Homegrown Revolution at the Alt-Car Expo

Homegrown Revolution will be making an appearance at the Alt-Car expo this Saturday October 20th at 10:30 a.m. to pimp for the bicycle as an alternative to the electric and ethanol cars crowding the improvised showroom at the Santa Monica Airport. We’ll be joined on a panel discussion by Jennifer Klausner of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Joseph Linton of Livable Places. The panel is entitled “Getting out of the Box”. He’s what we’re gonna say:

We don’t ride bikes because they are good for the environment–we ride them simply because they are fun and unlike a car, each mile we go makes us stronger physically and more alert mentally. Riding a bicycle puts us in touch with the spaces we live in and the people who inhabit those spaces. As the Situationist Guy Debord said,

“Traffic Circulation is the organization of universal isolation. In this regard it constitutes the major problem of modern cities. It is the opposite of encounter, it absorbs the energies that could otherwise be devoted to encounters or to any sort of participation.”

By riding a bike we break out of the isolation and anger that a box on four wheels stuck in traffic breeds.
The bicycle is the most elegant of all human inventions. Repair and maintenance are within the grasp of virtually everyone. Parts are understandable and, for the most part, interchangeable. With each pedal stroke, legs, heart, lungs and mind grow stronger.

Riding a bicycle is something you can do now. You need not wait for a future of expensive electric vehicles or technical innovations that may never come. The bicycle has a proven 150 year plus record of dependability.
You need not wear Lycra and, as the picture above proves, sometimes skin-tight clothes can be a very bad idea. You don’t need to be an athlete or have special clothing or equipment. Just jump on and roll.

In Southern California we don’t have the excuse of bad weather. Conditions are perfect for year-round cycling and the terrain is mostly flat. It’s a bit hilly in Homegrown Revolution’s neck of the woods, but these hills build character.

We’re what you might call “car-light”. Between Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown Revolution we still have a battered 1994 Nissan Sentra which spends the overwhelming majority of its time sitting in the garage collecting dust. Around the time we got rid of our second car we put together an Xtracycle. While it’s hard to improve on the basic design of the bicycle, the Xtracycle is a great way to haul cargo. We can easily pack just as many groceries on this bike as we used to in the Sentra.

The chief objection that we hear is that cycling is not safe. We used to use this excuse not so long ago before we hopped back on our bikes. We respond by saying no it isn’t safe, but neither is any other mode of travel. Cycling is definitely what Socrates would call, “the considered life”–it demands your full attention. But there are ways to minimize the danger and maximize the fun. Two good sources: the League of American Cyclists Road 1 class and Robert Hurst’s excellent book, The Art of Urban Cycling Lessons from the Street. Route choice, i.e. going out of the way if you have to to choose mellow streets, will also greatly reduce the hassle of dealing with impatient and distracted motorists.


We’ll close our brief presentation with this image of a Ghanaian welder who created this tall bike. To ride it he first pushes it to get it going, climbs up high enough to turn the pedals with his hands and, once he has enough momentum, jumps up in the seat. It symbolizes for us not only the shear joy of riding a bike, but a future that will be more about techniques than technologies. As Daniel Pinchbeck said,

“Instead of envisioning an ultimately boring ‘technological singularity,’ we might be better served by considering an evolution of technique, of skillful means, aimed at this world, as it is now. Technology might find its proper place in our lives if we experienced such a shift in perspective–in a society oriented around technique, we might find that we desired far less gadgetry. We might start to prefer slowness to speed, subtlety and complexity to products aimed at standardized mind.”

The bike is ready to go. That showroom full of electric cars, ethanol guzzling engines, and pie-in-the-sky fuel cells are all the dying gasp of a disastrous 20th century fixated on technology for technologies’ sake. It’s time to ride on.

We’ve taken the flowers out of our hair

Homegrown Revolution is back from San Francisco with a couple of random observations from our trip:

1. The picture above of a gas cap spotted in the Mission District demonstrates, that even in a bike and mass transit friendly city many folks take their cars a little too seriously. Let’s remember folks, we suspect that Jesus rides two wheels and takes the bus and does indeed look anguished every time we open the gas cap.

