Making Biodiesel Sexy

This article was originally published as the feature and center spread cover story in Urban Moto magazine Issue 43, June 2008. This was their first ‘Green’ Issue. This article is about Michael Sturtz, founder of the Crucible. I talk about the man, how he built a bio diesel motorcycle that broke a land speed record, his organization the Crucible, fire, and how he is green.

Here is a link to the article on Urban Moto’s site [site is now gone].

From left to right: Aliena, Matt Rhea, Kristina Cańizares, Leah Gonzalez. Matt is one of the Diesel Dozen, The rest are from the The Nekyia dance troupe. Photo: Sarah Chaput

Making Biodiesel Sexy
by Torrey Nommesen

Michael Sturtz & The Crucible

When I walked up to do the photo shoot, there was this kid walking out with a beautiful Mandolin. I asked him where he got it, and he smiled and said‚ ”I made it!” Along with a long list of class offerings including welding, blacksmithing, foundry, glass working, woodworking, and ceramics, they teach a class on how to make a Mandolin.

If there is something you want to learn how to make, they probably teach it here. You can also learn, among many other things, how to make jewelry, work with neon, make a low rider bicycle, fix your motorcycle, build robots, and dance with fire. This is all part of Michael Sturtz’s vision manifest at a warehouse in West Oakland a block from the BART and right off the I-880.

Before founding the Crucible, Michael had a career as a sculptor. His works are exhibited all over the world, and are in collections in California, Chicago, Vermont, New York, Texas, Italy and England. He was making, selling and teaching sculpture quite successfully. His bio says in humble yet perfect art-speak that “his pieces address both concept and form through the creation of intriguing kinetic machines and strong material contrasts that often include creative mixtures of stone, cast and fabricated metals, glass, kinetics, light, fire, liquid and video.”

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The City’s Tow Racket

This is an article I wrote for Urban Moto. It came out April 2007. It is about how I got towed and they did not give me the choice of using a motorcycle tow company and my bike got damaged.

The City’s Tow Racket
by Torrey Nommesen

I was pulled over by a motorcycle cop the other day for an expired registration. The cop had my bike towed and I had to take a cab to the DMV, then another cab to the Police Station downtown, walk to the tow company around the block, and then take another cab to the tow yard. Each stop cost me from $200 to $600 cash (that’s USD for all you non-Yankee Doodles) totaling over a thousand dollars. What a pain!

But the thing that really pissed me off, is that I had to use City Tow. The cop flat out refused to let me use any other company. You need a different set-up to tow a bike, and most places don’t seem to know the difference. The result was that my bike got damaged. I reported the damage but the impound yard responded with a letter the very next day stating that the officer claims the damage was already there.

What pissed me off about this scenario, not so much about the cop lying (I don’t know, maybe he’s just blind, not crooked) is that you don’t get the choice of who tows your bike! I should have the right to choose a type of transport that doesn’t damage my vehicle. I’m not a lawyer, but I thought we had laws against dangerous monopoly.

Here’s an analogy: I’m in he hospital, I am O negative and need a blood transplant, but they only have B positive blood available there. The kind of blood I need, one that won’t damage me, is available from a blood bank a few blocks away, but since the hospital that I am at does not have a contract with that particular place, I have to die.

They seem to think that the economic gain of a government contract outweighs the inconvenience of destroyed motorcycles. It sends the message that the city of San Francisco thinks motorcycle riders are second class citizens.

So what are we going to do about it? If there is anyone out there in San Francisco who has had a similar situation, I’d like to hear from you. I’d also like to hear form a lawyer who would want to work on a class action suit.

Big Ear vs PlugUp – Custom Fit Ear Plugs

This is an article I wrote for Urban Moto Which came out February 2007. I give you my opinion of two different custom made ear-plugs and tell why you would want a pair.

Big Ear vs PlugUp – Custom Fit Ear Plugs
by Torrey Nommesen

Image from article. Photo by Jennifer Delk

I don’t wear ear plugs around town, but I do when I go on long trips or out for a Sunday ride. I’ve been to San Diego from San Francisco a few times and one of the worst feelings is having an earplug slip. I’m on the highway and I’m in my groove. It’s just me, my bike, and the road. Then all of a sudden the wind whistles in one ear. Do I try to ignore it? Wiggle my head until the other plug falls out? Or do I pull over, take off my helmet, adjust my ear plug only to have it fall out again in another 20 miles down the road? Well, I’ve done all three, and all three options are a real pain in the ass.

This is where an expensive pair of custom made earplugs shows its true value. You can usually find a booth at any motorcycle race in the vendors area or at a motorcycle show. They sit you down and squish this goo in your ear (it helps if you clean your ears before you sit down). The goo hardens a bit and they pull it out. The product is finished right there but you have to wait a little under half an hour.

I’ve been using a pair from PlugUp and I recently got a pair from Big Ear to see the difference. I went on a ride out to Drakes Beach. I used the Big Ear ones on the way up and the PlugUp ones on the way back.

