Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

28 February 2013

The Wooden '90's

Until the 1950's, track racers commonly used wooden rims.  They are still made today by Cherchi Ghisallo in Italy.  However, they are not allowed in races because, while they are light and give a comfortable ride, they can shatter upon impact and release a cloud of sharp, jagged projectiles.  

There are a few enthusiasts who will ride nothing but wooden rims.  Those cyclists feel that the increased cost and maintenance, as well as the fragility, of those rims is worth the improved comfort and performance.  They can only be ridden with tubular (sew-up) tires and without rim brakes.

What even many of those wooden-rim enthusiasts don't realize is that at the turn from the 19th to the 20th Centuries, entire bicycles were made of wood. Well, the frames and the parts that didn't have bearings were, anyway.  I understand that some of those bikes even had wooden saddles!

Now Ojira Yoshima, a student in the Craft & Industrial Design department of Musashino Art University in Tokyo, has revived and updated the concept:





I find it interesting that his frame design is at least somewhat similar to that of Softride bikes of the 1990's. He designed his wheels like the Tri-Spoke wheels made by Spinergy, Zipp and other companies during that same period. The aerobars could also have come from the Indie Rock era.

I wonder what the ride is like.  

27 February 2013

My First "Real" Bike: Peugeot PX-10

The other day, I wrote about my Peugeot U0-8, which became my first "fixie."  Now I'm going to write about another Peugeot I owned, which I didn't alter nearly as drastically.





When I bought my Schwinn Continental, I saw a Peugeot PX-10 in the shop.  I looked at its price tag:  $250 seemed like sheer insanity for a bike to someone who'd saved the $96 cost of the Schwinn from a year of delivering newspapers in the hinterlands of New Jersey.

Somehow, though, I knew I was going to end up with that bike.  As I wheeled my Continental out of the showroom of Michael's Bicycle Company (located next to a drive-in theater on Route 35 in Hazlet, NJ),  I could feel the bike bug embedding its tentacles into my shins.

Well, about three years later, I got a PX-10 for $250--used.  And it was three years older than the one I saw in the showroom.

It seems that almost everyone who came of age during the '70's Bike Boom rode a PX-10 at some point or another.  For many of us, it was our first real racing bike:  Bernard Thevenet won the 1975 and 1977 Tours de France on PX-10s that differed from the ones we bought only in that the stems and handlebars were changed to fit his physique.

Also, the great Eddy Merckx began his professional career astride a PX-10 for the BP-Peugeot team in the mid-1960's.


Although $250 seemed like a lot of money for a bike in 1972 (and was probably even more so in 1969, when the PX-10 I bought was built), it was actually quite a good value.  First of all, the frame was built from Reynolds 531 tubing with Nervex lugs.  While the level of finesse in the lugwork and paint wasn't up to what one would find on a bike from a French constructeur or a classic British builder, it was nothing to be ashamed of.   




The chainstays, clearances and fork rake were all considerably longer than what would be found on later racing bikes.  However, racing bikes at that time had to be more versatile, as roads, particularly in small towns and rural areas of Europe, were rougher:  Some still hadn't been repaired after the bombings and shellings of World War II.  Also, racers and trainers at the time believed that a rider should spend as much time as possible on the bike he plans to use in upcoming races.  They also believed that, at least for road racing, outdoor training was superior to indoor, so the bikes were ridden all year long.  They--yes, even Merckx himself--rode with fenders and wider tires during the winter.

The longer geometry and rather thin stays meant that while the frame gave a lively ride, it could be "whippy," especially for a heavy rider, in the rear.  The flip-side of that, of course, was that the PX-10 gave a stable and comfortable ride in a variety of conditions.  This is one reason why many PX-10s were re-purposed as light touring bikes, or even outfitted (as Sheldon Brown's was) with an internally-geared hub and used for commuting.

The components that came with the bike were not top-shelf, but were at least good for their time.  The best of them, aside from the Brooks Professional saddle (Yes, it was original equipment on mine, though some PX-10s came with Ideale 90 saddles.) was probably the Stronglight 93 (63 on some earlier models) crankset.  It was beautifully polished and could be outfitted with chainrings from 37 to 57 teeth.  Mine came with 45 and 52, like most PX-10s of the era.  The 93 was a light, stiff crankset:  When I later got a Campagnolo Record for another bike, I couldn't detect any difference in rigidity.  The only problem with the 93 or 63 was that it had a proprietary bolt circle diameter that wasn't compatible with Campagnolo or other high-end cranksets of the time. These days, if you need to replace a chainring on your 93 or 63, you have to go to a swap meet--or eBay.

The wheels were also of very good quality:  Normandy Luxe Competition hubs with Mavic tubular rims (Some PX-10s came with Super Champion tubulars, which were equal in quality.) laced with Robergel spokes, the best available at the time.  Of course, I would build another set of wheels--clinchers--on which I would do the majority of my riding.