2. We took our bike with us and enjoyed the numbered bike routes that take you north-south and east-west. While not perfect (we would have preferred a few more signs to point the way) these routes help a cyclist navigate thought the city taking you down more bike friendly and less hilly streets. The San Francisco bike map (pdf) shows the routes in addition to signage on the streets.

3. Raising chickens made us appreciate San Francisco’s strident health food store, Rainbow Grocery which has a chart in their egg section to show how the chickens that produce the eggs are raised. We meant to get a photo of this elaborate chart but unfortunately we forgot the camera. Posted on the refrigeration cabinet, the chart tells you which of the brands they carry clip beaks or wings and whether the chickens have access to pasture. Rainbow Grocery was the first San Francisco retailer to carry only cage free eggs.

4. Unfortunately we didn’t see this exhibit by photographer Douglas Gayeton at Petaluma’s Singer Gallery, but you can view images from his slow-food related photo essay about Tuscany here.

5. While Homegrown Revolution promises never again to get into celebrity gossip, we’ll note that we spotted gravelly voiced alt-rock singer Tom Waits gassing up his Lexus SUV at a filling station in Berkeley. More exciting to us was discovering that our base of operations in the Mission was a mere block from the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army safe house where heiress Patty Hearst became urban guerrilla Tanya. We have a feeling we’ll see the return of revolutionary noms de guerre in the coming few years and when that happens we’ll see Tom ditch the SUV for two wheeled transit on Berkeley’s many bicycle boulevards.

Licensed to Rant


As someone who uses a bike to get around it scares us to think about how easy it is to renew a driver’s license, as one of the Homegrown Revolution compound members did this week. Can you breathe? Great! Here’s your license. Are you homicidal, schizophrenic, elderly, partially blind, or all of the above? No problem! Just step up, have your picture taken, take a vision test that could easily be cheated on, pay $27 and you can legally get behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound exhaust-spewing death machine.

While our country does everything it can to facilitate everyone getting behind the wheel of a car, there’s one big thing you have to give up, in addition to lots of cash–your privacy. It’s been many years since we renewed our license in person and this time around there was one big change–a sign taped to the wall just below the grinning portrait of the actor who played Conan the Barbarian saying in effect that if you don’t want to be electronically fingerprinted you won’t get a license. Which brings to mind an article by Claire Wolfe in the most recent issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, the Martha Stewart Living of the off-grid set, in praise of walking and biking (triking to be precise) from a radical libertarian perspective.

One of my aims in choosing this life has been, as Thoreau said, to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” In the case of transportation, my notion of simplicity involves a few special requirements.

First requirement: No permits, licenses, government registrations, or bureaucratic involvement at all. I know it’s naive in this super-governed age, but I’m foolish enough to hold fast to the belief that in a truly free country people travel peaceably on the roads without being stopped and hassled by “the authorities” and without asking the permission from the king (or the president, or the governor, or the Bureau of Lawn Mowers, Motorbikes, and Small Radio-Controlled Widgets). Motor vehicles are not only expensive and prone to breakdowns (anything but simple), but with driver’s licenses becoming national ID cards, unconstitutional highway “checkpoints” everywhere, and our every move being tracked through our licenses, registrations, and purchases, those vehicles we rely on are being deliberately used by government as the vehicles of our unfreedom.

The Real ID Act of 2005, which Bush signed into law on May 11, 2005 sets up federal standards for state drivers licenses. Two of the requirements of the law “physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication for fraudulent purposes” and “a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements” sound a lot like incentives for fingerprinting and RFID, a kind of computer chip which stores information that can be read from a distance by a radio frequency device.

Currently all motor vehicle records in California, including the fingerprint and photo databases are open to district attorneys, city attorneys and law enforcement agencies as put forth in section 1810.5 of the California vehicle code. In addition banks, insurers, attorneys and auto dealers can access certain parts of license records. The Real ID Act will set up a massive nationwide database open to any law enforcement agency, “A state shall provide electronic access to all other states to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the state”.

We can take some comfort in the incompetence of the California DMV. A December 2000 article in the Orange County Register shows that DMV clerks had so many problems using the electronic fingerprinting machines that over half of the fingerprints were deemed unreadable and useless.

