News & Opinion » Letters

Letters for the Week of May 16, 2012

Readers sound off on bikes, bullying, and Jane Brunner.


"How to Buy a Bike When You Don't Know Jack About Bikes," Feature, 5/2

Do Some Research

Lesson learned? Too confusing, frustrating, or difficult to find a bike? Hopefully not. Sundays are notoriously busy for most bike shops, because it's when everyone wants to fix or buy a bike. Try a weekday, when someone has time to consult with you. Just as one wouldn't simply walk into a car lot and buy a car without a little research, a bicycle demands the same thoughtful attention.

Fit, price point, and utility all need consideration. Craigslist is extra hassle, trading time for money. The folks at The Spoke have always been extremely helpful without an ounce of attitude when I've wanted to fix, sell, or buy a bike. Heck, they will even sell your bike on consignment! Riding a bike is a thoroughly enjoyable experience well worth any time you invest into finding the right one. Don't despair, car driver — keep your chin up and have a little patience. It's worth it!

Jennifer Michels, Berkeley

Trust Your Instincts

Go for the bike you fell in love with! The Linus or the Public will get you looks and get you places.

You might also check out the stylish Raleigh roadsters at Bay Area Bikes, on Webster. The Raleigh Superbe is a quality bike. Give 'em a call and see if they have last year's model on sale.

Don't forget to save some cash for a bike lock, a cute bell, a basket (and a helmet, if you're into that kind of thing). If you lock the bike right — through the frame, with a cable through the wheels, or with a set of locking skewers — and don't leave it in sketchy places like Ashby BART overnight — it's a 90 percent guarantee you won't lose it.

By the way, you are so not a gas-guzzling outcast [for driving a car]. If there's one thing about bike people, it's that we're always on the lookout for our next perfect bike. And you're a gal on the lookout for a bike. That makes you part of the in-crowd right there.

Good luck and hope to see you on the road!

P.S. Gotta give some props to The Spoke. The new owners have worked super hard to turn the shop around from a dingy rat's nest of steel and spokes. It's becoming a new community anchor for the dead zone between Temescal and UC Berkeley. They really are super duper and I love that they're right around the corner from my house!

Ginger Jui, Oakland

Old and Improved

My first bike as an adult was an old Schwinn, (steel frame, five-speed, 1970s vintage) that I basically inherited from a friend. I got lucky: I still have the bike and love it. It's a good commuter bike for my purposes. It is, admittedly, quite heavy, but it's solid and rides well.

I'm not trying to sell you my bike. The point is, don't neglect used bikes as a possibility. Actually, older bikes are often better-made than their brand-new equivalents. I would highly recommend getting the bike from an actual shop rather than from Craigslist. And make sure you get a bike that "fits" you well in terms of actual size, as well as your intended use.

Let us all light a candle and have a moment of silence for the late Recycle Bicycle (at which I used to work). Sorry that your experience there was not great, but it was a good working-class neighborhood shop. But toward the end of its tenure, there were not actually many bikes for sale there. Most of the bikes in that shop were actually customer bikes being worked on.

One thing about bike mechanics is that they will often have a laser-like focus on whatever particular bike is their project of the moment — so if they aren't always outgoing and friendly, try not to take it personally. That laser-focus is good if it's your bike they're working on. (Though, when you're looking to buy a bike, rather than just have one fixed, go to a shop where people have time to help you find the bike that works best for you — service is one of the many things that make shops better than Craigslist.)

Also, remember when you hop onto that new (or new-to-you) bike, don't just automatically take the same routes you would take when you were driving a car. You don't need to be the guy riding a bike up Ashby while the semi-trucks whiz by. A street or two over from nearly any frighteningly busy street, there's a nice calm residential street that runs parallel. That's where you want to be riding. (There might even be signs up that say "Bicycle Boulevard," but that's optional.)

Lexi Babayan, Berkeley

Just Do It

I suggest that you just get on a bike and ride. Borrow a friend's bike. Get a cheap used bike at one of the great used cycle shops around. You could even go to the Spokeland Bike Co-Op and get trained on how to build your own bike from the used parts they stock.

Once you are on a bike, forget about what's cool or who looks tribal. Just enjoy riding around and smelling the smells, run errands, or just get some exercise. After riding a bit you'll have a better idea on what kind of bike you really want. Fix up the one you already have or get one of the ones you looked at at Manifesto. Don't let your decision-making prevent you from riding now. Good luck!

Steve Gere, Berkeley

Another Eager Would-Be Biker

I, too, have been wanting to get back into bicycle commuting but am intimidated by living on an Oakland hill, as well as hearing horror stories from bike riders about trying to share the roads with cars. Also, I want comfort, but the vintage cruiser I own ($25 on Craigslist!) is too heavy and doesn't have gears. I've been recommended the Suede and the by Giant, and retail price for those is around $450 — significantly less than those models you were eyeing.

I'm nervous about spending a lot on a bike when they're so often stolen in the Bay Area, but I hear investing in a good lock is worthwhile.