The Big Ear plugs slipped out, so I had to pull over to adjust it. It took a bit to figure out how they were supposed to go in, but once I did, I was golden and they worked great the rest of the trip. Then when I took my helmet off, one of them slipped out and fell on the ground. I think I need a bit more practice with them.

The PlugUp ones worked fine and there was nothing to talk about other than they just worked.

They both cut down the noise of my engine and cut the wind noise of my helmet out (I wear a flip-up, so there’s lots of wind noise), but you can still hear horns and sirens. The Big Ear product seems to be a little softer than the PlugUp one and have less material. The PlugUp ear plugs have an extra bit that goes around the outside. This harder material with more to go around the ear ensures that they stay in place. The softer material of the Big Ear ones are a little more comfortable and they don’t show up as much when you take the helmet off.

I recommend getting a pair of custom made earplugs, they are totally worth the expense.

When Two Wheels Aren’t Enough

This is an article I wrote for Urban Moto Which came out January 2007. I give you my opinion of why it is better than owning a car, give you my reasons for using one, and then I take you through the general process. Afterwards I lists and compare the 3 car share options in San Francisco.

When Two Wheels Aren’t Enough
by Torrey Nommesen

I don’t need to convince you that motorcycles are great and cars suck. A car is an expensive albatross compared to a bike – gas, parking, insurance (everything but tires is cheaper for a bike). There are many other reasons why we ride, and you can read all about it in someone else’s article in this paper.

But sometimes, you need to pick up your baby sister from the airport, or it’s raining outside and your rain suit has a big hole in, or you’ve got some junk to take from point A to point B and you can’t fit it on a bike with one trip. So, what do you do if you need a car once in a while but you don’t want to own said piece-of-junk-with-a-trunk on four wheels? Do what I do, join a car time-share.

The main impetus for me to sign up for a car share was the point A to B thing. I rent a warehouse where the rent is cheap because it’s across the bay. I use this spot to brew beer and make art. I wouldn’t even have thought about getting that space if I didn’t have access to a car.
I use City CarShare. Tell ‘em Torrey from Urban Moto sent you and I get a little kick back. It is the only non-profit one in my area, so it gives me the warm fuzzies to use them. The 501(3)(c) means that the primary focus of the company is on providing a service to society, not necessarily the financial bottom line.

Here’s how it works with City CarShare, and the process is similar with the other companies:

You have to be at least 21. First, you sign up online with a credit card. You wait a few days as they check out your driving record and do a credit check to make sure you’re not a criminal and that you’ve actually got a license. Then you go through an orientation – either in person or online depending on the company.

To drive the cars, you go online or make a phone call with an automated system to reserve your car for as long as you want in 15 minute increments. You can almost always get a car when you need it, usually even at the last minute. You drive it, then return it to the same location that you picked it up. If the car you want isn’t near you, you can usually get one from another lot a few blocks down. Check the web sites before you join to see what lots are near you (City CarShare calls them ‘Pods’).

A card or key fob opens the car and keeps track of you so they can bill you, and your credit card gets billed monthly. The most I’ve ever paid is $375, but I usually pay about $50 a month.

You fill up the tank at a gas station with a card that’s in the glove box. Always remember to bring it back with more than half a tank, or you’ll get charged if the next driver complains. You get charged a fee if you run the car too late, a little more if you inconvenience another driver (but you can call the system to extend your reservation.) More fees if they catch you smoking in the car or if the car is especially dirty. They wash the cars, but if it gets too dirty you can get it cleaned and they’ll reimburse you. No pets (or at least without pet carriers).

They’ll reimburse you for a cab or come pick you up if the car dies. None of the cars are more than three years old, so this has never happened to me. If you get in an accident, there’s a little form in the glove box. You exchange insurance info with the other driver, call your company and they take care of the rest.

As with all of them, they have trucks if you need to haul a bunch of stuff, or you can get a small car that’s easy to park if you just need to pick up a few things. Best of all, if you don’t need the car, you don’t need to keep it around.

Below is an outline of the ones available in San Francisco.

link to City Car Share's websiteCity CarShare
Plus: Warm fuzzy feeling (read above). The cheapest overall.
Minus: Only for the San Francisco area. You have to come up with $330 deposti up front. No pets (this may change).
Locations: San Francisco and East Bay
Founded: 2001 in San Francisco by a group of activists
Cars: Cooper MINI Convertible, Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Element, Scion xA, Scion xB, Toyota Prius, Toyota Tacoma, VW Beetle
$10/month + $4/hour + $.44/mile
$30 application fee
$300 security deposit*

*The deposit is refunded if/when you quit. You can add others to your plan to waive the $300, but you are responsible if they flake. Waived if you’re a UC Berkeley student

