Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

28 April 2016

Lance Or The Donald?

A few weeks ago, in a comment on one of my posts, a reader mentioned "he who must not be named", or something to that effect. 

That commenter was referring to Lance Armstrong.

This morning, I got into my first conversation with someone I've seen around the neighborhood for years.  We were in a Dunkin' Donuts. (shh...Don't tell anyone!)  I was sitting at a two-seat table; the only remaining seat was across from mine. "Mind if I sit here?"

"Why should I?"

So we got to talking about one thing and another, including music.  She thinks hip-hop is just awful.  It isn't my style, I explained, but I understand why some, especially the young have taken to it.  

"Why?  It's so mean and nasty."

"Exactly.  People are scared, anxious, confused--and angry.  And a lot of their anger comes from feeling that they have no control."

"But why would people choose something like that to express it?"

"The same reason why people vote for Donald Trump..."

She stopped me. "You simply must not say that man's name!"


I'm sure she's not the only one who's reacted that way to hearing about The Donald, just as my commentor probably isn't the first person to say that the one who's been stripped of seven Tour de France titles must not be named.

That got me to wondering:  Who's more unmentionable:  Lance or Donald?  Who would score lower in a public opinion poll?

27 April 2016

Starstruck? No, A Moonshock!

Bicycle suspension--at least in forms we would recognize today--first started to appear, mainly on mountain bikes, a bit more than a quarter-century ago.

Those early attempts to make bikes more stable as their riders bounced them over rocks and rumbled along singletrack consisted of hinged handlebar stems with springs in them, seatposts that were like pogo sticks and "telescoping" forks.  That latter system--first popularized by Rock Shox--would become one of the standard ways of suspending bikes.  The other--suspension built into the rear of the frame--would come a few years later.

Most riders at the time thought all of those attempts to absorb shock were new innovations.  Of course, they weren't old enough to have been reading American Bicycling (the forerunner of Bicycling) when it featured Dan Henry's homemade suspension system on his French constructeur bike.  And, at the time, even I (a professor who's supposed to know everything, ha-ha) didn't realize that bicycles have been built with suspension for almost as long as bicycles have been built.  What is the pneumatic tire--one of the most important technological innovations of all time--but one of the first, and one of the most enduring, forms of suspension?

Even with such knowledge, I was a little surprised to come across this 1975 Redline Moonshock BMX bike:

Only five or six bikes like this one were ever made, according to the Classic Cycles website. In the then-nascent sport of BMX racing, bikes were designed to consciously emulate their motorized counterparts.  That makes sense when you realize that, at the time, most BMXers were pubescent boys who, like lots of other kids, pretended they were on motorcycles or in racing cars as they plowed along paths and jumped ramps and mounds.  

Note the year:  1975.  Schwinn had ended production of their "Krate" series, which probably best exemplified "muscle" bikes that echoed the "muscle" cars of that era.  If those bikes weren't at least partially responsible for the birth of BMX, it's still not merely a coincidence that kids started "revving" bikes with slick fat tires and "banana" seats during that time.  

It was also during that time--at least, according to the accounts I've read and heard--that Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and their friends were bombing down Northern California fire trails in Schwinn baloon-tired bikes made before they were born. 

Why do I mention that?  Well, the first problem that most of those proto-mountain bikers discovered had to do with one of Newton's laws--best expressed (at least for mathematically-challenged people like me) by a Blood Sweat and Tears lyric.  What goes up must come down--but what comes down can't always be brought back up, especially if it weighs 60 pounds and has only one gear.  So, according to lore, in 1975 (or thereabouts), Gary Fisher outfitted one of those balloon-tired bombers with derailleurs and multiple gears.

Apparently, some BMX bike designers thought absorbing shock to make the bike steadier was a greater priority.  Mountain bike designers wouldn't come to the same conclusion for another decade and a half.

Not surprisingly, the Moonshock BMX bike shared a couple of unfortunate traits with early suspended mountain bikes.  They were slow, basically for the same reasons.  For one thing, they were heavy--although, in fairness, the Moonshock had the greater weight penalty because of its tanklike gussetted steel frame, wide rims and tires.  (By the time mountain bike suspension was developed, relatively light frames, tires and rims were available.)  But, more important, the springiness of both kinds of bikes absorbed much of their riders' energies.  Thus, the few kids who rode the Mongoose, much like mountain bikers nearly a generation later, found ways to lock out their suspension systems.  That left them riding almost-rigid bikes that were several pounds heavier than their non-suspended counterparts.

