The Postcard Project

“Do you read a lot?” A then-new friend asked me a few months ago.

“No, not really,” I said, almost with guilt, because the question sparked a memory of an acquaintance who seems to finish a book a week, broadcasting her consumption via Instagram. In comparison, I am a practicing anorexic, selecting to sip and savor tropes at a deliberate pace. I read, re-read, and watch sentences slowly unfurl into rich, bittersweet storylines. By the time I lumber through the last page – and they have to be real, paper pages – I can’t think of peeling back the cover of a new book until everything inside has settled.

I didn’t used to be like this. Until a handful of years ago, I faithfully relied on my slim Kindle, a nearly ancient version featuring the miniature keyboard and absolutely no touch screen. You had to click through the pages, back and forth, via oblong buttons on the side of the device. “Flipping through” a book meant furiously clicking back a page at a time and hoping you’d land somewhere near that sentence you really liked but forgot to bookmark. And then repeating the process to get back to where you were. It made recalling passages nearly impossible. You simply couldn’t go back to something you didn’t have the foresight to highlight. On the other hand, it encouraged progression like any good electronic device; the meter at the bottom of the screen encouraged me to read faster, consume more, and hoard titles – instantly delivered via wi-fi! – in my slim, gray bank. I bought into it, becoming the ideal Amazon customer. I bought e-books because “they’re so much cheaper than the print versions,” and left them to hibernate. I became those people who buy books – print or electronic – as if purchasing literature would also include the instant download of the thought and intellect required to actually read and comprehend what was inside. Books, by virtue of their ability to be consumed in bulk, were the new intellectual status symbol.

Somehow, through this era of enarmorment with an “electronic reading device,” I was able to retain enough self-awareness to realize that I wouldn’t be able to read anything remotely thought-provoking in an electronic format. Those books remained out of reach, simply because recalling themes and paragraphs would either take several days to click back to, or the process would be so frustrating that I would invariably drive my head through a wall. This, coupled with the purchase of an iPhone that turned my life into a parody of human interaction, switching from screen to screen to screen to screen, finally broke me. I ricocheted back to real books, embracing the ability to literally thumb through creamy pages fat with words.

Recently, that focus on the real has leaked over to email, Facetime, Skype, texts. So much of our lives is filtered through a screen – both literally and figuratively – that communication, while instantaneous, becomes less meaningful. “It erodes,” Noam Chomsky once said in an interview, of the Internet, “normal human relations.”

Separated by most of my friends by an ocean and several time zones, it’s never clear whether anyone who is unfortunate enough to be closely associated with me truly understands my gratitude for their company. In a world saturated with emails and texts, lines declaring that partners in crime are missed, that five year old custom-made frames are still dearly loved, that I still think of that ride when, or how grateful I am that certain people stuck around until I clawed my way out of a vortex of depression, seem to risk getting lost in the deluge. And because I think the world of my friends, and because I am stubborn, I started to make postcards.

Measuring 10.5cm by 15cm, they’re small collages of memories patched together from piles of old magazines. They’re fun to make between food portraits, and layering paper on thicker stock gives them a nice, tangible weight. They’re real. Hand-made, hand-written, and hand-sent. Three have arrived at their destinations thus far (the wait is excruciating, compared with the click and send of email), with more (hopefully, lots more) on the way.

Fingers crossed they have their intended impact. And even if they don’t, each one is really the best 70yen I’ve spent. 

a seven year itch

In high school, one of my favorite teachers looked around the room and announced:
“Well, according to US statistics, at least half of you will be divorced at some point in your life.”
I remember laughing nervously as young, romantic ideas of diamonds and forever...died. In the awkward minute that followed, we all either stared at our desks or snuck sidelong looks at each other, trying to pick out which of us were mostly likely to fail at happily ever after. I attempted to compile a list of half my class based on fickle dating practices, counting from the bottom up, trying to place myself higher on the marital success curve. The problem was that I had no idea where I stood on this supposed forced cuve; I was 17, had barely kissed a boy, and naively believed that love was a deliberate choice. That it wasn’t - as it would turn out - a result of hormones mixed with alcohol or just poor decision-making.