Jennifer Moline, Oakland

Spend More to Get More

I'm sure your boyfriend is a wonderful man, but don't let him convince you that $650 is too much to spend on a bike. Yes, like with almost anything else, you can get a good deal on a used item if you are willing to search and wait.

But why wait? Go back and ride the Linus and Public bikes and similar and start riding today. For less than the cost of buying alloy wheels on a Honda Civic (more than $1,000), you can roll out on a new bike today.

Janet Lafleur, Mountain View

"Fashion on Two Wheels," Feature, 5/2

Hey, I Love Lyrca!

I am quoted in this article. Which would be fine, had you not completely misrepresented a pretty important part of our conversation. I'm referring, specifically, to your use of the word "lamented" [when discussing my feelings toward Spandex].

Really, you ask?

Well, considering that I, personally, wear Lycra pretty much every time I ride a bike (even when commuting to and from work) and we discussed how Lycra makes sense for our core market — given that they are primarily riding for recreation and fitness — I'm not entirely sure how my comment that urban townie cyclists don't want to go to the farmers' market looking like the "human sausage" became me "lament[ing]" the fact that my customers aren't usually the type to don tweed knickers and head to Berkeley Bowl to pick up some organic kale.

Considering that two of your main interviewees were Nan Eastep and Gary Vasconi, both folks that I suggested you speak to, the least I might have expected was to not have my words misrepresented and be made to seem as though I hold my customers (many of whom are good friends) in contempt for making the same sartorial choices that I make on a daily basis when cycling.

So, yeah, thanks for that — remind me not to bother the next time you ask me for an opinion that you intend to completely distort.

With all that said, thank you — sincerely — for at least accurately quoting me with regards to the Broakland hoodie and its ubiquity at East Bay barbecues.

Jonathan Hewitt, Montano Velo

The Bike Issue, 5/2

Safety First

I've had a bike most of my life, but now that I'm in my seventies, and where I travel is from the flats to events on the UC campus, the distance is more uphill than it once was, so now I drive.

I am increasingly worried that the bikers, who have no obligation to stop at a four-way stop, go sailing straight through without even a pause. These intersections are accidents waiting to happen. I've contacted the police department about my concern regarding the four-way stop at Dwight and Milvia, and, yes, Milvia has a bike lane, but ....

So, along with the issue's fun stuff, a few urgent road safety rules are in order.

Nancy Wilson, Berkeley

"The Anti-Bullying Movement Misses the Mark," Raising the Bar, 5/2

Capitalism Is the Culprit

Thank you for your excellent piece. Glad you mentioned Jessie Klein, author of The Bully Society. I heard her interviewed on KPFA radio and appreciated her in-depth analysis of the underlying causes of bullying. Yes, as you say, "in reality, we live in a world of bullies ..." Examples you provide: the Abu Ghraib atrocities, endless wars, etc. — ultimate disrespect of life and human dignity.

Our country's leaders justify acts of terror. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were never indicted for their horrific behavior, and unfortunately President Obama's decision to, as he put it, "move forward," sent everyone a powerful message that no one has to be accountable for perpetrating cruel, unspeakable acts of terror upon each other. So much for empathy and compassion!

I'm glad you talked about our schools. As a former teacher and the mother of a wonderful daughter, I deplore the movement in our country to privatize education and demonize teachers (and their unions), based on their students' test scores — endless test-taking that diminishes the joy of learning, but creates wealth for the corporations that produce and publish these never-ending tests.

Alas, President Obama's "race to the top" is, in my opinion, heinous! Obama's appointment of Arne Duncan as secretary of education? Well, all I can say is that I completely disagree with our president's view of education — and war. I, too, have come to the conclusion that capitalism is a system that encourages intimidation.

Thanks again, Jay! Please continue your fine work. You definitely connected the dots regarding the underlying causes of bullying.

Anita Giudici, Palo Alto


There used to be a time when you could get away from bullying. But it's not that way anymore. For kids that are being bullied, it now follows them home and everywhere else because so much of the bullying happens online. Lots of kids turn to drastic measures to either protect themselves or hurt themselves.

A thirteen-year-old from my hometown just committed suicide this weekend as a result of bullying. It is so tragic.

Heather Harrison, Los Angeles

Bullying Begins at Home

Jay Youngdahl didn't bring up the influence of bullying at home in his piece on the documentary Bully. Don't kids export their domestic torments to the schoolyard? From what I recall, they did.

Phil Allen, Berkeley

"OPD Takes More Steps Backwards," News, 5/2

In Defense of the OPD

I think the OPD did the best job it could have, given the circumstances. I was there on May 1 and watched as "protesters" taunted officers, called them names, threw things at them, and threatened them. Freedom of speech is one thing, anarchy is another. I commend the OPD.

Benjamin Russell, San Francisco

"Term Limits Could Give Brunner an Unfair Advantage," Seven Days, 5/2

Brunner's Bad Precedent

I just read your article and I realized that I may have personally contributed to Councilwoman Jane Brunner's decision to change her position from opposing term limits to suddenly supporting them. As your article noted, "[Ms. Brunner] became a recent convert to term limits after seeing all the candidates who have lined up to replace her on the council." You see, I am one of those candidates running for city council in district one.

