my living room. It wasn’t terrible, but so far I just don’t care, and my TV time is valuable! One positive is that V inadvertently introduced me to FastForward, which is excellent so far…sort of cop show meets memento with a bit of sci-fi thrown in.

Maritime Pacific Brewing Co. Jolly Roger Christmas Ale

My old college buddy Tiffer brought me a few bottles of this choice ale. It serves along the lines of of hoppy amber. It is hazy, and despite the head fading quickly, it maintains its carbonation nicely. Not particularly balanced, it remains unoffensive, and is quite nice for fans of the western style IPA.

Jolly Roger does open up during the course of consumption, sweetening a little, and smoothing out from the earlier faceoff. There is a hint of caramel, and a light fruit flavor. And its made me start thinking about skiing so I’ve totally lost my train of thought, so anyway, it’s pretty good, fairly potent (maybe that’s what derailed that train…), and has some interesting twists. cheers.

Reasoning with the river

Spent the night at my Aunt and Uncle’s place on the Sandy. It was a beautiful night, surprisingly warm in the tent, the sound of the river rushing past was soothing. Augie woke me up a bit early, and I joined my Uncle Corbett on a drive up to The Reel Tackle, a nice local tackle shop for some lures. Good thing, because I would soon be going through them quickly.

See, I’m not really the quintessential fisherman. I mean I’m not any good at it. I was feeling pretty good after my last visit despite the mishaps (two lost lures and a busted pole), as I’d been getting a feel for the river, and gaining confidence (coordination) in my knot-tying ability. And I pretty much cast all day with the aforementioned mishaps occuring pretty well-dispersed. Despite my only catch being a shoe, I was feeling pretty good.

Not so Sunday. UC gave me a shiny new fin chaser kit for an early birthday gift, and I was pretty darn excited to use it. Cast #1 went pretty well. The lure flew and I reeled it in. Just like fishing. But on my second cast something went awry. The lure sailed about 12 feet before about 30 yards of line miraculously leapt from the reel spontaneously and formed a tangle that would unsettle a third grade girl. A total mess. Scorched earth. I spent some time (foreshadowing how I would spend the majority of my day) attempting to tease the myriad knots out, but there was no angle. Snip. Snip. I didn’t lose the lure though.

I prepped another, made about four more casts, and lost the lure on a pretty minor snag. Like nothing. I’m sure that was a bad knot on my part. By this point I’d been fishing for a couple hours and had thrown my line maybe six times. I was beginning to remember why I don’t fish. But I got another lure strung to a leader and got back on the water. Cast. Snag. I tried to work the usual magic. Let some line out, whip it around, walk the shore up and down. To no avail. The lure was lost. At this point I was done. Totally freakin done.

I went inside and tied another lure, prepping for next year in case I decided to fish again. I watched some football and drank a beer. Looked up some knots on the internet and tried a more literal interpretation of the improved clinch knot. Got the lure tied on. Finished the beer (same one). Watched some football. Okay, let’s do this thing. The knots are tied. One more go.

I was feeling weird. Good, confident, but totally deflated at the same time. I’ve persevered. Three days now, countless Blue Foxes sacrificed to the kind deities beneath the surface of the Sandy. One cast. Felt good. I suspect a fish beneath the surface as I reel it in. So I cast above it. Well-placed. Snag. I dropped a few F’s and S’s and wtf’s and some other phrases I wouldn’t sully the internet with. Snagged pretty good. Up, down, right, left, release. Wow! I got it free. Breathe. Relax.

At this point, I had a few words with the river. I believe we came to an understanding. I thanked the river for letting me come out and earn a reason to swear. I asked the river, “Why is it that yo are doing this to me? I’ve been kind, and hope to continue to be kind to you. Have I angered you, I apologise for what actions I may have taken to upset you. I don’t even need to catch a fish, just allow me to keep flinging this piece of metal into your beautiful flow a few more times without taking it.” Or something like that. I think I mentioned that I hadn’t been urinating into it as well.

Cast some more. A few more minor snags. I notice the lure is scratched and bent from the abuse I am levelling on it. But I don’t let that phase me. I bend the barbs back in a manly way, to allow the spinning action to flourish. And I cast and I cast.

And the river gave me a salmon. And I said thanks and I ate it.

From Salmon catch!

It was probably like 3 feet and 40lbs…maybe more. But who’s counting?

Comfort – the end of a generation

Portland has been a Gen-X city for as long as I can remember. Which is as long as I’ve been here. We’ve had a lock on cuisine, fashion (?), transportation, attitude, periodicals, entertainment. Pretty much the whole shebang. Sort of a Gen-X wonderland. Don’t get me wrong, PDX is a city of variety and range, there’s a lot of of other stuff too for Y’s and boomers and everyone in between. But Portland has been the slacker capital.