Flex Car
Plus: Nationwide (because of partnership with I-Go).
Minus: it requires a lot of thinking to determine time vs miles to get the best possible rate.
Locations: throughout California and the West Coast including LA and San Diego, Portland (OR) and Seattl With a partnership with I-Go cars, you can use cars in Washington D.C., Atlanta and Chicago.
Founded: Seattle, WA in 1999 (they hit San Francisco in 2005)
Cars: (they list them only by type) Convertible, Hybrid Sedan, Minivan, Pickup Truck, Sports Car, Standard Sedan, Sub-Compact, Utility Vehicle, Wagon
hourly or monthly
(San Francisco area, rates differ in different cities)
$25 – $35 application fee (depending on plan) + $50 annual fee
(depending on plan) +
$0 – $730/month depending on plan.
Higher monthly means more “free” hours. Similar to a cell phone plan where you buy a certain amount of hours per month and then pay extra if you go over the time limit.
Standard Plan $0/month + $9/hr
DriveFor5 Plan $25/month + $9/hr
Advantage 10 Plan $85/month up to 10 hours, $8.50 additional hours
Advantage 25 Plan $200/month up to 25 hours, $8.00 additional hours
Advantage 50 Plan $375/month up to 50 hours, $7.50 additional hours
Advantage 100 Plan $730/month up to 100 hours, $7.30 additional hours

Zip Car
Plus: Nationwide plus Canada. The most variety of cars out of the bunch. They have a system where only your key will work with your reserved car, so someone else doesn’t accidentally take it. You can pay hourly or monthly, and they’ll automatically bill you the cheaper rate.
Minus: Not the cheapest option.
Locations: throughout North America including Toronto, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington DC, and Chapel Hill, NC.
Founded: Cambridge, MA 1999 (SF in 2005)
Cars: Over 20 makes and models including BMW, MINI Cooper, Volvo, Mazda, Pickup Trucks, SUVs and Prius Hybrids
hourly or monthly, you pay the cheaper of the two.
Cars start at $8.75 per hour or $65 per day, and range to $12.75 per hour or $95 per day for premium vehicles
$25 – $50 per year depending on your plan
$25 application fee

I Quit

This is an article I wrote for Urban Moto (I’ve been doing the layout for the newspaper for a few months) which came out November 2006. Thought it might be useful as a model of how one can go about quitting smoking.

I Quit
by Torrey Nommesen

I’m quitting smoking. There are lots of reasons. Health for one. It’s never been a secret that smoking is bad for you. I think King James the 1st said it best (and possibly first) in the eighteenth century – hundreds of years before all these lawsuits against the cigarette corporations. He said (wrote, actually, and in Latin as was the style at the time) “the habit of smoking is disgusting to sight, repulsive to smell, dangerous to the lung, spreading its fumes around the smoker as foul as those that come from hell.”

But wait! That last part sounds pretty good. Surrounded by hell-fire is a pretty cool image. And let’s face it, smoking IS cool. No way around that. Steve McQueen, James Dean, Che Guevera to name a few of my heroes – all smoked. None of them died from it.

When you get nervous, or bored, you just put a cancer stick in your mouth, and quietly, suavely, silently laugh death in the face. What can be more cool that that? It’s kind of like a woman in fur – you feel sorry for the little bunny, but c’mon, it’s sexy!

This is the crucial thing to understand why people smoke. There are tons of reason why not to. But the real reason why is “why not?” It’s the middle finger to straight laced society. The smoker is the outcast who’s rebelling against whatever you’ve got.

Cruising down the street on my bike with a lit cig dangling from my mouth is a real sense of freedom. I like pulling up to a bar or cafe, taking one out, and lighting up a little bit of fuck you. Thank you Prometheus for your little gift that let’s me steal fire from your pathetic, bickering gods, and suck it deep down into my lungs. Take that Zeus! We humans are in control of our own destiny.

I believe that freedom is taken away when you take away a person’s right to smoke. Whether a symptom or a cause of a conservative government, regulating people’s habits is a move towards a more prudish and controlling society. There is a balance, and I actually don’t care that you can’t smoke inside of most places in California, but it should never go so far as Omaha’s outright ban on smoking unless you get all the cars off the road and get all cows to stop farting. I think it’s a basic (shall I get on my pedestal and call it unalienable?) right to live, and to live the quality of life you want, and this absolutely includes the right to smoke.

And that is exactly why I am quitting (ironic, right?). I am addicted to it. I don’t like having something so out of my control in my life. You go ahead and smoke. If you can just have one or two while your drinking a beer and hanging out, I envy you. But I can’t do it. And I can’t stand living a life as a slave to smoking.

Image from article. Photo by Grant Miller

Here’s my plan. I’m cutting down one cigarette, one day at a time. As I write this, I am smoking 18 cigarettes, tomorrow 17, and so on to Zero on November 11th. It’s a little trick I’m pulling on myself, and it’s actually worked once before and it got me off the stuff for 5 years, so I know I can do it again.

Another trick is to tell everyone that you’re quitting. That way, you look like a dick if you can’t kick the habit. My friends (especially the ones that smoke) are sick of me telling them that I’m going to quit on November 11th. Why that day? That particular date is a personal matter, thank you very much – ask me in person if you really want to know and I’ll tell you. But the day was far enough away from when I decided to quit to give me time to psych up for it, and close enough that it’ll be less than 2 years from when I started smoking again.

But let’s raise the stakes a little here. If you see me smoking while I’m hanging out in the back at Zeitgeist, or in front of Caffe Trieste, or going down the street on my bike – after the 11th – do me a favor and give me shit about it. Then go ahead and punch me.