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Perhaps because of this history of questionable judgment, I hesitated for about four months when deciding on a road bike to fall in love with. I didn’t want to feel any hint of doubt once I had tied that knot. I wanted something that would’t fall prey to the “seven year itch” or your typical mid-life crisis. So I chose an IF. And since I’ve had it in my possession, divorce statistics haven’t bothered me. Because I believe I genuinely love my IF. I trust it. I rely on it. I spend more time with my bike than with any other human being. I think it’s adorable every time I look at it. I love it, I really do.
But there’s one problem: it’s an IF. Which means I may never need another bike.
This realization tore through my adulterous heart as I stood in the middle of the Seven workshop last week. Actually, it started before that. As a professional [coffee] barfly at RSC, I have been in constant proximity to Sevens. There is actually enough glittering ti in that shop to armour a Humvee. But it wasn’t until I saw the Berlin Seven bike in the Seven lounge that a small hitch appeared in my mental chant of “STEEL IS REAL.”

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Because, oh hi, there is a front light integrated into custom handlebars and a back light integrated into the seatpost on this bike. Ti and carbon seat stays. Swoon.
Not that Seven doesn’t do steel [they do], but they also happen to be the second largest buyer of ti tubing in the nation. We got to see the tubes [ti and carbon] in their full length glory as Joe explained how the tubes are cut, where chainstays are bent, and how the frame is carefully assembled. There’s a general sense of obsessive attention to detail at Seven, which manifests itself in constant measuring and checking, making for rare mistakes and amazing bicycles.

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Although each frame is handmade, the bottom bracket threads [for steel and ti frames] are cut by a machine. Seven even figured out how to rig the thing so it could cut out the threads without having to flip the frame itself. Very cool, but not as awesome as the fact that Rob apparently used to cut the threads by hand back in the day until he got sidelined by a rotator cuff injury [kidding, kidding].

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Rob also show us the inspiration for Ride.Studio.Cafe.

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By the time we got to finishing and painting, I was mentally picking out which Seven I’d want first, wearing that scarlet letter like a badge of pride. But as Kanye once put it, “how he stay faithful in a room full of hoes?”

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And if you had any question as to the creativity of Seven employees, well, they are also capable of putting together tall bikes, complete with disco ball, speakers, an iPod holder, and a few amps.

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By the time I picked up my bike from the Seven office, I was beginning to acknowledge the possible truth of my high school teacher’s comment. Not that I have plans or funds to purchase another bike or divorce the one I have, but that doesn't mean I wasn’t lusting after a Seven. My adorable IF took the crappy roads on the way home in stride and I was glad I had chosen plushy, great steel.
But in seven years, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be feeling an itch for ti, too.
[More pictures here.]

crazy, sexy, cool

I may be dating myself in reference to this album but that’s what this week has been. A good thing, maybe, as these past few days, my fingers have been busy tapping the sides of a coffee cup, not a keyboard. But all that caffeine and hanging out hasn’t been for nothing, as I’ve been quite the serendipitous slacker of late.
crazy - the crostis descent
When people told me this year’s Giro looked crazy, I didn’t fully comprehend what they meant. With the death of Wouter Weylandt, and stages that look like they could fit into the Spring Classics, the Giro has been both sobering and surreal. To add to the general insanity of it all, comes this article, which states, in part:

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The descent of the Crostis worried Contador more than the climb to the finish on the Zoncolan. He admitted he had never seen anything like the dirt road section at the top and the near vertical drop off at the side of the narrow road. “It scares me,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport who followed him during his ride.

He was told that the race organisers will erect safety nets to catch any riders that may crash on the descent but said: “That doesn’t go close to the limit, it goes over it.”


Nets? ...Really?
sexy - pave.cc
I’ve been lucky [serendipitous?] enough to meet a lot of amazing cyclists at Ride.Studio.Cafe. Last weekend, Neal regaled me with stories of climbing the French Pyrennes [with a standard double crank] and at one point jerked a thumb over his shoulder at an impossibly slim cyclist named Raphael.
“I’m trying to get him to drink vegetable oil,” Neal said, “he’s killing us on the climbs.”
A few days later, I walked in to find out that Raphael’s friend is opening Pave Culture Cycliste, a shop that has most all of the RSC regulars and employees [sorry, Rob] making plans to move to Barcelona. The store closes from 1.30 to 5.00 for a group ride that heads out at 2.15. Every. Single. Day.