Fingerprinting and RFID are presented as ways to deter counterfeiting and identity theft, but aside from the obvious privacy concerns and the government handouts to dubious tech companies marketing these gadgets, our drivers licenses becoming national identification cards raises bigger philosophical questions. What further steps will be taken to monitor our mobility? How will governments and corporations use RFID chips, not to mention the global positioning capabilities of cell phones? And why is automobile travel so entwined with our very identity? Are we free-thinking citizens, participants in a democracy or are we merely motorists?

It’s time to opt out of the system. It’s time to walk and it’s time to ride a bike . . .

Selling the Revolution

“Revolutionary urbanists will not limit their concern to the circulation of things and of human beings trapped in a world of things. They will try to break these topological chains, paving the way with their experiments for a human journey through authentic life.”

-Guy Debord “Situationsit Thesis on Traffic”

So it’s got singing hippies and it’s basically an ad, but we just can’t help but love this mini-doc about the creators of our fun and useful Xtracycle:

Bike to Work Week

It’s bike to work week and time to RIDE! That being said, we’re a little disappointed by the iconography our Metropolitan Transit Authority is using to advertise what we otherwise think is a worthwhile cause. It reminds us of an essay by Michael Smith about a poster designed for the equally clueless New York City Department of Transportation.

Our MTA seems to feel that only children should ride bikes–at least that’s the unconscious subtext of the image on the left. The hand-less and foot-less cartoon figures they use, with their small doll-like bodies look like kids. Even though they don’t have faces, they also don’t look particularly happy. Is that because they are going to work (who wants to do that!) or because they are riding a bike in the notoriously bike-unfriendly Los Angeles? The hidden, and I’m sure unintentional message from MTA seems to be, “we’re advertising biking in LA because it makes us look good, but if you actually do it you are a childish dork.”
And speaking of dorks, check out the pained and terrified dude on the cover of the outdated and useless Los Angeles Department of Transportation bikeway guide (click to biggify). Flip to the backside of the map and there’s another copy of this same image, this time occupying fully a third of what could be useful space for tips on how to bike in LA. Like the MTA, the LADOT seems more interested in spending lavishly on curious promotional efforts that simultaneously make it seem like they are doing something while subconsciously discouraging anyone from actually riding a bike. After all, if the kind of middle class folks this map and the bike to work propaganda is aimed at took to the streets in great numbers LADOT would have a problem on their hands given their fondness for building pedestrian and cycling unfriendly high-speed blighted freeways through our neighborhoods.

A tip to the powers that be–first spend your money on making LA more walkable/bikeable and if there are any dead presidents left over for advertising at least try for some sexier imagery. Start with a look at Urban Cyclist–even the old codgers at SurviveLA know these hip kids at are on to something with their free issue #1.

And while we’re not thrilled with the MTA ad campaign, we like some of the festivities planned for this week:

Monday– a free concert by the Ditty Bops and a guest appearance by the ubiquitous greenmeister Ed Begley Jr from 11:30 am to 1pm on the south lawn of city hall.

Tuesday–Blessing of the Bicycles at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Thursday–The Hollywood and Western Pit Stop hosted by illuminateLA who promises voluminous swag and refreshments from 7 am to 10 am followed by barricade storming.

A Bicycle Powered Washing Machine


Homeless Dave’s Bike Powered Washing Machine

Of all the potential bicycle powered applications, other than the primary one of simply gettin’ around, washing machines seem the most practical to us. With the bike powered wash cycle, someday spin class and laundromats could co-locate. In the meantime, if you’ve got the space, a BPWM can also water your garden while giving you a chance to loose a few pounds.

There are a couple of designs floating around the internets, but we like Homeless Dave’s the best because it you don’t need to do any welding or fabrication of special parts. Homeless Dave’s extensive instructions require scavenging a bike, a trainer (we found one in the street, but we’ve also seen them at garage sales and thrift stores), and a top loading machine.