I rode many happy hours and kilometers (Hey, it was a French bike!) on my PX-10.  Like many other cyclists, I "graduated" to a more modern racing bike, and a touring bike and sold the PX-10.  Still, it holds a special place in my cycling life as my first high-performance bike.


26 February 2013

Nominated For The Liebster Award

All of this work (ha, ha) might make me rich and famous after all.

I've been nominated for an award!  Yes, an award:  the Liebster.  I thank The Accidental Environmentalist for that.




Here are the rules for the Liebster Award:

1. Each blogger should post 11 random facts about themselves.
2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you, then create 11 new questions for the bloggers you pass the award to.
3. Choose 11 new bloggers (with less than 200 followers) to pass the award to and link them in your post.
4. Go to their page and tell them about the award.
5. No tag backs.


OK, so here are some random facts about me:

1.  I was originally named after my father.

2.  My mother and I have nearly identical tastes in food.

3.  I have taught in a yeshiva.

4.  I attended Catholic school.

5.  At the age of three, I rode my tricycle down the stairs to the basement of the apartment building where I was living with Mom and Dad.  I still have a scar from it.

6.  I have dated two women who were born on Christmas Eve, and two others who were born on Ground Hog Day.  I dated a man born on 15 April (tax day in the US) and another born on Veterans'/Armistice Day.

7.  I was born on the Fourth of July.  And, no, I'm not related to Bruce Springsteen, though I went to high school with his cousin.

8.  My favorite Shakespeare plays are The Tempest, Othello and Macbeth.

9.  I have slept in graveyards--twice, both times during cycling trips.


10.  I didn't touch a computer until I was 41 years old.

11.  My mother would have named me "Justine" had I been born a girl.


Now, here are The Accidental Environmentalist's questions and my answers:


1.  How long have you been blogging?--Four years, seven months:  I began in July, 2008 with "Transwoman Times".

2.  If we had a third party in the United States, which would it be?--One that could become the first or second party.

3.  Dr. Pepper or Mr. Pibb?--I don't know about Mr. Pibb, and I've never liked Dr. Pepper.

4.  What is your favorite bird?--Cardinal

5.  What sport do you watch or participate in most regularly?--Bicycling

6.  When you decide to splurge, what do you spend money on?--Accessories, for myself and my bike

7.  What is your favorite junk food?--Tortilla chips with melted cheese

8.  What was your favorite vacation spot ever?--The Pyrenees

9.  What is your favorite amusement park ride?--I don't know. I haven't gone to a amusement park in a long time.

10. Do you have pets and if so, what pets do you have?--Two cats, named Max and Marley.  They're both rescue cats. 

11.  What era of U.S. history would you most want to be a part?--The 1920's. It seems that there was so much going on in the arts, sports and in science at that time.  I would be part of the 1930's, too, if I didn't have to be poor or unemployed.

And now, my nominees:



Remember, nominations are limited to blogs with 200 or fewer followers.  So, if your blog isn't on this list, it's not because I don't read or like it.
Anyway, you might want to check out the ones I've listed, if you haven't already!

For my nominees/victims, here are my questions:

1.  What is the best or most meaningful gift you ever received?

2.  What was the best-received gift you ever gave anybody?

3.  What historical figure would you be most interested in meeting?

4.  If you were a country, which one would it be?

5.  Was there any part of your schooling (elementary, secondary, university, vocational) that you especially liked or disliked?  Why?

6.  Think of all of the places in which you've ever lived, or visited. Which is your favorite?  If you had one day to spend there, what would you do?

7.  Have you ever Googled the name of someone you hadn't thought about in years?  If so, did the results surprise you?

8.   If you had the opportunity to become the President of the United States or the Pope, would you take it?  Why or why not?

9.   What is the most surprising or unexpected thing anybody could learn about you?

10.  If you could bring five books with you to a desert island, what would they be?  What else would you bring?

11.  Butter pecan, cherry vanilla, rocky road, pistachio or chocolate chocolate chip?

25 February 2013

My First Fixie: A Peugeot U0-8 Conversion

Thirty years ago, the only people who rode fixed-gear bikes were racers.  Even messengers, for the most part, hadn't glommed onto the simplicity and "cool factor" or riding a "fixie."

That meant, of course, that very few people knew about building them and that parts weren't readily available.  Bike books, at the time, contained little or no information about how to build, maintain or ride a fixed-gear bike.  In fact, the authors of those books most likely never rode or owned a track or fixed-gear bike.  If I remember correctly, Bicycling! never had any articles about them.


Back then, I knew only one person who rode a fixed gear.  That is what he used for his winter training; sometimes, he'd take his "fixie" on rides with the Central Jersey Bicycle Club, of which both of us were members.  He was a bit of a gearhead as well as a fitness fanatic; he meant well, but his enthusiasm for fixed gears probably scared a few people off.