Holy cow, that means the reason Brunner has changed her position, at least in part, is because I decided to run for city council. Talk about the Law of Unintended Consequences: I had no idea my candidacy would lead to such results.

All kidding aside, the Oakland campaign expenditure rules were put into place to lessen the impact of huge campaign donations made by wealthy individuals, special interests, and insiders. However, as your article pointed out, the campaign expenditure limits can be manipulated, as evidenced by ex-state Senator Don Perata's misuse of a ballot measure to promote his own candidacy for mayor in 2010.

When Ms. Brunner was asked whether she would appear in advertising supporting the term-limits measure, she stated she would "have to think about it."

Really? Doesn't she think gaming the system is unfair and that elected officials should refuse to participate in it? What is there to think about? I am mindful of Ms. Brunner's right to free speech and to support any cause she deems important.

On the other hand, I am also aware of the fact that campaign expenditure laws were put into place to curtail the influence of big money on the election process. The campaign expenditure rules need to be enforced in a manner that permits free speech but also maintains the expenditures' effectiveness. Until the campaign expenditures regulations are amended to address this "ballot loophole" problem, candidates should decline to do anything that undermines the campaign expenditure measure.

Further, Ms. Brunner is running for Oakland city attorney, and as the city's attorney she would be called upon to offer legal advice and interpretations of various laws — including the possibility of addressing Oakland's campaign expenditure law! The city attorney is supposed to provide legal advice on behalf of the citizens of Oakland that is free of any conflict of interest. Even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be avoided under the rules of professional conduct for attorneys.

Granted, Brunner may not be technically violating the campaign expenditure laws, but she would be stepping all over the intent of the law if she decides to go ahead and allow herself to appear in ads supporting term limits.

Craig A. Brandt, Oakland

An Atomic Elbow

Wow. You're spot-on here and have hit this one out of the park, delivering an atomic elbow to an insipid and arrogant careerist. Well-argued and well-supported.

This piece evidences long-term thinking. Sadly, too many politicians in Oakland fail at that. I wish I felt at liberty to add more, but you made your case and well.

Theo K. Auer, Oakland

"Meshuggah," Music Picks, 5/2

Completely Insane

To give any band the title of "best metal band in the world right now" is ridiculous, but to give the honor to Meshuggah is completely insane! You must have never actually listened to Meshuggah if you think of them as the most "boundary-pushing, technically proficient, challenging band" out there. Get real!

One word: Neurosis.

Dylan Chittenden, Oakland

"Will Your Coffee Still Be Fair-Trade?," News, 4/25

You Can't Be 'Partial Fair Trade'

I am an East Coast consumer of coffee (along with food). I look for the "Fair Trade" label on anything I purchase; food, coffee, clothes, etc. If we are going to have "partial Fair Trade" that's like being part pregnant (please excuse the metaphor but it is apt): You are or you're not — it is fair trade or it's not.

I pay a premium willingly, knowing that farmers and other goods producers are benefitting from my selection. I understand that plantations have workers, too, but will any of the premiums get passed down? Or is it a way for owners to pay essentially the same to workers, increase revenue from the label premium, and claim that the purchase of new equipment is benefitting the workers because the machinery will allow them to work faster? The "free" capital influx would be appealing to any business.

I am old enough to remember the first grape boycott "organized" by Cesar Chavez's group, not yet a union.

In a sense that was the first time the fair-trade issue surfaced, even though it had a different name. The growers wanted to maximize profits and not pay higher wages or make the workers' lives any better. Why will watering down the essential elements of the labeling requirements result in any good for the workers?

I may as well just buy coffee and bananas from the cheapest or least expensive source if it won't matter anymore.

Richard Isacoff, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Read More About Fair Trade

The statements of the small-farmer organizations, and fair-trade advocacy groups, who have publicly opposed Fair Trade USA's recent actions, may be read at a new webpage we have created around this issue:

Just scroll down to "Resources." At this page individuals and organizations may also sign on to show their support for an authentic, small-farmer-focused fair-trade movement.

Lastly, the page includes further background information on the issue, including an analysis of the situation by Rink Dickinson, co-founder and president of Equal Exchange.

Rodney North, worker-owner Equal Exchange

"The Bay Guardian Sale," Seven Days, 4/25

Brugmann's Legacy

The Bay Guardian is (was) owned by Bruce Brugmann, quasi-journalist, semi-honest, and vociferous defender of his bank account.

He made far more money suing other people than he ever did as a publisher.

Len Sellers, former journalism professor San Francisco State University

Call for Reader Submissions

Do you have a pet? Do you have a funny/sad/poignant/heroic story about said pet? Of course you do! And we want to hear all about it.

Send your story (no more than 500 words) and optional photo, along with your name and city of residence, to, or Ellen Cushing, East Bay Express, 620 3rd St., Oakland, CA 94607.

We may publish your story in our Pets issue, coming out June 6. Stories must be received by May 31.

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