Homeless Dave’s design only does the spin cycle, not the washing, so it will be up to Homegrown Revolution to come up with a design for a full-on bike powered washing machine (we’ll wait for our hated Sears model to die first). When that day comes we’ll post the design and a special soak and spin music mix.

A Homegrown Revolution manifesto by way of a short (true) story.

1. Fitness is part of the urban homesteading thing
So on our daily bike ride to the downtown YMCA we spotted four tires laying by the side of the road.

2. Try to grow as much food as you can
Tires are a great way to grow potatoes–we’ll explain this when we try it ourselves. Meanwhile you can read about doing this, as well as many other uses for old tires in the informative archives of Backwoods Home Magazine.

3. Cargo bikes rule
Later on in the day we decided to go pick up the tires using our handy cargo bike, the Xtracycle. We can’t say enough good things about this invention, though we should note that carrying large car tires on a bicycle looks completely insane.

4. The importance of bike safety
At a signal two hipsters on fixed gear bikes pulled up next to us.

One of the hipsters said, “Too bad you can’t use those tires.”

Homegrown Revolution muttered, crazily, “We’re going to grow things with them.”

“Yeah, you’re going to grow some bud.” responded the hipster and peddled off–note, a fixed gear is much faster than a cruddy mountain bike with an Xtracycle carrying two car tires.

5. First aid training and general preparedness
As we rounded a bend, in front of our local medical marijuana dispensary (oh, the irony) we saw one of the hipsters on the ground tangled up in his bike moaning in pain in the middle of the Sunset Blvd. bike lane and surrounded by shimmering fragments of a car tail light. He had run into the back end of a parked car. Homegrown Revolution stopped and prepared to use our inadequate Red Cross first aid training. Just as we finished saying, “Are you o.k.?” the hipster jumped up.

6. The importance of bike safety part 2
He motioned to one of two attractive women on the sidewalk and said, “It’s your fault, it’s because of you, I was staring at you.” Robert Hurst, in his excellent book The Art of Urban Cycling covers this very problem. Fixed gears, high traffic speeds, poorly designed bike lanes, inattentive motorists, and voyeurism make an especially dangerous cocktail. Stay alert out there folks and read Hurst’s book (read an interview with Hurst here).

7. Karma
The hipsters jumped back on their bikes leaving Homegrown Revolution, the two women, and the security guard at the marijuana dispensary staring at the dented and completely trashed back end of someone’s new Kia. There was a pause as we were all relieved that the hipster was able to walk away from what, judging from the huge dent in the Kia’s trunk, looked like a pretty bad impact. There was another pause as we all realized that he had left the scene without making amends for the damage. The two women looked at me as Homegrown Revolution suggested lamely that, “They [cars] hit us all the time.” There was yet another awkward pause, followed by Homegrown Revolution quickly leaving the scene.

In a moment of vertiginous karma, as we made the turn off of Sunset one of the car tires flopped over causing us to wobble ominously in front of an oncoming SUV. Homegrown Revolution quickly recovered, and even returned through nasty rush hour traffic to get the other two tires.

Tour de Crap

Homegrown Revolution apologizes for yet another scatological post, but we’re delighted to report on the success of the Tour de Crap, a Bike Winter event which featured a tour of the Hyperion Treatment Plant. The photo above shows some intrepid cyclists who have traded their bike hats and helmets for hard hats and hair nets in order to enjoy the sight of a pile of poo soaked condoms in Hyperion’s odoriferous headworks building.

Everybody should have to tour their treatment plant and meet the nice folks who deal, literally, with our own crap. Maybe then people would decide not to lift manhole covers and throw couches and motorcycle frames down the sewer system as happens here in our fair city. Perhaps someday we’ll all take a bigger step and assume responsibility for out own waste as the folks in Scandinavia have done with in-house composting toilets like the Clivus Multrum.

In the meantime people, remember that somebody has got to deal with what you all flush and pour down the drain so please don’t put cooking oil and grease down the sink. Not only is this bad for your own plumbing, but it causes clogs in the city’s lines as well. Also keep your pharmaceuticals out of the toilet–no joke here–we have ocean fish swimming around hopped up on Prozac.

Lastly, should zombies or Al Queda take out Hyperion, learn how to shit in a bucket.