It seems that the idea of suspension on mountain bikes died with the production of the Moonshock, or not long after.  Apparently, BMX riders felt that it was more important for their bikes to withstand the pounding they would take.  And, because BMX frames and wheels are smaller than their mountain or road counterparts, it's possible to use relatively thick gauges of steel, with reinforcements, and end up with a bike that isn't terribly heavy.

On the other hand, it's all but impossible to buy a new mountain bike (or any made in the past fifteen years or so) that doesn't have suspension in the front fork, rear triangle or both.  Best of all, many new systems seem to have some way of locking them out--or regulating the firmess or softness of the ride--built into them.  And a typical suspension fork of today is a good deal lighter than the Rock Shox Judy fork--top-of-the-line in its time--I rode on my old Bontrager Race Lite.

26 April 2016

The Pulaski Bridge Bike Lane Is Open. It's A Victory--Almost

One sure way to elicit chuckles or groans, or both, from a longtime New Yorker is to mention the Second Avenue Subway.  It has been planned for nearly a century, and construction on it began in 1972, only to be halted by the city's near-bankruptcy in 1975.  

The tunnels were dug in three non-contiguous sections.  By the time new construction on the line began eight years ago, those tunnels were unusable.  So, the whole line has to be built from scratch.  It was supposed to open last year; now the city's Metropolitan Transit Authority is saying, in effect, "maybe next year, or the year after."

On this blog, I have also mentioned the Randall's Island Connector, which seemed to take nearly as long to build and open as it took for the island--and neighboring Manhattan, Long Island and the Bronx--to form during the Taconic and Acadian orogenies.  Finally, in spite of the snark and cynicism (entirely warranted!) of people like me, it opened late last year, and is actually a good, well-designed bike route.  My only complaint is that the Bronx entrance, while not difficult to access, is easy to miss if you're not familiar with the area.

Speaking of difficulty in access:  That has always been one of my complaints about the Pulaski Bridge pedestrian path.  That difficulty in entering it--especially if you're coming from the east on 49th Avenue or the north on 11th Street, which just happen to be the two ways I usually access the bridge--is one of the reasons I usually ride in the traffic lane.  Another reason is that the pedestrian path is so narrow--actually, there are signs telling cyclists to walk their bikes across the span--and heavily used by pedestrians (some with dogs), skateboarders, skaters and others, that it's actually easier and safer to ride the traffic line, where visibility is pretty good.


I get the feeling that when the bridge--which connects Long Island City in Queens with Greenpoint in Brooklyn--opened in 1954, nobody anticipated that so many pedestrians and cyclists use it.  As I've mentioned in other posts, I can recall riding over it, and through the neighborhoods it joins, twenty or thirty years ago and not seeing another cyclist.  Then, most of the people who lived on either side of the bridge were longtime blue-collar residents who stopped riding bikes as soon as they got their drivers' licenses--if, indeed, they ever rode bikes in the first place.  Now, of course, Greenpoint and Long Island City--as well as nearby neighborhoods like Astoria (where I live) and Sunnyside in Queens, or Williamsburg and DUMBO in Brooklyn, are full of young people who've discovered that it's OK to ride a bike even though they're old enough to drive.

Someone in the city's Department of Transportation no doubt noticed the changes I've described.  So, that person reasoned, a dedicated bike lane was in order.  A plan to create one was first proposed about four years ago. Then, we were told, it would take about two years to complete.

Now, I understand there were challenges in creating that particular lane.  For one, the bridge carried six lanes of traffic over the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and near entrances to I-278, and is located near industrial areas.  Thus, the bridge receives a fair number of vehicles, some of which are trucks and vans.  Surely, the drivers of those vehicles--who, in some cases, are independent contractors and businesspeople of one sort and another--would not be happy about losing traffic lanes.

Another difficulty in creating the bike lane is that the Pulaski is a drawbridge.  So, anything used to separate the bike lanes from traffic would have to be sturdy enough to do the job yet could be separated when the bridge is opened for a ship. 

Then, of course, there are the usual causes of delays, such as obtaining funds and working with contractors.  Those wrinkles were ironed out and, when I rode down 11th Street the other day, I saw--yes!--cyclists using the lane.  That, even though the path is not officially open:  ribbon cutting is supposed to take place today.

While I am glad for the lane, I think it doesn't resolve one problem of the pedestrian path:  access.  On the Long Island City side, one still has to make awkward turns across lanes of traffic, and on the Brooklyn side, the "merge" with the traffic lane is fairly smooth for cyclists coming off the bridge, but makes it difficult to enter the lane.

So--we got our lane, better late than never.  But, as with too many other bike lanes, the person who planned it probably isn't a cyclist and therefore doesn't realize that simply providing a separate lane for cyclists does not ensure our safety.