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Hola, Barcelona, HERE I COME!!!
cool - m. scott morton
I met Morton at - of all places - a business networking event organized by our alma mater this past week. He mentioned he lived in Harvard [the town], one of those places I have grand plans to bike to ever since discovering 1. a “Harvard to Harvard” ride on mapmyride.com, and 2. the Harvard General Store. Morton mentioned he designs and constructs furniture for a living and my interest piqued, I asked for a card.

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So glad I did. Because, woah. His stuff is amazingly beautiful. I rode to RSC the next day to spread the love and Morton and his adorable son even stopped by yesterday.

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And yes, when I get the legs to ride to Harvard, I’m swinging by his shop!
Enjoy the race/bike/furniture porn, and have a great weekend, guys!

be still my murmuring heart: a visit to IF

I got the flu about ten days ago, which meant that I got to both amass an arsenal of over-the-counter cough suppressants and other flu medication, and have the honor of being possibly the only person in America losing, rather than gaining, weight on Thanksgiving. And while both some weight and the fever have since been kept at bay, I’ve had a dry, hacking cough that’s lingered. The kind that will wake you up at night like an insatiable significant other, persistent and somewhat predictable, resulting in groggy workdays. The kind that results in somewhat sore abs and a tight back from those nighttime acrobatics. Except, you know, without satisfying happy endings that are implicit in anything involving insatiable significant others.
All of which led me to run to a walk-in clinic where a doctor listened to my heart every which way and then informed me that I just may have a heart murmur.
“Have you experienced any shortness of breath or difficulty breathing during exercise?” The doctor asked.

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Images of attempting to climb River Road without “shortness of breath or difficulty breathing” came to mind. The inability to suck enough air into my lungs as I got pulled, dragged, then dropped up and down 9W presented itself.
“Uh, no, not really,” I answered.
Because images of a frame also emerged as I envisioned how I must look, riding up River Road. It was small and cute and welded together by a friend. I had visited the workshop to watch it being put together and even met the guy who was going to do my braze-ons [that sounds so dirty, I know]. And there was no fricking way some goddamn heart murmur was going to keep me off this almost-complete beauty.

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Because, like I mentioned before, it’s an IF. The day before I got so pathetically sick that I was living off Tom Yum soup, I had ridden up to Somerville, MA to the IF workshop, with a quick stop by Clear Flour Bread to pick up some treats [their morning buns are pretty phenom]. Bundled up in every bike gear layer I own, it was a quick trip north to a warm workshop where my already-tacked frame sat, being TIG-welded into existence. I got to watch as Tyler worked his magic, explaining the process of using a giant electrical circuit to weld, and the use of air without oxygen in it.

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Then I got the grand tour. I got to see the collection of tubes, the jig where tubes become frames, and the chain stay cutting machine [it was really cool]. There was the paint section where the newest green Ti Featherweight sat, waiting for its stripes of black matte paint, as well as an assorted collection of frames waiting for their respective powdercoats. I even got to see the big machine that provides extra pure air to the paint department, as well as IF’s sand and glass blasters.

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Along the way, I saw and learned about how braze-ons are brazed on, leaving a glass-like residue, and how Corvids are assembled and the super power glue that holds them together. The IF carbon lugs for the Corvids are made specifically to measure, and not bent or stretched to fit like steel lugs. Even in its raw form, the carbon fiber frame was awesomely impressive. I think my heart murmured when I got to touch it; it didn’t hurt that it felt like air when I lifted it up, either.

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There’s actually so much cool stuff and people at the IF workshop that it’s hard to actually delve in and describe everything in one visit [especially when your own custom frame is sitting in the welding department, nearing completion]. I left feeling more excited than when I arrived, and even in the midst of a feverish flu a few days later, I did a mental little dance when Tyler sent me even more pictures.
Yeah, that’s right. Pictures of my brazed and welded IF Crown Jewel. [Potential] Heart murmurs be damned. Ain’t nothin’ gonna keep me off that bike.

if i had an if...