But times are a-changing. The comfort food proliferation. It is taking over. If you want a successful restaurant, you’d better have something battered, fried, stuff with cheese, slathered in gravy, then fried again if you know what’s good for you. I do love some comfort food. Biscuits and gravy are probably my greatest weakness there, but a scotch egg comes in close. But that’s a chef’s salad hold the egg compared to some of the concoctions being delivered. Burgers with grilled cheese for buns. Poutine which is lightly battered deep fried potatoes smothered in gravy with cheese and other health food sprinkled on. Pasties and fried pies. It’s all delicious. But so wrong.

At first I thought that the comfort food revolution came about through the typical Portland Gen-X ironic thing. Oh we’ve been eating garden burgers and tofu and mediterranean food. But this stuff makes the arteries yearn for another slice of pepperoni again. And I don’t think it’s ironic. Jared can piss off, there’s a new sheriff in town, and he wants cream-filled all day long.

Tweeting Kegerator

Life is getting better all the time. Drink beer from your kegerator and it will let the world know. Spark Fun makes it possible (I’ll have to checkout their toys!). Link via Kelly of the Oregon Brew Crew.

Battlestar Galactica Rocked – a viewing tip (no spoilers)

I just finished BSG, the whole shebang. It was awesome. Here’s a tip if you’re viewing the final DVD of season 4.5: Daybreak extended is like the Director’s Cut of Daybreak episodes 1-3. I was unsure if it was all, or part of them, and spent some time searching the internets for that info (carefully avoiding spoilers). So watch whichever you prefer, you’ll get about the same content told differently.

Cycling in the City

I’ve been riding my bike a fair amount this year, pushing 30 miles 2-3 times a week, from where I work in Beaverton to home in fairly far-east Portland. The route that I take has a variety of paved terrain, from busy suburban and downtown streets to cozy residential streets to dedicated bicycle (and other non-motorized activity) paths. There’s a lot of controversy around bikes this year, as more people take to the pedal path, they remain misunderstood.

Talking to people, there are many who would like to ride more, but a nervous about riding no city streets. Here are some tips to help with safety and hopefully enjoyment. There are a lot of tips here. They boil down to: Be prepared, be aware, be comfortable.

Relax Just keep pedalling and enjoy the ride. You’ll get there. If you are in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, pull over, get off, and walk until you are in a better place.

Be aware You don’t need a mirror if you can turn your head confidently. But it is important to know what other vehicles and innocent bystanders are doing, and where they are.

Signal Signalling on a bike is much like a car without blinkers, but you have an extra option. Signal when turning, changing lanes, or passing. For left, simply reach your left arm straight out. For right, you can bend your left arm upwards or reach your right arm straight out. The important thing is that others know what you’re doing. Tip: I turn my hand so the thumb is up and make a gun with my hands…it makes you a bit more visible (thanks Karrla).

Know your route You won’t always know where you’re going. But it helps. Bike maps, bycycle.org, word of mouth, and signage, are handy ways to know how to get there. Know the best paths for going cross-town. If there are good dedicated paths, know how to get to those. Waterfronts and freeway frontage are often available this way.

Take control The fewer cars that pass you, the better, so I try to travel at the speed of traffic. This is controversial (and illegal in many places), but I often get a jump on the signal by crossing before my light turns green. Intersections are more complicated than roads, so I prefer not to interact with cars there, and the early start helps me get up to speed as well.

Watch out for doors The car door is one of the greatest threats to riders. If you see a car park ahead of you, make sure you give clearance for a door swinging open. Places to be extra careful are parks and schools where parents sit in their cars waiting. Watch for heads and signs of activity. Be ready, be aware (in case you need to swerve). These are often on quieter roads, so just ride towards the middle of the road if you’re not impeding traffic.

Use a lane I try to maintain a positive relationship with autos. My goal is to get where I’m going with as little impact on others doing the same thing as possible. But there are times when you want to take up a whole lane. Do it with confidence. But please be considerate. Try to go the speed of traffic, and pull right so that cars can pass. If there’s a bike route nearby, consider going out of your way to use it.

Equipment is important Know your bike. If you just pulled it out of storage after years, consider a tune-up. Failures always occur at the least convenient time. Tire rubber will decay, so change your tubes and tires if necessary. Keep your distances short the first few rides. Buy lights: a rear red one and a white front one. Don’t leave them on your bike because they’re easy to steal. Carry a lock. My bike’s not fancy so I usually just use a strong coil lock. It’s up to you. Wear a helmet. They all meet safety guidelines, so the biggest differences are in airflow, weight, and fashion. Your brain is worth protecting.

Ask people The more cyclists on the road, the fewer cars, which is a good thing for cyclists. So most everyone is helpful. Ask a rider, stop by a store, go for an organised ride, ride with friends.

Have fun Keeping those pedals turning can be hard work. It’s great exercise. You’ll take new routes, and you’ll see a lot more. You’ll feel the wind in your face, and a thrill being so connected to your equipment.