One of my few sources of pride is that I wasn't one of those people.  I figured that if he could ride a fixed gear, so could I.  And I couldn't help but to notice that his "fixie" wasn't a fancy bike:  If I recall correctly, it was a mid-level Italian road frame (a Legnano made from Falk tubing, I think) and the components, while good, were nothing special.

So I set out to convert a Peugeot U-O8 I'd been using as my commuter and "beater."  I don't have a photo of it, but when I started, it looked like this:





My U0-8 was the same color as the one in the photo and, from what I can see, the same size. Like most French bikes of its time, it came with French-threaded parts, including the Normandy rear hub.  I knew enough not to thread an English- or Italian-threaded freewheel onto such a hub.  So, I looked and I looked (Remember, we didn't have the Internet in those days!) for a track cog that would fit.  Finally, I located a source:  Mike Fraysee, who imported French bikes into the US and sold them under the name "Paris Sport", had a few. He also had the requisite lockrings.  A few days later, I had both and a Sedis 1/8" chain that Peugeot used on its three-speed bikes.

Although I had worked in two bike shops, I had never worked on a fixed-gear bike.  So, I had no idea that track hubs (or, at any rate, hubs made for fixed gears) had two sets of threading:  a right hand-threaded "step" onto which the cog was installed and, in front of it, a left hand-threaded "step" for the lockring.  That design "locks" the ring against the cog and prevents it from unscrewing when you decelerate or stop without hand brakes.

Well, I installed the cog and tightened the lockring as much as I could in a vice.  Before installing both, I coated the threads with LocTite.  

Believe it or not, I actually got away with riding that arrangement for a few months.  Then, one day, I locked my legs when a taxicab made a right turn from the lane to my left on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central Station.  Although I managed not to run into that cab, I toppled over when the ring and cog unscrewed.  When I got back up, I screwed them back on, but they wouldn't stay:  The threads stripped.

I got the bike to a nearby shop.  "Wut da fuck iz dis shit?," the grizzled mechanic growled.  "U coulda got yerself killed!"

He was right:  Not only did I have an unsafe rear wheel, I had a terrible chainline.  It's a wonder that the chain stayed on the chainring and cog, let alone that the cog stayed on that hub for as long as it did. 

And I wasn't wearing a helmet.  But a parked Mercedes broke my fall and kept my head from hitting the pavement.

I wouldn't repeat the fixed-gear experiment for another decade.  By that time, I had a real job and bought a real track bike.  That will be the subject of another post.


24 February 2013

Bicycles On The Red Carpet

Normally, I don't pay attention to award shows.  I might glance at the day-after newsclips of them, just to see whether anyone wore anything particularly beautiful, interesting, outrageous or hideous.  Beyond that, I have no interest in the shows:  I don't care who wins what; I care only about whether or not I liked a movie or an actor's performance.

At shows like the Academy Awards (which, this year, is being called "Oscar," after the award), I prefer the walk to the talks.  The latter are usually banal and repetetive; at least, when some of them are in their gay attire, they look beautiful walking down the red carpet.

Would the Oscars or any other show be more bearable if the participants rode bicycles down the red carpet?


From M N S Photography

23 February 2013

Saturday Night's All Right For Cyclin'

How much cycling have you done on Saturday nights?

I believe that when most of us think of a "Saturday ride" or "weekend ride", we're not thinking about riding after dark.  Even if we're not going on a date, to a show or for the other things we normally associate with the middle of the weekend, we don't usually think of cycling.

Don't get me wrong:  I have cycled on Saturday nights.  However, it doesn't normally happen by design:  I'm out after dark on Saturday because of an emergency or because my ride lasted longer for some other reason I didn't foresee.  

And, I'll admit, in my youth I went for rides that ended in my (and, sometimes, my riding buddies') getting somewhat intoxicated.  Believe it or not, I was once pulled over for CWI (Cycling While Intoxicated)!  When I was at Rutgers, I'd gone to a party in Highland Park, on the other side of the Raritan River.  The cops claimed I was weaving and wobbling as I crossed the bridge from Highland Park back into New Brunswick.  I didn't get a fine, but somehow I managed to convince the cops that I'd get home intact.  I don't remember what happened after that.

Anyway...If someone asked me whether there's a part of the week during which I ride least, Saturday night might be my answer.

Not so for this young man in Slovenia:

From Bike Park Slovenia Blog


Perhaps the lyrics to a certain Elton John song were mis-translated into Slovenian!

22 February 2013

The Best Bicycle Parking In New York?

Today I was in Tribeca again.  I had some business at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.  Two weeks ago, I made one of my rare (since 11 Sep 01, anyway) appearances in that part of town, where I saw an interesting Frankenbike ridden by a librarian.

