Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 October 2016

But I'm A Rider, Not A Fighter!

Make love, not war.  But be prepared for both.

I don't remember where I first read or heard that aphorism. Perhaps it was a slogan for a store that sold sex toys and guns.  Now, where I would have found such a store, I don't know...

Seriously, though:  I have long felt that the bicycle is one of the greatest "weapons for peace", if you will.  If nothing else, it could help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels if more people start pedaling instead of driving to their jobs and schools, to shop or just for fun. That, in turn, would lessen the likelihood of a war over finite resources.

Also, I think cycling breaks down at least some of the social barriers that are created, or at least fortified, when people are encased in shields of metal and glass.  Although some cyclists play games of one-upsmanship when it comes to equipment or the level of another cyclist's skills (actual or percieved) and physical fitness (again, a or p), I think it's harder to feel superior to, or to be made to feel inferior to, other cyclists when one is on a bike.

That could be the reason why, in my experience, cyclists are generally more accepting of other people's differences than other people.  That may be a reason why our politics tend to tack a bit more to the left than average.

Still, we face the reality of war--or, at least confrontation, if not violence--just as anyone else does.  Back when crime rates were higher here in NYC, I knew of cyclists who were jumped for their bikes, or who fell victim to thieves who strung fishing line between two poles at just the right height to snag a cyclist.  Some perps also scattered debris on streets or created other obstacles to stop or divert cyclists and snatched their steeds from them.

In those days, one had to use particular caution when entering or exiting the Williamsburgh Bridge:  neither the Brooklyn neighborhood for which it is named, not the area on the Manhattan side of the bridge, had begun to gentrify. Two old riding buddies, and another acquaintance, lost top-of-the-line bikes when approaching or leaving the span.

Concerns about crime were not, however, new to cyclists in those days.  In fact, our peers from a century earlier also had to think about highway robbers, sexual predators and other predators.  Such criminals, it seems, were enough of a concern that one Marcus Tindal wrote "Self Protection On A Cycle" for Pearson's, a magazine that, apparently, was a more left-leaning and even more literary version of The Atlantic or Harper's.

In his article, Tindal outlines the various ways in which a cyclist can fall prey to thieves, thugs and perverts--and how to fight back. Here is an illustration from what is, to my mind, the most interesting part:

Tindal shows us that the bicycle itself can be one of the best weapons for self-defense.  Interestingly, many of the illustrations are of women on bikes, reflecting the cultural changes that the bicycle engendered (pun intended).  And some of the advice is, shall we say, quaint--like the suggestion 

More than a century after its publication, someone turned the article's illustrations into an enjoyable series of animated GIFs.

23 October 2016

The Ride I Missed, And The One I Did

I should know better than to make plans to go on a big organized ride.

I kinda sorta promised someone else I would go on the Tour de Bronx.  We hadn't made plans to meet up, but I told this person I was going on the ride.  

A few years ago, I did TdB and enjoyed it.  Other riders remarked about some of the places the Tour visited:  the Maritime Academy, the waterfall, parks full of cliffs, the Riverdale streets that look more like they belong in Princeton than in the Bronx--or the Bronx that many people envision, anyway.  And the hills.  More than one rider expressed surprise that there were so many--and that there was so much of interest to see in the borough.

Today, though, I woke up later than I planned.  And a semi-emergency came up.  As a result, I got on the road about three hours later than I'd planned.  Worst of all, I rode to the starting point of previous Tours de Bronx, near Yankee Stadium--forgetting that this year's starting point was near the Botanical Gardens, about five kilometers away.

Now you know why I never pre-register--or, most important, pay the registration fee in advance--for such rides!

So, instead, I took my own ride into the upper reaches of the Bronx and Westchester County.  How could I not?  The wind, which blew steadily at about 30 KPH and gusted to 60, was somewhat softened, for me anyway, by the clear skies, sunshine and foliage:

I took Vera, for no particular reason.  Actually, I think I knew, deep down, that this day's colors would become her:

Everything seemed to be dressed in such colors today, even the park benches:

Those were found in Fordham Park, next to the namesake university.  The foliage graced a park in Scarsdale, though such colors were everywhere.  

