Better than a blog: Urban Adventure League

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To counter all the trees that have become pulp on account of Lance Armstrong and bicycle racing, there is the subtle wit, the humility, and the handcrafted comics of Shawn Granton.  He rides blissfully slow, is clothed as if Grant Petersen went on a shopping spree at Goodwill, and documents his bicycle travel as a subterranean un-superhero.  He rides to comic conventions and cross-country and does nothing spectacular except visit friends and drink coffee and pedal.   Yet, he is the perfect antidote to almost everything in the cycling world, and even considers himself a caricature of it all.  His real superpowers are pencil and paper, and his cause are people on bicycles.  It’s not a race, but he’s winning.

This week, a slim envelope arrived in my mailbox from Shawn.  Hailing from the universe of Cascadia (Portland, OR), Shawn has self-published the reality comic series Ten Foot Rule for over 15 years and is co-credited with the popular Zinester’s Guide to Portland, a best seller at Powell’s.  His Urban Adventure League guides include an instructional bike touring manual and a “Bike-Fun Primer”, which discusses ways to involve riders in a non-competitive, non-commercial, and non-combative way.  Since 2005, he has also published a blog by the same name, Urban Adventure League.

These zines are a must-read for anyone who: enjoys Jan Heine’s Bicycle Quarterly or the evangelism of Grant Peterson, but rides a bike made in Taiwan or made of Hi-Tensile steel; appreciates the humor of Bike Snob NYC, but stopped reading a long time ago; or considers the bicycle a way of life and wishes for a more bikeable future.  Here is a taste of Shawn’s work.

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Three issues of Urban Adventure League– part instruction, comedy and inspiration.  And, a button.

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A hearty compilation of the comic Ten Foot Rule, “Distance is a Long Range Filter” includes many years of travel.

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“paper is a screen that does not turn off” is a textbooklet investigating important issues such as the Continental Divide, daylight savings time, cyclepaths, the self-death of cities by highway, and the joys of cycletouring.  This is an essential text in the School of Bike Touring.

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Shawn’s main ride is a stylishly realized Surly Long Haul Trucker, although he is currently re-imagining a 1984 Raleigh Crested Butte ATB, because bigger tires are better. Note, dynamo lighting and a Carradice saddlebag.

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His bike touring expertise is undeniable, and a keen sense of bicycle culture keeps things fresh.  Riding with friends can be hard.  Riding alone can be hard.  They can both be great.

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Sometimes bike culture gets in the way.  We all ride bikes, right?

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And a personal favorite, the Half Hour Retro-Grouch Comedy Hour.

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Every self-respecting publication has a recipe.  Make your own damn energy bars!

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Some of his tours are documented as neatly detailed travelogues— even better than a blog.

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Some are simple human comedies that aren’t funny and aren’t meant to be.  Sometimes they are funny.

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And others do more than all the pixels and words in the world.  Shawn is a one man Critical Mass, slowly making the world a better place to ride a bike.

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His skills have even been professionally contracted.  This is a sketch for the Five Boro Bike Tour, which also serves as a suitable guide for any day ride.

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All of these zines, and more, can be ordered at the Urban Adventure League Store.  They don’t cost as much as they should, so buy two or three or all of them.  Posters and buttons are also available.  A collection of sketches and comics can also be found on the Urban Adventure League Flickr site, including several that have been published in Momentum magazine.  For professional contracts, contact Shawn here.

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From the “Bike-Fun Primer”:

I feel that bike fun is a necessary tool in the toolbox for creating a more bike friendly world, along with a more kind, civil, and just society.  As the quote attributed to Emma Goldman and repeated ad nauseum goes, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.”  If we don’t know what it’s like to have fun NOW, how are we going to know after everything becomes magically “perfect”?  Would we ever know?

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(All words and images presented in photographs are Shawn Granton, tfr industries/Urban Adventure League, 2005-2012.)

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27 thoughts on “Better than a blog: Urban Adventure League

  1. Shawn is an awesome guy. I’ve been enjoying his words for a long time,a few of his prints and some buttons for this year,and the panniers I bought from him since Spring. HIGHLY recommend his site-fun,entertaining,often inspiring and ya learn stuff too. Hope to be honored enough to share a road/trail with him someday (of course,I’m legally disabled and live on the other side of the country,LOL,but I digress…) :)

    The DC

    • I’ve only known Shawn through the internet. Between canvas saddlebags and “riding is fun”, we have found a lot of common ground. I’d would be happy to share a dirt road or a paved cycle path with him someday. As soon as I make it back to Cascadia…

      • Yeah,that’s me too,only met him online (mostly after finding his blog a while back-bought those panniers from his for sale page ;) ). I’ve been all over the country back in my long haul truck driving days-including Portlandia-I’d love to make it back for a less…commercial pass through. Who knows,if I can learn to love the rain,maybe it’ll be where I finally feel like home :P

  2. Dammit, Nicholas, you’re making me blush! “…clothed as if Grant Peterson went on a shopping spree at Goodwill…” Like that! (We need to tell Grant that there is a dearth of seersucker shirts at the Portland Goodwills.

    DC, I’ve ended up in stranger, more exotic places. Heck, I’ve spent time in Saskatoon. Though for some reason I’ve never been to Atlanta.

    • Hopefully he can arrange a shipment of lightly used MUSA gear for all the post-hipster hipsters riding Crested Buttes and High Sierras. Oh, and some Splats would be good too; the rainy season has arrived.

    • An over-size seersucker long sleeve shirt has been my personal Gooidwill grail for lo these many years. Oddly, Nick, I was just posting a comment at Joe’s before coming here where I was describing my “look” as Homeless Guy but with a little effort I could achieve “Goodwill Messenger.”

      Shawn, I really like the comix. You don’t happen to live in a trailer, do you?

      tj

      • I’ve also been looking for that fabled long-sleeved seer-sucker shirt. I found a seersucker jacket, but that doesn’t do me much good. Unless, of course, Portland ever pulls off a Seersucker ride, or I dress up like Tom Wolfe for Halloween.

        Never lived in a trailer, but have done stints in a yurt and a cob house.

    • Great! I’ve almost never read a comic in my life, but I sat down and read all but one of them back to back in an afternoon. I couldn’t wait to share the Half Hour Retro Grouch Comedy Hour, except most people don’t find it as funny as I do. Lael chuckled, at least. It is really choice stuff. Pass it on.

      The Bike Fun Primer is cool too.

  3. Once again thanks for pointing me toward some unknown-to-me bike greatness, Nicholas. I really need to mentally get out more. Shawn’s stuff is reminiscent of the detailed travel and observational components of R. Crumb’s comix, without the accompanying psycho-chemical embellishment. Terrific!

    • I was thinking that all the instructions on the B-Cycle terminals should be given in comic form. People might actually read and understand them that way. And the organization should be named the Denver Urban Adventure League (DUAL), or something similar. The whole thing is too damn practical. It needs to be fun!

      Great stuff, for sure. Someday I’m going to commission a comic about a fatbiking superhero.

  4. Because of your excellent write-up combined with my faith in your judgment, I just picked up my supply of Urban Adventure League paraphernalia!

    • Thanks Mary! I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did. Once I’ve read them a hundred times I’ll put an offer up on the blog and send them away in the mail to someone new. The bike world, and the whole world, needs more activity like the Urban Adventure League and coffeeneuring. As always, bikes are tons of fun.

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