However, on this visit, I saw something even more interesting, and certainly more gratifying.  It's in Fiterman Hall, which is literally no more than a couple of pedal strokes away from the site of the former World Trade Center.  In fact, you can see the memorial from some parts of the building.

The college had another building called Fiterman Hall, onto which 7 World Trade Center fell in the wake of the attacks. The original Fiterman--a 1950's office building that was donated to the college in 1993-- was so badly damaged it had to be razed; the new building bearing the same name opened just this past August.

I found myself liking the new building:  It's spacious and full of light.  Best of all--at least to those of us who travel on two wheels--it has two bicycle storage rooms inside.  One of them was in use when I arrived.  They can be accessed only with a BMCC ID card, or if a security guard lets you in. 


Not bad, eh?  It's even better behind those doors:


Some swanky gyms don't even have such nice bike rooms.  For that matter, I can't think of any other colleges or schools with anything like it.

  It was cold and windy today; I wonder how many more bikes will be in that room come Spring, or on a Tuesday or Thursday.  On one hand, I'd like to see it full, just to know that people are cycling to the college and that the room won't be re-purposed.  On the other hand, if I need to go back, it'd be nice to know I'd have such a place to park Vera or whichever bike I ride.


21 February 2013

Did I Wake Max From His Dream?

As you may have noticed, I've written fewer posts during the past week or so.  You see, I've been under the weather. I thought I was coming down with the flu, and I expected the doctor to chastise me for not getting a flu shot. Turns out, I didn't have the flu:  It was a low-grade upper respiratory infections.  As its origins are viral, he couldn't give me an antibiotic.  

I'm not coughing as much as I was a few days ago, but I've been feeling very tired.  Good thing I have company:



It seems that when I made my bed this morning, I didn't notice that Max had crawled under the cover.  As I was leaving, I found him lying where you see him now.  He'd dozed off, and taking his picture woke him up.

When I go to bed, I think it will take a lot more than that to wake me up!

20 February 2013

To The Sea On An A-D

 Now I'm going to talk about another "parts bin bike" I built and rode.




I got the Austro-Damiler "Team" frame in the photo in a trade for one of my last sets of tubular (sew-up) wheels.  I don't recall which model it was, but I remember that it was made of Reynolds 531 tubing in the late 1970's.

As I understand, bicycles were sold under the "Austro-Daimler" name only in the United States. The company that made them was called Puch and marketed some bikes under their own name during the 1970's and 1980's.  With a name like that, you know why they felt to come up with another for their higher-end bikes!

My A-D had what many now call "old-school" road geometry--73 degree head and seat angles, and a somewhat longer chainstay and wheelbase than what are found on today's racing bikes.  Any number of racing bikes from the time had similar geometry:  think of the Raleigh "International" or "Competition," Peugeot PX-10E (and its descendants), and other rides from makers like Gitane, Falcon, Frejus and Fuji.  Racing bikes in those days were more versatile than they are now:  It's not uncommon to see them used today as randonneuring or even touring bikes.

As a matter of fact, I took my A-D on a tour:  In August of 1994, I pedaled from Paris to the sea near Bordeaux, and up the coast to Lacanau.  As I stayed in hostels and pensiones throughout my trip, I didn't pack camping equipment except for a sleeping bag.  Everything fit into a small set of panniers and a handlebar bag:  I'd guess that I carried about 15 kilos with me.  Still, the bike gave me a stable and comfortable ride.  The top tube was a bit longer than I have on my custom frames, but I still was able to use a stem with a reasonable amount of horizontal extension.  Thus, the steering was still pretty responsive, but not overly twitchy.

I probably would have that bike now, even after getting my Mercians, save for its unfortunate demise a few months after that tour.  I was running an errand a few blocks from where I was living (in Park Slope) when, in order to dodge an opening taxicab door, I ran into a chuckhole that seemed not much smaller than a manhole cover.  The areas of the top and downtube just behind the head lugs folded like accordions, but the sounds that came out of my mouth weren't as pleasing.

18 February 2013

Bicycle Wheels: Tri-Spokes Came And Went, But Duchamp's Endures



No, the man in the photo is not a French bicycle mechanic. And he's not truing the wheel.  In fact, that wheel has remained in the stand, not having been touched by a spoke tool or cone wrench, for the past hundred years.

The man in the picture is indeed French, as his wheel most likely was.  He is long dead, but the wheel didn't end up in the hands of some rich Japanese collector.

In fact, it's in Philadelphia.  But, one hundred years ago, it was in New York.  I've ridden from New York to Philadelphia, though not on that wheel.

All right:  You may have already figured out (if you didn't already know) that the man in the photo is artist Marcel Duchamp.  And his wheel was indeed a wheel, but it's listed in books and catalogues as a sculpture.