I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: when you come from a "tribe of midgets" as my mother once described our immediate family to a much-taller cousin, it's hard to find a bike that fits.
Being a smidge over 5'2", I'm too tall for the 43cm bikes that come with 650cc wheels but too small for anything on 700cc wheels with a horizontal top tube. In that gray, in-between area, I'm placed in the unfortunate position of choosing between the two. Add to that the fact that I'm a woman, new to road cycling, and Japanese, and the decisions to be made when purchasing that just-right road bike can get more frustrating than fun.
Sure, a lot of bike manufacturers now have entire lines of women's specific bikes, in sizes starting from 44 to 49cm, usually designed with slighter shorter top tubes and seat tubes than their unisex counterparts. The woman that these bikes are generally designed for is one with longer legs and a shorter torso than her male counterparts; valid considerations for your typical non-Asian cyclist. But if you have shorter legs and a longer torso like I do [think E.T. but with normal length arms], going for a unisex, smaller frame could provide the better fit.

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The problem then becomes finding a bike that's small enough, made from the material you want it to be made from, and, if you're as unreasonable as I am, in colors that you can tolerate [personally, this tolerance is inversely and exponentially related to the cost of the frame or bicycle]. The first two considerations are obviously the more important ones, and ones that required the most leg work because while I'd ridden steel and aluminum, neither bike had gears, nor involved rides longer than 40 miles. I didn't know what carbon felt like, what aluminum with a carbon back triangle felt like, or how smooth high-end steel can be. I called a dozen bike shops about road bikes they might have in my size, I rode a bunch around the block, rode a few a little longer than that, asked an endless train of questions, tried Sram, re-tried Campy, and ended up trusting my countrymen in deciding that I liked the ubiquitous yet reliable Shimano, best.
Now that I got the shifting down, I just needed a bike.
You'd think finding a smaller road bike with Shimano wouldn't be so hard. You'd think that, wouldn't you? Especially with all the women's options out there?
Except for...well, a lot of things. Back in May, Andrew had measured my height [this is when I discovered I was more 5'2 than 5'3], had me wedge this wooden L-shaped ruler between my legs to measure standover height, and hold the end of the tape measure where my collarbones meet. I stood around the small stage at the back of NYC Velo in my socks [we had to measure my height without shoes on, which is more accurate and close to reality but which I also think is fundamentally unfair], and was asked questions about my weight, the kind of riding I do, and the kind of riding I would want to do with a road bike. Andrew sent the deets to IF a few days later, and a few days after that I got to see a custom frame spec'd to my measurements, and about two weeks after that, I balked.

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I'll admit that it wasn't just the impending bar exam that got in the way. There was sticker shock, too. The realization that I was going to put down kind of a lot of money for a custom frame and fork scared me. I had never ridden an IF at that point, and the chances of me finding one close enough to my size were slim to none. In the face of the unknown, [at least I could ride, say, a Felt ZW5] I couldn't commit.
But a few months post-bar, there was a sparkly green demo 47cm Independent Fabrication Steel Crown Jewel built up with Dura Ace hanging from the ceiling of the shop. Offered for a test ride, I took it up River Road and back and, unfortunately, fell in love. I tried to tell myself it was the Dura Ace that made the ride so smooth, that it was entirely in my head that the steel bike felt light, and that I should seriously consider carbon. But there was something about the way everything worked together, how the frame complemented its parts and the entire thing seemed to want to roll out and keep on going. As a complete derailleur novice, the versatility of the Crown Jewel appealed to me as well: it could be raced, ridden for hours on end, or taken out for quick spins. There was a lot of potential in that frame, but most importantly, despite the fact that it was too big for me, it felt really good.

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The toe I dipped in the welcoming warmth of the IF pool was the end of my deliberating. I didn't admit it to myself for another few weeks, but once I had ridden that IF, the bikes I test-rode seemed...not that great in comparison. Still, I wanted to be 100% sure. I emailed Kevin at IF too many times, asking too many really long-winded questions, and every single time, he seemed more than happy to explain things and even offered to take a look at my current bike fit via photos. He said something like, "I understand this is big decision," and I wanted to hug him. I gave the okay a few weeks later.
And now here we are. It's been about 4 weeks, and with an approximate turn around time of 6-8 weeks, my bike is on the horizon. Actually, it's already been "born," so to speak, and the sheer thought of having an IF all to myself has me giggling like a 13 year old with a crush. I can't wait. It's going to be awesome.
More updates coming [very, very] soon!