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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