One hundred years ago yesterday, it stood among other sculptures, paintings and other objets d'art in the 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets in Manhattan.  The building still functions as an armory and hosts various events, and is today surrounded  by some of Baruch College's buildings.

On that date, the Armory Show (as it's commonly known) opened.  Little more than two weeks earlier Grand Central Station began, the first travelers and commuters embarked and disembarked from trains at the new Grand Central Terminal, about a kilometer and a half uptown.  It's an interesting turn of history because GCT is, arguably, the last great monument to the Gilded Age, while the Armory Show did as much as any event to move American notions of art, aesthetics and public space away from Gilded Age, and even classical, notions.  Literally steps away from GCT is the Chrysler Building; between them and the Armory, the Empire State Building went up months after the Chrysler Building was completed.  The Chrysler and ESB could hardly be more different from GSC or, for that matter, the Armory; neither of the latter two buildings could or would have been built in the wake of the Armory Show's influence.

So why, you may ask, am I writing about these events on a bike blog?  Well, before the show, almost no American, artist or otherwise, would have thought to declare a bicycle wheel as a work of art.  In fact, very few Americans would have thought bicycles to be appropriate subjects for art, let alone used bicycles or parts of bicycles as materials for works of art, as Picasso and others would later do.



So, the next time you make, sell, buy or wear a bracelet made from a bicycle chain or earrings made from spokes, remember that the Armory show helped to make them possible!


N.B.:  Picasso's "bull" is in the Paris museum dedicated to his works.  Duchamp's bicycle wheel is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

16 February 2013

Another Schwinn Criss-Crosses My Life

A couple of days ago, I wrote about my first Bianchi, a.k.a. The Bike I Lost At CBGB.

As I mentioned, it had become my commuter during my first year of graduate school.  Now I'm going to tell you about the bike that replaced it--as my commuter, anyway.

As old-school English three-speeds were out of production, and European (or European-style) city bikes were unavailable in the US, the bike I bought was probably about as suited to urban commuting as any new bike one could buy at the time.



The 1991 Schwinn Criss-Cross, in its own way, was brilliant.  It came with a good-quality lugged chrome-moly steel frame. That made it a tough little bike that was still fairly nimble. While it wouldn't handle like a racing bike with sew-up tires (I owned and raced on one at the time; a post on it is coming.), I had little trouble dodging and weaving through traffic on it, even when it was loaded.  

The components that came with them weren't fancy, but they weren't junk, either:  They all functioned as well as I needed and stood up to the thrashing they took on a daily basis.  (Being young and full of testosterone, I was harder on bikes than I am now.)  The only parts I changed were the tires and tubes.  The original tires were 700C knobby tires, which I rode through the winter. However, as the bike saw most of its miles on pavement, the noise and added resistance of the tires could be annoying when there was no snow or ice. So, in the spring, I replaced them with a pair of the best urban commuting and touring tires ever made: the Avocet Cross.

Back in those days, Cyclo-Cross bikes were almost as rare as Dutch-style city bikes in the US.  So, when the tire in question came out--and, for the matter, the bike about which I'm writing--most American cyclists understood "cross" to mean a hybrid bike, or anything related to it.

The Avocet Cross tires, like the Schwinn Criss-Cross bike, suited that kind of riding very well.  What made the Avocet Cross one of the most innovative tires ever made was its "inverted" tread.  In other words, it was a grooved rather than a ribbed or studded tire. Therefore, it offered traction that was almost as good as a studded tire but with a lot less rolling resistance.  Even more important, at least for urban commuting, its rounded edges offered the kind of cornering afforded by good road tires.  

Plus, they seemed to be more resistant to punctures than other tires I've ridden.  It may have been because the tread area was thicker, so that the grooves could be cut into it.  Others suggested that the tread pattern kept at least some debris from working its way into the tread.  

Anyway, the bike served me nicely as a commuter for a bit more than a year.  Then, one day, I was running an errand in Midtown when I stopped at a traffic light near Grand Central Station. An Australian tourist came up to me and complimented the bike.   He said that a magazine--I don't recall whether it was Bicycling! or some other--reviewed it very favorably, and he wanted one to bring back with him.  However, none of the shops he checked had it. 


I took the subway home that day.  However, after paying my fare, I was left with the cost of the bike, the accessories, the tires and another $50.  Considering that I'd ridden the bike for a year, that wasn't half-bad, I thought.


14 February 2013

A Love Letter To An Old Friend


About four weeks ago, I wrote about the first anniversary of Charlie's death.

He was sweet, adorable and smart, and accompanied me through some of most intense and, sometimes, wonderful times in my life.  


Charlie came into my life on this date in 2006.  My friend Mildred rescued him a few months earlier from an area of metal fabrication shops.  There are a few houses among them; still, the area is usually deserted after dark.  That's why people--and I use that term quite loosely--dump animals there.


