Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

10 February 2016

She Would've Had Us Riding In Style--And Comfort!

When you think of female clothing designers (which, I assume, you regularly do! ;-) , names like Coco Chanel, Miuccia Prada, Vera Wang, Betsey Johnson, Carolina Herrera and Sonia Rykiel probably come to mind.  They have influenced what we--and, yes, you guys, too!--wear today. 

We American women, especially those of us who are active in any sport like cycling, owe perhaps an even greater debt to someone you probably don't know about unless you're, ahem, of a certain age. Or if you teach at FIT or Pratt.  Or if, of course, you are a fashion designer.

According to Jennifer Minniti, the chair of Pratt's Fashion Design Department (and herself a designer), the person of whom I am writing "is known as the inventor of American sportswear or ready-to-wear."  That's not an overstatement:  She was probably the first designer to understand how American women's lives were different from those of upper-class Europeans (who were, traditionally,  the main customers of most designers) and how they therefore needed clothing that was more functional and adaptable while still elegant and stylish.

Most important of all, her creations fitted and moved with the body, something that could not be said of the work of other designers, whose clients still largely eschewed physical activity. It is no surprise, then, to see that she created this "cycling costume" in 1940:


I don't expect to see that in the peloton. But, hey, forget that it isn't in Lycra--wouldn't you wear it? 


Claire McCardell, who designed it, was the first American fashion designer to garner name recognition.  She was so well-known in her time that in 1950, President Harry S. Truman presented her with the Women's National Press Club Award, making her the first fashion designer to be voted one of America's Women of Achievement.

Hmm...How would she have dressed the man who quipped, "I like riding a bicycle for two--by myself"?


09 February 2016

A Path Racer's Companion?

Yesterday, I wrote about Mercian's new limited-edition Path Racer.  It is quite a lovely machine.  For that reason alone, it's easy to see why path racers--a category of bikes all but unknown in the US and all but forgotten in England, France and other countries where it was once popular--is enjoying a revival.  Aside from the fact that they can be very practical, especially for someone who lives in a rural area and wants to (or can) own only one bike, they can have some of the most graceful lines and curves to be found on two-wheeled vehicles.

After writing yesterday's post, I came across another bike with graceful arcs and stunning symmetry. Unlike the new path racers, which harken to past bikes, this one is futuristic (both in the lower- and upper- case "F" sense of the word) even as it retains a classical aesthetic. (All right, I'll stop writing like the art critic I'm not!) This bike--the "Humming Bird"--is inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car, according to its builder, Cherubim:

Somehow I can see it next to the Mercian Path Racer.

08 February 2016

Mercian Revives An English Tradition--For Now

When I first became a dedicated cyclist--around the tail end of the '70's Bike Boom--high-quality, performance-oriented bikes were marketed in two categories:  racing and touring.  Although there were elite touring bikes available, such as Schwinn's touring Paramount and machines from custom builders, racing bikes were seen as the more advanced and higher-quality machines.

By 1987 or thereabouts, major bike manufacturers had ceased making bikes designed for loaded, or even light, touring. 

For one thing, multiday bike touring was no longer as popular as it had been in the wake of the Bikecentennial.  Many people who bought touring bikes used them for once-in-a-lifetime treks, whether cross-continental tours like the Bikecentennial or an after-college ramble through Europe--or just a crossing of the nearest county or state line.  Then, "life intervened" or they simply lost their incentive to do another tour, and their bikes hung in rafters or barns, or collected dust in basements.  Thus, by the mid-'80's, there was little demand for new touring bikes.

For another, by that time, mountain bikes had come "of age", as it were.  The "racing/touring" dichotomy of the Bike Boom era was thus replaced by a "road/mountain" binary that lasted through most of the rest of the 20th Century.  The "hybrid" bicycle was supposed to be a cross between road and mountain bikes, but, as one wag noted, it had "the speed of a mountain bike and the comfort of a road bike".

During the race/tour and road/mountain eras of cycling, new cyclists came into the fold without knowing of other genres of bicycles that enjoyed popularity--and fulfilled clear purposes--throughout the history of cycling.  For example, most of us didn't know about the randonneuses made by constructeurs like Rene Herse and Alex Singer, let alone what distinguished them from fully-loaded touring bikes.  We also didn't know about cyclo-cross bikes or riding--and, when most of us did learn, the riding was introduced to us as if it were some kind of proto- or paleo- mountain biking.

And, until a few years ago, most of us hadn't heard of "path racers".  It's a British term for bikes that can be ridden on smooth dirt pathways as well as on roads. They are said to be inspired by fin de si├Ęcle French track bikes, which would account for the fact that they're usually ridden with turned-over North Road-style and other "riser" bars to give an aerodynamic position.

Even in England, a whole generation of cyclists came of age without knowing about these bikes, as their peers and France were forgetting about classic randonneuses.  Fortunately, Alex Singer (Ernst Csuka) lived long enough to see a revival in a demand for such bikes, and Rene Berthoud as well as builders in other countries are making such bikes.  Now it seems that the path racer is enjoying a revival in England.  Pashley, the country's last large-scale bike manufacturer, has been making the Guv'nor--a stylized version of such bikes--for several years.  Now one of Britain's best-known traditional bike builders is making a limited-path racer:

As of now, Mercian plans to produce only ten Path Racers. Given the new surge in popularity of such bikes, I wonder whether the folks in Derby might be persuaded to make more.