Interestingly, the most traffic-free part of my ride came after I crossed the Randall's Island Connector to the southern tip of the Bronx. There, the factories were idle and warehouses closed, so there were no trucks plying Walnut and Oak Avenues, or the numbered streets in the 130s and 140s.  There wasn't even much traffic entering or exiting the Bruckner Expressway.  

On the other hand, I encountered surprising numbers of cars and SUVs along some of the tree- and mansion-lined streets of Scarsdale, Tuckahoe and the western section of New Rochelle.  I guess a lot of people decided today was a perfect day for a Sunday ride.  Thankfully, I didn't encounter any hostile drivers.

Perhaps this man talked to them:

Until a year or so ago, the sign for this street--in the South Bronx--didn't have a tilde (squiggle) over the "n" or an accent on the "e".  So, people who don't speak Spanish referred to the street as "Louie 9".  It reminds me of the Montreal Metro station and Boulevard named Pie (with an accent grave on the "e") IX, for the longest-reigning Pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Anglophones in the city often call it, with amusement, "Pie Nine".  

For the record, Louis Nine served 13 years in the New York State Assembly and is remembered for his battles--sometimes victorious, sometimes not--to obtain housing for low-and middle-income families and families with handicapped children, as well as employment opportunities for young people and members of minority groups.  

I saw Louie 9 near the beginning and end of my ride--and the fall colors in between.  Maybe next year I'll do the Tour de Bronx again.

Note:  Once again, I apologize for the quality of these images. I took them with my cell phone, and could not prevent the glare you see in some of them.  

22 October 2016

Arielle Is Ten; Tomorrow Tosca Turns Nine

Today marks an anniversary for me.

No, I am not secretly married in some other state or country.  And I am not talking about the beginning of some business venture, sobriety or any other milestone people mark in their lives.  

Actually, today is a milestone, for me anyway.  You see, ten years ago on this date, I got my first.  And you know what they say:  There's nothing like the first.

If you've been following this blog, you may have guessed what I am talking about:  my Mercians.

Yes, on 22 October 2006, I picked up Arielle--my custom Mercian Audax--from Bicycle Habitat in Soho.  My first ride with her took me through streets in the neighborhood, in the East and West Villages and other parts of lower Manhattan.  

You could say I fell in love.  Actually, that happened before I got the bike:  Hal Ruzal, the Mercian Maven at Habitat, let me ride one of his bikes.  And he seemed to understand what I wanted:  something responsive, but not necessarily a racing bike.  Something comfortable, but definitely not a fully-loaded touring bike, let alone a mountain bike or hybrid.  

Also, I wanted something beautiful.

He recommended getting a custom (my top tube is shorter than is typically found on bikes of my size) version of the Audax, a bike made, as he said, "for centuries and day rides."  And, as he pointed out, the horizontal dropouts with adjustment screws would allow me to shorten or elongate the wheelbase a bit, allowing a faster or cushier bike.

On that first ride, I could see that I had the best of both worlds.  I felt as if I were on a magic carpet that could dodge and outrun the taxis (yes, even New York taxis!) or anything else on the road.  The couple of times I stopped for traffic lights, strangers complimented my new steed.

I knew then, to paraphrase one of the most famous movies of all time, that my ride that day was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Today, ten years later, I've owned and ridden Arielle for longer than all except one bike I've ever owned.  And she's been in my life for longer than any lover (or my former spouse) and all except a handful of friends (and two cats) were.  She's also been with me for longer than I've stayed on any job or lived in any one place.  

Plus, she's led to some other beautiful relationships.  One year and one day later, I wheeled Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear out of Habitat.  Helene, my first Miss Mercian followed almost three years later.  Another year later, I found Vera, my green Mercian mixte, on eBay.  

I've enjoyed many rides with them.  Some of them are on this blog.  They've all been great, beginning with the first, ten years ago--already!--today.