Millie told me that as soon as Charlie saw her, he scampered toward her.   That meant, of course, that he was not a feral cat; he must have had a home only recently.  The vet said as much, and determined that he was about six to seven years old.  


She wanted to keep him, but she had other cats in her house and yard.  I said I would take him as soon as I was ready.  She didn't rush me; she understood why I couldn't take him right away.








He is the reason why.  You might be thinking that he looks like Charlie.  In fact, he is Charlie--just not the same one I've been talking about.


The cat in the photo--let's call him Charlie I--had been in my life for nearly fifteen years, from the time he was a kitten.  Only members of my family and a few friends have had, or had, more years with me.  


In addition to being adorable and sweet, he was smart and, it seemed, prescient.  You know he's intelligent from that photo:  He's in front of an Oxford English Dictionary.  Some people might believe that he read more of it than I did!


Another way I knew he was smart was the way he looked the camera.  He seemed to realize that I was photographing him, but he also seemed to know that it was simply impossible for anyone--even  yours truly!--to take a bad photo of him.




When I first met him, he was with the other kittens in his litter.  He half-walked, half-waddled to me on his little legs and looked into my eyes.  Somehow, he seemed to know all about me, and that he was going home with me.  I didn't even have to make the decision.


What's even more interesting, though, is that he preferred women to men and girls to boys.  Whenever I talked with a woman on the phone, he was at my side.  When a woman came into my apartment, he simply had to meet her.  And he and Tammy got along famously.


Someone suggested that he acted as he did the first time I met him because he knew that I'm a woman, even though I was still deep into my boy-drag phase!  For a few months, around the time Charlie I was a year old, I shared my apartment with a fellow graduate student.  Late one afternoon, Charlie I made a beeline for the door as I turned the key.  My roommate joked, "Charlie, Mommy's home!"


So, Charlie I was with me for that part of my life, through graduate school and a few jobs, in five different apartments (including the one in which I lived with Tammy) and, most important of all, through my last, desperate attempts to live as a man and the beginning of my life as Justine.




Now, you may be wondering why I named Charlie II Charlie.  The truth is, he was already so named when I brought him home.  Millie had given him that name and I didn't want to change it.  And, even though Charle II had a slightly different personality from Charlie I, he was sweet and loving. He was, not a clone of, or replacement for, Charlie I, but a continuation of him.  Sometimes I think it's exactly what I needed.

13 February 2013

Celeste, Rescued: My First Bianchi

Yesterday I wrote about a "rescued" bike.  Today I'm going to tell you about another one.  The difference is that the one I'm going to describe today is one I rescued.





It's also the first of four Bianchis I've owned in my life.  This is an old-fashioned made-in-Italy bike.  I'm not sure of the exact model, but I know that it was probably made in the 1970's or early 1980's, as the frame was made of Columbus "Aelle" tubing.  If I recall correctly, the dropouts, headset and seatpost were all made by Gipiemme, an Italian company that was influenced by, or copied outright, Campagnolo's desgins.  The name, interestingly, is the phonetic Italian pronunciation of GPM which, if I'm not mistaken, was the monogram of the company's founder.

The headset and seatpost were the only items that were on the frame when I got it from Toga Bicycle Shop near LIncoln Center.  I was friendly with one of the mechanics, a salesperson and with the owner, Len Preheim, to the extent that one could be friendly with him.  They were cleaning out the store's basement and unearthed the frame, which I got in a trade for, let's just say, something non-bike related.

I was glad that the seatpost came with the bike, as it was one of those non-standard diameter.  The headset worked after an overhaul; even if it hadn't, it wouldn't have been difficult to replace.  

Anyway, this became a "parts-bin bike."  By the time I got the frame, I had a pretty fair-sized trove of parts, most of which I stripped from bikes I had at one time or another.  

In its original iteration, the bike was intended as an entry-to-mid-level road bike.  Being made of Aelle tubing, the least expensive frame material Columbus made at the time, It was a bit heavier than the higher-level Bianchi road bikes.  So, perhaps, it wasn't quite as quick as a Columbus SL frame (of which I've owned two:  the Trek 930 and a bike I'll write about in the near future).  However, it gave a pretty stable and fairly nimble ride.

As you can see, I fitted a rear carrier to the BIanchi.  I rode the bike to and from work, and to classes during my first year and a half of graduate school.  I also took it on a couple of weekend trips in which I packed a change of clothes, a book or two, my camera and a couple of other items.

Although I rather liked the bike, it was too big for me: I think it was a 58 cm (about 23.5") frame, as measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube.  I normally ride a 55-56 cm, depending on the design of the frame.  

It size exacerbated another problem I had with that bike, and other road bikes I rode before I went for a custom bike: The top tube was pretty long.  That meant using a stem with a shorter extension than I might have otherwise used, which blunted the bike's handling. Later, I would try to solve the problem by going to smaller frame sizes (53-54 cm) and using a longer seat post.  When I did that, I missed the stability and the fullness of pedal stroke I could achieve with the slightly larger frames.

Anyway, I apologize for not having a better photo of the bike.  When I got it, the paint was in rough shape, though still unmistakably "Celeste".  

Because of its less-than-ideal fit, I was going to sell the bike.  However, someone got it for free when I parked it outside CBGB.  Hmm, maybe if I'd told Joey Ramone, he'd've done a song about it.

12 February 2013

A Rescued Bike

Today my far-flung adventures (ha, ha) took me through downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO.  They included a stop at Recycle-A-Bicycle, where I donated a rack I wasn't using after I decided that whatever I'd get for it wasn't worth the effort of putting it on Craig's List or eBay.

While at RAB, a seemingly-friendly woman named Holly brought in this specimen:




It's a Schwinn Varsity from, I believe, 1967. (Check out the Paramount prices!)  At least, that's what the "sky blue" paint and white panel on the seat tube seem to indicate.  Also, it has shift levers on the stem, and 1967 is the first year Varsities came with such a configuration.  The frame is really the same as the one on my Collegiate, except that it's built for 27 inch instead of 26 inch wheels.





Holly said she found it in the trash by the curbside.  That's not surprising, given the condition of the paint.  She was able to ride the bike from her neighborhood to RAB but, she said, she had no idea of whether the bike is salvageable.  

The handlebar was badly bent, which she noticed.  However, my quick glance at the bike could find nothing else that couldn't be fixed.  The wheels spun:  If I were to keep the bike for myself, I'd probably clean and re-grease the hubs.  The tires will probably, and the tubes will almost certainly, need replacing.  But the front wheel doesn't need more than a touch-up truing.  The rear seemed to need a bit more work, but looked usable.

If nothing else, the bike will make a useful local errand or short-commute vehicle.  Some tanks are lighter than it; I might actually classify it as an "ironclad" warship.  (If a Civil War historian takes it, he or she should call it "The Monitor".)  But it's lasted more than four decades; with proper maintenance, it might last that much longer.


When folks like Holly bring in bikes like that, I'm really glad that programs like Recycle-A-Bicycle exist.  After all, seeing a bike like this one turned into someone's coffee crate or bagel bomber is better than seeing it end up in a landfill.



11 February 2013

Catnapping Through A Snowstorm

Mommy's not going for a ride today.  So we're going to take a nap.



That's probably what they were thinking the other day, as the weather outside was frightful.

That photo, however, roused them from their REM reverie:




10 February 2013

Bontrager Race Lite: Reminiscing About Heidi After A Blizzard

Well, the blizzard wasn't quite as bad here as it was on Long Island, or in Connecticut or Massachusetts.  Still, we had around 10 inches (25 cm) of snow in my neighborhood.

The ephemerally alabaster landscape surrounding me got me to thinking about Heidi.


I'm not referring to  Johanna Spyri's novel or the movies made from it.  I'm also not reminiscing about an Alpine romance from my youth.


Rather, I am going to talk about this Heidi:






That is what I named her.  She was one of the first of my bikes I named.  And, being a true mountain bike, the name fit her.


She was built around a Bontrager Race Lite frame. Before Trek bought him out, Keith Bontrager was building Race Lites in California from a combination of butted chrome-moly tubings.


The way he built those frames was all but unique: Instead of brazing frame tubes into lugs or fillets, he TIG-welded them with gussets.  While not as elegant as lugged or fillet-brazed frames, they were about as strong as any joints could be with thin chrome-moly steel tubing.  


That construction, and the frame's geometry, made for what might have been the sweetest ride anyone ever achieved on a hardtail steel mountain bike.  I never knew that a mountain bike could be so responsive until I mounted the Race Lite.  It had that resilient, even smooth ride associated with some of the best steel road frames.


Keith Bontrager was a Physics major in college, and he said he never took aesthetics into consideration when designing or building his bikes or components.  Still, I always felt that Heidi was attractive, in a very rugged sort of way.  As much as I love purple and green, I liked her look even better after this makeover:





When I changed the fork, I changed the decals (Bontrager made replacements readily available) as well as some of the accessories.  The bike's original build, which you see in the first photo, consisted of parts that came off Heidi's predecessor:  a Jamis Dakota I upgraded as I wore out the original parts.


Mind you, I liked the Dakota and rode the heck out of it.  I might not have bought another mountain bike had I not gotten such a good deal on the Race Lite frame.  I gave the Dakota frame to someone who, I think, sold it for a "fix".


Anyway, I rode Heidi for five years.  Then, I drifted away from off-road riding and (reluctantly) sold her to someone out west who promised to ride her in the hills, where she belonged.  I simply could not bear the thought of turning her into a "beater" or utility bike.


09 February 2013

Banana On Sports

Yesterday's post turned into a capsule history of the banana seat.  I hadn't intended that; somehow, while under the influence of a Dunkin' Donuts dark hot chocolate, my mind drifted in that direction.

I was thinking about banana seats because of a bike I saw yesterday:




It was parked outside the main building of Borough of Manhattan Community College.  The school is located, literally, in the shadow of the site of the World Trade Center; for a few years after 9/11, I could only pass through that part of town.  However, yesterday, I had business down that way, and spotted the bike--just as its owner showed up to unlock it.  

I didn't get much of a chance to talk with her.  Her name is Julie, and she's a librarian at the college.  I would have loved to ask her whether she bought or received the bike in the state I found it--or whether someone converted it for her.

I know enough to realize that her bike is a Raleigh "Sports" three-speed from the mid-1970's. The particular shade of blue (with a silver panel on the seat tube) was offered around that time, which is when I first began to work in bike shops.


Probably the only more elegant "Sports" models were made in silver-gray.  The paint and panels are, I think, tasteful without being overly formal:  It's not difficult to imagine students as well as professors--or librarians--riding it. 

Like many Raleigh three-speeds ridden by commuters, it has a basket fitted to its handlebar.  However, it has another modification that the chaps in Nottingham never envisioned:  a banana seat!  At first glance, it looks utterly incongruous.  However, as most people who ride the Raleigh Sports--or other English three-speeds--want a comfortable ride, and the banana seat is indeed the idea some people (particularly those who ride short distances) have of comfort, there is a certain weird logic to installing one on such a bike.

The rest of the bike's eqipment seems to be original, except for the tires:  a white/cream Schwalbe on the front, and a whitewall of some sort on the rear.  The white/cream Schwalbes look great on Raleigh three-speeds; I installed them on the last such bike I owned.  I guess two white walls wouldn't look bad, either.  

I'm guessing that Julie has a bike that suits her purposes, although I would never install a banana seat on a Raliegh Sports (or almost any other bike, for that matter).  Anyway, I'm glad she's riding to work.  

08 February 2013

Going Bananas

If you are around my age, you may have ridden a bike with a banana seat.  If you didn't, then a friend, neighbor, sibling or classmate did. 

From Nice To Draw


They were popular with pre-teens during the 1960's and 1970's.  The bikes that were equipped with banana seats seemed to be designed for one of two purposes:  doing "wheelies", or emulating motorcycles or race cars.

During the banana seat's heyday, every American bicycle manufacturer offered at least one model equipped with it. Some, like the ones found on Schwinn's Sting Ray series, sported racing stripes, while other bikes--particularly those made for girls--were adorned with colorful, and even wild, flower prints.  And, of course the Raleigh Chopper was a "banana" bike.

More than one reason has been given for their disappearance during the 1980's.  Some attribute their decline to the rise in BMX bikes.    Doing wheelies had become "old hat", so kids wanted to do more original, sophisticated and riskier maneuvers.  They found that the tighter geometry and lighter weight--along with the smaller seats--of BMX bikes made their stunts easier, or even possible.  

What a lot of people forget, though, is that the Consumer Products Safety Commission set its inspectors loose on various products (and lawyers on the companies that made those products).  They took the accidents and product failures that resulted from the most unlikely or egregious examples of misuse to rationalize removing those products from the market, or forcing redesigns of them.  In one of the silliest examples of mandated change, the CPSC said that Campagnolo "umbrella" pump clamps could no longer be sold in the US unless the "umbrella" cutout was closed or narrowed.  Apparently, someone got his finger caught in one.  I never heard about how he managed to do that.  So, the importer began to retrofit the clips with a ring inside the "rose window".


And so it was with banana seats.  As I understand, the CPSC forced them off the market because the rear braces failed on some of them.   The CPSC claimed that the design was inherently unsafe.  I'm no engineer, but I would expect the braces to be structurally sound, as long they aren't made of substandard materials and the attaching hardware is properly attached.  The real problem, I think, is two or more kids often rode on one seat. Even if the braces are strong enough to carry their weight, I would think they would still incur extra stress as a result of the extra twisting and swaying that would result from having two kids on the seat.

Some kids may have wrecked their banana seats due to carelessness or from doing one too many wheelies or other stunts on their bikes.  However, I don't think very many of them could have done so.  Plus, kids on BMX bikes are performing even more stressful (to their bikes) stunts than we did back in the day on seats that make most track saddles seem plush,  perched atop skinny seat posts.

Lately I've seen a fair number of banana seats for sale. Some are vintage; others seem to be reproductions.  I imagine that the latter are made in China or some other foreign country.  But I wonder how retailers are able to sell them in the US. The CPSC still exists; I wonder whether it has relaxed or otherwise changed its policies on bicycle parts.